Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Be a Friend

We have been talking about a guest being a gift from God. However, sometimes we don’t know how to start a conversation with a guest that is different from us by nationality or economic circumstances. We all like our little comfort zones and it is so much simpler to just go and sit with our best friends than to sit with a stranger.
Here are a few conversations starters that will help to get the conversation going. The first one is quite simple, “Did you grow up around here?” Whether the answer is, yes or no, it leaves an opening for you to ask about the place where they did grow up and about favorite childhood memories. Another question is, “How was your day?” Listen to them and then share about your day. A third might be, “Did you attend church as a child?”
I know many people shy away from speaking to the homeless that God has put here among us. We are beginning to make a difference in some of their lives; Megan got a job a week ago and is so excited. We cannot expect them to just get out of their dire circumstances without a little help.
Talk to them. Ask them how their day was. Share with them your own life stories. Become their friend. Over time, you'll get to know them for who they are, and get to know their real needs. And it would be on those needs that you could focus your care for them. Just know that being a real friend fulfills their biggest needs: the need to be known, the need to belong, and the need to be accepted. With these needs fulfilled, along with your care and encouragement, our homeless friends might find the motivation to take the journey out of homelessness. Winter is coming, let us do it now!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Guest is a Gift from God

The Title comes from a traditional old Hebrew story but it is so true about our church today. I want you to consider that every person God has walk through our doors is sent by Him. His prevenient grace has been working in them and He has led them to our church, not someone else’s church, but our church.

He calls us to treat them with great hospitality and friendliness. The Holy Spirit has been working in them and has gotten them to the point where they are finally willing to take a chance and walk into our church, we, as His people, need to welcome them with love and open arms. God is entrusting us with their care, nurture, and discipling.
The Bible tells us that Jesus came to save all people, not just the ones that look like us and are like us. He wants all His children to spend eternity with Him in heaven. Sometimes we shy away from those who look different from us; they may be a different color or nationality or are poor or even homeless. God is especially fond of each and every one of them. He desires that every one of them have a relationship with Him. He has brought them here, to Arlington, so we can teach them how.
As we go forward let us remember how much He loves each and every one of them and do our part to bring them into a relationship with Jesus Christ and eternal life. This is “Kingdom Building” work, God’s work, done here on earth.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

God Is Not Poor

Take a moment and look around you. The trees are leafed out in the most awesome shades of green, flowers are blooming, the sun is shining in the beautiful blue sky with white puffy clouds floating by. All of this brought to you, courtesy of the God of heaven and earth. God is a spiritual person not a physical person and He created everything and gave it to us, you and me. Do you have food on your table? Are you able to see, hear, taste. God has blessed you then. He has blessed you to be a blessing. God created enough of everything for everyone. It was His plan, given to us a long time ago.

He gives us everything, He asks that we give Him our time, our talents, our presence, and ten percent of all the things He gave to us. One, because it is good for us to know that we are still alright if we have ten percent less than we did a while ago. Two, because it is not good for us to hold tightly to material things. Three, we need to learn to trust Him in all things. Four, it is His way of providing for all of His people.

God's love is like a river flowing through all mankind. He gives to one, who gives back ten percent, which combines with others ten percents and makes it possible to do His work in another, who gives back ten percent to help another. When the system is working correctly there is enough to go around for everyone. Goods and services flow surely and confidently from one to another and goes on forever, a mighty flowing river. That is God's way. We wouldn't need government involvement if we would just do our part.

We need to quit stopping up the river. We build dams to try to keep the blessings all to ourselves which means someone else loses out on a blessing, and they are hurting and unsure if God is able to take care of them, and then they don't think they have enough to give to help someone else. God is spiritual, He shows us how it is supposed to work but He needs our help in the physical world.

This is a spiritual law, when obeyed, you are blessed and the blessing continues. When not obeyed, things start to deteriorate around you. It is not a hard concept, we can help to be the hands and feet of God blessing others so they also can be a blessing. We need to just follow the law and there will be enough for everyone.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Update on Breakfasts

Well, we are still excited about our breakfasts and there are many people who volunteer on a regular basis. We have been especially blessed that Tennessee Pride has been supplying us with sausage and sausage gravy. We have five different menus that we are using depending on what Sunday of the month it is.

I would love to tell you that there are tons of people coming but that isn't exactly true. We do have some regulars though. Freddie is homeless, has two braids like Willy Nelson, and rides a bicycle. Sometimes he can get work and he is here as long as he is not working. He was in the service and spent his time in Alaska and the Arctic. He says he learned a lot about survival while he was stationed there. He is very pleasant and always glad to see you. He often comes early and will help set up tables and chairs. He says he doesn't have a watch so he doesn't know what time it is.

