No Strangers Here by Lorraine Triggs

Water Tower Place was still a novelty when my mother and one of her friends drove from Detroit to Chicago to visit me. My flat mate and I happily dragged my mom and her friend to our favorite haunts—Marshall Field’s, Gino’s East, Stuart Brent Bookstore on Michigan Avenue (the crown jewel of Chicago bookstores, IMHO) and Garrett’s Popcorn. The personalized tour ended at Water Tower Place.

By that time, my mom was tired and assured us that she would be just fine sitting on the bench at the bottom of the escalators in the busy entrance to Water Tower Place. We waved to her as we rode the escalator up to the shops. Hours later, as we rode the escalator down, I noticed a woman who looked awfully like my mother talking to a couple of people like they were old friends. That couldn’t be my mom. She didn’t know a soul in the city.

Wrong.

“This is my daughter,” my mom exclaimed as soon as she saw me, and then introduced me to the other women by name, telling me where they each lived and a little bit of their stories. As we left with our goodwill ambassador in tow, the security guard called out, “Bye now, Grace, you come back and visit us anytime.”

Mom knew no strangers. In her later years, she relocated to Jefferson City, Missouri, to be closer to my middle sister and her family. She moved into an apartment building and in time knew no strangers. We went to visit her. After we had been there for just a few minutes, there was a knock on the door from an older single lady.

Grace opens the door. Zona, the lady who lived downstairs, brought my mother her house plants to nurse them back to health. In she comes. She hugs us and tells us how much she loves Mom. Zona drinks my mom's coffee over Bible verses, angel food cake, summer fruits.

Knock knock. Grace opens the door. Bill, the handyman with tattoos on his arms and a handlebar mustache, comes to happily repair her shower head. While she waits for him to finish, she makes his lunch.

Knock, knock, knock, knock. Rosie lived across the hall. Grace opens the door. Later she explains to us that Rosie "wasn't quite right, but she's okay." Rosie felt free to knock on Mom's door at any time of the day or night. Mom was always there to listen to her fears or dreams or imaginations. Rosie left always feeling loved.

The young family in the building next door adopted Mom into their family because they lived far away from their family.

The other day ago, Debbie, a childhood friend from my childhood church, posted on Facebook how Paul in Romans 16:1-16 listed name by name many people who touched his life. She decided to do the same. The first name she listed? Grace Lustig, my mother; the second name was another Grace.

These two Graces called themselves, "Abundant Grace" and "Amazing Grace." My mother claimed Abundant Grace because of a few extra pounds she had over Amazing Grace.

In some ways it really didn't matter. Both Graces exhibited abundance and amazing grace to rowdy children, to a newly arrived mother from Russia and to a formidable Mrs. Mac (whose name also made Debbie's post and would also make my list if I wrote one).

My oldest sister who lives inside the beltway of the District of Colombia is very much like my mom. She has a knack for collecting people from down the street, in the suburbs and on Capitol Hill—strangers, really, until they enter her home (which is also where her Brethren assembly meets). There, they break bread together—either her homemade bread over a meal or in remembrance of the One, who had nowhere to lay his head.

It’s in the remembrance of Jesus and his blood spilled and body broken that strangers and aliens become fellow citizens with saints and members of God’s household. It’s grace that helps us see strangers and aliens as potential family members. It's grace to remember that we, too, were aliens, who needed the same invitation extended to us when we were far off. And it's grace that will bring us home again.

We all could use with a visit from grace these days. Abundant and amazing.

Today's Delivery by Wil Triggs

The first thing to do is pray. Every time. The beginning of every delivery is taking the time to pray.

Luka tells me that this is what he does whenever he gets into the truck. It’s not just the possibility of engine trouble. Between Boko Haram and the Fulani herdsmen, this is not a safe part of the world in which to deliver Christian books to pastors. He is especially involved in getting theological books to pastors, teachers and students of theology.

But this is part of his calling. This is what God wants him to do. So, this is what he wants to do with this day, a few hours in his life.

Into the truck he goes. The prayer goes up to God. The key goes into the ignition. His foot presses down on the gas.

