Jul 17

Our Savior Lutheran in Columbia Falls holds plant and pie sale to benefit Intermountain

We are so grateful for our ever-expanding network of supporting churches, and are especially thankful for the recent efforts by Our Savior Lutheran Church in Columbia Falls. They held a pie and plant sale where half of the proceeds went to support the work of Intermountain. The other half of the proceeds went to support the youth servant team atPlant-sale-1 the church that will be taking a trip to Seattle later in the year.

Members of the church were invited to help the effort by bringing plants from their yards and garden, as well as baking yummy pies for sale! Thrivent Financial also got into the act thanks to members of the congregation, and there were raffled items as well. Open to the public, the traffic was good and the sales were fruitful! The final profits from the sale totaled more than $1900! Wow… that’s a lot of daisies, geraniums and berry pie!

Elizabeth Nauertz and Tonya Erickson organized the sale and made sure everything went off without a hitch. We appreciate their leadership in the Pie and Plant Sale, as well as all the members of Our Savior’s Lutheran. We are thankful for all those who purchased plants and pies to support Intermountain and the Youth servant team’s trip to Seattle. Members Doug Knapton, Judy Windauer and Sherry Grogan helped with the plant stands and the raffles. Finally, we are thankful for all the others who helped make the event happen: Krista Conger, Wendy Davis, Laura Mills-Nelson, Dawn Baumgartner, Joyce Baltz, Dave Soleim and Janet Reindl.

Their efforts will make it possible for Intermountain to continue bringing hope and help for children and their families in the Flathead area and throughout Montana.

The people of Our Savior's Lutheran made and sold a LOT of pie!

The people of Our Savior Lutheran made and sold a LOT of pie!

Jul 10

Was Jesus’ ministry “trauma-informed?” [Part 2] Recognizing the signs and symptoms of trauma

There is a movement that is beginning to take shape across the country when it comes to ministry settings: becoming trauma-informed. The topic concerns churches that are interested in missional engagement with the culture because there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that if we can break the cycle of adversity in childhood we can help everyone experience “life to the full” as Jesus intended (John 10:10). In part one of this series, I pointed out Jesus’ particular concern with the oppressed and those who lack hope in their present circumstance. Beyond his simply asking that the “little children come unto him,” Jesus would be concerned with the conditions that persist in our culture that perpetuate childhood trauma (Luke 18:16).rachel-older

While each person internalizes potentially traumatic experiences differently, and not all trauma equates to a life-time of difficulties, clearly it is in best interest of any society to do what it can to alleviate childhood suffering, neglect, and abuse. Jesus made it clear where he stood in regards to protecting children from the evils of the world when he said it would be better off for someone to have “a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” than to cause a child to stumble (Matthew 18:6). While I particularly focus on a trauma-informed ministry approach when it comes to working with children, youth, and their families, the principles I will address are transferrable to any population. May the reader forgive my emphasis on children, because it is not only my area of ministry focus, but I sense it represents the church’s best hope in alleviating suffering by breaking the generational cycle of adversity and traumatic experience that then makes the rest of life very difficult.

In the first post in the series, I focused only the first identifier of a trauma-informed ministry: the realization of the widespread impact of trauma and potential paths for recovery. In this second post, I will look at how Jesus recognized the signs and symptoms of trauma in those he not only interacted with, but then became followers themselves of his life and teachings.

As a reminder of the full context of this point within the larger definition of “trauma-informed” practices, I will repeat part of what was discussed in my earlier post. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the concept of a trauma-informed approach would mean that “a program, organization, or system that is trauma-informed:

  1. Realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery;
  2. Recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system;
  3. Responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices; and
  4. Seeks to actively resist re-traumatization.”

A trauma-informed approach to ministry starts with the realization of the widespread impact of trauma. Certainly, if a church or ministry is not aware or is in denial of the problem posed by adversity in childhood, toxic stress, and the effects of trauma on whose they minister too, it cannot properly address potential paths for recovery and healing. Secondly, and perhaps a much more practical point to address for churches and faith-communities seeking to be trauma-informed, is the ability to recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma in those they seek to minister to!

