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Author Archives: Family Christian

  • The Ragamuffin Gospel from Brennan Manning

    Posted on March 11, 2014 by Family Christian

    Brennan

    Chapter One

    On a blustery October night in a church outside Minneapolis, several hundred believers had gathered for a three-day seminar. I began with a one-hour presentation on the gospel of grace and the reality of salvation. Using Scripture, story, symbolism, and personal experience, I focused on the total sufficiency of the redeeming work of Jesus Christ on Calvary. The service ended with a song and a prayer.

    Leaving the church by a side door, the pastor turned to his associate and fumed, “Humph, that airhead didn’t say one thing about what we have to do to earn our salvation!”

    Something is radically wrong.

    The bending of the mind by the powers of this world has twisted the gospel of grace into religious bondage and distorted the image of God into an eternal, small-minded bookkeeper. The Christian community resembles a Wall Street exchange of works wherein the elite are honored and the ordinary ignored. Love is stifled, freedom shackled, and self- righteousness fastened. The institutional church has become a wounder of the healers rather than a healer of the wounded.

    Put bluntly, the American church today accepts grace in theory but denies it in practice. We say we believe that the fundamental structure of reality is grace, not works—but our lives refute our faith. By and large, the gospel of grace is neither proclaimed, understood, nor lived. Too many Christians are living in the house of fear and not in the house of love.

    Our culture has made the word impossible to understand. We resonate to slogans such as:

    “There’s no free lunch.”

    “You get what you deserve.”

    “You want money? Work for it.”

    “You want love? Earn it.”

    “You want mercy? Show you deserve it.”

    “Do unto others before they do unto you.”

    “Watch out for welfare lines, the shiftless street people, free hot dogs at school, affluent students with federal loans—it’s a con game.”

    “By all means, give others what they deserve but not one penny more.”

    A friend told me she overheard a pastor say to a child, “God loves good little boys.” As I listen to sermons with their pointed emphasis on personal effort—no pain, no gain—I get the impression that a do-it-yourself spirituality is the American fashion.

    Though the Scriptures insist on God’s initiative in the work of salvation—that by grace we are saved, that the Tremendous Lover has taken to the chase—our spirituality often starts with self, not God. Personal responsibility has replaced personal response. We talk about acquiring virtue as if it were a skill that can be attained, like good handwriting or a well-grooved golf swing. In the penitential seasons we focus on overcoming our weaknesses, getting rid of our hang-ups, and reaching Christian maturity. We sweat through various spiritual exercises as if they were designed to produce a Christian Charles Atlas. Though lip service is paid to the gospel of grace, many Christians live as if only personal discipline and self-denial will mold the perfect me. The emphasis is on what I do rather than on what God is doing. In this curious process God is a benign old spectator in the bleachers who cheers when I show up for morning quiet time. We transfer the Horatio Alger legend of the self-made man into our relationship with God. As we read Psalm 123, “Just as the eyes of slave are on their masters’ hand, or the eyes of a slave-girl on the hand of her mistress,” we experience a vague sense of existential guilt. Our eyes are not on God. At heart we are practicing Pelagians. We believe that we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps—indeed, we can do it ourselves.

    Sooner or later we are confronted with the painful truth of our inadequacy and insufficiency. Our security is shattered and our bootstraps are cut. Once the fervor has passed, weakness and infidelity appear. We discover our inability to add even a single inch to our spiritual stature. There begins a long winter of discontent that eventually flowers into gloom, pessimism, and a subtle despair—subtle because it goes unrecognized, unnoticed, and therefore unchallenged. It takes the form of boredom, drudgery. We are overcome by the ordinariness of life, by daily duties done over and over again. We secretly admit that the call of Jesus is too demanding, that surrender to the Spirit is beyond our reach. We start acting like everyone else. Life takes on a joyless, empty quality. We begin to resemble the leading character in Eugene O’Neill’s play:

    “Why am I afraid to dance, I who love music and rhythm and grace and song and laughter? Why am I afraid to live, I who love life and the beauty of flesh and the living colors of the earth and sky and sea? Why am I afraid to love, I who love love?”

    Something is radically wrong.

    Our huffing and puffing to impress God, our scrambling for brownie points, our thrashing about trying to fix ourselves while hiding our pettiness and wallowing in guilt are nauseating to God and are a flat denial of the gospel of grace.

    Our approach to the Christian life is as absurd as the enthusiastic young man who had just received his plumber’s license and was taken to see Niagara Falls. He studied it for a minute and then said, “I think I can fix this.”

    The word itself, has become trite and debased through misuse and overuse. It does not move us the way it moved our early Christian ancestors. In some European countries certain high ecclesiastical officials are still called “Your Grace.” Sportswriters spoke of Michael Jordan’s “easy grace,” while business mogul Donald Trump has been described as “lacking in grace.” A new perfume appears with “Grace” on the label, and a child’s report card is called a “disgrace.” The word has lost its raw, imaginative power.

    Fyodor Dostoyevsky caught the shock and scandal of the gospel of grace when he wrote:

    At the last Judgment Christ will say to us, “Come, you also! Come, drunkards! Come, weaklings! Come, children of shame!” And he will say to us: “Vile beings, you who are in the image of the beast and bear his mark, but come all the same, you as well.” And the wise and prudent will say, “Lord, why do you welcome them?” And he will say: “If I welcome them, you wise men, if I welcome them, you prudent men, it is because not one of them has ever been judged worthy.” And he will stretch out his arms, and we will fall at his feet, and we will cry out sobbing, and then we will understand all, we will understand the Gospel of grace! Lord, your Kingdom come!

    I believe the Reformation actually began the day Martin Luther was praying over the meaning of Paul’s assertion that the gospel reveals the righteousness of God to us—it shows how faith leads to faith. In other words, the righteous shall find life through faith (see Romans 1:17). Like many Christians today, Luther wrestled through the night with this core question: How could the gospel of Christ be truly called “good news” if God is a righteous judge who rewards the good and punishes the evil? Did Jesus really have to come to reveal that terrifying message? How could the revelation of God in Christ Jesus be accurately called “news” since the Old Testament carried the same theme, or for that matter, “good” with the threat of punishment hanging like a dark cloud over the valley of history?

    But as Jaroslav Pelikan notes:

    Luther suddenly broke through to the insight that the “righteousness of God” that Paul spoke of in this passage was not the righteousness by which God was righteous in himself (that would be passive righteousness) but the righteousness by which, for the sake of Jesus Christ, God made sinners righteous (that is, active righteousness) through the forgiveness of sins in justification. When he discovered that, Luther said it was as though the very gates of Paradise had been opened to him.

    What a stunning truth!

    “Justification by grace through faith” is the theologian’s learned phrase for what Chesterton once called “the furious love of God.” He is not moody or capricious; He knows no seasons of change. He has a single relentless stance toward us: He loves us. He is the only God man has ever heard of who loves sinners. False gods—the gods of human manufacturing—despise sinners, but the Father of Jesus loves all, no matter what they do. But of course, this is almost too incredible for us to accept. Nevertheless, the central affirmation of the Reformation stands: Through no merit of ours, but by His mercy, we have been restored to a right relationship with God through the life, death, and resurrection of His beloved Son. This is the Good News, the gospel of grace.

    With his characteristic Robert Capon puts it this way:

    The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellarful of fifteen- hundred-year-old, two-hundred proof grace—of bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly. The word of the gospel—after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps—suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started... Grace has to be drunk straight: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale; neither goodness, nor badness, nor the flowers that bloom in the spring of super spirituality could be allowed to enter into the case.

    Matthew 9:9–13 captures a lovely glimpse of the gospel of grace:

    As Jesus was walking on from there he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. Now while he was at table in the house it happened that a number of tax collectors and sinners came to sit at the table with Jesus and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your master eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When he heard this he replied, “It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick. Go and learn the meaning of the words: Mercy is what pleases me, not sacrifice. And indeed I came to call not the upright, but sinners.”

    Here is revelation bright as the evening star: Jesus comes for sinners, for those as outcast as tax collectors and for those caught up in squalid choices and failed dreams. He comes for corporate executives, street people, superstars, farmers, hookers, addicts, IRS agents, AIDS victims, and even used-car salesmen. Jesus not only talks with these people but dines with them—fully aware that His table fellowship with sinners will raise the eyebrows of religious bureaucrats who hold up the robes and insignia of their authority to justify their condemnation of the truth and their rejection of the gospel of grace.

