Redemption for All

discipline

Today’s guest post is by Rebecca Greenwood, author of Let Our Children GoDefeating Strongholds of the Mind, and Breaking the Bonds of Evil. She’s also the cofounder and president of Christian Harvest International and Strategic Prayer Action Network, and an internationally-known speaker. Her articles on prayer have appeared in The SpiritLed Woman BibleCharisma magazine, and Pray! magazine. She lives with her husband and three daughters in Colorado Springs.

 

“And Jesus cried again with a loud voice and gave up His spirit. And at once the curtain of the sanctuary of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; the earth shook and the rocks were split. The tombs were opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep in death were raised [to life]; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many people. When the centurion and those who were with him keeping watch over Jesus observed the earthquake and all that was happening, they were terribly frightened and filled with awe, and said, Truly this was God’s Son!”

—Matthew 27:50–54 (AMP)

God did not forget his covenant plan for mankind. When Adam failed, God in his perfect time sent his Son, Jesus, to save humanity from its lost state. Jesus laid down his heavenly robes to walk the earth and restore that which was forfeited by Adam and Eve. He came as a servant, priest, deliverer, savior, and redeemer to defeat and strip Satan of his grip over our lives and to give us redemption through the price that he paid by shedding his blood and dying on the Cross.

Can you imagine what those painful final days of earthly ministry must have been like for Jesus?  After three awesome years of deliverances, healings, supernatural encounters, raising the dead, teaching, and performing numerous signs and wonders, our Jesus experienced one wounding after another as circumstances tragically turned against him.

There were the religious leaders who were jealous of Jesus’s popularity and threatened by his power and authority. To put it bluntly, it appears that they hated Jesus. There was Judas, the sadly-deceived disciple who thought the payment of 30 pieces of silver was worth betraying his friend and master. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for Jesus to be betrayed by someone who had intimately walked with him for three years. They had experienced life together, incredible kingdom moments of ministry together.

After Judas there was Pilate, the weak governor of the Roman province of Judea, who attempted to wash his hands of any personal responsibility of Jesus’s suffering and death. Then there was Herod, the powerless Jewish king who mocked our Lord. The chief priests and teachers of the law observed the unfolding drama and ridiculed him as well. And we can’t forget about the crowd shouting, “Crucify Him!” I often wonder how many were in that crowd who had earlier witnessed Jesus performing a healing, salvation, or supernatural miracle.

There was Barabbas, the renowned criminal who gained his unjust freedom at Jesus’s expense. And then there were those in the Roman army who mercilessly beat and tortured our Savior beyond the point of recognition. Then there were the three denials of Peter at the exact time when Jesus needed his most cherished friends and disciples the most. Finally, the Roman soldiers who hung him on the cross and mocked him, saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself,” (Luke 23:37, MEV).

As Jesus hung on that cross, he carried the weight of the sin of every person who had walked and who would walk the earth, including you and me. [Click to tweet!] Yet after his persecution, the numerous betrayals, the excruciating torture, and the unimaginable agony of his crucifixion, our magnificent savior, Jesus, became the ultimate example of forgiveness. While facing the very ones beating and killing him, he cried out from the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do,” (Luke 23:34, KJV). It was a demonstration of mercy unlike any that had been witnessed in that day and time, and a powerful example for each of us.

The particular time of day and year that Jesus gave up his Spirit coincided with the annual sacrifice of the Passover lamb as the priests made atonement for the sins of the Jews. At that moment Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice, making atonement for the sins of all mankind. The veil in the temple was rent in two from top to bottom, making a new way for all people, Jew and Gentile, male or female, free man or slave to enter into the Lord’s presence through a personal relationship with Jesus. No longer were animal sacrifices required. They were not necessary because Jesus was the perfect sacrifice given for each of us once and for all.

The temple itself was divided into various courts—the holy of holies, the holy place, the priest’s court, Israel’s court, and the courts for women and Gentiles. A dividing wall, approximately three to four feet high, ran through the temple area separating the court of the Gentiles from the inner court into which only the Jews were permitted. No longer was man’s relationship with God dependent on trying to fulfill the law as determined by the Jewish religious leaders. No longer was there any separation based on sex, race, ethnicity, or political status of those who desired to worship the true King.

