Use Words When Necessary

Her name is Bipana and every time I see her she wears a bright yellow shirt that matches her personality. She has the kind of smile you can’t ignore.

Bipana is an ethnic Nepali. She is 26 years old and spent the first 20 years of her life in limbo in a refugee camp in Nepal after her family fled Bhutan for racial discrimination.

use words when necessary

The refugee camps didn’t have electricity, the conditions were very cramped and the outbreak of fire was always a concern. Bipana attended a makeshift school within the walls of the camp. As she got older, she became a self-taught beautician.

Life in a refugee camp was very harsh.

Bipana resettled in the United States just one year ago as my neighbor with her toddler daughter and husband and she picked up English easier than most.  Her husband works at a factory 12 hours a day, 6 days a week.

And while she dreams of being a beautician in America one day, she spends her free time knitting beautiful items to help buy diapers and other necessities for her family.

My first day with the refugees was her first day in the new Art Business Class that my friends asked me to help lead. We were drawn to each other –with her willing heart and my need for a translator.

Sometimes you don’t need to speak the same language to be able to understand each other.

When she walks into the room with a bag full of knitted items, she looks for me. We hug and grasp hands. We are connected. We are friends.

Someone asked me why I haven’t told her about Jesus yet.

How could I not share Him with this Buddhist woman?

I was hungry and you fed me.

I was thirsty and you gave me a drink.

I was homeless and you gave me a room.

I was shivering and you gave me clothes.

I was sick and you stopped to visit.

I was in prison and you came to me.

They reply, “Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you? Then the King will say, I’m telling the solemn truth:  Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked and ignored, that was me—you did it to me.” –Matthew 26: 36-40

I’ve spent the last six weeks loving this woman. My friends and I have taught these beautiful refugee women a few things and learned much more. We are helping with their basic needs and with navigating this new culture. We are building relationships.

“There is such an emphasis on church buildings in the United States that we sometimes forget that the Church is the people-not the place where people meet… The church –a group of believers-is God’s ordained place for the discipleship process to take place. God’s Plan A for the redemption of the world is the Church, and He has no Plan B.”” K.P. Yohannan

My new friend may never step inside a church, but that doesn’t mean the Church can’t go to her.

Because we are God’s plan.

We are the Church.

Every week, new refugee women join the Art Business Class and something amazing has happened. Instead of us teaching them, faltering with the language barrier, they teach each other. I’ve watched Bipana countless times show a new woman how to get started.

I hope one day we can talk about what compels me to drive two hours a week to be a part of her life.

But really, I hope that as I follow Jesus, Bipana will follow me and find Him. And then she will teach her friends about Him.

This isn’t just a social gospel –doing tangible things like sharing our wealth with the poor. It’s more. It’s a life-changing Gospel that makes dead people alive. But it’s not one or the other. It’s both.

Sometimes we use words to share the Gospel.

Other times we just live it.


The Reflection in the Mirror

I used to hate mirrors.

I avoided them as often as I could. I would get ready in the morning for school—squinting and inwardly criticizing my reflection and then I would avoid looking again until the end of the day.

It wasn’t the mirror I hated, really. It was the reflection.

It was me. Because all I could see was imperfection.

I spent a lot of those teen years wishing I was taller, curvier in some places, thinner in others. I longed for my boring brown hair to be less wavy, for my skin to be clearer, for more beauty.

I wanted to be beautiful. But, really, I wanted others to think I was beautiful.

It wasn’t just outward approval I longed for; I wanted to be liked. Loved.

But it’s a futile journey-this self-loathing and it leads to ugliness that runs deep.  And no cosmetic magic makeover can ever repair the broken reflections. We won’t ever be enough in those mirrors.

People spend millions of dollars in lotions and potions and peels and injections trying. It’s artificial.

“Until you are convinced of God’s incredible love for you, you will continue looking for replacement love everywhere,” Love Idol: Letting Go of Your Need for Approval – and Seeing Yourself through God’s Eyes.

I found true love for myself and mostly others when I accepted God’s great love for me.

preapproved

I put away the mirrors that compare and contradict and condemn and I traded them for something pure and holy. I may never understand its depths, but in that deep pool of unfathomable love, I saw myself as a reflection of Christ.

It changed everything for me.

The overwhelming, ever-present need for approval lessened. I realized it was okay to be unapproved by others because I was preapproved by God. Nothing else required. Just like I am.

