This Is a Test

Over the last few weeks, as the coronavirus has played havoc with our lives, it has been both deeply encouraging—and frustrating—to see how people are responding. On the plus side, I loved Governor Cuomo’s introduction of “New York Clean” hand sanitizer. Regardless of what we might think about his politics, I appreciate how, in a few short sentences, he calls out people who are price gouging, offers a local solution and reassures the people of New York that their government is taking action. I was also encouraged (to be honest, I cried last night) as I read this story about a small Italian restaurant in San Anselmo, California that offered its customers not just takeout but also “help to those who are in need of items that have disappeared from store shelves, like toilet paper, hand towels, bleach, sponges, and many more items that restaurants normally use. If we have it, we’ll give you some at our cost, just ask!” Here in Durham, NC, it seems like business after business, and most community and institutional leaders, have been doing all they can to help. Likewise, many small groups are organizing mutual help, such as the ncrestaurantrelief.com fund or the woman in my neighborhood who handed out flyers looking for people to share needs (“Check this box if you need groceries”) and offers to help (“I can drive.”)

On the other hand, I am guessing that you too have seen leaders communicating poorly and people acting selfishly and have worried about finding toilet paper, which is currently suffering from an artificial shortage due to hoarding.

Does tragedy make people worse? Does it call out the best in us? I think it does neither. I think it gives us one more chance to respond “yes” or “no” to the love of God and love for our neighbor, one more chance to decide who we are and who we are becoming.

On Your Own

We’d like to invite you to respond to a few questions in one of two ways.

  1. Share with a group you are already a part of (or organize a new small group for sharing) via Google Hangout, Zoom, Facebook, etc.
  2. If you are not part of a group like that, join the WeCanNeighbor conversation here (on Facebook) or here (on Instagram).

QUESTIONS

  • What opportunities have you taken—or could you take—to help a friend or neighbor this week?
  • Are there encouraging stories you have heard about people helping each other?
  • How are you and God doing? What are you doing with your worries, frustration, isolation, energy?

Finding My Place on the Map

When I was a kid I knew I would be a missionary. God had placed it on my heart at a young age, and I was willing to go to great lengths to achieve that goal. When I graduated from high school, I was ready to step into ministry and was even willing to go across the world, away from my family and comforts. My heart was open to children in South America, and I had taken many trips there during high school. After high school, I continued to pray that God would provide a way for me to move there.

And then I waited.

In the meantime, I took a job as a teacher’s aide, working with elementary children with emotional disorders. It was a great job, but all the while, I wondered when God was going to send me to do His work.

Five years went by, and the waiting only got harder. I became so discouraged and discontent. I was weary of waiting on God. Has he forgotten the desire of my heart? Why am I still here in Oklahoma?

As I waited, life moved on. I took some missionary training courses. I joined some friends who were planting a church for people on the margins of society. Eventually, I met the man I wanted to marry. We started our married life with a move into a low-income apartment complex and launched a Bible study for children. (Yes, in Oklahoma.) All of it was good, but none of it was what I had imagined for myself.

But, three years later, the Bible study includes a handful of middle school girls, some with emotional problems, all with family instability, and a few who are beginning to make choices to know the God of the universe. They are helping me know God in deeper ways, too. This community, with all its messiness, is a reflection of the brokenness in my own heart. And I got here “by accident.” I got here while waiting for my “real” life to start.

As I look back on things, I see how faithful and gentle God was to allow me to grow here in Oklahoma. I was able to grow alongside a community of people who rely on me, even as I rely heavily on them. I know all those trips to South America shaped my heart to share God’s truth with others, but it turns out my place was here.

I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

Resources

Staying Is the New Going

 

First Day of Discipleship

In my work with students with special needs, it is easy to see God’s hand. I enjoy the work, and I am growing in my devotion to God and in my understanding of His peace in my life and His justice in the world.

However, when a friend challenged me to share the things I am learning with someone else, I was startled. What was she talking about? Who would listen to me? What do I possibly know that I can pass on? I looked at my shoes and hoped she would not bring it up again.

