Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Let's Offer a Toast

David got really creative yesterday, didn’t he?  I had to chuckle as I read that my alias was Sunbeam J.  I could use some sunshine today – it’s grey here in South Dakota and getting ready for some snow.

I thought we were supposed to be writing about what God taught us or what God did over the last year – something like that.  Well one thing I learned is that David is a darn good writer and an even better friend.  I wish I didn’t follow David – he’s always so good with his blogs.  But the idea of Kingdom Bloggers is to hear different voices.  My voices, my life, my experience is so different from his and that’s okay.

I also learned that while I’ve never met Tony, Dave T, Michelle, or Tracy, they are family – not just my brother’s and sister’s in the Lord but blogging family.  I’ve learned to depend on their prayers and support.  I hope they feel they can depend on my prayer and support as well. 

God taught me or maybe I should say showed me that I can write.  I suppose some of you may disagree and that’s okay… I’ve learned that I can write some interesting things.  I have learned that ministry comes in all forms including blogging.  It’s been a great experience.  It’s been good for my soul as well.

Kingdom Bloggers – we are family.  We share our lives, our hopes, our dreams, our joys and sorrows, our expectations and disappointments with you.  You, our readers, are part of our family.  We hope we’ve touched your lives in some way.  We are blessed in this experience, we pray we have blessed you… if we have, we’d love to hear from you? 

Happy Anniversary Kingdom Bloggers – here’s a toast to many more years of working together for the Kingdom!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Shanghai Agent - Happy Blog-i-versary to Us!

It was a smoke filled bar in Shanghai named the Dixie. At a wicker table on the patio, there he sat, the operative I traveled half way around the world to engage. I leaned against the Juke Box, and it began to play Tiny Bubbles. Like a chess game, cautiously, we both made our moves; scanning the room for bugs, hidden mics and other signs of danger. Finally, sitting back-to-back at adjacent tables; him with and Elvis wig and shades, and me in my Hawaiian shirt - half talking over my shoulder in loud whisper I said: "Elvis is that you?"

He replied. "It's Hound Dog, Rick."

I inconspicuousy pulled off my shoe, and held a toe in my left hand, and grabbed my knee with my right.

Hound Dog, gave me the high sign by adjusting his sunglasses. He lit a cigarette pretending to smoke. He let out a loud cough, almost blowing our cover.

He slipped me a printed copy of the latest Tony C Today blog, and there is there it was scribbled on the back of a Hooters receipt between the pages, the email for Joyce, AKA Sunbeam. I went to the pay phone near the bar as I wondered how she fit into the plan. I called my office in California to run a background check. Norway, South Dakota, Connecticut, Tennessee - she had a long rap sheet. Pastor (not his real name) confirmed a meeting Jessheim, Noway.

I smiled at Hound Dog, tipping my head towards the door.

"Thank you very much." he said. Just as the shouting fans, aliens and scandal-sheet reporters began to fill the Dixie, I slipped out through the kitchen to alley.

I took a taxi to the airport and boarded my plane for Oslo to meet Sunbeam. We met in the oldest church in the country, and pretending to be tourists, we exchanged prayers. Who knew she'd appear again a few years later? That's that way it is in this business, agents come and go - a few finish the race.  We traveled with an unsuspecting group, speaking in unknown languages, and split up at various times so that we would not be found out.

I snapped a photo of her as proof that I delivered the message.

One day while I was on a secure connection t headquarters, Hound Dog sent me an encoded message. ycarT teeM - he knows I am dyslexic. I sent her a Facebook message through one of my many Farm Town aliases. I always wondered why she didn't use an alias - she's very bold. For the longest time I thought it was a pen name for Max Lucado. It was interesting she had hidden message in her blogs from G OD . Wow, she is connected.

Honestly, I am not so sure Tracy actually exists - hmmm...

For the past year we've been working for KB secretly sending messages of hope and love to our comrades that will one day be gathered by the 4 winds. It's too bad that a couple of our most beloved agents have fallen, but we salute them for their effort to win that war against S A T A N.

Disclaimer: most of this is not true. Well except for the snapshot of Joyce in Norway.

Romans 12:4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

We made it! You can take the covers off the electrical outlets, and the safety-catches off the kitchen cabinets, Kingdom Bloggers is a year old. Many thanks to Tony, Dave, Michelle, Joyce and Tracy for all that you have offered us this past year.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Above everything else, I am most thankful for...

On this weekend end of Thanksgiving, there is so much to recognize and appreciate, and my fellow Kingdom Bloggers have done a typically wonderful job...but I can safely say our focus always returns to the most spectacular.

