When opposition accompanies sharing the Gospel

Our church has adopted a local park as a place to show the love of Jesus by giving away free stuff, serving food, praying with people and sharing the Gospel. We call it “Community Cares” and we plan for months in advance and ask God to show us how to reach the people of our community with his love.

Saturday we hosted an egg hunt, gave out donuts/muffins and shared the Gospel through resurrection eggs in small groups on the grass.

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(Until my van dies I figure I might as well decorate it and use it for advertising. My husband won’t let me graffiti it with spray paint but how cool would that be? Like classy graffiti if there is such a thing.)

It was an incredibly awesome day and God was in that place but I will tell you it was not without a struggle.

The weather – was freezing!  The wind – flipped over two tents that couldn’t be put back up – the prayer/counseling tent. Not that prayer has to take place under a tent as seen here by the registration crew below. And not that freezing windy weather will keep people from showing up to an egg hunt. It just made it that much harder to set up. Still yet, people jumped in and served whole heartedly. 

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Another set back came when we blew a fuse and couldn’t make coffee. But the crew worked it out by getting a generator. One of our food servers got light headed and ended up having to go to the ER. She’s okay thankfully.

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The kids had plenty of eggs to hunt as we hid over 3,000 eggs and had around 125 kids. We had 200 “prize eggs” which was indicated by a slip of paper in the egg with a gold egg graphic. They turned that in later for a prize from the prize table. We also had a few dozen gift cards to give away as a raffle for the parents. So that was really fun.

After the egg hunt we gathered the kids in small groups of about 10 around the field. There were trained kids and adults sharing the resurrection eggs with their group.

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I will never forget this fellow below coming up to me with sheer delight on his face as he said, “I am just so happy right now. I can’t explain it but I am just so happy.” I asked him why and he said, “Because I just shared my first Resurrection Egg Gospel story in my life and it just feels so good!” He worked with his teacher from last year to present the Gospel to their group. A few other kids had the same opportunity and it was just amazing to see them take it so seriously and to see the impact that sharing the Good News can have, not only on the people who receive it, but those who tell it!

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There were about 10 groups of kids hearing the Gospel at the same time. Not all the kids stayed but many of them did and we were so thankful.

Honestly, I was a bit disappointed in how I handled my group. I felt scattered all morning long and was having a hard time keeping my thoughts together. I woke up that morning at 5am throwing up with a migraine. As soon as we got the park our daughter started a fever and was complaining of nausea. My head was throbbing and I was concerned about Sophie and torn between a million places. When I finally sat down to share the Gospel I was rather discombobulated. I uttered a prayer to God and said, “You gotta do this.” Our son, Mitchell, gave the Gospel story to our group and did a fantastic job. And I closed out our time with a recap of why we need Jesus and for anyone who wanted to stay after and talk more about believing in Jesus they could. I can only trust that God filled in the gaps. We committed this day to Him and so I have to leave it in his hands. I want to learn from my mistakes but also learn to leave it with Him and not overanalyze things.

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At the end of the day we loved people, we served people and we shared the Good News with people. And that’s really what we’re here for. So yeah, it was a good day. We accomplished what we felt God called us to do. There were hiccups and chaos along the way but I’m convinced that sharing the Gospel won’t ever be all crisp and clean. It will be messy and haphazard at times. And our God is big enough to work through that.

We are all people who stand in need of Jesus. We all need reminding that He is our God who is Faithful, Merciful and our one and only Hope. And these people were worth pushing through the opposition.

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The other side of the window

Her name had been given to me as somebody who could use encouragement. Someone who hadn’t seen family in long time. No visitors in a while. I walked in the nursing home room and asked for “Ms. Linda”. And there she was. Without turning around she peered out her window and quietly said, “That’s me.” She was sitting in a wheelchair with one foot propped up on the heating unit. Our eyes met and when I asked how she was doing today she explained what she was doing. Her days, made up of ten years, consist of peering out the window and dreaming. Dreaming of what she wants her days to be. Reliving old memories of childhood and teenage life when a boyfriend held her close and sang songs over her. You could tell she was in the moment as she told the story. I asked her to sing the song for me and she did. It was beautiful and you could tell it released something new inside of her. Something she hadn’t done in a long time. Singing. Funny how I had just read a blog post that morning about how singing allows us to forget who we are and brings unity among people. I really believe reading that article prompted me to ask her to sing that song. God is in everything.

Ms. Linda shared more stories with me. She talked about how both her made up dreams and reminiscing of real memories got her through her long lonely days. Longing to be outside but not able to she just imagined that she was outside. I told her it would soon be Spring and she could go outside but she didn’t seem to think “they” would take her out.

And for seven days straight I’ve had the visual of Ms. Linda parked at her window dreaming of a different life. Life on the outside so to speak. Life on the other side of the window.

