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Until Next Time

Thank you for listening. Thank you for abiding me. And now, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, I bid you goodbye and take my leave.~Frank Deford

We just left our church of fifteen years.

Fifteen years of teaching classes and preaching sermons. Fifteen years of collecting food, money, and other items for those in need. Fifteen years of serving meals to the sick, homeless, and each other.

Fifteen beautiful years.

Tears have flowed often for our friends left back in Greenville. They are family just as much as the family we have returned to.

Paul gives some final instructions to the church in Corinth:

Stay alert, stand firm in the faith, show courage, be strong. Everything you do should be done in love. Now, brothers and sisters, you know about the household of Stephanus, that as the first converts of Achaia, they devoted themselves to ministry for the saints. I urge you also to submit to people like this, and to everyone who cooperates in the work and labors hard. 1 Corinthians 16:13-16 NET

If you left your church, what would people remember you for?

Your hard work . . . or your complaints about a busy schedule?

Your generosity to the needy . . . or your annual new car?

Your Bible class lessons . . . or your excuses that you did your time when your kids were little?

May you join hands with your Christian family and encourage each other in the work.

Amen.

19 The churches in the province of Asia send greetings to you. Aquila and Prisca greet you warmly in the Lord, with the church that meets in their house. 20 All the brothers and sisters send greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss. 1 Corinthians 16:19-20 NET

Sunday Sermons

People are like dirt. They can either nourish you and help you grow as a person or they can stunt your growth and make you wilt and die.~Plato

Mary Poppins could get a smelly, muddy boy into a bathtub without a fuss. Children swallowed their medicine without a second thought. And what child wouldn’t want to clean their room with Mary’s help?

Do you know someone like that? They make work fun. They turn the bitter sweet, and they put bubbles in the bath.

Paul gives directions to prophets in 1 Corinthians 14. First of all, “the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouragement, and consolation.”

The main reason we prophesy is to encourage others.

Yes, there is discipline that needs to happen. Some instruction could sting or make you squirm. But it all should be wrapped in kindness and gentleness.

Can you tell someone their blouse is too low and their skirt too high while making them feel beautiful? Can you steer someone away from selfish decisions and help them feel generous instead? Can you help the glutton think of more important things than food and make their life happier, more fulfilled?

In the words of Mary Poppins, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”

3For you can all prophesy one after another, so all can learn and be encouraged. 1 Corinthians 14:31 NET

Growing Up

Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up.~James Baldwin

I have two sons, almost men. I love them so much that it causes me physical pain. They don’t understand that, nor will they until they have their own children.

We have gone through the “Mom-and-Dad-don’t-know-what-they’re-talking-about” stage, and are nearly on the other side of it.

We have offered advice about time management, friendships, work ethics, and more. But the advice wasn’t always appreciated.

Now that they are having to make some serious life-decisions, our advice is sought.

God gives us a lot of advice, too, but we don’t always listen. We think we know better.

Paul tells us that we can’t understand God’s love. We can look at it, walk around it, hold a magnifying glass to it. But until we are fully grown, we can’t understand it.

Why were you widowed at 24, left alone with a toddler and another child on the way? I don’t know, but I’m sure the pain you feel is also felt by the One who loves you.

You give and give at the office, and then are overlooked for the promotion. Instead, you’re asked to head up a new committee that means more work, more travel, more everything. Why? Only time will tell.

You fast and pray for the prodigal to return. Tears are your shower. Sighs are how you breathe. How can this be happening? The Father of us all knows the answer, and He stands with open arms to embrace you as well as your prodigal.

All stages end.

But love never does.

11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I became an adult, I set aside childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror indirectly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:11-13 NET

How to Grow the Church

When you can do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world. ~George Washington Carver

I have friends from different religious backgrounds. Most are Christian, some are Buddhist, a few Jewish, and many aren’t sure what they believe.

I believe what I believe because I believe I am right. They all hold their beliefs to be just as sacred. Someone must not be “right.”

But each one of us is a child of God. He loves each one he has made. He grins when we do something good. He cries when we hurt. He sighs when we fall down, again and again.

Our value doesn’t depend on being right.

Sure, I want everyone to be part of the family of Christ. But how I treat someone cannot depend on their relationship with Christ.

Do you know all of your neighbors? Can you eat together in peace?

Do you give a ride to the different foreigner or do you get in the car as fast as you can and lock the door?

Do you shun the coworker whose lifestyle is in stark contrast to God’s laws?

For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Whether Jews or Greeks or slaves or free, we were all made to drink of the one Spirit. 1 Cor 12:13

I know Paul was talking about people who are already Christians when he wrote that. But how can we expect to welcome everyone into the body if we don’t first see everyone as being worthy of belonging?

