By: John Bryant
As I write this, COVID-19 has landed like the alien invasion it has become - invisible, unexpected, tragic. The usual pattern of life has not been made more difficult, but rendered null and void. Everything’s closed and we are told to stay indoors. The stories that run our lives, the schedules that put us in cars and jets and send us across the world have been brought to a close by what we cannot see. We’ve been encouraged that the best way to love our neighbor is to stay inside and not see or touch anyone.
I find, more than anything, that the idea of “doing” has been taken from us. There is very little we can do, very little, it seems, that can be done. We may try to take things online, to transfer our busy ministries into new technological formats. But at some point we stop and realize we are no longer, now, people who “do.” Who are we when there is nothing we can do, and nothing, it seems that can be done?
If your work is like mine and the primary gift you feel you can offer is your time and presence, then maybe you are especially thrown back on yourself. I am humbled. I cannot shake hands. I cannot walk into psych wards and conduct Bible studies. I can’t share coffee. I had made my life so simple, I thought. “Be consistent,” I said. “Be present.” Now, in many ways, I can’t even give the little that I thought I could.
But, I find myself drawn by the Spirit into a different posture. Not just temporarily, but for, I hope the rest of my life. We are not people who do. We are people to whom something has been done. The ultimate difference between those who are God’s people and those who are not God’s people is what has been done but what has been received, what has been heard. A Christian is simply someone who heard good news and has held out his hands for mercy.
There is, of course, much to do. But a Christian is, primarily and always, someone who hears, someone to whom mercy has been given. If this is what we offer, the same mercy given us in Christ’s name, then may we offer it first by receiving it for ourselves, now more than ever.
And when we meet again, and when, through all this, we find new ways to meet and gather and encourage, let us meet as those who have come to hear a Word we cannot speak to ourselves, a Mercy we could not have invented, but a Mercy that will then set aside the few things we can do to the glory of the Lord and not for glory of doing. Amen.
By: Lauren Zawatski
“Why me?” I recently asked myself. Sometimes I ask this question as a complaint, throwing a whole pity party for one. But this time, I felt more bewildered. How could God, the God of the stars, sun, universe, and all that lies between, be so kind to me? Why is it that even in the middle of my chaos He looks upon me with favor?
2019 held many challenging times for me. It was often, if I may, “a hot mess.” Yet, you might have read a post that I had written for our blog in the fall, about the Lord’s faithfulness to me through answering a decade old prayer of mine to go to France. Over these past few months, the Lord has answered yet another prayer of mine - one that has also been years in the making.
So I continued to ask myself: why? Why would the Lord answer my prayer now, even after just answering another? The last year had been such a tough one, and I felt as if I had a long way to go in my next season of healing and growth. I certainly didn’t expect God to answer a major request of mine again - not with the muddled state that I was in!
Then, one evening as I continued to wonder why, I felt the Holy Spirit say to me: “Lauren, this is just like how even when you were still a sinner, I died for you. Even when you were still a mess, I chose you.”
That certainly floored me! I began to feel the warm tears pooling as the Lord reminded me once more of the beautifully simple, straightforward truth of the Gospel. Romans 5:6-8 describes it so well:
“When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”
This is a truth that you and I must daily, even moment to moment, remind ourselves of. How quickly do we turn back to our “default” mindset of working our way to God, hoping that if we’re good enough, if we do enough - only THEN will God care for us. We don’t need to get all of our ducks in a row to know that God hears us. We have the confidence that can only be gained through Christ’s shed blood. He cares for us the same in all seasons and circumstances of life and knows what we need before we even ask. How glorious it is that God truly is our compassionate and caring Father!
By: Greg Miller
Psalm 23:5 says, "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies." Did you ever think about what that verse means? It really sounds strange. Who would sit down to eat a meal when their enemies are surrounding them?
The verse is intended to communicate that God's people are so protected and provided for that they don't have to worry, no matter what is going on around them. It is a beautiful picture of being at peace with God and his people in unusual circumstances. Sharing a meal with the Lord and His people is powerful!
