The Wednesday Writers: Cody Neal

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (2)

Gentle Reader,

It’s The Wednesday Writers!

No idea what I’m talking about? Read this.

Today we hear from my fellow Society of Evangelical Arminians member, Cody Neal.

Boasting in Christ

The first quarter of 2018 is over. A few months removed from 2017, I reflect.

There are many expectations and hopes that we all have for ourselves and others. If you are anything like me, you probably understand the disappointment in yourself when you feel as though you have not turned out to be the person you wanted to be during the previous year – or that your expectations were not quite met. I admit, I have been disappointed in myself. Whether it be with trying to control my anger and impatience, controlling my tongue, fighting off lustful temptations, and just generally being a man of noble character – I have known disappointment this time around again. I wanted to be so Christlike that I would clearly look back on a year of much improvement, comparatively, to the years before. And maybe there was an improvement in some areas of my life, but, perhaps I have foolishly had the wrong perspective.

One thing is for certain, I am weak, you are weak – we are all weak. Yet a greater truth is that Jesus Christ is not weak. What He did on the cross reveals His strength and righteousness. How beautiful it is that His righteousness has been assigned to us (only by His strength).

God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption; therefore, as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord.’

– 1 Corinthians 1:28-31 (NIV)

This shows us that all that humans can boast in, whether it be status, talents, wisdom, or characteristics, is utterly worthless in all that God has done. Our own capacities will fail us and even worse, our confidence in our own capacities will inevitably fail us. So what else do we have to bank on? We must bank on this fact: Christ is our wisdom, our righteousness, our sanctification, and our redemption! Therefore, we must boast (or as in the Greek, glory) in our Christ!

Truth is never novel – it has always “been.” Truth can only be presented in fresh ways. Perhaps you have heard or read something similar to what I have presented so far. If so, then this serves as a reminder – we constantly need reminders. I find this evident in my own life because, after several years of being a Christian, I still find myself baffled at how foolishly I forget the truths of the scriptures. Let this serve us as a reminder for the upcoming year. If there is any hope for our expectations being met this year, let it begin in Christ. In the words of John Wesley:

We must be cut off from dependence upon ourselves, before we can truly depend upon Christ. We must cast away all confidence in our own righteousness, or we cannot have a true confidence in his. Till we are delivered from trusting in anything that we do, we cannot thoroughly trust in what he has done and suffered. First, we receive the sentence of death in ourselves: Then, we trust in Him that lived and died for us.

I believe Wesley hit the nail on the head. We must quit selfishly placing our confidence in ourselves, it only leads to selfish disappointment. Yes, we will mess up, but have we forgotten the truths of the scriptures? Christ has become our righteousness! It is by His righteousness that we have been saved. And to be saved is to be a child of God.

I’ll close with this. Jesus told His disciples they must become like little children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven, and likewise, that applies to us. (Matthew 18:1-5) Do you believe that you are a child of God? If so, then start living into that fact this year. When I was a young kid, I remember being a huge Spiderman fan. I was such a fan that I remember “playing Spiderman” out in the backyard and attaching multiple belts around my waist and to the top of a large dog kennel gate to act like I was swinging around like Spiderman does. That definitely was not as glorious as the films or comics portrayed, nevertheless, the inspiration was so strong that I tried any way I could to be like him. Likewise, I wonder what it would be like to have that kind of childlike inspiration from Jesus? Granted, Jesus is obviously far more important and real than the Spiderman character.

I’m still trying to figure out how to live into what Jesus says in Matthew 18:1-5. What I do know is that we are called to be utterly dependent on Christ. This year, let us remember the scriptures, remember what Christ has done, and remember who He has become for us. Let us boast (perhaps externally and internally,) “This is who my Christ is! This is what He does! So I want to be like Him!” And as the old saying goes, “The rest…will take care of itself.”

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Cody currently resides in Wilmore, KY with his wife, Mary (and their three crazy cats). He enjoys reading, guitars, baseball, and is passionate about the Wesleyan tradition. He currently holds bachelor’s degree in Psychology and is in the process of earning a Master of Divinity degree at Asbury Theological Seminary.

