Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How Ungreatful Am I?

This is a post from over a year ago, but I was reminded of it and though I would share it with you.

OK, I know I'm supposed to blog about the youth group and Kimberly is supposed to blog about the "D's," but I get to be a proud daddy every once in a while right? Plus, Dominick is in our youth group!... he just happens to also be my son.

This is what we passed by on our way to our Friday Night Bible adventure. It is beautiful, no? But my son saw more than I did. "Look at the awesome sky God made, Daddy!!" he said.

My son, the son who has such a busy mind and such busy hands that he never knows what I said, or what has just happened showed me what I was missing. I was missing the glory of God's creativity. Days don't just end, they each have a beautiful, amazing, and unique finale. Don't just drive by it, don't just miss it altogether, and don't forget who caused it to be.

I must stop and praise God for the beautiful work of art I was able to see, and for my son, who's heart and soul are 1,000 times more beautiful. Thank you Lord, for my little jasper.

(Mommy said it looked just as busy as you)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Days Of Your Youth

Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, "I have no pleasure in them"; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain, in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed, and the doors on the street are shut--when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low-- they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets-- before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. - Ecclesiastes 12:1-7

Nearly a year ago, a bright and caring young man came to me and asked to talk about baptism. Shawn is was very young, so I wanted to be sure he understood what baptism was. I asked him why he wanted to be baptized and his answer warmed my heart. "Jesus gave me His life and I want my life to be His." Simple, sweet, and beautiful. But we talked about what baptism was for and why we need to be baptized, and I soon found (as I suspected) that Shawn was still a little young for this. When we talked about Acts 2:38 and how baptism is for the forgiveness of sins, I asked Shawn if he felt like he had any sins. He said he didn't really thing so. ... If only we could go back to those day, you know? We talked about how it might not be time for him to be baptized yet, but that did not mean that he had to wait to live for the Lord, and we talked about how to do that.
After months of mature contemplation, Shawn came to me again and told me he remembered what we had talked about and he knew he was ready. We talked about how baptism is being introduced into a new way of life, it was not getting wet, it was beginning the walk with Christ that, when followed, results in the continual washing by the blood of Christ (1John 1). I am proud to say that Shawn is now a brother in Christ, and very involved in showing his faith by his works.

Shawn's baptism was not deterred by the filthiness of our baptistry. Someone may have forgotten to add the cleaning chemicals... it was a little scary, but after only a seconds hesitation, Shawn took the plunge. 

Before we even had a chance to clean the baptistry, April asked to talk to me about baptism. She had lots of very mature questions, and made it clear that she had thought a lot about being baptized. April has a wonderful grasp of how coming to God means giving Him your best, and she knew to give God her best she needed to be washed clean and giver her life to Him. I should really record everything these precious children of God tell me when they come to talk to me about baptism, because I remember being brought to tears by their grasp of what God wants of them, and their obligation to Him, but I cannot remember the way they put it. Sorry, I can remember it impressed me, but not all the words. I can say that April seemed to grasp it more than anyone I have ever talked to about it before, and I am quite proud of her. 

Though the baptistry was beginning to look like a swamp, April said, "It doesn't matter to me, I'm ready to do what I need to do!" I am so proud of our two fine examples to young children everywhere. 

I haven't done the stone assigning part of my lively little stones blog in a while, so here are your new birth stones. 

Since Shawn's new birthday is in September his is sapphire.

& since April's new birthday is in October her's is pink tourmaline.

God bless all the precious stones that build up His spiritual house!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Giving God Our Leftovers

So the Greeks tell a tale of a king named Lycaon (they actually tell about 20 variations of this story, but here is the one I'm going with), who had a family with such a reputation that Zeus had to come down and check it out. When Lycaon got news that Zeus would be joining him for dinner he went through great pains in planning dinner, after all, what do you feed a god? He finally settled on cooking up one of his servants and serving this to Zeus. When Zeus realized what he was being served, he was so angry that he turned Lycaon into the worlds first werewolf.

So what does that crazy story have to do with anything? Well, none of us would cook up another human if we were preparing a meal for the one true God, but I wonder, what do we serve Him? Oh, of course none of us would have God over for dinner and say, "hey, there's some leftover pizza in the fridge, help yourself," but what do our actions say? In my life, what am I giving God? Am I giving Him the best, or the leftovers?

