Inside Out

I remember one of my first jobs in my early twenties. I worked as a fashion merchandiser and stylist for a small chain of ladies fashion boutiques. I enjoyed most duties of the job, but I really enjoyed unpacking the boxes of new clothes and accessories. It was my responsibility to style the mannequins with these new arrivals and quite often it was my styling selections that caught the attention of shoppers. I enjoyed selecting items for the shoppers that made them look their best. Many times I would see them look at themselves in the mirror just outside the dressing rooms, looking quite pleased at the new selections. New clothes can often brighten someones day, when they look at themselves and see themselves in a new way. But, soon these new clothes would become old, worn and would be replaced. They would become too familiar and fail to bring the joy of newness they once held.

Recently, I was reminded of Paul’s admonition to the church at Ephesus to put off their old selves (Ephesians 4:22) The Ephesians had the inclination to return to their old ways (from before salvation) instead of continuing to grow in their faith. Paul wrote to them to keep them encouraged to follow their new selves and put off the old ways. It reminded me of those days of retail, replacing the old with new.

Many people believe trying something new will fix the feelings inside of them. The shoppers I styled felt that way, but just for a moment. The real change must come from the inside out, not the outside in. And most importantly, it does not come from our own efforts, but from the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

When we ask Jesus to be our Savior and Lord, the Holy Spirit comes to live within us, empowering us and transforming our lives from the inside out. At first, we might not notice any changes, for change can be slow. We need to get rooted and grounded in the Word of God and allow God to speak to us, changing us, convicting us and convincing us at other times. And also having encouragement from teachers like Paul to help us put off the old and to learn to grow into the new.

We might not always see this change in ourselves, it’s not like looking in a mirror at new clothes on the outside. But it is very apparent to others.

For me I first realized how others could see what I hadn’t yet after I had accepted Christ in eight grade. I remember someone (an upperclassman) noticing the change when I returned to school my Freshman year. They simply said “There’s something different about you.” I wasn’t quite sure what they were talking about, I’ll be honest; I wasn’t expecting to have anyone notice me and standing out in high school and be called different wasn’t exactly something I welcomed.

But, since that time, I have seen it in others; this amazing transformation that literally lights them up from the inside out. The Holy Spirit just can’t be contained! People are always trying to fix themselves and create the better version of themselves, much like constantly buying new outfits to change the outside. Quick fixes won’t change you, but God can! From the inside out. From hearts of stone to living hearts filled with the Holy Spirit. God Bless- Nancy

The Hand Print of God

It was a dubious, thankless job. But I was willing to do whatever was asked of me to help out. My job? To clean the interior of aircraft with a bucket of water and and magic eraser. This plane was a vintage 1940’s but had been repurposed to haul goods, people and mail to the poorest parts of the Caribbean, specifically the country of Haiti. In recent months Haiti has seen its share of disasters including a large earthquake. The plane I was set out to clean that day was awaiting a replacement engine, so it had been grounded for awhile. As I entered the darkened cabin, I surveyed the interior and began to sum up the task of cleaning the side walls, panels and ceiling. And then I noticed it… the small, child- sized hand print on one of the windows. It was silhouetted against the backdrop of the hangar. It sparked my interest as I contemplated how it got there and whose it might be. It was obvious that it had been a hand reaching out from the seat just below the window, pressing against it. Was it from a missionary family’s child? Was it from a Haitian child being airlifted to a hospital due to the earthquake?

I’ll probably never know the identity, but it spoke to me that day, and provide the incentive I needed for the humbling task ahead of me. It put a real dimension to the work I was helping with. The real human equation that connected me to others who had sat in those seats and with those who would be sitting on that plane when it took off again. Providing help and aid to those who need it in the places not so far from my own country. Close, but yet a definite world away. I thought of my own children sitting in those seats and how many finger prints and hand smudges I had cleaned on the windows of our minivan.

It also reminded me of how often we fail to see God at work. We see all the bad in the world and think, there is so much! What can I even begin to do to change this world? But every little bit we do helps and we must also remember that we do not do it alone. God empowers us through the Holy Spirit, encourages us in His word, and leads us through His wisdom to show up at the places where we are needed, even if that is to clean a plane on my day off. God is working. He has been working as we know; He sent Jesus. This world is still not ready for His return and in the mean time, there is so much we can do, but we need to realize that God is at work. Just like that hand print that gave proof, if you will, of the work the mission flights were doing, stop and look around you and look for God’s hand print in this world, in your own world, it’s there.

