Making Space for Others

I’m listening.

I have loved and believed in Jesus my whole life. It wasn’t until I was in my 20’s that I actually started listening to him.

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I got married, had 3 children in 5 years and Grandpa moved in. Life got loud and the whispering of Jesus’ calling on my life got quieter. It became clear for me to be a disciple, not just a believer, I was going to have to be very intentional in my choices. I didn’t just want to focus on the what-not-to-do’s but things I could do in my life to bring Glory to God. With this wreck of a heart I have, it sure wasn’t easy. It still isn’t. At times, it is difficult to hear God through the busyness of my life so I just started to study His life and the truth is, I found most of the answers right there in the Bible. I used that as an example. Do what He did. In the doing, it will become clear.

I started small and concentrated on the nudges I felt in my Spirit. When a memory of a long time friend came to mind and I’d actually follow through to let them know I was thinking of them. Often times it was at that exact moment that my friend needed encouragement. I would see the homeless guy on the corner and before I could hear the news story echo in my mind about the scam this can be, I’d allow myself to feel the tug on my heart from God to give. The new mom across the street seemed overwhelmed at times so I’d offer dinner and a few hours of babysitting. Those sweet little nudges are where I started. Taking the next big step with God’s lead changed my life.

In early 2009, I began to pray 3 specific prayers. 1.) Open my eyes to the needs of others around me. 2.) Break my heart for what breaks yours and give me the courage to act. 3.) What ever you ask, I will do.

Be careful what you ask for.

My husband and I after years of talking, gave God our yes in a mighty way. We began the process to adopt. It would take two years to complete so we had plenty of time to get our finances in order and prepare our home and family. Like most things, I gave him my qualifications. We would adopt from another country so we would not have the ‘messiness’ of dealing with a birth mother. We could adopt one child, a boy, because we had room with our son. And if He wanted this from us, He was going to have to fund it. We did not have a single dime in savings. It was already tight raising a family of 5 on one income. What would it be like with one more? We prayed for a much talked about promotion to happen for my husband. With our prerequisites in tow, we took the leap of faith.

God has a way of ensuring I depend on Him instead of my own accord so it should be no surprise to me that it didn’t take two years. An amazing couple donated the money for our home study. Within a month, through a series of events only God could arrange, our son arrived on our doorstep. And so did his sister. Yes, not one, but two toddlers. They were not from another country. They were from right here. I sat across from their momma and dove head first into the messiness of loving her, encouraging and empowering her to be their mother for a over a year. My husband didn’t get the promotion. He got a month’s lay off. It was the scariest, most difficult moments of our lives. It was filled with our new children’s grief and rough transitions and at times, downright ugliness. It was also filled with beauty, grace and the most wonderful outpouring of support and love from the body of Christ I’ve ever witnessed. I got to see my children welcome their new siblings with open arms and understanding and to share their life, their space and their parents. Watching my husband love our children, blessed me. Watching him love someone else’s child, blew me away. It grew us and stretched us. It still does, to be honest. But stepping out in faith, taking that risk in His name, gave me the most incredible view of God’s love for us. It was the Gospel in action.

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Taking that next step in your faith is beyond scary. Following those little nudges, taking those big leaps…all scary. Giving God our yes? Tough stuff. He rarely calls us to easy. But what He calls us to, He equips us for. It’s important to trust His sovereignty and remember He can see the big picture. Getting to know and love my children’s birth mom was a gift. Being able to look in their faces and tell them how hard I fought for their family brings me a peace I didn’t know I’d need. That experience also brought me a career calling and planted the seeds for me to fight for other families. Our budget? It hasn’t made sense on paper in almost a decade but we have always had what we need. That lay off of my husband’s gave him this opportunity of intense bonding time with our two new babies. It gave our family of 7 the chance to spend a month of quality time together and eased our transition immensely. It allowed this new mom of 5, ages 2, 3, 3, 6 and 8 to keep her sanity.

