Monday, August 25, 2014

The Ripple Effect of Your Writing

     by Sally Matheny

     
Think of the all the things you wrote in the past few days. Grocery lists, work assignments, or perhaps even a complaint letter to a company. Without a doubt, many of us typed messages from our computers and cell phones. It’s rare a day goes by without us writing something. Quite a bit of that ends up in a trashcan or in a mysterious, technical hole known as the Cloud.

    


     Today, why not compose something more enduring? Words so moving they do not melt into oblivion, but stir a tide of encouragement in another person’s soul. Inspiring words so powerful, they swell into action. Consider the ripple effect of such writing.

     My husband and I recently attended a Steven Curtis Chapman concert. While Chapman is the most awarded artist in Christian music with almost 11 million albums sold, he is not immune to the pains and heartaches of this world. However, he clings to the Truth, which is why hope and joy resonate in the words he writes and sings.

     Chapman’s latest album, The Glorious Unfolding, is definitely touching many lives. We met a young woman named Cindy at the concert. She shared with me how Chapman’s music recently affected her life.

     Cindy shared that just five days prior to the concert, she was on her way to the hospital to visit her ailing father. While in route, she heard Chapman’s song, The Glorious Unfolding play on the radio. During her visit at the hospital, her father left his earthly home to live forever in his heavenly one. I began to offer my sympathy but Cindy nodded quickly. She wanted to tell me more.

Steven Curtis Chapman
(compliments of Wikipedia)
     Upon leaving her father’s deathbed in the hospital, Cindy returned to her car. Turning the key, ignited The Glorious Unfolding playing once again on the radio. God continued to comfort her throughout the week. On the day of her father’s funeral, Cindy, once more, overheard Steven Curtis Chapman singing his words of comfort and hope in The Glorious Unfolding.

    If I understood her correctly, she did not see the music video written for this song until after all the previous events had occurred. Imagine her joy-filled amazement as she watched the video’s story unfold about a young woman’s journey following her father’s death.

     There’s no way Steven Curtis Chapman can know the ripple effects his songs will have when he first writes them. He only knows to write what he knows to be true and to do it the best way he knows how.

     I love when people use their talents to honor Christ and point others to Him. I’m thankful for song artists like Chapman and for the writers of movies such as Fireproof, Courageous, and God’s Not Dead. Authors’ words like those of C.S. Lewis and Charles Spurgeon continue to inspire generation after generation.

     Perhaps you’re muttering to yourself that you’re not an award-winning wordsmith. My friend, you’re not thinking about the right kind of rewards. Just as the words in songs, movies and books make lasting impressions upon people, so can your words.
     
     Don’t you have a letter or card tucked safely away because you cherish the words written inside it? Unless you’re a pack rat, it’s not the card that simply says,

Thinking of you.

Love,
Joe

     It’s the one that someone has given great care expressing his thoughts. He's taken time to share what’s in his heart with you.

     If you want to write a song, a movie, or a book that will change the world, or perhaps change just one life, I’m rooting for you. The world needs more people writing and producing products with a Christian worldview.
      
     But God did not create everyone to pen products like these.  However, He will use the words of all His people—the elderly man on the bench, the young teen standing in line, or even the little child in your lap to encourage others.


     He wants each of us to use our words for building up, not tearing down. Negative and hurtful comments have a ripple effect as well. Words aimed at a target audience seeps out of them and onto innocent bystanders. 

     The words we choose represent God or they don’t.

     Sometimes it’s easy. Other times it’s difficult. That’s why we need God’s help. Like Steven Curtis Chapman, your words must be sincere. Work hard to encourage others when you write.

Express love.

Offer forgiveness.

Give hope.

     Splash your words in such a way they bring joy as they skip across the page. What you write may create a ripple effect more beautiful than you ever imagined.




Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Common Core & the Cornerstone



  by Sally Matheny
Common Core
   
     Common Core. 
     Two simple words have created a divisive buzz in the educational realm. All sides agree on providing fair and excellent opportunities for students. But there’s little common ground on how those are obtained. 



