Serving that Looks Different

It’s no secret COVID-19 is changing the way people carry out daily activities. Yet, across the globe, people have learned to adjust and find creative ways to accomplish tasks and further relationships. For believers, a pandemic does not change the mission of reaching people for Jesus. It simply changes how we achieve that mission during this season.

So, how can the body of Christ engage our crisis-centered world full of people eager to latch onto something (or Someone) that will not let go?

Relationships are Foundational

A crisis comes and goes. New products are old the next day. Systems often change. Yet, amid the ever-changing world are the people God places in our lives. Why do people feel alone in isolation? Why can’t people wait to get back to their workplace, ballgames, and concerts? Because the Creator of the universe created us for community. Genesis 2:18 (ESV) says, “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’” These days, in the midst of a crowed online presence, there is a high possibility people are still feeling lonely. Activity does not replace intimacy. While getting “back to the office” is important, don’t miss the precious time you have with your spouse and children right now.

Serving people well is crucial because relationships are foundational. Whether people want to admit it or not, they long for that text. They long for the phone call after a lengthy, hard day. They long for an extra measure of thoughtfulness coming in the form of an unexpected home-cooked meal delivered on their doorstep. They want people to continue to encourage them to the finish line. Judy Harmon, an Auxiliary from Valley Center, California, found this to be true recently when she and other members reached out to a few other Auxiliary who are widows. She says, “We have embraced the need for prayer, and we are having daily [virtual] prayer meetings at 7 a.m. Concerning our widows, some of whom live alone, we are providing a daily time where they can be encouraged. This also allows ladies to pray for what is concerning them the most since we cannot physically meet.”

Use Available Tools

To serve well in this season, people like Judy have found the importance of using the available tools at hand. Right now, “Meet me at the coffee shop in ten minutes,” may not be the best way of ministering to people. For some, it may not be an option at all. Yet, people still have hardships and needs. This is why finding creative ways to serve people during COVID-19 is so important.

One of the tools provided by The Gideons International is GideonCards—a simple, fun, and strategic way to minister to others and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. By visiting SendTheWord.org, anyone can send a physical card or an e-card with a word of encouragement. With every GideonCard you send, your donation provides for Bibles and Testaments to be distributed around the world, for free, by The Gideons. Think about the impact of the moment when you are told, “Remember when you sent me that card in the mail…” This is just one of many ways to reach the people you love with hope and inspiration.

Other ways may include inviting your neighbor to stream your church’s worship service with you and your family. Or, finding a unique way to connect with the high school senior and his or her family who just found out graduation will be different this year. No matter the circumstances, there are available tools for you to use to reach people. We never know on this side of eternity what a simple act of kindness did in someone’s life.

Remember the End Goal

Serving is about faithful obedience and not selfish gain. When Christians serve, God can use this as an avenue to point people to Himself. God desires an intimate relationship with his most prized possession—you and me. Ephesians 2:10 (ESV) says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” You may be the vehicle God is using to reach someone in His name.

Norma, an Auxiliary from Ohio, realized this as she was dining in a local restaurant one day. A woman came up to her and said, “Do you remember me?” The lady didn’t offer anything else, just the question. Norma recognized the woman, if only slightly. “You do look familiar,” she replied. “It’s been a while,” the woman began. “We met in this very restaurant two years ago. It’s a day I’ll never forget.

The woman continued, “You came up to me and asked if I went to church here. I didn’t. You didn’t get mad; you were patient. You offered me a Testament provided by The Gideons, and I was blessed to take it. Together, we reviewed the Helps section and God’s plan of salvation. I accepted the Lord as my Savior and signed the back of the Testament that night. After rejoicing together, we went our separate ways, and I’ll never forget you saying, ‘See you in Heaven.’ I felt so much love and peace that night.”

As a result, the woman started reading Scripture, then going to church. Soon, her husband and kids came with her. The woman then told Norma, “I just want you to know that you changed my life by handing me that Testament. Because of you, my whole family is in Church. We’re all believers—thank you.”

