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A New York Lesson
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Our family returned home on Saturday from a six day trip to New York City.  Since moving to Pennsylvania we have taken yearly trips to New York to do outreach in the parks and on the streets of New York.  It has become a constant in our summer schedule, and we love it.  I was thinking this week, that when I think of NY I think of the parks and the people.  Both are so numerous in the city, and both I love spending time with when there!

Brian and I both had the opportunity to teach to a group of high school students and their leaders who were in NY for a missions trip.  Brian shared with the students the gospel is for all people, using Matthew 9:35-38 as his main text.  I shared the gospel for life, using II Timothy.  We both enjoyed our time with this group and were thankful to have opportunities to share truth from God’s Word with them.

Every time I go to NY I am struck by hospitality!  That might surprise you, but it is ingrained in the people of NY!  Everywhere I go I hear “Welcome to New York!  Where are you from?  What are you going to do while you are here?”  New Yorkers have this deep desire that you love your time in their city, because they love their city!  Our hosts the Sotelo’s are always striving to make our time there enjoyable.

Situation A: My oldest daughter had hurt her ankle and was hobbling around.  We wanted to go to a museum but were concerned about the walking.  Without being prompted the Sotelo’s researched and discovered that the museum had wheelchairs to use.  “You can not come to New York and let a hurt ankle be in the way.”

Situation B: While in China town my youngest daughter decided she was upset with her souvenir choice and wanted something different.  She started to cry over this problem while we were in a new store.  The store owner was so concerned, “You can not cry while you are visiting New York!  What does she want, I will get it.  Oh, we do not have Barbies so you can not cry.”

Hospitality, kindness, love our city because we do…is seen all over New York!

It gives me a picture of what hospitality can look like.  As the host of my home, my city and my church I want to help people love their stay.

 

Nehemiah Prayers
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“Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?”  SO I PRAYED TO THE GOD OF HEAVEN.  And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor…”

Nehemiah stood before the king and was given a moment, a brief quick moment, when the King lent him his ear and asked his desire.  I love the truth tucked right between Nehemiah 2:4a and 2:5, you know the part I capitalized up there!  Why do I love it so?  I love it because in a brief moment, the blink of an eye, right where he was, right as he continued on, Nehemiah cried out to the Lord in his heart and asked for the Lord’s help before he opened his mouth to answer the king!

The gift of prayer is beyond words and beyond comprehension!  I am thankful to have grown up in a church where prayer was foundational.  I went to college where prayer was foundational.  In my family prayer is foundational.  I feel I have been blessed with the rich soil of a comfortableness with prayer.  I am not an expert, by no means!!  I have a lot to learn!  I would not even say praying is something I do well.  I would say prayer is something I am thankful for, something I love, something I am willing to do for myself and for others, something I will do out loud with others or alone in my heart.  Prayers, long or short, are a treasured gift!  The Lord says talk to me, seek me, come to me, and I will listen!

Nehemiah did not have time to form a wordy elaborate prayer.  He must have taken a deep breath and in that moment cast himself before the Lord asking for help.  How very beautiful!

I am looking for Nehemiah prayer moments this week, times when I need to take a deep breath, cast myself before the Lord to ask for help and then answer.

 

Nourishment
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There are some books we read quickly and then there are others we do not.

This one I wanted to sit long and drink in.

That I might taste it’s truths on the taste buds of my starving mind.

In hopes it would fill my aching stomach with lasting nourishing truth.

Truth that when completely digested would bring life giving energy to my hands and feet.

Hands and feet that used to be busy serving the Lord and had grown still and stiff from hurts and wounds still needing to heal.

I know these truths are buried in these chapters and verse, because I know the Lord himself can be found there.

The Word was God and the Word is God.

What my aching belly really needed was the Lord.

His truth.

His character.

His perspective.

His reality.

So, I went to His word consistently.

Is the most important meal of the day breakfast?   No, it is the meal before breakfast, the meal of His Word.

“Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a JOY and a DELIGHT of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.”  Jeremiah 15:16

 

God in the Bleachers!
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I have been thinking!

I recently read part of Jennifer Crow’s book Perfect Lies and she helped me to see a new picture for my heart and mind to focus on.  Jennifer’s book lays out nine lies that we are tempted to believe.  She tells us that we often have pictures in our mind’s eye that we look at over and over.  Pictures that are not true of the Lord, His character and how he views us.

