Listen to the Sound of His Voice

Oh how I long for November. And no, it isn’t because of the pecan pie I will be wolfing down at Thanksgiving. My true longing for October to come to an end is actually motivated by a desire to see my neighborhood’s Halloween decorations packed away for another year. I am all for a day that centers around candy, but this year the decorations are causing me some grief. The main culprit is, specifically, one nylon ghost.

For some reason the fabric ghost, which is tethered to a tree, terrifies my dog. Unfortunately the tree to which the ghost is tied is on the route of our daily walk. The first time we passed the ghost my dog went absolutely bonkers. She jumped, she growled, and the hair on the back of her neck stood straight up. She pulled on her leash and barked and barked. Some people passing the same way found the whole thing quite comical. They weren’t the ones holding onto the leash!

After having my shoulder wrenched for several minutes, I pulled my dog along the sidewalk. That entire block, which is a long stretch, she kept her head turned toward the ghost. I talked quietly to her, reassuring her that the thing that was terrifying her was not real. She ignored my calming voice. She was in such a frenzy that I don’t think she even heard my voice. Every ounce of her concentration was on the ghost. I tried to shift her focus to what was on the sidewalk right in front of us, and she kept looking at the “threat.” She was so consumed by what was frightening her; she missed out on things that would have given her pleasure. Quite a few squirrels went un-barked at that day and a fragrant fire hydrant went un-sniffed. My dog was so worried about something that wasn’t even real that she missed the joy of our walk together.

Sound familiar? As I talked to my dog that day about how silly she was to expend so much energy worrying about something that wasn’t even real, God reminded me that I often do the very same thing. How many times do I miss the beauty of the day the Lord has set before me because I am worried about something that may happen? How many times has he tried to get my focus turned back towards Him so that he could speak truth into my situation? How many times have I missed His calming voice? And the thing of it is, most of the things that push my worry button never come to pass. Can I get a witness?

We have an amazing Master; He holds the entire universe together and still longs to walk through life with us. If we listen to the sound of his voice in our daily time with him, it will be much easier to recognize when the real threats come. He is faithful, He is true. And He hasn’t just suggested that we not worry, He has commanded it.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? Matthew 6:25-27

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.   Matthew 6:34

Cyndi Word

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Our Enemy

The devil has had thousands of years to study humanity, and we’ve less than a lifetime to understand him. He has examined human psychology, physiology, biology and sociology using this information to war against us and he has taken advantage of his time to put his knowledge into practice. It is said that from a worldly perspective, “history repeats itself”, but from a Christian perspective, we are witnessing the trial and error of Satan who desires to sit as a god over all the inhabitants of earth. It would seem that he has an unfair intellectual advantage over each generation, until we realize that all that we need to know about him is summed up at Calvary.

The devil invested all the knowledge and experience that he had accumulated, and threw it at Jesus of Nazareth. When he could not defeat Jesus face to face in the wilderness, he used other people. It isn’t hard to imagine the celebratory high-fives after having incited the Pharisees and mob to crucify Him. What a shock it must have been to the devil, to finally realize that all of his efforts to destroy the only begotten Son of God were used to participate in the salvation of mankind.

The heel that crushed the head of Satan was the one that Satan through the hands of men, nailed to the cross. The blood that ran from the wounds of Jesus was the very means of our redemption. How brief was Satan’s celebration and what a dramatic turn of events when he realized he had been out-witted. A cloud of heavenly hosts witnessed his defeat as the dramatic scene unfolded. They were the first to know. It would be three days before his disciples would discover that this was just the beginning of a new era; an era that heralded a new creation, a new species of mankind within whom God would dwell.

Satan in ignorance of the things that truly define us had underestimated the love of God for the humanity that He created in His own image. Satan may be an intelligent creature, but he knows nothing of faith, hope and love. It was the love of God for mankind that led to the sacrifice of His only begotten Son. It was the Son’s love for mankind, and for God His Father, that gave Him the courage to fulfill His divine purpose as a lamb led to the slaughter. The very same God who created all things seen and unseen, took upon Himself human flesh in order to save us from destruction, and to have fellowship with us. Our way may not always be clear, but our destination is sure.

Satan’s destination is sure also. The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. (Rev.20:10)

Satan devotes his time to making Christian lives miserable which is why it sometimes appears that the unsaved have an easier time of it in this world. They are not “plagued like other men…”(Psalm 73:5) but their end is most miserable. We are living in the perilous times described by Holy Scripture, and it is important to navigate these times under the banner of our victorious Lord and in union with Him. Satan tries to steal, kill and destroy. He counters faith with doubt, hope with discouragement and love with hatred, envy and apathy. All that he can do is try to deceive us and pry us away from Calvary and the victory that was accomplished there on our behalf.

