Monday, June 21, 2010

Keep Your Eye On the Ball

I often take my dog, Sunny, to the beach for a swim. He loves the water almost as much as he loves his tennis ball. He’s a golden retriever and swims like a river otter. He will go to any length to retrieve anything I throw. 

Robbie Lee and I taught him to swim when he was very young. By teaching him to swim I mean, we put him in the water and said, “Okay boy, swim to mama.” He splashed around like a frightened child at first, but then it wasn’t long before he was swimming around like a pro. 

When I want to control Sunny at the beach or anywhere else for that matter, all I have to do is hold his tennis ball in my hand. He never takes his eyes off of it, not even for a second. He has to know where it is every second, just in case I decide to throw it, because then it is his sworn duty to run, jump on it and bring it back to me. Well, he doesn’t always bring it back to me; sometimes he just runs around with the ball in his mouth. 

His tennis ball is his most prized possession. People can gather around him, or dogs can bark at him to come and play, but when I have the tennis ball in my hand, his eyes are always on the ball. He completely ignores everything and everyone around him and is totally focused on the ball in my hand. He doesn’t look left and he doesn’t look right; the ball is the only object he sees. He is obsessed with the tennis ball. 

As crazy as it sounds, the determined focus of my goldie made me think about my Christian walk. The Bible tells us numerous times to keep our eyes focused on Jesus; to focus straight ahead. 

Proverbs 4:25 tells us, “Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you.” Hebrews 12:2 says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith . . .” 

Why are we asked to fix our eyes on Jesus? How can we with so much going on around us? The Bible is very adamant on this point because if we allow our eyes to focus on the terrible things happening in the world we will lose hope, lose heart, lose joy, and, in the end, lose our way. 

II Corinthians 4:18 tells us, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 

Focusing on things in this life means to rely on something that is here today and gone tomorrow. Focusing on Jesus is focusing on forever. 

Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” If we keep our eyes on Christ, all of our needs will be met. It is a decision we have to make every day. We have to be determined to fix our eyes on Christ instead of on the world. In Job 31:1 Job said he even made a covenant with his eyes as to what he would allow his eyes to take into his heart. 

So let’s take a lesson from Sunny and keep our eye on the ball, so to speak. Let’s make a covenant with our eyes and be determined to keep them focused on Christ instead of the world around us. 

Excerpt from "Life is a Buffet So What's On Your Plate?" Copyright © 2009 by Polly D. Boyette "All Rights Reserved"

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I Want to be Unstoppable

While in Uganda, Africa in May 2010 I had the great privilege of visiting Gary and Marilyn Skinner’s Watoto Church right in the heart of the busy city of Kampala, the war-torn capital of Uganda. It is an amazing English-speaking church where life, hope, grace, love and mercy are in abundance in the midst of despair, death, sickness and hopelessness. This is a church that truly welcomes the most desperate people to worship with them, openly sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ as the only way to restore hope and dignity to the lives of the African people. 
I have heard both Marilyn and Gary speak in my own church at Wave on occasion and their stories and their hearts always move me to tears. Gary and Marilyn founded the Watoto Church back in 1982 and now over 22,000 people worship at the 20 different services located within 8 district celebration points across the city. Lives are being changed every day. 
Uganda has been devastated by wars, violence, severe poverty and lack of basic necessities. Every where you look in Uganda, you see people struggling just to make it through that one day. Millions have died from the HIV/Aids virus leaving orphaned children and widows wandering the streets trying to find a way to survive. 
During my visit to Uganda our team attended a Saturday night service at the Watoto Church located right in the heart of Kampala. Our bus arrived late to the church because we had been visiting one of the Watoto Villages, having lunch with our sponsored children. The villages are a result of Watoto Child Care Ministries, founded in 1994 and birthed out of the Watoto Church. Here families consisting of a House Mother and up to 8 orphaned or rescued children live in clusters of brick homes surrounded by schools, a nursery, open sports fields and lush farming land. All of their basic necessities are provided. Most importantly it is a safe environment for children to be raised without fear of being abducted and forced to serve as child soldiers as many in the village have experienced in the past. This is where the healing begins; where dignity and hope are restored. 
As we arrived at the church and were led to our reserved seats, the worship team was already leading the congregation in a song. I’ll never forget looking out over the people and seeing arms raised in worship. Eyes were lifted toward Heaven and everyone was truly lost in worship. The song they were singing was the latest from Chris Tomlin called “Our God.” When they reached the chorus of the song they were singing these words: “Our God is greater. Our God is stronger. God you are higher than any other. Our God is healer, awesome in power our God.” I was immediately moved to tears. Here were people living moment to moment, breath to breath but they were lifting their hands to God and acknowledging Him as greater and stronger than their circumstances. 
When they sang the bridge to the song I was overwhelmed. “And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us. And if our God is with us, who could stand against?” Such powerful words on their own, but when they are sung by a people who have known nothing but suffering, death and hopelessness for so many years, it was beyond powerful, it was awe inspiring. 

