Welcome to my blog...

Green trees, cool water, a gentle breeze...the perfect place to sit at the feet of the Master and learn. Jesus taught so often on the shoreline, and He's still speaking today.

This is where I share the lessons He teaches me, often during the time I spend on the shores of a local lake. I don't have all the answers...and some days I don't have any. But I go here when I need to draw near to Him in a tangible way. Come with me...

Monday, December 19, 2011

It's All About the Details...Or Is It?

When I woke up Saturday morning, one of the first emails I saw was from "God's Daily Promises" with the title "Details, details".  It caught my eye because I'd been up since 4:30 that morning unable to shut off my brain.  For the past 2+ hours I'd been running details for our church's Christmas Store through my head.  We were opening our doors to families in need, allowing them to purchase toys for 10 cents or less on the dollar.  A kind of charity with dignity that allowed them to choose their children's gifts and have them wrapped, rather than receive a handout.  

Over 150 families had been invited and RSVPs had not be required for a variety of reasons, so we were totally in the dark as to how to shop and what to expect.  To complicate matters further, it had been less than 5 weeks from the inception of the idea to date of fruition.  All types of last minute loose ends came to mind and I began to toss and turn.  After a day that had included 12 hours of set up, shopping, another period of set up, then standing outside in the cold for awhile to carol during our Living Nativity which was also going on that weekend, my body was aching.  Since I'd gone to bed late, the hours of actual rest totalled less than 4...and I knew Saturday would be an even tougher go.

I thought about opening the email to see what encouragement I could find, but the time crunch kept me from it.  By 7:45, I was sitting in a diner booth having breakfast with a friend before heading over to the church to face all those potential issues I'd concerned myself with in the wee hours of the morning.  Right off the bat, I was caught off guard.  I had a driving team going to a local shelter to pick up some ladies and their kids, but the keys to the van were missing.  As one of the team began calling 1, 2, 3 people and counting to see who had the keys, I lost it.  I knew it was the exhaustion taking hold, but I just cried like a baby.  Two of my friends tried to comfort me and one of them reminded me of something I'd said just minutes before - "this isn't my outreach, it's God's, and I know He's going to take care of all the details."  Man can I forget quickly.

Eventually, the keys were recovered and the person who had absent-mindly taken them home felt awful about the oversight.  We had only lost half an hour with that phase of the outreach, and in the grand scheme of things, it wasn't earth-shattering or deal breaking.  Certainly nothing to cry over.  The rest of the day ran as smoothly as a first time event of a huge magnitude could.  Both volunteers and recipients had experienced something divinely put together and lives were touched.  At the end of the day, the blessings went even further as unsold toys were bagged and given to another organization looking for unwrapped gifts to give other children in need.

The following day, I went back and opened up that email and read, "But the Lord said to her, "My dear Martha, you are so upset over all these details! There is really only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it — and I won't take it away from her."  Luke 10:41-42 NLT.

The author went on to say "I can relate to Martha. If I were planning a party, she'd be the one I'd ask to help. Martha knows everything needs to be just right.  But Jesus stopped her.  'My dear Martha,' he said, 'you are so upset over all these details!…'  Jesus took Mary's side. He said that Mary was the one who had the right idea. She did nothing but listen and was praised; Martha did everything but listen and was chastised.  The Lord's priorities are not the same as ours. Jesus isn't as concerned about our lace tablecloths and clean kitchens as we are. He's concerned with the state of our heart — the time we spend at his feet, reflecting on his words and resting in his presence."

At the moment of my tears, I was more concerned about the details that weren't in place than in seeking the face of the One who's in all the details.  I knew I couldn't and shouldn't do things in my own power, yet there I was crying over what was out of my control rather than praying.  I was tired, but knowing I was vulnerable should have given me all the more reason to hand over the reigns I had no right holding.  Thank goodness I surround myself with others who are like Mary, who can remind me where to look and what's important if I lose sight of it.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Triumphs and Trials

I can't believe I haven't posted in 3 weeks.  So much has happened in that time.  Life has been very good and very hard.  Days have been filled with unbelievable joy and immeasurable sorrow...but I guess as friend of mine always says "that's life".

So what's the lesson today?  Happiness is fleeting, but sorrow is not permanent either.  Don't look at your circumstances because they will always be in flux - look for how God is moving in them because He never changes.  That's not a trite, feel good suggestion, it's a lifeline in the midst of storms.  Persevere.  While happiness is fleeting, joy in the Lord is rooted deep.  While sorrow is not permanent, it can knock you for a loop if you're not grounded.  God is the great stabilizer. 

I try to remind myself of these things as I go through the day.  I rejoice in the amazing way God is working in and through our outreach ministry, even as my heart breaks over devastating personal trials. 

My last post talked about the story of the widow and Elisha and one small jar filling many pots.  I equated it to some personal finance issues.  But I saw it happen in an even bigger way this month.  I saw God's provision pressed down and overflowing.  My church found an idea for a 'toy store' in an online publication called "The Best Externally Focused Ideas of 2011" put out by the Externally Focused Network.  (Google them, they are a wonderful resource!)  It was a way to give the gift of dignity to struggling families at the holidays.  We purchased hundreds of toys and are making them available to people in our community for just 10% of their value.  Parents will get to shop for a toy of their choice for their child rather than receive a handout.  They have the dignity of paying for the item and the fun of gift wrapping it.  The challenge was that we were asked to make this happen in a period of approximately 4-5 weeks.  We estimated the needed capital would be about $8,000.  At the start we had no venue, differences of opinion on which groups to invite and no funds.  4 weeks later, we have the place, all the groups suggested for participation plus some, and $8,600 in funds.  Nothing but God.  And I got to watch His hand move it all together.  Awe inspiring, trust me.

At the same time, I have been dealing with an immediate family member going through a disabling battle with anxiety and panic attacks.  Trips to the crisis center, the ups and downs of medications and mood swings, arguments over treatment options.  It's been a very dark time, and one of intense spiritual battle.  I have been praying for this person for a long time, asking God to move in his heart.  If I just looked at the circumstances, I might tempted to be angry at God for allowing all this to happen...but I'm trying to see what God is doing in the circumstances.  Is he softening his heart?  Breaking down the anger and pride?  We dislike pain, but sometimes it's needed to achieve a result.  'No pain, no gain' is not just about getting the outer man in shape.

All of this has taught me anew that the rain falls on the just and the unjust.  That just because I am a child of God does not mean my life will be devoid of hardship.  In fact, sometimes it seems that the more God blesses in one area, the more Satan rails against us affecting what he can with his limited power in another.  So I hold on to the truth in Psalm 9:9 & 10 "The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.  Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you." 


Are you going through trials today? This world holds many.  But God holds the world.  Look for what God is doing in the circumstances.  Ask Him to show you how He's working things together.  You may not see it today, or tomorrow, or this year.  But trust Him.  He is not fleeting.  He is permanent.   He will never forsake you.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Extraordinary Things Done in Ordinary Lives

With this title, I'm totally stealing the theme from the wonderful sermon I heard today.  It was based on 2 Kings 4:1-7.  The passage speaks of a widow with 2 sons. A creditor wants to take the boys into slavery to pay off their deceased father's debt.  The widow cries out to the 'man of God', Elisha, about her plight.   Elisha's response in verse 2 is "How can I help you?  Tell me, what do you have in your house?"  The widow responds that she has nothing but a little oil.