Often we see the cross as a bridge to God, and live with it in our rearview mirror. Jesus never described Himself in that way. He said “I am the door”, “I am the gate”, “I am the vine”…never “I am the bridge”. We believe into Christ, and we abide in Him, where His Spirit works in us and through us. As we abide in Christ, we abide in His victory because we are joined and made one with the Victor, Jesus Christ. That’s all we need to know.

Deborah J Claypool

Someone is Always Watching

A dog’s gotta eat. At least that is what my pup’s soulful brown eyes seemed to say when she heard the plastic scoop scrape the bottom of her dog-food container. So off I went to the pet store. I threw the dog food, a Frisbee and some Milk-bones in my cart and headed to the check-out counter. I’m not sure what the cashier was thinking about, maybe the cute guy in her geometry class, but she rang my Frisbee up twice, the Milk-bones once and told me my total. Somewhere in the back of my mind a little alarm sounded-was that total correct? My dog’s sensitive system required an expensive dog food and I expected my bill to be higher but I swiped my payment card anyway.

Once I got home I looked at my receipt and saw the error. My bill was 20 dollars less than what it should have been. UGH, the cute guy in geometry class was now causing me problems. For a few seconds I tried to justify ignoring the discrepancy. I spent a lot of money at that pet store; they made quite a hefty profit off of me, and after-all the clerk is the one who made the mistake. But then I heard the voice of the Holy Spirit calling. He reminded me that character is who you are when no one else is around. And the fact is, for Christians, there is ALWAYS someone else around, the very indwelling of God himself. So I prepared to make a call to the pet store.

I played the scenario out in my mind. I imagined how grateful the manager would be that someone was honest enough to point out a mistake that worked in the store’s favor. I even imagined him asking why I would go out of my way to spend more money. And I would then say (cue the harp music) in my most humble voice that it was all because of Jesus.

Sniff, sniff, does anyone else smell some pride?

God was real quick to deal with that. I made the call to the store and the manager was not at all impressed with my honesty. In fact, she was a bit defensive and obnoxious. She told me to come back in and they would…sigh…get another bag of food off the shelf and scan it. Like I had placed a heavy burden on the employees of the store! Well, I hung up the phone and my earlier internal debate restarted with a vengeance and became external as I got my youngest son involved. That store didn’t deserve my honesty, why should I be inconvenienced when they are the ones who made a mistake and on and on and on.

Again the Holy Spirit spoke. He reminded me of Psalm 32:8 “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” As far as my pride went he reminded me that my righteousness was as filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6) and then he finally said, “Sister, do you really want to talk about the word deserve?”

I knew I didn’t. The fact is that we who wear the name of Christ are called to follow his example in the way we live. It doesn’t matter if it’s hard, it doesn’t matter if it’s convenient, and it really doesn’t matter if the recipient of our grace deserves it. Jesus understands hard, he understands inconvenience and he has given more grace than we can ever comprehend.

Lord, Grant us strength to do the same.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. ~Micah 6:8

* For those of you who like an ending to a story, I did indeed go back to the store. I hate to admit that I still imagined getting a different manager who would be impressed by my integrity. Guess who I got? The same manager I had talked to the day before and she was no more impressed with me in person than she was on the phone. I’m grateful that God is so patient in teaching His lessons. The lesson on pride only cost me 20 bucks!

Cyndi Word

Stepping Out of the Storm

   …for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. (2 Peter 2:19)

I received a notification from the Department of Defense that there was a discrepancy involving my identification, health insurance, social security and/or name, followed by thinly veiled threats of fines relating to the so-called Obamacare taxes for non-compliance if I did not attend to the matter immediately. I felt broad-sided. I have always been who I am and have been with the same health insurance company for 30 years. It was now up to me to figure out where the discrepancy might be, and this involved phone calls, detangling, and proof of identification and marriage to satisfy a bureaucratic hiccough that might otherwise lead me into a corn maze of oblivion to which I might never recover (…or at least it felt that way).

We live in stressful times. Life is at 65 mph and timed to the minute. Now a fog had descended upon my little corner of the world, and as I methodically made phone calls to investigate what the problem was, I could feel my frustration grow, a deep burning wrath rise up and while I did maintain a semblance of cordiality to those I spoke to, I could not ignore what was happening inside of me. I felt as though I had overlaid a tissue on a bulging volcano that was ready to blow. Naturally, I prayed.

