November 1, 2016

Going Deeper – Things That Really Matter

Make every day a day that really matters. Don’t suddenly wake up and discover your day is gone.

thingsthatreallymatter

I love stories, don’t you? Especially when the main character starts off in a desolate spot, nothing more than a poor shadow of endless nothingness, and then rises above the fray. The Biblical account of the healing of a crippled man as told in Acts chapter three is absolutely amazing.

The man was down in a big way. His life was headed nowhere fast. And then, he encountered the Lord Jesus Christ. Then it happens. He’s healed and made whole. Fit and well, up and around. What a testimony of God’s amazing grace. And, what an example of how the Lord can use two very simple men who were ready and willing to be involved in things that really mattered.

Some might think life is ordered by likes and dislikes of human want and wish. Not so. Our world is afraid of being bored. We’re so afraid of boredom and silence we even take our cell phones with us to the bathroom. Perhaps we’re afraid any lapse in our business or slow down in activity might cause a major catastrophe. If the truth were told, the things that really matter cannot be calculated, silenced or ignored.

What happened to the crippled man is about the things that really matter. I want this for me. I don’t want my life to float endlessly down a raging river. I want my life to count. And, I know you do too. I don’t want to just get up, go to work, eat my food, watch my show, and consult my iPhone 5,000 times a day just in case I might miss something.

What happened between this man and these two simple men is what I desire. Besides, it’s all in the Bible. It really matters.

So what is it that really matters about this Biblical account?

FIRST, one day really matters. One day, Peter and John went to the Temple to pray. (Acts 3: 1) This was a strategic moment bearing witness to two men deliberately, one day, going to the place where something incredible could happen at any time. This was deliberate and calculated. I think they knew God would do something extraordinary in the place He had made so special.

Growing up I certainly didn’t always want to go to church. My Dad would simply say, “Well, son, you may just miss a blessing.” He was right. And every moment of every day is a gift God gives us. Seize the day! Make every day a day that really matters. Don’t suddenly wake up and discover your day has gone.

SECOND, one man really matters. We don’t always hear the roar of the masses, but people are everywhere. We see them, we drive behind them as they take up the fast lane, and we stand behind them as we wait in long lines. They live next door to us, attend school with us, and, when we turn on our televisions, we hear them all talking – mostly at the same time – never seeming to really listen and always giving their opinions about everything. This makes it even more puzzling as to why we would want to take our cell phones into the restrooms with us. Can we not just embrace silence for a little while? Can we not bring our devices to the dinner table so we can actually see, hear and talk to the people we love? Someone once said the greatest challenge facing every church is they are full of people. There she is. There he is. That one. One little girl; one grandmother in need of a hug; one grieving person; one lonely heart; one lost man. Every one really does matter.

THIRD, one truth really matters. “In the name of Jesus Christ rise up and walk!” (See Acts 3:6) How profound is this? He, Jesus, is what really matters, people. Sure, there are so many things we can talk about. There are so many famous people, famous quotes, famous solutions, but none can hold a match to the Savior of the world. Charles Haddon Spurgeon put it like this, “Every time I open the Book I make a beeline for the cross.” I love this. It orders my priority. It establishes my first things first. Yes, medicine. Yes, counseling, and yes, more exercise, and yes, even my great advice. But none can compare to Jesus alone. One truth, that’s all. Jesus. He is what really matters.

FOURTH, one change. This man did an about face. He encountered two old fashioned preachers who had not even been to seminary. Their dress was less than average and their knowledge of the Greek New Testament was not just hanging by a shred – it was non-existent. But, they went to church one day and saw one man who had a serious deficiency. They were asked if they had a little money, which, perhaps, could have bought the man a little food or some ancient Tylenol, but no. They gave him just one Truth. Jesus. And he was changed for all eternity.

FIFTH, we see one impact. The thing that really matters when just one man hears just one truth and undergoes such a drastic change is the massive impact on others. This is the contagious effect of the gospel message. Look at him and then look at them. People stared, people questioned, people began to discuss – all about Jesus. Just one man changed and the entire local universe got excited. They recognized him because they knew him. They had watched him struggle for years and now they could see something truly wonderful and amazing had happened to him. His story was out. He jumped up and went into the temple, leaping and praising God. (See Acts 3:8) It’s hard to miss a changed life like this.

And finally, one response really does matter. It took a little while but, with these two determined men, it did not matter. Some of the people got really mad about Jesus and all the resurrection stuff. They didn’t want to believe. Some were so upset they turned on these preachers and put them in jail. But, when we are about the things that really matter, others will come to believe. Acts 4:4 is proof that what really matters in life is for people to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The great English cricketer and statesman who became a selfless missionary in far away Africa said it best: “There is only one life to live and that will soon be past. It is only what is done for the Lord Jesus Christ that will last.” •LR•

Dr. Don Wilton has served as senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Spartanburg, South Carolina since 1993. He also serves as president of The Encouraging Word television ministry. TheEncouragingWord.org

From the Old Wooden Bench to the Comfy Brown Couch

A Season of Waiting

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My heart raced as my car inched closer to his driveway. What if there’s no chemistry? What if we have nothing to talk about? Have I set myself up to be let down again? These questions of doubt were fumbling around in my mind as I prepared to meet my blind date on a scorching June day in 2015.

