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Unmasked

 

UNMASKED

We are living in a time when wearing masks is becoming part of our “new normal” as health authorities balance opening up public spaces while mitigating the risk of spreading the coronavirus. Perhaps like me, before you leave home on one of those essential trips, you complete a mental checklist that looks like this:

  • Keys
  • Phone
  • Wallet
  • Mask
  • Hand Sanitizer

And if you are a mom of young kids, you’d probably have a few additional items to add to that list.

Recently, a friend commented to me about how she now triple-checks that she always has her mask. She also mentioned how she was wondering why people were not smiling back at her as she flashed them a lovely smile until it dawned on her that they were unable to see her smile behind her mask. Touché.

That got me thinking about another kind of mask - those invisible masks that many of us have been wearing for most of our lives. This type of mask-wearing is not unique to our time; Jesus addressed this issue several times during His earthly ministry and I’d like to take a look at one account in Luke’s gospel.

For our purposes, the Message paraphrase describes it beautifully: Luke 12:1-3 (MSG)

By this time the crowd, unwieldy and stepping on each other’s toes, numbered into the thousands. But Jesus’ primary concern was his disciples. He said to them, “Watch yourselves carefully so you don’t get contaminated with Pharisee yeast, Pharisee phoniness. You can’t keep your true self hidden forever; before long you’ll be exposed. You can’t hide behind a religious mask forever; sooner or later the mask will slip and your true face will be known. You can’t whisper one thing in private and preach the opposite in public; the day’s coming when those whispers will be repeated all over town. (Emphasis Added)

In this example, Jesus was talking about the ultra-religious Pharisees and the religious masks they wore, as they literally walked around in robes with tassels that showcased to the public how many religious laws they were “obeying”. The fact is that they may have appeared a certain way on the outside, but they lived the exact opposite in reality.

Religious masks remain a big part of our society today, even though they may not take the form of tassel-lined robes. Today, it may take the shape of our perfect church attendance, involvement, connections, memory verse knowledge, and the like.

But that is only one type of mask. Masks come in many forms to hide various underlying conditions in our search to belong. We may feel inferior, not good enough, not a part of the group, or a range of other things. I do believe that our Social-Media saturated age has amplified this perceived need to wear masks. It may mean that multiple masks become necessary for different audiences, risking a loss of our identity altogether. We may have one mask to conceal the loneliness that we experience, another to portray a certain type of success, and yet another to hide deep wounds that’s causing us pain; the list could be endless. It can become exhausting to keep up with the different masks.

For a lot of my life, I became very skilled at wearing different masks - the religious mask around certain people, the success mask around others, and the “everything-is-fine” mask almost all the time. What I didn’t know then, was how much those masks were preventing me from receiving all that God had in store for me – healing, growth, authenticity and joy. You see, masks inhibit others from getting to know the real us and keep us stuck in that fake state of existence which we are trying so hard to conceal. 

Ladies, do not allow the world to deceive you into the trap of wearing invisible masks. Thankfully, if you’ve been putting on a mask, you can also choose to remove that mask. On your own, I know, that could seem like a daunting task, but I would encourage you to find a trusted group of friends who will lovingly walk with you through the process of unmasking and finding healing. James 5:16 talks specifically about how we find healing when we confess our sins to each other and pray for each other. Like most churches these days, our church has provided opportunities for you to do so in the safe environment of our small groups where you can build meaningful, godly relationships. God has always intended for us to build life in the context of community and I highly recommend that you connect with a small group.

It may be a long while before Public Health authorities remove the restriction of wearing masks in public; however, the benefit of halting the spread of the virus that has ravaged our world far outweighs the discomfort of wearing a mask, so I am happy to comply.

But when it comes to those invisible masks, this I know firsthand: the freedom that comes from removing them cannot be overstated against the debilitating risk of not doing so.

Blanca recorded this song, “Real Love” a few years ago and it seems to be a fitting song choice for this week. I urge you to reflect on the lyrics.

By: Yolande A. Knight

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Guest Comment 2 months ago
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Masks are common in our christian circles and it is very discouraging when you are not able to truly open up to some people because they come across so perfect. we all have issues and we all have a past and not one of us is sinless so we should be respectful and gracious with each other. for those who have a small group that they can trust, that is good but not everyone does. hopefully this will help us think about how we are real with each other, thanks for this. MS

Packing and Unpacking

Packing & Unpacking

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:18-19 NIV)

When going on a vacation, packing creates anticipation and excitement. When I arrive at my destination, I usually unpack so I don’t feel like I am living out of a suitcase but actually staying for a while. Our family just experienced packing up ALL of our belongings to move to a new permanent address. Although there is anticipation and excitement, purging is exhausting. What items are essential? Which items are still relevant in the new home and what should be thrown away? Through this entire process of down-sizing, I have been thankful for where we were headed and for being forced to minimalize. However, it was very difficult to let go of some items such as shower and wedding gifts (we have been married 28 years😊), toys from our now adult children’s past. Things like cassette tapes, who still has cassette tapes? Emotional attachment and memories can sometimes stop me from letting go.

When COVID began, we were all forced to pack up some things; vacations, schedules, weddings, celebrations, freedoms, convenience shopping, socializing, entertainment and attending church.  At the beginning, I knew many people who were excited about the thought of a short vacation with their families, albeit in their homes. However, as news changed daily, realization set in, this was going to be a long journey. The questions I have been asking are similar to my physical move from Oshawa to Merrickville. What have I held onto that maybe needs to be reassessed? Unforgiveness? Imbalance between work and home? My relationships with neighbours, family, and my community? What has been repacked that needs to stay for me to move forward with Christ? Regular time with Jesus, my prayer life, need for rest, contentment in all circumstances, a grateful attitude.

