The Least of These

This afternoon I have my first interview for my internship placement. This internship is in marriage and family therapy and counseling. Throughout my studies the past couple years I have come to appreciate those in the mental health field.

It’s not easy being a therapist. It’s not just the fact that people come into your office hoping to unload their problems, which is heavy. It’s not just that you hear stories that make you cry, which is sad. The hardest part is not even watching someone struggle, but who is unwilling to admit that they need help. Those things are hard. Perhaps the hardest part of therapy is learning to overcome your flesh and learn to value each individual.

This has been especially hard for me, but I am confident in saying that I have grown immensely in that area. Passing judgement is a sin, but sin is human’s nature since the Fall. Learning to silence that voice of my flesh is so hard.

However, in order for me to go into the business of soul care and hurt healing, I had to learn to do this. It’s an imperative skill. But that didn’t make it much easier.

In the coming months and years I will find myself sitting across from addicts, rapists, abusers, homeless, and mentally ill. I will see people of all races, nationalities, and religions. I will be surrounded by those who I believe have poor hygiene, misplaced priorities, self-pity, and little motivation to move from the place where they are. I will see people who I think “got what they asked for” or that due to their choices, are right where they want to be in life. I will see people every single day who come to me for help, but aren’t willing to help themselves. Yet I have to control my urge to judge this person and assume that I know their circumstance. Many times we find ourselves comparing our life story to those around us. That’s unfair. Not everyone grew up in a Caucasian, two parent home in the upper-middle-class tax bracket where there were no signs of abuse and neglect. In a home where both parents loved them unconditionally and put their child’s needs before their own. No, that wasn’t everyone’s story. In fact, that was very few people’s story…and oftentimes even those who share my story, end up on a completely different path.

In the very beginning of the Bible it tells us that God created man in his image and with his own likeness (Genesis 1:27). Stop and ponder that for a minute. It doesn’t say only I was made in his image or only my pastor was made in his image. We all were! That makes the human race the most precious creation. Each individual, no matter their ailments or life history, was created in the image of the Almighty God. That means that we each have immeasurable value. I have to train myself to see this value in each person that I encounter. Whether in my career or in the grocery store. This simple revelation will change the entire way that you view others.

Jesus said in Matthew 25, “When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat, and when I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I was a stranger, you welcomed me, and when I was naked, you gave me clothes to wear. When I was sick, you took care of me, and when I was in jail, you visited me. Whenever you did this for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.

Wow! That is powerful. Do you have any idea what this means? Those who I mentioned as being hard to sit across the table from are JESUS! Each and every one of them is Jesus. And if I help them, it is the same as if I am helping my sweet Lord.

Though I will never be able to repay Jesus for what he did on the cross for me, and I will never be as perfect or blameless as him, I can serve Him but serving others. Being covered by Him in the eyes of Our Father, I can represent Him through my works here on Earth. I can do as he did when he was here. I can do for the least of these.

To go a step further, we are told in Luke 6, “Lend without expecting to be paid back. Then you will get a great reward, and you will be the true children of God in heaven. He is good even to people who are unthankful and cruel. Have pity on others, just as your Father has pity on you.”

Today I take one of my first steps in pursuing my calling. Pray for me. That I will treat every human as Jesus himself and see the immense value of each life.

Reverend Billy Graham has said, “Just as pastors are called to lead the flock, if you are a child of God, you too are called to your vocation.”

Amen.

Advertisements

Future Promises

I just rounded out another year with a birthday…the big 24 now….with that comes continued comments of “when ya gonna get married?” or “any babies coming soon?” The answer to those questions are “God willing and in his time, but not today.” I may only be a year shy of half-way-to-thirty…but I am mature for my age (judging by the actions of my peers and elders). In my seemingly short time here on earth so far, I have experienced a lot. Seen a lot. Been a lot of places. And got some education.

That being said, it irks me to no end when a middle-aged mom or dad says to me “Oh, you wait until you have kids. You’ll change your tune.” Or “just because you have all these child degrees, you think you’re smarter than me.”

