Sweetwater Networks

Whoever believes in me . . ., rivers of living water will flow from within them.”  John 7:38 NIV

Today, with 20/20 hindsight, it is hard to imagine the traditional Passover in Jesus’ day and what it had become by the time of the very hour it was to be finally fulfilled in the actual death and sacrifice of the true Lamb.  The Hebrew Passover was instituted by God around 1300BCE when the Israelites were liberated from slavery in Egypt.  Everything about the celebration denotes types and shadows of the eventual sacrifice of Jesus Christ around 33AD.   It is written of that day and I quote from God’s Plan of Salvation written by author, Richard Rupe:  “Jesus the Lamb of God, was crucified on the day of Passover.  At 9 o’clock that morning as lambs were being prepared for sacrifice, Jesus was nailed to the cross. Then at 3 o’clock as the people are singing praises to God that echo throughout the hills of Jerusalem, the lambs are being slaughtered.  At the same moment, as the shouts of ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Praise ye the Lord’ ring out on the hill called Calvary, Jesus died.”

Today, as we wait for Christ’s return, it is important that we sort out what we have become spiritually.  Are we like the loyal Jews, preoccupied with the symbolic “slaughtering lambs and preparing the Passover meal” according to our beliefs and not realizing that our praise and preparations have become empty without any true personal depth or principle? And as we go through the motions of “church” are we aware that somewhere in our community by our sins of looking the other way, Christ is being crucified over and over again, never resurrecting, always in a state of dying?  It is interesting to note here that as part of the Passover tradition, the Hebrews were required to bring the lamb that was going to be slaughtered into their homes to live with them for three days before the actual day of the slaughter.  It appears that a feeling of personal loss was meant to be experienced when the lamb died at their hands, as it was no longer just another animal to be butchered from the flock.  

I observe this state of spiritual dying in our communities every day among the disenfranchised due to poverty, mental illness and drugs.  Sometimes when I am working with the inmates at the jail, I feel so helpless to bring them anything that will make a lasting change in the system of justice and for them personally.  One woman lifted my spirits one day by saying, “You are helping us, you give us encouragement.” 

Sometimes I forget how powerful the sweetwater is that flows from those who believe and seek Jesus among the suffering to offer its healing properties.  This living sweetwater that I have been writing about since July, 2013 is everything.  When Christ came, He didn’t destroy corrupt systems that exploit the vulnerable or make everyone rich and in perfect health, He blessed those who came to Him and sought Him out.  He gave them living sweetwater that they couldn’t find anywhere else.  And then, He made the ultimate sacrifice for us and gave His life that we might have that sweetwater forever. 

 “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.”  Revelation 21:6 NIV

What is conditional is that the sweetwater must flow from a true believer to the seeker in order for it to have the powerful living properties it takes to heal and resurrect those who thirst after it.

This is how God intended for it to work.  That we would take on the image of Christ and that the living water that comes from Him would flow from each of us to benefit those who were seeking it.   This water flows from those who are loving, caring people who share their testimonies and are without thought of their discomfort or social status or concern for what others who protect and maintain the status quo might think of them.  They are the ones who follow Jesus into the places where only He would go to share the living sweetwater and lift others up and yes, be Him.

 “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”  Jer. 2:13 NIV

God continually had this problem with the Israelites.  The prophet Jeremiah uses a common image in that time of the cistern to help them realize the difference.  Today, we know about the catch pond that is not spring-fed.  Most farms in the Ozarks have one or two of them.  They are full to the brim in the rainy season and are dried up in the dry season with no ongoing living source of water to keep them replenished.

Right now, in the spring of 2016, we are in a very difficult time with the presidential election going on.  It appears that many are giving up on being and doing the right thing as Christ taught us to do.  Many are angry and no longer see the results of working together for the common good.  Many are rising up in anger and dropping civil proprieties. Many are thinking only about what they want and how they want it to be to serve themselves.  Divisive rhetoric and acts of hate are on the rise, visibly unchecked, stirring up the selfish side of our egos.  This climate of hate, prejudice and selfishness that is erupting in violence and division that we are hearing and seeing now on our TVs everyday, unfortunately always exists.  It isn’t just now occurring.  What we are seeing is the dark side of our dual nature. Everyone has a dual nature.  It is part of the sinful nature that is within each of us.  In the Native American tradition, there is a proverb that defines this duality as two wolves inside us and the one that lives is the one we feed.  As followers of Christ it is up to us to ask Jesus for help in controlling it for the sake of the common good and eventually rising above it as we spiritually transform.  It has no place in God’s Kingdom where everyone is equal with opportunities for every gift of talents that God has given to his creation.  Hate has no place in God’s kingdom, but again, if we hear leaders tell us it’s okay to hate and be prejudiced and take action accordingly, what else can we expect but to act that way. There are many important Scriptures that teach us about the side of our nature we are meant to transform through our belief in Jesus Christ. And there are many references that tell us that the wrong that is done in secret will be brought into the light for all to see.

Job 24:13,15,17 (NIV) “There are those who rebel against the light, who do not know its ways or stay in its paths… The eye of the adulterer watches for dusk; he thinks, ‘No eye will see me,’ and he keeps his face concealed… For all of them, deep darkness is their morning; they make friends with the terrors of darkness.”

 

 

Isa 29:15-16 (NIV) Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, “Who sees us? Who will know?” You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay!… Can the pot say of the potter, “He knows nothing?”

Ps 139:7,11-12 (NIV) Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me…” the night will shine like day….

Jer 23:24 (NIV) “Can anyone hide in the secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the Lord. “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord.

Jer 16:17 (NIV) “My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from me, nor is their sin concealed from my eyes.”

Mat 10:26-27 (NIV) “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the housetops.”

Mark 4:22  “For there is nothing hidden but it must be disclosed, nothing kept secret except to be brought to light.”

1 Cor 4:5 He will bring into the light of day all that at present is hidden in darkness, and he will expose the secret motives of men’s hearts.

We are in times now that are spoken of in the Scriptures as fulfillment of prophecy.  Jesus’ voice is still crying out “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink;” John 7:37, but his voice is being drowned out by other voices appealing to our sinful natures to hate and get what you want at the cost of others well-being.

In the midst of this toxic national climate that is gripping our attention and making us, like Peter, feel like we are sinking and lost as we become afraid of the crashing waves and storm all around us, there are many good things happening.  Jesus is still working among us to teach us to love one another and to become constantly more creative about ways to help each other.  In fact, this positive climate is growing in spite of what’s happening among the masses all over.  Love is so powerful.  I see it in action everyday.  It is love that transforms everything.  Every outcome that is influenced by love will be different than anything you can possibly imagine.  Bring love to bear on every circumstance for the right outcome.

As a representative for Christos House, I am blessed to attend two interagency meetings, one in Texas and one in Wright counties every month.  The comradery that we enjoy when we come together is inspiring.  Our time together is up before we know it.  In fact, in Texas County, we have set the meeting to start earlier so we have more time.  These groups are the basis for Sweetwater Networks.  Each group comes to the table to talk about their programs that are available at that time and how to access them for the community members of our counties.  Sweetwater Networks will focus on the positive that’s happening around us. 

Remember, as time moves closer to Christ’s coming, the Scriptures promise that our choices will become more black and white.  Everything that once was bad will be good.  Everything that once was good is now bad.  Even the political climate right now is serving that purpose.  What once was said and done in secret, we now hear and see blatantly out in the open uncontrolled.  With knowledge and assurance of what Jesus Christ is about, we will weather this and our work of loving acts will be more powerful than ever for those who are seeking transformation in their lives. 

Hate and prejudice takes a terrible toll on one’s spirit.  There is no living water as a source within that condition.  Their source comes from cisterns of stagnant water.

I almost don’t know where to start in sharing with you all the good things that are happening in our counties.  It is important for us to start with the state of Missouri as it relates to the rest of the nation.  In the latest Kids Count statistics, there is ratings for each state in the nation in four domains of well being for children.  Missouri rates 24th for Economic; 30th for Education; 27th for Health; and 29th for Family and Community.  In 2015, Missouri ranked number 50, which is last, for welfare reform. Rising above this rating in our state congress will take a will  and understanding that when everyone has opportunities, our communities thrive.  The God we serve uses words like “abundance” and “generosity”.  

II Corinthians 9:13

By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others,”


I Timothy 6:17-19 “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

Proverbs 11:24

One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.”


There are statistics readily available online, that tells a story of great need in Texas and Wright Counties.

