The Empty Tomb: The Foundation of our Identity and Mission

Pastor Danny Brooks of Heritage Bible Church spoke last night from I Corinthians 15 about The Empty Tomb. He opened with sharing of a visit he had made to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., on Memorial Day weekend a few years ago. He shared history and details of the changing of the guards, and the significance of the tomb. Then he said that that tomb is central to the identity and mission of the sentinels who guard it, no matter how they feel, or what the weather may be.

What a privilege it would be qualify and serve as one of those soldiers! And especially on a weekend when we honor those who have fallen, this tomb has a sobering weightiness to it of respect and gratitude for selfless sacrifice.

We as believers are also a people whose identity and mission centers on a tomb–but the tomb we focus on is an empty one! We are called to guard and declare a Gospel of a Risen Savior!

  1. The Empty Tomb is Foundational to Salvation
    • Acts 2:23-24
    • John 10:17-18 Christ showed the authority to lay down his life AND to take it up again (He rose!)
    • I Peter 1:3, 7 Our hope is tied to His resurrection–to His empty tomb! We are not promised an easy, pleasant, convenient life, but what we suffer now serves God’s eternal purposes
  2. The Empty Tomb is Foundational to Sanctification
    • He is alive and intent on making our salvation real, victorious, and successful!
    • Romans 6:11-14 Stop yielding to sin! Keep pressing forward until you believe the truths of Romans 6. Live like a resurrected child of God!
  3. The Empty Tomb is Foundational to Future Glorification
    • Romans 6:5 He WILL glorify us–promised, as if already complete!
    • Col. 2:20-23 Stop living a life of legalism, moralism, asceticism…You cannot save yourself.
    • Col. 3 Hear the Gospel. Respond in faith and repentance.  Set your minds on things above BECAUSE of the empty tomb and the Risen Lord!
    • I Peter 1:3 Living hope through the resurrection of Jesus!

Application: Is my identity and mission centered on Christ’s resurrection–on the empty tomb and the Risen Savior? Am I guarding and declaring the True Gospel of Jesus by my life, my words, my actions? Am I testifying to the world that I live in the hope of the reality of the resurrection? If not, then go back to I Cor. 15 and Colossians 3: hear the Gospel; respond in faith and repentance; and live in the glorious hope of salvation, sanctification and future glorification.

Happy Memorial Day! My heart is filled with gratitude for those who have sacrificed for our freedoms–and for those who are currently sacrificing to keep those freedoms. Thank God for our soldiers and their families!

Book Review: “Glimpses of Grace” by Gloria Furman

I love to read. Always have. Over the years, I’ve had a handful of books that have risen to the top of my list to “Must Read” status. Glimpses of Grace: Treasuring the Gospel in Your Home by Gloria Furman is definitely one of those books! It is probably one of the best books I’ve read in the last 10 years!

Gloria has a personal style that lets you know she’s been there–in the trenches with kids and cross-cultural ministry, serving her husband who pastors while struggling with a debilitating condition, keeping a home and keeping up with writing books and blogging.

Glimpses is full of encouragement from real-life illustrations and Gospel-centered, soul-refreshing, rich, theological concepts. Glimpses is full of Scripture and quotes that reflect Truth and Hope. Gloria doesn’t see herself as a super-mom, but rather a woman with a powerful Savior! She talks about glorifying God in the mundane–where, if we’re honest, the majority of our lives fall. God uses these simple, everyday things to communicate Truth to our hearts. From doing dishes to sweeping up sand again and again, God showed her to see her own dirt and sin that needs repeated repentance and to rejoice in His faithful forgiveness and unrelenting grace.

Here’s a glimpse into Glimpses from the author herself:

And some of my favorite quotes from the book:

“Because God raised Jesus from the dead and gave him glory, our faith and hope are in God (1 Pet. 1:21), not in our ever-changing circumstances or in the comforts of our homes and meticulously planned routines” (21).

“Even in my darkest doubts, when I do the same thing again the next day, my hope is still built on the righteousness of Christ. The gospel keeps me relating to God on the basis of Jesus’s perfections, not on the illusions of my religious achievements. God strengthens me and protects me according to his faithfulness, not mine (2 Thess. 3:3). So I can scrub dried blueberry bits as unto the Lord as my heart is satisfied in God because his kindness to me in Christ leads me to repentance again and again” (33).

