Gathering at the Well Blog

So why a blog?  The Internet is filled with 'em.  Who needs another one?

Great question but the answer is really very simple.  A blog is an informal way for the congregation at WellSpring Community Church to express their faith in a relatively informal setting.  This is especially true for the church leaders.  Drawing an image from the Wizard of Oz, a blog allows the rest of the world a glimpse behind the curtain into the minds, hopes, and visions of the church as well as serve as a mechanism of uplifting support.

Here we can share insights new and old that inspire us to draw closer to God, to take up the cross of Jesus Christ, and to encourage to surrender to the power of the Holy Spirit. We may also address current news topics of interest and the seemingly random but always planned ways that God helps us look more directly at our relationship with Him.

In many respects, the blog is a gathering around a well of living water where the community meets in fellowship and hope.  Drink from the Living Water and be refreshed forever!

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A Different Sort of Mother's Day...

Someone, somewhere...

*Is celebrating Mother's Day today with lots of gifts, service, surprises, joy, and all of the trimmings. Jesus loves you and celebrates with you!

*Is working today, while other mothers (and others) are off, wishing for anything to be home with her babies (of all ages). Jesus loves you and works alongside of you.

*Is mourning the loss of his or her own mother, fresh...years ago... or somewhere in between...for there is no preparation for the loss of a mother. Jesus loves you and grieves with you.

*Is grieving the loss of a child, somewhere in between (even the loss pre-conception due to not being able to conceive...i.e. the loss of the dream of motherhood). Jesus loves you and cradles you.

*Is mothering a prodigal and is grieving in a way that only the good, good Father can know. Jesus loves you. He hears your prayers on behalf of your child, and He is interceding in the gap as well.

*Is facing her own mortality as a mother as she battles a terminal illness...which we all do, known or unknown to us. Special, without-words love comes your way today. Jesus loves you and is filling in all gaps for you.

*Has no explanation for the loss of a mother, because normal to him/her is raising his/her younger siblings as if he/she WERE the mother. Jesus loves you and will equip you.

*Is standing in the gap as an aunt, grandmother, loving neighbor or friend, raising one left alone by the willful or unavoidable loss, temporary or eternal, of a biological mother. Jesus loves you and understands why you cringe a bit to hear the words "Happy Mother's Day" when it is YOU who are standing in the gap.

*Is blocking "Happy Mother's Day" out of his/her mind because the word MOTHER is synonymous with abuse or neglect. Jesus loves you and "gets it."

*Is someone I have forgotten to lift up. Jesus is with you and will NEVER forget you.

My 20-year old "baby", sick throughout the night but with her "toddler face" ever near, told me before giving in to rest, "This is the best Mother's Day ever. Thank you for showing me what it really means." I praise God for what He will do at WellSpring this morning through the Mother's Day breakfast (thanks, men and youth!), amazing worship (the keys/singing will be missed by me but can wait), powerful message (feel my presence, Rev. Dr. Michael Beale), precious fellowship (from the growing, thriving congregation that gives me a glimpse of Heaven each week, no exaggeration), all undergirded with prayer (which started us rolling ten years ago this September 17). 


And I lift each who will read this or pass it on to someone who needs a dash of hope to the arms of Jesus, WHO ALONE really knows how you feel. He alone is the God who reached DOWN to us, just as we were, to draw us near to Him. He exemplified, endured, and embraced sacrifice that surpassed the BEST sacrifice even the BEST of mothers could ever make. Take comfort...things are upside down now, but one day, all things will be made right and new. May Psalm 68:5 bring you comfort: "A father to the fatherless (mother to the motherless), a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling."

Right? Or Left? An Unexpected Harvest...

The following is a story Anna Caroline wrote for use with her world missions women's devotional given at WellSpring on October 18, 2015.  Each time the word RIGHT appears, unwrapped missions gifts passed to the right.  Each time the word LEFT appears, gifts passed to the left.  At the end of the story, we unwrapped our "landed" present, which was attached to a specific prayer need and missionaries for prayer assigned to a given region.  "Well done, Anna Caroline...good and faithful servant!"  (DB)

