Identity

Most of us know who we are. We have a name, place of birth and gender. We are often asked for these bits of information whenever we have to fill out forms. We also need a birth date and here in the United States; a social security number. It might be a form for a job application, travel documents, or school registration. When we are young a parent or guardian fills out this identity information for us. When we older we learn to fill out this information for ourselves.

Recently, I was filling out forms to verify my identity. I also needed to have my fingerprints recorded in order to confirm the unique identity that sets me apart of everyone else on the planet and make travel more efficient.

Yet, at the same time I was filling out forms and placing my fingertips on a screen to scan, my mind was unsure of who I really was. Don’t worry I wasn’t have mental confusion or crisis. And no, I was not adopted. I had just found out additional information about my family of origin that I had never heard before that left me wondering about my life’s narrative.

This information was not what I had expected to hear at the time, and it left me wondering why I felt so insecure upon hearing it. I think it is because we create this identity of ourselves based upon what we are told and what we experience. It gives us security, at least it did for me, in knowing my unique place in this world. We adopt the narrative that we are told, without raising questions. We grow comfortable with the story of our lives, even when the stories aren’t always pretty or without pain. It is our story. And we accept it.

Until, we hear a new narrative. Then, what do we do with that? Do we let it upset us? Do we let it change our perception of others, or even of ourselves? We could and no one would fault us for doing so. But, what if we could just grab hold of who we know we are? Or of what God says of us? What if we measure and write our life narrative from God’s view and not the world’s? Surely we are more than just names, dates, and numbers. We are loved by God and called His own creation.

He is the one who created our uniqueness. Our fingerprints demonstrate this as well as our physical attributes. We are uniquely what He has determined. We might not understand the circumstances that brought about our existence, but it was part of God’s narrative for us. This is who we are.

A favorite verse of mine reads; “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” (Jeremiah 1:5) God knows me and this is my identity. Another favorite is from the Psalms; “You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” (Psalm 139:16, NLT).

These are great verses to meditate upon whenever someone tries to change your narrative and shake up your identity. It’s all God’s narrative anyway. – God Bless You – Nancy

Calling On Help

“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia.We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death.” -Paul 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, New International Version Bible.

So, two things I wanted to share with you today. The first are my thoughts about Paul and the second about going it alone in our faith walk.

I’ve always thought of the apostle Paul as this powerful, strong Christian. He had difficulties in his ministry- shipwrecks, beatings, arrests, and ultimately death. Yet he kept a good attitude. He was strong, fearless, you might say. Yet, as I read the above passage from Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth (his second letter), I saw something new that I hadn’t noticed before. Paul admitted he felt defeated at times.

Perhaps it was in the translation from the newer NIV, but nonetheless, I thought it was interesting. He wanted to inform the church just how bad things had been. To share with them. Just what they might expect also. No glossing over it. Just honesty. Paul, the strong man of God shared that he felt that he couldn’t endure. It was beyond his ability. He felt like he was going to die. He sounds depressed even. Yet, he shared this with the church. Further on Paul mentions his focus on God and the help of the prayers of the church in verse 11. He specifically mentions “As you help us by your prayers.”

This really spoke to me this past week, as I found myself in a stressful situation. I felt overwhelmed. Desperate even. My mind was a wreck and I just could not remain calm or think clearly. But, in one moment of clarity I reached out to an online prayer group I belong to, asking for prayer. No specifics, just to pray for me. Later I realized as more and more fellow prayer warriors began to comment on my request, I began to sense God’s peace in the situation. Bible verses began to pop up in my email from other sources I follow that gave me the direction I needed to handle the situation. Including the above passage.

Now, to the second part; I need to admit that I kind of cringe every time I hear the “lone wolf”, or “can’t do the Christian life alone” sermons. They tend to guilt people into getting involved with church groups beyond Sunday mornings. Don’t get me wrong, these groups are necessary. Small groups help us to grow in our faith. Small groups keep us accountable and I have led many of these groups. So, I don’t criticize them, just the tactics of some pastors to use the lone wolf sermons to fill their groups, or find volunteers for children’s church. They really should focus on how much we need to support each other. Welcome people to join, not guilt people to join.

