God Changes Lives & Enriches Churches when We Fully Engage with Each Other

Families impacted by disability often feel isolated. And church must be the place where they belong, where they are encouraged, where they find hope and healing.

There are a growing number of churches that are being intentional about caring for and fully engaging with people who have atypical lives. These churches are doing more than just “being nice” to people with special needs. They are actually engaging in life with each other. They are resisting fears. They are stepping in faith despite concerns about being over-stretched. They are taking risks to be engaging. They are discovering that God changes lives and enriches churches when they care for and include each other, especially when life gets the most challenging.  

Accessibility isn’t just about ramps, elevators, special seating in the sanctuary and gluten free communion. The church—and Jesus most of all—needs to be emotionally and spritually accessible to all people. And that involves more than just being greeted nicely by an usher. 

Jesus was much more than just NICE to people. He fully engaged with them—their questions and their pain. He cared that people experienced belonging in His family and wanted them to feel assured they had tremendous value. Very often, Jesus physically reached out and actually touched hurting people. In fact, Jesus spent a lot of time hanging out with people who were on the fringes, the hurting, the weak, the weary, the “different,” the ill, the disabled, the unpopular, the unglamorous and those who were seeking hope (even when they weren’t really sure where to look). 

What Jesus always did was engage in love and his foremost concern was and still always is for us to BELONG with Him and to have HEALTHY SOULS.  

On Loving Each Other

Loving and praying for each other is not optional and scripture doesn’t leave room for anything but whole-hearted engagement with people who are suffering. True, it’s overwhelming, scary and messy for us as individuals and as the church trying to meet a wide array of complex needs (e.g., disability, mental illness, aging, chronic illness). But people with atypical lives are not a liability to the community or the church. They enrich our lives, communities and churches! 

No situation is too big or too complicated for God.

LORD, forgive us for showing partiality with our love and compassion. You call us to love our neighbors and pray for our enemies. Move people into our circles of influence that give us opportunity to stretch our love muscles and prove ourselves faithful to YOUR ways! This is one of our spiritual acts of worship.  AMEN

Andrea’s Glory Story

We have all done things we’ve regretted. But have you ever needed a completely changed life? Today, my friend Andrea is sharing a memory about a time when she encountered God and it became a turning point for her.  Together we’re praying that her story gives you confidence in God and courage to run toward Him, no matter how hopeless or unworthy you may feel.  

See that little corner parking spot on the left? Five years ago, I drove under the influence of alcohol in the middle of winter and ended up in that little corner at 1:00 am. For the most part, I don’t remember driving (at least 15 miles). I crashed my car into a snowbank. Then in my attempt to get out, I ruined the transmission. Soon after I got stuck, my phone died. It was freezing and the night was a blur to me. 

For three hours, I sat in the car (no car heat for most of the time) and honked my horn, waiting for someone to get me. I was in a rough part of the inner city and too scared to get out to try looking for people to help. A police officer eventually came and brought me to the Police Station. 

I will never forget how kind she was to me. Most would say I deserved jail time or something of that sort.  I think God knew that what I needed was someone to just talk to me and love me in my mess. I was so young but had the capacity for these kind of crazy stupid decisions. That officer talked to me and processed with me. 

Maybe she broke all the rules. I’m not sure. What I do know is that the moment she had me call my mom to come and get me, I was already at the pit and needed Mercy more than anything. Anyway, she let me go. No charge.

Because of God’s grace, I didn’t hit anyone while driving drunk. I made it out safe in the middle of the night in North Minneapolis by myself. And I didn’t even get sick from the cold! I still get freaked out—in a good way—about this story.  I don’t know every reason for why I didn’t get penalized, killed in an accident or something else horrific, but I am thankful, and amazed. 

I drive by this spot almost everyday on my way to school nowadays…and I smile. I smile at that young girl who had a Perfect Father smiling at her and just WAITING for her to come home to His embrace. A couple of years later I did, and now I barely recognize that person. I am so thankful that I can look these horrible memories in the eye and DECLARE that these moments didn’t have the final word. Jesus came and made me beautiful. And now that’s my story.

