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

More Like Jesus?

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I’ve noticed that Christians sprinkle a lot of religion-isms into their conversation. I mean those phrases and terms that only us as believers know what they mean and sometimes we’re not even sure. At least not me.

Take for example when people talk about the goal of becoming like Jesus. What does that even mean? In my Life Group, a newbie asked that question and I was a bit taken aback at first, but then I thought, “What DOES that mean? I mean, really?”

I don’t think it means that we’re going to all be a bunch of clones of Jesus one day, like those stormtroopers in the Star Wars movies. Or when there were 7 exact replicas of Harry Potter in the last Harry Potter movie.

Here’s what I think it means.

It’s like that couple you know who’ve been married forever. The ones who can finish each other’s sentences. The ones who know what the other is thinking and feeling without having to use actual words.

Back in the ancient days, a disciple was someone who literally studied another. He or she followed this person around. When the teacher ate, a disciple ate. When the teacher slept, that disciple slept. The disciple was with the teacher 24/7.

Ultimately, the disciple picked up the mannerisms and behavior of the teacher just by being around him so much. He started even to think and speak like his teacher.

That’s what it looks like. If I become most like the people I spend the most time with, then if I spend the most time with Jesus, I start to look like Him. I don’t mean I start wearing a robe and sandals and sprouting a beard. I mean that I act like Jesus. I do what Jesus did.

Granted, I can never be completely like Jesus in the sense that He is divine and I am definitely not. But I can emulate His attitude (see Philippians 2:5-11) and His behavior and His attributes.

Here endeth the lesson.

Stewardship

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In ye olden castle days, stewards were the ones who took care of the finances and property management of the castle and surrounding village. The stewards didn’t own any of it, but they took care of it as though it were their own.

Most people, when they hear a preacher bring up the word “steward” or “stewardship,” automatically think, “Uh-oh. Here comes another sermon on tithing.”

Stewardship is about money. But it is so much more than that.

The truth is that nothing you have really belongs to you. The earth and everything in it, including you, belong to the Lord.

Your money? It really belongs to God.

Your career? Also God’s.

Your spouse? Ditto.

Your children? Not yours.

When you make Jesus Lord of your life, He takes over ownership of all that you call yours. But when you think about it, everything you have is really a gift from God anyway.

Your money and your ability to earn it come from God. He created you with unique talents and gifts to be able to start a career and earn a living.

Your spouse and your children? They belong to God, not you. God has entrusted them to your care and expects that you will present them back better than when He gave them to you.

It’s humbling when you realize you’re not the king of your castle. Even more so when you realize you don’t even own your own castle.

May we all remember that we are stewards of what really belongs to God. May we take good care of what– and who– He has entrusted into our care so that when He comes, He can say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

A Really Good Question

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While I was house/dog-sitting at a friend’s house, i was channel surfing. I ran across a program that was just getting started on TBN.

Normally, I avoid that channel like the plague, but the program featured Max Lucado, one of my favorite authors, so I gave it a shot. As it turns out, I did indeed choose wisely.

Max spoke on Joseph of Old Testament fame losing everything he had– possessions, family, reputation, freedom. He was literally looking up from the lowest point in his life at one point.

Then Max asked a profound question: “What do you still have that you cannot lose?”

Maybe you’ve lost your health. Or a job. Maybe it was a spouse. Or a child.

Maybe you’ve lost your reputation.

Whatever it is, there’s one thing you can’t lose. Your destiny as a child of God. Because God looked down on you at your very worst and said, “I choose that one. I want him. I have great plans for her.”

Your identity isn’t lost when you lose everything. You are still God’s. He still loves you and still has your name tattooed on His hands and on His heart.

Joseph was faithful to His destiny and God rewarded him. And so he will reward you. Maybe not in this lifetime, but you can bet there is nothing you’ve lost that won’t be restored a thousandfold over.

I love how Max said that our lives aren’t the dashes between our birth-dates and death-dates. They’re more like a grain of sand on the beach of the eternity of God’s stedfast love. I like that.

Maybe I should watch TBN more often.

In His Own Words

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I thought it fitting on a day set apart to celebrate the legacy of one Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I shouldn’t try to speak for him, but instead let his own words speak for themselves.

