Witness Protection Program

Witness Protection Program or  “Why I don’t have a fish bumper sticker on my car”

I try to be a pretty nice person. Most of the time.

I try to see the bright side of things. Most of the time.

I try to see the better in people. Most of the time.

But then, I fail. FAIL. Miserably.

I love Jesus, but I cuss a little.

But my failure is not just about me.

Its about what others are witnessing when they see me.

It’s about who I want to be a witness for.

I am an awful witness for Jesus.

I was relieved when I traded my Ford Focus in years ago. Relieved because I couldn’t live up to the witness that the little fish emblem on the back of the car implied. I got my only speeding ticket in that car. I ran very yellow lights.  I may have annoyed my share of other drivers.  All while I was proclaiming “I’m a Christian”.

I am an awful witness for Jesus.

I caught myself the other day.  After long days in airports, which I actually enjoy, I had a chance to volunteer to take a different flight.  Why not?  For once, I finally had the freedom in my schedule.  It wouldn’t bother me to go at my scheduled time or take the next flight.  No biggie. But wait.  They couldn’t tell me if they wanted me to actually volunteer until everyone boarded. EVERYONE.  It seems they had to weigh the plane.

I had a great seat.

Extra leg room.

On a regional jet.

Carrying a backpack.

And there was NO room in the overheads by the time I got on.

NONE. NOWHERE.

Everything I was carrying had to go under the seat.

Where my feet go.

So my knees aren’t under my chin.

It is easy to be a good witness for Jesus sometimes.

This wasn’t one of them.

I was ticked.

I didn’t cuss, but I am sure that Jesus didn’t like my attitude.

I sure didn’t. Grumpy. Sarcastic. Snarky.

And what’s worse?

My seatmate was chatty.  Nice guy.  Funny. Interesting.  We showed each other pictures of our kids and grandkids.

And then… THE QUESTION

“What line of work are YOU in?” he asked.

Uhhhh….

“I work with volunteers.” I said.  And changed the subject.

FAIL!!

I love talking about what I do, and I love Jesus.

But at that second, I needed a Witness Protection Program.

To protect the guy in 4B from my bad witness.

“I love Jesus” Angela was a sharp contrast to the grumpy, snarky, reeking of bad attitude Angela that this nice young man was sitting next to.

So I was quiet.

I was a non witness instead of a bad one.

Score for Witness Protection Program.

It was amazing and humbling to see how fast my desire for wanting some leg room and overhead space spiraled into grumpiness.

At the end of each day I know I have unintentionally offended and hurt more than I have encouraged and lifted up.

The lyrics to this Casting Crowns song echos in my head

Jesus, friend of sinners, we have strayed so far away

We cut down people in your name but the sword was never ours to swing

Jesus, friend of sinners, the truth’s become so hard to see

The world is on their way to You but they’re tripping over me

Always looking around but never looking up I’m so double minded

A plank eyed saint with dirty hands and a heart divided

 “Jesus, Friend of Sinners”, Casting Crowns

“The world is on their way to You, but they’re tripping over me”

Yep, I admit, I don’t have it all together.  My cheese is slipping off the cracker.  I’m ok with with being broken.  I’m not ok with tripping people on their way to Jesus.

So here’s the thing.

Maybe the answer isn’t having a bumper sticker to show I am a Christian.

Maybe the answer is to live more intentionally like Jesus.

How?

“And what does the Lord require of you? Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

Crimes of Fashion

or “For the love of all that is holy, stop wearing matching mission team t-shirts”

If you know me, or have even seen me, you will find this next piece of information hilarious.

My college degree was Fashion Merchandising.

Yep.

Fashion. Merchandising.

And I did graduate.

I won’t tell you which institution actually granted the degree, because it might just be considered slander.

Truly, jeans, flip flops, and t-shirts are my uniform. To me, dressing up is black jeans instead of blue. High fashion is putting on a dress, and still wearing flip flops.