             “Thank you Lord for all of your many blessings on us, in your Son’s name, Amen,” ended Pastor Tim as he closed out the Sunday service with benediction. “AlRIGHT now”, exclaimed Pastor Tim, “everyone have a good week and don’t forget to lift our mission team up this week as they head out to Berlin RIGHT at 8:00 Monday morning.” Julie sat in her seat with her head low. Here she was, an aspiring sixteen-year -old missionary all ready to go on her first ever mission trip to one of her favorite places and RIGHT at the last minute she had to cancel because SURPRISE, her older sister’s wedding got moved up to the same week as the trip. “Ugh, I’m never getting married,” mumbled Julie.
                  She looked to her RIGHT and saw Elisabeth staring her RIGHT in the eyes. Elisabeth was her best friend since kindergarten, and she actually was getting to go. Julie realized that she was the only one out of her friends who wasn’t going and immediately was taunted by the feelings that come with being LEFT out.
                “It’s alRIGHT Julie,” said Elisabeth as she sat by her troubled friend, “RIGHT now you should just pray about all of this, maybe God has a reason.” The girls hugged and both LEFT to go home. That night Julie knelt down by her bedside and prayed, “Lord, what’s going on? I feel like I’ve done everything RIGHT! I’ve listened to your calling for my life and I’ve been preparing for it for years now. There has to be some mistake, RIGHT?”
                 As she placed her head in her hands she heard a calming voice that LEFT all the other voices in her life sounding like falling leaves. “Nothing is a mistake my dear, I want you RIGHT here.” The voice LEFT Julie in tears, and she accepted what God had told her. A couple days later at her sister’s wedding, her cousin-in-law, a down RIGHT atheist came up to her and said “I thought you LEFT for Germany, looks like your stupid parents made you stay for this. How can you be so happy when you have a family that gets in the way of everything?”
                 Julie looked at him and said, “Because, Andrew, I already have everything in Christ, who by the way also taught me that it's RIGHT to honor my father and mother; therefore, you can take that opinion of yours and run with it on out outta here.” And with that, she strolled away triumphantly, but still questioning God.
                A few years later, Julie is a business administration major in her junior year of college.  “AlRIGHT God,” she said as she packed her bags for her abroad trip to Turkey, “I can’t think of anything that could be getting LEFT behind.” She was so excited that, after years of praying for an opportunity to reach the non-Christian world, she was finally getting a chance! After arriving in Turkey, Julie got RIGHT on getting in touch with a mission organization. “I might as well start if I’ll be living RIGHT around this area for a semester”, she thought.
                Days and days went by and Julie sure was getting her feel of the mission field...morning and evening service at St. Paul’s church every Sunday, Monday, and Wednesdays, volunteering at the food bank every Tuesday and Saturday RIGHT at 12:00, Thursday night Daycare this point Fridays were the only days she had LEFT!  One thing that Julie wasn’t expecting aside from all of this is the fact that in one month and a half she had not seen a single convert. This discouraged her, and she again went to God.
                “God I feel like I’m doing everything RIGHT, why am I not seeing anything? This must be a mistake.” And just as she finished, the same gentle voice came to her and said, “Nothing is a mistake my dear, I want you RIGHT here.” And with that Julie dried her tears and accepted God’s word. Julie ended up staying in Turkey for 5 years after that, taking online classes and continuing her ministry. After 5 years God called her somewhere else and she LEFT.
                Two years later, Julie finds herself as the chief administrator of a missionary organization in Hong Kong, China. Every day she went into work until the hand on the clock was RIGHT on the 5 and the 12 and she hopped over to the local marketplace and swept the sidewalks. Downtown Hong Kong was certainly not the cleanest place on earth in between the smell of rotting market fish and motor oil, but she knew it was the RIGHT thing God wanted her to do.
               Every time someone would stop her and ask why she did what she did, she always told them that it was the RIGHT thing to do because Jesus the God of the universe loved them and LEFT heaven to come to earth to die for their sins; and, of course, day after day she saw absolutely nothing. Even her missionary organization was “all service and no results.”  This discouraged Julie, and she went to God and said, “Lord, I feel like I’m doing everything RIGHT. There must be some mistake.” And God said for the third time, “Nothing is a mistake my dear, I want you RIGHT here.” And with that she continued to clean, until God called her someplace else and she LEFT.
                At this point in time, Julie is 45 years old and has been serving in Cairo for over 10 years. She is the administrator at the Holy Cross Christian Fellowship. Many Egyptians actually attended the church and she felt quite at home to the point where she was the only one LEFT in the building on Sundays! Every day she would do her work up at church, and RIGHT at 3:00 she would head out to help Mr. Aziz, an older man who was a Muslim, and his wife, Surah, tend his goats. Julie was never paid for this, for the only pay she ever cared about was their friendship. For the years she had been living in Egypt she had prayed and prayed for Aziz to get RIGHT with the Lord. She never forced it, but she always prayed.
               One day while tending the fields she felt an urge that she had never felt before.  She had to talk to Aziz and Surah, for she just couldn’t see them get sent to Hell. She wrestled and wrestled with God as she knelt down and said, “Lord, I will lose them if I do this. I feel like what I’m doing is the RIGHT thing.  This has to be a mistake”. And yet the same voice came again and said, “Nothing is a mistake my dear, I want you RIGHT here.” She shook her fists, but she then accepted what God wanted.
               She sat them down, and as she did she saw all of her hard work in building the relationship that she was fixing to ruin, and questioned them on whether or not they would ever consider Jesus Christ as their Savior. Both of her dear friends looked astonished and, in a sense,betrayed.  As they LEFT, they banished her from their home. As Julie looked up at the sky she said, “AlRIGHT Lord, what next? “And with that God called her somewhere else and she LEFT.
                After her years in Egypt, God called her to the United Kingdom.  After several years of working in the church overlooking Glasgow, Scotland, she found herself ministering to a group of Wiccans who insisted on protesting outside of the church doors every Sunday. Day after day she was spat on by words that LEFT her insides trembling, yet she stayed strong and continued to do what she could. Julie was RIGHT at 74 at this time, having become wise throughout her years of doing the RIGHT things.
                Two years later, Julie heads to the doctor because of some trouble breathing and hurting in her chest only to find that liver cancer has contacted and infested her body. Dr. Cameron said, “Julie, the only way you can get a cure for such a thing as this is if you prepare for a plane ride back to the States immediately, I am sorry to inform you of such terrible news.” Julie nodded her head, said a prayer with Dr. Cameron and LEFT to head home.
                 That night she bowed her head and said, “Lord, I’ve done everything RIGHT and have still not seen a single convert in all of my years serving Your world. Is it RIGHT for me to leave to go to the States for the operation so I can still see one?” And just like that, the still, small voice more lovingly than ever before filled her ears saying, “Oh, My good and faithful Julie, My work here is not accomplished yet. I need you to stay RIGHT here.” Julie accepted, this time without sorrow or doubt. and continued on with her regular routine. The Wiccans she ministered to never gave her a lick of attention. Out of all the kinds of people she encountered they were by far the worst she had met but she still continued to preach until one day she simply could not get out of bed for church on Sunday. Her legs felt like jello and she knew her life was leaving her; but what she also knew was she did RIGHT what God had wanted her to do. She LEFT this world in peace.
                When she awoke, she saw before her a beautiful man. A man with not only love, but honor in His eyes. And when He spoke, His voice was a voice that made every other voice in her life sound like falling leaves. “Well done, My good and faithful servant,” He said, like a proud Father who accomplished every goal He ever had dreamed through His child.
                 “My goodness, Jesus,” Julie laughed, “I must have done something wrong because I never saw ANYONE, not ANY ONE come to You when I was working.” Jesus smiled and took her by the hand and said, “Come with Me, there’s something I want to show you.” As they walked. they turned RIGHT into a room flooded with light where many people were standing, not saying a word.
                Then, out of nowhere, silence LEFT the building when a young teenager came up to Julie and gave her big hug. After they finished embracing Julie looked into the face of the teen and realized it was Andrew. As they pulled away he  said, “ I wouldn’t be here because of you, Julie. I knew I had to get RIGHT with the Lord after your sister’s wedding years ago. I had nothing, no reason to live and here you had everything when you had Jesus. I accepted Jesus that Sunday after church, but then died in a car accident 3 months later. It’s alright though, because I know God needed me to help spread the word to my buddies about Christ’s love and that what those three months were all about!”
                 Julie was speechless; she couldn’t believe God was working in that this whole time!  The second group of people that came up to her were people she recognized from the Food Bank in Turkey. One said to her, “We never got to thank you for feeding us, for in that time God showed us how much He cared about us through you. We wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for you. We all ended up getting jobs RIGHT when we accepted Christ and it was the biggest blessing. It’s crazy what a simple meal can do!” Julie, again, was at a loss for words. She continued on to see people from China that she had recognized from sweeping the sidewalks, and then some from Egypt and Scotland. They were all there because of the love of Christ that was demonstrated through her. Then she looked to her LEFT and noticed a young Middle Eastern man coming toward her, “Hello my name is Salim. I am Aziz’s son.”
               Julie was confused, for she had never met any of Aziz’s children. “I overheard the conversation you had with my parents years ago, about Jesus Christ; and I could not help but look into Him. I fell in love and immediately became a Christian and LEFT my old life behind. Thank you for praying for my parents, because it sure blessed me.” At that moment Julie fell to her knees and wept at the feet of Jesus. “Lord, forgive me for ever doubting Your will and plan. Please forgive me. You knew all along what You were doing.”
               Jesus knelt down and held Julie in His arms.“ I will never forsake you, and I love you. Now come walk with Me, there’s a lot more LEFT to see.” And with that, Julie accepted RIGHT where she was supposed to be and was content in every way.


