Archive for February, 2012

Lent: A Call to Fast

On Sunday night our team was sitting around eating dinner, and we began discussing what our schedules looked like for the week. Amidst the normality’s of the week, the discussion of our church’s Shrove Tuesday (Fat Tuesday) and Ash Wednesday events came up. Seamlessly we began talking about what we had all given up, sacrificed, or taken on in past Lents, and the question emerged, “what are we each doing for Lent this year?”

One year ago, I remember sitting at my computer making the decision to stop playing all Facebook games because they were taking up to much of my time. I would find myself sitting on my days off, still in my pajamas until 1 or 2 pm in the afternoon playing these games. Instead I choose to spend that time reading, reflecting, and spending more time with God. I also made the decision to begin blogging daily my thoughts that developed from this time. As I sit here today on Ash Wednesday, my world then seems a far off reality to my life now.

Lent is a time to grow, reflect, and sacrifice in a way that brings you to a realization of your shortcomings and need to draw closer to God. The call to fasting comes from the need to recognize our own brokenness and humble ourselves before God, the one who provides us with the ultimate forgiveness. But God has called us to more than bending a knee and recognizing our own sins, he has called us to a fast that removes us from our comfort zones, pushes us to see the injustice that is abound, and beckons us into a life of love for all.

In Isaiah 58 the people of Israel cry out to God in frustration and in desperation, yearning for him to see and notice their eagerness for his presence. They proclaim,

“Why have we fasted….and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves and you have not noticed?” (verse 3)

Looking upon his people, God simply answers Israel’s cry by stating that these actions have become merely actions. The meaning and purpose behind the call to fast has been lost and it has become purely an obligation that must be met. And what strikes me most is how relevant that is for us today. How many of us choose to fast from something during Lent and treat it more like a New Year’s resolution or do so because our Christian culture says we should.

What we’re missing is God’s call for more. He proceeds to call out to Israel,

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

To loose the chains of injustice

And untie the cords of the yoke,

To set the oppressed free

And break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry

And to provide the poor wanderer with shelter –

When you see the naked, to clothe them,

And not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (verse 6,7)

God calls to Israel as he calls out to us, the desire to see us fast in a way the removes anger and bitterness, breaks down oppression, and draws us to a life of love. Only then, when we move past our brokenness and closer to the life he has called us to will we truly know his presence. For,

“Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;

You will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.” (verse 9)

So this Lenten season, I challenge you to look deep within and find the walls that you have built that keep you from the unending love of God. To fast from the areas of life that keep you apart from his amazing grace. And to move forward knowing the life God has called you to live.

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Jesus and the Disinherited

At the brink of the Civil Rights Movement, pastor and writer Howard Thurman released the book Jesus and the Disinherited. Prevalent then and now, the book provides a foundation of reasoning for the need for non-violent movements to fight the oppressive systems that exist. Thurman’s book focuses primarily on the disinherited state of African-Americans at that time in the United States, where segregation was the norm, Jim Crow laws existed, and people’s rights were being disregarded.

Using Jesus as the ultimate example, Thurman discusses how to overcome, in a peaceful manner, the frustration and pain that can develop from being oppressed. Jesus life provides endless examples of how to react to oppressive and controlling systems. He himself was part of a minority group within the Roman Empire, a large dominant and controlling group, and not only was he part of the Jewish minority, he also came from a poor upbringing.  However through his disinherited state, Jesus found ways to peacefully battle the systems that were in place, emphasizing highly on the peace that can come from within.

Through Jesus, Thurman shows how people can move beyond the common feelings of fear, deception, and hate that can develop when oppressed, and most importantly, he focuses on how people can do it peacefully and within non-violent means. Upon overcoming fear through the development of self-worth and dignity, a person can push forward through the oppressive systems and pursue their dreams because they know they are a child of God. This same person can remove the layers of deception that can develop to fit within the “norm” of society, and they can follow after Christ, pursuing a sincere and honest life where they peacefully speak out against injustice. And through all of this they can move past the feelings of hatred and frustration that have grown deep within from being constantly kicked down and told they aren’t good enough.

Upon removing these feelings, a person can then move unto a state of love and forgiveness, where reconciliation is the goal. They can recognize that all people are their neighbor, meaning they are called to love all people. But Thurman challenges that this is not an easy path to take. By recognizing who has become the oppressors, people must work to remove the label of “enemy” and break down the wall that prevents true and authentic relationships from developing. Both sides must be freed and provided with mutual worth and value. Only then can actual reconciliation occur.

 

 

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Free Clinic Experience

My career choices and my current lifestyle are built around the idea of serving others. Rarely do I find myself on the receiving end of these services. Over the past week I have had the humbling experience to be in that spot.

Two weeks ago I found myself with a horrible toothache. Due to the limited coverage of the insurance offered through Mission Year, I found myself last week looking for dental clinics that would take uninsured patients. After calling around to all the clinics I know that take cash payments, most didn’t have appointments until March or April. Finally I got into a clinic last week, which took me 1.5 hours to get to on public transportation. The appointment itself lasted no more than 30 minutes, and I left feeling very frustrated. After taking films, the dentist came into my room for all of maybe 2 minutes, didn’t even look in my mouth, and told me I needed a root canal, which meant coming back in and paying them several hundred dollars for the procedure.

