Friday, October 29, 2010

If you truly love someone...keep them close instead of letting them go.

"I just love you and care about you candidate and want to see you get the most out of life!"

I want to get real for a moment...

As a follower of Jesus Christ, I completely believe in the power of prayer. But, I've not always been a regular user of that privilege. Last week I wrote about what I feel God has called me to do, and that's minister to that group of young people who statistics tell us are the group most straying from the faith. The proverbial shoe fits because it truly was on the other foot (mine) at one time.

I've worked in the youth ministry at church for several years and was constantly interacting with the young people at church, but last year God put an opportunity in front of me that has been both challenging and rewarding on all new levels. The head deacon at church, Keith S, was teaching the college-aged Sunday School class and doing a phenomenal job. How phenomenal you say? My wife, Candice, was attending a series on Genesis and was so inspired by what she learned, our daughter due next month will be given the name Eden. That's pretty influential stuff!

But God had a different plan for Keith in our church (which is a completely different blog to His glory once again), so he ask if I would take the class. Sorry to quote a beer commercial on a Christian blog, we go! God was challenging me to put actions to my professed passion. I prayed knowing the answer already but throwing out the fleece in a delaying if that works with God.

Yada, yada, yada...I'm teaching the class now since the first of the year. Wow! It has truly changed my life. Not a day goes by that God doesn't put one of them on my heart or I get a message through text or Facebook asking for prayer. Many of them are away at schools not near here, so I try to maintain regular contact with them to let them know they are gone, but not forgotten. Some have drifted, many have hurt from a number of reason. Through it all, I try to be there to reassure them that God is real and loves them more than anyone else ever could.

But I get it...I truly get it. My passionate pleas to our Heavenly Father on their behalf are an echo from years past in a time if I had only fallen on my knees and cried out for forgiveness and repented, so much hurt would have been avoided. I love each and every one of them as if they are my own children, and as I sit here typing this with tears welling in my eyes and my heart breaking for the trials and tribulations they will each endure...I know it is a path which each must journey to better serve our Savior and His Kingdom. James says it so clearly in his letter to early Christians:

2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4 (NIV)

God continues to mold and shape me for His benefit, but He loves me and answers so many prayers on behalf of those He has charged me to love and minister to also. I've seen a few stray and return to His fold, a few broken at bad choices and mended by His love, and one deny Him only to regret and repent. What a blessing and privilege to be used in even the most minuscule way for His glory. I am most thankful for the opportunity to serve our almighty God, and for the challenging path He placed directly in front of me to passionately follow.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

What's God put in your spirit?

I really appreciate what David and Joyce have said this week about how God has a different plan for each of us.

God saved David from Alcoholism. God took a high school drop out, welfare mom, and made her not only a college graduate and successful mother of 8 children, but now Joyce is completing her PhD. God took Tony through his own conflicts and questions when he was in college, and now he's getting to reach out to college age young people (2 Corinthians 1:4).

So what's my story?

All I can think to tell you is that the area where I've always been the most passionate, and seen God use me the most, is through my work.

From the time I graduated from high school my heart has always been for those people in our society who're on the fringes, the different ones. It's not always been the same people group, but it's always felt "right" to work with people who are outcasts. While I worked my way though college it was as a care giver in places like group homes with intensely acting out teenagers, or cottages for developmentally disabled, or secured psychiatric hospitals. When I graduated from college I began taking management positions in these types of settings.

I've tended to be shy and certainly not what others would call a go-getter in my personal life. But in my career God has worked though me in a way beyond my natural personality. I've seen God give me the ability to confront when needed, to teach large groups, to share with outsiders about our mission, to interact with top level executives, and to find new revenue sources - all of these are not things that come naturally to me - but God has continually given me the ability to do what I need to do to pursue my passion. Through the years that passion has changed to be more for the care givers of those outcasts than for the actual clients. I've found myself driven to work toward training, empowering, and generally making the workplace better for care givers.

There's a line in a song by an old Christian singer named Carman that I've always remembered:

"The desire is the confirmation that the destination is there,
God wouldn't have put it in your spirit if it wasn't going nowhere".

What's God put in your spirit? Where's your passion?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

It's NEVER too late

I’ve written a lot about my life journey.  I’ve shared the pain of being a single mother with no education.  I’ve shared that I was abused and abandoned.  I’ve shared that feeding and clothing my children meant food stamps, commodity foods, welfare food baskets and miraculous deliveries of food.  It was not easy.  It was something that if you met me now, you’d probably never believe.  You see now a confident woman who is working on her doctorate and you probably think I never had it rough.  You would be wrong.

It was May 10th.  It was graduation day at the University of Missouri-Columbia.  I was alone in a delivery room (this was before they babies born in hospitals came into the world in a birthing room).  I was delivering baby number 3.  The baby would be Joshua if a boy and Bethany if a girl.  I was praying for a girl.  I had two boys I loved but in my mind, this was my last child.  This was my only hope for a daughter.

