Archives For Christian growth

What remains in the end

Renee Ann Smith —  February 19, 2014 — 13 Comments
Love Bible verses

I Corinthians 13, from The Message
“We don’t yet see things clearly.
We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist.
But it won’t be long before the weather clears
And the sun shines bright!
We’ll see it all then,
See it all as clearly as God sees us,
Knowing him directly just as he knows us!
But for right now, until that completeness,
We have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation . . .

Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly.
And the best of the three is love.”
Or say it this way:
“And now these three remain: Faith, Hope & Love.
But the greatest of these is Love.”
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Photo backstory: I probably should have posted this graphic last week. But since it never stops snowing in my state (New York) and love never ends, I figured it wasn’t too late to share :) I created the graphic with an image from my account at rgbstock photos and the magic of PicMonkey. (Feel free to Pin, Tweet, download & share.) Continue Reading…

This was one of the first articles I wrote when I began blogging. I’m reposting it today because it goes along with the theme at the Women of Faith blog. And because it’s a much needed reminder of God’s grace in my life.  I’ve been feeling a bit dry and didn’t even realize I was thirsting for some living water. If you could use some refreshing, spend a moment soaking in an old, old story . . .

I’ve always loved the story of the Woman at the Well.

I first experienced it as a teen, during a summer spent teaching Backyard Bible Clubs. Once a week for ten weeks, I told the woman’s story. Each time, in a different backyard to a different group of children. The kids and I especially appreciated the visuals, in which a sweet-faced Samaritan woman gazed at Christ from eyes filled with questions.

I remember thinking, She looks just as uncertain about letting this Stranger into her life as I was!

During the fall of my junior year in high school, I gave my life to the Lord. I’d been attending a teen Bible study taught by a young Christian man, who won our hearts with his gentle friendliness and clear teaching. Through the influence of our teacher and my older sister, I became a believer.

Soon, I began attending church and spending time with fellow Christians. Though the folks I met at church and study and youth events were always encouraging and kind, I couldn’t help but feel I’d entered a strange new world.

I wonder if that’s how the Samaritan woman felt on the day she encountered Christ.

It began like any other day. Since she was an outcast, she approached the well late in the morning, after the daughters and mothers and grandmothers of the town had returned to their homes. The passage in John 4 lets us know that she’d been divorced or put away by five different men and now lived with a man who was not her husband. Either the man had refused to marry her, or he was already married to someone else. No respectable woman would have wanted anything to do with her.

Most men, too, would have shunned her. In spite of the fact that some of them should have publicly shared her guilt. They took refuge in a culture which under-valued and demeaned women. Little did they know how far they’d strayed from God’s measure of the value of each individual.

Jesus ignored these social mores and did something completely shocking and revolutionary. He approached the woman in public and spoke with her. Not only did He speak with her, He asked her to give Him a drink.

I think it’s interesting that He asked her to serve Him.

Being needed is a powerful motivation within a woman’s heart, but few of us enjoy all the daily chores that come with being caretakers. However, our relationship with the ones we serve transforms performing those household duties into acts of love.

The Bible doesn’t say what events set this woman on her lonely path in life. But however it began, I can imagine she’d gotten to the point where she looked on the homes around her, homes filled with friends and relatives and precious children, with envy. Perhaps she wished she were drawing water for just such a household.

Instead, she was asked to draw water for the Lord, Himself.

Then Jesus used something the woman would understand, thirsting for water, in order to introduce spiritual truths to her. Their initial interaction went like this:

The Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that you, being a Jew, ask me for a drink?”

Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

She said to Him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water?”

At first, she related to Him on a concrete level. She couldn’t understand why He’d asked her for a drink if He was hiding some secret stash of fresh water.

As their conversation continued, He threw out what seemed to be a completely irrelevant request, “Go call your husband and come here.”

Now Jesus was stepping into even more controversial territory. The woman responded, “I have no husband.” Not exactly the whole truth, but all she wanted Him to know.

Jesus said, “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.”

And, surprisingly, she didn’t walk away.

They talked further, and the woman mentioned being told of the Messiah, who would come to explain all things to them. At that time, Jesus fully revealed Himself to her with the statement, “I who speak to you am He.”At those words, the woman ran to get the people she knew best, some men of the city.

And here’s the part I find truly amazing. She said to them, “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?”

Why was it a good thing that Jesus knew everything about her?

Not only the damage six men had done to her heart, but her own sinful thoughts and acts, too.

I’m convinced that somehow—through the look in His eyes or the tenderness in His voice or the respect in His manner—Jesus communicated this thought:

I see all that you are, the good and the bad, and I cherish you anyway.

He doesn’t join the ranks of our critics, who unfairly judge our words and actions. He doesn’t need to create some false image of us as saints who never do anything wrong. He clearly sees the reality of the true us: all that He intended us to be and how we have both fulfilled and fallen short of His vision.