The first one will probably be enough to create the picture as it truly is.  Texas County Food Pantry served nearly 700,000 pounds of donated and purchased food and USDA commodities in 2015. This number is nearly double for all of the food distributed from food banks in Texas County in the 2013 Report from the Missouri Hunger Atlas. 24.7% of families with children in Texas County have food uncertainty.  There were 783 monthly participants in the Women, Infants and Children or WIC program provided by the county health departments in 2013. In Wright County, 25.8% of the families with children have food uncertainty with 849 monthly participants in WIC. Changes in federal and state welfare laws taking effect April 1 will cut off food stamp benefits to 30,000 Missourians and is expected to deepen poverty and hunger.  Executive Director Jeanette Mott Oxford of Empower Missouri is concerned that there will be an even greater dependency on food pantries already strapped.  Mott Oxford also stated that Missouri ranks second in the nation in the number of people without enough food to eat. (Reported in the Houston Herald- March 31, 2016 issue)

In 2015, the Pantry also provided over $130,000 in emergency assistance for housing and utility bills to both Texas and to Wright (which began later in the year).  Emergency assistance is just an immediate band aid to keep the crisis in check for that day or month.  That’s all.  It doesn’t do enough to change people’s future or how they manage their lives.  The directors of the Pantry that I have known in the last 12 years continue to lament that they would like to do more about permanent life-style changes in those who they serve, but for some of their patrons, if the Pantry wasn’t’ there as an immediate safety net, their situation would become far worse.  Due to the donations during the holidays to the red kettles in Texas County, the Pantry has discretionary funds that can be targeted to more specific needs that can make permanent changes in people’s lives. Other statistics  that give us a better picture of the need I observe in our communities are:   Texas County has $17,868 per capita which is arrived at by dividing the total income of all people 15 years old and up in the county by the total population in that area. Texas County has 21.4% below poverty level.  Wright County has $14,752 per capita with 27.5% below poverty level. In my experience with the nearly 200 families Christos House served in Texas and Wright in 2015, single parent/single income families with a parent and two teenagers, 15 and over, are not making $44K or $53K per year.  These figures show the vast disparity between those who are in poverty and those who are not. 

At one of the interagency meetings, a Division of Family Services’ representative agreed that poverty is one of the main underlying causes in most of the cases where children are removed from the home.

I have begun meeting with a “think tank” of concerned community members of the wePRAY Ladies in Texas County, who come together to help create a path forward for one person, one family at a time.  At one meeting, I expressed that one of the residents who I was working with from the Christos House Shelter was in need of a computer as she had an interest in working with E-Bay as a possible business.  One of our group sitting next to me, stated that she had a computer she didn’t need as she had just purchased a new one.  The client who received the computer, came to the think tank meeting the next month to express her appreciation and talk a little about what she was already accomplishing by having it.  She was working on learning the E-Bay process of selling online and had gotten approved for government grants and loans so she could attend an online college for a social work degree. The members of the group were able to ask for her opinions about certain ideas we were considering with which to help a family.   

Our latest endeavor is to help a young woman with the tuition she needs to be enrolled in the Church Army rehab program in Branson, now called The CORE for a heroin addiction she has had for all of her adult life, since her teens.  CORE stands for Communities of Recovery Experiences. When I was at the jail for the Women Rising group, at some point a corrections’ officer came and got her to meet with her lawyer.  She grabbed up the letter of support I had written for her to be presented to the court suggesting the option of The CORE as an appropriate sentence and ran out with a beautiful smile filled with hope.  The court may or may not accept this option but we felt she deserved the chance that we had within our grasp to give her.  Four donors gave $32.50 each to put with the Pantry donation for the $330 it would take for the tuition for one in this valuable program.

Our interagency meetings are exciting in the ways we can share what our programs do for the people who really want to change their lives.  When you are faced with daunting caseloads as so many of the agencies are, it is best to focus on what you are doing in the individual lives of those who are successfully using your services. 

Children’s Division has a new program called Family Centered Services where they are working with families who are hotlined – reported to the abuse line.  Even if the abuse is not substantiated there may be a need for services to keep the family intact.  They are providing a caseworker for an intervention that will help keep the family intact.  This is a change in their policy and a new future direction which is greatly needed.

CASA of Southwest Missouri (Court Appointed Special Advocates) motto is “ordinary people doing extraordinary work”. The CASA volunteer coordinator, Leigh Ann Sigman, has trained 45 CASA volunteers since 2014.  At the time of this writing, in the 25th Judicial District which includes four counties, there are 330 children needing advocates, one per child. As this program grows and more people become involved in these children’s lives and see the need as the statistics reflect, there will be gradual change. 

I compare the work we do to a glacier.  It may move only a few inches forward per year but nothing can stop it.  As it moves, it changes and reshapes the overall landscape, leaving behind something new and different. 

At the Texas County Food Pantry, Dana McGuire and Anita Collins from the University of Missouri Extension Family Nutrition Education Program provide nutrition information for the patrons who come to pick up food on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Dana and Anita also provide nutrition programs in the schools and to groups who make requests.

I’m working with the Pregnancy Resource Center and Newborns in Need currently in Wright County for a young woman who needs everything in preparation for the coming of her baby this year.  This is definitely an area where anyone who is Pro-Life can actively be a part of helping meet this need.  There are so many agencies in the Sweetwater Networks that I work with, it is impossible to name everyone who is working hard to make a difference.  

Right now the annual project called Project Homeless Connect is building momentum at our meetings.

 

 

The following is a quote from the project’s website:  

“Project Homeless Connect is being planned for (Jefferson City) – The Missouri Governor’s Committee to End Homelessness, along with Missouri Housing Development Commission, has selected Howell County as the 2016 Project Homeless Connect host community. The Project Homeless Connect committee of the GCEH will specifically be organizing Howell County’s first Project Homeless Connect event, which will take place sometime in 2016. The event will serve as a single access point on one day for homeless individuals and families to receive assistance and services including access to shelter/housing, dental/medical check-ups, access to obtaining photo identification/birth certificates, food, clothing, access to mainstream benefits, and other quality of life services. West Plains and Howell County will be the eighth host city for the committee since the PHC’s inception in 2008. Group officials say Project Homeless Connect is a national best practice model that has been planned and proven effective in cities throughout the United States.”

There will be a great need for volunteers on that day and transportation for homeless individuals who could take advantage of this opportunity for services.  Churches will be an important asset with volunteers and church vans to transport individuals.  Check out the Facebook page for this project to be held on September 27, 2016 at the Civic Center in West Plains.

The Samaritan Outreach Center in West Plains presented their program in February in Houston at the TEAM meeting.  Director Penny Alverson is dedicated to keeping this program viable.  The Center does random drug tests to make sure their residents are complying with the rules.  Right now, she is part of the group spearheading the 2016 Project Homeless Connect in West Plains. 

Also in regular attendance to our meetings are long-time programs like Houston Lion’s Club, who are celebrating their 75th year in 2016; Ozark Action – CAP (Community Action Program), Ozark Independent Living, Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri, our county health departments and hospice programs, again, to name a few. 

Currently, in Texas County another area pregnancy resource center will be opening this spring called Southwest Pregnancy Resource Center.  The Center in Mountain Grove that has been in operation since 2009 reports that in 2015 they served 200 clients: 73 enrolled in classes for parenting and Bible study to mention a few of their offerings; 26 babies were born in 2015 to the ongoing family base they serve.  To date since ’09 they have served 715 clients.  I am privileged to lead classes from time to time on codependence, boundaries, domestic abuse and parenting, etc. with an occasional fun craft project.   

Christos House works with many agencies for social change. Just this week, Carla Johnson, Director at the Cabool Housing Authority, and I sat down with a client to help her put together a plan forward for her and her family which included finishing college and finding needed resources that would help her to eventually become totally independent.  Carla in Cabool, Anita Kennedy in Houston and Becky Friend in Mountain Grove who are excellent in providing care and on occasion tough love with residents who need direction and support.

What feels like a trickle of sweetwater, the living water that Jesus Christ spoke of, can become a deluge of needed change if we tenaciously focus on the one to one approach in a climate of extreme need.  There are many other programs that I’m aware of that are not being mentioned in this writing, but the representatives who attend our Team meetings are very committed to making a difference in our communities.  It is my prayer that we can increase our volunteer pool through sharing the good news of all the advances being made by people spreading sweetwater as professionals and average citizens in each community. If you feel like you are being called to do something in your community, make it a matter of daily prayer.  Take action led by the Spirit that resides in each of us, to share the sweetwater you are being given.  The Source is endless.  The need is endless.  We welcome you to attend the interagency meetings and become acquainted with the opportunities there are to serve.  It can be on any level you want for time and specific terms of commitment.  You can check with Jen Russell at the Texas County Health Department and Karla Meiser at Hospice Compassus in Mountain Grove for meeting times.

I am happy to report that the court did approve of the option of The CORE for the woman who is a recovering heroin addict, and tomorrow, March 31, John and I are picking her up in Springfield to take her to the facility in Branson. This is only her next step forward in a long journey ahead for a lifetime of sobriety.  I recommend the recovery programs that are being offered throughout our counties. I can always use recovery Bibles to offer inmates who I presently serve.

