Searching for Truth

How the Closing of a Christian Bookstore Chain Can Challenge the Church…

There was hardly a gasp in Christendom when Family Christian Stores decided to close all 240 sets of doors. After battling with solvency for years, the 85-year-old chain filed for bankruptcy in 2015. Citing “changing consumer behavior and declining sales,”1 their investors saw no way for the company to survive and finally closed the books — no pun intended.

While I agree with the initial autopsy that their death was suicidal, it certainly did not come without warning. The last time I visited one of Family Christian’s stores, I waded through racks of “Christian merchandise”, wandered through shelf after shelf of books on mysticism, spiritualism, Christian socialism, contemplative prayers and self-actualization, alongside huge pictures of the celebrity pastors and conference speakers who wrote them, before finally finding the Bibles in the back of the store. Could it be their sales declined because they were more interested in dollars than doctrine, and in trivia than truth?

SearchingForTruthThe same week the news was released about Family Christian Stores closing, two other announcements confirmed my view regarding their demise. First, a Pew Research Center survey2 revealed millennials are more likely to read a book than their parents or grandparents. And, much to this writer’s surprise, they prefer print books to e-books or digital material. While some cited their academic studies as the reason for their love of books, others said they read books for research, to enhance their career, or to help them understand the current events of the day. One bookstore said millennials were buying books of substance, depth and historical reference rather than contemporary relevance.

The second confirmation came in an article on Christianity Today’s website entitled, “Why We’re Still Reading ‘My Utmost for His Highest’ 80 Years Later.” Second only to the Bible, My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers, has had more influence on my spiritual journey than any other book. The daily retracing of these essential issues of the Christian faith helped deepen my devotion to the Lord, solidifying the absolute necessity of daily “nourishing the life of God in me” so He can use my life to nourish others. The reading and re-reading of those lines, year after year, have helped develop convictions I will not compromise, and continue to help in perfecting my walk with the Lord.

My first copy of My Utmost for His Highest was a Christmas present received in 1981. I used it for several years. Even though I use newer copies today, I still return to that old orange, hardback copy to read the many personal notes I made each day. Over the years, I have also given hundreds of copies to new Christians, students, deacons, fellow pastors, and to anyone who expressed a desire to become a devoted disciple of Christ, always enclosing a personal challenge.

In the foreword of My Utmost for His Highest, Robert Murray McCheyne is quoted: “Men return again and again to the few who have mastered the spiritual secret; whose life has been hidden with Christ in God”3 (emphasis, mine).

Hmm…Did a light turn on in your mind? Did bells begin ringing in your ears? For years I have said our youth want nothing less than the unvarnished truth of the Word of God. Contrary to modern thought, writers, speakers, teachers, and preachers don’t have to dumb it down to get them to read it.

Are we more interested in promoting logos and programs than we are in proclaiming truth? It’s worth taking inventory to find out.

Maybe if Family Christian Stores had listened to the wisdom of McCheyne rather than the advice of their marketing agents, 3000 people would not be losing their jobs. If their investors had been serious about distributing the truth of the gospel rather than profiting off the latest so-called Christian celebrity, perhaps lesser-known authors would have been able to offer their books to the larger Body of Christ. If Family Christian’s leaders had committed to advance the Kingdom of God rather than their own, perhaps thousands of millennials would be lined up at their stores in search of those great books to help guide them in their quest for truth.

The same warning needs to be heard and heeded by the local church. According to 2 Peter 1:3 (KJV), God has given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him, that hath called us to glory and virtue. If God’s people are to stand firm in their faith against evil and we are serious about keeping our doors open, the church must help plant the roots of faith deep in the revealed knowledge of God and not in the latest futile fads of the faith.

So, let’s conclude by asking ourselves a couple of questions: If a spiritually thirsty millennial visited our church this Sunday, how much program promotion and ministry merchandising would he or she have to wade through, listen to, or view before finally hearing the Word of Truth? •LR•

Wayne J. Edwards is a pastor and a writer. He attended Columbia International University and has served as Senior Pastor at Heritage Baptist Church in Perry, Georgia since 2010.

1Zylstra, Sarah Eekhoff, “All 240 Family Christian Stores Are Closing”, Christianity Today, February 23, 2017. http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2017/february/allfamily-christian-stores-closing-fcs-liquidation.html, March 18, 2017

2Lafrance, Adrienne, “Millennials Are Out-Reading Older Generations”, The Atlantic, September 10, 2014. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/09/millennialsare-out-reading-older-generations/379934/, March 18, 2017

3Chambers, Oswald. My Utmost for His Highest. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1935. Print.

