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November 9, 2015, 12:00 AM

A Matter of the Heart

An insightful devotional by Dan Wilt for worship teams grabbed my attention today. Here is an important exerpt everyone should find relevant:

"The next time you and I step on to a stage, stand behind a microphone, strap on our instrument, or rehearse our hearts out – we are only getting closer to achieving half of what is about to happen in the room during that worship set. The reality is, unless the community we lead in worship engages, finds their language of prayer in the songs and liturgies presented, and offers themselves to the community worship experience happening in the room that day, then our worship expression is only a show."

Yes, the band and singers offer worship from themselves, but the whole reason we (the worship team) are up there is to guide the congregation in worship. We are learning day by day to do that better. If you don't genuinely worship our Lord in the service, the praise team hasn't achieved its goal. You are only spectators. (And we're an amateur show)!

Worship can look like many things. It can be quietly sitting with your eyes closed listening to the words, letting them speak to your heart. It can be lifting your hands in praise, surrender, and testament of your own experiences. It can be smiling at the miraculous things you're singing about. It can and should involve prayer. If it's awkward for you during the weekdays, it'll be awkward on Sunday mornings! If hearing words of truth doesn't move you, maybe your passion and appreciation for the Lord are lacking. You could use the excuse that I have off and on used: I have a timid personality and am not an expressive person with most anything in life. But even a timid person shows "symptoms" of what is felt or desired beneath the surface. This week spend time being vulnerable with God and preparing/tendering your hearts for worship with your spiritual church family. Quiet times with God will help quite a bit! Let's please our Father with our praise!

October 28, 2015, 12:00 AM

A Matter of the Heart; Salty

     At the beginning of this week my lifetime friend Mr. Sinus Infection paid me a visit. It was the usual fever, body aches, skin pains, head pounding, and raw-meat throat misery that you can imagine. My sense of smell was greatly diminished, and as you learned in biology, the ability to taste is closely connected with the ability to smell. Needless to say, food was less than exciting. However, as tradition would have it, I knew some chicken broth would still be good when all else failed! As I took my first sip of steaming broth from the spoon, I was amazed at how wonderful it tasted when everything else was unimpressive and even undesirable altogether. Shane and I discussed it, and we speculated that the flavor that was so pungent that even in sickness I couldn't ignore was the salt in the broth. God immediately brought to my mind that I am the “salt of the earth” as it says in Matthew 5:13. That was a lot to contemplate.


What is salt like if I’m supposed to be like salt? Sodium (salt) has a couple of main purposes. One is to enhance certain flavors in food; the other is to preserve. First, I’ll address the enhancing. It may not be what you expect. There was a study done in 2001 by Keast, Beauchamp, and Breslin called  Suppression of Bitterness Using Sodium Salts. To be brief, it explains that bitterness suppresses other flavors: sweetness and sourness. Salt acts to suppress bitterness; so by suppressing bitterness with sodium, it allows a greater perception of sweet and sour. A culinary chef Helen Rennie on eloquently stated that, “Without salt, you are eating everything in black and white. With salt, you are eating in color.” Although there may be some scientific inaccuracies with that statement, I can see how with the previous scientific study, salt can make you taste life in color, bringing out the good flavors by holding the unappealing flavors at bay. It’s easy to make the correlation with our purpose as salty Christians in the world. Our job is to drive back the darkness (bitterness) and allow God’s light to shine and give life the meaning and “color” He intended (the good flavors).


     The second purpose of salt is to preserve. Salt has been used for centuries to keep food longer. How does it do that? Mickey Parish wrote an article in 2006 for Scientific America that explains that salt dehydrates (or draws the moisture out of) food. And how does that help? Moisture provides a bed for microbial growth. So as salt, you could say we need to preserve [or protect] God’s creation by removing Satan’s "mold"-inviting bed of ruin. He is constantly setting the stage to steal, kill, and destroy us (John 10:10), and the growth proceeds from there. But if those invitations to not be in relationship with God are nipped in the bud through spiritual warfare, we can fight back the darkness. It is interesting how deep a person can delve into the analogy of being the “salt of the earth” from a single delicious sip of soup on a physically depressing day. God is so good to teach!


