Races, Hurdles, and Mountain Climbing

By Sarah Shuey

If your household is anything like ours, you’ve spent the past few weeks completely exhausted due to late nights, feeling a mix of elation, pride, and at times, disappointment. Thank goodness the Olympics only come around every few years! I greatly enjoy cheering on the underdog, watching record breakers defy the odds, and even crying along with those crying on screen. I’ve learned more about synchronized diving than I ever knew before. During those 16 days, we watch events we would never watch otherwise. For example, the other day, my TV screen was showing four different events: golf, tennis, badminton (which they take incredibly seriously, by the way), and trampoline gymnastics. Who knew that trampoline gymnastics was a thing? I sure didn’t and apparently it’s been around since the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.


One of the greatest parts of the Olympics is hearing the stories. There are so many GOOD stories about athletes and their families – abandonment, fleeing countries, incredible comebacks of all kinds, surgeries, and the list goes on. Sometimes the best stories come after the medal. David Boudia and Steele Johnson took home a silver medal for the men’s synchronized diving. Not only are they amazing at an event that I can’t comprehend, but when interviewed about their success, the first thing they both said was amazing to witness. Both men stated that their identity is in Christ, not in silver medals and awards. How awesome is that!?! We are not defined by the things we do or the things that happen to us but by the One that created us. These men spoke boldly for Christ on one of the biggest platforms around. They were interviewed live on national television about their success and they made it clear that Christ was the most important thing to them. That just amazes and excites me to see people living for Him so publicly.

Our Christian faith can sometimes feel like a race. Maybe not quite as fast as record breaker Usain Bolt, but a race nonetheless. Often times it may feel like hurdles with the ups and downs we face. Or other times it may be more like extreme mountain climbing (if that were an Olympic sport). In the beginning of Hebrews chapter 12 we read “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfect or of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scoring its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Don’t lose heart in this race. Jesus overcame it all for us. Then in 1 Corinthians, Paul says in his letter “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”

This race we are running has a glorious finish line. Eternity with Christ. It doesn’t get much better than that! These athletes compete with the end goal in mind: the gold medal. We run with the end in mind as well: Jesus.

Finish strong, my friends. The end is worth it. I promise.


Lessons I learned from my Grandmother (… and am still learning)

By Sarah Shuey

This week, my wonderful grandmother Betty Cooper is turning 80. This fabulous woman, the matriarch of my mother’s family, is known and loved by many and is a natural teacher just by the way she lives her life. Her daughters, sons-in-law, nieces and nephews, grandchildren, and every other member of her immediate, extended, and “adopted” family can share countless stories and lessons they gathered, and continue to gather, from their time with Betty. These are just a few stories and lessons I have stowed away and continue to grow upon.

Games (board, card, or others) play an important role in building a healthy dose of competition (or unhealthy… depending on how you look at it). I’ll never forget walking into a store that sold card games with her and seeing her walk up up to the pack of Uno cards, stating “I win by default.” That is an accurate depiction of how much my grandmother loves being competitive. Always a game to win to be the grand champion (specifically Uno)! Don’t let that quiet woman fool you! She’s the most competitive of us all. When watching a sporting event, specifically football (Navy and Redskins), it is okay, and encouraged to yell at the TV. Don’t worry, they can hear you and will adjust accordingly!

Driving — or riding in — a new car is a refreshing experience. When any of us are considering a new car, the first person we check with is my grandmother. She is up to date on current styles and brands and is happy to offer her opinion as long as she is able to go for a ride in that new car. So, if someone in our family could just buy a new Subaru that would be great!

Being a Christian isn’t just about talking the talk. You have to live your faith by your actions every day. My grandmother is a strong woman of faith who reads her Bible every day, prays regularly, volunteers her time, and is involved in the daily life of the church (and not just the building). Jesus is the center of her life and I don’t think there is anyone who can say otherwise. Her faith guides every decision she and my grandfather make. They both offer sound, faith-based advice and guidance freely and willingly to anyone who asks.

Family is everything. For my grandparents’ 40th wedding anniversary, they paid for all of us (twelve in total) to go on a cruise for a week because all they wanted was for all of their family to be together to celebrate. We are a military family (Coast Guard and Navy) so a week where everyone was together and didn’t have to leave mid-week was a rarity. I have such fond memories of that trip! Family, and supporting that family through all situations, is of the highest importance. When you are together, laugh often and love freely!
Above all else, when given the choice, always choose chocolate. Always.