Going Through the Motions

GoingThroughTheMotionsOn this particular Wednesday night, if you had asked me what my plans were for the evening, I would have told you I was going to my church’s youth worship service, then going back home to watch the Olympic swimming finals with my family. And, if you had asked me if I take my life for granted, I would have told you I don’t.

I went to Wednesday night worship like I do every week. I saw some of my closest friends, sang along with the band and listened to our speaker. We concluded around 7:30pm and I began driving home via the same route as every week. On this particular night, though, I had a slightly different experience.

When I am afraid, I will trust in You.
– Psalm 56:3 NIV

As I approached the last (and longest) stop light before my house, I turned on my left signal and continued enjoying some country music while waiting for the green light. I perked up in my seat when the colors changed, looked left, then right and began to ease into the intersection. For some reason, I felt the need to check to my right once again before pulling into the second lane of traffic. As I turned to look, I saw a truck heading my way, and he didn’t seem to be slowing down. I slammed on the brakes as the truck ran through the red light. I was completely in shock after nearly getting slammed in the middle of the highway. Tears began streaming down my face. All I could do was thank God for His protection.

After arriving home safely, I sat on my front porch replaying the memory over and over again in my head. A vast amount of things could have gone wrong in just a few short seconds. My life could have been flipped upside down in the blink of an eye. I was so thankful the Lord revealed His presence in my life at that very moment. If I would have pulled out just two seconds earlier, this would be a totally different story.

I pray every event throughout my life will give Him all the glory.

I’ll definitely admit I was terrified in that intersection. My heart was about to beat out of my chest, but what brought me the most comfort was the assurance of Who holds my life. I have placed all my hope and trust in Jesus Christ, and I pray every event throughout my life will give Him all the glory. Even in times of fear, God is in control.

Today, I give thanks to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for all circumstances, for this is God’s will for me in Jesus Christ.
– 1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV (paraphrased)

That night I realized how short life truly is. Life is too short to live for anyone other than Jesus Christ. Life is too short not to offer grace and forgiveness to others. Life is too short not to spread the hope and love of Christ throughout your community. We wake up every morning expecting to wake up again the next morning, but we don’t know when we will take our last breath. We don’t know the last time we will eat our favorite food, or the last time we will watch our favorite movie. Those are simple things I take for granted far too often.

If you had asked me a couple of months ago if I take my life for granted, I would have told you I don’t, but the truth is, I did take my life for granted. I had not offered grace and forgiveness every chance given. I had not always spoken with words of kindness. I had not always looked at situations through His eyes of love. Life is too short to be stuck in the ways of the world. Life is too short not to offer grace and forgiveness. Life is too short not to live a life of love. Life is too short to live for myself instead of living for my Savior. Life is too short to keep quiet about what Jesus Christ has done in my life. •LR•

Allie Paige Thornton is a student at Brookland-Cayce High School where she is a cheerleader and member of the Lady Bearcats soccer team. She is also an active member of her church youth group at Trinity Baptist in Cayce, SC.

Beautiful Feet — Wait, say what!?

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
– Isaiah 52:7 NIV

I have to chuckle when I read the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 10:15, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Beautiful feet? Say what?

Boyfriends and suitors have told me many things in my lifetime, but never that my feet were a thing of beauty. In fact, anyone who said that would be lying. My feet were never pretty. By age 17, there was absolutely no physical beauty in them. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful for my feet; I’m just hoping they’re not my best feature.
Hole in stockings on the stupnyakh of feet
At 17, I woke up late one December evening to the ring of the telephone. I jumped out of bed and ran through the den, and…BAM! My toes hit the fireplace hearth. Running while groggy is not recommended. And, if the furniture has been rearranged for the Christmas tree, you really need to be alert and turn on the light, because smacking your toes on the bricks of a hearth really hurts. I hobbled to the telephone, and wouldn’t you know it, the caller hung up. I shuffled back to bed. It took a few minutes to fall back asleep because of the throbbing in my toes.

Hopeless

Little did I know, this event would impact the rest of my life. I spent the next two years in and out of doctor’s offices, hospitals and clinics trying to figure out why the inflammation and pain would not subside.

Finally, two years and many medications later, I landed in the office of a rheumatologist, a doctor who treats arthritis and other autoimmune diseases. By the time I got to the rheumatologist, the pain and inflammation had migrated up my right leg into my knee. It was so swollen I couldn’t pull my straight-leg jeans over it. For a girl in the 1980s, this was a tragedy.

I began hurting everywhere in my body. My doctors seemed to believe it was some form of arthritis, but were baffled as to what kind. None of my blood work was conclusive. The arthritis appeared to be rheumatoid, but I didn’t seem to fit the profile. After months of treatment, my disease progressively worsened. At the age of 19, I withdrew from college and spent most of my days in bed. I felt hopeless.

