Archive for category Missional Living

Relationship Builders: Twilight

Never did I think that seeing all the Twilight movies and reading the books would come to my advantage when building relationships with people in our neighborhood. In January a girl in middle school that I have gotten to know had come over to our place, and we sat there playing games silently with a few words shared between the two of us. When it was time for me to walk her home it had become extremely foggy outside, and directly across the street from our place is park that was filled with the rolling in fog. Rickayla looked at me and stated that the park looked like a scene from one of the Twilight movies, and for the rest of the walk we discussed the Twilight Saga.

Up until this point every time we would hang out I was usually asking endless questions getting very few responses back, and Rickayla usually just wanted to play games or just come over and hang around. Since our Twilight conversation our relationship has changed. She has become much more willing to talk and answer my questions, and she has even been willing to bring up topics of conversations with me. Sometimes the conversations are simply about how the week has been going and what is happening at school, but than other times they have been deeper.

Recently Rickayla and her family moved from the house they were living in right down the street from us to an apartment complex several blocks away. Determined to maintain the relationship that I have built her and that Josh and I have built with the family, we make a point to walk to their place every week to hang out, chat, and see how everyone is doing. It took me by surprise the first time we did this and Rickayla and her two siblings were shocked that we would actually be willing to walk to see them. As I talked more with Rickayla it became evident that she was worried that by them moving further away that we wouldn’t see each other.

This past weekend, the conversation of church and God came up. Rickayla stated that she believes in God and all but she doesn’t go to church because she doesn’t have the correct clothing. When I asked her further what she meant, she told me that you should dress up in your Sunday best when you go to church because you need to look and be respectful at church and before God. I didn’t know how to respond. On one side she’s right, and that is a message I’ve heard my entire life. However, on the other side I have come to know that God will accept you exactly how you are. He takes us in all of our brokenness and shows us how much he loves us.

The result of our conversation was me saying that she is always welcome at church no matter what she’s wearing and that she is welcome to come to youth group on Sunday afternoons. But I know that just as it took me walking to see her at her new place it is going to take more than a simple invitation.

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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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Missional

Over the past several years and my multiple and very different experiences with missions, one thing I have learned is that many people expect to hear stories about the countless conversions and miracles encountered. If I have learned anything it is that missions can be anything but those moments. Missions can simply be the mundane daily interactions and scheduled events that occur. And honestly, I feel like that can be the point of missions, those simple moments where we can really share and show God’s love.

One thing I constantly remind myself is of what David J. Bosch (a missionary from the Dutch Reformed Church) said about mission. That it “is thereby seen as a movement from God to the world; the church is viewed as an instrument for that mission. There is church because there is mission, not vice versa. To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God’s love toward people, since God is a fountain of sending love”

My first exposure to longer term missions than those one week or weekend trips was when I spent a summer in college in Namibia, southern Africa, traveling to schools providing HIV/AIDS education with a focus on abstinence with The Navigators international missions program. I spent another summer in The Gambia, in western Africa, as part of a school program that focused on working in health clinics. While these two experiences transformed my life, neither trip provided those big conversion and miracle stories people seemed to want to hear. I couldn’t provide numbers of people I brought to know Christ or the big miracles I saw or participated in. The stories I had were of simple ordinary people I met and talked with, the clinics I worked in, and my team members I traveled with and these stories are sometimes far from glamorous.

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Now at the end of three and a half months with Mission Year, I look back and realize that this still holds true. I can’t look back and pick out any story of me leading anyone to Christ or any big miracle moments; however, I can reflect on these months and think of all the relationships I have started to form. While there are a few people I have gotten to know very well, most of the people I interact with are on a surface level, and I am okay with that. I can reflect back on these months and think that some of my largest struggles have been the “mundane” daily events, which have also provided me with some of my most meaningful moments.

Relationship building is a hard task, especially when you are looking for deep and meaningful ones. You cannot force yourself or anyone else into a relationship, it must occur naturally. And this holds true for introducing Christ into the relationship. Through the variety of people I have met and the relationships I have been building, they are all based around a built trust that has formed over multiple interactions, attending same events, and close proximity.

I look forward to the next seven months of Mission Year, and I am excited to see how these relationships grow and change. I look forward to meeting more people, building new relationships, and getting involved with new things. I am thankful for changes to come and new journey’s to be taken. I expect challenges to come and stumbling to occur, but I constantly remember that God brought me here for a reason and will not let me fail.

