Archives For May 2011

It’s not over

Jeff Olson —  May 26, 2011 — Leave a comment

The other day I was listening to an interview Chuck Colson (founder of Prison Fellowship) gave in my neck of the woods…Grand Rapids, Michigan. In that interview he talked about how decades later he is still stunned by how God has taken his broken life and used it to start of a movement of God that reaches out to prisoners in over 113 countries.

In the early 1970′s, Colson had risen to one of the most powerful positions in the world. He was President Richard Nixon’s right hand man. But after the Watergate scandal broke, Colson was arrested and sent to prison on charges of obstruction of justice. In the process of his conviction, he became a Christian.

The loss of his freedom and identity was not the most difficult thing he faced during his seven months in prison. What troubled him most was that as a convicted felon, he felt he would never again have the chance to do anything of significance with his life.

As it turns out, the most significant thing in Chuck Colson’s life had nothing to do with what he had accomplished in the first 41 years of his life. Instead, it has been what God chose to do through him out of his brokenness as a person. He didn’t see it at the time (because as Christians we “walk by faith not by sight”), but years later he readily acknowledges that going to prison was one of the most important things that ever happened to him.

One lesson to take from Colson’s life is this…don’t buy into the lie that’s over. As Colson said, “At your lowest moment, God may be preparing you for the biggest thing you will ever do.”

John Rich

Allison Stevens —  May 23, 2011 — 1 Comment

John Rich, country singer and winner of the Celebrity Apprentice was asked how he won so much money for his charity, St Jude’s hospital.  He replied, “Because I’m at my best when I’m working for something bigger than me.”

He was 100% committed to what he referred to as his “body of work.” This body of work had one goal in mind: to save more children’s lives by raising as much money as he possibly could for St. Jude’s Hospital. John never veered from that purpose. He said that in each task, he reminded himself why he was there. He said that he must have said the words “St. Jude’s Hospital” 100 times in one week.

He admitted that at times he was tempted to get involved in the “drama” going on with the people. He said that yes, there were a few times that he wanted to say something to someone about something, but that he chose not to because he didn’t want to distract from his charity. He was there for one reason and one reason only – to raise money for St. Jude’s. The frosting on the cake is that because he had such focus, oneness of mind and integrity, he also made friends with everyone on the set.

When I heard John’s comments, I was immediately struck by his tenacity, his doggedness, his determination, his drive. He was a man on a mission who couldn’t be stopped. He was stubborn!

Then as quick as that thought came, another one followed:  I want to be like that in my Christian commitment. I want to see more lives come to know Jesus and be won over by Him! I want to be 100% committed to loving others and God well so that the vision of more people coming to Christ can be realized. I don’t want anything to get in the way of that, whether it is gossip, materialism, lust, or any kind of unhealthy self-protection.

My prayer is that I won’t be distracted by evil things or lesser things. I pray that my focus will be on living what I believe and sharing Jesus’ love and grace with others. Doggedly. 

I think I’m at my best when I’m living for Someone bigger than me.

(Matthew 22:37-39.)

I have a friend who currently struggles with going to church. He wants to worship and hang out with fellow Christians,  but he’s afraid. He fears that Christians will shun him if they really knew the sexual sin he’s been involved in. There are days he”s not even sure God wants him among His people.

I asked my friend what he thought Jesus would say to him about his sexual sin. He said that Jesus would tell him to stop. Which is true, but I suggested that Jesus would tell him to stop only after he communicated a couple of other thoughts.

I believe Jesus would respond to my friend like He did to the adulterous woman the Pharisees tried to publicly disgrace and condemn (John 8:2-11). After pointing the woman’s accusers back to their own sinfulness—”If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her”—Jesus turned and addressed her.

First, he addressed her as “Woman,” which may seem a bit terse and disrespectful. That’s not how a gentleman is supposed to address a lady. But back in Jesus’ day this was a polite and respectful term. It acknowledged her as a legitimate person, rather than as an object to be used and kicked around.

Jesus then pointed out to her (a woman who must have felt utterly humiliated and condemned) that no one, including Himself, condemned her. Only then, did he tell her to leave behind her life of sin.

Are you feeling condemned because of a sinful addiction in your life? Know this…the same Jesus who calls you to leave a life of sin does not condemn you either.

 

Distracted much?

Allison Stevens —  May 9, 2011 — 7 Comments

Many children are labeled as lazy and disobedient. They don’t listen, follow directions, or seem to care about schoolwork or chores at home. Sometimes they seem like they’re in a different world. Some children that fit this description will go on to overcome these labels, but others will turn to alcohol or drugs or something else to either numb the pain they feel inside or find that stimulation they crave.