I’ve been asking myself the question – How am I making the most of my life on the outside? Because my days are numbered. My ability to “go and do” will not always be the same. There will be physical and mental limitations one day. That’s not gloom and doom speaking. We love to say “Oh, don’t speak that out loud” but friends we must live in light of it. We must sense the urgency in living life for His glory right now and in the days to come. We are living many people’s dream right now and to live it without sharing God’s love and His good news is to waste this life on the other side of the window.

This is why I’m going back to share something amazing I found in scripture this week after my visit initial visit with Ms. Linda. It’s Zephaniah 3:17 and how it tells us how God is in our midst. How he will rejoice over us and quiet us with his love. That he…..wait for it…..wait for it…..He exults over us with loud singing!  I cannot wait to tell Ms. Linda that she doesn’t have to rely solely on old memories of a boyfriend singing over her as if it will never happen again. Something even better is true and happening right now…..her God is singing over her loudly. He’s in her midst and bringing comfort to her with the greatest love anyone could ever give her.

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The part of this story I haven’t shared  yet is the resistance I put up before ever walking into that nursing home. It’s true that I knew the Holy Spirit was prompting me to go and visit someone. But I didn’t want to go. This is the reality of my flesh speaking but I didn’t want to take the time or smell the smell of the nursing home. I wanted out of there so badly that as soon as I stepped foot in the nursing home I  took a call from my hubs and asked if he wanted to meet for lunch so I could escape that place. But he had other plans for lunch. And God had other plans for me.

And now I can’t.wait to get back to the nursing home this week and share what I read about God singing over us. What a sweet picture for all of us – no matter what side of the window we are living.

Praising God today for his patience with us. His love. His presence in our midst. The fact that his love for us causes him to exude over us with singing.

Praying today that we will spend our lives well living on the outside. Making the most of our time and communicating God’s love everywhere we go.

Linking with Jen and Laura today because I love their heart for God and their blogs exhibit that.

 

Community Outreach instead of Cyclical Church Events

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For the first time ever our church took Trunk R Treat to a slightly sketchy neighborhood park. We had no idea what to expect but we prayed and planned and asked God to provide us with what He knew we needed for the night. Our church family worked hard and long to create a lit up obstacle course on the playground, set up decorated tables of candy and created a “dark room” where the Gospel would be presented every 4 minutes for two and a half hours straight.

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We are a small rural town and estimate that around 1000+ people came through the park. Of those people only about 5% got their candy and skipped out on the “Dark Room” where Randy gave a short telling of the Gospel using different kinds of light to represent how we can all go from dark to light through Jesus Christ.

We got home last night and neither one of us could sleep because we were so excited about the night. What God did. How excited our church family was about what God did. It’s impossible to do what God created us to do (to know Him and share His Good News with others) and not get a thrill from it. Combine that with a sugar induced high and you got some major sleep deprivation going on. And so as I lay awake late last night these are the things that ran through my mind and heart in regards to outreach.

#1 You know your Trunk R Treat is a true “community outreach” event when there is only one Bible character that shows up out of hundreds of people and everyone mistakes “Moses” for  Gandalf. You can catch a glimpse of Gandalf’s twin, Moses, below. Love it!!!

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#2 Another way we know we’re participating in a true community outreach is when the church is serving off site. It’s easy to set up our church homes with all kinds of fun stuff and ask people to come to us – and there’s nothing wrong with that – but true outreach is when we reach out to people beyond our church property. Beyond the pews and steeples. It’s when we go to our community instead of asking them to come to us every. single. time.

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#3 Outreach is taking the love and message of Jesus to places where people are comfortable showing up. I can’t know for sure but I would say that more than half the people that came to the park last night and sat through a 3 minute sharing of the Gospel most likely don’t and would not step foot in church. We can make all kinds of judgements about people who choose to stay away from church but the bottom line is this: do we want them to hear the Gospel and be shown the love of Jesus? If so, we must be willing to serve outside the walls of our churches.

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#4 Reaching out in our communities will get messy. But it’s worth it. People will be rude. There will be times that people will take advantage of your kindness. Not necessarily often but when it happens it will make you stop in your tracks and ask yourself if it’s worth it. And we remind ourselves that it is so worth it. Remembering where we were before Christ and recalling the abundant life we now have in Christ will remind us how worth-it it is.

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#5 Outreach is not about building our church but solely about building the Kingdom of God. Sometimes that translates into our churches growing and that’s awesome but the motivating factor in outreach is to share Jesus with people expecting nothing in return. That’s why church turf guarding isn’t necessary one bit. Last night we were telling people about the other awesome churches in our community doing Trunk R Treat at their church. One person made the comment they were going to Community Baptist Church next and I had to tell them “Dude, this is Community Baptist Church!” That was an awesome moment. They said, “Really! That is so cool that ya’ll came to the community for this. Thanks for doing that.”

I’ve mentioned before that our church is learning and growing in so many areas. Getting out of our comfort zone is one of them. But we are seeing God go before us, provide for us and do through us what we could never do ourselves. One of our members looked at me last night as we were taking down the last of everything at the park and he said, “Now this was church right here.” I couldn’t say it better myself!

