Freedom

18 07 2017

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

John 8 tells the story of a woman caught in adultery and dragged before Jesus by the Pharisees. They wanted to see if He would uphold the Mosaic law and condemn her to death. As they gathered stones to throw at her, Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust. The tension built until finally he stood and said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

As the story goes, they dropped their stones and went out, one by one, beginning with the oldest. Because, you may be able to fool people, but when God turns the spotlight on your heart, you realize — no matter how diligently you’ve followed the rules — you can’t clean up the hidden places. Your actions may impress, but your heart will betray you every time.

I have no idea how long it took for that crowd to disperse, but Jesus waited. Then, when they were all gone, He looked the woman in the eye and said, “Where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

And she said, “No one, Lord.”

The God of the universe lifted her head and removed her shame by giving her the opportunity to confess with her own lips that she was no worse a sinner than the most religious people alive.

And then He gave her an even greater gift. He said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

It’s interesting to note that He didn’t say, “Go back to your lover. I get that he’s your soul mate — that your marriages were a mistake, but now you feel alive for the first time. Ignore the haters. Do what makes you happy.”

No. He said, “Go, and from now on sin no more.”

Jesus never suggested that her behavior was acceptable. He called it sin. And the only reason He was able to say, “Neither do I condemn you,” was because He Himself would bear the punishment for her guilt. (If there’s no such thing as sin, the cross is pointless.)

When Jesus said, “Go and sin no more,” He wasn’t pronouncing a restriction to hold her in bondage. He was opening her cage door and inviting her to freedom.

There’s no reason to think that she went home to an easy choice — that the feelings, emotional attachments, and pressures were miraculously gone. “Sin no more” implies a deliberate change, not for the sake of following rules, but for the sake of her own flourishing — trusting that God knows more about abundant life than she does.

Because here’s the deal. God is good. Always, only good.

He’s always good in what He gives, and He’s always good in what He forbids.

And here’s the other deal. Temptation is always the same.

DSC_0096

It begins with the whisper, “Did God actually say?” and ends with trusting our own perceptions — “that the tree is good for food, and that it is a delight to the eyes, and that the tree is to be desired to make one wise.”

It’s the same old lies that have derailed us from the beginning — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life making promises they can’t keep. God couldn’t possibly have meant what He seems to be saying. We know what we want, how bad we want it, and we know better than God how to find our own fulfillment in life. Lust becomes need becomes identity. And who are you to question my identity?

Lately I hear a lot of people saying Jesus gave only one command: “Love God; love people.” And I always want to ask them, “What does it look like to love God? How do you truly love people?”

Because the sense I often get from their context is that loving people essentially means saying, “Ignore the haters. Do what makes you happy,” and it definitely does not mean saying, “Go, and sin no more.”

But Jesus didn’t simply say, “Love God; love people.” What He actually said was, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

The Law and the Prophets show us what it looks like to love God and people. Jesus never negated the commandments. In fact, He said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

He also said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” This sounds a lot like, “Go, and from now on sin no more.”

And His final command? “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus never released us from obedience, because our flourishing is found in obedience, just as His was. We aren’t fulfilled by satisfying our personal desires, but by increasing in our likeness to the image of God.

John tells us, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”

Loving God looks like obedience to His Word. Loving people looks like caring enough to tell them the truth (not a manipulated, massaged version of it), even when that means a call to drastic repentance, taking up a difficult cross, and denying self.

God is good in what He forbids. He forbids sin, only because He is good.

The Tempter will whisper, “Did God actually say . . .?” And the masses will tell you, “Go do what makes you happy!”

But Jesus is standing right in front of you with a better offer.

The cage door is open. The choice is yours.

flyingbird





Listen to the Wind

22 04 2017

IMG_6236

He was born April 22, 1955, the third son of a full-blooded Macedonian father and a blonde, blue-eyed Ohio farm girl with Welsh ancestry. His parents married right out of high school and had six kids before they were thirty.