    This passage should be read, reread, and memorized. Every Christian generation tries to dim the blinding brightness of its meaning because the gospel seems too good to be true. We think salvation belongs to the proper and pious, to those who stand at a safe distance from the back alleys of existence, clucking their judgments at those who have been soiled by life. In the name of Grace, what has been the verdict of the Christian community on the stained life of the late Rock Hudson? To the disclosure (the $4.5 million settlement to his lover Marc Christian notwithstanding) that he called a priest to his deathbed, confessed his sins, and cried out to God for forgiveness?

    Jesus, who forgave the sins of the paralytic (thereby claiming divine power), proclaims that He has invited sinners and not the self-righteous to His table. The Greek verb used here, has the sense of inviting an honored guest to dinner. In effect, Jesus says the kingdom of His Father is not a subdivision for the self-righteous nor for those who feel they possess the state secret of salvation. The kingdom is not an exclusive, well-trimmed suburb with snobbish rules about who can live there. No, it is for a larger, homelier, less self-conscious caste of people who understand they are sinners because they have experienced the yaw and pitch of moral struggle.

    These are the sinner-guests invited by Jesus to closeness with Him around the banquet table. It remains a startling story to those who never understand that the men and women who are truly filled with light are those who have gazed deeply into the darkness of their imperfect existence. Perhaps it was after meditating on this passage that Morton Kelsey wrote, “The church is not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners.”

    The Good News means we can stop lying to ourselves. The sweet sound of amazing grace saves us from the necessity of self-deception. It keeps us from denying that though Christ was victorious, the battle with lust, greed, and pride still rages within us. As a sinner who has been redeemed, I can acknowledge that I am often unloving, irritable, angry, and resentful with those closest to me. When I go to church I can leave my white hat at home and admit I have failed. God not only loves me as I am, but also knows me as I am. Because of this I don’t need to apply spiritual cosmetics to make myself presentable to Him. I can accept ownership of my poverty and powerlessness and neediness.

    As C. S. Lewis says in “Grace substitutes a full, childlike and delighted acceptance of our need, a joy in total dependence. The good man is sorry for the sins which have increased his need. He is not entirely sorry for the fresh need they have produced.” As the gospel of grace lays hold of us, something is radically right. We are living in truth and reality. We become as honest as the ninety-two-year-old priest who was venerated by everybody in town for his holiness. He was also a member of the Rotary Club. Every time the club met, he would be there, always on time and always seated in his favorite spot in a corner of the room. One day the priest disappeared. It was as if he had vanished into thin air. The townsfolk searched all over and could find no trace of him. But the following month, when the Rotary Club met, he was there as usual sitting in his corner. “Father,” everyone cried, “where have you been?” “I just served a thirty-day sentence in prison.” “In prison?” they cried. “Father, you couldn’t hurt a fly. What happened?” “It’s a long story,” said the priest, “but briefly, this is what happened. I bought myself a train ticket to go into the city. I was standing on the platform waiting for the train to arrive when this stunningly beautiful girl appears on the arm of a policeman. She looked at me, turned to the cop and said, ‘He did it. I’m certain he’s the one who did it.’ Well, to tell you the truth, I was so flattered I pleaded guilty.”

    There’s a touch of vanity in even the holiest men and women. They see no reason to deny it. And they know that reality bites back if it isn’t respected.

    When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.

    To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side, I learn who I am and what God’s grace means. As Thomas Merton put it, “A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.”

    The gospel of grace nullifies our adulation of televangelists, charismatic superstars, and local church heroes. It obliterates the two-class citizenship theory operative in many American churches. For grace proclaims the awesome truth that all is gift. All that is good is ours, not by right, but by the sheer bounty of a gracious God. While there is much we may have earned—our degree, our salary, our home and garden, a Miller Lite, and a good night’s sleep—all this is possible only because we have been given so much: life itself, eyes to see and hands to touch, a mind to shape ideas, and a heart to beat with love. We have been given God in our souls and Christ in our flesh. We have the power to believe where others deny, to hope where others despair, to love where others hurt. This and so much more is sheer gift; it is not reward for our faithfulness, our generous disposition, or our heroic life of prayer. Even our fidelity is a gift. “If we but turn to God,” said St. Augustine, “that itself is a gift of God.” My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.

    In my ministry as a vagabond evangelist, I have extolled certain saints and contemporary Christians, speaking of at what cost they have struggled to surpass lesser men and women. O God, what madness I have preached in sermons! The Good News of the gospel of grace cries out: We are all, equally, privileged but unentitled beggars at the door of God’s mercy!

    Besides, as Henri Nouwen notes, the greater part of God’s work in the world may go unnoticed. There are a number of people who have become famous or widely known for their ministries, but much of God’s saving activity in our history could remain completely unknown. That is a mystery difficult to grasp in an age that attaches so much importance to publicity. We tend to think that the more people know and talk about something, the more important it must be.

    In Luke 18, a rich young man comes to Jesus, asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. He wants to be in the spotlight. It is no coincidence that Luke juxtaposes the passage of Jesus and the children immediately preceding the verses on the young aristocrat. Children contrast with the rich man simply because there is no question of their having yet been able to merit anything. Jesus’ point is, there is nothing that any of us can do to inherit the kingdom. We must simply receive it like little children. And little children haven’t done anything. The New Testament world was not sentimental about children and had no illusion about any pretended innate goodness in them. Jesus is not suggesting that heaven is a huge playground for Cajun infants. Children are our model because they have no claim on heaven. If they are close to God, it is because they are incompetent, not because they are innocent. If they receive anything, it can only be as a gift.

    Paul writes in Ephesians, “Because it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit” (2:8–9).

    If a random sampling of one thousand American Christians were taken today, the majority would define faith as belief in the existence of God. In earlier times it did not take faith to believe that God existed—almost everybody took that for granted. Rather, faith had to do with one’s relationship to God—whether one trusted in God. The difference between faith as “belief in something that may or may not exist” and faith as “trusting in God” is enormous. The first is a matter of the head, the second a matter of the heart. The first can leave us unchanged; the second intrinsically brings change.

    Such is the faith described by Paul Tillich in his famous work:

    Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life... It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: “You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything, do not perform anything, do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.” If that happens to us, we experience grace.

    And Grace calls out, Never confuse your perception of yourself with the mystery that you really are accepted.

    Paul writes, “The Lord said, ‘My grace is enough for you: my power is at its best in weakness.’ So I shall be very happy to make my weaknesses my special boast so that the power of Christ may stay over me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Whatever our failings may be, we need not lower our eyes in the presence of Jesus. Unlike Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre Dame, we need not hide all that is ugly and repulsive in us. Jesus comes not for the super-spiritual but for the wobbly and the weak-kneed who know they don’t have it all together, and who are not too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace. As we glance up, we are astonished to find the eyes of Jesus open with wonder, deep with understanding, and gentle with compassion.

    Something is radically wrong when the local church rejects a person accepted by Jesus—when a harsh, judgmental, and unforgiving sentence is passed on homosexuals; when a divorcée is denied communion; when the child of a prostitute is refused baptism; when an unlaicized priest is forbidden the sacraments. Jesus comes to the ungodly, even on Sunday morning. His coming ends ungodliness and makes us worthy. Otherwise, we are establishing at the heart of Christianity an utterly ungodly and unworthy preoccupation with works.

    Jesus sat down at table with anyone who wanted to be present, including those who were banished from decent homes. In the sharing of a meal they received consideration instead of the expected condemnation. A merciful acquittal instead of a hasty verdict of guilty. Amazing grace instead of universal disgrace. Here is a very practical demonstration of the law of grace—a new chance in life.

    Any church that will not accept that it consists of sinful men and women, and exists for them, implicitly rejects the gospel of grace. As Hans Küng says:

    It deserves neither God’s mercy nor men’s trust. The church must constantly be aware that its faith is weak, its knowledge dim, its profession of faith halting, that there is not a single sin or failing which it has not in one way or another been guilty of.

    If the church remains self-righteously aloof from failures, irreligious and immoral people, it cannot enter justified into God’s kingdom. But if it is constantly aware of its guilt and sin, it can live in joyous awareness of forgiveness. The promise has been given to it that anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.

    The story goes that a public sinner was excommunicated and forbidden entry to the church. He took his woes to God.

    “They won’t let me in, Lord, because I am a sinner.”

    “What are you complaining about?” said God. “They won’t let Me in either.”

    Often hobbling through our church doors on Sunday morning comes grace on crutches—sinners still unable to throw away their false supports and stand upright in the freedom of the children of God. Yet their mere presence in the church on Sunday morning is a flickering candle representing a desire to maintain contact with God. To douse the flame is to plunge them into a world of spiritual darkness.

    There is a myth flourishing in the church today that has caused incalculable harm: once converted, fully converted. In other words, once I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, an irreversible, sinless future beckons. Discipleship will be an untarnished success story; life will be an unbroken upward spiral toward holiness. Tell that to poor Peter who, after three times professing his love for Jesus on the beach and after receiving the fullness of the Spirit at Pentecost, was still jealous of Paul’s apostolic success.

