Fruitless Labor

by Julie Zine Coleman @JulieZColeman

He was a preacher who felt the call of God to share the gospel with college students in Chapel Hill, NC. Every Saturday, month after month, he got into his white Ford van and headed for the same street corner. He set up megaphone speakers to play hymns for those who happened by. Then he stood by his van and handed out tracts to anyone who would take one.

Not once, month after month of Saturdays, did he see fruit from his efforts. But he knew God had called him, so he pressed on.

The prophets faced a similar challenge of a fruitless calling. In fact, some of them never got any positive response from their efforts. Not in their lifetimes, at least. But Peter writes, “It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you…” (1 Peter 1:12 NASB). As the prophets recorded God’s Words to a rebellious nation, their message was not only for their immediate time frame. God would use those writings many years later, to enable a future generation to confirm the messiah’s identity and recognize the plans of God.

The prophets simply did what God asked, never seeing the fruit of their labor. They trusted God to use their efforts for His glory.

Sometimes God calls us to that kind of seemingly thankless work. He does not offer guarantees or give us insight as to how He will use our efforts. Yet we are called to persevere, operating in faith that God will somehow use what we do to build His kingdom. Our job is to be faithful, leaving the responsibility for any growth to Him.

That faithful but fruitless street preacher? One day a skinny college senior, who was a hippie, drug dealer, and fraternity bad boy, stopped to talk with him. He had been searching for the meaning in life: why was he here? What was his purpose? After discussing Jesus for two hours, the preacher gave him a Bible and suggested he read it. God worked mightily in that young man as he did, until one evening, the boy dropped to his knees and gave his life to Christ. His name was Lon Solomon.

God eventually led Lon to seminary, eventually giving him the position of senior pastor for a large church in Northern Virginia. God used his ministry and preaching to lead countless others to Christ. Through Lon, the Lord saw fit to grow McLean Bible Church into a congregation of over 20,000 members.

Why do I share this story? Lon Solomon was that preacher’s only convert out of his street ministry. God used all that effort to lead one single soul to Christ. But the fruit from that one soul’s transformation impacted the world.

Paul was faithful to the calling he received on the road to Damascus. It wasn’t easy. During his years of ministry, he was beaten, stoned and left for dead, experienced hunger and thirst, but tirelessly traveled dangerous roads to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. And through it all, he trusted in God to take the seed he sowed and multiply it for His glory.

What has God called you to do?  Will you have an impact on the world? Our efforts rarely do. And just as Paul and the street preacher did, we will face hardships and discouragement as we obey. But our responsibility is simple: do what we are called to do. We can trust God to take our efforts and use them for his kingdom while generously allowing us to participate in his glorious cause.

“Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”  1 Corinthians 3:7 NASB

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Julie-Coleman-headshot-295x300About the authorJulie Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or walking her neurotic dog. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Does the Bible depict women as second-class citizens of the Kingdom? Jesus didn’t think so. Unexpected Love takes a look at the encounters that Jesus had with women in the gospels. You will fall in love with the dynamic, beautiful, and unexpectedly personal Jesus.

Join the conversation: Have you ever discovered some God did through you after the fact? Please share!

 

Signs of Life

by Julie Zine Coleman @JulieZColeman

The days are getting longer, and the sun is getting warmer. The daffodils are up a good eight inches, their sunny blooms ready to pop. Sap in the trees is obviously flowing, because the buds on the maples have swollen and changed to a bright red. Anyone with eyes can see the daily evidence: what lay dormant all winter is coming to life. Spring has arrived.

It reminds me of God’s work in us. God took what was dead and brought us to life when we believed in Jesus. Paul wrote: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4-6 NASB). Where only death existed, the Holy Spirit now exists.

And where the Spirit is, there is life.

A young man came into our church at the urging of his live-in girlfriend. He liked the love and enthusiasm of the church community, and so began to attend regularly. One of our young couples had he and his girlfriend for dinner one evening. They plainly laid out the truth of the gospel: sin had separated us from God, and Jesus died to pay for our sin. By believing in Him, we would forever be in relationship with God, never having to fear punishment or rejection from Him. Ever. It is salvation that comes only through grace, totally undeserved and unearnable. What did he think about that?

