Author: Linda Huffman

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them. – Romans 12: 4-6

When I was little I fell off a skateboard and broke my left arm. My arm was in a cast ALL sweaty summer. The cast was removed 10 days before school started and the doctor told my mom to make sure I started bending my left arm and using it as much as I could to strengthen the muscles that hadn’t been used for eight weeks. But I was afraid to use it so I used my right arm for everything, and even my feet if I had to. I wouldn’t use my “broken” arm because it was hard work to get my arm to straighten out again. My mom reminded me if I didn’t use it, it would stay weak and be useless.

That’s how it is in the body of Christ as well. Some of us are hard workers and love doing all sorts of things to serve around the church. My ‘go to’ saying used to be “I’ll do it if nobody else will.” So I ended up doing way more than God called me to, and became exhausted. A more mature woman came alongside me and said something that changed me. She said, “Doing things because no one else will do it is not the Gospel. God has given each of us things to do to make the body function in a healthy way. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean God is calling you to do it at this point in time. There are specific things he wants you to do right now, and he wants you to say no to the other things so other members of the body can practice using their gifts, so they can build up their spiritual muscles. Maybe right now your job is to ask someone who has never done that before to do it, and encourage them as they do. If you do whatever no one else will do, you will not be able to do what God called you to do to the best of your ability.”

That bit of wisdom has changed the way I serve and my ability to say “no,” as well as the way I encourage and challenge others to serve. In the Gospel, we want to help every member of the body to build spiritual muscles of service by using their gifts in the places God calls them to serve. Whether that means making coffee, serving in the nursery, playing the drums, or walking with someone who is hurting, everyone is needed for the body to be the body. The little things matter to the body as much as the big things, and both are missed when they aren’t there.

So, what spiritual muscles is God calling you to use right now? Start out small, but use them so the body doesn’t have to limp along.

When we talk about giving, we often use the time-talent-treasure picture. Scripture talks about us serving by giving of our time to further the Gospel. It speaks about our talents and using our spiritual gifts and natural talents for the glory of God. Scripture talks much about our treasure, which includes our earthly possessions and our money, and we are challenged to use those for God’s glory too. Our use of each of these three aspects tells us a lot about what our hearts are set on and what we consider important.

As members of a local body of Christ, if you look around you, it is pretty clear that all three of these are important and necessary in order for the Gospel to be lived out in the church and taken to the community and the world. My heart, in the midst of our focus on giving, is for us to see that God desires us to “give” in all 3 areas. Just writing a check does not fulfill God’s call to us. But it is a very important part of what God calls us to do.

Psalm 50:10 (NLT) says, “God owns the cattle on a thousand hills.” He doesn’t “need” our money, but he asks us to give it to the local church, and to give it joyfully, cheerfully, and sacrificially. I grew up Catholic and my parents were told how much they needed to give weekly. But the church I attended when I first surrendered my life to Jesus said to pray and give. Writing those first checks was a hard thing to do. I already had use for that money; but as I have grown in love for Jesus, for his people, and for the church, it has become easier to do. Like most of you, I love stuff, and God continually reminds me, it’s only stuff, and it will all perish. What I give to God for Kingdom work will have eternal value. So I have asked God to lessen my love for earthly possessions and to increase my love for him and for eternal things. As He does that in my heart, giving becomes more joyful. I realize all the things I thought I needed were often getting in the way of my need for God and my desire to know him. When I was satisfied with stuff, I didn’t need God as much. As my satisfaction in God grows, I find I don’t need stuff as much. So I have asked God to let me hang on lightly to the things of the world. There’s a line in the song, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus that goes like this: “And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.” That is my prayer for all of us.

Remembering that all I have materially, all my talents and skills, and all my time belongs to the Lord has changed my perspective. I no longer “have to” give, I “get to.” You and I have the privilege of giving to the God of the universe, so that His Church can spread the Gospel in all sorts of ways from teaching kids about Jesus on Sunday mornings, to providing furniture to the needy, to offering Gospel comfort to the hurting, to supporting members of this church who are called to share the Gospel in North Africa and Swaziland.