The United States is the first country in the world to officially set aside a national holiday to give thanks. The First National Proclamation of Thanksgiving was given by the Continental Congress in 1777:

FOR AS MUCH as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for Benefits received, and to implore such farther Blessings as they stand in Need of: And it having pleased him in his abundant Mercy, not only to continue to us the innumerable Bounties of his common Providence; but also to smile upon us in the Prosecution of a just and necessary War, for the Defense and Establishment of our unalienable Rights and Liberties; particularly in that he hath been pleased, in so great a Measure, to prosper the Means used for the Support of our Troops, and to crown our Arms with most signal success:

It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive Powers of these UNITED STATES to set apart THURSDAY, the eighteenth Day of December next, for SOLEMN THANKSGIVING and PRAISE: That at one Time and with one Voice, the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor; and that, together with their sincere Acknowledgments and Offerings, they may join the penitent Confession of their manifold Sins, whereby they had forfeited every Favor; and their humble and earnest Supplication that it may please GOD through the Merits of JESUS CHRIST, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of Remembrance; That it may please him graciously to afford his Blessing on the Governments of these States respectively, and prosper the public Council of the whole: To inspire our Commanders, both by Land and Sea, and all under them, with that Wisdom and Fortitude which may render them fit Instruments, under the Providence of Almighty GOD, to secure for these United States, the greatest of all human Blessings, INDEPENDENCE and PEACE: That it may please him, to prosper the Trade and Manufactures of the People, and the Labor of the Husbandman, that our Land may yield its Increase: To take Schools and Seminaries of Education, so necessary for cultivating the Principles of true Liberty, Virtue and Piety, under his nurturing Hand; and to prosper the Means of Religion, for the promotion and enlargement of that Kingdom, which consisteth "in Righteousness, Peace and Joy in the Holy Ghost.

And it is further recommended, That servile Labor, and such Recreation, as, though at other Times innocent, may be unbecoming the Purpose of this Appointment, be omitted on so solemn an Occasion.

The Thanksgiving we celebrate today started during the Civil War by declaration of President Lincoln, and again the purpose was for a nation to join together and thank God Almighty for His many blessings. I encourage you to read the eloquent language of said proclamation here.

One Nation, under God...

We all know God is so much bigger than a single nation, although I am most thankful for my country and its once committed acknowledgement of the Almighty . But what my thoughts constantly revert to when I think of giving thanks goes far beyond a nation, a race or any other physical property we know or have known. My thanks are ultimately for a gift...the gift.

God put into motion a plan of salvation long before men understood the concept of banding together to form nations and governments. A gift of mercy for His creation gone rogue all because He loved us enough to give us choice. A Holy pardon for all we could ever do or would ever do against His will. I don't understand that gift, and I surely don't deserve it.

Yet...there salvation is for the taking. Eternity with our Creator, in His presence, in His glory.

No, I don't begin to comprehend it...but I sure am most thankful...above all else.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving, and this is one of my favorite holidays.

Partly because I enjoy cooking, sitting down with people and sharing a meal and hanging out. Also because I have so much for which to be thankful.

I know me; I know how selfish I can be - yet God still loves me anyway. He came and took on human form and dealt with all that meant, then was betrayed, mocked, tortured, and died on my behalf. That alone is more than I can ever express my intense gratitude regarding.

Then there's the fact that I was born in America and all the freedoms I've experienced my entire life. Add to this the fact that I've always had food, shelter and clothing. I'm healthy in mind and body and have a husband who loves me. I have three healthy sons. I belong to a local church where there are people who sincerely care about me. I get to work at a job where we make a difference and where most of the people are good and kind.

I am blessed way beyond what I deserve and today I'm thinking on how thankful I am.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Giving Thanks Isn't Always Easy

Why is giving thanks so hard?  I know it is a nice and wonderful thing to do.  I used to be an optimist. I used to believe ultimately everything would be wonderful.  The truth is, I'm no longer an optimist.  When I think about gratitude and thanksgiving, unfortunately all the things that have hurt me, trouble me, pain me, disappointment me etc come to mind.  I can very easily wallow in a sea of self-doubt and depression.

But that's the problem.  It isn't about me... Thanksgiving isn't about ME.  When I make it about me, I lose sight of what's really important.  The comparisons I make are always those with people who have done better or the things I don't have.

I have some friends who I've known a very, very long time.  Some are merely acquaintances, a few others are good friends.  I guess I've been pretty hard on myself all my life.  Always wanting to please and always some how falling short.  I remember that I always thought these people were better than I was... they just were.  I got that from my mother who would fall all over herself for anyone she perceived as better than her.  I think she got that as a child being poor, living on the wrong side of the tracks, being Pentecostal when it wasn't cool to be so, and then going to NYC as a child to work as a domestic.  I didn't grow up in luxury by any means.  The daughter of a janitor isn't born to wealth.  But I never went without something I really needed.

Those Norman Rockwell pictures of Thanksgiving are really not the reality for many people. For many people the holiday is empty.  Oh they may not be alone, they maybe in the midst of celebration, but they are empty.  Psychologists will tell you that depression and suicide both rise when we are supposed to be giving thanks and being with family.

Okay, I'm not trying to depress you nor am I trying to slap you with reality.  I am just thinking out loud about how complicated life is, especially at the holidays.

These are my kids and grandkids and one in-law.
I'm thankful for each one of them.

