Fear is a Liar

The opposite of love is not hate. It’s fear. 

How many lives have been destroyed because of fear? How many marriages ruined, how many children scarred, how many dreams unfulfilled and how many people chained in the terrifying prison of addiction because of fear? So many of us are experiencing a life half-lived. We cower in the shadows, afraid to confront the wounds we need to expose to God’s light.

This hissing snake tells us no one will understand if we share our feelings. It says people could never love us and God could never forgive us if they knew who we really are. It keeps us trapped in cycles of people-pleasing, perfectionism, anxiety, and hypocrisy. Fear causes us to smile to mask our sadness, laugh to distract from our thoughts, and self-medicate to numb ourselves from our terror.

It steals our peace of mind, rattles our faith like a rag doll and sends our broken emotions on a continually swinging pendulum. It suffocates. It breathes against the window of our hearts like a panting monster. It beats a refrain of “What if?” and taunts us with the perpetual thought that God isn’t there.

Fear is a liar.

Truth usually has very little to do with our feelings. Our emotions were damaged when sin cursed this world. Our emotions dip and dive with alarming speed, but God and His truth doesn’t.

Sometimes I forget that the enemy of our souls is not omniscient. He can’t read my mind. He can only watch and observe to plan his schemes against God’s kids. So do you know what I do? I call him out.

A family member was recently struggling with some serious spiritual issues. My heart was heavy as I drove across town. I started dwelling on all the “what ifs” and worst case scenarios that might write her story. Then I remembered this empowering verse:

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” ~James 4:7

Something fierce rose up in my spirit. Through tears, I spoke aloud to the enemy.

“Satan, by the name of Jesus Christ, the name above all names, I command you to leave my family alone. You have no power here. I have no strength or ability in my own right, but I claim the strength and blood of Jesus. You will not have my loved one. In Jesus’ name, you will leave.”

An hour later, that loved one who had been struggling so much gave her life to Jesus.

Fear is indeed a liar, but the strength and love of Jesus can send it packing.

“But now, this is what the Lord says…Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” Isaiah 43:1

Let’s chat. What do you fear the most? I would love to hear!

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The Broken Phone

“You gonna replace your phone?”

I’ve heard the question countless times. I suppose it’s a reasonable remark considering the state of my cracked phone screen. How the multiple shards of glass have managed to keep from falling out or cutting my fingers is a mystery. Still, the question rankles me a bit. Why? Because the phone works just fine despite its cracked appearance. 

We are a people obsessed with perfection. If something is broken, just toss it away and replace it with a new model. A better one.

Sometimes our attitude about objects bleed into the way we treat people too. What a tragedy.

I battled epilepsy as a child. I’ll never forget the shame that accompanied those moments in elementary school when I would find two dozen pairs of eyes staring at me in horror because I had a seizure. I remember how frustrating it was to find a chunk of time yawning like a black hole in my memory. And I remember the helplessness of having no control over my own body.

Fast forward to the present, and life hasn’t changed. We all deal with tough stuff: poor health, children with special needs, the slicing pain of divorce, rejection, depleted bank accounts or angry coworkers. For some, the most devastating blow of all is being forgotten by your children. For others, you might be dealing with the mess from your own poor decisions and you just need a little grace from people unwilling to give it. Whatever the situation, we’re far from perfect. Messy. Broken. We wonder, How can God possibly use me now?

Our culture has glamorized what the world defines as “perfect”. From the airbrushed models gracing the latest covers of Vogue to the highlight reels inundating social media, we are constantly told we must be flawless to be accepted. The flip side of that lie is that anything broken must be rejected.

If we build our identity on something other than Christ—whether it’s our appearance, “goodness”, social reputation, prestige, or approval from others—the greater the pain when that identity crumbles.

Approval and love are not the same thing. Neither are brokenness and worth.

“God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. It is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever.” (Vance Havner)

All my life, I’ve heard it said that broken things are special because the cracks allow the light to come in. I don’t believe that’s true. As a child of God, brokenness allows the Light to shine out. 

