The Flame

The Flame Magazine is a quarterly magazine published by Christ Church.

Daring to Hope

By Dr. Steve Heitkamp
The Flame Volunteer Writer

“Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: the faithful love of the Lord never ends! Therefore, I will hope in Him.” — Lamentations 3:21

Hope is a word that is comforting when obtained and a chasm of emptiness when missing. We are called to be people of hope and we live among people who often have lost hope.

The Bible is filled with the tension of “now” and “not yet.” The Kingdom of Heaven has come in the person of Jesus Christ. We know Him and His blessings now, and in this way, the Kingdom of Heaven is now. Also, the Kingdom of God is “not yet,” as we eagerly wait for that which is to come.

In I Thessalonians 4:13 we hear “ … So that you will not grieve like people who have no hope.” In Colossians 1:5, we are reminded that our “confident hope” is reserved for us in Heaven.” These describe the root of our hope in ultimate “not yet” fulfilled in eternity. We find hope in the promises of what will ultimately be revealed to us. This gives us hope!

The Bible is filled with those who believe in God and those who have lost or grown weary in hope. Those named have been so stressed, crushed and overwhelmed that hope has become an elusive mirage that disappears when the oasis of relief evaporates. God reminds us that hope is alive and well.

With permission to share their words, one person with whom I have sat, wrote this description of hope in the midst of severe depression:

“Hope. Now there’s a topic. Depression brutalized my ability to hope, and convinced me nothing would ever change life for me.  The ways depression interferes with spiritual well-­being are as profound as the ways it interferes with the social, physical and emotional person. Depression hinders the ability to put oneself in relationship with anyone,  let alone a Creator. Depression mitigates the ability to connect with beauty and truth, as well as people. A false gloom is created within the vacuum.

“I never would have addressed spiritual wounds in a direct manner without guidance from my therapist. During our discussions, conversation gravitated toward the core of my being ­ where the spiritual resides.

“I was able to work through my lack of hope, anger with God and heal the spiritual wounds I felt. I grew from not being able to enter a church   without crying, to becoming an active member of my faith community with a rich spiritual life. The care I have received has allowed me to remove the squatters and reclaim my life.

“I have a new and deep appreciation for who I am and my core beliefs, because I worked so diligently to forge them. I am unstuck.”

The image we chose for Horizon Hope Counseling is a tree. Trees are all throughout the Bible: from the Garden of Eden, to the ending scene in Revelation where the tree gives healing to the nations. The tree is a symbol of hope throughout scripture, and to me. On the wall of our waiting room, there is a quote from Isaiah 41 which speaks of the Lord being with us because He will strengthen us. He gives and restores hope. Later in that chapter we read verse 19, “I will plant trees in the barren desert. I am doing this so all who see this miracle will understand what it means ­ that it is the Lord who has done this, the Holy One of Israel who created it.” What I have discovered is, there are some things that only God can do. God is the only one who can grow trees in barren deserts, and He can give hope when all hope has become lost.

Psalm 37:34 states, “Put your hope in the Lord, travel steadily along his path.” We can choose hope and trust in him who has saved us, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  In the circumstances listed below, reflect upon problems you have may have encountered, and solutions the Lord provided for you.

1. Has there been a time in the past when you lost hope? Remember how God restored your hope — and share it!

2. Have you lost hope now? Remember and focus on what can do, rather than what is lost!

3. Do you know someone who has lost hope? ­ Listen! ­ Be patient with them in the “not yet” of hope! Be slow to speak, and when you do ­encourage!

Consider this as a prescription back to the path of hope in the God who causes trees to grow in the barren desert. He creates, gives and sustains hope within us.

My hope is firm in Christ and in no other.

Click the link to find more articles and devotions from The Flame.

Project 200: Discipleship Meets Evangelism at Christ Church

Logo for Project 200

by Jeffrey M. Bishop
The Flame volunteer writer

Editor’s note: The Flame recently interviewed Associate Pastor Rev. Mike Wooton to unpack the Christ Church effort to establish a culture of evangelism in 2016 and beyond. While a few Project 200 events have passed since the program kicked off mid-­February at all Christ Church campuses, this article provides the big picture about the evangelism effort, and shares how church members can find more information about “on ramps” that will be offered throughout the year­long program.

