Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year, New Dreams



For the first time ever, I asked my Facebook friends to contribute to my blog post today. I asked them to share their hopes for 2012, and mentioned that their responses could be serious, insightful or funny.

They did not disappoint.

I'd like to start with the mixed array of responses to this question. And then I'll share a few of my hopes for 2012. Enjoy...

"My hope is to be consistent in maintaining the relative order I have recently achieved in my home. Living alone, it's often hard to feel like it's worth the effort when no one else sees it. My hope is to continue to see the value of it just because it makes me feel better." Shirley Schuette

"My hope is to be preggers in the next 6 months!!" Monica Cauthorne McClain

"To make an impact." Brandon Lee Hinson

"James 1:27." Elizabeth Coley

"After the baby is here, to be able to look down and see my feet again. :)" Sherrie Lourdon

"To hear God... even if it is a needed rebuke." Dawn Burnett

"My hope is to see my dad healed physically and spiritually, to show love better especially to my family. And as one of the church fathers said to God: to see Thee more clearly, love Thee more dearly and follow Thee more nearly." Linda Whaley Johnson

My hope for 2012 is that God takes His time in our lives to show others how BIG He is and that we have the patience to wait on Him." Jennifer Harrison

"That God will bless my family way Beyond Expectations and that we can bless others way beyond expectations!!!!" Venus Newby

"That God will move in a big way to unify my whole family. That parenting will be less stressful and that I will achieve some personal goals. That God would birth some things that I know He has planned for me." Pamela Cole Thorpe

"Lol. My wish is 'to find a seat on the bus and sit down.' Translation: stay put for awhile, enjoy the scenery, settle down, and accept God's direction and timeline." Julie Franklin Haupt (Note: Julie and her husband just relocated their family of five.)

I can relate to each of my friend's hopes for 2012 (except my sweet expectant and wanting-to-be-expecting sisters, that is). I say Amen and Amen to every single hope in my own life (except expecting another baby, that is). Did I mention that already? :)

I'd love to share just a few more dreams for 2012 that I've got running around in my head:
  • I want to go deeper in Jesus this year. I want to grow in my knowledge of the Word and grow in my living of the Word. And I want to be more consistent in leading my children to the Word as well. 2011 was a great year of bible study for us, but I want to be more consistent.
  • I hope to grow as a writer. I want to write every single day of my life, consistently working on the hundreds of ideas that I have on paper. I want to continue writing my nonfiction book and begin a bible study series on the minor prophets.
  • I want to continue caring for orphans (James 1:27 from above), locally and around the world. I hope to use my talents and gifts to create awareness surrounding the needs of the 147 million orphans in the world.
  • I hope to encourage pastor's wives around the globe through our Facebook group and soon-to-be launched blog, A Pastor's Wife's Garden (www.pastorswifesgarden.blogspot.com). Check out the first post tomorrow, New Year's Day, and tell your pastor's wife about it!
So, as you can see, I've got lots of hopes and dreams for 2012. I'm sure you do too. Let's walk together as we trust God to give us His dreams for the New Year.

Trusting Him for an Amazing New Year,

Carla

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

This Christmas: Wait... There's More to the Story


Have you ever enjoyed a movie in the theater, watched the credits roll, then stand to leave, when all of a sudden, a new scene begins? You quickly take your seat, realizing, "Oh great, there's more!"

Well, today's blog is kind of like that. I thought I had completed my retelling of Luke's retelling of the Christmas story... Until I read a little more of the story.

Why don't you step back into Luke's narrative with me? There are a few more treasures just waiting for us to discover them. Follow me. I'll show you the way.

After the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, following the dictates of Jewish law, took Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord. I just love the two elderly folks that stepped forward to bless Jesus at the Temple. Let's take a closer look at them in Luke chapter 2.



Simeon was "righteous and devout.. and the Holy Spirit was upon him." (vs. 25) The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die before He had seen the Christ. I love the uninhibited vigor of Simeon when he laid eyes on the Christ-child. The scriptures say he "took him in his arms and praised God..." (vs. 28) Can you imagine the old fellow reaching out to wrap the infant Jesus in His arms? I'll bet in his excitement and joy, he abandoned all decorum and politeness.

This makes me wonder... Do we approach Jesus with the same vigor and joy? Do we run to Him with reckless abandonment, unconcerned about following the "rules" of modern Christianity? Do we approach Him without reservation?

In my personal time with the Lord, I have no problem crying until I'm a soppy, pathetic mess. Sometimes I get so carried away, I praise Him at the top of my lungs. At times I dance, I bow down to the floor, I jump up and down as high as I can. I know I look like a lunatic, but I don't care. That's just how He moves me some days.

On the other hand, in church (where I sit in the very front, thanks to my pastor-husband) my praise sometimes lacks the freedom of my personal praise sessions. Could I be more concerned with what others think than what God thinks? How about you?

Another thing I love about Simeon: he walked in such fellowship with God that he followed His every word. Verse 27 tells us, "Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts." He immediately obeyed, his obedience leading to His promised meeting with the Christ-child.

Do we walk with God this way? Are our ears constantly open to His promptings, His lessons, His direction? Or do we do our own thing, consulting Him when we're in trouble or need?

Oh, may we have hearts like Simeon -- constantly seeking His Word. And may we keep our hearts open to receive specific guidance from Him. He loves to speak to His children. May we have ears to hear.

I also love Anna, the prophetess. She happens to be one of my favorite Ladies in the Bible. This mature woman reminds us that life ain't over 'til it's over. In her seasoned years, this widow "never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying." (vs. 37) This sister spent her life worshiping God and spending time with Him. Can you imagine the depth of relationship she enjoyed with Him? Wow.

Do we pray without ceasing? Do we meditate on His law day and night? Do we want to live for Him solely and wholly?

I love Anna's passion to spread the Good News of Christ. "Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem." (Verse 38)

During this Christmas season, have we told others about Christ? I have to admit to some fear this year. I was tempted to tell people "happy holidays," not wanting to offend any non-Christians. But that lasted less than a day. I quickly returned to my usual "Merry Christmas" to every bank-teller, cashier and stranger on the street. I figured if I offended someone, I'd just have to deal with it on the back end.

This Christmas season and New Year, I'm choosing to say His name as much as I can. I am not ashamed. I love the name of Jesus Christ. It's the sweetest name I know!

Dedicating My Life, My All,

Carla

Saturday, December 24, 2011

This Christmas: I'm Loving the End of the Story



It's Christmas Eve and I'm thinking of Mary giving birth to the Christ-child, as I'm sure you are too. I can see them traveling by donkey or camel, Mary riding with her legs dangling to one side of the animal. Mary is exhausted and wondering when, oh when, they will arrive in Bethlehem. Joseph's brow wrinkles with concern for his young wife, especially when she moans with merciless labor pains.

I can only imagine their frustration when they discover that the town, packed with sojourners, has no rooms available for them. What will they do? Where will they go?
"The time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." Luke 2:6b-7
And this is how we reminisce on Jesus' birth. We think of the baby Jesus in the manger, with straw lining the makeshift crib. The world finds much comfort in Jesus remaining in the manger -- a cooing, gurgling baby boy with dimpled cheeks and glistening eyes.

