Tag Archives: Christ

How You Can Discover Why You Are “Worthy of the Calling”

Why would I participate in an online Bible Study?

Initially, the concept left me skeptical. I am a face to face person. Many times it feel as if I am running against the grain of culture. I value human discussion and interaction.  Participating in a study sans group seemed unsettling to me. However, I have dug in a few times and found that there are great opportunities out there. The reality is that our schedules do not always allow for in person studies. Online ones help fill that void. They can also supplement whatever you may already be doing. Is there ever a cap on spiritual growth?

Let me introduce you to an opportunity to participate in a Bible Study that will remind you of your worth.

Sarah Koontz is a passionate storyteller who enjoys using illustrations to communicate deep spiritual truths. Sarah writes to inspire women of all ages to explore the beauty of God’s design at SarahKoontz.com.

Sarah lives on 13-acres in South Dakota with her husband, two daughters and a rowdy flock of chickens. She revels in their simple, uncluttered life

I have followed Sarah for a few years and have benefited from the ways she unpacks scripture while communicating in a very personal way how it applies to our lives. Specifically, she seeks to let scripture empower us by speaking into our lives. It’s like conversing about the Bible with a friend. This study was actually created in response to her own desire to develop a deeper relationship with Jesus.

I am honored to be part of her launch team for this study. I would never endorse a product I do not believe in. Truthfully, I volunteered to join her in this venture and hope to inspire others to join me in this opportunity. Let’s grow together!

Why should you join?

To feed your soul. Honestly. If you are like me, we are tempted to forget to nourish ourselves as we attempt to care for our families and friends. Spiritual starvation is dangerous-to ourselves and those in our midst. This study offers bite sized chunks that satisfy.

To witness the beauty of the Body of Christ: Each week Sarah is offering free give-aways. These items are handmade by creative individuals who display the marvelous ways God has gifted us. (This week’s freebie is  this beautiful painting. Register at the link below or click on the image.)They bring another way of lifting up the passages of Ephesians for focus. Some of these items are included in the study. (Who doesn’t like coloring pages?) You can also purchase these items in Sarah’s store. By doing so, you support these individuals in their unique callings.

What can you expect?

This study gives us a look at Paul’s letter through the eyes of the original recipients. Paul wants these Gentile believers to embrace their identity “In Christ.” They share the same value in relationship to Christ as their Jewish brothers and sisters. They are learning what it means to be citizens in this unique kingdom. In any sound Bible Study, understanding context is vital. These are letter written to address specific situations. In order to apply parts of them to our lives today, we discover the intention, language, and style of the author.

In several of the lessons, key Greek words are lifted up in order to give deeper understanding of the nuance of a verse. Furthermore, she identifies patterns. For example, In lesson three, she points out that the phrase “In Christ” occurs 27 times in the book of Ephesians. Why was Paul trying to convey by his repetition here?

She also identifies the writing style of certain passages. How does a prayer that was written for the church of Ephesus apply become our prayer as well?

The lessons are small enough not to be overwhelming, yet, deep enough to offer substance. Woven throughout each lesson, you will find personal stories and questions on which to ponder until the next lesson.

We are all short on time. It’s so easy to push away one more thing. But, our actions, our attitudes, and our endurance flow out of our spiritual gauge. When it is empty, it affects everything we do.

I encourage you to consider this study-15 minutes a day. The lessons are delivered daily to your email. Do able right?

Who can use encouragement? It all begins on October 16. Who’s with me?

 

 

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Thursday Thoughts: Why Lifting Your Gaze, Can Change Your Perspective

I lift up my eyes to the hills–

where does my help come from?

My help comes from the LORD,

the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip–

he who watches over you will not slumber; (Psalm 121:1-3)

As we move about this world, it becomes all too easy to let our gaze be set on what we see out in front or down below.  The mind interprets our interactions with our surrounding territory. Most of the time, we walk on level ground. Therefore, our perspective is shaped by what we feel, hear, see, and touch within that area.

However, as followers of Christ, we must remember that there is another Kingdom being built upon the one which we see only at eye level.  The new one is infinite and transforms what our mind and body senses. It is ruled by Jesus, who, came down from the “hills” to point us to it.

It’s easy to allow fear to dictate our perceptions of circumstances here. Changes in health, job status, loss, and looming life-changing decisions tempt us to gravitate to Earthly self-satisfying answers. When we do that, we see ourselves through the eyes of the Israelites. Despite the marvels of God’s hand displayed in front of them, they longed for security in what the Earth can offer.

But we are called to lift our heads and change our view. The answer we need may not be found from the perspective from which we are looking. We don’t need to fear. Our God is aware of the struggles we face. The answer we need will come. We just need to look up.

Dear God: Thank you for extending yourself down from the Heavenly realms to this Earth where you have placed us. We acknowledge that seeking answers purely from our eye-level becomes very tempting. Waiting is hard. Suffering is hard. Please grant us peace as we fix our gaze on the hills and look into your face, and wait.

