“And they overcame him (Satan) because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.”

Revelations 12:11

When’s the last time you shared your story with someone?  I know what you’re thinking… “I don’t have a story.” Not true, my friend!  We all have a story and every story is different from the next.  So I’ll ask again, when’s the last time you shared your story?

Why is it that we’re so hesitant to use what Revelations 12:11 calls one of the most effective tools we have?  Our testimony!  Notice it doesn’t say they overcame the enemy with the Bible.  The Bible is a wonderful weapon, but in many cases your testimony is more helpful.  Why?  Because people can’t argue with your testimony.  They may not believe what the Bible says or that it is the Word of God, but they can’t deny what you have been through.

One of the biggest reasons we don’t tell people our story is lack of preparation.  You’re probably going to hate me for this, but I’m giving you a homework assignment.  I’m going to go over a few “guidelines” for your testimony and then I want you to write down your story.

  • Write it down and memorize it – There’s nothing wrong with being prepared.  Some people feel that this is being manipulative.  It’s actually being strategic.  By writing it down, memorizing it and practicing beforehand you lessen the risk of freezing up when the opportunity comes or leaving out an important element of your testimony.
  • You should be able to tell your story in three to five minutes – People’s time is valuable.  If they wanted to hear a 30 minute sermon they would come to church.  This is another reason why it’s important to write out your story.  You’ve got a very small window of opportunity so you need to make the most of it.
  • There needs to be a before, during, and after – There’s an expression used in the sales world… WIIFM.  What’s In It For Me?  People need to know what your life was like before you met Jesus.  What happened that brought you to the point of deciding to follow Him?  How has your relationship with Christ changed your life?
  • Avoid “churchy” terminology – Johnny Nochurch has no idea what sanctification or conviction is.  When Jesus taught, He broke things down so that everyone in the crowd could understand what He was saying.  We need to do the same.
  • Pray for the Spirit’s leading – All the preparation in the world is no substitute for prayer and being led by the Spirit.  Prepare as if it’s up to you but pray as if it’s up to God (because it is!).

Now comes the fun part.  After you’ve written out your story… SHARE IT!  Your testimony is an amazing tool, but it does absolutely no good until you open your mouth and speak.  Let me know how it goes.

“This is how we’ve come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed His life for us.  This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves.  If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love?  It disappears.  And you made it disappear.  My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love.”

I John 3:16-18

This past Tuesday, January 12, an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale ripped apart the tiny country of Haiti.  Today, two days later, the people of Haiti are dealing with the aftermath.  Some are still trapped in the rubble.  Others are awaiting news of family members.  Even those who may not have been injured or lost loved ones didn’t make it through unscathed.

Haiti is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere with a population of a little more than 9 million in a country smaller than the state of Maryland (whose population is 5.6 million).  When I heard of the earthquake I wanted to do something.  I wanted to be able to make a difference and I immediately thought of my friend, Jerrod Murr (or just Murr).

He and his wife, Jenn, recently started a ministry called Believing in a Better Way.  I contacted Jerrod to see if he would be willing to have a conversation about Haiti, and being the awesome person that he is, he obliged.

ME: Jerrod, tell us a little about yourself and the ministry that you’ve started.

MURR: Jerrod Murr, 28, I live in Wagoner with my wife, baby Murr on the way, and cat Lucy.
We started Believing in a Better Way about a year and a half ago to create awareness for missions projects and encourage creative giving. We work with churches, schools, and civic groups to host events and have an ongoing “100,000 T-shirt project for Haiti.”

ME: Your “100,000 T-shirt project for Haiti” is to raise money to build an orphanage in Haiti called The Village of Hope.  Why Haiti?

MURR: I visited Haiti in 2006 on a short term missions trip. Through that, God opened my eyes to the need for missions giving and how utterly spoiled I am and oblivious to the needs of people around the globe. Haiti is in extreme poverty. I don’t use that word lightly. The country has been dedicated to Satan twice by its government and is a place where you feel the hopelessness.

