Thursday, March 23, 2006

Hearts to God ~ Hands to Serve

What a wonderful thing it is to "retreat" together! Last weekend, our local women's ministry group had a retreat that was fresh, and life giving! In with the theme, "Hearts to God ~ Hands to Serve", the retreat coordinator did an awesome job creating a relevant and poignant series of general sessions and bonding activities. I would venture to guess that none of us will be the same as a result of our time together.

Helping the coordinator with the "behind the scenes planning", I was able to hear her heart, and help her watch the very ideas she had in mind take shape and be lived out in front of her. After asking her what she felt the Lord was laying on her heart as far as retreat details went, we set out to see what the Lord would open the doors for us to do. What a thrill it was for both of us to see what God could do with a willing vessel who heard His voice, and put feet to the plans of God. God simply moved in magnificent ways, and the details came together, with her heart's desire becoming reality.

We met the first night for dinner and a general session featuring a wonderful speaker who shared many thoughts and Scriptures about the heart. There is something so powerful about a speaker's testimony that really builds "community" - and this true bond that occurs genuinely, comes in an instant through the spoken acknowledgement of the power of God in a life. Oh, how we all must purpose to be transparent, showing others how in our weaknesses, Jesus makes us strong. In this, He is magnified, and multitudes are drawn to Him.

We watched a skit that hit home with each and every woman - the subject matter, a young mom who needed someone to reach out to her with the love of Christ, is one that we could all relate to for sure! Oh, how we must be a people who will stop in the middle of the most rushed of days to meet the needs of those around us! To offer a smile, a prayer, or a "cup of water in His name"...oh, how our communities would truly be transformed.

After the formal session, the joy on the faces of friends gathered in fellowship couldn't be contained, and the simple pleasure of having "game night" is one that we so rarely get to enjoy anymore - especially with our sisters in Christ! Ladies laughing, joking, and playing a board game together is such a sweet thing to see! Fun...just because.

The next day was so much more that I can convey - what power there is in the servant heart who shines forth the light of Jesus to a city in need. We heard our speaker give a wonderful session on "why" we should serve others, and how it is an overflow of our love for God...but then, as a tremendous testimony to a people who mean what they say, and live what we believe, we took a "field trip." Yep, a field trip. During the retreat.

We all packed into cars, and drove a few miles to visit a ministry that touches so many lives, but calls no attention to their deeds. They simply commit to feeding the hungry, to praying for hurt and needy souls, and meet whatever other needs they have resources to match. They are "walking out" their faith day by day - using the provision God gives them to bless those with none. Being the light He calls us to be.

We heard the testimony of a woman who God has spent decades preparing, shaping, calling, and using for His purposes. She, without question or desire for recognition, has answered the call of her Father, and feeds anyone who comes to the door...or meets her on her path...and she is the most beautiful child of God that I think I have ever met. So loving, so wise, and so dedicated. So eager to tell the nameless that they have a name, and that they have a Father in heaven who loves them. So eager to do whatever it takes - not for the sake of works, but for the sake of the cross. Oh my. What a day it was indeed!

The most emotional part of the whole trip for me was seeing dear sweet women with a passion for God and a desire to help others walk into this unassuming warehouse, only a few miles from their houses, and gasp as they realized that such a ministry existed right in their "back yard." They had no idea! They had never heard of the ministry, seen it in action, or met the feisty woman who answered God's call to run the place.

We served along side her, helping with a variety of tasks that needed to be done. She had a quiet morning set aside for us to help her get ready for the crowd she knew would be coming. She knew their needs would be large, and that God would provide for them all. She knew that God had sent us to help her in her time of need. Imagine that! We, who were off on a weekend of fellowship, wound up serving along someone who needed help in blessing others. She was blessed, but I believe we received the true blessing by being exposed to her servant heart and her desire to care for those who considered themselves "invisible."

Best of all, the women who were with us at the retreat all knew that God had taken them to this warehouse filled with the love of God - not just for a field trip, but for a life change. Many of them committed to going back to serve another day. A spark grew into a flame that day, in many, many hearts.

Some of the ladies with us that day may have even seen that God does provide in an even more tangible way, harboring secret needs that the majority of women their would never know about, instantly knowing that there was a place that they could go in a time of need. Who knows, they may even need to get a meal, or supplies, much like the ones they helped assemble.