We have a tradition in my family.  I started it with my family when my kids were very young.  We go around the table and say what we are thankful for before we pray and eat.  Everyone is always awkward. I don't know why.  I am too.  My mother would always cry when she would say her thanks for health, and family.  That's the pretty standard answer in our house.  Health and family....

But you know, this thanksgiving I'm thinking how huge that really is... we lost my mother this year.  She's not crying any more about anything - she's with Jesus.  Health - I have friends in chronic pain and some with cancer.  I am healthy, thank God... Really, that's doesn't just sound nice as you go around the table.  It's really something to be thankful for...

Then there is family.  My family is big and just as complex as it is big.  It's a typical family because it is blended.  We have mine and ours... I wish we were closer in proximity as well as emotionally.  I wish those who didn't care for each other would learn to love and forgive.  Yet, this amazing tribe of people are wonderful.  Some are professionals, some work with their hands.  Some are young, some not so young any more.  Some are just finding themselves, some seem to have arrived.  But they are great - and I'm very thankful for each of them.  And I'm thankful for that complex woman who made me call her Mother rather than Mommy - the one who always tried to live up to someone else's expectation but who made the best turkey at Thanksgiving and even borrowed tips from Better Homes & Garden's to make our simple table look grand.

But most of all I'm thankful for the godly heritage she and my dad gave me.  They taught me about Jesus.  I used to sing a song in church as a kid - I have decided to follow Jesus -- there's one verse that says, Though none go with me, still I will follow.  Seems hardly anyone is following Jesus in my family.  But I am.  And I will continue to follow the One who is my source of strength and life.  And today, I am most thankful for Him.

Happy Thanksgiving - and as you sit to consume massive amounts of food, if it isn't your tradition to share what your thankful for with your family - tell Jesus what your thankful for before that first bite goes in your mouth.  Your food will taste even better... GUARANTEED.

Monday, November 22, 2010

La Cabeza de Calabaza

It's Thanksgiving week, and that's what we'll be writing about this week on Kingdom Bloggers. BTW - Happy First Anniversary fellow bloggers!

I am thankful for lots to things: I have a good job, a nearly new car, a house or two, a great church, a growing guitar collection, food, money in the bank and my health seems OK - I guess for my age it is actually good.  I really am grateful. And when I think about it, I am almost happy with my spiritual life.

If you follow me here or on Fire and Grace, you know that I have a 7-year-old named Charlotte. I enjoy all my kids, but Charlotte and I spend the most time together.

And of course my wife Mary Anne, is my favorite person in the entire world.

I was thinking about all of this, but Charlotte is such a big part of my life, I'd like talk about her. She has a lot of qualities, but an old friend said it best, "Charlotte is like Mary Anne on the outside, and David on the inside." To know her is to know me, to see her is to see Mary Anne.

The family dynamics go something like this:

I was sitting with my them at a local Mexican restaurant for my wife's birthday. Here is the conversation that took place between me and two of my daughters.

22-Year-Old: I am joining the gym.

David: Why?

22-Year-Old: Well, when I go out running in the neighborhood, I get home and hear gunshots around the corner (a few months ago, they were in front of the house, that last time there were in the neighborhood).

David: Get a gun.

22-Year-Old: Yeah, right. I'll just shove one in my running shorts.

6-Year-Old: Don't do that, you'll shoot your privates off.

So much for advancing the dialog for safe and legal gun ownership.

Today "Missy" and I had a date day. She ran out to greet me after church in her bare-feet (was 39 degrees). I took her to the playground, out for fries at "King Burger." Then we came home to do a Playdough project and play with her new Zuzu Pets; which she received for her birthday. It was a fun time. Contrast that to yesterday where I was working, had a recording studio session, and dropped in on her party at a local gym.

She's an animal lover, enjoys Tom & Jerry, tells it like it is, creative and artistic, and well like I said, her attitude is little strong.

We have enrolled her in a bilingual school, and she is pretty much fluent in Spanish. My new nickname for her is La Cabeza de Calabaza (Pumpkin Head). It makes her smile, and it certainly describes the red hair!

Friday, November 19, 2010

That's right...He said the more the merrier!

I'm pretty sure I could do a series on this week's topic a la Johndrow...

God has opened my eyes to so many things and changed my stance on a wide range of topics, so just picking one is a very difficult task. I think that's more a testimony to His love than how screwed up I really was in my thinking at one time, but I accept the latter as a hard fact also.

During my dark period of aimless spiritual wondering, I would often look back at the sanitized life I had tried to live as a young Christian and sneered at the ridiculousness and absurdity. Why would anyone deny themselves fun and pleasure based on an otherworldly promise/commitment that has no concrete merit?

My image of the Christian lifestyle more resembled that of monks than anything containing mirth. I was convinced that serving God required a life completely void of good times...at least the way I defined good times.

Maybe I was using that view as a defense mechanism to justify my own deviant behaviors. Could be. One thing is absolutely clear to me today though, what I considered fun and entertaining was nothing more than a destructive mirage destined to fast track me to the life hereafter. Thank God my eyes were opened!