 

How a “Cranky Man” Opened My Eyes to Divine Interruptions

His presence in the doorway, caught me off guard.  Normally, I observed him shuffling up and down the hallway with his walker. ”  During my visits to my grandmother’s room in this assisted living facility, this elderly man and I routinely passed each other. Often, his facial expression spoke of anger and his sharp outbursts to others to “Move out of my way!” convinced me that avoidance might be best. In fact, he was known in my head as “cranky man.”

So on this particular day, I was startled when I spied him pausing in the doorway of my grandmother’s room. The door had been left open to the main hallway because my mother, sister, and I were cleaning out her room. A few hours earlier, we had laid her to rest. Her death brought an end to a deterioration of her health; culminating in a recent diagnosis of bone cancer. It was a day full of emotion, pondering and celebration. As we focused on going through the items during what was already a long day, “cranky man” wandered in to ask how things were going.  I must admit that two thoughts came into my mind upon his greeting: 1) “It’s the cranky man who tells us to be quiet” 2) “I just want to finish”.

Ironically (and I’m convinced divinely appointed), my young son came running in the room which caused the conversation to turn to the energy of a 10 year old.  Being polite, I asked our visitor where he grew up.  To my surprise, he answered, “Chicago.”  Well, of course, that drew me in. On top of that, he had been a pastor. Who knew that we shared two common elements in our stories?  For the next hour, I was engaged in conversation with this man who I merely knew as my grandma’s neighbor.

I listened as Bob (no longer the “cranky man”) shared the most amazing story of his childhood. Placed in an orphanage as an infant, he was later  adopted by a couple. His parents, both followers of Christ, added two more sons through adoption. As Bob told his story, his eyes conveyed the love he had for his father; a man whose life radiated Jesus.

Bob’s father was a physician and felt a tug to leave a potentially comfortable place in life to a small town in Illinois. The size of the town wasn’t an issue of adjustment. However, it didn’t believe in medicine! Despite the very real possibility of being ostracized from their new neighbors, moving plans proceeded. As a young boy, Bob wondered how the family would be treated. Would people befriend them?

Perhaps church would provide a place of welcome and refuge for this family of five. Boldly, they made their way to worship one Sunday. What would happen if anyone knew of his father’s occupation? Bob fearfully waited for reaction…..A man suddenly stood up; pointing at Bob’s father.  News travels fast in small towns. The rumors of a physician coming to the town had been realized. The man; recognized. A demand to leave followed.  Apparently, the perception of medicine was correlated to evil. Firmly, and bravely, this physician responded that his family was staying.

To three young boys, one had to wonder if they perceived that action as a blessing or a curse.

However, in telling me the story, his eyes lit up as he shared the courage his father showed in choosing to  stay despite the church praying for him to leave. What would give his parents the courage to make such a choice? Where are they finding peace in this tension?

What Bob so powerfully witnessed was the hand of God moving beneath the scenes. This physician brought healing to wounds of the flesh but also restoration to wounds of the soul. The knees of three young boys ached from their nightly prayer routine. Patients names were added to other list. Sometimes, the prayers lasted an hour. Despite the admonition to keep the information confidential, the manifestation of the hand of God appeared before their eyes.

The transformation that took place in that town as a result of his father’s legacy continues to reap fruit. In fact, with tears in his eyes, Bob recounted the day his father died suddenly. The entire town shut down for the funeral.

The conversation morphed into lighter substance. We laughed about his rebellious antics which resulted in being kicked out of a prominent Christian college. We agreed that we would meet up again. How could I not? I longed to be blessed more from his gleanings!

In one hour, Bob let me into his soul.

How many other times have I tuned out such an encounter? What more of God’s character and works would I know if I learned to open my eyes and my ears to the nudges of the Holy Spirit?  What blessings do we miss when we don’t tread in the places resided by the “least of these?”

I would have never imagined that the most profound moment of that day would come after my Grandma’s funeral.  God is Good.

How I Found Peace Living in the “Not Yet.”

Sometimes, life leaves your brain full and your mouth empty.

A season of life two years ago encompassed one of those times for me. The thing is-these seasons don’t just end with a nice and tidy resolution. They don’t leave us with an instant epiphany of profound theological insight. Rather, we are left with a reminder-:spiritual, physical, emotional- that we are humans wrestling with the realities of living in a place of in-between.

It is not yet Heaven.

The days of December 2013 quickly filled up with preparations for Christmas as well as doctor’s appointments. My eldest son became increasingly ill. A periodic problem with an upset stomach evolved into a daily issue. Watching your child feeling sick packs a punch to the stomach and the heart. The immediate desire is to fix it. Yet, beginning in October, we sought an answer from many physicians and no one could fix it. How can that happen? We live near Chicago; a mecca of renowned and state-of-the art medical centers. A gold mine of wisdom on the complexities of the human body. Yet, each visit to a different specialist yielded more questions. We just wanted answers.

Emergency room doctors ruled out some things But nothing made him better. Daily, he made the trek to school with virtually nothing in his stomach except a bit of protein shake. Sometimes, he couldn’t gather the stamina to make it to school. My husband and I worried. The school pressured. The bills mounted.

