For most of you that know me, I’m sure that just the title alone has gotten your attention, and it should. I have been a follower of Jesus for over thirty years, and have been active in ministry in four churches in my lifetime and helped to start (and pastor) the first church in the history of Ponce Inlet, Florida with my family in 2003. Ponce Church.
When I first came to know Jesus I knew that I wanted to follow Him. As a young woman I had made a real mess of my life and God in His mercy showed me His great love through the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, the Messiah. I was alone in my younger sisters room and with no one around I told Jesus that I believed in Him. I asked God to forgive me of my wrongs and I had my first personal encounter with the Savior of the World. It felt as though he placed a blanket of love over me and I felt His presence so powerfully.
After that experience I wanted everything God had for me. I had no idea at the time what that would entail but that did not matter. Slowly but surely my life began to change. I began to change. The Lord led me to a great church that taught about Jesus and the amazing power of faith. I continued to want more and more and eventually felt the call to go to Bible college. While at school I attended a very large church and dove into ministry. I had a great opportunity to work in the children’s ministry and witnessed children having a real heart and desire to know God, it was amazing! I also worked with an outreach in the Tulsa, Oklahoma area. This would be my first time ministering to the homeless. We’d share Jesus with them on the streets and invite them to come to the local YMCA for some food and then they heard a messaged about God’s love. During Christmas we invited a couple of the homeless men to dinner and gave them gifts: One was a new shirt and the other a new pair of jeans. These young men were genuinely grateful for everything. They could not believe that we cared enough about them to invite them over. At the time I was not quite sure yet what it all meant, but I knew there was something there, although I could not quite put my finger on it.
Fifteen years later I had another encounter. I was driving in my car (now married with two children) while living in Arizona, again it was the Christmas season and I heard one of my favorite radio stations announce that there was a new toy and clothing drive for children and their mothers who were living in a local shelter protecting women and children from physically abusive home environments. As I was driving I heard a voice inside of me say: “What if that were me? Would I want someone to be there for me?” and my immediate response was, “Yes!”. After I said yes, I felt compelled to get off at the very next exit where there was a local Walmart store. When I went into the store I pushed my basket through the isles. This time I was not shopping for me or my family (that is a miracle in itself). I ventured my way down the toy isle, and as I was picking out toys for the children I began to weep. It was almost embarrassing, but I did not care what others thought. They were not tears of guilt or sorrow, they were tears of JOY! PURE JOY! I remember standing at the register thinking, “What is this feeling?” I knew that it was powerful. But still, I did not quite understand, not yet.
After living in Arizona fourteen years and with my husbands success in business. Living the big life with our beautiful model home, new cars, built-in pool complete with a waterfall, even with all of that and more, I knew something was missing. As I look back I had MORE joy in Walmart that day shopping for those precious children and their mommies than I did with ALL my stuff! Think I’m joking? Think again.
Not long after the Lord spoke to us to move back to our hometown. God was calling us to leave our business and life as we knew it in the corporate world and instructed us to get back into ministry. During this time my husband had his encounter with Jesus. One afternoon while he was sitting in the living room, Jesus entered the room and spoke to Rick and said, “Open your Bible to Mathew 25”. When he did, the Lord said to him, “This is not a parable, this is not a story, this is going to happen one day.” This is what Jesus said:
“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
“Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’
“And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’
“And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.” Mathew 25:31-46.
When Rick shared with me what Jesus spoke to him, I knew it was real and I knew it was true. It was then that I began to understand why I felt the way I did in helping the homeless in Tulsa and buying toys and clothing for the children and their mothers in the shelter. And it was not long after that He showed me why I felt that overwhelming JOY while shopping in Walmart that day. “ “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with (MY) joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:9-13. I began to see that when we Love there is a fruit that follows: Joy, but not just any joy, like the short lived happiness you feel when you buy a new car. No. It was a real lasting Joy. What does that verse say, “The Fruit of the Spirit is Love…” and what is the next fruit? “Joy”. (Galatians 5:22) Yes! That’s the joy that I’m talking about, and there is nothing like it in the whole world. Only Love, the Love for others that Jesus talks about in John 15, only this kind of Love can produce such joy.
Yet another Jesus encounter: Not long after the Lord showed my husband and myself Mathew 25 I was preparing for the first day of a ministry class at our church for children with special needs. Prior to that day the Lord personally called me to teach children with disabilities about God’s love. It was something I had never done before but God would not leave me alone about it and after much nudging (I’ll share the whole story at another time) I finally agreed to do it, and I am so glad that I did. Anyway while I was getting ready for our first class JESUS came in the room. I could not see Him but He was there. I stopped frozen in my tracks, literally. I could not, would not move. I stood there silent. He spoke very clearly to me and said, “I AM Here.” That was it. That was all He said. I still could not move. I began to tear up and just soaked it in. Then when His tangible presence lifted, I felt He led me to just go about my business and continue preparing for the class. From that day on, every Sunday that I taught in the class, Jesus was there. His presence was there. And I must admit, I loved this class MORE than being in the “main” service! Surprising, but it’s true! If we look back at what Jesus said in Mathew 25, we see that He says the “least” is Him. And that when we show them love by helping to meet their needs, we are showing our Love to Him. This sounds like “church” to me. Not just a place to gather to sing songs and hear a bible teaching that most of us forget by the time we get back home. Hello. Church is not to be a place primarily for the blessed, blessing the blessed. But church is to be a place where we are to be equipped to go and “do” what Jesus says, just as He said in the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:25-37) I like what James says, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” James 1:27
Christian, follower of Jesus, this is what “church” is all about. Keeping Jesus commandment to Love our neighbor with action is what it means to BE the church. Showing the world that we are TRUE followers of Jesus. So when I say that I don’t like church, this is what I mean: I get MORE joy and fulfillment by giving food and water to the hungry and thirsty, visiting the sick and those in prison. Caring for the orphan and the widow. Seeing the “least” as Jesus, than I do singing a few songs and hearing a message that does not inspire me to love my neighbor. The early church in the book of Acts understood this. The early church was birthed after the resurrection of Jesus and was not at all like what we’ve been accustomed to. No, this church cared for those in need. In fact the message Jesus taught in Mathew 25 was His last message before going to the Cross. And following His resurrection he appeared to his followers for 40 days teaching them and performing many signs, wonders and miracles. So what do you think he taught? After they received the promise of the Holy Spirit they began helping one another, “All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need.” Acts 4:32-35. Notice, the monies that were brought to the Apostles, Gods ministers was not used to build big buildings, nor was it used to create large productions for Sunday mornings. No. The monies were used to care for those in need. John the Baptist knew this even before Jesus ministry began, “He that has two coats, give to him that has none and he that has extra meat, let him do likewise…”. This message of love has been made available to us since the very beginning and is commanded and taught all throughout the Bible. Helping the least, the poor is Gods heart and he takes it very seriously. Jesus himself says that judgement day will be based on if our faith in Him produced acts of Love: Did we help others in need or did we refuse them? (Mathew 25:31-46)
After God called us to Florida to start Ponce Church we have taught and demonstrated God’s love by helping the “least” as Jesus shares with us in Mathew 25. As a family and as a church we have and will continue to make helping others our “primary” focus and goal. We see church as a place for gathering and sending (Read “Barefoot Church” by Pastor and Author Brandon Hatmaker).
What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” James 2:14-18