All posts by: Naomi Stephens

Growing up in the religious South, I heard stories of creation, the flood and the Lamb of God since birth. My parents raised us in church for a majority of my growing up years. I learned the books of the Bible backward and forward, made sure to tithe and be in the church building every time the doors were open. My mom tells stories of my questions that stumped the preacher. My dad accompanied me to Brazil on mission as a high schooler. 

I remember very clearly the Sunday I walked forward and desired to come to Christ. I confessed my need for Him as my Savior and was baptized a short time later. My pastor kindly handed me a Survival Kit to teach me about what it meant to be a Christian. Just one thing was missing…grace. I thought that if I didn’t do just right, according to what I believed, then I was living in sin and there would be no hope for me. 

So, I lived as a judgmental teenager, believing I was “better than” my peers who were choosing to live lifestyles of blatant sin – whether actual or perceived in my eyes. Those years quickly turned into a hidden lifestyle of rebellion and sin in my own life. Relationship after relationship ended in sin along with heartbreak and a hardened-heart. I desired to know I was loved and accepted as I was and so I made myself to be what I believed I needed to be in order for someone to love me. All this time, I hid guilt and shame…or at least I tried. I believed Christ was my Savior and still I lived as if it were up to me. My beliefs didn’t line up with my choices and my choices didn’t line up with my said beliefs.

Many things, good and bad, have happened in my life since my early twenties. The Lord has brought so many people into my life and spoken to me through a number of them. Not too long ago a dear friend sent a few of us a message about a John Piper message where she quoted him as saying, 

“When guilt remains so does the wrath of God and everlasting misery.”

My pastor preached the next Sunday on grace. And it hit me that often we say we believe the facts of the life of Christ – he died on a Roman cross to save one from the eternal punishment for one’s sin, was raised to life after 3 days in a grave so that one could spend eternity with him in heaven and ascended to the Father where he makes intercession (prays). These are all good things, eternally vital things. But have we put our faith in the facts alone or in His grace that says these things were for us? His grace and love for me led Him to die on Calvary’s tree and raise to life so I might live, in Him free.

Too often our choices dictate our beliefs instead of our beliefs dictating our choices. His grace gives us space to make our choices line up with Biblical beliefs. Grace says there is freedom from our past and freedom for our future. Grace doesn’t hide, make excuses for, or remove our past. Grace says our past failures can be redeemed for the glory of God. Guilt and shame have no place where the grace of God abounds. 

The church is still a vital community for me and for my family. Biblical truths, both taught and sung, help me to see the grace of God. His faithfulness is to all generations. May we looks around at the testimony of creation – the way the seasons change right on time, the way He provides for the birds, how vibrantly He clothes the wildflowers – and see His enduring faithfulness, not just for us, not just for now, but for ages and generations to come. May my redeemed life be a testimony of His grace and His faithfulness both for now and for generations to come. 

This post is part of the Five-Minute-Friday link up.

We were talking about this just last week in Sunday school. Who is my neighbor? What interesting neighbors have we had? The ones we are most thankful for…or remember the best. Truth is I need neighbors now. The good Samaritan did not physically live by the Jewish man who was beat to a bloody pulp. He simply found him on the road and gave aid to his need. Isn’t that what we all need, for someone to find us on the road and lend their aid? As a woman it is often difficult for me to trust other women. I have found our ways and means of attack are often mental and emotional rather than physical. To trust my neighbors would be potentially painful and disabling. And we are all there at some point…swallowed by pain and physically, emotionally or mentally unable to move on. Lord, help me to be a neighbor to those in need. To not worry so much about my own safety or inability that I miss meeting someone else where they are and forego the opportunity to walk the road with them.

Dear Ann,

We had quite the introduction today. I must say it was refreshing to become acquainted with an inspirational woman, such as yourself. Your strength and confidence was simply empowering. As I sat hearing your story, many things piqued my interest. Why would a woman, like yourself, choose to go against the grain of your time, moving out of your father’s house before you were even married? What was it like to immerse yourself into study that was not thought to even be for women at that time? And not to mention, moving to a new continent only two weeks after you married. The lessons I could learn from time with you.

Oh Ann, I wish to be able to just sit and listen to you – as a woman, wife, mother and missionary. You are inspiring as a Christ-follower and disciple-maker. You studied theology out of desire not obligation. You saw the need for the education of women and made a way. It amazes me the dedication you had in learning a new language and of translating The Scriptures into it for the benefit of the native speakers. Your desire to rescue young girls from slavery and educate them to give them a chance, awe-inspiring. You were a trailblazer.

Yet, you were not a stranger to loss and pain. You cared for your imprisoned husband for nearly one and a half years, following him from prison to prison. You stood on his behalf before government officials, pleading his case. All the while carrying three children, at different times, and burying two before illness and death claimed your own life.

Oh, dear Ann, you are a mighty example for me. That I would serve our Lord, Jesus, the way you have: whole-heartedly and without despair, willing to leave everything behind for the joy that lay before you. You served your family, the Burmese people and most of all your God with great devotion. You did not allow an unbelieving world to shape and mold you into who they thought you should be. Ann, you were always true to the Creator’s unique design for your life.  Thank you for such a mighty example of a woman of God. I’m sure to find other resources in order to learn more about your life and the legacy you have left women living on mission today.

