Tuesday, July 28, 2009

3G: Juvenile Probation and God's Justice

...It was the August that I returned from Washington State. I was now a jobless college grad that had joined a band that practiced in what was an old garage at Colin and Andre'a's new house. The months passed by as did the job applications stamped: rejected. Thankfully Paul Ann Baptist Church brought me on staff and made me a part-time secretary until I could find a full time job.

This was a rough season for me spiritually. I was still processing what all I had learned that summer and was trying to discern what would be the best direction to take ahead of me. While focusing on my temporal circumstances, I had neglected focusing on eternal things and my worries and anxiety proved my distrust and unbelief in my good, sovereign, providing God. I praise Him that He is faithful even when we aren't and strong when we are ever so weak. Perhaps it is during the times that He seems so distant that He is growing our faith in Him. Again, He was preparing me for a great task ahead.
In March 2004 I found a full-time job and was hired as a Tom Green County Juvenile Probation Officer. It's true...I had the badge, cuff keys and caged cars. I took kids to court and had office, school, detention center and home visits with the juveniles on probation. The thing I learned most about God while working in the court system was God's justice.
Like the juveniles I worked with, I too had charges against me. My sin nature was an offense to God's law and "the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23)." Someone would have to die to pay my penalty. Now obviously the sentences that were brought before the Tom Green County Courthouse were not as harsh. Most would get off on probation, some were placed in correctional facilities, and some were put on deferred adjudication, but there would have to be retribution that fit the crime. There were times that I felt little grace toward these kids that acted so foolishly and yet I was constantly reminded that "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)." I tried to picture myself raising my right hand on the stand before the judge at the TGC Courthouse and then proclaim that I would take on all the charges and consequences of the charges of the defendant. This is exactly what Christ did on our behalf. Scripture says, "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died--more than that, who was raised--who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us (Rom 8:31-34)." Romans 3 explains how no human can be justified by the law. The law shows us our sin nature before a Holy and Perfect God. We are all law breakers, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and [yet] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." God's wrath towards us was poured out on His Perfect Son that we might be free from the sentence of death. GRACE...it always seems magnificent in light of His justice.
It was around my third month that I received news that one of my church youth group students had taken his life. This brought about a time of great questioning and mourning. My on-call week at the Juvenile Probation Center soon followed. To be "on-call" meant that the police called me if they picked up a kid at any hour and I had to decide on the phone whether or not they should release the kid or detain him/her. If detained I was responsible for contacting the judge within 24 hours. It was an unusual week of extreme cases: aggravated sexual assault, assault with a deadly weapon, and there was one evening that I became the first Probation Officer to ride in an ambulance. In the back of our building was the detention center and one of the girls had tried to hang herself. She gasped for air through the oxygen mask as we rushed off to the hospital. After being in the ER for a few hours the nurses and doctors began to run frantically about the hospital, grabbing supplies from other rooms. I could tell that the girl I was with was frightened. I started singing a hymn to her in hopes to bring peace to the chaos around us. Half way through the song the heart beat of the one everyone had scurried about trying to save had flat lined. She looked at me with tears in her eyes as she heard the sound of death. There was a part of me that had been angry that she too had attempted to take her life as my student did, yet I could do nothing at that point than speak words of hope to this girl who saw hopelessness.
A great amount of my caseload had kids who were physically, emotionally and sexually abused and were also neglected. My eyes had been opened to an angry and wicked world. I was told that I couldn't take work home with me if I wanted to survive in this line of work, yet my heart had too much compassion and I ended up with much grief and tears most nights. I wanted to share the hope there is in Jesus Christ, yet was confined by the "separtion of church and state." Not long after my on-call week I was confronted by Lee Floyd, Director of the Baptist Student Ministries, to consider taking the Campus Missionary position at the BSM. It was a hard decision to leave the mission field of Juvenile Probation, but now I would be able to proclaim the truth of the gospel with no limitations...To Be Continued...

3G: Oh Worship the King: Washington and Beyond...