At this point in the sermon, we were shown what 'a little oil' probably looked like...a very small bottle of oil that held perhaps a cup.  Elisha instructed the widow to ask ALL her neighbors for ALL their empty jars. "Don't ask for just a few.  Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons.  Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side."  The widow follows his directions exactly until she is informed that all the jars are filled.  She then goes back to Elisha to tell him the task is finished and his response is "Go, sell the oil and pay your debts.  You and your sons can live on what is left."  The pastor then uncovered what was most likely the size of the jar the woman had been filling.  It was easily 10 times the size of her small pot of original oil. She had not only filled one of these large containers, but every single one her neighbors had provided.  Obviously it was enough to not only repay the debt, but to provide additional income to live on.  Can you imagine her amazement, relief and joy?  I can.

This message was particularly poignant for me.  If you follow my blog, you know that a little more than a week ago, I bared my soul about the bottom line of my checkbook.  It was a bit of an embarrassment to tell the tale of how I was staring at $20 with 12 days to go til my next pay.  But it also appeared to strike a nerve with readers.  I'm obviously not alone.  Many have been caught short or are hurting due to circumstances beyond their control.

That $20 was my "little bit of oil."  Who was my 'creditor'?  At a minimum, I needed to pay a $75  utility bill, put gas in my car, and replenish some perishable food over the 12 day period.  On November 19th, this is what I wrote..."I'm not sure what these next two weeks hold.  Not sure where the funds will come from to get me through although He's already provided some gas money via my friend.  But, through the events of yesterday, I am reminded of what God said in Matthew 6:27 - 33."  The passage I quoted talks about how worry can't add one hour to our lives.  It tells us that God knows our needs and that He's faithful to supply them.  And once again He was.  In the past few days, I received some gas money from one source, and money to pay the utility bill from another.  Money to buy bread and milk came from yet another person, and gift cards for meals from still another.  Some of the money was a loan, some a gift, but none of it came to me because I requested help directly from those who provided it - it was given because I sought God in prayer and He moved hearts to offer assistance.  But God wasn't satisfied with just meeting the immediate need.  He knows I have other needs that have been put on hold.  Things that must be attended to, but were not as pressing as those previously listed.  On both Wednesday and Saturday I received a check... they totaled $600!  If you had told me I'd be receiving money but would have to guess where it was coming from, I would never in a million years have given you the correct answer.  That's because I think in finite terms and God's ways are infinite.    Because I think logically and God's ways sometimes make no human sense...like taking a small pot of oil and filling multiple large jars.  Who does that?

The main points we were given to take away from the story of the widow and the oil were this.  1)  Ask  - when you have a need cry out to God.  The widow did...I did...and we were heard.  2) Listen - Once you have asked God to provide, be attentive to what He's telling you to do.  For the widow, that meant giving over the little she had so it could be multiplied into much...for me that meant confessing my inability to provide for myself while stating publicly that I had no plan other than the belief that God cared about me and my needs...which leads to 3)  Trust - believe that God is faithful to make good on His promises to meet our needs.

In that previous post I also shared that my son accused me of seeing God in too much - of giving Him too much credit for things that happen in my life.  Once again I say 'guilty' - not in the 'too much' but in seeing God in everything, trusting Him for everything, and believing He can do anything.  He does it over and over and over again.  He proves Himself trustworthy, faithful, and loving.  How can I do anything less than give Him all the glory?  Once again, He has truly done something extraordinary  in this very ordinary life.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Today I Saw Jesus

Philippians 2:3-7.  "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness."

Today I say those verses being lived out.  I saw men, women, teens and children allowing themselves to be used by God, doing things for others in love, no strings attached.  I saw it in big and small ways.  A group of men and boys going to rake leaves.  People claiming all 150 "angels" off the Angel Tree - meaning 150 gifts being purchased for the children of prisoners.  A young man volunteering his Sunday afternoon to work on my car free of charge.  People committing to another 85 gifts being purchased to fill our church's "Christmas Store" - a  place where low-income families can shop for their children's Christmas gifts for pennies on the dollar...and when the 'tags' for those gifts were gone, funds were donated.  Someone I met just a few short months ago quietly, unexpectedly, slipped me some much needed funds.  And a group of 25 or so teens and adults worked for 12 hours to prepare, serve and clean up one of the most delicious Thanksgiving dinners ever, for local shelter residents. 

Each served in their own way - sacrificing time, treasure, and talent without selfish ambition.  Each was the hands and feet of Jesus, putting the interests of others before their own.  As a result, people were and will be blessed in the receiving AND the giving. 

Today, I saw Jesus...and it filled me with joy.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Negative Balance...Positive Lesson

I was driving home from a friend's house last night, my mind processing the events of  the day.  It had been a busy one...Fridays always are in my industry and the last six weeks of the year are always the craziest.  Usually I eat a home-made lunch at my desk, but I had rushed out empty-handed that morning.  By 1:30 I was really hungry,  so a brief trip to a local eatery of some sort was in order.  I called a local diner, ordered a grilled cheese with tomato and bacon and a few minutes later went downstairs to hit the ATM.  I pulled out $60 so I could also get gas on the way home.  As I looked down at the ATM slip, I was shocked to see a negative figure, especially since payday had only been 3 days prior.

I turned right around and headed into the bank to put the money back in and get back on the plus side...albeit only by a few dollars.  I told the teller what had transpired and she brought my account up on the screen.  It was all there in black and white...after paying all my bills I had less than $5 to make it through the next 12 days.  I remembered an uncashed check for $16 in my wallet, so I deposited that too, bringing my grand total up to $20 and change.  I live modestly, but the reality is still that it's generally hand to mouth.  I truly make it through by faith in God's grace and provision, but this was a bad situation even by my standards.  I now realize where things got off track - it's actually a number of factors coming together - but unfortunately, I hadn't been paying attention closely enough to avoid the problem.

As I left the building again, I said under my breath 'God, how am I going to get through these 2 weeks?'  I'd pretty much lost my appetite at this point, but I felt bad - I'd ordered the sandwich, so I went to go pick it up.  When I arrived at the diner, I dug out my credit card.  I've been trying to pay them down and hated to use it for something so trivial.  Inside, I handed it over to pay the $6 bill.  The man behind the counter pointed to a sign I hadn't seen - "$10 credit card minimum".  "There's an ATM in the lobby" he said.  "I don't have cash" I countered.  "No, there's an ATM for you to get cash in the lobby."  "I understood you" I said again..."I have two dollars on me and this card...that's all.  He shook his head.  "Then I guess I won't be able to buy the sandwich."  He let me walk out the door.  I assume he wasted the food by throwing it out rather than relent on the $10 minimum.  I know credit card companies charge a fee and that was the reason for the minimum, but by sticking to his guns, no one won.  He probably lost as much money on that food as he would have by taking my card.  For myself, I was utterly humiliated at the exchange, crying as I got to my car.

I was embarrassed, frustrated with my lack of attention to detail that landed me in this spot, and hungry.  I headed to Wawa to pick up something because I knew they wouldn't turn down my card.  I picked up a sandwich, diet soda and two little York peppermint patties because, as I'm sure everyone knows, chocolate is the great spirit lifter lol.  Once back at my desk, I finished out the day.

At that point, it was time to turn my attention back to my paltry account to make sure no more surprises were in store.  I have a lot of things automatically withdrawn which assures things get paid on time, but a problem can arise if there's a hiccup in a utility bill for example.  The phone rang, interrupting my worrying, and a friend of mine asked if I was still at work.  She invited invited me over for dinner.

While we chatted at her kitchen table, I shared the story of my mistake and ensuing embarrassment.  She didn't say much at the time, but before I left, she passed me $40.  When I protested, she said "I've been there, I understand."