    Often I have been asked, “Brennan, how is it possible that you became an alcoholic after you got saved?” It is possible because I got battered and bruised by loneliness and failure; because I got discouraged, uncertain, guilt-ridden, and took my eyes off Jesus. Because the Christ-encounter did not transfigure me into an angel. Because justification by grace through faith means I have been set in right relationship with God, not made the equivalent of a patient etherized on a table.

    We want ever-sharp spirituality—push, pull, click, click, one saint that quick—and attempt to cultivate a particular virtue at a given point in time. Prudence in January, humility in February, fortitude in March, temperance in April. Score cards are provided for toting up gains and losses. The losses should diminish if you expect to meet charity in May. Sometimes May never comes. For many Christians, life is a long January.

    According to an ancient Christian legend, a saint once knelt down and prayed, “Dear God, I have only one desire in life. Give me the grace of never offending You again.”

    When God heard this, He started laughing out loud. “That’s what they all ask for. But if I granted everyone this grace, tell Me, whom would I forgive?”

    Because salvation is by grace through faith, I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands (see Revelation 7:9), I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son. I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives; the businessman besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; the sexually abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last “trick,” whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school; the deathbed convert who for decades had his cake and ate it, broke every law of God and man, wallowed in lust, and raped the earth.

    “But how?” we ask.

    Then the voice says, “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

    There they are. There are—the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life’s tribulations, but through it all clung to the faith.

    My friends, if this is not good news to you, you have never understood the gospel of grace.


    Exerpted from The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning Copyright © 2002 by Brennan Manning. Excerpted by permission of Multnomah Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

  • The Latest and Greatest

    Posted on March 11, 2014 by Family Christian

    Veggies in Space: The Fennel Frontier DVD
    Love Come to Life: The Redeemed Edition by Big Daddy Weave
    A Father’s Son DVD
    David Lomas Google Hangout - 3/13
    Son of God - in Theaters Now
  • Redeeming Love from Francine Rivers

    Posted on March 10, 2014 by Family Christian

    Francine

    NEW ENGLAND, 1835

    Alex Stafford was just like Mama said. He was tall and dark, and Sarah had never seen anyone so beautiful. Even dressed in dusty riding clothes, his hair damp with perspiration, he was like the princes in the stories Mama read. Sarah’s heart beat with wild joy and pride. None of the other fathers she saw at Mass compared to him.

    He looked at her with his dark eyes, and her heart sang. She was wearing her best blue frock and white pinafore, and Mama had braided her hair with pink and blue ribbons. Did Papa like the way she looked? Mama said blue was his favorite color, but why didn’t he smile? Was she fidgeting? Mama said to stand straight and still and act like a lady. She said he would like that. But he didn’t look pleased at all.

    “Isn’t she beautiful, Alex?” Mama said. Her voice sounded strange…tight, like she was choking. “Isn’t she the most beautiful little girl you’ve ever seen?”

    Sarah watched Papa’s dark eyes frown. He didn’t look happy. He looked angry. Like Mama looked sometimes when Sarah talked too much or asked too many questions.

    Prologue

    “Just a few minutes,” Mama said quickly. Too quickly. Was she afraid? But why? “That’s all I’m asking, Alex. Please. It would mean so much to her.” Alex Stafford stared down at Sarah. His mouth was pressed tight, and he studied her silently. Sarah stood as still as she could. She’d stared at herself in the mirror so long this morning, she knew what he would see. She had her father’s chin and nose, and her mother’s blonde hair and fair skin. Her eyes were like her mother’s, too, although they were even more blue. Sarah wanted Papa to think she was pretty, and she gazed up at him hopefully. But the look in his eyes was not a nice one.

    “Did you pick blue on purpose, Mae?” Papa’s words startled Sarah. They were cold and angry. “Because it brings out the color of her eyes?”

    Sarah couldn’t help it, she glanced at her mother—and her heart fell. Mama’s face was filled with hurt.

    Alex glanced toward the foyer. “Cleo!”

    “She’s not here,” Mama said quietly, keeping her head high. “I gave her the day off.”

    Papa’s eyes seemed to get even darker. “Did you? Well, that leaves you in a fix, doesn’t it, darling?”

    Mama stiffened, then bit her lip and glanced down at Sarah. What was wrong? Sarah wondered sadly. Wasn’t Papa happy to see her? She had been so excited that she was actually going to be with him at last, even for a little
    while.…

    “What would you have me do?” Mama’s words were directed at Papa, so Sarah stayed silent, still hoping.

    “Send her away. She knows how to find Cleo, I would imagine.”

    Pink spots appeared on Mama’s cheeks. “Meaning what, Alex? That I entertain others in your absence?”

    Sarah’s smile fell in confusion. They spoke so coldly to one another. Neither looked at her. Had they forgotten she was there? What was wrong? Mama was distraught. Why was Papa so angry about Cleo not being home? Chewing her lip, Sarah looked between them. Stepping closer, she tugged on her father’s coat. “Papa…”

    “Don’t call me that.”

    She blinked, frightened and confused by his manner. He was her papa. Mama said so. He even brought her presents every time he came. Mama gave them to her. Maybe he was angry that she had never thanked him. “I want to thank you for the presents you—”

    “Hush, Sarah,” her mother said quickly. “Not now, darling.”

    Papa flashed Mama a thunderous look. “Let her speak. It’s what you wanted, isn’t it? Why are you shushing her now, Mae?”

    Mama stepped closer and put her hand on Sarah’s shoulder. Sarah could feel Mama’s fingers trembling, but Papa bent toward her now, smiling. “What presents?” he said.

    He was so handsome, just like Mama said. She was proud to have a father like him.

    “Tell me, little one.”

    “I always like the candies you bring me,” Sarah said, feeling warm and proud beneath his attention. “They are very nice. But best of everything, I love the crystal swan.”

    She smiled again, glowing with joy that Papa listened to her so carefully. He even smiled, though Sarah wasn’t sure she liked his smile. It was small and tight.

    “Indeed,” he said and straightened. He looked at Mama. “I’m so pleased to know how much my gifts mean.”

    Sarah looked up at her father, thrilled at his approval. “I put it on my windowsill. The sun shines through it and makes colors dance on the wall. Would you like to come and see?” She took his hand. When he jerked away, she blinked, hurt, not understanding.

    Mama bit her lip and reached out a hand toward Papa, then stopped suddenly. She looked afraid again. Sarah looked from one parent to the other, struggling to understand. What had she done wrong? Wasn’t Papa pleased that she liked his presents?

    “So you pass on my gifts to the child,” Papa said. “It’s good to know what they mean to you.”

    Sarah bit her lip at the coldness in Papa’s voice, but before she could speak, Mama touched her shoulder gently. “Darling, be a good girl and go outside and play now.”

    Sarah looked up, distressed. Had she done something wrong? “Can’t I stay? I’ll be very quiet.” Mama couldn’t seem to say more. Her eyes were moist and she looked at Papa.

    Alex bent down to Sarah. “I want you to go outside and play,” he said quietly. “I want to talk to your mother alone.” He smiled and patted her cheek.

    Sarah smiled, utterly enchanted. Papa had touched her; he wasn’t angry at all. He loved her! Just as Mama said. “Can I come back when you’re done talking?”

    Papa straightened stiffly. “Your mother will come and get you when she’s ready. Now, run along as you’ve been told.”

    “Yes, Papa.” Sarah wanted to stay, but she wanted to please her father more. She went out of the parlor, skipping through the kitchen to the back door. She picked a few daisies that grew in the garden patch by the door and then headed for the rose trellis. She plucked the petals. “He loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not.…” She hushed as she came around the corner. She didn’t want to disturb Mama and Papa. She just wanted to be close to them.

    Sarah dreamed contentedly. Maybe Papa would put her up on his shoulders. She wondered if he would take her for a ride on his big black horse.

    She would have to change her dress, of course. He wouldn’t want her to soil it. She wished he had let her sit on his lap while he talked to Mama. She would have liked that very much, and she would have been no bother. The parlor window was open, and she could hear voices. Mama loved the smell of roses to fill the parlor. Sarah wanted to sit and listen to her parents. That way she would know just when Papa wanted her to come back again. If she was very quiet, she wouldn’t disturb them, and all Mama would have to do was lean out and call her name.

    “What was I to do, Alex? You’ve never spent so much as a minute with her. What was I to tell her? That her father doesn’t care? That he wishes she had never even been born?”

    Sarah’s lips parted. Deny it, Papa! Deny it!

