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Archive for the ‘Outreach’ Category

bth_MarywithBabyJesus[1]It’s 4:00 a.m. on Christmas Eve and I never expected to be so heavy on this day with the things that are weighing on my heart. I’m not the only one I know. So many are facing much greater burdens and much greater life challenges. This season of joy and love and peace doesn’t always live up to it’s reputation, does it?

Well – actually it does. The TV specials are sparkly and white and soft and beautiful. We are led to believe that for Christmas to be Christmas we need the perfect outfit, the perfectly decorated tree, the perfectly wrapped gifts and the perfect loving family around the table. But today I’m realizing again that although the birth of Christ was the climax of that Bethlehem night, there are so many subtle lessons surrounding the momentous event.

Stress, worry, pain, shock, disappointment, confusion – all the things we live with today were in existence then. I would guess that a few sharp words may have been exchanged between Mary and Joseph along their journey, brought on by exhaustion and the weight of responsibility. Stress does that to us – brings out the irritation in our voice, the too quick answer, the sharp word.

I suspect that as Mary and Joseph made their way through the streets of the city on their way to the stable they fought crowds that had flooded the city. You can’t tell me the merchants didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to expand their line of products and overflow their streetside stalls. To purchase a simple meal Joseph would have had to stand in a long line, with impatient shoppers,  wailing children, tired, cranky clerks. Been there?

And as gentle as Mary appears in scripture, there is no way she didn’t crinkle her nose and give Joseph that “You’ve got to be kidding me” look when they entered the barn. Eating isn’t the only thing animals do in a barn, people!

God sent His Son in an ordinary way because He wanted ordinary people to be able to relate and accept this incredible gift. He wanted the poorest to know poverty doesn’t keep us from Him. He wanted the rich to know you must bow not buy your way to Him. He wanted the clean freaks to know even filth and unpleasant smells can’t keep Him away. He wanted the simple to know it’s not complicated, and the wise to know it doesn’t take a masters degree to find Him.

And the gifts – if you are anything like me, you have been wracking your brain, scouring the stores, scanning the internet trying to find the right one for each person on your list. I know Christmas isn’t about the gifts – but then again, it is. If I stopped shopping and tried to explain to my family from the 5 year old on up that I didn’t do gifts this year because Christmas is about the birth of Christ – I don’t think that would go over well. They know that but it doesn’t mean they are willing to give up gift giving.

So how can we take all of the not so wonderful things of Christmas and make them a part of the wonder, the miracle and the message? Here’s what I’m trying to do.

First, I’m taking my burdens, stress. irritations, frustrations and worry and I’m putting them in a gift box lined with prayer as tissue paper. I’m not skimping on the tissue paper either. I’m stuffing that box full until it pretty much overflows. Tissue paper is cheap. Prayer costs even less. 

Next, I’m putting the lid on that box because I know if I don’t I’ll be reaching in and taking those burdens out again and again to rearrange and ponder and carry them around for a while before putting them back. I’m taping the lid down so it won’t come off.

Then I’m pulling out the most beautiful wrapping paper I can find and covering that box with it because I want it to be visibly worthy of laying at the feet of Jesus. I want Him to know I’m serious about handing it over.

And the next thing I’m doing, after I walk away from the box, is pulling out every bit of kindness and gentleness and generosity I can find in my clothes closet and that’s the outfit I’m wearing today and tomorrow and hopefully beyond this weekend so I can bring the missing joy, peace and love to those around me.

Because I’m learning the lesson of Christmas.  God knows the pressure. He is aware of the demands on my time. He understands the things that make my heart heavy and my tears flow. But He set the Star of Bethlehem in the sky to show me the way to the Son of God in the manger and allow me to discover the truth of Christmas. 

It’s putting my trust in the Baby who became the Savior,

so I could travel from the Manger to the Cross,

and let Him come from Heaven to my Heart,

to make peace where there is none, to bring joy where there is sadness, and to give hope when things appear bleak. He gave Himself to me and I’m paying it forward.

Praying a beautiful Christmas for all of you.

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Earlier this week I sat in my office looking out at a landscape shrouded in heavy7223162 mist. With fresh snow covering the ground and laying like heavy lace on the trees, I have to say the view was breathtaking. It hadn’t made for a fun drive to work, but it certainly gave a soft, gentle, peaceful presence to the landscape.

The impression a misty view gives is one of perfection – no scars, no sharp edges, no dirt or stains. Unpleasantness is hidden by a gauzy veil. But the truth behind that mist is reality. Once it clears, all of those blemishes will be exposed again.

It’s a good lesson in the struggle we have comparing ourselves to others. People can look flawless – but they never are.  Families can appear to be conflict free.  They seldom are.  Other journeys can look pothole free, but believe me, curves and bumps and roadblocks are part of everyone’s life drive.

God has a specific plan for each and every one of his children, all different and unique. He doesn’t want us to be the image of someone else. That would be like an artist creating works of art that never vary in color, shape or design. Part of our uniqueness comes from the battles we survive and the challenges we overcome.

No offense meant here, but there is a reason antiques are appreciated.  They show wear and tear, host a history of everyday life, and remind us of the passing of time.  It’s no different with God’s children. We are marked by the years and the journey.