Often I have found it hard to worship because of some distraction in my life or a hardship I was walking through, but these people were worshipping with all of their hearts and all of their might while facing uncertainty and insurmountable circumstances every day of their lives. They have lost children, spouses, their homes, their jobs, and their dignity. They wake up every day and wander how they will obtain the basic necessities for that day like water, food and shelter. Yet they lift their hands and praise their God because they know they are unstoppable if He is for them and no one can stand against them if He is with them. 
I felt ashamed that I had ever complained about anything in my life and lifted my hands to sing at the top of my lungs with them and for them. I will never forget that experience. I pray that whenever I feel overwhelmed by things in my life I will remember that day and instead of complaining I will lift my hands in worship and remember Romans 8:31 “What then shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?”
True worship is when we can lift our hands in the midst of trouble and still praise His name and honor who He is in our lives. It’s so easy to worship in times of abundance and plenty. I want to take a lesson from the African people and worship Him in all things and all circumstances. That’s what it means to trust Him completely and to see Him as our provider and our hope. We could all take a lesson from the people of Uganda. Nothing will ever stop me from worshipping the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. I want to be unstoppable. 

Lyrics to "Our God" copyright by Chris Tomlin

Visit to find out how to sponsor a child through Watoto Child Care Ministries.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Ordinary People Serving an Extraordinary God

Recently I was scheduled for a speaking event at a church in Chesapeake, VA, not too far from my birthplace of Portsmouth. I remember it was very hot with the temperatures soaring into the 90’s. The weatherman said the heat index was in the 100’s and this was just the early part of June. I could just imagine if it was this hot already what the rest of the summer was going to be like. 
When I do a speaking event I bring boxes of my books and lots of “Life is a Buffet” t-shirts to sell. Usually I have a couple of those little portable carts to stack the boxes on so I can transport them more easily without breaking my back. However, on this day, I had forgotten to put the carts into the car, which meant we had to lug the boxes into the church one at a time. Thankfully I had a friend of mine volunteer to come along and help out. Her name is Joyceanne. I was so glad she was there to help because the boxes are big and awkward to carry. She also helped to unpack the boxes and displayed all of the items beautifully on the table. She was a godsend. 
Once everything was inside the rest of the event went very well. We had a lovely lunch and door prizes were given out to some of the lucky women with the right ticket number and then I spoke. I spoke to the ladies about “God wants to use your ordinary life.” I love talking about this subject because so many of us fail to understand that God wants to use our everyday lives, right where we are, just as we are to do extraordinary things. We often believe that we have to be extraordinary on our own first, to impress God, and then He becomes our friend and chooses to use us to do this work. This couldn’t be further from the truth. 
After I spoke we had cake and then the ladies came over to the table to buy books, t-shirts and to chat. I get to meet some wonderful people doing this type of events. It’s always encouraging when someone walks up to me and says, “You spoke right to me today. I needed to hear every word that you said. Thank you.” That’s when I realize God is involved in each thing we do. If we are obedient to follow His lead, we will encounter supernatural things just by doing something natural and ordinary. 
After the meeting we packed the boxes back into the car and took off toward home. Just before we were about to enter the interstate lane I heard a “ding ding” sound in the car. Now I usually hear that “ding” sound when I’m low on gas. I’ve become very familiar with this sound, which I promptly ignore until the “ding ding” turns into a frantic “ding ding ding ding.” But I had gas so I knew that wasn’t the source for the “ding.” 
As I glanced at my dashboard I could see the symbol for the temperature gauge was lit up. The arrow for the temperature level of the car was on “H” for high. This was not good news. 
“What’s the matter?” Robbie asked nonchalantly. “Need gas?” She had heard this “ding ding” sound many times before too. 

