While driving home from church recently, I heard a radio conversation that powerfully impacted my thinking, which I hope will change me this coming year.
I am praying that I will extend “Intentional Invitations.” Let me tell you what I mean. The thing is, a lot of the casual welcoming I do (Covid aside), just happens. Good friends just get together for all the usual reasons. Traditions with family and friends assume that birthdays and graduations will be celebrated together. We have people over because, well, they’re our neighbors, we like them, or they had us over.
But as I listened to the conversation, things started to change in my mind. The discussion was about the transformative, life-affirming power of an invitation. Pastor Bill Golderer the founder of the Broad Street Ministry in Philadelphia described a very unusual, ongoing series of events the ministry has developed over the years, called “Philadelphia’s most Dangerous Dinner Party” Unlike many soup kitchens, where people line up and wait for food, (humbling in itself) special invitations were given to the homeless and the lonely to come to a sit down, table-clothed and thoughtfully served dinner.
Invitations also went out to banks, government buildings and parks. Everyone arrived with a handwritten invitation. The volunteers served the guests with dignity and respect. Guests felt more than served, they felt honored. The radio conversation went on about people meeting at the dinner party, and even the story of a wedding. Pastor Golderer shared how a couple came to him one evening at the “Dinner Party” and asked if he would perform their wedding. He said he was getting his phone out to check his schedule and they said, “Oh that won’t be necessary. We want to be married right here during a dinner. We met here, fell in love here and served here. This is our family.” The Pastor went on to share that an older gentleman who attended that wedding came to him with tears in his eyes and said, “This is the first wedding I have ever attended in my life.” He told how he was such a drunk and derelict that his only daughter, for reasons he understood, forbade him to come to her wedding because he would ruin it. He had made such a mess of his life. He went on to say to the bride and groom, “You can’t know how much it meant to me to be included and invited.”
Don’t we all long to be included and invited. The conversation challenged me to think how I might develop an invitational lifestyle. I’m not sure what that will look like, exactly, but I’m thinking. Matthew 22 and Luke 14 give us a glimpse into what Jesus thought about the power of invitation. It is an active, compelling exercise that impacts the person doing the inviting as well as those who are sought out.
My African friends often told me that it was when I finally sat in their homes and drank their tea that they knew I was truly their friend. What a joy it was for me to feel included.
I’ve noticed the Christmas lights are more, bigger and brighter this year. Houses that usually have Christmas light decorations seem to have more than in years past and homes that are usually more subdued in their displays have lights strung from every corner. Perhaps after such a metaphorically dark year, people are looking for ways to bring in the light.
Growing up, one of my favorite Christmas TV specials was How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) by Dr. Seuss. Back in my day, we couldn’t stream or even record. It came on once a year and you either set aside the time to watch it when it was on, or you missed it. In any case, I’ve been thinking about that Grinch lately. He hated Christmas with all its celebrations. He hated the noise of ringing bells. He hated the feasting on the roast beast. But more than anything, he hated the singing! And because he couldn’t take the thought of it one more year, he decided he must stop the whole thing!
The plot thickens as the Grinch goes about stealing Christmas, absconding with all the Christmas decorations and presents and food. Then it’s with relish that the Grinch waits on Christmas morning for the Whos down in Who-Ville to discover the theft and mourn the loss of Christmas. Of course, we know what happens. Despite all accoutrements of Christmas having been taken, the Grinch, instead of hearing the Whos wailing their despair, hears them singing their joy at the coming of Christmas morning. It turns out, the Grinch couldn’t steal Christmas.
That’s what I’ve seen as I’ve driven through neighborhoods after dark. Despite pandemics and shutdowns, fear and death, a deep national divide, and a million other struggles and trials suffered on the individual level, Christmas will come and we – especially those of us in Christ - will rejoice.
We’ll rejoice that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)
With every Christmas light I see, I’m reminded of this Truth.
In July, our family received the news that David was being sent overseas for a year…quite a surprise to us, and definitely something that was not on our radar. He was gone by the beginning of August.
