Christ Fellowship

Advent Conspiracy and How I am Like a Christmas Tree

I’m not sure when trimming the Christmas tree dropped out of the top ten Christmas activities in my opinion. Somewhere along the line I lost the magic of transforming the green bush into the sparkling personification of Christmas. It may have been, now that I think about it, back in high school when I realized my mom was tricking my friends and me into doing “her” job by offering pizza and cookies. It was a brilliant ploy, and one that I’ve used successfully around here, as well.

But today is the day. And by the end of the day I will be thrilled with it all, entranced, sitting in my living room with the lights low thinking about how it was all worth it. And it will be, once again, magical.

I read something today about Christmas trees that has me thinking.

We bring an essentially dead tree to our home. We water it and give it fresh cuts to keep the water flowing. Some people swear by misting their trees. Yet no matter what we do…the tree is dead. At best we’re giving a form of life support to keep up appearances. Without roots, without a healthy, though essentially unseen, delivery system for nutrients and contact with the ground, the tree is dead.

This Christmas as we’ve been contemplating the Advent Conspiracy and ways to celebrate Christmas differently, I want to make sure I’m not like my Christmas tree. I want to make sure my roots aren’t severed from the source of life. There’s no sense in making myself appear decorated with a bounty of tinsel, ornaments, garland. I’d rather spend the time rooted and grounded, connected to God and my family and the things that matter the most.

I want to live more this Christmas.

Our friend Timmy Allen created this video for Advent Conspiracy at Christ Fellowship this year. I think it’s awesome. And someday (tomorrow, I think!) I’m going to make my acting debut as a stick model in one of his productions. Check this out. And then think about ways to grow your roots deeper this Christmas.

The Advent Conspiracy – Enter the Story from Timmy Allen on Vimeo.

Me. And You.

What an amazing weekend!

Some of the details will have to wait for another post, but I was so privileged to go and tour a completed and running safe house for girls rescued from trafficking. It is the only Christian safe house in the state of Florida. And while I was humbled at the dedication it takes to run the house, I was also overwhelmed by its simplicity.

You see, this wasn’t a huge home. It was pretty average. And they didn’t have ten and twenty girls. They had two, with room for five. And these two houseparents were not specialists trained for trafficking. They were parents who answered the call to love on two girls in a radical, unconditional way. The overwhelming part was this: it was all so doable.

And yet there is only one Christian safe house in the state of Florida.

This has got to change, and you and I are the ones who have to change it.

Later in the weekend David and I were at a weekend retreat sponsored by the Luis Palau Association. If you don’t know who Luis Palau is, click this link or google his name. We heard so much over the course of the weekend that confirmed what God was saying. This is our job to do, and so we need to prepare.

Luis was speaking on Abraham and his willingness to sacrifice Isaac, his son. True worship, he said, involves sacrifice. We are called into the world to tell others that Jesus loves them more than they could imagine, more than they’ve been told. He loves them so much, that nothing they have done could keep him from heaping even more love on top of them. He loves.

But for someone to hear that message, others must sacrifice. As Luis said, “Someone must pay the price. Someone must sacrifice to do the work.”

My mind flashed to the safe house.

I don’t know what it is going to look like yet, but that someone is me. That someone is you. These girls need a place to heal and be restored.

This is our sacrifice.

Less is More: choosing the theme for your life

I’ve already sensed the trend for 2011 in my life. I’m fighting it, but I know that I’ll give in eventually. Here it is:

Less is More

Not a novel idea, and not my own idea. John Maxwell kicked off our year at Christ Fellowship (as he always does) with a series of messages on finding our fresh start for 2011. This one point, a sub point at that, leaped out and grabbed me by the throat. Less is more.

I’d already picked my New Year’s resolution, which was to simplify.

Now Maxwell was telling me that Less is More.

He went on to remind me of something I’ve known intuitively for awhile: you can only tell a few stories with your life. If you try to tell them all, your words become jumbled. It’s hard for God to speak out of a jumbled mess. But if you edit the themes of your life down to what God has truly called you to, then you can make your life tell the story He planned for you from the beginning. Edit your own story.

Well, then.

I’ve spent today looking back at the past year and forward to the next one. I’m working on narrowing down my field of vision to the story God wants me to tell. I’m still stuck in the chaos of my everyday, unedited life, but I’m working on it.

Simplicity is complicated.

How about you? What story is God asking you to tell in 2011?

Breaking my silence…

The Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem

You may have noticed how quiet Coffee Shop Journal has been for the past few weeks! I’ve sat down to write more times than I can count, but the peace and quiet only lasts for a few moments these days. And above all else, I need silence or white noise when I write.