When God described an exponential growth of population in Hosea 1:10, He used the analogy that “Israel’s people will be like the sands of the seashore – too many to count!” It is interesting that we can go from a grain of sand in description, one of billions, that has little purpose to a Spirit-molded piece of salt that is so distinctive in its purpose and so valuable in carrying out God’s plan. So remember Mark 9:50 as you go about your daily affairs: “Salt is good for seasoning…You must have the qualities of salt among yourselves and live in peace with each other.” You can be the pungent taste, even in a fallen world with distorted perceptions (like my taste buds), that brings true life and good flavor the earth needs.

In Christ,

Cheryl Russell


12-14-2015 at 10:39 PM
Karen Schmidt
Thanks!!! Stirred my soul to remember why God put and leaves me here. Oh to be the salt of the earth.
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October 20, 2015, 12:00 AM

A Matter of the Heart

One of the latest Tuesday night small groups we had was held at Evan and Jenna's house, which is our neighboring house. We had a great time of laughing and talking about struggles we had concerning patience, the lesson of the evening. We prayed and talked together for another hour afterwards. My mind felt like it was in the right place. I was leaving their house encouraged that night with a good frame of mind and a true desire and determination to love on people in my life through patience. I had even wrote about having patience in one of my previous articles for the newsletter. It was a subject that had been on my heart even before that Tuesday night lesson. As I crossed our adjoining lawns to my doorway in the warm evening, I felt good about my life. I stepped through the doorway of our house, and without a thought, without realizing the change in my spirit, I instantaneously found something to be irritable with Shane about. It obviously was not a huge faux pas on Shane's part, because as I'm thinking in this moment, I cannot remember what happened to provoke such an embarrassing display of my impatience. A fellow believer could try to comfort me with various thoughts: "Satan is a manipulative person. He knows just how to make us stumble." "A person cannot change overnight. It takes failure, pain, and practice to remove sinful habits from our lives." Although these things may be true, I was so disgusted with myself. No, I didn't just murder someone, but it was a single seemingly minor habit in my life I was trying to reform and I couldn't. Even in the immediate moments before my first opportunity to be patient, I felt confident in myself. I felt like patience was something I could do - at least with the smaller irritants in life. But I stumbled upon my first step. Why is that? I can tell you. A few things have spoken to me in these past couple of weeks.


I am reading a great book called Fresh Faith by Jim Cymbala. The introductory paragraph to the third chapter answered it for me directly: "When most of us think about how we are doing spiritually, we think about surface things. We zero in on behavior patterns, such as have we been gossipping, have we been staying true to our marriage, have we been reading our Bibles, have we been tithing? We concentrate on outward works while forgetting that they are simply the fruit of a deeper spiritual factor." I may desire to change something with all my mind and heart and even pray, pleading with God, to help me, but as soon as I say "amen" or walk across the yard from a Bible study, I default to [Cheryl] will accomplish this. Without realizing it, I try to change the behaviors in my life with my own human will-power and efforts. And it just doesn't work! The Bible says even our best behavior in comparison to His holiness is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). And my best isn't very good! So as Cymbala (and Galations 5) said, these behaviors are fruits, products of healthy spiritual roots beneath the surface, which comes from abiding in God's Spirit and being convinced of the secure identity Christ has given you. He will produce patience in you from the inside out or from the soil up. I was striving to force the fruit of patience to grow without obtaining it through time with the Spirit. I am involved in church activities, hearing his Word, and listening to Christian music all week long. But the busyness of life - work, our one-year old, bills, text messages, letting the dog out, cleaning the house, ministry - presents more than enough distractions to keep me from genuinely spending intimate time with my Father. And it'll show ... in this instance, through my impatience. Luke 6:45b reminds us that our works come from the inside out: " For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of."