But that's not how the story ends.

The story ends with the baby Boy growing up, teaching the Word of God to multitudes, healing the sick, and raising the dead.

The story ends with the God-Man being betrayed by a close friend, beaten to a bloody pulp and hung on a cross to pay a vile sinner's sentence.

The story ends three days later when He raises Himself from the dead, conquering death and the grave.

The story ends when you and I accept His death on the cross as payment for our sins, receiving salvation and eternal life.

And the story has yet to end. One day He will carry His believers to heaven with Him, in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye. One day He will judge the wicked of the world and the evil one that has deceived the world since the Garden of Eden. One day He'll truly have the last say. Hallelujah!

The challenge of Christmas comes with choosing to focus on Jesus as He is -- God, the Son. He is the Baby in the manger. He's also the God-Man that died for my sins and for yours. Don't keep Him in the manger.

That's not the half of it.

Loving the Jesus of the Manger and the Cross,

Carla

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

This Christmas: I'm Rejoicing In God's Calling


I'm so glad you joined me for our next step in our walk through the Christmas story through the eyes of Luke. Last time we took a look at the miracle of Christmas, a virgin girl becoming pregnant with our Savior. Once again, the Word of God reminded us that nothing is impossible with God.

This morning as I read through Mary's song, my heart rejoiced with her in the great news of Gabriel, God's messenger. Although Mary only understood a portion of her calling at that time, she was humbled and honored to be considered so favored by God. Her response was immediate obedience and submission to the will of God.

However, I noticed something for the first time today in my reading of Mary's song. I'll highlight the lines that stood out for me. See if you can find the running theme that I discovered.
"My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me -- holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers." Luke 1:46-55
Said the blogger lady to her faithful readers: do you see what I see?

I see a God, who in His most merciful, most strategic move towards the redemption of mankind still speaks words of justice in the world. Mary speaks of God's judgment of the proud, the rulers and the rich, no doubt those who had become rich, proud rulers through the oppression of others less fortunate. She also speaks of God's compassion towards the humble and the hungry. And she praises Him for being "mindful of the humble state of his servant." She rejoices that He has chosen a nobody, in the world's eyes, to such a noble and significant calling.

So today I ask, what has God called you to? I may not have a specific answer for you, but I can assure you of a few causes He's asked all of His children to work towards. Every believer is called to defend the poor, the fatherless and the disenfranchised. We are all called to care for the hungry and the destitute. And we're all called to care for widows and orphans.

Our calling may not be as vital to the entire world as Mary's was. We may not be called to carry the Savior of the world in our womb for nine months. We may not be called to rear the God-Man through His childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. We may not be called to watch Him hang on a cross for the sins of the whole world, powerless to save our sinless, innocent baby boy.

No, we won't be called to the magnificent calling of Mary, the mother of our Lord. But we have been called to represent Christ to the world. We have been called to tell others about Him. We have been called to live a pure life in a dark and perverse world. And we have been called to fight for those less fortunate than ourselves.

Are you rejoicing in your calling today? Do you know your calling today? I bet He can hardly wait to tell you. I'm sure He's wanting to hear your song of rejoicing too.

Rejoicing In My Calling,

Carla

Saturday, December 17, 2011

God With Us

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” – which means, “God with us.” Matthew 1:23
            Emmanuel. God with us. During the Christmas season we sing of God being with us.
            “Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel. And ransom captive Israel...”
            We know God is with us on Christmas, and every day of the year, but do we really believe He’s always with us?
            On Christmas Day 2001, I questioned God’s presence in my life. Oh, I’d been a Christian for several years, and I’d grown exponentially in my walk with God by then. I had introduced several friends and family members to Christ. I had led women’s Bible studies. As a matter of fact, 2001 marked the year I’d become a pastor’s wife. Rest assured, I knew God.
            Yet 2001 was also the year that I’d miscarried two precious babies. I can still remember the sticky ultrasound probe on my swollen, exposed belly. I remember the image of my baby girl on the monitor. She was still there all right, but the flash of light that represented her little heartbeat no longer existed. With no forewarning or explanation, my baby girl’s heart no longer beat.
            Five months later, my husband and I relived this nightmare once again. I’d never felt so alone. I wondered if even God had left me.
            In this condition of heart, I entered the Christmas season. I attended holiday festivities feeling like the uninvited guest shivering outside, peering at the smiling guests through an icy window. During Christmas service, I sang carols alongside my fellow church members, but inside my icy heart ached.
            “Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel...”
            In the New Year my heart began to melt. I’d been studying Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby. During one particular lesson, God spoke to me through the story of Lazarus’ death and resurrection, recorded in John 11.
            The words of Mary, Lazarus’ sister, nearly jumped off the page of my study Bible. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
            I could relate. If God had been with me, surely my babies wouldn’t have died.
            As I delved deeper into this scripture, God opened my eyes to more of His truth. He feels our pain, evidenced by the often-quoted verse 35, “Jesus wept.”
            When my babies died, Jesus was very present with me. Furthermore, His heart broke along with my heart.
            Also, I live by faith, believing I will see my sweet children in heaven one day. Like Mary and Martha, I know Him not only as Jehovah Rapha – God our Healer. I know Him as the Resurrection and the Life.
            At Christmastime, we can know that God is with us through the joys and the sorrows we’ve faced throughout the year. He came to earth to die for our sins, so we could live eternally in heaven with Him and our loved ones – including some we have yet to meet.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

This Christmas: I'm Expecting Miracles



The Evangelical Church has got a problem.

Oh, of course sin is rampant. Many people have turned their backs on organized religion, refusing to align themselves with the local church. And we are largely walking away from the Bible, no longer esteeming it as the inspired, God-breathed Word of our heavenly Father.

But we've got another big problem today. We no longer believe in MIRACLES.

We only believe what we see, hear, taste, smell and touch. If it can't be experienced through our five senses, we don't believe it exists. Of course we believe that Jesus came to earth as a lowly baby and that He lived a perfect life and died on the cross for our sins. We believe that He healed the sick. That he raised the dead. That He turned water to wine.

Yet at Christmastime 2011, do we believe that He still performs miracles? Do I believe?

Let's pick up where we left off in Luke's retelling of our Savior's birth. I'll summarize the next events for you. After the Angel Gabriel greeted Mary, he revealed God's calling on her life.
  • He told her not to fear
  • He reminded her that she had found favor with God
  • She would conceive a son, and should name Him Jesus
  • He would be great and be called Son of the Most High
  • God would give Him the throne of His ancestor David, and He would reign forever; His kingdom would never end
Mary responded as any mentally-stable virgin girl would at that time and even today. 

"How can this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" Luke 1:34

Gabriel explained how this pregnancy would occur: the Holy Spirit would come upon her. This pregnancy and birth would be lived out in the natural, but conception would occur in the supernatural. Hers would be a miraculous birth. And to remind Mary of God's miraculous powers, Gabriel told Mary that her elderly relative Elizabeth was pregnant as well. As a matter of fact, this "mature" lady was already in her sixth month!

Gabriel's most powerful words -- often quoted today -- are found in verse 37.

"For nothing is impossible with God."

Do we truly believe that today? Do you believe that? Do I?