What about as a church family? Should we reassess what happens when the doors open? (Note: I am not talking about mandatory safety protocol) Have we ordered our church services purely out of tradition or out of listening to the moving of the Holy Spirit? What are the essential, non-negotiable parts of our service? What is the most relevant way to share Jesus with our community? How do our weekly services help us re-align our faith individually and corporately to be the light we were created to be the rest of the week? I do not know the answers, but I am filled with excitement and anticipation as we unpack the plan God has for Arlington Woods Free Methodist Church.

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV)

By: Karlene Fletcher

We are thrilled to welcome Karlene to Arlington Woods Church in her new role as Worship Coordinator. On one of her last visits to Arlington Woods, Karlene sang this Nichole Nordeman song, "The Unmaking", whose original version is featured below. 

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Guest Comment 3 months ago
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Thank you Karlene and welcome! We are so glad you're here and thanks for sharing your journey of packing and moving and some of the challenges that come with downsizing. So many of us can relate to that. I love that thought of unpacking the plan that God has for Arlington Woods Church. xo

Staying Connected

 

STAYING CONNECTED

Have you noticed how quickly your devices are running out of power due to increased usage over the past several months of WFH – that’s the new acronym for working from home (for those who didn’t know)? If I am not careful, my earbuds will run out of power while I am on that important Zoom meeting with my boss. Or my computer will flash the “connect to power source” warning and if I’m not paying attention, my computer will shut off in the middle of an important work project rendering me to start all over.

This got me thinking about how the same is true in our spiritual lives. If we are not paying attention, our spiritual batteries could be signaling “connect to power source” while we blindly go about our days, oblivious to the warning signs.

I am thankful that I recently noticed that blinking warning sign in my own life. But that was after several different signs popped up. It started with a stirring in my spirit, which I’ve come to realize was the Holy Spirit nudging me. Then it was a conviction through a course I was completing on prayer. That followed with a devotional from a respected pastor which focused on Matthew 6:6 (NASB)  But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. (Emphasis Added)

Think about that verse! God, the Father, Creator of the Universe, invites us to commune with Him privately, where He sees us and promises to reward us! What an awesome promise!

This, folks, is a private meeting with Almighty God; not a small group meeting – as great as those can be! You and Father God. Alone. Nothing else should be more important to us! Of all the meetings on my agenda on any given day; this meeting should always take priority.

But was I giving God the priority that he deserves or was I allowing this direct access to minimize the value of this relationship? Was I turning this privilege into an obligation?

Are you?

Many of us can think of a public figure with whom we would relish the opportunity to have one private meeting and I imagine how thrilling it would be to have such an occasion. And yet, we have been given this awesome privilege of meeting with our Heavenly Father anytime we want, for as long as we want, through the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Not through an intermediary, not through a High Priest, but direct access to God’s Throne Room! That’s huge, sisters!

God has communicated with us through His Word and on an ongoing basis, through the Holy Spirit which NEVER contradicts His Word. He has given us the privilege of prayer to communicate with Him and our study of His Word enables us to continually improve that communication. When prayer becomes a discipline, we begin to delight in this privilege and experience the peace that Jesus promised over our stressful lives.  

I am becoming more intentional about staying connected and as I’ve been taken back to the basics of my spiritual disciplines; I was led back to one of my go-to worship songs from several years ago, “The Greatness of Our God”.

By: Yolande A. Knight

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Guest Comment 3 months ago
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Thank you for this Yolande. It really blesses and encourages my own prayer life. Sometimes I am distracted during prayer and this reminds me that I am sitting in conversation with my Father. Also I love Darlene Zschech, she is one of the greatest worship leaders of our time. MS
Small Group Leader 3 months ago
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Thanks for this very important reminder, Yolande. It is so easy to see the similarities of plugging in during this time of COVID, and remembering to plug into our source of power for living. Janet

Prayer

PRAYER

Many years ago, I realized that the best part of the Bible study I attended was our time praying together. Way back in those days, I mostly listened and was intimidated to pray out loud, but I knew that was the most powerful part of our time together. It took me a long time to understand that all I really needed to do, was to remember who it was that I was talking to and to stop worrying about what others might think of my words.

I loved that group as I was a newly committed Christian and hungry to learn. I never missed our Friday night study. Now, fifty years later I am still in touch with the remaining members of that study. When we get together our conversations are still meaningful and challenging. The relationships we formed at that time are still solid and reliable. I still know that all I need to do is ask them to pray about something and they will be right there.

But we get complacent even about prayer. Up until recently, we in North America, lived in a relatively safe environment, where we lack for very little that we can’t get for ourselves. I know I’m speaking generally, and this doesn’t apply to everyone, but most of us lived busy, self-sufficient lives, where we could control much of our world. It became easy to be distracted from what is really important.

In 1998, I went on a mission trip to Haiti with other folks from Arlington Woods Church. The group was about 20 people and was led by Lenore Dunn. Prayer was an integral part of our preparation for this journey. I particularly remember one Sunday morning when the entire team went up to the prayer rail and the rest of the congregation gathered around us to ensure God’s blessing as we went. Lenore described how while she prayed for the team during her devotions, she got an image of us where she saw us in a vulnerable place. We were inside a circle of hedges made out of thorns with roaring lions outside but guarded by angels. A spiritual battle was going on and we needed to be prepared. She quoted the following scripture which God gave her and assured us that nothing could harm us, but that experience told her that we needed to be doing our part through prayer.

The scripture was Psalms 91:9-13

If you say, The Lord is my refuge,”

    and you make the Most High your dwelling,

no harm will overtake you,

    no disaster will come near your tent.

For he will command his angels concerning you

    to guard you in all your ways;

they will lift you up in their hands,

    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

You will tread on the lion and the cobra;

    you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

This scripture later became very meaningful for me, and perhaps to the others on the team. I believe, it guided us for the ten days we were away.

The battle began for me even before the trip, as my mother was rushed to hospital a little more than a month before the trip and it was touch and go if she would survive. I was back and forth to Toronto a couple of times during that period but never thought that I might have to cancel this trip. By the time we were scheduled to go she was out of hospital and back in her residence.

