The Risk of Kindness

I heard about a man who has a special place in his heart for beggars. He once asked a beggar on the street his name. The reply of the beggar was: “Name? I don’t have a name.” When I heard that, I was utterly astonished. A human being without a name? I’ve never heard nor imagined such a situation. Most probably he was born on the streets and was handed off to someone to use as a begging “tool.” Beyond that he had no value as a person.

When we see a person begging on the streets, our reactions may vary. We are unsure if we want to take the “risk” of talking to them.  Even if we have been kind to them in the past, our response may depend on the emotional situation we are in. Most people ignore them and hope they would go away. But as we ignore them we feel a sense of guilt and uneasiness.

As we look at them we realize that many are physically fit and capable of holding a job that would sustain them and their families. Surely someone could give them a job and help them to get on their feet. But of course that someone cannot be me. I’m just too busy. Maybe someone else.

Some have deformed limbs and other shocking deformities. We have heard stories about those who intentionally “deform” or damage the limbs of small children to make them more “marketable.” That is hard to imagine and certainly hard to believe. Certain situations and utter hopelessness can drive people to do the unthinkable. But who knows?

When I was a college student, I used one of my vacations to try to personally understand the plight of these people. I spent a month and lived in a “rescue mission” that reached out to the homeless. It was a tremendous risk for me as I became one of “them.”  Living with them as one of them brought a new sense of awareness in me. These were all real people with real life situations as you and I. But life just got to be too much for them. They did not have any hope that things could get better. Debts, job loss, death of a major wage earner, drug addiction, alcoholism, and other debilitating situations just drove them to the streets. As I interacted with them as their “equal,” their hearts really opened up and I was able to see them as a real person just like me.

A clear picture of street people and a clear analysis has been given by Roger S. Greenaway in the book Cities: Missions’ New Frontier. He gives a clear analysis and suggestions for reaching out to homeless and street people. After reading that chapter or other such material, think about what you can do. What about your family or the church? What steps can you take?

Maybe you can begin by treating them kindly. Take that risk of kindness.  Ask their name. That interaction with them will really help to change our minds as well. Then certainly ask if you can pray for them – but whatever you do, make sure to reach into your pocket as well. Be merciful as your heavenly father is merciful. God has a special place in his heart for the poor.

What kind of experiences have you had in dealing with such people?

Leave your comments here.

Photo by archer10 (Dennis) Creative Commons

What’s The Use of Discipline Anyway?

Painful, confusing, and frustrating are three words we would use to describe discipline. The difficult circumstance we are in often causes severe pain. We want to hear from God and get some clear direction or clarity regarding our situation, but nothing seems to make any sense. Everything seems confusing. But all of these struggles just don’t seem to match up with our expectations and dreams about how our life should be. So we end up with lots of frustration. Sometimes it seems to be a never ending cycle of pain, confusion, and frustration.
But the Bible seems to describe such situations as “discipline.” But whatever label we put on it, that doesn’t make our situation more bearable. The Pain remains, leading to further confusion and a heightened level of frustration.

Somehow we’ve got to see God’s purpose in all of this. It’s like the individual strokes of the artist’s brush. To most observers, each stroke by itself would make no sense at all, but in the mind of the artist, there is a beautiful image that he is working towards. In a similar way our pain stands in the way of knowing that the artist is aiming toward a goal.
We have numerous expectations of how our life should be. But God has his own plans. It really takes a lot of work disciplining us to get us to his Goal. We fail to realize that his plans for us are the best and that it really is for our own good.

But when we experience all this pain, confusion and frustration, we wonder if it is worth it. Our emotions impact our ability to think logically. Years ago Andre Crouch wrote the song Through it all, through it all, I’ve learned to trust in Jesus, I’ve learned to trust in God. Will we learn the lessons that God has for us? Will we learn to trust him? Will we grow in his plans for us? Or will we fight it till the end and stay in our current situation? God wants to take us to another level in our maturity as well as our relationship with him. But that only happens as we learn to be quiet before him as he teaches us his ways.
In what ways has God disciplined you? What has been the outcome of his discipline in your life?
Leave your comments here.

Photo by Sander van der Wel Creative Commons

Unanswered Prayers: A Blessing in Disguise

Several years ago I was talking to a young man about someone I knew who had an accident and the doctors were ready to amputate one leg from above the knee. The severity of the situation and the possible future consequences just overwhelmed this young man as he pondered the issue. Then he responded and said: “I would rather die than face something like that.”