Faith of a Five-Year-Old

If you were to ask me how many times that I knew God was with me, I would not be able to count all the stories or situations that I knew His presence was there, guiding me, comforting me, or even testing me.  I have had my struggles, and He has always pulled me through.  Today, I am going to explain about a time that my son Logan truly experienced God’s presence.  I feel so lucky that I got to be with him as he experienced this.

To tell the story, I will need to backtrack a little.  We were living in Europe when Logan was born and we had not found a church home while we lived there.   The reason for that is because of my own shortcomings.  I was afraid to walk into a church alone, and my own fears caused me to miss out on having a church family.  I would explain to Logan about God, Jesus, and even Heaven, but I could not answer all of the questions he had.  We eventually moved back to the United States, and his questions persisted.  They got more intense, and, like most little kids, he would ask “why” to every answer I gave him. I realized, as I ran out of answers, I had been holding him back because of my own fear of doing something alone.  By now my mother-in-law and nephew were living with our family, and we all agreed it was time to find a church to call our own.  We finally found one, WellSpring Community Church, and I soon started to see the change in Logan.

Logan began to want to please God.  He said he would not want to be mean to someone because God would not like it.  He said he was thankful for Jesus for giving His life for him.  It was an amazing transition to watch.  Logan’s faith became real and he finally began to understand.  Our family deciding to find a church was the best decision we ever made.  Logan’s faith and trust in God were able to get him through the worst experience in his life thus far.

A few weeks ago Logan started showing symptoms of a stomach bug.  He had a fever that would go back to normal after some medicine.  I made an appointment on his second day of being sick.  He was seen the next day.  The doctor also thought that it was a viral stomach bug that needed to run its course.  He gave me some warning signs to look for and we went home.  The next morning, those signs he warned me about started to appear.  Logan was too weak to walk from one room to another and I knew we had to go to the E.R.  Once we were seen at the hospital, they ran some tests on him.  He had come up positive for strands “A” and “B” of the flu.  We were transferred to another hospital where he was admitted.  The next day, we were also informed that Logan had two forms of food-poisoning bacteria inside of him.  His little body was so weak.  He had to fight both the two strands of the flu and two types of bacteria.  Each invader he was fighting caused him to get severely dehydrated, which made his sugar and potassium levels drop way below normal.  It was the scariest time of my life, and one would think, for his, too…but it wasn’t.

During his four-day stay at the hospital, Logan and I had many conversations.  They all led back to God.  My little five-year-old boy was somehow a man too wise for his years.  It completely touched my heart to hear him talk.  During one of our conversations, he told me he knew God was protecting him.  He told me that God is there to protect us, and he said it with conviction.  He said, “God loves us and protects us and that is the side I always want to be on”.  Listening to him speak, I was such a proud mom to know he had a strong relationship with God.  We also prayed very hard during his stay and had many people praying for his recovery.  We knew all of our prayers would be answered.  We knew God was watching over him. 

