The Flame

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

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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But God, He Had Other Plans

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” — Jeremiah 29:11, New Living Translation

By Kevin Siddle
The Flame volunteer writer

Have you ever had a major God moment? One of those times when you were prompted by God to do something that you knew would permanently change your life? For me, that moment was five years ago. At 1:33 a.m. July 16th, 2011, I told my wife that I was addicted to pornography. I hadn’t planned on telling her that early morning. But God, He had other plans.

I had tried quitting by myself hundreds of times. I was saved and baptized while in college, and had even led my college church’s men’s ministry. I always thought that when I was married, I would be rid of my addiction. I was wrong. I thought that when my wife and I had our first child I would be rid of my addiction. I was wrong. No one wants to become an addict. No one tries to become an addict. But God, He had other plans.

God saw me the way He created me to be. Pure. Good. Set apart for His works, not Satan’s. God guided my wife and I through the storms, sheltered us, gave us wisdom and He has healed many of our wounds over the last five years. There are still scars, and I’m glad. Those scars remind us that we’re always being renewed. We could have let those scars destroy our marriage. But God, He had other plans.

It wasn’t long after this that we decided to get back into God’s house. Randomly, we found Christ Church. When we got here, the very, very few people that knew our story didn’t judge us, but welcomed us instead. It wasn’t long after this that there was a call for men’s leaders. I remember thinking that there’s absolutely no way I’m doing that. But God, He had other plans.

Instead of walking out of church that day, I met Craig LeQuatte. I told him that I felt called to lead a purity group for men. I wanted to help other men overcome lust. He didn’t blink or hesitate. He just asked me how he could help. I’m now blessed to be a part of men’s lives in a way I never would have thought possible. It was through this group that I started to feel like I should write a book to teach men to overcome lust. I thought this was a terrible idea. Really, who does that? But God, He had other plans.

So I wrote a book called Living the Transparent Life: Overcoming Lust. The sum of the book is to teach practical, mental, spiritual and emotional ways to overcome lust. The book looks at how to remove all the junk that addiction brings, and instead fill ourselves up with God. God used the book to start making miracles happen. Never quite content, God asked me to do something more. God asked me to quit my job. I was a successful engineer in my family’s business. There was just no way that I could do it. I couldn’t leave my family and take that kind of leap. But God, He had other plans.

God opened one door after another, placing spiritual leaders in my path to guide me with wisdom and discernment. God didn’t just want me to quit my job, He wanted me. I was being called to become a Christian counselor. Over the last few months, I took online courses to become a certified Biblical counselor. I’m not a full-blown professional counselor. I haven’t been called to that (yet). I am blessed to say that I counsel and mentor men who struggle with addiction. I always laughed at the thought of me being in ministry professionally. But God, He had other plans.

I don’t know what your struggle is or what hurts are on your heart. What I do know is that God loves you. God loves you so much that He will change you. I was once an addict, but now God is using me to help men who struggle with addiction. God will mold and shape us into what He wants us to be. The more we allow this to happen, the closer we become to resembling Jesus Christ. There will be storms and trials and tribulations, but God, He has other plans … for you.

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Rev. Shane Bishop: The Next Fifteen Years

by Rev. Shane Bishop
Christ Church Senior Pastor

I have been amazed of late at how many people have asked me, “What are your plans for the next fifteen years?”  Perhaps they see the new building going up, the campuses in place and the Student and Children’s Ministries booming and wonder, “What is the next big thing for Christ Church?”  Or perhaps they do the math and see that I have about fifteen years before mandatory retirement and are curious about what is in my head concerning it.  So I have been thinking much about my plans for the next fifteen years.

Here are my plans:

  • Keep connecting people to Jesus
    I plan to keep Christ Church focused upon our mission.  “Keeping the main thing the main thing” and avoiding institutional distraction is my most important job as a senior pastor.
  • Stay relentless in my life’s work
    I plan to keep working hard every single day.  The age-old formula: “Success = Excellence over Time” is absolutely true.  I discovered long ago that the only two things I can control are effort and attitude.  I plan to be unrelenting concerning both!
  • Improve my preaching
    I LOVE to preach and teach (though I am increasingly unsure of the difference).  I don’t want to be a pulpit preacher in the next fifteen years who coasts off of what he has accomplished in the previous twenty-five.  I want to get better, push the boundaries, trust the Holy Spirit for new insights and serve up every message I present homemade, tasty, hot and fresh!
  • Keep Christ Church healthy, growing, functional and vital
    I love Christ Church. In many ways, this congregation has been my life’s work.  I plan to effectively lead us so the church will continue to thrive in her mission and effectiveness long beyond when I have retired and people have forgotten my name.
  • Become a mentor to young pastors
    Shifting from a player to a player-coach has been significantly easier than I anticipated.  Pouring into promising young Christian leaders and watching them impact the world for Jesus is something I hope to continue well beyond my formal ministry years.  Mentoring and coaching will be my professional legacy.
  • Be a good Christian
    The past handful of years have brought unexpected challenges into my life that have necessitated personal growth in Christ.  Had I written the script for my life, I would have edited out all the pain.  But that pain has produced a more reflective, compassionate, humane and empathetic man as Christ has walked with me through it.  I plan to know Jesus even better in the next fifteen years!
  • Give Melissa her best years
    People outside of pastoral ministry can little imagine the stresses, sacrifices and challenges that are common to those who have obeyed God’s call.  Melissa has been as much a part of the history here as I have been and I am grateful.  Leading a congregation through change is hard and at times, Melissa has been placed on the back burner.  I have some making up to do.  I plan to be a better husband to her in the next fifteen than I have been in the previous thirty-three.
  • Be a great father and grandfather
    I used to try to juggle my busy schedule.  I stopped that a few years back.  Now I attempt to be 100% present wherever I am.  If I am at work, I am 100% engaged at work.  If I am at home, I am 100% engaged there.  I have four young grandchildren.  I plan to be a major shaping force in their lives.  100%.
  • Enjoy every day of my life
    Happiness is not something others give you, it is something you must choose for yourself.  I choose to be happy these days in ways I didn’t know how when I was younger.  I plan to enjoy sunsets, climb mountain trails, take pilgrimages to Israel, read great books, spend time with my family and schedule in plenty of adventures along the way!
  • Finish well
    This is actually my number one plan.  How tragic it would be to run the race well only to stumble at the finish line!  I plan to make the next fifteen years the most successful years of my personal, professional and spiritual life!

