The Flame

The Flame Magazine is a quarterly magazine published by Christ Church.

Ever-Present God

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart and mind be pleasing to you oh, Lord!” — Psalm 19:14

By Kathy Seibel
The Flame Volunteer Writer

When I was asked to write my story, my first reaction was “Not me! I have no life changing story.” I don’t particularly enjoy writing, and I took this semester off school so I didn’t have to write any papers. God reminded me, before I quickly make a decision, that I need to stop and let Him guide and help me. He reminds me that I can do anything through Him. I pray my words are God-inspired, and that at least one person realizes how special they are to God.

I was not raised in a church-going family. We didn’t pray before a meal or speak of Jesus as the Way, the Light and the Hope. My faith journey started in the late ’70s when I was asked by a neighbor to join some of the neighborhood mothers for coffee. I had three children under the age of four and craved female companionship, so I said yes!  Little did I know, this event would change my life forever.

I don’t remember too much about that day, other than I felt welcome, and the woman who was hosting the coffee get-together asked me why I thought I was going to heaven. I told her because I was a good person and loved God! She proceeded to tell me about Jesus and how He died to set me free.  I was extremely intrigued and wanted to know more. She read scripture to me and answered my questions. She said it was as simple as praying and asking Jesus into my heart and life. So I prayed with her, not really understanding how important and monumental it would be to my life.

I became part of the group – my faith was growing and all was good. But as God will have it, He changes your path and sends you down a road that may be different than what you want. My husband got a job in Arkansas and I had to leave everything and everyone behind.

We moved to Arkansas, but I could not find a church I could call home; my spiritual life became stagnate.  After several years in Arkansas I moved back to Illinois, divorced with five children.  My life was busy and I thought I was in control.  I now had seven children and my life was full of successes and defeats, but something was missing. My mother, sister and I started attending St. Matthew’s Methodist Church and I again became part of a church, growing in spirit and faith.  But God is full of surprises; again a new opportunity was about to unfold.

My mother passed away and I could not continue to worship at St. Matthew’s, the hurt was too great. I didn’t attend every week and eventually stopped attending altogether.  At the same time, my daughter and son-in-law had started attending Christ Church and continually invited me to join them. I finally said yes.  At first I went with them sporadically, kind of hiding out in the balcony, keeping to myself. I am not sure when or how it happened, but my faith and the Lord became the most important things in my life. I started looking to God for everything, trusting not in myself but in Him, letting Him guide my path. I get up every morning and praise Him for the day and say, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart and mind be pleasing to you oh, Lord,” (Psalm 19:14).

My life has been full of want and abundance; I have not always walked the path with Him but I always felt His presence and love, felt the comfort of His arms encircling me. He patiently waited on me, never giving up. I look back on my life and can see the plan He had to bring me to this point. Each day, no matter what it brings, is a joyous day full of the comfort and love of the Lord.

God has that same love for everyone; He is waiting for you. Receive the gift of His love, the opportunity for Him to show all He has in store for you. Give Him control of your life and believe and trust in Him. I guarantee you will never be sorry.

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Path to Now

“Being a Christian is not a burden; it is not a penalty, but rather it is a pleasure.”

By James Oppedal
The Flame Volunteer Writer

While serving together on No Greater Love mission trips, Fred Bishop taught me that each of us should be able to give our testimony. We should be able to give a long version when we have ample time for sharing, and we should have a version of only a few words when time is precious. Each of us has a story of what Christ has done in our lives. Those who don’t know Christ need to know that being a Christian is not a burden; it is not a penalty, but rather it is a pleasure — yes, it is an enjoyable experience to live a Christian life. This is my story.

I met Christ at a fairly young age, being raised as an American Lutheran. This denomination is heavy on tradition. I was an acolyte — I lit the candles and put them out and I sang in the choir. I spent three years in catechism and was confirmed in front of the congregation, saying the appropriate number of “I do’s” and “I will’s.” I fully intended to live a life close to Christ, but I allowed the world to get in the way. I pursued excitement and good times as I started my career in the Air Force and allowed alcohol to play too big a role in my entertainment; allowed career obligations to play too big a role in my time management; and allowed patriotism to be too big of an excuse for absenteeism, allowing my wife to carry the main burden of raising our two sons and our daughter.

As the kids became old enough to understand what church was all about, we decided we needed to be regular church attenders and get involved, so that they would know who Jesus is. This was the beginning of my return to the Jesus I had known in my youth. This journey eventually brought us to Christ United Methodist Church, through a process of events that could only be God orchestrated.

We joined this church while it was still on Highway 50, across from the Burger King. We participated in the vote that relocated us to Frank Scott Parkway, and we supported our growth in the size of the building and the congregation. We changed from a church with one traditional service with hymns and candles on an altar lit at the beginning of the service, along with a choir and ministers who wore traditional robes, into a church where we drink frozen lattes in the sanctuary, encourage the pastor with an “Amen” while he preaches, and worship to modern music.

My growth was tied primarily to Disciple Bible studies which I taught, and to No Greater Love Ministries mission trips to New Orleans, the Indy 500 and the Kentucky Derby. One such trip led us to a late-night prayer meeting — held well after midnight — where a young man who was a stranger to me prophesied over me saying, “Your faith is about to take a strong change from academic to much more spiritual.” You see, I studied the Bible and publications about the Bible to get a better understanding about God in His three persons and what He would want of me. I never expected Him to touch me in a very special and personal way. His Holy Spirit has nudged me, and has at times taken hold of me in a tight grip, convincing me not only of His reality and His immediate presence, but of His desire for me to take specific and at times immediate action. God has become so very much more real than the God I had read about.

My journey is not over, just as Christ Church’s story is not over. Rev. Shane often reminds us that he is confident that the “best is yet to come.” I currently serve as the prayer leader for Scott Campus, and continue to participate in missions and discipleship classes.  Sometimes in our prayer meetings, we feel the Spirit in a very special way. Sometimes we weep and sometimes we laugh; sometimes we leave still yearning for more intimate time with the Lord. Sometimes I feel like we had a mountaintop experience, and often I realize that even when the Lord shows up in a powerful way, life must go on and we don’t get to stay on top of that mountain; we have to live the life for which God put us here.

This is my story; it is not over. Perhaps the best is yet to come. I can’t wait.

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Who Am I?

“I am a blessed, holy, forgiven child of the one true God; a living testimony to the love and mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ who died on the cross to redeem my sins.  And because I gave my heart to Jesus I am assured in everlasting peace and grace in glory.”

By Shelley Loring
The Flame Volunteer Writer

I am a wife, a mother, a grandmother. I work full time and have for most of my adult life, that is until last November when I lost my job.

No matter the reason, losing a job is a humbling and life changing experience and difficult because when we spend so much time and energy at our work, it becomes a huge part of who we are.  It can become our identity.  Think about it, when we meet new people, one of the first questions is often, “what do you do” or “where do you work?”  Even if you don’t work outside the home, you probably still define yourself by your association with others.  “I’m Sam’s mom” or “I’m Joe’s wife.”  So when those things that define us disappear, like when we lose a job, our spouse dies, or our kids grow and move away, we often feel like a large part of who we think we are disappears.