Their first son was an adventurer, the second a star athlete, but this third boy? He was born with a poet’s soul, and as he grew, the ordinary brokenness of the world lay heavy on his beauty-craving heart. So he ran after comfort as many do, rebelling against conformity, and attempting to assuage the ache with drugs and other empty pursuits. He longed to belong — to be truly seen and truly loved — but the darkness only grew darker and uglier, and it was slowly crushing him.

He was bruised and tormented, but he wasn’t alone. One whose name is Love patiently prepared that wounded soil until one summer day, at the age of eighteen, he sat alone in a barn loft with the ancient splendor of the Appalachian mountains filling his view.

It was time. All his efforts to anesthetize his pain were powerless against the Creator’s magnificent canvas. The mountains burst forth into singing, the trees of the field clapped their hands, and a question rose from the deeps and escaped his lips.

“Who are You?”

The wind whispered soft. The setting sun kissed the tips of the trees and slid into purpling shadows. He heard no answer, but it was coming.

The boy returned home to Florida with the question still burning. Then one evening, he opened a Bible and read the book of John. When he came to chapter 14, verse 6, he had his answer.

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

There’s a wonder to God’s ways with His own. He knows the heart’s language and how to make Himself heard. To an eighteen-year-old poet, he awakened the ache with beauty and wrapped truth around it with the Word. How did this young man know John 14:6 was the answer to the question he’d asked in the loft?

He simply knew.

“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

The wind blew, and the boy understood. And he wrote a song — an eighteen-year-old poet’s song of salvation. Here it is.

Testimony Song

I listened to the wind and I began to see
Through people and my heart and my mind, I saw me
And I saw something beautiful
Oh, I know ‘cause the wind brushed my eyes

We each have something good to give
But it’s often hid by the way that we live
Let Truth and understanding be our guide
Let Truth and understanding be our guide

I want to shine just like the Morning Star
I want to say something beautiful to you

I listen to the wind and I begin to see
Through people and my heart and my mind, I see me
And I see something beautiful
Oh, I know ‘cause the wind brushes my eyes
And I know the Lord Jesus fills my life

DSC_0012

DSC_0005

IMG_1724

IMG_1730

DSC_0016

DSC_0063_4

cooking

RomjueWedding_053

DSC_0372

IMG_9124

DSC_0014

DSC_0204

grands

DSC_0057

wedding

Today that boy turns 62. He’s a devoted husband, father, father-in-law, and grandfather; a poet, musician, and steward of Creation; a servant, provider, and friend; and a man of the Word who still follows hard after Truth and understanding. No, he’s not perfect. Through the years he has stumbled more than once and even fallen hard, but the One who is able to make him stand has never for a moment forsaken him. His testimony of Jesus’ faithfulness remains, and as one who has journeyed by his side for 38 years, I can tell you that — in more ways than I can begin to count — he shines. Just like the Morning Star.

In honor of his birthday, you’re invited to listen to his Testimony Song — recorded decades ago on a little cassette tape player — and to catch some glimpses of the “something beautiful” those of us who love him have been privileged to see.

You’re also invited to follow his example. Listen to the wind. Let it brush your eyes. Perhaps you will begin to see something beautiful, too.

 





Transition

27 01 2017

dsc_0696

Today I realized something for the first time.

Roughly nine months after abortion-on-demand became the law in America, in the autumn of 1973, I was born for the second time.

During those months when many women were embracing their new-found reproductive freedom, God was forming me in the womb of faith, preparing me to become His child.

I could say a lot more about what happened that day, when my sixteen-year-old self first felt the irresistible urgency — unseen forces from without and within pressing me toward my emergence from the dark womb of spiritual sleep into the dazzling radiance of faith.

But the one thought that demands my profound awe in this moment is simply this: God is a redeemer.

Always, in every place and at every time, God is making all things new.

dsc_0714

dsc_0697

dsc_0687

A few years later, when I was in my early twenties, I was reading Malachi 4 and was inspired to write a song. This morning, when George read the same passage, he reminded me of it and said we should revive it. Maybe so. But meanwhile, I can share the words with you here.

