Monday, March 29, 2010

Open Canvas

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Well, I am about 166 hours from finding out about my dietetic internship application; don't worry, it's not like I'm counting or anything :) A week from right now I will either be in complete joy with nervous excitement or utter despair with the feeling of rejection. HA! But seriously, this past weekend I was praying just about how to have the right perspective on my life and how to approach each and everyday, let alone next year. I feel as though I am in no sweeter position than where I am right now because I feel like my heart is an open canvas in which God can masterfully paint whatever it is he desires upon my heart. So often I feel like I catch myself sketching out lines here and there only to discover God's hand carefully "erasing" my pitiful lines and replacing them with beautiful strokes of vibrant color. This past year I have felt the pain of areas of my heart under the eraser but I trust in The True Artist's hands--his creations are far greater than anyone can imagine. His word says "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than than your ways, and my thoughts higher than yours." Our God is a big God. Yet he chooses our hearts as his favorite canvas. Our Lord created the heavens and the earth, yet he delights in designing a redemption-masterpiece within each of his children.

My encouragement to you is to simply allow the Artist work within your heart. When lines are erased in your heart; dreams, goals and relationships--don't look it as God restricting you in living your life but rather God's way of creating something far greater than you could ever construct. God is big, he needs a lot of room to work: stand back and allow him to turn vibrant strokes into a masterpiece--your life.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

New York City Mission's Trip Thanksgiving Report

Dear Family and Friends,

Words cannot express how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to serve in New York City over my Springbreak. It has been a little over a week from getting back and I am still standing in awe of how God works. I have so many things to share with you all but before I begin, may I just say a huge, huge thank you for your prayers and support for me? God supplied our team MORE than enough to go on this trip! We were so blessed by our friends and family; it truly portrayed the faithfulness of God in accomplishing His will. I pray that you will be encouraged in knowing we have a God with limitless resources and a caring Father who promises to “provide all of our needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Ok, are you ready for this? I am going to my best to be brief enough so that you can finish this letter before your hair turns gray (and if already has…sorry I have no other analogy to use) yet detailed enough that you can feel the Holy Spirit working through the team in our day-to-day outreach missions.

Sunday-March 7, 2010 We rolled into NYC early Sunday morning and got to the New York School of Urban Ministires (NYSUM) around 1:00 am. We got up nice and early to catch a ferry to the Statue of Liberty and then went to the Brooklyn Tabernacle 12:00 service. Let me just say, whether you felt the Holy Spirit or not, you could not deny the presence of the Spirit within that body of believers. The music was ridiculous: 300 person choir (each person had the lung capacity of perhaps 5 people) when they sang it was as if a wave of sound was going to push you backwards out of your chair. Pastor Cymbila had a wonderful message on “being sober-minded and self controlled” for Christ’s return and did a wonderful job explaining how to be ready for Christ’s return. Later on that evening we went to Time Square Church, near Time Square. It is a Interdenominational Church---I have never been in a room with so many different nationalities. It was what I would think a lot of what heaven may be like someday. Their format of service was kind of neat in how they had two people give a testimony and then a sermon following. I could not get over how both these bodies of believers based centered so much of their worship services on prayer. Both churches have numerous services ALL day on Sunday—I wonder how our Midwest churches would be transformed if we put more of an emphasis on prayer.

Monday-March 8,2010 Our first day consisted of two service projects: Cerebral Palsy Center and Goldwater Terminally Ill Hospital both in the Bronx area. At the center we went from room to room playing guitar and singing songs with the students/patients. It was neat to see how much they lit up with music and how free they became in expressing their joy through dancing or clapping. At Goldwater, we were blessed to see so many believers who are worshipping God on their hospital beds—some patients have been there for 4-5 years and they continue to rejoice and serve God. Would you rejoice and serve God on your death bed? That was Peter’s desire in 2 Peter 1:13 which states:

“I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent (body) to stir you up by way of reminder since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time recall these things.”

Tuesday-March 9,2010 Well Pastor Rick promised our team that we would be challenged at some point of the week but I wasn’t expecting it to be this soon! Tuesday our group did two more service projects with the first one being in the projects at a church/soup kitchen known as “Espanola.” Pastor Rick informed me late Monday night after our team meeting that I would be speaking at the service the next morning—AKA you will have about one hour to prepare a message and oh…by the way, you will have a translator because a majority of the people who come only speak Spanish. My thoughts: “Oh good. This is good.” AH!  I went to bed Monday evening thinking that I would just give my testimony on running because everyone can relate/understand running. I woke up the next morning with 2 Timothy 2:20-22, a verse that I had read while I was competing at my indoor track conference meet earlier in march. The verses say this:

“Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable use, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.”

