End of the Growing Season

“I will never buy those again!”

I turned toward the voice and spotted a tall man, standing next to his wife and pointing at a brightly colored flower on the shelves at Lowe’s. I laughed inwardly at the immense effort it required of me NOT to shout out, “ME EITHER!!!!”

The red and yellow flowers were beautiful, but they do not grow in my garden. I could barely get them to stand up straight, let alone flourish. They will never go into my garden again. Not because I don’t like the idea of them growing there, but because they simply don’t grow.

I was thinking about those flowers again on Saturday as I sat in my front yard waiting for my computer updates to complete. I was thinking about things that don’t grow the way we want them to, at the rate we want them to, or with the amount of fruit we want them to. Those things are rampant in life, and sometimes the struggle to see “our garden grow” can be discouraging. We may even come to the point of saying, “I’m done with that! It’s just never going to flourish. I want a plant I can depend on.”

My thoughts were on this summer’s Growing Together campaign at Forbid Them Not. We set out with hope and enthusiasm. The Forum on Fatherlessness went so well. We felt people were ready to see the ministry grow and to grow with us. We wanted so much to be in a more flourishing place by the time this year’s Green Bean Project rolls around in October. We set out a plan, and followed it faithfully. But the results did not seem to come. We had hoped for growth in the areas of prayer, participation, and partnership. But it didn’t seem to happen. We cancelled a few things we had planned because everything else had been met with the proverbial chirping crickets. We did not have the time or resources to invest in something that only we would attend.

As we came to the scheduled end of our campaign, my heart was discouraged. I considered the massive amount of energy poured into blog posts, events, social media posts, interviews, etc., and then I looked at the apparent lack of fruit. My heart and my flesh and probably Satan said,

“There you go. You’ve failed. Again. You worked your heart out, but it wasn’t enough or it wasn’t right or it just doesn’t matter.”

But as I sat in my front yard Saturday morning, I considered my flowerbed. It doesn’t have those bright red flowers that I will never buy again. It has something else—lavender. Lavender does not yield substantial fruit the first season. In fact, if you want the plant to survive and thrive, you don’t even cut the flowers the first year. The second year, you might get a handful of flowers, maybe even two handfuls. Not until the third season can you expect substantial fruit. Then something happens. It becomes hardy. My lavender has been frozen, scorched by the sun, run over by a drunk (or possibly blind) driver, and yet I have three baskets of lavender drying in my front room.

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I thought about my lavender, and I thought about ministry. I realized that just because a plant doesn’t have visible fruit on it, doesn’t mean it isn’t doing what it’s supposed to be doing. It may still be maturing.

Skala 2_3

I will spare you the four pages of notes that came from these musings, but I do want to share a few precious things that encouraged me and might encourage you.

That Number Isn’t Really Important

One of my greatest struggles over the last few months has been a number. A number that threatens to shrink. A number that comes up once a month and must stretch an enormous distance. A simple number that affects every single aspect of life and ministry. But as I was looking at that flowerbed on Saturday, I was reminded that I am not living on that number. Forbid Them Not is not surviving on that number, but rather on all the “riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” That is the account, the soil, we are drawing upon, and that is where our hope must lie. (Philippians 4:19)

Preparing for a Mountain

God teaches us to profit. He leads us in the way we should go. (Isaiah 48:17) I know these things, but it wasn’t until I studied them out a little that I saw the picture of how He does this. The idea behind the Hebrew words is that He disciplines us, goads us, gets us accustomed to things, chastises us, prepares us as a soldier preparing for war, so that we can ascend a mountain and stand on the summit.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve climbed a few mountains in my life. It was work—and believe me we’re not talking Everest here. I’ve hiked to the tops of mountains in Montana. I’ve hiked on a ledge in Romania that was so narrow you had to hold onto a chain bolted into the mountain to work your way across. I’ve hiked to a height in Kyrgyzstan that made my legs tremble and my lungs burn and that said, “You can’t go any further because you are not strong enough. If you go further things will not go well for you.” And I had to stop.