The power of death was defeated once and for all at the death and resurrection of Jesus. One of the miraculous signs was the opening of the tombs with many bodies of dead saints coming forth and appearing in the city. Can you imagine the response of those in the city to whom they appeared? It must have been a frightening and awesome experience to witness the power of death being defeated.

Many say that the tombs were opened as a result of the earthquake, which is a highly probable explanation. But, friends, earthquakes do not have the supernatural power to raise the dead! I find it interesting that the Greek word anoigo means “to open,” and it refers to God as the one who does the opening. And egeiro is the word used for “to be raised, to wake up, arouse or rise from the dead.” When the power of death was defeated by Jesus, the ground could not hold the dead. This also serves as a prophetic sign that the redeemed, those who have believed upon and given their lives to him and his saving grace, will be raised and with him upon his return.

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The Holy Spirit: Our Faithful Discipler

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Today’s guest post is by Jennifer LeClaire, senior editor of Charisma Magazine. She is also the director of Awakening House of Prayer in Fort Lauderdale and the author of several books, including Mornings with the Holy Spirit: Listening Daily to the Still Small Voice of God and her upcoming book, The Next Great Move of God: An Appeal to Heaven for Spiritual Awakening. You can learn more about her work at JenniferLeClaire.org.

When Jesus walked the earth, His disciples followed Him just about everywhere He went. They turned to Him for wisdom, for comfort, for protection, for provision—and more.

Before He ascended to the right hand of Father God, Jesus said something shocking: “I tell you the truth: It is expedient for you that I go away. For if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you,” (John 16:7, MEV).

This must have been unsettling to the disciples. If Jesus left, who would offer them wisdom and comfort? Who would be their advocate and intercessor? Who would disciple them? Jesus followed on by explaining, “But when the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13, MEV). Jesus is in heaven, but the Holy Spirit remains with us to lead us into all truth—to disciple us.

Although we can glean invaluable lessons from pastors, spiritual fathers and mothers, and others in the body of Christ—and we should—the Holy Spirit who dwells with us is our first Teacher. John writes about the anointing we have received from Him abiding in us and teaching us concerning all things (1 John 2:27).

Indeed, the Holy Spirit will disciple us—if we allow Him. The Holy Spirit is our Comforter, Counselor, Helper, Intercessor, Advocate, Strengthener and Standby (John 14:16, AMP). The Holy Spirit leads us (Rom. 8:14) and guides us into truth (John 16:13). The Holy Spirit transforms us into the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18).

I believe the Holy Spirit is always trying to teach us. He teaches us to walk in the fruit of the Spirit. He teaches us who Jesus is. He teaches us about the Father’s heart. He teaches us how to walk through a trial with character. He teaches us how to navigate life’s challenges. He’s always teaching us—always discipling us—if we’ll listen.

In my devotional, Mornings with the Holy Spirit, Listening Daily to the Still Small Voice of God, I share with readers something important the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart:

“Take a moment—take some time—to meditate on the lessons you are learning. I am teaching you new things and reminding you of things you know that have slipped out of focus in the midst of the warfare around you. Consider what I have taught you. Meditate on those truths. Record them on the tablets of your heart. Never forget them. Call them up when you need them. This wisdom will serve you and others around you in the days ahead.”

Again, the Holy Spirit teaches us all things and will bring to our remembrance the Word of God we sow in our hearts when we need it (John 14:26). Our part in the discipleship process is to exercise Proverbs 7:2–3 (MEV): “Keep my commandments and live, and my teachings as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart.”

As disciples of Christ, we need to tune our ears and align our hearts with the Holy Spirit Jesus sent to walk with us after He ascended to the right hand of the Father. God puts many wonderful spiritual leaders in our lives and we should welcome and submit to that authority, but when the lights go out at the end of the day, it’s just us and God. Sometimes man’s wisdom—our own wisdom—fails us but God’s Word and His Spirit never fail. The Holy Spirit is the best discipler I know.