When we put on a mask of perfection, we’re only allowing people to see a plastic version of who we really are. Brokenness allows the masks to be stripped away. Pretense is gone. All that is left is honesty, humility and fractures of space where self has been stripped away so others can see Jesus shining through.

Best-selling author Bob Goff says it best. “It has always seemed to me that broken things, just like broken people, get used more; it’s probably because God has more pieces to work with.”

I doubt I’ll be replacing my cell phone anytime soon. It’s broken exterior hasn’t effected its functioning ability one iota. I’d hate to lose it. It’s chocked full of pictures and videos, memories and a hundred other treasures. Just because it’s broken doesn’t mean I need to throw it away. If anything, its fragile cracks give it character. No other phone looks exactly like it. Its one-of-a-kind.

It’s brokenness hasn’t effected its worth in my eyes.

What Exactly is “Perfect Love”?

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Fear is the one thing every human being on the planet shares. We’ve all felt it. We all know that dark, encroaching panic that claws at our hearts. peyman-naderi-379104

For years I’ve heard the same pat answer, the same verse over and over until I can quote it verbatim. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18.

Okay, so to get rid of fear, I need perfect love. Got it. But then I’m faced with a scary diagnosis, the bills that keep piling up, rebellious loved ones, and the coffee pot that no longer functions. Suddenly I realize…I have no idea what ‘perfect love’ means.

Oh, I know the Greek word for “drives” or “casts” (as in perfect loves “drives” out fear) has to do with a violent displacement. It means love grabs fear by the throat and throws it through the window. Descriptive. But what exactly is ‘perfect love’? For the sake my sanity and my peace of mind, I must know. 

After a teary therapy appointment for my son, God revealed the beauty of this phrase to me in a very tender way.

We had just left my son’s elementary school after a difficult discussion. His therapists knew something was going on with my joyful little firecracker, but were unable to pinpoint the source of his issues.

“It might be time to test for autism.”

I agreed but as we pulled out of the parking lot, I was overcome with an onslaught of “what ifs”. What would happen to my curious little boy? What kind of life would he have? Would he be bullied for being different? On and on the thoughts tumbled until the icy tentacles squeezing my heart grabbed me by the throat.

“Mommy, sing to Jesus!”

I blinked away the tears blurring my eyes. Peering into the rearview mirror, I watched Nate’s sunny smile and heard his sweet voice as he sang.

“Jesus loves me. Jesus is mine. Jesus loves me. Jesus is mine…” 

I sucked in a breath. Here I was, worrying over things I had no control over and the source of my angst was lifting up praises to Jesus. I pushed down the stinging tears and smiled. “Good idea, buddy. Let’s praise Jesus.”

We sang song after song on the car ride home. With each melody, my fear evaporated. Why? Because fear dissolves in the presence of praise.

The source of our praise, the One we worship is Jesus Christ. Fear cannot exist in His presence. It scatters like darkness shattered by light. Revelation twisted my heart with a surge of joy.

What does the Bible tells us about Jesus? It says repeatedly that He is love. Perfect love.

Perfect love casts out fear.

Suddenly, I understood.

Perfect love is Jesus, God wrapped in human flesh. Perfect Love goes to any length to save and any height to reach. Perfect Love calls the prisoner His brother, redeems him and sets him free. Perfect Love is complete, all consuming, with no traces of doubt in the power of the Holy One. Perfect Love sets a glittering crown on the head of the orphan and calls her “Beloved Daughter”.

I get it now.

I’ll keep my eyes fixed and my heart melded to Jesus. Fear has no chance against such a Love.