...My arrival home had me entering a season of searching. As you recall, before I headed to Washington State I was a college graduate and I had no idea as to what I would do come August. That May, inbetween orientation and Washington, there was a team of us that were held in Dallas to serve for five days at a church. My first task approached me when the lead singer of the youth worship team was sick and unable to come. The three years prior to this night I had purposely stayed in the pew and off of the stage to grow in my focus and understanding of the One in Whom I worshiped. This night (above picture) would be the first of many chances to lead God's people in worshiping Him. I can remember standing behind that mic trembling at first and then the music began to play. It was as if I were in the pew yet with a mic in my hand. Nothing at that moment could distract me from worshiping my Lord.
While I was in Washington I had a few opportunities to lead worship again and then received a phone call from my friend Chance Nichols. He was putting together a band that would lead worship for the college students every Monday night at Angelo State's BSM. At that point I had no job and no other plans and gladly joined. Chance, Kasey and I lead worship for two years together along with several bass guitarists and drummers. We traveled quite often for a season and though loading the trailor was not our favorite thing to do, leading people in worship with the music we loved was our passion. We were at a Disciple Now in Robert Lee (I think) and were nameless. A kid named Brody took it upon himself to help us out and suggested that we call ourselves Shepherd's Flock since we were leading The Shepherd's flock in worship. The name stuck for as long as we were together. Those two years would hold great trials and opportunities for me as you will see in the next few posts. The band was one of the Lord's provision for me that constantly anchored me in and pointed me to Christ despite the distractions that I faced. I am so thankful for the accountability and encouragement that I received during those times. I continue to grow to love the art of music and the beauty of bringing together different instruments to produce such a unifying sound.
It makes me think that when the body of Christ works in the way a band or orchestra does there is a God glorifying sound that is beautiful to those who hear it. Each member must play their part in order to produce this sound. Scriptures give us a list of "One Anothers" as notes on a piece of sheet music. Love one another (John 13:34), exhort one another (Heb 3:13), encourage one another (1 Thess 5:11), outdo one another in showing honor (Rom 12:10), live in harmony with one another (Rom 12:16), etc... In doing so we show the world the God we serve. Christ's prayer was, "The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one...." We are also encouraged in 1 Peter 4:10-11, "As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: ...in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen." He has gifted us individually, the question is whether or not we are using those gifts for His glory and in unity with the body. May our unity proclaim the One Who brought redemption rather than defaming His name by our disunity and selfishness. May our noise be a joyful one rather than a noisy gong and a clanging cymbol.
I always loved the words to Ross King's song "Clear the Stage" which goes well with the topic of worship. Please read and consider these lyrics...To Be Continued...
Clear the stage and set the sound and lights ablaze
If that's the measure that it takes to crush the idols.
Chuck the pews and all the decorations too
Until the congregations few then have revival.
Tell your friends that this is where the party ends
Until you're broken for your sins you can't be social.
Then seek the Lord and wait for what he has in store
And know that great is your reward and just be hopeful
Cause you can sing all you want to.
Yes you can sing all you want to
You can sing all you want to
And don't get me wrong,
Worship is more than a song.
Take a break from all the plans that you made
And sit at home alone and wait for God to whisper.
Beg Him please to open up his mouth and speak
And pray for real upon your knees until they blister.
Shine the light on every corner of your life
Until the pride and lust and lies are in the open.
Then read the word and put to test the things you've heard
Until your heart and soul are stirred and rocked and broken.
Anything I put before my God is an idol.
Anything I want with all my heart is an idol.
Anything I can't stop thinking of is an idol.
Anything that I give all my love is an idol.
We must not worship something that's not even worth it.
Clear the stage and make some space for the one who deserves it.
Cause I can sing all I want to.
Yes I can sing all I want to
I can sing all I want to
And still get it wrong,
Worship is more than a song.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

3G : Missions in Washington State

...So, there I was. I had entered a season of unknown territory. I was now living for Christ, yet all I had known in daily routine my entire life was school. In May 2004, I graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Sociology/Psychology. I sought the Lord for direction and the only thing that continued to pop up was missions. In some ways I scoffed like Sarah did when she heard that she would bear a child at her age. Me...missions?!?! The truth was that I began to doubt the Lord's provision for me to quit my job and leave for a whole summer. I am sure if I truly listened I could hear my Lord say, "Oh ye of little faith." With hesitation, I completed my application and was sure that I was supposed to go to Canada. Instead, I received my assignment to Sedro-Woolley, Washington. Sedro-Woolley is a lumber-jack town 40 miles south of Canada and 40 miles east of the coast at the base of the North Cascade mountains. The one stipulation was that I would be going alone. There would be no team there to greet me upon my arrival. I accepted the mission to work with a very small church.

I was honored to stay with a family in Mt. Washington (about 20 minutes from S-W). The wife of this family was in charge of placing foreign exchange students in homes. Because of this, I was able to meet various people who stayed with us in our home from Belgium, Italy, France and Russia. I was so blessed that although I was not leaving the US of A, the nations were coming to me and I was able to share the gospel with each person from their vaious locations. Two doors down from us lived two of the "Lost Boys of Sudan." Their names were Gatgoy and Dak and I was touched by their zeal for the gospel. They had heard a missionary was in town and almost daily came by to learn more about their God. In Sudan they had been introduced to the gospel alone, so they were intrigued to hear about the Old Testament and encouraged by the letters in the New Testament. All they knew was the gospel of Jesus Christ and that alone impelled them to want to go back to Sudan and preach the good news regardless of the persecution that they would face.
These two were such an encouragement to me in a land that seemed so desolate of Christians. The stats given to us at orientation was that the Northwest was 10% "churched." The word "churched" included Hindu, Buddhist, Mormon, etc...so, only about 1% were involved in Christian churches. Not all who are involved in Christian churches are saved. So, needless to say, I was truly alone and yet thankful for the few that I came in contact with that summer who loved the Lord. I will say that one thing that I appreciate about the Northwest is that you will find few "luke warm" Christians. People generally will tell you that they love God or find it all foolish. This was refreshing coming from the bible belt where everyone claims to be Christian and yet show the fruit of this world rather than the Spirit.
The trials I would persevere through were many. In the middle of my trip the church ended up splitting and asking the one faithful person proclaiming the Word, Pastor Steve, to step down and put in his resignation. Toward the end of my trip I wrote this:
"I can tell you that I have learned a lot from this experience. God has used me to give biblical counsel to 50 year old women to youth age. I have taught at Vacation Bible Schools, a Disciple Now, a Lock-in, a Youth Camping Trip and numerous bible studies (including the adorable 65+ young ladies class). The Lord used me as a vessel to plant seeds and share the gospel to exchange students and others. I have been so blessed in working for the Lord here in Washington. The lord has taught me compassion and love. He has taught me to be content in the midst of trials and to lay down my burdens at His throne that I may even take another's load. The lessons learned here are many, but I can tell you that I have gained an appreciation for the body of Christ. It has been hard doing ministry alone up here, but it has made me depend on Him more and more."
Though this was a very trying season it proved to be a season of great growth and dependence. We were created for community being fashioned after a God who is the Trinity (a loving community within Himself). Believers are not meant to walk alone. Isolation brews sin and goes against what the Scriptures have laid out as a model of "One Anothering." I pray this finds you all in a biblical church body and for those of you on the mission field feeling alone, I pray that you are encouraged and cared for by those at home who support you. Leaving Washington was hard knowing the mission field behind me and the lack of direction ahead...To Be Continued...