Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Be The Gospel

"The Plaza"
Gainesville, Florida
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. Romans 12:3

Regardless of our vocation or circumstances, as Christians, we all have a spiritual purpose. At the center of this is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Nothing is more important than sharing His grace and love.

As you read through the New Testament, the road to salvation is clear (John 14:6), as is the purpose of a Christian’s life (Matthew 28:18-20). This can manifest itself in many ways depending on your spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12 & Romans 12:4-8). We can participate in a variety of Christian missions because they often utilize many spiritual gifts while sharing the love and grace of Christ. 

Recently, I was in Gainesville, Florida, for a family vacation and then traveled on to Hilliard, Florida, for an extended family reunion. (I’ll share more about that in a future post.)

While in Gainesville, I got to see firsthand one of the homeless missions my sister Teresa is involved in. Homeless are a huge challenge in Florida, particularly in the University town of Gainesville. This is too short of a forum to get into all the angles, but on one side you have fear, unease, mistrust, and on the other…well, basically the same. A large segment of the homeless population lives in or utilizes “The Plaza” downtown, designed for recreation and concerts. Many citizens don’t feel safe using The Plaza for its original purpose.

The city has attempted various solutions, some palatable and others not so much. In an effort to move the homeless from the downtown area, the city recently remodeled an old prison on the outskirts of town and renamed it “The Grace Center,” a one-stop facility to meet the homeless’ needs. (As of this writing, housing has been delayed 90 days due to lack of funding).

Convincing the homeless to make the trek from downtown has been a challenge. In the meantime, Christian organizations continue to go to The Plaza to feed the homeless on various nights while some have started serving meals at The Grace Center.

On a hot, humid Monday night, I accompanied one such group—“Be The Gospel”—to serve dinner at The Plaza.  

Pastor Lem sharing a short
message and blessing
before the meal
The leader of the group, Pastor Lemuel Simmons, gave instructions and prayed beforehand, reminding everyone that feeding the homeless wasn’t for our glory. It wouldn’t make us more holy or more acceptable to God. Our salvation is intact. Ultimately, our deed wasn’t to make us feel good. Our purpose was to love the people we were about to encounter. We’d love them with food, with eye contact, with smiles, with conversation, and our availability. In other words—Be the Gospel.
 
How often in our lives do we think about being the gospel? Sure, we can recite the Great Commission and the role we’re supposed to have out in the world to reach the unsaved. But what about the less desirable? The ones that make us uncomfortable? The ones that might even threaten our physical safety while we’re trying to help them?

What I discovered that muggy evening, as I have the other times I’ve participated in homeless ministries, is that you often walk away with more than you give. Being amongst these folks shines a spotlight into your own life, the things you take for granted, the things you waste every day, the fast track to nowhere everyone seems to be on. Jesus walked among the “least of these” in society with often little more than the garments on his back. His focus was on reaching the folks—not what was in it for him. 

I enjoyed the evening. I’m glad Teresa invited me. All of the folks served were grateful, some talkative, a few were angry and occasionally loud, while some quietly took their food and faded back into the scenery surrounding The Plaza. By the time the last spaghetti had been scraped out of the pot and the last glass of tea served, more than food had been shared. Jesus had been shown to the folks who live in The Plaza.

Me, Pastor Lem, & Teresa
Pastor Lem’s speech about not making the evening about us had been taken seriously. Yet, fellowship among society’s downtrodden had lightened everyone’s heart and step just a little—even if just for the night. And maybe—just maybe—that’s a little of what Jesus felt when he did the same. Because, you see, blessings are often a two-way street.

Sharing a laugh
If you’re not doing so already, look for an opportunity to Be The Gospel to someone. It might be the only encounter they have with the grace and love of Christ this week.

Do you already participate in a ministry? I’d love to hear about it. Share in the comments, along with any prayer requests you may have. Feel free to e-mail me confidential prayer requests.

God bless,
Laura

©Laura Hodges Poole

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Are You Living Like A Prisoner?

View through a cell
pass-through window
from Vietnam War
Prisoner of war. The phrase instantly conjures up a universal mental image of a soldier’s imprisonment riddled with physical and mental torture, starvation, and sometimes death.