If there is anything to take away from this, it is to not to let your fears consume you.  I was afraid to take a step alone, and it cost my son from having a relationship with God for several years.  It is so important to make sure our kids have a relationship with God.  They need to know Him early on in life.  It helps them get through the hard times on our life on Earth.  If we had let our fears control us during his hospital stay, I am sure it would have been a more unpleasant visit.  Logan still sometimes has questions about God and Jesus, but the majority of the time, he likes to tell me about God and Jesus.  The ‘how ‘ and  ‘why’ questions are asked less frequently, for he now talks about his love for them and their unending love for us.   Prayer and faith helped him on his physical recovery, but his own personal relationship with God, even at the tender age of five, helped ease the anxiety he could have endured with what was going on. 

“Be strong and courageous.  Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you.  He will not leave you or forsake you.”-- Deuteronomy 31:6.

Miracle in the Making

“Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.” 
― C.S. Lewis
My son is a miracle. In fact, I know he is a gift from God. Psalm 127:3 tells us that “children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.” All of the delicate, intricate workings that must take place just exactly perfectly when God knits a human being together in secret is mind-blowing and so very beautiful. Pregnancy is one of those heavenly mysteries that is too wonderful to ever truly be able to grasp or understand. What I can understand, however, is that God predestined my son to be here, He has a plan and purpose for his life, and He has blessed my husband and I more than we deserve!

Dorian is a wonderful baby. He has had a larger-than-life personality from the time he was born. He smiles constantly and he brings joy and delight to everyone who meets him. He is very social and loves to be around people (he is a lot like his dad). I long to be with him and my heart melts every time I am with him. If my love for him even resembles a fraction of God’s love I can’t even begin to imagine how God feels about us. I know my flawed love is but a shadow of the perfect love of God. I am so thankful to Him who fulfills all of His promises!

When my husband and I got married we decided we would wait a while before trying to conceive. A few months before our two year anniversary God filled both of our hearts with the desire for a baby and we began to fast and pray, asking God to bless us with a child. I was not one of those people who just assumed getting pregnant would just “happen,” as I have always been more of a pessimist than on optimist, but I was hopeful and confident that God would bless us.

I began praying through scriptures about childbearing and pregnancy. I read other women’s testimonies about God’s blessing upon their lives and how they were able to get pregnant. Each month that went by I was “sure” that I was pregnant. I had ovulation test strips, a basal body thermometer, and all of the latest apps. I obsessed over symptoms, desperately wanting them to be real. When the tests kept coming back negative I began to get discouraged. It seemed everyone else around me was getting pregnant and it just wasn’t happening for me.

I had begun relying on my own strength instead of seeking God. I could only do so much; it is God who orchestrates the world, not me. I decided it was time to seek the prayer of those around me. My husband and I shared our desire with friends, family, and even coworkers. We also shared our desire with some members of a new church we were attending, WellSpring Community Church. We barely knew these people, but when we told them our prayer request they dropped everything and immediately prayed with us, anointing us with oil and love. They assured us that they had seen God answer this prayer before!

God indeed heard our prayers and the next month we were pregnant! We told the church and our families before we even had our first ultrasound, because we wanted to continue to be bathed in prayer. I went on to have a smooth pregnancy and an easy delivery. God’s hand was surely upon me.
You might be reading this and thinking that there is nothing extremely significant about this story. We tried for a few months, got pregnant, everything went great and there is a happy ending. The fact that everything went just as planned seems very average and ordinary, but I assure you there is a moral to this story.

God created you and He wants to be a part of all things in your life. There are many things in life that we take for granted and try to do in our own strength. When you have a goal, a problem, or something you need help with ask your fellow Christians to pray for you. In Matthew 18:19-20 Jesus says “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
Our lives are full of miracles we take for granted. Sometimes we are so focused on our own strength that we miss the miracles all together and forget to praise the true Author of blessing. I pray God will reveal the tiny miracles in your life and that we will not take for granted the blessings the Lord has predestined for us.

Lessons from Speedy

He arrived slightly bigger than a quarter…but that was eight years ago!  One of my first graders, now a rising ninth grader, found him in a rainy puddle on the way to his grandmother’s house that spring.  Every year, my kindergartners have enjoyed his antics, and during SOME special summers, Speedy hangs out at a fortunate host’s home.  Not so fortunately, they are more patient with his needs than am I, which means that he is from time to time returned in a larger, nicer aquarium (inviting him to grow even bigger).  At palm size now, Speedy (who is anything but except when he’s hungry or angry) depends upon the gift of a lifetime:  his magnetic rock, upon which he perches when he’s tired of the water.  Even yellow-bellied sliders, akin to the ever-popular red-eared sliders common in Alabama ponds, need to dry out from time to time.

This summer, I was the “fortunate caregiver,” and Speedy unfortunately did not get royal treatment.  It all started when one of the magnets that attaches his platform rock in his tank’s corner got lost in the transit from Coosada Elementary to home.  I thought a quick fix with craft store magnets would do the trick, but alas, it did not.  So, like a good eight-year-old yellow-bellied slider owner, I looked for a replacement at the local pet store.  For a turtle Speedy’s size, such an apparatus was edging $50.00!  Don’t get me wrong…I care about Speedy, but I also care about other uses for half a Ben Franklin!  So the search continued to secure his platform economically, right about the time he learned to master climbing it and stay afloat, even leaning!