God doesn’t want us to have to stop. He wants to prepare us to reach the top, to stand on the summit, and to praise Him. And so, HE PERSONALLY TRAINS US. It’s not our own effort. He gets us accustomed to the thinning air, the steep incline, the weight of our packs, and then when the time is right, He leads us.

A Guide for the Trail

He leads us with His own footsteps. That’s what Isaiah 48:17 says. Leadeth means to tread with the feet. No matter how you look at it, this word means to get somewhere by walking. God doesn’t just point up the trail and say, “Go.” He steps onto the trail, and in some cases, He creates the trail with His own feet. He goes with us, trampling down the brush and the grass and the other things that may impede our way. It may not be fast moving, breaking a trail never is, but we have an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful, everywhere present Guide who will never leave us nor forsake us on that trail, be it in the wilderness, on the mountain side, or in the city.

A Rock for Rest

Later this month, I will be helping out with a Rock of Ages Prison Ministry revival at the Montana Women’s Prison. In preparation, I was doing a little study on faithfulness, and came to a verse from the story of Moses, holding up his hands while Joshua fought Amalek. Exodus 17:12 says,

“But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.”

The next verse in the list of cross-references I was studying was Deuteronomy 32:4,

He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.”

Sometimes, we just need a rock to rest on. What confidence it brings to know that God is that Rock. His work is perfect. He will hold us up.

Hands to Hold Us Up

Even when he was sitting on the rock, Moses needed Aaron and Hur. Can you imagine standing all day with your hands held above your head? It is no wonder he grew weary. Sometimes, maybe more often then we would like to admit, we need someone to hold up our hands. This is our goal with FTN, to share the gospel of Christ while we hold up the weak hands of the fatherless and those who are caring for them. But sometimes we need someone to help hold up our hands, just as you need someone to hold up your hands from time to time.

I’m going to issue one last Growing Together challenge: Let’s hold up each other’s hands. Let’s encourage one another, walk together, talk together, prayer together, and work together. We must always stand (and sometimes sit) on the Rock, why not hold one another up in the process?

We’ve shared many ways over the summer that you can help hold up our hands. I’d ask that you look back over them, and see what the Lord might have you to do. At the same time, I’d like to ask you:

What can we do? How can we help hold up your hands? Let us know! We can’t help, we can’t even pray, if we don’t know there is a need.

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Feasting with the Fatherless

Exhausted. That was one of two words you could use to sum up how I felt. Exhausted—and completely happy. It happened this way every year. Ten days of Christmas programs, feeding people, helping elderly women with their coats, and helping them on and off of buses. Singing, laughing, working. Food and dishes and more dishes and more food and…I’ve never seen so many mashed potatoes or so much beet salad in all my life!!! But, oh, how blessed I was to have the joy of blessing others.

Over the ten years that I lived in Moscow, I only spent one Christmas back in the States. Every other year, I stayed at the orphanage and participated in our unusual Christmas tradition. Ten days of busing in retired educators for a meal and a Christmas program. Nearly 3,000 people came every year, mostly women who were widowed and incredibly poor. We weren’t able to follow up with all of them between Christmases, but in some cases we could, and that just extended the blessing.

It was a feast for them: soup, potatoes, soda, beet or carrot salad, a piece of chicken, bread, bananas and mandarin oranges (both of which at some point ended up in purses, secreted away for the journey home), all finished off with tea and a light dessert. It was a time to talk, to fellowship, to sing, to laugh—a time to forget the dark loneliness and oppression of life.

Our goal, of course, was to bless them and to share Christ with them. But in reality we received as much of a blessing from what we were doing as they did. Blessing others is not a joy simply because we’re making someone happy. Blessing others brings joy because it is God’s plan. Blessing others is important to God, so it should be important to us.

Samovar

In last week’s blog, I mentioned that the Old Testament specifically speaks of inviting the fatherless to certain feasts. This week, I want us to look a little closer at what God says about this.