Which brings me to my stressful week and how I realized we NEED each other. But, most importantly, we also need to be free to share our struggles. Not gloss over anything. We need to be informed when one of us is hurting. We also need to feel to feel we can share when we are hurting. Too often, we smile and fake it at church. We need to follow Paul’s example instead. Be open about struggles. Be accepting of those struggling. Ask for prayer. And to actually pray for others instead of promising we will and forget all about it later. This is doing life together. This is welcoming others to share their requests for prayer.

Paul admitted his weakness and his struggles that others would know what to expect in the Christian walk. We need this transparency in churches today. We need this authenticity. We also can be encouraged that prayer does change things. We can offer up prayers for one another in support. God Bless- Nancy

At A Loss For Words

She passed. Two words with the power to break me to my knees. I knew it was coming, but the words had interrupted my dinner and I pushed back my plate. My stomach began to tighten and I no longer was hungry. I tried to calm myself enough to respond to the person on the other end of the phone. My voice was shaky, but I managed to utter “Okay”.

No matter how long someone has graced this planet, death still hurts. It leaves an absence in our lives. Certain people touch our lives to the point where they have been a part of who we are, of who we have become. They inspire us and mold us, acting as a foundation, a pillar if you will. When they die, we feel the foundations of our lives shake and wobble, like a tremor. We can no longer seek out their advice or tell them of our latest accomplishments for which we are proud. There is an empty place now that they use to fill.

We can’t go through this life without feeling this emptiness caused by the death of someone we were close to. We know it and understand the finite quality of this life. As Christians who believe in eternal life, we know that this is not the end. If those who died had accepted Jesus as Savior, we will see them again. there is hope and yet, still; we will hurt. We will miss them. We will grieve. This is normal and how we are hard- wired by our Creator God to feel grief. It is okay to cry and grieve over our loss.

But, if you are on the other side of grief, the person who has not experienced the loss, what do you say? Your friend, spouse, neighbor, co- worker has lost someone and you find yourself at a loss for words. We have all been there. A simple “Sorry” doesn’t seem right. But, it is actually perfect.

My Aunt died this week so this hurt is fresh and raw. I have been jolted back to a place of sadness that I felt a few years ago when my mom died. Those familiar feelings of an empty space. Of sorrow. Of grief. And I find myself wanting to be comforted. A hug, kind words and asking me how I’m doing is what I really want.

Her death and my loss, have brought me to a place where I wanted to share what to say and not to say, when someone is grieving. I hope it will help you to know what to say. First, say sorry. Please ask how I am. Please ask how did she die. Please ask what she meant to me. Please ask if you can pray for me and what to pray. Please ask if I need anything. Please ask me to share a memory of her, and listen as I cry, laugh, and vent. Please spend time with me and not rush off because it feels uncomfortable for you; it’s uncomfortable for me too. Please ask if there is anything you can do.

And for the don’t s. Please don’t tell me she is in a better place. Don’t tell me she was old, as if it is comforting. Please don’t say as least you had a long time with her. Please don’t tell me I’ll see her again. Please don’t tell me she is at peace.

These are all true. I know it, but it is not what I need at the moment. She is fine. It is me who is grieving. Grieving takes time. It is not a quick thing. It isn’t easy. Tell me it is hard. Tell me that death is not good. Tell me it sucks. Come along side me and grieve with me. And you will not be at a loss for words. God Bless You- Nancy

Do You Really Mean It?

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. -Paul in his letter to the church in Rome

There’s a popular phrase “Fake it until you make it” that has been around for awhile. It implies that we should act like we are confident and successful until we can actually see it happen in reality. Somehow our attitude affects what can manifest into reality and while I’m not going to get into the finer points of that argument, it does seem to be popular.

We are, no doubt, are very self- centered culture these days. We want to appear as if we are successful and have it all together. We are only our “real” selves when we are with those closest to us, most likely our closest friends and our families. To the rest of the world, we put forth the image of what we want them to see. Our selfie shots and posts on social media are carefully filtered and selected to help us appear to be perfect. We know, or at least would should realize, that these will be around for awhile for everyone to see so we have to be selective.

Often, we use these platforms to feed our own longing for approval and the need to be right. And sometimes our need for love. We all enjoy the nice comments from social media and the little heart emojies. It makes us feel loved, appreciated and accepted.

