More Than Savior

by Jim Estep

Christmas is past.  By now many of us have removed the lights, disposed of the Christmas cards, packed away all the ornaments and even the tree, and we have also returned the nativity set to the attic.

We love Christmas.  We love the image of Jesus as an innocent babe lying in a manger.  We sing songs around this season emphasizing His nativity, His advent.  We celebrate the savior!

We all love the image of Jesus as a baby; we all want a Savior.  But all too often that’s all we want.  Just keep Jesus as my Savior, as the babe in a manger.  But Jesus is far more than our Savior!

If we don’t let Jesus grow up, if we keep Him a baby, then He cannot grow in our own lives today.  If we just keep Jesus a baby, our faith will remain infantile.

We cannot treat Jesus like a life ring.  Life rings are important; they are life savers. They hang on the wall just waiting to be put into use.  Someone needs assistance, you take it off the wall, hold onto the rope, throw the ring into the water, they grab it, and you can pull them to safety, avoiding disaster, tragedy, and loss.

But what do we do with the life ring when it’s done its service?  After it has saved a life, what becomes of it?  We simply place it back on the wall, hang it back where we found it, and go on with life – at least until we need to use it again, confident it will be waiting there for us when we are in need.

Like the life ring, we love Jesus as Savior and cherish His arrival at Christmas. When we are in need, trouble, fallen and broken, we cry out, “Jesus save us;” He is, after all, Savior.  But, once we are saved, what do we do with Him?

We put him back in His place, back in His manger, just like hanging a life ring back on the wall.  Jesus has served His purpose, we think, and we don’t call upon Him until we need Him again.  We let Him be the savior, but that’s all we want Him to be.

The smaller we keep Jesus, the less influence He can have on our lives.  When we don’t let our understanding and appreciation of Jesus grow, then He doesn’t grow within us and our faith-life never matures, never grows.  The smaller Jesus is in your life, the smaller your faithfulness.

Jesus is meant to be far more than Savior!  Jesus is both Savior and King.  When confronting the Jews on the Day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter proclaimed, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).

Jesus is more than Savior. Jesus is our Prophet (Heb. 1:1-2). In light of our limited knowledge, He is our light (John 8:12). He is our Priest (1 Cor. 1:23-24, 30-31).  And never forget, as our King, He rules (1 Cor. 15:28)

Jesus became so much more than a babe in the manger. He grew up, and He must become more to each and every one of us personally in our lives every day; He must be more than just an infant; after all, Jesus lived a sinless life and gave His life so that those who surrender to Him will live eternally.  He must be both Savior and Lord to us.

Making Jesus More in 2021!

Can you imagine what the local church would be like if every believer would commit to spending one hour in the Word and prayer with Jesus, one hour worshipping Jesus, and one hour serving Jesus each week?  What if that was just the start, that time every week would increase and Jesus would become all the more to us?  Remember, as elders we first lead by example.  Paul challenged the Corinthian Christians: “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).  Can we challenge the people we serve and lead with the same challenge?  As elders, do we increasingly know Jesus both as Savior and Lord of our lives?

Just think what December 31, 2021 will be like if every one of us surrenders to the Lordship of Jesus Christ from January 1, 2021!  Jesus is no longer in the manger and He certainly is no longer on a cross.  He is reigning as King over all kings and Lord of lords!  Only when we submit to His reign over us can we hope to…lead well.

Woman to Woman: Dec 11, 2020

by Paulette Stamper 

“How long will you be paralyzed by indecision? If the LORD is the true God, then follow him, but if Baal is, follow him!” 1 Kings 18:21

God uniquely blessed Israel to make his name known throughout the earth. God promised the land to Abraham’s descendants, brought them out of bondage in Egypt, and poured out his blessings on both the people and the land. However, God’s chosen people quickly forgot about their God, turning their affections and attention to the pagan gods of the nations surrounding them. In quite the dramatic showdown, the prophet Elijah boldly confronted them, declaring the time for choosing sides had arrived. No longer could they claim to follow the God of Israel while practicing pagan worship. Either they had to declare allegiance to the one true God or drop the pretense and make a public declaration that Baal was their god. It wasn’t exactly a “Discover Your Best Life Now” feel-good type of sermon, but man did it fuel the fire for change in Israel…literally!

