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God In the Dark

Was anyone in here afraid of the dark when they were children? Perhaps still afraid of the dark? I know that I was. Even when I travel, if the room is too dark and I am alone, I sleep with the bathroom light on. I never understood people like my sister who needed it to be completely dark just to sleep, because for me, the darkness was unnerving. It was the place of secrets, and hiding and the time when scary movie theme music came on. Darkness was nighttime, the bending of the day when the sun went down behind the horizon, street lamps came on and little kids went inside to their mothers and the big boys went out to play. Darkness became synonymous with evil, with fear- and much of that was not irrational. Fortunately as I got older, let go of my mom’s leg and expanded my experiences a little bit I gained more of a balanced perspective. I came to acknowledge that although the darkness was when ghost stories were told, it was also the place where marshmallows were roasted over open pits, where we could chase after fireflies, trapping their little bodies of light in mason jars to take back to our cabins at camp. I learned that darkness was when the wolves howled but also where, in the dark of night the stars were most visible and glorious.

Growing up darkness also manifested as mental and emotional duress which lingered like a storm cloud over the ocean or raged like the sea-it was the temperament of family members who drank too much, became full of rage when they talked about things they had survived in the war or experienced growing up in the turbulent 60’s and 70’s. Sometimes the darkness was quiet and unsearchable-the unknown space and place where my grandma’s mind would sometimes go as treatments didn’t always manage the schizophrenia that she suffered with for much of her adult life. Three of the 10 of her children my aunts and an uncle would also be diagnosed with and battle Schizophrenia, each journey different, each had moments of great hope and joy, great stretches of lucidity and then timidity, sadness and dignity. They all worked really hard at finding normalcy and most times, underscore most, lows they did so with dignity and respect. It was trying for them and for us-any one of you who has a family member who battles mental health knows this narrative, but we hung together, we prayed, cried, yelled, fought off exhaustion and embarrassment sometimes…Through it all God was there. My grandparents’ marriage of 50 years was an enduring testimony to faith and commitment and my aunts and uncles are resting with Jesus.

What does darkness mean to you? Is it physical? Mental? Emotional? Spiritual? However generally we talk about it, I know that there is an element which is quite personal, and I want to honor your stories and your journeys, knowing that God can and will meet us in the midst of it all.

I have experienced the truth of Psalm 46:1-3 and I pray that you will as well:

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

When your life seems like it is giving way or is falling into pieces, when dark times seem to roll over you like storm clouds, I want you to know that God will never leave you. I pray that no matter what element of our lives I address, you will all walk away, not with simplistic answers but with deeper resolve to keep pressing into the presence of God, for yourselves and for others. I also want you to know that this series is not all about lament but about celebration because there are triumphant stories of healing around us as well. I have seen the miracles myself.

God in the dark is not only about God meeting us personally in the dark times of our lives but it is also about us, the body of Christ being bearers of light in a dark world so that others might receive hope and healing and deliverance out of darkness into His marvelous light.

Let me now draw your attention to two portions of scripture found in John 1:5 and 1 John 1:5


In the beginning the Word already existed.The Word was with God,and the Word was God.He existed in the beginning with God.God created everything through him,and nothing was created except through him.The Word gave life to everything that was created,[a]and his life brought light to everyone.The light shines in the darkness,and the darkness can never extinguish it.

1 John 1:5

This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in Him at all. 

The first creative act of the God in the book of Genesis was to being forth light, making a distinction between light and darkness, day and night…shortly thereafter he created greater and lesser lights to appear in the sky to separate the day and the night and to shine down upon the earth. From the beginning God is making light and dark distinct. Just as he did through creation of the heavens and the earth so he did with us.

In creating man in God’s (Father, Son, Holy Spirit- all there from the beginning) Image, male and female he creating us unique, He made us to be distinct, to be His image bearers, reflecting Him and His divine nature interacting with Him, engaging him intimately and with no shame, no sin, no darkness between us. But when the introduction of darkness spiritually was introduced though the choices of Adam and Eve, our eyes were opened, sin was introduced and only blood shed could begin to make amends. I was the introduction of Christ Jesus, the LIGHT incarnate which changed our sorry lot, purchased us, paid our price and set us free. The battle was won for our soul and our spirit- yet many have not chosen to surrender to Christ. The God of this age has lured many into a pit, confused us with trickery and shrewd religion. It is only Christ lifted up in holiness and righteousness that can give us any hope. It is in boldness that we must declare that the light yet shines in the darkness and the darkness shall never overcome it.

