Category Archive: Conversations

The Waitress

woman wearing gray top
Photo by Athena on Pexels.com

She walked to our restaurant table in Florence, Kentucky. Blonde, pony-tailed, heavily tattooed, our waitress answered some questions and then, somehow, told us her life story. I don’t even remember how that happened, how she opened up. But over her next several trips to our table, Leah spilled out one of the saddest stories I’ve heard–and I’ve heard a few.

  • Her brother was born of an incestuous relationship between her mother and her mother’s father.
  • Her mother sold the two children for drugs when they were little.
  • Leah had been on drugs for several years, but had been clean for about three years, trying to make a new life for herself. She broke up with her boyfriend because he wasn’t committed to staying clean.
  • She’d had three cars in the last two months, and the one she had now needed repairs.
  • Her brother wanted to have a sexual relationship with her, which she refused. “I’m here to protect you, not to be your girlfriend.”

We asked if she knew God, and she said she did. “I talk to him every day.” Did she know Jesus? “Yes.” But she didn’t have a Bible, wasn’t in a church as far as we know, so I don’t know how deep her understanding of God’s nature and of Jesus’ forgiveness went. I told her that no matter what her past held, she is precious in God’s eyes and that he loves her. We were able to leave her with a Gospel of John (she said she’d buy a Bible that weekend), with some other information about how to know God through Jesus, as well as a very healthy tip, saying we wanted to bless her.

We’ll likely never see Leah again except, we pray, in heaven.

But what a divine appointment! Had we been busy chatting ourselves we may never have connected with Leah as we did.

Jesus asked questions of the people he met.

“Do you want to be made whole?” (Good question!) Is it possible that some would rather wallow in their self-pity, their dysfunction, their addiction, than be made whole?

He engaged the Samaritan woman at a well. She would come when the townswomen were not there to gather water. As a woman living in adultery, she could not join in their laughter and gossip. But Jesus was there. After they had spoken for awhile…

The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.”

Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”

John 4:25-26. NKJV

How often do we stop long enough to listen–to the one who wants to tell her story; the one who struggles to find words because of brain cancer or dementia; the one who must weep before being able to speak; the one who hungers for someone to really hear them? Listening requires being quiet, not speaking quickly (which for me is the easier course of action).

We have a Father who is always ready to listen.

Casting all your care on him, for he cares for you.

I Peter 5:7 NKJV

And the Father has given us each other, to listen, be present, and help as he leads.

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

I John 4:11 NIV

Listening takes time. I confess that I often move from one thing to another without stopping long enough to listen. I’m working on that. I want to be available for those divine appointments God brings my way; to listen closely enough to him that I know when to slow down or stop, pay attention and love someone along my way.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry …

James 1:19

What divine appointments have you experienced recently, or in the past? I’d love to hear.

post by carolnl | | 2

MIRACLES … AND NEEDS

Friends of ours invited parents of a former refugee and immigrant to Canada to stay with them when they came to visit their M*slm background Christian son in Canada. That was two years and 10 months ago. This family comes from a nation where persecution against Christians is strong and violent. Previously, a brother and sister chose to become believers and suffered heavy persecution in their homeland. When life became too dangerous, they fled to a nearby country, where they have been living as refugees.

An aerial view of a Refugee Camp
Aerial view of one refugee camp

When the parents left their country to visit their son in Canada, they were allowed to leave with the stipulation that they give poison pills to their Christian children who had become apostate. They took the pills with them, but disposed of them and didn’t act on those orders.

Another son back in their country has been badly beaten and suffered much because of his siblings choosing to follow Jesus, and possibly because he himself has now become a believer.  The parents think that he is a believer because he had been so eager to learn about Jesus and later, after the police stopped and searched him one time, he told his parents, “They don’t know that what I have is on the inside.”

Through conversations with their children, with our friends (through translation), and through the love of Christian community, the parents have both become Christians. Their immigration hearing was Friday this week. As they and our friends met with their lawyer, she thought their testimony was not very good (because of their poor memories and communication… possibly because of the trauma and PTSD) and they might lose the case. She was not encouraging and actually made the process difficult and frustrating for all of them.

Thursday night many of us joined a zoom prayer meeting where we “met” the parents online for the first time. What a joy to pray together with other believers that S and T would be able to remain in Canada, but above that, that God’s will be done, even if that meant a return to their country to be a witness and suffer for Jesus’ sake. We didn’t know which way the hearing would go, but knew already that one obstacle had been removed. A key government figure who planned to oppose their asylum request was no longer going to be involved.

The next morning, at least 106 of us had committed to pray during the hearing, many at specific times. Don and I prayed for those who would hear their testimony, that the parents would receive grace and favor and be at peace in this situation. Early in the afternoon, we received an email with a YAAAAAAAAAY Victory! in the subject line. I ran to find Don. The female decision maker had read all of the documentation our friend prepared (over 300 pages) the day before the hearing, and realized this couple would indeed be persecuted if they returned to their country. She granted them Permanent Residency and after five years they can apply to become citizens.

