Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Family of Faith - a new post by Debra Courtney

“... for you had become so very dear to us. 1 Thessalonians 2: 8 AMP

During the 1990’s, a singles class at our church became a close-knit family for many people who had lost a spouse through divorce or death. I have experienced this for myself through the passing on to eternal life of my husband last year.

When someone needed to move, class members or members of the church packed boxes, carried furniture, and provided food. Birthdays and holidays were no longer solitary events as faith and friendship emerged into an ongoing relationship of encouragement. Many of those bonds forged during adversity a couple of decades ago continue to flourish and sustain individuals and families today.

Paul’s letter to the followers of Jesus in Thessalonica paints a picture of life-giving relationships in God’s family.  “But we behaved gently when we were among you, like a devoted mother nursing and cherishing her own children.”   1 Thess.2:7 AMP.

“For you recall our hard toil and struggle [and plied our trade] in 0rder not to be a burden to any of you…” 1 Thess. 2:9. “For you know as a father [dealing with] his children, we used to exhort each of you personally, stimulating and encouraging and charging you”. 1 Thess. 2:11

Like mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, Paul and his associates shared the gospel and their lives with these fellow believers who “had become dear” to them. Vs.8.

In God’s family of faith, He provides mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers for us. The Lord gives His joy as we share our lives together in His grace and love. Our Abba Father has called us to serve one another - to give us a heart willing to accept the care of others. May we ask for help when we are in need and respond with a heart of grace to others when they ask for help.

God loves you and me; let’s love one another.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Imitating Christ When You're Unforgiven - a new post by @ShelleyHendrix

"...(B)e imitators of God, as beloved children; 2and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma."
 Ephesians 5:1-2

One of the most difficult and painful experiences I've ever faced - and have had to learn to live with - is when I've wronged someone, acknowledged it to them, asked (begged!) for forgiveness and yet didn't receive it. Relationships can be so tricky, can't they? 
Some of the BEST teaching on forgiveness that I've ever heard comes from my mentors at TrueFaced who have taught me that repentance and forgiveness are not means of fixing my behavior, but grace gifts to help heal my relationships. I love that! But what happens when you've repented and yet haven't received forgiveness? What do you do when the offended one becomes an offender by refusing to forgive?
There's only one solution: offer forgiveness for their lack of forgiveness. For me, it has meant that I:
- choose to receive the forgiveness of my Heavenly Father regardless of whether the other person(s) forgives me or not;
- walk in freedom to live my life as I give the other person(s) space and grace to live theirs;
- acknowledge any continued hurts to God and intentionally pray for the person withholding forgiveness.
We, as children of God, can trust that we are beloved by God, and imitate our Savior who modeled perfectly for us what it looks like to love others who may not love us back. Most people are doing the best they can, so if they're withholding forgiveness, it's possible that it's because they don't yet understand the power and freedom forgiveness offers them
"Walk in love," my friends. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Justice and Mercy Combined - a new post by Debra Courtney

 “The Lord is good, a Strength and Stronghold in the day of trouble; He knows (recognizes, has knowledge of and understands) those who take refuge and trust in Him. Nahum 1:7 AMP

What will you do in the “day of trouble”?  I believe we are wise to have a made up mind ahead of time concerning what we will do when trouble come.

Let me encourage you to decide to be stable. Decide to stay in faith and if your faith is on the empty side, go to the WORD of God and get more faith down inside of you, because you will need it. When difficulties have come my way I found that by staying rooted and grounded in the WORD and PRAISE keeps my mind in the right perspective. The problem is always screaming at you, you’re not going to get it, you’re going to go broke, or there are no jobs for you etc… Trials are a part of life. Jesus said they would come, but we are overcomers because He overcame. God already has a plan for our deliverance before our trouble begins. Believe it and have a made up mind to live in expectation of it!

When a defendant stands before a judge, he or she is at the mercy of the court. I understand this completely by being in the courtroom in the past on behalf of someone else.