“Christianity is not a how-to manual for having a nice life. … Jesus’s work on the cross means more for you than an example for good living. The Bible is God’s story of how he redeems a people he has chosen to worship him for all eternity. …In the end, the good-life formula will not bring you to God and save you from your sins. Only Jesus does this through the gospel. In its worst work, the good-life formula can help create a delusion that because you are living in a Christian-like manner, you must be pleasing to God. In reality, your righteousness may be like that of the Pharisees, whom Jesus described as whitewashed tombs with dead men’s bones inside. In this way, the good-life formula is an offspring of self-justification” (45).

“The source of our faith, hope, love, joy, and gospel-grounded optimism is God himself and not our stuff or our circumstances” (59).

“…the point in forgiving one another is not just about the act of forgiving–it is the aim or goal that forgiveness seeks, which is reconciliation with God. … The forgiveness of our sins is a gift of grace, but it’s not ‘the’ gift. ‘The’ gift God offers us through Jesus’s work on the cross is everlasting fellowship with a holy God” (60).

“Whatever the ‘this’ that you desperately feel you can’t do anymore, it’s ultimately not about your circumstances. It’s about peace with God. And God has provided a way for you to have that peace that dominates any and all circumstances, regardless of how difficult they are” (78).

“Self-righteousness comes from within us and leads us to worship ourselves. Grace comes from God and leads us to worship him” (80).

“The gospel is the one great permanent circumstance in which I live and move; and every hardship in my life is allowed by God only because it serves His gospel purposes in me. When I view my circumstances in this light, I realize that the gospel is not just one piece of good news that fits into my life somewhere among all the bad. I realize instead that the gospel makes genuinely good news out of every other aspect of my life, including my severest trials. The good news about my trials is that God is forcing them to bow to His gospel purposes and do good unto me by improving my character and making me more conformed to the image of Christ.” -Milton Vincent (qtd., 84).

“When we minimize the offensiveness of our sin, we are attempting to diminish the holiness of God” (101).

“Our hearts cannot be the end-all authorities on truth. Only God can claim that right. Sometimes we really need to wrestle our hearts into submission to God’s truth” (124).

“We see glimpses of God’s grace in our homes when we cherish God through the gospel of Jesus Christ. The solution to our problems in the home and the impetus for our enjoyment of life in the home is fellowship with God through Christ Jesus’s atoning sacrifice on the cross” (180).

Coming Soon: “Dispatches from the Front” Book!

On May 31st, a new book will be hitting the shelves. Executive Director of Frontline Missions International, Tim Keesee, brings us Dispatches from the Front: Stories of Gospel Advance in the World’s Difficult PlacesThis book is a must-read for all believers interested in missions. But beware, if you pick up this book: not only will you not want to put it down, you may also be encouraged to pick up the cross and follow Christ on a whole new level of Kingdom work.

If you’ve seen any of the Dispatches from the Front DVD series, you’ll recognize Tim’s journalistic style and hear his voice as you read his encounters of God’s Kingdom Advance, growing and expanding all over the globe, especially in the difficult places–places considered “closed” to most people, but not closed to our great God.

I was honored and thrilled to be part of the early proofreaders, and am so excited to share this book with you. I am privileged to not only know Tim as my boss, but also as my friend. He’s a gifted writer and a faithful, humble servant of our heavenly Father, who counts the costs and takes risks in order to share the Good News, wherever he goes.

You’ll feel like you’re riding on the train with Tim, as he journeys across Siberia and China, India and Egypt; you’ll drink coffee and tea with him in South Asia, Turkey and Ethiopia; then you’ll grab your boots and head with him through Cambodia, the Balkans, Pakistan, and to the “uttermost parts of the earth” (and, yes, there are maps included). You’ll cry with tears of grief, as cross-bearers give up their very lives for the sake of His name; and you’ll cry with joy, as former haters of the Gospel embrace Jesus as their personal Savior!

The stories take place over twenty years and multiple trips to a myriad of countries and regions and people groups. Tim’s writing is not just story-telling, but an act of worship, as he recounts not what he has done or where he has gone, but what God has done and revealed of His great glory all over the world.