What we experienced during that time, was a series of God opening doors and us walking through them. It was affirmed again and again through others generosity, miraculous moments and timing only God could orchestrate, that we were indeed smack in the middle of His will for our life. Allowing God to use you, is the greatest feeling you will ever know.

If I hadn’t become very intentional about listening to God in the little moment’s of my day, I’m not sure I would have gone for His big ask when He brought it to me. I want to encourage you. When you sit in church and the video about the next mission trip makes you cry, that isn’t a coincidence or because you’re emotional. That is the spirit of God whispering. When you read about the food pantry and feel that little nudge in your heart, don’t be so quick to dismiss it. God is speaking to you. When you are walking past that older lady in the grocery parking lot loading her full cart in to her trunk and your feet hesitate and your mind quickly tells you that you are in a hurry to pick up the kids, that hesitation is the whisper of your spirit; God’s spirit in you. God will take your actions, when they are aligned with His and He will knock your socks off with blessings and opportunities.

There are books by famous theologians and great Christian leaders written on taking that next step of faith. I am just me. However, I think we’ve been programmed to believe that God wants big grand gestures from us. He wants us to move to China and give away all of our belongings. He expects us to save all of the orphans, bring clean water to the entire world. I think we picture obvious signs and this audible voice telling us what His purpose is for us. I think, most of the time, it is simpler than that. It may seem too simple, but for me, it is about learning to attune our heart to His. It is about learning to listen for those internal whispers. It is about studying who God is so I can reflect His life in mine. As we learn more about Him and His love for us, our love for Him grows. The fruit follows. The spirit of God is in each of us. We have to practice listening to it. It’s like putting on noise canceling headphones, blocking out the world and tuning in to the Holy Spirit. It is about obeying that voice and exercising that obedience in the little moments of our day, and before we know it, those little moments have added up to a life that reflects His; a life of worship.

 

 

 

~Jen Harris

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#714 PRAYER | WEEK 9 |NEIGHBORS (LOCAL)

We are now in the middle of week 9 of our #7:14 prayer initiative. This week, our prayer focus is on praying for our Neighbors. 

Neighbors.

You remember those people, they live next door to you, maybe leave their trash cans out too long, their kids ride their bikes through your grass, play their music too loud, ____________ (whatever your pet peeve is). We can probably list off a number of things about our neighbors that irks our lives, but I wonder if we know their story? I wonder if we know the things that they care about? I wonder if we even know their names?…..

We get so caught up in our schedules, our families, our jobs, our lives that we can rarely take time for others. Our neighbors are more like strangers to us! I am guilty of this, I pull in my garage, shut the door and say goodbye to the rest of the world. Somehow it has become a hassle when someone even knocks on my door. Surely, this is not how God has called us to live. So we all need to ask ourselves (me included!), what are we going to do to break this cycle that is solely focused on ourselves, and begin to think about how we can be a blessing to our neighbors?

God has placed our neighbors in our lives, and it is not an accident – it is for a purpose.  Reflect on our focusing text this week which comes from Matthew 5:14-16:

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

But in order for “our light to shine” we must first get to know them, and also let them get to know us. Developing relationships always involves some sort of risk, isn’t necessarily easy and can at times even be messy. But the only way our neighbors are going to move beyond being strangers is to take a risk, bless their lives, hear their stories and share yours.

Sharing your story is an essential aspect of loving our neighbors. Sharing our faith can feel awkward at times, and most of us get freaked out by the idea of evangelism. So we need to completely reframe our concept of evangelism if we are going to do it well. Our call isn’t to share with them that they “are sinners in the hands of an angry God.” That might have worked in Jonathan Edwards day, but our culture is different. No, our call is to share with them how Jesus has transformed our lives while also communicating His extravagant love for theirs. Here are a couple of things that have helped me learn to share my faith with another person.

