How Far Will You Go?

Disciple-Making-SandWhen people commit to reaching others in remote places of the world, they go through extensive training to to learn the language and culture. That makes sense. Otherwise, how are they actually going to impact others’ lives?

Jesus said, “You will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). We all reach people somewhere, whether it’s close or far away, friends or enemies. We’re to “go, therefore, and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). Even people who don’t believe Jesus’ words make disciples…just not the way He intended. We all influence others.

How much effort are we willing to give? It makes sense for foreign missionaries to learn the languages of the people they reach. Shouldn’t the same be true for wherever and whomever you serve and reach? If you’re truly committed to people, shouldn’t you learn their language and culture?

Instead, we often don’t want to be bothered. Keeping things comfortable for ourselves is so much easier than investing in other people’s lives, especially if they’re not like us. We can just give money to the person who is really passionate and well-trained for reaching “those people,” right? I mean, if someone is living in this society, in my community, and even comes to my church, he or she is pretty much like me, right? Why would I need to listen, grow, or change in order to impact his or her life?

Discipleship requires action and effort: “Go”!

“Go” isn’t just about location. It’s about setting yourself aside, as well as your expectations for God to just bring people across your path. He’ll certainly do that, too, but you have to pay attention to the path you’re on. You have to follow Him, and I can say with certainty that He will put you on some paths that are inconvenient and uncomfortable at times.

I don’t know what language you need to learn today, but I know God wants to teach you something you didn’t know. It might be right in front of you. Open your mind and heart today.

Always be ready to “Go”!

Lessons from the Produce Aisle

aisleI often work with and write for churches and ministries. Sometimes, lessons and reminders come in some odd places…like the produce aisle. Walking through the store’s produce aisle can be filled with a variety of colors, textures, and aromas. However, not every color, texture, and aroma is pleasant. Let’s take a stroll together and perhaps learn something about ourselves, our ministries, and the people we live and serve alongside.

The Mushy Apple. Sometimes fruit is picked too early or left on the shelf too long. The result is a tart, grainy, unpleasant fruit that is past its prime. In ministry, people live and serve in their prime when they’re in the center of God’s will, but it involves constant vigilance and adjustments. Discovering who God created us to be is a continual process. Even when we know the gifts He has poured into us, God will often instruct us to use them in different ways with various situations and people. Life in ministry isn’t predictable, because God wants us to rely on Him through an ever-deepening relationship.

The Limp Lettuce. Sometimes fruit is mishandled. When attention isn’t given to the proper temperature, storage, and transportation, the end product isn’t as excellent as it can be. In ministry, something similar happens when we mishandle people, including ourselves. Even good intentions of forming teams can negatively affect the outcome when we quickly assign people to roles without listening to their passions or when we fail to consistently evaluate and make necessary adjustments. We must be disciplined in the process of ministry, and we must be intentional in disciplining people.

The Infested Plum. Sometimes fruit is exposed to something that feeds and breeds on a vulnerability. Once fruit flies find the fermenting sugar in a piece of fruit, they quickly multiply and infest the entire box, crate, or shipment of fruit. In ministry, even the slightest vulnerability can attract a small issue that initially goes undetected but soon multiplies out of control. In order to avoid infestation, we must commit to vigilant examination. Focusing on spiritual health involves detecting anything that’s potentially unhealthy. Early detection is key.

The Leaky Watermelon. Sometimes fruit is damaged but still looks good on the outside. A hard bump against each other might create a small crack in the rind. It looks fine at first, but with each jostle along the journey to the produce shelf, the crack slightly shifts until the inside begins to leak. In ministry, people often look fine on the outside, but bumps along life’s journey can create problems when undetected. Just because someone looks okay on the outside doesn’t mean the inside is okay. We need to pay attention to and care for people around us.

The Baseball Peach. Sometimes fruit hasn’t been given enough time to develop, so even when it’s on the produce shelf, it’s not ready to be savored. In ministry, we need to trust God’s timing. We often want to be ready for something more quickly than God’s timing. We sometimes want to put off something longer than God intends. We don’t’ decide God’s perfect timing. We simply respond in obedience every time.