Jesus_and_NicodemusJesus knew the tremendous brokenness of the world, and he knew the power of the Kingdom of Heaven to address the needs of people traumatized by the evil of this world and the effect of sin. Because Jesus new the pervasiveness of the effects of this brokenness, one might say that what an individual first presented in attitude, speech, and actions did not disqualify them from an encounter with the divine and an opportunity to embrace healing and wholeness. In fact, I believe it can be seen in Scripture that it is far more likely that a traumatized and hurting individual will fully respond to the invitation Jesus extends than those that may not immediately recognize their need. To flesh out this dynamic in Jesus’ ministry, I’d like to compare and contrast Jesus’ interactions with the learned Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council, and the Samaritan woman at the well (you can find the full context of these stories in John’s gospel, Chapter 3 and 4). Jesus understands that both Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman need something only he can offer, but his knowledge of their situation—his “recognition of the signs and symptoms” of trauma, if you will—shapes the way he interacts with them in turn. Because the gospel of John tells the story first of Nicodemus, I’ll start there. (The next post in this series will address Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman, as unfortunately this post is already long enough!!)

There is a lot that can be said about this encounter between Nicodemus and Jesus, but for our purposes we simply want to look at the interaction between two people and in particular how Jesus responds to Nicodemus. It should tell us something about Jesus’ interaction with people like Nicodemus and if that approach can be said to be trauma-informed. Does Jesus recognize any “signs and symptoms” within Nicodemus that might point to trauma or any other adversity? Here are a few observances:

  • Nicodemus is coming from a position of power and influence. He initiates the conversation.
  • Nicodemus speaks first, complimenting Jesus. Nicodemus attributes Jesus’ work to his having “come from God.”
  • Jesus responds by challenging Nicodemus, speaking of God’s Kingdom and the need to be born again.
  • Nicodemus, rather than admit his confusion, throws out an objection to Jesus’ statement.
  • Jesus recognizes Nicodemus’ defensiveness and a signal that he is confused and surprised. Jesus asks Nicodemus to grasp something of spiritual significance rather than focusing on just the physical.
  • Nicodemus releases some of his defensiveness by simply asking, “How can this be?” Clearly, any perceived power in this interaction has shifted from Nicodemus to Jesus.
  • Jesus challenges Nicodemus’ foundations on which he has built his self-identity: position, power, knowledge, the ability as a “ruler” to judge.

What can be gleaned from this? Well, I’d like to point out that not all people walking around with trauma, or high “ACE” scores (adverse childhood experiences like abuse or neglect), are going to present as the lowly or the trouble-ridden! There are enough socially acceptable ways to cope with stress, even toxic stress, that we might first miss someone who has deep emotional pain in our faith community. Perfectionism, high standards and ideals, and worldly success often mask deep insecurities which have their root in unsettled feelings of shame and self-loathing.

Jesus’ willingness to cut through all the fine theological discussion he might have had with Nicodemus (the proverbial “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”) suggests that he Jesus is aware of the insecurities that can be masked by position and power. Certainly, we have no way of knowing Nicodemus’ childhood, but Jesus’ insistence to discuss matters of the Spirit rather than focusing on the physical impossibility of being “born again” could indicate that he sees a deeper need within this nighttime visitor than mere intellectual enlightenment.

I hope you’ll continue with me on this exploration of trauma-informed principles as they apply to the ministry of Jesus! We’ve just scratched the surface, and there is much more to investigate. Next time, we’ll finish up our look at the ways Jesus approached the traumatized people he encountered, recognizing the signs and symptoms of trauma in their lives by examining Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well in John, chapter 4.

