Shining a Light in Our Town

I had the opportunity to speak to a WMU group in our city this past Monday as part of the Baptist Women Day of Prayer observance. This is a part of what I shared with them.

I became passionate about reaching people through community after Henry was born and we were spending more time in the community, at the library, park, museum, and Kindermusik. We began to build relationships with people who were good people, but many of whom were lost and on their way to hell because they did not have a personal relationship with Jesus.

At the same time, we also began some outreach opportunities at church in the Colony trailer park. We became aware of just how many needs can be found in that neighborhood, how much poverty and crime, and how many children are living in homes where they have no biblical foundation.

Through what we learned there, our church revamped our food pantry ministry into something more – it moved from a food closet that our secretary used to give food to people into a scheduled, once a week ministry with a staff of volunteers who thoughtfully put together bags of food for families, and who also meet with and pray for those who come seeking help.

In the last six months, our food pantry has had 500 visits, just over 83 each month. We know that those 500 visits actually represent 1,935 people fed in the last six months, which is just over 322 a month. And that’s just operating four times a month, one afternoon each week.

We have seen fruit from that ministry. Just two weeks ago, we had a lady attend a Sunday morning service and receive Christ, all because of the witness of our food pantry volunteers and the volunteers who open our church gym to those living in trailers during storms. Praise the Lord!

But let me back up and tell you a little about what we have learned about hunger and poverty in our area of Daviess County:

In 2015, the US Census Bureau reported that for our zip code alone, 13% of all families are living below the poverty level.

In a home with a female householder, no husband present, and children under the age of 5, this number jumps to 65.9%.

Talkpoverty.org reports that Kentucky ranks 5th overall in the US for the greatest level of poverty.

17.6% of Kentuckians experience food insecurity, which means that they have difficulty providing food for their families due to a lack of money.

Think about the people who live in your neighborhood, go to your church, or who you meet in your daily rounds. Could any of them fall into this category? We have learned not to make assumptions about people by looking at only what we can see. We have learned that if people have to make a choice between paying the rent and utilities or buying food, they will choose paying the rent. People you pass each day may be hungry and you might not know it. Poverty creates a division, and people are embarrassed to admit their struggle.

These statistics are quite shocking, aren’t they? But let me share another statistic with you.

According to Pew Research, in 2010, 30% of residents of Daviess County identified with the “nones” – those who claim no religious affiliation whatsoever. The population of Daviess County is just over 99,000. 30% of that is 29,700. 22% of Kentuckians fall into this category.

Let that sink in for a minute. 30% of our neighbors, family, co-workers, and acquaintances have no relationship with a church. They are not hearing the gospel preached each week, they are not a part of a church body when they face a crisis, they are not involved in the work of the Lord. Who knows how many of this 30% are lost and bound for hell unless someone share the gospel with them?

We can’t deny the mission field! Some of us may be called to go on short or long-term mission trips to other states or other countries, but we are ALL called to be on mission where we are, and the mission field is all around us in Owensboro!

Matthew 28:16-20   The Great Commission

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

The Great Commission applies to us in 2016 in Owensboro, Kentucky, just as much as it did to the disciples who walked with Jesus. We are commanded to take the gospel to all nations, and that includes Owensboro. God commands us to share with the lost, wherever we are.

We can be bold because He has given us the authority to do so! Look at verse 18 – Jesus says He has all authority on heaven and earth – therefore! The “therefore” reminds us to look at what comes before, and what comes before is the key to our letting our light shine boldly – we have the authority of Christ when we share the gospel. We have the authority of the Maker and the Finisher of our faith. “Therefore” we can share with boldness!

Matthew 5:16 says, In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Jesus isn’t telling us to shine our light to toot our own horns – a temptation any of us can face in ministry. He’s telling us that we have the light the world needs, and we need to shine that light out boldly, so we can draw others to God.

Daviess County, Kentucky needs the light of Christ. We live in a great city. This is a great place for a child to grow up. We are very community-minded here. But community-mindedness doesn’t take the place of living a bold witness for the Lord before our friends and family. In fact, I would wager that a good part of the “nones” we talked about are involved in our community. They may even be involved with organizations that do a lot of good for our city. But if they do not know Jesus, then it doesn’t matter how much good work they do. They are still lost. My heart is burdened for this group of people. They need to see the light of Christ in us.

