Friday, August 29, 2014

“Did You Hear the One Jesus Told About…?”

If you had to communicate to the world the love of God, how would you do it? Today, you might use Facebook, YouTube, iTunes, texting, Twitter, or Instagram.  In Biblical times, Jesus used no external means of communication. Instead he simply told stories face to face with his listeners. We call those stories parables, and the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are chock full of them. What the proverbs were to Solomon and the fables to Aesop, parables were to Jesus.  

John Claypool, in his book, Stories Jesus Still Tells, reminds us that there are three distinctive features of the stories Jesus loved to tell.

First, Jesus always used images from everyday life that everyone could understand. Unlike some writers who make allusions that are difficult to follow, Jesus never did that. His stories are the best because they are drawn from everyday life.

Second, the stories Jesus told always had an intriguing plot.  It was a masterful way to draw people into the story and served the important purpose of lowering their defenses making them open to some new insight that might break through.

Third, and perhaps the most distinctive characteristic, was the element of surprise. When people thought the story was about someone else, it turned out to be about them! And just when people knew how exactly how the story would end, Jesus gave them the surprise of their lives with a most unexpected ending.
This coming Sunday I begin a new four week sermon series titled, “Stories for September”.

·         September  7th – “God’s Guest List”  Luke 14: 15-24
·         September 14 – “You Are the Treasure”  Matthew 13:44-50
·         September 21 – “Does God Use Roundup?”   Matthew 13: 24-30
·         September 28 – “God’s Return Policy”   Luke 15: 11- 32

I hope to see you each Sunday.  Have I got a story to share with you!   

Friday, August 22, 2014

Guest Post: "Mud, Haiti, and Tears"

My body shifts from one foot to the other as miles of grass, dirt, rocks, and mud pass under my feet. My
hands blister as I pull myself over and across walls, up ropes, out of water, and through mud. My knees start to throb as I traverse
under more and more barbed wire. The tiny cuts all over my arms and legs, caused by the pebbles in the mud and my tired, clumsy body, start to burn as I continue to sweat. Mud attaches to my clothes, water rinses some off, the heat dries the rest over and over again until my clothes and shoes are a whole new, heavy, stiff material and an orange-brown color. My focus and mind weaken as my body does, and doubt sinks in. Then, there it is! The last stretch! Just a couple of jumps over some fire, and one more drag through the mud and under barbed wire, then I am done. My finish line is in sight. My spirits lift. My feet move a little faster, my mind sharpens (it has to, I am about to jump over fire), and the doubt disappears. I am no longer in pain because I have hope. I can see the finish line, I can hear the people cheering me on, I get encouraging pats on the back from other runners, the end of my temporary suffering is in sight. With my energy reserves, I cross the finish line, pose for a picture, and grab my finisher’s beer…I mean…water and banana.

Yup, that is my typical weekend during the spring and summer months.  I participate and mud runs throughout the Carolinas. These are three to thirteen mile courses plagued with obstacles for runners to get through. I know what you are thinking. Why would she do this? Suffering? Pain? Fire and mud? I am asked that often. I think if you asked the participants in these runs why they do it, they will all have a different answer. Some do it for the adult beverage at the end. Some like the competition. Others see it as a fitness goal. Most of these runs are done for charity and that drives some of the runners. Some are even unsure of their motives or goals, they just do. Three years ago was my first mud run. Like some, I was unsure of my motives for participating in something like this. My friends asked me to join them, and I said “yes” (my favorite word I guess). When I crossed the finished line, I was so thankful to them for asking me to join them on this adventure, because I had now found a new passion. 

During one of my first mud runs this summer, as I was reaching to pull myself over a wall, I saw the dry dirt on my hands covering my cuts, I felt heat bearing down on me, I felt the pain of my body needing nourishment, and I felt the hopelessness of knowing I still had so much further to go. Suddenly, tears came to my eyes, and rolled down my cheeks as visions of Haiti came into my mind.  

In March I had the privilege of joining the Haiti mission team. This was my first mission trip, first time out of the country, and I really did not know what to expect (despite the informational meetings prior to the trip). The morning we left, I was in an “it’s-way-too-early” daze. I found myself being dropped off at the Charlotte-Douglas airport, meeting up with a group of people I really did not know, flying off to a poverty-stricken country I did not know much about, and unsure of my motives for going. I was asked to go and I said “yes.” There goes my favorite word, getting me into something else!

