How to Make Your God Dream Come True

Six Steps to Make Your God Dream Come True

God gave you a dream, and it is scaring the heck out of you. Now what do you do?

It’s okay. Take a deep breath. Exhale. Ahh…better?

In today’s post, I’ve incorporated six steps to help you get started.

“I have a dream. Now, what?” is the question I get asked more often than any other.

People have seen the dream I had for our community through The Link of Cullman County come to fruition and wonder, “Well, how did you do that and how can I do the same?”

Last week I talked about how to know if your dream is just a big goal or if it was a dream that God placed on your heart to pursue.  You may want to read that post first if you haven’t had the chance to read it yet.

It is there that I help readers understand and know the difference between the two. This week I want to try and lay out some of the steps you can take once you know for sure you have a God dream.

This is where the “rubber hits the road” where the “ax hits the grind” where the “pen hits the paper” to overplay the cliches.  And I hope it makes its point.

Because here is where I see things go south and quick. Someone has a dream, and they talk about it, and they talk about it, and they talk about it. But they never actually do anything.

You Have a Choice

Sooner or later, you are going to have to choose to either go after this big, scary dream you have or honestly, shut up about it.

When The Link started to come to fruition, I had a few people say to me, ” I had the same dream as you. I journaled about it; I have a binder about it, or I told people about it.” I don’t know why it happened to you but not for me.

Honestly, I don’t know why it did either, but I am assuming that your dream was just that a dream and it never transitioned to action.

So that is what I am going to promise you today, I will share with you the steps to help you take action on that dream. However, just like last week, I have a disclaimer.

Disclaimer: I am not God. I have no way of knowing His timing or whether your dream is from Him or not. I also have no idea of your dream is to actually in support of someone else’s God dream, and not something you will get to see come to pass. Think Moses and Joshua.

I do know that there are some teachable concepts that I can share with you that God used with me to help you pursue Him and engage others in your dream.

How to Make Your God Dream Come True | Six Steps to Get You Started

One: Trust and Obey

The best piece of advice I received from someone on what I needed to do next was “trust God and obey what He says” Seems simple, right?

Simple to say, harder to execute.

For me, this was challenging because I had a carotid body tumor removed from my neck which rendered me temporarily disabled.  The surgery caused damage to my nerves and vocal chords.  Which eventually left me with a severance package and no job.

For the first time since I was twelve, I was unemployed and now also unsure of my future. I had no idea what was next except this vision/dream from God for an organization that would serve the needs of the poor.

If I am honest, I was not excited enough about this God dream to go after it. What I was passionate about was serving women through speaking and teaching. I had wanted that dream to come true, nearly since I was saved about nine years prior.  Now I was living in the south where my type of work was not prevalent, Cullman, AL though growing would still be a hard place for someone like me to find a job.

But God’s plans were different than mine. 

So here I was temporarily disabled, unemployed, and trying to minister to a husband whose dream had been crushed by a failed church plant. Confused and unsure may have been an understatement at that point.

So now, here we are in a very uncomfortable place, not knowing what to do and the advice I received in this season was “trust and obey.”

Trust. And then obey whatever God tells you to do. Ugh. Simple and to the point, easy to remember, so I decided to do it.

And it changed everything.

Day by day I would wake and ask the Lord, what should I do today? If I felt Him impress something on my heart, I would obey. If I sat in silence, I’d seek Him in His word.

That daily practice started to lead me to conversations with people about this dream; then I would pray about it more. It wasn’t long before God began highlighting His heart for the poor in His Word. I got my hands on some books that seemed to speak to relational ministries to the poor Then I prayed the all-changing prayer.

“Lord, what would you have me do?”

Two: Surrender the Dream

Which leads me to the next thing you need to do. Surrender the dream to God. Only He truly knows the timing, who is supposed to be part of the dream, what role you are to play, what resources you’ll need, where it will happen, and how it will transform your community.

For me, that looked like taking the dream I always hoped to pursue and put it up on the chopping block with the God dream He now impressed on my heart to accomplish.

It wasn’t long before God confirmed which dream I was to follow.

It was one of the hardest things I had to do, give up the dream I wanted to follow the one God wanted me to carry out.

Both were good. Both would help a lot of people. But one was mine, and the other was His.

I can tell you now on the other side of that how sweet the blessing of surrender has become. Knowing the lives that have been transformed in my community because I said “Yes” to His plan. The relationships I have now have sharpened me and helped me grow in my faith would never have been if I didn’t surrender.

And then when you consider what I have learned, including how to overcome my addiction to approval, I am not sure my path would have allowed me the opportunities I have been afforded, including publishing a book on that same topic, releasing May 15th by Worthy Publishing.

Like Me or Not Overcoming Approval Addiction

Three: People < God

This may feel a bit strange to you to diminish what people are saying. It took me a lot to figure out how to do this because we all need the affirmation of people around us. In fact, God will use these people to encourage us. However, we need to make sure no matter what, that God trumps people. Even when those people are stroking our egos.

Here is why: back in the day, there was this good-looking, smart teenager, from a no-name family, was sent out on a donkey-hunting mission. Unbeknownst to him, God had selected him to be the first king of Israel. He was anointed, appointed, had the Spirit of God come upon Him, prophesied with the Prophets and empowered by God. Regardless, his insecurity and people-pleasing needs made people’s opinions of him more significant than God’s, and eventually, he was rejected as king.