Prayer this prayer with me:

Holy Spirit, put me in remembrance of the teachings of Christ and the words of wisdom you’ve spoken to my heart. I ask You now for the grace to draw on what you’ve taught me so that I will walk in Father’s ways and glorify my Savior through my words, thoughts, and actions.

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Do You Believe?

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Today’s guest post is by Robert Noland, author of Do You Believe? 40-Day Devotional. He began writing in 1983 as a songwriter, musician, and producer. Robert Noland has continued writing and is currently a freelance writer and author for faith-based organizations, ministries, and Christian publishers. You can connect with Robert Noland on his blog.

The Jesus Movement of the late ’60s and early ’70s spawned many great Christian slogans, used to communicate the hearts of a virtual army of young believers. Many of them were emblazoned across banners and waved unashamedly for the world to see—sayings such as, “One Way—His Way,” “Right On With Jesus,” “The Jesus People Are Here,” and “Turn On to Jesus.” Even if the language used back then makes us laugh, the very present and prominent placement of the word “Jesus” is impressive, inspiring, and challenging to us today. And these weren’t just clever hashtags to promote a brand; they were expressions of a new community living for Christ.

One of the most poignant statements brought to life from this era was actually a question—“If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” In our current politically correct culture and seeker-friendly church environment, this question sounds rather militant today, does it not? It draws a line, demands an answer, gets a bit in-your-face. After being hidden in the Christian closet, so to speak, for decades, the film release of Do You Believe? in theaters March 20 dusts this question off.

When I received the call about writing the companion devotional book for the film and heard the vision, I knew I was all in. The widely popular Pure Flix film, God’s Not Dead, offered the opportunity for viewers to see there is a God who loves and cares for us, and the film Do You Believe? brings the eternal question to the individual heart—what do you do with Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross? Does this make a difference in your life? And, finally, yes, that burning question revived out of the 60s: “If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

During The Jesus Movement, young people brought the son of God to the conscious of the culture and offered up the gospel as a solution for the pain of a rapidly changing and deeply hurting nation. But let’s face it. We haven’t seen anything like a revival in a very long time. In fact, to say we’re on a downward spiral could be an understatement. Sure, there have been pockets of renewal rising up here and there over the past 40 years. But a movement? No.

So could it be time for The Jesus Movement of the 21st century? Are we desperate enough yet as a nation? Might the question, “do you believe?” become a societal line-in-the-sand?

Statements that demand a commitment to the ways of God weren’t born in the ’60s, in the revivals of the 1800s, or the Reformation in the 1500s. They were written on the lips of our Lord.

“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12:30) NIV.

“Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38) NIV.

Regardless of the church’s choices or culture’s mood swings, generation after generation, Jesus has consistently stood before the world, making these statements. Black and white—no shades of gray. Clear-cut—no question. Young people of the ’60s asked some hard questions, made some bold statements. Why? Because they heard Jesus and obeyed. It’s that simple. The question for us in 2015 is, while he is still speaking, are we going to listen? Will we obey or just keep sleeping, while the world slips away?

Are the Jesus people here? Is your one way, his way? Do you believe? Is there evidence enough to convict you of standing with Jesus? I pray there is. So we can once again stand firm, gather for him, and live lives worthy of the name of Jesus!

***

Be encouraged with Noland’s, Do You Believe? 40-Day Devotional and his other ebook on Vyrso, Think, Act, Be Like Jesus.

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What it Takes to Be a True Disciple

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Today’s guest post is by Rebecca Greenwood, author of Let Our Children Go, Defeating Strongholds of the Mind, and Breaking the Bonds of Evil. She’s also the cofounder and president of Christian Harvest International and Strategic Prayer Action Network, and an internationally-known speaker who’s appeared on TBN, Daystar, and Sid Roth’s It’s Supernatural! Her articles on prayer have appeared in The SpiritLed Woman BibleCharisma magazine, and Pray! magazine. Rebecca is part of the core faculty at Wagner Leadership Institute under C. Peter Wagner and Ché Ahn. She lives with her husband and three daughters in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Making a disciple involves more than just making a convert. The Greek word for disciple is matheteuo. Being baptized and studying Scripture are primary factors in the discipling process, but it also involves a true commitment of the will. It is a relationship that goes beyond surface understanding, and involves and encompasses every aspect of the disciple’s life.