Those first 24 hours after receiving the news were filled with such a range of emotions and thoughts. As a family, separation and deployments aren’t foreign to us, but this was definitely not our preference. Yet, after we received the news, the Peace that God concluded the first long night with was steady, mysterious, solid. “This is of Me.”
As the next four weeks of preparation unfolded, one fear stood out above the others: I was so afraid that I wouldn’t have the Lord’s joy this year. So much of God’s daily gift of joy to me comes from living life with David. I was afraid of a prevailing sadness and heaviness, which not only would have affected me, but our three kids as well. I told the Lord, “You are just going to have to give me MORE of Yourself.” I so wanted to still be able to be joyful; to be able to worship.
The first six weeks certainly had ups and downs as we adjusted to our new normal for this year. Friends here at PCC prayed compassionately and faithfully. And God answered my fear with joy - a steady undercurrent of joy -these last four months, not just for myself, but also for the kids. And it’s not because I am so neat, but because my God is so faithful.
He is Faithful. Much is unknown, unpredictable, this year. But God is Faithful. I have Hope, not because I can see how everything is going to work out, but because I know His Name is Faithful and True.
Anna Staton serves in KidzMin and on the Greeting Team. She and her husband David have three children and have moved 13 times in the last 17 years.
Now that you have been praying over your oikos (if you don’t know what an oikos is, check out the blog below) consider the person that comes to your mind a lot or you’ve had contact with recently. Who is God putting on your heart or in your path? The next time you talk to this person, find out what they are struggling with. What is causing them to be anxious, stressed, or tired? After you find out, utter this sentence, “Can I pray for you?“ Hopefully, they will tell you yes. Many people do. But you could also suggest something like “Can I pray for your family’s health?” Then pray for them right away, in front of them, out loud. Relax and let the Holy Spirit give you the good words that the person needs to hear.
I’ve seen the most hardened hearts open to earnest prayer for their concerns. Once, after a friend and I asked someone if we could pray for them, they angrily replied that we could pray for a political controversy. My friend misunderstood the person’s request and prayed for the wrong thing! I just watched the whole situation and wasn’t sure what to do. After my friend finished the prayer, I was so surprised to see the person’s face softened and thankful for the attempt at prayer. Although it was the “wrong” prayer, he heard love and care expressed.
So please don’t be afraid to pray at the moment, out loud, for someone else. We know God works through prayer. Next time I’ll share something with which to follow up your prayer.
Mary David is the pseudonym for a global worker from PCC. She enjoys spending time with her family, sharing the Gospel, and watching God work.
When you hear someone talk about the “Great Commission,“ Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:18-20 to “go and make disciples,” what comes to your mind? Do you think to yourself, “I don’t know what steps to take to carry this out!” I know it’s something that I’ve struggled with in the past. But I’d like to suggest one thing you can do over the next few weeks.
If you look up the word “oikos” in Strong’s Bible Tools, it’s defined in part as a literal or figurative dwelling or family. Basically, your oikos are the people in your life. But what does it have to do with the Great Commission? Throughout the Bible, we see God’s heart to expand His kingdom through oikos. From Noah and Abraham to Cornelius, Lydia, and others, we see God using people to reach their oikos.
So here’s something simple you can do: write your name in the middle of a piece of paper. Around your name, draw some circles for the different “dwellings“ or “families” in your life. Maybe it’s your workplace, your biological family, your Cub Scout family, your art class family, your friends from college, etc. Write some of the names of people in these oikos. Then pray over it. Everyday. For two weeks. Or maybe one week or three weeks.
When I tried this earlier in the year, the Lord showed me that my neighbor may be interested in knowing more about Jesus. I realized that she always tried to chat with me when we passed each other while out walking. The next time I was out walking and spotted her, I quickly started walking in her direction (but not in a stalking way of course). After talking for a bit, she shared that a close relative was the first in her family to accept Christ, and that she and her family, too, had become Jesus followers. She, however, knew almost nothing about the Bible. We wound up doing an outdoor Bible study!
Pray over your oikos and listen for God to give you some direction. Pray for people in your oikos to have soft hearts towards Him. Pray for the Holy Spirit to make you aware of who is open to Him. Pray for God to move in mighty ways within your oikos. And stay tuned for a future post suggesting a simple next step.