 

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The Wednesday Writers: Carol Emmert

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

It’s The Wednesday Writers!

No idea what I’m talking about? Read this.

Today we hear from my new blogging buddy, Carol Emmert.

Mom Needs a Sick Day

One of the hardest things for our families to hear is this: Mom needs a sick day.

This phrase may have struck fear in your own heart a time or two. It is often Mom who holds all the little pieces of the day together, and keeps the family moving like a well-oiled machine, so having a mom who is down for the count seems tragic. But it does not have to be a tragedy – it can be a time  for everyone else to practice their skills, and a time to appreciate what Mom normally does every day.

When children are little they rely on their parents for almost everything, as they should. But by the time they are six or seven, children should be learning how to do some of their own chores, and learning some basic self-care skills. If parents take a little bit of time each week to teach their children some basic household skills, the home will run much more smoothly – even when mom is sick. A small child who has learned how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on their own can be a huge help around the house. If they can brush their teeth by themselves- even better! If your ten year old knows how to make mac & cheese or scrambled eggs, they can feed your family for a week if necessary. If your teens know how to run the washing machine and clean the bathroom, even if it is not done quite as wells when mom does it, then dad can spend his time focusing on taking care of his sick wife, going to work, and bathing the toddler before bed.

The best way to not dread the phrase Mom needs a sick day is to be prepared for it. Everyone gets sick sometime – even mom. So make a plan for what you will do when mom does need a sick day, or for the time when she needs to take care of someone else – like Grandma and Grandpa. Sit down and make a list of age-appropriate chores and cooking skills for each child. Then make a family plan for the next few months and work on learning how to do them well. Not only will this help when mom is sick, it also makes it easier to clean the house before last-minute guests arrive, or before you want to head out of town for the weekend.

For those times when mom really does need a sick day, have some bottled water, some herbal tea, and some crackers on hand. If mom can make it to the couch, surely your five year old will be happy to share his crackers, and his favorite cartoon with her. Then your ten year old can make her some tea, or chicken soup for lunch. Rally around mom when she is sick. Show her how much you appreciate her by caring for her, and cleaning up after yourselves. Moms are usually quick to recover, and with some practice, the family machine will still be running when she does.

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Carol-headshot

 


Carol writes at Home Sweet Life. She shares snippets of everyday life while homeschooling high school, plus her family
s love for Jesus, road trips and adventure.

 

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The Wednesday Writers: Lisa Brittain

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

It’s The Wednesday Writers!

No idea what I’m talking about? Read this.

Today we hear from my friend Lisa Brittain. (Post written in December 2017).

Welcome to Our Real

I didn’t feel like decorating the house for Christmas.  In fact, without all the exterior cues – store shelves stocked with Christmas, houses lit up, and city light poles decked in festive notifications – I would have barely noticed the season was upon me.  It was the sudden recognition I would soon be on Thanksgiving vacation, which squarely slapped me into reality. Christmas is almost here and it would happen with or without me.

The weekend after Thanksgiving I began dutifully pulling boxes up out of the basement.  It was simply time management.  Do it now or don’t do it at all.  Along the way, I opened each tote to peek at the contents.  My intent was to look for the bare essentials.  “There’s nothing wrong with a minimalist Christmas,” I continually assured myself.  My husband agreed, “Just enough so no one thinks we’re ‘skipping Christmas” – a reference to one of our favorite holiday movies, Christmas With The Kranks.

Please don’t leave… This isn’t an indictment of Christmas or the American way.  It’s not a judgment on those who are enjoying a festive season.  Please don’t feel or receive any condemnation for your choice to love Santa and display the Nativity.  

The peeking led to digging through and pulling up thirty years of Christmas memories.  Our walk down memory lane felt like an extension of Thanksgiving.  Both my husband and I benefitted from the activity.  Each uncovered item testified to the wealth we possess in family relationships, the full variety of life seasons and rich experiences of our past.

