Half-Assing Christianity

~*Let’s get this out of the way. I am exactly 1.2% sorry for the language .*~

When I was on staff with Chi Alpha at the University of Alabama, I had the privilege to get to know so many amazing student leaders. One of them is a sophomore named Zach. He’s such a go getter, has a real servant heart, and is one of the most joyful people I have ever met. As a freshman, Zach was a little different though.

He started coming around second semester but didn’t seem to be too committed to giving everything to Jesus. After coming to services, small groups, and a couple prayer meetings, things started to change for Zach. Suddenly, at prayer meetings instead of asking for prayer for his tests, he began asking us to pray for other people and his family. Someone asked Zach what changed, his response has stuck with me. He said, “I guess it’s time I stop half-assing Christianity.”

How often do we all half-ass Christianity? Most of us would say, “Never! Jesus said he spits lukewarm out of his mouth” or something holy like that. Surely “good” Christians never give less than everything to Jesus.

But we do.

Maybe we don’t. I won’t speak for everyone. But I know I do. At least I have been.

For the past few months, and honestly probably before that, I have been holding things back from Jesus. I have been trying to play the role of someone living completely surrendered to the LORD. I was even fooling myself.

I went to church. I watched my language and read my Bible. I prayed and journaled. I talked about Jesus, was nice to my coworkers, and listened to worship music all the time. I did all the Jesus-y things. But my heart was holding things back.

After the end of my tenure with Chi Alpha, I was broken and battered. I was ready to move on. I convinced myself that I was done in ministry. I thought God was done with me, but I was also pretty done with ministry. It had hurt me, so I decided that I wouldn’t be a part of it anymore. I would still share the love of Jesus with people but only in a market place setting. I closed the door to ministry in my heart.

Luckily for me, the LORD has been gently reminding me of who I am.

I was listening to a song the other day, and there is a part of that says “Oh God here am I; send me. Use me for Your glory.” As I was singing along, I heard the Lord very gently ask “Whose glory do you really want to be used for? Mine or yours?” I was taken off guard as the conviction sank in. I repented and told the Lord I wanted to be used for His glory. I told Him all about how I wanted to be used to spend His love in athletics or whatever job He put me in.

The next line of that song goes “Oh God, here am I; send me. Pick me up and write your story.” A few days later, I was listening to that song. As I sang out those words, the Lord spoke gently again, “Whose story?” I thought I had this one, so I responded “Your story, Lord. Let me write your story in the market place. Let me write your story however you want me to.” And then I heard the words that cut my heart to the core.

” Except if that means full time ministry?” The Lord’s question was so gentle, but so powerful. I was shocked and suddenly ashamed. I had said that I had given my life to God to do what He wants, but I had placed all these stipulations on what that could look like. I want to write your story, but only if I have total control over what that looks like.

Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. – Deuteronomy 6:5

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” – Matthew 22:37-38

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”– John 14:15

By trying to decide what my role would look like, I was no longer telling God’s story. I was writing my own. God did not call me to ministry, and then suddenly change His mind. Even if He did, who am I to close that door? Who am I to tell God that I can write His story better than He can? That exactly what I was doing when I closed my heart to full time ministry. That’s exactly what all of us are doing anytime we close doors God has not closed for us.

I cannot love the LORD with all my heart, soul, and strength and tell Him that I won’t do what He is asking me. It says ALL. That means with everything I love Him which means nothing can be off limits. Whenever I find myself closed off to an opportunity that could bring me closer to Jesus, I have to realize that I’m half-assing Christianity. And if you’re honest with yourself, many of you are too.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that everyone needs to be in full time vocational ministry, but if that’s not even an option to you, that’s a problem. Not everyone needs to move across the ocean to spread the Gospel, but if that’s not something you would be willing to do, that’s a problem. It’s about giving your life completely to Jesus, not making everyone a pastor. If your life belongs to Jesus, He calls the shots. And you? You obey.