I had struggled all night thinking my pain was just the bladder infection the doctor had diagnosed earlier that day.  Around 2 a.m. I knew different.  I was staying with some friends from church who kindly let me spend the night there since I was not well.  My boys were at their aunt’s house.  The woman was a powerhouse Christian and prayed in the spirit all the way to the hospital, literally dodging black cats with her large white Cadillac.  Two hours later, there was an emergency.  The baby had aspirated before birth and in haste, the doctor pulled her out with forceps.  I saw flesh being moved from my body to the waiting pediatricians.  I asked was that my baby.  The doctor said yes.  I said what is it?  He said a girl.  Then he moved closer to my face and said, Joyce, it doesn’t look good.  Don’t get too excited. 

I didn’t see her again until I was able to walk to the NICU.  I had already been up in my room.  It was a large ugly cavernous room.  They put me in it because they feared I’d be mourning the death of my daughter.  They didn’t want me with a woman who was cuddling her baby.  With my IV pole, I walked to the sink.  With my untethered hand, I started washing my hair in the sink.  That did make the staff rather upset with me.  I guess I was supposed to stay in bed and not worry about my hair.  Then I walked to the large window on the other side of the room.

It was a beautiful spring day for Commencement at the University of Missouri.  The Hearns Building was abuzz with cars, and people.   Streaming out of the building were young scholars.  People my age, my peers, streaming out of that building with their caps and gowns.  I cried.  I thought that should be me.  I should be graduating college.  Instead, I have three beautiful children who depend on me and I am a welfare single mom.
I give all the glory to God for where I am.  I really do.  But I also believe in education.  It has been one of the tools that God has used to shape me.  It has not only shaped me but transformed me.  While on the inside, I’m still rather quite insecure, education has given me a sense of confidence.  I can appear as if I am ready to take on the world.  And you know what?  I probably could and do a great job with it.  And it is first because of grace and second because of education.

Trevecca's College of Education Logo

I didn’t care for school as a kid.  In fact, in Jr. Hi, I pretended to be sick most of the time.  In 9th grace, I would be sick on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday morning – I’d return to school on Friday afternoon to work in the library ONLY so I could go out over the weekend.  I dropped out after the 11th grade to marry and became a mom before I would have received my diploma.

Now, I have a passion for education.  It is so important.  I can’t say it’s about the job either.  I’ve had some very good jobs.  I’ve been somebody career wise.  And yes, I wouldn’t have been without education.  But it’s not about the job.  It’s about knowing. It’s about learning.  It’s about the transformation of a welfare mom to a doctorate.  I’m too old for this doctorate and I know it.  Everything says it was too late.  But then again, when I was young and cried as my peers graduated, everything said it was too late to go back to school.  I did it then.  I can do it now.

What about you?  What has education done for you?

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Grace of God is Able to Keep You for 30 Years at Least

There in a kitchen, one decorated with copper-tone appliances - the refrigerator adorned with pictures of my nieces, an unfinished shopping list, a calender, magnets; one with the Serenity Prayer, along with mementos from meaningful events in my mother's life; all lit by a simple incandescent ceiling light, I stood.

Like the opening scene from an episode of CSI, I waited for the headlights of my friend's car to disappear from the driveway. As the high-beams cascaded across the faux maple cabinets, I was finally alone.

In an rush of emotion like a freight train - an orgasm of excitement, rationalization, denial and pain, I grabbed the hammered copper handle and opened the door to the liquor cabinet. My favorite, vodka, gone! The rum, watered down to nearly nothing from maintaining the level to the pencil mark - and there - a bottle of Cutty Sark Scotch; green glass glistening in the shapely curve just above the schooner clad yellow label.

In the midst of it all, my only thought: "Isn't this the same stuff that made me sick one New Year's eve?" Sure, a sane person would be thinking, "how much damage has demon alcohol caused you and your family already?" After all, your mother is out at an Al-Anon convention at this very moment. Wasn't it on this very spot, right here on the kitchen floor, that your dad passed out and you thought he was dead?

No, the insanity of it all, was myopic focus on the much awaited, yet unpredictable and magical effects of John Barleycorn - regardless of the consequences. Won't it be great to fall off to sleep and forget that you're alone, the bills aren't paid, and your "friends" are off somewhere else because you are out of drugs?

The trusted warmth, soon to blot out the clamor of anxiety, was calling my name.

I unscrewed the metal cap and filled a drinking glass as the ice cubes crackled; rising just above the rim. The amber liquid so romantic, so cunning, so baffling... I didn't know what day it was then, but I do now: October 25th, 1980.

I took a gulp as the ice cubes crashed into my upper lip -- and then another and another. In between cigarettes I continued to refilled the cheap green glass, one with wrinkles on it like a Charpee puppy. As I stood at the counter I remembered that my father used to drink his Hull's Export beer from 16 ounce bar bottles here too.

It could have been like any other day in the life of an alcoholic, but because of grace, it was the last. The intended effect never took hold, and I lay awake all night consumed with what a mess I was making of my life. Some time the next morning I had a thought in between cravings for a refill: I had turned out just like my father.

Some years earlier I found God, but it was going to take some real grace to get me off alcohol. Even in the midst of the fog, the Holy Spirit was at work. You can read about that HERE.

I was 22, angry, depressed, and finally determined to break the habit. Some of my closest friends didn't know what I was going through, and I was far too ashamed to tell them. It took me a few weeks to clear up enough to pray, "God, I don't want to be like my father. Please help me to stay clean and sober." Certainly I have said that prayer and many like it since then, but this was the first real prayer that God answered for me.

