Monday, June 30, 2014

A light in the Darkness

Let me start by saying I am a sinner. I know that! I also know that I have been saved by God's grace. I struggle daily with the thought that I often fall short. I work in Children's ministry, I have my ministry with Compassion. I have traveled on several mission trips and will be returning to Romania this Fall. However despite the many good things I have my failings. My thinking is not always in the right spot and my actions do not always reflect my values. As hard as I often try I sometimes seem to take that "backwards step". It is a struggle but I know that God holds me close. I just sometimes feel that the "me" everybody thinks I am has not reached that level. Casting Crowns has a song called The Altar and the Door which has spoken to me many times. In fact I wrote an earlier blog post on it back in 2009. My thoughts were expressed here. Amazingly not a lot has changed in five years.

     Which brings me to today's post. Casting Crowns is one of my favorite Christian artists. So many of their songs are relevant and speak to me. Their newest album Thrive is just another great album and I recently saw them on tour supporting the album. My only regret with them was that they are supporters of World Vision. I have nothing bad to say regarding World Vision~I just feel that their sponsorship program is more geared toward the community rather than the children which is my focus. The main reason I am a supporter of Compassion is their model is based on child development through the local church. It was always different seeing Casting Crowns in concert and seeing people sponsoring children with World Vision. I always felt a little out of place being the Compassion advocate I am. I guess I should mention that I am passive aggressive  so typically I wore my Compassion shirts to these events. (See what I mean about my actions above).

    Right after I went to their recent concert in Baltimore World Vision made a statement that rocked the Christian world. In a nutshell they basically stated that they were supporting same sex partnerships in their workplace. I will not debate the politics here but obviously to most Christians this stance was counter to Biblical principles. Many groups called for boycotts and I know many sponsors were considering cancelling their child sponsorships. Casting Crowns holds those values tightly as discussed in many of their songs. It would be interesting to see what the band did with their support. They announced that they would have a decision a few days later around 4pm in the afternoon. A few minutes before their decision World Vision retracted their statement. To me this smacked of being two faced. I would rather they stood their ground and principles rather than cave to pressure. I am still not sure what they are honestly thinking. I had not heard anything from Casting Crowns and I figured this gave them a way out to stay as World Vision supporters. The entire band sponsors children through World Vision so either way it would have been a hard decision.

     As of right now Casting Crowns has not released a public statement regarding World Vision but I have found out that have broken ties with them and will now be supporting Compassion. I am beyond thrilled to have a band of their stature and integrity now encouraging child sponsorships with a ministry I believe in. I will be interested to hear how they transition this with their advocacy but to me they are a light in the darkness. They could have remained with World Vision (with the retraction) and still been fine. However they have taken a stand and made a decision to stick with their principles. To me that is something I don't often see! To me it is an encouragement as I try to grow in my walk. In their new album they discuss how we must dig our roots deep in order to grow and thrive. They are a perfect example of this!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Silenced~Book 4 in the Alaskan Courage Series (by Dani Pettrey)

A relaxing day of rock climbing takes a disturbing turn when Kayden McKenna’s route leads her to a face-to-face encounter with a dead climber. Is it a terrible accident or something sinister? When the case is handed to the overburdened sheriff, he turns to Jake Westin. With Jake’s past now revealed, he’s ready to use his talent for investigation again-–but he could never prepare for where the case will take him.
Kayden and Jake soon realize that the death was no accident. And worse, it seems the killer is on to them. When strange things begin happening in Yancey, Jake is terrified that once again his world may put someone he loves in danger.
But the truth is far worse than either of them imagine.

So begins the little blurb on the back cover of the book "Silenced" by Dani Pettrey. It is the 4th and next to last book in the Alaskan Courage Series. It is a book that was anticipated eagerly by many of Dani's fans and it features the romance of Jake and Kayden amidst a backdrop of a mountain climbing mystery. Both Kayden, who is fiercely independent and Jake who was a man of mystery (at least until book 3) work together to solve the mystery. It will not spoil anything to say that starting in Book 1 (Submerged) there was mistrust by Kayden regarding the mystery of Jake. It has been fun to see how that has developed and changed into a deeper relationship. 

    If you read my prior post regarding this series I will reiterate that:
 1) I love to read (especially suspense and adventure).
 2) Romance stories are not a drawing card for me.
 3) I was given a copy of this book by the publisher in return for an honest review of the book. 

That being said I will say that I love this series. It has grown on me and I have looked forward to each book. I was not disappointed by "Silenced".  It starts strong and ends well. It has all the elements of suspense, adventure and (sigh) romance. As I mentioned though I did enjoy seeing the relationship change and grow between Kayden and Jake. The writing is paced well and it was the type of book that I did not want to put down. When I was finished I was sad that it had come to an end. In fact that would be my only negative critique of the book- the end wrapped up very quickly and then it was over. Other than that hiccup I was hooked from the beginning. I love the element of Faith that each of these novels contain. They are woven well into the fabric of the story and never seem forced. This one resounded deeply with me as it was about learning from your mistakes and being able to move on. I like that each book stands alone but it is also great to see the characters and relationships develop as the series continues. If I had to rate it out of 5 stars it would be 4.5! However I encourage you to pick up a copy and decide for yourself.
       

