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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Grace Wasted

By Cheryle M. Touchton
The Pocket Full of Quarters Lady

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. Eph 2:8-9 NIV

What I long to do more than anything is to be able to communicate the power of grace the world. To communicate it, I have to understand it myself and I confess to occasionally struggle. A couple of years ago, I wrote a book called, “Pocket Full of Grace.” The words I wrote communicated to the best of my ability, the Biblical view of grace. When the book was complete and I reread my own words, I shelved the book without publishing it because I realized how bound I still was to law and the guilt and judgment associated with lack of perfection. While my eternity with Christ is sealed, I sometimes waste grace in this life. I won’t publish the book about grace until I can accept the grace of Jesus Christ so fully that I offer grace to myself and those close to me. I know I am saved by grace so why do I still demand perfection in others and myself? That is the question I’ve been trying to answer since shelving my book, “Pocket Full of Grace.”

I ache when I meet people tortured by their past. Lynn is a Buddhist. Christians surround her. Her daughter and best friend have tried to tell her about the grace of Jesus but real mistakes from this life and imagined mistakes from a past life torture Lynn.

“I can’t be a Christian,” Lynn said. “It can’t be that easy. It takes all of the responsibility off me. I know I must have done something terrible in the last life to deserve everything that has happened to me in this life. I’ve given up trying to be happy in this life and am working hard to be good so I have a chance of happiness in the next life.”

I spoke words of grace from the Bible and told her that if she accepts Jesus, she could be relieved of guilt of her past but as I said the words, I remembered how many Christians still believe they are being punished for past sins.

A Christian mother told me, “I’m having so many problems with my teenage son. I’ve done my best but I think God is punishing me for my own teenage mistakes.”

Where is her relief by grace? I know firsthand how painful a troubled teenager is for a mother. This poor mother is suffering from agonizing pain made even worse by her rejection of the grace that is her right through Christ.

I visit churches that waste grace. 25 years later, they are still holding members accountable for past mistakes as they retell tales. I hear words like, “Our piano player is on her second marriage” or “She’s getting what she deserves. You should have seen her in high school.” Preachers preach sin and point fingers from the pulpit where their members roast that same preacher over Sunday lunch. Where is the peace of grace?

Where is grace in Christian families? I hear wives torturing husbands for not being perfect while I stand in grocery store lines. I hear criticism in jokes and husband bashing stories. I hear husbands complaining about things like weight gains, cluttered homes, and nagging. Adult children drag out the mistakes of imperfect parents as childhood stories become dinnertime entertainment. Parents try to discipline children’s current mistakes by clubbing them with past mistakes. Smug words like “I told you so” start family wars that indicate just how much we waste grace while on earth.

Perhaps it would be easier to tell Lynn, the Buddhist, about the grace of Jesus if the Christians who surround Lynn could accept the grace of Jesus so completely while on earth that there is no judgment or guilt remaining in them. Wouldn’t the resulting peace of grace radiate out so far that it would draw the world in?

Jesus was perfect. When I long for perfection in others, and myself, I’m really longing for more of Jesus. Since shelving the book, “Pocket Full of Grace,” when I find myself tortured by what I left undone or by the mistakes of others, I stop and seek out the face of Jesus. I apologize to Him for wasting grace and let grace surround me and return my peace. Real or imagined slights of others lose their power, as I love them through the forgiving eyes of Jesus. The demands of perfectionism that condemn me to restlessness and discontent are replaced by the gentle peace of knowing that others and I are made perfect through the love of Christ.

There is such peace in grace. I cry over Lynn trying so hard to make up for mistakes from a past life but perhaps the real tragedy is when Christians, who are saved by grace, waste it. For today, I’m committing to offer myself and others grace for our own lack of understanding about and acceptance of grace.

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage all of us and strengthen us in every good deed and word. (Paraphrased from 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Halleluiah Healed

By Cheryle M. Touchton
The Pocket Full of Quarters Lady

Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. Matt 18:19 NIV

I’m just grateful that all we need is faith the size of a mustard seed. The healing of Halleluiah seriously humbled me about the size of my faith. Before you judge me too harshly, remember…judge not lest you be judged. You might just find out your own faith struggles.