My debut novel Engraved on the Heart is available for pre-order now! Check it out! https://www.amazon.com/Engraved-Heart-Tara-Johnson/dp/1496428315/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1522944239&sr=8-1&keywords=engraved+on+the+heart+by+tara+johnsonengraved on the heart cover photo

 

The Bell Ringer

red bucket (2)

We heard the bell ringing across the parking lot before we saw the red bucket and the Santa-capped volunteer sitting in front of Walmart. My son knows the drill. His chubby fingers lifted towards me.

“Money, Momma?”

I smiled and sighed inwardly, reaching into my purse to scrape for loose change. I had already given out most of it to other bell ringers throughout the past week. Still, I was proud of my little guy who loved to drop change into the charity collections. Give to the poor, pat yourself on the back for being a good human…all that jazz.

“I don’t have much, buddy.”

His lips puckered into a frown. “Money.”

I dropped a splattering of pennies, dimes and a nickel into his outstretched palm, pausing a moment to remove the Lego snatched in my quick sweep of purse plucking. “We have to hurry though, bud. We’ve got a lot to do and not much time to do it in.”

“Okay. Bucket?”

“Yes. You can take the money to the red bucket.”

He happily skipped forward as my mind scanned the list of items on my shopping list. Wrapping paper, gift sacks, milk, eggs, sugar, caffeine in all forms—

“Aren’t you just the cutest thing?”

I glanced up to see my son wasn’t interested in the bucket at all, but in the matronly bell ringer sitting beside the bucket drop. Her ebony face was wreathed in a wide, warm smile. Nate was grinning at her.

“Money!” nate 2015

He opened his fist and showed her his treasure.

“Yep. You got a whole handful, big boy. Put it right in that bucket.” She cackled with delighted as he struggled to get the coins to fall into the narrow slot. Looking back at me, she winked. “He’s got a bit a silver on his teeth, don’t he?”

She must have seen the two silver caps on the bottom of his front teeth. I smiled. “Yes, ma’am. He’s so cool, he’s four and already has a grill.”

Throwing back her head, she laughed loud and long before sobering. “Reminds of my own boy when he was that age.”

“Oh? How old is he now?”

Her eyes misted into wistfulness. “He’s grown but,” she swallowed hard, “he’s bad sick. He’s got a disease that’s slowly killing him. He’s had surgery after surgery.” She looked up at me. A glossy sheen covered her large eyes. “Doctors aren’t sure if he’s gonna make it or not.”

Suddenly, my urgent to-do list and oh-so-important schedule didn’t mean much. I reached for her hand and squeezed. “How can I pray for you today?”

holding hands_unsplashWe sat outside chatting for long moments, covering her son and family in prayer. Before we left, Nate gave her a hug around the neck. She laughed with delight and offered him a candy cane in return.

Once again, my son reminded me of a beautiful truth. We departed, and although her bucket wasn’t full, my heart was.

Jesus didn’t come to redeem our to-do lists. He doesn’t care about how much money we drop into buckets for our own feeble “atta boys”. He died for people. The best way we can honor Him this season, and every day, is to let that same Love, His love, spill from our hearts and splash onto the needy and broken lives around us. Sometimes those lives might not be full of sweet grace like our little bell ringer. Sometimes they might be a cranky Ebenezer Scrooge. That’s okay. Scrooges need Jesus and love too. to do list_unsplash

“How can I pray for you?” is a little question that yields tremendous results. Probably far greater results than checking off our to-do lists ever will. Let’s focus on loving people and not the need to-do. God’s agenda is always far greater than our own.

Fleas and…Thanksgiving?

I recently heard this funny little story at an event where I was singing:

There was a little old lady who woke up one morning to realize she only had three hairs left on her head. She looked in the mirror, smiled and said, “Lord, I thank you because I can braid my hair today.” So she did.

baby mirror

The next day she woke up and only two hairs remained. She looked in the mirror, smiled and said, “Lord, I thank you because today I can part my hair.’” And she did.

The third morning she awoke and looked in the mirror to see only one hair remaining. She smiled and said, “Lord, I thank you that I can put my hair in a ponytail today.” And she did.

