Friday, June 26, 2015

#LoveWins



......actually, love already won. You see, God is Love. He loved so much that he sent his son, Jesus, to die for you on the cross 2,000 years ago. He died for the adulterer, the tax collector, the prostitute, the straight and the homosexual. He died for ALL sinners. LOVE ALREADY WON. Love was hated by many. Love was crucified. But guess what?! That’s not the end of the story. Love ALWAYS wins! Love won over sin. Love defeated the grave. And Love is risen again and preparing a home for you.

 

As I see the hashtag #LoveWins all over social media celebrating the legality of gay marriage, I can’t help but nod in affirmation. Not in affirmation or approval of the court ruling, but that, YES, love wins. Love wins over everything in the end.

 

Christianity has been misconstrued for years to the point where society thinks Christians are a bunch of hateful, closed-minded bigots. That’s far from true! Christianity began out of love. Love for the sinner, love for the lost, love for the hopeless. We are called to love like Jesus did. This doesn’t mean we condone sins. We are ALL sinners, but we don’t hate each other because of it. We love people through it.

 

In the coming days as society pressures Christians to push our beliefs aside and accept gay marriage as the new norm, we must stand up for our faith. We can no longer stand idly by as our government tells us what to believe and accept. The church has been known to thrive in times of persecution (see: Ephesus, Philippi, Corinth and Rome). The persecution will more than likely come as pastors will refuse to officiate gay marriages for the sake of their own religious beliefs. In fact, I’ve already seen some persecution from behind computer screens directed to a pastor at Watermark Community Church in Dallas. Even in this time, Christians should be unashamed of their faith and boldly proclaim the gospel. We need to proclaim this gospel while also speaking grace and kindness. Do not be tempted to anger and to lash out against people who hate your beliefs. They don’t hate you; they hate what you believe. They hate Love.

 

What many who support this new court ruling believe is that your desires don’t have consequences (1 Corinthians 10:23). We are called to obey God, rather than man (Acts 5:29). When we don’t, there will be discipline, much like from a loving earthly father. The Bible says the world will fall to its own desires and God will give us over to ourselves (Romans1:24-32). Just like an earthly father who shakes his head after trying to lead us in the right direction, God will do the same as we give in to our sinful nature. We cannot expect God to bless us as a nation if we turn our cheek to Him. Is America prepared for the discipline God could give?

 

In the end, this world can -and probably will- fall to its own desires of the flesh and hate, but I know that love will STILL win in the end. I’ve read the last chapter and the last page of the Bible. #LoveWins!   

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Why Christians are Persecuted in America

I know I haven't posted in a while and this post may ruffle some feathers, but it needs to be said. These things have been heavy on my heart and mind lately.


Many Christian leaders, activists and conservative politicians have complained of Christian persecution in America lately. They claim Christians are under fire for following Biblical teachings and being labeled bigots and ignorant because of it. Church attendance and the Christian church is also in decline. Christian leaders blame it on the media and the need for being politically correct in the ever-changing world of politics and society.


I blame Christians for the persecution. We are misunderstood and have twisted the Great Commandment. As Christians, we are called to LOVE. Recently our faith has been more defined by hate and its willingness to exclude certain people groups. Franklin Graham has called for Christians to boycott gay-friendly organizations. The church is forgiving of Josh Duggar's molestation, but shaming Caitlyn Jenner's transformation. (For the record, I find it detestable that both of these stories are celebrated in the news). These are just a few recent examples.


If we go back to the basic teachings of Jesus, He calls us to love God and love people. Love is sometimes inconvenient and hard, but Jesus still calls for us to love our brothers and sisters. This doesn't mean we condone their sin, but we love them THROUGH it. Jesus loved the adulterer. He loved the tax collector and the thief. He didn't shame them in public and toss them aside. He forgave their sins and accepted and loved them. As Christians and Jesus followers, we are called to do the same thing.


I am just as bad as anyone at this. Sometimes it's hard to love someone when you don't agree with how they're living. Sometimes it's easier to join the masses and say hurtful things about someone who doesn't follow your beliefs. If Christians want to change society's views of the church, then we need to change how we treat people! When we are portrayed as hating people instead of loving them, it's no wonder people are leaving the church and faith.