1 John 2:15-17

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life[c]—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

This world which is passing away, and yet we are in it, called to it, to do something about it! To speak to it! To dare challenge it! To manifest His glory despite it! How, Christ (the LIGHT) in US the hope of Glory!

Ephesians 5:6-9

Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him.Don’t participate in the things these people do.For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light!For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.

What do we do?

Look for God in the midst of it

Yeshua is with us; he won’t leave us… Because Yeshua is with us, mighty, mighty things will happen.”

Trust God in Spite of It

Christ Jesus trusted God-he kept his eyes on the prize of heaven.

Go after Him to heal you from it

The unfortunate reality that I want to challenge is that all too often the darkness that we face starts to feel so personal that we become protective of it, our identity and our pain become immersed so that we quickly lose sight of who we are and what the issue is. and of ourselves within it. Like a funeral shroud, we become accustomed to it as if it is all that there is. But it is not. Nor is it the end of the story. God is our healer, and our present help in trouble. He is able to heal us, here, now and into eternity.

I have been shown in darkness, light and have learned that even in prison one can be free. I am grateful. I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it.” – Kayla Jean Mueller

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The Power of the Gospel to Dispel Anger

“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold….Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.Be kind and compassionate to one another,forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:26-27, 31-32

“I cannot take this one moment longer!” These were the words that whirled through my head on the morning of October 18, 2016, shortly after spending 15 minutes on Facebook. There I sat, flabbergasted and astonished at the words that were being exchanged by dear, wonderful people who, for some reason, seemed to have lost all composure due to political disagreements. Accusations were flying fast and furious- lobbed like grenades over an internet fence, blowing up friendships, familial relationships, cordial relationships between colleagues and classmates. What on earth happened to our kindness and civility?

The 2016 election was a difficult one, in fact, most media sources are billing it as the most contentious political campaign in American history, and for good reason. There were important issues on the table-issues that deeply affected a broad cross section of people which make up our very diverse United States of America. As a result, people were angry, offended, and worried that our president –elect did not see them as important or valuable members of society. Let’s be clear, I am not making a statement as to whether any president can be used of God nor am I making any judgement as to how individuals chose to vote. Voting is a right that we have been given. The people have spoken. We now must move forward thoughtfully and prayerfully.

My point in using the 2016 election as the opening to this blog post is to bring to the surface what we have all seen in ourselves and in others around many issues and in many moments of our lives. There is within every human soul the potential to display a kind of anger which burns hot and wild, the kind of anger, that if fanned and fed, will result in wounding the people that we love and that God loves. In the midst of this very broken, confused and weary world-a world full of violence, hatred, injustice, hunger, darkness and sorrow, there is an urgent need for the body of Christ to outshine and outlast the darkness. No matter how ugly things become in our country or in our world, not matter how painful our realities may be, as believers in Christ we must live differently, speak differently and love differently so that the world may know Christ.

A call to civility and to love one another does not mean that there will never be a reason or a justification for anger. Anger is an emotion that we have been given, just like love, joy, or sadness. It is not that we have anger, rather it is how our anger is displayed and for what purposes-holy or unholy, that matters to the Lord. Scripture is replete with examples of times when the Lord or His people became angry and justifiably so (Exodus 11:8; 32:1-20, 1 Samuel 17, Galatians 2). God’s anger is always just as He is just. Our anger is not always so, therefore we must be mindful to seek the Lord daily through His Word so that He might cleanse and heal us when we have acted wrongly.

In our opening scripture coming from Ephesians chapter 4, the Apostle Paul offers us one example of how to address anger properly and humbly.

1. When you are angry, do not sin– It is possible to be angry about things that matter-injustice, corruption and the like without operating in sin. Take those things which you are most angry about to the Lord in prayer. Offer him your grief and lament and let him carry your burden because he cares for you (1 Peter5:7).. He sent His son to address that very injustice by shedding His own blood for the sins of the whole world.

2. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry-if you are harboring resentment against someone- be it a friend, or your spouse, do not let the day end with you resting your head on your pillow in anger. Instead, go and seek healing and forgiveness. Without that, the devil can gain a foothold in your life that opens the door to other conflicts.

3. Get rid of unhealthy anger– Is your anger another kind of wound in disguise? Are you picking fights, harboring hatred? Does your anger overwhelm you and overshadow other emotions? Seek the Lord in prayer. He is able to help.

4. Be kind and compassionate and forgive-There is such healing in forgiveness. It is not always easy or what we may want to do, but it does release us from the heavy burden of carrying unnecessary pain by ourselves. So forgive and show Christ like love and compassion to others in need. Take food to an elderly person who is shut in, volunteer at a shelter, sponsor a child or an immigrant family, volunteer at a school, be a mentor. God will use you in new ways and turn unnecessary anger and sorry into joy and peace.

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Love and Discipleship

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:34-35 ESV

In Greek Mythology there is a very famous love story involving two characters-Echo and Narcissus.

The story is told of a “talkative nymph” who “yet a chatterbox, had no other use of speech than she has now, that she could repeat only the last words out of many.” She falls in love with Narcissus, who she catches sight of when he is “chasing frightened deer into his nets.” Eventually, after “burning with a closer flame,” Echo’s presence is revealed to Narcissus, who, after a comic, yet tragic scene, rejects her love. Echo wastes away, until she “remains a voice” and “is heard by all.” This is the explanation of the aural effect which was named after her.

Then, Narcissus “tired from both his enthusiasm for hunting and from the heat” rests by a spring, and whilst drinking, “a new thirst grows inside him” and he is “captivated by the image of the beauty he has seen” and falls deeply in love with “all the things for which he himself is admired.” He then wastes away with love for himself, echoing the manner in which Echo did earlier on. A while later his body is gone, and in its place is a narcissus flower.i

Whether we find this story amusing, romantic or all together tragic, the tale of Echo and Narcissus does teach us something about the problem of misplaced love, a love driven by self-satisfaction and infatuation rather than mutual respect, honor and service of another. When relationships of any kind become mired in self, intimacy becomes tedious and unhealthy. The result is brokenness which is dangerous as it shackle us, stunting our spiritual and personal growth. There must be something more- something enduring, something beyond ourselves that compels us to love in the selfless manner in which Christ loves us and calls us to love others. Physicality is only temporary, but life in the spirit is eternal. How we live for eternity right now and how we treat one another makes a difference.

The kind of love that that Jesus calls us to offer the world takes several critical things into account:

1. Our identity in Christ is secure

The Lord must be our holy preoccupation. We must learn of His beauty and have His standard be that to which we aspire, not a false sense of identity as dictated by our culture, our familial relationships or experiences. We have exposed the lies of the devil that have caused us to live in brokenness, outside of a proper relationship with God and outside of relationship with others. We have done the work of recognizing how our sinful nature and desires rob us of true intimacy with the Father and others and have repented of our sin and have surrendered our lives to Christ, allowing Him to rule and reign in our hearts. We have become new.

2 Corinthians 5:17-Therefore if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come.

2. We daily remember Christ’s Sacrifice for Us

We receive his love for us joyfully and share the good news of his love with others with no expectations, or strings attached. This comes from an overflowing heart not an underwhelmed, disconnected one.

3. We live in His presence

We do this by maintaining relationship with the Lord in prayer, in the reading of the Word, in meditating on His truth- His exceedingly great and precious promises and living out what we have come to know through and by the power of His Holy Spirit.

In order ensure that Love is applied rightly in all of our relationships, both personal and spiritual we must:

Understand Loves Origin- 1 John 4:7-8, 16

Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. … and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.

Receive Loves Sacrifice-1 John 4:9

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.

Offer Loves Gift-1 John 4:11-12, 17

Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us… And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the Day of Judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.

