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Archive for the tag “Christian”

Peru 2017 Day 6 – The Final Ministry

We woke up REALLLY early today, 4:30 AM. Our job was to go downstairs at the Dream Center and make 2,000 sandwiches so that we could make 1,000 bags of food (2 sandwiches per bag) for the people of the hospital we went to last night. We were also making them cups of oatmeal to have with their sandwiches.

The bread came around 5:15 and we started in by breaking into 4 groups of people. The first group would cut the bread. Group two would butter the bread. Group three put on the jelly. And group 4, my group, would package the sandwiches and place them in the containers for shipping.

It took us until about 8:30 to get all the sandwiches made and packaged.

After that we loaded everything into the bus and truck and headed to the hospital.

We set up in 3 different areas. The hospital was definitely much more busy than it was last night! In my area, we gave away about 425 sandwiches and cups of oatmeal.

After we were done, we had an opportunity to pray with people.

Now this next story I simply need to share. Last night, one of our group went off on his own and ended up in a hospital room that had about 50 beds in it. In one of the beds was a 17 year old girl and her dad was sitting next to her. The man, trying to get his daughter to smile, was telling her about the “white angel” who came from America to see her and pray with her.

The girl was brought in and hadn’t eaten in almost 2 weeks. She had severe stomach issues and was simply sick. The doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her. She has been bedridden for much of that two weeks!

Fast forward to this morning. I went with our group member who prayed with her last night. We were going to try and give her some of the breakfast we made with hopes she would eat it. When we got there, she was sitting in her chair. She was smiling and joking around and told us that she was better and was going home soon!

Yesterday she was unable to eat and was confined to bed and today she is scheduled to go home!

I know that my agnostic and atheist friends will look at this differently, but that was all God!

Our God heals!

We prayed with her and started to leave.

But then Mimi happened.

I had forgotten that my wife had brought a suitcase filled with toys and games for the kids in the pediatric unit. I followed her over there and watched my beautiful wife in action. She was so happy making children happy!

I love watching her with that big smile across her face and seeing children flock to her, hugging her, and loving her.

After this was done we went back to the Dream Center to relax, eat lunch, and get ready to leave tomorrow. Tonight we head to church one more time before heading out and then we leave for America at 3 in the morning.

In my next post I want to share a little of my heart about the people I have met over the past 5 trips here and what I would like to see happen for my friends. I’ll also share a little about how I’ve grown and how I hope to grow in the future.

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Peru 2017 Day 4 – More Relationships

Today brought about a lot of amazing things. Yesterday we went to many places I have been before. Today we went to places I have never been before. And on top of that, we ended with a party that turned into church.

We started our day going to a refuge that takes care of mothers and children with HIV. We made 20 gift bags for the mothers and had a lot of care packages for the kids. As soon as we got there, we were able to hand one out but then found out the house mother was understaffed. We started right in doing the day to day tasks that need to get done. We cleaned rooms, swept the hallways, prepared lunch, checked in the produce order, and whatever else needed to happen.

It was great. The relationships we made were not with the moms and kids as much as it was the team at the refuge. We were able to connect with Carol, the house mother, and some of the seminary students she had with her.

 

We were there for a long time and realized we were on a time schedule. The Peru/Colombia game was tonight and we had to be back before dinner or we would be stuck on the streets for hours. Lima is a city of almost 10 million people, so having a game like a World Cup Qualifier round 2 blocks from where we are staying means that the roads will get congested.

We went back to the Dream Center, picked up lunch, and headed to our next destination. This would be a short stop before moving to our final destination, but it was well worth it. We stopped by a church that Camino de Vida, the church we support in Peru, is getting ready to open in December. It was an old theatre where plays and musicals would happen. They are leasing the property and totally renovating it to fit their needs. It will seat about 900 people. We met up with Nick Balcombe, one of the pastors, and he gave us the tour. They need $250,000 more to get the place renovated and opened. If you are interested in supporting the vision God has given Camino de Vida for the new church, please check out their website at www.caminodevida.com

After the tour, we went to a place that was extremely special. When we were coming down, we were asked to bring down some feeding tubes. I laughed when I said “some” because I was expecting maybe a small case of them. No, we received 6 cases which turned into 2.5 suitcases of feeding tubes. We went in and got a short orientation and then went to visit the kids. Those kids are beautiful! If no other reason, the purpose for those children on this earth was to show us gringos just how to love. They have so much love in their hearts!

I really enjoyed spending time with Augusto. He is blind and has several developmental disabilities. The way to interact with him is to rub his back. Every time I did and said his name he would smile and laugh. A few times he would reach out and hold my arm as best as he could.

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Nate, on our team, fell in love with this one kid. He is musically inclined and that gave Nate an opportunity to love this kid with the gift of music.

We left there in order to get back before the traffic got too bad. When we arrived, we starting making blankets our project on Thursday. We grabbed two very large bolts of fabric and cut the blankets. Altogether I would say we made about 60 blankets. Hopefully tomorrow we will be able to make more.

Then the night really started. Tonight was the Peru/Colombia World Cup qualifier match. Peru needed to win or tie. They tied.

A few of the women who live in the house we are staying and their friends came over and we watched the game together and afterward we partied.