I work closely with the Texas County Sheriff James Sigman and jail administrator, Pam Tripp and her staff to improve the lives of the inmates who are seeking ways to change the destructive patterns. 

 If you have a project going on that you’re involved in that is meeting a community need, I would like to hear about it.  Love through community service is the most powerful force we have to change the unchangeable. God bless the individuals, civic groups, social agencies and churches who are meeting the challenges through the love of Jesus Christ.

 

 “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Isaiah 55:1-2 NIV

Images

 

crown-of-thorns1-1024x768On a balmy fall evening in 2014, I gathered with members of a local ministry group at an area jail entrance. This was my first opportunity to be a part of jail ministry. I brought my guitar and some song sheets to share. I was given the titles of some praise music the female inmates loved to sing when this group met together twice monthly. When the jailer came to take us to the meeting room she said that there were thirteen women but because of an incident earlier in the day, all the women were in lockdown. We were told that we wouldn’t be able to meet as a group with them but that we could go to each cell and speak through the “bin or chuck hole” as it is called through which the food is served and other articles are passed to the prisoner. We all agreed that we should go in even if it wasn’t going to be an optimal situation for meeting together. Just showing up is very important to anyone who might be waiting to see you. After walking through corridors and large steel doors that are only unlocked remotely, we arrived in a large room with tables and stools with one wall along the side that appeared like a very large mirror which helped greatly in maximizing the feeling of openness. The women in the cells on the other side were sitting on the floor beside their doors peering out at us through the rectangular holes.

It wasn’t long until I started recognizing familiar faces. There were three women I had worked with in my advocacy work and seeing them again was a happy moment for me but mixed with concern and sadness to see them there. At first, they were ashamed and self-conscious but quickly got over that when we started reminiscing and then began to share in worship. The music echoed joyously up into the tall ceiling and then bounced off the walls as “Amazing Grace” was sung. This room built to punish and control a criminal element became no less a cathedral then the great halls built for worship. Nothing stops the Spirit of Christ from moving among His children wherever they are even behind bars. We each sat in a chair or knelt in front of the doors listening to those who wanted to talk or just pray and be there for them. Out of respect, we do not ask them why they are there but if they self-disclose we see it as our ministry to listen and encourage. I was not surprised to find a common connection among the stories with poverty, victims of domestic violence and behavior and poor choices as a result of growing up with drug-addicted parents. Every story I heard was connected to one or all those elements.

I gave each woman a copy of “Divine Fire” as found in this volume. Toward the end of our two hours, I went back to tell them goodbye, and found one woman was especially excited. Her face was lit up and far different from the morose woman who had just told her story about violence in her marriage and the gradual destruction of her family – her children being raised with extended family. She had just read “Divine Fire” and was excited about the way that the Angola Prison had sent the 147 prisoner pastors who had graduated from their Bible college program to minimum security prisons around the country to minister to young inmates returning to society. This was the very point that had also been exciting to me when I researched “Divine Fire”. Something hopeful had been restored within her. We talked about how Christ was with her and would always be with her regardless of the outcome of her charges. We left there that night having been blessed as much as being a blessing for these women. Writing this story of that experience will be one of the most important chapters in Sweetwater Journey.

During the last week of Christ’s life, I believe that because it was His last week, He performed acts, told parables and spoke words of warning that would rate as some of the most important acts of His three years of ministry and be part of a very important message to each one of us. In preparation for Holy Week services in 2013, I found images to fit 20 of the different events that took place during that week. To name a few, I chose a palm for the Triumphal Entry, a whip for the Clearing of the Temple, a mite coin for the Widow’s Mite, Roman coins for Render to Caesar, a rooster for Peter’s Denial and a crown of thorns with blood for the Trial and Persecution. All of these images were printed out on sheets of white card stock. Everything was in grayscale except for the crown of thorns. It was very powerful as each person, including the children, brought forward an image and read the accompanying Scripture reference.

They placed each one on a large table in chronological order of their occurrence during that very important week. For some events I had more than one image, so the table was full and the sheets overlapping – the stone jar filled with perfumed oil next to one of the ten virgins’ lamps, the grey rooster slightly edging over the crown of thorns tipped in red blood – all of the pictures together, silent, yet thunderous in convicting the heart.   As we all stood around the table, the gravity of what was before us and the message that each image carried, struck a common chord of the realization of the price that Christ paid for loving us. In the images were also the warnings about our destructive human nature – the *cat o ‘nine tails, the nails and at last the cross meant to punish and even destroy what we don’t understand or don’t want to see what we ourselves have created. The images speak the message clearly that we make selfish choices for a way of life that could not only lead to our spiritual death but the spiritual death of others we are responsible for but who we are yet to meet. He sends His message to us through these visual images, intended to bring about our spiritual transformation.

During that last week, as Jesus Christ moved among the religious leaders of His day, the scribes and Pharisees, He observed their haughty nature in setting themselves apart from the common person.

 They wore robes that provided them an appearance of grandeur and importance.

 *The cat o ‘nine tails is a whip with knots and sometimes pieces of metal at the ends of nine cords of cat-hide meant to tear the flesh deeply.

Their prayer shawls with long fringe would sweep the floor as they walked through the parting crowd created by someone who went before them announcing their passing.

Those who they converted to the life of the temple worship would have the concept that this is how to serve God – to glorify yourself above others creating a form of godliness that has no power or real depth and certainly no humility.

Matthew 23 lays out a picture of extreme condemnation and warning to anyone who lives their spiritual life in that mindset – exploiting the less fortunate for gain and self-glory, withholding benevolence when the Holy Spirit has laid it upon our hearts to provide it, and judging others, believing that we have been successful through our own efforts while others have failed through their lack of effort.

In Matthew 23, we find these words of Christ spoken at that time:

“Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. (a place of authority in the Jewish temple culture). All therefore, whatsoever they bid you observe, they will make you observe and do; for they are ministers of the law, and they make themselves your judges. But do not ye after their works; for they say, and do not.

 For they bind heavy burdens and lay on men’s shoulders, and they are grievous to be borne but they will not move them with one of their fingers. And all their works they do to be seen of men.

 They make broad their *phylacteries and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi, (which is master). . .

 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased of him; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted of him. But woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers; therefore ye shall receive the greater punishment.

 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees! For ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he is made ye make him twofold more the child of hell than he was before, like unto yourselves.”

*A phylactery was a leather box they wore on their forehead or arm that carried vellum sheets on which the law was written; meant to be an outward sign of piousness.

Two verses stand out in this reference. The first one is:

“For they bind heavy burdens and lay on men’s shoulders, and they are grievous to be borne but they will not move them with one of their fingers. And all their works they do to be seen of men.”

When we fail to share the grievous burdens that some members of our community carry because they have little resources when we have the capability to ease that burden with one of our fingers, (performing some simple act of benevolence) we are no different than the Pharisees Jesus described here in this reference. If more of our civic groups or church communities would focus on how to best empower one family without creating dependency, the exponential effect could be felt for generations to come.

The second verse is:

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees! For ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte (convert); and when he is made ye make him twofold more the child of hell than he was before, like unto yourselves.”

 We must be thoughtful in bringing people to the message of salvation that they are not left without a support network of humble, loving people who can provide ongoing nurturing for as long as necessary. Going from a “wretch like me” to a co-creator with Christ Jesus and a son or daughter of God takes patient and loving support.   It would be better to help the few that God has put in life daily and be true to our promises of commitment while they are in their initial struggles until they are able to stand on their own.   Jesus Christ is the first and last resort for all of us. He must not be given or shared lightly. He cannot be received if the person is not at that point to receive Him. Pressure and fear will not prepare the proper soil for planting such precious seed, only love and demonstration through our own lives as we put on Christ will do.

The parable Christ told of the sower in the books of Matthew and Mark should make it very clear to us that the soil or condition of the heart in which the seed or the gospel message is planted is very important. If the heart is hard and unyielding, the seed will not take root and grow; or stony where the soil is shallow, it might grow but will shrivel and die at the first challenge; or if there are bad influences still in their lives, the spindly plant will choke out and die. These are conditions that exist in the hearts of those we meet. It is our responsibility to nurture this person gradually enriching the soil of the heart to receive such a precious, life-saving message. If we are meeting them for a brief encounter, it is also our responsibility to discern whether God has prepared this heart for the gospel or just for a kind act. Then when the conditioning is done, this person will remember that kind act from a person who represented Jesus Christ and be more likely to respond when the gospel seed is planted whether it comes from us or not.

There are other ways our community makes “twofold more the child of hell than that person was before” and that is by failing to provide well-meaning intervention at an earlier stage for a person who is on the road to prison or worse; intervention Christ calls us as Christians to perform.