Mary David is the pseudonym for a global worker from PCC. She enjoys spending time with her family, sharing the Gospel, and watching God work.
I got to know my elderly friend, Trudy, the last 8-10 years of her life. I started visiting with her to help out her son and daughter-in-law with whom she lived in a mother-in-law apartment attached to the main house; but it wasn’t long before I looked forward to my weekly visits with her just for the enjoyment I took in her friendship and wisdom.
The first couple of times I sat in her apartment with her, Trudy started spilling out the stories of her lifetime. She took me on a memory trip with her to her farm in NW Pennsylvania when she was just a teenager. I heard about how she met her husband and how three months later, they married. Through the narration of the joys and pains of her early adulthood, I got to know some of what had made her the woman she was in her late 80s and early 90s. She shared with me how she had grown in the Lord over her lifetime, the markers the Lord had left and the things He had used to change her into His Image.
In those early days of my visits, we sometimes went mall walking or shopping at a couple of her favorite stores. I learned that she had a love of fine china and still enjoyed looking for a new blouse. As the years past, Trudy became less able to take our Wednesday morning trips out, so we transitioned to me reading to her out loud, something we both looked forward to as we discovered an enjoyment for classic fiction.
Wuthering Heights, Peace Like a River were delights to both of us, but our favorite was David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, a classic neither she nor I had read. It’s a long book, but most Wednesdays when we sat down to pick up where we had left off, she would say, “well, let’s find out how our boy is doing today!” The memory of her voice still brings a smile to my face.
Trudy has been popping up on my Amazon Alexa Show lately which “randomly” scrolls through all the pictures I’ve taken on my phone over the last 12 years or so. Each time I see her face, I’m reminded that she’s one of those people I look forward to seeing again. But in this life Trudy taught me something about graciousness and contentment, laughter and delight and never being too old to make new friends.
I don’t think Trudy ever knew how the Lord used her to encourage me through her honesty, forthrightness, grace in aging and through the spilling out of all her stories. As I’ve reflected on the time she and I spent together, I’ve realized that those stories she spilled out were so much more than a narrative. They were small treasures, each one to be mined for gems, both lasting and brilliant.
Likely there will come a day when I’ll have the opportunity and desire to spill out the stories of my own life. If they hold just a fraction of the beauty and wisdom I found in Trudy’s stories, I’ll know then that the Lord has used me well.
There are some who may believe that the grace I need to live with a physical disability is greater than they would ever hope to need. Some may not be able to imagine what it might require, but that's okay. God gives an equal measure of grace, no matter what we need -- and He gives it when we need it.
I once heard that at the foot of the cross, the playing field is level. I loved that. We all have challenges in this life, and our need for His grace is a privilege because that need removes the barriers that might keep us from seeking Him otherwise.
As God has worked to grow me over the past years through disability (sometimes at a snail’s pace), I have learned through friendships with women who don’t have a lot in common with me, a disabled 54-year-old single woman with no family, that in Christ there is always a crucial connection through our need for His grace which exceeds our ability to bind us together more closely than our earthly commonalities ever could.
Our lives are filled with reminders of our need for God’s grace every day. For me, it's often the empty wheelchair parked by my bed when I wake up in the morning. For many women it is the sound of a crying baby or of older children, already up and about. For others, it may be the care of an aging parent, or the stress of a demanding job. In each of our challenges, we have in common the bond through an understanding of God’s grace that overshadows the lack of understanding in the details.
God humbles and strengthens us as we witness his grace working in each other’s lives, as well as in our own.
Chemotherapy during COVID is not just scary, it is lonely. I walked into the oncology office for my first infusion and I was flat-out terrified. I needed my husband beside me, but that was forbidden. The unknown of what was ahead loomed dark. Adding insult to injury, the waiting room was excessively decorated with the worst kind of Halloween tacky. The glittery sign on the door to the treatment area read “Come in, my pretties.” It felt confrontational, as if someone were enjoying my pain.