Know who that was? King Saul. (You know the one who was on a crazy chase to kill his replacement, David? You can read all about him here.)

Saul was anointed and appointed to do the dream God had for him in ruling the Israelites, but he let people and their opinions become more influential than God.

This is true when they are affirming us, and this is also true when they are rejecting us. If you know for sure that God gave you this dream, you’ll need to seek Him, trust and obey Him, surrender to Him and make His Words of greater significance than man’s.

Four: Become a Student

One of the essential postures you need to take in this process is becoming a student of the dream. If this dream is from God and not you, more than likely you will not feel equipped to do it. In fact, it may feel as if you are the last person on planet earth that needs to be doing this dream.

That is exactly how it felt for me. This will produce fear. And that is okay.

I had done very little ministry to the poor. I felt like the ministry I had done was not done well and because of that, I felt very insecure, unsure, and ill-equipped. So I went into student mode.

I started with asking more questions of people already in ministry or serving in this field before I assumed my answers. I got my hands on books related to the topic and read as much as I could from the experts. I sought out scripture in the Bible to back up what I was learning to make sure I was on the right path.

Then I found some local classes I could take to teach me about creating a non-profit and marketing a non-profit because those were two critical components in seeing my dream come to fruition. When I knew I had all those pieces in place, I sought out a conference for me to attend to obtain more extensive training. In doing so, I became equipped as a Christian Community Development practitioner.

Five: Stop Talking and Start Walking

When my husband and I were in our pre-dating stage we talked a lot on the phone, being that we lived 150 miles away from each other, it was our only way to connect regularly. Although we visited each other every now and again, they were for short periods of time, as we didn’t stay the night. It didn’t take long for our friends to notice there was more of a connection between us than just friendship. At one point, one of my husband’s friends said to him, “It’s time to stop the talky, talky, talky and do the walky, walky, walky.” I am pretty sure they were quoting out of an Adam Chandler movie, but the point was right. It was time for my husband to take our relationship to the next level and his friend was encouraging him to do so.

Sooner or later you have to decide to do something about your dream. You need to start sharing the dream with people. Start making appointments with people who could be involved with the dream or affected by the dream. Host an interest meeting. Post the idea on Facebook. Figure out what it will take to make the dream happen. More importantly, follow through. If you say, you are going to do something then do it. People are watching you, integrity is critical.

Six: One Day at a Time

From here you need to take these steps and apply them one day at a time. We just celebrated six years of this ministry; it’ll be seven years for me pursuing this dream in October. I employ these steps just as much today as I did back then.

I still need to trust and obey God each day recognizing that He is the dream-maker and I am a steward of this dream, which always leads me to a place of surrender – “Not my will Lord, let yours be done.”

It’s easy to let other’s opinions become more important than God’s. The only way I can accomplish this and the others I just mentioned is by getting into the Word of God every day. Otherwise, I get a bit lop-sided in my thinking.

I still need to be in student-mode. I am committed to being a life-long learner. Taking what I learned and acted on it. Professional development is just as significant now as it was back then. If I let comfort or status quo be my guide before we know it we’ll become outdated, inefficient, and eventually unsuccessful.

The Dream is Greater Than You

You see, when God lays a dream on your heart, it always affects more people than you. When your dream is from God, you have a responsibility to God and the people involved to follow through. There is a lot at stake.

Lives will either be transformed or not.

A change will occur or it won’t.

Communities will be altered or not.

When your dream is from God, you are responsible to God and the people involved to follow through. #Goddream

What will get you up in the morning is not your success, it is the success of God’s glory being made known. It’s no longer about you and your ego, but more about your willingness to serve in the capacity God has led you to with this dream.

You’ve got some big choices to make. You are the one God has selected. The time is now. What will you do?

Comment below: Share what your God dream is (because I love to hear about other people’s dreams) and share what you think your next steps might be and how you will start to see your God dream come to fruition.

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How to Know If You Have A God Dream

How to Know If You Have A God Dream

How do you know if you have a God dream or a big goal that you came up with on your own?

This weekend I watched The Greatest Showman for the first time. It is the story of P.T. Barnum and his dream of starting a museum, later turned circus, for the main purpose of entertaining people. He ended up doing so much more.

If you have not seen it yet, you need to put it on your list of must-see movies. As soon as the movie was over, I wanted to watch it all over again. In fact, I am sure this will be one of the movies that I will watch several times a year, it was that inspiring.

Though P.T. was not a Christian, there are some characteristics about him we can learn from, especially as it relates to dreaming.

Disclaimer: My main goal is to inspire you to do one thing… seek God as you dream. And to do it in a way that aligns with scripture, like Ephesians 3:20 which says, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,” and not become like P.T. Barnum. Because at the end of the day all Barnum cared about was making money. That is not why we seek to be used by God, even if it is a by-product of accomplishing the dream.

The Status Quo

Here is what I have been witnessing lately: a lot of people who profess Christ as their Savior, but living a life of the day-to-day expecting nothing more than what they have and no longer willing to consider what could be.

Personally, I think this is an affront to God, the Creator of the Universe, who made all things, who is in all things and is through all things. He dreamed up the light and the darkness, the heavens and the earth, the sky and the land, every living creature and man.