Though I had not the enthusiasm for producing a traditional Hallmark kind of Christmas around our house, I also had no intention of pretending Christmas was a figment of everyone’s imagination.  My heart yearned for the celebration of The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  The tug of war was and still is, real and intense.  I wonder, in a Charlie Brown kind of way, is this really all there is – commercialism, Pinterest worthy presentations and perfect pictures posted on social media, even giving to every conceivable cause known to man?

I would love to feel festive right about now.  It would be a relief to my soul to feel a sudden urge to don a pair of Christmas socks and gaudy Christmas sweater as official garb for baking Christmas cookies for our entire neighborhood.  Perhaps if I could feel the giddy joy of doing the stuff, it would signify a much-desired change of life seasons – out of the desert and into a lush meadow.

For this moment in time though, it would be fake.  In fact, our precious neighbor saw me outside putting red and white and gold shiny ornaments on our Dogwood tree.  Passing by she mentioned, “You must be feeling festive.”  I looked her straight in the eye, this one whose husband passed away in March just the day before my mother in law walked into Jesus’ welcoming arms, and responded truthfully, “No, I’m truly not.”  I saw relief flood her countenance as she confessed her lack of desire to set up her Christmas tree, which sat in a box in the living room.

Often, my heart screams out to the Lord, and sometimes to my husband, “I don’t know how to do this! I’ve never lived here before. Help me…”

I don’t understand Parkinson’s Disease.  And guess what, medical professionals don’t really understand it either.  We never saw it coming.  Too young, my man, to be hampered with such a life-altering, energy draining, and uncertain disease.  I don’t want to welcome PD into our lives.  In fact, I want to slam the door shut, and shout at the top of my lungs, “There’s no room in this inn!”

A new normal?  Sure, I get it.  Why not us?  Awful life circumstances happen to people every day. Younger older, richer and poorer, the ones who mean well, and those who don’t.

Just tell me the rules.  Where are we on the game board?  How do we avoid the pitfalls?  Did we somehow land on the square indicating we have start over?

Ok, so we can start over.  We have each other, and relationships with people who love us.  So, how do we start over?  And how do we move forward?  Because my man needs to work.  He loves to work.  So, we pray. “Lord, we’re asking for a path and an open door… Your Light to show us the new way in which You are leading…”

Surely, this is a grieving season.  We exhibit all the symptoms of grieving the death of a dream… the death of our vision for our future.  That’s what it is for me – the realization life isn’t going to be for us as we hoped and dreamed.  This is easier for me.  I’m the optimist in the family, and I’m not the biggest loser.

For my husband, the loss has been overwhelming.  First the diagnosis.  Then the job loss.  Now three years in, we are questioning the resurrection of his career.  During the same three years, his mother languished in hospice.  Her strong heart refused to quit after the stroke took the rest of her capacity for living.  Now she is with Jesus, for which we are abundantly grateful.

He’s not quite Job, though Job is frequently mentioned around our home.  I remind my man often, “I’m not leaving.”  We’ll learn to do this new normal together.  Our lives are full of blessings for which we are daily reminded to be grateful. 

My suntanned feet man having grown up in church and regularly fed on the Word of God from a young age, he knows the right answers.  Yet, somehow in the tremendous pit of pain and darkness, black writing on white pages isn’t enough.  He is in need of the real presence of God holding him, catching his tears and listening to his brokenhearted questions.

This Christmas, this is where we’re living.  I want real.  My insides are clawing for an understanding of what it really means to welcome the King of Kings and Lord of Lords into our home.  What if Joseph had come knocking at our door, his wife about to give birth?  Would we help them… give them a place to rest… watched as she birthed the Word incarnate?  Would we have believed Mary’s story?  The real of what God selected them to do was messy and hard and heartbreaking and lonely at times. 

My method for regaining equilibrium – finding my bearings in unsettling circumstances – is to ask myself questions: “What do I do when I don’t know what to do?”  And then I answer myself: “Go back, Lisa, to what you know is true.”