I found Francis Chan's Crazy Love to be very inspiring. In one chapter, Serving Leftovers to a Holy God, he talked about this idea. God not only deserves our best, He demands it! Don't believe me? Ask Cain, he can tell you all about what God will and will not accept. But we are so blessed that we often forget the God who blesses us, or simply give to Him out of a sense of guilt or obligation. God does not want your afterthoughts, He does not want your leftovers (let's be honest, who gets excited at the prospects of leftovers?). God made this clear to His people in the days after the Babylonian exile. "You offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the LORD of hosts." (Malachi 1:8).

But we would never do this, right? We never let bills, busy schedules, forgetfulness, sports, family, or anything else get in the way of giving God the service He deserves, do we? We may not be perfect, but we are doing something, that's got to count, right? "Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the LORD of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand." (Mal 1:10)... maybe not. It sounds like God is saying He would rather have no service than poor service.

Maybe the reason why our service is lacking is because our understanding is lacking. In sociology, Lawrence Kohlberg introduced three stages of moral development:
1. The Pre-conventional Stage. In this stage we know that there are something we should and should not do. We avoid the things we should not do because we do not want to be punished, we do the things we should do because we want to be rewarded. This is the lowest stage of development, yet this is where most Christians are in their understanding and relationship with God. Most of us converted out of fear of hell and continue out of a desire for heaven; it's a start, but no place to stay.
2. The Conventional Stage. In this stage we have grown to understand that we should do certain things because they are expected of us, and because they are important to those who expect them of us. We avoid the things we are expected not to do for the same reason. As Christians this is when we learn that it is about more than heaven or hell, it is about giving God what He asks because He expects and deserves it, and we do not want to hurt and disappoint God by failing.
3. The Post-conventional Stage. In this stage we realize that we obey laws and norms because they benefit the world at large, and disobeying them harms others and is understandably wrong. Few Christians reach this point, the point where your name can replace love in 1 Cor. 13:4-8, because you love others because it helps them and glorifies God. You serve God because it glorifies Him and you realize that your purpose is to glorify Him. You learn to genuinely hate sin because it harms you, others, and your God, and nothing could be farther from your desires than hurting God or those He so loves.

Perhaps we fail to serve Him properly because we have forgotten who He is, and what He has done. We forget that God made the universe, with all its countless galaxies.

We forget that God made one celled organisms, too small to see with the naked eye, but just as complex as a galaxy.

We forget that Christ has the right to demand anything from us, because He gave up everything for us.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)
Are you willing to say to God "everything I have is Yours, my possessions, my will, my life, my all, I put everything in Your hands."

As Christians we must give of ourselves until all that can be seen in us is Christ. That is the kind of service, the kind of sacrifice that God deserves. Don't give God your leftovers, give Him your all.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

From the Mouth of Babes

I had one of those very proud daddy moments the other day. My oldest daughter brought home a social studies test with a 100% on it (which is not rare), and my beautiful wife said, "I think you should take a look at this." I glanced, saw the grade and told my sweetheart what a good job she did, but my wife said,"No, I mean you need to read this, you would really appreciate it." Thank God for godly wives like mine, because this was one of the greatest things I ever read. 

If you were going to present a law to be passed please (1) tell me what the law would be and (2) why you would want it to be passed.

(my daughter's answer)  
A law that I would like to be passed is no war. I want that to be a law because people wouldn't die in sneak attacks. I would also like that law to be passed because there would probably be more children with parents. Also there probably wouldn't be as many people dieing. Another reason I would like that law to be passed is because children's dads or moms or both wouldn't leave them to go off to war. Another reason is kids wouldn't be waken up by big bomb explosions. Another reason is everyone would be treated fairly and have equal rights like the United States if they were not fighting each other. That is why I would like this law to be passed.

Not only is this a beautifully thoughtful answer, but it means even more to me. My daughter at age 9 has expressed what it took me until very recently to fully realize. 

You see, I have always know that I could never go to war, that I could never commit myself to a cause that would mean killing another person. I spent years questioning why I did not have this deeply patriotic feeling of obligation to fight and die for my country. Killing in the name of patriotism, liberty, democracy, justice, freedom, or even God never justified killing. 

Not long ago, my friend and I were talking about my outlook on war, and he told me about many Gospel preachers in the time of the civil war who wrote about having the same feeling, and how they were unable to reconcile what they read in the Scripture with what they heard men on both sides defending their cause with. 