God is a God who dreams and as being made in His likeness, in HIs image, we should dream too. Otherwise, we put to death Ephesians 3:20 and effectively allow the enemy to yield us powerless in seeing the miracles of God.

Now, let me also state, I have learned this over the last seven years. So yes my words may feel a bit blunt, but understand that I used to live where you may be, in the camp of “maybe He can do those things, but not through me.”

GoaltodiewithMemories

What Could Be

But for the purpose of this post, as much as possible, I want you to take captive those thoughts and I want you to see what could be rather than what now is. Hebrews 11:1 says “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.”

Faith and dreaming go hand-in-hand because we don’t dream of things we can see, we dream of what is unseen, or what could be, eventually.

So that is where I want us to begin, realizing what God can do through us if we are willing acting like Him and dreaming. When we have faith in what He can do and not rely on what we can do.

Which is exactly what Barnum did. He dreamed of things that could be and not what already was. So let’s use some examples from what he did to break down how a God dream works.

8 Steps to A God Dream

1.Seek God
Here is one area thing, we don’t know if P.T. did, for sure. But that we MUST do as Christians; it is non-negotiable. The only way you are going to see a God-dream is to seek the Creator Himself. To do this, you will need to implore a few different disciplines. Bible study, prayer, possibly fasting, patience. God-dreams do not happen overnight, it is usually something that happens over time.

2. Ask Yourself Some Questions
Anyone who is starting to dream needs to take some time to figure out the next steps are in the process. This will help you to gain a better perspective on whether or not you are headed in the right direction. Here are some examples to get you started. But add more and journal them as you go.

  • Where were you when the dream occurred? Both physically and spiritually.
  • Did the dream feel overwhelming and unaccomplishable?
  • Do you believe you could accomplish the dream by yourself with the right financial resource?

3. Are You Afraid?
When God gives you a dream, more than likely the first emotion you will feel is fear. Rightly so. It’s why so frequently you see in scripture where God said, “Do not be afraid.”

When He told Moses He was going to use him to set His people, the Israelites, free Moses was terrified. When the angel told Mary that she would carry the Son of God, he told her “Do not be afraid.” When Nehemiah got word that his city was in ruined he was so upset that he cried, mourned and prayed, and then waited until God opened the door for him to speak to the king. He was scared but did it afraid.

Anytime you have a God-dream, you will be afraid. But you’ll have to decide if the fear of man or obeying God is more important to you. Barnum was afraid at first but was willing to be brave and because of it, he saw his dream become a reality.

4. Sacrifice is Key
Barnum learned quickly that if he was going to see his dream come into existence he was going to have to be willing to sacrifice. For him, it meant all or nothing. For me, in the early stages of founding The Link of Cullman County, it also meant all or nothing. I am not going to say that this is true for everyone, however, it was also true for our friends in the Bible. Moses left the safety of Midian and his employment, Mary left her family and traveled on a donkey nine months pregnant, and Nehemiah – well, let’s face it, if the king was angered at what he said, he could have lost his head.

You will have to be willing to sacrifice something – possibly everything to see your God-dream come to fruition.

5. Your Kingdom or His Kingdom
There is a part in The Greatest Showman where Barnum loses it all. His money, his wife and children, his prize artist (at the time), and his building. They all went figuratively and literally up in flames.

The question he had to ask himself at that moment was whether or not he was ready to rebuild it all. The answer came down not to whether or not he was able to provide the funds on his own, but whether or not it would help the greater good.

Whose kingdom are you trying to build? Will this dream make you look good to your peers, your family, your friends? Or are you willing to pursue the dream because, in the end, you know that God will get the glory in it? How do you know the difference? The Bible says it is in our weakness that God’s strength is made perfect. Are you relying on your own strength, believing you can do this on your own, or do you realize it’s going to be a miracle done by God if this dream is coming to become a reality? Which leads us to the next area of importance.

6. An Individual or a Community
If your dream is a God dream, you will not be able to accomplish on your own and not only need God to do a miracle, but you will have to have others around you. God is a believer in community. He is in community constantly with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. He could not accomplish what He did without them. The Apostle Paul talked about community and the importance of it almost every one of his epistles, which helps us to also understand the significance of it to God’s heart. I spoke about this in my post last week. God did not just love one person, His love was for a nation. That nation went into bondage together and flourished together depending on their relationship with God. 

You need others to help your dream come to fruition. They will add to it, speak life into it, pray for it, keep you accountable to it, and make it better than it could have been if you tried to do it on your own.

7. Empowering Others
I loved The Greatest Showman – all of it, but one of my favorite parts is when the Bearded Lady realized she was who she was and people were going to have to deal with it. Keala Settle plays, the Bearded Woman and sings this anthem called “This is Me.

Here is the link to that video, you’ll have to click on the “This is Me” video. If you have not heard this song, go listen to it. It will be a blessing to you, I promise.

But that song is the result of Barnum affirming people who others wanted to hide in the shadows. He saw their oddities, their uniqueness, and placed it on a platform. He accepted them as they were and because of that they felt affirmed. When he started seeing His dream come to fruition, the people he served felt loved, affirmed, and dignified. It ended up empowering people to be who they were created to be, not how society wanted to define them.