But don’t take my word for it. Grab a cup of coffee (and maybe some tissues), and download a PDF excerpt of Dispatches from the Front. Then on May 31st, download the full e-book or pick up a copy at Crossway.org, and continue reading of our great God and His glorious Gospel!

Psalm 32: Blessed Are the Forgiven

 

We read through Psalm 32 at prayer meeting tonight, and I thought I’d share it:

“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered [by God].
Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
For when I kept silent [i.e., tried to cover my own sins], my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer [i.e., I was sick, tired, and miserable]. Selah
I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin [i.e., when we confess our sins, God forgives freely and willingly, not forgetting--but choosing not to hold them against us EVER again]. Selah [i.e., pause and think about that for a while]

Many are the sorrows of the wicked [i.e., sinners--aka, each of us who tries to cover our own sin and not repent], but steadfast [aka, faithful] love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD.
Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous [aka, forgiven ones!], and shout for joy, all you upright in heart [i.e., counted as righteous because forgiven]!”

(Psalm 32 ESV)

 

 Between the above psalm and the oncoming thunderstorms, I was reminded of the song, “Grace Like Rain” by Todd Agnew:

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me;
I once was lost but now I’m found,
Was blind but now I see so clearly.

“Hallelujah, grace like rain falls down on me;
Hallelujah, all my stains are washed away, they’re washed away.

“‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

“Hallelujah, grace like rain falls down on me;
Hallelujah, all my stains are washed away, they’re washed away.

“When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing your praise
Than when we first begun.

“Hallelujah, grace like rain falls down on me;
Hallelujah, all my stains are washed away.
Hallelujah, grace like rain falls down on me;
Hallelujah, all my stains are washed away, washed away.”

Build Your Kingdom Here by Rend Collective

Below are the lyrics to a song I heard for the first time yesterday, sang as if in a prayer. I hope these words will be an encouragement to you all, as they were to me.

Rend Collective, a Christian band from Northern Ireland

“Come set Your rule and reign
in our hearts again.
Increase in us we pray.
Unveil why we’re made.
Come set our hearts ablaze with hope
like wildfire in our very souls.
Holy Spirit, come invade us now.
We are Your church.
We need Your power in us.

“We seek Your kingdom first.
We hunger and we thirst.
Refuse to waste our lives
for You’re our joy and prize.
To see the captive hearts released.
The hurt, the sick, the poor at peace.
We lay down our lives for Heaven’s cause.

“Unleash Your kingdom’s power
reaching the near and far.
No force of Hell can stop
Your beauty changing hearts.
You made us for much more than this!
Awake the kingdom seed in us!
Fill us with the strength and love of Christ.

Chorus:
“We are Your church.
We pray revive this earth.

“Build Your kingdom here.
Let the darkness fear.
Show Your mighty hand.
Heal our streets and land.
Set Your church on fire.
Win this nation back.
Change the atmosphere.
Build Your kingdom here!
We pray!”

Recent Readings and Reflections…

I have don’t a lot of writing recently, but I have been doing a little more reading. So, I wanted to share some articles that I’ve been reading recently. Warning: many of these are hot topics in the Christian world today, and some are uncomfortable, but in order to preach the full counsel of God, we are forced to deal with the hard topics too.

My friend Holly Stratton recently wrote, “The world is changing fast, and we need God to fill us with a love for Christ that is strong enough not to be left in the dust w/ our petty preferences. We need ministry leaders who are too driven by gospel conviction & Spirit power to be hindered by fear that they’re not honoring the preferences of others. Not leaders who don’t care what others think, but leaders who care deeply what others think. Humble leaders who care enough to boldly & confidently call for a self-forgetfulness that doesn’t allow the demanding of one’s own way. We may not like change, but we’ll dislike irrelevance even more. For the glory of God, let’s move.” (Author’s Note: “Relevant: related, pertinent, connected, applicable. The gospel is always relevant. Always. Ministries & people, however, are continually faced with decisions within the bounds of sound doctrine & biblical authority that can needlessly render them irrelevant.”)

