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...

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Early Morning Encounter

I crawled into bed at 2:30 in the morning.  After a long weekend of  four Christmas presentations at church, doing almost all my Christmas shopping in one day and baking the 5th round of cookies in 3 weeks, I was dead-dog tired.  I had the next 3 days off and was looking forward to sleeping in on Christmas Eve day.

 Until the urgent ringing of the doorbell ripped me out of a sound sleep.

It was still dark in my bedroom and in my sleep-induced haze I struggled to focus on the clock.  5:25 am.  What on earth?  The doorbell continued.  Someone was trying hard to get my attention.

Thoughts raced through my mind...did someone hit my car and want to alert me?  Was the house on fire?  Who could it possibly be and what did they want at this ungodly hour?!!

I ran down the stairs, my heart beating hard...no smoke...no fire...so far so good...but in my stupor I had to think hard to act responsibly once I got to the door.  "DON'T OPEN IT!  Look out the window" I silently instructed myself.

There was a man pacing on the porch.  He was small in stature...maybe 5'6"...slight build...with a beard.  He wore a sweatshirt, jeans and hat - but no gloves or coat. 

"What do you want sir?" I yelled through the door.

"Ambulance" he said in broken English.  "Call an ambulance" and he put his hand on his lower back in pain.

I ran back up to my bedroom and grabbed my cell, my fingers shaking as I punched in 9-1-1.

"Where is your emergency?" answered the voice.

"On my front porch.  There's a man I don't know on my porch who says he needs an ambulance.  I'm a little freaked out."  By this time, I'd made it back to the door and could see the stranger still pacing on my porch.

"We'll send a police officer and an ambulance."

Once again, I yelled through the front door..."I called for an ambulance!"  "God bless you" was the reply.

It was bitter cold outside...there was frost on the cars.  I knew my unexpected visitor had to be freezing, but letting him inside wasn't an option.  Then I remembered a man's coat hanging in the hall closet.  I'm not really sure where it came from, but it was like new and my son never wore it.  I took it off the hanger and went back to the front door to see an officer had arrived.

The man was talking to the officer, so I unlocked the front door, and placed the coat on a chair.  "Here's a coat" I called out to him..."put it on".  I went back to the closet to look for a pair of gloves.

Not finding any, I returned to look out the front door, and saw somehow, he'd reversed the jacket and put it on inside out.  He was struggling to zip it.  I unlocked the door again and said to the officer "he's got it on backward...can you help him?  And he can keep it."

By the time she'd helped him off with the coat and got it back on right side out, the ambulance pulled up and helped him inside.

He was gone, but the encounter left me a little shaken and filled with questions...chief among them was why did he come to my door?  

With all my community outreach involvement this month, there had been no time to decorate my house for the holiday.  Almost every other home on my block was cheery and inviting, decked out with wreaths and bows and twinkling lights.  In sharp contrast, there were no candles in my windows, no greenery on the railings or door, no lights inside or out.  But he came up on my porch and rang the bell over and over and over again. 

I have to wonder...would someone else have called for an ambulance?  When they saw him through the window, would they have pretended not to notice?   Or maybe instead of heading back to bed, would they have chased him off their porch and back into the early morning cold?  Did God bring him to me because He knew I had the coat this stranger needed?

Hebrews 13:2 (NLT) says "Don't forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!"

I don't know if he was homeless or confused or an angel, but it really doesn't matter, does it?

Luke 6:31 (NLT)...says "Do to others as you would like them to do to you", and that's the bottom line. 




Friday, November 30, 2012

Storm Series Part II - The Storm

I sat at my computer listening to the winds howl.  The glass in the windows rattled.  Throughout the afternoon and into the evening, the lights flickered, sometimes staying off for a minute or two.

The prep work had been done...
  • I had found the last package of D batteries on the planet in a local 7/11 after hours of searching.
  • The wet/dry vac I bought after last year's hurricane Irene was assembled and at the ready.
  • Candles and matches and flashlights were lined up to pierce the darkness if it came.
  • The tub was filled with water, the laundry was all done, food had been purchased and cooked.
I was as prepared as I could be, with nothing to do but wait for the full force of the storm.  So I sat and listened to the windows rattling...hard.  I wondered if they would shatter.  My computer is near a dining room window, and I considered moving out of potential harm's way.

As the night progressed, I grew tired, but was afraid to sleep.  What if the windows DID break?  What if the neighbor's very large tree being whipped mercilessly by the winds DID fall?  What if the wires were ripped from the house?  What if...what if...what if...

Suddenly I recalled a devotional I had written which had been published just a week before.  Entitled Peaceful Slumber, it talked about my fears of the unknown which resulted in lack of sleep following my separation and divorce years earlier.

It referenced Psalm 4:8 "I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, oh Lord make me dwell in safety."

Had I really learned the lesson like I said I had?  Was not the Lord who makes me dwell in safety in control of ALL circumstances - weather included?  If something was going to happen to my home, keeping my eyes open wouldn't stop it.

I needed to trust Him in the midst of the storm.  I needed to believe that no matter what happened, He was there.  Nothing ever takes Him by surprise.

The disciples had to be taught that.  Matthew 8:23-26 tell us "Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him.  Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping.  The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”  He replied, "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?"  Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm."

If we trust in ourselves, in what we can do to prepare for life's storms - savings, insurance, and the like - we will still be caught off guard.  The disciples weren't wimps...they were seasoned fisherman who had fished through many storms.  But this one was big.  Really big.  Too big for them to tackle in their humanness.  They couldn't trust in what they knew or had prepared for.

When you find yourself in the midst of one of those life storms that's bigger than anything you imagined, your natural instinct may be to look to what you've done, what you were trusting in and suddenly feel powerless.  The truth is, you were powerless all along.  You had a false sense of security.  Only God can rebuke the wind and waves and calm the storm. 

Psalm 91: 4-6 says He will cover you with his wings you will be safe in his care, his faithfulness will protect and defend you. You need not fear any dangers at night or sudden attacks during the day or the plagues that strike in the dark or the evils that kill in daylight.

God sees the big picture...He's prepared to deal with all the events coming your way.  Your part in the preparation is not to trust in the things of this world, but to trust in Him.  Doing that requires building your relationship with Him now, during the peaceful times, through the ways He's provided - prayer, His Word, wise counsel, etc., so that when the storms come - and they will - you'll already be leaning on Him, sheltered in the safety of His wings.