My clothes never go out of style, because I still have clothing that is over 20 years old, and fashion recycles itself about every 20 years.

Other than my daily fashion crime of not caring, there is one fashion crime I have intentionally committed, with unintended circumstances.

Wearing my shirt inside out? I admit, that has happened.

Wearing two different colored socks? Only in the winter.

Forgetting to brush my hair? Well, yes, but that’s not it, either.

What then, could my fashion crime possibly be??

The beloved, iconic, matching short term mission team tshirt.

There.

I have said it.

I confess.

Not only have I done this, I have enabled others to do it, too. C’mon, I know you have done it. You might have done it recently. You might be wearing your matching team t-shirt now. You didn’t know… and neither did I.

Our shirts were things of beauty. Sky blue, with Go Global across the front, proclaiming to all that we were servants of God. There were 17 of us. We looked like a smurf village. We CALLED ourselves smurfs in these shirts. We wore them for a group photo. I don’t remember wearing them as a group, but that might be because the memory is so painfully awkward.

I don’t hate team t-shirts. I think they are fun, especially AFTER the trip. I have seen amazing shirts crafted after a trip with one liners that only the team would understand, or a meaningful scripture for the group. Hey, you can even have them before the trip, but for the love of all that you want to be on the trip…

PLEASE DON’T WEAR THEM AT THE SAME TIME!

Why not?

Security – You’re already a foreigner in a foreign land. Why advertise it by wearing neon orange shirts… all 20 of you? You make yourselves a target.

Community – Do you want to build community? If your intention is to go into a community, be the rich outsider coming in to fix things, stay in your clique, and hang out together, only to dip your toe into the culture by walking through the neighborhoods and taking photos of you and the children, then STAY HOME. If you want to walk alongside of your brothers and sisters in the community, learn from them, and BE with them, then one of the barriers you’ll need to consider is your clothing. Especially your matching shirts. Nothing says exclusion like clean, new, matching shirts. And no, bringing enough for everyone isn’t a solution… because there is never enough for everyone.

Your message –  In Matthew 6 it says “So when you give to the needy, do it with matching t-shirts on, so everyone will know you are going to do good deeds and help the poor”

Oh, wait. That’s not what it says… It does say… “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6: 1-4

WHY?   If you need to dress alike to find each other in the airport, maybe you need to reconsider who is going on the mission trip. Seriously, if your team can’t be responsible in the airport, stick together, or follow instructions, how will they function in another country?

So, go for it…. Get the matching t-shirts. But wear them in the US.  Wear them during your presentation. Wear them till they wear out. Schedule days to wear them while you are volunteering, just reconsider wearing your t-shirts as a group.

What to wear?  You can’t go wrong with choosing your wardrobe from Colossians 3:12.   Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Privileged.

I’m privileged.

I just recently learned this.

It wasn’t pretty.

It wasn’t sugar coated.

In fact, it hurt.

It’s not an easy thing to hear, especially in big, long doses.

But it’s still true.

I grew in the suburbs outside of Washington, DC.

In the wonderful, turbulent 60’s

In a safe, white, middle class neighborhood.

In a safe, white Presbyterian church

Loving parents, siblings, cat, dog, everything but the white picket fence.

I learned love.

I learned peaceful resolution is better than war.

I learned to embrace differences.

I learned to reach out and serve.

I did not learn that I had more inherent opportunity by virtue of being white.

I didn’t learn that it was easier for me to love because I had no oppressor.

I didn’t learn that some have to fight for their existence.

I didn’t learn that differences separate.

I didn’t learn to respect the dignity of those I served.

I could have picked up the clues.

But I am clueless.

Now, I hurt.

My thoughts are all jumbled up.

I grieve for those I have unintentionally hurt by not understanding.

I want to have conversations, but am afraid to speak.

I want to listen, but am afraid of confrontation.

I am a coward.

Gracious God, grant us all

Boldness to engage in peaceful conversation

Wisdom to listen and to hear to each other

Humility to admit we do not know

Grace to forgive and be forgiven

Courage to stay in the journey until all people are free.

