Seeing a Big God through Tiny Eyes

Seeing a Big God through Tiny Eyes

As I celebrated my daughter’s first birthday, it caused me to reflect on the glorious grace of God over this past year. My daughter’s life from conception has been one that points me to Jesus and the faithfulness of God in the midst of my anxious heart. Prior to becoming pregnant, a flood of fears consumed my thoughts. I was fearful that I may never have the opportunity to bear a child due to health reasons, and if I did have a child, I was fearful that my health problems would become my child’s or that my body wouldn’t be strong enough for pregnancy. However, the Lord was gracious to me and drew my eyes to Him and prepared my body to carry a child.

The indescribable joy that washed over my soul when I found out I was pregnant was quickly shared with an ever increasing anxiousness. It was as if joy and anxiety resided equally within my heart. Now I was fearful of something happening to my baby, but the Lord was gracious and used pregnancy to help me trust Him moment by moment. Throughout the entire pregnancy I was sick with hyperemesis, but He used it to point me to Him, to remind me of the fall, that this sickness was part of the curse, to point me to the finished work of Christ on the cross, and to point me to the hope of a new body in the new Heavens and new Earth.

The day I had longed for and prepared for finally arrived in a whirlwind. I had read many books, attended many classes and had every little detail planned. However, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)  Nothing went according to my plans but the Lord once again used this to press me more into Him, to remind me of the pain of the curse, creation groaning for new birth, suffering bringing life. My labor and delivery brought me and my unborn child to the brink of death, but the Lord was again gracious to us both. When I heard the words, “Reach down and grab your daughter,” suffering and new life kissed as I pulled her from my body to my chest. This little one was already teaching me about the gospel in that moment. My utter pain and distress met joy unspeakable due to the faithfulness of God.

As I held my daughter I realized that she was relying solely on me for nourishment. How much more should I be solely reliant on the Lord? For 9 long months, my womb nourished her, and now her little mouth was rooting on my chest. Even this natural process has pointed me to the gospel. Giving my body for another. I could never forget to feed my child, so to the Lord will never forget his children. “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or lack compassion for the child of her womb? Even if these forget, yet I will not forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15) As my daughter has grown, she gets so excited when it is time to nurse; she knows near my heart is safe and that from it she gets life. Oh, how she reminds me that under the Lord’s wings I have refuge, my safe place and that His words are sweeter than honey from the honeycomb. (Psalm 19:10)

Everyday my daughter points me to the gospel. With each diaper changed and cry comforted, I am praying it points her to the God of all comfort. She notices every tiny detail and explores the smallest things, and it reminds me that God is sovereign and even in the midst of my fears nothing is unknown to Him.

As I reflect over this past year, I can honestly say that the fears and anxieties that gripped my soul have not lessened, but my view of God has become bigger. I am daily amazed at how my daughter points me to Jesus without being able to say His name.

 

Elizabeth Sanders is married to Adam and has one daughter, Norah. They moved to KC in 2014 for Adam to attend Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. She serves on the worship team and with the refugee ministry at Emmaus. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Cross-Cultural Ministry/TESOL from Oklahoma Baptist University.

Creating Christ Centered Hospitality

Creating Christ Centered Hospitality

I was recently told by a visitor to church that our congregation was friendly.  While I told the guest that I was glad they thought so, I couldn’t help but feel a little defeated.  Now, in all fairness, I am a cynic by nature (pray for me) and it seems like the visitor enjoyed their visit…right?? Not to be groundbreaking, but I couldn’t help but think to myself that being friendly and nice, as a Christian, should not be celebrated as something above and beyond the call of duty.  It should be an expectation, a standard. Of course we are friendly. If you claim to follow Christ and you are not greeting others with a natural kindness, I would challenge you to look to Him and “check yourself.” A Christian who is seeking to follow Jesus will find joy in Him and organically be friendly and open to all.  That should not be a surprise.

Friendliness vs Hospitality

There is a major difference between being friendly and being hospitable. Friendliness is quite passive. It is surface level interactions. Hospitality is founded on being proactive, going out of your way to serve others and to have intentional, meaningful conversations. Paul says in Romans 12:13 to “contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Don’t wait for your neighbor to reach out and you.  Jesus says in Mark to “…love your neighbor as yourself,” saying it’s the second greatest commandment of all.