Think of the difficulties, challenges and trials that you're facing today. Are you believing God for a miracle? Even if God in His sovereignty, chooses not to perform a miracle, do you believe He's able?

Say this to yourself out loud. Nothing is impossible with God. 

Okay, again. Nothing is impossible with God.

One more time. And maybe this time it'll stick. Nothing is impossible with God!

This Christmas, I'm believing God for miracles in my life and yours. Will you believe?

Believing Nothing Is Impossible,

Carla

Saturday, December 10, 2011

This Christmas: I know He's With Me

Well, here we are at post three in my "This Christmas" series. I've been challenged, encouraged and inspired. And I've cried a few tears. After writing only two posts, This Christmas: I Believe God and This Christmas: I'm Taking It Personally, my heart is so much more prepared for the celebration of our Savior's birth. I hope yours has been too.

Let's tiptoe back into Luke's account of the Christmas story, and pick up where we left off.
"In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." Luke 1:26-28



I've been focusing on the word Emmanuel this entire holiday season. Everywhere I turn, it's a name I keep hearing and reading. This past week, I took the kiddos to see "Bethlehem Revisited" at a church here in Conway, Arkansas. It was a beautiful production with actors (church members) that reenacted the time when Jesus was born.

In the recreated town of Bethlehem, one man read from a scroll of Hebrew. He read of the birth of Jesus in authentic Hebrew, even using the intonations of a Jewish priest. It was beautiful. I was transfixed. I enjoyed grabbing onto the words that I could barely make out. Yeshua. David (pronounced Da-veed). And Emmanuel.

Emmanuel. God with us. When the angel Gabriel greeted Mary, the mother of Jesus, he affirmed God's presence in her life. He knew he had some heavy stuff to share with her, so he must have felt the need to remind her that she was not alone. The Lord was with her.

During my intimate time with God this morning, I was reminded that God is with me. Just as He was with Mary. He reminded me that in 2011, over two thousand years after Mary's visit from the angel Gabriel, His presence is very real in my life. Through His Word, He quieted my spirit as I wrestled with the giants in my life. The giant of pursuing a writing career. The giant of preparing for a workshop I'm teaching at church in January. The giant of managing a family, along with being a pastor's wife, a community activist, a journalist, etc. etc.

He quieted my spirit with these words:
"The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." Zephaniah 3:4
God quiets me with his love. When I rant about everything imperfect in my life, He quiets me. When I wonder why life couldn't be a little easier, He quiets me. When I forget that faithful is He who calls who will also do it, He quiets me.

This Christmas, I am a child crying out for comfort, for empathy, for love from my Heavenly Father. And like a loving Daddy, He takes me in His arms, strokes my face with His hand and plants a moist kiss on my cheek. 

And I know He loves me still. I know He is always with me. Emmanuel.

Cradled in His Arms,

Carla

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

This Christmas -- I'm Taking it Personally



Thanks for joining me again as we walk through the story of the birth of Jesus as told by Luke. In Saturday's blog post we examined Zechariah and his doubt when the angel told him that he and his elderly wife Elizabeth would give birth to a son. I hope you resolved, along with me, to believe God this Christmas.

Today, let's shine the spotlight on Zechariah's wife Elizabeth. After her husband returned from his service at the Temple of the Lord, Elizabeth became pregnant, just as the Angel Gabriel had foretold. Unlike Zechariah's response of unbelief, Elizabeth expressed her faith in the Living God. Let's take a look at her reply:
"The Lord has done this for me," she said. "In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people." (Luke 1:25)
I don't know about you, but as soon as something unfortunate happens in my life, I usually ask the question, "Why me, Lord?" When I'm suffering under some sort of hardship, I don't reason that everyone experiences difficulties in life. I'm not quoting verses to myself like Matthew 5:45, "He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." After some time, God usually reminds me of that verse, but in the beginning of my trial I'm usually in the mindset of "Woe is me." I take my trials personally.

Well, I love the lesson that Elizabeth gives us in this scripture. She takes the Lord's blessing of her soon-to-be-born son personally. Oh, she knows that her son John will be a special child, and that he will bring joy to her and Zechariah. She knows that he will be filled with the Holy Spirit from birth and will be great in the sight of God. She knows that he will be kin to the Savior and prepare the people's hearts for His coming.

She knows that her son will bless the world, but she takes God's blessing personally.

This Christmas, I want to take my blessings personally. I want to take God's favor personally. Oh, I know Jesus came to earth to die for the sins of the world, and I want the whole world to come to know Him. My heart breaks when I watch people around me grasp for money, fame and people, when what they really need is the Savior. And I pray that this Christmas maybe they'll see that only He can bring peace and joy.

But this Christmas I have to take his sacrifice personally. He died for me. Believe me, I know what a sinner I am. I know how unworthy I truly am. I needed a Savior. I still need the Savior.

I can't tell you how many Christmas carols I've listened to this season that have literally broken my heart. I've been a soppy mess, full of tears over the same songs I listen to every year. I think it's because I'm taking it personally. When I hear, "O Holy Night," I believe I was on God's mind that night. When I hear, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," I believe He's not just "God with us," but He's with me. When I hear "What Child Is This," I believe that Child was born for me.

This Christmas I'm taking His birth personally.

Take a look at Andrea Bocelli and Mary J. Blige's performance of "What Child Is This". I pray that you take this powerful song personally.



Overwhelmed by His Favor,

Carla

Saturday, December 3, 2011

This Christmas -- I Believe God

 
Have you ever received a word from God? Not just the words received when you read and study the Bible. I mean a specific, just-for-you, kind of word from God.

I have. I'll share a little about that later on. For now, let's take a look at a story in the Bible of someone that had a bit of a problem believing what God had to say.

Luke begins his account of the birth of Jesus Christ with the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Elizabeth was a relative of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her husband Zechariah was a priest. They had no children in their old age, because Elizabeth had been infertile their entire marriage.

One day, the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah while he was burning incense in the temple of the Lord. Gabriel came with great news: Elizabeth would become pregnant with a son, a son that would be a joy to them and a great leader for God.

"Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God," proclaimed Gabriel. "And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah..."

So what do you think Zechariah said? "Oh messenger of the Lord, thank you for this great prophesy. Praise God for His favor!"

Not exactly. His lines read a little more like this:

"How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years."

Zechariah doubted the word of God. Instead of rejoicing in the message from God, he wallowed in disbelief. Even though we know the story ends well, with John being born to Elizabeth and becoming all Gabriel had promised he would, I have to think Zechariah regretted his response of doubt. And God gave him plenty of time to reflect and repent. For nine months, God struck Zechariah's tongue, making him mute until the birth of John.

Have you ever doubted God? I sure have. But I distinctly remember a time that I truly believed God's word to me. At that time I had suffered two miscarriages, and had already adopted my Christian. I had always wondered if I would have another biological child, even though we were planning to adopt again.

While reading the Bible one day, I read a scripture where God told Joseph (of the Old Testament) that He would give him a child from his own body. Suddenly, in my mind the words in my Bible looked like they were lifting off the page. I knew God was clearly speaking those words to me. That day I knew I would have another child from my own body.

I believed God. And a few years later, my little Jada was born on the eve of my birthday. What a sweet birthday gift she was.