So there I was, on my way home, thinking about the money I had and how best to utilize it to make it through, when the car in front of me slowed down.  There weren't a whole lot of cars on the road and the light up ahead was green so it annoyed me that the vehicle seemed to be slowing for no reason.

I threw my blinker on, got in the left hand lane and was just about to pick up speed when I saw it.  A very confused doe, unsure of whether to run back to the woods on our right, or take her chances by continuing on.  I immediately hit my brakes, and looked to my right because I knew where one deer was present, more were sure to follow.  In fact, there was at least one other deer on the side of the road, watching to see how this would all play out, wondering if she should stay put or venture into the melee.  The doe in front of me finally opted to run on to the left side of the street.

As I watched all this transpire in a matter of seconds,  I thought about the impatience that almost cost me an accident.  "Thank you Lord for protecting me."

How often do we put ourselves in harm's way?  God has us traveling at a certain speed for a reason, but all we see is a road block - something that's slowing us down from getting where we want to go at the pace we want to get there.  Instead of trusting that He knows best, we take matters into our own hands and wind up in a dangerous situation... maybe even a wreck.  Only then do we see some of the bigger picture and realize that God wasn't trying to frustrate us or keep something from us - He was saving us and protecting us from harm.

It's the same with my money issue.  I made an assumption based on the only thing I chose to look at - a sum of money had been deposited a few days before.  I hadn't taken the time to tally all the obligations I'd met to realize there was nothing left.  I was spent, and it resulted in my embarrassment at the bank and in the diner. Isn't it the same way with our lives sometimes?  All the little sins add up until one day our world comes crashing down.  We think we're 'okay' not realizing how the little things are chipping away and then suddenly the mess is exposed.  Only then do we turn to God to ask 'what do I do?'

When we take our eyes and minds off God and start to put trust in what we think we know, disaster follows. The Bible says in Proverbs 16:25, "There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death."

I'm not sure what these next two weeks hold.  Not sure where the funds will come from to get me through although He's already provided some gas money via my friend.  But, through the events of yesterday, I am reminded of what God said in Matthew 6:27 - 33 "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?  And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own." 

Not long ago, my son had this "accusation" for me.  "I think you see God in too much...I don't think He's as responsible for as much as you give Him credit for."  While hearing those words from my son saddened me on one hand, on the other, I was glad that an all consuming trust in God is what he sees when he looks at me.  Because trusting in God for everything...everything...finances, protection, day to day provision, and more...is not a Pollyana approach to life.  It's faith, pure and simple...and I learn that lesson more and more every day.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Hurt and Healing

Words spoken
Heart broken
Excuses made
Trust betrayed

Suspicions rise
Denials fly
Walls erected
Heart protected?

No.

Anger grows
Sadness flows
Mess created
Still unabated

Solutions where?
Why care?
Nothing's fair...
Try prayer

Now.

Letting go
Saying no
Finding peace
Sweet release

Walls crumble
Heart humbled
Healing starts
Sin departs

Forgiveness.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Waiting or Abiding?

It's amazing what you can learn when you pick up a dictionary.  Well, okay,  it's been a long time since I've held the pages of that book in my hands...dictionary.com is my go to source anymore.  Like the encyclopedia, an actual dictionary is going the way of the dinosaur.  But I digress...

I was considering what to call this blog entry about where I've been the past month.  I typed in "abiding".  Then I thought..."that's not really a user friendly word.  Kind of 'old-fashioned' like a word you'd find in an old hymn.  Just a word that people won't relate to so much any more."  So I backspaced over it and typed..."waiting".   I really thought the words were synonyms...that they could be used interchangeably.

Then the wordsmith in me said 'look them up'.  So I did.  I think my wordsmithyness - okay that's not really a word, but, that thing in me that strives to use words that most closely and concisely convey my thoughts - that thing...was influenced by God.  Because this is what I found and it really does speak to the point I set out to make today:

"Waiting" used as an a noun means a period of waiting, pause, interval or delay.  As a verb, it means to remain inactive in a state of repose as until something expected happens.  A secondary meaning is to postpone or delay in expectation.  But "abiding" isn't ever used as a noun.  As an adjective, it means continuing without change; enduring; steadfast.   And as a verb?  To remain, continue, stay...to endure, sustain, or withstand without yielding or submitting.  Do you see the difference?

Waiting, even as an action, is passive.  Abiding requires an engagement of the senses...yes, it says remain and stay which don't indicate movement, but then it goes further.  It says 'endure'...which means to hold out against - it's an engagement of the will...'sustain' - support, hold, bear up, undergo, experience, suffer - an engagement of the body...'withstand' - hold out against, resist or oppose...engagement of the mind.  When you abide, it is no passive thing.  You may not be in forward motion, but every part of you is on alert.  You are in a fight - even if that fight is to not lose ground.  You are engaged body, mind, and spirit.

These past few weeks, my pen has been silent.  I have also stepped back from a number of ministry obligations.  But I am not in 'repose'.  Quite the opposite.  I am engaged in a battle.  It is a fight for things precious to me.  This 'down' time is not about putting my life on pause even though I'm clearing my calendar...it is about putting on the full armor of God at described in Eph. 6:10-18.

"A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.  Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness.  For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.  In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere."

The passage above tells us to stand firm or stand our ground 3 times and it clearly shows the action involved in that...be strong, resist, be prepared, stay alert and be persistent in prayer. 

So while I'm going through this trial that I cannot delve into at this juncture, I am not laying back, waiting on God to move...I'm abiding in His presence, abiding in His love, and abiding in the truth of His promises.  I am actively enduring and withstanding.  Abiding is more than mere waiting...it is looking to God with hope and expectancy...abiding is not allowing the circumstances to wash over you...it is digging in your heels, eyes looking "to the hills from where my help comes". 

So I ask you...when you face troubles and trials...are you waiting anxiously for them to blow over as they put your life on pause?  Or are you abiding in God, putting on His armor, preparing for battle and standing firm?  Waiting or abiding...the difference is huge.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Rejoicing Through Service

Psalm 118:24:  "This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it." 

"Let us rejoice and be glad".  How do you rejoice in a day?  Did you enjoy the sunny weather? (At least it was sunny and in the high 70s here in New Jersey).  Did you relax and spend time with family?  Did you do things around the house?  Did you spend time talking to God?  Were you even thankful for the day?

For me, rejoicing in the day meant going to the local Salvation Army Drop-In center with a group from my church to serve in a program we've dubbed "Meals & More".  It's simple really.  We serve a meal and give out a little something 'more'...this time out it was a 'hygiene kit' of toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, hand sanitizer, pack of tissues, and for the ladies, some 'feminine products' as well.


While it's a wonderful way for people in our church - and sometimes their friends and neighbors - to serve others, the birth of this service project wasn't quite so simple.  It was originally meant to be a one time project but it quickly became a congregational favorite and a regular item on our calendar.


The reason it was initially a 'one time project' was because it was conceived to provide attendees of our Living Nativity last December, an 'after-Christmas' way to plug into our church and the community.  Everyone is in the giving spirit around the holidays...but once the decorations are put away and the bleak, gray skies of January take hold, doing good for our fellow man often goes by the wayside.  While I understood the concept of what church leadership wanted, I was struggling to believe that it would be well received by people who were not part of the regular congregation.  I mean, we reach out to the community, but we were being asked to help the community reach out to itself, and I confess, I was having trouble wrapping my brain around that.


The Live Nativity was for 2 weekends in December, and as I said, it was an outreach to our community.  A free and creative way for them to experience the truth of Christmas.  We asked local organizations and non-profits to participate by decorating ornaments for a 'pageant of  peace trees'...16 Christmas trees which lined the path from the parking lot to the beginning of the Nativity walk through. 