What needs do you see around you? How can we look up and around and find the people God has placed in our paths and minister to them? Who do you need to share the gospel with?

Hutchmoot Reflections 2016

With fall break in our parts last week, I’ve had to try to process this year’s Hutchmoot in snippets, which is not the best way, but is sometimes necessary in real life. And which is also ironic considering that some of my major take-aways have to do with slowing down.

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Beth, Sally Clarkson, and Amy

 

As has been our tradition, my friend Amy and I met up at a hotel in Brentwood on Thursday afternoon. Spending time with Amy is absolutely one of the highlights of the weekend. She is Anne to my Diana, Lewis to my Tolkein. An absolute kindred spirit. We talked kids, ministry, politics, and life, and we enjoyed every minute. The time together passed far too quickly.

 

Over the weekend, we ate good food, listened to fabulous music, and heard inspiring speakers. I was reminded that God delights in our creativity, He delights in our art, and He delights in our enjoyment of the artistic process.

I live in a circle that values measurable productivity – numbers, goals, etc. – over intangibles like the creative process, and it refreshed my soul to step back and remember that while, yes, those things matter, they are not the only things that matter.

I am writing this in my backyard, puppy at my feet, a good cup of coffee in hand, watching leaves fall from the trees. God painted a beautiful world full of all sorts of colors. He made the seasons, not just to move us from point A to point B in time, but so that we might take pleasure in them, just as He does.

Our world is so fast-paced, I am afraid we miss these little delights. Hutchmoot reminded me that it is time to put the brakes on the machine, to slow down, to enjoy the passing seasons, to create, and to enjoy what others create. Life is not a competition, it is not a race to the finish line, and it is certainly not about who arrives first. God created the journey, and He filled it with joy.

I was also reminded that God created me to love music, literature, and beauty. Taking time to enjoy those things as He intended only deepens my relationship with Him, as I praise and magnify Him for what He has done, and what He creates through me.

Today, I am thankful for the reminder. I am thankful for the busyness of my life, but I am also thankful for the opportunity to see God through His artists.

Living in Real Time

I’m actually writing this on Friday evening, right before I turn off all the social media and connectivity for a few days. For the past several weekends, I have been doing my best to spend Friday night until Monday morning free of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, blog reading, and such.

I’ve been mostly successful. Last weekend I faltered a bit because I posted a picture to Facebook on Friday night – a bad idea because I wanted to read and respond to all the comments. Lesson learned. Wait until Monday to post all the things.

I decided to have these “analog weekends” (not my term) for several reasons. One is that Facebook during political season frustrates me, and I just don’t need that on the weekend. (Or, frankly, much during the week. If we are Facebook friends and I miss your birthday or don’t like all your stuff for the next six weeks, please don’t be offended.)

Another reason is that I want to be actually present for my real life, real-time friends and family. I don’t want to be the parent at soccer who is so busy on Facebook that I miss the goal. I don’t want to be the parent who doesn’t have time to play because I need to “look at one more thing.” I want to be physically and mentally present in the moments, because the moments will be gone too quickly.

During cancer treatments, I missed out on a lot of things, and when I was home alone in bed, Facebook was a way into the outside world. But now that I am able to be in that world, I don’t want to miss a minute of it.

When we look up from our screens, we see changing leaves, gray autumn skies, fall sports, pumpkins, and so much more that is beautiful in God’s creation. He designed a world more beautiful and intricate than anything we will find on our little screens, and we miss it if we spend all our times looking down.

You may not be ready to give up your social media for a few days each week, and that’s fine. But can I encourage you not to let it replace your real life with the real people you see every day or every week? Look up, look around, and take in all that God has made. I think you’ll find that’s a far more glorious way to pass the time.

Relationships are Important

My church has been working through some really good things recently. We’ve been having open meetings to discuss ways we can better advance our mission within our community and within our church body. One of the big things we have discussed is how we relate to one another – how we communicate information, how we welcome people, and how we need to know one another better.

Relationships are so very important. God did not create us to live in isolation. He gave Adam the animals, Eve, and eventually children and grandchildren – who would all go on to populate the entire Earth. He gave us the Church universal and the local body to help us grow in our faith. God is the One who created friendship. He intends for our relationships to build us up and glorify Him.