The first four of these items would have been on my Top Ten list had I made it in 2001 but the next six represent a “transformation” of sorts.  Now settled into my fifties, I am as passionate about my call as I have ever been.  I have lost no drive from the early years, I am a whole lot smarter and have lost surprisingly little energy.  But I am frankly more concerned about relationship, gratitude, life and legacy than I used to be.  How do you truly thank a wife who has stuck with you through thick and thin?  How do you make quality time for the people you love most and best?  How do you ensure that you will forever be the “Great and Mighty Papa” to your grandchildren?  How do you truly leave a leadership legacy beyond the point the Methodists tell you that you are too old to be a full-time pastor?  How do you truly live each day to the fullest?

As I get older (and hopefully wiser), I am reminded that our legacies will not be defined by what we have accomplished (or even failed to accomplish), but by the investment we have made in the Kingdom of God and in the lives of others.

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Connecting in Hope

Christ Church Men's Group

In the past several months, Christ Church has enjoyed a tremendous season of interest and growth in our Connect Group participation. We currently have over 100 active groups!  Our Lenten Study alone boasted of over 65 individual groups meeting each day of the week at all different times and places.

The Flame asked our Connections Director, Pam Huff, to ask a couple of people what Connect Groups mean to them.  Lin Stawarski is a part of the Wing and a Prayer Group.  Here’s what she has to say:

What is the most important thing you have gained by being a part of a Connect Group?
The simple answer is fellowship, but it is so much more than just fellowship! Two years ago, my husband of 35 years suddenly passed away. I made a phone call. Within hours there were people in my living room to hug me, cry,  pray with me, and to sit silently as I ranted and paced throughout that entire first day. These same people embraced not only me, but my children during that life­changing time. They stayed by our side as my family transitioned with our good­byes, made funeral arrangements, sold my house, and had to move.  They were there every step of the way with their prayers, tears, time, and genuine care.

Several people along the way have asked me how I managed to transition through such events with a level of sanity, strength, and grace. My answer has always been the same: with God’s love through some very special people. People from my Connect Group have shown me just how much God loves and cares for me. They have been the ultimate example on Earth of how much God loves me. You see, these folks are not just some people I see once a week. They are my extended family.

Our group has quadrupled in size since the beginning as we’ve have shared our prayers, wedding celebrations, baptisms, hope, healing, laughter, struggles, and a whole lot of praises! And we don’t just break open God’s word ~ we do it while “breaking bread” with a meal together! The best of both worlds!

What would you say to someone that is reluctant to join a Connect Group?
I think it may be intimidating, especially in the beginning, to be open and honest within a small group of people. There may be some reluctance at first by feeling like an outsider. We were all “outsiders” at the start. I’ve found that we’re all basically the same with similar fears, doubts, or questions. But learning about God’s word, and more importantly how to apply it within life, diminishes fears and strengthens our faith as we grow together.

Do you think being a part of a group can allow you to be more hopeful? In what way?
I’ve been involved in a small group in some way for over ten years, which began as a group after church services in the old sanctuary. It has now evolved into our Wing and a Prayer group that continues with seven of those original members. I see my life as a series of steps or pieces of a puzzle that have “fit” together in my relationship with God.  I grew up in a different religion, and I was unable to experience that personal relationship with Him. Now, through my life experiences, I can see how God was always leading and forming me with every one of those experiences. I believe that no matter what life throws at me, I have hope that I’ll move through it because of God’s love for me. I don’t think I would have learned that so distinctly if it wasn’t for the love my Connect Group has shown me. Having a relationship with these folks was no accident. It was all a part of God’s care for me.

Why do you think Connect Groups are important?
A large church can lose a sense of intimacy and personalization among individual members.  People in a Connect Group know you and your story. There’s nothing like seeing smiles from people you know at church on Sundays! My small group helps me to be accountable within these commitments. To be honest, there are times when I don’t feel like getting up and going to church or my small group. However, I know that people expect me to be there and are concerned when I’m not!

Christ Church Millenials Connect Group

Jesse Crotser is one of our young adults involved in a Connect Group known as the Millennial Group. It is awesome to see our young people taking ownership of their faith and building community through groups offered several times a week. Here are Jesse’s thoughts on Connect Groups:

What is the most important thing you have gained by being a part of a Connect Group?
Growing up in a small church gave me the comfort and closeness of a tight­knit church family. With Christ Church, it’s impossible to get close to the other 2000 + people that attend.  Connect Groups provide that small intimate fellowship we need as Christians and give us the relationships that help us grow in accountability as Christians.

What would you say to someone that is reluctant to join a Connect Group? I would ask them to give it a try.  I’ve seen several individuals moved to tears when they discover how caring and personal time spent with other Christians can be, especially those who just want to love on them.

Do you think being a part of a group can allow you to be more hopeful? In what way? Weekly encouragement!  Sometimes I feel like each weekday I’m in the valley, and when I’m in church on Sunday with fellow believers, I’m on the mountain with Jesus.  Time spent outside of church focusing on the scriptures, prayer, and fellowship is the greatest tool we have against the enemy and his hopelessness.

Why do you think Connect Groups are important? The information and teaching taken from a pastor each Sunday is imperative for your Christian walk, but honestly can still be distracting from the still small voice of Christ.  We need personal devotional time and small group time to give the chance for Christ to convict and minister to our hearts on a more personal level.

Do you see them as an important part of your growth as a Christian? Very much so!  It’s in the small moments during my small group time when I see Christ at work all around me, that I’m reaffirmed in my faith, and am reminded that our relationship with Jesus can be so personal if we pursue and seek it with all of our hearts.

If you are interesting in leading, hosting or participating in one of our Connect Groups, you can view many of the options at www.mychristchurch.com or contact Pam Huff, Director of Connections and Adult Discipleship at pamhuff@mychristchurch.com

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Tattooed Shame: Indelible Ink Redeemed

Tattoo pic from https://churchdeconstructed.com/2016/03/24/tattooed-shame-indelible-ink-redeemed/

by Jeffrey M. Bishop
The Flame volunteer writer

“You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms His covenant, which He swore to your ancestors, as it is today.” ­­ — Deuteronomy 8:17-­18

I have a tattoo – only one – and I’m ashamed of it.

A tattoo doesn’t seem to be such a big deal, especially among my generation. Although I got mine in the early 1990s, they are all the more common in today’s twenty-­teens. Even most Christ­-followers seem ok with them, despite Old Testament prohibitions lumping tattoos with prostitution and black magic (Leviticus 19:26­31). A post­-modern seal of approval perhaps stems from Jesus’ teaching – normally attributed to food – that, “nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them” (Mark 7:15). Our tattoos can even be a part of our testimony.

While earnest followers argue for or against tattoos, my shame isn’t for sake of having skin art. It’s not because a friend of a friend of my sister’s did the work – clearly, it must have been his second or third tat ever. It’s not because 25 years later, on my middle-­aged shoulder, this “art” is sagging and fading and blurring, just like wiser people back in the day told me it would. And it’s not even because the design bears an unanticipated resemblance to the Body Glove logo, and the suggested commercialization of my body – without the proceeds of an endorsement deal – embarrasses me.