Was My Life Over?

During a routine appointment, the doctor explained my disease had become aggressive, and I needed to prepare for the future. His prognosis was by age 21 the disease would cripple me, and I would live the remainder of my years in chronic pain in a wheelchair. I left his office sobbing, feeling my life was over. I asked God, “Why?” My dreams of finishing college, becoming a teacher, wife, and mother seemed to be slipping away. How could God allow this to happen to me? With regards to marriage and starting a family, I couldn’t become pregnant while taking high-risk medications, and my doctor predicted I would never be able to stop taking these drugs.

After five surgeries and multiple regimens of high-risk, long-term medications, I thank God I’m still walking! Oh, my toes are deformed, and I walk with a pronounced limp, but I walk! My feet aren’t beautiful by any stretch of the imagination, but they still take me where I want to go. My dreams? God handled those as well. In 1984 I graduated cum laude from the University of South Carolina (Go Gamecocks!) with a degree in Secondary education. I became a teacher, and in 1989, I married the man of my dreams.

Our Dream Maker

In 1990, my disease went into a five-year remission, and during that time I came off all medications. I was even given “the okay” to try to have a baby. And guess what? In February 1991, I gave birth to Alex, the most beautiful baby boy ever (in spite of his cone-shaped head and blue skin.)

Then in 1993, I repeated the process and became the proud mother of the most beautiful baby girl ever—Ashleigh! Wow! God really is a God of miracles.

I prayed for more than 12 years about having a family. I had no idea of the wonder the Lord was going to bestow on me with my husband and two children. God is our Great Physician, and He can do what man cannot.

Today, you may be suffering from physical or emotional pain. You, too, may feel your life is over or your dreams have been snatched from you. Trust me when I say, “God is our Dream Maker.” Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4 ESV).

When faith fades and doubt creeps in, think on these words: Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you (Jeremiah 32:17 NIV).

Friend, your life is not over. I’m telling you to keep dreaming, not because I’ve read it somewhere, but because I’ve walked it! •LR•

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

Leap of Faith

Dance was her life. Dance was what she loved.

An interview with Cynthia Dewar of South Carolina Christian Dance Theater

Cynthia Dewar knows what it means to take a leap of faith. Over the years she’s taken many, but one changed her life forever.

As a young girl taking ballet in her mother’s studio, Dewar fell in love with dancing and the idea of teaching others how to dance. Eventually she went to study at the North Carolina School of the Arts, but as a teenager, she left dance behind to put God first.

To do this, she turned her focus from intense dance training to focusing more on God, but she felt as if the life she knew was over.

“That was a very pivotal point in my life. It was hard actually, but I knew God was going to do something with it.”

Slowly, Dewar started to realize God was growing in her a greater expectation of what He could do in and through her.

God set the stage for Dewar to return to dance and performing. Soon, she began teaching and helping other dancers how to develop their skills. Over the years, opportunities increased as she gained more teaching experience at studios in Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia. She went on to serve as an adjunct ballet instructor for the University of South Carolina and earned a teaching certificate from London’s Royal Academy of Dance.

Ten years ago when she moved to Columbia, South Carolina for her husband’s job, she felt the Lord telling her the time had come to take another leap of faith. That’s when she started the South Carolina Christian Dance Theater (SCCDT).Cynthia Dewar

“I always dreamed of having a dance studio at some point. I never dreamed it would happen as it has.”

At first, she took her dance lessons to preschools where she offered classes to the tiniest of dancers. Eventually, the dance theater found a home and Dewar added additional teachers. Now, more than 250 students are learning to take their own leaps of faith during classes held at the studio.

“Each year we have actually discovered more about what it means to worship and what it means to pass on the heritage of Christian dance to the next group of kids.”

The knowledge and passion passed on to dancers is taking root, especially in 18-year-old Gracie Reeves.

Reeves took her first SCCDT class at the age of seven. Years of training and practice have helped her gracefully glide through every step, but she understands she isn’t just performing routines.

“The thing I enjoy most about dancing, especially with SCCDT, is the ability to worship and glorify God through my body.”

Reeves and other dancers spend many hours a week dancing, but they also spend time studying God’s Word and learning how to use dance as a tool for sharing the Gospel.

In 2013, SCCDT took some of the theater’s older dance students on a summer mission trip to Guyana, South America, where they used dance to minister to local churches and to share the love of Jesus.

After the trip, Dewar knew SCCDT needed to look for more mission trip opportunities. Since then, the theater has traveled to Allendale, South Carolina, Bulgaria and South Africa.