    “I brought that swan back from Europe for you, and you throw it away on a child who has no appreciation for its value. Did you give her the pearls as well? What about the music box? I suppose she got that, too!”

    The daisies fluttered from Sarah’s hand. She sat down on the ground, careless of her pretty dress. Her heart slowed from its wild, happy beat. Everything inside her seemed to spiral downward with each word.

    “Alex, please. I didn’t see any harm in it. It made it easier. She asked me this morning if she was old enough yet to meet you. She asks me every time she knows you’re coming. How could I say no to her again? I didn’t have the
    heart. She doesn’t understand your neglect, and neither do I.”

    “You know how I feel about her.”

    “How can you say how you feel? You don’t even know her. She’s a beautiful child, Alex. She’s quick and charming and she isn’t afraid of anything. She’s like you in so many ways. She’s someone, Alex. You can’t ignore her existence forever. She’s your daughter.…”

    “I have enough children by my wife. Legitimate children. I told you I didn’t want another.”

    “How can you say that? How can you not love your own flesh and blood?”

    “I told you how I felt from the beginning, but you wouldn’t listen. She should never have been born, Mae, but you insisted on having your own way.”

    “Do you think I wanted to get pregnant? Do you think I planned to have her?”

    “I’ve often wondered. Especially when I arranged a way out of the situation for you and you refused. The doctor I sent you to would have taken care of the whole mess. He would’ve gotten rid—”

    “I couldn’t do it. How could you expect me to kill my unborn child? Don’t you understand? It’s a mortal sin.”

    “You’ve spent too much time in church,” he said derisively. “Have you ever thought that you wouldn’t have the problems you do now if you had gotten rid of her the way I told you. It would’ve been easy. But you ran out.”

    “I wanted her!” Mama said brokenly. “She was part of you, Alex, and part of me. I wanted her even if you didn’t.…”

    “Is that the real reason?”

    “You’re hurting me, Alex!”

    Sarah flinched as something shattered. “Is that the real reason, Mae? Or did you have her because you thought bearing my child would give you a hold over me you otherwise lacked?”

    “You can’t believe that!” Mama was crying now. “You do, don’t you? You’re a fool, Alex. Oh, what have I done? I gave up everything for you! My family, my friends, my self-respect, everything I believed in, every hope I ever had.…”

    “I bought you this cottage. I give you all the money you could possibly need.”

    Mama’s voice rose strangely. “Do you know what it’s like for me to walk down the street in this town? You come and go when and as you please. And they know who you are, and they know what I am. No one looks at me. No one speaks to me. Sarah feels it, too. She asked me about it once, and I told her we were different from other people. I didn’t know what else to say.” Her voice broke. “I’ll probably go to hell for what I’ve become.”

    “I’m sick of your guilt and I’m sick of hearing about that child. She’s ruining everything between us. Do you remember how happy we were? We never argued. I couldn’t wait to come to you, to be with you.”

    “Don’t—”

    “And how much time do I have left with you today? Enough? You’ve used it up on her. I told you what would happen, didn’t I? I wish she had never been born!”

    Mama cried out a terrible name. There was a crash. Terrified, Sarah got up and ran. She raced through Mama’s flowers and across the lawn and onto the pathway to the springhouse. She ran until she couldn’t run anymore. Gasping, her sides burning, she dropped into the tall grass, her shoulders heaving with sobs, her face streaked with tears. She heard a horse galloping toward her. Scrambling for a better hiding place in the vines about the creek, she peered out and saw her father ride by on his great black horse. Ducking down, she huddled there, crying, and waited for Mama to come fetch her.

    From the Trade Paperback edition.


    Excerpted from Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers Copyright © 2005 by Francine Rivers. Excerpted by permission of Multnomah Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

  • Meet the Duggars

    Posted on March 10, 2014 by Family Christian

    Growing up Duggar by Jana, Jessa, Jill and Jinger Duggar Meet the Duggars Thursday, March 13, at our Alexandria store Growing up Duggar by Jana, Jessa, Jill and Jinger Duggar

  • Grow Spiritually with iDisciple

    Posted on March 10, 2014 by Family Christian

    iDisciple is the ultimate spiritual growth tool.
    Watch video to learn more about iDisciple iDisciple is the ultimate spiritual growth tool.

  • In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day from Mark Batterson

    Posted on March 7, 2014 by Family Christian

    Mark

    Locking Eyes with Your Lion

    You are responsible forever for what you have tamed.
    --Antoinede Saint-Exubery

    There is an obscure passage in Scripture that I doubt any Sunday school teacher has ever assigned as a memory
    verse. It wasn’t exegeted in any of the systematic theology classes I took in seminary. It has absolutely no bearing on any major biblical doctrines. You may have read it a few times in a one-year Bible, but it probably didn’t even make a blip on your radar screen.

    Buried in the Old Testament book of 2 Samuel, the twenty-third chapter, the twentieth and twenty-first verses,
    is one of the most inconceivable and inspirational passages in Scripture:

    There was also Benaiah son of Jehoiada, a valiant warrior from Kabzeel. He did many heroic deeds, which included killing two of Moab’s mightiest warriors. Another time he chased a lion down into a pit. Then, despite the snow and slippery ground, he caught the lion and killed it. Another time, armed only with a club, he killed a great Egyptian warrior who was armed with a spear. Benaiah wrenched the spear from the Egyptian’s hand and killed him with it.

    It’s easy to read verses like this in the comfortable confines of your home or office and totally miss the monumental acts of courage displayed by Benaiah. Have you ever met anyone or heard of anyone chasing a lion? Sure, Barnum & Bailey have lion tamers. But lion chasers? Benaiah didn’t have a hunting rifle or Land Rover. And this was no game-park safari.

    Scripture doesn’t tell us what Benaiah was doing or where he was going when he encountered this lion. We don’t know the time of day or Benaiah’s frame of mind. But Scripture does reveal his gut reaction. And it was gutsy. It ranks as one of the most improbable reactions recorded in Scripture. Usually, when the image of a man-eating beast travels through the optical nerve and registers in the visual cortex, the brain has one over-arching message: Run away.

    Normal people run away from lions. They run as far and as fast as they possibly can. But lion chasers are wired differently.

    For the vast majority of us, the only lions we’ve ever encountered were stuffed or caged. And few of us have experienced hand-to-hand combat that forced us to fight for our lives. But try to put yourself in Benaiah’s snow shoes.

    Out of the corner of his eye, Benaiah sees something crawling. I don’t know how far away the lion is—and their vision is probably obscured by falling snow and frozen breath—but there is a moment when Benaiah and the lion lock eyes. Pupils dilate. Muscles tense. Adrenaline rushes.

    What a Hollywood moment.

    Imagine watching it on the movie screen with THX surround sound. Your knuckles turn white as you grip the theater seat. Blood pressure escalates. And the entire audience anticipates what will happen next. Lion encounters tend to script the same way. Man runs away like a scaredy-cat. Lion gives chase. And king of the beasts eats manwich for lunch.

    But not this time! Almost as improbable as falling up or the second hand on your watch moving counterclockwise, the lion turns tail and Benaiah gives chase.

    The camera films the chase at ground level.

    Lions can run up to thirty-five miles per hour and leap thirty feet in a single bound. Benaiah doesn’t stand a chance, but that doesn’t keep him from giving chase. Then the lion makes one critical misstep. The ground gives away beneath his five-hundred-pound frame, and he falls down a steep embankment into a snow-laden pit. For what it’s worth, I’m sure the lion landed on his feet. Lions are part of the cat genus, after all.

    No one is eating popcorn at this point. Eyes are fixed on the screen. It’s the moment of truth as Benaiah approaches the pit. Almost like walking on thin ice, Benaiah measures every step. He inches up to the edge and peers into the pit. Menacing yellow eyes stare back. The entire audience is thinking the same thing: Don’t even think about it.

    Have you ever had one of those moments where you do something crazy and ask yourself in retrospect: What was I thinking? This had to be one of those moments for Benaiah. Who in their right mind chases lions? But Benaiah now has a moment to collect his thoughts, regain his sanity, and get a grip on reality. And the reality is this: Normal people don’t chase lions.

    So Benaiah turns around and walks away. The audience breathes a collective sigh of relief. But Benaiah isn’t walking away. He’s getting a running start. There is an audible gasp from the audience as Benaiah runs at the pit and takes a flying leap of faith.

    The camera pans out.

    You see two sets of tracks leading up to the pit’s edge. One set of foot prints. One set of paw prints. Benaiah and the lion disappear into the recesses of the pit. The view is obscured to keep it PG-13. And for a few critical moments, the audience is left with just the THX sound track. A deafening roar echoes in the cavernous pit. A bloodcurdling battle cry pierces the soul.