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. (Philippians 1:6 New Living Translation)

God Bless- Nancy

The Wrong One?

Have you ever grabbed an item off the store shelf, thinking you had one thing, but only to discover after you arrived back home you had some entirely different? I have. Once I grabbed a jar of pickles from the store, only to get home and realize what I bought wasn’t dill pickles, but dill pickles with jalapeno pieces that were very spicy. The jars looked the same, but in small print were the words “with jalapenos”.

Yesterday, a similar thing happened when I stumbled into my kitchen to make my breakfast, I opened the cupboard and surveyed the boxes of cereal. Hmmm. Pumpkin Spice Special K, sounds good, and without thinking much about it, I grabbed the box and a bowl from the cupboard. I began to pour out the cereal into the bowl and in my morning foggy brain, realized that someone had switched the cereal in the box, because what I was pouring into the bowl was not flakes; it was little ring shaped cheerios. “Who would do that?” But, wait… no, I turned the box around to face me and discovered nope, no cereal substitution, just the box of honey nut cheerios. I had grabbed the wrong one. From the side, both boxes had a brownish color. Both boxes were of the same size. Both were side by side on the shelf. I grabbed for what I thought was Special K, but my hand actually picked up the cheerios.

I only realized my mistake when I tried to use the cereal, that is poured it out. I thought I knew what I had in my grasp. Appearances can be deceiving as they say. It made me think about my faith and about my faith journey. Is it possible to grab at faith, thinking we have the “right” one? Is there really any difference? Without getting into a full blown apologetic discussion about other religions today, let’s consider: Are there really different faiths within the Christian faith? Sadly, there are a few, just as there were in the early days of Christianity. Its not just about what music styles or versions of the Bible are used, but real differences in the Gospels presented.

Peter warned early Christians about false teachers in his second letter (2Peter 2:1), and in his letter to the Galatia church, Paul suggested that many spies had infiltrated the church, trying to disrupt the faith (Galatians 2:4). In his second letter to the Corinthian church he warned of false apostles (2 Cor. 11:13). Even Jesus warned His disciples that many false prophets would arise (Matthew 24:11). These are just a few examples, there are many more, so they should be expected.

So, are there different gospels too? You may have heard of a few, such as the prosperity gospel that promises blessing for asking God for it and if you expect it you can have it all- sports cars, health, wealth, mansions, fame, etc. And most people can see through all the false claims made by this gospel, but are there others? How do you know if you have heard and chosen the right gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.

The easiest answer I have is this;

1.) Does it line up with what the Bible has to say? Does it line up with the entire bigger picture of the Bible, that is both the Old and New Testaments? Some churches have eliminated the Old Testament in favor of just the New. Is it an addition to the original accepted canon of Scripture or is it something written later on by a self- proclaimed prophet or writer who added their own personal thoughts without proper scholarly research? Watch out for what is presented as a gospel not found in a scholarly version of the Bible. Compare verses of the Bible from “word for word” translations with “thought for thought” translations of the Bible, which while easier to read, often fall short of the actual meaning of a verse and can confuse the reader- leading to a misunderstanding of the gospel.

2.) Does it add any requirements of what must be done to be in right standing with God? Such a gospel might look the same, like my boxes of cereal, but no one can earn or keep a spot in Heaven. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast.”(Ephesians 2:8-9) and “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9). “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28) “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”(Romans 3:28).

3.) Does it require a personal commitment? Many people have been mislead that joining a church, being confirmed, or because their parents attended a church, that they are in right standing with God. That is, they are automatically considered a Christian. But, the Bible says we are all sinners in need of a savior and we must recognize it is our personal standing before God that will be judged when we die, not on whether we were sprinkled as an infant, confirmed as a child, or because we gave money or volunteered with the nursery. “And this righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God“, (Romans 3:22-23)We must recognize and admit we are not able to have fellowship with God, that we are the ones who have broken His commandments, and must admit it. We need to realize we cannot fix it in ourselves. We need Jesus as our savior. Our personal savior. For our sins. To die for us. To justify us before God.