 

When Church Hurts

I read in an article once, “Church is not the place for infertiles, on Mother’s Day.” The author went on to explain how painfully difficult Mother’s Day at church can be for the one sitting in the pew who remains barren. Roses are given out in honor of all the Mother’s at church. Some Mother’s are awarded pies and cakes for having the most children, the youngest child or like our church did last year,”the mother who has the most toys in the back yard.”  And then there’s a sermon to follow on how to be a godly Mom. The infertile woman is sitting there thinking she just wants to be a Mom. She might even settle for being a freak-Mom let alone a godly one.This sermon is hard to hear.

I’m not ready to say,”church isn’t the place for an infertile on Mother’s Day” but I can attest to how painful it can be. From experience. It’s nobody’s fault. Just the way it is. It doesn’t mean the infertile woman shouldn’t show up to church that day and it doesn’t mean a church shouldn’t celebrate and focus on Mothers that day. It just means there might be some women that sit in their pew chairs heavy hearted that day because they’re just trying to survive. And this particular Sunday, church hurts.

We could say this about so many different issues. What about the sermon series on biblical marriage and there sits a recent divorcee who feels like this is just one more reminder of what he/she once had. Maybe a sermon issues a call for husbands to remain faithful to their wives and wives to be faithful to their husbands and there sits a man or woman whose spouse is having an affair. They both know it but haven’t shared it with anyone else. The pain and the agony that only they know. That’s when church hurts but it’s still one of the healthiest, best places to be.

In a different vein, what about the family with a disabled child that comes to church and they quickly realize there are no accommodations for their child. It’s hard enough to get their family to church and then feeling like they aren’t well prepared for can be an added stress. If they are the only family with a special needs child in a church it can quickly feel lonely. And that hurts.

What about the gay couple that you invite to church and the pastor references what scripture says about homosexuality. You might be tempted to squirm in your pew even even though you agree with scripture and what your pastor is preaching. Still awkward. You know the truth could be making that person sad or mad.

So what’s a church to do?

Stop celebrating Mother’s Day? Never preach on Biblical marriage and relationships? Stay away from passages that deal with homosexuality? Avoid families with disabilities because you’re not equipped or don’t know what to say?

No, a church that is committed to preaching God’s Word will remain faithful to that mission even when it has the potential of hurting and making us feel uncomfortable. Because when truth, spoken in grace and love, hits a raw nerve it has the potential to hurt but it’s all part of a process of growth and maturing. Some Sundays it might be a really hard truth for us personally. But scripture is meant to change us. It’s alive and active. Preaching the truth in love, with hope offered, is your pastor’s responsibility even when he knows it will cause some pain.

But I do believe there’s something we as church members can do on these “church hurts” days to show our love and concern for one another. As a Body of Believers we need to be sensitive to those around us and bear one another’s burdens.

So Mother’s Day rolls around at church. What if we stopped to think about the landscape of the people in our church family and asked God to be near those who might be really struggling on this day. Pray during the service for them.

Your Pastor is preaching on the beauty of marriage or painting a very descriptive picture of how important a Christian Father is in the home and you realize this could be painful for the single Mom whose heart is aching on the back row. Pray. Pray for her right then. And hug her a little tighter after the service? Maybe send her a note that week letting her know you are praying for her. Pity is not what we’re talking about. But caring for one another is.

Because sometimes church and the truth can hurt.

And this is when we need each other to come together in community. Don’t walk away when the truth starts hurting. We prayerfully submit ourselves to a church that is committed to teaching God’s word and when it gets tough we have those around us who are lifting us up, praying for us, praying with us and encouraging us to stay the course. That’s what church is, even when it hurts.

Have you ever been to church when it hurts? Without dogging your church, what did it look like? Were you able to be encouraged through the members of your church? If not, how did God reveal himself to you and meet you where you were?

I realize there have been many people who have been hurt by church because of just flat out stupid things that have been said or done to them. This is not what I’m talking about today. Stories of people being abused by church leadership or being looked down on in church because of what they wore or how they looked is sickening to me. There’s no place for that. But I’m reminded that church is made up of very broken people – even the pastor and his wife and kids are broken. Trust me people, we’re all broken. (This would be the perfect place for me to insert a story about how a certain pastor’s kid repeated something in PE that he read at home that included a cuss word and how that got him in deep doo doo. But I’m not ready to share that part of brokenness yet. No, not yet.)

So if you’ve been hurt by church I want to say that there’s still a place for you. Don’t give up. I’m sorry if it hurts right now. But keep your heart open and trust God to work inside you something so beautiful you can’t even imagine. The church was God’s idea and it’s brilliant. Don’t miss out just because it hurts sometimes.

 

 

The aroma of Christ

 

Sophie and I had so much fun making a pound cake this morning to take to some of our new neighbors. When the cake had cooled down we divided it into four sections to take to our neighbors. Sophie and Mitchell cut some flowers out of the yard and wrapped up in a wet paper towel for each neighbor and we started on our route. Sophie carried the cake in her baby stroller and Mitchell used a fertilizer spreader thingy to carry the flowers in. You know how heavy flowers and a few pieces of cake can be.