What I didn’t know was this date would turn out to be the best one I’d ever had. Hours seemed like minutes as we talked about life, children and goals for the future. When the hot summer sun gave way to the light of the moon, hinting it was time to say good-bye, I knew I had found someone special.

For several years prior, I cried out to God more times than I can count. An old broken down, wooden bench sitting in my yard was a visual, a constant reminder of my brokenness, and my deepest desire for a companion. One date after another fell through, and I asked myself, “What am I doing wrong?” I was always wondering, “Am I to remain single for the rest of my life?” There were times when I felt God ignored me, and other times when He spoke so loudly it was as if He were standing right next to me. Throughout all the highs and lows of those years, there was one thing I had no choice but to do; the one thing the Lord continually spoke to my spirit, “Abide in Me and wait.”

Those who know me can testify I’m not the most patient person around. I vividly remember getting off the bus the first week of kindergarten and crying to my mom because I had to stand in line for lunch. I didn’t like to wait then and it hasn’t gotten much better since. Of course, my Creator knows this about me too, and, on many occasions, has reminded me He is just helping me practice what I’ve prayed for — patience.

The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.
– Lamentations 3:25 ESV

Had I not gone through a season of learning how to trust and depend on the Lord, I wouldn’t be the ‘someone’ anyone was looking for, and I certainly wouldn’t have been the wife I thought I was ready to be.

Many women have inside her that little girl who still believes in the fairy tale. You know. The one who longs to meet her prince and live happily ever after? This past year has been such a seemingly magical, love story. Our blind date turned into a budding romance. Our relationship naturally progressed from courtship to becoming exclusive, and on to meeting each other’s children. Then, on Easter Sunday of 2016, that deeply rooted dream became a reality when my “prince” asked me to be his wife. Words cannot express the joy in knowing I would spend the rest of my days with the love of my life.

comfybrowncouch_weddingpicAll of this has transpired under the guidance and grace of Jesus Christ. His hand has been at work the entire time, and I continue to be grateful for this answered prayer in giving me the desire of my heart.

Have you been, or are you now, in a season of waiting?

Does this mean our relationship is without a few bumps? Of course not. We have faced opposition and will continue to so, I suspect. It also doesn’t mean our marriage will be problem free. In fact, the blending of two families can be quite challenging. However, our union is one of strength and endurance because Jesus Christ, who is credited with our meeting, is our solid foundation.

In 2015, I wrote an article, The Old Wooden Bench, during my season of waiting. As a single mom with two children, I discussed some of the hardships of being a single woman with a deep desire to be married. That old wooden bench, my visual reminder of my brokenness, has since been restored. It will always be a reminder of what Jesus has done in my life.

comfybrowncouchAs of August 6, 2016, we began our “happily ever after.” Instead of looking at an empty old bench, I now spend my time sitting with the one I waited for on his ‘comfy’ brown couch.

We won’t always get what we want, when we want it, but God knows best what we need and rewards those who are faithful. His good and perfect gifts will always be better than anything we could ask for or imagine. •LR•

Dianna Buchwalter is a new wife, and full-time mom to a 10 year old son and 5 year old daughter. She is part of the Ignite2Ignite women’s ministry. Blog: diannaowens.com
To read Dianna’s previous article, The Old Wooden Bench, click here.

An Officer’s Call for Prayer

officerscallforprayer

An interview with South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) Major Frank O’Neal

 

For most people, a day at work poses little or no threat of danger. Many of us work in classrooms, office buildings or other settings ideal for accomplishing our given tasks, but that’s not the case for men and women who work in law enforcement. Their jobs are intense and full of the unexpected.

“Most jobs don’t require people to walk into unknown situations with unknown dangers. Law enforcement officers walk toward danger every day.”

Before becoming a SLED agent more than 24 years ago, O’Neal spent time working for the FBI and in local law enforcement in the Midlands of South Carolina. Like many in his line of work, he chose the field to serve others.

O’Neal oversees SLED’s Narcotics, Alcohol and Vice Unit. He and the 75 agents he manages work daily to enforce laws that save lives. O’Neal also strives to prevent people from breaking laws. One of the things he enjoys most about his job is the opportunity to educate the public about how drugs and alcohol hurt children’s ability to learn.

“I wanted a job where I could help people and where I felt like I could make a difference. Once I entered law enforcement, I found out I loved it.”

As passionate as O’Neal is about making a difference in the lives of others, he is just as passionate about his relationship with Jesus Christ.

