Render Them Shameless

When I was a teenager, my parents were not only the lead pastors of a church, but my Dad helped oversee a group of about 25 churches in our fellowship’s network.  It was part of his role to help churches and ministers through challenges they might face.  He had a tough job one year in particular when five ministers in our group made poor choices which caused them to lose their credentials and ministries temporarily.  One story from that year sticks out vividly in my mind because of the lesson I learned from one minister’s journey. In fact, I would say it has partly shaped who I am as a person and minister today.

I had gone to bed after the 10pm news had gone off, but I was awakened not long after going to sleep by a sickening feeling in my stomach.  Whatever I had eaten had not agreed with me, and it wanted out.  I jumped out of bed and crossed the hall to the bathroom.  How can I say this delicately…  I had barely knelt at the altar of the porcelain god when my offering came forth.

Mom was out of town for some reason, and so I hollered for Dad… because I don’t do sick alone.  He quickly came to my rescue with a wet rag, but almost as soon as he had come to help me, our doorbell rang.  I wondered out loud who it might be, and he informed me that a minister in our area was coming over to talk about something serious.  Dad asked if I was going to be okay by myself, and let me know that he would come back to check on me.  By that time, I had gotten rid of whatever was ailing me, and so I told him to go on because I’d be fine.  With that, he left to answer the door, and I cleaned up and went back to bed.

True to his word, Dad came and checked on me after the man and his wife left.  When I asked what it was all about, he told me to go on to sleep and we could talk about it the next morning.

I slept, the sun rose, and the next morning I asked again.  This time Dad shared the sad news that the man had made a series of bad choices which could have cost him his family and his opportunity to minister.  But the man was contrite, and his family was gracious.  For things to be restored, the man would have to step away from the pulpit for a year, go through counseling to help heal his marriage, have regular accountability meetings to chart his progress of being restored to ministry, and attend a different church… our church.  In fact, Dad said the couple would begin attending our church that very next Sunday.

I said, “Dad, what do I say when I see them Sunday?  How am I supposed to treat them?”

I don’t think I’ll ever forget my Dad’s words to me that day.  They have shaped my heart for people from that moment forward.  He said, “Well, Allen, they’re going to be a part of our church.  They’re our friends.  What do you say to other people at our church who are our friends? How do you treat everyone else at our church?  What do you do when you see them?”

I replied something like, “I smile, shake their hand or hug them, and let them know I’m glad to see them.”

To which Dad gently said, “Then that’s how you treat these people.  They don’t have a lot of friends right now who will just love them and welcome them.  That’s what they need.  They’re already ashamed about what happened.  They need someone to love them.”

In that moment… and in the moments that followed beginning with that first Sunday when I smiled at this couple, hugged them, and welcomed them as a part of our church family… I learned that real love renders people shameless. That’s what God does with each of us… He loves away our shame.  He knows that we already feel badly enough about blowing it in life.  He knows that we don’t need to be reminded of how imperfect we are.

1 John 4:18 tells us that “perfect love expels all fear.”  Isn’t that what shame is… fear that others will see our junk and realize we don’t have it all together? Fear that people wouldn’t accept us if they knew what we are really like, or if they knew what we have done?  But love overpowers fear, kicks it out & renders us shameless.

That couple walked the year-long journey back into ministry while attending our church.  It was a thing of beauty to see love conquer shame, and I’ve never forgotten it.

So, let me encourage you today to love people who don’t deserve it.  Let your love prove to them that they don’t have to fear what you will think about them or say to them.  Let your love render them shameless, and watch in amazement as they transform before your very eyes into all they can become.

Christmas In July- Continued

It has been such a fun week of celebrating Christmas in July as a family.  Memories have been made, and I believe a new tradition may have just begun for Team A.  We even drew names to get each other a small, inexpensive gift.

During this other “most wonderful time of the year,” I am reminded of the classic Christmas movies I loved watching growing up, and which our kids are now getting to enjoy. I loved those old claymation-type animated Christmas movies like Frosty The Snowman and Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.

One of my favorite parts of the Rudolph storyline is when they need to find toys for Santa to give and Rudolph leads them to the “Island of Misfit Toys.”  There lived the toys that had flaws… and mistakes… and missing parts.  They were the toys culture said didn’t match up.  But Rudolph believed there were kids who would love having those toys.

Maybe sometimes you feel like a misfit toy yourself.  Maybe you don’t seem to match up to culture’s “ideals.”  Perhaps you don’t have the perfect shape or figure.  Maybe you’re not quite as young or glamorous as you once were.  Perhaps your résumé or ACT score isn’t what someone thinks it should be.

But for every person, God has a purpose and a plan.  There is someone out there who needs what you have to offer.  There is someone out there who will love you for you.  There is someone who doesn’t see your flaws and mix-ups as problematic.  Instead, they see you as unique and wonderful.

Ignore those purveyors of “perfect.”  Be yourself.  You have worth and value just like you are.  Ask God to reveal His purpose for your life, and point you toward His plan.  You’ll find Him pick you up off the “island of misfit toys” and place you in a healthy, loving environment designed just for you!

Christmas In July

Awhile back, PR31 and I decided that our family would celebrate Christmas in July this year.  The boys are on a break from school this week… My current work allows me the freedom to adapt my schedule… Hallmark Channel has Christmas movies on all week… QVC is selling like it’s Black Friday or Cyber Monday… Hobby Lobby is already putting trees and ornaments out on their aisles… So why not Team A?

We love Christmas in our family!  No seriosuly, we LOVE it!!!  The song says, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” and we believe the song is right.  Christmas is a time when people speak more kindly… when they are more generous… when they think of others and not just themselves.  Add to that the fact that we Christ-followers who say that we ought to celebrate all God has done for us throughout the year.