And Jesus loves us anyway. I love that about Him!

The Bible account ends with, “Many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman.”

So she served Him well that day. And I’m sure her life was never the same.

Perhaps she could have echoed the words of this beautiful poem by Nancy Spiegelberg:

Lord,
I crawled across the barrenness
To You
With my empty cup,
Uncertain in asking
Any small drop of refreshment.
If only I had known You better,
I’d have come running
With a bucket.

I recently wrote a post about the joys of walking the road where all who love the Lord have walked. One of the benefits of such a journey is that we can borrow the songs of the Christians who have gone before us when we know not what to sing.

So today I’m soaking in the words of George MacDonald, Scottish author, poet, minister, father, and fellow Christian. Two of his books have meant much to me: The Curate’s Awakening and Unspoken Sermons. My copies are dog-eared, marked by highlighter and pen, well-worn and well-loved. MacDonald’s words have helped open my eyes to both God’s truth and God’s heart.

His words can be heartening, as they are here, when he explains how God can take something meant for evil and turn it into good: “Christ takes our sins on Himself . . . He defeats our sins, makes them prisoners, forces them into the service of good, and chains them like galley slaves to the rowing benches of the gospel ship. He makes them work toward salvation for us”

George MacDonald’s words can paint pictures in my mind. Like here, where one of his characters relays the story of a prodigal son’s second chance: “He came to himself in the arms of a strange woman, who had taken him up, and was carrying him home. The name of the woman was Sorrow—a wandering woman, a kind of gypsy, always going about the world and picking up her lost things. Nobody likes her; hardly anybody is civil to her, but when she has set anybody down and is gone, often a look of affection and wonder and gratitude goes after her. Yet even with all that, very few are glad to be found by her again.”

And his words can make my heart sing. In this passage, he is talking about all that makes us who we are–our thoughts, feelings, imaginations–and how those things are revealed through earthly bodies. He then imagines what it will be like to see our loved ones again in their resurrected bodies:

“Every eye shall see their beloved, every heart will cry, ‘My own again! More mine because more himself than ever I beheld him.’

For do we not say on earth, ‘He is not himself today,’ or ‘She looks her own self,’ or ‘She is more like herself than I have seen her for long’? And is this not when heart is glad and the face is radiant?

For we carry a better likeness of our friends in our hearts than their countenances, save at precious seasons, manifest to us . . . When the mortal puts on immortality, shall we not feel that the nobler our friends are, the more they are themselves? That the more the idea of each is carried out in the perfection of beauty. The more like they are to what we thought them in our most exalted moods. The more like that which we beheld through the veil of their imperfections when we loved them the truest?”

I love that reminder. Not only that through Christ we’ll see our loved ones again, and they’ll be whole, happy, and radiant. But that we view our friends now through a “veil of imperfections.” Yet through Christ, we see the shadow of all God meant them to be. And one day, no veil of imperfections will separate our hearts from truly understanding each other, rejoicing in each other, appreciating each other.

Let’s practice looking beyond the veil today to see all that another person has to bring to this life we’re living together. And I’ll so appreciate it if you look beyond my veil of imperfections to see all that I hope to be when Jesus rips my veil away and frees the real me!

Whose words have encouraged you today? If you share in the comments section, I’ll be sure to answer you!

Poet and missionary Amy Carmichael spent years in India working to help the poor, widowed, and orphaned around her. She wrote a book called His Thoughts Said; His Father Said to record conversations between a child of God and his/her Heavenly Father. In this excerpt the Son [Christian] can find no words with which to praise his Beloved [God]:

Amy Carmichael

The Son greatly wished to make a song of lovely things to sing to his Beloved–but he could not find singing words.

He heard the voice of his Beloved saying, “You are walking on the road where all who love Me walk. Some of them walked this way singing, and they’ve left their songs behind them.

Find their songs. Sing their words. They will be your song to Me.”

In 2011, let’s celebrate the Songs of Those Who Love Him wherever we find them.

In great lives from the past. In the words of talented authors. In songs and hymns and spiritual songs. In the lives of inspiring people we meet online. In the lives of everyday folks we find next to us in the pew at church. In whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, and excellent.

And let’s encourage each other to stay on the right path–the Road Where All Who Love Him Walk.

I once read a great testimony but could not find the source from feeble attempts at research. A certain hard-living artist/painter came to Christ late in his life. But the bad habits he’d formed over the years proved difficult to break. He often slipped from his resolutions and fell into his old ways. His friends began to ridicule his attempts to share Christ with them. They questioned his Christianity and whether or not his faith was real. His reply went something like this:

If we were all lost in the woods, searching for some way out of the labyrinth of trees and thorns and thickets, and I found the way that led to safety, peace and happiness–whether I walk that road with vigor and purpose or stumble along it drunkenly

It’s still the right road.

