Saturday, February 24, 2007

Spotlight on... Women's Conference

I spent two hours last night and eight hours today at the 5th annual women's conference at my place of worship, Church For All Nations/CFAN ( Instead of having a big name keynoter this year, Vernita Porter (women's ministry leader at CFAN) elected to spotlight the mighty women of God who have ongoing ministries at CFAN. It was a truly amazing couple of days.

At the outset, I figured I would just take in a few hours, since some of the topics didn't seem to be of major interest to me personally. I've been single all my life and without customary addictions to smoking, drugs, sex or booze, so Divorce Care and Celebrate Recovery weren't on my radar as topics I figured I needed to know more about, but once I was in place, I was captivated by all of the topics. The love, compassion and enormous passion of the nine speakers held me in thrall much like a tractor beam on TREK! I wish more people had taken advantage of the combined wisdom of these dedicated women and attended the event. Those of us who did were certainly blessed.

The theme this year was Who Am I in Christ? The event gave attendees foundational, real-life tools and information that enable us to achieve the things that God has placed in our hearts. I think we all came away with the solid conviction that God's reach far exceeds our own personal grasp and that any goal for which we have an unquenchable thirst is on His agenda as well, as long as it is good, true, pure, lovely, and of good report (Phil. 4:8).

The event started out with an amazing skit that ran a good half hour -- about the effects of a praying grandmother on the life and eventual salvation of a good-hearted but wayward daughter, from age five or six to age 50. What we weren't aware of until the end of the conference was that the skit was based on Women's Ministry Leader Vernita Porter's chaotic and heartbreaking journey through life toward wholeness as a fully-surrendered adopted daughter of the Most High. When we found that out (and a little bit more about her life that was not in the skit), I don't think there was a dry eye in the house.

After Kim Armit spoke of God's call on lives, expressing the difference between being "called up" and "called out" by God using examples from the life of Moses, Dianne Huntsman came to the platform to explain the attributes and power of a confident woman. She stated that we feel confident when we feel we can be authentic and real, and not have to hide behind any kind of mask. Confident women (and men) exude quiet or kinetic positive energy and use gifts and talents unselfishly and humbly for the most part, recognizing that these attributes are provided by God and are intended by Him to be shared to bless others and bring a semblance of heaven to earth. She said that fear comes from the enemy (Satan and his minions) and prevents our progress, and that far too many people with enormous talent and giftings hide them due to shyness or a feeling that they don't "measure up" (aren't perfect). She encouraged us to listen to the passionate desires of our hearts and to step out in faith, and know that God is standing with us and clearing the way for us to reach our goals as long as they are in alignment with the love He wants emanating to the world in an effect to woo His wayward children back into a real relationship with Him.

Ann Garcia was next to talk about the Celebrate Recovery ministry she and her husband Jose facilitate at CFAN. She exuded energy and passion as she reminded us that (Gen 1:26,27) we were created to be God's image-bearers. When Moses asked God at the burning bush, "Who am I to lead the Israelites out of bondage?" God responded, "I will be with you." So, by extension, what this tells us is that the answer to "Who am I?" is, "Someone God is with." That certainly lends a sense of security and provision, doesn't it!

Then she asked us to take thirty seconds and define the word addiction. Being a writer, I think I got pretty close when I defined it as, "A self-perceived inability to control an appetite or habit of some sort (generally used to indicate something detrimental to us)."

Ann defined it Biblically: "Slavery to a habit or to an idol."

She said that II Cor. 6:16 states that false idols and holy temples cannot co-exist, and says God cannot co-habitate inside a temple that is worshipping false gods, ungodly appetites, or unhealthy habits.

Then she pretty much blew us out of the water by asking us to list some addictions and then eliminated our use of the usual suspects: alcohol, drugs, junk food, sex, porn...

As we pondered additional, less-well-known examples, she queried, "How about Survivor, Tom Cruise, Wheel of Fortune, crossword puzzles, cell phones, PCs, email, your husband? How about a wrong self-image? Yes, even a self-image that you obsess over -- cellulite, crooked teeth, fat thighs -- can be false idols. Why? Because in any of these areas we may invest so much time thinking about them and how they make you feel instead of thinking about how God feels and how much he loves you and wants to spend time with you."

Then she said, with reference to the body-image or other "imperfect me" self-doubts we have,"Who are we to decide God didn't build us exactly right? We are fearfully and wonderfully made! He was there when we were knit together in the womb..."

Ann said, in effect, that no one except God (in collaboration with the person in question) has the right to define another person's calling on his or her life, because we are all called uniquely by God to perform certain functions, in the way a knee is called to perform the functions of a knee and a breast is created to nourish an infant...

Then she asked us to take 30 seconds and write down our definition of the word recovery. I wrote, "Self-mastery (in Christ)." She said the Merriam-Webster definition is this: "To save from loss and return to usefulness," and cited 1 Peter 5:10-11: "The God of all grace will restore you," and added Romans 8:29 " the likeness of His Son." God wants to restore our ability to walk in the world and to inoculate the world with the love and obedience that Jesus had for his Father as he walked here two millennia ago!

When we put a strict limit on the time-consuming false gods of our present culture and invest that time establishing a personal relationship with the Creator of the Universe, guess what happens? We begin to take on the look of the Father, to be his image-bearers. Instead of, "You talkin' to me?" and "Ayyyyy!" and "Here's lookin' at you, kid..." (mimicking false idols) you become a true contender in an adventure of sharing God's love with others in your tribe and beyond via your heart, time, talents, and treasures...