I had a lot of hope and help from others - and AA made a huge difference. Thanks, Dennis, Kent, Eddie, and others like you who reached out to me in those early days. I am grateful for others who walked the road before me, and for those that have invested in my life since.

I received a gift that opened the doors to breaking a family curse, to salvation and many other amazing things. In meetings I was told to do it "One Day at a Time" - you know, as Jesus said, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself." We said the Lord's prayer, also a quote of Jesus. Those things are still comforting me today in many different circumstances.

Without alcohol or drugs -- simply by the grace of God, I have endured many things that this life has thrown at me- and some from the devil too. Yet, God has worked all things for the good (Romans 8:28) - even my mistakes.

I have carried my "24 hour" chip which is posted at the top of this blog. On it is a condensed version of the following prayer. Interestingly - it was one of the messages on the door of the refrigerator that miraculous day in 1980 - 30 years ago - this very same evening.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

-Reinhold Niebuhr

Friday, October 22, 2010

Call it like you see the name of Love.

Seems like a pretty silly sign...

Yet as Christians, we often find ourselves in places physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually we have no business being. Situations we know better than be in. Lord knows I've spent way too much time in those places myself. Wish I'd seen the sign of obvious advice on my detours.

To me, that's where discipleship comes to play. If we use Jesus and His relationship with His disciples as the ultimate template, discipleship really isn't that difficult...yet so very important in the life of a Christian. Christ was constantly instructing, encouraging and correcting His disciples all out of His love for them and need for them to carry on His ministry and grow His kingdom. When He left to return to the Father and complete the plan of salvation for you and I, He gave us the Great Comforter to guide and lead us on our journey.

I've been very forthcoming about my dark time of agnostic ignorance and how empty that time was in my life. I can't help but think if someone spiritually mature had vested interest and invested time in me, things might have been different. Of course, that wasn't God's plan for my life, and I've come to understand more clearly what that plan may be...although I still ask and listen for an answer daily.

As much as I love the privilege God gives at times to be His light drawing someone new to come to know Him, I don't believe it's my ultimate calling. Don't get me wrong, I'll throw down and talk my testimony any time the Spirit tugs at me and says 'You're up!' ...but sharing my testimony and empathizing with young Christians struggling at the same point I did just comes natural for me. There are a number of young adults in my Sunday School class, and I pray for them regularly as individuals. I also send them text messages and Facebook messages of encouragement. When needed, I remind them how important it is to be in touch with God daily through His Word and in prayer. Sometimes I send passages of Scripture that answers a particular issue going on in their life at the time.

There have been times I've scolded a little...because I love them so much.

Is it discipleship? I never really thought about it that way before, but I guess it truly is. As their teacher, Scripture tells me plainly I will be held accountable for what I teach them. I get that and always keep that fact in mind. But, I'm also told there are two great commandments (Mark 12:30-31), and using those as my daily guide, it seems everything else falls into place.

I hope and pray there will come a day each of them follow in my footsteps and take interest in young, growing Christians. If God uses me to just keep one of them from falling into the traps of the world as I did...hallelujah! To Him goes all the glory and honor!

Thank you Lord for providing that ultimate example for me to follow.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

No More Masks

I’m stumped.  This blog on discipleship has me stumped.  Maybe it is because I don’t know as I do it very well and maybe it is because I don’t receive it very well.  I have been alone so long that I can imagine someone coming along side of me.  I think the other problem is that it is such an “old fashioned” term.  As I was thinking about it, I thought when was the last time I heard that word?  It’s been a while.

I think the new terms are spiritual direction or mentoring… both are good terms.  I am sure there must be some difference between them but I’m not even sure what the difference is between discipleship, mentoring or spiritual direction.  I really think they are all versions of the same thing.  It’s about caring about another person, investing your life in theirs, and helping them along the path.  It’s like being on the same path it’s just one has traveled it a bit longer and can show the other one the ropes.  It’s teaching them what you’ve learned and hoping they can avoid some of your pain.  It’s being transparent, love and occasionally assertive and directive.

I am old enough to be the one to be the one doing the discipleship.  I also have known the Lord all my life – I guess I’m supposed to be mature.  I get asked from time to time to mentor someone.  I take that request seriously but somehow I don’t think that I am at the best at it.  I get distracted and caught up in my own stuff.  I think that’s because no matter how old you get, you still need someone ahead of you to help you to keep going as well.

If you read the comments from yesterday’s blog by David, you’ll see we talked about being honest and being transparent.  I think that is what is important about discipleship – it’s being real.  It’s struggling through pain and joy together.  It’s the ability to not wear a mask with someone else and know they’ll love you and help you anyway.  When you find someone like that, hold on to them.  It’s the most valuable relationship you’ll ever have.  Have you ever found someone like that?  Who disciples you?

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Art of Parenting - Discipleship

A father stands on the shore of a small pond teaching his son to cast lures. In his hand a white Shakespeare rod with a Phantom Pflueger spinning reel. On the end of the leader a red and white Daredevil "spoon".

