Thursday, May 29, 2014


“Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.”
Hebrews 12:15, NLT

Our backyard garden was in definite need of attention a few weeks ago, and I was amped to go pull weeds. Easy enough, right? As I sunk my hands deep into the earth, I could smell the scents that Spring brings, the warm sunshine all around, and the blessing of being able to dig deep into the dirt of a garden we haven’t been able to touch in a few seasons. What I had envisioned being a very routine task had suddenly transformed into a very visceral, Spirit-led experience. As I reached over to pull what seemed to be a standard, run-of-the-garden weed, I realized that particular one was going to take both hands and some oomph, and when that didn’t quite work, even more oomph…until I found myself on my behind in the middle of the garden, scalped weed-top in one hand, remainder of the weed firmly rooted in the soil, laughing at my inability to uproot what looked like a harmless weed. Thoughts like, “This is going to be a lot harder than I initially anticipated. This is going to take a lot longer than I thought. I can’t do this on my own,” ran through my mind.

It occurred to me I needed to pull out the big gun…the 16-inch spade. That weed had met its match and I was determined to uproot it and all of the others. As I dug down deeper and deeper, what looked to be just some run-of-the-garden weeds had roots that were anything but. Those deeply rooted weeds, if left unattended would suck every bit of goodness out of what is supposed to be fertile soil, and completely uprooting each of them was going to require patience, care, and a lot of time.

In those moments the Spirit moved…how these deeply rooted weeds in our backyard garden symbolized the deeply rooted weeds in my very own heart—stubborn, winding, gripping, and honestly, just plain disgusting. Personally, those deeply rooted weeds often come in the forms of unfounded fear, unnecessary worry, or pointless anxiety. For others, roots may grow deeply in the forms of idolatry, hostility, jealousy, selfish ambition, dissension, envy….
It wasn’t until I dug out that stubborn weed from tip to top in the middle of our backyard garden that I felt the sheer Joy of fully uprooting something so life-sucking from what is meant to be fertile, life-giving soil. I—and I’m not exaggerating—was geeked about it! I could not have imagined how Spiritually cathartic uprooting that particular weed was going to feel. Then, the stirring of the Spirit again…so simply, yet very profoundly, “This is how God feels when He uproots each deceptive weed from the garden of your heart that is rightfully His.” Boom. God is stoked to be our Holy Gardener!

Satisfaction amplified with each weed I fully uprooted, so much so that I found myself standing in the middle of the dirt, holding the uprooted ugliness and proclaiming out loud, “Wow! Look at that!” Can you even begin to imagine the Supernatural Joy our God relishes in each time we give Him permission to uproot a gnarly, bitter root from the garden of our hearts?!

Are we willing to invite Him into what can often be nothing but a surly weed patch, full of seemingly dainty weeds growing right alongside those stubborn, prickly, deeply rooted, better-just-left-alone or easier-to-ignore weeds? Are we willing to submit our hearts to the Holy weeding that is often a difficult, painstaking, how-long-will-this-take process?

Those bitter roots have no place in the garden of our hearts. They are smothering and encumber—sometimes altogether block—the Holy Spirit from springing up, breaking through, and producing sanctified fruit in each of us. It’s time to dig up, pull up, rip up, and fully uproot all of the gnarly weeds. Are thoughts like, “This is going to be a lot harder than I initially anticipated. This is going to take a lot longer than I thought. I can’t do this on my own,” running through your mind? Go ahead, grab your big garden spade and make an appointment with the Holy Gardener. He’s ready to turn over some new soil.  

-Alyson Glaze.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Beauty of Scars

Last year I met a beautiful little girl while serving on a mission team in the Dominican Republic.  I wish I could remember her name, but I’ll never forget her face…or her story.  She was born with a physical deformity which made walking practically impossible.  This precious child was the target of mockery, ridicule and shame in her culture.  Her future was dark, bleak and without hope…until she came to CURE International.  CURE operates a children’s orthopedic hospital in Santo Domingo through which they serve little ones from impoverished families.  Through extensive surgery this little girl was able to walk and given a future full of new possibilities.  The ability to walk brings joy and smiles to her and her family; however one thing remains that she attempts to hide.  She has a long and prominent scar running from her hip down the length of her thigh.  She thinks her scar is ugly….and I wondered if she felt ugly because of her scar.  And so through a translator I attempted to tell her the beauty of scars…and how she is precious and beautiful.