I was floored when my friend then joined a branch of the military. I reminded him of how I felt, but told him I respected him. I respected him the way I respected my other friends who "joined the cause." I appreciated their devotion and the ends they wanted to bring, even though I knew that I was at odds with the means. I respected the long line of soldiers in my bloodline. Cousins in the army, grandfathers in the national guard and navy, great-grandfather in the civil war, etc. But it was different this time.

This friend had been in front of or beside me through every step of my spiritual growth since I was 18. We were always looking at the same Scriptures, debating the same issues, coming to better understand the same concepts. This was the first time I felt we were divided. But that's the way it is, you don't always see things the same way, and it is ok. It is part of being an individual, it rarely makes one person closer to or further from God. So I continued on my path and he on his. I came to see more and more clearly that war was not a part of God's plan for Christians. Little did I know that my friend was on the same track.

Recently, this same friend introduced me to a group of Christians who feel the same way. People who, through study of Jesus' teachings came to see that, as Paul put it "God has called you to peace" (Col. 3:15). The message we bring is the "Gospel of peace" (Eph. 6:15), Jesus said pray for and love your enemies (Matt. 5:38-48). Paul said do not repay the evil of your enemies, but feed them, give them a drink, be good to them (Rom. 12:17-21). This Church of Christ Peace Fellowship embraced the fact that Jesus, the apostles, and all the New Testament writers have nothing positive to say about war. Jesus may have said that taxes belong to Caesar but He also said that His servants would fight if His kingdom was of this world, but it is not (John 18:36).

This took me years to understand, and I have shared this message with those who would listen, but not with my daughter. Why? I don't know. We are still working on more basic Bible concepts I guess. Without my help, she came to the same conclusion. What brought her to it? Her love for others. One of her friends had a visit from her dad who is in the army. She cried when he dad left and shared with my daughter how much it hurt to worry about weather or not her father would die in some foreign country and never see her again.

Here is the funny thing. Soldiers came to John the Baptist to be baptized, you know what he told them? "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages" (Luke 3:14). Why did he not say don't go to war? I believe that it is because he did not want to say it was a damnable sin to go to war, and I am not saying that either. He set them on the path of righteousness, he directed them to Christ. Christ taught love as our defining mark (John 13:35), and love eventually teaches us that peace is to be honored above war. War may be a way to bring about some good things, but it is not the only way, it is not the best way, and it brings many bad things along the way.

I have heard a thousand prayers offered up for those dying to buy our freedom, but brave men and women who died for a belief did not buy my freedom. Christ died for my sins, He freed me from sins (1 Cor. 15:3), He freed me for freedom sake (Gal. 5:1), and God rules in the kingdoms of men. So, spiritual, physical, and judicial freedom comes form Christ. It's time we thanked Him, It's time we were grateful enough for His sacrifice to take a look at what He thinks and feels about war, peace, and love. Maybe we should have the pure heart of a child, and love our fellow man enough to give peace a chance. 

Call me a hippie if you want, that's fine. But remember, I love our troops more than you or they will ever know, I love the Al-Qaeda, I love the Viet Cong, I love the African and South American drug lords, and I love each and every one of the people that all of these people hurt, mistreat, and kill. Most of all I love the bearded, sandal-wearing, peace preaching, sinner loving, big hearted, savior of us all, and I just want to be in His kingdom.

I'll chose a Dove over and Eagle any day.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Why Me?

Recently, a young man who I love dearly told me of all the struggles and trials that were facing him as he drew closer to God. He asked me what he had done, and why these things were happening to him.
Wow! How do you answer that one? I did my best on the spot and I think it worked out, but it retrospect, I would tell a story.

Long ago and far away, in a valley...

divided by a river...

there was a family who raised and lived off of black goats.

 One might say that this was a very humble beginning, no? But this particular family had a son, a bright son, who showed great potential. Humble though his trade of goat raising and tent making may have been, the boys father was a free man, a real citizen, unlike most of those around him. Weather this had been obtained by money, connections, or military service did not matter now; what mattered now was what it could mean for his son. He could send him away to school, and not just any school, the most respected school anyone of The Faith could attend, and study under one of the greatest legal and theological minds of the day. This would mean sending his beloved son nearly 400 miles away, in a time before automobiles, but it would be worth it to provide him with such an education.

Miles away from home the boy studied Law, day in and day out, memorizing longer and longer passages, also be taught to recite, word for word, the lessons of his instructors. If it is possible to develop a photographic memory by exercising the minds ability to recall data, then he developed one. He soon passed his peers, gaining the respect of his teachers.What an amazing lawyer he was destined to be!