Recently, I had the privilege of serving communion to some of our Uncommon Grounds personnel. Sadly, that doesn't happen very often. It was a very spiritual experience for me. To share the Supper of the Lord with people who are in the spiritual trenches day in and day out was very moving. It reminded me of the One who holds us together - that we are all His and are at peace with Him and with one another.
Some of Church Army's work takes place out on the streets. To be able to bring the Lord's Table out to broken people in a lost and hurting world is a powerful act. It declares God's peace and provision to people who don't often feel it. One of our Church Army officers had the privilege of bringing the Lord's Table onto the field of battle in Vietnam. What a picture! There in the midst of death, soldiers stopped to be reminded of the peace and protection of the Lord. It didn't mean that all of them would survive the battle - but all who belong to the Lord would survive into eternal life.
We usually celebrate communion inside the church - and that is good! But having the Lord prepare a table even in the presence of our enemies presents a more powerful picture. As Church Army, we want to take Jesus with us wherever we go - in word, deed, and sacrament - so that all may know of Jesus' peace and protection in good times and bad. What a blessing!
By: Tessa Sentell
At the cafe, we do ministry out of relationship, and this past week was a prime example of that. At our first Saturday night Bridge service, I met a man named John who fell in love with the vision of The Bridge. I was excited to see that he came to my church the next day after being invited. I soon found that we attended the same Celebrate Recovery group at a church that I was making connections with via the café.
A few months went by, and I sent out the flier for the next Bridge to a few churches. I was told later that John saw the flier hanging up at his church and excitedly told the whole CR group about it. The pastor explained that the flier had come from me, and everyone hopped on the idea, since I had relationship with them from attending the group. So, a flier on a bulletin board became more than just that. There was suddenly a person and a mission attached to it.
The service went well. I was able to share my testimony publicly for the first time, and we had a different church volunteering with us. About a week later, I was at a random conference in Pittsburgh and picked a “random” seat. The girl next to me immediately lit up and said “You’re that girl that gave her testimony at the café!” Though I hadn’t talked to her, she had been in the volunteering church group, and my story had made an impact on her. The Holy Spirit really makes a small world smaller.
By: Tony Hermankevich
When we talk about the mission of the Church (capital “C”), we might hear the Westminster Catechism being quoted: “The Chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” Or from John 4:23-24: "But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
It seems, therefore, our purpose is to worship God and to bring glory to his Name. I believe this to be true, but we must learn how to attain our chief end. We must be taught. We are to be disciples, and we are to make disciples that also make disciples. As we learn, we participate in Christ’s Great Commission. As we go out to seek and to save those who are lost, we are compelled by the love of Christ. We are convinced that One died for all, therefore all died. Out of gratitude for what has been done for us already, we share this love with others by laying down our lives - hoping that more people will come to saving faith in Jesus, and more people will gain eternal life, while also realizing their unlimited potential for a transformed life even now. And thus, we fulfill the Great Commandment to love God and to love our neighbor. Quite simply, this is what we all should be doing.
However, when we talk about making disciples, the conversation often moves into the need for a process that's over and above mature believers cultivating relationships with new and non-believers. When we talk about mission, many expect that church leaders are pressuring them to travel to the ends of the earth as foreign missionaries and to possibly die a martyr’s death. Foreign mission might be the call for some, but it is not the call for everyone. Unfortunately, a majority of people in church today believe that even a short-term mission at home or abroad must certainly be the call of someone else and “not me.” Moreover, if we talk about money in church: the money necessary to keep the lights on, money to pay the pastor, money to fund trips for missions of mercy and justice, many people become uncomfortable and even angry, assuming that the pastor is “preaching about money again” to benefit himself under the guise of stewardship. We pay our taxes and expect the government to provide for the less fortunate. This is the job of the Church. This is true religion: “to care for widows and orphans” (James 1:27).
The mission has been outsourced, and church is a place for me to get what I need.
