Monday, December 21, 2015

The Gift Nobody Wants

“We cannot learn without pain.”  Aristotle

Imagine a life without pain.  At first thought it sounds like a wonderful gift that I would love to receive.  But consider Gabby Gingras.  At a few days old Gabby slept through the prick of a blood test.  And in the mornings, she would be in her crib, but freezing cold to the touch.  What her parents later discovered was that Gabby didn’t flinch at the pain of a needle or respond to being so cold because she couldn’t feel it.  Gabby suffers from an extremely rare disorder called congenital insensitivity to pain.  For unknown reasons, the connection between the nerves that sense pain and the brain’s recognition of pain is missing.  When Gabby started cutting teeth she would bite down through the skin and would have bit to the bone had her mother not intervened.  Gabby’s parents made the decision to have her teeth pulled because she was mutilating her fingers.  Learning to walk made Gabby more vulnerable.  At age 2, Gabby broke her jaw and didn’t know it until infection caused a fever.  Her eyes were especially at risk.  As an infant and toddler she would put her fingers in her eyes and feel no discomfort.  Her desperate parents tried restraints then goggles.  But by the time Gabby was 4, she needed to have her left eye removed.  Her right eye was also damaged, and she wears a lens over it to help her see better.  The Gingras family knows that Gabby’s challenges will last a lifetime.  “Pain teaches,” said her mother, Trish Gingras.  “Pain protects.  Pain can save you from a lot of bad things in life.”  (The Girl Who Can’t Feel Pain,

Several years ago I was embarking on a season of life that would prove to be the most painful section of my personal journey thus far.  It was not a season of physical pain.  The painful journey I was on brought deep and intense emotional and spiritual pain.  Over the course of this part of my life I desperately wanted everything in my life to be “normal” again.  I often felt lonely, discouraged and depressed. 

 I was in a pit of despair and I frequently cried out to God to get me through another day.

I am incredibly thankful and humbled to report that God delivered me out of that pit.  While I can say it was by my own doing that put me in the pit, I must clearly state it was the hand of God that pulled me out.  Those years of struggle have had a profound impact on who I am today.  The crucible of pain shaped and formed my current understanding of God’s mercy, forgiveness, restoration and love.  While I dare say that my relationship with God has grown deeper and richer as a result, I would not desire to go through such pain again.  How I wish I could learn such lessons about God and grow dramatically in character in a more comfortable and pain free environment!

During those years of struggle God blessed me for a short time with a relationship with a man who was as close to a mentor as I’ve ever had.  Terry knew pain and struggle in his own life as well and spoke from experience.  In the midst of my dark journey Terry would often remind me, “In God’s economy nothing is wasted.”  I came to understand that pain, when given to God, can be used to forge something beautiful.

In a season of gift giving I am reminded that pain is really a gift no one wants, but one we really can’t do without.

~ Kevin Baker

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Prayer Requests

It's a regular occurrence in most small group/bible studies:  Prayer requests. One by one, each give their requests and the group commits to praying for them.

But I often can't help but wonder how many of these requests are forgotten about over the course of a week and never prayed for.  It's a very easy question to ask when I, myself, often did that very thing. There was a time when I would toss my journal back into my bag, head out the door, and never take it out again. Sometimes I would, but often not.  And to make it worse, the times that I did pray I would start out with Dear God, but somehow manage to end with thinking about what I needed to pick-up at Target.  Or even worse yet, I would begin praying and then realize that my prayer was quite lackluster.  I mean, honestly, I knew this person would just have the same prayer request next week! 

Now I knew, thankfully, that this wasn’t how prayer is supposed to be.  Prayer isn’t a laundry list of items to check off your to-do list.  These prayer requests (including my own) often contain the deepest and most intimate parts of our lives.  So why was this area so difficult for me?  Why did I not possess the discipline to pray for others, and even when I did, the words bordered on feeling rote and routine?

I was having coffee with a friend some time ago and she mentioned that her prayer life was feeling a bit jaded as well.  She was frustrated because she prays and prays for things or outcomes and they just never seemed to happen.  I nodded my head in understanding because I too have spoken some prayers that were tainted with unbelief and doubt.  During these prayers I’d be secretly thinking, “well, God, here I am again, asking you that thing again and it hasn't happened--again--so I'll just ask because it's the right thing to do."