What exactly is Project 200?
Project 200 is our way of sharing that we want to reach 200 more people for Christ than we normally would in a given year.  This is us being intentional about sharing our faith.

What’s involved?
The kind of evangelism we are stressing is relational evangelism. We want people to naturally share their faith stories with those around them and to know how to offer Christ to others. We’re trying to train people in that way. The first (workshop) is Project 200: Testimony. We’re going to share with others how you can share your story. The next one is Project 200: Salvation.  That’s more about, “How do I really present the Gospel?” That’s the one about “sealing the deal.”

How does Project 200 contribute to Christ Church’s mission to connect people to Christ?
For some reason, God has chosen us, these weak vessels, to proclaim the wonderful Treasure of Christ. God wants to show His power in our weakness.  One’s testimony and evangelism is so much about us, but in a lot of ways it’s not; it’s about God saying, “This is how I’ve chosen to reach out to people; this is how I’ve chosen to show my face to people.” We think we’re not qualified sometimes; we think our issues are stopping us. Part of evangelism is showing that, “I’m struggling with an idol, but I’m sure glad that I can talk to God about it.  God really loves me.”  God has chosen us to be those vessels, and we really don’t have a say in that.

I understand how this helps bring people into relationship with Christ, but how does Project 200 help make disciples?
Being a disciple means we are allowing Jesus to teach and challenge us.  Project 200 is challenging us to look at what Jesus has done in our lives.  The more we do that, the more we will be like Jesus. What’s really important is training people to understand their own faith story. Once you understand how God has affected your life, and continues to affect your life … we’re kind of natural billboards, we advertise naturally, and it will just come out of people naturally.

With a goal of 200 in a year, could evangelism be mis­applied or over­-applied?
Someone might say, “Wait a minute? You want to win 200 souls – then what? Do you just want them for numbers?”  Heck no!  We’re talking about follow­ up, we’re talking about discipleship; our Connect Groups are as strong as they’ve ever been here. We feel like we have a system in place here: we win people for Christ, they’re going to be able to get plugged in here, and this will be the very beginning of something very incredible.

Has evangelism and sharing one’s Christian faith story become more difficult in our current society?
There’s an opening of the eyes that only God can do. It is difficult to share, and the non-threatening way to share is to say what God is doing in my heart. I can’t force God upon you, but you also can’t tell me God’s not working in my life. And that’s what I think we need to be open to if we’re going to be effective at evangelism in these times.

Who in our church is this effort aimed at?
Anyone attending! We thought it would be cool to have 200 signed up for it! We’ve got the youth on board, and they’re already trying to win people for Christ. It’s a total church effort; we’re having meetings with every department in this church, and we’re asking, “How can we make this happen?”

I’m convinced! How do I learn more?
You can go to mychristchurch.com/project 200 so you can sign up and find out more about the various activities and on­ramps throughout the year. I really believe that if we allow God to work in us as we make this step of faith, we’re going to win people for Christ, and I think there’s a blessing for us as well.

Click the link to find more articles and devotions from The Flame.

Upping your HQ (Hope Quotient)

by Rev. Shane L. Bishop
Christ Church Senior Pastor

I have been thinking about hope and how it relates to happiness.  In part, because so many people seem…well…miserable.

That was my first epiphany upon entering the world of Social Media a few years back ­– people are unhappy, there are a lot of them, and they are happy (pun intended) to post about it. Clearly, there is something about chronic misery that makes people suddenly want to share bad news with others.  The mantra seems to be, “If I am unhappy, you should be unhappy too, and I am going to do my best to help you see the world my way.  No need to thank me.”  We certainly have plenty of angry, hapless, jaded, sardonic and melancholy missionaries in this world!  Tragically, most of them have access to a computer.

When I read such calamitous posts there is one thing their authors all seem to have in common — a lack of hope.  There seems to be a self­fulfilling pessimism hardwired into their emotional construct that they either can’t,  or don’t care to shake.  There is this discordant vibe raging through them that says, “Things were bad, things are bad, and things are going to continue to be bad.”   Hopeless.

