Monday, August 18, 2014

YOU... Are Okay...

"You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." -- Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV)

I need to read this passage from time to time.  The words of Jesus in Matthew must ring louder in my heart than the voices around me that are often nothing more than noise pollution.  You see, even though we know that God does not NEED any of us to accomplish His purposes, the fact remains that He CHOSE us...  imperfect people in constant need of take the message of Jesus to the world.

Why is that important?  Well, there are quite a few out there that believe that to do actual ministry, YOU need to get out of the way, and see what happens.  Just "let God work" is the method of some out there. This "whatever will be, will be" mentality just does not make sense to me.  I mean, if you hold to this thought process, then should we stop voting?  Should we stop speaking up when the Bible is taught out of context, or incorrectly?  Should we stop doing evangelism?  To take this thought process to it's ultimate end, I guess we would all need to get robes and sit in a quiet place and wait for the world to end.  No thanks...

On the other end of the spectrum are those that teach and believe that we are to work ourselves to death in the name of the church, or religion.  One does not have to go very far to find church and Christian leaders that are so engrossed in church programming, activities, events, community and social activities that they feel like they are "failing" if they are not busy DOING something.  Burnout and discouragement are rampant among these leaders, and for good reason!

Then, there are the self-denial folks, which is honestly just a different way to say legalism.  They set up rules, often for themselves at first, which must be adhered to in order for them to feel "spiritual," or good about themselves.  Any form of ministry, or life for that matter, that does not fit into what they perceive as the "rules of religion" cannot be tolerated, and must be dealt with.  Often times, these regulations become so stringent that they involve food, exercise, church attendance, use of money, time spent doing "God-things," and limiting themselves (often severely) from the things that they truly enjoy doing.  Doesn't sound fun on paper, doesn't sound fun any way you slice it.... These guys were called "Pharisees" in the Bible.

I can write about these examples, because I have been in the church world long enough to have experienced all of these, and have even bought into some of their logic at times in my own life.  All I know is that all of these lifestyles never actually brought me closer to Jesus.  In fact, they did just the opposite.  You see, all of these things, even try to be a "self-denyer," did nothing but bring the focus of my life squarely back to... well, ME.

Now, don't get me wrong here.  I know that the Bible says in John 3:30 that,  "He must increase, but I must decrease.”  I agree that Jesus must take the #1 spot in my heart and in my life.  HE must become my focus.  The problem with all the religious stuff that I talked about earlier is that, most of the time, these things do not cause Jesus to increase in our lives, churches, and cities.  Rather, they cause us to keep our gaze on things that other people have deemed as important.

God has gifted each of us in specific ways.  Some of us have amazing talents in art or 
music, some are great writers, others are great teachers, great orators, or administrators.  God gifts some in ways that are very obvious to the outside world, but He also gifts some of us in ways that might not seem glamorous, but are vitally important.  He gifts some with a heart to serve, hearts full of mercy and compassion, and even some that are given an amazing level of discernment.  All of these gifts are hugely important, and should not ever be overlooked or thought less of.

That being said, there are still many of us who know this, but have become convinced that our own gifting should have to fit into one of the paradigms that I spoke of earlier.  In my own life, I constantly struggle with whether it is okay to actually ENJOY the ministry that I have been given both passion and gifting for.  I know, it sounds crazy when I type it, but it is true!  I even had a church leader once ask me if the main reason I did a particular ministry was because I enjoyed it!  Again, that sounds crazier than my first statement, but after that conversation, I began to struggle with my "motivations" for doing what I do.  Constantly trying to figure out if what I loved could be stuffed into a legalistic box that someone else created.  

Then, a verse that my dad often reminds me of came to mind.  John 10:10 says, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."  The verses that I have quoted in this blog today are that voice... the voice of Jesus that drowns out the legalism, hatred, pride, arrogance, and busyness of the world.  Those things are the things that the "thief" (referencing the Devil) brings to destroy our lives, our witness to the world, and our joy.  I have to cling to the part that Jesus says that He has come to give us life to the fullest measure!  HE created me to be who I am, not who someone else wants me to be!