We got to our first neighbor’s house and reintroduced ourselves since we had only met one other time. We knew she was a widow but that was all. She invited us in and we had a great time talking in her kitchen. She was excited about the warm pound cake and flowers but here’s what caught my attention….. she was most touched by the handwritten note we had made with our names and home number. I wrote them out for her in case she ever needed anything. Of course we are sincere with it but never did I realize how much this would mean to her. Soon after chatting with our new neighbor we went next door and met another neighbor, also a widow. The exact same thing: loved the flowers and pound cake but more appreciative of the phone number and names written out. On our way out she again thanked us for giving her our contact information. I just never knew how much that would mean to our neighbors.

I also had an interesting experience at the grocery store last night. Randy and the kids were at Dollar Tree and I ran into the grocery store to get a few things. I was in a rush and so I started to squeeze by a lady in a motorized grocery cart and then thought better of it and slowed down. I waited for her to move but she motioned for me to go ahead of her. When I passed by her I could hear her breathing heavy and she didn’t look so good. I took a few steps back towards her and asked if she was okay. She explained that she had some disease (can’t remember what it’s called)  that is very painful and she had been out all day and was just exhausted. She was getting a few items and then going home to get in bed. I just simply asked her if I could get her grocery items for her and bring them back to her while she sat and waited. I had no clue the impact this would make on her. Ya’ll, this precious woman stood up so fast you’d think she’d just been slapped in the head and insta-healed by Benny Hinn. She then gave me a strangling bear hug and planted a huge kiss on my cheek and said, “You are a kind woman. I can’t believe you would offer to do that for me. Thank you so much but I have a CNA that is coming in to help me.”  I told Randy it was like I had offered to give her a thousand bucks or something.

I’m just amazed at how little it takes to really touch a tiny part of someone’s soul…. a stranger’s soul. It reminds me of the power of the love of Christ. The love of Christ compels us to do things for others and it doesn’t always make sense to the world. To be honest, it doesn’t always make sense to me either. But I know it’s real.  I think this is the aroma of Christ that Paul talks about in the Bible. When we show the love of Christ we leave a sweet fragrance, unique to Christ. I don’t know about you but I want to be leaving a sweet Jesus smell to those around me. Sometimes I get it and then other times I fail miserably. I’ll be sharing later this week how God is really speaking to me right now through my failed attempts at loving well. I’m in a major construction zone right now where God is tearing down old parts of me and hopefully building up new and more Christ like parts.

That Guy

What do you do when you see that guy? You know who I’m talking about. The old, grungy looking guy that represents hundreds of others in various forms.  It’s the person that you’ve encountered at a red light, at the airport or in the parking lot of the grocery store.  He or she comes up to you and asks for some money to buy something to eat because they’re hungry.

If you’re like me, you’ve been taught to smile apologetically, cock the head sideways and say, “Sorry, but no” or, if you feel compelled, you do the noble thing and go buy them a hamburger. And if the truth be known, sometimes the reason we buy them a hamburger is not so much to fill a hunger issue as much as it is to avoid an alcohol or cigarette issue. It’s almost like saying, “ Aha! I know what you really want the money for. You won’t trick me, I’ll just go and buy you what you’re saying you want.” Okay, so maybe it’s not really that bad, but close. We don’t want to contribute or enable a bad habit and so we think this response is spiritually noble, not to mention one step ahead of the person asking for money.

Last week we were eating at McDonald’s and a man of lowly means came to our table and looked directly into my eyes and asked if I had a little bit of money so he could get something to eat. I looked him square in the eye, without a hint of remorse, and said, “No, I don’t.” He left and went to the next booth. Mitchell asked me what he said and I told him and we went on eating our lunch. A few minutes later, out of nowhere, a verse that I recently read came flooding across my mind and heart. This is what it says:

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And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
 

I looked at Randy and attempted to paraphrase the above verse that I just now copied/pasted from my Bible Software. When I was recalling the verse it didn’t exactly come out like the above verse. It was more like, “Randy, what do we do with that verse that talks about someone asking for your coat and you’re to give him your britches also and then take a walk for a few more miles than intended, etc.” We both just sat there and then felt like we needed to go back and give him some money. So Randy went and gave some money to him. Whether we were buying him a cheap glass of wine or not, I don’t know. I do know Randy had given this guy a ride a few weeks prior. He’s had multiple surgeries and not in a great place in life. I’m glad I’m not dealing with the stuff he’s dealing with.