Rather, this is the source of my shame: I got the tattoo at the height of my self­-reliance, my pride and my rebellion, in my late teens. To be clear: I wasn’t rebelling against my parents or society. Indeed, my immediate circles of loved ones, friends and acquaintances were what you’d call freethinkers, and if they weren’t outright supportive of something like a tattoo on a young man, they were at least “to each his own” about it. Instead, my rebellion was against a God that I didn’t yet believe existed.

In that respect, the art that I selected – that I designed, I should admit – suited such a worldview perfectly: It is of my hand print, set inside a machine gear.  To my adolescent understanding, my intellect, creativity, craftsmanship and hard work is what made me who I am; they were my means to success and to meaning. Me. My. Mine. Instead of a Holy God, I was the sole agent of my life – god of me, if you will – over something like Johnny Cash’s empire of dirt, as I’d figure out later in life.

Today, a born-­again follower of a sacrificed, risen Christ, I hate my body art. As described, the depravity of my thinking “B.C.” – Before Christ – is pretty self­-evident. It clearly represents my sin, even in its muddy image.

By my research, getting rid of an unwanted tattoo is futile and vain. It’s a time-­honored trick to put a new tattoo over the old one; to cover up the old stain with a new stain. But even if no one else knows what’s underneath, I always will. There are some pretty fancy lasers that can blast away the pigment of a regretted tat. But the raised welts of the skin give away the mark.

Metaphorically, if not also metaphysically, the indelible mark of a tattoo represents the stain of sin on every one of us. There’s nothing on Earth or in man’s power that can forever remove the permanence of a tattoo. And likewise, there’s nothing that a fallen man like me can do to rid himself of the stain of his sin.

And yet, there’s hope.

Our hope is in the Lord, who promises to wash away all sins, with the blood of His sacrifice. New. Clean. Pure. Saved. These words, throughout the Bible, and especially in context of the saving grace of Jesus, tell us that the worst juice­-sin stain on the white carpet of our souls will be Oxi­Clean with Jesus.

Arguably the most hope-­filled line of the Bible is where we’re told that, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). God also promises us a new body – a body made perfect and without the blemish of sin (1 Corinthians 15:42-­49).

On these promises, I’m content to shoulder my stain for the rest of my time here, as a bitter reminder that in the place of that once-­proud, rebellious young man is a new creation, filled with hope in redemption for eternal perfection. All because of Jesus.

All scripture from The Holy Bible, New International Version

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The Crash

by Matt Rygelski
The Flame volunteer writer

It was loud.  I saw it coming. There was no way to avoid it.  At forty miles per hour, in a 5,800-­pound utility van, a tractor­-trailer semi coming from the other direction decided to make a left turn and then stop in the middle of the intersection. I had only seconds to think, and I could only hope to get extra inches of road and try pulling the vehicle to the left to aim past that back corner of his flatbed.  That wasn’t enough.  We hit.  WHAM! (I’ll never forget that sound.)

White smoke is filling the cabin and thousands of glass pieces are everywhere. The passenger side is folded in like an accordion. Had I not turned the wheel, my body would be squeezed in those metal folds.  I could have di…  I… I had to get out of that cabin. My driver’s door is stuck shut. The white smoke was increasing.  I have to get out!  I hope someone can pull this door open.  I hope the gas tank is not on fire. I hope somebody called the police.

It wasn’t until the next day that I hurt. Adrenaline is powerful, but short lived. That day, I was reminded of the fragility of the human body.  Everything hurt.  I was told the tractor-trailer driver didn’t even know he was hit.  With all that flat­bed steel, I probably would’ve been better to hit a brick wall.  At least the brick wall would give in a little. What caused him to stop? What was he thinking, blocking the intersection? I hope that guy knows how angry I am! I hope I feel better tomorrow. I hope this doesn’t affect my job.

Two years go by. My employer terminated my employment because he felt I hadn’t healed quickly enough. My doctor performed a surgery to fuse my lower back vertebrae, but I had the same piercing pain and his ego doesn’t want to admit the surgery failed. Medical bills are going unpaid and the companies who I have credit cards with have all sent me letters informing me of their decision to cancel my account for fear that I will be unable to pay. Old friends don’t call anymore. I hope I can pay rent.

Five years now. X­-rays and MRIs would show that the first surgery never fused properly. I started seeing a new doctor. I had later learned my first doctor had lied on the medical reports. Every appointment he listed that I was healing well and that I insisted on pain medication, which he gave reluctantly.  In fact, I insisted that I did not want pain medication any more, but he would keep asking me to try this brand or that – I think he was trying to get me addicted. New doctor says I’ll never be pain-­free. I hope that first doctor loses his license. I hope this isn’t my life forever.

It’s really easy to lose hope.  People fail.  Plans fail.  Our smooth drive towards one direction suddenly becomes sideswiped and detoured.  Doubt and suspicion begin to overpower all other thoughts.  I had tossed around hopeful pleas left and right without really bothering to ask myself, “Who is it I’m asking to control these outcomes?”  When I had all those hopes, who was I asking for help from?

As I would wait in doctor’s offices, other people would tell me their most important life stories –­­ stories of overcoming obstacles much greater than mine. I am humbled by their strength and then I realize what a comfortable journey my life has been.  Through their toughest of times and all the people that have helped them, they see God.  For all the people that have hurt them, they struggle but still can see God in their heart.  They find hope in knowing that we were created in the image of God. Even in our darkest times, the light of God is still inside.  It doesn’t matter how dim that light may be, it’s worth looking for it especially when it may not be easy to see.

“Through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.  And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;  and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.  For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.” — ­Romans 5:2­7

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A Hope for Tomorrow

by Shannon Pfeiffer
The Flame volunteer writer

Ever since I was a young girl, I struggled with having hope.  Depression just seemed to be part of everyday life and the fact was I didn’t care if I lived or died.  I clung to God, because I felt so incredibly alone.  As I grew and finally found myself free of the many circumstances that caused me to cower and hide, I was finally excited about living.  I spent a number of years just trying to experience life to the fullest and realized life can be good.

I married and things began to settle down.  As my days became stable, the instabilities of my past rumbled to the surface and I found myself wrapped again in despair.  However, this time I had a new reason to cling to hope:­ my spouse and my progeny.  It was because I loved my family that I sought help.  I wanted my husband to have a good wife; I longed for a blissful marriage.  I desired for my sons not to have a mother who was on an emotional roller coaster and could explode in anger.  As much as I yearned to escape my circumstances, I had a bigger desire to provide a secure, loving, Christian environment for my sons.

