More Good Conversation

I was talking with a friend of mine at Kairos tonight.

We’d both gone through long stretches of unemployment.

Both of us expressed how before we had days where we might tend to grumble and complain and gripe about our jobs and possibly even “mail it in” (meaning give less than absolutely 110%) on a given day.

If you were to poll the average American worker, the vast majority would probably say they don’t like their job. Most would say the only reason they show up to work each day is out of the daily necessity of paying bills and mortgages and putting food on the table and supporting families.

My friend and I have a different perspective now. Both of us know what it’s like to not have a job. Both of us know what it’s like to feel purpose-less and discouraged, wondering if we truly have anything the job market wants.

I’m working another temp job, but I’ve purposed in my mind to make it my act of worship. I’m going to show up and do my very best, as if I’m working directly for Jesus. Because in a sense, I am.

The Bible says that whatever you do, you should do it to the glory of God. That means writing songs and presiding over large corporations as a CEO. That also means cleaning houses and toilets, punching in numbers into a computer, organizing and filing massive amounts of medical files.

Whatever you do, do it as if Jesus were watching. Do it because you want to please Jesus because He gave so much for you. Do it not because you have to, but because you get to. Do it because someone else may be watching you and you may be the only Bible they will read all day.

Make your job your ministry and your mission field. Do whatever you do whenever you do it to the best of the abilities God has given you and leave the results to God.

See if that doesn’t change your perspective.

 

 

 

When Helping Hurts: What’s In Your Hand?

“The Lord said to [Moses], “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff” (Exodus 4:2).

So far, this book is not light reading for when you can’t sleep at night. It’s deep and challenging and (on occasion) causes my head to hurt.

I have a couple of takeaways.

One is that when dealing with impoverished communities, the best way to look at the poor is not from a needs-based analysis, i.e. what do you lack in terms of material resources, finances, education, mindset, etc., but from an assets-based one which asks, “What is that in your hand?” In other words, what skills and talents do you bring to the table? What knowledge of your own community could you give us to help better serve you?

Another is instead of implementing a one size fits all blueprint approach to every crises or problem involving poor communities, the better way is a learning process, where instead of “doing to” and “doing for” the people we serve, we are “doing with,” involving these people in the process and actually empowering them to be a part of the solution to their problems.

Above all, the goal is to see the innate image of God in the people we serve, distorted as it may be from the effects of sin and the fall. It’s not us coming down from on high to serve those who aren’t as good as us, but broken people serving other broken people with the ideal scenario being that both parties learn and grow and change and find healing in the process.

Doing ministry in this way takes longer and goes against our microwave, fast-food, quick-fix mentality, but is by far the better way in the long run.

There will be more of these updates as I continue to make my way through this book. Seriously, it’s a very good book, but it’s like one of those books that I read in seminary. It makes me have to use muscles in my brain that I haven’t used in a while, so I may have to read parts more than once to really grasp it.

But that’s a good thing. Exercise is good, even if it gives me a sore brain in the morning, right?

PS I’ve included a link to the amazon webpage for this book if you’re interested in learning more about it or purchasing it. I recommend it for anyone who is even remotely interested in pursuing either short-term or long-term missions.

http://www.amazon.com/When-Helping-Hurts-Alleviate-Yourself/dp/0802409989/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1424978877&sr=1-1&keywords=when+helping+hurts

Friends, Frothy Monkey, and Franklin

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A lady I work with remarked that the only good cats were dead ones. Obviously, she’s not a fan of cats. Lord, forgive them for they know not what they’re missin’.

I had another great night in downtown Franklin. I had a spectacular roast beef and provolone sandwich at my very favorite place to eat on Earth, which as you should know by now is McCreary’s Irish Pub. Seeing as I chose to eat at the optimal senior citizen dining time of 4:30 pm, I got prime seating on the patio on a picturesque Autumn afternoon.

Later, I ran into one of my favorite friends who always makes my heart happy when I see her and never fails to encourage me and make me smile. She and her dad were headed over to Sweet CeCe’s for some fro-yo (that is frozen yogurt for the novices out there). I recommended the pumpkin pie flavor, which is exceedingly delightful.

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I had a sweet potato pie latte at Frothy Monkey and sat on the patio while I sipped my little cup of heaven and reveled in just how very blessed I am. If I counted all my blessings, I’d easily surpass the 1,500 I came up with in my Things I Love series. I’d lose count before I ran out of blessings.

