Following Jesus Beyond Our Walls

As His ministry began, (Luke 4), Jesus declared His mission: to be filled with the Spirit to share the Good News of God’s love, to offer freedom to the prisoners, sight to the blind, and to live out God’s kingdom in the world.

Over 150 of His disciples gathered at Central on Saturday, October 22nd. Rev. Greg Gibson laid out our purpose: to go beyond our church walls to serve others with love. We were commissioned to take the message of hope and healing to our community, and to welcome everyone into God’s family. Dr. Jan Davis blessed us all in wanting to make a difference by giving of our time and ourselves, and prayed for God’s Spirit to be upon us as we proclaimed the life-changing news of a loving Heavenly Father that desires every person to be free and in relationship with Christ – to go and make Christ central to life to the people of NW Arkansas.

Being like Jesus, we shared a meal and fellowship with 400 people.

Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. (Luke 9:16-17)

Following His example, we humbled ourselves – and cleaned yards, gardens, and apartments.

 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  (Philippians 2:3-4)

Sharing the grace we’d been given, we offered compassion and kindness to our neighbors. Seeking God’s heart for the lost, we invited others to Genesis Church to find forgiveness, love, and community.

“Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:7)

If only for the former prison inmate and his wife that were welcomed and joined us for worship Sunday at Genesis and declared that he was free!! and felt loved by God – going Beyond Our Walls made a difference for time and eternity.

Many thanks to the volunteers and church staff that made our mission a blessing to all those served and serving. In memory of her and her service at every Beyond Our Walls, I have added a picture of our dear friend, Judy Welch – loving and teaching children last fall.

Lord, we know you went onto the world to welcome all people into your family. Help us to serve as you did, to love as you do, and to see all people as our brothers and sisters. Amen.

 

 

 

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In her forever home

The one constant in our Actions and Truth Ministry to the broken, hurting, and needy in our community for the last 6 years has been the woman who put her faith into action tirelessly and unselfishly – Judy Welch.

Judy was there when no one else would help clean the home of a family of 6 when the mom and dad were lost in addiction. With her encouragement and dogged determination to get them treatment- the family is now prospering and attending church.

Judy held the hand of a dying alcoholic, bought her food and clothing and fed her as the woman lost her battle with illness. Judy was there as we held the woman’s hand and led her to faith in Christ – and because of Judy’s care, they are today both celebrating real life in God’s presence.

Judy was there to comfort a homeless woman with nowhere to go and no one to turn to. Judy found her a place and helped furnish it – and because of Judy’s compassion and witness, the woman now has a home and serves others weekly at Genesis Church.

She took felons without a friend in the world into her arms, she provided her own backyard paradise as a place for a homeless couple to be wed, she offered kindness and love to children and families with 1000’s of Christmas gifts over the years, and was always available to serve or help in ministry in whatever way needed.

She was our constant; the hands and feet of Christ sorting and giving out clothing, food, household and personal care items to those with nothing. She was our encourager; telling each person (myself included) that God wanted us to not give up, to keep working, and to move forward and not stay stuck in our past or our mistakes. She was our moral compass; letting us all know when we were doing the wrong things and that we should live a different way. She was like our 2nd mom; offering unconditional love when we were hurting, common sense when we were making bad choices, and a warm embrace no matter how bad we had screwed up.

She raised a family and treated everyone as part of it, she kept her home and gardens as a place for all to feel welcome, she provided for her ailing husband – she fought the good fight and battled cancer… persevered 13315705_10206686702154441_3014637443240532556_n-2judywithnewbornjudywiththekidsjudywithjanejudycommunitymealsjudyvalenciaand won.

We remember her good deeds and works that were a living example of what it’s like to live a life of love, in actions and in truth. We rejoice that she recently heard the words we all want to hear from our heavenly Father: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” We look forward to being together again in the loving arms and forever home of our Savior.

And we miss having her as a friend.

Lord, we praise you that you brought Judy into our lives. Help us to give of ourselves, of our time, talent, and resources as she did. Help us to be all that she wanted for our lives. Please comfort her children, husband, and all of us she called family and friends. Thank you for blessing us with her – in Christ’s name, Amen.

 

 

 

“You will always have the poor”

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The calls and requests from those in desperate need of help started coming early this week and never let up.

From Monday at 6 a.m.with a  60 year old single woman who’s burned through all her savings after hip replacement surgery and is now homeless; to Friday night having a mother who just found out she’s lost all rights to ever seeing her children, in a drunken rage, locked in a motel room bathroom screaming “I don’t wanna live anymore! Please, please pray for me – I’ve lost my babies!!”