One woman, Helen came, ate breakfast, went to Sunday School and church for several Sundays and now wants to join the church, she has become a regular

We have one couple that come fairly regular and they wrote the nicest letter:

Paster John Carpenter, it was a pleasure and wonderful experience to fellowship with you. My husband and I are very thankful for the blessing to be able to have breakfast and something to eat. It has been very hard for us since my husband was laidoff and with the economy being in such a situation now, he has not been able to find work. In our hearts I know the lord will bless us, as he has provided for us to come to your church and eat, sit and talk with you all. I thank God for the experience to fellowship with his children. Mr. Kevin and Rondalin Washington. See you soon.
Please remember us in your prayers.

We have another couple Chris and Marna who come every week. They are staying in an inexpensive hotel up the street, so they walk. Marna is deaf but Chris wants her to practice reading lips so we will speak slowly and she generally gets what we are saying. Often they volunter to take any left over food with them.

Richard lives in his truck and he comes every week but doesn't say much. Even if you try and talk to him. Generally he comes early and cleans his truck out using our dumpster before he comes in. Then he goes and cleans up in the restroom before he eats.

Mary comes for breakfast and stays for church, she has long white hair that goes down to her waist. We have been helping her with food from the food pantry and we have also met her daughter who lives with her.

Cliff has been coming to our church to get food and magazines for a long time. He has started to come to the breakfasts as well. Although he is generally pleasant, you can tell he is a little mixed up in his mind.

So, these are the people that God sent for us to minister to. We are getting to know them better all the time and taking care of their physical needs.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Sign

In our ongoing desire to be a presence in the local neighborhood we decided to invite the community to our Easter services. About a block from our church, right by the Briley parkway ramps, is a large electronic billboard. We decided we could put our ad up there for the days before Easter. We signed on for Wednesday through Saturday but they started running our ad on Monday morning. It runs for ten seconds and there are two other ads that run for ten seconds each, so our ad comes on every twenty seconds and even if you don't see it the first time, it will be back on soon.

Speaking of signs, we also wrote our large lawn sign for our Easter egg hunt in Spanish as well as English. We have learned that a large portion of our neighborhood is Hispanic and we want to try and reach out to them.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Stories from "Room in the Inn"

"Room in the Inn" is a program here in Nashville for the homeless. It runs from November to March and it gives homeless people an opportunity to sleep in churches during the winter months when it is the coldest. Each church who signs up takes one night during the week that they send their church van downtown to the center for human resources to pick up men, women, or a combination of both. You can tell them how many your church can handle.

When they get to your church you feed them a meal, they may watch TV, and then they sleep on cots, or mattresses on the floor. They get up very early in the morning and are fed breakfast and then they receive a sack lunch for the day. They are supposed to be back at the center by 6:30 am. Some of the men have jobs and many of them are doing classes and such at the center. Many churches, like ours, have pre-school programs and the programs are very strict about not having strangers around the children so that is another reason for taking them back so early.

Our church takes six men every Wednesday night. They come for our Wednesday night meal and join in our study that we are doing afterward. It is pretty informal, just sitting around the tables and most of them seem to enjoy it and participate with us. Then they go upstairs when choir practice is starting. They watch TV, a movie, or many of them just want to go to sleep. We do not have showers at our church but many of the other churches do. We provide clean towels and washcloths, toothbrushes and toothpaste so they can clean up. Two of the men from our church stay with them for the night. This takes a lot of volunteers, van drivers, inn keepers, people to do laundry, people to set up the beds and take them down, cooks for Wednesday night, someone to bring breakfast and someone to bring lunches. We also have "undie Sundays" where we collect new underwear, undershirts, gloves, and socks to give the men and we keep some used clothing, sweatshirts, coats, and jackets in one of the rooms.

Back in November when the men first started coming there was one man named John who came for the first few weeks. Skip knew him from another year when Arlington had done Room in the Inn. Mike and I sat with him one evening and he was talking about his days in the army when he was a helicopter pilot. He said when he was in Korea, he only flew injured men to the hospitals but in Viet Nam he went on missions. He said the highlight of his military career was when he flew President Johnson's wife and girls if they needed to go somewhere in a helicopter. He was disappointed that he never got to fly the president though. He came for a few weeks and then he didn't come for two weeks. When he came back he said he had been diagnosed with lung cancer and had started taking Chemo on Monday. I felt so bad for him but he said that he'd had a good life and when your time was up, it was up. He never came back. I hope he had someone taking care of him when he was so ill.