Put away your fear, your distaste, your preconceived ideas.

Invite that odd person to your family bar-b-que. Hold the door open for the stranger. Ask if you can join your coworker for lunch.

And get ready to watch the Spirit grow a family.

You know that when you were pagans you were often led astray by speechless idols, however you were led. So I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are different ministries, but the same Lord. And there are different results, but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.  1 Corinthians 12:4-6 NET

Job Hazard

Being pregnant is an occupational hazard of being a wife.
~Queen Victoria

Every occupation has its pitfalls. Doctors have weekend and late-night calls. State highway employees work in extreme temperatures. Farmers rely on nature’s grace and fall under its blasts of fury.

Ministers are no different.

The phone rings at all hours, most often bearing bad news. Ministers hold the hands of widows, cancer patients, and lonely shut-ins. They visit prisons, hospitals, and local schools. They perform weddings, baptisms, and funerals.

They fix leaky pipes, paint porches, and install mailboxes. They take out the trash, lock the doors, and search for lost items.

Ministers study long hours to prepare for Bible lessons, to preach sermons, and to guide seekers. They read journals and attend conferences often at their own expense.

Some ministers are paid, others are not, but either way they will answer to each member of the congregation. You can make some people happy some of the time, but you will never make everyone happy all the time. The unhappy ones are always vocal. It’s probably the job’s biggest hazard.

It’s a problem as old as the church.

Paul says that God wants those who preach the Gospel to get their living from it. That the worker is worth his pay.

Paul didn’t just work on Sunday. Neither does the minister in your church.

Are you treating him or her with the respect they deserve? How would God answer that?

11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12 If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? 1 Corinthians 9:11-12 NIV

Rules

I’ve always believed that pastry chefs are born, not made. They’re patient, methodical, tidy, and organized. It’s why I stick to the savory side of the kitchen – I’m far too messy and impulsive to do all the measuring, timing, and rule-following that pastry demands. ~Samin Nosrat

I’m not much of a “rules” kind of girl. I much prefer guidelines that can bend in the breeze.

Can my son stay out until 2:00 a.m.? Not normally, but for a special concert with a friend, sure.

Can you eat ice cream for dinner? On your birthday or a hot summer evening when I can’t stand to be in the kitchen . . . yep.

Most rules were established for very obvious reasons.

But some people have rules I just don’t “get.”

The family that didn’t allow mixed swimming so there was a time for the brother to enjoy the pool and a time for the sister to enjoy it. The idea that spaghetti straps are out while tank tops are fine. Then there are those who worry about straps so much they won’t even allow cap sleeves.

As you might guess, I wear spaghetti straps and swim with both men and women.

But sometimes I don’t.

When I go out with my friends who struggle with these rules, I dress for them. I never flaunt my freedom to dress modestly with my own sense of style.

That’s what Paul was telling the Corinthians.

There are rules that are bendable because they’re people’s rules, not God’s.

But only bend them when you know no one will get hurt.

Because God’s greatest rule is love.

And love does no harm.

So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.  1 Corinthians 8:11-12 NIV

Sex in the World

Being a sex symbol is a heavy load to carry, especially when one is tired, hurt and bewildered. ~Marilyn Monroe

Sex has been a popular topic among the masses for centuries.

Just read Shakespeare c. 1570. Or go further back to The Canterbury Tales c. 1400. Or Beowulf c. 800. Or look at the ancient gods and goddesses; they slept around with everyone and their mother.

But the Victorian Era, roughly 1850-1900, made sex a four letter word. Polite people – cultured people – didn’t discuss sex. In some instances it was only for procreation, not enjoyment.

The poetry and romance stories of the Bible don’t follow that line of thinking though. Sex is beautiful, passionate, and akin to the intimacy we can experience with God.

Which means it is one of the most popular places for Satan to attack, to twist our thoughts and practices.

Homosexuality ran rampant in many ancient cities. Prostitution was practiced in temples and on roadways. Rape, incest, and sex-slaves were fairly common occurrences. Sex even replaced God at times as the Hebrews worshiped Astarte, the Canaanite god of sex.

Sounds like the world today.

Thankfully, Paul wasn’t raised during the Victorian Era. He spent three chapters in First Corinthians alone talking about proper sexual behavior.

The bottom line?

Sex is good in the right circumstances. It isn’t necessary for everyone. And God is the most important one in the relationship. (1 Corinthians 5-7)

Join the conversation.

Victoria is dead.

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 NIV

Tattoos and Top Hats

Two households, both alike in dignity (In fair Verona, where we lay our scene), From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. ~William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Stereotypes are hard to overcome. Prejudices formed by experience are even more so.

