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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Stepping Out of the Shadows

I feel like I've spent most of my life in someone else's shadow. The ironic thing is I don't know that any of those whose shadows I've been in even knew they cast one.

My father's the Bible study king. He's the lone wolf who walks into a town, finds a church with 7 or 8 members, works his tail off studying with anyone  who will give him the time of day for a few short years and builds that church to sustainability before he moves on. That was my childhood; moving into churches that seemed like they were dried up and leaving them  8x the size they were when he got there. I watched him drive 10+ hours a week to go to hospitals in the nearest urban centers (which were never near) to visit whoever was sick, sit by the bedside of the dying, from the time hospice care brought them home 'til the time the coroner took them away, then I listened to him preach a funeral so full of hope that the whole family obeyed the gospel. I watched him do tent meetings when people were dripping with sweat or trying not to blow away. Then I watched him take abuse from the same people or the ones who sat by the sidelines and didn't raise a finger to help... but he never gave up. 30 years he's preached. I was there when he did all this and worked a second job, and I was there when Southern Christian University (now Amridge) honored him with a rural evangelism/domestic missions award. I never fit those shoes.

In my first full time work, all I ever heard was how much better brother McLoud was at everything. You see, he didn't leave his post at that church, he died after preaching there for 30+ years. That's a shadow you really can't step out from under.

I came to RCM and, after one year of being apprenticed, had to step up and take my mentor's spot as evangelist. It wasn't just that I was under-prepared, this guy was some sort of super-apostle. Okay, I don't mean it in the way Paul used it, I mean he brought people to Christ in droves. He had 30 years of urban and prison ministry under his belt and was in his wheelhouse. He was the kind of evangelist you very rarely come into contact with. Trust me, when someone like that needs someone to take their place not many jump up saying "Pick me! I can do that!" It was more of a gulp with a good deal of sweating.

So, I have a closet full of oversized shoes, shadows looming over, and self confidence issues to boot. How on earth do you minister from that spot? ... No, really! Please tell me if you know, because I'm 18 months in and still don't fully understand.

You see, I don't see myself in the company of these guys. I think I belong with Thomas, Gideon, and Amos, struggling with my doubt. Maybe I'm meant to be a herdsman or farmer, Lord. Maybe you got the wrong guy. My father is the younger son, maybe you are looking for his brother's kid, you know?

When I get criticized, just like any of my betters got criticized, I have trouble not believing they have the sum of who I am. When someone tells me I'm not the evangelist any of them are, I know it's true. So I do all I know to do... I go to God.

This New Year, I made my prayer "Lord, open my eyes like Elisha's servant so I can see as you see." I prayed this thinking God needed to help me to see others more clearly... but He swiftly opened my eyes to see myself.

I was visited by people I studied with and baptized.

Tony and I were close and we went round and round. I knew he could do better than he believed he could. He didn't think he could leave drugs or women alone. And, for a time, because he believed that, he was right. He ran off after a woman and they drugged it up together. It's been nearly two years since I've seen Tony.

As I sat working at my computer the other day, who should call but Tony. "Hey Steven, you probably don't remember me..." immediately I recognized Tony's voice and called him by his full name.
"Oh, good! I... uh, well, I've changed a lot since the last time we talked. I had a son and... I wanted to be a good dad. I had to leave his mom, 'cause she's still doing drugs, but I started going to meetings and I've been clean for a year now, since the day my son was born. I'm still working out here and I just got the news that I made shift manager and I'm going to church. I just wanted you to know... I'm not a screw up... I'm a dad, and a pretty good one too. Well, that's all.. I just wanted you to know."

I'll let you imagine my elated response. My heart rejoiced for Tony. That same week, two more people I studied with in the passed contacted me to tell me how they changed and how God was blessing them. I'll share their stories another time.