Look to the Ultimate Host

It’s easy to use seasons of life as excuses to put off being hospitable. You want to reach out to others, but careers, family, sleep, or yard work (the worst) take precedent. Take a lesson from the ultimate Host.  Christ made an intentional effort to break bread with His disciples knowing that He would die on a cross the very next day.  Let that soak in — He hosted His last meal on this earth and gave some pretty intentional heart-to-hearts. We make the excuse that we have “too much going on” when in reality we are simply exhausted from staying up too late the weekend before, and want one night to catch up on all things Hulu. As Christians, we are called to parallel the love and generosity of Christ. We serve well because Christ has served us well. We love well because Christ loves us well (1 John 4:9-12). This is the cornerstone of hospitality.

While you may not serve on the church’s hospitality team, or you may not think you are gifted with hospitality, or you are the newest hipster trend of being the most introverted extrovert, we are still all called to be gracious, courteous and seeking hosts. You may not be the most outgoing person in the church, but you are at the table. We all are. Christ, the ever seeking and inviting King, has invited us, ALL of us, to sit at His table. Bring your friends. Bring your neighbors. Let the Father use you to serve others well.  Show and share the grace of our Lord as He has shown you.

Practice Hospitality

Be intentional. Ask questions. REAL questions. Get their phone number. Use it. Think of day that week you are free and ask them to come over. Go get coffee with them, go get some shaved ice (#summertrend2017), or break bread in your home.  Find someone else in the church body you think will have similar interests and connect with them. Make a habit to pray for those you meet that week.

Be sacrificial. How do you serve others on Sunday mornings? Throughout the week? Seeking to serve sacrificially can be many things. It’s sacrificing conversing with your community group right when you see them to make sure the guest you just walked by finds the coffee bar (I know you are headed there too), it’s sacrificing sitting with your neighbor or classmate and instead sitting with someone you don’t know and worshipping together. It’s sacrificing meeting your co-worker or family for lunch right after the service, and inviting a visitor to lunch instead, or inviting them along. Jesus served in some of the lowest ways, even stooping to wash His disciples’ feet. Are you willing to sacrifice and make yourself low for the sake of the gospel?

Be mission minded. The church is part of our mission field. Whatever role you are serving in on a Sunday morning should be a reflection of Christ. Whether that job is greeting at the door, cleaning bathrooms, bass playin’, or checking toddlers into the Kids Ministry, you should put your all into serving. Have good attitudes, anticipate needs, walk guests down the hallway to insure they know the way, and be on time. Volunteer for areas of need versus areas of interest without the expectation of recognition. Every way we serve should be intentional, sacrificial, and to the glory of God.

And yes, be friendly.

Try to be more aware of how you utilize your time on Sunday mornings with newcomers. Perhaps you begin by seeking out visitors, having conversations with them and helping them make meaningful connections before you chase down the friend you have been wanting to see all week. Maybe it’s rearranging YOUR schedule to make a visitor feel welcome. By the way, hospitality doesn’t just stop with guests. When is the last time you have had a fellow member in your home that is outside of your small group or neighborhood?

We are called to declare and display the gospel. That includes displaying the gospel in greeting, welcoming and serving guests at church and in our daily lives. We are called to be intentional and hospitable servants that build up the body of Christ. Peter says in 1 Peter 4:9 to “offer hospitality to one another without complaint.” Pray that the Lord will open your heart and eyes for more intentional, sacrificial and missional opportunities with visitors in order to show the love and hospitable heart of Jesus Christ. For this is true hospitality.

Kyler Keith is the Director of Hospitality at Emmaus Church.  He and his wife, Mindy, have two children (Eva & Rhett), and one on the way.  He has not written a paper since college, circa 2007. Rock Chalk!!

Christian, Read Good Books

Christian, Read Good Books

I love literature. To be honest, I haven’t always loved literature. I wasn’t that kid, hiding under my bed with a flashlight, reading Tom Sawyer. I preferred movies to books; that is, until I became a Christian.

