Saturday, June 13, 2015

Taking the Opportunity to Serve the Lord and others through ARCM

“For you were called to freedom, brethren;

Only do not turn your freedom into opportunity for the flesh (for sinning),

But through love serve one another.” 
-- (Galatians 5: 13. NASV).

Although this is a little longer blog than usual, I hope you will take the time to read it even if you need to break it in sections to read it. It is such an important topic. With Salvation we have freedom in Christ, which means we have the freedom to serve one another.

The last couple of weeks we have been talking about opportunities. So far, we have discovered that opportunities are important in our lives and that we are faced with great and small opportunities every day of our lives. But, because we are presented with both good and bad opportunities, we have to be discerning. We know that God gives us good opportunities in order to bless us or so that we can bless someone else. On the other hand, the secular world, along with Satan and his minions, wants us to succumb to worthless or harmful opportunities. So, we have to be careful and discerning with the opportunities we take. For, the Scriptures say: “and do not give the devil an opportunity.” – (Ephesians 4: 27. NASV). 

So, just as there are good opportunities that start early in life, potentially bad or hurtful opportunities also start early in life. For example, we all want to be accepted by our peers, so when another child or peer suggests that we do something that we know is not right or that it is bad for us, we have a choice to make. We have to choose whether to take that opportunity to do something that we know we shouldn’t, or we must choose to not take that particular opportunity and instead look for an opportunity to do good.

The choices we make in the opportunities set before us, no matter how small or large, can be life altering. For example, some young people are given the opportunity to smoke with their friends or peers after school. Some will choose to do so, while others will choose not to smoke. Those who choose to take the opportunity to smoke may later find that it is hard to quit smoking, or they may get cancer or emphysema later in life. Life is all about being discerning and insightful, as we rely on God’s laws and teachings to make the right decisions with the opportunities that are presented to us.

Some opportunities can be joyful or lead to joy and happiness such as the opportunity to attend a church get together or Christian party where you are introduced to your future mate. Opportunities to mentor another woman can also lead to the joy of a wonderful friendship or the joy of knowing that you helped someone. Years ago, I took the opportunity to attend a library conference in Manhattan, Kansas and ended up rooming with another library media specialist from the same school district where I worked.  We discovered that we had a great deal in common, especially our love of the Lord. “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again – rejoice!”  -- (Philippians 4: 4. NLT). We also discovered that we both loved our careers and teaching library skills and technology to our students. We found that we enjoyed talking and laughing with each other throughout the conference. 

Once we got back to our home town, we kept in touch and even introduced our families to each other. Over the years, I have mentored her and her two daughters. The joy of our friendship is something that would not have happened, if I had not taken the opportunity to go to the library conference that week. Our friendship and future mentoring opportunities would not have happened had we both not taken the opportunity to find out more about each other.

Other opportunities are for servanthood in action. “Don’t think only about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and what they are doing.” – (Philippians 2: 4. NLT). Taking the opportunity to introduce yourself to someone new at church or at some venue can lead to friendship or to finding that you have the resources or knowledge needed by the other woman. But, if we don’t take the opportunities that God places in our path, we will not reap His blessings, nor will we be able to bless someone else. ARCM is a great way to bless another woman, and you could receive a blessings as well just by watching for the opportunities to befriend, say hello, or to listen to the Holy Spirit’s prompting to help another woman.

The Bible is full of true stories and informative parables about opportunities taken or other opportunities that should not have been taken. For example, the story of The Prodigal Son, (See Luke 15: 11-32) is a story full of opportunities; some are taken and others are not. The story starts with a son taking a selfish opportunity to ask for his inheritance before his father died. At first this son thinks that he has grabbed the golden ring and life is going to be good. But, because it was a self-motivated selfish and thoughtless opportunity it did not work out the way the son hoped it would.

But this is also the story of a loving father who took the opportunity to forgive his son and bless him. Although the son had been very wrong and selfish, the father welcomed his son home even after the son had humiliated his father and had lost the entire inheritance given to him by his father. Even so, the father took the opportunity to forgive his son. We, too, can take the opportunity to forgive someone who has hurt us. In fact, Christ gives each of us an opportunity to come to Him in repentance for our sins toward God and to be “Saved.”  But, to receive that Salvation, we have to grab hold of the opportunity Christ has offered us. Christ says: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.”  -- (Luke 11: 28-30. NLT). Have you taken the opportunity to invite Christ into your heart?

