Gifts

We had been talking about short term mission trips. I showed her pictures from our first trip to Haiti, played a voice recording of my goddaughter singing Mighty To Save, shared a few special memories. “You mean, there’s things I could do, even if I can’t help with construction”? With emphasis on the word “I”, her soft voice quivered, her eyes brimmed with tears.

Oh yes, sweet lady. Yes there is. That glorious crown of gray hair proclaims your wealth of life experience, useful to the kingdom of God.

“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”

‭‭Romans‬ ‭12:6-8‬ ‭NIV‬‬

I’ve really wrestled the past few years with the bad rap short term missions has earned. My heart sank the first time I read “When Helping Hurts”, my cheeks got hot with shame. In several ways I was as guilty as the author charged. It kind of messed with my head and heart for a while.

At the end of the day, if you love Jesus then living your on mission is the correct response. I’m not going to debate the how we should be doing it, or elevate one organization over another. I acknowledge that in our well-meaning desire to help, American Evangelicals may have at some time or another done harm through our ministry efforts. Ok I said it.

Regardless, we are told to go. Serve. Encourage. Preach and teach. Care for widows and orphans. Protect the vulnerable. Seek justice. Put our God given gifts to work. It is His love put into action.

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”

‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭4:10‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Your mission field can be in your home, across the street, next town over or thousands of miles away. Wherever it may be, Christ Follower, you do have one. I personally have found it to be true, that simple obedience brings great blessing. Giving yourself away blesses you as you bless others.

The conversation with Ms Kathy yesterday brings to mind the many people I know who don’t recognize their gifts, think they don’t have anything to give, or mistakenly believe their gifts aren’t useful. I’ve had similar conversations before. The idea is far from true.

I wish you all could spend some time in her presence, because Kathy’s sweet spirit and gift of encouragement breathes life into those around her.

“Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers. After spending some time there, they were sent off by the believers with the blessing of peace to return to those who had sent them.”

‭‭Acts‬ ‭15:32-33‬ ‭NIV‬‬

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One Nation, Under God

There was a knock at the door this morning. The young man was about to leave as I answered. He was a student from our local university, working on behalf of the IL republican candidate for governor. Bradley introduced himself and wanted to know who I would be voting for in November and why.

One thing led to another, and ultimately his comments opened the door to a conversation about relativism and God’s truth.

“I know a lot of people have objections to him for religious reasons. Sure, he is pro-choice, but at this stage of the game it’s about the lesser of two evils. Besides, I support him because I believe in separation of church and state. It’s not up to me to force my views on anybody. Everybody has the right to their own beliefs, and what is right for them.”

The lord gave me the right words in the moment. Never ever before have I been able to lovingly and respectfully stand my ground in faith.

In a nutshell, I told him that there was a time before that I thought just like he did. But over time I came to realize it wasn’t about the lesser of two evils, but a matter of right and wrong. There are no gray areas in God’s truth. I encouraged him to dig in to scripture and see for himself what God has to say about these issues that we face in today’s world.

I think the lord will use our conversation, at least I’m praying that he’s working on this young man even as I write these words.

It’s heartbreaking that we now have to choose between the “lesser of two evils” in the IL governors race. As a nation, we can only blame ourselves. Such are the consequences for a people who have turned our backs on God and chosen own ways instead of His. Oh God, my God, what have we done.

Praying for wisdom and discernment for the voters in our upcoming elections. That truth will prevail. Not the lesser of two evils, but triumph over evil. Praying that God will turn the hearts of our nation back to Him, forgive us and heal our land.

“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

‭‭2 Chronicles‬ ‭7:14‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Internet photo credit: Cornerstone Christian Fellowship

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Forward

I took a little extra time getting up this morning after the 5:15 alarm. An extra cup of coffee. Extra time in God’s word, extra time talking with The Lord.

In February we moved away. But in a very real sense, part of me stayed behind.

Certainly, much of what made me feel comfortable, secure, known and loved was left behind. Family, church and friends remained there. We came here and started putting down roots. A part of me still wanted to linger, just a while longer.

These past few months I have been so aware of all the events leading up to now. All the ways God has been preparing us for this next season. Yet I have remained there, in that place of nostalgia and remembrance. Not dwelling in sadness and loss, but rather in humble gratitude and love.

