Archive for the “Relationships” Category

16So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
2 Corinthians 5:16-17

Yep, I’m a bit behind in my Resting at the River’s Edge reading. (How in the world did that happen? Two weeks ago I was almost a week ahead? Well, it’s been a busy two weeks!) But I read this passage this morning and was surprised at verse 16.

I usually think about and quote verse 17 in a way that relates the verse to how we think about ourselves. In other words – I am a new creation in Christ! You are a new creation in Christ! Be encouraged! Live in what God has done for you! But I noticed this morning that it follows verse 16 and verse 16 tells me not to regard anyone from a worldly point of view, because anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. Just as I once regarded Christ from a worldly point of view and no longer do so, I am to no longer regard anyone who is in Christ from a worldly perspective. What does that mean? How should it change how I think about and respond to them? Several things come to mind and I wanted to share them with you.

  • It means that they have opened themselves up to being transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit in a new and exciting (and powerful) way. I shouldn’t expect to see old behaviors, I should anticipate that they will be more loving, more kind, more hopeful, more like Christ. It’s easy to fall into patterns of expecting people to respond certain ways, especially if you’ve known the person for a long time and especially if they have a history of responding negatively. Scripture is saying that it’s important that we change our minds and attitudes and expect (in a positive way) that the new creation will in fact surprise us – that he or she will respond in a new way.
  • Just as I look for God’s blessings around me and praise and thank Him when I see them, I ought to look for signs of transformation in the new person and encourage them in their new growth. Growing and changing can be a scary thing. Acting differently from the way I’ve acted all my life makes me feel very vulnerable to others. I’m guessing that’s an almost universal response. Reward the growth and vulnerability you see in new creations by encouraging them and drawing them into your circle of friends.

So quit looking for the old ways in new creations – view them from a different perspective and watch them blossom and grow all the faster. “The old has gone, the new has come!”

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The following question was asked in a Christian forum of a professional social network I’m a part of:

What do you think – Is every Christian in the workplace just there to work, or are they called/placed by God to be a full time missionary in that workplace?

That’s an easy question for me – I’ve always viewed myself as called to the workplace. For years it was the place where I was most effective and had the most significant influence. I am blessed that my ministry now rivals my secular job in the areas of effectiveness and influence, but I am still called to be a part of the workplace. And I believe that we are called as missionaries wherever God has placed us, no matter how permanent or temporary that place might be.

The question challenged me anew, though, as I realized that I had become lazy about thinking of myself as a full time missionary at work each day.

I participated in a missions trip to Mexico City a number of years ago. I remember the emphasis we put on something as simple as always smiling because we didn’t want to communicate anything but the love of Jesus while we were there. Throughout the trip we had a heightened sense that everything we did had an impact for Christ. We looked for opportunities to share Christ. We were careful how we interacted with people. We were conscious of not offending because of the difference in cultures.

We were always aware of our purpose during that trip – to represent and present Christ to those around us. If we have a missionary mindset (now often referred to as a missional mindset), we view that as our purpose in all that we do throughout our day. I’ve lost some of that purpose in recent years. I’m not saying that I haven’t felt called to the workplace or that I haven’t represented and presented Christ during that time. I’m saying that I’ve lost the “always aware” part of the formula. I was glad to be challenged by the question – challenged to re-orient my thinking back to that of a missionary in my world.

You, too, are a missionary in your world. It doesn’t matter if your world is the workplace, caring for children or your retirement community – if God has placed you there, it is to represent and present Christ to those around you.

Let’s begin to take our missionary responsibilities more seriously. Think about representing Christ to everyone you meet or talk with today. Ask Him who you should be more forthright about presenting Christ to.

Father, help us to begin each morning with praise and then a dedication to represent You throughout the day. Open doors for us to present Christ to those who are ready to meet Him.

31So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—33even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.
1 Corinthians 10:31-33

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As I studied church history in grad school, I learned something that I hadn’t realized before. I suppose it’s pretty obvious, but it had escaped me – the early Church really were learning what God had in mind for the Church as they went along! Now I suppose that continues to be true for us today, but they were really just figuring it out – everything we take for granted today was birthday in that first century (well, at least everything that’s of God). It’s obvious as we read through the book of Acts.

Peter, the White Sheet & Cornelius
Yesterday, while Resting at the River’s Edge, we read about how Peter took the Gospel to the Gentiles for the first time. God gave him a vision of unclean animals being lowered from the sky on a sheet. When told to “Kill and eat,” Peter objected because the animals were those considered unclean by the Jews – they’re the very same animals we’ve read about as we’ve read through Leviticus this month. God’s response would surely have shocked Peter: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (Acts 10:15) Peter had learned all his life that these animals were unclean and now God was telling him they were clean!