Me in my nerdy-Bible-studyingness (You are correct—that is not a grammatically correct phrase!) was really excited with this passage because I referenced back into the Old Testament and discovered that the “vessels” used in the passage were the same that were in the Temple of God that the priests had to clean in order to be in the presence of God. But then it dawned on me: although I find the correlation awesome and exciting, these people need the story of Salvation—not an Old Testament seminary lecture and so God opened my eyes up to the analogy of using an actual vessel, a cup for my message. And so I gave a message using a simple cup: we are like a cup. We were created for God’s purposes just like a cup would be used in a house. When a cup becomes dirty, stained or broken, it is unusable, disgusting and if you can’t clean it, it should be thrown-out. A cup cannot clean itself, it must be washed by someone. And with that, sometimes the outside of the cup doesn’t look too bad but when you look inside of it, it’s disgusting (like the passage in Matthew “Seven Woes” of the Pharisees—cleaning the outside of the cup). Then I basically gave the story of Salvation through Christ and how His blood is the only thing that can make us clean: the washing of His blood will cleanse us and make us honorable—ready to be used by our Master again. The translator threw me off a little but it was so amazing to literally stand back and allow the Holy Spirit work through my words and relay His message. Three people came forward to accept Christ and I humbly accepted the privilege of praying with them. It was so, so neat.

Later that evening we did a homeless ministry where we went out at 9:00 pm taking blankets, food, water and pocket Bibles to the homeless near Time Square. It was there that I got to visit with a remarkable woman named “Gret,” from Jamaica. She had accepted Christ when she was 13, and come to the states to get her degree in teaching. Through a series of events, she became homeless and had been struggling in and out of it all her life. She is now 68 years old and unable to get a job. She has learned to completely depend upon God and to put her hope in Him everyday. She attends Time Square Church when she is able to get there but because she has to travel all over NYC for food or different shelters, she doesn’t always get there. I got to pray with her and tell her things that she never hears: that she’s a beautiful, gentle and wonderful child of God; that those who are blessed with a home, food and shelter could easily lose it in a matter of seconds and that all we are guaranteed in this life is Jesus Christ and that God is good. She prayed with me and then said “Blessings to you in your career and thank you so much for the food, I wouldn’t have had supper tonight if it wasn’t for you.” Sigh. I was and continue to be utterly speechless at how a woman with nothing still offered a blessing to a girl who has everything, a more.

Wednesday-March 10, 2010 Tourist Day! I will keep this brief because to be honest, it was my least favorite day of the trip—New York City is exciting, don’t get me wrong, but I am just not into all the hustle and bustle of the city. We got up really early and caught the subway to Central Park. We then walked to Time Square for people to purchase tickets to Broadway shows (I didn’t actually go because I was cheap). We went to the Upper Deck of Rockefeller Center and saw the City---I can’t recall the number of floors but you get there in a minute on the elevator! Your ears pop like crazy! After that we ate near the Ice skating rink that you always see on Good Morning America or in Home Alone and then we went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. That was ridiculous! The floor shook when the organist played; I was so tempted to start singing the Lord’s Prayer but I’m sure the people wouldn’t have appreciated it during the 12 mass service  After that I went to the New York City Library while most of the team went to the shows. We met up later and went to China Town and Little Italy for supper. We crawled into our beds about 12:00 that night—feet throbbing and all.

Thursday-March 11, 2010 We completed another two service projects with the first one at what is known as “The Relief Bus.” It is a bus that literally parks on a side street where the volunteers hand out free soup, hot chocolate, bread and offer to pray with people. It was so much fun! The workers were so happy and they led by example in being a joyful giver. I got to ladle the soup for most of our time there and then pray with several homeless men—most of them believers. It’s crazy, I met more homeless believers than business men and women-believers in NYC. That evening we did a subway ministry where we literally got on a subway car and road for about three hours singing, sharing testimonies and praying with people. I was probably the most uncomfortable in this ministry because I am not one who likes to do open-air-preaching but if it’s done with the message of grace and truth –it’s amazing to see how it softens and changes people’s hearts. How are you relaying the message to those around you?