In the village where he grew up, there was a church, his church. And there was his home. These were the places where he first learned that Jesus loved him. I use the past tense on purpose, and not because Luka has moved on from the village and his childhood home or the church in which he grew up.

I use the past tense because in recent years, his church was burned to the ground. His mother fled their home and lived in the bush for months before returning. She’s back, but her body and her mind are still recovering. The church is rebuilding.

This is not the first or second or third world. This is Nigeria. A little of each of those worlds all rolled into one place. Like and unlike any other place on earth. So, Luka perseveres.

There was a time he recalls when the traffic was stopped on the road. That’s happened to all of us. It could be road work, a traffic accident, someone’s car having trouble. But for Luka, there are other options. He couldn’t see ahead enough to tell what was going on. On this day, he sensed danger. Something made him park the truck, lock up and get away.

This is not something he would normally do. Luka is not a small man, big enough to stand up to the hassles of traveling to and from rural areas. Not this time. He had to leave everything behind and get away.

Only later did he hear of the violence that lay ahead on that road.

God protected him. He returned safely later in the day and drove away, his delivery delayed but safely made.

What can we do so far away, and essentially, far removed from violence and persecution? The first thing to do is pray. Every time. But how? Especially when the many little and big details of his ministry are unknown to us.

One thing I do know is that there are Bibles and Christian books across Nigeria because of the work of this man and the publishing house, ACTS, he works for. And I know other people who take the same risks as Luka; then there are the many others who are not known. What can we do for Luka and them?

The first thing to do is pray. Every time.

I admire the joy Luka expresses on social media. Often, he will post photos of beautiful flowers or friends. His perspective is not one focused on hardship, but on beauty and truth and the great love of God.

As I’m writing this, though, I message him to ask how we might best pray for him.

He replied right away…

"We need peace. More and more pastors are targeted, kidnapped and later killed. Churches are living in fear, especially pastors. There are different levels of crime mostly targeted at Christians and those sympathetic with the church. Pray for leaders who are bold enough to condemn these activities from the Fulani herdsmen. Pray that they know the love of Christ.

“Pray for ACTS as we dedicate a one-volume Hausa Bible commentary August 17 (today!). This is the singular most important tool that pastors and evangelists can use to be effective to reach these unreached groups in the north of Nigeria, Niger republic and Sudan.

“Pray for our staff as we will be moving to distribute this commentary to churches and mission centres through these dangerous zones. Pray against the attack of Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen. Pray that God will use it to reduce these senseless killings.

“Pray for my parents in the northeastern part of the country, for Nigeria and for my church EYN—Church of the Brethren. Greetings to the family members and the church. Thanks a million.”

When you get in your car today, the first thing to do is pray. Every time.

Pray for where God is taking you, pray about the people you will meet. Perhaps you will be making a delivery of good news to someone. Be ready and watchful.

And join me in praying for Luka and the Christians of Nigeria. 

A Prayer for Today by Dr. Wendell C. Hawley

Today's musing is from Dr. Wendell C. Hawley's book A Pastor Prays for His People.

Everlasting God, Lover of our souls,

Open our eyes to see your love for us—

Your love which was established before creation

And continues unfailing and unending, even unto this very hour.

Your Word tells us that you had a plan for us a long, long time ago.

A love for us not based on

performance,

or beauty,

or inherent value.

A love which sent a Savior to the unlovely,

the destitute,

the helpless,

the condemned.

A Savior whose love prompted him to say:

“Come unto me all you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Lord, may you this day be the present help of all who turn to you,

whether hurt or ashamed,

whether sick or disheartened,

whether afraid or defeated,

whether troubled or angry.

You have come to change the human condition drastically, totally . . .

the sinful heart,

the stony heart,

the rebellious heart.

Holy physician, divine surgeon . . . work in our lives that our souls might

prosper in spiritual health and vitality.

Do this in the life of every person now praying to you.

Thank you, Lord,

for hearing,

for answering,

for meeting every need.

Amen.