I feel like God is trying to teach me something because just a few weeks ago I was at a stop light and a man in a wheel chair very aggressively power rolled his wheelchair almost into the ladies tire in front of me. He motioned for her to roll her window down. She did the “pretend he’s not there look” and just stared straight ahead. This was irritating the man in the wheelchair and it was sort of freaking me out a bit because I knew I would be next in line if she didn’t roll down her window. He was a scary looking man and I didn’t want to talk to him. I was getting frustrated that he would drive in the middle of the road and then get upset that the woman wouldn’t roll down her window. The light turned green and we all drove by the man in the wheel chair quickly pursuing our next task without much physical effort. And then the thought crossed my mind that maybe I just blew off an angel. For real, do you ever wonder about that verse in Hebrews? The one that says to entertain strangers and that some people in doing so have entertained angels. RRrrikes!!!! Well, angel or not, I felt like Jesus was spurring me to think about the man I just so carelessly drove by. I heard phrases in my heart like “ you do for ME when you do for the least of these”.

I learned a powerful lesson a few years back. We had bought a low income family some clothes for the kids and given shoes to them and later found out that the kids never got to wear them because the parents had returned them for money/ cigarettes. I can’t tell you how badly this ate me up. Randy really helped me work this through though. And he said, “Melody, sometimes we’re going to get burned, even in doing what God has put on our heart. But is it worth it if we know we’ve done what God asked us to do? We can’t control anything that happens after we’ve done what we feel God put on our heart so we need to let it rest.”  Um, wow. And this is why I love my man so much. He just sets me straight right when I need it, which happens to feel like all the stinkin’ time.

So here’s where I am in my spirit with this issue right now: I want to be sensitive enough to the Holy Spirit so that when someone asks me for anything I will sense if it’s the right thing to do based on what I sense from the Holy Spirit….not based on if I think the end result will look like what I want it to (a nice warm burger combined with a cordial invite to church).  I don’t want to necessarily have a pat answer or a routine way of handling things all lined up in my head ( if they have alcohol on their breath then it’s an automatic NO WAY HOSEA) …..that takes away from the creativity and unique leading of the Holy Spirit.  I long to trust God in these situations, who knows everything about the person on the other side of the story. I may never know the other side of the story but maybe in heaven I’ll learn that I just gave $10 to an angel or treated a celestial being to their first Whopper. How cool would that be? I totally want to do that, don’t you? Nah, I just want to treat others the way Jesus would. Even if it means getting burned a few times. I just can’t see Jesus getting annoyed with either of the men that were asking for money this past week.

What about you? What do you do when you see that guy asking for money?

 

Loving your Neighbor – I might have failed

We weren’t sure if our neighbors would show up for our neighborhood open house last night or not because the weather has been icy and cold. But they did come! Our first guest was the attorney who closed on our house for us. He and his wife live two doors down from us and it was great to see them again. They came to the door and as soon as they walked in another lady showed up at the front door. She wasn’t as dressed up as everyone else but that didn’t matter. And neither did the cigarette in her hand really. So I opened the door and invited her in. She quickly threw out the lit cigarette behind her and I was hoping like crazy it wasn’t going to catch the new porch furniture on fire. I tried real hard not to follow the flying cigarette with my overly concerned eyes.  I opened the door for her to come in and introduced myself to her.

I knew something wasn’t right when she couldn’t remember her last name. All she kept saying was, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” Her speech was slurred, she smelled of alcohol and the more we talked in the foyer the less confused I became. This woman was clearly drunk and she had just crashed our party.

Randy was in the other part of the house showing our other neighbors around the house. The kids are running around somewhere and I’m left with this very apologetic drunk woman and I had no clue what to do. I said to the woman, “Umm, are you my neighbor?” She started telling me about her sister and what she did for a living. I awkwardly said, “Weeell…..uhm, you see,  we’re kind of having an open house for our neighbors tonight so I was just sort of wondering if you got one of those little invitation thingies?” (We had dropped off invitations to everyone on our street but didn’t know who many of the people were) She said, “Naw, didn’t get one. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Still trying to assess the situation I said, “Let me get you some…… some…. I couldn’t remember what was supposed to help with the little issue we had going on….warm milk? water? a grape juice capri sun? I was desperately trying to pull it up. I knew there was something that was supposed to help but for the life of me I couldn’t recall what it was. This is all happening in the foyer while everyone else totally deserted me. She leans into me and whispers in my ear, “Well, I really wanted some alcohol.”

I said, “Well, I think you’ve already had a little bit tonight haven’t you?” She whole heartedly agreed and then I informed her we had no alcohol in the house. But we did have cider and coffee. “Would you like some?” I asked. I felt like I did when our kids reach for a handful of m&m’s and I say, “Nope, but you can have some healthy broccoli spears, would you like that?”

As soon as I offered the cider she made a 180 turn and about walked through the front glass door she so mysteriously appeared at.

About that time some more neighbors walked in and I welcomed them in while our other friend walked out. As she walked out she stumbled onto the sidewalk and ended up sitting down on the ground in a drunken heap. I went back out to talk to her because I was feeling partially guilty for not wanting  her to come inside and join the rest of us… but I did offer  her  something to drink and she didn’t like what I had to offer so I was thinking I had done my part.

At one point I had asked her if she was okay and she started to cry and told me about a problem with a family member. As I hugged her I asked her if she knew the only One person who can help her through all this. She said, “God?” I said, “Yes. You can’t even help yourself but God can help you and he loves you right where you are.”

