The woman said to him, “I know that messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when that one comes he will declare all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” John 4:25-26
Before his interaction with the Samaritan woman in John 4, Jesus referred to himself as the “son of man” and as the son of God. While we understand the meaning and power of these terms today, if we read Jesus’ first references to himself, those listening might not have captured their importance.
For instance, God referred to the prophet Ezekiel as “son of man” on many occasions. And the Israelite people saw themselves as children of God, so “son of God” could have had multiple meanings without full context.
The point here is that early in his ministry, few if any fully realized who Jesus was. Except for a woman of Samaria; a woman with a checkered past, drawing water from a well outside of her city.
Remember, the Jewish people were eagerly awaiting their messiah, the Christ. In their minds, this messiah would usher in a new kingdom. They were right that the messiah will rule a coming kingdom; they didn’t understand this kingdom would not come immediately.
Who would Jesus tell first that he was the messiah for whom all of Israel was waiting? Would he tell a religious leader? One of his disciples? A power broker in the Roman Empire?
None of the above.
In a quiet, one-on-one conversation, Jesus chose a woman who was likely called many names for her improprieties with men. With her, he spoke directly, saying, “I who speak to you am he.”
This woman didn’t have to answer carefully-crafted questions, or work through parables. Instead, Jesus was direct and forthright. And her entire life changed. Suddenly she was telling those in her community about this man who she believed to be sent from God to save the people.
The result? “And from that city many of the Samaritans believed in him because of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all the things that I have done.’” (John 4:39)
Those entering the door to a pregnancy help ministry appear—at least to most—to be the most unlikely to spread the gospel message. Sure, many applaud us for reaching out to these with checkered stories. But they don’t think much change will take place. Perhaps we don’t, either.
Yet we must keep in mind, this is who Jesus chose first. Because he did, the good news of the kingdom of God took off in a Samaritan city.
Apparently, Jesus gave hope to a Samaritan woman. We can do the same. And when we do, we never know how far that hope might spread.
“And grant that your bond servants may speak your word with all confidence.” Acts 4:29B
At many of our ministries we start the day with prayer. We may do so individually, or in a group as the early church in Acts 4. Few of us face the situation they confronted, but even today we would be wise to pray as they did.
Setting the context, the religious leadership arrested Peter and John for the “sin” of healing a lame beggar and following up the miracle by preaching the good news message. After a quick convocation amongst themselves, they ordered the two apostles to stop preaching—immediately.
Peter and John’s answer? “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
Once released, the two reported to their friends that heavy persecution could be on the way.
The early church’s response was to pray.
Let’s note first what they did not pray for. They did not pray for the Lord to halt their enemies, nor did they pray for safety. Or even for positive responses to their message.
Are any of these reasons to pray somehow “wrong?” Not at all. There may be times to pray for each of these outcomes.
Yet in this situation the early church, knowing they would face beatings, imprisonment or death, asked of God, “Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that your bond-servants may speak your word with all confidence, while you will extend your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of your holy servant, Jesus.”
They did not ask for escape, but for boldness and confidence.
What a powerful example they set for us. When we pray before beginning our day, may the Lord give us the confidence to speak clearly, in love, to impart God’s truth to every situation. This is the boldness of the first followers, a boldness which literally changed the world.
When they finished praying together, “the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the word of God with boldness.”
God answered their prayer. When we pray for confidence, we can expect God to answer us as well.
by Kirk Walden, Advancement Specialist
And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. Hebrews 6: 11-12
All of us can run into those times when we are dragging in our faith; when we are trying but just can’t seem to bring vitality to the challenges we face each day. We are, as the writer of Hebrews notes above, sometimes “sluggish.”
Sluggishness may not necessarily be a sin, but when we get sluggish it certainly slows us down in our journey of faith. So how do we get going again and recapture the energy of a vibrant faith?
The answer is a simple one; we imitate those around us—or who walked before us—who are clearly winning the race of faith.
We can certainly try to imitate those in the Bible who won victories of faith and Scripture is a great place to start in our search for the spiritually strong.
Yet there are also those around us who are winning. These are people we need to stick close to, asking questions and watching for patterns of victory.
For me, it was a family at a school where I worked. Every one of their children was walking in faith, living a life of strong character and of integrity. I watched them at church. I asked them questions. And hopefully, I imitated. This was a vibrant family—I wanted to be like them and they made me better.