I was touched by a point Beth Moore made in the final video our ladies group watched last night in our Esther bible study. Beth pointed out how society tends to look at an elderly woman and say “She was beautiful in her time” but God’s word says “He makes everything beautiful in His time.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)  In other words, the passing of time and the events that mark that passing are what create the beauty of a life.

Queen Esther’s early life was all about looking good.  She had to catch the eye of the king and the story makes it clear that this took a lot of primping and preening. And it worked. The misty veil of preparation covered every flaw on the outside until she was perfection to the eye.

It took the life events Esther conquered over the years of her reign to bring beauty to the core of who she was.  Her later life was marked by courage and leadership and obedience to the call of God. We admired her in the beginning but we loved and respected her in the end.

Our struggles are not meant to be hidden by a false covering of perfection. They are meant to be honestly shared in an effort to help others travel the same difficult path.  I don’t mean that we have to spill every dirty detail of our failures and poor decisions.  What I do mean is when a young mother is at the end of her patience with fussy toddlers, lack of sleep and a role that she doesn’t feel she can possibly live up to, we can risk sharing the day we locked ourselves in the bathroom and screamed into a towel to keep from harming the child who pushed us over the edge.  When a woman cries out her pain from a marriage that seems doomed to fail, we can admit that the strong partnership we have today saw it’s own seemingly hopeless moments along the way.

No one sees the whole picture of a life from the outside until it’s over and the bits and pieces are remembered and pooled together to make a completed work. The important thing is to remember – we are unique and God has a specific path for us to travel. Some have more hills than others so God gives them more stamina.  Some have deeper valleys, more roadblocks, sharper turns or rougher terrain.  In every situation, God has the roadside assistance ready to respond.

It’s nice to have days when there’s enough mist (or heavy fog for some of us) to cover the blemishes and give us that soft glow of perfection.  I love it when my mascara goes on well, my outfit coordinates beautifully and there’s not a hair out of place. Those days are treasured because they are rare.

But the more precious and meaningful days  are those when someone sees our soul of overcoming struggles which left their mark, of fighting battles that left us scarred but still standing, of meeting challenges that found us exhausted but exultant in our victory.

“He makes everything beautiful in His time” is the promise.  Our prayer every morning should be, “Lord, today lead me down the path that widens the crevice to allow Your light living in me to escape and bring beauty to the world.”

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Cor 10:31

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imagesQARDRAR3Having just finished our first and very successful Community Outreach Harvest Party at church I’ve been contemplating all the parts and pieces, comments and participation that made up this event.

It was a ton of work. Planning meetings and prep and set up just about did me in. And then just keeping things running on the day of the event challenged us all.

It took a ton of prayer and faith. You never know how these things will go. You can invest a lot of time and money and see no result or you can plan for a few and end up with a bunch.

It took a ton of courage. My least favorite thing in the whole world (with the exception of peas and squash) is going door to door to hand out flyers. But – I did it and found it not nearly as intimidating as I thought it would be.

It took a ton of risk. We risked doing away with our regular Sunday morning church service to move out of the building into the parking lot to try to catch the attention of the neighbors. But just like in the stock market, sometimes risk pays off. And it did with this event. We had fun and made contact with several families we otherwise would not have.

The biggest lesson for me and I hope for others was – church isn’t all about a nice comfortable seat in a nice sterile sanctuary where you sit back and get fed. Just consider the early church and the effort it took to get it going.

In order for the first churches to get off the ground 2000 years ago, a ton of work went into the preparation. The disciples had to plan long journeys on foot, by boat and maybe on horseback. They had to map out the most efficient route and plan for finding provision and shelter along the way. A mission trip back then wasn’t jump on a plane and be on the mission field in a few hours. It took months, years even, just to get where they were going.

The startup churches took a ton of prayer and faith. After all, they were trying to change hundreds of years of tradition and belief, ritual and law. They were leaving loved ones behind, possibly to never see them again. They didn’t have a Bible to carry along with them to pull out scripture when they needed it. They were speaking the words that would become the Bible and they were praying they got it right.

To preach the word and start up new church cells took a ton of courage for sure. As evidenced in scripture, the disciples suffered much for spreading the gospel. They were beaten, imprisoned, spit on, mocked and even martyred. No doubt their families suffered as well by association.

And without doubt, risk was involved. What if no one listened? What if their friends and family turned against them? What if, what if, what if? They experienced the misinterpretation of what they had preached and had to go back and re-teach. They ministered in violent times – where the innocent were tried and convicted and crucified. Many of them had seen that firsthand!

The early church services were held on hillsides, beside sick beds, under open skies and hidden away in secret sanctuaries. They happened on stormy seas, on sandy beaches, and on crowded streets. Wherever the Word of God was offered – be it verbally or through a smile or a healing touch, by laughter and fellowshipping with the Godly men who made it their mission to teach, through soft words of comfort in tough times or shouts of joy in a baptismal stream – wherever, church happened.

The only place it probably didn’t happen back then was in cushioned chairs surrounded by painted walls and controlled temperatures.

Even though we didn’t have “church” as we have come to know it last Sunday, as my pastor said, “We were church – to the friends and neighbors who came and saw God’s people reaching out.”

Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. Luke 14:23

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