Happiness is a state of mind that many believe has a positive residual effect on the body. Now I don't know about all that New Age mumbo-jumbo and exactly how literal said symbiotic relationship may or may not be, but I do believe the peace and joy that I discovered in my life at my revival ultimately helped me beat and survive cancer. That credit goes to God though. The lack of fear and anxiety that comes from knowing that God is in control and that living/dying is a win/win scenario because of His grace and love...well...that beats the absolute best drunken party I've ever attended. At least what I can remember...

I usually don't have a problem saying I'm wrong because I've had so much practice doing it. Wow was I wrong in my attitude on being a lover of God and having a good time! Fellowship with my brothers and sisters in Christ almost always results in a laugh or two...just ask my fellow Kingdom Blogger David Johndrow. We're constantly exchanging text messages and Facebook comments in good fun. I look forward to any chance of being in the company of my church family for the same reason.

Having a good time in Christ here in this world, however, doesn't come close to the eternal celebration that's coming. While some may enjoy laughing all the way to the bank...I'll stick to laughing all the way to Glory. You're more than welcome to come along! I promise we'll have a great time.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

He loves me, He loves me not

If you would have asked me in the past if I could earn God's love and approval, I would have told you no. I would have quoted you Romans 5:8 and Titus 3:5 and declared that God's love is a free gift. But it wasn't until a few years ago that I really began to believe that on an emotional level.

I think the way I grew up affected my ability to understand the things of God. In a lot of ways I was blessed growing up because my family believed in God and I went to church. I was also blessed because my father did love me and try to be a good father. He was just limited by his own life experiences and did not know how to express that love. I can not remember a time that he ever told me that he loved me, or a time when he ever complimented me about anything. So I always felt lacking growing up. I always wanted to somehow earn my father's love and approval; I was always striving to obtain something that I never perceived myself receiving.

On some level, all of these things transferred onto God. I spent years and years when, although I was not conscious of it, I was trying to earn God's love and approval. But over time the Holy Spirit used the Bible, people He brought into my life, and books by godly men and women to make the truth of God's unconditional love and approval real for me.

Today I can rest in the fact that of course I do not deserve God's love one bit, yet He gives it to me any way. I can extend grace to other people when they mess up, because I'm ever conscious of the grace that's been extended to me.

Sometimes I think people worry that if they stress God's love too much, that Christians will just engage in lazy, sloppy, living. A friend of mine, after I'd loaned her the book The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennen Manning (one of those books that God totally used to help me see His love for me in a new way), asked me - but what about obedience? I tried to explain to her that as we grow in our grasp of His immense love for us, obedience comes. We won't have to force ourselves to "do" the "right things", because we grow in our desire to want to do whatever this wonderful, loving, God asks.

What about you, do you find it easy to accept God's love? Have you ever struggled with feeling like you had to earn God's love?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Confessions of a Former Pharisee

The longer the live, the more I realize that the adage about the only thing constant is change.  If we don’t change, we also don’t grow.  It’s interesting that our blog this week is about changing our mind, not our heart.  That’s good because only God can change the heart but we can change our minds.  And let me tell you from personal experience, that distance from my head to my heart is usually the hardest and longest trip of all.

I had a professor at Trevecca who never gave me a grade.  That was because I bailed out of his classes twice.  He had this reputation.  The guy was brilliant.  I would start a class and then say NOPE, this is going to kill my GPA and I don’t need this and out the door I’d go.  Nonetheless, he actually influenced me a lot.  Several things he said to me during my interactions with him are things that will never leave me.  One of those things was 

education will change you whether you want it to or not

I realize that the term “social justice” is not the most well liked phrases in certain circles of Christianity.  In others, it is their favorite phrase.  I grew up in the camp where saying social justice was akin to saying you were backslidden.  We firmly rejected eternal security, so being backslidden could be an everyday, even hourly event.  Christians were classified as truly saved or not.  Those who spoke of social justice were in the not category.

Before I go further, let me make sure everyone understands me.  I do believe in salvation through the free gift of God through faith in His son Jesus Christ.  I do not believe that there is anything I can do to earn my salvation nor can I work off my sins.  But I have discovered much to my shock that social justice is not a dirty word.

As I plunged into Old Testament classes and as I plunged into the learning of Hebrew, I discovered a recurrent theme.  God cares about justice.  God cares about how we treat each other.  God wants us to take care of widows, orphans, the outcast, etc.  Then as I took the course in the gospels of Matthew and Mark, from an equally hard professor as the one I would bail out on, I saw that Jesus miracles were not for show – they were to meet the needs of real people.  There were people hungry and Jesus fed them.  There were people marginalized, troubled and in pain, and Jesus healed, delivered and fellowshipped with them.  It was about real people, with real needs.  It wasn’t some super spiritualized event.  It was about people… did you get that?  It was about people.  And it was about justice.  I was shocked!