Halleluiah’s refrigerator broke. It worked with the generator and the battery but would not work with gas. For a week, I fought with it. I ran the battery down and wasted generator gas trying to keep food cold. I turned it off and back on, lit the gas stove to check gas levels, stomped on the brake in case it had an air bubble, and prayed over it. Nothing helped. Food spoiled and I pouted. It was affecting my entire trip.

I dreaded what I was going to have to do about it. Fixing camper refrigerators is expensive and takes time. Not every camper dealership works on them. When I arrived at Bonaroo, I emptied the refrigerator’s contents into my host’s fridge and sighed over my woes. I pretty much whined about it to anyone who would listen.

When I whined to Riley Stephenson from Kenneth Copeland Ministries, Riley said, “Why don’t we pray for it. Brad’s generator broke on the way here. He was going to have to go back home because he had his elderly mother with him and she needed the air-conditioner. We prayed over it and the generator started working again.” Brad is Riley’s friend and often travels with their ministry. Brad and Riley had driven from Fort Worth, Texas to meet us in Tennessee for the concert.

“The fridge has done this before,” I said dubiously. “I already prayed about it and it still isn’t working. I think it needs to go into the shop. When I get to Jacksonville, I’ll try to get it fixed.”

Riley has that innocent childlike faith that everyone wants. I confess to having a bit of a scientific mind and believe that God often uses science to fix things. I was feeling protective of Riley and his faith. I didn’t want him disappointed. Words like “Oh ye of little faith” now come to my mind. I’m just being honest here.

“Let’s go pray,” Riley insisted. We went outside and Riley and his friend Brad, the owner of the healed generator, touched Halleluiah’s refrigerator. I sat in the driver’s seat squirming.

“Dear God,” Riley prayed. “You promise us that when two of us agree, it will be done. Cheryle needs this refrigerator for her ministry. We ask in the name of Jesus for you to heal this refrigerator.”

Brad turned it on. “It’s working,” he announced.

“It always works for the first three minutes,” I said, still not sure. “Then, the “check” light comes on.”

I cranked Halleluiah and we drove off. Every few minutes, someone in the back seat would announce, “It’s still working. The check light isn’t on.”

Well – It’s been 4 days and the refrigerator is still working. Brad and Riley weren’t surprised. I don’t know why I am since I see God’s miracles every day. God and I are working on that.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Potty Patrol

By Cheryle M. Touchton
The Pocket Full of Quarters Lady

For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. Phil 4:11 NIV

I try to be content in all circumstances but some circumstances are more challenging than others. The concert, Bonaroo, is an exciting event for most people. You can ride amusement rides, listen to music, play games, eat and eat some more, dance, hear comedians, and sleep in the sunshine. I’ve found that God doesn’t much care about my personal comfort on these missionary journeys and sure enough, at Bonaroo, God put me on Potty Patrol. I wrote about this on my Facebook and the Christian author, editor, speaker, and apparent comedian, James Watkins, commented that I was doing my Christian “dooty.” You have to have a sense of humor when doing God’s work.

Yearly, over 80,000 people descend on the tiny town of Manchester, Tennessee for a concert that attracts the biggest and best popular musicians and entertainers. Ron Fuller is one my mentors and invited me to participate with them in an evangelistic outreach to the concert attendees. Ron, The Sojourner, is pastor of the Sojourners Ministry, a home church ministry whose hub is in Manchester. I go where I’m invited. You can visit the Sojourners Hub

Manchester doesn’t have enough hotel rooms, camp grounds, restaurants, or restrooms to accommodate everyone, so eager attendees sleep in tents and campers on concert grounds and in the Wal-Mart parking lot. Massive rows of portable toilets frame the city and concert grounds. People wait in line in temperatures that exceed 90 degrees and the scowls on faces indicate their distaste for the foul smell and dread of entering the tiny nasty coffin-like boxes. I spent hours standing beside them handing out individually wrapped sanitary wipes and Christian tracts. Potty Patrol worked.

“Would you like a wipe?” I’d offer. Their face would light up.

“Absolutely,” so many said. “Thank you so much.”

