Re-Etched

This poem was written by my friend, Nathan Ahlstrom.

GRACE etched in vintage letterpress lead type

Re-Etched

The sizzling arrows fly
Darkness changes the countenance of the sky.

Arrows etched with transgressions past
The enemy knows these arrows will land fast.

“Help!”, I cry.
The Spirit whispers inside

Corinthians 6 comes the reply
“Such were some you, ’tis true, but…”

O glorious conjunction
the Spirit lifts my eyes

“You were washed,
sanctified,
justified
in the name of Jesus Christ.”

The arrows deflect
My shield etched
With His redemption

Simple Acts; Saving Grace

This post includes a testimony from Stuart Cooper, shared recently at Redeeming Grace Church. The testimony highlights how God used one man’s act of simple faithfulness to bring about His saving grace in Stuart’s life. I pray it encourages you that God can use your simple acts of faithfulness to work powerfully in the lives of those you interact with.

Charlie Robarge was a single adult who faithfully attended Cornerstone Church in Knoxville for several years. Because of his love for the Lord and for the lost, Charlie was involved in campus ministry even into his 30s.

Stuart Cooper Testimony

With no fanfare, on a regular basis, Charlie would knock on dorm rooms doors to invite students to meetings.

In 1995, I did not know Charlie… but more importantly, I did not know Jesus.

I was a young, arrogant, hypocritical 18-year-old freshman. I had attended church three times a week,my whole life, at the direction of my parents, but I was not right with the Lord.

The dangerous thing is that because of my church attendance and involvement since my youth, I considered myself a Christian. If anyone had asked me, “Are you a Christian?”, my immediate answer
would have been, “Yes.” But, my sins had separated me from God, and I was too proud to understand my need for a Savior.

My freshman year, my brother Craig and I were roommates in our dorm. During Fall Break that year, most of the dorm was gone, including Craig, and I was in my room, alone with my thoughts. I was listening to music, and one of the lines in a song said, “No one is listening to me, not even the trees.” Feeling hopeless, I looked out the window and prayed, “God, I don’t know if you even exist, but if you do, please do something right now. I need help.”

Right after I prayed that, a flyer slid toward my feet. It was an invitation to an evangelistic outreach meeting. Charlie had knocked on my door earlier that day, but with the music up so loud, I had not answered the door. So, he decided to slide a flyer underneath the door. I looked down and saw the words, “Victory in Life through Jesus Christ”, did a double take out the window, and thought, “I should go to this meeting.”

The night I attended that meeting, I heard the gospel communicated in a way that clearly convinced me of my need for a Savior, and I was drawn to Christ through the Holy Spirit in such a way that I could not help but respond.

The speaker was a man named Rice Broocks. There were multiple times as he preached where I felt the Holy Spirit specifically speaking to me. On at least three different occasions I would have a thought, and the speaker would answer my thought. Rice was saying that you can have all the outward appearances of a Christian and still not be one. I would think something like, “Well, I know that I’m a Christian, because I’m a leader in the youth group.” And then Rice would say, “Don’t think, ‘I know I’m a Christian, because I’m a leader in the youth group’. You can be a youth group leader and still not be a Christian.” This happened around three times.

At that meeting, I was convinced, for the first time, that I was not a Christian. And I was also convinced that the only way to become a Christian was to put all my trust in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, not my works. Believing the good news, I was born again.

Often, on the anniversary of that night, I think of Charlie, and at times when people point out grace in my life, that would not be there had I not become a Christian, I send a note to Charlie to thank him for being faithful to participate in the Great Commission.

I’m grateful to God for the powerful way He used the simple act of Charlie sliding a flyer under my door, and I pray He will use my simple acts that others may come to know Jesus, as well.

A Life Unafraid

This post was written by my 13 year old daughter, Karis Elizabeth Cooper.

Have you ever felt scared of the future? If this at all describes you, I hope this article encourages you and reminds you of how God works in wonderful ways.

This past summer, I was reading over the book of Job. I read as Job’s life was torn apart, and I was terrified that something like that would happen to me — that my life would be torn apart.

Then, one Friday night in late August, our family was thrust into a fiery trial, and God reminded me with His sovereignty.

My little eleven year old brother was at the park, playing football with some friends. My mom asked me to go tell him it was time for dinner, so I walked over to the park to bring him home. One of the boys had left his keys inside the pool area of our neighborhood clubhouse. The gate was locked, but my brother said he would help him get his keys. The pool area is surrounded by a wrought-iron fence…and my brother attempted to climb it.

