Can This Love Grow?

Written by Tom and Pat McKain

Song of Solomon 2:2-5

“Like a lily among the thorns is my darling among the maidens.

Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my lover among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade and his fruit is sweet to my taste. He has taken me to the banquet hall and his banner over me is love.”

 

Pat McKain

Can this love grow?

The short answer to this question is yes! Let me explain.

 

Tom and I met when we were 16years old. The day we met, I told my mother that I had met the man I was going to marry. I had been praying every night since third grade for my marriage partner, and when I met him, I knew. However, there were many ups and downs during the six years we dated through the rest of high school and college. We married when Tom was in his first year of medical school at University of Louisville and I was in my last semester of nursing at IUPUI in Indianapolis. The first six months, I would travel to New Albany for a long weekend with Tom because I had fewer classes than he. It wasn’t easy, but we were madly in love, so we made it work.

 

As our children came along, Tom was working a lot of hours and I was a stay at home mom. Those years were hard! And we were very immature. We were both selfish and wanting more than we thought was our right. My mom used to tell me there is a special grace for young parents. I believe that is right. We were tired all the time and pinching pennies. Stress was high. However, we were committed to each other and the Lord.

 

After our third child, Ben, was born, I sought the Lord for something more. I knew the Christian life could be the abundant life, but I wasn’t experiencing that. I searched Scripture for a couple of years, spent time in prayer, and reading whatever I could to answer my questions. The Scripture says that if you seek Him, you will find Him. That was true! As I sought the Lord, He came close to me and worked something new in my life. Things changed after that.

 

I have found that if you grow close to the Lord, you grow closer and more in love with your spouse. Not only does your love last, but it gets deeper and more fulfilling. The secret: Grow close to the Lord and let Him change your heart. He will fill you with His fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control for your spouse and others.

 

Can this love grow?

Tom McKain

 

How could a woman and a man, with similarities, but oh – so different—even get along in a life-long relationship?? They’re like oil and water in some ways, but with intense attraction as well! The answer is miraculous- marriage between a woman and a man is a sacred thing, because God is in it.

 

God is our Creator. He has built into this marriage a mystery that only He could design – a growing, permanent, literal oneness, a blending of the two bodies, minds, hearts, and spirits.

 

This can happen even if the two aren’t Believers. But, oh, what potential when we believe and cooperate with God’s transforming work in our hearts! God wants us as spouses to be in agreement- with Him, and with each other– to agree on the important things of life. To be of one mind is a tremendous blessing and a key to marriage!

 

Pat and I know that this oneness is a spiritual miracle– because after 50 years of friendship and 44 years of marriage we’re not tired or bored with each other. Everything literally has gotten better with age!

 

One of the main keys here is to just realize, and fully KNOW the amazing gift that is your mate! We take our marriages for granted. What really works is to focus on what you like about your spouse! Look for the beauty, for it is surely there! Appreciate all the goodness and blessing that your mate brings to life!

 

This is what it means to cherish each other; to build up each other, to sacrifice for each other, and to stay close. In fact, this picture of Christ and the Church, is what we are made for!


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The Creation Points Us To the Creator

Written by Pastor Tony Alstott
 

My first campout happened when I was eleven years old. I crossed the street and set up camp in my neighbor’s front yard. My neighbor and I gathered some sticks and made a fire. We talked late into the night while feeding the fire and ourselves with the food we brought. At one point we looked up at the clear sky and gazed at the stars. What a beautiful sight. We talked about infinity and the countless stars and galaxies beyond the reach of the most powerful telescope. On that night, I had the awe-inspiring notion that God was bigger and greater than the universe. The universe testified to me about the Creator. In Romans 1:19-20, the Apostle Paul wrote that God puts truth in the hearts of all people when they look at the earth and sky and see that creation was made by the Creator.

In the story of Creation in Genesis, Creator God asks Adam to take care of the creation. God gives the creation to us as a gift. We benefit from the goodness of the earth and, in return, we are to take care of the earth so that the human race can continue to benefit. God’s request to Adam is extended to us. We are caretakers or stewards of the earth.