The same day that my heart got cut by the Lord’s question, he spoke again. He said, ” You said your life was mine to do with what I wish. You wanted to be used for my glory. I took your life because you gave it to me. I will give it back if that’s what you want. But if your life is mine, then follow me. Let me lead.” I don’t want my life back. I want to follow Jesus completely surrendered.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”- Matthew 28:19-20

I want to write His story, and He gets to decide what that looks like. So wherever He wants me, that’s where I want to be.

If that’s in Sri Lanka, here am I; send me. If that’s in Canada, here am I; send me. If it’s in Syria, here am I; send me. If it’s North Carolina, here am I; send me. If it’s in Laos,here am I; send me. If it’s in North Little Rock,here am I; send me.

LORD, if You gave Your life to love them, so will I. No matter what that looks like because in the words of Zach,”I guess it’s time I stop half-assing Christianity.”

 

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Shaken

The one word I would use to describe myself in 2017 is one that no missionary, no Christ follower would want to describe themselves. The Word tells us that we cannot be the way I was in 2017 and see the work of God in our lives. A few days ago, I finally felt a shift in me. Praise the Lord! Because in 2017, I was shaken.

For as long as I can remember I have gone for a run on New Year’s Day. Seriously, I probably started running on New Year’s Day when I was 12 or 13. I don’t know why I started running on New Year’s, but I have done it faithfully for years. Even when I’ve worked overnights, when I have worked a conference for 4 days, when the weather has been horrible, that New Year’s run has been somewhat unshakable in my life. I began 2017 the same way I began most years, with a run. I finished it feeling good, victorious, unshakable. That’s the last time I would feel that for a while.

A few days later the World Mission Summit started. It’s this amazing student missions conference where thousands of college students come and many answer the call to missions. We had several students going, and I was driving a few of them up early. I had to be there early because I was helping with one of the experiences. This is where I began to first be shaken.

I was helping with an experience, trying to connect with the missionaries we would be going to later, connecting with some students from Arkansas, and making sure our Alabama students were being taken care of. On top of all this, the Lord had really impressed on me to minister to a girl, not just once, but throughout the conference. I have never felt tired like that. The Lord used me, and everything went pretty smoothly. I should have been fine, but I felt so guilty about being everywhere all the time.

I don’t think that feeling ever left. I chose to listen to a lie of the enemy that I was not doing enough, that giving everything I had to Jesus was not enough. I fell into a loop of believing that I had to earn grace and feeling incredibly guilty that I couldn’t.

I was shaken. My focus shifted from the unshakable glory of God to the unstable depravity of myself. Being aware of your depravity is good thing. Being consumed by it is not. I didn’t even notice that I had taken my eyes off Jesus. All I knew is that I was sinking, and my best efforts were making me sink faster.

In October, I sank. The waves of life overtook me, and I let them choke the life after me. In November, I died. Not physically, but mentally and emotionally, I died. I spent about a month reflecting on all that had happened. I wrestled hard with the Lord for that month. I had subconsciously decided that I wasn’t sure living for Jesus was what o wanted to do anymore. I had passed the point of being hurt; I had lost my life.

In December, I went to church because that’s what you’re supposed to do. Angry with the Lord but still wanting to maintain appearances of being okay, I walked into the sanctuary. For whatever reason, that day they did an all worship service. I almost left, but I didn’t.

After the first couple of songs, my heart soften toward the Lord again. The next song began, and I sang the words, feeling something well up in my heart. And then we sang the words “King Jesus, you’re the name we’re lifting high.” As I sang these words, I felt pierced through my heart. I began apologizing to Jesus profusely.

The Lord had oh so gently shown me that at some point I had decided that at some point it became all about me and not the one I was proclaiming to live for. He reminded me that by my own proclamation I had made my life all about Him, and that was not how I had been living. Something amazing happened. For the first time I can remember, I began to cry in worship. As the tears began to fall, I felt life being breathed back into me. In December, I experienced resurrection.

In the past few weeks, I’ve begun falling in love with Jesus again. I read through the book of Hebrews this past week. It talks about how God is removing the things that are shaken and replacing them with things that are unshakeable. That’s what He is doing in my life right now.

