Eternity in Our Hearts

Bringing what endures into everyday life


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Discomfort and Joy

As I knelt to tie her shoes, a precious child with blond curls and bright eyes looked squarely into mine and whispered, “My mommy and daddy live in a hotel.” I gulped and replied with words wise and profound:

“Do you like your pink shoes?”

Of course, the truth is that I didn’t know what to say. My heart winced for this sweet foster child who leapt from the floor and twirled before the mirror in her sparkly silver skirt. She and her foster mom were our guests in the Mosaic Style with Love store, where foster children receive a personalized shopping experience where words of affirmation and blessing are offered, along with new clothes, shoes, and accessories.

In this instance, though, I couldn’t come up with timely words. I side-glanced at her foster mom who gave me a half-smile, an embarrassed “she-just-says-these-things” smile. Eventually the awkwardness passed as we admired the tip-toe dance of pink shoes and a sequin skirt.

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A few months earlier, my friend and I were in eastern Europe, alongside women in the kind of crisis and poverty that rattles my sheltered imagination. Their social worker, a Christ-follower who devotedly pours herself into their lives, had planned a retreat and asked us to speak about the love of Jesus. As we worked through our rehearsed outline, she interpreted for us.

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About midway through, a woman interrupted. I didn’t understand her words but they sounded cutting and irritable. Our interpreter explained her agitation: “I don’t see God loving me. I don’t feel God loving me. I’m waiting for God to love me!

I gulped and I don’t remember if I said anything, profound or not. But another woman in the group – a woman whose crumbling home I’ve entered with disbelieving eyes, a woman who clings to her faith despite illness and poverty – spoke to her friend in their shared language:

“God is loving you right now. While you are sitting here, with these friends who love you, with your social worker who loves you. God loves you right here and now.”

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After these two experiences in 2015, I don’t see “missions” – local or global – the same way. Perhaps not consciously, but I once viewed missions as an “us” and “them” enterprise. And “us” consisted of the ones with the spiritual answers, the resources, the polish and the shine. Maybe that kind of missional approach meets some temporary needs and provides a few feel-good moments. But can it create joy or sustain transformation for either “us” or “them?” It puffs up but it doesn’t build up.

I discovered, as I looked these precious souls in the eyes, that I have zero to offer out of an “us” and “them” mentality. My only offering comes out of an admission that we are together human and needful of grace. And what I offer oftentimes lacks polish or the timely word or the right answer to hard questions. But Jesus calls me to uncomfortable places where people say things that I don’t expect. They are honest. If I enter their experiences, why should they insulate me? And so, my own humanity feels exposed.

But while these scenarios were discomforting, I can’t name two more fulfilling experiences of the past year.

Lord, I thank You for the discomfort. Can I say, that in its midst, I felt the joyful awareness of standing upon holy ground? It’s here where I examine my heart and ask if I am willing to be broken, as a seed which gives life.

An “us” and “team” mentality spoils a missions effort by 1) implying a condescension that steals dignity and robs fellowship and 2) leading people to think that they must have it all together and/or 3) compartmentalizing missions into occasional good works without growth toward a missional lifestyle.

If it means that I am all the more aware of my frailty, my tendency to be tongue-tied, and my needfulness, then Lord, send me. And thank You for the amazing thought that you use us, not despite our brokenness, but surely through our brokenness. Your power is made perfect in our weakness.

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I long for the fellowship of authenticity, as the “other” is human and vulnerable yet dignified, made in God’s glorious image. In truth, I don’t want to go on as an “other” – the one from the “right” side of town or the free, prosperous country who visits occasionally and returns safely to her sanctified bubble. This shared discomfort, between “others” colliding, gives us a glimpse of the incarnation – of Jesus becoming body in our humble, earthen mess.

In a world where people live in shady hotels and crumbling shacks, He came to “pitch his tent” (John 1:14). If Jesus incarnated Himself to birth in a manger, refugee status in Egypt, and to “have no place to lay his head,” surely we will experience Him in a new way when we identify with the “least of these.”

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Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” When we have a true perspective of our own poverty before God, without pretense or agenda, that humble spirit allows us into genuine fellowship with our brothers and sisters, and we see Him — in a foster mother, in an impoverished but grateful woman, in a social worker – those who pitch their tents and stay awhile. Missional living, after all, isn’t about “us” or “them” but about Jesus and His love being incarnated through human hands and feet.

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Perhaps I don’t yet fully understand what personal transformations and sacrifices this kind of mission – this pitching the tent – requires of me. But an incarnational life requires an encounter with the Cross.

Here I am, Lord (Isaiah 6:8).

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From Henri Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit, pages 104 – 105:

Compassion is something other than pity. Pity suggests distance, even a certain condescension. We can come close to another person only when we are willing to become vulnerable ourselves.

A compassionate person says: “I am your brother; I am your sister; I am human, fragile, and mortal, just like you. I am not scandalized by your tears, nor afraid of your pain. I too have wept. I too have felt pain.”

We can be with the other only when the other ceases to be “other” and becomes like us.

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There are 400,000 children in the foster system in United States. Many children enter into foster homes with just a few articles of clothing and necessities. Christ-followers are called to “take up the cause of the fatherless” (Isaiah 1:17). The Mosaic Style with Love store is one way that members of Carmel Baptist Church are answering this call. Find out more [here].