I was trained in Systems Theory.  Systems Theory simply states that all systems are designed to produce what they produce, not what you desire them to produce.  So here is the deal:  If you are unhappy with your life, everything in your life is designed to produce that unhappiness.   If you want to change your outcomes, you have to change your inputs.  I think most people want to be happy; they are just not quite sure how to change their inputs, so they keep entering the same negative stuff into their systems that they have always entered, as that is all they know how to do.

I don’t think God went to all the trouble of sending Jesus to earth and raising him from the dead so we could be miserable.  We could have been perfectly miserable without the resurrection!  So where is the hope?

I believe the best route to happiness is found by drenching, marinating, and saturating our lives with huge helpings of straight up hope!  My favorite steak in the world is the filet at Andria’s Steakhouse here in Fairview Heights.  They choose great pieces of beef, but the trick is in their sauce.  They marinate those steaks to the point that every single bite is absolutely delicious.  There is no way not (one of my favorite double negatives) to find a delicious bite on a filet at Andria’s; it is literally infused with tantalizing hope!  Want different system outcomes?  Infuse your system inputs in hope!

Here are some hope infusions for body, soul, and spirit!

1. Increase your exposure to hopeful people.  Watch hopeful and upbeat people.  Read what they post online.  Note how they interact with others.  Hang around these folks all you can!

2. Decrease your exposure to hopeless people.  If there are people in your life who consistently bring you down, limit their access to you!  Unfriend them; hide their posts.  Misery is contagious ­ it is easy to tell who is infected.

3. Subscribe to sources that breed hope and optimism in you.  Think about the things in your life that give you energy, joy, and fulfillment.  Do more of those things.

4. Unsubscribe from sources that reinforce pessimism.   Think about the things in your life that give you indigestion, cause stress, and make you feel crummy about yourself and the world around you.  Do less of these things.

5. Speak positively.  I believe words are powerful things and like boomerangs; our words tend to fly back in our direction once launched.  Don’t set any words into motion that you wouldn’t want coming back at you!  Encouraging words are the building blocks of a hopeful world view.

6. Refrain from speaking negativity.  My mom used to say, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  That will work.

7. Decrease your time with media. I am often perplexed when people complain about the negativity in the media, because media is something we INVITE into our lives.  We choose our Facebook friends, what we see on the internet, who we follow on Twitter, and which television stations we watch.  Take control.  If you can turn it on, you can turn it off.

8. Increase your time in the Bible.  Stop watching a thirty minute show each day or perusing your Facebook feed, and substitute that time with Bible reading.  Start with Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, or Acts.  Read the great stories of Genesis.  Spend some time in the Psalms.  Be inspired!

9. Stop thinking about yourself. Hopeless people have very small worlds that get smaller by the day.  Their attention is focused on “me and mine” and “us and ours.”

10. Start thinking about others.  Hopeful people live in big worlds and are actively making  better worlds.  Their attention is focused on serving God and serving others.

Each of us is a product of the systemic input we invite into our lives.  If you do not like your life, you are the only person who can change it.  New outcomes require new inputs.  I have often said that we, “Are all full of something and we all leak.”  Why not fill ourselves with hope and leak it everywhere?

Click the link to find more articles and devotions from The Flame.

Past, Present and Future: Christ Church’s ‘Takin’ it to the Streets’ Ministry

Cheryl Shoftstall stands with a man she ministered to as part of the current Takin' it to the Streets ministry at Christ Church.

By Carrie Gaxiola
The Flame Editor

Jeffrey Bishop
The Flame volunteer writer

On a cold wintry night more than a decade ago, a Christian couple sat warm and comfortable in a local diner, enjoying a meal and the other’s company. The conversation soon turned to the needs of others, a challenge by Rev. Shane Bishop to serve in Christ’s name, and a conviction that they were exactly the people called to help people living on the streets amidst us.

“We went and bought a big five­-gallon cooler, some bulk hot chocolate, and hit the streets,” Cheryl Shoffstall recalled. “Boy were we unprepared! We had no coats, no socks, no food. It was that night that we realized there was a definite need for a ministry in this area.”

Whether they knew it then or not, the Shoffstalls had started what would become Christ Church’s Winter Patrol homeless ministry.