Jesus’ beatitude “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”(Matthew 5:3) – is experienced as a daily reality at Genesis Church.

But how can you be blessed when you have lost everything you’ve worked so hard for? Or you are losing your children? Struggling with HIV? Or you have 4 children and have been to every abused Women’s shelter and your spouse is facing prison for manufacturing meth?

From personal experience, I think it points to the nature of the kingdom of God – when my body was shattered and I was losing everything, the only thing that mattered was complete reliance on the provision and love of God. When all is gone, the spiritual blessings of grace, mercy, and salvation by faith alone are all that we have.

In the kingdom of God, we find peace and blessings in our absolute dependence on God for our every need.

Christ comes to us in the broken – in the working poor sweltering without air conditioning, in the homeless unable to purchase medicine to stay alive, and as the lonely with no one to care for them.

Dear Lord as you rescued us in your deepest need – may we offer grace, compassion, and dignity to our neighbors in difficult situations. Assure them of your great love, and help us to see the blessings you give. Thank you for those who, out of their abundance, have donated everything from money to beds, refrigerators to washer/dryers, to their prayers and their time. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our safe little bubble

With the horrors of the shooting in Dallas, repeated incidents of police violence, terrorists attacks across the globe, and the nightmare that is the Middle East – we pray for peace and justice, and ‘mourn with those who mourn’.

All this can seem like things that happen ‘out there’. This leaves us grief stricken as we see the bios of the victims, and furious as we read about the perpetrators sick reasoning  behind such such senseless acts of hate.

But also feeling that at least we are in a peaceful, safe place amongst our family, friends, and community –  so I hesitate to add to all the sadness with reports of multiple attacks on women here in Fayetteville.

Sara happily lived a bohemian lifestyle, living in a south Fayetteville tent city. As the heat and partying intensified – she found herself waking in a pool of blood, unsure of the events that had happened the night before.

A longtime male friend, angered by her rebuffs to his advances – brutally assaulted and beat her, and left her face down in the woods. The idea of fun and freedom was shattered, and the entire campground was shut down due to increased fighting and 911 calls.

Another friend of ours – Steph and her 2 boys were already struggling with the aftereffects of abuse in the past when her and her husband were struggling with addiction. Things had apparently changed, they were reconciled, he was working and the boys were happy and healing, and mom and the kids were attending church regularly.

An argument over how he wasn’t paying rent or providing for the boys led to another outburst. This time it was bruised ribs, black eyes and head trauma, all in front of the kids – leading to him being sent to prison. They were left in a desperate financial and housing situation, and with Josh (5) and Jacob (7) telling me their Daddy had turned into a zombie they wanted to kill.

Lacey moved in a dangerous world, dancing for a living and trying to be strong and hold on to her soul and the hope for a better life as a CNA helping people. Trey never worked, and couldn’t stand the thought of her changing and of seeking a ‘normal’ lifestyle. In anger and fear of losing her and his addictive lifestyle, he terrorized and threatened her for days – eventually slapping her across the room.

When your body and beauty is your livelihood, it’s not possible to work with bruises and a purple face – so she’s lost her job and place to live. Lacey came to the church ashamed of who she was, looking for compassion and a chance at a new life away from his abuse and her past.

Sarah had experienced the loss of everything, including her young son, due to bad decisions on her part. At the first of the year, she took steps to get things back on track with a new job and safe home, and the dream of getting her child back. The company experienced hardships, and the new girl was the 1st to be laid off. Once again homeless, she had a friend and a place to stay. Some strangers came over and began shooting meth, at which point she took all of her and Austin’s valuables and left with just their backpack.

One of the guys took offense at her disgust with their needle use, and knowing she was alone with pills and money, jumped her from behind with a tire iron. Her skull was fractured, her face broken, and with her eyesight gone, she lay unconscious on the street – left for dead.

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All peaceful faiths teach some form of the Golden Rule: Do no harm (Wicca), treat others in the way you want to be treated ((Buddhism), or do not do to others what would cause pain to you (Hinduism). I have to stay positive and think that the vast majority of people live this way, otherwise hopelessness and despair at the recent events would cause me to just give up and hide in a safe little bubble.

 

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A female friend of mine (with a concealed carry permit) pointed out that we know that evil exists, and that violence is going to happen – and knowing that, we have to be prepared to act and respond.