I found this excerpt of a speech he gave in accepting the Nobel Peace award in 1964. I hope it resonates with you like it did with me:

“I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the ‘isness’ of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal ‘oughtness’ that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. ‘And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.’ I still believe that WE SHALL OVERCOME!”

Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive

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Sometimes, life will hand you lemons. You could make them into lemonade, but without sugar and water to go with it, your lemonade is really going to suck. Or you could freeze those lemons and throw them at all those people who really annoy you. Just a thought.

Maybe it’s a friend who really disappointed you and wasn’t around when you needed them. Maybe it’s a long work week where you seem to have not only two left feet but two left hands as well. Maybe it’s just a general sense of discouragement at where you find yourself compared to so many others.

Here’s the cure. Focus on the good things in your life, or as the old song says. accentuate the positive.

Here are some of my positives which may or may not inspire you to find your own (or you could just steal mine if you like):

1) I woke up this morning and got out of bed and got dressed and went to work. It may not seem like much, but I know a lot of people who didn’t get that privilege today.

2) I greet on Tuesdays at Kairos (a young adult worship experience) with some of the most amazing people, each of whom I am blessed to know and to call friends.

3) The three C’s essential to any early morning– coffee, chocolate, and caffeine. All three are marvelous.

4) I can pull out my Bible (or pull out my iPhone or my iPad and bring up my Bible app) and instantly be encouraged and motivated and strengthen at any time of day or night.

5) Instead of lamenting about how far I am from where I need to be, I can celebrate how far I’ve already come and who I am now versus who I used to be.

6) If I look through eyes of faith, I can always find blessings and joys stashed throughout my week and choose to live out Eucharisteo in every moment.

7) No matter how bad my day may suck, it will never last more than 24 hours. No matter how bad the week seems, it will never have more than 7 days. And that includes Friday and Saturday.

8) My cat Lucy is always happy to see me when I come home and loves to tell me how her day went. Ok, not really. She’s more the silent type, but still her presence is a great comfort to me.

9) I love seeing how my nephews and niece are discovering this great big world and their place in it. They are becoming who God made them to be and I love the previews I get of what that will look like.

10) I have my favorite places that always make me happy: my corner of the couch in the morning, downtown Franklin, serving at Kairos and Room in the Inn, and being around my family and friends.

Joy is a choice that I must make every single day. If I want my life to matter and if I want the people I live with and work with and play with to see a difference in me, the only way is me living out of joy and gratitude and thanksgiving at the never ending goodness and mercy and steadfast love of God.

And there’s those three C’s.

Sometimes You Feel Like Fred Astaire, Sometimes You Don’t

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I went swing dancing at Otter Creek Church again. It’s normally one of the highlights of my week. But this time I just wasn’t feeling it.

I can’t explain it any better. Except maybe to say that even the most social of social butterflies occasionally feels like a caterpillar and needs some alone time. Or in my case, alone with the crazy cat time.

Not every day will be your best day ever. Some days will suck. Some days will be stellar. Some will just be kinda meh, neither horrible nor awesome. Just average.

But the truth is that you can still find joy in every day. You can choose joy in every moment and learn to see blessings and God’s gifts everywhere.

Even when your bank account has one of those distressing minus signs in front of the amount, you can live in joy.

Even when you feel unattractive and undesirable to anyone, you can choose joy.

Even when your dreams seem as far away as that full moon in the sky, you can count blessings instead of sheep.

Even if you don’t have a 13-year old feline therapist who has reasonable rates and very flexible office hours, you can find God’s gifts yo you everywhere if you can see with the right kind of eyes.

Me being able to write these blogs every day is a blessing to me. Me having an iPad to write them on is a blessing. Me waking up and experiencing a perfect Autumn day is a blessing.

I have joy because I see how much I am blessed. Even if I never get married or go on another date, if no girl ever finds me desirable in any way, I can say I’ve been way more blessed than I deserve.

My life is good because God is good and my life is now His. Every day I am living my miracle because Eucharisteo (giving thanks in everything with joy) always precedes the miracle.

My miracle is family who love me, friends who stick with me, cool fall breezes that caress me, pumpkin spice lattes that warm my heart. My miracle is life. Being alive to everything God is and has for me.

I love being me, but I love way more becoming who God is transforming me into– the character and image of Jesus.