In Matthew 9:37-38, Jesus tells his disciples: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” My contention is that the problem isn’t that we don’t have enough people in the church or enough warm bodies for the work. There are mega churches with 30,000 members. The real issue is that those who are ready and willing to go out into the harvest are few. It’s our job as leaders in the Church to help people to discover their gifts, and to help them prepare to put those gifts to work building the Kingdom.
My challenge to all of us, including myself, is to pray and listen - asking God to reveal our specific gifts and the work in which those gifts can be used. Get involved with people who seem to be on mission already. Before we can ache for a specific group of people, we might have to meet them first, which means going as a matter of obedience rather than emotion. We might later fall in love with those people and places as we go. It is often as we do the work that our gifts, our hearts, and God’s heart for ministry and mission are revealed.
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. Amen.
By: Nancy O'Leary
It is already mid-February - the gardening season will soon be here, and I am beginning to do some planning. In the Bible, God tells us to build houses, live in them, and plant gardens and eat their fruit. It represents God’s community building and the abundance that follows. It seems to me that it’s not about the houses and the fruit, but rather the community that grows out of the process – God’s eternal community.
This week, Church Army USA received some sad news. One of our officers passed suddenly the other day. It was somewhat of a shock to all of us. It is a reminder, however, of how fleeting life can be, and also how wondrous is the gift of life given to us. I think about all the plans ahead at the garden this summer and that all of our plans are like dust in the wind, but with Christ at the center, our plans are also full of eternal purposes as we seek to love one another and to be as Christ to others.
So, as we live in houses and plant gardens again this year, let’s consider what is really important – to follow and to be as Christ to those around us, to love unconditionally, to hope, to give generously, to value every day as a gift, to lift up the brokenhearted, and to strive for peace and justice. Thus, embracing and living in the things that are eternal. God says, this is what I require of you: "to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8).
By: Ferdinando Turkovich
“They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”
- Isaiah 35:10
There is a song called the “Isaiah Song” sung by All Nations Worship Assembly Atlanta. The lyrics come from Isaiah chapter 35 and talk about redemption. Redemption is a funny word. What does it mean to be redeemed, to be set free? Better yet, have you ever experienced such joy and gladness that it spills over, and sorrow and sighing flee away?
Over the years we have had the honor of walking among the sorrow and sighing of many of our friends. Sometimes we are a stop, a place of refuge for the wandering, sorrowful soul. There are instances in the life of an individual where true transformation takes place, and it is in these marvelous moments when joy and gladness send sorrow and sadness fleeing away.
Our men’s recovery group has been such a place to both heal and deal with all of life’s hurts, hang-ups, and habits. This has been a safe place for men to freely come together and share the deeper places of their souls with each other. It is a place of tears and fears; freedom and confrontation; hope and belonging.
To experience the joy and gladness that chases away sorrow and sadness, these men are required to give up the pride that says “I’m okay,” the shame that says “I’m too bad,” and the fear that says “I’ll never change.” These men must be vulnerable - trusting that there will be a person to hold them up when they cannot stand on their own. But to be vulnerable, one often must be shown how.
What is vulnerability? Practically speaking, it is trusting another person or group of
people with the pieces of our souls that we often hide from the outside world. These are often the pain places that we don’t want to remember; the mistakes we wish never happened; the failures that keep us from trying. What our men’s group has found to be true is that being vulnerable frees us from these internal prisons, and healing can then truly begin.
By: Scott Colburn
I recently got the annual e-mail from the chaplain of the Beaver County Jail. Every year at this time, he informs those of us who volunteer there that the training dates are coming soon. Uncommon Grounds has had a Sunday night Bible Study at the jail for 8 years now.
I never wanted to teach a Bible Study at jail. I felt a little nervous about going into a jail, and a lot awkward at talking to people who didn't share my suburban, educated, middle-class perspective. Shouldn't I just mind my own business and let other people deal with their own situations and the consequences of whatever they have done? But I felt God call me to join with others at the jail to teach and share ourselves. I'm glad I did, and years later I can't imagine not having inmates as part of my Christian community.