The ministry started small: with donated socks and coats piled in the Shoffstall family room and no budget or storage space to work with for its first couple of years. Realizing that addressing homelessness is a year-­round effort, the ministry formally requested – and received – help from Christ Church, “and God took it from there,” Shoffstall said. Today, the ministry serves up to 100 people at any time.

After the significant commitment of leading the ministry through its first eight years, Cheryl transitioned out of her leadership role. Robin Watt had long had a heart for helping people on the streets – even before attending Christ Church and coming into a saving relationship with Christ. After his baptism, he became active in the Winter Patrol.

“I had it in my heart to do something for someone that could do nothing for me,” Watt said. With Shoffstall’s transition out, Watt wrestled with a call to step in. He then heard one word — “Jonah,” and knew that, despite the weaknesses he thought he had, he needed to obey and follow the call of God, just as the reluctant Bible prophet had. He accepted the call, and with it, the conviction that they were serving “the least of these,” in our communities. Thus, the ministry renamed itself to mirror the lives of those that Jesus taught about in Matthew 25:31­-40.

In his leadership, Watt also saw the need for the ministry members to “reproduce ourselves;” to not just serve the homeless, but to also seek out other church members with a heart to serve the homeless and to disciple them to expand the impact of the ministry.

After three more fruitful years at the helm, and while Watt and Shoffstall are both still actively involved in the ministry, once again its leadership and its strategic direction is in transition – in a way that seems Providentially pre­ordained.  Earlier this spring, Watt knew he’d be stepping down, and crafted an email to the members of his ministry asking them to pray and seek God’s will for the next ministry leader – but he didn’t send it out then.

At about the same time, Eric Ahlander and his family transferred to the area. They found a church home at Christ Church and got involved right away, first at the Scott Campus, then at the Fairview Heights location, where they learned about the homeless ministry. On their first outreach visit, Ahlander met and prayed with a man named Dustin who was living on the streets. After that prayer and that first stop on the streets, Ahlander knew exactly how he was called to serve.

A few months later, Watt sent out the email that had sat in his drafts folder all that time, and Ahlander was there to receive it and to be convicted by it. As if in God’s perfect timing, had the note gone out in the spring as intended, the Ahlander family would not yet have been in the area to receive it.

Since taking the helm, Ahlander changed the name of the ministry to Takin’ It to the Streets, to more concretely represent the work of the ministry, and drawing from the name of a hit song from the band The Doobie Brothers. He believes God has asked each leader to build the next part of the road that the ministry is on.

“The mission does not change as leadership has changed: to feed the hungry and poor and reach out to those that are on the streets,” he said. His vision forward is to encourage more Christ Church people to “get out of the pews and get on the bus.”

Ahlander said he wants to see the youth of Christ Church get involved in the ministry in ways that they best can – particularly with the “behind­-the-scenes” preparation work that precedes outreach visits on the streets. Bridging gaps with other ministries – such as the eyesight ministry that provides glasses to the needy, or the worship ministry to perhaps include a guitarist for street worship – is all part of his broader vision for expanding the impact his group can have.

Unlike other ministries where the return on investment is clear and strong: baptism rates, membership, church attendance or professions of faith – it’s often hard to see the impact of the work of a ministry like Takin’ it to the Streets’. Nonetheless, the never-­ending challenge of the ministry doesn’t remove its need – or its fruitfulness. Shoffstall in particular is always ready with an unequivocal story of ministry success; by her account, its impact includes:

● Team members have had life-­changing encounters with Christ while serving

● Team members have formed strong friendships with others in the ministry while serving side-­by-­side on the streets together

● Unchurched friends started serving after being touched by stories they heard about the ministry from team members

● In turn, many of those unchurched friends have started attending church after serving the ministry

● Community advocates working the problems of the homeless from a secular perspective have seen God’s hand at work in the ministry

● Many church members who hadn’t tithed before started to do so after seeing firsthand how their tithes impact the ministry

● A spinoff ministry, focusing on homeless children, has since formed

Despite its impact, Watt said he has come to realize the truth that Jesus shared with his disciples: that the poor will always be with us.

“There will always be a need to serve those less fortunate,” Watt said. “The number of people the ministry serves ebbs and flows with the seasons. It is not just a ‘today problem’ but a problem that has been with us for all of time.”