Jesus Is My Boss by Alison Taylor

Alison is a junior in high school and involved in HYACKs, the high school ministry at College Church. She enjoys reading, writing and music. Alison’s parents are Jeremy and Nancy Taylor.

On the morning of June 17, a group of twelve high school students stepped out of the church van onto the concrete driveway of “The Ministry” in Englewood—viewed as the poorest, most violent neighborhood in Chicago. We had arrived, and we were determined to make a difference.

We filled our time with all sorts of memorable activities: meaningful conversations about how best to respond to poverty, prayer walks down deserted streets lined with crumbling houses and mountains of trash, and most serious of all to residents of Englewood—intense games of basketball. But among all of these, the memory that will stick with me the longest was a simple testimony from a guest during dinner near the end of the week.

The first thing I noticed when he walked in was his baseball cap, which read, “Jesus is my boss.” It was well-worn, clearly a regular component of his outfit. As he sat on the couch waiting for dinner, he read the Bible he had brought with him. His eagerness amazed me. It was like he was partaking of the most delicious, satisfying meal imaginable, hungrily absorbing every word—all this before the actual meal we would eat. I immediately assumed that he was either a brand-new Christian for whom the youthful excitement has not yet worn away, or a believer of several decades who knows God intimately from years of dedicated Bible study.

When he began to talk, it was like every word he spoke was more important to him than the one before it. Sentences tumbled from his lips without a specific structure because there was always one more thing to say. “I could talk about Jesus all day!” he said after one particularly long tangent. But listening to him was neither boring nor confusing, because everything he said was profound, coming straight from the Spirit.

He had been jobless and homeless for more than 40 years, repeatedly spending all his money for drugs. He wanted nothing to do with God. It was not until his mid-fifties that a pastor began to reach out to him, inviting him to Bible studies and following up afterwards, even visiting the homeless encampment where he lived. When he finally gave his life to Christ, at almost 60 years old, it was only by the relentless efforts of the pastor and by the work of the Spirit in his heart.

The obvious takeaway from his story is to never give up on people, even if they seem like they are hopeless. Becoming a Christian does not always happen overnight; it may take years of prayer and limitless love before any fruit is visible. We should pray for patience and persistence as we share the gospel with our friends.

Ultimately, no amount of time or love can change a person’s heart—only God can do that. It’s like Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:6: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” That is why prayer is so absolutely crucial; on our own, we cannot accomplish anything!

Beyond that, there is also another, deeper point, which I discussed at some length with other members of the team. This man—who read his Bible with an insatiable hunger, who could not stop talking about his Savior, who loved to inspire young people with his testimony of God’s work in his life—had been a believer for not even ten years. I have been a Christian for longer than that. So how did a homeless drug addict of 40 years become such an enthusiastic follower of Jesus?

From an earthly perspective this seems impossible, and even unfair. Why should God save someone who is so sinful? The answer reveals itself all throughout the Bible. In God’s eyes, I am as much a sinner as anyone else, which means I am equally incapable of following God’s perfect Law, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

God’s grace isn’t limited to privileged churchgoers in Wheaton. It is offered to hospitalized overdose victims, imprisoned criminals and destitute immigrants. And all who respond to God’s offer with faith receive the same status: children of God. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." Before God, I have nothing to boast about, because my salvation is something I have not earned. This means that even though this man wasted fifty years of his life, I will never be superior to him in God’s eyes.

And that truly is good news.

Sudden Drop by Lorraine Triggs

I hate roller coasters—the sudden drops, twists, turns and speed.

I’ve been to Cedar Point, the roller coaster capital of the world, and why anyone would brag about that is beyond me. I’ve also been to Disneyland, slightly comforted by the fact that I was a Mouseketeer. What harm could befall me at the happiest place on earth?

A friend tricked me onto the Tower of Terror once, saying that it was just few little drops. I don't know why I believed him because I could hear the people screaming.