Our nation is similar to Israel in many ways. We have the freedom to worship the true God, and we are abundantly blessed. However, there are many Christians who are “paralyzed by indecision.” They honor God with their lips but have hearts that are far from him (Isaiah 29:13). What we desperately need in this hour of history are men and women of God who will stand in the spirit of Elijah, boldly declaring the truth of God’s word, and admonishing those who claim the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to throw off the spirit of lukewarm Christianity and be either hot or cold. Now is not the time to sit on the sidelines and watch the moral decline of our great nation. Now is the time for the sons and daughters of the Most High God to take our positions as mighty warriors, confronting the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms with the mightiest weapon available to us – the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God!

Let’s not shrink away from the battlefield. Now more than ever, the world needs bold warriors like Elijah willing to declare the truth with courage, passion, accuracy, and zeal. Will you answer the call to take a stand like Elijah?

Church … FAMILY

by Jared Johnson 

A picture speaks 1,000 words.  Have you had occasion to send – or receive – a picture like this recently?  I have. 

There are over 50 “one-anothers” in the New Testament, and just like biological families, church families are hard.  Forgiving, submitting to, praying with, and honoring each other are hard; always have been and they will remain so. 

Back in June, before many churches had resumed “embodied” worship – being back in the building on Sunday morning – Barna Group reported that roughly ½ of all “practicing Christians” in the US had not participated in online worship for at least a month.  I haven’t seen a hard number more recent than that, but the anecdotal evidence seems unrelentingly negative.  “I’m leaving that church – can you believe what they just decided?!”  After a couple recent conversations, I gave some thought to reasons that I’d leave my home church of 25+ years.  

I could come up with only 3.  I would leave my home church if…

  1. …it closed.  I don’t mean “we won’t be meeting here at the building for a time because of the pandemic” closure, I mean liquidation.  If they ceased to exist “as a going concern,” then I wouldn’t attend anymore.  Obviously, I couldn’t, even if I wanted to.  But that’s the point; just like death separates us from our biological family members and we can’t interact with them anymore, a congregation’s closure would mean I couldn’t be part of that church any longer.  
  2. …the leaders “un-invited” me from the congregation.  If my brother or parents said I was no longer welcome in their homes, I’d be grieved, but I would comply.  Again, same goes for my church relationship.  If I were “cut” from that family of faith, I wouldn’t return.
  3. …I heard or saw evidence of a pattern of covering up unethical behavior by leaders.  If a major scandal broke in the local news of a staff member behaving badly, it likely wouldn’t change my impression of the elders and staff as a whole.  If a story, however, came to light about habitual malfeasance – if multiple staff and/or elders were involved in making a problem “disappear” – then I would disappear.  In Henry Cloud’s Necessary Endings, he describes people who are wise, foolish, and dangerous.  The dangerous individual, he says, should simply be dismissed from an organization.  I am not a leader at my congregation, “just another guy in the pew.”  As such, if my leaders demonstrate that they are among the dangerous, it’s not my place to remove them, so I would remove myself. 

I like the approach my home church has taken throughout 2020, but if it were completely the opposite, I think I’d still consider myself part of the church.  I might not attend in person; I might adjust my Sunday morning routine in painful ways to work around it, but I’d still think long and hard about how I could still participate.  Beyond such temporary concerns, if my church changed the way we did outreach, small groups, discipleship, order of worship, communion, or any number of other things, I still think I’d consider it home. 

A devil’s advocate might be quick to throw down the “BUT DOCTRINE!” gauntlet.  I disagree.  Here’s how and why: if I thought my preacher began spouting nonsense, I’d ask to chat with him.  If he didn’t like what I had to say, I’d ask one or a couple of the elders to chat with us.  Three of our present nine elders literally watched me grow up in this church.  A fourth elder was at the same college I was for two or three years, graduating just ahead of me, and he has been at this church ever since as an intern, staff person, lay leader, and now as an elder.  The shared history and relational capital are too much to toss aside flippantly.  If our preacher was, to my ears, no longer biblical, and all that relational capital with those elders was spent in my quest to “set him straight,” I have to believe the elders would un-invite me from the congregation.  They’d be perfectly justified to do so, since at that point, I would sound a whole lot more like “a divisive person” (Titus 3.10) than I would sound like a prophet. 