In Deuteronomy, God laid out specific times when His people were to bless the fatherless, the widow, the stranger, and the Levite by including them in their feasts as well as in their harvesting and tithing. (Today’s passages are lengthy. To save space, I have provided links to each reference.)

  1. A time of tithing – Deuteronomy 14:22-29; 26:12,13
  2. The Feast of Weeks – Deuteronomy 16:9-12
  3. The Feast of Tabernacles – Deuteronomy 16:13-17
  4. In the course of Harvest – Deuteronomy 24:17-22

From reading these passages, we see that God clearly wanted His people to bless the fatherless, the widow, the stranger, and the Levite. In doing so, not only were they allowing them to participate in the solemn feasts and worship that God had ordained but they were also providing for them.

God didn’t just give them this command and leave them with what might have been a burden. He also promised His blessings upon His people for their obedience in this matter. Blessings which, unless we’ve studied them out, might get hidden in our apprehension of trying something new and possibly overwhelming. Here are just four areas of blessing:

  1. God will bless the work of their hands – Deuteronomy 14:28,29
  2. The feasts will be a time of rejoicing – Deuteronomy 16:11,14
  3. This practice provides a reminder of their redemption from bondage – Deuteronomy 24:17-22
  4. It gives them the confidence that they are in right standing before God and can seek His blessing upon themselves – Deuteronomy 26:12-15

Even as He promised to bless them for caring for the fatherless, the widow, the stranger, and the Levite, He had some promises in store for when they did not care for them. In a blog post from several years ago, I referred to them as the “bookend” promises because one comes at the beginning of God’s conversation about these people in the books of the law, and the other comes at the end. Both are important:

  1. If you afflict them, I will kill you with the sword – Exodus 22:22-24
  2. If you pervert their judgment (i.e. deal unjustly with them and their cause), I will curse you – Deuteronomy 27:19

Gulp. I enjoy stories about knights in shining armor, wielding their swords on the behalf of the weak, but something tells me that being on the pointed end of the sword wielded by God would not be enjoyable. We know, we all know, that when God says something, He means it. But does any place in Scripture play out the seriousness of keeping these feasts with the fatherless and their counterparts?

Consider Isaiah chapter 1. Here God specifically deals with Israel’s feasts, which He has come to hate. Hate is actually a soft word. They are an abomination to Him. His soul hates them. They trouble Him, and He is weary to bear them. When Israel spreads their hands in worship, He will hide His eyes. When they pray, He will not hear because their hands are full of blood. So what does he tell them to do about it? (Isaiah 1:16-18)

  1. Wash and make yourselves clean.
  2. Put away the evil of your doings.
  3. Cease to do evil.
  4. Learn to do well.
  5. Seek Judgment.
  6. Relieve the oppressed.
  7. Judge the Fatherless.
  8. Plead for the widow.
  9. Come and reason together with the Lord – though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

Later in the book of Isaiah, God deals with their fasts. Here the Lord does not specifically mention the fatherless, however, He does mention the oppressed, which are a counterpart of the fatherless. He also mentions the hungry, the poor, and the naked. Since the fatherless are four times as likely to be poor they will most definitely fall into this category. Here’s what God says in Isaiah 58:5-7,

Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD? Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?”

God is not pleased with their fasts anymore than He was pleased with their feasts because their focus is so far off. In their time of fasting, He wants their focus to be on others, specifically on those who are suffering.

But again, God does not throw that out there and leave it as a weighty burden. He promises blessings with it (Isaiah 58:8-14):

  1. Your light will break forth as the morning.
  2. Your health will spring forth speedily.
  3. Your righteousness will go before you.
  4. The glory of the Lord will come behind you.
  5. You will call, and the Lord will answer.
  6. You will cry out, and He will say “Here I am.”
  7. The Lord will guide you continually.
  8. He will satisfy your soul in drought.
  9. He will make your bones fat.
  10. You’ll be like a well-watered garden.
  11. The waste places will be rebuilt.
  12. You will delight in the Lord.
  13. You will ride upon high places.

That’s a lot of blessings compared to the sorrow of meeting the tip of God’s sword!

