Monday, October 6, 2014

Confronted with the Past, Looking Toward the Future

The Journey – Confronted with the Past, Looking Toward the Future
October 5, 2014

Today at church I was confronted with my past…the past that began with helping the homeless.  In the past I, too, would have given whatever I had to help someone in need.  That past has also taught me some lessons, helping doesn’t always help. Sometimes our very best intentions hurt, not help.

Helping by continual giving can stagnate a life. It can feed the “lessness” that is such a part of the homeless culture. It allows people to continue to be less than they can be.  It breeds dependence not independence.  They no longer have to do for themselves.  Someone else will do it for them. What an easy trap that is to get into and so very, very hard to get out.

Even when Jesus healed and said “Stand” or “Go”. He didn’t say stay in the same place and continue to receive handouts.   
As long as we continue to give, people will continue to take and healing will never happen. Jesus knew that. Jesus taught us that when he said “take up your mat and go”.  He offered the first step, the ones to come after that were the responsibility of the ones that were healed.

The same is true for us when we reach out to help, for isn’t helping, really offering healing?  I think it is ok for us to offer a bit of assistance to get someone over a rough spot. Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying never help someone, what I am saying is we have to know when to let go and let them take control of their lives.

There is no pride, there is no dignity in always taking something from someone.  Way too often it becomes easier to take than to do and a cycle of perpetual dependence is perpetrated. We are living with the consequences of that cycle, not just here at home, but throughout the world in the cultures we have bred by always giving and never asking anything in return.

The hardest thing I did today was to meet two homeless men who came to our church and not offer them anything tangible. One man had given them a few dollars to go across the street to get something to eat.  People have been doing that for the past few weeks, no one knows who is giving or how much.  I overheard another lady tell them she would bring them another bag of food and some toiletries next week.  I wanted to give them something, I really wanted to.

What I gave them instead was a story about dignity and pride in doing things for yourself. I told them even if you don’t accomplish what you set out to do, there is pride in taking the steps and going beyond their comfort zone. There is pride and that pride begins to show in their appearance. In the way they carry themselves and that leads to people looking at them with different eyes.

Instead, I gave them a challenge.  Go to a place to get help and gave them the directions. I told them what the place can do to help some of their immediate needs. I told them I was holding them accountable for taking the action.  I would be back next week to see what they had done.

And I will, because in holding them accountable, I have to hold myself accountable as well.  It is important that I follow through with them. If I don’t, what is their incentive?  What happens to any trust they have placed in me? If I let them down, then they won’t trust the next person.  Looking back on the conversation, that is a harsh reality to me. In holding someone else accountable for their actions I also have to hold myself accountable for mine. 

Trust.  I told them I was trusting them to follow through, and in trusting them I placed their trust in me. Follow through…not something I have ever been very good at…God’s lesson for me today…

I am looking forward with eyes to the future to see what happens with them.  Perhaps they will come back next week, perhaps they won’t.  God knows

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Out of the Wilderness…

The Journey continues…


Out of the Wilderness…
The road from Fort Worth to Granbury was dark tonight. Pitch dark.  So dark you couldn’t see the other side unless a car was coming at you.  So dark you couldn’t see anything beyond the edge so you hug the center white line praying not to go off the side into the nothingness that is shrouded in darkness and swirling fog.  But that center line was the light in the nothingness with little white sparkling stars, reflectors, to guide the way into the nothingness. 

The one thing about being guided in is that in the going in, you also are guided out if you just hang on tight that light that guides you and trust.  Trust it to see you through.  Those are some of the thoughts that wandered through my mind as I clicked off the “stars” that were leading me, the light.

God’s been working on me the last few weeks, I know he has. Sometimes I am just a little dense and I can see him up there slapping his palm against his celestial forehead, saying, “Don’t you get it yet”!?  Well, God and I have some pretty good conversations on that stretch of road between Granbury and Benbrook and back again over the years.  This morning, it finally clicked and I could hear him shake his head and say, “Finally!”   OK, I admit, sometimes I am a little hard headed and so busy talking that I forget to pay attention the signs. Today, I saw them.

You and I all know that when things keep coming at you in a variety of ways and from a number of sources that God is probably trying to get something through our thick skulls. 

For weeks, I’ve been making my way through the Old Testament and following the stories of the Exodus.  I have spent time in the wilderness and now we are beginning the journey into the Promised Land. This partly has to do with my class, but I am beginning to believe God planned the timing of this, and He had his reasons for me dropping it last semester.