“Who wouldn’t want that?” he responded. “But if I commit to that, we will have to change our living situation, which I really love. And I would have to give up partying.” There was too much of his life that would have to change. And he didn’t know if he could do it. Or even wanted to do it.

“None of that has anything to do with your salvation,” his new friend assured him. “All God wants from you is your trust.”

“Well, that’s a no-brainer then,” the man exclaimed. “I’m in.” He bowed his head right there at the table and called upon the name of Jesus to be saved.

The next Sunday we could all see something had changed. He was full of joy and worshiped with all his heart. A few weeks later, I got the chance to talk with him. He told me about his new relationship with God. “I had no intention of changing anything. But something crazy happened,” he said. “Within two weeks, my girlfriend and I knew we needed to begin living apart, because we want our relationship to please God. I no longer feel a desire to get drunk or live the wild life. He has seriously changed my heart. In spite of me, really.”

Signs of life. Where only death and darkness once existed had been filled by the Spirit of light and life. And our new friend would never be the same. The more He learned about His God, the greater his love for Him. The more he loved Him, the more He yielded to the Spirit within.

And the result of that profound new relationship was fruit that the Spirit in him produced: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). All of them evidence of the life that existed inside him.

The Hebrew word translated as “Spirit” is ruach. It was normally used for the breath of an individual or sometimes air in motion. The Ruach moved over the waters at creation (Genesis 1:2). The ruach of God changed a lifeless form into a living soul (Genesis 2:7). The arrival of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost sounded like a rushing wind as He came upon each one in the Upper Room (Acts 2:2).

The very definition of ruach involves movement. Which is a great way to describe the Spirit of God. He is always moving, urging us forward into a more intimate knowledge of Him. And as we learn to love Him more, we are better enabled to yield to His Spirit.

Those fruits that the Spirit produces are evidence of life. Something that is dead cannot move. Or be transformed. But note that the fruit is not something we produce. It is the fruit of the Spirit. And undeniable evidence of His life within us.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.  2 Corinthians 3:17-18 NASB

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Julie-Coleman-headshot-295x300About the authorJulie Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Her award-winning book, Unexpected Love: God’s Heart Revealed through Jesus’ Conversations with Womenwas published in 2013 by Thomas Nelson. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or walking her neurotic dog. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Join the conversation: Can you see evidence of the Spirit of life in you?

 

Don’t Forget to Remember

by Julie Zine Coleman @juliezcoleman

Most Americans are well-versed in the events which led to the first Thanksgiving celebration in 1620. But the suffering did not end there. Soon after the celebration, the Pilgrims found they had overestimated their harvest and would once again be forced to endure a long winter of meager rations. To further exacerbate the food shortage, a ship arrived in late November with thirty-five new settlers and absolutely no provisions. The little group barely survived the winter.

The growing season the following year did not go well. The lack of food left the settlers too weak to properly tend the fields, and the harvest was a dismal failure. With meager food stores and many mouths to feed, the rations during the following winter came down to a daily portion of five kernels of corn per person. This lasted three or four months until the next harvest finally supplied an ample amount of food.

Those two years of suffering were not far from the Pilgrims’ minds as they gathered with their Native American neighbors in the fall of 1623 for a second Thanksgiving celebration. The first course, served on an otherwise empty plate, was five kernels of corn. The celebration of a plentiful harvest was that much more meaningful when compared to past times of desperate want. The Pilgrims determined to remember.

I have a friend who places a dried kernel of corn on each dinner plate for her Thanksgiving guests. Before the meal begins, each person names one thing for which they are thankful then drops their kernel into a basket being passed around the table. It’s one way that family remembers.

We have been called to do the same. Remember. Paul wrote the Ephesians: “Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ… having no hope and without God in the world… But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:12-13 NASB).