For more on this series, click here: Part 1 - Storm Series


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Hold Your Tongue

Once again today, I am honored to have one of my devotionals published on christiandevotions.us.  You'll find the link here You're Fired.  If you've ever been tempted to gossip (and be honest...haven't we all?), this reflection on James 3:5-6 may remind you that no good comes from it and sometimes, it can be very damaging.

With all the preparations for the upcoming holidays at full throttle, there haven't been many posts on this blog as of late.  There are more entries from the storm series coming, as well as other lessons from the lakeside...watch for them in the coming week or two!

In the meantime...as Thanksgiving approaches, you might want to read the recent post A Heart of Thanksgiving as a way to jump start your list of things you're grateful for!

Blessings and enjoy your Thanksgiving Day!

Toni


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Storm Series Part I - Be Prepared

Be prepared.  It's not just the Boy Scout's motto.  It's the warning we heard again and again over the previous 10 days or so.

Stock up on non-perishable food...water...batteries.  Buy a generator...candles...matches.  Fill a tub with water.  Tie down or put away outside objects that could blow away.  A storm is coming.

Frankenstorm.

      The Perfect Storm.

            The Storm of the Century!

Newspapers, radio, television...media outlets near and far warned of the impending wrath.  Loss of property.  Loss of life.  It's coming...be warned.

The warnings became a two-edged sword.  Some heard it so often, it became room noise.  Knowing about the impending hurricane so far in advance took away the urgency.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah.  A storm is coming...enough already...let's get back to the regularly scheduled program."

"It's just a ploy to boost sales of batteries...generators...fill in the blank." 

"They always make a big deal about these things and then they just seem to blow over."

Then the clouds began to roll in.  The rain fell.  And the winds picked up...fast..  And suddenly, it all became very real.  No longer did the nay-sayers believe the impact of what was coming was over-hyped. 

There is another warning going out my friends.  Matthew 24:42 says "Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.".  It's also easy to allow that warning to become room noise...to doubt its urgency.

"People have said Christ is returning since the beginning of time."

"It's just a tactic of fear to get you back in church."

"Didn't some guy just  predict the end of the world?  Twice?  And you see how that worked out!"

First, the Bible says in Matthew 24:36 "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."  So if anyone says they have an exact day and time, they are a liar.

But that doesn't mean the time is not coming.  Matthew 24:37-39 tells us "As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man."

And 2 Peter 3:10 warns "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up."

The reality of the return of Christ will become very real, very quickly.   While it's been predicted for so long you may be tempted to be complacent, don't be caught off guard.  The results of being unprepared for this warning are so much greater than lack of power or loss of property - as devastating as those things are to us in this life.  Being caught unaware means loss of life.  Eternal life. 

The warnings are not there to invoke panic or fear.  For those who believe in Christ, the ones whose hearts are prepared, the warnings are a comfort.   A chance to prepare for the safety and security of an eternal home.  Unlike the earthly storm we've just weathered, it will not adversely affect everyone in its path.  Only those unprepared will find themselves at a loss. 

Believe the storm is coming...and be prepared.




Monday, October 22, 2012

A Devotional

Today, Monday October 22nd, I am honored to have my devotional, "Peaceful Slumber" published at http://christiandevotions.us/.  The mission at Christian Devotions states in part "The mission of Christian Devotions is two-fold: First, to provide personal and relatable devotions for those who may not otherwise be exposed to the Word of God. Second, to promote Christian writing and reading."

I invite you to visit the site and check out the many wonderful writers who contribute to this daily devotional site.  I pray you are blessed by what you read, and that you may experience 'peaceful slumber' as you put your trust in the only true Security we have!

Blessings-

Toni

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Thoughts on Achievement

Achievement.  A noun.  Definition: something accomplished, especially by superior ability, special effort, great courage, etc. 

Next month, I will receive an award.  The "Mercer County Woman of Achievement" award, given in recognition of my work in the community.  At least, I'm sure that's what the committee who reviewed the nomination thinks they are celebrating.  But even as I write "my work" I know that is not true.  

Once I got over the shock of the news, I began thinking about what it meant to be a "woman of achievement."  What had I done really?  I asked that question, not out of a sense of false humility, but of heartfelt sincerety, and this is what came to mind...

Nothing is achieved apart from God. If the work I oversee in my position as outreach ministry head was not in His will, with His blessing, it would not flourish.  God gave the vision and is faithful to complete the work He started.  All praise and glory and honor go to Him and Him alone.  Proverbs 19:21 says:  “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.”

Nothing is achieved alone.  I sit under the tutelage of pastors who "get it."  They know the church is not a building that serves as an exclusive club.  It is a body of believers who need to act on the command to love your neighbor as yourself.  And God has surrounded me with a team of people who have a servants' heart. Their passion for people and compassion for their circumstances is evident in all they do.  They share a vision for doing practical acts of service with no strings attached.  We are motivated to serve just to let others see God's love in action. 

God can use anything and anyone to accomplish His purposes.  Two and a half years ago, when God first burdened my heart with the idea of the outreach ministry, I went to my senior pastor. I clearly remember saying to him "I'm not a leader. I'm an encourager. I'll do whatever someone tells me to do, but I don't want to be chief in charge of anything." I had nothing in my arsenal that defined "achievement". No superior ability (or training of any kind), no special effort, and certainly not great courage - I wanted to hide behind someone else who would take the lead. 

Even further back, almost six years now, God not only spared my job but created an unlikely partnership.  I knew I was slated to be part of a down-sizing and was shocked to find my name had been removed from the list in the 11th hour.  Through a series of circumstances too numerous to detail here (although they are all part of a book I'm working on) I began attending my current church, began heading up the outreach ministry there, and found a benefactor for several of our projects in the owner of my company.  When I think back on that down-sizing incident, the words "for such a time as this" jump to mind.  I'm sure the owner had no idea how he and his money would be used by God several years down the road.

So what is my achievement?  My "something accomplished?"  Those words indicate a job finished, and there is still much to be done.  But, if I'm in the process of achieving anything, it is becoming a vessel for God to work through.  I am not "chief in charge of anything."  God is in control.  And when I become a willing vessel, when I "achieve" laying down my pride and getting out of the way, He is free to use my strengths of being an encourager.  I am free to serve Him the way He's gifted me, by "rallying the troops".  Habakkuk 2:1-2 says :  "I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint. And the Lord answered me: 'Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it.'" 