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Uncomfortable

Learning to make people feel uncomfortable was never a trait I thought I would pick up, but I am quickly discovering how easy a trait it is to pick up. Over the past several months I have really worked, spent time, and reflected on how to prepare myself for this amazing move Josh and I are about to embark on. Through this process I have been reading various books and articles, including a sermon by a minister from the 1700’s (what surprises me is that I did it voluntarily and not for some assignment). The overbearing theme that I am constantly being faced with is the notion of speaking out for what is right and that apathy is not an option.

What has surprised me more is that I have carried this into all areas my life. For example, several co-workers of mine have recently told me that I used to be so quiet and nice all the time and that I have changed. Feeling confused and wondering if they were trying to tell me I’ve become some horrible mean person, another co-worker put it in betters terms, stating that I have started to speak up and against certain things and by doing so I’ve challenged the norm. At that moment I realized that the core issue was that I was making them feel uncomfortable. The nice little quiet girl who made no complaints actually had a voice and by changing the label others had given me I was challenging their comfort zones.

At the same time the entire idea that Josh and I would be willing to quit our full time jobs and enter a year of urban ministry with no income has made people uncomfortable, and lately I have noticed that I have this uncanny ability to make people even more uncomfortable by just trying to talk about it, especially when I get to the point that we need to raise support (aka money) for the year. People seem to get really touchy when you bring up the topic of money, particularly when it relates to their money.

While learning to make people feel uncomfortable was never my intention when I set off down this road, I sure have enjoyed myself (yes enjoyed) even when I hit points of absolute frustration. I am learning that life is more enjoyable when you challenge the norm and wander outside the comfort zones of society. I am experiencing God much more because I am slowly letting go of my many reservations about where He can and is taking me. I look forward to the uncertainties in life and the journey ahead, and if I make you feel uncomfortable along the way, I challenge you to jump alongside me and see where this path goes. I just know that I would rather live a life pursuing the dreams God had placed on my heart than sit back and wonder “what if?”

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Love God. Feed People.

Sitting on the steps of a public market here in Columbus called North Market was a gentleman that multiple people had walked by saying, “No, Sorry.” Josh and I walked along getting ready to leave after shopping for the fundraising dinner we have tomorrow night and while walking by this gentleman who asked a very simple question, “Could I have some food?” When we chose to actually stop and talk, he continued to tell us that he just got out of prison several months ago, had kids at home, and he didn’t want to disappoint them by coming home with no food. Josh and I instantly looked at each other and knew we couldn’t continue walking. When we perked interest in what this man was saying, he kept on repeating “I don’t want your money, I just want some food.”

Josh and I didn’t have to say anything to each other and we both replied, “What do you want to eat?” He instantly had a surprised face and said “anything”. We found a barbeque place that had smelled good to us the entire time we had been shopping around and bought the largest individual meal option they had, walked out, and handed him a bag with 3 full containers. The gentleman looked at the bag, looked at us, looked back, and kept repeating “are you serious!?” Josh simply stated, “God blessed”, and we walked off. We didn’t care if his story was true or not, we just knew we couldn’t keep on walking.

What broke my heart the most was that this guy had been so surprised that we would actually be willing to stop and talk with him and actually get him food. When we were about to walk back in to get him some food, he had looked at me and said “sorry mam, I don’t mean to prolong your trip.” No person should have to apologize for asking for food.

In Luke 10:25-37, Jesus tells a parable of the Good Samaritan where multiple people passed by without helping a man that had been attacked and robbed. Finally a Samaritan stopped to help this Jewish man. At the end of the story, Jesus leaves a simple command do “go and do likewise.”

This has been and always will be one of my favorite stories in the Bible. Compared to other parables that Jesus has to provide long explanations for the disciples and the crowd, he provides a very simple and concise direction. There is no question in what he meant. We are to care for those around us, when they are down we are to not only pick them up but make sure they are okay and get them any help needed. We are to care for those we don’t know, we don’t like, as well as our loved ones because they are all our neighbors.

So maybe it’s ironic or maybe it is plainly just appropriate that in preparing for our fundraising dinner titled “Love God. Feed People.” God provided us with that very opportunity.

To have courage for whatever comes in life – everything lies in that. ~ Saint Teresa of Avila

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Old Testament Justice

Through my experiences in church I have noticed that many people seem to stray away from the Old Testament. A common message I hear from fellow believers is the view point that the Old Testament God is terrifying, fear provoking, and violent, and the New Testament God is full of love and compassion. Yes the Old Testament has stories of entire cities being destroyed, wars between nations, and punishment of evildoers, but between these passages are laws, stories, messages, and prayers of love.