If the defendant is innocent, the court should be a refuge. But if the defendant is guilty, we expect the court to exact punishment.

In Nahum, we see God as both a refuge and a judge. It says, “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble” 1:7 NIV. But it also says, “He will make an end of Nineveh; he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness.”  Vs.8.

Over 100 years earlier, Nineveh had repented after Jonah preached God’s forgiveness, and the land was safe. Jonah 3:10 But during Nahum’s day, Nineveh was plotting “evil against the Lord” Nah. 1:11. In chapter 3, Nahum details Nineveh’s destruction.

Many people know only one side of God’s dealings with the human race but not the other. They think He is holy and wants only to punish us, or that He is merciful and wants only to show kindness. In truth, He is judge and refuge. Peter writes that Jesus “…but he trusted [Himself and everything] to Him Who judges fairly.” 1 Peter 2:23. As a result, “He personally bore our sins in His [own] body on the tree…”
vs. 24.

The whole truth about God is good news! He is judge, but because of Jesus, we can go to Him as our refuge.

It should be our desire to never underestimate Him by seeing only one side of His role in our lives. We are to recognize and enjoy His love, grace and favor he has given to us, yet understand He hates sin. He loves us unconditionally and looks for a heart that trusts and loves Him, not for perfect performance.

God’s justice and mercy intersect at the cross.


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Is God For Me? - a new post by Karen Cone

When I heard my friend Melissa say that she was thankful for the pain and betrayal that turned her life upside down and ended her missionary career, I thought to myself, "Not me. I am not thankful for the junk. I am not thankful for the pain. It's hard to even imagine getting to that place."

Two years later, I found myself saying, "Yes, I am thankful for the pain. I am thankful for the hurt and the wounds."

So what changed?

Not much and everything. It was in the way I saw the pain, a new perspective that only makes sense when viewed through the lens of believing that God is good and God is for me. I had to ask God to help me re-frame what I was seeing. I couldn't get there on my own. It took others speaking truth to me. It took God speaking to my soul. It took the gift of time to release the hurts. It took a willingness to let go of the "victim" badge that brought me empathy and made  me a kind of hero as well. "Wow, she has really suffered. What an amazing person!"

And there was suffering; I don't want to minimize the pain.  However, my pain was not how God wanted my life to be defined. "Introducing, Karen Cone, long-suffering victim extraordinaire" didn't capture His grace, mercy, and redemptive purposes for me. I could feel the Father pulling at my heart, wanting me to believe Him, longing me to move out slavery and into the promised land of freedom.

I was hearing that God was good and that He was for me and that no one and nothing including evil, sin, or bad circumstances could thwart His good purposes for my life. I had heard that before, memorized the verses and I thought I had believed it fully. But my heart kept arguing otherwise.

I was saying to God, "If  You really loved me, You would do this." I had decided how His love for me should be defined. I had a definite expectation of what He was to deliver into my hands. Mostly, I expected Him to rescue me from emotional pain. But it didn't happen that way.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I have stood with closed fists demanding God fix things in my way. I could not open my hand to receive the good He had for me. I could hardly choke out  Kari Jobe's, "I Know That You Are For Me" if  we were singing it in church. It felt so ... untrue. At that time I could not see that He wanted to free me from my idolatry of Kevin and my kids. I could not see that He wanted to break the bonds of slavery to fearfulness. I could not see how God could use someone else's sinful choices to do me good. I could not understand that God would use a mess to move me out of my loneliness and into rich relationships with others and so much more.

Who knows what other gifts of life and joy He wants to give me that I haven't yet seen?

"Every good and perfect gift comes from above..."
James 1:17

God is a giver. His gifts are good. Even the ones that we respond to with, "Now what on earth would I want that for, Lord?"  He redeems brokenness--our own brokenness and the brokenness of others--to bring life, joy, hope, and healing. He is good and He is for me.