I first began to justify this intense inner turmoil by legitimizing it. “Here I am, minding my own business, and the inept bureaucratic agencies have me in a tail-spin to go back and really prove who I am blah…blah…blah…” …was what I was thinking, because I had long ago filled out forms and provided proof of identification, and nothing has changed on my end. I continued to pray for the Lord’s peace, while I legitimized the boiling wrath that was clearly raising my blood pressure, annoying me, and bringing me near to a feeling of inner rage.

A funny thing happened to me on the way to the Social Security Administration office….(How often do we hear those words?!) I began praying “Lord, the inner turmoil that I am feeling is beyond my control. I can feel my heart pounding, my face heating up, and a steady increase in anger that I would classify as wrath, and all of this is far beyond what the situation is calling for! How are we expected to behave calmly and in perfect peace, if our autonomic nervous system is in overdrive? My sympathetic nervous system has put me in that state of Fight or Flight, and protest as I might against my inner rage, I’m losing the battle. There HAS to be something more to this, than merely holding back the explosion! I cannot help what’s going on in my body, even if I do exercise some restraint.” It reminded me of the time the Lord showed me something about “PMS”, but that’s another story.

Then the Lord showed me that there are many spiritual influences in our world that we give permission to. When I first began to feel this anger rise, I legitimized it, and gave it license to act upon me by complaining about the situation. My complaining only strengthened it and my prayers for rescue were muffled by my complaining. I thought about how many people in this world who do not know the Lord are being driven by this inner anger and frustration and have no power to restrain it? Small wonder that the world is in the state that it is in. I confessed my sin of complaining and legitimizing this destructive force in my life, and prayed that the Lord cleanse me and deliver me from the power of this enemy. I prayed for His grace and proclaimed the victory of the Lord Jesus Christ over the situation. I also prayed the Lord meet me at the SSA office and resolve this situation. Immediately, the intensity of the physiological storm within me, subsided, and by the time I had reached the office, I was in perfect peace. Thirty minutes later, it was resolved.

Deborah J Claypool

Walking Alongside

Even the dog knew something was up. I had heard the helicopter for quite a while from inside the house and now as we went outside for our afternoon walk, we both looked up to see that it was flying back and forth right over our neighborhood. I wondered what was happening. Was it a traffic helicopter investigating a problem, a police helicopter searching for someone? I was mildly curious, but not particularly concerned. So the dog and I walked on.

About a mile into our walk, a car approached along the road and the woman driving lowered her window and said, “Be careful, a bear has been sighted in the neighborhood.” She then quickly raised her window and zoomed away. I stood completely still wondering, “What?” “WHAT!”

I had a million questions- what kind of bear? Were there woman eating bears in our area? Dog eating bears? What does “be careful” mean exactly? If I see the bear, do I stop drop and roll, make myself seem smaller or taller, stand completely still, or run screaming in the other direction? I imagined how the bear would look at my dog and me. Would he see me as a large chicken nugget holding a smaller, furrier chicken nugget by a string?

I know the woman who stopped her car was just trying to be helpful, but her pronouncement of danger followed by her hasty retreat really didn’t do me any favors. And I thought about how often we believers might be guilty of throwing information grenades at unbelievers and then zooming away.

Many Christians believe the days are short until Christ returns. We can sometimes drop statements into our everyday conversations alluding to that belief. We say things like,    “the end times are here,” the “signs are pointing to the second coming,” or “everyone better get their affairs in order.” I had one friend who used to say, “Get right or get left.”

All of this is said from a place of love and concern, just like that woman who thought she was helping in telling me about the bear. But unbelievers are left scratching their heads, not sure of what to do with the warning.

Knowing that Jesus’ return may be imminent isn’t the information lost people need. The days of scaring people into heaven are past. People who don’t know Jesus need us to tell them of His amazing love, his astounding forgiveness, his sacrificial death on their behalf and his longing to be in relationship with them. If we are going to pull up alongside people who don’t know Jesus and open our mouths, may those words be the truths we speak, the bombs of grace we drop onto their anxious hearts.

And once we speak those life giving truths, let’s not zoom away; let’s invest time in answering their questions and quieting their fears. Let’s walk alongside our younger brothers and sisters in Christ until we are all safely Home.

He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. ~Colossians 1:28

Cyndi Word

The Body of Christ in Action

This isn’t a typical blog post for me. I try to write about love and grace and mercy because those are the precious aspects of faith I cling to, the things that bring me joy. But I woke up this morning feeling I needed to re-post an old piece after hearing about a wound on the heart of an amazing young man.