Then after we were all partied out, we ended the night in worship.

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This day couldn’t be any better.

The goal of missions is relationships. We may never be able to end all the hunger or homelessness in the world. But we can feed people the Word and end the homelessness in their hearts. We might never be able to provide clean water to everyone but we can provide people with the new wine of the Spirit.

We built long lasting relationships with people today and I love that!

Tomorrow we will be doing one of my favorite projects here in Peru, a wheelchair distribution.

Peru 2017 Day 2 – The Tourist

Every time we come to Peru, and this is my fifth time here, we spend one day as a tourist. It is always on Sunday because that is the easiest day to do it.

Last night was rough. The city was awake and extremely loud last night. I slept perhaps 3 hours the entire night. At one point I got up and stared out the windows and watched a drug deal happening. I also watched what looked like some prostitution going on.

But I didn’t sleep.

It was a rough night.  And I am sitting here at the table in the living area at midnight writing this.

The morning came and we got together and started our day at La Victoria. We ate breakfast, did our devotional and then talked among our group. This group has been amazing because we have had a lot more deep discussions about faith, hope, theology, and our purpose.

We sat around in our group this morning and discussed, for about a 30 minutes death, dying, and the purpose of spirituality. Then a couple of the interns came in to talk to our team about the internship program. We have a couple young 20-somethings and I wanted them to get an idea of what it would be to take a 6 month long-term ministry in Peru.

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After that, we went downstairs for church at the chapel. This place has 350 attending regularly. We enjoyed listening to a visiting pastor from Chile who was up for a conference.

From there, we went to the city to be tourists for the day. We went to a hamburger place and were there for a quite a while. One reason is that we were simply enjoying each other’s company. But secondly, it was Stalin’s birthday.

We then went to the market to get some souvenirs to take home to friends and family.

After that we went to church and enjoyed an amazing service at their main campus. This church is on fire!

I wish that my own church, and honestly all the churches in America, would take a lesson from Camino de Vida in Peru. They have locked down the way to reach young adults. In the videos and pictures I will share below, I hope you see the amount of young adults.

Camino de Vida video 1

Camino de Vida video 2

Camino de Vida video 3

After church, at 9 pm, we headed to dinner to get crepes and then off to the Dream Center to head to bed (or blog, in my case).

Tomorrow will be a great day. We will be visiting the Grace House (a home for women battling addictions and brokenness) and Hogar de Ninos, the children’s home, where we will be sharing dinner together.

Peru Mission 2017 Day 1 – Fluid

So Mimi and I are taking another team to Peru this year. We left on Friday morning and arrived late Friday night.

We had our schedules and itinerary in hand and we headed out the door.

The first flight to our layover in Miami was bumpy but uneventful. I sat in the back of the plane while the rest of our group sat in the middle and front. In the back with me were 13 women heading from Baltimore to Miami to have girls weekend away. They all had really flashy shirts and were very loud, but fun. I also had about a 4 or 5 year old child sitting behind me, kicking my seat much of the flight.

Mimi sat on her own in the middle of the flight and, since she doesn’t travel well, fell right to sleep and woke up in Miami.

We get to Miami and were to meet up with a woman I had met a few years earlier at a church planting conference. While we had a few glitches there, it was pretty easy to get together and we headed off for some lunch and our first devotion of the journey.

When we got to Lima, we located Paige and Stalin, our guides, and they took us to La Victoria, the area of the place we would be staying.

La Victoria is a very different area than where we have stayed in years past. It is the inner city. Smells of marijuana and prostitution are done in the open here. There are gangs in this area and random packs of dogs roam the streets.

This section of the city is up almost 24 hours a day.

As I sit here right now typing this, I hear about 5 different songs playing throughout the city, someone is shooting off fireworks, and car alarms go off quite frequently.

The place we are staying is a chapel. It is 5 stories and in the middle of the city. The outside is black and white and all of the windows have bars. There is a man who sits just inside the door and opens it for people who are allowed in. Every Sunday, this chapel, the smallest of the 5 campuses of Camino de Vida, has 350 regular attenders.

The first level of the chapel is the church. It is really just a big black box style. They can transform the room into whatever they want it to be for the day. It can be church on Sunday and then on Monday turn into a wheelchair build site.

The second level of the chapel is a kitchen and offices. The missions offices are housed on the second level of the place. There is also an occupational therapy facility on this level.

The third level has a sewing ministry where they make all the shirts for their missions program. They also have a meeting room and a place where people can come and get clothes for free.

The fourth level is where short-term missions teams like ours stay. There are bedrooms for the women and bedrooms for the men. They also have a “living room” where short-term teams can hang out and unwind.

The fifth level is storage. All of the maintenance equipment and paints are kept up here. They also have a small outside living room that overlooks the city. I am hoping to get to use that a lot more later this week.

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We arrived about 1 AM and went straight to bed. I couldn’t sleep and spent the majority of the cold night laying there in prayer, thought, and yawning.

The next morning came and we ate breakfast and had a quick devotion before we gathered together for orientation. We learned that a few days ago someone had come and sprayed graffiti on much of the building.

