Lives Intertwined

                    I’ve shared in previous posts how difficult our move to Nebraska has been for all of us. It has been less than two months now, but a blip, and yet, already we feel at home. Why? Because God placed us in a community of believers that opened wide their arms and have accepted us as family. The other night, reflecting on all God has done through the grace-filled men and women at our church, my husband and I discussed how difficult life must be for those who don’t have such a community.

Today’s post comes from a fellow Christ to the World writer. Vona Elkins Bankston’s dramas are broadcasted, via radio-waves, across the globe, sharing the saving message of Jesus Christ with millions, many in areas hostile to the gospel. Today she talks about leaving a faith-driven legacy. Her story reminds me, our church body is more than a gathering of people–it is an interconnected body, a family, divinely designed to provide love, community, and support.

A  Legacy of “Living out loud”  by Vona Elkins Bankston   

Psalms 145: One generation will commend your works to another, they will tell of your mighty acts.       

Nestled at the bottom of Bankhead Forest in Northwest Alabama, lies a little community called Wren. As you look to your left going south, you see a stately church with a steeple rising toward the heavens as a monument to the grace and love of a faithful God.

Since 1847-1848when the first Pleasant Grove Baptist Church was established… to the present time, the church has embraced the mandate given by Jesus Christ in Acts 1:8:  “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you: and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  This community of believers, (now in the third building) has been living out loud through evangelism, discipleship, fellowship, ministry and worship.

Recently the Young Adult men’s Sunday school class led by Rodger Nix, heard of a young couple with many needs who had moved into the community. The father was battling cancer; the mother was working alongside him in a tree grinding business trying to eke out a living for them and their four year old daughter.

The little church they attended helped as much as possible but were unable to provide that which the family needed most– better housing.

 Knowing his time on earth was drawing to a close, the desire of the father’s heart was to see his wife Deborah, and daughter Shirley Mae, settled into a warm, comfortable home before he passed from this life.

By talking among themselves and spreading the word around, others in the church and community joined in with the Young Adult Men’s class and started remodeling a house about five miles from the couple’s mobile home.  Materials were donated, monetary gifts were received and skilled laborers donated time and talent. The women joined the effort by providing household goods and furnishings.

A few weeks before his death, Gregg asked if he could come in person to express his gratitude to the church and the volunteers for being the hands and feet of Jesus to him and his family. There were few dry eyes in the church that morning as the little family stood before the congregation.

Not many weeks after that Gregg went to be with the Lord. The house was not quite ready for Deborah and Shirley Mae to move into, but Gregg died, knowing a comfortable earthly home would soon be ready for his little family to move in to.

 11 Corinthians, 5:1 says:   For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

Gregg died at peace,  knowing he could look forward to living  in a house not made by human hands but by the hand of his loving Heavenly Father.

By “Living Out-Loud”  the Young Adult Sunday School Class left a legacy that will reach into future generations and witness to the mighty acts of God.

Vona Elkins Bankston has 3 married children,7 grandchildren, and 3 great-grandchildren.

She writes Biblical monologues, skits for my church,and dramas and HEAR THE WORD Bible studies for Christ to the World Ministries. She belongs to a writer’s group called “STEPPING STONES” OF NORTH ALABAMA. Currently, they are writing short devotionals for a local newspaper. She has a heart for missions and believes the methods for reaching people can change, but the message must remain the same.
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Life is tough. Tragedy and difficulties are bound to come. When they do, will you have a close family of believers to lean on? If not, how you can begin to develop those vital relationships *today*? No church body will be perfect. Humans are going to mess up. They’ll let us down, say and do things they regret. As will we. Finding community isn’t about finding perfection but instead, relationships. Don’t let unrealistic expectations or past hurts keep you from experiencing one of God’s greatest gifts–Christ-centered relationships.
 
 
I want to give a shout-out thank you to all the August’s Reach Out Donors:
 
Eddie Snipes with I Called Him Dancer, a novel quite fitting for this campaignJoAnn Durgin with Second Time AroundEileen Rife with Second Chance, another novel with an outreach focus; and Ann Lee Miller with Kicking Eternity.
 
Do you have a Reach Out story to share? Send it to me at jenniferaslattery(at)gmail(dot)com. Authors, agents, and publishers, if you have a book you’d like to donate to my Reach Out Campaign, shoot me an email at the same address.
 
Have a great, interdependent week in Christ!