Friday-March 12, 2010 On our last full day of ministry, we put on two services for men’s homeless ministries. The first one was called “The Bowery” which is one of the oldest shelters in America. Some of the roughest men of NYC come here for services and a meal everyday. We gave a service and witness the miracle of three more men coming forward to accept Christ. One of these men was walking by just before we started the service and “felt like something was pulling him inside the building.” That something was definitely the Spirit. Later on that evening we went to “Batel” which is a drug and alcohol rehab. Basically these guys come with prison as their only other option. These men are broken and desire to be different—most of them already saved. Our group did a service and then just got to enjoy fellowship with them. The people who were in charge of the ministry were amazing; a young couple with a little 3 year old boy running around. At first I was surprised that they would raise a child in an environment like that but then it dawned on me while I was watching him running around squealing: this small child is bringing such a vibrancy and softness to the people there. That child has no idea the impact he is making on the Kingdom when he may not even know Jesus himself yet. Is God not good? How can you deny that our God is good?

Well, now that your hair is completely gray and only partially falling out, :) I will wrap this up. Again, thank you so very much for your support. You truly impacted the City through the team. I pray that what I shared with you would be of an encouragement not only in the area of giving but serve as a challenge in your own relationship with Christ. One of the best quotes I received from the week was from a NYSUM worker who said this, “ Don’t hold back, allow God to mess with you tonight (homeless night).” Don’t just take these stories and say, “Well that’s great that Joni had a good time and enjoyed serving in New York City.” No, it is my hope that you take these stories of redemption and truth and allow them to mess you up a little. Allow God to move through it. Is God calling you to serve in a similar mission’s experience? What about at your job? What about that man you see on the corner everyday who is homeless? Have you ever gone to work with the goal of steering a conversation towards sharing the Gospel? Look for those opportunities, they are there. Allow God to mess with you, you won’t regret it!

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace in my imprisonment (or on my mission’s trip) and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.”

Philippians 1:3-8

God bless you all!


Joni Strom

Friday, March 19, 2010

His Instrument

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Earlier this month I had the privilege of running at our Summit League Conference Indoor Track meet up in Fargo, ND. Although I have been running for about ten years now (AH!), I still find myself becoming so anxious for races--so to say the least, I was rather anxious this weekend. My race wasn’t until 12 and we had time in the morning to relax before heading over to the track. I found myself skimming the pages after my normal quiet time study of Revelation to get a little more encouragement (not that Revelation isn’t an encouraging book and all hehe!). Usually I go to Psalms because I can relate to the Psalmist's cries to God when he is “being pursued by his enemies” only for me it’s North Dakota Bison haha. But instead of going there, I for some reason had this desire to find a passage on the topic of us as God’s instruments. I vaguely recalled a passage about it but I wasn’t sure. I hopped onto Biblegateway, an online Bible search engine, and looked up the word “instrument.” I skimmed through all of the “hits” not finding the phrasing I was thinking of until my eyes landed on 2 Timothy 2:20-22—this is what it says in NIV:

“20In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. 21If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.
22Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”

I found this passage incredibly encouraging as I began to prepare for my race because I felt like no matter our gifts or abilities, our true desire should be to be an “instrument for noble purposes.” Not only are we used for noble purposes but it says we can be made holy and useful for our Master. Is that not awesome?

An instrument that I have always loved and adored is the violin. In relation to this passage, I picture a dusty, antique violin sitting in the corner of a room. It has been masterfully designed but remains on the shelf because it, itself, cannot play---it requires a violinist to carefully restore, tune and play in order for beautiful music to be made. We are like that violin: we are unable to do anything good but through forgiveness from our Lord Jesus Christ, we can be transformed from an old dusty violin, that is nothing but mere wood with cat gut, into a beautiful instrument--an instrument that can be useful for our Master and prepared to do any good work. The ESV version uses “vessel” instead of instrument---which again has such a wonderful picture of our identity in Christ when we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and flee from the evil desires of our youth. I encourage you to look at this passage of scripture and read it more in context because it is truly a treasure-chest-of-a passage in how to live a Christ-centered life—a life that can take polar opposites of running a mile in a track meet, a violin and an instrument described in the Bible and for it all to relate to one another. I also challenge you to permeate the scripture you read into your life and pursue a continual focus on our Lord Jesus Christ today!