The father carefully shows the "finger grab" to hold the line after the bail is opened - one of the tricks of the trade. His son lifts the pole over his shoulder; quickly thrusting the pole - releasing the finger holding the line and remembering to follow-through - pointing the tip of the pole out at the horizon. The quite buzz of line plummeting past the guides. It's as exciting as watching a grand-slam arc over the fence. Suddenly, there is a faint splash. The perfect cast! Father and son congratulate each other as the younger one reels in the line.

This week your Kingdom Bloggers are writing about discipleship. Evangelicals often focus on getting saved, and little else. The Bible, however; says to make disciples.

It was a sunny day at a pond not to far from our home. Dad and I stood casting lures. Later we took a break sitting on the field-stone dam; listening to the water falling to the pool some distance below. The smell of pine trees was in the air. There we were eating sandwiches with one eye on the line, talking about which lures were best, and what we would do when we hooked the big one! I don’t think that we caught anything at all day. Actually I guess the fishing wasn't all that important if I don't remember whether or not we caught fish. I do remember we were together, dad and I— yes, I remember that. Over 40 years has passed since that day and dad is gone now; he has been since 1998. But I remember that day. How I wished it would have never ended.

Discipleship is like that. It is one person parenting another - teaching, breaking bread, sharing, talking, doing, enjoying - growing in intimacy with Jesus.

For many years I have been in the church, and honestly, few people have invested in my life. I often think how different things could have been, had there truly been someone that I could trust, hang out with, and learn from. How different life might have been if my fishing teacher had not been an alcoholic. At this point it is all water over the dam.

Recently I have been attending a new church and for the first time in my church life, it seems to matter to someone besides me that I walk in my God given destiny. Previously, it has been about joining a church, and filling a slot. Here it is about fulfilling a destiny - one that I am passionate about.

Yesterday's service was amazing. More amazing was that the my pastor; a spiritual dad, had me minister in the elders meeting. At the end he told me that he loved me and was proud of me. That's the beginning of real discipling.

How about you, have you had a father or mother in the faith? Tell us about it.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Don't limit the love of God with your own version...

I've been struggling lately...

Writing has been a challange for me for about a month now. It seems my focus has been aimed at spending more time in God's Word and in prayer. I have several pressing issue I've been praying diligently about for weeks, and I've recently added a few more. I hope you can be patient with me while I sort through some time-management issues and get back to blogging on a regular schedule...reading and writing. I made a commitment to my fellow Kingdon Bloggers and to honor that commitment, I share a post from Tony C Today on the subject matter posted last year in May but still relevent today. To update the story, I have exchanged several letters with my friend and continue to share the wonderful news of God's grace with him. Blessings to each of you!

A friend is one who knows us, but loves us anyway...Father Jerome Cummings

Eternity. I thinks it's impossible as finite physical beings to grasp the concept. No beginning or end to a single days at all. Beyond my understanding.

I have a friend (I'll qualify that definition in just a second) who probably thinks he knows the meaning of eternity. He's doing 26 years in a federal prison, and he just started last August 2009. That's 26 years at 100% required good behavior time. I'm sure each day seems like an eternity to him.

He deserves the sentence he received because he was involved in some pretty heinous stuff. Things that make your stomach get all knotted up and, as a father, get really, really out of your comfort zone. He was a coach. His crime involved sexual battery...with boys. It also included child pornography. He got what he deserved and maybe not enough.

His arrest was a complete shock to his friends and peers. A completely likable guy that was always fun to be around, I've interviewed him on the radio a number of times about his basketball program in a small, obscure school in the upper corner of nowhere. He worked hard and was an integral part of the community. The revelation was devastating as everyone tried to marry the crime with the person. We were all shocked at the revolting details as each became available.

Some, no most, of his friends were repelled and disgusted by the betrayal. There was a lot of vicious, threatening language used when the matter was discussed. I tried to find understanding and forgiveness in my own heart for him...but it was very slow in coming. I don't think I'll ever reach the part of understanding, but I try to maintain that I have my own sins to worry about when it comes to offending my Creator.

God sometimes has a peculiar way of convicting us. Yesterday, just out of the blue, my friend's name just popped into my thoughts. I can't explain why, other than God wanted me to think about I did...and I prayed for direction. What do You want me to do? As I turned on SportsCenter last night in my nightly ritual, the lead story was the release of Michael Vick from federal prison. Later in the story, Tony Dungy was quoted as saying he believes Vick deserved forgiveness and a second chance. Compassionate words from a renowned Christian and man of God. I found myself in agreement but with exception. Should he be allowed to return to the position of prominence he enjoyed before his own heinous crimes were discovered? I was conflicted in my own opinion. God could receive glory in the return of Vick to the NFL if Vick stayed true to his testimony of being born again. I concluded that my opinion is...well... completely irrelevant. God's will shall be done.

I don't find coincidence in the thoughts of my friend and the story of Vick being prominent yesterday. Both are infamous in their own way, yet aren't we all in the sight of God? The Bible is very clear all fall short of His glory and that none of us is without sin. I've read and heard much about the difference in severity (or lack of) in our sins, but my understanding is akin to that of the concept of eternity. If sin is sin in God's eye with none being more evil than another...then my own feelings are seriously misplaced when it comes to my friend. He needs God's forgiveness and mercy more than anything else...just like me.

