In October I found myself in a van full of college students on a road trip. A campus minister friend had invited me to tag along with him, his wife Gail, and a group of students. Our route just happened to take us through Gail’s hometown, a sleepy little place in northeast Kansas. It is a deeply rooted farming community where many families have been for generations. As we wound through town we passed a well-kept cemetery.
There have been three funerals in my church over the past year. One of the people I knew fairly well. None were in my circle of close friends. Two of them were a couple married fifty-four years, Jim and Barbara. Barbara lovingly cared for her husband in their home until his Alzheimer’s became so severe that it was too difficult for her. Once he was moved into a care facility, she visited him daily, looking out for his needs. She picked him up and brought him to church every Sunday. One of the holiest moments of my week was seeing her pull into the church parking lot on Sunday morning.
After posting two recent reflections on Buddy and Jean Albright, I heard from their son, Ray. He told the following story to me in an email:
Guadalajara is a beautiful city. One thing that fascinated me the year I lived there was the abundance of statues and fountains all around the city. Some of them commemorate Mexican history or honor a military figure. Others are simply designed to be beautiful.
Last week as I walked out of the grocery store toward my car, I was approached by man in a wheelchair. Both of his legs appeared to be amputated just below the knees. He was unkempt and obviously did not have access to good hygiene. But, he wore a bright smile and looked me in the eye as he said, “Ma’am, could you spare 60 cents? That’s all I need to have enough for bus fare.” I try to be to be aware of safety in these sorts of situations, so I looked around to see if I could spot anyone who might be lurking nearby. Not seeing anyone, I opened my purse, handed him a dollar and said, “I’d be happy to help you. God bless you, sir.” As I was driving away I saw him approaching another person headed to their car. I shook my head and thought, “I’m a sucker.” Then, I paused, smiled and said out loud, “Maybe so, but that’s okay. “ I prayed for him as I drove home.
Thank you, Buddy and Jean Albright.
When I graduated from college, I took a job teaching first grade in Guadalajara, Mexico at a small private school. My roommates were two other young American women who were both serving two year stints teaching at the school. It was a wonderful, adventurous year.
About the time I was arriving and getting settled, we were introduced to our neighbors who were also just moving in. Buddy and Jean were probably in their early 50’s and had spent 25 years in Malawi (Africa) with the International Mission Board. Their children were grown and they began to ask the Lord what He had for them in the next season of life. They heard his clear direction to move to a new mission field: Mexico. We loved them and frequented their house in the evenings for popcorn and Milo (a malt flavored mix added to warm milk, very similar to hot chocolate.) One Saturday evening we told them the following story.
We had answered a knock on our metal door that morning to find the most adorable little boy standing there. He looked to be about six years old and was undoubtedly dressed as nicely as he could manage in a dingy, collared shirt that was tucked neatly into well-worn jeans. His shoes looked like they were about to come apart at the seams. His hair was combed very precisely and he had the biggest brown eyes and a shy smile. He was going house to house begging in our neighborhood. We knew his mother had probably dressed him early that morning, given him a bag and sent him on the bus to come across town, all by himself, for this day’s work. We were smitten. We brought him upstairs, sat him on a kitchen stool and put a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in his hand. Then, we went to work filling his bag with sugar, beans and flour. When he had all he could carry, we gave him a few additional pesos and sent him on his way. As we relayed the story to the Albrights, I laughed and said, “I hope we didn’t just get duped. Maybe he’s taking advantage of foreigners. He’ll probably be back next Saturday and bring all his friends.” We laughed about how, if it was a scam, it was a good one, and they definitely sent the right little boy.
Buddy and Jean did not laugh. Instead, Buddy quietly said, “I would rather give to someone and find out later that I got “taken,” than not give and find out later that they really were in need.”
I was stung.
The truth was the odds were low that it was a scam. Our joking revealed an underlying self-protection and cynicism. How badly we hate to be made fools of. Buddy’s words exposed my wretchedness. Bags of beans and sugar don’t make up for a cynical, self-protective spirit.