Is it naïve of me to think that I won’t change my tune? Furthermore, is it stubborn of me to be determined that I won’t?  Now I know that some of the irrelevant practices may change, but I can promise you there are some things that will remain the same regardless of the age I am when I have children. I can promise you this because I will not change, and my values will certainly not waiver.

A few promises to my children:

I promise to love you unconditionally. This means without a single stipulation attached. If I am your mother, the Lord has blessed me far beyond what I deserve or could ever dream of. He has entrusted me with your wellbeing and I intend to do my very best to raise you right. Nothing you could ever do could make me love you more or less. There will be times when I dislike you, I am certain of that, but loving is never in question.

I promise not only to love you unconditionally, but to show you that love unconditionally. This means that even if you make a decision I disagree with, I will do everything in my power to respond with love. If you happen to be gay. If you choose to date outside our race. If you become a teen parent. If you choose to ruin your health with drugs and alcohol. Through all of these things I will love you. And I will try my best to show that love to you, as Christ would. Your life choices are not my decision, once you hit a certain age. And I may have to show you tough love, but it will be love. I promise.

I promise to spank you. Not because I want to. Not because I feel like it. But to be used as a form of discipline. I will not harm you, but I may hurt your feelings. You will ask me why do I spank, and your friends parents may not do the same. But that’s okay. Everyone is different. Your grandparents spanked me, and I learned lessons easier for it. You will get similar treatment.

I promise not to sweat the small stuff. There are things that matter and things that don’t. I promise to determine the difference appropriately. You’re going to get dirty. You’re going to break things. You’ll color the walls and shave the dog and knock out your own tooth. But that’s okay. You’re a kid and you’re learning to be a good one. Love us, respect us, love Jesus, and respect yourself….the rest is small stuff.

I promise to teach you about the love of Jesus. As a child, your imagination will run wild and the stories in the Bible will come alive to you. That is amazing. That is wonderful. And the sooner you learn about the importance of Jesus, the better. Growing up in church will allow your faith to grow and mature with your body. How special is that?! The sooner you realize that you were put on this earth for a purpose, the sooner you can start figuring out what that purpose is.

I promise to let you be a kid. You will get to play and have fun. That’s what being young is all about. Computer screens and cell phones are for adults, and they hurt your eyes and probably contain carcinogens. Those things are not for you. Sorry, I’m not sorry. Go play. Outside. Inside. With friends and neighbors and cousins. Get dirty.

I promise to let you be independent. I’ve been there. I know you think you’re so smart, and maybe you are. But I can promise you one thing, you aren’t smarter than me. Now I will let you pick out your clothes, help around the house, and teach you to cook a meal. But never fool yourself into thinking that isn’t part of my plan. I am helping you grow up to be big and strong and not be dependent on anyone else.

I promise to always be honest with you. I don’t like secrets or surprises and if you’re a child on mine, you probably don’t either. I will tell you straight and you can trust me. Sometimes I may have to phrase things a little different in order for you to be able to understand, but I will do my best. I know you’ll ask me some hard ones….where do babies come from? What does it mean to pass away? Can I have a pony? How do I say “no” to my friends?….yes, these questions will come. And I will be patient with each one.

I promise to always be your Mama. This doesn’t mean I’ll always be your friend…because I know there will be times when we are not friends. But I promise that I will always be here, and one day, you’ll want to be my friend. And when that day comes, I’ll smile because I knew it was on the way. And I’ll be relieved that the tense times are behind us.

I promise to never take you for granted. You are a person, who was made in my body, given to me by our Lord. You are a blessing. Every moment that I have with you is one I will never have again. Each day is here and then gone. I promise to seize the day and cherish our time together. I promise to say thank you. For all you will ever do and help me with and give to me. You are special. You are beautiful. I will love you for as long as I am here.

These words are simple. These promises aren’t extravagant. But they are precious. And they are true. And I wish in my heart of hearts that each child born had these things promised and fulfilled throughout their lives. This is what each child deserves. I am not yet a mother, but the Lord willing, I will have a chance to put these thoughts into actions one day.