There are so many reasons to fight right now in 2020 America – and by reasons I mean excuses.  Isn’t Jesus bigger than all of it?  Paul wrote multiple letters to Corinth.  The Corinth church had some guy living with his stepmom and bragging about it – at least, we can only hope it was “just” his stepmom!  People in the congregation were suing each other back and forth, fighting and bickering in front of pagan Roman judges.  Other people were getting drunk on communion wine while others never got to participate in the commemorative meal.  And we think we have it rough when the guy next to us wants to vote for the other guy!  Well, near the end of Paul’s first letter to that rowdy bunch, he began drawing his thoughts to conclusion with this: 

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me.  Christ died for our sins, must as the Scriptures said.  He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. (1 Cor. 15.3-4, NLT) 

That’s the definition of “what’s most important,” per Paul. 

Politics?  Not important.  Well, at least, not most important.  Supreme Court Justices – which is still politics – not most important.  Masks?  Not most important.  Physical distance from my fellow worshipers?  Not most important.  It’s not like we were greeting each other with holy kisses back in February!  

Instead of fixating on divisive topics that, by design, get our blood boiling, let’s focus on and make much of what’s most important, per Scripture.  A former pastor of mine and friend would frequently remind us “if all your stories about God’s involvement in your life are from 10 or 15 or 20 years ago, you need some new stories.”  Is the Spirit evident in, around, and through us?  It’s obvious when someone is drunk on alcohol.  Is it obvious that you and I are under the influence of the Spirit?  Do we freely share stories of our good Father’s incredible interventions and involvement in our lives?  Or are we consumed with merely ranting about the scandal du jour? 

Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life.  Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit… (Eph. 5.18, NLT) 

For every blood-boiling news story that we hear any given day, we should have 10x more God stories.  I’m just as guilty as the next guy of fixating on the mundane and pointless.  But Scripture points us in the other direction. 

And while I keep learning that lesson just a little bit more every day, I’m going to stick with my family of faith, come what may.  They’re worth it. 

Developing the Leader Within You

by Jeff Metzger 

I face a big leadership development challenge.  You do too!  There are three arenas of my life where I am continually trying to grow the leader within me:  I want to be better at organizational leadership, people leadership, and self-leadership.  All are challenging, but the biggest challenge is the self-leadership challenge.

Self-leadership is Vital

Developing the leader within you starts with self-leadership.  Don’t just take my word for it.

  • Harry Truman said, “You cannot lead others until you first lead yourself.”
  • My business coach, Michael Hyatt, says, “How we lead ourselves in life impacts how we lead those around us.” 
  • Paul is calling for self-leadership when he calls for continuous, habitual self-examination in 2 Corinthians 13:5 MSG, “Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don’t drift along taking everything for granted.  Give yourselves regular checkups.”
  • Dee Hock, creator, founder, and CEO emeritus of Visa said, “People should spend 50% of their time leading themselves.”

Wow!  Do you spend any time, let alone half your time, deliberately leading yourself?  Being a leader at home, at work, at school, or at church requires that first we learn to lead ourselves.

How Do You Grow Your Leadership? 

What can you do to lead yourself?  What can you do to lead others?  There is no greater example of effective leadership than Jesus.  Discovering and applying the leadership practices on display in Jesus’ life can help grow the leader within you.  Invest time in learning to lead like Jesus.  Do it to be a better disciple, not just a better leader.

To be and lead like Jesus …

Grow Your Character – Be Your Best Self 

Work every day to make sure these self-leadership character qualities of Jesus are part of your life.  Explore the records of Jesus’ life to see his character on display.

  • Integrity (No Shortcuts!) – Matthew 4:1-11

When Jesus began his ministry, he was tempted to take shortcuts to influence.  In every case he said no.  Every leader faces a variety of temptations.  The best leaders live with integrity.

  • Passion (Live with Spirit) – Luke 2:46-47

At the age of twelve Jesus’ passion for God was already on display.  What are you passionate about?  What do others see us get passionate about?

  • Communication (Listen and Share Well) – Mark 1:22

Rarely do we think about our ability to communicate – to hear, understand, and engage with others – as a character issue, but it is.

  • Decisiveness (Do the Right Thing) – Matthew 3:15

In every situation Jesus acted decisively.  At his baptism, in saying “no” to the devil, in engaging other leaders or teaching Jesus took responsibility for doing right.  Leaders always do.