In the meantime, I bid goodbye to the last of the pair of African dwarf frogs (who I honestly believe took his brother out two years earlier).  As far as I know, he outlived his life expectancy, leaving me a clear plastic cube that jumped out at me as a fix for Speedy’s dilemma.  After a wonderful Sunday worship service, I made it my task for the afternoon to give all of the bettas and Speedy clean digs.  Obviously, dealing with his ten gallon tank made Speedy’s ministry the most procrastinated.  But I did it!  After hanging out in the bathtub while I used all of his old water to fertilize the plants, I put him back in his tank, HISSING (yes, they can, and that just shows you how temperamental he can be!).  I was beyond eager to see him discover that his rock was now steady Eddie…and that he would have to lean no longer.

WELL.  As usual, Speedy seems to reject a new tank, refusing to eat initially and avoiding anything new that shows up in it.  But it was what he did this morning, nearly 24 hours later, that preached a sermon to me that has come at a timely….time.  As I was digging into the seven woes described in Matthew while eating breakfast, prepping for my first day back in the classroom, I want you to know that THIS TURTLE began to attack the clear cube.  He actually bit at it, which mystified the daylights out of me.  It dawned upon me that perhaps he saw his reflection in the cube and thought his territory was under occupation by another yellow-bellied slider.  But the cube was only meant to hold him STEADY…and even HIGHER.  The cube was meant to secure his rock so that he didn’t lose his webbed footing.  But he would have no part of it!

WellSpring is undergoing growing joys…and pains, depending upon how much Speedy is in each of us.  Like a ton of bricks, it hit me that the cold-blooded creature was actually biting the hand that was feeding him!  He saw the cube…whatever he saw in the cube…as a threat, as competition, as an obstacle to his own betterment.  Churches served by staff and volunteers who do not intentionally seek to mentor others and multiply opportunities for them to serve will die.  It’s very simple.  Although each of us is loved by Christ as if there were only one to love, He has spread out gifts and talents, experiences and ideas among us, and He is the dream releaser!  As we share the space, as we see one another as teammates, as we allow one another to lift each other up, there is no ceiling on the view! 

Pastor Wayne Cordeiro, who founded New Hope Christian Fellowship, has written a very ego-painful but greater-good-motivational book entitled Doing Church as a Team.  We saw the book in action this past June on a visit to Honolulu's main campus, but what inspired us most is the way he, his family, his staff, and a core of committed volunteers have equipped teams to send out to plant hundreds of other "New Hopes" across the Hawaiian islands and into Asia. They are able to do this because each person serving in an area is intentional about recruiting another to serve alongside him or her, passing off training at every level.  It doesn't matter the ministry area; like a football depth chart, there is a place for everyone, and every type of service is the Gospel in action.  Parking lot attendants are preaching.  First impressions teams are resounding the Good News.  Those handling the finances are doing so to the glory of God. Singers and musicians rotate in and out to share praises to the King.  Even the nursery department has four subareas that grow down as the church grows large, for believe it or not, some adore reception, some prefer the cleaning jobs, some handle feeding with a breeze, and others do well with check-out procedures.  New Hope and churches that change lives forever do so through working any one individual through a job-sharing...and sometimes, a job handing-off process.  

As President Harry S. Truman wisely shared, “It’s amazing how much can get accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit.”  We want to hold our areas tightly, because we forget that our identity and security belong nowhere else except in the arms of Jesus.  None of us---NONE---is irreplaceable.  None of us is even guaranteed the next minute, much less tomorrow.  TEAM—“Together Everyone Achieves More” –is so very true! As Pastor Rick Warren reminds us, there are no Lone Ranger Christians.  The expanded view of hundreds of more souls reached for Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit when we replicate our areas of ministry is magnificent!  No matter the nature of the ministry, each of us is preaching the Gospel the best we know how when we are in service to Christ, and none of us can do without one another as we seek to Christ-confidently set our God-given gifts free for His glory!

This is not easy.  Our areas can become “our babies.”  But it is God’s church, first and foremost, and just as He draws congregations together, He also arranges the members of His local body the way He intends.  I’m not sure Speedy will ever give in to sharing his tank with the one structure that can lift him into the Heavenlies.  God give us the grace to take a lesson from him, do just the OPPOSITE, and welcome the chance to invest and inspire!  

"He must increase, but I must decrease."  John 3:30

Pain, Pain, Go Away...

A few years ago, I went on one of my all-too-rare "Dates with God", something I started while we were appointed at St. Luke UMC in Montgomery in 2002.  It dawned upon me, as a stay-at-home mom at the time, that I did little RISKING for God.  Most people think nothing of driving off alone at sunrise, headed who knows where, in order to spend the day just basking in the presence of the Creator God who loves us so much.  But not me...until that day I arrived at Pensacola Beach and had the date of a lifetime with my Heavenly Father.  On such "dates", I've done everything from see sharks at sunset to meeting my favorite Christian author, Phillip anointing the Tennessee River with ashes of burnt frustrations and prayers to turn over.  It's always different; it's always an adventure, and it always makes me extra thankful for my family, my friends, and my countless blessings! 

This particular "date" found me in Eufaula, Alabama, just hanging out at the beautiful lake, and later shivering in the wonderfully frigid "mini-waterfall" at Blue Spring State Park in nearby Clio.  (I just have this "water thing"...wonder why?   ).  I like to read books as I visit with God, and the flavor of the day was Tim Hansel's You Gotta Keep Dancin'.  For some reason, I stood in great need of encouragement that day, and there is no better pick-me-up than reading the biography of someone who has overcome far more than I.  Tim Hansel met chronic, throbbing, "live-with-it-because-there's-nothing-we-can-do-for-you" physical pain in a freak climbing accident, and this book is the chronicle of his journey back into the world of acceptance AND JOY...despite.  He had to learn to love life itself, without many of the previous things that we often take for granted.  He had to learn to value every moment, knowing how completely irretrievable each is.  And SO MUST WE. 