Tis the Season

Tis the season….to be jolly….for giving…

How often are we not jolly and giving? Or either we are not jolly while we are giving?

This holiday season, don’t let your heart be hardened and stingy with your giving and cheer. Everyone needs a blessing and if you are reading this you are sitting in front of a computer or on your phone, you have stable housing and clothes that are free of holes, you probably even have a sustainable source of income. Let me tell you something friend, you are blessed. You may be down on your luck or going through a rough patch, but you are so EXTREMELY rich compared to others around the world and within our own country.

I myself have been guilty of giving sparingly to strangers and even sometimes those whom I know. I justify it by saying “I don’t think they are really homeless” or “I know they’ll just use the money for drugs and alcohol”. That is me!! And that is probably you too. Our society has grown accustomed to those who seem to mooch off the system and get something for nothing. And people like you and me don’t think it’s fair and so we choose to be resentful and stingy when it comes to giving to these people. After all, they already get more than they worked for (since they don’t work) and I am already paying them with my tax dollars.

Today, December 17, 2014 I am telling you that we have to stop this. We must begin to give of ourselves to others as God lays it on our hearts. This could be with our time, money, or resources. But if God is calling you and tugging at your heart to do so and you don’t, that’s an act of disobedience. And we should always strive to be obedient to God in every way, every day.

We must not hoard our riches here on Earth. It is pointless and meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Luke says in Acts 20 “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (v. 35). Regarding this passage, Angela Thomas says, “When we are aware of where everything comes from, who it belongs to, and why it has been given to us, then it seems foolish to hoard anything that God has given.” We must not give to receive. Be that in the form of gifts or recognition. That MUST NOT be our motivation.

When you give to those who will forget to say thank you, all of heaven stands to applaud you. The Lord is omnipresent. He sees it all. And he knows you, inside and out. He knows your motives. In this life we will encounter those people who take from us and do not appreciate or acknowledge what we have done. Although that makes us feel really crappy, know that God has seen you and He loves you more for giving freely. The hardest part about giving is having no expectation of how the person will receive it. Even if we do not strive for recognition, we all strive for appreciation.

Angela Thomas says, “I am supposed to give as I am led by God. How my giving is received is not mind to determine.” Wow. That’s good stuff! There will be times where you give and it will be used for the wrong reasons. There will be times you will be taken for a fool by the person you give to. But we can’t let our pride get in the way of giving. We have to stop caring how we look to others and we absolutely can not put stipulations on the gifts we give to others.

Neil Anderson says, “We should never give people what they deserve- we are called to be merciful…We are to be gracious and give people what they need- the gift of love.” As children of God and brothers and sisters of Christ, we are called to give. Give, give, give. Everyone needs to be loved, even if they don’t deserve it. You must never forget, we don’t deserve it. We deserve the most brutal wrath of God, but it is by grace that Jesus has saved us through faith that we are no longer to receive that wrath. He gave, knowing that he was being viewed as an idiot, being taken advantage of by many, but he gave to you and me his life. And every day we are to strive to be more like Him. Therefore we must give. Happily and freely.

Tis the season to be jolly while giving, for JESUS is the reason for the season!

Merry Christmas! May God continue to bless you in abundance in the coming year.

Why you gotta be so mean?!

Why are people so mean? More specifically, why are Christians so mean?

Those who do not follow Christ have somewhat of an excuse, because there has been no standard or bar set for how they should act. This doesn’t mean these folks won’t have to answer for their meanness, they just don’t want to believe it.

Christians, as the hands and feet of God, people look at us differently. We are constantly under scrutiny from the outside world, yet we still give into the Devil’s qualms. Look around you; there are people in your life who do not attend church or do not follow Jesus. There is a reason for that. Nonbelievers look at “us” and see God. As His hands and feet, doing all things “to the glory of Christ”, WE are a representation of him. And to a nonbeliever, how we act is how God would act. They associate our actions, morals, and emphasis with that of our God. And though we are not sinless and are constantly falling short, that doesn’t stop people from looking at us and thinking this way. Therefore we must be VERY careful in what we say and do to others and to each other.