“Being a practicing Christian has been a game changer for me, When I have gone through periods of not reading my Bible and praying each day, my life gets very chaotic and out of sync. When I start my day with God, things just seem to work out. By reading the Bible, I constantly discover new things every day that are applicable to dealing with life. It has also softened my heart when dealing with people that are a product of their environment.”

Any situation O’Neal or his fellow officers face has the potential to be a matter of life or death. Men and women in uniform have to be brave, calm and able to make split-second decisions. O’Neal believes they also need encouragement and prayer.

“Believers can pray that all law enforcement officers return home each night to their family, and for officers to have wisdom and discernment when they encounter difficult and dangerous decisions, Believers can also pray for God to soften the hearts of those critical of law enforcement, and that those same people would try to put themselves in officers’ shoes before being critical and judgmental. Finally, pray for a greater understanding between the public and law enforcement, and a time of reconciliation.”

The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
– Matthew 25:40 NIV

Whether we patrol the streets from behind the wheel of a police car, set up appointments at a doctor’s office, conduct board meetings for a corporation or spend the day chasing little ones, as believers, we should all be praying for the people around us to be reconciled to Christ. There is no doubt that the change of heart He brings would also bring the kind of reconciliation O’Neal hopes to see. •LR•

Kelly Coakley, a former news anchor, is a proud preacher’s wife and mother. She loves interviewing people and telling stories about lives changed by the Gospel.

Permission to Sift

sifting

Permission Granted

You would think comedy would be the last way God would address sin, but then, the belly of a large fish doesn’t seem like a good idea to me either. While serving in ministry as a Christian Comedienne, I’m always looking at life with a little different twist. But, along with the laughter comes the serious as well. I’ve been encouraged and challenged by many people, and for those who have impacted my life the most, there’s always one common thread. They are confessed Believers who are forgiven sinners.

How about you? Are you struggling with a particular sin or know of another Believer who is? If so, keep reading. Be encouraged.

Nothing breaks my heart more than to see a brother or sister in Christ battling sin. I’m heartbroken when people are publicly exposed. My heart deeply grieves, but my grief moves me to pray for them, and that’s a good thing.

Recently, God began speaking to me about “our flesh” which causes us to sin. As I began studying this topic more in depth, the Holy Spirit led me to Luke 22:31-32. In these verses Jesus is telling Peter about how Satan has asked for permission to “sift him like wheat.” Notice Satan did not get to just do as he pleased. He had to ask Jesus for permission to test Peter. Through Scripture we know Peter was sifted like wheat as he denied Christ three times in one night before the rooster crowed, marking the dawn of a new day, just as Jesus said he would do.

Compelled to go deeper, I thought, “If Satan had to ask Jesus for permission, then it means Jesus granted Satan permission to sift (test) Peter.” Whoa, please say you just read that twice! Jesus granted Satan permission to sift Peter. Yes, He did. But, before you go jumping to conclusions, remember Jesus knows all and sees all. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and End (Revelation 1:8).

viewmasterThink of it as if Jesus is holding a large red View Finder. Remember those? They were popular when I was a kid. You could see a whole event or place at one glance. I could stand in my backyard in Cayce, SC and see all of Disneyland in one view. Jesus, who is not confined to time or space, sees all and everything in between. He smiled as He knit you together in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139), and He will see you through to your final breath. Jesus looked through His Eternal View Finder and said to Peter, “I have told Satan he can sift you like wheat.”

Jesus knew the outcome of Peter’s sifting, not just that he would deny Him, but that through his denial Peter would grow up in his faith, becoming stronger than ever to fulfill the purpose God had for his life. Jesus knows we too will struggle with sin, but He also knows we have His strength in us to overcome sin because of His death and resurrection which defeated sin and the grave.

What is the purpose of our being sifted like wheat? Well, sifting wheat is a necessary process to remove the chaff or the nonessentials, leaving only the good stuff for making something great, like fresh baked bread. Can’t you smell sourdough bread baking right now? Actually, what Jesus gave Satan permission to do was a good thing. Through Satan’s sifting, it separated the bad ingredients from the good ingredients thus providing what was needed for Jesus to do something great through Peter – build His Church.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we all have been or will be tested. We are commanded to be like Christ, which has taken some serious sifting in my life. So, for whatever reason, if you are being sifted, then some bad stuff needs to be removed from your life. You may ask, “Why me?” The answer is, like Peter, we are also called to build Christ’s Church. (Matthew 28:19-20)

Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.
– Luke 22:31-32 NIV

Finally, the most significant reason for sifting is Jesus is praying for us. In Luke 22:32 Jesus tells Peter He, the King of kings, the Prince of Peace, the Alpha and the Omega, is praying for him so his faith will not fail. Do you hear that? Jesus prayed for Peter so his faith would not fail. Therefore, same testing through sifting, whatever is going on in your life, through Christ, your faith will not fail.