I haven't always believed God with such conviction. But, oh the joy I experience when I do!

This Christmas holiday, let's commit to believing God. Let's believe His holy word -- the Bible. Let's believe His personal words to us. Let's believe Him when everyone around us rolls their eyes at our "foolish" faith. If we can believe that God came to earth as a little baby in a manger, surely we can believe Him for smaller miracles in our own lives.

After all, He's never broken a promise yet.

Before you go, I've posted a song by Martha Munizzi, "I Believe God". May it encourage you to always believe.



Believing God,

Carla

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Still Grateful



Okay, so if you're feeling anything like me, you're a little weary of all the talk of thankfulness. I was starting to feel that way too, quite honestly. But then God opens my eyes to some amazing thing, and I think "Hey, I'm still thankful!"

So in the aftermath of Thanksgiving, I just have to share one more thing I'm truly grateful for today. And actually it's pretty appropriate considering my husband and I are little behind on the holidays here. Case in point: if you drove around our cul-de-sac you'd notice our neighbors have packed away their scarecrows, pumpkins and wreaths full of fall leaves. The day after Thanksgiving (for one family, the day after Halloween!) these folks strung their white Christmas lights and hung their silver and gold wreaths.

That is, except us.

So I figure it makes sense for me to hang out in Thanksgiving here, since I'm still in the spirit anyway. Surely by my next blog post, I'll have thrown away my pumpkins and stored my harvest wreath. (Hey, let's hope for the best.)

Well anyway, this morning I am feeling grateful for something I often take for granted. I'm grateful for the Body of Christ. I'm grateful that wherever we go, whatever city we relocate to, God always brings beautiful Christian people into our lives.

This Thanksgiving my family hosted a family with four daughters. Our eight kids had an absolute ball together. We experienced non-stop action the whole holiday. I'm still tired. But we so enjoyed our friends, some of our oldest friends that we met way back in our Maryland days. It was such a blessed time, leaving me with a full and grateful heart.

And last night we hosted a young couple that my husband married a couple years ago in Franklin, Tennessee. These sweet friends are adopting a precious baby girl who currently lives in Little Rock, so God has sweetly orchestrated us being a small part of their adoption journey. Spending time with them here in our home and hearing their hearts full of anticipation over meeting their daughter was such a blessing. And it gave me an extra push to continue my labor in orphan care ministry.

So today, I'm thankful for my brothers and sisters in Christ around the corner, around the country and around the world. I'm thankful for you reading this blog. At times like this I get a glimpse of heaven, when we'll spend eternity together in complete unity and peace.

Until then, I'll enjoy the beautiful glimpses that God gives me here.


With a Grateful Heart,

Carla

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Secret to a Rich Life



Today I read this quote, and I thought it would be a great way to end my series on gratefulness.
"In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich." Dietrich Bonhoeffer
It is only with gratitude that life becomes rich... Now that could preach. Especially today after a conversation I had with an old friend about SAT scores and college scholarships. While discussing a mutual friend and how well her daughter had done on the SAT, I exclaimed, "Man, those private schools. Those private school kids are so prepared when they graduate."

Needless to say, my children are in public schools. And on most days that's not a problem at all. I'm actually quite pleased with their schools and teachers. But today, I immediately began wanting what my  friend has: the financial means to send her children to fabulous private schools that work overtime to challenge their students to be excellent. Schools where average is unacceptable. Schools where children are expected to achieve.

But I'm so thankful for my other friend who firmly reminded me that life's not about your SAT scores. That it's not about what college your child attends. That it's not even about having great financial means.

Life is about Christ, and Christ alone. And whether I'm wealthy or poor or somewhere in between, it's still about Him. No matter what schools my children attend or don't attend, it's still about Him. No matter what fortune or misfortune my family experiences, it's still about Him. 

"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." Philippians 1:21

When I get that straight in my head, I can embrace this life that's truly rich for me. I have life, I have Jesus, I have the promise of eternal life with Him. What more can this world offer me that really makes a difference anyway?

It's with this attitude of heart that I leave the Thanksgiving season and enter the celebration of the birth of our Lord. I pray this is the attitude of heart that I abide in throughout the season.

Thanking God for His Riches,

Carla

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Antidote for Holiday Blues



Am I the only one that gets a little blue during the holidays? There are several reasons why I think this happens. I'll list a few, then hopefully I can leave you with a few words to encourage you (and myself, too).

I think the holidays can be discouraging because:
  • We miss the loved ones that have passed away and won't be able to celebrate the holidays with us
  • Other families around us have received horrible news right around the holiday (an old friend of mine lost her father two days ago, a family in my church has a precious little daughter that just began chemotherapy, another church member just lost a family member to possible suicide, and the list just goes on)
  • The world, with all its wars and controversies, hasn't taken a break for the holidays
To sum up each of these points, I think we get blue around the holidays because we're longing for our heavenly home. Every day here on earth falls short of perfect joy somehow. And that includes even the very best days like Thanksgiving, Christmas and birthdays (my birthday falls right between Thanksgiving and Christmas, by the way). I think we all, believers and unbelievers alike, carry in our hearts a desire for something else, something more than this life can possibly offer.

I believe that something more is Heaven.

2 Samuel, chapter 12, recounts the story of the death of King David's first son with Bathsheba. While the child was ill, David mourned and fasted day and night. Yet verse 20 states that when the baby died "David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate."

His servants were confused over his behavior. When the baby was alive, David mourned, but after his death, David ate and worshiped the Lord. To them, his behavior was backwards.

Check out David's response to them in verses 22 and 23. "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, 'Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.' But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me."

David's faith in God and the promise of heaven gave him hope that he would one day go to his son. He believed that he would see his sweet boy again. And we have that promise too. Not only will we live in a beautiful place void of war, pain and death. We will also live in a place where we'll spend eternity with our loved ones that have gone before us. I will see my two babies again. You will see many of your loved ones as well. And even if some of our family members and friends don't know Christ yet, there is still hope that they will believe. That they too will join us there.

That promise brings me a sense of joy and anticipation during this holiday. I hope it does for you too.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Believing in His Promise,

Carla

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Difference A Preposition Makes

 

I'll let you guys in on a secret. Since I've declared myself a "writer," I've faced rejection like never before. For every compliment or encouragement I receive about my work, I encounter at least two rejections. So, I figure, why not share some of the love here?

The following devotional was rejected by a popular publisher of devotionals. It's not the best writing I've ever done, but I'd hoped to encourage people to have grateful hearts during the holidays, despite the painful experiences the year may have brought them.

I have a cousin that lost her mother a few days after Thanksgiving. With Thanksgiving approaching, how can she be thankful for losing her most faithful confidant, cheerleader and friend? What about the family that just discovered their precious little girl has a rare form of cancer? What about the rest of us with our various disappointments, challenges and unrealized dreams?

I'd like to propose that when we speak of I Thessalonians 5:18, we often misquote it. There's a little tiny word, a simple preposition even, that we change that makes all the difference in the world. Read on to see what I mean...