The Day is Coming

The day is coming, burning like a furnace,
And all the wicked will be chaff.
The day is coming when the righteous will rejoice
And leap from the stall like a calf.
The day is coming when the Sun of Righteousness
Will rise with healing in His wings.
And all the holy ones will be before Him
And crown Him King of kings,

Alleluia.

Come, Lord Jesus; come, Lord Jesus,
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.”
Come and bring us the day of our deliverance
When we will be revealed as sons.
For creation is anxiously longing,
And we ourselves grown within.
But the day is coming, the end of our suffering
Because we’ll be found in Him.

Alleluia
Alleluia
Alleluia
Jesus, Come.

dsc_0782

dsc_0751

Romans 8 says God subjected the creation to futility on purpose — that all this groaning we see, hear, and feel is the pains of childbirth, meant to assure us that deliverance will indeed come.

I had the holy and awesome privilege of watching my daughter and my daughter-in-law give birth — one at home, and one at a birthing center — both without the use of any drugs.

I watched and prayed as they entered fully into their labor, breathing into the pain, working with the contractions.

As the hours dragged on, I watched them battle through the dark and awful fear that deliverance would never come — that strength would fail, and life would be swallowed up in death.

And I watched as they entered the phase called transition — that sacred and solemn space, where the world disappears and the whole body, soul, and spirit is consumed with bringing forth life.

Watching was like catching a glimpse into eternal mysteries — the hope that the creation itself  will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. The hope of redemption that contracts the soul of every believer with prayers that are groanings too deep for words.

dsc_1207

dsc_1180

When I consider the brokenness of the world today — the desperation of refugees torn from their homes yet feared and rejected by many in the world, the immensity of modern day slavery and human trafficking, the selfish demands of the privileged, and the ignored oppression of the poor, the orphan, and the widow — I feel exhausted and tempted to despair. Perhaps deliverance will never come. Perhaps strength will fail, and life will be swallowed up in death.

But then I remember Who subjected creation to this prolonged ordeal, and hope rises. Perhaps we’re on the edge of transition — that holy and solemn space where the soul gives itself to a higher purpose.

Perhaps the church will shake off her anesthesia, enter fully into her labor, breathe into the pain, and work with the contractions, and perhaps new life will come forth from all this agony.

This is my hope.

And my prayer?

It hasn’t changed.

It’s still the same aching, exquisite cry that belongs to the Spirit and the Bride.

“Jesus, Come.”

dsc_1287





When we don’t recognize the answers to our prayers

11 11 2016

DSC_0056

To state the obvious, there’s a lot of pain, confusion, fear, and disappointment in the aftermath of the election. We’re all processing what happened and trying to predict what it might mean for the future. Tensions are high and words are often harsh and accusatory. And I’m not even referring to the general populace. I’m talking about those who identify as believers in Christ.

So, I thought it might be good to preach a little gospel to myself and anyone else who wants to listen in. Feel free to grab a cup of tea and get cozy.

Our culture may be saying a lot of things about us, and we may be saying a lot of things about each other, but God has also said some very specific things about His people. Here are a few of them:

We are created in His image, covered by the shadow of His wing, held in the palm of His hand, fearfully and wonderfully made, created for His pleasure and glory, chosen in Him before the foundation of the world, taught by the Holy Spirit, known, protected, shielded, shepherded, disciplined as beloved children, grafted into the vine, loved, cherished, set apart, adopted, His workmanship created for good works that He has foreordained for us to walk in.

Exhale.

DSC_0021

DSC_0104

DSC_0029

DSC_0099

DSC_0082

One good thing I already see happening post-election is that Christians in America are distancing themselves from political affiliations and reexamining their identity. As believers, we’re called to be in this world, but not of it. We may be citizens of a nation, but we’re called to live here as citizens of God’s upside-down kingdom. No earthly ruler is responsible for accomplishing what God has commanded His church to do.