We put up signs and advertised in a variety of ways the event which included not only the outdoor, live animal and actor Nativity, but carolers and fire pits for roasting marshmallows.  Inside the church there was hot chocolate, baked goodies, a bell choir and crafts for kids to make.


CommunityConnections, the outreach ministry of our church, came up with two ideas that allowed attendees to connect with others.  The first was something they could do right there during their visit.  We provided cards and pens and encouraged them to write a message to a soldier serving overseas.  Approximately 1,400 people attended the event in 4 days, and over 500 of them wrote messages in cards where were shipped off to soldiers in Afghanistan!  That first weekend we actually ran out of cards or there might have been even more.  The second idea was to partner with the local Salvation Army and serve a meal in their drop in center.  The original name was "Soup and Socks" because it was our intent to serve soup and sandwiches and hand out a pair or two of new socks to each client of the center.  I was pleasantly surprised that more than 40 people signed up to help - almost half of them from outside our congregation.

That's when I discovered our plan had a problem.  The kitchen at the Drop-In Center is small - only about 12 people are needed - 15 at the absolute max.  And many people had signed up as families, excited that their children could learn the benefits of helping their fellow man.  Problem was, the Salvation Army couldn't have anyone under the age of 18 serving there.  It was time to develop another strategy.

We decided to make it a 'multi-tiered' participation.  Those who wanted to help, but couldn't physically go were encouraged to donate food.  Those with children came to the church to help prep - put together sandwiches, bag cookies, and open packages of socks and pair them. 

The remaining adults headed to the Salvation Army to actually serve the food.  We had provided recipes for a basic chicken noodle soup and chocolate chip cookies, so that even though multiple people were preparing the items, it was all the same thing.  In addition to those two menu offerings, we made turkey sandwiches and ham sandwiches and gave out apples and oranges.  There was bottled water, lemonade and iced tea to drink. 

We discovered that there are no meals served on the weekends in our city other than what the Drop-In Center can provide on occasion through church and other groups.  That knowledge and the overwhelming positive feedback from those who participated, led to us conclude that we needed to do this again.  So today was the third time this year we've been at the center.  And next year we're planning to do it quarterly.  Ultimately, I'd love to find some funding to allow us to do this once a month. 

Of course, once we decided to serve throughout the year, we needed a new name...'Soup and Socks' was fine for January...but June?  Several ideas were kicked around but 'Meals and More' won out - a simple yet comprehensive description of what we provide. 

And so, that's how I rejoiced in this beautiful, Fall, God-given day...fellowshipping through service with church friends, partnering with people at the Salvation Army who are living out their faith every day, and serving those who are struggling to find a foothold in a life that has handed them great challenges and unforeseen disappointments.  I hope today we gave them as much joy in receiving a delicious, home-cooked meal and some basic necessities, as we had putting it all together and serving them. 

So, how did you rejoice?

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Facebook "Maybe"

Awhile ago a friend and I were talking about our crazy schedules and how fast our calendars were filling up.  Then she lamented about people who talk to you about doing something, but never fully commit.  The problem arises when something else comes along that you'd like to do.  You can't really say yes, because this other thing is hanging out there as a possibility and you quazi-committed to it first. 

"Write a blog about the Facebook 'maybe'"she said.  "Huh?".  "Ya know, the Facebook maybe...when you create an event and people don't want you to be upset if they don't come, but they don't want to commit either, so they choose maybe - even when they have no intention of making it."

While Facebook, Evite, and all the cool sites let you do it - firmly commit to not committing, or what I'm calling the "non-choice" - it isn't a product of the social media era.  It's as old as time.  As my mom used to say "there's nothing new under the sun."

Proof of that is found right in Revelation 3:14-19 which says:  “Write this letter to the angel of the church in Laodicea. This is the message from the one who is the Amen—the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s new creation:  “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other!  But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!  You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.  So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference."

Quite a rebuke.  It reminds me a little of when my kids were young.  They'd ask if we could do such and such and I'd reply...'maybe'...or 'we'll see', thinking I was putting them off with a reasonable response.  One day my son had had enough!  "You know that means no mom.  Whenever you say maybe, we don't do it.  Why don't you just say yes or no?"

Good question.  Why don't we just say yes or no?  The Bible was pretty straightforward about how God feels when we "non-choice" Him.  Obviously God doesn't desire a 'no' from us, but it's quite clear from this passage that a lukewarm maybe is just as detestable to Him - if not more so!  We often kid ourselves, feeling pretty good about our non-commitment...I mean, at least we're not in that group of obvious commitment phobes...the "awaiting reply" group...now THOSE folks, ha!  They're the ones with a problem - the ones who can't even choose to think about choosing...right?   Wrong.  That church at Laodicea was instructed to be diligent and turn from its indifference.  And we are called to do the same.

The passage says "I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold."  Don't hand God a maybe and think you're getting away with something or buying time.  You don’t even realize "that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked."  Open your eyes.  Make a choice...a real choice.  You've been invited to the greatest event of all time.  An eternal party.  A celebration that will never end.  He's awaiting your reply.  Commit to Him with your whole heart.  Anything else is just a non-choice.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

From Despair to Prayer - The Prayer Addendum

Perhaps I was a bit hasty to write "the last installment".  When I went back over what was written, I saw a lot about my struggle, a lot about the lessons from nature God used to speak to my heart, and yet very little about the actual journey of prayer!  Yes, I logged that I began praying again on my way down to Ocean City.  And that God confirmed the convictions I'd had through my devotional the next day...but I did a lot more praying - especially as I read Bill Hybels book.

One of the things he talked about was the acrostic A.C.T.S.  If you've been a Christian for any length of time, I'm sure you've heard of it.  It stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplications (or requests).

I think for a long time, I confused Adoration and Thanksgiving.  Bill talked about acknowledging God for who He is.  Omnipresent.  Omniscient.  Omnipotent.

That's when I began to realize that praising him is not the same as thanking him.  Seeing who he is isn't the same as being grateful for what he's done.  When you're sitting next to the vastness of the ocean, you begin to get a sense of how immense and complex and creative He is.  Can you even fathom counting the grains of sand on that one beach?  Think of it in terms of space and stars and galaxies...does your mind hurt trying to wrap itself around that enormity?  Praise Him for He is glorious!  When you have a more accurate picture of who you're going to in prayer it does a number of things.  It puts stuff in perspective.  If God created all of this - and holds it together each and every day - can he not handle whatever your problems are?  He created you as well.  Psalm 139 tells us we are fearfully and wonderfully made!  That he formed us in our mother's womb and knew us before the beginning of time.  He loved us with an everlasting love - can we do anything less that sit back on our heels in awestruck wonder...or fall on our faces in utter abandonment saying Abba Father, we adore you?  As I began processing these thoughts I started to sing the words to an old, simple song of praise Father I adore you, lay my life before you, how I love you.  Those same refrains then substitute Jesus for Father then Spirit for Jesus.  Then this song came to mind: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, there's just something about that name.  Master, Savior, Jesus like the fragrance, after the rain.  Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, let all heaven and earth proclaim...kings and kingdoms will all pass away, but there's something about that name.