Then yesterday "the bird man" (not the one from Alcatraz, sorry), who has only ever asked for a payer when he was too drunk to stand, sat in my office and said, "we need to talk. I've never agreed to talk to you 'cause I wasn't done drinking and I didn't want to hear you tell me I needed to stop. But I had my birthday last month. I'm in my 50s, and for some reason God gave me another year. I sat drinking on my birthday and I looked at my bottle. I told that bottle it didn't get another year of my life. And that's the last one I drank. I said I'd stop smoking too... but I didn't stick to that one. I figured it's time we talked. I know the Bible, I come from a family of preachers. They told me on Christmas I'm Jonah and I need to stop running. I'm a Christian, it's just time I looked like one and lived like one." So, we prayed for God to restore him and talked about how we could walk forward in this together.

When God gives, He doesn't give with one hand, but with both, not holding back. He helped me realize something. I'm not meant to stand in the shadows of my father, my predecessor, or my mentor. I stepped out of their shadow and took my place behind the only example I should be standing behind, my Savior. Now, that doubtful part of me expected a long shadow behind such a supreme teacher and leader... but you know what I found?
... Paul said it better than I can:
"But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." (2 Cor. 3:16-18).

Paul understood! As great of an evangelist as he was, it wasn't Paul on Pentecost whose preaching brought thousands to the Lord in one day. He, at times left cities, great urban centers, like Athens, with two converts. But that didn't mean Dionysius and Damaris were worth any less than any of those baptized on Pentecost. Seeing his worth in Christ, Paul said he was in no way inferior to the other apostles, even though he was "the chief of sinners."  

I realized there was no shadow hiding me, just Christ's light enhancing mine. He is the light of the world. It doesn't matter how equipped I may be, if I will humble myself, be His servant, and surrendered to Him, His light will shine in me and I become the light of the world, just as He told his disciples. The same goes for you.

Shine on my brothers and sisters! Shine On!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


Tears. It was that kind of day.
From a mother with 4 kids stranded in LR who is helped to feed them and get them 3 hours back to their home.
From a man who has failed so many times at getting things right, but asks the Lord for one more try.
From a man who was found on the ground behind the dumpster this morning. Badly beaten , broken and bloody. (Thank the Lord for ambulances and paramedics)
From a middle aged lady who received her new teeth today,
and when she saw herself in the mirror was overcome with joy.
Praise the Lord for providing whatever is needed. Tenth chances, healing hands, a way home and a new smile.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Not Just a Homeless Shelter

A couple of weeks ago, I shared with you how proud I am of Mieka, one of our summer interns. Today I want to tell you about one of our other interns, Jake. I could write about the heart he has for the hurting and brag on how well he is doing, but instead I will just share what he wrote about his experience, it says more than I ever could.

The Ministry: Part 1
I have not had the opportunity to share my views on here lately but now I am going to share something quite different. This summer I am an intern at an inner city church and a ministry for the impoverished. The latter of the two is commonly referred to as a homeless shelter, but that could not be further from the truth, which I will address later. I want to share my experiences here and attempt to recreate the shock and enlightenment I have received in these short two weeks.
I would like to start with explaining why I carefully chose my words and wrote ministry for the impoverished. Someone came up to me one day last week and asked me how the homeless shelter was going. The first emotion that raced through my veins was anger. But, as I stopped and thought about it, I remembered that I thought the same thing before I started working there. See, the clients (the term used for the people at the ministry) are not all homeless. Are there some clients here that are homeless? Absolutely. However, there are people here who have their own place, who have a job, but have just run into some absolutely terrible luck and turned to this ministry. 