The encounter between Norma and the woman is an excellent reminder that the end goal of faithfully serving is the glory of God and the expansion of His Kingdom. COVID-19 can’t stop this mission—it may just cause serving to look a little different.

This article originally appeared here

7 People to Pray for Through Crisis

When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He spoke of the Kingdom of God being lived out on Earth as it is in heaven. What a powerful statement. This has the potential to change the way we live and how we view the things of this world. Living out the Kingdom of God here on Earth can change how we love our spouse, how we parent our children, and how we reflect Christ to others.

During these unprecedented times, we don’t have control of many areas of our lives, but we can still pray. Notice the words of Jesus from Matthew 6:9-13 (ESV) and how He taught His disciples to pray:

“Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.’”

Stories are circulating in the news of how people are struggling amidst COVID-19. Many are losing their jobs, unable to visit family members in nursing homes, and having to rearrange even the most fundamental aspects of their lives. As the body of Christ, we can pray strategically for the people God has placed in our lives. We can pray for God’s will to be done on Earth as it is heaven. Below are seven groups of people you can strategically pray for through this pandemic. If you want, print these suggestions out and post them in a specific place in your house that will serve as a daily prayer reminder. During your time alone with the Lord, look up the passages of Scripture, read them, and highlight them in your Bible or a Bible app.

Seven People to Pray for Through Crisis

  1. Pray for those who struggle with anxiety and depression. (Psalm 46:1; Psalm 34:4)
  2. Pray for those who are curious about God. (John 14:6)
  3. Pray for those who are seeking guidance. (Psalm 32:8)
  4. Pray for those who are lonely. (Psalm 23)
  5. Pray for those who are dealing with sickness and pain. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
  6. Pray for those who struggle with worry. (1 Peter 5:6-7)
  7. Pray for those who feel a sense of hopelessness. (Hebrews 10:23)

Praying the way Jesus taught will naturally change the way we live our lives. Maybe this kind of praying will cause you to evaluate how you interact with other people. We may not know what the person standing next to us is currently dealing within their life. As we pray with a Kingdom-mindset, we can also demonstrate the love of Christ in the following ways:

  1. Serve others. (1 Peter 4:10)
  2. Share your faith. (Matthew 10:19-20)
  3. Practice sincerity. (1 Peter 1:22)

James, the half-brother of Jesus, reminds us that “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16b ESV). Take time in the coming days to pray strategically for the people God has placed in your life.

This article originally posted here.

What Matters the Most

Every Christ follower is called to regularly share their faith—few actually do. According to Barna Research, among practicing Christians, more than half report having two or fewer conversations about faith with a non-Christian during the past year (56%). How can this be?

The reason more than half of Christians do not regularly share their faith varies. Some people fear being asked questions about their faith they may not be able to answer, while others struggle to articulate their own faith journey or fear being rejected.

No matter the reasons, God has called all believers to proclaim the Good News. Yet often, in the busyness of life, many Christians tend to focus on accomplishing a to-do list instead of living life on mission for Christ. Consider the following story of Tim:

The alarm sounds at 5:30 a.m. to wake Tim. He sips his morning coffee and silently prays for his wife and children before leaving for work. Tim is the senior vice president at a local bank, whose customers have grown to love his infectious personality. He answers emails, returns calls, and works with customers on the best solutions to their financial needs—a routine that has been a part of Tim’s life for the past decade. He leaves work a little early to prepare for his son’s little league baseball practice—trading in his suit and tie for his athletic shorts and coach’s notepad. Before you know it, Saturday is here, and it’s another early morning wake-up call as he heads to his Gideon prayer meeting, then once again joins his son’s team for their afternoon game. The Sunday morning rain creates a damp ride to church with his family where he serves on the finance committee and as a deacon. Phone calls, emails, practices, meetings, and church—all these things shape Tim’s routine.

A question rings in his mind as loud as a local train coming through town: What drives me to do the things I do?

