“Service at the Shore”

My first mission trip took place with a group of volunteers from Bethany UMC– Allentown remodeling the homes of Atlantic City, NJ residents affected by Hurricane Sandy.

My job for the week that I spent with the A.C. Long-term Recovery Project was to lay down brand new flooring, insulation, and plywood for both rooms. We, also, made covers for the radiators and helped repair the bathroom.

Leaders had to keep going out to get supplies so that we could continue to work on the homes. Working on the homes made me much more thankful for all of the things I have in my life both material and non-material.

flooring in progress

This is a “before” picture of the kitchen and dining room we worked on.

radiator covers

Take a look at the finished radiator and covers that my group made by hand.

This mission trip inspired a new career path. At the time, I was pursuing a degree in Criminal Justice with the aspirations of becoming a Crime Scene Investigator. Everything I learned and the Great experiences from the mission work we performed has led me to consider becoming a missionary.

Uriah Alleman
Bethany UMC, Lebanon, PA

“Rooted & Built Up – You can do this!”

Colossians 2:6 “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving” (ESV).

When volunteering to write a devotional piece for this article, I had no idea what to write. So I prayed and prayed. Then to my spirit, God spoke to me about writing about my current status in life. Well, in spaceship terms, “Systems failing!” Thankfully, my parents never taught or mislead me to think that the Christian life is something easy and living out God’s call is easy. The truth is, when we live in faith we truly don’t know what is going to happen but we trust God that in all things they will work together for good. That is why I love living out Colossians 2:6.

I am a visionary, leader, and ministry builder.  These three gifts God has used to extents where I wonder why I haven’t burnt out, lost control, and left everything at a burning stake. Truth is, I know why. It is because I am rooted and built up in a foundational relationship with Jesus Christ. Too many of us try taking steps of faith without truly being in that foundation-grappled relationship with Jesus. Being rooted is to draw your spirit-filled energy as a plant draws its water. Being built up is to lay a foundation that cannot be broken and that foundation is God’s Word (Matthew 7:24). In my life God has given me visions and dreams that scare me enough to do them. However, that is not the statement a lot of people have, mostly it is not to pursue the visions and dreams. Even though my life is extremely rough, I believe in Jesus Christ and I know He will see me through. The beautiful piece of this verse is, “abounding in thanksgiving” which is to live in plentiful, never-ending, joyful praise to Father God because He is welcoming and allowing us to abide in Him and walk beside Him, to further the Kingdom.

I encourage you to meditate on this verse and take a deep look into your life and do a systems check to know if you are rooted and built up in Him. So when God calls you to do the most faith-based actions, you can step out of the boat and know you’ll walk on water knowing the Word is in you and your strength comes from Abba Father.

by Aaron J. Smith

Want more from Aaron? Check out: “Sexual Sin and the Face of the Creator” from Season 1 of the Waging War video series. This intense message is an evaluation of what it means to behold the face of the Creator.

“Open Letter”

My name is Brittany Abdullah I am a native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I am currently 22 years of age. As a child, I grew up in the church, United Methodist to be exact. I would always wear a lot of hats in the church such as singer, acolyte, usher, worship leader, praise dancer, etc. For me, going to church was something that I did on Sundays because it was a family tradition, and it was something to do from 11:00-1:00.  I was the “church baby”, and I did whatever I was told to do.

During high school I became a different person. I started hanging out with the wrong people, learned to use slang, walked with an attitude. Anything I could do to fit in, I did it. Living the way that way caused me to barely graduate from high school. After high school, I went to the Community College of Philadelphia for two years. I basically wasted time and money there, because I was not focused. I started being rebellious, talking back to my parents, dressing provocatively, and getting negative attention from guys. Keep in mind, in all of my acting out, I still attended church every Sunday.

After dropping out of college, I decided to get a job working in retail. I decided that I was to old not to be getting money. During these times I would do anything for money. I stopped showing up for work and found an escort service. At first I was really shy and was nervous. I was a church girl I didn’t know anything about the business, but I was so worried about getting money that I didn’t care.

During this time, I loved the attention from guys so much that I got good at what I did and eventually liked it. I brought home money everyday. The more I did it the more I enjoyed it and could not stop. I mentioned earlier that I was still going to church while acting out. My pastor knew something was different about me, but could not but her finger on what it was. I started to dress even worse. Wearing a lot of make-up, skimpy dresses and skirts to show off my legs, I even dyed my hair different colors to give me more attention.

