Rippling Waters

It was my third grade year, and I was the awkward, sad, frizzy-haired little girl in need of a friend. I found one in Mrs. Eldridge. I don’t know if she was a Christian, but I suspect she was. That’s the only way I know to explain the love that radiated from her whenever she looked at me, the gentleness that blanketed her words whenever she spoke to me, and the consistency with which she reached out to me.

And I’m almost certain she had no idea the impact she had on me, but when we get to heaven, man is she in for a massive hug!

Passing the Baton
by Mary Bowen

As ripples in water spread outward in ever-widening circles, each of us influences many others. Even the famous evangelist Billy Graham stands on the shoulders of five men in his past. On a Saturday in 1856, Edward Kimball decided to follow up with one of his Sunday school teenagers and talked to Dwight Moody about Christ’s love in the back of a Boston boot store. Years later, under Moody’s preaching, Wilbur Chapman became a believer and then a pastor.

Under his ministry baseball player Billy Sunday was saved. He started preaching, and Mordecai Ham found salvation. Later, as Ham shared the gospel near his high school, a teenager named Billy Graham responded. Through him, nearly 2 billion people have now heard the message of salvation.

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Billy Graham 

I also owe certain people a tremendous debt of gratitude for their spiritual investment in me. The first person to pass the baton of faith was my remarkable mother. She embraced life with both arms, loving people freely and initiating many family adventures. My brothers and I felt enjoyed, even celebrated, in our unique talents. Like the “giving tree” in the popular children’s book, she gladly sacrificed for us in so many ways. For six years she led my Girl Scout meetings, and always cheered with Daddy at my brothers’ football games and wrestling matches.  At the University of Louisville, Mother’s geology students would often seek her out for counsel. I remember lively dinner conversations with Nigerian students she invited over. Mother stayed involved in my life later on when things got hard. Her tenacious prayers and fasting over several years led to agods-intentions-toward-us-are-always-good transformation in my life. Through her I felt God’s unfailing love.

Someone else from my family has also profoundly influenced me for God. My brother Bob, like Mother, believed in me and always saw the best. Bob put his heart into whatever he did, and loved people well.

“Only two things in this life will last — God and people,” he would say. Bob delighted in his family most of all, lavishing time and energy on them. Whether he was designing machine parts at work, seeding the lawn, or kayaking with his boys, he gave it his best effort. Joy percolated just below the surface, often emerging as a smile or joke.

This inner abundance didn’t disappear when he learned he had stage 4 cancer. “God‘s intentions toward us are always good,” he assured us. “Whatever happens, don’t blame God!”  Through an agonizing year he clung to his faith like a life raft. At home or in his hospital room, we often reminisced about family times and shared our favorite Scriptures with one another. The Lord was very near. Bob especially liked Isaiah 40:31. The last day we talked, he told us he’d be experiencing that verse first-hand, his strength renewed like an eagle.

hawk-1535127_640God arranged an air show in October to remind me of Bob. Resting after hiking up a mountain, my husband and I gasped in wonder as a hawk gracefully curved and soared above us. Catching a ride on a column of air, or thermal, it hovered motionless in perfect calm a few moments. Then a sun dog appeared, a rainbow-colored patch in the clouds. Instantly I was back with Bob at his hospital window, marveling together at those ice crystals refracting the sunlight.

Life is unpredictable, and precious. How grateful I am for those who passed the baton of faith to me. They loved me so much I’ll never be the same.

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dscn1905Mary Bowen writes and edits for Grace Ministries International in Marietta, Georgia. For many years her articles and poetry have been published in newspapers, magazines and anthologies. She has worked as a reporter and freelancer, and served as an editor with the North American Mission Board.

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livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about it: Mary shared how key people in her life were so influential in her relationship with the Lord. Who has been influential in your life? And how are you intentionally pouring into someone else’s life so they, too, may experience the joy of salvation? Leave your thoughts here or over on Living by Grace. We’re here to surround and pray for one another through this life!

Intentional Growth

Today, Catrina Bradley challenges us to be intentional in our spiritual growth. What can you do today to draw closer to Christ, to grow more Christ-like, and to spread His fame?

NAIL CLIPPINGS AND HAIR TRIMMINGS: Are You Growing? by Catrina Bradley

My poor little dog Lady’s toenails are too long. We’ve been meaning to take her to the VetExpress for weeks, but didn’t seem to get around to it with the Christmas crush. She could use a good trimming, too; she’s getting a bit shaggy.

Like me, her nails need constant clipping and her hair grows out of its styled cut because…well, because we are living organisms, and living things are constantly in a state of change and growth.

If our nails stop growing, that means our bodies are dead.

To be alive means to grow.

If you aren’t growing in Christ, are you alive in Him?

My doggy’s toenails made me think again about Sunday’s thought-provoking sermon. Our guest preacher at FBC this past Sunday was outstanding. He spoke to us about the importance of a Christian growing to maturity.

In closing he asked, “Are you growing in grace and in knowledge? Are you growing spiritually?”

How do you know if you are growing or stagnant?

He gave us 10 questions to think about, to help us see if we growing.