I guarantee we all know someone who has gotten help there. Whether we ever hear about it or not, people in our midst have received a meal, or other supplies when no one else would lend a hand. And that is the beauty of serving God. Whether we are serving, or find ourselves on the receiving end of the help, God is still glorified. To me, this is the essence of the double blessing in Scripture. God blesses those who give, and those who receive. God is all about the "win - win"! What an honor it is to serve Him. What an honor it is to give Him all the glory!

After a lunch and a return trip to the conference site, we closed up our time together with one of the sweetest closing sessions I have seen in this particular ministry's retreats. The speaker, who served right along side of us, touched our hearts with her words once again, and inspired us to keep on seeking the Lord for ways to serve others.

And then, my friends, we prayed. Not because it was on the program, and not because it was a "good idea"...but because a prayer warrior sensed the Lord calling her to ask for prayer requests, and stood up with boldness to ask for ladies to pour out their requests, which they did. What we experienced was not just a closing prayer, it was a joining prayer. We joined our hands, and knitted our hearts as we called on the God of the Bible on behalf of the needs conveyed.

Oh, how the Lord touched us through that prayer. Oh, how we ached for those who hurt, and had joy for those who were in a time of victory. This is what the Lord is looking for. A people who will seek Him, serve Him, and fall on their knees before Him. Even on a fellowship weekend. For true fellowship is focused on Him!

What a retreat. What a wonderful retreat coordinator. I pray that the Lord will continue to open her heart and give her more ways to serve Him. She has such a sweet spirit, and such a love for Him. I praise God for her willingness to "think outside the box" and I am so proud of her! She listened to God, and acted on it. She walked out in faith, and God blessed the multitude through her obedience.

Much love in Christ,


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Relational Two Step

Oh, to truly be a relational people. We strive for it. We hunger for it. We love to communicate, to relate, and to connect. But are we truly connected? Do we truly relate, or are we simply congregating? When we find ourselves networking with others, are we truly seeing the heart of their life? Do we hurt when they hurt, love the things they love, and understand the passions that drive them? Do we stop everything we are doing to pray with them, listen to them, and have compassion for them in their time of struggle? Do we celebrate the victories of their lives with them? Do we peek into the window of their soul, and do we really see the desires of their heart? Somehow, I think we, as the body of believers, fall way short.

We cannot possibly know other people's deepest thoughts if we are only wanting to be "relational" with them according to the standards in our culture today. Sure, we have brought that buzz word into our religious circles, but what actions are we really connecting the word to? The modern version of "relational" seems much more of a calculated form of communication, where we set aside time, gather in a room, and talk about the things that we know we can agree on. That is fellowship, not relationship. Casual conversation is not true relationship. We have become masters of bringing people together...but are they really unified, or simply corralled?

We keep our conversational script to the list of things we agree on, and keep so far back from eachother's pressure points that we spend time talking about ideal ideologies, and perfect scenarios...overlooking the very biases, lifestyles and struggles that we face on a daily basis. We stick to the fellowship basics, with our "masks" in tact. "How are you? Where do you work? What kind of things do you like to do? Let's meet and discuss the ways we can join together." That is easy! I can do that with success with the bully from my third grade class. But is that the extent of what God wants when we seek to be "relational for His sake"? I think we are only half way there.

If we only had a casual understanding that there was a Jesus, and never understood what He did, why He did it, and why we will never be the same as a result of it, then we will never have truly experienced relationship with Him. Even those who will never accept Jesus as their Savior will acknowledge that a really great guy named Jesus lived a long time ago. They may even call Him a prophet. But unless He is their Savior, they never experience true relationship with Him. Jesus is the one and only Savior for mankind, and to understand that fact is to understand Him...which leads to relationship with Him. It is who He is.

Each and every one of us was created with a specific calling, passion. We all have burdens, struggles, victories and a unique emotional make up. We all have things that make us distinct, and when others begin to understand our distinctiveness that lies under the superficial surface of small talk, then they begin to enter relationship with us. The "unmasked" portions of our lives are the subjects of true relational conversations.