Karen loves to write and lead women's support group.  She is learning to walk in God's grace day to day as well as learning to extend that grace to others.  You can follow her blog at karencone.org

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Waves of Grief and Grace - a guest post by Laura Latham

Dear friends of Church 4 Chicks,

Since the turn of the year, our little team has experienced the painful reality of death several times as team members have lost dear, close friends, parents, grandparents, a spouse; and most recently a beloved fiance just in the past week.

A friend of this ministry, Laura Price Latham, knows the reality of this kind of loss all too well as her family marks the 6-month anniversary of her brother's very unexpected home going. It is with her permission that we share this with you. 

May the Grace and Peace of our Savior be with us all.


Six months ago today, my sweet brother entered into the presence of his beloved Lord and Savior. To say that the last six months have changed our lives is an understatement. It has truly changed everything. Heaven is no longer a place we will go when we die, but our true home; a place we long for. This world: a temporary dwelling. Life: fleeting; a vapor. People: made in the image of God who desperately need a Savior. The Gospel: urgent and our only hope. The apostle Paul said in Colossians to, "Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." Although our family has always been one to place more value on the things of God, there is something about death that completely shifts your focus to that which is eternal... That makes you long for heaven.
Over the last six months, we have grieved, but every time the tumultuous waves of grief have hit, waves of grace have swept in even harder and hope has anchored our hearts and souls. As much as we may grieve, however, the irony of death for our family(and all believers) is this: My brother is at home in the very presence of the Lord, But we remain "foreigners and temporary residents in this world." My brother is more alive today than ever, while we are the ones who are "outwardly wasting away."
So when my heart aches because it feels that my family is broken, I remember this truth--- that God will not leave this world this broken, but He will one day restore it to its perfect order and make all things new. When I feel the painful sting of death, my heart rejoices in the Resurrection of Jesus and I thank God that because of it, "DEATH HAS BEEN SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY!" Thank you Jesus!

This originally appeared here and is shared with Laura's permission.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Because of Grace, You Always Have a Place - a new post by @ShelleyHendrix

23 Let us seize and hold tightly the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is reliable and trustworthy and faithful [to His word]; 24 and let us consider [thoughtfully] how we may encourage one another to love and to do good deeds, 25 not forsaking our meeting together [as believers for worship and instruction], as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more [faithfully] as you see the day [of Christ’s return] approaching. - Hebrews 10:19-25

In an earlier post, I wrote about the previous verses in this passage and on the universal need to have a place to belong. I love how my pastor here in my new hometown identified this feeling of belonging using the word "snick," which he described as the sound two parts make when the connect because they fit. Think of the sound your seatbelt makes when the two parts are connected or the sound your headset jack makes when inserted into its complementary part. We all want to know we have a place to belong. Because of God's grace, we can boldly approach His throne (i.e. His presence) because His grace (unconditional love, unrelenting favor and completed transaction to make any obstacle between us void), we always have a place with Him.

I shared a story from my own grace journey at Church 4 Chicks' last AWAKEN Conference in 2014. (By the way, it's coming back this fall!! Mark your calendars now for the AWAKEN retreat October 7-9 on St. Simons Island, GA! Subscribe to our weekly email updates to get the most up to date info as it becomes available: text Church4Chicks to 22828 to subscribe.) A friend on our team asked if I'd share that story again, and I'm happy to do that here. 

Karen Cone (one of our team members here on the blog) gave me the little chair pictured above. It was back in 2008 when I was transitioning from one area of ministry into forming Church 4 Chicks. Because we were part of a small group of women in ministry and had tested out these principles we teach at C4C on creating and cultivating environments of grace - communities of believers where we can truly be known and know others - where we can tell the worst thing about us and be loved more in the telling of it, rather than less - we had become quite close. We formed trusted, sacred friendships and we were growing spiritually and emotionally more than we had every been able to in the past (where rigid rules and performance-driven religion was our basic understanding of how to relate to God and with others).