So on November 8th, I will accept the award with my name on it, but I hope I am given the opportunity to set the record straight.  To share with those in attendance that God is the one to be honored.  That anything accomplished through us and sometimes even in spite of us, is not because of us...it is because of Him and His love for us. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Heart of Thanksgiving - A Repost

I noticed that suddenly, this particular post from a year ago has been getting a lot of attention.  Perhaps people are doing internet searches on thankfulness.  Whatever the reason, I thought on this Thanksgiving day, this post would be a good one to republish.  Acknowledging our thankfulness is a good thing, but once a year is simply not enough. Thankfulness should be a way of life, not just a holiday or occasion. As you contemplate the things you're thankful for today, consider this...

A few weeks ago I led the first monthly women's prayer group of the fall.  As we went around the room voicing our thoughts, concerns and desires, one woman shared a quote she'd just heard that morning.

"What if you woke up today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?"  

An eternity of silence followed as the weight of the thought rolled around our in brains.

How would you fare?  Would you wake up in a bed?  With a roof over your head?  Would there be food for breakfast?  Lunch?  Dinner?  Clothes on your back?  A car to drive?  A job to go to? 

Forget the possessions for just a minute...would you have family or be the only one around?  Would you have all your senses - smell, sight, hearing, taste...even touch?  A sound mind?  Body?

One person spoke up..."If we did that, we wouldn't ever have time to get around to anything else."  Bingo.  If we spent more time being thankful for what we do have, we'd have less time to petition God for what we think we need.

Don't get me wrong...things go wrong in a fallen world.  People lose their jobs, their health, their loved ones.  There is sorrow and pain, and we need to intercede for others on a daily basis.  Life is not one big feel good love fest by any means.

But...when we start out with a heart of thanksgiving...with praise on our lips...when we learn to appreciate all that we have, we are better able to look at God and not dwell on the problems. 

Like the saying goes, "Don't tell God how big your problems are, tell your problems how big your God is."  That's not a trite saying.  It is a powerful truth.  I know.

Right now, my son and I are dealing with several large problems, but our outlooks are completely different.  I don't know how he's come by this way of thinking, but he believes that God is too impersonal to care about the daily needs of two people out of the billions on this planet.  He has actually stated that he "doesn't think we're going to make it through the winter."  Even as we can clearly see the hand of God moving in the situation, my son is overwhelmed by what we appear to lack.

On the other hand, I am completely at peace.  I know I am powerless to deal with the issues at hand and have already given them over to God to deal with.  I am grateful for all I do have, trying not to take any of it for granted. I think on the verses which tell me that caring for me is EXACTLY what my big, yet personal, God does...He saw me formed in my mother's womb, He knows the number of hairs on my head, my name is etched on the palm of His hand, and He died for my sins so that I don't have to live an eternity apart from Him.

Yes, I want to thank God for that last one especially.  Without a grateful, accepting, heart for that sacrifice, it is hard, if not impossible, to be truly grateful for everything else.  

So here's the challenge at the close of this day:  "What if you woke up tomorrow with only the things you thanked God for today?"  Today is drawing to a close...think about it...make a list...voice your thanksgiving and praise before making your requests.  You might just discover there are far fewer things to ask for than you first thought.




Sunday, September 9, 2012

On a Bench Facing West



On a bench facing west
it's answers she seeks
On a bench facing west
with her Father she speaks 

She lifts up her voice
both in grief and in praise
She lifts up her voice
endless days upon days

Her Father looks down
and He sees every tear
Her Father looks down
understands every fear

"My child" says He
"have patience, just wait"
"My child" says He
"I'm on time, never late"

"For these many long years
I've waited" says she
"For these many long years
for your answers to be"

"My dear daughter, I know
all your deepest desires"
"My dear daughter I know
to what you would aspire"

"I put the dreams there
in your mind and your heart
I put the dreams there
I've been here since the start"

"In Me you must trust 
I am faithful and true
In Me you must trust
what's best I will do"

"Now hush and just sit
in My Presence today
Now hush and just sit
I am making a way"

So she lifts up her heart
in quiet and peace
So she lifts up her heart
His Presence she seeks

On a bench facing west
she watches the sky
On a bench facing west
her Father is nigh

by Toni Campbell - all rights reserved



Thursday, September 6, 2012

Finding The Truth - A Post by Christine Wright

You know how sometimes we are amazed at God's timing?  We shouldn't be of course...it's always perfect!  Well, today was one of those days for me.    Fellow blogger and new friend Christine Wright had put up a new blog post on her site Living Joel 2:25 yesterday, but for some reason, it didn't hit my email until today.  That "some reason" was because today was the day I needed to read it.  Today was the day it hit home.

Christine's writing always speaks to my heart, but I was just so moved by today's post I wanted to share...because I'm pretty sure everyone can relate.  Everyone has one of "those prayers".  As she says "The one your heart grows weary of praying."  I probably have 2 or 3 like that. 

Well, here's the link to her post and some wonderful insights about "those prayers".  I hope you're as blessed by it as I was.  Living Joel 2:25.  Check out her site while you're there...she's in the middle of a 5-part series on Lion Chasing that's also wonderful.



Sunday, August 26, 2012

Mend A Fence

This morning my friend is grieving the loss of her brother.  He was just 34.

A little more than 24 hours ago she got a call from the hospital that he was in bad shape and family should make the four hour trip to see him.

There wasn't much hope.

By the time she arrived, he was unconscious and via the occasional Facebook post, we all shared in the roller coaster of emotions - glimmers of hope followed by bits of bad news.

Ultimately, he lost the battle.

Whenever something like this hits close to home, we tend to stop and reflect and insert ourselves into the situation.

Sadly, there is a rift between my sister and I at this very moment.  My brother lives a life on the "edge" and I haven't seen or spoken to him in over a year.  What if that had happened to one of us?  Would there be time to say "I'm sorry?" or "I love you?"

Maybe your family situation isn't as dysfunctional as mine.  Maybe your family unit is close and loving.  But I'm willing to bet somewhere in your life - relationships with friends, family, neighbors or co-workers - there's a fence that needs to be mended.

Life can change in an instant.   

Petty differences need to be resolved. 

If we're going to live a life that declares Christ, we need to practice love, repentance and forgiveness.  Before posting this, I wrote to my sister in an effort to do just that.  If I knew how to reach my brother, I'd contact him too. I don't know if my efforts will bring resolution or not, but I had to try.

Of course, we also need to share the message of salvation with those we know.  We don't want to lose them for eternity when we lose them from this life.  But they won't give us that opportunity if there are hurts between us.  

My challenge to you today is to mend a fence.  Hug your loved ones.  Tell your friends you appreciate them.  Thank a co-worker or neighbor.  Tell them about the love of Christ by showing them through your actions.  Life is short - even shorter than we expect sometimes.  Make every moment count.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Trust and the Broken Heart

My heart is broken and I can't say why.  Well, I could, but I won't...it's a personal issue.  One I've grappled with for a long time.  It's one of those things we tend to label as a "test of faith" and say God is "building our character." It's not something we hope for, not something we desire, not something we want to work through.