I struggled through years of counseling, medication, classes, and no small amount of prayer to slowly establish restraint.  I did not want my family to experience the same upheaval and imbalance I experienced in my own childhood.  I worked hard to create a happy, healthy atmosphere for them, free from the unhinged lifestyle I had come to know.  Finally, I was able to provide the experience of the content home I so craved.  My hope for life was renewed, and I found myself wanting to live.

A big part of what kept me going was holding on to a better tomorrow.  It was the driving force that revved my engine, when it all just seemed too hard and I wanted to give up.  I could not find it in me to walk out on my family, and I was also unable to quit on myself, when so often I felt they would be better off without me.  Day by day, things got a little better.  Some days I took two steps back, but I kept moving forward.  I could not compare myself to others, but in comparison to how I did yesterday, some days were an improvement.  As the new day became better than the day before, I found I had come pretty far in my journey toward healing and life became somewhat normal.

Today, the image of my world barely resembles the way it used to look.  Sure I still lose my temper, but nothing like I did before.  I have more control over my feelings and know how to keep them from establishing power.  I walk away before they get a foothold, and have learned to use nourishing self­-talk instead of degrading cynicism.  I still have a long way to go, but today is better than yesterday and tomorrow will be even better!  Hope has allowed me to turn discouragement into optimism.

A scripture that I embrace is Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (The Holy Bible, New International Version).  The Lord wants us to prosper and His word offers us hope.  He is keenly aware of its necessity for our survival.  It was my hope in Christ that kept me advancing, because only He could change my situation.  Regardless of how hard I tried, it was God that changed my life.  I had the will, but He had the way.  It is my hope in Christ that keeps me moving onward, knowing, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, The Holy Bible, New King James Version).

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Worldly Hope Versus Spiritual Hope

by Brenne’ Issa
The Flame volunteer writer

My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly trust in Jesus’ name.  On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand. — The Solid Rock

Hope ­ what does it really mean? Aren’t hope and faith the same thing? I hope the Cardinals win the pennant. I hope I have enough gas in my car to reach my destination. I hope I have enough money in my checking account. I have hopes for lasting and meaningful relationships. My biggest hope these days is for good health. But are these desires a righteous use of hope? I had to admit to myself that outside of natural wishes, I had no clear cut knowledge, wisdom or understanding of how God expects hope to work in the lives of His people.

I needed to conduct some research to gain some meaningful insight into the concept of hope. I found that there are at least two kinds of hope. First, there is hope which is based solely on our worldly desires, like hoping we get more warm days or that you get that prime parking spot at work. Some of us even hope for a million dollars! There are all kinds of things for which we hope.  The second kind of hope is based on spiritual belief. This hope is based on belief in the word of God. For instance, you may hope and pray that you recover from an illness, but spiritual hope gives us the assurance of the scriptures. In the case of wellness, the scriptures proclaim, “by His stripes ye were healed.” That is a promise from God on which we can hope and believe.

The difference between worldly and spiritual hope is that hope based on the word of God has the promises of God to back it up, but worldly hope, not so much! In spiritual hope, we confess that “it is impossible for God to lie.” (Hebrews 6:18)  Therefore, His word is true! “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that thru the endurance and encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)  Once again we find that as humans we cannot have the success God intended for us without His word being a part of the equation. Our success is based partly on reading the Bible and knowing our rights and privileges. We have to read the Bible; there is no way around it. It just doesn’t work without reading the scriptures for yourself. “Sustain me according to your promise, and I will live; do not let my hopes be dashed.” (Psalm 119:116)

We may want and hope for provisions such as cars, financial prosperity, a new job, etc. from a worldly perspective but what about knowing that “our God will provide all of our needs according to his riches in glory.” That passage is from the word of God and gives us a promise and hope. Which hope seems more solid to you? Which one should you rely on, worldly hope or spiritual hope?

We may also, and often do, hope in the promises of others. Our loved ones often give us their word. How’s that working for you? We know that people, no matter how well-­meaning they are, can let you down and often leave you hopeless, frustrated and angry!  People sometimes break their promises. God, however, does not; it is not in His character. Remember, He does not lie! “If we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13)

What is the difference between faith and hope? Their meaning and application are so closely related, their definitions at times seem to overlap. According to Hebrews 11, “faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not yet seen.”  Faith is hope in action. Both faith and hope require that we trust God. The fact that faith and hope are both unseen is another example of how the two are often paralleled. Consider also that faith and hope are Christian characteristics that are surpassed only by love and that they are pleasing to God.

Don’t forget to look to the scriptures. “Your faith and hope are in God.” (1 Peter 1:21)

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How God Gave Me Hope

by Mackenzie Bradshaw
The Flame volunteer writer

I asked God to come into my life when I was six years old. I decided to be baptized when I was eleven. I had no clue what it meant to be a Christian and I am only just starting to understand now that I’m sixteen. Being a Christian can be trying at times because we live in a fallen world filled with wicked people who want to distract us from God’s plan and the path of faith. The thought of straying from that path is terrifying. But God has assured me recently that I do not have to worry.

A few weeks ago, I dreamt I was in a small church with some friends. We were making costumes and decorations for a Christmas play. Suddenly, I was filled with a terrible dread and everyone shook with fear. The walls of the church turned black with all kinds of evil spirits moving in them. They threw ugly images on the walls and I swung at them with all my strength, trying to knock them down. I was so angry and I refused to accept what was happening. I started to cry out in defiance, “No, you are not welcome here!”

I cried out to the Lord, inviting him into the space to protect us. I yelled, “Lord, please! Bring the Holy Spirit upon the evil in this place! No evil is welcome!” I walked to the middle of the room, threw my hands up and continued to yell for the Lord to come and vanquish all wickedness from our little church, to save and protect my friends and me. At that moment, a ball of light appeared on the ceiling and grew to wash the whole room in glorious, heavenly light. You could hear the demons screaming in utter agony as God destroyed them and sent them back to where they had come from. His holy presence filled the entire church, shielding us from any evil and purifying our hearts with His love and goodness.

After the Lord’s work was done, the light diminished, but the room was considerably brighter than it had been, even before the evil spirits came. I was calm and at peace. My friends were still very shaky and I told them they did not have to be scared because God had a hold of us all with his righteous, right hand. He was never going to let go of us.

The entire dream was so vivid, and I realized it must have been a message sent from the Lord himself. I cried when I woke up, not out of fear or sadness, but because God had proven to me that He was with me and always had been and always will be. His mighty power overwhelmed me and it was the most spiritual experience I have ever had.

The dream gave me hope.

