Author Archives: arm

Thievery or Providence?

This past Friday, after our Tuskegee summer ministry team was wrapping up the afternoon, a woman arrived at the church. She explained her involvement in a car accident. The ministry interns were trying to decide how to help and momentarily left her unattended in the fellowship hall. Our ARM merchandise table is stacked with ARM shirts, hats, cups and more. Earlier that day, the staff had a small fundraiser and a few mason jars that had some bills and change in them were in the room.

When the staff came back into the fellowship hall to help, she had disappeared. As they looked across our back lot into the Piggly Wiggly parking lot, they noticed her. She was now outfitted with an ARM sweatshirt (in nearly 90-degree weather) and baseball cap. There was also $40 in cash missing from one of the mason jars.

What would you feel in that moment? Anger? Frustration? Confusion? How could anyone boldly come into a church and steal from it? That money goes to help families with home repair, something she may not have known. Is there no decency anymore that someone can blatantly steal from the church and in broad day light? What nerve!

It was time to call the police. They described to the police what had happened and the police quickly arrived on the scene and picked up the woman. End of story, right? However, the police added some unknown details shedding some new light. The woman was mentally ill. During transport to a mental institution in Birmingham she had fallen out of the car. I guess that is how she defined a car accident. (That raises some questions on how well she was being supervised). The police had been searching for her with no luck until the students called.

As I pondered this situation, I felt myself overwhelmed with compassion for this woman, this daughter of Jesus. Before I knew the fuller story, I was wrestling with whether we needed to press charges or if we could design some type of community service. Hearing of her condition, that was quickly resolved. But then I thought further. If she had not stolen from our staff nothing would have triggered our students to call the police. They would have worked to meet her need and then sent her on her way. This meant she would have wandered aimlessly through the town. Night would fall and she would be a lone, vulnerable, and mentally ill woman navigating the streets of Tuskegee. No phone, no family, no friends.

Not fully cognizant of her actions, stealing may have saved her life. Funny how God can work in the hardest and most difficult of situations. God can use anything for His good and in the strangest of ways, He provides. This summer our day camp kids have a theme called “COGPOW” meaning Child of God, Person of Worth. After this woman’s actions, this puts COGPOW in a whole new light for me.

May we all have compassion and display love even when someone is doing something wrong. God may be providing care in a crazy, foolish, and upside- down way. I love our God! Jehovah-Jira, God our Provider!

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Being a Hero and Leading Up

There is research indicating that acts of heroism could have genetic foundations and that we can cultivate our propensity to “be a hero”. Through intentional acts of selflessness and generosity, even if small and seemingly insignificant, we can posture ourselves for a moment when heroism might be displayed. There is a hero/heroine in all of us.

I certainly experienced that a few weeks ago, for our first leadership cohort called LeadUp. Gathered with seven high school students and a handful of college mentors, together we identified some systemic problem areas in our communities and developed plans of how to help. Some of these students already contained a vision of their life’s work! I was excited, humbled, and challenged throughout the weekend.

Here are some observations:

  • Vision: These students understood that we all started with the divine image of God placed upon us. This is our most basic DNA as humans. God created us in his image and it was good. We all had value and all deeply loved. Our choice that led to the greatest of sin was opposite of what makes us heroes. We choose selfishness over selflessness. But, living in God’s grace helps us overcome that brokenness created by the first sin and gives us a vision of how we help others reclaim their divine image. It is how healing and community form. These students shared many visions: a vision to end homelessness in their community, to help at-risk kids develop a passion for their education or finding a skill set (a set up for meaningful workforce development), to help kids who have been sexually abused and more. I was inspired by these young visionaries!
  • Selflessness: It appears that at the heart of every hero or heroic act is selflessness. Indeed, Jesus says that greatness is found in serving others. Heroes sacrifice and seem even willing and prepared to die. Take your average firefighter-our everyday, modern heroes. These youth all displayed a type of selflessness not normally attributed to them. Culturally, we see them as pre-occupied, self-centered, whiny, and everything in between. Heroes? Not so much. But these students embraced the heart of servant-hood and serving others. It was noticeable in their conversations, how they quickly got to know one another, and how much they wanted to support each other. It was evident in how they discussed the problem areas and why and how they each wanted to help.
  • Perseverance: People dedicate their life’s work to the types of plans and visions these students developed. Some already knew the educational route they would have to take to live into these dreams. And, the perseverance to stay the course over the weekend! We worked them hard and it was all planning and preparation! I was really amazed they hung with us. Again, they radically dispelled the popular myths about youth culture.