The Ephesian church was experiencing difficulty in melding two groups, Jews and Gentiles, into one unified church. Their heritage, culture, and backgrounds were so very diverse. To help them resolve their differences, Paul took them back to who they were before Jesus. They had shared a bleak future with no hope of ever being right with God. They needed to remind themselves where each of them would be if Jesus had not shed His blood on their behalf.

Remembering they all started in the same boat and that each one was saved by grace (not because of their race or accomplishments) would help them worship side by side as brothers and sisters.  Paul concluded: “For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall…so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace” (Ephesians 2:14-15 NASB).

Remembering is something God encourages all believers to do. It’s why we celebrate Communion on a regular basis. As we share the elements, we remember Christ’s sacrificial death and suffering, as well as His victory over sin and death. We also remember what we were before our salvation: spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1), slaves of sin (Rom 6:17), enemies of God (Rom 5:10), without hope (Eph 2:12), and condemned to an eternity of suffering and spiritual death (Rom 5:18).

Remembering this swells our hearts with thanksgiving and praise. Thinking about our before is helpful in cultivating a grateful heart and a love for Christ in the here and now. Looking back on what we have been saved from helps us to more fully appreciate the lengths to which God went to bring us into a relationship with Him.

So this Thanksgiving, take some time to look back. And remember.

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.  Colossians 1:13-14 NASB

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Remembering what God has done swells our hearts with thanksgiving and praise – @JulieZColeman on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

Julie-Coleman-headshot-295x300About the authorJulie Coleman helps others to
understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Her award-winning book, Unexpected Love: God’s Heart Revealed through Jesus’ Conversations with Womenwas published in 2013 by Thomas Nelson. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or walking her neurotic dog. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Join the conversation: What remembrance gives you gratitude?

We Press On

by Julie Zine Coleman @JulieZColeman

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you might win.” 1 Corinthians 9:24 NASB

Recently my husband Steve and I had the pleasure of a short vacation. We toured northern New England from the coast of Maine to the foothills of southwest New Hampshire. It was a wonderful adventure. A highlight of the trip was our train ride up Mount Washington, the highest peak in the northeast United States.

The trip brought back memories of another time I ventured toward the summit of Mount Washington. That time I went up the old fashioned way– on foot. Several camp friends and I hiked the mountain on a Columbus Day weekend, up Tuckerman’s Ravine. We left Massachusetts before sunrise and began the climb as the sun peeked over the horizon. We would spend all day on the mountain.

I was a lot thinner then, and in much better shape at the ripe old age of 20, but to this day I can still remember the agony of the climb. We hadn’t gone far when my muscles started screaming for oxygen. My knees, feet, and legs were in pain the entire trip up. To make matters worse, I was the only wimp in the group. It seemed I was holding them all back from sprinting up the mountain!

Gasping for breath, struggling to keep up, I was quite sure I would never make it to the top. As we neared the summit, we began to pass signs warning that to continue upward in bad weather conditions would mean death. Of course, my sprightly friends viewed these as a photo opportunity rather than a harbinger of doom. I was just glad to sit down for a few minutes as we snapped the pictures.

When we reached a point within sight of the summit (which from where I stood presented an even more challenging section of the climb), it began to snow. In light of this and the time of day (which was probably later than anyone expected at our onset, thanks to their slowest companion) the group decided to abort the rest of the climb and head back down. I almost wept with relief. We still had hours of walking ahead of us, but it was all downhill.  At the end of the long day, as dusk descended, I gratefully sank into the car’s backseat and made a promise to myself that my climbing days were over.

So when Steve suggested that next time we skip the railroad ride and climb the trail, I reminded him of what I had learned back in 1977. “That mountain almost killed me then,” I told him. “It would surely kill me now.”

Paul knew what it was to press on in the midst of agony. He wrote the Philippians: “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14 NASB). He wrote this while awaiting a trial in chains.

Paul is providing us with a crucial focus in our quest to press on. We are not to look around at the circumstances which surround us, nor backward at past laurels. Our gaze should never move downward to our own two feet, which would surely remind us of our human frailty and limitations. So where are we to look? Heavenward, toward the Savior who will supply the strength and power to continue. Heavenward, toward the end goal: the reward that will come from our efforts of living life for Him.