For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Romans 10:10)

Have you grabbed the right one? -God Bless Nancy

Hope

And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love- 1Corinthians 13:13

So, in the last few years I have had this aversion to weeds. In my yard, in the flowerbeds, in the cracks in the driveway. But, it wasn’t always this way. When my husband and I moved, we moved into a neighborhood that has this thing against weeds. I am in awe of all the perfectly kept lawns here. Not a weed in sight. Perfect and green. And then, there are the HOA inspectors who ride through the neighborhood on Monday mornings. looking for any code violations. They look for any lawns that need mowing or trash cans left out. If there are, the homeowners will get a letter in the mail with a notice to either comply or pay a fine.

I’m not a fan of paying fines, so I am obsessed with following their rules. And attempting to get this perfect lawn. Well, it hasn’t happened yet, despite our best attempts, so we live with the stray weed or two.

Growing up, I really didn’t mind them. I thought the ones with little flowers were actually kind of pretty. I didn’t think of them as weeds really, just flowers that grew by chance. I saw their beauty instead of their annoyance.

So, this past week as I was taking our elderly dog out for a walk in our back yard, I spotted an annoyance. Except, it really caught my attention in a good way. It was standing out where and when it shouldn’t be standing out. It wasn’t so much as an annoyance as beautiful reminder of hope.

This year has been very trying on me and on my patience. I keep waiting for the right opportunities to come forward- applying for jobs and praying that I will actually get to use what I am called to do. I have also watched as neighbors have died from Covid, leaving behind children and spouses. I have seen relatives grow older and frailer, making me look at the future with a bleaker, pessimistic view. I have felt my patience tested, even with my elderly dog, who is not only blind but I think has a slight case of dementia. Do dogs even get that? She requires multiples trips outside to do her business, one trip after another, sometimes five trips in two hours.

So, on a cold morning this past week, as I grumpily took the dog out, I spotted a very bright and welcomed little flower spouting proudly from the lawn. It shouldn’t be there I mused- not because I did not want it to be there, but, you see we had had a frost a few days before. The lawn had been covered in a beautiful layer of frost. It is supposed to kill all the grass and the fragile plants. But, no, this beautiful dandelion was this bright spot of yellow on the now brown, dead grass.

It hadn’t bloomed with all its buddies in the summer or early spring, but here it was in November, standing up as the singular bright spot of life. It was a reminder to me, that despite the year that has seen both bright and bleak spots, there is still life and hope. It was a reminder to stay faithful, keep hope alive, and there will be a bright spot coming soon. It isn’t in our timing, but in God’s timing.

Sometimes I feel like that little dandelion. Everyone of my friends seemed to bloom earlier, in the summertime and springtime, and here I am in the autumn of life, blooming or hopefully soon to be, with all the hopes and dreams I have had for years. But, maybe that’s okay. Maybe, like that flower, I can be a bright spot in other people’s lives, when they are feeling the bleakness around them.

Most people have read the verse above, and remember it from weddings and the talk of love as the greatest, but I was reminded that in this verse, faith, hope and love are connected. Faith is believing, hope is putting our trust in and love is what God has shown us in sending His son. Never give up on believing, on faith, on hoping. For God never gives up on loving us. -Amen

Meet and Greet

“Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials,” -James the brother of Jesus Christ

I don’t know about you, but this isn’t one of my favorite memory verses. I mean I can deal with the part about encountering or meeting with trials. I can agree with what James is saying, but the joy part? Well, that’s difficult.

To be honest there are so many different variations of this verse. The one above is from the New American Standard Bible. Others use the words- “fall into temptations” or “whenever trouble comes your way” and even “whenever you face trials of any kind” Regardless, they all seem to agree that it is is not an if but a when. Life is full of troubles and trials. We get that. It is impossible to live this life without them.

I really like the version that uses the word encounter. I was recently reading a devotional from Dr. Charles Stanley of INTOUCH ministries and he compared the word encounter with meeting trials, like you would meet another person. Face to face-. It inspired me to think about this verse in those terms. How do I face trials? Do I greet them as I would a person on the street? As an acquaintance? As an adversary? Welcoming them with joy, seems very counterintuitive. I do not like trials. Why would I greet them as if they are a long lost friend, whom I am excited to be reunited with?

But can I really see them as that? Most of the time I rejoice whenever trials are over. Like whenever I recover from an illness, or when a project that has been trying and time consuming is accomplished and over. But, at the beginning? When I first meet them? If I let my feelings rule, I would run the other way, thank you very much! But, no thank you, I don’t need to greet you today troubles and trials, I think I’ll just turn off the path and avoid you today. But, I fear in doing that I would miss the opportunity for God to be there with me through this awkward introduction and greeting. Avoidance limits the pain, but also limits the joy and comfort I would receive from God.