Once while shopping, I said, “Hello, how are you?” to the saleswoman.  With joy on her face she responded, “I am wonderful because I am a blessed, holy, forgiven child of the one true God; a living testimony to the love and mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ who died on the cross to redeem my sins.  And because I gave my heart to Jesus I am assured in everlasting peace and grace in glory.”

I was stunned. The sales woman introduced herself with the only identity that she thought mattered. With that short rendition, she provided a full witness to her faith and testimony of the love of Jesus Christ. That identity was something that no one and no set of circumstances could ever take away from her.

When we proclaim that we are Christians, we set our lives on a path different from the world’s.  Following God when everyone around you is following the way of the world can be difficult. Lest we think that once we proclaim our faith, that will be it, we have to remember that we are human and by definition we will falter and fail. Only by having a relationship with God and surrounding ourselves with a community of believers who encourage and pray for us, do we stand any chance of success. Failing that, we run the risk of forgetting that He created us and He named us; that He loves us; that He will give us rest; that He will comfort us; that He will provide for us; that He has forgiven us.

We run the risk of forgetting Him.

And that is when doubt, despair, loneliness and shame can take over and push you even further away from Him.

When I lost my job, a huge part of my identity was ripped away. It was then that I realized I had let my identity as a Christian fall away. I still loved Christ but I had become an acquaintance who touched base occasionally with Jesus and my Christian friends even less. I had gotten lazy and distracted. I let busyness turn my head and, to some extent, my heart away from Him. So when I thought my professional life was gone, all those feelings of doubt, despair and loneliness started to fill the void and threatened to drive me further away from Him.  But fortunately for me, He was not about to let anything take away what was His. I was greatly troubled; He gave me rest. I felt desperate; He gave me hope. I felt alone; He gave me community.

He wanted to get my attention, and He did.  When my work was stripped away, He replaced it with people who reminded me that the only identity worth having is one as His daughter. Once I stopped neglecting my relationship with Him and my Christian community, and once I grounded myself in Him, my life changed.  I am happier, healthier, I have greater peace and I have a higher mission. When He decided I was ready, He answered my prayer for a job with less stress, fewer hours and a closer commute to my home.

Allow me to introduce myself.  I am a blessed, holy, forgiven child of the one true God.  A living testimony to the love and mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ who died on the cross to redeem my sins. Because I gave my heart to Jesus I am assured of everlasting peace and grace in glory.  I am redeemed!

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Journey Back to God

By Melissa Owens
The Flame Volunteer Writer

My earliest memory of church was when I was five years old. My four siblings and I were being raised by a single mom, and I remember the church van coming every Sunday morning to take us to church. I never understood why my mom didn’t attend church until I became a mother. I realized that Sunday morning was time for herself.

When I was eight years old my life changed completely when I went to live with my father and stepmother in a different state. My home life was full of violence, pain and confusion about what love was. For the next seven years church became my sanctuary, the only place I felt safe and loved.  Just before my 13th birthday my mother committed suicide, and I felt life was hopeless.  When I was 15, my father left us and we continued to be raised by my stepmother, who was overwhelmed. We moved to a new town, which caused resentment and pain for me.  My self-esteem was low, and I began making teenage mistakes and fell away from the church.  I wondered how such a loving God could allow innocent children to suffer the way my siblings and I suffered.

When I was 16 I met the man to whom I am now married. His family taught me to value myself and want more from my life and, with their help, I finished high school and went on to college.  It would be 18 years before I attended church again, and during those years I made big mistakes and allowed my past to control me.  I became bitter, cold-hearted, resentful and depressed.  My relationship with my husband and children was falling apart; I was miserable and lost.

My husband and I faced a medical “life or death” situation for him that caused us to think about God and how we needed Him in our lives.  A series of events led us to the church we would call home for eight years. I immediately jumped in feet first and volunteered for many things, and also signed up for a ladies’ Bible study. When I ordered the study book, I saw that a free book would be coming.  The name of the free book was Give It All To Him by Max Lucado. I learned from this book that God did not create us to live with bitterness, anger and resentment.  We were not created to carry our life’s garbage around with us, holding us back from all the loving things He has planned for us.

I started a painful journey of learning how to forgive those in my past who had hurt me. I learned to forgive myself because some of my pain was caused by my choices, and I asked God to forgive me for my sins.  This was not an easy task, and there were a few times I wanted to give up, but I had a great group of ladies praying with me and helping me work through things.  I spent a lot of time reading scripture, and every Sunday I was on my knees at the altar praying for God to free me from all this suffering.

I remember the day it happened.  I was tired and worn down, and I prayed to God to free me from the life garbage I was carrying. When I walked back to my seat, I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.  I was finally free!

I prayed to God to free me from the life garbage I was carrying. When I walked back to my seat, I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

I didn’t tell my family members about my experience, and saw the confused looks on their faces when I no longer reacted with anger and bitterness.  When I finally asked them what they thought of the new me, I was shocked by some of their responses.  It was hard to believe there were people in my life who actually preferred the bitter, angry me. My husband slept with one eye open for several weeks waiting for me to snap … yet here I am 10 years later and I am still free!  It is not always easy and I sometimes find myself trying to pick up the garbage. I remember that God wants it, so I pray that God will keep my heart soft and His love will show through my actions.

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New Creation, New Life

“Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.” — Ephesians 6:11

By Jeffrey Rolph
The Flame Volunteer Writer

Hello, my name is Jeffrey, and I am an alcoholic, and this is my story.

I started drinking at the early age of 11. Both my parents drank, and alcohol was an everyday part of life in our household. I started with a sip, then a drink, then sneaking bottles and eventually having other people buy alcohol for me. The older I got, the more I consumed and the more I wanted.

When I was 19, I left for basic training and my first duty station was my “hardship tour” in South Korea. I was legal age to drink there, and I dove face-first into the bottle. Within 2 weeks of being in the country of Korea, I received a call that my dad had passed away. With that one terrible event, I lost all control and did not care what repercussions I would face. From 2001, when I returned to the states, to late 2011, I continued to drink like a fish. My relationship with my wife and three children was nearly extinct. I was losing my family; my high school sweetheart and my 3 babies didn’t want to be around me any longer. My whole world, as I knew it, was lost and something had to change.

Sometime in November or December of 2011, I came home from work and got in a huge fight with my wife.  Unable to take more of the life I had created for us, she left. There I was, in my house all alone, and it was all my fault. I knew what needed to be done, but I also knew I couldn’t do it by myself. I fell to the floor in tears and prayed the hardest and longest prayer I had ever prayed. I told God everything (as if He didn’t know), and asked for His help. With His work, came a lot of hard work and patience from me.

After crying out to God as I did, my life did a 180-degree turn over the next few weeks. It was for the better, of course. I started to go back to the church where my wife and I were married, which is Christ United Methodist Church (Christ Church). Even though much had changed and things were turning around,  I was still living on the fence. I drank a lot less but still liked to party. I still needed something to fill the time that I had.