    Then dead silence.

    Freeze-frame.

    Everybody in the theater expects to see a lion shake its mane and strut out of the pit. But after a few agonizing moments of suspense, the shadow of a human form appears as Benaiah climbs out of the pit. The blood from his wounds drips on the freshly fallen snow. Claw marks crisscross his face and spear arm. But Benaiah wins one of the most improbable victories recorded in the pages of Scripture.

    A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

    Right at the outset, let me share one of my core convictions: God is in the business of strategically positioning us in the right place at the right time. A sense of destiny is our birthright as followers of Christ. God is awfully good at getting us where He wants us to go. But here’s the catch: The right place often seems like the wrong place, and the right time often seems like the wrong time.

    Can I understate the obvious?

    Encountering a lion in the wild is typically a bad thing. A really bad thing! Finding yourself in a pit with a lion on a snowy day generally qualifies as a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. That combination of circumstances usually spells one thing: death. I don't think anyone would have bet on Benaiah winning this fight—probably not even the riskiest of gamblers. He had to be at least a one-hundred-to-one underdog. And the snowy conditions on game day didn’t help his chances.

    Scripture doesn’t give us a blow-by-blow description of what happened in that pit. All we know is that when the snow settled, the lion was dead and Benaiah was alive. There was one set of paw prints and two sets of footprints.

    Now fast-forward two verses and look at what happens in the next scene.

    2 Samuel 23:23 says: “And David put [Benaiah] in charge of his bodyguard.”

    I can’t think of too many places I’d rather not be than in a pit with a lion on a snowy day. Can you? Getting stuck in a pit with a lion on a snowy day isn’t on anybody’s wish list. It’s a death wish. But you’ve got to admit something: “I killed a lion in a pit on a snowy day” looks pretty impressive on your résumé if you’re applying for a bodyguard position with the King of Israel!

    You know what I’m saying?

    I can picture David flipping through a stack of résumés. “I majored in security at the University of Jerusalem.” Nope. “I did an internship with the Palace Guard.” Nada. “I worked for Brinks Armored Chariots.” Thanks but no thanks.

    Then David comes to the next résumé in the stack. “I killed a lion in a pit on a snowy day.” David didn’t even check his references. That is the kind of person you want in charge of your bodyguard. Lion chasers make great bouncers.

    Now zoom out and look at the story through a wide-angled lens. Most people would have seen the lion as a five-hundred-pound problem, but not Benaiah. For most people, finding yourself in a pit with a lion on a snowy day would qualify as bad luck. But can you see how God turned what could have been considered a bad break into a big break? Benaiah lands a job interview with the King of Israel.

    I’m sure the bodyguard position was the last thing on his mind when he encountered the lion, but Benaiah wasn’t just chasing a lion. Benaiah was chasing a position in David’s administration.

    Here’s the point: God is in the résumé-building business. He is always using past experiences to prepare us for future opportunities. But those God-given opportunities often come disguised as maneating lions. And how we react when we encounter those lions will determine our destiny. We can cower in fear and run away from our greatest challenges. Or we can chase our God-ordained destiny by seizing the God-ordained opportunity.

    As I look back on my own life, I recognize this simple truth: The greatest opportunities were the scariest lions. Part of me has wanted to play it safe, but I’ve learned that taking no risks is the greatest risk of all.

    Giving up a full-ride scholarship at the University of Chicago to transfer to a small Bible college was a huge risk. Asking my wife, Lora, to marry me was a huge risk. (Of course, not as big a risk as Lora saying yes!) Packing all of our earthly belongings into a fifteen-foot U-haul and moving to Washington DC with no place to live and no guaranteed salary was a huge risk. Each of our three children was a huge risk. Jumping into a church plant with zero pastoral experience was a huge risk, both for me and for the church.

    But when I look in the rearview mirror, I realize that the biggest risks were the greatest opportunities. Some of those life-altering decisions caused sleepless nights. The steps of faith were accompanied by acute fear that caused nausea. We experienced some financial hardships that required miraculous provision. And we had to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off after falling flat on our faces a few times.

    But those were the moments that I came alive. Those were the moments when God set the stage. Those were the moments that changed the trajectory of my life.


    Excerpted from In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day by Mark Batterson Copyright © 2006 by Mark Batterson. Excerpted by permission of Multnomah Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

  • The God I Never Knew from Robert Morris

    Posted on March 6, 2014 by Family Christian

    Robert

    The God I Never Knew, Chapter 1

    The knock at the door startled Irene Adkins. The seventy-nine-year-old great-grandmother wasn’t expecting any visitors. A cautious peek through the peephole revealed a well-dressed silver-haired gentleman with a kind face that struck her as vaguely familiar. It was something about the eyes and nose. As she opened the door, her certainty grew—the stranger definitely reminded her of someone. But who?

    It would take her a while to realize that the man’s face indeed bore an uncanny resemblance to one she knew better than any other—her own. Irene’s seventy-three-year-old brother, Terry, had come for a surprise visit. It was quite surprising because Irene never knew she had a brother. Back in 1932, in the depths of the Great Depression, a desperate and confused young English couple unhitched their tattered camper trailer on the side of the road and drove away. Police later found three small, hungry children inside. Irene, at ten months of age, was the youngest. The three were placed in separate foster homes and grew up unaware of the others’ existence. Meanwhile, the young couple eventually achieved some stability a few years later and had another child—their son, Terry.

    When Terry was fourteen, his parents revealed their shameful secret. They told him of the desperate straits in which they’d found themselves and of the wrenching decision to abandon the trio of hungry mouths they could not feed. Shortly thereafter Terry began a lifelong quest to find his siblings, especially the sister his parents had named Irene. He searched in vain for almost sixty years. Then came a breakthrough. He learned the name of the agency that had placed Irene and her siblings in foster homes.

    Not long thereafter came the day—April 3, 2010—when Irene Adkins discovered the wonderful brother she never knew. In the discovery the rootless orphan found a source of answers to questions she had carried around in her heart all her life.

    I believe I know how Irene felt. Several decades ago, after many years of struggling to live the Christian life and even working “successfully” in fulltime ministry, I finally discovered the God I never knew. And in the discovery I found not only the source of answers to every question I’ve ever had but a dear friend as well. One who has made my life richer, fuller, and more exciting than I ever dreamed possible. I am referring, of course, to God—the Holy Spirit.

    An Amazing Relationship

    I grew up in church. However, this church was part of a denomination that avoided mentioning the Holy Spirit whenever possible. Our denominational leaders treated Him a bit like the crazy uncle who shows up at Thanksgiving once every few years and horrifies everyone with his inappropriate behavior. You can’t help being related to this uncle, but you hope that if you don’t mention his name or send him a Christmas card, he will stay away.

    In fact, many years ago when I prepared to leave home to attend Bible college, my pastor had just one parting word of counsel for me. I had recently given my life to Christ, and I was burning with desire to serve Him. So I eagerly waited to hear what encouragement my pastor would deliver as I entered this season of learning and preparation for ministry. His only advice to me was, “Watch out for people who talk about the Holy Spirit.”

    At the time I didn’t know any better. So I simply nodded and filed his warning away in my mind. Now—after twenty-five years of discovering what a wonderful, kind, helpful, gentle, and wise person the Holy Spirit is; after developing an intimate friendship with Him that has made my life better and more fulfilling in countless ways; after watching the Holy Spirit help and bless people—I am grieved to think back on my pastor’s advice. To be honest, it offends me. Of course, most of us feel offended when someone thinks badly of a person we love and respect, especially when the opinion is based on lies or misunderstandings. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of hearing bad things about someone through a third party and forming a negative impression, only to meet that individual later and discover that he isn’t the bad person you envisioned at all. If you’re like most people, you’ve probably been misinformed about the Holy Spirit to some degree. After more than twenty-five years of experience in ministry, I’ve seen firsthand that most Christians hold a distorted, inaccurate, or incomplete view of the third member of the Trinity. In fact, many frustrated believers are just as Irene Adkins was for most of her life—utterly unaware that a loving and amazing person desires to know them and to fill their empty lives with good things. Too many have resigned themselves to perpetual defeat in their battles with temptation or to stumbling through life, making decisions with nothing more than their own flawed reason to guide them. Others live a dull, powerless brand of Christianity, completely at odds with the picture of the vibrant, overcoming, advancing church of the book of Acts.

    The dynamic, full life Jesus promised to believers is a natural outgrowth of intimate friendship with God, the Holy Spirit. Today I have an amazing relationship with the Holy Spirit, though that wasn’t always true. By the time we’re finished exploring this topic, you’ll realize what an amazing relationship you can have with Him too.

    Chapter 2: Who Is This Person?