It might be easy to look at this, consider that it is written in the Old Testament and say that it does not apply to us today. But we would be remiss in doing so. God did not spend a lot of time on this in the New Testament. He didn’t need to, after all He’d laid ALL this ground work in the Old Testament. It only took one well-placed verse, James 1:27

James didn’t need to go into great detail. He was writing to Jews who had the background already laid out for them, and Jesus had set the example practically throughout His earthly ministry. James simply needed to remind his readers, “Hey, look back over history, look back over God’s establishment of the law and the carrying away into captivity. This is what God was looking for, this is what GOD deems to be pure religion (worship).”

“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”

In reality, James 1:27 is just a summary of Isaiah 1:16-18. We’re not talking about salvation here. We’re talking about pure religion, the purest form of carrying out our worship. It has two points:

  1. Visit the fatherless and the widow,
  2. Keep yourself unspotted from the world.

That’s it. But that is the importance of blessing the fatherless, the widow, the stranger, and in our case those who are serving in ministry. It’s a command that is met with a sword if not kept and with great blessing when we obey it.

It isn’t Christmas (even if Hallmark does want us to celebrate Christmas in July). It isn’t Easter. But we are nearing the harvest, and it is always a time of tithing. So let me ask you this: What can you or your family or your church do to bless the fatherless, the widow, the stranger, and even those who have given up everything to go out and serve the Lord. How can you “feast” with them? The events I shared about at the beginning of this blog are unique. Most of us cannot put on such an elaborate affair, but we can do something. Which of these people sits in your pews, lives on your street, works at your job, or is supported by your church? That is your sphere of influence. These are the ones within your gates. How can you bless them?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas, and I’d love to hear what you do as you carry out this last Growing Together challenge of blessing the fatherless. We don’t have to do this alone. Conversation is one of the best ways to grow in an area that is new and challenging to us. Please feel free to share via our blog, our Facebook group, email, or even by phone. We want to learn together.

A Single Mom’s Greatest Asset

If you met her at a grocery store, you would never know. You would never know that she is a widow, that she has adopted children out of desperate situations, and fostered still dozens more. She is joyful, strong, and her blue eyes flash with a courage that is rare in our world. She is a single mom, not because she set out to be one, but because she became one with the loss of her husband. She is a single mom because she saw the needs of the children whose parents had cast them aside or were unable to care for them. She is a single mom because she had the courage to do for others what many will not. But when I interviewed her for the Growing Together campaign and asked this woman about her greatest personal assets in facing the struggles that single-parenting, -adopting, and -fostering brings, she said this,

“God putting the right people in our lives at the right time.”

In other words:

You.

You and I are her biggest assets, whether we (or she) knows it yet or not.

Channels of Blessings

A few days after our conversation, I spoke over the phone with another single mom. She was busy, waiting for an appointment to begin. Our conversation was a bit rushed at first, but before we’d gotten past the first question (Can you tell me a little about yourself and your story?) she was saying, “Sometimes, I just need someone to do boy things with my son.” A few minutes later, she was saying, “I need to have that older woman who can teach the younger women. You don’t realize how much you need that until you don’t have anyone.”

Sure she mentioned juggling finances and time and schedules. She even said she needed eight arms! She mentioned the struggles of homeschooling as a single mom. But more than anything, she emphasized the need for godly people in their lives. People who can encourage, be just a phone call away, even if it’s just so she can talk things through.

And so my friends, once again—YOU and I placed in her life by God are her biggest assets.

As I talked with both of these ladies, the greatest need they face is also the greatest need we face at FTN—the need for people to walk with them. People who will follow God’s command to step out of their comfort zone, out of sleeve-brushing distance, and right smack into the middle of their lives—no matter how messy.

They mentioned the need for mentors, for someone to help with yard work and house repairs and car maintenance, for men to do boy stuff with the fatherless and women to do girl stuff with the motherless. They mentioned the need for those who can give solid, Biblical financial guidance, people who would be willing to help with back to school shopping (Not the paying for it, the logistics of getting it all done!), the need for babysitters, tutors, and even for just a note of encouragement.