We prayed. Friends prayed. Strangers prayed. But there were no answers.

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 your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6 (NIV).

Embracing the peace of Christ in the midst of uncertainty challenged me.

Finally, after many tests and procedures, a diagnosis was reached. Whew!  Finally a name and a course of treatment. Finally, an answer! Medicine would bring healing and resolve the problem.

I grabbed hold of the answer and felt a sense of relief; control; no uncertainty.

How easy is it to acknowledge the “peace that passes all understanding” when circumstances line up according to our expectations?

But would that peace permeate if the circumstances change? The events of the next day confronted me with that question.

Following dinner, upon preparing to study for finals, he fell to the couch and began to seize. Never having witnessed a seizure, it was the most terrifying moment of my life. The limp look of his body; the lifeless look in his eyes, will remain etched in my mind for a long time. Those five minutes led me to a profound realization as my mind grasped to acknowledge the surreal reality spinning around me: there are many things I can control-but death may not be one of them.

Fortunately, he came out of the seizure, was quickly rushed to the hospital, and the scans came out clear. But, more questions arose...and yet no answers. In my frustration, I hesitated to let go of what I thought to be a resolution. I didn’t want to believe that our lives were once more catapulted into the abyss. “How do you embrace the peace that transcends all understanding when God’s movement does not align with Earthly expectation?

As we dealt with the uncertainty in his health, we attempted to proceed with the rhythms of life. That wrenching moment rewound in my mind in the midst of my days. Ambulance sounds caused shivers down my back. Yet, I attempted to let Jesus, not me, guard my heart.

The dark, frigid winter painted an appropriate backdrop to the events and feelings over those next several months. While we continued to hold on to the glimmer of light held out for us through scriptural promises, the realities of living in the “not yet” continued to speak into our lives.

How does one live in the truth of new life in the resurrection, yet, face the reality of destruction and death of the things of this world?

My heart and my mind bear the scars of living in a kingdom that is both now and not yet. But I am keenly aware that I am not the only one. In one way or another, all of us feel that paradox. Circumstances may differ. Our expectations and God’s answers may or may not merge. Yet, the testimony and scars of others bear witness to the peace that Christ offers, while living in a kingdom that unfolds toward completion.

It’s the peace that Jesus promised to his disciples, who had given up everything for him. “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NLV).

Eventually, the winter season yielded to the brighter, warmer days of spring; not just meteorologically, but symbolically as well. My son’s health improved. I am aware that I am bound to encounter those seasons of restlessness again. They too are promises of Jesus. But He also imparts a peace that “transcends all understanding” as we navigate through them. 

 

Sometimes God’s Purpose for You is Right in Front of Your Eyes

Have you ever dreamed up big plans concerning how you can be used by God to change the world?  Sometimes God puts big plans in our hearts.  Plans so big and so overwhelming that the immediate reaction is to run; or at least find excuses.  (Let’s not forget that Moses, Jeremiah, Saul, Peter…. encountered those fears). Without a doubt, God is in the business of using us, imperfect as we are, to accomplish great things.


Yet, we easily can get so caught up in those big dreams that we lose sight of the many opportunities we have everyday  to bring the face of Christ to others. Many of those opportunities happen in the mundane, moments of our lives. Jesus regularly spent moments with those who he encountered….while traveling, stopping at a well, eating with friends.  We get so accustomed to the tasks in our routines; so distracted by the images on our electronic devices, the agendas that fill up our days,  that we don’t see others the way Jesus saw them. 

 Sometimes, we don’t see them at all.

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I am reminded of a few scenarios in which I, unexpectedly, encountered what I call “Divine” moments.  

  • Finding myself lost in a lonely hospital hallway while looking for the meeting room of a support group I attended, I encountered a man. After helping me out, he shared with me that his wife just underwent a double mastectomy earlier in the day.  He was on his way to her room.  
  • While we were cleaning out my grandmother’s space following her funeral, I engaged in a conversation with a man who poked his head in to my grandmother’s room . It was an encounter that, at first, seemed inconvenient with a man, who seemed “grumpy.” I left blessed.  (For the full story:http://stephaniejthompson.blogspot.com/2013/04/divine-interruption.html
  • Helping a woman at a party learn to use her smartphone to see pictures of her grandkids, led to her sharing about a predicament in her life and an opportunity to pray for her.

I don’t share these glimpses into my moments in order to bring glory to myself.  In fact, I’m sure I would have been blessed many more times, had my eyes been looking for the opportunities.

So…my challenge to you as well as myself is this:  When you wake up, ask God to give you the eyes of Christ.  Lend yourself to being open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. 

 What would happen if you went into the bank/ gas station and actually talked to the person behind the counter?  

What if you paid for the coffee of the person in line in back of you?

What if you practice grace when the waitress/restaurant staff messes up your order?


What if you listened (really listened-you know what I mean) to your kids/spouse tell about their day?

None of us knows the stories behind those whose paths we cross in a day. Only God knows.  But what we do know is that all of us are broken people in need of grace and hope and validation that our lives matter. Sometimes, God’s purpose for you, is right in front of your eyes.