In order to go out to one of the churches you have to get a ticket from the center. They give them out in the morning. You can not receive a ticket if you are drinking, doing drugs, argumentative, or belligerent. Some nights there are fewer churches taking men in and some nights there are more churches, so sometimes it is hard to get a ticket. One night a man came in and he was so hungry, he said he had a ticket for the night before but a woman had just gotten out of the hospital so he let her have his ticket and slept outside. He said that she needed it more than he did. I guess I had never thought about what happens to someone who is homeless if they have to have surgery or spend time in a hospital. But they are just as weak as you or I would be.

One of the men had been a worship leader at his church and when he talked about passionate worship it sounded like something I would like to participate in. It was so obvious that he loved the Lord and that all of us should let Him know that we loved Him, also.

There was this one guy who was from Montana. He was kind of quiet to begin with until he said he was from Montana. Well, Mike is from Montana so they spent the meal talking about different towns in Montana and hit it off quite well. When he went to leave he reached into his pocket and took out a small petit point cross and gave it to Mike. He said he always carried it in his pocket and asked Mike to keep it in his pocket. Even with so little he still wanted to give. It is so beautiful. This was truly extravagant generosity.

During our Bible studies the men often added insight that was spoken from the heart. Many had been taught in churches wherever they were from. It was obvious that they spent time thinking about God and pondering His plan for their lives. Some of these men are homeless by choice. Some just by bad fortune. Many of them have served their country in the military. It is not easy for them and they are grateful for the food given to them and a safe warm place to sleep at night.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Second Sunday

Well, I wish I could say that mobs of people showed up for breakfast on Sunday but really only one family did and they were an hour late because they forgot about the time change. We had people come out to prepare the breakfast and it was great for Mike to spend some time with them, getting to know them better. God is working all the time even when it seems like he isn't. We all need to remember to hold one another up in prayer and that sometimes we just need to be friends. If Jesus was here He would be our friend and hang out, help fix breakfast, and love us.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Kindness to our Neighbors

The third part of our plan is to bring donuts and coffee to teachers (during inservice), firemen, and police officers. Roger is in charge of this part of our effort and he has brought donuts to a local school for inservice during President's Day. They were well received and the principal was very excited.
The donuts and coffee also includes a letter to let the teachers know that we have a food pantry at the church and that we are offering free breakfasts on Sunday morning. Part of our thought in this process is that these kind of people know those who are hungry in our area. It is safe to say that most of the children in our area receive free breakfasts and lunches while they are at school since there family income qualifies them for the program. Our hope is that if any of these three groups run into someone they know is hungry they can give them our name and tell them how to find us. We also fear that children receiving free breakfasts and lunches during the week may not have food to eat on weekends.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Meeting New People in the Neighborhood

The second part of our plan is to go out and meet new people in our neighborhood. To find these people Jennifer and I found a company that identifies new people in whatever radius you give them from the church, they send them a oversized postcard inviting them to our church and then they e-mail us the names and addresses. Actually they found us, when we were trying to figure out how to do this. Isn't that the way God works. They send out to different new people each month.
Our goal is to take each of them a sack, the sack will have a sticker on the outside with our church info and microwave popcorn in it that says, "Pop in on us." We hope to take these out, meet them, and pray with them if they need prayer on Sunday afternoons. The sack will also have information on our church in it.
We are not sure how this will work, and since I said in the beginning we don't have money, we have set it up so that we get the fifty closest people to the church. The expense is nominal, a set up fee and a fee for each card. We have done all the initial set-up and are in the proofing stage of it. Our first mailing will be in April.
We have a month to recruit volunteers to do the visiting part.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Stories from the Food Pantry

Our food pantry is open Monday through Friday from 11:00 to 1:00. We have volunteers who come in every day to help with it so I don't have to man it very often. There are times however when they come and ring the bell when it is not open or one of our volunteers is out and then I help out in the pantry. We do not open the door if either Jennifer or I are by ourselves. We are not set up to be a grocery store, emergency food only. However, we are fortunate that God is blessing this ministry and keeping the pantry stocked in these difficult times. We have schools, businesses, and other churches who are having food drives to help us out. We appreciate their efforts so much because we could not do this alone.

He showed up around 9:30 in the morning. He was a black man but his skin was chaulk white, dry, and covered with sores. It was cold outside and he said he needed to come in. He came in and sat in one of the chairs in the Commons, he said he was thirsty so I went back to my office and got him two bottles of water, they were small. I asked him if he had a stove to cook on because often that dictates what kind of food we give. He said he had a stove so I went to the pantry to get the food. Pastor John came out and spoke with him and had a prayer with him while I was getting the food. We are not sure what disease he had but he did not leave thirsty or hungry.