 


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Saying Yes Where You Are

“(God) says to ordinary people like me and you that instead of closing our eyes and bowing our heads, sometimes God wants us to keep our eyes open for people in need, do something about it, and bow our whole lives to Him instead.” – Bob Goff, Love Does

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I knew that we would quickly fall for the Albanian children at the orphanage. I felt it when the oldest, an eight-year-old girl with a gleam of mischief in her eyes, took the opportunity once the translator stepped out of the room to speak directly to the unsuspecting Americans:

What’s your name?”

This bright, bubbly child turned out to be a pint-sized translator herself:

Me – “Crayon?”

L – “Lapsi.”

Me – “Orange?”

L – “Portokalli.”

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My memories of my friend and her little sister are rooted in my heart. I was allowed to take a few pictures on our last day together. Most of the pictures are blurry, and eventually my mind’s eye will grow dim, but the eyes of my soul cannot un-see these children.

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But there was a time (not so long ago) when I succumbed to a feeling of helplessness at the darkness and suffering and injustice in our world and I basically chose to “un-see” the needful person across the street and across the sea.

My question was this – What can one ordinary person do to make a difference?

As I struggled with my hesitations and limitations, the Holy Spirit nudged me with another question, plus a challenge:

What difference does Jesus make in my life? Start there.

As I thought about these things, I read books by Richard Stearns, Henry Blackaby, and Emily Freeman which encouraged me to bridge the gap between sacred and secular and to open my eyes to all of life, even in my ordinariness, as my offering.

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Whatever you and I do, we are designed like no one else to say something unique and purposeful about God with our lives. As Emily Freeman says, creating a life of meaning is not about finding that one great thing you were meant to do. God has created you, Image Bearer, to know Him and to express Him in a million little ways.

The difference that Jesus makes in my life is that I’ve been saved by grace through faith, and Scripture says that this is a gift from God and not the outcome of my works (Ephesians 2:8). It’s tempting, in our cultural mindset, to be outcome-driven, even thinking that ministry is our deal, our doing.

But Ephesians 2:10 tells us that we are God’s workmanship, created by Him for good works He planned before we were born. What we have to offer is by God’s design and doing. Recognizing this truth has freed me from the burden of outcomes. No, I can’t change the world but I’m not called to. I’m called to offer my heart, my voice, my hands and feet and let God work as He will.

I alone cannot change the world but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples. (2)

While we’re waiting for a place where we’re significant and sufficient, He’s asking us to begin with a small step of obedience.

An outcome-mindset comes easily to someone like me who wants to do some good, feel successful in it, and make the world seem more neat and tidy.

An offering-mindset is rooted in the belief that I can do nothing good except for God’s grace in me. Sometimes – most times – this is an uncomfortable process because God shows up best through weakness and humility. But could it be that God’s work is best seen in surrendered people, not skilled people?

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In our individualistic culture, it’s tempting to see ourselves as do-good lone rangers. But Ephesians 2:10 says that we are God’s workmanship and we are better together as each part of the Body of Christ does its unique and valuable part. God designed us to serve alongside, not alone.

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I’m learning that yes – I have a responsibility to this world, but when I am concentrating on my gifts, my purpose, my weaknesses, my calling, I am getting in the way. It’s all His deal, and what a privilege you and I have to be a collective part of His story. Let’s be available and willing to see what He does.

We are all in full-time Christian service …. What has God given you? Moses had a stick. David had a slingshot, and Paul had a pen. Mother Teresa possessed a love for the poor; Billy Graham, a gift for preaching; and Joni Eareckson Tada, a disability. What did they have in common? A willingness to let God use whatever they had, even if it didn’t seem very useful … We may not be clear on just how God wants to use us. But that’s no excuse for doing nothing. Just jump in, and start doing.”  Richard Stearns, The Hole in our Gospel

God is greater than our gifts, and I think He wants us to keep our eyes on Him and open to the unexpected ways He is working. Your offering and my offering, wherever our mission fields may be, matter to Him.

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When you ask God to help you see, He will open your eyes and your heart in a way that’s unique to you. His calling may not lead you to another country. God intentionally places us in our families, neighborhoods, and local communities too. What you offer in these places is significant and sacred.

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The Great Commission is lived out through bedtime prayers, peanut butter sandwiches, a pick-up soccer game with the refugee kids, a gift to the crisis pregnancy center, a Sunday morning in the special needs class.

The hands and feet of Jesus represent the showing-up part, but they respond to the seeing part.

God invites me and you into His work. We don’t have to figure out where we fit. He will lead us when we keep our eyes open.

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So, let’s not limit ourselves by the question – What can one person do to make a difference?

Instead let’s ask – What difference does Jesus make in my life? and Where is He working?

And let us start there. We can create a ripple effect that swells into a current of life-giving love.

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“Saying yes isn’t really about doing it all. It’s about saying yes right where you are. It may seem small or insignificant, but any time you love someone or care for another person’s needs, you’re changing their world, and yours too. It’s about looking up from your everyday life and seeing opportunities around you to make a difference. It’s about loving others as we are loved.” – Kristen Welch, Rhinestone Jesus: Saying Yes to God When Sparkly, Safe Faith is No Longer Enough

Emily Freeman, A Million Little Ways and Simply Tuesday: Small Moment Living in a Fast Moving World

Richard Stearns, The Hole in our Gospel and Unfinished: Believing is Only the Beginning

Henry Blackaby, Richard Blackaby, and Claude King, Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God