The Bell Family

Random ponderings on God, life, and the humor all around us


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Minor Update on Liam

Wanted to let those of you who have been praying for Liam know the latest.  We met with his surgeon today and loved him.  His surgery will be a very simple procedure, and he shouldn’t even have to touch his spinal cord, staying a little below it.  Yay!  The only surprise to me was that he will be in the hospital for two nights to help reduce the risk of spinal fluid leaking.  I thought it was outpatient surgery.  He won’t be allowed out of bed for 48 hours, and the first 24 hours they will keep him flat on his back.  I seriously hate that for my little man.  However, I am so full of joy that we caught this early.  Liam has very, very few things that have to be corrected at this point, but if we had caught this quite a bit later in life, he would have likely had severe damage that had existed too long to do anything about.  We find out in the next week when the surgery will be scheduled.  Right now it looks like it will be late March/early April.  Please keep praying for him.


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God’s Goodness with Liam

When our school year began in the fall, our physical education curriculum called for an initial test to be done to see how fit and flexible my children were.  As Liam was attempting to do a simple stretch, he was crying out in pain.  Since my curriculum said children don’t begin to lose flexibility until the age of 7 or so, I wondered if something was wrong.  At that time, Esther was in physical therapy through First Steps, so I asked her physical therapist about it.  After asking me several questions, she told me she was suspicious Liam had a tethered cord and suggested we see a pediatric orthoepedic.

The next few months were filled with doctor’s visits and PT (which didn’t help despite the fact that his physical therapist was amazing).  Yesterday, he finally had an MRI, and we got a call last night that he does in fact have a tethered cord and will have to have spinal surgery by a neurologist to correct the problem.  The surgery will be very simple, and we are grateful for that.

This morning I got an email from my mom that helped turn my heart to the many ways I can be thankful to God and see His work in taking care of our little man.  I asked for permission to share it with you all (sorry, I can’t figure out how to make the font bigger):

Courtney,

 I have been thinking today about some of the many ways God has provided care for Liam up through today’s MRI:

  • you discovered his tightness while planning his PE course for the year; would a public school teacher have noticed the subtle problems he was having?
  • Esther is still getting in-home PT with a trusted and caring therapist who willingly assessed him and gave you an honest opinion that proved to be accurate
  • Liam was born in a prosperous country where good health care is readily available
  • you live in an area with cutting-edge pediatric care
  • Bill has good insurance to help pay for the diagnosis and treatment and a job that offers him the flexibility to work from home when it would be helpful to do so
  • Liam is a cooperative, people-oriented child who hasn’t minded, in fact has enjoyed, the process so far
  • not only do you have Sojourn members praying for and encouraging you, in God’s perfect timing, you now have an entirely new church family who seem committed to doing the same

I just love the way our Father takes care of us.

 Love you,

Mom


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Brenda Madison

Fifty-eight years ago today, a baby girl, Brenda, was brought into this world under no unusual circumstances.  She would have a quiet childhood, living in the same home with one slightly older brother and parents who were very guarded with their hearts though loving in their own way.  She would be terrified to talk to just about anybody, so she remain mostly silent, always aware of her shortcomings.  Around her 12th year, by God’s grace, she would have her eyes opened to her sinfulness and the forgiveness available to her through the cross, and she would embrace it wholeheartedly with amazement.  As a teen she would work at a movie theatre where she would meet a teenage boy, Frank, who would boldly ask her out on a date.  Five days later he would ask her to marry him, and she would say yes.  Their wedding would be postponed, though, when her Air Force fiance would be in a bus accident that would break his back and leave him disabled, rarely able to be the financial provider for his home.  Despite all this, Brenda would still marry Frank and give birth to a son exactly nine months after the wedding.  

Brenda would go to school to become an RN and would be an amazing one at that.  She would be dedicated to her job and patients, but dedicated more to her family.  She would work crazy long hours, most holidays and weekends, and then would come home to do housework and care for her little boy.  Though exceptionally wise with her finances, she and Frank would be constantly struggling for money, and there would be times she would be hungry to make sure her little one had plenty to eat.  Though desiring three children, she would have her tubes tied because she wouldn’t think they could afford any more.

Five years later, when Frank had just finished another back surgery, she would be surprised to find out she was again pregnant even though that shouldn’t have been possible.  Though scared, she would be overjoyed understanding that this was God’s work.  A few months later she would give birth again, this time to a baby girl, having her children eight years apart.  Her heart would always be to stay home with her children, but she would understand, though sometimes difficult, that this desire was not God’s plan for her life.  Though she wouldn’t be with her children as much as she wanted, her children would always be sure of her love for them.

Each morning, Brenda would wake up early and immediately open her Bible to study and pray.  Though it may have seemed like not much was going on to the outsider during these times, Brenda would be in the middle of spiritual warfare, praying diligently for her husband, her children, and every need she would ever see around her.  Through her faith in the Lord, He would be gracious and faithful to answer her prayers.  Frank, her son, and her daughter all would come to know and love Jesus by God’s grace through her teaching, example, and constant prayers.  A spiritual legacy would begin.