Giving Thanks In Everything
Read Philippians 4:4-7
“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I Thessalonians 5:18 (NIV)
            After thirteen weeks of blissful pregnancy, an ultrasound confirmed my doctor’s prognosis. My sweet baby’s heart had ceased to beat. Already a mom to a four-year-old son, I prepared my heart to send him to prekindergarten. Having lost one child to miscarriage, my first-born would now leave me home alone everyday.
            I soon discovered I was pregnant again. However, after six weeks, I lost this baby too. Devastated, I questioned God’s love for me. If He loved me, how could He allow so much suffering and loss in my life? After spending many days in prayer and in God’s Word, I clung to the promises of His love for me. I believed that His love for me was settled on the cross of Calvary over two thousand years ago.
            Yet how could I be thankful for the tragedies and disappointments of life? Did God really expect me to give thanks for these circumstances? As I searched this scripture more closely, I noticed something. I Thessalonians 5:18 encourages us to give thanks in all circumstances, not for all circumstances. Even when we face trials that we can't possibly be thankful for, we can thank God while we're in those circumstances. Thank Him for the strength to face another day. Thank Him for never leaving us. Thank Him for the promise of heaven where we will never experience disease or death again.
 
Prayer
Thank you God, for Your presence during the storms of life. May we have hearts of gratefulness in all circumstances. Amen.

Thought For The Day
During Thanksgiving, no matter what difficulties we face, we can give Him thanks.

Giving Thanks In Everything,
Carla

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I'm not angry. I'm mad!



I'll begin this post by explaining the title of this post. I'm a writer, so bear with my detailed way of doing that. :-)

Many of us over age 35 grew up on the "Cosby Show." We loved watching this sitcom every Thursday evening, grateful for the positive image of an African American couple that loved each other and trained their children well.

On one episode (which I'll have to relay from memory), Cliff Huxtable (played by Bill Cosby) corrects one of the kids for saying he was "mad." He goes on to say, "Dogs get mad. People get angry." The children then go on to list fictitious accounts of activities they've partaken in, like sneaking out of the house to go to a party across town. After each story, the kids ask their father and mother (Clair, played by Phylicia Rashad), "So Mom and Dad, are you angry?" Each time their parents state they aren't angry, but they would get serious about the offender's punishment.

At the end of the scene, their teenage daughter Denise relays a "true" story of a night that she supposedly spent with a girlfriend. She then confesses to having spent the night with a boy instead. At the end of her tale, which ends up being completely false, Denise asks Claire, "So Mom and Dad, are you angry?"

Claire, in her no-nonsense manner, states, "Oh no, I'm not angry. I'm mad."

So now you know the inspiration for the title of this post. Sometimes the word angry doesn't fully communicate the intensity of our emotions. Sometimes, we're just plain mad.

Today I read an article about finding your life's passions. While reading, a light bulb lit up in my head. The article didn't mention this, but passions in life are often birthed out of something we're good and mad about. And I don't mean the kind of mad we feel when someone cuts you off in traffic. Or when someone -- usually one of your children -- eats the leftovers that your mouth was watering for. Or when the neighbor's dog barks incessantly at 6:30 on a Saturday morning. (Okay, so can you tell what makes me mad?)

No, I'm thinking of those things that the Bible calls righteous indignation. I'm envisioning anger over multitudes of people without healthcare, or housing or money to purchase three square meals each day. Or anger over political corruption. Or anger over people around the world that die of preventable and treatable diseases like malaria. That's the kind of anger I'm talking about.

Most of you know one issue I'm mad about. I'm mad about the 150 million orphans around the world that have no parents to tuck them in at night. The millions of children that have no permanent home. The millions of children that would give anything to have the food my children picked over last night and threw away. My stomach churns just writing that.

And I'm also mad at how slowly the church is getting this thing right. I'm mad that there are churches all over the country that don't have a single adoptive family. I'm mad after perusing the website yesterday for "The Justice Conference," being held in February in Portland, Oregon. While intrigued by the amazing list of speakers that will speak for justice, aiding the poor and standing up for the forgotten, I couldn't find a single speaker devoted to defending the 150 million orphans around the world. Not one.

So, if you follow what I'm mad about, you can quickly identify one of my passions. So, now I ask you: what are you mad about? What makes you downright furious? Is it that there are people groups in the world that have yet to be reached with the gospel of Jesus Christ? Is it the worldliness of our culture in this reality television-crazed generation? Ponder it for a while. I guarantee your anger will lead to a personal passion.

Now... What are you going to do about it? Will you keep it to yourself? Or will you go out and do something? We all have a responsibility to pursue our passions, especially the passions that meet a need for someone else. And if you can't come up with anything, ask God to give you a passion. Ask Him to make you mad about something. I bet He can hardly wait for you to ask.

If all God's children got really mad about all kinds of injustices, who knows what we can do? We might even change the world.

I'll leave you with a song by worship artist Israel Houghton, "The Power of One." One person is never too little to make a change. Together we can change the world!

Living for Justice and Mercy,

Carla

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Some of the Coolest People: Famous Adult Adoptees

Recently I've tackled a huge undertaking: writing my first nonfiction book. It's been exhilarating and fun, and I've stood amazed at how God is writing through me. I'll share much more about that in another blog post in the near future. For now, I'd like to continue with my adoption/orphan care series during this month, Adoption Awareness Month.

When Steve Jobs passed away, I couldn't wait to blog about his fascinating life. You can read more about him in my earlier post Steve Jobs: Lessons from His Legacy. I thought I knew a lot about him, but my research led me to some interesting facts I didn't already know. Perhaps the coolest thing I discovered was the fact that he was adopted in infancy. In that post, I mentioned that "some of the coolest people are adopted," thus the inspiration for this post's title. Examining the life of Steve made me think about how adoption can completely change the trajectory of a person's life. It certainly did for Steve.

So, I thought it would be fun to do a little research and find out what famous and influential people in our country's history were adopted. I'm excited to share a few with you here.


Audrey Faith Perry, or Faith Hill as we know her, was adopted when only a few days old by Ted and Edna Perry. Raised in Star, Mississippi, her hometown has become prophetic of her super-stardom as a country music recording artist. Faith grew up as the only adopted child in a loving family, and grew up fully aware of her adoption. She refers to her childhood as "amazing." Later in life, she met her biological mother and has formed a good relationship with her as well.


Actor/comedian/recording artist Jamie Foxx was born Eric Bishop in 1967 to parents who separated shortly after his birth. At that point his mother felt ill-equipped as a single mother, so his maternal grandparents adopted him at the young age of seven months. During his 2004 Academy Award acceptance speech for Ray, he thanked his grandmother for her hard work and unconditional love. Grateful to his grandparents and the blessing of adoption, Jamie has hosted adoption-themed holiday specials and often praises adoption in interviews.


Many adoption-minded people are aware of Dave Thomas' tireless efforts in adoption and foster care prior to his death in 2002. However, we sometimes forget, or are unaware, that he was adopted as well. The founder of fast food restaurant Wendy's, was adopted at birth. Unfortunately his adoptive mother passed away when he was just five, and he dropped out of high school in tenth grade to work full time at a restaurant, a foreshadowing of things to come. After serving in the U.S. Army, Thomas moved to Columbus, Ohio and opened his first Wendy's in 1969. And the rest is history. Later he founded the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption to promote adoption law simplification and reduce adoption costs in the United States.