Often we look at the needs of the fatherless, of the millions of orphans, of the hundreds of thousands of children in foster care and we think, “What is the answer? What will make a difference?” The answer is simple.

It’s you.

It is God living His love, picturing His redemptive plan through you and through me.

Perhaps you don’t feel you have much.

God used a little boy’s lunch to feed a multitude!

Perhaps you don’t feel qualified.

If you survived childhood, you must have some wisdom to impart!

Perhaps you don’t know what talents you have to offer.

God will show you! He is the giver of talents after all.

If you have followed our blog, emails, or Facebook group for long, you know there is a need. If you have followed Scripture very long, you know we are responsible to meet it. Change is possible, and it may require sacrifice on our parts; but in considering the earthly sacrifice let us not forget the eternal reward. We have shared many things over the last two months, ways that you can minister to the fatherless and even ways that you can help us minister to the fatherless if you are unable to get involved personally. We have more to come over the next two weeks, but the question is this, you’ve seen the need, you’ve seen that it’s our responsibility, we’ve shown that change is possible, and we’ve seen that we—each one of us—are the biggest assets to this ministry…

Are you ready to step out in faith and obedience?

This week’s challenge, once again, is a simple one. But it’s a great place to start obeying God in this area of worship and ministry. In the Old Testament, God set up several feasts when the people were to gather together and celebrate what God had done for them. At those feasts, God required the people to invite the widow, the fatherless, the stranger, and the Levites that were within their gates. These guests who had little or nothing to give in return were to enjoy the feast with those who had plenty. So my challenge for you this week is this,

What can you do to bless a fatherless family, a foster family, or a family of non-parental guardians raising minor relatives?

It doesn’t have to be big. It might just be a note of encouragement or a small gift to commemorate a memory you share with them, or it might be something more. Maybe it will be a feast. Let the Lord lead you, but whatever you do, don’t be afraid. God always gives us the grace, courage, and resources to obey Him.

May the Lord make you a channel of blessings.

A Time For Praise

It’s easy to get discouraged in this life, and no less in this work that God has called us to. The constant pressures, difficult situations, uncertainties, and heartache of watching the struggles others are facing can wear a person down pretty fast. To be honest, I’ve been having a lot of those moments lately. Little discouragements here and there added to bigger discouragements or disappoints all pile up to a cloudy perspective even on our beautiful 100 degree days.

Purple Umbrella

Every Thursday morning, Marta and I meet for a special time of prayer. Of course, we pray separately for various needs across the ministry and in our respective churches throughout the week, but Thursday mornings are special. This morning, as I was rushing across town to get to the office, I was thinking about our prayer time and about the heaviness in my heart, and I realized today needed to be a little different.

Sometimes, we need to make a conscious effort to praise the Lord for what He is or has been doing in our lives and ministries. Today we decided that our prayer time would be a time of praise. Rather than making a prayer list, we made a praise list, but it didn’t quite go as we planned.

We would write down a couple of items, and then one of us would kind of groan and say, “Did I tell you about this?” And our spirits would drop as we discussed a serious situation that has come up in the past few days. We’d forge on, write down a few other things for which we are truly grateful, and a text message would come, describing a horrible situation, which seems to be heading in all the wrong directions. We’d write a few more things, which led to discussion of some of the personal struggles that stem out of the choice to follow the Lord in this ministry. Then we’d get back to our list and try once again to focus on the abundance of things God has done for us. This pattern just kept repeating itself until finally Marta said, “It’s really hard to focus on praising when we keep getting ourselves down again.”

It might sound laughable. In fact, it sounds like something I might say if I were trying to lighten up a situation, but there was nothing funny in the statement. We both sat there in tears having just heard of children who have been abused and neglected, hurt emotionally, physically, and spiritually, children whose parents chose abusive partners over the wellbeing of their little ones, and a system that moves so slowly that weeks go by without solutions. Instead of bringing joy, our time so far had just made everything raw.

