Saturday, March 27, 2010

This is Church!

"Great are the works of the Lord, they are pondered by all who delight in them" - Psalm 111:2

There are endless files in my mind labeled "God stories." It's sad that I will never remember all of them- there are simply too many of them (Ps. 40:5).

But knowing that I'll never recall all of them makes me more resolved to never forget some of them. Like this story.

The story of Rita.

Leatha met her on Craig's List searching for a dresser. Wednesday, I made the follow-up call to get more info on it, along with directions to her house. Convicted by Mark Cahill's message at Salt two weeks ago (click here), I began to ask her some questions about her life. Why was she selling this dresser?

Her husband (?) of 20 years found another woman and she was moving in with her 4 kids on Monday. Rita had to leave.

Her only possession was this dresser, an heirloom passed down from her grandfather. It was her only means to get money to drive to East Texas, where her mother lives.

I shared John 17:3 with her, that Jesus wants to draw near to her during this time and have an eternal kind of relationship with her. He would never leave her. I prayed with her on the phone and the conversation ended awkwardly, with her sobbing on the other line. I told her I would try to get there Friday afternoon.

As I was teaching the next night at Salt Company on John 17, I shared the story with our students. As I was teaching, the moment I shared the story I had this nagging thought, "Mark, invite TSC to join in this unfolding story of redemption." So I asked one of our staff guys to throw out a box and whoever wanted to could put in some money to share the love of Christ with this stranger from Craig's List.

Here's the box with wads of cash.

Friday afternoon we pulled up to the small Iowa town, knowing something very cool was about to happen...
Rita cheerfully met us as we pulled up. She brought a broken piece of the dresser to us and said, "I'm so sorry about this. I'll take $10 off for you."

"No need for that," we said with a smile.

We gave her the $75 for the dresser, and she looked at it with such... respect. With one sale, she had just liquidated all her assets in this life- and now she held the precious cash in her hands. It was all she had, and it was soon to be turned into gas money to get to the only place she had to go- her ailing mother's house in Texas.

I asked her what she had for help to get her through this hard time. Any kind of faith?

"Just me," she said, with a sense of shame.

We gave her a gift basket with random gifts... candle, tooth brush, tooth paste, Anthem cd, Intersect magazine filled with God stories of people in our church, Esmerelda and Christmas Came One Night DVDs. Then we gave her a Bible and showed her some verses.

She had a Bible, but she said she couldn't understand it because, as she said, "It's so and so who beget so and so who beget...always 'begetting' everyone. I can read this one you gave me!"

Then we dropped the bomb.

I handed her the money wrapped in a big roll of RED tissue paper and I said, "This next week is Holy Week, where we celebrate what Jesus did for us on the cross. The college students in our ministry wanted to bless you with this gift. We all want you to know it's from Jesus."

She unwrapped the red paper, and found wads of green paper.


She sat and wept, the money soaking up her tears.

This went on for about 10 minutes. The crying turned to wailing. She fell to her knees and grasped my legs, still weeping. Then she clutched onto Leatha with an awkward hug.
Leatha and I wept and laughed as Jesus met with the 3 of us in her living room.

She told us more of her story. I won't go into detail about her life, but I will say that Texas may be a safer place for her. We all got on our knees, and I asked if she would like to pray to Jesus. I will never forget her words...

"I don't know any prayers," she said, again ashamed.

So I prayed for her, and that gave her some confidence to tell Jesus thank you. I wish I had her prayer recorded. It was beautiful. She mustered up all the spiritual words she could to incorporate into her prayer, "Thanks for grace, and for believing in me to meet me here today."

It wasn't a prayer of self-reliance, rather, it was her saying to God, "Who am I, that you would visit me today with such kindness?"

We plan on keeping in touch, and helping her get on her feet in Texas. Her mother is in bad health, and lives in a house that has had the utilities shut off for 3 months. Rita thinks this trial might be God's way of reaching her mom, too, as she'll be able to care for her and show her God's love that she had just received.