God is calling His people to deep, meaningful, and powerful community. Can you imagine what would happen if we really believed all the truths God has spoken over us — if we walked into our inheritance and united our hearts, our creativity, and our energies in loving this broken world?

We need to own our identity as God’s sons and daughters and co-heirs with Christ, because the kingdom we live in determines the lenses through which we see all things, including the promises of God.

Consider Psalm 84:11-12. “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!”

When you read the words, “the Lord bestows favor and honor,” what comes to mind? Or what about the phrase, “no good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly”? If we view this promise through the lenses of the upside-down kingdom, we remember that “favor” from God may look like loving discipline of His child, and “honor” may look like bearing reproach for His Name, and the “good thing” He won’t withhold may be the suffering or persecution He knows we need to be conformed to the image of His Son.

The more we look through the lenses of the upside-down kingdom, the less God’s Word becomes about our personal or social agenda and the more it becomes about His glory and His kingdom.

DSC_0069

DSC_0018

The only way to accurately see God’s promises and commands is through the right lenses, and when we do see clearly, life becomes a glorious adventure with Him. When we don’t get our way, we can still give thanks, because we believe in His sovereign plans and purposes and power. We trust that, whatever He chooses for us, it is an indication of our Father’s favor and His faithfulness to give good and perfect gifts to His children.

God is always only good in what He gives, and always only good in what He forbids. Therefore, the only true freedom is found in absolute submission to Him.

So, how do we live in submission to this King? What are the principles and laws of this upside-down kingdom?

They’re the exact opposites of the principles of the world or the so-called law of the jungle.

Jungle law says it’s every man for himself.
Kingdom law says consider others as more important than yourself, and the greatest in the kingdom is the servant of all.

Jungle law says might makes right.
Kingdom law says the weak confound the mighty.

Jungle law says kill or be killed.
Kingdom law says turn the other cheek, go the second mile, if someone asks for your coat, give him your shirt as well.

Jungle law claims that only the fittest will survive.
But kingdom law says become as a little child, the meek inherit the earth, and the pure in heart see God.

And here’s the secret to freedom and the unexplainable joy of God’s children. We know that the best gifts He gives are actually the ones that bow us the lowest, because God resists the proud and draws near to the humble.

God’s ways are higher than ours. He knows what we actually need (as opposed to what we think we want), and He is willing to crush us if that’s the way to resurrection. We see this imagery again and again in scriptural word pictures.

DSC_0094

Jesus is the vine, we are the branches, and the Father is the gardener. He prunes us according to His wisdom. To us it may look like He has cut away what was most beautiful in our lives, but He always prunes with purpose, that we might abide more deeply in Him and that we might bear much fruit.

IMG_3156

He is the potter and we are the clay. We feel the pressure and we want to squirm out of his grasp, but He is shaping us, molding us for His purposes. We can trust God’s love to be behind every painful stroke of His hand.

DSC_0016

He is the refiner and we are His gold. Left to ourselves, we would remain dingy lumps of metal with dirt clinging to our surface. His fire cleanses, purifies, strengthens. He knows exactly how hot the fire needs to be to burn away all our dross until He can see His face reflected in our lives.

We want these things in theory. We may even ask Him to prune our dead branches, to shape us into useful vessels, to burn away our dross. But when it happens in real life — when the sheers cut deep and the pressure feels unbearable and the fire burns hot, we can easily lose sight of God’s purpose and forget that the suffering is not only for our good and His glory, it’s the answer to our prayers.

Have you noticed that we never fathom the fullness of God’s ways? There’s always more than we can see. We look for physical healing and God heals our hearts. We ask for blessing and He sends pain that splits us wide open, because He knows that’s the only way our souls will ever learn to breathe.

Right now the people of God in America have an opportunity to be salt and light for such a time as this. May we welcome His working in us and trust His ways. And may we recognize the answers to our own prayers, even when they come disguised in the most surprising and unexpected packages.





