Refuge

Happy Friday!

I just wanted to leave you with a quick thought for this weekend.

Yesterday, I saw a flyer for one of our local churches, advertising its mid-week meeting for the Hispanic community.

It was called “Refugio de Amor”.

Refuge of Love

Is your church a refuge of love? Can broken people come there to find shelter, or is it just a country club with a prayer service?

What will you do this week to make yourself and your faith community a refuge of love for those who need shelter for their souls?

Where will you go for refuge in your own trials?

Copyright 2013 Jessica Weeks

 

Meditate on Psalm 46 this weekend:

God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
 though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble at its swelling. 

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
    God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
    he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come, behold the works of the Lord,
    how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
    he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
“Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

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Tuesday’s Truth – If You Can Only Say Something Nice, Don’t Say Anything At All

Hello everyone! Just a short bit of a public service announcement this week. In this latest season of my life, I have become so aware of the trials and sufferings of those around me. I’m not talking about starving children in Africa or politically oppressed people in Asia, or impoverished South Americans. I’m talking about the people in our families, churches, and neighborhoods who are dealing with pain and difficulty right now. The middle-aged man who is suddenly and unexpectedly a widower,  the couple struggling with debt and unemployment, the parents caring for a chronically, critically ill child, the small-business owner wondering how many months they can stay open or afford to employ others, or the parents who lose a child to an illness or an unexpected accident.

 

I’ve addressed the issues of trials, suffering, God’s plans and the like in past posts. I’m not here to go over all of that again. What I want to address today is how we respond to those in our lives who are experiencing pain and struggle. So many times our first reaction when someone shares a trial or tragedy with us is to try to make them feel better. We say things like, “God is in control,” “Everything will work out,” “God’s going to do a miracle,” “They’re in a better place,” “There’s a purpose in this,” “Just lean on Him,” or many similar things. Many times, these things are completely true. God is in control, He does have a plan, and there is a purpose in our pain. But stop and really think about it. Does saying any of those things really make someone feel better? Is it even really possible to make someone feel better when they’re really going through something life-alteringly painful? I don’t think it is. The only one who can truly comfort someone in those types of situations is God, and He works directly on the heart and spirit of the sufferer, not through their ears.

 

It is possible for us to do something, however. We can offer support in many ways that opens the door to God’s comfort and healing. Sometimes there are practical things that we can do to care for those who are hurting. The old saying is very true: “Actions speak louder than words.” In fact, one of the best things we can do for our suffering friends and loved ones is just keep our mouths shut. I can’t say I’m always good at that. I mean, I write this blog every week because I like communicating and expressing the things I’m learning and discovering about God. I never got in trouble in school for my papers being too short, but for them being too long. I can over-communicate very easily. Once in a while, though, I get it right. I remember one situation where I took my own advice, and I can look back and see how much more effective it was than if I had tried to pull out all my “great wisdom”.

 

A friend had suffered an incredibly tragic loss. I’m pretty sure one of the first things I said on the phone was, “I don’t have any words.” Just things like “I’m so sorry,” and “I’ll be there as soon as I can”. And when I did get there to support her, I ended up (not by my own brilliance, I confess) just letting her tell me the whole story, with all the good memories, and all the painful details. We laughed a few times, cried a lot, and actually had a very beautiful time together. Did I make her suffering go away? No, there was nothing I could do to fix it. Did I say something profound that put everything in perspective? No, there’s not a lot of perspective when you suffer an immense loss. I would have loved to have taken a measure of her pain away, but all I could do was help her carry it for a few days. Over the next several months I followed the same course and spent time listening on the phone when she would get overwhelmed with the grief. Again, there was nothing I could do to make it better, but I could still offer support. Probably the most surprising thing to me was how I was changed and affected throughout the process. I saw God’s faithfulness, my friend’s trust in Him and her growth, and the miracle of God’s healing in spite of overwhelming emotional injury. If I had tried to spout wisdom, make things better, and run my own mouth, I would have missed the opportunity to be blessed and learn from God’s work in someone else’s life.

 

So as you come across the pained and hurting in your own life, shut down the urge to try to fix things with your words, go against your natural instincts, and just keep quiet. Support, care for, and uphold the sufferer, but do it through caring actions and loving listening. You may be surprised at what God will do in your life too.