I have to say that my heart sank a little when I saw it. 2 years ago my team painted the building, the sidewalk and the bricks. It was a long couple of days, but we did a really nice job. Seeing it tagged with graffiti was a little upsetting.

We were told that we would be spending the day painting the building again.

We gathered all the materials and started in at painting at about 11 AM.

We finished the outside of the building by 12:30 and sat down to eat lunch.

It was a little late to do our original plan of evangelism, so we decided to help Paige get the chapel ready for church tomorrow. This meant a lot more painting. She wanted a few levels of the steps painted as well as one of the offices so that they could move furniture out of another larger office to use for kids ministry in the morning.

We broke up our group and started going to town on the painting.

We finished about 5:30, got cleaned up and headed off to dinner.

It is now 10:30.

The city is alive and very, very loud. Many people are sleeping with ear plugs or ear buds in to drown out the noise. While I am exhausted, I want to take in the sounds of the city. I might not sleep, but I want to experience what the people of La Victoria experience daily.

Tomorrow we will be tourists. We are going to start our day at the chapel and attending church and then heading off to enjoy the touristy side of Lima.

More on that tomorrow.

What Does Dying Look Like?

No. I’m not. At least no more than anyone else, a little closer to the grave each day. But, as far as I am concerned, that is my prognosis.

1 Corinthians 15:22 – For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

But the past couple of days have given me pause to reflect on death and dying. Not just in human terms, but also in the church.

My first story starts as I was waiting for a simple medical procedure to be done. I was in the waiting room, a well-lit place with gray and cream walls and these stupid molding squares every foot or so. I was in the waiting room thinking to myself as I was about to get a biopsy done on my esophagus, what if someone comes back with a terminal illness diagnosis? The place that would be seared into my mind would be an ugly waiting room with gray and cream walls and squares on the walls.

They called me back and took me into the next waiting room, a small procedural area with hospital beds surrounded by curtains and people in those curtains recovering from their procedures. I could hear almost every word that was said between the doctor and the patients.

The majority of the people going in there were getting colonoscopies. One person was in there for her very first one. She was nervous, especially about the farting afterward. But the other 3 beds were taken up by people who have had multiple ones this year. One bed had a girl who couldn’t be much older than a junior in high school. She was on her second colonoscopy this year. Another bed had an 80+ year-old woman in it and she has had 2 this year. The man who came in and sat next to me in the chairs until a bed was open was on his third for the year!

The man next to me and I struck up a conversation. It started with small talk and platitudes. He asked me what I was in for, I did the same. He asked me my age, I did the same.

But then it took a little deeper turn.

He said to me that he never believed he would have to be getting multiple colonoscopies in a year. He said on his first one they found multiple polyps. After testing them, they were cancerous. They realized that they missed one that couldn’t be removed with the equipment there and he had to have it done at the hospital so they sent him in again. During that one it had spread a little more and they removed several others. This third time he was in to see if any more had grown.

Ecclesiastes 12:7 – And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

He stared me in the face and told me that he never expected to be staring a potential life-threatening disease in the face.

Now he was upbeat about it. He said he has no regrets for how he lived his life and he was proud of the people his children and grand-children had become. But you could tell there was a tone in his voice that said he just didn’t want this life to end.

One could easily say that this man is being overdramatic. The doctors didn’t know if he had any further issues, so why would he be getting all bent out of shape?

It is because death is final.

At least here it is.

As a Christian I know that this life is simply a small vapor in the wind and then I move on to the next life. But all of the people we have come to know and love in this lifetime, we worry about how they will react to our absence.

Ever since birth, this life is a series of hellos and goodbyes. Some come for a few moments, but others come for a lifetime. It is those lifetime people that we worry about.

I went through with my procedure and he went through with his. After that moment in chairs together we never spoke. I wish I would have gotten his phone number or email or something. I would really like to be able to check in with him from time to time. But I didn’t. #Fredfail

I will always remember this man. He was stoic but scared. Peaceful but a little anxious.

John 11:25 – Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live

There are many stories like the man I spoke to while at the surgical center. Too many to count.

A lot of them are happening in our churches as well.

That leads me to story number 2.

Over the past year I have interviewed at a couple different churches with hopes of becoming a pastor. In every single instance I made it to the final round only to get beat out by someone else.

But each time that I interviewed at a church I would sign up for their email list. I like to keep in the know about other churches, I believe it makes me a better minister as I am not the smartest person on church leadership (I could have put the period after “person”, but I decided to qualify it a little more)

Many of the churches that I interviewed at were smaller with older congregations. That isn’t a problem as long as you constantly are replacing those who are dying out of your congregation.

In the past 3 weeks I have received 6 funeral notices for one of the churches I signed up for! That doesn’t even count the other couple of churches I get emails from.

The church is not an easy organization to manage. You have several demographics to hit upon and you are expected to hit them all equally as well. You are expected to be the 7-11 of biblical knowledge. Most churches don’t do that well. They are skewed to one demographic over another. They are either an old church or a young church. A white church or a black church. An English church or a Korean church.

The churches are focusing on being niche-based rather than all-encompassing.

And this leads to some churches dying while others find the right niche for the moment.

Unfortunately, the right niche is usually fad-based. Right now, the right niche is to have a great sounding worship band followed by a charismatic message and do it all in about an hour. But that is changing. We are starting to see the death of the charismatic, evangelical church now as this fad fades.