Driving away, Leatha and I talked about how we hoped Rita knew she wasn't dreaming and that really did just happen (and also that we were people, not angels). Although I did kind of hope we would just disappear and pop up back in Ames...
We were struck with a couple things.

Of all the people on planet earth, God chose to put a target on this hurting woman in the middle of nowhere in Iowa, which is also in the middle of nowhere, and lavish her with grace, love, and money she would need to survive the next couple months. All because of a random visit to Craig's List...

It's yet another fulfillment of Isaiah 41:17, 20; 42:3, "The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the LORD will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the LORD has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it...A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out..."

But we also thought of how powerful our corporate expression of love can be. We can do more together as a body than as individuals. This isn't so much a story for Leatha and me to take credit for.

This is a story about God's people, each giving a little, but together giving a lot, and showing the world- or Rita- Jesus...

This is church!

Friday, March 19, 2010

March Madness and Other Randomness

I've been having a hard time keeping an eye on Jett when Leatha's been gone. Last week he rolled off the bed after I fell asleep. Two days ago he rolled down the stairs. Good thing for Psalm 121.

But I decided to declare war. There's no way he'll escape my sight now. Everyone's happy...
One of my greatest discipleship tools is what I call the "fantastic voyage." It basically involves getting in the car, finding a road I've never been on, and talking with the passengers about life, God, etc. It usually also involves some craziness.

Like trying to bust through a snow drift...
Signs of spring: Ava teaching Makai how to ride a bike. We're going to get some training wheels on that bad boy...
I was skating with Makai and we took a spill. Everything is soaking wet and muddy this time of year.
I was with some guys who decided to use the bill as an evangelistic tool. I actually had the audacity to ask the guy who was paying if he left a good tip. I was worried. My worries proved true. You've got to go at least 20% if you're going to throw down a tract. In my opinion, go 20 regardless.

Nothing says "Christian wack job" like...
65 degrees yesterday, which means the skatepark is thawed out!
The ipod was rockin' with the "speed of sound" (coldplay). I love spring.
Too bad it's snowing right now.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Blueberries and Heaven

I have a problem. A big problem.

I realized it as I was eating blueberries this morning.

My problem, like most Americans, is that I like blueberry flavoring better than the blueberry itself.

Preferring the synthetic over the real thing is the problem.

Other things we prefer over the real thing (I'm including you so I won't feel all alone)...

Jiffy over real Peanut Butter
Bartles & James over a Chardonnay
Fruity Pebbles over Oatmeal (which I blogged about: click here)
Hershey's over Baker's (click here...who said Switzerland had the best chocolate?)
Velveeta over Cheddar
Aunt Jamima's over Maple Syrup
Eggos over Hearty Oatmeal Pancakes (click here)
McDonalds over Farmer's Market
White over Whole wheat
Fruit snacks over Fruit
And the list goes on...

What is the reason for replacing the real with the synthetic?

Corn syrup is more addicting than the actual sugars in the fruit. And corn syrup is in EVERYTHING. Fruit is good on top of the dessert, but can never be considered the dessert itself. That's my problem. I wish for the day when the strawberry looks better than the cream and cake on which it sat.

Will my taste be more refined when I get to heaven?

Isaiah 25:6 even describes the food and beverages in heaven as "rich food" and "aged wine."

For all the non-drinkers out there, you'll have plenty of time to develop your palate.

For all the fruity pebbles eaters, we can only hope. Maybe Fruity Pebbles will be considered a "rich food."

Monday, March 8, 2010

(My Last) Winter Spring TSC Retreat

Well, I think I went out with a bang. This was my last retreat as the director of the Salt Company, and it was up there with the best of them. Soli Deo Gloria.

Here's the highlight reel...

1. Matt the security guard experiences love, community, and in his words, "liberty" for the first time in his life.

Here's a picture of Matt. He was a new man. (From L to R: James Laugerman, Me, Nathan Kaloupek, Matt, Gabe Noll, Zach Gilbert)

There are no better college students on planet earth than in TSC. Our students loved every person in the hotel. Matt was a gruff security guard who worked the evening/graveyard shift. Our students engaged him in conversation, and he would frequent our meetings. The Spirit of God among us pulled him in. On Saturday night, I got a call from one of our students at 4:30 am, saying, "Mark, can you come to our room, we've got the security guard in our room." I'm thinking, "Great, just what I need at 4:30 am. What did you guys do now?" But then Zach (TSCer) says, "No, he wants us to pray with him, could you come help us out?"