I know that this isn't how God works, and I tell my children that God isn’t a genie in a bottle, but I think it's safe to admit that I am victim to that way of thinking sometimes. I mean, if God is never going to say yes, why should I even ask?!

About a year ago, in lieu of all this, I made a commitment to revitalize my prayer life.  I started with thinking of times when I did feel that my prayers were passionate, raw, intimate, and real.  As I reflected on it, I found that there were actually a few things about these prayers that really stood out:

1.       I was less focused on what/who I was praying for and more focused on who I was praying to.  I was presenting my requests to God, yes, but in a way where my very soul was crying out in faith that God was able to do anything.

2.       I was inviting (or begging) the Holy Spirit to intercede because my emotions were too muddled or I was too tired to formulate thoughts. 

3.       Sometimes, when I found words weren’t coming or I was overcome with emotion, I would close my eyes and actually visualize myself with Jesus.  I would imagine him placing his hand on my head and praying for me.  I would envision him listening to me cry and rant.  I imagined how he might respond to me, how he might look at me.  I imagined myself at the foot of the cross, crying as I laid some tough stuff there.
When I take my prayer journal out now and read the names of those I’ve committed to praying for, I try and first recall how he parted the sea, healed the blind man, or rained manna from Heaven.  And as I close my eyes, I envision taking my brother or sister’s hand and leading them to a meeting with Jesus, where we talk to him about what is going on and how that person is feeling.

 I have discovered that not only has this refreshed my prayer life, but it's kinda fun too!

In Christ,
~ Kristin Vanzanten

Monday, December 7, 2015

Rutledge Road Prayer

I am the oldest child in a family of 8 kids. I am a fourth-generation pastor. Growing up as a pastor’s kid was not what I would call a life of opulence. We never went hungry and we always had a place to call home, but God taught me early in life that it was good to trust him for our needs and our wants.

I remember specifically one week having very little groceries and my parents trying to piece meals together to make it to the next payday. Before my dad left for work one of those days he gathered us together and asked us to pray to God to provide money for groceries. We prayed. The next day my sister went to the mailbox and there was a check from a lady in a church where my dad used to be pastor. We went to Aldi and loaded up the back of the van with groceries. There was a sense of happiness as we drove home. We thanked God for answering our prayers. 

When I was 9 years old we lived in a home in town on a busy street. It was not a bad part of town, but there wasn’t much room to run around and explore. I wanted to live in the country where my brothers and I could shoot our BB Guns and where my Beagle dog, Yoder, could run and live without being hooked to a chain.

My dad would often take me along with him for coffee at McDonalds. Dad would make those McDonalds trips times for meaningful conversations. I remember a specific time telling him that I would love to have a place in the country. He told me if I wanted a place in the country that I should talk to the Lord about it and if the Lord wanted us to live in the country that he would provide a way for that to happen.

My brother and I prayed every night laying in our bunk beds before falling asleep. We started praying for a place to live in the country. The next week, my mom found a listing in the paper for a home big enough for us, at the right price and it was in the country. The home was on a farm in a valley surrounded by the Kokosing River and corn fields on one side and a high ridge on the other. It was on a dead-end road that ended in our driveway. We rented that house for four wonderful years. We spent hours playing in the barns and corn cribs on the property, riding our bikes up and down the road, hiking the woods that led to the river, running with our dog, shooting our bb guns and exploring the creek that flowed into the river.

I will never forget that place and I will never forget that it was a direct answer to my prayer as a 9 year old boy.  

~ Kyle Pierpont

Monday, November 23, 2015

Live Now

I just recently got back from a missions trip in the Dominican Republic where we had the opportunity to serve in Cure Hospital that specializes in clubfoot treatments.  Our team of seven had the opportunity to visit and pray for patients and staff in the hospital, visit one of the patients in their home, play with about 45 kids at a local church school, and visit an orphanage.  It was an amazing week that I had eagerly anticipated for months.

Prior to the trip I had asked God to reveal to me how to embrace each moment, how to hold any expectations I had for the trip loosely and to be ready for what He had planned for me.  Leading up to the trip, I had heard this phrase and I took it with me as I prepared myself for each interaction I would have with others I would come into contact with.  I look at God, I look at you, and I keep looking at God.  (Julian of Norwich)

Each morning, I would remind myself to live each moment with that concept, and see God within each encounter I had with others.  I wouldn’t say that I did it perfectly, and there were times I held back out of fear or reservation due to the language barrier or my insecurities.  But the times I let go of my own fear and lived through God’s eyes, it was beautiful. 