Reeves took part in the Bulgaria trip and experienced the joy of helping others grow closer to God.

“It was incredible to see how people broke out in freedom when they learned they too could use their dance as worship. People said that they had always wanted to glorify God with everything and now they finally felt they could,” Reeves recalled about the trip.

For Dewar, the choice to put God first so many years ago is helping other dancers learn to do so too. When she sees one of them tell someone about Jesus, her reaction is always the same.

“It drives me to tears, and I think that is so wonderful, because that’s what it’s all about.”

•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.

Filling the Void

Navigating the Emptiness of Parental Abandonment

I was eight when my dad left.

I remember his laundry being gone; his toothbrush missing by his sink; his car not parked in the driveway; his blue leather chair next to the window in the living room, gone. His leather bedroom slippers were no longer at the foot of his side of the bed. I remember the varied minutiae with utmost clarity. I can see them. I can smell them. His blue and white bathrobe. His Chicago Bulls tee shirt. His beer can in a koozie on the side table. A plethora of things belonging to my dad were physical reminders he was no longer present in our home.


Until recent years, these smallest of details laid dormant like dusty, untouched scrapbooks filled with scenes and treasures of life gone by. This odd collection of memories and family relics serve as our own fossil record. I’ll never toss these precious intricacies out with the Friday trash. I never want to rid myself of them. Why would I? I hold onto the little things because these delicate memories are all I have. These buried fragments covered in dust and dirt for 24 years remind me of the fact that before the unwanted dissolution, we were a real, unbroken, flesh-and-blood family.

It seems strange though. My most vivid recollections of my dad disappeared the same moment he did. His clothes. His Coors Light. His car. His cologne. My dad. Gone.

When he left, nothing made sense. How could it? It was a dark, unentertaining, disappearing act at a magic show ending with him not reappearing. I didn’t want tickets to this.

For any child, when a parental void makes its presence felt, the emptiness brings questions, anger, frustration, bitterness, and a potent sadness. Weakness sets in, staining everything. Your parent who helped raise and bring you up in the world is not around anymore to help you navigate and process a new normal. Parental absence births an affliction difficult to reckon with, and at times, unable to be tamed.

Family – the one thing that should stay standing when everything else falls – had failed. My family was broken. Isn’t a family supposed to be a place of security, a refuge?

Although my dad left when I was eight, the divorce papers were not finalized until I was 11. While wrestling with my new reality, the experience of parental abandonment was intensely life altering. Everything secure was now insecure. I felt a weight, many times too heavy to carry. The air seemed too thick to inhale, and the mud of life, too dense to wade through. But, what changed the course of my life more than the absence of my dad was the substance with which my mom filled the emptiness.

An abandoned spouse turned single parent to three children, my mom understood our pain. She hurt with us. She cried with us and wrestled with us to make sense of it all. But, what she didn’t do was let us believe hope was too fluid to grasp, or comfort too distant to feel. My mom made it her mission to fill the empty space in her life and her children’s with palpable belief our God was the Great Comforter, the Gentle Healer, the Closest Friend, and the Best Father. My mom did not fill her emptiness, or ours, with bitterness and discouragement, but with confidence and loving security in Jesus. Through her minute by minute, unwavering faith, my mom showed us how our Heavenly Father does great and miraculous works when His children are deep in affliction and despair.

Now in my thirties, I’ve discovered the most rewarding work to be a part of is walking alongside others fighting to keep their heads above the water line of parental neglect and abandonment.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
– 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV

This was the Apostle Paul’s great encouragement to the Corinthians. Scripture speaks beautifully and powerfully about how our afflictions and our pain are not just about us. The front doors to our pain and suffering must never be closed. God intends for us to use the comfort He has generously given in our time of trials for the good of others as they find themselves crawling through similar pain and navigating the same winding roads. This gives us reason to count it all joy when we encounter trials and hardships as the scripture tells us in James 1:2. As a child of God, a son of the King, I know He’s not done with me. I know He wants to use my journey of abandonment to bring glory and honor to Him by bringing comfort and hope to others.

Friend, believe this – no matter who leaves us, our God will never abandon or let go of His children. He promises to walk with us through every uncertain step and to be our safe place forever. •LR•

Jonathan C. Edwards (MDiv, ThM) Director of Curriculum for Docent Research Group. He and his wife, Katherine, live in Durham, NC where he is pursuing his DMin at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

His writing has been featured at The Gospel Coalition, Relevant, Desiring God, and the ERLC. He is the author of “Left: The Struggle to Make Sense of Life When a Parent Leaves,” [Rainer Publishing, 2016] available now.