But when we take the filters away. Who are we really? Do we know how to be real? Can we let others see our true selves? Can we love others authentically? Or do we attempt to show love towards others from our filtered selves? Are we fakes?

In the southern US where I live, there is a saying that conveys falsehood, yet to the visitor, might sound very nice. “Bless your heart” might sound nice, but it really translates to “What are you thinking? Are you crazy?” There are a few other translations I could add, but they wouldn’t be appropriate in this forum, so I’ll leave it to your own imagination. So, it is a way to say something nice, without really meaning it. It is not blessing anyone’s heart. It is not a compliment.

Last week, in the blog What Christians Get Wrong, I wrote about the tendency of faith people to argue their faith with those who do not share the same beliefs. It was one of many ideas that Christians sometimes get “wrong”. Today I would add insincerity.

The apostle Paul wrote much of the New Testament. His letters to the fledgling churches offered so much advice to those Jesus followers that we still read and study his words. If you have the time, consider reading the entire letter Paul wrote to the Romans, that is the early church in Rome, not the government. You’ll find that it is just as applicable today as it was in the first century. Chapter 12 offers quite a list for believers on how they should act towards each other and to those outside their church group.

Commentators, who study this letter in its original language- Greek, often find verse 9 an important shift in the writing style. They suggest it is a heading for a list to follow. Like, “Here is what real, true love should look like; list to follow” It also implied that it was a close love, like a family kind of love. A sincere, be yourself, no one to impress here, kind of love. Not the fake it ’til you make it, or bless your heart. Just real. Authentic. Not for any personal approval or to fill our own empty love tank.

I think, that sometimes Christians like to skip over the passage and get to the hate what is evil part, to justify their judgmental attitudes towards others. Paul is really speaking to the individual as a member of the larger body of believers there. Not hating others, but more of a personal accountability. The imperative to cling to what was good, also implied this close, family connection. Love that is sincere hates the evil in the world, but holds on to the good. It does not hate people, but the evil that is present. If you continue reading the rest of the passage all the way to its end in verse 21, you can fully understand what Paul is trying to tell the Christians about sincere love and what it looks like. Words like harmony, humility, peace, sharing, rejoicing, mourning with others, joy, honor, patience,faithfulness, humbleness over being conceited, providing water to the thirsty, and doing good all appear as instructions on how to love authentically, sincerely.

Many might think of 1 Corinthians 13 as the “Love” chapter in the bible, but I think Romans 12 really gives us a real good idea of what sincere love should look like. I encourage you to read it, and let me know if you agree on this point. – God Bless you- Nancy

What Christians Get Wrong

So, I’ve been thinking about this for awhile. For those of you who identify as a Christian you might be alarmed that I would suggest that Christians are not doing everything right. On the other hand, some of you might be reading this blog and are thinking “Yes!, see I told you they were a bunch of hypocrites” And I’m sure you probably have a long list of the wrongs.

I am also convinced that there are still others like me, those who have been a member of the faith community for some time, and that you completely understand just how flawed Christians can be and are not surprised, nor alarmed by my suggestion.

I pray that you all bear with me for a bit and let me explain what I mean so that all those of different views might better understand each other. I really believe that is what is missing at times, honestly. Just a chance for Christians to admit what they get wrong, while helping unbelievers, whether, agnostic, atheist, identifying with another religion, or whatever, see the positives of Christianity.

It is a tall order to be sure. We definitely misunderstand one another. So, it may take a series of blogs to address the issues, but I believe that one of life’s and faith’s challenges ( the focus and purpose of moving4ward) is dealing with differences of worldviews and how to not get it wrong when explaining our Christian worldview. Too often the explanation is muddled by well meaning, yet flawed Christians.

The first thing Christians get wrong is assuming they are in a fight with those who have a different worldview. It is not a war against each other. All mankind are created in the image of God. Christians are not special people in terms of creation. I am not a Calvinist and therefore I do not believe in predestination. All men have equal opportunity to embrace Christianity and receive Christ as Savior. All men can either choose to accept the hope of Gospel or to reject it. All men have freewill. And please note, when I refer to men, I mean mankind, both male and female to be clear- I don’t want any misinterpretations here.

Christians have at sometimes looked at those who do not believe in Christ as savior, as the enemy and are convinced it is an “us” versus “them” mentality. I admit that even I have had this view before in my early walk with Christ. It is something that Christians kind of, or at least should, grow out of over time. But, I really see this as the biggest problem that can cause someone just exploring Christianity to reject it.