This isn't to romanticize things. We've seen a lot of inmates seem to “get it” and then we see them back in jail within months. Sometimes they don't seem to learn a whole lot from the lessons, and when I've been two weeks in a row they barely remember what we covered the last week. But they are hungry for change, hungry for a power in their lives greater than chaos, ignorance, or addiction. We have the chance to make disciples, not just church members.
As I said, the training dates are coming up in March and April. It's a two hour training, mostly for gathering information and doing background checks. We could use a few more guys and gals who love the Lord and want to love His estranged children. Pray about it and see if God may be calling you. Doesn't matter if you aren't a Bible scholar, or don't know what to say to an inmate, or think people in jail got what they deserved. If you believe in making disciples, this may be the place for you. Contact me, Scott Colburn, through the cafe and I'll get you the information on signing up. This past summer, I was sitting on my front porch when someone called my name. It was a guy from the study riding by in a car. He'd just gotten out, and he was excited to see me. We caught up for a moment and then he was on his way. I haven't seen him since, but I haven't seen him back at the jail either. Wherever he is, he became free through the Gospel, even when he was still in jail. He has a future, the same one that all of us believers have.
By: Andrenna Williams
Here at Uncommon Grounds Cafe, we truly believe that ministry is most effective when it flows from relationships. We build our events and programs around the needs, desires, and concerns of our customers, fellow community members, and friends. It’s more beneficial for us to focus on what’s been clearly identified as being important to those around us vs. guessing or assuming what people need/want and then hoping that what we come up with sticks.
One area where I'm seeing this “organic flow” play out almost flawlessly is in watching 2 of our kitchen staff take complete ownership over our weekly Open Mic night: from coming up with the menu for the night’s dinner special, to working with volunteers, to hosting, and even getting door prizes! For the past year or so, Herb and I have been trying to figure out a way to “revamp” Open Mic. We've wanted to be able to provide a more supportive environment for the performers and a welcoming feel for newcomers, while maintaining an atmosphere that was conducive to family fun and community fellowship. Our issue was finding a way to do this without disturbing the current flow or upsetting the regulars. In other words, allowing this “change” to happen and flow “organically.”
Over the past 3 months, both Tessa and Paul have worked hard together to bring a fresh feel to Open Mic, and it's worked!!!! Each week, a delicious meal is prepared which almost ALWAYS sells out, there is a dedicated team of volunteers who not only show up to do the physical work but also to “listen,” encourage, and love on the guests, they have created an atmosphere that fully supports and gives respectful attention to EVERY artist that goes on stage, and they have even started doing weekly raffles and small games with free coffees, Big Breakfasts, and café merch as the prizes. Tessa and Paul both have a strong ability to connect with people “organically,” and are sensitive to their needs. It has been such a blessing to watch these two team members love this ministry and desire for it to be the best that it can be. I am honored to be managing them both, and look forward to seeing what they will do in 2020!
By: Angel Bailey
This weekend, I had the opportunity to go to the Vision gathering for the Remnant Sons motorcycle ministry that my husband and I are a part of. It was an amazing, God-filled weekend, and I was able to share about what I do with the women in our café community. The Ladies Night Make n' Take parties have been so much fun this past year, and to get to share some of that with women from this other ministry was wonderful!
I am so blessed that the Lord has given me these creative gifts, and that I get to help other women see the love of Jesus while awakening a creative spirit within them. I spoke about self-care, and how important it is that we take time, every day if we can, to evaluate our emotional, physical, and spiritual selves to see where we need to inject a little love and caring. God rested on the 7th day, and even Christ took time to step away from everyone to pray and get refreshed.
I shared that we don’t need to feel guilty about taking care of ourselves, and how easy it is to do. Just going to the store and buying your favorite candy or scented candle; or taking a walk-in nature; or if you save a bit of money for a massage or getting your nails or hair done once in a while. A little love for yourself will go a long way. Then we made some yummy exfoliating sugar scrubs and had so much fun! I am thankful that I’ve found my niche and that I “get to” love and care for so many women.
Uncommon Grounds Cafe