I believe that books magnify our appetite for Christ, and I believe that they do this much better than movies or any other type of entertainment. The imagination and creativity that is required of me when I read a book is sanctifying. I mean that. I am required to create characters, and in a good book, I am required to contemplate characters’ motivations, which gives me the ability to empathize. The most profound movie cannot manage what even the most trite book can. That is this: a movie cannot force you to create images in your mind. The images are handed to you on a silver (okay, maybe not always silver) widescreen TV. The images are more impersonal, more distant, than the ones we can create in our head. They give us the distinct ability to empathize with characters very intimately as are near to us, their struggles are our struggles, Once I am able to empathize with characters, my understanding of humanity inevitably grows. Literature allows me to empathize in a way that nothing else really can. It diversifies my worldview, plunging me into the depths of human depravity and contrastingly, giving me glimpses of joy, building up the character of almighty Christ, a savior who would be willing to descend into such a world.

I’m speaking here of great works of fiction, not just any book. Great literature provides the kind of empathy that is only possible in so much as the characters are true representations of humanity. Trite, tawdry novels play on our emotions—though the situations are typically extreme and exciting, the characters are generally one-dimensional, predictable and internally consistent. This predictability tends to affirm readers’ preconceived notions of others, rather than expand our capacity for empathy. Popular fiction will not expand our capacity for empathy; rather, it will simply entertain us.

But through its ability to help us empathize, good literature shows us humanity’s dire need and provides small glimpses of the grand hope for humanity. If we’re reading through the right lens, we should see our Christ who is both what we need and our only hope.

A deeper knowledge of sin

Literature broadens our view of sin, giving us a more accurate and full portrayal of the wickedness that lives within us. Literature isn’t just a lens into a new world; it’s a mirror that we can hold up to ourselves. It exposes not just our sins, but motivations for sins. This, as Christians, should drive us to the heart of the gospel and to the feet of Christ himself, who descending into our world in order to redeem it. When you understand characters in their depravity, when you see pieces of yourself in them, it gives you a deeper understanding of just how serious your sinful nature is.

For example, seeing the sins of Mrs. Breedlove in The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison convicts my atrociously sinful nature. In a particularly poignant scene, Morrison describes the routine fights between Mrs. Breedlove and Cholly, her unruly and debauched husband. Cholly is a habitual drunk and Mrs. Breedlove finds an odd sense of worth in their fights.

“The tiny, undistinguished days that Mrs. Breedlove lived were identified, grouped and classed by these quarrels. The gave substance to the minutes and hours otherwise dim and unrecalled . . . In these violet breaks in routine, that were themselves routine, she could display the style and imagination of what she believed to be her own true self . . . If Cholly had stopped drinking, she would never have forgiven Jesus. She needed Cholly’s sins desperately.”

Mrs. Breedlove’s bent toward bitterness, her motivation for discord, and her insatiable desire to dominate her husband chimes in my ears as my own sin, masked as hers. I am reminded of my own tendency to criticize in order to find worth. It is profoundly human to find a motivation for discord, to look, search, and to be driven by seeing faults in others in order to justify our own sin. Seeing flawed characters sin, and sin profoundly, gives words and images to our struggles and drives us to contemplate our own need for Christ. We can search through the entire canon of literature and at the end of it find ourselves there. Here is why: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind,” (1 Cor 10:13).

No sin is new sin. The insatiable wrath of Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, the envious Othello, the racial profiling that Jem and Scout see in Maycomb, Alabama—none of this is new—It is old sin. It is sin that we fight everyday, sin that we see in our friends and ourselves, sin that “so easily entangles,” (Hebrews 12:1).

Hope found in literature

But let us not stop there. Literature doesn’t just pinpoint sin, it also, oftentimes, provides glimpses of hope. Christ is in everything—so whether it’s small acts of mercy or gentle acts of humility, we can look all through literature and at the end of it, find Christ. This doesn’t mean every text is going to be as explicitly Christ-driven as The Chronicles of Narnia (though, if you want to read some Lewis, read on!).