Ultimately, Ahlander wants to see the word of God put into action based on James 2:15­-16, which says, “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”

The homeless ministry is uniquely charged to do a lot of good on the streets of our communities, where too many are invisible, yet are hurting.  Most significantly, a commitment to take it to the streets allows Christ Church to make a difference to as many of them as possible.

Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version

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Connecting to Christ through a Connect Group

By Pam Huff
Director of Adult Discipleship

As members and participants at Christ Church, you surely hear a lot about Connect Groups.  Many ask, “Why should I take the time out of my busy life to add one more thing?” through a Connect Group.

First, it might be useful to be clear on what exactly a Connect Group is.  Quite simply, it’s a group of like­minded individuals who commit to regularly spend time together in fellowship, establishing and deepening relationships with one another, usually around those things they share in common.

Odds are, you may already be in an affinity group, which is like a Connect Group in that it is perhaps geared toward a favorite hobby, a civic group, or a professional organization you and other members belong to. Often you’ll serve others in need, have fun, learn and develop together in community with others in these groups.

The main difference between those connect groups and a Christ Church Connect Group is that God should be a central theme –­­ and member –­­ of your Connect Group, and the aim of regularly meeting is to deepen your Christ­-centered relationships with fellow believers in that group.

For me, being in a Connect Group is one thing that I can’t live without.  My Connect Group holds me accountable; its members listen to me when times get tough; celebrate life’s great events with me; and help me learn from God’s word.  We all need someone, or a few someones: those friends to live life with. Connect Groups provide a way to build relationships with others and with Jesus Christ.

Connect Groups are a great way to invite unchurched friends, neighbors, coworkers, and maybe even family members to experience Christian community. It is often easier for folks that don’t know Jesus or who don’t attend church to instead go to a restaurant or to your home for a Connect Group than to walk into a church. That’s one reason why most of our groups meet off campus.

We need to remember that Connect Group is not just about us; we have a purpose in life and we have a purpose at Christ Church: to connect people to Jesus Christ.

Connect Groups should be a commitment made first, not last.  If you don’t have time to commit to a Connect Group, one thing to consider is that maybe you are too busy.  None of us can mature in our faith by going to church just once a week.  A Connect Group provides us with an opportunity to really deepen our faith.  I encourage you to re­evaluate your life, re­evaluate your priorities. Is God first?

Everyone needs to be in a Connect Group; it’s part of our Christ Church “SYNC” standard of worship,+2 and a tithe, which helps us synchronize our lives with God through worship, loving God, loving our neighbors and generosity . If you aren’t a part of a Connect Group yet, I challenge you to find one and join. We have included a list of current open groups and new groups online.

If you don’t find one that seems to be a good fit, then I’d encourage you to start your own.  All it takes is for you to invite a couple friends and you’ll have a Group! Always be on the lookout for folks to invite.  I’m here to help you and to equip you as you commit to seek a Connect Group to connect with.

Visit the Christ Church Connect Groups page or contact Pam at pamhuff@mychristchurch.com to learn more about Connect Groups at Christ Church.

Click the link to find more articles and devotions from The Flame.

 

Love For A Lifetime

Interview by Carrie Gaxiola
The Flame Editor

I recently had the joy of interviewing six couples who have stood the test of time in their marriages. Thank you to the Hasses, Bevineaus, Oppedals, Stevens, Brambles and Cliftons for sharing your time, love and wisdom. Combined, these couples have 331 years of marriage among them! Wow! In light of our current culture that doesn’t have a high regard for Biblical marriage, it is so refreshing to hear their stories and understand that they made a commitment that said, “Till death do us part.”

Before we get too much further into the story, I know about divorce and its many complexities. I know the tragedy that faces so many when a marriage is obliterated. I am a product of parents that divorced and I, too, ended a marriage some 35 years ago. It is a painful thing; sometimes worse than death. You grieve something that was lost but still is with you, especially if you have children. While I know God’s Word says He hates divorce, He is also a loving, redemptive God, full of grace, mercy and forgiveness. So read on, make a determination to cling to God if you have been through a divorce, and look to Him for hope and healing.