NotThePuritan.com

I’m not perfect…yet!

Embracing Our Imperfections

I hate perfectionism. It should be an easy thing to get over. With imperfection everywhere, shouldn’t we just embrace our imperfections? Simple. Right? Yet, my irrational desire to be flawless makes me crazy, unproductive and ill tempered.

Nobody Needs to Be Perfect

Slowly but surely, I’m learning nobody needs to be perfect. It’s an impossible standard. When we expect perfection from ourselves or strive for it when others demand it, we allow the enemy to disrupt the joy, peace and rest God intends for us. I’m finding the more I know of God’s character, the more I ponder His Word. Letting Him inform my soul of my worth, the more comfortable I become with lowering my own bar a bit. You see, when Jesus says, “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48, HCSV), He does so following a long list of “divine passive” verbs. In the divine passive voice, no agent of the action is identified. The verb is considered an act of God. In other words, when Jesus said, “be perfect,” He fully recognized that the imperatives He’d given earlier were well beyond what we are capable of on our own. They are “acts of God,” gifts given to us by God Himself.

We can have confidence in knowing what God requires of us He has also gifted us to accomplish. A recent reading of a familiar passage has completely changed how I approach lowering the unachievable bar, and has made me smile at my imperfections and missteps a little more than I have before. I could quote verse after verse the Lord has brought to my attention to help me defend against perfectionism, but this verse finally made its way from my head to my heart: How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are!…Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known…(1 John 3:1-2a NIV).

Did you catch that? We, God’s children, are not even close to what we will be one day. Our potential hasn’t been revealed yet! We are practicing, and God is in the business of shaping, molding and changing us little by little. We don’t physically grow up all at once, so why in the world do we expect perfection from ourselves all at once – or at all? No one looks at their dear child and expects her to walk, talk, preach, sing, compose a sonnet, work an equation, or run a record-breaking mile immediately. We don’t expect some of those things to ever happen, and we love our children nonetheless. In the same way, Father God does not expect His children to become all He calls us to be immediately either. And, He is gracious enough to say so over and over in His word. We simply need to develop ears to hear and hearts willing to believe His voice over the giant lie we whisper to ourselves.

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known…
– 1 John 3:2a NIV

When we prefer perfection to progress, and performance over practice, we are missing the point. God could instantaneously change us, but He chooses not to. He intentionally moves slowly, teaching us about Himself and ourselves along the way. He works in this way for our good and to deepen our relationships with Him and others. Even though I wish I could be perfect some days, I shudder to think of who I would be if my wish ever came true. “Perfect people” aren’t compassionate; they don’t see their need for God or thirst for Him like a deer pants for water.

“Perfect people” are self-centered, thinking they can figure it all out all on their own. The lessons I’m learning while leaning on and trusting in Jesus are strengthening my faith and making me more like the only Perfect One – Christ.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
– Psalm 139:14a

Think about it like this: a butterfly isn’t born beautiful. He starts out a fuzzy, little caterpillar and slowly becomes a breath-taking wonder through the wrapping of a tight cocoon, enduring a myriad of amazing changes science doesn’t even fully understand, all the while struggling to break free of his trappings. You and I are the same way.

As we struggle inside our wrappings of imperfections, insecurities, regrets, consequences and circumstances, we grow stronger as we get to know the One who has had His hand on us from the very beginning. When we finally “get it,” we can live patiently while God works, recognizing our worth is still hidden, knowing He has lavished His love on us. We can look long, wide-eyed in wonder and belief, for the binding times and unwelcomed changes are all part of our metamorphosis. Who we are becoming has not been revealed yet, but it will be. And we will be perfectly beautiful. •LR•

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

Fear Not


“Mommy, are you going to die?”

I’ll never forget that night. I was soaking in a detox bath after spending the day in the infusion center receiving my fourth chemo treatment. It had only been a month since our world was rocked from my breast cancer diagnosis. Our daughter, who was seven years old at the time, was staying a little closer to me than usual, especially during such uncertain times. Her sitting by the tub and talking about random things on chemo days had become our new normal, but this time was different. Maybe it was because my hair was completely gone. My body had become so frail from the side effects of treatment that honestly, I guess I did look a bit like death. So, when I saw the look of fear in her eyes, I knew the weight my response carried was great.

A peaceful whisper flowed over me saying, “Just share what you know to be true.”

Taking a deep breath, I said, “You know Abigail, eventually all of us will die. Right now the doctors are doing everything they can to help me. I know all this can be scary, but God said He’d be with me and I believe Him, so I’m not afraid.”

The look of fear immediately left her face. With a simple “Okay,” she went on to share a funny story about her day. It was that simple.