Honestly, there’s been another reason to be quiet, as well. David, Jillian and I have been on a trip with our church to Israel. We returned last Friday, and have been living in jet-lag induced brain fog ever since. I’m slowly starting to climb out of it! I had my computer in Israel, but was competing for internet time with Jillian. I lost. As you know. And then I discovered that posts I was writing in Jerusalem were sailing off into the ether, rather than landing on my page. I gave up the idea of blogging my way through Israel.

I think I lost something precious in the process of giving up. I lost the ability to share the journey with you. And to me, sharing the journey is really the only point. On the other hand, I gave myself the time to just process what God was saying to me on the trip. That was valuable.

So here’s the weird secret about my trip to Israel. I expected a spiritual high. I expected that His voice would be clearer in that land he so clearly loved. I expected to be close to my traveling companions, and to make life-long friendships. I was excited about hanging out with John Maxwell and Tom Mullins and busloads of people I’d not met yet. And all those things kind of happened. There were spiritual moments, and some friendships that were new. But somehow that part of the trip fell short in my mind, as if God doesn’t make a command appearance to speak in a new way. On my tour schedule. “Lord, there are 45 minutes of free time in the Garden of Gethsemane. Please be prepared to speak then.”

He spoke differently. He spoke by enlarging who I am in my spirit, by making me more comfortable about my place in the world and more uncomfortable about my purpose in the world. He spoke through memories made with Jillian, Melissa and Nick (our traveling companions) and Todd (our neighbor and pastor). He kind of spoke in the absence of speaking, if you know what I mean.

It’s kind of like this: I have no plans to renew my wedding vows on my 25th anniversary or any other anniversary. Why? Because I’ve never forgotten my original vows for even a moment. Why renew what has never been tarnished? (By the way, I’ll happily take new diamonds..jewelry is exempt from that discussion.). In the same way, I didn’t feel a fervent spiritual renewal in Israel partially because He’s been doing a lot of speaking and poking and prodding in my life anyway. I didn’t meet Jesus anew in Israel; I took the trip with him in the first place.

I’m sure that I’ll be writing more about this or that experience in Israel. It’s inescapable. And the trip really did change my worldview and outlook more than I realized at first. But in the meantime it’s just good to be home on my couch, wrapped up in the throw I bought in the marketplaces of Jerusalem and watching the videos on Facebook posted by team members.

400 Yard Sales in Palm Beach County to stop human trafficking

This past weekend Christ Fellowship hosted over 400 garage sales all over the county. We did it to raise funds and awareness for the issue of human trafficking. So in our own yards, in our own neighborhoods we all did what we could. In the end we have raised thousands and thousands of dollars that are going directly to help free people kept in slavery all over the country and the world. That’s pretty amazing!

What amazed me more, is that apparently that’s not a big deal.

We couldn’t get any local news organization even interested in the fact that the Freedom yard sales were going on at all. In fact, trafficking in general is apparently not a very popular topic. It’s time to change that.

Today, in fact, was “Freedom Sunday” all over the country. Churches were preaching freedom for the captive, hope for the hopeless. I love that. David and I were worshipping at Ascent City Place this morning. I don’t know if it was the temperature (warmer than usual in the venue) or the crowd (more people crowded in than normal), but in the midst of worship I had a huge claustrophobia attack. If you’ve ever had an attack, then you know what it feels like to be stuck in a place (front row!) when your heart is pounding and the sweat starts pouring. I’ve dealt with these every so often, so I have a few tricks up my sleeve. None of them worked. I kept praying that I would be able to quell the rising panic and return to worship. I needed to worship. I needed to worship even in the middle of the panic.

I made it. In a few moments the attack faded, and I was able to go back to singing and standing next to David as usual. It’s been quite awhile since that happened to me, so I was surprised. And more surprised moments later, when God used it for an object lesson. You see, we began talking about the 27 million people in slavery today. People in bondage. People who feel, as I just had, utterly trapped and unable to breathe. With my heart-rate barely back to normal, I suddenly had more empathy for girls stuck in crowded brothels, never seeing daylight.

My attack passed, but theirs will only pass when we do something about it.

A scene from our garage sale on Saturday keeps running across my mind. In South Florida, you see, it is common to find Haitian women at garage sales, buying large amounts of clothing to send back home. This situation is even more pronounced now, in the aftermath of the hurricane. So often, we’ll drastically cut the prices of the clothing to help these women help their own families. But this sale was different: it was a charity sale. Knowing that the day was early and we didn’t want to cut prices too steeply, we were busy negotiating with the women. Sometimes these negotiations got firm, and lasted awhile.