I had never been to a third world country before, and although my preparation involved a lot of reading about Haiti, I was still very ill prepared for the sights, sounds and circumstances we encountered as soon as we got off the plane in Port-au-Prince. It was so alien; it was almost overwhelming. I found myself very much out of my depth and shocked by things that were obviously commonplace for the citizens of Haiti.

It wasn’t very long before I found myself engaged in a serous conversation with God as I processed what I was feeling and seeing. I wasn’t sure I could cope and knew I needed His help. Don’t get me wrong, nothing very dramatic happened while we were there, but, just the same, it was another world.

Still, as I processed my surroundings and asked God about the things we saw, it was as if the spiritual battle became more and more visible as I turned to Him for reassurance and guidance. Almost daily, we witnessed God at work in the midst of difficult circumstances and we met many amazing Christians who constantly lived with great difficulties in their lives and who relied on God much more, I felt, than I did.

Since that trip, I have never looked at my Christian walk and the value of prayer in the same way. I know there is evil abroad in the land, but I have also seen God’s hand at work. I’m not sure how to describe it but the more I relied on the Lord the clearer the battle around us became. I was encouraged by the faith of the Haitian Christians we met and by how we saw God at work in Dessalines, the town where we stayed. I knew what side I was on and how dependent I needed to be on my relationship with my Saviour.

Being uncomfortable and insecure does have its upside. I was left in very little doubt of whose I was and which side I was on. Abiding in the Lord and trusting Him were only too clear.

Returning home, I have tried to maintain that awareness ever since. We live in a world where a battle is always raging between good and evil, yet we can so easily be blinded to it.

This pandemic is just the same. It too is a battle between good and evil in the spiritual realm. Our responsibility must always be to communicate with God and listen to his voice, to look around and observe what is really going on. What is God doing in our world? How does he want us to respond to make a difference? Should we be giving a cup of cold water to someone who is thirsty or is he calling us to take a stand or to just lift up one another in prayer?

He has placed us in this community, in our families, with our friends and in our country to participate in this battle. We are not here by chance. We are His hands and feet for the gospel. It is exciting to see Him at work and to be part of His plan.

I can’t wait to see what else He is going to do. Keep asking Him what part you can play in His plan and expect an answer.

In Philippians 4: 1-4, the apostle Paul said: 

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

By: Lynne Willoughby

Photo Credit: Group photo of Haitian children provided by Lynne.

This week's song, "The Blessing", has resonated with the world during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 This rendition was done by churches across Canada. 

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Guest Comment 4 months ago
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What a great experience Lynne! Thanks for being so open and honest with your fears and concerns during your mission trip to Haiti. No doubt a life-changing experience for you and all those with you. xo

Why It's Important To Dig Into The Old Testament

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO DIG INTO THE OLD TESTAMENT!

August 2017, the month I chose to turn to God and run in his direction. Sometime later that month, I found a local Christian store and walked into it ready to conquer the Word of the Almighty! With fresh interest in the Word, I was excited and determined! I walked out of, what would soon be, my new favourite store with a pack of gel highlighters, colourful pens and a plain black journaling Bible.

God must have been cheering me on because he had waited for this moment for 23 years and finally here, I was, approaching his throne with a smile on my face and a fierce fire in my soul. 

It has now been almost 3 years since that day, and I have read through the vast majority of the Bible. I must say the Old Testament is truly something special! 

I mean, we all love Jesus and he is an extremely important part of how the story ties together, but sometimes we tend to forget why we need Jesus. It is so much easier to embrace the New Testament with all the goodies packed inside just the first 4 books! And it’s amazing to read all the wisdom filled letters from Paul, especially being in prison when he wrote 7 of those letters over the course of 3 years. Amazing!

Before I give you 3 of my favourite reasons why reading the Old Testament is so important, I want to give you a little history. I decided to begin reading the Old Testament from Genesis and work my way through; by the time I got to Deuteronomy, I dropped down to my knees in serious praise. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I prayed to God, feeling so ashamed of every little thing I’d ever done, knowing that through it all he never stopped loving me. I can truly say that was the first day my eyes were actually opened, and I had an understanding heart.

How appreciative I am to have a God who still loves me no matter what! A God who knew we would all need Jesus! A God who did not just leave us hanging out to dry on a cold day, but a God who invited us into his palace to be with him and get to know him personally through Jesus!

We must never take the Old Testament for granted and must educate ourselves through the Old Testament as to why Jesus had to come. 

We understand the main points: He died for our sins, he is the way, the truth, the light, but why? Why did Jesus do what he did and why does he claim to love us so much?

So, here are my 3 reasons why reading the Old Testament is so important and why it should NEVER be watered down!

  1. We need to get rid of our boastful attitudes and humble ourselves before the Lord. Reading the Old Testament is the perfect way to do this. (Ref. Psalm 12:3 NIV)

Reading 3-4 chapters of the Old Testament daily can really transform your heart and your understanding of God’s true love for us. Sin is just as bad now as it was back then, as it will be 1000 years from now. 

You might be thinking: “I’m not as bad as the people back in the Old Testament days.” 

And I would reply: “Maybe not, but we’re still very sinful.”

For example; people cheat on their taxes, steal items from stores, remove discount tags and attach them to an item in their carts and think nothing about committing those kinds of sins. Lying, whether big or small is sin. There’s talking about others behind their backs and mistreating others because they look or act a certain way that’s different from you. We can be really mean, rude and hurtful and those are all sins in God’s eyes. So, thank God we do NOT have to bring animal sacrifices every time we sin!

  1. The Old Testament also teaches us on how to pray through every situation - when they didn’t have Jesus as their example.

The Old Testament is filled with real people going through some really hard situations. These folks also did not have Jesus as their guide; they trusted in a very invincible God with mighty powers! 

God knows we are going to fail; he is not condemning us for that. He wants us to learn how to fully rely on Him and not on ourselves, our pleasures or our friends. Bear your troubles at the Lord’s feet. He wants to hear from you; He wants to help you! 