The original word translated here as press on is translated in similar verses as pursue. The word is actually more commonly translated as persecute in other contexts. Interestingly, Paul uses this very same verb in remembrance of his former unrelenting persecution of the saints: “For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.” (Galatians 1:13 NASB) Either nuance of meaning denotes an intense pursuit resulting from a strong conviction. All of Paul’s pursuits—destructive or constructive—were characterized by this kind of passion.

This is how we must press on toward the prize. But a mountain climb doesn’t happen in a sprint. Sometimes the path is more level than other times. And very often the path is downright steep. How then do we climb? One step at a time. Eyes on the end goal. With determination that comes from what we so passionately believe.

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We press on—remembering that a climb requires perseverance instead of a sprint @JulieZColeman on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

Julie-Coleman-headshot-295x300About the authorJulie Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Her award-winning book, Unexpected Love: God’s Heart Revealed through Jesus’ Conversations with Womenwas published in 2013 by Thomas Nelson. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or walking her neurotic dog. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Join the conversation: How passionate have you been in “the climb” lately? What is your motivation to keep putting one foot in front of the other? How can keeping your focus on Jesus help sustain you when the going gets rough?

All is Well

by Julie Zine Coleman @JulieZColeman

The world can be a frightening place for a child. My husband and I both remember the days of atomic bomb drills at school, cowering under desks with hands over our heads. (I’m still not sure how effective that would have been in the event of an actual nuclear attack.) We lecture our children on the dangers of strangers. We brief them on escape plans for our homes should fire break out. Even the environment is a threat, as children are being taught climate catastrophe is just around the corner. Despite this all being preparation for what may never happen, it can give a child the impression that things are spinning out of control.

Sometimes reading biblical prophecy can be just as scary. There is much in the future still to be played out, according to Scripture. And much of that future reads more like an R-rated movie than a happily-ever-after fairy tale. The judgment of God will come someday on a world which has turned its back on its Creator.

Why does God spend so much time warning about His coming judgment? Why all the chapters and chapters about things we may never experience in our lifetimes?

Foremost, of course, God is concerned for our salvation. He does not want any to perish (1 Peter 3:9). Knowing what eventually lies ahead for this world is excellent motivation for us to reach out to Him.

There is a second purpose served by prophecy. When we read the plans of God, we are left with a lasting conviction: God controls the destiny of the world. Everything is going according to plan (and it all works out in the end). We also see so much prophecy already fulfilled by the first coming of Jesus Christ. What is still in our future will be just as painstakingly orchestrated. We can live our lives in hope, because we live for a powerful God who holds the future in His hands.

So, on days when I am discouraged, hopeless, or wondering if the news could get any worse, I count on God’s promise: “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage: I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NASB).

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a story of a ship and its occupants moving perilously close to the rocks in a violent storm. The ship’s passengers huddled on the deck below, terrified that their lives were about to end. One brave man volunteered to go above deck to seek out the captain and ascertain the situation. With great difficulty, he made his way to the pilot house. There he found the captain, chained to his post, hands confidently on the wheel. Seeing the passenger’s terror, the captain gave him a reassuring smile.

Upon his return below, the man gave his fellow passengers his hopeful news. “All is well. All is well. I saw the pilot’s face and he smiled.”

I had a similar experience on a bumpy flight to Hartford. I was seated in the same row as a uniformed pilot who had caught our flight to get to his next assignment. While turbulence usually makes me nervous, this time I watched him. If he suddenly hunched over into a crash position, I would know it was time to panic. However, while he calmly sipped his coffee and read his magazine, even while the plane bumped along, I knew all was well.

I believe that this is the reason we are allowed to glimpse the future of the world in prophecy. In the midst of seeming uncertainty and conflict, we as people of God can rest secure in the knowledge that He has it all in hand. Nothing happens that surprises God. Beyond the conflict and agony of this life, we have the hope of certain victory in Christ.

The story is already written. All is well.

