Going Deeper

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Someone once informed me that there is no such thing as a bad short sermon! Can you possibly believe such a statement? Of course, I can understand the message behind the statement but surely God’s Word has so much more to say than can possibly be said in one short service of worship. Besides, we all know that “sermonettes produce Christianettes” and it is very sad to see churches inhabited by scores of diminutive “baby” Christians who neither understand the deep truths of God’s matchless grace, nor have the matching behavior necessary to accommodate the combat required for all of the Lord’s army in our increasingly pagan and secular world. So, given the brevity of time to preach and teach and the need to get to lunch before the Methodists, is it possible to grow deeper in the knowledge and admonition of the Lord? Sadly, the Muslims, Mormons and Hasidic Jews seem to know more about the fundamentals of their religion than most Christians do. As believers we must go deeper. We must study God’s Word more and give ourselves to the time to read, learn, and inwardly digest the unsearchable riches of God’s grace.

Paul implored the Church at Ephesus to position themselves functionally to receive the Word through apostles, teachers and evangelists (Ephesians 4:11). This was vital, he contended, so that God’s people would be prepared “for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (12-13) Then we will “no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by cunning and craftiness of men in their scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” (14-15)

I am certain this is who you want to be. I do. How grateful I am for so many of my people who genuinely want to be strong, growing, and productive disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. These are the “rocks” in our church and in our community. These are the people who really make a difference. These are the ones to whom so many turn in their times of need. So, what needs to be done? In our fast paced world which is rapidly changing and battling to keep up with itself, how can we become all that God intends for us to be by growing deeper in His Word. Here are a few suggestions.

“Sermonettes produce Christianettes.”

First, make certain you know who you are in Christ. Remember that the Christian life is far more about what Christ has done for you than what you can possibly do for Christ. I am so blessed by Paul’s powerful admonition to the Roman church that our salvation has allowed us to “gain access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” (Romans 5:2) God, by His Spirit, has granted us entry into His sphere of grace. This means we can trust Him to open the eyes of our understanding and allow us to see far beyond the limits of our own human limitation.

Second, we must make certain we are fully dependent on the Holy Spirit. John tells us that when He, “the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth.” (John 16:13)

Third, always study God’s Word with an attitude of prayer. Prayer is the means by which we not only talk to God, but the means by which we most prominently hear from God. When God speaks, He takes us deeper than we can ever go on our own. God’s words are profound in every way and are the root and source of all of His marvelous mysteries. Perhaps much of the shallowness of our Christian faith is the result of the scarcity of our conversations with the God and Father of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I have heard it said that if you want to know more about God, talk with Him! The truth is our corporate and personal prayer lives are pitiful, to say the least.

Fourth, try to set a regular pattern for your personal study. Some find it easier to meet very early in the morning. Some have “quiet times” before the rooster crows and they love it. This does not work for me. Besides, “before the rooster crows” in my house I am having a quiet time. It is dead quiet in my bedroom! So, just set a pattern that will best suit your schedule – otherwise it will seldom be accomplished.

Finally, but not conclusively, establish a pattern for study. Here is what I do most of the time. I pray. Then I read a passage, chapter or section of the Bible! Then I write down in a notebook whatever thoughts come to my heart and mind. After all of this I sometimes read a commentary or book written “about” that particular section of Scripture or the subject under review. This will all depend, of course, on the amount of time you have allot- ted for your study time.

Take a page from Nike. “Just do it!” Go deeper in God’s Word. Do whatever it takes. Your life will be so blessed as a result and God’s grace will abound in you. •LR•

Dr. Don Wilton is pastor of First Baptist Church Spartanburg and author of the books Praying for a Miracle and Defying the Odds

Good and Faithful Servant: Remembering Don Davis

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For 30 years, Rev. Donald P. Davis served as the first pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Cayce, SC. Pastor Don baptized my wife, married us, dedicated all three of our children, and gave the eulogy when my wife’s mother passed away. His daughter, Allison, has been one of my best friends since I began attending Trinity 21 years ago.

I suppose I could feel special because of this personal and ministry related connection with Pastor Don’s family, but the truth is, the relationship I just described is shared by literally hundreds – if not thousands – of families in the Midlands of South Carolina. And that’s just the direct impact. His connection with people ripples far beyond the borders of SC.

First impressions are lasting impressions, and mine of this remarkable man has definitely lasted. I first visited Trinity during my senior year in college. After the service, as I was walking out of the sanctuary, Don apparently recognized that I was a visitor among the 600+ in attendance. He shook my hand and asked my name. No big deal, right? The next week when I returned, he saw me in the hall. He stopped, shook my hand again, and called me by name. As much as I’d like to claim credit for leaving a lasting impression on him, I soon discovered that was just Don. To him, I was not just another face in the crowd. I was “Cliff ”. Don’s incredible ability to connect with people demonstrated in a very impressionable way that God’s love is real.