A true disciple attaches themselves to the teacher. They live in such a way that every aspect of the disciple’s life is intertwined with their teacher. The disciple identifies with the teacher, meaning they’re closely associated and linked with their teacher. All who know this disciple will see the influence of the teacher and know they’re in a close relationship with them. Disciples learn from their teachers by study and imitation—the words of the teacher are life to the disciple. They are so important that the disciple will take time to study and know the thoughts of the teacher in such a way that the disciple’s life is a reflection of their teacher.

This leads me to all of us. Jesus wants each of us to walk with him in such a manner that we, as his disciples, exemplify that true reflection of him. Every area of our lives is submitted to him. His Word is life itself to us and those who see us know we are his disciples—ones who live a life abandoned, obedient, holy, humble, repentant, faithful, righteous, full of love, aligned with his uncompromising truth, and full of gratitude and praise.

One of my favorite scriptures is 2 Corinthians 3:16-18. Here’s a summary of the verse taken from The Message, written by Eugene Peterson: “Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are—face-to-face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.”

As we look into God’s Word, encounter his presence, and see his son, the Spirit transforms us into the very image of God. We become alive and truly assured of our relationship with him as his disciples. He works in our lives causing us to engage in a visible change on the outside that is birthed on the inside. Just as Moses did, we too reflect the glory of God. Our lives become brighter and brighter and more beautiful like our Lord Jesus Christ as we grow “from glory to glory” (1 Cor. 3:18, kjv).

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Learn more from Rebecca Greenwood by downloading her powerful ebooks: Let Our Children GoDefeating Strongholds of the Mind, and Breaking the Bonds of Evil. Get them on Vyrso today!

 

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What Will You Preach Next Month?

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One month from today, Easter will be upon us. I’m hoping that the sun will be shining, that birds will be singing springtime songs, and that the weather will be warm. I also hope that those of you who are preaching will impart the beauty of the gospel to those around you. I hope that your message will be an engaging story of how the gospel intersects with everyday life. I hope that you have a plan.

As Greg Gilbert and Mark Dever argue below, a plan can have a big impact on your congregation. The following is an excerpt from Preach: Theology Meets Practice—you can get it today on Vyrso for $9.99.

The famous third-century preacher John Chrysostom told his congregation in his third sermon on Lazarus and the rich man, “I often tell you many days in advance the subject of what I am going to say, in order that you may take up the book in the intervening days, go over the whole passage, learn both what is said and what is left out, and so make your understanding more ready to learn when you hear what I will say afterwards.”

We think that’s a great idea, and we both try to follow that practice in our own churches by publishing a card that gives our preaching schedule—texts and titles—for the upcoming months. Doing something like that offers a number of benefits. First, like Chrysostom said, it gives your people time to read the passage in advance, to let the Holy Spirit begin to work in their hearts with the themes of that text, and to prepare their hearts to hear the Word of God preached on Sunday. That, in turn, can create a unique sense of excitement in the church. The people come with thoughts of their own, questions and insights about the text; and your words in the sermon are then able to interact with and catalyze with the thoughts they already have. Publishing a preaching schedule will give your people another tool for talking with their non-Christian friends and family about spiritual things. People take those cards, highlight or circle a particular sermon title they think a non-Christian friend might be interested to hear, and then hand it to that person as an invitation to come hear that sermon.

Sometimes people ask us if we think planning a preaching schedule so far in advance could squelch the Holy Spirit. What if something comes up in the life of the church that begs to be addressed? What if you get sick? What if something happens in the world such that your planned series seems out of place all of a sudden? Good questions all. But we don’t think planning a schedule in advance squelches the Holy Spirit.