You also have a lot of other types of venues popping up like the tattoo parlor church, the movie theatre church, the cowboy church, and child-focused church.

The one thing I have noticed time and time again is that those churches need to constantly reinvent themselves to stay relevant.

Now I am probably going to get a lot of unhappy comments when I say this, but does the church need to be relevant with the fads of the day, or do we need to learn to be relevant in how to be approachable to the unbelieving public?

Revelation 3:1 – To the angel of the church in Sardis write the following: “This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a reputation that you are alive, but in reality you are dead

Let me explain.

Relevance can be seen as adding a high-powered worship band and skinny jeans and fauxhawks on the ministry team. Those will bring in people who are searching to be entertained and don’t have to worry about making personal changes to their lives so long as they get their weekly dose of entertainment.

Or…

Relevance can look like the body of believers going to church and enjoying each other’s company before a pastor gets up in front and teaches from the Bible on how to interact with the world outside of the 4 walls of the church.

That was kind of painful for me to say. I enjoy my latte-infused, Bethel Music Group energized, skinny-jean with a fauxhawk preaching churches. Unfortunately, many times they are simply places to hide ourselves away as Christians even though we say we are being a light set on a hill, all too often, because we don’t teach people how to interact with unbelievers, when the unbelievers come to our churches they simply get burned by those who proclaim to be the light.

And that is why the church is dying. Well, that’s my take at least.

If we spent a lot more time teaching people how to interact with the unbeliever rather than being safe houses for the marginal Christians, we would find that we may have smaller congregations, but they would be a lot more fruit-bearing.

So whether you are alone in a gray and cream room with ugly squares on the walls or in the most beautiful high-tech church in America, there is something in common.

Death.

Psalm 115:17 – The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any who go down into silence.

And many times that death is slow and painful. And even if you do survive, whether it is a life-threatening disease or a church focused on doing church in the church, you will never be the same afterward. The light goes away. It is the equivalence of losing the lamp stand in Revelation.

I’ll end with this example that I got from Louie Giglio. The last 2 letters of the word “SIN” are “IN.” Churches who are “in sin” are “in church.” The first 2 letters of the word “GOSPEL” is “GO.” Churches that are being relevant at the individual level and going to places outside of the church are gospel churches.

And that is the church that Jesus says the gates of hell will not prevail against.

Christians and Civil Disobedience

Can you imagine the anger?

Acts 5:29-32 – Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

In Acts 5, Peter and the apostles tell the Sanhedrin that they have to obey God rather than man. The Sanhedrin believed they were appointed by God Himself to bring about God’s will on this planet.

Later in the Bible, however, Peter tells us that we are to submit ourselves to every earthly power.

1 Peter 2:13-14 –  Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.

Where is the balance?

Both statements were made by Peter.

It is very easy for someone to look at Peter and say that he is simply switching his view. I mean, here is the man who told Jesus he would not betray Him ever and then turned around and betrayed Him three times in one night.

But I don’t believe Peter is simply flip flopping here.

Both statements have been cause for great problems along the timeline of history. If taken out of context, Christianity can turn into an extremist religion blowing people up for a cause or it can turn into a Sanhedrin-like party that favors politics over Christ and believes that the two are interchangeable.

Neither translation can be helpful to the cause of Christ.

There has got to be a middle ground that maintains the identity of Christian, providing an uncomfortableness to the world around us without blatantly disobeying every authority that comes our way while not turning Christ into the next GOP candidate.

There are 2 very simple litmus tests to determine if your civil disobedience is Christ-honoring.

  • Is it Scripturally-based?

How many times have you “felt” like you were being oppressed? An African-American man is shot by a police officer or a homosexual is told they have to use the bathroom of their birth-gender or a Christian is told they must provide a wedding cake to a gay couple getting married. In all those cases, we find people who are standing up against the status quo in order to make their cases known. You feel angry, upset, sad, or hatred.

Proverbs 12:15 – The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.

But if we look deeper, could there be more to the feeling?

What does Scripture say about it? We know what the laws and the constitution of the United States says about everything a person does or does not do in America. But what would Jesus have to say about it? What situations can you pull from Scripture to defend your feeling?

If you are simply angry because another Christian seemed to get the raw end of a deal because they wouldn’t make a wedding cake and you saw the entire story on Facebook, then you are missing the point of having Scripture.

Scripture is given to us, in this case, to determine if our feelings are justified.

The apostles were not following their feelings. They were following direct orders from Christ Himself.

  • Can you carry out your civil disobedience with humility?

If you are acting out in civil disobedience and expect the government to turn a blind eye to it, then you are following a spirit of entitlement, not the Holy Spirit. The apostles disobeyed many of the leaders of their day but fully expected to be punished for it. Many were jailed, beaten and even killed for their disobedience.

Romans 12:3 – For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

Are you prepared to do the same?

Or do you simply want to be heard and have repercussions?

Whenever you see someone in Scripture disobeying the government for the higher power of Christ, you always see them do it without anger or violence or bitterness. They do so in humility to the One who is owed all glory.

So how about you?

What are you fighting against in this day and age?