Even within the story of The Prodigal Son, though, there is another person who could have benefited from taking the opportunity to forgive and restore a lost relationship. The brother of the son who asked for his early inheritance, had stayed at home and had become the dutiful son who worked hard and never gave his father a problem. But when the prodigal son came home and his father not only forgave this thoughtless son, but then prepared a banquet for him with all the trimmings and many guests invited to share in the father’s joy, his brother was jealous. Why was the one who had sinned and wronged his father the one who was now blessed and shown love? Why did his brother get a banquet and all this love lavished upon him? 

Have you ever felt that way?  Have you ever felt jealous of someone else’s blessing? Instead of taking the opportunity to be happy for someone, perhaps you took the opportunity to be miffed and upset. In earthly standards, some things just don’t seem fair. But, when someone repents and commits herself to the Lord, there is indeed reason to celebrate. Perhaps instead of looking at things through the eyes of this world and through the eyes of Satan, we should take the opportunity to look at things the way that God would like us to see them. God loves us and wants us to come to His Son, Christ, for Salvation. God rejoices when a lost child finds Salvation.

I don’t have the time to go into all of the opportunities taken and missed that are listed in the Newer Covenant/ Testament. Each one, though, provides a lesson for us to learn. However, I do want to mention two more. One such opportunity was taken by Pricilla and Aquila. If you remember they were a husband and wife team that shared the Gospel with other people they encountered. One day, they heard a Jew named Apollos speaking in the synagogue. He was a learned man who knew the Scriptures, and he was knowledgeable about the Messiah, having been instructed in the way of the Lord. But, Apollos only knew about the teaching and the baptism of John the Baptist. So, when Pricilla and Acquila heard Apollos speaking, they took the opportunity to invite him into their home to teach him about Christ. In their home they explained to Apollos the complete Gospel message and how Jesus Christ fulfilled the Scriptures. Later, Apollos went to Achaia to share the Good News of Christ. There he held debates and was able to refute the Jews, proving to them through the Scriptures that Jesus was indeed the Christ. (See Acts 18: 24-28.).

What if Pricilla and Acquila had heard Apollos, but just left him to continue his teaching with just half the message?  What if they had not invited Apollos into their home, so they could tell him about how Christ fulfilled all the prophecies and that Christ was the One whom John the Baptist had said was coming?  All of the people that Apollos was later able to share the Good News with would never have heard of the Good News of Jesus Christ as their Savior. All the Jews that Apollos refuted would never have heard the Truth of Christ the Messiah. But, Pricilla and Aquila took the opportunity, which was placed in front of them and grabbed it. They used that opportunity to invite Apollos home with them and not only teach him, but actively and relationally mentor him in the Good News. Using discernment and insight, they took the opportunity that the Holy Spirit gave them to share the Good News with one who had the ability to reach even more people for the Lord. Subsequently, Apollos spread the Good News far and wide. It is interesting, too, that although we do not know for sure who wrote the book of Hebrews, that Apollos is included in its list of possible authors.

At other times the opportunities we encounter in life are for Christian service; opportunities to show that we care, or to do something for someone else. Some opportunities are actually thrown at us, or we realize that an opportunity has found us. Such was the case when the Pharisees brought the adulterous woman to Jesus and literally threw her in front of Him. They said that she was caught in the act of adultery and quoted the Mosaic Law to Jesus. They said, “In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such a woman. Now what do you say?” – (John 8: 5. NIV). The Pharisees were actually trying to trap Jesus into saying or doing something for which they could arrest Him.

Jesus, though, surprised them. For, “… Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning Him, He straightened up and said to them, ‘If anyone of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.” – (John 8: 6-7. NIV).  We all know the rest of the story. Each man’s conscience condemned him so much so that each man dropped his stone, and the Pharisees and the crowds walked away leaving only Jesus and the woman. Then Jesus told the woman to “go and sin no more”.

Certainly, Jesus could have ignored the woman’s situation or just walked away from the Pharisees after the Pharisees brought the woman and threw her in front of Him. Jesus knew, though, that the Pharisees didn’t care about this woman, but only cared about trapping Him. Their goal was to find something against Jesus for which they could arrest Him. But, Jesus truly cared about this woman. He cared that her life and her soul was in jeopardy. Moreover, Jesus knew that every man there had his own hidden sins that he didn’t want the others to know about. So, Jesus used His knowledge and told all of them that if there was one there who was without sin, he should go ahead and throw his stone. But, none of the men were without sin. Furthermore, they were probably also afraid that Jesus would expose their own private sins to the crowd. So each man left leaving only Jesus and the woman. 