It was also a guy I watched regularly who had a quiet, yet strong confidence in God. His life is never rushed, just like Jesus. So I asked, “What are your habits? How do you balance work and family and everything else?” He talked, I listened.
Looking at my life I can find more and more people God placed in my path, whom I could imitate. This wasn’t about idolizing and I’ve never viewed these people as perfect, nor would they. But they were, and are, directional markers for me on a pathway to a stronger, vibrant faith.
The writer of Hebrews challenges us to find those around us whom we can imitate in some form or another, because God wants us to see examples of vibrancy, so that we are protected from sluggishness as we press on.
Who are your “Imitation-Worthy” acquaintances and friends? If we want to stay energized in our faith, let’s seek them out. It’s a great way to stay sharp and focused as we seek to change the world around us.
by Kirk Walden, Advancement Specialist
“Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:4
Like the Proverbs in the Old Testament, many see James’ letter as the New Testament’s letter of wisdom. Throughout James we see practical advice on how live out our faith (“faith without works is dead,” for example), and this counsel begins in the opening verses as James talks of trials and their role in our lives.
Trials, James tells us, produce endurance and perseverance in our character. This perseverance he concludes, makes us whole, mature and complete, “lacking in nothing.”
Honestly, I do not wish for trials. If I want good company in this view, I need look no farther than Jesus who, when facing crucifixion—the greatest trial of all—asked that “this cup pass from me.” Yet Jesus knew that unless he submitted to God’s will, even he would not be complete in fulfilling his mission to save humankind.
Jesus pushed forth through this unfathomable trial and was able to say with his final words, “It is finished.” This was his defining moment, when all could see Jesus was “mature and complete, lacking in nothing” just as James wishes for us in his letter.
We only get to completeness by trial. Apparently, this is the path. The trials may sometimes be small, asking us to persevere when someone treats us poorly. Or, the trial may be incredibly large, such as a physical or health challenge, the loss of a loved one, or rejection by others.
Our next trial could be financial, relational, physical or mental. We don’t know, and that’s the thing about trials. Rarely do we see them coming.
Trials are surprising, sometimes shocking. Many times we do not understand the “whys” of our trial. All we know is that it is our mission to persevere, and to count this trial as “joy.”
Why joy? Because we know that when we persevere, we grow in the character of Jesus Christ. As we follow Jesus, we prepare ourselves for entrance into his kingdom.
And we are reminded of Jesus who saw his greatest trial as one of joy. We are told in Hebrews 12:2 that Jesus, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus persevered. He endured. If anyone is “perfect and complete,” it is Jesus.
God offers us a similar opportunity. The path includes trial. It is not the easy way, but it is the only way.
Trials are coming. We will look at those trials not with happiness, but with joy. Because we know when we persevere, we will be everything God wants us to be.
Ten years ago my family moved to Tennessee, which carries the motto, “The Volunteer State.” The University of Tennessee’s athletic teams are the Volunteers, a moniker carried with incredible pride.
Most historians agree the nickname comes from a call for militia to fight in the Mexican-American War from U.S. President James K. Polk, a Tennessean. As the war ramped up in 1846, Polk asked for 2,600 men from across the country to join the battle. Stunningly, 30,000 fellow Tennesseans heeded Polk’s request and enlisted. Hence, “The Volunteer State.”
The story of the Volunteer State makes for an interesting history lesson, certainly. But this makes me think as we celebrate Volunteer Appreciation Week, what does it mean to be a true volunteer, a state of being incredibly valuable to God? In short, what is The State of a Volunteer?
When we choose to volunteer, we truly do enter a new state of being. It changes those around us, but it also changes us.
In the State of a Volunteer, we understand our battle is not against flesh and blood, “but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12).”
In the State of a Volunteer, we stand before God as servants, willing to step forward when called upon even when the stakes are high, even when the odds are against us.
In the State of a Volunteer, we place our trust in God, knowing He is not moved by what we might see, knowing He can work in any situation.
In the State of a Volunteer, we are confident that God chooses to work through anyone who says, “Here am I, send me.”
In the State of a Volunteer, the words, “It can’t be done” are replaced by “I’ll give it my best.”
