Compassion

Compassion – Based on The Gospel of John
Written by Rhonda Altsott

 

In John Chapter 9, we find the disciples asking Jesus whose sin was responsible for a man that had been born blind; was it his sin or his parents’? It was an accepted Judaic belief that those born with a physical disability was the result of sin. Jesus told his disciples that neither party was responsible for this man’s blindness and instead said it “was so that the works of God would be displayed in him”. Jesus proclaimed himself the light of the world before he spat, made a clay, put it on the blind man’s eyes and told him to go wash in the pool of Siloam. The man came back seeing. This was a true Messianic Miracle. 

 

People noticed and before you know it, the man was brought before the religious leaders of the day, the Pharisees. Some of the Pharisees were not happy because Jesus had performed this miracle on the Sabbath. It wasn’t just any Sabbath, but the Sabbath of the Feast of Tabernacles making it a High and Holy Sabbath. Some questioned how a man, who was a sinner, could perform such a miracle. There was a division among them.

 

They went on to question the man’s parents, asking if he had really been born blind. His parents were afraid to answer truthfully as it was known that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Christ would be put out of synagogue. They deferred back to their grown son. The Pharisees, not liking his first answers, asked him the questions again. The man gave Jesus credit again for giving him his eyesight. The Pharisees, not getting the answers they wanted, put the man out of the synagogue. They could not believe that a man who broke the Sabbath, could be working on behalf of God. Jesus had told the Pharisees who He was with His words. The majority did not believe Him. Now Jesus showed them who He was and they could not get over Jesus healing on the Sabbath and instead of rejoicing in the miracle of restored vision, kicked the healed man out of the synagogue. The religious leaders also began working on a way to stop Jesus.

 

Several points about the Pharisees I want to point out:

*They were the religious leaders of the day, the keepers of the Mosaic Law.

*They believed they were doing the will of God.

*They knew the scriptures.

*They missed the Messianic Miracle.

*They began to plot to kill Jesus, as well as Lazarus, after Jesus brought Lazarus back to life,   (John Chapters 11/12).

 

With all the religious accolades the Pharisees had, with all the knowledge of the law and the Holy Scripture, they missed Jesus. They missed He was the Christ, the one sent from God. It seems like with all their religious practices, they leaned heavy on tradition and missed the Messiah. In contrast, Jesus over and over displayed compassion and displayed the works of His Father in healing the broken and wounded of His day, even if it happened on the Sabbath.  Pastor Wayne Barber, who has gone home to be with the Lord, said of the Pharisees, “Their traditional religion killed their capacity for compassion”. My prayer is that never happens to us.

 

 

* There are 145 occurrences of the word compassion in both the Old and New Testaments.  Here is one of my favorites:

Ephesians 4:32. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you. 

Not surprising, it’s from Paul’s letter on Unity and Maturity in the Body of Christ.


Read more

All Women of Faith

Written by Kim Hardin

Mathew 9:18-26 – As Jesus was saying this, the leader of a synagogue came and knelt before “My daughter has just died,” he said, “but you can bring her back to life again if you just come and lay your hand on her.” So Jesus and his disciples got up and went with him. Just then a woman who had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding came up behind She touched the fringe of his robe, for she thought, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.” Jesus turned around, and when he saw her he said, “Daughter, be encouraged! Your faith has made you well.” And the woman was healed at that moment. When Jesus arrived at the official’s home, he saw the noisy crowd and heard the funeral music. “Get out!” he told “The girl isn’t dead; she’s only asleep.” But the crowd laughed at him. After the crowd was put outside, however, Jesus went in and took the girl by the hand, and she stood up! The report of this miracle swept through the entire countryside.

 

The trip to the Holy Land that I took in November 2021 with 30+ other pilgrims changed my life and faith. The challenges in getting there were unprecedented due to the global pandemic. The timing of making sure all vaccines and the booster were received, along with having a PCR Covid test in which we had to get the results in a specific window of time, were daunting. We arrived in Israel on November 2; the country opened to tourists just the day before. We returned to the States on November 12, and Israel again closed their borders to tourists only two weeks later. It was a miracle that we even got to go.

 

There were several locations and opportunities to walk where Jesus walked and each was a blessing. However, one place in particular had an impact on me and several of the women on the trip. We visited Magdala, the hometown of Mary Magdalene, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. A large part of the ministry of Jesus took place in the region of Galilee. In 2009, the ruins of a first century synagogue were discovered in Magdala. Jesus is believed to have taught in this very synagogue.

 

At the synagogue and the areas around it in Magdala, Jesus taught and performed miracles. Two of these miracles are described in the scripture shared above. Also in this town, Jesus expelled the demons from Mary Magdalene. We don’t know if Mary’s demons were evil spirits or mental illnesses. We don’t know if Mary was a prostitute or one of the courtiers of Herod’s court since she spent time with the wife of Herod’s steward.

 

These points did not matter to Jesus. He took care of what Mary Magdalene needed in order for her to be a productive part of society and His ministry. The same is true for you and me. Jesus is our Lord and Savior. He loves us despite our flaws and failures. He will do for us as he did for Mary Magdalene, the suffering woman, and the leader of the synagogue and his daughter.