Karen gave me this chair as a symbol to remind me that I always have a place at the King's table*. Karen knew that much of my own wounding came from the feeling that if I wasn't connected to the "right" people, or if I didn't have the "right" person's or "right" group's approval, I didn't get to come to the party. It was as though I believed I had to be invited by the influential to get to be close to God. 

Now, had I been asked about this belief back in my performance-driven, "Here am I, send me" days of religion-oriented understanding of Christianity, I could never have been able to communicate this. I was so lacking in self-awareness that I didn't know I was living out of this belief. I was just doing my best to please God with my short life and never felt like I was doing enough on my own to merit a close relationship with Him all by myself.

I had a lot of "truth" or head knowledge of Scripture and a very short supply of heart-felt belief. 

I learned so much through the training I received and then had the opportunity to test the truths in the context of safe relationships. Because of this, I was ready and able to receive this gift from Karen and embrace its message:

Because of Grace, I, Shelley, always have a Place. 

Do you see how this experience validates the teaching in Hebrews? As believers, we chose not to isolate or keep people at a safe arm's length distance relationally; but to engage regularly with one another for the purpose of learning together and practicing what we were learning. As we cultivated this environment of grace and truth, we were stirring up the love and the gifts already deposited in us by the Father. 

No one needs to be coerced into obedience or faithfulness. Cultivating the environment of grace and inviting people to be fully themselves affords each person to mature into the destiny God had in mind as He created them (us) in the womb -- actually, from the beginning of time and eternity! 

We truly have been designed with relationship in mind! 

For Reflection: How are you doing in the area of "gathering together" for the purpose of instruction and relationship?

Take a look at the passage above again. Do you see the words Faith, Hope and Love? How do these tie together in the context of meeting together and cultivating community?

*Read 2 Samuel 9

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

When You Don't Love God Enough - a new post!

There is this really great and (in my experience) really difficult command. What makes it even heavier is that we are told by The GodMan Himself it's the first of only two commands: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 

All of it? All of it. Like, really all of it.

Well. Yikes. That pretty much is a #dailyfail. If love has the elements of respect and honor, patience and kindness, isn't self seeking or self-insisting, then yep...definitely pretty much on a daily basis I'm weighed in the balance and found wanting.

I have - after taking what I had and squandering it on people that I thought would like me and maybe even love me, on situations that I thought would fulfill me, on accomplishments I thought would complete me (side note: many of these things are "good" things like serving others, doing well vocationally, generally being awesome...) - found myself lifting my face out of the slop and wondering what in the WORLD was I doing?! I'd tried so hard to do good and to be great but my mouth ended up full of swill that was neither nutritious nor delicious. Once again, I've come to myself. 

And I rehearse in my mind the verses that demand my all. I rehearse the verses that call me to repent, and wonder will I ever get this commandment, THE commandment, right. I rehearse the familiar wondering of do I really belong to Christ when I break one of the two commands He's given? and just can't seem to do that (or the other one for that matter) right.

Then THIS happens...

And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. Luke 15:20-23 ESV 

I arise and I come to my Father. I confess where I have fallen short. And He rejoices in my coming and in my confessing and in my growing. The following verse goes on the talk about the son being lost and then found. There is the ultimate experience of us being lost and then found when we first come to faith in Christ. There are, I believe, subsequent "findings" that happen to us as parts of our hearts and minds and souls reveal their lostness to us. Something happens that bumps into the dark place untouched by the love of the Father. When we come to our senses and realize the "soul slop" we've been consuming, we bring that to the Father, and He loves us so that we in turn love Him more than we did before.

When you find yourself 'not loving the Lord enough', rise, come to the Father, and let Him love you.

Created Well is the primary contributor at TheAntiBlog.net. She's a 30-something married Christian who likes to talk about the unexpected, especially the tough stuff. As a communicator, her loves include writing, speaking and teaching. She's been called a "Dream and Vision Consultant" by those she's helped and worked with. Find her on twitter @_TheAntiBlog_