1) Becoming Comfortable in Your Own Skin
Strangely enough, caring for our neighbors starts with our hearts first. We need to learn to be comfortable in our own skin. What I mean is that we need to have our identity in Christ rooted in our hearts. We need to develop a “God confidence” in who we are in Christ. We need to allow our faith to develop in such a way that spiritual conversations do not cause us to hyperventilate but naturally flow out of who we are: a follower of Jesus. We need to know in our bones that he has transformed our lives with his goodness. When we experience Jesus in this light, it becomes very natural to speak good things about him. (Shameless plug: Our Alpha Course will help you develop this. Next session kicks off Monday, October 27th 6:30pm in the WRCC Discovery Room.) 

“God Confidence” is not “God Arrogance.” We get a lot further with people when we lead with our weakness instead of presenting a false picture of ourselves as someone who has it all together. And frankly, they already know that you don’t have it all together. As D.T. Niles wisely said,“Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.” So it’s from our need that we share our stories of how God rescued us and transformed our lives.

2) Your Neighbor is Part of God’s Good Creation; God Has a Hope and a Future for Them
We need to capture a fresh vision for the inherent worth of each person who walks the earth. They (we) are his children, created in his image, for his purpose and for his glory. Genesis 2:7: “Then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” Here is a simple rule of thumb: If God touched it, it is good. In this text, we see that God’s breath and life imparts dignity and bestows worth. A good definition for dignity is our inherent value and worth as human beings; everyone is born with it.

Another way of thinking about this is that each person you come across, if you look closely, has the fingerprints of God on him or her. He has shaped and formed you and me and everyone we meet. So instead of disgracing the work that God has done, we extend grace and love that person, because they are worthy to receive love. So, do we primarily see others as sinners or as God’s children who simply need to be awakened to a life committed to Jesus’s message and mission?

3) You Have Been Sent Into the World
Simply put, God has called us to be his change agents in this world. He has done this work in your life, yes, to bless you, but just as important, so that you would be a blessing to others. So we need to move beyond thinking about this life of faith as simply waiting around “to get to heaven” and reimagine the ways God is wanting to use us to see his Kingdom come through your life. Your neighbors matter to God, therefore they must matter to you. 

So pray this week for your neighbors, ask for God to give you opportunities to connect, care and bless their lives. I have no doubt that He will answer each and everyone of those prayers.

Tom Rich
Discipleship Pastor

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God has called his people to pray! Our families, communities, and world are in need of healing and God makes a conditional promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14 that we want to live out. God is calling us as his people to humble ourselves, pray, seek his face and turn from our wicked ways. Please join us by:

  • Praying daily at 7:14 a.m. & 7:14 p.m.
  • Fasting one time per week
  • Quieting your heart 10 minutes before service to pray
  • Joining us for corporate prayer at the church, Saturday 7:14 p.m. & Sunday 7:14 a.m.

The Oppressed in our Midst

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I spent the last week with Dan Crosley in Mexico, teaching at a Christian University on the subject of World Missions. We went there with the hope of imparting God’s heart for the world, that they would see just how capable they are to serve in this great gospel mission. We taught on various themes such as:  ‘The Bible and Mission’, ‘History of Missions’, ‘Contextualization of the Gospel’ and ‘Our Call to Embrace the “Other” in Society’. I am happy to report that the trip was a homerun! They left the week with a deeper understanding of how God can use them to bless the nations of the earth and a sense of responsibility toward His mission.

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I came to know many exceptional people on this trip. Men and women who would be successful at whatever they put their hands to, yet they have chosen to follow God’s calling on their life to serve in the local church. They laugh together, pray together, help one another and encourage one another. They also seem to possess a character of service and unity that is rare today. Where we might drag our feet to meet the needs of someone else, these folks consistently sought to include others and serve. I am excited about what God can do through this school and through these young pastors.

My eyes were also opened in a way that I had not anticipated.