And God showed me so much, whether when I was talking to mothers of children in the waiting room, or going with my team floor to floor in the hospital seeking out every individual we could find whether staff or patients and spending a few individual moments praying for them, picking up a crying orphan who melted in my arms content, praying for a strong woman of faith who needed someone at that moment to pour into her, or at the end of the week raising my hands in thanks looking up towards God thanking him for the week. 

When we live out our lives with eyes that are ready to see God in each encounter of each person we find before us, and with each opportunity that comes our way, we come alive and truly live.  This doesn’t mean we won’t come across difficult times, or difficult conversations, but it does mean that we will be living life seeing what God desires us to see within each individual moment.

My hope is that although I had such an amazing week on a mission’s trip, that it will not be the end of this experience, but that I will live out what I learned while down there, and that I will live.

In the end it won’t matter if you have a few scars, but it will matter if you didn’t LIVE
Rich Mullins

Lord, let me live now.
Not in the oughts to have done then
Nor the ifs of what is to come when.
No, Lord, let me live now.

God, may I BE now.
Not in the regrets of my history
Nor the fears of what is to be.
No, God may I BE now.

Father, let me live now.
Not in painful memories
Nor in dreamed up hypotheses.
Father, let me live now.

~ Sue Parrott

Monday, November 9, 2015


I was outside a couple weeks ago, cutting my plants back for the winter when a single biting fly started circling.  If I crouched I was fine, but the moment I stood up, that fly began to land on and bite my legs.  No matter how much I swatted that thing and danced around, it would NOT leave me alone.  I finally got so irritated that I put my stuff away and went inside.

A week later, I woke up early (amazingly, before everyone else in the house) with a concern that I have been wrestling with for months. I grabbed my Bible and sat down on the couch.  Once again, I brought this nagging issue to the Lord and said, “Father, I still don’t know what to do about this.  What should I do? What can I do? Please help me.” I opened the Word to where I had left off and this is what I read in the first verse of Luke 18. “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and never give up.”

“Ummm… OK, I heard you loud and clear, Lord!” There is nothing I am to do but continue to pray.  I reread that verse several times and then the parable that followed.  Jesus tells about a widow who goes before a self-centered, uncompassionate judge with a request. But this gal doesn’t just approach “his Honor” once or twice.  No, this was a case of a desperate woman in need of someone who would hear her plea and help.  I imagine her scurrying to be the first one in line every day to see the judge.  Perhaps she called out to him while waiting her turn.  Her desire for justice probably kept her up at night or woke her from sleep.

            Whatever the case, her persistence paid off.  The judge, not because of his goodness or concern, but because of his irritation with her, granted her request.

Jesus finishes this tale with a couple of thinkers for the disciples.  He asks: If this unjust judge finally listens and grants help to eliminate his irritant, how much more will a loving God listen and care for His chosen people?  Won’t he intently give ear to those who “cry out to him day and night”? We are told repeatedly throughout Scripture to pray without ceasing, to go before the throne with boldness, to pray and not give up, to seek, to ask, to come.

To the judge, the woman was like that biting fly…irritating enough to cause action.  Unlike that calloused judge, our Father wants us to be persistent.  He tells us to continue asking and pleading.  This reminder was a cup of cold water to me.  It was the refreshment and encouragement I needed to be faithful in prayer for those people and cares that seem to be on the long-term list.  He sees, He hears and He cares.  This I know.

                                    “always pray and never give up” 

~ Sarah Bennor      

Monday, October 26, 2015

A Boat Out of Water

Have you ever wondered why it is so hard to make wise choices sometimes? I don’t know if you’ve ever found yourself in this situation, but I know on plenty of occasions I have wanted to head in one direction, but instead, for some reason, I headed in a completely separate direction. Let’s take McDonald’s for instance. For the past year and a half, I have been trying to crack down on how much I eat fast food, but then comes along “All Day Breakfast” at McDonalds! Are you kidding me? You mean to say that I can get those tasty, one-dollar sausage burritos ALL DAY? As I drive past those golden arches, it seems like it would be almost fiscally irresponsible not to stop in. I mean, it’s only a dollar! I think you can see the struggle.