As humans we have not always done a good job. Forests have been depleted without planting new trees. Rivers have been polluted with the toxins from factories. Poisonous gases are released into the air creating toxins to be breathed and forming acid rain. Litter from our abundance blows in our fields and fills our landfills. Scientists who warn us about the dangers of our pollution are often met with ridicule.

As Christians, we need to be a leading voice against pollution and a leading advocate for taking care of our planet. God invited us to benefit from the value of the earth but not at the expense of the earth itself. We can make an effort to recycle, which reuses our resources instead of allowing them to be discarded to a landfill. We can contact our government representatives to let them know of our general support for taking care of the environment. We can refrain from littering and pick up the litter we find when we are outside. We can avoid buying Styrofoam plates and cups. When we built Wesley Chapel on Highway 150, we include a geothermal unit for heating and cooling to save energy. When we think Green, we are thinking God.

Dr. Spock on Star Trek would greet people with, “Live long and prosper.” He was quoting Scripture: “Walk in obedience to all that the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess” (Deuteronomy 5:33). As I write this, God has put me in the land of Indiana, the United States. It is our responsibility to care for the land that God has put us in. When we value creation, we value the Creator. When we take care of creation, we are helping point people to the Creator.


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You’re Not Thriving

You’re Not Thriving
Written by Liz Smith
 

That’s what my pastor said to me as I sat across the table from him one afternoon in his office. His question to me had been – “How do you think you’re doing in life?” and my quick response was “I function very well.” Thank you! I was super proud of that answer. Life had been hard and I thought functioning was good…much better than NOT functioning. But as soon as those words came out of my mouth, he was waving his index finger up at me as he leaned across the table saying “but you’re not thriving.” What? Who does this guy think he is telling me I’m not thriving? Doesn’t he know what I’ve been through? Geez Louise! Thrive? (Note self – find out what it means to thrive). So, I just stared out the window because I really had no idea what he was talking about, and no clue how to respond.

 

 

I don’t think any of us get out of this life without some hard times. But how do we deal with them when they come, and where do we place our focus? Children who experience trauma deal differently because they have have not learned coping skills. They can carry some long-term effects into adulthood, which makes living life to it’s fullest very difficult. That was me.

That meeting with my pastor was the beginning of my journey to thriving. I knew enough to know that something in me had to change, but didn’t know how or what. I had experienced so much hurt and loss and abuse throughout my life that I could not think or see clearly. I was in a fog. All of that early trauma manifested itself in insecurity, self-hate, neediness, and a need for approval (to name a few). I honestly did not know that there was more to this life than just surviving. I mostly just lived in a constant state of fight-or-flight. I couldn’t breathe. I had my guard up and all I could do was survive each day as I waited for the next trauma to hit (that was my mentality). I knew God. I believed in Jesus – He was already the Lord and Savior of my life. But, to be honest, I felt a little like maybe He had forgotten about me…maybe He was too busy…or maybe this was just the fate of my life and I simply had to endure it until it was my time to go to Heaven.

I cannot tell you the exact sequence of events that transpired over the years, but God started doing His miraculous work in me one little fix at a time. I had so many misconceptions about God. I didn’t understand Him. I didn’t trust Him. Yes, you read that right…I did not trust God to take care of me. I did not think God loved me. I begged Him constantly to help me feel His love – to know that He was there for ME! I was angry with God because He allowed so much pain and trauma to happen to me. I was angry that I had to fix the damage caused by others. That’s not fair. It’s really not! But this was my reality, and in order to change (in order to find my way out of that fog), I had to put in the time to heal from those past hurts.

I worked hard. I worked on myself through counseling, and I worked on growing closer to God through church. Slowly, I began to learn who God really is. Sometimes He showed me His love through a friend, sometimes He helped me understand Him better in the lyrics of songs, sometimes He gave me his promises through books, sometimes I had “aha” moments while listening to sermons, and sometimes He showed me healing through more pain (weird, I know. However, more healing came as I unraveled repressed memories of my past in counseling). God had a purpose and a plan for every step I took on this journey. It was truly a miraculous process.

I learned that God has some big shoulders – that He could take my anger and questions that I threw at Him. I learned that opening up and being vulnerable with God, myself, and trusted friends, led to years of burdens being lifted off my shoulders. I learned that God really does love me and that

GOD IS GOOD!