As we read further on in the book of James, we see that these trials are to strengthen our faith and give us perseverance and mature our faith. These sound very inspiring and give the reader encouragement. Just as it would have for the early Jewish Christians James was writing to who had been scattered away from Jerusalem into the many areas of the Roman Empire. As many scholars believe, James was martyred sometime after writing this letter of encouragement, probably around AD 64. It was not an easy time to be a follower of Christ.

If James were writing the church today, he might have say, “Hey, I know you are going through these trials and difficult times, but just remember they are serving a purpose- to mature your faith, teach you perseverance- something you will definitely need to keep on going. So, welcome them, they are for your benefit. Yes, they are bound to happen, but God’s got this.”

In chapter 1, verse 5, James writes if we are lacking wisdom we should ask God. For many years I have read that verse as a stand alone verse, but this week as I read it again, it began to dawn on me that maybe it closely relates to dealing with the troubles and trials.

You see, that is one of my biggest issues when troubles or trials come. I wonder to myself, “What should I do to handle this, or fix this situation? How do I navigate this? What is my strategy? I also try to figure out if this is something I have brought upon myself, or is it a spiritual attack, or just a life issue? What I need is wisdom in dealing with it all; for discernment, for a pathway through the trial, for a way to handle it, to understand it’s origin, to have a peaceful attitude through it, yup, I lack wisdom on my own, and I need to ask God for wisdom for this trial. I have faith that God will show me what to do, how to navigate this and will bring me out the other side, better not because I will be stronger in myself, but that my faith in God will be stronger, because I will see how He is with me. Not all these trials have quick resolutions, and I need to keep believing – as James adds in verses 6 and 7- but God will come through.

So, these trials are a way for me to be drawn closer to God,to my faith in Him, my reliance on Him to give me wisdom and help me through, to strengthen my perseverance muscle. They are not designed to destroy me, but make me better, to help me mature in my faith, so that I lack nothing (v4).

If we can focus on that, then we can meet and greet trials with a more positive attitude. We can count it joy.

God Bless –

Nancy

Unhindered

So, what’s holding you back? From taking that next step? From moving forward. I’m sure if you are like me, you kinda know the answer already. The minute you read the question, you could picture just what it is. The big thing that holds you back. Is it fear? Is it doubt? Is it because you lack faith?

For me it has always been fear. The fear of rejection, and the fear of failing, of not measuring up to others, not fitting in. I always have this same recurring fear of not fitting in and people not approving of what I do. When we let fear control us, we get held back from our progress forward. I have written previous blogs on facing fear before, and like I always say, I am a work in progress. I write about what to do, but even for myself, those steps forward in facing fears, have never been easy. I think it is that way for all of us. We let ourselves and our fears hold us back. It isn’t really anyone else, but US.

We have dreams and goals and maybe even callings, but we can feel hindered from pursuing them. These dreams, goals and callings, are like small seeds when we first sense them. If we nurture them, they grow and produce fruit. If we leave them alone, they can become stagnant and lifeless. When we let fear, or whatever else that we know is OUR hindrances become larger than our dreams, the dreams will wither. It’s like the parable of the sower that Jesus taught. We can let the worries and cares- like the fear of rejection- steal the seeds and prevent them from growing. If you would like to read the entire parable it is from Matthew chapter 13, Luke chapter 8 and Mark chapter 4. Jesus is of course explaining how those that hear the Gospel can hear it, but not everyone will accept the message of the Gospel, and still others will fall away from faith and not grow. It takes nurturing and good soil. The principle is the same, however,

We need to continue to nurture and grow our dreams and callings. To press past the worries, pray about every step we need to take, make time in our schedules to pursue those dreams and believe that God has uniquely qualified us and hard- wired us with certain skills and talents for those dreams and callings.

We can also ask others to pray for us. I know I need prayer warriors, praying for me. I also find that I need to spend time reading the Bible and reading books that others have written who have gone before me in this faith journey. It renews my thoughts and renewing my thoughts, renews my mind. And my mind is my biggest hindrance to stepping out into my dreams. The fears I have tend to roll around in my mind, unless I decide to believe what the Bible says, over what I might be feeling, others are saying about me, or what the devil tries to tell me about myself. I have to choose to free my thoughts, to unhinder them from fears and move forward in faith. It is a journey, not a dash, but I am moving forward and so can you. God Bless- Nancy

Are You A Warm Frog?