One interesting article, along those lines, that a friend shared was “Keeping Young Fundamentalists in the Camp” by Jeff Amsbaugh. Amsbaugh writes, “My heart is not to eradicate the fundamental movement but to correct the abuses of it. These words are offered as a friend from within, not an enemy from without. But if the caricature of fundamentalism that we have presented is not replaced with an authentic model, my fear is that we will lose even more young preachers in the coming days. And though part of it may be attributable to the ‘coming apostasy,’ a good portion of it may be because of the raging lunacy. God help us to keep the baby but get rid of the bath water, for the bath water is indeed dirty.”

One of the more difficult topics I’ve been studying is homosexuality. It’s been a taboo topic for too long, and lots of young people, especially, are struggling with same sex attraction. It’s time we came alongside them, empathized as fellow sinners, and showed grace and hope for change by conformity to the Word of God. Here’s an article that gives one perspective: “When Two Lesbians Walk into a Church Seeking Trouble” (an excerpt from John Burke’s book, Mud and the Masterpiece: Seeing Yourself and Others Through the Eyes of Jesus). Burke says, “Do you realize that Jesus is not shocked by the shocking things people do?” He gives examples of Christ dealing with Zaccheus, the Samaritan woman, and Simon the Pharisee, and goes on to say, “It’s all about love! Don’t miss this very critical point Jesus makes to us all: If you truly recognize how much it cost God to forgive you, it will flood your heart with love for God and others who need more of the same;” and again, “It’s all about love! Not a love that ignores the mud and the damage that destroys God’s Masterpiece, but a love that recognizes how much loving mercy God has given a messed-up person like me! … That great love brings grace and truth together to give hope to a broken world in need of forgiveness and restoration.”

Another topic is modesty, and Jefferson Bethke wrote an interesting articled called “The Idolatry of Modesty.” Regardless of what you might think of Bethke, he makes some good points in this article. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Above that though, bring glory to God through your clothes. Dress in such a way that points to your Savior and Creator, not yourself. … Remember that clothes (and the attitude that puts on those clothes) are simply an outflow of what’s in the heart. … So, ladies, let our Savior’s grace, rather than your righteousness, be exalted through your dress.”

And yet another topic I’ve been thinking about is marriage.  I read an article called, “What You Really Need in Marriage” by Mark Altrogge. Altrogge says, “Our culture is extremely self-oriented. We are continually bombarded by messages that tell us we need greater self-esteem. We begin to think, I need to do this for me, I need to be validated, I need to feel good about myself, I need to think about my desires for a change, etc.”

Often we convince ourselves that our desires, wishes, wants, and even lusts are actually needs. It’s an easy error to make, especially in an “It’s-all-about-you” culture. But it’s important to constantly go back to the word…ground yourself…intentionally…to know what God says is really a need.

Speaking of intentionality and marriage, one couple had a brilliant idea that I read about in an article by Sarah Lang, called “A Slower Cup“: “A couple reflects on the slow and methodical brewing technique [of coffee] that allows them to spend time together and offers a relaxed start to their day.” What a great way to start the day…slow, intentional, and calm! Lang writes, “A beverage as alluring, delicious and influential as coffee should be savored.” I couldn’t agree more. And whether you take time to savor a quiet, slow cup of coffee (or tea) with your spouse or your Savior or both, make it intentional and enjoy the moment.

Photographs by Chantelle Grady

And while we’re on the topic of slowing down and being intentional, I read two articles by Leslie Ludy called, “Running on Empty and Refueling Our Souls” and “When Your Soul Needs Rest.” I’m working on being more intentional about refreshing and refueling my otherwise empty soul. Ludy says, “Taking time away to refresh and refuel should flow from a motive of becoming even stronger and more equipped to serve Jesus Christ—not simply to ‘escape’ from the responsibilities of serving and godly living. … Instead of looking to the empty allurements of the world to find the refreshment we seek, may we remember that He alone is the One who can fulfill us, revive us, and meet our every need.”

Sometimes we allow our culture to dictate our beliefs, instead of the other way around. And sometimes we allow lies to creep in. Other times, we make excuses for our sin, or expect perfection instead of the process of sanctification. I’ve been reminded over and over again recently of Micah 6:8, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (NKJV). And the prayer of my heart is that I would focus on those three things. That I would be intentional about doing the next right thing. That I would love mercy and grace and love and truth. And that above all, I would walk humbly…not in conceit or pride or biting or devouring (Galatians 5, again), but that I would walk in reality of my depravity and the greatness of God’s saving grace that is both humbling and awe-inspiring.