But there it is. 

Of course, if I had truly given it over some time ago, maybe it wouldn't hurt so badly now.  Or maybe it would have hurt the same, just sooner.  No way to tell, really.

The one thing I do know is that there's a trust issue in the middle of this.  Am I willing to let go of this dream, this hope, this desire, altogether, forever, so He can work out His plan for my life?

How much do I honestly trust God?  

I thought I trusted Him a lot.  He's proven Himself faithful over and over again.  But it's always easier to trust when we have nowhere to go.  When there is NO money left in the bank account, but I still need gas to get back and forth to work a few more days, it's a no-brainer.  I pray.  I ask God for provision.  When a friend is hurting because of a health concern, a relationship problem, the loss of a job.  I pray.  God knows the need and will meet it.  When a loved one dies and there is intense grief that feels like it will never subside.  I pray.  God heals broken hearts, mends lives, brings purpose out of pain.  Even when it's a good thing like an outreach but there are so many variables that it is impossible to plan for each one.  I pray.  God works all things together ministering to the hearts, minds and souls of those served, and receiving the glory.

But in all these cases, there is nothing I can do.  It is out of my control.  There are no circumstances to be manipulated.  It is a relatively easy thing to relinquish the doubts, the fears, the needs up to God for Him to sort out and make right when we feel powerless in our own strength.

I trust Him a lot...but do I trust Him completely?

This thing that is breaking my heart.  How often have I tried to work it out on my own?  How many times have I offered it over to God while never removing my hand?  It too is out of my control, but I refuse to see that.  I'm pretty sure given more time, more effort, a different approach, I can make it happen.

My trust is impeded by fear.  If I let go completely, altogether, forever...what if He doesn't give it back?  What will I do then?  What happens to the minutes, hours, days and even years I've invested in this dream...spent cultivating this hope?  What will fill my time now?  Will there be a new dream?  What will that look like? 

I feel sick in the pit of my stomach at the very notion of it.  

I have no answers other than to trust in the God I know is faithful.  Like the acrobat who lets go of the swing bar, hands out, eyes searching for the one who's watching for the release, I have to trust in the only One who can catch me.  Trust in His perfect timing and in His grip.  After all, He's the one who has plans to prosper and not harm me.  The one who withholds no good thing from His children.  The one who has my name etched on the palm of His hand that is outstretched and reaching for me.  These thoughts offer me immense comfort, but still I know the way will be hard.  I've faltered before.  I may again.

And so I pray. 

Matthew West - Rest
Psalm 34:18  "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Future of Awesome

The future of awesome.  That's the tagline for an Xfinity commercial.  If you've never heard of Xfinity, congratulations.  You either don't own or don't watch television - and that's not a bad thing!

Xfinity is the 'rebranding' name of Comcast, an internet and cable provider.  In the commercial, we're shown a picture of a phone streaming a TV show while the voice over tells us 'this is your TV'.  We see people skyping on a TV and hear 'this is your phone' and so on.  A plethora of electronic devises not being used in traditional ways because technology changes so much and so quickly we can never be sure of what we know.  And that is what they define as the future of awesome.

By contrast, my Jesus Calling devotional had this to say yesterday:  "I am yours for all eternity.  I am the Alpha and the Omega: the one who is and was and is to come.  The world you inhabit is a place of constant changes-more than your mind can absorb without going into shock...I, however, am the same yesterday, today and forever." 

As the Rich Mullins song says "our God is an awesome God."  HE'S the future of awesome.  And the past.  And the present.

We are constantly being conditioned to change.  We need to be entertained every moment.  I write commercials for a living.  Studies have shown that I have 3-4 SECONDS to grab your attention before you tune out or move on. 

The same seems boring...stagnant...so, well, predictable!

That's the thing about God.  His character never changes.  It's always predictable.  He is true to His word and His promises.  BUT...His ways are never the same.  Never boring or stagnant.

Ever look at how Jesus healed people in the Bible?  No two the same.  Ever wonder why that was?  I think it's because He knew that we humans, for all our love of change, long for predictable.

Wait, isn't that contradictory?

No.

We long for sameness because we want to be able to say, if I do this and this, the result I'll get is this.  But when we think we are able to control our destiny with formulas, we stop seeking God.

"I got this one Lord" becomes the attitude.  

God likes to shake things up.  His character is the same, but His methods often changed.  Jesus healed those who sought it, but He did it differently each time.  He answers prayer, but creatively and often times in ways we would never expect.

When we long after the unchanging nature of God...when we make it the unwavering foundation of our faith...when we learn to trust that He IS the same yesterday, today and forever - then we will enjoy a life that is never stagnant or boring.  His creativity and variety satisfy our desire for change.  It is the best of both worlds.  It is change in the MIDST of being certain of what we know.  And that is a much better thing.

It's the eternal future of awesome...but it's ours today.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Adventures in Community Outreach - The Event


In this last installment of the Free Market series, it's time to show the results! To recap, Part 1 explained the whole Free Market concept,and  Part 2 covered some of the nuts and bolts needed to create such a large-scale outreach.

We were in so deep, so far beyond anything we'd tried before, it was obvious from the beginning that God was in control every step of the way.  We trusted Him for the volunteers, for the donations and for the attendees.  We trusted through three days of 90 degree temps and the torrential downpours that lasted into the wee hours of the morning before the event.  By the time we arrived on site, there were no puddles of mud or water, the humidity was broken, the skies were blue and the grass was no more damp than if there had been a heavy dew.

Beginning at 6 am, we unloaded the pods and garage and 'pre-sorted' the items into departments in the parking lot. 

The tent had been set up and tables put out on Wednesday, so it was necessary to wipe it all down.  Still, having set up done ahead of time was very helpful.

Smaller items were placed under the tent, furniture and larger baby items were out in the field.






We thanked God for all He had brought together and for all those in attendance to be blessed.






Cold water and cookies were served to those who patiently waited in line over an hour for our doors to open.

In Part 2, I mentioned that items were marked with a ticket value between 1-8.  Upon entering the welcome tent, each attendee was given 10 tickets to 'spend' as they wished.  They could also help themselves to information on the church and an NIV Bible.


Several smaller pop up tents were set up over the stage (our praise team provided live music), a face painting station, and the food area.  A number of tables and chairs provided a place for attendees to sit, relax, eat and enjoy the entertainment or wait while the children took advantage of the bounce house and big slide.