Random and daily devotionals, sermons, random readings, planned readings, snippets used  as examples in other classes and in videos are mostly all related to being lead out of the wilderness and into promised land.  Heck, four sermons, yesterday in my hour and a half drive into Fort Worth. Yes, you read that right, FOUR, dealt with time in the wilderness, holding on to hope and arriving in the Promised Land.  I don’t think God can get much clearer than that.
I liked what Greg said in his sermon Sunday, it took a great act of faith for the person who took that first step as God held back the waters.  Put yourself there.  I did. And I had to ask myself, with a pillar of fire in front of me and a cloud of smoke behind me, watching the waters suddenly divide themselves, would I have had the faith to take that first step? I honestly can’t answer that question.

What the pieces of the puzzle revealed when they fell into place this morning was I did take that first step this week.  I stepped out in faith when I hit apply for a new position as a Mission Co-Worker this week.  I looked at it for a couple of weeks. I kept going back to it. One night I woke up from one of those nights where you toss and turn and can’t quite go to sleep and can’t quite wake up and in frustration got up and read Oswald Chambers. Just opened the book and randomly picked a page.
It was Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, asking his disciples to come and watch with me.  I pondered that for a while and was struck by the thought, that the position I had been pondering was the Gethsemane of thousands of people. I had been praying “God send me to the hard places”.  This position will be to one of the hardest places on earth.  Harder than South Sudan.

Whether I am selected for this position or not, we are being called to “come and watch” with God and Jesus.  We are being called to watch the Holy Spirit at work in the hard places, whether  in our own neighborhoods or far away.  We are being called to hug close to that center line and follow the light that leads us through the wilderness to the Promised Land.Follow the light and be the hands and feet that change the world and create a Promised Land for someone else.
And, you know what?  I topped the first hill leading into Granbury after coming out of a darkness so dark you couldn’t see the other side of the road or the hills I know that I passed through on either side but couldn’t see.  There is a place where you hang for a moment, suspended in time, where the darkness fades away and the lights from the town shine in their brilliance.  As I topped it tonight, I realized the cloud of “smoke” was behind me, had protected me and kept me safe on the journey down that long dark road and the “fire” of the lights was in front of me, leading me into “what next”.

I imagine, taking that first step into the parted waters, continuing the journey through the wilderness with all our grumbling and complaining after we come out on the other side being a lot like that.  I didn’t think I was in a wilderness, but I guess I have been since I came back and made the decision that I couldn’t return to South Sudan. 

I have been so busy being an “Israelite”, arguing, complaining and asking why God wouldn’t just let me go back to “Egypt”, South Sudan,  until the last few weeks when I finally let go and accepted what was is behind me and what will be is ahead of me and I will never get there until I let go. Until I trust enough and have faith enough to take that first step into the parted waters.

That is true for all of us I believe, no matter what our “wilderness” we have to step into the waters, cling to the light that leads us through and rejoice when the darkness is behind us, there is hope in the brilliance of the light that lies ahead. Holding fast to the cloud of smoke that was behind us protecting us and the pillar of fire in front of us, leading and guiding us to our promised land. We may not know what that will be, but we will never know until we take that first step in faith.

Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Random musings from New Wilmington Mission Conference, 2014…

I really wanted to take pictures this week, but I didn’t out of respect for God’s work. 

So, you will just have to imagine it…

750+ people gathered under an outdoor amphitheater, arms wrapped around each other singing, “The Spirit of the Lord is in this place” as the sun is setting across the lake.  Picture voices lifted high singing the Doxology loud enough to be heard all the way to heaven, under bright blue skies with the flags of the nations blowing in the breeze overhead.

It has been an interesting week. There is always a bit of the magic of the Holy Spirit breezing its way through the New Wilmington Mission Conference.  There is a bit of magic of the Spirit in the time of preparation leading up to it. And, this year, I admit, there was more than my fair share of frustration by things that were completely out of my control that left me angry and frustrated and on the verge of tears I refused to shed a few times.

I knew those things were out of my control.  I knew there wasn’t a thing I could do to change them and I didn’t know why I was so upset about things so stupid they defied all reason.  I still don’t, but perhaps that is part of the story, unwinding, unraveling, untangling, the pieces of the past in order to be free to embrace what the future may bring.

A few highlights from my week…
…reconnecting with old friends and co-workers, sharing stories, love and laughter…

…making new friends and learning about their work and their callings…

…The fun of watching the junior high kids learn that part of mission is working in groups and the whole group has to work together to accomplish the goal, passing a washer on a string around the circle without using your hands.  We also have to work closely in partnership and pray together as they helped each other make prayer bracelets.  And finally to remember that God’s eye is always on them as individually they made God’s eyes to take with them.  The looks on their faces as they problem solved, the leaders that emerged, the seriousness they took each other’s prayer concerns and their focus as they made their God’s eyes.

