Friday, February 11, 2011

Go Ye Therefore and Teach All Nations

Mark 14:15 - And He said to them, "Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation."

As Christians, we are exhorted time and again to promote the Kingdom of God and the good news of Jesus Christ who has entered our lives and transformed them forever. I hate to admit it, but evangelism has never been my strong suit; the only persons around whom I've ever felt comfortable sharing my faith walk were other Christians. Until an incident that occurred last week, I thought by inviting someone to my church or sharing that my husband and I are in the praise band, I was fulfilling the commandment to spread the Gospel. God revealed to me, gently but firmly, that this was not enough and decided it was high time I understood what true evangelism looks like.

As my daughter, granddaughter and I exited Walmart and neared my car, we were approached by a petite, wiry woman of middle-age wearing a knit beanie cap that appeared cemented to her head. It was the only piece of clothing she sported that was suitable for winter weather. With no wisps of hair escaping from beneath the cap to soften the woman's scarred, pinched face, it formed a cruel frame for her features, making her brown, pleading eyes an anomaly in her otherwise hardened visage. When she spoke, her voice, while not unpleasant, betrayed a slight rasp that suggested years of abuse.

"Excuse me, ma'am, but I'm homeless. Could you spare something to help me get out of this cold?"

Hesitantly, I answered in the affirmative and was instantly inundated by a Pandora's box of conflicting thoughts. "What if she's scamming me? She does look pretty rough, though, like she really has been through the wringer. I don't like her in my space, especially with Sarah and the baby here. Oh, come on, look at her; she's so tiny, the wind could knock her over any minute. Does Walmart know they have a homeless person hitting people up for money right here in their parking lot? Why me, Lord, do I look like a sucker? For heaven's sake, she's God's child, too. Unto the least of these . . ."

I handed the woman five dollars for which she politely thanked me and darted away with surprising speed, either eager to escape the cold or to stalk her next victim. When the three of us were finally settled in the car, she was nowhere in sight. I sighed, said a prayer for her, and cranked the engine for the drive home.

For several days after this encounter, I found myself thinking about the pitiful waif of a woman who had asked me for help. I replayed the scene, trying to determine if I had been duped or if she was truly in the dire straits she claimed to be. I wondered if any other people had opened their purses for her that day as I had and, unexpectedly, I discovered I was praying that they had. That was the moment the Lord opened the eyes of my heart: I had prayed for her, all well and good, but I should have prayed with her! I missed a perfect opportunity to tell her how much Jesus loves her. Had I done so, she would have walked away with so much more than five dollars. I pray that someone else did on that day what I should have done, but I do know that I will never allow a golden moment to share the love of Christ slip from my fingers again.

With whom will you pray today?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Come and See!

John 1:46 - Nazareth? Can anything good come from there?" Nathaniel asked.
"Come and see," said Philip.

It was on a Monday shortly after Christmas that I strolled into Chick-fil-A, kindle in hand, to indulge in an unusual, for me, splurge on my favorite fast food and enjoy some quiet reading time. There they were, gathered in a generous corner of the restaurant, laughing and talking animatedly as our vivacious associate pastor, Emily, led this college group in weekly Bible study. I recognized so many of their faces as they regularly attend the contemporary service at our church where my husband, Danny, leads our praise band, Crossroads. Emily graciously extended an invitation to join them which, thinking these kids probably wouldn't want someone old enough to be their mom crashing their group and having my heart already set on some downtime with a novel, I politely declined.

As I ate my meal and read, the intermittent sound of their voices punctuated my thoughts. I began to wonder if I should have accepted the invitation after all. Although I have attended many different Bible studies over the years, I had not done so for quite some time; I realized with an unexpected urgency that this was a void in my spiritual growth, a gap begging to be filled. By the time I exited the restaurant and climbed into my car, I had decided to e-mail Emily that very afternoon to ask if, in truth, she thought the young folks would mind my presence at their weekly gatherings. She assured me that they would love having me in attendance; after all, I was part of what they considered to be their band and their service. How graciously did God move on my behalf that day!

I have reveled in every Monday since, growing in the Word and the spirit with these marvelous young people. Their candidness, their questions and doubts, and their insights never cease to amaze me. Their fresh perspectives have helped me to view scriptures in a whole new light and I hope my thoughts, seasoned by age, are valuable to them, too.

Before we begin our study, those gathered share what is happening in their lives and at the church. This is how I first learned that the youth praise band, after practicing for six months together, finally felt prepared enough to lead the contemporary service at the end of January. Was I thrilled! Although we in Crossroads love and are profoundly blessed by our ministry, we haven't had a back-up praise band for years - we are it! We could hardly wait for January 30th to roll around so we could listen and give support to these young musicians. There was only one problem to surmount at this point: the group could not decide on a name.

To make a long story short, the youth group's debut was a joyful and praise-filled success. I preened like a proud mama as I watched Gabe, the bass player and very witty member of our study group, perform without a hitch. Sure, there were some nerves evident in the band from time to time, but, in the long run, they pulled it off like pros and were an instant hit with the congregation of which we, for a blessed change, were a part. The band still lacked a moniker, but I prayed that would come in God's time and choosing.

The next day found us once again gathered for lively Bible study, fellowship and, of course, more conversation on how well the youth band had led worship on Sunday. As we prepared to leave, Gabe and Josh were right behind me, so I decided to share a thought.

"Why don't you guys hold a 'Name Our Band' contest at church?"

Both young men transformed into beams of sunlight.

"We decided on one last night," Gabe said brightly and pointed to Josh. "It was his idea. We're Nazareth."

"Nazareth," I repeated, taking on their glow. "I really like that. Way to go!"

Six months ago, when even the drummer couldn't keep rhythm, there were anxious youth leaders wondering if anything good would come out of this group. Certainly, the musicians had their doubts, too, but they persevered and won the day. God gave them, through Josh, the perfect name. It says it all.

The next time Nazareth leads our contemporary service with praise and thanksgiving, I hope you will come and see and worship our Lord through their music. Thanks be to God!

Amazing Company

Philippians 1:18b-19 Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know through your prayers and God's provision of the Spirit of Jesus...