His love and goodness were things that I had to learn. It was really difficult for me to fully grasp and believe that was true for me, but once those realities started sinking in, life changed.

So, what does it mean to thrive? Well, I looked it up in the dictionary and found synonyms like flourish, and succeed and shine! I agree with all those. But, I can best describe thriving as loving the life I have been given – including all the bad! It means knowing that I have value and worth – that I am truly worth loving! It means trusting that He will provide all my needs in His time – I have a peace and a calmness where once there was panic and chaos. Do I think these things and feel them perfectly all the time? Noooooo! But I know this wonderful God of mine can ease my worry when I start trying to do it my way instead of with Him (when I can’t get out of my own head).

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly”. John 10:10 ESV God won!

I thought I was fine – functioning – but I was missing out on life and relationships and joy…I was not living – I was waiting to die.

Hmmmm….seems like my pastor did know a thing or two (insert winking emoji).

Just in case you’re wondering, I’m still working on this thriving thing. I’m not there yet (not sure we can ever get completely there this side of Heaven), but I’m so much better than I was. I don’t get derailed as often when the uncertainties of life hit, I don’t have full blown panic attacks when I feel out of control, and I don’t feel worthless and insecure and needy like I once did. I don’t just wander aimlessly through life waiting for the next “shoe to drop.” God has used different people and different circumstances at various times in my life to change me from the inside out (He still does). Setbacks happen, but I don’t stop! I don’t stop seeking God and His wisdom, I don’t stop learning about life. I don’t stop looking at all situations as moments in time where God is at work.

Casting Crowns has a great song called…you guessed it… THRIVE! We were made for so much more…


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Breathe

Written by Rachel Alstott

Inhale. Exhale.  The act itself seems simple enough.  Breathing. 
For my first tattoo, I wanted it to be something that was impactful; that told a story about me.  I was twenty-five.  I chose oxygen.  The atomic makeup of oxygen in fact.  I wanted something to remind me to do that simple act, to breathe.  When I picked it, I thought it told the story of my past, my struggles with suicide and depression, but it actually was foretelling of what I was to go through in the upcoming years.
 
 
I joined a cult when I was nineteen.  I was fresh in the college life and I was trying to figure out my place as a new adult who was away from family for the first time.  I don’t think any of us that were pulled in knew the journey that it would be.  It started out by us joining intramural sports team and as time progressed turned into something else.  It was religiously abusive.  It kept me away from family.  I rose in the ranks and became a student leader in it, pushing the agenda on anyone that would listen.  I still cringe as I think of the things I participated in, the shame I shoveled on others, trying to bury them so that they would see their need for the group.  What I didn’t realize is that I was being buried alive.  I was so restricted, I couldn’t breathe.  I believed so much in what I was fed that my life was one of shame.  I could tell you story after story of the abuse and trauma I went through, but it can be summed up in four words: there was no freedom. 

I met Betsey when I was twenty-two.  She was about my parents’ age and was new to the church that the cult fed into.  She felt a calling to start a young women’s Bible study.  The church would not allow her to do it since she was a woman and was not in the cult, but the calling was so strong that she opened up her home to some of us.  She fed us each week and we studied scripture.  When it started, I was the only one in the cult.  She slowly began to ask questions about the group I was a part of, subtly questioning if things I was being taught were actually biblical.  For three years she poured into me.  That Bible study became the only breath of fresh air for me throughout the week.  I began to invite other girls from the cult as well.  It became a lifeline from the abuse we were stuck in.

I was twenty-five when I got my first tattoo.  I was also twenty-five when I started to see that the group I was a part of was not for my good and maybe Betsey was right.  Maybe there was freedom in Christ and not just the chains that had been given to me. 

It took two years for me to leave the cult.  Two years of laying in the bathroom, tracing my tattoo and reminding myself to breathe.  Two years of self-harm and panic attacks as the “support” system I had surrounded myself with kept pulling me back.  I attempted suicide but interrupted myself, for reasons I can’t explain other than God’s grace.  I clawed my way out of the dirt and grime, trying desperately to once again breathe.  And finally, I tasted the air.