Here are some "takeaways" from this book.  No matter where you find yourself, I pray these will bless you as they did me.  No matter what curveballs come our way in life, regardless of the cause or the "reason", we can find peace in knowing that we know that we can CHOOSE our response to the trials, rather than be consumed by them.

Read on:

"All of our theology must eventually become biography."  (Do you EVER find yourself studying something only to have to live it sooner than later?  I.E. learning about patience is an almost certainty that you're being prepared to have to use it!) 

"Joy is that deep settled confidence that God is in control of EVERY area of my life." 

"Pain is inevitable, but misery is optional." 

"Procrastinating over the joy of being alive is one of the greatest burglars of life I know." 

"Our society has inundated us with the importance of importance.  We have been conditioned to believe in the big, the fast, the expensive, and the far away.  I'm still convinced that if you have to move even ten inches from where you are now in order to be happy, you never will be." 

"I believe that pain and suffering can either be a prison or a prism.  The tests of life are not to break us but to make us." 

"This life that we call Christian is different from what we think it is.  It is infinitely more subtle, more powerful, more dangerous, more magnificent, more exciting, more humorous, more delicious, more adventurous, more involved, and more troublesome than most of us think." 

"To let others or circumstances dictate your future is to have chosen.  To allow the pain to corrode your spirit is to have chosen.  And to be transformed into the image of Christ by these difficult and trying circumstances is to have chosen." 

There was a point where Hansel felt that it would have hurt less to die, and he was probably right.  He had to work through the fact that he was still alive, his God-given purpose still lay before him, and that he had a choice as to how the rest of his life would be lived.  I wonder if it takes a life-altering personal accident to reveal our choices to us, or if we might travel the road to wisdom by learning from the pain and progress of another? 

Pain is real, and each of us carries a sizable cross.  Still, let's inspire each other to continue to realize that life is not meant to be easy, and that a new problem will wait in the wings of a solved present one, but that with Christ and each other cheering us on, we truly can do all things through Him who gives us strength!!!

Seeing is Believing!

In L.B. Cowman's Streams in the Desert, I found a glittering gem one day.   

"In Hebrews 11:27, we read that Moses 'persevered because he saw Him who is invisible.'  Yet in the following passage, exactly the opposite was true of the children of Israel:  'Then they believed His promises and sang His praise.  But they soon forgot what He had done and did not wait for His counsel.  In the desert they gave in to their craving; in the wasteland they put God to the test.  So He gave them what they asked for, but sent a wasting disease upon them...Psalm 106:  12-15.'  They persevered only when their circumstances were favorable, because they were primarily influenced by whatever appealed to their senses, instead of trusting in the invisible and eternal God.

Even today we have people who live an inconsistent Christian life because they have become preoccupied with things that are external.  Therefore they focus on their circumstances rather than focusing on God.  And God desires that we grow in our ability to see Him in everything and to realize the importance of seemingly insignificant circumstances if they are used to deliever a message from Him. 

We read of the children of Israel, 'THEN they believed His promises.'  They did not believe until AFTER they saw--once they sawHim work, THEN they believed.'  They unabashedly doubted God when they came to the Red Sea, but when He opened the way and led them across and they SAW Pharaoh and his army drowned...'THEN they believed.'  The Israelites continued to live this kind of up-and-down existence, because their faith was dependent on their circumstances.  And this is certainly not the kind of faith God wants us to have.

The world says that 'seeing is believing,' but God wants us to believe IN ORDER TO SEE.  The psalmist said, 'I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.' (Psalm 27:13).  Do you believe God only when your circumstances are favorable, or do you believe no matter what your circumstances may be?"  (C.H.P.) 

"Faith is believing what we do not see, and the reward for this kind of faith is to see what we believe."  St. Augustine 

WellSpring has faced many obstacles from the time of its beginning, but we have experienced many blessings tied to faith, as well.  Each person who has remained faithful in belief and service to God's vision here is still with us, and God is adding more daily.  Those who will believe and keep on believing (that is the hardest part) even when they cannot see are promised a reward repeatedly in Scripture.  This is true not just as we pioneer to go where others have not gone in building a non-denominational, non-agency supported, non-traditional, non-comfort-centered alternative to church in a sea that is swimming with churches that are "anything but" in the heart of the Bible Belt, but also in each of our personal lives.  It is said that the winner is the person who is able and willing to outlast his opponent by only ten minutes in the ring.  How many great moves for Christ end early because someone neglected or refused to hang on for ten more minutes?  Praise God for the perseverance to accept His good and perfect timing, as we see Him do the miraculous!