The unshakable things are being restored. The things that are shaken are gone. His kingdom is unshakable. I am part of that kingdom, so this year I will not be shaken.

My foundation is secure. As long as Jesus is on the throne, I will not be shaken. I have stepped off of the throne of my heart. So I will offer my worship to Him because our God is a consuming fire!

I will not forget that the kingdom of God is unshakable, and that I am a part of that kingdom. No longer will I be defined by wavering and shaking. I will not be shaken.

Unemployed and Homeless

“This isn’t what I signed up for.” Those are the words that rolled around in my head for several weeks. A few weeks ago, I was a campus missionary at the University of Alabama, and now I’m here.

Unemployed and homeless.

When I surrendered my life to missions, this is not what I imagined it looking like. I never imagined there would be a day when it would all end. I thought I would be a part of Alabama Chi Alpha until I died because everything I have been taught says that a call into missions is a one way ticket. There is no coming back from the mission field. You only left the field if you didn’t love Jesus anymore or you couldn’t get the support to stay.

But I still love Jesus, and support raising was tough but doable. So what happened? Why am I homeless and unemployed?

My life came to a screeching halt on Tuesday October 10th at about 11 am. I can still feel the words pricking the hairs in my inner ear to register the sounds. “Just so we are clear. As of this moment, you are no longer on staff and released from any commitment.” No, we weren’t clear. This wasn’t what I thought was happening. This wasn’t the plan. We were just talking about my health, and now I’m fired.

My brain couldn’t handle it, so it tried to weave words to make it an incredibly positive thing. After all, my life may be shattering before my eyes, but I still had to save face. I needed to take a step back. I needed to get healthy. I knew these things, so over the next few hours, I delivered speech after speech about how this was a good thing, about how I needed to get healthy, about how good my time in Alabama had been. I said all these things and looked into the eyes of these girls that I love more than life itself that this was going to be the best for all of us. And every time I said it, a piece of my heart died.

The next morning I drove back to Arkansas to get some space and process what happened. I stayed with some friends for what was originally going to be a few days but ended up being a month. During this month, I processed and processed. I spent time with the Lord trying to figure out where everything went wrong. Over and over again, I came to the realization that my entire life had been wrapped up in Chi Alpha, and that all of that was now burned to the ground. I knew I had to start a new life.

I decided to go back to Alabama. I wanted to reconcile some relationships. I wanted to get a job and learn how to do life with Jesus outside of full time ministry. I wanted to continue the friendships I had there and get a chance to love on those students as a friend not a staff member. So I went back on a Wednesday. I said my goodbyes in Conway not sure when I would be back. I wanted to see what else God had for me in Alabama.

Nothing. Not a thing. After several smaller events and one important conversation, it had been revealed that reconciliation wasn’t going to happen right now. I wasn’t going to be able to continue those relationships that I had. Nothing was left for me in Alabama. I felt release from the Lord. It was time to move on.I sold everything I owned that wouldn’t fit in my car. Within a week of my departure from Conway, I was back again. Nothing had gone as I had planned or imagined.Here I am. I’m 26 years old having just been released from a career in ministry with no place to live and no way to make money. How did I get here?Unemployed and homeless after surrendering to missions? That’s not the tag line they sell you. But it can happen.

And if it does, it will be the best thing for you.

It will teach you that only God can be your provider and that Jesus really is all you need. If you’re anything like me, you like schedules and control. You like to earn your grace, but when everything is taken from you, you can’t even pretend that you have anything to do with the grace God is giving you. Every good and perfect thing is from God and God alone. This time has really reminded me that what Jesus gives me is only by His goodness and not by my own merits.

This experience has also taught me how incredibly loved I am. When everything fell I ran to Jesus, but I also ran to my tribe. There are people I didn’t even know were in my tribe until this all happened. There have been countless people who have taken a stand and chosen to fight for me. My biggest enemy has been the lies in my head saying how wretched I must be to be rejected by God. This tribe has chosen to take up arms and fight for my freedom. They have prayed for me. They have bought me coffee. They have given me a place to stay, a place to be safe. They have loved me like Jesus does.