The ways we were challenged and discipled. Especially the people who invested in us. Believed in us. Over and over I’ve prayed and thanked God for them. For their lives, ministry and influence. For their future, their families and their health.

This morning, my hand and heart have opened a little more, tenderly releasing its grip on a very good past in order to take hold of a very good time to come. God is so faithful.

There will be new faces added to the pictures hanging above my desk. New names in my prayer book. New ministries to embrace and support.

I will not forget, but I will press on.

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

‭‭Philippians‬ ‭3:12-14‬ ‭NIV‬‬

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Six Months

I knew before actually arriving here that God was up to something. Our on-site interview this past January was really more of a visit. Comfortable and welcoming. During that short weekend we heard pieces of stories of ordinary people used greatly for the glory of God and the good of others. Of multiple, thriving ministries that were birthed out of what would be our new church home. The global and local outreach, amazing. The gospel impact, resounding. Lives were being changed by the message of Hope in Jesus Christ, here and around the world. That weekend we got the 45 second trailer, the teaser. We had to see the rest.

As most of you know, that on-site visit led to a decision to make the big move from upstate SC to the Quad Cities. As time goes on though, I realize it was less our choice and more God’s. As days and weeks pass, I’m more convinced we have been sent. Our being here is God’s plan.

It’s been 6 months today since we pulled up to our temporary apartment and unloaded the cars.

Much has happened since then. It snowed. A week later the movers brought our stuff. It snowed again. We found a house. I lost my dad. Went back to SC during Easter to help with the arrangements, came back to IL and moved again (couldn’t have done it without you, Angie). Went back east again and buried my dad. Boom boom boom, in that order. (I still haven’t had time to grieve.) Went back to the Carolinas last month to visit family and friends, and to celebrate a special 2 year old. And most recently God opened up the opportunity for me to serve Him as Outreach Coordinator at our new church. Seriously, somebody pinch me.

I’ve only been in this role a month, so there’s much to learn. Part of this learning process means I get to interact with both our global and local ministry partners. A few have been via email, but many have been face to face, over coffee or a meal. That’s when you hear the backstories, start connecting the dots, and seeing the bigger picture.

One of our new friends here is executive director for a ministry she founded that digs wells in Niger. That’s the little I knew about her when we first arrived …. that and she had a huge heart for missions and a wonderfully dry sense of humor. This woman is a deep well, in her own right. So much more to her story.

A few days ago, several of us from the outreach council had the pleasure of meeting a young couple before they leave for a 5 year term as missionaries to Japan. (This particular friend was instrumental in that connection as well, but that’s a story for another day.). As we were leaving the coffee shop, she blessed me with a book written by a dear friend of hers, another local.

In that book, some of the dots that were loosely connected began to take shape and fill in with color. Tucked in those pages is the wonder and mystery of our God moving, working through His people. Restoring. Creating. Redeeming. Blessing.

In those pages were ministries I’ve visited. Places I go. People I’ve met. People I currently work with. There’s no doubt God is moving in this city. There’s no question that the lord has us here for such a time as this … whatever “this” is. Yes, Lord, whatever this is.

PS- Ya’ll seriously need to read ‘Singing In The Wilderness’ by Luana Stoltenberg. Have tissues handy.

Photo credit- Babette Howard

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Fear Not

There was a time, not that long ago, that I wouldn’t have considered inviting people over to my home for a meal. Correction …. for years I didn’t.

What a terrible waste. I cheated myself out of so much pleasure. Missed out on opportunities to connect with others, to build relationships. I’ll never know just how much good I missed.

Entertaining felt intimidating. All my excuses were firmly rooted in fear and comparison. I wasn’t a good enough cook. My house wasn’t comfortable for guests. My stuff was old. They might find fault with me. It would make me vulnerable. And so it went for many, many years.

There’s a Christian song out now titled “Fear Is A Liar”, and it’s true. Simply put, I was suffering from an identity crisis. Comparing my skills, my stuff, my personality to someone else held me hostage. When I came to realize that my identity was not … IS NOT … founded on those things, my thinking slowly began to change.

If all I could make was grilled cheese sandwiches and soup, then that’s what I served. If all I had were old dishes, that’s what we used. If I only had room for 4, that’s how many we invited.