Happy Birthday Ooma!


Life is hard… but God is good

By Sarah Shuey

I am mildly OCD when it comes to my schedule, planning, and organizing my life in to nice, neat categories (key word being mild…). When Doug’s dad had a stroke a few weeks ago, we were left with uncertainty, unanswered questions, and the inability to plan for the near future. Not only was I struggling with emotions of grief and sadness over his health and suffering, I was thrust into this land of limbo and waiting, which is not something I handled very gracefully. Needless to say, we as a family, were all in this place of longing for answers. These weeks were brutal and just downright hard. There is no better way to put it. It was hard. One of the hardest things I have ever been through. One of the hardest things we have ever been through.

I struggled. I struggled living one day at a time. I had students ask me what we were doing the next day, people asking if I could come to a rehearsal, and meetings I needed to schedule. To each request I had to leave a giant question mark since I had no idea if I would be here or if I would need to be in Ohio that day. I struggled with what to pray. What do I say? What do we need? What is best for Carl? How do I help my husband through this? What is God’s plan? As I was sitting in the Columbus airport waiting for a flight home leaving Doug behind with his family, I was reminded of this song by Casting Crowns from several years ago. The chorus proclaims:

I’ll praise You in this stormBeautiful sunset
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm

Despite our grief, our questions, our uncertainties, our unknowns, here is what I came to realize: Life is hard but God is good. He is still worthy of all our praise. He still loves us and cares for us. He hears all our prayers. Even those prayers that we cannot put into words. There were so many times in the past few weeks that all I said was “God…” and just sat in silence knowing that he was holding me. Holding us and guiding us through all the trials and tears. Despite Carl’s prognosis, we rested in the comfort that soon he would be healed, restored, and perfect again. His faith was strong as evidenced by the faith of his children. He would be with Jesus and in a much better place than we could ever hope to provide for him here on this earth. A friend reminded me of that fact this past week, which brought me such comfort and strength. Through this, I learned just how many people are in our corner, how many people care, and just how powerful prayer can be even when the outcome is not quite what we originally hoped.

On the morning of March 20th, 15 days after Carl’s stroke, our prayers of healing were answered. While his family was in church for the first time since this journey started, worshiping and being encouraged by our brothers and sisters in Christ, Carl was received in to the open arms of Jesus. As Dr. Carriker said in his sermon that morning, God does not make all new things. He makes all things new. Carl is healed, restored, and brand new in his body, praising Jesus. And while we grieve and mourn his loss here, we know that he is in a much better place and we know, without a doubt, that God is good. He will give us His peace, love, and strength as we go through this time. Praise God we have the promise of forever!


Toxic Christianity

By Dr. Mel Sensenig

I started watching a TV series this month that featured a rather stock Hollywood character, the crazy preacher threatening judgment on everyone in his small Midwestern town. This particular preacher sometimes even received messages from God through his defective hearing aid. It made me laugh – and it also made me think about how our spirituality is perceived by outsiders.

AdobeStock_41558737 [Converted]The caricatures that we see on TV of crazy religious people doing crazy things in the name of God is not just part of Hollywood’s so called war on religion. One can only make a caricature of something that actually exists. Toxic Christianity is a problem that has existed all throughout the church. The Protestant reformer Martin Luther, said, “…how are we to flee the world? Not by donning caps and creeping into a corner or going into the wilderness. You cannot so escape the devil and sin. Satan will as easily find you in the wilderness in a gray cap as he will in the market in a red coat. It is the heart which must flee, and that by keeping itself “unspotted from the world,” as James 1:27 says.” James was responding to a problem in the first century church. In fact, the Greek word for “religious” in James 1:26 refers to any kind of religious activity such as attendance at services, fasting, etc., in any religion. James also says in 1:26 that religion can be empty, or worthless. It’s a strong word, and is the same word used it to describe Israel’s idolatry for which the Lord eventually sent them into exile.