The Broken Way

1 10 2016

sadpm

I know a teacher probably shouldn’t have favorites.

But the eager light in his eyes. That disarming smile. His quick mind and the way he asked the best questions. His presence in the classroom set a tone that infected everyone in the best way. Including me.

And he was only nine years old.

When he was no longer my student, our paths occasionally crossed, and he always acted as though nothing mattered more in that moment than talking to me and catching up on life.

Brilliant, kind, thoughtful, and extravagantly gifted, he grew up to become an accomplished musician and film editor. An artist with a tender and sensitive soul.

This week I found out that he took his own life.

He was twenty-seven.

griefpm-2

I’m sitting in this ache. Thinking of him. Thinking of his parents. Of their loss. He was their only child.

Who can carry grief this heavy?

We are broken. All of us. And we spend much of our time, energy, money, and prayer on trying to get ourselves fixed. We look to doctors, preachers, politicians, plastic surgeons — and yes, even God — begging to be made well, worthy, safe, beautiful.

We spend our lives grasping for wholeness and come away empty handed. But maybe we’re so busy trying to mend away or pretend away our own brokenness, we’re missing the point?

I’m currently reading Ann Voskamp’s new book, The Broken Way, which releases October 25. I signed up to be on her launch team — partly because I love Ann and want to help spread the word about this amazing book, but mostly because I didn’t want to wait until the end of October to get my hands on it. And can we just be real? Helping launch a book by Ann is like helping launch the sun into the morning sky. The book is going to soar, not because a team of advance readers successfully launched it. It’s going to soar, because it is desperately needed truth for right this minute.

Brokenness is crushing people. Broken hearts. Broken minds. Broken bodies. People like my former student — who may look great on the outside, but inside they’re dying. And I’m afraid, in too many cases, the church is distracted by lesser things.

churchpm

“By this we know love, that He laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” That’s 1 John 3:16.

And in John 13, after Jesus washes His disciples’ feet, He says, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”

We see this pattern repeated again and again. What Jesus did, we are also called to do. But somewhere along the way, a whole lot of our western-culture theology became about “me.” My comfort. My peace. My purpose. My best life, and I want it now.

Jesus was always only about His Father’s will. He came for one reason. To be broken for us.

timepm

“How do you live with your one broken heart?” Ann asks.

And God answers. “You give it away.”

So maybe it’s time to stop grasping for personal wholeness and embrace the truth that the only way others can see His light in me is through the cracks?

Maybe it is only in my brokenness that I am qualified to enter yours?

The Broken Way is the account of what happened when Ann said yes to God’s second dare.

The first dare? To count His One Thousand Gifts — to find Him in everything, and to let her perspective and her whole life be transformed by living fully aware and fully grateful. But gratitude is a beginning, not an end. At the Last Supper, Jesus didn’t stop with giving thanks for the bread. He broke it. And He gave. Then He told his disciples, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”

Do this. Break as I am broken. And your brokenness will be made into abundance.

The second dare? Lay down your one life — the handful of moments granted you — and pour them out as an offering to Him.

wheat

This book is a masterpiece painted with words — a stunning depiction of the upside-down, sacramental life my soul craves when I let the Spirit speak louder than the magazine headlines. I’m only four chapters in, and it has already spoken to the deeps in seismic fashion. Don’t be surprised if I have a lot more to say about it in the days ahead, but meanwhile, you can learn more and pre-order at TheBrokenWay.com.

How will you live with your one broken heart?

There’s a way to fullness of meaning, fullness of purpose, and fullness of joy. It’s the way Christ chose for Himself and the one He beckons us to follow.

Here’s my hand. Let’s go together.

 

 





Like Leaves Falling

22 12 2015

DSC_0008

Creation understands. Birth. Life. Withering. Dying. Returning to the dust.

The leaves don’t cling to the green. When winter whispers her soon return, they explode in a colorful psalm, embrace the outstretched hand of the wind, and dance their way to decomposition. There’s no competition. No argument over which leaf left the more lasting impression or legacy. As one, they sink into the earth, and their memory vanishes.