As he considered what it might mean, three men came to the door asking for Peter to go to the home of a Gentile, something also against the Jewish laws. Peter made the connection between his dream and these visitors and goes to the home of Cornelius. Once there, he began to share the Gospel. Scripture records the result:

44While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
Acts 10:44-46

Praise God! As was His plan from the beginning of time, He has now opened the door to Gentiles coming to faith in Christ. Let’s celebrate, right?

Peter & the Jewish Believers
Well, not quite. As we read in Acts 11, Jewish believers who had not been with Peter when the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit became critical of Peter:

1The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him 3and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
Acts 11:1-3

Although it is clear from the beginning of Scripture that it was God’s plan to save the world through Abraham (“and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Genesis 12:3b), the Jews had gone off course a bit and believed that God only intended to be their Messiah, their Savior. God spoke to Peter and then demonstrated His expansion plan through Cornelius’ family…but those who were not present were skeptical. After hearing Peter’s discussion, the responded appropriately:

17So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?”

18When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.”
Acts 11:17-18

Peter & You and Me
If you’re reading along with us, why am I telling you the story? Because I find a couple of things interesting about it.

  1. It is fascinating to see how the Church came into being – it didn’t just spring up fully formed. The early believers were discovering what God intended as they went along. The Scriptural record we have demonstrates that. It’s easy for me to fall into the trap of reading Scripture – both the Old and the New Testaments – from a historical perspective instead of thinking about how it documents what was being lived out. When Acts chapter 10 occurred, Peter was doing a new thing, changing the way forever that the Gospel would be viewed – God had granted even the Gentiles repentance unto eternal life!
  2. These chapters demonstrate that obeying God brings criticism, even from fellow believers. The believers in Jerusalem criticized Peter for associating with Gentiles. We should never fall into the trap of believing that following God’s will brings peace. We forget how radical a God we serve. His desire is that all should come to a knowledge of repentance, and sometimes that requires radical obedience when God lays out a radical game plan. As believers, at least as believers living in the United States, I think it’s often our tendency to talk people out of radical obedience. Lord, forgive us and give us a radical faith!
  3. I love the way that Peter didn’t seem to get defensive when he was criticized by other believers. He simply “began and explained everything to them precisely as it had happened” (Acts 11:4). It is difficult for me not to get defensive when I am criticized. I’m often not successful at it, but I think there are three primary components that help us not to become defensive: Being absolutely confident in God, walking in humility and loving those who are accusing you. Peter was absolutely confident that God had sent him to Cornelius’ home and he simply explained it to the other believers. He didn’t respond in an authoritarian way, although by rights he could have. After all, he was the apostle, they were not. But he chose to explain all that had happened so that they could also see the hand of God moving and shaping the new Church.
  4. Look how quickly the criticizing believers were willing to change their minds. After hearing Peter’s story, they immediately rejoiced. They didn’t feel a need to be right, didn’t raise objection after objection, didn’t seek even the smallest concession to save their own dignity. They celebrated that they were wrong! They celebrated that God had opened the door to the Gentiles.

There are probably other lessons in the story, but these four strike me.

How about you?
Did you get the same things out of reading the two chapters? Which of the above four points is most significant for you?

Points two and three hit me the hardest. I want to obey God radically and I don’t want to ever discourage someone else from doing the same. And I’m still working on losing all my defensiveness when people criticize me.

How about you?

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I had to re-learn a lesson a couple of weeks ago. It’s a lesson about…well, humility I guess. I don’t think of it as humility, but that’s what it was. Or perhaps lack of humility is a better way to express it.

You see, I sometimes fall into the trap of not wanting people know when I’m not doing so well. I’d be willing to bet that you’re a whole lot like that, too. We like people to think we’ve got it all together. Even when it’s obvious that things around us are falling apart, we want people to believe we’re handling it well. Perhaps it’s because we want to believe that ourselves. But the lesson I re-learned a couple of weeks ago is that the sooner you share your struggles with those who will pray for you, the sooner you’ll receive the spiritual boost you need to get back on track.

A Year Ago
In the middle of January my husband had some medical issues and they really threw me for a loop. When he had a major heart attack last February, I really handled the whole “died on the table” thing pretty well. What I mean by handling it well is that I rarely dwelt on “what might have happened,” or “what’s life going to be like in the future.” I had a confidence that God had been good to me in the past and He would continue to be good to me no matter what happened in the future. Since then, through the various ups and downs of recovery, I have maintained that confidence.

A Couple of Weeks Ago
Until a couple of weeks ago. That’s when Phil began to have some strange and serious symptoms. When he told me about them, I outwardly remained calm (because that’s what I do in a crisis). But from that moment until I came to my senses and asked for prayer, the enemy bombarded my mind with two words: widow and widowhood. I wasn’t dwelling on it – I wasn’t continually letting my mind go to “what if’s” – the words just continually popped into my head unbidden.