We are at our best when we are in proper alignment with God. When the reflection that we fall in love with is not our own but His, then he is properly reflected in us. And this reflection will be pure and clear and will be translated into our discipling relationships with others. Without intimacy, even scripture becomes legalism. We consider loving neighbor as something that we are obligated to do rather than something that we are compelled to do because we ourselves have experienced the transformative love of God and because we have experienced this freedom.


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A Better Sacrifice (Hebrews 11)

“By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was approved as a righteous man, because God approved his gifts, and even though he is dead, he still speaks through his faith.” Hebrews11:4

Like many of you reading this post, I am a lover of God and His word, not just the portions that may make me feel good about my identity as a child of God but also the portions of scripture that stretch me and draw me to my knees in prayer. It is in those times that the double edged sword of Hebrews 4:12 is working on me, “judging the thoughts and attitudes of my heart” as the Lord calls me into a deeper sense of awe as to His ways, His precepts and His intentions which are always good and right.

In my early years as new believer, God’s refining word was particularly important, as I learned that my zeal for Him could often come across as judgmental as I attempted to share the good news with non-believers. Some of the mistakes that I made in my zealousness were innocent as I was ignorant and unlearned as to how to best share my faith with others. Other times, I just wanted to get the witnessing over with due to my own discomfort. The result was a half- hearted attempt at witnessing which, at times, made me look foolish.

Scripture has much to tell us about the importance of our soul and spirit’s posture as we consider bringing our sacrifices before the Lord. Whether they are physical or a spiritual nature, our hearts, our motives and our intentions must be correct in order for them to be truly regarded as pleasing before God. The same can be said regarding our efforts to witness to others.

In the book of Genesis the 4th chapter we find the story of Cain and Abel, two brothers with very different attitudes regarding sacrifice unto the Lord. The story of Cain and Abel offers us one example of what the blessings or consequences may be when we serve the Lord with a right or wrong spirit.

Genesis 4:2-5 “Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord.4 And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering,5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.”

Notice that the scripture says that in the course of time, Cain brought some of the fruit of the soil as an offering to the Lord while Abel brought an offering- a fat portion from some of the first born of his flock. According to biblical scholars, God’s issue with Cain’s was not due to the kind of offering he provided-a grain offering could be as pleasing as a meat offering, but it was the disposition of his heart and the spirit with which he brought forth the offering that displeased the Lord . That is why the Lord did not look upon the offering with favor. Notice what the Lord says next:

6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

The language here suggests that Cain had a choice regarding the posture of his heart in bringing forth his offering. All that was required of him was that he do what was right in the eyes of God as his Abel did in bringing forth the first fruits of his flock. Instead, the very sin that God warned Cain to master took ahold of him and he killed his brother, Abel. Despite Abel’s untimely death at the hand of Cain, his gift and his sacrifice and righteousness were remembered, as evidenced in Hebrews 11 and in 1 John chapter 3.

What might you and I learn from the story of Cain and Abel in regard to being a faithful witness to the gospel?

1. Witnessing done right is an honorable and faithful way to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others. Done wrong it is a stress filled, have-to-do it, make-a-disciple-in-five-minutes endeavor that can damage the church’s credibility and an unbelievers view of God’s goodness and grace. Abel was a faithful witness to his God and was blessed for it, even in death.

2. The offering up of our time, our talents and our treasure to the Lord should be a joyful sacrifice, not a burden. We must guard our hearts and be careful not to offer half- hearted sacrifices in the work that we are asked to do in the kingdom. Like Abel, we must give with joyful, obedient hearts knowing that pleasing God is our highest reward.

3. Witnessing is not about competition. If we treat witnessing as a competition or as a means to draw attention to ourselves, we run the risk of worrying about what others might think of us rather than what God thinks of us and our offering. As a result we can become frustrated, jealous or angry as Cain did when others have success in bringing others into the kingdom. There is no need for comparison with others. The only things that the Lord desires from us is that we be, “living sacrifices, holy and acceptable unto Him” which is our reasonable service and that our minds be renewed so that we think right thoughts and maintain right motives as we witness.