Could it be liberals? How about Republicans? The church? The anti-church? TV, movies, video games, fashion, attitudes, laws, rules, authority?

Test yourself before you start trying to enrage others with you to determine if it really is Christ-honoring.

Thankful Heart

I was listening to Petra on the way to work today and their song “Thankful Heart” came on. Now keep in mind, as I am driving, I am dreading going to work. I’m not feeling too thankful to be heading into work.

Let me just tell you, conviction is painful.

Acts 8:23 – For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.

A few months ago I sold my company and went to work for the people who purchased it. I went to work for them under the auspices of helping them get off the ground. As an award-winning recruiter and business development manager, I thought it would be great to help.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t been happening. I was told flat out that I didn’t know what I was doing. The new owner brought on a new partner to help him propel forward because he believed I hadn’t been doing well (even though I have already booked more than my targets). The amount of lies and four-letter language and downright verbal abuse from the partners has been difficult to stomach, especially on the rest of the team, some of which came from my former business.

It has led to cynicism breeding in my heart.

As the older and wiser one of the group of recruiters, I find myself doing what I can to be an example, but then I find it easy to slip into cynicism and speak poorly of the partners.

Thankful is not what I am for this opportunity.

So as I was driving to work today, this song comes on and I find myself singing it.

After it finished, I felt like such a hypocrite.

I wasn’t thankful. I didn’t have a thankful heart.

I was vindictive and had a bitter heart.

Ephesians 4:31 – Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.

And then it gets even more convicting.

I speak to a person today who’s restaurant had closed down and he was out of work. He is young and his wife is about to have a baby in 3 weeks. He was laid off a few weeks ago.

In desperation, he calls me back and gives me his story.

Almost to the point of tears, he explains that he can’t afford to have a child right now. They have very little income and no one seems to want to hire him.

I started to think about my situation.

Yes, this employment is not ideal, but it is employment.

Then, as he is talking, the conviction digs deeper.

I learn he is a bivocational youth pastor.

And then he says those words that cut deep to my core, “I know that this is just a season, and I am thankful for the experiences I have had in the past so I just trust that God has led me to you to help me find that next opportunity.”

1 Thessalonians 5:18 – Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Ouch.

That hurt.

Here I am making a decent living and, yes, the people are flat out evil, but I am able to pay the bills and even save some money. All this while others out there are starting a family and have been laid off with no other opportunities for work or money to come in.

So now I sit in my more than comfortable home after eating a very filling meal. I am watching too many channels on the television while I write this post on a newer model laptop. I am laying in a comfortable bed which I am able to change the sheets on regularly, under a ceiling fan while the air conditioner runs. I have a lot of fun things planned for the weekend and am able to spend a great deal of time with my family.

I am cynical and bitter.

Meanwhile the person who called me said he wouldn’t be doing anything this weekend, hoping to even have enough to buy food for his family.

Yet he is thankful.

I pray to God that I will view my circumstance for what it is, a blessing.

Is it easy?

No.

Are the people decent and able to get along with others?

No.

But I am blessed.

And thankful.

And realize my hypocrisy and evil tendencies in myself.

Next week is another week. And it is for you too.

Are you bitter and cynical? Are you feeling like you are trapped in a dead end with no way out, yet are able to make ends meet? Are you allowing your first world problems to take control of your life?

Then listen to the wisdom I have learned and be thankful.

Look for the blessings in your life, not the negatives.

Celebrate those.

Meditate on them.

Allow God to do what He does best, convict those who are doing wrong, and you simply do what God wants us to do, be thankful for the grace we are given.

Psalm 106:1 – Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!

Egypt, the desert and the Promised Land

The past few months I have been praying a lot.

A LOT.

There are days that I have been sitting at work, feeling as if I life could be so much better, feeling as if my gifts and talents are not being utilized and feeling persecuted. I have to dig deep just to maintain my Christian face during the day. It feels as if I am an Israelite in Egypt.

Then there have been days that I have felt so incredibly low, especially since my mom died. I do everything I can to put on the bravest face I can for my family, but there are times that it just isn’t enough. I’ll get in my car to go someplace and just sit in driver’s seat and give it all up to God. It feels as if I am the Israelites walking in the desert.

Then there are other days that I am sitting on a date with my beautiful wife, enjoying a meal and the love of a wonderful woman.  I feel a sense of amazement that God would bless me with such a person as her. It is as if I had crossed into the Promised Land and am enjoying the cities that I’ve been given.

It is crazy how life can change from one day to the next.

Every day I ask God what he wants me to learn.

Each of the three areas (Egypt, the desert, and the Promised Land) were used to teach Israel something they needed to know. And that can be a timeless truth that the Bible teaches us as well. During several stages of our lives, we might feel “stuck” somewhere, but God is preparing us for the next area of our life, an area that takes us to a better place, even if it isn’t the best place.

Egypt

Exodus 1:11 –  So the Egyptians put slave drivers over the people of Israel. The slave drivers treated them badly and made them work hard. The Israelites built the cities of Pithom and Rameses so Pharaoh could store things there.

The Israelites needed to learn the importance of being in Egypt. God chose this to be a major place to show His glory to those who were not Israelites while at the same time, preserving the Israelites from dangers such as famine.