In the midst of such a tragedy would I come to such a conclusion? Would you? This is where unanswered prayers become a blessing. God’s graciousness is extended to us in such circumstances. But such requests for death may be more common than we imagine. We may have longed for it just like Job in the Bible. He said “why is light given to him who is in misery; and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it comes not, and dig for it more than for hidden treasures, who rejoice exceedingly and are glad when they find the grave? Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in?” (Job 3:20-23 ESV)
In the midst of tragedy, at the point of desperation, we may not be able to see beyond our current struggles. Like Job, our only hope may be death and nothing else. As a matter of fact, it may be the ultimate longing of our hearts. But somehow God ignores such pleas. He overlooks such responses of our emotions to the tragedy we face.
Then God takes this opportunity to guide us and mold our thinking. He first allows our emotions to settle and teaches us that our true hope is not in death, but in God alone.
It was Saint John of the Cross who held strong through a life full of tragedy and struggles. He grew up in extreme poverty and later in life faced numerous rejections. Even those in his own religious order took him captive and put him through torture by public beatings and isolation in a small dark cell. The book Dark Night of the Soulexplains how this tragic life produced much good for so many people, and continues to do so through his writings.
In the midst of tragedy, the longing for death may be a natural emotional response. We may cry out to God and plead with him for death. It is during such times that God blesses us with unanswered prayers. He chooses to lead us through a more difficult path in which he can do things in us and through us that are much beyond our thinking.
Have you ever longed for death? What has these unanswered prayers taught you?
Leave your comments here.
Photo credit Ashley Rose

A Moment of Silence, A Moment of Comfort

It was another afternoon of weariness, sleepiness, and the struggle to stay awake and study. My college days were a constant struggle for survival as I worked a job most nights till four in the morning. A few hours in the afternoon was all I had to study and to sleep. That was a difficult choice to make when tests were coming up and assignments and papers were due, but sleep was important as well.

One particular afternoon the door to my room opened without a knock. My friend walked in and sat down silently for a few minutes. Although I kept reading I was waiting to hear him speak up and say something. Not a word was spoken as he sat there in silence. After several minutes he got up quietly and left. I began to wonder why he came and why he had said nothing at all. That’s when I realized that my weariness and sleepiness was gone. Most importantly, there was a sense of self-pity that was increasing that day as I struggled to stay awake and study, after which I would be returning to work for another night of physical labor. Suddenly I realized that the self-pity had lifted and I felt refreshed. All of that just because a friend walked into my room and sat silently for a few short minutes?

In the Bible, Job was a man who experienced horrific tragedies in his life. He lost all his children, wealth, and his health. His wife was the only one left, but even she turned against him. Three of his friends came and sat with him silently for seven days. Now that’s much more than the few minutes my friend sat with me. But I am sure the level of struggle was so much more intense for Job. Certainly the presence of his friends was comforting for him (Job 2:13 ESV). But finally his friends broke the silence and each one began to speak in turn. But their speaking turned out to be disastrous for a man in such a circumstance (Job 16:2-3 ESV).
It was only several years later that I learned about silence and solitude from Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline.That’s when I realized the value of silence and how it benefited me when my friend sat for a few minutes in my room. Silence and solitude can be one of the most valuable steps to take in our lives.
So go ahead and cut out the distractions and spend some time alone with God in silence. That’s when he will speak to you and bring you the comfort that you desperately need. His presence will do all of that for you.
Have you learned and adopted the discipline of silence an solitude? How has it helped you?
Leave your comments here.

What Does Worship and Tragedy Have in Common?

I’ve heard it said that a major part of worship is thanksgiving. But what if you can’t find anything to thank God for? What if the turmoil you face within you and the struggles of daily life have just strangled you? In fact, the tragedy that gripped your life is just too much to bear. You are not even sure if you are alive. Then…what is there to be thankful for? In worship we are supposed to express our thankfulness and love for God. But why should I worship?
Lots of questions but the answers are few. Isn’t that how life is? So in this situation worship seems to be the most impossible and illogical task. During such times I would much rather wallow in my sorrows. At least it feels good to express my grief. Even if no one is listening, at least I can get it off my chest.
But when you share it with others – its fine the first few times, but not constantly. Yet my struggles seem to be never ending. How can I continue approaching people repeatedly? After a while they’ll get tired of it and begin to avoid me.

There was a man whose first response to tragedy was worship. He lost all his children and his entire wealth in one day. When the reality of this tragedy struck him, his first response was worship. With his life experience he knew there was no hope anywhere else. So why bother? The only logical and fruitful response for him was worship. “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped” (Job 1:20 ESV). Many years ago, Philip Yancey impacted my thinking greatly through his book Where is God When it Hurts? It’s a challenging book that changed my thinking and my responses to life as well. But the struggle continues as I train myself to shift my focus from my problems to God.

How have you responded to tragedy?

Leave your comments here.