We are also called to pray for one another, especially during a sin struggle. First Thessalonians 5:17 says, “pray without ceasing.” Oh my. We’ve got some work to do, brothers and sisters. Together, let’s flood the Throne Room of God with prayers for one another. We know “good” will come out of everything (Romans 8:28), because Jesus sees all through His View Finder. So, as the spiritual battles of others unfold before our eyes, how do we handle their sifting? We pray them through and bake bread together because we, too, will need help sifting through our own sin struggles when permission is requested and granted. •LR•

Cherie Nettles is a Christian comedienne, author and speaker. She is a mother of two and lives in West Columbia, SC with her husband, Mike. Blog: CherieNettles.net

Growing Up & Popping Bubbles

Were you ever asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I’ve learned only God knows our future, and what we should be asking is:

Lord, what do YOU want me to be when I grow up?

While in college, I changed my major about as often as the seasons change. After trying my hand at various majors, I finally settled on Physical Education and Coaching. I felt I had found my calling.

After four wonderful years teaching PE to high school students, I switched to teaching elementary students. For the next 11 years, I taught great kids and worked with an incredible team of teachers. I had all the confidence I had found my niche, and I was content to press on until retirement.

But, while busy with the plan I had made for my life, the Lord was slowly leading me toward His. He revealed it in ways so subtle I wasn’t even aware the plan was changing, let alone, my heart. Through public education I had witnessed my fair share of innocent children growing up in scenarios harder than some adults face. I knew war and suffering existed in the world, but for many years, I lived in a sheltered, little bubble.

Then, in 2013, the Lord popped my bubble, and nothing has been the same since.

A friend invited me to a W.A.R. Party – a fund raising event she was hosting in her home. W.A.R. stands for Women at Risk, an international organization aiding women and children who’ve been sex-trafficked overseas. Though I wasn’t able to attend, my friend educated me about the organization. My interest was piqued. Horrified and heartbroken at such atrocities happening to people at the hands of others, I felt the Lord calling me to do more than pray about this issue. I had to act.

Over the next few years I volunteered for W.A.R. I began telling everyone I knew about the devastation of human trafficking. I encouraged them to host events. While fundraising was important, God was unfolding a passion in me for building awareness about the terrors happening in our world.

In December of 2014, I met a gentleman who had devoted his life to fighting sex-trafficking here in the U.S. He invited me to breakfast, and that morning I was introduced to Lighthouse for Life, an anti-trafficking organization in my hometown. As we discussed their need for volunteers, I was simultaneously heartbroken and excited. I was thrilled to have a chance to minister on a local level, but also devastated there was a need to combat something so horrible.

Another bubble popped.

I was paralyzed by the knowledge of innocent girls enslaved in my own state. This devastating information kept me awake many nights. I would lie in bed staring at the ceiling, scared to death of what might be happening to victims that very moment. I prayed for God to show me how to help, with no idea how He would answer.

In the summer of 2015, I began volunteering with the Community Relations team for Lighthouse for Life. With my background in education and my love for talking to people, the work was right up my alley. The Holy Spirit had set a fire in my heart, and my dedication for working with Lighthouse for Life increased over the next six months. In August, I began a new school year, but most of my time outside work was consumed with this newfound passion.

In December of 2015, my biggest bubble was pricked. The Lighthouse for Life Board of Directors offered me the opportunity to serve as their Executive Director. I prayed, cried and wrestled with my decision for a month. Finally, I said, “Yes” to God. POP!

poppingbubbles

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.
– Proverbs 3:5-6 NKJV

 
On February 1, 2016, I accepted the role in an official capacity, working part-time until I fulfilled my teaching contract. It was a very busy season. When the school year came to a close, I announced my decision to leave the teaching profession. Although it was sad leaving the love and comfort of my job and wonderful students, I was excited to begin a new adventure.

My full-time role as Executive Director for Lighthouse for Life began on July 1, 2016. I’m still amazed I no longer teach Physical Education and embarking on a path I never envisioned. If you had asked me one short year ago if I thought I would ever stop teaching, I’d have said, “God can only use me to teach kids PE. It’s all I know.”

But, that’s the point. We aren’t privy to all of what God knows and sees. We are incapable of anything noble or worthwhile alone. Only by God working in us through His Holy Spirit can anything virtuous come from our lives. God doesn’t need us, but chooses to use us. And, if we will trust Him with our lives, He will do extraordinary things. We so often are more concerned with the mapping out of life plan, we forget God is patiently asking us to trust Him one day at a time. If we trust Him, He will not only direct our paths but also walk alongside us throughout the journey.

One day someone may ask you, “How did you do it? How did you make such a drastic change in your life?” And as you look back and realize just how far the Lord has brought you, you’ll be able to answer, “I followed Jesus – one step at a time.” •LR•

Jen Thompson
Executive Director, Lighthouse for Life
I seek to build partnerships between L4L and faith communities, civic organizations, private citizens and local businesses.