My statement that he got what he deserves stands as true as it did a few paragraphs ago. What he did was vile and wrong, and he should be locked away. But setting things right with society and setting things right with the Almighty have no comparison. The 26 years he will spend for his crimes are justice served. Crime needs to be punished. Dangerous criminals like my friend need to be locked up. Call it a sickness, a pathological disorder or just plain evilness...society has an obligation to protect the innocent from the infringements of sexual predators.

His soul is another matter. As he pays society for his wrongdoing, my friend can make peace with God...and I hope he does. For some of you, that may be hard to swallow. Why should a sex offender who committed such atrocious acts be allowed the reward of heaven? Be careful...that's a very slippery trail to travel...and one we shouldn't even be on in the first place.

I hate what he done with a passion that I don't completely understand. God hates my sins also with a like zeal...I'm just glad He looks past them to still love me. My friend is a whosoever just like me in John 3:16, he can accept the same gift provided by Christ's sacrifice on a cross, and I hope he seeks and ask for that forgiveness.

Today, I felt lead to share these thoughts with you, then find out how to write my friend and let him know that God loves him...and I love him too. Maybe reading this compels you to extend forgiveness to someone that has been long coming. I hope what I'm doing is the true will of God, and I'm going to have faith that it is...besides, I don't want to start eternity by answering to my Creator for not putting my personal feelings aside to follow His commandments and will for my life.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Are mentally ill people "worth" our compassion?

This week David, Joyce and Dave have shared about how real faith results in compassionate hearts that act on that compassion.

When I think about compassion I'm reminded of Jesus' words that are recorded in Luke 7:46-48. Jesus was specifically talking about Mary at the time, but he presented the principle that one who's been forgiven much, loves much. I've been forgiven MUCH. I've experienced God's grace, mercy, love, and unmerited favor greatly in my life. Because of His love for me, I can love others. I've also been through lots of hard times, so I understand what pain is like and my heart goes out to others who suffer.

But I really appreciated in Dave's post yesterday how the man who gave the single mom the money didn't want anyone to know about it. Somehow sharing about acts that I've done out of compassion feels all wrong; telling others what I've done seems counter productive (perhaps that's why Dave shared about someone else's acts). So, rather than regal you with tales of things I've done, I wanted to share just a bit with you about a group of people who need our compassion.

If you've read my blog much you know that I periodically post about Mental Illnesses. Through my work and personal life I've had years and years of experience dealing with mentally ill individuals. I've noticed that few people understand what it's like for those who suffer from mental illness. Most people just find mentally ill individuals annoying (this is most likely because mentally ill people so frequently engage in annoying behavior!) But no one chooses to have a mental illnesses. I know that God loves mentally ill individuals the same way He loves everyone else. I know that God's heart is that we would love, and not miss opportunities to show that love in action toward mentally ill people when they cross our paths.

What about you, what have your encounters with mentally ill people been like?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Landfill Compassion

If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?
1 John 3.17

I know of a couple of Bruthas that were asked by their church to help a single mom move a bed and some furniture.  It turned out that the church secretary had come someone wanting to get rid of these items.  The one dude was pretty jacked up because he had preached for years about how the body is supposed to step up and help out those in need.

That enthusiasm quickly turned to frustration and anger when he realized the  peeps giving away the bed and chairs was the County Landfill.  Not a member from the church or even another church, but items that were intended to be buried under all the trash. 

The two dudes moved things in and set up each piece in different locations as the mom and her friend suggested. It seems that no matter what condition the furniture and how empty a room is, it is difficult for two woman to decide where items needed to be placed. The single mom was excited that she would finally not have to sleep on the floor.  She was thrilled that her apartment now had 'adult' furniture other than the kitchen table and chairs. 

Anyways, the one Brutha who was pissed at the shallowness of the church, took it upon himself to give the single mom some cash so she could go out and buy some sheets, pillows and Lysol.  He requested that the mom didn't tell anyone about the amount or who gave it to her as he referenced James 2.15-16.  He did this in front of the younger Brutha deliberately, so he could show Faith in action. He did all this hoping to sow seeds of compassion and good works.

So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.
James 2.17

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

ARK - Acts of Random Kindness

It’s funny how things you think you know and understand, like compassion can become very complex when you stop to think about it.  You think about all those times you thought you should have had more compassion.  Or you think about times you dug in your pocket and gave someone some change or a few dollars and you thought you were compassionate.

I remember being a workshop speaker at a retreat before I left Connecticut.  I remember I talked about compassion.  I talked about how Jesus did miracles when He was moved with compassion.  I remember really hammering that thought home.  I thought I really understood compassion.

I like to think I am a really compassionate person.  When I think though of say a Mother Teresa, I realize I’m probably not that compassionate after all.  Compassion involves something much more personal, much more self-sacrificing than just feeling sorry for someone or giving them your spare change, food that you don’t want in a food drive or saying a prayer for a sick person.

