Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Walking It Out

I am witnessing God's Word come to life. It can be exciting, sure; but I'll at least be honest and say that it can be extremely unsettling, too. Let me explain. As I grow "from glory to glory" in my relationship with Christ, as I study God's Word, as I spend time in prayer, as I walk along this path with my companions...God just orchestrates things. You know? I don't believe in "circumstances". My God is so mysterious, and He truly is so divinely invloved in what is happening.

The more of The Word I know, the more responsible I must be to living true to that Word. I believe that. When I say "know the Word"...I do mean "know"...not just memorization or having key verses highlighted in my Bible. A deep knowing. Recently, I have been so tuned into how often our Father will give us the opportunities to walk out our faith.

Now, I want to relate something that is in no means meant to sound like anything prideful at all. In fact, she may even be a little embarrassed that I am sharing this, but I think it is an important lesson. Last night at Hope, we had a training session for our volunteers for the upcoming Leadership Summit. Before everything started, we met a man named Chris who had fallen on some pretty bad times this week.

Chris is from California and had come to the area because some friends had offered him some work. He gets here, lives with them, and finds that they are heavily involved in drugs. Bottom line: Chris had no place to go. God brought him to our church. A homeless man named Tommy, who attends Hope, brought him to the church because he thought we could help.

After our meeting, Chris was still there because he had not been able to make the contacts he needed to get shelter. I stood in Mary Ann's office as she met with him and gave him an action plan. She prayed with him, encouraged him, and then we drove him to a hotel up the street. She paid for a room for the night for him, and then we drove him to get some dinner. Again, I am not in any way trying to glorify Mary Ann. This is about obedience to God and His Word. To God be the Glory!

See, Mary Ann had a choice to make when it came to Chris. Don't we often find it so easy to just tell someone we will pray for them? Don't misunderstand me - prayer is amazing; but is it possible that we sometimes use prayer as an excuse not to do anything? If we have the means to meet a need, why don't we pray AND meet that need?

James 2:14-17 reads: "What is the use, my brethren, for anyone to profess to have faith if he has no good works to show for it? Can such faith save his soul? If a brother or sister is poorly clad and lacks food for each day, and one of you says to him, Good-Bye! Keep yourself warm and well fed, without giving him the necessities for the body, what good does that do? So also faith, if it does not have works, by itself is destitute of power."

God will put people in front of us. The decision of what we will do is entirely ours. Mary Ann loves God too much to be knowingly disobedient to Him. She showed God's love and compassion, and we have no idea the impact her prayers AND her actions may make on this young man's life.

God challenges me daily...daily, to be aware and focused on His people. I want you to see how those verses from James 2 are written in the Message Bible:

"Dear Friends, do you think you'll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, 'Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!' and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup - where does that get you?

Isn't it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?"

Lord, I do not want to live some pious, religious life of outrageous nonsense. Thank you for loving me so much that you won't let me live like that.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Blown Away

I love my church! I was blown absolutely away today at Hope. God has so blessed us with some great teaching pastors: Mike, Dave, Joe, Steve, and Donnie. They are all different (which I love) and they teach the Word of God in creative and inspired ways.

Pastor Steve Ellis, our Outreach Pastor, taught today in our continuing series, "Road Trip With Jesus". The title of his message was "E-Roading...When Life Disappoints" and he used Luke 24:13-35...the road to Emmaus. It was one of the most powerful teachings on ANY subject I have ever heard. If you do not attend Hope, check out our website (you can find a direct link on the right side of this page). Check on the site later in the week and you should be able to get a podcast of Steve's message . You can also get CD copies at Hope beginning next Sunday.

If I attempted in any way to summarize it for you, I would diminish this awesome word from God. Trust me...find a way to get a copy of this teaching!

I serve with our First Impressions Ministry, and if you know me; you have heard me talk about it. (probably more than you ever wanted to hear, but I appreciate you humoring me!) We huddle before week-end services as a team to verify positions, share information, and pray. I love the community God has established, and how He just keeps developing and transforming us. A great part of huddle is a devotion....just a time to share in a personal way what God is doing. Now normally, Mary Ann or I do the devotionals, and we do love it. We both LOVE to talk and we joke about "always having something to say!" (It really is not a joke...we DO have a lot to say)

However, one of our Team Leaders led Huddle this week-end and she did a remarkable job. Kudos to Jenny Carpenter! You straight rock, Jenny! God put something amazing on her heart to share, and it was a huge part of my worship experience at Hope today.

See...I love hearing our Senior Pastor, Mike, teach and preach. I love when Mary Ann shares her heart and her life in Huddle. I love sharing in Huddle. It's not about who is preaching or who is leading volunteer huddle. It really is about God. He uses us all. In different ways. In wonderful ways. It is sad when we will only open our hearts to a certain preacher, teacher, or huddle leader. God annointed Steve and Jenny today and used them to speak to His sheep. I, for one, am glad I didn't miss out.