Tuesday’s Truth – You Better Find Somebody to Love

Hello again! I know, I’m a day late with this one. It’s not even very long, so that’s not my excuse. Mostly, I was letting an idea marinate, to see if it was what was really supposed to go up this week. And I think that it is. Today I want to share with you something that seems so simple, but yet is often so difficult for Christians to put into practice. It’s one of the central features of Jesus’ life, and yet probably the one we least like to imitate. What is it? Simply put, it is loving sinners. I’m not interested in discussing specific lifestyles, actions, or choices that you or I believe are sinful. That’s not what’s at issue here. The sin isn’t the issue; our action is. Let’s use a bare-bones definition of a sinner – anyone who has not believed in salvation from sin through the death of Jesus. That’s who we’re talking about this week.

 

We like to say that we love sinners and want to bring them into God’s family. But many of us (I’ve been guilty of this too) only love people “outside the fold” in an abstract sort of way. We don’t go outside of the church and love them (socialize with them, care for them in times of need, encourage them, etc.); we hope that they will “get saved” so that they can be like us and then we can really love them.

 

Why do we do this? I think there are lots of different reasons. Sometimes we are afraid that if we associate with people who don’t follow all the same rules as us (this can even apply to other Christians sometimes, sadly) we will become “less saved” and fall into sin. If we associate with someone who uses profane language, we’ll start using it too. If we socialize with someone who drinks too much, we’ll become alcoholics as well. If we befriend someone who’s living with their boyfriend or girlfriend, we’ll become sexually immoral. While we certainly need to be on our guard to not be sucked into sin or worldliness, we are promised that we have not been given “a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.” (2 Timothy 1:7) God doesn’t save us and then allow us to be weak and fragile in the face of sin. If that were true, wouldn’t He just transport each person to heaven as soon as they believed, because they would be too delicate to remain in the world? We need to have more faith in the spirit God has placed within us. If we are loving the lost in the way that God has called us to, we don’t have to worry about being dragged away from Him.

 

Sometimes we avoid people we see as sinners because we just don’t know how to interact with them. We may have been sheltered by our parents during childhood, and by our church during adulthood, that we feel that we have nothing in common with those outside the church. They don’t understand our “holy-speak” and we don’t understand the things that they enjoy or that they are upset by. This is a legitimate obstacle, but one that must be overcome if we want to claim that we really love the lost. How do we do it? A little bit at a time, I think. Look for ways to find common ground with the unsaved around you. If you were homeschooled, went to a Christian college, and then worked in a parachurch organization, you probably don’t want to start out trying to connect with a biker gang. Baby steps, folks. What about the neighbors who have kids the same age as your kids? Or maybe fellow athletes on a community team? Start by finding the things that are the same about you, and hopefully they’ll see the differences between you in a positive light that turns them towards Jesus. (Which means that you’ll have to be careful to make those differences positive!)

 

Finally, I think a huge reason we neglect to actively, tangibly love sinners around us is arrogance and pride. We have our list of the really bad sins, and people in our lives who commit one of those sins are just too “dirty” for us. We can’t be friends with that guy at work, because it might expose our children to the evil in the world if they found out how he lives. We can’t let our daughter invite the neighbor girl over to play because her mommy doesn’t have good enough morals. We see ourselves as “good” and “pure” and these others as “bad” or “corrupted” and we’re afraid that they will rub off on us, or somehow diminish our goodness. We think that it is a case of oil and water, and that mixing is simply  impossible.

 

Friends, that’s not how it works, for so many reasons. First off, you are not so great. Before you were saved, you were, in the eyes of God, just as lost as the most sinful person you can think of. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) In His mercy God saved you, and in His mercy He can save others. There is no award for being saved, because you didn’t earn it or accomplish it. If God can love and have grace and mercy for the lost, surely you should be able to. If you are not a slave to sin, it is because Jesus paid for your freedom, and not because you were inherently strong or good.