As we seek to please the Lord out of a heart of love and obedience to him, drawing near to him daily in prayer, in worship and study of the word, we will develop confidence in Him, deepen our dependence on Him and grow in love for Him which will impact the way that we share the good news with others.

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Facing the Fear: Moving Past the Worry of Witnessing to Loved Ones

“…to conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom, in the pursuit of truth as in the endeavor after a worthy manner of life.” Bertrand Russell

Recently as I was working on a research and writing project, I came across a rather interesting and somewhat absurd list, one that I knew existed and had some sense of, but had never closely examined. This rather lengthy list alphabetized and categorized issues that terrify certain individuals to the point of utter captivity and bondage, it was simply called, Phobias. Now, let me begin by saying that I know that there are some very real fears, which have affected individuals deeply, and I by no means want to make light of that fact, though I am not sure what would bring a person to suffer from a case of Alliumphobia, which is a fear of garlic, unless of course you had a family member who insisted on kissing you repeatedly after eating a large garlic-laden meal, Alektorophobia, a fear of chickens, or Amathophobia-the fear of dust, unless you are one of my kids who seem to find something else to do, like come down with a fever, when I pull out the Pledge and a rag. However, there was one fear among several that I found particularly intriguing and somewhat applicable as it relates to witnessing, it is called, Atychiphobia. Atychiphobia is defined as, “the abnormal, unwarranted and persistent fear of failure.”

I think that if we are honest with ourselves, some of us do carry this fear within us as it relates not only to sharing our faith in general, but in particular with loved ones. Why might that be? There are several reasons:

  1. Your loved ones often know you best-and because they have insight into the “you” that you used to be, we sometimes worry that our past will be thrown back in our faces, we will be called hypocrites or we will be ridiculed in very personal ways that could do emotional damage.
  2. You May have tried and failed before-When I first got saved I was so excited by my new found faith that I became overwhelmed by the thought that many of my family and friends were not saved. As a result I became a one-woman crusade to save them. While my intentions were good, my overzealousness was not and I alienated some of my closest loved ones.
  3. You don’t want to lose relationship– We love our family and friends and we often want to maintain an open and loving relationship with them. However, sharing Christ with them may mean discussing behaviors, attitudes and beliefs that are sinful and which hinder relationship with Christ.

Here are some things in brief that you can do to help you face the fear of ministering to loved ones, no matter how open or resistant they may be:

Pray Fervently– James 5:16b NLT says, “…the earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. In other words, before you speak what you believe needs to be heard, seek the Lord for His wisdom so that the words which you share come forth guided by the Holy Spirit, seasoned with salt and full of love.

Mind Your Zeal-It is wonderful that you have a desire to see loved ones come to a saving knowledge of Christ, however, overzealousness can alienate family and friends and cause them to feel frustrated, judged or downright resentful. Take your time ministering and be thoughtful as you speak to them. Rather than quoting endless scriptures, share your personal testimony about what the Lord has done in your life. Your honesty and vulnerability which gives glory to God alone can open significant doors.

Let Your Life Speak-We’ve all heard it said that our lives may be the only bible that someone ever reads. I have found this to be true in my life as a Christian. People would rather see us living our faith than simply talking about it. Let your life speak to such a degree that family and friends come to you with questions, concerns, and confessions. As you open your heart to them, and as you have prayed and sought the Lord, they may eventually say, “what must I do to be saved?”

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Take Rest

I can still remember the day like it was yesterday. I was sitting in an 8 a.m. political science class. Thinking that sitting in the front of the room would aide me in paying close attention to the professor, I sat in front of him, hoping, praying that I would stay awake. I did great for the first 20 minutes or so, but eventually my late night shift at work coupled with several hours of homework afterwards caught up with me. Smack! My forehead hit the desk with such force that it literally bounced me straight up in my chair and almost threw me backward had it not been for the back support piece and a college friend sitting behind me that kept me upright! The professor looked as shocked as I was though I am sure he was nowhere near as embarrassed! After the few brief moments, my professor leaned forward and whispered to me, “You may want to get up and go and get a drink of water and check your head.”