Some of our guests were happy to pose for pictures with friends and their finds!


Once everyone had time to shop, the Free Market was open to church members and the general public (many of whom had stopped by out of curiousity!)  With about half an hour to go, all ticket values were lifted and people were able to go through a second time to pick up anything else they needed.   We donated anything still left to the Vietnam Vets.

The stories that came out of the day were heartwarming and encouraging.  One man was excited to pick up a computer  for his college-bound daughter.  A woman who also picked up a computer said "you can't tell me Jesus isn't real!"  A grandfather lovingly spent all his tickets on toys and games so when his grandchildren visited, he could be the "fun grandpa."  Tears of joy flowed and laughter filled the air.  One person was overheard saying "I didn't know they'd have NICE stuff!"    At least one family decided to return on Sunday to attend a service. 

When all was said and done, approximately 300 children and adults were served that Saturday in June.  Needs were met and the love of Christ was shared.  Just as importantly, those who served learned that we don't need nearly as much as we possess.  That it is a joy to bless others.  And that when we are faithful with what God places in our hands, He is faithful to multiply it and use it for His Glory.
If your church is interested in planning a Free Market or other community outreach event I would be happy to provide you with more information.  Contact me through this blog or by writing to cc@cbcnj.org.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Year of Lessons

July 9th is my one year 'blogoversary' and I am amazed.  Amazed at what's transpired in a year, amazed at the thoughts and stories God has given to me to share with all of you, and amazed at 'all of you'.  When I started this blog, I invited my circle of friends to take a look.  Never would I have thought that 12 months later I would have written 70 posts garnering nearly 3,000 views from 20 or more countries.   I know that compared to some, that's small potatoes.  But I never set out to become a voice to the world.  I just wanted an outlet to share some life lessons.  A place to laugh and cry with friends.  Somewhere I could express my wonder and joy at what God has done in my life and maybe save a person or two from the heartache of making the same mistakes I've made.

When I get comments to the effect that what's been written is 'exactly what you needed to hear', or see that you've been moved enough to share a post on your Facebook page, I am humbled and thankful that God has used me to speak to your heart.  It's a privilege to have this voice.

I have a couple of posts I'm working on, but for this one year mark, I'm resurrecting the link to my very first  post entitled "Majesty" based on Psalm 8.  Much has changed in a year, but much has stayed the same.  As I re-read the post I find I still love reading the truths in 'Jesus Calling', I still love watching sunsets at the lake, and God's majesty is still a wonderment.

So thank you for coming along on this journey so far.  Blessings to each of you, and I hope you enjoy reading Majesty!

~ Toni

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Cat in the Hat vs The God in the Bible

My feet are firmly planted...so much so, I've begun to grow roots.

It's not because I'm standing my ground or bravely taking an injustice on.  Nothing that valiant.
       
                   I'm frozen from confusion.
  
                             Overwhelmed.

                                      Dismayed.

I'm thinking about everything I need to do, should do, want to do...and I have no idea where to begin. 

I'm reminded of a quote from that childhood staple, "The Cat in the Hat"...'And this mess is so big, and so deep and so tall, we cannot pick it up.  There is no way at all!'

My mess is not a pile of physical things.  Well, maybe part of it is.  Having just finished a major community outreach project, I'm playing catch up.

Clothes are somewhere between needing to go downstairs to be washed and needing to go upstairs to be folded and put away; the dining room table resembles a messy desk; kitchen counter tops are cluttered and there are dishes in the sink.  That alone can slow me down.

But there's more.  There are things that need a more concentrated thought process than housework.  I need to do some writing and research for an upcoming writer's conference, there's the third installment of my blog series on the Free Market I need to tackle, books to read, emails to send, calls to make.  And I'm not even at work this week.

And then there's that tug in my spirit to relax.  I want to take these 5 days away from the office and put my toes in the sand, maybe catch a movie, have lunch with a friend.  But I feel guilty because of the more 'important' things that need my attention.

And so I stand in the middle of the living room, looking around, uncertain of where or how to begin.  Sound at all familiar?

In frustration I sit down on the couch.  It would be so easy to flip on the TV, push everything from my mind, and veg out. 

Instead, my eye catches my Bible.  I open it to Philippians 4:6-7

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

A few lines later, I have underlined verse 13 as well:  "I can do everything through him who gives me strength."

And so I  remember what that first step should have been.  To lay it all down at His feet.  Are laundry, and bills, and research assignments earth-shattering issues?  No, of course not.  I should be grateful that's all I have to deal with today.  But still, He wants it all.  The big and the small.  Like the verse says..."in everything...present your requests to God."

Because when I do that, then "I can do everything through him who gives me strength."

He can give me the clarity to prioritize, the strength to tackle it bit by bit, and the peace that relaxes my spirit and restores my soul.

When the 'mess is so big, and so deep and so tall, we cannot pick it up.  There is no way at all' it's true...we can't in our strength.  But He can.  And He will.  We just have to ask.






Saturday, June 30, 2012

Adventures in Community Outreach: Part 2 - Planning a Free Market

In  Part 1 of this trilogy, I explained the concept of a Free Market and mentioned it was 5 months in the planning.  Part 2 will concentrate on those steps.

First, let's take a look at the goal.  It was our desire to reach our neighborhood and surrounding community with Christ's love in a tangible way, no strings attached.  As our pastor put it, "We are blessed to be a blessing".  It was similar to the gleaning process mentioned in the previous post.  To take from our best and share with others.  We have done a lot of work with the homeless, however, this particular outreach was to those who had housing but were living at, or near, the poverty level.

Logistics were huge so tasks to be accomplished were broken down:
  • Leadership team.  We developed a team to be over the following areas:  Outreach, Logistics, Volunteers, Operations, Design, Communications, Sub Teams, Donation/Collection, and Social Services Connection.
  • Timeline: Deadlines throughout helped us to stay on task and accommodate time needed for printing, agency processing, etc.
  • Location:  The model for this outreach was held in a local park because many of those served had no transportation.  We're directly across from a public transportation bus stop and have a large piece of property so having it on site cut costs and simplified logistics.
  • Theme:  We not only had the giveaway, but created a carnival atmosphere with fun activities and foods.  Our logo reflected that.feel.  We also chose a verse to convey our goal...1 John 4:19...We love, because He first loved us!
  • Budget: Our model had a budget of $10,000 but we had less than half that amount.  We saved hundreds on rentals for festival food machines, generators, and various smaller items because of team members who secured them through employer connections. Still, funds were needed to rent 2 storage pods (for donations), a 20 x 40 tent to cover the shopping area, and 2 inflatables,.  We also needed to purchase face painting supplies, feed approximately 300 attendees and 100 volunteers,
The planning for our June 23rd event began in February when we met to discuss much of the above.  By March we had our team identified, a job description for each outlined and a working timeline.  We also investigated needed permits from the township and county.  April brought a logo design, research on rental items and updates from the individual leaders on how their areas were progressing.  By May, each area was estimating their volunteer needs for the day of, and the more minute details were being looked at and dealt with - there were a ton of them!  We also contacted the agencies who would identify the people to invite and gave them a timeline for distributing invitations and gathering headcounts. 