For one thing we don’t think the Holy Spirit only moves “in the moment.” Of course He does that sometimes, but that’s not the only time He does it. The Holy Spirit also moves and directs months in advance when we are planning a preaching schedule. Both of us have been amazed at how people in our congregations have been impacted by a particular sermon or series in specific and time-sensitive ways. That’s not because we planned for that to happen. On the contrary, we believe the Holy Spirit worked it all together in His providence. Take a look, for example, at this church card from Capitol Hill Baptist Church for the fall of 2001, which included September 11, 2001.

That preaching schedule was made months in advance of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Nothing was adjusted; nothing was changed in the aftermath of the attacks. But look at God’s provision for this congregation right in the heart of one of the cities that came under attack: “The Quest for Justice,” “The Quest for Security,” “When Bad Things Happen: Questions and Confidence.” The Holy Spirit was planning, even months before, to feed His people with truth from His Word that would impact their lives and their needs directly and specifically in the aftermath of—and even in advance of—a world-shaking event.

Not only that, but adherence to a preaching plan doesn’t have to be slavish. Mark tends to stick to a preaching plan more doggedly than I (Greg) do. If Mark gets sick or something else intervenes, the church card is what the church card is—even if it means skipping a sermon in a series. I, on the other hand, have been known to pull all the sermon cards from our pews and print another batch.

We both have the same approach, more or less, to holidays. We both try to plan series in which the sermons that land nearest Christmas and on Easter won’t be utterly weird—though Mark preached once on Christmas Day an entire sermon on death! But we don’t insist that Christmas be from Luke 2 and Easter from Matthew 28. On Christmas Day 2011, I’m scheduled to preach on James 5:13–20, the prayer of the righteous for the sick. For Easter 2011, though, I shifted some things around so that I’d be preaching on Hebrews 8 rather than Hebrews 6. That was in the expectation that we would have an unusual number of visitors in the congregation who would attend church only infrequently, and I wanted a text that would have the gospel itself as the main point.

However you end up doing this, and however tightly you stick to a plan once it’s made, the point is that planning your preaching schedule well in advance can give your people a good tool both for their own spiritual growth and for evangelism.

So, how do you decide what to preach? Well, as we said before, everything should be done for the edification of the church. We would argue that preaching through entire books, preaching from both testaments and all genres of Scripture, preaching from varying altitudes, and publishing in advance what you’re going to preach will best accomplish that goal in the long run.

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Want more insight on how to preach? Download Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert’s ebook, Preach: Theology Meets Practice for just $9.99.

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5 Things You Might Not Know about C.S. Lewis and His Writing

C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis is arguably one of the most well-known authors, scholars, and Christian apologists of the 20th century. His works have impacted readers of all ages with titles such as Weight of GloryThe Pilgrim’s Regress, and, of course, The Chronicles of Narnia series. With the brand-new C.S. Lewis Collection on Logos, now is the perfect time to get to know the author a little better before diving into this 30-volume collection of Lewis’ works.

 Here are five things you may not know about C.S. Lewis and his writing:

1. After its completion, C.S. Lewis read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to J.R.R. Tolkein, who hated it, thinking it was carelessly written and combined too many unrelated mythologies. [Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis]

2. C.S. Lewis was Irish, born in Belfast, Ireland—”In a letter of 1915, Lewis fondly recalls his memories of Belfast: ’the distant murmuring of the “yards,”’ the broad sweep of Belfast Lough, the Cave Hill Mountain, and the little glens, meadows, and hills around the city.” [C.S. Lewis — A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet]

3. The title for Mere Christianity was inspired by the writings of 17th-century Puritan writer, Richard Baxter, who protested against the divisiveness of religious controversy and believed in “meer Christianity, Creed, and Scripture.”  [C.S. Lewis — A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet]

4. Lewis wrote under the pseudonym Clive Hamilton, and published his first book in 1919, Spirits in Bondage, using the name. [131 Christians Everyone Should Know]

5. Lewis fought in World War I on the battlefields of France in 1917 and 1918. [C.S. Lewis — A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet]

Right now, you can save 30% on the 30-volume collection of C.S. Lewis’ works when you pre-order on Logos.com! This collection includes Lewis’ Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, and even his collected letters. Spanning over 11,000 pages, the C.S. Lewis Collection is a must-have for C.S. Lewis scholars and admirers. Get it on Logos today!