    Helper

    Like a lot of newly married couples, Debbie and I didn’t have much at first. Even the possessions we could call our own were mostly hand-me-downs from our parents. Our financial situation improved after a couple of years of marriage, and one day Debbie asked if I was okay with her buying a new comforter. Our current bedcover was so faded and threadbare that you could practically read the newspaper through it. Being a typical guy, I thought we’d buy a plain bedspread. So when we went shopping, I was shocked to learn that the comforter Debbie had in mind might require taking out a second mortgage on the house. Of course, I’m exaggerating. But the big and soft and puffy and colorful comforter we purchased was much fancier and more beautiful than I could have imagined.

    Despite its cost, I was excited about our new acquisition. On the day we bought it, several times I caught myself imagining what it would feel like to slip beneath that soft comforter and be all toasty warm. At bedtime I walked into our room and, to my horror, the beautiful new comforter was gone. With my best exasperated yet perplexed voice, I asked Debbie, “Sweetie, where’s the new comforter?” She gave me that look. You know the one—the “you can’t seriously be that dense” look. The truth is, yes, we husbands really can be that dense!

    Realizing the level of my denseness in this moment, Debbie explained, “That new comforter isn’t for use. It’s for looks.” In the years since that night, we’ve accumulated many household items that I’ve discovered are for looks, not use. We have plates I’m not allowed to eat on and fancy goblets I can’t drink from. We have beautiful towels that you can use if you stay at our house, but I can’t. In fact, there are towels hanging in my bathroom right now that I’m not allowed to use.

    In the same way, millions of Christians have been given a comforter, but they treat Him as if He’s just for looks. If we think that way, we’re wrong. The wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit is meant to be so much more than an ornamental feature in our lives.

    Introducing a Helper

    Just who is the Holy Spirit? That’s a big question—one as big as God Himself. When you want to get to know someone new, often the first step is to be introduced by someone who already knows that person well. During His years of ministry on earth, Jesus knew the Holy Spirit better than any human ever had or has since. So perhaps the best place to learn about the Holy Spirit begins with Jesus and the words He used to introduce the Spirit to the disciples, as recorded in John 14.

    It’s helpful to know chapters 14–16 of John’s gospel contain a record of Jesus’s conversation with His disciples at the Last Supper. Jesus isn’t publicly teaching a large crowd of casual followers and curious gawkers on a Galilean hillside. He’s not debating the Pharisees or speaking cryptically in parables to the Sadducees. Instead, Jesus is in a small room, having dinner with His closest friends. He knows that in just twelve short hours, He will be put to death on the cross. In this unbelievably serious moment, a leader who knows He is about to be killed gives vital instructions and information to His followers.

    Jesus begins with words of comfort: “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. I’m going away, but I will come back” (paraphrased). Then, in John 14:16–17, Jesus gets to the core of what He wants these men to understand: And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. Don’t get hung up on the fact that Jesus says, “I will pray the Father.” Using the word pray this way sounds a little odd to our modern ears. But the Greek word translated “pray” here is translated “ask” in many other parts of the New Testament. Jesus is simply saying, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper.” Note the word “Helper.” The person the Father will send sounds mysterious, but Jesus tells the disciples that the role and nature of this person is to “help.” Jesus also assures them that the Helper won’t be a complete stranger. “But you know Him,” Jesus says.

    How could they already know this coming helper? Jesus explains by saying, “For He dwells with you and will be in you.” The verb “dwells” is in the present tense, while the phrase “will be in you” is clearly future tense. At the moment Jesus was speaking, the disciples had experienced the Helper dwelling “with” them to a certain extent. But the Helper was about to be sent in a way that would make Him not only “with” them but “in” them.

    Although Jesus spoke these words to a small group of His closest friends and followers, they are also meant for us. The truth of the Holy Spirit’s living with and in us assures us that we never have to feel alone.

    How the Holy Spirit Helps

    What kind of “help” will the Holy Spirit provide? Jesus gives part of the answer in John 14:25–26: These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. This is the second time Jesus chooses the word “Helper” to describe the One the Father is sending. Here Jesus lists two of the many ways this person will be of help.

    First, “He will teach you all things.” What an incredible promise. There’s no subject in which God isn’t an expert. He has all the answers. The second way the Holy Spirit helps is by bringing “to your remembrance all things that I [Jesus] said to you.” This is one reason the Gospels are so detailed and in such agreement about the words of Jesus. The Holy Spirit helped the disciples remember everything Jesus said to them.

    Jesus Must Leave

    A little later in this conversation with the disciples, Jesus gives the third mention of the coming Helper being sent from the Father: But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. ( John 15:26)

    Notice that Jesus calls Him “the Spirit of truth.” Jesus presents the Holy Spirit to us as the ultimate answer to overcoming and undoing the work of Satan, the great Deceiver and “the father of lies” ( John 8:44, NIV). For thousands of years, since the fall of Adam and Eve, mankind had stumbled in the darkness of the devil’s lies. Then Jesus, who declared Himself to be “the way, the truth, and the life” ( John 14:6), announced He would soon be sending a helper who would make it possible to live a life free from deception.

    In John 16, Jesus gives the disciples His most thorough introduction to the Holy Spirit. “So wonderful is this One who will be sent,” Jesus tells them, “that it is a much better thing for you if I go away. Because if I don’t go, He can’t come!” That’s how I like to paraphrase it—here’s the actual translation: Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. ( John 16:7)

    The first thing that always strikes me when I read this passage is that Jesus feels compelled to say, “Now, I’m telling you the truth here.” He knows that the next words He speaks will truly seem unbelievable to the disciples. The disciples were grief stricken at the idea that Jesus would be going away from them. They loved Him. They depended on Him. He was their miracle working leader. How could it possibly be good that He is about to leave them? Jesus immediately explains that only if He goes to the Father can the Helper be sent.

    Jesus continues by explaining some more ways the Holy Spirit will provide help, and we’ll look at those in a moment. Right now, notice John 16:12–14. There, Jesus says, I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.

    These verses contain an amazing promise. Jesus wants to tell the disciples the whole amazing story of what lies ahead, but He knows that the truths He wants to deliver would just overwhelm and confuse them at this moment. But He has good news for them. Who better to deliver important truths than the Spirit of truth? “When He…has come, He will guide you into all truth,” Jesus says. “All truth.” That’s quite a benefit of friendship with the Holy Spirit. No wonder Jesus refers to Him as the Helper. But Jesus mentions yet another form of help the Spirit will provide: “He will tell you things to come.” Let me put it a little differently. Jesus is saying, “The Holy Spirit will tell you the future.” Would it occasionally be helpful to know what’s around the corner? Have you ever been blindsided by some event and thought to yourself, If only I’d known this was coming, I’d have been better prepared?

    One of the elders at the church I pastor is a wonderful model for allowing the Holy Spirit to show us things to come. Steve built a large and successful business in the ultracompetitive construction industry, largely by regularly getting alone with God and allowing His Spirit to direct him where his business is concerned.

    In addition to having daily quiet times of Bible study, private worship, and prayer, Steve makes it a point to go away two or three times each year for several days at a time. He rents a cabin or lake house and takes little more than his Bible and a notebook. His testimony is that he invariably receives instruction from the Holy Spirit in these sessions of private communion about what lies ahead and how to lead his business accordingly. Steve can share instance after instance in which a seemingly counter intuitive instruction from the Holy Spirit resulted in a profitable breakthrough. Or in which a warning enabled him to avoid unnecessary losses or bad hiring decisions. Yes, a key role of the Holy Spirit is to lead us supernaturally into truth and reveal what lies ahead. No wonder Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the Helper four times in three consecutive chapters! The promises in these passages are absolutely incredible. In each of these four instances, the Greek word translated “helper” is parakletos. The Greek word appears only five times in the entire New Testament, and we’ve just looked at four of them.

    When the typical first-century Greek speaker or writer used this word, he was talking about a person who pleads your case like a lawyer before a judge, or someone who goes before you to intercede with someone on your behalf. What an amazing way to think of who the Holy Spirit is and how He is our helper!

    The Bottom Line

    The key message about the Holy Spirit’s role is very simple: He helps me. He helps me know what to say when I’m speechless. He helps me know when to speak and when to keep my mouth closed. I’m sure you can think of situations where both kinds of help would be welcome. For example, a friend shares a serious problem and you have no idea what to say that will help or encourage her. Then a thought suddenly comes to mind, you speak it aloud, and the person says, “Wow, that’s exactly what I needed to hear!” That’s what the Holy Spirit can do—giving you the very words you need to say.