By June, we hit our stride.

  • Our pastor began his preaching series "The Blessed Life", to start casting the vision to the congregation.  
  • Prayer had been a key ongoing factor, but a prayer team that would pray for the event as it was taking place was sought. 
  • We signed up volunteers and explained the donation process.  We handed out sheets with job descriptions and hours as well as types of items being collected.  Our designer had created a tee shirt that all volunteers would wear the day of the event to create unity and make those serving easily identifiable to those we served.  Our supplier pre-printed enough for the team, and that first Sunday, we wore them to help create a buzz and to identify leadership for those who had questions. 
  • We designated 4 donation collection days.  Items were checked upon arrival.  If they were broken, faded or in some way did not meet the standard of "gently used", they were tossed.  All other items were given a 'value' from 1 to 8 and a sticker reflecting that value was affixed to the item..  Items were then boxed according to "department" (kitchenware, electronics, home decor, etc.) and stacked in one of the two on site storage pods we rented.  
  • We used a web site called "Volunteer spot" and entered the names and contact information of volunteers.  This web site allowed volunteers to view or change their commitments and also sent out automatic reminders via email.
  • A press release was sent to several media outlets, and one local paper did in fact run the story.
The week of the event we picked up rentals (inflatables and carnival food machines were delivered day of), set up the tent, and walked the property to confirm layout and generator/electrical needs. Food was purchased, RSVPs were confirmed, and even more last minute details were ironed out.

We marveled at all that God had done.  We had never attempted anything like this before, yet over 100 people signed on to help.  People were not only donating goods, but encouraged neighbors, friends, family members and co-workers to do the same.  A church neighbor came over one collection day to see what all the hubbub was about.  She was so excited by what was going on she came back three different times with items to donate and brought another neighbor with her.  We started by renting one pod and it quickly became evident that not only was a second pod needed, but we had to rearrange things in the church garage to accommodate larger items like furniture including a dining room set and youth bed, tons of TVs, baby items, bikes and more.  The parable of the five loaves and two fish was often quoted as we watched things multiply by leaps and bounds!

From agency responses, we were preparing for approximately 300 people.  Things were reaching a fever pitch.  It was so exciting!

The last installment of this series is all about Free Market event day!!





Friday, June 29, 2012

Toting Baggage

Yesterday I worked a bi-annual event called "Homeless Connect Day" in Trenton, New Jersey.  Several non-profits host the event where the homeless can receive hair cuts, vision care, acupuncture, chiropractic services, massages and health screenings.  In addition, they can pick up information on housing, VA benefits, legal assistance, receive help getting an ID so they can get benefits, and more.  Clothing and food are also available.

In order to get these services, attendees must first answer a brief questionnaire to gather information on a number of factors regarding their homelessness.  The compiled information is used when planning projects, lobbying for funding and more. 

I've been working these events for the past 3 years stationed in the "exit booth".  It's my job to ask attendees what they did and didn't like about the event, how they heard about it, what was most helpful and what was missing that might have been beneficial for them.

That's how I met Denise.  Many attendees just want to gather their "freebies", food and leave.  But Denise needed to talk, so I listened.  She told me she was grateful for the places around the city where she could stay, but her great need was for a place to leave her things during the day.  Many shelters only provide a bed for the night, and come morning, all her possessions need to be packed up and toted with her everywhere throughout the day.  Denise's health was suffering from the energy required to do that day in and day out - in the extreme heat of summer and the freezing cold of winter.  In fact, when I offered her some free items her response was "no thank you - I just can't add to the weight of what I already have to carry around.  In fact, I may just give you back this bottle of water because it's so heavy."

I encouraged her not to return it, but instead to drink it along the way - it was an extremely hot day and the water would be beneficial.

As she left the event to face the challenge of her burden, I wondered how many of us carry our baggage like Denise...not physically, but spiritually.

We don't have to be homeless  to lug our baggage wherever we go.  We may very well have a nice roof over our heads and a comfortable bed to sleep in every night, but we're still carrying our "stuff" with us day in and day out.  And it's beginning to wear us down...tax our strength and our heath.  We don't know how to let it go and think we can't function without it.  It's become part of our daily routine.  In fact, rather than unpack it to lighten the load, we wish there was a place to keep it safe.  We may even refuse a free gift and life-giving water because our hands are so full, what's being offered looks like it will just weigh us down further. 

In Matthew 11:29-30, Jesus said "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."  When we take on His yoke, we are able to lay down our burdens - the trade doesn't increase the weight - it lightens the load.

And in John 4:13-14 we are told "Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."  Once again, the trade off is for something that is far better.

So what is weighing you down today?  What baggage do you need to unpack?  Anger?  Shame?  Jealousy?  Pride?  Hatred?  Loneliness? Don't store it away.  Those types of burdens get heavier over time.  And don't carry them with you wherever you go...they will affect everything else you try to do. Right now, open your suitcase.  Ask God to remove all the things that make it difficult to move forward.  As He discards the burdensome hurts and issues He'll fill it with free things that are light as a feather - His love, His peace, His mercy.  Then drink deeply of the water He offers.  You'll never be thirsty again.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Time - Gift or Curse?

I'm still working on the second installment of the Free Market 'trilogy', but something I read in my devotions yesterday just really struck a chord and made me think.  I needed to share and ask for your input as well.

The line was out of Jesus Calling for June 27th.  It said "I designed time to be a protection for you."

A protection.  

I don't know about you, but so often, I think of time as the enemy.  
  • It ages us
  • It reminds us of what we have not yet accomplished
  • It flaunts how long we have been without that thing we truly desire 
It most often drags during our workday, making it seem intolerable.  When we're having fun - on vacation, with friends, being entertained - it flies.

So to me, it is foreign to think of time as a protection. 


The next line of that devotional said "You couldn't bear to see your life all at once." 

Okay... maybe I DO see the possibility of protection. 