Looking back on that night made me wonder, “Where does fear come from?” No matter how crazy it sounds or irrational it may seem to some, the fact is: fear is real. Why are some paralyzed by its grip and others, like a child, are content to simply trust? What, in that teachable moment, made me so sure God would come through for me?

As a child, I vividly remember walking by my mom’s bedroom, seeing her on her knees praying by her bed. Like many, I grew up in a single parent home riddled with its own challenges and disappointments. Mom never let the difficulties of life destroy her. Instead, she chose to surrender all her anxieties, concerns and fears into the hands of Jesus. She had received His free gift of love, so freedom was hers.

Seeing Mom on her knees in a posture of humility, submitting to something far greater than herself, gave me peace as a young girl. I knew I didn’t have to do life alone. What a precious gift for a parent to give a child. Mom lived out the assurance she had from the promise of Jesus. While people, places, and even events may let us down, Jesus will never leave us or forsake us. (Deuteronomy 31:8, Hebrews 13:5) God loved us so immensely, He sent His only Son to earth, to show us the Father, to suffer and die on the cross, defeating sin – our sin. From the grave, three days later, He arose from the dead, defeating death, so whoever believes in Him can live free from sin and live eternally with Him.

This gift of love transformed my life. After receiving and confessing Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior, I hungered to learn more about His perfect love; the 1 John 4:18 kind of love: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment” (NKJV). Who wants torment? What parent wants that for her children? God, our Father, doesn’t want torment for you either.

In this sweet moment with my daughter, I wanted her to know when trials of life come, God does not intend to punish or torment us with fear. It is not in His character to do so. He is love. When we choose to receive something not of God, we surrender the gift of peace and freedom He so graciously gives. I wanted her to know death is not something to fear, but living with unbelief is.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

The root of fear is unbelief; doubting the very thing you put your faith and hope in, and thinking it won’t come through for you. What do you hope in? For those who believe in Christ, Galatians 5:1 says, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (ESV).

Because of God’s grace, sin does not have to be our master. God’s perfect love cast out ALL fear. For the death He died, He died to sin once for all; (Romans 6:10 ESV) We don’t have to try and live in our own strength and just fear LESS. No! When Jesus came and conquered the grave, He did it so we can fear NOT! •LR•

Laura Gopp is a writer, speaker and media designer who is passionate about living out her faith in Jesus Christ. She absolutely loves being Dan’s wife and Abigail’s mom. LaraGopp.com

Bitter or Better

Responding to Life’s Unexpected

An unborn child dies in the womb. A plane carrying more than one hundred passengers explodes mid air. A new dad dies in an auto accident on the way to see his new baby girl. A woman walks into her office and discovers her desk has been cleared out. A youth pastor with a wife and four children is diagnosed with liver cancer.

No one expects suffering, but suffering is a part of life. Suffering can make us bitter, or make us better.

When I was seventeen, I was diagnosed with a rare brain disorder. This rare condition causes the pressure inside the skull and spinal column to increase for no apparent reason causing excruciating headaches, nausea and vomiting. For years, these horrible headaches had been part of my life but we didn’t have any answers. One morning, I woke up and couldn’t see. The pressure in my head had become so severe causing extra fluid to press on the optic nerve causing my blindness. The specialist decided to place a shunt in my brain to drain the fluid. He believed this was the best chance of saving my vision. So, on December 4, 2013, I had my first of many more surgeries.

Fortunately, the shunt offered instant relief, but my incisions were not healing properly so more surgery was required. It’s hard to fathom, but three and a half years later I have undergone 36 brain surgeries. Per viewing the X-rays, my skull looks like a bowling ball. There also have been a couple of serious brain infections, which have almost cost me my life. I’m asked all the time how I keep going through all of the pain. My answer is simple: Jesus.

Growing up, I was taught a powerful truth found in Philippians 4:6. Do not be anxious about anything, but instead pray about everything. I never realized how much peace this truth holds. Before every surgery I pray for God’s will to be done. I give everything to Him, and God has granted me overwhelming peace every single time.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
– Philippians 4:6-7 NIV

However, if I said I never questioned why this has happened to me, I would certainly be telling a lie. The amazing thing is, when I do ask why, Jesus answers me with the assurance that He is with me, and provides sufficient grace to see me through. I may never know this side of heaven why, but I do know this: nothing happens to any of His children without first being sifted through His mighty hands. I also know there is a much bigger picture than myself lying in the hospital bed every other month. I am able to use my illness to show the love of Jesus to others. I am humbled He uses me to make Him known. Knowing some have seen the Lord through my suffering has made all of this pain and all of my broken dreams absolutely worth it. I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

Though my body is physically sick, I have never felt more love in my entire life. So many people have reached out to me, and for that, I’m very grateful. Throughout this tough process I have been blessed with tons of prayers and a fantastic support system. Refusing to attend any pity parties I may want to throw, they choose instead to pray tirelessly. Everyone tells me I am being so brave and optimistic; those who know me best know that’s not always true – but I am strong because my strength comes from God. “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2 NIV).

