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...

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Rowing In The Right Order

Last weekend, I headed to the lake to discover there was a regatta going on.  For those unfamiliar with the term, it's a series of boat races typically between rowed or sailed water craft.  This particular regatta was a competition where long boats are rowed.

I've seen the races before, but this time, as I watched the precision of the rowers and listened to the shouts of encouragement coming from a passenger in the boat, I grew curious about the details of the sport.  What I learned after some research was just how much a rowing team resembles our Christian walk...or at least how it should look.  For starters, just look at the teamwork required just to get the boat IN the water. The team needs to lift the burden together... just as we should be lifting one another's burdens up in prayer.

Then, once the boat is in the water, each of these team members has a specified position in the boat.

Using an 8 person boat as an example, the one closest to the front of the boat, or the 'stern', is called the 'stroke'.  This is the rower who is the most technically sound member of the team. It is that person's responsibility to establish the rhythm and rate of the boat - or basically, the speed at which they proceed.  In the picture below, you can see a person facing the rowers.  That non-rowing member of the team is the 'coxswain' and his responsibility is to steer the boat by working with the 'stroke', to provide motivation and encouragement to the crew, to let the crew know where they are in relation to other crews and the finish line, and to make any necessary race tactic calls.

Not to over simplify things, but when I think about the positions in the boat equated to our Christian walk, I think of Jesus as the one in the stroke seat with God as the coxswain.  Jesus is in the intercessor postion, establishing the rhythm of our lives when we're in submission to him. God's in the boat with us, directing us, providing encouragement throughout the race and the only one who can actually see the finish line.

The middle rowers are the body of believers.  We are to keep our eyes looking ahead, trusting on God to guide us.  We faithfully serve, pulling together to stay consistent in the race, and working together toward a common goal.

The last 2 rowers in the 8 person boat are called the bow pair.  This pair are more responsible for the stability and the direction of the boat than the other rowers, and are often very technical rowers.  In my little analogy, these would be our leaders, our pastors and the like.

So if the rowers all have a position in the boat that utilizes their strengths, what if one started to complain about their position within the boat?

What if a middle rower decides to switch positions or stop rowing? 

I'm not even sure it's physically possible to stand up in one of those long boats let alone crawl over others to switch seats...but I'll tell you what...aren't we all guilty of having made the attempt at one point or another in our lives? You know what I'm talking about. 

You think you can do something better than the person doing it...or

You think you're doing all the work with none of the credit...or

You don't see why you should have to be the one to volunteer...again...

Worse yet, maybe it's not another member of the body you have issue with...maybe you want to be in charge of the rhythm and rate of the boat. 

What if you try to sit in the stroke seat?

Yes...I'm talking about switching seats with Jesus.  C'mon, you remember...

Those times when things weren't moving along fast enough for you...

Those times when you thought switching lanes would give you an advantage...

Those times when you foolishly thought you could be face to face with God and tell him you could do a better job getting where you wanted to go...

And what happened?  You rocked the boat.  You capsized the boat.  Or maybe you just caused the boat to go around in circles without moving forward so long you got completely disoriented.
It's time for one more comparison today.  You see that big white boat in the picture?  That boat is like the Holy Spirit.  It follows the crews throughout the entire race.  The person in that boat chastises the rowers if they begin to stray from their lane.. he keeps them on the straight and narrow as it were.  If anything happens to a rower, they are there to pluck them up out of the water. 

In our Christian walk, as in rowing, there is a proper order to things.  We need God at the head or we run the risk of being in the race but getting off course because we cannot see the finish line.  We need Jesus in our midst to set the pace.  He intercedes on our behalf with the Father and together they guide us.  

We need to work together as a team, understanding that each person has strengths and weaknesses and God has placed us in the position He wants us in so we are best used to accomplish His purposes.  If we try to switch up that placement we run the risk of bringing harm to the entire group.  Our pastors and teachers are there to give us the stability and guidance we need as we navigate the sometimes rough waters in our lives.  We need to listen to the Holy Spirit to keep from straying from what is right. 

How are you doing today?  Are you fulfilling the mission of your position in the boat? 

Are you rowing in the right order? 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Adventures in Community Outreach - A Day of Service

In addition to my full-time job as Creative Services Director for a radio station, I serve as the Director of Community Connections, the local outreach ministry of my church, Central: a Christ-centered church.  If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that occasionally I write a new entry for the series - "Adventures in Community Outreach".  These posts detail just a few of the different outreaches my church has held over the years, in hopes that you may become inspired to do something similar to reach your community.

Last June, we held a Free Market on our grounds to help those who recently transitioned into their own home from a shelter situation, or who were struggling financially and needed household items.  It was a tremendous undertaking and touched about 300 lives, but we decided it's something to carry out every few years, not annually.  

That meant we needed a new idea this June.  I spent many months praying about what that would look like, and kept coming up empty.  Because my desire was to have our next outreach take place in the community and not on our grounds, we considered doing a health fair at a church we work with in the city.  But although I thought it was the right direction, several doors closed and it was necessary to go back to the drawing board.  That made me very nervous because we had a date of June 1st set aside, and March was rapidly approaching.  One day I may learn that my timing is not God's divine timing!

