children_churchChildren’s ministry was the first thing I noticed at Hosanna Church. The ministry glowed like a light from heaven. Some churches support children’s ministry while others hire someone to keep the children out of sight. My husband and I have been in both kinds of churches. Hosanna was unique in the high priority given to children.

We visited Hosanna several times before we decided to stay. The first thing I heard Elinor, Hosanna’s Children’s Pastor, say was G-double O-D-J-O-B! In fact, I heard her say it several times before I realized that she was saying “Good Job” to the children. The children loved it and clearly loved her.

I watched Elinor interact with the children and saw a rare but natural ability. She did not talk down to the children as adults often do but squatted to their eye level and showed a genuine interest in what they said. She asked what they learned in church and reinforced the simple truths with gentleness and kindness. I marveled at the orderly way she conducted the Children’s Service and the diligence of the teenagers who worked with her. I can sum up what I saw in two words. G-double O-D-J-O-B! Good job, Elinor!

When I invited Elinor and her husband to lunch, I expected her to tell me she was born to work with children. I was wrong. Elinor came to American from Puerto Rico when she was two months old. Her family settled in Miami where a neighborhood friend brought her to church. Her parents’ marriage ended in divorce and Elinor ran away from home when she was sixteen. She moved from one friend’s house to another until she had worn out her welcome and had no place to go. Desperate, she called her father who had relocated to South Carolina. She was eighteen when she moved in with her father and rediscovered her Christian roots at a local Assembly of God Church.

Feeling called to ministry Elinor enrolled in the School of Urban Missions. She graduated confident of her abilities and comfortable working with teenagers. Hosanna Church already had a youth pastor, so they hired Elinor for a bookkeeping position. During hurricane Katrina, she evacuated to the Assemblies of God campgrounds and met her future husband, Eddie, while playing a game of UNO.

After they married, Eddie and Elinor prayed for children. God answered but not in the way they expected. Instead of one child, God gave them fifty when Pastor McLean asked Elinor to become the church’s Children’s Pastor. Elinor told her husband, “We need to be more specific when we pray in the future.” Eddie said the conflict for Elinor was intense. The last thing she desired to do was work with children, but Elinor’s love for God and Christian training prevailed. She submitted to her pastor’s request and prayed for a better attitude. Several years later, God honored her faithfulness and granted her desire to work with teenagers when the pastor asked her to be the Youth Pastor.

I’ve pondered Elinor’s story with amusement and a measure of understanding. It is so like God to give you more than you asked for – fifty children when you only wanted one. When my husband and I asked for one son, God gave us two. I’m glad we were a little more specific then Eddie and Elinor. I also understand God sending you down a path you had no desire to walk.

I was happy teaching an adult class at my church. I loved the revelation God granted, constructing the gold nugget into a lesson, and interacting with the students. I could have done it the rest of my life and enjoyed every minute. After a brief five years, God shut the door on teaching and literally dragged me down the road to writing. It never occurred to me to pray for a better attitude as Elinor did.

I’ve wondered why God gives us assignments we don’t desire and came to the conclusion that human desires get in his way. When James described how sin works, he never mentioned the devil. James said the culprit for sin is human desires. Our desires deceive us and lead us astray until we sin resulting in death. I’ve watched more than one pastor destroy his church and wound many when his desires became more important than the people God called him to serve.

If the thing you desire to do for God doesn’t work out don’t be distressed. Follow the path he sets before you and one day you might hear God say, “G-double O-D-J-O-B. Good Job!

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Founding a Bible College

A founding member of the School of Urban Missions shares how God called him and led him to become the president of a Bible college.

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Now That’s Great Faith

roman-centurion-andrea-modestiFaith is the essence of the Christian experience. Unfortunately,  There is so much misinformation about faith one can easily get lost in a maze of misinformation. I know. I’ve been there. I found my way out of the maze when I closed my ears to a myriad of well-intentioned voices and started listening to God’s voice. No, I don’t hear voices speaking in the night or day for that matter. I am referring to the words recorded in the Bible that are attributed to God.

