Monday, October 15, 2012

Real Change

Over the course of the past several months I've had many conversations with many different people from many different walks of life (Christians, believers of other faiths, and non-believers, vegans and omnivores, democrats and republicans, Americans and Europeans).  We all want the world around us to be better... we really do... even the most cynical of us wish things could have been a bit different.

Ever since I was really little I have resolved to spend my life trying to make the world a better place for everyone.  I entered ministry at a very young age helping out the American missionaries in Belarus, slowly graduating from interpreting for ministers to ministering myself.

(children are listening to the lesson at our Sidewalk Sunday School site)
If there is one lesson that I have learned during my years in ministry it would be this - Real Change Comes From Within.  If you convince people to change from the outside in - they will sooner or later lapse back.  If you're losing weight for a special event - you will gain it right back plus some when the event passes.  If you're staying away from all the major "sins" like getting drunk, having sex without being married, no drugs - but you have not developed a personal relationship with God - it is only a matter of time before you slip again.  If a child has learned to obey the parent to get something out of them you can be sure that when the incentive fades they will start disobeying again.  I'm sure it's easy to get my point and the list of examples is endless.  

I'm sure all of us have someone in our lives that we're frustrated with.  We want them to act differently, to speak differently, to be different.  And while sometimes our discomfort does not equal the fact that the person needs to change (yay for diversity), whenever we speak of destructive behaviors - it is always true.  There are people in my life who I've poured into and invested in more than most others would get... and they  chose to walk away from God.  Why?  Because they were not changed from within.  They loved spending time with me, they loved the attention they got at church, they loved attending all the events, they loved having somewhere to be and something to do... but they did not love God.

When people around you seem to stumble - do not get frustrated or angry.  Be an example.  Be there for them. And most importantly - pray that God will bring the change from within.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Living In Plan B (or C or D or... Z???)

I have become a master in adapting to new circumstances.  Oh don't get me wrong - I often go kicking and screaming - but I manage to find contentment eventually.

Recently I was coming home from a late night shift.  I was tired and somewhat discouraged.  I kept thinking about the Sidewalk Sunday School ministry teams that worked hard all day to prepare for going out on the streets again while I spent my evening in a coffee shop... yeah...  As the night settled over Brooklyn and I navigated my way home through the weird smells and the distant sounds of arguments, police sirens, and many other noises I asked myself if that is what I signed up for.

Often times we find ourselves in the situations that do not look like the first choice.  They do not even remotely resemble the hopes and dreams we had for the future.  We look around asking ourselves how we ended up where we are and whether this is really all that life is about.

I remember the first time I felt that I was called to ministry.  I had great visions of international success, conferences, training, missions trips... It has not quite turned out how I had hoped.  I was wondering if God knew about this all along and maybe He's been working on my character or something.  After some years passed other things came into play.  I had to make the decision to leave full-time ministry (in the "American" understanding of that word).  I had a child who needed taken care of.  I had bills that needed to be paid.  And so now I work at a what you would call a "secular" job.  Even the "plan B" seemed unlikely at this point.  I felt like with every choice I made I moved farther and farther away from the original "plan A" that I had in mind.

Until I realized this one thing... There is no such thing as plan B... or C... or whatever... God knows every decision we had made and will make in the future.  He has crafted a beautiful plan for us that takes into consideration everything that happens to us.  I thought of a typical Sunday School story of Joseph.  I personally had told it so many times before.  A little boy with great dreams... slightly unwise at the time... a terrible turn of events... favor... prison... his life was taking all kinds of turns and none of them seemed to bring him any closer to his vision.

Do you feel like this sometimes?  Like what you hoped and dreamed for is getting farther and farther away from your reach?  If so - be encouraged by the story of Joseph.

Joseph did see his vision pass.  He might have wanted to avoid certain experiences (as we all would looking back at our own lives).  But God's grace had brought him through it all and at the end of that he could look upon his brothers with love and say, "So now it was not you who sent me here, but God".  (Genesis 45:8)

We know the end of Joseph's story but we do not yet see the end of ours because we're still living it out.

"The Lord will perfect that which concerns me."
(Psalm 138:8a)

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