Relief in a World of Chaos

by Joseph Davis

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”  – Psalm 46:1-7

Last week, in an unexpected and unprecedented political move, the United Kingdom became the first country to withdraw from the European Communion after being a member state for 43 years.  The shock waves of the national referendum were immediate as the uncertain future of Europe caused stock markets to fall sharply across the globe.  Experts speculate that this may lead to the withdrawal of Ireland and Scotland from the U.K. as well as threaten the existence of the European Union.  Whether you find yourself a supporter of Brexit, opposed to it, or generally indifferent, everyone can agree that this is another example of the fragility and uncertainty that seems so potent in our world today.

The Brexit vote only replaces the leading news of the worst mass shooting in American history leaving 50 dead in Orlando.  The current Presidential race in the U.S. reveals a country that is polarized and hurting.  Suicide bombings overseas are as common as the weather report.  Just a few days ago, a suicide bomber detonated himself in Somalia killing innocent bystanders.  Words like ISIS, racial division, and Zika dominate the news.  

When the Psalmist describes his own chaotic world as a mighty earthquake (“mountains quake with their surging”) we can relate to him.  It’s hard enough for us to keep our own personal lives from feeling like an earthquake, much less global events.

However, the Psalmist then contrasts this chaotic description with a peaceful scene, “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.”  This is not just a description of a future reality – it’s a present reality where peace, trust, and confidence flourish – despite circumstances.  The Psalmist has come to understand that the life lived in the presence and protection of God leads to a stability and peace that overcome the anxieties that plague our world.  

In God’s family, living as part of His Kingdom, fear and anxiety do not have to be the obvious result of chaotic circumstances.  Because of the Holy Spirit at work in the hearts of His people, words like stable, confident, peaceful, and joyful can mark our lives.  After all, through Jesus, we have access to the presence of God Himself.  He is sovereign, faithful, and true.  No terrorist or suicide bomber can thwart his eternal plans.  

For Christians, he has promised to work everything for our good, even painful circumstances…no, especially painful circumstances.

They are God’s way to help us become more like Jesus. So, as the Apostle Paul writes, “We are always of good courage!”  Let us live in the middle of the chaos by the power of the Holy Spirit.  But let us also look forward to a Kingdom that will one day fully come, and a King who will wipe away all our tears.

 

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Growth and the One Who Makes It Grow

By Pat Pickren

Spring is a normal time of year when we think of growth. In Atlanta that means the first azaleas and trees bloom  quickly followed by  the yellowish green haze of pollen on everything. Thankfully we’re moving past that phase and into summer. This year I’ve been even more focused on growth – or at least trying to make things grow or keep things growing – as my family has embarked on a landscape project. And there is a correlation of gardening and our own spiritual life. Scripture uses many illustrations of gardening, planting and harvesting to help us understand our spiritual life. Even in a non-agrarian based economy these analogies give us insight. So through our project at home and reflection on Scripture – John 15 – I’m reminded of three things true of both gardening or landscaping and our spiritual life:

1) the gardener has a plan

2) sometimes growth looks like cutting back and

3) we can’t make things grow on our own.

growth

Due to our lack of gardening skills, we knew that help with an overall plan was necessary to make good choices. We needed a holistic plan that accounted for not only what we think looks good but also what would look good together, what would work with the existing conditions (such as shady or sunny parts of the yard), and what kind of plants would do well in our weather. We needed someone that had a lot more experience. Through the help of a professional landscape architect, we found someone who  could guide us in  where we could re-use existing plants in the yard, what new plants to get, as well as where we had areas of problems or potential that we could focus. He listened to us to understand our desires but also helped us make sure that we didn’t go too far off track. He provided an overall plan that we’re now using as the map or guide.

Reflecting on our spiritual life, the Scriptures reference God as planting his people as a vine (Psalm 80, Jeremiah 2),  and Christ says that the Father is the gardener (John 15 vinedresser or farmer depending on your translation). This has many implications but among them is that God has intentional plans for us. We are not just tossed into the landscape. He considers not only what we need, but also how we fit into his overall landscape. And, similar to my need for gardening expertise, I also have a need for someone far wiser and knowledgeable than me related to my spiritual life. Just as a gardener cares for and nurtures plantings to thrive, God in his wisdom does the same for his people.