But, let’s face it. When relationships work well, they are the riches of life. When they don’t work well, life really stinks. Here are some things I have learned in my 40 years about good relationships:

  1. My mother used to say, “To have a friend, you have to be a friend.” When we find ourselves without friends, we might need to look at how we are treating others.
  2. As an extension of #1, making and keeping friends really does depend on me. I can’t wait for someone else to reach out to me. It’s my responsibility to make the first step.
  3. Patience and flexibility are key. No one is perfect, including me. I need to extend grace to my friends, just as I want them to extend grace to me.
  4. While I need to be the initiator, friendships are not all about me and what I need and want. It’s give and take, and I need to be ready and willing to offer to do my share.
  5. Love really does make the world go ’round. If we show a little love and kindness, we will reap multitudes of rewards.

So, what relationships do you need to work on? Do you find yourself surrounded by lots of great friends, or are you in a dry land with few close relationships? What steps can you take to improve your friendships?

Celebrating the Ordinary

At the beginning of the year, I shared that my word for the year would be “celebrate.” In learning to celebrate the everydayness of real life, I realize that not every day brings a party. Some days we are glad to just to make it to bedtime. Some days, bedtime is the celebration!

Some days, I celebrate in a small-big ways. A mocha just because it’s a nice day. Treating myself to that shirt that’s on sale. Taking the free sample of bread at Great Harvest, or using the coupon for free ice cream.

Other days, the celebration is just that we made it. We made it through the day, the week, the month, the year. On those days, I fall into bed exhausted and praying that tomorrow is better.

But, thanks be to God, I will live to see tomorrow. I will get to have sore calves because I had the energy to volunteer for lunch duty. I will get to be frustrated because I could help my child with the homework he doesn’t want to do. I will get to fuss at traffic because I have the strength to drive and run errands.

These ordinary, sometimes not-so-good days are just as worth celebrating as the big occasions. They don’t get the press of birthdays, anniversaries, and graduations, but they are the stuff that make up our lives.

These days are worth celebrating, too. I just need a reminder sometimes.

How do you celebrate everyday living?

Doing Your Own Work

School has been in almost two weeks in these parts. We are slowly beginning to find our rhythm, although I wouldn’t say we’re quite there yet. I still don’t have a great morning routine for myself. In particular, regular exercise is not so much happening. I’m counting on time, a little trial and error, and some planning to get us where we need to be.

I entered yet a different stage of life with this school year. I now have a child who stays at school all day, but I have a young puppy at home who needs caring for (i.e., taken outside) at regular intervals.

I am volunteering more time at school. I backed away from some other commitments so that I can put my energy into my family. I am slowing down a little bit, prioritizing differently, and changing the way I think about my time.

I really feel like God is telling me to “stay in my own lane” in this season. I believe that He has work He has designed for me to do, but it’s not going to look like it has in the past. It’s not even going to look like what He has given my friends to do.

I am reminded of the parable of the talents in Matthew 25. The master gave one servant five talents, one three talents, and one servant only one talent. They were all given different amounts, and they all behaved differently. The first two servants were considered faithful because they used their talents wisely, and the third servant was unfaithful because He did not.

But when we look at the first two servants, they didn’t do the same things. They used their best abilities and the time they were given, and they did what they could. And for that, they were rewarded.

I’ve not been given the same gifts and abilities as you, and certainly not in the same measure. God has given to each of us differently, as He sees fit. But it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I stay in my lane – that I use what He has given me to the best of my ability, for the time that He gives me to work.

My life and service will look different from yours, and we can thank and praise God for His infinite wisdom to make us all unique. What matters is that we focus in on what He is asking us to do today, and serve Him with gratitude.

So if you are looking for me, I’ll be over here in my own lane. It’s the best place to be.

The End of Summer, the Schedule of Fall

13937888_10157237184645244_6718831127143171991_oSummer in these parts moved fast this year. In May, I remember counting up the days until school started again and wondering how we would fill them.

Ha.

Those “lazy” days of summer were anything but for us this year, and it was with a lot of relief that we entered the schedule of school last week.

We finally have some predictable structure to our days. Yes, there’s homework. Yes, soccer and piano lessons will start soon. Yes, we will be busy with church. But … it’s not all quite so random. And we are not good with random in the Holmes household. Even the new puppy is slowly adjusting to this new normal.