As I sat waiting for my name to be called, I closed my eyes and cried out to God for comfort. I needed to feel the Presence I knew in my heart and soul was there but at that moment felt distant. In my weakness, God answered quickly. The words to Psalm 23 ran through my head but stopped on “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” Really, God? On that day, my table literally included Taxol and Herceptin, poisons for the cancer. God reassured me that indeed He personally had prepared that table and He was with me.
Days later, I spent some additional time in Psalm 23 with some study tools at hand. I learned that the Hebrew word used here for table was most often the king’s feast table or the table of sacrifice and worship in the tabernacle. Both were lavish and detailed in their preparation.
We surely know the Enemy, but what about these enemies? The Hebrew word is used of adversaries but also of narrow places, oppression, affliction, and vexation. Those words describe situations that involve actions against us but can also include our emotional reactions to those circumstances.
Consider the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These attributes of our sanctification also involve behavior as well as emotions. Suppose we think of our daily enemies as the opposite of these qualities that God has promised to be working into our sanctification?
Whether it is as big as cancer and the fear it brings or as small as the irritability that comes at the end of a long day, these are the tactics of the Enemy who will use what is at hand for his sinful purposes. Satan wants us to doubt the sovereignty and the goodness of God when faced with illness and death. He wants us to question the validity of our redemption when we respond yet again with harshness instead of gentleness. But just as God prepared the table of our salvation at the cross, He daily prepares a table before us in the presence of these enemies of our sanctification.
Meditating, trying to grasp the fullness of what God was showing me, I realized there were many things on my table alongside the cancer poison. A caring and skilled nurse who makes it all as easy as possible. A husband who walks each step of this with me, who assures me that bald will be beautiful, and who would take the treatment for me if he could. A daughter who cares for me not just out of love for her mom but also using her many skills as an Occupational Therapist. A brother who saw the need and took my dad to live with him for 3 months. (Many of you prayed for that.) A friend who texts me almost daily with the verse she prayed for me that morning. Another friend who writes her scripture prayers for me and mails them to me. An old friend who has already walked this journey leaves a bag of her favorite chemo comforts on my front porch. Phone calls and cards from friends and family to assure me of their love and remind me of God’s truths. Even a song lyric that asserts that Jesus is “the blessing buried in the broken pieces.” Knowing me intimately and knowing all that I need, God prepared each of these things on my table for me in the presence of fear, doubt, and loneliness.
My cup overflows. Cancer is surely no picnic, but it is starting to feel like a banquet.
I was ready for college! I was such a good girl, achieved enough in high school including leadership positions usually designated for adults, and had been in church my whole life. I knew I could take on college ready to share Jesus and have a little fun.
Well into the first semester of freshman year the InterVarsity staff worker asked if he could grab coffee with me. I knew that he did this often with college students and I knew this was my opportunity to show just how good of a leader I was.
That conversation didn’t go quite as planned. Little did I know that he wasn’t there to be impressed by me, but to show me how much I needed Jesus. The first thing we talked about was my sin!
Discipleship was a key tool the Lord used to turn my heart from a works-based faith into an understanding of grace. My lifestyle was working for my salvation. Everything I did was for the purpose of earning God’s approval. Somehow, I had missed what it means to be saved by grace!
I know discipleship is quite the buzz word in the church these days. We talk about it like it’s another thing that we have to add to the list of things we should do as Christians, but looking back at where I was as an underdeveloped-fresh-out-of-the-nest child, discipleship was exactly what I needed. Perhaps God knew discipleship was the only way change could happen and what I needed to save me from bad choices as I entered into adulthood. Eventually, my works-based faith would have failed. I never would have measured up and might have given up on my faith. There were a lot of opportunities to have fun and my foundation was weak. I needed one-on-one discipleship from an older, wiser person, someone with more biblical knowledge than I.
I’ve seen discipleship work in so many different ways. Now as a 33-year-old mom of two younger children, I have been blessed with friends in my life stage, older women and the Christian community around me who contribute to my walk with Jesus.
Here are some ways I’ve seen discipleship work:
Christian Community: This is the simplest form. Just walking into the church doors and sitting down will be a piece of discipleship in your life, but 99% of the time, not significant enough to make a difference in your life. Building community with the people in your church, knowing the people around you and watching how they live their lives is important. Hearing scripture and life experience from all different generations and working with them in the community will lead to influence, and if we are in the midst of godly people, we will be under a godly influence. Simple church community is important, but it’s not enough on its own.