ME: It’s easy to be disconnected from a tragedy that takes place hundreds or thousands of miles away, especially if it’s not affecting us.  It’s a lot harder to do that if we can put a face to the people that are struggling.  We’re going to talk about the earthquake in a minute, but first tell me what the people of Haiti are like?

MURR: Do you have a neighbor? A grandma? A son? They are like them. I don’t say that to be sarcastic. I just mean they are real people, like us. Some are mean as a snake and others are as sweet as can be. They laugh. They cry. They get hungry.
People are people, some just live in Haiti.

ME: We’re talking about the poorest country in the western hemisphere.  What kind of struggles did they face before the earthquake?

MURR: The major problem is a lack of infrastructure and opportunity. So, living conditions are completely below our standards of poverty. Many are without adequate housing, regular food supply, and steady employment.

ME: We’re hearing reports of anywhere between 100,000 to 500,000 people that have died. Tell us about the obstacles that the people of Haiti will face over the coming months and years because of this tragedy.

MURR: Wow, I will try to keep this answer short. The best way I know to describe it is by analogy. If this tragedy would have occurred in Oklahoma City, we would move people to Tulsa and care for their needs. When Katrina hit New Orleans, the government transplanted people to meet immediate needs and assess the situation. When this tragedy strikes Haiti, people sleep in the streets and carry the injured to… nowhere.

ME: What do you feel that our responsibility as Christians is to Haiti?

MURR: The same as everywhere else. We are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and house the homeless. Specifically, we are called to look after the widow and orphan. Haiti is a country of roughly 9 million and have over 1.2 million orphans. If ever there were a place designed for Christian intervention, it is Haiti.

ME: If I had a time machine that would take me into the future to see what Jerrod Murr’s vision for Haiti is, what would I find?

MURR: Education, opportunity, empowerment.  My personal vision for Haiti is not to forever enable Haitians to receive charity, but to build systems in which Haitians can equip themselves.

ME: My wife and I already know what we’re going to do to raise money for Haiti.  For those that are reading this that want to get involved, how do they do it?

MURR: Right now, 2 major ways:
1) Check out www.100000tshirts.com.  We have a Haiti Earthquake shirt to raise funds and support. Buy the shirt, tell your friends, and, when you wear it, say a prayer.
2) January 30th is a unity night for Haiti. Local churches and groups across the state/region are holding concerts/prayer vigils/services with an emphasis on Haiti.

ME: People can also go to www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=241806042005&ref=mf to join your facebook group “Haiti earthquake 2010 – I want to help somehow!”  This is a tremendous opportunity to show the love of Christ.  For us to sit by and do nothing would void God’s love of its power.  Thank you so much for taking time to conversate with me.

“When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, ‘Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.’  So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger.  When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child.  And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds.  But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.”

Luke 2:15-19

I had to apologize to Jesus the other day.  It seems the spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge had possessed my body.  It was December and I wasn’t excited at all about Christmas.  I had convinced myself that I had too much to do and Christmas had become so trivialized and commercialized that I didn’t care to celebrate it.  Then it happened.  We went to a minister’s dinner and a young lady by the name of Mary Kay Henderson and her husband Brad were there singing Christmas carols.  Right in the middle of hearing her sing and him play the piano, the spirit of CHRIST-mas came over me, along with a deep feeling of shame.  Here I was inwardly chastising everybody else for missing the spirit of Christmas and I was just as guilty as anyone.

I believe Luke 2:19 best sums up what Christmas is all about, “But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” In the middle of a road trip to Bethlehem to register with the Census Bureau, Mary goes into labor.  They can’t find a room anywhere, not even at the rankest, dirtiest motel in town so they end up staying with a bunch of smelly, stinky, noisy animals.

NOW?  Right NOW?  Can’t He wait until we’re in the comfort of our own home?  Doesn’t He know how inconvenient it is for Him to be making his appearance at this moment?  Isn’t that just like Christmas?  Doesn’t Jesus know we’re too busy buying gifts and stressing out over credit card bills?

And then it happens.  He shows up.  And when He does, you forget about everything else and hopefully do what Mary did that night over 2,000 years ago… ponder.