Jesus knows what He is doing even when it looks like chaos to us. I need this season. This season that I would wish on no one is the exact one I need to be in. Sometimes the worst case scenario turns out to be the one that will bring us closest to Jesus. May I always chose the path that leads me to Jesus even if it hurts like hell to get there.

I’m no longer unemployed. As I write this, I am hours away from starting my first shift with an incredible company that values the Gospel and discipleship. I am technically still homeless as I have no permanent address, but I have a couple house keys and garage code that comes with an open invite to stay as long as I need. I am fully provided for.

Somehow the Lord knew that couches in friends’ homes would suit me better than a one bedroom apartment to myself. Somehow He knew just the perfect amount of time to keep me without a job, so that I couldn’t rush the healing process.

Somehow He knew that finding myself unemployed, homeless, and needing a restart would be the perfect season for me right now. I can trust Him when I can’t see anything because even after all this time, He won’t lead me where He won’t go.

Thank you Jesus for not giving me what I signed up for.

-Taylor

P.S. There will be more updates on this process and some unpacking of the whys in posts to come. Just enjoy the process with me.

Remember and remind 

I wrote this in 2012. The Lord showed me so much during this time. I thought it was time for a reminder.

Warm summer sun setting behind me as I walk, still smiling about all the laughs shared. As my friend and I split paths, the street lights illuminate the trail home. We continue to wave until the light fades from the sky and I can no longer see her in the distance. I turn to follow the softly lit path home. As I am walking a light ahead quietly fades out. I am still reliving the joys of summer time fun as the lights burn out ahead and behind me. My feet know the path so well that the lack of light does not concern me. There is still the soft glow of the moon and stars to guide me. I see a flash of white.

I inhale and choke on dirt and feel the jagged edges of gravel in my forearms. I blink dusty tears from my eyes and push myself onto my knees. Sudden sharp pain explodes in the back of my head. I reach back and feel moisture and something sharp. I try to quell the nausea caused by the surging pain in my skull. I stand to my feet, trying to figure out where I am and how I got here.

I take a staggered step and trip over a broken wooden bat. I examine it and see blood where it has been broken. Okay, that explains the nauseating pain in my skull. I stagger forward and see a figure that looks familiar. She obviously knows me as she walks over to me. She guides me to a group of people I feel like I should know. I don’t want to risk offending them, so I pretend that I know who they are. I can’t say I did a great job. I don’t know them, or why I’m here, or even who I am.

After some time, seeing that I am in pain, the girl takes me to see another lady. I should be apprehensive, but all I can think about is how dark it is. How has it been dark for so long? Surely it must be close to morning. My thoughts are interrupted by the girl saying that she will be waiting me for when the lady is done.

My heart quickens with panic. I do not know the girl (although I know I should), but I trust her. I feel this strong bond between us. The strength is somewhere between friends and sisters. I can’t leave her.

The lady guides me into an alleyway. She takes out some tools that I cannot see in the darkness. I would run, but the surging pain in my head has crippled me. The lady begins to whisper sweet nothings as she pulls large splinters out of my gaping head wound. With each splinter the pain is renewed. I gasp for air, willing myself to not cry. Before long the pain subsides, and I feel her closing the wound. The lady says I should be fine. I exit the alley, and the girl is waiting for me. I still don’t know who she is. Or who I am for that matter.

I walk with the girl back to the group of people I should know and stay with them for a while. The chill in the air is nearly gone, and I faintly recognize the surroundings. Eventually, they figure out that I do not know them, but light appears to be coming upon the horizon. The group shows slight frustration that I do not know them, but I am unable to make myself remember.

I am now convinced that wherever this is  a place with little to no light. I have eaten and slept many times. Light has not come. I can now navigate the blue-grey landscape with only moderate difficulty.

Later, I awake from sleep to find myself alone. I am confused (more so than normal). The group has never left me before. I stumble around the alleyways with the constant dull ache in my head. Ahead I see a group that looks the ones I should know. Relieved, I head toward them.