The week I spent in Bayonnais, Haiti kept me in constant awe. I was continuously being surprised by the
sights, sounds, and people. The people of Bayonnais are so kind and welcoming. I sang and danced with children who had so little, but were so happy and thankful for what they did have. One morning, we were guided up the mountain to a nearby village, Nicholas. We carried backpacks filled with school supplies, medicine, and dresses that Sardis member, Kathy Simpson made. As miles of dirt and rocks passed under my feet I thought about the children I saw with sores on their feet, and cuts on their hands, covered by the grey dirt that was now starting to stick to me. I thought about my mud runs, and how when I finish I get food and water, a medal, and pat on the back…how I wished that is what was waiting for me at the top of this mountain. As we walked higher into the Haitian mountains, we started to spot children in school uniforms coming from all directions for miles. Some were running past us, over rocks, down hills, and up hills. These were not their only obstacles on their journey to school. They were also fighting hunger and thirst, and the intense heat. Their finish line was school, the school that, driven by their strong desire for education, the community built themselves. When they got to school they did not get a pat on the back, or a medal, they did not even get a drink of water. I suddenly felt guilty for drinking almost my entire camelbak on the way up the mountain. When the children saw us approach the school, I saw their spirits lift. I knew that look in their eyes, it was the same look I get when I see the finish line at a mud run. They were seeing hope. Their pains eased, and their doubts disappeared. I suddenly realized, I did not have a medal or a pat on the back waiting for me, I had something better. I realized why I was in Haiti. I was there to bring hope. I was there to lift spirits. I was there to let the children know that they are loved, and everything is going to be okay. I was there to come back here and tell you their story.

During my first mud run back from Haiti, I saw the dirt covered cuts on my body, I felt the intense heat, and I felt hungry and thirsty, and I cried. I cried tears of sadness knowing my suffering is only temporary, and the people I love in Haiti suffer every day. I cried tears of guilt knowing that I will get food after I conquered these obstacles, and the children I love in Haiti will not eat on this day, even though they survive more obstacles than we can imagine every day. I cried tears of joy remembering the childrens’ smiles and songs, and their brilliant minds. I cried tears of thankfulness to the people who asked me to join them on the adventure to Haiti and helped me find a new passion. I cried tears excitement knowing that I can continue to bring them hope, even from so far away. 

I want to share their story with you, and invite you to join this adventure! Please feel free to check out the blog from the Haiti mission team: . You can also check out my personal blog from the trip:
I also invite you to also check out the website for Friends of OFCB to learn how you can become hope for the children in Haiti.

Nikki Livingston is Sardis' Communications Director. Nikki spends her time outside of Sardis volunteering as the event chair for the American Cancer Society, Relay For Life event in Charlotte. When she has free time, she spends it playing with her dog Macy and spoiling her two nieces and two nephews. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Guest Post: "Passions of the Heart"

Passionate.  What does it mean to be truly passionate about something? defines passionate as “compelled by, or ruled by intense emotion or strong feeling.”  The older I get the more often I find myself using this word.  I think it is because over time I have seen how the things we are passionate about can take us places in life and guide us where we need to be… where God wants us to be.  The key is being open to the stirrings in our hearts; the passions that God places there pushing us toward doing His work in this world. 
The journey God has taken me on has been led by various passions over time.  Growing up on a National Audubon Society Sanctuary instilled a deep passion in me for nature conservation and the environment.  This has played out in many ways throughout my life.  A few years after I had children I was searching for my passion; I needed something to fill my heart with satisfaction beyond motherhood.  Then one evening God opened a door for me that changed my life and my family’s life.  We were having supper with a group of couples from Sardis, and Ashley Meeks introduced me to Heather Ditillo, her friend who had just accepted a job with an organization called BeadforLife.  Heather told me all about the organization and how it empowers impoverished women in Uganda to start their own businesses.  She showed me the beautiful recycled paper bead jewelry that the organization sells for the women and told me stories about services they provide for the women and children in Uganda.  I was hooked!  She pushed all my passion buttons and my heart was flush with excitement to get involved.  Fast forward six years and I am a Community Partner volunteer with BeadforLIfe.  I have a full inventory of the jewelry and other items the women make in Uganda that I sell for them, and, I get to do public speaking for them; educating people about the plight of people living in the Third World.  

Until last May I thought I knew what life was like for these women because I had read articles, I had seen videos and pictures, heard heartbreaking stories and I knew my facts and figures; 85% of people on the planet live in developing countries.  Of the 15% living in the First World only 2% live like we do without major financial concerns.  Little did I know God had a plan to open my eyes far beyond my expectations when He put another life changing event in my lap.

Last May I had the opportunity to go to Uganda with other BeadforLife Community Partners.  I spent 16 days traveling throughout the country seeing their programs in place.  We visited women who live in slums in Kampala, women who live in rural agricultural areas, and women in Northern Uganda who collect shea nuts for shea body products. We also visited the beautiful young girls who are sponsored to go to school by BeadforLife, as well as an orphanage in Kampala.

These are some of the talented orphans at M-Lisada orphanage in Kampala. M-Lisada stands for Music, Life Skills And Destitution Alleviation. All of the children there are taught a performance art including band, African dance and acrobatics.  

