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Be a Missionary On the Field

My eldest daughter, Erica, has always been quite an adventurer. Even from an early age there was talk of her becoming a missionary. I used to cringe at the thought of her going to a far away land; but, I quickly realized that it wasn’t my choice. .

Erica used to play softball many years ago. Her pitching coach at the time, said that Erica could be a missionary on the field. Coach Kay told Erica that you don’t always have to go to a far away land to be a missionary…that she could be a missionary on the field.Be a Missionary on the Field

Years later, the summer between Erica’s junior/senior year in high school became a turning point in her life. It  was when she heard the explicit Gospel of Jesus Christ. Her initial understanding of what it meant to be a Christian was that she needed to go out preaching on the street corners of foreign nations. Erica’s adventurer spirit, met with the passion of the Gospel, was a little scary. Then she found out quickly that was not the most feasible, or effective, way of doing things. Better news, she found out, according to Colossians 3:23 that ALL things can be done as a way of being a mission for God.

This was not her choice! God had chosen Erica to be a witness for Him…to further His kingdom. God wanted Erica to take the road of Acts 1:8.

Missionary: in Erica’s case, it is a person who received power to promote Christianity through everything…even on the field.

Later that same summer, Erica attended the Baylor University Softball Camp. She loved the sport, but more importantly she loved the Lord because He first loved her. While at the Baylor softball camp, Coach Glenn Moore and his staff, not only provided guided softball practice…they also provided an optional Bible study for the girls.

I remember picking Erica up at the end of the week and sitting in the stands with one of my former professors, Dutch Schroeder. We were listening to Coach Moore speak to the families who attended the visitor’s day to pick up our girls. Coach Moore was talking and said there was one young lady who had inspired him, and he continued talking. I wasn’t really listening well. I was busy looking for Erica because I hadn’t seen her all week, when Dutch said that Coach Moore was talking about Erica.

I thought, “How can that be? How would Coach Moore know Erica?”

I heard these girls cheering, and Coach Moore called her up. He asked her to share her testimony, and about what had happened the past week in front of a stadium full of people. She spoke wonderfully!

I had no idea what had happened that past week. Come to find out, Erica had taken advantage of the Bible study…and to be a missionary on the field. By the end of the softball camp, Erica had shared her testimony and helped lead over 40 girls to Christ. She came home from the camp, and made a special cd of Christian music & wrote each girl a letter of encouragement. She also decided that Baylor was where she wanted to go to college…even if she didn’t play softball.

Erica ended up attending Baylor because she was so impressed with Coach  Moore & his staff.  She was also impressed with the beautiful campus and what Baylor had to offer her. Erica recently graduated in May with a B.A. in religion. She has since become a youth pastor in Austin, Texas at the Austin Stone Community Church. Her time there is completely devoted to working with Middle School and High School students. Her goal is to share and grow in knowledge of the never-ending goodness of the Gospel with these kids. She will be doing that through Bible studies, having awesome paint wars, discipleship, attending church, eating dinner, going to football games, and spending time with students (particularly girls).

1669957_10153888297625249_599930412_o (1)Being a missionary “on the field” is definitely her dream job! Erica understands the importance of the eternal gift that God gives us, and she wants to tell all who will listen. This picture totally depicts Erica’s enthusiasm!  I know that God is smiling, and saying well done faithful servant.

Now, I’m going to get on a soap box. People don’t have problems sending monies to missionaries in a foreign country; but, some people seem to have problems sending monies (or partnering) with missionaries when they are local. I say missions are just as important locally, as in a foreign country. I’m not just saying that because my daughter has partners, but because God calls us to be witnesses…period.

My husband, and I, are educators in a public system. We don’t make tons of monies, but we have often partnered with local missionaries (RUF), as well as foreign missionaries (MTW). We think it’s important to further His kingdom where we are not able to go. We partnered as little as $25 per month, or $50 per month…if there was a spouse or family involved. It wasn’t much, but nevertheless, the missionaries appreciated it. We now partner with a missionary close to our heart…Erica.

This is what’s important to Erica. It excites her to no end because she first heard the explicit Gospel during her junior year of High School. Since then she has wanted to share the Gospel with everyone, especially those the same age as when she first heard. Erica’s passion is that young students would know Christ as their Savior, redeemer, and friend. She knows the pressures of this world all too well, and she knows what it’s like to grow up in today’s society. Erica also knows that the love of God is better than anything this world has to offer during those years, seemingly good or bad. She wants all of the students she encounters, by the grace of God, to know that as well.

As a new graduate, it’s tough beginning the next chapter in your life.  You have been independent for a while at college, but now you throw other factors in as well.  Erica wants to be the best missionary possible, but it’s tough being a missionary on the field.  The unknown of having to ask others to partner with you, either through prayers or  monetary partnering, is frightening.  People don’t know you, or maybe they  don’t understand the importance of partnering. Some don’t want to make commitments to partnering with local missions. It is very important though.