This is ultimately what a God-dream should do. There is no larger dream or vision than the one God dreamed for us, by sending His son Jesus to ransom us back to Him. It is only through Him that we have our dignity affirmed. We are righteous only through Him. We are worthy because of the stripes of Jesus.

8. God’s Dreams > Our Own
This is what it all boils down to when it comes to dreaming. God’s dreams will always be bigger than our own. They will and should scare us, we should need other people and it should affect other people. That’s how you know it’s Him and not you.

So now that you have a way to know whether you dream is from God or from you, what do you do? Join me next week to learn how you take your dream and seek God to see it through.

Question? Did this help you gauge your dream against a God-dream? If not, what questions do you have? If it did, what do you want to know now that I can answer for you next week?

 

 

 

 

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What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do

I have been struggling lately. Watching our country destroy itself is never easy to do, especially when you are sitting on the sidelines wishing the whole country would just stop.

If I am honest, a good part of me wants to just stay in my little bubble here in the South and not engage with what is going on with the rest of the world. I want to shut down my Facebook, skip the news, and not talk politics or current news with anyone around me. It feels so much easier to just put it off, than to deal with the strife that is going on right now.

Why?

I feel powerless. I feel powerless to stop people from raging against each other. I feel powerless to be able to speak into the hate. I feel powerless to close the divide.

And the truth is, in and of my own self, I am powerless. Trying to get my voice heard in all this noise is ridiculous.

But there is One voice that can be heard above all of this and it is His voice I want to turn our ears to today. Because when we don’t know what to do, when we don’t know how to respond, and when we feel powerless to affect change, we must turn to the One who knows the Truth and is in full control, regardless of the mess we see around us.

Nehemiah, a prophet in the Old Testament did just that. In Nehemiah 1, Nehemiah’s brother and friends visited him to tell Nehemiah that the city he loved, Jerusalem, was still in rubble and the people have not been able to rebuild it.

His response?

“When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 1:4)

Sure Nehemiah’s first response to what probably felt like a punch in the guy was to sit down and cry. Isn’t that how most of us feel right now about what is going on in this world. We want to just sit down and cry?

But it doesn’t stop there. It says he mourned, he fasted, and he prayed.

What do we do when we see the injustices around us? Do we do as Nehemiah did becoming heartbroken over the state of our communities, mourning, fasting, praying?

No, I think if we are honest with ourselves, we do something more like this: complain, tell our friends what we think, post our opinions on social media, and then check out because it feels so big and we feel powerless to do anything about it. And the world doesn’t change and we become more frustrated, less engaged, and less willing to be apart of the solution.

However, I think we can learn a lot from Nehemiah and his response to the brokenness he saw around him.

Mourn
What does it look like to biblical mourn? Because we know from Nehemiah’s contemporaries, more than likely, Nehemiah ripped his clothes and cried aloud. What about you? Is your heart broken over what is happening to our nation? Our community? Are you concerned over the division? The strife? How are you responding to the news stories we are hearing all over the nation of people rebelling in the streets and burning flags? With anger and aggression? Or have you checked out and become passive, almost numb to it? Nehemiah’s response was so much of the heart of God. It’s exactly what I believe God is experiencing today. Remember we are created in his image ( Genesis 1:27). All of us. Male. Female. White. Black and Brown. Poor. Rich. Inner city and rural. Republican and Democrat. And every thing in between. He created us and as our created it grieves Him to see us destroy each other.

Have you become numb to the stories? Ask God to break your heart for the things that break his. And when He does, then you can do the next step.

Fast
For Nehemiah this more than likely meant going without any food and/or water and through the scripture we can see that it says, “For some days.” Though we have no idea exactly how many. So what about you? Do you fast? Have you ever fasted? Would you be willing to sacrifice physical provisions for your body to see true change come about in our country? Our cities? Our communities? What are you willing to give up to see God move?

Again, I ask you to seek God for your fast. Do you stop reading social media to focus on Him, do you abstain from food or drink?

Pray
Let’s face it. To the issues of this world…we don’t have control. We don’t even really have answers. It may even feel like to you there are no true solutions. But God sees things from a whole different perspective than us. Our prayers can be used by God to give us wisdom to know how to pray. From what we can read in the scripture, it seems as if that is exactly what happened to Nehemiah. His need for God to do something, which he exhibited in his mourning and fasting, led him to be more in tuned with the heart of God so that he could know how to pray.

After he did these things it then shares with us his prayer. His prayer of adoration (Neh 1:5-6a), repentance (Neh 1:6b-7), recalling scriptural truth (Neh1: 8-9), and making his request known (Neh 1:10-11).

And then when it was all done, Nehemiah waited.

Let me say it again, when we don’t know what to do we can learn from Nehemiah and his response to the brokenness around him.

Nehemiah knew he too was powerless.

He had no idea what he was going to do when he first received the news. He didn’t know whether or not God would do anything at all, after all it was the rebelliousness of his people that put them into captivity and destroyed their city of Jerusalem. Nehemiah didn’t know if God would use him in the solution. All he knew was that he was heartbroken over what had become of the city that he loved.