I am in awe.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

We took a trip to Lexington, Kentucky in January, and this is one of the friends I made at Gainesway Farms. Lexington is beautiful country with beautiful people. Gainesway is enormous and it is home to some amazing horses and past Kentucky Derby winners. I could have stayed there all day.

What Tammy Faye Taught Me

It has been just a little over a week since Tammy Faye Messner died of cancer. It was remarkable watching her final appearance on "Larry King Live" just hours before her death. She had some spunk, ya know? Tammy Faye also had a lot of grace...and an amazing faith.

Now let me be honest and say that back in the day, regrettably, I was part of a large group in America that ridiculed her. I even had that tee shirt with all of the splattered colors on the front that read "I ran into Tammy Faye at the mall." I imagine those shirts are fetching quite a price now on ebay. (Did I just use the word "fetching"?)

Mom took us to PTL/Heritage USA several times, and we even got to see a taping of "The Jim and Tammy Show". You know Heritage USA was really a remarkable dream and concept. It was a fun, very clean, Christian place to vacation or just come hang out for a day. It was always so beautiful at Christmas.

Granted, the Bakkers made some really bad mistakes. However, I do believe the vision was inspired. They just really got sidelined by the desires of the flesh. We've all done that on some level. They answer to God, not to me.

Here's the thing about Tammy Faye. I think she remained relevant and a true witness of God's redemptive love and ultimate restoration. (see Romans 3:22-24). Aren't we all thankful that this restoration is available to us? I would hate to live my life having people hold me in bondage for my former mistakes and sins.

Tammy Faye loved people...all people. She didn't take herself too seriously. She just kept loving the Lord and sharing His love.

When people remember her, sure; they will always remember the PTL scandal. I get that. They'll remember the make-up and false eyelashes. I get that. That is not her legacy, though.

There were two things she always said on their tv show:

1) "You Can Make It!" Well...Tammy Faye...you made it.

2) She would close the show with "Remember...God loves you, and I do, too!" Well...Tammy Faye...God loves you, and I do, too. Thanks for the lesson.

Ephesians 1:7

Friday, July 27, 2007

"The Merritt System"

OK. Anyone who knows me, knows that I love the music of Tift Merritt. LOVE it! This locally-grown artist has been a fave of mine for years. I just finished reading an article about her in Fifteen 501 magazine. There was not a lot in the article about Tift's career that I did not already know, but I did gain some new perspective. I hope my feeble writing skills will be able to convey that here.

Merritt's 2004 CD, "Tambourine", was nominated for a Grammy as Best Country album. The author of this article, Kurt Dusterberg, described her nomination as "a square peg in a category that leaned toward traditional offerings from Loretta Lynn and Tim McGraw."

Hmmmm....square peg in something that leans traditional! I get that! I just love watching people who have to put others in a "category" or "box". Their worlds seemingly cannot function if there is something or someone that does not fit neatly into their parameters. I think that is pretty prevalent in a lot of churches today.

You know what? There are some really different folks out there. Hey! I'm different! I am exactly as God created me to be doing what He created me to do. That is the freedom He offers. I do not have to fit into some false standard of what someone else thinks a Christ follower should look and dress like. Christ is THE standard. It's not you, me, anyone else. Christ alone.

Back to Tift. She is definitely hard to pinpoint as an artist. She's a little bit country, a little bit Southern rock, a little bit R & B. (I sound like Donny & Marie) Defintely not mainstream. Definitely not making millions from her music. She is just doing what she is supposed to be doing.

Go buy "Bramble Rose" (her first CD) and "Tambourine". You won't be disappointed. She should have a third CD out later on her new label. I recently loaned my copies of both to someone, and I miss them!

Anyway, here is the final paragraph of Mr. Dusterberg's article. It speaks to me and my life with Christ.

"Once you're going in the right direction, you follow your heart and you have confidence. I've always been an artist and I always will be. I'll be doing it whether everybody is looking or not."

Thursday, July 26, 2007

"Not Feeling So Good Myself"

Tough times as of late. My wife, Beth, died in 2005 and I miss her every day. It has really been a tough road lately, though. Her race is won, but I struggle with mine. The amazing thing is...God just keeps bringing me through! My testimony is: "I am still here!" My best friends, Mary Ann and Dean..we talk about PRESSING ON. That has been my theme for the past 2 years. Press on and press through.

A loss like this gives so much perspective if you allow it to. I have been recalling the "crossroads" Beth's sudden illness and death put me at in February 2005. I remember thinking to myself: "Russ, you are either going to run away from God as fast as you can, or you are going to run to Him as fast as you can." I remember that decision, and yes... it was a decision. God is a good God, and as Dean always reminds me...He does not change. (Malachi 3 :6)

My life verse(s) has always been 1 Thessaloninas 5:16-18. "Be joyful always; pray continuously; and give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."
I give thanks IN all circumstances...not "because" of my circumstances.

I thank God for my friends/family who have walked beside me. The pain is still there, but there really is hope. God has really used my experiences to "walk beside" others. Look up 2 Corinthians 1:3-6. I do look at life differently (is that a cliche?). God's comfort and peace are available...nothing compares!