Hebrews 10:22-23 (NLT)Let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.  Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.  

A Personal Glory Story from Lisa

Today was the last meeting of the Bible study I’ve been participating in weekly since September 2013.  I loved loved discovering more about how scripture hangs together from Genesis to Revelation while connecting on a heart level with new friends.  At a pace of about one chapter each week, we tarried and dug deep through the Gospel of Matthew exploring the character and ways of Jesus.  There are so many special and important things I could share about things I learned during this time but I’m not going to linger in those details here today.  I’m simply going to share three areas where I have personally been drawn closer to the heart of God in the last several months.
Three promptings I have sensed God impressing upon me this year: 
  •  Engage more intentionally and frequently with Me in prayer.
  • Let Me embrace you in your weaknesses.
  • Bring more people with you to our party.
I continue to learn that prayer is the place I need to dwell (not in activity).  Jesus needed prayer more than He needed rest.  Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?”  I want to access the freedom I have in Christ to tell Him the desires of my heart while asking Him to align my heart with His.  I want to be still with Jesus more often. I want to be more prayerfully discerning.  I want to be a house of prayer.
Second, God is not surprised by my sin. In fact, He will point out my weakness but then meet me in it and walk me through it. I’ve found it so encouraging to see how Jesus did this with Peter.  Jesus walked with Peter on the water after calling out his weak faith (Matthew 14:28-31) then He walked with Peter in a place of strength (Matthew 14:31-33).  Jesus predicted Peter’s denial (Matthew 26:34) then reinstated him with significant affirmation (John 21:15-19).  What comfort it is to know that God wants us with Him even when we’re weak and no one is too far from the Lord’s reach!
Finally, I’ve been inspired (through various things, not just my Bible study) to take God’s Word where the soil is soft — to people of peace.  In my study of Matthew, I realized that I like getting ready (dressed up) for the party (heaven’s banquet) but I tend to avoid making the invitations.  So participating in Revive Twin Cities has been my way of jumping into the water by faith and learning how to make more invitations and do that more effectively.
How about you? 
What is God teaching you lately about His presence, power and goodness in your life?

I would love to hear about it!

Remembering Paul: Jan’s Glory Story

Encountering the presence and power of God can happen at unexpected times and in unexpected ways.  Today’s story is heartbreaking yet a beautiful example of how one family experienced the deepest kind of shock, sorrow and loss while taking a courageous step in the grace of God.  As we read, may we all be encouraged to fix our eyes on Jesus when the storms under our feet threaten to sweep us away.  

I can still hear my sister’s voice. She called my Duluth campus apartment in January of 1981 to tell me that her son Paul had been hit and killed by the kindergarten school bus after he’d gotten off that morning. He went to get the paper he was bringing home to his mom—the one he had colored that day that had blown away from his grip. It landed just below the curb next to the bus. His friend said, “Paul, don’t…” and before he could finish, Paul said, “it’s ok…”

I had seen Paul exactly two weeks before at my Uncle Raino’s funeral in North Dakota.  Raino was a giant of a man to me, a gregarious Finn and a farmer who let me feed the lambs with a bottle when I was a little girl, and I loved him. He had a heart attack and was gone. At the dinner for the family, Paul was wearing the new cowboy boots he had gotten for Christmas a few weeks before. I had cowboy boots on too, and I remember the smile on his face when I showed him mine. 

It was surreal. I was completely in a fog. I was still in shock during the 22 hour Greyhound bus ride to Montana, riding along with my brother, Ric. We talked about how unreal this was, how we couldn’t imagine how this could happen, and about our mom’s indescribable grief over her grandson. We talked about God and how He was undoubtedly present with our sister right now.  

When we arrived at my sister, Renee, and brother-in-law, Brian’s house in Billings, many relatives were already there. I didn’t know what to say to anyone.  Nothing was fitting for this event. Later that day, any of us who wanted to see Paul were invited to a private viewing at the funeral home. Paul had on his cowboy boots but nothing else looked familiar about that sweet little boy. There would be no memorial service or open casket, just the funeral.  

My sister fainted when she saw Paul.  It was all so unbelievable.  Every sound was amplified, especially the sound of our hugs and tears. 