Christians persecuting other Christians is the worst kind of dispute. We are to LOVE one another and build each other up, not point fingers, name names, and slander our Brother or Sister in the community. The sickest part about this is that some who do this think they are doing it in “good faith” and that it is the right thing to do. No WONDER people don’t want to come to church with you! Good grief! Who in the world would think that doing such mean, hateful, and ungodly things would be a positive representation of Christ?!

The Devil is a liar and a thief who’s purpose is to destroy this world and pit us against one another. He does this in multiple ways, and one way is through an individual. The Devil can be working in you and you not even know it. In fact, he may even trick you into thinking you are doing “the Lord’s work”. Be careful of this my friends. You may be able to point the finger at someone whom you think he is using, only to realize later that YOU were that person all along.

Matthew 19:19 says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This phrase is no coincidence. God knew how selfish and self-centered we were. He then instructs you to take that very self-righteous love you have for yourself and give it away. Give it to someone else. Can you say you have done that today? Loved someone else as much as you love yourself? And I am not talking about your mom or dad. They’re easy to love. I am talking about your “enemy”. Your adversary.

Love is the only way to overcome such meanness and hurt. Love and forgiveness.

In the last month, my home church (that little old Southern Baptist one I have mentioned before) has lost its pastor, 4 deacons, a pianist, choir director, treasurer, and 40 members. During the last month there have members within those 40 who have lied, slandered, accused, stonewalled, disrespected, and hurt other members. This has been a rough month. Some have questioned how could Christians treat others in such a way. I believe that Perry Noble says it best when he points out that God has His hand in all things. ALL things, not just the good. God either makes things happen or allows them to happen. This has come as no surprise to God. He allowed the Devil to do this to our church, just as he allowed the Devil to test many in the Bible. However, the Devil does not rule. God owns the Devil and the Devil only does things to the extent that God allows. Therefore, there is no real reason to worry. Yes, we have “lost” a lot this month. But we are promised that whatever we give, we will get back ten-fold. So I have no worries at all about the stability of our church.

Now we are not focused on hurrying up and getting out of this situation we are in. We got here and here is where we are. Instead we are seeking how we can walk through this stressful situation well. Because this is where God put us. This is His will. And it WILL be for the good. Perry Noble says, “As our view of God increases, our worry and stress decrease, because it’s only then that we begin to believe that all the things that are over our heads are under His feet.”

Joseph shows us in Genesis, the very first book of the Bible, the importance of forgiveness. The power of forgiveness is greater than the pain of our circumstances. Someone may intend to harm you, but God intends it all for good.

Jesus is our role model. We should do nothing but strive to be more like him each day. Everyone, whether Christian or unbeliever, know the story of his death. The horrific and gruesome details. But one of the most incredible parts of his story is that he forgave. He forgave the people who were murdering him, and they never even asked for it, he just gave it to them. Freely. I’ve heard people say that they would forgive someone if that person who offended them apologized and then asked for forgiveness. As nice as that would be, it doesn’t always happen. But the example set before us is to forgive freely- even to those who don’t deserve it.

There has been one particular individual who told elders in our church that when she left with our pastor, the Devil would outweigh the Lord in our church. And she was taking God with her when she left.

Have you ever heard such ridiculous statements?

To set the record straight, the Devil will NEVER outweigh MY God. My God is supreme, all-knowing, omnipotent, and in control. He could go to Hell and walk among all those burning in the lake of fire and he would STILL be bigger! He would still be ruling. He is NEVER outnumbered, outweighed, or outmatched. If anyone tries to tell you so, call them a lie and don’t listen to another word. Secondly, to think that a human can “take” God anywhere is just stupid. God is everywhere, all the time, with everyone. Furthermore where two or three gather in His name, He is there in even MORE power. For a lady to think that she is the boss and can order MY Lord around, she is sadly mistaken. I can see her now saying, “Come on Lord, get in my bag, you’re coming with ME!” ……….yeah right.