It all happened so fast. But it was like it was in slow-motion as I watched it all unfold.

I will never forget the horror I felt when I saw my brother fall.

His shoe was wet; he slipped, and he was immediately impaled on the arrow point of the wrought-iron fence. My brother was screaming, in searing pain – entirely helpless. My parents rushed him to the ER where the doctors discovered that he had perforated his colon. Our family was entirely dependent on the Lord. The next few months were some of the hardest in my life.

It was exactly the thing I was the most scared of.

But, God used that fear of mine to draw me even closer to Him. I was drawn to His Word. I could feel Him embracing me as His child, and I was leaning on His love as someone who needed Him desperately.

I was weak. I was dependent.

While that may sound terrifying to you, as it did to me, I want to assure you when you suffer, you are not alone. In her book Kisses From Katie, Katie Davis says that she learned that “the powerless, broken, dependent place was actually the place where God was closest.” Yes! God is close to those who call to Him, and he will not over look you.

One of my favorite Bible stories is when Jesus and His disciples go out for a boat ride and Jesus falls asleep. When the storms come, the disciples cry out to Jesus, and He answers them. He asks them why they are afraid – he was always there. Then, he says a couple of words, and the storm becomes silent.

Like the disciples, we are trying to follow the Lord, but there are moments that the storms are raging, and we are anxious for God to come stop it. Moments when we forget God is right beside us.

But you know what God does when we cry out to Him?

He calms the sea.

In Proverbs, it speaks of a woman who is clothed in strength and dignity and laughs with no fear of the future (Proverbs 31:25).

I want to be that kind of woman. I want to laugh without any fear of the days to come. And I can, because on that day of judgment, I know that there is a righteous and holy Savior who lived a perfect life and died a substitutionary death for every one of my sins, so that I could be blameless before the Lord of the heavens.

Jesus died for us. He had a plan for each and every one of us before the beginning; a plan wonderfully, gloriously, awesomely, and fearfully crafted specifically for you. Our God is in control of every second of our lives, so we can live a life unafraid. Even in our suffering, He will be with us.

So, if you are at all afraid, rest assured that our God is bigger and stronger than anything that could ever come against us. He is with us. He is the Solid Rock on which we stand, our firm Cornerstone.

Never Alone

“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Heb. 13:5

We waited to hear from Mr. Yung. A serene man in his seventies, he had been confined to the cruelest of solitary confinement for two years for his faith in Jesus Christ. Locked in a tiny cell without light, with no contact with visitors or other inmates, Mr. Yung sat day after day, week after week, month after month for two years in total darkness (Except for brief and rare walks outside). Who wouldn’t want to hear what he learned about life, death, fear, faith and suffering as he languished in cramped darkness for two years?

Looking Up

When the moderator asked him what he had learned, Mr. Yung simply stated, “This is what I learned. I learned that Jesus is always with me.”

That’s it? Two years of inhumane treatment, both physically and psychologically, and what you learned was, “Jesus is always with me”?

The moderator rephrased the question, thinking he could coax a bit more from Mr. Yung.

He replied, “That Jesus is always with me is what I learned. He was with me when I was hungry. He was with me when I was cold. He was with me when I was hot and delirious. He was with me when I was afraid for my family. He was with me when I was sick. He was with me when I was beaten. He was with me when I was hopeless. He was with me when I was confused. Jesus was with me when I was sure I was dying. Jesus was always with me. Jesus IS always with me. That is what I learned.”

Christians rightfully focus on what the Lord has done for us. Yet Mr. Yung’s rather anticlimactic reply to the question was actually a most profound one. The knowledge that Jesus is always with us is equally necessary to walk whatever walk the Lord has prescribed for us. Jesus for us and Jesus in us. These are the two truths that help Christians put one foot in front of another, day by day, regardless of what our darkness consists of.

Do YOU believe this?

Ponder for a moment that Jesus who died on the cross for your sins is also present in your life, closer than a shadow and more intimate than a breath. He is with you right now, in your heart and soul. Your ever faithful friend, “Jesus is always with you”. Jesus is with you when you wonder if you have the strength to make it through work one more day. Jesus is with you when you fear the path your child has taken might ruin their lives. Jesus is with you when you drive to AND from your doctor’s appointment. Jesus is with you when you sit down in front of your computer. Jesus is with you when you think there is no other solution to your marriage than to end it. Jesus is with you when your boss says your position has been replaced by a teenager working in a call center in Malaysia. Jesus is with you when the doctor takes your child and says, “we will see you in five hours.” Jesus is with you when you review your life and wonder, “how did I wind up here?” Jesus is with you when your temptations attack you with the fierceness of the Orcs on Frodo. Jesus is with you when you feel the outcome of your life has been shaped by the choices of others. Jesus is with you when you have nothing but darkness surrounding you. JESUS IS ALWAYS WITH YOU.

There is great power and strength that comes from reflecting on what Jesus has done for us. AND, there is great power that comes from reflecting on Jesus in us. Moment by moment, his spirit in us, comforting, challenging, directing, warning, empowering, consoling and emboldening us.

He is with me, even to the end of the age.

He will never leave me nor forsake me.

United to a living Christ, living in and through me now. If you are a Christian, that is your testimony.

This instant, in the midst of your scrambled thinking, your fractured friendships, your uncertain future, Mr. Yung’s testimony is true of you. “Jesus is always with me.” The one who for hours was THE MOST alone person who ever trod this dusty orb says to you right now, I will never leave you. I am with you. I am in you. Moment by moment, event by event, trial by trial, temptation by temptation, step by step, you are not left to your own strength. You are not left to wield the sword alone. I am ALWAYS with you.

So, weak one. Remember, your weakness is to direct your attention to the strong one. Jesus, who is always with you, living in you by His Spirit. The next step? No one knows. Who will be with you when you take it? You do know, because if you have learned anything from Mr. Yung, it is this, “Jesus is always with me”

This post was written by Steve Shank. Steve has served in pastoral ministry for over 30 years and is the author of First Steps of Faith.

A Life Well Lived

“Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 ESV)

I recently attended the funeral of a good friend of mine whose life was tragically taken from him by the cancer of leukemia. Only forty-eight years old, my friend Doug left behind a loving wife and six children. Nearly a thousand people gathered to mourn the loss and celebrate the life of my friend. It was the largest funeral I had ever attended, and I was so struck by the influence and affect this man had on so many.

Photo Courtesy of Suzanne McNeil Photography - suzannemcneilphotography.com

Photo Courtesy of Suzanne McNeil Photography – suzannemcneilphotography.com

Co-workers, neighbors, family, church members, children and parents of the sports teams he coached in the community, and long-time friends spanning over several decades all attended his memorial service. We cried together, we prayed together; we laughed together, we grieved together. We missed our friend Doug, together.

Doug was a godly man. I met him over twenty years before his passing, in the high school auditorium that housed our local church in Knoxville, Tennessee. Doug’s joy was infectious and his love for Jesus was evident to all who interacted with him. It wasn’t long before he was asked to lead a small group, and I was one of those privileged to attend his group and benefit from his love and care. Doug and his wife, Alison, spent countless evenings opening up their home — and their lives — to our little church (which eventually grew to be a large church due in no small part to their investment). We lived in a college town and Doug adopted the college student’s schedule in his hospitality. I can remember countless times staying late after our small group meetings to no bother from Doug and Alison. Around 11pm, Doug would announce that he was ordering pizza for everyone and we would linger late into the evening on a Friday night. This dear couple counseled my wife and I through the early stages of our relationship into engagement and the beginning of our marriage. We babysat their children back when they only had two kids before their family grew to include six children; their two oldest were the ring bearers in our wedding.

Doug lived a quiet life. He didn’t have a Twitter account. He didn’t have a presence on Facebook. You could barely find his profile on LinkedIn, and even there it didn’t include his picture or any remarks about his work or personal life. All it said was District Sales Representative at Wallace Hardware and Co., the establishment where he worked for over twenty years. In these days when people change job titles or move companies every two to three years, Doug was an anomaly. He worked at the same company and attended the same local church for over 20 years and led his small group for nearly 18 years until the cancer set in and chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants limited his ability to lead. I can remember Doug with his bald head, wearing a mask to prevent infections, coming to church with the same joy and smile he had always displayed previously. He continued to coach his sons’ soccer team with the mask in tact, as well. And when I interacted with him, he would always seek to encourage me and draw me out about what was going on in my world. Consistent and faithful, hardworking, content and cheerful, season after season of steady plodding – that was my friend, Doug. He was a great man, and I believe he heard, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful…enter in to the joy of your Master” (Matthew 25:23).

As I’ve contemplated Doug’s life, I’ve sensed the Lord instructing me:

“Aspire to this.”

We live in a celebrity-crazed culture. It’s everywhere you turn, on the news, in the checkout lines of our local grocery stores and gas stations, in our Facebook and Instagram feeds, and even in the church. The American culture values the greatness of social influence. We measure our stature by the number of our followers and the prominence of the people we are connected to (many of whom follow us simply because we follow them). I wonder how influential we truly are, and how influential we think we are.

It’s so easy in our culture to be enamored by the trivial and to push aside side what is central, frankly because what is central so often feels so ordinary. We want extraordinary, but in our pursuit of extraordinary, in our ambition to live lives that count for something, we can so easily sacrifice what matters most. Doug gave many of us a wake-up call because when it comes to what is most important, he nailed it. He lived a short life, but it was a short life well lived. Just before he passed away, Doug and Alison celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. During those 25 years, he was faithful to his wife and she was faithful to him; he fulfilled his vow “till death do us part”. He trusted in Jesus for the forgiveness of his sins and for the gift of eternal life. He lived daily rejoicing in the joy of his salvation. He raised six children in the fear of the Lord, pointing them continually to Jesus. And he gave his life away in tireless service to his local church even as he joyfully fulfilled his responsibilities as a husband and father. He lived all-out for Jesus. What a life!

Over against the backdrop of our culture that is so impressed with social standings, God’s Word instructs us to “aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 ESV). We often hear the call to aspire to greatness, but who hears the call to aspire to live quietly? To mind our own affairs?

Now, I’m not saying that there is anything at all wrong with building a large following on social media (especially if it’s utilized for noble purposes), but that is not the sign of true greatness.

Doug lived a life of true greatness. And, I for one, am instructed by his joyful life of quiet, yet profoundly influential, obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. I know that I need more of this type of aspiration in my own life. In Doug Sexton, we watched ordinary and radical living gloriously collide to form a life full of meaning, purpose, and eternal value: a life well lived.

Do we really believe that if we aspire to live quietly, to mind our own affairs, and to work hard with our hands that we will make a massive impact on others for the glory of God? Doug Sexton has made me a believer. I miss him, and I thank God for his profound impact on my life.

Let’s all learn from Doug to aspire to what truly matters in this life, that we too may be prepared for the next.

Can you hear it?

Majestic alone beech tree on a hill slope with sunny beams at mo

Can you hear it?

It’s the goodbye song carried on the breeze
as summer falls into a sweet sleep

It’s the musical laughter of young children
as they jump into piles previously raked

It’s the crinkling of leaves underfoot as
the bright yellow bus pulls in

It’s the delighted whispers of the newly
crisp breeze, cooling cheeks

It’s autumn approaching quickly

Karis Cooper, Age 13 – Nashville, TN RevivingTheSoul Publications, 2016

No One Takes Selfies Here

Almost every morning, I take a walk, though I don’t leave my family room. In my mind’s eye, in my heart, I take a walk on a narrow, stony dirt path that winds up the side of a knoll to where it all happened.

Dramatic Easter Sunrise Lighting and Christian Cross

At times, everything in me wants to turn and walk in the other direction. There is something both compelling and ominous about this place. This is not a scenic walk with breath-taking vistas. No one takes selfies here. I make myself keep walking until I can hear the wheezing of labored breathing, the moans of grown men… until I feel ashamed being in the presence of their shame, until I can imagine the stench and inhumane suffering. Compelled, I put one foot in front of another. I simply have to see the broken and bruised man in the middle. I kneel as closely as possible at the foot of his cross and there ponder what horrors occurred here.

What cosmic conflict raged on these shoulders? What agonies were so relentlessly poured upon this one man that all of heaven turned its face away and all creation moaned? What does all of this mean?

Then, I imagine a stranger, ignorant of the events, walking on the same path coming up behind me with shock in his voice asking “Who did this?!” I turn my head and look over my shoulder and confess, “I did”; My sins nailed him there. The eternal son of God became a man. The perfect man became my sin. The obedient son crushed by his Father for disobedience he never committed. Then, the languid eyes of the man in the middle lock with mine and I hear him say “It is finished. Paid in full… Now, they are all forgiven.”

Stare until you marvel. Stare until you mourn. Stare until you repent. Stare until you worship. Stare until you rejoice

Zech. 12:10 “They shall look upon me, whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn.”

This post was written by my friend, Steve Shank. Steve has served in pastoral ministry for over 30 years and is the author of First Steps of Faith, one of the first books I read after becoming a Christian. I am pleased to announce that Steve will be joining RevivingTheSoul as a regular contributor.