Monday, April 27, 2015

Purpose Found in the Everyday Mundane



S.W.A.P.

Before this past week, S.W.A.P. stood for Sisters With a Purpose, but while reading, If You Find this Letter, My Journey to Find Purpose Through Hundreds of Letters to Strangers - a memoir by Hannah Brencher, S.W.A.P. now stands for Souls With a Purpose.

Years of leading Bible studies and encouraging women to encourage each other through the weeks of study has morphed into what I have recently come to call S.W.A.P. - a very tangible, personal way to encourage one another to stay the course, to not give up, to stick with the plan.

Through handwritten notes jotted onto real stationary cards, penned with real cursive lettering, and even mailed with a real stamp, hearts have been lifted and given purpose to stay all in for the long haul.



Because of my fetish with handwritten notes, I was drawn to Hannah Brencher's first-ever published book. I have just finished reading it. Literally. I just closed the cover.

Woven between its hard front and back covers, a former wandering, and unsettled heart finds purpose and God by leaving love letters for people all over New York City - on subways, on counters in restrooms, on tables in coffee shops, slipped into book bags or in jacket pockets. Not the sappy, superficial romantic type, but love letters filled with words which are crafted to speak right to the heart of one needing a spark of hope. On the outside of the envelopes she would write, "If you find this letter, then this letter is for you."

Through the writing of hundreds of love letters, Hannah Brencher uncovers the power of encouragement, and the One who created her for a mission bigger than herself.

Hannah Brencher is just 26 years old and has lived more life than many 40 year olds I know. She's smart, creative, driven, and full of compassion. Yet, as she spilled her lonely and desperate heart onto the pages of her memoir, I feel I've just gotten up from an over-coffee-conversation with a best friend I've known for years.

There are 26 years between us in age. I could be her mother. But the similarities, especially in her passion for writing real letters, telling real stories, and for encouraging people through powerful words, erases the generation gap. I have to say, sitting down over the last week with many a cup of coffee and reading through her story has brought laughter, crocodile tears, and a deep desire to press on.

Brencher has fanned the flames of my own passion for the bigger than myself dream.

A dream that is not about me, but all about Jesus. Jesus is all about loving people. Love is the very definition of God. God is love. (1 John 4:7-8) Real. Love.

Shortly after Brencher began her love letter writing, she created a website called MoreLoveLetters.com. Blown away at the response from people who took her up on her offer to write a letter to anyone who felt they needed one, she continues to write "love letters" to anyone who asks for one through her website.

I am all about the art of story and the lost art of handwriting. Brencher has captured both of my passions by blending her story and her intentional letter writing mission with such deep reflection and wisdom.

Through much of the book, I could see my own 25 year old son, my 20 year old daughter, their friends, and deep into my own 52 year old heart. Her words are courageous, passionate, and bold. Ever so seasoned with grace beyond her years.

What really struck me through Hannah Brencher's words and her bigger than herself actions was her challenge to really see people and spill love onto people. She has learned how to bring love from the other side of our safe walls of easy worship and out into the hard worship of loving Him in our daily mundane - out and into the streets of real life - out where people who need real hope are.

Leaving an anonymous trail of love letters for those who are hurting, hopeless, and lonely, meets their need for knowing someone cares and notices them, and meets Hanna's purpose to meet that need. Her depth of love and example has encouraged others to begin tearing down the invisible walls built between the hurting and those pretending not to see them. Remarkable human beings, all created by God and in His image are all around us just needing someone to spill the love of God on them and notice that they exist.

All of us need a Savior.

As I said, "My flame has been fanned" and I'm pressing on with this bigger than myself purpose. A God-designed purpose to make a difference, not for applause or trophies, but to leave an impression on the hearts of people that only I've been designed to make.  Like my own fingerprint, no one else can leave it behind. Just me.

Lord, help me to see with Your eyes the wonder, the beauty, and the need of all mankind. The need for a Savior.
      
My Pleasure,
Melanie








Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Sunday Scribbles

Sunday scribbles. It's what I do. It's how I learn. It's how I remember. It's how I roll. (Did I really just type that?)