Instead of boycotting gay-friendly organizations or shaming transgender people, we should LOVE. Love always, never hate. People don't like Christians and the church because we use the Bible to solidify our hatred toward certain people groups. Never once did Jesus say to hate our gay brother and sister. Never once did Jesus tell us to mock transgender people. He ALWAYS told us to love. I, myself, am working on loving people daily. Honestly, it's hard to love some people, but it's worth it because it's what Jesus would do. I always want to portray Jesus in everything I do and say.


So what does this look like? I'm not asking Christians to put the Bible down and accept sinful nature. No, not that at all. Instead of using Bible verses to shut people down in hate, use the Bible as a way to rebuke sin and love the sinner. Remember the saying hate the sin, not the sinner? Yea, let's do that more often. Form a friendship with the lesbian couple living next door. Invite your gay friend to church. Ask a friend who is thinking about a sex change out to coffee and get to know him/her.


Believe me, I need to work on these things too. Writing this forced me to take a good look at my own heart and see where I've failed as a follower of Christ. Do I look like Jesus? Do I love like Him? Maybe the persecution against Christians in America will stop when we start looking more like Jesus and less like what we've made our faith into.

Friday, October 31, 2014

5 Things I've Learned from "the Least of These"

As a Christian, I have always been taught to live and love like Jesus. What does that look like? Over and over, he tells his followers to love the following four people groups: the oppressed, the widows, the orphans and the poor. We can't love them from inside our church or home walls. We have to GO OUT and be the hands and feet like Jesus did. He calls us to love the people he loves, but doesn't say how our lives will be affected in return.

The saying, "they did more for me than I did for them" is cliche, but so true. Many times we go on mission trips or volunteer to help out and do something good, but our lives are wrecked and changed in return. We return to our lives and aren't so comfortable anymore. I have had this experience multiple times and will tell anyone who will listen what we can learn from "the least of these." Here are the top five things I've learned!

1. Value
Americans and first-world citizens are constantly wanting more and unhappy with what we have. We want the next big thing and newest technology, a bigger house, a newer car, etc. When you travel overseas, or even to the poorest neighborhood in your city, you will hear a different story. They cherish what they do have and don't put value in material things. The one thing I will never be able to forget is a scene of children playing in Haiti. Since they don't have toys like we do in America, they made them out of trash. Children were laughing and having a blast with a truck made out of a jug and pulled with a string. Seeing that made me smile and broke my heart at the same time. We put so much value in material things that we forget to be thankful for what we do have.

2. The blessing of community
Most people keep to themselves and like to keep their lives private, but this isn't Biblical. We are called to live in community. Throughout my time of service in Dallas, Waxahachie, Waco and Haiti, I've seen community be a life-changer. When people look out for one another and care for each other, life gets easier. In Haiti, people will gladly share their food with you so you can have something to eat too. It blows my mind. In Waco, homeless people will share their blankets with one another and help each other out on the street. It took working with the poor for me to realize how important and life-changing community is.

3. Be still
I know I'm not the only one who is always in a rush and has a list of things to do every day. We are always in a hurry and life passes by so quickly. We forget to slow down and see the beauty in the day and our surroundings. I lived in one of the most beautiful places on earth this summer. We had ministry to do and our days were packed, but we made time to slow down and be still too. You can only truly feel the Spirit of the Lord when you are still. When I took time to slow down, feel the Haitian breeze on my skin, listen to children playing and motos passing by, I felt calm and felt God sitting next to me. Most Haitians also take a daily nap. I think Americans should adopt this thinking ;)

4. Love knows no language or border
A lot of people feel like they are held back from mission trips or service because they don't have medical or construction skills. One thing we all have and can give is love. My friend and fellow missionary, Emalee Arthur, said this was the biggest lesson she learned while in Haiti. (Check out her blog here: http://emaleearthur.blogspot.com). Even when you don't speak the same language, we all know love. Love is a universal language. A hug, smile and little baby kisses are the same in every language. Whether you are in Haiti or in the poorest neighborhood in your city, we all need love. Sometimes a smile or hug can change a person's life.