Erica has had opportunities to do missions in foreign countries as well.  She has been to Morocco, and this past summer she went to Israel. She shares a lot of her adventures on her blog called “A Freedom Ringer”.  You should check it out, if you have time at  http://afreedomringer.wordpress.com/,

Should after reading this blog about Erica  and her passion to be a missionary on the field, you may want to check out her link on how to partner with her.  It is a safe online link at https://secure.acceptiva.com/?cst=7ba521 .  Any type of partnering is appreciative: prayers, monthly, or end of year/one time gifts that are tax deductible.

Jesus said, “Follow Me!”

Erica stepped up to the plate…being a missionary on the field!

I’m so proud of my missionary for making a difference in His kingdom!

 

An Unexpected and Undeserving Gift

Courtesies to live by!

Courtesies to remember in our daily lives!

No one told me that when I turned 50, I needed to take out an extended warranty. I was the person who dove after balls, and lifted things without properly bending down. Yet, when I turned 50, I began to quickly deteriorate physically! It hasn’t been pretty, and I don’t appreciate what’s happening to me! Despite me seeming to be falling apart, I recently received an unexpected and very undeserving gift…kind of like grace. It was definitely God giving me a much needed wake up call.

I will admit, I have begun to lose track of what’s important, especially in my daily walk with the Lord. I have forgotten many of the common courtesies about how I should live my life. I should love generously, be happy, help others, be grateful, and above all…count my blessings.

On the other hand I say, “What you talking about? Life is hard!”

I know what I’m supposed to do, and yet I’ve been miscalculating, and missing the prize altogether. I’ve been literally, and figuratively, missing the mark of the high calling of Jesus Christ. I’ve been stuck on family things, monetary things, not feeling well, and just not believing in grace…period!

I have posted the definition of grace before, but apparently I still struggle with its meaning. I’m like the prodigal son who hasn’t returned, and hoping to be forgiven.

Grace, n.: undeserved, unmerited, unearned, favor.

Grace is something that I most desire, but often feel that I’m not deserving of it for many reasons from past to present. I tend to forget that the amazing thing about grace is that it is an undeserving gift.

I know about God’s grace. It’s hard for me to fathom it at times. My daughter, Erica, is good about reminding me of this. She often talks to me, giving me pep talks, about how God’s grace is for the undeserving. Although it came at a big price, it’s freely given by God. His unmerited favor is that He sent His Son to die so we could live. He loves us unconditionally!

The word “grace” is music to my ears. Erica often makes me gifts with the words from the song “Amazing Grace” on them. I love it!

Now let me rewind to me turning 50, falling apart physically, and how His amazing grace has begun playing music to my ears.

I have had a mass in my stomach, and also in need of a hernia repair for a couple of years. I had been putting off surgery for many reasons: 1) I don’t like them, 2) I teach learning disabled children and they don’t like when I miss school, and 3) monetary reasons. I feel our monies could be spent better elsewhere.

Well, last fall things took a drastic change. The mass began to grow bigger, and was becoming more and more painful. I began to gain weight quickly. Then things took a twist. In December, I began to bleed. I ended up in the emergency room. The concern was endometrial cancer, and that took priority over the mass and hernia. Doctors began testing, but due to the holidays, appointments were hard to make with them. Early January, the doctor suggested I get a total hysterectomy. I was willing to do this, because I felt so bad. They would take a biopsy during this time.

I went to schedule the surgery, but to my surprise my insurance coverage had changed. My family pays almost $1,200/month for the various insurances we have. Yet to perform this surgery (because of the new laws), I was going to have to pay $3,000 up front for the hospital co-payment alone. This wasn’t including the doctor, anesthesia, and the rest of the hospital payment.

Tearfully, I had to tell the scheduler to stop! At this time we could not afford it. We are already in debt due to other family medical bills, and this would just have to wait. Since I couldn’t have the hysterectomy, the doctor said we at least needed to do a biopsy to check for cancer. I had cancer insurance, and if that were the case, then I could have the surgery.

Thankfully, the biopsy came back benign. We were relieved! I decided I would put that surgery off until a later date. In the meantime, the mass in my stomach continued to grow bigger. I knew it needed to be taken out, but we really don’t have the monies for that. We are just teachers, and we have a kid that was about to graduate college, one about to go to college, and one more at home. I just couldn’t think about it.

On Mother’s day, my oldest daughter texted me, and said she had a gift for me. She was about to graduate from college, and we would be going up for her graduation the following weekend. NOTE:Traditionally we don’t celebrate certain holidays, giving each other gifts, just because we try to save money. We are very blessed, and don’t really need some things…but family time is always good.

I texted back, and said I couldn’t wait to see her graduate, and that seeing her was gift enough.