I remember the first time I saw a picture of myself and thought, “She is pretty.”

It was startling because I realized that she was me.

I was being transformed from the inside out.

I still had the same unruly brown curls and average face, but I saw a different reflection.

And it had absolutely nothing to do with what I looked like.

 

I dare you to trade in the mirrors in your life that crave approval. It’s time to exchange them for always-sent preapproval in God’s eyes. Love Idol by my friend Jennifer Dukes Lee will help you find the acceptance we long for. I loved this important book and you will too!

LoveIdol_FC_Endorsement_101413-426x640

Today, she is graciously giving away two copies. Please leave a comment to be entered.

_____________________________
And if you really want to know how God feels about you, click here now.


The Uncomfortable (Wonderful) Truth About Doing What God Tells Us

Last week I did something that made me uncomfortable.

I said yes.

It was to an email from a blog reader who also supports Mercy House telling me about a friend who was very sick. A mother diagnosed with a very serious illness who would be separated from her five beautiful children for weeks, seeking complicated medical intervention in my city, where she and her husband didn’t know a soul. Another mother who had spent her life saying yes to God, loving others.

Would I reach out to her? Would I go and pray for her?  

My first thought was to respond that the hospital was 45 minutes away, that I am really an introvert and terrible in these situations, that I am overwhelmed with my yes to Mercy House and yes to helping refugees and yes to the epic laundry pile. I wanted to excuse myself because I didn’t know when I’d find the time and really, I haven’t stepped foot into a hospital since watching my sister-in-law pass away last year. My first reaction was to come up with all the reasons I couldn’t possibly say yes.

Which is generally a clear indication that I should.

I understand we can’t say yes to everything and everyone. And while I’m careful to guard my time, I really believe there are some questions we don’t have to pray about. There are some situations that grip your heart and you know God is speaking.

And this was one for me.

When I read the email to my husband and kids, they didn’t think twice about going. And I had to be honest with myself.

Because here’s the deal: If my To Do List isn’t governed by love, than I need to lay it down. If I’m too busy to love another person, then I’m too busy.

Because all the doing can make a person sick and leave no time for getting well.

Saying yes and obeying God is uncomfortable. It’s awkward. It requires self-denial. It requires action.

iStock_000024694906Small

It’s easy to have faith at home that God will heal a sick mom I’ve never met, but it’s a different story when I’m standing next to her hospital bed with my family with a bag of books and goodies asking Him to do so.

Because, yes, I’m sure it encouraged my new friend, but even more, it encouraged me. We must understand that obedience isn’t just for the person receiving. It’s even more for the person doing.

The uncomfortable truth of doing what God tells us is this: It’s going to cost something-pride, time, money, bravery. But the reward of stepping into the unknown far outreaches and outlasts the price you have to pay.

A typical week at my house is anything but typical.

There’s always someone dropping off donations on the front porch, packing orders in the Mercy House building in our backyard,  homeschool groups serving, mothers organizing in the garage, random people ringing the doorbell to see if I need help.

If you would have described this life scenario to me a few years ago, I would have laughed. And then hid.

I used to be a private person. I rarely had friends over and I was uncomfortable with people I didn’t know. I was safe in my controlled little world where I didn’t have to push my introverted self out of my comfort zone.

But I wouldn’t trade this real life today for anything in the world. Because my yes depends on a lot of others to say yes with me.

And I’ve been changed in the process.

As we drove home from the hospital, Terrell and I marveled at how much we had in common with our new friends from Missouri and we thanked God for introducing us to this beautiful, brave family.

My kids are already asking when we can go again.

The truth is we needed that visit as much as they did.

Stepping out in obedience makes us feel better because To Do lists can make a soul sick and it’s in the loving others we get well.

Do what God tells you to do. Even if it’s uncomfortable. Especially then.

You won’t regret it.

 

P.S. Please pray for my friend Heather.


The Truth About Church No One is Talking About

I can remember lying beneath the pew on Sunday nights with my twin sister.

I can remember coloring and drawing pictures quietly while the pastor preached.

I can remember what happened when we weren’t so quiet.

I can’t remember not going to church.

We rarely missed the three weekly services and that didn’t count Easter Pageant practices and Friday night youth events. I left those pews for Bible college and left Bible college for church staff positions. I spent the first thirty-something years of my life inside the church walls.

