Monday, September 16, 2013

Why Do I Volunteer at Church? By Lollie Haselden

In January, I was immensely blessed to participate in a Spiritual Gifts workshop.  The take-home messages for me are that everyone has different gifts that can be used in different ways, and we should find joy in serving God, if we are using those gifts.  And y''s true!
My dream job is to be a Wal-Mart greeter.  Really and truly, I love to say hello and offer a warm smile to anyone and everyone I meet.  Sometimes, people smile back, and occasionally they even respond with a cheerful "how are you today," but the conversation rarely goes further than that.  This could go on with the same person effortlessly for weeks, months, or even years. 

But, God calls us to more than that.  God calls us to be in RELATIONSHIP with others.  We, as Christians, need the comfort and accountability of community.  But how do we move past a quick greeting to that deeper level of connection with others?

As I reflect on the St. John’s UMC community that I've grown to love and depend on in these past 3 years, I know that those relationships have developed through time spent serving our God.

In Bible study and Sunday school groups, we have had the opportunity to share our stories and prayer needs with one another.  We make ourselves vulnerable by bearing our souls, but a deep bond develops through that exposure. 

There are always laughter, fun, and tears involved with time spent in mission work.  People of all different walks working toward the same goal often find that they have more in common than they realized.

The same children that I got to know as they taught me the verses to "Wheels on The Bus" during VBS also come running to me and other adult volunteers on Sunday mornings with huge smiles and the best hugs.

Committees each have an important purpose, but in order to be effective the members have to get to know each other and the larger community they serve.

And there is so much more—things that I haven’t even gotten to do yet and more people to meet!  Was it easy to show up to a room full of people I may not know?  Or “give up” a Saturday?  Or feel like I was the only one that didn’t have a clue about what to do?  Of course it isn’t easy.  The good news is that God is with us, holding our hand as we step off the cliff into the unknown.  We serve a mighty God, and when we put God first, everything else really does fall into place.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Testify - Part 4 by Jim Holtzclaw

I’ve fought my brother and several cousins.  I’ve taken on mean dogs and ornery cats.  I successfully completed two years of Latin.  I passed college level Calculus, Physics, Chemistry, Applied Differential Equations, AC and DC power courses and Electromagnetic Field theory.  Even with a wife who exudes patience, trying to blend a family is about the hardest fight I ever fought.

Literally by the grace of God, all six of us survived.  We managed to become a family.  A family with screws loose, gears that don’t quite mesh and some junk in the trunk but a family.

And after all that, I can say with certainty that teenagers improve your prayer life.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Testify - Part 3 by Jim Holtzclaw

“I’m tired of being a wife and a mother.”  With those words my first wife drove an impenetrable wedge between us and sounded the death knell of our marriage.  Shortly after, she moved out leaving behind me and her 20-month old twin boys.

This time was my personal valley of the shadow.  It is my own private touchstone for pain.  Moving through the pathways of memory to touch that stone is to recall the feelings of desolation, despair, grief and isolation that my wife’s choices caused me and the twins.

The twins are in their thirties.  To this day they will not discuss their mother.

I do not claim to have been the perfect husband.  It may be seen as unfair to include this section because my ex-wife cannot tell her side of the story.  Long after we were divorced, she entered a nursing home while still in her forties suffering from brain damage due to alcoholism.  She remains there to this day.

My point is not to justify me, but to declare the grace of God in the valley.

As Christ has redeemed my soul, Cindy filled in the holes in my heart.  In retrospect, our courtship must have been both painful and humorous to watch.  Two people, both covered in hellish scars from a previous marriage, stepping ever so cautiously, ever so gingerly toward each other.

We went to marital counseling before we were married.  When the counselor told us that we’d be okay and didn’t need to come back, we were terrified.  Are you sure?  Are you really sure?
He was really sure.  So was I. So was she.

Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Testify - Part 2 by Jim Holtzclaw

We measure our lives in decades, years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, and seconds.  We live our lives through our experiences.  It is the people and the places that  impact us for better or for worse that make us who we are.