I had no idea what was coming on the upcoming college graduation visit!

We arrived on Friday night, the night before Erica was to graduate. I dropped my husband off at the hotel because he was tired. My youngest, Jess, and I went over to Erica’s apartment to pick her up. I thought we might go out to eat. As we drive up to her apartment, I see Erica and her friend Kelli walking up. Erica had borrowed her whole graduation gown to save money and was walking up with the borrowed sash. She nonchalantly said let’s go up and get your mother’s day gift before we go eat.

I said okay, and we all went up. She put up her borrowed sash. As she was doing this, I saw on a table with a plaque that had the words from “Amazing Grace”. I didn’t think too much about it because I just figured it was some of their apartment decor.

I noticed Kelli beginning to film, but that’s not unusual. These girls are quite the hoot posting many a funny video online, or on Instagram. But this was to be no ordinary film. I was about to receive an unexpected, and very undeserving gift.

Erica picked up the plaque. I was kind of being silly quietly singing “Amazing Grace”, when Erica began telling me something that I never could imagine.

She said, “Dearest Momma! This gift is to show you one thing. ‘God loves you!’ Even if the mass were not removed we know that God loves you perfectly, but He has generously provided a way for your surgery through the body of Christ. No, you did nothing to earn it and that’s what makes His grace so amazing! I love you very much, and I know my love for you cannot compare to the perfect, unconditional, passionate, and proud love that God has for you!”

While this was going on, Kelli was still filming, and affirming what Erica was saying. Kelli was also telling me that God loves me!

Finally, Erica handed me an envelope, and in that envelope was the exact amount I needed for the hospital co-payment. I was going to be able to have my surgery! After paying the initial fees, I would be able to pay monthly on the rest of the bills.

I can’t explain what came over me in those moments. I began backing up away from them. I was overwhelmed with so many emotions: thankfulness, feeling guilty because I didn’t deserve this, excited, tears of joy, etc. .

I mean what does one do with such a great and undeserving gift as this?

Oh, but the story gets better!
Erica, and several of her college friends, prayed about needs and wants. She lifted me up in prayer with a need, and these beautiful students gathered up monies, among themselves, so I could have a surgery.

Mind you these are college students: some getting their masters, some about to graduate, and some returning to school next year. Most of these students have their own debts to pay off, and here they were graciously lifting me up in prayer, and giving me an undeserved gift.

I had the surgery almost two weeks ago. The mass was the size of a plum, and they fixed a hernia as well. As I lay here in bed, recovering from my surgery, I’m reminded of a Bible verse that I love so much!

“the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;” ~Numbers 6:25

The Lord has definitely shined down on me!

I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting most of the students who prayed for me, and who made it financially possible for me to have the surgery. I still can’t stop feeling a little guilty for this amazing gift. I have always had problems with asking for help, or accepting such gifts; but, I have been truly blessed. That said, I thank these students from the bottom of my heart. I can never repay you all except with the pleasure of you all knowing that I better understand that God loves me graciously despite my weaknesses. Thank you all for sharing, caring, and showing me through your actions that God loves me perfectly.

Thank you to Erica Hairston, Kelli Stenke, Kaitlin Daugherty, Paul Feghali, Jacob Imam, Jeremy Feghali, Drake Osborn, Allie Matherne, Joanna Calhoun, Katy Craft, Haley Barton, Madeline Sneed, and Carly Beckham.

These young Baylor University students have taken Acts 1:8 to heart. They are making a difference in the world, and furthering God’s kingdom. They are witnesses for Christ, and will go to the ends of the Earth. They each have many different gifts that God has given them, and I pray that you will continue to share those gifts wherever He sends you all. God bless each of you in your journey to love the Lord, and the freedom that you will bring to others spreading His word.

God is truly amazing! These young people help to restore faith within me. It’s been a distracting few years. The best way to deal with these distractions is to turn to God, read the Bible, and remember the common courtesies to live by. I’m so very thankful, and count my blessings…especially for God bringing these young students into my life. These students who love the Lord so much that they gave me an unexpected and undeserved gift.

P.S. If you would like to see the link to part of the video of this gracious gift being presented to me, please check it out: http://instagram.com/p/qwqcwTmQsk/?modal=true

Grace…and Paying it Forward

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Just over a month ago (December 14, 2012), the holidays were fast approaching, and I was looking forward to several things. For instance, all of my kids would be home for Christmas, I was about to turn 50, and some much needed time off from work.  On that particular day, the word grace had been on my mind.  I was thinking about how “Grace” is God‘s unmerited favor.  I don’t deserve His grace, and I definitely didn’t earn His grace.  God gives me grace despite my weaknesses.

The morning of the 14th, I posted a simple picture about grace. It was only the definition.

Grace, n.: undeserved, unmerited, unearned, favor.