Sincerely,

Naomi

It’s amazing to me as a mother what my children treasure. My oldest son has for years collected plastic bottle caps. Why is unbeknownst to me yet he has a fondness for those orange plastic caps. Each of my boys have found pleasure in bringing me rocks of all shapes, colors and sizes. It really is the small things in life. As a child I was fascinated with a bottle that sat in my parents room on my dad’s dresser. It was a clear, glass bottle filled with marbles. Reds, blues, greens, oranges, yellows. They were all there. I always just assumed my dad was a master marble player. Later I’d find out that he just liked marbles…never even played! Those marbles still intrigue me. Why marbles in a glass bottle? I guess I could ask the same of bottle caps or rocks.

Our oldest son has started taking extra time at night to read before bed, which usually means I miss tucking him in because he goes to sleep a little later than his brothers. Last night I heard the bathroom door open so I went to his room with hopes of tucking him in bed. He was sitting there about to turn off his light when I came in the room. He smiled and I tucked him in. Now this kid is so easy to read, when something is troubling him you can see it all over his face. He looked up at me and ask, “Mom, what is religion?” I was a little surprised by the question seeing as his dad is a pastor and he has been in church since nine months before he was born. He pulled the book he had been reading down and showed me the page that made him question. I quickly read the passage and tried as best I could to answer his question. Here are a few things I shared with him:

  1. Religion is mans way of trying to earn heaven.
  2. Religion often weighs our deeds.
  3. Religion is something we carry – good and bad.

As I talked with him, I thought about those marbles that sat in that bottle on my dad’s side of the bed. Religion takes one marble and writes one deed on it. And it does so for each good and bad deed, thought, and attitude each day. Then we must carry those bags of marbles until we die. Religion says that if somehow our good deeds outweigh our bad deeds, heaven it is. The sad truth is that we are crushed under the weight of all our deeds – good and bad. My son said that it was like a line or two from Black Beauty, a character had “fell down with great force” and “he walked as if he were in great pain.” That is what sin does, it cripples us as we try to live good enough. Religion is us trying to get to a higher power or a heaven of sorts, all depending on which religion is followed.  Christ, however, came to us to carry our burdens to the cross so that we could have a relationship with him that would not crush us. He was crushed for us and defeated death, hell and the grave so that we could walk with Him. Doesn’t mean our life is perfect or easy. It does mean Jesus carried the weight for us because He loves us. The burden He gives us is love – for God and one another. And how we live that out daily is in obedience to Him.

So today, and everyday, I am choosing to treasure my relationship with Christ, instead of marbles of good and bad deeds. I’m choosing to take His yoke because it “is easy and His burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30)

I have a love for trivia games and shows. Trivial Pursuit, Disney Trivia, Who Want to be A Millionaire and Jeopardy! just to name a few. For the longest time I prided myself on the amount of useless knowledge I had gained. In early 2001, a new game show caught my attention, Weakest Link. The players would work to bank money based on answering questions correctly. At the end of each round the player that performed poorly was voted out by their teammates. Each weak link would be ousted by the host saying, “You are the weakest link, goodbye.” The final round was the last two teammates going head to head with one eliminated as the final weakest link. You can guess that the remaining teammate won, receiving the banked money as their prize. This game intrigued me. I wanted nothing more than to be the best, to take my “rightful” place as know it all, and receive the biggest prize at the end of the day – in MANY areas of my life.

Years have past and I’d like to think that I’m a different person because of my relationship with Christ. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” The all have sinned part I have totally believed for years and years. It is the part in bold print that has so recently stung my heart. I have fallen short. I’ve missed the big prize. I do not measure up. On my own, apart from Christ, I am a weak, sinful mess. I am the weakest link.

Once again the Scriptures have brought perspective for me. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul addresses the believers in relation to himself, dealing with unity within the body. It is no longer about one person – their actions, attitudes, attributes. It is wholly about the body of Christ.

Ephesians 2:18-22 (CSB)
For through him we both have access in one spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole building, being put together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you are also being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit.

I’m always intrigued by new construction. The mess that it begins as and the beautiful structure that is masterfully completed. I cannot understand why any draftsman would draw plans with gapping holes or any construction foreman would leave the materials piled without proper placement. It would never purposefully happen. And so it is in the body of Christ. The plans that God instituted, Christ carried out. Yet we, as the body, have many times refused to be built together. Each focused on the I – I want, I need, I think. Instead, Paul gives us a totally different perspective. There is one whole building and each of us belongs there. As we are being built together, we must come along side one another. No wall can stand without support. No beam can be placed without being secured. We, I, cannot stand alone. There is no ministry, no function of the church, that is solely dependent on me. And we cannot look around and boot out those we deem “the weakest link” – unnecessary, not needed. We cannot bear the load ourselves. We need one another. Where I am weak, someone else can impart their strength. Where I need wisdom, someone else has the ability to speak. Where I need leadership, someone else has been given the ability to guide. The know-it-all, do-it-all mentality is not supported in Scripture apart from the person of Christ, and still He willfully submitted to Almighty God. He has chosen to build together His Church so that His Spirit can dwell there. Don’t miss the blessing of His Spirit by taking it all on yourself, allow Him to work through others as they support, affirm and even help prune, areas and callings in your life.

2 Corinthians 9:13-15 (CSB)
Because of the proof provided by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedient confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone. And as they pray on your behalf, they will have deep affection for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

May God be glorified by our obedient confession of the gospel through whatever ministry to which He has called His church. May we have deep affection for one another because of the grace of God in our lives, knowing we don’t have to compete or stand alone, He has called and equipped us to work together for the sake of His Gospel and His Kingdom.