These precious couples spent this treasure trove of time with me and cumulatively here is what they had to say:

How do you keep the friendship side of your relationship thriving?

“Talk to each other. Care for each other’s feelings. Have a date night once a week even if it’s just a walk around the park. Let your children see you courting each other and keeping the friendship/romance side of your marriage alive. It is healthy for you and them. Enjoy common interests. Travel together when you get a little older and really connect. There is nothing to distract when you are in a car seeing sites together. It seems that people these days don’t really want to be married. It doesn’t seem as important as it used to be. Make it important!”

“Realize that your obligations change over the years. First, you are courting and getting to know one another. Then work, building a career and establishing your household becomes important. If God gives you children, raising them becomes a top priority. You can’t lose sight of each other in the midst of life obligations. It is also very important to balance your work obligations with family. Don’t sacrifice the family for the sake of climbing the corporate ladder. God will take care of your needs if you take care of the things that He prioritizes. Marriage and family is one of those priorities.

One couple had these thoughts:

“He always made it home for dinner. Even if he had evening meetings, he would take the time and eat with the family. In our day, it seemed that family obligations were taken more seriously. We think another detriment to the family and a healthy marriage is being in the age of electronics. There is always something in someone’s hand. We are not paying attention to one another like we did in the past. It is so important to really pay attention to your spouse.”

And another thought:

“We made it a point, because we were within distance, to visit our parents weekly. Kids came and the obligations changed but that time was never wasted. We believe honoring our parents helped our marriage and kept it close.”

How do you talk through disagreements in a healthy manner?

“For us, one would bring it up and ultimately we would agree to disagree. Move on and don’t get bogged down. Life is too short to get bogged down.”

“I had a lot of times my tongue was sore from biting it! Honestly, though, why not bite your tongue? You don’t always have to be right. If you are, and you trust God, He will work it out if you are patient.”

“Sometimes we have had some real doozies that we couldn’t resolve…then we would take a trip in the car. That helps. You couldn’t get away from each other, so you had to resolve the issue.”

“We’ve had some verbal ‘knock-­down drag­-outs’. At a point, you have to walk away. Somebody’s heart has to soften and that is where the Holy Spirit comes in and helps. It takes time sometimes, but if you quit communicating it’s over.”

“Remember that causes of unhappiness can be worked through. Do what God tells you to do and you are both going to be happy and work through difficulties because you are obeying God. We are in a marriage to please the other person. Humility is huge in a marriage. Try to remember that the anger ultimately is not worth the long-­term pain. Sometimes you just have to walk away and give each other some space.”

“Well, I never go to bed angry like the Bible says, but I stay up a month at a time because of it sometimes!”

How do you grow together spiritually? 

“Be involved in church. When one spouse decides to serve in an area in the church, trust that God is leading them and be supportive.”

“Make sure to have other Christians in your life. They are needed to enhance our marriage. Go to church together and enjoy yourself in church. Have your family in church and lead by example, not force. If your spouse and children see you enjoying church, it will be appealing to them. The church has a lot to do with keeping the family together! A house divided cannot stand! Be unified and be intentional about your involvement.”

How do you weather the storms of life together?

The answers to these questions were beautifully shared. I can’t convey how much love was in the room and the tenderness of the Holy Spirit was present. With time passing and years together, you can only imagine some of the difficulties shared. Death, cancer, other illnesses, personal struggles. It was laid bare, and here are some of their thoughts:

“You have to do more self­-examination. Too often we want to examine what is wrong with our spouse, when in fact I am the one that needs help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help; go to counseling, have others to talk and pray with you. Whatever it takes to eliminate strife and “When there is illness and death, you spiritually work through it together with the Lord’s help. If you’re not going to believe in God together to help you through the worst of times, who are you

“Some of the best counsel you can get is from your mate. Be open, talk, pray, stay on the ride together. There will be a lot of ups and downs. Lean on each other and tag team. When one is down, the other can pull you up. Be there for each other no matter what!”

Finally, what would you say to younger couples or couples about to be married?

“Remember it’s a sacrificial relationship. 100/100, not 50/50. It is a combined effort; not two separate people, but one flesh.”

“It’s a give and take, day­-to-­day commitment. Remember to whom you made your promise: God.”