When I was a girl I would go to the Salvation Army for Sunbeams, Girl Guards and Vacation Bible School.   I’ve written about this before, you can read it here.  I preached my first sermon during Girl Guards one Saturday morning.  I preached on John 3:16 and told my peers “you must be born again.”  I had this self-righteous notion in my head that the Salvation Army had become too liberal and was too concerned about social issues rather than preaching the gospel.  How foolish and arrogant I was for such a youngster.  I think I was about 13.  I remember the leader thanking God for reminding us of His salvation.  I felt so justified in my self-righteousness.  

But isn’t that what the Pharisees did as well?  I was a little Pharisee.

Now I know better.  Now I know that the gospel is also about feeding people, making sure kids don’t go hungry nor do adults, giving a coat that you don’t use anymore so a child or an adult can stay warm, it’s about loving people.  If we could just get that love part right, the preaching of the gospel would be heard.  Social justice is part of the gospel.  I never knew.  I’m no longer a Pharisee now that I know better.

What about you?  Are you a Pharisee? 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Changing Your Mind About God? It Might be Time!

There I sat in the Priest's office at the church. On the desk between us was a book; 9 0'Clock in the Morning. This is the church where I finally decided to settle in after years of searching. I had been saved for about 5 years and most churches that I visited, or knew about, were BORING. I knew God, prayed, and wanted to know everything about him. I had read the entire New Testament and most of the old - highlighting, underlining, studying, thinking and coming to some of my own conclusions.

The Bible is filled with transformations - places where folks like you and me were utterly and completely changed by God. From Gideon to Moses, Paul to Peter, the work of Christ changes us. Some times it radical, and other times it is private and subtle. That's what we'll be writing about this week here on Kingdom Bloggers - something that God changed our mind about

I had read enough of the Bible and it didn't seem to jive with what I was hearing in church. I wondered about all that miracles and healing, what happened to them? I read about Jesus forgiving the woman taken in adultery. I wondered how Paul and Elijah raised people from the dead?!? Then there was all the amazing things in Acts, angels, prophecies, martyrdom, miracles, demons and trances and ... Whew! A lot of supernatural stuff!

I remember reading this. Acts 19:1 While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?"

They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit."

3 So Paul asked, "Then what baptism did you receive?"

"John’s baptism," they replied.

4 Paul said, "John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus." 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.

What could all this be about? Did I miss something? I had been taught this stuff was gone and that because we have the Bible, we don't need it anymore. Then I read that book 9 0'Clock in the Morning, and I had a lot of question and very few answers.

There I sat talking to the priest of my Anglican church, Hank. We talked about the book which he had read, and the Bible passages. The whole thing began to make sense, and it also sounded exciting. My spirit was shouting at me, it is time to ask God for this "baptism."

Hank and I went to the alter that day at Grace Chapel in Old Saybrook. The presence of God was magnificent. I had never felt it quite that way. There we said a simple prayer - I don't even remember what it was (1983 was a long time ago). I just remember the experience - one mixed with faith, wonder and excitement as I knelt before the altar.

That night I went home, and the Lord gently came to me as I lay in bed. I started to softly thank Him and actually I couldn't seem to stop - or I should say, I didn't want to stop - it was amazingly beautiful.

Some years later I was talking with a guy at a Christian book store. He seemed so certain that I was in error. His store had banned the book. I invited him to my home. At my kitchen table, Steve laid out an elaborate theology for me; it took nearly an hour.

I was not offended, but it sure did conflict with my understanding and experience. But I finally asked him if he would read that book so that we could discuss it in the first person. He refused. I was little sad because that night so long ago opened my eyes to a deeper and more wonderful faith that turned my ship, my life and my mind around.

How about you, has God changed your mind about things you previously believed?

Friday, November 12, 2010

We can do this My way or My way...you chose.

It's always hard to pinpoint that moment when inspiration becomes action for me...

I've always been one to jump in both hands and both feet. When I wanted to learn more about business, I bought one to see how things really work. That's why I'm convinced I'd be an awful Texas Hold 'Em poker player. First hand I had a good feeling about...all in! People usually don't last long in the game doing that when I watch tournaments on ESPN.

From many previous post, it should be obvious I have a heart for ministering to that group of Christian young people just leaving the nest of mommy and daddy's home. Statistically speaking, many move away from their faith during this time. Since I was once in that statistical group, it was easy for me to empathize with this particular path.

God called me to get busy, and in typical Tony C fashion, I immediately connected the demographic I would be ministering to with the internet. Wouldn't young people always online doing young people stuff? So I set out to create a website for all the fledgling Christian youth to flock to and experience revival...

Not so fast.

After coming up with a site name of stickwithjesus.com, registering, building, mapping the site, writing content and spending countless hours promoting it...I was lucky to get a dozen hits a day. Then came MySpace (here) and email promotions. There was a point when I would stay up every night and engage people on Yahoo Answers to promote the site until the early morning hours. Still, a good day was 20 hits.