Jesus defined great faith that amazes him when a Centurion sought his help for an ailing slave. Before we talk about Centurion’s “God pleasing” faith, let’s identify the characters in this encounter. Jesus, of course, was the image of God in human flesh who said, “if you have seen me, you have seen the father.” Plebeians usually held the office of Centurion, a commander of one hundred men in the Roman army. Before the plebeian joined the army he may have shared a single room in a four story badly constructed wood apartment house with another family. The sewer system was a pot emptied out the window creating an unsanitary and putrid environment. Slaves serving a patrician family had better living conditions. The ailing slave, a child perhaps teenager who tended to the needs of the Centurion.

Jesus had just preached his most famous sermon and returned to Capernaum with large crowds in tow. On the way home, he amazed the crowds by healing a leper. At this time in his ministry, Jesus was famous with many demands on his time.

The Centurion, who lived in Capernaum, was no stranger to the Jews religion. He had financed the construction of a synagogue and the Jews, without doubt, had taught him is “Gentile place” in their religion. Jewish men began their day blessing “the eternal one, our God” for not making them a woman, gentile or a slave. Therefore, the Centurion did not consider himself worthy to bring a petition to Jesus. He sent the elders of the Jews to plead for the healing of his slave.

The elders considered the Centurion worthy of Jesus consideration because he “built them a synagogue.” According to Jewish beliefs (Acts 10:28), the elders had broken the law and defiled themselves when they had dealings with the Gentile. Insert sarcasm. Apparently, exceptions could be made when “religion” is advanced.

Jesus, the image of God, didn’t have a problem defiling himself in the home of a Gentile to relieve the suffering of a slave. Yep, Jesus got his hands dirty with the very lowest of his societies lowly. But Jesus never made it to the unclean home to pray for the suffering slave. On his way, the Centurion sent friends with a message: “Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof.  Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (Luke 7:6-8, NKJV).

Jesus was amazed at “such great faith.” Before announcing the slave would be healed, he warned the Jews that this kind of faith would result in many gentiles taking the place of Jews who had no faith in God. Who your human father is will not give you citizenship in God’s kingdom with all of its benefits. Only God pleasing faith will.

I’ve often pondered what was so amazing about the Centurion’s faith. Society had given him a putrid slum to live in. Religious people used him to advance their agenda yet had no place for him as an equal among them. Life had not been kind to the Centurion. The unfairness of life has driven multitudes away from God but it did not drive the Centurion away. He recognized the immense power and authority of God to command everything and he still believed God cared about a slave.

Do you have great faith? Do you count yourself unworthy yet still believe God cares that the slaves to sin we love are suffering? Now that would take “great faith” – God pleasing faith.

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A Story of Salvation

Pastor Anthony Freeman shares how God brought his family into Christianity.

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Questioning God’s Love

god-loveThis week I questioned God’s love. Let me be a little more specific. I questioned God’s love for me. Believing God loves others is easy. Believing God loves me is a bridge that I thought I’d crossed in a previous decade – a literal bridge.

In the late 1990’s I had just taught a lesson about Israel’s scathing accusation that God didn’t love them.  God was perplexed and downright irritated. He had destroyed a nation that refused to give them religious freedom. Then obligated himself to sacrifice his firstborn son to pay for their freedom. What made them think he didn’t love them?

I knew why Israel felt unloved. God promised to fulfill the promises he made to their ancestors if they followed him. Instead of receiving the fulfillment of those promises, they were stuck in a desert with supplies running dangerously low. Matters were complicated when ten of their leaders returned from scouting out the promise land and recommended they return to Egypt. Discouraged and afraid, the Israelites weep all night “God doesn’t love us!”