Jul 03

Happy Independence Day!

patriotic-thank-you

“Thank you for helping Intermountain. It’s helping kids. God bless you.” -an Intermountain child.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again…” Galatians 5:1

As we celebrate the Fourth of July, Intermountain and the Chaplain’s Department wish you the greatest freedom that can be known—the freedom to be all you were meant to be as God’s beloved child! Our children in residential care, as well as the many children Intermountain serves through its community based services, are working hard for freedom from shame, negative self-image, substance abuse, and darkness in their past. It’s a difficult work, but they are doing it with God’s help and the care of parents, foster parents, case workers, therapists, counselors, and more.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 2 Corinthians 3:17

Just as it took an army and war had to be waged for our country to be founded in freedom, every day is a battle for the hearts, minds, and souls of children. Thank you for being a part of the “Intermountain Army”—bringing freedom with you to those who are hurting. As God has blessed us and blessed America, we are working together to make that blessing a reality for EVERY child in our midst.

Thank you,

Chaplain Chris Haughee

 

Jun 25

Work and Play Day with Counselors from FLBC!

cirlce-games

Jonah, Sam, Ian, Nicki, and Kelly–five awesome counselors from Flathead Lake Bible Camp–came for a special visit to campus on June 14th. They were in town serving St. John’s Lutheran Church by running their Vacation Bible School, and decided that after a full day of fun with the children of St. John’s, they’d like to come up and see what Intermountain’s Residential program is all about!

explaining the game, "Grizzly-Trout-Mosquito"

explaining the game, “Grizzly-Trout-Mosquito”

The weather was a little iffy, so were gathered for games in the multi-purpose room to start out. We learned two new circle games: “Have you seen my cat?” and “Grizzly-Trout-Mosquito!” The children had a lot of fun, and Chaplain Chris added to his repertoire of games too! From there, children were excused to their cottages while Chaplain Chris gave our visitors a brief history of Intermountain, what our approach to residential treatment is, and how the chaplain’s program fits in. Jonah, Sam, Ian, Nicki, and Kelly were all very impressed by the dedication of our staff and the mission of Intermountain. As members of the ELCA, they were proud to hear that they were already a part of our newest supporting denomination!

After the quick orientation and discussion with Chaplain Chris, they split up to hang out with Bridger and Beta cottages for the evening and ate dinner with staff and kids. The menu for the evening was meatball subs, which went over–or should we say ‘down?’–well! The kids enjoyed a chance to entertain guests and share a little about themselves. The direct care staff also answered questions and helped our guests understand just

Huddling up to explain a game

Huddling up to explain a game

how the treatment model gets “fleshed out” in day-to-day living in the cottage and school.

Finally, as if that weren’t already enough, our friends from FLBC also helped sort some donations and do a quick inventory of clothing and shoes in our donations room with Gabi, our Donations Coordinator. By the time their visit ended, Jonah, Sam, Nicki and Kelly all had smiles on their faces and gratitude in their hearts for the opportunity to see first hand what all the hard work in Intermountain’s mission and ministry results in–hope and healing for children and their families. Who knows, just maybe after all their college studies we’ll see a few of them back in Montana, working for Intermountain?

After the games and dinner, these hearty counselors worked in the donations room!

After the games and dinner, these hearty counselors worked in the donations room!

Jun 17

Was Jesus’ Ministry “Trauma-informed?” [part 1]

I have written before about a growing trend in education, mental health, social services, and health care that has now extended to ministry settings: becoming trauma-informed. Trauma results when we experience something as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening. A traumatic event, circumstance or series of events leaves a lasting effect on our ability to experience “life to the full” as Jesus intended (John 10:10). Adversity, and particularly traumatic stress in childhood, leaves us scarred—affecting our mental, physical, social, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Trauma, adversity and toxic stress are profoundly individualized phenomena, as each individual internalizes difficult circumstances, including abuse and neglect, differently.

As a Christian, everything I encounter that purports to impact ministry must run through a fairly simply lens: is it scriptural, and can I see it as something Jesus would endorse? These are important considerations if my ministry is to remain focused on its at-Custerfundamental purpose and calling: to expand the Kingdom of God as embodied in Jesus’ ministry. I imagine my personal concern is shared with many other leaders in the Church when considering the trauma-informed movement: was Jesus and his ministry “trauma-informed?”