On the afternoon of the 14th, when I got home from school, I drove up to my house to find my son, my husband, my youngest daughter & her best friend, my mom, and the police…all outside of our house.  I remember driving up and thinking that something was not right.  As I got out, I was met by many, to say that there was a break in and we had probably been burglarized.

The two police officers, one off duty (Officer Prichard) who heard the call and responded first, and the reporting officer both entered the back of the house to see if it were safe to enter.  The front door had been jammed so that no one could enter during the burglary. The burglars actually used our grill accessory to crash through the glass of the back door.

Upon announcing that the house was safe to enter, the officers asked if one of us would come inside with them to scan and make an initial report of what was taken.  I volunteered, and as I was scanning the house…it seemed so surreal.  While the officers were asking questions and taking pictures, I realized that things could have been so much worse.  You see, my youngest has been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, and sometimes stays home with the pain.  She is a high school freshman, and my mom lives across the street; therefore, I feel okay with her staying home if she needs to.  Needless to say, her room was one of the rooms burglarized.

In fact, the downstairs bedrooms were pretty much the only rooms hit.  Again, it could have been so much worse.  The burglars only went for things that could possibly be put in a backpack and/or carry out with straps.  The burglars pretty much took all the good jewelry I have ever owned…that I had collected over the last 35+ years.  Some were heirlooms, and some semi-precious items.  They took two laptops (one with our family photos), our family video camera, and some music and gaming devices.  There were some other things; but, I was thankful that it wasn’t worse.

I need to make a side note here before I go any further.  The last few years have been a big learning curve for our family.  We have experienced many ups and downs…with different family members moving out and some returning home (that’s another story).  The reason why I’m bringing this up, is that my youngest writes poetry (one which is on this site called “Beauty Is…”).  She also writes stories (with great details), and creates art.  She’s extremely talented, and yes…I’m biased.  Anyway, her laptop was extremely important to her.  Her inner most thoughts, trials & tribulations, and dreams were on that computer.  It was also a way to stay in touch with her best friends that moved to Alabama, and her older sister that had gone off to college. It was really like a safe haven for her.

Once we made the initial report, I returned outside to talk to the others.  Glancing to the side, I noticed that Jess had a metal pole in her hand.  It’s used to turn the water off at the street, in case of emergency.  I was talking with one of the officers, and my son and husband, when I heard this blood curdling scream.  My first thought was that Jess had fallen on this metal pole, and it stabbed her.

It was probably one of the worst feelings that has ever come over me…except from a bad dream.  After I realized she was not physically injured, I went over to her to see what was wrong.  That was when Officer Prichard had told me that he had told Jess the rooms that had gotten burglarized, and that the laptops had been taken.

That blood curdling scream was the agony she felt by someone invading her space, and just snatching up her very intimate thoughts.  I was just thankful that our cats were okay, or that would have just added to the injury.

I have never heard her say anything really bad.  If you read her poem (‘Beauty Is…”), you will have a better understanding of where her heart truly lies.  But, on this day she screamed a cry of disgust.  She asked, “Why would someone do such a thing?”  I thought I don’t know.  I’m sure they were in need of some quick cash before the holidays; but, no one really knows the burglar’s heart (except for God).  Maybe they needed money for something really important.

I remember that it was hard to console Jess.  It’s hard to say you understand, and sorry to something like that, unless you have really experienced something like that.  She’s young, and there is nothing I could immediately compare it too.  We all felt a little helpless.  She looked like an empty shell of a person.  She left the house to go stay at her friend’s house, because we were missing most of the back door…and frankly it’s a little scary.  You begin to wonder if the burglars might return for the rest of the items they left behind.

I realize some of you may be thinking that maybe she was being a little silly, and very dramatic; but, don’t judge her if you haven’t been in that situation.

I posted later that night about the coincidence of posting about grace earlier that day, and how humbling it was for me.  That I, in turn, should show grace toward these burglars.  I was thankful that no one, or cats, were hurt.  I had to accept that things were going to be okay, and that God was good!

Now to the paying it forward part…Officer Prichard, the first officer to respond came over the next day to see how we were faring.  What I’m about to tell you is so awesome.  He told me that he had fought in Afghanistan for eight years and had seen homicides while being an officer; but, he told me that the yell of Jess’ pain and the grief she felt, really touched him.  Officer Prichard went home and contacted some wonderful people. He told them about Jess’ story.  He told them that she was a good student.  He told them that she had experienced some ups and downs over the past year (some emotional and some physical).  He told them about her laptop, and then many of those kind people he contacted, responded to his story of Jess.

With the Christmas season approaching, Officer Prichard, and another officer, came to our house a few nights before Christmas.  Officer Prichard, being the Christian man he is, wanted to make a difference and remind Jess that yes there is bad in the world; but, that there is a lot of good, too.  He emphasized the reason for the season was Christ, and how Jesus gave us the best gift of all.  He died so that we could live.  His grace covers our sins…and even the sins of the burglars.