Determined to get a better opinion I started all over again making phone calls to the clinics seeing if there was any way I could get in sooner. Finally I realized that my best choice was a free clinic located in downtown Atlanta called St. Joseph’s Mercy Care. On Tuesday’s and Thursday’s they have a walk in emergency dental clinic, and people start lining up around 6:30 to 7 am to be seen when the clinic opens at 8:30 am. As with many free clinics, you must prove that you are a Georgia resident and that you cannot afford to pay for the services on your own, so I spent Monday night making sure I had all the right documents to take.

I arrived at the clinic at 6:50 am and I was the fourth person in line. At 7 am they let us inside to sign-in and sit and wait until the clinic opened. At 8:30 am they announced that the dentist was running late and wouldn’t be in until 9:30 am. After sitting there for 3 hours, at 10 am they called me to the window and told me that I wouldn’t be seen until 1 pm so if I wanted to I could leave, get some food, and come back. Opting for this choice I left.

Arriving back at the clinic around 12:45 pm, I was called back at 1 pm. The dental assistant and dentist were very friendly and talked with me about what was going on. They took some films; the dentist actually looked in my mouth and talked with me about my options. The cavity looked like it was close to the nerve, but she offered to go and attempt the filling. If it seemed to close to the nerve she would put in temporary filling and I would be referred to another clinic for a root canal. Thankfully the cavity was smaller, and they were able to place a filling. I walked out of the clinic by 2 pm.

While this was a first time experience for me, I realized that this process is exactly what many of the people I work with go through when I write them healthcare referrals to the various clinics around the city. I was humbled and have grown a deeper appreciation for the patience some of these people can have with this entire process. This experience also confirmed why I want to go back to school to be a nurse practitioner and work in similar clinics. There is a strong need for these free clinics and the healthcare professionals to staff them.

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Fighting Hunger

Since switching churches to the Emmaus House Chapel I have had the opportunity to help teach Sunday school to the kids. This past Sunday the lesson was based on Mark 1:40-45 where a man with leprosy is healed by Jesus. Even though Jesus tells him not to tell anyone who healed him, the man goes into town so excited and thankful about what has happened that he tells everyone. I had the kids share about stories where they were told secrets and were so excited they accidently told other people. After the discussion, all the kids filled out little pieces of paper stating what they are thankful to God for and want everyone to know, and they taped them up on a poster board.

Unsure of how the kids would respond to the activity I was surprised to see how much thought they put into it. In particular, one boy who I’ve gotten to know put a lot of thought into what he wrote. He quietly got up, taped his paper up, and looked at what everyone else was putting up. Then one of the other kids blurted out, while laughing, “who wrote they were thankful for food stamps!?” This boy looked at the group of kids and simply said, “I did…you know some of us wouldn’t have anything to eat without them.” And he walked off. While some of the kids continued to laugh, there seemed to be a sense of understanding amongst others.

This boy spoke a truth that not only he faces, or his friends may face, but what millions of people across this country face every day. In my neighborhood, Peoplestown, it is an issue I see daily. The Senior’s discussing the need for more money because food is expensive, writing constant referrals to various food banks around the city, Emmaus House’s own food pantry on Friday’s, and the number of kids I know on free or reduced-price meals at school.

In 2010, 14.5 percent of households (17.2 million households, 48.8 million Americans) were considered food insecure. Also, 5.4 percent of households (6.4 million households) experienced very low food security. Food security is defined as access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle. 16.9 percent of households in Georgia experienced low food security from 2008-2010.

Here are some national hunger and poverty statistics:

  • 46.2 million Americans (15.1 percent) are now living in poverty according to the latest report released by the US Census Bureau American Communities Survey profile in September 2011 – up by 3.3 million people from the 42.9 million reported in last year’s report. (U.S. Census Bureau American Communities Survey Profile2010. Data released Sept. 2011)
  • In 2010, 4.8 percent of all U.S. households (5.6 million households) accessed emergency food from a food pantry one or more times.
  • In 2010, 59.2 percent of food-insecure households participated in at least one of the three major Federal food assistance programs –Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamp Program), The National School Lunch Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.

Here are some more hunger and poverty statistics for Georgia:

  • Nearly 1.7 million Georgians (17.9%) are living in poverty according to the latest US Census Bureau American Community Survey report released in September 2011. This is up from 1.6 million (16.5%) in 2009, and represents an increase of 100,000 people in poverty. (U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey Profile. 2010. Data released Sept. 2011)
  • An estimated 1.4 million different Georgians receive emergency food from partner agencies of Georgia food banks. (Feeding America “Hunger in America 2010” Study)
  • The number of Georgia households receiving food stamps jumped from 581,709 total households in July of 2009 to 716,749 households in July of 2010 – an increase of 23.2% in just one year.  (USDA Food and Nutrition Service, Data and Statistics Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Number of Households Participating, released Oct. 2010)
  •  When the Federal minimum wage rate went from $6.55 to $7.25/hour in July of 2009, Georgia once again did not increase its minimum wage rate. (It remains at $5.15/hour.) Georgia is currently one of only five states with minimum wage rates lower than the Federal minimum wage rate. (U.S. Dept. of Labor, Employment Standards Admin. 2009)

Check out feedingamerica.org to get more information. Also, get involved and learn more about the issues of hunger in your area. Food banks nationwide need donations, both food and monetary.