But then we finished our list, began to pray—and the room changed. Oh, not physically. The furniture didn’t move or anything. No, the spirit in the room changed because stepping into God’s presence and verbalizing our praise is a mighty weapon against discouragement. By the time we were finished, our hearts were much lighter. Prayer changes things, but so does praise! What were we praising Him for? Here are just a few of things from our list:

  1. Earlier this week, the Lord allowed me to reconnect with a single mom that we have ministered to in the past!!!
  2. We found out this morning that a spot may be opening up at a live-in facility for a single mom in desperate need of a safe home and a community that will point her toward Christ!!!
  3. Yesterday, we had 16 new members added to the Faceboook group, which always excites us!
  4. One of the women we have been working with has just had the adoption of her first child reversed and now has custody of her daughter.
  5. In reflecting on what God has done over the past few months, we looked back at the Green Bean Project and how God took this little ministry and channeled over $1700 to three missionaries and their works in other countries as well as providing $500 for the local single moms ministry!
  6. We looked back at how God led and provided in the planning and carrying out of the Forum on Fatherlessness. It was amazing!!!
  7. We reflected on the fact that God has given clear direction in the weekly Bible studies, so often making the topic of discussion exactly what was needed for some situation or another!
  8. We thanked Him for the joy of the study that Marta, Yvonne, and my mom and I have been doing each week. We have all learned so much and grown in the way we approach ministry.
  9. We praised Him that we still have an office and a real presence in this building. (I no longer have to move all of the ministry stuff from my bed to my desk to my floor and back again.) All of our bills are paid! We’ve made all of our reserves but one! And in the last couple of months, God has brought in a set of shelves, an office chair, and several unexpected gifts of office supplies!
  10. I praised Him for His provision for me. It’s been eleven months since I left my job and stepped out by faith. I had one month’s worth of living expenses saved up, but God has met every need for eleven months!
  11. God has burdened the hearts of two people to partner with the ministry!
  12. We praised Him for the volunteers who have helped in the clothing exchange, in gathering resources for developing courses, and in helping us transport various items that won’t fit in my Swift from one end of town to the other!
  13. We praised Him for the opportunity to walk alongside of a family helping a girl who had been cast off by her own family and to maintain the relationship when the Lord moved her to another part of the country.

SO MANY THINGS for which to praise Him! Sometimes it feels like we are making so little progress, like things are not moving as we would like—but God is always working. When we stop to praise Him, we realize how much He has done.

Are you feeling discouraged? How can you praise the Lord today?

What’s In Your Hand?

“What is that in thine hand?”

When I read this phrase in Exodus 4, I always picture Moses with a strange expression on his face as he glances toward his hand. Here he stands, face to face with the all-knowing God of the universe, and He’s asking what’s in his hand? It’s a stick! A stick! Who cares that he has a stick in his hand? He’s a shepherd in the wilderness, climbing mountains and guiding sheep. The stick is nothing more than a tool of his trade. …Or is it? Why is the God of the universe so interested in that stick?

Because He plans to use it.

Whats in your hand

Two weeks ago, we sent out a challenge, which we originally intended to finish up today. We haven’t seen a lot of response, and we have struggled ourselves in getting in all the conversations we want to have. So we’re going to extend our challenge to sit down with a single parent, a foster parent, or a non-parental guardian and learn from them. But we’re also going to bring in the next Growing Together challenge so you can be thinking about it as you learn.

Often, we think of ministry to orphans or the fatherless in terms of orphanages, food programs, clothing programs, educational programs, and basically anything to which you can attach the word “program.” That perspective from my vantage point, and probably yours, is overwhelming. But nowhere in the Bible does God require this of us. Are those things unbiblical? No, but God does not require that every Christian start an orphanage in his backyard. This would be not only unrealistic but also a weight heavier than we could bear. God’s plan is much less extravagant than this, perhaps so much so that we miss it for what it really is.