Nehemiah didn’t try to get ahead of God’s timeline, he waited patiently for Him to open the door. And about 4 months later the door opened and the King did something, unheard of. He allowed his cupbearer (Nehemiah)a leave of absence, fully equipped with all the resources he would need, along with some man power, to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the city.

So I ask you today.

Are you heartbroken over your nation?
Your state?
Your community?

Would you be willing to mourn over what is not, fast on behalf of the wrong , pray for what could be, and be willing to wait patiently for the response?

It is in this response we can recognize that we truly have no power to do the things needed to systematically change the brokenness that now divides our country. However, in yielding to God and His plan we can use His power to make a difference in the world around us.

Mourn. Fast. Pray. Wait. It worked for Nehemiah when he didn’t know what to do.

It can also work for you.

How to Make an Impact with Your Holiday Giving

As we head into the holiday season you may already be considering what you can do to help those who may not be able to help themselves. Requests are already piling up for shoeboxes for kids in foreign countries, angel tree presents, coat drives, food drives, holiday meals, more.

You want to give in a way that helps others, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the number all of the different causes.

Believe me, as the Executive Director of The Link of Cullman County, I understand the challenges it can present not only to the one being asked, but the one doing the asking. So I thought I might offer you some suggestions as you prepare to give this holiday season.

Over the past 6 weeks we have been talking about how we can love our neighbor as our self…even when that neighbor may be very different than we are. You can read through some of those post topics by clicking on the topic below:

Why YOU Can’t Fix Anyone
How Community Could Be the Answer to Addiction
9 Ways to Love an Addict Even When It Hurts
How to Cut Down Recidivism
How to Love the Orphan
Do We Really Believe All Lives Matter

So here is the sum of all of those: The only way we can fully love people who are different than us is with the right perspective, which means choosing to clean out our own hearts so we can see our neighbor as God sees them.

In the midst of that, we need to recognize that sometimes the things we do to show our love to try to help our neighbor can enable them rather than empower them. As I mentioned in this post on loving an addict, enabling them could send someone straight to their grave…and no we certainly do not do that with any intentionality, but our desire to help can ultimately do more harm than good.

If that is the case, what is one to do as we seek to make the greatest impact on those who can’t seem to help themselves this holiday season?

Let me offer you just a few suggestions.

First of all, I want to ask you to consider what it is you are MOST passionate about when it comes to helping others. Have you ever sat down and thought about what makes you angry, frustrated or just heart broken when it comes to the injustices in the world? What people group comes to mind? For example, do you get infuriated when you hear about the genocide happening in China and in your mind you see little Chinese babies that could have had a chance?

Are you heartbroken over the human beings all over the planet who are taken into sex-trafficking?

Or have you had your eyes opened to the poverty in your own backyard? You’ve realized there are broken people all around you and you feel compelled to help right where you are.

Whatever your passion may be I want you to write it down on paper, it makes it real. Put a name, a face, a location. Write down why it is important to you. What is it about that cause that makes you feel like you need to be a part of the answer?

Now that you have the cause in your mind, I want you to consider how you can be part of the solution. As I have mentioned before in this post, we can do harm in our desire to help, so in that solution, I’d like to offer you some thoughts. However, some of those ways may do more harm than good.

Let me use the example of aiding those in material poverty. When someone is in material poverty the root of the issue isn’t lack of money, it is brokenness. We all have brokenness and that can fall into four different categories.

  • Brokenness with God. This means not having a relationship with God. When we have a broken relationship with God we are living in sin and have yet to realize our need for a Savior.
  • Brokenness with ourselves. We may not understand ourselves or our true needs. We can be disillusioned by our emotional needs.
  • Brokenness with others. This happens when we are lacking trusting and healthy relationships.
  • Brokenness with creation. We do not know how to operate within the world around us.

More on this topic can be found in the book, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting The Poor or Yourself.

When we understand brokenness in these ways we can see there are different types of poverty, not just material. Then we can address the challenges/barriers to overcoming poverty differently. Within this model we all have brokenness and if we all have brokenness we no longer look at people in material poverty as “less than” but realize in our brokenness we have a sameness in need.

So why is this important? If I look at my neighbors in material poverty from only a place of “lack,” I address their needs in a way that is transactional. They don’t have food, so I give food. They don’t have clothes, so I give clothes. No shelter, I try to help get shelter. See where I am going with this?

Here is the deal though a one time transaction will never address the deep brokenness we experience with God, ourselves, others, or creation.

Let me try it this way. What if you were mourning the loss of your dog and were completely heartbroken, would it solve all of your problems if I just gave you another dog? No, of course not. You have emotional wounds that go much deeper than that. If I was a good friend, I would listen to you talk about your dog. I would pray with you and ask God to heal you. I would remind you of the good times you had with your dog. I would try to get you connected with other people who had lost their dogs and ask them to help you walk through your loss, especially if I was not familiar with your experience.

See what I mean? The challenges of poverty are much more layered than addressing the “crisis of the moment” but rather require a long-term relational commitment. And in that commitment empowering them to do for themselves.

Now that we have a clear view of the cause we are most passionate about and realize our own brokenness…what can we do to help and not cause harm?

PARTNER WITH ORGANIZATIONS DOING GOOD WORK

Find out who is already doing the work in the area you are passionate about and partner with them. For the sake of my example, there are many organizations already making an impact in the communities they serve. We are one of many across the nation, relationally loving our neighbors in our own communities. Seek out those organizations out and see how you can help.