It was nine degrees outside and she came in wearing flip flops, a skirt, and a lightweight sweatshirt. A friend had given her a ride and they were both there to get Christmas food boxes. She was shivering when she came in. Jennifer seeing that she was in flip flops, went to find her some socks to wear with the flip flops to keep her feet warm. I went to put together a box of food for each of them. When I brought the food back she had the socks on and was walking around the Commons to get the socks between her toes so she could walk normally. Jennifer pulled me aside and said they were asking if we had any laundry soap, we only have food but we were able to find a ten dollar gift card to Krogers which I gave her.

Last summer a couple came to the church in the late afternoon, they looked to be really young, maybe late teens. They were traveling from Pennsylvania to Bell Buckle, Tennessee. They were hungry and they said so. The young man asked Jennifer if she would open the cans for them and she brought them some plastic spoons as well. They sat on the ground outside the door and ate four cans of Ravioli (two each) right from the cans without them being heated. It was obvious how hungry they were, we also gave them some water, and single serving size applesauce. They rested for awhile in the shade. The young girl said she was pregnant and the young man was very protective of her. We gave them some food to take with them and the last time I saw them was as I was leaving for the day, they were hitchhiking on the on-ramp.

They all have stories, lost jobs, medical problems, homeless, can't find jobs, or maybe they're here illegally. We try to make sure that we feed all of them.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Big Sunday

Well, today was a little disappointing. We woke up to snow reports on the TV and they were advising everyone to not go out unless it was absolutely necessary. Looking out the window it wasn't too bad so Mike was going to go ahead and I would follow. He came back inside a few minutes later, he had turned the car on to warm up before loading it up and locked the keys inside. His truck was parked in front of the garage door and my car was in the garage. We didn't have an extra key and the extra fob had a dead battery so we took apart my fob to see if my battery would work in his fob and it didn't. He called a locksmith and they were going to come out and then he found another fob and that actually opened the door. By this time he was runnuing really late. The devil was working overtime, I swear.
A lot of people from the church came out to help but we only had one family turn up. They had just moved into the area from Egypt. They had an interpreter with them and they stayed for the church service and all. We will try and help them find jobs this next week. I am still excited, good things can come from small beginnings.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Congress on Evangelism 2009

This is a new beginning, an excitement hangs in the air. Mike and I have been on adventures before but this is something more. You can feel it. Six of us answered the call to go to the Congress on Evangelism 2009 for our church, Arlington, UMC, and we all came back so excited to go out and make a difference in our community. I will call this "The Great Adventure" and even though I don't know where it is going right now I want to hang on and see where it is going. We all want to do our part in whatever this is to look like.

We have met together with the goal of deciding on three things that we will concentrate on to begin with. Our criteria is that they be easy enough to do wthout too much help and they can't cost the church anything because it is broke. We made a list of things and then decided on three that we would focus on. They are: a free breakfast to bring the community into our church, bringing welcome bags to new families in our neighborhood, talking to them and praying with them, and we will bring donuts and coffee to local schools during in-service and to the police and fire departments.

That is one of our focuses, the other is to bring the Holy Spirit back into the church to work in the hearts of the people there. There's no need to bring people into the church if they are not becoming disciples of Jesus Christ. To that end we decided that we would write a "Lenten Devotional" which included praying for five people during Lent. We also planned a meaningful Ash Wednesday service where the people would be invited to write on slips of paper things that they wanted to change or repent of, they were tacked to a wooded cross and lit on fire. The fire is quick and doesn't hurt the cross (special paper) and when it is gone, so is all the old junk, (very visual.) We are giving out lunch bags with bottles of grape juice and crackers at the service on Sunday to encourage the people to set aside a time where they can spend a lunch hour consuming communion and spending time in prayer. The Labyrinth, "Prayer Pathway to God," will begin on March 8. There is a CD that guides you through the eleven stations and it lasts one hour. It is a very special, personal, quiet time to be with God in Worship that touches the soul.

We divided the work up so that Mike and Neal would do the breakfasts, Jennifer and I would take the new families in our community, Roger would handle the donuts and coffee and Pastor John would pray and support all of us. The breakfasts start tomorrow morning. Breakfast is from 8:30 - 9:00, then there will be a short lesson and we will invite our guests to stay for the service. People have given just for this, Odom's Tennessee Pride Sausage is supplying the sausage and sausage gravy, and the Manna Sunday School class had a fund raiser. We are all ready and very excited! It is supposed to snow which isn't good but we will wait and see what God does. The fun part of working with God is that we know we can't do it, only He can. We just need to be faithful and put the effort into it. He is such a faithful God and His love is so great for all His people. May we humbly serve Him.