One of these women drove a hard bargain. She wasn’t our toughest customer of the day, but she was close! She needed help hauling her treasure to her car, and we gladly jumped in. Half way down a long driveway she stopped and began hunting in her purse, her pockets, her back pockets. We assumed she was hunting for her keys, and began looking about for the set of keys. She kept digging. Eventually, this woman pulled out a folded up bill from some deep pants pocket, turned back and put it in the donations for “Hope for Freedom.”

I realized two things: she had negotiated down to nearly her last dollar, and then she had turned around and donated that last dollar to do what she could.

The news may not have thought that the Freedom garage sales were a big deal, but I did. I can hardly wait to see what’s next.

Seeking Justice…

It’s been kind of quiet on the blog-front this week, hasn’t it? Life has been moving along full tilt for me and mine these days. In brief:

  • This week we are preparing for a yard sale, something I promised NEVER to do again! But Christ Fellowship has chosen to stand strongly against the tremendous injustice of human trafficking. As a way to raise both funds and awareness, church members are hosting yard sales for Freedom this week. The idea is simple: we sell of our junk and donate the money we raise to one of several ministries that work in the trafficking area. We have hundreds of homes all over the county hosting these yard sales so pray for a nice weekend and lots of eager treasure-hunters!
  • These are some of the ministries that we hope to support. If you have a few moments, go look up their websites. Love 146, Not For Sale and International Justice Mission.

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Super Bowl Party for the homeless…and the rest of us!

David teaching one of our homeless guests how to play Bingo

The Super Bowl for the City party is in the history books, and though I may not remember who won it in a few years, I’ll remember how I spent this Super Bowl. It turns out that hanging with the homeless for the game is a whole lot more fun than my usual guest list!

The first few minutes are always the toughest. That’s when you realize that this isn’t just another party, these aren’t just nameless people, and the gulf that divides us is both broader and narrower than you can imagine. Those first minutes are terrifying: talk to them? Do they want me to? As it turns out, they do. They really do.

My first conversation with a guest was with a man named Charlie. He was a white guy with gray and black hair. I first spied him getting a hair cut at our hair cutting station (manned by a local stylist school students). The cut gave me the opening I needed. “I like your new hair cut.”

This was the haircutting station

“It’s good, it is,” he responded. “You people are doing something amazing. You’re gonna be blessed.” This felt backwards to me. Wasn’t he the one supposed to be blessed? I sat down and chatted with Charlie. Turns out that he had studied to become a priest, before deciding the Catholic religion wasn’t for him. I was surprised he’d lasted that long. When Charlie was six a nun accused him of lying. “Stick out your tongue,” she said. “See…it’s black. I can tell you are lying and God’s going to get you.”

“My tongue isn’t black, I’m not lying, and I know this much: God isn’t going to get me. He loves me and you don’t.”

Charlie’s eyes were yellowing and kind of watery. He looked like he’d had a rough couple of years. But he told me he wasn’t there for the Super Bowl (“Don’t care who wins”) or the meal (“I can eat anywhere”). He was there to talk to people, normal people. It was one of the few chances he has to sit with people and strike up a conversation.

Charlie and I sit and chat

So simple to sit and talk. So simple and so hard.

The night was filled with little conversations like that. There was the dancing woman who seemed determined to show everyone each layer of her clothing, causing a little drama when she got to the last layer. There were the die-hard football fans in the front row. Two guys argued about why in the world we’d want him to wear a nametag with his name on it. “They just want to address you by name! It’s ok. No disrespect.” There were the foodies thronging at the table and stashing whatever looked like it would travel. All over the stadium there were back packs and bags, bicycles stuffed with stuff, and even a stroller stuffed with at least three dogs, though I honestly couldn’t tell if the dogs belonged to a guest or a volunteer! By the end of the night it didn’t much matter.

Ben Hood, one of our volunteers, serving during the game

And oh yes, there was Paris.

Paris was an outgoing black guy who liked nothing more than to sit and watch both the game and the goings on. He gave me an education. I sat with Paris for quite a long time, getting treated to his Barry White imitation and his monologue on life. A highlight may have been the moment he introduced himself to my husband as “I’m her lover; now don’t get mad and fight me.”

Paris and his buddy Eugene.

In the end, it was Paris who taught me the deepest lesson of the night.