Some of these children have Attention Deficit disorder or ADD/ADHD. It’s a term that describes a child who has a difficult time focusing, listening, reading, sitting still, following directions. Often, they have been labeled with pejorative words. But it’s unfortunate because these children have gifts that enable them to see “outside the box.” They are sometimes brilliant, sometimes average, but they all have the ability to see the world not only in color, they see in “techno-color.” They hear in “high definition” all the time. Their minds are on the go and what comes out as a frustration for parents and teachers (not listening, following directions, etc) are really their minds trying to sort out everything they’re thinking. To a child or an adult with ADHD, “now” is the only time frame they know.

Often we give someone a moral diagnosis (i.e. lazy, bad, etc.) and what they really need is a medical diagnosis. Yelling at a child with severe ADHD to settle down and read for 30 minutes most likely won’t be effective in getting that child to comply. Often, though, it increases a child’s self-doubt and shame, like “What’s wrong with me?  Why is the teacher or my parents always yelling at me?” What can help is a proper diagnosis by a qualified professional so that he can learn better ways to build healthy relationships, discover his gifts and talents for the right job or career path, and live a more peaceful life. A moral diagnosis says, “If he’d only stop!”  But a medical diagnosis asks, “How can I help?”

You don’t need to live very long before you find someone that you disagree with. We all have a lot of different opinions about a lot of things . . .

from the clothes you wear,

to the car you drive,

the coffee you drink,

the music you prefer,

the movies you watch,

the authors you read,

the candidates you vote for,

the causes you believe in.

Preferences. We have a lot of them. And there are preferences in theological viewpoints as well.

But the question is, how do we handle others within the family  whose theological opinions or preferences we don’t share? I’m not talking about core theological truths that are the foundation stones of the Faith (1 Cor. 15:3-8). I’m talking about issues we disagree on because there is latitude in one’s understanding of what the Bible teaches on a variety of issues. Would that it were all simply “black or white” and “yes or no” kinds of answers. “It all depends . . .” is an unnerving response for many who embrace a Christian worldview and who rely on the authority of the Bible.

Unfortunately, what often happens is that rather than listening well, people start to label those they disagree with. These kinds of labels divide. They are like fences and walls constructed with theological barbed wire strung across the top. They are designed to prevent anyone on the outside from even questioning the validity of the positions held within.

The result?

Divisiveness. Disconnection. And all meaningful communication within the family of believers comes to a screeching halt.

Sometimes the best thing is to keep our mouths shut and to open our ears to listen intently to those who have a difference of opinion or interpretation of a debatable text. And trust me, if it’s one thing that  seminary training opens your eyes to is that there are plenty of debatable texts.

That doesn’t mean the Scriptures are unreliable. It does mean that we must major on what’s major and minor on what’s minor. And where do most divisions focus? On the minors.

Divisiveness is a scheme of the Evil One (2 Cor. 2:11). Dialog and debate are not (Acts 17:16-24). We should extend an invitation to respectfully dialog with brothers and sisters within the family, as well as to engage in meaningful dialog with those outside of the family of faith.

Listening more and labeling less will go along way to help one another grow within the community of faith.

 

In his book, Kingdom Triangle, J. P. Moreland records the incredibly true story about a medical missionary and a hot water bottle. It’s a bit long, but it’s worth having a look.

Dr. Helen Roseveare, who was serving as a missionary in Zaire, Africa, once helped a mother of a two-year old girl give birth to premature baby. Sadly, the mother died from complications during the delivery. The two-year old little girl was understandably devastated that her mother passed away.

Keeping the newborn alive was a struggle for Dr. Roseveare and her medical team. They had no incubator, so keeping the premature baby warm became their most pressing challenge–especially during the chilly, windy nights that were typical of Central Africa. Their best option was a hot water bottle. Unfortunately, the only hot water bottle they had burst that night as they were filling it. So they did what they could, putting the baby as close to fire as safely as possible and sleeping between the baby and the door to protect it from harmful drafts.

The next morning, Dr. Roseveare went to have prayers with the orphanage children. She gave the kids various things to pray about and mentioned the newborn baby and her two-year old sister.  She told them about the hot water bottle bursting and their struggle to keep the baby warm.  During the prayer time, a 10 year old girl named Ruth, boldly prayed for God to send a hot water bottle that day so the baby wouldn’t die.  She finished her prayer with this request, “While You are about it, would You please send a dolly for the little girl so she’ll know You really love her?”

Little Ruth’s audacious prayer took the good doctor off guard and put her on the spot. She didn’t know if she could honestly say, “Amen.” She didn’t believe God would or maybe even could answer such a prayer.The only way she thought it would be possible was if she received a package from her homeland, which she hadn’t in nearly four years.

By now, you probably know where this going….but stick with me.

Later that afternoon, a twenty-two pound package arrived at the doctor’s doorstep. She was so excited that she couldn’t open the package alone, so she sent for the orphanage children to come to her home. Together, they opened the large cardboard box, and one by one, Dr. Roseveare revealed it’s contents. Along with knitted jerseys, bandages, and some dried fruits, she eventually pulled out a brand new hot water bottle. The place, of course, erupted with tears of joy.