Fortunately, I was not fooled by the Mickey Mouse head on California Screamin’. I stayed behind, safe on the sidewalk, as my husband and son happily, willingly locked themselves into that tiny car for three minutes of sheer terror. Later in the day, they went back for more. I thought they were crazy

I have been accused of overthinking roller coasters. Before I ride one, I want to know the number of drops, how bad the turns are, and do you go upside down at any point in the ride? I cast doubts on well-meaning friends who assure me of smooth rides.

Perhaps the only good thing about roller coasters is that they end. The drops and upside-down loops don’t go on forever and ever. The three minutes of terror end as the car slows down to a stop. Too bad life isn't like that, where twists and turns just end.

A while back, my life was going along rather smoothly and predictably. No surprises, nothing I couldn’t handle. I had things figured out. Then out of nowhere came the sudden drop. I had no idea when or where the next turn would take place. I was in an endless upside down loop, and way past the three-minute mark of when this difficult trial was supposed to be over.

That's sort of the point of trials. We don't know when the next drop or turn will come. We don't know when they'll end or where they came from, can't figure out why us, why now, and please, God, just make it go away.

I think that hanging upside down in this endless loop has given me a different perspective on trials and hard times. It might not be about trials after all, but about Jesus and grace and being more like him today than I was at that first drop, or when the next unexpected turn comes.

What if following Jesus means not staying on the sidewalk, but waiting in the line and stepping onto the roller coaster? That would suggest that some of life's turns and twists and drops take us to places of hardship because we are following Jesus. 

It's about looking to Jesus, who "for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2) It's realizing that Jesus isn't keeping us off the coaster, but sitting here with us at every twist and turn and scream. And it's also looking less at the here and now, and more at the not yet to come and the pure joy at seeing Jesus face-to-face, at the end of the ride that is really just the beginning.

There but for the Grace of God By Pat Cirrincione

I grew up a child of the sixties. Things were different then, narrow yet beginning to widen in ways we never would expect. I had always been a writer, but never took it seriously enough. It wasn’t something I aspired to—I wanted to go to medical school. But only one of the girls in my high school graduating class was accepted to medical school, and the rest of us had to adjust our dreams accordingly. Now what?

I went to college for a year and was completely bored out of my mind. No one told me it would be like a repeat of what I learned in high school, same type of classes with different teachers, and those were not the days you could boldly disagree with a professor. It was not your ideas they wanted to hear; they only wanted to hear what they were saying, and I was looking for so much more.

I wrote for the college newspaper plus auditioned and snagged a part in the spring musical. A degree in theater and psychology might be something I could get. My fellow stage mates made ideal subjects for me to study. I walked away from the program and school still not sure what I wanted to do, still mourning that my dreams of medical school didn’t happen.

Not once did I think of turning to God in prayer.

My parents made it quite clear that I was not going to be allowed to vegetate in my room, so now I had to look for a job. Doing what? I had no clue. A friend had just been hired at Sears in Oakbrook and said they were looking for people to work in the customer service department, and off I went for an interview. In two years, I had climbed the ranks as far as I could without a college degree and decided that I needed to get back to school. I enrolled in night classes at the nearby the junior college.

This is when the path became long and winding, long and winding, did I mention long? And not once did I think of turning to God in prayer.

I left Sears for another job and continued to attend school in the evenings and meander down more pathways and byways. I took every writing class offered, and every acting class, besides the required classes to graduate. The acting classes led to a possible internship at Second City in Chicago, but the Lord had other plans, and in the sixties that was a good thing. I loved being on the stage, but my full-time job eliminated most of that dream—although it did afford me the opportunity to write and appear in some funny Crusade of Mercy productions. (See pictures below.)

I had a chance to travel with the Goodman Theater children’s theater, but again the Lord had other plans. I think my parents must have been praying up a storm to God because the thought of their daughter going off to be on stage frightened the heck out of them. As I write this, I am glad that someone was praying.

I also majored in speech and public speaking, which came in handy in several jobs down through the years. But something was lacking. Might it have been prayer and asking the Lord what it was he wanted?

Life is a series of paths that either get narrower or wider, depending on the route we take. The paths either head toward our own desires or God’s. And this is where I took another path.