 

Grow Your Concern – Help Others Thrive

The best leaders improve the people around them.  Read Jesus’ biographies to see how he developed people and helped them thrive.

  • Mentor and Coach People – Mark 3:13; Luke 11:1

Leaders grow people.  Jesus poured into people, especially the twelve.  He was with them and for them.  Who are you with and for?

  • Build and Unleash the Team – Luke 10:1-2

Two are better than one.  Jesus expanded his leadership by unleashing teams.

  • Value, Love, and Encourage Everyone – Matthew 9:36; 20:29-34

Jesus loved people, all people.  Do you?  Great leaders value people greatly.

  • Give Great Rewards – Matthew 4:19; Matthew 19:29

Jesus rewarded people by unleashing them to make a difference now and forever.

 

Grow Your Impact – Produce Positive Results

Jesus went around doing good (Acts 10:38).  He produced positive and beneficial results everywhere he engaged.  Leaders make things better.  Investigate how Jesus produced lasting change.

  • Clarify the Win – Mark 10:42-45

Jesus knew his mission.  Do you?  He was clear about and committed to his purpose.  Are you?

  • Make Good Decisions – John 7:1-10

Jesus knew when to step forward and when to pull back to achieve his purpose.  His decision making was always designed to advance his kingdom agenda.  Great leaders make great decisions.

  • Think Big but Act Small – John 13:1

In the upper room, Jesus was ready to die for the world.  But, he was also sharing with twelve good friends – big and small.

  • Go the Distance – Matthew 26:36-39; Luke 22:39-46

Jesus was unwilling to quit.  He persevered – even to the cross!

  • Live “All In” For the Mission – Luke 9:57-62

Jesus lived this way.  He calls us to do the same.

None of us will ever match Jesus’ character, concern and impact.  But, there are lots of ways to become a better leader in life.  Doing something every day to be more like Jesus is one of the best.  Where will you start to be more like Jesus today?

A Praying Elder’s Wife

by Dana Spence 

What does it look like to be an “Elder’s Wife”?

I used to think being an elder of a church just meant you were recognized for your faithfulness and your opinion and that your insight mattered to help steer the church.  Not to say that that is a wrong statement, but there is so much more to the role.  It requires a lot of time and energy.  It’s not always fun and rarely easy.  I learned that pretty quickly once my husband became an elder eight years ago.  We share and discuss everything with one another in our marriage.  Once he accepted the role to be an elder at our church, he explained to me there were going to be times he wouldn’t be able to share things with me.  So much is discussed and brought to the elders that is private, personal, and confidential.  I had to accept and become comfortable with the fact I wasn’t going to know everything that was going on behind those closed doors.  He wasn’t going to be able to share everything with me. 

It’s difficult to see him carry heavy burdens, have his mind be preoccupied with issues he can’t share and talk about with me.  This was new territory for us.  I was so used to asking how things went, or telling him I could tell something was bothering him, and then converse about it.  There are certain issues he can’t openly talk about with me.  I’ve learned to turn to prayer.  When I see him burdened, I pray for God to give him wisdom and discernment.  I pray for him to have peace and unity with the other elders.  Not only do I pray for my husband, but I pray and ask God to help me to be the wife and partner he needs.  

There are also times where he needs to talk through something and it’s important to be a confidant while not allowing the struggle or conflict to overtake my own emotions.  Trust plays a big role in being an elder’s wife.  The company I work for is named after Proverbs 31, so I’ve read through it many times.  Proverbs 31:11 says “Her husband can trust her, and she will greatly enrich his life.”  If he opens up to you about concerns he has, you need to listen in confidence.  Proverbs 31:12 continues: “She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.”  It’s natural as wives and women to sympathize with our husbands, but it’s important to not react in a way that might make things worse.  It’s important to support, love, honor and trust your husband always.   

Praying for our husbands and our marriage is something we should always be doing, but turning to prayer has especially helped me be an elder’s wife.

To Elders’ Wives…

by Keren Hamel 

My husband recently received a call from an elder at a church in another state. His face fell as his friend described that a third of his congregation and several staff have left in the wake of Covid-19.

Over the past few months, my husband and I have spent many hours with friends whose marriages are falling apart. Our hearts break as we hear the sordid and devastating details.