Now that my heart was in a place where I could truly see His perfection, I also clearly saw many of my imperfections...and I began to confess them.  Again, the book highlighted such a thing in a way I had not thought of before.  Bill tells a story of a congregant who came to see him to say he was tired of all this talk of 'sinning.'  As far as he was concerned, he wasn't a sinner.  Bill asked how long he'd been married.  It was a long time - something like 25 years.  Bill said, 'You mean to tell me in all that time you've never been unfaithful to your wife?  You have always done what is right?'  The man replied, 'Well, I'm in sales.  You know, I'm on the road a lot.'  He laughed a bit nervously.  Bill said 'He didn't admit it outright, but we both knew what he was getting at.'  Then he asked the man, 'Have you ever put down something on an expense report that you shouldn't have?  Gotten credit for something that wasn't really applicable?' 'Everyone does' was the reply.'  'And what about the product you sell?  Ever enhance the benefits knowing it wasn't true just to make a sale?'  'That's just industry standard' he argued 'It's expected!'.  Bill looked at this "non-sinner" and said to him, you've just admitted to me that you are an adulterer, a cheat and a liar.  The man looked shocked.  'Say it out loud' Bill instructed.  'This is what you are an adulterer, a cheater and a liar.'  Wow.  Have you whitewashed your sins?  I know I have.  Are you just sharing stories or are you a gossip?  Are you  just venting or are you a constant complainer?  Do you 'borrow' pens, paper, folders, any kind of office supplies from work?  You're a thief.  Ugly words, aren't they?  But sin is ugly.  We have ALL sinned and come short of the glory of God - instead of denying that fact, why don't you ask forgiveness for it and have it taken away?  I spend some time each day asking God to search my heart.  When I'm aware of what I've done that needs confessing, I do...but I also ask that He would show me areas I may not even be aware of.

Now that my heart was lighter, I could truly give thanks.  That week I started with thanking Him for the gift of the beach house, for my senses that allowed me to fully drink it all in - sight, sound, smell, touch...for the car that brought me down there, for the job waiting for me when I returned.  For the friends who texted to say they were praying for me, for revealing His love for me through my Bible and the writings of others.  For every lesson He loving taught me through the birds, the shells, the consistency of the waves and the rising of the sun each morning.  The words of another song came to mind and I sang them too...'give thanks with a grateful heart, give thanks, to the Holy one, give thanks for He's given Jesus Christ His Son.  And now, let the weak say I am strong, let the poor say I am rich, because of what the Lord has done for us.  Give thanks.'

Finally, I brought my requests to God.  I prayed for my children to return to a right relationship with Him.  I prayed for clarity and wisdom on a number of issues where decisions needed to be made.  I prayed for the well-being of my friends - not in general terms, but mentioned each by name and lifted their specific situations to Him.  I asked that He would guide my ministry, the leaders of my church, and those of our nation.  There are always many requests, but with a heart that's been prepared, they don't take on such a 'give me' quality.

As I closed out that specific time of prayer - I say that because I also talk to God throughout the day as things arise - I thanked Him for His promises and that He is faithful to carry them out.  I opened my Bible, read a few Psalms, sang another song of praise and sat back silently to listen to what He had to say.  The words of Habakkuk 2:1 came to mind...I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say to me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved.

So this then, is the true and fitting end to what happened on my journey from Despair to Prayer.  I hope you are able to glean something helpful from it.  I pray that God speaks to your heart as clearly as He spoke to mine...I know He will if you seek Him.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

From Despair to Prayer - Part 5 - The Last Installment

Day Two in Ocean City began early.  I woke up a little after 6am and looked out the back door in time to see the sun beginning to rise out of the ocean at the horizon.  A tiny ball of yellow with hues of blue, rose and orange surrounding it.  I opened my devotional and the words jumped off the page.

If you've followed this journey, you may remember that just the day before I had been praying "...for His forgiveness for my pride, my critical spirit, and my judgmental attitude."  I had come to the conclusion that "My job was to make sure that MY heart was right before God.  That I was seeking and doing His will.  I could pray for others, that they too were seeking God's face in decisions they were making, but beyond that, I needed to hang up my robe and set down the gavel."  Well, apparently I was right on the money about what I'd been doing because THIS is what the devotional said that morning..."Come to me and rest.  Give your mind a break from its habitual judging.  You form judgments about this situation, that situation, this person, that person, yourself, even the weather - as if judging were your main function in life.  But I created you first and foremost to know me and to live in rich communication with Me.  When you become preoccupied with passing judgment, you usurp My role."

I actually stopped reading and said out loud "but God...I came to that realization yesterday!"  He knows me well enough to know I need a reminder.  In fact, just a week after I returned home this was once again put to the test.  I wish I could say I passed with flying colors, not judging things at all, but I can say that where I might have dwelt on the situation and let it gnaw at me, I was able to recognize what was going on in my heart and mind and pray about it immediately to give it over to God.  Progress.

In keeping with my routine, after my quite time, I went down to the beach for a long walk, then grabbed my things and settled in to read.  The book I opened first was "Too Busy NOT To Pray", by Bill Hybels.  This book has been out for years - in fact, I had the "20th anniversary edition" which was published in 2008.  Apparently I'd been really busy, because I'd not heard of it before!  I lead a monthly prayer group for women and I'd been looking for a good resource from which to extract devotionals before we shared requests and got down to the business of praying.  My friend Teri, who is also the leader of our Women's Ministries Team had offered up this book and another as suggestions.  I'm so glad she did!

As I've also said in previous posts, I thought I had the prayer part of my walk down pretty well.  Thought I was pretty faithful.  But the truth is, there is ALWAYS room to grow in our relationship with God.  And as imperfect human beings, we need to remember that we've never got anything 'down pat' this side of heaven.  In fact, it reminds me of a joke I heard once.  After a service, a pastor was shaking hands with attendees.  One man said, "Pastor, I just want to tell you, I've worked very hard at keeping all the commandments this week...I haven't broken one!"  To which the pastor replied "well, now, you must be very proud of that."  The man nodded in the affirmative, not even aware of his sin of pride.  We can't and won't ever get it all right all the time.  If we could do that on our own, we'd have no need of a Savior.

Back to the book...of course it's broken into chapters, but in addition, each few chapters have an overall theme...God calls us into His presence, God invites us to talk with Him, God breaks down the barriers between us, God speaks to our hearts and God prompts us to action.  Many concepts in this book weren't necessarily new to me, but they brought me back to the basics in such a manner that I saw things in a fresh way.  There was a chapter called "mountain-moving prayer" that I especially connected with.

Bill Hybels begins the chapter by quoting Matthew 21:21-22..."Jesus said, 'I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt...you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done.  If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.'"  Then Bill says "Jesus, of course, was not in the excavation business.  He had little interest in relocating piles of rocks to the ocean's depths.  He was using the term 'mountain' figuratively, in hopes of conveying to all believers that we can be confident that our prayers carry great power."  He then goes on to cite two principles he'd learned over the years...1) Faith comes by looking at God, not at the mountain and  2) God gives us faith as we walk by His side.

I had been looking at the mountain so long it had paralyzed me with fear and filled me with frustration.  It had kept me from seeking the Mountain Mover.  When I failed to walk by His side daily, my faith weakened.  I didn't doubt God, but I wasn't trusting Him for everything and in everything either.

Later that afternoon as the tide went out, I took another walk down the shoreline looking at all the shells left behind.  I found a small conch shell and picked it up.  When I turned it over, I saw that it was broken.  I was disappointed because I thought it was complete until I saw the underside.  As I went to toss it into the waves, I stopped, because I felt God was speaking to my heart... "you're like this shell, Toni.  Even though it's been tossed by the sea and broken in places, I created it with an intricate beauty that remains.  In fact, those seeming imperfections are what make it unique, different from all the others"  I realized that God would never toss me away because I was broken.  I rinsed off the sand and brought it back to the house.  It now sits on my desk, a daily reminder that there is beauty in our brokenness when we let go of the despair, and receive healing through prayer.