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Blog #1,161

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I still write these blogs as reminders to myself of how good God’s been to me. I am so very forgetful and prone to wander, prone to leave the God I love, prone to return to broken cisterns of doubt and fear.

I write about grace so much because I love it so much, and I love it so much because I’ve needed it and found it at just the right times. Left to myself, I can very clingy and needy, very co-dependent, and self-absorbed. I am an approval-addict. An affirmation junkie.

But that grace of God found me. And it did not leave me where it found me. I found that Jesus’ amazing love for me makes me loveable. I discovered that it’s more than okay for me to be myself. It’s the best form of worship I can offer. Just me loving being me. Me refusing to be conformed to what everybody else says I should be, to what the media tells me I need to be to matter.

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I will never stop telling the story of how Eucharisteo forged my miracle, how a lifestyle of joy and gratitude and thanksgiving opened my eyes to manifold blessings and allowed me to open closed fists to receive more of God’s riches.

I am blessed. Even if I never have a six-figure salary. Even if I am ever more the friend and never the love interest, the guy girls want to marry. Even if I never get another blessing or another visible reminder of God’s presence.

Here’s to 1,000 more posts to remind forgetful me of how good my life is and how great God is. Here’s to all of you who keep encouraging me, challenging me, and blessing me in ways I will never be able to repay.

Thank you.

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Good Thoughts from a Good Friend

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I was talking tonight to a good friend I hadn’t seen in a while and she said something very profound that I haven’t gotten my brain wrapped around yet.

I remarked that I love encouraging people. Or maybe that I really love chocolate creme Oreos. I honestly don’t remember now. But what she said in response blew what little mind I have left to smithereens.

She said that we give to others those things we need the most from others.

In other words, I give encouragement because for me, being encouraged is like getting oxygen. It’s life to me. I love giving hugs because I love getting them.

It can get unhealthy when I start expecting you to return the good I do for you in the same measure and spirit in which it was given. Then it can become a kind of manipulation.

But often, it can spur great kindnesses. I know I need grace, so I try to give it often. I also know I’m not alone in my need of it, so I can meet an often unspoken need and bless someone by giving them what they so desperately need but don’t know how to ask for it.

As I reflect tonight, I realize again just how very blessed I am. I have so many family members and friends who speak life, healing, blessing, correction, and joy into my life. You show me Jesus every single day and spur me on to greater love and devotion for my Savior. You keep me sane and positive.

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I talk about how eucharisteo precedes the miracle. You, my friends and my family, ARE my miracle. I mean that literally.

Thank you. May God bless you as you have blessed me and lift you up as you have lifted me up. May you know the extravagant, prodigal, lavish, crazy love of Abba Father for you until it fills you up and splashes out onto every single person around you.

Amen.

Falling into Autumn

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Officially, today, September 22, is the first day of autumn. Thus commences yet again my very favorite season, filled with colorful leaves, cool breezes, hot cider, hayrides, bonfires, and crisp nights.

For some reason, autumn makes me most nostalgic. Something about the combinations of smells peculiar to fall triggers happy childhood memories of places and people long since gone.

Most of my favorite movies are set during autumn, or at least have memorable scenes set amidst the riot of changing leaves (think When Harry Met Sally or A Beautiful Mind).

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Some friends and I took lunches out to Granny White Park. I took my ever-so-yummy burrito from Chipotle’s and drank water like a healthy boss. We threw the frisbee around and had a great time. Later, we played sand volleyball on the courts at Fellowship Bible Church. It was picturesque.

The part of living in Tennessee that is both good and bad is the unpredictability of the weather. In other words, I can’t count on every day until December 21 being this postcard perfect. I’ve learned to appreciate these idyllic days and enjoy each one.

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I’m learning to appreciate each day as a blessing from God. Too many people I know who are my age and younger won’t get to see their tomorrows (at least not on this side of eternity). Truly the old saying is true: today is a gift– that’s why they call it the present.

I’m also learning to see God in each and every day. That comes with seeing through eyes of gratitude and thanksgiving and joy. Even those blessings that come disguised in suffering and hardship.

I believe the weather will be hot and muggy later in the week, but I’ll still have the treasure of remembering this day when I’m sweating like the turkey that’s about to be Thanksgiving dinner.

That’s truly enough for me.