“It’s easy to get married. Staying married is where the work can be. Take your wedding vows seriously. When we got married we knew there was a likelihood that we would change jobs but not spouses. Make a commitment to grow old with each other.”

“Make a commitment to yourself and your spouse that divorce is not an option! Look at your spouse during the day and at the end of every day and say ‘I love you!’ and mean it!”

“Cherish each other. They are a gift from God.”

Click the link to find more articles and devotions from The Flame.

Hope Means Never Giving Up

Photo of children playing in Sunday School

By Rachel Frazure
Director of Special Needs Ministry

When parents realize that their child has special needs, many thoughts often run through their minds. Will my child be accepted? How different will he be from other children? Will she fit in and make friends? Will our family carry on like “normal” families? Will my child marry? Will my child have a relationship with Jesus Christ and understand what that means? These questions are very real to me because I have contemplated them in regard to my family and raising a child with special needs. I, along with other parents, have hope for all children that God has given us, whether they be neurotypical children or children with special needs.

I believe that raising a child with special needs requires a lot of hope. I asked some parents within our church family who are raising children with special needs to answer the following question: “How has having hope helped you in raising a child with special needs?”

A parent shared with me that “hope is directly linked to faith.” Isn’t that so true? As a believer, it takes more than that pie in the sky mentality of “ I hope…” It takes faith. “Raising a child with special needs can seem excessively complicated.” Not only do parents cope with the initial diagnosis, but they also face days of medical appointments, tests, referrals, individualized lesson plans and all the meetings with school officials to set those plans. Although it can at times seem daunting and overwhelming to face these challenges, the journey becomes “not just bearable, but enjoyable!” You begin to develop an “abundance of hope.” This faith journey, and the great amount of prayer that it requires, brings about blessings. Parents begin to see changes in their children that they never imagined.

Another parent told me: “Our daughter’s development has greatly surpassed what the doctors said she could do. We praise God for this and continue to have hope that she will continue to progress. We have hope that as she matures, she will have the ability to truly connect with others and create deep friendships. We have hope that she can become all that God has designed her to be, and that she comes to understand the amazing love of God and of her family. Without hope, this journey would seem very dark and impossible. Hope keeps us going, allows us to take pleasure in the little things…”

Hope also means never giving up. Not only do parents of children with special needs have hope for their children, they also are committed to never giving up on their children. Some experiences are really tough on a parent.

One parent shared this part of their family’s journey: “I had a really hard time accepting it at first. I stopped going to church after his diagnosis…, not because I didn’t love God. I couldn’t stop comparing (to other children), and I didn’t know how to let God comfort me. It was a very dark time…I know better now, but it took a lot to get there.” Commitment naturally follows hope. No matter the obstacles, parents refuse to give up on their child, taking the steps necessary to be obedient to God in raising that child in the best way possible and with the strength only the Lord can provide. “I know that God has a purpose for my child’s life, and I am called to help him discover that. I believe now that helping him discover his purpose is discovering mine.”

I believe that God is a God of restoration. Whether you are disabled, discouraged or “down on your luck,” God can give you strength for the journey. An individual, and those loving and supporting the individual, has to possess hope in the form of faith; faith that God will never abandon or forsake him. With that faith comes commitment to the life set before us.

We are all a part of God’s original and divine plan:­ “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the  days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:16).

We are God’s children –­ all of us, along with our quirks and differences. He is good, and His love for us is strong. God sent his Son to this earth to die and come back to life again that we may have hope.  We can clearly see that God never intended to give up on us. We must press on, have faith and never give up.

For more information on our Special Needs Ministry at Christ Church, contact Rachel at rachelfrazure@mychristchurch.com.

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Committing to Take it to the Streets

By Carrie Gaxiola
The Flame Editor

Jeffrey Bishop
The Flame volunteer writer

“There is a lot to do!”

Those are Eric Ahlander’s words of warning to those who’d commit to Christ Church’s Takin’ it to the Streets homeless ministry.

According to the new director for the ministry, the group’s work starts behind the scenes, where hygiene bags and foil­wrapped chicken meals are put together to hand out. Other prep work includes gathering, sorting and preparing donated clothing, coats, hats and gloves. This work is essential to the ministry’s success, and is ideal for youth members, since those who interact with homeless people on the streets must be 18.