As an apologist, I have studied formal arguments, that is rational and logical arguments, from the philosophical point of view and there is a place for these discussions. There are many intelligent Christian apologists who can carry on very sophisticated and academic level discussions. But, most Christians are not in such a setting and often times begin to argue with their neighbors or coworkers, mistakenly believing that they can argue the other person into belief.

This is hardly the case. It is not our business to save anyone through arguing our point. One comes to Christ through hearing the Gospel and responding, but more importantly, this is the work of God through the Holy Spirit. For those who don’t know anything about this, it is like that still small voice that directs your thoughts. When you hear about Jesus and His offer for salvation, the Holy Spirit, that small convincing voice, makes it clear what Jesus is offering. He also convicts us of what we have done wrong, but yet He reminds us of what Jesus has done for us. It might sounds confusing to you, but it really is that simple.

However, I know there are some instances when a well meaning and even thoughtful and caring Christian can come on too strong and argue with those who are just trying to figure out if Christianity is true and real or not. It looks more like coercion than coming alongside someone and helping them understand what Jesus is offering.

The Apostle Peter, writing to a group of Christians in the middle of the first century offers this suggestion; “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” (1Peter 3:15). It’s a popular verse amongst apologists, but sadly way too often interpreted wrongly. To interpret it correctly, you need to consider the situation at the time it was written, who it was intended for, and who wrote it and what their intention was.

We can’t as Christians just apply a meaning to it, quote it, and use it to proof text our way into making our point. The words reason and defense are used interchangeably, but I prefer the New International Version Bible use of “reason” when understood that Peter was writing this during a time of intense persecution by Rome during either AD 62 or 64. More specifically by Emperor Nero. Nero was crazy and ordered Christians tortured- as human torches along the streets of Rome at night. They were also forced into animals skins and allowed to be mutilated by dogs.

What these early Christians faced is nothing like what Christians in our times, at least in the West, are facing. Their lives could be over at any moment, simply because they were Christians and were Nero’s scapegoat. They were considered strange at first for not believing in Caesar as god. They were even considered immoral, because they refused to worship the Roman gods. But, they did not fight back, or argue, but remained faithful until the end. Refusing to deny their faith, despite the risk they were taking in identifying as a Christian. Peter offered them hope in that difficult time. He didn’t tell them to form a militia, or a political party, but to offer anyone who asked them, “Why do you have this hope in Jesus?” “Why aren’t you crumbling in fear?” And most important of all Peter told them to be gentle and respect the other person.

Not argue a point. Not try to be right all the time. Not tell people they are bad or evil. Not ignore people with a different view. But, in gentleness, respect and love share why you are still a Christian. Why does it matter to you? How did you know it was real? How did you come to follow Jesus? This is what we can and should do.

Offer hospitality to those who don’t yet understand. Hold our tongue instead of arguing. Show them Jesus in our actions and our lives, and when they are ready to hear, share our stories. Share our own doubts and questions too. We probably don’t have all the right words to say, but just say what Jesus has done in our lives. Be real. Be approachable. Be fallible. Admit our shortcomings. Don’t argue for Jesus, but be the Jesus people can get interested in and hopefully, find the answers they are looking for. God Bless- Nancy

The God Who Sustains

I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.- Psalm 3:5- New International Version

Are you an observant person? If you answered yes, then you are also probably a very wise person. The wisest people I have met are those who notice the world around them and find that God is in it all. From the smallest detail to the largest and most obvious. We just have to stop and see.

As I mentioned, sometimes it is in the smallest details, that God displays the greatest lessons for us. At least I have found that to be true for me. God is always teaching me more of His ways through what I see around me. He calls attention to the small things.

This happened to me recently, and although it was no small detail that He showed me, it was from the smallest and newest member of our family. It has been from my new little granddaughter. She is barely two days old, and I can already find a lesson from God for me from observing her.

And no it is not in the admiration for God’s beautiful and skillful workmanship, or from the amazement at her perfect little fingers and toes. No. It is from her temperament. Well, all newborns’ to be more clear. They cry, fuss and demand. They are not happy and want to shout it to the world around them. Sometimes they do not know what they want. Sometimes they want to just be held and comforted. Other times they are hungry. Other times they want to have their mess they made cleaned up. We wrap them up tightly, swaddling them, and they want to break free and not be wrapped up. They basically want their own way, when they want it.