Phil shared his symptoms with some friends and they prayed for him and asked me how I was doing. I sugar-coated how I was doing. “OK. Not great, but I’m fine.” I was not doing fine. If I had told the friends that night about where my mind was, they would have prayed and I have every confidence the enemy would have lost the territory he was staking out. But I didn’t.

I am so thankful that we had a ladies’ meeting planned that weekend. I so didn’t want to go. I wanted to stay home alone and eat cheesecake. We were going to watch the Chondra Pierce video “Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid.” (Is God’s timing perfect, or what?) But I knew I had to go – it was a follow on to a retreat I had been a part of planning last November. I surely wasn’t going to share my struggles, though. I was going to go, watch the video, smile, prayer for anyone who needed prayer and come home. Have you ever been in that place? I’m guessing you have.

5 Days Later
After we watched the video, one of the leaders asked “have any of you struggled with fear since the retreat.” Silence. Long silence. I knew I needed to speak. So I did. And of course, the ladies were tremendously gracious. They prayed for me. A long prayer. And then one of the ladies suggested that someone agree to pray for Phil and I each day of the week for the next six weeks! As I sat there in the midst of them (not nearly as composed as I would have like to have been), I began to hear women say “I’ll take Tuesdays.” “I’ll take Fridays.” “I’ll take Wednesdays.” Until all the days of the week were taken. I was overwhelmed with gratitude. What a blessing!

It was about five days from the time Phil told me about the symptoms until I shared with the women, and that was MORE than enough time for the enemy to mess with my head. He got a bit of a foothold, planting a seed of fear that desperately wanted to take root. Even though I wasn’t dwelling on the issue, the unbidden thoughts that continually sprang up began to take their toll. Even though I would immediately (or almost immediately) arrest them and focus my thoughts elsewhere, they occurred so frequently that I was beginning to become paralyzed. (I took me more than a week to write a blog that should have been written in one sitting.) That was a week that I didn’t need to experience. If I had immediately called someone and humbled myself saying “I need prayer right now. I’ve lost my confidence that God will be good to me in the future. I’m afraid of what the future holds. Will you pray for me because I’m not very good at praying for myself right now?” – if I had done that immediately, God would have come to my rescue immediately. The enemy would have had to flee.

Some Battles Need More Warriors
Satan was overstepping his bounds and I was not able to stop him. That’s not a bad thing – it’s why God places us in families. Some battles need more warriors than others. Such battles bring the family of God closer together as we call on Him for another who needs their faith boosted.

It was foolish for me not to speak up sooner. I suffered needlessly, others missed the blessing of being a part of God’s victory and I missed the blessing of being reminded that I have friends who are quick to step in when needed. Fortunately, God provided another opportunity for me to be humble and the best part is…I haven’t thought about widowhood since that evening. (Except to write this blog, of course, and I’m GOOD – honestly, good – no enemy piercing my heart or spirit tonight.)

God is very good and God is very faithful. Blessed be the name of the Lord and blessed be His faithful prayer warriors!

Friends don’t be like me. Humble yourself and share your needs before seeds of fear, uncertainty and doubt are planted and take root.

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Today is my husband’s birthday. The day his mom struggled then knew the joy of having her fourth (and last) child. The day he cried his first audible (to humans) cry. More likely than not, the day I was conceived. Since I was born 9 months to the day after Phil was born, we often say that God created me especially for him as a gift to him on his true birth day.

I think it would more accurately be said (from my perspective) that the Lord who knew me even before I was conceived was working, even before I was conceived, to create the perfect husband for me.

 I wrote this tribute in 2008, but was reluctant to publish it in my blog because it seemed so self serving. This year, I am rejecting that notion for several reasons.

  • Phil has been a fantastic example of a godly husband throughout our marriage. If reading this helps any man become a better husband to his wife, that is a worthwhile use of this space.
  • Our culture is awash with women who do not choose to honor their husbands. If this blog encourages a single wife to honor her husband today, it is a worthwhile use of this space.
  • This tribute gives a glimpse of a life lived for Christ and a marriage committed to Christ. There will always be difficult times to work through and doing so together is one of the joys of marriage.

With that being said, here is my tribute to the greatest man on earth!

Phil –

Thank you for loving me. For seeing in me more than I could ever see in myself. For showing me God’s unconditional love. It seems that no matter how much I fall short, you love me. And without heaping negativity on me in any form, you urge me to become better than I am.

Thank you for being my cheerleader, loving me the way God created me and encouraging me to  be me when others have said “no, you can’t.”

Thank you for making up for my weaknesses (like not cooking or cleaning much), covering them with your actions, demonstrating your love for me.

Thank you for putting our future ahead of our past and our present. For always knowing that God had more for us, even when I slid toward doubt.

Thank you for introducing me to God. For your tenacious faith in the midst of my anti-faith. For your patience and perseverance until the Holy Spirit to change my heart.