 

 

 

Statistics were from:

Atlanta Community Food Bank

 Feeding America

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Dream Big

Why are we so afraid to ask God for what we want, to ask Him to fulfill those BIG dreams? What stops us? What keeps us from muttering those words to God in our prayers? Is it the fear of rejection, of possibly hearing no? Or is that we’re afraid that when God hears us ask, He may actually answer?

Our culture us taught us to dream big, strive after your goals, and pursue that “American Dream,” yet so many of us are living day to day afraid to really take that step forward and pursue those dreams. We sit around and go, well God has provided me with A, B, and C so I just won’t ask him about D. Maybe we sit there thinking, well he has already provided me with so much and I don’t want to ask for more. Or maybe we sit there thinking that He hasn’t answered those other prayers, why would he answer this one. And even more so we’ve been taught by others that those dreams don’t fit the norm, that we don’t fit the norm, so we feel unworthy and unwilling to ask.

In the Bible, Solomon became king of Israel after his father David passed away. In the beginning of his reign he followed the Lord closely and followed his statutes. One night in a dream God appeared to Solomon telling him to ask for whatever he wanted. At that moment instead of asking for wealth, glory, or the demise of enemies, Solomon humbly proclaimed and asked:

“Now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (1 Kings 3:7-9)

Solomon prayed to God from the depths of his heart for a dream and a desire to govern over the people of Israel in a way that honored God. And at that moment, Solomon’s desires met up with God’s desires for his life. And God blessed Solomon with not only the knowledge and the wisdom he’d requested, but God provided further by blessing him with the riches and honor he hadn’t asked for.

At times it can be hard to imagine that simple requests, such as Solomon’s request for wisdom, can open doors beyond our imagination. Sometimes all God is doing is standing there waiting for you to ask, to realize that you are worthy of the blessings that He can provide. At times God will say no to a prayer, but be patient and keep praying because God will open up new doors and lead you toward new dreams.

So don’t be afraid, pray for those big dreams and see what happens. Don’t worry about what other people think. If Josh and I had done that we would never be doing Mission Year right now. God will never let you fail. We let ourselves fail by not turning to God and recognizing the support He can provide.

So dream big.

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The Pursuit of Holiness

But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” ~ 1 Peter 1:15-16

In Christianity there is a constant discussion about the calling to be holy, but what does it mean to be holy? How do you live a life that is holy? Is it even possible to truly be holy?

When I first picked up the book The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges I was quite skeptical about what was going to be inside. I am used to hearing the constant discussion that to be holy and live a holy life there is a strict set of rules and guidelines one must follow. And on the other side of the argument I’ve heard that the idea of holiness is complicated, not easily explained, and not really something to worry about.

Depending on what version of the Bible you are using, the word holy appears anywhere from about 550 to 600 times. Between the Old and New Testament, there are multiple versions of the word holy that are used. The general concept is of something, a place, or a person that is set apart and consecrated, or dedicated, to God. They are seen as pure, clean, and without sin.

Bridges presents that we are called to a life of holiness. God himself is holy and we are called to be like God. We are called to live a life free of sin; however, nowhere does God state that we must do it all on our own. God sent his son Christ to bear the burden of death for us; thus, he provided us with a path and a desire to seek this pure and dedicated life. Bridges discusses that not once is there a mention in the Bible about this path being easy, instead it’s going to be difficult, yet God is right there beside us, providing us with the strength to keep moving forward.

While God has taken steps to provide us with a path to pursue holiness, Bridges discusses that it is a two way street and that there are steps we must take to follow this lifestyle. Through the personal discipline of reading and memorizing scripture, daily devotional time, respecting and caring for our body, prayer, and letting go of past harmful habits and thoughts, we can move towards a life of holiness, one that is dedicated to God and is full of his love and grace. Going through the various disciplines that Bridges discusses, my initial reaction was “Oh no, more rules and guidelines to follow”; however, I realized that purpose of these disciplines is to provide a way to battle the daily struggles that can easily pull me away from God and his love.

Through an obedient and dedicated life to God, we opened up to a life full of his love and unending joy. “The daily experience of Christ’s love is linked to our obedience to Him. It is not that His love is conditioned on our obedience. That would be legalism. But our experience of His love is dependent upon our obedience” (150).

So I challenge you to give this book a try and be opened up to an idea of holiness that isn’t legalistic and drudging but instead opens up the idea of love and joy that can be experienced.

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