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Make Room

Read the story of the Shunammite Woman in II Kings 4:8-37; 8:1-6

In a day and age when God’s people had rejected His directions and those who supplied them, a woman maintained the divine order of hospitality by inviting Elisha to eat and relax in her and her husband’s home.  Not only did the Shunammite woman provide meals and conversation, she also made a room within her household for Elisha’s learning and teaching of God’s eternal principles.  This resulted in the blessing of a son–by her increased faith, the loss of her hopes–in the death of her son, and a victory over death, corruption, and sin–by the resurrection of her son and the re-establishment of her faith-filled legacy.  Her faith became surrender as the Lord’s influence through Elisha invaded her home.  (Pause for Thought:  Why did Elisha appreciate the room the Shunammite woman gave him?  What made the Shunammite’s household different from other Israeli homes of the time?  In what ways was the Shunammite’s household blessed by the presence of God’s prophet)\
 
Israel had stopped hosting the Lord’s servants during Elisha’s time.  Prophets were considered outlaws who had become outdated and unwanted.  As a consequence, the people had become disconnected in their relationship with their Father to the point of killing His ministers and rejecting His decrees (In his pride the wicked does not seek Him; in all his thoughts there is NO ROOM for God–Psalm 10:4)
 
While growing up, my mom and dad would often host missionaries, gospel singers, and preachers and their families as they remained away from home to minister to our church family.  This provided my sister and me an opportunity to have extended or one-on-one conversations with these ministers of the faith resulting in great worship, testimony, and witnessing.  I asked my dad why our family hosted these people so often.  His simple reply has remained in my soul for my entire life—“We sometimes entertain angels without knowing it”.  (Hebrews 13:1-3).  I believe what my father said is true, and I have confirming results.  My marriage is a direct result of my aunt and uncle’s faithful hospitality to my then future wife and mother to my son.  Their generosity connected with my parents’ desire to see their family and family friends come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ as Lord and savior resulting in Renee’s and my engagement to each other.  I’m a blessed man because of a legacy of hospitality and making room for Christ.  (Pause for Thought:  How has hospitality benefited you as a host?  How has it benefited those you’ve hosted?  How has your hospitality blessed others within your family?)
 
Faithful hospitality is what Mary and Joseph displayed when they made room for God’s only Son when He left home.  Like the Shunammite woman, Mary and her family would know first-hand the blessing, loss, and victory when providing room for the Lord.  “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered.  “May it be to me as you have said.”  Then the angel left her.—Luke 1:38  (Pause for Thought:  How will you and your family be demonstrating hospitality around Christmas this year?  What do you want your children to learn and know through your and their hospitality?  How can and will Christ be the influence as you make room for Him?)
 

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The Appeal of Joy

November 15 marks the opening day of firearms deer season in Michigan.  I used to celebrate this day by sitting for endless hours on a 5-gallon bucket while my toes froze or rain dripped from the brim of my hat.  I don’t have the chance to participate in this Michigan tradition any longer.  I miss the venison being in the freezer from my own natural inclinations, and I miss the black-capped chickadees.
 
Chickadees have the God-given ability to turn the most frigid, lifeless morning into a time of praise and worship.  They also have the ability to turn the end of a luckless day into a bright expectation for tomorrow.  The chickadee isn’t colorful.  In fact, its plumage is downright plain.  But what the bird lacks in visual pizazz, it makes up for in its joyful social interaction and song.  Many is the time a chickadee has perched on my knee or hat and looked into my face as if to say, “Isn’t this day great!”  The “chickadee-dee-dee” song of this bird inspires life in a leafless, still, woods.  As I would watch this bird and listen to its joyful notes, I remembered that those whose life of service is filled with joy often have their life’s appeals listened to and answered to their highest-good.  (Pause for Thought:  “Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”—Philippians 4:4-7.  How joyful has been your service to the Lord lately?  How joyful has your attitude been in the parenting of your children?  How joyful is the attitude of your children while they are serving the Lord?  Is it time for an attitude check in your family?)
 
While I don’t have chickadees, anymore, to remind me of my heart condition and attitude, God has given me a family to be a reflection of my very soul, and, at times, inspire and point my soul’s outlook to something much higher than our current circumstances.  (Pause for Thought:  “Children, obey your parents IN THE LORD, for this is right, ‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise—‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth’.  Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction OF THE LORD.”—Ephesians 6:1-4.  Who do you rely on to be a “reflection” of your attitude?  How often do your children approach you with a joyful spirit?  How often do they approach you with a complaining spirit?  Have you instructed them in and about God’s goodness and grace and their responsibilities in loving Him?)
 