Well, it’s been too long since our last blog and as I was spending some much needed time in God’s Word tonight, I came across some things to share.  (This is Sarah, by the way).  First of all, I LOVE reading the Psalms! There is such encouragement to be found in them!  I opened my Bible to Psalm 40 tonight and as I read and meditated, I got all excited and just had to share!  So, here goes….well, first you might want to check out Psalm 40 so that you really know what I’m talking about…go ahead, check it out then come back.  I’ll still be here…..

Done?  Ok, here goes….I’m just going to do this “nugget style” as I’ll call it and share the cool things that I saw.

#1.  I am, at some point in life, and probably more than once or twice, going to find myself in a “pit of despair” complete with dirty, sticky mud and mire.  (Those of you Princess Bride fans are probably replaying in your mind the scene where Wesley wakes up after being taken by Prince Humperdink and is greeted by the albino who tells Wesley, in a completely hilariously raspy voice that he is, indeed, in “the pit of despair” and then he, well, I’m not going to ruin it for those of you who have never seen it. If you haven’t seen it, RENT IT!)  I digress…I don’t know how you feel, but “despair,” “mud,” and “mire” do not sound enjoyable to me.  In fact, I know it’s not because I’ve been there.  Truthfully, if you’re human, you’ve been there. And that’s what’s great about this verse.  It’s another reminder that I, as a child of God, am NOT promised freedom from trouble and therefore, should not fear the “pit” or heap condemnation on myself when I find myself held fast in mud and gunk and wonder what is wrong in my spiritual life to “get me here.”  It’s just life.  And that brings me to …..

#2: Verse 1 tells me that God DOES hear me and He DOES help me!  This is an awesome promise!!  The only “catch,” if I may call it that, is that it doesn’t say how long we wait before He steps in. That’s where the faith comes. And when we believe that God will come through then we can wait “patiently” as HE decides when the perfect time is to swoop in and “save the day.”  It’s just that waiting patiently thing that gets me every time. What about you?

#3: Here’s the next cool thing I saw…Verse 3 says that “many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord.”  You know what?  I’m thinking that my troubles and God’s faithful rescuing has less to do with me and more about how HE ends up looking to the world.  Again, to reiterate point 2, when I’m stuck in the pit and the “why me?” and “poor me” thinking comes in, not only do I need to remind myself of God’s promises, but I also need to realize how much those in the fallen world around me NEED to see that there truly is a God that saves and rescues.  And how would they ever know what God can do, if they don’t get to see it lived out in our lives??  And there can’t be any “highs” if there aren’t any “lows.”  I don’t know but that was encouraging to me. To think that God truly can get the glory out of my hard times.  It does give it more meaning than just “well, that’s life,” ya know?  It becomes, “Who will get to witness the faithfulness of my God and who will put their trust in Him because of it?”

#4: Now to the verse I got really excited about–Verse 5!  “Oh Lord my God, you have performed many wonders for us.  Your plans for us are too numerous to list.  You have no equal.  If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds, I would never come to the end of them.”  Every sentence of that verse give me pause and reason to praise.  But my favorite parts are the last two sentences.  Read them again and think on them.  Really think….God has NO EQUAL!  I don’t know about you, but that excites me!  To think that there is nothing and no one as big, or powerful, or amazing, or mighty as MY God!

Darrin has been listening to a CD that the great Suzie Eller gave him and he just shared a story from it that I think fits here. Leslie Nease was a contestant on Survivor: China a couple of years ago and shares on her website that on the first episode the contestants were taken into a Buddhist temple and asked, as part of a “cutural show of respect,” to bow to a statue of Buddha.  Leslie politely refused and walked out stating “I’m not religious, but I have a relationship with Jesus Christ and I’m only going to put my face on the floor for Him.”  Why could she make such a statement?? Because she understood how incomparable her God is!  Because she realized that a stone statue is no equal to her living, breathing God!  She gets it!  Do I truly get it?? Do you really get it?? Well, to help us out, let’s move to my final nugget…

#5:  “If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds, I would never come to the end of them” says Verse 5.  So go ahead–try it.  Start listing not only the amazing things that God did in the Bible, but also the things that He’s done in your life and in the lives of those around you and even in the lives of people you may not know but that you get to read about online and in magazines and books.  Seriously, the list will never end because God’s faithfulness never ends!