One of my favorite scriptures is I Corinthians 2:11, which says: "No one can know a person's thoughts except that person's own spirit, and no one can know God's thoughts except God's own Spirit." We are so privileged to have God's Spirit accessible to us so we can know his thoughts and understand Him to new depths. The word know in the Bible has a slightly different meaning than just "the knowledge of or about" that we use the word for in English. In Hebrew interpretation, it meant even deeper knowledge, as to understand or to experience. Most of us have heard what it means when a man in the Bible "knew" a woman. It was an intimate encounter, not that they were Facebook friends! In the same way, to know God's Spirit we must take advantage of the fact that He is inside of our hearts, those of us who have accepted Him. If we want to understand how He feels about things and to have his qualities rub off on us, we need to experience Him and be completed by His love. When we sin, it often derives from trying to meet our own emotional/spiritual needs with things of this world. The only thing on this earth that will complete us is His refreshing love on a daily basis. You may think that the humbling come-to-Jesus meeting from last week will spill over into the closeness you feel with God this week, but it won't. You are saved permanently once you've made that decision, but transforming yourself, going further on your walk with the Lord, will require a daily surrendering. When you put so much effort in disciplining your thoughts and trying to correct your own behavior only to fail time after time, it is discouraging. And this world, these sins, that you are supposed to be freed from, feel like chains that may never be broken. You may be free in the book at Heaven's gates, but here in Satan's domain you feel chained and defeated to habits that haven't changed since you gave your life to Christ. Living in freedom from chains means knowing His Spirit on a daily basis. 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 says, "For the Lord is the Spirit and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom... And the Lord - who is the Spirit - makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image." So we can change...through Him.


This isn't a struggle that is new to mankind. Paul expressed the same frustrations in Romans 7, "And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can't... I love God's law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind." But all throughout the Bible we are encouraged that hope is not lost! Ephesians 3 says, "Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us." The chains of even lifelong habits can be released, but it has to be His Spirit "the power" working in us. Failure hurts. And even if this week you do well, next week you may allow yourself to not "abide in His vine" (John 15:5) and you will be weaker and fail. But instead of letting it destroy you and cause you to give up entirely, use failure and weakness to drive you to reach to the One who can change you. In the past several months, I have gained a considerable amount of weight since our son Atticus was eight months old. There are days I have been so mad that it has gotten this out of control. But a few months ago, I realized I was going to need some supplementary help to get me up and moving. I was failing miserably left to my own efforts. If I would've been thin and had my clothes still fit, I am almost positive I would've been content with not exercising, even though I always had before. My day was busy enough after all! It has taken an embarrassing failure to motivate me to reach out for help - through my sister-in-law and a gym. Now I enjoy exercising every day. In the same way, use your failures, the things in your life that have gotten out of control or that you're embarrassed of, to realize you need to allow a big God to help you. A well-behaved polite person may not realize their need to depend on God just as a skinny girl isn't motivated to diet and exercise (at least this one wouldn't). But a hot-tempered chunky girl knows the need!


If you are struggling to remove bad habits from your life, take a moment to evaluate yourself. How are your spiritual roots? You can sit under great teaching and moving lyrics, but a callused heart will remain unchanged. You may even think you're going about it the right way, but you haven't spent the personal time with the Lord that you need. Don't just intellectually think about Him. Don't just mechanically pray to Him. Open your heart to Him. Dwell on the nature of who He is and the unfathomable depth of His love for you. I love this quote Shane shared on a Sunday morning from the book A Call to Spiritual Reformation by D.A. Carson:

"It is wonderful to revel in the love of God. Truly to experience that love, to live in the warmth of its glow, invests all of life with new meaning and purpose... Forgiving others becomes almost natural, because we ourselves, thanks to God's immeasurably rich love, have been forgiven so much. Others may despise us, but that makes little difference if God loves us... Our speech, our thoughts, our actions, our reactions, our relationships, our goals, our values - all are transformed if only we live in the self-conscious enjoyment of God's love."