It is my contention that every know-it-all teenage boy should work at Shriner’s Hospital.  That was my summer job in high school and college.  I proudly claim to have washed more diapers than most mothers.  Of course, I was washing hundreds at a time in industrial size washers (without spin cycles - there was another machine for that) and dryers.  Whether that claim is true or not, I really have no idea.

The work that I did from cleaning grills to mopping floors did not impact me in any significant way.  It was the people who did that.

While helping in the Orthotics Department where the braces are made, I met for a very brief time a young girl.  She had an inoperable brain tumor and was, by this time, blind.  She wanted to see - by feel - the face of each of the people trying to help.  To this day, whenever I think of her, I can feel her fingers flitting like butterflies on my face.

This place became such a part of me that I can remember sitting in my girlfriend’s house watching her niece and nephew tear about the house.  For some time, I kept thinking “What’s wrong with these kids?”  Until it dawned on me that they were perfectly normal.  It was my world where bones were crooked and weak, where limbs were missing or malformed, where spinning a wheelchair in impossible arcs was not.  It was extraordinary.

It is also where I learned that I was a wimp.  Physical therapy was essential if any of these children were to walk.  When the Therapist walked on the floor, the crying started because pain, however important and essential the therapy, was coming with her.  I would leave the floor before she got there.  I’m not tough enough to do that.

From children devastated by a genetic quirk to a child run over by a lawn mower, each smiling (somehow laughing) face hammered my soul.  Why, O Lord, must the innocent suffer?

Through high school and college I struggled with that question.  I was ready to declare myself an agnostic and give up trying to understand.  And then, while bumbling my way through scripture, I came upon John 21:20 - 23.  Peter is apparently jealous of the possibility that John would live until Christ’s return.  Jesus tells him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?  Follow me!”

It was as if Christ were saying to me, “Boy, do your job.  I’ll take care of the rest.”  It may not be profound and would certainly not satisfy many, yet for me it settled the question.

Do my job.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Testify - Part 1 by Jim Holtzclaw

Every Christian has at least one story they can tell - the story of Jesus and them.  I have often said that very thing.  It occurred to me that I had never told the story of Jesus and Jim.  What follows is that story, told in fits and starts.  My prayer is that the grace of God will shine through the story of Jesus and Jim.

Every great love story has at least one song.  The first one for this love story is “Love Lifted Me”.  While a great old hymn, you won’t find it in The United Methodist Hymnal.  You have to wander a little farther afield, perhaps to the Baptist Hymnal where you find the refrain:

Love lifted me!
Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help,
Love lifted me.

While the words have an inescapable impact, it is the circumstances surrounding a particular singing of that song during my childhood that has made it one of my most memorable.  The church was celebrating The Lord’s Supper as it is referred to in the tradition in which I was raised.  I desperately wanted to participate.  In keeping with the traditions of that particular denomination, my mother did not allow me to participate.  As I recall, though the years have dimmed the memory, this resulted in some childish tears.

It would be years later when reading about the doctrine of prevenient grace that I would flash back to that time.  I have an intellectual understanding of what my heart had reacted to so many years before, for as a child, I certainly had no theological understanding of who or what Communion was about.  I was ignorant of the biblical underpinnings of the doctrine that denied me participation.  I only knew that this was something special, a wondrous delight that called to me, and in which I wanted to participate.

The next event was, once again in keeping with the tradition in which I was raised, the altar call.  The time when, at whatever age, one stepped forward in front of the church to declare that Jesus was “My Lord and My God.”  I often described this moment as being like a metal filing trying to resist the pull of a powerful magnet.  It simply could not be done.  Years later, I would read Calvin’s discussion of God’s overpowering love.  A love that can not be resisted.  Now that bright, stellar moment in my childhood has a description.
In that moment, I did not reach theological clarity.  I did not suddenly become familiar with every doctrine or every passage of scripture.  Nor did this event bring me to Christ in any manner that I can reduce to an intellectual formulation.  Decades later, I can still not reduce that moment of faith or all those after to a simple formula that satisfies the world but denies the wonder and grace.  With the same kind of absolute certainty by which I know that my wife of 24 years is still the prettiest girl in the room,  I know that I have met the Jesus who loves me.