In another area of life over the last year I have spent more time on the sidelines of soccer games and in bleachers watching my kids play than ever before.  To tell the truth I delight in watching them play!  It just thrills my heart to see them out there giving it their all.  I watch with dedicated attention, seeing the moments they make a great pass or play with aggression or the moments where they miss an opportunity.  I am one of those mom’s who cheers, but I am careful to only say encouraging words.  I don’t want my kids to be knocked down by comments from me, or anyone else.  I say things like “You, got it girl.   That’s yours, you can do it! Way to go!”  Then there are the family sayings such as “empty the tank”.  We got that one from Texas Ranger player Michael Young.  Young explained that in every game they go out there and “empty the tank”, in other words they give it their all.  So I often will shout that out near the end of the game, telling my kids give it your all till the last moment…finish on empty!

Jennifer challenged me to think of a new picture for how God sees me in relation to the things I do for him, and here is where it gets good 🙂  I thought what if He were my parent sitting up on the bleachers cheering me on.  He is up there waiting to see me use the gifts He has given me and He watches with determined attention.  He delights when I allow Him to work through me.  He yells out “way to go Mandy, that a girl”.  He tells me to empty the tank when I am wearing out.  But the coolest thing of all is that He is the only one in the stands!  There are no others!  As I seek to serve him through the gifts he has given me, as I seek to let him shine through my life, as I sit back and let his glory shine He is the only one in the bleachers.  My efforts are for an audience of one!  It makes no difference if I please anyone else, I play for an audience of one!  There have been times in my life that I felt I had failed in the eyes of my fellow players, but in reality it was my audience of one whose opinion mattered.  I delight to play for him alone!

Two songs have driven these thoughts home:

Audience of One, by Big Daddy Weave

Steal my Show, by Toby Mac

When I step up to serve Him I picture the Lord in the bleachers.  He sits alone.  He has a button on His lapel with my picture on it.  That is my girl He says.  Just watch as I use the gifts I placed in her, just watch as she lets me steal the show.  This is what I made her to do and I delight in seeing her do it!

He has given us each gifts that we might use them to bring him glory.  He sits in the bleachers of your life as well and he waits to be your singular audience.  He waits to steal your show.  He waits for permission to use you as an instruments of his choosing (Acts 9:15). He delights in Himself working through you!

 

The Power of Accountability & Friendship!
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In the last 12 years there has been one constant tool the Lord has used in my life to bring growth in my spiritual walk…friendship and accountability!

Twelve years ago I started meeting with a small group of ladies for accountability, not Bible study, but accountability and prayer.  Each week we openly shared with each other how we were doing in our walks with the Lord.

Each week we answered the following questions using the acronym SOAP:

Scripture (How have I done with reading God’s Word in the last week, what am I learning?)

Outreach (How am I doing loving on others and reaching out to them?)

Accountability (What area of my life do I need to be asked about, where am I struggling, or where do I need a gentle push to get something I know needs to be done…done?)

Prayer (What do I need prayer for?)

It would be impossible for me to describe how much this faithful meeting impacted my life and spiritual walk.  Having to share with others how I am doing every seven days really helped me develop some life habits I had been longing to develop.   I work well with accountability!  I don’t mean the in-your-face discouraging accountability but the cheerleader you-can-do-it kind.  I don’t need someone to beat me up, I need someone to say “Mandy, you can do this and you need to.  I am going to ask you about it again next week.  Oh, and I love you.”

Another acronym that I have used are the M’s: Master, Marriage, Mothering and Ministry.

Master (How am I in my walk with the Lord, my master?  How are my daily times with Him?)

Marriage (This is a question focused on me as a wife.  What and how am I growing as a wife?  This is NOT a time for me to gripe about my husband, there never is a time for that!  What areas of wifeliness do I want to work on?)

Mothering (How is my relationship with my kids?  Are there things I need encouragement to do in relating to them and taking care of their needs?)

Ministry (How am I reaching out to others?  Where am I using my god given gifts to bring him glory?)

Let me state this clearly: For me kind accountability from friends who I know love and support me has been life changing!


A little over a year ago I heard about Hello Mornings, an online accountability challenge for women.  Knowing the value of accountability I wanted to know more.  Hello Mornings is a gathering place for women who long to be consistent in their seeking of the Lord, planning their days purposefully and exercising.  The challenge runs for 15 weeks.  Through different social media avenues or email a group of ladies work to encourage and hold each other accountable to spend time with the Lord daily, to plan out their days and to exercise.

I am on my second session of Hello Mornings, and it has been encouraging and helpful in setting patterns in my life.  The two groups I have been a part of have functioned using a private Facebook group.  On the group page ladies check in and give an account of how they are doing, some do so daily, others weekly.  There is honesty in those posts and encouragement in the comments, it is great!