Every week I want to share an uplifting story that shows how God moves in this ministry that I either see or experience myself. Every day before lunch is served there is a devotional, and if you attend you have first dibs at the line. Yesterday I was supposed to lead the devotional (A short 10-15 minute) sermon, and to be honest I completely forgot. When I got to the ministry I immediately began writing trying to fill time and get through it without too much embarrassment. I was about 3 seconds away from getting up and telling the director of the ministry that I was not prepared to give my sermon, but before I could get up a man walked in to the office I was in and asked me if I could listen. He did not ask for a conversation, he asked me to listen. He sat down on the chair across from me in the 15 square foot office and shut the door. My mind and heart were racing because my immediate supervisor was on vacation and this was the first time I had one-on-one interaction. The man then began to proceed to tell me everything that he thought was going wrong in his life. His girlfriend was being argumentative so he turned to alcohol. His alcohol abuse turned him to cocaine. His cocaine turned him to pornography. By the time his benders were over he cursed himself and told himself he was the scum of the earth. He had an incredible knowledge of the Bible and as he was explaining what was going on he would stop and quote the verse where he knew it said what he was doing was wrong. He kept emphasizing that he had judged himself to harshly and that he could not forgive himself for what he had done.

I sat there and listened completely and utterly astounded. The exact thing that he was talking about struggling with was the same thing I was addressing in my sermon that I almost backed out of. We talked until the devotional had to start and when I went up to the makeshift podium, there was a sense of incredible calm in me. Not 20 minutes earlier, my knees were shaking and here I was smiling and joking like I had done this a million times. The devo started with the most beautiful singing I had ever heard. There were people missing notes left and right, and there were people not even singing at all, but the situation we were in made those few songs absolutely beautiful. I gave my sermon and it was received beautifully. I kept looking at the man who talked with me earlier and he just kept smiling and nodding his head. Afterwards he told me he wanted to fix what he had done. He wanted to end the cycle that he thought never ended. This morning I helped set him up with a local cocaine anonymous group, something I never thought I would say as long as I lived. But God has always had a sense of turning what you know and what you want upside down. This internship has already been one of the greatest physical and spiritual experiences of my life. The even better news: I still have seven more weeks.

 Luke 9:2 “He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal”

In Him,

Jake Russenberger

Posted on June 16 by jrussenberger at

Thank God we have young people like Mieka, Jake, Tori, and Sara who are willing to dedicate their summers to this work because of a clear understanding of who Christ is and what he expects of us. Please pray for God to bless these wonderful interns and send us more people with beautiful hearts like theirs. 

*Picture used by permission and does not show the man described in the story.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Seeing Jesus

Actually seeing Jesus is life changing! Paul's Christian journey which lead to the founding of numerous churches, countless converts, and the shaping of Christianity as we know it all began with seeing Jesus. It shook up this man's world and lead him to change his life and follow his true calling.
Sadly, many Christians claim they've never seen Jesus and don't expect to, unless it's when they meet Him in the air. But, I encourage you to do as the song says: "Take a look, open your eyes, He's here in plain view."

Jesus takes many forms, but you can be sure, anywhere the love of God is being shared, you can find Him there. I caught a glimpse of Him just the other day. Mieka is one of our summer interns, and she's just the person we needed. She can sit down and talk with anyone, she shares her love freely, and serves gladly in any way she can. Probably the greatest strength I've seen in Mieka is that she intuitively knows who is hurting and needs a little extra help and attention. Mieka helps Deb in our Ladies Bible Study, and this is what I saw:

That, dear friends, is were I saw my Lord. I see His face and His heart in Mieka's love and care for the hurting. She took time to make one of the most fragile women I know feel loved, safe, and special. Wherever the hurting find healing, the lonely find love, and the weary find a friend to share their load, you can see Jesus there.

Friday, April 3, 2015


       After a long night studying for my midterm, I finally crawled into bed and began my regular routine of bedtime prayer followed by listening to an audiobook until sleep comes. At 2:40, my 20 month old, who still can’t grasp the concept of sleep, woke me up. By 4:45, she finally started sleeping steadily, but I couldn’t sleep. I gave up, got up, and grumbled all the way to the shower. As I brewed, I remembered a lesson I learned a long time ago.