Friday, May 23, 2014

Alaskan Courage Book Series

     I love to read~ I will pretty much try any genre but am drawn to adventure and suspense type novels. I love trying to figure out the ending before we even get there. The book is successful in my eyes if it can keep me guessing or has enough plot twists that even if I have guessed the ending I love the journey getting there. Now add in the fact that it might be Christian fiction and that is even better. I love stories of discovery and faith. Seeing a character grow in faith or even be redeemed will make a story even better for me.  Romance? I am a guy so I can live with it but it is not what will draw me to the book.

     All of that being said allow me to introduce you to series I have discovered. It is called the Alaskan Courage Series and is written by Dani Pettrey. I will add a disclaimer that she is a member of my church which is the way that I found out about these books. Standing in front of these books in a bookstore or library I would not have necessarily picked one of them up. That is a bias on my part only as I would have thought they were girl type books. However since the author is someone I knew I figured I would get the first one out of the library and see what it was like. I have fallen in love with the series. Each book can stand alone but I recommend reading them in order as they tend to build on each other. They are about the McKenna family who own "Last Frontier Adventures" a shop that outfits and supplies excursion type adventures. Each book has a mystery/suspense type element as well as exploring the relationships of different family members. There are romantic angles in each story that actually I have found interesting. It has been fun watching them develop and grow through each book. I rapidly read and enjoyed "Submerged", "Shattered" and "Stranded". My favorite of those three would have to be the last~"Stranded". After all I love cruises and this formed the perfect backdrop for this story. Book 4 is called "Silenced" and was just released this month. I asked to be an reviewer of this new book and did get a free copy from the publisher in return for an honest review. That will be my next post and will be released tomorrow. Today the last and final book in this series was announced. It will hit the shelves in Spring of 2015 and is called "Sabotaged".  It's adventure aspect will be based during the Iditarod. Frankly I cannot wait.

       I encourage you to check out one of the books and see what you think. In the heat of summer picking up a book that takes place in Alaska might be just what you need. If you are a fan I also encourage you to check out her website for some great extras and fun things. In the meantime happy reading.

   

    

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

One Act

     Today was one of those days when I felt God speaking to me. I read Our Daily Bread each morning as part of my quiet time. I feel that it helps to open my eyes and mind to God's word. The title of this morning's devotion was titled "Acts of Kindness. A little while later one of my friends posted on Facebook the exact same sentiment. Now based on what he posted I am sure that he read the same devotion also BUT the fact remains that God brought it to my attention twice to make sure I got it!
What was that thought? David McCasland wrote "One act of kindness may teach more about the love of God than many sermons." The devotion told about some men who were traveling when they found a family stranded by the side of the road. They helped them with getting the car running and giving them some money for gas. Obviously they were thanked over and over but their simple response was that they were glad to help out and do it in Jesus' name. How simple was that and yet it spoke volumes.
     Often we try to win people to Christ with lengthy explanations, theological discussions or sermons that are often more condemning than beneficial. Sometimes we try to over explain the Gospel to the point that others do become turned off. On a negative note sometimes our actions even turn others away from what we want to show. Even as Christians we are sinful by nature and to a non-believer out actions sometimes negate what we truly want to show. The interesting point is that One Act can make a world of difference when done in the name of Jesus. When we reach out and help those that have a need in His name then He glorified and a difference can be made. Sometimes we just need to look around and see what we can do. I look at the work Compassion does and it is all done in Jesus' name~that is what is making the difference. People are reaching out and caring and hearts are being changed. One final note to think about-an act of kindness can be like throwing a stone into a pond. Watch the ripple effect and see what happens. God is so good! Blessings <><
    

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

One of Those Calls

   Every once in awhile you get "one of those calls"- Compassion lets you know that your child has left the program for one reason or another. I am expecting in a few months the final letter from our first sponsored child, Linda, as she graduates out of the program. That one will be a hard one as she is the one that started our adventure with Compassion. However we recently got a call that I never saw coming. Compassion called to let me know that Jeyelly had left the program and was now living with her boyfriend. I was literally floored. She was our second sponsored child that we literally had handpicked. We were on a Sponsor Tour on the day the the children were being photographed for their child packets. I picked her on the spot and we became her sponsors. We visited her three additional times and hosted her Quinceanera. We prayed and encouraged her. I know her family life was not the best as her parents did not live together. She was not encouraged to go to school ( she missed an entire year) and I know her mother was not as grounded in her faith as we had hoped. We offered what we could through the sponsorship and letters. I must admit that I was really not surprised but was shaken never the less. I mentioned it on Facebook and had lots of encouraging posts and comments. 