This cannot be the group of the ones that I should know. The feeling of the familiar bond must have deceived me. They would never look at me that way.

Suddenly I feel my ribcage compress as a sharp blow lands on my sternum. As I gasp for air, I feel a knee crash into my abdomen. A metallic taste fills my mouth as I cough and blood hits the ground. I collapse on the ground. The impact of a large boot is felt on the left side of my rib cage. I hear a soft crunch and inhale sharply. Pain explodes in my chest. I feel cold metal crash into my legs, but I cannot move. I feel the continued blows until everything fades black, and then I feel nothing.

I open my eyes to see a white figure standing just a few feet from me. He is so bright, but I can tell it is a man. His face is far too bright to see. He is glowing with a bright white light that would be blinding even if the whole world weren’t dark. He speaks. His voice is string and powerful yet gentle and comforting. He says “Come to me, and I will give you rest.”

Though I cannot imagine how, I pull myself up and half limp half crawl to the man. As I almost reach him, fatigue and pain grip me. I collapse. To my surprise, I do not fall to the ground but into His arms. He picks me up and easily carries me. The pain of my injuries hasn’t subsided, but somehow, in His arms, I feel safe. I find rest.

I awake in a room that I can only assume is a hospital. The room is almost unbearably bright, but somehow, that’s okay. It is warm too but comfortable. I am on a bed which is leaps and bounds above the streets I’ve been sleeping on. I turn and see the glowing man next to me. Suddenly pain ripples through my body, and I scream. The man says “Peace. I am with you, my child.” The pain doesn’t vanish, but somehow, I am comforted anyway.

I remember the injuries as the man relays them to me. They are extensive; I would not be here without Him. These things I know. They will require much therapy; it will be painful and difficult. I ask how much the therapy will help. He says I will be made new. He tells me to rest today, for tomorrow we start. Eventually the pain subsides, and I sleep.

The next day I awaken in pain again. The man tells me today I must venture out. Isay ‘My injuries are too great. I cannot leave.” He says “Each night, you may return, but each day you must leave. I will give you strength. It will hurt, but this where the healing starts. Fear not, I am always with you.” I want to protest but cannot. I say “I will need somebody to help me, a friend.” He says “I have taken care of it.’

He fits me in braces to care for my injuries and clothes me in a hoodie and sweatpants that cover my braces. Miraculously, my face was not noticeably damaged in the assault. On my wrist is what looks like a bracelet but is as much a part of me as my own skin. It looks familiar. As if reading my thoughts, He says “That is your reminder that my Spirit is always with you. You’ve always had it; you just notice it in times of trouble.” This thought brings me comfort.

My first day out I wander, wondering where my friend is. This girl comes up to meand treats me like a friend. She is bright and cheery like a sunflower. I decide Sunflower girl will be a good friend, at least for now. The day is not easy, but I make it through.

As I return to the hospital, I am in pain and just want to sleep. The man has other ideas. I am put through much physical therapy. I fail at tasks often, get frustrated and cry because I am in so much pain. I lay in bed, my body throbbing. The man wraps me in his arms and comforts me. He says “You are dearly loved, my child.” The pain subsides, and I drift off to sleep.

The next few days pass exactly the same way. Sunflower invites me to hang out with her and her friend after a few days. Her friend is cool and peaceful like a river. I grow to enjoy spending time with Sunflower and River. The days get barely easier but easier. The sun had returned to the sky.

Nighttherapy is still very painful. I still fail just as often as at the beginning.One night as I am being comforted, I ask “Who am I?” He replies “You are mine.” I say “Yes but who am I?” He says “You are mine, and you are dearly loved. That’s all you need to know right now. You will learn the rest later.” Oddly, this comforts me, and I find sleep.

Aftera few weeks, I see that Sunflower and River are good friends to me. They help me get through each day, by talking and listening. Anytime that is not enough, I look to my wrist and find comfort. Eventually Sunflower and River ask me to hang out with them at night. I do not know what to say.