Finally, I want to share two songs that have meant a lot to me recently. The first is one of my favorite songs, “Before the Throne of God Above.” It was a special part of our Baltic Musical Mission Team in 2003! Guitar, flute, and a bunch of crazy Americans singing their lungs out for Jesus on street corners and buses, in churches, schools, and hospitals, in Poland and Latvia. And it’s as powerful today as it was then.
When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free
For God the Just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me
To look on Him and pardon me
 
[Verse 2 from "Before the Throne of God Above"; Original Words by Charitie Lees Bancroft (1841-1892), Alternate Words and Music by Vikki Cook]

And the second song is a new favorite “Across the Lands” (Townend/Getty):

May God give you grace to live intentionally, loving Him, loving others, doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with your God. Enjoy the journey, friends, and find rest in God alone along the way.

Wedding Flowers: Of Feathers and Faux

At this past weekend’s wedding, the bride made a special request for synthetic flowers due to various familial allergy issues. And I accepted the challenge. I had several guests comment that they had to feel the flowers because they didn’t believe they weren’t real. She wanted yellow roses and white calla lilies, and since the bridesmaids were wearing teal, we pulled all the colors together with peacock feathers! Here’s a sample:

Bride and Groom

Bride and Groom

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Cake Decorations

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Up close of Cake Decor

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Reception Tables with Cake Decor

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Reception Centerpieces (the groom hand crafted and polished the wood rounds under the vases).

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A special “Grandparents’ Arrangement” to honor each grandparent who couldn’t be there.

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A closer look at the Grandparents’ Arrangement

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Tossing Bouquet (a smaller version of the bridal bouquet)

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Corsage

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Mother of the Bride’s Corsage

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Boutonnieres (the only difference for the groom’s was a silver ribbon, to match the bride’s bouquet)

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Adorable Flower Girl

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A closer look at the Flower Girl’s Basket

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Bridesmaids carried 3 simple long stem roses (the groom also handcrafted the bridesmaids’ necklaces!)

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Choir rail of greenery and dogwoods with candles

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A closer look at the choir rail at the front of the church

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Tulle Pew Hangers with glittered teal stems and peacock feathers, wrapped with a silver ribbon to coordinate with the bride and groom

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Another Corsage

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One more Corsage

If you’re in the Greenville, South Carolina area and would like more information about having customized flower arrangements created for your special day, contact us at TheArtisanHoneybee@gmail.com.

New Favorite, High-Protein Snack: Peanut Butter and Honey Parfait!

My friend Mike Campbell introduced me to this new favorite treat! It’s so simple. It’s healthy. And it’s delicious! (And, yes, I told him it was going on my blog.)

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  • 3/4 to 1 cup Plain Whole Milk Yogurt (you can use the low fat if you really want to, but I personally think we need a little fat in our diets to help absorb certain nutrients, and it makes it creamier)
  • 2 Tbsp. All Natural Peanut Butter (or organic, if you can find it)
  • 1-2 tsp. Local Honey (or organic, if you can find it)

Just stir or whip the three ingredients together, and it creates a rich, creamy, high-protein treat that tastes as good as a parfait or dessert mousse. If you want, you can substitute a spoonful of your favorite jam instead of the honey and call it “PB&J Parfait”–great way to get kids (of all ages) to eat yogurt! Bon Appetit!

 

Wedding Flowers: Rustic Elegance

This weekend, I had the opportunity to do flowers for our good friends Ben & Ashley’s wedding. It was a beautiful setting at the Lodge at Table Rock State Park, and the flowers were so much fun to work with–full of natural beauty and rustic charm, just like their backdrop. So thankful that the snow and ice cleared up to make this beautiful day possible. Bryan and I were able to get some really nice pictures, so here’s a look at the day.