Compassion implies action.  A few years ago as I was pastoring a church in Tennessee I wanted to be known as a church that was compassionate.  We had gotten almost by mistake some stuff about ARK – Acts of Random Kindness.  It had some connection to the movie Evan Almighty with Steve Carrell.  This ARK campaign wanted to help promote the movie as well as promoting acts of kindness.  I liked that.  I prayed about what we could do as a church.

Our church met in the coffee shop I owned.  We did breakfasts, full breakfast, excellent breakfasts at really reasonable prices.  The business never did that well.  We underpriced ourselves and were in a relatively rural community that preferred greasy meat and three food.  (For those of you not from the South, a meat and three is a restaurant dive that serves you the meat of the day with three veggies, like overcooked carrots, greens, okra, mushy squash, and the like.)  The church would come in on Sunday morning and often my few parishioners decided they were hungry too.  I tried to keep them from the muffins and such but I never succeeded.  I tried to avoid making coffee drinks besides regular coffee.  Again, I had little luck.  After all, why meet in a coffee shop if you aren’t going to eat too.

Then it hit me.  Why not offer free breakfasts on Sunday.  I thought okay, our church folk were already eating food free but how did we find “poor” people to feed.  Then it hit me.  The Bible only says to feed the hungry.  It doesn’t say only feed poor hungry, it just said, feed the hungry.  So up went the signs.  

Free Breakfast on Sunday

God invites you to Free Breakfast on Sunday

Join me for Free Breakfast on Sunday – God

We had banners and signs.  We put it on Craig’s list.  I insisted that we were not going to make this a bait and switch either.  People were free to eat on Sunday and then go canoeing on the river or to their own house of worship.  If they wanted to stay with us for church – that was great.  We didn’t attract multitudes for that either but one day a man on a bike pulled up for breakfast.

He looked out of place in this small semi-rural town.  He came in and said, I saw the sign.  I said have a seat.  One of the men started talking to him.  I started two large Belgium waffles for him.  I gave him some OJ.  He ate as if he hadn’t seen food in a long time.

He told us his unbelievable story.  I did believe him, even though it was unbelievable.  He was riding a bike from Nashville to Little Rock.  He had slept in the bathroom in the park until a trooper found him and told him to leave.  We packed a sandwich for him, gave him some fruit, chips and water.  We prayed for him.  He cried.  He said he’d known the Lord but his light had been hard.  Some of the people tried to get him to stay for the service.  I said no.  I said it’s a long way from Pegram TN to Little Rock.  He probably should start peddling that bike. 

I know this story is a far cry from a story of real compassion.  However, I think it was one time that I was moved with compassion.  It was a time when I was moved to action.  Not some spiritual hype type action, but concern for a fellow human being who needed food and to be blessed.  We gave what we could.  I have no idea what ever become of him.  I don’t know if he made it to Little Rock.  And yes, I am a skeptic at times, so I don’t know what part of his story was true and what wasn’t.  I do know he was hungry and I gave him food.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Some Days Loving Others Hurts! - Using Your Gifts

The faint beeping of a heart monitor,  the squeak of a crooked gurney wheel, and the smell of antiseptic played with my senses. At the nurses station, I asked for room 301. There is something authoritarian about the set up - an environment of methodical control shrouded in the chaos of suffering and healing.

It was my first visit to a member of my church in the hospital. I had just returned from an amazing healing conference and I was on fire for God. I felt like I could empty the place out. So I went in the room, and there sat a fellow that I didn't know well. We chatted for a bit; small talk mostly. There I stood with my Bible, and not much else to say. I asked if I could pray. I sort of felt defeated when he said that pastor had already been there and had prayed for him. I thought to myself, "we'll you're still sick." I mumbled a prayer; not expecting too much. Then I excused myself, and went home.

Part of the problem was that I was without compassion. I was simply looking to get God to heal this man. I didn't really care about him - well not like one of my own kids.

This week, your faithful Kingdom bloggers are going to write about compassion. I am sure that it will be a deep and inspiring week of Kingdom blogs.

Not many years later I went to ministry school. I had finished Bible school in the 80's and some classes at the seminary. The call of God on my life was deepening as I lived through the 90's. Now it was time to learn how to minister, not just preach a message, or learn theology. Our weekly classes including teaching on character, the spiritual gifts, and always had a time of impartation and healing. I was learning to hear God's voice, and God was starting to do some exciting stuff.

After a few months, we finally had a class on listening. It used a popular scale of listening that included 8 steps. I couldn't do it. I didn't know what empathy or compassion was. I felt horrible. No wonder people didn't sense my love! I only knew how to identify with others feelings - to compare them to my own. What I needed to learn was how Jesus saw them.

I went home and felt like such a failure as a Christian - and I felt like hypocrite.

I began to pray - wishing God would just fix me - the easy way out. Lord you need to show me how to really care about someone. All I could think of was loving my neighbor as myself - and I wasn't loving me all that well in those days.

If you follow my blogs, you know that I went to Brazil to minister a few times. The first time I as there, we did a meeting at the Presbyterian Church in Londrina. There were about 400 folks there and the spirit of God was amazing! I came to a man in line, and I just knew that he had killed his father. So, I said to him, "what you have done to your father, the Father in Heaven forgives you." He fell to his knees and wept for most of the meeting. I didn't get all the details, but he was desperate for the forgiveness.