The next day, something happened that impacted me forever. Renee and Brian, along with their pastor, asked the bus driver, Dianna, to come over to their home with her own pastor, to pray with them. Diana was devastated. While I was still trying to comprehend Paul’s death, I witnessed this amazing grace given to the person who was responsible for their son’s death.  

They told her that they forgave her. It was profound to me. I will never forget it. God’s light was shining through them, even in the most difficult of circumstances. Their act made me think of these words from 1 Corinthians 2:5-7. I know the context of this verse is church discipline but the words are fitting for any situation where we ought to forgive and comfort:  

If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you, to some extent–not to put it too severely. 6 The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. 7 Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow…” 

My shock wore off at the funeral when, as we all walked into the sanctuary together, the church was singing Away in a Manger. The reality of all this finally hit me and I wept so hard I could barely walk to our pew. Yet I still couldn’t fathom what my sister was going through. Hopefully I will never know.  

Once I became a mother, more than 18 years later, I finally understood the kind of love she had for her son. My empathy and compassion for her and her family grew even stronger than at the time of Paul’s death because I now understood that kind of love.  
I’ve asked God why he would allow this to happen, and I know Renee and her family have asked God many times over.  In the weeks and months that followed, their grief didn’t leave.  They were suffering. But their obedience to God spoke to others.  

I know God didn’t make Paul die. When tragedy strikes, however, He will use the situation to show us His love and grace. I saw His love and grace through the selflessness of Renee and Brian. So did Diana, the school bus driver.  Even in their pain, they allowed God to work through them, so His glory could be seen to give us hope for the day we’ll all be together again. 

“…but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” John 9:3 

See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this.” Isaiah 48:10.

Lord Jesus, thank you for the example from this family and others who persevere through sorrow today. Thank you that nothing about sorrow like this is wasted when we experience it in the grip of Your love.  Please continue to comfort and strengthen these loved ones as the years go by teaching them how to rediscover your power, presence and goodness.  Thank you that when everything’s falling apart on us, you put us back together again with your Word.  AMEN

A Glory Story from Greg Lucas

Greg Lucas story in Wresting with An Angel included a great deal of inspiration for me personally and has much to teach about the presence, power and goodness of God when parenting a child with disabilities.  But whether or not your life circumstances are at all like Greg’s, I believe you’ll find something very valuable in reading this excerpt from his story today.

“Folding my arms on top of my cluttered desk, I lay my head down, finally and openly broken. I vividly recall asking God to take my life, thinking how easy death must be compared to all the suffering and heartache of the past few years. But like so many times in my undeserving existence, instead of sending death, God sent grace. The grace that brought the gospel of hope into our hearts sixteen years earlier would once again, through much suffering, prove faithful and amazing. 

True desperation is always the most fertile ground for God’s grace to produce an abundant harvest of hope. And each time God has shown us His greatest glory, He has always first revealed our greatest despair.  

I am not one to implore the Lord to speak to me, open a Bible at random, and blindly place my finger on a passage of destiny. Yet I am very much aware of His voice in the written Scriptures, and of the power of His providence to place the right words at strategic moments before my obstinate mind and feeble eyes.  

This day He would choose the 3×5 card taped to the side of my bookshelf with the inspired and timely words of 2 Corinthians 1:8b-10: 

‘For we are so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.’

…Letting go is always difficult. For parents, one of the most anxious, heartbreaking moments is when your child must be released into the world to take his or her own way in life. It is not simply the prospect of independent living that we find frightening. It is knowing that as we send our children out, life will inevitably serve up lessons involving failure and danger and risk. But when that child is severely disabled and entirely dependent on your care, guidance, protection and nurture—a child who has no voice, no ability to defend himself, no way of negotiating through these lesson of life—letting go seems more like the malpractice of accidental amputation than the outcome of successful surgery. 

But Kim and I have learned that faith means deciding, acting and committing to a course of action without fully understanding how things are going to work out. We also know that it is not our faith that contains the power to deliver—it is the object of our faith that both holds the power and determines the outcome. And when you see that the object of your faith is greater than anything in the universe, letting go is no longer the same things as giving up. 

