Sunday, February 27, 2011

Go to Jail: This Ain't No Monopoly Game

Matthew 25:31-46
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
   40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

I've felt a twinge of dissatisfaction lately.  Don't get me wrong, I love my life right now and the stage I am in as a wife and a mom- and I am enjoying every moment.  But deep inside of me there has been an aching for something more.  A desire to take my life a step further and align myself with the things that God is for. 

In the past my husband and I have spent time on a weekly basis serving in the inner city, going door to door with the Dream Center and investing in lives of the poor and needy.  But, things change when a baby comes around.  I don't believe that I grasped that concept until I was finally face to face with the gigantic responsibility of being a parent.  The things that were practical as a couple, are now complicated in light of a family.

And though some may say that being a parent and doing God's work do not coincide, I disagree.  There must always be a longing in our hearts for the things God longs for.  Ministry must always be a part of our lives, though it may take different forms with each season of life.  Though it may not be practical to walk the inner city week after week with the demands of a little baby, that doesn't mean that the disciplines of service and mercy must come to an end.  But how?

This question was reinforced last night as my husband and I watched a documentary by my favorite comedian, Michael Jr.    In this film, Comedy: The Road Less Traveled, Michael  decides to take the talent God has given him- his humor- to some of the most broken people in America, attempting to bring a smile to some of the saddest faces.

The movie is touching, but more importantly it is a call to action.  Michael challenges each and every one of us to take a look at our lives and the talents we have been given, and ask ourselves how we can practically make a difference in the lives of others. 

For me, this film was confirmation of something I have been feeling for a while now- it's time to do something more.  

I've tossed around a few ideas in my heart the past few weeks, but there is one thing I keep coming back to: prison.  There is something about the pain and isolation of these hurting men and women who have made life-changing decisions that just breaks my heart.  And the reality is, they are so easily forgotten in our "out of sight out of mind" society.  I'm planning on taking at least one day out of the month and finding a way to encourage and visit these people, hear their stories, love on them, and allow our lives to touch.  I'm excited to see how God uses me in this way, and I'll be sure to keep you posted on my journey. 

Some of you may have your opinions about this type of ministry or these kind of people, but I don't care to know them, because that's not the point of this post.  The point of this post is to challenge each and everyone of you to take a look at your lives and ask yourself what you are doing to follow the heart of God?  Because at the end of the day what makes you a friend of God is not the fact that you attended church every Sunday or owned six bibles.  It's your heart...and whether or not it is aligned with His.

Because at the end of the day, whatever you do (or don't do) for the least of do it as though it were for Him.   That's nothing to be taken lightly.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sooooo Relax, Max: What Sleep Really Means

Psalm 127:1-2
1 Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain.  Unless the LORD watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. 2 In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to[a] those he loves. 

Sometimes I think we give ourselves too much credit.  What I mean by that is that sometimes we act as though all the world is on our shoulders- putting a lot of weight on every move that we make and every  decision we face. 

Though this Superman act can be a good motivation toward accomplishment, it can also get very old, very fast.  Besides sending us into near psychosis, this self-relying attitude can quickly leave us burned out and emotionally depleted- turning us into prideful perfectionists along the way. 

My husband and I were discussing this concept last night after reading Psalm 127.  It was perfect timing (as God's word has a tendency to be...) as my husband was getting ready to take a pretty significant exam along his career path. 

He had been spending late hours studying, and waking up early to do the same in an attempt to prepare for this pending obstacle.  And it struck us as rather ironic as we were heading to bed that night to read the words "in vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat"....

It was as though God was reminding us that we need to relax a little, and remember that He is in this.  

According to this passage, God gives REST to those He loves.  He allows us to close our eyes and sleep.  So, out of all the things God could have given us, why does He promise sleep?

To me, sleep is God's way of gently reminding me that I am not needed...when I close my eyes, life goes on.  My world does not fall apart. What that translates to me is God saying that He is in control: "Deb, RELAX.  Though you sometimes think you are, remember that you are NOT the center of the universe...take a break, close your eyes and let go.  I've got it under control."