The Lord of hosts has sworn saying, “Surely, just as I have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand.”  Isaiah 14:24 NASB

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Julie-Coleman-headshot-295x300About the authorJulie Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Her award-winning book, Unexpected Love: God’s Heart Revealed through Jesus’ Conversations with Womenwas published in 2013 by Thomas Nelson. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or walking her neurotic dog. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Join the conversation: How has God revealed His faithfulness to you?

 

Is It Sin?

by Julie Zine Coleman

“Did you see my son walk past your house a few minutes ago?” my friend Martha asked, watching me pull weeds from my garden. Her teenage son was giving her and her husband a run for their money. He was rebelling in just about everything for which his parents stood. The deteriorating relationship was breaking her heart.

I hadn’t noticed him walking by. “His jeans have rips all the way up his legs,” she explained. “His hair is scraggly, and he hasn’t shaved in weeks.” She sighed. “But when I complained to my husband, he asked me: “Is it sin for him to look like that? If not, leave it alone. We have bigger battles to fight.”

Good advice for a parent of a teen. It’s good advice for the Church, as well.

We live in a world consumed with appearances. This mind-set bleeds into the church: we can be guilty of concerning ourselves more with outward expressions than an internal faith.

Jesus confronted this very attitude in the leaders of his time. They were angry his disciples failed to ceremonially clean their hands before eating. This violated what was called the Oral Law, a set of traditions the Pharisees themselves had written. In response, Jesus pointed out their violation of Mosaic Law, commands from God Himself, on honoring one’s parents. Bottom line: they might be following their own set of rules, but their hearts were far from God.

Shallow religion consists of a set of external do’s and don’ts. My parents’ generation had those kind of clear standards. If you were a Good Christian, you did not drink alcohol, did not dance, nor would you dare darken the door of a movie theater. Playing cards were the devil’s tool. Secular music, especially rock and roll, was categorically banished.

Most of those restrictions make us shake our heads these many years later. But we are foolish if we don’t acknowledge that the rules of one generation have merely been replaced with new rules today. People’s spiritual well-being is still being judged on their outward conformity to the current standard of behavior.

But God is not interested in outward conformity.

God is interested in our hearts. Isaiah the prophet was sent to warn the people that their religious actions weren’t impressing God. “This people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me,” the Lord told him (Isaiah 29:13, NASB).

Shallow religion can be a dangerous thing. Jesus compared the Pharisees to whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside, but inside filled with dead men’s bones and rot. “So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness,” He charged (Matthew 23:28, NASB). The Pharisees’ pride in their self-sufficiency made them unable to perceive their need for a Savior. It was a problem with eternal ramifications.

How can we avoid setting up false standards? We need to start with asking ourselves what really matters to God. We need the Holy Spirit to help us discern between what is a cultural expectation and what is destructive sin. Then rather than focusing our attentions on outward appearances, we must keep our eyes trained on the One who saved us.

Grace should mark the lives of all believers toward each other. Keeping focused on Christ will result in encouragements that come from a heart rooted in the love of God rather than judgment.  It will help us view people through the lens of God’s love.

“Is it sin?” became my husband’s and my mantra when we entered the world of teen parenting. It has guided our interactions with our church community as well. We cultivate hearts that choose to love God rather than focus on actions which are nothing more than a to-do list. We don’t want to waste our time and energy on the shallow.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” Matthew 22:36-40 NIV

Julie-Coleman-headshot-295x300About the author: Julie Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Her award-winning book, Unexpected Love: God’s Heart Revealed through Jesus’ Conversations with Womenwas published in 2013 by Thomas Nelson. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or walking her neurotic dog. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Join the conversation: What are some expectations we can hold today that really are more cultural than spiritual? How do you tell the difference?

Photo by FuYong Hua on Unsplash

Designed for Community

by Julie Coleman

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25 NASB

It might not be a great idea in June, but I love a warm fire on a cold winter’s night. My husband Steve is an excellent fire-builder. He often makes a nice crackling fire for me when we relax in the evenings or entertain guests during the cold winter months. But inevitably, when Steve leaves the room for more than a few minutes, his roaring blaze begins to sputter and die. It’s not for lack of effort on my part; I add new logs and juggle what is already burning to the best of my ability. But in the end, I prove inadequate for the job.