Last week, during our travels, Josh and I stopped in Andersonville, home of the infamous Civil War POW camp in south Georgia. Also ensconced there are a military cemetery and the National POW Museum, which houses memorabilia from all wars Americans fought in. We were pleasantly surprised by the incredible care taken to preserve history and by the size of the state park. In a town so small, it could easily be overlooked by tourists. In fact, I would imagine an accidental encounter with Andersonville would be unlikely. 

After driving through thirty miles of farmland, Josh and I crossed a bridge a mile or so before entering the complex. We looked down at old railroad tracks below and wondered whether trains carrying prisoners ever passed over those tracks. We were astonished to learn they did, and then the prisoners were marched to the camp.

Sweat poured off us in the 98o weather as we walked through the 26-acre mostly treeless camp with the afternoon sun beating down on us. We both agreed conditions must have been deplorable in the 1860s. It’s unfathomable to imagine the ways humans devise to mistreat fellow humans, no matter their differences. Still, the camp intrigued us, as did the museum.

 

Josh and I were impressed with displays from each war and particularly the creative ways POWs found to endure such horrid conditions and pass the time. From inventing codes to communicate with each other to carving artwork in rocks or pieces of wood, the POWs seemed to have one thing in common—their ability to survive.

As I thought of this in the context of a Christian’s life, it seemed shocking that I was able to find any similarities. After all, we aren’t prisoners, nor are we mere survivors. We are victors! The war against our enemy has already been won! Yet, I marvel that Christians sometime allow themselves to be led into spiritual captivity by Satan and then spend valuable time in bondage to his lies.

We all know folks who profess to be Christians, maybe ourselves included, who live in bondage. We allow Satan to affect our moods, circumstances, choices, relationships, work, and countless other aspects of our lives when he’s already been defeated. (Colossians 1:13).

Christians should never be spiritual prisoners of war. Satan only takes prisoners when we let him. We’re often guilty of laying our troubles at the altar, then picking them up and walking away with them. We rail against difficult circumstances that could grow us spiritually. But the worst is when we yield to the lies the enemy tells us about our ability to function in God’s Kingdom.
  • I'm not as smart or creative as the leaders of a church committee or mission group.
  • I'm not popular, so maybe no one would listen to my ideas.
  • The obstacles are too high or other such nonsense we succumb to when we live in the human realm with the enemy undermining what we’re called to do.

The saddest part of this is—in listening to Satan’s lies, we’ve allowed him to build spiritual walls around us, cutting us off from God’s promises.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.  Colossians 1:21-23 
Even though trials and heartaches can make a Christian’s life feel like we’re merely surviving at times, we must strive to live like victors. We are soldiers in God’s army, fighting for the unsaved and against an enemy who doesn’t want to relinquish his hold on them. (1 Peter 5:8) But we can never lose sight of the fact that Christ’s blood has already defeated Satan! When he tries to slither up to you and tell you otherwise, quote the verses below. He’s well aware of his future demise. As Christians, we can’t allow ourselves to forget it. (Ephesians 6:10)

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 2 Corinthians 3:17 

If you have a prayer need or would like to share a word of encouragement for others walking through trials, please share in the comments below. Feel free to e-mail me confidential prayer requests. I’d love to pray for you!

God bless,
Laura

©Laura Hodges Poole

Check out the renovated Bible Gateway website! In addition to several Bible translations, they have devotions, articles, and books available for purchase. Bible Gateway is an invaluable resource I use for daily Bible study and writing research. Below are additional photos I took in Andersonville. Click on any of the photos in this post to see a larger image. Thanks!

Outdoor exhibit

Cell block from POW Camp
"Hanoi Hilton"
Vietnam War


Cemetery entrance










Josh searching for his
Great-Great-Uncle Homer's
gravesite
and he found it!

Guard tower/camp entry

Simulated shelters

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Joy Comes In The Morning

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5b NKJV 

In the midst of mourning, you often can’t fathom how joy could possibly interrupt your grief. Back in January, we lost our beautiful Aussie to cancer. When my husband mentioned another dog, my son Josh and I vehemently opposed the idea. There was no room in our hearts for any dog except Dixie—and she was gone. A few months later, Josh mentioned if he ever got another dog, it’d be a black Lab. But he wanted to be working and settled in his own place before that happened. He was in no hurry to open his heart, nor commit himself, to caring for another pet.

