Blog: Quote for Jan. 19th, 2019

"Have no fear for the unsettlement or the disturbance of the Kingdom of heaven. It began in eternity, it will go on through everlasting; there is no panic in the divine personality. God is peace, God gives peace, God gives rest."

—Joseph Parker

Ⓒ 1996-2019 Heartlight, Inc. This material may not be reproduced in part or whole for commercial use without written consent.

Source: Quotemeal from Heartlight

Ark Encounter Founder Offers Free Admission to Public Schools after Atheist Group Threatens to Sue Schools Who Visit it

The Wisconsin-based atheist group, Freedom from Religion Foundation, warned public schools not to take their students to the Creation Museum or the Ark Encounter Park because of their “overtly religious atmosphere.”

CBN News reports that the FFRF sent over 1,000 letters to school districts across the country, many of them in Kentucky, warning them to stay away from these Christian attractions writing, “Public schools cannot organize trips for students to either the Creation Museum or the Ark Park. It is unacceptable to expose a captive audience of impressionable students to the overtly religious atmosphere of (Ken) Ham’s Christian theme parks.”

When the Ark Encounter founder Ken Ham heard about the FFRF’s letters, he decided to challenge them, noting that he would not stand for their “bullying and intimidation.”

Ham offered free admission to all public-school teachers and students that come for “official public school trips.”

He told Fox News, “The atheist groups like American Atheists and the Freedom From Religion Foundation have been increasingly aggressive to restrict the free exercise of religion — particularly Christianity — and they’ve tried to brainwash people with an interpretation of the First Amendment…it does not mean that Christians are second class citizens.”

He continued, “I would like to see some public schools and public parks stand up to them and not succumb to their bullying and intimidation.”

“Because the FFRF has sent letters to 1,000 school districts, I’m offering them free admission for the teachers, students who come on an official public-school trip,” he proclaimed.

Ham has also assured schools that he has “expert attorneys who are willing to defend them” if the FFRF tries to sue them for a first amendment violation.

Franklin Graham backed Ham in a Facebook post on Sunday saying, “Noah wasn’t intimidated by atheists in his day, and neither is the builder of the Ark Encounter in Kentucky, Ken Ham.”

When Friends Turn Out to Be Enemies in Disguise

By Michelle Van Loon

In my late 30s, I discovered I had enemies. I was stunned to realize they were some of the people with whom I’d been attending church for the last several years. No, they didn’t wear disguises like the villains in superhero movies or act bratty like the popular mean girls of my middle school years. My enemies were as familiar to me as members of my extended family.

 In fact, it was the family atmosphere of First Avenue Fellowship* that had drawn my husband, our three kids, and me to the small church shortly after we’d relocated to a new state. We enjoyed the Sunday worship there and appreciated the opportunity to socialize often with our fellow church members throughout the week via small group Bible studies as well as informal dinners and picnics.

I cherished the culture of mutual care that existed at First Avenue—how, for instance, I had called a friend from church to let her know my dad had died that morning, and within an hour a couple of other church friends showed up at my door, bearing casseroles, offering help with childcare, and making sure we had enough money to attend the funeral in another state.

A couple of years after we came to the church, my husband Bill was invited to become an elder. But when he joined the leadership team, he discovered that things weren’t quite as loving and harmonious as they appeared. One of the other elders, Jack, had been entertaining some not-quite-kosher theology about the person and work of Jesus that had put him at odds with the other leaders. Though Jack had agreed not to share his thoughts with others in the congregation while he and the elders hashed out his ideas, they’d learned he’d been quietly disseminating them among his group of followers. By the time Bill joined the elder board, Jack was feeling emboldened by the fact that he was wooing some in the congregation to his views. Jack had begun referencing his unorthodox ideas when he’d be called upon from time to time to preach on Sunday morning.