So what do we know?

First, we see Joseph preserving the Israelites through a severe famine. This could not have been done if it weren’t for Joseph’s placement in Egypt’s leadership. We all know the story of Joseph and the “technicolor dreamcoat.” Joseph’s brothers didn’t like him, they tried to kill him but ended up selling him into slavery. He ended up in Egypt where he was jailed at one point and eventually read the dreams of several people, including Egypt’s leadership.  Because of this, he is given a high position in Potipher’s house. Later, the same brothers who sold him into slavery came at their dad’s command to ask for help. If it weren’t for Joseph being in such a high position, the Israelites may never have been able to survive.

To go along with that, Moses was able to rise into leadership as well.

God used Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

If the Israelites had not had that time in Egypt, they may never have seen a leader rise up that could lead them to the Promised Land.

The Desert

Hebrews 3:8 – don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled, when they tested me in the wilderness.

Next, the Israelites needed to learn the importance of being in the desert. Not only is God using this time to show His glory even more, but He is taking this time to refine the Israelites.

So what do we know?

The desert took them at least 40 years. Sometime between 1444 and 1288 BC, the Israelites left Egypt. They left the place they were being hurt, the place they were enslaved. But once on the road, they missed the comforts they had to their enslavement. It started with the spies. When the spies returned from scouting out the Promised Land, the majority of them gave negative reports. Because of their fear, the Israelites spent the next 40 years walking the desert.

When Moses took the Israelites to the desert, they were looking for instant gratification.

They want what we expect today as well.

If we leave a job or relationship or situation we expect the new job, relationship or situation to be immediately better than the one we just left. Most often, that is not the case. We need to learn to persevere when we follow God’s call.

This piece of information has been hitting me like a ton of bricks lately.

I know God has called me to vocational ministry. I am following the call. As I look to why I am not in vocational ministry right now, I can almost perfectly line up what the Israelites went through and what I have been going through.

It is the refining process.

It started with fear. I scouted out what vocational ministry would look like for my family and I. I did not receive a good report. It would be tough. I wouldn’t make enough money. The time that I work would be double what I was working at the time.

Fear set in.

“There is no way I can cross over into the Promised Land (vocational ministry), the people are giants and they have significant weapons!”

That was fear.

Along the way, like the Israelites, I would tell God I needed something else to help me. I need food or water or meat. I would try to take the lead in the relationship between God and I. Each time, my refining process would take a step back.

Then, along the way, I would question the leadership God has placed in my life. Just like in Numbers 16, a portion of me had to be destroyed to move forward. In the case of the Israelites, they had to lose the insurgent leaders by God showing them His power. The ground opened up and swallowed them.

The same is true with myself.

I left my position of power for a lower position. It is a position that reminds me of Egypt.

The Israelites felt that the desert was worse than what they had left in Egypt. Yes, the work was hard and they were persecuted, but they had stability. They would wake up each day and know exactly what they were going to do. In the desert, that stability was gone.

This meant they had to fully rely on God.

And they weren’t ready for the Promised Land until they did.

It took them 40 years to get ready.

Many times we can feel like we are in the desert for 40 years.

Are you fighting addiction? You were enslaved to your drug or alcohol. When you left, you had many days of feeling like your past life was better. You didn’t know how you would make it through. You didn’t know if the Promised Land was truly real.

But you persevere.

When you persevere you show up in the Promised Land.

The Promised Land

Exodus 6:8 – I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.’”

Eventually, the Israelites were allowed access to the Promised Land. That access, however, came with a requirement: the Israelites had to rely solely on God and obey Him. Not only that, but while the Promised Land was given to Israel upon entrance, it took them 7 years to conquer and 7 years to settle the land.

And even when they have received the Promised Land, God gave them a mandate to totally destroy the Canaanite people or else they would be corrupted by the remnant.

Think of it this way.

You have lived a life of partying, doing drugs, and alcohol. You’ve grown addictions to at least one, or possibly several, poor life choices. You are a slave to the addictions. You are in Egypt.

But then you begin to take back your life from the addiction. You start the long journey to completely separate the addiction from yourself. During this journey you are on there are many times you want to go back to the addiction. You are going through life, learning how to live without the comfort of the addiction. It is a long journey, but eventually you overcome it. This is the desert. You finally made it. The Promised Land. A land free of the slavery of addiction. You know you need to separate yourself completely from the past, but you don’t want to. This remnant stays and keeps us constantly needing God.

Frame Without a Photograph

A few weeks ago when my mom was diagnosed with cancer, and it was pretty clear that I would soon have to live without her daily phone calls, I told Mimi that I felt like a frame without a photograph.

Then, after mum had passed on Easter, I was putting together a photo collage for the viewing and there was one picture that mum absolutely loved. It was a picture of her and pap on a cruise. I pulled that picture out of the frame to make it the centerpiece of the collage.

Mum a legacy

And then it hit me, in front of me was a frame without a photograph.

I started to cry, realizing that my words had come true. Was that to be the future? A frame without a photograph? Would that be how each of us will feel as time goes on?

I decided to press onward and get the collage together.

As I put the collage together, I realized that the picture had to come out of the frame; not because of making space for new memories, but because the frame was now too small.