The Grape Cluster. Sometimes fruit seems to multiply. We don’t find just a single grape hanging on the vine. Grapes grow in clusters. When a vine is damaged, an entire cluster of grapes suffers. When the growing conditions are excellent, the entire cluster of grapes is scrumptious. In ministry, we need to cluster with others. We need to pay attention to how those around us are doing, because we affect one another. The growing conditions we’re in are similar to the growing conditions of those closest to us. We want to grow healthy together.

The Needy Strawberry. Fruit needs tender-loving care and attention. Strawberries are time-intensive fruit. In ministry, we tend to label time-intensive people as “too” needy, yet in reality, each of us needs time, tender-loving care, and attention. God knows the perfect growing conditions for each of us, and we can trust Him through the process. Being needy isn’t necessarily bad. When we trust God for our needs – and for others’ needs – we grow in His timing and care.

The What-Do-I-Do-With-This? Some fruit is lesser known and used: goumi, loquat, rowan, medlar, guarana, and so on. Fruit doesn’t have to be “common” to be delicious. In ministry, we often limit ourselves by the best-known programs, people, and approaches, but God’s creation is rich in variety. He gives purpose, beauty, and taste to everything He creates. Explore the variety among and within the people around you, including yourself.

A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thornbushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes. (Luke 6:44)

Hazy Vision

Jordan was just a short distance across the Dead Sea, but I couldn’t see it. I could see an outline of the mountains, but details were blocked by the haze that hung thickly in the air. I had stood near the same spot a few years before and seen much more clearly. Nothing had moved. Jordan was no farther away. No huge skyscraper had been built in the middle of the Dead Sea to obstruct my view. All that got in the way of my sight was air.

The air was saturated. It obstructed my view.

What gets in the way of our vision?

How do we see other countries when we stand at a distance and look through the haze of our assumptions?

Perhaps we have looked through the haze for so long that we don’t even realize how poorly we see.

We might not be looking through the haze at all…but at it instead.

What area of the world do you ignore? What nation do you look at through a haze? What people do you miss out on knowing because you focus on the space between you and them? They might be far away, or they might be right across from you. You might have to get closer and take some risks to push aside the obstructions and find truth instead.

World_map_png-6

Walking Over People

Yad Vashem was one of the most powerful experiences I had in Israel during my first visit. Although I knew what to expect on my return trip, one of those expectations was that I would be a bit rattled…again. Walking through the exhibits that represent a real journey for many is difficult and convicting. So many people were involved in the Holocaust, and I explored a couple perspectives in a past post. I stepped inside and watched the footage of everyday, pre-WWII Jewish life. The footage was different this time. The caption was the same:

“Hundreds of life fragments were woven to become a human tapestry, longing for a life and a landscape that no longer exists. The Jewish world that was lost.”

©archdaily.com
©archdaily.com

I turn away from the screen and began to walk through the exhibits. The design of the building is beautiful, haunting, and intentional. It is triangular, built with a slight upward slope. So, as I stood near the beginning, I stared ahead, knowing how the journey would end: a moving record of all the names of the Jewish Holocaust victims, statements of hope and promise, and a beautiful view of God’s creation. I had a lot of steps to take between where I was and where I was headed.

As I stood between two photos of bodies piled upon each other, I heard a muffled voice and footsteps and noticed a shadow cast on the floor. I looked up. Two people walked through the top of the memorial building. They were outside, but I could see them through the glass. They were talking and laughing in the sunshine as if they were oblivious to anything below them.

I wondered, “What am I passing by?”

Who can see my shadow and hear my laughter while they suffer? I need to consider the piles of people, or even just one, who might lie beneath me…under my feet and under my smile.

People all around us have needs. We might be tempted to assess some as more serious than others, but in the process, we likely ignore what needs attention. Our assessment isn’t as accurate as God’s. We need to trust Him to guide us, help us notice people, and know how we should respond.

Connections aren’t limited to face to face encounters. Sometimes, a shadow, laugh, smile, cry, or glimpse is all it takes for one person to affect another person’s life. Look around, notice, and respond.

When What’s Different Looks the Same

Are you touring or journeying? How available are you? How committed are you? Flexible? Learn from others, but let God lead every step of the way.
©2015 PurePurpose.org

Stacks and stacks of scarves. Where would we begin? How would we choose?

Then, help arrived.