Step into God’s Circle

Our family has moved a lot. Moving can be tough. Painful. With each move, relationships are strained, some even severed as phone calls and emails dwindle. But the hardest part of moving is losing then reconnecting to a church family. When we first moved to the midwest, we struggled finding a church home. That was a very difficult time for all of us. Today, Sherri Wilson Johnson shares her story and what God showed her about the body of Christ.

Taking a Break From Serving by Sherri Wilson Johnson

I believe serving God is a good thing and that we can serve Him everywhere we go by showing our love for others and doing random acts of kindness—like paying for the meal of the people in the car behind you in the drive-thru or taking food to someone who is sick. The most common place to serve the Lord is in the church by loving, teaching and serving His people.

But what about if you find yourself in a position where you don’t have a church in which to serve? Or maybe you have a church but a situation in your life has created a barrier and you need to take a break? Is it really such a big deal? Can’t we just do good things for the people we come in contact with on a daily basis and call it even?

I have spent the last year as a Christian hobo, so to speak, searching for a new church home. Having attended church my entire life and having served routinely as an adult for the better part of twenty-five years, I found it temporarily refreshing not to serve when we left our church last year. It was nice not to have to arrive at church an hour early and stay an hour late to clean up. It was nice not to have to attend meetings and attend training sessions.

Galatians 5:13-14 says: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus gives us the command to serve and love others. And this is done both inside and outside of the church walls. However, I learned the hard way that if you’re not connected to a body of believers and serving within the walls of the church, it’s often easy to neglect the serving outside of the church. It’s easy to use your tithe money for something else. And it’s awful feeling like an outsider.

After about six months of being without a church home, visiting around looking for a new place to plant ourselves, my feet started itching to greet people in the lobby, teach women’s Bible studies, take up the offering, spend time with youth, and do the food bank delivery. The ice thawed and a new desire emerged from the frozen earth of my soul to find the place God wanted us to serve. Why? Because as sojourners on our way to Gloryland, we want to be together with other believers. We long for a place to belong in this crazy world where enemies nip at our backs.

We were not created to live this Christian life alone. We were not created to live only with our own desires being met, especially the desires of the flesh, which tend to blur out the need for accountability within the body of Christ. We were created to follow the example Jesus set and that is to serve others—with gladness (Psalm 100:2).

We are blessed to have so many choices in churches these days. There is a church practically on every corner. It may seem difficult to find the one that suits your family and meets its needs and also gives you an area to serve within your giftedness. I’ve been there. I understand. If you do find yourself in this predicament, I encourage you to pray and to seek recommendations from trustworthy, like-minded Christians who may be able to point you in the right direction of your new church home. If you have a church home but are currently not serving (for whatever reason) I encourage you to jump in somewhere and give it a try. Summertime is the best time to do it because crowds are usually smaller and church schedules are often more relaxed.

One thing I can promise you is this: When you serve, you give away a part of yourself to others—but you will receive so much more in return while doing so.

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Sherri Wilson Johnson is the author of To Dance Once More and Song of the Meadowlark. She is from Georgia, has been married since 1988, and is a former homeschooling mom. She loves to write, read, eat ice cream, ride roller coasters and make people laugh. She loves Jesus and hopes to spread His love to the whole world through her writing. Visit her online:

http://sherriwilsonjohnson.com

Twitter: swj_thewriter

Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Author-Sherri-Wilson-Johnson/138396456193536

http://sherrijinga.wordpress.com

And check out her novel, To Dance Once More:

To Dance Once More is the story of Lydia Jane Barrington, a Victorian debutante. Lydia lives on a plantation in Florida under the watchful eye of her father. She’s quite an independent young lady who does not want to fall into the trap (as she sees it) that her mother and sisters have fallen into—marriage and motherhood. She wants to travel the world and experience life before giving her heart to a man. One day, her eyes are opened to love and no matter what, she cannot forget the blissful feeling it causes. She begins to believe that love isn’t such a bad thing after all. Then she discovers a secret that prohibits any of her dreams from ever coming true. She begins a quest to free herself and her family from a future of bondage. Hearts are broken and lives are torn apart because of Lydia’s own selfishness. Will she surrender to a call that God placed on her life and be able to experience love after all? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

But it now!

Join us at Living by Grace as we talk about connecting with the body of Christ. There are so many reasons to isolate … past hurts, insecurities, busy schedules. And in today’s media-saturation with church services broadcasted on the internet, radio, and television, we may believe we don’t need God’s body. But God designed us to live in community,not isolation. To lean on one another. Isolation leads to loneliness and leaves us vulnerable to deception. I also believes it robs us of experiencing the love of God poured out through others.