If the black-capped chickadee is the opening day cheerleader, the red squirrel is the harbinger of gloom and doom.  I would always try and beat the awakenings of the red squirrels in getting to my deer blind in the morning.  Once I was set and still, the red squirrel’s complaining bark and guttural hiss would indicate the approach of anything moving near me.  It never seemed joyful in regards to another’s presence or its current circumstances.  The last deer I shot on opening day was due to the bitter oversight of a red squirrel in the tree under which I was sitting (sleeping).  If that squirrel were to have been gracious, like a chickadee, I wouldn’t have awoken, and the buck sneaking around me wouldn’t have died.  (Pause for Thought:  “Do not be misled:  ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’  Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.”—I Corinthians 15:33-34.  How does the relationship you have with others influence your joy?  What relationships are affecting the attitude of your children today?)
 

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No Mere Mortals

In the beginning the earth was without form and void and darkness was over the face of the deep. In these dark and ancient times there were no selfies. Yes, once upon a long ago, camera technology had not advanced enough to be able to turn a phone around to take of picture of oneself. Thankfully, we live now in an enlightened age.

 

What are we really doing when we take a selfie? What are we trying to capture? A moment in time? Our essence as an individual? An image we’d like to represent us? For better or worse, our selfies do capture some part of us.

 

Once upon a time when there truly was nothing, the immortal, invisible, and incalculable God of the universe chose to create mankind in His own image; to capture a sliver of His nature in frail, fallible, flesh. In the midst of creating hedgehogs and eagles and platypi (or is it platypuses?) God set about to create a creature that represented some essential elements of His character. In doing so, He made something different, something unique from all the other forms of life.

 

The Hebrew word used to describe humankind being created in the image of God is tselem and is used elsewhere to talk about stone and wooden idols made to represent false gods. While Jesus represents the nature of God fully, in some mysterious and completely undeserved way, we also represent the character of the Lord. Understanding this, author C.S. Lewis wrote: “There are no ordinary people. You have never met a mere mortal.” 

 

This unique status has a litany of implications but perhaps the primary is that we are not mere accidents of biology or simply the most intelligent of animals but rather purposefully designed creations mysteriously molded after the fashion of our Creator. This fact alone should give weight and purpose to our being and a great deal of responsibility as well. In the same passage in which God describes His intention to create humans in His image, He also decrees that they would have dominion over the earth.

 

While we most often think of the word ‘dominion’ in the context of abuse (think domineering) or as an excuse to mishandle the resources given to us, a fuller understanding is one of authority AND responsibility. A king presides over a kingdom but he is also responsible for what goes on within. The Lord has dominion over every aspect of the universe. Similarly, we are to have dominion over the earth. 

 

Our dominion is not limited only to earth’s physical resources (for which we are both entrusted and accountable) but also in creation, innovation, and progress. All humans are the product of an infinitely creative God. We express this imbued creativity when we create are (which author J.R.R. Tolkien called ‘imaginative sub-creation’), express skills, and develop technology which seeks the betterment of the human race.

 

Our status as image-bearers gives our life a divinely defined purpose and authority. We exist not by chance but by design and are entrusted to rule with wisdom over the resources, both physical and spiritual, not for ourselves with selfish intent but for the betterment of all. In doing so, we reflect the creative nature of our most excellent and boundless Creator.


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And Such As We Are

The funny thing about children is that Jesus says that we’re supposed to be like them. When some of his disciples tried to stop some kids from coming to Jesus, He rebukes them saying, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter in at all.” All the disciples were probably trying to do was to keep a little order (anyone who’s been around children can appreciate the effort) and all of a sudden Jesus is threatening them.

 

He tells them that they must receive the kingdom of God like a child. Why?

 

Children are not what they will be. By very definition, children are not adults. They’re works in process. We have an intrinsic understanding of this. We don’t treat children the same way we treat adults (for better or worse). We don’t hold them to the same standards.

 

Children recognize and accept their weaknesses.

 

Children acknowledge and accept their need for help.

 

John, writing from exile, tells his readers, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are.” We are God’s children. If we are children, we need a parent to rely upon. We need to live in a perpetual state of humility, honesty, and dependence. To embrace this identity is to run to Jesus with arms wide without fear or pretension.