I attempted to slither out of the room, as classmates watched me out of the corner of their eyes. Friends grimaced and shrugged as if to say, “it happens to the best of us, just glad it was you and not me.” And of course someone had to bust out laughing. This was not my most shining collegiate moment. Fortunately my professor and I both understood that I was a good student and that it was not lack of discipline or hard work that propelled me into this moment of embarrassment; rather it was due to an issue that impacts many a person- lack of sleep.

According to the Center for Disease Control, 35% of American’s are not getting enough sleep. In fact, one third of us are getting less than the recommend 7 hours of sleep on a nightly basis and some are getting as little as 4 hours of sleep per night! The results are troubling. Beyond occasional crabbiness or an inability to focus on daily tasks at work or at home, lack of sleep can fuel greater challenges such as diabetes, obesity and heart problems. Sleep is essential for the body and mind to function but many of us, obsessed with busyness or overwhelmed with life’s challenges seem to miss this vital point. Beyond physical rest, there is also a need for spiritual and emotional rest. This kind of rest may be thought of as ceasing from striving and straining, running from place to place, problem to problem and issue to issue. God desires for us to slow ourselves and to cast our cares upon Him because He truly cares for us and our mental, emotional and physical health (1 Peter 5:7, Phil 4:6). God desires for us to take rest.

Why might it be important for us to examine this issue of taking rest:

  • We cannot function properly without it
  • We become mentally and emotionally compromised without rest
  • God wants us to grow in dependence on Him not deepen our dependence on ourselves by striving to do more
  • To learn to appreciate the wonder and beauty of all that He has created
  • To be present with Him and with people
  • Our God Himself rested and patterns for us the need for resting from our labor (Genesis 2:2-3)

At the end of the 11th chapter of after Jesus has preached in the towns of Galilee and rebuked those in other parts of the region who had not repented from their sin after witnessing the miraculous, Jesus addresses those whom He knows are in need of hope, of healing and of rest. Jesus addressing the crowd before Him says,

 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

God knows all too well the things that seek to overwhelm us and burry is under a mountain of exhaustion, frustration, weariness and shame. Our God desires to liberate us from those things so that we might be free to experience Him and the fullness of relationship and fellowship with Father, Son and Spirit and to enjoy life in Christ with those around us.

Would you take a few moments today and do a bit of gentle self-examination and ask yourself where you are missing the blessings of entering into the rest of God? If you are literally struggling to sleep, would you pray about seeing a sleep specialist, visiting with a pastor or at minimum praying and asking the Lord to reveal to you what is at the heart of your restlessness? If you are simply too busy and you know that it is compromising your time with the Lord and preventing you from being your best self, would you ask the Lord to provide you with the wisdom and the courage to step away from a few things, to delegate, reorganize or simply let go of things that are hindering your patterns of rest? Would you consider studying the Sabbath perhaps and learning the beauty of unplugging literally as well as figuratively so that you may have time with the King and with those around you? You matter to God and to the body of Christ which means that we must be healthy for today and for tomorrow. Learn to take Rest.

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Millennials and The Church: A Relationship in Transition

The streets in the neighborhood were relatively quiet. Pedestrians wandered down Dale Avenue, picking up speed as they stepped out and off of shiny new light rail trains. The hustle to get home or to the local establishment to put the day to rest seemed more pressing than exchanging pleasantries with others walking by as most folks kept their sun glasses on, ear plugs in and heads down. I had just come in from off of my front porch, a beautiful place which allows us to interact with as many people as will glance our way when, in an instant, the atmosphere in the streets began to change. Young people with an equal sense of urgency as the light rail pedestrians had had just 30 minutes prior, flowed down side streets heading toward a large open parking lot across the street from my home. Voices of youth ran hot and high as did young bodies, destined for a collision course with one another. Sticks were lifted high as if to play a game of baseball. But there was no ball to be thrown, there was no game to be played, only an unfortunate exchange of blows to bodies which sent some kids to the hospital, a few to jail and the majority home with bruised egos and a sick recording of unnecessary violence. This is not the neighborhood I remember growing up in, but it is the neighborhood which I live in and love.