Matthew chapter 5 gives us a number of admonitions that seem absolutely foolish:
- If someone strikes you on the cheek, turn to him the other also (v. 39)
- If someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. (v. 40)
- Love your enemy (v.44)
- Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (v.42)
- And of course the gospel itself is foolish. “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Corinthians 1:23)
I never encounter a beggar that I don’t think of Buddy’s words. I don’t always give to someone who asks, but I usually do. I do try to always be kind and pray for them. I can’t know what their true needs are. One thing I do know: If a person with no legs is in the parking lot asking for 60 cents, then his needs -- spiritual and physical and emotional -- are likely much greater than bus fare. I will never miss that dollar. And I never want to miss an opportunity to keep my heart flung wide open to others. Even in small ways. Even at the risk of being a fool.
I have been thinking lately about the dear folks who peopled my childhood, youth and early walk with God. Many of them have now gone to be with Jesus. I am often reminded of how they shaped me by their words or their example.
For some (morbid?) reason I once memorized Ecclesiastes 7:2: “Death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart.” Cheerful verse, right? Yet, I find this verse coming to mind more and more often as I get older. I want to “take it to heart” that life is short; and also, that I have the astounding opportunity to touch the lives around me with the gospel. So, in an attempt to honor the legacy of those who have gone before me, I thought I would tell you a few stories about the power of influence in my life. Maybe in the telling, these stories will inspire you. Stay tuned.
A friend of mine thinks that we who do ministry need to learn to “spike the ball.” When football players finally get the ball into the end zone, they don’t stand around the goal post looking depressed, grumbling to one another about how many plays they had to run, or how they fumbled the ball on first down and then let the quarterback get sacked. No! They celebrate! They give each other high fives and jump up in the air -- and spike the ball. At that moment it doesn’t matter whether or not they played flawless football. It doesn’t matter how many interceptions were thrown, or how long it took. They got the ball in the end zone and that’s the whole point of the game.
There is something I often hear among women who work in ministry. It is a conversation that begins with the sentence, “I feel like a failure.” It has surprised me to discover how widespread the feeling is. I have not merely heard it from one or two women who had a bad year or from a woman on a campus that has suffered a significant drop in numbers in their ministry. It appears to me that it is the appraisal of many women regarding their lives and ministries, no matter how outwardly successful they may be.
I have been thinking about this and trying to figure out why we often feel this way. (Is it just the women?) I’m sure there are many possible reasons. My guess, though, is that this vague feeling flows mostly from a failure to remember how the kingdom of God works. In Matthew 13:31-33, Jesus tells the following parables:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”
“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough."
These are how the kingdom most often grows: slowly and out of sight,
I think most of us long for and expect our ministry to have more “wow” factor:
- The series of weekly meetings where worship was awesome and the messages were creative, clear and compelling (move over David Platt and Rend Collective!)
- The party you pulled off that everyone is still talking about
- The unforgettable retreat
- The twenty women you personally led to faith in Christ this semester.
A lot of parties are fun, but most are not that memorable. Sometimes you only get to be one small link in a person’s journey to faith in Christ. So, be as faithful as you can with the ministry God has given you. Work hard. Pray hard. Learn from your mistakes. Accept the fact that both big retreats and small group Bible studies rarely come off without any glitches. Don’t beat yourself up over conversations that were not “perfect.” (I often labor over these articles and then don’t post them because I can’t get them just perfect.) Never forget for one moment that God is the ONLY ONE who is always faithful, perfectly insightful and, of course, wondrously creative. I wonder how you are evaluating your semester now that the end is in sight? Consider the possibility that good is sometimes good enough. Go ahead and spike the ball.
A Guest Post by Sheri Johnson
When my kids were little they ate a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. I would carefully craft this midday meal with soft bread, a little more peanut butter than jelly and always made sure the crusts were cut off. I served them their crust-less sandwiches with a kiss and prayer and would promptly start to clean up the kitchen. Returning the jar of peanut butter to the pantry and the jelly and bread back into the fridge, I would then get a fresh cloth and wipe up the surface of the counter as I popped the crusts of the sandwiches into my mouth. After the dishes were washed I would sit down with my kids. Sometimes we were silly, making each other laugh, other times we would read a story or I would teach them about table manners. It was a quality time of the day with my little ones.
In the afternoon, my kids would go down for their naps and I would settle in with my own tasks. When my body was stationary I would realize that I had an incredible hunger. I wondered why I was so hungry. Didn’t I just eat lunch a while ago? Then it would occur to me, I prepared and served lunch to my kids, but only had a few crusts of bread for myself. This is what I call a “peanut butter and jelly existence”.