 

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Maintaining Spiritual Vitality: Wellness in Aging

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Today’s guest post is by John Dunlop, MD, the author of Wellness for the Glory of God and Finishing Well to the Glory of God: Strategies from a Christian Physician. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at Trinity International University and practices geriatrics in Connecticut.

Spiritual vitality is key.

After 40 years of practicing geriatrics I have seen a lot of believers grow older. Some have done it well; some have not. One lesson I have learned is that when we consider the six areas of potential wellness (physical, mental, social, financial, emotional, and spiritual), the one that is least likely to decline is the spiritual.

I have observed that when our spiritual lives remain vigorous we can continue to feel well. [Click to tweet] Our bodies begin to show wear and tear. Our minds begin to slip and our social networks deteriorates.  Finances don’t last forever and it gets harder to summon the emotional resilience that allows us to press on. But there is no compelling reason our spiritual lives must decline. In fact, I have seen spiritual growth in people approaching the century mark.

Spiritual vitality may be maintained as we continue to practice spiritual disciplines, see our characters transformed, find ways to serve, and grow in personal holiness. Let’s unpack these:

  • Spiritual disciplines

Our older years begin to slow down giving us more time to practice spiritual disciplines.  We can be more committed to prayer, studying the Bible, and savoring the beauty of God’s presence.

  • Character transformation

God is not finished with us and he will further develop our characters. His plans for us are perfect, but the means he uses may not be the ones we choose. Many of us are inspired to think of God being the potter while we are the clay, but the reality of being plopped down on a wheel, spun around at 500 RPM’s, and having our rough edges knocked off may not be our first choice. Yet who could we trust more to transform our characters than our loving heavenly father? Some of the fruit of the Spirit is late blooming; such traits as gentleness, patience, and self- control are more commonly developed in the elderly.

  • Spiritual service

Seniors are blessed with many opportunities to serve. We must remember that when Scripture says all believers have spiritual gifts there is no age limit specified. Elderly people are still uniquely equipped to serve the body of Christ. The nature of their service may change but the fact that they can make a significant impact on others does not. Their service may be more to pray and encourage others than the active things they did in earlier years, but these quieter ministries may have even more benefit to the kingdom of God. Leaving a legacy of spiritual vigor to your family is a frequent way of serving during the later years of life. It is wise to live near children and grandchildren to assure what you leave them is not just a financial blessing but a deep appreciation for God’s love and a desire to love and glorify him in return.

  • Personal holiness

Victory over sin is another area of potential growth for seniors. The temptations faced may not be the same ones they encountered in earlier years but there will still be temptation to sin at any age. Common sins in seniors are self-pity, worry, pride, anger, and being overly focused on self. Whatever our age, we need to look to God to keep our hearts pure before him.

Unfortunately many churches do not strategize how to make the most use of their seniors. Some set them aside in senior groups where they have limited exposure to younger people and no opportunity to minister to young adults. It is important to provide intergenerational relationships where all ages together can love and serve each other—”Young men and maidens together, old men and children! Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven” (Psalm 148:12-13 ESV).

Our later years may face many losses, but with deliberate planning and a bit of perseverance, our spiritual lives can continue to grow and allow us to feel well—even as other areas of life may be in decline.

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Get both of John Dunlop’s wellness ebooks on Vyrso today for just $8.44!