Friday, September 23, 2011

From Despair to Prayer - Part 4

For my 3 day respite, I'd brought 6 books to read in addition to my Bible - always an over achiever!  I wanted to crack them open, but that first day spent laying back in my beach chair I was shocked at how tired I was.  For hours, I floated in and out of consciousness, soaking up the warmth of the sun.  My body and mind needed even more rest than I had thought.  I did open my Bible long enough to read Psalm 42 which begins and ends this way...  "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  When can I go and meet with God?  My tears have been my food day and night...Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God."

When can I go and meet with God?  Anytime, anywhere.  As I said in the first part of this saga, He had never left...he was waiting for me to come to him and lay down my cares, but I was too angry, frustrated, tired, and full of excuses, to seek his face.  And so my soul was downcast and disturbed.  But like the psalmist, despite the tears and sadness and time apart, my soul still thirsted for God and I knew I had to make my way back.  Once you've met with Him in a personal way, the world is not right when you're apart.  So that day, as I read the Psalm all the way through without interruption or distraction, I once again felt myself longing after what had been missing for weeks...that sweet, powerful time alone with God in communion and prayer.  Finally, I was able to move on the next sentence..."Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God."

After several hours of cat naps, and reading, and people watching, and just staring at the outgoing tide, I decided to take a walk up the beach.  As I walked and watched the birds, I noticed the sandpipers.  These little skittish birds are funny to observe.
They travel in groups, making quick, sharp movements.  Up the sand they run just ahead of the waves.  Then they turn, and dash toward the water, stopping occasionally to poke their rather long beaks into the beach trying desperately to catch and eat the tiniest of crabs as they burrow back into the sand.  "So many people are just like those sandpipers" I thought.  "Running up and down, back and forth, never seeming to accomplish anything, never stopping to enjoy their surroundings, never breaking from the crowd...just scurrying to and fro on a relentless quest to do enough to survive."  Lately, I'd had a sandpiper mentality and it became very clear just how utterly exhausting it was to exist that way! 

The seagulls were an interesting bunch too.  There was variety in their coloring - some white, some grey, some a combo of the two, some brown, some speckled - and variety in their behavior.  Some seagulls strutted the beach crying in loud, piercing gasps.
Perhaps they were angry at other gulls for stealing their food or maybe they just liked to complain.  Since I don't speak gull very fluently, it was tough to know for sure other than they seemed an unhappy lot.  Then there were the gulls who just stood their ground in the sand.  Let the meal come to them seemed to be their attitude.  Eventually something will wash up and all they'd have to do is reach over and peck a bit to satisfy their hunger.  Others seemed oblivious to all the activity and just tucked their beaks under their feathers and snoozed...I could relate to them today!  Then there were the gulls in the air.  For the most part, they were no different than the sandpipers really.  They circled and dove and fought off other seagulls from the boundaries of their airspace that no one but them could see.  But then there were a few who really held my attention.  They were the ones who spread their wings and kind of hung in the air.  There was a pretty good breeze blowing but they weren't pushed off course.  They faced into the wind and kept aloft, using what some might consider a problem, to their advantage.  They kind of rose above it all...watching, anticipating, facing into the winds of change, not losing momentum.  I wanted to be like them.  Not being busy all over the place, not complaining loudly to anyone who'd listen, not oblivious to everything, hiding from life, or even fighting to hold on to my perceived rights...no, I wanted to soar.  I wanted to have the staying power necessary to face the winds of adversity and use them...not be pushed around by them.  How like God to teach a lesson so simple and clear through His creation.

So how does one achieve that staying power?  Through prayer.  Despair had finally begun to lift...it was time to move fully and completely into a place of prayer.  And that's the story for tomorrow...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

From Despair to Prayer - Part 3

Monday morning finally arrived and I got on the road, headed down to Ocean City, New Jersey.  Up until the previous week, I knew my friend was going to allow me to use his house for a few days, but I didn't know when.  Luckily, the God who created the entire universe also knows exactly what each of us needs and when.  The timing couldn't have been more perfect.  When I thought I was at my breaking point, I was given the opportunity to slip away, reconnect with Him and get back on track.

I took my time driving down.  It was a picture perfect September day - a deep blue sky with fluffy white clouds ambling across the heavens, and temps in the high 70s.  The sun warmed my face, and I rode with the window down to enjoy the slight breeze.  About half an hour in, I stopped at a farmer's market for some plums.  I really wanted blueberries for pancakes the next morning, but they were out of season.  Another 45 minutes or so down the road, I  grabbed a sweet tea at a McDonald's.  The more miles I put between me and my stresses, the better I began to feel.  Finally, for the first time in weeks, I began to talk to God.  I poured out my heart telling him about all my frustrations, uncertainties, and anger.  I was able to articulate things I couldn't before, but I was also taking ownership of certain feelings, not just pointing fingers and casting blame.  I asked for His forgiveness for my pride, my critical spirit, and my judgmental attitude.  I recognized that no matter how right or wrong I might be about someone's motivation or behavior, it wasn't for me to judge in the first place.  The ability to correctly read the heart belonged to God alone.  My job was to make sure that MY heart was right before God.  That I was seeking and doing His will.  I could pray for others, that they too were seeking God's face in decisions they were making, but beyond that, I needed to hang up my robe and set down the gavel.

When I realized that I did not have to take on the actions of others, it was like a huge weight was removed.  That may sound like a no-brainer to you, but I'm a pleaser by nature.  I care very much - too much - what people think about me, how they react to me, the impression I make on others, and so on down the line.  So the behavior of others greatly impacts me, with the end result being feelings of frustration, a perception of being taken advantage of, or feeling slighted because my pride tells me I'm better suited to a task than the one who was chosen.  It all sounds very childish, but selfish, prideful behavior often is.

When I arrived at the house, it was almost 11 am.  I slipped the key into the lock and took a look around.  Just as I remembered it...bright, clean, quiet, and a back porch view of the breakers.  I could hardly wait to hit the beach.  I quickly lugged in all my things from the car, putting away the food first, then hanging up my clothes, and finally, putting on my bathing suit and lathering up the sun screen.  I filled a cooler bag with water, a blueberry Special K bar, my books, Bible, pen and pad, then slung it over my shoulder followed by my chair and umbrella, each of which were in a handled case.

It was just a few dozen yards up the path to the beach, which was far more full than I had anticipated at this time of year.  I found an empty patch of sand and dropped my gear.  The chair was positioned so I could look straight out at the ocean, the  umbrella plunged into the sand directly behind the chair.  I plopped myself into the seat, dug out the bottle of water placing it in the chair's cup holder, pulled out my devotional, Jesus Calling, and opened it to the entry for September 12th.  "Receive my peace.  It is my continual gift to you.  The best way to receive this gift is to sit quietly in My Presence, trusting Me in every area of your life.  Quietness and trust accomplish far more than you can imagine:  not only in you, but also on earth, and in heaven.  When you trust Me in a given area, you release that problem or person into my care.  Spending alone time with me can be a difficult discipline, because it goes against the activity addiction of this age.  You may appear to be doing nothing; but actually, you are participating in battles going on in spiritual realms.  You are waging war - not with the weapons of the world, but with heavenly weapons; which have divine power to demolish strongholds.  Living close to Me is a sure defense against evil."

As my friend Agnes says, "sometimes that book is just freaky the way it says what you need to hear, just at the right time."  Truer words never spoken.  I closed my eyes and, for the first time in a long time, sat quietly resting in the Presence of my King.