Many of us remember when Scott Hamilton took world figure skating by storm. (And then again, some of you weren't even born!) When just six weeks old, Scott was adopted by Dorothy and Ernest Hamilton in 1958. He won an Olympic gold medal in men's figure skating, making him the first American male to win a medal in the sport since 1960. Today, he produces Stars on Ice, a professional ice show that tours around the world.


Born in 1955 to unwed college graduates, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was adopted as an infant by Paul and Clara Jobs in California's Bay Area. Having recently passed away in October of this year, I hardly think I need to discuss the man with the mastermind behind the iPod, iPad, iPhone and the animated film production company Pixar. His genius will be sorely missed.

I think it's extremely cool to discover prominent people that just happen to be adopted. But then, I don't necessarily believe in coincidence. I think God handpicks every child for his or her family, whether they be adopted or biological children.

Rejoicing in my Spiritual Adoption,

Carla

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

For the Least of These


This past Sunday, churches around the U.S. joined together with one voice for one purpose. Known as "Orphan Sunday," the first Sunday in November serves to bring awareness of the almost 150 million orphans around the world. These orphans should be a major priority of the Church. We Christians must make them a priority. Surely these orphans are part of the group Jesus had in mind when He said...
"Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." Matthew 25:40
So what will you do for the least of these?

At Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas, we celebrated Orphan Sunday with great intentionality and purpose. Mosaic's "Hand in Hand: Loving the Fatherless" Missional small group began planning some time ago for this special service. The testimonies of adoptive parents, an Orphan Sunday video presentation and a challenging sermon from my hubby Anthony all challenged the congregation to discover their calling to minister to orphans.

And we weren't alone on Sunday morning. Churches everywhere challenged their members to consider how they are personally called to "defend the cause of the fatherless" (Isaiah 1:17).

Now some of you might be scratching your head wondering, what is this adoption/foster care zealot saying? Is every Christian called by God to adopt or foster? Am I out of God's will if I never adopt or foster a child?

I'm so glad you asked. No, I do not believe we're all called to adopt or foster a child. However, I do believe that we are all called to take care of orphans. You see, I take James 1:27 quite literally:
"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."
Now obviously, looking after orphans is not the only requirement if we want to be pure and faultless before our heavenly Father. Yet it is a very integral part of our calling; one that most Christians ignore their entire lifetimes.

Will you ignore the calling to look after orphans during your lifetime?

I believe the responsibility of every adult Christian is three-fold:
  1. Sincerely ask God if He would have you consider adoption or foster care. 
  2. If you truly believe His answer is no, seek ways to minister to families that are adopting/fostering or preparing to do so. There are many ways to minister to these families: giving financial assistance for their adoption fees, offering babysitting so adoptive/foster parents can plan a date night, providing physical needs (children's clothing, meals, etc.), and of course, praying much for them.
  3. Actively pursue ministries and organizations that will put you face-to-face with the needs of orphans. There are countless organizations (local and international) that minister primarily to orphans. These ministries/organizations always need volunteers and financial gifts.
The bottom line of what I'm saying? None of us is off the hook when it comes to ministering to orphans. We are all called to do something. Will you ask God what your "something" is?

I'll leave you with a song that speaks of the Christian's adoption into the family of God. It is also a song that communicates God's heart for the almost 150 million precious orphans around the world. There are no orphans of God. Hallelujah!




Speaking the Truth in Love,

Carla

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The CALL that's Awakening a Sleeping Giant

"The Awakening" Statue in Washington D.C.

There's a sleeping giant that's awakening in our midst.

That giant is the Church. The issues that it's waking up over is caring for orphans. The signs are all around. I think we are starting to get it.

Anyone who knows me knows my heart for adoption and orphan care. You know that my husband Anthony and I adopted two of our four children. You know that I talk about adoption as long as anyone will listen.

So needless to say, I love when Adoption Awareness Month rolls around. During the month of November I have the perfect excuse to talk a lot about... well, adoption.

For the past few months I have been a part of an organization called The CALL, or Children of Arkansas Loved for a Lifetime. The CALL was founded by Mary Carol Pederson, an Arkansas resident with a big heart for children, and especially children in foster care. Mary Carol knows it's impossible to alleviate the need for foster care, but her vision for the The CALL is "to have no waiting children in Arkansas foster care, but instead to have waiting, Christian families ready to take them in."

Having recently joined the statewide board for The CALL, I have bought into this vision one hundred percent. Not only do we want foster children placed in healthy, loving homes. We want them in spiritually healthy, Christ-loving homes.

This past Tuesday the CALL hosted its second annual fundraising dinner. I loved the words of foster/adoptive father Michael Delon, "The Church has been great about being pro-life, but the Church has been horrible about being pro-adoption."

I wholeheartedly agree. Just think about this: how many times have you heard someone say they vote "pro-life" in political races? I've heard it too many times to count. As a matter of fact, just yesterday I spotted a bumper sticker on a car that read, "I vote pro-life."

Now, while I certainly don't disagree with supporting candidates with a pro-life stance, I tend to support candidates that support life from the "womb to the tomb." We need to fight for unborn children. They deserve a chance at life like we've had. However, we've got to fight as adamantly for children that aren't aborted, but enter life in dismal circumstances. Many of these children find their way into the foster care system at no fault of their own.

We must fight for them too.

Mary Carol, alongside "Team CALL," which includes executive director Lauri Currier, other staff members and hundreds of volunteers and donors, fights for these often-forgotten children daily. But we need the entire Body of Christ to join us in this fight.

"We're all called to care for the orphan," said Mary Carol. "We all have a part to play in this. The Church has stepped back too long. It's time for us to step in and help."

I'll end with the words of Dennis Rainey, founder of Family Life Ministries. If you get a chance, check out Coffee with Dennis Rainey, where I shared about Dennis' entire speech at The CALL's Pastors Summit.

"God is pro-life and pro-orphan," Dennis said with great conviction. And I wholeheartedly agree.

I see signs that we're waking up, Brothers and Sisters. Let's keep it moving, y'all. We're called to be pro-life and pro-orphan, just like our Heavenly Father.

Fighting for Orphans Everywhere,

Carla

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Giving Thanks


Some days I know exactly what I want to blog about. On those days I begin blogging like a racehorse running through the starting gate. Other times, I don't have a clue. By faith, I sit down at my keyboard and start writing. Those times are amazing, because I can testify to God writing those blog posts. Then other times, like today, I've got my mind totally set on my topic and I'm ready to write. Then God completely flips the script.

Today is one of those days.

For weeks now I've been planning to spend the entire month of November discussing adoption, foster care and the Church's call to care for the needs of orphans. With November being Adoption Awareness Month, I will certainly be sharing my heart for orphan care throughout the month. So stay tuned and pass my blog site on to any family, friends and church members of yours that have a heart for orphans as well.

But a theme just keeps stirring up in my spirit that I know I'm supposed to commit some time to this month. And that is, quite simply -- gratefulness.

Before I share a little about gratefulness, let me give you a quick testimony. Gratefulness has been a personal struggle for me my whole Christian life. While I'm married to an eternal optimist, (Gets on my last nerves sometimes... Just saying!) I like to call myself a realist. My husband Anthony, on the other hand, describes me as that horrible "p" word that ends like optimist. (I'm refusing to claim the title to the point where I won't even write the word.)