It also takes a particular spiritual maturity for those who head out in the church bus to minister in the harsh elements of the streets, according to Ahlander.

“We are disciples of Christ, involved in discipling each other, praying together to prepare and reaching out to those that may not have even a kind word spoken to them,” he said.

“People have to realize it is not an easy ministry. Oftentimes it is downright heartbreaking,” he said. “The commitment we want to see is fearlessness and a commitment to being selfless. Fearless to walk with Christ and what He’s called you to do; it’s a fearlessness that prays with people, and a willingness to see what a hard life really looks like.”

“The entire purpose is to be the light of Jesus Christ and to give love and hope,” Ahlander added. “It is the mission to let people on the streets know they are loved.”

The next St. Louis street ministry mission trip is scheduled for Saturday, March 19, 2016.

To learn more about the needs of this mission, or to get involved, visit the Takin’ it to the Streets Facebook page.

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Commitment: a Journey to God

by Matthew J. LaFrance
The Flame volunteer writer

Commitment was never something I really gave a thought to, especially when it came to my relationship with God. When I was a boy, I “committed” my life to Jesus. All that meant was that I said a prayer and called it good. I treated this commitment like a one-­way road, and guess who I thought was on the receiving end of it?

I went through the majority of my life treating my relationship with God this way, and never got much from it. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. But, in 2011 I started attending a weekly Bible study. This study slowly brought me closer to God, and, though it took quite some time to get there, I slowly started giving God the commitment He requires of His people.

I started slowly; a prayer each night before bed. It might not seem like much, but when the only time I spoke with God was at church or that Bible study, it really was a big step. It was an open dialog on a daily basis. And as I spoke to God, He started speaking back to me.

I eventually got to a point where I was also praying in the car every morning on my way into work. And during both of those prayer sessions, I always had one prayer that I’d pray; “Dear Lord, if it be your will, let me serve You through my writing. And if not, then let me serve You through some other means.”

See, at that point, I wasn’t doing any kind of service for the Kingdom. I wanted to do something; I just … didn’t know what. Writing is something that comes naturally to me. Give me a notebook and a pen, with an unlimited amount of time to work, and I’ll have you a story in no time. If God would provide some way for me to serve with writing, that’d be a win­-win.

I sat in the Café at church one Sunday night, writing, when Shane Bishop walked by. He extended a greeting to me, which I reciprocated. He took a step out of the Café, stopped, and then walked back up to me and said, “You’re here every Sunday night before service.”

He explained, so long as I’m here anyway, that I should consider volunteering as a greeter. I told him I’d think about it, and he left.

A bit of insight about me: if I tell you, “I’ll think about it,” it means I did and the answer will be I went on writing, when I realized that what I’d been praying for was an opportunity to serve God in any possible way, if writing wasn’t on the table. Naturally, God HAD to use Shane Bishop, of all people, to offer me a chance to prove that those were not empty words prayed until something I wanted to do came up.

The next week, Shane asked me in the Café if I’d thought about greeting, and I told him I had and I’d do it. He promptly pulled me away from my work, introduced me to Carrie Gaxiola, and now you’ll see me from time to time Sunday nights.

Small steps lead to bigger steps. The more I committed to God, the more he did for me. I prayed to Him daily, He prompted me to pray twice daily. I asked for the opportunity to serve Him with writing or any other way, and He gave me people to greet. I took that new role on, and the same night that I told Shane that I’d be a greeter, an advertisement ran in the announcements saying The Flame needed writers.

But it doesn’t stop there. In volunteering for The Flame, Carrie Gaxiola wanted a sample article from me. Having only written fiction up till that point, she asked me to write about devotion. I never did devotions, so I began engaging in a devotional study on my Bible app in order to write this test article. Doing that test article completely changed my life, as it’s led me to dive into God’s word daily through a new habit of devotional study.

See, that’s why God wants commitment from His followers. Commitment drives us forward; strengthening our relationship with God. The question is, how committed are you? Are you just coming to church once a week and leaving God alone the rest of the time? Start with a prayer. Just once a day. See where He leads you.

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