Effort wasn't the problem. I was just trying to reach too wide an audience right out of the gate. I knew this was what God was calling me to do, but I hadn't waited on the answer on exactly how He wanted me to go about this ministry. After spending considerable time and resources, I pulled the plug on stickwithjesus.com at the beginning of 2008 and took a step back to retool. What was I doing wrong? Why wasn't this working if God was in it?

Well obviously, the problem wasn't God...it was Tony.

I didn't know how to build a website. I had to teach myself. I didn't know how to market a website. I learned through trial and error (mostly error). I was an amateur writer at best. Let me twist a very popular cliche and state- There's no I in God. Only God in me...and the body of Believers. My efforts would require God's timing and as much help as possible from other Christian brothers and sisters; therefore, I wouldn't be the Moses of a modern internet exodus by young people back to God.

In September 2008, my blogging experience began after a prayerful night of asking His direction. This felt right. Soon I was connecting with more and more Christians online through email, blogging and Facebook. Contact with other Christians became consistent then routine. People at church started reading my blog post and offering encouragement. Again, it all felt right. The moment of God's endorsement, in my mind, came at the beginning of this year when a friend and blog reader ask me to consider taking over as teacher for his Sunday School class...the college-aged class!

This is where I wanted you.

Now I regularly remind said class that patience is a Heavenly virtue...just trust me on that one.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What is Success or Failure?

I occasionally get stumped with these topics.  This week is no different.  If you read any of my blogs, this one or my others, you can certainly sense a bit of frustration about ministry.  I have no doubt I was called into ministry.  I have no doubt, and I say this without pride but humble appreciation, that I am called to preach and teach.  The gifts God has given me in these areas are significant and yet without His doors being opened, there isn’t much more I can do.

Change the man to a woman and see how it strikes you? 

I’ve been preparing and preparing.  I’m in school again.  I know my path with school is different than many of you.  But it is part of my quest to be used of God.  In so many ways, I am still stuck in the feeling of failure.  I wonder so often, is it me?  What did I do wrong?  What more can I do?  I know a lot of people struggle with a call.  I did too only because I thought God would never use a woman who was divorced, remarried and whose husband wasn’t a believer.  I still think that’s a rather unusual thing.  But when asked, I just say I know God called me.  If you have a problem with my “qualifications” I guess you just have to ask God about it.  My responsibility is to be obedient.

In 2002, I answered a call to plant a church.  I saw a building and a community and prayed.  I prayed hard.  I took pictures of the building and asked people to pray.  I even photo-shopped the name of the church on the windows of the building.  The Well – a non-denomination church.  My husband and I met with a realtor, made an offer and nothing…

In 2003, I met some women who had a coffee shop near Music Row in Nashville.  They offered the use of the building for church on Sunday morning.  I prayed.  I talked to my pastor who was also my boss at the time.  He said “What are you waiting for Sister Joyce?”  Of course I didn’t know at the time that his enthusiasm was not just from the Lord – it was also because he had a young man he wanted to come in and replace me.  He was just waiting for me to leave. 

I went.  The Well had its first meeting.  We had a good crowd and filled the shop.  We had a great worship leader.  We had a treasurer/bookkeeper who was also an intercessor.  We had a decent crowd while we met there.  We were excited.  We have vision.  It wasn’t in the town I’d prayed to be in, but it was a start.  Then the coffee shop closed – no warning, they just closed.  The Well was finished.  God opened no other doors.  No other buildings were available.  We were done.

I slowly accepted the betrayal of my former pastor.  I accepted that God had closed this door as fast as He opened it.  It wasn’t easy.  In 2006 my husband and I opened a coffee shop in the same town that I had prayed over years before.  The Well resurrected.  Some new people and the same awesome worship leader returned to proclaim the gospel.  The vision had been refined over those years in between.  I had been in school studying biblical studies for several years. 

For over two years we met.  I've never closed our MySpace page, you can see it here.  You can also see what the coffee shop was like by visiting it's still open MySpace page hereEventually, we closed the coffee shop for the same reasons the women on Music Row did – they had a great location and couldn’t stay afloat; I had a crappy location and couldn’t stay afloat.  But the church was doing well.  We had a small nucleus of great people – a different and superb worship leader, an associate pastor – people who loved God and each other.  We moved to the building I had photo-shopped and prayed over.  I didn’t own it.  One of our parishioners did.  She and her husband allowed us to meet there after they had thoroughly renovated the space.  I thought WOW – isn’t God good.  

Where The Well met after renovated into a Musical Cultural Heritage Center - Fiddle & Pick

God had brought me back where I always thought I should be.  It seemed like such a God thing.  We had some new people coming.  The future looked so promising.  God had given me a vision for adult singles.  We had no Sunday School or Christian Education space.  We would fill a different niche for the gospel.  We were experiencing respect in the community as well. I was asked to preach the community wide Easter Sunrise Service.  The only woman preacher in the community, pastor of the most non-traditional church in the community - what an honor!