God has a funny way of teaching you something about your home when you are out of the country. It is as if we have to literally get out of our cultural context to be able to see our home clearly. In the midst of these exceptional Mexican believers, my heart turned towards home, and I thought about the Hispanics that live throughout Hamilton County, in our very backyard.

I have lived most of my life in Texas, with a three year stint in California, so when I first flew into Indianapolis and visited our church, I was taken back by the number of white people around me. We had Just moved from a block in which Rebecca and I were the racial minority, so the lack of diversity in our neighborhood and churches seemed odd. But I shrugged it off and thought there just wasn’t that much ethnic diversity in Hamilton County. That was until the 4th of July when we decided to take our two dogs on a walk through Forest Park. Here I was awakened to the fact that there were in fact a number of Hispanics in our county, as the park was filled with Hispanic family after family enjoying their holiday with one another. I thought to myself, wow, we really are missing out on embracing this segment of our culture at WRCC.photo 3

But it wasn’t until I went to Mexico this past week that I saw just how desperate the need is to minister to this section of our culture. There is a great disparity between the freedom and joy these students exhibited and the way our local Hispanics suffer today. A large number of Hispanics within Hamilton County are forced to live in fear on the margins of society. They live week to week on next to nothing, all the while sending the majority of their income back home to places like Mexico, Guatemala and Costa Rica. They live in fear of deportation, are isolated from their families (many of them go years at a time without seeing their family), and have little to no rights. It is a gross injustice that our society uses these people to build our homes, cook our food, and pick our fields and yet oppresses them into the margins of our society.

Some will say that because they are here illegally they shouldn’t have rights. But I ask you to save your political angst for another day. We are a nation made of immigrants and, unless we are Native American, would probably do well to keep our mouths shut.

Do we need to follow a rule of law? Sure. But there has to be a way to extend care to all people at all times, regardless of their nationality. As we see in Deuteronomy 24, God’s ways are to always exhibit care for those on the margins of society, regardless of where they are from.

Deut 24:17   You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pledge.  18 Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this.

Deut 24:19   When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all your undertakings.  20 When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.

Deut 24:21   When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.  22 Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this.

Israel was reminded in this passage that their freedom was not of their own doing; it was the greatness of God that set them apart from all other nations. When God rescued Israel from the Eqyptians, they were slaves – they were the outcasts, a forgotten people. And they were commanded to extend toward others the same generous grace that God had shown them.

We have a whole community of Hispanics in our backyard that deserve to be treated with dignity, love and goodness, not ostracized because of their differences. We can not sit in a place of privilege and think that we are better then anyone else. We too were once lost in the darkness of sin, and we were rescued from it by the goodness of our God. The ways of the Kingdom are radically different then the ways of the world. When we live our lives in submission to God, we say to others, “I am no better then you, You are no better than me” – we are all creations of God united by his blood and bonded through his peace.

In a community of Mexicans, I was able to see how much we grow when we live without fear and are surrounded by people who love us. These students were able to flourish in this environment and are free to live out their God-given calling.  I believe it is our turn to look at our Hispanic brothers and sisters not as strangers but as family.

Every Sunday, Dan Crosley leads a Hispanic service in the Chapel (back by the offices). I encourage you to head back there someday soon and hear their stories. I think you will come to see that the things that make us different dwindles in light of what draws us together.

Tom Rich
Discipleship Pastor

Going Out Of My Way

A Way of Life is the second part of our discipleship process at WRCC, following The Journey. While The Journey opens your eyes to a fresher, more accurate way of looking at yourself and God, A Way of Life is a “deepening” experience. The course helps embed the character and heart of the Christian walk into our heart and mind. I am in the process of walking through the Way of Life material with a group of outstanding men, and it has challenged me in new ways.