The Lost Boys

Lost & Found

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God has spent a fair amount of time in recent days reminding me that I am found in Him: even when I feel completely lost, even if everyone seems to have forgotten me, even if it doesn’t seem like anybody is paying attention, He is. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt lost or forgotten; not even missed by the very ones you love and who are supposed to love you back? Some of us are better than others at talking ourselves off the figurative ledge but all of us have been there. If you can relate, grab your Bible and let me take you for a little walk through Luke 15.

Luke 15 is one of my favorite chapters of the Bible. I guess, because I know what it is to be lost. I know how good it feels to be found and to find that which is treasured. I love how Jesus tells story after story of valuables lost and the rejoicing that occurs when they’re recovered. Even if only one of The Good Shepherd’s little sheep is missing, Jesus goes searching – just like all good shepherds do. He won’t just let us wander off. Everyone else can be following the Shepherd, keeping up with the flock, being good little sheep, but if one gets lost, Jesus will go looking. He will light a lamp, make a thorough sweep, and search carefully for us, just like the woman who lost her silver coin.

Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?
– Luke 15:4 NIV

What about the lost boys? Have you ever noticed it is the father in the Parable of the Lost Son who leaves his rightful place of honor to meet and seek both of His children? We usually focus on how he ran to meet his youngest son, but Luke 15:28 tells us, “The older brother became angry and refused to go in [to the homecoming celebration]. So his father went out and pleaded with him.” This father didn’t just run to meet the returning young brother who was rehearsing his repentance speech, he also humbled himself to seek out the older one; the one who was begrudgingly obedient, prideful and wrongly motivated with a hard, selfish heart.

I once heard that in Jewish culture a respected man would never run because he would have to lift his robes to do so. It would be considered “beneath” a man of status. The Prodigal’s father wasn’t concerned with how he looked though. He was filled with compassion. So, he ran to meet his boy. He also sought out and pleaded with his oldest son to come join the rest of the family. Our heavenly Father does the same thing.

Don’t you just love it? I have been the Prodigal. And, heaven knows, I have been the prideful older brother, pouting outside the party, refusing to go in because, in my estimation, God’s goodness was somehow “better” toward someone else than it was to me. I love how the father watches with anticipation everyday to see if his lost boy is coming down the road. He must have been watching for him because Luke 15:20 tells us while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him. You don’t see something far off unless you are intentionally looking for it. Before the practiced speech was given, the father was running to meet and embrace his son. He was lost, but now is found. Before the older brother even had the chance to come to his senses, the father came out and pleaded with him (v. 28). He too was lost, and the father went to find him.

I know what it is to be lost. I know how good it feels to be found and to find that which is treasured.

This parable Jesus is telling doesn’t give away how the other brother responded to his father’s pleading, and I think it’s by design. Just like so many in Jesus’ audience, we tend to be more like the big brother than the prodigal. I know I am. I haven’t demanded my inheritance and run off to do God-knows-what in a foreign country, but I have, at times, assessed my circumstances and determined I’d been given the short end of the stick. So, being able to choose how the older brother responds makes all the difference in the world.

Whether or not you can relate to the lost sheep or the lost coin, every one of us can identify with these two lost boys. We all get to choose whether to remain lost or be found. No matter how long it takes, Jesus will never stop looking for us. And, when we decide to join the party, all will be forgiven, full restoration will be granted, and there will be great rejoicing! •LR•

Joeli Mulligan is a Christian dramatist, speaker, singer and sometimes blogger. Check out her website at: SpeechlessMinistries.org

The Red High Heel Façade

redhighheelsI have the same insecurities as you. I look in the mirror and do not recognize the stranger looking back at me. I think my hips are too wide, I yell too often, and my idea of dressing up is slapping on a tank top with elastic waist yoga pants. I have not been alone in the bathroom in eight years. I sometimes call our children by our pets’ names. I’ve even walked out of the house with two different shoes on. The struggle is real.

I have to laugh when people ask how I always look so put together. Seriously? What they don’t see is the greasy hair underneath the fedora and the fresh coat of cover up I put on over last night’s residue. Mascara can carry you a long way. It’s like a five hour energy drink for your eyes. If they only knew what was lurking underneath. I never claimed to have it all together. As a matter of fact, I never claimed to have anything together.

I don’t know what your “go-to” is, but mine was an old pair of red high heels.

Like many of you, I had one article of clothing that was my “go-to” for all occasions. I don’t know what your “go-to” is, but mine was an old pair of red high heels. These shoes and I were old friends. We never went out of style. They didn’t talk back, yet they spoke volumes. When they took my feet for a walk, I felt like the most courageous lioness in the jungle. Together, we could conquer the world.

Looks can be deceiving. This epitomized who I was at the core. The girl who appeared to have it all together was only a façade wearing red high heel shoes. Then one day, the façade faded away like a sunset. The put-together exterior melted, and what remained was anything but pretty. Simply put – a broken mess.