Then early one Friday morning a few weeks ago, after a night of storms, Josh was relaxing on the couch in front of the TV. As a volunteer firefighter, he’d spent three hours during the night cutting up downed trees in our district. Suddenly, he heard a whimper and went to the front door to investigate.

“It’s a puppy!” He yanked open the door and ran down the sidewalk and around the corner to the garage where he’d seen it disappear.

Our garage was opened about a foot because, for some silly reason, wildlife have decided to adopt our garage as a nature conservatory. Unbeknownst to us until it was too late, a bird built a nest in one of Josh’s dirt-bike helmets, laid her eggs, and hatched them. So we couldn’t close the garage completely until the babies were ready to leave the nest. We won’t discuss the huge black snake who decided to visit, as well. J

Wet, shaken, and trying to bark like a dog ten times her size, the little black puppy finally allowed Josh to scoop her up. Her bark became a whimper as he cradled her in a towel and rubbed her dry. We fed and watered her and then discussed what to do.

I cautioned him not to become attached to her. “She looks like a purebred Lab, so she probably wasn’t dumped. She must live nearby because she’s too small to have walked far. Her owner will miss her.”

Josh agreed then loaded her in his truck to take her to our vet to see if she’d been chipped. She hadn’t.

He made fliers to put up in the neighborhood. He admitted he hoped the owners wouldn’t show. After all, what if her owner turned out to be a big, burly guy who treated her rough? (So much for my cautioning him not to fall for her. J) She was cute and wanted to be right where Josh was all the time.

By mid-afternoon the owner called, delighted and relieved her puppy was safe. Josh was disappointed, but he knew the angst of having a pet wander off. Dixie had done it more than once. He always said he didn’t want someone just taking her home without attempting to find her owners.

Before the owner came that afternoon, Josh tried not to show his disappointment and hugged the puppy good-bye. He said, “She’s reminded me of the joy of having a dog.”

The dog’s owner works at a local church. She and her boss had prayed that morning the puppy would be found by someone kind and gentle who would care for her. I jokingly said, “Yeah, Josh prayed the owner wouldn’t turn up.”

But we explained how we knew the right thing to do was to try to find her owners. During the conversation, we learned she was one of a litter of puppies that were actually Lab and German shepherd mix. The owner had given away the others but decided to keep the little pup because she was so cute.

The lady appreciated Josh’s honesty and willingness to do the right thing and said she might be willing to give the puppy to Josh. We all agreed to pray about what the best thing would be for all of us.  

A week later, she called and offered the dog to Josh. I can’t say it’s been easy dealing with a puppy after having a mature, well-behaved dog like Dixie, but Josh is thrilled to have her. I’m thrilled to see his joy after such a hard loss five months ago. We still miss Dixie terribly, but little Macy has taught us that despite our grief, joy did come in the morning!

If you’re experiencing grief or dealing with a tough life situation, please know I’m lifting you up in prayer today. If you have a specific request, please leave a comment or e-mail me confidential requests. I’d be glad to pray for you! J

Have you ever experienced an unexpected joy? I’d love to hear about it!

Shalom,
Laura

© Laura Hodges Poole

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Watch, O Lord

Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! Psalm 46:10 NKJV

When I logged onto Bible Gateway yesterday afternoon and read this verse, it was like a balm of Gilead to my soul, mind, and body. As I embraced just being still, I felt God's comfort and peace wash over me. 

The past few weeks have been rather challenging as I prepare for my final exam in medical coding, while keeping up with homework, my transcription work and writing, and battling pain in my upper back and shoulders. No matter what I do, nothing eases it. The only real solution would be to step away from the books and computer for a good rest. Ha! It’ll be a while before that can happen.

I had another blog post I planned to share, but since it’s not finished, and my three-hour final exam is tonight, the less time I spend on the computer, the better. So, instead, I’ll share this prayer from St. Augustine and hope it will bless you as you read it or add it to your own prayers today.

I’m not a rote prayer kind of person, but this particular one touched me where I needed it this week. And, I always enjoy learning from the saints of past centuries. Just like with the old hymns, there is much theology and divine inspiration in such prayers.

Watch, O Lord, with those who wake, or watch, or weep tonight, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend your sick ones, O Lord Christ. Rest your weary ones. Bless your dying ones. Soothe your suffering ones. Pity your afflicted ones. Shield your joyous ones. And for all your love's sake. Amen. (Villanova.edu) 
If you have a prayer need, I’d love to pray for you. Leave a comment or e-mail me your confidential requests. 