I got treated to an organ concert at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Well, it was more like the organ dude practicing and me showing up at the right time. I prayed a bit, sat still and silent for a bit, and just tried to be in the moment. A girl sat directly across from me, deep in prayer. I still don’t know who she was or what burdens she carried, but I did my best to intercede for her and agree with her in prayer for whatever she was asking from God. It felt like genuine New Testament Church.

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I had ol’ Hank Williams (Sr., not Jr.) providing the soundtrack to my ride home. With the windows down and the volume cranked up. It was magical.

Now I’m sitting here typing this on my iPad while my cat reposes in my lap. To many people’s great and lasting disappointment, she’s not dead. Only very sleepy. Probably dreaming of tuna again.

 

More Life Lessons from Swing Dancing

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Tonight, September 7, was the first night of swing dancing back at Otter Church of Christ after a summer at Centennial Park. It was like returning to a place of comfort for me.

I had the beginner part mastered in no time. The intermediate part? Not so much. I needed an encouraging word or two and some dancing partners practiced in the art of showing me grace.

I had fun. And I learned a few lessons in the process:

1) People just need someone to believe in them. All I needed at first was someone to say, “You can do this. We got this.” Even after the fifth straight time of me getting the steps wrong.

2) You don’t have to be an expert to lead or teach someone. You just have to be one step ahead. Even if you’ve only been swing dancing five times in your entire life, you can teach a newbie some steps and help them out with some of their confusion.

3) You never go wrong by showing someone grace. Never.

Life is a lot like that. Sometimes, all you need is a friend who’s been where you are and can help you navigate job losses and relational awkwardness. Someone who can say, “You can get through this. You’re gonna be fine.”

Jesus has been that for me. He’s been through everything I will ever face. Temptation, rejection, loss, being misunderstood– He’s faced it all.

The best part is that He doesn’t just offer empathy. His Spirit lives in me. The power that raised Him from the dead resides in me. His perfect righteousness is now mine.

And Jesus roots for me one better, too. He doesn’t just say, “You can do this,” but “I’m in you giving you the power to do this.”

He doesn’t just root for you. He intercedes for you before the Father day and night. He defends you from any and all accusations from the enemy. He is your Forever Advocate.

Remember, Jesus does grace better than anyone. He invented it. He gives it fresh and new every morning that you wake up and don’t have a cloud of sin-baggage and failures hanging over your head.

Just remember these things and you will be just fine.

That Undo Button

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I love the undo button on WordPress. It’s saved me more than once when I accidentally deleted a good portion of a blog I was in the process of writing. Quite frankly, it has saved me from cussin’ at my computer.

I wish I had an undo button for tonight. I had a burger and fries at McCreary’s Irish Pub. I was okay until those last ten or so fries.

Then I went over to Frothy Monkey, where I had an iced mocha. I was good until I started the walk back to my car. Then it hit me.

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I can’t remember ever feeling so full in my entire life. I was nearly praying that I would spontaneously combust. I actually felt nauseous. It was touch and go for a while. Thankfully, no cookies got tossed, no one called for Ralph on the porcelain phone, and nothing was spewed or projectile anything’d.

Right now, I feel like I won’t eat again until next Wednesday.

Do you ever have regrets like that?

Maybe it was a few drinks too many one night. Maybe it was getting carried away in passion and going too far with a date. Maybe it was a marriage that imploded. Or a career that got jettisoned.

It could be a conversation that you wish you could redo, words you wish you could take back, replays of yourself doing incredibly stupid stuff that is on an endless loop in your brain. Maybe you intended friendly conversation that got interpreted as creepy and involved a Starbucks manager warning you not to harass the employees so he wouldn’t have to get the cops involved. Yeah, that last part happened to a good friend of mine. Ahem.

Oh, if I offered you an actual undo button right now, you’d pay just about anything to get your hands on one.

Jesus said that if you confess your sin, He is faithful to forgive you and cleanse you. That means the sin is gone. No trace or reminder of it anywhere. It goes away from you as far as the east is from the west. That’s a long way.

You might still have consequences, but remember this. There is nothing in your life that Jesus can’t take and use it for good, no disastrous mess that He can’t turn into a beautiful masterpiece, and no mistake that He can’t turn into a powerful message of Hope.