As the collage started to come together piece by piece, picture by picture, the full screenshot of mum became more evident.

Mum burst out of the frame and became a much larger word than picture.

She became a legacy.

If you will allow me to, I would like to go section by section and give to you a little bit of the legacy of my mum.

Mum Younger years

In the upper left corner is mum as a young woman. She was beautiful. We see her high school yearbook picture, graduation photo, and blocked by glare, we see her at the place she loved the most, the bowling alley.

Mum loved bowling and she was really good! She taught me how to bowl. I used to bowl in leagues and she would come to every game. After each game she would give me tips on becoming better. It wasn’t unheard of for her to bowl well into the 200s.

Mum and Pap

Moving into the lower left corner of the collage, we find the history of mum and pap. There are a couple different wedding photos. She is in her original wedding dress in one of the photos. On the far right of this section is when mum and pap reaffirmed their vows. Then there are other photos. We see a pic of pap smoking his pipe, holding on to mum. We see them dancing. We see them at the Westinghouse/Northrop Grumman retirement dinner when my dad retired with over 30 years of service to the same company. They had a picture of them taken that night.

Mum loved pap. A few days before she died, we were talking on the phone and she said that she doesn’t know how she ended up with the best man in the world. You see, mum had a tough past. She was married before my dad. It was a physically abusive relationship that led her to take my brother in the middle of night and hop a bus away. Then she found my dad.

The way my dad explained it to me last night was that she was managing the bowling alley. He would go in there with the guys and bowl on league night. After time, they started talking and hit it off.  They would meet up before league night and bowl a few games together. She would always win. Not because my dad would let her, but because she was crazy good! He would bowl in the mid 100s and she would bowl in the low to mid 200s.

Then it happened.

He won a game.

So, right before the league night started, she got on the loudspeaker and proclaimed over the entire bowling alley that “If Fred Noble’s team wins tonight, he will wear a skirt.” Well, that was it, every team tried their hardest to lose.

After dad told me that story, I realized just how much he loved my mom. In a couple days would have been their 52nd wedding anniversary. As he and I sat and reminisced about mum last night, he would spend almost the entire time smiling.

He was remembering all the good times.

Not once since the death of my mom have I seen him without a smile.

He knows he was a very lucky man. He had an amazing wife.

Mum and gramma

In the upper center of the collage is two of mom’s favorite things: her mother and her jobs. My mom had an amazing mother, which is probably where she learned her skills to be an amazing mom. I know for a fact it is where she learned to be an amazing cook and baker!

When my grandma, her mom, was diagnosed with cancer, she came to live with my parents who took care of her along with hospice. One of the really cool things about that is that the same hospice nurse that took care of my mom’s mom is the same one who took care of my mom. Over 20 years ago, a fairly new hospice nurse named Michelle came to the house to take care of grandma. She was there until the end. My mom would rave about how great she did.

20 some years later, that same nurse walked in the door of my mom’s house. My dad explained it as “an old homecoming.” He said they held on to each other for what seemed like forever and just cried until they could cry no more.

Then there are pictures of her at work. When I was in school, she would work in the cafeteria. Not only was I not really the smartest kid out there (2.2 GPA in high school and 2.6 GPA in college, thankfully I got a 3.5 in seminary), but I was also a little trickster. I liked to have fun. My mom worked in every school so she could keep an eye on me.

Honestly, it didn’t work that well. I still was a trickster.

When I graduated high school, I told my mom that she was not allowed to work at the college that I was attending.

Mum fun

Moving into the upper right of the collage there are a lot of pictures of mum having fun, usually with someone else.

You see, mum loved people more than she loved herself. She always treated others better than herself and lived a servant’s life. But she knew how to cut loose from time to time.

She absolutely loved to go to Ocean City, Maryland. It was her absolute happy place. I can understand why it is probably one of my favorite places in the world as well. Every year we would go down and stay at the Santa Maria, which I don’t believe exists anymore. She would never go down in the summer. She always said it was too crowded. Her favorite time, and mine as well, is early October. She and pap would sit on the deck of the hotel and just watch people.

That was her favorite pastime. She loved people-watching.

She said she would make up stories in her mind as to what those people were doing and why they were doing it. I really think it is because of her that I get my creativity.

I know the picture doesn’t do it justice, but in the top right of the above picture my mom has my dad on a dog leash. I really have no clue what is going on here. If anyone has the story to that, please share. My dad seems clueless (perhaps intentionally) about it.

Then there is the picture of my two kids with them when they were young. My mom loved both Matt and Kenzi. When Kenzi was born, she was the daughter that my mom never had. The first few years of her life, Kenzi spent a lot of time with mum and they bonded tightly. Those two were inseparable.

When Matt came along, even through all of the problems that Matt has had with being lovable, mum never gave up on him. Matt was always the strong-willed and stubborn child. If it wasn’t his way, he would shut you out. He still does to this day. But mum never gave up on him. She continued to love him and pray for him to turn around and have his heart feel again. She always knew how to make him smile, even when he didn’t want to.

Mu and family

The final corner shows what mum loved best, family. On her birthday, April 1st, this year she cooked a full dinner for us even though she was in intense pain. She would have it no other way. She told us it was the last meal she would ever make us, as if she knew.