            I think one of the reasons that it is so hard to make wise choices is because we hear voices. I know that sounds crazy, but we often find ourselves in situations where we hear voices trying to pull us one way or the other. Have you ever seen a TV show or movie where the main character is in a bind and a little angel appears on one shoulder, and a little devil appears on the other shoulder…the angel and devil, both trying to convince the person to make the good or bad decision? It’s like that a lot of times. We hear voices or see influences that try to pull us in one direction or the other.

            One example of these voices came to me when I was at an auction with a couple of my buddies. We were just browsing, hoping maybe to pick up some cheap tools, but instead, we ran across this beat-up old fishing boat. It seemed to be in decent condition, but it certainly wasn’t fancy at all. As we were looking at this boat, one of my buddies leaned over to me and said, “You should bid on it.” Being the wise and financially prudent person that I am…I said, “OK!,” and I threw in the starting bid for this boat, and we were off. A gentleman and I got into a little bidding war, and before I knew it, I was bidding with money I really couldn’t afford to spend, for a dumpy boat that I had absolutely no need or desire for. I may have forgot to mention that the boat was sitting on a trailer, but the trailer was not part of the auction, so if I won, we would have to find a way to tie the boat to my friends truck to get it home, and then we’d be stuck with this boat that nobody needed. Lucky for me, I was outbid, and I decided to bow out of the bidding war. But I wouldn’t have been in that situation at all if I hadn’t listened to a little voice pulling me in a direction. 

     In our culture, there are so many voices pulling us in so many different directions, that it can be hard to know which one to listen to, and which is the wise path to take. But luckily we have a little help. The Psalmist says in Psalm 119, “Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.” (Ps. 119:105 NASB) The word of God has been given to us to help us in those times when we’re not sure where to go. We just need to lean into God’s word, and trust in Him to guide us. He will illuminate our path, and help us find our way so we don’t find ourselves like a boat out of water.

~Jake Houf 

Monday, October 19, 2015


Let’s just jump right in. This life, OUR EARTHLY LIFE, is temporary.  Ignoring this fact does not make it any less true.  I feel that we often acknowledge that this truth obviously exists, but do we really process it and expect it?  I don’t feel that most of us do. 

What’s good about this?  Right now you’re probably thanking me for a nice, pick-me up in your day, but seriously, just hear me out. 

Our pain in this life is temporary.

Our struggle in this life is temporary.

Our exhaustion in this life is temporary.

Our fragmented joy in this life is temporary.

The flawed beauty of this life is temporary.

This life we lead apart from God will not be the only reality we ever know.  One way or another, we will be face-to-face with the glory of the Creator. 

Maybe we have trouble with concept of death because deep down our souls were not made for a temporary existence.  I really feel that we can’t imagine “not being” because we have an eternal component of who we are that was based in the one, true, eternal God, the God whose image we are made in.  So if we have this eternal soul, why am I making such a big deal about grasping the temporary?

It is important to recognize the importance of the temporary.  The temporary is where we determine our eternity.  This life we know that is ever moving toward our death (I know, another ray of sunshine) is the only chance we get to know what a relationship with a self-sacrificing Savior is and accept this gift to experience the grace and safety in that love.  This life is the only chance you have to impact those you love for Christ.  You have an opportunity to choose NOW.  You have an opportunity to impact NOW. Tomorrow is not guaranteed.

I think it is also important to recognize that this life will end because at times, it is just simply painful and draining.   When we feel exhausted, it is good to remember that no matter the depth of the pain or the seemingly ceaseless struggle, it will end.  Christ has already won and he will triumph again!  If you put your faith in Jesus, there will be a day where you struggle no more, grieve no more, fail no more. (Alright, now that really is some joy in your day!)

I believe that knowing that this life is temporary is energizing and comforting.  Not only is there an end, but a perfect end.  With Christ’s strength, I can run this race all out because it won’t be forever.  I can eventually accept the pain I feel for missing someone I can’t hold right now, because I know that because of their acceptance of grace, they are in perfect peace and joy, and I will be with them again. 

Paul writes in Romans 8:18, I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us.” As wonderful as this life may be, I am inconceivably grateful that it is temporary.

~ Ashley VanDam