I am a country boy from New Mexico.  I love snow, movies, computers, playing music, and talking about life with others.  I love Jesus.  I want Him to use my abilities and passions to reach others in this world with the love and message of God.  I LOVE my family, and I ADORE my wife.  I LOVE sitting and talking with people.  I do not like doing things just to be doing something.  I like purpose... I like meaning...  I LOVE working with teenagers.  I LOVE working with missionary families.  I LOVE partnering with ministries in other places.  I LOVE sharing with those right here at home.  I am just the way God created me to be.

YOU were created for a purpose.  YOU are who Jesus died for.  YOU are EXACTLY what some part of this world needs.  Do NOT let anyone tell you that you have to BE something that you are not in order to reach others with the message of Jesus.  Stay tuned into Jesus, and let Him open the doors as you walk through this life.  YOU are OKAY... as long as you have Jesus... :)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Depression Is The Elephant In The Room...

Like many of you, I was shocked and deeply saddened by the passing of Robin Williams in what seems to be an apparent suicide.  This makes me sad for many reasons, as the characters that he played have been a part of life for as long as I can remember.  As a kid, I was such a huge fan of Mork & Mindy, I would put my Luke Skywalker action figure in one of those big plastic eggs that panty hose came in, just so I could pretend he was Mork...flying through space.  If you're too young to remember that show, you really should check it out...  Alladin, Mrs. Doubtfire, Hook, Popeye, Jumanji, Night at the Museum, RV, and those are just my favorites.  He was a man of immense talent, and obvious personal pain.

The morning talk radio shows are already lighting up with thoughts on how this could have been prevented, on how someone that had so much going for them (at least as it appeared from the outside) could get to such a point of desperation that they would take their own life.  These are not new thoughts, they are not new discussions.  These are thoughts that all of us wrestle with when faced with the death of someone we love due to suicide.

These discussions are usually good, but I have already heard some idiocy in several of these discussions.  First, for most of those that struggle with depression, this is not something that you can just will to go away.  Depression is often caused by some chemical imbalances, or other natural issues within a person's body.  It is not something ANYONE chooses to be afflicted with.  It is a life-long struggle that ebbs and flows in both it's severity and duration of symptoms.  Never assume that someone who struggles with depression has "beaten" the problem.  As one who struggles with it personally, that is NOT the way it works.

Secondly, you need to be careful about what you SAY to people that struggle with depression.  No, I'm not telling you to "tip-toe" around someone... I'm just asking you to THINK before you speak.  Let me explain.  For years, depression has been a taboo subject.  Because people (even those who struggle with it) do not understand depression, it becomes the elephant in the room... the thing that we all know is there, but no one wants to acknowledge.  You may have a connection to a person that needs someone to talk to.  Often times, people with depression are ashamed of it, and out of fear will not reveal it to just anyone.  If someone feels like they can open up to you about what they are dealing with, by all means, treat them with care and respect.  If you respond to their pain with something that sounds clich├ęd or uncaring, you will very likely lose that connection right then and there.  NEVER respond with something like "can't you just take a pill?" or "can't you just get over it?"...under ANY circumstance!  Yes, there are avenues for help, but responses like this just make them feel even more ostracized and alone in their fight.

Third, learn to LISTEN.  Too often, we do not take the time to really listen to what hurting people are telling us.  Why?  Well, I think it is because we become so busy in life that we do not take the time to really stop and help those in need.  There are so many out there that need our help, that we become numb and desensitized to the need around us.  Don't believe me?  Think about the number of people you pass each day holding signs asking for help, or the amount of times you sneak past a neighbor or church friend because you just do not want to "deal" with their needs that day.  We are all guilty of it. However, it is hugely important that we learn to HEAR the people that God allows to come into our lives.  We may not be able to meet the needs of the entire world, but we are able to help meet the needs of those that God puts in our path each day.  It's our decision to make...

Over the next few days and weeks, much will be discussed about the warning signs or pleas for help that were missed in Robin Williams' life.  Some might even try to find someone to blame... that is human nature.  However, the truth is that the only real hope for a person with depression, or any other issue, is a real relationship with Jesus Christ.  The love and support from Christians point these folks to that relationship.  You do not have to be a psychologist, you do not have to be a religious scholar... All you need is to have a close enough relationship with Jesus that you can sense His leading when it comes to ministering to hurting people around you.  Love, Listen, and Think as you do ministry through the Holy Spirit.  It's not about you "fixing" anything... it's about being Jesus to the world.