The seeds of division flourished in this environment. Since Bill was the new guy on the elder board, Jack and his followers soon began scapegoating him for the problems now surfacing in the church. Bill had asked Jack and the other elders some frank questions about Jack’s theology during a couple of meetings, and in response, rumors began circulating about Bill: He was a troublemaker; he came to split the church. A few women stopped speaking to me unless they had to do so. Our children were no longer invited to activities planned by those in Jack’s clique.

Trust among the congregation was eroding, and people were measuring one another’s words and assessing loyalties so they could determine whose “side” they were on.

Trust among the congregation was eroding, and people were measuring one another’s words and assessing loyalties so they could determine whose “side” they were on. We knew that for every bit of gossip that got back to us about Bill and the other leaders who opposed Jack, there was 10 times more circulating just outside our earshot.

There were also rumors that Jack and his followers were thinking of leaving the church. Bill and the other leaders took weeks to go to the homes of each family in the church to see if they could clear the air and restore fellowship. The eerie response was the same from each one who’d aligned with Jack: “Everything is fine. We have nothing to say.”

Then one awful Sunday, “Team Leaver”—by this time, about a third of our congregation’s 125 people—didn’t show up for services. Jack later informed us his group had decided not to return. He told the elders his group planned to home church for a while until they could determine their next move.

Those of us left behind were devastated by the disrupted, damaged relationships. The church continued to shrink in the following months. Some, wearied by the drama, left in search of stability. Others sought refuge in a larger congregation that had functioning children’s programs. (The sudden, rapid loss of nursery workers, teachers, and students had done a number on our ministry to kids.) A few others decided to join Jack and his new church. After two years of intense drama leading up to the departure of Team Leaver, and months of deep, prayerful anguish afterwards, Bill and the remaining leaders announced with broken hearts that First Avenue Fellowship would be closing.

 In the wake of these events, we spent a long, long time working through the grief and confusion each member of our family felt about what had happened. Could we have handled things differently? During this period, the Holy Spirit graciously convicted me of my own part in the sin that had torn the congregation. I hadn’t been completely innocent of gossip as the church was reaching its breaking point, sometimes speaking harshly about Jack and his followers to people I thought were our allies. I had to own my sin and name the deeper fear—of being misunderstood or left behind—that was fueling it. Acknowledging and confessing my sin helped me recognize my own tendencies to wound my relationships with others and with God. There were sinners like me on both sides of the intractable conflict.

Ironically, it was this confession that helped me to realize those on Team Leaver weren’t just estranged friends but had actually been acting as enemies of our family. I had long read Jesus’ words—the ones about turning the other cheek, going the second mile, and blessing those who persecute us—as referring to those outside His community of followers. (See Matt. 5:38-48.) Surely another person who claimed to love Jesus as I did could never be my enemy!

However, Jesus didn’t ever make that distinction when it came to talking about enemies. He even acknowledged Judas, the betrayer, to be among His closest friends. A light went on in my soul during my Bible reading that even as Jesus offered a blueprint for conflict resolution with a brother or sister in Matthew 18:15-18, He did not offer a promise that the conflict would be resolved with a happy ending. His final prayer for His disciples—offered just before His close friend Judas handed Him over to the authorities—was that His followers would be unified. (See John 17:1-26.) He knew how prone we are to make enemies of one another, how adept we are at rationalizing our self-protective impulses to demonize our opponents and justify divisions.

As I worked through the difficult process of forgiveness for Team Leaver, I leaned hard on Jesus’ wisdom about how to handle betrayal from religious leaders and friends alike. Some of the most powerful words from the final hours of His life took on new meaning as I sought to find a way forward in my faith: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

 As Jesus suffered and died, He interceded from the cross for both accusers and friends. This included people like Peter, who acted in that moment as His enemy. When Jesus uttered those piercing words with some of His last breaths, they encompassed everyone—from the few frightened followers witnessing the horrors of His execution, to the ones who drove the spikes through His wrists and feet, to the ones who’d declared Him guilty. He was interceding for you. For me. And He was praying for Jack and all those on Team Leaver.