Lead Up puts our focus on Jesus. Leadership is about service, sacrifice, and a core value of true humility. I am excited this group of youth is ready to embrace that mantle of leadership and use it to serve others and mine the divine image of God out of each person. The only way we solve the social ills of our community, nation, and world is to gain a Godly vision of restoration, roll up our sleeves, and go to work for the good of others. Lead Up!

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Is conservative a bad word?

MLK weekend:

My eyes were welling up with tears. Tears of joy, tears of hope, tears of vision and what can be. Holding hands, we sang this chorus “I need you, you need me we’re all part of God’s body. I’ll pray for you, you pray for me. I’ll not say words that will harm. I need you to survive”. It was Jesus’ vision that his disciples would come from all nations and be united in a bond of love under his banner (John 17). In a culture of segregation, mistrust, and devaluing of the very skin colors God created, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. boldly and unashamedly proclaimed over dream fifty years ago, that black boys and black girls would hold hands with little white girls and white boys. We would be judged on the content of our character and not the color of our skin. I thought about this as black, white, and Hispanic, we all sang this together at our annual MLK worship/concert this past Sunday night.

I believe no greater challenge faces us in the United States and especially the South as our continued work against the sinful effects of racial injustice and prejudice; many of those effects still poisoning and tainting our economic and democratic processes today. As a white person, I do not like to admit that the economic and political systems are built in my favor.  I have a hidden, unspeakable advantage. My advantage and head start logically become another’s disadvantage. We really do not all start at the same place and my race does not have systemic hurdles and roadblocks.  What am I to do with this awareness if I know that God is a God of justice? He expects his children and followers to right wrongs, bring things in correct alignment i.e. “justify”. And He especially is sensitive to strangers, “aliens”, widows, and children without fathers and mothers. He takes special note of exploitation of others and rages against it; exploitation of workers, exploitation of women and exploitation of children to name a few.

What can I do? What must I do?

  • It is more manageable to first change my own heart. It must be the first step. God knows my heart and is ultimately my justifier when I am misunderstood by the words I say, actions or inactions. I have been called racist, accused of prejudice, and misunderstood. It is also many times part of the white experience no matter where we stand. And although it is extremely painful, God knows my heart and intention. At that point, He is my justifier. The sum of my actions over time by those who best know me will be the evidence against these assumptions and prejudice. Changing me and leading me is always the first step to ultimate change.

 

  • But, do I have the courage to challenge broken systems that still allow these effects to continue? My conservative, quiet spirit screams against wanting to challenge a political system the right way. It is easy to throw some statements on social media. Can I take the same energy and write a letter to my legislators who steward the democratic process and the laws? Can I invite others into the same process? Am I afraid of being called “liberal” because I believe in social justice? Why has a demand and work towards justice been linked with being liberal in a political system? And, who cares? Why does it matter? In the same vein, “conservative” wreaks of status quo, an unwillingness to change or make better. That is not quite right either.  As I wrestle with negative manmade titles, I somehow take my off of the larger issue…Gods justice, fairness, that ALL people have equal access to opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Maybe my fight for someone else’s access to economic and political freedom and justice come at the expense of some negative titles, being misjudged and being misunderstood. But a liberal government system by definition means it is participatory and I get to influence it. Our elected officials work for the people. I feel I am somehow accountable to what laws are being passed or repealed in this system and whether or not they are fair for the common good while not infringing on personal liberties.

 

  • Again, I find myself rambling and wrestling. The Lordship of Jesus means all things are under it and filters it. I cannot separate “politics” and its structure away from my faith because Jesus is Lord. I cannot turn a blind eye to the experiences of my friends of a different color, from a different country, and even from a different religion because I believe in the Lordship of Jesus. My Christian, black friends worship the same Jesus I do and when they hurt, I hurt. When they are discriminated against, I am discriminated against. I cannot say that I have the love of Jesus in my heart if I am not actively helping my brother and sister. Because of my “whiteness” I most likely have more influence and power in the political system to challenge injustice, bad systems, and unethical laws. Do I have the courage to follow through…or will this just become another form of biblical rhetoric with no power?

On a high note, we had two amazing days of service with approximately 175 people coming to serve in Lee/Macon Counties. We served 10 families with home repair, landscaped a cemetery, organized a food bank, and ministered with 14 kids…we had behind the scenes people helping with set up and support. The MLK worship equally had about 175 people from all several churches. Serving and worshiping together- ultimately these acts of being a neighbor is how we live out faithfulness and lives towards justice, righteousness, and mercy.