A father and two sons owned the shop, and one son began to explain to us how the scarves were organized. The cheaper scarves were on the bottom shelves. The higher the scarf, the higher the cost…and quality. He pulled several and had us compare them so we understood the difference between the textures and details. He wanted us to be able to choose well. He also gave us a tutorial on scarf folds. The shop became a school, and we were the students. He wanted us to interact with the scarves, encouraging us to pull out as many as we wanted…and leave them for him to put away later. (That was a bit too much for my organizational-demanding-mind. I’d leave them out for him to put away correctly later, but I was going to, at the very least, fold them.)

I looked around the shop and noticed the diversity of the people in it. It was as if I was looking at shelves of beautiful scarves. I wondered what I was missing by leaving them on the shelf.

What do I miss by making assumptions, both positive and negative? How much more will I know when I ask questions, try new approaches, listen, and unfold people around me?

People are easy to deal with when we keep them on the shelves. We can admire their beauty and keep them tidy in our lives. But are they, really, in our lives if we don’t interact with them and take the risk of piles of messes around us? People get tangled, but it is in the process of tangling, of twisting, looping, and draping that we really get to see the full color of designs available around us.

God created colors. He created patterns and designs. And He created the people around us. Let’s not miss out.

People of Israel

I didn’t plan to take as many photos of people in Israel as I did. At first, I just wanted to capture everyday life. While thousands of people visit Israel every year to visit biblical sites and walk where Jesus walked, many more are taking their own steps, living present-day life in Israel every single day. I didn’t want to be an observer. As much as possible, I wanted to walk alongside others, and at the very least, respect them.

On the first day, as we walked down Rothschild Avenue in Tel Aviv, I savored the “everyday-ness” of people around me.

11.1.14 Rothschild Avenue Tel Aviv 15
©2014 PurePurpose.org

 

Then, I looked up into a building under construction and saw this man:

11.1.14 Rothschild Avenue Tel Aviv 23
©2014 PurePurpose.org

 

Still everyday life, on the same block, yet very different from the many people casually strolling along the boulevard, eating breakfast in open air cafes, and sipping their morning coffee. As I snapped the photo, the man looked at me. I felt guilty for invading his space, what seemed to be his temporary home. I took my camera away from my eyes and acknowledged him with a nod out of respect. He smiled. But I didn’t stop. I didn’t ask what he needed. I didn’t ask how I could help.

He doesn’t know it, but he helped me. He reminded me to look people in the eyes, to not observe but to participate. Right then and there, I determined to capture as many faces in Israel as I could to help people see the commonalities in all of our lives. There is beauty in diversity, and there is compassion in commonalities. We need to see each other without the stereotypes. We need to see individuals. We need to look at each in the eyes, and trust God to help us see others’ hearts.

I invite you to look into some of the eyes and hearts of the people of Israel as I saw them. Click here to visit a photo album I posted to Facebook.

Time to Serve

As I sat in the airport, excited to start my journey to Israel, I wondered about all the people around me. Where were they going? What would they be doing? What were their passions, struggles, and needs?

do somethingI anticipated getting to serve people in Israel, but looking around and noticing the people around me in the airport reminded me I need to serve people everywhere. The people around me were diverse in many ways. We weren’t all speaking the same language. We didn’t share the same shade of skin. We didn’t dress the same, look at people the same, or even eat the same. But we weren’t very different from each other in the ways that matter most. We all have issues, concerns, and  anticipations. Instead of separating ourselves, we can find our commonalities, and serve each other through them. We don’t have to let the differences divide us. After all, many of us travel to serve people who are different from us just to find we have much in common. We choose what we focus upon. We choose who we serve. Why do we pay less attention to a neighbor, a stranger on a corner, or a person we don’t get along with? Do we feel they’re “too close” to us? Do their needs make us uncomfortable?

It’s time to serve. Do something. It doesn’t have to change the world. It just has to serve someone. In the process, God will change you.

As I continued my travels, I found an opportunity to connect with many people through a simple gesture. Something people everywhere have in common is…sneezing. I heard people in every airport, restaurant, and restroom sneeze, and it was my invitation to simply say, “Bless you.” Every single time, whether or not I shared a language with the person, he or she knew what I said and responded with a nod, thank you, or smile. I got to look many people in the eyes as I traveled because of those simple words. And each time, I was blessed with someone’s smile and connection.

Be a blessing to others no matter where you are.

You will be blessed.