Thank you for pursuing God in good times and bad. For all you’ve taught me as we study together or prepare to teach others together. What a blessing to be a study partner with you! You enrich my relationship with God.

Thank you for encouraging and guiding my walk with God. For recommending books you think I should read. For asking me how my spiritual life is going. For praying for and with me.

Thank you for your tender heart and willingness to take risks. What a risk I was 32 years ago! (And maybe still am today!) Thanks for seeing the payoff, even before I did.

Thank you for being my business partner for 21 years and my life partner for 31. What a life! God has been so very good to me!

Thank you for holding me together in the hard times, for celebrating with me in the great times and for making the in-between times more fun that they ought to have been! Thank you for being the fun that balances my seriousness.

Thank you for loving me.

I love you…more than you can ever know, more than I can ever say.

Happy birthday, love.

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20But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?” 21Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?
          Romans 9:20-21

3For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.4Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function,5so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.6We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.7If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach;8if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
          Romans 12:3-8

Are you happy with the way God made you? Or do you long for a better singing voice, or greater organizational skills. Do you wish you had curly hair or straight hair or more hair? In my family, my siblings always thought I had all the brains and I always thought they had all the common sense. None of us were happy with the way God had created us. (Now just for the record, I didn’t get all the brains and they didn’t get all the common sense. I’ve come to understand that as an adult, but childhood images of one’s self can be hard to shed.)

God has created each of us uniquely to fulfill the destiny He has laid out for us. He has custom-made us to fill the hole in the universe that He created for us to fill. If we don’t fill it, it will just be a void – a place in time and space that is empty, waiting for the perfect fit to come and fill it.

We have such a tendency to be dissatisfied with ourselves, when what we ought to do is celebrate that we are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God for His purposes (Psalm 139:14, Genesis 1:27, Ephesians 2:10).

I cannot fulfill God’s purposes for me when I am wishing I were or trying to be someone else. That either makes it really crowded in the space that God’s created for them or makes my space seem ill-fitting. But when I celebrate and grow in the person God has made me to be, my space begins to feel just right for me. In fact, my space probably expands a bit because I fill it so well.

How insidious is this desire to be other than we are! While writing this blog I began to look up a Scripture. It was the Ephesians passage I referenced above. But I didn’t know it was in Ephesians. So I started using the search feature in my Bible software. In the meantime, I asked my husband for help. He immediately gave me the reference I was looking for. The words that came out of my mouth next are the exact opposite of what this blog is about! Aargh! I immediately said, “I wish I could do that.” Well, yes, it would be nice to have the recall of Scripture that my husband has. But God hasn’t wired me that way. I have read and studied Scripture as much as he has. I have applied myself to memorizing it as he has. But unless I continually review those memorized passages they are easily lost from the front of my mind. He, on the other hand, has probably not reviewed Ephesians 2:10 lately. He just learned it once and now he knows it. He just knows where to find whatever it is he is looking for. And the truth is I’m jealous of him because I have to research to find those passages that I already know or once knew. I need to keep a good concordance or search feature nearby. Does that make him smarter than me? No, it just means he was created differently and for different purposes. And instead of wishing I were like him, I want to pursue the place God has uniquely created me for.

There is a flip side to all of this. Just as we ought to celebrate and grow into the person God created us to be, we ought to be very careful to not try to fit anyone else into a slot that God has not created for them. Phil and I served as co-pastors for a short time. We work very well together. Where one of us is strong, the other is weak and vice versa. We submit to one another according to our areas of strengths and God’s leading. During the time that we were pastors, our supervisors tried to force each of us into roles for which we were not created – roles in each of our areas of weakness. It made for an exceedingly difficult experience for all of us. In fact, the affect it had on Phil and I was that it made us feel like failures and doubt the abilities God has given us. We were not, in fact, failures. We were just the proverbial square pegs being required to fill the round holes. Had we been given the freedom to let Phil fill the holes that he was created to fill and me fill the holes that I was created to fill, the needs of the church would have been met as God intended them to be.

When we force someone into a role that God has not designed them to fill, we not only are working against the plan of God for that person’s life, but we are assisting in making them ineffective for the Kingdom of God. As a coach, we ought to look for the best in each person, celebrate it, water it and nurture it.

So this week, my goal is to do just that – in myself and in others. Lord, let me celebrate the woman you have made me to be, trusting that you have created a perfect hole for me to fill. Let me also see others as You see them, celebrate who they are, and encourage them to grow into the person you’ve designed them to be.

I invite you to join me in celebrating God’s creation – you, me and those around us – uniquely created to fulfill God’s purposes.

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Here’s an interesting blog from a friend of a friend…

BTW, You can find me on facebook as Sandra Parks Hovatter.

You can find my business profile on by clicking here.

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