My family and I were regular church attenders. We were good people. There was just one problem. We were physically present, but spiritually absent. Growing up we were well trained in recitation, repetitive responses and prayers. Sadly, the experience had become habitual, robotic, void of authentic heart connection, spiritual engagement or genuine worship.

We were physically present…but spiritually absent.

My soul yearned for more. The empty caverns in my heart echoed for an intimacy this world could not satisfy. The harsh reality smacked me in the face like a line drive in the bottom of the ninth inning of a tied game. I knew something needed to change.

In November 2013, our family decided to visit a different church in search of spiritual nourishment and revival. Definitely out of our comfort zone. My husband was open to change, but if I’m honest, I had some severe guilt rumbling in my soul. Satan was wreaking havoc. Contrary to my reconceived notions, I experienced a peace and calmness that had been previously absent. What was happening? I was supposed to hate it.

The Holy Spirit was working in a transformational way. God answered the quiet prayers of my heart by leading us down an unfamiliar path. The Christian walk I was familiar with for the last 33 years was like a highway to hell on the fast track. We were kind and tried to do the right things, but we had a white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel of our lives. We hungered for control and wanted our desired outcomes. Our heads knew about Jesus but our hearts did not intimately know Jesus. Looks can be deceiving, can’t they? The red high heel façade even had me fooled. However, our Lord knew every dark cave of my soul but loved me enough to pursue an intimate relationship with me, even when I was playing hard to get.

It was January 26th, 2014. The day began like any ordinary Sunday. We walked into church playing dress-up in Christian clothing. We were honest, well-intentioned people. We prayed and tithed, but we were not living like followers of Christ. We proclaimed Him as Lord, but He was not reigning on the throne of our lives.

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.
– 2 Corinthians 7:10 NIV

God ruined my life that day. He completely stripped me of who I was, convicting me of the sinful stains that tarnished my soul. I entered this house of worship with mundane fulfillment, but walked out saved, completely broken, changed and a new creation.

As a new creation in Christ, I envisioned an easier life; one of less worries and burdens, yet one of freedom and hope. A day that started with the greatest spiritual epiphany of my life, ended in crisis. Just six hours after surrendering my life to Christ, I felt I had been sucker-punched in the gut. I had no idea how difficult my life would become and how soon my faith would be tested. A Glioblastoma brain tumor had threatened to take my mother’s life. It’s the most aggressive, reoccurring brain cancer with no cure.

This seemed utterly surreal and unbearable. To my surprise though, Christ was right there with us, and our life became a completely blessed mess. Before my surrendering this would have destroyed me, but now this trial was strengthening my faith, equipping me to leverage my pain for the Lord’s beautiful, perfect purpose. To God be all glory, honor and praise. •LR•

LeRyiah Arant is a Jesus lover, imperfect wife & momma, fueled by GRACE and ice cream. Passionate about personal stories, legacy & living in tandem with God. @LeRyiahArant

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith, of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
– 1 Peter 1:6-7 NIV

Utterly Amazed

I love to travel, especially to foreign lands. Even though I speak no foreign language, I embrace the culture, the food, and even the inconveniences. My parents instilled in me this passion from an early age as we often hosted visiting missionaries in our home. I loved to listen to their stories of how God was working in their lives and the lands where they lived. When I was six, my father took me on my first mission trip to Haiti. Even at such a young age I sensed people were hungry for God’s Word.

In 1975, I witnessed Nicaraguan Guerilla warfare. I heard the sounds of helicopters flying low over our compound by day and decimating the recently built Houses of Worship with gunfire by night. At age 12, I stayed with a non-English speaking Puerto Rican family and their pre-teen daughter for two weeks. During this time, I learned that although God made us unique in color and language, our hearts are the same. In Canada, I learned we could look alike yet speak a different language and have very different cultures.

Although God made us unique in color and language, our hearts are the same.

As a young teenager in Costa Rica, I shared my testimony with the help of an interpreter for the first time publicly with other teens. A few years later, in Mexico, I shared again how Jesus Christ had changed my life. Fellowshipping in Italian and German homes, I enjoyed simple meals, not understanding a single word spoken.

As a young woman, I sang and clapped to the beat of worshipping hearts on the Island of Dominica and learned that we may worship uniquely, but we still worship the same God. In China, I fell in love, not with my husband (that love found me 20 years earlier), but with the Chinese people and culture.

When I, along with my husband and our girls, moved to Columbia, SC, we attended a very missions-minded church. Our Associate Pastor accepted a call as a missionary to China and began a program matching local Chinese individuals, who had shown a propensity for desiring spiritual understanding, with a Christian Westerner – one who was willing for an hour a week to Skype and practice English with them. So, every Sunday morning before church, I began to Skype with my E-Friend, Ruzhen, and a special friendship developed. Ruzhen and I have continued meeting since 2010. I’ve learned to be very intentional in the short time we have together each week to share and show her Jesus Christ.