That night, at the hospital the man says “Tomorrow you will do your therapy in themorning.” He knows. I am relieved and scared. I have never stayed awake throughthat pain. I desperately want to enjoy the time with my friends.

The next morning, we begin therapy. It starts much like the others. Failure. Frustration. Crying. Toward the end, the man wants me to try walking without my braces to Him one more time. I say that I can’t. He says “I will give you strength. Just try.” I shake my head in disbelief but stand up anyway. I tenderly pick up my left foot, move it 6 inches forward, and set it down. I repeat with my right foot and miraculously don’t fall. I take one step. Two. Three. Four. Five. I pick up my foot to take another and fall. I don’t care. Iam overjoyed! I took 5 steps!!! I smile and see the man is smiling too.

As I sit here smiling on the day’s accomplishment, I look at my wrist and feel blessed. I am healing. I have found great friends in Sunflower and River. As we watchthe sky change magnificent colors as the sun sets. I no longer fear the dark; I know the sun will rise again. As the light fades and I am overwhelmed withlove, music of Joshua Radin begins playing in my head.

“For thefirst time

In such along time

I know

I’ll be okay”

The Truth about Luka

By now you have undoubtedly seen at least one of the many, many pictures I have posted of my puppy. He is a wonderful shepherd mix that has encouraged me to get out and enjoy the outdoors. He is an absolute joy to have, but all is not as it seems. I didn’t get Luka because I just wanted a new pet. Luka is an emotional support dog.A year ago, I moved to Alabama to be on staff with Chi Alpha. The move was hard on me, but I eventually settled into the new flow here. I threw myself into doing ministry things all the time. I was so busy all the time, but, at least in my head, busy was good. Around mid October, I began getting headaches everyday. 

The headaches weren’t bad at first, but then they became more consistent and more severe. I just ignored them for the most part. Then they got worse, so I started trying to fix them. First I thought it was caffeine. Then I thought it was allergies. Then I didn’t know what it was, so I looked up all the possible causes online and tried to fix it. Nothing worked.

Around December, I began to notice my mood changing. I was getting more tired, and it was harder to get motivated to do anything. I also began to feel anxious not all the time but pretty frequently. I figured I was just tired and hadn’t rested enough, so I resolved to just ignore it. It would get better on its own.

In February, I realized that I no longer wanted to get up in the mornings. I hated everything I was doing everyday. These headaches were so consistent that I didn’t have days without them. I was miserable, so I scheduled a doctor’s appointment. I thought the changes in my emotional state were caused by whatever was causing my headaches. The MRI came back with nothing. I had no answers.

So I resolved that I would just power through and spend time with Jesus. I would get through this. As time wore on, I no longer had the motivation to spend time with the Lord. I didn’t know what I enjoyed doing anymore. I didn’t know how to do anything to relieve this misery. 

I prayed and prayed. I finally talked to some of my best friends and agreed that after our mission trip if I didn’t feel better, I would seek help. The mission trip came and went. I felt no better. So I got evaluated by a counselor. 

I am dealing with moderate depression and anxiety. It turns out that those headaches are linked to depression. I didn’t want medication, so I asked about an emotional support animal. I wanted to try anything else before resulting to medication. The counselor thought it would be a good fit and wrote a prescription for one. This is why I have Luka.

My symptoms have decreased a lot. I am glad to have this pup.

Let me clarify, Luka is not getting rid of my struggle with depression and anxiety. Luka has a need to go outside frequently. I have to let him out and walk him. Being outside reminds me of the goodness of the Lord. When I remember the goodness of the Lord, I want to spend time with Him. God is healing me.

I trust the Lord. I really do. I can remember that God is in control of everything and that He will take care of me. That’s hard to remember when my heart is racing, and my thoughts are going a million miles an hour. When my mind, my body, and my spirit don’t line up, it’s hard to remember truth.

I remember the truth of the Lord most clearly when I am in the midst of His creation. I remember that He loves me and has plans for me when I can see the care He has put into each individual tree. Luka helps me remember that by simply being there and having needs.