After reminding us that grace covers much in us that is not deserved, he also said that it’s important to make a difference with our talents that God has given us.  This is where he brought out a new laptop for Jess.  He also presented her with a backpack to carry it in, a jump drive so that she could back up her talent, and a card to upgrade Microsoft office so that she could excel at her school work as well. He also presented me with a laptop, and a printer for the family.

Wow!  I wish I had a camera to capture the look of our amazed astonishment on our faces as when we received our gifts.  God had used this officer’s talent to respond to the cry of one of His children.  He contacted others on her behalf, and others responded.  What a blessing, and for many reasons.  I will actually write  more about this at a later time.

Now, it’s time to use our talents and pay it forward.  Jess has continued to write and create art.  I’m beginning to write again, and we are currently housing a young boy who needed a safe place to live.  It is the least we could do, for what others had done for us…especially God.

So much about God’s love was learned this season.

“Let love be genuine.  Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.  Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” ~Romans 12:9-10

God’s love is genuine!  Hold fast to what is good.  Show affection to others.  God’s grace covers us all despite our weaknesses.  God has shown/given unmerited favor to us.  None of us are deserving, yet He gave His grace to us freely.  He gave us His Son.

I know this isn’t much; but, at this time I want to personally thank those that were involved in paying forward and making a difference in our lives this season.  There were some that didn’t want to be personally acknowledged for their charitable acts, and I respect that; but, know that we appreciate your gift, and we are most thankful.  I know that God is adding jewels to your crown in Heaven.  A big thank you goes to Officer Prichard, Patty, Cat, Susan & Jack, Al, Terry & Carolyn, and to the many others that responded and helped Officer Prichard make a difference in restoring a young girl’s faith.  I also would like to thank the sweet teacher at my school who anonymously donated a grocery gift card to my family, and my Special Ed department at my school who bought each kid a gift card to help make their Christmas brighter.  God bless you all.  

Celebrate Christ in Christmas Everyday!

What does it mean to celebrate Christ in Christmas? We can’t remain in “faith” and stay on the sideline of our life. IT’S TIME TO GET INTO THE GAME! Don’t be a bench warmer! Come to Jesus!  Be one who takes His Light into the world with delight (and not because of duty)…for all to celebrate!

Don’t resist celebrating! Celebrate the Light of the World even when all other  lights have gone out, and you remain sitting in the dark. You are never alone! Celebrate no matter what, or where you are.  Enjoy celebrating Christ in Christmas everyday! ♥

God has party plans for us! He wants us to party like a rock star–for Christ!  Celebrate the new you through Christ everlasting!

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” ~ 2Corinthians 5:17

P.S. Thanks for reminding me to celebrate the real reason for the season…and you know who you are.  God bless you!

Compassion Changed My Life. Thank You, Pastor!

I realize this blog is a little long; but, it’s important to raise our spiritual leader(s) up on a regular basis–by offering prayer and at times showing them some appreciation. In honor of Pastor Appreciation month, I would like to dedicate this blog to those who have given their time to tend their flocks.  I know that my pastor’s compassion helped me to change my life.  I was sexually abused as a child, and I had a lot of baggage.  My pastor helped me to understand how to leave my past abuse behind while becoming more passionate for Christ.

So how can we show our appreciation to our spiritual leaders?  Well, most pastors put a significant amount of their time into preparing sermons.  I think one of the best ways to give encouragement to them is by being faithful participants in the congregation.

Many pastors pour their heart out, using God’s words, into a sermon to tell us the truth of His grace and love for us.  These words spoken, allow us to understand the faith & hope we can have through Him so that we can live and have a passion for Him.

It seems to me that the life of a pastor might be one of the loneliest professions one could pick. It has the makings of a very tough, demanding – and lonely – occupation.

Frustrating?  Some of the times, yes.  Rewarding? Most times, yes.  Spiritually fulfilling? I am most certain yes, and on many different levels.

To spend one’s “everyday” life to further the kingdom of God must be a great profession indeed.

We all have days where nothing seems to go right. Maybe days of immense stress with any number of things that could be contributing to a “bad day.” Maybe you’re having a “season” of bad days.

When that happens, it’s not uncommon for us to talk the situation over with a spouse, family member, friend, or peer. Those conversations can be a great relief.  Maybe you might come up with some solutions that you had not considered.

Your pastor has probably had some of those same “bad” days; but, unlike the rest of us, they often don’t have the luxury of a sounding board.

Think about it.  Most of us have jobs where we are faced with “performance” appraisals once, maybe twice a year.   Pastors are continually being critiqued on a weekly basis. I’m sure there is someone sitting in the pews, on any given Sunday, who is thinking that the sermon could have been better, or that the music wasn’t to their liking, or that the service just wasn’t “good” enough.