“How about a wipe in the name of Jesus? He loves you so much that He put me on Potty Patrol just for you.” Most grinned, took my wipe, the tract, and thanked me. I worried they would toss the tracts in the potty but people were so eco-friendly that they came out carrying and reading their tracts.

One woman said, “Oh, no, not another one. Are you going to tell me I’m going to hell because I’m listening to this music?”

“Did someone tell you that?” I asked.

“Oh yeah, there is a Christian group here warning people that this music will send them to hell.”

“They are not with us. I’m with the Sojourners and we share good news. Music can’t send anyone to hell. That’s bad theology. Jesus came to save the world – not to condemn it. I’m here and I promise you, I’m going to heaven. The Bible says in Romans 3 that all have sinned and that includes the person who told you that. It says in Romans 6 that the wages of sin is death and the gift of God is eternal life. In Romans 10 it says that all who call on the name of Jesus shall be saved.”

“I like the way you think,” she said, her voice cracking.

“I think you’re worried about hell,” I said gently. “Let’s take care of that issue right now.”

“OK,” she said with relief.

“Pray after me,” I said. Line by line, she prayed the following prayer.

“Dear Jesus, I believe in you. I believe you died on a cross and rose from the dead for me. I’ve made mistakes and I ask for your forgiveness. I ask you to come into my life and be my Lord and Savior. Thank you for my salvation.”

When we finished, she was crying. I said, “If anyone else tells you that you are going to hell, you look them in the eye and say firmly, ‘I’ve called on the name of Jesus and He saved me by His blood on the cross. I’m going to heaven.’”

“Thank you so much,” she said, still crying. She hugged me, took her life into her own hands, and dashed into the nasty potty.

Potty Patrol was a success. I gave out 200 wipes and tracts. Next year, I’ll take more. People were grateful for the wipes and while a few refused the tracts, no one got mad. Many received Jesus right there by the smelly stalls and many more walked away reading the words of love. Our small group had 131 salvations and 41 people prayed with me directly to receive Jesus. We never know where God is going to use us. Our job is to say yes to God and to be content in all circumstances – even the smelly ones.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Nothing Shocks Me Anymore...Or So I Thought

By Cheryle M. Touchton
The Pocket Full of Quarters Lady

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; Heb 4:12 NIV

“I’ve seen so much on the road that nothing shocks me anymore,” I casually announced to a room full of people. Saying that was a bad idea. It was as if I had issued a challenge.

The Sojourner, Ron Fuller, had invited Ken Copeland Ministries and Pocket Full of Change Ministries to Manchester, Tennessee to participate in an evangelistic outreach to the 80,000+ crowds expected at the famous secular concert, Bonaroo. Ron Fuller is my mentor and has an amazing heart for God and ministry. In addition to being the pastor of their local home fellowship, The Sojourner mentors home churches and ministries all over the world. Visit Sojourners Hub.

Riley Stephenson from Ken Copeland Ministries was kind enough to bring training materials and tracts for the Sojourners to use. We began on Wednesday night with Riley leading evangelism training. Riley reminded the Sojourners that Jesus came to save and not condemn and that to evangelize meant to share good news. He said we were going to see shocking things. We were to stay positive and not debate or condemn. That was when I said the words that would come back to haunt me.

The next morning, we went to Bonaroo. It was amazing. In the middle of that dusty noisy field, many young people prayed to receive Jesus. I’d been walking for hours in 92 degree temperatures and was exhausted. I spotted The Sojourner sitting under a giant oak tree and dropped beside him to rest on the grass.

“How many steps have you taken?” a young woman asked. She’d noticed my pedometer. I turned around to answer her and didn’t see her boyfriend standing next to her.

“I’m over 16,000,” I said.

“Wow,” she said. “Do you always walk that many?”

“It depends,” I laughed. “I’m a Christian missionary and writer. When I’m on a mission trip, I almost always walk over 10,000 steps. When I’m back home writing, it stays under 5,000. I’m here at Bonaroo telling people that Jesus loves them and wants a relationship with them.”

She quickly lost interest but the word Jesus got her boyfriend’s attention.

“Jesus,” he slurred. “He’s cool. My girlfriend broke up with me last month and I was bummed. I cried out to Jesus to hold me and it felt like He did. I called my Mom and told her Jesus held me. I don’t understand it but ever since, I’ve been hearing about Jesus everywhere.” I resisted the temptation to remind him that since he was here with another girl, he hadn’t grieved for very long.

I followed his voice and as my eyes traveled upward, I saw bare feet, bare legs, and then, my eyes quickly moved past the only thing he was wearing - hot pink men’s bikini underwear with a bright yellow band. They left nothing to the imagination and covered little. I shuddered as I looked upward to notice the beer can in his hand.

I remembered my casual words from the night before and prayed, “God, is this a test? Maybe it is a joke.” Between the beer and the bikini, I was tempted to ignore the opportunity but I remembered Riley’s training from the night before. He’d reminded us that the word of God never returns void. I took a deep breath, shook off my shock, and proceeded with the process Riley had suggested.

“You called on the name of Jesus. That was serious and He heard you. In the Bible, Romans 3 says that all have sinned. Romans 6 says that the wages of sin is death and the gift of God is eternal life. Romans 10 says that all who call on the name of Jesus will be saved. We’re going to take care of that right now.” I had his full and amazingly sober attention. He leaned over to me and I had to choose between smelling the alcohol on his breath or taking the chance of seeing something I didn’t want to see again… beer-breath won by a landslide.

“Pray after me,” I instructed, staring deep into his eyes.

“Ok,” he soberly nodded.

Line by line, he repeated the following words. The entire time we were praying, his new girl friend was snapping pictures of him from behind.

“Dear Jesus, I believe in you. I believe you died on a cross and rose from the dead for me. I’ve made mistakes and I ask for your forgiveness. I ask you to come into my life and be my Lord and Savior. Thank you for my salvation.”

He said the words without any slur and I knew the word of God had indeed divided his soul and spirit and the Holy Spirit had reached this young man’s spirit in spite of the beer and his state of undress.

“You’ve just made the best decision of your life,” I said. I had to bite my tongue not to add, “Now, go put on some clothes.”

Instead, I said, “Chances are, you’re going to do everything you planned to do at this concert but pay close attention. It is going to feel differently now. You won’t enjoy it as much. The Holy Spirit is already working on you.”

He walked off trying to tell his uninterested girlfriend what he had done. I heard him saying Jesus repeatedly. The Sojourner, who’d been quiet until that moment said, “I saw that young man earlier. I noticed what he was wearing and asked God to help him. A few minutes later he is over here starting a conversation with you.”

“It’s a good thing you were here to witness this,” I joked. “Otherwise, no one would believe this story. I never should have said that nothing shocks me.” Hmmmm...Maybe now I can say nothing else could possibly shock me.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Once You're a Pickle, You Can't Go Back to Being a Cucumber

By Cheryle M. Touchton
The Pocket Full of Quarters Lady

If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” Romans 10:9-10

How can one simple prayer, “Jesus, I ask you to be my Lord and Savior,” make such a difference? I don’t completely understand it myself but I know it makes all the difference in this world and in eternity. I know it because the Bible says it and because of what I witness in people.

So many I meet have done the hard part but have stopped just short of becoming a Christ follower. They already believe the astounding facts that Jesus came to earth as a baby via a virgin birth, died on a cross, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven. Many go to church and some have even gone so far as to confess their sins to God or a priest.

They say they believe but then indicate that it isn’t enough. So what is missing? When I ask if they have invited Jesus to be their personal Lord and Savior, I often get blank or surprised stares. Sometimes, they mutter words that resemble, “Surely I have. I just don’t remember.”

“Oh, you’d remember if you had,” I answer. If I can get them to pray that simple prayer, their testimony to the power of that prayer is consistently the same. People who sincerely ask Jesus to be their Lord and Savior report that it changes them forever.

“Everything is different now. Things are calmer. Our family enjoys church. We all get along better. It all started with that prayer I prayed with you last year,” Michelle said in wonderment. She’d been updating me about everything that had happened in the year since she had prayed to ask Jesus to be her personal Savior. Michelle had already believed in Jesus and attended church sporadically. She tried reading the Bible but didn’t understand it. The problem was that she was trying to practice religion without ever having prayed to receive Jesus personally.

“Of course it all changed,” I said. “You prayed to receive Jesus. He entered your life. You’re different so everything is different. It’s like dipping cucumbers into vinegar. Once a cucumber becomes a pickle, it is changed forever.”

When I tell young children about becoming a Christian, I do an object lesson. First, we taste a cucumber. Next, we soak it in vinegar and taste the resulting pickle. I always ask, “Do you think this pickle can ever go back to being a cucumber?”

“Noooo,” they shout in unison.

“That is how it is when you pray to receive Jesus. Once you invite Him into your life, you can never go back to being a cucumber again. You are changed forever.”

Mallory told me the same story. She’d grown up in a Catholic church. When I met her on the first missionary journey in 2002, she believed in Jesus and had been baptized and confirmed. She’d never invited Jesus to be her personal savior. She was the first person Pocket Full of Change Ministries helped lead to Christ. I met her again in 2010 and she told me what had happened since that simple prayer. She’d gone from being a sad confused college student to becoming a committed Christian, church member, and student of the Bible. She’d graduated from college and had married a Christian man. Her transformation from cucumber to pickle was apparent in her glow.

Last week, I took a vacation with my sweet husband. I jokingly wrote on Facebook that since I was on vacation, I hoped others were telling people about Jesus. A few hours later, God assured me that other Christians were busily helping cucumbers become pickles. I sat in a restaurant in Maine and listened to the testimony of Heather, my server.

“My boss led me to Jesus. I don’t understand it but everything is different since I invited Jesus into my life. I feel different about everything. I already believed but now I know Him.”

“Of course everything is different,” I joked. “You’re a pickle instead of a cucumber. You’re changed forever.” At her confused look, I explained what I meant.

If you believe in Jesus but have never asked Him to be your personal Lord and Savior, you’re still a cucumber longing to be a pickle. Believing is the hard part but we also have to confess with our mouths. I beg you to pray this simple prayer: “God, I believe that Jesus came to earth as a baby, died on a cross, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven. I’m not perfect and have made so many mistakes. Please forgive my sins. Jesus, I invite You into my life to be my Lord and Savior. If any part of me doesn’t believe, help me in my unbelief. Thank you for my salvation. Amen”

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Top Ten Perks to Being a Christian Writer and Missionary

By Cheryle M. Touchton
The Pocket Full of Quarters Lady

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Phil 4:4 NIV

Recently, my Christian writer’s group asked us to come up with the perks of being a Christian writer. Eight years ago, I left a lucrative and exciting corporate career to answer God's call to ministry and writing. I had only planned a 2-month sojourn between executive jobs but life became so interesting, I forgot to job hunt. If you don’t job hunt, I suppose you never find a job. In those years, I’ve come to understand why God had to remind me to rejoice in all things.

Below are my “Top Ten Perks to Being a Christian Writer and Missionary”

1. I am no longer tempted by the "evils" of money.

2. Since I spend much of my life in campgrounds, I really enjoy nice

3. I can't always get showers on the road so I now appreciate showers.
It is a real bonus when they are clean, hot, and bug-free.

4. I now have an outlet for the stories running around in my head so I let
others talk at parties and in Bible studies.

5. My husband makes more money than I do, which is really good for his male ego. (He has offered to get over the ego thing in exchange for my former salary.)

6. My own ego is kept in check by humiliating book signings where people walk by me while avoiding eye contact.

7. If the writing thing doesn't work out, book signings have prepared me to work booths at carnivals.

8. The galleys I deal with are less fattening then the galleys of yachts and cruise ships. (Galleys are the type set proof copy that writers review just before a book goes to press.)

9. I spend so much time with my dog that I hear her voice. My readers
like her voice better than mine.

10. My clothes cost a lot less and are more comfortable and interesting.

I loved my last job and I love this one. In fact, I rejoice in this job. I love being with people when they pray to receive Jesus. I love people saying my books helped. Would you believe I almost rejoice in the Lord when showering with bugs? I once showered with a mouse and discovered just how well Baptists could really dance.