I took a vacation to California and decided to interview for jobs while I was there. Nothing happened. (Again, praying parents.) Then I decided that working as a United Nations tour guide would be interesting, so I applied and had the interview set up and was ready to fly out to New York when something kept that from moving forward. So, I thought, why not apply to be a flight attendant? Not tall enough. Sigh. (My parents were praying a lot!)

Their prayers were answered—I found a job I fell in love with. God sent a wonderful man into my life, we were married, and raised two wonderful sons. All the while I was still taking classes at the junior college. My husband made a career change a few years into our marriage, and I just kept plugging along – working, raising a family, and still wondering what I was going to do when I grew up—and still not praying about any of it!

As I look back there was an element missing in all the highways and byways life had taken me so far, and that was God. I knew who he was, but did I rely on him? No. I kept relying on myself, and it just kept leading me to dead end paths. What did I learn? That God sent me on some interesting life journeys until he finally got tired of seeing his daughter wandering and getting nowhere, and that’s when he said: “That’s enough!”

In the book, The Language of Sycamores, by Lisa Wingate, there is this line that stood out to me: “No one can imagine the flight path or the destination for their trip, yet God knows how to land the plane safely, even when we panic in the passenger seat.”

As Pastor Moody said in a recent sermon: “Every talent (I prefer the word gift), is from God. He gives them to us for a reason. So, think hard about what he would want you to do with the gift(s) he gives you. It will determine the life race you are on. Persevere, carry on, keep your eye on the prize, for we must rely on the Spirit’s work within us to help us run in a way to put away the sins that beset us. Let us live here to reflect the mighty gifts that God has given us.”

That is what God did for me. I went on a journey, which he allowed, and then he finally reeled me to him, set me on my feet, and said to get serious about his gift, because every talent you have, those are your gifts from him. He gave them to you for a reason, and God is still writing your story.

Quit trying to steal the pen and trust the Author.

Where Has Our Margin Gone? By Stephen Rigby

Rigbys.jpg

Stephen and Karis and their two children Abigail and Eoin are College Church missionaries, serving in Nairobi, Kenya, with Serge. Stephen is the national director for Ambassadors Football Kenya.

It's six a.m. and the alarm goes off. The rains and clouds have moved in on Nairobi. After a long, dry hot season we are enjoying the cool highs of 70 of the cold season. My early morning runs with our dog, Pili Pili, have been a damp and refreshing start to my day. We run a couple miles and, once home, I enjoy a hot cup of coffee in a quiet house—a refreshing moment of peace in my life right now.

I wish.

The reality is, days filled with later than usual nights which means my early morning wake up puts me in a bad state later in the day. And the middle-of-the-night wake-ups from our five-month-old son or two-and-half-year-old daughter have been more frequent than not over the past weeks.

My quiet spaces in the morning are now replaced with me trying to sneak down the stairs without my little girl yelling, "Baba Abigail?" (literally translated “Abigail's dad,” her current favorite name for me). If I successfully get out the door, I come back home to the sound of the pitter-patter of little feet racing to the top of the stairs, and my daughter requesting I pick her up and carry her downstairs. There goes my quiet morning.

Sigh.

Karis and I love the author Paul Miller. His books A Praying Life and A Loving Life have been favorites of ours over the years. A quote of his that comes up regularly in our conversations recently is “It's okay to have a busy life. It's crazy to have a busy soul.”

This is a season in our lives where we feel on the verge of this busy soul because of busy lives. Our teammates left a little over a month ago, so Karis has come off maternity leave to run the apprenticeship program on her own. New interns arrived a few days ago and we just finished an intensive orientation of cross-cultural training and initial discipleship material. I traveled to Rwanda for a couple days of meetings with the Ambassadors director there. We had a five day visit with potential recruits for our team. Annual reviews, meetings, team retreats, regular life in community and ministry and more and more.

Where do we get peace?

Through all of this, Karis and I wrestle with this idea of being busy in our lives but not having a busy soul. A busy soul struggles to listen, struggles to enter the lives of friends and community, becomes angry instead of laughing at the countless things Abigail says, and wants to scream at the dog when it barks at some rats in the sewers.