Arriving in the Third World is shocking.  The sheer mass of people alone is overwhelming.  There are people and children all over this country.  Overpopulation is just a word in the first world but it is a condition in developing nations that hits you hard when you arrive.  Everything we take for granted they live without: electricity, clean indoor running water, grocery stores, transportation, free education, security, healthcare… our worlds are so vastly different it is hard to believe we all live on the same planet.  They live on what they and their neighbors can grow or raise.  Everyone struggles.   The measure of success is how much, or how little, you have to struggle.  If you are lucky enough to have a garden and a house, you and your children and their children will be much better off than most families in Uganda.  However, nobody has an indoor kitchen or an indoor bathroom and the houses are probably about the size of your dining room.  Possessions are not of importance, just the basics to survive; a cooking pot that can be balanced on three rocks outside with room to build a fire underneath, some bowls (no need for spoons or forks, everyone eats with their fingers), a mat to put on the floor to sit and sleep on, and maybe, if you are lucky, a change of clothes.  In that respect I found Africa to be simple and liberating, they are not bound to their possessions like we are.  

Despite all of this, these people were joyful.  Everyone we met sang and danced through their struggles together and found joy in their relationships with each other and in their strong relationship with God.  By the end of the trip I realized that our First World clutter (devices, television, Facebook, maintaining our possessions, the pursuit of more possessions, etc.) interferes in our relationship with God. They were proud to show us their businesses, houses crops etc.  I drove and walked great distances, sometimes through slums, to see pigs, corn fields, rice patties, gardens, goats and houses.  This is their wealth and the possessions they are proud to show off.  I heard so many amazing stories of strife that moved me, including a woman, Mary’s account of being abducted and tortured three times by the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army, Joseph Kony’s soldiers) when she was seven months pregnant.  Her entire experience was just heartbreaking, unimaginable, and so hard to listen to, and yet when we left her she had us stand in a circle with her and she prayed for us.  She prayed that God would keep us safe, take care of us and our families and grant us long healthy lives.  This was one of the most humbling experiences I have ever had.

Finally it was time to come home.  I had been lectured about “re-entry”.  Mark, the leader of our trip, prepared us for how difficult it would be to return.  He told us about the flood of emotions we would feel and to be patient with your family and friends who simply would not understand what you had seen and experienced.   To say this trip changed my life is an understatement.  Once your eyes have been opened to what life is like in a developing nation, you never look at the First World the same again.  I came back incredibly grateful for what I have and with a greater sense of responsibility for helping those I left behind.  God opened my eyes and ignited my passion beyond what I ever thought possible through this trip. 
At first I felt guilty for having my big house and big car, I was disgusted by the amount of possessions we have and I was so thankful for the little things I took for granted before I left: electricity, clean running water, indoor plumbing, the internet, access to food, education and healthcare.  These are the luxuries that 85% of the people on the planet long for, desperately need or are dying because they don’t have, and we consider it our right to have them.  

Here is what I hope you will take away from this blog post:  Step back and put your life in perspective. Compare yourself to the people in underdeveloped nations and to those living in poverty here in the First World.   Think about where you are on this planet instead of how you compare to your neighbors in South Charlotte.  Put your life next to someone who has no electricity, no running water or indoor plumbing, no local grocery store, no job or job prospect, no access to healthcare, no transportation, and no education.  Most of the people in our world live this way.  We are the minority on this planet which gives us incredible power that most of us take for granted, simply because we were lucky enough to be born here.  We have a voice.  We are listened to.  My friends in Uganda know that and see us as powerful because of our First World status.  One person’s voice in the First World can change the course of hundreds of people’s lives in the Third World.  God needs us to use this voice and this energy to help those less fortunate.  Don’t waste your power- you are one of the very few people on the planet who has it.  

And finally, be open to the passions that God stirs in your soul throughout the different seasons in your life.  Take note of what First World clutter is taking up your energy, take a break from it and be still.  Pay attention to Him pulling you in the direction of your heart.  In my experience, the rewards are far greater than the costs.  

To get in touch with Elizabeth or for more information about BeadforLife, you can email her at or visit

This is Sharon.  She is one of the girls in BeadForLife's Girls Education program.  All of the girls in the program have extremely high test scores, but their families are living in extreme poverty and can't afford to send their daughters to school. After meeting this amazing young woman we were fortunate to became her sponsors. 

Elizabeth Campbell has been a member of Sardis for 10 years.  She and her husband Mitch are currently on the leadership team for the Contemporary Christian Issues Class.  Elizabeth has served as a Deacon and on several committees at Sardis.  They have two children, Ethan (11) and Grace (9). She loves to travel, read, exercise, and spend time with family and friends.