Beneath the death grip of every parent holding tightly to their special needs child is the strong, reliable, and gentle hand of a Father who will never let go—the Deliverer, the Surgeon, the reliable object of our faith. Suffering reveals our need, and our need reveals the Savior. He will direct your life in whatever in whatever way is necessary to loosen your grip—not to take something away, but to make possible more than you could have ever hoped for or imagined. 

This is the grip of grace.” 

If you have a Glory Story to share, please write us at info@walkrightin.org. Glory Stories are the experiences we live and talk about that point others to the power, presence and goodness of God.   What are you learning about God? How do you struggle in faith and how has God been showing you answers to questions? Has God surprised or encouraged you in some way lately? Tell someone!

Active (not passive) Waiting

I am a grateful follower of The Gospel Coalition Blog. It feeds me with truth and food for important thought while keeping my heart looking more broadly at the issues facing Christians today than I am sometimes inclined to look if left to my own narrow vision.

A few weeks ago, my husband Larry forwarded me one of their posts which I had missed. The post by Phil Tripp, titled God’s Will for Your Wait, resonated deeply with us. The last number of years have involved many seasons of waiting for us. Things we have waited for include healing, jobs, a book publisher, financial recovery and security, ministry clarity, partnership opportunities and so on. I know there are many who can relate to that struggle — experiencing some seasons of clear vision and mobilization and other seasons of waiting and wondering about God’s presence and purposes.

If you have ever wondered about God’s will in your waiting seasons or if you are wrestling, like us, through one of those right now, please take a few minutes to read that post. It offers very practical and gospel-centered direction.

Our family is traveling as you read this (some work and some play in Nashville). It’s been a time for continued prayer seeking God’s heart about the direction of our ministry and family. Even as we wrestle through wishing we could know more about God’s higher ways, we are also grateful for the ways that wrestling draws us into closer step with Him. Knowing that Abraham’s waiting (Romans 4:18-21) was also for our benefit is a great encouragement and an inspiring model.

Let us remember we are never alone in our waiting and let’s be active in the process — celebrating, studying and yielding to the One who credits our faith to us as righteousness.

Lord, may our waiting be an act of worship! AMEN

I’ve Got My Process, You’ve Got Yours

Reflecting on our sins and weaknesses is a tender endeavor. Each of us is in a process of self discovery that is sometimes painful, sometimes shameful, sometimes consuming, sometimes tempting to ignore or down-play and sometimes overwhelming but always necessary and always with the potential to be freeing and refreshing.

I’ve known some people who seem to spend very little time considering their need for forgiveness or help. And I’ve known some others who can’t seem to get it under their skin that Jesus would have died to save them even if they had been the last person on the earth. They find it hard to receive their forgiveness so they live in the grip of shame, fear, confusion, fatigue and frustration.

I don’t know where you land on that spectrum today but I’m trusting that you’ll find a review of certain truths encouraging in some way. I’ll admit, I started writing this post for some friends who are struggling with the grief of sin — stuck in shame, self-loathing and a sense of defeat. Even as my heart was breaking for my discouraged friends today, I was getting impatient and frustrated with my own lack of progress in many areas. That’s when God started putting some favorite verses about sanctification on my mind. These verses always encourage me when I get impatient with my own transformation process but they also inspire me to be patient with others because I’m reminded to respect that each person’s process is different and equally precious to God.

If you are someone today who is needing encouragement from God about the process you are in, please join me in reflecting on these (emphasis is mine):

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:16-18

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:19-22

Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. Acts 3:19-21

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Romans 15:13

And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. John 1:16

It’s “Marriage Prayer Friday!”

We appreciate all who are joining us in this weekly commitment to prayer for marriage — the critical and sacred union designed by God to bring His children great blessing while causing great glory to Himself.

Sadly, there are many who are struggling in marriage and often feeling very alone. If you are one of those today, please know that we are standing in the gap with you, committed to asking God for growth, refreshment and even miraculous restoration. Please keep praying and don’t hesitate to let us know if we can pray more personally and specifically for you. The Walk Right In Ministries Intercessory Prayer team will gladly come alongside in strict confidentiality to pray for you and for your family. Contact us at prayer@walkrightin.org.