    Sometimes He tells you what not to say. Have you ever had that happen? Maybe you’ve been involved in a conversation with someone who got a little emotional. Just as you are about to throw out a really clever comeback, you have a little cautionary thought: I shouldn’t say that. Of course, the problem is that most of us say what we’re thinking anyway. Invariably, we end up concluding, I shouldn’t have said that! This happens a lot in marriage. Maybe you come home from work, and although you don’t know it at that moment, your spouse has had a tough day. You start to say something, and the Holy Spirit nudges you and whispers, I wouldn’t go there if I were you, My friend. Sometimes He adds, As a matter of fact, if I were you, I’d take her out to dinner. If you’re smart, you’ll listen and choose wisely in that moment. If you’re not so smart—like me sometimes—you’ll ignore that advice and speak your mind. I’ve learned to listen to that voice. I’ve discovered how wonderful it is to have a helper.

    You might be wondering if the Holy Spirit really speaks to us in such clear ways. The simple answer is yes. The truth is that most of us don’t have any trouble believing that God speaks to us. We just get frustrated because we don’t know exactly what He’s saying. Almost every one of us has a desire, even a desperation, to hear with confidence the voice of God. Who wants to stumble through life without the benefit of the clear direction and inward peace that comes from hearing God’s voice? The great news is that God doesn’t want that for us either.

    Hearing God’s voice is vital to breaking out of old comfort zones and into exciting new levels of effectiveness. Hearing God and responding to Him can take us to new places of intimacy and purpose in Him. Hearing God’s voice begins by recognizing which member of the Trinity is tasked with speaking to us in this season of history. It is, of course, the Holy Spirit. The Father is on His throne. Jesus has been seated at His right hand and, according to Hebrews 10:12–13, will remain there “waiting till His enemies are made His footstool.” The Holy Spirit, however, is active and present and commissioned to interact with us on the earth today. As we’ve just seen, Jesus went away so the Spirit could come to us and live in us. He leads us into all truth, shows us things to come, reveals heavenly mysteries, and imparts vital direction.

    The main reason many people aren’t sure if they can really hear the voice of God is because they have refused to engage and embrace the member of the Trinity whose job it is to speak to them.

    Other Ways the Spirit Helps

    Let’s look at John 16:8–11. In these four verses Jesus gives additional detail about how the Holy Spirit helps us. In fact, He mentions three more key aspects to the Helper’s ministry. Let’s look at the whole passage and then analyze it one piece at a time:

    And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

    Conviction

    Jesus names three areas in which the Holy Spirit will “convict” the world: sin, righteousness, and judgment. What does Jesus mean by the word convict ? To our modern ears this word conjures up thoughts of a criminal prosecution. However, Jesus is talking about conviction in the sense of “belief ” or “persuasion.” Simply put, to convict means to convince. And in this role of helping, the Holy Spirit will convince the world of God’s truths concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment. He will persuade people that certain things are true.

    In verse 9, Jesus says the Holy Spirit will convict the world “of sin, because they do not believe in Me.” We need to understand that when the Holy Spirit convicts lost people of sin—in other words, convinces them that sin is ruling their lives—that’s a good thing! This conviction is the only way people become aware that they need the Savior. The truth is that no one ever comes to believe in Jesus as Savior without first coming to the conviction that he or she needs the Savior. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job.

    I was saved in a shabby little motel room. Of course, you don’t have to be in church to be saved. After all, you’re probably not going to die in a funeral home. It’s convenient if you do, but it probably won’t happen. More than anything else, during that lifechanging moment in a run-down motel, I remember the conviction of the Holy Spirit. I’d been in church my whole life, but in that encounter I was completely and thoroughly convinced—to the very core of my being— that I was a sinner and needed Jesus. That conviction was the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and I am more grateful than words can express that He brought it to my life. Think about the hour you were saved. Do you remember the conviction, your overwhelming sense of need? That was the Holy Spirit leading you to Jesus! In fact, 1 Corinthians 12:3 says that “no one can declare that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”

    Righteousness

    The Holy Spirit also convicts us of righteousness. Before we explore this particular ministry of the Holy Spirit, we need to have a clear understanding of what the word righteousness means. Contrary to common belief, righteousness doesn’t mean “right behavior.” Perhaps you’ve even heard someone with high moral standards referred to as “a righteous person.” Of course, it’s good to have high moral standards, but that’s not righteousness. Instead, righteousness means having a “right standing” with God. Please note that this verse doesn’t say the Holy Spirit will convict us of the need for righteous living. While a right standing with God will indeed lead to righteous living, that’s not the message in John 16:8–11. Rather, Jesus says the Holy Spirit will convict the world of righteousness because, “I go to My Father.” The reason we can have a “right standing” before God is because Jesus ascended to the Father and sits at His right hand as an eternal reminder that our sins have been paid for (see Hebrews 10:8–14).

    When Jesus says the Holy Spirit will convict us of righteousness, He is referring to the fact that we all need to be convinced that righteousness exists—that it’s even possible to have a right standing with God. In addition, once we’re born again, the Holy Spirit’s role is to convince us that we have been made righteous through the blood of Jesus Christ. He helps by providing an inner confidence of the wonderful reality of 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For [God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Understanding that you have been made righteous is a wonderful gift. The Holy Spirit helps you become fully convinced that you have a right standing with God, and you can come to His throne with confidence and the full assurance that you are received, welcomed, and embraced by Him.

    Judgment

    Finally, the Holy Spirit was sent to convince the world of “judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” ( John 16:11). To understand this aspect of the Holy Spirit’s activity, we need to know who Jesus refers to as the “ruler of this world.” A number of Bible passages establish that He is talking about Satan. For example, in John 12:31, Jesus says, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.” In John 14:30, Jesus says, “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me.”

    This is clearly the enemy Jesus is talking about. Satan was the ruler of the world, but he was judged two thousand years ago through Jesus’s sacrifice and subsequent victory over death, hell, and the grave. The Holy Spirit convicts us of this truth by convincing us that the former ruler of this world, Satan, has been judged and kicked out. He no longer has any authority in our lives. He’s an outlaw.

    A Proper Understanding

    It can be easy to misread and misunderstand the Holy Spirit’s role. We’ve just looked at how the Holy Spirit comes to convince us of sin, righteousness, and judgment. But many people interpret these verses to mean the Holy Spirit’s basic message is, “You’re a horrible person. God is mad at you. And He’s going to get you.”
    That’s not the Holy Spirit’s ministry at all! In fact, that is Satan’s role. The Bible calls him “the accuser of our brethren” (Revelation 12:10). If you allow him, Satan will keep you feeling unworthy of God’s acceptance and unwelcome in His presence by reminding you of every time you’ve blown it. The Holy Spirit was sent to make us aware that we’re lost and in need of Jesus; to lead us to Him; then to persuade us that we are in right standing with God through Him; and, finally, to fill us with the conviction that Satan is a defeated enemy who no longer has any authority over us.

    When you open yourself to this ministry of the Holy Spirit, you’ll find that He helps you in every area of your Christian life. That makes sense, because the Holy Spirit is our helper. But that’s not all He is. He is also our friend, which we will explore next.

    From the Hardcover edition.


    Excerpted from The God I Never Knew by Robert Morris Copyright © 2011 by Robert Morris. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

  • New Releases Have Arrived

    Posted on March 6, 2014 by Family Christian

    God’s Not Dead: The Motion Picture Soundtrack by Various Artists
    Hymns by Gaither Vocal Band
    Love Will Have the Final Word by Jason Gray
    Your kids will like these reads!
    Back Before Dark by Tim Shoemaker
    Whatever You Grow Up to Be by Karen Kingsbury
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  • New REMIXD Album from Capital Kings

    Posted on March 6, 2014 by Family Christian


    After finishing the popular “Hits Deep Tour” with TobyMac, electronic-pop duo Capital Kings (Jon White and Cole Walowac) is gearing up for the release of their new project, REMIXD. REMIXD will compile several remixed tracks from their self-titled album, which released last year, as well as the brand new song “Be A King.” The album will be available exclusively at Family Christian beginning March 25.

    The remix project will also feature the winning track from Capital Kings’ U:REMIX campaign, which called for fans to take an original Capital Kings song and remix it as their own. Through an online contest, the winning contestant and remix ("I Feel So Alive [Matthew Parker U:Remix]") was chosen and will be featured on REMIXD.

    The dynamic remix masters continue to build on the momentum of their early success with recent remixes for Colton Dixon, Natalie Grant and Crowder while working on a brand new album. They also made waves at the 2014 Passion Conferences in Houston and Atlanta earlier this year, opening with a thrilling and energetic performance for over 20,000 students representing 1,200 universities and 33 countries. They kick-off the exclusive “Summer Shed Tour” with TobyMac, Skillet and Lecrae in May.