I love the word justified. You could say it means just-if-I’d never sinned. God declares you innocent. Not guilty. God looks at you and sees none of those ugly stains and wounds. He sees the perfection of Jesus.

I’m thankful every single day for forgiveness and fresh starts with each new morning. I’m thankful that I don’t have to pay for all my mistakes and bad choices and regrettable behaviors.

I also know this. The next time, I’ll leave a few fries behind. And maybe skip that iced drink.

Kingdom of God, Here and Now

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“If we only had eyes to see and ears to hear and wits to understand, we would know that the Kingdom of God in the sense of holiness, goodness, beauty is as close as breathing and is crying out to born both within ourselves and within the world; we would know that the Kingdom of God is what we all of us hunger for above all other things even when we don’t know its name or realize that it’s what we’re starving to death for. The Kingdom of God is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know. We catch sight of it when at some moment of crisis a strength seems to come to us that is greater than our own strength. The Kingdom of God is where we belong. It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it” (Frederick Buechner).

The Kingdom of God is here and not here at the same time.

It’s not here because there is still so much evil and injustice in the world. Seemingly bad people prosper and seemingly good people suffer.

It’s here because we’re here. The Kingdom of God is the rule of God in the people of God and it is breaking through.

If we’re truly citizens of the Kingdom of God, that trumps nationality and politics. We don’t have a flag and a President so much as we have a King and a Kingdom.

If we’re truly citizens of this Kingdom, then it should show in the way we live.

We should date differently, work differently, and play differently.

We should have Kingdom friendships, Kingdom marriages, Kingdom families, and Kingdom purposes. What does that mean?

It means your marriage is more than a perfect you and a perfect spouse in a perfect setting. It’s about serving together in a way that you never could apart and alone. It’s about two people whose love for each other testifies to how much Christ loves His Bride, the Church.

It means you love those who aren’t easy to love. You serve those who can never repay you. You forgive and bless those who hurt you because God forgave and blessed you when you had been His enemies and hurt Him deeply.

It means you are God’s living Word to the word. That when someone sees the way you live, they see what you truly believe, whether that harmonizes or conflicts with what you say you believe.

It means of all people, we should be the most joyful, the most hopeful, the most optimistic people. Not because we have no sorrow or pain, but because we’ve been shown the Last Page of the Great Story and we know it ends happily ever after. We know every tear, scar, wound, and loss has been worth it when we see Jesus and we’re finally healed and whole and just like Him.

Lord, forgive me. So often, I am petty and vindictive and self-centered. Help me to not think less of myself, but think of myself less and be concerned with people seeing Jesus in me.

Lord, may Your Kingdom come in its fullness. May You have free reign in me from this moment on. Amen.

Choosing to Take That Next First Step

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“I am not going to sit on my ass as the events that affect me unfold to determine the course of my life. I’m going to take a stand. I’m going to defend it. Right or wrong, I’m going to defend it” (Cameron Frye, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)

Sometimes, life is about choosing to participate. I know for years I was a passive observer of all that went on around me until I finally got sick and tired of always feeling left out of things. Then I decided to take one of many first steps. 

Part of taking that almighty first step is letting go of the illusion that you can control the outcome– or anything for that matter. In a dance, you have to learn to trust in your partner and in yourself, but ultimately, you have to step out and hope for the best.

First steps involve stepping out of your comfort zone and what’s familiar into the unknown. It’s asking that girl for a date. It’s applying for that job. It’s moving across the country to start over. It’s stepping all over your pride to confess a wrong that may or may not end a friendship.

The funny thing about first steps is that there’s never just one. Life is full of many first steps. In fact, you’ll never get to the place where you’ve taken your last first step.

You know what I said about letting go of the illusion that you’re in control? Well, part of that means embracing the control of the One who is. I like what I heard someone say: you don’t make Jesus Lord of anything as much as you acknowledge that He’s already Lord of everything. That includes those next steps. That includes all the potential outcomes in your life. That includes you.

There is no greater freedom than surrendering your life to Jesus. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true. Only Jesus knows the real you, even more than you know your own self. And He knows what’s best for you. I can say that I’ve learned the hard way many times over that I do not know better than God what I need. Thankfully, He’s a very patient teacher who still continues to remind me by withholding the good that I think I need for the best that He knows I need.