There is nothing special about this dog. He is not healing me, but I am reminded of the one who is every time I have to take him outside. When I can’t convince myself of the need to see the Lord’s creation, the needs of the puppy forces me to do so.

Now, I’m waiting to hear back from my new apartment complex to see if they will allow him to move with me. If he cannot, I will have to get rid of him. I don’t want to have to get rid of him because of how he helps me see the Lord, but if I do, I’m convinced that I can still be restored to peace and wholeness. God is my healer. He just happens to be using a 3 month old puppy to help.

I wrote this only in the interest of being honest and vulnerable. Even as leader in a ministry, I struggle with mental health issues. It’s not a permanent thing, but it is a very real thing. I need help sometimes. I’m not strong enough to just power through it, and that’s okay.

One week later

It’s been a week since I have returned to the U.S. I’ve been out of the country many times, but this trip was different. For one, I somehow managed to experience basically zero jet lag or reverse culture shock. For two, it was an entirely different continent than I have ever been to. For three, it was the first ever solo trip for the University of Alabama Chi Alpha. 

Strangely enough, those aren’t why I think this trip was so different for me. I can’t really put my finger on what was so different, but I know it was.  One thing has remained the same. The Lord taught me a lot.

As I have been mulling over those 26 days during this past week, I kept coming back to one instance. As I pressed into that instance, I asked the Lord what more He had to say about it. You see there were lots of things the Lord showed me while in South Asia, but this one thing played in my head on repeat. All of the experiences on that trip and the one that comes back to my mind so vividly? The day we missed the point.

We were in the northern part of the island , working in areas still feeling the effects of the war that desecrated the land for 26 years. Even though the war had been over for years, the people group that inhabited the northern part of island were still being oppressed by the ethnic and religious majority. The Buddhist majority made it to where these people were being slighted by government policy and held in subservience by lack of sufficient resource. The northern landscape still bears many scars from the war as do the hearts of these people.

The war ended about 8 years ago, so many of the children in this nation have never actively seen war. The children of the north just grow up learning that the Buddhist majority has the power and that their ethnicity will cause them to be given less advantage than those who grow up in the south. Despite this knowledge, these children act just as any children would. They marvel at foreigners, love to play games, and can almost always be persuaded with a biscuit (cookie).These are the children we would work with for the first few days of our trip. 

A large part of our time on this trip was spent doing children’s programs for the local pastors. They like to do children’s programs to get access into communities that have yet to be reached by the Gospel. Children’s ministry is not my favorite thing, but I wanted us to serve the pastors the best we could. Most days we would spend a couple hours doing children’s programs which are kind of like VBS. We did several programs where we would share stories from our lives, share a story from the Bible, play games, do crafts, sing songs, and perform skits.

A few days into it, we had it down. We knew exactly who was doing what and everything was flowing smoothly. Then one day, the pastor said that our program needed to be half an hour shorter for this particular area. So I began refiguring timing on things and trying to figure out if we needed to cut something. One of the guys came to ask me about the program and said “We could cut something out and just play with them. That’s the most important part.” I agreed, but something about that statement just didn’t sit right with me.

The next day we had another program of the same length. It was easier that day because we already knew what we were cutting from the original program. This day we had the local pastor as our translator which was great because he knew how to explain the stories better. We went through the program just as we had the day before. 

I finished narrating the skit just as I had the days before, and then said “Now it’s time to play and just have fun!” The pastor looked at me very confused, so I repeated myself. He still looked confused and said “Shall we lead them to the Lord?” I kinda laughed and said “Yes, we shall!” I let someone else lead, and slowly the feeling of silliness that I had felt when the pastor asked me melted into conviction. May 31st: the day we missed the point.

In all our exuberance to play with the kids, we never once actually tried to lead them to the Lord. Somewhere along the way, we began to believe that playing with the children was more important than telling them about Jesus. Sure, we never would have vocalized that, but our actions said plenty. 