But was I loving her right where she was to the fullest?

I knew she wouldn’t remember any of this the next day or possibly even the next hour but I desperately was trying to know how to respond to this woman.  I kept wondering in my head, “How would Jesus respond to this woman if it was his open house? Would he usher her out quickly sending her the unspoken message she didn’t belong? Would he invite her in but run to go hide the frankincense, gold and myrrh?” I don’t know, but a few things do come to mind when I consider how Jesus might have responded to this woman.

Matthew 9:10-13

10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”

12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Was I extending the mercy to the extent Jesus desires? I’m still wondering about that.

And then there’s that time when Jesus invited himself over to Zacchaeus’ house. He had been drawn to the desperate and somewhat childish behavior Zacchaeus exhibited when he scaled a tree so he could see Jesus.

Luke 19:1-10

19 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”  6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.'”

8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

I have a few thoughts rumbling around in my heart in regards to these verses (and others) and in relation to this party crasher woman. My first inclination is to say that “party crasher girl” wasn’t exactly seeking Jesus like Matthew and Zacchaeus was and so that allows a way out at feeling compelled to making this seemingly misfit guest a part of the celebration. Whew! I’m covered and totally justified in sending this woman back to her home….and quickly I might add.  However, my thought breaks down when I look at the fact that Jesus is the one who approached Matthew, in the midst of his tax collecting-ness.

Jesus went after Matthew, the sinner. Jesus went after the tax collector while he (Jesus) was surrounded by religious dignitaries….religious people who knew better than to invite the alcoholic in their home for the sake of what others might think and for the sake of how it might alter the perfectly planned social gathering. This is also where I love to say “But I’m NOT Jesus and I don’t have the same effect on people as Jesus because he was and is God. I can’t do the things Jesus did.” But yet he tells me to be the aroma of Christ…..to have the smell of Jesus on me.   And so I am to strive to treat others in a way that Jesus, who came after Melody, the sinner, would treat others. I just don’t always know what that looks like. There are obvious lines one must draw. I feel like many times my lines are drawn much much quicker than they should be at times.

It’s interesting that just this week I shared an email with Dacia Bray, coordinator for Safehouse in Atlanta, GA. We’ve had a few conversations through email the last few months and as I went back and re-read my email to her I am humbled, embarrassed and disgusted at my arrogance at the thought that I’ve figured out how to relate to the marginalized. This is what I said to her three days ago: (when I refer to the church I am referring to the universal church as a whole…not just our church)

“…..My desire is to see the church group mix with the marginalized. I would love to talk to you about this another day…..because honestly both parties seem to be equally uncomfortable with each other….homeless, low income mixed with middle to upper class men and women who genuinely love God but feel awkward around a different socioeconomical class…..this was so foreign to the heart of Christ. How do we bridge that gap? How do we make a person coming off the streets in tattered and dirty clothes feel comfortable coming into our home, our church, etc. I’m speaking from the perspective of a church. Me and my family totally are comfortable around our friends who are less fortunate……”

I know God is speaking to me about these things. I regret feeling like I know how to “handle” certain types of people. I’ve missed it completely when I am at that stage of thinking. I just want to love the way Jesus loved and I’m realizing it will not always look neat, tidy and socially appropriate.

So yeah, I’m still processing all these things. And while we had an absolutely fabulous time with our neighbors last night, I can’t get my uninvited neighbor out of my head. We got her a safe ride home so I don’t worry in that sense but I want to keep pondering these things and have a feeling I will for quite some time.

Lord, keep it coming. Keep drawing my heart closer to the heart of you, so much so that I will not wrestle so hard with how far to love. That it will just flow out of me in a way that smells like you. In a way that is not concerned with what other people think or with how it effects me and my plans. Let it be so, Lord.

Cussing PK’s

Meeting new people and getting to know your neighbors is a great ministry opportunity but it can also be a risky thing. You just don’t know how different your neighbors are or how different their values are. Yet we are called to love those around us and to show Christ to them….and how can you really do that without getting to know people.

This week I was reminded of this risk as I heard Sophie take the Lord’s name in vain. And I don’t mean saying, “Oh my God”. It was even worse, in my opinion. She looked at some cookies, Halloween cookies to be exact,  we had just made and said, “Oh Loward Jeeeesus, those are awesome!” I was so taken back by it but I knew exactly where she had heard it. From our new friend we had just met and were playing with. I heard her say the Lord’s name in vain several times and I warned Mitchell that she might not know who God is or how that using his name loosely like that is not something that shows love towards God. Our friend had said “Lord Jesus”, “God” and “Lord!” a number of times but I was trying to give it some time before I shared with her some of our house rules. We had only known her for a an hour and I really didn’t want to scare her away. But when Sophie came out with that I had to address it immediately.

Figuring the answer already but wanting to be sure, I asked Sophie if she was talking to the Lord Jesus when she called out his name. She said, “No.” So I explained to her why we don’t say God’s name in ways when we’re mad or even excited. How He’s the most important person in the entire Universe and we don’t throw his name around without having purpose in it…only when talking to Him directly or talking about Him to someone else.