One young mother we’ve prayed for during the past three years has been Courtney, who’s battled a cancerous brain tumor. After her last MRI six weeks ago, the doctors discontinued the final chemo she’d been on. Last week was her first recheck since then.

From her Caring Bridge site: The first words out of Courtney's neuro-oncologist were, "God is so good!" She said her MRI looked awesome and everything is stable! She gave Courtney a big hug along with some of the other medical team…We will now resume the every eight week MRI's with our next appointment at the end of July. Someday, we hope the appointments can be spaced out even more, but for now, we are so thankful the fine doctors and medical staff are watching her so closely and will address anything as quickly as possible should it be necessary to do so…The thoughts and prayers from all of you are so important to us as we make these frequent trips.  Each visit can be life changing and knowing that others wish her well and pray for continued healing, is so comforting to us.  The smiles continue and for that, we are so grateful.

The only thing I can add is “Praise God!”

Do you have a favorite prayer or Bible verse you’d like to share? How has it encouraged you during sickness or through trials?

God bless,
Laura

©Laura Hodges Poole

Available for FREE Kindle download today only:




“The Precipice: When Everything We Know Ends” is a collection of short stories with futuristic settings, though most are plausible in our current world situation. Following each short story is a list of discussion questions to help the reader explore their own belief system. This book would make a great small group or Bible study resource. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

How to Become Rooted and Established

Josh and me at the park
“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” Ephesians 3:14-18

The Apostle Paul prayed often and was greatly burdened by the responsibility of not only winning souls to Christ, but teaching followers about Christ. He spent hours in the temple and teaching halls, once preaching so long a parishioner fell asleep and tumbled out of a window (Acts 20:7-12).

Paul’s prayers emphasize the urgency with which he wanted new Christians to be “rooted and established” in the love and knowledge of Christ. He knew firsthand how difficult the road of the cross is and what it took to be strengthened for the journey.

One way we can do this is to read our Bibles and pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance for discernment. I’ve heard many people say they don’t understand or wish they had a better grasp of the historical setting of the Bible or a deeper intellectual understanding of the basis of the Bible. Or they don’t know how to follow a particular topic thread through several books of the Bible. They yearn for answers, yet sadly, some Christians aren’t taught directly from the Bible in the churches they attend. Even when they are, time constraints of worship services don’t always allow for in-depth study to answer all of our questions.

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” 1 Peter 3:15a

While Peter’s admonition mainly refers to a Christian’s testimony, being able to have a dialogue with a non-believer or fellow Christian about the Bible’s origin or history or answer questions about our faith is imperative. We live in difficult times, as have most believers, and being saturated in God’s Word and having a clear understanding of it is not optional, if our faith is challenged.  It also leads to a deeper relationship with God.

I’d like to share two reliable, time proven resources I’ve utilized in Bible study.  These will take you deeper than many contemporary Bible studies. Think of these like having access to a Bible seminary on your computer.

J. Vernon McGee was a leading authority on the Bible during the mid to late 20th century. His program “Thru The Bible” is still heard worldwide and can be accessed through their website. The program methodically goes through the entire Bible in five years. That will give you an indication as to the depth of his teaching. Tons of free downloads including Bible book notes and outlines, study guides, and audio programs are available. All of his materials are designed in such a way that you can go through them on your own or along with his radio broadcasts. For years, I’ve listened to Dr. McGee, and his passion for Christ shines through all his teaching. His program can still be heard on some Christian radio stations including the Bible Broadcasting Network (BBN) out of Charlotte, NC. And speaking of BBN…

It’s my other recommended resource. Several years ago, this nationwide radio network added a Bible Institute to their website. Click here to access, then click "browse courses." I’ve taken a few of their courses after consulting my pastor as to their credibility. (I really had no doubt, but his endorsement made me feel better.) Whether it’s studying individual books, Bible characters, doctrine, end times, discipleship, relationships, leadership, etc., BBN Bible Institute has dozens of free classes to choose from, and you work at your own pace.

Please let me know if you decide to use one of these resources to deepen your Bible knowledge and how you liked it.

What Bible study have you participated in that you would recommend to others?

While you’re here, if you have a prayer request, I’d love to pray for you. Leave a comment or e-mail me confidential requests. There’s also a prayer list at the top of the blog if you’d like to join me in prayer for these needs.