Tomorrow, we take a look at the rest of Psalm 42...

Monday, September 19, 2011

From Despair to Prayer - Part 2

Before I go any farther in detailing this little journey I've been on, please note the title is "From Despair to Prayer" - not "From Despair to No Cares".  Even as I write this, there are things going on in my life that are burdensome, uncharted, possibly life-altering territory and if I'm going to make it through, I need to cling to God...hard.  Note too, that prayer isn't a magic little pill you swallow that turns everything to sunshine and rainbows.  But prayer will give you strength and focus and keep you from drowning in that sea of despair.  It is that lifeline that connects you to the One who holds you fast.  I've heard it said that the day you have no troubles is the day you wake up in heaven.  We live in a fallen world with a real enemy who, even though he may have lost the battle for our soul if we're believers, still intends to do everything in his power to keep us from living joyous, power-filled and victorious Christian lives.  He can't alter our future, but he can mess with our present if we allow him to.  The thing to remember is, greater is He who is in us, than he who is in the world. 

Yesterday I said "all of a sudden, I found myself in the desert".  It's not that the trip into the desert was sudden, it was more the actual realization that I had grit in my teeth and was parched, that was kind of overnight.  Looking back, I see that things had been piling up, one by one.  That's always the way, isn't it?  Like the Casting Crowns song says:

It's a slow fade when you give yourself away
It's a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray
Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid
When you give yourself away
People never crumble in a day
It's a slow fade, it's a slow fade

I was burning the candle at both ends, and letting things fall through the cracks.  Before I knew it, I was so busy dealing with the squeakiest wheels, I had no time to slow down and hear the still small voice calling me.  The more I didn't pray, the more I didn't want to pray.

By the weekend before I left on vacation I was physically spent, emotionally raw and spiritually empty.  Sunday I went to church, but I didn't want to go in and sit down.  I saw a friend in the lobby and I began to share with her that I had an overwhelming sadness I couldn't explain and that the big picture looked so insurmountable that I didn't even know where or how to take my next step.  She asked if I'd been in to the service yet, and I confessed I really wasn't sure I wanted to go.  "You need to hear it" she said..."he's talking to you right where you are."  I begrudgingly slipped into a seat in the balcony .

That Sunday was the 10th anniversary of 9/11.  The sermon was out of Habakkuk, and the message was about moving from despair to praise.  I began to weep.  I wasn't ready to praise.  I walked out and tried to regroup.  Eventually, I walked back into the sanctuary downstairs, not taking a seat, but standing where no one could see my red eyes.  On the screen flashed verses from Psalm 42.  Several times I read the words "Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?"  That's when the tear ducts really opened up. Like the psalmist, I didn't know why, but I knew my soul was downcast.  I couldn't stand anymore.  I turned on my heel and left.

That night, before I packed to leave for the shore, I called a friend.  I shared some of what I was feeling.  She gave me an assignment.  "You're going for 3 days, right?"  I confirmed.  "Okay...each day, I want you to read a chapter out of Habakkuk - there are only 3!"  She gave me some other instructions, and said she would be praying for me.

I hung up and set about the task of packing my bags, grateful to be going far enough away that I didn't have to deal with anyone I knew for a few days. 

Tomorrow, the praying begins...

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Call to Change

I had a blog post in mind today but I decided to write something different after reading what my dear friend Pam wrote in her blog, "In The Shadow of His Wings".  You'll find the link under 'Blogs I follow’ on the side of this page.  Now when you read her post today, "Change of Direction", you'll see that she refers to me and my blog.  We are not having a mutual admiration society meeting today, I promise…although I am truly blessed by the way she expresses what God lays on her heart.  I’m bringing it up because I too had a “change of direction” experience today.

I spent the early part of this week on vacation in Ocean City, New Jersey and during my short stay, I developed a routine. 
 Up by 6:15, I made a warm cup of tea, grabbed my Bible and my Jesus Calling devotional (Pam also refers to this book – I highly recommend it!) and went out on the back porch to read, journal and pray while I watched the sunrise over the ocean.  Then I’d head out for an hour long walk along the beach before plunking a chair in the sand and relaxing. 

I came home Thursday and, I’m sorry to say, while I started with a devotional and prayer time, there was no walk, just time spent catching up on church business, checking my work and personal email, Facebook and the like.  Friday was worse.  NO time with God, just hit the ground running after spending a fairly sleepless night fighting a stomach bug.   It bothered me all day as I kept thinking “there’s still time to read and pray…I’ll get to it right after…fill in the blank.”  Needless to say, that time never came.

So this morning I knew there were no excuses.  I fired up the tea kettle, grabbed my books and headed for my front porch.  I live in the city - Trenton, in fact.  Know anything about the capital of New Jersey?  Let’s just say clean air and beaches, it doesn’t have.  Still, it was a cool, clear morning and no one was up and about in the neighborhood yet.  I spent some time with the devotional, my Bible and journaling, but got a chill.  I moved inside, sat on the couch and started to pray.  Now, when I pray at home, I tend to do so with my eyes open.  I hope that doesn’t shock anyone.  I do that, because it becomes much more of a real conversation for me when I pray out loud, eyes open, just like I would converse with any of you.  Problem was, my email was up on the computer, and my eyes kept being drawn to it.  Finally, I said, “You know what God?  Why don’t we go for a walk?  It’s been too long since I’ve been to the lake – why don’t we walk and talk for an hour?”  And just like that, things changed direction.

As I eased my car into the marina parking lot, I saw a sign “3rd Annual Walk to End Homelessness.”  I’m not sure if I’ve ever really gone into what I do at my church, but I oversee an outreach ministry called “CommunityConnections” and we do a lot of work with the homeless.  I laughed out loud and said, “Well, God, I thought this walk was my idea, but it would seem you wanted me here.”  I got out of the car, walked up to the registration table and introduced myself.  The woman behind the table was the founder of the organization holding the walk. “Homeless to Independence, Inc.”  She and I chatted for a little, exchanged business cards and I was off on my walk.

The path around the lake and through the park is about a mile and a half one way.  I prayed and praised and softly sang as I made my way through the park.  At one point, two doe came silently out of the woods, turned and gave me just the slightest of glances, then crossed into the stand of trees on the other side of the path.  In the seconds it took to reach where they’d been, they had disappeared into the vegetation.  When I hit the halfway point, I turned around.  About a quarter of the way back, I noticed a sign on one of the trees.  Someone had written in fancy script, Eph. 3:18 “And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.”  That verse was especially meaningful to me because as I was de-stressing down by the ocean just a few days before, the lyrics to a Dave Pettigrew song haunted me as I looked at the vast expanse of water…"Every day I think so small.  Not seeing who you are or how you surround me.   There are so many times I fall.  But from my knees, I learn to see, how high you carry me.   What could separate us from your mighty hands?  Not death, not life, nor hell on earth could ever stand a chance. How deep, how wide, how strong, is the love of Jesus.”  I was surprised by the sign, because I was sure it hadn’t been there on my first pass, and yet I didn’t see anyone carrying signs to hang.  I smiled and thanked God for the personal message. 

A few hundred feet down, I spied another…Isaiah 40:9 & 10: I am God, the only God you've had or ever will have— incomparable, irreplaceable— From the very beginning telling you what the ending will be, All along letting you in on what is going to happen, Assuring you, 'I'm in this for the long haul, I'll do exactly what I set out to do.'  A few hundred feet more and there was another sign, then another, and yet another…all the way back, messages of God’s love and faithfulness. 