Though he came to the school as a mere child, he left a man, and not just any man, a scholar! But leaving the school meant returning home to learn the family trade. Such a mind put to such a simple chore as working a loom? How could it be? How long could he live this way? But he must learn the family trade, even a scholar must know how to make a living if he cannot find work as a lawyer. And who knows what the future may hold? It, at least, is a way to make it through hard times.

But once the family trade was learned and mastered, he could return to the city of his schooling and search for a meaningful career amongst other great minds. And it took no time for those around him to see his worth and intellect. He was able to find a place where the others form his homeland, who had come to this city, came to worship. It did not take long to gain the respect of his brethren and become a leader among his fellow worshipers.

One day, our friend (now around 30 year of age) came in to worship and sat on the bench, beside the other men, below the women's galleries. The day's scripture was read, and then it was time for a lesson, or testimony. A man, around the same age as our friend, approached the podium. He was known in the community for the services he provided for the poor widows (all of other races, many of whom were recent immigrants), and so he was looked on as a kind young man. When he opened his mouth and began to speak, he talked of things that made our friend and many others feel uncomfortable. Some were moved, others felt pushed, some stood up and began to shout and argue with the young man, but his arguments were so compelling that they could not answer him.

He was brought before the court and accused of blasphemy (which was still looked on as a crime in those days), and men were even bribed to back up this charge. But when the judges looked at the accused young man, they saw only innocence, the face of an angel. So, they asked him to defend himself... and he did... boy, did he!

You see, this young man's name was Stephen, and he found himself standing in the very room where, two years earlier, his Lord and Savior had been condemned to death. Take a second to imagine what he must have felt, what he must have seen in his mind....

James J. Tissot, 'The Tribunal of Annas' (1896), Brooklyn Museum, watercolor.

James J. Tissot, 'The False Witnesses' (1896), Brooklyn Museum, watercolor.

James J. Tissot, 'The Torn Cloak: Jesus Condemned to Death by the Jews' (1896), Brooklyn Museum, watercolor.

 What would you say to the unjust judges who threw out the rule book so that they could condemn an innocent man? What would you say knowing that they were doing the same thing to you? Fortunately, Stephen did not have to worry about what to say. Jesus made a promise to His followers, "Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you." (Matt. 10:17-20). And the Spirit spoke through Stephen.

He Preached a compelling, though scathing, sermon. He called them to Christ, but also condemned their cruelty and hypocrisy. Our young friend, who's name (as you by now have guessed) was Saul, was moved to anger, the whole court was moved to anger. Saul's great teacher, Gamaliel had advised patience and toleration concerning the advocates of Jesus and his cause, but this Stephen had gone to far. Saul and the others were so angry that they could not contain themselves. As they stood, grinding their teeth and plotting how to silence this blasphemer, this Stephen looked up, smiled, and shouted, "Look! I see Heaven opened, and the Son of man standing at God's right hand!"

What insolence! He further blasphemed by saying that this Jesus, who's followers had called 'the son of man,'  was in Heaven's highest place of honor! ... The events that followed are well told by the author and scholar John Pollok, who wrote, "The Judges leaped from their places howling with fury. The Hall of Polished Stones, scene of grave debated and historic trials, reverberated to the baying of a lynch mob, which rushed at the young defendant and manhandled him down the steps into the strong sunlight of the Court of the Priests. Across this wide open space, down more steps, through court after court, Stephen was swept by the maddened crowd swelling with bystanders, worshipers and traders, until they had him out of the sacred Temple precincts into the streets of the Holy City.

"No sentence of death had been passed, nor could be executed... Judges and mob cared nothing for that. when the northern gate was behind them, and they reached the Rock of Execution, 'Twice the height of a man,' they should solemnly have stripped him, and thrown him cleanly over to break his neck or at least to stun him, so that death by stoning would not be too unmerciful. Instead they pushed Stephen as he was, and his tangled clothes broke the fall and he staggered to his feet fully conscious.

"... In a judicial stoning the first stones must be aimed by those who had brought the charges. These witnesses therefore elbowed their way to the front, threw off their outer clothes and looked around for someone to guard them. A young lawyer, panting from the race through the streets, stepped forward. They recognized a Pharisee from Cilicia in Asia Minor known as Saul..."