Throughout the conflict at church, and for a long time afterward, I was convinced Jack and his tribe knew exactly what they were doing to each person on Team Stayer when they chose error and division. But how could they? Though they’d acted as enemies, they couldn’t possibly know how their words and actions would wound us. I came to realize that they were acting out of their own needs and fears, both good and rotten, mixed together like nourishing wheat and weedy tares growing together in the same field. And too often the same is true of me.

Many months after First Avenue Fellowship closed its doors, one of the key couples from Team Leaver called to ask our forgiveness for the way they’d gossiped about Bill. While all four of us acknowledged that deep doctrinal divisions remained and it was impossible to return the relationship to the way things once were between us, we left the conversation with a measure of reconciliation. As we shared a bit of our family’s journey to heal from what had happened in the church, one revelatory moment came when they said with genuine surprise, “We had no idea this would affect you so deeply.”

But I knew Jesus did. And trusting the One who prayed for each of us from the cross empowered me to forgive, grateful in the knowledge that we ended the conversation with two fewer enemies in our lives.

A Rose by Any Other Name

I am the rose of Sharon  (Song of Solomon 2:1, NKJV).

The rose is the best loved and most popular flower in the world. Its color, beauty, and fragrance have made it a universal favorite since ancient times. Isaiah 35:1 describes the desert as blossoming like a rose, while Song of Solomon 2:1, in poetic language, makes reference to the rose of Sharon. It is believed that Sharon was the name of the open maritime plain between the biblical Joppa and Mount Carmel. This region became popular for its gorgeously bedecked fields of beautiful wild flowers known as the rose of Sharon.

Though the Bible doesn’t expressly declare the rose of Sharon to be one of the titles of Jesus Christ, this familiar metaphor has long been accepted as such. The portrayal of Christ as the rose of Sharon has provided inspiration for Christian poets and hymn writers across the centuries. The symmetry, beauty, and fragrance of the rose symbolize the unblemished beauty and spotless character of Jesus, the rose of Sharon.

As the fragrant rose draws its admirers to share its beauty and aroma, so does the rose of Sharon draw us to His heart of love. “I have loved you with and everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3, NIV). Jesus Christ is the rose of Sharon that is always in season. He is always available to redeem, renew, and transform our dullness into radiance. His precious promise is always in season: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5, NKJV).

The rose of Sharon longs to bloom in our hearts. He longs to exude the fragrance of His love in each life. Ellen G. White said it well: “We need Jesus, the Rose of Sharon, to beautify the character and make our lives fragrant with good works, so that we shall be a savor of Christ unto God.” Review and Herald, August 14, 1894.

My Prayer Today: Rose of Sharon, fill my life today with the beauty of Your character and the fragrance of Your matchless love. Amen.

And Now a Word from Our Sponsor

Reading: Jeremiah 3:19-25

Reflection: Two metaphors are used for God’s relationship with God’s people in the first two verses of today’s reading. The first is the relationship between parent and child, and the second is the relationship between spouses. The Scriptures often use these metaphors because we know and understand these relationships, and they can be doorways to understanding God’s love for us. This is part of the reason why, as we will read on Sunday, Jesus’ first miraculous sign in John’s Gospel was the changing of water to wine at the wedding in Cana. When we reflect on how we love our children and our spouses, we can catch a glimpse of how God loves us. It also helps us to understand the message of today’s reading. The people of God were on a destructive path. They had turned away from the ways of God, and had begun to practice the worship of idols, which often included sexual orgies.

The prophet Jeremiah called this a “delusion”, and it resulted in the loss of everything for God’s people. But, in God’s love, God continued to call the people back to God’s ways of integrity and grace. Today, we face the same delusional temptations – to follow the ways of our own wisdom, or of pleasure and immediate gratification. And many of us know the pain and loss that results from following this course. When God calls us back to God’s ways, this is because they are the ways of life – of joy, peace, connection and love.

