Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Continuing the Dream

My life was greatly impacted, not just by my trip to the Dream Center, but also in the weeks and months leading up to and since the trip. I have seen how self-centered, self-indulgent and complacent I am. Like I’ve said before, I am very comfortable in my bubble, and it was hard to step out. But out I am, and I want to keep moving farther and farther from that bubble. I know that if I don’t intentionally keep moving away from it, I will one day find myself right back in it.

It is for all those reasons that I’m writing this post. A young lady from our church is raising money to get to the Dream Center and serve in their Leadership Program this fall. That is something I would definitely have done if I were 18 again! I gave a little money to help, but felt like I wanted to do more. So I was asking the Lord how I could help her raise money for her trip. Within a day of my prayer, she posted a picture of some jars that she has made to collect spare change to go toward her trip. I instantly knew I needed one. But I want to put more than my spare change in it!

I live in a very comfortable house in a nice neighborhood. I work in a small town and spend my lunch hours and coffee breaks in meetings or social gatherings with my friends and coworkers. Recently, some health issues have arisen in myself and some friends of mine that could likely be controlled by a healthier diet and exercise. I’ve been thinking that I need to pack a healthy lunch more often and cut down on eating out.

When I saw Haley’s picture of her jars, a light bulb went off in my head! I can cut down on my lunches out and put that money in the jar for her. AND I can challenge my coworkers to do the same. But that’s still not enough. I want to challenge everyone who is connected with my church in any way to give up at least one lunch out a week and put the money they would have spent into the jar for Haley’s trip to the Dream Center!

So, will you join me? Will you continue my dream of sending women from our rural and small town neighborhoods to experience God on a new level? Let’s move out of our comfortable bubbles and share that experience with Haley. The jar will be on my desk at the church office. Please stop in a drop off your donation. We might even enjoy a brown bag lunch together while your there!Who knows, we may even lose a few pounds and get a little healthier in the process?!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Is Your Affliction Your Identity?

On Thursday night of our mission trip to the Dream Center, we attended a worship service at Angelus Temple. We had spent two days cleaning and preparing Angelus Temple for this service. This building holds a special place in my heart because my husband's family had been there many years ago when Kathryn Kuhlman led healing services there. I've heard many stories about the miraculous healings they witnessed there.

That Thursday night, we heard a sermon by Pastor Dan Vera that impacted us all. He spoke on  Mark 10:46-52.

What is the heading in your Bible for this section? “Blind Bartemaeus,” right? Not, “Faithful Bartemaeus,” or “Full of Grace Bartemaeus,” not even "Persistent Bartemaeus" but “Blind Bartemaeus. Blind Bartemaeus even wore a “beggar’s cloak” which identified him and gave him the right to sit at the gate and beg. According to Dan Vera, you know you’re in trouble when your affliction becomes your identity. Bart’s affliction definitely became his identity. Does anyone have an affliction that has wiggled into your life, wrapped its tentacles around you, and attempted to consume you and become your identity?

I can think of a few in my life, but I’ve chosen just one as an example today. It’s how I felt shortly after my daughter's death. I felt like I had GRIEVING stenciled across my forehead. Everywhere I went, I felt like people were staring at me because of that label. I couldn’t escape it. 

I remember meeting other moms who had lost children, and thinking, “Wow, they’ve had a hard life.” But I didn’t want people thinking about me like that. I started a Grief Share Group, but I quit teaching it because I felt like I was becoming known as the “Grief Lady.” I’m thankful that someone has picked up that slack! But, as Pastor Dan Vera said, “It may or may not be your fault that you’re where you are right now, but it is your fault if you stay there.” Back then I knew God was drawing me out of my grief. It has changed me and shaped me so I keep talking and writing about it, but it does not consume me anymore. When it comes to our afflictions, Pastor Dan said we’ve got to “Learn to live with it but don’t settle for it.” That is something I’ve been trying to put into words for years, but I just couldn’t quite get a handle on it. When he said that, it was like a light bulb went off over my head—“That’s it! That’s what I’ve been trying to do! Learn to live with it, but don’t settle for it!”

That means so much to me as I pray about issues in my life and in the lives of my loved ones… as I strive to be still and know that He is God… as I wait for God’s answer to my prayers. I’m kind of an all-or-nothing person. I’m either all in or I’m all out. I’m either consumed by something or I’m in complete denial of it. But I’m growing, and I’m learning to live with some issues, but I refuse to settle for them! I will NOT be consumed by them, but I will not deny that they exist either.

Here are some ways Pastor Dan says we can learn to live with our afflictions without settling for them:

1)   Use what you have. Yes, Blind Bartemaeus was, well, blind. But he could certainly hear. Instead of complaining about not being able to see, Bartemaeus HEARD. He used what he had—his ears.

2)   Seize the opportunity. Bartemaeus also used his mouth, and he seized this opportunity. He cried out. But Bart didn’t voice his complaints. He wasn’t having a pity party. He had learned to live with his blindness. Jesus is not moved by your complaining, He’s moved by your faith! You’ve got to see what no one else can see—even if you’re blind!

3)   Press through opposition. Says Pastor Dan, “It took a blind man to see what the rest of this huge crowd could not. The blind man was the only one who knew who Jesus was. ‘Jesus, Son of David’ was a Messianic term. He was saying ‘Jesus, you are the only hope we have.’ The Pharisees were fine with Jesus being a good teacher and even a healer, but they had a major problem with him being called Messiah. So they wanted to shut Bart up!