Pastor Don was very humble; never prideful or basking in the glow of the large congregation his ministry helped to grow. He was a gentleman and a gentle man; soft-spoken, simple in his eloquence, and unmotivated by selfish ambition. His sole desire was to be nothing more than whatever God wanted him to be at any given moment. When our focus is on glorifying God and not seeking selfish glory, God bestows stature, honor, and esteem on us. Amazing!

That was Pastor Don.

Not only was Pastor Don humble, but he also had a great sense of humor. I remember one evening, after my wife and I attended a wedding reception at the Riverbanks Zoo. We were riding on the Zoo tram back to the parking lot. We sat on the very back row and Pastor Don and his wife, Marie, were on the row in front of us. Allison and her husband were on the row in front of them. Don turned around to us and said with a smile, “Y’all better not be ‘doing anything’ back there.” Without thinking, I quickly responded, “Pay attention! You might learn something.” Don laughed a big laugh and turned back around. I shrank in my seat before saying (out loud), “Did I just say that to the preacher?” Allison and Marie were quick to confirm that in fact I did.

One of the stories that made the rounds at church to the amusement of many occurred during a church league basketball game many years ago. Pastor Don enjoyed playing ball with guys who were years, even decades, younger than himself. During this basketball game, the referees were not making any friends with their questionable calls. Frustrated, someone on the court muttered an expletive (yes, in a church league game). The referee mistakenly turned to Don and called a technical foul for cursing. Don started to plead his case, but thought it better to just let it go. Everyone else on the court got a big kick out of the idea that the ref actually accused our calm, gentle, Pastor Don of cursing. I can’t even write this without smiling.

“Well done, good and faithful servant.” – Matthew 25:21

Eight or so years ago, Pastor Don retired, but he never stopped pastoring. He served several congregations as interim pastor, and then was hired back on staff at Trinity to serve as the Senior Adult Pastor before his health caused him to have to give it up.

Pastor Don’s heart began racing and he had to be put on medication to control it. Little did anyone realize that this was not an isolated problem, but rather a precursor to a much more serious illness which would eventually take his life. His last two years were a steady decline as the disease progressed, depositing excessive protein throughout his body and causing particular damage to his heart.

Prior to his illness, Pastor Don was always the picture of health. His workout regimen (and good hair) always gave him the appearance of someone at least 10 years younger than his age. Because of his appearance, he was known to many as the “Dick Clark” of the Southern Baptist Convention. That’s why it was so difficult to watch him decline so quickly. Yet, through it all, Don faithfully attended church (yes, the same church he pastored for 30 years). The disease was stripping him of his health and taking a toll on his appearance, but I told Allison that, even with his physical changes and challenges, God was continuing to bless her dad’s obedience.

Before Don’s health declined further, he requested one more opportunity to address the Trinity family in early January. He felt God had laid some things on his heart that he was supposed to share with the rest of us. But God knew otherwise. Don had completed the mission God entrusted to him faithfully, honorably, and with Christ-like humility. Anything else Don felt he needed to say had already been “said” by the way he lived – REAL. I was on the phone with Allison’s husband, Stewart, when he got the call from Allison that Don had passed away in the hospital. I pictured Don passing with the same gentle, peaceful spirit that had defined his life of 74 years.

Around 8:00 on that December night, Don’s faith became sight as he stepped into the glorious presence of Jesus Christ, his Lord and Savior. Because he ran the race well, I have no doubt, when he crossed the finish line, he heard the words of Christ he had earned: “Well done, My good and faithful servant.” LR• 

 

Cliff Springs is a husband, father of three and a staunch defender of 80’s music. He is the owner of Genesis Studios, South Carolina’s premier creative facility.

Gardening the Soil of Your Soul

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“It’s the roots, not the blooms that bear the fruit in your life.”

Have you ever met someone who has the ability to make anything grow? You know that person with a “green thumb” who just looks at a plant and blooms appear. I have a dear friend who is like that. She actually has plants that bear fruit like lemons, limes and various herbs. Recently, while visiting her, we enjoyed a glass of water with a slice of one of her homegrown lemons. As she shared her fresh fruit, I found myself pretty impressed by the fact that she had not run to the grocery store to pick up that lemon. Rather, she chose to co-operate with God and together they grew something beautiful, nutritious and delicious. Something I had nothing to do with, but was thrilled to enjoy.