This reminded me again powerfully that there is such a thing as bad religion, and it can even be worse than no religion because it feeds our innate self-righteousness and leads us away from our total dependence upon Christ. In fact, Jonathan Edwards, the well-known Puritan preacher, said, “… the Scripture never uses such emphatical expressions concerning any other signs of hypocrisy, and unsoundness of heart, as concerning an unholy practice [of religion].” It’s astounding to think that there could be such a thing as an “unholy” expression of Christianity! But that is the testimony of Scripture and some of the church’s best teachers throughout the ages.

It makes me long for the pure, spotless religion that James describes and that the world respects: an accurate knowledge of my own spirituality, both its strengths and weaknesses, sincerity, peaceableness, care for the poor and the oppressed, all of which come, James says, from the new creation work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Any other source is just bad religion!


As We Begin the Lenten Season

From Pam Bush

Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Mark 1:14-15.

In other words, fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms (Mere Christianity, 59)

As we enter the season of Lent, we hear the hard words of Jesus calling us to repentance. C.S. Lewis teaches us that repentance involves surrender, laying down our arms, saying we’re sorry, and Jesus teaches us that, following repentance, we will find good news, which he invites us to believe. We need both. We need to acknowledge that rebellion inhabits our own hearts, and we need to know that God loves us enough not to leave us in our rebellion. We need to know that God desires our entire lives to be lives of repentance. cslewis-pipe2

In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, Lewis called his early rebellion against God the desire not to be interfered with; he wanted to call his soul his own. In repentance, we learn that we belong to Someone else, Someone who created us, certainly, but especially Someone who redeemed us. The light at the end of the tunnel of repentance is the glorious grace of God and forgiveness won by Jesus.

Heavenly Father, by my sins I have rebelled against your Word and will. For the sake of Jesus, forgive me. Amen.

Excerpted from Mercy, Passion & Joy – Reflections on the Writings of C.S. Lewis by Dr. Joel Heck


It Is Well With My Soul

By Sarah Shuey

Life throws all sorts of twists and turns at us on a daily basis. There are so many catch phrases that we hear to help us “cope” with such circumstances. “When life throws you lemons, make lemonade.” “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” How hard is it, though, to say, “It is well with my soul”?

We will return to that shortly. First, however, I have to let my music nerd show so bear with me. When a composer writes the melody and subsequent harmony to go along with lyrics for a hymn, they assign it what we know as a “hymn tune” or a “hymn song”. For example, the well-known hymn “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” uses the hymn tune “HYMN TO JOY”. You will notice the hymn “Christ is Risen! Shout Hosanna!” uses the same hymn tune. Same with “I Sing the Mighty Power of God” – that same hymn tune (“ELLACOMBE”) appears in the hymn “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna”. Okay, I promise I have a point. You will see!

Horatio Spafford wrote what is now one of the most famous and well-known hymns of the Christian faith:
It is well with my soul

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

It is well (it is well),
With my soul (with my soul),
It is well, it is well with my soul.

The early 1870s were not kind to the Spafford family. As an attorney heavily involved in real estate, the Great Chicago Fire was devastating. They recovered and rebuilt. A few years later, the Spafford family decided to take a European family vacation. Last minute business matters held Horatio back but he sent his wife and four daughters on ahead of him with the promise of joining them soon thereafter. Tragically, on the night of November 22nd, 1873, the Ville Du Havre sank with only 47 survivors. Horatio received a telegram from his wife saying “Saved Alone”. It is believed that as he was passing over the spot where the Ville Du Havre sank on his way to join his wife, Horatio penned the words “when sorrows like sea billows roll”. What an amazing testimony of Christian faith that, in the midst of so much sorrow and loss, Spafford was able to say with such conviction, “It is well with my soul”! How often do we approach situations with such confidence and hope? What would our outlook on life, hope, and the future look life if we held such a statement close to our hearts? It is well with my soul. Such profound words from such heartache.

Look at the last verse:

And Lord haste the day, when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

Every time I sing that verse, I cannot help but smile with tears in my eyes. On that day, our faith shall be sight. We will see the Lord and will receive the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls! Amen!

Remember that hymn tune I talked about? Hymn writer Philip Bliss was so moved by Spafford’s story and lyrics, he composed the melody to go along with those profound yet simple words. Do you know what he chose as the title for the melody? VILLE DU HAVRE.

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