Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Their Faces Haunt Me...

Each week, I take a morning to get away from the church office, and do some study/work off-site.  Not only does this help keep my mind on what I'm doing (less things to grab at my "work" attention), but it gets me out of the walls of the church and interacting with people.

One of my favorite places to study is at a local Barnes & Noble bookstore.  They have a second floor "loft" area that is filled with books, free wi-fi, and tables and chairs to read/type.  I am a people watcher, so I usually have to position myself in a way that I can stay focused on what I am doing without hiding.... hope that makes sense.  However, even in college, I seem to do my best studying when I am in a more public place with "life noises" going on around me.  I often find myself sharing a study table with other people.  God has granted some great discussions with people during these times.

Today is my study day.  When I arrived, all of my "favorite" spots to study were taken.  I did find a table in a different part of the loft, but in a much more "public" area of the store, near the escalators.  I  always wonder if God sits in amusement as He arranges things that are "out of our norm" like this for me.  Today, I cannot help but notice the faces of those around me.  A young lady fighting sleep, trying to stay focused on some sort of novel she is reading.  An older oriental lady sipping coffee in a big overstuffed chair.  A tall, lanky african-american man with his hood pulled up, hunched over a book that he is obviously enthralled with.  There are store workers busily stocking shelves, talking with customers, and pushing carts about.  However, in the midst of all of this, there is one face that sticks out for some reason.

There is a lady of some type of Indian descent sitting in a large, overstuffed chair across the landing from me.  Dressed in warm clothing with a wooden chair pulled up next to where she is sitting, like a makeshift side table to hold her coffee, breakfast, and several books.  This lady obviously is struggling today.  Not sure if she is suffering from extreme allergies (which is possible since it's Cedar-fever season in Austin), or if she has some type of cold.  She has been here the entire time that I have been sitting here working, going through handkerchiefs, trying to read, but sleeping upright in her chair most of the time.  She is small of stature, and probably in her late 30's.  Just a guess.  Now, before you think I'm sitting here creeping on people...I am only giving this description because of what God keeps telling me through this strangers...  I LOVE these people...  I LOVE them as much as I LOVE you!  These people NEED me!

As I type this, a young, asian man in a backwards ball cap just walked by.  I see college students that look like they just got out of bed, browsing through the stacks of books.  An older balding man in a red sweater sipping on a water bottle, young moms with toddlers jumping about, they are all here.  It is astounding to be reminded of nearly every type of culture and age group in the world while sitting in a bookstore in Texas.

These faces HAUNT me...  I find myself feeling this way more and more when I am out in public.  I was in Prague a few days ago, and there were times that I felt overwhelmed by the fact that there were thousands of people swirling around me that knew nothing about the love of Jesus.  I was surrounded by a LOT of church imagery (statues, cathedrals, etc.), but that imagery was commonplace to the people who live there...they did not grasp the reality of that imagery.

How do we handle these thoughts, as Christians?  Jesus gave us to the task of taking His message to the world in Matthew 28.  That seems like an insurmountable task...  In a world of over 7,000,000,000 people, there are only about 5000 Baptist missionaries on the field.  That is ONE missionary for every 1.4 MILLION people!  Obviously, we cannot leave this task to them alone.

These faces SHOULD haunt every single one of us.   The people of this world can hear the truth of who Jesus is through our (our...meaning the followers of Jesus) interaction with them.  We must be intentional in how we live, in putting ourselves out there to interact with people in this world.  Our neighbors, co-workers, and even strangers in public.  We must show them Jesus in a REAL way...not the crazy guy on the street corner with a bullhorn method...but through our own story.

While deep into my "blog writing," I hear a large crash below on the first floor.  An older lady has knocked over a large stack of boxes near a sales display.  As she struggled to pick up her mess, I saw a young lady approaching her area, obviously headed to the coffee shop downstairs.  I wondered if she would pause to help, or whether she would just keep walking.  I smiled as I saw her stop, and help that lady pick up the boxes.  THAT is where Heaven scratches the pavement.  I do not know if that young lady knows Jesus, but I saw a glimpse of Jesus in that moment.  May I be that glimpse to someone today.

Monday, January 6, 2014

I Feel Radioactive...

I just stepped off of a plane from a week of ministry in the Czech Republic.  I find the effects of working overseas exhilarating, and a shot of life into my soul after such an intense past six months.  I was one of three teaching pastors who went to host a camp for the teenage kids of missionaries all over Europe and northern Asia.

In preparing for my sermons/talks there, I kept having problems getting one of them to come together.  I mean, I had it outlined...but every time I tried to finish it, it never felt quite right.  I have no idea how many times I tried to re-write it.  I had a sense that the Lord wanted me to share my story with this group.  Needless to say, I was pretty reluctant to do so.  So far, I have shared my story with individuals, and through this blog, but that's it.  I am generally a fairly private person when it comes to personal matters...and laying it all out there in front of a group of 100+ people did not sound exciting at all.  After prayer, and some counsel by a good friend...I decided to share about the past 6 years of my life, and about the struggles of the past six months since being diagnosed with depression/anxiety.

During the second night of my teaching, I began with some Bible study, and then spring boarded into my story.  I was terrified of rejection and criticism...which proved to be unfounded, and directly from the enemy.  My prayer had been that it would not be about me in any way, but that my experiences would somehow be an encouragement to someone there.  As I shared, I saw a range of different emotions in the eyes of those listening.  Some were distant, some were understanding, and there were tears in the eyes of some.  It was obvious that I was not alone in my experiences.  My fears had been for naught.

I was absolutely amazed at how many people came to talk with me after the service was over.  For the next 2 days, I talked with countless teenagers and adults who were struggling with these same types of feelings.  Many had never talked to anyone about it, and were so relieved to share with someone.  I pray for these young men and women, as depression is an unrelenting foe.  May God comfort their souls and bring healing about.

Of course, I had one approach me that wasn't completely enthralled with my personal story (I kind of expected some of that), but ended up thanking me for sharing, as some of the teens in their small group opened up that night about their own struggles with depression.  I'll take criticism any day, especially if the end result is a good one!

I am not sharing this with you all so that I can get some type of credit or "glory."  I am sharing this so that maybe some of you out there will be encouraged to share your story with others.  It is very therapeutic to share, even in blog form.

No, I do not have all the answers... I still struggle daily.  My heart is so burdened for these teenagers overseas.  Every time I go to work with them, I feel like I leave a part of me behind when I return home.  However, I know that God has us in Texas for a reason.  We are part of an amazing church, and have a wonderful group of teenagers right here.  I've just been imagining ways to make our youth ministry a world-wide ministry from right here in Austin...  Waiting for God to unveil His plan is the hardest part!  I'm feeling rather "radioactive," as the song talks about...  sometimes I feel like I could explode, but that energy continues to propel me...  Praying for clarity and understanding as we move forward!