5. How to fully rely on God
Everywhere I serve there is one thing in common: faith in God, especially in the hard times. I had never seen authentic, overcoming worship until I went to Haiti. These people who, from American eyes, have nothing to worship about are worshiping and praying like I had never seen before. Instead of worrying about where their next meal will come from or their safety, they pray and rely on the Lord. Now that I'm going through hard times, my Haitian friends are offering encouragement and support. I learned from them what faith really looks like and pray for that kind of faith and reliance. Last night, a man in Waxahachie who had lost everything put it perfectly. "God will take care of you. He wants what's best for you, but it's not always in your timing. His timing is perfect and it will be worth it."

This is just a sampling of the many lessons I have learned from "the least of these." I really don't like that label, but it's the term Jesus uses in Matthew 25:40. The poor and marginalized have so much more to offer than we give them credit for. They definitely aren't "the least of these" in my eyes!

What are some things you would add to this list?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Are You Afraid of the Dark?

As a child, there are many things we fear. Some children fear heights or clowns, while others fear the dark. It seems that some fears carry on into adulthood.

Are you still afraid of the dark? Most of you would shake your head and firmly say no! Sure, you may not be afraid of being in a room with no light, but what about ISIS? Are you afraid? Or do you fear contracting ebola or another infectious disease/virus? In the Scriptures, these things would be considered darkness. Even an unbeliever would consider these things dark.

Earlier this week I streamed a series from The Porch about Christians being Batman. Now before you scratch your head in confusion, hear me out. Batman runs to the darkness instead of away from it. He isn't afraid of the dark. He brings light to a dark world and is seen as a hero. In summary, your childhood fantasy of wanting to be Batman is completely warranted and a good thing. ;) ALL people, especially Christians, should want to be Batman.

For far too long the American church has sat comfortably in their four walls as darkness threatens to take over the world. We watch the news and grow terrified of viruses and terroristic threats instead of taking action. We're scared of sickness. We're scared of dying. Why?

In Acts 1:8 it says, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." If you have the Holy Spirit living inside you, you are equipped and ready to fight evil. You should be a vigilante of good instead of being crippled with fear in your home. In some translations of Acts 1:8, witnesses is translated as martyrs. Yes, you could die as you shine your light in the darkness, but what better way to die than to do it for the glory of God!

Every day I get online and see fear all over my Twitter and Facebook timelines. Most of the fear is from my Christian friends and family. Instead of being fearful of what will happen tomorrow, why aren't we like Batman and facing evil head-on? What do we have to lose? Before you answer with "my life," think about the great people who have lost their lives before you as they shine in the darkness. Eleven of the twelve disciples died as they went into dark areas of the world, proclaiming the Gospel. You and I are called to go all over the world as a light in the darkness, not to fear the dark. Run TO it, not away from it.

Many of the people infected with ebola in Africa have never heard the Gospel. This should be concerning to Christians. Instead of canceling trips to Africa and having the "every man for himself" mentality, we should be fighting to GO. Sure, we could contract the virus and die, but what if you spread the Gospel in the process? What a glorious day in Heaven that would be as you worship Jesus with them. The same is true about the Middle East. Many people are afraid to go there because of extremist groups like ISIS. How can we forget about the innocent people who live in that area and have never heard the saving news of Jesus Christ?

Or how about conquering fear in Dallas? Instead of staying away from restaurants, theaters and malls, reach out to Liberian and other immigrants who live here. The state of panic and fear needs to stop. The media is partially to blame for this, but Christians need to remember that they are a light in the darkness and have nothing to fear. If you die from ebola, you will be with your Creator sooner than you thought. Now what's so bad about that?! RUN to the darkness in this city and all over the world, instead of hiding in fear.

Church, let's stop being afraid of the dark. I'm done with hearing fear from the lips of my Christian friends. We have no need to fear death at the hands of a virus or extremist group. Our only concern should be being a light in the darkness and spreading the Gospel. If we truly believe in the sovereignty of God and that He is in control, we will not be taken out of this world one minute before He is done with us. We are considered immortal until our last breath. When we breathe our last breath on earth, it will be our first in Heaven.

I'm not afraid of the dark. Are you?


"And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from Heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace." Luke 1:76-79

"Go! I am sending you out like a lamb amongst wolves." Luke 10:3

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Living Unashamed Despite Persecution

It has been exactly three months since I stepped foot back in America. In case you're just now joining me on this journey, I spent six weeks spreading the Gospel, loving on orphans, teaching, working in medical clinics and providing food to the lovely people of Haiti. Being back in America has been very hard in many ways, but the hardest way is how my time in Haiti is affecting my job search. 