My Thoughts on "Mawwidge" and "Wuv, Twu Wuv"

It was April 29th - 27 years ago.  I was scared and nervous as we stood in the pitch blackness of an Auburn evening.  It was a beautiful clear night with the crickets chirping in the background.  As we walked through the gate and passed through the high grass in the field surrounding The Vinery at the Auburn University Arboretum (botanical garden),  I was preparing to make a decision that would profoundly change my life forever.  My heart was racing with fear and excitement, because I was about to ask the woman that I loved to marry me.
I planned this moment for years and waited over twenty-five years to get to this point.  Everything had to go perfectly, but you know how things work.  When we arrived that night after an evening dinner with some friends, I was deflated to see that there was another couple "making out" in the place that I had dreamed to pop the question!  What was I going to do now?  Well, I tried to make small talk with Danna while patting my shirt pocket every 10 seconds.  I had decided to put the ring, in which I had invested all that my "college-student-working-for-a-catering-company-while-being-a-resident-manager-for-a-dorm" lifestyle could scrape up, into my pocket so that I could get to it when the time was right.  
Finally, the other couple left and Danna and I approached The Vinery, reminiscing that this was the place where we had shared our first kiss.  We laughed and talked about things.  Then the moment came.  I knelt down in front of her, my heart racing, my palms sweating, and my voice cracking as I said, "Danna, I want to ask you an important question."  Realizing what was about to happen, she yelled, "Not tonight!"  The reason she said this was because her parents were in the Smokies for the Wildflower Pilgrimage, and she was afraid that I would ask her without being able to share this with them in the "traditional-family-permission-kind-of-way".  However, I had already met with her father (the second scariest moment in my life) at his office earlier that week, and I requested the right to ask her to marry me.  Even away, Dr. Freeman and Mrs. Freeman already knew about what was going to happen on this night!
I can't tell you how blessed I am that Danna said, "Yes" that night.  She and I celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary last month, enjoying a night away now that ours are old enough hold the fort.  My life has been so blessed by being associated with her.   We have grown closer through the joys and struggles that God has seen us through.  My wife is truly my best friend, and I look to her for wisdom and strength in so many areas of my life. 
Marriage is God's plan for His children to understand fully what it means for the church to be the Bride of Christ.  It is disturbing that the rate of divorce, even for Christian couples, continues to escalate.   God wants us to have strong and healthy marriages, and He wants our churches to be committed in their marriage to Christ, the Bridegroom.  Over the years, I've become convinced that our relationship with God is similar in many ways to our relationship with our spouses in marriage.  I have more thoughts to share in the sermon section of our website with the series, "The Art of Marriage."  May it bless you as it has blessed us in learning to grow toward Him together.

A Little Thorny Subject

This week was the week to tackle a job that has been left undone for way too long!  When our family moved to Deatsville in June 2004, I retrieved my collection of antique rose bushes from a friend who had graciously stored them for me during our year back at school in Kentucky.  I'd been told that there is a three-year cycle for rose growth:  the first year, they sleep; the next year, they creep; the third year, they leap!  Since my rose addiction began just a year prior to our departure, I'd never observed "leap year".  WELL...
These roses have leaped like nothing I'd ever imagined.  "Phyllis Bide", the one who actually poked a cane THROUGH the seal around the window of our Montgomery home and bloomed in our living room the very first year I had it was the biggest rascal of them all.  (I'm pretty sure she won the battle yesterday!)  Since returning to teaching, gardening has had to take a backseat, and the yard has become somewhat of a jungle, at least in the shrub and climbing rose department.  Yes, I enjoy cutting and giving away bouquets, loving the variety and the capacity to make others smile, but there comes a time that you have to deal with the "un-fun" part of gardening and get hurt in order to take care of something you started.  All of the gardening analogies that I used to drink in while tending the lovelies during my 9 years away from the classroom, raising our children, came flooding back.  Here are some old ones that I'd known, but had unfortunately forgotten:
1.  Jesus said in one of His parables that only TWENTY-FIVE percent of seed fell on good soil, having the potential to grow into healthy plants.  That means that SEVENTY-FIVE percent fell on hard soil, got eaten by birds, or grew up temporarily before ultimately being choked by life's cares and surrendering.  I do not like those odds at all, and in the classroom, we are conditioned to "reach every one to an established standard", no matter how unrealistic this plays out in the practicals.  But there, in black, white, and RED are Jesus's stats.  If He, being holy and perfect, reports these results, how can we beat ourselves up when some of the seed into which we pour our lives falls accidentally (or chooses to fall) in the 75% range?  We don't stop trying everything we know to do, and we listen diligently for His voice regarding timing and perseverance, but we must, must, must trust Him with the results and celebrate the 25% !!!
2.  There are seasons in the life of any plant, especially seen in the rose.  There are bloom times, dead wood times, green growth with no sign of budding times, and there are even disease-and-Japanese-beetle-times (like now).  It is so with people!  For church planters especially, because it's always tougher getting something started initially than it is coming after it's long established, it is additionally SO HARD to accept that the people we encounter are in between life seasons!!  We attempt valiantly to catch them during their personal green-growth-and-bloom-times, hoping those times will ignite enough spiritual growth to propel them through the dead-wood-and-disease-times.  Sometimes, yes...sometimes no.  People come and go all the time---not just in church plants but in churches everywhere.  Remember the 25%--it takes a lifetime to mature a Christian!  It never stops hurting when people depart, but there areso many other people He brings our way who need our best effort and energy while they are encountering their "green growth and bloom times".   This is where our focus must be.  I believe this is what Henry Blackaby means by "going where God is at work and joining Him there" in his groundbreaking book, Experiencing God.
3.  God will prune us, with or without our permission, to make us bear fruit if we've never borne any OR to make us bear even more fruit even if we "regularly do".  And pruning HURTS both us and the gardener!  If I'd gotten on those roses earlier, I wouldn't have had so much to cut away.  As it was, I wrestled both dead wood (brought on by drought extremes and cold extremes) AND new growth that was healthy, but busy charting its own course away from the groove of the solid plant...encroaching into my neighbor's space in some instances.  I have thorn pricks and briar tears all over my hands and arms (even with occasional glove use!) and I bear witness to the pain of the pruner!  I thought about how it pains God to prune you think He wishes we would learn more quickly and effectively so that He wouldn't have to?  Or, do you think perhaps it is the same principle as the pain we feel as we discipline our children..."this hurts ME more than it hurts YOU!"  It does hurt to deal lovingly and truthfully with others, but it is a temporary hurt for a long-term gain...theirs, ours, but more importantly, the Kingdom's!  People ARE looking for an authentic church who, in their authentic brokenness, reflect an authentic Savior, broken and bleeding for us.  It just takes much longer to build, and it requires more faith and perseverance than the average Christian can even imagine---or has made the choice to experience.
4.  Growth is genuinely unpredictable.  I NEVER know how tall the canes of a particular rose will grow, nor do I know how many blooms to expect on an individual plant.  I do not know why Japanese beetles seem to munch all over some roses while leaving others alone, nor do I know why some roses produce beautiful buds that never fully open!  I don't know why some blossoms last only two days while others will linger for a week or more!  But I do know this: if I KEEP on watering and KEEP on fertilizing and KEEP on encouraging them and KEEP on pruning them, and KEEP on letting them alone from time to time so that God can do HIS thing, WITH TIME, I am going to see some results.  I don't know when, where, how, and what time...but my faith will become sight! 
Don't you think that it's time (and I'm preaching to myself, too) that we all stop analyzing what God is up to and just celebrate that He is up to something?  Where is our sense of wonder at how mighty and awesome He is?  Why don't yesterday's miracles inspire us to hang close, not because of His latest sleight of hand, but because of His undying love for us in sending Jesus Christ to die for our sins?  Why are we so forgetful, and why are we so "uncelebratory"?  Why do we sit and benignly soak in His grace without giving Him our complete humility, which He so richly deserves?  Altars across America should be packed every Sunday in awe of the blessings He has given and continues to give, even while the world "seems" off-course.  We should be draped in shame at our own lack of measuring up to His perfect example, Jesus, broken and begging Him to make us willing to be like Him!  Shame on us for expecting life to be so easy, when it was anything but for our Lord and Savior.  As Rick Warren puts it, "God is more concerned about our character than our comfort."  We would each do well to remember this each time we are tempted to have a pity party as to why the sun does not rise and set for us!  (THE SON ALREADY HAS.)
Poets and hymn-writers have written of these truths for years: 
"The kiss of the sun for pardon; the song of the birds for mirth; one is closer to God's heart in the garden than in any other place on earth." 
"I come to the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear the Son of God discloses 
And He walks with me and He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there none other has ever known."
Bloodied and aching, but smiling in wonder, I still believe it. 