If you have time, consider making a long-term commitment to volunteering. Why long-term? Because no one has ever had his or her life changed forever after a one-time interaction.

If you have finances, consider making a re-occurring monthly donation. Monthly donors are the hardest to come by for most organizations because these are usually the most passionate donors. It’s a lot easier to give a one-time donation and be on your way. If you can’t give your time, consider making a long-term commitment by giving monthly. Consider this, what would your monthly budget look like if you had no idea if your employer was going to pay you monthly? Could you make plans? Pay your bills? Take care of your family? Consider that the same way for the cause you are so passionate about.

If you have the platform to give voice to the cause, do that. And do it consistently. We need more advocates. You can see throughout scripture where God made it known to the people that they needed to take care of their neighbor.

We can all pray for the cause. You don’t have to go any further than Isaiah 61:1-3 to see what God wants to do on behalf of the poor. Pray those verses for your community, for your state, for our country, and the world.

 GIVE TO TRANSFORMATION AND NOT JUST FOR PHILANTHROPY SAKE

We are stewards of our money. God owns it all and we get around 80%- 90% (depending on what you give away) to take care of your own needs. In the book the Giver and The Gift, philanthropist David Weekley, suggests as stewards we should consider giving to causes that will make a long-lasting impact. Meet with organization leadership to hear their vision, mission and goals for the year. What do they want to do? How can you partner with them in making a difference?

DON’T TRY TO BE THE SAVIOR

This one is a bit personal. A few years back a woman came into our Center because she was about to become homeless. She was an older woman and reminded me of my own mother. As we prayed and sought out resources, I found myself scrambling to find her the money she needed to save her home. As hard as I tried, I could not get a hold of anyone as I tried to contact one organization after another. At one point I heard the Holy Spirit whisper, dreams%e2%80%a8dont%e2%80%a8work%e2%80%a8unless%e2%80%a8you-do-pnggodlet-let“Am I the Savior or are you?” Doh! If that was not a slap on the hand I don’t know what is. Later that day she came in and was job searching at one of our computers. I sat down and asked her, what her long-term goals were. She said, “I have always wanted to minister in a women’s shelter. In fact, I am looking for a job at one right now.” It was at that moment I realized, if I had kept her in her home I would have totally gotten in the way of what God intended for her. She ended up losing her home and living in a local shelter. God used her to minister to women there and she brought many of them into the Center to help them find jobs and get back on their feet.

I learned a powerful lesson that day. I have to get out of the way and let God be the Savior. His glory His so much more important than mine.

This is the most giving season of the year. You will have your heartstrings pulled and you will want to be generous with what God has blessed you with. All I am suggesting is to consider (1) what are you most passionate about and (2) pray about how you can help without hurting and then (3) follow-through.

Instead of making a commitment this year to help a family with Christmas gifts, why not consider making a commitment this year to walk with that family all year long so next year they can purchase the gifts they want their children to have on their own.

Instead of just offering your help through the crisis, consider how you can be part of God’s long-term plan for their life.

Instead of making a one-time commitment to an organization at the end of the year this year…consider how you can continue the gift the entire year through.

Why? Because you are called to steward your dollars well and these are the things you are passionate about. These are the desires God has put in your heart. These are part of your purpose here on earth to be a blessing to others, as God has blessed you.

Take a moment and consider what it is that you are most passionate about this year, and then share it below so we can pray with you about how God will use you this year in being a blessing.

PS. Thanks for your feedback on the survey this past week. I am working on the responses and will have more information on the results next week.

How to Reduce Recidivism One Heart at a Time

When I was 26 years old I had an encounter with God like I had never experienced before.  In fact, up until that point, I wasn’t even sure He existed.

At the time I was extremely depressed. Still trying to work through the pain and  guilt of a recent divorce and subsequent bad decisions. You would have never known it as I was able to put on a pretty good show. The mask I wore made me look put together, put underneath I was falling apart.

God knew it and made it very clear how badly I needed Him.

On June 23, 2001 I surrendered my life to Him and everything changed. At the time I was living in Ohio and knew very few Christians.

Once I got connected to a local church. At my baptism I shared my testimony and it was not long after I was asked to go into the local jail to share with the female inmates. At the time, this felt like one of the strangest requests I think I ever received.

I had nothing in common with anyone in jail. (Well, except for that one night in college I spent in the drunk tank) I was different than then as I wasn’t strung out on drugs, I wasn’t a thief, I wasn’t a violent person and I had never killed anyone. So why in the world, would my testimony be of any help to a female inmate?

Nonetheless, I was asked three times to go into the jail.
And three times I turned them down.

Fast forward to 2013. I was now leading this new ministry and about to open up The Link Center in my now hometown of Cullman, AL. The first couple who comes to visit with me were “ex-felons.” They shared that they were homeless, they were in need of jobs, and really just some help/encouragement in moving forward. Even though they shared their story with me, which included Jesus and some pretty horrible charges, I still fell in love with them. It was exhilarating to consider what God could do with their lives now that they wished to live for Him.