58 years later, Brenda would still be constantly praying, constantly humble, and constantly diving into God’s word.  She would now be praying not only for her husband and children, but also for her son-in-law and daughter-in-law, her 5 grandchildren, and the grandchild growing in her daughter’s womb.  She would be only 2 months away from the 40th anniversary of her marriage to Frank, continuing to grow in her love for him each day.  Four hours away the day before Thanksgiving, her daughter would be weeping tears of thankfulness for this mother who loved her so deeply by praying for this girl who was so often rebellious and unappreciative.  This daughter would now be very aware of the fact that her salvation was a gift not only to her but also to the faithful mother who had asked God for it.  This daughter became a daughter of God because her mother was already a daughter of God who loved Him with all her heart.

Today, November 24th, I want to celebrate my mother, Brenda Madison.  She is my greatest mentor and one of my dearest friends.    I have never met a woman so in love with Jesus, and apart from our Lord Jesus, I have no other individual to be more thankful for in this season than the woman who cared about my soul more than anything else in this world.  I am so, so thankful God put me in her arms and that I had the crazy joy of getting to laugh, cry, and simply enjoy life with this woman growing up.  I love her deeply.  Happy birthday, my beautiful mother!


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Praying with Your Children

As with many parents, I have been greatly influenced by the books “Shepherding a Child’s Heart” by Tedd Tripp and “Don’t Make Me Count to Three” by Ginger Plowman .  Each parent or parent-to-be should make these books a priority.  They talk about the importance of not only correcting your children but always directing their hearts to God by showing them through Scripture why their action was wrong.

Bill and I already use these principles with our children even though they are young, but some friends of ours, Kyle and Hilary, gave us something else to think about–the importance of prayer when disciplining.  Kyle was explaining how they have their daughters pray to ask for forgiveness when they have sinned.  That’s not all, though.  When Kyle or Hilary sin they ask their daughters to pray with them as they ask for forgiveness.  What a beautiful picture of humility and faith! 

Bill and I have recently begun doing this with our children, too.  Liam is already beginning to say parts of prayers on his own which is such a blessing, and it’s amazing to see him watch in wonder when we confess we sinned against him and pray for forgiveness.  I pray God will use this to bless our family and teach our children about the power of prayer and grace.  Thanks, Kyle and Hilary for sharing your wisdom in this area.  We praise God for you and parents like you who truly shepherd their childrens’ hearts.


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A Simple Study of Prayer #1d

Click here, here, and here to read the first three sections of this prayer study.  Today concludes this series of posts. 

D.  Forgiving to Be Forgiven
or Forgiving Because We’re Forgiven (v. 14-15)
14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

This passage finishes with Jesus reiterating a point from His prayer about being forgiven and forgiving others.  On one level, a clear reading of this text says that if we want to be forgiven by God, we must forgive others.  This is most certainly true.  But, as I explained above, I think this finds it’s roots in the fact that someone who doesn’t forgive really isn’t asking for forgiveness.  But, at the same time, I think it ought to be pointed out that we can only forgive because we have been forgiven by God through Christ.  Thus, if we don’t forgive others, we are giving the kind of bad fruit that evidences an unregenerate (that is, unsaved or unchanged) heart.  And the unregenerate person is most certainly not forgiven by God.  I think Jesus says this because He wants to drive home a point.  And that point is that forgiveness flows both in and out.  The same goes for grace, mercy, and compassion.  To be shown mercy but never show mercy, to be shown grace but not to show grace, to be shown compassion but never show compassion are all signs that the reality is not present in you.  In a sense, I think this is one way we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (see Philippians).  To bring it all together, I think that Jesus is emphasizing this to point to the sin in our lives.  And a prayer to God that doesn’t recognize our sinfulness, ask for forgiveness, then ask for empowerment to spread the mercy and grace we’ve been shown to others is really no prayer at all.  And the only way to have forgiveness is through Christ.  Therefore, to offer a prayer that God will hear and honor, we must be clothed with Christ as well as live like Christ. 

E.                 Final Conclusions and Generalizations

1) Christ’s disciples are assumed to be people who pray.  Whatever else we may draw from this passage, Jesus flat-out assumes that prayer is expected of the Christian.
2) As much as prayer is meant to exalt God, it is meant to humble us.
3) The length of a prayer is not nearly as important as the heart of the person praying.  In every word we speak to God, we ought to be humble, honest, and to the point.
4) God is pleased to receive prayers that are offered in this manner.
5) We should never pray in such a way that we seek praise for ourselves either from others or from ourselves.
6) This passage doesn’t say anything about what we should expect from God in prayer.  In fact, it seems to suggest that when we pray, we speak to God, not the other way around.  That may be possible, but this passage doesn’t address it.
7) When we ask for things, we should ask for things that glorify God, that destroy our sinful selves, and that help us to depend on God alone for every single thing.