That question entails more than it might seem at first blush, and since a large part of my work is advocacy and empowerment of local churches to meet the needs of hurting children and families in their communities, I want to properly answer the question. Therefore, I plan on take a series of posts to work through the framework provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and examine it point by point in light of Jesus’ ministry as recorded in Scripture. In this first post in the series, I will focus only on the first identifier of a trauma-informed ministry: the realization of the widespread impact of trauma and potential paths for recovery.

So you, the reader, can see the full context of this point, I will reiterate the definition provided in my earlier post. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the concept of a trauma-informed approach would mean that “a program, organization, or system that is trauma-informed:

  1. Realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery;
  2. Recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system;
  3. Responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices; and
  4. Seeks to actively resist re-traumatization.”

A trauma-informed approach to ministry starts with the realization of the widespread impact of trauma. Certainly, if a church or ministry is not aware or is in denial of the problem posed by adversity in childhood, toxic stress, and the effects of trauma on whose they minister too, it cannot properly address potential paths for recovery and healing.

I believe it can be shown that Jesus was trauma-informed through any and all of these points, but especially this first one. Jesus knew the tremendous brokenness of the world, and he knew the power of the Kingdom of Heaven to address the needs of people traumatized by the evil of this world and the effect of sin. This idea comes forth in the first words we hear spoken by Jesus, and an important teaching which announced the beginning of his formal ministry.

Those first words of Jesus? “The time has come… The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15, NIV).

That announcement of Jesus to inaugurate and frame his ministry? Jesus had gone returned to Galilee after his baptism and testing in the wilderness. He entered into the synagogue he grew up in, in his hometown of Nazareth. He stood up to read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah on the Sabbath, finding the place where it is written:

picture from freebibleimages.org

picture from freebibleimages.org

“’The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4:17-21, NIV).

These two instances of Jesus’ announcement of his role in bringing in the Kingdom of God show that he was, indeed, “trauma-informed” in the sense that he recognized the widespread impact of trauma and understood the paths to recovery! I also love the balance that these two teachings contain. One shows the need for personal volition in the healing process, as the need to repent—to turn from—one way of living and relating to the world is emphasized. The second shows that the “good news” of the Kingdom of God was centered in a redeeming work that goes beyond just personal salvation—it’s a work that addresses the wrongs done to the poor, those who are imprisoned, and proclaims freedom to those under oppression. This was a work that would be done through the Kingdom of God, as an expression of the Lord’s favor, initiated by God for the benefit of all who turn to God for help.

Jesus recognized the tremendous need of those “harassed and helpless” who desperately needed good news, and compassionately engaged them in love. He gave not only of himself, ultimately to the point of death on the cross, but also pleaded with his followers to join him in meeting the need of a world traumatized by sin and the brokenness it produces in human relationships. As he said to his disciples then, he voices the same call, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:36-38, NIV).

I hope you’ll continue with me on this exploration of trauma-informed principles as they apply to the ministry of Jesus! We’ve just scratched the surface, and there is much more to investigate. Next time, we’ll look at the ways Jesus approached the traumatized people he encountered, recognizing the signs and symptoms of trauma in their lives.

 

© Chaplain Chris Haughee, www.intermountainministry.org

Jun 10

How we see ourselves–a lesson from Providence home

The ministry at Providence Home is powerful, organic, and fluid. The team in our Flathead location has the challenge of meeting the children’s spiritual and cultural needs without the breadth of support that the Helena campus has. Regardless, there is something to be said for the creative energy that comes from Providence Home’s spontaneously meeting the needs of the children in the moment, rather than having a chaplain and a weekly program to rely upon!

Recently, Charli Wells, one of the counselors at Providence Home, shared this beautiful reflection upon a practice she has taken up with the children on Saturday mornings. She writes:

“A couple weeks ago at work, I started a new Saturday morning check-in with the kiddos. Now, I can’t get it out of my head, they love it, and we do it every Saturday morning as something to strive for.

questioning child-creative commons

(c) creative commons

The check-in question was as simple as this…’when people think of you or talk about you… what is one word that you would want them to think or say?’

This has been heavy on my heart and mind as I hear the words they say such as kind, pleasant, strong, caring and loyal.

Its pretty clear what I was trying to get them to start thinking about as they interact with another but really, it got me thinking.

What is a word I want people to think of when I am brought up in thoughts and conversation?

What are some words you would want people to say about you?” -Charli Wells.

Great question! I know that when I think of the many faith-based supporters of Intermountain the words that come to mind for me are: faithful, supportive, and encouraging. There are many more descriptors I could use, but I think you know how truly grateful we are for the love, support, and prayers you send our way. Your support helps us continue the mission and ministry of Intermountain, both in Helena and the Flathead!

I am thankful for the hard work of the Providence Home staff as they meet the spiritual and cultural needs of the children in their care. They have a deep faith in the healing power of the work they are doing each day with some very challenging kids. I know you are likely already praying for the children… would you please remember the Providence Home staff in your prayers as they work to bring healing and hope to the children they serve?

Jun 02

Flashback Friday: Rainbows in June

[this post originally appeared on this site in June of 2014, but it’s a message worth sharing again! Blessings, Chaplain Chris Haughee]

Those who have lived in Helena, Montana for a while quickly learn that June is our wettest month. Just about the time we’re ready to go stir crazy from another long winter, we get a wet and late-coming Spring. June is likely to bring a thunderstorm to your picnic in the park, and thus venturing out in this fickle month is an act of faith.

But, as has been said, without the rain you cannot have the beauty of the rainbow. 99% of the time people say this phrase while speaking metaphorically. What is meant is that without some disappointment or difficulty in our lives we wouldn’t appreciate the beautiful moments fully. What is a pithy turn of phrase that might help us get through a minimally aggravating day can seem to mock us when real tragedy hits. If you have just lost a loved one or are experiencing a recent diagnosis of cancer, the phrase “without the rain there would be no rainbow” is as likely to push you away from life’s beauty as it is to draw you in.

The children at Intermountain know their fair share of difficult times, as do the staff that attend to them. In this setting, one learns quickly to avoid the saccharine sweetness common to greeting cards and popular media. Pain hurts. Separation wounds. What’s broken sometimes cannot be repaired… at least not to what it was before. The storms of life sometimes crowd out the sun to the point where a rainbow is just a dream. All can truly seem lost is moments of despair.

But then… the sun does break through. The still, small, and gentle voice of God is heard between the peals of thunder. In these moments, a rainbow brings with it the good news that God’s promise remains: We will never be left completely alone. If all should fail us, God will remain. This gives us reason to hope, reason to trust, and reason to love again. This is good news worth sharing!

Recently, our children had the opportunity to share the reasons they were thankful in the midst of their storms. They wrote their prayers of thanksgiving on multi-colored foam feet that were displayed as a rainbow on the wall of our multi-purpose room where we meet for chapel services. They thanked God for Jesus, for family, for friends, for staff, for teachers, for love, and for hope. Their words inspired all of us that walked by the rainbow this Spring to think of reasons we have to be thankful. I was challenged to consider the good news that the rainbow does bring—behind the clouds of our despair, the sun still shines, and someday soon it will break through and once again give us its light.

Good News Rainbow

May 27

“No Greater Love” a reflection on John 15:9-17 for Memorial Day

9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17 This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:9-17)

 

It’s Memorial Day Weekend, and we think of and remember those who have paid the ultimate price in service to their country. But even before that ultimate sacrifice, think of the sacrifice, dedication, and hard work that it took for them to become fighting men and women! Basic Training was just the beginning!!  How would they have performed in their duties if they had not maintained an ongoing effort to be the best they could be?

I think some of our modern concepts of what it means to be a Christian have hurt us when it comes to understanding the ongoing effort required by love. By focusing on the decision someone needs to make to follow Christ, a decision that IS necessary to become a Christian, we have raised a generation of believers who don’t understand the cost of discipleship.

Just as basic training is the initiation into a lifestyle of being a soldier, the new birth in Christ that comes at conversion is just the first step on the way of discipleship. That way of discipleship is the way of the cross… Jesus said, “any who would come after me needs to take up his or her OWN cross and follow!”  Those that don’t remain in Christ fall away because they don’t remain in his love… when the troubles of life come, they think it is because they have failed or believe God is failing them!  Nothing could be further from the truth… for love to remain, it must be tested, tried, and proven true.  It takes WORK.

(c) creative commons

(c) creative commons

And, why should we doubt that love takes work? What does God’s Word say it cost to show his love for us? Jesus’ death on the cross! Memorial Day weekend is a great time for us to remember that it takes work to achieve love that results in joy.

In the 1996 movie “Jerry Maguire,” there is an interesting commentary on the role of “work” in a loving relationship. Jerry and Dorothy, the main characters, are on their first ‘date.’ Jerry is angry at himself for not working hard enough on his last relationship (which had just broken up).  There is a long pause…

Dorothy consoles him by saying, ‘but maybe love shouldn’t be such hard work’ to which Jerry replies, “yeah, maybe so.”

That’s the tension we feel in relationships, isn’t it? We want to feel loved, but we know love takes work to nurture and grow, but then the work or labor of love becomes just work without love, and the joy we had in the relationship leaves.  We feel cheated… hurt.  We desire love, but we desire that love to be given freely… not out of obligation.

But, what if our sense that someone was loving us only out of obligation was more a problem of our perception than of reality?  I think our history as a nation provides some guidance…

Memorial Day, originally known as “decoration day” began on the 5th of May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11 which said:

“The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.”

It was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.

Do we minimize the sacrifice and love shown by our war dead by saying, “Well… they were soldiers. They had to know it might cost them their lives, right?”  Certainly not!  No soldier sacrifices their life because they are obligated to.  They lay down their lives in defense of those they love.

Jesus said the same… did you hear him in the lesson today? Did he die for the sins of the world because it was his obligation as the Messiah?  Because the Father told him to?  Did the Spirit compel him?  No.  It was his determination to love us—his friends—to the very end.  This is what love demands! Jesus tells his disciples:

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (verses 12-15)

The good news for those of us who realize that we need to work at our capacity to express love is that Jesus tells us how to do it.  There are four things we can do to fulfill what love demands:

First: “Follow the Leader” (v. 12)

Jesus commands us to “love each other as I have loved you.” Who is his audience?  His disciples. You and I are Jesus’ disciples, so we can assume He is speaking to the church.  If the church is struggling, it is because we are not loving one another well. Period. It’s not the pastor’s fault, the youth group or children’s ministries shortcomings, the organ/praise team/choir, it’s not the lack of money, the size of the building, or how accessible the parking is. It’s LOVE, or the lack of it. The love of Christ shown through his people draws others in.  If we can’t love better than the world, the world will not be drawn to our Savior.  Let us follow Jesus’ example of sacrificial love.

Second: Sacrifice (v. 13)

Verse 13 is the cornerstone verse of this passage. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” This Memorial Day weekend, we think of the men and women who laid down their lives for our benefit. They sacrificed to the same degree, and out of the same motivation that our Lord did. There is no greater love.  In this cynical age it is fashionable to question everything, even the motivations of those who serve our country in the armed forces. I strongly believe this is wrong… Question the cause for which we fight if you must, but do not question the honorable men and women that are doing their duty as they serve.

But this message isn’t just about how we look at soldiers and service men and women… because, every one of us is called to lay down our lives. Every time we put another’s interests before our own, we are laying ourselves and our interests down for our friends—our brothers and our sisters in Christ.  Selfishness and sacrifice cannot coexist.  One will win out over the other and will be our motivation.  And, if sacrifice loses, so does love.

Third: Obedience (v. 14)

Obedience. Funny that this should be the next point of instruction. It is hard to be selfish and obedient at the same time. You can pull it off for a while, but will eventually lead to resentment. And honestly, some of us act as though we resent Jesus’ call to obedience.  We act as though it were a burden!

Verse 14 reads, “You are my friends if you do what I command.”

Friendship and obedience seem antithetical to us. If one party or the other requires obedience in a friendship, it isn’t a friendship, right?