She brought it up again. There was this fear in my heart. I mentally ticked off excuses: I do not have time, no one wants to hear what I think, I am still learning, I don’t know enough, I don’t even know how to find someone to tell. Next, she asked a question that put an end to all my excuses. “Who already comes to you for advice?” Immediately, I thought of Bonnie, my teaching aid. We spend 40 hours a week side-by-side. She likes me, she looks up to me, she stays after class to ask questions about life. It almost seemed too easy. Then the excuses flooded back in: would this change our relationship? Is this very professional? What if she says no? Fear, again.

The next time I saw Bonnie, I was beyond nervous, but I asked her to join me in reading the Bible, and to my delight, she agreed! We began with Lessons on Assurance. After the first two verses, she broke into a huge smile and said, “No one has ever talked to me this much about the Bible! When can we do this again?”

“Pass on what you heard from me—the whole congregation saying Amen!—to reliable leaders who are competent to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2 MSG).

Resources

Reflect: is there someone like Bonnie in your life who already comes to you for advice? Might they be open to reading the Bible with you?

*Names have been changed. Story has been used with permission.

Craigslist Friends

The idea that God can work “right where you are” sounds great, but it takes faith!

A few years ago, even as Meaghan and I were figuring out life after graduation – marriage, new careers and home ownership – we wanted to be making some type of ministry impact, but we felt lost about how to get started.

We didn’t know much, but we did know we could pray and trust God to bring people into our lives. So we asked God for people we could befriend, love and influence for the gospel. And He was faithful to provide, truly, right where we were.

We were looking for a new car, and while out on a walk, we saw a “for sale by owner” sign that piqued my interest. When I got home, I looked it up on Craigslist (I guess in the “old days,” the sign in the window would have had a phone number), and after a quick conversation with Meaghan, we decided to take a look. The owner not only sold us an awesome car but became, he and his fiancée, some of our dearest friends.

Over the past six years, we’ve made experienced a lot of life together: a bowling league, a wedding, three children, numerous game nights, camping trips and celebrating both kid and adult birthdays…. We are thankful that God answered our prayer and provided people we could relate to for the sake of the gospel. These friends recently told us that they consider us family. Would you please pray with us that God, in His timing, might one day make them even closer family, through faith in Jesus?

 

Resources

The Insider by Jim Petersen and Mike Shamy. A great book about learning to share Jesus and the Gospel with the people God has already placed around us.

Google Keep or any note taking App. Jot down the names your neighbors, their address (if you know it) and what you last talked about. That way you eliminate repeating the “Hey you, how’s it going buddy?” conversation.

 

 

Even While Working at Pizza Hut

When I graduated, I knew I wanted to “make a difference” for Christ. I even had an invitation to move to CO to help start a campus ministry. But I also had a mountain of debt I knew I needed to pay off. The path forward was rarely clear, but looking back, I can see God’s gracious hand throughout. Here are a few of the “highlights” and lessons learned.

Expect at least a little chaos and disappointment. Instead of joining the campus ministry right away, we wanted to work and pay off our debts. Naively, we expected this to take a year, at most. But the job market was tough, and the only work I could find was as a temp loading auto parts into bins to ship to the nearby Mitsubishi plant. At night, I applied for jobs in CO at schools, banks, etc., anything to try and make some money to pay off loans. After I heard nothing from those first rounds of applications, I put my resume in for armored car services, restaurants… I was getting desperate. During that summer, I got exactly one call… from Pizza Hut. We moved to Colorado on a Friday, I had an interview on Monday, and I was working for “the Hut” on Thursday.

A week after I started, as I was getting new license plates, my truck blew the head gasket. That weekend, we went $5,000 further into debt buying a vehicle that could get me to work.

I was disappointed, and to be honest, a little embarrassed, that the only job I could land was at Pizza Hut. (I had worked at another pizza place in high school and was not expecting to be back there after college. My dad was angry that I had even put in an application at a pizza place.) And I was completely dismayed when we had to go further into debt – the “only reason” for getting this job (I thought) was to pay off loans.

God is in control. I wondered silently and sometimes aloud to Melissa – was this really what God had for us? We wanted to do the right thing and pay off our loans quickly, but we got slowed down before we made our first payment – was God in that? Our desire was to work for the Navigators’ campus ministry, and here I was at this “dead end” job – was God in control? Could God still use me? Was I in the right place to make it happen?! Through verses such as Acts 17:26-27, Philippians 1:12-14, 4:12-13 and Jeremiah 29:11-12, God challenged me to believe that He was in control, that He had led me to this place, that working for the good of others had meaning and purpose, that there were people interested in learning about Him and that Melissa and I could prosper.