I often visited RCM before I began my apprenticeship. The youth group and I would worship with River City Church and then prepare lunch at the ministry. At that time, my understanding of serving the poor amounted to a vague sense that Jesus expected us to do something for the poor. One visit, I sat talking with the first person I ever met who lived under a bridge. I thought trolls were the only people living under bridges, and furry green grouches were the only people living in trash cans (since, I’ve met several people, no grouchier than you or me, who spend nights huddled in dumpsters to stay safe and dry). I couldn’t help but think how devastated I would be if this was my life. Church service began while I sat stunned, not knowing what to say. Not knowing what to do. That same man got up and reminded us of what we had to be thankful for, but maybe not in the way you think. He didn’t tell us how blessed we were, no, he told us how blessed he was.

“God has seen me through so much. I should be dead, but He protected me when I was in a gang, even when I had a knife to my throat, He protected me. He didn’t let my sin or my stupidity get in the way. He showed me patience. He let me wake up to a warm dry day, He made it a joy to be outside. He gave me a family here that loves and accepts me. He gave me time to come to Him, time to change. So today, I get to walk in His world, enjoy its beauty, and listen to what His creation tells me about Him.”

When he finished, those of us who knew his story sat in tears. I have a wife, children, job, and home and I don’t wake up that thankful. He taught me that we choose the tone of our narrative, we don’t have to just whistle along to the devil’s tune. He, like Paul, learned to be content in whatever state he found himself (Phil. 4:11). Not just content, grateful.

I stood this morning at the bathroom mirror, I recalling that lesson and staring ingratitude in the face. I thanked God for my beautiful, healthy, precious, sleepless children. It changed my attitude. I went to watch the sunrise over one of my favorite spots on earth. I listened to the choir of birds and babbling brook and, like my teacher, listened to what God’s creation taught me about Him. God speaks as loudly through the hard concrete slab beneath a bridge as He does through the beauty of the sunrise. God speaks everywhere and through everything if we have the ears, eyes, and heart to recognize it. I pray you find the words of this dear brother as life altering and comforting as I have.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

My Shawn

“Good morning Shawn.” Mrs. Lilly said for about the hundredth time. Mrs. Lilly has a little place of her own, lives alone, and finds comfort in the community aspect of RCM. She visits us about 3 times a week and always greets me this way. It would be really sweet, except my name isn’t Shawn!

Mrs. Lilly is one of the first people I met upon coming to RCM. She has no teeth, and can be difficult to understand, but she loves to sing. She sings old spirituals, new praise songs, old church standards, and especially songs of her own invention set to the tune of old classics. She reads everything she can get her hands on (including an entire encyclopedia set, article by article, someone donated) and asks me every day if I have something new for her to read. And I better never give a book to anyone else unless I also have a copy for her or she says “I’m gonna get you Shawn!” Again, this is not my name! I found it hard to believe that someone that is on this familiar of a level with me could not know my name.

Finally, one day I said, “I’m not Shawn, Mrs. Lilly, I’m Steven.”

“You’re my Shawn.” She said. Now I was even more confused! But, hey, if this sweet old lady insists on calling me another name, what’s the harm?

Then the craziest thing happened. Mrs. Lilly brought a friend to meet me and she said “This is Steven, he’s my shawn, the preacher.” And it finally hit me! She wasn’t saying Shawn at all! She was calling me her son this whole time! As I mentioned, her toothless speech can be hard to understand. Here I was feeling that she didn’t even bother to remember my name and the whole time she loved me enough to call me her son! How often do we miss what we mean to people and what they really mean to us? How often do we miss the blessings of human connection and compassion that God gives us? Sometimes I have to take a step back and realize the blessing of being where I am and having the place in people’s lives, and the people in my life, that I do.

“Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits” - Psalm 103:2 NIV

“That is why you are no longer foreigners and outsiders but citizens together with God’s people and members of God’s family” - Eph. 2:19 GW

Monday, December 1, 2014

An Expression of Divine Unity

Before there was time, there was a Holy Community. The Almighty, the Word, and the Spirit. These three were one and lived in Perfect Holy Unity, just as they do today. So there has always been community. At some point this Sacred Trio chose to incorporate a new creation into their Devine Circle; Holy Angels. These servant companions we created to share in the perfectly unified community of Heaven.