Musings for the day…

Grace and peace,

lisa

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Falling Off Ladders

1 Corinthians 4: 8-13   “For we are fools for Christ”.

It was time to take down the Christmas decorations. By now my neighbors were probably beginning to wonder if I would just leave them up and fit into some peculiar stereotype of southern culture. Really, I just had not had time. Today was the day. It was still pretty cold from that polar vortex blast that had come in and I was bundled up. Now that my deck has a protective finish on it, I have noticed how nicely the leaves and pine straw sweeps off making cleanup noticeably easier. Ever notice how there can be a downside to what at first seems like a positive trait?

I had already made a few trips up and down the ladder. With it on my deck, it significantly shortens the distance to my rooftop making it an 8-9’ distance from roof edge to the deck floor. Gives you a false sense of security I guess. I had made the last trip. All the pine straw had been swept away, the lights and hangers were removed, and I even took the time to check one of my vent pipes and add some protective flashing around it. I was done. One of my climbs up, as I was making the last step onto the roof, my ladder kind of made a funny shift, and I took note to be extra careful…whatever that means. But, it was good and I was coming down for the final time. I carefully stepped onto the rung and I am fairly sure both feet were on…it does get a little fuzzy from here. What I do know is that my ladder began to slide out from under me and in what seemed like a short second, we all came crashing down. In one moment, I was descending, in another sliding with the grating and clanging of aluminum screeching out, and then somehow, I was magically lying on my deck. I landed on my right side. My appreciation and fascination with cats intensely magnified because landing on my feet was not in the cards that day. My head racked with pain. There were three points of injury. Behind my left knee and upper calf where I must have gotten tangled in with the ladder and a world record bruise was forming. My right elbow, although not bleeding or broken was too tender to touch. But I was trying to figure out where and how I hit my head. After pressing around my neck, head, and jaw for tender spots, I discovered that the extreme tip of my right jaw bone close to my ear, must have been the main point of contact. Behind my right ear throbbed and my neck ached. You get the picture. I pulled myself up, checked for bleeding, anything broken, and rejoiced at how lucky I was. Thank you, Lord!!!! As I gingerly turned my head, I winced out loud, “that’s gonna hurt for a while”.

We all fall, right? The work we find ourselves in can sometimes be dangerous and risky. Simple routines lessen our thoughts about safety. We get comfortable until something shakes us out of that comfort zone and many times…it hurts. A relationship turns sour, a routine gets changed, a new system emerges-these can create moments of discomfort and pain. But I have also discovered that once we have healed and moved beyond the pain, a lesson, some imprint remains. In many cases, it was the pain juxtaposed to the good that intensifies the good. Pain and crisis are typically the teaching moments in our journey. They leave lasting impressions magnifying what is good or being the very catalyst for fruitfulness and success.

Last week, the ARM team after months of praying and discerning, finalized our summer theme for our youth mission camps. “Fools for Christ”. And after falling off a ladder, even after checking it out and being particularly careful, this resonates more. Paul pens these words in his letter to the Corinthians. When read in context, it is not glamorous, romantic, or even really anything to aspire to as a believer. Yet, there is something about living with a passion to do whatever it takes to help people find and grow in faith in Christ. Paul says that being a follower of Jesus is not about being strong, smart, successful, comfortable, an achiever or anything else that we blindly pursue in our culture. For the early apostles, it was radically opposite. After writing we are “fools for Christ” he describes the apostles going hungry, being beaten, working in old, dirty clothes, being brutally treated, being homeless; working hard with their hands. When cursed, they bless; when persecuted, they endure; when slandered, answering kindly. They have become scum and garbage of the earth. Being willing to fall is painful, messy, and takes time to recover.

We are going to fall, be knocked out of our comfort zones, be shaken at our core. My question is for what reasons. Do I love Jesus enough, do I want others to know Jesus enough, to pen a list like Paul? Will I look back in my history and journey and have dedicated my life to Jesus’ kingdom work to have that in my biography? In the West, our list may not look like that. It does for the Chinese Underground Church, for the Latin American Church, and anywhere else the Gospel is suppressed. How can I “be a fool for Christ” in comfortable suburbia? And oh by the way, most people in the West don’t know the Gospel story anymore. We are super nice, gentle, and relatively hospitable people. But people are on a road that is leading to complete and utter darkness, pain, and isolation- a life without Christ now and eternally.