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Crisis & Confidence

Crisis can come in many ways. It can come swiftly and terribly as in a sudden death or a financial catastrophe. It can come slowly, a gradual creeping sorrow, depression, or hot tears in the heat of the night. Crisis, too, can be born of our own hands. Past misdeeds and current sins can arise to plague our souls and bring frightful consequences.

 

All of this crisis brings doubt; doubt that causes us to question perhaps even our deepest held beliefs or to doubt how a sinner as wretched as we could ever be saved.

 

Each of us has known or will experience the bitter dregs of doubt. It is one of the tempter’s greatest tools to stifle the Christian’s good works and rob her of her joy.

 

The Lord does not want us, however, to live in a constant state of doubt or consternation about our standing with Him but rather to live confident in our position and identity in Christ.

 

Though we see now only in part the reality of our salvation, we may yet have assurance both in the present and in the age to come. We can stand upon our identity as forgiven children of the Lord.

 

If we have put our faith in Christ and repent of our sins, Scripture tells us that we have peace with God here and now. We have been justified by faith and that none may now condemn us.

 

While we experience some of the effects of our salvation today, we will not fully understand it until we meet Christ in the next age. That does not mean that we cannot live confident in the assurance of our future glory however. “My sheep hear My voice,” Jesus told His disciples, “and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

 

When our thoughts are assailed by shadow and we cannot see the light of day, God’s word for us gives us the confidence to reject our fleeting thoughts and emotions and to instead rest on the truths received from the mouth of God. It may seem forced at times, this rejection, but so does the athlete’s training. On the day of the race though, the discipline proves its worth. When the history of our life is told, our tale will rest upon these moments of tempting and our response. Let it be that we persevere under the crisis and chaos just as the love of God toward us perseveres so that we would hear at our final hour, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”


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People of Joy

There are few exhortations more challenging than Paul’s call in 1 Thessalonians to “rejoice always”. It seems often that we as believers are defined less by our identity as people of joy than we are by our pessimism. If we are honest, many of our decisions are born not out of a joyful spirit but out of fear or the anticipation of despair. Part of this is the result of a mindset that is too world-centered and part of it is the practical ramifications of a 24 hour news cycle and social media. There is always some potential sorrow lurking out in the darkness. Many of our actions are rooted not in godly confidence but in a tempered fear of failure. This temptation away from joy and towards fear is as historical as it is contemporary though. Believers have always struggled to be defined by joy. 

 

The first step towards remedying this is realizing that joy is not the same thing as happiness. A day in which everything goes our way at work, our spouse greets us at the door, the children behave, and the sun sets in a glorious display may bring us happiness but it is shallow compared to the joyful confidence found in Christ.

 

Secondly, joy is not defined by the absence of sorrow. Joy is the exercise of faith and the rejection of despair. Sorrows and adversities are the refining fire by which our faith is tested. It is in these moments that joy is most required.

 

As believers, we can have joy independent of troublesome circumstances for we know that the Lord is powerful, sovereign, and good. In His power we know that he is capable of accomplishing that which He sets His mind to. In His sovereignty, we learn that His dominion is over all things. There is no corner of the universe where God’s will is absent. The knowledge of the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness teaches us the He loves His children and seeks their good in all circumstances. These attributes allow the believer to rise above the sorrows and affairs of the day and rest securely in trust in the Lord. 

 

A.W. Tozer writes that, “Christianity at any given time is strong or weak depending upon her concept of God.” When our understanding of the Lord is lacking or we place preconceived limitations on God’s ability to have victory over difficulties we can find no joy. A god who is small cannot be trusted to conquer over the trials of the day let alone the forces of evil. We cannot find joy in a small god. We can only realize our identity as people of joy when we are able to trust that the Lord has the power and will to bring us through trouble. 


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Follow Christ Together

Follow Christ Together

 

There is going to be a day (or many days) when you are going to ask yourself why you even bother to be part of a church at all. It’s going to happen. No matter how mature the community of believers or how orthodox the theology, there are going to be moments when you’re just want to run off and head for a solitary cabin in the woods. It’s inevitable. It’s inevitable because every single person in your church is just like you, flawed, imperfect, and often unintentionally hurtful.

So even with all of our eccentricities and failings, why keep at it? Why continue to follow Christ together instead of on our own?

 

We were designed to GATHER together in community.