“No,” I answered with a panic in my voice. “I have gas. This says the car is running hot.”
“What?” Robbie asked. “Are you sure it’s not out of gas?”
“I’m sure,” I replied. “I have a lots of gas. The needle on the temperature gauge says it’s hot! We’ve got to get off the interstate and park this car right away!” 
I promptly left the interstate and headed for the next exit not knowing where I was headed. Not too much further down the road we saw a gas station so I quickly pulled in and stopped the car. Of course it wasn’t a full-service station. It was more like a mini mart that happened to sell gas instead of an actual full-service station. Steam was pouring from under the hood of the car. I didn’t know what to do. 
I decided to try to pop the hood of the car open hoping that would help to cool off the engine, but there was so much steam I was afraid I would burn my hands trying to open the hood. I grabbed a pile of napkins from the car and started fishing under the hood for the lever to open it. Now I’ve opened the hood of my car many times, but because I was nervous about the heat pouring from the engine I was having trouble finding the lever. 
Just then a car pulled up and two guys hopped out. One of the guys immediately came running over to the car. He made me a bit nervous because he had very long hair, a few teeth missing and a t-shirt that said, “Your girlfriend wants me.” I wasn’t exactly sure I wanted him near my car. 
“It’s okay,” I said with a smile. “I’m just trying to open the hood. I know how to do it.”
“Better let me do that ma’am,” he said. 
With that he popped the hood up with ease and started to reach for the radiator cap.
“Be careful!” I shouted. “That thing could gush out all over you!” I didn’t know a lot about cars but I knew enough not to try and open a hot radiator cap.
“It’s okay ma’am,” he said very seriously. “I’m a mechanic. I know what I’m doing.”
“Oh, alright then,” I said backing away to a safe distance.
He opened the cap enough to allow more steam to billow out. Then once he got the cap off, black water started bubbling out of the radiator onto the ground. It wasn’t a pretty sight, but the guy seemed very confident about what he was doing. I began to feel glad that he was there. He quickly grabbed a bucket and filled it with water. Then he began pouring it into the radiator. But the radiator didn’t want the water. It immediately began spewing the water back out and onto the ground. 
“I think you have a blown gasket or a vent is stuck open,” the man said shaking his head. “How far do you have to drive this car ma'am?"

“We’re about 30 miles from home,” I replied. “Do you think it’s safe to drive?”

“I wouldn’t drive it that far,” he answered. “You might make matters worse than they already are and this car will probably leave you sitting on the side of the interstate.”
“Ugh,” I groaned. Now what were we supposed to do? 
The man apologized that he couldn’t do more, but I was very grateful he was able to get the radiator cap off and advise me not to drive it any further. He left with his friend wishing us the best of luck. 
It was then I realized I had no choice but to call “AAA” and get the car towed by to my house. At least we were inside an air-conditioned store attached to the station instead of sitting along side of the interstate in the blazing heat. The lady on the phone said she would send someone right out, but that the tow truck would only be able to carry two passengers in the truck and not all three of us. 
“It looks like we’re going to have to call a cab to take us all home,” I said to the girls. “The tow truck can only take two people in the truck.”
“What if we sit on each other’s laps?” Joyceanne asked frantically. 
“I already suggested that, but they said it’s against the law,” I answered.
So we’ll have to wait for the tow truck to come and get the car and then call a cab. I asked the lady at the counter for a phone book so I could look up a cab company. We were out in the middle of nowhere and I wasn’t sure how long it was going to take for a cab to get out to us. Our heads dropped. This was turning out to be a long, long day. 
About a half hour later we saw a tow truck pulling into the station. I waved my arms and pointed in the direction of the car. He waved back and pulled up near where the car was parked. As he hopped out of the truck he said, “Hey why don’t you ladies hop into my truck while I load up your car. I have the air on and there’s plenty of room.”
"There's three of us. Can you take us all?" I asked.

"Sure, no problem," he answered. 

At that moment I wanted to plant a big wet messy kiss right on his beautiful lips that had spoken those words. He looked like an angel if an angel were to show up wearing a tow truck shirt with khaki pants. But instead I just smiled, thanked him and motioned for the happy ladies to get into the truck. 
When I opened the door to get in there was a big backseat. Joyceanne and I had quietly voted to leave Robbie to have to sit scrunched up against the tow truck driver, but that wasn’t going to be necessary at all. The backseat was long and there was a separate bucket seat up front for the third person. We were so relieved. 
The driver was so friendly and nice. I just put my head back and breathed a sigh of relief. It took us a while to drive the 30 miles back home because tow trucks carrying a car can only go so fast, but I didn’t complain. 