One day I felt so bad that I broke down and told my pastor what was going on. She immediately told my parents. They were so heart broken, they didn’t know what to say to me. We talked it out that night and I promised them that I would not do it again. It broke my heart so bad to see my father cry. I had never seen him cry before that night.

Two weeks later, Iwas back in the lifestyle because the feeling of being loved by these men and getting attention was what I wanted, and also bringing home 300 dollars every night. This lifestyle made me feel independent and like a woman. Not to mention, I struggled with homosexuality as well.

I wanted to die! I felt like my life was over. Every time I went to the kitchen, I would pick up a knife to stab myself but I could not bring myself to do it. I would try to take lots of pills at a time in an effort to overdose but nothing worked. I was so depressed. I cried every night and day. I wanted to die. I felt like it was no reason for me to be living on this earth anymore. I thought: “God couldn’t possibly still love me, so what was the point of living?” I struggled with these feelings for about two years. I would go to church and just cry at the altar not knowing what I was crying about. I was a mess!

During that time, I went to cosmetology school, graduated, and found a job working as a junior assistant. I always loved hair and fashion so that kept me sane. After work one day, I went to my church’s revival. I was so nervous because it appeared that the evangelist there could see all of my sins and everything that I had done. I felt like he saw right through me. I didn’t go up for prayer because I was so scared and embarrassed. When the service was over, my pastor came over to me and asked if I went to the altar. She dragged me up for prayer, when I said no. At the altar, I immediately began to cry. The evangelist prayed over me unceasingly and I felt such release. He prophesied over me and started speaking in tongues. That was the first night in a long time that I had gotten a good night’s sleep.

When the revival ended, the evangelist came up to me and told me that I needed to go Brazil for a mission trip with his ministry. I was totally against it, but I was convinced by my pastor that this was something that I needed to do. While in Brazil, I witnessed such amazing things from the Holy Spirit that I had never ever seen or heard of. I poured out my heart to the group there at the mission house. Those twelve days in Brazil were the best experience of my life. It was there that I decided to give my life to God and never go back to the lifestyle that I once lived. I was healed and delivered from so many things that I struggled with and was exposed to.

It was made clear to me that being molested as a child played a huge role in why I acted how I did. Since Brazil, I never looked towards that lifesyle for comfort and work. Instead, I worked for the evangelist’s ministry as an intern for one year in the south and had another opportunity to spend time in Brazil! I feel as though the Lord is calling me into ministry to help minister to young adults who have gone thorough the same things as I did, or similar situations. It is my passion to be a testimony for all young women who feel hurt and depressed and feel like there is no hope.

I pray that whoever reads my story will be blessed and go and share it with someone else. I pray that god will use me to help bring souls to him and introduce him to people who do not.

Peace and blessings,
Brittany Abdullah

“Freedom Isn’t Free”

Image with words: "You are not your own. You were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your body."

Nowadays, perhaps more than ever, freedom is a reoccurring, popular refrain. As fierce advocates of sexual freedom, some contend that whatever is done between the sheets and even whomever one wants to marry is nobody’s business. We want dogs and deer to roam free, unencumbered by leashes or hunting season.

We want our children to be free to be themselves or find themselves, whichever is most applicable. We adore the freedom of speech, the freedom to bear arms, and religious freedom, although not necessarily in that order. At one time or another, we all are fighting to attain freedom or to preserve it in abundance.

Being a nation that prides itself on being “the land of the free,” this may seem par for the course of the American experience, and unfortunately many Christians have blindly come along for the ride. More than anyone perhaps, having been bought with Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice, Christians should know that freedom isn’t free. Thankfully, in the new covenant we live under grace rather than legalism’s crushing rules and regulations. Cultural, gender, socioeconomic, and class distinctions no longer define us. We are freely equal before the Lord. In Luke 12:48 we are told that “…to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”

So, while freedom is a wonderful gift that we should express perpetual gratitude to God for, it does not exist in a vacuum. For us, freedom should bring a commitment to die to ourselves in order to truly live how God intended. No greater area is this to be evident than in our singleness or matrimony as wives and husbands.

If I may be so candid, as a pastor especially, I am routinely alarmed and disheartened by how Christian singles and married couples abuse the freedom that they so often clamor for. In some sense singles are the easiest target here. In addressing the unmarried population, Paul’s advice was, “…it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am.” (1 Corinthians 7:8) Indeed whether for a season or a lifetime, in the Christian operating manual, singleness equals celibacy. However, that mandate is rarely accepted or adhered to nowadays. Halfheartedly following God is more appealing, so like the poet Sidney Lanier wrote, “We live in an age of half faith and half doubt; standing at the temple doors, head in, heart out.”