Today, make time to reflect again on the ways of God as revealed in the Scriptures, and renew your commitment to follow them.

Practice for Today: The Bible is given to us, not to be a legal constitution that binds and imprisons us, but a guide that leads us into deeper relationships with Jesus. It is this relationship that leads us into the ways of life.

Today, take time to listen to the Scriptures and allow them to lead you deeper into connection with Christ.

Prayer for Today: Speak to me through the Scriptures, Jesus, for I long to follow your ways.

Morning Prayers

Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials…Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him. James 1:2,12, RSV

Lord our God, be with us. Touch us with your Spirit so that our hearts may receive something from you. Let us find joy even in a life of struggle and temptation. Let us find joy in every need we face, even in the agony of death. Protect us through your Word, and let it always be a light to us so that we can follow you and do your will. Be with us on all our ways. Guide everything with your hand until the goal for all humankind is reached and we may rejoice over all the trials and testing because in the end the glorious prize can be won. Amen.

Blog: Quote for Jan. 18th, 2019

"The lowest station in the Lord’s house is better than the highest position among the godless. To bear burdens and open doors for the Lord is more honor than to reign among the wicked. Every man has his choice, and this is ours. God’s worst is better than the devil’s best."

—Charles H. Spurgeon

Ⓒ 1996-2019 Heartlight, Inc. This material may not be reproduced in part or whole for commercial use without written consent.

Source: Quotemeal from Heartlight

God Inside Your Work

In 2004, businessman Terry Looper—founder and CEO of the $6 billion Texon energy company—was partway through negotiating a sale when he realized he’d forgotten to pray about it.

“I hadn’t even tried to get neutral,” he said. “Getting neutral” is his term for pushing down any greed or selfish ambition, quieting his heart, and listening for the Holy Spirit’s leading.

Looper makes decisions by spending time in prayer and Bible reading, consulting with colleagues and family, watching for circumstances, and asking God for “peace in my gut.” (His book detailing the process, Sacred Pace: Four Steps to Hearing God and Aligning Yourself With His Will, releases next month.)

He’d forgotten the last part about peace.

“After all those months—I wasn’t supposed to sell,” he remembers. “I couldn’t believe I’d been negotiating for a year to sell this division, and I wasn’t even supposed to sell.”

At the risk of angering his board and his potential buyer, Looper pulled out.

Following how he feels the Holy Spirit leading isn’t unusual for him. When he started his company in 1989, he felt convicted to limit himself to 40-hour weeks and no sales goals.

“I don’t ever recommend entrepreneurs starting a company or a ministry on 40 hours a week,” he said. “But I do recommend anything the Lord convicts them to do.”

His approach is unconventional, but not unusual for Christian businesspeople.

“I do look for that peace for big changes in direction,” said Fred Heldenfels, president and CEO of Heldenfels Enterprises. (The company manufactures and installs concrete structures.) “On the other hand, if we all acted like Gideon every day and asked for a sign on the fleece, you’d be testing God, and you wouldn’t get anything done.”

Christians in business—especially those whose choices affect employees and company direction—often wrestle with how to follow God in their decisions.

1. Realize God Cares About Work

Eric Stumberg grew up in a family of Christian entrepreneurs, where the rules for being a believing businessperson included: Don’t work in an immoral industry. Don’t do anything illegal. Work hard. Talk to people about Jesus. And give money to the church, so pastors and missionaries can do the real work of God.

It wasn’t until a retreat in 2013 that he realized that “Jesus would call people to the marketplace as businesspeople,” he said. “The Lord gives us different assignments in the way he’s made us.”

The realization changed his life and his business.

“I was like, ‘Wow, that is awesome news! I have to dig more into this,’” he said. He told his friends, started a book study, and talked his church into bringing in speakers on faith and work.