So I invite you to pray with me, asking God what giving joyfully and sacrificially looks like for you.

We live in a world where beauty is superficial and the definition seems to change and get harder to fulfill almost by the minute. I have been cleaning out my closet and purging as we pack to move and have noticed how quickly clothing goes out of style. As far as the church goes, I am thankful to be in a place where beauty never changes.

We have been created to reflect the image of God. As redeemed people, the more we hang out at the cross the more we look like Jesus, the more beautiful our hearts and lives become. When there is less of me/us, and more of Jesus, the image of God is reflected more beautifully in me/us. The beauty starts internally, in our spirits, and radiates externally through words and actions. It is not what we do, but who we are as we follow Jesus. I used both the “I/me” and the “we/us” because it does start with each of us but “we” together are the body of Christ.

It is a paradox, however, because beauty like that only happens in us because of the cross. The cross was a mechanism of torture and death. It is because Jesus died on the cross to rescue us that we can be beautiful in the Lord. That beauty is both individual and collective, and together we reflect the beauty of the cross to one another and to a world that has such a shallow picture of beauty.

Where do I see the beauty of the church? I see it as each one of us dies to ourselves and lives for Christ. I see it as we put our personal agendas aside and serve one another. I see it as we pray for one another. I see it as we speak truth in love to one another. “Oh, that beautiful, terrible cross,” say the lyrics from a song we sing. Those words rest deep in my soul. I know that beauty in the church is only possible because of the terrible.

1 Corinthians 1:18: “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

In a sermon last week we were challenged to think of times when God did something in our lives that only he could do. Then we were urged to pick up a rock as a reminder. The moment God called me to surrender my life to Him in January of 1985 was my first stone in the Jordan, the first big miracle in my life.  As I look back at who I was then and who God has shaped me to be now, I am humbled and amazed that the Gospel continues to change my heart and my life. 2 Corinthians 10: 4-5 says this: “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but have divine power to destroy strongholds.  We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

God created me to be a warrior. I have been a fighter since I can remember. And the thing is, God continues to change me – changes who and what I fight for. I used to fight primarily for my own security and safety. I could use my words to win every battle, and put others in their place. My husband used to say that I could slice him to pieces in two minutes with my words. But God continues to do a work in my life that only he could do. God reminds me that because of the Gospel my words have divine power to bring life, and Gospel truth to me and to others. The arguments and opinions that fill my thoughts eventually come out in words. As God destroys the strongholds of pride, self-protection, security and safety, he opens my eyes to see the spiritual warfare behind my selfish arguments. The lie that “I have to take care of and protect myself” has been blown up, and taken captive by the truth of the Gospel. So when confronted with the battles, the Spirit reminds me that I am called to fight against the spiritual darkness for the glory of God in my own life and the lives of others. And the majority of that battle is in prayer, a battle that is bloody and exhausting. Using my words as a weapon to pray scripture has become habit, which means my words are weapons for God’s kingdom, not my own. As the Gospel grows in my life, God’s kingdom becomes bigger and my kingdom shrinks.  I actually have a sword at home that I swing when the battle is intense, to slice the enemy, rather than my husband, to pieces. Yes, there are still plenty of times I use my words as selfish weapons, and almost in the middle of them I hear the spirit remind me of the truth that my kingdom is not worth fighting for, but God’s kingdom is. I know I will fight this battle till my last breath, because it is a battle in a war that has already been won by my Savior on the cross!

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound…

I love to sing this hymn. Not because I sing well, but because the truths in it ring so evident in my life. I was raised Catholic and learned to be a “doer” to please others, to please God and to make myself look good in the process. I took that to the “nth” degree thinking I was in total control of my life. This seemed to work pretty well till I was in my late 20’s, when my life and my marriage fell apart.  So, what was I to do but to work harder and build a new life.  I started dating Craig, who was a doctor at the hospital where I worked.  Eventually we got married and moved about 1500 miles from what had always been home. I knew no one, had a job I hated, and never saw my new husband. I was lost.