Singles have a freedom all their own, one that affords more time to devote to God and to invest in other interests in special ways. This freedom is for naught, however, if it isn’t used wisely, which inevitably will require sacrifice. Just as Jesus gave himself as a sacrifice for sin, so are we to freely give ourselves as living epistles, in words and deeds, testifying to the Spirit’s transformative power.

If you are single then you are also free. I know, believe me. I was once right there with you. No one to answer to. No one to take care of. No one to argue with over whose favorite television show should be watched first or who ought to wash the dishes. But contrary to prevailing folklore, even in your singleness you are not an island. You are not supposed to live like the Prodigal Son, sexually, emotionally, vocationally, or otherwise sowing your wild oats in the name of immaturely conceived freedom. You are not your own. You may not answer to another man or woman about the intricate responsibilities of your life, but you do answer to God.

It should be no surprise, then, that I have a similar rebuke for married Christians like myself. Although our lot is different, we, too, so easily get lost in the sauce of selfishness, captivated by the sinful desire to, essentially, live as though we are not married. Having been married for seven years now, I have no qualms sharing that my wife and I are as imperfect as imperfect can be. We fuss and fight and sometimes go long spells not seeing see eye-to-eye. We are fellow beggars in need of Jesus’ daily bread like any other couple. I am grateful, however, that we are committed to walking, talking, and living like we are a husband and wife committed to making a difference for the Lord and for each other. Say what you will, but although I am God’s property, I also belong to my wife. And the same applies to her.

Of course, I don’t mean that in some crude, exploitative manner that implies we are expected to fulfill every flippant desire of the other. But we are joined together as one under God. There is no getting around that. We read a lot about what structure a good marriage might follow in Ephesians 5, particularly verse twentyone’s declaration: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

There is freedom all over this for sure, but it isn’t free or easy by any stretch of the imagination. Nevertheless, it is what you sign-up for in holy matrimony. You actually relinquish a great deal of freedom in becoming a wife or husband because you are now rightfully subject to another. You should not come and go as you please. You should not have secrets or separate finances that will try to con you with independence. You should have no lover other than the one to whom you said, “I do.” And that goes for virtual/electronic, emotional, or physical shenanigans as well. You are married now. Maybe the divorce rate is so high amongst Christians because just like the world we go about making marriage something it was never intended to be, a corporate merger of two sinners both hell-bent on winning by any means necessary.

I don’t mean to be impolite, but if you want to do what you want when you want with whom you want no matter your spouse’s feelings, then it likely isn’t best for you to marry. Again, freedom isn’t free.

One life’s most provocative components, freedom, is routinely misunderstood and Christians haven’t done the best job of articulating the alternative lifestyle of God’s people that the biblical narrative represents. The state of New Hampshire’s official motto is, “Live Free or Die.” Doesn’t that sound cool, like something that Denzel Washington would say in an action drama? Well, be that as it be, it is also a historical statement that highlights how important freedom is. As much as we crave freedom we are quick to act a fool when it arrives, which is quite unfortunate. Whether single or married, we have an obligation to properly manage the freedom that Jesus bled and died, and was resurrected for us “while we were yet sinners.” (Romans 5:8)

Pastor James Ellis III

“Worship Experience”

Eric Carr, standing in church sanctuary

At times it may appear to seem increasingly difficult to worship.  As we move through different stages in life and perhaps even deal with hardships or tragedies, many times we attempt to try to find reason to worship.

It is in that moment that we have made the biggest mistake and brings us to our question.  How is the worship experience at your church or in your life?

Is it coached?  Is it free form and free flowing?  Is it filled with expressions through different methods?  Is it consistent regardless if it’s during a great moment in life or a challenging one?

Here’s a tip to encourage and hopefully help you to ‘ease up off the gas’ when trying to contemplate how to worship and perhaps stressing over having a great worship experience at church.  No matter what comes or goes, God is still God and because God remains God through everything, we are constantly invited into fellowship with the Triune God through worship.

So reflect always on God and God’s greatness intently.

It is here in our worship that things are revealed to us by God’s Spirit that might have otherwise left us at a place of distress and discouragement.

James 4:8 tells us to, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”

Eric Carr, Jr. is a member of the Conference Young Adult Council and founder of A Greater Dimension Ministries. This article was written for the young adult newsletter, The PRESS.