We put too much on our shoulders, forgetting that God is really the one at work and that He will get us where He wants us to go.  Scripture reminds us time and time again that God is truly in control. He will guide you.  He will give you instructionHe will direct your steps.  He will get you where he wants you- it's a promise

So at the end of the day, we have two options...we can either toil, labor, and build in vain- believing that the world is on our shoulders.  Or we can acknowledge that He is the one in charge, that He is in this, and that we can let go.

So in my sincere opinion- close your eyes and learn to relax, Max....

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Don't be Broken: On Doubt

Ecclesiastes 4:12
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Last night I attended a bible study on the topic of doubt.  It was a very powerful study, asking us to come clean and face the questions in our lives that may be holding us back.  More than anything this evening, the thing that struck me most was an observation by the pastor David Jeremiah.

He noted that through Christian history, the times when men and women doubt the most is when they find themselves in isolation.  He pointed to the doubting moments of Thomas, and John the Baptist and recognized that the height of their doubting was in seasons when they were utterly alone. 

C.S. Lewis the great thinker even agrees that the moments when he felt the greatest doubt was in the moments of being alone.  I think we can all relate to this concept.  There is power in numbers.  The entire sociological theory of group think is based on this idea. 

As Christians, it is easy to find our fears and struggles amplified in the theater of isolation.

I was talking to my friend Steve today.  In a couple of days he and his wife are leaving for a three month journey into the country of Honduras.  They have given up their jobs and their families, in order to follow God's calling.  We were discussing this concept of doubt as he mentioned the prospect of leaving all forms of communication behind.  There is no "doubt" in my mind that he will face the giant of doubt at some point on his trip...

I look back at my life and realize that these moments of isolation were the moments that I found myself questioning both God and myself.  Working alone in the inner city.  Living apart from family and friends.  New cities where I didn't know a soul. 

Is this where God really wants me?
Did I make the right choice?

Is God really listening?  Is He really here?  Does He really care?

Does He even exist?

If you are anything like me, these questions probably come as no surprise.  It is likely that each and every one of us has at one point faced the crossroads of doubt in our lives.  And at the end of the day, doubt is not defined by the questions it asks, but by the answers it seeks. 

For those of you who find ourselves doubting, be assured that the road you are walking on will ultimately merge with the very same road that will lead you to the One you are looking for.  If you follow the road to the very end- Doubt will always lead to deliverance. Though sometimes it may break you in the process of healing you. 

The road of doubt can be quite difficult when you are walking alone...

Don't allow yourself to continue walking as one.  Reach out to those who love you.  Voice your struggles and your questions to your friends, your mentors, and your family.  Find someone who you trust and ask them to share with you in your struggles.  The greatest men and women of all time of faced the obstacle of doubt...and have overcome.  Don't allow your isolation to convince you that the road you are walking on has no end.  Don't allow it to break you.   

One man can be overpowered, two can defend themselves...but a cord of three strands is not easily broken. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dear Christian: My Love/Hate Relationship

Philippians 2:5
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.

Dear Christian,

I have to be honest...I have mixed feelings about you.  A love/hate relationship if you will.  It's like looking at two sides of a coin, trying to figure out which one is really you.  Part of me wants you so bad...but the other side of me is too scared to jump in. 

There are days that you amaze me.  I look at you and see the most loving eyes, the most gentle hands, the most open heart.  I watch as you take care of your community, as you reach out to the poor and the needy, as you mend the hearts of the broken.

I am overcome by your ability to reach into my loneliness.  Reminding me that I'm not all by myself.  That someone really does care for and love me.  Somehow you always seem to know just what I's as though you had a direct line to God, or something.

I am challenged by the way you give up your time, your money...and your self for others.  I'm drawn to the fact that you are so humble, yet so confident.  You're honest about the fact that you don't always have it together...but that you're working on it.  I love that pushes me to be real with my self as well.