 

Second, the sin of others can’t just “rub off” on us. It’s not like the flu – it doesn’t just spread, I promise. I’ve spent a lot of time around a lot of people with all the different brands of sin, and I haven’t become ensnared by any of them. But don’t ask me, ask Jesus. He spent more time with the lost than most of us ever will, and yet he remained without sin. Jesus loved a fraudulent tax collector (Zacchaeus – Luke 19:1-10), an adulterous woman (the Samaritan at the well – John 4:1-26),  and so many others that he and his disciples were infamous for their associations with the moral and religious outcasts (Matthew 9:10-11, Mark 2:15-16, Luke 5:29-30, Luke 7:34).  Jesus didn’t see his righteousness and purity as something to be jealously guarded and protected, but as something to be shared. He knew the importance having faithful friends who loved and worshipped God and set that example for us in his choosing of the disciples. We all need a community of people who share our faith and can encourage us. But Jesus also showed us how important it is for us to let the love we receive from our relationship with the Father spill over into the world around us, particularly to those who have not yet experienced the love of God. Jesus didn’t come so that good, moral Christians would have something in common; he came so that the sinful, the lost, the broken could be saved, healed, and restored (Matthew 9:12) And that is the job he left to us when he returned to the Father (Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8).

 

To wrap this all up, I’m not sure exactly why this is what I felt compelled to write about this week. Perhaps it will be a timely challenge and reminder to some of you. Maybe it will convict someone. I know it has challenged me just thinking about it, evaluating how I live in relation to the lost around me. Do I judge, or do I love? So often Christians feel that we have the right, the responsibility even, to judge the sinners around us. But we don’t. Of all the commands and instructions and responsibilities that God gives us after we are saved, judging is not one of them. Not the unsaved, not the saved. He kept that job all for Himself. I get so frustrated by people who claim to be Christians, but then make Christianity so unattractive by loudly and obnoxiously judging and denouncing sinners. Yes, sin is a problem. It’s a huge problem. It’s the problem. But we don’t win people to Christ by telling them how terrible they are and how they are ruining society. We don’t make Christ attractive by proclaiming our own goodness and righteousness. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict people of their sin, and it is the kindness of God that leads to repentance, not our bashing or our boasting. (Romans 2:4)

 

Loving the lost is a risky proposition. It opens your eyes to see people the way that God does. It allows for the possibility that you will care about someone who refuses to answer the call to salvation. You may see those you love lost for eternity. God calls us to love the way that He does, and that kind of love opens the door to all sorts of pain. God’s heart aches continually for the lost who refuse His loving advances. And yet the rewards are just as infinite. When you see the lost saved, broken lives made new, sick souls healed, and people transformed by the power of Christ, there is nothing more amazing. You get to be a witness to something that causes all the angels to rejoice. I don’t know how God is calling you to love those around you. But I do know that He is calling you to it. Please seek Him this week, and don’t just wait for an answer – get out there and start loving some sinners!

 

Peace!

 

 

 

Spread a Little Hope, Part 2: Orphans and Widows

Greetings, Reader! We are going to talk today about a specific area in which you can spread hope to the world around you. If you haven’t read my first post on the subject, go check it out. It’s okay, I’ll wait for you… Alright, got it? Good, now we can move on.

So, I’ve been reading the Bible a lot lately. Even if you don’t, stick with me, because I think you will agree with what it has to say here. The specific book I’ve been focused on is the book of James, which is historically accepted as being written by the brother of Jesus. I mention that to point out that he would have been very familiar with the teachings of Jesus, who is recognized by Christians and non-Christians alike as having quite a bit to say regarding the right way to treat other people (He was pretty big on caring for “the least” among us). Here’s what James has to say: “Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles.” Other translators have used the words “undefiled” and “unblemished” instead of “lasting”. Let’s focus in on what the author is saying here. He’s assuming that there are kinds of religion, and a multitude of ways that people express their religion. James makes the unequivocal statement that none of those things matter if they don’t put a high priority on caring for the disadvantaged and socially oppressed. I think we can all agree that a lot of religion has historically been defiled and blemished by its adherents. Crusades, ethnic cleansing, suicide bombers, forced conversions…the list could go on and on.

Why do religious people get caught up in defiling their religion? Because they have lost the focus of what “pure and lasting religion” is really about. It is not about power, it is not about mandating any form of belief or behavior, it is not about earning a better place in heaven. It’s about love. Jesus, that famous brother of James, put it pretty clearly: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Not a lot of wiggle room there. And I can’t think of a single religion or a belief system that would disagree, except for perhaps Utilitarianism, which is not real popular… Caring for those who cannot care for themselves is a universal moral imperative. We innately know that it is the right thing. And yet, we often do a pretty abysmal job of following this imperative.