Try to become more informed about the support systems in your community that provide services to those who fall through the cracks and end up in trouble. Our social support networks sometimes referred to as the System, are presently overloaded with cases and cannot provide the amount of resources it would take to really give a family a shot at a better future. These networks also have a high turnover of staff due in part to the frustration of trying to help people who live where there’s not enough measurable community support or benevolence given to incubate a family in crisis until they are healthy and able to take off on their own.   The System can only do so much, the rest is up to us.

I have been blessed to be a part of an organization that allows me to work with families indefinitely, but I am only one person.

I have heard the saying: “How can I love God whom I cannot see if I don’t love my brothers and sisters who I can see.”

Upon visiting with this woman in prison, it was disturbing to know that there must have been an ideal time for an intervention where steps could have been taken to keep her from arriving at this point.   I’m not sure if this reference fits this woman who made a bad decision as she had a gentle spirit but it certainly fits many others who go on to prison doing hard time and become twofold more the child of hell than they were before.

I thank God every day for the parents who raised me; for the gentle, easy time I spent growing up on a Nebraska farm and the gifts and talents with which I was born. My days were filled with wonder as I played with my brothers running down corn rows and eating watermelon in the melon patch, never realizing the work that God had planned for my life nearly 40 years later. No one can ever imagine themselves on their knees in front of a bin hole in a lockdown section of a jail, unaware of everything around you talking to someone on the other side who by all accounts was a prisoner but free and together we were sharing the risen Christ who frees us all regardless where our life takes us. The sweet water we shared that night, two people from two different worlds, all came from one never ending Source, whoever drinks of the water . . .shall never thirst; but the water . . . will become in (them) a well of water springing up to eternal life.” Taken from John 4:14.

And now that final test for salvation:

Matthew 25: NIV

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Image our jails and prisons with spider webs and dust collecting in empty cells. . .

The 20 events that were selected for the images were:

Christ’s Triumphal Entry

Clearing of the Temple

The Fig Tree

Parable of the Vineyard

Parable of the Marriage Supper

The Widow’s Mite

Roman Coin – Render to Caesar

Jesus Wept Over Jerusalem

Ten Virgins

 

 

 

 

 

Parable of the Talents

Final Qualifications for Salvation

The Perfumed Oil Anointing

Judas’ Betrayal

The Lord’s Supper

Garden of Gethsemane

Peter’s Denial

The Trial and Persecution

The Crucifixion

Resurrection

Ascension to Heaven

 

 

Journey

I put you each in the middle of an earthly Kingdom – nature –

where you can walk on your journey and draw strength to yourself from all you see, touch and experience.

How could you be so lost from Me when I am everywhere;

How could you have depression and worry when all you have to do is take a walk and find me and commune with Me;

Come walk in a field of grain and touch the golden heads with your fingertips as you pass through the field. I will be there.

Come with me to the forest and watch from afar as a mother doe comforts and protects her young, even teaches them how to live in this kingdom. I too, comfort you, protect you and teach you how to live the kingdom life. I am everywhere. There is no space that doesn’t have a kingdom in it, be it lesser or greater. I am there.

Even in a concrete prison you make for yourself, I am there. My Spirit resides everywhere. There is nowhere you can go that I am not. You and I are a part of each other. I made you in My image. My image is complex like you. Look inward into your heart and soul to find your way – I’ll be there.   Our journey is in tandem with each other. Even if you leave the path, I will go with you to counsel you in a still small voice to guide you back.

I am everywhere, you cannot escape Me. My love for you is beyond your comprehension. I long to be everything to you.

I am Jesus Christ, your greatest Friend, your closest traveling Companion.

I am everywhere!

 

The White Blanket

This past week has been one of catching up before the next storm comes through. We have experienced just a small dose of what Bostonians and others have been dealing with since January. Our county and surrounding areas have been rocked from complacency as the national news is brought to our doorstep. Friday, February 27th was spent in varying degrees of shock and disbelief as family and friends called us from other states all asking the same question “What’s happening in Texas County?” a question all of us are asking about this county and surrounding counties as well. A few local friends and acquaintances called to share and for solace, telling their stories of pleasant memories about knowing these families, visiting their homes and sitting at their table together. Sunday morning when I looked out, the thick blanket of snow was beautiful in its peacefulness. My mind went to the Tyrone area and the neighbors who first looked out upon this blanket of white that has covered everything especially around the now-empty houses once filled with vibrant life. The snow had filled the tracks that had reduced them to crime scenes and had left such devastation in its wake. The snow, pristine and peaceful trying to make clean the stain, soften the blow, came as healing hands – a purifying covering from God who knows about suffering when someone crosses that unimaginable line to destroy life with devastating results. This blanket is symbolic of the covering he promises us when we seek refuge from pain.

“Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me! For my soul trusts in You; and in the shadow of Your wings I will make my refuge, until these calamities have passed by.” Psalm 57:1

We are left to wonder about the perfect storm that could have triggered such mindless action and as the numbness begins to dissipate, we seek God once more in our compassionate prayers for family and neighbors and the personal resolve to go on.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33.

None of us know what will happen today and it is through faith that we trust God in life and death. I believe that the outcome of humanity’s choices good and bad will cannot come between us and God’s love. We are forever and who we are goes on beyond time.

God bless the survivors, the family and friends with peaceful sleep at night and assurance of his love when they awake. “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”Psalm 30:5

For more information on this tragedy:  http://www.ky3.com/news/local/tyrone-residents-try-to-wrap-head-around-7-murders/21048998_31535710

On Becoming a Butterfly

IMG_6376I have discovered some of the old Sunday School classics that were written for children of another generation. Margaret Gatty wrote a book titled Parables from Nature. In her book is a story “A Lesson in Faith” about a caterpillar that makes a discovery that reinforces the critical lessons that nature teaches us about ourselves.

Here is a brief excerpt – the mother butterfly has just asked her to take care of her eggs and not to feed her baby butterflies anything but honey nectar from the flowers and morning dew and then, falls off the cabbage leaf, wilts and dies: “‘A pretty nurse she has chosen, indeed, poor lady!” exclaimed she, “and a pretty business I have in hand. Why did she ever ask a poor crawling creature like me to bring up her dainty little ones! Much they’ll mind me, truly, when they feel the gay wings on their backs, and can fly away.’ However, the poor butterfly was dead, and there lay the eggs on the cabbage-leaf, and the green caterpillar had a kind heart, so she resolved to do her best.’” A Lesson in Faith by Margaret Gatty

The miracle of Metamorphosis is a perfect example in nature of the physical process of a creature literally becoming a new creation. There are references in the Scriptures that speak of the new spiritual creation that we can become.   In Second Corinthians 5:17 we read “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old things passed away, behold new things have come.”   Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” In Colossians 9:13, Apostle Paul reminds them “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” 

These signs in nature, the Scriptures refer to as shadows and types, are there to teach us the deeper principles he wants us to discover in order to understand the holy creation he has designed us to become with of course one requirement – we can only become this new creation through his Son, Jesus Christ.

I have been blessed in my work to observe the spiritual process of metamorphosis in many situations. Through Christ I am able to create an environment for change in the encounters I have with others. Creating an environment for change takes faith and a large measure of hope. It also takes patience as not everyone is at that point of wanting to change and I respect that. Spiritual transformation is such an important process that it cannot be rushed or forced or brought about through guilt or shame, and can only happen within the heart and spirit of the individual. It can happen in the eleventh hour of our life. In these encounters, a partnership between them and Christ can begin to happen as they observe the ways in which it is manifested in my life, such as the way I treat them and how they feel. Over time, week after week, session after session, am I still this loving, caring person toward them after I see all the flaws and hear the stories of a life stripped over time of its dignity and humanity? Does my God still see something worth loving in them, the unlovable, as they may see themselves.

One winter, while working with a family, I observed the young husband struggling through the consequences he reaped from the seeds he had sown in his life of drugs, violence and indiscretions outside the marriage. He was like a spindly young tree swaying this way and that, in whatever direction the wind was blowing. In this struggle, he began to transform spiritually. He gradually became totally aware that he was responsible for the chaos that was causing his wife such anguish and saw how he needed to be liked by everyone so much that he couldn’t seem to create any lasting change. Here is an example of how we lose ourselves meeting everyone else’s needs but our own and the ones who look to us for stability.   I observed that the unselfish love his wife had for him had such power because she would not settle for anything less than the best he could become. She knew there was a new creation possible in him even if he couldn’t see it. During a stint in jail in another county sleeping on the cold floor in an overcrowded cell, he discovered a book that had been left by a visiting pastor titled Jesus Freaks by dc Talk, a Christian rap group. Not being a reader, he shocked himself as to how much time per day he spent reading the testimonies of people who were martyred for their belief in Jesus Christ. When he was released, the change was remarkable and lasting. Who he gradually became through Christ, was the difference between a caterpillar and a butterfly, it was so dramatic. I believe that his transformation has been one of the most profound I have witnessed in my career.