As women in ministry, we can also have a “peanut butter and jelly existence”. God has called us to lead the women that He has put into our care. We lovingly prepare Bible studies. We spend time with women one-on-one, listening to their questions and digging in the Word for the answers. We spend hours sharing the good news of the Gospel with non-believers on campus. It is our pleasure to show others how to spend alone time with God.
Our Bibles are out; the pages are turning. The truth is extracted and shared with hungry women on college campuses. We are providing spiritual nourishment for others, but are we still hungry ourselves?
1) What are the signs that you are spiritually hungry? Do you ever “eat” on the run or skip “meals”?
2) Do you have a time each day to feed yourself? Are you able to focus on God’s Word for you without thinking of how it will benefit others?
3) When living out your week, do you safeguard your own time with God?
4) Is there an extended time each month that you spend a day with God?
Sheri Johnson grew up in Colorado, attended the University of Wyoming and has been on staff with Campus Ventures (CV) since 1992. Sheri and her husband (Cody) have served on campus staff at Northwest College and the University of Wyoming. In 2014, she stepped into the role of Women's Coordinator for Campus Ventures to train, resource and shepherd the women on staff throughout Wyoming and South Dakota.
I remember when I first began to understand that I wanted to give my life helping make disciples. I was introduced to the idea as a junior in high school. I began to grasp it and actually try to do it as a college student. I was captured by the vision of helping young men and women walk with God. It was a compelling life purpose; however, I often felt handicapped because I had never been “discipled.” Then, in my late twenties I went on staff with a collegiate ministry where making disciples was to be my full time job. Suddenly, I felt woefully inadequate as I was faced day after day with the needs, questions, eagerness and sinfulness of a large group of college students under my care and direction.
My network of relationships at the time put me around a lot of people who came from large, prominent disciple-making ministries. They all seemed to have skills I didn’t. I perceived them as smarter than me, more effective than me, and likely more spiritual than me. They shared a common vocabulary which I was unfamiliar with and often spoke of their past mentors. I regularly felt like a misfit, an imposter, or worse, a hopeless case. I found myself thinking, “Gee, if I had only had gone to college there,” or “I wish I could have attended that church.” Of course, that kind of thinking quickly deteriorated into, “Well, not much can be expected of me. After all, I didn’t have the right training. I’ll just have to muddle along and do the best I can.”
One weekend I was invited to join some friends who were hosting one of their mentors, a man who was well known as a very effective disciple-maker. God had used him tremendously in my friends’ lives and, although I had never been around him personally, I had a lot of respect for him. It was a small group of ten or twelve and we sat casually in the living room as he shared his thoughts on making disciples, and encouraged us regarding our various ministries. Toward the end of the evening he invited us to ask questions. Sometime during the next few minutes I took a deep breath and found the courage to ask, “What if no one ever discipled me? How can I learn how to disciple someone if I was never discipled?” (I’m pretty certain I said this with a distinct whine in my voice.) He looked at me and replied, “No one ever discipled me.” I was stunned. And convicted. And challenged. Here was a man who had influenced hundreds of people, maybe thousands, and no one had ever personally discipled him? In that moment it dawned on me. There is no magic wand. No secret handshake. I am a disciple by following Jesus with all my heart, and I make disciples by loving people and coming alongside them as best I can on their journey to know, love and follow Jesus.
Not long after this encounter, I was reading Romans in my Phillips Translation of the Bible. It translates Romans 10:12* this way: “For all have the same Lord, whose boundless resources are sufficient for all who turn to him in faith.” Finally, after all my self-pity and excuses, I began to understand. I have all I need to love and minister to people because I have the Lord Himself. His boundless resources are available to me. To me! There are no formulas, no charmed curriculum that “works” better than others. I have everything I need in Him.
(*Note: I realize this verse in Romans is about salvation not equipping, but I don’t think it is a stretch to apply it as I felt God applied it to my heart that day.)