Stay. Give. Pray.

We know you have seen the devastation after the Nepal earthquake.  Our hearts are broken for our sisters and brothers as they grieve loss of family and friends.  Our first instinct is help.  Our instinct is RIGHT, but in the most appropriate way, and at the right time.

Nepal does not need our physical help.  

This is the time to send volunteers who are professionally trained for a specific aspect of disaster response.  Post-disaster situations are physically and psychologically extreme.  Only specially trained professionals hooked into response networks can be effective.  Others put a logistical and financial strain on the resources of the affected people.

International Ministries is not a first responder organization.  Our strengths lie in walking alongside our partners, supporting them in their long term ministries and the strategies they know will work best in their own communities.  Although we know there are many of you who are eager to go and help in Nepal right now, the most help we can all give is to stay home.  Why?

Our partners in Nepal are consumed with recovery and daily life right now.  Imagine having a disaster in your own neighborhood, every family affected, all homes and belongings have been destroyed.  Hundreds of well meaning, but uninvited folks come to help.  Where will they stay?  How will they be fed?  How will you take care of them when your own resources are gone?

Nepal does not need our stuff.  

When we send material goods, those goods compete with the resources that are needed most.  They take people, time and energy away from unloading and distributing the things that people need the most.  Keep in mind that there is no climate controlled storage in these situations for the donated goods—-so food spoils, clothes get moldy, etc. There is also limited space, space needed for emergency housing and for the relief teams to stage distribution of goods acquired that can meet the needs of the people.

Nepal does need our monetary donations.

Right now, the best thing we can do is to pray and giving monetary resources.  Donating funds enables the flexibility for our partners to respond to needs as they change. They can purchase supplies that are sourced locally that are “fresh and familiar” to the affected people.

International Ministries has already sent $25,000 to Nepal through One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS) for initial relief work, but more is needed.  Read here how funds are have been initially distributed through three Nepal Baptist partners, with more relief funds needed. OGHS has a long history of accountability and transparency in providing relief funds around the world.   “The One Great Hour of Sharing offering is the most transformative way that American Baptists respond to the emergency phase of disasters here and around the world through our historic Baptist partners.” Rev. Dr. Elmo Familiaran, American Baptist Churches of New Jersey.

Nepal does need our prayers.

Pray for:

  • Nepali Baptists and all faith organizations as they minister to the earthquake victims.
  • Energy and endurance for rescue workers as they search, and also strength of spirit as they deal with such devastating loss of life.
  • Comfort for those grieving over the loss of loved ones.
  • Hope for the future for those who face such devastation and tragedy.
  • Wisdom for those who have the responsibility to plan development and rebuilding.
  • That God be glorified in each breath of every believer in Nepal to be the face of Jesus to the Nepali nation.

Ashes

I love campfires. They bring back some sweet memories.

The smell of burning wood brings back times of fellowship, camaraderie and hospitality.

The crackling sounds mingle with notes of singing, laughing, and soft whispers.

The flickering multi colored, multi dimensional flames energize, yet mesmerize, and take me to somewhere deeper, silent, melancholy.

While the fire is burning life is good, fun, happy. Others are attracted to the fire. They gather together to share in the energy, there is a significance, a power, in being together.

And then the fire begins to die away. No longer fed by the fuel it needs to survive, the flames flicker, waver, and disappear. Those who have gathered around the brilliantly dancing flames begin to drift away. The crackling subsides, with only an occasional pop to crease the air.

Left in the fire pit are ashes. Smoldering ashes, with glowing edges and hot spots struggling to survive.

Left alone, these little fire lives will die.

Cold gray ashes will remain.

If even one person were to come along and blow gently on the glowing edges, the hot spots, the signs of life…

The fire would slowly, carefully, come alive.

With care, the flames would start to grow

I have ashes moments. Those times where ..