There was a lark in the story with the caterpillar. She looked to the lark to help her by finding out how to raise the little “butterflies” in one of his trips high up in the blue sky. As he returned, he announced: “‘News, news, glorious news, friend caterpillar!’ sang the lark, ‘but the worst of it is, you won’t believe me!’”

The lark was correct; the caterpillar did not believe him when he told her that the butterfly eggs would hatch into caterpillars like herself. But, the most unbelievable statement for her was that she would   become a butterfly one day. . .

I will let you and the Holy Spirit finish this chapter of Sweetwater Journey in your prayer life and what may need to happen to breathe life into your new creation. The young man in the story still has struggles and has to pay the ongoing consequences of his younger life’s bad choices but he knows that Jesus is with him and loves him and continues to reward his good choices and give him strength the days he feels like a worm with wings. We all have those days. Today, he especially likes having his own copy of Jesus Freaks.

God bless our communities with butterflies and caterpillars alike who are continually becoming and loving in the process, discovering their new creation in each other.

 

 

 

Transcending Fear

shutterstock_140214940“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet, not one of them is forgotten before God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Luke 12:6-7 NIV

Fear has contributed more to the negative shaping of our lives than anyone can imagine or measure. Fear is responsible for unfortunate knee-jerk reactions to temporary dilemmas in which we find ourselves sometimes. In moments of fear we choose options that have ongoing consequences beyond the temporary problem before us.

The fear I’m referring to are feelings of helplessness and panic when we have no control over an event that comes at a time when we are least prepared to handle it.

In my work, I meet people who are experiencing the ongoing problems directly related to poor choices they made in their lives. Women have sold their bodies, stripping away their dignity to keep a roof over their children’s heads as they saw no other way. Fear through intimidation is a control mechanism in an abusive relationship. Where families have been isolated by the one who uses power and fear to keep everyone in line, there are fewer and fewer resources for this family to get help.

Rhonda Britton, author and founder of Fearless Living Institute has created a fear cycle she calls the Wheel of Fear.   Phase one is the trigger. It is the event that threatens our peace and security. Phase two is the fear response. Phase three is the negative feeling, like extreme anxiety. This is when the negative core belief we have of our self is reinforced. Phase four is the self-destructive behavior that we choose out of that negative core belief. The cycle begins anew the next time our security and well-being is threatened. Most often the self-destructive behavior we choose only compounds the cycle’s intensity and frequency of recurrence.

There are many permanent responses to temporary problems that would compel us to look back and see with 20/20 hindsight the negative direction those choices have taken us.

Jesus was quite often in a quandary over the fear reactions to crises He observed in His disciples and others in His life. As you read through the four gospels you will see that the word “fear” and “afraid” occur quite often. Here is one of those accounts: “And when he was entered into a ship, his disciples followed him, and behold there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves; but he was asleep. And his disciples came to him and awoke him saying, Lord save us, we perish. And he saith unto them ‘Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?’ Then he arose and rebuked the winds and the sea and there was a great calm.”

Matthew 8:23-26 KJV

It wasn’t long before this event with the storm that He sat on a mountainside and described in great depth how much their heavenly Father loves them and how every hair on their head has been counted. He spent his entire ministry building people up to have faith and trust that God will never leave them or forsake them. There is a saying: Sometimes the Lord calms the storm. Sometimes he lets the storm rage and calms his child.” Author unknown.

What are we missing here? Is He saying that we don’t have to fear anything – like when the family car breaks down and getting it fixed takes the rent money; or when the childrens’ father decides not to pay his child support on time; or when we lose our job because of illness? Are these the times that our faith is supposed to be enough?

Here are some Scripture references to put this into perspective:

“Take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? . . .for your heavenly father knoweth that you have need for all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”Matt. 6:31-34 KJV

1 Peter 3:13-14NIV
Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” 

2 Timothy 1:7 KJV “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love, and of a sound mind.”

Hebrews 13:5-6 NIV “ Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence,“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”

Psalm 56:3-4NIV “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.  In God, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”

The Apostle Paul says I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Phil 4:11-13 NIV It was because Paul went without that he learned he could do all things through Jesus. But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.  Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” 1 Tm 6:6-9 NIV

         “David wrote, ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for You are with me.’ (Psa 23:4-6) . . . Many people hesitate to go through the dark valley and allow themselves to sink into depression, isolation or frustration needlessly. . . If you are afraid of the dark valley experiences, remember that God’s love can carry you through whatever problems you are experiencing. God in His loving way finds a way when there seems to be no way. He alone shows us how to resolve all conflicts. He helps us focus on his immeasurable love and then loves others through us.”   (Quote from sermon by Reverend Paul Fritz, Sermon Central)

We can allow His love to quiet our fears and give us greater confidence. God may not remove the afflictions in our life but He will provide us with sufficient grace so as to demonstrate His power through us.

Sometimes we may not feel that we are worthy of a blessing. We may feel that we have less worth in God’s sight than a common sparrow. We tend to add up the score of our lives and feel like God doesn’t care at all about us or we wouldn’t be in the predicament in which we find ourselves.   All of the adding up just reinforces that negative core belief that we have of ourselves. I have found that whether you were raised in extreme poverty or by parents on drugs or in any social setting, it has not made a difference on whether you had a negative core belief or not. This can happen to anyone. You ask yourself, “Who can I trust”? In all your life, perhaps, you haven’t been able to trust anyone because you’re surrounded with negative people who only wish to exploit you, take your resources, abuse and control you for their benefit.

If today is the day that you could make a choice to no longer fear but trust and believe what Christ said about your self-worth then it would be important for you to consider this:
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

I John 4:18 NIV

I believe that courage in the face of fear comes from a strong core belief that you are loved in a healthy, empowering way by the One who created you. Remember God reminds us that even if everyone else forsakes you, “the Lord will take me up”. Psalm 27:11.   Based on what the Scriptures tell us you can reach up and single out one strand of hair on your head and imagine that it is numbered and what that number might be. In that moment, if you can thank God for everything you have even if it appears to you at the time to be very little, then a spirit of love will gradually fill you and the momentary paralyzing fear will leave. You can even thank God for the crisis you are facing because it causes you to seek him out of need.   I believe God loves this kind of prayer.

Jesus said, all it takes is a mustard seed of faith. I John 4:18 states that fear has to do with punishment. Who punishes us better than ourselves? We may even seek ways to reinforce our negative core belief that we are without worth and unloved – sabotaging ourselves for success and a life free of fear.

Transcending or rising above fear, is one of the hardest things we can do, especially since our lives appear to be going from one fear event to the next. Today, you might be ready to choose to believe that you are loved and have a purpose in God’s design.

In my work in the farm crisis, I was working with a single-parent woman providing resources and support. Over time she came to trust me. One evening, she disclosed a frightening story of a life spent in extreme sexual abuse from the young age of three until she was in her teens.   She suffered abuse from many of the male members of her family including her stepfather and his friends. At the age of twelve, she became pregnant. In her extreme circumstances of stress and despair, she attempted to take her own life and fell headlong down a flight of stairs and ended up losing the child. It was a baby boy. She had been suffering that loss for all these years up until my working with her in her early 30’s.

One evening as she disclosed her story, I felt led to take her to a church in the community for which I had a key as it housed much of the food for the Heartland Food Pantry. It was late and of course the church was dark except for the low light in the altar area. We walked in and sat down in a pew. The central focus in the silence gradually became the elevated *crucifix that eerily stood out from the shadows. The Spirit impressed me that she hadn’t allowed herself to let go of this child even in death as she believed that she was the only one who could possibly love him due to the heinous way in which he had been conceived.   I told her in tears that God knew and loved her little boy and had taken him up to himself. God loved him so much that he gave his own son to die for him. In that defining moment, she allowed this love message to wash over her and she could finally let go of this child and begin to allow herself to grieve over his loss. The love of God is so powerful that through it we can transcend even our worst fears.

The following is the poem that she courageously wrote to her mother after this experience:

 

                                         Where Were You

“The truth shall set you free.” That’s how the saying goes.

But only when at last we talked of what happened long ago.

I had no tears to cry then, I bade them to go away.

There was no rhyme or reason at all for them to stay.

But when the painful truth came out, my tears they fell like rain.

And now that they have fallen, I do feel whole again.

Why weren’t you there to help me and protect me in my need.

Instead I had to fantasize about a white knight on his steed.

 

He never quite could rescue me. He left my heart in dread.

Although I didn’t have the strength to do it, I wished that I was dead.

 

But now my tears, they have returned. And at last I let them fall

For now you see they’re happy tears. I know your love, it encompasses all.

I needed to know you loved me, when the pain was at it’s worst.

Even though you didn’t hurt me, though you beat me and you cursed.