I have a number of friends going through some really tough stuff right now.  The death of a friend, a separation, a serious illness.

If we saw these things at the outset, we might run in the opposite direction.  And if we did that, we wouldn't experience the joys that come with the sorrows.  We would live life in fear of what we knew was coming.

On the flip side, the space of time protects us by healing some of our hurts as memories fade and pain subsides.  The distance that time provides can help us think more clearly - sometimes seeing that what we thought we wanted or needed would have been harmful had it come to pass. 


God protects us in time.  I think I may just have to change my attitude about my former enemy.  Embrace him and understand his usefulness. 


So what do you think?  Is time a gift?  A protection?  I'd love to hear your thoughts...if you have the time.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Adventures in Community Outreach: Part 1 - What is a Free Market?

My writing has been quite limited as of late because my time and efforts have been redirected a bit.  This is the first of a 3-part series about my distraction.  My church has been working on something called a "Free Market".  It's a pretty foreign concept for most.  It's like a traditional flea market with one great big difference.  It wasn't a fundraiser.  No one was selling spaces for people to come and put out their "junk" to sell.  No, a free market means that the goods - new or like new - are all donated and then given away.  For free, no strings attached.

It's an idea that been more than 2 years in the making and about 5 months in the planning.  I've shared the background before, but for those who are unfamiliar, here's a brief synopsis...a little more than 2 years ago, after reading the book "The Externally Focused Church", I went to my pastor and told him about the nagging feeling in my spirit that we were just not involved enough in our community.  The CommunityConnections ministry was born.  I invited 4 or 5 like-minded individuals to form the team and we began with a food drive.  In the past 2 years, the outreaches have gotten larger and more involved: from serving meals at a Salvation Army drop-in center, re-modeling a local Dress for Success office, and adopting a shelter to do an "Extreme Home Makeover" on its 17 bedrooms, to hosting a Christmas store this past December that involved purchasing gifts and allowing those in local shelters to maintain their dignity by choosing and purchasing items for their children at 10 cents on the dollar.

The Free Market was something my pastor had encouraged me to investigate in those early days, but it took two years for God to grow our ministry team to about 15 people, and to have service truly become part of our congregation's DNA.  That's why, when we put out a call for over a hundred volunteers just 3 weeks before volunteer intensive Kids Camp (our VBS program), people still answered the call.  God had prepared their hearts and minds to do what needed to be done.

As the ministry head, I am blessed to work with people who aren't afraid to step up and take the reigns on different outreaches. This time around, Cathy, a woman who's organizational skills know no bounds, stepped up to the plate.  Her previous church had done a Free Market a few years prior and so she was the one to cast the vision to our team and supply the details.  Her former church was several times bigger than our congregation of about 600, and their budget for the outreach was slightly more than double ours, so we needed to tailor the specifics to what our numbers and budget could handle.  For the past 5 months, our ministry team and some additional individuals who joined us specifically for the task at hand, have been working out the details. 

To fully explain the Free Market concept's purpose and goals, Cathy shared a passage of scripture with us.  Deuteronomy 24:19:  "When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back and get it.  Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord you God may bless you in all the work of your hands."  People were to harvest their fields in a circular pattern, leaving the corners (as well as any 'overlooked sheaf' from the circular harvest) for those on the fringes of that ancient society - strangers, orphans and widows, so they could survive.  There was nothing less desirable about what was left behind...it was just as viable a crop.  The idea was that God had given them a harvest, but it wasn't to be assumed that it was all for them.  He gave them bounty and they were to share out of that bounty.

The Free Market was rather like a modern day concept of gleaning.  God has been generous to us, so we need to in turn, be generous to others.  A three week sermon series entitled "The Blessed Life" instructed and encouraged the congregation to see exactly what God had put into their hands and what they could do with it.  God doesn't need a lot - He just needs a person who is willing to give what they have for Him to use.  Think David with his sling and a few stones...or Moses and his staff...Shamgar and his ox goad (yes, that's someone in the Bible - you'll just have to research it :)

So that's how it all began...an idea, a vision, some teaching.  In the next installment I'll share about the actual details of planning the event - just in case it's something you'd like to bring to your church.  Trust me, if you do, the harvest of blessings you'll reap will be difficult to contain!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Summer of the Blue Bike

I was just talking to my friend and fellow blogger, Pam from In the Shadow of His Wings, about my blog posts.  I was beginning to feel they don't fit what I've perceived to be "the norm" based on others I've read. Other blogs seem far shorter than mine, more succinct.  Anyone who's read one of my posts knows I tend to write what might be charitably labeled...essays.  That comment led Pam to suggest I add to this blog something I once shared with her.  It was actually more of a short story pieced together from a couple of journal entries back in August of 2007.  I called it "The Summer of the Blue Bike", and in many ways, it's the precursor to Lakeside Lessons.  I doubt this fits that short, succinct norm I mentioned, but today I'm responding to a request :)

"The Summer of the Blue Bike"

"It had been a rough year and an even tougher summer. As the days dragged on long and hot, I ached to sit on the sand of an empty beach and watch the sun slowly rise out of the ocean, breaking into the sky in all its golden glory. If I closed my eyes, I could almost smell the salty air and feel the warmth of the sun on my face. But when I opened my eyes, what I had imagined as the relaxing lapping of waves on the shoreline, was instead the incessant tapping of raindrops on my office window. Another dreary day spent chained to my desk.

It seemed this summer, more than any other, everyone I knew was vacationing on some sandy beach or cruising to an island - and they all wanted to tell me about it in raptured detail. 
There were many things that kept me from the ocean. Money was first and foremost. Even a day's jaunt to the beach cost a tank of gas and fixings for lunch. An elongated stay with the cost of rent was out of the question. Then there was the matter of time. Going with the rest of the weekend warriors meant the stress of battling them on the road and the dunes. And taking off a day from work was akin to a miracle since apparently, I alone in the universe knew how to do what I do...job security is a two-edged sword.

Instead, I entertained myself on the weekends by going to yard sales and searching for bargains and that's how I found my bike. A man's blue Huffy Expedition for the bargain price of $15. It needed a tire changed and a bit of 3 in 1 oil and it was as good as new.

At first, I bought it for the exercise...but as the summer waned, I discovered that my blue bike was no mere piece of exercise equipment. It was a 2-wheeled ride to freedom. I packed it up in my Nissan Pathfinder and headed off to the County Park where there were plenty of miles of trails.

As the pavement rolled out ahead of me like a black ribbon in a sea of green grass, I took in my surroundings. A larger number of blue jays than I'd ever seen in one place flitted back and forth in a grove of trees chasing each other in a playful game of tag. 