I finally asked Steve: “What am I doing wrong?”

He informed me I was mistaken about the logistics of a fire. I thought that the logs should be separated, to allow a free flow of oxygen. Big mistake. To keep a fire going, the logs must remain in close proximity to each other. When the pieces are separated, the fire will quickly die out.

What I learned that night became a metaphor for another kind of struggle I was having. I had been deeply offended by someone at our church. And rather than continuing to struggle with the blinding anger I was feeling, in my heart, I yearned to walk away from the community.

The problem is we are not created to go it alone. There is a reason the writer of Hebrews admonished his readers to “not give up meeting together…” Simply put, we need each other.

Even the Son of God felt a need for fellowship. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He begged His disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

We are created for community. This is most evident in the Spirit’s distribution of spiritual gifts. We have received differing abilities, which, when combined, make us a complete and effective entity. Another benefit of community is in the potential perspective and wisdom available from those traveling the same road. Spending time worshipping and praying together flares our spiritual fire as well. Fellowship is as vital to spiritual health as food is to our physical bodies.

Seeing those logs burn brightly together gave me resolve to work out my differences with that offending person. We are commissioned to be lights in the darkness. That light will be exponentially brighter when we choose to join forces with like minds. Though our fellowship may be imperfect, and even at times undesirable, in the end as we persevere in our relationships and work through our differences, the reward will be great. We are meant for community.

Julie-Coleman-headshot-295x300About the author: Julie Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Her award-winning book, Unexpected Love: God’s Heart Revealed through Jesus’ Conversations with Womenwas published in 2013 by Thomas Nelson. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or walking her neurotic dog. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Join the conversation: What benefits have you experienced through the fellowship of fellow believers?

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Beautiful Scars

by Julie Zine Coleman

There is more to bearing children than labor. One Easter Sunday, the women of my family sat on the porch commiserating with my daughter-in-law, whose profile was quickly growing as her due date neared. “Your body will never be the same,” warned one of the girls. A truer statement was never said.

I remember taking a good look in the mirror after having my first child. It was a shocking dose of reality. Aside from the discouraging baby weight, the most apparent change was the stretch marks. I knew they would fade, but they would never completely disappear. At the time I mourned their presence. But I feel differently now. Thirty-five years after becoming a mom, I regard them as a permanent memorial to the great gift of bearing my children.

Someday, on the other side of death, we will enjoy perfect bodies. I don’t know about you, but I am counting on being thin in eternity. I am also counting on good knees, excellent eyesight, and no more bad hair days. But I do wonder if God’s idea of perfect and mine coincide.

What will our resurrected bodies be like? We can glean a little about them from what we are told of Jesus after his resurrection. His appearance was apparently altered. People didn’t recognize him right away for the most part. Mary Magdalene thought him to be a gardener, and the disciples on the road to Emmaus, even after conversing with him at great length, had no clue who he was. From a boat in Galilee, even after hearing him call to them, the disciples failed to recognize it was the Lord.

Then there is the ability he had to appear and disappear. Luke tells us Jesus suddenly “appeared among the disciples,” apparently going through the walls or shut door to be there. For this reason they thought he might be a ghost, but he assured them he was alive and well: “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; touch me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have,” he told them (Luke 24:39 NASB). Jesus also ate on several occasions, giving further credence to this.

We know one other thing about Jesus’ resurrected body: he retained the marks from his crucifixion ordeal.

Thomas missed the first appearance of Christ in the hours following his resurrection. The disciples had tried to convince him the impossible had happened. “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe,” he stubbornly informed them (John 20:25 NASB).

Eight days later, Jesus gave him the chance to do just that. “Reach here with your finger, Thomas, and see my hands; and reach here your hand and put it into my side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing!” he told him (John 20:27 NASB).

The suffering was over, the ordeal at an end. Jesus had risen from the dead and was living,  breathing, and healthy once more. But the scars remained.

Beautiful scars.

In Revelation 5, John reports seeing Jesus standing at the throne, making ready to open the book. He describes him looking like a lamb that has been slain. Someday we will get a chance to see his scars for ourselves. They will remain a visible reminder for all eternity of what was inflicted on him for our sake. We will forever glory in what they mean: because of the terrible suffering they memorialize, we were healed.

I’m glad they will never go away. For they truly are beautiful scars.

“He was pierced through for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities. The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by his scourging we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5 NASB

Julie-Coleman-headshot-295x300About the author: Julie Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Her award-winning book, Unexpected Love: God’s Heart Revealed through Jesus’ Conversations with Women, was published in 2013 by Thomas Nelson. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or walking her neurotic dog. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Free Book Contest!  Arise Daily will use a random number generator to pick a winner Screen Shot 2017-12-22 at 2.39.03 PMfrom today’s comments. To enter our contest for Julie’s book, Unexpected Love: God’s Heart Revealed through Jesus’ Conversations with Women,  please comment below.  By posting in our comments, you are giving us permission to share your name if you win!  If you have an outside the US mailing address, your prize could be substituted with an e-book of our choice.

Join the conversation: What does the resurrection mean to you?

 

Embracing the Unexpected

by Julie Zine Coleman

Life rarely goes according to plan.

Four years ago, my daughter-in-law Bethany went into early labor. As we waited in the hospital lobby, we were concerned. The baby was in distress. He would be born ten weeks early. Bethany had not had an easy pregnancy. I fervently prayed for her and the baby’s well-being and resolutely determined to trust in a good God.

When my son Daniel finally arrived in the waiting room, he was crying. Bethany was fine, but the baby was not. There were severe complications. He had to be resuscitated three times. His abdomen was filled with fluid. He could not breathe on his own. He was severely anemic. His facial features indicated Down Syndrome. They didn’t think he would live through the night.

The next morning, I awoke to the cheerful voices of Joseph’s two big brothers as they charged out of our guest room to start the day. I lay in bed, knowing I needed to get them breakfast, yet feeling that the mere act of getting out of bed was impossible. I wearily asked God: “How could you? Why would you bring this kind of trouble into this sweet family?”

God immediately impressed His answer right into my heart. “Am I good? You need to decide what you believe about me.”

I knew the danger in forming any ideas about Him through looking at the situation. I could easily be misled by my limited, emotionally tainted perceptions. What we know about God cannot come from circumstances. Rather, we should define our circumstances based on what we know to be true about God.

So after breakfast, I sat down to think through what I knew about the character of God from His Word. He is holy. His integrity is beyond reproach. He is love. Compassion marks His dealings with us. He freely and continually gives us grace.

God’s actions are never spontaneous, erratic, or arbitrary. They are outflows of His nature. Whatever conclusion I came to about God’s dealings with us in this crisis, it had to be within the parameters of His unchanging character. I needed to interpret our circumstances in light of the Circumstance Maker.

Whether or not I understood what was happening, I could trust Him because He is good. As Paul wrote the Ephesians, God moves and works “according to the kind intention of His will” (Ephesians 1:5 NASB). I chose that morning to trust Him. No matter what lay ahead.

As I slowly rose to my feet, it was with a deepening sense of dependency on the God who kindly directs my path. I would cling to Him like a life preserver through the fog of grief and uncertainty. And I would be better for it.

Saying yes to God allows Him to make Himself known to us. It opens a conduit for His blessing. When our hearts are soft, willing to listen, eager to obey, we are moldable. We have cultivated the soil. We are ready for transformation.

Over the next ten weeks in Children’s Hospital’s Newborn Critical Care Unit, Joseph slowly improved. Eventually, he went home to start life with his family. God has great plans for this child. Even at four years old, his little life has already had an impact on an enormous number of caring friends and strangers. We are blessed with every smile and accomplishment. God continues to make Himself known through it all as we love and trust Him for Joseph’s life.

He is good.