Cathy Young spoke on Divorce care and recovery, saying that in the past (and in some cases, still today) churches made a divorcing or divorced person feel they had perpetrated the unpardonable sin. Divorced people couldn't serve in the church in ministries, were prohibited from taking communion, and were even told they were no longer a part of the church body. I was horrified, as I had no knowledge of anything like this. (I was born again in 1999 and have never seen anything other than unrestrained grace and mercy from pastors and others in service to the Lord, and I have worked and worshipped and volunteered in two churches.)

It's hard enough to divorce, based on what I've seen -- it feels like a failure of great magnitude to those going through it, and there is grief even when the divorce comes as a result of domestic violence, because how many people enter a marriage feeling they could ever -- in a million years -- want a divorce from the person whose eyes they gaze into during a beautifully be-decked wedding ceremony? Divorce is agony; it tears people apart, families are displaced... it's just devastating. And then along would come (in the past) gossipy parishioners clucking over the situation, shunning folks who were already in a form of living hell...

Cathy too spoke about being God's image-bearer, and about the need to forgive the ex, not because they might deserve it, but because God expects us to forgive all people their trespasses as He forgave ours in the act of sacrificing his beloved Son on a Roman gibbet. She said she and her husband George now counsel people going through a divorce because they want them to know that God still loves them, that they haven't perpetrated the unpardonable sin, and that they can still be used by God. Cathy's bottom line (I'm paraphrasing and throwing in some of my own seven years of Bible study knowledge to make this point) was that if God could use and continue to love a philandering murderer (King David), a recalcitrant prophet (Jonah), a stuttering killer (Moses), a prostitute (Rahab), and a locust-eating, camel-skin-wearing cousin (John), among many other "imperfect" people throughout the Bible, He can certainly use a divorcee -- and has, and will!

Kathy Hall spoke on the importance of having our finances in Kingdom order -- keeping our debt close to zero so that any money we receive is well-respected and used properly because financially we are stewards of God's monetary blessings. When we squander money, we limit the amount of good that can be done with available funds. She said Scripture contains over 2300 references to money and that all of it is wise counsel.

Sharon Haaland burst onto the platform with verve and vitality and showed a clip from the movie Four Feathers explaining that the chase scene in it (between good guys and bad guys on an enormous sand dune) reminded her of the battle she sometimes faces against Satan: just when she feels most like she is about to lose the battle out of sheer exertion and exhaustion, the Holy Spirit rises up inside her and in righteous indignation takes a big bite out of Satan's face, sending him reeling and putting him in retreat. She said when we stand in the authority of Christ, nothing can destroy you (eternally). She talked about putting on the full armor of God and allowing Him to lead us to triumph, declaring us more than conquerors because of God's favor upon and provision for our lives. She let us know that diligence and persistence are mandatory but that living within the same power as the power that resurrected Christ should give us full confidence that we will be victorious.

Linda Evans-Miller and Zelda Robinson came up at the same time to explain how to operate in the Kingdom of God: Prepare the heart to seek the Lord, and pray for everyone in authority (even if you didn't vote for them) so that peace has the best chance of ensuing.

Linda said people of prayer have a plan and a purpose: to do the will of God as a blessing for the world. Zelda told us that prayer is simply talking to God. It should not be ritualistic, formulaic or any kind of "by rote" activity. It is establishing a personal relationship with the Master of the Universe, Who created everything and chose us as His image-bearers. It's a privilege to pray and have communion with our Creator and it's something that God desires from us beyond anything else we can do for or with Him.

Marj Wolfson, the lead pastor's wife, established that we all have gifts and should use them to God's glory. We should list them and regard them as special blessings from God that allow us to touch others in positive, godly ways. My obvious gifts are: faith, communication, positive energy, humor, empathy, a degree of acquired wisdom, advanced knowledge in a few specific areas, and enthusiasm galore. Kids and elders follow me around like the Pied Piper: I resonate with them. Then Marj said we should write our own eulogy -- what we hope people will be saying about us as we lie in a pine box someday -- and then to list what we need to do to ensure that the eulogy we write will mirror what someone else will write someday.

WOW! That certainly gives us something contemplative and rather scary/important to do, doesn't it?!

Finally, Kim Armit spoke again. She mesmerized everyone in attendance by getting very, very real regarding some of her dialogues (yes, dialogues!) with God. She "gets" God in ways some of us can only imagine and she also "gets" His plan: He wants those of us who love Him and who have accepted Him as our Lord and Savior to get busy letting our loved ones and acquaintances know that He is waiting to have a relationship with them, too, before the final curtain. Kim pondered that now that we're saved, and are quite ready for the end to come so we can be with Him for eternity in a perfect place and in perfect health physically and mentally... are we so ready that we will deny others the chance to be with us in eternity?

She cautioned us against being in such a hurry that we think God should now ignore all His other children who haven't yet made the connection that we have. And she said we are a conduit; a link. That's our job... to get preoccupied pre-Christians to visit an altar and acknowledge with a grateful heart what Jesus did to allow us into the throne room of God as His kids... heirs to all His riches both here and over yonder.

1 comment:

Nita said...

Thank you for your comments, it was truly a blessing to do the work of our Father this weekend.