Plus, we’re experiencing the same thing as many of you. Personal friends have decided not to return to church because we have a mask requirement. Some of our favorite congregants are leaving for new church homes. Church members and staff have said untrue and unkind things.

These are heavy times. Covid-19 has laid bare some ugly realities. As church leaders scramble to respond, we don’t have the usual relational touch points and face-to-face grace that often make resolution possible. In speaking to elders and wives across the nation, I’ve heard the same sentiment: this has been the hardest and most fatiguing season of leadership in our lives – even when we are spiritually healthy ourselves.

As I share the leadership load alongside my husband, I sometimes forget that my first ministry is to my husband. During this season, as our husbands have taken on so much extra weight, God has impressed upon me my unique ability to minister peace and rest to him. As much as I was his primary companion and greatest encourager before, I am even more so during Covid-19. No matter what kind of challenges he faces, I want him to find rest when he’s around me.

In full disclosure, we have a 1-year-old son, I’m 7-months pregnant, and I have a painfully limiting back injury. So, you can imagine how often I fall short and how often my husband makes sacrifices for me! But, I am earnestly trying to help him find rest in four specific ways.

Most importantly, I want to give him the gift of a gentle and quiet spirit. Each day, I set aside my growing list of prayer requests to take time to enjoy the presence of the Lord – to seek God for His sake alone. He’s my peace, and in His presence is the fullness of joy. I also avoid the toxic Covid-19 diet: slanted journalism (both ways), social media, rumors and gossip. I want more of God’s Spirit and less of the spirit of the age. When my spirit is restful, my husband is the greatest beneficiary.

Second – and this is easier said than done – I try to say and do the things that bring my husband rest and avoid the things that bring stress. These lists are vastly different for each of our husbands, but we do know what they are. For my husband, it’s apple pie, sweet tea and family walks around sunset; it’s not packing our calendar with several engagements every single night.

Third, when my husband is extra fatigued, I try to get creative. This month, I asked a friend if I should help my husband get some alone time. She wisely texted, “No! He gets his energy from adventures and good conversations with people he loves.” She was right! So, I invited her family to come to town for a jam-packed weekend of fun. My husband’s tank will be full for at least a month.

Finally, I pray for God to create life-filled moments for us. God loves to answer this prayer. Just a few weeks ago, I told my husband I wanted to build our son a slide from the deck into the yard. The next day, my husband came home with two large, high-quality slides in the back of his truck. He found them on the side of the road with a sign that read “FREE.” Our son enjoys that gift from God every single day.

Though this is a season of heavy-lifting, I’m more confident in my role than ever. As wives, we are essential workers, vital to the health of the men on the front lines. 

A Land Between

by Leah Johnson

Yesterday, a song lyric stuck with me: “Joy still comes in the morning / hope still walks with the hurting” (by Matt Maher in the song Alive and Breathing).  Because it was such a pleasant tune it stayed with me over the next several hours.  I found it expectant, upbeat, on the edge of the next … something; it made me wonder how God will resolve the next situation. 

In this season of life, I’m not hurting, though I do find I’m “in between.”  Theoretically, we are coming out of COVID quarantine.  Schools are back in session, so I will be back to volunteering at an after school program for hurting children.  We must re-tool and change our approach completely.  The Lord is taking me out of my rut and I’m feeling it.  What’s next?  Our congregation’s programing for kids has not resumed, so that’s another volunteer opportunity on hold.  I don’t feel useful, productive.  I know about Jeff Manion’s book, The Land Between.  Maybe I should read it now.  He focuses on the uniqueness of Israel’s journey from their liberation to their final destination of the Promised Land.  At times of uncertainty, they wanted to return to sitting around pots of meat in their proverbial “good old days” (Numbers 11:5).  Did they actually have plenty to eat as they said, or was that how they chose to remember their slavery?  Is this my attitude?  Do I long for what used to be, meanwhile missing the lesson God has in front of me right now?

How about you?  Are you at loose ends?  Unsure of the future?  As an elder’s wife, do you feel like you’re in a “land between?”  Are some of your areas of volunteer ministry on hold right now?  It feels strange doesn’t it?  Do these days make you feel tense, uncertain about tomorrow?  Why would “normal” be behind us, “back there,” before COVID?  What if “normal” is tomorrow, where God is lovingly leading us?