One day, as I was flipping through my Bible and digging into the Word, I came across a verse that stuck with me. To this day it is my favorite verse. I feel protected every time I have something hard come my way.  When I am facing a difficult time or struggling with a problem I turn to this one verse:

“Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:11)

As weeks passed, my relationship with my wife and my kids grew stronger, but I still felt empty and not being used in the right way for the glory of God. I felt that, with my past, how could or why would He use me?  My mom showed me a verse in the Bible that talks about your past life before Christ, and it opened my eyes even wider to God and His grace:

“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Did you hear that? The old life is gone! How awesome is that to hear? I am a new creation in Jesus Christ. Now I know that God has given me a servant’s heart, and I could not be more pleased with what He has called me to do!  I have gone on six mission trips to serve in any way possible and to show God’s love and mercy. After being nearly on the brink of disaster, my marriage is now strong, and my wife and I are working with the youth and are the Assistant Campus Leaders at the Scott Christ Church Campus. God has given me sobriety and freedom from alcohol for 4 years, 3 ½ months and still counting!  Being a servant to the one true GOD is far beyond any thoughts I had 4 years ago. God is most definitely good, all the time!

 All scripture from Holy Bible, New Living Translation

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Out of the Darkness, Into His Light

By Craig LeQuatte
The Flame Volunteer Writer

We all have a story … this is mine.  As a boy, I loved to read, play outside and ride my bike. I felt I had a soft heart for God as I grew up in a church which taught more social gospel than repentance. Between ages 8 and 12, I was moving forward in my faith. At some point in those years, I professed Christ and was baptized.  I also spent time in prayer with the youth pastor. I had a changed heart because of Jesus, but there were things in my life that did not seem to change.

My brother was 1½ years older, rough and muscular. I guess he was trying to make me more like him since we constantly fought (mostly I ran). I did once crack his skull with a railroad spike … but I digress.  He was talented at sports and effortlessly excelled.  My one aspiration was to be better than him.  Although that was never realized, it is what drove me to be very competitive all my life.

During high school there were many changes in my life. I began to get high, shoplift, lie and cheat. All increased in direct correlation to my social anxiety.  On the other end of the spectrum, my parents went to a Bible study and encountered the Jesus movement of the ’70s which changed their lives. As the study grew and eventually became a church, we children started attending. My parents started a teen Bible study where kids from all over Southern Illinois encountered Christ in our home.  One night immediately after the study ended, a friend I invited  wanted a ride home.  After I dropped him off, I returned home and entered our basement where the speaker was then praying with those interested in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. When asked why I was interrupting the session, I bluntly replied, “I LIVE here buddy!”  Unfazed, he simply asked if I was ready to pray.  My response was “Why not!”  My life was spiraling downward with guilt and shame for what I’d been doing, and since I’d been hearing the true gospel preached for the past couple years, I realized my need for Christ and the power to live for Him.

That was a rainy Thursday night in November 1978.  I was a senior in high school and co-captain of the football and basketball team. Everything should have been cool, but I was miserable and knew I needed God.  Everything changed that night in my family’s basement.  God saved me, filled me with His Spirit and gave me new life.  For the first time I truly knew I was going to Heaven.  My school friends wondered what happened to me as I shifted from partying to praying.

A year before I received Christ, I heard Fred Bishop speak at our Bible study.  I was intrigued and convicted. I wanted to be around him.  His influence changed me and made me who I am.  He taught the principle of surrendering to God; we decided to burn any leftover influence from the world in a big bon-fire … like my Buddha incense burner and Black Sabbath records.  We willingly gave our lives wholeheartedly to Christ in prayer, fellowship, abandoned worship and witness. We craved God more than life itself.  What is life without God anyway?

My life would continue to change when I started going on evangelistic witnessing trips with Fred Bishop and No Greater Love Ministries.  Over the next 2-3 years as I lived my life for Him, I was set free from the once-timid, introverted, legalistic young man I used to be, and I began to share my faith with others.  God blessed me with a wonderful family; my wife, Jill and daughter, Josie. I retired from the Air Force and currently work at the VA in St. Louis.

I encountered the love of Christ where, “He endured the cross and pardoned my sin.” — Hebrews 12:2

Bottom line … my life was a mess.  I had fallen into a pit, and I could not get out no matter how hard I tried.  I came to understand that I broke God’s law (think 10 Commandments) and had condemned myself to eternal separation from God. I encountered the love of Christ where, “He endured the cross and pardoned my sin,” (Hebrews 12:2).  Accepting Him, I was brought near to God with an eternal destiny in His presence!  Christ claimed me, clothed me with righteousness and filled me with His power to be His witness just as it was in Acts 1:8. This is truly the Good News!  I publically profess my allegiance to Christ and testify to His greatness!

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Living in Paradise

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” — Psalm 51:10-12, The Holy Bible, New International Version

By Laura Abel
The Flame Volunteer Writer

I thought I lived in paradise!  That is, until the age of 9, when my mother left our family.  My identical-twin, autistic brothers were 3 and our dad was a “functioning” alcoholic.  From that day on, we went from being kids who had a stay-at-home mom, to being essentially on our own.

When I was 11, my father remarried a woman who was not kind to us.  At the age of 16, I begged my dad, an attorney, to emancipate me in court so that I could live on my own, and that was completed by the time I was 17.  The next few years brought many jobs, underage drinking and promiscuity; looking for love in all the wrong places (and ways).

Eventually I went through cosmetology and barbering school. Then, at the age of 20, I got pregnant with my oldest son, Nick. Many people of my mother’s extended family tried their best to convince me that I couldn’t raise and support a child on my own. However, during  this time, I realized something or someone was speaking into me and encouraging me. Looking back, I realize this was God trying to get my attention.

When Nick was very little, I was married in Chicago. Shortly thereafter, my husband received a promotion and we had to relocate to Anaheim Hills, California. I became pregnant before we left, and shortly after our arrival, he became distant, began drinking and was going to Las Vegas on the weekends to bet on horses. In time, he became angry and abusive. After a couple frightening episodes, I loaded up my two-year-old son, my pregnant belly and everything we could fit in the car and drove back “home” to Chicago.

When Rob, my youngest, was about 18 months old, he craftily removed himself from his car seat, opened the door of our moving vehicle, fell out and was run over by the back wheel of the car. David, the man in our lives, told me upon arriving at the hospital, “don’t put any limitations on your beliefs,”  as the hospital chaplain began praying with us. As it turned out, Rob was completely uninjured, except for some “road rash” on his face and we left with Neosporin!  Another God moment gone almost unnoticed by me — but not completely!

Fast forward to 9/11.  I remember standing in my kitchen hearing the news and feeling completely catatonic, scared to death — I couldn’t fix this on my own. I couldn’t protect my sons from the evil of the world. I heard about a service going on at a St. Louis church the next evening for those who felt like they needed help understanding what was going on. I loaded my sons, then 13 and 10, into the car, and we went. There were two seats available in one pew and one in front of them where I sat. The pastor asked us to bow our heads and to raise our hands if we wanted to know Jesus and I did. Then he asked for those who wanted to give their lives to him to come forward.  I was hesitant, but my son Rob touched me on the back and encouraged me to go forward. So I did. At the altar, I opened my heart and mind completely to God and have never looked back.