After watching all this unfold these past few days and how my daughter and her husband are adjusting to this new boss in their lives, I have realized that is how we all act.

We are not sure what we want, but we do know we want someone to figure it out for us. We want God to fix whatever is broken and clean up messes we have gotten ourselves into. We are hungry for more, but we don’t always take what God provides; we fuss trying to get something other than God. We want God to comfort us, but we still want to be free to do our own thing. We want to be independent, yet dependent on Him. We complain to Him when He doesn’t give us what we want or when He takes too long.

We are all fussy children who continue to question God at times, but He is always sustaining us, just as the Psalmist wrote. We sleep and we wake for God sustains us. We don’t understand it all, but we can be secure, just as my granddaughter is, that she is loved and cared for. She will not be forgotten or overlooked. She fusses and cries. She demands, but she also is beginning to understand that she will be sustained. May we learn that for ourselves.- God Bless You -Nancy

Trust First

So, I’d like to think that I am a trusting kind of person. I admit there have been times that I can be overly cautious around some groups of people or individuals. But I also have made the mistake of trusting in others too much and have been hurt.

But I wonder if that has affected my ability to trust God. I know you might be thinking “Wait, like trusting God should come easy for a believer” And I agree with you; it should. But can you actually admit that sometimes you might struggle with trust?

What I mean is that we all have at one time or another told God that we had the best way to go. We asked bold prayers for God to answer, in our way of course. Not necessarily in God’s way, or in His timing. And we were probably let down. We struggled to understand why our heartfelt, fervent prayer wasn’t answered. At least not in the way we had expected.

I have also found that when I am seeking to understand and find answers to the whys in my life, God always challenges me with the same Bible verse. Does this happen to you? Or is it just me? There a couple of verses that just seem to bring out guilt. Actually, its more of conviction from the Holy Spirit than guilt. But, it troubles me, none the less.

One of the verses is Proverbs 3: 5 “Trust in the LORD with all your heart
  And do not lean on your own understanding.” (NIV) It seems pretty straightforward. Except I always feel bad for the second part- leaning not on my understanding. I know I do that more than I should. I am a person who tries to figure out everything. And plan everything out.

But, quite often I will find whenever I am seeking God for direction in decision making, this verse will pop up. It might be from a daily devotional, or from a sermon, or just the verse of the day sent to my e-mail address. And it trips me up. I begin the question which understanding is mine and which is God’s. Which way should I go? Am I trying to figure it out on my own?

Well, this week it happened again and once again, my favorite verse came up. Except this time I began to look at it differently and wonder if God was trying to tell me something other than to not lean on my own understanding. Maybe I had been thinking of this verse all wrong.

Maybe I should break it into two parts. First, trust in the Lord, than not lean on my own understanding. I was trying to avoiding leaning without doing the trusting first.

It was if a light bulb went off in my mind, and I understood. I needed to focus on the trust. And I have to ask myself, “Am I really trusting God in this situation?” Or am I trying to figure it all out?

It is similar to following a recipe. If you are a baker or cook, than you know that there is a list of ingredients first, than the directions for assembling the dish. If you randomly combine the ingredients, the recipe won’t work. You have to follow each step in the order listed.

So, in my case with Proverbs 3:5, I was trying to jump ahead and focus on not leaning first- something like jumping ahead on a recipe. So, I struggled with the verse, and felt bad, for not being able to avoid my over thinking.

It sounds simple, but consider whether God has been speaking to you through a particular verse. Does it have different parts to the verse? Try focusing on the individual parts and consider the meaning.

In my case, I am trying to focus on the trust part, knowing that God has my best, that is HIS best interest at heart, for me. I am not God and only have a limited ability to understand what lies ahead for my life. There is so much out of my control. So, first things first; trust. Than the more I learn to trust Him, the less likely I will panic and over think everything. God Bless -Nancy

Constant

Do you like change? Or do you like consistency? I admit I am torn between the two. I like to travel and visit new places, but I still resist changes to my schedule or to my comfort zone of my home town. I enjoy new shops and restaurants, but do not like to see the land cleared to make room for these new places. I like the wooded empty lots with the beautiful shade trees. I like my smaller easy to drive back roads instead of the newer widened streets with too much traffic. I like my routine, but at times I get bored and want change.