God bless,
Laura

© Laura Hodges Poole
Bible image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Taking A Step Back

“A flash of harmless lightning, a mist of rainbow dyes, the burnished sunbeams brightening, from flower to flower he flies.” John Banister Tabb

Last summer, I walked through my garage and heard a noise coming from behind the window blinds. It sounded like an oversized bumblebee—or a miniature power tool. Along with the hum, I heard a tap, tap, tap. The little creature was beating itself to death against the closed window, when he only needed to back up and exit the way he came in—through the open garage door.

We have this problem every summer. No doubt, hummingbirds are attracted by anything red in the garage. They hover around my van’s taillight trying to discern if it’s a food source.

Hummingbirds are the only bird that can fly backwards. I could list many amazing attributes about this beautiful creature, but no matter how magnificent, its design is also limiting. One trait in particular—fear—causes the hummingbird to ignore its God-given instinct to simply back out of a situation it shouldn’t be in.

Horrified that the bird would tap the window until it died, I grabbed a rake. After several careful attempts to free the bird without stressing or injuring it, I guided it away from the closed window back to the open garage door. Was it relieved? I doubt a bird has the capacity to feel relief, but it went on its merry way, to the next red bloom or taillight that caught its attention.

Sounds familiar. How often do we insist on following a path in pursuit of something that turns out to be a counterfeit blessing, much like the taillight is to a hummingbird? We see the end of the path—the objective we’re after—so we keep beating our head against the invisible wall to reach it. Though we could take a step back and reassess our objective and the means to achieve it, we refuse to do so.

God grabs our shirttails and tries to rein us in. We try to wriggle out of His grasp.

“But, God, I see the prize. If I try hard enough, work hard enough, sacrifice enough, I’ll get there. Don’t pull me back. Here’s a better solution—Remove the invisible wall.”

Because we know best, right? And removing the barrier would be best.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

If you're in a tough situation that seems to have no solution, or you're pushing too hard to make something work, challenge yourself to take that step back into the arms of God—then trust Him for the answer.

“God always gives His best to those who leave the choice with Him.” Jim Elliot

What have you had to completely trust God for that you’ve found difficult to have faith about?

If you have a prayer need, I’d love to pray for you. Please leave a comment or e-mail me confidential requests.

God bless,
Laura

© Laura Hodges Poole

Post shared from archives.

Hummingbird image courtesy of Christian Meyn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Leaving A Legacy

“I look back on my life like a good day's work, it was done and I am satisfied with it.” Grandma Moses (American folk artist)

One of the writing hats I wear is ghostwriter/collaborator. I’m in the process of helping two wonderful Christian ladies write their life stories that will bring encouragement to all who read them. You might characterize this as part of their legacy. I also keep two journals of reflections for my son and daughter to enjoy after I’m gone. I pray the work I do will inspire and encourage many for years to come.

If you were given paper and pen to write a final statement about your life before your death, what would you write? The Apostle Paul wrote this passage in the shadow of impending execution.

“For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time of my departure is near.  I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:6-8 

Paul had committed egregious sins prior to becoming a Christian. Formerly a Jewish zealot who persecuted Christians, he was equally fervent in leading people to the Christ he knew intimately. He instructed the early Christians, not only in behavior but in their life’s purpose.

One might say this final recorded statement reflected Paul’s legacy. Yet nothing in his closing remarks mentions punishment for past sins.

Why?

Because he’d been forgiven. And once we’re forgiven, the only direction to go is forward. Paul’s ministry was the best example we have of the Christian faith manifested through works—bringing action to his testimony.

So, back to the piece of paper in front of you—the one that will hold your legacy. Can you write that you’ve fought the good fight? Finished the race? Kept the faith?

Very few Christians can measure up to Paul’s accomplishments, but do we earnestly try? The first step of leaving a legacy is creating one. Regardless of man’s assessment, when we stand before God, will we hear, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant?”

Our legacy before God and man is created by living a life worthy of being remembered.

What do you hope to be remembered for when your life is over?

If you have a prayer request, please leave a comment or e-mail me confidential requests. I’d love to pray for you.

God bless,
Laura

©Laura Hodges Poole

Book image courtesy of Nuttapong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Silhouette of Man image courtesy of Chaiwat/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.