It’s almost certain that at least some of the comments will make their way back to them. Who are they going to discuss their concerns with about the fact that no matter what they do…somebody seems to be unhappy?

Then there’s this role of counselor.  We often speak to our spiritual leader in confidence. Things said, and seen, can weigh heavily on their heart.  All along pondering how to deal with such difficult situations. Yet, where can they go when they are feeling emotionally drained themselves?  Where can they go to receive advice about how to handle a particular situation?  That could be a whole separate blog; but, at this time I want to share what one of my pastors did for me.

As a child I had been sexually abused by my stepfather from the ages of 7-15…becoming most intense from age 9 and on.  I had no idea of how much the abuse really affected me.  The following is an excerpt from my site “About Grace Desired”:

     “My husband, Sam Hairston, had researched and found a church that taught reformed doctrine.  We had been attending Redeemer Presbyterian Church for over a year. I have never been one to stand out at church.  I have pretty much been a back row worshiper.  I obviously lacked passion for His truth–because there was definitely a lack of knowledge.

As time went on, and due to the good leadership at the church, I began to understand more of the Bible–the truth of His Word.  The senior pastor, Tom Gibbs, has a vision and a passion for furthering His kingdom by being compassionate toward His people.  The church has a vision and passion as well.  Together, the community of the whole church has a passion for wanting to further His kingdom within our city and beyond.  For the first time, since I was in high school, I had begun to love a church.

At church it was spoken that the broken (being me) could be energized by the “grace of God”.  Week after week, I began to hear that Jesus was for the brokenhearted.  Tom preached, and I heard that Jesus could be my champion, and that I could be made new like the “Oaks of Righteousness“.  I also heard that God took delight in me.  I thought, who me?  I am a broken and scarred sinner who is full of shame, guilt, fear, and contempt.  How can that possibly be?  I was a skeptic!

At the time, Pastor Tom Gibbs, and his wife Tara, believed something else.  They had noticed the back row worshiper and her family.  I was told that they had prayed for us prior to their time spent with me.  I suppose they wanted us to become the front row family.

Anyway,  they began to play an integral part in my life.  They dedicated much of their time trying to help me see that His grace and love is the reality of my faith & hope; thus, I would learn that I have really received His grace for my past secrets.  They helped me to begin to understand that my shame, guilt, fear, along with my contempt, were unnecessary–because Christ took all of that away when He was nailed to the cross. The path was becoming clearer.  I was to begin my journey learning that God desired me for who I was…even if I was broken.

I began to realize that God was actually “wining and dining” me.  God longed for my attention.  I began to feel God’s love, and it was the kind of love that I subconsciously craved for years and did not know it.  Many, many months went by, and little did we know that a volcanic eruption (in epic proportion) would follow after the completion of the workbook.  It was very painful to recall the memories I had suppressed.  I began to have nightmares.  I had no idea of  the emotions that were surfacing to the top (like the beach ball). These were emotions that I had harbored within my very soul for years.

My “season” of confusion, self-hatred, and fear became too complex… even to the point of  a deep despair.  I began to become so frustrated that I cut myself a couple of different times.  Of course I never really wanted to die; but, that I just wanted to get the horrible shame, guilt, and fear out of my body.  

My “season” of emotions turned into “seasons” gone bad; kind of like a really bad reality TV show.

I believe God puts people into our lives for a reason. I definitely believe God brought the Gibbs’ into my life for a reason.”

Sometimes we put our spiritual leaders on pedestals of sorts – and it’s got to be a little lonely up there. We might forget that they’re human beings just like we are. They have strengths, and they have weaknesses, just like us. They get tired. They get frustrated. They need a pat on the back every once in a while, too!

So while Pastor Appreciation Month is a great thing, remember it’s important to support them all year long with prayers and words of encouragement. If last week’s sermon had a particular impact on you, say so. Send your spiritual leader a note of appreciation. You can also support spiritual leaders by becoming more involved with the church.

If we are enthusiastic followers of God, it will mean something to God – and to His ordained servants.  I’m thankful that my pastor showed compassion and saw more in me, than I saw in me.  He saw that God was not finished with me yet.  Through his compassion he helped me to leave my past abuse behind and helped me to become more passionate for Him.  Thank you, Pastor!

My prayer for spiritual leaders would be: “May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.” ~Philippians 1:2

In honor of Pastor Appreciation month, I would like to thank the rest of the staff at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in San Antonio, Texas.  They are as follows: Tom Gibbs, Senior Pastor; Brandon Eggar, Associate Pastor; Victor Martinez, Assistant Pastor; Michael Novak, RUF Pastor; Brent Watkins, Music Ministry (BTW he also has his own jazz band “South Texas Jazz); Bekah McNeel, Children’s Director; Matt Beham, Youth Director (who has spent countless hours with my kids); Harriet Peavy, Office Administrator; Sarah Gill, Assistant Administrator.  I would also like to thank the Elders, Deacons, and Deaconesses for their countless hours of service.  There are so many others that play an integral part behind the scenes, and God bless you all for your time and efforts to further His kingdom.