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones. – Paul in his letter to the church at Thessaloniki chapter 3 verses 11-12.

Well,……… are you? ………A warm frog? Confused? Don’t be, I’m going to explain my question in a bit. Today, I’m continuing in the book of the Thessalonians. It has a lot to offer in the way of encouragement for Christians who are going through trials and obstacles. It seems very fitting at this point in our own history to consider. Paul sent words of encouragement to the church in Thessalonicae, now Thessaloniki. If you are able to, I encourage you to read this important letter.

Back to the frogs. I apologize in advance if this is too graphic of an example for some reading this, but have you ever heard the story of boiling frogs? Yeah, kind of weird, I get it. Well, the story goes that if you want to boil a frog, you just need to put them in a pot of cold water and raise the temperature of the water slowly. And eventually, the water will boil and well, you guessed it the frog will be boiled. He will not notice the temperature getting hotter and will not jump out of the pot. Or so the story goes. I’m not sure. I have never tried it and I do not intend on trying it. And I’m not suggesting you do either. But, the point is this, complacency hits us all.

Like those frogs, who do not notice the temperature raising, we can sometimes get so complacent in our faith, that we fail to notice how we are getting entangled in matters of the world. What I mean is, we start to accept what everyone else is doing, instead of following what God desires of us. Or maybe it is that we just stop caring about others around us. Or about the world around us. And we focus on gossip, or politics, or our careers, or whatever makes US happy. We become focused on ourselves, instead of God, instead of loving others as He commands us to do, we judge, and fight, and slander and cause harm to others, even by our doing nothing to help others around us.

We are just complacent, happy frogs, just waiting around for someone or something else to make us happy. Oh, we might be great at attending church, but when we are home we slip back into our complacent lives, slipping back into ourselves and our own world. We don’t want to be uncomfortable or confronted about our personal lives. We just want to check a box that we have attended church for the week and go back to our warm baths of complacency. We don’t care if others are hurting and we only want to hear happy snack sized, dessert sermons. Never challenge us from the pulpits, or make us bring Bibles to church. Just keep us happy, entertain us, and let us throw some money into the offering to help out those “OTHER” people, that are so bad off compared with us.

I, of course, realize, that this is not all of us. Some of you are facing great obstacles for your faith, risking everything just to have a Bible, much less read it, but I’m still encouraging you to keep up the faith, just as Paul was doing in the first century. Hold onto hope that is found Christ.

To the rest of us, I’m including myself too- I am a work in progress- I challenge us to stop being happy getting by in our faith, and step out and deepen our faith. Study the bible to know what it REALLY says and what those words mean, not just take someone else’s word for it. Learn about the history of the Christian faith -not from skeptics- but from real scholars. Do your homework. Look for ways you can encourage others. Not just because it’s what everyone else at church is doing, but look for the needs that are not public, the people who need an encouraging word, maybe a friend, or coworker, or stranger. Just DON’T be a complacent, warm frog. Get out of the water, before it boils you. God Bless You, – Nancy

Don’t Miss It

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24, NIV)

This week has been difficult. Not going to pretend that it hasn’t. But not so much for me as for others that I know either personally or through a friend of a friend. Life is difficult at times and it is only complicated with the “ever- hanging on” world- wide pandemic. It seems like it just won’t give up its grip. It is easy to get discouraged at these times in our lives. We are looking for the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, only to discover it is a train coming straight towards us. It is overwhelming and if anyone considers it soberly, thoughtfully, they can find the secondary affects of this stress filled global situation. If it seems to you that people have become angrier and lashing out at others, then you have the same thoughts as I have. The world is reeling from the stress and people are just reacting to the fear they are experiencing. Anger is a a secondary emotion that is caused by hurt, fear or a perceived threat or hurt.

As a Christian, I am not immune to feelings of fear, or hurt or anger. The difference is that I can take all these fears, and hurts and bring them to the feet of Jesus. I can ask for His wisdom and ask for help in dealing with it all. I can ask Him to help me forgive others. I do not have to solve it by myself. I do not have to let it all get the best of me. Although, I admit sometimes I let it do just that; get the best of me. I get overwhelmed, stressed out, angry, hurt and discouraged. I fall short of giving it to Jesus first, preferring to struggle on my own for a bit. But just when I get comfortable trying to deal with it in my slump, God shows up with a reminder of the good that is left in a world of a global crisis.