There is something about your smile that seems real to me.  It makes me wonder where you get such joy.  How you have such strength.  It makes me long for what you have. 

Sometimes I look at your faith, and the way you hold on with all of your heart...and wish I had something to give my all to.

But then I get stuck.  I get stuck because I see the other side to your who you are, and I find myself confused.  Because some days you amaze me, but other days you disappoint me.

Other days, it's as though something has come over you.  You aren't acting like yourself.  You are filled with pride and arrogance, acting like you really know it all and have it all together.  It makes me scared to come to you with my problems...because I'm afraid you won't understand.

It breaks my heart to watch you so caught up in the things of this, fame and fortune.  It's as though the American Dream has got you on a leash.  I thought you talked about bigger things?  I thought you said this world wasn't your home?  Then why do you seem so comfortable here?

Some days, it's as though you have an opinion about everything.  What I should wear, who I should be friends with, what I should eat and drink.  I feel judged by you, not loved.  I feel as though I am under a magnifying glass...and you're picking me apart, never satisfied to just let me be who I am.

I want to get closer to try and understand you...but your holier-than-thou attitude reminds me that I can't get too close.  Maybe I'm not good enough for you.  Maybe I'll never be.

Either way, I'm going to keep watching...waiting to see the real you.  There's a part of me that wants what you have...but a part of me that's still confused.  I'll be here.  Waiting for you to show me who you really are.  Until then, don't be surprised if I keep my distance.  I want to get closer, but I have to keep myself safe.

I hope you figure this out soon.  I hope you decide who you really want to be and stick to it.  When you do, come find me. 

Cautiously watching,

The World

[Inspired by An Open Letter to the Church]

I'll be "Praying" for you...

James 5:16
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. 

For some reason this past month has been filled with prayer requests.   I have had the honor of being entrusted with many of my friends and families innermost needs.  People have come to me asking for prayer, in an attempt to share their burdens.

I've been reading about the power of prayer in Bill Hybel's book Too Busy Not to Pray I guess this is why I have been extra sensitive to the area of prayer.  If I'm completely honest, I'll have to admit that prayer has never been of my strong points.  I'm a fan of the tangible...and prayer is something that can't always be counted and measured.  That's hard for me.

For me, it takes hard work to pray fervently.  I have to really build it into my life and "schedule it in my planner" or it frequently gets overlooked.

If you're anything like me, you know that praying for others has the tendency to become a formality.  "I will be praying for you" is always the polite thing to say...but at the end of the day, am I really taking the time pour my petitions before God on the behalf of others?  Am I really putting their needs as a priority in my life?  Am I really believing that when I partner with them in prayer...powerful things will happen?

That's really what it comes down to: our belief in an all Powerful God.  Prayer warriors aren't simply people with a lot of time on their hands- they are people who really believe that the God they serve has the power to change situations and lives, and they are asking Him to.

So before you throw around your offers to pray for others, take a hard look at what you really believe- and ask yourself if your prayer life reflects your theology.  If  not, something's got to change. 

The power to change the lives of others is in our hands- that's something which we should never take lightly.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ode to Valentine's Day...or the Day After: On Love

1 Corinthians 13:4-8
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  8 Love never fails.

Aaaah, the Day of Love has come and gone.  For some of us, it was filled with romance, roses and dinner by candlelight.  For others, a dagger in the heart, reminding them that they are still single- enjoying microwave dinners for one.  

But let me break the news to all you single people out there- Love is hard work...and you shouldn't get anywhere near it unless you are ready for the road of refinement.

With a 50% national divorce rate, and an even higher divorce rate among Christians- you wonder why so many people are so anxious to run off and get married with the first person they meet.  These days, the stakes are high in the game of love.   

On the other hand, for those who do it right- finding love can be the most amazing experience imaginable...granted you learn to pass through the fires of selflessness and humility and come face to face with the fact that deep down, you really are a jerk. 