Get Back on That Horse!

GET BACK ON THAT HORSE!  Isn't that what we're supposed to do when we fall off?  Name your area...overeating, gossip, complaining, slacking off church, drug and alcohol addiction, anger issues, remaining in a funk, refusing to forgive others...or even ourselves!  The list could go on forever!  Scripture says, and it's true, that we have ALL SINNED and fallen short of the glory of God.  And if we are truthful, this is often a daily battle.
I want to confess something to you, something that may not mean anything to you, but it does to me because I'm taking a chance to bare my soul to you to even share it.  I was uncharacteristically faithful to a very strict, uninventive eating plan for eight weeks during Lent. Sensing that variety (I am an absolute foodie, no doubt about it.) had become a pseudo-idol to me, I tackled giving up not one but quite a lot of various things just to return eating to its "fuel only" mentality.   I did REALLY WELL, by God's grace, until Spring Break, and then, as my late elderly neighbor used to say, "It just went kerflooey!"  The end-of-the-year school stress, and retirement parties (finger food heaven!) followed Easter, and then back-to-back vacations sealed the deal.  All of a sudden, I do not look the way I did prior to April!
Yes, I still exercise, and I walked tonight.  But exercise alone is not going to cut it.  As much as I love food, I owe God a whole lot more, because the commitment to get healthy is one I made to Him.  The fringe benefits of a longer life of love and service on His behalf...of being around long enough to see my children marry and have children of their travel and adventure with Mike in the empty nest share my life with you and with others He brings into my life...or even more selfishly, to be able to actually enjoy clothes shopping...are worth hanging on...and getting back on the horse.  QUITTING is not an option for me, and it should not be for you either, regardless of your "issue". 
The beautiful, agonizing thing about the Body of Christ is that it is just that.  A BODY.  We cannot do life without each part.  When the toe stays home, the foot is off balance.  When the fingernail goes into hiding, the entire hand is in pain.  When we dwell in the land of thinking we've blown life so badly that we cannot look into the mirror, maybe that's exactly what we need to do...STOP looking at ourselves and look around for someone who needs us, even in our broken state, to help us navigate life's murkiness and celebrate the rainbow that does come as we yield our brokenness to His potter's touch.  Why is it that we run FROM God when we need to run TO Him?  Why is church the last place we want to go when "our chips are down"?  Like Adam and Eve, we're still trying to wear our fig leaves and pretend He doesn't see us...and like a loving parent who sees the missing crop of hair falling from the toddler's scissor-gripped hands or the fingerprint Monet on the living room walls, He knows it need not be permanent damage.  EVERY DAY is a fresh start with God.
If we genuinely want to make a difference, we must get our eyes off ourselves and look around.  Someone needs your card, your call, your words of encouragement.  Someone needs your presence.  Someone needs to know you overindulge in brownies, too!   And most importantly of all, what light upon a hill will our churches be if its "believers" refuse to be committed to helping them become the Body of Christ that they should be?!  Let us each start by being a solution to the world's pain.  The smallest effort we make in the right direction is the first step to a lifetime of peace.  May He be our strength to bring us out of ourselves and into His perfect plan.  He is waiting for all of us prodigals to just get back on that horse...and come home.
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