In the State of a Volunteer, a natural desire to be recognized is replaced by a passion to serve.
In the State of a Volunteer, “It’s not my job” is replaced by “How can I help?”
We celebrate Volunteer Appreciation Week because when we volunteer, the entire world better understands the meaning behind the words, “Set your minds on the things above.” The State of a Volunteer is focused on the eternal—on the truly valuable.
This week—and every week—take heart. God sees the volunteer . . . and smiles.
He therefore answered, “Whether he is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.” John 9:25
The story of the blind man in John 9 is fascinating in so many ways. Here we find a stunning miracle, where a blind man receives his sight. Yet, the Pharisees vilify Jesus and toss the young man out of the temple for one of the silliest reasons imaginable: Jesus picked the “wrong” day—the Sabbath—to help a person in need.
But every time I look at this passage something new pops up. For instance, the once-blind man’s response to the Pharisees when they ask him to condemn Jesus as a sinner. “Whether he is a sinner, I do not know,” the man says. “One thing I do know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.”
Isn’t it fascinating to see that when a person’s life is dramatically changed, they are no longer interested in quibbling over non-issues? The blind man was confronted by the Pharisees regarding Jesus’ working on the Sabbath; he just doesn’t care. In his mind the Pharisees could argue over the Sabbath all they wanted; all he knew was he could do something now he could not do before: See!
It’s the same with us in the pregnancy help community. A salient example are the babies born because of our help; babies who otherwise would never receive their first breath of life.
As these babies grow into young men and women, they will no doubt be told they owe their very lives to their moms and possibly dads who made courageous decisions. And the same time, many are also reminded of a debt they owe to a pregnancy help center, clinic, maternity home or adoption agency.
Of course, there are the modern-day quibblers who will question or complain that we are somehow “anti-choice,” “anti-woman” or whatever “anti” they can come up with.
These who are alive today because of our work may be confronted by the false idea that we are somehow “sinners” in today’s society. When they are, I suspect their answer will be, “What their label is, I do not know. But one thing I do know; today I am alive for all to see.”
So take heart. Each day, our mission confounds many of the leaders of this world. But each day, we reach more and more who will one day tell the world our story. And our story of life is one this world truly wants to hear.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10
John 10:10 is, as one of my friends says, “a refrigerator verse.” We post it online, in our homes (perhaps on our refrigerator!) and talk of it often. Almost all of us know these words in some context.
But do we believe it?
The other day I attended the funeral of an older friend; she was a gospel singer who performed all over the world and even at the White House. But as friends talked of her life, I realized something much greater about her than her singing voice: She lived abundantly.
At 21, she was a pastor’s wife, a mother of three (married at 17), was teaching herself how to play the organ so the small church could have music each week, and teaching Bible studies. She and her husband, trying to figure out life, were even counseling older, married couples.
She did it all. But through it all she loved others. She celebrated every single life that came in touch with hers. And, she loved God.
Beside her casket was a photo of her in later life, throwing her head back in laughter. I remember that laughter well. The last time we talked together, we talked of her brain cancer. “They say I’m losing my mind,” she said. “That’s been happening my whole life!” And through the challenges she would say often, “I’m not afraid.”
She was right. She was never afraid of the future. As a hospice nurse came into her room on one of her last days she could speak, she said to the nurse, “How can I pray for you, darling?” That’s the picture of an abundant life.
An abundant life is one where we are so focused on following Jesus Christ that we have less and less time to focus on the circumstances of the day. It is a life of adventure, of joy.
The abundant life takes us on fantastic journeys into another realm where pessimism is replaced with hope, where fear is replaced by faith. A life where sometimes God asks us to do what conventional wisdom would call unthinkable, crazy or silly.
But we follow anyway, with a mischievous smile and a thrill in our hearts—because we are living in another world, a world unseen by the conventional wisdom of the day.
As we enter a new year, let’s choose the journey of the abundant life. We don’t know where the path leads, but isn’t that the fun of living in the heart of God’s will?
“It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.” I Timothy 1:15
Paul’s famous statement that he was the “foremost” of all sinners is not extraordinary because he is stating a fact. Instead, it is powerful because of Paul’s perspective, a point of view which exemplifies humility.