Many comments I hear are centered on the word justice. The idea of justice in the Old Testament doesn’t need to be associated the concept of divine retribution and punishment. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word mishpat means “justice” and “its various forms occurs more than two hundred times . . . Its most basic meaning is to treat people equitably . . .[it] means more than just the punishment of wrongdoing. It also means to give people their rights” (Generous Justice by Timothy Keller, p. 3).

Scattered throughout the entire Old Testament are passages filled with God caring for the vulnerable, seeking love for all people, and calling us, His people, to follow after Him. And they are centered upon the word justice.

“Do not deny justice to your people in their lawsuits.” ~Exodus 23:6

“Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” ~Leviticus 19:15

“Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless or the widow. Then all people shall say, ‘Amen!’” ~Deuteronomy 27:19

“I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.” ~Psalms 140:12

“The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the alien, denying them justice.” ~Ezekiel 22:29

“And what does the Lord require of you, but do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” ~Micah 6:8

These are simply snippets of many more passages within just the Old Testament. You cannot read these passages and not feel a calling to justice. In the book Generous Justice by Timothy Keller (which I am currently working through), he provides the explanation that, “Nevertheless, if you are trying to live a life in accordance with the Bible, the concept and call to justice are inescapable. We do justice when we give all human beings their due as creation of God. Doing justice includes not only the righting of wrongs, but generosity and social concern, especially toward the poor and vulnerable. This kind of life reflects the character of God” (18).

God is calling each one of us to life of justice, a life filled with out pouring love to all people and where all people are treated with equality and rightly. Nowhere in the Old or New Testament does God call us to life of justice that means judging others and seeking retribution in His name. God was love then, He is love now, and He will continue to be eternally. We are simply called to follow after him, fulfilling his justice onto the world.

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Facing the Furnace

In the book of Daniel, there is a story about three guys who stand up for their beliefs with strong enough convictions that they are willing to do die for their faith. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were unwilling to bend down to a large gold statue, to worship another God, so they broke the law put in place by the King. While being threatened to be thrown into a fiery furnace, they stood in the face of King Nebuchadnezzar willing to say “the God we serve can rescue us from your roaring furnace and anything else you might cook up, O king. But even if he doesn’t, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference, O king. We still wouldn’t serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up” (Daniel 3:17-18).

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the furnace, and only moments later the King noticed that there was a fourth man in there and they were all walking around unharmed by the flames. He ordered they come out, and the King suddenly had a change of heart and mind and commended the three for their faith.

They were willing to risk their lives for their beliefs, their faith, and the love for their God. I admire them for this. It is so easy to know God but it’s a whole other thing to live God out to others. That has been a huge challenge for me as I learn more about missional living. There is so much more than reading the word and have theological discussions/debates with brothers and sisters in Christ, there is the concept of living out this faith. The idea that when you go about your daily activities or when you’re working people will notice that there is something different, something more. I can only hope people see that in me, and that when I’m faced with pressure and challenges of life, facing the fiery furnace , I stand up for my faith and my God.

 

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Choosing Action

As I scrolled through the morning headlines today, I was easily reminded of the many atrocities that are occurring around the world on a daily basis. In our tech savy world, we can get constant updates of people’s actions by a simple click of a mouse. And the more I scanned through the various news channels and newspapers websites, I wondered how many people read these articles and feel called to action, and out of these people, how many will actually act on this call.

In the Great Commission, Christ gives the disciples the command to go out to all the nations and baptize, teach, and love all people “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:18-20). Does that mean we are supposed to sell everything, quit our jobs, and leave our families? No, but he does call us to action. Christ teaches of the blessing of hospitality to others when he sends the 12 disciples out in Matthew 10.

In a world with so many issues – poverty, genocide, rape, war and acts of violence, illness and death, and so many more – I often hear people comment that there is just too much to fix. But is that really true? An organization called Mocha Club is based on the concept that by just giving up 2 mocha’s a month, which equals about $7, you can sustain 1 person living with AIDS, provide clean water to 7 Africans for 1 year, or save 1 person’s life from malaria. That seems pretty easy to me.