At the time, we (The Link of Cullman County) were partnered with our local mental health organization to help homeless individuals get into an apartment. But in order for them to receive the funding, they had to give me permission to speak with local agencies in the community. One of them was DHR.exhilaratingpink

DHR shared the details of their case and I felt like I was punched in the gut.

I went home that night questioning everything. How in the world was I supposed to lead a ministry that ministered to the poor, which would also include those who had been engaged in criminal activity, if I was struggling to love this couple.  I was not the least bit equipped to love these two and help them be restored to God.

At home that night, I started searching the internet for prison ministry information. I don’t know what I thought I was going to find. Google had a lot of information but all it did was remind me how ill-equipped I was for this new role.

As I asked God, “What do I do? How do I love someone who has done these things?”

I felt like God was impressing on my heart, “You love your neighbor as yourself. Nothing changes.They are no different than Paul (murder), David (murderer and adulterer), Moses (murder), or the thief on the cross.” I think sometimes God likes to talk to me in extremes, so I don’t miss his meaning.

From that day forward everything changed. It became blatantly apparent to me at that point that their sin was no different than my own. I was called to love them, just as much as God had loved me in the pit of my sin.
equalatthefootofthecross

From that point on it was like the Holy Spirit put out an “APB” into our community. Every where I turned someone was asking me if we would help ex-felons, if we would give them a second chance. I got Facebook messages, phone calls, and one by one they started coming in.

About 3 months later I was setting up a meeting with the Warden of our local jail to teach a bible-based jobs preparedness program to the inmates. And that is when my calling became more real than ever before.

In August of 2013, we launched Jobs for Life(TM) class. The class started with around 30 women and by the time we ended the 16-week class, we had 3 women left.

During that time, I learned more about me and the things inside my heart than they ever could have taken away from that class.

One of the verses that God used to get Chris (my husband) and I to move to Alabama in the first place (you can read more about that here) was Isaiah 61:1-3.

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me
 because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
 to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,”

It was at the end of that first class that I read those verses inside the jail.

Have you ever had one of those moments where you can feel the intensity of it. Like you know for sure this is where you are supposed to be, at this moment in time, for such a reason as this? When I have those moments the hair on my arms will often stand up.You too? I knew you would understand.

As I read those scripture verses, it was like everything I had done, everything that God had called me to, everything I thought this ministry was going to be came to a halt. And things got real.

Never before in my life did I realize the significance of me choosing to love my neighbor beyond their choices. It was never more real than standing in the jail that day with those women.

I became committed, sold-out, extremely passionate about understanding the plight of the prisoner and the ex-felon. I wanted to understand everything about their situation. How they got there, what their story was. I asked lots of questions, listened as much as I could, and started watching documentary after documentary on prison and drugs.  But none of it prepared me like actually walking with someone through it.

In that very first class was a woman named Peggy. I connected with Peggy because of her eagerness to learn. I am a teacher, what can I say…I tend to be drawn to the eager ones. At the start of the class she spoke of being tired of going in and out of jail. Peggy had a drug problem and an abusive husband. She needed a GED and was on disability. She had lost her kids years ago due to the drugs and her poor choices. She had landed up homeless and reminded me at one point when she had come to The Link Center to get help with a hotel room.

Peggy, Tutwiler Prison ID

Peggy was taking the Jobs for Life(TM) class because she knew she needed something to be different. Being on disability had held her back from working, but it had also gotten her to where she was, as a repeat offender. Peggy looked like she was in her mid-40s with her mouth drawn in from lack of teeth and her sun-worn skin.

Peggy wasn’t much different than a lot of the other women in there, as she was awaiting her fate in court. But, over time, Peggy started to desire more and more of her life to change. She started to seek God to change her, her circumstances, and her future.

She was inspiring others with big prayers that stretched her faith. And before we knew it, we started to see God move. But, not everything happened the way Peggy had hoped. It wasn’t long after the class was finished, in November of that year, that Peggy was sentenced to Tutwiler.  If you live in Alabama, you know what that means. If you don’t live in Alabama, you can learn more about the all-women’s prison here. Tutwiler is hell-on-earth. It took everthying in me, of hearing of her fate, to not want to burst out crying.

Sure Peggy had some issues with drugs and in her desperation she not only became a user but a seller. But in my mind none of that deserved the fate of Tutwiler.

But God had another plan for Peggy and so off to Tutwiler she went. While she was there we corresponded frequently through mail and phone. Tutwiler offered her a few class options and she was court-ordered to take the SAP (Substance Abuse Program). I often recall Peggy calling me in tears because God had opened up another wound to help her work through the healing. The more I spoke with Peggy, the more I heard her life stories and the more my heart was opened to loving her.

When Peggy secured a bed at a local rehab, I picked her up and dropped her off at her new home. It was a far cry from a mother picking up her child from college to bring them home, but for some reason it felt familiar. I realized then Peggy and I were in this for the long haul, this story was not going to end any time soon.

Peggy grew while she was at the rehab and I would go and visit her frequently as I was the only “family” close by at that time in her life. It was often a tough burden to bare, knowing she may not have someone come see her as she watched the other residents with their family and friends. My only consolation was knowing she had other friends from Cullman who were there for her when I could not be.