I will end this lengthy post by saying that as Christians, we should love. No matter what. And I do still love each and every person who has left our church. But sometimes love is done best when it is done at a distance.

I would also like to say that NO ONE or NO THING is going to steal my joy.

Kay Warren says, “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in all things.”

I will not be separated from that joy. Nice try, Devil. Try again later.

The Rich

This past Sunday I visited a new church. My home church is a traditional Southern Baptist, and I love the people who are there…I just wanted to try something different. I heard about this new church that was fairly young in my area that is a praise and worship type church, with Baptist affiliation. I found myself being very welcomed in the congregation and truly enjoyed the sermon. But wouldn’t you know the one Sunday I visit, the subject is money and being rich.

Smack my head. Every pastor’s nightmare.

The way this pastor preaches, he picks a certain portion of the Bible and goes verse by verse each week. They had been focusing on James 5, and I guess last Sunday was when the dreaded portion of the text arose.

There were many things that stuck out to me during the sermon, but the opening statement really grabbed me. Pastor Daylon said, “When I say the word “rich”, you automatically had someone particular come to mind.” …..true. So very true. As a full-time graduate student, full-time employee at a nonprofit organization, young adult with a car payment and 2 dogs; I know what it’s like to pinch pennies. Although I am not poor by any means, I can definitely think of someone rich and lots of people richer than me. He then went on to say that in reality, Americans today and people in general are ALL “the rich”. We have free access to things today that the majority of kings, queens, and royalty throughout history has never experienced. At the push of a button we can experience hot or cold air, have our waste swept away from out from under us, and clean water; just to name a few. Stop and think about that for a second.

Wow.

That’s incredible.

Daylon said, “Having riches is not a sin. It’s what you do with these riches.”

This passage in James is eluding back to the story of the Rich Young Man in Mark 10:17-27.

Having riches is fine, as long as you are willing to give them up if asked and share then with others without being asked.

In America, there is always extra. We throw away so much that could be used. Now some will say, “Oh there are starving children in Africa that would love to have your left-overs.” That’s not what I am saying. I say, “There are starving children in your NEIGHBORHOOD that would love your left-overs.” People, we HAVE to take care of our own before we can spread to other nations. Some focus on the ministry to other countries and shoeboxes to foreign lands. I often wonder, would there be children in Rocky Mount that could use shoeboxes? Although every individual, rich or poor, in this country is still technically rich, could I change their way of life and help them just a little?

The main problems that people fall into with their riches is the need for control of those riches, greed in wanting to keep them, and a lack of generosity to share them with others. If any of these three things is you, you are DEAD in your SIN. Your main concern can NOT be you and your stuff. Food spoils, clothes rot, even metal rusts. If our Lord has blessed you with more than you need, give it away. And while you are giving it away, be sure to let that person know that it is God who has provided for you, and in turn, them. Use that giving opportunity to give away more than stuff. Give away knowledge about Jesus.

It is by no mistake that you are blessed with all you have. There are 3 main reasons that we have riches; to meet your needs, to enjoy, and to give generously. Did you hear that? The Lord blesses you with riches not ONLY to meet your needs, but to please you and for your enjoyment. There is no need to feel guilty about being rich. If you can afford to have nice things, buy them. As long as you leave some to give away. You see? God doesn’t want you to starve in order to feed others. He doesn’t want you to gain riches and lead a miserable life because you give it all away. He wants you to ENJOY what he has blessed you with. Just remember to give. As long as you give, you will continue to receive. God pours himself into our emptiness and will continue to bless you if you do His good works.

God blesses us to increase our standard of living and our standard of GIVING!

No matter how financially rich or poor you are, you have something to give others. What you give to others will return to you ten-fold. Never become naïve to the point that you believe you created the riches for yourself. You can do all things through CHRIST who gives you strength (Phil. 4:13). It is not by your mere will alone that you are blessed with riches.

Be thankful for all you have. Even the smallest things. There have been millions throughout history who did not have such things. There are millions today that still don’t.

YOU are blessed. YOU are rich.

Thank God Almighty for that.