The fourth morning, she woke up, looked in the mirror and, yes you guessed it, had no hair left. She smiled and said, “Lord, I thank you that I don’t have to fix my hair anymore!” 

Praise is a choice. It’s all about perspective. So many times we get focused on what we can’t have, on our limitations, we fail to see the tremendous opportunities God has placed in front of us. Sometimes He redirects us in a new way, setting our feet on an unforged path that will ultimately bring more honor and glory to Him. Some of the greatest adventures and rewards come when we are willing to embrace that step, or leap, outside of our comfort zone.

Consider Corrie Ten Boom. corrie ten boom 2She and her sister Betsy were prisoners in a German death camp during World War II. They entered their new barracks and were horrified to discover the bunkhouse was overrun with fleas. Fleas everywhere! Corrie began to cry but Betsy responded, “We are going to stop right now and thank God for these fleas!” Corrie, of course, thought she was crazy. But at her sister’s urging, they both bowed their heads and thanked Him for…fleas.

Over time, Corrie wondered why the rules were so lax inside their bunkhouse. No guards came to check on them inside and because of that, they were able to conduct a Bible study every night. Many women were saved as a result. Later, Corrie was shocked to discover the reason no guards ever came into their bunk house…they were terrified of the fleas!

Sometimes it’s the bad stuff that refines us, grows us stronger, forces us to learn lessons we never would otherwise, allows Him to work things out for the greater good. And it reminds us of our dependence on God. thankful 2

I praise You, Lord, when I’m hungry or thirsty, for it reminds me to hunger and thirst after You.

I praise You, Lord, even when I’m in pain because it reminds that I have a Savior who knows exactly how I feel and has purchased victory over sickness and death.

I praise You, Lord, when I’m exhausted because it forces me to stop and rest in You.

I praise You, Lord, for the disappointments that pepper my walk. They remind me that pursuing goals and personal satisfaction is not my main goal in life. But seeking You is.

Try it. Praising Him for the hard stuff will open your heart and spirit up to His touch in ways you’ve never experienced before.

So what are you thankful for today?

The Power of Pronouns

Last year I took a fascinating class at the national American Christian Fiction Writers conference in Nashville, Tennessee. It was taught by Carrie Stuart Parks, an author and forensic artist and was titled “Don’t Lie to Me”. The premise of the class was how language can be an identifier to recognize deception. When I realized I was sitting next to a bonafide FBI agent who was absorbing the information to teach to new recruits, I admit I felt a little thrill. lies

I’m learning the same stuff FBI agents know.

Coolness.

One thing Mrs. Parks brought out was the importance of pronouns. Honest people take ownership for their actions and feelings. “I came home at 6:30. I threw in a load of laundry and then took a shower.” People who have something to hide (or don’t want to admit to something), either change “I” for “you” or omit pronouns altogether. If asked about his evening, a deceptive person might say, “I guess I came home around six or so. You know you’re tired if you come right in, take a shower and go to bed.” Notice the difference? Not quite as direct. A little less ownership is involved.

These subtle signs are called language bumps.

pronouns“Consider this statement by a husband who claimed his wife was killed accidentally: ‘I picked up the gun to clean it. Moved it to the left hand to get the cleaning rod. Something bumped the trigger. The gun went off, hitting my wife.’ ” (http://www.fraud-magazine.com/article.aspx?id=4294971184) Notice how he dropped the use of “I” when it came down to accountability. He doesn’t want to hold the blame. Whether it was because he couldn’t deal emotionally with his guilt, or whether something more nefarious was at play, this guy inadvertently distances himself from admitting he is the one who squeezed the trigger.

What am I getting at here?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the power of words, of speech, of our tongues to heal or destroy. Just as lack of pronouns can signal deception, I think they can also inadvertently cheapen affection. Speaking for myself, I’ve noticed I have a bad habit of typing, “Praying for you” to friends and family. Nothing wrong with that. But how much better would it be if I were to add the simple pronoun “I”?