As part of our outreach, we’d collected blankets to give away to our guests. This was vaguely prophetic as the temperatures (for Florida) plunged into the low 50′s and it was COLD! So our guests, ironically, were wrapped up in their various new blankets while we volunteers had a taste of what it was like to be cold. Sitting with Paris, he kept asking me if I was cold. I finally admitted that I was, and he tossed me one of his three blankets he had scored. “Well silly white girl, put that blanket around you.”

Oh! That’s when I realized it. If I put that blanket around me, I’d look like a “Guest.” With little else to distinguish us, those blankets were the easiest way to tell who was a guest and who was a volunteer. And while some of the volunteers would know me, certainly not the majority.

What will you do in that moment? You have a choice to be identified not with the helpers, but the helped. Not the powerful, but the humble. I wanted a badge, a wrist band, an identifier. I wanted to keep my identity. I turned down the blanket. For awhile. But I got cold and I had been thinking about why I wouldn’t take that blanket. So I finally accepted Paris’s hospitality and charity, and borrowed his new blanket. Sure enough, it wasn’t much later that one of our volunteers sweetly asked me my name and if I’d like some chips or crackers. I smiled, said “No thank you!” and resisted the urge to say “By the way, I’m a volunteer. Elder’s wife. I’m just cold.”

Paris seemed to get that. And if he didn’t, I sure did. God was speaking furiously to me. He was talking about how it feels to be identified with the people you are trying to help. To take on the outer clothing of the homeless for just a minute or two. It was a powerful lesson, only partially learned.

Super Bowl in the City. It didn’t make much lasting difference in the plight of these folks. It didn’t change much except to provide a few services they may have needed and a night of pure entertainment in lives that rarely indulge in such a thing. The addicted left mainly addicted, the homeless left homeless but with a new haircut perhaps. But it was a bridge. It humanized the stories. The party brought together people who needed to learn from each other. And hopefully, that Super Bowl party may have planted a seed of God’s love and life in the kingdom.

And we’ll always have Paris. :)

I’m pretty sure Jesus will be at my Superbowl party!

homeless20dinner

Kind of a dramatic statement, isn’t it? But inbetween the cheering, the commercials, the dips and the wings, Jesus is definitely going to be at my Superbowl party.

Why?

Because David and I have decided not to throw our own party this year. Instead, we are going to Christ Fellowship’s Superbowl in the City party. It’s an outdoor event with an even mix of guests and volunteers. And oh yes, the guests are the homeless of West Palm Beach. With a great outdoor venue and the game on a large screen, the homeless guests will have the rare opportunity to sit down and eat a meal and enjoy the game. There will be a few resource tables set up for them in case anyone is needing help, but in general the point is to enjoy spending time watching the game. In fact, as Pastor John Poitevent pointed out: “Don’t forget these are guys watching football. If you’re going to refill their drinks, do it during the commercials.”

Yes, I might miss my own Superbowl party with dips and chips and my own spot on the big comfy couch.

Yes, I might (will) be nervous interacting with our guests at the Superbowl in the City party.

Yes, I believe Jesus will be there hanging around with us. Makes it all worth it.

This is a video of Bridgetown Ministries, in Portland Oregon. They do a groundbreaking ministry to their City every Friday night. Around 3 minutes into the video they show the footwashing stations, something we will also be doing on Sunday night.

The missing New Year’s posts…

newyearseve

I tend to go MIA around New Year’s for no other reason than I am a stubborn person underneath my calm (!) exterior. It’s the same reason why I won’t go to the gym today even though I’m craving a little exercise. I just hate to do the thing that is expected of “everyone.”

So you haven’t read any end of the year retrospectives, or best of 2009 posts. No lists of what’s to come in 2010. At least not from me.

But I may have to rethink that strategy. Two people lately have challenged my thinking in this area.

Mark Batterson, in his new book Primal, puts a new spin on the idea of “taking every thought captive.” I don’t have the book with me, but the concept was that God speaks to us in “God ideas” and we have a responsibility to capture them so that He can use them. Anything less is being an unfaithful steward of the imagination, intellect and creativity that God has given us.

And last Sunday, John Poitevent (Christ Fellowship’s City Place campus pastor) challenged us to spend time reflecting on the year and relationships past. His point was that we need to constantly try to bring the kingdom into our relationships. This requires reflection. Further, we need to spend time pondering both our successes and goals as well as our failures. When you fail, you need to immediately turn and worship God, allowing your soul to reconnect to God and denying the enemy a chance to beat you over the head with the failure.

So I guess some reflection time needs to be scheduled in the next few days after all! But hey…at least it isn’t New Year’s Eve anymore.