About 6 months into her stay there was an incident at the rehab that became a red-flag to the courts. Long story short, the judge released Peggy to come back to Cullman and finish out her recovery through an out-patient recovery program. Peggy had nothing. No home, no car, no job, barely any clothes, no family close by and she was needing to make all new friends.

Thankfully a safe and welcoming family from her past opened up their home to her and gave her a place to stay.

Peggy is one of a handful of women I have walked with in their transition back into society as “returning citizens” (we don’t call them ex-felons, as we tend to live out the labels that are placed on us) that I have seen God do a transformative work in.

You can watch more of Peggy’s story here:

Peggy, along with the others, have taught me so much about what it truly means to love and walk with our neighbors behind bars and then beyond.

Here are 5 ways to cut down on recidivism one heart at a time, starting with yours.

1.Jail is Different Than You Think
When I went into the Cullman County Detention Center for the first time, I experienced something I never expected, acceptance.

After I met with the Warden he asked me to share what the Jobs for Life class would entail  with the female inmates. I was so emotional, filled with fear and excitement, that it overwhelmed me. When I asked them if they had ever heard about The Link of Cullman County before, hands went up. They started telling me, “My Momma told me to come.” “My aunt told me to come.” “I was going to come, before I landed up here.” The tears  just started rolling down my cheeks. I was so overwhelmed I could barely hold it together.

I heard from the crowd,” Its okay, baby girl, we’ll wait on you.”

That was the last thing I expected to hear. It ripped open my heart and allowed me to see, these ladies, well, they were the same as me. Vulnerable and needing acceptance.

2.Loving a prisoner is a heart-issue
We have the tendency to want to put sin on levels. It is understandable. If I am honest, I don’t want my “little white lie” to be as bad as someone else abusing their child. I don’t want my jealous issues to be viewed the same way as someone who sells drugs. It’s not the same, right? Well, yes and no. One is not treated the same as the other, but they all lead to separation from God and eternal hell.

pslam103finalBut the issue here is not their sin, it’s our hearts.

To love our neighbors behind bars or walking on the streets, we must ask God to reveal our hearts. The reality of it is, we never want to see our own sin on the same level as their sin. However, God’s word does not discriminate. The words He speaks to you is the same as He speaks to them. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Ps 013:12, NIV)

This may be the area that we need to be aware of most. If you are going to love someone behind or beyond the bars, you are going to have to be willing for God to do the work in you first.

3.Just because they are in jail does not mean they don’t know Jesus
I went into jail believing that NONE of them knew Jesus and it was our job to get them all saved. HA! Not true. In fact, churches had been sharing the gospel with them for years before our team showed up on the scene. Many of them experience “jailhouse Jesus.” What I have learned is that at times it’s actually easier for them to follow Jesus in jail than it is when they get out. Why? Because the jail is filled with broken people. And more often than not, broken people realize they can no longer do life as they were doing it and they need a Savior to help them. So Jesus is more tangible in the jail then when they are released.

What became apparent to me is that many of them need to be equipped with how to live like Jesus, rather than being introduced to Him. Now, I will put a caveat on this. I live in the South, where its been said ‘We first have to convince people they are lost, before we can help them accept Jesus.’ On the other side of that coin, there are also people getting “saved” in the jail all the time. This is a good thing. But we need to understand is not all of them need to be saved. What they need to learn is how to live like Jesus.

4.The real test of your character is not loving them in the jail, it’s sticking with them when they get out
In our local Detention Center, there are close to 30 churches/organizations that go in to teach and share the gospel. Thirty. Do you know how many of them stay with them on the outside? About a handful. That makes me sick to my stomach. We are willing to go in and share our “love” when they are in a contained space, but when they are released and most vulnerable we turn our backs on them. Come on Church! We can do better than that.

If I have heard it once I have heard it a thousand times. “Those church ladies/men come in here and minister to us, and they are really nice, but where are they when I need them on the outside? Their churches don’t accept us. They say one thing but their church does something different.” UGH!

We all need a heart-check on this. If we are going to be apart of God’s desire to transform our communities by loving our neighbors, we are going to have to get over ourselves and start changing our ways.

getoverourselves

Jesus said to the Pharisees, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”  (Luke 5:31, NIV) Our churches and our ministries should be like hospitals set up to receive the sick, not a sanctuary for the healed.

5. Loving the prisoner means believing beyond their circumstances
Remember, every person in jail has a story to tell. They too were once children and their stories can break your heart. In order for them to overcome their circumstances, sometimes you need to see what they cannot and start speaking those things over them, praying it for them, and loving them as if they are such. We have the power to speak life and death through  our tongue. If we choose words that speak encouragement, love, and respect it is only time before they start to believe them. Here’s the bottom line.We can choose to focus in on their sins and therefore perpetuating the problem, only reinforcing what they already believe: they are nothing, can do nothing, and therefore should just continue down the path they are already on.

Or, we can choose to love them as we are commanded to do because it was shown to us in our pit of sin. In doing so giving them the opportunity to be restored back to their God, to themselves, to their relationships, and to the world around them.

We  who call ourselves Christians, Christ-followers, and the body of Christ, we are to be the hands and feet of Jesus. He came to set the prisoner free both behind the bars and beyond. In order for us to do as He has done, we are going to have to start with our own hearts. As we are transformed, God will use us to go and transform others.

What is it about ministering to someone beyond bars that scares you the most?