The Bride and Groom

Bridal Bouquet

Bridal Bouquet with Burlap and Lace – Blush Spray Roses, Pink and Plum Ranunculus, Lavender Stems, Waxflowers, Button Mums, White Hydrangea, Summer Pinks, Silver Brunia, Pink Astilbe, Purple Stock and Snapdragons, Blush Larkspur, White Alstromeria, Globe Thistles, and Heather

Bridal Crown of Waxflowers and Summer Pinks

Bridal Crown of Waxflowers and Summer Pinks

The Beautiful Bride, Ashley

The Beautiful Bride, Ashley with a closer look at her bouquet and crown – she could not have been more beautiful (or more happy) – some even said she looked “as gorgeous as an elven princess” – and I agree*

Congratulations, Ben & Ashley!

Congratulations, Ben & Ashley! What a beautiful wedding! God has truly done an amazing work in and through each of you, and I can’t wait to see how He will use you together as a couple for His glory in the days and years to come! We love you!*

The Lodge at Table Rock

Guestbook arrangements

Guestbook table arrangements of White Hydrangea and Lavender Sprigs

The Ceremony

The Ceremony (one of Ashley’s friends did the tulle and arrangement over the fireplace, as well as the reception hall decorations)*

The Bridal Party

Bouquets

Lovely ladies with their lovely bouquets on the bridge outside the lodge*

Bridesmaid's Bouquet

Bridesmaid’s Bouquet – White Hydrangea, Cream and Blush Spray Roses, Pink Astilbe, Heather, Purple Stock and Snapdragons, Plum Button Mums, Globe Thistles and Sprigs of Lavender, wrapped in burlap

Bridal Party at Table Rock State Park

Bridal Party at Table Rock State Park*

Boutonnieres and Corsages

Grandma's Corsage

Corsage of White Larkspur, Blush Spray Roses, Plum Ranunculus, White Alstromeria, Waxflower and Sprigs of Lavender

Boutonnieres

The Boutonnieres for the guys featured Globe Thistles, Silver Brunia, Lavender, and Fresh Mint and Sage Leaves, wrapped in burlap*

Mother of the Groom's Corsage

Mother of the Groom’s Corsage – Plum Ranunculus, White Alstromeria, Cream Spray Roses, Waxflower and Sprigs of Lavender

Mother of the Bride's Corsage

Mother of the Bride’s Corsage – Pink Ranunculus, Cream Spray Roses, White Alstromeria, Waxflower and Sprigs of Lavender with Burlap

Another corsage

Corsage of Plum Ranunculus, White Alstromeria, Waxflower and Lavender Sprigs

The Reception

The bride made this beautiful banner and garland, and I brought some extra flowers for her friend that decorations on site to fill in the garland.

The bride made this beautiful banner and garland, and I brought some extra flowers for her friend that did decorations on site to fill in the garland.*

Reception Food Tables

Reception Food Tables – arrangements featured White Hydrangea, Blush Spray Roses, Silver Brunia, White Alstromeria, Waxflower and Sprigs of Lavender

And, My Favorite, The Cake

Cake Swag and a Cloud of Baby's Breath

Last but certainly not least, a Floral Cake Swag and a Cloud Base of Baby’s Breath – featuring Pink and Plum Ranunculus, Blush Larkspur, Cream Spray Roses, Purple Stock and Snapdragons, Lavender Button Mums, Heather, Summer Pinks, White Alstromeria, Lavender Sprigs, and Fresh Mint and Sage Leaves*

If you are in the Greenville, South Carolina area and would like more information about floral arrangements for your next event, contact me at theartisanhoneybee@gmail.com.

(*Note: Pictures with an asterisk were taken by Bryan McKinnon; other pictures taken by Melissa McKinnon. All copyrights reserved.)

“What’s Next?!” Might Not Be the Best Question to Ask…

I recently read an article called “26, Unmarried, and Childless.” I’m 32 and married, but I can still relate. My favorite part of this article is the following quote: “…instead of asking me what’s next, ask me what’s now. Ask me what God is teaching me, ask me what I’m struggling with, or what brings me joy. I am learning, I am growing, and I am happy. I would love to tell you all about it.”

The above article was written with a female’s perspective, but since then, another article has been posted to their site. It’s called “29, A Guy, and Single.” Yes, guys struggle with singleness too, but the point made in this article that resonates the loudest with me is to not isolate others when they’re not in the same stage of life as you.