I never thought my service in Haiti would negatively affect my resume or job search. In fact, I thought the time would be a positive because of the new skills I learned, along with the cross-cultural interactions I had. To my surprise, I have been met with persecution. 

"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
Matthew 5:11-12

The first instance of this negativity was when an HR manager told me I should regret my time in Haiti because nobody will ever hire me because of it. Wow! Since when was serving others for the glory of God seen as a bad thing?!? Somehow I kept my emotions in check and calmly told her I would never regret that time because that's where I was supposed to be. That wasn't the only instance of this kind of persecution. 

I have also had to deal with false things said about me in my previous workplace. I worked my tail off and made it my purpose to form relationships with people in different departments. When I returned to America, I found out that false and negative things had been said. And the basis of all this was because I answered the call God put on my heart. 

The lowest blow was when a religious institution said I couldn't work there because I left the workforce to serve others on the mission field. Umm excuse me?! I couldn't help but let my jaw drop after hearing that. 

Living out your faith and living a Christ-like life is being met with hatred and persecution, but I shouldn't be surprised. After all, Jesus warns against such things in the Bible. 
"If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you."
John 15:18

If America is a Christian country, then why are so many people-myself included-being persecuted for their faith? No, we aren't losing our lives because of our profession of faith, but we are being kept from jobs, promotions, etc. Being unashamed of your faith is becoming harder and harder because of the need to be politically correct. Just look at Tim Tebow. He's an award-winning quarterback, but lost his job and has not been able to find another because of his image. Teams are concerned because of the media circus and "distractions" he brings because of his outspokenness on his faith. I think we need more people like Tim Tebow. The stars of "Duck Dynasty" are in the same boat. They have come under attack multiple times for speaking out unashamedly about their faith and making prayer a big part of their television show. Instead of viewers accepting their religious beliefs, they bash the Robertson's for being "intolerable" of other beliefs. 

The Bible says those who are persecuted are blessed, but I don't feel very blessed right now. I'm sure Tim Tebow, the Robertson's and others who speak out on their faith feel the same. I wish hiring managers would see time on the mission field as a good thing, rather than looking down on times of service. I wish people could speak out on their faith without fear of losing their jobs or friends. 

I will continue to fight the persecution with my head held high and meet such negativity with a smile on my face. There is a reason I have Romans 1:16 permanently inked on my body. I am unashamed of my faith! I can make plans for myself, but I know who holds my life and He is in control. The Lord will provide the perfect job for me in His timing and it will meet my needs and passions. I have no doubt of this! 

"For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
2 Corinthians 12:10

Friday, October 3, 2014

I got what I wished for...and I don't like it!

You know that old saying, "be careful what you wish for"? Most people, myself included, blow it off. But what if you actually got what you wished for, and then decided you didn't want it after all?

While in Haiti this summer I was mesmerized by the happiness of the nationals. Most of them lived on $2 or less a day. The lady I smiled at on the street only had one meal that day. The children tugging at my hands were orphans. The handicapped beggar on the street lost his leg during the earthquake. The lady selling plantains in the market was raising her six children alone. One thing they all had in common? An infectious smile and grateful personality. They were happy to be alive and their laughs were contagious. Through the eyes of an American, they had nothing to be smiling about. Then I went to a Haitian church service....

There was dancing, shouting, hands lifted and strong preaching. This was genuine worship and prayer! Children sat on the wooden benches, hands folded and prayed to their Father. Women danced in worship. The choir raised their hands and sang in unison. The band swayed as the congregation clapped along to the music. The preacher brought strong words and had everyone nodding their heads in agreement. I truly felt the Spirit there, in a nation that was so poor and marginalized. I sat in tears as I watched the Haitian nationals worship and thank God for what they had. My mind was even further blown when they gave two offerings; one for the church and one for the poor in the village. The ride home from service that day was quiet as we all thought about what we'd just been a part of.

After church that day I wished to be able to worship, pray and praise God like the Haitians did, even in the midst of seemingly having nothing. I asked God to help me understand how they could be so content with having so little. I wanted to have the heart they did and be able to trust God, even in the midst of terrible times.

"I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength." Philippians 4:11-13

American churches often use Philippians 4:13 out of context and ignore the previous verses. The Haitian people live out these verses on a daily basis. They are in need and hungry, but are content because they have the strength of the Lord.