Scars tell stories.  The scars on my legs from four knee surgeries tell the stories of years’ past passions of playing football.  I carry more than just visible physical scars; I also carry invisible emotional scars that also tell stories….stories of past mistakes, regrets and damage done by poor decisions.  These scars – both visible and invisible – are part of a narrative of my life.  And I often wish they didn’t exist.
Whenever I find myself wishing my scars away I remember Jesus bore scars in his resurrected body.  It was through his scars by which his disciples believed in his resurrection.  When Jesus first appeared to his disciples in a resurrected body, “he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side.”  When the disciples saw these wounds, “…they were filled with joy when they saw the Lord!”  (John 20.20)
Jesus’ scars tell the story of a cruel and violent crucifixion.  They tell the story of the ugliness of humanity unknowingly crucifying the man who came to save them.  And they tell the far greater story of God’s audacious and sacrificial love for humanity.  The beauty of Jesus’ scars is the very evidence of God loving the world so much that he gave his one and only Son to suffer for our sins and pay the price we could not pay.
Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.  (Isaiah 53.4-5)
Truth is we’re all broken.  There is our unique brokenness in the physical sense that sometimes requires surgery.  There is also a universal spiritual brokenness that always requires surgery of the soul.
Scars not only tell the story of past wounds; scars tell the story of healing.  For if there were no scar, there would be no healing.  A scar only appears in the wake of healing.  A wound once bore open has closed.  Healing has taken place…and left its mark as a scar.
A beautiful little girl in the Dominican Republic bears a scar that tells a story.  She once could not walk; now she can run.  She was once the object of ridicule; now she is honored in her community.  There is beauty in the scar.
The scars of Jesus tell a story…a story of amazing grace.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see. 
(John Newton)
-Kevin Baker

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Would You Dare?

If God asked you to help write a portion of the Bible, how would you identify yourself as the author?   

James identifies himself as, “a servant of God.”

Paul says he is, “an apostle of Christ Jesus.” 

But John is unique.  His author’s signature is intimate, vulnerable and confident.  He assigns himself the title, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  

During the Critical Conversation series I felt the Holy Spirit speaking to my heart…would you dare Liz?  Would you introduce yourself as the “daughter whom Jesus loves?”

Why was this a hard question for me?  My head knew the truth that Jesus loves me, but to claim the title “daughter whom Jesus loves” would mean my heart would have to agree!  For days I wrestled.  God raised my eyes from my failures and shortcomings to Jesus.  His voice of truth rang clearly …

He loves me just as I am.
His love for me unconditional.
My identity rests in what He calls me.
My sins are forgiven. 

And so I sign off as Liz, the daughter whom Jesus loves.
-Liz Barnett

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Goodbye, Again...

Imagine for a moment your closest friend has moved to the other side of the globe. For months, you’ve deeply missed that person. You try everything you can to stay connected but, it’s just not the same.  Staying connected is so hard and expensive that as time passes, you connect less often.  Then one day your phone rings and it’s your friend saying, “Hey bud, I’m in town! I’d love to have dinner with you. I have so much to share.” You’re thrilled to see your friend again and cannot wait for that dinner, but deep down you dread the moment when you’ll have to say “goodbye” again.

Just for fun, let’s change this story a bit. Let’s say instead of your friend moving away, your friend gets brutally murdered. That adds a whole new level of pain to the story, doesn’t it? But even more surprisingly, you still get an unexpected call from your friend.  “Hey bud, I’m back. Let’s have dinner. I have so much to share with you.”  Of course you’re freaked out as dead people rarely come back to life and call you, but you’re ecstatic about the chance to be miraculously reunited.  Your mind swirls with the possibilities of getting another chance for friendship after it had been so ruthlessly taken away.  But after a wonderful dinner, your friend leaves. This time by his choice and not the evil choice of others. 