I scribble notes, Scripture references, quotes, and my own thoughts. I've been scribbling from sermons, Bible studies, Christian conferences, Sunday School lessons, and more ever since my senior year in high school. It's one of the best habits I've ever been encouraged to develop.

Jotting down notes and thoughts help us grow in our knowledge of the Word of God. It reminds us of some thoughts to reflect on, or a passage we wanted to look up later.

I remember when I was just beginning this habit, encouraged by a youth minister at another church I had visited some, I was sitting in my home church one Sunday night. Our youth group always sat together and that night we were gathered on our usual pews. Our pastor at the time was having some serious issues, personally and spiritually, and the church was really struggling, but I thought I should still take notes.

As I was writing down some of what he was saying, he looked straight at me and called me out in front of the whole church. He thought we were passing notes because what else would youth be doing writing in church? When I told him I wasn't passing notes and that I was taking sermon notes, he looked as if I had thrown cold water in his face. He was totally shocked someone was taking notes from his sermon. Awkward!

But that didn't stop me from continuing to develop a great habit. Eventually, our family left for deeper reasons than the pastor calling me out, and began attending the church I had been visiting.

My scribbling has helped me grow in my faith and in my knowledge of God's Word. It's benefited me greatly and I will continue to do so as long as I'm able.

Occasionally, I will share blogposts titled Sunday Scribbles. These will be designed to help you to search the Word of God, read, take notes, and learn truth for yourself.

Here are a few scribbles from Sunday's message from Philippians 1:12-14.

Paul's mission was to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:12) No matter how grim his circumstances (prison, beaten, starved, shipwrecked, etc...), his mission never wavered. He viewed his circumstances through the lens of the Gospel.

Paul had experienced Jesus Christ up close and personal. He knew, without a shadow of a doubt, what his purpose was and Who he was living for. Do I?

Just think. If Paul had not penned his purpose, as well as the other Apostles, to the believers, we would not have the picture of the early Church, the struggles of the early Church, or the encouragement for the Church to be the Church. Because Paul knew he was chosen to advance the Gospel, his divinely inspired words continue to serve the Church well, withstanding the test of time.

Our mission is the same - to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to not waver in our purpose. As Christians, we have an up close and personal relationship with Him. The life we live, the words we speak, the letters we pen should all be grounded in the Truth of God's Word, offered as an extension of God's grace, love and mercy, always pointing people to Jesus Christ. This is our profound purpose. 

This is what I mean by Sunday Scribbles. See what you can scribble down from next Sunday's sermon. Who knows? You might develop a new habit! (Just be ready to defend yourself if the pastor calls you out.)

My Pleasure,
Melanie


Friday, April 10, 2015

Flashback to Eden


I've shared many times about how God steers me on Sunday mornings and not necessarily in the same direction the pastor is steering the congregation. Something he says or a Scripture read is all it takes for the Spirit to whisk me away into an adventure with Him through the Word.

 Over the past several weeks, our pastor has been preaching sermons based on the kings of the Old Testament. The blog picture is from the front of our worship guides. We are exploring one king a week, getting an overview of his life and relationship to God and His people leading up to Easter and to the King of kings, Jesus Christ.

King Hezekiah was the O.T. king scrapbooked this particular Sunday. This king of Israel did what was right in the sight of the LORD. He trusted God and held fast to Him, obeying all that the LORD commanded. (2 Kings 18:3-6)



A huge test of Hezekiah's faithfulness to God was inserted into 2 Kings 18:29-35. Hearing the twisted and distorted truth which flowed from the lips of the king of Assyria's army commander to the ears of the Israelite people, my mind flashed back to another conversation; one between Satan in the form of a serpent, and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Satan used a familiar script to entice the Israelites to doubt and disbelieve their God.

Both the serpent and the army commander question if God is really who He says He is, and if He means what He says He will do. In the garden of Eden, Eve begins to doubt in Whom she trusts, and engages the serpent in conversation. Once she engaged, she fell right into his sin trap.

The difference between the army commander questioning God's authority and power, and the serpent's placing doubt in Eve's mind, is the form in which Satan chose to speak. In Eden, Satan became a serpent. In Assyria, he spoke through an evil king's army commander.