Well anyway, whatever you want to call me, I've never been one to skip through fields of daisies wearing rose colored glasses. In my head, I see things as they are. I'm the kind of person that calls out truth. I tell it like it is. I keep it real. And whatever else you want to call it.

But recently God's been challenging me about my take on truth. He lovingly reminded me that while I may have a gift of discernment, allowing me to see truth in people and circumstances, only He sees the whole truth in a situation. God, Who sees all, can see not only the truth of my present circumstances, but He can see the truth of my future as well. A future that I don't have eyes to see.

And guess what? He sees the truth of your life too.

Let me drop a little wisdom by way of Kelly Minter, author of the Bible study I'm currently studying, No Other Gods.
Deception is very, well...deceiving. Michael Wells of Abiding Life Ministries says... "Satan will tell us what's true, but he never tells us the truth." Let that sink in for a moment. If you're currently struggling with your finances, you might think something along these lines... 'I don't have enough money to pay my bills this month; I'm going to lose everything.' It might be true that you don't have enough money to pay your bills, but the truth is that God will take care of your every need (see Matt. 6:25-30).
See, what God showed me is this: I can see what's true about my situation, but I can't always see the whole truth. Only He can see that. I may not know how a situation will work out, but I know the God Who makes "all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28) I may not know what tomorrow will bring, but I know the a Savior Who is "the same yesterday and today and forever." (Hebrews 13:8)

So if I would only place my trust in the sovereign God Who knows all and sees all, I can have joy in and through any circumstances, no matter how dismal things appear. Even when the truth of my life is difficult or even frightening, I can know that God's got it and He's got me. So while I'm living in the truth of my reality, I should be joyful. I should be content. I should be grateful.

I'll leave you with the scripture from my Bible study today that drove home the need for gratefulness in my life and for my life:
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:15-17)
So let's keep it real while trusting Him and His goodness in our lives. He really is that good.

Walking in Gratefulness,

Carla

Saturday, October 29, 2011

An Invisible War

(Interesting note: I had some technical difficulties with this post on spiritual warfare. You'll notice extra spaces between a few paragraphs. Think I had a little warfare going on behind the scenes? Hmmm...)

Well folks, I'm coming to the close of another "theme" month. Every time I commit to a specific theme for an entire month, I get really nervous. I wonder, "How in the world am I going to blog twice a week about that same topic?" And some how I pull it off.

Actually, the truth is -- God pulls it off. He puts my spiritual antennae up, and everywhere I go I see, hear and experience things that line up with my theme. This month that I've focused around ministry (for Pastor's Appreciation Month) has been no exception.

Before I share a short word about what God placed on my heart today, can I ask you for a few favors? First of all, I'd love to hear from you if you're reading. I've been told my comment form hasn't been working for some reason. Well, I plan to fix that today for sure. And you can always leave a comment on Facebook as well. Hearing from you feels natural, like a two-way conversation.

Secondly, please share my blog with others that you think would be interested. I read books, articles and blogs all the time and think, "So-and-so would be so blessed by this." And I usually send that link right to that person. Please feel free to do the same with my blog.

Lastly, don't hesitate to share some ideas of what you'd like to read about, especially if it's in line with my blog. My blog has evolved over the months into something I never planned. God has awakened a desire in me to deal with popular culture from a Christian perspective. For instance, when Steve Jobs passed away, everyone was talking about him. I found myself wanting to talk about him too. Yet I immediately thought, "Now what does Steve Jobs' life teach us about the Christian walk?" Although Steve Jobs never professed to be a Christian, I was amazed at the illumination God gave me on the topic. I blogged about that here in Steve Jobs: Lessons From His Legacy, and even submitted my thoughts to a Christian publication. I'll let you know how that goes.


So if you love to read about things going on in the world right now, but you're wondering if and how those things apply to the Christian life, check my blog out on a regular basis. Or better yet, subscribe to receive it in your email every Tuesday and Saturday. Join my list of "Followers" to the right of this post. And tell other like-minded folks about it too.


I think that's it for favors. I know I'm asking a lot, but good grief, I do write this thing twice a week! Surely, you can help a sister out, right? :-)


So on to today's topic...




I handled this topic in depth in last year's post Joys and Pains of the Ministry Life: Part III. However, it bears repeating that perhaps the most difficult thing for those of us in ministry is spiritual warfare.


For those new to the Christian faith, spiritual warfare is the strife and difficulty experienced due to our spiritual enemy's, or Satan's, activity in our lives. Now, don't leave this blog post petrified over this. First of all, I'm not talking about the uncanny outward manifestations that we might see in the horror flicks popular this time of year: doors shutting by themselves, framed portraits mysteriously knocked off the wall, ghosts and monsters chasing people through grassy fields. (Can you tell I watched a lot of those during my teen years?)


No, I'm dealing with the more subtle spiritual warfare that happens behind the scenes. There are three tricky things about this kind of spiritual warfare:
  • It can only be seen with spiritual eyes
  • We can only fight it with spiritual weapons
  • The opponent in spiritual warfare often looks like other people or ourselves
Seen with Spiritual Eyes
Spiritual warfare cannot be seen with the naked eye, just like our enemy cannot be seen that way. For example, Satan doesn't roam around in a red jumpsuit, carrying a pitchfork. The Bible states that he "masquerades as an angel of light." (2 Corinthians 11:14) Yet the closer we grow to the Lord, the more we'll be able to detect him and his devilish activity in our lives and the lives of those around us. Hebrews 5:12-14 says it well:
"...Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil."

Must be Fought with Spiritual Weapons
Unlike military combat, spiritual warfare can't be fought with physical weapons. According to Ephesians 6:17, from "The Armor of God" chapter, our only offensive weapon is the Word of God, or the Bible. And prayer goes alongside the Word in the next verse. As we fight spiritual battles, we must soak ourselves in the salve of the Word of God and pray our way through the battle. Spiritual weapons are our only hope in spiritual wars.
"The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds." 2 Corinthians 10:4
Our Opponent Looks Like Other People Or Ourselves

Perhaps the trickiest thing about spiritual warfare is that my opponent often looks like those around me or myself. I'll share an example. When Anthony first became a pastor, I was amazed at how often people in the church had conflicts. At any given time, there was someone offended by someone else. When these conflicts weren't handled quickly and thoroughly, they often escalated into what seemed like World War III.

It didn't take me long to realize that there was constantly something going on behind the scenes. Even though people often fought over personality differences, opposing opinions or even blatant sins against one another, there was usually a deeper, more complex conflict going on. And the more involved in ministry the people were, the larger the issues grew. I could clearly see the enemy lurking behind the scenes, determined to tear down specific ministries. Even today, I often want to stand in the middle of the opposing sides of a conflict, with my hands crossed in a "T" for time out. I want to scream, "Hey, everybody! Remember we're all on the same team -- God's team!"


Another difficult situation is when the enemy looks like me. For me, this usually happens late at night. I suddenly feel confused, distraught or hopeless. The interesting thing is I can't put my finger on what I'm confused, distraught or hopeless over. Of course life's never perfect, but during these times, things are pretty status quo. I usually feel kind of crazy at these times, and wonder if I'll need to be committed the next morning. 