It may be just me, but I have noticed something very remarkable in the past two weeks. While the world has been watching the Olympics and celebrating the medal winners and conversing about the athletes’ mental health issues, I have seen a beautiful picture of what it means to “Spur on one another”. I can’t help but notice that the talented athletes of the games, have been hugging, fist bumping and cheering on others, that is not only their own teammates, but their competitors. Winners do not gloat over themselves, but reach over the ropes, or walk around the ropes to hug and congratulate the other competitors. They represent different countries, different political viewpoints and ideologies, but here, at the Tokyo Olympics, they are just athletes, who act more like friends then competitors. The level of sportsmanship has been amazing. Countries who do not get along on the political stage, have athletes who walk up and hug each other. The common ground of course is their sport. They are all athletes who have trained hard and love their sport, and are not afraid to share in celebration and encouragement with others, regardless of where they live, or what country they represent. I have watched quite a few Olympics- not going to tell you how many- but for real, this is the one thing that really stood out in contrast to other Olympics. These athletes should be recognized for this sportsmanship. It is the way the world should be and needs to be now. It is what the church in particular should look like. This is what the author of the Book of Hebrews was reminding the Christians to do. Encourage others to keep on keeping on doing good deeds for others. Keep on believing. Keeping on having faith.

What I have seen from the Olympics has challenged me to find ways to encourage others. To offer hope, to praise their efforts, and let them know I am pulling for them. Is there anyone in your life you can encourage? To build up and not tear down? To spur them on in their faith walk? This is what we are called to do. -God Bless- Nancy

Charis

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– Paul, Ephesians 2:8

Grace. Short word, but not easy to define. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about grace this past week. If you read the last blog or listened from the podcast, then you’ll know I mentioned grace at the last part of the blog. As promised I’m going to talk about grace. Last time we looked into placing blame on others and considered several examples of shifting the blame on others, when we ourselves often overlook our own responsibilities. What we need is grace.

To be honest, I have a difficult time narrowing down a definition of grace. I know for some of you who might have grown up around Christian circles there is an acrostic for grace using each letter of the word. But, I think it needs a bit further example. It is true we do experience the grace of God because of Christ’s expense on the cross, but what does it mean to live in this life of grace? How does it play out? Like I said, I’ve been trying to find a good example to give you and have been reminded that grace is the right topic for me to write about this week. It has been literally everywhere. Have you ever noticed that when God has something for you to meditate upon, He keeps bring it up in the simplest and strangest of places? For me, it was in a podcast I listened to,my devotional this week, and in my reading through the letter to the Ephesians, written by the apostle Paul. If you haven’t read it, or it has been awhile, let me encourage you to do so. Paul has a lot to say about grace.

One of the strangest reminders of grace this week, was finding grace written on the side of a building. Well, let me be specific, it was a sign on a church building in a very small city, near where two of my adult children live. Can I call them that? It does seem a strange contradiction of terms. Anyway, I almost overlooked this prime example of what grace can be defined as, since I was familiar with this church. I had visited once, when it was located in a smaller building and was aware they had moved down the street.

But, what is remarkable is not a church moving, or that they are called “grace” church, but what bigger picture I think they represent. Let me explain. I am a big fan of revitalizing old down town areas. Not with large condos, that push out the people living there, so they are not able to afford to stay put, but restore, reuse, remodel and reawaken dead, historical business districts. Many times the architecture found in these older buildings is amazing. Great care was put into the design and expert workmanship. They were not simply quick, cookie cutter buildings. But they had history and design. They often reflect the time period in which they were built.

But, sadly, as my husband and I have discovered traveling across the United States, so many of these classic, historical down towns are neglected, falling into ruin and boarded up. Interstate travel moved the business districts too far from the traveling public, subdivisions created commuters and fast food restaurants to be accessed by cars. Drive- thru’s took the places of sit down diners. No one ventured off the bigger roads to visit these small towns anymore, factories on the fringes of the towns closed and businesses shuttered their doors.