Being sick is no fun, but I remember what Paul writes in Philippians 3:10-12. “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (NIV).BitterOrBetter_Kayln1

When I’m at my lowest emotionally and consider choking the next person who asks me to rate my pain on a scale of one to ten, I consciously remember how Jesus suffered and died on my behalf, and I am in awe. He chose to suffer for me. A crown of thorns was shoved onto Jesus’ head causing excruciating pain. Having terrible headaches makes me feel closer to God because it is a reminder of the pain He went through to save my soul.

I am not making big money or graduating college like I planned and sometimes it’s easy to feel like a failure. But, I know God is working out His plan for me. I know it looks nothing like what I dreamed my life would be, but I look forward everyday to growing into the woman He has designed me to be. More surgeries? Probably. But when things are hard, I know God is still God, and God is still good. He has blessed me way beyond what I deserve. Life happens, but Jesus will take hold of you just as He has taken hold of me. I know He never leaves or lets go of His children. So, we can give Him glory today and in the future through our unexpected life adventures. •LR•

Kayln Watts is a 22-year-old caregiver and nanny. Residing in West Columbia, SC, she enjoys playing with her nieces, hanging out with friends, reading and cross-stitching. Her desire is to remain healthy enough to return to Uganda where she loves working with orphaned children.

Our Blood Runs Red

Born a girl, into a persecuted minority group in Afghanistan, Fatima1 already had two strikes against her. To make matters worse, she also married the wrong man. One night, her husband pummeled her, knocked out her teeth, sliced open her face, and stabbed her skull, leaving the 25-year-old mother unconscious and bleeding to death. When her brother found her, he carried her on his back to the nearest hospital. He was told she wasn’t likely to make it.

The next day, Fatima’s colleagues, from the local TV station where she worked as a videographer, took her to the International Assistance Security Force hospital. The doctors saved her life and reconstructed her jaw. Over the next six months, she healed. But, with her husband still at large, she knew she wasn’t safe. She entreated a judge to jail her husband, but when he suggested an illicit arrangement in exchange for doing so, she fled to Iran with her sons.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban said Hazaras weren’t even Afghans. In Iran, people said to Afghan refugees, “Go back to your own country.” After a few years, when Iran refused to renew her visa, Fatima and her sons moved to Tajikistan. Tired, poor and yearning to be free,2 they sought a country they might call home.

After three years in Tajikistan, their asylum application to the U.S. was approved. They had found the light of a lamp lifted beside a golden door:3 The United States of America. They borrowed $4,000 for plane tickets, packed their suitcases, and headed to America to begin again; strangers in a foreign land.

Upon learning of their arrival to Columbia, SC in the fall of 2014, I raced across the 10 miles to the Lutheran Services Carolinas’ Welcome House to meet Fatima and her three sons, ages four to eighteen. Over the next few months we spent time together at stores, parks, restaurants, doctor’s offices, and in the living room of their small apartment. Fatima joined the jewelry-making classes I was offering other refugees and was soon inquiring about starting her own business.

Many churches, and other people I called on, helped them get established. Even their English teachers from two local bodies of believers rallied around them. Students, professionals, stay-at-home-moms, and volunteer English language partners all pitched in to shuttle the family to and from doctor’s appointments, grocery stores, parks, and to their own homes for meals. They gave them driving lessons and welding lessons. They registered Mosen, Fatima’s four-year-old, for kindergarten and babysat him on OneMaker’s artisan workdays while Fatima made jewelry.

Fatima and her sons worked hard to learn English, the bus system and how to drive. Mosen learned English at daycare; her middle son made the B honor roll; and her oldest landed a job at a restaurant, quickly advancing to the position as a chef. While managing chronic pain, Fatima juggled her hotel housekeeping job, a myriad of doctors’ appointments, and whatever English classes she could fit in, all while stoking dreams of landing a better job and buying a house.

Mosen plays at the splash pad

Mosen plays at the splash pad

Spending time with them was a joy. I especially loved feeling Mosen’s arms around my neck and taking him to the splash pad where he raced through the chutes of water, and to the park where he fearlessly scaled the playground equipment. One day, as he was zooming around his living room with trucks I had brought, his mother, another friend, and I chatted over tea. That was the last day I would see Mosen alive.