The Power of Pruning

What does thriving look like? Often in a garden it requires cutting back or pruning. In the landscape plan for our project, there were several notes and instructions from the landscape architect – please cut back these crepe myrtles by 5 feet or trim back this large azalea. It may seem a little counterintuitive to cut back shrubs so that they can grow, but that is the power of pruning. Several of the azaleas had grown spindly branches without leaves or flowers. But after cutting them back they are beginning  to produce new growth.

pruning

In John 15 speaking of the Father, Christ says “Every branch that bears fruit, he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” God does the pruning process in our lives so that we are more fruitful. A few years ago when I went through some big changes in my role at work, it was hard to deal with the disappointment of not getting what I wanted. These changes felt like branches, which I wanted to grow,  were being cut back. After a few months and even years, I’ve seen how those changes in my work role have actually caused me to grow in new ways. As we face difficulties – challenges in a personal relationship, financial challenges, or even health issues –  we all need this reminder that God is graciously cutting back so that we can become more like Christ and bear fruit. While the carefully selected cutbacks may be difficult, the outcome of being more fruitful is worthwhile.

We Can Not Make it Grow

As we’ve moved some plants around the yard, planted new ones or wrestled overgrown shrubs into submission, we’ve done lots of work – digging, pulling, cutting, spreading, and watering. Yet, we can’t make any of these things grow. Of course we play a part, but we cannot will any of these to produce new leaves or flowers. If we cut any of these plants from their life source (water and good soil) then they quickly die. Looking again at John 15 (John 15:5), Christ says that he is the vine and that we are the branches, to remain in him to bear fruit, and apart from him we can do nothing. The source of our spiritual life is Christ – not in our performance.

We bear fruit when we are intimately connected with him, just as any branch of a tree or shrub only produces leaves, flowers or fruit when it is connected or attached to the main limb or trunk. And if we are not connected to him then our spiritual lives wither.

The landscape project is many months, well maybe years if I’m honest, from being completed. There is much more pruning and gardening that needs to be done, but we look forward to the result which is a yard that we and others can enjoy. I also want the same thing for my spiritual life – a fruitful life that enjoys God and that is shared with others.

I Can Do It Myself

by Jay Duff

We have all heard toddlers say that as they begin to discover they own capabilities.  As toddlers become teens, the words might change, but the desire to learn and accomplish larger things continues.  One of the most difficult lessons as the parent of teenagers is learning when to allow our teens to do it themselves – especially when you know they are going down the wrong road.

As I look back, these situations took many forms.  It might be their selection of friends, a date, even a career path.  Or it might be where they put their trust, or where they take risk or seek satisfaction.  The stakes grow dramatically through the years.  Of course you don’t want to see your kids get hurt, but it’s vital that you allow them to do it themselves and learn from the experience.

hands

Many times during our kids’ late teens, we wanted to take control to prevent a wrong decision, but the right decision was to allow them to proceed and support them if they asked for help.    Today as I smile considering their current accomplishments and growth, I see the importance and fruit of these experiences.  Experiencing the consequences of their own decisions taught them to take responsibility and move ahead with confidence.  Our kids have never said, “Gee Dad, I wish you would have prevented me from doing that. ”  But they do say, “Now I understand why you said that was so important.”

Do we ever stop saying, “I can do it myself”?  I haven’t.  Consider how loving our heavenly Father is towards us.  He grants us free will.  As our Father teaches us, he sanctifies us.  He is gracious and merciful when we stumble.  He protects us as a perfect, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present Father.  I can set out with boldness knowing I am a child of the King.   It seems that each time I stumble, I can look back at His word and I am reminded – Now I understand why you said that was so important.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeing Things From a Different Perspective

Pictures and text by Troy Thomas
Psalm 96:11-12
“Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
Let the sea roar, and all its fullness;
Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it.
Then all the trees of the woods will rejoice before the Lord.”
 
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Anyone that knows me, knows that I love taking pictures. In photography the LORD has deposited in me a unique gift of seeing things from a different perspective. Without even trying I visually notice things, like how sunlight reflects across a hardwood floor, the gentle power in the curl of a wave, or how shadows dance across buildings in the late afternoon.  After six years at St. Paul’s, I still love watching the stained glass of our sanctuary come to life as the sun penetrates the century old glass.