DSC_0001

DSC_0007

DSC_0006

DSC_0004

I need to learn from the leaves. Because I don’t want a life of “clinging to the green.” I want to be okay with Isaiah’s declaration that all flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, and — as much as I believe in wisely stewarding it — this body is breaking down.

So I’ve been thinking. About how to live the autumn of my life well.

I’ve been searching for the secret of the leaves, and I believe I’ve found it.

DSC_0029

DSC_0030

DSC_0040

DSC_0028

 

I’ve been thinking about Jesus, and how all power belonged to Him — how He could have had everything this world has to offer (and was tempted to take it), but was pleased to do things His Father’s upside-down way.

He was formed in the womb of a poor, unwed teenager, and born in a stable. His birth was announced to shepherds — rough, disreputable men whose testimony wasn’t allowed in courts of law. As a toddler, His life was threatened by a murderous king, and His parents fled to Egypt as refugees. As a man, he never married or had children, and had no place to lay His head. He enlisted house servants to both assist and witness His first miracle.

DSC_0114

DSC_0122

DSC_0109

He left His glory to enter His humanity and our brokenness fully.

For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
    a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Isaiah 53:2

He welcomed the outcast, dined with tax collectors, healed the sick and oppressed, and fed the multitudes. He spoke in veiled parables, redefined the Sabbath, and invited the condemned to repentance. He was silent before false accusers, allowed mere men to mock and humiliate Him, and willingly absorbed the wrath of God on the cross.

All because He knew. He knew that three days later He would rise. That the grave isn’t the end. That death doesn’t win.

For the joy set before Him, He laid aside everything that was His right, and took on everything that was our due. And even now, He knows my frame. He remembers that I am dust. And when I don’t understand His ways, He gently lifts my head and asks me to look beyond this withering grass to the steadfast love that never ceases, to lay down my life and be caught up in His immeasurably more, that I might join in the triumphant song of the saints through the ages.

Birth. Life. Withering. Dying. Returning to the dust.

But that’s not the end. Because a Baby was born in Bethlehem, we rise up laughing, swept into the beautiful, dancing purposes of God, where it’s grace upon grace upon grace.

Just like leaves falling.

DSC_0035

Wishing you a glorious Christmas, my friends, and the freedom to soar with Him into the New Year. With much love.





Seek Peace

25 08 2015

DSC_0007

In April I spent some time in Doro, South Sudan, in a refugee camp that is home to 135,000 displaced people. In that place, God both exposed and broke my heart, and I returned home tender, repentant, and eager to do whatever He might ask of me.

We landed back in Dallas on a Saturday, and the next morning, Alysa was in the lobby of our church, recruiting volunteers to participate in a reading program for refugee children.

I went straight to the table and signed up.

DSC_0009Alysa preparing materials for Reading Circle

DSC_0002

Fact: According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are more than 50 million refugees around the world, half of which are women and children.

Fact: Less than 1% of the 50 million people seeking refuge are selected for the UN Resettlement Program.

Fact: Texas has led the nation in refugee resettlement for the past four years.

Fact: More than 10,000 refugees have been placed in the Vickery Meadow Neighborhood in Dallas.

Fact: I also live in Dallas.

The nations are at my doorstep.

DSC_0018

DSC_0014

DSC_0046

Sometimes I feel pretty good about myself. After all, I try to be kind to everyone (at least out loud), to take good care of my family, to practice hospitality, to pray for and encourage struggling, disheartened, or grieving friends. I serve my church and community in some useful and respectable ways. To be honest, sometimes I even feel a bit smug in my having-it-all-togetherness.

But then God invites me to witness what real love looks like. And I’m back at exposed and broken again.

When an expert in the law asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus threw the question back at him. What did the law require? And the man was ready. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Good job, Jesus said. Do this and you will live.