Into this venue God spoke the Gospel. A neighbor invited us to church and the pastor was preaching on Daniel. I remember him saying something to the effect that ‘God may not save us from the fire, but he will walk through it with us as he did with Daniel’s friends.’ Jesus walked through a fire with four men, and died on the cross to rescue me from sin and death. I was in a fire, and there was God. I needed rescue, and there was God. Graciously God began to strip away my independence and stubbornness. It took a few weeks but his call was clear and I knew surrender was the only option. In those weeks God used his fire to begin melting my hard and strong heart and unraveling my self-determination and independence.  I have come to recognize that this is a process that requires many “meltings” and continued unraveling along the way. Self, I realize now, dies only a little at a time.

I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt God loved me more than any human could or would. God gave me a hunger for his word that replaced dozens of self-help books that I had read.  His call was clear, “Come and let us reason together” rather than me trying to figure everything out on my own. This was miraculous! In His amazing grace, God called Craig to Himself very shortly after I surrendered; and he surrounded us with a church family that shepherded us as we grew. In a matter of weeks the Gospel changed my heart, my desire to “go it” on my own; it changed whom I talked to when I ached for home, and who and how I spent my free time.

I had been very good at the “doing” game, but as the Gospel penetrated my heart, I found out that Jesus had already DONE EVERYTHING.  I was called to follow the ONE who did. I have been following for 32 years, and I am still amazed!

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me

I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.

 

Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is a gift from God, and not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Rom 12:15:  “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”

My office is a place in which many tears have been shed. It is probably a place filled more with tears than with celebration. Life is hard, no doubt about it. And so many people who have cried, have apologized for their show of emotion. It has made me wonder why we are so uncomfortable with tears of disappointment, loss and grief. There isn’t much we can do when someone sits in front of us in tears because of a shattered marriage, an abusive spouse, a lost job, a prodigal child, a cancer diagnosis, a foreclosure, or any of a multitude of other things that happen in this broken world. Could it be that we are uncomfortable with the tears because we can’t DO much about it? Because we can’t “fix” it? There is no magic wand that we can use to make the hurt go away.

We become vulnerable and helpless when we can’t “fix” the brokenness around us.  Too often, we think we can “fix” it by making a meal, writing a check, mowing a lawn, or some other act of service; and those things do help sometimes. Those are the ways we feel most comfortable showing love and concern. But what if the best thing we could do in most situations is to be a good listener? What if actually hearing the hurt and pain, the confusion and questions was what made someone who is vulnerable feel valued and loved?  When we are vulnerable and hurting, advice often seems artificial and/or uncaring.  Feeling heard and knowing someone else understands our pain, our situation, or our struggle can bring hope and healing that only the Gospel can bring. This is not to say that we agree with lies, or go with people to “crazy” places, but because Jesus listened to people well, he was able to perceive where they were and what they needed. Yes, he knew because he was God, but he listened anyway. He listened because he loved and cared. He listened because he knew that when people saw that he understood, they became hopeful. Look at the woman at the well. Look at Mary and Martha as they grieved the death of their brother Lazarus.  Jesus blew up the social mores of the day by listening to women and children. Jesus went to the cross to bring life and hope to the lost and vulnerable. Because of the cross, we can listen and bring hope and comfort.  2 Corinthians 2:3-5 reminds us that God is a God of comfort and he comforts us in ALL our troubles so we can comfort others in ANY of their troubles with the same comfort we have received from Him. God hears, listens, and loves. Let us do the same by listening with Gospel ears and hearts. It is only as we listen that we can begin to understand what we can “do” to bring hope and healing into the brokenness.

If you want to become a better listener, check out the Gospel-Centered Counseling class coming up in January.