Our family relocated in 2001, and shortly after this move, my friendship with another Chinese woman began. Amy owned and worked at the local Chinese restaurant. As our friendship grew, I prayed one day she would understand English well enough for me to share about my Best Friend, Jesus Christ.

Look at the nations and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.
– Habakkuk 1:5 NIV

lr-fall-2016-heidi-mcgill-students-beginner-1In 2013, I was trained as an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher. During my first year of teaching, God began tugging on my heart to start a ministry at my home church during the day. Although I felt I had few leadership skills and relied on others for transportation because I am legally blind, it was clear God was asking me to take this step of faith. He continually put in front of me Habakkuk 1:5 (NIV): “Look at the nations and watch and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” I could not believe God was calling me to start a ministry without a single student and only me as a teacher. However, He and I have enough history to know He is true to His Word, and I certainly didn’t want to miss being utterly amazed.

So, after saying, “Yes,” I immediately asked the Lord, “Where will I find students?” He answered with Leviticus 19:33-34 (NASB): “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you should love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” My Chinese friend, Amy, was “residing with me” and, recalling my experiences in foreign countries like Haiti and Puerto Rico, I most certainly understood what it meant to feel like “an alien in a foreign land” both spiritually and literally. God affirmed how He had been preparing me for this purpose, and a new ministry was birthed.

Was this an easy assignment God gave me to do? No way! Was it worth it? You bet. I would not trade being utterly amazed by God for anything. •LR•

Heidi McGill lives in Fort Mill, SC. She has been married to her husband Bob for 25 years and has two teenage daughters. She is the founder of the English as a Second Language program at First Baptist Church in Fort Mill, South Carolina.
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The First Baptist Church Fort Mill, SC ESL program now has 65 dedicated volunteers including 16 trained ESL teachers. 66 students representing 21 different countries participate in seven level-appropriate classes and a specialized phonics program.

Election Fears? Take Heart.

barack_obama_votes_in_the_2012_electionI can trace it back to one night during my senior year of high school. Unable to sleep, I grieved the loss of aborted unborn life. I thought, “How could innocent babies be killed and discarded everyday?” My heart ached for the women involved. “What money problems or social pressures could make a woman feel so trapped she would choose to end her son or daughter’s life?”

I knew I had to do something.

In college, I began volunteering with political committees to elect pro-life candidates. I would leave campaign literature on doorsteps, walking through neighborhoods until my feet hurt. Working phone banks, I’d make calls until my voice was hoarse. Politics became an obsession. It stole precious time I could have spent on homework. My college Alma mater, Virginia Tech, was a large school with plenty of Bible studies to attend and ministries to get involved with, but I never attended any more than once.

Politics also lured me into resentment. I seethed the candidates who didn’t share my ideals on any number of issues, from abortion and marriage to social security and taxes. When my candidates lost, it was as if Mount Vesuvius had erupted and destroyed my life.

On April 16, 2007, I received a wake-up call. During my last semester at Virginia Tech, the tragic shooting occurred. Ambulances roared by on the street outside my apartment, some coming from two counties over. The cell phone lines were jammed so I had to contact my family through email to let them know I was safe.

Later that afternoon, I realized a friend, Jeremy Herbstritt, hadn’t checked in with his family or anyone else. I drove to his apartment, knocked on the door, but no answer. Then I drove to the Virginia Tech police department. The officer scanned his clipboard. As he looked back up, he spoke with a soft tone, “Jeremy Herbstritt was one of the victims today, and he was killed.” The grief hit hard, like a punch in the gut. The only hope I could cling to was I believed he was a Believer in Jesus Christ.
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Grief struck again a few years later when my grandfather died. He and my grandmother took me to church when I was young. I knew his faith was in Jesus Christ. Once more, I was consoled knowing my grandfather lived real hope, the hope of eternal life.

At the end of Jeremy’s life and my grandfather’s, what mattered was in Whom they had placed their hope and trust. God alone offers us eternal life. It suddenly dawned on me how insignificant and small elections were in comparison to a life lived in and through Jesus Christ. Although I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I turned my life over to Christ, I know it happened while studying a dusty Bible; the one I’d bought in college but never read.

So let’s ponder a few things: A president’s pen can sign or veto bills, but Jesus is the Author of our salvation. Each president gets four to eight years in the White House, but God is the Alpha and Omega. He loves mankind and has been redeeming souls long before our country was founded. Convincing someone to vote for your candidate could mean good policies for a few years (maybe), but sharing Jesus with someone could save their soul. Only God can do that.

A president’s pen can sign or veto bills, but Jesus is the Author of our salvation. Each president gets four to eight years…but God is the Alpha and Omega.

It’s easy to lose sight of what’s truly important. Every four years, the presidential race swarms the news cycles, crowds the Internet and stirs conversation. Each battle for the White House is portrayed as the most important event in human history. Candidates discuss bold, controversial plans as if they could single-handedly change everything, without cooperating with legislators, courts, and states.

