• A New Year is Coming

    What could you do in 90 days?

    Well its quite likely most of us could accomplish a lot, were we to actually commit to something for that long (and then stick with it). However, in this busy world, filled with mountains to climb and challenges to conquer, it seems we’ve become more likely to sit back and check our facebook accounts (just once more!), rather than spend 30 minutes, or an hour, on yet another daily obligation.

    And so we mill about, wishing our abs were tighter, our cooking skills allowed us to host amazing parties, and that we could actually make our fingernails look like those amazing Pinterest examples…but none of it happens.
    My friends, that is because skills, talents, and achievements do not float by on the current, waiting to be plucked up and fastened to our belts. To reap the benefits we must sow the seeds and tend the fields. That may sound poetic, but any farmer will tell you it is hot, dirty work, requiring long days of early mornings and late nights. There are high costs involved with high yields, and a great deal of unseen effort and labor goes into making a productive field.

    Life is like a field. We have to be willing to make investments in things that will not give us instantaneous results, to put in time that will not give us immediate benefits, and to trust that all the effort and work will eventually yield positive results. There are lots of “things” we can choose to put that kind of time and effort in to, and it can be so hard to know what, exactly, to invest in….the whole process can admittedly be overwhelming, to say the least. So here is a small example of how I chose to sow a seed that I knew would yield a plenteous harvest.

    January 1, 2014 I committed to reading the Bible in 90 days. I utilized the For His Purpose - God's Word in 90 Days resource, and I committed to making the time needed for such and endeavor. I was not perfect, I will readily admit. I missed days, sometimes even multiple days in a row, and I had to fight to stay awake, or to read that one last chapter, or even to pick up my Bible and start reading at all.

    And yet I did. Day after day, chapter after chapter, book after book, I saw God’s Word come alive before my very eyes and heart. And I have the blessed assurance that this work, these seeds, will truly yield a harvest that will far outweigh the “gains” of facebook, pinterest, and even flat abs.

    Lots of us will be making resolutions in a few short weeks, pledging to improve our physical health, our family relationships, our budgets. Perhaps the most important thing we could do is to resolve to strengthen our foothold in the Word of God. 

    What could your next 90 days hold


  • Angel Tree

      

    For all the talk about the astonishing number of incarcerated individuals in the United States, there is very little mention of the parentless children left in their wake.

    Statistically, there are around 2.7 million children who have at least one parent behind bars. The emotional upheaval this creates is difficult to imagine.

    Abandonment, loss, separation issues, the struggles of possibly being placed into foster care, the loneliness of missing a parent – all this, on top of the normal angst and drama that every child is going through.

    Regardless of how you may feel about inmates and the time they serve, I think we can all agree that the children, innocent bystanders, become casualties of “the system”. They did not make the choices that brought them to this place.

    Thankfully, many programs and ministries are expanding to include ministering to these family members who are left on the other side of bars, and one such ministry is Prison Fellowship. Although they have multiple focus areas, today the spotlight will be on their Angel Tree Christmas gift program.

    As holidays approach, most inmates have no way to provide any of the traditional elements of Christmas for their children at home. No way to give even the smallest gift, which is a gesture that seems so small, yet speaks volume to a hopeful child who approaches the tree Christmas morning. With the lack of their parents presence, the next best thing may be a token that says “I remembered”.’

    How does it work, you ask? Here is an excerpt from the Prison Fellowship website:

    The Process:
    Angel Tree Christmas begins when a church member registers their church for the program with the support of their pastor or other church leader(s). Once a church is registered, the process works like this:
    • Receive Angel Tree Names: Sometime in the fall, Angel Tree coordinators will receive the names of children who were signed-up by their mom or dad in prison.
    •Display Angel Tree Name Tags: Name tags of these children and gift suggestions are displayed in your church.
    • Angel Tree Announcement: Church members need to be notified of the program —bulletin, pulpit announcement, bulletin board, etc.—and invited to select names from the Angel Tree display.
    Gift purchase and delivery: Church members purchase, wrap, and deliver a gift for each child on behalf of his or her incarcerated parent—and in the process, share the Gospel.