The reason that we should read literature, ultimately, is to see more of Christ and His gospel. The gospel is not is not a gospel that separates sin and depravity from goodness and joy, rather it faces that reality head-on and provides the only way to true hope. That is why literature is so potent and relevant; good literature doesn’t gloss over hardship, good literature reminds us that hope can persist in sorrow. So then, Christian, hold fast to the hope that can be found in darkness, and use literature as a tool to drive you nearer to the hope of Christ—knowing that he encapsulates every archetype of literature. He is the ultimate epic-hero. He is the suffering, humble servant. He is the profound, empathetic friend. He is kind and gentle, yet firm and strong. He embodies all the characteristics that we love in literature. Furthermore, he takes on every ounce of depravity, sharing with us, in our sin, yet without sin, paying for the inequity of man.

Lastly, we read because God wrote a book; He crafted a story. Every well-written, smaller narrative points us to that grand narrative. Let the small stories of well-written fiction push you towards the greater story—the story of hope in midst of darkness, the hope found in Christ on a cross, smitten for your sins. So, Christian, next time you read a good piece of literature, and you see depravity, say to yourself, “Christ paid for that”; next time you see some intrinsic goodness in a character, say to yourself, “Christ embodies that”. Learn to see Christ in literature, and you will learn to love to read not simply as an act of leisure but as an act of sanctifying, God-glorifying worship.

 

Allie Osborn became a member at Emmaus in February. She recently graduated from Baylor University with a degree in English Literature. In the fall, Allie will begin teaching English Literature and Journalism at Kansas City Christian School. She moved to Kansas City in January after getting married to Drake Osborn, who just finished his first year at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Few Workers in a Plentiful Harvest

Few Workers in a Plentiful Harvest

The first day I arrived in the Middle East in 2014, I exited the plane and stepped onto the open-air run way and the heat swept over me like a blanket. As we entered the airport, my eyes were taken aback by throngs of men, wearing white robes, and women, wearing only layers of black. As we sat in the airport for hours, we heard the Muslim call to prayer resound through the airports walls as people filed through the visa line. As we left, my glazed over, jet-lagged eyes could hardly take in every road sign that was in Arabic script. My mind could hardly compute that I was actually in the Middle East after months of preparing and praying for this time. It was exhilarating, yet terrifying. I felt severely inadequate and realized how much I needed the Holy Spirit to enable me to work in the harvest. I had become a Christian only a year before – yet I had immediately known that I must tell others about this Good News in unreached places. I knew that the Gospel needed to be heard by people who clung so tightly to Islam, the deadly religion of works. I desperately desired to verbally proclaim the message of Good News to those broken people.

Little did I know, those four months would entail hours of long conversations simply trying to clear up one misconception. It entailed spending hours with women in their homes telling them stories from the Bible over deliciously spiced meals of rice and chicken. It felt as though we were tending to a terribly neglected garden, one filled with weeds and stones. We sought to carefully sow the life-giving message of Jesus’ death and resurrection, taking care to sow truth in place of the lies. We sought to be humble yet bold lights in a land of darkness and formed many deep, gospel-saturated friendships along the way.

Little did I know, I would return only two years later in the spring of 2016 to formally study Arabic with a team and to once again persevere in sharing the Gospel. God used my initial time in the Middle East to develop in me a passion for the people – and He is still. Only Jesus can bind up the deep wounds and lies of works based religion. Only Jesus can rescue wounded people – yet they are largely without access to hear. I long for the day that I will return to them. But for now, a new opportunity has come.

The New Opportunity

In January of this year, Avant Ministries launched an internship called the Avant Missionary Institute. I rejoice that I have been given the opportunity to join this endeavor. The first 5 months are spent in Kansas City and the last 2 months are spent in Jordan. The focus during our time in Kansas City is to urgently reach out to Arab Muslims and to grow as a team. The last two months of the internship, during June and July, we will go to Jordan in the Middle East. There, we will establish relationships with the people and seek to partner fruitfully with a local church as well. Jordan is a small country, yet has a staggering 9.5 million people within its borders, and only one-third of the population is actually Jordanian, meaning many are refugees.*

*Sources: https://joshuaproject.net/countries_photos/JO, http://www.jordantimes.com/news/local/population-stands-around-95-million-including-29-million-guests

Since January, our team has been meeting three times a week for prayer, twice a week to evangelize, and once a week for an Islamic Studies course and to study Arabic. These times are especially important for us as we prepare for what could be a lifetime of ministry among Arab Muslims. I hope that you will consider joining with me in the work in the Middle East by partnering both prayerfully and financially. At this stage, I am asking you to prayerfully consider partnering with me specifically in the giving of finances. Through prayer and financial giving, you are partnering with me in this work of advancing the Gospel.