Now I, on the other hand, have a couple of planters on my front porch which I fill seasonally with beautiful flowers. A few days after positioning the posies, they are…well, you guessed it, not so beautiful. Normally, the blooms are pretty much dead within weeks. I used to chalk it up to the fact that I just don’t have the gift of gardening. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that is simply not true. The fact is, I had not put in the work required to reap the reward. I would purchase plants that were already blooming, thanks journey of chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. Dan and I desperately clung to the hope we professed in Jesus Christ. When we were weak and could not carry on, our roots sustained us. Life was happening and we were not in control. As I surrendered control, my precious Heavenly Father began revealing the dandelions in my life that needed to go. He gently, and not so gently, because I can be stubborn, began pruning away the “weeds” I had allowed to invade the soil of my soul, causing to someone else’s effort, and place them in my pots. I didn’t even take the time to clean out the old soil. I would barely water the plants and hardly ever fertilize or prune them. Sure, the blooms would last for a short while, but soon the beauty would fade. The life giving nutrients needed to sustain the growth of the plants were simply not there. I wanted the blessing of a never ending bouquet of flowers, yet I didn’t want to “dig deep” and put in the work required to sustain such beauty.

Why is it that we want to enjoy fresh fruit without the labor? We’ve actually come to expect it. Easier is better, right? Or even worse, we believe the fruit in someone else’s life will sustain ours. We soak up the blessings given through others’ diligence and obedience wanting it to satisfy our souls only to find ourselves spiritually anemic. I know this all too well.

Last year, life had grown a bit monotonous for me without a great awareness of God’s miraculous work in and around me. Partly because it was so easy to feed off of the work of others. With numerous books, podcasts, conferences, and resources so readily available, why seek the Savior daily for myself…right? Don’t get me wrong, I was attending church, participating in book studies and even volunteering to serve, but something was missing. The all powerful, all knowing Savior wasn’t alive and active in me. NOT because of who He is, but because I was not allowing room for Him to be my Savior. Thankfully, God intimately made me aware of my spiritual anemia this past year through a season of suffering.

“Within weeks I was informed that I had an invasive tumor, already five centimeters, and growing rapidly.”

In May of 2013, my husband Dan and I went to a leadership retreat. We were seeking the next step in our journey here on earth. As we drove to Anderson, SC, we dreamed about the possibilities of something new for our ministry. We had grown tired of just existing and were hungry to start living again. The first night there I rolled over in bed and found a large lump in my right breast. I immediately knew this was not normal. I needed to get it checked out.

A few days after the retreat I made an appointment with my doctor which led to numerous others with radiologists, surgeons & oncologists. Within weeks I was informed that I had an invasive tumor, already five centimeters, and growing rapidly. It was breast cancer.

Our lives were immediately altered as the aggressive plan of attack on the pesky weed was implemented. I began a grueling journey of chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. Dan and I desperately clung to the hope we professed in Jesus Christ. When we were weak and could not carry on, our roots sustained us. Life was happening and we were not in control.

As I surrendered control, my precious Heavenly Father began revealing the dandelions in my life that needed to go. He gently, and not so gently, because I can be stubborn, began pruning away the “weeds” I had allowed to invade the soil of my soul, causing the life God had intended for me to fade away. He intimately showed His love for me. I grew to trust Him completely in the pit of despair and to depend daily on His living water. The weak, temporary blooms began slipping away along with the desire to live off of the fumes from the miraculous wonders in others’ lives.

I was created for more and so were you!

While this journey is not what I had hoped for, it has taught me that life is a gift; that the true treasures of life lie in listening and being still to hear from our Father.. Now, when I am tempted to rush the process for good things to grow, I just look in the mirror and am reminded of the weeding that has taken place so that something beautiful can grow. I have found that in the quiet moments of listening and just being, I become far more alive than ever before.

Not long ago, I heard that it’s the roots and not the blooms that bear the fruit in your life. The only way that can happen is when you are planted firmly by the living water.

Ezekiel 47: 11-13 says, “Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.”

That same living water is for you too. Dan and I know first hand that our God is alive and active today. He continues to be our Comforter, Healer, Giver of every good and perfect gift, and our ever present help in time of need. We are so grateful for this season of gardening because we have been reminded that it is only because of what Jesus did on the cross that we get to experience the miracle of this life.

Go ahead: roll up your sleeves, make time for the Master Gardner and choose to dig those roots deep for yourself, watch- ing closely for His glory to be revealed. •LR•

You may follow Lara Gopp’s journey of surviving breast cancer at: www.caringbridge.org/visit/livelrg

What #LivingLikeRick Has Taught Me

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My world was shattered last year when I heard of the sudden passing of my dear friend, Rick Stilwell. It’s hard to believe it has already been over a year; the hurt from the loss still feels so fresh.

After Rick Passed, I made a commitment that I would make a solid effort to #LiveLikeRick. Everyone who knew him understands the basis of this philosophy: Love God, Love Others. I am not going to try and expound on that here. What I want to offer are some of the lessons that #LivingLikeRick has taught me this year, and how I have tried to honor his legacy the best way I can.