    As Christmas approaches, many of us will be out and about, shopping for our families and friends. As you set your priorities and make your purchases, perhaps you could add an extra name to your list, a child who needs to know, more than ever, that they are remembered and loved this Christmas season.

    Getting Started!
    Ready for the life-changing adventure of Angel Tree Christmas? Please complete the church registration form or call us at 1-800-55-ANGEL if you have questions. When we receive your registration, we’ll send you our Quickstart Kit, video, and everything else you need to get started.

    For more information, check out Prison Fellowship here.

     

  • Mobile Loaves & Fishes

     

    Often times when we think of helping or ministering to the homeless, we think of handing out money, food, and clothes, or possibly volunteering at a homeless shelter. To those ideas, I say "YES". There will always be a place for meeting people's immediate physical needs, and we know from Christ's own example that feeding and clothing those who are hungry and needy is part of what believers are called here to do. So if that's you, thank-you for serving, and for showing Christ's love in a beautiful, tangible way.

    However, many homeless people are trapped in a cycle of poverty in which they will perpetually remain homeless, no matter how much food or clothing they receive, unless they are given access to the opportunity to work. For those who think homeless people should be able to quickly obtain minimum wage type work at establishments such as fast food restaurants, lets reexamine that.

    When is the last time you filled out a job application?

    You know that part at the beginning that you breeze through? The easy part where you list your address, your phone number, your e-mail? For a homeless person, those fields aren't easy and obvious. 

    Assuming that part eventually does get finished, and you get your interview call, what's next?

    I can guarantee you'll show up freshly showered, with clean clothes and good hygiene, and that those are things you won't have to put much thought into taking care of. That's hard to do when you're wearing the only clothes you have and you may or may not get a shot at the shower in a shelter. 

    Its not meant as an "excuse", and I certainly hope that homeless people with the ability to work will persevere in seeking out that opportunity, but I think we need to be realistic about the challenge that exists there, as well as the reality that all that effort may eventually produce a part time job paying $7.25 per hour. Basically, its better than no job, but it won't be taking anyone off the streets overnight.

    Since the job application process isn't likely to get a dramatic overhaul, what can we as believers do to provide work opportunities? 

    Well some ministries, such as Mobile Loaves and Fishes in Austin, Texas, have taken a new approach that utilizes Micro-Enterprise as a way to engage homeless people in meaningful work and give them the opportunity to begin earning an income. This division of the ministry is called ROADS  (Relationships & Opportunities Allowing for Dignity & Security).

    ROADS offers three "micro" income earning options - iClean, Street Treats, and The Workshop.

    Street Treats its a bicycle cart ice cream sales endeavor, in which the individual sells ice cream treats at $1 per item, and keeps all the profits.

    iClean is a waterless car wash system, with the capability to travel to customers, that professionally cleans both the exterior and interior of vehicles.

    The Workshop allows homeless men and women with woodworking skills to create handcrafted items such as furniture and birdhouses.

    Each option ultimately provides a stream of income, marketable skills, resume building experience, and, perhaps most importantly, pride in their individual ability to work hard and to reap the rewards of that work.

    Here is what Mobile Loaves and Fishes website says about their work in this area:

    "Welcome to ROADS (Relationships & Opportunities Allowing for Dignity & Security).  We are a small group of ordinary people, homed and homeless, working to create relationships, an environment of dignity and a world of opportunities. We invite you come visit us, look around the site, ask questions, donate, spread the word, and participate however you best can.

    Click to Mobile Loaves and Fishes Site

    ROADS is a service-oriented program of Mobile Loaves & Fishes (MLF), helping our homeless brothers and sisters in need lift themselves up through relationships and micro-enterprise opportunities.  We desire to serve as the road, or straight way, on which our homeless brothers and sisters have the opportunity to navigate out of desert wastelands and into community and the sense of home.