You never know how much one tiny step can affect. My life has been altered and revolutionized by people who will probably never know how much what they did meant to me. And you will probably never know the transforming effect that one tiny random act of kindness or small step of obedience could mean to another.

What you do (or don’t do) affects more than you. You may step out and fall on your face and the world won’t be any worse for it. But no one who did anything great or who made a difference did so by standing still. The world is waiting for people not to turn it upside-down, but to turn it right-side-up again.

Radical in the Daily Minutae (Based on a Conversation From Earlier Today)

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“Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile” (Mother Teresa).

“I want the last face you see in this world to be the face of love, so you look at me when they do this thing. I’ll be the face of love for you” (Sister Helen Prejean, Dead Man Walking).

A new friend of mine commented on how she’s felt God has put foreign students on her heart. She went on to describe how she’s able to be in a place to share the love of God with Asian and Middle Eastern students. Then she said something that struck me. She said that she wished she could be more radical in her ministry.

If I could have a re-do on that conversation, I’d tell her this:

Every time you’re faithful in the little things, you are being radical.

Every time you pray to see others through God’s eyes, you are a radical.

Every day you seek not just to hear and believe the words of Jesus such as “Go the extra mile” or “Turn the other cheek”, but to put them into practice and live them out, you are a radical believer.

If it bothers you that there are people around you who don’t know the true peace of Christ, you are truly a radical follower of Christ.

So many times, we think of radical as big. Either it’s the extreme radical terrorists, whether they be militant Islamic or eco-terrorists. We think of leading the Calvary into a last stand kind of charge or stepping in front of a bus to save the life of a child. But more often than not, radical acts are sometimes those that we never see or know about– at least not in this lifetime.

Mother Teresa said once, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”

Small things done with great love are the most radical kinds of acts. Radical forgiveness. Radical kindness. Radical nonviolent resistance. Radical silence. Radical joy.

These are small acts that changed the course of history.

Wherever you are, be faithful. Do what you know God has called you to do. Don’t look down on the menial tasks or the unimportant details. Anything done out of a great love for God becomes more than just an act. It becomes worship.

May all that you and I say and do come out of a grateful heart overwhelmed at the love of God. May we see nothing too small or too trivial or be too holy to get our hands and knees dirty. May we see where we are as a mission field and each person who confronts us as a person Jesus died for who needs to know that kind of love.

May we always be radical in the little things.

Things I Love 49: Waited On a Line of Greens and Blues

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“How long does it take for your soul to recognize that your life is full? The slower the living, the greater the sense of fullness and satisfaction. The body and soul can synchronize” (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are).

One important part of learning to living out of eucharisteo is to recognize not every moment will feel like joy. There will be relapses into old ways of thinking– of fear and anger and the need to control and manipulate. It’s okay. Just don’t stay there. Center your mind on the little things you love that make you grateful. Make a list of them. Maybe don’t be quite as OCD as me and list 1,420 (and counting) things, but start small and make a list of 20-25.

1,521) Remembering that no failure is final.

1,522) Chocolate moose tracks ice cream from Purity.

1,523) Little pleasant surprises like getting off work 30 minutes early.

1,524) Finding a retail store called Ragamuffin Shoppe (which turned out to be a children’s clothing store) located off of Cool Springs Blvd.

1,525) Giving one of my blog cards to the person who worked there.

1,526) Walking all the way to the intersection of Cool Springs Blvd and Frazier Drive (even though it was hot and muggy and I sweated like the pig that’s about to be Christmas Day dinner).

1,527) The video I posted today of a cat in a shark costume riding on one of those roomba thingys.

1,528) Not being ashamed to use the word “thingy” when talking about something electronic or mechanical.

1,529) Getting to sleep in tomorrow morning.

1,530) Not having any of those 4-hours-of-sleep kinds of nights lately.

1,531) “God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

1,532) The little Snickers frozen ice cream bars.

1,533) Finding out about a book called 14,000 Things to be Happy About from my cousin and one of my favorite people ever, Rachel Johnson.

1,528) My cat Lucy giving me high fives.

1,529) My little Casio portable TV (even though it doesn’t work currently).

1,530) The song “To Be With You” by Mr. Big that brings back memories every time I hear it.

1,531) God’s mighty saving arm that is both strong and long enough to reach me.

1,532) The perfectly ripe banana I had today.

1,533) The video I just posted on Facebook of a 20-month old girl singing along with Elvis’ “An American Trilogy.”