Robbie was in the front seat and struck up a conversation with the driver as only Robbie can do. Turns out he was divorced and had a little seven year old daughter. He was working two jobs to make ends meet but was thankful to even have the jobs in the poor economic conditions of the time. 
Robbie mentioned we were born in Portsmouth, but moved to Virginia Beach to be near our church, Wave Church. The man responded that he knew of Wave Church and had actually attended services there. He had heard of our pastor, Steve Kelly. He liked the church, but when he had to take on the second job he had to work on Sundays and was no longer able to attend church services. “I miss it,” he said quietly. 
When we finally arrived safe and sound back home with the car parked in the driveway I thanked the man for being our angel for that day. 
“It was nothing,” he said. “It’s what I do.”
“Well it was important to us,” I replied shaking his hand. “You rescued us today.”
Robbie walked out at that time and boldly put her arm around the man’s waist. That’s Robbie. She just goes right in for the kill. I so admire her for this. 
“You need to make sure you get back into church,” she said staring directly into the man’s eyes. “You have a daughter depending on you and you need to do whatever it takes to get back into church and raise her the right way.”
“You’re so right,” the man replied. “I do need to get back into church. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately.”
“Don’t put it off,” Robbie said with a very serious look on her face. “Do it right away.”
The man stared back at her as if to say, “Thank you for that.” He shook his head and smiled as he walked back to his truck. We stood together and watched him drive away. He waved out of the window.
“I think you really spoke right into his life the words he needed to hear today,” I said to Robbie.
Robbie just smiled that smile of hers as if to say, “It wasn’t me. It was the Holy Spirit speaking. I’m just the mouth piece.”
After I got changed into some comfortable clothes and was sitting on the sofa having a glass of ice water I went back over the days’ events. I had not planned on having my car towed back to the house that day but as I thought some more I realized something. God had been in every aspect of my day. He was in the carrying in of the boxes because 
Joyceanne was there to help us. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2
He had used my words to speak directly into the life of a woman at the event that needed to hear from God. “For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.” Luke 21:15.

The “ding ding” signal warned us just in time to keep off the interstate and to get the car to a safe place to stop. “‘If you’ll hold on to me for dear life,’ says God, ‘I’ll get you out of any trouble. I’ll give you the best of care if you’ll only get to know and trust me.’”

As I began to think some more I remembered when the car ran hot and the two men who just appeared and came over to help us right away. They had pulled into the station right behind us, but I didn’t see them do anything special at the store. I did see one of them buying a soda or something insignificant like that. It was if they had pulled in just to help us and then they left. “When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it-quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way our God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.” Matthew 6:3-4.

In addition, we were able to wait inside an air-conditioned store rather than be stranded along side a busy interstate on the hottest day of the year. “Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left-feeling abandoned, bereft. No, don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught.” John 14:27.
Then the tow truck driver shows up at the station with this huge truck. I felt like we had been rescued. The backseat was big enough to carry six people comfortably. He was very nice and he got us home safe and sound. “And he did it, rescued us from certain doom. And he’ll do it again, rescuing us as many times as we need rescuing.”  2 Corinthians 1:10.
I recalled Robbie putting her arm around the driver’s waist and speaking those words of wisdom to him with so much heart and warmth. He nodded recognizing that she was speaking the truth and he knew he had to make some changes. “But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way fruit appears in an orchard-things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity.” Galatians 5:22.
It had been a very ordinary day in a way. But God had used each of the events to do some extraordinary things. He opened my eyes to the kindness of strangers and how much He cares for even the little things in our lives. He’s not just in the miraculous and supernatural events, but He is just as much a part of the everyday ordinary routines in our daily lives. 
God uses each of us, right where we are, in whatever we are doing, to minister to others. We are all ministers of the gospel through our everyday lives and through our attitudes toward others. “Through Christians like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!” Ephesians 3:10.
Why are you standing still, waiting for something extraordinary to happen? Live your life with compassion, mercy and grace in everything you do, knowing God is interested in the smallest thing to the biggest event in your life, and you will see God take the ordinary and do something extraordinary with it. We are just ordinary people, but we are serving an extraordinary God. That makes all the difference in the world.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

One Brick at a Time

I just returned from an amazing trip to Uganda, Africa with a team of 32 people. Words can't describe all that we experienced, but I will try to relay one experience that has been very powerful for me.