That’s how I feel sometimes. Yet I know that a peaceful soul in a busy life continues to see the bigger picture. God is at work. He is transforming us in this season of ups and down. He is using us to raise our precious children to be who he created them to be. He has called us to ministry with people he wants to heal, redeem and restore, and he uses our voice or touch to be part of that story. This is the reality.

His words are a source of peace in this season. The busyness is because of wonderful things happening (growing family, growing ministry, deepening relationships), but a busy soul that loses sight of what matters—that's just crazy.

As we struggle in this space, God sees where we are and I hear his voice, even right now as I write this, reminding me that I'm not alone. The simplicity of these words doesn't capture the weight they have on my heart. The deep peace that comes when I actually believe it—the One who sustains the world is with me and promises never to leave me.

Those Hazy Crazy Days of Summer by Pat Cirrincione

Songs from the past have been haunting me lately. Words from a George Gershwin tune about “Summer time, and the livin’ is easy.” Songs describing those “hazy, crazy days of summer.”

It got me thinking about growing up on the west side of Chicago in the late fifties and early sixties. Summer time—hot and humid lazy days, sleeping in, riding my bike around the neighborhood, visiting friends, my grandmother’s lemonade, and a feeling of contentment. Summer time—no school, no homework, no worries about exams, spelling lists or memorizing the times tables. Just lazy days, filled with joy, the cold refreshment of the sprinkler in the back yard and hot dogs. I loved those days!

For several years, family summers were spent out in Wheaton at the Off the Street Club day camp, which is still there, off Orchard Road, behind Arrowhead Golf Course. My mom was the camp cook, which meant that my siblings and I spent the summer in the wide-open countryside, and away from the city life with its myriad of people, noises and neighborhood friends.

The camp day began at six a.m. when the overnight campers were roused from bed to help set up the tables for breakfast and get ready for the day campers who arrive around nine a.m. Once the day campers arrived, it was nonstop activity until bedtime.

We biked to Herrick Lake where we learned to row a boat until we were comfortable with the oars (which meant when we stopped turning the boat in circles). We hiked through the woods and were taught about the plants and animals we never saw in the city. Once a month some of us would take a bike hike to the Batavia Quarry to go swimming, while other less adventuresome campers came by bus.

If you were an overnight camper on Tuesday evening, around nine p.m., the camp director Auguste Mathieu would take us out on the golf course and teach us about the constellations in the inky black sky. I learned to swim at the camp pool and learned what plants we could and couldn’t eat in the forest that surrounded us. We even learned to bury the garbage so the raccoons wouldn’t get into the trash and leave a mess. Days were filled with crafting, staging plays, playing baseball, and at night, sitting around the campfire while our counselors told ghost stories. Compared to the city, the air was cool, the outdoors a plethora of delight and beautiful silence at night.

I just loved summer. Except for the bugs, but that’s another story.

But those summers end, and before you know it you are longing to be older, ready to move on to other adventures. Little do you realize that with that dream comes responsibilities you may or may not ever be ready for.  I remember going to my first job interview and asking if I could have the summers off to work at the camp in Wheaton as a counselor. My new employer looked at me like I had two heads and said that wasn’t going to be possible. I was crestfallen, but what could one do? I had gotten my wish to become older, and there I was, stuck in a grown-up world, with grown up things to accomplish. Summer jobs to pay for college. Then a job to pay for a car. Then a job to pay for anything and everything. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining, I have had some terrific and interesting jobs, but I never had camp again. Those carefree days turned into different days, filled with other wishes and dreams that kept me busy, and enjoying most every moment.

And those camp-filled summers? Well, I can still point out some of the constellations in the night sky, but don’t ask me what you can and can’t eat in the forest. Even though I quickly forgot how to row a boat without going around in circles, I haven’t forgotten some of the ghost stories I heard around a campfire in the evenings. And the camp? Well, its still there, waiting for me to drive down the lane, park my car by the pole barn that stored the camp bus and lawn mowers, and other camp paraphernalia and remember the fun I had in the summer time when the living was lazy.