We were in tears, and we certainly know they were!! Tears of joy, of watching a miracle of God take place. There are lots of steps ahead–our friends’ church has hired them as janitors. They need to learn more English and at some point probably move out on their own. Our friends have worked tirelessly to help them, and they need respite.

But God is so gracious in granting this huge miracle!

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

I Peter 5:7, NIV

So we see God’s mighty hand at work on the one hand; and we plead for his mercy and care for so many other needs. God is a good Father and his ways are higher than ours. But we know there is significant pain all around us.

What can we do?

First, pray. Pray for those you know who are hurting, in need, lonely, afraid, sick. We so often think of prayer as a last resort when it should be our first. I love the way THE MESSAGE often refers to God’s name: God-of-Angel-Armies! Wow, to think our prayers can help move that mighty army!

Reminds me of a true story of an escape from Russia to China over the Amur River in 1929 Bolshevik Russia. The 26 escapees watched for times of shift change, when the smallest number of guards were on duty. They left at midnight, trying to keep babies from crying, horses from whinnying. They were never fired on and reached China safely. When the superiors questioned the two guards the next morning, they said “There were armed guards all around the group. We had no chance.”

Second, step in where you can. Visit, listen, share the love of Jesus with those who are open, bring cards, food or flowers–the list will vary depending on your life circumstances, location, etc.

Third, if you can, give to organizations that have integrity in reaching desperate needs…

  • worldvision.org
  • samaritanspurse.org
  • mcc.org
  • mercyships.org

Or to on-campus ministries to reach our students:

  • intervarsity.org
  • cru.org

And your local church likely gives a portion of its budget to missions and to community needs. We were part of one church which has given over a million meals to Second Harvest Food Bank; and joined with other local churches after a local tragedy shook our community. Together, the churches provided resources for counseling for the mothers of both the 15-year-old boy and of the eight-year-old girl he murdered.

We are the Church, Christ’s body here on earth. We’re in a spiritual battle and need to engage as he leads us. My way may be different than yours; and yours, than your neighbors’.

So let’s rejoice in God’s still-miraculous work, and pray for his guidance, his heart in us for the world around us.

ALL NATIONS, TRIBES, PEOPLES, AND LANGUAGUES

legs of crop person with socks
Photo by Thiago Matos on Pexels.com

I walked into Macy’s to buy socks. Yup, socks. The ones I have either weren’t the right color or were worn out. I found what I needed, paid the bill, and walked toward the exit.

An older African American woman, walking with a cane, hit the automatic door opener button. I walked out the door beside the automatic one, not wanting to crowd her. As she pushed the button to open the outer door, the woman said “You can go through this door too. I’m just slow.”

I thanked her and walked out the door, then stopped. “Do you need any help getting to your car?”

“No, my car’s right there.” She pointed to a car in the disabled parking. “But thank you for caring. Our world is so crazy right now it’s really nice when people are kind.”

I agreed. “Our world is strange; but we can rely on God.”

“Oh yes! We can indeed.”

We crossed to the parking lot together. I smiled under my mask, nodded.

“I’m Carol.”

“Hi Carol. I’m Diane.”

We both stopped walking near her car. As Diane opened her door, she said, “Nice to talk with you, Carol. I’ll probably never see you again.”

“Yes, you will,” I responded. “We’ll see each other in heaven, if not sooner.”

“Oh yes. I don’t know why the Lord is still leaving me here. He must still have a purpose for me.” Diane proceeded to tell me that, at 85 and somewhat disabled, she still sends Bible correspondence lessons to people; and when they return one, she sends them the next. “I can’t do much, but I can do this.” And she’s been doing it for about twenty years!

I left with the warm sense of meeting another Christ-follower, someone with whom I will have an eternal relationship. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we who have accepted His free gift of forgiveness and newness of life will live again after death.

At home, I greeted Don with the joy of the Lord, which is beyond happiness, as I recounted my God-moment meeting with Diane.

This week we’ve read and heard about disturbing hostility and violence toward Asian Americans. It disturbs me deeply to see our nation becoming more and more divided politically, ethnically, socio-economically. We are called by God to love each other as He has loved us.

And God loves diversity. In the book of Revelation we’re told that He will preserve people’s diversity in heaven–what a marvelous thought!

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb.

Revelation 7:9

A few years ago, Don and I stood on the banks of the Jordan River in Israel. Several of our travel group had chosen to be baptized there, where Jesus was baptized. There’s an area where the river has gated sections so each group can have its own separate baptism ceremony. To our left, I heard voices praising God in an Asian language; another gated area was filled with people singing what sounded like an African praise song. There were others as well. And I thought, this is a little picture of heaven, where we will all praise God together, various nations and people groups and languages.