…What a joy to watch the youngest of eight children in his family, who had only relocated to the US in the last couple of weeks, emerge from the shadows and take the lead as he told the boys in his group, “You don’t know how to play football the African way” then proceed to show them how, as he directed the other boys to be the cattle in the cattle camp, and they did just what he said, lowing and mooing their way around the room.  A box full of scarves became lauas as the girls dressed each other in native South Sudanese styles as they laughed and paraded around the room learning through play acting about life in a far off land.

…I love the sound of students coming up the stairs laughing, talking, so full of life and of hope. I love hearing their stories of how their lives have been transformed this week. I won’t soon forget the girl who told me she learned to forgive. In the past if someone wronged her she just shut them out of her life, now she knows she has to forgive and continue to be a part of their lives.

Another said one of the best things he learned this week was to never give up, even when the going is rough, keep going.

I showed a video of a teenage girl from South Sudan explaining what it was to run during the recent outbreak of fighting there.  The video was clips of her going through her day in a refugee camp. Tears poured down her face as she said “I just want to go home. I just want to know where my family is. I just want to know if they are alive or dead.” As the video closed I looked across the room to see a bunch of rough and tough high school boys with tears shining in their eyes and on their faces. Not one was embarrassed by them.  They quietly left the room, visibly touched by her story. If nothing else happens this week, I pray they leave with a new or renewed appreciation of the lives they are blessed with.

I didn’t know I was working with the high school kids until I got there. I wasn’t prepared to teach them.  And, I certainly wasn’t prepared for the ways they touched my heart and my life.  

…I am so full of gratitude for meeting people I consider heroes and find myself, discussing ice cream flavors with one of the greatest theologians of our time.  

…Standing in the kitchen sharing paper plates as one of the greatest missiologists of our times, quietly says “no, take more” as he hands me plates and silverware to share with my house mates.

…I am in awe of his words that told me that something I said had inspired him, as he said he would never forget the Homeless Jesus story or the pot that never was empty until the last one was fed at the Church on the Slab. We spent some time earlier in the day having a conversation about just general things, their plans, where they would travel next, what I was doing, and some time just sitting in silence enjoying a beautiful day that was a gift from God.

I love the laughter that came during the week as we spotted each other and he would ask, “Have you seen my wife”? , in his beautiful Scottish brogue. We all laughed over and over after I told them I thought if they were birds he would be the Wise Old Owl, patiently sitting and waiting, saying “where? Where? Where is my wife?” and she would be the humming bird, flitting all over the place.

….I thought it was the worst presentation ever!  The person doing the singing before the introduction, ran 15 minutes over schedule forcing me to cram my 30 minute presentation down to about 10 – videos, slides and all. Then the videos didn’t work and the person running the slides didn’t have the script so the slides ended up running out of sync.  The sound system wasn’t loud enough to play the music… You name it. It went wrong!  I just wanted a “do over”!  Of, course, I can’t have that. So, I have been feeling a bit, discombobulated about that.  I felt like I didn’t do justice to God’s story and I felt bad about that. I want to honor God.

As we left the lecture hall a few people said, nice job, more out of politeness than because I did a good job, I thought. The next morning, several stopped me and genuinely said, I want you to know your story inspired me to not give up when the road is hard. 

On the way back from pizza tonight a beautiful, quiet, soft spoken lady from Malawi, told me I had inspired her to become a missionary. ME??? No way! She quietly said, no you.  Your story inspired me. I want to go to my country and be a missionary and go and help others.

Hmmmm…. From the worst presentation ever … people were inspired to not give up… eating ice cream alongside of one of the greatest missiologists of our time, I learn he was touched and will never forget a story I told about Homeless Jesus and the pot that was never empty until  the last person had been fed.

The worst presentation ever, inspired the lady from Malawi to become a missionary…

God does answer our prayers. He DID take my words and send them to where He intended them to go and he did use them to do His will, not mine and even though I never doubt God’s amazing power to make things happen in his time, his way and through his spirit, I still sit and shake my head in wonder and in awe, that He can use what I thought was so bad, to do something so inspiring for me.
I came, every step of the way, wondering why I was coming, but I took each step in faith and kept walking towards the goal of coming to this conference, not even really understanding why.  I just kept walking. And here I find the answers – confirmation that my work is not done. It may not be what I planned but it will certainly be what God plans and I have to rest assured in that.  Assured by the words of great people who inspire me and defended me and encouraged me to keep going where God is working and to keep telling the stories.

Who knows?  Maybe I really will meet Stan one day… and that my friends is a story for another time.

Thanks be to God!