Your Problem, My Problem, No Problem

Those in the helping profession commonly fail to realize their own struggles.  They go through life with many unresolved issues.  No one knows except God and maybe their own family members.  They just don’t realize that they are struggling.

There are several reasons for such a situation: 1) Some are intensely focused on their task and that focus keeps them from looking within their own lives.  Their eyes are fixed on resolving the problems of people.  2) Others have a false assumption that in order to help others, they themselves must be problem free.  Thus they develop an inaccurate view of their own struggles.  3) Then there are others who don’t see their own problem as a problem.  They fail to recognize their own brokenness.  Sometimes they see the problem but they don’t think of it as a hinderance to their ministry.  

I am reminded of the words of Larry Crabb: “So its okay to hurt.  More than that its necessary to hurt.  Hurt is evidence of life, at least as long as we live in a fallen world.”  This is the understanding we all must adopt.  Problems are a part of life.  We must embrace them and deal with them appropriately.

But those who continue in such a state eventually end up in a very difficult situation.  Some become bitter after carrying their struggles and the resulting brokenness for such a long time.  They wonder why there was no one to help them, much less God.  Does he not care as well?  Others become withdrawn and isolate themselves from people.  They become quiet and “composed.”  Some even interpret this to be a sign of spiritual maturity.

All along they had the tools and skills to solve their own issues, but they just could not recognize them.  These undetected issues have impacted their ministry and their personal growth.  Jesus himself suffered much during his life here on earth (Hebrews 5:7-8 ESV).  Unfortunately they have directed many people to Jesus, but they themselves could not get there.

Why do you think people fail to recognize their own struggles?

Leave your comments here.

A Sick Heart and Unfulfilled Desires

So the question remains: What is life? It’s all a dream. A different kind of dream. It’s a dream of significance, where you want to make a difference. You are looking for the place where your life and work will effect a positive change. This may be in your family, at work, or in the society. So life becomes a quest to live out that dream.

But when that dream doesn’t materialize, the reactions can be numerous. Some become biter and angry. Others become cynical. Yet others go into depression and withdraw themselves from everyone and everything. The common denominator in each of these is that they simply give up on their dream. They quit trying to live out that dream. A wise man once said “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12 ESV).

It’s the “sick heart” and the giving up attitude that brings a person down. This is where our emotions respond to the “failure” that we feel due to our unfulfilled desires. But this doesn’t have to be the outcome. There was a man who lost everything he had including his health. He actually did loose hope in life. Frankly his life was full of hopelessness. But he was a man who focused his hope on God alone. He said: “Though he slay me, I will hope in him. (Job 13:15a ESV).

Have you lost hope in life? Here are three things to remember:
  1. Continue to dream big
  2. Focus your hopes on God
  3. Never give up
Do you struggle to keep your hopes up? Where is your greatest struggle when things don’t go your way?

Leave your comments here.

What is Gripping Your Life?

What is the greatest hindrance in your life? What or who is keeping you from moving forward and fulfilling your dreams? For some, the answer comes quickly and for others, they need to give it more thought.
These are the things gripping your life and your future, restricting your every move. You want to be free from this virtual slavery. You want the freedom to live your life. This thing, this thought has a hold on you, a strong grip.
When you let go of the things that are holding you, then you are really free. The longer you hold on, the longer it has a hold on you. Then all you think about is its hold on you. You dream of its hold on you. You talk to others about its hold on you. You complain about its hold on you. You get angry about its hold on you. You know it has a hold on you. You feel its grip and its getting tighter. If it gets any tighter, you cannot live. In fact, you realize you can’t go on living like this…on the verge of death.
This is not the life you dreamed of; living in the “grip” of others. You are thinking “how did my life get this way?” You want to be free. That’s what you’ve always wanted – to be free. Free like a bird…but that grip! It feels like you are about to die from it. In fact you are practically dead.
But that grip is really you – your grip. The more you hold on to the offenses of others, the stronger its hold on you. Now its time. Time to let it go. Let go of that thing, that person, that offense. Then you will be free.
The key is to release your grip and give it to God. Give to him those things that are holding you. He will take it and you will be free.
Do you experience a “grip” on you life? What is the greatest hindrance that keeps you from letting go? You can express that in the comments.

It Began Like a Flash of Lightening

Like a flash of lightening the pain shot through my lower back up my spine and down into both my legs.  It was so severe that I could barely move my legs.  This happened in 1995, as I was driving a delivery truck from Ft. Lauderdale to south Miami down Interstate 75 at about 4:30am.   Since I could barely move my legs, I waited for the vehicle to gradually come to a stop on the side of the road.  It took several minutes for the pain to ease a little and I was able to stand up and move around a bit.