Okay, so what’s next? he thought. A decade earlier, he’d started Tengo Internet, a company that provides WiFi access for outdoor spaces such as campgrounds and state parks.

He started paying his employees full benefits, telling Made to Flourish that “compensation is also a theological issue. . . . I didn’t want people to be unable to get medical care.” He did a market analysis to find out living wages and bumped up his base pay. And when he moved into a new space, he designed extra offices to be leased to someone else—currently an Anglican church planter and a nonprofit that fights sex trafficking—at below-market rates.

There’s no decision—whether about health care or customer service or office space design—that doesn’t have a theological basis and implication, he said. And that includes who to hire.

2. Hire (and Fire) with an Eye Toward Calling

“When I was 16 years old, someone gave me the book Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill,” JP Morgan Securities senior vice president Jeff Durkee said. “I wish they would’ve given me a Bible.”

Hill wrote that “wise people make decisions quickly, and change them very slowly, if at all,” Durkee said. The message was reinforced by a manager who told Durkee “if you can’t tell within 15 minutes if a guy is a jerk or not, you shouldn’t be in management.”

“I carried that model for decades,” Durkee said. “My early hiring was not good.”

Thirty years later, while reading Proverbs, he learned that gentle words and many counselors are a better way to go. Now he interviews potential employees multiple times, spending a lot more time getting to know and assess them.

LifeWay president and CEO Thom Rainer checks for three things—character, competency, and chemistry.

“I haven’t always gotten it right,” he told TGC. His weak spot is competency—if he likes a person’s character and personality, he can sometime hire without making sure the person can do the work.

“Some of the most difficult conversations are where people I have a good relationship with didn’t make it, because they weren’t the right fit at the right time,” he said.

Stumberg tries to “think about if they can do the work, and if they should do the work.”

That distinction can also be called “discerning your calling.”

“It’s kind of math,” he said. “If God calls everybody, and I am part of everybody, then God calls me. . . . When you hire somebody, that’s a factor—are they called to be here or not for a season of life?”

When you hire somebody, that’s a factor—are they called to be here or not for a season of life?

To figure that out, Tengo Internet assesses potential hires for competency and personal compatibility.

“And then we pray,” Stumberg said. Sometimes, someone in leadership will feel a “check”—what they call an instinct or gut reaction—that something is wrong with a potential hire. Once in a while, that’s enough to refrain from hiring somebody—say, if they’re a family member of a current employee, and the relationship between them is difficult.

But since Stumberg hires veterans freshly out of the military, people with difficult family situations, and people with a lot of student or credit card debt, that uneasy feeling is often “less of a deal breaker and more of a red flag,” he said. “We sense something is off in our gut, so we pray about it and think about it.”

Once hired, Stumberg’s employees “probably get more chances than they normally would because . . . there’s a different level of ownership of leadership around the sins of people,” he said. He aims to disciple and shepherd them in their work, and that carries a different burden than someone looking for competencies right off the bat.

He’s careful with his hires, because “there is no neutrality in the gospel,” he said. “You’re either in the kingdom of heaven or of Satan. You can’t make a decision that doesn’t have an implication” for kingdom work.

Making those decisions is a lot easier when your fellow leaders understand gospel motivations.

3. Seek Unity Among Leadership

“Once, I was trying to sell a division, but my biggest customer said they didn’t want me to sell to their biggest competitor,” who wanted to buy it, Looper said. “They had been a gracious customer of mine, but they were also 40 percent of the business,” so removing their part from the sale wasn’t going to make the buyer happy.

He prayed about it, and felt God was leading him to honor the customer’s wishes.

“The investment banker, management team, and board said I was crazy,” he said. But Looper owns the majority of his company, so he has the latitude to make counterintuitive decisions. (This one worked out. He carved off and kept his best customer’s part, which then grew on its own.)

When a leader in a Christian company wants to follow God into those sometimes foolish-looking decisions, it helps to have everybody on board.