Being civic-minded is a very good thing. The apostle Paul told us to pray for people in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-2), and he used his Roman citizenship to his advantage as he proclaimed the gospel (Acts 22:25). Today, I still vote in every election, but I don’t idolize, hate, or obsess. I’ve also found other ways to make a difference. Recently, I had the joy of participating in my town’s Walk for Life – an event benefiting a Christian pregnancy center that saves lives – exactly what I sought from the start.

Politicians will disappoint us. They’re human like you and me. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world,” (John 16:33). If the November election doesn’t go your way, or if you’ll be unhappy no matter what, take heart. Consider it an opportunity to pray for the president-elect. Most importantly, keep your eyes fixed on the Ancient of Days. Pin your hope on Him alone. He is the firm foundation, one that will never disappoint. •LR•

Lauren Craft is an unpublished Christian fiction author and journalist/editor in downtown DC. She loves serving on the mission’s team at her church in northern VA. Find devos, writing tips, and Christian book finds on her blog: InspiredBookshelf.com

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.
– 1 Timothy 2:1-2 NIV

Fitbits & Food

The Struggle is Real

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A few months ago I admitted that I struggle with bulimia. Even though I have never made myself throw up, I excessively worked out, dieted, fasted, and then binged on food. I would eat, and eat, and eat some more. It was as if I could not stop eating. Shame and disgust would overcome me and I could return to excessively working out, dieting, and fasting to rid myself of the food I just consumed. However, I would eventually binge again, allowing the vicious cycle to continue.

I continuously wore my Fitbit for about 9 months – everyday, all day. It became an extension of myself. I took it off when I got in the shower and put it back on as soon as I got out. I charged it while I slept so I wouldn’t take any steps without it. I tracked my steps, the number of flights of stairs I climbed. I tracked workouts, my weight. I tracked every bite I put in my mouth. I made sure my caloric output exceeded my caloric intake.

The Fitbit allowed me to make everything a number. My steps became a number. My workouts became a number. My food became a number. Slowly, I even became a number. The Fitbit,I thought, allowed me to have control. I managed how many calories I ate and how many calories I burned. I could insure I would not gain weight and stay slim. This Fitbit, a device designed to propel a healthier lifestyle, only fueled an unhealthy lifestyle for me, creating an out of control eating disorder.

Finally, I took it off.

Since taking off my Fitbit, many changes have occurred. I’ve stopped weighing myself, and I no longer define myself by a number. Walking has become a celebration of the fact that my legs allow me to walk, instead of just another number to reach my step goal. Workouts, if I workout, have become an activity to help me practice self-care instead of an activity that allows me to eat more. Food, although still in transition, has transformed from being a caloric number to nourishment. It’s meals shared with loved ones, and a way God tangibly provides.

…for when I am weak, then I am strong.
– 2 Corinthians 12:10 B NKJV

If you saw me in person, you would probably never imagine I battle bulimia. I live with both of my parents in a nice house with a younger brother and a dog. I make good grades, wear nice clothes, and I have nice car. Even my Instagram pictures are pretty cool, too. I go to church on Sundays, and I love the Lord. I appear to have it all together. However, on the inside, chaos abounds. Anxiety and depression are best friends with disordered eating, so I deal with those as well.

I can assure you, my life is not all butterflies and rainbows, and that’s okay. I’m positive your life isn’t either. Eating disorders bring with them copious amounts of shame, disgust, and brokenness. It’s not fun, I promise, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Over these past few months of battling through this disorder, I’ve experienced the infinite, everlasting love of Christ more deeply than ever before. I’m experiencing another level of what it means to be content in every situation. I’m learning more about how the Lord works through weaknesses and how He truly accepts
everyone. And I mean everyone.

I’m still not completely over this eating disorder. I fight against the thoughts everyday, some days more than others. Some days I lose, most days I win. I may never fully recover from this until I enter those pearly gates, and that’s okay. These words give me freedom and strength to gladly boast in my weakness because Christ’s power is made perfect through it.

And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
– 2 Corinthians 12:9 NKJV

I hope these words will encourage you in whatever weakness you’re struggling with. I’ve prayed God would speak His words through me. I am so weak, so needy, and so imperfect. Look, I’m learning and that’s okay. I’ve allowed something as simple and mundane as food control me for many years. It’s
embarrassing. It’s a weakness, and I will boast gladly in this weakness. During those days when change seems impossible, like the struggle will never end, God always tells me He loves me – every part of me, even the parts I’d prefer to keep to myself. He reminds me, through Him, change is possible because He’s changing me from the inside out. He provides a ray of hope because there is always hope. Always. •LR•

Madison Adams is a student, daughter, and friend, who loves the Lord, and sharing what HE has done in her life. She’s active in the college ministry at Trinity Baptist Church.

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