Community Discipleship: The best way to make Christian community happen? Join a home group! No other place provides life and scripture together in a close-knit and safe space. Participating regularly in home group life will help you connect to the other forms of discipleship as well.
Peer Discipleship: We need friendships with peers that go deep. We need those few trusted friends that we can come to and with whom we can work out our salvation. Basically, these are godly, deep relationships a Christian may have with a few people.
One of my dear friends used to watch my son a few times a week so that I could work. Before my daughter got off the bus, I would pick my son up but arrive 30 minutes early so that I could sit on her couch and talk about life. This was never planned; we didn’t define our relationship this way. We were two Christians who loved Jesus, who talked and shared our lives, and I craved it! Those conversations allowed us to work out whatever difficult situations we were in at the time. We could offer encouragement and truth, asking each other good questions. There was no “authority” but mutual respect and trust. My friend now lives in a different state, but the Lord provided another wonderful, godly friend across the street with whom I can share my coffee and have the same type of relationship on a slow afternoon. God is so good!
Older to Younger (or One-on-One) Discipleship I believe this is the most effective form of discipleship, and it’s the most difficult, but also the most explicitly biblical (Titus 2:3-5). This form raises leaders (2 Tim 2:22), has a trickle-down effect to strengthen the church, and sends out Christians to the world able and stable to share the gospel.
Mark Dever says in his book Discipling, “part of being a Christian is recognizing that sin deceives us, and we need other believers to help us see the things we cannot see about ourselves.” All I had to do with my IV Staff to reveal my sin was to talk! The more I talked about myself, the more he was able to point out my sin. He showed me the ways I was turning from God, so that he could point me back to God, which is the whole point! As I have grown up and am now in a stage of life with kids, husband, and a job I know I need women who have gone before me to help in these ways as well to point out my sin, tell me there is good news and help me think of ways I can be a light in difficult situations. The older woman helps to guide me towards wisdom in practical ways.
Susan Hunt wisely warns in an article she wrote for 9Marks.com, “Someone is teaching women and girls what it means to be a woman. Is it the church or the world?” If the older women of our church are not pouring into the younger women, then something or someone else will.
That relationship my IV staffer developed with me was the beginning of an amazing journey., The reality is as Christians we need at least one of these forms happening always. We were created for relationships, and as Christians we were created for Christ-centered relationships.
Discipleship takes work and sacrifice. What good things in this life don’t? When you find yourself in that relationship, either as the disciple or discipler, you will find that it helps keep your mind focused that much more on Christ. You will notice a deeper sense of accountability and support as you wrestle with sin and deal with the general fatigue that living life brings.
The beautiful thing about discipleship is that it can’t be put in a box. There isn’t a program or model that has to be followed to make it work -- just relationships, just Christ, just caring about someone other than yourself! If Christ has done some good work in your life, you are most likely qualified to disciple someone!
Have I not done great and marvelous things in your past?” His voice resounded in my head, just shy of out loud. “Yes, Lord,” “Can I not do great and marvelous things again?” “Oh, yes, Lord.” “Is anything too hard for Me?” “No, Lord.”
On this cold and rainy day in April, 2008, I stood in line at the Ferguson Center ticket window. I had come to attempt to switch some tickets from a Friday to a Saturday night for a traveling Broadway play. We had good tickets for this production, but now I had a conflict. So there I stood, figuring no way would I be able to switch these tickets. And that’s when God spoke.
Now, as I approached the clerk, wide-eyed and unsure of what to make of God’s words to me, I explained my situation. “You’re not going to believe this” he said. “Try me.” “Did you see that man 2 people in front of you? He had to switch from Saturday to Friday night. In fact, his seats were even better than the ones you originally had.”
For reasons I don’t understand, God chose to use this seemingly inconsequential event to demonstrate His intimacy with all my comings and goings and remind me that there is nothing too large or too small for Him to do. “Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages. Who will not fear you and bring glory to your name?” (Rev 15:3-4)
May I never forget.