My faith has seriously taken a few leaps forward after reading these few passages. What about yours?  What are YOU believing God for and does it seem a bit more possible now?  I sure hope so.

“Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen.  And He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’  Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.  Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them.  Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him.”

Matthew 4:18-22

You know the kid who always has to take stuff apart just to see how it works?  That was me.  I was always looking for a radio or television that was no good so I could take it apart and see what was inside.  There were times that my curiosity got the better of me and I ended up either breaking something so I could take it apart or trying to take it apart and put it back together before anybody knew the difference.

Curiosity can be a powerful motivator.  Unfortunately, it seems somewhere along the way we have lost our curiosity about who Jesus is and what He is all about.  We read the Bible more because we feel like if we don’t then we’re not performing our Christian responsibility.  We never stop to think about what we’re reading.  What was going through Jesus’ mind during the temptation?  How did Jesus feel when Peter proclaimed that He was the Messiah?  What was it like for Jesus to pick Judas as one of His disciples, even though He knew that Judas would be responsible for betraying Him?

Jesus was a master of giving people just enough to make them hungry and thirsty for more.  Matthew tells the story of the first disciples that Jesus ever called.  He doesn’t preach any sermons to them or try to persuade them as to why they should come with Him.  All He says is “Follow Me.”  That was all the encouragement they needed.  Jesus understood the power of curiosity.

Have you ever bought a new package of underwear?  Inside you’ll find something that says something to the effect of, “Inspected by 29.”  Sometimes I think we have Inspector 29’s in our churches.  People who have made it their responsibility to inspect every person who comes into the church to see if they pass inspection.  Jesus never intended for us to inspect people.  He EXPECTS us to love them!  The inspection comes as we dig deeper into God’s Word, the Holy Spirit illuminates areas of our lives that need improvement.

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it’s lack of curiosity that is killing Christianity today.  Lord, help us to live in such a way that it creates a thirst in others to have what we have!

 

Yesterday I was challenged. It’s a challenge I’ve been given many times over the past 17 years.  What is it, you wonder?  It’s simple really: How much am I willing to sacrifice to show the love of Jesus to the world?  Did I say simple?  Maybe that was the wrong word.  Sacrifice is never simple. That’s why it’s called “sacrifice,” right?

You see, the Lord began a burden in me for the world while I was in college and though sometimes it seems it has disappeared, there are times, like yesterday, when it becomes very apparent that the burden has not lifted–and nor will it until I have left this earth.  My church congregation was challenged to do whatever possible to make sure that the love and Gospel of Jesus Christ is spread throughout the world. That could mean going themselves or giving financially so that someone else can go.  We were encouraged at that particular moment to make monetary pledges for the coming year to fulfill our part of the Lord’s Great Commission.  I said a simple prayer and wrote down the amount I felt that my husband and I could afford to give. Then I handed it to Darrin and I watched as he doubled the amount I had put down.  And, I will honestly say, I had a moment of near panic, a quick flurry of doubt and fear. I mean, come on, we have a house payment, car payment, satellite bill, cell phone bill, utility bills, a couple of credit cards to pay off, three children to feed and clothe, and what about fun and entertainment?? And then as our pastor read off all the pledges being turned in and they were added up right there in front of the congregation I realized that none of that mattered because I was being given the opportunity to sacrifice so that someone else could not just hear of the glorious love of Jesus but that they might experience it in the form of a meal to eat or a warm blanket at night or a roof over their head, even if that roof were made of tin.

Pastor read off pledge amounts from $2/month to $150/month and as the growing numbers were read, the flame God put in my heart years ago began to flicker and burn and tears began flowing from my eyes.  I didn’t care anymore what amount was written down and what I and my family were going to have to sacrifice to meet it.  I was suddenly humbled and ecstatic to be a part of something that is going to, I believe, change the world. When it was all said and done, a very ordinary group of far-from-affluent people pledged to give more than $5000 per month to the cause of missions!  We will never be able to count the number of meals, beds, blankets, or smiles this money will provide but I know that at that moment, as people were counting the cost of winning this world for Christ, the Father saw it all and was pleased and that is all that matters to me.