Jesus could have then walked away too. But instead, Jesus took the opportunity to tell the woman to “go and sin no more”. Her soul and her life were precious to Jesus, so He took the opportunity to tell her that she needed to change her ways. Jesus took the opportunity to affect change in the life of a sinner.

The last story I want to share today about an opportunity taken is from the Apostle Paul. Paul took many opportunities to share the Gospel with many people and to make a difference in their lives. In fact, Paul shared the Gospel message with everyone he encountered and he never let an opportunity to do so pass him by. One unique opportunity, however, occurred when the Apostle Paul encountered a runaway slave named Onesimus. This slave became the subject of a short one page letter in the Newer Covenant/ Testament that the Apostle Paul wrote to Philemon, Onesimus’ master.

The letter Paul wrote was about Onesimus’ new life in Christ. Although, we don’t know exactly how Paul met Onesimus, we learn from this letter that Onesimus could have been killed or maimed if caught for running away from his master. But instead of turning him in, Paul took the opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with Onesimus. Consequently, Onesimus accepted Christ as His Savior and repented of his sins. He was then ready to go back to his master, Philemon, and accept the consequences. But, the Apostle Paul then took the opportunity to write a letter to Philemon to explain how much Onesimus had changed and that now Onesimus was their brother in Christ.

By taking this opportunity to write a letter, Paul may have literally saved Onesimus’ life. Certainly, Paul was given the opportunity by God to present the Gospel message to Onesimus. But now Paul was taking the opportunity to mentor Philemon too through this letter. The Apostle Paul took the opportunity to actively and relationally mentor both Onesimus and Philemon, only in different ways. Sometimes, we just have to look for a way to grab the opportunity that God has placed in front of us. Sometimes, through prayer and our determination to work for the Lord, we have to make the opportunity to do what the Holy Spirit has encouraged us to do. Certainly, Paul had to pick up a pen and write to Philemon. In that case, he took hold of the opportunity to save Onesimus’ life and to encourage a fairly new Christian, Philemon, to act like Christ would want him to act.

Although we don’t know positively, it is believed that Onesimus later became a bishop in Ephesus, because there was a bishop by that name from the same time period.  If that is the case, the opportunity that the Apostle Paul took to share Christ with Onesimus, mentor him and then later to write a letter to Onesimus’ master mentoring him, changed the life of not only Onesimus but changed the life of others to whom Onesimus was able to witness. Like Paul, we have to constantly look for opportunities to share Christ, to help others, or to be an advocate for someone who needs a friend. We too, must look for and take opportunities to relationally mentor (ARCM) or be there for someone who has a need. Active Relational Christian Mentoring (ARCM) is a wonderful way to be an advocate, to support, to counsel, to coach or to help another woman. No matter what kind of ARCM you do, through your mentoring you are empowering another woman to be all that she can be for herself, her family, and the Lord.

Whether the opportunities you encounter turn out to be large or small, look for those good opportunities to do something to bless another woman. For, that same opportunity could end up blessing your life as well. There are small opportunities that when recognized could profoundly affect the life of someone we know. Even little things can make a difference in the life of another woman. Is there the opportunity for you to bake a cake or to take supper to a church member?  Is there an opportunity for you to give a Christian a ride to the store or to take her somewhere she can’t get on her own?  Could you sit with a woman who is waiting for some medical results which could be unwanted? Do you have some knowledge or skill that another lady at church could use? Or, is there a woman at church who seems to be alone or shy? What could you do to help her feel more included in the church family or more at home and accepted?

I know that you can step up and actively mentor another woman.  All you have to do is look for God’s opportunities. You can do it! 

Billy Graham said: "Christians ought to carry written in our hearts the solemn truth of how short is our opportunity  to witness for Christ and live for Him."

Please take every opportunity God gives you to witness for Christ and live for Him. You Can Do it!  I know you can!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Opportunities for Serving the Lord: Part I

“Let us not lose heart in doing good,

for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary.

So then, while we have opportunity,

let us do good to all men,

and especially to those who are the household of faith.”

– (Galatians 6: 9-10. NASB)

Life is full of opportunities. Opportunities fly around us like fall leaves floating through the air. There are so many different shapes and colors. Sometimes we find that one perfectly beautiful leaf and pick it up, while at other times we ignore the fallen leaves or actually step on them or over them if they obscure our view of what’s underneath. Opportunities, like leaves, can be so numerous that we overlook them or refuse to look closer at them.