When I got back to the registration table, the folks from Homeless to Independence and I chatted a little further and discussed possible ways our ministry and their organization could work together.  I don’t know what God has in store, but I know there are no coincidences…only Godincidences.  And I know the change of direction this morning - both in thought (my purposeful decision to spend quality time with God) and in action (getting off the couch to head to the lake) - were changes that honored and pleased God.  Pam obeyed the invitation to change her plans and was rewarded with beautiful sights and a peaceful time with Jesus.  I obeyed the call to change my behavior and was rewarded with a sweet time of communion with God, words of encouragement, and a possible new ministry connection.  What reward will you miss if you don't listen for the call to change? 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

It's Christmas already?

I've never much liked the 4th of July. It's not that I'm not patriotic...not by a long shot. It's really more about the logistics of summer. Somehow once the 4th of July has passed, it seems the rest of the summer flies by in the blink of an eye and before you know it - it's Labor Day. The days grow short, the weather grows cold, and I grow an extra layer of fat from hibernating in my warm house.

So as Labor Day looms, I view it with bittersweet anticipation.

You know what's funny?  This is the start of a post I wrote in August...3 years ago.  Everything changes and everything stays the same lol.  I've taken to saying that MY calendar jumps from Labor Day directly to Christmas.  Now that may be an over exaggeration, but it IS bumming me out that, among other things, trips to the lake are less frequent.  By the time I'm done running my 'after work' errands these days, the sun has almost set.  I want to dig in my heels and yell at the top of my lungs...STOP!!  Time is just moving too fast.

You may be feeling the same way.  Vacations are pretty much over (and I'm NOT happy I never made it to the beach this summer)...college has begun and grade schools start up in a matter of days (I AM happy I'm beyond the life stage of finding just the right back pack!)  And all those things you were going to accomplish in the lazy days of summer...the books you wanted to read, the room you wanted to clean out, the sewing project you were definitely going to finish this time...never got done.  Where did the time go?

Before you know it, we'll be singing Auld Lang Syne and making a whole new list of resolutions.  So before that happens, I challenge you to join me in trying to beat time to the punch.  Right now...today...what can we do differently so that time is not so fleeting we can't remember how we spent it?  What or who would you pay more attention to?  What would you give up?  Something is eating your time...what is it?  Look at the beginning of this blog post - the one I wrote 3 years ago...I was going to start blogging way back then, got a paragraph in and didn't touch it again for all this time.  What dream/calling/desire have you put on the back burner that you need to grab hold of?  Time waits for no man...or woman...don't just watch it pass you by.

That's it this time around...no lesson, moral, parable or teaching.  No 'deep' theological insights.  Today I've just got questions...and they aren't rhetorical.  I invite you to weigh in and comment!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Be prepared

I know a lot of people have blogged about "the week that was" here in New Jersey.  A week in which an earthquake, tornados, and a hurricane all made an appearance.

Some people joked it was the end of the world...others gave warning that these were indeed signs of things to come.  I think it can be used as a modern day parable to speak to the condition of people's hearts.

There was a lot of warning with hurricane Irene.  Our modern technology has allowed us to view weather patterns a week or more in advance.  It was splashed all over the news and millions were told how to prepare.  Those that heeded the warnings when they were first sounded were able to find what they needed to be safe...generators, flashlights, and batteries for starters.  They gassed up their cars in case they had to leave in a hurry.  They bought essentials like bread, milk, and eggs.  As the day drew near, they were able to rest assured that they had done as much as they could to be ready...and after the storm, no one regretted having done so in advance.

Another group delayed.  They heard the warnings, they knew in their hearts they should be listening and preparing, but for one reason or another, they didn't get around to it.  So when the rain began to fall, these foolish people wound up scurrying about, uncertain of their fate as they discovered many opportunities to ready themselves had slipped through their fingers.

Still others scoffed.  They didn't believe the warnings.  "It's no big deal," they said.  They underestimated the elements and found themselves without provisions...or worse yet, they challenged the power of the wind and the rain and found themselves in need of rescue, but sadly, it was too late.

Which group do you belong to?  You've heard the warnings for a long time.  Jesus' return is on the radar and the signs point to His arrival.  When he comes, how will he find you?  Prepared and ready?  Searching and uncertain?  Or mocking and defiant?  Don't leave things to the last minute or gamble on chance.  There is no reason to delay.  Wisdom says time is of the essence.  Accept Him now while his grace and mercy are abundant, available and free and you will never live to regret it.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Go where and do what??

Last month I wrote "What I learned at Kids Camp".  It was a wonderful week of outreach to more than 250 kids within our church and surrounding neighborhoods, and we all learned simple yet profound truths regarding God's love for us.

This week, my church is taking that message on the road.  Just a few short weeks ago, we were made aware of an opportunity in Trenton...the next town over from our church, the capital of our state, the city where I live and an area of great need.  A church, beautiful in its heyday, was now empty and looking for others to make use of the facility.

So just one month after having poured themselves into the last Kids Camp, and with only a few weeks to prepare, 140 volunteers caught the vision and rose to the challenge to do it all again for the kids in Trenton.  We've never done something like this before and had no real idea of what to expect.  But after praying about the possibilities, church leaders felt that this was an open door God wanted us to walk through, and we did so boldly.

We made our goal 150 children and decided rather than serving snacks at one point during the night, we would feed the kids a full dinner before the program started.  We also prepared a Women's Mini Bible Camp for the moms where they could enjoy a time of song, food, crafts and Bible study.

Some of the challenges included registering kids the old-fashioned way...no online sign ups...just a sign, a table, flyers, and a lot of excited people letting residents know that something fun was heading their way.  The neighborhood has a large Spanish-speaking contingent, so volunteers who could speak the language were especially sought after.  The food budget was almost non-existent, and food was needed to feed potentially 150 kids each evening, for 5 nights.  A lot of folks in our church vacation this month, but we needed a lot of volunteers in every sector.  We were doing this in August, typically a month with sweltering temps, and the facility only had one or two small rooms with air conditioning - the main gathering areas had none.

But when God calls you to do something, He provides a way.  The first night, we had 39 children and 4 moms...after 3 nights it has grown to 72 children and 11 moms - with a few dads asking what's available for them (a time of study and prayer is now available for them as well).   We are prayerfully anticipating 100 children tonight.

Volunteers have come out of the woodwork to help in every area.

The food component has been a modern day loaves and fish story.  One of our members works for a food service company who has provided all the entrees each evening - 750 meals for the week.  Other local businesses contributed some beverages and ice cream.  But the outpouring from our congregation has been amazing - chips, fruit, water, pudding, cookies, veggies, bread, and on and on and on have fed not only the kids, but their parents, our volunteers, even some folks in the park across the street as we wrapped up trays to share the excess that first night.

Even the weather has been unusually cool this week with daytime temps hovering around just 80 degrees - far cooler than normal.

We are so excited to see what else God has in store this week as tonight concentrates on "God loves you no matter what" - the message of salvation. 

Day 5 is also yet to come, but we are living in the middle of its promise...God gives good gifts.  As we stepped out in faith, believing God for the kids, the volunteers, the food, and more, He has been faithful to provide each step of the way, and the children in one Trenton neighborhood are learning, perhaps for the first time, that God is WILD about them!

James 4:17 says "Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it."  And James 2:17 and 18: says:  "So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. Now someone may argue, 'Some people have faith; others have good deeds.' But I say, 'How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.'"

The opportunity presented itself.  Prayer confirmed it was what we were being called to do.  If we had not obeyed, the seeds would never have been planted.  Has God challenged you with a seemingly impossible task?  It is not impossible for Him...just be willing to go where He sends.