I go back to tried and true Scripture for a foundation.  Lately, I’ve found comfort in the 37th psalm.  As I read it again and again, I feel peace wash away the fear and anxious thoughts.  Here it is simply stated:

Trust in Him.  Do good.  Dwell in the land.  Enjoy safe pasture.  Delight myself in Him.  Commit my way to Him.  Trust Him.  Be still before the Lord and wait for Him. 

– Psalm 37:3-7, paraphrased

Other times I go back even further to where I started with God.  That time in college when He found me in the deepest pit of despair.  All was dark and I had no power to fix anything.  In the depth of my soul, I was simply trying to disappear.  I didn’t call it ‘wanting to die’, but my behaviors were leading me in the direction of death.

But God had His eye on me – many loved ones were praying, I now feel sure.  One night, in a dream, the most trustworthy person I could imagine, my great-grandma Becky, sat on the edge of my bed and spoke simple truth to my aching heart.  I dreamed it, yes, and please don’t make it weird. 

God spoke into the deep darkness His rescue plan for me.  When I awoke, I knew three things:  1) God loved me  2) He had a good plan for my life  3) I needed to follow Him.  This was the unlikely and humble place of God choosing and calling little me to be His ambassador and receive the mission He has for my life.

Perhaps this is the heart connection I have with Mary – not that God pulled her out of a pit, but that He sent a messenger to personally meet with her.  She knew when Gabriel left, stunned as she must have been, she had been chosen by God for His purpose.  Surely, she had more questions than answers. 

The real of her situation was that God’s calling put her reputation on the line.  Suddenly, Joseph was forced to choose between what seemed a plausible betrayal and the glorious gift of God.  The couple had to have been reeling as they too may have grieved the death of a dream for their lives.  Nothing would be as they planned at the beginning of their betrothal.

Yet, God intervened.  He confirmed to Joseph the truth of Mary’s situation.  They were affirmed in their calling.  Step by step, they lived the current day, no longer certain of what the future held for them.  They chose faith.  Trust.  Hope.  Obedience.  And God was there with them.  God, the Father, led the way.  He, the Son of God, came to live with them. 

With all my questions, I’m certain of this: 

The real of Christmas was hard, scary, uncertain and raw.  And out of darkness, the Light shone confirming the truth of God’s word and His presence with us.  Emmanuel, welcome to our real…

Ponders:

What about you, friend?  Are you seeking the real face of God in the middle of your circumstances?  I pray you will, like me, simply pour out your questions.  Be real with Him.  He knows.  He sees.  He’s been in every feeling, thought and circumstance alongside you.

  • What comfort do you find in the real of Scripture?
  • How might the real of your circumstances add Light to your celebration of Christmas this year?

Eyes on Jesus…you’re shining!

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Lisa Brittain CBS profileLisa Brittain and her husband, Randy, will soon be married 30 years.  Together they are parents of two adult sons, and share their home with three adopted pups. By day Lisa works as a receptionist in the local middle school. However, her mission is to reveal the important voice of each woman and teach her how to share her overcoming God stories.  It is Lisa’s true passion for Jesus and introducing women to Him, which flows in and through and around all the open moments of her everyday life.

Connect with Lisa on her blog, Eyes on Jesus and Shine, or on social media (Instagram / Twitter  / Tumblr)

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The Wednesday Writers: Jennifer Hoffer

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (3)

Gentle Reader,

It’s The Wednesday Writers!

No idea what I’m talking about? Read this.

Today we hear from my friend Jen Hoffer, who lives across the street. (Post written in December 2017).

O Chrismakwanzukkah, O Chrismakwanzukkah!

My family and I were watching the live version of A Christmas Carol last night, which is based on a small Midwest town’s Christmas celebrations.  My other half turned to me and asked, “When you were growing up near Los Angeles, you didn’t get to experience things like a grand opening of a Christmas display in department store windows, did you?”

“Nope”, I replied, “but I’m pretty sure you didn’t have Kosher pickles and matzah ball soup alongside the Christmas ham!”