The example I have given may seem like an extreme in the life of millennials. Some reading this may believe that this kind of aggression is reserved for the urban core as you have never seen this kind of acting out in your community. You may struggle to find the relevance of my example to issues with youth and the church, but as an educator and as a pastor of youth and young adults for over two decades, I have found that youth from all walks of life, socioeconomic status’, ethnic backgrounds and races are capable of many things, particularly if they have no intervention or guidance from those who could help them.

Youth today are looking for help. They desire to make meaning, to establish a place of belonging, to derive a sense of value out of the complex patchwork of their lives. Social media has, in some ways compounded the emotionalism and escapism of the age, as our kids ride a tidal wave of sexual deviance, violence, drunkenness and fierce argumentation against morality which would in any way curb personal freedom and choice. Without proper guidance, they feel unable to cope and feel helplessly unable to get out of the cycles they are in.

What a blessed opportunity the church has to step in to this time of challenge and to make an incredible impact that will remain. Our work does not have to be costly in terms of financial investment, though it will take some level of financial support, but it will be costly in terms of time and effort. So what are some things that we as the body of Christ can do to intervene in the lives of young people, be they in the church or in the communities in which you live? Here are 5 things that I have found to be immensely helpful in my journeying with youth over the last 27 years:

1. Be an advocate for them and their success

Everyone wants someone to believe in them. Youth need to know that someone sees them as more than mouthy, or a problem to be dealt with. Invest in a young person. Find out what they are good at. Help them develop skills and gifts that are transferable and that they can take with them into life. When they don’t know which way to turn, advocate for them, remind them that they matter and that, if they remain focused on their goals, they can make it.

2. Invite them into your life and your home and your church

Young people want love, safety and belonging more than they want money, cars and other such niceties. Research bears this out. Invite a small group of kids into your home or church on a day other than Sunday. Make a simple meal, bake cookies, play a game that can foster dialogue. You will be surprised how much youth want to share their lives and their hearts with someone who is safe.

3. Listen more than you talk

Allowing a young person to simply share what is on their heart and mind will do them a world of good. As you listen, be careful not to provide solutions or to fix their problems more than you hear what they are trying to say.

4. Help them identify solutions to their own challenges

There are many organizations and agencies in each of our communities that are looking for ways to impact the lives of youth. From community centers and schools, to para church organizations, sports leagues and youth prevention services, young people need to know that there are people that are for them and for their success. Help a young person in your church or neighborhood navigate the challenges that they face by connecting them to programs that are geared toward their success. Teach them how to ask good questions, to not be ashamed to seek help and remain humble as others give them advice and counsel. They will be grateful for it.

5. Pray fervently and consistently for them

When you don’t know what to do, pray. James tells us that the fervent, effectual prayer of a righteous person makes great power available. Unleash the power of prayer over your children, your neighbors, the kids that concern you in the community. They are somebody’s child and they need to been seen as Christ sees them.

We can make a difference in the lives of young people and when we do, we will see them make a positive impact on the church in the days, months and years to come.

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Who is My Neighbor?

The Gospel of Luke chronicles one of the most familiar and preached passages in all of Scripture, The Parable of the Good Samaritan. Beginning in Luke 10:27, we find Jesus interacting with an individual previously described as “an expert in the law” (v. 25). For those unfamiliar with such a person, an “expert in the law” was akin to a Th.D. (Doctor of Theology), an extraordinarily learned individual tasked with interpreting and applying the law for the Jewish community.

Lawyers were highly regarded individuals, trusted for their scholarship and admired for their wisdom and adherence to the Jewish scripture. However, these learned individuals, like any of us with gifts that go unchecked or uncontested, could also become arrogant and comfortable in their own knowledge and not live the words they spoke.

As we join the story, we encounter such a man, a keeper and interpreter of the law, who, according to the Word of God, “stood up to test Jesus” (v. 25).

Pause for a moment. Luke does us the favor of painting a vivid picture with his pen, doesn’t he? Imagine the moment.

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Blessed Are the Peacemakers

Several years ago, my husband and I were provided with the opportunity to visit Sweden. One day as we meandered through Gamla stan, Stockholm’s old city, we came upon the former Stock Exchange Building. Like many old buildings of its time, the building had been repurposed and had now become, among other things, home to the Nobel Prize Museum, recognizing the individuals or organizations who had received one of the prestigious awards in the fields of physics, literature, physiology, economics, and chemistry, as well as the Nobel Peace Prize.