    We believe every human being deserves dignity, respect and a modest living, which is why we stride to support our community with these aspects. We believe home is more than a roof; and that our micro-enterprise opportunities combined with relational support, accountability and consistency is what helps individuals experiencing homelessness successfully lift themselves off the street with their God given skills and abilities."

    The body of Christ is filled with diverse individuals, many of whom have a beautiful capacity to think outside the box and come up with new and creative ways to meet needs that have been - and will continue to be - very real and present in every corner of the globe.

    How can you support these faithful believers who are willing to step out and come up with new, God glorifying ways to show the love of Christ to those with no homes?

    What's happening in your community today that you become a part of?

     

  • "Under the Overpass"

    Well I had meant to start out this month with a homeless ministry (which you'll hear about soon!), but before I highlight a ministry designed to address the problem of homelessness, I thought we could take a step back and talk about some of the stereotypes / thought processes that we often associate with this issue.

    I think we all know that there are homeless people "out there", but not many of us are necessarily aware of who these people might be.

    Can you name a homeless person you've talked to or spent time with in the last 30 days? 6 months? 5 years? I don't ask that to shame you, but to help us all in being realistic with regards to how often we interact with homeless populations.

    The first time I truly thought more in depth regarding homelessness was when I read Mike Yankoski's book "Under the Overpass". Mike was a suburbs kid who grew up on the top end of the middle class and enjoyed a comfortable existence. 

     There was a time in his life when he began to question how real his faith was, his theory being that it is often times all too easy to claim we trust God with everything, when in fact we really are relying on our bank accounts and other comforts. If all that was stripped away - if we truly had nothing, no home, no possessions, no back up bank account - would our faith waiver?

    How would our relationship with God change if all of our extraneous "stuff" was stripped away?

    Would our relationship with others - with those "different" than us - change?

    Mike (with his friend Sam), spend 5 months living on the streets. They meet a plethora of people, of all kinds. Community people, church people, homeless people. And they learned a lot about how the church (and its members, the Christians), come across to those who have desperate, basic needs.

    "...we experienced big programs, big churches, and big talk, without much love in action, at least for two unappealing transients like us."

    During their time in the streets, Mike and Sam weren't looking for someone to give them a thousand dollars, or a new house, or anything really huge.

    They were simply hoping for - depending on - compassion. So what better place to run than the church, right?

    The best people they remembered were the people who purchased them a hot cup of coffee when it was cold, or shared a fast-food meal, or on the rare occasion even a home cooked meal.

    One church group embraced them beautifully, feeding them and welcoming them with loving acceptance. Unfortunately that group was very much the exception, not the rule.

    Some of the worst experiences?

    The church guys who watched Mike repair his completely ruined shoes while he sat in their church with bare and bloody feet, then let him know they would be praying for him as they walked away, not even attempting to address a very basic (and very easy to meet) need that was right in front of them.

    Or the pastor whose response to a question about whether he knew of anyone who would be willing to offer them some food was met with the following: "That's not what we do here. We're here to worship. We can't confuse our purpose."

    When did worshipping God come to equal the exclusion of feeding the hungry, or giving water to the thirsty?

    And yet...how many times in our own hearts do we answer the twinge of conviction in similar ways? With phrases like "We can't become a soup kitchen", and "Give something to one person and then everyone will be at the door", and even "Well I don't really have that much myself, so I can't really be expected to help out". If that's your knee jerk response to the needs of those hurting around you, you may need to reevaluate your heart condition.

    Are you taking your love of possessions/money/etc, your greed or hard heartedness, your lack of true love and compassion, your judgmental spirit, and masquerading these things as "wisdom" and "good stewardship" of what you've been blessed with?

    If that's the case, I challenge you to read the Gospel's and seek the heart of Jesus on how we are treat others, especially those we can visually see having "less than". 