Yep, we added a puppy to my post-chemo brain life. His name is Robin, and he’s Henry’s sidekick (We all know and understand that means that mom and dad do most of the actual caring for the puppy. Henry takes care of the playing.)

After such a crazy summer, I’m trying to add things only slowly and intentionally into our schedule this fall. What is most important to us? Where do we really need to spend our time and energy?

I plan to get back to writing here soon, at least semi-regularly. I hope you’ll join me on Wednesdays.

How is your family making the transition into late-summer/fall?

The Importance of Working Together

Last week, we attended the annual meeting of our church’s denomination. It was a great three days of meeting new people, learning from great teachers, and remembering why we believe that the gospel and all its implications are so important.

One of the highlights for me was seeing my friend Amy serve as the first female assistant parliamentarian for our denomination. She is one of the most intelligent, gracious, and godly people I know, and I was thrilled to see others recognize what I have known for years. I loved celebrating her accomplishment with her.

This week, our church is holding Vacation Bible School. We started the week with a record number of kids, which means that around 1 pm every day I am ready for a nap and a second cup of coffee! A friend whose children are attending our VBS this week asked me on Monday, “How do you all pull this off every year? How do you make this work?”

I have one answer for that – it takes every single person who volunteers to make VBS work. Not only that, it takes lots of people using their unique gifts and talents well to pull together and make VBS happen.

My friend Amy and our Vacation Bible School have reminded me of an important truth – we need each other and the gifts and talents that we all bring to the table. I have unique giftings, and so do you. We need to allow one another to serve, and we need to celebrate when someone else does something well.

Whether in our churches, our offices, or our neighborhoods, we need not begrudge someone of their talents and their opportunities, but we should celebrate with them. By making space for everyone to use their gifts, we all serve more effectively.

Can I challenge you today to find a way to celebrate what someone else is doing well? Rather than allowing jealousy to keep you from acknowledging the talents and opportunities of someone else, could you take steps to recognize and affirm them?

Kindergarten Graduation

We are continuing our year to celebrate (my word for the year, which you can read about here) with Henry’s kindergarten graduation this week. I know – kindergarten graduation. We graduate everything anymore, but nevertheless, we will be there, and as his teacher has told him, some moms will cry. (When asked if his will, he gave an emphatic yes.)

We are blessed with the sweetest little class of kids. They will tell you they want to stay in kindergarten (they love their wonderful teacher to bits, and they have had a great year), but they are so ready for first grade. They know their stuff, and it is time to move on.

We all reach those places in life – we have learned what we need to, we have grown, and now it’s time to pack up the classroom and move on. Unfortunately, we don’t always do so gracefully. I’ve reflected on this often since turning 40. I am no longer technically a “young adult.” I am officially in my middle years. And while that absolutely does not mean putting on the mom jeans, forgetting to color my hair, and settling into old age, I think it does mean embracing this stage of life, not trying to hang on to what has passed, and allowing myself to move gracefully forward.

Friday night, twenty of the sweetest little kids will perform “The Little Red Hen,” don blue caps and gowns, and revel in the excitement of their accomplishments. They will head into summer break full of excitement for the future. What if we all looked at milestones in life through those same eyes? What if we refused to mourn what is over but looked with excitement at what is to come? I think we would find ourselves less bitter, less stressed, and with more zest for what our futures can be.

Whether we are six or 40, the future is as bright as we imagine it.

Dreary Days

It’s been gloomy around here the past few days. The amount of sunshine I see really does affect my disposition, as does the lack thereof – and the last few days I have seen mostly clouds. I got out of bed this morning feeling all my various aches and pains, and cooler, rainy, cloudy weather had me feeling a little down.

But I determined that this would not be the course of my day. So, I showered, lit a fragrant candle, turned on a favorite podcast, wrote a few letters, exercised, and set about my tasks for the day.

I still feel the aches and pains. I am still chilly (hello, well-worn cardigan), and long to see some sunshine. But by taking a few minutes for some things that I enjoy and that bring a sense of beauty to my day, I set my attitude not toward the things that are wrong, but toward things that are good and lovely.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8

What do you do to lift your spirits on a gloomy day?