We’ve helped these women begin healing, assured them of a loving God who cares for them, and taken steps towards providing safe housing and justice for these crimes.

With God’s help, we are looking to build a network of caring Christian women that will walk alongside these young ladies – assuring them of their great worth as children of God…the hope is for a mentoring type ministry; helping with new jobs, spiritual growth, and a chance to start the kind of life of safety they so want and deserve.

We also need to address the issue of violence against women with a mentoring program for at risk young men. We know many boys and teens that have grown up seeing this mistreatment and disrespect for women, and hopefully we can influence their behavior and attitudes by teaching them to live successfully as men of integrity.

Lord, bring healing and wholeness to these women you so love. Protect them, give them a future and a hope. Let them see that your strength can bring newness and joy. Please bring female and male mentors forward to help them and the young men. We beg for the ability to forgive those who commit these crimes, and know you can deliver them (and us) from hatred and anger. In the name of Him who knows our pain and works in our hearts to help us love one another – Christ our brother and Savior who mourns with us – amen.

 

 

 

 

Didn’t we almost have it all?

It’s not just Whitney Houston that seemed to have it all (beauty, fame, and every material possession imaginable) and yet was still looking for something more.

Despite the tragic end of her life, I pray that we can realize that God offers us everything we need, every moment of our lives.

Each of us seems to be looking for it all – in some thing, some one, some where, or some how…

Many have gone before us looking, think of the King of Rock and Roll:

“yes, I know how lonely life can be

The shadows follow me and the night won’t set me free”

Elvis Presley – And I Love You So

or the King of Israel:

“Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure… And indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind” Ecclesiastes 2:10-11

Maybe the answer shouldn’t be that we were {THIS} close to having it all and we lost it, but the question itself needs to be changed completely to: “don’t we already have it all and don’t realize it?”

Bono sang that “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”, but famous people aren’t the only ones searching in vain; there’s the person with a successful career and beautiful family who turns to drugs or an affair, the older person unsure of what life was all about, or the person who searches for it all in love and relationships.

Whitney’s lyrics in ‘Didn’t we almost have it all’ point to the real problem early on when she sings about ‘living on feelings’.

Feelings are notoriously unreliable as a gauge to what truly matters, and lead to us trying to ‘bring back those feelings once again’.

That’s the trap of drugs, needing more and more to find that elusive hit to bring joy and pleasure. Or the need to be ‘in love’, to have that sense of acceptance and caring, or the ‘fix’ from gambling – “man, if I could just hit one more winner!!

It’s when we realize that we already do truly have it all that we can have the abundant life Jesus talked about – not feeling that our lives are lacking – to live knowing The Lord’s Prayer has been answered in our life.

There is some thing that will satisfy our souls’ longing: the lavish grace and acceptance of our Creator.

There is that some one that truly loves us just as we are: the Son of God who so loved us that He gave His life for us, and promises to never forsake us or leave us.

There is some where that we were meant to be: living in God’s kingdom every moment while we are alive, and forever someday in Heaven.

And there is some how we are to live: by faith, as Spirit-filled, love offering, children of God – who realize we do have it all in the arms of our dear Savior.

My prayer is to truly Love God and Love others, to cherish each precious moment where we have everything we ever hoped for offered to us, living by faith and in freedom – realizing that God truly does give us our hearts’ desires when we seek His will in all things. May we grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ’s love for each of us.

 

 

 

 

My highly overrated death

My life was in tatters, my depression was suffocating, my pain was beyond self-medication, and I was ambivalent about it all – including living.

So 4 years ago, on May 27th, 2012 , I woke at 5 a.m. with the plan of going to the Buffalo River to somehow ‘restart’ or ‘energize’ myself by re-baptizing in those crystal clear waters.

Everything was strong that morning – the coffee, the cigarettes, the pot, and the Yamaha FZ600. Sufficiently numb, the sun was barely rising when I reached Elkins.  All worries and troubles fade away casually cruising into the curves and heading into the sunrise. Joining a group of BMW sport riders in Red Star, we proceeded down Hwy. 21 in triple digits, but I humbly backed away, having had enough extreme speed riding.

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The elk were bugling and waiting for me at Ponca Valley, and the field was filled with deer and 50 campers at Steele Creek that holiday weekend.  A peace came over me as I slipped past the kayakers and hikers suspended in the trees in their hammock tents – for the bluffs were rising above me, and the healing waters glistened greenish-blue.