At some point, however, I usually come "out of myself" enough to assess the situation clearly. And I realize I'm under heavy spiritual attack. That's when I get to praying hard, and reading scriptures like Ephesians 6:12:
"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."
And I sing songs to myself like Selah's "I Bless Your Name." Read the lyrics from the second verse and chorus:
Some midnight hour
If you should find
You're in a prison in your mind
Reach out and praise
Defy those chains
And they will fall 
In Jesus' Name

We bless Your Name
We bless Your Name
We give you honor, give You praise
You are the Life, the Truth, the Way
We bless Your Name
We bless Your Name



Amen to that. Amen to that.

Fighting the Good Fight of Faith,

Carla

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Shane Claiborne: A Preacher in an Unexpected Package

Me Beaming with Shane and my 14-year-old Kalin

Okay so, I'm not going to start this blog like I did Coffee With Dennis Rainey. I'm not going to say that I hung out with Shane Claiborne tonight. Although I did hang out with Shane Claiborne (exhibit A: photo above). No, I'll come right out and admit it. I and about three hundred other people hung out with Shane tonight in a chapel service at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas.

On a serious note, though, hearing Shane live was really a treat. I'd been wanting to hear from this best-selling author and self proclaimed "prominent Christian activist, sought-after speaker, and a recovering sinner" for years now. So when I heard he'd be speaking only fifteen minutes away, I grabbed my son Kalin and made my way.

For those unfamiliar with him, Shane writes and speaks all over the world about peacemaking, social justice and Jesus. With his shaggy goatee, dreadlocs swinging down his back and simple clothes, he'd be the last person you'd i.d. as the preacher in the room. Kind of like the plain, but powerful Mother Teresa, with whom he spent ten weeks working alongside in Calcutta, India. Shane's wardrobe, haircut and "package" don't command attention. Oh, but when he opens his mouth... Now that's another story.

With an Eastern Tennessee twang in his voice, Shane began speaking about his hope for "another world." He began with the biblical story of Lazarus and the rich man found in Luke 16:19-31. He stated that sadly, "the rich man's religion did nothing to bridge the chasm between him and the poor. Could it be that the rich man and the poor man would have been better without this wall?"

He then brought us back to the present, mentioning that the United States, the wealthiest country in the world, is home to some of the loneliest, depressed and suicidal people in the world. Maybe the rich people here could also benefit from the breaking down of this wall?

"Maybe God's got a dream bigger than Wall Street's dream," said Shane. Perhaps a large part of God's dream can be summarized in one word: justice.

Quoting noted intellectual and social justice advocate Dr. Cornel West, he said, "Justice is what love looks like in public." And like Dr. West, Shane has committed his life to the poor and disenfranchised. And he's paid greatly for that commitment.

Shane said he's always amazed at other people's testimonies that consist of them meeting Jesus and everything in life coming all together. In contrast, Shane said, "I had my life together and then I met Jesus. My life's been a mess ever since!"

He talked about a time he and some friends went to court for feeding a group of homeless people, against the law in that town. When he went to court, he wore a t-shirt that read, "Jesus was homeless." When the judge questioned the slogan, Shane explained Jesus' words in Luke 9:58, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."

The judge's verdict: Shane and his crew had broken the law, but they had broken an unjust law. He concluded that if past unjust laws had not been broken, our country would still have slavery today. Needless to say, the so-called law offenders were set free with all charges dropped.

He concluded by stating that when we get to heaven, God won't say, "Okay, so what's your view on the virgin birth?" No, His words will sound a lot more like this:
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."
Oh how I long to hear those words from my Savior one day. In the meantime, I've got a lot more to do here on earth. I sure hope you'll join me.

Living For Justice and Mercy,

Carla

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

MLK Memorial Dedication: The Past, The Present, The Future



During the month of October, I have dedicated this blog to Pastor's Appreciation Month. When I began on October 1, I prayed that God would reveal interesting blog topics. Every week He has answered that prayer.

Today I dedicate this blog to one of history's most influential and celebrated pastors -- Martin Luther King, Jr. On Sunday thousands of people gathered to commemorate the unveiling of his 30-foot monument on the Mall in our nation's capital. Oh, how I wish I could have been there.

As I reflect on yesterday's dedication, I'll approach this event in light of the Past, the Present and the Future.

The Past
48 years ago Dr. King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, proclaiming "I Have a Dream." He was joined by thousands of people of various races and cultures for the 1963 March on Washington, a political rally in support of civil and economic rights. I'll share a small excerpt:
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."

The Present
The visual image I see in my mind's eye of the MLK Monument is this: A small statue of President Barack Obama, our nation's first African American president, standing firmly on the huge stone shoulders of Martin Luther King, Jr. For President Obama, and all African Americans today, truly stands on the shoulders of men and women like Dr. King, who gave their lives for the cause of equal rights for all.

Dr. King died so I could attend the schools of my choice. Dr. King died so I could visit my local election poll and cast my vote for the candidate of my choice. Dr. King died so my husband and I could lead a church body of people from different racial and economic backgrounds.

President Obama said it so eloquently on Sunday:
It is right that we honor that march, that we lift up Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech -- for without that shining moment, without Dr. King's glorious words, we might not have had the courage to come as far as we have. Because of that hopeful vision, because of Dr. King's moral imagination, barricades began to fall and bigotry began to fade. New doors of opportunity swung open for an entire generation. Yes, laws changed, but hearts and minds changed, as well. Look at the faces here around you, and you see an America that is more fair and more free and more just than the one Dr. King addressed that day. We are right to savor that slow but certain progress -- progress that's expressed itself in a million ways, large and small, across this nation every single day, as people of all colors and creeds live together, and work together, and fight alongside one another, and learn together, and build together and love one another.

The Future
As I think of the future, I must say we haven't reached the "Promised Land" yet. Much has changed in our country, but there's still lots of room for progress.

May I give a few examples?
  •  When I enter the bookstore, and especially the Christian bookstore, I'm hard pressed to find books written by African Americans. Should we assume there are few African Americans, other than athletes and musicians, that have anything to say by way of the written word?
  • I wonder why lower income neighborhoods, in every city of every state, are still full of African Americans, while middle and upper-middle class neighborhoods are still largely predominantly Caucasian.
  • African American musicians, artists, filmmakers and authors still fight for a place in their industries. They often have to create their own place (a la Tyler Perry), in order to find a place.
  • Underprivileged, under-resourced public schools are overflowing with minority students, while private schools abound with Caucasian students.
  • Liquor stores are found in abundance in lower-income communities, yet libraries, healthy grocery store chains and safe community centers are grossly lacking.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the steep mountain we have yet to climb as a nation. Yet I have hope that the legacy of Dr. King, and many others like him, will influence my generation and the generation behind me to continue to fight for equality and justice. That is my dream.

I'll end with the words of the Reverend Al Sharpton at the MLK Memorial Dedication. "This is not a monument of those times past," said Sharpton. "This is a marker for the fight for justice today and a projection for the fight for justice in the future because we will not stop until we get the equal justice Dr. King fought for."

May we continue Dr. King's fight.

Living For Justice and Mercy,

Carla