I apologize for the randomness. I fell off a ladder and trying to think about being a fool for Christ. My ladder experience has little to do with my life as a follower. I climbed it to take down Christmas decorations and do a little maintenance. Just the simple risks in everyday life. I could have easily had similar results standing on a chair to change a light bulb. But, somehow the pain that has lingered for several days now has made me think about having pain for a purpose not just accidental. Pain because I have engaged with people different from me, who are searching for Christ and need someone to show them the way. Pain because I sit with someone in their own pain and bear their burden with them. Pain because I take off from work in my routine setting to go serve; to live in a different culture that is not affluent like mine, to get dirty, to get sore, and to see life a different way and maybe to cry with a person because I get to go back home to comfort while that person remains. Being a fool for Christ means there is meaning, purpose, and intentionality in my pain and discomfort for the sake of sharing and revealing the love of God through Christ in others. Now, don’t go fall off any ladders and hurt yourself, but what might it look like for you to be called “a fool for Christ”? I would love to hear!

Grace and peace,

lisa

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Resolve to Serve

That night was the turning point. A marker event. One Sunday night after a worship service my sophomore year at Auburn I hurried to my dorm room to call Mom. My mind raced, reeled, contemplated as I made my way to my room. What would she say? Would she support me? Would she understand?

I dialed the number and after a few brief check- in formalities, I told her. “I know what I am supposed to do now. I am supposed to serve. I am not sure what that looks like right now. I just know I have to be dedicated to serving others.” Up until then, I was in a research field with a desire to study wolves or panthers; not much interaction with people. I felt there was more and God was calling to me something more purposeful and focused on people. To my mom, it sounded like I wanted to be a missionary…but that sounded a little weird even to me. At this point, my mom was not following Jesus. All I could say to her was that I was called to serve and the worship moment that night was a turning point for me. After assuring her that I was not dropping out of Auburn and going to Africa, I remember feeling overwhelmed by a blend of excitement, uncertainty, and peace. The motivation to serve others has been my core purpose ever since that night. It is the driving force behind all I do.

We just entered a New Year and the buzz is about resolutions. I love setting goals. I thrive on solving complex problems. I set a goal to set goals. No, I do not think I need therapy…or maybe I do. Anyway, it may be a little crazy or OCD but it’s me. Resolutions help me recalibrate goals already set. But here is my issue with the traditional New Year’s resolutions:

  • They have become part of a tradition. Part of that tradition is to shed the resolutions by Valentine’s Day and give up. If anything, we bump along half -heatedly until the next New Year’s where we repeat the mindless cycle of resolving to lose weight, get in shape, be nicer etc.
  • Resolutions are typically self-centered and egocentric. And that is not really a big deal per se. I believe highly in self -improvement and growth. I find myself doing the same things “I am going to work out more, lose weight, and stick to my budget”. But, it feels empty when they are focused only on me.
  • They reveal some type of weakness that we are trying to correct. From the get go, we are starting in a place of disadvantage…possibly because we will try to improve something about ourselves using a method that is outside of our strength zone. For example, if I am trying to lose weight and my strengths are in the areas of relationships, I set myself up for disappointment and most likely failure if I don’t work with another person or find a means of accountability. Most likely, I need some type of relational approach. The opposite is true…if I am self- motivated then it might be harder to work out with others, especially if they start being inconsistent. (Although you might serve to encourage them to stay the course). But, simply charging head-forward without a plan that uses our innate strengths can lead to discouragement and disappointment.

So, what if we do something different? What if we use a different methodology that helps us achieve some of these resolutions and long range goals? What if we adopted a resolution that focused on others, building relationships, or improving something? And if you are an achiever and not driven by relationships, it could be engaging a project that benefits someone else.

  • Most everyone is part of a family or part of some network of friends. Think of ways you and your group can serve together. Take on a service project once per month, maybe one Saturday. You could visit a nursing home, help at a food pantry, or find a local home repair project.
  • On an individual level, you can commit to something once per month you are passionate about that also serves others.
  • In serving, you may still be able to incorporate some of your other resolutions, especially if your goal is to lose weight or be more active.
  • Finally, develop a compelling “why” to your resolution. For instance, I like to stay in-shape and have a healthy lifestyle not solely for my personal benefit but because I remind myself how it helps equip me to help someone else. Keeping a budget helps me curve my personal spending so I can be generous for someone else. Make sense? When we resolve to serve, or set goals in relationship to others, we might find ourselves more successful and with a purpose beyond our own self-gratification.

Resolve to serve! Watch other resolutions fall into a place of purpose.  Develop a simple, concise plan and follow it. Evaluate your progress each month. Celebrate your small wins and if you get off track, use your evaluation to get back on course. I know it sounds too easy but when we serve, our motivation most likely will grow through action compelling us to stick with our plan. Let’s give our resolutions some greater meaning and see how that changes our inside and our heart a different way.

Let me know how it is going!

Grace and peace,

lisa

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