But either way, one thing is certain- those who find good marriages aren't "lucky".  No, they are people who have really learned to love.

This passage on love is quoted in probably 90% of Christian weddings...but the reality is, after the wedding day, it's put on the shelf and left to gather dust.  If we could learn to do a fraction of what this passage asks of us our lives would be so much richer and our relationships would take on a whole new level of intimacy. 

I believe learning to love isn't something that is done only in the context of marriage.  Whether married, or waiting to be...challenge yourself to take a hard look at these questions and learn to love, to really love, the people in your life. 

Love is patient
  • Am I flexible with the people around me?  Do I make them feel more important than my schedule and my time? 
Love is kind
  • How many compliments do I give a day?  Do I encourage my spouse every day?  Do people leave my presence feeling better than before?
It does not envy
  • Do I find myself wanting what doesn't belong to me?  Do I rejoice in the victories of others? 
It does not boast, it is not proud
  • Am I in competition with the people around me?  Do I seek to build myself up?  Do I acknowledge the talents and gifts that have been given to me by God?
It does not dishonor others
  • Do I allow negativity and criticism to come out of my mouth?  Do my actions reflect a lack of warmth?  What do I allow myself to say about others in their presence or outside of their presence?
It is not self-seeking
  • Do I put my spouse/others before myself?  
It is not easily angered
  • What does it take to get me mad?  How do I handle my emotions?  How many times have I gotten angry this week? 
It keeps no record of wrongs
  • Have I learned to let go of my hurts?  Do I replay things over and over in my head?  Do I find myself bringing up past junk again and again?
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth
  • Am I being completely honest with the ones I love?  Is there something I am omitting that I need to be open about?  Who am I when no one is looking?  Do I look at my own weaknesses or am I quick to point out the weaknesses of others?
It always protects
  • Are people safe with me?  Do I take care of those around me? Physically, emotionally, spiritually.
Always trusts
  • Do I carry around insecurities or unforgiven sins that are inhibiting me to trust?  
Always hopes
  • Am I positive?  Do I hope for what is good?
Always perseveres
  • What would get me to the point of giving up? 
Love never fails
  • Am I committed to doing this no matter how long it takes or how difficult it gets?  Do I choose love?

As the old D.C. Talk song reminds us- Love is a verb It is something we have to choose to do, every day, whether or not our feelings lead the way.  For those of us who are married, let's not get too caught up in the chocolate, roses, and romance of Valentine's without taking a real hard look at the way we love each other every other day. 

For those of us who are single- it's never too early to begin learning to love the people in our lives...for how you learn to love the people in your life today will ultimately reflect how you will love in your future.

May God give us the strength to love.  To really love. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Mirror on the Wall: On Value and Significance

Psalm 139:13-16
13 For you created my inmost being;
   you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
   your works are wonderful,
   I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
   when I was made in the secret place,
   when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
   all the days ordained for me were written in your book
   before one of them came to be. 

I met a young woman who was in search of significanceEveryday she would live her life longing for acceptance from the people around her.  If she got it, she was determined to keep it, and would wake up the next morning and try to emulate everything she did the day hopes that she would get it once again.  People are desperate for significance...longing to look in the mirror and see something meaningful looking back at them. 

One thing that I come face to face with every day as a professional counselor is this concept of value.  I am overwhelmed by the amount of people who I meet who are struggling with the basic concept that they are worth something.  Grown men and women, living their lives longing for someone to notice them, to touch them, to acknowledge them- in hopes that they will somehow make them feel that they are truly worth it.

I understand this struggle.  It resonates with me, because I too have a little part of me that seems to always be crying out, longing for someone or something to fill that little void, to remind me that I am significant.  I understand the need for validation, because it is a need that lives within me as well.   

And some days those interactions come.  Some days are good.  Some days we brush up against people who treasure us, who notice us, who love and cherish us.  It's easy to feel valuable on days like that, isn't it?  I know I leave those interactions feeling filled...temporarily anyway. That is the intrinsic problem with allowing our value to be based on those around us...