These children need Jesus not another American playmate. They need to know the love of Jesus and how to live for Him, not how to copy some white person that they won’t see again. Every trip I have been on has playing with kids as a highlight. Playing with kids isn’t bad; it’s just not the point. These kids need to know the Savior that loves them enough to die for them and the new life He offers. Sometimes in the quest for our instagram quality pictures and memories of us “doing missions”, we miss the point.

Those kids were in a seemingly hopeless situation. They grew up in a war torn region. They grew up in a completely Hindu area of a completely Buddhist country. They may never have a chance to hear the hope of Jesus. This situation was far too important for us to forget the point. Thank the Lord the pastor was there to redirect us, or we may have missed the point at every program we did after that.

The more I have thought about it over the past few days, the more I have realized I do this in America too. Because the problem isn’t playing with kids. The problem is getting so used to trying to silently act like Jesus that we forget to actually lead people to Him. If we don’t proclaim Jesus with our lives AND our mouths, we end up making people think we are worth following, and that leads down a dangerous road.

I am so guilty of this. I try my best to live in a Christlike way. I try to love like Christ. I try to serve like Christ. I try to make my character as close to Jesus as I can. But I very rarely actually proclaim that it is Christ that I am trying to live like. I get so caught up in the things I need to do to make disciples that I forget to tell them who I am following.

If living my life in a way that I think reflects Christ doesn’t actually lead anyone to Christ, maybe I’m not actually reflecting Christ.

I realize in trying to live like Jesus I have to proclaim who He is with my words just as much as my actions. If you look at the Bible, it’s very obvious who Jesus is living for. He says all the time who He is for. He doesn’t just extend kindness to people; He tells them of the Lord’s grace for them. He doesn’t just heal people; He points them back to the Father. I have to learn to proclaim Jesus with words as well as my actions.

I know we see a lot of articles about making sure your speech and actions match. Almost all of these talk about making your actions match your speech. For example, we can’t just talk about helping the poor; we need to actually help them. I think the inverse is true as well. We can’t just help the poor; we need to talk about helping the poor. How does anyone else know why we do what we do if we don’t ever tell them?

The biggest thing I’ve learned from my most recent trip overseas is that if we don’t keep our focus on leading people to Jesus,  we will completely miss the point. Even on a mission trip, we will still miss the point. 

Leading people to Jesus is the point. Let us be careful to not forget that.

Day 9

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“Jesus raised Lazarus because he felt his pain not because he was next on his to do list.”

My friend Alex shattered my world with this quote about a year ago. It convicted me as deeply then as it does now. In ministry, we have a habit of just trying to move through our to do list and get through each day. In most occupations, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The problem is that in ministry 100% of your job is relational. The things on your to do list are people. It can be easy to breeze through appointments and meeting giving good Godly advice without ever investing in a single person. We can “accomplish” a lot without ever giving of ourselves.
Why is this a problem? It’s a problem because we devalue human life when reduce people to a space on our schedule or a box to be checked. When we don’t invest in people, we say that they are not worth enough for us to give something personal, give something that’s a part of us. We are saying that other people are less valuable than we believe ourselves to be.
The biggest problem with doing ministry this way is that it is completely contradictory to the way Jesus did His ministry. The Christian life is supposed to be a mirror of the life of Christ. We are supposed to carry the nature of Christ.
Jesus was very relational and actually invested in relationships. His whole disciple making process is incredibly relational. He called us to live a life of love. Love means investing. It means sacrificing. It means being vulnerable.
Jesus raised Lazarus because he loved him. He invested in Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Jesus was so invested that he wept before he ever made a move to raise Lazarus. Jesus decided that it was important enough to visit them. He was invested enough to be there for the family as well as raise Lazarus.
How many of us, given the power to do so, would raise Lazarus without ever stopping to weep? How many of us would raise Lazarus without ever stopping to comfort Mary and Martha? How many of us would raise Lazarus without ever going to the grave or seeing his sisters and would have instead chosen to raise him from a distance and go on our merry way?

The truth is that if we are not willing to love people deeply and actually invest in them, then we aren’t actually following Jesus.