Through our faith, He will give us what we need in order to be a productive part of the Body of Christ.

 

In Magdala next to the location where the first century synagogue was discovered, a building called Duc in Altum, the Latin phrase meaning “put out into deep water”, has been constructed as a place of prayer, teaching and worship for all Christians. In the building is an atrium that honors the women of the Bible and all women of faith. It is a motivating thought to know that the women around Jesus were faith warriors, who often outshined the men through their faith and belief in the Savior of the world.


Read more

Divorce, Remarriage, and Faith

Written by Amanda Wacker

Acts 18 1-11

1 After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, 3 and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. 4 Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.

5 When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. 6 But when they opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”

7 Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. 8 Crispus, the synagogue leader, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized.

9 One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” 11 So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.

Paul’s story of perseverance even in the face of persecution is not for the faint of heart. Many people would give up, walk away, and not do the right thing, the Godly thing.  

I was asked to write this blog about my perseverance through a divorce, remarriage, and the faith that got me there. When I read these verses, I fixate on the words of Jesus. “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.”  

Divorce is never the easy thing to do. It’s messy, it turns your whole life upside down and the lives of those you love and care about. Every decision you make affects someone else. People get hurt and the life you once knew and loved is not there anymore. Divorce wasn’t in my vocabulary when I got married the first time. Even though my parents had been divorced before, their marriage was strong and one to live up to. My grandparents all had wonderful, thriving marriages. Their examples were Godly and loving. The decision to divorce was not one I took lightly. We had children together, two beautiful girls that didn’t ask for a life with divorced parents. But sometimes, divorce is necessary. Thankfully, I had the most wonderful, supportive family and friends. They prayed with me, prayed for me, helped me financially, and stood with me when I couldn’t stand on my own. They were my “many people in this city.” God gave me an army of believers to get me through. 

The decision to divorce was one of the hardest I had ever made, but the peace I felt when it was over, is one only God can give. I was at peace and I knew God would take care of the rest. He’s done more than I can imagine. 

I decided to wait several years to date after that. I wanted the best for my girls. Sure I made mistakes, we all do, but God continued to provide. 

My wonderful husband now had been through a tough divorce and we were both looking for the same things in life. He too wanted the best for his boys. Somehow we had never crossed paths, even with many people we knew in common and working for the same school corporation. When we met, it didn’t take long for us to know that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. So 4 short months later, we were married. There was never any doubt, because we both had God at the center of our lives. Blended families are hard, too. But we make it work every day. We couldn’t do it alone. Our lives are surrounded by loving family and friends that are always there when we need help, prayers, and love. God gave us more than we ever could have imagined. The blessings that we have in our 4 children are more than we could have asked for. But God gave us exactly what we needed. 


Read more

Walking in a Manner Worthy of My Calling

Written by Rhonda Alstott
 

Ephesians 4:1-3 – I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit of the bond of peace.

Lately, this has become my daily prayer I begin and end my day with. It has already been a rough few years with navigating the pandemic in our church community and now I find myself, along with everyone else, in a discernment process that has become divisive. I have endured many restless nights as I see us as a congregation ask some hard questions. I have heard some words that have rattled me to my core and left me questioning motives, but as much hurt and disbelief I am feeling these days, I know the only words and motives I have control of are my own. I know I am responsible to God for my motives, actions, and words. My daily prayer has become “Am I walking in a manner worthy of my calling? One thing I know is that the only way I can do that is with God’s Spirit to help me. A place of worship and peace has become for me an anxiety-producing space of late, and I know that is not in the will or plan of God. I have made it my purpose to love God more deeply because I know that it will affect how I live in my day-to-day thoughts, speech, and actions. In 1 John 4, John reminds me that love casts out fear and in my growing faith, there is no room for fear or the tactics of fear. Many have tried to recently scare me about my husband’s future, which is connected to the future of me and my family. I have never questioned the call of God on my husband’s life or the ability of God that we love and serve to see it through to its completion, whatever that may look like.

Ironically, my New Year’s resolution for 2022 is rooted in the Serenity Prayer. . . the part about accepting the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. I cannot change a thing about the thoughts and actions of others. I can only change my thoughts and actions. In my life, it has been a work of prayer. In the coming few months I invite you to join me on my daily request through prayer for God’s wisdom (discernment), and I also invite you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling Christ has called you to.


Read more

Study Habits

“Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.“  Acts 17:11 (NIV)
 

Studying scripture builds and strengthens faith in three ways: 1) Knowledge of scripture reminds us of God’s promises and connects us with Christ, 2) Application of scripture further deepens our understanding of God’s Word and, 3) Studying scripture with other believers builds Christian Fellowship.

As a child and youth, growing up in the United Methodist Church (Cresaptown United Methodist), scripture was a big part of my faith foundation.  Through the loving guidance of Miss Dolly, Miss May, and Mr. Porter, we learned the Beatitudes, John 3:16, the 23rd Psalm, the 10 commandments, and the passages of the creation story (among others).  However, I would not exactly classify this as studying scripture.  I joined my first Bible study group as a freshman in college, but I would say that “study” was still not a true description.  It was more like a high level group discussion with a lot of memorization.