 

Your pain is something you will have until your dying day,

But if you had been there for me, the hurt would have gone away.

I don’t blame you for what he did, the anguish he caused me,

I blame you for not stopping him and just letting all things be.

 

I now can say “I love you”; that love’s always been intact.

My hate instead is for the way you ignored me, that’s a fact.

If only you had helped me and put him in his place,

The sadness that you’re going through, you would not have to face.

 

Because I was afraid of you, I kept the secret well.

I didn’t think you would believe the horror straight from hell.

But at last you know the awful truth, and you’re the one who’s shedding tears.

Believe me when I tell you, there is an end to all the fears.

 

The facing up to what went wrong is a way to put things right.

We must go on with both our lives, with courage, strength and might.

I’m facing all my demons and I will see this through;

At long last I have the strength, thanks to God, myself and you.

 

2 Corinthians 4:7-11 NIV
. . .we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.

 

This is a very important reference. We are the jars of clay. Normally, you wouldn’t store a treasure in actual jars of clay as they are easily destroyed, but God has placed in each of us a living treasure that through his power gives us the ability to rise above anything fearful that would come into our lives and even try to destroy us. Our lives are resurrected daily through the treasure of faith we exercise to reveal the risen Christ who dwells within us. We are each given gifts through the Comforter or Holy Spirit Christ sent to us on the Day of Pentecost after he ascended to Heaven. One of these gifts is faith.

 

Greg Carr in his sermon “The Living Dead” tells us: “Jesus told us what the treasure was, ‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ Acts 1:8 NIV When God gave the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 it started a chain reaction that started in Jerusalem and expanded through all of Judea and Samaria and ultimately to the ends of the earth. It was an event that had no constraints of time except that it would end when Jesus returned the second time. Because of this treasure, the Holy Spirit in us, God’s children are able to live as Spirit-empowered believers.”
Not even the most heinous acts that humankind is capable of can destroy us if we look to the risen Christ who overcame everything so that we might have life.

“I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” John 10:10 KJV

Job 11:13-19 NIV.

13 “. . .if you devote your heart to him
and stretch out your hands to him,
14 if you put away the sin that is in your hand
and allow no evil to dwell in your tent,
15 then, free of fault, you will lift up your face;
you will stand firm and without fear.
16 You will surely forget your trouble,
recalling it only as waters gone by.
17 Life will be brighter than noonday,
and darkness will become like morning.
18 You will be secure, because there is hope;
you will look about you and take your rest in safety.
19 You will lie down, with no one to make you afraid,
and many will court your favor.

Imagine the support we could offer one another with the sweetwater that could flow through our lives if we seek it for sharing. This describes God’s kingdom on earth.

*The crucifix is a statue of Jesus hanging on the cross.

Please Note: There are people in our communities who are hurting because of sexual abuse as children. The abused woman in the story was able to return to wholeness because someone believed her led her to Christ and continued to care about her.   If you are dealing with a memory of childhood abuse or at any age, please seek help so that you can live the abundant life God has planned for you.

 

 

Joy In The Morning

shutterstock_111725951

Dedicated to you, whose parents have abandoned you in many ways at a young age due to drugs, alcohol and abuse.

Psalm 27:9-11

“Do not hide Your face from me, Do not turn Your servant away in anger; You have been my help; Do not abandon me nor forsake me, O God of my salvation! For my father and my mother have forsaken me, But the LORD will take me up. Teach me Your way, O LORD, And lead me in a level path because of my foes.”

 It is not easy for many to comprehend what it would be like to grow up in a home where there is chaos continually – where chaos could look like having some supervision to a small child crawling on the floor through trash and animal feces while the parents cook meth.

More and more, I am seeing clients who at a very young age have consciously chosen not to live in the drug culture like their parents and other family members. They grow up with a feeling of abandonment. As they tell their life stories of neglect and abuse, I am always amazed at how they could have turned out the way they have.   The scenario is quite similar in many of these cases. The mother is addicted at an early age to drugs or alcohol. In an impaired condition, she gets pregnant and tries to raise the child herself on state welfare. Her life is filled with a long string of drug dealers, abusive relationships with boyfriends and other addicts who are in and out of her life using her resources. Her encounters with the law and Children’s Division take their toll on this family. Most often there is more than one child growing up unattended and unprotected from predators attracted to this chaotic free-for-all.

These children have grown up being the parent. When they are finally able to leave and become independent, they are faced with controlling contact with this toxic family network and going on with their lives. They must be especially vigilant where their children are concerned to work hard not to expose them to family members who would endanger them in risky situations if given the opportunity. A high percentage of them are vulnerable in that they are ever seeking reunification and healing for that broken relationship like it’s a hole they are trying to fill. Some individuals suffer from post traumatic stress disorder – PTSD. This can be due to alarming experiences as children. More than 50% of the female clients I have worked with were molested as children. The chaos in their homes was a prime source of dysfunction resulting in the violation of innocence. Low self-image and disrespect is common and can easily perpetuate dysfunction into the next generation. Many of the children living in these situations are addicted at an early age when they are least qualified to make that decision and recklessly blow through their chances of a normal drug-free life. That is why the child who can stay free of it into adulthood is exceptionally rare.

At the time of the writing of the 27th Psalm, this issue of being forsaken by your parents evidently had similarities on some level to today. The Scriptures also relate the opposite end of the spectrum in the story of the Prodigal Son who was loved by his father but chose to go out in the world and live life in a faster lane and came home after he was homeless and had lost everything. But in this case, the parent welcomed him with open arms and had a great feast in his honor.

One day, as I was driving home, I saw a large homemade sign posted at the end of a driveway. The lettering was boldly scrawled in red “YOU ARE LOVED PLEASE COME HOME.” I turned around and went back to take a picture as it was so unique. One could only imagine what led up to this sign and to whom it was directed – a runaway child, spouse, or significant other. To the child from a home without love and even human regard, this would be a most welcome sign finally beginning to fill that deep hole.

Jesus Christ understands what it means to be forsaken by His father. In the moment when He had taken all of our sins upon Himself, I believe He was shut out from His Father’s presence because He was in a place, even if only briefly, where God wouldn’t go. “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice saying . . .My God, My God, why has thou forsaken Me?” Matthew 27:46KJV 

This is the bitter cup, He wanted to avoid. “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me;” Luke 22:42

Being shut out from His Father‘s presence was the most bitter cup of all. He could hardly bear it even for a short time but He went to the cross willingly for us knowing that when He did He would go through that experience of alienation and abandonment from God caused by our sin – the condition of the world before Christ. He knows the pain that comes with that in the human experience even though He, like you as a child, was innocent – without sin. You had every right to be cherished by healthy, mature parents, protecting you and fully engaged in your life. 

In Isaiah 49:15 another reference is made to a woman forgetting her sucking child or not having compassion on the son of her womb, but again the reinforcing statement as in Psalm 27, that the Lord will not forget you. “Behold, I have engraven thee upon the palms of My hands.” The nail holes that Christ carries are the marks He bears for His act of love for you.

Psalm 30:5 KJV “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.

He will bring you joy in the morning. He will take you up and comfort you when you feel forsaken. His sacrifice restored us to our heavenly Father.

To members of our community, who for the most part are blessed to be out of touch with the direct negative effects of the drug culture, we cannot avoid being made aware of its devastating impact on families. Joy can and should come through us to others who feel alienated by the ravaging effects of drugs, alcohol and abuse. Imagine this sign in the driveway of every family who needs healing reunification where there has been abandonment due to drugs, alcohol and abuse – a very good place to start.

You are Loved jul 2012

Scriptures for Your Meditation on Joy:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV).

“ In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” 1 Peter 1:6 NIV

10 Let those who love the Lord hate evil,
for he guards the lives of his faithful ones
and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
11 Light shines on the righteous
and joy on the upright in heart.
12 Rejoice in the Lord, you who are righteous,
and praise his holy name.
Psalm 97:10-12 (NIV)

“For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock. Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the Lord. Hear my voice when I call, Lord; be merciful to me and answer me.” – Psalm 27:5-7 (NIV).

”Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. . .” – Luke 6:22-23 (NIV)

“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” – Psalm 16:11 (NIV)

“Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. For the Lord Most High is awesome, the great King over all the earth. He subdued nations under us, peoples under our feet.” – Psalm 47:1-3 (NIV)

“My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you— I whom you have delivered.” – Psalm 71:23 (NIV)

“For you make me glad by your deeds, Lord; I sing for joy at what your hands have done. How great are your works, Lord, how profound your thoughts!” – Psalm 92:4-5 (NIV)

 

The Indescribable Gift

shutterstock_9256995417 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Mark 10:17-22 NIV

The rich young man came to Jesus for something that he lacked. He seemed to have everything but that which only Jesus could offer him. He most likely sat under the instruction of the Rabbi Jesus and listened to the same words we have access to today in the Gospels and discovered that there was a lasting peace and satisfaction that he was unable to find in his own life. He also was impressed that this Rabbi could give him a pathway to heaven but he was told something he didn’t want to hear. In fact, in his extreme disappointment he went away sad.