But the man wanted clarification. He was pretty sure he was already doing enough, but he wanted Jesus to sign off on his efforts. So he asked, “Who is my neighbor?” And, as Jesus often did, He told him a story.

A man was attacked by robbers on the road and left half dead. A priest saw him, but passed by on the other side. A Levite did the same. No doubt they had their reasons — didn’t want to touch what they supposed was a dead body and become unclean? Had full agendas and no time for interruptions? But a Samaritan — a man both the priest and Levite would have despised —  came upon the man, too. And he did not pass by.  He saw the man and took pity.

DSC_0003

The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.

DSC_0004

He put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he paid he innkeeper and promised to reimburse any additional expenses for the man’s care.

DSC_0005

Jesus asked the lawyer which man was a neighbor to the wounded man. The lawyer answered, “The one who had mercy on him.” And Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”

DSC_0006

SEEK (short for “Seek the Peace”) is a non-profit organization operating within the refugee community in Dallas. The people who work at SEEK are like that Samaritan. They’ve heard the call to love their neighbor, and they’re willing to count the cost to follow through. They know these refugees have suffered unspeakable losses and extreme trauma, but they aren’t there to provide charity. The focus of their work is equipping the refugees to live purposeful, peaceful, reconciled lives right now, right where they are — as individuals, families, and a community.

SEEK pursues their goals through several programs, including the Reading Circle, which exists to equip refugee students for success through literacy. Three Saturday mornings a month, volunteer mentors gather the enrolled elementary-aged students from their apartments and walk them to the SEEK office, where each student receives personal instruction based on an initial assessment and his on-going progress. It’s all very organized, intentional, and a lot of fun.

The kids do improve in their reading and writing skills. But more than that, they build relationships with people who offer them presence, acceptance, encouragement, respect, and hope. And they soak it up.

DSC_0053

DSC_0048

DSC_0022

DSC_0025

DSC_0042

So, why am I telling you all this? Because I want to encourage you in three ways.

First, I want to encourage you to live with your eyes and heart open. I could have walked past that Reading Circle sign-up table and easily justified the reasons why I didn’t have time for one more ministry in my life. And I would have missed out in a huge way. Maybe the nations are at your doorstep, too? Or the homeless, the poor, the orphan, the widow? Neighbors have many different faces.

Second, I want to encourage you to pray. Pray for the 50 million people who’ve been driven from their homes by war, persecution, natural disaster, disease, economic collapse, and other traumatic events. Pray for their healing, comfort, and thriving. Pray against the greed, pride, hatred, brokenness, and evil that is forcing many of them to flee. Pray that Jesus will meet them in their suffering and make all things new.

There’s a lie that says you can spread your heart too thin. I know, because I’ve listened to it before. But this is what I’ve learned. When you love your neighbor — with your time, your presence, your creativity, and your resources — your heart doesn’t empty. It fills. Again and again and again.

So I have one more word of encouragement. This one is only for those whose hearts move them to respond. It’s not even a request. It’s an opportunity, with absolutely no pressure. SEEK is currently trying to raise funds for the next year — operating expenses, like rent money so they can stay in their office in the refugee apartment complex. They aren’t asking for big commitments. In fact, the specific request sent to their volunteers was to give $10.00 a month for a year, and to ask ten other people to do the same. And of course, any amount is deeply appreciated.

So, some of you reading this? You’re my ten. My fellow Samaritans on this particular road. And for others, maybe this isn’t an opportunity God has for you. That’s perfectly fine. My prayer for you is the same as my prayer for me — that we’ll go through life with open eyes and hearts, willing to recognize our part, and entering joyfully when we do. Because I believe with all my heart that the gifts we find waiting for us there far surpass any giving we may do.

DSC_0072

DSC_0073

Fact: There are more than 50 million refugees around the world.

But facts don’t move us. Neighbors do. Here’s to loving them well.

* * *

If you’d like to donate or learn more about SEEK the Peace, click here. Thank you!

 

 








%d bloggers like this: