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Living in God’s Story

Ernest Hemingway was asked if he could write a compelling story in six words. His response: “For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.” Hemingway’s story is powerful because it inspires us to fill in the details. Were the shoes simply not needed by a healthy child? Or was there a tragic loss—something requiring God’s deep love and comfort?

The best stories pique our imagination, so it’s no surprise that the greatest story ever told stokes the fires of our creativity. God’s story has a central plot: He created all things, we (the human race) fell into sin, Jesus came to earth and died and rose again to save us from our sins, and we now await His return and the restoration of all things.

Knowing what has come before and what lies ahead, how should we now live? If Jesus is restoring His entire creation from the clutches of evil, we must “put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light” (v. 12). This includes turning from sin by God’s power and choosing to love Him and others well (vv. 8–10).

The specific ways we fight with Jesus against evil will depend on what gifts we have and what needs we see. Let’s use our imagination and look around. Let’s seek out the wounded and weeping, and extend God’s justice, love, and comfort as He guides us.

Posted on 22 February 2019 | 7:00 pm

He Holds Our Hand

The little girl who navigated the stairway one Sunday at church was cute, spunky, and independent. One by one the child—who appeared to be not much older than two years old—took the steps down to the lower level. Descending the stairs was her mission and she accomplished it. I smiled to myself as I pondered the daring independence of this courageous toddler. The child wasn’t afraid because she knew her caring mother’s watchful eye was always on her and her loving hand was extended to help her. This aptly pictures the Lord’s readiness to help His children as they make their way through life with its varied uncertainties.

Today’s Scripture includes two “hand” references. After cautioning His ancient people not to fear or be dismayed, the Lord told them, “I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). Many anxious and fearful children have been steadied by the strength of a parent. Here God’s power comes into view. In the second “hand” reference, once again it’s the Lord who acted to secure the safety of His own. “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand” (v. 13). While life situations and times have changed, the Lord hasn’t. We need not despair (v. 10) because the Lord still assures us with the promise of His support and with the words we desperately need to hear: “Do not fear” (vv. 10, 13).

Posted on 21 February 2019 | 7:00 pm

Living Sacrifice

My great aunt had an exciting job in advertising, and traveled between Chicago and New York City. But she chose to give up that career out of love for her parents. They lived in Minnesota and needed to be cared for. Both of her brothers had died young in tragic circumstances and she was her mom and dad’s only remaining child. For her, serving her parents was an expression of her faith.

The apostle Paul’s writing to the church at Rome urged Christian believers to be “a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (Romans 12:1). He hoped they would extend Christ’s sacrificial love to each other. And he asked them not to think of themselves more highly than they should (v. 3). When they fell into disagreements and division, he called them to lay down their pride, because “in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (v. 5). He yearned that they would show each other sacrificial love.

Each day we have the opportunity to serve others. For instance, we might let someone go ahead of us in a line or we might, like my great aunt, care for someone who is ill. Or maybe we share from our experience as we give another advice and direction. When we offer ourselves as living sacrifices, we honor God.

Posted on 20 February 2019 | 7:00 pm

Send It in a Letter

Her name is Ruby. She is four years old. Like most children that age, Ruby loved to run, sing, dance, and play. But she started complaining about pain in her knees. Ruby’s parents took her in for tests. The results were shocking—a diagnosis of cancer, stage 4 neuroblastoma. Ruby was in trouble. She was quickly admitted to the hospital.

Ruby’s hospital stay lingered on, spilling over into the Christmas season, a hard time to be away from home. One of Ruby’s nurses came up with the idea to place a mailbox outside her room so family could send letters full of prayers and encouragement to her. Then the plea went out on Facebook, and that’s when the volume of mail coming in from friends to complete strangers surprised everyone, most of all Ruby. With each letter received (over 100,000 total), Ruby grew a little more encouraged, and she finally got to go home.

Paul’s letter to the people at Colossae was exactly that—a letter (1:2). Words penned on a page that carried hopes for continued fruitfulness and knowledge and strength and endurance and patience (vv. 10–11). Can you imagine what a dose of good medicine such words were to the faithful at Colossae? Just knowing that someone was praying nonstop for them strengthened them to stay steady in their faith in Christ Jesus.

Our words of encouragement can dramatically help others in need.

Posted on 19 February 2019 | 7:00 pm

Shelve Them and Move On

I’m reminded of some wise advice a radio broadcaster friend once gave me. Early on in his career, as my friend struggled to know how to deal with both criticism and praise, he felt that God was encouraging him to shelve both. What’s the essence of what he took to heart? Learn what you can from criticism and accept praise. Then shelve both and humbly move on in God’s grace and power.                      

Criticism and praise stir in us powerful emotions that, if left unchecked, can lead to either self-loathing or an overinflated ego. In Proverbs we read of the benefits of encouragement and wise counsel: “Good news gives health to the bones. Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise. Those who disregard discipline despise themselves, but the one who heeds correction gains understanding” (15:30–32).

If we’re on the receiving end of a rebuke, may we choose to be sharpened by it. Proverbs states, “Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise” (v. 31). And if we’re blessed with words of praise, may we be refreshed and filled with gratitude. As we walk humbly with God, He can help us learn from both criticism and praise, shelve them, and then move on in Him (v. 33).

Posted on 18 February 2019 | 7:00 pm

Praying and Growing

When my friend David’s wife developed Alzheimer’s disease, the changes it brought to his life made him bitter. He needed to retire early to care for her; and as the disease progressed, she required increasingly more care.

“I was so angry at God,” he told me. “But the more I prayed about it, the more He showed me my heart and how I had been selfish for most of our marriage.” Tears welled in his eyes as he confessed, “She’s been sick ten years, but God has helped me see things differently. Now, everything I do out of love for her, I also do for Jesus. Caring for her has become the greatest privilege of my life.”

 Sometimes God answers our prayers not by giving us what we want but by challenging us to change. When the prophet Jonah was angry because God spared the wicked city of Nineveh from destruction, God caused a plant to shade him from the hot sun (Jonah 4:6). Then He made it wither. When Jonah complained, God answered, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” (vv. 7–9). Jonah, focused only on himself, insisted it was. But God challenged him to think about others and have compassion.

God sometimes uses our prayers in unexpected ways to help us learn and grow. It’s a change we can welcome with open hearts because He wants to transform us with His love.

Posted on 17 February 2019 | 7:00 pm

Atmosphere of Encouragement

I’m encouraged every time I visit the fitness center near our house. In that busy place, I’m surrounded by others who are striving to improve their physical health and strength. Posted signs remind us not to judge each other, but words and actions that reveal support for others’ conditioning efforts are always welcomed.

What a great picture of how things should look in the spiritual realm of life! Those of us who are striving to “get in shape” spiritually, to grow in our faith, can sometimes feel as if we don’t belong because we’re not as spiritually fit—as mature in our walk with Jesus—as someone else.

Paul gave us this short, direct suggestion: “Encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). And to the believers in Rome he wrote: “Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up” (Romans 15:2). Recognizing that our Father is so lovingly gracious with us, let’s show God’s grace to others with encouraging words and actions.

As we “accept one another” (v. 7), let’s entrust our spiritual growth to God—to the work of His Spirit. And while we daily seek to follow Him, may we create an atmosphere of encouragement for our brothers and sisters in Jesus as they also seek to grow in their faith.

Posted on 16 February 2019 | 7:00 pm

Acts of Kindness

“Estera, you got a present from our friend Helen!” my mom told me when she got home from work. Growing up we didn’t have much, so receiving a present in the mail was like a second Christmas. I felt loved, remembered, and valued by God through this wonderful woman.

The poor widows Tabitha (Dorcas) made clothes for must have felt the same way. She was a disciple of Jesus living in Joppa who was well known in the community for her acts of kindness. She was “always doing good and helping the poor” (Acts 9:36). Then she got sick and passed away. At the time Peter was visiting a nearby city, so two believers went after him and begged him to come to Joppa.

When Peter arrived, the widows Tabitha had helped showed him the evidence of her kindness—“the robes and other clothing that [she] had made” (v. 39). We don’t know if they asked him to intervene, but led by the Holy Spirit Peter prayed and God brought her back to life! The result of God’s kindness was that “this became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord” (v. 42).

As we are kind to those around us, may they think of God and feel valued by Him.

Posted on 15 February 2019 | 7:00 pm

Sinking into Grace

Finally, on January 8, 1964, 17-year-old Randy Gardner did something he hadn’t done for 11 days and 25 minutes: he nodded off to sleep. He wanted to beat the Guinness Book World Record for how long a human could stay awake. By drinking soft drinks and hitting the basketball court and bowling alley, Gardner rebuffed sleep for a week and a half. Before finally collapsing, his sense of taste, smell, and hearing went haywire. Decades later, Gardner suffered from severe bouts of insomnia. He set the record but also confirmed the obvious: sleep is essential.

Many of us struggle to get a decent night’s rest. Unlike Gardner who deprived himself intentionally, we might suffer sleeplessness for a number of reasons—including a mountain of anxieties: the fear of all we need to accomplish, the dread of others’ expectations, the distress of living at a frantic pace. Sometimes it is hard for us to turn off the fear and relax.

The psalmist tells us that “unless the Lord builds the house,” we labor in vain (Psalm 127:1). Our “toiling” and our relentless efforts are useless unless God provides what we need. Thankfully, God does provide what we need. He “grants sleep to those he loves” (v. 2). And God’s love extends to all of us. He invites all of us to release our anxieties to Him and sink into His rest, into His grace.

Posted on 14 February 2019 | 7:00 pm

Out of Context

As I queued up to board my flight, someone tapped my shoulder. I turned and received a warm greeting. “Elisa! Do you remember me? It’s Joan!” My mind flipped through various “Joans” I’d known, but I couldn’t place her. Was she a previous neighbor? A past coworker? Oh dear . . . I didn’t know.

Sensing my struggle, Joan responded, “Elisa, we knew each other in high school.” A memory rose: Friday night football games, cheering from the stands. Once the context was clarified, I recognized Joan.

After Jesus’s death, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early in the morning and found the stone rolled away and His body gone (John 20:1–2). She ran to get Peter and John, who returned with her to find the tomb, indeed, empty (vv. 3–10). But Mary lingered outside in her grief (v. 11). When Jesus appeared there, “she did not realize it was Jesus” (v. 14), thinking He was the gardener (v. 15).

How could she have not recognized Jesus? Was His resurrected body so changed that it was difficult to recognize Him? Did her grief blind her to His identity? Or, perhaps, like me, was it because Jesus was “out of context,” alive in the garden instead of dead in the tomb, that she didn’t recognize Him?

How might we too miss Jesus when He comes into our days—during prayer or Bible reading, or by simply whispering in our hearts?

Posted on 13 February 2019 | 7:00 pm