May God bless you all this holiday weekend!

A prayer for your own marriage—
PATIENT LORD, I am so thankful that you are merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Countless times you have forgiven me when I deserved nothing less than Your wrath. When I have failed to yield to the changes You wanted to make in me, You have still pursued me with Your steadfast love. Please help me to better reflect these things toward my husband/wife. The psalmist asked, “How long, oh Lord?” I have found myself asking that at different times too. (How long do I have to wait for my spouse to love me the way I want to be loved? How long do I have to wait for my husband/wife to give his/her life to You, Jesus? How long does our family have to wait for a better job or something important we need? How long must we wait for better health or healing to come?) You know what intimate questions I have asked You, God, and you know perfectly well what I am waiting for yet today, Holy Spirit. Please strengthen me and help me to persevere, God. Help me to discern when my waiting is necessary and worth it versus when You are prompting me to move on in some way. Help me to never rush ahead of You! Please fill me with Your peace, hope, and long-suffering love and help me to reflect Your mercy, grace, and abounding love to my spouse — whether I think he/she deserves it or not. I want this to be about what You think is best, Lord, not what I think is best. Thank you for the power of the shed blood of Jesus in my life, Lord God! AMEN

Something to pray for a friend’s marriage—

PATIENT LORD, I am so thankful that you are merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Countless times you have forgiven me when I deserved nothing less than Your wrath. When I have failed to yield to the changes You wanted to make in me, You have still pursued me with Your steadfast love. This is also true for my married friends, Lord, and I pray on behalf of their marriages today. Please help them to better reflect these qualities toward each other. The psalmist asked, “How long, oh Lord?” Some of my married friends may be asking this question today as it relates to their marriage and family. You know perfectly well what intimate questions they have asked You, God, and what they may be waiting for yet today, Holy Spirit. Please strengthen them and help them to persevere. Help them to discern when their waiting is necessary and worth it versus when You are prompting them to move on in some way. Help them to never rush ahead of You! Please fill them with Your peace, hope, and long-suffering love and help them to reflect Your mercy, grace, and abounding love to each other. Increase their desire to follow Your ways, oh Lord. Thank you for the power of the shed blood of Jesus that allows me to pray in authority and stand in the gap for my friends, Lord God! AMEN

It’s “Marriage Prayer Friday!”

Last week we committed to join with you every Friday in praying for marriages to be refreshed, renewed, healed, restored and thriving. Whether you are praying for your own marriage or for the relationships of others you know, we hope you appreciate the value of this frontline weaponry in the battle for strength in this sacred union.

A prayer for your own marriage—
MERCIFUL GOD, your Word tells me to ponder things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy (Phil 4:8). Yet I confess that, when it comes to my marriage, I am often fixated on why I feel disrespected, discouraged, irritated, misunderstood or just under-loved. Thank you that I can lay the longings of my heart openly before you but help me to share them with others more sparingly and respectfully. Please strengthen my resolve to celebrate the good things more and criticize less. Make me an encouragement to my spouse, Lord Jesus, rather than a resounding gong or clanging symbol (1 Cor. 13:1). Help me to bring more of Your Light into my marriage so that this family experiences more joy and the kind of health that flows out of a marriage anchored in the Good News (Prov. 15:30)! AMEN

Something to pray for a friend’s marriage—

MERCIFUL GOD, your Word tells us to ponder things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy (Phil 4:8). Yet I have a friend who sometimes feels disrespected, discouraged, irritated, misunderstood or under-loved in his/her marriage, Lord. Help me to be a good listener when my friend is struggling but keep me from enabling gossip or slander. Give me courage and gentleness to point my hurting friend back to You (2 Cor. 1:3-5). Show me how to help my friend celebrate more about what is good in his/her marriage in a way that doesn’t make him/her feel like I am minimizing the pain. Let my conversation be full of grace and seasoned with the salt of Your love and wisdom so that I know how to contribute to the health and strength of the families around me (Col. 4:6). All of this is for Your glory, Lord! AMEN