She loved having everyone around the table.

And she absolutely loved the big family we had become. As a divorced dad with 2 kids of my own and adding a wife and 2 other full time kids and 2 other grown kids to the mix, she loved being able to love on people again. She loved being surrounded by those she loved. She loved my dad, me, my wife Mimi, Ryan, Matthew, Kenzi and Jacob.

Right before the viewing, my dad met with each person in the family individually to tell them words that mum wanted told to them. I have no clue what was said to each person. I just know what was said to me.

And it fills my heart to know it.

Mum collage

So now we are back to the original photo that got me thinking about this. My mom’s favorite picture.

But notice something, it is not a frame without a photograph. It is a photograph without a frame. The picture is framed by other pictures. And each of those pictures are framed by others. And all those photos together are framed by memories that we have of mum.

And what that leaves us is not a single snapshot of a person who died of cancer, it leaves us a description of the legacy of great woman. A woman who deserves to be celebrated and called blessed.

#TheGraveIsEmpty

I am writing this on Easter evening, or, as Christians like to call it, Resurrection Sunday.

Today we had a plan in place. I planned on waking up, going to a sunrise service of a new church in my area and then gathering the entire family together and heading up to PA to spend the day with my parents. If you read a previous blog post of mine, you will know that my mom has stage IV cancer and we don’t really have a lot of time with her.

Well, this morning the call came.

“Fred, get up here. Leave the kids home, come to PA. Your mom doesn’t have long left.”

My heart sank. I immediately changed all the plans and started driving north.

The plan was to move her to a hospice facility where she could finish up her final hours without pain. She was breathing very shallow and, in between each breath, was moaning in pain. When I got here, I was told by my dad that the ambulance to transport her was about an hour out.

I sat down at mum’s bedside and prayed with her. I told her to simply let God have control and stop trying to take that control away from Him. Let Him heal her, whether that be through a miraculous healing of the cancer or through ending her pain through taking her home.

I went to the place we were ordering Easter meal from to pay for it and have them donate it to a local church. After I returned I went back in to check on mum. I told her I loved her.

When I walked in the door I heard the moaning and breaths, but a few moments after walking out of the room, I didn’t hear it anymore. I asked pap and he said that she occasionally does that. This time I went back in and noticed her eyes partially opened. She wasn’t breathing.

I called to pap and he checked her. We were pretty sure she had gone home to her Creator.

We called the hospice nurse. She cancelled the ambulance and came right over and pronounced her dead at 11:45 AM.

My mom knew. She didn’t want to end her days in the hospice facility. She told us that a few weeks ago when she was in the hospital. She wanted to end her days surrounded by me and pap in her own home.

And that is how she died.

The rest of the day has been a blur. We spent time with the funeral home getting her moved and planning the viewing. We went to eat a local diner that was open today (that was such a blessing!). Then back home to go through all the old pictures and reminisce about mum and how much she meant to us.

We are having a viewing on Wednesday and then immediate cremation.

Why no funeral?

Because the grave is empty!

When mum passed through the wildwood into the place where dreams come true, she ceased to be mum and simply became a body. The essence of mum is found in the Spirit that inhabited her.

Mum loved God and people. She had a servant’s heart. As a matter of fact, she had the Servant’s heart. She had the heart of God.

So now it is Easter eve. Pap finally fell asleep. The house is quiet. The only noise I hear is the droning of the ceiling fan above and the tapping of the keys on my keyboard.

I am sitting her thanking God for taking her so quickly so she didn’t suffer too long. I am thanking Him for the opportunity to tell her I loved her before she passed from somewhere into elsewhere.

The truth about Easter is just what happened today.

The grave is empty.

Mum will not be in a grave because there is no reason for it.

Christ burst from the grave. He proclaimed to the world His return.

He gave the disciples a mission to accomplish.

Jesus’ final 40 days on earth, after exiting the grave, dealt with sharing the Kingdom of God with everyone.

There is a reason to celebrate Resurrection Sunday. Just like there is a reason to celebrate my mum’s life with my pap through the old pictures.

The reason is simple.

Power.

The power of the Holy Spirit is freely given after bursting from the grave. The power for my mum to live on through my actions and words is amplified after her death. How much more will I look at how I deal with people after seeing my mom live it.

How much more do I want to proclaim the Kingdom of God now that Christ has given us this mandate after leaving the grave.

So, what will I proclaim on the day after Easter?

I will proclaim the Servant’s heart of my mom. She embedded that in me through her gracious living. And I will take that lesson and translate it to my Christian theology and proclaim the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God places Jesus on the throne. Entrance to the kingdom requires new birth (John 3:5), repentance (Matthew 3:2), and the divine call (1 Thessalonians 2:12). Jesus calls us to seek the Kingdom of God first (Matthew 6:33) and pray for it to come (Matthew 6:10). It is joy in the Holy Spirit, righteousness, and peace (Romans 14:7).

So again, I sit here in the quiet of the night.

Thinking about how to live out my mom’s servant heart and how to proclaim the Kingdom of God through all I do.

Tomorrow is a new day. A new day to celebrate the two people I love dearly who have burst from the grave, Jesus and my mom.

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