Last year at this time we were a nonprofit organization and didn’t even know it. We had so much work ahead of us and didn’t even know it. We were poised on the edge of a wild and crazy year of blessings and didn’t even know it. When we applied for the 501(c)3 recognition from the IRS we settled in and prepared ourselves to be patient for the approval to take up to three years. We had struggled through several very difficult years and had come to expect the worst of every situation. I had tremendous faith in God - grounded in the fact He was always there when I felt the most alone and had taken care of my needs in such amazing ways throughout the years - but had lost sight of how wonderful and unexpected His blessings could be. And what a year of reminders it has been.
Please indulge me as I recount the supernatural blessings we have experienced: First, the 501(c)3 came through a MONTH after we submitted the application. This is the IRS we are talking about, so YES that counts as a miracle and Act of God! Second, Sarah and I were able to get into the Chaplain training we felt called to complete - the first time we tried, the training was canceled and they didn’t know when another would be offered. It was probably the coldest, snowiest week in February and we were blessed to have a place to stay close by for the week. Third, many friends stepped out in faith and began to donate money and ideas and prayers to The Torch. All of them are a blessing, but some have given despite their own needs, and I am humbled by their demonstration of faith in God. I know He will bless them richly.
Fourth, we got connected with Craig and Roger - two Christian brothers who are food truck pros. God revealed Himself the night we met with Craig and Roger in Rochester Hills at a crowded diner. Roger, who has been building food trucks for thirty years, listened to us as we shared our hearts for what we felt led to do. He told us he believed he was supposed to help us get a truck because the week before, when he was praying, God told him he was going to build a food truck and give the food away for free. I still get chills when I think about that moment.
Then we were blessed when so many friends got involved with a campaign United Bank and Trust was running - we received enough votes to win a check for $1500. We watched The Torch’s bank account grow and every time another donation came in we were filled with wonder and gratitude. Within a few months God moved in the heart of a man - and suddenly we had a donation large enough to move us forward even more quickly than we anticipated. THAT was unexpected and surreal. It is so encouraging to know people who allow God to use them to make a difference in the world.
And the blessings go on and on...paint job - check, graphics - check, food and toiletries donations - check, indoor storage - CHECK, so much, so many, so unreal! The beauty of it all is Sarah and Kelly and I and everyone else who is out there donating, praying and supporting get to be part of something that is bigger than us. I don’t for one minute think The Torch is something I have done or Sarah has done or Kelly has done. I believe it is something God is doing. He is uniting an eclectic group of Christians, Christ followers, Believers, whatever you want to call them, who want to show His love in a new way, who believe every single soul matters and who understand how it feels to hang on to slivers of hope when the world seems to be crumbling all around.
Merry, merry Christmas to all of you. And thanks for letting God use what you have to offer. I am confident you will be blessed.
Deuteronomy 28: 1-6
"If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God: You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed. You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out."
One of the Christmas traditions my family had when I was growing up was an annual drive around Southern California in search of Christmas lights. With the exception of a year or two - when people didn’t put up their lights in order to save electricity - we made the same trek year after year. My dad knew exactly which houses in which neighborhoods would have the most amazing displays and we would drive for two hours so we could see them all. One of our favorites was a home where they placed in their front yard: a teddy bear, a present, and a doll. All three stood taller than the house itself, and the sight filled us with wonder. At another one, we would get out of the car and walk along a path through the yard to see a variety of decorations set up along the sides of the path while Christmas music blared from the house and lights twinkled. As a child, it was a thrilling time and it seemed like truly anything could happen.
My dad worked the night shift and his job dictated when we made our light pilgrimage. One year, he didn’t have a night off until Christmas Eve, so that's when we went. As we made the rounds, my sister and I could not stop arguing. She was being such a pain. I have no idea now what we were fighting about, but I distinctly remember my mom threatening us repeatedly in an effort to get us to stop. I really wanted to make my point, though, which I knew was right, and so I kept the argument going full force. Finally, my dad got fed up and demanded complete silence. He usually stayed out of those things. I tried to say one more word and both parents let loose on me. I finally got the message and closed my mouth.
I was so mad I opened my window, hoping the cold air would annoy my sister, and stuck my head out. We were driving through a neighborhood of some unremarkable houses and anger burned in my heart as I idly watched the Christmas lights go by. Then something weird happened.
I heard bells.