There stood Moses with that rod—that stick. To him it was nothing more than a piece of wood that came in handy in his daily work. But God had a plan for that rod. He would use that rod to show His power to the people of Israel as well as to the Egyptians. He would use that rod to deliver Israel at the Red Sea. He would use that rod to provide water in the wilderness. God had big plans for that stick.

Moses had used the stick in his hand day after day for menial, mundane tasks. To him it was just a part of who he was and what he did. He probably never saw any value in it other than what he personally got out of it. He probably never saw that God could use it to guide, protect, and help others.

But God uses small things. He used the donkey’s jawbone in Samson’s hand to kill a thousand men. He used five smooth stone’s in David’s hand to deliver Israel from the oppression of their enemy. He used the widow’s handful of flour and a little bit of oil to feed a starving prophet. He used a cloud the size of a man’s hand to end a drought. He used the five small loaves and two fish in the hand of the child to feed the multitudes.

God does not ask us, “What is in that man’s hand?” He asks us, “What is in thine hand?” That is all He requires of us.

A couple of years ago, as I was looking back on the path down which God has led this ministry, I began to see a pattern. The things that were most effective were not massive programs. They were simple solutions to vital needs. Since then, that has become our mode of operation.

We cannot feed every fatherless child in Billings, nor is that our goal. But we can take what God puts in our hand and use it as He directs us. Maybe that thing in our hand is counsel. Maybe it is know-how in changing a taillight. Maybe it is a professional network that knows where to get a needed resource. Maybe it is experience in setting up a new business or in business development. Maybe it is cooking experience, cleaning experience, yard and garden experience, desktop publishing experience, or GED preparation experience. Maybe it’s parenting experience. Maybe—it’s just me. Maybe just being who I am and letting God be Himself through me in loving the fatherless and those caring for them is all that is required.

This week’s challenge is simply to take stock. What has God put in your hand? What skills do you have that could help meet the needs you have discovered or are discovering as you learn from single parents, foster parents, and non-parental guardians? Think it through. Write things down. Commit those things to God’s use. And be watching, because we’re going to be asking on Facebook. The things you discover may give us ideas that we had never thought of before!

Nobody Gets It

Do you ever get to the end of the day and think “Man, nobody gets it. Nobody understands what it’s like to be: a retail salesperson, a mom of toddlers, a pastor with no salary, a kid with no friends, a missionary far from home and friendless, an entrepreneur who hasn’t had their breakthrough moment…” Do you ever wish you could just sit down and explain it to someone, or maybe to everyone. Some days, we wish we could just explain it all to everyone. Why? Because in the midst of our struggles, we want someone to understand.
Compassion
Over the last couple of months, I’ve seen a number of memes, articles, and blog posts “explaining” to everyone what it’s like to be in a particular life situation, usually a job. I understand. I remember many moments when, as a leasing agent, I wanted to scream “I am the only person in the office today. I am answering a phone that rings every five minutes, processing twenty applications, handling all of the walk-in traffic, showings, and leasing appointments—and you want to know the exact dimensions of the bathroom counter in a particular apartment!”

We want people to understand where we are because we hope that if people understand where we are, they will relate to us better. We hope for more patience, more reasonability, more achievable expectations, more grace.

This week’s challenge centers around this basic need each of us has to be understood. Being understood isn’t a right. In our “selfie” culture we can get the idea that people have an obligation both to hear and understand us. They don’t. No more than we have an obligation to hear and understand them. It is, however, a need, and one which we rarely take into account when dealing with others.

We get in a rush and run over people as our lives intersect. We dismiss concerns, judge and ridicule actions, and never take the time to learn the motivators behind these things. We say, “Well you made that choice, so now you have to live with the consequences” without ever finding out the true story behind the situation. We rush into chaos without realizing that our “simple” question, request, or expectation is overwhelming. Just like the people asking for bathroom fixture specifications at the apartment complex.