I think about some of the reading I’ve done over the years about the bond developed between fighting men and women in our armed services. Band of Brothers, The Wild Blue, and Flags of our Fathers are three of my favorites.  Despite the rigorous chain of command and necessity to obey orders, the friendships formed between these soldiers are among the strongest I have witnessed. These men and women know that obedience and friendship are not antithetical.  Let us learn from their wisdom and obey our Lord’s command which is, after all, for our good: Love God and Love one another.

Fourth: Trust (v. 15)

Jesus calls us his friends because he has made the will of the Father known to us. Jesus’ kingdom business is now our business. The mission objective of our Lord and Savior is now ours to carry out. This is tremendous trust. Trust is a sure sign of love. Where there is a lack of trust, there is a lack of love.  And, likewise, love… real love… demands that we trust.

At some point, we must make that choice. Be open and vulnerable, and choose to follow Christ’s lead, sacrifice, obey, and trust. This brings us to my last point: because we have been chosen, we have a choice to make. Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other” (verse 16-17).

God chose us in Jesus Christ! Wow! But what is most remarkable is that God chose us in Christ while we were still in our sin. Romans 5:5-11 points out that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” We were his enemies because of our sin, yet he laid down his life.

And how can our response to that kind of love be anything less than our all—our everything? How can we hold onto petty grievances and arguments about things that don’t matter in the course of eternity?  This is why I believe with all my heart that, God’s love compels us to choose love (v. 17). That is the choice we have, each and every one of us, today. Will we choose to love?

Thank you for considering this passage with me today, its importance to our lives, and its relevance to this Memorial Day weekend. I would like to close with a short story by Max Lucado, called “Come Home,” that shows the power grace can wield when we choose to love:

Maria had a beautiful daughter named Christina who wanted to leave their poor little village to enjoy the bright lights of Rio de Janeiro. Knowing her mother would never give her permission to leave, Christina packed a few things and left home one morning before dawn, leaving just a note behind. Maria, the mother, was heartbroken.

Maria quickly packed some things to go in search of her daughter. She stopped at a drugstore on the way to the bus station and spent most of her money having pictures of herself made in the photography booth. Maria knew Christina had no way of earning money, and she also knew that her daughter was too stubborn to ever give up. So Maria searched in the worst parts of Rio de Janeiro, her heart breaking knowing that her daughter would have to do unthinkable things just to be able to survive. At each place Maria stopped-street corners, lobbies of seedy hotels, bathroom mirrors—she would write a note on the back of a picture of herself, a photo, and tape it up for everybody to see.

It didn’t take long for the money and the pictures to run out, so eventually Maria had to return to her village without Christina, heartsick that her daughter was lost in that urban jungle of Rio.

A month later, Christina descended the hotel stairs of one of those seedy hotels, her young face tired, her bright eyes faded and dull, her countenance fallen—a broken person now full of fear and pain.

A thousand times she had longed to trade countless beds that weren’t her own for her secure pallet back home in her little village. Now her little village seemed so far away in so many ways… lost to her forever.

As Christina reached the bottom of the stairs, she noticed something familiar. There on the lobby bulletin board was a photo of her mother. Christina’s eyes burned and her throat tightened. She removed the picture and written on the back of the photo was this message from her mother, Maria: “Christina, whatever you’ve done, wherever you’ve been, it doesn’t matter. Please come home.” And she did.

Have you come home? Whatever you’ve done, wherever you’ve been… it doesn’t matter.  Jesus is calling, “Come home!”

And, if you’ve come home… will you join in the work of seeking and saving the lost? For every Christine that feels far

(c) creative commons

(c) creative commons

from God, unlovable and unredeemable… there should be a Maria; someone willing to lay down their lives, their priorities, and make the sacrifices that love demands to be Christ’s hands and feet.  There is no greater love.

Finally, I would ask that you make room in your hearts and in your prayers for the children and families served by Intermountain. Many of them feel lost and without hope. They need to know they are loved. We can show them, by laying down our lives, giving of ourselves, and sacrificing on their behalf. May God bless you this Memorial Day weekend and always.