Here’s one:

Nehemiah was a perfect example of a man of prayer not just for himself but for Israel! (Nehemiah 1:3-11)

Would you say you have a healthy prayer life? Would you say you have a vital connection to the Lord? He wants to know your heart not your practiced or repetitive prayers. 

As Sheila Walsh puts it, “what would you ask Jesus for if you could see Him? If He was sitting right across from you at your kitchen table, listening, inviting you to ask for anything that was on your heart, what would you ask for?” (Praying Women by Sheila Walsh)

Putting prayer this way could really change your perspective on who you’re actually praying to - an almighty God with might powers!

  1. The tough books should be read to realize our sins are not far off from theirs, and this is why we need Jesus.

One of the most common sins most people don’t put much thought into is their words. We might not kill people, but there are some serious consequences with the words we use; some words have driven others to suicide. Let’s be real, our tongues are no laughing matter when used at a disadvantage to others! (Ref. Psalm 52:2 NIV)

So, here’s the thing; we might not enjoy reading everything in the Old Testament, but shall I remind you, the Old Testament isn’t meant to make us feel comfortable. The Bible is a book about God and who He is! It’s about God's unfailing love for His people no matter how rebellious they were, and no matter how rebellious we still are!

Time and time again I’ve heard the same reason why people avoid the Old Testament - the violence! It can be uncomfortable to read about all the murderous activities, but it should be read to help everyone understand how much more they needed a Saviour just as we do now. 

We see real people chasing after God’s own heart, getting down on their knees and tearing their clothes in true agony, weeping out loud, begging the Lord for help. And then we see people tearing down temples and sacrificing their children to Baal just because they could. So thankfully we have two sides to one large story; two examples we should follow:

  1. The Old Testament folks should be our leading example of what NOT to do. 
  2. Jesus as our PRIME example of what to do

If we are always reading just one side of a good story, eventually we start overlooking what’s actually good about it. Sounds a little funny right? But it’s the truth! 

All things aside, are YOU in his Word? The Lord is waiting for you to chase after His heart and get to know Him through His Word which He graciously gave to us.  The Lord wants to hear from YOU!
Let’s pray. 

Thank you, Father, thank you for your Word!

Thank you for our beloved Saviour Jesus Christ and everything He had to endure to become our Saviour. 

I pray over the wonderful women who are reading this article which You guided me to write. 

I pray you give each and every one of them renewed excitement in their souls, to open up their Bibles and turn to the Old Testament and start digging into your grace and forever unfailing love and guidance.

Lord, be with each and every one of these women, guide them as they journey back with a grateful heart and open their eyes to new perspectives. 

Thank you for everything you’ve done and continue to do!

In Jesus’ name

Amen. 

By: Sheena Frederick

Photo Credit: All photos used were provided by Sheena.

Below is a photo of Sheena with her first Bible!

 

Listen to the deep lyrics of one of Cory Asbury's latest songs: "The Father's House". 

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Guest Comment 5 months ago
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What a great word of encouragement Sheena! We need to be falling in love with the Word and having a hunger for God's Word if we want to be transformed by it. Thank you for sharing your journey with us. Beautiful testimony and beautiful pictures! xoxo
Small Group Leader 5 months ago
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Thanks so much for your encouragement and your prayer for us. God bless you. Janet McClung
Christine Villeneuve 5 months ago
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It is wonderful to see your joy in digging into God's Word and sharing what you learn with your family and friends. Thanks for sharing.
Natasha Onley 4 months ago
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So beautifully written, Sheena! Thank you for sharing your inspiring story and the wisdom you’ve learned. God has gifted you and filled your heart with a contagious passion for Him!

Listening

LISTENING

I wish I could tell you that every time God speaks to me, I clearly hear his voice or that I always get it right when I believe I’ve heard from God. I wish I could tell you that I know when God gives me a word for someone, and that I eagerly relay that message with confidence and conviction. Unfortunately, I can’t; more often than not, I get it wrong.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been sensing that God is asking me to listen to him and to tune out the distractions around me – and let me quickly say, there are many! For starters, I’m always working on multiple projects at the same time. Then, I spend too much time on my smartphone, scrolling through Social Media, discovering new playlists, responding to those annoying alerts, etc. I also thrive on staying in touch with people, and I occasionally watch too much Netflix.

As I journal my thoughts each morning, I normally get the process started by writing this question in my journal: “Holy Spirit, what are You saying to me today?”  On Saturday, April 18th, here is part of what I believed I heard the Holy Spirit say to me:

“When you hear from God, you will know exactly what to do. So keep listening. Tune in and adjust your frequency to hear from God. Get rid of all the distractions and keep the frequency clear. Adjust your antennas.”

Now, I wish I had edited that entry for grammar and spelling but that was what I captured. A few days later, on April 25th, I received a similar message.

Imagine my reaction when our leader at Nightly Prayer on Tuesday, May 5th, instead of starting with the usual Scripture reading, made this announcement: I believe God wants for us to hear his voice and he is asking us to listen to him.

Wow, God! I thought.

You see, I firmly believe that God is preparing us for a great harvest that is going to come out of this season of global hardship. But, he needs his people to be mature and ready for those whom he will send to us.

The question is not; is God still speaking but rather, are we listening? This is the essence of John 10:3-5, that as we grow closer to God, we will recognize his voice.

As I began delving deeper into this topic, I was led to the parable of the sower that Jesus told and was recorded in Matthew 13:3-23, Mark 4:2-20, and Luke 8:4-15 where Jesus says “who has ears, let them hear.” This is one of the few parables that Jesus took the time to explain, which is quite significant, as it removes any doubt as to its meaning - that we need to have prepared hearts to “hear” God clearly. Take some time to read this parable again and get a fresh perspective.