Accountability can come in many forms.  If you have not given this a try, I would ask “why not?”…it is well worth it!

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism or Christian?
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So if the Christian church is “advertising” the gospel is it the best approach to push the “buying point” as saying a prayer of repentance and belief, and then follow that up with the “now you are in the family of God” proof-texting? Trust me, this is an honest question and not a leading question. And I don’t want to make it “hard” to believe in Christ. And as Mike said on Wednesday, I do not see any evidence in scripture that there is anything other than Christ’s death and resurrection which accomplishes salvation, which is attained by faith, and that there is not some separate step of “Lordship” that goes after salvation, etc. But I, along with scores of others, have led many in the process and have often ended with something like:

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” –John 10.27-29

or, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” –Romans 8.16

Not only have I led people in this, I have trained hundreds of teens and adults to share their faith in this way.

Then I read a very well done study and well written synopsis of the culture of Christianity in American teenagers by Christian Smith and Melina Lundquist Denton, titled . Through their study they write a strikingly precise summation of what I have observed in the general culture of teens and what I think can be applied to age groups much older and still be on target with reality:

“in the ecology of American adolescents’ lives, religion clearly operates in a social-structurally weak position, competing for time, energy, and attention and often losing against other, more dominant demands and commitments, particularly school, sports, television, and other electronic media.” (p161)
“…we suggest that the defacto dominant religion among contemporary U.S. teenagers is what we might well call ‘Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.’ The creed of this religion…sounds something like this:

  1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about onesself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
    (p162-163)

How is the good news of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God ending up with a result like this!? I know there are various contributors, some of which I have already talked about in the faith-science dichotomy and truth approach. But a large contributor is our focus on a one-time decision prayer, life insurance policy type salvation experience. If you are a Christian today and someone asks you how you know or why you are a Christian, please don’t say “because when I was 5 (or 25) I prayed a prayer…” or if you do say something like that it is only the first half of the first sentence which then goes on to talk about how the living Spirit of God is at work in your life yesterday and TODAY. (Oh, and doubts are fine! I think that is one of the greatest things about faith, doubts can be and should be aired out and wrestled with)

I don’t find a story in the Bible where a person is given assurance of their salvation based on a prayer they prayed in the past. I find reminders of individuals belief of the belief of a community of people, but no assurance. In fact when these reminders of belief are given it is often followed up with the telling of how they are still being “faithful” or “fruitful” in their belief. Additionally, Paul urges us to live, “as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.” (Colossians 2.6) It seems that the greater biblical support refers to a continual faith-living, believing, or fruitful life as assurance of our salvation.

So I don’t think it is wrong to encourage that one-time prayer of salvation, and the followup “family of God” / “Now you’re ‘in'” encouragement, I just think it is incomplete. But I want to be careful, because I don’t think the “completeness” of it is to then say, “now you need to obey the law…” which will tend to be a legalistic earn your salvation approach. I do think we need to follow that up with something like, “now, daily, allow this faith to be worked into every area of your being, to the very core of yourself. You will find new ways that your faith applies to your life and community. You will be continually transformed and you must allow the Spirit of God in you to change you and display God’s character through you.”

Finally, I leave you with an approach that we take with our children (which I learned in part through some great conversations with a great reformed theology friend and is really pretty basic to scripture teaching) As our children are growing up we have treated, talked with, taught them that they are part of a believing community, the Church. As they are growing up they can choose to believe (accept) or reject that. I recognize that a child doesn’t express much independent faith when they are young and therefore are heavily influenced by our belief (this is actually the beauty of family as God designed). As each one has expressed faith in Jesus Christ for salvation we celebrated! They were born again! (The kind of beginning that John commented about yesterday) But we then watch and continually look for opportunities to encourage them to affirm their faith and express belief in new ways. Two of ours have expressed enough independent faith for us to encourage them to be baptized. As the grow and in these reaffirmations they will mature in their faith and our prayer is they will grow beyond Mom and Dad’s faith holding them up to understand the even greater cloud of those who have gone before, test their doubts, strengthen their faith and bring others along with them. We certainly share with them about a future of eternity in God’s full presence, but we more often talk about what it means for them to have faith today and how that can change their character (at Tommy commented earlier this evening) and make a difference in the community in which God has put them.

Well, a much longer conclusion that I intended, and a little different ending point than I set out toward 10 days ago. I still would like to come back to the faith-science discussion as I have many more thoughts related to that; but it will wait for another day (probably not tomorrow 🙂 )

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