1,534) The peace and quiet at 11:30 pm on a Friday night.

1,535) Not having any plans or money or gas in my car this weekend.

1,536) Not having to work this Saturday.

1,537) Being at peace at the moment.

1,538) Accepting what is, letting go of what was, and having faith in what can be (and knowing God is in all three places still).

1,539) The way Foursquare listed my workplace as Affionion Group.

1,540) The freedom that comes with not caring about appearing foolish in the eyes of others.

1,541) Getting the inside joke for once.

1,542) When other people get my obscure movie and TV show references.

1,543) Having enough of these things I love for 49 (and still counting) posts.

1,544) Not having a sinus headache today.

1,545) Eating at seafood places just for the halibut (you’ll get it if you read it out loud really fast).

1,546) All those cat emoticons on Facebook Messenger.

1,547) Those strong arms of my Abba holding on to me tightly tonight.

1,548) Reading the Bible on the YouVersion app on my iPad 2.

1,549) The dream of owning the Complete Series of Friends on blu ray one day.

1,550) Obviously being a night owl (as I type this at 12:12 am).

Things I Love 38: Pilates? Heck No! I Thought You Said Pie and Lattes!

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“Remembering with thanks is what causes us to trust – to really believe” (Ann Voskamp).

“God reveals Himself in rearview mirrors. And I’ve an inkling that there are times when we need to drive a long, long distance, before we can look back and see God’s back in the rearview mirror. Maybe sometimes about as far as heaven — that kind of distance” (Ann VoskampOne Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are).

“We’re called to do more than believe in God, we’re called to live in God” (Ann Voskamp).

Thanksgiving really does alter your perspective. During those times when you’re in between jobs and your bank account wouldn’t cover a Starbucks latte, it’s easy to focus on what’s lacking. But eucharisteo reminds you that really even in those times you’re truly blessed if you can only see with the eyes of your heart instead of your physical eyes. Blessings are always ready to be found by those with grateful hearts and God-centered minds. So with that, I pick up at #1,141.

1,141) Finding stray money in the pockets of my jeans and shorts.

1,142) Funny cat videos.

1,143) That there really is a fountain filled with blood where all my sins are washed away.

1,144) Being completely comfortable with interstate driving.

1,145) No humidity in the fall.

1,146) People who still practice common courtesy and good manners.

1,147) A dentist visit with no cavities.

1,148) Reading the books my favorite writers read (like reading Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton because he was one of C.S. Lewis’ favorite authors).

1,149) Watching and reading about the new birth in the British royal family.

1,150) When I wake up and roll over to see that it’s only 2 am and I have 5 more hours of sleep.

1,151) Knowing that my best day this side of heaven won’t even touch my worst day in heaven. And yes, I know in heaven they’ll all be good days.

1,152) Eating and shopping locally at non-chain establishments.

1,153) The occasional Taco Bell meal.

1,154) The way my friend Sara has faithfully greeted at Kairos and is now transitioning to being an 11:11 greeter.

1,155) Having a short-haired cat who always looks well-groomed.

1,156) That my mother finally got her new car.

1,157) Hugs from friends and family.

1,158) Those rare times when I mention something I love twice in these lists (which must mean I really love it).

1,159) Setting out on a road trip with good books and good music.

1,160)  My old teddy bear that I’ve had since I was 10.

1,161) Really comfy oversized couches.

1,162) Seeing my friend from Orlando (who always makes me smile) at Kairos tonight.

1,163) Amy Winehouse’s amazing voice.

1,164) Wireless broadband internet.

1,165) The way my GPS pronounces Briley Parkway as “Brilley.”

1,166) Seeing photos of my friends and family on vacation via Facebook and Instagram.

1,167) Remembering the way the breeze off the ocean feels at twilight.

1,168) Finding books I’ve always wanted to read in the clearance section of a bookstore.

1,169) That I’ve had 21 views on my blogs today (and while that’s nowhere near a record, it means people are still reading what I write).

1,170) Making it to level 51 on Candy Crush Saga.

1,171) Remembering when technology was much bigger and heavier and slower and more expensive (and how it’s now smaller and lighter and faster and . . . well, not as expensive).

1,172) Night lights.

1,173) Not stubbing my toe on furniture in the dark at night.

1,174) Knowing that I’m not the most directionally-challenged person in the world.

1,175) People who have the gift of hospitality and practice it often.