 

Often as I take pictures of even simple flowers, I feel the presence of our LORD. Somehow I feel in touch with the glory of God as I notice His handiwork in the smallest and most delicate of designs. My Spirit tells me that all of creation is bowing down in constant worship to the One who created them and gives them life.

troyflowers2

I’m not sure when I first started noticing the evidence of God all around us. But I am sure, once I saw it, I couldn’t stop seeing it. His Glory is everywhere I go, everywhere I look, and it demands my attention. In and out of season, I can’t help but see how even the flowers respond to and obey their Creator.

troyflowers3
Psalm 95:6
“Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.”
 
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troyflowers6
Romans 1:20

“For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse.

Bloom Where You are Planted

Testimony of God’s Guidance through His Word

Carolyn D. Davis

My Mentor’s Advice

“You should accept that job offer! It’s a great job. Pray about it again!”

The year was 2003. And with these words my trusted mentor of four years encouraged me to accept a job offer that was located outside of Georgia.

Flashbacks

Samples entries from my journals:

February 9, 2002:

One of my desires is “to work at the school the LORD would have me work.”

October 22, 2002:

LORD, ”please help me see sin clearly, and please give me the patience to wait for the best option for every decision.”

November 5, 2002:

Please transform me by the renewing of my mind, so I will know what your will is LORD…, please speak to my heart regarding my next step (where will I work?…with what body of believers do you want me to fellowship?)….

November 11, 2002:

“Faithful is He who calls you and He will also bring it to pass. (1 Thessalonians 5:24)”

Decision

By December, 2002, I was certain that God had answered my prayers regarding my next steps. He had given me an opportunity to serve Him in ways I had not imagined –joining a missions team, joining a new Sunday School class and serving the class as assistant prayer coordinator. So, in January, 2003, I told my mentor that I would not take this job offer (which paid more than I had ever made to that point in my life) because I did not think it was God’s will.

My mentor was adamant that I could move to the job location and work there for a few years, and that I should pray again.

God’s Confirmation

The teacher of my new Sunday School class asked us to read “The Supremacy of God” chapter in Arthur Pink’s The Nature of God. Before reading the chapter, I asked God to make clear to me His will concerning this job offer.

My journal entry from January 7, 2003 describes God’s answer….

“Here I am ‘struggling’ with staying in Atlanta and all the developing consequences (…other people’s reaction…)…As I am struggling – I am reading the lesson…and of ALL the bible verses cited, I feel prompted to look up James 4:13, 15 [and following]. This is what those verses say—

‘Come now, you who say, Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit. Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that. …Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.’” (emphasis added)

As a fairly new born-again Christian, I had never before seen these verses. Needless to say, I was floored by God’s answer to my prayer through His Word!!

 

5 Reasons to have a St. Paul’s Blog

1.) It will magnify the Lord. 

This is a place to talk about what he’s doing, what he has done, and how he has challenged us. Talking about His work gives him credit He deserves. This is a way to worship Him. We are called to praise Him when we encounter Him; the blog is a way to do that.

2.) It will encourage the body. 

We are not alone, but often we feel like we are. The body of Christ is unique and amazing, and one of the ways it functions so profoundly is that we share each other’s burdens and joys. If you read about what the Lord has done in someone else’s life, you will be encouraged. And you will feel even more connected to a member of the body, whom perhaps you don’t even know that well.

3.) You can’t hear from everyone every week in person. 

Though the Lord is at work in the lives of our members in so many ways, the reality is that you just can’t talk to everyone at St. Paul’s regularly. You probably talk to the same folks often, and that’s important. But wouldn’t it be nice to be able to hear what God is doing in an area of town that you just aren’t able to get to very often? Wouldn’t it be encouraging to hear from members that you wish you were able to grab lunch with, but life just won’t allow for it right now? That’s what the blog is for. A way to hear from each other.

4.) It’s good to share. 

It’s good to take the time to reflect on God’s work, or we are bound to forget it. It’s good to tell others, so we can all grow. It’s good to share a video or a quote that might get someone to see the Lord in a new light. And it’s good to have it recorded in a place where you can look back on it.

5.) The internet isn’t going anywhere. 

Might as well use it for something good!

 

So….what will the blog include?

Lots of things! Stories of the Lord’s work, questions people are struggling with, videos that have encouraged members, suggestions of books to read….and more. There will be a variety of posts.

Want to Submit? We deeply desire your submissions! We would love to have as many folks as possible post on the blog. Please Contact Missy Davis at missylowrance@gmail.com if you are open to submitting.