In that one moment of pain, many thoughts went through my mind.  Along with church planting, I was working two jobs since I wanted my wife to be home with our son who was one year old at that time.  I really thought that this was the end of my working and earning years.  But so early, I thought.  Instead of wallowing in self-pity, I began quick calculations in my mind about the future.  I had just reviewed my disability benefits during the previous week, and now I viewed that as a bad omen leading to this tragic event.  Within a few seconds, plans were made to sell our home and move back into an apartment and scale down on many things including the new car we had just purchased.

About doing the ministry?  I had no Idea about that.  At that moment, my only thought was survival.  Will I be able to somehow take care of my family?  Will there be any hope?

The pain was so intense that within seconds, my dreams of achieving my goals and aspirations were shattered.  I resigned myself to simply surviving and waiting for the end.

That experience in Florida was seventeen years ago.  Physical pain has been my constant companion during the waking hours of almost every day.  Now I am discovering that along with the physical, there was lots of internal pain that I never knew about.  It was in 2011 that I began reading a book by Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming.  That book opened my mind to the pain that was within me for so many years.  In May 2012, as I read a book by Dr. Joseph Bowles, I learned how this emotional pain within me had a direct impact on my back pain.  I thank God for the healing of my back, but the internal healing continues.

Would you share your experiences of pain and healing? You can share that in the comments below.

Please read the accompanying article. Click here.

What No One Would Believe

I keep on saying it, I keep on repeating it, but it seems like not one believes me.  No, they don’t take me for a liar, but maybe they think I’m just being hopeful with a keen positive outlook.  Several people asked me “are you sure its gone?”

The reality is that my chronic lower back pain is now gone.  The pain stopped in June 2012.  I’ve had this pain periodically since 1995, and five years ago, it became consistent all day and all night long.  In fact its hard for me to remember a time without pain in the last five years.  I think that as I suffered through all those years of pain, it was my wife Annie who took the brunt of the load at home and in every way as my condition worsened consistently.

As it is with milestones in our lives, several important events led to this freedom from pain.  The first of these was a reading of the book by Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming.  My friend Kevin Baker gave me that book as we visited a monastery in Buffalo NY.  That book took me on a journey of deep searching within that I have never experienced before.  Numerous times as I read that book, I could not continue as I had to allow my emotions to settle down.  Of course, God’s spirit was doing an awesome work within me.

The second event was in November 2011, as my wife and I were attending a Vineyard Church gathering in Cebu, Philippines.  During one evening, Brian Doerksen was leading worship, and the Spirit of God was all over me.  I sat on the chair since there was no way I could stand.  Lots of emotions and memories surfaced and I began writing (on my phone) in between sobs.  Several people came by and laid their hands on me and prayed for me.  Phil Strout spoke one of those days and touched on the idea that God’s ultimate purpose was to transform us into the image of His Son.  As my back pain began to increase during that conference I missed several sessions while I rested in the room.  Then Sukit Wangtechawat and the team from the Bangkok Vineyard came to our room and prayed for me extensively.  They were helping me to look deeper within, and nothing seemed to make sense.  But their visit to my room was also a significant aspect in opening those things that were closed for so long.

In April and May of 2012, my third event was the reading of a book on back pain by Dr. Joseph Bowles that had a great impact on my thinking regarding the whole issue.  The focus of his book is that chronic lower back pain is caused by stress and unresolved issues of the past.  Wow, what a thought.  And what about all those MRI reports, X-rays, and all the other tests?  Man, I am clueless on all that, but the pain is gone!  Now I continue to read his daily reminders for stress free pain relief.

The fourth and major event that capped it all was while I was taking communion.  I was speaking at a service at the New Life Fellowship in Bangalore in June.  During the communion, I saw a vision of the cross (something like that picture above) and heard an inner voice telling me that on the cross, Jesus not only carried my sins, but every offense against me as well.  This was an answer that I really needed all along.  The issues are so deep and personal that it would be impractical to mention such things on this blog, that that thought really had a powerful impact on me.

Of course I cannot forget the many who have prayed for me and encouraged me on this path toward healing as I had spent weeks and months bed ridden. There were many non-judgmental ones who were an inspiration for me to continue. A special thanks to them as well.

Now I am on a journey.  I keep exploring more “stuff” hidden within me from the past.  As these issues of brokenness resurface, I experience more pain, but as I deal with each one, that pain goes away.  Daily, along with my devotions I take some time out to write in a journal about my previous day, specifically about how I am handling my emotions and stress.  And as i mentioned earlier, Dr. Joseph Bowles’ daily reminders are stored on my phone and my Kindle and I read them several time a day.

Thank you Lord for a new life.

In the comments below, feel free to share your experiences of healing while you are on this journey as well.

Please read the accompanying article as well: Click here.