I got married just before I turned 25. We’ve been married almost 8 years now and  still don’t have children. And we’re okay with that. It’s what God has for us right now (obviously). For the first three or four years, we got lots of questions about kids–even accusations and hurtful comments from some. Fortunately, we’re past that “stage” (if you will). Do we want kids? Sure, if that’s how we can best be conformed to Christ and glorify God. Will we have kids? I don’t know (and please don’t ask me–if you really want us to, tell God and let Him decide if and when). Do we love the next generation? Absolutely! If we didn’t, we wouldn’t serve in the Children’s Ministry at our church and hang out with the teens at church suppers and ski trips and help the junior high-ers bake cupcakes for a church wide shindig. Will we have biological kids? Foster? Adopt? I don’t know. (Is that question even relevant?)

Not everyone is meant to follow the same path. Not everyone fits in a fixed pattern or norm. It’s okay to not be in the same stage as your peers. God’s plan for each of us is unique…just like the gifts He’s given us. (Not to mention that certain personal questions just ought not be asked by casual acquaintances in the first place.)

Bryan and I have plenty of friends who are married with kids…one, two, three, four…or even nine or more! Some are new parents, others are parents of teens, and then there’s the empty nesters–not to mention every stage in between. We also have lots of “DINK” friends (Dual Income No Kids–yes, it’s a real thing), some by choice and others because of infertility or miscarriage. And we have lots of single friends–guys and girls, men and women, anywhere from high school into their retirement years–some who desperately want a romantic relationship and others who are fine with their current status. Some who are dating, others who are widowed, and some who have experienced the pain of divorce. But regardless of the status, gender, age, ethnicity, career path, or number of kids, one thing is constant: we all need God! And we need each other to point each other to Him.

Did you catch that?! We need each other, folks. The church wasn’t built of any one particular  demographic–or it would’ve been rendered extinct a long time ago. We need to stop letting our gender or stage in life define us and starting letting the name “Christian” define us. As Christians, we are all called to be followers of Christ and members united in Him. There is beauty in diversity, and there’s no reason we can’t share diverse backgrounds and still delight in unity.

Sometimes I wish we would go back to the days of calling other believers “brother” and “sister.” Many cultures still do, but it’s fallen out of common use in our American culture. It’s sad, really. Maybe if we started seeing each other as brothers and sisters in Christ again, we wouldn’t care so much about status and we’d focus more on loving one another and caring for one another and sacrificing for one another–like we do for our blood relatives. After all, it’s the blood of Christ our Savior that bonds us–isn’t that a greater connection than even familial bloodlines? If we would love our biological siblings despite their flaws and faults and “let love cover it” and even defend them “to the death” when others speak ill of them, should we not treat our heavenly siblings in a similar manner?

One of the saddest things to me is when a friend tells me that they had a “best friend” but that best friend got married and now they don’t hang out because the other friend is “still single” and “that’s just life” or “it’s only natural.” Or when one friend has kids earlier than another friend and they no longer interact because of nap schedules and early bed times. There are ways around this. We just have to be flexible–on both sides. I understand that there are certain things that can’t flex–babies have to be fed and cared for, and parents get tired, especially new parents, and we do need to rest. I just want to encourage you not to give up on a relationship because part of your situation changed. Relationships take work, and they’re worth the effort.

There’s no reason to not ask someone in a different stage of life than you to come over for dinner…or meet up for coffee…or host a game night. If they have kids, you might have to plan further in advance so they can schedule a babysitter, or better yet…just get together at the house with the youngest children, so the kids can still go to bed and the adults can stay up and talk. It works. Trust me. The perfect example of this is our Shepherding Group–we have 16 people when we’re all together, and we range from infant to senior saint. The backgrounds of where we grew up, where we went to school, whether or not we have kids, etc., are SO diverse, yet God has done something really cool by bringing such a random group of individuals together into a tightly knit group.

Maybe it is “natural” to fall into easy conversation with people in your same stage of life, but we are called to live “supernaturally” by the power of the Almighty God! So, fight what’s “natural” and choose to branch out of your comfort zone. Make friends with someone in a different age group than you. Or rekindle a friendship that’s fallen by the wayside because of different career paths or life choices. Mentor a younger brother or sister in Christ. Seek out a more mature brother or sister to mentor you. Share with them what God is teaching you…and ask them, “What’s God teaching you right now?” instead of “What’s Next?” And rejoice together in our Amazing, Unifying God!