Then, the Godhead held Holy Council and conceived of a plan, a plan so grand all the angels were intrigued with it, but God shrouded it in mystery deep within the Word to be reviled in the distant future of the Divine Drama. This, Paul called “the purpose of the ages,” and was the reason for all temporal creation.

The first clue to this Holy Mystery was revealed in the statement; “Let Us make man in Our own image, in Our very likeness…” Yes, our God chose not only to include mankind in His Sacred Community, but He chose to produce on earth a collective body of people who reflect the unity of the Trinity.

Christ came to create the community, prayed to unify this group, and died so He could be embodied by these people.

He called the disciples to follow Him, gave them new names and a new purpose, He shared with them the greatest gift; Himself. He continually corrected their selfishness and showed them what true community looked like. When His time with them on earth was nearly complete, he prayed:

“Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one... My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one… My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (John 17:11-26 NIV).


He left this life with the assurance that the Spirit would fill them, empower them, perfect them, and unify them. As the Spirit moved in God’s chosen community, men and angels stopped and took notice!

Paul said, “God told me to make clear to everyone how the mystery came about. In times past it was kept hidden in the mind of God, who created all things. He wanted the rulers and authorities in the heavenly world to come to know his great wisdom. The church would make it known to them. That was God’s plan from the beginning. He has worked it out through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Ephesians 3:9-11 NIRV).

God doesn't give us just any place in this community. No! He ties us more closely to Him than we can be with anyone or anything else. He lives in us through His Spirit and we make up who He is in His Son.

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Eph. 4:11-16 NIV).

“We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ… God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1 John 1:2-7 NIV).

So the Godhead brings about His great, eternal, work; drawing us into Divine Unity. But! There is another force at work, one at work destroying this fellowship ever since God began to reveal it. Our adversary lead Adam and Eve out of perfect unity with God, tried to drive Job from his relationship with God, deceived David, the king of God's Holy people, accused the High Priest Joshua who was appointed to serve in drawing the people closer to God, tempted and attacked the Lord in His work to reestablish mankind’s fellowship with God, and is still driving a wedge between us and the Holy Community.

One way he loves to do this is by setting us at odds with each other. This is why Paul warns us: “Finally, let the Lord make you strong. Depend on his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor. Then you can stand firm against the devil’s evil plans. Our fight is not against human beings. It is against the rulers, the authorities and the powers of this dark world. It is against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly world. So put on all of God’s armor. Evil days will come. But you will be able to stand up to anything. And after you have done everything you can, you will still be standing.” (Eph. 6:10-13 NIRV)

But Satan wants us to believe it is a battle against flesh and blood so we fight against our brothers and sisters, our fellow man, instead of him! This is why we should pray for ourselves what Elisha prayed for his servant: And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. – (2 Kings 6:17 NIV).

What better weapon could Satan have than causing us to believe he's not acting when he really is. When we hear about Satan appearing, demons possessing, rulers, authorities, and powers of this dark world and the heavenly world we immediately relegate it to Biblical times and in our minds all these have become little more than myths. Meanwhile Satan convinces us that, instead of making up Christ and finding our identity there, we are just sinners saved by grace. This way we accept that, at our best, we are just sinners. The truth is this; we may not be perfect but we are being perfected by God’s Spirit. But Satan would have us focus on our imperfections, or, better yet, the imperfections of others. Now we are back to warring with the very people with whom God wants us united.

When we have the eyes of faith to see where the true battle lies and who the true enemy is, it becomes a simple choice of who we want to be united with: The Godhead or the devil. So which is it? Do you want to share in the perfectly unified community which is older than time? Do you want to take your place in forming the very identity of Christ? Partaking of the divine nature, as Peter calls it? Or do you want to be a play thing in the hands of the adversary? Make your choice. Take a stand. Don’t miss out on fulfilling the greatest mystery of universe, the purpose of the ages, and the plea of God’s Holy Son.