Our young friend watched approvingly as lager and lager stones battered and mangled the body of Stephen. This man was getting what he deserved, harsh and cold though it may have seemed, to Saul, this was the truth of the matter. But then Stephen cried out again! Was he impossible to silence?

"Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" He cried.

Wilbur Ranes, "I see the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God' Church History Museum.

The further infuriated crowed showered him with larger stones, this time bringing Stephen to his knees. Once more he opened his mouth.

"Lord, do not hold this sin against them." Was his final request.

The next volley of stones finished Stephen off. And there the crowd left his body to rot for all they cared.

Saul had never seen such bold defiance. He had not known that these followers of "the way" (as they were called) were such a threat. Why, even he, a prodigy among lawyers, could not argue with what Stephen had said. How many people could they cause to stray? He had to make the High Priest see, had to get him to make a move.

There was nothing that the High Priest would like more than to erase the memory of these people who called the whole court into question for their judgment of one lower class radical. A man who had no house, no possessions, no scholarly degree or title to his name claiming to be king and leading the people away from those who rightfully sat in Moses' seat ... it just could not be tolerated. They did what they had to do to dispose of him, but the problem had not gone away! It was growing. Why, within two months of his death, eight thousand men (not counting women) claimed him as Lord. No longer Rabbi, no! Now he was Lord?! Whatever Saul needed to eradicate those who followed that way would be given to him.

And so the hunt began. It was not below Saul to enter in to every house and interrogate the people. If they would not renounce Jesus as the Christ they would be taken before the court, and thrown in jail. When before the council, legally, the accused could employ the time-honored formula, "I have something to argue in favor of my acquittal." In these cases, Saul, as witness and prosecutor would be forced to stand by and hear a defense of their faith in Christ Jesus. As one trained to memorize every word that his teacher said, Saul must have quickly become familiar with the words and deeds of Jesus. But, after their testimony, the accused were lead away to prison, or death.

How many did Saul condemn? Perhaps even he no longer knew. But the followers of Jesus were fleeing from Jerusalem, or were they spreading? News was that they were now invading Syria. Saul went and obtained permission from the High Priest to hunt them down and bring them to justice, so warrant in hand, Saul made for Damascus.

From here, we all know what happens. Jesus shows Himself to Saul, asks Saul why he is persecuting Him. He says that is is hard for Soul to kick against the pricks, although Saul thought he was serving God, could it be that part of him was affected by the testimony of the saints? Did it pain him to do what he believed to be his duty? The Lord told him to go into the city and he would be told what he must do. Ananias came, healed the blinded Saul, baptized him and told him, "The God of our fathers appointed you to know His will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from His mouth; for you will be a witness for Him to everyone of what you have seen and heard." (Act 22:14-15).

Caravaggio, 'Conversion on the Way to Damascus' (1601) Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome, oil on canvas.

So, if Jesus was going to miraculously appear to Saul, why not do this before he killed and imprisoned so many Christians? Paul often spoke of his guilt, of how he believed himself to be the chief among sinners. He quoted Stephen at least twice, once on Mars Hill and once in his final words to Timothy, so it would seem that Stephen's sermon must have forever rung in his ears. Why? Why would God make Saul go through this before miraculously appearing to him?

My suggestions are just that, but here they are.
1. Who says that Saul would have been so willing to listen before he saw and heard all that passed from Stephen's sermon to Damascus.
2. Perhaps God allowed all this to transpire just to show us the change that Christ can make in our lives. Maybe God was saying I can take the foe of God and turn him into one of God's mightiest servants.
3. Maybe it was God's way of showing that it is not to late fore anyone, if Saul can change so can you.
4. Maybe God wanted Saul to better understand that "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death." (Pro 14:12).
5. Perhaps Saul's guilt was part of what drove him to do so much for God.
6. Perhaps God was displaying for Saul and for us that all things are possible with God, and we can do anything through Christ, even turn from a life of murderous blasphemy to glorifying God and expanding His Kingdom.
7. Maybe it is all of the above and more.
8. Or, maybe we should lean the Lesson that God taught Job; My ways are not your ways, you cannot comprehend My plan, so just sit back and let Me do My thing. It's an honor just to be included in God's plan, why should we expect Him to lay out the blue prints for us?

Life is not easy, we often have no idea why we suffer through what we suffer, but God is over all, He reigns, He is in control and He has a plan for me, if I will just allow Him to use me. Hang in there, and God will bless you.