“I’m praying for you” is far sweeter than “Praying”.
“I’m lifting you up to our Father” is so much stronger than “Hugs”.

“I love you” is infinitely deeper than “love ya”.

See what I mean?

love of Jesus crossI want to be authentic. I want to take ownership of my emotions, my motives and treatment of people. I want to love them the way Jesus does. He never shies away from loving with complete abandon. He displays His affection with lavish, scandalous splashes of delight.

Speak life. Own your emotions. Love like Jesus. You’ll find your words will be a healing balm to more people than you could ever imagine.

 

The 30 Day Attitude Challenge

Words are powerful. They can build up a life through language doused in love, or they can cut a life down like a scythe slicing through brittle grass.

When I recently asked my oldest daughter what she loved most about her two best friends at school, she replied, “I’ve never heard either of them said a bad word about anyone. Ever. They are always kind. Not just to people’s faces, but all the time. It’s hard not to love being around girls like that.”

gossip

Her reflection caused me to evaluate my own life. Jesus told us what comes from our mouth is an overflow from our heart. (Luke 6:45) If I say ugly words about someone, it’s because I have an ugly heart. And this doesn’t just have to be ‘mean’ words. It can be any form of backbiting: the times we gossip about someone (whether the information is true or not), every time we aren’t honest with a person to her face but tell everyone else how much her behavior annoys us, talking to our closest friends about the ‘problem person’ in our life, or however we may try to justify it. We can say we’re ‘venting’, but backbiting is the result either way. Worse yet are the moments we actually share a juicy tidbit about someone and thinly wrap it in the disguise of a prayer request.

Our words should bring life, and only life.

“Do not let unwholesome [foul, profane, worthless, vulgar] words ever come out of your mouth, but only such speech as is good for building up others, according to the need and the occasion, so that it will be a blessing to those who hear [you speak].” ~Ephesians 4:29

I’ve been keeping a mental note of how often I complain about people who irritate me, whether it be the bad driver in traffic or people I tend to think of as daily “thorns in the flesh”. I didn’t like what I saw, so I spent a day purposefully focusing on using my words only to encourage and uplift. I refused to be drawn into any negative talk about others, gossip or the like. The change in my attitude was amazing.

proverbs 18 21As I’ve continued to discard complaining in my life, I see God softening the hard edges of hearts around me when I respond with gentleness, instead of feeding the monster of negativity. (Instead of being the person folks would come to so they could ‘vent’, I became the person who flipped the conversation and said, “So how can I pray for you in this situation?” Remember, gossips can’t do much damage unless they have a listening ear.)

We’re going into November, the month of gratitude. Social media is usually flooded with 30 day gratitude challenges and posts but I’d like to offer up a different kind of challenge. A 30 day Attitude challenge. No complaining or speaking poorly of others, no matter how badly your nerves are frayed. No yelling at drivers in rush hour traffic. No griping about people during Black Friday shopping. No gossip, venting or negativity. Only love.

You might be as surprised as I was by the amount of negativity creeping into your day. Speak life. Speak love. Are you willing to take the 30 day Attitude Challenge?

Las Vegas and God

As I watched the footage of the horrific shooting in Las Vegas, my heart ripped a little further. Senseless. I can’t understand the hate that would fill a mind and heart so completely that they would shoot into a crowd of happy, oblivious people. Not just one shot, not two, but over and over and over again. vegas shooting

My chest aches and my throat swells as I relive the terror captured on screen.

No sooner had I posted my condolences and prayers then I saw it. Wave after wave of posts along these lines…

“It’s Sin City. Sin always exacts a price.”

“This is what happens when we take God from our land.”

On and on they went. My grief soon turned to anger. Why? Because such sentiments indirectly assign the blame to God instead of where it belongs…in the hands of a cowardly murderer.