When we were children, we recognized the joy that large amounts of fall leaves could bring. As children, we took every opportunity we could find to jump into large piles of leaves with joy in our hearts, while always seeing the possibilities of even more fun. But, just as the bagged leaves were thrown away by the adults, we too often throw away many golden opportunities given to us by God. Moreover, as adults, we have forgotten the joy that came from playing in the leaves as a child. Sadly, we can often forget the joy that can come from engaging in new opportunities. We also forget about the blessings that we can receive through God given opportunities and the blessings that we can give others by taking the opportunity to help or teach someone. Consequently, like the bagged leaves, we disregard or throw away many of our opportunities.

Just like the many different kinds of beautiful leaves that God has given us to enjoy, He has also given us many and varied opportunities to receive blessings, as well as opportunities to bless others. For example, He gives us opportunities to work, opportunities for an education, opportunities to meet other people, opportunities to save money, opportunities to do good, and opportunities to serve Him. God blesses us with varied opportunities throughout our life. Unfortunately, we don’t always recognize the opportunities that God places in our path. Worse yet are the many good opportunities that we do recognize, but we simply turn away from or turn down, because they take an effort that we are not willing to expend. Of the opportunities that we do recognize, we may also feel that we are not ready for that particular opportunity, or we may not want the responsibility that the opportunity brings. Sometimes, we are just afraid of the opportunity and what it could hold.

Along with the skills and talents that God gives to each woman, God also gives us opportunities to use those skills and talents for our enjoyment and enrichment, or to show our gratitude. One way we can show our gratitude is to take the opportunity to be of service in God’s Kingdom. Our service may be to be a godly mother and wife, or it may be to serve the Lord by becoming an Active Relational Christian Mentor to help other women. But whatever our service may be, it starts with a single opportunity.

From grade school on we are given opportunities to do good for others. As we continue to mature, we are given more and more opportunities to do good or to enrich our lives through our service to the Lord and others. In fact, within our lifetime God gives each of us thousands of opportunities to receive blessings or to bless others, whether we accept them or not. Some opportunities are given to us for personal improvement or financial betterment. Others are opportunities to meet the perfect mate, friend, or employer. But, throughout our lives, God also gives us opportunities to help other people through the talents, gifts, and perseverance that He has bestowed upon us. These opportunities can bring a blessing to another person, or can in some way bless our own life.

Besides personal opportunities, as Christian women we are often given an opportunity to help another woman, or we are given an opportunity to use our God-given gifts in some manner for the glory of the Kingdom of God. Active Relational Christian Mentoring often starts out as an opportunity to share our gifting, to teach another, to support someone, or to encourage another woman. ARCM does not require a specialized degree or intensive training in order to be of service to another woman through the mentoring opportunities that God places in our path. All it takes is for us to recognize an opportunity to mentor another and to then be willing to step forward to do so. “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.”  -- (Proverbs 25:11.  NIV).

Christian opportunities come to us in various ways and sometimes in unexpected ways. We may hear of woman in church who is sick and so offer to take her Sunday school class for her. We can take the opportunity to smile at a woman whom we may later discover was depressed and lonely. We can stop what we are doing and take an opportunity to pray for someone who needs prayer and help. We can take the opportunity to share our skills with a group of women who are looking to learn something new. We may also find that we have the opportunity to lead a Bible study. Perhaps, we even have the opportunity to visit someone from church who is in the hospital. But whatever the opportunity is that presents itself, we have to first recognize it for what it is and then actually do something about it. If we don’t, it is an opportunity missed. So many times, though, we fail to recognize opportunities and miss the blessings that God has in store for us. How do we miss the blessings? We miss these blessings when we fail to act upon an opportunity that God has given to bless us.

My husband’s mother told my husband of a lost financial blessing when his father failed to act upon a financial opportunity back in the 1940’s.  J.C., my husband’s father, was a very thrifty and hard working man. He had lived through the great depression, though, and did not trust many people and especially the banks, so he kept most of his money out of the bank and well-hidden. Although friends and even close acquaintances did not know he had money, there were a few who suspected that he had quite a bit of money.

One day, two men whom J.C. knew came to him and asked him if he would like to go in with them in developing a particular cave for tourism. The two investors really believed that this cave could become a very lucrative business and that once it was developed all they would have to do was to sit back and reap the rewards of all the admissions into the cave. The two men had even picked out a name for the cave. 

The men then told J.C. that they believed that thirty thousand dollars would be enough to not only buy the property, but to develop the entrance to cave and to advertise the cave for tourism. They proposed that if J.C. and the two of them each put in ten thousand dollars, they would have all the money needed for the project. Although, ten thousand dollars was a large sum of money back then, J.C. actually had the money to invest in the project. In fact, at that time J.C. had over ten thousand dollars in a paper sack under the seat of his truck, but instead of taking the opportunity to invest in the project, he told the men that he was not going to invest in a hole in the ground. He turned the two men down. Unfortunately, J.C. did not have a discerning spirit, and he wasn’t able to see the possibilities or recognize the opportunity being placed in front of him. He missed out on a blessing for himself and his family. 