Being the not so good shepherd I said, "Bro, you guys got it this far, what do you need me for?"

This was the scene I saw as I was leaving the hotel on Sunday morning...
2. Worship

I was so proud of the Anthem team. We went out on a limb and introduced a bunch of our new songs. By Saturday night and Sunday morning, God seemed to descend on our group during the worship.

It was a frenzy getting ready, as we often determined the worship order minutes before playing. We were also finalizing lyrics and music parts minutes before, since they were all new songs, even to us.
Jesse wrote a new song called "Glory and Honor" and it's got anointing all over it. It got me pumped for Anthem (Thursday, April 29)

3. Paul Sabino

He was like Josh Hamilton at the home run derby two years ago. Everything pitched to him ended up in the bleachers. Paul is one of the main reasons I hate to leave Cornerstone in Ames. What a great brother! Jeff Dodge calls him "Apollos." (Acts 18:24-ff). I have never wept so much during a sermon as I did on Sunday morning. Check it out on the TSC website: click here.

4. Two fraternities decided to have their formal at the Embassy Suites with us.

Big mistake.

Not for us, but for them. It's hard to have fun getting wasted and being immoral when you've got 400 college students reading their Bibles, praying throughout the hotel, and filling the hotel with worship.

It was a study in

Ten feet and a thin wall separated passion filled worship from pagan revelry. (I'm not even sure what "pagan revelry" is, but I'm pretty sure that's what I was seeing Saturday night.) Illustrations of Romans 1:18-ff (passionate rebellion and suppression of truth) were in abundance. Multiple comments were heard, "You're judging us." In one case, a sorority girl gets on the elevator, wearing a bikini. She was basically naked. Here's the exchange:

Naked girl: "I'm not wearing any clothes, am I?"
Innocent male TSC student, holding his Bible, going up to his room: "Umm. No?"
Naked girl: "That's not a nice thing to say."

In her moment of shame, she turns the table to put the Christian in the place of the transgressor, so as to say, "You're not nice for judging me."

In another case, some Greek guys were mocking us with their snide comments and looks when I asked them what house they were in. "Sig Eps" they said. When I told them I was a Sig Ep, their tone changed. Ooops. That's a cardinal sin in the Greek world. Always show respect to brothers, especially older ones. I'm sad for those guys. I've seen their emptiness up close and personal.

5. My guys

Joey and Willie, two guys in one of my Bible studies shared their experiences from the weekend. Both of them were on the other side of the wall 6-8 months ago.

Joey (on left) said, "I was so close the partying this weekend (just on the other side of the wall), but I felt so far away. And I know if I ever tried to go back, I'd have 400 people pulling me back toward Christ."

Willie (on Rt) talked about how much God has changed his life this year, and how he experienced intimacy with Christ in worship like never before. At one point during "Glory and Honor", he said it was like God reached down to him and swept him up into His presence.

He also shared how their small group decided to do hotel evangelism on Saturday night instead of have their discussion. It was his first experience sharing the gospel like that. Two girls (also in bikinis) ran outside with their beers to avoid them. The doors locked behind them. Oops. But apparently being naked and freezing with a beer is better than hearing the gospel.

6. The talent show

What luck... JB and Linda's bus broke down on their way back to Branson. They shared their new CD called, "Back to the Biblical Basics of Marriage...Courtship Edition". We didn't get it recorded, but I can assure you we will have them do it at TSC before the year's over and we'll get a good recording. All the acts were amazing...the winner was Audrey and crew with their stadium cleanup spoof.

7. Hanging with my kids

This is the first retreat that I had a couple of my kids with me the whole time. Leatha planned to be there, but 2 of the little ones were sick. Life as a mom...

It's premature to get sentimental, but this was a retreat I'll never forget.