...Because other days are not so good.  Other days are filled with ridicule.  Other days I walk in a room and am ignored.  Other days my desire to be liked by all and loved by some feels like a passing dream.  Some days aren't so good.

For those of us who allow our value and worth to be determined by those around us- we find ourselves living on an emotional roller coaster.  We have no control over how our day will unfold, because our value is left in the hands of another.

We somehow allow ourselves to believe the lie that our worth lies in the eyes of the person standing in front of us- rather than believing that our value comes from the Person living inside of us.  

For those of us who believe, there is a kind of value that cannot be taken away.  A value that has nothing to do with who we are or what we do.  A value that lies only in the eyes of our Creator, a God who looks down on us and says three beautiful words "That is good". 

I love this verse, because I love the character of a God who "knit me together".  A God who was so purposeful in making me who I am.  A God who loved us so much that He made us in His own image...because just like a loving parent, He wanted to see His face in ours.   A God who calls us by name and writes our stories before we are even a thought.  I love the idea of a God who gives us value because of who He is rather than who we are...a value that always stays the same.

But I also understand the struggle to accept this significance from His hands.  Many of us are unable to receive this value because we are stuck on the "bad days".  The days when the voices around us lied...the days we were ignored, abused, and hurt.  The days when their voice was so loud- and His voice seemed so small.

May God give us the strength to tune in to His voice as the source and tune out all else.  May He help us reprogram our minds to see ourselves for who we really are.  May He give us the grace to heal from the wounds of our past and allow us to live in the purpose of our present.  May He give us the courage to look in the mirror and accept ourselves for who we really are: God's workmanship, wonderfully made.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

God, Google, and Suicide: Thoughts On Suffering

Exodus 3:7
The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people... I have heard them crying out...and I am concerned about their suffering."

I was browsing through my blog patrol the other day, taking a look at some of my most recent blog visitors, when I came across something rather disturbing.

In the "keyword" section of words searched- I found the phrase 'How to Kill Yourself' .  Apparently, someone had searched that phrase and somehow for some reason unbeknown to me, Google had led them to my blog. 

I immediately felt a sense of sadness thinking that just a few moments ago, some unknown person, for some unknown reason had searched such a heart-breaking phrase.  Questions flooded my mind about who this person was, what they were like, and why they may have been searching such a morbid phrase.  I wondered if they were in pain, or suffering.  I wondered if they were alone.  I wondered if they felt loved.   These questions I will never know the answer to, but one thing I DO know: God cares.

According to this passage in Exodus, God's emotions are moved in response to ours.  He is concerned about the things that break our heart and cause us pain.  He is affected by our suffering, and He listens when we cry out. There is something amazing about a God who would take the time to feel for people like you and me...for people like this individual, searching for a way out of their suffering and their pain.,

After the sadness subsided, and I grasped the reality that this individual was in the end led to my blog- I felt a sense of responsibility.  What had I posted that day?  What message did I send?  How seriously did I take my words?  I felt a sense of responsibility, not just in my blogging, but in all areas of my life.  It just really hit me that you never really know who is suffering around you.  You never really know the emotional state of the person in line behind you, the woman sitting next to you on the train, the man shaking your hand at church.  

It reminded me of a story I had heard from a friend of mine last week- about the tragic suicide of one of his friends.  An educated, well-to-do man who seemed to have it all together.

You never really know, unless you take the time to find show some concern...and to allow your self-absorbed self to take a moment off in order to look into the eyes of another.  We are all living this life together, fellow travelers on the same road, all walking toward the final destination of love.

Christians, may we take the time to recognize this as we live our day to day lives.  May we find a moment to really invest into the words we write, and the things we speak.  May we learn to take seriously our interactions with others, and begin to show some concern for the sufferings of our fellow man.  Because you'll never really know, unless you take the time to find out. 

Lord, break our hearts for the things that break yours