More than that, I believe we will never find true fulfillment and purpose until we embrace the mission God has for us — at *each moment*. Because Christians don’t have shelf lives. (You can read an article about this here.) Wherever you are, in whatever stage you are in, God has a plan, an eternally important role, just for you.

We will never find a perfect church or perfect friends, just as we will never be perfect. But by God’s grace, we can find intimacy, purpose and fulfillment.

Home Depot Churches by Ed Bahler

Before I get too far, I want to route you over to Rose McCauley’s blog where you can read an article I wrote about my husband. Commercials bombard us with one “necessary” gift after another, but what do our spouses really want?

Now back to my top twenty of 2010. Today’s post first appeared on Ed Bahler’s site on October 27, and it reminded me of a church my husband and I used to attend in Southern California. It was a rather large church, yet it was one of the closest-knit I have ever been a part of. It was dominated by love and a sense of acceptance.

As I’ve mentioned previously, we’ve moved a lot and as a result, I’ve been part of numerous churches. This has actually been quite a blessing. Each church has its strengths and weaknesses, along with a unique slant. Not doctrinally speaking, but one church may be passionate about small groups, another about youth ministries, and yet another about international missions. The church we attended in California was passionate about discipleship. Their motto: developing fully devoted followers of Christ. And it showed. While there, I started a Saturday youth outreach program, a family ministry, an annual Easter outreach event (not sure if it’s still going), my husband and I led a marriage study–the list goes on. What makes this unique is that each of these ministries were new. It wasn’t like the church had an established program and was looking for warm bodies to fill it. It was that I (or in the case of the marriage study, we) went to the communities pastor with an idea, and he sent us off with a warm smile, a handshake and a “You can do it!”

Because of their, “You can do it! Let us help you,” attitude, our church had a rather diverse make-up of ministries and I experienced more spiritual growth than at any other time in my walk with Christ. I remember the day I sat in the communities pastor’s office, bubbling over with my idea of starting a ministry for young families. I asked, “Why don’t we have one?” To which he replied, “Because no one’s  done it.” And viola, it was that easy. He didn’t route me to a bunch of ministry leaders, didn’t initiate countless church planning meetings. It was, “Great idea! Let me know if you need any help.”

During our time there, I got the strong impression that the programs weren’t nearly as important as the people. They were focused on the growth of each and every member of the body.  I’m sure I wore the ministry staff ragged! Because they didn’t just give the okay then cut me loose. They trained me. Staff members would sit in the meetings I organized, they invited me to free training summits, they provided training materials and with each step, they walked along side me. I often wonder, what if they’d said no? What if they’d been so focused on their programs that they viewed me and my rather explosive ideas as burdensome? Perhaps I wouldn’t be in children’s ministry today. I certainly wouldn’t have the wealth of knowledge and experience that those events allotted and the training classes provided.

As you read today’s blog, think about how you can apply this idea to your life. If you’re a parent or grandparent, how can you walk along side the children entrusted to your leadership? If you lead a study, how can you draw others in? And remember, God unites the body, not so we can turn everyone into a foot, but so that each member can do their part, as God wills and leads.

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In recent discussions with leaders from around the country, the big topic is how to thrive in this new environment. Are we experiencing a reset…a step change in the way the world is working?

The prospect of career congressmen being booted from office next week would suggest that there has been a change. The major adjustments in the business landscape suggest this as well.

But what about the church?

My friend Todd Wilson (Exponential Network of church planters) believes that a major reset in ministry is at hand. In the past, the church has been institutional, with a parental attitude about Kingdom work. The message has been, “We can do it, you can help.” And most boomers were content to pay their tithe and get on with life.

But the future is different. It’s about engaging and equipping people to do the work. Home Depot got it and their home improvement slogan, “You can do it, we can help,” was a remarkable success. They picked up on the step change in how young people engage life, their career, and the church. If church leaders hope to engage the next generation then they must make this step change and buy into the ministry vision of:

“You can do it, we can help.”

So younger generation….is this where you are?

But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. Acts 1:8

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Ed is the CEO of Aspen Group and a church leadership coach. He’s passionate about helping churches “ALIGN” their ministry, leadership and facilities with the multi-ethnic, post Christian culture we are rapidly moving into.

Find out more about Ed by visiting the following websites: edbahler.comaspengroup.comaspengroupblog.com, theckn.com

We have one more devo for my top twenty of 2010, then, on the 31st, come back to see the top three! And remember, if you loved today’s devo, fb share it, tweet it, “like” it or leave a comment. And…Rose invites you to leave a comment on her blog as well. When you do, you’ll be entered into a drawing to receive a free book. Woo-hoo!