Jesus is concerned about wealth causing us to become less dependent on Him and having only a share of our devotion. There is a paradox in the Scriptures “We lose what we keep and we gain what we give away.”   The Scriptures are very plain about God’s generosity and how being generous ourselves can give us much joy and treasure in heaven. In II Corinthians 9:6-15 NIV we find words that help us understand the purpose for generosity.

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: ‘He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.’ Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”

My clients are grateful when they receive help and it is a good opportunity for me to steer that praise and thanks to God for bringing us together and making it all possible. It is because of his grace, the indescribable gift, within the people who act to support the work of Christos House that we can offer these services. C.H. Spurgeon, a minister in the 1880’s aptly describes this indescribable or unspeakable gift and that it is centered in giving.

                   “The Gospel is founded upon giving and its spirit is giving. Buying and selling are unknown in spiritual things, unless we buy without money and without price. Payment is for the Law. Under the Gospel, everything is a gift. God gives us Jesus, eternal life, grace and glory, and everything. . ., and then, moved by love to him, we give ourselves back to him and to his people.

                   As it is the glory of the sun that he gives light and heat to our world, so is it God’s Glory that he gives mercy and peace to the sons of men.

                   And, moreover, as the sun is the author of reflected heat and is all the more valued because his beams can be reflected, so is God glorified by that part of His goodness which we are able to impart to others.

                   God is glorified in the thanksgiving which is excited by the gifts of his people to the poor, as well as by their personal thanksgivings for his own gifts he gives to us and we thank him.

                   We give to others and they thank God for the kindness which he has inspired in us.

                   Thus a round of thanksgiving to God is created by the spirit of giving which first of all displayed itself in the unspeakable (indescribable) gift of God!

                   We are as cups filled at the spring and from us the thirsty drink and praise the Fountain! “                            C.H. Spurgeon http://www.spurgeongems.org
 “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.” I Chronicles 29:14 NIV

 

However great our abilities, we have nothing which God did not give to us, and which he cannot withdraw if these tokens of his favor are not recognized, appreciated and applied where we are called to apply them. I believe that which we are given as gifts from God are given with the intention that they be returned in such a way as to add to the glory of the great Giver. We do this for our spiritual well-being. The glory of God should be the joy and the blessing of all. When we seek to promote His glory we are seeking for ourselves the highest good which is possible for us to receive.

 

In the lives of the Saints of the early church following the day of Pentecost there must have been great dependency on one another. For a Jew to embrace Christianity was to lose everything worldly in the way of a livelihood. Their family ties would be severed and even their national identity. Though, as they received the grace of God through Jesus Christ, their numbers grew daily because they were performing acts of grace toward one another, living out the principles of community outlined in the Gospel.

The following is taken from II Corinthians 8:2-15 NIV as Apostle Paul gives us a glimpse of how life was in that time as they learned to come together as a community in Jesus Christ.

In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. So we urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you – see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

10 And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. 11 Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. 12 For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.

13 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, 15 as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”.

We may be in the mindset of thinking that the key issue of giving is “how much should I give to the Work of the church? or in other words what does God require?” But this is not the case. The key issue is whether we have received the grace of Jesus Christ. If so, there will be no seeking of the right percentage of our income so we can be comfortable within those giving limits but we will be seeking opportunities and the privilege to give generously, not only of our material wealth but our time and dedication to the raising up of others.   And as that grace works within us, we will seek to do it all, not for our glory but for God’s glory.

 

Christ told us: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked”.

Luke 12:48 NIV

 

Jesus grew up under the Jewish system where people were taught to be liberal when it came to sustaining God’s cause through helping others. There were special offerings to take care of the needy. The corners of the fields were reserved for the poor. God sought to teach Israel that he came first as everything they had was his and that they were his stewards, his caretakers. The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; Psalm 24:1NIV

“We are as cups filled at the spring and from us the thirsty drink and praise the Fountain!” Spurgeon                                    

Imagine our communities where the living sweetwater of generosity flows between us – where each one is doing their part in responding to the needs of others God places in our lives each day.  “This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” From II Cor. 9NIV

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Night Sky

imageThe announcement of the birth of Christ had to go to the shepherds first – to a class of people for whom very little excitement ever happened. God would look for those who would be most filled with wonder at what he was about to do. He would want people who wouldn’t wave away or discount this most historically profound event of heaven touching earth – God our Creator taking on our humanity. The shepherds were such a group. It wouldn’t be the first time God would look to shepherds for a special task. In the time of Christ’s birth, the shepherd was considered the lowest of the lowest. Most oen they were not the owners but hirelings paid to risk their lives for someone else’s property. The historians who described elements of the Hebrew culture were not very kind when it came to the shepherd.

They were considered to be thieves from whom locals were cautioned not to buy such things as milk, wool or lambs as it might be stolen goods. They were so untrustworthy that they were not allowed to fulfill a judicial office or be admitted in court as witnesses. The conditions in which they worked for paltry pay were extreme as they led the sheep to grass daily. From the 23rd Psalm, we picture sheep grazing in alfalfa to their bellies, but in truth, this near-desert land had limited rainfall and whatever grass that was available was little tufts found at the edge of stones where night dew had collected and then trickled down the side. The shepherd led the sheep across the desert and over mountains in pursuit of a day’s ration of food. In a video clip I once saw of this process, from overhead the sheep grazing paths looked like someone had drawn a comb through the sand as side by side they walked through the desert, heads down searching for the next tuft. The historians refer to the sheep-herding occupation as “mean and inglorious” which is a synonym with shameful, dishonorable, disgraceful and discreditable. .

The shepherds would be compared to the poor of our day. Those who through poverty are more vulnerable to hardship that brings want, alienation, loss and suffering. It would be more difficult for them to raise their prospects of a better life due to societal perception and bias. And like the poor today, without the material buffer, one wrong decision could come at a high cost. This subgroup would also include the mentally ill who would have a greater challenge to succeed than others and with the added obstacle of poverty would be at the mercy of those they depended on as caregivers. The prophet Isaiah foretold what this Messiah would do for this group of people when He came: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound . . . to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion; to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.” Isaiah 61:1-3 In Luke 4:18 this prophecy was fulfilled.

Everything God has done in the narrative of the Holy Scriptures has layers of meanings, and we are rewarded discovering what they are and the spiritual meaning they hold for us. This heavenly declaration of the coming of the Messiah that the Israelites had waited for hundreds of years to hear, was coming as it was prophecied – as “a thief in the night” because only a select few of God’s choosing would have knowledge that it was happening.

To receive and experience this profound message in the way it was going to be given, God would want people who were singly connected to the earth and little else, with a learned awareness of a changing environment and then to at last, look up at a night sky seemingly ready to explode.
As the stellar event drew near, the breeze off the distant Mediterranean Sea began to gently shift and bring in the life-giving moisture for morning dew the next day. There must have been gradually building signs of unrest in the sheep as they slept or quietly grazed on the hillside. The shepherd would have the acuity to be drawn to their behavior and begin to search the landscape for an explanation, not looking skyward until suddenly unexplainable light and sound began to escalate their rising dread of what was coming. The shepherd continuously risked his life with the threat of predators, both human and animal, that would attack the sheep so it makes sense that their adrenalin would be rising in this highly charged atmosphere. The scriptural narrative cites the great fear the shepherds felt, even terror. The shepherds crouched to be as small as possible, as their night sky shook with the booming voice of one angel eventually joined by others filling the sky in a glorious chorus of praise. The words of declaration spoken directly to them would be a story for all time, and it has been.

Luke 2:8-20 (NIV)
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

This one hallmark event to every believer is so much more profound when the context is understood. That is how God would want us to learn about his intentions for us and the depth that a relationship with him could have. He doesn’t do what conventional thinking says he will do. In fact, he is unconventional. We can only predict what he will do when we choose to seek and align with him. The shepherds saw the new and brilliant star, one they hadn’t seen before marking this event and the place where the child lay. They followed it.

When the shepherds left the stable and went out to tell others what they saw, given what we know about them now, their story was believable only because of the striking change this visceral event must have brought about in them. As they shared their story with genuine excitement and wonder the scriptures tell us “everyone was amazed”. It is my hope that like the shepherds, we are open to this wonder and undistracted from the world can look up and imagine that brilliant white feathered messenger against a black night sky speaking to each of us, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy . . .” Then, with conviction, go out and share it. That’s what our story of this Messiah still does to us and others with whom we share. We are visibly transformed as we respond to the message and leave our familiar comforts and go out to find this Messiah no matter where and among whom He is accessible to us. This is our sweetwater journey.