I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. ~ Psalm 13:5
Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the (woman) who trusts in Him. ~ Psalm 32:10
Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies . . . How priceless is your unfailing love! ~ Psalm 36:5-7
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. ~ Psalm 90:14
For your Maker is your husband – the Lord Almighty is his name – the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer. ~ Isaiah 54:5
. . . for the Lord will take delight in you . . . as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you. ~ Isaiah 62:4-5
I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with lovingkindness. ~ Jeremiah 31:3
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? . . . I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~ Romans. 8:35
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that iswhat we are! ~ 1 John 3:1
I have noticed that coloring is not just for kids anymore. College students are coloring for fun and relaxation. Adult women are breaking out the coloring books after the kids go down at night. Maybe some of you on staff have picked up a box of crayons or colored pencils yourself lately! The link below is to an article titled Praying in Color and it is an activity to help you engage Lent in a new way this year. I’m all in favor of giving something up for Lent. I plan to say “no” to something in my own life. But, I also like the idea of saying “yes” to something. Here is a way to observe Lent by reflecting on a word, or a passage, or by praying for a different person each day – with your Crayola in hand. Have fun! And may God draw each of us nearer to his heart as we march toward Easter.
The pastor of my church often shares the following analogy when he preaches a funeral. These are not his exact words, but rather a compilation of what I recall him saying at various funerals, mingled with my own thoughts. My apologies to Pastor Terry if I have misrepresented his words. I don’t believe I have misrepresented his intent.
“A funeral is like a window. Imagine that you are toiling day after day in an office high in a tall building. It is a spacious office, and it has a large window covered with blinds. You keep your head down and do your work diligently. You are productive. Days, weeks, and months go by with you coming and going from that office, doing the work of each day. You are so intent on your tasks that you never have time, nor even think, to open the blinds. Then, one day you rise from your work, walk over and pull the blinds open. What unfolds before you is a breathtaking view - the city below, and mountains rising in the distance. It is a panorama of brilliant sunshine illuminating a world that shouts of beauty and hope and meaning. It stops you in your tracks. For a few long moments your life gains new perspective as you gaze out at the wide world beyond the four walls of your office. You take a deep breath and let out a long sigh. Perhaps you reflect on how brief life is and think about what really matters to you, beyond the project waiting on your desk. That is what we do at a funeral. We step away from the hurry and work and mundane of our lives, and we look out the window. We gaze for a few moments at eternity and think about the things that matter most in the end.”
Recently, I watched Elisabeth Elliot’s memorial service that was held in July at Wheaton College. As a result, I have been standing at the window. Elisabeth is one of my heroes of the faith. Her writings shaped my early spiritual development, and have continued to feed my faith through the years. I often return to read Elisabeth when I know I need reminders of God’s faithfulness and complete trustworthiness. Her mantra, “Suffering is not for nothing” has buoyed me at many crucial junctures of life. The service is poignant, inspiring, and even humorous. There are stories of Elisabeth’s faith and influence from those who knew her best, and it gives those of us who felt like we knew her greater insight into the things that made her such a resilient and profound voice. I would like to invite you to take some time to stand at the window and watch the memorial service. It can be found here on YouTube:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WSi3mR9GQIE Note: The service is 2hrs and 45 minutes long and includes a lot of special music by grandchildren as well as congregational singing of numerous old hymns of the faith. If you prefer not to watch the entire service, I have listed below the segments (they are each short) that are, in my opinion, the most rich and wonderful. If you only have time for one, listen to Joni Eareckson Tada. Personally, I thoroughly loved listening to all the old hymns. Above all, I felt urged forward to live well for Him.
- Video, Younger brother, Dr. Thomas Howard, speaking at her funeral a month earlier than the memorial service 1:14-1:20
- Peter Devries, nephew of Elisabeth 1:20-1:28
- Walter Shephard, son-in-law 1:28-1:40
- Joni Eareckson Tada 1:40-1:58
- Valerie Shephard, daughter, 2:02-2:16
- Video looking back at Elisabeth’s life 2:17-2:32
My mother used to say things like, “You can’t go out to play until you’ve made your bed” or, “That room isn’t going to clean itself!” Sometimes I wish my mother could live with me. I might get more done. The truth is I am a terrible procrastinator. I hate to admit that. But there it is in black and white. Actually, if there is a procrastinator’s club of shame, I suspect I would have plenty of company.
Have you ever noticed that we don’t usually procrastinate doing the things we are eager to do? Does my friend Nancy want me to call her today? Is there a tennis match on television? Am I thinking about baking brownies or picking up my favorite author’s new release? Well, I’m on it! On the other hand, I can find a million reasons not to balance my checkbook or clean the bathroom.