Now remember, this was the 70s and Christmas technology was nothing like it is today. I still have no idea how it happened, but I literally heard bells jingling from somewhere outside the car and I was amazed and awed and my anger quickly dissipated as I strained to see the sky in search of the source of the bells. The sound made me so happy! I never did figure out where they came from - and the memory made Christmas feel so much more wonderful and miraculous.
It wasn’t until I was in my later teens that I realized Christmas is not always wonderful, amazing and beautiful for everyone. Magical things don’t necessarily happen just because it is Christmas. I volunteered for a few years as a candy striper at the local hospital. I remember the first time I volunteered on Christmas day - I was shocked when I arrived! I worked in the pediatric ward and there were several children and teens in the hospital, some of them quite ill, on Christmas day of all things! For them, it was just another day of trying to get better. Like most disagreeable revelations, I didn’t enjoy learning that and so I pushed it out of my head for a long time.
1. Be selfish – Okay, keep reading, I mean this differently than the initial jaw dropping reaction this received from readers. Seth Godin says, “The problem isn’t that it’s impossible to pick yourself. The problem is that it’s frightening to pick yourself. It’s far easier to put your future into someone else’s hands than it is to slog your way forward, owning the results as you go.”Be selfish by spending time working on you; get to the gym, read a book, learn a new language, go back to school.
2. Drink water – seriously water is not over rated. When I was in the Army there was a common saying we would often hear - “drink water and drive on.” Sure water is not the solution to everything but it sure does solve a lot of problems, because who hasn’t suffered from a serious case of cotton mouth? So, next time you find yourself faced with a problem, suck down some water, suck up the problem and drive on – you are bigger than the challenge in front of you.
3. Chew with your mouth closed – right now you are thinking of someone who you literally cannot eat around because they chew with their mouth open and not only fear their food is going to land on your plate, but the blood curdling sound of them smacking their lips is enough to make you want to bang your head (or their head) against the table. Chew with your mouth closed, save your head from getting slammed on the table and remember your table manners.
4. Black socks save the day – nobody has solved the mystery of where socks go after you put them in the washing machine, all we know is you put two in and one comes out. There have been rumors of sock aliens, but so far no scientific evidence to support their existence. The solution to missing socks is to buy only black socks, so when one sock goes missing it doesn’t matter; all of your socks are black and by default match one another. Sure, some would argue the same could be said for white socks, but that is not the case and is merely a statement made by sock armatures. White socks tend to have words written on the bottom of them, or weird colored stitches in the toes, black socks however are just black and you know what they say – once you go black you never go back!
5. Floss – Flossing your teeth seems like a waste of time to a lot of people. However, not only will your dentist love you, but you will too when you are old and still have your pearly whites. And remember, your mirror should look like a Jackson Polluck painting after every flossing session, or else you are flossing all wrong.
Occasionally, thoughts for a blog get stuck in my head and I have a difficult time putting them together to write the blog. I have started this same blog six different times and it has not gotten off the ground. It is very possible I am overthinking it: I don’t like to offend people and I understand sometimes when I present ideas which do not fit nicely into mainstream thinking, it is possible for people to get offended. There are times, however, when I am just bursting with thoughts about how things are done and I have to get them out.
I keep thinking perhaps we are on the wrong track in our approach to Christianity. Pretty much since 1975 when Willow Creek Community Church came on the scene with its contemporary approach to Sunday morning church and grew to its megachurch size, churches everywhere have tried to follow its example. I do understand how oftentimes contemporary business principles can be applied to individual churches and can help them function more efficiently. I also understand how a contemporary approach can help churches attract more members - and from a marketing perspective most people utilize church numbers to help gauge success rates. There’s always a “but”, though. In this case I guess I just start to wonder if Christian society has placed God neatly into a great big contemporary box.
Many churches emulate the world in terms of the use of multimedia, contemporary music and an informal presentation of their message - as a result, large numbers of people who prefer those elements are drawn in and ministered to. They join small groups and sign up for ministry and begin to do the things God has for them. Don’t get me wrong here, I do not think that is necessarily a bad thing - a significant number of people attend contemporary churches regularly and feel very at home there. Where the “but” comes in for me is in the assumption if you are not attending and involved at one of those types churches, you are somehow a lesser Christian or there is something wrong with your faith. There is also an attitude of: if you don’t like MY church you must have problems and somehow you need to be fixed.