But, one thing I have learned with all the change from the past two plus years, as the world has been reeling from one crisis to another, I need some change, but also crave the known and consistent. I cannot take too much change. I feel uneasy. I feel anxious. I know the world keeps moving forward, but I need some kind of constant. Something familiar to comfort my anxiety.

It is at these times the Holy Spirit reminds me of the unchanging nature of God. He does not change. He is constant. My relationship with Him is constant. I need not fear His ever abandoning me, or leaving me to fend for myself. He holds me in the palm of His hand and no one can snatch me away. He loves me despite my errors in judgement. He has called me His child. I am His daughter.His perfect love drives out any fear.

The fear that originates in my own mind that somehow I don’t measure up. When my prayers aren’t answered in the way I want them to be answered. When He is silent. When He doesn’t seem to be listening. When He doesn’t see how all these changes to the world, my world, has made me anxious. Or when I want Him to change a situation, that He could easily change.

But then I remember to trust. He does see and know all the turmoil around me. He knows my anxious thoughts. He knows my fears and says “Fear not”. He has called me His own. His child. His sister. His friend. Not because of my goodness. Not because I am special or better than anyone else on this planet, but because He loves me, just as He loves the whole world. He sent His Son to reconcile my broken relationship with Him. He sent someone to tell me about the awesome good news, that I did not have to fear of whether or not I measured up to His standard- I don’t- but that He would take on all my missing the mark, and make payment. He loved me enough to take on my sentence and allow justice to be served. I am free of trying to pay for it myself or worrying whether I have done enough good, or whether the good outweighs the bad.

I trust Him, not myself. I am His. I am now a daughter of the King. And although my world is full of changes that make me anxious, I can relax and know He has this. All of this. He has a plan for this world that is still being worked out, that in the end will set all things straight. He is an unchanging God who knows it will all work according to His plan. -God Bless You – Nancy

A Little More

Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ– Paul to Timothy, 2 Tim. 1:2

Have you ever felt like you just needed a little bit more? More strength, more energy, more peace, more time, more money, more health, more patience, more trust, more confidence, more love, more mercy. The list could go on and on I’m sure with whatever the “more” is that you think you need.

We all experience these seasons of drought in our lives. Those times when we feel like we are lacking in an area. Maybe its an area of trials and struggles. We all have them. And in those times we either want the trial to end or we just want a little bit more to get through the trials.

Sometimes it isn’t really a trial and it just appears as if it were when in reality we have just become too complacent. We want something new and we believe that if we just had more money we would be able to buy that something new that seems to be the answer to all of our problems. Until a few weeks later when it becomes just another old item to us. We often impulse buy because we think we need what someone else has, when in reality it was more of a want than an actual need.

Or maybe we are dealing with a difficult person a want more patience and peace, except maybe we are the difficult one, not the person we believe is causing us impatience.

Our view on life can make us think we are lacking when in reality we are not. We have everything we need. We have the strength, peace, patience, money, grace, mercy, time, health, love, confidence, etc.

When the apostle Paul was writing to Timothy, the pastor of a church in Ephesus, Timothy was struggling. There were people in the leadership of the church who were trying to change the message of the Gospel. There were power struggles and some of these leaders were even causing Paul trouble with the Roman government, leading to Paul’s arrest. Young pastor Timothy was discouraged and intimidated by these power hungry false teachers. He probably was feeling like giving up. Paul mentions Timothy crying in this letter, so he recognized the depth to Timothy’s despair.

I’m sure Timothy was wanting a little bit more; more strength, more wisdom and more peace in dealing with these rogue church leaders. Paul gave him something better; he gave him encouragement.

We all need people like Paul in our lives to remind us that in Christ we have everything that we need. In Christ, we have grace, mercy and peace. We have patience and love. We have wisdom and strength. We have a provider. We have a comforter. We have someone who understands the struggles of this life. We have a companion who is always with us. In Christ, we have it all, we do not need a little bit more. May we be reminded of this today, as I was, and pass it forward to encourage one another. -God Bless, Nancy

Imago Dei

Do you think you are beautiful? Has anyone ever told you that you are beautiful? Do you think of the beautiful person that God has created in His image; Imago Dei, in the image of God, as you?