She listened carefully. Our new friend was listening intently and finally she looked at me and said, “I say that all the time. So does my stepbrother.” I had a quick moment to explain softly to her that we don’t say that in our house. Mitchell pipes up in the background and he says to the girl, “Don’t worry, I used to say it too. But I don’t any more.”  It humbled me so fast in my almost super spiritual tracks. It brought me back to the same scenario with a neighbor boy back in GA. He took God’s name in vain several times and I finally pulled him aside and explained to him why that was not a good thing. Mitchell had picked it up by the end of the day and said it a few times after that. We walked him through the same thing and he finally understood. So he was bringing this up again and so humbly and innocently shared with our new friend how he once had done the same thing. There’s something beautiful about that kind of openness. Childlike innocence. Humility. Not afraid to say out loud you actually sin. Man, I can learn so much from my cussin’ kids.

These things remind me that spirituality is indeed messy. It can involve picking up, as if a contagious virus, dirty things like cussing, arguing, and lying. Many times it’s just our own sinful nature and desires. Other times it’s the direct influence of others. Guarding ourselves from these influences is necessary but alienating ourselves from people with these issues is not the answer.  Instead, praying for opportunities to share Christ in our neighborhoods and work places will help us fulfill the great commission. It will require setting aside fears, letting go of some control and having lots of conversations with your kids and your kids’ friends. And when one friend comes to know Jesus personally and is given hope in the midst of their dysfunctional hell or their self sufficient, well maintained affluent hell…..it is so worth it. Because it’s exactly what we’re created for.

Ministry of the Playground

Being at home with small children is a wonderful privilege and provides such awesome platforms for ministry. Sometimes it’s easy to get so family focused that we forget about our neighbors and other families in our community. We use the excuse that “our kids are our ministry” and we stick our heads in the family sandbox and never give a second thought to other families that need encouragement. I do agree that our families are one of our ministries as Christian women but God has called us to even more while loving and training our children. Finding that balance can be tricky but it’s possible.

I’d like to share with you an incredible platform for an outreach ministry for stay at home Moms with preschool age children. Very little time is involved and no ordination required. It’s the idea of forming a playgroup. A playgroup is simply a group of Mom’s who have preschool aged kids that get together during the week for one hour to play. It can be once a week or twice a month. Whatever works for your group. Starting a community playgroup for the purpose of building relationships with other people has been an incredibly effective tool in sharing Christ with others and facilitating ministry on a number of different levels.

A friend and I sat at her kitchen table and talked about this playgroup idea eight years ago. We prayed and asked God to show us what to do. We started to meet every other Tuesday at the park in town and brought our kids. It was just the two us at first. We met other kids & Moms at the park and told them we’d be coming back and we should all try to get together again. We told some of our friends at church to come and they did. They told other friends and they came as well. After seeing the interest build we decided to branch out from just meeting at the park and we would meet at the creek and do a painting project and have watermelon. Then we’d gather our group for a hay ride during October. The Apple Orchard was a hit and so were the rainy days at someone’s house who was brave enough to have the playgroup over. Advertising was word of mouth. It meant looking for Moms that were already at the park with their children and telling them about our playgroup and inviting them to come. It was free. And it was fun. And they came! After a few months of getting together God began to give some neat opportunities to talk about the church we went to. One Mom started attending our church and eventually became very involved in our children’s ministry and ended up being the next leader of the community playgroup and doubled its size. At that point several churches were represented in our playgroup,….awesome!…..and so when new people came to playgroup and the topic of church eventually came up there were options and diversity represented which is always a great thing. We saw Moms reaching out to other Moms who were struggling. A single Mom connected with one of our regular attending playgroup Moms and I watched a mentoring process begin. It was informal but strategic. Their relationship still exists today and God has transformed both of these women as a result of their relationship, which all began at the blue slides on a Tuesday morning.

Moms with kids, doing ministry. Not ordained pastors, although I’m all for that. I married one. But we’re talking about tired Moms & their snotty nosed kids, doing the work of the ministry. Yeah, that’s what it’s about right there.

If you have a little one at home and you feel that God is nudging you to get out there and show the love of Christ then consider starting up a playgroup.

Some basics that might help you get started…..

  • Find one other Mom  and pray about starting a Playgroup in your community. Listen to what God might put on your heart.
  • Start visiting a local park/playground in your town with your child/ren. Pray while pushing little Johnny on the swings that God might give you some divine opportunities to meet and connect with other Moms.
  • Start meeting every other Tuesday from 10-11am (or whatever works for you) and bring extra snacks to share with those who “happen” to be there. And then invite those random park friends to the next Tuesday’s play date.
  • Eventually print up a schedule of dates & times you’ll be meeting and where and keep extra copies in your diaper bag and in the car. Give these out as you meet Moms with kids. You will be totally amazed at the people you start to meet when you begin this ministry. When we ask Him to help us love and reach out to others He does it because it’s the very reason we’re here.
  • Remember that the purpose is not to grow your church through a “sneaky playgroup”. It’s to form relationships for the purpose of sharing Christ. You may never talk about your church or God for the first several months and that’s okay. Wait for God to lead you into those divine conversations. This is why prayer is critical. We can’t change people. But we know the One who can and as one of our good friends says, “If we had the cure for cancer wouldn’t we be telling everyone around us about it?” Indeed, we would. And so as believers in Christ, who know “The Way, the Truth and the Life”, why would we remain silent?