During our visit to Africa, one of our activities was to help to build a new brick home where four families would live. These are family members of teachers and staff in the Watoto Village. I had no idea that by building they really meant "building."

We spent the next two days working with a team of builders. They showed us how to lay brick and how to place the mortar or "majunga" as they called it. I don't think I was physically ready for the two days of building in the heat. I was wondering if I had taken on more than I could handle.

The bricks lay in a huge pile beside the foundation where the home was to be built. In Uganda, they have very few tools and they do most things with their hands or whatever resources they find around them. We formed a human line from the pile of bricks to the foundation and started passing the bricks one at a time. Then we stacked the bricks in different areas around the foundation so they would be handy as we placed them in the mortar. Sometimes the stacks ended up in the wrong place and we had to move the bricks and re-stack them in a new place.

Then, if you weren't one of people doing the mortaring, you handed the bricks up to the worker. When the "majunga" ran low someone would call out for more, handing you a metal dish to refill. Eventually we ran out of bricks and some of the team climbed aboard a truck and headed out down the road to load more bricks onto the truck. When they returned, we off loaded the brick by forming another human line, passing one brick at a time.

I began to form a hatred of bricks. I had never thought much about bricks before, but at that time I was overwhelmed with bricks. I was passing bricks, stacking bricks,  mortaring bricks, pounding bricks into the mortar, and toting more bricks to workers.

I told God that I never wanted to see another brick again. On day two we did the same thing. Passed bricks, toted bricks, pounded bricks, stacked bricks and ducked away from flying bricks being tossed by team members. I grumbled to myself, "God I'm not a builder. I really am not good at this. I don't want to be a bricklayer. Please rescue me from these awful bricks." But the building continued until we had used up the last of the bricks and the mortar and the walls had grown to 9 feet tall.

As we cleaned up the area I found myself glad to be leaving the building phase of this trip. "Goodbye bricks," I whispered. But then they asked that we all gather inside the building with the team and workers. A pastor from Watoto joined us and he asked us to lay hands on the bricks and pray for them.

"You've got to be kidding," I said to myself. "I hate these bricks. Now I have to pray for them too?" But I closed my eyes and placed my hands on the brick wall next to me.

The pastor began to pray for the building, but not just for the structure. He prayed for the interior of the structure. That it would be a home filled with joy and grace. That whoever entered there would feel the presence of God and know how much He loves them. He prayed for the families who would live in the house and for their futures and for the families after them.

I began to weep. I couldn't stop. I prayed like I had never prayed before. There were tears and more tears. I could see the families living there. It all began to make sense now. Suddenly I loved the bricks. I realized they were more than bricks and mortar. Together they formed a new home and a new future. They represented changed lives and new hope for whoever lived there. They represented new leaders being raised up from the children that would grow up there.

As the prayer ended we shook hands with the workers who had guided our hands and had been so patient with our lack of skills. I hugged each one with tears in my eyes. They looked so proud. We learned that our coming to build there offered employment for many of the workers who would otherwise had been unemployed. They seemed very happy to be working and they were hard workers at that.

As I stepped back and looked at the structure that had started only as a foundation, God spoke something into my heart. During the passing, the toting, the pounding and the mortaring it all felt so hard and even confusing at times. But God said, "because you were obedient and were willing to do something as simple as pass a brick up to a worker, even when you couldn't see the result, you have left something permanent that will reflect my love for these people."

Sometimes in our walk we want only to do the grand things. The supernatural things. But often God asks us to just pick up a brick and pass it to someone else. And by doing that simple task, perhaps over and over again, something miraculous happens. From the foundation of Christ in our life, we lay brick upon brick, one at a time. Measuring as we go, stopping to take stock of our work and then continuing on until God breathes on it and causes something supernatural to happen out of our ordinary efforts.

Ephesians 2:19b-22 says, “God is building a home. He’s using us all-irrespective of how we got here-in what He is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now He’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day-a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.” 

Be obedient to God's call in your life. He may have called you to huge things, but He may also call you to just pick up a brick, pass a brick, pound a brick and then pray over your efforts. I walked away from those two days feeling proud, but also amazed at the God we serve. When people work in unity they can accomplish so much, shoulder to shoulder, brick to brick. Don't let the world overwhelm you. Tackle it one brick at a time. God will do the rest.