Maybe you have and maybe you haven’t. Maybe you are struggling at this very moment to believe that you are beautiful. You feel ugly. You believe those feelings and you start to think along with being ugly, you quite possibly are unlovable. Maybe even God is disappointed in you. Others are beautiful, desirable, lovable. You might believe the lie that somehow even God doesn’t love you.

Maybe your parents even told you these lies. And you can’t help but find plenty of other people to hold up as the beauty standard; the lovable standard. The magazine covers and social media post that unashamedly use filters that are the goals according to culture. Maybe you were abused or objectified. You thought it was love, but it was just a short- termed lie. It left you feeling worse about yourself.

It probably started while you were young; when the people closest to you made comments that you took to heart. Comments that you believed about yourself. Or maybe it was abuse and you turned on yourself, hating what God had made. Your prettiness. Your handsomeness. You felt the blame fall upon you and maybe you tried to harm yourself. To make the pain and hurt go away.

I feel you. I get it. I’ve felt it too. The ugliness that I believed about myself. That I was not worth love. I was scarred from an accident as a child. It left me different than the others girls. I was also born with a birth mark. I hid my body. I was ashamed. I certainly did not think of myself as beautiful. I never heard it from my parents. Just once I remember overhearing a conversation my mom was having with someone and heard her say I was beautiful on the inside. Was that a complement? It’s hard to register as a middleschooler going through that awkward stage. it took me years into my adulthood before I could look into the mirror and declare that I was loved by God. The hurt and the wounds were deep.

What brings me to write this today was an article I read online from a Christian author. It was her opinion that we should stop telling women they are beautiful and focus on how we are all so fortunate that given our miserable state as sinners that God should even offer us salvation. She also added that we should stop telling the women at women’s conferences that they are special and loved by God. That to do so is all wrong and we should shift only to the spiritual elements of Christianity. This is not word for word of what she said, but the idea of it. She believed we are not so special. We should not feel we are. But, wait just a minute. Then why does the Bible speak so much of beauty?

To dismiss that we are created in the image of God is an affront to God. Read the first chapter of Genesis. God said His creation was very good. Body shame and the need to cover up came after the Fall, (Genesis 2:25, 3:7).

After the Fall, Adam and Eve looked at themselves and knew they were naked. They felt shame. They wanted to hide. This was the beginning of body shame and the beginning of death. Our bodies fall prey to old age and disease. And if you are older like me, you know this all too well. But we still try to cover up this aging process and look to make ourselves beautiful by the world’s standards.

I think that is what was troubling the writer of the article I read. Too much focus on the outward appearance and not meeting the world’s standard. But, for some people, myself included, we need to hear that we are loved and beautiful. It is not a sign of weakness. We all should be reminded that despite how we look, God finds us beautiful. He creates us and knits us together (Psalm 139). Some of us have scars. Some of us are born without limbs, or hearing, or sight. But. We Are Beautiful. And our physical bodies should not be treated with any contempt.

When we die, we will be resurrected in real bodies. Not floating, wispy, cloudy images. Jesus resurrected and has a real body. Read the end of the Gospels. He still ate with His disciples.

The Romans believed the body in its physical sense was evil. Women’s bodies were deemed worse than a man’s. It was a real shock for the early church in Ephesus to read Paul’s words that “Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies” Ephesians 5:28, NIV. Paul added that the husbands should care for wives as the husbands cared for their own bodies. The body as Paul reasoned was not bad and would be resurrected to new life, a belief the gentiles did not hold to.

Should we treat our own physical bodies as if they do not matter? Should we ignore the millions of people who want to hear that they are loved by God? That God has created them with beauty and they can look into the mirror with confidence that they are beautiful, despite their less then social media perfection bodies. and that they can agree with God that they are fearfully and wonderfully made by God and He declares it very good.

We should celebrate and Praise God for freeing us from sin and shame, even body shame. And celebrate that He did love the world so much that He sent His very Son to redeem it. We are in the world. He loves us. He declares that the physical body is worth redeeming along with the spiritual body. It is not bad; it is beautiful. You are beautiful. – God Bless You Nancy,