Begin With the End. Begin With Him!

I, personally, have a hard time focusing.  Not only do I have ADD, I have trouble concentrating on what’s important at hand.  I’m not exactly the best at seeing the “big” picture.

I teach school and we have been participating in Stephen Covey‘s program: “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People“.  The first two habits talk about being proactive, and begin with the end in mind.  One must start with a clear purpose in mind of where they might want to end up.  I thought about this idea, and this is what I decided.

HHHMMM!!!!  Begin with the end.  Begin with Him!  I should focus on the cross.

My purpose in life should be knowing Christ, and building a relationship with Him.  Now, I have a bad habit of focusing on my self.  I tend to deal with things that pretty much-well…include me.  I don’t focus on the big picture–which should be Christ.  I begin to day dream and get caught up in “self”; thus, losing sight of Jesus.

Part of my problem is my lack of organization.  Other problems may include idol time, and lack of passion to set the goal of learning His word (which should be a high priority).  I want things to come easily.  I don’t necessarily want to put out the effort.  I tend to look for shortcuts.  Not that doing these things, or wanting them, are always bad; but when I begin not to see the necessity of the cross…then my faithfulness has become quite superficial.  I need to stop taking the easy way.  Sometimes the “road less traveled” may be lonely, but necessary.  My pastor, Tom Gibbs, has made emphasis about these shortcuts before.

Covey talks about being proactive versus reactive.  Proactive is when you define a clear purpose of what you are working toward…with the end in sight.  Reactive is when people live in the past, or can’t get out of the present.  Their purpose is kind of minimal.  They may remember the old way, and  seem to get stuck on only dealing with that type of situation.  They really don’t look to the future, and what could happen in the long run if they focused.

My pastor, Tom Gibbs, says that we are called to be active in our faith.  Even when we continue with the shortcut, Christ is taking the hard way to draw near to us.  He is our champion!  He is our Savior!  It’s right to give Him thanks and praise–at all times.

Sometimes I think I test the sincerity of God.  Is He really for me?  Does He really have my best interest?  I tend to do all of the talking. It’s a one way relationship between God and myself.  I lose focus of His plan for me, and I just look ahead to my plan.  Instead of talking all of the time, I should be listening to what God has to say.  He does have some skills–hahahaha!

Part of being able to focus sometimes means I might need a “time out”.  This past summer my pastor took a Sabbatical.  Now, I haven’t actually talked to him in person, but he has told the congregation how great it was to renew his relationship with the Lord, his wife, and kids.

I consistently need to be renewed if I am to press on in this life.  How can I expect to build a relationship with God, or any other person, if I don’t take a break.  In this case, taking a break to become renewed in Christ may mean taking a break from the ways of the world.  I may need to meditate and pray more on His words.  I will need to do my best to really listen to Him.

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” ~ 1 Peter 1:13

There are different ways to become renewed.  Physical activity is a great way to become renewed.  Eating right and exercising will give me strength and the energy I need to focus.  With better focus, I could deepen my thoughts in my mind on His words.  With the commitment of focusing on Him, it would touch the very core of my spirit.  I would draw nearer to Him understanding that His grace and mercy is for not just for me…but for everyone.   With having a renewed spirit, I might be able to begin to build relationships with others.

Building relationships means that I will have to build trust.  When I build trust with another person, it gives me hope.  I know that there is hope in Jesus.  He is forever faithful to me.  Because of Jesus’ faithfulness, I will be able to be more faithful to Him and to all that He commands of me.

I will say that a big obstacle of my focusing on His faithfulness, is meditating on His words.  I’m a pretty decent prayer warrior; but the meditating on His words is tough for me to focus on.  That’s where coming together as a community of believers to worship is great for people like me.  The service at my church is like a “full meal deal”.  There is so much going on, and it touches  all aspects of a great worship service.  We have meditation, prayers, music, greetings of peace, the sermon, communion, and a benediction.  It just goes on and on–in a good way.  My needs are definitely met, and I feel quite full of the Spirit when I leave.

Drawing near to Him, and being able to draw on all my resources of renewal, allows me to become uplifted.  Being uplifted allows me to focus on Him without being distracted.  Therefore, focusing would allow me to concentrate not only the uniqueness of myself, but others; thus possibly making a difference in how I see the big picture.

Christ shall be the focus of my renewal of my mind. I will be proactive with my faithfulness for Him by drawing near to Him. I will build trust in my relationship with God by becoming a better listener. I should begin with the end. I should begin with Him…keeping my eyes focused on the cross.  Amen!