The suggested details of Saul's story that are not found in the NT are probable suggestions based on the time, manners, customs, writings, and illustrations of the life and practice of the Cilician tent makers, the Jewish officials, legal trials, and executions. Much of the information is gathered from John Pollock's The Apostle: A Life Of Paul, Victor Books, Wheaton, IL. 1978, formerly titled The Man Who Shook the World. The writer of said book, and the writer of this blog, have no intention of adding to the Scripture, but simply wish to allow a look into the life Saul may have had.
FYI - The first two pictures are of Tarsus, where Paul was raised. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Baptized in the River

I spend most summers doing crazy, pointless, childish things with the youth group. No wrong things, just ... you know off the wall things. It's how we bond together as a group and build memories. But this summer, we managed to do something that was actually meaningful. 

I have been blessed to come to know Anthony, who is one of the many hard working people who are concerned with correcting the social injustice, provide for the needs, and the futures of the people of this earth. Brother Anthony has worked to make a difference in his community, first in Memphis and now in North Little Rock.

I like Anthony's outlook on life and the ministry. He says, "I show up and make myself available to be used by God to help the poor and homeless know Him and make Him known." And this the work of God! Paul said of God, "As it is written, 'He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.'" (2 Corinthians 9:9). 

This was also the mission for Jesus Christ when He came to earth. "And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.' And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, 'Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.'" (Luke 4:17-21). And this is the very work that we were blessed enough to be involved in this summer.

We came to River City Ministry on a Saturday, a very busy Saturday. On this Saturday RCM was hosting their...

And, understandably, everyone was exhausted when we arrived. That night we talked about our plans for the week, had a little fun, and went to bed.... eventually. We might have watched a little (or a lot) of LOST before we hit the hay. (whatever, think of me what you will, I love the show and think it has a great message about people changing their lives, overcoming or submitting to evil, yada yada. If you don't like my choice of TV get your own Youth Group and watch Dr. Quinn or something... rant over).

They call this The Lostsupper lol... *Wipes away a tear from being so amused*... it's ok, I'm over it

The next day began with a prayer walk. And if you have never been on one, you should. We just asked people if we could talk with them about God and if they had any struggles they would like the Lord to help them with, and then we pray with those who are willing. Great way to get to know people, share the Lord, and get out of that stupid shell we tend to build up around ourselves. 

Then we were able to worship with the River City congregation. Beautiful to hear people whose lives are so full of hardship sing with such love and appreciation to the Lord. It was a very exciting, moving, uplifting, and Spirit filled experience. The young man who brought the message is an amazing young man. Although life has not been easy for him, he works mightily for the Lord. He is wonderful at connecting with others and sympathizing with those who are in pain. He is a great example of what young people can do for the Lord if the have a desire to serve Him.
I'm not sure how well you can see the artwork over the baptistery, but it is the beautiful work of a young lady who received assistance from River City Ministry, and is now working with them to help others.
After the close of the service, we went to The River City Ministry building for lunch. 

More artwork by the people who make River City Ministry meaningful
Here we were able to mingle with the people, get to know them, learn from their experiences, talk and listen about God. We were also able to help serve the meals to these wonderful people. Several congregations prepare and bring food to RCM each Sunday. And boy can they cook, take a look.

Afterwords, we prepared for the days to come, had a group devotional, and went to bed even later.
We began the next day with another prayer walk (it was over 100 degrees, not complaining... just saying), and we were able to talk to several of the people who had visited the day before. The wonderful people we were blessed to meet taught us such a lesson about honesty, trust, and humility. So often we hide our problems and struggles from our brethren, or even try to hide them from the Lord, but not the wonderful men and women we met that day. These wonderful children of God knew how to share, knew how to lay it all before the Lord, and how to let go of worry once it was in the Lord's hands. We all need to learn how to do that.
Then came the support letters, because it takes money to do anything. And there were a lot of letters too.

I think it gave us all a real look at the work. It's not all as fun and instantly gratifying as talking with someone who wants to know the Lord, helping someone who is in a jam, putting food on someones table, or growing together in love. Some of the work is just tedious and boring, but it's all a part.  

About half way through the day, Anthony came to tell us that one of the men he had been studying with was ready to give his life God. Praise the Lord! And one of our young men were able to help baptize him into Christ. What a wonderful and joyful experience!

We were able to help with lunch once again, and I was able to share the lesson before lunch (Soul food before belly food). 