As we ended our study on David, we saw David speak words of blessing over Solomon as he began his reign as king.  In the bible, fathers are often seen pouring words of blessing over their children.  Children are also told to honor their parents, and because only God knows the number of days each of us has, it is important to speak those words as God calls us to.  When my dad was turning 75, I felt a strong directive from God to give my dad a written blessing. We saw from David’s life that no family is perfect, that sin and selfishness plague us as people living in a fallen world.  My family was no exception.  My relationship with my dad to that point was pretty superficial.  He didn’t surrender his life to Jesus till he was in his 60’s, he drank a lot and my parents’ marriage was more of a battlefield than a picnic. And of course, I was no model child. I struggled to write what God asked.  So I began to pray that God would bring to mind what he wanted me to say. I ended up writing down 25 memories of my childhood, many of which I saw God redeem as I processed thru them as an adult, looking at things from God’s perspective rather than my own childish pictures.  Along with that, I wrote down 25 character traits I saw in my dad and 25 scriptures that went along with them.  It was a precious and redeeming experience for me. As God filled my mind with those memories, and the characteristics my dad displayed, and I pondered the scripture verses, my heart changed. I became thankful for all the things God used to draw me to him, including my family and all the hard struggles we have gone through. There was much laughter and many tears as I put the book together.

Some of the memories I shared with him were: I remember when I backed my car out of our driveway and right into a ditch several times early in the morning, and you would get up and pull it out for me. I remember seeing you take care of your aging parents, even when they were hard to get along with or started forgetting what was happening.  I remember how hard you worked with a few other families to keep St. James School open. Now there are waiting lists to get in because you saw the importance of it.

Some of the characteristics I loved about my dad were: Family was very important to you in the difficult times in life. I used Psalm 90:10 with it—“The length of our days is seventy years—or eighty if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.” You taught me that hard work is important and if anything is worth doing, it is worth doing well. Colossians 3:23—“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not men, since you know you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.” You wanted to protect us by knowing where we were, who we were with and what we were doing, which didn’t go over too well sometimes.  But that didn’t stop you.  Psalm 121:7-8—“The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going, both now and forever more.”

My dad’s birthday came and I had to leave before the gifts were opened, so I asked my mom to give it to my dad after the party was over. I wasn’t sure what his response would be.  My mom called me the next day to thank me for doing that and told me my dad cried when he read it.  A few days later I got a written note from my dad thanking me and telling me how God had used my book to bring peace to his heart, because he never considered himself a good father.  It was the first note I had ever received from him. And of course, my mom made it clear she would be waiting for hers in a few years. My dad turned 85 this year, but those books continue to sit on their table surrounded by family pictures as a reminder of the redeeming power of words of blessing.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5: “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

I recently watched several epic TV series on war and noticed a few things about the weapons that were used: I realized that rifles, grenades, bombs, and the other weapons we usually associate with winning or losing a war, are less powerful than the words that are used and the beliefs that are formed in the minds of those fighting.  I just watched the Railway Man and was overcome with the strength that Mr. Lomax found to persevere during intense torture because he believed in the freedom he was fighting for.  In the minds of others, words had instilled great fear.

In the story of David and Goliath, we see Saul and his army paralyzed with fear because of Goliath’s stature as well as his words. Saul’s fear makes him totally self-focused, and self-protective. Then David comes on the scene and sees what is happening. David is more concerned with the reputation of God than he is for himself. He is, as we would say today, Gospel-centered, not self-centered. His picture of God was bigger than the giant that stood before him.  I love how he responds to Goliath after hearing how Goliath planned to kill David:  “You come to me with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Hosts…This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand.” We aren’t told that David is fearful, but my guess is he prayed a lot before he went out to finish Goliath. What strikes me as more important than David killing Goliath is that his relationship with God was such that he allowed the truth of who God was to be the focus of his thoughts rather than allowing his fears to control his thoughts. He focused on the greatness of God rather than on his smallness. He focused on the strength and the power of God, knowing that this was God’s battle. He knew the truth of 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 before it was written. He knew the battle was greater in the spiritual realm than it was in the physical realm. Yes, he defeated Goliath with a small stone, but it was by the power of our great God.

For us, the best way to deal with fear is to surrender to God and rely on his strength, not our own. The giants we face today are the lies we believe that make us react in harmful ways that we “believe” are going to protect us, as Saul did.

The enemy of our souls has counterfeited the Word of Truth from God with lies that seem very convincing. What are the lies that feed your fears?  What are the ways with which you have reacted to those fears that are similar to Saul? What makes those lies bigger in your mind than the Living God, the Lord of Hosts that David knows?  What is God doing in your life to expose those lies so they can be replaced with truth? Who can you talk to about that today?