When it comes to ministry, this is detrimental. Jesus looked out on the multitudes and was moved with compassion. Why? He saw their need. He saw that they were as sheep without a shepherd. He saw (and healed) their diseases. He saw (and addressed) their lack of understanding in spiritual matters. He perceived (and met) their need to be fed. And part of this was because He did the one thing that made it possible for man to comprehend that the God of the universe understood them — He became acquainted with our infirmities. Jesus went much further in understanding others than most of us ever would or could. He left behind everything He knew in Heaven to take on the miseries of life on earth. He walked among us, as one of us, in the trenches of our sickness, brokenness, and unfathomable failure.

Does compassion move you? Do you take the time to understand others? This week’s challenge is simple, but also hard. It will most likely take you out of your comfort zone, but it is ever so important. In fact, we feel that it is so important that we’re going to make it the focus of the next TWO weeks. So here it is. Over the next two weeks, take the time to talk with a single mom, a grandparent raising their grandchildren, or a foster family and ask them:

• What is it like to be (a foster parent, a single parent, an aunt or uncle caring for your siblings children)?
• What are your biggest struggles?
• How do you wish others would help?
• What has been the most beneficial to you, i.e. what skills have you acquired that help you the most, what assistance have others offered that is truly helpful in the long run?

Take the time to learn from them. Be sincere. Learn from them what it’s like to be them. Keep a record of what you learn and pray over what the Lord would have you to do with it. Please feel free to ask us to pray for you when it’s time to step out and have these conversations. It’s okay and normal to be nervous about asking someone about something that is foreign to you. It’s okay to be nervous about asking someone about their struggles. But if we never ask, we will never learn and we will never grow, nor will our relationships deepen to the extent that God intended. God will give grace and strength. We also want to walk alongside of you in this. That’s why we’re calling this summer’s focus Growing Together—because we all have growing to do. So while this may be hard—it’s the right thing to do.

Do you have someone in mind that you could talk to? Let us know how and when you hope to talk to them so we can be praying for you.

Keeping it Simple: How to Minister to the Fatherless

This week’s challenge will be short and sweet. We all know that God wants us to visit the fatherless and the widow in their affliction. We know that He said we are to be doers of the Word and not hearers only. But HOW do we do that? Where do we start? This week, I’m going to challenge you to do one simple thing that will mark a beginning point in this area. But first, I want to share with you why I so often suggest starting here.

Several years ago, I received a letter from a young woman whom I had met while sharing about the ministry of Forbid Them Not in a church near her home. In the letter, she shared about her burden to minister to the fatherless, but she didn’t know how or where to start. I wrote back and made a simple suggestion. A couple of months later, I received another letter from this woman. It was a letter full of joy. She told about how she had committed to do one thing every day, and as a result the Lord opened up a relationship with a single mom for whom this family had been burdened for years. The young woman and her sister began tutoring this single mother’s son. A relationship, which, in the past, had been strained, became a relationship of open communication and investment. It opened doors to share with this fatherless family about Christ and His love for them.

So what was that one little thing?

PRAYER

Maybe that seems too simple, but sometimes simple is the best thing we can do! Here is the challenge I gave her:

  1. Make a list of all the children you know who, for whatever reason, are living without one or both of their parents. This includes children in single-parent homes, children living with non-parental guardians such as grandparents or an aunt or uncle, children in foster care, or children in state or privately run institutions.

  2. Commit to pray for those children and their caregivers every day.

That’s it! Just start there. You may be surprised where this one simple step will lead.

I recently read a new book by an author that I have been following for a couple of years. I usually find his books practical and helpful. This new book, however, left me feeling like he was giving me ideas, painting a picture of the ideal situation, but not giving truly practical help. I had to read the book twice before I started seeing the practicality of it. I don’t want to do that to you. So I think we should also look at the question, How should we pray?

Here are a few ways to get started:

Praying for the Fatherles Card

This simple step can lead to amazing things, so I want to make it simple. Click here for a printable version of the above card. Feel free to share it with others.

If you are willing to take this step, to make a list of the fatherless children in your sphere of influence and pray for them each day, do me a favor. Let me know by commenting below. We will pray with you as you step out in faith and worship.

Prayer changes things. It changes lives. It changes us.