Stir that all up in a bowl, and just makes perfect sense to us to celebrate Christmas in July.

There are sugar cookies being made… Christmas carols are being played… classic Christmas movies being watched… a Christmas tree has been put up and decorated… an elf is being hidden each night after the boys go to bed… Christmas crafts are being made… and even small, inexpensive gifts will be exchanged toward the end of the week.

What’s crazy is… despite the fact that we live in the Deep South and it’s well over 90 degrees each day this week… when the skies were overcast the other day, and the air conditioner was turned down a degree or two, and the small lights on the tree and mantle are shimmering, and the Christmas decor is hung, and a Christmas movie is on… well, it’s easy to forget that it’s July.  In fact, the other evening I was almost so absorbed in the moment that I had to really had to think about whether it was July or December.

You can call it ridiculous.  You can say it’s just positive thinking.   You can say we’re just tricking our minds into thinking what we want to think, and tricking our feelings into what we want to feel.

Yet, it hit me that we have some power in our lives that is really quite amazing.  God has created us with the ability to transform the way we think and feel by changing what we see… or maybe more accurately, by changing what we choose to look at.  I can look at the thermometer and see that it is 92 degrees outside with a heat index of over 100 degrees…  too hot to go outside and enjoy much other than a pool.  Or I can look at the thermostat and turn it down another degree to create the atmosphere which helps create a sense of joy and fun for my family.

All this reminds me that Paul told the believers in Rome to “…let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.”  And in II Kings 6, when an evil king sent a whole army to capture the prophet Elisha, his servant freaked out until Elisha prayed that God would help the servant see what he already saw… God’s army of angels with chariots and horses of fire completely surrounding the enemy army. What he saw changed his perspective.

That’s what I’m getting at today.  Instead of just looking at our situations and being baffled, or bored, or bummed, why not be proactive and decorate our world to reflect what it is more real and more in line with what God wants for us.  We might just be surprised.  We might forget the difficulties and challenges we currently face and relax.  We might just discover some extra joy we thought was only reserved for special occasions.

It’s up to us, though, to get out the decorations… roll out the cookie dough… and wrap the gifts… if we are going to change the way we think to point our emotions in the right direction.

So go ahead… toss a little tinsel… heat up a little ham… and have yourself a merry little Christmas now… in July!

You Are Such A Seed

I love that we homeschool our kids.  Wow, even as I typed that, I realized it was worded incorrectly.  Technically, PR31 homeschool’s our boys, and I am a very limited teacher’s aide.

Recently we began a new year-round model that seems to be working for us, and I’ve had some time to be at home during the day while they are doing their schooling.  Occasionally, on a break from writing, I’ll sit in on a lesson or be the sub for a class if PR31 needs to tackle something else.

Well, the other day, we were studying science and I read something in Alex’s textbook which caught my attention.  It read…

The size of the seed is not determined by the size of the plant…  Every seed contains a new living plant.

I learned in some of these lessons that there is a certain palm tree which produces a seed that can weigh as much as fifty pounds!  That’s more than our six-year old, Austin, weighs!!!  Yet, even though the giant redwood tree is much larger than this palm tree, it produces a significantly smaller seed.

Then it hit me that not only does the size of the plant not determine the size of the seed, but the size of the seed does not determine the size of the plant.  As I’ve mulled this over,  I have found myself reminded of Jesus’ words in Mark 4…

Jesus said, ‘How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it? It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches, and birds can make nests in its shade.’” (Mark 4:30-32)

You see, it doesn’t matter how big or small we think we are.  We are each just such a seed.  You may view yourself as insignificant.  Someone else may seem to have so much more potential.  But the truth is that, inside of you, there is everything needed to produce something else great.  That something may be much larger than you appear to be as a seed.

You have life in you.  You have potential stored up in you.  You have greatness in you just waiting to be released.  Just like that mustard seed, you have the ability to grow into more and be a blessing to a lot of others who need what you have to offer.  You are just such a seed as that mustard seed.

So forget the fifty-pound palm seed, you wonderful giant redwood seed!  Just let yourself be planted by the Master Gardener… then sprout… and grow… and bloom… and produce.  Be the seed this world needs!  A lot of people around you will be glad you did.

You Will Rise

I’m no cook, but I like food.  Therefore, I enjoy watching the Food Network.  And one of my favorite shows recently is “The Pioneer Woman” starring Ree Drummond.  Her cooking is good ol’ Southern home cooking… just my style.

We were watching today when something she said caught my attention.  She was pouring red velvet cake batter into a pan to bake.  Ree said, “This doesn’t look like much in the pan, but it will rise quite a bit in the oven.”

Ever felt like that cake batter? Maybe you feel like that right now… like you don’t look like much.  Don’t worry.  Those kinds of thoughts come to us all at various times throughout our lives.  The key is to remember the second part of what she said. Though you may not look like much now, after you’ve gone through whatever process you’re having to go through right now, you’re going to rise.

I suppose Timothy, the young pastor at the great church in Ephesus was having to deal with some folks who thought he didn’t “look like much in the pan” because his mentor, Paul, wrote him a letter in which he instructed him not to let people look down on him simply because of his age.  Instead, he encouraged Timothy to show those folks that he could “rise quite a bit in the oven” and live a life that was far beyond their expectations.

I want to encourage you today similarly.  Ignore those folks who don’t think you “look like much in the pan” because of your age… or your gender… or your physical challenge… or your race… or your level of education… or… or… or.  Stand up straight. Pull your shoulders back. Lift that chin.  Look them in the eyes with confidence, and offer a firm handshake.  Let them know that you “will rise quite a bit in the oven” by the way you talk to them… the way you behave around. Them… the way you treat others… the way you pursue God… and the way you are genuine.

You’re no ugly cake batter… you’re a beautiful cake in the baking!

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