May 24

African Children’s Choir visits Helena Campus

bus-parked

Every once in a while, a unique and special opportunity presents itself for the children of Intermountain to connect with other children who have experienced many of the same difficulties they must face, even if their stories started on opposite sides of the globe. Such was the case when Chaplain Chris Haughee was able to arrange for the African Children’s Choir to come and visit campus while they were in Montana on their West Coast tour of the United States. While Intermountain started from the hard work of the Deaconesses rallying around Brother Van’s call that the suffering of children not go unanswered, a similar vision birthed a ministry on the African continent. Here is just a part of that story:

Thirty years ago, Ray Barnett was on a humanitarian trip to war-torn Uganda when he gave a small boy a ride from his decimated home to the safety of another village. During the journey, the child did what he knew how to do best–he sang. That simple song of dignity and hope became the catalyst for a program, that has changed the lives of thousands of children and reshaped the future of the African continent.

“When I went back to Canada and people were not very interested in Uganda, I remembered this small boy,” Ray explained. “I knew that if only a group of these beautiful children could go to the West, people would be deeply moved and would certainly want to help.” From this the African Children’s Choir was born.African Children Choir1

The African Children’s Choir is composed of African children, aged 7 to 10 years old. Many have lost one or both parents through the devastation of war, famine and disease. They represent all the children of the continent and demonstrate the potential of African children to become strong leaders for a better future in their land.

the children warmed up for their concert on the bus and got to hear a little bit about the ministry of Intermountain from Chaplain Chris

the children warmed up for their concert on the bus and got to hear a little bit about the ministry of Intermountain from Chaplain Chris

Tour leader Eva, choir director Mary, and pastor Jeffrey accompanied the children to Intermountain’s Helena campus on May 16th for an intimate concert for our children in residence and day treatment kids. The children were from 5 different tribes from all over Uganda who had gathered to be part of the school in Kampala from which the choir originated. They sang in their native language as well as English, and their energetic dancing stirred all of those in attendance.

A unique part of this particular concert was that our children got to share a song of thanks and welcome, too, and then were able to meet and greet the children individually at the conclusion of the time together. It may or may not be true that Chaplain Chris picked up some new dance moves from a few of the children in the choir! Regardless everyone had a wonderful time and enjoyed getting to see and hear a beautiful expression of the Ugandan culture.Choir-warm-up

May 20

New Horizons back again for Spring Concert in chapel

Nancy-conductingNancy Trudell, Intermountain Board member, coordinated with Chaplain Chris to once again bring the New Horizons Community Band to a Tuesday chapel time in May.  The band has visited campus a number of times before, each time bringing energy and enthusiasm to their music and their interaction with kids and staff.

The band is made up of 52 community members, from a variety of backgrounds, ages and experience who enjoy playing together.  This most recent visit to campus was especially fun, because the program consisted of music from Star Wars, which is VERY popular with our children in residence. They also played a medley of Disney songs featuring tunes from a Jungle Book to The Little Mermaid. The closing piece was the theme to Pirates of the Caribbean, and Nancy herself conducted while wearing a pirate’s hat and wig!

Chaplain Chris billed the Spring Concert as a special visit from New Horizons, complete with “instrument petting zoo!” It was fun to hear from the children what they expected the “petting zoo” to be. Though no animals were involved, all of the children’s eyes lit up when they learned that they would get a chance to play trumpets, child-plays-saxpercussion, trombones, and other instruments. It was entertaining to watch one of our littlest girls on campus play a Baritone Saxophone that was as tall as she was… and she was delighted when the band members moved the keys and she played a few notes!

The children enjoy the relationships they have built with the band members by this point, some of them having seen the band a few times during their treatment now. And, of course the band members love the interaction with the children. You can see from the smile in the picture to the right just how much fun we have amidst all the noise!

Chaplain Chris was asked by one of the kids during the introduction time: “What does music have to do with chapel and God?” Chaplain Chris’ response, “Well, who do you suppose invented music and puts the songs in the hearts and minds of the composers? I think God smiles when he sees you try something new, play and instrument you have never seen before, and feel good about it… don’t you?” And, to that, all in attendance agreed and said a hearty amen!

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