Be faithful with opportunities to share the Gospel. During these two years, God reminded me that I just needed to be ready (1 Peter 3:15), that I was part of a larger team (1 Corinthians 3:6-9) and that I could trust Him to draw people to the light (Matthew 5:13-16).

Part of how God taught me these things was through Jason. One day, a friend of a relative (who knew I was living in CO) called about someone I should reach out to. I called Jason… and got nothing. Six months later, out of the blue, I pick up the phone, and it’s Jason. His very first question was, “Have you seen the movie Constantine.” The second was, “Is hell real?” We met for coffee, and it was clear this guy was very worried. In college, I had learned about listening for “open nerves” as a way to get to know people and figure out how I could help. Jason’s “open nerve” was hell, not a topic I usually talk about, but he was scared, and we dove in. Before I even finished explaining the details of coming to Christ, he said, “I’m in!”

This kind of connection doesn’t always happen (there were plenty of other folks from that time in my life that I talked to and worked with that never seemed interested in talking about Christ), but I learned that, no matter where I am, God put me there and can use me. At Pizza Hut, I learned to like people that are very different from me, people who lived, thought, spoke and believed differently than me. I learned how to bring Jesus into situations I never knew existed.

Through those chaotic first two years out of college, I learned that I had to trust God, both for my own troubles and for opportunities to speak to and influence others. Yes, even while working at Pizza Hut.

Resources

  • For a good Bible study on living in the world and influencing the people around us, work through the verses listed above. What does God ask? What does He promise?
  • For a good book, Ben recommends Disciples Are Made, Not Born.
  • Want to tell us about your own experiences learning to labor after college? Take this quick survey (and earn a chance to win a $50 Amazon Gift Card). You will have a chance to tell us how’s it going – and how we might be able to help.

 

Self-Care: Living Life in the Overflow

I am a “yes” person. When it comes to my job, my friends, or my family, I always want to say YES! Yes to helping people, yes to being with people and yes to loving someone better. I thrive saying yes, knowing that I’m saying yes to God’s work of loving  people.

But I easily forget a crucial piece in this life of love: myself. I end up not prioritizing my time with the Lord or exercising or eating well. I run on empty, trying to do the Lord’s work from a place of my own strength instead of being fueled by Him. And it begins to show in all aspects of my life, especially my job.

As a high school math teacher, I need to be able to both teach my students math well and love them. But none of this gets accomplished when I am working out of exhaustion. Loving with my own power, my patience runs dry, and I end the day frustrated and spent. And I think the kids end up there, too.

One day, feeling overwhelmed and depleted, the Lord challenged me to stop and breathe. Living the Christian walk requires sacrifice, but not burnout. When I run to the Lord first, even when my time is short, His power rests in me. It becomes Him through me that is teaching my students math, and it is His presence that is making them feel known and loved.

So, I challenge you to pause, take a breath and consider: are you running on empty? Are you relating to God? Have you been exercising lately? What are your eating habits? Have you set aside time each day to take care of you? Because living a life of overflow requires self-care. It requires you being nourished and refreshed by the Holy Spirit so you can live and love to the fullest.

Resources

If you are pressed for time but need to get re-started on caring for yourself by connecting to God, here are two ideas. (Just try one of them.)

  1. Make a short list of times when you have felt particularly close to God and what you were doing at that time. Try to be as specific as possible. Pick one of those things that require a little effort (for example, setting aside 10 minutes to pray) and make time to do it this week. If it works, try it again and try it more often. Keep it simple. If it doesn’t work, try something else.
  2. From the same list, look for things that make you smile (or make you cry) that you do as part of your everyday life. It can be something you watch or read, certain people you interact with or just looking at the sky, passing by a beautiful tree or otherwise reflecting on creation – and its Creator. The next time you find yourself already doing one of the things, just say a short prayer: “God, you are indeed mighty!”

If you want to explore more ideas for staying close to God in a busy world, try working through this exercise.