Not that we don’t want to do it. Organizations and movements which at the very least claim to help the “orphan and widow” abound. Many of us are content to let them do the actual work, while we send them some money. Isn’t it nice that we can help out these “poor folks” without ever having to interact with them? (Note the sarcasm.) Our governments are also have a finger in the pie. With this being an election year, we are going to continue hearing a lot of very strong opinions as to how much the government can and should be doing to help the “least of these” in our society. There are some valid reasons to be having that debate, but that’s really not what I’m concerned with. Because the imperative we’re talking about today didn’t say anything about pure and undefiled government (as if!) being characterized by caring for the financially and socially downcast. It was about religion, and religion is about people. James (and Jesus) mean us. I see you there, looking at the person next to you. Cut it out. I mean you. You need to be caring for the orphan and the widow. Sure, it’s not what you were planning on when you got up this morning, but it’s where we’re headed now.

Still with me? Good. Let’s make this practical. So you don’t have an orphanage right down the street from you?No streetchildren wandering in front of the bus stop on your way to work today? Sorry, you’re not off the hook just like that. The fact is, there are orphans and widows in your town, and there are lots of ways to find them. Community services centers, churches, synagogues, mosques, and a whole variety of non-profits in your community can all direct you to those in need.

But even more than just looking for the actual orphans and widows around us, let’s think about what James really meant by calling our attention to those two specific groups of people. In the first century, your position in society was tied to the position of the men in your family. Your father, your husband – they determined where you stood in the eyes of the community. So to be without that father or husband practically meant that you had no place in society. You were totally at the mercy of others. Often, those others didn’t feel very compelled to care for you. They had enough to do to take care of themselves, or so they thought. James said this wasn’t the case. Not only did people have the ability to care for others, they had no choice – he says we “must” care for the orphans and widows.

In our society today, there is a much wider variety of people who are what we might call financially disadvantaged or socially oppressed. Race, geography, education, religion and politics are all contributing factors. All of those factors need to be addressed. But that’s not the imperative we are talking about here. What did James say? He said we much care for the oppressed “in their troubles”. Not in the socio-historical background of their troubles. Not in the generational cycle of their troubles. He said in their troubles. Where they are right now. The care we are to give is immediate, obvious, and effective.

What does this mean for us? It means giving up our free evening and babysitting to give a single parent a night off to have fun or pursue a hobby or work on his or her degree. It means mentoring children who do not have adequate parental involvement. It means sitting and listening to a friend who has just lost her husband for hours even if you have other things that “should” be done.  It means welcoming a refugee or immigrant and making them feel like a part of the community. It means visiting the elderly lady on your block that hardly ever gets out of her house. It means loving and helping those around you without expecting to get anything in return.

Trust me, Reader, in writing this I was just as challenged as you are right now. I know I’m not anywhere near close to perfect. But I’m trying. Because when I come to my last days, I want to have been part of something pure and lasting.

Peace Be With You

Spread a Little Hope, Part 1

Greetings, Reader! Today I’d like to inspire you. The more I see of the world, the more it strikes me that there are so many people living without hope. None of us are immune to pain or disappointment. At times I am overwhelmed by the amount of suffering compared with my ability to ease that suffering. There are so many types of suffering, and we are so constantly bombarded with requests for help in the form of money or volunteer hours, that we quickly begin to feel guilty. So what is a person to do? How are you to do real good, rather than just wishing that you could? As I always say, there is a better way.

Here’s what you need:

  • A compassionate heart
  • A desire to make a difference
  • Time
  • Generosity with whatever resources you have

Here’s what you do:

  • Think through the many types of pain and suffering around you. Focus in on the one or two that really move your heart.
  • Look for established organizations in your community that serve in the areas that you care most about.
  • Make a list of your talents and resources. If you are not very creative, offer up those talents and resources to the organizations you have found, and let them place you where they can best use you. If you are creative, however, you may spend some time thinking of your own ways to meet the needs in your area.
  • If there is no group or organization in your area meeting the needs of the people you would like to help, use your connections and social networks to find others in your community who share the same passions as you, and pool your talents and resources.
  • Get your family involved. Serving others together is an excellent way to strengthen your relationship with your spouse or significant other. Children are very enthusiastic about helping others, and there is no better time to develop a generous and compassionate spirit than childhood.

I hope that you will be inspired to find your own niche where you can do the good that you were made for.  In the future, be looking for ideas on more specific ways to Spread a Little Hope.

Peace Be With You