To be relational in God's framework means to love the whole heart of those around us, understanding the reality of who they are, and why they respond in the ways they do. We will embrace their struggles, as seen in Galatians 6:2, "Bear one another's burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ." Also, "we know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." (1 John 3:16)

Do we relate, hence become relational, even with each other's struggles? Do we sympathize or empathize? Do we try to understand why things are suggested, or why people react in the way they do, or do we simply want to relate in a uniform way that never touches the recesses of who we really are?

Do we realize how the very words we say show others what we really think of them? For truly, "The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart." (Luke 6:45)

No matter what issues each of us have in our past, no matter what struggles we currently face, I truly believe that God wants us to be relational. Relational in a way that is shown in Galatians 6:9-10, "And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially those who are of the household of faith."

Why? Because, Jesus has given us very clear direction. To Him, being relational goes back to this, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35)

Is love equal to relational? In God's economy, it has such a deeper level of responsibility than that of the world's definition. For "if you love Me [Jesus], you will keep My commandments." (John 14:15, bracket my addition).

This comes from Jesus, our example of a perfect relational life, who also says that "I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father, but through Me." (John 14:6)

As we love Jesus, and accept His gift of salvation, we will obey His commands. When we obey His commands, we will not be able to contain the love that we have for others, as it will be an overflow of our heart that is full of our deep abiding love for our Savior.

We will begin to hurt when others are hurting, for we follow a compassionate God. We will understand that the ways of God do not always fit with a logical explanation of why we should do something, or how we should proceed with a task - for God's ways are not our ways. "Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and in truth." (1 John 3:18)

We will understand that God's big picture is that we will all be reconciled to Him, not to the world, or the standards of the world. Our relationship with Him, and with other believers through Him will be our priority. We are not here to make the world a perfect place, we are here to share the perfect gospel with a lost world, and let God get the glory. God is the creator and sustainer of all things, and only He can perfect that which He has created.

As we walk in faith and in relationship with our Savior, we will begin to walk in genuine relationship with those around us. Step by step, not process by process. Step by step, not network by network. Step by step, not relational community by relational community. We will walk together, arm in arm, showing the world the true manifestation of relationship, as "whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did." (1 John 2:6, NIV) For only when true relationship occurs will the body of Christ begin to look like the body - with all races, ages, demographics and music preferences all praising the God of the Bible in unison...uncompromisingly and unashamed of the Jesus they love.

Much love in Christ,


Thursday, March 09, 2006

In the Fellowship of Friends

What a wonderful thing it is when we meet together with other believers! Yes, we are called to be salt and light, and yes, we are to witness to the lost world around us...but so sweet are the times when we are able to "fill back up" with those who love our Lord! We all must continue to grow, and we all must never cease to sit under someone else's teaching. None of us get so mature in our walk with the Lord that we can't learn from someone else!

I simply adore the Bible study teachers of the classes I am attending. There are three specific forums I attend currently - and each one is led by a woman as different as the next - yet together, their collective passion for the Lord is unmistakeable.

One is cool, calm and collected as she shares insight and guides discussion time. Her wisdom and servant heart exude from her pours, and she is an amazing mentor in so many ways. The fruit of the spirit are in full bloom in her life. What a dear sweet friend, and what a love she has for us, and for our God. Her gentle way of teaching us and guiding us do more for our walk with the Lord than we may ever realize. I praise God for her!

The next, is so amazingly scholarly, so wonderfully detailed, that our time together feels as though we have been allowed to sit on the back row of a seminary class and hear the insight of the theological masters. Her steady presentation of information, and her love for the things of God move us to want to learn more each time. She points us to Jesus!

And yet, on another day, I am able to bask in the sheer joy of a teacher who loves the Word, shares the Word from her heart with excitement and jubilant tone, bringing us all to a new appreciation for having the "joy of the Lord". She is simply addicted to the Word, and challenges us to be the same.

The personalities and approaches may seem different, but the message is the same. Love the Lord, and love His Word. Amen to that! I marvel at the creative ways that God uses us to tell others of His goodness - wrapped up in our own individual style and delivery, but sharing His same, consistent message.

To be able to sit, learn, share, and grow with other women who I love dearly, and to watch a radiantly faced teacher share from her heart the exciting things that God has revealed to her as she has prepared to share the lesson with us, is just the most wonderful thing! Praise God for the teachers in your life. If you teach, praise God for those whose hearts you touch with the love of Christ.

Much love in Christ,