The wound he carries is for his mom. His beautiful mom, who at the age of 16 chose life for her son, and then felt the sting of rejection from the Christians who should have been showing her the grace each and every one of us so desperately needs and that has been shown to us by Christ.

The horror of stoning a sinner is no longer acceptable, but are we crushing spirits instead when we hurl looks of judgement and accusation?  I know too many single parents who have felt abandoned by God because they were judged by people who wear his name. It can’t continue, we can and must grow to be more like Jesus.

There has only been one time I have considered leaving the church and that is when I went through my divorce and became a single mom. It was the only experience I have had when I felt “the world” was more understanding and compassionate about what I was going through than “the church.” Divorce is a very public failure and in the church, along with that sense of failure, there is also a layer of shame. Sometimes the shame is self-imposed but there has been more than one occasion when I have felt it from a brother or sister in Christ. So what can the church do for the divorced or the never-married single mom?

  1. Love our children. Talk to them, engage in their lives. Do this especially with our sons because one thing a single mom can’t do is teach a boy to be a godly man.
  2. Never preach or teach that children of single parent homes are at a terrible disadvantage without also reminding listeners that God has promised to be a Father to the fatherless. Children need hope that the God they are learning about really can work ALL things for good. Not to mention the pain this kind of talk rubs into an already wounded mother’s heart.
  3. Please don’t judge the never married single mom. You can’t stand against abortion and look down on the single mother simultaneously.
  4. Pray for the single mom because fear is her constant companion. Fear for her children, fear of not being a good enough parent, and fear of financial disaster. Most of all fear of being alone. Carry us to the throne of God, to the only One capable of banishing all fear.

And what can the church expect from single moms?

  1. You can expect us to honor your marriages and celebrate with you the gift God has given in them. We will be glad that there are marriage retreats and special Sunday school sessions. We will be grateful that you are showing our children that marriages can last.
  2. You can expect us to use the gifts God has given us to serve the body of Christ. Everyone is busy and being a single parent doesn’t exempt us from service.
  3. You can expect us to pray for you. We will realize you have the same fears we do about your children, your parenting and your finances.

There you have it. I apologize if this post has caused any offense. My prayer is that it sheds some light on how we- as the living, breathing, moving Body of Christ- can better love and support each other.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:12-14

Cyndi Word

Putting off the Old and Putting on the New

Summer has flown by. Is it even possible that my kids will be jumping on a school bus in a matter of days? Where oh where has summer gone?

This time of year at our house we begin to get ready for another school year. We are busy cleaning out closets. The kids are trying on last season’s clothes and preparing to buy new ones. We are getting rid of the old stuff and getting new stuff for a new school year.

With two teens, it’s not easy to get started. Actually, it’s quite overwhelming. I’ve avoided going too far into either of my kids’ closets as clothes are unorganized and scattered everywhere. I don’t even want to know what it’s really like in the deep dark crevices of their closets. It’s just plain messy!

Clearing out the mess takes thought – thought about what to keep and what to discard. This is especially true for my teen daughter as she puts a great deal of thought into what to wear –assembling outfits and accessories and deciding what goes best together. She has spent hours over the last few weeks getting rid of old clothes.

This cleaning out process reminds me of how we sometimes handle our spiritual lives. Sometimes we only clean out and examine our hearts once a year (maybe at Easter or Christmas). Sometimes we don’t want to know how truly messy it is, so we just avoid looking at it all together. We don’t look at the deep, dark crevices of our hearts because it’s way too hard to do and would require too much effort.

As Christ followers, God has called us to regularly examine our lives. Second Corinthians 13:5 says to “examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you…”

We must go through the process of getting rid of the old and putting on the new. As Christ followers, we must let go of old behaviors and begin to practice new ones. Scripture tells us to put away the old things. First Cor. 13:11 says, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”

Our putting away of the old things and putting on the new ones does not come natural. It requires a great deal of thought and effort.  It’s hard to get started, and it is overwhelming and messy. Yet God is there and wants to help us grow up in our faith. He doesn’t want us to stay where we are; He has new things for us to become.

When we put on the new, it begins to become our new normal and we develop new patterns of behavior. The practice of putting on the new begins to transform us, and who we are in our core begins to change. The angry, bitter wife becomes full of joy and hope; the office gossip becomes one who is trustworthy; the addict becomes free from addiction; the worrier begins to let go and trust.

We should be regularly reflecting on the kind of person we are and the kind of person we want to be. It takes practice and intentionality. How do we reflect? We reflect on who we are and who God wants us to be through the lens of Scripture. We should let Scripture teach us about the kind of women we need to be.

Ephesians 4:24: “…put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Angela Sutsakhan