The blazing fire is gone

The flame is barely flickering

Times where I need

a breath of life to tickle the flicker into a flame

an encouraging word to spark a flame of hope

Quite honestly, there are lots of times where praying and reading and listening to music just aren’t doing it for me and I just really need God with skin on.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. John 20:21-22 NRSV

My family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues reflect Jesus.

From long talks to quick emails, these genuinely loving and caring folks may not even know they are the breath of the Holy Spirit. Some may not even believe in the Holy Spirit, but they take the time to care, make me laugh, think, see different perspectives, and dig deeper.

Never ever underestimate the ministry of your presence. Your kind words, random acts of silliness, encouraging words, emails, positive facebook posts mean more than you know to someone who may never tell you.

You never know.

You may be God with skin on.

You may be the breath of life to rekindle a smoldering fire.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,

No hands but yours, no feet but yours,

Yours are the eyes through which to look out

Christ’s compassion to the world

Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good;

Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.

Teresa of Avila

To all my fire whisperers…  thank you!

Unsettled

Unsettled.

I am unsettled.

It is the day after Palm Sunday, and while it seems that the rest of the world celebrated Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, waving palms and singing songs of rejoicing, I am unsettled.

Would I have been one of the crowd celebrating Jesus coming into the city?

Would I have even known he was there, riding on a little donkey?

Maybe I would have been at the other end of town, watching the Romans parade in with all of their might and pomp and glitter and swords, and war horses.

Would it have mattered?

Had I been ignorant, not even aware of this Jesus, would I have been any less guilty of his arrest, persecution, and death?  For the ones who greeted him into the city with palms and rejoicing were the same ones who yelled “Crucify Him” just days later.  Would I be any less guilty of denying him like them, or like Peter?

Today I wonder the same.

Today, I try to know Jesus more each day.  I wake in the morning with the greatest intentions to praise and listen and follow Jesus. But at the end of the day, I have certainly denied him three times or more.  I have not loved my neighbor as much as I could have.  I have likely been sarcastic, unkind, and unloving… all before lunch time.

Now,  I move towards the end of the week,  knowing I am fully capable of shaking my fist at God and turning my back on what I should do to glorify God and instead waste my time on meaningless things.  All I want to do this week is to be crumpled at the foot of the cross with a broken heart.

Broken for the grief Jesus felt those last few days.

Broken for those who don’t know God.

Broken for those who have  intentionally turned their backs.

Broken for each of us as we wake each morning with a renewed sense of hope, yet fail miserably.

As hearts break, so are they healed.  My great Healer came to the earth fully God and fully human.  His feet got dirty, he ate, he burped.  He loved, he wept, he laughed.  He fully experienced each hurt and pain and joy that we would.  He was perfect, living in this imperfect world, and he died a painful and humiliating death for me.  For us all.

Crumpled at the foot of the cross, broken hearted, I have hope.  The tomb is empty, but the journey from the triumphal entry into Jerusalem to the resurrection is one that is unsettling each year.  I am thankful that I have the space to experience it for the sacred time that it is.  To God be all the Glory.

I originally wrote this April 2014.  Rereading it this year, I needed the reminder…

A Letter To Christians In Indiana, From Jesus

I love John Pavolitz’s blogs. This one make us all take a look at ourselves.

john pavlovitz

Pen

Dear Christians In Indiana (and those elsewhere, who might read this),

I’ve seen what’s been going on there lately. Actually, I’ve been watching you all along and I really need to let you know something, just in case you misunderstand:

This isn’t what I had planned.

This wasn’t the Church I set the table for.

It wasn’t the dream I had for you, when I spoke in those parables about the Kingdom; about my Kingdom.

It was all supposed to be so very different.

It was supposed to be a pervasive, beautiful, relentless “yeast in the dough” that permeated the planet; an unstoppable virus of compassion and mercy spread person-to-person, not needing government or law or force.

It was supposed to be that smallest, seemingly most insignificant of seeds, exploding steadily and gloriously with the realized potential of my sacred presence, becoming a place of safety and shelter for all people.

It was supposed to be…

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