    The thing is you wonder if you really made a difference. I can only pray that she knows God, her family, and of course ourselves really do love her. We will stand by her no matter what. I would have loved to see here continue in the project and go to the University. However I know that God has a plan for her and always has had one. We were part of that initial plan and perhaps the seed planted will grow and thrive in her. We will write our final letter and encourage her not to stray too far from the path. We will probably cross paths again in a few years as we plan to return to Honduras to host her half sister's Quinceanera. I know Compassion's program works so I rest assured that no matter what God is still working in her life. It is hard to get a call like that but then again how often do our own children sometimes disappoint us with their choices or decisions? It really is no different. You just need to trust in God. Blessings <><

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Upper and Lower Stories

       I mentioned several posts ago that my church would be doing a study on "The Story". This book takes the bible and places it in a historical/chronological order in order to tell God's story. It takes the key points and characters and and outlines it from Creation to Revelation in a narrative form. What is God's story? It is basically the plan he had to have a relationship with his creation. We were created to commune with God. He is our Lord and master but he wanted to be able to have a relationship with us and to dwell among us. That in itself is amazing. That is how everything began and yet we managed to mess it up.

       We are only heading into Week 5 of the study and I have learned an interesting concept which is what this post is about. You see in the story there are actually two stories. The Upper Story and The Lower Story. The upper story is God's story and plan. The lower story is actually our story. In the beginning these two stories would actually be one story running together in Eden. However as I said we messed it up and the two stories diverged. However they are still intertwined until the very end where they will join together as one.

      Let me give you an example of this through the life of Joseph. In his story he is abused by his brothers, sold as a slave to gypsies traveling to Egypt, becomes a servant to Potiphar, falsely accused and thrown into jail, interprets dreams for the Pharaoh and becomes second in command and finally creates a conservation plan that saves both Egypt and Israel. Interesting story filled with ups and downs. I am sure many times Joseph was wondering what was going on and where his life was leading him. In God's story He has a plan. He is going to make Israel into a great nation. Israel would be his chosen people and a would redeem the world. They would be an example and the path to salvation. This is the overall Upper Story-God's plan to bring us back to Him. The Israelites would need to survive a famine in order for this part of the story to continue. God put everything in motion through the Lower Story to keep things intact for the Upper Story. Do you see what he did there? The Upper story is written all the way through to the end. The Lower story interacts and intertwines with in to bring it to conclusion.

     How does this relate to us? It is important to remember that each and everyone of us has a story that is being written and that it relates to God's story. We may feel lost, afraid, unwanted, unloved and not worthy. However that is not true. God loves us and is using us to bring His story to fruition. This is something that I am trying to remember now on a daily basis. "How does my lower story relate to His Upper Story?" I may not understand it fully but as I meditate on it I can begin to bring my story more into line with His. Each day I need to pray that I am growing closer to what He wants with my life so that as I finish I can end being blessed and knowing that I have done what He wanted. That my story has contributed to His in the way He wanted. <><

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Relationships

   

I have learned through my work with Compassion as well as my mission trips that relationships are truly our "Kingdom work". This is what we are called to do and for what we are created to do. From the very beginning God created man to have a relationship with Him. Eve was created to have a relationship with Adam. It continues onward. Before I became a Christian I knew there was something missing inside of me that needed filling. That was my relationship with God. In fact being a Christian is not about following rules and being good. Rather it about having a relationship with our God and growing from there. All the rest begins to follow as we grow deeper in our relationship with our creator.
    
     Karen and I work diligently when speaking to potential sponsors (through Compassion) to explain that it is not the dollars but the relationship that is important to the child. As the child is sponsored and begins to attend a project they begin to grow in a relationship with caring adults as well as learning about God. Sponsors who write further that relationship and in fact create an entire new relationship where a child is valued and cared for by someone they do not even know. The program works as I have seen children blessed by those letters. On the other hand sponsors who do not write hinder the relationship and often leave children wondering why they are not being written too. For a child in poverty a letter and a relationship is a treasure thing.

    This post comes as a result of my recent trip to Romania through Remember the Children. One of the gifts I received on this trip was being blessed through forming relationships. I came back with a renewed sense of how important relationships are.  My work with Compassion and which I constantly speak of is being "relational". I can speak well of it but this trip brought it home to me. Seeing children climb into the laps of team members, seeing the gypsies dancing with us, seeing an elderly orphan cry in happiness at being baptized and seeing strong family units that are put together through God brought it all home. A smile or silly face can bring sunshine to a dreary day. A hug and a smile can bring light to a child's eye. Sitting down with an elderly orphan and just listening (even with a language barrier) can be life changing. Handing out those Christmas boxes to children began a relationship with them and the local church that proved they were loved and cared for.

      Just remember that it is our calling to be relational to everyone we encounter. Just taking a minute to "step into" another's  life and letting them know we care and are there for them can be life changing. <><