Often when I read Scripture, I try to put myself in the sandals of the characters in the story.  Today, let yourself enter the story of Acts 1 from the vantage point of one of the disciples. Feel free to ask, “What did that feel like? How would I have experienced all of this?” For 40 days, the resurrected Jesus spent time with his disciples. They were thrilled to have him back. I’m betting there were some pretty wild conversations among the disciples about what the possibilities were now that Jesus had proven that death was not a problem for him. 

Then Jesus surprises his friends by leaving them again. I think this was a surprise to them because of what the disciples ask Jesus just before he ascends into heaven: “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”  It sounds to me that they are still looking for relief from Roman oppression.  So Jesus answers them in a unique way. He says (my paraphrase), “My Father knows when all that will happen but he’s not telling you. Instead, you’re going to receive tremendous power. This power will come from the Holy Spirit. And when you receive this, you will tell the whole world, near and far, about me.” At that moment he leaves them—shocked and stunned—once again.

I wonder if any one of them remembered what Jesus said the night he was betrayed. I like how Eugene Petersen translates this passage in The Message:

“If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you. I will talk to the Father, and he’ll provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you. This Friend is the Spirit of Truth. The godless world can’t take him in because it doesn’t have eyes to see him, doesn’t know what to look for. But you know him already because he has been staying with you, and will even be in you! I will not leave you orphaned. I’m coming back. In just a little while the world will no longer see me, but you’re going to see me because I am alive and you’re about to come alive.” John 14.16-20 (Message)

Ten days after the Ascension, everything would change. The disciples’ confusion would shift to crystal clarity. Their grief would be transformed to joy. Their stagnation would move to passionate, missional activity.  Jesus had left. The Spirit had arrived. The God who was near became the God who was within.  The Ascension triggered the biggest movement the world had ever seen.
-Phil Niekerk

Thursday, May 1, 2014

What's It To Ya?

During the 40 days after the resurrection, Jesus made many appearances to various people in a host of different places. He continued to prove Himself through the words of the prophets, encourage the faint-hearted and instruct His disciples.
While reading through all of this activity, the Holy Spirit drew my heart to nine words at the end of John: “…what is that to you? You must follow me.” (Jn 21:22) Jesus had just had the infamous Q&A session with Peter: “Do you love me?”, “Yes”, “Then feed my sheep”. This is followed by a foreshadowing as to how Peter would eventually die. Peter then looked around, saw John, and questioned the Savior’s plans for him. Jesus’ reply (in today’s jargon) was blunt. “What’s it to ya?”
So easily, our eyes stray and become distracted by someone else’s story. When we lose our focus, we often begin to play the comparison game. We question the roles that we have been given and if not careful, seeds of jealousy, inferiority, complaint, etc. begin to take root.

Comparison is a poison that will stunt or even destroy growth in the life of a Jesus Follower. It is the exact opposite of contentment and resting. Jesus taught that one cannot serve both God and money because of the way the spiritual heart is created. Equally as true is the fact that no one can be caught in comparison and be contented at the same time. It simply does not work.
Jesus continues His chat with Peter: “…what is that to you? You must follow me.” He immediately puts blinders onto Peter’s wandering eyes and refocuses them on his own story. Do not worry about anyone else, Peter. You must follow me. Had Peter allowed himself to continue down the path of comparison, he never would have become the leader of what would come to be known as the church.  Had a seed of complaint or disdain taken root, perhaps Peter would have returned to the life of a solitary fisherman…having completely missed out on a life of serving the Messiah.

This same instruction is for us, just as much as it was for Peter. Do you find yourself wishing you could be the keynote speaker for once? You must follow me. Does your heart get that twinge of jealousy when others head overseas on a missions trip while you stay home? You must follow me.
Perhaps it’s time to pull out those blinders, fix them on your heart and refocus your sights. Maybe you will never be asked to speak to a large group. But what about your Great Uncle Joe who is waiting for someone, anyone, to stop in for an unrushed, quiet chat in room 207?  You must follow me. No missions trip is on your horizon, but what about that little boy next door whose dad is no longer in the picture? I’ll bet he’d love to toss the baseball around!  You must follow me.

Open your eyes, focus your sights and be amazed at the story that God is weaving in and through you!
Sarah Bennor