1 Genuinely sharing your faith doesn’t always require words. One of the things Rick used to say is that if sharing your faith requires a lot of words, then you are doing it wrong. Rick was the same person alone and in the dark as he was in public. I have tried to achieve that standard in my own life this year. People are looking for something real and genuine when it comes to faith. It is easier to tell others about Jesus than it is to simply BE Jesus to the world and let them see His fruit in us. St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel always, and when necessary, use words.”

2 Always show up for things. This ideal has not always been my strongest. I am more known in our circle of friends as the guy who doesn’t always show up. I have tried to change that. This past year I have endeavored to show up more. Rick always told me that we don’t show up for the sake of showing up. We show up because if we don’t, we miss an experience that will never come again.

3 Pour yourself into others, and, when possible, do it over coffee. Over the last year, I have made a very profound effort to invest in others. It is not always possible to meet for coffee, so I have tried to supplement that by using my Social Networking to pour what I can into others. I don’t think it is cheating, but I have to admit that the in-person-over-coffee method is far more effective and rewarding. I believe Rick would say, “Just do it, and let the ‘how’ work itself out.”

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:35

4 Passion is an investment of time and hard work. I finally read Crush It, by Gary Vaynerchuck this past year. It was a life-changing book for Rick, and one of his favorites. For me, it was yet another reminder of what it means to #LiveLikeRick. Love your family, work hard, and work your passion are the three main principles of Crush It. Rick certainly embodied these three precepts. For me, it required some re-thinking of my own passions. To make a long story short, I can honestly say that I am happier in my spiritual, personal, and professional life than I have ever
been. Getting here was not easy at all. I had to read more, study harder, think deeper, ask tough questions, deal with even tougher answers, and face my demons. Was it worth it? You bet! The best reward of the process is when a church or family member or student says, “Wow. I never thought about _____ that way before. You have given me something new to think about.” I smile and wink up at Rick when that happens.

5 As a husband and father, my number one job is to pursue my family. Fundamentalist “head of the house” Bible thumpers may take issue with me on this point, but hear me out. The Bible is a love story about a perfect God pursuing fallen man. To say I love my family is one thing, and it is a very true thing. To really love them, however, is to pursue them. How? It’s all about the little things; spending time, sharing a meal, having a conversation, sending a text message or Facebook post, and being there are just a few ways to do this. This is an area where I have admittedly fallen short, but I am trying, and I will keep trying, no matter what.

6 Quot homines, tot sententiae. Rick looked at the individual as a “story.” As each of us communicate and share our collective stories, we make a bigger and better story. This Latin expression which means, “So many men, so many opinions,” reflects the opposite of that. Sabres are rattling everywhere as many people or groups of people seek to be “right.” Rick would argue that it is better to talk things out and foster connection and understanding than to simply be right, and I would wholeheartedly agree. Conversations are so crucial to #LivingLikeRick. Conversations lead to connections which lead to understanding and appreciation. As a pastor and a professor, this has been a bit of a challenge. It is easier for me to preach to or lecture people about what is and what isn’t. To be quiet and listen to what others have to say bridges a very large gap that exists between people. I am slowly learning to do this better.

How has #LivingLikeRick impacted your life? •LR•

Todd R. Vick is a husband, dad, pastor, teacher, writer, thinker, coffee snob, and idiot-savant. He loves hearing from you. Give him a shout at www.about.me/ToddRVick

Running the Race

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“…don’t just STOP if something goes wrong.”

If you have never been a part of “The Color Run”, I highly recommend that you sign up the next time it comes to town. When my kids and I ran it we had so much fun! One of the best things about the whole day was how God focused my mind before anyone else was even awake. I get so excited whenever we are about to embark on any kind of adventure, but this one suddenly became significant in a special way as I asked God to bless us with a great memory because it hit me that this race was a lot like life.

My little monkeys and I run the race of life together every day. We get messy and we press on. We slow down for each other and get frustrated when one of our little band wants to move at a different pace than the others. We breathe in and breathe out. We resolve to stick together and push forward even when we’re not sure what’s coming next. When we ran “The Color Run”, we got to take our “daily” on the road and see it play out in literal “living color”!

On the way to the starting line, I issued my warnings: Keep your eyes open for each other, stick together, pay attention, and don’t just STOP if something goes wrong. I issued my encouragement: You guys can do it! This is going to be awesome! We are going to have so much fun! Just wait and see! Keep running! Don’t give up! The party at the end is going to be fabulous and there are going to be “color stations” and bursts of joy all along the way!