4)   Don’t get rid of your enemies. What?! Your haters will push you to your dream. When they tried shut him down, Bart cried even louder. That seemed like an odd point to me. I had never heard anyone say anything like that before. I’ve heard, “love your enemies,” and I’ve definitely tried to avoid my enemies, but never this. When we got back to the Dream Center after hearing this sermon, I got back to my perch on my cozy bunk-bed-without-a-ladder and read this paragraph from an unrelated book I had brought with me: “The gospel is so arranged and the gift of God so great that you may take the very enemies that fight you and the forces that are arrayed against you and make them steps up to the very gates of heaven and into the presence of God… God wants of every one of His children, to beMORE THAN A CONQUEROR.” (--Beth Moore) More Then Conquerors was the title of the sermon series our church was doing at the time. God was coming at me from all angles!

5)   Stop the procession. As Bart continues to cry out over his haters, the one man not in the procession stops. Jesus stops. He realizes that “Someone knows who I am.” When we know who God is and see our issues and circumstances through that filter of faith, God stops. I want to be that someone. I want to be one who knows who God is. I want to be one that stops God in His tracks.

6)   Leave your place. Jesus said, “Bring him to me.” So, does Jesus know that Bart is blind? Wouldn’t it be easier for Jesus to walk over to him through the heavy throng than for the disciples to lead a blind man weaving in and out through all these dirty, smelly, sweaty people? Yes, but Jesus wanted Bart to leave his place. Jesus said, if you want what I have you’ve got to leave your place. Joyce Meyer says, if you want the beauty God offers, you’ve got to give Him your ashes. You can’t keep your ashes and still get the beauty God offers.  You have to leave the place you’re in to get to Jesus. Bart didn’t just get up and blindly feel his way through the crowd. He threw his cloak, his beggar’s jacket, his label aside and jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. He didn’t let his handicap, his affliction, his worldly identity keep him from Jesus.

7)   You may have every right to be a beggar. I may have every right to be a griever, a broken-hearted mom. At least two of my friends may have the right to be grieving widows, but God says, NO! You can’t receive from God until you let go of your beggars jacket.  You can’t receive His beauty until you let go of your ashes.

So, what’s your affliction? What’s your label? What’s your worldly identity? “Cheer up, on your feet! He’s calling you!”

Monday, July 21, 2014

Dream Center Update

Oh, MyUnswervingHope.blogspot, how I’ve missed you! I have allowed life, ministry and busy-ness to come between us. I really hate being this busy… there are just so many great things to do. I need to work on a new life plan that includes more journaling--it is such therapy for me.

I need to catch you up on my trip to the Dream Center. As expected, it was life-changing. I’m still trying figure out what to do with it, but it’s never on the back burner, it’s always in my consciousness, drawing me back from my materialistic, Polly-Anna lifestyle. It’s so easy to stay in the ruts of narcissism, twice removed from people who make me feel uncomfortable. I get lots of encouragement from others to stay in that rut. It’s hard for people who have been there so long to understand why anyone would want to leave.

But there are others, who are less attached to their place of complacency, who inspire me and give me the courage I need to move out of mine. Our trip to the Dream Center consisted of nine people, five women and four men. The other four women who went on the trip changed my life. They were just doing what their hearts led them to do. They made it look so easy. Their purpose was not to encourage me, they were following the leading of the Holy Spirit. I wish I could be more like them.

I have a tendency to ignore things I don’t like, hoping they’ll go away. I’m the proverbial ostrich with her head in the sand. I’m thankful for friends who gently, and sometimes not so gently encourage me to pull my head out. God used these ladies to yank me out of the fetal position and show me how to serve and love when I’d rather just do the task and keep my heart out of the equation.

The first day we went out with the food truck ministry, I was totally content to hand out groceries with pats on shoulders and lots of “God bless yous.”  Janie encouraged  me to join the prayer group at the end of the line and pray with the people after they got their groceries. “No,” I told her, “I’m fine.” I used the excuse that she and the others are better pray-ers than I am and that I’ll just keep doing the task—the bare minimum. That night the Lord convicted me. “You don’t want to get emotionally involved,” He seemed to say to me. “It’s not about how well anyone prays… in fact, it’s not about you at all. It’s about Me and the people I love. You are too protective of your heart and it’s time to step it up a notch!”

Then I saw Pam fearlessly walk up to a dirty, weather-worn homeless man, who hadn’t seen a shower in months, if not years. I had seen the man, sitting on a step, and I walked right by. This was our night out. This was a night for us to be tourists and see Hollywood Boulevard. But I felt God prick my heart when I saw Pam lay her hand on his shoulder and speak to him so kindly and gently. I knew I needed to step it up. I was still slacking.

I watched Teri in her calm and quiet way, as she poured into the young men and women we encountered at the Dream Center. I knew that Teri is the kind of person who would just as soon spend the day alone, puttering around her house, cooking something marvelous or planting something beautiful in her garden. But she chose, instead, to be obedient. And she wasn’t just going through the motions so she could say that she fulfilled her commitment to God. She poured her heart into Joe and Susie and Mack (fictitious name) and many others.

I learned how much Krista and I are alike. Loud, chatty, animated. But Krista knew why she was there. At the end of our trip, I felt relieved that my commitment to God had been fulfilled, and that I’d soon be going back home to my comfortable bubble, with no intention of returning to the Dream Center. But not Krista. Before we even left she said, without hesitation, that she’d be going back.

And then there’s Janie, who shares half a brain with me. We are so much alike and yet so different. Over the years, she has stretched me in directions I so didn’t want to go. Janie was Janie on our trip. What you see her doing in the lobby of our church, you see her doing in the middle of Skid Row and Venice Beach. Against all odds, in the midst of all kinds of suffering, Janie loves. And Janie inspires me to love.