“But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night.  They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season.  Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.”  Psalm 1:2-3

Flowers.  I admit, I’m a sucker for them.  (This is Sarah, by the way. *smile*) In fact, my wonderful husband surprised me with two dozen beautiful red and pink roses one week ago on our anniversary. I truthfully love all flowers and would have a house full of freshly cut flowers all the time, had I the budget for them.  I look with envy at the yards of those who have beautiful flower gardens full of a rainbow of foliage that they get to gaze upon daily.  Of course, you’re probably thinking that I should just grow my own flowers, then I’d have them at my disposal at all times. And, I would have to agree. There’s just one problem. I stink at taking care of plants and flowers. It’s true.  You see, keeping flowers alive and looking beautiful takes work. They have to be watered often and then as they grow, they require pruning and shaping to really rise to their potential.  Even the roses my husband gave me have required some work.  Sure, I could have just thrown them in some water and walked away but any lover of flowers knows that if you want them to last more than a day once they’re cut, you have to give them some attention.  Mainly, you have to clip their stems periodically so that the water and nutrients can flow up the stem to the flower.  In the past, when I’ve done this every few days, my flowers have lasted more than two weeks in a vase! However, I have to admit that I wasn’t as vigilant with these flowers because I got sick and wasn’t able to give them the care they needed. And as I sat at the table for dinner tonight, I took the first good look at them that I have since I put them in the vase last Friday night and was sad to note that my once beautiful flowers are now drooping, drawn up, and dried out.  Not an attractive centerpiece, believe me!  And then it hit me….is this how I look spiritually when I neglect my time with the Lord and my time in His Word?  The above verses in Psalms state that when we meditate on the word/law of the Lord daily, we are like trees planted near water, meaning that we have an endless supply of all we need to grow and bear fruit.  If the literal tree were to sprout legs and move away from that stream, would he be able to live up to his potential and purpose? Most likely not.  Similarly, when I choose to not take time out of my day to focus completely on the Lord, I’m ultimately doing myself harm and cutting off the available flow of lifegiving “water” (ie: peace, faith, hope, joy, wisdom and everything else the Lord has for me) and it makes sense that I would become dry, hardened, limp, and useless.

Another thing that affects the growth of flowers is pruning.  If neglected, flower bushes can become a tangled, wiry mess; but, when their caretaker performs the appropriate pruning, bushes grow fuller and the flowers aren’t hidden in a mess of stems and leaves.  Now, I imagine that if flower bushes could feel pain and talk, they would express great dislike of the pruning process and, I wouldn’t blame them.  Because you see, I’ve been pruned, and am continually being pruned, by my Heavenly Caretaker and yes, it’s usually quite uncomfortable and often painful.  Someone I consider a friend turns against me and starts spreading lies about me but the Godly response is to keep my mouth shut though my flesh wants to defend myself. Clip! Though for the majority of my life I have considered myself exceptionally healthy, I’m surprisingly diagnosed with a condition that though not life-threatening, causes great aggravation and instead of blaming and questioning, I am to respond and stand in faith that my God has a reason and that He can heal. Snip! I’m tired and worn out and have a million things to do when the phone rings and it’s a friend needing some of my time.  My flesh wants to ignore the phone and tell her how busy I am and that I’ll have to call her back but the Holy Spirit lets me know the choice is up to me to be selfish or to be a light and help to a friend.  Cut!  Pruning!!

Everyday, we’re given opportunities to grow and mature into the beings that God created us to be and it would be nice if we could just go to bed and wake up in the morning having “arrived” without any inconveniences, discomfort, or hard choices.  But that’s just not how it works and once I accept that truth, then I must realize that it’s up to me whether I want to cut off my life-flow and become hardened and dried up or do what it takes to be healthy, beautiful, and useful to this world.