I have thought a lot about friendships after reading 1 Samuel, chapters 18 & 20.  I have the privilege of having a “Jonathan” friend in my life, so I understand the knitted together picture that is seen between Jonathan and David.  I recognize I had little to do with this knitting together; that is was the gracious work of God. There has been much chaos in my life and in my friend’s life since that time, in our own souls, in the lives of children, spouses, work situations, other friendships, and many more.  And we have relied on each other much during those times.  But the biggest truth for me is that in the middle of the hardest things, we have pointed each other to Jesus, our ultimate “Jonathan” friend.   And I believe we prayed for each other as much as we talked to each other.  I understand the wonderful gift I have been given by God and by my friend, and I know that this kind of friendship is rare.

But I also have other friendships that have not survived life in chaos. They either slowly faded away or blew up in a flash.  As I talked about this with several other women recently, we looked at the friendships from our pasts that are buried under little grave markers along the road of life labeled hurt, betrayal, unmet expectations, jealousy, forgotten, and many others.  We recognized that our experiences in friendships past have significant influence on our friendships present and future.  We decided to continue the conversation over the next few months to look more deeply at those influences not only on our friendships, but also on our marriages, and our relationship with God, who calls us his friends.

So here are some questions that you can think through as you look at your friendships:

  • What is your definition of friendship?
  • How are your friendships doing today?  Do you have any real friends today?
  • Do you allow your friends into the recesses of your heart and your sin, or do you have some “No Trespassing” signs?
  • Are you willing to let your friends be truthful with you, or do they have to guard what they say?
  • As you look at your past friendships, what are some of the grave markers that line the road of your life?
  • How did you hurt those who were true friends?
  • How have the hurts of friendship affected your relationship with God?
  • Have you been willing to seek healing in your own heart through the power of the Gospel?
  • How do 1 Samuel 18 and 20 make you long for deeper, Gospel-based friendships?

Have a conversation with a few people this week about friendship.

You’ve watched the Oscars, right? Then you’ve seen the lush red carpet that the stars walk on as they enter the theater. Rolling out the red carpet is a picture of the preparation that goes into treating someone like they are royalty. Repentance is the “red carpet” of reconciliation. That’s what happens when God calls us into relationship with him. He shows us that our sin caused the breaking of relationship. When God exposes our sinfulness, he graciously gives us the gift of “repentance”, so we can agree that only God can save us from the destruction of our sin. We surrender our hearts to Him, asking him to change us. His invitation opens the door to us tasting his forgiveness, and as we repent, the red carpet is laid out for us to enter the kingdom. Repentance is a changing of the mind that says I don’t want to live with “me” as the center of my universe anymore, so I am turning around and I am going to trust Jesus to direct my steps. With a change of thinking comes a change of heart. As reconciliation takes place, our hearts are again connected and relationship is built on holy ground. The red carpet is really holy, royal ground. See 2Samuel 11 & 12 so see David’s sin with Bathsheba, how Nathan confronted him, and in Psalm 51 how David repented.

Just as our relationship with God has been broken by our sin, so are our relationships with others broken by our sin. Through the power of the Spirit we can walk in humility and see how our sin breaks relationships and hearts. As we surrender the situation to God, he exposes our sin and calls us to the ministry of reconciliation. He calls us first to repent to him (Psalm 51), because in hurting another, we sin against the heart of God. Then we are called to humbly go to the person we have sinned against, and specifically confess our sin and ask for forgiveness.

The person who was hurt also needs the humility of the Spirit to be able to extend forgiveness. Romans 2:4 reminds us that it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance, so our kindness will open the door for someone who has hurt us to repent. As we humbly enter a conversation with someone who has hurt us, we are inviting him or her to taste forgiveness. As humble repentance is expressed, the red carpet is laid out to re-enter relationship. A change of mind and heart has been revealed and the holy ground of connection and relationship is re-entered. It is not easy, it often takes more than one conversation, and it calls for change over a long period. It takes preparation to start and time to develop the reconciliation process, and it is often costly. It starts on the red carpet. But the ability to walk again with someone you care for is worth the cost. Jesus thought so when it came to us!

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