I know how Israel felt. At the time I taught that lesson twenty years had elapsed, and I thought I was at the border of the Jordan River about to cross over into my Promised Land. Instead of encouraging me, the words and deeds of leaders at my church had thoroughly discouraged me.

My husband and I were on our way home from church. When we reached the top of the Huey Long Bridge, the same scathing accusation made by Israel came out of my mouth, “God doesn’t love me.” That statement suddenly woke me to a frightening realization. I was guilty of the same sin that robbed Israel of the promises of God and kept them in a wilderness until they perished. As we exited the bridge, I repented and purposed never to doubt God’s love again.

Fast forward to the present and I found myself slipping in the same slop. “How does God love me when he didn’t do what he promised me.”  I didn’t ask God for this thing. It wasn’t my idea. He initiated it. I’ve waited longer than Moses.

Waiting doesn’t disturb me. Patience is a foundation of the Christian faith. That my efforts to obey God have resulted in little more than a lifetime of waiting does. The things God said to me prevented me from doing other things with my life. Even more disturbing is the thought I could have done those other things while I waited on him. We are our own worst enemy.

The Sunday after my relapse into Israel’s error, I attended a Pentecostal church service. During the song service, the singing stopped and the congregation grew quiet. A woman standing in front of me spoke a prophesy*, “Don’t measure my love the way the world measures love. My love is pure like a gentle wind that flows in and out of your life, so gentle you often don’t perceive its presence.”

God rebukes whom he loves, and I consider myself rebuked. God loves me. Things did not happen the way I thought they would, but that is not an accurate measure of God’s love. It is an accurate measure that I did not understand the things God said to me. If you are weary of waiting, don’t question God’s love. His love is pure flowing in and out of our lives whether we perceive it or not.

*Pentecostal’s practice the gifts of the Spirit according to 1 Corinthians 12-14. The woman’s prophesy was a message from God to the church.

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Accessorize the Armor of God

Anna Jean accessories the armor of God at Kathy Frady’s Giggle Fest.

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Doing Good Works

my-good-worksThe phrase “good works” arrested my attention while reading Titus in the New King James Version of the Bible. Paul left Titus in Crete to appoint elders and expected him to be a model of good works the elders could imitate. He exhorted Titus to be zealous and ready to perform good works. Twice, he addressed the need to maintain good works.

The emphasis on good works made me wonder what Paul considered a good work? More importantly, what does God consider a good work? Instead of assuming that we know what is “good”, we should allow the Bible to define a “good work.”

A good work in the Biblical sense does not originate in human reasoning. God has already determined the good works he desires us to do (Ephesians 2:10).  He decided the good Jesus would do and recorded those works in the Old Testament before Jesus was born. Had Jesus varied from the prophecies spoken about him, his works, no matter how charitable, would not have been a “good work” ordained by God.

One way to know we are doing a good work is the response of the people. Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). The last time you did a good work who was glorified? Did people walk away in awe of God or in awe of you?

Since only God is truly good, the only “good works” are the ones he leads us to do. Jesus told the Jews that he could do “nothing of himself but what he sees the Father do; for whatever he does the Son also does in like manner” (John 5:19). If Jesus could do “nothing of himself”, how much more are you and I incapable of doing good works without the guidance of God’s Spirit?

Another test of a good work is the ability to perform it. “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” (2 Corinthians 9:8).  In all things, at all times we should have all we need to fulfill the good work God has given us to do. If we don’t, we may not be doing God’s work.

It is an insult to God’s ability when we beg for finances or even ask God’s people to fund our good work. We have not because we are not asking God for the things we need. We ask God and receive not because our good work originated in our desire. God is not obligated to pay for something that he has not ordered.

Some Jews asked Jesus, “What shall we do, that we may do the works of God?” (John 6:28) I found Jesus answer surprising. “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent” (John 6:29).  In other words, if they believed in Jesus, they would do the works of God. Master this good work, we will fulfill the good God has already prepared for us to do.

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