In February of 2008 it began to crumble.  As quickly as God answered prayers, the rug came out.  Our worship leader took a wonderful position in Florida.  Another anchor family left.  On our 30th wedding anniversary a call came from South Dakota.  A dream job for my husband was offered while I sat in the car outside a Dunkin Donut at Cocoa Beach, Florida.  I wanted to scream WHY God???!!!  My last service as pastor of The Well was in October 2008.  The Well continued a while under the leadership of the Associate.  Eventually, it ceased to exist. 

Success?  Yes, those of us who were part of The Well know God was in it.  We know that God moved in all our lives and showed us a glimpse of true community.  Failure?  Yes, for me, it feels like failure.  When it comes to what God has for me in ministry, I wish I knew.  I am still waiting.

Monday, November 8, 2010

You Can Pull the Plug But...

I remember it like it was yesterday. I heard the voice of the Lord. It wasn't the first time, but in some respects I was as surprised as Samuel. As I look back, surely it was the most important time. I had just given a talk about study on a men's retreat. I teach a lot like it write my Kingdom Bloggers blogs; I use a lot of personal stories to go along with what God is showing me. Just to know stuff in the Bible doesn't do much for me. Knowing God and seeing the verses of the Bible come alive in my life, that is what matters to me. When I was done, I was be congratulated by one of the deacons. And God called me to ministry.

This week your Kingdom Bloggers are going to write about failing in ministry, and later returning to it. Or, I think that's what Tony meant when he introduced the topic.

The call to ministry is exciting, but when God decides to use a knucklehead like me, the time on the potter's wheel is well - long. Of course there is the initial surge, and I ended up getting support from my local church and the Episcopal Diocese of CT. I started seminary classes. I thought it was all planned out. Ha!

I have written about some of the chapters of my life on this blog. After things in CT fell apart, I move to MA. Fast forward to this past Summer, and we arrive at the resurgence. It has only been a few months and God is at work in my life opening some new doors.

The Christian life is a journey. None of us really know what is next. Without a relationship in which we talk to and hear from God, our faith is reduced to hoping that God hears us. As I approach another flat spot in the race of life, I am starting to feel those some feelings I had so many years ago: expectation, excitement, and joy for the work that God has personally called me to do. I have lots of ideas about leadership, but most importantly, I want to hear God and do what he asks.

As the Lord restored David to his position as King after his fall, God has allowed me to minister in spite of my many failures too. With all that is behind me, I am glad that I am ministering, and not running for office!

Some time soon, I am going to be teaching a class about the 5-Fold ministry and the spiritual gifts. It is my passion, and it is who God has made me.

How about you, what has God called you to do? Are you doing it?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Just because you don't know it doesn't mean I'm not praying.

Prayer is a serious privilege from our Father...

Some of my favorite passages from God's Word are those involving prayer. When Jesus prayed in the garden before his arrest, He left a template for others to follow like no other. Inspiring. Humble. Genuine. All the things we've came to know and love about our Savior.

As I've stated before on Kingdom Bloggers, I take my prayer life very serious. Still learning and growing in some areas of prayer granted, but I now realize that commitment to daily prayer is a tremendous blessing and good way to help keep my own spiritual house in order.

1I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— 2for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:1-4

Like David Johndrow, I have also been praying for my brother Curtis. I also pray daily for my fellow Kingdom Bloggers, include the one MIA on Wednesdays of late (love you dude). All in all, my desktop list includes anywhere from a dozen to three dozen people at any given time. What a tremendous gift from God to be able to lift up the needs of others to Him! I become overwhelmed with joy whenever I really stop and think about that ability He has granted His children.

There is one in particular that I have prayed for quite some time now. She is strong in her faith and a genuine person, but she struggles with all the same trappings of the other young adults her age...especially relationships. For a number of years, this young lady put more than her fair share of effort into a relationship that most knew was destined to dissolve. But she tried. She struggled. She suffered. My wife and I watched and felt so much pain for her...empathy. We both had been there at one time in our lives before finding each other.

So we have prayed for her. Patience is one of God's toughest lessons, but patience is also a virtue that He so faithfully rewards. I pray God will place a good Christian man in her path. Someone who will put her second only to Him. I know in my heart they will do great things in His name and always deflect all the glory to her Heavenly Father.

But, I also know she wants that fellow now, so I continue to add patience for His will to my prayer for that great dude. Hope she realizes he might be better looking... if she waits on Him too.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Praying Through

This week we are each to share one thing for which we're in the midst of praying through.

When I read that this was to be our topic, my first thought was - Just one thing I'm in the midst of praying through concerning? I've got several things I'm in the midst of praying through regarding!

So I just picked one to share here.

It's for my middle son, the one who is a Senior in high school this year.

I can remember when he was 8 years old and made a decision to choose to accept Jesus' sacrifice on the cross on his behalf and to give His life to God. I believe that, as much as he was able to understand at that time, this decision was real and sincere.