The response to the lies was, in this case, much different.  Eve chose to converse with the serpent, but the Israelites, warned by king Hezekiah not to speak a word, obeyed the king's command and remained silent.

My flashback to Eden was all about the script Satan uses every time he seeks to trip us up on our faith walks with Christ.  If we engage Satan in conversation and dwell on the doubt placed in our minds, we will more than likely fall into his trap, but if we do not engage the evil one in conversation, ignore his twisted, distorted truth, by meditating on Truth we know, then we can outsmart the schemer and avoid the sin.

King Hezekiah led the Israelites well during his reign, and by knowing and obeying the commandments of God, the people defeated their sadistic enemy, Sennacherib, king of Assyria.

Please Lord, keep me engaged in conversation with You. Help me to know Your Word so well that I can distinguish between Your truth and the lies of the enemy. You died on the cross to cancel our sin debt and to provide for us a way out. Through conquering death and the grave, You provided the Way, the Truth and the Life. Keep my eyes focused on You, Lord Jesus, and my mind alert so I can get to an exit every time a trap is set. 
In Jesus' Name, Amen.

My Pleasure,
Melanie













Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Beyond Imagination


April 6th was my best friend's birthday. Don't worry. I won't say which birthday. It was also the day I had set aside to take three of my teenage piano students to see the new Cinderella movie. My friend graciously accepted my invitation to tag along to give us some extra time together to celebrate. She admitted later how amazed she was that she liked the movie as much as she did. I knew she would.

This was my second viewing of Cinderella on the big screen, and if another opportunity arises, I will go again.  It's just. that. good. and has left me thinking on so many levels.

This time I came away thinking about the depth of the imagination. How far we've come to bring story to screen. This interpretation of a childhood fairy tale encompassed masterful cinematography. So powerful, and yet simply beautiful.

The clarity and power of the picture drew you in as if you were there; standing obscurely in the hallway of the family home observing the innocent interaction between sweet Ella and her parents, hiding behind a tree watching as Cinderella and the Prince have their first encounter in the forest, or maybe even crouching behind a chair laughing at the antics of the mice, or holding back on wanting to strangle the stepmother and stepsisters because of their rude and hurtful comments to Cinderella.

An incredibly engaging movie.

This production of imagination led me to think about God's divine, limitless imagination, and just how creative He is with all that He has created and placed right before our eyes, even beyond what our eyes can see.

As man continues to imagine and pursue more, he can only do so because the God who gave him the ability to imagine has already imagined it and created it in the most perfect, holy way.

Watching the exquisiteness of the dance at the ball with Cinderella looking into the depth of the Prince's eyes, and following in total surrender to his lead, turned my thoughts toward heaven.

How exquisitely and respectfully Christ will "dance" with His Bride, the Church, at the Wedding of all weddings, with all the details perfectly taken care of with no magic and definitely no clock to ever strike an announcement that time is up. Forever is endless.

Cinderella was breathless at times from sheer joy as she danced with her prince, just as we will be when we see Jesus face to face, up close.

Fairy tales are made up stories designed with a moral lesson, but they couldn't have been made up without the Creator thinking of them first. He has always known what lessons would be taken away from the moral of the story, as well as, to the depth He would take me with thoughts of Him and His Word watching this childhood favorite. And is still my all-time favorite today.

Just think. Anything we can think or imagine, God has already been there, done that, and is infinitely beyond our wildest dreams. It's finitely mind boggling. We will only be able to make, invent, write, draw and/or think as far as God will allow until that glorious day when the herald trumpet sounds, the heavenly curtain is opened, and Christ steps out to welcome us into all He has imagined for us to experience throughout all eternity.

All people will  slowly and reverently bow in awe, confess Him as Lord, and possibly address Him as, "Your Grace".

It is beyond imagination.

My Pleasure,
Melanie

Friday, April 3, 2015

So Much Good from a Really Good God

Two months ago our lives forever changed.

I miss my other "daughter" so much, especially her contagious smile, infectious laugh, and bubbly personality as she bounced into the Shull home at least once a week. She could turn a frown upside down faster than anyone I know.