  • When the Hurt Runs Deep from Kay Arthur

    Posted on March 5, 2014 by Family Christian

    Kay

    Chapter One

    “It Wasn’t Supposed to Be This Way!”

    At some point in life, nearly every one of us finds ourselves pulled under by a tsunami wave of pain, overwhelmed by something large, sudden, and personally devastating.

    It can come crashing into our lives in any of a thousand ways.

    A phone call from the doctor about a lab report that looks suspicious.

    A wooden-faced supervisor who calls you into his office just before lunch and says, “We’re downsizing the company. We have to let you go.”

    A brief, cold conversation with your spouse one morning, and then the shocking words: “I’m leaving. I’ve found someone else.”

    A late-night knock on your door from a highway-patrol officer. “Your daughter has been in an accident. I’m sorry to tell you this, but she didn’t make it.”

    A quick, stricken glance from the obstetrician. “I’m not picking up any heartbeat from the baby.”

    At such times heartache and despair rush over us, pulling us down into a place of darkness until we wonder if the light of hope will ever again penetrate our lives.
    This is when the hurt runs deep.

    As human beings, hurts and wounds, bumps and bruises, disappointments and sorrows come bundled along with our birth certificates.

    Every one of us, starting in childhood, had to learn how to deal with the skinned knees, hurt feelings, dashed hopes, and heartbreaking setbacks common to fallen humanity. How well we coped with these difficulties, challenges, and unexpected obstacles determined in large measure what sort of man or woman we’ve become and how we navigate our way through life.

    But there are storms…and there are storms.

    It’s one thing to get caught in a spring thundershower; it’s another to find yourself in a Category 5 hurricane. It’s one thing to trip over a hose and fall in your backyard; it’s another to fall out of a third-story window. It’s one thing to be rejected for admission to college; it’s another to be betrayed and rejected by the one you love with all your heart. It’s one thing to lose your car keys; it’s another to lose a longed-for baby in a miscarriage. It’s one thing to get knocked off your feet by a surprise ocean wave, when you’re looking in the other direction; it’s another to be swallowed by a tsunami of pain.

    Sometimes the pain we experience goes much, much deeper than surface pain. Sometimes the heartache we have to endure pierces deeper than we ever thought possible, utterly overwhelming us.

    In my own life…

    If you had told me four years ago the events and circumstances that would come crashing down around me in just forty-eight months, I never would have believed you.

    I could have never anticipated—or even imagined—such things.
    It wasn’t supposed to be this way. It didn’t have to be this way!

    But now, there’s no denying the backwash of pain and sadness I feel. These aren’t the common, garden-variety wounds that we all encounter in the course of life; this is pain that goes bone deep.

    So where do we turn when we find ourselves beyond our own ability to cope? What hope do we have that the pain will ever go away?

    I’m thinking of a family, not so very different from many of the families you know.

    Neither rich nor poor, they were respected within the community but not especially well known. The dad in the family was a pastor.

    The little girl living under that family’s roof was just eight years old on the evening her dad first slipped into her bedroom to do her harm while her mother was out of the house. The sexual abuse that began that night lasted for eight horrible years. The little girl essentially became her dad’s slave, always at hand to satisfy his sexual whims.

    Her betrayer was her own father. The pastor.

    It wasn’t supposed to be this way! Fathers are supposed to protect and stand up for their little girls, not molest them, not destroy their lives. She was too young at eight to realize how profoundly her dad had betrayed her—along with her mom and the trusting people of the congregation. But it all came to light when she was sixteen.
    (Sixteen…isn’t that supposed to be a fun, lighthearted time of life?)

    In that year, her mother had an affair with a deacon in the church. And then the whole sad, sordid story about her father’s serial sexual abuse was revealed.

    Her father went to prison for having sex with a minor—his own daughter. That prison sentence, just and right though it was, only drove the feelings of shame and guilt deeper into the girl’s heart. Now her father was in prison because of her. And to her disgust, her mother made her socialize with the deacon and his family—as if nothing evil or out of the ordinary had ever happened!

    The adults tried to sweep the ugly truth under the rug, but they could not brush away the pain from this sixteen-year-old’s heart. The wounds and scars and unanswered questions have left her bitter and confused. Why, why did this happen to her? And what about God? Where does He fit into all of this? Does He even exist? If so, was He too busy or too indifferent to care…or too impotent to do anything about it?

    Had God betrayed her?

    Just a week ago, I received the following e-mail, and my heart just broke for this dear woman:

    Dear Kay,
    My husband died three years ago…

    Then three weeks ago my very strongly Christian, happy-go-lucky, nineteen-year-old son committed suicide. He thought he was going to lose his career when he failed a PT test.

    I am in despair and clinging to your studies on spiritual warfare, which I know attacked him, and your study on why bad things happen.

    Everyone said he was the strongest Christian they knew, so it is almost impossible to understand.

    My only other child is a daughter who is eighteen and very ill.

    Why do these things happen? I had it all. We were the perfect Christian family, happy, serving God, loving each other. Now we are left with rubble. Does God care?

    This woman’s questions are the ones we all wrestle with at times in our lives: Why us? Why now? Does God care?

    Where will she turn for answers, for hope? Where can you and I turn?

    I read an article not long ago in Vanity Fair magazine about the family of Bernie Madoff.

    Madoff, of course, was the former chairman of the NASDAQ stock exchange and the admitted operator of the Ponzi scheme that has been characterized as the largest investment fraud in Wall Street history. In March of 2009, he pleaded guilty to eleven felonies, admitting to turning his wealth-management business into a scheme that defrauded thousands of investors of billions of dollars.

    So much for the headlines; what about the real human lives behind the media frenzy? I want to consider, for a moment, the two young men who also carry the name “Madoff”: Mark and Andrew, Bernie’s sons.

    Were his sons in on the great swindle that swallowed billions of dollars and devastated countless lives? Did they even know what their father was doing? Maybe, and maybe not. But let’s just say they didn’t know. Can you imagine how absolutely humiliated and betrayed they must have felt to learn the truth? Can you begin to gauge the depth of their pain? Their dad—their own father—had done what?

    Bernie’s dramatic confession to his sons on December 10, 2008, would forever alter their lives. Mark was angry; Andrew fell to the floor sobbing. As a consequence, that very afternoon one of those young men picked up the phone and called the Securities and Exchange Commission, setting up an appointment for the next morning.

    Can you imagine turning your own father over to the authorities? Maybe you weren’t always pleased with him or wished he were different. But it was still your father. You bore his name, you loved him, and at one time you were very proud of him.

    Maybe you can put yourself in this situation all too well. Perhaps you’ve uncovered a devastating family secret that forever changed your relationship with a family member, someone you’d previously trusted and respected.

    In 2000, according to one source in the magazine article, the Madoff family was a contented lot. Mark Madoff had said it was fun to go to work and find all his family members there working together.

    In eight years, however, they went from contentment to sorrow, from prosperity to utter desolation. With each new revelation of their father’s unethical and criminal behavior, Mark and Andrew’s pain went deeper and deeper.

    Take a moment to put yourself in their shoes. These sons claim to have had no part at all in their father’s appalling mismanagement and dishonesty. But how many people will look askance at them for the rest of their lives? Can you imagine being totally innocent yet not have others believe you? Maybe you don’t have to use your imagination; maybe you’ve experienced the injustice of having your own reputation tainted by the actions of someone close to you.

    And how would you feel knowing that one of your dad’s clients committed suicide eleven days after your father’s arrest? Before taking an overdose of sleeping pills and slashing his wrists, the distinguished French financier René-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet, who had invested $1.4 billion with Madoff, wrote in his suicide note, “If you ruin your friends, your clients, you have to face the consequences.” Would Madoff’s sons feel that blood spill onto their own hands, just because they shared the last name of Madoff?

    And what would go through your heart when you thought about all the widows, retirees, charities, and hardworking families who’d lost all their savings because of your dad?

    Madoff apologized to his victims, saying, “I have left a legacy of shame, as some of my victims have pointed out, to my family and my grandchildren. This is something I will live in for the rest of my life. I’m sorry.”

    But what about the grandchildren and generations yet to come who will also carry the name “Madoff”?

    Story after story could be told of the deep hurts we endure; particularly agonizing are the horrendous accounts of man’s inhumanity to man.

    And so the questions come…for all of us.

    Will the pain ever go away?

    Is there anything left to hope for? Or is life just about pain?

    What do you do, where can you go for help, who can you turn to when the hurt runs deep?

    Let’s explore those questions together in the pages that follow.

    From the Hardcover edition.


    Excerpted from When the Hurt Runs Deep by Kay Arthur Copyright © 2010 by Kay Arthur. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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