Monday night we were able to be a part of a rehabilitation program. Brother Don has labored with his wife and others to create a friendly, loving, Christ focused, and judgment free group meeting for people struggling with any kind of addiction. It was once again wonderful to learn such honesty and such faith in the Lord.

Tuesday was much like Monday, but one of our young men, Shawn, brought the lesson of the day.

He did a wonderful job and i am very proud of him. And, Shawn also got to help baptize someone that day! Two more people were added to the Lord that day!

That evening we helped with the Vacation Bible School for the children in the area, which was lots of fun and very rewarding.  

And just when we thought we were all done, a lady knocked on our door and asked for a Bible Study! How often does that happen?! Of course I was happy to do this, and I pray that this lady and her family continue on their road to growing closer to God

Wednesday, after another morning of stuffing and addressing envelopes, lunch, and a lesson, we took several vans full of children to the local water park (and the owners even gave us the tickets!). EVERYONE had fun.

When we got back, showered, and put on dry clothes, I got soaked again, because there was another baptism! It was a wonderful, wonderful day. And Anthony, Keith, and the other hard workers at RCM treated us to Mexican (my favorite!) and... made sure I would not forget it. 
It's as blurry as all get out, but I got covered in whip cream
And even though our schedule seemed busy, we were not involved in all the things that River City Ministry does on a daily basis! They also have a program to help people find jobs and better the marriages/family lives which they have every weekday. they have housing programs, they pick up the children who come to the events, Bible studies with those who are interested, etc.

River City Ministries helped us to become immersed in the work of the Lord (for those of you wondering if the title would ever come into play). I think we all have grown though the experience, and that it has awakened a desire in us to serve the Lord. Thank you so much to all the people who work with River City, and all those who provide the work to be done. God bless you all.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Why Are You Talking Like That?

Dear Bride,  
Why do you talk to me so formally? 
When you speak to me you get real serious and somber, and its not at all like the way you talk to your friends and family. One last thing my love, why do you speak to me in Elizabethian English? It's sort of weird. 
I love you, just be yourself around me.  
Love, Jesus

A dear friend of mine posted this as his facebook status. I don't know if everyone grew up hearing prayers like this, full of Thee's and Though's and Thine's and unnecessary th endings, but a lot of us did. Maybe you pray this way. I'm not poking fun, I'm not telling anyone how to pray, I'm just sharing a thought. 

I've been told that praying like this is a way of showing respect to God, and I believe we need to respect our sovereign Lord. No one is more deserving of our respect! Jesus began His model prayer with Respect for God (Matt. 6:9). But do we need to make our prayers Shakespeare?

Jesus died for us, to take away our sins, to justify and purify us, and tome make us the sons and daughters God deserves. His sacrifice gives us the ability to come boldly before the throne of mercy (Heb. 4:16) and cry Abba (Hebrew for daddy), Father). 

God tells us over and over to come to Him with our needs and our desires. Talk to God as you would a father. Be real with God. Don't show up before God like its prom and show yourself all clean shaven in a tux when He sees you all shaggy and real, you're not fooling God! Be respectful, but be yourself. Open up your heart to the Lord. Don't be fearful as if you were before a king who would behead you over the slightest offense, but talk to the Father who knows and cares. When is the last time you talked to God? Really talked to Him? Some times we have no idea what to ask, but read the Psalms and you will find that David often just laid his case before the Lord. If you don't know what to ask for, just take time to talk to God about what you are going through. He was patient with Job, with Moses, with Abraham, and with David, and they all came before God at time because they had no idea what was going on.

Make prayer a constant part of your life, make it personal, make it meaningful, make it habit. Pray as if Jesus was right there with you, holding you, because, after all, He is. If that doesn't change the way you think about prayer, I don't know what will. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What My Children Deserve

I just thought I would share with you a thought I had the other day.
Most of us grew up without. Weather we grew up without the popular clothes, shoes, toys, or we were not able to be in the dance, sport, martial art, or musical programs we wanted to be in. Maybe we grew up without an idea of financial security, college funds, or getting a brand new car handed to us like the other kids had. But
we grew up, little worse for ware, but with an idea ever growing in our minds. "My children will not grow up lacking anything! I will do whatever I have to do to make sure my child has everything he (or she) deserves!"

As adults we started developing our work ethics early on. We worked overtime and showed up for every shift so our boss would know we meant business and soon learned overtime meant lots more money, or we got our education so we would be sure to earn a good living. But a good education and a reputation of being dependable does not go as far as working longer and harder, so no matter what the preparation, we seemed to find ourselves working longer and harder, either to stay ahead, or because we wanted to do a better job.