On our Christmas tree every year I hang several small yellow-gold stars that I made from craft clay that is baked. I carved the words “All is Well” in the clay and then cut out a cross in the center so the light shines through. I gave away several of these ornaments in the last few Christmas seasons because I wanted the broken-hearted, the meek, the forgotten, those bound in prison, those with a spirit of heaviness and those who mourn to know that this angel message is for everyone and because Jesus came and sacrificed His life for us, we are loved and cared for with our daily bread provided. “All is Well” and there is nothing that can separate us from His love. He told us this in the book of Romans 8:31-39 (adapted):
1 What, then, shall I say in response to these things? If God is for me, who can be against me? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for me—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give me all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against me whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for me. 35 Who shall separate me from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
I am considered as sheep to be slaughtered.
37 No, in all these things I am more than a conqueror through him who loves me. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
A Blessed Christmas to everyone – All is well!

Rite of Passage

shutterstock_35111320Be, Lord Jesus, a bright flame before me,
a guiding star above me,
a smooth path below me,
a kindly Shepherd behind me:
today, tonight, and forever.
(100 prayers by the De La Salle Brothers)

As I stood looking out the window in my office, I watched a couple coming up the walk in silence. We had a 10a.m. appointment and they were early. We settled in our chairs and took care of paperwork, allowing the quiet to settle in. As the last line is filled in, and the tension building, we begin. “Tell me what brings you here” can be a floodgate opening or a telling moment of decision “where do we start and can we trust her with something so painfully personal”. They either both talk at once, or one will begin framing a story of the peaceful life they once had and how it gradually became the awful place in which their family now find themselves. The pain is palpable. Finding a way through this nightmare is something they have never faced. They look like they haven’t slept well for weeks, physical symptoms of the toll this stress is taking. This meeting would be like so many others with parents’ anguish over their children. Their sons and daughters – out of control, disrespectful, associating with friends who did drugs, promiscuous, self-destructive and now the violence. In many cases like this, kids had been in counseling, in and out of juvenile custody, even in a treatment facility and finally removed from the home by Children’s Division and the courts. Here was another set of parents who were being required to take parenting classes to begin to rein in this child who was pushing back.

I have worked with many families in this situation and the outcome is not always good. Many times the relationship between the teen and parents has become so toxic as to be irreconcilable. Sometimes it takes months to uncover the underlying causes of a family’s dysfunction. This is the value of the work I do. There are no time restrictions or deadlines in working with families. One hour per week becomes a respite for these parents to come and talk where openness is encouraged and disagreement is allowed. Based on cases I have worked with, extreme behaviors can begin with for instance, a child who claims to have been molested and the parents may not believe the child. Even if you are the non-offending parent but you choose not to believe your child or pursue investigation of the incident in question, your response can be just as detrimental.

The parents’ reaction can be clouded by who the alleged perpetrator is and may choose not to accept this disclosure because of the personal impact it might make. In downplaying its extreme significance the outcome for the child can be devastating as the child looks to the parent for protection that may not come. The child can feel devalued and helpless as everyone moves on as if nothing happened. This can cause feelings of suppressed rage that can be dormant until they reach that narrow window in their adolescent/teen years and then life as you once knew it can change drastically. The breech of this child’s trust could have been from a long list of other reasons, anyone of which could be the problem.

It would be a logical choice if we could blame the times in which we live or influential friends or even the child for outrageous behavior but in all cases, the parents must accept the responsibility of turning this around. They are the only ones in this child’s life who can really change the dynamics of the crisis. Parents mistakenly look to counselors, medication, caseworkers and the courts to take over this problem and fix this child, when all the professionals can really do that is most effective is help the parents fix the child.

The subtle nuances of parental-love relationships we have with our children are so delicate yet powerful that we can be unaware of what happened or was said that has triggered certain behaviors. Those behaviors, if left unchecked, can escalate out of control. I have found in many cases that the behaviors of these children/teens in crisis can happen overnight with explainable reasons that could be dealt with early on with respect, love and honesty and restore all to normalcy. If any of this is describing your situation, it would be advisable that you seek help immediately. You are the superhero who will eventually make things right. Seeking help for your child is a responsible demonstration of love on your part to learn new skills in heading off what can eventually become a disaster.

For instance, once you have to begin threatening to call the authorities to control your child, it has already set in motion a chain of events that may not turn out well. We all want our kids to graduate from high school and go on to college or get a good job that allows for their independence and especially not living at home. There is a narrow window of a few adolescent/teenage years that can especially impact what your child will do with his/her life. These are the years that we must be vigilant over our children, our nieces and nephews and our grandchildren and be courageous to take actions that will protect them. Any behavior that is an extreme departure from your child’s norm is a cry for help. Someone must listen and respond. It will not improve on its own.

When we refer to the word “wilderness” many pictures come to mind such as a desertscape or a dense forest. In the Hebrew culture “wilderness” represented being taken from a place that could harm us to a place where we can be taught what we need to know to be safe and complete.

Our relationship with our children is like our relationship with our heavenly parent who created us. If you feel like you’re in a wilderness, maybe you’re there to learn what you need to know to rescue you and the ones in your care.

Abuse of children doesn’t always have to be physical. It can be emotional and have an equal impact with devastating results.

Abused children are:
• 6 times more likely to commit suicide
• 24 times more likely to be sexually assaulted
• 60 times more likely to be involved in delinquent behavior
• 1000 times more likely to become abusers
• 80% of all men in American prisons were abused children.

In national statistics relating to violence in the family, it is estimated
63% of youth age 11-20 in prison killed their mother’s abuser.

In August, 2009 a group of seven twelve year old boys headed into the Catskill Mountains in New York to tend a fire for 24 hours. They were given no food, only had water and weren’t allowed to take any electronic devices with them. “Tending Fires” is the documentary about this event. Each boy alone in his own location on the mountain was to gather wood and tend a fire with no distractions.

Peter Ferland, a filmmaker from Vermont who produced “Tending Fires” stated that the rite of passage sprung from a wilderness program he and his son attended learning about plant identification, fire making and nature in general. The boys were from 9-13 and as they grew out of the program they needed a challenge, a ritual that would mark the transition from childhood into adolescence and adulthood.

In the Active Parenting curriculum, one of the five natural goals for an adolescent youth in their pushing-back period for greater independence is “Challenge”. It is during this crucial stage that they build skills with reasonable risk-taking in learning how to take care of themselves and make responsible decisions. This stage works like it’s supposed to if the parents are tuned in to what’s happening naturally and are prepared to step back and provide guidance, appropriate boundaries and support during this testing time. If the relationship is toxic between the youth and their parents it could be a time of all-out rebellion which could include harmful thrill-seeking through drugs, promiscuity and even petty crime depending on their circle of friends.

The “Tending Fires” film takes a look at all of that. The parents of the boys provide interviews which gives you an across the board representation of the pushing back behavior in which these young men were engaging at the age of 12. One of the positive outcomes of creating this rite of passage is to develop restorative culture. In Wikipedia “restorative culture” is defined as “building healthy communities, increasing social capital, decreasing crime and antisocial behavior, repairing harm and restoring relationships. In sociology, social capital is the expected collective or economic benefits derived from the preferential treatment and cooperation between individuals and groups”.

The village or extended family all come together to mentor the boys in the ritual as the parents step aside. Several men all known to the boys- brothers, uncles, grandfathers and men of the church and community, participate bringing their skills and support into the experience to validate the importance of each boy’s arrival at adulthood.

Rituals of this nature in different cultures has been lost over time to the broader public so we must create our own. The Native American Vision Quest is a good example of a rite of passage in which the community comes together to witness this transition and provide support. A rite of passage ritual should be created for girls as well.

One of the viewers of the film commented: “As a father myself, I experienced emotion when one of the mothers talked about the detaching process. I understand it and expect it – but probably can’t really imagine it yet. Still, her comment that such detachment was ‘bittersweet’ was, to me, the heart of the film”. Taken from Tending Fires website.

On the eve of the beginning of the rite of passage, each boy who has been prepared over several months for this is accompanied by the mentors to his prospective campsite. Following this the mentors all wait at the bottom of the mountain at their own campfire praying for the boys. No personal campfire experience was filmed for obvious reasons. Being on their own for the most part with no distractions would be the most powerful catalyst for change. There were random periodic checks for safety. The reactions of the youth which come later in the film are very profound in the way they are impacted by the experience.

I have a copy of this film “Tending Fires” that I would be willing to provide to any group for the purpose of creating rituals for rites of passage for our youth here in the beautiful Mark Twain National Forest and waterways.

Imagine our communities as a result of providing programs for restorative culture where all our youth are prepared and honored in loving ways for adulthood.

“Start children off on the way they should go,
and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”
Proverbs 22:6NIV

“ Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up”. Gal. 6:9NIV