As I was reflecting on what had happened, the Lord softly spoke to me. "David, it is my compassion that the world needs, not yours." I stayed awake most of the night just pondering that.

Finally, I asked God, "all I need to do is have your compassion?"

"And my love, and my grace, and my healing for it is all in the Holy Spirit which is already in you."

I confess it took a few more years to get that the new man was already perfect, loving and compassionate and all I needed to do was let him out.

Today I let the Lord decide how he wants me to spend my love, my grace and my compassion. In recent weeks, he has given me three guys for which I am supposed to be praying. One lost his job and is in a tight spot. Another is suffering from kidney failure and regularly requires dialysis. The third is suffering from a serious form of cancer. He's had 2 rounds of chemo therapy, radiation and a surgery to remove half his lung - and his tumor got bigger.

Sometimes the compassion of the Lord is just communicating His love. It is connecting with the Father on the behalf of someone else and hoping and having faith that Father will do what we cannot. I do that with prayer, phone calls, text messages and emails. I have discovered that you don't really have to know someone well to have compassion - well except for Jesus.

How about you, do you want to pray for my friends too?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Blogging friends are real friends too...

I posted this almost a year ago on Tony C Today. When I started thinking about our subject matter this week, this post immediately came to mind...and holds true today. God has blessed me beyond what I could have ever imagined with the connections I've made with other Christians literally around the world. For me, it's not so much about sharing my insignificant story as it is sharing what God has done in my life to use me for His glory. I'm both humbled and empowered. Like many of you, I blog to shine His light of love through my life...hopefully.

As you read the post from last November, know that I would truly love to add your name to the list of blogging friends. Besides...talking about Jesus is pretty cool.

(November 2009)

I don't typically post on Saturday, but the teenager's gone and mom and little one are into an afternoon I've got a moment or so to enjoy to myself...well...with you.

I started writing a post every Friday over on Kingdom Bloggers which I really love. There are three of us currently writing for the blog, and we mutually decide on a topic for the week and write from a personal perspective. David Johndrow from Fire and Grace and Dave Tvedt for Woe is Me are my co-contributors. Both of these guys are serious about their relationship with God and take the verse about pray without ceasing to heart.

You've got to take time to visit Matt at The Church of No People. He has a fresh outlook on what it is to be a Christian in the world today. I honestly find myself laughing out loud and saying 'that's right' when I read his blog. The same goes for Kathy at Hey look, a chicken!, who also contributes on Fellowship of the Travelling Smartypants, and Bud at Bud Beverly.

Maybe surprisingly to some of you, I follow several blogs geared for the fairer sex. Leigh Ann at Lulaville is a complete riot, and I enjoy reading about Shauna at Blah Blah Blog who has a very touching family story that proves all does happen for the glory of God. A couple of new follows are Bridget at Bridget Crumbley and my old friend Michelle at Finding Michelle who is new to blogging but definitely has a knack. Oh...Sherri at Everything in Moderation has given me several kicking good recipes.

I often find inspiration and encouragement from Jennifer at Getting Down with Jesus and Mesha over on HE's the potter, I'm the clay.. MOLD ME. Tracy at Abundant Living leaves some of the best comments...along with NC Sue from IN HIM WE LIVE AND MOVE AND HAVE OUR BEING. No way I can forget the Burkulater at It's Time for the Burkulater or Nadia at narrow path home.

Misty Rice, who blogs at Wind Beneath My Wings, is great to follow. Her and Laretha at Beauty Unveiled have visually pleasing pages that also contain heart-felt, quality substance.

There are a number of you I read...but you don't post very often (Derek, Chris T, Dave, Luke, Julie, Lori, BethAnne just to name a few). I wish you wrote more because you each have great stories.

There are also way more of you that read and rarely, if ever, comment...unless I run into you at the grocery store. Most of you don't write blogs and just follow. I'm very thankful for each of you that take a moment or two to read the thoughts of a rambling writer with a passion for what God has done and will do in his life.

I ask you to take just a moment more and think about this...I don't personally know any of the people I've mention with only a few exceptions. Yet, I feel a connection with each and every one. The common denominator is pretty obvious...

I hope you each have a blessed weekend.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Why do you blog?

This week here at Kingdom Bloggers we're sharing why we blog.

For me there's just something special about the written word. I adore reading. From the time I first learned to write in elementary school, I've always written.

The most frequent forms my writing has taken are notes of thanks or encouragment to people, or personal journals. I've also written some poetry, some fiction, some work related curriculum, and some Bible study curriculum.

I'm not sure exactly why I started the whole blog thing, but I was just drawn to it. I know that I enjoy reading what others have to say on their blogs. I can not say that I'm on some "mission from God" (BTW - ever watch The Blues Brothers?) but I do know that I have a strong inner desire to just be who I am. I do not see myself as any kind of expert who is trying to teach others, or an apologist who is trying to persuade others. My desire is to be exactly who I am, to share my thoughts and experiences on my day to day life. My hope is that others who read what I write will be able to relate in some aspect to my thoughts and experiences and either be encouraged in their faith, or find faith in Christ to become more attractive. I also hope to stimulate people's thinking and generate useful discussion and interaction.