When Christ said “You will always have the poor among you” (John 12:8) he was not leaving this as an ultimate truth. He is actually referencing the directions God gave Israel, just look back to Deuteronomy 15. God moves from saying “there should be no poor among you” to “if there is a poor man” to “there will always be poor people in the land”. Why? God recognizes our ability to be greedy and tightfisted, to not share and live in community with one another. God does not create the poor and cause suffering, we create the poor and causing suffering.

One of the head advisors for Compassion International has started an initiative called “58: Fast. Forward. The End of Poverty”, which is based on Isaiah 58 (http://notalways.live58.org/). It is an alliance of churches and organization working together to end poverty in the world. Take the time to watch this video and see how possible this idea is:

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Challenge to Love

The greatest complaint I hear from friends about Christianity is how judgmental the religion has become. I have seen multiple people walk away from their faith because of judgments laid upon them by people who they thought were their “brothers” and “sisters” in Christ. And honestly, I can’t blame them. Who wants to stick around people, a faith, where you are judged for your actions when those very same people have their own wrongdoings and failings? Jesus even taught us not to judge, for “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:4).

In the last post I posed a simple question, where is the LOVE? Now I ask how have we, a faith built on love, lost it? But then I start to think, have we really lost it or have we simply chosen to ignore it? Have we chosen to disregard the foundation of our faith?

The simple truth is God is Love:

1 John 4:16 “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”

And since the beginning of time God has given us this capability of love. He created us in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). If this is the case aren’t we able to love, through God, in the same way He loves us? So maybe it isn’t even that we have chosen to forget this capability to love, maybe we are simply afraid of what will happen when we choose to love in the same way God loves us.

Paul E. Miller, author and executive director of seeJesus.net, once wrote, “We instinctively know that love leads to commitment, so we look away when we see a beggar. We might have to pay if we look too closely and care too deeply. Loving means losing control of our schedule, our money, and our time. When we love we cease to be the master and become a servant.”

There are stories of people choosing a life of love all around us, here’s one and I challenge you to find more:

Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize (2004), is the founder of the Green Belt Movement, which is an environmental NGO focused on the planting of trees, environmental conservation, and women’s rights. The organization began in 1976 when she introduced the idea of community-based tree planting as a plan to assist with poverty reduction and environmental conservation. The organization coordinates women in rural Kenya to plant trees, combat deforestation, restore their main source of fuel for cooking, generate income, and stop soil erosion.  She’s quoted as saying, “It’s the little things citizens do. That’s what will make the difference. My little thing is planting trees.”

What will your little thing be? What will it take you to love?

 

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Where is the LOVE?

Several weeks ago I was in the car and heard the song “Where is the Love?” by The Black Eyed Peas. The song came out in 2003, and I hadn’t heard the song in several years. I became focused on the chorus of the song:

“People killin’, people dyin’
Children hurt and you hear them cryin’
Can you practice what you preach
And would you turn the other cheek

Father, Father, Father help us
Send some guidance from above
‘Cause people got me, got me questionin’
Where is the love”

In a world where news travels extremely fast, most of what we hear about are various shootings, protests, and fights breaking out between political parties, religious organizations, and ethnic groups. The question simply is where is the LOVE? Just pull up CNN, The New York Times, Washington Post, and any other news source and all you see are headlines filled with death, violence, and damage. Where is the LOVE?

As a Christian in a modern world, I question how I can show love in a world that is so hurt and so broken. I watch many fellow Christians proclaim their faith and their hatred towards others at the same time day after day. And I sit back and think, no wonder so many people have turned away from the Church; no wonder people think we’re all just a bunch of hypocrites. For goodness sake, we can’t even get along with each other, let alone those around us. Where is the LOVE?

We are a broken people who are constantly seeking beyond ourselves for healing, help, and LOVE. Where is the LOVE? It’s right in front of us if we would only open our eyes, our hearts to the love that is pouring down on us daily. For God is Love (1 John  4:16) and all He wants to do is love us, for us to return that love, and for us to share that love (Matthew 22:37-40).

Author Mike Mason once wrote, “Love being the most potent of forces, it is hardly surprising that the most overwhelming experiences of life should be those of being in love – first with God and then with another human being…Love is the greatest of teachers, for there is no authority more compelling, no power more hypnotically transfixing, no counsel more wise, no message we are more longing to hear, no other master for whom it is easier to give up absolutely everything in order to follow and obey.”

If we want to fix the brokenness of the world, we must first learn to fix the brokenness within. We must find where that love is. We must find GOD.

~ Debbie

 

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