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Author Snapshot: Tony Merida

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Today we have the privilege to dive a little deeper into Tony Merida’s new ebook, Ordinary: How to Turn the World Upside Down. Tony is one of our top 15 authors to watch in 2015 and the author of Faithful Preaching and Orphanology. He is the founding pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, North Carolina and happily married to Kimberly with their five adopted children. Enjoy this excerpt:

There is nothing more ordinary than a meal. In preparation for a message on hospitality (Luke 14:12–24), I asked my kids at the dinner table, “What are your all-time favorite meals?” The answers included meals at birthday parties (especially those with piñatas!), Thanksgiving dinners, and Christmas dinners. My wife included a Passover meal that we had with some friends. My top pick was our wedding dinner. I’ll never forget the music, the friends, the amazing food, and of course, eating with my new beautiful bride, my dear companion, Kimberly.

What are your all-time favorite meals?

My guess is that the majority of people wouldn’t select meals based solely on taste; they would pick meals that involved special company. Friends, family, fun, and good food are ingredients for unforgettable meals. You want these nights to last forever.

Few people would select the burrito they grabbed one night at a Taco Bell drive-thru as their all-time favorite meal, or eating Ramen Noodles alone as a broke college student, or grabbing a chicken wrap as they scurry to their gate at the Atlanta airport. We long for more. So much more.

How does something as ordinary as a meal become extraordinarily meaningful? Why is it that when a loved one dies in your family, one of the most precious memories you have of them is around the dinner table? Their absence is felt particularly strong when you sit down without them. What is this saying to us?

All of these experiences are pointing us toward the kingdom of God. The apostle John tells us of a marriage supper in Revelation 19, in which we enjoy a meal with our King. Christ is the Groom and we are His bride. It’s a picture of total satisfaction. Isaiah prophesied about this messianic feast, saying:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. . . . He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces. [Isaiah 25:6,8]

Think about this vision. The Lord Himself will prepare a meal with the finest of meats and the finest of wines for His people. He will serve the best, and we won’t have an ounce of disappointment.

The reason we long for companionship and good food with great friends and family is that we’re made for this experience. This life is pointing us to the next life. Unfortunately, too many of us have underdeveloped notions about heaven. Some think it’s an endless sing-along. Others have a cartoon concept of heaven, like sitting on a cloud in a diaper playing a harp. Still more have an Eastern idea of heaven. When they think of heaven, they think of an ethereal realm of disembodied spirits.

Let’s think again. Think new heaven and new earth, with our real, glorified bodies, with Jesus, and all His people, feasting and rejoicing in the grace of God.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re not only going to feast in heaven, but one of the pictures that we should see is this idea of a messianic banquet. Jesus told a parable saying that all are invited to His banquet, yet sadly many decline the invitation because other things are more important.[Luke 14:12-24] How kind of the King to invite us to His party!

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You can download Ordinary for just $4.99 through January 27! Explore how doing ordinary things, such as humble acts of service and hospitality, can create a huge impact on the world.

Excerpted from Ordinary: How to Turn The World Upside Down by Tony Merida. Copyright 2015 B&H Publishing Group

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Author Snapshot: Emily P. Freeman

Emily P. Freeman's A Million Little Ways

In today’s author snapshot, we learn what it looks like to live like an artist in an excerpt from Emily P. Freeman’s new ebook, A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live. Emily is one of our top 15 authors to watch in 2015 and the author of Graceful (For Young Women): Letting Go of Your Try-Hard Life and Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast Moving World. She is a writer and speaker from North Carolina, where she lives with her husband John and their three children. The following excerpt from A Million Little Ways  is used by permission of Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Copyright © 2013.

In his book Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton makes a pretty good argument that the poets of the world understand the beauty of life more freely than do those who are always trying to figure things out.

Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion . . . To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain. The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.[1]

It is enough to think about for a long time. I can’t say I fully understand all the implications of what he says here, but it stirs something in me that I can’t easily let go. I consider what living life like a poet might mean.

The girls asked me to come read to their class today.

I pull into the school parking lot, Ivy and Bean tucked into my purse, anxiety pulsing in my chest. I sign in at the computer in the office, think about living art and what it means for a mom frazzled in the lobby. I walk slowly through the hallway, savor the quiet before the third grade eyes find me.