Isn’t that the way it is when you’re racing along in life? You look around and caution those little ones that are running with you. You PRAY that they will really heed your warnings and believe that you do indeed know what you’re talking about – you’ve been there before. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they take advantage of your experience, and sometimes they just have to learn the lessons their own way. Hopefully, you show them by example that you never give up! You press on – always. Because if you don’t, you might get trampled on! And because there really is joy along the way and an indescribable time waiting for you at the finish line! You ask for help if you need it and take it when it’s offered. You run your own race, but encourage each other too. You take advantage of the times when one runners’ pace slows your steps and cheer when they keep running even though they want to stop. You run hard and celebrate every “joy stop”. You laugh and play and remember to breathe, for heaven’s sake. Because when you finish the race well and really take in every experience while you’re running, suddenly all the training and the work become totally worth the effort!

“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” – Hebrews 12:1b

“The Color Run” settled on me like life: it wasn’t a sprint, but a long run – at least for us! It was full of fun and joy and crazy – and potential for injury and mayhem! We laughed and played and spurred one another on, cheered and prodded, stressed and celebrated. We got messy and cleaned glasses and took pictures and tied shoes and met friends along the way. We sprinted and skipped and walked, and all the while I thought, “This is just like life.” I ran that race just like I get to run this race everyday: with two of my favorites – two I have been charged with guiding through the first leg of their own journey. My prayer for them is the same as my prayer for you and me: that we will run the race well, that we will encourage others to run with us and that we will look completely different when we reach the finish line than when we started.

My friends, fix your eyes on Jesus, know that you are not running alone, throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us (Hebrews 12:1-2). It is long and hard some days, but there is joy in the running and a party like we have never seen at the end! •LR•

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

Find It Slowly

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“I am sorry, Mrs. Stilwell, but your husband did not make it.” These are the words that shattered me on January 11, 2013.

My husband had been involved in a car accident, and I was summoned to the emergency room. Somehow, almost our entire family had arrived at the hospital before those words were uttered. Somehow, I was in town that morning when I was supposed to be away for a college visit with our eldest child. Somehow, friends knew immediately and were at my house within a few minutes of our arrival home. I later learned that Rick suffered a massive heart attack and passed away instantly, even before the accident.

That day remains a blur to me. The next few weeks were filled with friends and family and doing all those things that had to be done. Going back to work was a blessing because it allowed me to slip into the mindless routine of life and not have to deal with the deep pain I was always feeling.

But now, six months later, the house is calm; something Rick always enjoyed. I’m drinking coffee from one of his favorite mugs, contemplating why God decided that I was ready to “do life” without my husband when he was the one who, between us, was the much stronger one.

My almost 25 year love affair with Rick began in 1988 at the Baptist Student Union at the University of South Carolina. Apparently our schedules were similar that semester because we always wound up there together between classes. We would inevitably end up sharing the newspaper. Both of us loved the comics, and we’d have discussions about good humor and favorite characters. It annoyed me that he could do the word jumbles in his head. We started having lunch together occasionally and he taught me to play chess and pool. We began playing to see who would buy lunch, and he almost always lost—I’m sure it was on purpose. I’ve told our children often that I had to marry him to cash in on all the lunches he owed me.

Those were the days I fell in love with his laughter, his joy and his quiet faith. The sweet and funny memories are so precious now. He made me laugh daily.

I wasn’t looking for a relationship, but Rick was fun and made me laugh, so when he asked me out on a date I said yes. We saw a Sherlock Holmes film called “Without a Clue”. We didn’t tell any of our friends we were going in case things didn’t work out, but while in line buying tickets we ran into a group of our college friends.

The next night, I was bored so I called Rick and asked him if he wanted to go to the dollar movies with me. He told me later that he was already wearing sleep pants that night, but he jumped up, showered, dressed, and hurried to meet me. While standing in line for this movie, we ran into the same group of friends from the night before. We were “officially” a couple.

A few years ago, we were talking about that weekend and how fun those movies were. A few nights later, the DVDs of both movies were lying on my pillow with a note that said, “I’d do it all over again.”

He really was amazing.

Many years ago, when Rick was a programmer at PMSC, he had a performance review in which his boss told him, “One of your problems is that you do not always convey that you understand the urgency of the matter.”
Rick responded with, “So you want me to freak out more?”

We laughed over this many times throughout our marriage, usually when I was feeling freaked out about something. I’d say, “I don’t think you are conveying that you understand the urgency of the matter at hand,” to which he would laugh, smile, and reply, “Would it make you feel better if I freaked out a little more?”

My answer was usually, “Well, yes, a little.”

His sense of humor and calm always contrasted my tendency to panic. His sense of spontaneity contrasted my reserve. It still does. But in the last six months, I am finding that I am beginning to be more like him now than I realized. I am not panicking and am slowly beginning to realize that I want his exuberance and passion. That is part of what my husband has left me… his zeal for life.