I eagerly await that day! And I want to live in light of eternity right now, right here, loving whomever God brings into my sphere of influence, respecting and honoring them for just who God made them to be.

That They May be One

‘Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell’. 

Psalm 43:3

A devotion from Seeds of the Kingdom explains that in Scripture light often symbolizes well-being. So walking in the light of God’s presence illuminates the deepest secrets of our hearts, and carries with it day to day benefits for us. First, it keeps us in the truth. We live in a world of compromise and relativism and more than ever before we need to know the truth so we can walk in God’s ways. Second, it dispels our fear because His presence is always with us and we will not lose our way. Third, walking in the light of God’s presence is the way of obedience. In Scripture obedience and blessing go hand in hand. https://seedsofthekingdom.org/devotionals/0140/walking-in-the-light-of-god%E2%80%99s-presence.php

How can we walk in the light of God’s presence in a world, a country that is deeply divided right now?

Our small women’s Bible study group studied Jesus’ prayer in John 17 this week. He prays that we will be one, as He and the Father are one. He prayed for us, for me–“for those who will believe in me through their message.”

He prays for this oneness so the world may believe God sent Jesus, and that Jesus loves us even as the Father loves the Son (John 17:23)

This weekend a local pastor shared some letters he has received in the past two weeks. Each said she was questioning her relationship with God because of the divisions, the anger she sees within the church over politics.

Hearing these letters hurt. How tragic if our disagreements, my desire to be ‘right’, causes others to turn away from rather than to Christ!

So how do we move forward? We know we have political differences in the church. I think most families have some level of political difference. We don’t have to think alike. And yet Jesus prayed that we would be one.

The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.

1 Corinthians 12:25-27 MSG

When injustice occurs, we need to hurt with those affected, and work for justice. When righteousness blesses someone, we rejoice exuberantly with them! We can look for opportunities to be intentional about loving someone with whom we disagree, especially politically.

We can also focus on relationship. There are differences within my family, but we have agreed that our relationship is more important than our differences. We’ve agreed not to discuss politics or, if we do, we work to do it briefly and in a spirit of respect for the other’s point of view.

Politics is not our savior; a political party cannot make us right with God. His purposes go beyond what happens in the November election. We don’t have to think alike; but our focus needs to be on Jesus and on the mission He gave us to share His love and truth with the world. If we do this, we can lay some of our differences aside and love each other.

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headedthat exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

Hebrews 12:2-3 MSG

What are you finding in this divisive time? Is your family all on the same page politically? If not, how do you handle those disagreements?

FINDING HOPE

In Finding Hope: Steps toward Racial Reconciliation, Pastor Hurmon Hamilton taught from the story of Lazarus in John chapter 11.

Three keys he mentioned from this story were:

  1. Listen graciously. So often we listen while we’re preparing our response, whether it’s defending our own actions, justifying certain behaviors, or even agreeing with what we’re hearing. Jesus listened to Lazarus’ sisters who both bared their hearts, saying “If you’d only been here, our brother would not have died.” Jesus didn’t rebuke them; rather, He wept with them.
  2. Reflect prayerfully. What is our God-led response to what we hear (rather than our knee-jerk reaction)? Jesus saw the sisters’ pain, and that of the mourners, and was “greatly troubled.” He asked “Where have you laid Him?” The mourners didn’t just point the way – they said “Come and see.” And He went with them.
  3. Act thoughtfully. John 11:38-39 says “Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb … Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.'” Martha, never one to hold her tongue, said but Lord, he’s been dead four days. Surely he stinks by now!

Jesus spoke to His Father, then cried out loudly, “Lazarus, come forth.” And Lazarus, wrapped in graveclothes, bound and stiff, walked out of the tomb. Jesus told the watchers to take the graveclothes off the man, because he was no longer dead, but alive!

I hate what’s happening in our country now. The riots, looting, violence, burning Bibles and flags. I’ve never experienced such a divisive time in my lifetime.

And no, we’re not each responsible for the racial injustices we see in our world. But as Christ-followers it is our moment to stand up and show the world who we are in Jesus.

And there are many reasons to listen, to reflect prayerfully, and to act thoughtfully. I have not experienced the systemic racism that instituted Jim Crow laws, that led to the formation of the Ku Klux Klan, that gave higher-interest mortgages–or none–to persons of color, because I am Caucasian. But my heart goes out to those who have been unfairly treated and given less opportunity simply because of the color of their melanin.

I want to follow Jesus’ example. Pastor Hamilton suggested asking our brothers and sisters to tell us their story of being African American in America–and listening!

If you’d like to hear the entire sermon, follow this link. I think you’ll be challenged and encouraged as Don and I were.