Because these church-wide outreaches tend to garner 150 - 200 volunteers, I had been stuck on finding a vehicle large enough to accommodate that size group.  Slowly, through a number of encounters, God shifted my thinking, and "Central Cares Day" was born.

Central Cares Day will take place June 1st from 9 til noon.  Groups of 5, 10, or 20 people will meet for a time of prayer and encouragement before going out to perform practical acts of service at the 16 sites we've identified throughout our county:

The Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, Mercer Street Friends (a food bank), Choice One (a crisis pregnancy center), The Arc Mercer County (a group home), Morris Hall (a nursing home), CareTrenton.org (a group dedicated to cleaning the streets of Trenton), UIH (strengthens families by working with dads), Henry J. Austin (a health clinic), Cadwalader Learning Center, 3 homeless shelters, 3 elementary schools. and 2 community centers.

The help we will provide will be as diverse as the organizations themselves...from art projects and entertainment, to housekeeping and administrative work, from light landscaping and serving a meal to painting and repairs.  Besides wanting to positively impact our community by putting hands and feet on our faith, we sought out things that could be done by a variety of ages and abilities so that all who wanted to participate, could.  We have several locations where families even with young children can participate together, some appropriate for 12 and up and some that are for adults 18+. 

The logistics have boiled down to this...each location will provide a contact person who will be onsite while we're working, and we will identify a team leader on our end for each project.  In this way, communication can be established prior to the work being done.  The group can go in fully prepared to perform the task at hand.

An army of volunteers - 291 - will be needed for Central Cares Day.  But if your church has a smaller congregation you can still organize something similar.  Simply begin with fewer sites, or, as I hope will occur in years to come with our "Cares Day", organize several churches in your area to work together to achieve the goal!

One of the other exciting facets of this outreach is how we plan to wind things up.  After all the groups have served at their site for the 3 hours, they will gather back together at our church where we will have a time of testimony and fellowship over a picnic lunch.  So often when we hold these large outreaches, we know what has happened in our little section of the event, but we don't hear all the other stories and encounters.  We usually pull together a video of stills, but it's not the same.  By coming together for a meal and time of sharing, we will get to learn how God has taken each one of these small outreaches to create a large impact all over our county.  

Of course, in order to have all this happen, we need a few more teams of volunteers behind the scenes - my ministry team is invaluable in putting together the details, helping sign up volunteers, and more, we need those willing to prep and serve the food, set up and take down  the meal portion of the event, provide childcare for the smaller children who can't help, and most importantly, a prayer team who covers the entire event in prayer!

We are already being blessed as several organizations have sought to meet to discuss an ongoing partnership with our church.  And then there are those crazy little detail Godincidences like the yard sale where I found 82 pairs of work gloves for a fraction of the regular price.

Volunteer signups begin this coming weekend, so stay tuned for updates as Central Cares Day approaches.  I'm sure there will be many God-sightings along the way!!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Life out of Death

Winter seemed to last forever in New Jersey this year.  Maybe it's because we took our cue from that furry rodent, Punxsutawney Phil.  You know, that groundhog who gets pulled out of his hole every February 2nd by a man wearing a top hat and overcoat.

Maybe this year, Phil just got tired of the early morning disturbance of his slumber and decided to teach us all a lesson by predicting an early spring.  I can hear that woodchuck chuckle over our disillusionment as we continue to turn on the heat in the evenings and wear heavy coats well into April.  But I digress...

This past week, temps soared into the high 70's and low 80's. And while the weekend rolled around to unveil a more moderate 60-65, we were still blessed with two beautiful days.

My friend Pam from In The Shadow Of His Wings shares some of her stunning photography of the lake at sunrise this weekend.  As she details in her post, Jesus called her to come away with him to a quiet place and led her there.

I had a similar experience Saturday morning, although not quite early enough to catch the sunrise.  I had been wrestling with something since Wednesday so as soon as I woke to sun streaming in my window, I knew I needed to connect with Him by the waterside to unburden my heart .

When I arrived, I was met with color.  I had been so wrapped up in my troubles, I hadn't realized that some plants had begun to bloom in the past few days.

The long winter had taken its toll on my spirit, but down by the lake that all began to melt away.  I no longer felt dormant and lifeless and cold.  It is impossible not to smile in the presence of Forsythia.  

And seeing the landscape of trees beginning to bud and flower reminded me of God's promise of rebirth through nature.  The hope of life out of death.  No matter what might have been burdening my heart, it was not the end...there was another season on the horizon.

As I walked the trails, I listened to a song by Frances Drost called "A Psalm of the Free One" that says in part..."Though I walk through the valley of the death, I know that I will bloom again.  In the desert places, you are my joy, and I am yours oh Lord.  You will guide me with all of your heart.  You will love me with all of your might.  For I am your child and your friend.  And you have heard my prayer."

You may still feel the ravages of winter in your life, but rest assured, Spring is coming.  God hears your prayers and you will bloom again.