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” ~ Romans 12:2

Shalom: A Greater Kind of Peace

Who would like Shalom? <with hand raised high, while saying, “I do. I do.”>

In the Bible, the Hebrew word “Shalom” means peace.

Shalom is no ordinary peace.  Shalom is a greater, more complete peace.  It is the ultimate peace!  My Pastor Tom Gibbs describes Shalom as a “wholeness within all of the world”.  I love that thought.  A peaceful, wholeness within all the world to share His Light.

The Hebrew word “Shalav” means to be at rest.

To me, Shalom is a greater kind of peace…a peaceful rest that can only come from my Father in Heaven.

As Pastor Tim Keller says, “Shalom is like a fabric that has been interwoven together and is beautiful.”  I can picture this beautiful fabric that is quite intricate with lots of details.

I found a needlepoint work of art at Goodwill.  Someone had donated it; but inside the mounted frame, and delicately woven into the fabric, was the word Shalom.   Someone spent a lot of time working on this beautiful piece of art.  BTW, I gave this piece of art to my daughter, Erica Hairston from which the blog “Teach Me To Walk” was written.  She has a beautiful peace about her, and I thought she would love it.  I had thought of writing about Shalom back in April, and after finding this beautiful piece of art…I felt I had to share these thoughts.

Relationships, like this piece of art, are delicate.  We have many pieces of fabric that are interwoven together.  Sometimes the fabric becomes unraveled…much like our brokenness within our lives.  The fabric then must  become “re” woven so that we as Christians will be able to bring about witness for Him.

We all seem to long for Shalom at some point in our lives.  We want to live in Shalom and search for it; but, the place has already been created by God.  It is called Heaven.  Here on Earth there is no lasting place, or city to dwell in; but there is one city that can last (and it has yet to come).

How do we seek this place of Shalom?  We have to engage in the practice of loving our neighbor.  Love should be our action…after all, it was His action.

I’m the worst at becoming judgmental of others especially when I think they have wronged me.  The truth is…I’m not in charge of justice; but, I am in charge of my actions.  God is in charge of justice; but, His justice is different from what mine looks like.  God’s justice is love…in action.  Being able to forgive, be thankful, not moan for what I think I may deserve.  Not becoming an “idol” worshiper of my own desires.

I’m reminded of the Christian band Luminate.  They have a song called “Shine“.  The lyrics go as follows:

“And though it starts with one, There will be a million candles.
There will be millions more, Singing with the tongues of angels.
The Light of Heaven falling down, Spreading love to the darkest places.
I want to strike a match, and watch it bring salvation.

Shine, Love is an action.
Shine, Oh it starts with a passion.
We want to be a heart that’s pure
So all will see that we are Yours…
Shine.”

In order to spread His love, by shining His Light, we may have to meet the needs of others through sacrificial love.  We should try to make a difference in other’s lives, besides our own.  In fact, we are not our own…we are His.  If we don’t love the least of these, then we do not love Him.  In the Bible it states, “He who is kind to the poor…loves Me!”

God is for us.  He has walked in our shoes.  He knows how to identify with us as poor, broken, and oppressed.  After all, He was born in a manger, died on a cross, and buried in a tomb.  He knows exactly what’s it is like to suffer the consequences of others.  I’m reminded daily that my sins pinned Him on the cross.  I was one of the many who stood in the crowd and did nothing to show love to my neighbor as he died a heinous death.

By His death on the cross, He has vindicated our sins, and we have been saved by His grace.  With such grace, we are able to find Shalom and live the life of Shalav that He has intended for us to live.

God’s justice for us was shown through His love in action.  It was His promise of  Shalom.  He tells us not to worry.  He gives us Shalav…a place to rest. In fact, He asks us to rest upon His yoke.  It’s not just for me to rest but for all who are weary and burdened.  God gives us a peaceful rest, isn’t that awesome!  We are to take advantage of that rest, so that we will become better equipped to shine His Light for others to know of His salvation.

Yes, we all get worn out from our daily living, and that’s why we need to take a break.  We may need to renew our faith; like the wings of eagles. We must soar with great passion from within ourselves, and the community of the church, to be able to turn this passion into an action.

The good news is that we have been forgiven and there is a future for us…a future in Heaven.  We are reminded of this future when we worship with our church community.  As a community we become that fabric that has become “re” woven together so that we can become a community of believers that bring about the fruits of His Spirit. We will begin to proclaim the reality that the love we show was His action taken when He died on the cross.

Slowly, we can begin to make a difference…striking His match.  The journey He took for us will begin to shine through us, and we will begin to let His Light be seen throughout many dark places.

The whole earth is full of His glory!  Let His love be the action that obtains Shalom: a greater kind of peace that dwells within us for the whole earth to see!

Shalom, and may you go in peace by making a difference…by shining His Light in dark places when all other lights go out!

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