McKinsey's running into the arms of Jesus after only 20 years of life on earth has shaken us to the core of who we are, to examine for the first time, or reexamine, what life and death are all about. What is eternal and what's just temporal? What's important and what's not?

We continue to reflect on our life's purpose, close friendships, family relationships, how we spend our time, what salvation is and spiritual growth, who Jesus really is, the Bible, and so much more.

I thought this would be a good time to mark some of the many good things which have come out of the incredible impression this precious young woman made on all of us.

Families are closer.

Friendships are stronger.

The Kingdom of God added to.

Mothers and Daughters are studying the Word together.

Her mom and friends going on mission to Uganda.

Conversations about Jesus sparked.

                                                                More hugs!

McKinsey's legacy of faith continues on with so many lives changed, and changed for good. Heaven rejoices over the new believers who's salvation journeys have ignited in Christ.

Many hearts have softened toward the work of the Holy Spirit, eager to hear truth, absorb truth, and developed an increased desire to serve Jesus, know and love Him more deeply.

Tears still fall and Jesus is still catching them, wrapping His loving arms around us as we continue to walk through the grieving process. In the midst of our heartache, our really good God is doing incredibly good things as a result of the faith of this one we loved, cherished, and still miss greatly.

Let's don't walk around in a funk. Let's keep our heads up, walk this faith journey with confidence, filled with the joy of Jesus Christ, and just like Kin's, knowing our journeys will take us all the way into the arms of our Jesus one day, too.

Stay strong, bold, and courageous. God goes before us and is with us all the way. More good things are to come!

My Pleasure,
Melanie






Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Stir It Up!

We have celebrated and remembered Palm Sunday;

the triumphal entry of Christ riding into the city of Jerusalem on a donkey where the crowd paraded a path, laying down their cloaks and waving palm branches and shouting,

Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD! Hosanna in the highest! (Matthew 21:9 NKJV)

In broad open daylight, Jesus was being hailed as King, all the while, quietly in dark corners, His fate was being plotted.

The crowd, already in the city for the Passover Celebration, but not participating in the hailing of Hosannas, was all stirred up and asking, "Who is this?"(See Matt. 21:10)



What was causing all the ruckus in the first place? Who was stirring up the crowd?

Jesus entered Jerusalem by way of which no earthly king would enter. He rode into the city on a lowly donkey fulfilling the prophecy of Zachariah 9:9, and not in a royal chariot drawn by strong horses.

His faithful followers were stirring up the city by honoring Jesus and making His presence known among the people.

Jesus, many times previously, told His disciples to be silent about who He was, but on this day the gag order was lifted. The time had come where they could publicly proclaim Him as the Messiah, the One they had been looking for.

Palm Sunday's stirring up led me to ask myself, "Am I stirring up the city in which I live? Am I living like I'm under a gag order?"

People with whom I come in contact every day should be asking, "Who is this that you keep hailing as King?" "Who is this that you claim to be so great?" "Who is this that you talk about, write about, sing about, and teach about all. of. the. time?"

If you've paid any attention to the news of recent, you have seen what it looks like when cities are stirred up for evil.

In America, I think about Ferguson, Missouri. If the agitators had not stirred up the people with false accusations, the evil would not have escalated into the senseless destruction of property and of lives.

I also think of the brutal massacres and total chaos in the Middle East as Isis, Hamas, Al Qaeda etc...
are stirring things up, promoting lies, hate, destruction, darkness, producing fear in the hearts of people, as they continue to aggressively gain ground for a very dangerous cause.

Christians need to stir things up for a much different cause - the cause of Jesus Christ. When we stir things up, truth, hope, and peace will begin to take root and reign in the hearts of people.

We cannot continue to be complacent and satisfied with the status quo. Christ died for all people, for goodness sake
We must stand up for Him.
We must proclaim His goodness, greatness, love and power in our cities.
                             
Jesus is the Truth filled with love, hope, joy, forgiveness, peace, freedom from the shackles of sin, plus so much more. If He was willing to step down from glory into this dark world to bridge the gap between us and the Father, then we must be willing to bring His story and His light into our cities!

Let's stir it up, people! Hearts are waiting!

My Pleasure,
Melanie