I had been trapped in a world of legalism and mental and emotional abuse, where I gave others the control of my life, a place God never intended for me to be.  He wanted control and it is His control that there is absolute freedom.

It has been three years since I was there.  There are still moments when I am reminded of those times and feel like the air is being sucked from me, but then I remember God.  Psalm 77, one of the chapters I continue to go back to, has a verse that states “I will zakar the deeds of the Lord.”  Zakar means to remember and it now joins my list of tattoos to remind myself who God is.  When I am in a place where I feel as if I can’t breathe, I zakar.  I remember the goodness of God.  I remember how he rescued me time and time again.  And I remember that if he has done all this in my life, he will continue to do so with my future.

The cult is still on the college campuses across the United States.  Betsey was able to help at least 10 girls to leave before she had to leave the church.  Two of those girls I still remain best friends with today.  And they know freedom as well.  Just so you know, I am in a good place now.  I am engaged to a man who loves God and me.  I didn’t know men could be good.  We’re getting married in October.  I work with youth in a group home as a Spiritual Development Leader where I get to teach them about their worth and freedom in Christ.  I went back to my family who never gave up on me.  And I haven’t self-harmed in one year.  God is good.  Remember to breathe and know that.


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Conceived in Love

Written by Rhonda Alstott

I was born into a family heritage of several persons serving in ministry. On my mother’s side, she was blessed to have a maternal uncle and three paternal cousins that answered a calling to be pastors. On my father’s side my uncle felt a calling to the priesthood until his calling to be a husband and father was greater and ended his seminary. He lived out his new calling with faithfulness to God and his family. I grew up in my early years on a pew in a holiness church surrounded by my great grandmother and grandmother, both of whom I dearly adored and loved. They loved me as well, but sadly, when I think of that time, I did not feel loved by God or the church and if I did, those moments were far and few between. The godly heritage of my family that should have been celebrated was always overshadowed by the fact I had unbelieving parents that did not attend church. I remember one morning when a well-intentioned Sunday school teacher told me that God uses bad things to bring people to Christ. More specifically, God could have something bad happen to me or my siblings to turn my parents toward God and they would come to church. If there was ever such a term as spiritual anxiety I had it after that lesson and would cry and plead with God to spare me and my siblings lives every night in bed. What a burden placed on me… the weight of my nine year old world was all contingent upon the faith of my parents, both of which I had zero control over. I did not want to die. I followed God out of fear and a resolution that He had to be better than the alternative, hell. If I were honest, I didn’t love Him, I only feared Him, like He was up in the clouds waiting to catch me being bad and ready to hand out punishment to me. I lived in fear that I would be the sacrifice to turn my parents to Jesus. What a heavy convoluted faith I had. The sign hanging above the door at the back of the sanctuary said “For the Wages of Sin is Death”. I read that sign three times a week as I exited the sanctuary.

 

At the invitation of a childhood friend, I left my family church, but thankfully never left my faith. I became a member of a United Methodist Church. My faith grew in my new church with the influence of loving and faithful saints to mentor me. My confirmation teacher bought me a study Bible. What a gift…I had always had a Bible, but one with a very small print that even my eagle eye could not read well.  I could read and take notes in my new Bible and it had a concordance. Wow! An entire new universe was at my hands. I remember my astonishment when I read Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The context of that plaque became more real to me.  Punishment for my sin was earned, but there was some good news. I had been given a gift through Jesus and that was eternal life. I didn’t even have to pay the wages of my unbelieving parent’s sin; Jesus took care of that too. I would not have to be a sacrificial child after all. Things were looking up. Spiritual abuse is a real thing and just like any other abuse, I had to have recovery and healing from it. Things began to click as I read more of my new Bible. God loved this world so much that He gave us Jesus so we could believe in Him and have eternal life (John 3:16). Love has always been God’s motivation, even when those entrusted with my childhood faith were only able to instill the fear of the Lord in me. Learning all about God’s love for me is where my love for Jesus gained traction and I was able to grow a relationship with Him that has carried me for 55 years now. In those early days I had to constantly fight for the truth that God really did love me and that He did not want to hurt me. That He not only loved me, but He also loved my parents that didn’t acknowledge Him. He wasn’t a God in the heavens ready to shoot the gun of “bad things” at me when I messed up. His love for me was unconditional. I did not need to be perfect for Him to love me. God cares for me (Psalm 139:16-17, Matthew 10:29-31). The song really is true, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so…”