It was not until I was in my mid-20’s that I experienced the true definition of studying scripture.  My mother had been traveling to The Cove in Asheville, NC a couple of times a year to hear various Christian speakers, to take part in intensive study sessions, or just to spend some time of renewal at one of their various retreats.  She invited me to a session, in which John Piper did a deep dive into the book of Romans.  What an amazing experience!  For four days, Dr. Piper opened my eyes to this incredible letter.  In addition, we were able to dig deeper during small group time and then reflect on all that we absorbed while taking in the beautiful scenery on daily walks through the numerous trails or sitting quietly in the beautiful chapel.

I would love to say that this experience changed my spiritual life and that when I returned home, I made it a daily habit of studying the Word.  However, as often happens, the daily grind of life awaited me when I returned home.  This experience did plant a seed and a desire to learn more about God’s Holy Word and how it applies to my life.  So, over the years, I returned to the Cove or other similar places (Mountaintop in Wheeling, WV, Tuscarora Conference Center in Mt. Bethel, PA and Sandy Cove in North East, MD) for Christian renewal, fellowship and reflection.

But, it wasn’t until about 15 years ago that I truly developed a somewhat daily habit of studying scripture on my own (rather than dabbling in it a couple of times of year at various conferences).   And, this practice has allowed me to better understand God’s role in my life and has served as a guide in my daily activities.  I also have a greater appreciation for the amazing world God has given us thanks to these in-depth studies.

The final step, though, was to get back into the practice of studying God’s word with fellow believers on a regular basis through Sunday School and Bible Study groups.  This not only has given me a routine, but it has a built-in accountability factor.  In addition, I have learned so much more from the various viewpoints I have encountered with these groups than I would have with self-study.  Lastly, Christian fellowship encourages me as I travel on my lifelong faith journey.

Speaking of journeys…one of the greatest experiences of my life was to travel to the Holy Land in 2018 to see scripture come to life.  The travel company gave us some reference material to prepare us for our journey, but it was not until we were walking where Jesus had walked that it really hit home.  In addition, Pastor Tony led us in a devotion at every location with an applicable scripture reading.  When we were back home a small group of us (more fellowship opportunities) met weekly for several weeks to reflect and process our amazing experiences.  To this day, when I read scripture that takes place in one of the locations we visited, the scriptures takes on a much deeper meaning than it did prior to this amazing journey.

 

For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.   Romans 15:4 (NIV)

 


Read more

Finding Friends

Written by Aafke Garlock
 

6 Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8 So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. 9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. 11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district[a] of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days. 13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.-– Acts 16:6-15

 

In January of 2020, yes that 2020, Wesley Chapel began a study of Francis Chan’s book, Forgotten God. We were all encouraged to join a small group and work through the book together. I made a half-hearted resolution to get into a Bible study, but my children were five and two– bedtime was sacred and I worked full-time as a teacher. My availability was almost nil.

I was giving these reasons to my friend Ahnya, true excuses why I just couldn’t uphold my resolution, and she simply texted me “When could you meet?” I responded, half jokingly, “5 pm on a weekday.” Her response, “Let’s do it.” She literally scheduled a small group for the two of us, meeting from 5-6 pm at the church. The next week, our group grew by a few, then a few more. By March, we were at five and flourishing, watching the videos together and having amazing conversations.

Then the shutdown hit. Everything was closed. Zoom became a thing. Would the group like to continue our study via Zoom? Sure, we said– let’s do it. We continued to meet weekly as the world fell apart. These meetings suddenly became a lifeline for us; we poured out our true selves as we came face to face with a vast unknown. Panic attacks, Covid scares, isolation, fear for our families, lack of toilet paper, it all came out in our weekly meetings. When we finished Forgotten God in May, Covid had taken away our summer as well. Would we like to do another study? Heck yes. Let’s keep meeting virtually. Eventually, groups came back to the physical church and started a new version of normalcy, but the bonds made in that group are still solid. We told each other everything, so there’s no small talk now– we deal with real life together. We might not talk for a few weeks, but one text or call is all it takes and my friends are in my corner.

In Acts 16, we see Paul and his companions doing the work of God. They think they are supposed to go to one town, Bithynia, but God’s spirit says no. Paul receives a dream in which someone is begging him to go to Macedonia, so they change plans. Ahnya was doing the work of God by creating a small group to fulfill my need. We thought our small group was supposed to flourish in person, the way it had always been done, but God (and the health department) said no. We changed plans and switched to virtual. When Paul and his companions are receptive to the new plan, God brings Lydia to him and a new group of believers is born through this obedience. We were receptive to the new plan and together, were able to form a new group of friends.

I am so thankful that Ahnya did God’s work that fateful day in January of 2020. I am even more thankful that we as a group didn’t quit when our initial plan was taken away, that we listened and changed course. In doing so, I now have a group of women who I am blessed to count as not just sisters in Christ, but true friends. 


Read more
^