Often as I drive through these towns, I wonder what they must have been like in their hey day. Before the faded paint, broken windows, and darkened interiors. I close my eyes for a minute and imagine it. People strolling down the streets, shop keepers displaying their goods in the window, the smell of food drifting from the restaurants and the faint sound of music coming from inside. As it got dark, the street lights would come on and the lights inside, welcoming and beckoning the shoppers and those looking for a meal.

As I opened my eyes, it was still there. The brightly lit shops, the food smells from the restaurants, and the music. There was even the sound of saws and hammers as another building was being rebuilt inside. This wasn’t my imagination, but a reality in which I found myself this past weekend in a revitalized down town. The streets have been all repaved in bricks, the restaurants open their doors to tables and benches on the sidewalks, special events and event spaces now frequent these once broken down and silent areas of town. As I ascended a staircase leading to a newly opened photography studio, I noted the decorative welded iron work on the stairs. This was definitely not cookie cutter, but the work of a skilled craftsman from years ago.

I visited this same town three years ago, as it began to revitalize when there were only a few new businesses in these graceful old buildings. It has taken those willing to step out of the cookie cutter strip mall worlds, invest in the broken down and old. The abandoned and forgotten. To see how it can be. It took someone to see past the inside of the buildings, past the darkness of broken street lights, and broken windows to offer this town a second chance. To imagine what this town could be like once again. Full of life, and full of light and joy once again as people were welcomed to visit it. It took grace. And not just the church that decided to revitalize an entire city building for its new church, rather than build in a large suburban area, it took looking past the broken parts to what it could be.

We are like that too. No, we are not the imagineers, or the visionaries. We are those broken buildings. Dark inside, without light and life. We were once full of light and life, but not now. We are full of strife and anger and hopelessness and sin. When we were created and designed by the ultimate designer and architect, God, we were designed to be welcoming, to be in perfect relationship with our creator and each other and full of life, His life, His Zoe that He breathed into the first man Adam. But then sin arrived and we found ourselves off the beaten path from God. The life and light was gone. We grew old and our bodies saw decay and death. But God offered us grace, right from the beginning, and He promised to send Jesus who would defeat our enemy and restore our life. God looks past the brokenness of our lives, the dark places we have been and that resides within us and offers to recreate us. To restore our relationship with Him, to give us life, not just like the world’s cookie- cutter version, but His life, and Himself, the Holy Spirit, who will change us and transform us into the likeness of Jesus, what we were and should have been. God offers us grace. His grace. Nothing we have earned or deserved, but because He sees what is possible in us and loves us despite our shortcomings. God Bless- Nancy

A Little Bit of Jesus

So, it’s been a while since I posted and while many of you might have been waiting with baited breath, you might not be after you read the post. You see it has taken me some time to wait to hear from God on what to write. Yes, I wait until there is something that He puts on my heart to write about. This will probably make some uncomfortable, but maybe that will be a good thing.

Early on in my undergrad degree I learned something called religious syncretism. It by definition is ” An amalgamation or attempted amalgamation of different religions, cultures, or schools of thought.” (Google). In my coursework it generally referred to Christians in non -western areas that incorporated Christianity with their old religious beliefs. Generally, it might have involved the use of icons or fetishes with prayers to God. It could be a bit confusing for missionaries working with syncretisms biases.

But the question I want to pose for us all today is how much have we been affected by syncretism in our own faith? Do we pray and then consult a horoscope? Do we sing along to Hillsong praise and worship and seek out palm readers? This may or may not seem obvious to you, depending upon your knowledge of how God feels about occult practices, but are there others areas in which you have blended an eastern religious practice with a Christian one? Meditation is another example. meditating on God’s Word is scriptural, but emptying our minds to seek nirvana is not.

This is just a brief example and many will not agree with my observation, but if we truly want to grow in our faith we must leave the childish things behind as the Apostle Paul says;”When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”(1 Corinthians 13:11, NIV). We will only grow when we follow Christ with our whole hearts and minds. We do not need to blend Jesus in to our own beliefs but rather follow what He teaches in the Bible. Too often we add Jesus onto our lives, similarly to adding sprinkles on top of our ice cream. We want just enough to look good on the outside, or just enough so we can talk with other Christians in church, or maybe as a sort of good luck charm or last resort to get our prayers answered. But, No, Jesus want to be all, not just added in or sprinkled on the top of our lives. Faith might be small like a mustard seed, but Jesus should be greater in our lives.