But as he hit high school things changed. He still proclaims himself to be a Christian and still exhibits some Christian morals (no sex outside of marriage, working hard, being honest, etc.). But he enjoys being popular at school and all his popular friends, most all of whom are not Christians and have no desire for Christian values. He does not want to go to church and exhibits no desire for prayer, praise, or Bible reading. He desires activities that I'm puzzled why any one in whom God's spirit dwells would desire. Examples of these activities would be listening to music with lyrics that degrade women and authority figures, attending parties where some of the attenders consume alcohol or become engaged in some kind of sexual activity(although this son does not engage in these activities himself, I don't understand why he would even want to be in this environment).

Several years ago I prayed that God would give me a Word, a view, as to what He has for each of my sons. God was gracious and granted my request. I took that Word from God and wrote it into a blessing for each son. None of the three were alike; God definitely has a different call and gifting on each of their lives. I put these written blessings onto special paper and framed them and hung them in their bedrooms.

I know that God gave me that Word for this specific son about who I am writing. I know that God gave him his fun and open nature, his personality that attracts people to him. I know that God created him to be a man who influences others for God's Kingdom. But right now I only see him influencing people for pursuing selfish teen age pleasures; I even see him letting others, who don't seek after God, influence him. Yet, I believe that Word that God spoke to my heart. I believe that this son will change and fulfill those very things that God gave me a glimpse regarding.

So I pray. I pray that God use every experience that this son is going through now, to bring him to be that man God wants him to be. I pray that I would let go and let God do the work; that I would be faithful to act as God would have me to act, but that I would ever be conscious that it is God who will do His work in my son's life, not me.

I pray, and I will continue to go on praying.

What about you, what are you "praying through" for?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

My GPS Needs Adjustment

I am praying about a whole host of mundane issues.  If you know me, you know my life is on a yo-yo string most of the time.  I'm pulled here and there.  I travel by necessity, not  by choice. I have two houses, one a home, one where I have to live to be with my husband.  Life is very confusing.  Then there is the question of when?  Where should I be when and what is best? Best for who? Most of the time I decide based on other people's needs and desires.  That's good and then again, sometimes you get lost.
I have a new friend.  I consider her a friend even though I'm just in the early stages of getting to know her.  I am hoping she will become a close friend, but distance, busyness, and just life will determine whether that happens or not.  I am hopeful.  I like her.  I was lamenting some of the decisions I have to make on Facebook and this new friend responded.  She ended her response with saying: "sometimes you have to be uncomfortable in your heart just to be comfortable in your soul."  For some reason, that really hit me.  

Within minutes, I picked up a book I thought would be helpful for my research.  I highly recommend anything by Parker J. Palmer and this was no exception.  In A Hidden Wholeness I started reading about living a divided life - Palmer, spoke of taking care of your soul.  He spoke of living undivided.  A-ha... seems God was speaking.  Palmer shared that you have to find yourself, your soul. 

Another friend had told me to ask God about my decisions... I do and do and do that - but I honestly told her, I'm not hearing much from God these days.  I'm sort of just running on instinct and discipline.  I think that's the problem.  I think the problem is not these mundane decisions.  I think the problem is I am not taking care of my soul enough.  I think God was answering me through the wisdom of my new friend and of Palmer.  I think the bottom line in all of this is that Joyce has gotten so lost with busyness and taking care of people that she doesn't know who she is anymore.

What I am praying about is to find myself-to return to who I am and learn to "be." I need to find the uniqueness of me including all my brokenness so I can offer the uniqueness of me to the cause of the Kingdom of God.  What about you? Do you ever feel lost along the way?  Do you ever wonder who you were created to be? To be, not DO!  I've heard that message with my head so many times.  To be rather than to seem.  I heard it again this summer.  My soul needs to hear it not my head.

You weren't created to do - you were created to be... who are you? I'm looking for me. I'm getting closer to finding me. How about you?


Monday, November 1, 2010

The Prayer, Compassion, Hope, Love, Faith Jumble!

The phone text read: I got some bad news today. I had an emergency Cat Scan and the cancer has spread to my brain.

This week your Kingdom Bloggers are going to share about something they are in the midst of praying through.

I stood there stunned, just looking at my Blackberry screen. I have been praying for my friend's healing. for a few months now. I called him when he was in for chemo and I texted him when he was getting radiation treatments. God what is going on?

I have a lot of faith these days - me and some friends prayed for a guy at church that had an infection on his foot. Because he is diabetic, the limb might have had to be amputated. It was completely healed. Dr Jesus was in the house. I guess his doctor was pretty surprised. He was excited enough to call me to tell me the good news!

Things in my life are going pretty smoothly towards my ministry and family goals; kids are doing pretty good, we are working, and have a promise from God. I have had some success praying for cancer patients. HERE is one story. I have another friend that is cancer free that belonged to my men's group.

Then there is Curtis, who has cancer. He hasn't received healing - yet!

He is a great guy; early 40's, 4 kids, lovely wife, sold-out Christian with a call on his life. I am not asking God why, I am asking God to heal him. I don't really care what the doctors say - it's bad in the natural.

I am just praying, will you join me?