The short and definitive answer is that we were designed by God to meet together and experience Christ together. Based on their understanding of corporate worship and communal spiritual life in the nation of Israel, the earliest believers implicitly understood that gathering together was critical to their realized faith in Christ. So to it is for us.

In fact, the writers of the New Testament seemed to take involvement with a larger group of believers as a given and spent little time exhorting believers to be part of a church. What they do spend a considerable amount of ink on, is encouraging believers to live together in unity. The church is the first place that we demonstrate our love for each other. It is not enough to love in theory. The church is where we are able to love in practice and deed. The church is that opportunity.

 

We GROW best in the context of community.

Beyond being an outlet for the love we have been given in Christ, the church is our opportunity to be encouraged and encourage others to follow Christ more closely. Through experiences such as worship, preaching, discussions, and prayer (among many) we grow and are stirred towards obedience by the words AND witness of fellow believers. The church is not simply a location for believers of Jesus to congregate but rather an entity in which the Spirit of God ministers to the individual and the corporate.

 

We are sent to GO out in mission from a place of community.

In addition, the church serves as a jumping off point for ministry and missions; a place for believers to be equipped for ministry as we fulfill our individual and corporate command to go into the world and make disciples.

We follow Christ together because it is the way we were made. We follow Christ together because it is how we best grow. We follow Christ together because in doing so, we honor Christ by loving each other.


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Love All People

Can we be honest for a moment?

 

Sometimes we have a people problem.

 

Oh, we like people— sometimes, but we like them on our terms. At our most cynical we tolerate people for what they can do for us. Even at its most benign, our concern for others can be a tainted mixture of motivations. Our hesitation is not without cause though.

 

We live in a world in which war, terrorism, injustice, politics, and crime are inescapable. Even those we choose to love grieve us with offenses both trivial and heinous. If we love, it is a guarded love and in spite of ourselves.

 

The problem, for Christ-followers (and it is a big problem) is that Jesus, on multiple occasions explicitly ties together loving God and loving our neighbor. When asked about the greatest commandment He naturally answers, Love the Lord, but then problematically adds on “love your neighbor as yourself.”

 

Often, quite often, in fact, we operate as if our faith in Christ is independent of other people. Sometimes it is easier to love the Lord than it is other people. We know the trustworthy character of the Lord but people— well, we know the track record they have going, and it’s not good.

 

For those who choose to follow after Christ though, the command to love others is inescapable. We aim to love not only those who deserve it but all we encounter. In loving our neighbors regardless of what they have or haven’t done, we model the way Christ loved us. He did not choose us when we were holy people with our lives perfectly arranged (we’re not even those people yet) but loved us while we were hopeless, wretched, and lost.

 

So we make it our aim to love through action our neighbors— strangers and brothers alike, always acknowledging that it may be difficult, painful, and messy but also keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus who, quite inexplicably, loved us first.


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Love God

We love to say that we love things; lots of things: TV shows, sports teams, and of course, people. We’re naturals when it comes to loving things. Granted, the depth of our love varies. We don’t love pizza the same way we love our spouse (or at least would never say so). At its core, what we call love is a sort of a transaction: emotion and intent manifested through action. We love our spouses so therefor we choose to spend time with them and make sacrifices for them. Yet as quick as we are to say that we love things, we also know the fragility of these loves. Sports teams lose. TV shows drop in quality (usually around the fifth season). Even relationships, in which we have invested so much, can cause us incredible pain.

 

We are, it would seem, created to love. The question then, becomes what we love.

Jesus was once asked which the greatest command that God ever gave was. Without hesitation, Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” This phrase, known to the Jews as the V’ahavta, part of their statement of faith, Jesus says is the very foundation of most of the Ten Commandments. It underpinned all other acts of obedience.

 

Jesus tells us who our love is meant for. We were created to love God; not in the way we ‘love’ an activity or a movie franchise, but with every facet of our being. Jesus tells us to love the Lord in a way in which we are willing to sacrifice everything about ourselves (our thoughts, our time, our money, and even our lives) to demonstrate our affection. To those who first followed Jesus, this means sacrificing homes, families, livelihoods, and ultimately their lives. What are we willing to sacrifice? Better still, our love finds its ultimate fulfillment in the Lord. When we love the Lord we are using love for its intended purpose. Unlike all the other things that we ‘love’, the Lord— and only the Lord will never fail or forsake us.

 

Our aim here at YFM is to be a community that lives out that first, greatest commandment in all that we do and all that we are both individually and corporately.


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