At Tengo Internet, all three members of the leadership team are Christians. “Sometimes when we’re wondering which product to offer or direction to go, we pray,” Stumberg said. “Sometimes we feel peace or confirmation. If someone says, ‘I’m not for that,’ then it will not win. We have unity before we charge forward.”

You can’t make a decision that doesn’t have an implication for kingdom work.

He links that pursuit of unity back to Psalm 133:1: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.”

At Suntech Building Systems, the leadership team doesn’t usually pray together. But executive vice president and COO Brad Larson does pray about decisions privately.

“I would also ask myself, Is there any fear of missing out involved? Is there any unhealthy ambition? Are we growing for growth’s sake?” he said. “We’ve done that before, and it’s horrible.”

His leadership team is also made up of Christians. “To be equally yoked is really important,” he said.

Stumberg uses the same language. When a friend asked his advice on whether it would be a good idea to buy into a business, Stumberg asked him whether he’d want to be yoked to the current owner. (He didn’t.)

“Why spend energy to yoke yourself to someone you don’t want to be yoked to?” Stumberg said. “We don’t need to put a ring on it. Let’s just keep dating”—in this case, remaining employer and employee without binding together as co-owners.

Being equally yoked doesn’t mean you always agree, Heldenfels said. “But knowing that most of my leadership team members have been believers is important to me, and gives me a certain confidence that at least the values and priorities are shared.”

That’s especially helpful if the company looks at power and money in a countercultural way.

4. Hold Power and Money Loosely

As Looper found out, sometimes following God will cost you a business deal. And as Stumberg discovered, sometimes it’ll cost you in salaries and benefits.

“One of our core values is to do the right thing no matter what it costs,” Larson said. He’s in construction business, where customers, general contractors, and subcontractors all argue over who covers unexpected costs. For Larson, following God might mean paying for someone else’s mistakes, not filing a lawsuit when he has legal grounds to do so, or fessing up to a mistake even if it might lose him a customer.

Or it might mean sacrificing to give other people margin—such as pricing services lower than the maximum market rate or not asking employees to “give 110 percent” and be constantly available, Stumburg said. “That’s not caring for them. If you’re taking more than is in them, that’s not sustainable. That’s exploitative.”

It can be expensive to follow God. But it can also be profitable. Looper has “never been disappointed” when following Scripture and prayer to his decisions. And Heldenfels—who is facing rising construction costs due to administrative tariffs on steel—isn’t worried.

“God has worked out situations like this before,” he said. “I can see with hindsight God’s hand on us, and his providence with giving us just the right project at the right time.”

5. Rely on Daily Prayer and Bible Reading

“God sees the future, and I don’t,” Looper reasons. “He knows what’s best, and I just think I do. He loves the people around me more than I ever could.”

Discovering God’s character and will through Bible reading and prayer, then, is crucial.

“I virtually do not leave the house until I’ve prayed, meditated, and read Scripture,” said Durkee, who also has two friends who pray for him. “I put that armor on virtually every single day.”

Reading the Bible doesn’t mean you’ll find a verse to back up your latest business plan, Stumberg said. “But if you’re always in Scripture, that’s always forming you into the mind of Christ, so you can say, ‘This sounds right and true.’”

Even then, not every decision is the right one, Heldenfels said. “There are a lot of decisions made. Sometimes my instinct is to do something counterintuitive, and it doesn’t always work out. Certainly, my life would be a lot less stressful if I batted 1,000 percent, but I don’t.”

Larson doesn’t either. “I don’t ever assume that I am sanctified enough to make the right call,” he said. “My default mode is selfish and sinful, so I’m going to make decisions that benefit me. I want to be so immersed in God’s Word and in good teaching and counsel that I protect the people in my care from myself.”

Ultimately, the most important leadership skills aren’t about tactics, but about the leader’s heart, Larson said. “Whether a pastor or a CEO, the most important thing we can do for our leadership ability is to shepherd our heart in the gospel and be washed in grace.”