I’ve heard hundreds of topical, expository, textual, and biographical sermons. I’ve listened to dozens of personal testimonies and shared some of my own. I’ve attended discipleship courses and witnessing classes. I’ve done Beth Moore Bible studies for countless Thursdays and I’ve attended my fair share of Christian conferences. I have five versions of the Bible and 12 crosses in my home decor. I know a hundred Christian songs.

I took it all in. I was a beefed-up Christian.

But for most of my pew sitting years, I ignored something very important.

I was full of faith, but I wasn’t obedient.

powerful quote about Christians and service

Our churches have everything these days–killer kids programs, cool and traditional decor, an array of worship styles, and some even have bookstores and coffee shops, fitness classes, x-box game rooms, multi media events, but something is lacking.  It’s obedience.

I’ve read the Bible my entire life, but for most of my time on earth, I haven’t done what it said. I stayed away from the big sins and wore my Christian t-shirts. But often when I was asked to serve or say yes to God, I would answer, “Let me pray about it.”

I got fat on the Good News. I hoarded it all to myself and didn’t share it.

And then a few years ago, I got fed up with my unhealthy diet of the American Dream. I was sick to death with affluenza. I was bored and busy with temporal things that didn’t matter.

I was cured when I decided to do whatever God told me.

I said yes and I will keep saying it–even when it feels small, even when I don’t know what to do next, even when I am inadequate. Because it’s not the results that matter–the success or failure–it’s that I am being obedient.

I’m sad that for most of my Christian walk, I fell for the lie that church was the holding tank for believers. If I just went to church, that was enough. But church isn’t the culmination of Christianity, it’s the springboard for our obedience to God.

I love my church. I look forward to attending every week! But the truth is we were never meant to just attend church. There are people all over the world dying for this faith. There are people held captive by sin and poverty, waiting on someone to come share the news about Jesus. Christians don’t have the luxury to add church to their lives like it’s an optional elective.

Church isn’t the place where we draw the line at the door and say to those inside the walls  ”We are good. We are right. We are done.” Because when we do that we are saying to those outside, “You are bad. You are wrong. You don’t matter.”

Instead we are commanded to turn our churches into a hospital for hurting people, not a club where we are comfortable. When we walk in obedience, it’s risky. It’s scary as hell. It’s the wildest thing we will ever do. When we are willing to walk away from our comfort zone and say to God, “I will do whatever you tell me,” we’re embarking on a journey that will change our lives. And nothing will ever make us feel more alive or fulfilled.

This is Christianity. This is faith in action. These words from James chapter 2 (Message translation) leap off the page:

Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?

18 I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, “Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I’ll handle the works department.”

Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove.

19-20 Do I hear you professing to believe in the one and only God, but then observe you complacently sitting back as if you had done something wonderful? That’s just great. Demons do that, but what good does it do them? Use your heads! Do you suppose for a minute that you can cut faith and works in two and not end up with a corpse on your hands?

21-24 Wasn’t our ancestor Abraham “made right with God by works” when he placed his son Isaac on the sacrificial altar? Isn’t it obvious that faith and works are yoked partners, that faith expresses itself in works? That the works are “works of faith”? The full meaning of “believe” in the Scripture sentence, “Abraham believed God and was set right with God,” includes his action. It’s that mesh of believing and acting that got Abraham named “God’s friend.” Is it not evident that a person is made right with God not by a barren faith but by faith fruitful in works?

25-26 The same with Rahab, the Jericho harlot. Wasn’t her action in hiding God’s spies and helping them escape—that seamless unity of believing and doing—what counted with God? The very moment you separate body and spirit, you end up with a corpse. Separate faith and works and you get the same thing: a corpse.

This is the truth no one is talking about.  Obedience transforms the church from a meeting place to a moving body with flexible parts so that together we can reach a broken world.

A couple of Sundays ago, we drove a loaded u-haul truck in front of our church that they had rented for us to hold the donations. What started as a simple yes of obedience turned into an avalanche of action from our church. My daughter asked, “Are we going into church today?” We had an hour drive to the refugee apartment complex where we would serve the rest of the day. I looked at my watch, “No, honey. Today we won’t be going into church.”

photo copy

“Instead we are going to BE the church.”

We are going to put our faith in action.

We worked like dogs for people who’ve been treated worse than dogs most of their lives. We were hot and sweaty and outnumbered. We were overwhelmed and exhausted.