The thing I learned that day is that I no longer had to carry the world on my shoulders. I had a heavenly Father who would take my worry and fear, and give me peace, comfort and a home in Him forever without fail. I truly now live in an eternal paradise! Who wouldn’t want that? People may not even realize something is missing in their lives, so what do they have to lose with the possibility of a God that may fulfill every need?

In 2006, my sons and I lost David to cancer, but have the reassurance that he began a relationship with Jesus before his death. In June 2015, I married Jeff, an amazing, Godly man who I will spend the rest of my life with. I have been incredibly blessed! I get great comfort from Psalm 51;  It not only reminds me to be humble and surrender totally to God, but to ask Him to renew and sustain me all the days of my life. God is a God of abundant life and second chances for us all. And I am eternally thankful.

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God, Cats in the Cradle and a Renewed Marriage

“For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church.” — Ephesians 5:25

By Jim Shoffstall
The Flame Volunteer Writer

I met Cheryl shortly after beginning a new career with an air medical provider based in St. Louis. I did not know it at the time, however I later learned that she was soon attracted to the ’80s style “mullet” of curly hair which I sported. It wasn’t long before we started dating and became the topic of conversation among our co-workers. Though none of them had really gotten a chance to know much about me, based on what they thought they knew about my future bride we were given little chance of experiencing a long-term relationship. Regardless, we continued to build our relationship and were married in April of 1998, a year to the day of our first official “date.”

While I am not sure she would confess this, I suspect that those days during our engagement and subsequent marriage were tough on my bride. Underneath the curls which caught her eye was the soul of a man which struggled with insecurity, jealousy and forgiveness. These are all characteristics which are poison to any relationship. I recall times when I would let days go by without saying a word to her because I was angry over something. My silence was causing harm to her. I refused to acknowledge that, because I chose to remain in my own pool of self-pity.

It was in August of 2000 when God set the stage to bring about a change in our marriage. Cheryl had decided to look for a church to attend. At the time I had no interest in such activity, so every Sunday morning from then on she would leave to worship the Lord while I remained behind to worship the world. This continued until one winter day in February of 2001 when she called me at work to inform me that the church was home to a men’s softball team, and she was curious if I would be interested in being a part of the team (we had held previous discussions of my desire to play softball, I just never pursued it).

My interest was sparked and I decided to begin attending church with her. That was when God took hold of my rebellious heart and began to do what God does — destroy the old and create something new. I began to learn things about Jesus that I had never wanted to learn before. I was excited about a restored relationship with Almighty God and began to read the Bible. The problem was I had not yet been broken. I was nothing more than a fool now armed with the Word of God and sought ways to use those words of wisdom to “lord it over” my bride. I recall that my favorite scripture during that time of spiritual immaturity was found in Ephesians; “For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord,” (Ephesians 5:22). While I often pulled this scripture out of my pocket during times which, in my mind I was “just joking,” my bride was suffering still more harm to her spirit.

I reached my breaking point in February of 2002 during a trip with the men of No Greater Love Ministry. One night during the evening worship service a brother in Christ took the stage and started playing “Cats in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin. As this song was repeated men began dropping to their knees in tears. It wasn’t long before I joined them. Many were lamenting failed relationships with their sons or daughters. I was convicted of the sinful ways in which I was treating God’s daughter, my bride. Jesus made it very clear to me that I was slowly destroying my relationship with Cheryl. I dropped more tears on that ground in Pass Christian, Mississippi, than I had shed in a very long time. The man Cheryl had married in 1998 died that night in a tent just off the same Gulf of Mexico where we had exchanged wedding vows. Jesus destroyed the unfaithful man and began to fashion something new. I ended that trip with a new scripture:

“For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church.” (Ephesians 5:25)

And thanks to the power of Jesus Christ, my bride was presented with a new husband!

This is my story, the story of how God’s Grace through Jesus Christ changed the heart of a man and brought new life to a marriage!

All scripture from Holy Bible, New Living Translation

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True Connection

By Amy Bouvet
The Flame Volunteer Writer

I was raised in a protestant church family. My dad was a hard-working farmer and my mother an educated farm wife. Some Sunday mornings I would ask my dad if we “had” to go to church and he always answered, “No, you GET to go to church”. He did not send his family to church, he ALWAYS took us. We prayed before meals and we prayed at bedtime.

At the age of ten, my world crashed around me when my mother was killed in a freak accident in front of our home at the farm. Instantly insecurity was my new identity; my heart had a huge hole. What kind of God were we worshipping? One who would take our mother? I was the oldest and had two sisters ages seven and three. I continued to attend church but felt no faith, only fear.

Fast forward ten years … I was graduating college and had met the “perfect” guy. He seemed perfect anyway, because he was the first guy that I had dated that my dad approved. We married, had a daughter and divorced seven years later. Tom was my “security” or so I thought. Actually he loved me no matter what I did. Yet the hole in my heart, the insecurity and fear surfaced with a vengeance as soon as we were married. I didn’t know how to be a faith-filled wife. Even though we attended church and maintained successful career paths, we did not have a lifestyle centered on Christ. I might add that Tom is a wonderful man, a great father and one of my best friends today.

Three years after the divorce, I met my soulmate, Terry. We married and I thanked God for bringing me more happiness than I could imagine. I was grateful for my blessings and continued to attend church.  I felt that I had been blessed and life was going to be happily ever after. My only connection with Christ was “I went to church,” yet I thought the hole in my heart had been filled.

A few years into my fairy tale life, I got breast cancer. WHAT? I was beyond furious with God. How could he wreck what he had given me? I didn’t have time for this! This led to a mastectomy, chemotherapy and all the horror that accompanies cancer. Unfortunately I still had not “connected” with Jesus Christ.

As if the cancer wasn’t enough to get my attention, six years into my happy marriage, Terry died suddenly of an arterial venal malformation. I remained unable to grieve for months, just frozen in anger and hurt. I turned to recreational drugs to dull the pain. I wasn’t out in the streets; I was a white-collar druggy, always justifying my actions. The evil that came into my heart and soul was unbearable. I still attended church, yet I sat as far away from everyone as possible so the evil wouldn’t leak out of me and spread to someone else. For years I made one bad choice after another, until I was forced to sell my business and my home.

By this time, I begged God to take me from my misery. I was so ashamed of myself that I feared praying, and no one in my family would even speak to me. Finally my dad convinced me to go to inpatient rehab. I couldn’t stand the life I was living and God refused to let me die. Not only did God take me where I needed to go, He totally removed the desire to do drugs from my very soul. Seven years later, I have not once even had the thought of doing drugs again.

“I couldn’t stand the life I was living and God refused to let me die.”

Shortly after I completed rehab, I was introduced to Christ Church by my friends, Todd and Sharon Favre.  I am blessed beyond what I deserve. Through Christ Church I have experienced what it feels like to connect with Christ. All glory goes to God, as I now realize He was blessing me from the beginning.

God gave me a super hero dad who was capable of being both a mom and dad. He brought fantastic, loving relationships (friends and family) to comfort me, He cured my cancer, He gave me a compassionate and loving daughter and now grandchildren.  He protected me even when I tried to destroy my own life with worldly choices. I can now pray “your will be done” without fear! Praise God.

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A Passion for Giving

By Kathy O’Dell
The Flame Volunteer Writer

For 16 years I was a fundraiser for Southwestern Illinois College Foundation.

It was the most rewarding job I ever had – Why? Because I saw first hand the joy people receive from funding a student’s scholarship, or helping to make the Schmidt Art Center a reality, or other rewarding projects.

Always interested in new paths to follow, I first heard about Giving Circles at a national conference.

At that time, most of the giving circles were made up of women pooling their gifts for special causes. The final decision on who would benefit was usually determined after research was completed and reports were shared with members. The members voted on the distribution of dollars.

But what I thought was a new idea was really an idea outlined in Acts 2:44-45: “And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.”

“And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.” — Acts 2:44-45

That too sounded like a “giving circle” to me.

Later I read Stephen B. McSwain’s “The Giving Myths: Giving Then Getting the Life You’ve Always Wanted”.  What McSwain wrote jolted my heart about giving:

“I’ve written this book to remind you that, for all the insights you will find on self-help shelves in bookstores, you will find purpose, peace and contentment when you start doing one thing – giving yourself away, first to God and then to others. Let the giving of your money be the place you start. Everything else in your life will start falling into proper place.”

Six months later, I saw the TV show Bill Moyer’s Journal, as he interviewed Leymah Gbowee, a woman from Liberia who inspired and led other women to unite against a dictator and warlords to restore the rule of law to their country. In the first 15 years of Liberia’s civil war more than 200,000 people had been killed, one out of three were homeless and two-thirds of the females were victims of sexual assault.

Gbowee had a dream. “And it was like a crazy dream, that someone was actually telling me to get the women of the church together to pray for peace.” Gbowee – over her strong objections – was named the leader of the women.

In a Bible class on Esther, I read of Mordecai’s reminder to Esther: “Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for such a time as this?”  Esther was willing to die for her people.

And the nudges I felt to do something just kept on coming.

It hit me again as I read Richard Stearns’ book, The Hole in Our Gospel. This is the compelling, true story of Stearns’ acceptance of God’s call to set aside worldly success as CEO of Lenox China to accept the post as CEO of World Vision— to walk with the poorest of the poor in our world.

Stearns wrote, “We might imagine that God’s vision for our world is like a great jigsaw puzzle. You and I are the pieces in His hands, and He places them in just the spots where our particular shapes, sizes and patterns best fit with the other pieces. No other person has our same abilities, motivation, network of friends and relationships, perspectives, ideas or experiences. When we, like misplaced puzzle pieces, fail to show up, the overall picture is diminished.”

By the time I finished Stearns’ book I knew it was time to see if we could put together a giving circle and women I knew from Christ Church and other churches said “yes, let’s do this.”

Today Women4given is in its sixth year of awarding grants. It’s an affordable giving circle with a membership of $1 a day or $365 annually.

To date, the circle will have awarded over $100,000.

What started as a circle of 15 women in 2010, is now a 501c3 nonprofit organization with nearly 50 members from as far away as Florida.

There is always room for the circle to grow. If you are interested in learning more, you can visit the Women4given website at www.women4given.com or email any questions to women4given@gmail.com

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Then … What Happened … Now

By Becky Olroyd
The Flame Volunteer Writer

My story in 700 words or less – wow!  700 divided by 70, even by today’s math, is a mere ten words a year. How is that going to work?  As with everyone, my life story is comprised of many individual stories – some joyful, some sad, some triumphant, many not. The one I will share is triumphant for sure.

Then:  I was born and raised in a devout Methodist family.  I married a wonderful, devout Catholic man but abandoned a church life, unable to reconcile differing religious viewpoints.

What happened:  My husband of 46 years died and, although I was blessed with a loving, supportive family, a multitude of dear friends, and countless wonderful memories, I found myself emotionally and spiritually drowning in a sea of grief.

I had watched the big church with its towering spire spring from the ground not far from my home.  My next-door neighbors sported a church sign in their yard, and I had attended the funeral of a close friend at the church and heard the minister’s passionate eulogy.  So, grasping for anything to lift me from my sorrow, one sunny Sunday morning I forced myself to walk through the doors and timidly take a seat in a back pew of Christ United Methodist Church.  From His wondrous mercy and goodness, the Lord placed me next to someone I knew, who threw her arms around me in a warm, welcoming hug. It was a huge first step to recovery, one for which I will be eternally grateful.

The following week I reluctantly returned to that same pew, wanting so desperately to feel the joy and enthusiasm that seemed to emanate from that strange contemporary music and the witty expressions and mannerisms of the pastor.  Week after week I was drawn back to Christ Church and, to my amazement, every week Reverend Shane’s sermons paralleled the chapters and verses I was reading daily in the Bible that I had been given to encourage my return to a Christian life.

Every week it was as though God, through the pastor, was speaking directly, and only, to me; with words of the grace and hope that could be mine by opening my heart and my soul to the Holy Spirit and allowing my pain to be laid at His feet.

I found myself looking forward to Sunday mornings and feeling peaceful and calm there surrounded by those who felt His presence and heard His word.  Within a few months I took the step of faith to become a member of Christ Church, and soon thereafter I found myself getting involved, of all things!  The enthusiasm was contagious!  I became a greeter and an usher and a communion steward.  I could feel the hands of the Lord pushing me forward – not letting me hold myself back.

But God wouldn’t let up!  A church friend asked if I would join her in starting a ministry for the single members of our church.  What did I know of ministry work? Absolutely nothing!  But we forged ahead, hoping to establish a mechanism for singles wanting to connect more closely with Christ.  And most recently, I have stepped far from my comfort zone by listening to the “ping” on my heart (as Reverend Shane would say) to co-lead a group during the Lenten Bible Study.

Now:  My story is still a work in progress. I still sit in the back pew of Christ Church every Sunday.  I can’t quote Bible chapters and verses, but I’m working on that little by little. Sunday morning is my favorite time of the week, and that strange music has grown on me. I still get sad from time to time. Worries still wake me in the middle of the night. But I have been so blessed and renewed by my Christ Church family.  God has performed a miracle, as only He can do; bringing me out of the depths of despair by working through His people and helping me to know that joy always comes in the morning when we are connected to Christ.

“Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.”  — Psalm 30:5, New Living Translation

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Journey of Faith

By Theresa Cavalier
The Flame Volunteer Writer

My faith journey is made up of not one but several stories that culminate in where I am today.  The Christian rock group Big Daddy Weave sings a song that says “to tell you my story is to tell of Him.”  My story must include how God has worked in my life.

The “starting point” of my faith was when I was a young girl attending Park Avenue Baptist Church in Mt. Vernon, Illinois.  One Sunday I clearly heard God calling my name and that is when I gave my life to Christ.  As a young Christian, I could recite the books of the Bible, in order, and attended church several times a week, but I didn’t have a relationship with God.  My parents were Christians, but my dad suffered from depression and had unresolved issues from his past which kept him from being a loving father.  My mom, on the other hand, was a loving, strong woman and did everything she could to keep the lives of her children on an even keel.

I couldn’t wait to get out on my own and got married at the age of 20.  A few months after we got married, tragedy struck my husband’s family and several difficult years followed.  We attended a Catholic church but didn’t have a church family like we have at Christ Church.  I felt like I was on my own as my husband dealt with things in his own way.  But God was there all the time.  After the dust settled, my in-laws were a closer family than ever before.  My father-in-law became the dad he had never been.  God brought good from this tragedy.

Fast forward 20 years – my mom fell at home the night before Thanksgiving in 2005, broke her hip, and passed away a month later on Dec. 23, 2005.  My dad depended on my mom and couldn’t live without her, and he passed away 11 months later on Nov. 27, 2006.  In the months after her death, my dad became bitter and angry and the last couple of months of his life he barely spoke to his children.  He called me on Thanksgiving Day in 2006 and told me that God came to him and told him that he needed to get right with his kids, and asked for my help in contacting my brother and sister so he could talk to all of us.  We were able to visit with him and make peace and he passed away four days later.  We all felt better knowing that things were good with Dad before he died.  I have no doubt that God spoke to my dad and gave him the strength and courage to contact us.  God was truly at work in this situation!

These are just a couple of examples of how God has played a part in my story.  When I look back now, I see all the life events that God has brought me through, many times, without me even turning to him for strength.  God has put many people in my life through the years, just when I needed them.  As my faith has matured, I can now recognize his handiwork in my life as events unfold.

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  — Isaiah 41:10

People often wonder where God is when things are going wrong, but I know He is with us.  Sometimes things just have to play out in order for us to grow stronger in our faith and learn to trust God even more.  Christians are not exempt from tough times.  But when storms come, I know I will be fine because I am a Christian and God is my strength and salvation.  Psalms 34:18 tells us, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”  How comforting to know that He is always there.

A few months ago, I asked God to give me a revelation.  I even made a Post-It note for my desk at work to remind me to pray about it!  I didn’t think He had done that yet, but as I wrote this article, I realized He has.  He has revealed to me that He has been, and always will be, with me.  Isaiah 41:10 says, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  I couldn’t ask for anything more.

All scripture from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version

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Never Ending Grace

“But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His immense patience as an example for those who would believe in Him and receive eternal life.” — 1 Timothy 1:16, The Holy Bible, New International Version.

By Darah Dodt
The Flame Volunteer Writer

I grew up in a church that ministered to four generations of my family.  I went to church nearly every Sunday and learned that God loved me very much.  I learned all the popular Bible stories and songs.  But for my family, God stayed at church and we didn’t talk much about Him in our day-to-day lives.  Prayers were saved for when you were all alone at night in your bed before you fell asleep, thanking Him for the day and asking for the impossible.  I remember asking God to heal a family friend every night before I went to bed.  This man had terminal cancer and I truly believed that if I prayed every night for him, God would cure him.  Sadly, he passed away, and I in turn lost my faith at about 12 years old.

I continued to wrestle with my faith over and over throughout my life.  At times I wasn’t sure that God even existed.  Because I never developed a strong foundation, I didn’t have the necessary spiritual tools to navigate through my adolescence.  I spent most of my teen years and young adulthood searching for something to fill an unidentifiable gap in my soul.  Nothing and no one could seem to satisfy the void.  I faced lots of heartbreak as many do.  My parents divorced after I finished high school, and as I started college I had no idea what I was going to do with my life.  During those times, my grandmother was a source of unconditional love.  She was becoming more dependent on others and I really enjoyed helping her.  I began going with her to church every Sunday to the church where I grew up.  At this time, I was just a pew filler and a chauffeur to my grandma.  I can’t exactly tell you when or how, but things started to click.  I wanted to really know God and learn more about His word.  I wanted to spend more time in prayer with Him.

Not long after, I fell in love with my now husband, and in turn I started to value my life.  I really believe that God put him in my life at just the perfect time, and I have no doubt that we saved each other’s lives.  After a couple years of marriage, I experienced true unconditional love with the birth of my two children.  There was no way I could deny God’s existence.  Just as it says in Galatians 5:22, “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  Just as my Father felt about me, I now felt this way about my children.  It became easier to understand the complex relationship between God and His children which is full of unrestricted love and complete forgiveness.

“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” — Galatians 5:22, Holy Bible, New Living Translation

God has always been patient with me, just like it says in 1 Timothy 1:16, “But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His immense patience as an example for those who would believe in Him and receive eternal life,” (The Holy Bible, New International Version). While some have experienced profound turning points in their lives, my walk has been quite the opposite.  My adult relationship with God has happened so gradually.  At times it is one step forward, two steps back.  God leads me forward and then I get scared and begin to back pedal.  I will say that it does gets easier.  When I hear God’s calling, I can recognize it, when there is joy in my life I praise God for His blessings, and when there is tragedy I go to Him in prayer.  It is my sole purpose in life to make sure that my children have a strong relationship with their Creator and Redeemer. I am still learning how to be a Christian and how to teach my children about God. My hope is to continually grow in the knowledge and grace of Jesus Christ and pass the joy of relationship with Him to the next generation in my family.

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The Saints of our Lives: A Thank You Letter

Some sow, some tend and some harvest

By Jeffrey M. Bishop
The Flame Volunteer Writer

“This is Your Life” was a TV show in the golden age of television. Each week, friends and loved ones of that week’s guest of honor would share stories of meaningful or poignant intersections of their lives. These separate anecdotes drew a constellation – a sort of “connect-the-dots” picture  – of the person being honored.

For every Christ follower, there is a similar constellation contributing to our faith story. The stars of our personal map of Heaven are simple saints – otherwise normal people who, at some necessary juncture, provided wisdom to help mold the sticky, wet clay that we are to more closely resemble that perfect form of Jesus. While God gets all the glory, His agents certainly warrant eternal gratitude, as saints of our lives. Here are a few of mine:

My parents were free thinkers who valued independence and critical thought over any other ideal. They didn’t aim to raise a brood of atheists, but that’s more or less what they got from the six children they raised. And yet, in this environment, I found God, certainly by His plan.

To my understanding, my parents’ virtue of independence looks a lot like God’s gift of free will. And critical thinking and open inquiry certainly resemble God’s instruction to test everything and hold fast to what is good. Even questioning authority is critical to grasping the Gospel; countless times God tolerated what would seem to a lay reader to be insubordination. Abraham’s appeals for mercy for Sodom? Jacob grappling with God Himself? Wrestling with God for truth and understanding.  These tools – God-given and inherited alike – were essential to finding God with my head as well as with my heart.

We loved it when Grandpa Hannawald came to visit; he was warm and humor-loving and his visits often accompanied our favorite celebrations, including Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. The richness, variety and quantity of food made these meals special and unique, but so, too, did the prayers that he led before each meal. That deep, clear, sonorous voice echoes in my ears even today.  Even to an unchurched boy, I knew they were professional-grade, steeped over decades of lay leadership at the United Methodist Church in Pratt, Kansas. For years, this was the entirety of my sustenance of sermon, worship, praise and supplication all in one; the entire Gospel delivered in our pre-supper grace.

Reflecting, these prayers didn’t express my family’s faith; we had none. Rather, they were mere tradition. But two things are true: despite the motive, God was there with us; and even now, when we gather, my family prays. And God is still there.

I met my wife of 20 years, Tina, at the pinnacle of my atheism. We started dating at college. Raised more or less a “Christmas-Easter” Christian, she had only recently come into her own mature understanding of her Christian faith, to truly be “born again.” To her credit, she had all of the conviction of a new believer, but none of the evangelical zealotry that would certainly have turned the then-me off. Instead, she patiently endured my pseudo-intellectual rants about the impossibility of religion, while matter of factly telling me her intention to attend church – and inviting me to join her. Somehow, her witness, church-Gospel osmosis, and a growing healthy skepticism about my own atheistic skepticism led me to ask the right kinds of questions – and to find the right kinds of answers – such that within a couple years, when it came time to stamp my Air Force dog tags, I wanted them to read “Christian.”

Clearly there are many others – Louis Kennedy’s youth pastor who led me to recite the sinner’s prayer of salvation long before I would know or value what it meant; Sharmaine Chappell and her large cross made up of iron nails that led me to ask about the connection between the nails and the cross (so little did I know); Dean Padgett, whom I regard as “the Johnny Appleseed of Christian good cheer,” for modeling how we should act; my in-laws Jack and Barbara Shannon, who maintained reverent joy despite Job-like life challenges that would have crushed lesser people – and so many others of you who remain unnamed, but not unappreciated.

To all the saints of our lives, thank you for being the Church and speaking – or behaving – truth into our lives. For those fully arrived at faith, we should in turn serve the Kingdom, as a wayfinder star, one of many in a constellation there to point others toward Christ.

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Reflecting on Foundations

You have been taught the Holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. — II Timothy 3:15, Holy Bible, New Living Translation

By Dr. Steve Heitkamp
The Flame Volunteer Writer

I was raised in the church. In fact, many of my earliest memories came from being inside the church building. The building where I worshiped brought me comfort and peace; a sanctuary – a holy space. It was set apart for Him, and taught me the importance of things and people being set apart for Godly purposes. The community of faith shaped me, and many of these faithful Christians built the foundation for my future salvation.

Looking back, I realize that being raised in the church does not always mean being raised in a Christian family. In fact, the outward appearances may imply something much different than reality. The picture is sometimes unclear until years later.  As a child, I experienced many difficult things, which I will not go into here, but these events caused me to turn inward, and shy away from people and the world around me. My experiences as a child caused me to look at things differently than others. I look for what is not evident.  Those experiences, although painful, formed in me a heart of compassion to be with people during their own difficult circumstances. The following verses have forged and shaped me towards this mandate.

“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.   When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.  For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.  Even though we are weighted down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation.”    II Corinthians 1: 4-6, Holy Bible, New Living Translation

I came to a personal faith in Christ at family church camp, and the faith of the centuries became personal at the age of 12. I was one who heard our Savior call and knelt at a bench during a closing song, and Jesus became My Savior. In the years to come, He not only became my Savior, but the Lord of my life. It takes a moment to accept him as Savior, but years to grow in discipleship, as He becomes Lord. Even now, I am still learning daily.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” — Ephesians 2:8-9, New American Standard Bible

Three things shaped my growing and emerging faith.

Work
At a young age, I started mowing yards for church widows and former school teachers. After mowing, I listened, and people found interest in our conversations. Quickly, I began to understand that God was growing me to do something more. This experience of life, through relationships outside my home, expanded my world. Numerous years of education toward counseling and ministry, along with mentoring by others, would follow me to walk alongside others during their own significant times.

Mindy
We started dating in high school.  We were teenagers when our relationship began, and we grew up together.  With Mindy, I found ways to be articulate and explain my faith to help her journey to come to faith in Christ – which has shaped who I have become.   I would not have been able to express myself as much, had I not had this formation of assisting in her faith journey.   Mindy was the first person to discern the call of God to ministry before I did, and God has used her to reveal His will to me and us over the years.

Asbury College
This Christian institution became a Christian parent to me at just the right time, as I was emerging into adulthood and my faith in Christ. Here, I witnessed the depth and wisdom of many devoted Christians. During this time, I listened and grew under some of the greatest teachers and preachers I have ever known. I cannot say how grateful I am for the experience of a Christian community that propelled me to yearn to be like Christ.

I came to know Christ when I was young, but my greatest growth happened emerging into adulthood from the influence of mature Christians.  Look around and consider the influence you may have on a young adult maturing into His likeness.

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Scandalous Grace

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” — 2 Corinthians 12:9, Holy Bible, New International Version

By Zack Funk
Christ Church Director of Student Ministries

My story can be defined in one word. GRACE! I have done a lot of wrong in my life thus far. Too much to list. I wish I could say that all of these sins were done before I knew Jesus, but that’s not true either. I was raised in a non-Christian household in a nice home with parents that I love dearly, but we were not a church family. Honestly, as a kid, I had no idea that people actually went to church every week. I figured church was something weird that everyone did on Christmas and Easter.

Going into junior high school I became a little mischievous to say the least. This was where the tailspin began. Looking back on junior high, one of the memories that stands out the most is not a good memory. I bullied another student, although I didn’t necessarily know that I was “bullying” him until he brought a knife to school. He had a hit list and I was number three on that list. That was a game-changer for me. I realized for the first time that my actions could really hurt someone. I didn’t realize then exactly what I needed, but I later learned that it was grace.

The next year was the turning point for my life, whether I knew it or not. My 8th grade choir teacher, who I didn’t see eye to eye with, invited me to be a part of her Christian Choir Group called Encounter. She did not necessarily want to invite me, but she felt a strong pull from God to do so. I wish I could tell you that I joined for the right reasons, but that would be a lie. I most definitely was not in the group to find a relationship with Christ; I was in the group to find a girlfriend. Here’s the deal, God can use any situation to flip your life around, even if you are in that situation for the wrong reason. Sometimes we forget that our God is almighty, and all powerful, and His plan is infinitely greater than our wildest dreams. Christ used an 8th grade teacher that I didn’t like to draw me closer to Him. Christ used me to show that 8th grade teacher that God can use anyone He wants. I was in the group for the wrong reasons, but God won, and I came to know Christ as my personal Lord and Savior my junior year in Encounter. One night as we were singing praises to our King, all the lyrics started to make sense, and I’ve never looked back.

“One night as we were singing praises to our King, all the lyrics started to make sense, and I’ve never looked back.”

When I became a Christian, I still made a barrage of mistakes. So much so that I realized that I really needed grace. The bigger the mistake, the more grace I needed. Unfortunately, I had to make quite a few mistakes to realize that I needed quite a bit of grace. Then I started to feel unworthy of that grace until the day that someone set me straight. She said, “When you get serious with God, He gets serious with you.” His Grace is sufficient. Even for YOU.

I’ve made it my mission as a student director to show students the grace of Jesus. Our culture is full of things that make our kids stumble and fall, Christians or not. My goal is to show every student that no matter what, God is standing here with arms wide open. Repent and run away from your sin. Run to the cross. You won’t be perfect, and you’ll make more mistakes, but learn from this. Learn to walk closer, and closer, and closer with Christ, and you won’t want to ever turn back to the sin that you were in. When you get serious with God, He gets serious with you. Run to Him. His grace is sufficient for you. It was, and is, for a sinner like me.

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Bricolage: Rebuilding With What You Have

By Lydia Bishop
The Flame Volunteer Writer

It was Christmas morning 2014, when I realized that I had died. I woke up alone, in a cold, dark apartment with empty walls, a broken family and not a friend in sight. The weight was so heavy, I couldn’t move. I laid there, eyes closed, mournfully crying the most excruciating expression of pain one could imagine. Tears sliced through my face like pieces of shrapnel from the life that had exploded around me, and I clinched my teeth so hard from the anger that was overwhelming me that my face was throbbing. I was drowning, and no one was there to save me. Paralyzed, I had finally come to a realization that my life would never be the same and would never be what I had always dreamed it would be. It was gone. Everyone was gone. Everything was gone.

Memories of the Christmas before began to flash in a foggy unconscious. Waking up my 2- and my 4-year-old from their warm little beds, an aromatic cup of coffee and a Christmas tree that twinkled unlike any Christmas tree I had ever seen. The day before I spent singing at all the Christmas Eve services, surrounded by friends and by more love than one could ever feel … and now, blinding flashes of a Christmas past were the only things I could hold on to.

I got out of bed and opened my laptop to scroll through pictures and videos, to see if I could find anyone or anything to heal the pain. My phone stayed silent for hours. There were no more smiles, there were no more friends. All I had was anger. And anger made for a very cold bed. It was the anger and resentment that I let consume me, that drove everyone away. I was angry at people, angry at Church, angry at God, and I had a dire hate for myself. Where I once was a light, now I was nothing but a 6 o’clock shadow, trying to feel past the numb.

I had died a long time ago, and it became crystal clear to me that morning. No one was in the front row crying at my funeral, and no one was there to give the eulogy.  From perfect, to abandoned wreckage. Overnight, I had lost everything I had ever had. I had a perfect family, a home, two ministries that I cherished being a part of, friends and family that were stronger than any force to be reckoned with and a future that was in line to be everything I had ever dreamed of. It was all now dust in the wind.

Two choices laid before me on that morning: I stay and drown, or I stand up and face the hurricane. My life would never be the same if I moved forward. I didn’t want to get out of the shadows because I couldn’t face climbing that mountain, but drowning would only suffocate what I had left. So I stood up that day, with broken legs and a shattered Christmas present.

See, there is no rebirth in life; only in death can we be reborn. Until you sit down and face the reality that things will never be the same, you cannot move forward. I don’t stand now because my life is perfect and I do not hurt; I stand before my death, because I once caused someone else’s. And unlike mine, Christ’s blood dripped undeservedly. He told me that morning to put my nails and hammer down when I laid upon that tree, trying to put them through my own hands and feet. He took the knife away from you as you tried to stab my side. He didn’t do this because I was perfect and didn’t deserve it. He did it because in His perfection, He was my exchange. He was Who I found that Christmas morning, scrolling through the pictures, trying to find someone. Jesus was the only one I needed to see.

That doesn’t mean that since I stood, things are perfect. Bricolage — rebuilding with what you have isn’t easy, and it can be one of the hardest things you will ever have to do. I don’t have the pieces I used to have. Rather, I have a whole new puzzle: pieces from the rubble, and pieces I still have yet to create. I stand, though, because I’ve chosen to rebuild with what I have. Behind the smile, and behind your perceptions, everyone has a story. Bricolage is mine.

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God, My Restorer

“And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten.” Joel 2:25The Holy Bible, King James Version

By Jo Lewis
The Flame Volunteer Writer

As childhoods go, mine was not idyllic. My father, who was gripped by alcoholism and gambling, verbally abused me. My relationship with my mom was also strained. She had to work at least two jobs while we were growing up and had few resources to spare.

I became a Christian at age nineteen. I stumbled upon Joel 2:25 in a devotional, and that promise took root in my heart. It was great reassurance for me because I was so broken. At that time, I had also just recently had my heart broken by the one person I thought loved me, my first boyfriend. Little did I know then the journey of healing that God had in store for me.

Two years later, God brought the man of my dreams into my life. John accepted a short-term missions program in my hometown and started attending my local church. He served his term and returned home. After a year and a half of long-distance courtship, in January of 1998, we were married and I moved halfway around the world from Malaysia to live in America.

A month after we got married, John and I received news that we were going to become parents. Like every new mom, I struggled to find my bearings and was gripped with fear and inadequacy for the title of “Mother.” Not long after Alyssa was born, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, which explained the fatigue and depression that I was experiencing. In the next eleven years, we’d add three more blessings to our family. Every child brought much joy, but also challenges. To make matters worse, every time I’d make a mistake, I’d hear my father’s words in my mind and I felt like a failure. With each new baby I brought home, I would experience bouts of postpartum depression. As I got older and had more children to care for, the postpartum depression became more profound.

In 2009, we welcomed the sweetest baby boy into our family of six. David had a good appetite and would nurse around the clock. As a result, I wasn’t sleeping well. When he was about ten months old, I started experiencing weird symptoms. I thought that it was just my thyroid that needed help, but later on, we found out that my body was at war with itself. I was diagnosed with adrenal failure. A couple months after that, I spiraled into postpartum psychosis. I lost touch with reality and began having delusions. I would lay awake all night hoping that I wouldn’t be alive by morning. I also had irrational guilt about somehow having done something wrong, and I was convinced that my family would be better off without me. For four months, John prayed that I would get better, while I became a recluse and was unable to care for our family. Finally, with the advice of a trusted friend, John made the decision to have me hospitalized.

With the help of medication and counseling, God healed my mind. But He didn’t stop there; with His presence and His love, He also healed my heart. Through this traumatic experience, I learned unconditional love and acceptance. God never abandoned me at my lowest point. I came to the realization that I was fully accepted and loved, not only by God but also by my faithful husband, who was by my side the whole time. They love me not because of what I can or can’t do, but because of who they are. I also learned that failure is an event, not a person. It also cemented the fact that God is faithful. If He didn’t leave us to muddle through this traumatic time by ourselves, we have assurance that no matter what comes our way, He is there to help us through that situation, too. God totally restored our family and I was given a second chance.

I don’t know why God spared my life except that He could use me to bring hope to somebody else who is going through similar situations. Please reach out for help when you need it. You are not alone. You are precious in His sight and fully loved and accepted. If God can heal me, and He did, He can do the same for you. God has truly restored to me the years the locusts have eaten.

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