After asking himself the question, Tim is quickly reminded of a more strategic approach to his daily life. At Tim’s core, he is on a mission to fulfill a calling to win people to Jesus Christ. A calling that has been on his life since accepting Jesus Christ as His personal Lord and Savior as an eight-year-old boy.

Moving from Checklist to Calling

The activities of life can quickly become viewed as a checklist. A checklist mindset, even if unintentional, is driven by the phrase “I have to do these things.” It is easy to slip into this frame of mind to fulfill the ever-growing roles one has in life. Moving from a checklist mindset to a calling mindset involves processing why you do the things you do.

Tim loves his family and joyfully provides for them. He coaches his son’s team not only to create lasting memories but also because Tim sees it as a mission field. He is a Gideon because he knows God has called him to this Association—to strive side by side with other Christian business and professional men for the faith of the Gospel.

When Tim lives out his calling to its full potential, something beautiful starts to happen. The way he sees people changes. He has a deep appreciation for the words found in Matthew 9:36 (ESV), “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Tim has a passion for the people God has strategically placed in his life. This drives Tim to have conversations—not just ordinary conversations, but Gospel conversations.

As a Gideon committed to the spiritual discipline of being a man who witnesses, Tim makes it a priority to witness. He observes the people he knows well and the seemingly random people who come across his path. Why? Because he cares enough about the people God has placed in his life to talk about what eternity looks like for them. Eternity is forever, and at the end of the day, the only thing that really matters is a person’s relationship with God.

Are You Tim?

Does Tim’s story resonate with you? Sure, the particulars may be different, but the core is the same. People like Tim have huge hearts, but easily slip into a checklist mentality as the busyness of life captures their attention. In this mentality, calling is often lost. Moving from a checklist mindset to a calling mindset leads us to have compassion for people. Compassion for people then drives us to have conversations about eternity. Do you care enough about the people God has placed in your life to discuss their eternity? What really matters the most?

This is what sharing your faith is all about—strategically engaging in Gospel conversations with people God has placed in your life. Rather than a task to complete, personal witnessing is a calling and purpose to fulfill. When your burden to reach the lost deepens, your passion for reaching the lost will become greater.

How do you prepare to share your faith? It starts by evaluating what drives you to do the things you do, then reprioritizing your life to accomplish what matters the most. Pray for a burden to see the lost come to Christ, especially in your sphere of influence. A strategy driven by a passion for living out the Great Commission will result in seeing more opportunities to introduce people to Jesus Christ.

 

Sermons to Stories

There is great beauty in storytelling. Carol Pipes, director of corporate communications at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, Tennessee, recently said in a podcast interview, “Stories are the best vehicle for communicating important messages. Tell stories wherever you can. Testimony is the currency of transformation.”

Ever since I began as a full-time copywriter almost a year ago, I have gone from mainly writing sermons and small curriculum (which I still enjoy writing) to writing stories and telling people’s stories. In this process, I have learned so much about communication and how to effectively capture an audience’s attention. This is the very reason movies and plays are so inviting. For some, a well-written book does the same. If done well, these outlets grab your attention and leave you wanting more; they make you feel a part of the experience. In short, stories are told, and meaning is held.

While sermons and stories may have different desired outcomes, I understand they are more closely connected than I had ever realized. If I were to preach a sermon tomorrow, my delivery would be quite different than if you heard me two years ago. I would do my research, theological framework, and then find the best way to communicate truth. I would move away from an outdated formal style of preaching and engage with the audience. To do this, I would find a biblical narrative and real-life examples to connect you to the heart of what God wants his people to know. Favorite singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson once said, “If you want a child to know the truth, tell them the truth. If you want a child to love the truth, them a story.”

Why does a story enthrall people? Because there is both beauty and depth. Good storytelling allows for the creative mind to flow, character development to unfold, and captivation to take place. Jesus was an authoritative, master storyteller. So much so that His audience, who was still trying to make their minds up on who He was, remained astounded by His gift (Matthew 7:28-29).