We were the church inside out.

At one point, as I led an elderly man around with his voucher to choose his 15 most needed items, he stopped and said in broken English, “Do you love the poor? Only people who do this love the poor.”

I stopped and answered slowly, “Yes, sir. I love the poor.”

And without hesitation he looked me square in the eyes and said, “Then you must love Jesus.”

The truth of his words were like a sucker punch.

I am compelled to obey–not because I just want to do more–frankly, I have enough to do. I am compelled to obey because I love Jesus and I have to share him. It’s an overflow of the miracle that has happened within me. This is the gospel.

This is our job. This is the moving body of Christ.

There is a local ministry in place that is helping refugees and I’m just joining in. But as I’ve started talking to local churches about supporting this new refugee endeavor in our city, I’ve been cautioned, “We can give you money, but if you need people, that will be challenging.”

It’s time we exchange our comfortable seats for a place of service. It’s time we say, “We are full; we have enough, it’s time to share.”

It’s time to make our churches a hospital.

It’s time to open our eyes to the needs around us, right in our own cities.

It’s time to stop just attending church and start being the moving body of Christ.

With feet in action.


I Just Might Have the Answer to All Your Problems

There’s yellow paint on my front left bumper near the dent from the handicapped sign I hit in my daughter’s school parking lot. Not my finest moment.  A couple of days later the power steering pump went out and when we took it in, they found an oil leak. $1700 later we picked it up and a few hours later someone rear-ended us on our way out of town. On our way back home, with two damaged bumpers, the battery died and we got home by begging a jump from a stranger.

At some point, my husband coyly said, “we are THAT family, you know.” I mustered my most evil eye and warned, “don’t even.”

And there are job stresses and parenting trials. There are fears about the future and mounting daily stresses.

I believe it’s called life.

And even though most are temporary, these first world problems are still frustrating.

You might be driving around with dented bumpers, too.

You might be wishing you had dented bumpers to drive.

You might need a job.

You might be suffocating in the one you have.

You might be stretched physically, financially, spiritually, emotionally.

You might be empty.

You might be full of it.

You might be sick.

You might be tired.

Or worse, you might be sick and tired.

We all have problems, big or small, we’ve got them all.

the cure for our problems

And it may sound bold, but I finally figured out how to solve all my problems.

I woke up the other day with a head cold, filled with exhaustion and dread and a grumbling heart. But I’d committed to drive my damaged van, loaded with new and old friends 49 miles miles from my house. We spent the day serving others in a stinky, hot room filled with eager women, an epic language barrier and a lot of gratitude.

I met women like Dalma who is 26 years old and has seven children and is from the country of Bhutan. She spent twenty years of her life in a refugee camp in Nepal. She loves learning to knit and has a bright smile.

And women like Su Meh who is 38 and the mother of 5. She spent fifteen years in a refugee camp and can show me a thing or two about knitting.

I met Me Waeh with a baby strapped to her and three other little girls at her feet. She wore a worried expression and I learned her husband was recently fired and there was an ugly $3000 cell phone bill hanging over their head because they didn’t understand the phone contract they had signed. Her greatest wish was to have a double stroller.

I didn’t think about my car or my small problems one time. And not only that, when I climbed back into my van, dirty and tired and stuck in traffic, I felt sheer joy. I was about to burst with the high that comes from serving. I could honestly say, “The Lord has done great things for us! We are glad!” Psalm 126:3. And I was ready to cry from the dose of perspective I’d been given.

This is the key to joy. I’m sure of it.

This is the answer to our problems.

Because when we serve others, we serve God. And He brings peace despite our circumstances. This is it. When we are feeling down and our problems overwhelm, the temptation to gripe and complain is a real one. When we fill our lives and our homes with stuff, stuffing down our problems, we are only creating a deeper emptiness.

The best antidote for worry is work.

The best cure for weariness is the challenge of helping someone who is even more tired.

One of the great ironies of this life is this:  He or she who serves almost always benefits more than he or she who is served.” -Gordon B. Hinckley

If you’re sad, find a place to serve. If you’re sick and tired, visit a hospital. If you’re struggling to make ends meet, find something to give away.

As I drove home, my problems hadn’t changed a bit. I still had them.

But my perspective was completely different.

I patted my old minivan and thanked God for it, dent and all.  Sometimes we need a yellow fender to remind us how to solve our problems.