Cropped shot of four happy friends hanging out in the living room
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Gospel Life

“Over the years I have become convinced that we learn best-and change-from hearing stories that strike a chord within us.”

– John Kotter, Harvard Business School

In my parent’s living room, tucked tightly between dated Encyclopedia Britannica’s , old record albums, athletic trophies, family photos and other childhood memorabilia, stands a torn, tattered, regal and splendid treasure. The four lettered titled treasure, with its bold and black and brown typography demands my attention each time that glance in its direction. It calls from the shelf as if to say, “Do not forget me, I am your history, I too am your story.” Alex Haley’s epic, award-winning book, ROOTS: The Saga of An America Family, was published in 1976 and became a made for television miniseries, debuting in January of 1977. Haley’s chronicling of his journey to trace his ancestry through the brutal slave trade all the way back to the shores of The Gambia, West Africa where he found his family-the ancestors of the great Kunta Kinte, marked my childhood forever and sparked in me a love for and understanding of the purposefulness of story. More Forty-five years after meeting Mr. Haley, I can still remember his kind face and thoughtful demeanor. A black and white photo marking that moment shall always be undeniably significant.

I am no Alex Haley, but as a communicator, and as a lover of the word of God, good books and great sermons, I understand the incredible power that story holds in and over our lives. The word of God is replete with examples of how Christ, the disciples, the prophets, and the apostles all used parables, poetry, and other illustrations to draw people into a deeper understanding of God. One of my favorite examples is found in 2 Samuel 12:1-13, where Nathan the prophet uses a parable or story to confront King David regarding his infidelity with Bathsheba. Appealing to King David’s sense of fairness, which had apparently been impaired by lust, Nathan tells David a story of a rich man and a poor man. The rich man had everything that he needed and wanted, while the poor man had one small ewe that was significant to the poor man and his family. When a traveler from out of town came and needed to be fed, the rich man took the ewe of the poor man and sacrificed it, rather than take from his own abundant flock. The Word of God says that David‘s anger was aroused by Nathan’s parable and commanded that this man, who was so cruel and selfish, be put to death. Nathan then said to David, “that man is you.” David acknowledged his sin and was spared from death, though his life and ministry were forever impacted.

This is a powerful example of how in the right time, with the right spirit and proper motive, a story can be used to bring truth to light. I am not suggesting that one so serious be used unless the Lord, through much prayer, is leading you to do so, but, I do believe the story makes its point clear-stories can present a pathway to the gospel and ultimately to repentance and salvation.

With this in mind, let me offer three practical ways to use story as an entry point to deeper conversations about faith:

1. Personalize your story. There is never a better story to tell than one that you tell about yourself. I often share with people something of my own testimony of how I came to know Christ, how I overcame hardship or dealt with disappointment on my faith journey. People tend to value transparency and honesty rather than perfection. So, rather than beginning from a place of expertise about what they should do, I give honor and glory to God by declaring what he has already done for me. It breaks the ice, opens the door to questions and points to God’s faithfulness and abundant love.

2. Paint a Picture. Jesus was thee Master story teller. He often used examples from daily life in order to help his listeners, who were often simple folk, understand deeper principles. Paint a picture with stories, as you would apply paint and brush to a canvas. Illustrate a situation in a way that they will understand and when appropriate, use humor. Daily chores, cooking flops, child rearing snafus, decorating mishaps, family stories both serious and funny all provide rich content for painting pictures on the canvas of someone’s imagination.

3. Prepare in advance. As easy as storytelling may seem to you or me, good story telling is more of an art form. Either way, practice and preparation are important. We must remember that we are not telling a story for stories sake, but to bring a person to a point or moment of clarity and confession of Christ. Ways that I have prepared myself for encounters anywhere at any time include time in the word ,reading devotionals like Guideposts, Our Daily Bread, Chicken Soup for the Soul as well as other sources of inspiration such as children’s books, blog posts, and sermon sites. More than any of this- pray. He will guide you.