Stories allow for your mind to run endlessly and to draw conclusions based on what you have just read, seen, or heard. As one pastor friend of mine puts it, “Words create worlds.” When captivated by a great story we typically are moved to action. These actions have the potential to better our communities, churches, and cities, for the glory of God and the advancement of His Kingdom.

Baseball: America’s Favorite Pastime

BaseballFresh-cut green grass, ice-cold drinks right over here
Find your seat, as the city embraces the home town cheers
Gathered for America’s favorite past time,
Proud and true, fans stand to salute the red, white, and blue

The pitcher finishes his last warmups, the time is finally here
All that is left is one last conversation in the catcher’s ear
The lights shine brightly into the summer’s night, reveal a called third strike that appeared to be high and tight

Two men on, the bottom of the 4th, excitement builds
A squeeze bunt is laid down, barely hitting the edge of the infield
As the baserunner races to home plate, the umpire readies for the close play
These are the memories father and son have been waiting for all day

Fatigue starts to set in, the bullpens stirring with fresh arms
It’s a shot to the gap in left-center, with a sliding catch it causes no harm
It’s time for the seventh inning stretch, and the song we know and love
The words of Take Me out to the Ballgame fit like an old leather glove

Bottom of the ninth, two men on, two outs,
Will it be the sinker or the curve, the runner at third is restless no doubt
The crack of the bat, all eyes focused to deep right field
As it sails over the wall, the hometown team victory pile starts to build

Hard work, determination, years of highs and lows
What a dream come true for the kid who finally made it to The Show
As we get in our cars, travel back home, and tip our caps
We are thankful for the game that gathers friends and family from all over the map

Baseball – it’s America’s favorite pastime that gives us thrills and maybe even a few chills
For about 150 years now we love the way it has made us feel
It won’t right life’s wrongs but can silence them for 9 innings long
As we hear the words, “It’s going, going, it’s gone.”

For Granny

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The year 2018 ended with an emotional experience for my family and I, we buried Granny, my dad’s mother. She had been in bad health for quite some time, so it was not a total surprise when she passed. However, it is never easy to say goodbye to someone who had such an impact on your life. What brings the ultimate comfort is knowing where she will spend eternity, in the arms of the Savior, Jesus Christ. Still with loss, comes pain and sorrow. Family events that used to be the norm, will now only be memories. I’m grateful to have known my grandmother for 33.5 years, many can’t say the same. I’m grateful for all the lessons she taught and for the special times together with family.

It was her wishes I speak at her funeral. It was a heavy, emotional moment, but still an honor nonetheless. The following is what I wrote and read for her funeral service.

For Granny:

Today, Granny, we remember the things you said, the things you did
How much you loved us grandkids
It is easy to celebrate a live well lived.

It was always fun at Granny’s house
We would run and play; asked mom and dad if we could stay
There in the kitchen with your apron on
That chocolate and yellow cake was barely cooked before it was gone

The summer heat that would bring little league baseball games
In that long, white and black Cadillac you came
You would sip on Diet Coke, napkin wrapped around
Cheering for us to hit a homerun was the sound

The winter months would bring snow on the ground
Wrinkled one-dollar bills in box could be found
Every year, aged one to eighteen
A personalized ornament with our name and the date could be seen

You loved your church and the traditional music that would ring
We joined you on Mother’s Day as the choir in their robes would sing
It was a faith you passed down to Uncle Scott and Dad;
we are eternally grateful that you had

This past Christmas as we were all gathered
It was the sweet, sweet spirit of family that mattered
Hugs and kisses with Madelyn and Caleb on your lap
Those are the memories that bring a smile and a clap

Now you are back home in Jesus’ embrace
Where Scripture promises He saved a place
For now, we see you in picture frames
That won’t always be the case, one day the Savior will call our names

Today, Granny, we remember the things you said, the things you did
How much you loved us grandkids
It is easy to celebrate a live well lived.