What about you, why do you blog?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

It Began In Norway

Yesterday we celebrated David’s 500th blog.  That’s a lot of thinking.  That’s a lot of prayer.  That’s a lot of writing.  I read the comments by others and thought wow, Joyce, that was pretty lame.  I am not sure why I was so lame or if an excuse was really necessary.  Someone mentioned “roasting” him and I’ve never been good at that type of stuff so I procrastinated.  That might be my excuse but the truth is, it was just lame.

As I mentioned, I met David when we both went to Norway.  It seems like a long time ago now.  Except for the people who led the mission trip to Norway, he is the only one I’m still in touch with – I’d like to be in touch with some of the others but… we just aren’t.  My first impression of David was that he just oozed with energy and passion for the Lord.  That hasn’t changed other than he has more.

Yep, that's me, calling down heaven in an ancient Norwegian church.

I don’t know if I would be blogging if it hadn’t been for David, but I do know God used him to push me in this direction.  Several years ago, someone gave me a “word from the Lord.”  In it, they said that I would write a book.  Since then there have been similar “words” as well as lots of comments from all sorts of random people about writing a book.  David remembered this.  He remembered that I was supposed to write a book or books.  He pushed me.  He cajoled me.  He continues to do that when it comes to the book.

He also asked me to join Kingdom Bloggers.  It was a God thing.  I have my own blogs, Sounds of Hope and Storehouses of Snow, but Kingdom Bloggers seems to stretch me the most.  It also has given me fellowship.  I’ve never met any of my other fellow Kingdom Bloggers but they are like family.  We are different.  We bring different perspectives and experiences.  I imagine we could get into some pretty heated discussions on some issues too.  That’s what makes this experience so great.  It’s a lot like the body of Christ is supposed to operate.

We are different but we love each other, we care about each other, we pray for each other and we respect each other.  I don’t know for sure how the two Davids and Tony got together, but I am sure glad they asked me to join them.  I’m even “gladder” that I met David on a trip to Norway and he continues to push me to write.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Saturday, October 2, 2010

What Matters

But as God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk. And so I ordain in all the churches. Was anyone called while a Democrat? Let him not become a Republican. Was anyone called while Republican? Let him not be Democrat.   Democrats are nothing and Republicans are nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters.  1 Corinthians 7:17-19(Kinda)
Jesus ain't a Democrat and He ain't a Republican. 
He is the Son of God!
His Kingdom is greater than the United States.
He is the King of Kings!

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”
John 18:36

Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father,
when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power.
1 Corinthians 15:24

The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit in the place of honor at my right hand until I humble your enemies,
making them a footstool under your feet.”
Psalm 110:1

Friday, October 1, 2010

Marriage works best when it just doesn't feel like work.

Due to a number of peculiar circumstances, I missed my rotation last week. It was a shame because I had a guest blogger ready to address the week's topic of sharing one thing that helped each of us maintain our marriage. I couldn't think of anyone better to address the topic than my lovely wife. So after a little pleading, the post is a week late...but still most relevant.

So without any further delays, the love of my life - Candice...

Let me start by saying I'm not a blogger because I'm not a writer. I greatly enjoy reading the post of others (especially one named Tony C) and often laugh, ponder and sometimes cry at the stories I read here. Being able to share with others in clarity and depth of emotion using the written word is a true gift, and I applaud those of you who do it so well in service to God.

I read the post of the other Kingdom Bloggers on the subject I'm addressing and enjoyed each very much. However, I want to go a slightly different path. My husband is wonderful at doing the little things in our marriage to keep things fresh and alive. Sometimes he has very long work days but always comes home and meets me and the girls with a kiss or a hug and projects a genuine attitude of appreciation. He constantly keeps us laughing and refuses to let any of us stay in a bad mood (he'll pester until you relent and get over whatever it is you're in a bad mood about).

But the underlying glue that strengthens our marriage, and ultimately our family, is trust. Now that's a very broad term and naturally universal in any relationship, but I'm talking about the specific part of the bigger word that provides the sense of security and acceptance. The part of trust that helps you conclude no matter what, I'm in this for the long haul.

Tony and I most definitely have that and have already seen it put to the test in our six and a half year marriage. Although I hate the fact we have had to endure situations that have tested that part of trust, I know in my heart our marriage is stronger than ever and can weather any future storm life throws our way.

It all starts in the fact we both trust God and the direction He has for our life as individuals. It builds to a feeling of security that my partner in life loves and accepts me for who I am and who God wants me to be. That's a little more difficult to practice than say. Human nature (most men would say it's a woman thing, and be wrong not to include themselves) drives us to be in control of everything around us, including our spouse. I love my husband for who he is, and honestly, sometimes that's a challenge for me because he doesn't always say or do the things I want. But I understand that is a two-way street, and he loves me despite the things I say or do he doesn't particularly agree.

I close with this example of trust in our relationship. Tony is constantly challenging me to think about and explore the reasons I believe the things I believe. He doesn't try to convert or convince me to just think the way he does on any given subject matter. Most importantly, he always accepts the outcome and loves me for who I am now and continue to grow to be. I know he always will in my heart, and I hope he can trust that in turn, I will always love him no matter what.

Thank you Father for giving me this man and this marriage. May we always serve You.