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On my knees, begging for help from God, cupping the water over my head – my plea was for change in my life.  A new start. A real hope. A miracle to transform me.

That came outside the Elkins 1st Baptist Church when the driver a city block in front of me didn’t turn right into the parking lot per his indicator – instead letting other church goers turn in front of him on Hwy. 16.  A vehicle goes a long way at 40 mph in just 2 seconds, and as I spent that time gazing at the church thinking I might stop in, there was no way to react.

“So this is how my life ends?” were my last thoughts as I plowed headfirst into the Jeep Cherokee.  My bike’s frame was broke in half, and my neck was literally imploded from C4 – C7, leaving me paralyzed from the chin down.

I was floating in a calming bright light, free from worry or pain – at complete peace for the first time in my life. As a hand reached out for me to bring me closer, I felt enveloped in love, and was overjoyed to join Christ there at a table set out for us.  I didn’t want to go back, for I knew what was waiting for me back there lying on top of the Yamaha.

A hand was indeed reaching for me, and I asked “Are you Jesus?”, and he said “No, I’m an EMT 1st responder here to keep you stable, still, and alive until the ambulance arrives – please stay with me and keep talking.” That was God right there in my most broken, protecting me from dying from the slightest wrong move that would have ruptured the blood clot 4 inches from my brain.

And there were angels there, as the entire church assembly stood beside the accident scene.  I could feel their prayers in my soul, words overflowed through my spirit for me to survive, to heal, and to perservere through all that lie ahead.

I was talking away, giving out phone numbers of family and friends, making sure they would tell my wife and son how much I loved them, and recounting the trip and river experience.  The last words I thought I would ever hear were “How much morphine should I give him?”

God was changing me –  by breaking me down, humbling me, and creating in me the real trust in Him that I had never had for anyone before.

In the hospital we were told I would be paralyzed for life, bound to a special wheelchair, needing feeding tubes and specialized nursing home type care.  There was complete terror in my mind that even Dilaudid couldn’t soothe.  What kind of life was this going to be? How could God allow this and how could he use me like this? Why didn’t I die instead of putting my family through this?

Miraculously, a surgeon was there to teach a new procedure for implanting titanium trees and bone fusion treatments into patients with traumatic neck injuries.  Again, God had provided for me in ways behind human intervention – and after a procedure to relieve the blood clot, my fingers and toes starting coming to life the next day.

I knew that my marriage was ruined by this, but by God’s grace and mercy, she agreed to care for me (I can never thank her enough) until I was able to make it on my own. The therapy was intense and progress slow, the drug overdoses were horrifying, and pain treatment made me brain dead and miserable and unable to think or pray, but the support and prayers of my family and friends and the laying on of handsDr,Bo by Dr. Bo and numerous pastors gave me healing and strength.

I now play golf (poorly and infrequently), garden (rabbits seem to enjoy it), and work out (not as much as I should) and each day the stairs seem a little easier, the losses aren’t as overwhelming, and the nerve pain seems to dissipate.

Losing everything brought me to the point of trusting completely in God. Being in depression, drug addiction and agony gave me empathy for those I seek to minister to. Living in resiliency made me see that there’s always hope for change for any of us, and somehow dying showed me the preciousness of every moment and the importance of every choice.

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I’m not perfect, I’m no saint, I’m not a prophet back from the dead, I’ve got issues, aches and pains, and make poor choices (welcome to real life!)- but God has showered me with blessings and showed me that His love and grace are all that matter.

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With hope and trust, we can move forward knowing that His will for us is to live as His precious children – completely cared for by Him, totally reliant on His strength, given meaning and purpose in loving Him and others, and assured of everlasting Hope in His arms.

 

Snowball Effect

The past few days, things have seemingly spiraled out of control, snowballing to seem overwhelming.

A young boy has died from complications of a tick bite, our co-worker has had lung surgery to remove cancer, a family from church is being evicted, one friend is facing prison, another had a heart attack, and yet another is facing homelessness.

But instead of seeing a snowball growing or things going from bad to worse in a cycle something like this:

Bad things happen – feel out of control – stress and worry

Maybe we can have a reaction where we view things differently and react like this instead:

Christ comes to us hurting and needy – turn to God in prayer and supplication – trust and walk by faith.

The first way of reacting is understandable, but it’s the 2nd that draws us closer to suffering and into the arms of our loving heavenly Father.

It’s only by trusting that we can see God at work in all things, and only in walking by faith that we give Christ the glory no matter what this life brings.