Three days later, tragedy snatched Mosen from this earth, piercing his mother’s heart with a pain like none she had ever known. “Everything else can be fixed,” she told me later. “Not this.”

At Fatima’s request, a local mosque organized the small boy’s funeral, welcoming Muslims and non-Muslims to mourn with the family. The wails of a shattered mother and the sight of her falling on her son’s grave were forever seared into the minds of all in attendance.

Fatima could not face returning to her apartment, now absent her boisterous little boy. So volunteers packed and stored their things for her. OneMaker covered the costs of funeral clothes, an apartment deposit and an airline ticket for Fatima’s friend from Memphis, also a refugee. A local family hosted them for two weeks while they grieved and waited for a new apartment to become available.

After Fatima and her sons were settled into their new place, the floodwaters of 2015 displaced them again. Then, she and her oldest son were in a serious car accident. In every crisis, God’s people rushed to their side; helping them move, taking them to the hospital, handling insurance claims. When the oldest told his refugee friends in other parts of America about it, they marveled. They said they felt alone where they lived.

When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? …And the King will answer and say to them, ‘…inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
– Matthew 25:38-40 NKJV

I was saddened by his friends’ experiences, though not surprised. Only eight percent of churches in America are involved in serving refugees locally.4 I’m thankful for God’s people here. Refugees displaced from their homelands by war and persecution often find closed doors and closed hearts among the countries where they seek asylum. Peace-loving refugees fear a misplaced backlash against them and being sent back.

Fatima said, “We are human. Our blood bleeds red.” Whatever our views on immigration policy, I entreat Christ-followers to embrace the biblical mandate to love the strangers among us, who are also often orphans and widows, or men who have served alongside our own soldiers in war zones. May they find in us a safe haven filled with Christ’s love and friendship. •LR•

Jana Harp Dean is the founder and director of OneMaker, a 501(c)3, nonprofit organization helping vulnerable women and girls around the world by launching and developing business ventures in places like Afghanistan, India, and Kenya, and also providing educational sponsorships for girls.

Learn more or make a donation: OneMaker.com

 

1 Names have been changed
2 Reference to the inscription on the Statue of Liberty
3 Reference to the Statue of Liberty
4 2016 LifeWay Research Survey

Katie Eats: Quick Quinoa Cuisine

Feeling well and having lots of energy depends upon the types of food we eat. Food is fuel. If your diet is based upon fast food, pre-packaged foods and sugary drinks, then you won’t feel your best. Eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits and whole grains gives the body the nutrients it desperately desires.

One way to get whole grains in your diet is to add quinoa (pronounced keen-wah). Quinoa is a grain, naturally gluten free and easy to digest. It is considered a complete protein and has lots of nutritional benefits such as, calcium, magnesium, iron and fiber. I substitute quinoa for rice in many recipes. An easy way to try quinoa for the first time is to add it to a salad. It’s easy!

Basic Cooked Quinoa

Directions
I suggest buying a package of pre-washed quinoa, especially if this is your first time trying the grain. If the quinoa is not pre-washed, you’ll have to rinse well in a strainer and it can get messy. Add one cup of quinoa, one cup of vegetable broth and one cup of water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 15 minutes. You can season with salt or, my favorite, garlic powder.

Greek Quinoa Salad

Ingredients
6 cups lettuce
1 cup quinoa
1 large tomato
1 large seedless cucumber
1/2 cup feta cheese
Greek dressing (see recipe)

Greek Dressing
5 Tbsp olive oil
6 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt

Directions
Cook quinoa according to Basic Cooked Quinoa recipe (see above). Chop vegetables. Make dressing. Assemble salad. Add dressing. Top with feta cheese. Other suggested toppings: olives, banana peppers, and red onion. Makes 4 servings.

Black Bean & Cord Quinoa

Ingredients
1 cup quinoa
2 red peppers
1 medium onion
16 oz. black beans
16 oz. corn
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1 tbsp garlic
1/2 tbsp oregano
salt/pepper

Directions
In a large skillet, add onions, peppers, garlic, oregano and vegetable broth. Cook until desired taste. Add 1 Tbsp of water and stir to remove the caramelized flavor from the bottom of the pan. Rinse corn and black beans in a colander. Add corn and black beans. Stir to blend all the seasonings together. Cook 10 more minutes on low heat. Cook quinoa separately according to package. Stir in the quinoa until everything is mixed evenly. Add salt/pepper to taste. •LR•

Katie Bryan is a food blogger, wife and mother of two sweet girls. She also teaches classes on nutrition and faith. Get healthy recipes on her blog: KatieEats.com