Playgroup Ideas beyond playing at the park……

  • Meet at an ice cream shop
  • Meet at the Fire Station for a demonstration (call ahead and ask if they will let your playgroup come….they always have for us)
  • Painting at the picnic tables at the park was always a hit ( tell moms to bring an old shirt….cheap paints at Michaels when 50% off)
  • Meet at a children’s museum
  • Hayrides, Apple Orchards, Dairy….all places willing to work with playgroups and typically give discounts on groups
  • Story Hour at the Library as a group
  • Nature Walk …bring brown lunch sacks for outdoor treasure

I could go on but I love the fact that God will give us the creativity to do the things He calls us to. And it will most likely look different for each person which is also pretty cool.

Well, if you decide to do something like this, and you have questions feel free to email me at bowlofwedgies@yahoo.com. I’d be glad to pray with you about your playgroup.

If you have experience in some sort of Mom Ministry (a ministry you can accomplish while having a young’n cling to your knees) please share it with us. I know there are lots of awesome things going on out there and I’d love to hear about it.

Faces of Ministry – Part One

Ministry is a beautiful catalyst in which God uses his followers to show the world who He is.

 Wikipedia defines ministry as: activity by Christians to spread or express their faith.

There are misconceptions that ministry primarily takes place in the church and by church people like preachers, priests and paid leaders.  This is so far from the truth and design of God. And the belief of this lie can stunt the growth of Christian ministry. The reality is that most of our ministry opportunities take place outside the church and by lay Christians because we’re in our work places and homes more than we are at church just by the nature of real living.

Where a Christian is is where his/her ministry is. It lies in how we view our coworkers, interact with our neighbors, train our children and love those around us. For the stay at home Mom it might look like taking a meal to someone or visiting with a neighbor while your child explores your neighbor’s house. I know, how embarrassing right? That’s what our preschool age daughter did every time we’d go visit someone early on. We had to train her not to go looking into bedrooms and closets. It was rather awkward on occasions but such is ministry with a curious three year old.

Ministry can be messy and it rarely looks like what is in our heads – you know the picture…..the one of your pastor wearing a white robe and a halo hovering over his theology filled head offering words of wisdom to a wounded soul. Just scrap that thought because it doesn’t exist. Ministry is when Jesus lives and loves through His followers so that other people can see Him and also become His followers. It doesn’t require a seminary degree and it’s not confined to clean-cut, Jesus looking type people. Ministry is not a formal thing that happens on Sundays or at church events. It might happen there and sadly many times it doesn’t happen there.

Ministry can involve something as silly as spending time with a group of kids at a McDonald’s all because your approach to it is intentional. It might be weaved in your approach to a block party with your neighborhood. Or a end of school party for your child.  Ministry happens easily on a work break with coffee in hand and when the Holy Spirit sets you up for an opportunity to share how the Truth of God’s love changed and impacted you.

Ministry is relational. It takes time and often times it’s uncomfortable or awkward feeling. But that’s okay and it’s not a cue to give it up to the so-called-professionals.

Ministry is intentional living. It could be as simple as praying before entering the grocery store and asking God to open your eyes to the one who might need help around you. Or getting to know your neighbor better by having her over for a simple lunch.

Ministry is reaching out to people on their turf even if you have no interest in their turf. It might mean attending an event with someone that is important to them but that you have no interest in. I think of a time when a neighbor invited me to a specific event that I had no interest in whatsoever but because I had been praying for this person and that God might use me in her life I was thrilled when she invited me just so I could have the opportunity to spend time with her. And it opened up other opportunities down the road to be able to share more of who God is.

True ministry is Spirit led and fueled by prayer, not just a compassionate heart doing what a compassionate person does. And if we’re honest, we’ll admit that sometimes we don’t like the specific task God calls us to through ministry. Because sometimes God calls us to things we’d never dream of doing for various reasons: too scared, too costly, too risky, too weird……and we start that whole “did I hear you right, God? Lord, send a hot pink sparkly good year blimp in the air at 3:04pm today if that’s really what you want me to do because I will so be your girl if you send that sign today. For real. I will. Oh, and lets add a lightening bolt behind the blimp for good measure so I don’t have to really do this. I mean, just to show your power.” Instead, ministry is praying and asking God for guidance so often that when it comes we recognize it as coming from Him.

My prayer is that as followers of Jesus Christ we will be open to where He leads us. That we will understand that it’s His power and work in us that facilitates ministry – not a title, a degree or a position. And that together we can advance the Kingdom of God.