Then the children came, and HELLO, it turns out they cost more than we budgeted or imagined. So we went back to school, or took more hours, or took the job that meant leaving town for day at a time, because it meant more money. We weren't being greedy, honestly, we just wanted to make sure we provided for our family, we just wanted to make sure our children had a bright start and a brighter future. The sky would be the limit for our kids, and who says you have to stop there? After all, that little baby could be the next astronaut if that's the path in life he wanted. Our child would not have to worry about giving up dreams on account of money. No Sir, Not my baby!

Then those sleepless nights came to an end, finally, if we were there for them, cause lets face it, if you are not willing to work the graveyard shift once in a while they will promote someone else. Day care is a must, not that we want to say goodbye to our baby, but with both of us working, money will come easier and maybe we wont have to work as many ours or be gone as much. In the long run it will be better.
Then the day comes, with tears in your eyes you kiss them goodbye as they make the first long walk from our arms to their desk, because they are starting school. It happened so fast!

So they go to school, and you go to work, everyone comes home for dinner together, by the time dinner is done yo are exhausted, but you had to bring some work home. You get right on it, and before you know it here come the kids for a goodnight kiss, and they are off to bed. If you are lucky, you get to spend a little time with your spouse before you drift off to sleep. And day after day is much the same, you see each other little, and once sports, dance class, or band starts, you see each other even less, but at least they got to be a part of these things you missed out on. At least they have the nice clothes and no one makes fun of them for wearing hand-me-downs, and they can relate to the other kids when they talk about the newes t toys or video games. It's worth all your sacrifice to make them smile... right? After all, if that's what it take to make sure my children have what they deserve, if that's what it take to make sure my child does not grow up without anything, then so be it!

But wait! My children, your children, all children deserve a parent! and we are working so hard to make sure they don't grow up without the things we didn't have that we take from them the one thing we did have... we make them grow up without parents.

We never wanted this to happen! We love our children! It's not that we don't want to spend time with them, we just wanted them to have a bright future. But we can spend so much time providing for their future that we miss their childhood, we take away a part of their childhood. And unless we stop, step back, re-prioritize, and make a conscience effort to make their childhood wonderful by being with them and showing them how much we care, they grow up missing that everything we did was supposed to be for them. They grow up and have no real relationship with mommy and daddy because they never really know them. They were there on nights and weekends like those free long-distance hours that everyone is too busy to ever use. Lets not drift in and out of our children's lives but be the rock that they depend on, the one they know will always be there.

Some one has to show our children how to grow up into a proper adult, some one has to help our children grow to know and love God. Some one has to show our children how a marriage aught to be. Someone has to show our children how to be parents. If we don't do that who will? Their therapist? Their in-laws? Their Preacher? Sure they may help, but they cannot make up for a lost childhood, for growing up orphans because the corporate world took their parents from them.

For Christ sake, get off your computer and spend some time with your child! Read them a book, take them fishing, hunting, have a tea party, lay out under the stars, just let them know you are there and you love them. And I do not use the term "for Christ sake" flippantly. I mean do it for Christ. Make sure He is in their life, make sure they know He is in your life. And building your relationship with your child is God's work, because being a Christian is all about building relationships. Relationships with God, our fellow man, and our family, and helping them to build those same relationships. Anyone can father or mother a child, but only someone who focuses on the most important things can be a mommy or daddy. So what if your child is not set for life by the time they graduate high school, money cannot make up for a parent, for a Savior, for a life without end. So, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
(Mat 6:19-21)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Elevenish Months Later

Ok, I am going to get better at doing this on a regular basis. It has been 11 months since I last posted, so, as you might guess, a lot has happened.

I am very proud to say that we have had several baptisms since I last blogged. Lets make sure I get everyone... There was


& Wayne (who is very camera shy)

Who had the rare experience of being baptized in a hot-tub on a back porch in the middle of winter. Bet they never forget that one.



And most recently, Jacob

I am so proud of all of them and the people they are becoming! They are growing spiritually and becoming more Christlike everyday, which is why the remind me of these stones (ok so they are technically minerals but "potato tomato, potato tomato" as Megamind would say.)

They are called fairy crosses and the one on the bottom is about as perfect as they get. since they are minerals they "grow" and as they do the start to resemble a cross more and more. So, here's to all my kids who are doing the same. I love you, and I am so very proud!