Here are my takeaways from that parable as it pertains to the obstacles that prevent us from clearly hearing God speak:

  1. A Polluted Heart - We may have too much stuff in our hearts to hear God clearly – these may be self-inflicted, unconfessed sin or they may be relationships that we need to restore. (James 1:21 NLT)
  2. A Distracted Heart - Hell is determined to keep us from hearing from God so we may need to turn down the world’s volume that keeps us distracted from hearing God’s voice. (Luke 10:39-40 AMP)
  3. A Neglected Heart - We may need to stop making excuses and start making changes in our life and our worship that helps us to mature in our relationship with God. (Heb 12:1-2 GNT)

Ultimately, God is looking for a Prepared Heart - We can prepare our hearts when we offer true repentance, refocus our priorities, and ask God to bring a revival in our lives. (2 Cor 7:1 MSG)

In this current global crisis, many are calling on God to hear us from heaven and heal our land. I submit that God is listening to us and waiting for us to get our hearts set right and make ourselves truly humble and available (2 Chron 7:14 ESV).

One of the new releases from Elevation Worship - "Available" speaks to this issue.

By: Yolande A. Knight

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Guest Comment 5 months ago
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Great perspective! Thanks for your vulnerability, Yolande. This is a lot to chew on. Great song choice as always. Really enjoy reading these AWW blogs. AD

Waiting

WAITING

I can honestly say that I’ve never met someone who enjoys waiting though I’m sure that such a person exists; I’ve just not met them yet. Let me tell you that I am not that person; my patience meter is usually running on empty on any given day. Needless to say, this current perpetual state of waiting has been very difficult for me as it’s been for many of you.

Yet God is asking us to wait! Millions of believers around the world are praying and seeking God for an end to this crisis and no one knows when that time will be.

This reminds me of the Israelites who waited 400 years for deliverance and even then, God took them the long way around, through the desert, to get to the Promised Land. As we have studied their journey and reflected on their response, we have often criticized their grumbling, lack of faith and trust in God. You can read the account in Exodus 13-17.

But how are we measuring up in the face of COVID-19 in 2020?

I’ve read somewhere that in an average lifetime of 80 years, we spend approximately six of those years waiting. Of course, not all at once, but broken down into chunks of  time; waiting at traffic lights, in lines at various places for services, waiting on people, waiting for a response to a question, for a baby to arrive, for a call back from our doctor, a job offer, and the like. It all adds up. It begs the question about how our waiting, during this time of COVID-19, will affect that average of six years!

Waiting is not easy, even for the most patient person but it does not have to be unbearable. I have found that waiting is less painful when I shift my focus.

May I share three ways that have consistently helped me to shift focus during extended periods of waiting:

  1. Refining my worship - Waiting reveals the “thing” that we worship the most. Our worship can be aimed at success, acquisitions, something, or someone other than God. I’ve learned to increase my worship of Jesus while I wait on him and I do so by saturating myself with his Word, being in constant communion with him through prayer, and surrounding myself with uplifting music that glorifies God.
  2. Recalling God’s unchanging faithfulness in my life - As someone who journals on a regular basis, this has been easy for me to do. During this current time, I have spent hours re-reading journals from several years ago and I have been reminded of and astounded by the many times when God showed up for me in miraculous ways. Will he do it again? Absolutely!                     
  3. Preparing for my next season - I recognize that this term “season” is one that we (Christians) frequently use which may cause it to lose its effectiveness. I do believe that, just like God’s natural order has distinctive seasons such as spring, summer, fall, and winter; so too do our lives. I don’t always recognize when I am heading out of a season, but I have come to distinguish when I am being prepared for a next season. I believe that “The Church” is in a time of preparation for its next season.

As I have been reflecting on this time, I discovered this worship song by Lincoln Brewster, "While I Wait" which had me completely undone. I urge you to listen to the lyrics of this song which I believe will encourage you today.

By: Yolande A. Knight

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Guest Comment 5 months ago
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That song tho! And the story behind the song is even more moving. Lincoln Brewster wrote it for his wife who had gotten over a rare form of cancer only to have to go through neck surgery and after getting through that had another major battle that he described was worse that the previous two. Powerful stuff. Learning to wait on God. As the lyrics say "Though I don't understand it I will worship with my pain" Thank you for this. xo
Guest Comment 5 months ago
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As I read your blog on the above mentioned. This particular scripture came to mind; Isaiah 40:31 - If we wait on the Lord our strength He will renew. If as believers we can learn only one thing from this pandemic, it is in Him we live, and move, and have our very being, Acts 17:28: We are truly nothing without God! Let us cease the opportunity to use such a time as this to see where we stand with our Creator, and ask ourselves if we are good Stewards. If not, prepare ourselves for the next season.For as you mentioned, God is truly getting us ready for that such season. Thank you so much the timely reminder as we wait in expectation. May God pour back into you what you have given us!Lorna

Anxiety & Trust

ANXIETY & TRUST

Can I be honest with you? I’m scared. I wake up every morning wondering if this will be the day when I start to feel sick. Being completely transparent here; I’ve been battling anxiety for the past couple years. When I say anxiety, I don’t mean regular, everyday stress, such as traffic, or making it to work on time. I mean a general fear of the world. The best way I’ve been able to explain it to myself is that the world feels unsafe to me. What has gotten me through the daily feeling of dread and quickened breaths is acknowledging that the thoughts are in my head, and the world, out there, is actually safe.

And then coronavirus happened. I woke up, and the world instantly became unsafe. And everything changed! Suddenly, going outside, which always felt scary for me, now had a “real” sense of danger. What makes this more challenging is that I am a Christian. For many, the idea that someone can have anxiety and be a Christian doesn’t add up. Some days, I feel like I’m not “Christian enough” because I’m scared of the big, bad world. I imagine that others who deal with anxiety feel this way as well.

So, what does this look like for me on a daily basis, as someone who loves Jesus? It means a lot of time talking to God and being honest about my fears. It looks like some deep, but faithless prayers throughout my day, asking for calm. In the midst of this current global pandemic, it looks like me scribbling my prayers in a notebook, being real with my thoughts to God.