One of these challenges is confronting the ways Jesus is not like me. For example, as I read about Jesus’ life, I am amazed at how comfortable he was in his identity. Even in situations when he was questioned, he responded with confidence rather than insecurity. In fact, John the Baptist (his cousin) – the one who proclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) questioned Jesus’ entire identity (Matthew 11:2-3). But to this and to others, Jesus is undeterred and presses forward with the message and mission he has received from his Father.

The Way of Life material has a fascinating quote from sociologist James Davison Hunter’s book To Change The World that captures Jesus’ counterculture ways well:

Everything about his life, his teaching, and his death was a demonstration of a different kind of power – not just in relation to the spiritual realm and not just in relation to the ruling political authorities, but in the ordinary social dynamics of everyday life. It operated in complete obedience to God the Father, it repudiated the symbolic trappings of elitism, it manifested compassion concretely out of a calling and vocation, and it served the good of all and not just the good of the community of faith. In short, in contrast to the kingdoms of this world, his kingdom manifest the power to bless, unburden, serve, heal, mend, restore and liberate. What follows is clear: as ones who accept his invitation into his kingdom, Christians must follow him.

  Hunter summarizes Jesus’ use of social power with four characteristics:

  • Jesus power is derivative rooted in intimacy and submission to the Father.
  • Jesus power is humble – rejecting the privileges of status and reputation.
  • Jesus power is compassionate – serving the good of all, not just the good of faith communities.
  • Jesus power is non-coercive – blessing rather than cursing the other.

At times, in life and ministry, I keep an improper perspective on how I meet the needs of those around me. I often see myself as blessing their life, as though my service is simply a gift that I can give or take away depending on my mood. At times, I will sigh and reluctantly serve someone else, not because I necessarily want to but because I don’t want to feel guilty if I don’t. It often feels like I am going out of my way to serve the needs of others. On my worst days I operate like my service is so incredible, and their need so unworthy, that they should see what an incredible gift I am to them. What a terrible way to live! I still have much to learn.

There is a way to the Kingdom that is completely different then my selfish perspective. I need to be more willing to simply come alongside someone with attentive care that acknowledges their infinite worth and demonstrates a love for them. Making space for others means that I am putting the needs of others first and looking for ways that I can specifically meet their needs. Going out of my way is actually the type of care that is foundational to the Kingdom. 

For all who exalt themselves will be humbled,
but all who humble themselves will be exalted.

Luke 18:14

Tom Rich
Discipleship Pastor

Friday Meditation: Blessed to be a blessing

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Chapter 2 of The Story begins with one of the most important texts in the bible:

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

I’m not sure how much experience you have with the term “predestination”, but it is a term that has bothered me over the years. I don’t like the idea of God choosing some and not others. It doesn’t seem fair. Why would God choose me as opposed to somebody else?

It was this text in the book of Genesis that helped me to realize that the definition of predestination is not “God chooses some and not others,” but instead “God chooses some to be a blessing to others.” We are all included in this crazy story, and it started because God chose a man and said “Be a blessing.”

This is what Paul refers to in Ephesians 1, when he tells the church that they have been predestined for adoption through Jesus Christ. This was the plan all along, that all peoples would be invited into this mystery, and that those whom God blesses would in turn pass their blessings on to others. It’s a chain reaction, one in which we are all called to play a part.

In a culture in which we place a heavy emphasis on our blessings, both attaining and celebrating them, it is important to remember that we have the same calling upon our lives that Abraham had upon his. Blessings are never bestowed for our use only; they are always meant to be shared. 

How has Jesus blessed you? Think about this today, and then think about how you can use these blessings to bless others.

And even if you are in a dark place, where blessings seem scarce, my husband and I have found that God uses even the broken things to bless the world.  Nothing is beyond redemption in this upside-down Kingdom of Heaven.

Rebecca

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Rebecca Rich is married to the Discipleship Pastor, Tom Rich. She adores her two cocker spaniels and can often be found reading a book or asking questions. She blogs about life and faith at Buried Hopes.