Satan is the great accuser. Not only does he accuse us before God, but he accuses God before us. We are the reason for the hate and violence in this world. We are the reason cancer and war and disease exists. When Adam and Eve chose to disobey, they flung the human race onto a collision course of chaos and destruction. And where chaos reigns, it’s hard to distinguish the still, small voice of Truth amid the screams of panic.

Jesus loved you, loved me so much He willingly let Himself be stripped, whipped, beaten and crucified to die for the very sins we wallow in. He died for you and me. He died for those who attended the concert. He died for Jason Aldean. He died for the shooter. He paid the price for any who are willing to come to Him. Such love is incomprehensible.

We have had murderers from the beginning. (All the way back to Cain, in fact.) To lay the demonic, evil actions of a psychopath at the nail-scarred feet of the Savior must grieve His heart. I know it shreds mine.

In the face of tragedy, a plethora of thoughts and comments will abound. Things like, “This is terrible, but good will come from this.” Sometimes that’s true, although we often wonder what kind of good can possibly be birthed from something so crushing, something so horribly evil. A wise pastor at Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro challenged us yesterday.

“Perhaps, instead of looking for the good when tragedy strikes, we should focus on looking for God.”

Those are words to cling to. Search for God. As we do that, our attitudes will change. The same heart that climbed on that cross to give His life for a world of uncaring people will shape our hearts to be like His. Bitterness and vengeance will dissipate. Peace will replace chaos. Hope will replace anger. Love will replace hate.

Don’t look for the good that might come. Look for God.

Give Way

While in Great Britain, I noted many peculiarities in speech and customs different from my own—the use of a “water closet” instead of a restroom, tea rooms on every corner instead of Starbucks (although I did find a few of those too), cornish pastyCornish pasties instead of sandwiches, and my favorite…the moment a bakery worker stared at me in utter confusion when I ordered a “cocoa” instead of a “hot chocolate”.

When he finally realized what I meant, he slapped his knee and belted out a booming laugh.

“A cocoa, says she? Funny word for a chocolate, that. You Americans are such fun.”

When my order was ready, he gave it to me with a bow and a wink.

“Your cocoa, miss.”

I grinned and tipped my head. “I’m sure it’s the best hot chocolate I shall ever enjoy.”

We parted as friends.

Colloquialisms are fun, and there was one sign in Great Britain I admit I prefer over its American counterpart. Instead of the yellow “Yield” signs that pepper our roadways, the British counterpart reads like this: “Give Way”.

give way 2

Give way. It has a much different connotation than “yield”, doesn’t it? When I think of “yield”, I think of being temporarily inconvenienced, forced to slow down but without much need to sacrifice on my part. “Give Way”, on the other hand, conjures up images of putting down my own wishes and desires so another may have them instead.

Many in our tour group noticed the road sign. One wise lady named Joyce observed, “I want a picture of their ‘Give Way’ signs to put on my refrigerator. It’s such a great reminder. Give way to God today.”

give wayI love that. Give way to God’s plans over my own, especially when mine are comfortable. Give way to the unexpected, even when it rattles my well-laid plans. Give way to seeking the presence of Jesus instead of busyness. Give way to sacrificial love instead of anger, compassion instead of bitterness, forgiveness instead of revenge. Give way to Love. Die to myself and give way to Jesus.

What a great way to live…no matter where you live.

What I Carried Back from the United Kingdom: Angeles

united kingdom 2I spent last week in the beautiful hills and hollows of the United Kingdom. Quaint villages and ocean-side drives by enormous bluffs greeted us at every turn. We visited lovely towns like Lacock, Bath, Cotswold, Lynmoth and Lynton, to name a few. We witnessed stunning vistas where movies like Disney’s Cinderella were filmed, as well as Harry Potter, Downton Abbey and Poldark. There was history and beauty in every moment.

However, it was one single soul in the bustling city of Oxford who captured my heart and overshadowed all else.