 

Last week, Tony’s Christmas message included scripture from Luke where Mary the mother of Jesus has an encounter with the angel Gabriel telling her about her role in bringing the Messiah to humanity. Mary, a young teenager, responds with “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” She displays such spiritual maturity in her answer. She seems to understand that this is part of God’s plan to love humankind. There was so much at stake on a personal level here for Mary. My heart would immediately have turned to the realization that being an unwed mother could cost me my life at the most and my reputation at the least, but not Mary. She commits to God’s plan and seems to have an understanding that she is part of something great involving love. We see her present at the wedding in Cana in John chapter 2, where Jesus performs his first public miracle by turning the water into wine.  Mary tells the servants present to “Do whatever He tells you”…

 

Do whatever He tells you…we as His servants today can assuredly do this as well because we know He is going to tell us things to do, each and every one of those things conceived in love, because that is Christ’s nature. I can trust that whatever situation comes my way, He is with me and will show me His way of love. My mother passed away in 2016. She had a hard life and spent the last 20 years of it under my care. Tony was able to deliver her eulogy knowing that she was with Jesus. She had a personal relationship with Jesus that came many years after my childhood and her life was full of heartache and pain. I can look back now at those hard times as we cared for her through the years where God pushed me to love better, be more sacrificial and have compassion for others I did not understand. He not only did this for me, but for my five children as well.  Helping care for their grandmother has made them some of the most compassionate young adults I know. 

 

Jesus shared with us His way of love in the New Testament and even summed it up so we could easily understand. Love God and love others. In theory it sounds so simple, but in practice can be so hard, even elusive. Sometimes I let my experiences and expectations get the most of me and cloud what that is, but God has given me His Spirit and Words to guide me. The spiritual condition of my own heart is the greatest effector of my ability to love God and love others. What I’ve discovered through the years is that it has a lot more to do with how I treat people. I’ve also realized that as a mother and a teacher, I never want to leave a child or a student with a picture of an unloving and uncaring God. God is Love is a Biblical Truth we can build a foundation on (1John 4:8 I have listed this verse, but read 1 John 4 for some fantastic words about God, us and love). 

 

In Luke 2:10 the angel appears to the shepherds and says to them “I am bringing you Good News of great joy for all people.” My prayer for you this week is that as you gather to celebrate Christmas, you remember that the Good News is the best news and that all people includes you and all those around you…and that you can trust that God loves and cares for each of you, and because of that, you can have joy.


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Joy

Written by Bill Sabala

So how’s your 2020 going? 
 
Just asking the question probably caused some of you to scoff, roll your eyes, and say “Yeah, right.” Let’s face it, unless you’re a toilet paper or mask manufacturer, 2020 has been a year you’d just as soon forget. So your “joy index” must be going through the roof, right?  I mean with all the quarantines, virtual school, and cancelled vacations, it’s a shame we’re wearing masks because it’s hiding our ear-to-ear smiles.
 
The funny thing is that, according to James, this should be the most joy-filled year of our lives. Now you’re saying, “Bill has lost his mind.” Have I? In James 1:2-4 the Bible says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” This may sound a bit far-fetched to many. After all, are we really supposed to count it all joy? Are we really supposed to count it joy when we lose our job because of down-sizing? How about when our loved one gets COVID-19 and is in the hospital on a ventilator? Does James really mean to count it joy when my mother/father/aunt/uncle/… dies? What kind of twisted dude was James?
 
The truth is, he’s not twisted at all. You see, James understood that the difficulties we go through help build our faith. Seriously, without faith, how could we get through all of these difficulties (trials) AND keep our sanity? Our faith in Jesus is how we do it. Our faith in Him gives us the ability to have joy; even though our circumstance seems dire. So let’s listen to Paul who writes in Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Let’s remember Jesus is the reason we celebrate, and He enables us to have joy through every situation.  

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