    ___________________________________________________________________________________________

    As I said, I will be highlighting a homeless ministry in the upcoming weeks, but before I put that out there I wanted to challenge each reader to examine their perspective of homelessness and how believers are called to meet the needs of those suffering around us.

    It may look different for each of us, but ultimately I can assure you that it will spring from the overflow of the Father's love for us, and that is truly a beautiful thing.

     

    **If you're interested in a challenge, be intentional in the next week about finding a way to give - tangibly - to someone around you that you may have never even have had the eyes to see before!

     

     

  • Wheat, Weeds, and Mercy

    Tyndale House Publishers has recently released a Revised & Expanded version of Jen Hatmaker’s book “Interrupted”, and I have been privileged enough to review the new edition here on the Inkwell. Enjoy!

    Ever read Matthew 13:24-30?

    For those who might not be familiar with the reference, it’s commonly referred to as the Parable of the Weeds. Essentially, good seeds and bad seeds are sown in the same field, both weeds and wheat come up, and when the servants see this they immediately volunteer to go pull the weeds out. Their master stops them, explaining that some of the wheat might get pulled up with the weeds. He says it will be better to let them both grow, and to separate them out at the harvest.

    As far as parables go, this one seems pretty self explanatory, especially if you grew going to church and Sunday School most of your life. It’s one of those parts of the Bible we kind of skim over, mentally going “yep, yep, good one”.

    I got it.

    Jen, however, made a statement that made me truly stop and think.

    “The risk of encountering a few weeds is not sufficient reason to avoid the whole field of human suffering, because I assure you, identifying with the wheat but not the weeds is a gross overestimation of our own station. The correct character to identify with here is the weed shown mercy, not the Savior capable of discerning the human heart.”

    I read it again, I got out my Bible and read Matthew 13, and I was humbled to realize that I have truly never identified myself as being the proverbial weed here.

    Not once.

    I read it through the eyes of a believer who knows they are headed to an eternity in heaven; I read it with the assumption that some “other” people obviously are weeds, with the comfort that comes from knowing “they” will all get sorted out in the end.

    Beyond never identifying myself with the weed, I’ll go one embarrassing step further and say that maybe I even have thought I had a lot more in common with the one deciding which stalks are wheat and which are weeds than I did with the weeds themselves.

    The master in the parable called his servants off, however, refusing to possibly lose even one stalk of wheat in the aftermath of trying to get rid of all the weeds in the middle of the growing process.

    How often have I found myself taking on that servant role, trying to sort people out now, to separate those who, in my opinion, maybe seem more like weeds than like wheat, all in the name of serving the master.

    These words of Jen’s blessed my heart in so many ways: “We are only qualified to administer mercy, not judgment, because we will pull up many a beautiful stalk of wheat, imagining him a weed.”

    Elsewhere, the message remains similar, reminding us again and again that God’s desire is not a church body that exists to separate itself off into manicured groups that are “blessing the blessed people and serving the saved” while the rest of His people are “crumbling and dying and starving” outside of our very doors.

    The message of “Interrupted” is a message of loving people – serving people – not only is it what we are called to as Christians, but because it is literally the example Jesus set for us in both his teachings and in the way he lived his life here on earth.

    It will not be easy. So quickly we lose heart, fall back, or get discouraged. 

    “We are easily distracted, losing perspective and reacting desperately, but no circumstance gives us license to discard the essentials: love, mercy, compassion, justice.”

    The point of loving and serving is not to give you some “feel good” emotions you can go home with when you leave it all behind you. It’s to change how you interact with the world, with your neighbors, with your God.

    It will open your eyes, soften your heart, give you a newfound sense of compassion, and love, and absolute awe at the ultimate mercy and love revealed to us by our Savior.

    There is so much more that could be said about this subject (and of course the book says so much more than I was able to say here!). 

    If the premise interests you, definitely check out the book! In store it can be found at Barnes and Noble, and online you can check out www.jenhatmaker.com.


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