I have heard several leadership and time management experts say that the first thing we should do every day is tackle one thing we dread doing. Do it and get it behind us. So, for a while now I’ve been trying to do this - with some small success. Some days it is my financial reports for Alongside Women. Other days it is writing an email to begin the initial conversation with a potential supporter. Today it was taking the time to back up my computer. (I don’t know why I hate this task so much. Probably because it is technology related.) I am realizing how freeing it is to start the day with this sort of accomplishment and how much emotional energy I waste on things that sort of hang over my head, waiting to be done.
Here are a few true words on this subject from an old Scottish preacher:
“No unwelcome tasks becomes any the less unwelcome by putting them off till tomorrow. It is only when they are behind us and done that we begin to find that there is a sweetness to be tasted afterwards, and that the remembrance of unwelcome duties unhesitatingly done is welcome and pleasant. Accomplished, they are full of blessing, and there is a smile on their faces as they leave us. Undone, they stand threatening and disturbing our tranquility, and hindering our communion with God. If there be lying before you any bit of work from which you shrink, go straight up to it, and do it at once. The only way to get rid of it is to do it.” Alexander MacLaren
Isn’t that great? Just so you know, Alexander MacLaren lived in the mid 1800’s. He didn’t have to deal with Facebook and CNN or an iPhone to help him perfect procrastination. Yet, apparently he understood the struggle to face daily duties and do them rather than skirt around them. He was right – long before the guys on the current leadership circuit began saying it. There is a certain joy and freedom to be found in looking squarely at the unwelcome task and getting it done. Proverbs 18:9 says, “One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys.” Putting something off over and over again is slacking. It is lazy thinking and unwillingness to reign in my mind to DO the thing in front of me.
Do you struggle with procrastination too? Whatever it is, “go straight up to it” and do that thing that has been hanging over your head.
I don’t remember where I first heard the phrase, “make Jesus the boss of your life.” I do know that I have never been entirely comfortable with it. Even so, I have used it myself from time to time. Whoever first coined the phrase meant well, I’m sure. It is an attempt to translate the concept of “Lord” into contemporary language. Since we no longer live in an age of feudalism and those of us in the United States have little exposure to or understanding of royalty, the term “lord” can sound a bit archaic. So, someone came up with the idea of expressing the concept of lordship as, “God is our boss.” In other words, he is in charge. He calls the shots and we answer to him. On the face of it, this makes sense. However, it has increasingly seemed to me that rather than being a helpful translation, it takes a powerful reality and makes it a puny shadow of its former self.
This past September I attended the Kansas/Nebraska Collegiate Fall Conference. Mark Vance, who is the director of the SALT Company in Ames Iowa, spoke on the theme, “Sons and Daughters.” Along the way he exposed some inaccurate concepts of God. At one point he said, “If God is my boss, then when I work hard, he owes me something.” Like a lightning bolt it occurred to me in that moment that “boss” is much worse than a puny translation. The term “boss” actually injects faulty theology into a person’s heart, often right at the beginning of their walk with Christ.
There are many Biblical ways to think of God and each one sheds light on him and his character and our relationship with him from a different perspective. He is creator, savior, judge, friend, etc. But Vance said that “Father” is the New Testament name for God. The most important concept God wants us to have is that of a Father to his children. We have repeated the Lord’s prayer so many times that it is less than startling to us that it begins with the words “our Father.” Vance suggested that to those first century Jews it must have sounded utterly explosive. Surely their jaws dropped all the way to the ground to hear someone address God – and suggest that they too address God - as “our Father.” This was brand new language to them. I wholeheartedly agree that the primary relationship we have with God, the one we see unfold in the gospel, is that of a father and child.
Of course, Jesus is also our Lord and this is an important aspect of our relationship with him. But let’s not call him “boss.” We are not working to earn anything from him. He has already freely given us his forgiveness, his love and acceptance. We are spiritually rich, not because of our hard work but because of his grace. The truth is (to introduce another Biblical description of our relationship) we are his bond-slaves (or servants) and he is our master. (Colossians 4:12) He owes us nothing. We owe him everything. I realize that to our modern ears “bond-slave” is perhaps a farther stretch than “lord.” It is uncomfortable language. And it is much more accurate than “boss.”
I think we must try to better communicate what these rich terms mean rather than merely replace them. God is my father and I gladly declare that he is also my master. But he is not my boss.