The thing is, the Bible knew that we would have anxious thoughts and that the world would be unsafe. Some believe that's why the phrase “Fear not” is used 365 times in the Bible – some say, there’s a fear-not command for every day of the year. In fact, Jesus tells us that we will have trouble in this world but that he is with us in the midst of those troubles (John 16:33). That we are to trust him, even when it’s not clear that the answer will be what we’re looking for. I believe that for many, coronavirus is revealing what trust in our relationship with God really looks like.

So how do we get through each day with the heightened anxiety that we may all be feeling right now?

As I pondered that question, I was reminded of something that I learned during my time as a competitive figure skater. During training, especially leading up to competition, my sports psychologist and coach would remind me to focus on what I could control. I couldn’t control what the judges would think of me, if the event was running on time, or what the other skaters were doing. As a figure skater, what I could control was my training, my mental state, and my own elements (to a certain extent). Basically, I did my part, and the rest was up to God.

What can we control during this time, and what do we need to let go? For me, I’ve learned that I can’t control how this virus is going to spread. I can’t control the news, or how the government will respond. I can’t control how people practice physical distancing, or how the future is going to unfold. But I can control how I practice physical distancing and stay home. I can control how much of the news I watch or read, how much sleep I get, how I move through my days - by exercising, and eating healthy. I can also control how I support those in my circle during this time - a friend reminded me that for many, this is the hardest thing that most people have had to face in their lifetime. I can also draw on my “training”, on past difficulties that I have gone through which have all equipped me to handle this current challenge. I can lean on my support system of friends, family and my church community. The rest is up to God.

Easier said than done, I know! As a Type A perfectionist with anxiety, I KNOW how hard this is in reality. Right now, each time I think about planning my week, I take a step back and pray first; the uncertainty of this crisis is causing me to put Proverbs 16:9 into action, which talks about how we make our plans but it’s God who actually turns those plans into reality. Maybe this is a lesson I needed to learn a long time ago, maybe you do too. For the first time, I’m taking things one day at a time, and it’s a strange feeling.

Hoping not to sound like one of those annoying Instagram Influencers (who are apparently making many feel that they’re not doing enough), may I encourage you to try to find something you can learn during this period. Personally, I want to accept the lessons God may be imparting to me during this season. I continue to pray for the virus to be stopped in its tracks and for God to keep us all safe. But how he responds, is not up to me, which honestly, is probably a good thing.

By: Yelena Knight

Here is a Casting Crowns song "Oh My Soul" that puts perspective on the worry of our souls.

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Guest Comment 6 months ago
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Wow. Thank you Yelena for your transparency and vulnerability. So many among us suffer from anxiety and are unsure how to reach out for help. May they lean on God's mercy and grace. As a line from the song says: "There's a place where fear has to face the God you know." xo

Living with COVID-19

LIVING WITH COVID-19

Editorial NoteSusi Steier, a thirty-something young lady living in England and a friend to one of our AW young moms, has graciously agreed to share her story of living with COVID-19 on our blog. She first posted this account on her Facebook page on March 25th. She has since recovered from the virus and is doing well.

Published with permission.

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Many of you might be wondering what it’s like to be one of the many suspected cases of coronavirus, so I thought I’d share a bit of my experience with you.

I started feeling ill last Saturday, March 21, 2020. First, I was just unusually tired, but towards the evening I got a mild fever. Then I developed the dreaded cough.

I spent the next day in bed with a fever, but by Monday I felt slightly better. Less fever, more fatigue, more coughing. I get out of breath easily, even when I just speak or eat, and I often feel dizzy. My fever has been up and down since the symptoms started, but all in all they have been relatively mild.

I talked to a friend from church yesterday who works with COVID patients in London and he said that the symptoms reach their peak on day 5-7. So, let’s see how the next few days will go.

Something that kept coming to my mind over the last few days was how God repeatedly calls his people to trust him in the face of danger. In the book of Isaiah, we see the Assyrian army coming, they have already taken the Northern Kingdom and now they’re on their way to Jerusalem. How are they supposed to trust in God when the danger is so real and so immediate? Before the pandemic, I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated what it might feel like to trust in God rather than in other people. In governments making the right decisions, in doctors who help the critically ill, in researchers who develop a vaccine, in my own body to fight the virus.

God eventually delivers Jerusalem from the Assyrian army. But even this rescue is only temporary because only two chapters later we see hints of the next enemy, Babylon, who will in only a few years’ time destroy Jerusalem and drag the people into exile.

Will our rescue from the coronavirus be just as temporary? When we finally get through this, what will the world look like? What’s the next danger we need to be rescued from?

In Isaiah, God promises his people a rescue that lasts. A rescue from this broken world to a world where there is no more danger, no more coronavirus or unemployment or loneliness. A world where there is no more death.

“On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples

a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,

of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.

And he will swallow up on this mountain

the covering that is cast over all peoples,

the veil that is spread over all nations.

He will swallow up death forever;

and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces,

and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,

for the LORD has spoken.”

Isaiah 25:6-8

This is so much better than any rescue this world has to offer because it means we won’t ever need another rescue. We often think the idea of a new world, or of heaven, is irrelevant for us, but during this time I’m reminded that heaven is exactly what we all need. We’ll finally be safe and perfectly happy. Isn’t this what we’re all longing for?

By: Susi Steier

Absolutely Susi, our ultimate goal is to be with the Father in Heaven - Enjoy Chris Tomlin's "Home"

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Guest Comment 6 months ago
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Thank you for sharing this with us Susi, and thank God that you are doing better! xo
Small Group Leader 6 months ago
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Susi, you are such a wonderful example of a godly young woman. May God bless you and your ministry. So thankful that you have recovered. Janet McClung
Guest Comment 6 months ago
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Praise the Lord!May God continue to bless and keep you in perfect standing as you share and encourage us.Stay safe!LTK

Forgiveness: Why it Matters

"Forgiveness: Why it Matters.

Editorial Note:  Forgiveness that most of us are required to give or receive may be of a different nature than the following account. However, the end result of any type of forgiveness is the same. There is healing for the person who is doing the forgiving. God is so gracious to grant that to us. 

You are about to get a glimpse into one woman’s personal story about forgiveness - how she came to extend forgiveness to someone who had sexually abused her when she was a child. This is not everyone’s story, yet there may be some of you who have had similar experiences. We encourage you to not suffer in silence or alone; there are resources and support available to you. Please reach out and access them.

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“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” Matthew 6:14, (NIV) 

Forgiveness is a topic that not everyone enjoys talking about. It makes us think. Choices that have been made in life, whether it affects our life directly or not, places us in situations or circumstances where forgiveness needs to be addressed. Maybe we are not ready to look “in the mirror” and see what the reflection is telling us to do or what direction God is telling us to go.

Google gives the definition of forgiveness as “the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offence. The offence may not be forgotten yet forgiven.”

I like this definition as it says that forgiveness is intentional (on purpose) and it’s a voluntary process (it’s our choice and it can take a while). Forgiveness can be instantaneous!

As believers, one of God’s amazing gifts to us is His son who died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. We talk about that as salvation or forgiveness of sins.

Why does that matter? It brings purpose for us to walk a holy life with and for God. God forgives us of our sin, yet we struggle with sin and the shame that it has brought to our lives. We often find that we need to forgive "ourselves" and the choices we have made in the past, and it becomes a part of the process of working out our salvation.

Jesus’ story is about believing by faith in someone we cannot physically see.  When Jesus said in Luke 23:34, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do...”, this was at the time when He was dying on the cross. Pause and think about that scene for a moment. 

When you imagine the scene, is He still on the cross?  Or is the cross empty like the ones often displayed in churches?  

I try to picture the scene on the day HE was there suffering for our sins. I know that I can’t see it all, but I try. I see the cross as the ultimate display of FORGIVENESS.  

When I was growing up, I used to listen to a song that identifies with the topic of forgiveness; I still often think about the lyrics that went like this: “He knew me, yet He loved me”.  This song talks about how if it were only for me, Jesus would have still died on the cross because He knew me, yet He loved me. Have you ever wondered that for yourself?  Would Jesus have died for just "you alone" on the cross? This question can produce strong feelings and conviction all at the same time.

Forgiveness evokes many questions such as, do we forgive on the basis of feeling and emotion or by choice and being obedient to what God tells us in Scripture. What chapter and verse do we find that?

Forgiveness and why it matters is a question, I believe that many of us have to deal with in our lives. Perhaps you are dealing with someone or something that requires forgiveness - either giving or receiving? What is your story?

Jesus’ story of forgiveness was shared in the Bible for a purpose. Does the forgiveness that is needed in your life hold a purpose?

My story is one of childhood sexual abuse at the ages of 11-13 within a church setting that happened many years ago. I had to deal with this because God brought the situation to a point where the abuser needed to come to a place of accountability. He needed forgiveness. Did I wake up one day and say, “He is forgiven Father.”  No, I did not.  It was a journey of healing and a testimony of God’s faithfulness because through that journey, I came to realize that the LIFE-GIVER (Jesus) did not abandon me.

God gives us purpose and sometimes that purpose includes forgiving others for the wrong that they have done in our lives. Wrong choices that have affected our lives, caused us pain and suffering. Because of free will, given to us by God, we often make sinful choices. These choices harm us, but we know that our God is bigger than our mistakes and He can turn our situations around and give us new life. He is the life giver and remember He doesn't abandon us!

One of the choices in my life that still has repercussions today and that I continually talk with God about is “keeping secrets”. It was a big part of my life for a long time, a learned behaviour that became a part of my identity. God knew every detail, but I was “keeping this secret” from everyone.  Someone made a wrong choice and changed the course of my life. Yes, I have the ability to change how that affects my life now. Through God’s grace, my secret was brought to light. That’s what God is about.  Bringing light to the dark areas of life which results in progressive healing in His strength, His love and His hope.

Today, I literally have to remind myself to “change the tape, CD, record, and the “self-talk” that I am “a failure” because of the abuse, I am not a failure, I am a survivor of my past and a daughter of God who saved me, healed me, forgave me and made me a new creation in Him. 

What is your story?  What has happened in your life that needs forgiveness?  Why does it matter? It matters to God, YOU matter to God.

On Saturday, October 13, 2018, I will tell my story and share how God has brought me on this journey of healing and forgiveness. I will share what I believe to be the purpose and why it matters in life. Hope to see you there!

Here are some verses to get you ready for our time together on Saturday:

Mark 11:25-26, (NIV),And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Luke 6:37, (NIV), “Do not judge, and you will not be judged.  Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

By: Ruthann Wheaton

Listen to the 2-part story that inspired the Matthew West, "Forgiveness" song.


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Guest Comment 2 years ago
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Thank you for sharing Ruthann! I can't wait to hear more about your story and how you got to the point of extending forgiveness on Saturday. I hope that lots of women will be encouraged to attend and hear the message of hope in spite of such a painful experience. Thanks again. xo

Starting Again

"Starting Again..."

I will set out and go back to my father…” Luke 15:18a (NIV)

There is something to be said about distance; something about picking yourself up and leaving something behind, because you no longer want to be held captive by whatever was holding you down. The older I get, the easier I can recognize it! There is often a lot said about walking away from something, and never turning back, but I want to talk about going back to something that maybe you should not have walked away from or walking away from something that you thought was not for you.

It takes a certain amount of humility to return, doesn’t it? Tail between your legs, head down to the ground, total humility. It’s about going back to your mom after being away for a while because you thought the world was better than your family or returning to a marriage you had given up on. It’s going back to a place you maybe shouldn’t have left.

It can be terrifying! It can bring you back down to earth incredibly quickly. Until it becomes a matter of returning to the place that is home; the familiar and nurturing place where you find acceptance in spite of your shortcomings.

How often have you had to return to your faith home? Or are you in a place where you need to return?

I’m not talking about a physical church building, though it could be that too, but the home that is in Christ; returning to the Father.

Does this get you thinking about the story of the prodigal son? If you’re not familiar with that parable, you can find it here. It doesn’t have to be that dramatic or severe, but a return may be the next thing that you need to do in your faith journey. This is something that has been on my own heart lately, as I began to sense a disconnect; a bit of a distance from “home”.

Recently, I returned to a job which I had boldly left months ago. I was onto bigger and better things and was ready to become a full-fledged independent boss lady. Pretty quickly, I realized that this new place, that seemed shiny when I was looking from a distance, really wasn’t for me. Though I always had the option of returning to my original position, I knew that it would take a certain amount of humility, admitting I made a wrong move, and that I missed the place I called my “work home”. I remember how nervous I was to tell my former boss, that I wanted to come back. I was expecting a bit of frustration, even rejection, and was pleasantly surprised by the warm welcome back I received.

It was like receiving the prodigal son’s robe, ring and celebration – I received a warm hug, and pure joy that I had returned. I’ve never felt more valued in a work setting before!

Jesus is like this – though better! When we stray, and honestly, we will all have seasons when we are a bit farther away from Him than others; it’s the ebb and flow of a human relationship with a Holy God.  But He is waiting for us; arms open, with a warm hug, and our very own robes, rings and celebration. We see this in a series of parables recorded in Luke 15.  In each of the illustrations, something is lost, and each time, the owner, representing the Father, searches for it; leaving the other items (99) to search for the one.

It’s so amazing to me when anyone gives me a second chance, but especially when God, the perfect being gives me chance, after chance, after chance. I screw up in countless ways and would have given up on me a long time ago. Thankfully, God never will.

I’m not sure what your story is; maybe you’re in a great place with your faith, where you’re excited to meet God every day. Maybe you’re feeling a bit over it, going through the motions, like you’re trying for no reason because nothing changes (hello, I’ve been there). Maybe you’ve given up all together, and are ready to move to the next place, city, relationship, job, family.... I’m not sure where this message meets you, but I hope it encourages you to return to your home, return to the place that can’t go wrong, even when it feels like there is a better way, a better, shinier home. There isn’t one.

Will it be easy? Probably not. Usually, when we have to return to our faith home, it means leaving behind a bit of mess. Maybe it’s a life of deceit, or a relationship that reduces you, or even habits that will lead to destruction. But take the step, He will meet you, and help you.

It’s never too late, never met with anger and you will not be turned away. You will be received with warmth and acceptance. Ask God for the courage to return and the humility to go back and start again.

 

By: Yelena & Yolande Knight

Allow these powerful, yet simple lyrics of this song "I Wanna Go Back" by David Dunn to resonate with you.

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Guest Comment 2 years ago
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Yelena, thank you for always being so authentic with your experiences. We certainly learn and grow from the experiences of others (as well as our own). So happy that the blog is back. Thank you. xo

Winter

"WINTER"

As long as the earth remains, there will be planting and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night." (Genesis 8:22, NLT)

I’m an odd duck, always have been. I love winter. I don’t ski or snowshoe and I haven’t been on skates in years, but I love winter.

It came to me as a child. 

We’d play outside after school until Dad came home, and then we would play all day on Saturdays. Homework was done after supper when the news was on and we had to be quiet. We played mostly in the front yard so our friends could see us and join in. Since Dad didn’t seem to be bothered when the snow tumbled onto the driveway, we made that our main playground. Sometimes we would even shovel it onto the lower half of the driveway so we could toboggan down our hill and up the other side.

When I went to school, the only time we were allowed to stay inside at recesses or lunch, were times when there was lightning. It didn’t matter how cold it was, you were expected to dress for it.

I can recall the school closing if there was a blinding snowstorm, when we would have to stay home and stay in! Not only were the roads hazardous, but there was a real fear that the street plow operator would not be able to see us with the auger on the plow, if we were on the road walking to school. 

Today, at the school where I work, the school hardly ever closes for bad weather. Even when the school buses are cancelled, the school is often open. So, I watch the weather closely and test the snow with my hand every morning when I arrive.

Will we be able to do it today?

In anticipation of having the perfect snow conditions, I would have purchased four bags of large carrots which would be safely stored in the “Breakfast Club” refrigerator. I would have made and left cookie dough in my freezer at home. Then I would wait for the perfect winter day.

The perfect day arrives when there is lots of snow and it all holds together - the day for the Annual Snowman Building Contest! 

Once that day is announced through the intercom system, the school erupts with cheers. Student teams are formed and one student is selected to be sent to the office for their team number and a carrot.  Over the course of two recesses, and within thirteen categories, the students get to perfect their masterpieces. During the entire process, the principal films each of the teams in action and at the end, I get to go out and judge them.

Judging is difficult because each team has worked so hard. However, we are able to select seventeen winning teams and announce them during the following morning’s announcements.

On the Annual Snowman Building Contest day, there would be no fights, nor any throwing of snowballs. Instead, there is team work, imagination, and lots of fresh air. Teachers are grateful that their duties outside on that day, are fun and easy.  It’s a winning day for all.

It makes me think of how our Heavenly Father must smile when He sees us working in teams, using our imaginations, and having fun!

Let’s Pray: Father, thank you for all the wonderful winter memories as a child, and for allowing me to create new memories now that I am grown and can experience the joy of the seasons through the eyes of the children around me. Thank you for the imagination of kids and for the opportunity to participate in activities that help them stretch those imaginations and work together. Help us all to see the wonder in your beautiful creation and the excitement in enjoying the simple things in each season.  Amen.

By: Bev Charles 

 

Enjoy this song from Hillsong Worship – "Seasons" - fitting for this post.

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Guest Comment 2 years ago
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This almost makes me want to go outside and make a snowman! Thanks for sharing these memories Bev. So beautiful. xo
Small Group Leader 2 years ago
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Beautiful Bev, thanks for sharing.
Julie Hogeboom 2 years ago
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Sounds like fun Bev. Good old fashioned fun. Thanks for your thoughts and sharing.