I have a problem with wealthy people. My experience is that they are greedy, selfish, and thoughtless. I have been disdained, ignored, overlooked. I have even been taken advantage of by people of influence and prestige.

But I have also been welcomed into the homes of wealthy people. Offered a helping hand, a warm smile, a gentle touch.

I can’t let one event determine my behavior or beliefs.

There are a lot of misconceptions in the world. People judge based on race, nationality, money, even missed opportunities. Sometimes they look through slanted eyes because of traumatic experiences. They may hate because that is what they were taught.

But God is love.

He sees past the tattoos and piercings. He doesn’t notice the brand of clothing or the expensive handbag. He sits at tables in hovels, huts, and humongous houses.

God holds the hands of the baby and the aged. He embraces the single, married, divorced, and widowed.

God listens to the homosexual, bisexual, and asexual. He speaks to the criminal, the tyrant, and the Pope.

Whose hand are you holding? Who sits beside you at the table? To whom do you turn an open ear?

The world is engulfed in bitterness. Touch softly. Speak gently.

You may be the only voice of God that someone hears.

So for me, it is a minor matter that I am judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not acquitted because of this. The one who judges me is the Lord. So then, do not judge anything before the time. Wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the motives of hearts. Then each will receive recognition from God. 1 Corinthians 4:3-5 NET

Time to Leave

“It is always sad when someone leaves home, unless they are simply going around the corner and will return in a few minutes with ice-cream sandwiches.”
― Lemony Snicket, Horseradish

Our time in North Carolina is drawing to a close. We don’t yet know when we will move, but we know it will be soon.

About two years ago my husband and I began to feel that our work here was done. We weren’t sure why, but it felt like God was calling us to move on.

Then the dreams and visions began. God was definitely calling us to take the Word to another people.

Then, last year our parents started having some fairly major health issues. Were we supposed to go home? Honoring our parents and being there to help them seemed the right thing to do.

And we waited.

The dreams continued and messages from other people confirmed our belief. The “other people” are in West Virginia.

So now we return home, but we also leave home.

This church is our family. We have watched them change from a hurting, aching, suspicious group of people to a mature, loving, forgiving family. We love them, and they love us.

Leaving is hard.

But these past many months have been spent on our knees requesting the right person(s) to follow us. Not to fill our shoes, but to walk beside these people we love.

Someday, God will call someone else to continue the work you have started. It may be a ministry or a job. Perhaps he will ask you to leave a friend in the hands of another. He will absolutely ask you to give up your children.

Are you prepared to let someone else take your place?

Are you praying for them even now?

I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused it to grow. So neither the one who plants counts for anything, nor the one who waters, but God who causes the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters work as one, but each will receive his reward according to his work. We are coworkers belonging to God. You are God’s field, God’s building. 10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master-builder I laid a foundation, but someone else builds on it.  1 Corinthians 3:6-10 NET

Why Would You Do That?

Just as treasures are uncovered from the earth, so virtue appears from good deeds, and wisdom appears from a pure and peaceful mind. To walk safely through the maze of human life, one needs the light of wisdom and the guidance of virtue. ~Buddha

My neighbor was in a tizzy. The subdivision going in next to us was grading the land, and he just knew it was going to flood our properties.

“We need to sue. Go to the County Commissioners. Something has to be done.” His hands flailed through the air like heat-seeking missiles. “We have to do something.”

I tried to calm him and suggested we might want to talk to the developers first.

His mouth dropped open, and with a deep sigh, he shook his head, called me a name, and left.

It wasn’t a bad name. “Mary Sunshine.”

It’s not the first time I have caused confusion.

Why do you read to old people every week? Why do you write to convicts? Why do you give away so much money? Why do you help total strangers . . .

I’ll tell you why.

Spirit.

Paul told the Corinthians that people were going to question their better judgment. People were going to call them crazy, foolish, stupid.

But, Paul assured them, their foolishness would be coming straight from the Spirit.

The Spirit says love the unlovable. Be happy in the midst of sorrow. Find peace in the storm. Wait for God. Be kind to everyone. Be good as your Father is good. Stay faithful even when it looks hopeless. Have a gentle touch and turn away wrath. Self-control is your friend.

Are you a childless woman considering volunteering at the neighborhood school?

Do you have several adult children, yet you’re thinking of filling the nest with a new flock of children?

Are you ready to retire and enjoy trips with your husband, but instead you’re contemplating devoting these years to caring for a mother with dementia?

Whatever the Spirit is asking you to do, do it with gusto.

Do it for the Lord.

14 The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The one who is spiritual discerns all things, yet he himself is understood by no one. 16 For who has known the mind of the Lordso as to advise him? But we have the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 NET