As dusk began to fall, rabbits ventured out for a bit of clover and the deer began to graze - close to the wood line at first, they slowly gained courage and ventured out into the center of the field. First I spotted a mother with her 2 fawns, coats still sprinkled with the white spots of youth...then another doe and another, some with fawns, some without until I counted a dozen grazing brown statues. The elusive buck was not in sight however.

I cruised around the lake, through the woods and across the fields where shouts and clapping cheered on soccer and baseball players battling it out in fierce summertime competition.

Finally, my legs had had enough - my thighs screamed for mercy. Somehow all the miles of walking I had done for months on end had not prepared them for the ups and downs of the bike trail.

I put my bike back into the Pathfinder, locked the door, and grabbed a bottle of water to cool off. As I downed the thirst-quenching liquid, I was slowly able to regain the feeling in my legs. Gradually, I put one foot in front of the other, struggling like a toddler trying to find his balance, eventually making my way down to the water's edge.  I chose a bench looking out over the relatively still waters of the lake.

The first thing I noticed was the blue heron strutting on the dock piled high with rowboats. A pontoon boat and paddle boats lined the far side of the dock - a reminder of all the activities the water provided in the heat of the day. Without warning, a flurry of wings broke the silence and a pair of seagulls lifted skyward from the water. I chuckled to myself thinking, "I may not have the ocean, but at least there are seagulls!"

This would become my routine for weeks as the summer flew by. Then, as if with the turn of a page, it was almost fall. The days seemed to grow short ever faster, but the tradeoff was glorious sunsets. Streaks of red, orange and purple painted the sky as the sun sank below the horizon in a burst of fiery light...and then it was gone.

It was on one such evening that I sat gazing at the water listening to the cacophony of honking geese as they arrived, wave upon wave to rest for the night. Hundreds covered the surface of the lake as a long boat cut the water, sending them flapping and splashing in all directions to get out of the way.

I pondered the past 8 months and all that had happened in that short span of time. Just a few days into the start of the new year, my husband and I had an argument. Not that arguing was anything new for us. In the 28 years of our marriage, we'd made it into an art form. Like the bob and weave of a boxer, we could land a blow and get out of the way, then come back together in a clinch until one worked loose and tried to score a knockout punch. Yet somehow this time was different. The fights had become more intense and more frequent in the past few months, but this one ended with him walking out the front door, never to return. 

Of course, I didn't realize it was the final blow that night. Many was the time he'd threatened to leave, each time telling me I'd discover how difficult life would be without him. Occasionally, he'd even manage to stay away for the night - and once for a long weekend. But what was really different this time was my reaction. I didn't cry. I didn't get a feeling in the pit of my stomach that my world was ending. I was okay.

It was the beginning of a new life, but like most births, it was a traumatic experience. Something wonderful would be produced as the end result, but it could only come to fruition through pain. And so that was why I spent the summer without seeing the ocean.  And that was what led me to the blue bike and ultimately a new found sense of freedom and a real joy. I was finally living life."

When I wrote this, I talked about something wonderful being produced as the end result of a traumatic experience.  I had no way of knowing what the next 5 years would bring.  Highs and lows, sadness and joy.  But ultimately, a closer walk with God, a wonderful support system from a new church, a ministry calling, and much, much more - including a friend who has lent me his beach house for a few days the last few years so I can see and feel and smell the ocean.   Lastly, the blue bike has been replaced by a purple one aptly named "Magnum Rebound", but I still find freedom and joy in riding.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

How big is your God?

How big is your God?  After several recent conversations, I feel the need to ask that question.  Some seem to assume because they can't see or imagine the immensity of God, He must only fit into the little box they've envisioned in their finite mind.

These people say I'm crazy to think God can hear and address the prayers of every person on this planet. That it's actually pompous of me to believe He would care about me and my silly little needs. 

If they want to believe that for themselves, that's fine.  Well, actually, it's not fine, it's very sad that some would believe God exists, but not believe He cares about them.  Or worse, as one put it, that they were created to be "messed with".  But why do they feel the need to talk me out of my firm belief in a supreme, loving, caring being?  Why do they think I'm being naive?

I recount story after story of how God has answered my prayers in big and small ways over the years.  This is the 'abridged' version of one of my favorites from a few years ago...after crying out to Him in the privacy of my car, defeated and desperate about a number of things going on in my life, God sent a woman I'd never met, speaking a language I didn't understand, to pray over me minutes later.  As her words were translated by another who had no idea about my circumstances,  it was as if she'd been given a checklist from God.  The way she worded things, the issues she prayed for...the exact same things in the same way I'd laid them before His feet moments before.  I've walked with God a long time, but the experience gave me goosebumps and I feel it's a powerful, convincing argument that God truly hears prayer.

Others don't believe at all.  They are unmoved by my accounts.  They drag out their rationale.  They want to talk about coincidence, energy, spirituality, and myriad other "forces" to explain away the things that my Big God has done and is doing.  To me, it's far easier to believe in an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent GOD than some energy force bumping around in the dark impacting the whys and wherefores of my existence. 

So how big is YOUR God?  Can He part the sea to allow 2 million people to cross on dry land?  Can He shut the mouth of a hungry lion in it's den with a man?  Can He walk around in a furnace with three others to keep them from being consumed?  Mine can.  And because He's a God that's the same yesterday, today and forever, His power isn't just ancient history.  He does miracles in the here and now.  He provides jobs, heals sicknesses, and restores marriages.

My God is a big God but He's also a caring God.  His word tells me He knows me by name and that name is written on the palm of His hand.  He knows how many hairs are on my head.  He formed me in my mother's womb.  It tells me that He withholds no good thing from me. Can "energy" do that for you?

He's a big God, but He's a God of details.  He put the stars and planets in their places, but He also clothes the lilies of the fields.  And He knows when one of His children are hurting, so He sends just the right person to pray so she knows her requests have been heard.  This is not coincidence...it is Godincidence.

My God is the one of whom it is said gives me exceedingly, abundantly more than I can ask or imagine.  How big can you imagine?  Can you picture your town?  Your state?  Your country?  How about your world?  Your solar system?  Your galaxy?  Well, then, you can imagine quite a bit!  But He goes beyond that.  He has not created us to mess with us or abandon us.  He created us in His image.  He loved us first, so we in turn love Him. 

I don't want a God so small I can wrap my mind around him and define him.  That would make him all too human, and not God.

So think about it...how big IS your God?  I'd love to know what big things He's done for you...