Three months after asking God to help me be content with so little, I'm in need. I am in NO WAY in dire need like the Haitians, but it's still a struggle. I'm living on my last dollars and trying my hardest to be content. Like Paul said in Philippians, I know what it is to have plenty. After you have had plenty, being in need is very hard. My desire was to be able to worship and praise God with all I have, despite hard circumstances. I'm nowhere near the happiness of my Haitian friends and family, but I got what I asked for. And guess what? I don't like it!

In church we sing "all I need is you," "you're more than enough," etc., but do we really mean it? Do we really believe that Jesus is enough in times of need, or are these empty words we sing? I believe Jesus provides and saw it first-hand last month when I received a gift to pay my monthly bills when I didn't have the funds to pay them myself. On the days when I'm at my lowest, God sends someone or something to push me to keep going. Sometimes those people are my Haitian friends. We keep in contact over Facebook and they always want to know how I'm doing. I am honest with them and it makes me feel terrible. How can I complain about not being able to find a job when the unemployment rate in Haiti is over 80%, I have a roof over my head and have three meals a day? They listen and encourage me anyway. Their encouragement is so amazing and blows me away. I think about what they go through on a daily basis and they're encouraging ME to push on and stay positive. How?! It's never their own encouragement, but encouragement from the Word! Many people think Haiti is a spiritually dark place, but here is another example of the light shining through that I love so much!

Every day I'm learning how to be content like my Haitian friends and family and thank God for the things I do have, instead of complaining about what I don't have. I'm a worry wart, but I noticed that's another thing the Haitians don't seem to have. Instead of worrying, they pray and trust God. I'm telling you, we have A LOT to learn from Haitians and other poor people groups in the world. Looking at them in pictures and videos, we think they have nothing and feel sorry for them. Get to know them and you'll feel sorry for yourself and realize you are missing so much that they have. I lack the complete trust and faith they have because I let myself get in the way. I can't praise God and be happy with what I have like they can because I'm worried about not having a job to pay the bills. Instead of worrying, I need to give it to God. I'll leave you with this passage that I always turn to in times of need.

If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well." Luke 12:28-31




Monday, August 25, 2014

Please don't nominate me for the ALS ice bucket challenge

I refuse to do it. Not because I don't want cold water poured over me. I know what that feels like because I showered in ice cold water for six weeks in Haiti. There are two big reasons why I refuse to accept this challenge if nominated.

1. We're wasting water in the name of charity
-----This summer, God provided the opportunity for me to live in Haiti. This country is one of many where clean water is not readily available. Water.org states that 780 million people lack access to clean water. That's more than 2.5 times the population of the United States, but yet we're wasting water gallons at a time as part of this "challenge." That five gallon bucket many people use for the ALS challenge is the same size someone in Haiti, India, Africa and other developing countries use to collect their water for the DAY. Water is one of my passions and something I have learned not to take for granted, especially after having to carry around a water bottle each day as my only source of water between meals because it wasn't safe to drink elsewhere. It sickens my stomach to see video after video of this challenge on news feeds and the television as my friends and family in Haiti and worldwide are suffering. Isn't there a better way to raise awareness of what it feels like to have ALS than to waste such a precious resource that millions of people don't have?

2. Aborted babies are used for research purposes
-----The ALS uses stem cells from aborted babies (and some adult stem cells) to replace dying cells in a person affected by ALS. Don't believe me? Check out their website for yourself. http://www.alsa.org/research/about-als-research/stem-cells.html If you believe life begins at conception, then this is a problem because your ice bucket challenge and subsequent donation is funding the use of aborted babies for medical research. This foundation uses fertilized embryos less than a week old, takes the stem cell lines from the embryo for cultures and tries to repair the brain of someone with ALS. They admit it has raised ethical concerns. I personally believe life begins at conception, so this challenge and use of stem cells is against my ethical and religious beliefs. Instead of funding this research, I will pray for other options to find a cure and for complete healing of people living with ALS.

This post was not to condemn the people who have done the ice bucket challenge, but to bring awareness and education about the underlying issues. I understand people are doing this challenge out of kindness, but please be educated about where your money is going and how we, as Americans, are being wasteful. I personally hope this "fad" passes soon and people will find another way to raise awareness and fund medical research.