As it says in Joshua 10:25, “Joshua said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Be strong and courageous. This is what the Lord will do to all the enemies you are going to fight.’” I know my foundation in life is indeed God and I have a future He has set aside just for me if I follow His path.

God is my salvation and He fills me with hope and peace every day of my journey. He has shown me what it truly means to be a Christian, and I am hopeful that I will live a full life with Him.

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A Time for Hope

Lyndsay-article-picture

by Lyndsay Croxford
The Flame volunteer writer

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” — Ecclesiastes 3:1

Winter might be beautiful with soft snow falling and quietly crunching under foot, but the cold is often harsh and the nights are dark and long. There’s beauty in the season, but sometimes it’s hard to find. However, no winter has passed that didn’t promise a coming spring. The windows will open again, breathing fresh air and life throughout the home. The bare, dormant trees will bud green once more, and flowers will pop up from the warming earth to stretch and feel the sun.

When God created winter, He created spring. He may not have initially designed winter to feel so desolate when He first put man in a vibrant garden, but after sin, He placed the hope of spring on all of our hearts. We will have many winters when tears are shed and all seems lost and hopeless, but God’s love always promises spring. Even a winter ending in death gives hope of eternal spring because “to be absent from the body is to be present with God” (2 Corinthians 5:8). In every season of life, Christians have hope in God’s love and faithfulness. “The Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love” (Psalm 147:11).

If this season of your life is thriving in beauty, cherish it and put your hope in God’s unfailing love. If this season is filled with despair, confusion, or grief, still put your hope in God’s unfailing love. Hold on to this hope, because the coming of spring is guaranteed and God is always faithful. You’ll even look back on winter and see that not all was dead and bare. Growth was happening beneath the surface, and you may even find a glimpse of beauty.

All scripture from The Holy Bible, New International Version

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Wanting Hope

by Matthew J. LaFrance
The Flame volunteer writer

Hope.  It’s something mentioned often in the Bible; 129 times to be exact. We’re told to have hope; strong hope. The Bible informs us that hope is an integral part of Christian faith.

As a Christian, I’m to hold the Bible as undeniable truth. Its words are literally gospel. If I believe one part of it, I am to believe all parts of it. Which is why I’m confused by how vital hope is preached as being to the Christian life.

You see, I used to have hope. I spent a lot of time hoping for things to happen in my life. And I’d get really excited when it seemed like those things were going to happen. But then … no delivery. Whatever it was I thought was going to happen, whatever it was I was hoping for would fall flat, and I would be crushed.

In the end, hope became nothing more than a backstabbing mistress; promising me a thousand wonderful things and never delivering on a single one of them.

I stopped hoping, assuming hopes were like wishes; the things fairy tales and dreams are made of. But as I continued advancing in my walk with Christ, a simple question came to my mind: if hope is so fake, why does the Bible speak so passionately about it?

This was taxing my thoughts quite a bit. There had to be an answer for it. Was there something I was doing wrong that caused the things and occurrences I’d hoped for to be yanked out from under me, like the carpet in an old Charlie Chaplin bit? Was I misunderstanding scripture?

Or … was I understanding hope wrong?

If you dig into the passages in the Bible that speak about hope, they’re very specific about what hope should be. For example, Hebrews 11:1 reads, “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” And Psalm 147:11  tells us, “No, the Lord’s delight is in those who fear him, those who put their hope in his unfailing love.” When you add those two together, you end up with a very obvious definition: the hope which the Bible talks about is the hope for the things which the Lord provides for us, out of His love because He loves us.

What was the problem with my hopes then? Simple; I wasn’t hoping, I was wanting. The things I thought I was hoping for, in retrospect, were things which are garbage; useless in my life, or otherwise poison to my walk with Christ. No wonder  ‘hope’ wasn’t delivering on these promises; ‘hope’ was really ‘want’ in disguise!

I wonder if we as a society don’t set ourselves up for that to happen. Think about how often you hear the word ‘hope’ thrown around in your day­to­day lives. Are you actually hoping for something, biblically? Or are you, subconsciously, using that word because you think God will be more willing to give you something you hope for than He would provide something you want?

Consider that the next time you tell a friend, “I hope you get that promotion.” Or, “I hope I can still get tickets; hopefully they aren’t sold out yet.” Is that really hope you have for those situations? Or do you just want them to happen? Really think about it. Because if that’s the case, we will never fully know faith, the way Hebrews 11:1 depicts it.

The secular world will never know what true hope is. They’ll never understand that it’s meant as to describe the eager anticipation we have for the things the Lord is doing in our life. Instead, they will hope for wants, and be sorely let down when that hope falls through. But we know. We know that hope in the world is an empty vase, but hope in God is a chest full of riches.

Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New Living Translation

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Hope in the Empty Seat

by Kelli Tobin
The Flame volunteer writer

“And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”  — Romans 5:5

We have many friends and family who are missing someone around their table this year.  Some have lost a family member recently.  Others are praying to pull up a high chair in the next nine months, yet the seat sits empty.  How do you handle it when someone is missing from your life. How do you cope when the thing you have hoped and prayed for is not there, once again?  That empty chair is a constant reminder. No birthdays, phone calls, pictures, and no positive pregnancy tests.

Please know that if this speaks of your circumstances, current or past, there is hope.  It is my circumstance. It is my husband’s. It is my family’s. It is my close friends’. We live in a world where babies do not always go to deserving parents, where parents do not get to see their children get married or become parents themselves. Satan, in this broken world, shines a bright light on that empty dinner seat or those newborn clothes that go unoccupied.  He sneers, points, and condemns. Why isn’t your body good enough to have a baby?  Why didn’t you do more to keep them around? If you had done this or that, he or she would still be here. You would get the very thing you want. We feel entitled to what others have or envious and bitter of their full tables with many chairs.

Where is the hope? Where is the peace? May I offer a different perspective. I cannot answer the “why me?” or “how come?” because I, myself, ask the same things each day. I can, however, offer Jesus. Jesus, the comforter and sustainer. Jesus, whose death was mocked over and jeered at.  Yes, we have heartache and extreme loss, but Jesus’ death covers that. Claim that in his name, friends. Remind yourself daily if you must, but when you see the empty chair, claim Jesus. No, it isn’t fair, but neither was an innocent man dying for your and my sins.

My hope and prayer for you is that you can shift your eyes from the emptiness to the abundance in heaven; the riches He has in store. Run to the Father as he promises a full table someday with old friends, dads, moms, grandparents and newborns.

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Hope Undeterred

by Will Howell
The Flame volunteer writer

In the middle of this writing, I am going through a development. I am right now waiting for the birth of something that I am expecting to come to pass. Daily, I have to tell myself to trust God and have hope that He is going to come through with the dream that He has for my life. This scripture is constantly at the forefront of my mind:

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12).

While I was preparing for this article, I broke down key words in this passage to expound on it so that I could understand it better. Let’s break it down together;

Hope: Anticipation that something good is about to happen.

Deferred: Delayed, postponed.

Makes: To produce; cause to exist or happen.

Sick: Ill.

Fulfilled: Satisfied.

Life: Any specified period of animate existence

Here is the scripture written out in a more detailed version, based on these defined terms:

“The anticipation that something good is about to happened being delayed produces illnesses, but a dream that is satisfied is a tree of animated existence.”

Our hope is an anticipation of something good. When it is delayed, we tend to lose hope and our dreams appear to die. The passion that we had for that dream begins to dwindle. Our drive turns into just plain parking. But God has so much more in store for His people.  I love how the Psalmist David wrote:“In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my request before you and wait expectantly.” (Psalms 5:3, New International Version)

Did you catch that? Not only did David lay his requests before God … he then waited expectantly. A synonym for the word expectantly is hopefully. David didn’t come to God and lay it at His feet thinking that God might come through. Instead, David knew that God would come through. He waited expectantly and hopefully.

David had hope that God would come at his aid and honor his request. In Psalms 27:13, David commented, “Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living.” There is one thing that I can be confident in the hope that God gives us and it is this: we will surely see it come to pass. Often our vision is impaired by things that seem hopeless. Instead, we are called to have hope. We are called to see it come to pass.

David had to step out and develop a spirit of expectancy. It didn’t come naturally to him. Time and time again through the Bible, we see David facing depression, heartache, loss and so much more. But David took God at His word and called out to Him in the midst of his trouble.

When David’s enemies surrounded Him, he called out to God to defend him. When he was depressed, he called out to God to lift him up.  When his family turned on him, he called out to God to vindicate him. David had to have hope that God would forgive him when he sinned with Bathsheba. David had to have hope when he murdered Uriah. David knew God’s character of hope, and developed that spirit of expectancy that God would come through for him.

At the end of the day, God is calling us to do this: to never give up on hope. Better put, don’t allow the present circumstance define who you are and your future. I will end with this: “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today,”(Matthew 6:34).

God has planned that we would live one day at a time. There is hope for today. There is a plan for today. God has given us a hope that is for this moment to know that He has it all taken care of and it is in the palm of His hand. Wait expectantly on God to move on your behalf and allow Him to take that hope to a whole new level!

Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New Living Translation

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My Hope

by Ethan Alexander
The Flame volunteer writer

When I was 8, adults would ask me what I wanted to be when I grow up; I told them I wanted to be alive.

I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me, because I know that everyone has been through difficult times and many have been worse off than I. Most people that know me would consider me to be a very happy person, but it hasn’t always been this way for me.  There have been times in my past when I felt depressed, wondered if I should be alive, considered how long I would live and wondered why I was going through such tough times.

For those who are unaware, I have nephrotic syndrome, which is a rare (about 1 in 6,000) chronic kidney disorder. My kidneys lose albumin, a protein that regulates fluid levels between bloodstream and body tissues. Without this protein in my blood, my cells overhydrate, causing a lot of swelling. Albumin leakage has also been shown to cause kidney failure.

Once, when I was in second grade, I was at home sick for several days and severely dehydrated. I don’t remember much, but I do remember laying on the bathroom floor going in and out of consciousness. I was admitted to Children’s Hospital. The doctors didn’t even know what was going on inside my body, but they knew I was dangerously dehydrated. I was hooked up to four I.V. lines and pumped with fluids; my cells took all the water they could. It was a very weird feeling to be so thirsty and filled with so much water at the same time. Then I became disoriented and confused. When the doctors asked me if I knew where I was, I just waved my arm at them and said, “Here!” in a mumbled voice. When they asked again, “Ethan, where are you?” I replied “Kindergarten.” I have no idea where this response came from.

The doctors put me on various medications, all of which tasted awful and have awful side effects. One day I asked my dad, “Dad why does my medicine have a pirate flag on it?”  It turns out that it was a kind of poison ­­ a chemotherapy drug used to treat nephrotic syndrome as well as many cancers.

The medications and hospitalization were very expensive. I think that the insurance company hated us. It was really stressful on me to see how my parents were struggling to make it, while paying to keep me alive and healthy. Sometimes I wondered if it was worth it to pay for all of it.

All the medicines I have been on have had some sort of immunosuppressive qualities; needless to say, I was sick often and was not allowed to be around other sick kids. On top of that, I have allergies to nearly everything except snow. My allergies would often cause me to get sick and miss school. It was really hard to miss so much school and miss friends. Not only that, but I couldn’t play outside at recess with the other kids because of allergies.  I felt distant from the other kids, missing the social interaction of recess.

Since the time of diagnosis, I have had over 20 relapses, many of which have resulted in multiple days in the intensive care unit. Somewhere in there I experienced a period of severe hopelessness and depression. I began meeting with Dr. Steve Heitkamp, where I remember talking once or twice a week like he was a best friend.

I think that the counseling turned me around and showed me that life is worth living with the hope found through God.  I realized that my life wasn’t really my own but it belonged to God, and without God in my life, this pain and struggle is just meaningless. Without Him, life feels empty. If we were just some cosmic accident, then this pain just isn’t really worth it and life seems to lack a purpose.

I really like the verse from the song “Our God” by Chris Tomlin: “And if God is for us, then who could ever stop us? And if God is with us, then what could stand against?” This verse speaks to me and tells me that if our God that created the universe is for us, then what of this universe could possibly stand in our way?

With God, death is no longer an end, but rather a beginning.  And if death is no longer something to worry about, then what on Earth is?

You are either living for God, or barely living.

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Crossing the Canyons

by Shannon Durio
The Flame volunteer writer

My husband, Beau, and I have been married for almost two years, and God has blessed us richly in so many areas. Both of us were married before and went through painful divorces. We each spent extensive time healing from those wounds, and learned that God can take what is broken and make it whole again. I don’t feel like Beau is my “second chance” … our love story is more of a redemption song. God has been good to us.

Since the day we got married, we’ve talked about expanding our family. I share custody of my daughter from my previous marriage, and she is pure sunshine. Our little family does not feel incomplete, but we would love to have another baby. We have been trying for almost the duration of our marriage to get pregnant, praying that God might entrust us with the life of our own little one.

A year and a half really is not that long in the grand scheme of life. Many couples try for much longer, so we have tried to be patient. A few months ago, I experienced a very early miscarriage, and while it was “easy” to “justify” it in my mind with statistics about how common miscarriages are, my heart cracked.

I struggled to hang on to hope. I fiercely believed that God is good but there must be something wrong. Did He think we weren’t ready for this? What else could I do to prove to Him that we were? I never blamed Him … I just desperately tried to figure out why, in His omniscience, He did not want this for us in our timetable.

Interestingly, I have spent the last year serving as the Development Director for Fontebella Maternity Home, a small faith­-based organization in O’Fallon, Illinois that provides a safe home for women who are facing an unplanned pregnancy and are homeless for a variety of reasons. These women had the seemingly opposite circumstances of me, and yet, we are the same.

That gap between what we can see and the good He has promised is so often the hardest place to be. It’s scary. We want to run into the Promised Land, but we can’t figure out if we have what it takes to make that initial leap of faith.

I replay that image of Wile E. Coyote confidently chasing the Road Runner to the edge of the cliff. Just when he’s certain he has caught up, he pumps his legs mid­air, looks down, and realizes he’s run out of land. Down he goes.

I want the land. I want the tangible security that I won’t fall into the canyon.

Whether I have the resources but not the baby, or the women at Fontebella have the baby and not the resources, moving forward requires faith … hoping for that which we cannot see. And faith has no expiration date. If I believe that God is good all the time, that means surrendering my own timeline.

At our wedding nearly two years ago, we included this reading:

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.’ The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks Him.” — Lamentations 3:22-­25

It has completely different meaning for me now than it did then, but God’s Word is timeless. That’s why I continue to have hope.

The same good God who carried me through my divorce, and who healed the broken shards of my heart, and who led me to the truest, most God­honoring kind of love with Beau … He is the same God who hears the whispers of my heart for a child.

The same loving God who inspired a woman to open a home like Fontebella … He is the same gracious God who restores the dignity and self­worth of each woman who comes there because she has chosen life for her child.

He sees the big picture when we can’t.

I’ve been looking for tangible land to walk on, but I finally realized that sometimes that means I have to look back on the canyons He already carried me over. My legs were pumping mid­air, but He didn’t let me fall.

Having hope doesn’t mean having all the answers. It means believing that when I take the leap of faith, He will carry me through that canyon, no matter how deep or wide it may be. The safest place to be is in His arms.

Great is His faithfulness!

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Hope is Not a Strategy

by Dave Merrill
The Flame volunteer writer

“Help me Obi­ Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.” — Princess Leia, Star Wars: Episode IV,­ A New Hope

Wikipedia defines “hope” as “an optimistic attitude of mind based on an expectation of positive outcomes related to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large.   As a verb, its definitions include: ‘to expect with confidence’ and ‘to cherish a desire with anticipation’.”

All too often I fear people define hope as a selfish expectation of positive outcomes without the need for any personal contribution to the hopeful result.  But hope, by itself, is not an effective life strategy.

“I hope I win the lotto.”  You’ve got to pay if you want to play; and a good knowledge of the odds might save you a few bucks.

“I hope this cold goes away soon.”  Listen to your doctor, drink plenty of fluids, get lots of rest, pray.

“I hope I go to heaven.”  What do I do with that hope?  Ephesians 2:8­9 clearly says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”  Can’t I just rest in the knowledge that Jesus paid the price for my sins and I am saved by grace without any effort on my part?  I sure hope so.

It is true your salvation comes solely from the atoning grace of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for your sin.  That is the gospel and it is great news!  To receive that grace requires only to accept the gift, and acceptance gives us a reason for the hope we have.  Let me suggest we can strategically contribute to our hope and enhance our “optimistic attitude” and our “expectation of positive outcomes” in the salvation story.

1st Peter 3:15­16 says, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

Peter tells us there are five strategic actions we can practice to be confident in our hope for salvation

1. Revere Christ as Lord.  Mark 12:30 reminds us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”  That is our act of reverence in response to the promise of salvation.  Christ did so much for each of us; we should be thankful and offer Him our praise.

2. Be prepared to answer everyone who asks you.  My hope for Christ’s return is based on the truth and promises of God’s Word.  To be prepared requires me to know something about that truth.  Study the Scriptures, remember the promises, know the truth. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31­32)  Be set free knowing the reasons for the hope you have in Christ.

3. Be gentle and respectful toward others.  Earlier in First Peter, we hear these words: “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover­-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.  Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:16­17)  You are free, you are saved, but you are called to live like Christ with respect and love for others.

4. Keep a clear conscience.  When Paul professed his reasons for the hope he had in Christ in front of the Emperor Felix, he said, “I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.” (Acts 24:15­16)  I pray you have the same hope, and the same clear conscience.

5. Demonstrate good behavior.  The book of Proverbs opens up with instructions this way.  “The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: for gaining wisdom and instruction; for understanding words of insight; for receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair.” (Proverbs 1:1­3)  Go to God’s Word, learn what is right and just and fair.  Receive instruction in prudent behavior … and have hope!

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My Story of Hope

by Ashley Waters
The Flame volunteer writer

As a young Christian, I dealt heavily with the pressures of expectation and perfection. Although I accepted Christ at an early age and strived to be the best Christian kid, I felt I never fulfilled the expectations of God and my family.

Through my striving, my relationship with God became a performance.  Church, praying, and reading my Bible became a way to please God, earn His affection, and dodge my fiery fate in Hell.  When I fell short, I felt full of shame and guilt. I would feel unlovable and insecure. Since I didn’t feel accepted as I was, I tried to be someone God and others would want to love. I continued to appease my family and God by my outward actions, but internally I was empty and fearful.

Striving for God’s attention and affection left me exhausted as I got older and I decided to ignore God entirely. Instead, I sought fulfillment through relationships, friendships, and social status. Years later, after a mile long list of failures, I found my heart was bitter, hardened, and broken. I had spent the majority of my life pretending to be someone else out of fear of rejection. My people­pleasing spirit caused me to give everything away and I didn’t know who I was anymore. I despised the decisions I had made because of what I thought I had to do to earn love from people. My happiness had been dependent upon approval of others so my fear of not being enough was continually confirmed.

During the height of my brokenness, I wanted to run to God but I thought He’d never accept me. Coincidentally, I received a postcard inviting me to church. After weeks of ignoring it, I reluctantly attended. As I sat in the back with my head held low in avoidance, I heard the preacher say something that changed everything. “There is nothing you can do to make God love you more and there is nothing that you can do to make God love you less.” Hearing the story of God’s unconditional love for the first time pierced my cold heart.

With hope in my heart and tears streaming down my face, that day I prayed for the first time in years. I asked God to renew my heart, and to fill the voids in my life. I asked for an identity in Him and to break the urge to be defined through other’s approval. I asked to find my confidence in characteristics that held meaning in His eyes. Lastly, I prayed for the courage to become what He wanted me to be.

My life changed drastically after I laid down my constant need for striving and allowed Christ to complete me. Discovering I was created by my Heavenly Father to be His beloved, and His alone, has changed how I give and receive love altogether. Because of His unconditional love, I can be honest and transparent with others without fear. Others can now love me for who God has created me to be. My confidence comes from Christ alone and I do not have to be afraid of rejection. Through Him, I am enough. I do not need that sole validation from others to know I am already loved. He has broken the people­pleaser in me and redirected my focus to joyfully please him.

I no longer feel the need to perform or strive for perfection to gain God’s attention and affection. I am free to have a genuine relationship with Christ out of love, not fear.  I am eternally grateful for His love that covers us all, all the time, and we do not have to do anything to earn it. We just get to be ourselves and that is enough for Him.

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Bridging the Gap Between Hope and Faith

by Kevin Siddle
The Flame volunteer writer

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” — Hebrews 11.1

I am thankful to be able to say that I have become a new person over the last few years. I have learned what faith is, and what it is not. I went through a very difficult time where a spirit of fear and anxiety overwhelmed me. This all stemmed from the loss of my best friend to cancer when we were teenagers. Almost fifteen years after he passed, all of those same emotions, the hurt, the pain, the fear came rushing back like a tidal wave. It was only through the help of a fantastic Christian counselor did I find peace with the loss of my friend and was freed of the fear.

In addition to the healing and peace that I received, I also discovered that I had a lack of faith. I wasn’t allowing God to guide my path. I wanted control. I did not fully trust and believe that the hopes I placed in God would actually come to fruition. Once I realized that I had a lack of faith, this made me start questioning why I was doing certain things, what my priorities were, and how I interacted with other people. Was I truly a living witness to the power of Christ in my life? Was I leading my family properly as a man of God? Was I the same Christian at home, at work and at church? The answer to all of these questions was no.

Like most crises of faith, this forced a change in my life. I began to pray for wisdom and discernment, and that God would do His will in my life. I prayed for people to mentor me and give me guidance, teaching me what faith actually was. Lo and behold, those prayers were answered at Christ Church and in Hebrews 11:1.

As I learned what faith actually was, changes continued to happen. Faith became the foundation for which everything else in my life was weighed against. Faith changed what it was that I hoped for. Faith changed the substance. Just as important, faith changed the confidence I had in what I hoped for. Up to that point, my hopes were closer to dreams or wishes. I knew there was an off chance that a miracle could happen, but I’m not sure I actually believed it.

How was I able to bridge the gap between hope and faith? Trust and surrender. I started to trust that God provides for His children, in all things. After all, I had seen it in my own life as God had delivered me from all that pain and anger and fear. I was able to trust that God’s will truly was better than anything I could imagine or create through my own control. I also learned to trust in the scriptures by knowing that they are God breathed, and through those, I can gain wisdom to apply to my own life.

I also learned to surrender. This was very difficult for me. Trusting God is one thing, but letting Him take control of the wheel was much, much different. This took significantly longer, but has been incredibly valuable. By spending time in prayer and in the Bible I learned what the character and teachings of Jesus Christ were. With that foundation, I was able to more easily discern the whispers of God from the whispers of the world.

When we place our trust in God, and surrender to His perfect will, this gives us great freedom. We can worry less about the day to day concerns and start giving God our hopes. The big things we pray that God will use us for in order to change the world. My prayer for you is that whatever your hope is that is out of sight, will be shown to you and that God will empower your faith to believe that in Jesus Christ all things are possible.

Scripture quotation taken from The Holy Bible, King James Version

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Worship and Hope

by Rev. Don Frazure
Christ Church Pastor of Worship Arts

Many of you will already know that I am working on my doctorate in worship studies.  All of my formal education has been in music, so to further my knowledge in my calling, I wanted to pursue a degree that focused on the theology and full expression of worship rather than just worship music.

As I continue to learn, I am beginning to get a picture of worship which is much more eternal rather than just an hour on Sunday (or Saturday, or Wednesday).  As Christians, we have put our faith and hope in Jesus Christ.  Because of Jesus, our worship is a dialogue; a conversation with God that has been ongoing since the beginning of creation and will continue forever.  In this conversation, we talk of our memories, our present joys or struggles and our hopes for tomorrow.  Worship, therefore, becomes an opportunity to remember the past, engage in the present and anticipate the “yet to be.”

Worship is a retelling of God’s Story. Understand that when I say “Story” (capital ‘S’), I’m referring to God’s redemptive plan for our salvation.  God is the Creator and we were created to be in a relationship with him.  Through our sin we were separated from God and only God himself could make things right.  God sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, to show us how to live and love each other.  God revealed himself in Jesus Christ, and we must respond to that revelation.  When we accept the gift of Jesus Christ and his sacrifice for us our response is to follow him.  This is all done in and through the Holy Spirit who is the very real presence of God in worship and our lives.

The thing that is so amazing about worship is that God’s Story is retold in the very order of our worship services.  The order of worship that we use is called the “Fourfold” order, and it has been in use by the Church for almost two millennia.  However, just because it has been around for a long time is not enough justification to follow this pattern.  The justification is that this pattern is a biblical model of revelation and response which is echoed throughout Scripture.

When we worship, we gather at God’s calling and acknowledge who he is (Creator) and who we are  in relation to him (creation) by singing songs of praise and prayer.  God then reveals himself to us in worship through the preaching of the Word.  The Word (Christ) reveals something to us and we must respond to it.  Then, we are sent out to live out the revelation we have received (Holy Spirit).  There is hope in worship because we witness and take part in the retelling of God’s Story.

We also find hope in worship because we tell our own story through worship.  In the worship order above, did you notice how that can also apply to our personal faith stories?  One of my professors, Constance Cherry, calls this the “Gospel Order.”  If the Fourfold order can be broken down into Gathering, Word, Communion/Response, and Sending, then the Gospel Order would flow like this:

I was lost, God found me and called me to himself (Gathering);

God revealed himself through Jesus and his love for me (Word);

I repented and accepted Jesus as my Savior, now I live in relationship with him (Communion/Response);

Now my life has hope, I have a purpose, and I want to share my story with others (Sending).

When we worship, our worship becomes a living testimony to the hope of our salvation in Jesus Christ.

Lastly, worship is not just about yesterday and today, it is about hope for tomorrow.  When we worship, we join a “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1).  As they continually worship God as the saints who have gone before us, we join them in the worship that will last for eternity.  Revelation 7 paints a picture of worship that we will engage in for eternity.  As is often said, we have read the end of the book.  God wins! At last, we will be with God.  We will once again be with him in his full presence, the likes of which we cannot comprehend with our human limitations.  Until then, we have worship as God has given it to us, through the power and presence of his Holy Spirit, as a continuous conversation of hope that is just as real in time and space as any story from the Bible.

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