Was Paul really the number one sinner in the world at that point in history? Surely not. And this is the same Paul who encourages others to imitate him and his walk of faith (I Cor. 4:16) and who explains his past behavior by saying “Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief” (I Tim. 1:13).
What’s important here is Paul’s point of view. Just as Jesus told us to “first get the log out of your own eye” before correcting others (Matt. 7:3-5), Paul is using this foundational teaching to remind himself and his readers that neither he nor any of us is beyond the need for redemption.
This is, in every sense of the word, a “humble” perspective. We need this, every day.
In our mission, we see many who are struggling with various moral challenges. To effectively reach those we see, our first stop on this journey is to think of ourselves as Paul described, as “foremost of all sinners.” Without berating ourselves, this is a point of view which simply acknowledges that we too, have faults. They may not be the same faults of those we see, but they are shortcomings nonetheless.
Once we see ourselves as “foremost,” our point of view toward the person in front of us changes. Instead of “I need to tell you that . . .” we see this as a “Let’s walk this journey together” moment. From there, the conversation takes a new direction.
The good news is, Paul didn’t spend time dwelling on his sinfulness, and neither should we. He glanced at his standing as a sinner, but gazed on the grace of God and the road in front of him that would lead to glory.
So can we. When we choose the right focus from the right perspective, those who come in our door will be able to see the love of God within us. And this is where lives are changed.
“Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.” Gal. 3:6-7
For Abraham, believing God was, without doubt, the most challenging time of his life. We have read the rest of Abraham’s story, a story of God’s intervention after Abraham was willing to entrust his own son to God.
Yet, Abraham wasn’t able to read the rest of the story. He had to trust in a God he only knew on his own. Think about it; Abraham came before Moses, the Exodus and The Red Sea. He knew nothing of Joshua, of the Walls of Jericho, or of David and Goliath.
This is a man who had to trust wholly in God’s communication with him. And he did.
We usually think of “believing” as a point of agreement or intellectual assent to an idea, as in “I believe you when you say you will be here at nine o’clock.” But for Abraham, believing meant he had to act. He had to take Isaac out of their home, on a journey that he believed could end the life of his precious first-born.
Our “believing God” takes on the same characteristics as Abraham’s. If we walk through the Greek understanding of the word “Believe,” we will see that it means to “trust in, rely on, adhere to.” That’s what Abraham did. And God saw this as righteousness.
When we believe God in our work, in our families and in our everyday lives, we are saying in essence, “We trust in your ways, oh God, even when the lives we lead and the decisions we make aren’t understood by the world around us.”
It is this believing that our clients and patients should see in us; a belief that trusts in God even when we can’t see what the future holds. If we believe, those who come in our doors can catch our trust in God, and perhaps for the first time, see what it means to live a life of faith.
Like Abraham, we believe. And when we do, God turns to His right hand and says to Jesus, “Now there is a righteous one.”
That’s something worth believing in.
"Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how to respond to each person." Col. 4:5-6
For a moment, let's place ourselves in the shoes of one who enters one of our centers or residential homes. Think of all of the flooding emotions, uncertainties and questions.
The first-time visitor to a pregnancy help organization knows little about us beyond an advertisement or a friend's referral. Now, she (or he) is suddenly alone, at the mercies of those inside the door.
Concerns and questions arise from everywhere. Will they be nice to me? Will they judge me? Do they care about me? Do they have an agenda? Will this cost me something either financially or emotionally? What kind of people offer this for free? Will they try and control me in some way?
These are legitimate questions, coming from a lens of cynicism toward a society where we are told to "get what you can, whenever you can," or to ask, "What's in it for me?"
She feels like an outsider and has legitimate fears any outsider might face.
This is where Paul's words ring so true: "Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace . . . ."
Different situations require different pearls of wisdom, and as we look at each person we see as an opportunity to impart God's perspective and hope into a situation, we gain clarity as to what we should say, and how to say it.
Speaking with grace is the foundation of so much of what we do. Those we see, whether they admit it or not, often feel judged. Interestingly, this judgment is often internal. Speaking with grace can often turn an "I feel judged" situation into, "I can change, and here is my opportunity!"
Utilizing wisdom, and speaking with grace don't guarantee that we will always see positive outcomes in those we see. But, these two characteristics do lend themselves to hope; and we never know where a little hope can lead.
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