Let’s go back to the song lyric, “joy [still] comes in the morning.”  We get that phrase from Psalm 30.  David wrote Psalm 30, but he wrote it for the occasion of the Temple’s dedication, which happened years after his death.  David was looking ahead, to the future, expectantly watching God at work and waiting on His deliverance.  Rather than blame God for the stressful times while he ran away from Saul’s murderous intentions, David understood it as an opportunity for growth.  God wasn’t out to “get him,” rather in a Father’s love, He was giving David a chance to repent, be stronger, grow closer to his heavenly Father.  David didn’t perceive trials as God picking on him but rather that he was being shaped and refined for future service.

How about us today?  Do I moan, “Why is God making it so hard for me?” or even “Why is God allowing this?”, do I ask instead, “What am I supposed to learn from this situation?”  I can find joy when I know that God is working in my life.  There is hope when I am hurting because God is walking with me through this “land between.”

I am not alone.  We are not alone.

Just Like Proverbs 31

by Stephanie Wright

Here’s a question…

In our world today, how can you help your husband in his work as an elder?

Many will say they can’t, that they are already doing as much as they can, struggling just to come up for air, feeling burned out, stretched to their limit.  I, for one, would place myself in that category. I am crazy busy all the time; well, most of the time, hmmm … some of the time, at least. Dang, I am not that busy at all!  But why does it seem that I can never get all my work accomplished, I’m always behind and playing catch up, and that being stretched to the limit seems an understatement? 

I tried for many years to work like the woman of noble character, the gal in Proverbs 31. I am sure you have read it at one time or another.  No?  Stop reading this moment and go open your Bible to this passage, starting in verse 10. You will find a wonder woman, one who works vigorously with eager hands, is clothed with strength and dignity, and doesn’t seem to need sleep.  She rises before the sun comes up, and burns the late night oil.  Her children call her blessed, and her husband praises her!  What is her secret?  I want to know, because trying to be like her didn’t work for me.  I was grumpy all the time, because I was tired all the time!  I was not able to help my husband because I couldn’t help myself get off the crazy merry-go-round!

Now, mind you, that portion of Proverbs 31 is all I had read, and I completely missed the gem of the whole chapter. Don’t miss the last phrase of verse 30: a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised.  It’s so quiet, yet it speaks volumes.  She has a holy respect for God, a relationship with Him, and God grants her the blessing of being able to accomplish all things, because she is doing them for Him.  The Lord wants that same relationship with you – not you and your husband, not you and the kids, not you and your job – just with you.  Imagine just you and God being together, without distractions, and with your Bible open so He may speak to you.  Doesn’t it sound delightful?  It is so sweet, so soft, so intimate.  And it’s yours for the taking.  He is calling you to that peace.  He leads us individually beside the still waters (Psalm 23:2).

I know it will take a few moments to clear some of your busyness to find time, but when you do, you will discover you never want to be without that precious time together, and will make sure nothing comes between you and your special relationship with your Savior!

Now let’s get back to the original question, how can you help your husband in his work as an elder?  Remember, there is no better teacher than that of an example.  When we display God’s ways to another, He is able to use this example to glorify Him.  And also 21remember, it takes no words.  Words only get in God’s way.  There is no reason to tell someone what God wants.  Instead, show them what God wants.  Be the woman God wants you to be.   From your husband to your kids, from co-workers to cashiers, everyone will see within you an example of how a true woman of noble character looks and acts.

Who knows, you may even end up not needing any sleep! (I still haven’t figured that one out!)

Unnamed but not Anonymous: Manoah’s Wife

by Paulette Stamper 

What comes to mind when you hear the biblical name of Samson? Chances are you recall the stories of his long hair and supernatural strength. Or maybe you think of his less-than-ideal relationship with Delilah and his ultimate tragic demise. While these stories may be familiar to us, I wonder how many of us are familiar with his parents’ background – specifically his mother? Before you read any further, I want to encourage you to pause and read Judges 13. It will take about five minutes, and it might be the best five minutes of your day.
 