I had just finished a walking tour through the cramped town,  a city rife with memories of people like William Shakespeare, King James, Bloody Mary, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tokien, William Tyndale and countless others. Oxford’s infamous colleges rose up on every side. People of all nationalities clogged the sidewalks as they scurried from store to store, their sacks bulging with brand name apparel, souvenirs and other trinkets.

I had just passed “The Eagle and Child” pub and was admiring the spiraling cathedrals and abbeys, the monuments and statues on every corner. A steady rain began to fall. I pulled out my umbrella, looked down the congested street and that’s when I saw him.homeless man

A homeless man sat huddled under a blanket in the pouring rain.

His shoulders were hunched as if he were too weary to fight. An open duffel bag rested near his bent knees. Its contents boasted a folded tarp, a few paltry coins and an empty soda can. Nothing else.

As I passed his slight form, I heard his soft plea.

“Could you spare a coin or some food, me love?”

dirty fingersI dug through my wallet and handed him a few pounds. His dirt-crusted fingers reached for the coins. “God bless ye.”

“God bless you too.”

I walked away but my heart twisted. Suddenly all the shopping I wanted to do, the sights I wanted to see paled in comparison to the emaciated form sitting in the deluge. I tried pushing him from my mind, but I couldn’t. After several minutes, I whirled back and walked up to his hunkered body. After long moments, he blinked up at me and I noticed how incredibly blue his eyes were.

“Yes, me love?”

“May I ask you something, sir?”

“Of course.”

“What’s your name?”

“Angeles, me love.”

“Hi, Angeles. My name is Tara.”

I smiled at him then and he returned it slowly. I eased down next to him on the wet pavement as we shared an umbrella.

“Angeles, do you mind telling me how you came to be in this condition? What led you to these circumstances?”

He sighed and blinked slowly, before a rattling cough shook his chest. “I’ve no one to blame but meself. I’m a recovering alcoholic. I’ve made some bad choices, for sure and certain, but now,” he shook his silver head, “I have pneumonia. I can get medicine but I need money to save for proper housing, food and clothes. No one wants to take a chance on someone who looks like this.” He gestured to his filthy clothes.

Then he smiled before I could respond. “I know what you’re going to say next. Yes, I believe in God.”

I returned his smile. “I’m glad. He loves you so much. So many people believe there is a God, but only a few know Him. I wanted to make sure you know Him.”

We swapped a few more stories and I took care of as many of his physical needs as I could. After we prayed together, I bid Angeles goodbye.

“Thank you for chatting with me, me love. The people here,” he waved his hand, “they don’t see me. They don’t care. Their focus is only on the new thing they want to buy or the site they want to see.”

I blinked back thick tears. “God sees you, Angeles. Always.”

king james oxfordAs our tour group departed Oxford, all I could think of was Angeles and all the other things I should have managed to do for him. As our bus passed by the stone buildings, the hypocrisy slapped me hard. Underneath the haughty eyes of the stone faces staring down from their lofty heights, and the carved inscriptions in Latin declaring the cathedrals were erected “to the glory of God”, a homeless man sat shivering and coughing in the cold. It was obvious from his physical state he was slowly dying.

“Has the Lord as great a delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obedience to the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice…” ~1 Samuel 15:22

“Now, suppose a person has enough to live on and notices another believer in need. How can God’s love be in that person if he doesn’t bother to help the other believer? Dear children, we must show love through actions that are sincere, not through empty words.” ~1 John 3:17-18

Oftentimes we think of ministry in terms of numbers, additions and programs…technical, business-like terms we put on a spreadsheet. Real ministry, authentic Christ-like love looks altogether different. It’s sitting in the mud with the broken, seeing those the world ignores, and emptying ourselves for the good of those who can do nothing for us. As God’s kids, may we never forget our economy is people and our currency is love.

In the end, all that will matter is how deeply we love God and how we show that love to others. When we love Jesus as we should, loving the unlovable becomes easy.

Love never fails…even when stone buildings and monuments have long crumbled away.

lee abbey