We all have our holiday traditions, each one as unique and different as the people who represent them.  We watch movies and shows, seeing Hollywood’s take on the “traditional” holiday setting, with it’s perfectly decorated trees and perfectly wrapped presents.  But the reality is that our holiday celebrations are more than that.  They are messy, loud, frustrating, quiet, quirky, happy, sad, and busy.  The holidays bring about memories and remind us of stories from long ago.

I come from a family with many different cultures that have melted together over the years.  My mother’s side of the family is Jewish, my father’s side of the family is Catholic/Protestant.  We have a mix of Irish, German, English, Norwegian, and Mexican family members who have added their own twist to things over the years.  Our family LOVES food, and some of my earliest memories of the holiday season involves unique foods people may not associate with the season.  One of my favorites is bagels and cream cheese with lox, onions, and capers (tastes WAY better than it smells) on Christmas morning while opening presents.  We also would make latkes (potato pancakes) with a little bit of butter and sugar on top (don’t knock it till you try it).  I remember visiting my paternal grandmother’s house and smelling the spicy scent of “Happiness Punch” (apple cider, Captain Morgan’s spiced rum, orange slices and cloves in a crock pot for the adults), and receiving a box of homemade tamales from my Aunt Mary.  After I got married, I learned about homemade Orange Julius, scotch eggs, and the amazing Krumkake (cookies in a conical shape filled with yogurt and whipped cream).  If I haven’t made you hungry by now, you have amazing willpower!

But the holidays aren’t always about the food.  It’s about the stories and the history of such traditions.  One of the traditions that we celebrate in my little household each year is Hanukkah.  I jest with my friends when I say it’s eight crazy nights filled with fried food, gambling, and fire.  It is so much more than that.

In truth, Hanukkah is a minor festival in the Jewish calendar.  Our most sacred days land in the September/October with Yom Kippur and Rosh Hoshanna.  But it gets a lot more attention due to its proximity to Christmas.

But what is Hanukkah?  Why is it important?

The story goes that a group of rebel fighters called the Maccabee were standing up for their religious freedom from a tyrannical ruler named Antiochus IV Epiphanes circa 200 B.C.  Antiochus had desecrated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem by building statues of other gods within the temple and slaughtering pigs in the sanctuary (BIG kosher no-no).  Over several years, the Maccabees took back the Temple and took on the task of cleansing it, worthy of being a place of Jewish worship again.  Once completed, the Temple had to be rededicated in a special ceremony, but there was only enough untainted holy lamp oil to light the temple for 1 night.  I took just over a week to prepare and deliver more oil for the temple, and the lamps needed to remain lit in order for the rededication to be valid.  The miracle witnessed was that one night of oil lasted for eight nights, just long enough for more oil to be prepared.  This miracle was a blessing after so many years of turmoil.  Hence, the word Hanukkah means “dedication.”

But what does it really mean to us?  In my family, at least, it reminds us that God is present in even the smallest miracles.  We use this time to prepare for the Christmas holiday by thinking of ways to help others.  Next to our Menorah that we light each night is a little metal piggy bank to donate money to the needy.  We go through our possessions and look for things to donate to food banks and churches.  In a season where the mass media focuses so much on the materialistic aspect of the holidays, we try to hold on to the meaning of our traditions.

What are some of the traditions you celebrate with your family?  Think of the some of the silliest or even the most somber celebrations you share with your loved ones.  Ask your relatives or Google the history behind such celebrations.  You might find some new reasons for the season.

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JenJennifer Hoffer lives in Post Falls, Idaho with her spouse of 12 years and her family.  She has a 19-year-old stepson in college and a 7-year-old daughter, along with 3 dogs and 3 parakeets.  Jennifer holds a Master’s Degree in Healthcare Administration and Communication and works for a local healthcare system.  Jennifer is also the Social Media Director for LYDIA Inc. (a non-profit organization to help families with counseling and services, based in Santa Fe, New Mexico).  When she isn’t working, she spends much of her time geeking out on fandoms with her friends (such as Star Trek, Star Wars, Star Gate, Doctor Who, and all things Disney) and getting beaten at video games by her kids.  Jennifer is also the creator of the Healthy Hobbit.

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