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A Simple Study of Prayer #1c

Click here and here to read the first two parts

C. A Model for Prayer (v. 9-13)
Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, let your name be treated with reverence. 10 Let your kingdom come, let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.   [You can tell I selected certain footnoted options for the version of the prayer I’ll comment on] 

Jesus now models prayer for us.  I’ll start with some general statements about the whole prayer before examining its parts.  First, notice how short the prayer is.  I find this to be more evidence for leaning toward shorter prayers.  As we found in Point B, God is not impressed by long, repetitious prayers.  Jesus’ example reflects that.  Of course, longer prayers are fine.  But it seems to prove that there is nothing wrong with short prayers.  Second, Jesus’ prayer is not terribly comprehensive.  I suppose it holds to the ACTS (Adoration, Confession [as if Jesus needed to do that!], Thanksgiving, Supplication] prayer, but not so formally.  I think it’s worth noting that Jesus covers some very basic concepts without getting complicated or technical.  There is no reason to think that we need long sentences or big words to pray appropriately to God.  Simplicity is a good thing.  Third, the prayer doesn’t end with “Amen.”  I just thought I’d point that out. 

Now I’d like to examine the verses one by one:
v. 9 – First, note that Jesus prays to God as Father.  Because of Jesus, we have the same right to come to God as His child.  Essentially, we are talking to our celestial Daddy.  Second, Jesus immediately exalts the father and implicitly humbles Himself.  That should be the same for us.  When we praise God (especially in prayer), we should understand the vast difference between God’s holiness and our lowliness.  As such, we should seek not only to treat God’s Name with reverence, but pray that others will as well.
v. 10 – Jesus here hits two points: God’s heavenly rule and His earthly rule.  This sentence focuses on God’s dual rule over heaven and earth.  By example, Jesus is teaching us to pray that God’s kingdom would come and come soon.  This has implications not only in reference to Jesus’ return (which we should pray to come soon), but also that God’s kingdom would become more present here on Earth.  This means that we are praying for the conversion of souls and the glorification of God’s Name among all peoples.  Jesus also focuses on God’s earthly rule, where we should hope to see God’s will revealed and followed.  This balances the comment about the kingdom coming, because we should wish that God would be obeyed by all people (which is a way of saying we want go to convert/regenerate all people).  In so doing, we not only focus on God’s work on Earth, but also again exalt Him because He is worthy to be obeyed.
v. 11 – More than having to do with food, this asks for daily provision.  Basically, this is a way of asking God to deliver on His promises to care as He does the sparrow or the flower in the field.  And, in so doing, we are implicitly asking God to take away worries and fears, because we are trusting God to give us everything we need (food, clothing, shelter, companionship, etc.) so that we have no reason for pride.  In praying this, we are minimizing our work that we do to “earn” income by acknowledging that those things come from God Himself.
v. 12 – This particular sentence is both easy and hard to say.  It’s easy because we are asking forgiveness.  Of course, if we really seek to see all of our sins, this can actually be quite hard.  But I think it’s much easier to ask forgiveness from God than to forgive others.  And because Jesus links them together, it seems to imply that we have no right to ask forgiveness from God if we haven’t forgiven others.  And it seems that the reasoning for that is if we haven’t forgiven others, then we haven’t really repented of our sin (which I would link with forgiveness) of anger/bitterness/envy/whatever which nullifies our request.  In essence, we’re not really seeking forgiveness because we haven’t let go of the sin of unforgiveness (more on this below).  But if we truly lay all of our sin before God, then we are again humbling ourselves before Him and acknowledging that we have no way to get rid of sin without God’s active work in our lives.
v. 13 – Finally, Jesus finishes the prayer by again addressing sin.  He asks that God would first lead us.  This is important.  Implied in the request is that God will lead us somewhere.  And since He’s leading us, we want Him to lead us into paths of righteousness.  Again, this should humble us because we don’t want to be led into temptation.  Why?  Because when faced with temptation, we usually take the plunge into the sin itself.  Asking God to deliver us from the evil one acknowledges that temptations and sinfulness are fueled by Satan, our adversary.  As such, if we want to escape sin (and we should), we can’t do it on our own.  We need God to “deliver us” from both the sin and the one who want us to sin. 

To summarize, I’ll tentatively draw ­­­five main ideas/principles from this model prayer.  1) In prayer we should actively seek to exalt God and humble ourselves before Him.  2) In prayer we should pray for God to work actively to make and shape disciples for His glory.  3) We should trust in God alone, acknowledging that everything we have comes from Him and, therefore, we have no reason to worry.  4) We should ask God for forgiveness by asking Him to cleanse our sinfulness and empower us to obey Him.  Implicitly, we should recognize that any good thing that we do, including repentance and deliverance from sin comes from God’s good hand.  5) All things we ask for in prayer should seek God’s glory and honor, not our petty desires.

Click here to read the concluding section.