Life, Leadership, and Things That Will Last

The belief that one can be all things, to all people, at all times is absurd. Life will be miserable if this is your attempt. Every single person will end up doing two things in life at some point—attempting things and doing well and attempting things and failing, sometimes miserably. I’m learning, in different scenarios, both of these results are just fine.

Jesus said in Mark 8:36 (ESV), “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” I admit I have been on a roller coaster of emotions the past six months of my life—experiencing every emotion from sadness and pain to joy and freedom. Sometimes these emotions have intermixed as if the one trying to figure out how to put together a child’s toy that is labeled “easy assembly required” on the outside box.

My prayer for the thoughts below is that, no matter where you are in life, in a good season, or a tough season, that it will help and encourage you in some way. That you may come to understand that life is a precious gift, every single person has leadership capacity, and only one thing will last for all of eternity.

Life.
“Life is a beautiful gift, and we only get one shot at it.”

I’m always reminded, of the ups and downs of life, that life is a beautiful gift. For the past 33 years, God has woken me up every single day. Some days, I nail it. Others, I fail. This does not change the fact that, with breath in our lungs, we have been given much and much is required. Life is beautiful because the Creator of life made it beautiful. This does not mean we dismiss the brokenness that surrounds us. It does mean we maximize the opportunity we have been given, while we still have it. We take our God-given uniqueness, and we use to further a mission that is beyond anything we could do on our own accord. We maximize relationships with others because we were built for the community. We serve, we forgive, and we extend grace, all because the same thing has been done for us. The beauty of life is not based on circumstances. The beauty of life is based on the giver of life, that fashioned you in unique ways, to contribute in ways that you may have never seen coming. Find comfort in you are not the giver of life; therefore you don’t have to have it all figured out to make a difference. Life is a beautiful gift, and we only get one shot at it.

Leadership.
“How you carry yourself – day in and day out – says a lot about your leadership capacity.”

Thomas A. Edison once said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” We can become so inundated with our failures, that we miss what God is showing us through them. There are days I have led well. There are days I have not led well. I have served under some extraordinary leaders that have challenged, pushed and encouraged. I have also served under some leaders who were insecure and have created work environments in which nothing was ever good enough. I have learned much from both. An important leadership lesson is this: other’s insecurities do not change your leadership capacity. This is difficult because we can often feel the weight of other’s insecurities around us. Capacity is defined as “the amount that something can produce.” What are you currently producing? What is stopping you from maximizing your leadership potential? Responding with the “blame game” is an endless cycle that drives you to bitterness, not development. I believe you can learn as much, if not more, from bad leadership. Never allow an insecure leader to convince you that you are not called or fit to do exactly what God has built you to do. An unstable leader or great leader, for that matter, did not fashion you in your mother’s womb, only the King of Kings did that. How you carry yourself – day in and day out – says a lot about your leadership capacity. How you bounce back from adversity, says a lot about your character and what drives you.

Things that will Last.
“The Kingdom of God—the only thing that will last; the only thing that is eternal.”

That career that you thought you were going to be in for the rest of your life, God knew all along that you wouldn’t be. It may have just been a set up for what He built you to do. That best friend that you thought would always be by your side, no matter what may be taken unexpectedly. The normal that you thought would be the routine normal can instantly be replaced with a new normal. Change in this life is inevitable. One of the funny things I think we can ask a senior graduating from high school is, “So, what is your five-year plan?” Lead well, yes. Plan well, yes. But, realize that absolutely nothing in this life is eternal. You can attach a U-Haul to a Hurst, but it might as well be empty because nothing in it will follow you. The only thing that will last is the Kingdom of Heaven. This is what is worth our time, attention, and resources every single time. The Church is the vehicle used to advance the Kingdom of Heaven. May it be so ingrained in your life that one can’t talk about you without mentioning it.

Life is miserable when it centers on you. After all, the child’s toy box never says, “easy assembly required for you,” it only says, “easy assembly required.”

“May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” (2 Peter 1:2-4 ESV)