The Book of Judges recounts the ongoing saga of Israel ending up in one hot mess after another as a result of their rebellion against God. In this chapter, they were under the harsh oppression of the Philistines for forty years (and we think four or eight years of a President we may or may not like is a long time!). Circumstances were increasingly difficult for those who remained faithful to God in an increasingly anti-God culture. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
 
I would summarize the chapter like this…
 
Israel was in BIG trouble, and they needed a BIG solution, and God revealed his BIG plan to a wife who displayed BIG faith.
 
If we dig our way through Judges 13, we will discover some pretty big chunks of gold. Let’s look at a few of those gold nuggets together.
 
Gold nugget #1 
 
Dire circumstances make ideal settings to hear God speak.
 
In this instance, Manoah and his wife lived in a hostile culture, and they also faced the personal hardship of being unable to have children. Just when things looked like they couldn’t get any worse, God sent his angel to Manoah’s wife to deliver the news that not only would she have a son, he would eventually be the one to rescue Israel. Undoubtedly, this answered two prayers – one for a child, and one for Israel to be rescued from her enemies.
 
Gold nugget #2
 
God chose to reveal his plan to Manoah’s wife – even though His plan included them both.
 
Let me pause and clarify something – this isn’t a commentary on the roles of women and men in the church. Not even close. Instead, this is simply a beautiful reminder that God esteems women, and in this particular instance, He chose to reveal His plan to Manoah’s wife. Her faith in God’s Word would play a huge role in her husband’s response – which we will see in the next nugget.
 
Gold nugget #3
 
A faith-filled response can bring peace and reassurance in a fearful situation.
 
That’s a nice way of saying that sometimes we freak out and we need a calming word from our husbands, and sometimes our husbands freak out, and Lord knows, we need a strong, confident, and faith-filled response that ushers in the peace and strength required for the task at hand. That’s precisely what Manoah’s wife did. When Manoah panicked and thought they would die because they’d seen the angel of the Lord, she said, “If the Lord had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and grain offering from our hands, nor shown us all these things or now told us this” (Judges 13:23, NIV).
 
We also live in an increasingly anti-God culture, but make no mistake, it can serve as an ideal setting to hear God speak. If we position ourselves to hear God by staying in His Word and communing with Him in prayer, our voice can and will carry significant weight – especially in our marriage, so let’s use it wisely.
 
Listen to God, then faithfully and confidently use your voice to encourage and strengthen your husband. Remember, God can and will do BIG things through both of you

When All My Plans are Ground to Dust

by Jon Weatherly 

Leaders plan. Leaders write and revise and execute and evaluate plans. Leaders plan planning retreats.

Elders are leaders; therefore, elders plan.

Today, all of humanity, including the church, is about a half year into the COVID-19 pandemic. All our plans have been ground to dust by a microscopic strand of RNA.

The Letter of James says some pointed things about planning:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:13–15).

There was a time when I read those words and thought, “That has to do with selfish planning about getting rich. It has nothing to do with other kinds of planning, not church planning, not my planning.” Well, amid COVID-19, I’m revising that understanding.

James cautions us about our plans because we humans are terrible knowers of the future. With hindsight we love to take credit for knowing things in advance, but the truth is, we’re just educated guessers who sometimes guess right and conveniently forget our wrong guesses.

God, on the other hand, is a perfect knower of the future. And God is a perfect promise-keeper about the future. That’s why James says we should say, “If it is the Lord’s will,” not as a pious formula but as a confession of our weakness and our utter reliance on the Lord. James was simply applying Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:31–34:

So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Our ignorance of the future should not paralyze us. It should direct us to trust the God who knows the future and cares for us so much that he sent his Son to die for us.

This tells us something about our planning, something more constructive than “stop planning.” We cannot project the future accurately, though we can make reasonable guesses about parts of it. But we can not only trust God but work to enhance the capacities of the Lord’s church to trust God under any circumstances. James begins his letter by telling suffering Christians to count their suffering as joy because it produces perseverance and maturity (James 1:2–3). Moments when hardship grinds our plans to dust remind us that the Christian life and Christian leadership are about not being the best planner but becoming a persistently faithful, trusting follower and helping others become the same.

So at that next planning retreat, on the other side of the pandemic, let’s talk about the future, in full humility and as best we can. But let’s place ourselves in the Lord’s almighty hands and ask ourselves what we can do to grow up to persistent, mature faith and guide others to the same destination. It has a promising outcome: “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).