Fear of failure, of being exposed, of being found “less than” is a real thing. It can trap you into loneliness, isolation and more. It can keep you from trying new things. Yes, fear is a liar.

I read somewhere that the words “fear not” appears in scripture 365 times. That’s a solid DO NOT FEAR for every day of the year. Coincidence? I think not. I think God knew I’d need daily reminders.

It only took 49 years to get there, but I eventually did. I finally started believing what God says.

Here’s the deal. If I can, you can. So go ahead and make the baked spaghetti, pull out the china that has never been used, clean up your home and make that phone call. And go check out all the “fear nots” for yourself.

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Honor

This morning I was contemplating the saying “If you will honor God, He will honor you”. Often times we hear a saying and take for granted that it’s biblical. I wanted to see for myself, did God really say that?

He sure did. Understanding that I can often take scripture out of context, I discovered that God sends this word to the priest Eli this to confront him about the wickedness of his sons, and how Eli has done nothing about it. Sandwiched in that reprimand is a promise.

There are as many consequences for disobedience and wickedness as there are blessings for a surrendered heart who seeks to honor Him.

God has done another amazing thing in my life. I can’t even wrap my head around it. On my own I didn’t earn it, and I certainly don’t deserve it. Yet there’s this gift, this blessing that overwhelms me to the point of tears.

I’m reluctant to share good news for fear it sounds boastful. Truth is, if there is any good in me, if there’s evidence of fruit in my life, of character, loyalty or faithfulness, I can directly point to the ones who invested in me, who took the time to disciple me and help me begin to develop in spiritual maturity. Years and years of investment, grace, patience and encouragement. These people truly love like Jesus.

There’s a great story of how God orchestrated all this. I had no idea what He had planned for me, but here it is. I am beyond excited and humbled to share with you that I have been given the opportunity to serve as Outreach Coordinador here at Calvary. And I said yes.

Please pray for me as I enter this new season with great expectation. I have mighty big shoes to fill and lots to learn. Lord help me remain faithful, available and teachable

.

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Exchanging The Lie

I finished this mornings reading in Ecclesiastes and was a little bummed out. Here was Solomon … a king who was blessed by God, powerful, wise and wealthy beyond all imagination … and he concludes that everything is meaningless. A chasing after the wind.

It got me to wondering what on earth happened? What was he thinking! In the beginning of his story Solomon was all in for God. He sought to honor Him and give Him the glory and honor that He is due. Solomon was awesome!

Over time it seems to me that Solomon’s hope migrated. In his old age he began worshipping false gods, and leading Israel to do the same. His lifestyle and perspective deteriorated. There were definitely consequences for Solomon’s disobedience. It’s all written down.

It was a slow fade for Solomon. In scripture it doesn’t look like this happened all at once. Through the years he lost sight of the truth and started believing a lie.

“This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”

I think this is a warning to us as we get older. Along the way life gets harder. We can get cynical. We lose loved ones. Our bodies begin wearing out. We make exceptions for ourselves because we’re tired. We wrongly believe that what little we have, what we are able to do doesn’t really matter to the kingdom of God. Before we know it we’ve slowly slipped from being on top of our game to sitting on the sideline bench of the kingdom.

Christ follower, remember who you are and whose you are. Remember how much Jesus loves you. Remember our lives are all for His glory. The mission hasn’t changed just because we got older. If we’re still breathing there’s work to be done.

Read this and soak it up, grab your bible and go refresh yourself with the truth. That’s the only way to refute lies.

Inside of you who are in Christ Jesus are the riches and wisdom of Solomon, through the holy spirit of God. You have so much to offer in service to the kingdom. Your story is one that others need to hear. It’s a story unique to you and only you … who you were before meeting Jesus, how He rescued you and your journey with Him since.

Friend, exchange the lie for the truth.

You have great worth.

You have purpose.

Your life experience has value.

You have been spiritually gifted to reach those around you who need the hope we have.

You have influence.

Your little bit that you think doesn’t amount to much is useful and needed in the body of Christ.

Your prayers matter.

The gospel matters.

You matter.

Go exchange the lie for truth. I have confident hope that if you’ll do that, you’ll get back in the game.

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