     
     Beyond the educational segment, there’s also another division throughout the population. Many are also doubting the reality of Jesus Christ.
     The stressed foundation of the Common Core prompted a few thoughts about a strong Cornerstone. 


     The United States’ “school chiefs and governors recognized the value of consistent, real-world learning goals and launched [the Common Core State Standards] to ensure all students, regardless of where they live, are graduating high school prepared for college, career, and life.”
      
     Not everyone agrees with the implementation of the Common Core, but many have to follow it, regardless of their opinion. How many have adopted the Common Core? Forty-three states, the District of Columbia, and four territories. Some want to rescind so that number may be changing.
          
     Did you know a common core exists in all of us? There are over 7 billion people in the world.But unlike the state’s educational standards, each person has the freedom to accept it or not.
     Amazingly, every one of those 7 billion people is unique. No two are exactly alike in mind or body.  However, we all share one thing. We have the same Creator.

 “Rich and poor have this in common: The LORD is the Maker of them all.” Proverbs 22:2 (NIV)
 


     Some parents and teachers do not feel comfortable with the educational system’s new standards. They’re not sure the Core will produce the outcomes for which they had hoped.

     What hope do we have in God’s teaching?

     Isaiah 42:4b-7 says,

 In his teaching, the islands will put their hope.
This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
    who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
    who gives breath to its people,
    and life to those who walk on it:
 “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
    I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
    to be a covenant for the people
    and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
    to free captives from prison
    and to release from the dungeon
 those who sit in darkness.


     Don’t we all want someone to take us by the hand and care about us? Isn’t it our desire to be a guiding light to those blinded by ignorance? Everyone is a student. Everyone is a teacher.

     A common list of standards was the basis for the development of the states’ educational goals. Even when schools comply though, it is debatable whether all will have the ability to achieve the objectives.
     However, for all the people in the world—their purpose is based on the cornerstone, which is Jesus Christ.
     Obtainment of the highest goal is guaranteed for every individual in the world, except for those who reject the standards of His Cornerstone. For it’s only through following His principles that we become accredited.
    
Jesus is the Cornerstone
     It appears the original Common Core State Standards are suffering a few stress fractures. Tweaks and changes are necessary. 
     However, Jesus Christ, the Cornerstone remains complete and steadfast.
     When we allow God to adopt us into His plan, He provides training for the journey. And while our life experiences vary, we stand on equal ground at the foot of the cross.
     Christian classmates, I’m thankful during the tests of life (and especially on the final exam) we have the Cornerstone in common.
    




Sunday, August 10, 2014

Give Sanctuary to the Hopeless in the Hallways

    Sally Matheny

Hopeless despair 
     Who loves to go to the rest homes, the assisted living centers, the nursing homes?  Whatever name you call them, they are probably not on your list of favorite places to visit. The stench of urine, feces, and death are not as difficult to endure as the weight of hopeless despair lingering in the hallways. 
     Some people consistently serve here. For others, it’s a constant internal struggle between our minds wanting to do what we’re comfortable with, and our hearts doing what we know Christ wants us to do.
     My husband, son, and I recently visited a church member who lives in such a place. We always enjoy our visits with Beth. We want to minister to her but it’s not easy. As soon as we enter the building, the odors welcome us. That doesn’t bother us as much as “the walk.”


     In order to reach Beth, we must walk two long hallways. Those who are able have parked themselves on the sidelines in hopes of viewing something new, something fresh. They watch those from the outside breeze through in their bright colors. Many of the residents’ bodies deny them a view of faces; allowing them only a view of shoes pattering by. Nonetheless, it is life in motion, and a better scene than what lies in their room. For others, who receive a cordial hello or a smile, their faces light up like those of children catching candy in a parade.
Hoping for something new, something fresh.

     Then, there are those whose minds will not free them to show any expression. Or worse, they convey hopelessness. We speak to those we can, and steadily make our way to Beth’s room. She’s gone but her roommate is there. Confined to the bed, she repeatedly moves the one thing she can—her arm, back and forth, back and forth. No sound comes from her lips. You only hear a tap as she touches each side of the bed with her arm. Tap…tap…tap.
     Eventually, we find Beth in the cafeteria. A few residents have gathered there for an afternoon worship service. The residents share with one another their pain—not the pain in their bodies, but in their hearts. Some wrought with burdens for their loved ones who do not follow Christ. Others express their lonliness or hurt feelings. They end with a discussion on love, forgiveness, and prayer.
     The resident leading the service talked of days gone by when church groups used to come and sing the old gospel songs. He fondly remembered children giving him pictures they had drawn, and how Sunday School groups would bring treats for everyone. He misses the old songs and said a lot of today’s contemporary Christian music doesn’t even mention God or Jesus. He asked if anyone played the piano. No one volunteered.
     My husband stood up and said he’d try to play something.  The residents joined in on I’ll Fly Away and Amazing Grace. Tears welled up and I could hardly sing, especially when I saw the face of one gentleman. He, too, was emotional. His closed his eyes tight and scrunched up his wrinkled face as if he were in severe pain. I watched him for a while. His gentle swaying gave me the impression his intensity came from soaking in the music and with all his might and trying to hold it there. Savoring it down to the depths of his soul, clinging to it for as long as possible.
     I took a deep breath trying to suffocate the lump that had risen in my throat. I take so much for granted. Gazing around the room, I presumed their wheelchairs imprisoned them.  Reflecting on that later, I realize it was their only thread of freedom to move themselves out of their tiny rooms and to this temporary sanctuary.

     
     And temporary it was, for as soon as the service was over, most of them merged into a single lane out into the hallway. We stayed back to visit with Beth.  Three or four other residents lingered in the room as well. I saw a skinny, stubble-faced, man wheel up to the man who had been soaking in the music. They spoke to one another softly and the skinny man bore a toothless grin. What they did next made me break out into a smile. Each of the elderly gentlemen stretched an arm out and gave the other a fist bump. They laughed and then began talking.
     There was another man who stayed. We couldn’t determine if he wasn’t in his right mind or if he was just a rascal. He wheeled up behind our son and held a tiny paper cup in the air. “Can I get another shot of this? Or some other kind of liquor?” We laughed it off and Beth told him, “Quit cutting up just because I have visitors. You know all you had was juice. Tell these folks what your name is and then go on.”
     The man announced his first, middle, and last name with a rolling, loud flair as if he was announcing a boxer into the arena.  Beth said, “He always says it like that. Alright, now, you go on and leave us alone.”
   With a mischievous grin he did not move. Using a racial slur, he proceeded to ask her a question about the man in the corner, the one who had enjoyed the music. The man in the corner overheard it and asked him what he said. Beth got mad. She pursed her lips, raised her eyebrows, and told him in a firm voice to go on before she told on him. He didn’t move. She said, “Don’t make me come over there.” He still didn’t  move.

     Nervously, I looked at my husband and wondered if we were going to see a rest home brawl. Beth, with her enormous gold purse on her lap, which held all her “valuables, because things tend to go missing in this place if left unattended,” began to wheel herself behind me, around the table, then behind the instigator. Her agitation fueled her adrenalin and amazingly, she pushed his chair towards the door.
     He yells, “Get out of my rim!”  He starts to push his chair back around towards our direction. It looked like a game of “Duck, Duck, Goose.” He wheels behind me and circles back to his original position.  Beth is livid. Suddenly, the man asks if we have any medicine. Beth tells him it’s in his room and to go get it. He slowly moves on. Before exiting the room though, he stops by the two men in the corner. Slamming his paper cup down on the table, he roars at them, “Don’t ever come back unless you have free samples!” 
     As entertaining as that sounds, I don’t imagine living with it every day is very pleasant. Dealing with bullies, worrying  about someone taking what little belongings you have left, or wondering when you’ll no longer have that single thread of freedom; it’s easy to see why so many feel desolate.

Give them a sanctuary.
    I am grateful for those who are at ease serving people in this season of life. To go work day in and day out in this atmosphere takes someone special.      For the rest of us who struggle with it, I pray God reminds us of His will to treat the elderly the way we want others to treat us when we reach that age.  And that we remember that He wants no one to perish but for all to have eternal life.  Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed for anyone, but the opportunities for accepting Christ are definitely dwindling for those in assisted living centers. Pray for them. In the midst of their despair, point them to an eternal hope. Give them something new, something fresh. Give them a sanctuary.
      
    

     

Monday, August 4, 2014

3 Options for the Overwhelmed

by Sally Matheny

     What area of your house do you wish was different, more functional? We have a small room at the top of the stairs. We call it the study/schoolroom. Right now, it looks like a Tasmanian Devil’s living quarters. 
     I could say I don’t know what happened—but I do. I could easily place the blame on others (and some of it does belong to them) but ultimately it lies heavily on me.



     Standing in the middle of the room, I’m overwhelmed.  Certain this is not a one-day project; I don’t even want to begin cleaning. I don’t know where to begin.  We need this room because our homeschool gears back up soon.  I long for this room to be beautiful, organized, and functional. I’m overwhelmed but thankfully, I have three options.
     Most of you probably have at least one area at home that needs improvement. Please say I'm not the only one! What about areas in our lives? Is there an area that frustrates you and you wish it were different? Are you overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin?  Ignoring the area will lead to further chaos. Will the same three options for cleaning the room apply here as well?

     Enlist good help.
     Notice the word good. Friends may be helpful, but some only hinder progress. They enjoy lingering over the things we're trying to throw away. They tell us everything looks great when it is still a mess. Even those with the best of intentions, their enthusiasm wanes. Their "help" is no longer productive. 
     Considering the problem areas in our lives, how often have we turned to friends for assistance? Some get distracted, want to wallow in the mess with us, or offer superficial advice. A few actually make the problem worse.
     When enlisting help, seek out the best if you want a job well done. That may come from someone more objective and outside your circle of family and friends.  Whatever issues you’re struggling with, you need to hear the Truth. Whom do you know consistently arms themselves with God’s Word and tries to follow it? They shine like stars in this dark world. Those are the kind of friends you need.

     Give back.
     It sounds generous, doesn’t it? Give back to your community. However, I’m thinking more along the lines of giving back to people what is rightfully theirs and holding people responsible for their actions.
     My kids drag out board games from the shelves in the study. Sometimes the games make it back to the shelves but usually they are parked on the stairs, or near the doorway, or on the floor just inches away from where they belong.  The fastest thing is to pick up the items myself and put them back where they belong. But if I do that, my kids will continue expecting me to pick up after them.  I plan to stop the cycle and give back the responsibility to whom it belongs. Yes, it takes a bit more time to hold them accountable but eventually they’ll learn freedom comes with boundaries.

     
     Same goes with our lives. Perhaps the thing you struggle with resulted because you did not set boundaries. What stress do you endure because you have taken on issues that belong to someone else? Initially, what appeared to be a quick solution has produced a long, torturous undercurrent of frustration.  What steps do you need to take to put boundaries back in place and return responsibilities to their rightful owner?

Make a clean sweep.
     Several years ago, The Learning Channel aired a show titled Clean Sweep. Participants cleared their cluttered rooms and separated stuff into three piles: trash, sell, or keep. Totally cleared out, the room was then transformed into something beautiful by designers and carpenters.
     Wow. I wish they would renovate my schoolroom and it be so amazing they feature it as the viewers’ favorite episode.  Alas, TLC cancelled the show and I don’t foresee a carpenter or a designer knocking at my door. However, a clean sweep is in progress and it’s the only solution to the problem.  


     Just as homeowners on the T.V. show had difficulty parting with their stuff; sometimes we have a hard time getting rid of sin in our lives. The good news is, no matter how limited you or your resources are you have access to the Master Carpenter and Designer. He offers his services free of charge.  You don’t have to clean up before you call him. In fact, there’s no way you’d ever get it completely and satisfactorily done without his help. All you have to do is ask Him and He’ll come.
     When you allow Him to make a clean sweep in your life, you can expect times of discomfort. Don’t panic or hoard things. Do what He asks of you, even when it’s difficult. Remember how you wanted a better life. Breathe deeply and trust the Master. He is the best there is and he offers an eternal guarantee. Prepare to be overwhelmed—with amazement at His handiwork!