What does it mean to live life like an artist in the midst of this everyday hustle?

The question brings a shift. The word poet comes to mind.

I realize I am clenching my jaw, moving to the next thing like a chess player. I’ll make this move and then this will happen. I am in control of everything.

In this small moment standing outside their classroom, I am compelled to approach these next few moments like they are lines in a poem rather than items on my agenda.

I don’t feel overwhelmed with the responsibility to do this in everything.

Just in this one thing, right now.

I don’t know exactly what it means, but the mystery of the concept draws me in. I stand in this one moment and for the next twenty of them, I have agreed to read to the class. This, right here, is all my life is right now.

Emily, don’t just show up with your body. Show up in your soul. Be fully alive. Let me be fully alive in you.

I do not change the world today. But I decide to show up where I already am. The God of the Universe lives in me on a Friday in their third grade classroom. There is much left undone at home, in the sink, on my laptop, in my heart. I don’t feel ready to live like a poet.

In this, there is no ready. There is only belief.

Show up as a poet once, and chances are, you’ll do it again.

Uncovering the art alive within me and releasing it into my world is what it means to worship God. Showing up in their classroom is worship when I do it as the person I fully am. Living as an artist profoundly affects how I relate in community with others.

This is what it looks like to take small steps toward the mystery. You aren’t moving to figure things out or to catch up to an expectation, but you are moving because you are alive. You have a glimpse of what it might feel like to live life as an artist in the middle of your ordinary day.

You are aware of your desire for a map, but all you sense is a mystery. Instead of a plan, you are simply asked to show up in this day the same way you did the day you were born, with empty hands and an instinct to depend on someone bigger than you.

[1] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (Chicago: Moody, 2009), 31-32

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You can download A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live for just $9.09! Uncover the creative, personal imprint of God in your life and move into the world with courage with the help of A Million Little Ways.

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Author Snapshot: Preston Yancey

tables-in-the-wilderness-a-memoir-of-god-found-lost-and-found-again

In today’s author snapshot we have an exclusive look at an excerpt from Preston Yancey’s new ebook, Tables in the Wilderness. Preston is one of our Top 15 Authors to Watch in 2015, husband to Hillary, and a priest in training. He’s an active contributor to Grace Table and The High Calling, and is currently employed by the Anglican Diocese of the Western Gulf Coast as Canon Theologian. 

During Christmas Vigil and Easter Vigil in liturgical churches, a significant portion of the service is given to a collection of several Bible readings. The stories weave together to tell a broad perspective of the plan of God’s redemption from garden to resurrection.

I think of this as a gesture toward preserving the collective memory. We pass the stories on for the days when we forget, for the days when we are uncertain, for the middle-of-the-night moments when we think it impossible that God should be made man or that God should die and then rise again.

For the times of silence.

Do I steward it well? In the pause before the babe-cry that rings out of Bethlehem or the glory of the Lord that overtakes the soldiers at the empty tomb? In the breath-moment of terra uncertain? Do I hold on to the stories I have been given? Do I remember to pass them down?

Maybe that’s what this is.

One of my best friends emailed me a few days ago about the Bible. He told me he thought that the reason why it was so cyclical, the same stories over and over again with different characters each time, was because the point was in remembering the feel of it. We retell the same stories so that we don’t forget what it feels like to be a people wandering in the desert, searching for a promised land. We retell the same stories so that we don’t forget what it feels like to be a people who were once called “Not a People” and have now been called by God.

I think of this as I try to write the past. I think of how I must have leached the emotion out of some fragments of the stories for the sake of being able to put them down. I am trying to remember how it felt to live them for the first time. Somehow I catch myself thinking of it like I think of Scripture—the cyclical retelling, and I marvel at how little we must change between the centuries, how in the end we’re all still searching for a Kingdom that is not of this world, how we are so desperate to be known, to be called.

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In Tables in the Wilderness, Preston Yancey shares his story of coming to terms with a God who is bigger than the one he thought he was worshiping: get his new ebook, Tables in the Wilderness, on Vyrso today!

 

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