My husband’s legacy takes me by surprise every time the memories resurface, just as it did in the early days after his passing. It was overwhelming to realize the far-reaching impact of his life. Because of his social media influence, we were able to televise his memorial service which was viewed as far away as Germany, Ireland and Australia.

The hashtag #LiveLikeRick began showing up on bumper stickers, T-shirts, coffee mugs and in conversations. For some, the hashtag means living a life of kindness or treating others the way you would like to be treated. For others it means mending fences or making amends. And for some, #LiveLikeRick means living like Christ or for Christ.

Rick’s faith was evident in his daily actions, yet there were many who did not know he was an ordained minister. Rick argued politics and religion and movies as a means to challenge friends about why they think a certain way, not necessarily because he disagreed with them.

But Rick’s faith never made a greater impact on anyone than it did on me. And in recent months, his faith has helped carry mine. My faith has been quiet because these days often find me struggling. In the beginning, just being in church without him made me tearful. Even now, going to church is difficult, not because of a wavering faith but because church was something we always did as a family. It is one of the places that I am painfully aware that he is not there with us.

About a month after his death, we sang Chris Tomlin’s “Sovereign” in Sunday morning worship. I cried from beginning to end. It speaks of God holding all the pieces of our lives in his arms, and trusting in Him. I spent the rest of that afternoon unable to shake the song from my head. I downloaded it from iTunes, something I never do. I found myself playing it over and over, the words reminding me that God is with me both in the storms and in the calm.

In the last six months, I have cried and even yelled at God more times than most people would know. I do not know why my husband was taken. Yet I find verses playing through my mind, verses I learned early in my walk with God. The faith house I built in the calm is standing firm through the storm (Luke 6:48), just like Tomlin’s song says. Later, I remembered that this song was played in Rick’s memorial service.

Rick found joy in life and relationships. He loved Mondays and fresh starts to the week. He was eternally optimistic about God, work, friends, and Carolina football. He loved coffee and conversation and superheroes and his mini cooper. He was a deep thinker but could still laugh lightly and often.

God has been with me in all of this. I do not have any idea of what His plan for me is or why my life has so drastically changed in the last few months, but I know that God says in Jeremiah 29:11, (Message), “I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” I have to trust God each day for His guidance and assurance. That does not mean it is easy, and many days it’s not.

A few years ago, Amy Grant wrote a song called “Overnight”. It came on my iPod the other day and the chorus suddenly had new significance in the grief I am experiencing right now. It talks about how some things can only happen slowly over time, and we should not rush them lest we miss learning faith lessons God meant for us to know.

Grieving will take a very long time because Rick meant so much to me. If I was able to be done with grieving quickly, I wouldn’t appreciate all that Rick was to me, our family, and our friends, and I would not have to trust God to see me through this.
I still have days where I cry deeply, missing the man who was my rock for so long, but I know God has a plan for me and my children, and I will find it slowly. •LR•

Vicki Stilwell is a mother to two teenagers and a high school Drama teacher. She loves God, her family, coffee, and the Gamecocks.

Word of the Day: Propitiation

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I often say that God did all the hard work for our salvation. He chased us throughout history, always loving us first; always making a way. He proved His love for us in that while we were still sinners He sent His Son to die in our place. He, by the power of His Holy Spirit, draws us to Himself, convicts us of our sin and even cries out on our behalf in prayer when we don’t know what to say. Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father telling Him over and over again as we come to His throne with our humanness – in our sin – what it is like to actually walk around on this ball of dust held captive by skin. He does the chasing. He does the loving. He did the dying and the resurrecting. He does the drawing. He does the mediating. By comparison, our job is so simple. Our job is to recognize Him as Lord, to see that He loves us, to hear when He calls and to confess our sin – every time. Our job is to repent, rest, be quiet, and trust; to obey, follow, and stay focused on Him. He does the forgiving, the leading and the directing. Our job is to receive it all from Him.

I’m working through a pretty hefty book right now by John Stott called The Cross of Christ. This morning’s lesson is on “propitiation”. How’s that for a vocabulary word? It’s so funny to me that I am studying this now because five years ago, before sitting under the teaching of my current Pastor, I would have had to look it up in a dictionary. (Don’t worry… you don’t have to get yours. I am about to tell you what it means!) Now, at least, the word doesn’t scare me!