Moments later, Ruth, the little girl who prayed, rushed up to the box and asked about the dolly. And yep, sitting at the bottom of the box was a small, beautifully dressed dolly.

As it turns out, the package had been sent five months earlier by the doctors former Sunday School class, whose leader had felt God’s prompting to send a water bottle. One of the girls from the class had also put in a doll for an African girl.

There are many ways a person can take this story. Some who read it may be skeptical. That’s it’s an exaggerated or fabricated story meant to tug at our heart strings or promote the doctors faith. Others may believe it truly happened, but then think that it’s purely coincidental or these kinds of Divine miracles only happen to missionaries serving in third world countries.

Still some might wonder, “Would’ve the package with the hot water bottle and the little doll arrived, even if the little girl hadn’t boldly asked for it?” Maybe. Or maybe the little girl’s prayer was part of what God used to ensure the package’s safe and timely arrival just like God used Elijah’s (who was an ordinary human just like all of us) prayers to prevent it from raining and for the rains to start again at just the right time (James 5:17-18).

I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for a good story, but aren’t we all? One thing I’m certain of is that this is more than just a heartwarming story that we might see on the Hallmark Channel. I’m convinced it’s more than just story about random good luck. It’s even more than a story of about a 10 year old girl’s amazing faith.

To me, this is really a story of God’s power and faithfulness that is relevant for all believers in Jesus, even for those “ordinary” Christians from the suburbs of America. It’s ultimately a story about our God who is on the move and how we get to partner with Him in extraordinary ways to advance His Kingdom.

 

 

I was asked to speak at my daughter’s 8th grade graduation from junior high youth group to senior high.  This is a bit long, but I thought I’d post it.  Add more thoughts if you’d like.

Hi, my name is Allison. I want to say a few things to encourage you 8th graders as you leave Middle School and enter High school.  

First let me say “Good job!”  for getting through middle school!  You should be proud of yourself for making it this far. You successfully made it through changing classes, remembering your locker combination, algebra, and leaf and bug projects. Now it’s time for a change again. . .into High School. This is a big step.

If you and I were just sitting and talking about the challenges of high school, there are some things I’d like to tell you:  

It is the choices in life that make us who we are and we can always make the right choice.

There’s going to be a lot more kids in High school, which means more opportunities and new friendships.  But it also means more cliques, more temptation, and more negative peer pressure. Be yourself. Don’t change who you are just to fit into a certain group.  Be yourself first and then people will naturally want to hang out with you. You may not be at the top of the food chain, but who cares when you have true friends?

There are kids who will smoke, drink, smoke pot, be sexually active, be disrespectful to their parents and teachers, bully, dress provocatively, you name it.  You will come across all kinds of temptations in high school. So be prepared for that. Each temptation is an opportunity to define who you are and who you want to be. Don’t give in to something you know you’ll regret because so many other kids are doing it. There are a lot of kids out there who aren’t doing those things – find them and hang out with them.  

Also, this may sound like a cliché, but here it is:  Don’t stop talking to your parents. Listen to what they have to say. We love you and want to help you through these difficult years. We may not remember everything that happened to us in 8th or 9th grade, because it was like 100 years ago, but we remember enough and we’ve learned a lot of things along the way that can help you. We want to be there for you. None of us were created to live life all on our own. Remember your parents love you and want to help you. If you can’t talk to your parents for whatever reason, find another trusted adult in your life you can talk to.

Do your best in school, but don’t get down on yourself if you don’t do things right the first time or you’re not the best at something. It’s more important that you try than it is to succeed the first time. Work hard, study hard, and do your personal best.

Learn from your mistakes.  It’s OK to make mistakes, of course. You’re going to make them.  Just be sure to learn from them so that you don’t make them over and over.

Don’t be afraid to pursue things you like to do. High School is a chance to explore things you enjoy. Join choir if you like to sing. Take Wood Shop if you’d like to make a cool Adirondack chair your mom can put on her porch. Learn a new language.

Most important, believe what God says about you. It’s tempting to believe the negative stuff that people tell us, but trust what God says about you.  He tells us the truth and people don’t always do that.  He says you are His child and He loves you so much.  Believe in yourself that you can do whatever God has put in your heart and life to do. Don’t let fear hold you back.

Take one day at a time and enjoy it like it’s a gift from God, because it is! And when you make a mistake or make a bad choice, God’s love, forgiveness, mercy, and grace is there for you. Jesus is your friend and understands what you’re going through. But also don’t have a casual attitude about sin, like, “Well, God will forgive me anyway if I do this.” Because there are always consequences to our choices, whether good or bad. Again, it’s the choices in life that make us who we are.

Everything that you go through in life has a purpose. It is to help you mature and grow into the young man or young woman God intended you to be. God has a great plan for you life, always believe that. You are His child and He adores you. His love is so amazing and strong that nothing you do or say can end His love for you.

It is the choices in life that make us who we are and we can always make the right choice. What choices will you make this year that will define who you are?

James 4:7-10