This price includes flights, food, in country travel, ministry opportunities, rent, and all other expenses:

  • $5,000
    • Half of this amount – $2,000 is due immediately in order to buy plane tickets at the end of this month, by March 31, 2017.
    • Full amount deadline – May 1st, 2017.
  • Giving by Check – Make checks out to Avant Ministries. Make sure to include my name (Courtney Allen) on a sticky note with the check.
    • Feel free to find me at church any given Sunday if giving in person.
    • If sent via mail, send to: 10000 N Oak Trafficway, Kansas City, MO 64155
  • Online Giving – If you choose to give online, please do so through directly linking your bank account:
    • https://avantministries.org/give

Pray that Arab Muslims in this city would realize their need for Jesus. Pray that I would be faithful to the Lord, zealous for His glory, and boldly share the Good News. I would love to talk with any of you who have further questions about this opportunity.

Behold, our King Jesus is coming soon. Let us fight the good fight as we rejoice that we have been redeemed and offer this Good News to others.

Courtney Allen is a senior at Midwestern College studying Intercultural Studies and Humanities. She previously lived in the Middle East for eight months, and hopes to continue to be a part of advancing God’s kingdom in unreached places in whichever way the Lord sees fit. If you’d like to contact Courtney directly, email her at crtlallen@gmail.com.

Dads, you won’t nail it every time

Dads, you won’t nail it every time

We believe our members have the ability to equip each other in various aspects of gospel living. Therefore, from time to time we will feature blog posts written by our members. Today’s post is written by Gabrial Pech.

“For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh. . . For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith — that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil. 3:3, 8-11)

Throughout this passage and Glen’s sermon a few weeks ago, I kept asking myself and I’ll ask you too, “Is there an area of my life that I unintentionally put confidence in/boast in as a means of justification before God?” Or, another way of asking it could be, “What are some of the things we do or believe about ourselves that we think make God happy or mad with us?”

The answer to that question for me and thus the reason for this post (because I know I’m not alone) is this: my “dadness.” In my flesh, I think far too often that I nail it as a dad. I know I don’t and the therapy my kids will go through someday will confirm my suspicions.

Still, I look to my dadness as a major way I think God MUST be pleased with me and thus inwardly I boast in it. Here’s how I know though that I’m boasting in my dadness and not in Christ when it comes to parenting – when I don’t nail it, I get angry. That anger is not usually manifested toward myself but toward my kids. So when they aren’t as obedient as I think they should be, I get angry because I believe it’s a reflection on my dadness, which I put above Christ. Thus when that idol is threatened, I’m angry.

What’s the solution? Glen did in fact nail it in his sermon, the gospel of Jesus. I see four steps we must take practically.

First, I must repent of this ugly heart that has turned the God-glorifying gift of fatherhood into a self-glorifying position.

Second, I must go back to the truth that my union with Christ, union that was solely obtained by Christ, makes me as righteous as I will ever be. This means that when I do nail it God is pleased with me, and when I don’t nail it God is still pleased with me. More than that, He loves me.

Third, I must stop relying on my fleshly strength to help me nail it. On top of God loving and being pleased with me is this incredible truth: The power that brought Jesus from death to life is the same power that frees me up and enables me to live a life pleasing to God. Rely on that power, not the flesh’s power.

The fourth and final step looks like repeating steps one through four until I die or Jesus comes back to take us to glory.

Dads (and moms), you won’t nail it every time, but the good news is that you don’t have to. God sent Jesus to live the perfect life that you never could in order to cover the sins of your constant parent fails. By grace, keep trying to nail it, but when you don’t, trust and know that God’s grace covers you.

 

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