According to me, thesaurus.com and Merriam-webster.com, to “propitiate” means to assuage or appease someone’s anger; to gain or regain the favor or someone else. Turns out what “I often say” can be summed up in one really big word. I don’t like thinking too terribly much about the anger of God, but to use my own terminology, “propitiation” simply means that God did all the hard work to save us. To quote Stott, “It is God Himself who in holy wrath needs to be propitiated, God Himself who in holy love undertook to do the propitiating, and God Himself who in the Person of His Son died for the propitiation of our sins. Thus God took His own loving initiative to appease His own righteous anger by bearing it His own self in His own Son when He took our place and died for us.”
I don’t know about you, but that blows me away. God took His own loving initiative to do the hard work for me because He knew I would never be able to do it for myself. He bore His own righteous anger at MY sin because He knew I would never be able to withstand it on my own. And then He, Himself, in His Son, Jesus, died for my sins so that I might be His very own daughter – chosen, adopted, blessed, gifted with every good gift. The abundant and eternal life God has given me is full of the Fruit of the Spirit and the very fullness of Christ. My job is to simply receive His gifts of grace and mercy, rest in His salvation and trust Him with all that I am. As I simply gaze into my Father’s face and fall in love with Him more and more every day, He will receive the glory as He lives through me.
O Father, captivate me. Even when I struggle and pull away – as children sometimes do – hold me fast. Change my heart and draw me close. Whisper my name in the winds of life in this world and the downpour of my daily. Continue to do the hard work of drawing me to Yourself and make me more and more like Jesus as I keep my eyes fixed on Him.. •LR•

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

 

Glory Through a Worn Out Shoe

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In the last edition of Living Real, we introduced you to Darby Hiott, a once homeless, drunk turned business owner, now running a successful furniture store in the Midlands of South Carolina. What is so impressive with Darby’s transformation is not so much the success he is experiencing with his business, Beds & Such, but rather how God has changed Darby from the inside out.

Hopeless. That is truly how Darby felt at his lowest point and that feeling led to questioning whether God was real. “I felt like there wasn’t a God. Sometimes I felt like a fool,” said Darby.

Wrestling with the existence of God, having no place to call home and only one pair of shoes, all while battling the demons of alcohol, Darby felt trapped. That is until he realized God was real and that God was missing from his life.

The amazing thing about the God of the universe is that He is so personal with each and every one of us. He meets us where we are and He welcomes us just the way we are. Thankfully, God doesn’t leave us the way we are. Darby is proof of that.

For Darby, what once looked like taking a chance on someone he doubted was real, became a matter of faith. Out of that faith in Jesus Christ, came a new creation. The sins that plagued Darby’s life began to have less and less power over him.

“Christ came in my life and I’m doing nothing but declaring His glory. The only reason I’m here is because of Jesus Christ,” said Darby.

Declaring God’s glory dominates any conversation you have with Darby. That single focus remains his priority each day. It is how he lives his life and how he runs his business. Darby sees the time he spends at Beds & Such as a way to share God’s glory with others – to help everyone see that they too can have a grace story.

Evidence of a man touched by God can be found throughout Darby’s store, but isn’t just seen in the Scriptures on the wall or free Bibles placed for customers. Darby and his staff pray together daily. Darby also prays with his customers – always looking for the chance to see God act and then share His glory.

Recently a customer came in and noticed a bronzed shoe displayed in the store. That shoe is part of the only pair Darby owned while homeless. He wore the shoes when he opened Beds & Such, because he still didn’t have money to buy new shoes. Darby took the chance to share his story with the customer. He told the gentleman that the displayed shoe has a hole worn through it from when Darby had nothing else to wear. He then shared how God had changed him and provided for him. The customer told him that he didn’t have as much faith as Darby. The customer went on to explain that he and his wife were about to adopt two children from China. Scheduled to leave in a few days, the couple was still short $17,000 for the adoptions. They had no idea where they’d get the money. Darby and his staff prayed with the customer and encouraged him. A day or two later the man called Darby and told him the good news. God had provided the money the couple needed for the adoptions. Darby says this is just one of the many grace stories he experiences on a regular basis. He gives God the glory and is quick to share what God has done and what He is doing.

Darby often says, “God doesn’t get the glory if you don’t tell others.” Telling others about God’s grace and His glory is the best thing Darby or any of us can share with the people we know and the people we meet. Psalm 96:3 says, “Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous deeds among all peoples.”

What marvelous deeds have you seen God perform in your life? Has He helped you overcome alcohol or drug addiction? Has He healed a prolonged illness? Did He restore your marriage when you thought it was over? Did He give you courage to start again in some area of your life? Did He provide the rent or mortgage payment when there wasn’t money in your account? Did he send a friend when you needed one most or did He use you to be that friend to someone else?

We all have so many reasons to give God the glory and to share His glory with others. Your past may be far less complicated than Darby’s, but your need for the Savior is no different. True transformation is evidenced by a willingness to tell others why the change has happened. In doing that, God gets the glory and we get the joy of sharing His marvelous deeds. So whether you sell furniture like Darby, stand at the front of a classroom, work at the local bank, or stay with your children during the day – look for opportunities to share God’s glory. Just remember, you won’t have to look too hard! Sometimes God’s glory is found in a hole, on the bottom of a worn out shoe. •LR•

Kelly Coakley is a proud preacher’s wife, mother, and former news anchor desiring to communicate the love of Jesus with everyone she meets. Kelly currently works as the Public Information Director with the Department of Agriculture.