Are You Growing Spiritually?
1. Are you becoming more confident in your salvation, not always questioning whether your salvation took or if you are really saved?
2. Do you feel more satisfied, content, and fulfilled in Christ?
3. Are you becoming increasingly aware of your sinfulness and weaknesses?
4. Are you finding new guidance in familiar scriptures?
5. When at church, you don’t feel the need to keep God on the clock?
6. Are you learning to see trials and temptations more as opportunities for your growth and for God’s glory?
7. Is your perspective on life becoming less temporal and more eternal?
8. Are you eager to share with others what Christ is doing in your life?
9. Are you praying for opportunities to minister to those around you that don’t know Christ?
10. Does the way you spend your money and the way you spend your time indicate Christ’s importance and priority in your life?

My automatic and immediate answer to all of the above was “YES”, but I’m convicted I need to take an honest assessment of my situation. I need spend a little time thinking about each question, meditating on the “YES” areas of my life, and praying to uncover the “not quite” places I’ve secreted away and haven’t fully surrendered.

How about you? Are you growing?

Catrina Bradley grew in Iowa but now makes her home in Georgia where she serves her church as Admin & Ministry Assistant. She has been blissfully married for over 20 years and has a beautiful, talented daughter and two precious puppies. Her Christian poetry, essays, fiction, and devotions have been published in numerous on-line and print venues. She posts quasi-regularly at her blog Scattered Seeds and monthly at Jewels of Encouragement.

Visit her online at Scattered Seeds.

The Right To Fail

Yesterday I received an email from a friend paralyzed by writer’s block. She’d recently finished her previous novel and couldn’t seem to move forward. Although, when I asked her to send me what she had, I realized her problem wasn’t lack of words but false expectations. All those rules she’d applied in draft fifth and sixth of her previous novel had sapped her creativity. And her confidence. She’d forgotten the drivel she’d started with and expected to produce a final draft the first time around.

Two years ago our daughter developed math phobia. She had a difficult, often hostile teacher, who was hard to please and being the people-pleaser that she is, this paralyzed her. Each problem was torturous. She was so afraid she’d get it wrong, so terrified of making a mistake, she couldn’t begin.

It took a bit of “worse-case-scenario” discussions to move her past this. Basically, I told her I didn’t care if she got it wrong, or even if she failed the class. All I wanted was for her to do her best. My straight-A student didn’t like to hear this, but once I brought it to a spiritual level, reminding her that her obedience to God was all that mattered, she was able to move forward.

We all have things that paralyze us. And we all have our comfort zones. So, we gravitate toward those things that come easily and are the most comfortable, and avoid those things that are difficult. But that leads to stagnation and God calls us to continual growth.

In Dr. Senske’s book, The Calling: Live a Life of Significance,* he encourages us to focus on our areas of weakness-to purposefully seek out new, challenging activities.

It reminds me of training I participated in in highschool. I was a distance runner. The longer the run, the better. Those short, fast turn-outs about killed me. Because speed wasn’t my thing. If left on my own, I would have avoided the drills and speed runs entirely, adding more and more miles to my day in an effort to hone my strength. But my coach knew better. He saw a weakness in me and zeroed in on that weakness.

What would happen if we were as intentional with our spiritual lives? What opportunities might come our way? What kind of growth would we experience?

So how might this transfer to real life?

I’ll give an example in mine. I’m a fiction gal. Fiction’s easy, and relatively non-offensive. Even though you sprinkle truth through out the pages, you never really make strong theological claims. This fall I was provided with two writing opportunities that moved me out of my comfort zone. Both present the gospel, and one requires an exegetical study of Scripture. Not something I’m very comfortable with! Needless to say, there’s been a bit of a learning curve, and to be honest, initially it would have been easier to avoid both assignments all together. But God calls us to growth, not stagnation.

This past year, my husband’s been working on our yard. In the beginning, this was a stretch for him. (Normally we hire people to do these sorts of things.) But after listening to me (again and again) remind him of the worst case scenario, (we could always hire someone after the fact to fix what he did.) he decided to try his hand. And for the most part, he’s done a wonderful job, gaining confidence along the way. Did it save us oodles of money? Not necessarily. There’s been a few costly mistakes along the way. But the way I see it? He’s funding his life-education, and to me, that’s invaluable.

How might this translate to your life? What are your areas of weakness? Make a list. Then brainstorm ways you could strengthen those areas. If you’re afraid to speak in public, purposefully seek out a few speaking engagements. Writing not your thing? Force yourself to write a few letters to loved ones. (Great way to share the gospel, by the way.)

My final admonition (to myself as well): bring it back to your audience of one. No matter what you’re doing, each day make it between you and God–no one else. Don’t worry about what your editor will say. Don’t worry about your boss. Don’t even think about the end result. Focus instead on your Savior and make each moment, each task, an act of praise.

1 Corinthians 10:31 “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

And if you don’t have a spiritual mentor, find one. Remember, if you’re not moving forward, in faith and life, chances are your slipping in the other direction.

*As I mentioned the previous time I referenced Dr. Senske’s book, there were parts of this book that appeared to be Lutheran specific, such as the emphasis on baptism and the use of rituals. Due to my limited knowledge, I am not certain if this is a semantics issue or a theological one, but I thought it worth mentioning.