Wednesday, January 18, 2012

BE the church.

Over the past year, God has been working in the hearts of me and my husband, Jim, as He has continued to place people in our paths who are living in desperate situations. Two years ago, my husband's compassion level would have been maxed out with a quick comment to "get a job". My own ignorance to the needs in our community left me with a "don't know, don't care" mentality. We were doing our thing. He was working hard to provide for our family, we were active in church and we were plugging along with our lives.
Through a series of God sized situations, we found ourselves face to face with the SHINE soup kitchen. He, as chairman of the board, and me, committed to cook once a month for about 25 people.
As I, along with my faithful friends, began to plan our first meal, God took me straight to Matthew 25. "Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me." We all agreed. Our first meal and every meal after..Jesus was coming to dinner. Our efforts will reflect the Gospel. We will serve our best. Every time. And so.. it began.
Over the course of the year, God began to place homeless people along our path repeatedly. Until this year, I have never actually encountered a homeless person beyond the cardboard sign on the corner. Within a week, I was personally face to face with 3 women who were without a home. Not addicted to drugs. Not abused. Just facing trials and difficulties beyond their resources. A widow, a new mother who's husband walked out, a young lady pregnant with twins. What in the world, Lord? God took me straight to Matthew 5:15-16. "Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, 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 who is in heaven." We needed to help them and be light in their darkness. Ok, how?
My husband came home one day and mentioned we need to buy a building to house the soup kitchen and a shelter for Pickens County. He recently learned that Pickens County is the ONLY county in South Carolina with no shelter for the homeless. After a few calls, we began the journey and within 8 weeks, had commitments from several passionate Christians for $100,000 to purchase a building. The process is long and the roadblocks are many, but God has impressed upon our hearts that He will provide the perfect place where we can help the hungry, homeless and hopeless by providing them food, shelter and hope through Jesus Christ, who, by the way, made every one of them in His image. There it was again. The Gospel. Not only will it be a shelter, it will be our best for "the least of these." It will be a place to educate, train and assist people to build a better, self-sufficient life. So, if you, like I was, are struggling with not knowing the needs or how to it is.
In 2009-2010, 1,464 homeless children were identified in the Pickens County Schools. Their definition of homelessness also includes families living in motels or living with family in overcrowded homes. In 2011, The Housing Authority stated that 120 families were on waiting lists for affordable housing in Easley alone. In 2010, Pickens County saw 132 calls from those seeking a homeless shelter. In 2011, United Way conducted a homeless count and identified 81 homeless individuals in a four-day time frame. This was a 153 percent increase over 2009. More than 700 (1 in 17) children in Pickens County elementary schools do not know where their next meal will come from. Gleaning House Ministries serves 375 families per week out of their food pantry. Five Points Fellowship in Easley serves hundreds of families every week out of their food pantry, as does United Christian Ministries along with many churches throughout the city. The SHINE soup kitchen saw the number of people being served each night jump from an average of 25 to 75. In 2010, Pickens County Meals on Wheals served 50,912 meals to seniors who had no caregiver and were unable to prepare meals for themselves. The Summer Feeding Program at Pickens and West End Elementary Schools served over 66,000 meals from June through August to families with limited access to food while school was out for the summer. For the first time in 15 years, Pickens County will not receive funding from the federal Emergency Food and Shelter program, cutting $87,000 of services for people who face hunger, homelessness, and other crisis situations.
The message God gave me loud and clear is this..Chris, don't just go to church. BE the church- because faith without works is dead. And works without faith is dead. This project to have a beautiful place of hope mostly needs prayers but also needs a lot of workers and a lot of money. We have a group of passionate people meeting every week to move this along. It is exciting to see the pieces of God's plan come together and anyone who wants to join with us is welcomed. We need Christians all over this county to step it up, come together, and BE the church.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Try it. You'll like it.

The reason I know of one great mystery that baffles many Christians, is because it baffled me for many years. When I became a Christian as a young adult, it took me several years to grow into the "things"  Christians do.  I was taught to read the Bible every day. Check. Well, only on really good days when I thought about it. Pray. Check. Well, not an attitude of prayer without ceasing, but I believed in the power and tried to remember to pray. Volunteer in the church. Check. Never miss a service unless you are dying. Check.  Attend Bible study. Check.
Now, I was doing all the "things" Christians do, so why did I have this great mystery that I couldn't figure out?  The question was.. how can I be doing all of these things and not have a great desire to read my Bible or to pray?  I would have to schedule a devotion time and mark it off my "to do" list.  It was right up there with exercise. I would see people so excited about what God was doing in their lives and so faithful to the Word. They seemed to actually want to read the Bible and pray about everything. I would doze off after reading a few verses. I would drudge through my Bible study lessons, skipping where I could. Where was that burning desire for me? I wanted it but how to get it remained a mystery for many years.  I had salvation. I lacked the active relationship with the One who saved me.
As I look back, I wonder how I could've missed it. But, as I look around, I see people filling our pews that are missing it.  I want to scream at them.. "Don't miss it!".
The wonderful, amazing, profound answer for me has been.... The more I talk to God, the more I hear His voice. The more I hear His voice, the more He works through me. It is exhilerating to see His mighty hand at work. It is addicting to serve Him and watch people see Him. It is a high that no drug on earth can duplicate to see a miracle that only God could have orchestrated. And the only way to get more of it, is to spend more time in His Word and with Him. The more time spent listening to the Father, the more we know His will.  We don't have to chase after God's will for our lives! We can just chase after God and we will know His will.  And He will pour it on! It is a beautiful thing to have. It is a relationship that fulfills like no other.
I know that a lot of people will not want it bad enough. It means giving up stuff. It takes time. Most times the things He asks us to do will not be convenient or comfortable. But in the end, it is the best thing and if you ever got even a small taste of what it feels like, you will not be able to get enough.  But, Satan doesn't like this kind of Holy Spirit power. So, be forewarned...when you fall in love with spending time with Jesus, your greatest enemy will be distraction.  Fight against it. You will never be perfect. You will mess up every single day. Spend time in prayer and ask God to use you and be WILLING to do whatever He leads you to do. Even if it is out of your comfort zone. Search His word and make yourself available. Pray about everything throughout your day. Not a religious sounding prayer but TALK to Him.  Be willing to ask God to empty you of you and fill you with Him.  It is addicting and exhilerating. Try it. You'll like it.