Parenting Tips for a Fruitful Harvest

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The Holy Spirit produces these fruits in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Ah, the simply good fruits of the Spirit. Imagine a home with sweet little fruits running around; loving children filled with joy and peace; where everyone is kind, gentle, and responsible. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Read on parents. A refreshing, fruit-filled, sweet home life is possible if we’re willing to let the Spirit first harvest fruit in us! Then, through modeling, we’ll be planting and harvesting spiritual fruit for generations to come.

Here are a few fruits to get us started.

The Fruit of Kindness

Being kind to our children, engaging in opportunities to serve, and showing our children that life isn’t all about us will help to instill in them a desire to be kind, to serve, and respect others.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each another, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)
The Fruit of Joy

Try this as your family motto: Jesus, Others, You. When we and our children seek to think like Christ and put those around us before ourselves, we will be filled with indescribable JOY!

I have told you this that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:11)

The Fruit of Self-Control

A parent’s responsibility is to discipline, and as parental self-control should be modeled in all areas, it should especially be demonstrated through disciplinary actions. Bad behavior warrants reasonable, consistent consequences. Good behavior warrants reasonable rewards. Godly discipline helps develop a self-controlled, obedient heart.

He who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever heeds correction gains understanding. (Proverbs 15:32)

The Fruit of Love

Love is the very definition of God. A loving God does not barter or compromise to get the result He knows is best, and neither should a loving parent. Our position is to lead our children, not the other way around. When we refuse to give in to the pressure of granting their every whim, but instead stand firm, respect and love will be the fruit harvested. Hugs should be given freely, too!

God is love. (1 John 4:16)

The Fruit of Faithfulness

Our children always need to know that we’re here for them no matter what. We show faithfulness by being available to them, and by being faithful to God. We harvest faithfulness when our children begin to speak of the faithfulness of God in our homes, and seek to live out their faithfulness to Him as well.

Great is Your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:23)

Craving more fruit?  Visit happilyparenting.com or find us
on Facebook.

Stacy Watts is the coach for Happily Parenting. She has been a teacher for over 14yrs. Stacey speaks to church groups, conducts individual coaching, and provides training for childcare and school staff groups.

Whistling Tea Kettles & Popcorn

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A smile; a card; a letter (yes…snail mail); a phone call; a text; being on time; doing what you say you will do; holding the car door for your spouse; eating dinner together; showing affection; saying, “I love you”; meeting for coffee; walking in the park; watching the sun rise or set; compliments freely given; spending quality time; snuggling; tickling; laughing out loud; playing board games; talking about deeper subjects; remembering loved ones; the list could go on and on. The bottom line is… the little things in life really do matter.

A pastor friend once encouraged me by saying, “Celebrate the small things!” I admit I am not the greatest when it comes to being aware of the small stuff. I’m a big picture guy. I look at life in terms of the end game; the cause and effect of it all. I don’t sweat the small stuff. For example, if I am on my way somewhere and the gas tank is on empty, I just keep going. My destination is what is on my mind; not stopping for gas, which is an annoyance to me.

My wife, Laura, is diametrically opposite. I’m always amazed at the little things that excite her. The whistling of the tea kettle, for example, always makes her smile. She also lights up at the popcorn popping out of our air popper. Why? They matter. I struggle to see the excitement of the popcorn popper and tea kettle, but I sure get a kick out of watching Laura take it all in.

Celebrating the small things reminds us of how grateful we need to be to the One who provides us with all things, small and large, every day. It takes effort to stay mindful of the moment and not run ahead. Scripture says, in Luke 15:7 that even Heaven itself stops to celebrate just ONE who gives their life to Jesus! If Heaven stops to celebrate the small things, don’t you think we should too? The small things add up. As the seemingly insignificant accumulate over time, they can add up to really BIG things! In fact, enough small things can become a powerful force that impacts a city, a nation and the world! Do you think Billy Graham’s Sunday School teacher, Edward Kimball, knew the impact he would have on the world by leading this one soul to Jesus? Little things do matter!

So, why not call someone you haven’t talked to in a while? Take a walk with the one you love. Write a letter (and mail it). Pop some popcorn, and watch it pop. Make some tea in a whistling teapot. Just stop. Observe. Smile. Then give thanks for the little gifts of life. Celebrate them! Yes, celebrate! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I hear a tea kettle whistling. •LR•

Todd R. Vick is a husband, dad, pastor, teacher, writer, thinker, coffee snob, and
idiot-savant. He loves hearing from you. Give him a shout at: www.about.me/ToddRVick