“The Lord, the Lord God, [is] compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in loving kindness and truth.” Exodus 34:6

Julie-Coleman-with-Sasha-682x1024About the author: Julie Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Her award-winning book, Unexpected Love: God’s Heart Revealed through Jesus’ Conversations with Women, was published in 2013 by Thomas Nelson. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or walking her neurotic dog. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Free Book Contest!  Arise Daily will use a random number generator to pick a winner Screen Shot 2017-12-22 at 2.39.03 PMfrom today’s comments. To enter our contest for Julie’s book, Unexpected Love: God’s Heart Revealed through Jesus’ Conversations with Women,  please comment below.  By posting in our comments, you are giving us permission to share your name if you win!  If you have an outside the US mailing address, your prize could be substituted with an e-book of our choice.

Join the conversation: What character quality makes it possible for you to trust God?

 

 

 

Preventing Resentment

by Julie Zine Coleman

When we were dating, my husband had the habit including four or five pink demerit slips he had earned at Bible college in each of his letters to me. At one point I asked him just how many he possessed, since he appeared to be drawing from a never-ending supply. He showed me the stack in the top drawer of his desk. It was impressive.

Now don’t get the wrong idea—they were all for relatively small misdemeanors, like leaving the lights on or the bed unmade. Over time, however, they accumulated into enough of a statement that he was called into the dean’s office to give an account for his actions. Apparently small infractions, over a long period of time, can add up.

This principle is true in relationships as well. It is why Paul, in describing a godly kind of love, reminded the Corinthians: “[Love is] not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” (1 Corinthians 13:5, NIV) In this simple description, Paul gives powerful preventive medicine for all of our relationships: choosing forgiveness over bitterness.

The Old Man of the Mountain, a massive granite formation which once overlooked Franconia Notch, New Hampshire, stood for thousands of years. It was the state symbol, and beloved enough to earn a place on the New Hampshire state quarter. Thousands of tourists stopped each year on their way up I-93 to take photographs of this famous landmark. But one night in May 2003, during a heavy rain storm, the Old Man formation collapsed into the valley below. What felled such a huge granite structure, after it had stood for thousands of years? Tiny individual molecules of water.

The collapse of the Old Man was a result of small amounts of water seeping into cracks year after year, freezing and expanding, making the fissures just a bit wider each time. Finally, the cracks became wide enough to weaken the entire structure, and the monument crumbled.

Elisabeth Elliot wrote of this principle within the context of marriage: “Marriages break up when ‘small’ things accumulate and resentments build. Love is the intention of unity. Resentment is the destroyer of unity.” Making frequent decisions to forgive is crucial to the health of any relationship.

Easier said than done, you are probably thinking. You are not alone—Peter struggled with this idea as well. “How many times must I forgive?” he asked the Lord. He then offered, “Up to seven times?” Rabbinic standards required forgiving up to three offenses. Peter had more than doubled the standard. Surely seven times, the number denoting completeness, was generous enough.

Jesus surprised Peter with His answer. “Seventy times seven,” he replied. (Matthew 18:21-22)

How can anyone do that? By remembering what God has done for us. An ability to forgive reflects an understanding of how much we have been forgiven ourselves. We choose to love because we know we are loved. We give grace because He has given it to us. And in the process of imitating our Savior, we understand a bit more of what it took for him to bear our sin. Choosing to put ourselves aside in the interest of restoring others is a perfect way to identify with Jesus Christ.

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:31-32 NASB

Julie-Coleman-headshot-295x300About the author: Julie Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Her award-winning book, Unexpected Love: God’s Heart Revealed through Jesus’ Conversations with Women, was published in 2013 by Thomas Nelson. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or walking her neurotic dog. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Free Book Contest!  Arise Daily will use a random number generator to pick a winner Screen Shot 2017-12-22 at 2.39.03 PMfrom today’s comments. To enter our contest for Julie’s book, Unexpected Love: God’s Heart Revealed through Jesus’ Conversations with Women,  please comment below.  By posting in our comments, you are giving us permission to share your name if you win!  If you have an outside the US mailing address, your prize could be substituted with an e-book of our choice.

Join the conversation: How do you avoid resentment?