  
     If you are going through a tough time right now, I’d love to pray for you. Leave a comment or send me a private message and let’s approach the Master together.

     

Monday, July 28, 2014

Put Out the Welcome Mat

by Sally Matheny
    
Put Out the Welcome Mat
One arm of our sofa is flat and dingy-looking because it’s our kids’ favorite spot to dangle. While the laminate hardwood floors don’t show spots like the former carpet did, we have yet to see it shine as it did in the store display. In addition, a mysterious stain still clings to the ceiling.

     I think about these things when there is a possibility of guests. I would love to put out the welcome mat; it’s just that it’s clabbered with dog hair.


     Aside from the home appearance factor, showing hospitality takes time and effort. Sometimes, we determine the work is worthy because it’s for the family and friends we love. But what about strangers?  In this day and age, is it necessary to welcome strangers into our home? 

     According to God’s Holy Word, the answer is yes. 

“The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.  If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.” 
1 Peter 4:7-11 (NIV)

     To “love one another deeply” is a sacrificial love. It will cost us something. And we are to host with grace, not grumbles.

     We need not install a revolving door in our homes or post a blinking neon sign out front stating our home is open 24/7. The Bible says to be alert and sober-minded so that we can pray.

     Seeking God’s will and trusting Him to provide must be our first priority. What will God provide?

“Whatever gift you have received to serve others”
     We recently met an innkeeper who uses his forte to attend to others. Whitestone Inn is a AAA, four-diamond resort. Innkeeper, Paul Cowell and his wife enjoy providing a luxurious stay for their customers—especially those who are full-time pastors and missionaries, who receive fifty-percent off the normal rate. They also run promotions for cancer patients and those serving in the military. Cowell demonstrates his love for Christ in other ways. He asks all his guests to join him as he prays over each evening meal. Wholesome books line the shelves of the inn’s library. Marriage enrichment guides and a special hiking trail are provided for couples who wish to participate.
     The Cowells are using the gifts they have received to serve others.  

Whitestone Inn in Kingston, Tennessee

    
“God’s grace in various forms”
     Janet Albury’s husband and teenage daughter died in an airplane crash. In the process of grieving, she met a missionary family whose daughter also died in the same accident. God’s grace sustained these families and it gave Janet a vision for service. She built a house for missionaries and pastors, to get away with their families, for rest and rejuvenation.
     In addition to staying in this beautiful place (C. Grace at Work), free of charge, the guests are also welcomed on the first night’s stay with a delicious, home cooked meal. 
     Janet Albury exemplifies God’s grace.

“Strength for the task”
     Physical limitations and fear are some of the greatest obstacles to opening our homes. This is where prayer and faith play out.
     A family in South Africa took in a man recently paroled from prison. Despite his years of incarceration on a murder charge, this family has made their home a welcoming haven for him. This demonstration of God’s love made a huge impact on him and broke ground for a new life.
     God gave this family courage and strength for the task.

“In all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ”
     You may not be an innkeeper or have the ability to build a special place of retreat. God may not be calling you to host former inmates in your home. However, be careful of disregarding your call to hospitality.

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” 
Hebrews 13:2 (NIV)

     I’d rather the angels not see the stains in my home, but somehow I don’t think they’d even notice. Besides, hospitality is not really about the location as much as it is the act of kindness.
     
     There are as many different ways to show hospitality as there are dust bunnies in my house.

There are many ways to show hospitality.
     Want some ideas? Check out a blog post by Aleisha Caldwell that features 40+ ideas for practicing hospitality at Feathers In Our Nest.
             
     Also, your family may want to consider hosting Christian travelers for one night. For more information go to http://acandleinthewindow.com/.

Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” Romans 12:13 (NIV)

     Hospitality presents us with opportunities to show God’s love. Give your best. Be intentional. Be creative. Look past the stains in your home, the stains of your past sins, and the stains in other people’s lives. Pray, and be ready to put out the welcome mat—pet hair and all.

     
     Share with us! Tell a time when someone's hospitality made a difference in your life.