That says it all.

October 1, 2015, 12:00 AM

A Matter of the Heart

A spiritual war has been waging in my heart. It's not just with a specific person nor a certain topic; it is a war about patience in general. There are certain things in life that evoke a strong reaction in me, dare I say fury. For some, it can be the people walking in the middle of the street, taking their time, aware of the fact that you're waiting on them to move so you can clock in to work on time. It can be the person that cuts you off on the highway, causing you to slam your brakes and throw everything in your car, including your coffee, to the floor. It can be the back-biting gossip at work (or church) that will create drama if there is none already. It can be legit problems in your marriage, like catching your spouse in the habit of lying or having an addiction to pornography. It just doesn't seem fair! You tell yourself, "I don't have to put up with this! I deserve better treatment!" Some of these things may seem trivial and others not, but they are tests of our character regardless.

So what does God say about these things? I do not claim to have a firm handle on patience and self-control, but the Bible does say in Galatians 5:22, "the spiritual nature produces love, joy, peace, PATIENCE, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, GENTLENESS, and SELF-CONTROL." Patience? Where's the line? How long do I allow myself to be treated unfairly before I can snap? If you model yourself after Christ, enduring suffering is a part of true choice-driven love. 1 Peter 2:19-23 says, "God is pleased if a person is aware of him while enduring pain of unjust suffering... God called you to endure suffering because Christ suffered for you. He left you an example so that you could follow in his footsteps...He never spoke deceitfully. Christ never verbally abused those who verbally abused him. When he suffered, he didn't make any threats but left everything to the one who judges fairly." In other words, it's not up to us to settle our own scores. It's not our duty to give people what they deserve. And the truth boils down to all of us fall short of perfection. Our best behavior is like filthy rags in comparison to the purity of our God. Praise Jesus for the mercy He has given me by not giving me what I deserve! My fleshly nature isn't worthy of much - but by golly, I don't struggle with THAT guy's sin.... that is the attitude we tend to take.

Another potentially discouraging thing is some people who hurt us in life may never change. But Psalm 37:7-8 tells us, "Surrender yourself to the Lord, and wait patiently for him. Do not be preoccupied with an evildoer who succeeds in his way when he carries out his schemes. Let go of anger and leave rage behind. Do not be preoccupied. It only leads to evil." And Galatians 6:9 also encourages, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time, we will reap a harvest  if we do not give up." We may reap that harvest far after the time we wanted to reap it or it may be a harvest different than what we expected.

So doing the right thing doesn't sound easy. In fact, it sounds very hard! But when you keep your life in perspective - why we are actually here on this earth and Who, only, ultimately satisfies us - life becomes ironically easier. People do not let you down as much. Keeping that focused frame of mind is easier said than done. It is in our fleshly nature to seek approval from others' opinions or to obtain happiness from our comfy circumstances, not an invisible Creator.

I read an anonymous quote today that I liked: patience is the gift of being able to see past the emotion. And that hit the nail on the head for me. When I get angry, all I see is my emotion in that moment. If I could set my fleshly emotions aside, I could see what really matters - how God sees the person on the other end of the conflict.

One last verse to remember when trying to decide if you want to take the easy route of endulging your rampant impatience or allowing the Spirit to transform you into a selfless being, think of Luke 8:15, "as for the seed that fell on rich soil, they are the ones who, when they heard the word, embrace it with a generous and good heart, and bear fruit through perseverence." Are you living a superficial faith? Or will you let His words change your heart and actions? When it comes to patience in your life this month, Mark Tatum reminded us of a great litmus test for our interactions with people: is it true?; is it kind?; is it necessary? Let's pray for each other on this subject!

November 30, 1999, 12:00 AM

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