Eventually, the two men were able to find another man who was willing to invest with them, and as they say, “the rest is history.”  Today, that cave is known as Bridal Cave. It is located near Camdenton, Missouri where every year, thousands of people go through “Beautiful and Romantic Bridal Cave”.  One section of the cave looks like a wedding chapel, and hundreds of couples have been married in the cave. Each year more and more couples come just to be married in the cave. So every few years, the owners of the cave will sponsor a wedding week-end and invite all the couples who were married in the cave to come back and renew their vows. Couples from around the world fly into Missouri to come again to renew their vows in Bridal Cave. What J.C. said was “just a hole in the ground” turned out to be a very great tourist attraction that has made millions for the original investors throughout the years.

All of us have heard stories similar to this one. Yes, refusing this opportunity resulted in lost money and potential lost blessings for J.C. and his family. He also lost the opportunity to travel down “the road not taken.” But, what about the relational and spiritual opportunities lost, simply because we refuse to invest in the lives of other people? What about the relational and spiritual blessings lost because we refuse to engage in an opportunity like Active Relational Christian Mentoring? Worse still, is losing the opportunity to share the Gospel message with someone. As Christians, we are supposed to be on the look-out for opportunities to share Christ with others.  But, we are also supposed to look for opportunities to help others as well. When we overlook or fail to recognize an opportunity to help someone else, we have missed a blessing that God had planned for us. We have failed, too, to bless someone else’s life when we give up an opportunity to speak into the life of another woman.

The Bible is full of stories of opportunities taken to share the Good News or to help someone in trouble. Jesus was always looking for opportunities to speak into the life of another person. Sometimes the opportunity just presented itself like on the day when Jesus came into Jericho and found Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector, who had climbed high up in a tree so that he could see Jesus. Zacchaeus was a short man and could not see over the crowds, and since tax collectors were hated by the general public, he knew that no one was going to make room for him to get close enough to Jesus to see him. So, Zacchaeus climbed a tree to see Jesus. When Jesus walked by the tree, He saw Zacchaeus up in the tree. Jesus could have left Zacchaeus there, ignored him, or even just acknowledged him as he passed by the tree. But, instead, “he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately, I must stay at your house today.’”  Zacchaeus came down from the tree and said to the Lord Jesus, “‘Look, Lord! Here and now, I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.’”  -- (Luke 19: 5-10. NIV).

Jesus took the opportunity that day to stop and not only speak to Zachaeus, but to tell him he would like to dine with him. Can you imagine the happiness of this societal outcast? Zachaeus could not believe that Jesus loved him enough to come to his house! Moreover, Jesus, by doing this, was telling the crowd that he loved even the obvious sinner. Zacchaeus was changed forever, because Jesus took the opportunity to speak to him. Could you change someone’s life by simply taking the time to speak to another woman?

One of the greatest opportunities that any of us can receive is the opportunity to share the Good News with another person. That opportunity can come in a serendipitous moment. It can come when we least expect it. But, whenever that moment comes, we need to be ready and willing to share Christ. Often, the sharing comes about through a developed relationship. But in order to develop a relationship with another woman, we have to seize the opportunity to get to know her, help her, or befriend her. Active Relational Christian Mentoring is a wonderful way to develop a relationship, whether you are teaching, counseling, supporting, coaching, or holding someone accountable for her actions. But in order to engage in ARCM, we have to take the opportunity that God places in our path to actively be there for the other woman. I know that you can do it! You can mentor for the Lord!

Every day that we live is a gift from God.
God has given us the priceless gift of life so that we can glorify and honor Him.
Even though we have failed God in so many sinful ways,
God loves us so much that He sent His only Son,
 Jesus Christ,
to die on a cruel cross to take away our sins.
Christ’s blood cleanses us from all sin.
The Cross was Christ’s opportunity to Save us and bless us.
All we have to do to receive this cleansing blessing
is to take the opportunity given to each of us to call upon Jesus Christ and ask
 Him to come into our life.
In repentance and belief in Christ as the Son of the Living God,
we can have life eternal!
Have you taken the opportunity to ask Christ 
to come into your heart?
Why wait?
Christ is waiting for you!

(Vicky Lynn Thomas)