Forgive my poetic license and keep that in mind whenever you stumble along the way or fear what lies ahead or feel tempted to find an off ramp.

Perhaps we’ve made bad choices that we cannot undo. Perhaps happy days have passed that we cannot recapture. Perhaps the way forward holds change and uncertainty. Or perhaps the way forward holds too much of the same old thing, and we’re losing our enthusiasm for enduring it.

Take heart, friends. If we’re following the Savior, it’s still the right road!

Happy, happy 2011!

On Monday, I uncovered a drug ring in South Minneapolis. On Tuesday, I spotted a felony theft at a country club in Edina. On Wednesday, I overheard plans for industrial espionage while staking out the back room of a workshop in St. Paul.

On Thursday, my daughter blew all my cases out of the water . . .

With these first lines from Symphony of Secrets, author Sharon Hinck ushers us into the slightly-zany mind of single mom and talented flutist, Amy Johnson. As a crime novel buff, Amy is always on the lookout for a real-life mystery to solve, yet she can’t seem to follow the clues that lead to understanding her daughter’s heart—much less, her own.

Caught reading--instead of cleaning my messy home office!

Amy is flawed and funny and filled with an overabundance of imagination. She’s a main character who works her way into your heart until you’re ready to follow her into any fictional situation. I found myself rejoicing to see her win a spot with the Minneapolis Symphony (which brings her to the attention of the handsome conductor) and empathizing with the self-doubts that swamp her as she pursues her dream.

When she attempts to discover who is sabotaging the symphony and steps out of her comfort zone to connect with the non-musical mothers of the cheerleading squad, some of her antics made me laugh out loud.

But, for me, her bravest moments come when she faces her past, acknowledges the pain she has caused, and finds a way to move forward in love.

If you’ve ever yearned for a dream, loved someone enough to sacrifice for them, stumbled a time or two on the path of life, or experienced blessings in unexpected ways, you’ll be charmed by this book.

And here’s some advice for other aspiring writers out there: read this book!

In a class Sharon Hinck recently taught for American Fiction Christian Writers, she emphasized that “one of the keys to writing was to help your reader build a relationship with the characters.”

Since Sharon demonstrates this so successfully with the creation of Amy Johnson, this story is a great study in character development. (After all, Sharon was named “Writer of the Year” at the 2007 Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference.)

Madeleine L’Engle once cautioned writers, “Your point of view as a human being is going to come over in your writing whether you know it or not. There’s no way you can hide it. And that’s a very scary thing, particularly true, oddly enough, in fiction. Story is revelatory.”

Sharon, too, takes her responsibility as an author seriously and shared her thoughts in our lessons:

“I think it’s appropriate to approach our story telling with a little healthy fear and trembling. When someone is willing to spend several hours in your created world, with your created characters, absorbing your world-view, you have an opportunity to influence for good or bad.

Therefore, be saturated with the Word. We work with words, but we never exhaust our need to be IN the Word—taught, fed, and shaped by the Bible.”

To learn more about Sharon and her other books, visit her website. The sidebar section labeled Encouragement links to some meaningful reads, sure to touch your heart.

Book Giveaway: Let me share this sweet story with one of you.

I made the mistake of starting Sharon’s book during a school week, and you can see by my

My copy of Sharon's book where it should NOT be--in my school bag!

photos that I ended up reading when I should have been working. My copy of the book shows some outer wear from having been dragged around with me and handled by my curious students, but the pages are pristine. So if you’re the type of person who doesn’t judge a book by its cover, this is the giveaway for you!

To win my somewhat used copy of this book, you must be a subscriber or GFC follower. Then simply leave a comment below to let me know you’d like to be included in the drawing. Please include your email address. (Remember to write it like this jenniebee [at] gmail [dot] com.) I’ll run the giveaway until next Friday, October 15.

Follow this link to purchase your own copy of the book.

While driving back and forth to school this week, I was transfixed by the beauty of the clouds. You can see in the photo how they filled the sky as far as my eye could see. They brought to mind a Bible verse that speaks of the invisible, spiritual cloud which encircles our world today.

Hebrews 12:1 reads, Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.

Imagine a multitude of witnesses watching with wonder as we live out the lives God gave us. And who are the witnesses He honors by mentioning them in the lines before this verse? People like Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, Sarah, and Rahab.

Do you know their stories? They were liars, cheats, usurpers, cowards, manipulators, murderers, and more. Continue Reading…

O taste and see that the Lord is good!

For as long as I’ve known her, Shirley DiRenzo has been feeding people. My first experience at her dinner table was about thirty-three years ago when my older sister Marcia let me tag along to an evening with new friends, Shirley and Tony. At sixteen, I was shy and awkward, wary of new situations. Tony and Shirley immediately disarmed me with their contagious good humor and warm welcome. I believe Shirley served stuffed shells with homemade sauce on the side, and I cleaned my plate . . . twice. Continue Reading…