Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Let Your Light Shine in 2014

The mythical start of all things new, except the only thing that will really change by tomorrow is the date. Most of us will still wake up in the same bed, in the same house, with the same life that we went to bed with the day before. Many times we cannot change our lives, at least not quickly. Not in a magical week of sticking to our New Year’s Resolutions any way. However, even as the world around us does not change, our perspective on it can, and the Bible has a fairly simple, if not always easy way of (ahem) looking at it.


“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" ~ Matthew 6:22-23

The eye was considered the window to the soul and for the Israelite population to which this was written the eye that shows light coming out signified a generous, spirit filled person who sees good in others. The eye that shows darkness signified a selfish, narcissistic person that has a heart only for themselves and their own making their actions bad for everyone else. As Jesus points out in Mark 7, it is what comes out of us that makes us clean, good, spirit filled, and loving. What do our eyes, and subsequently our view of the world tell us about ourselves?

There are three easy questions we can look at to tell us whether or not we are seeing the world with light filled eyes or a darkness that looks more to ourselves than to others.


1. How do you interpret other people’s actions?

If someone is late and you assume that they are lazy, but when you are late you understand that it was because of traffic then you are very normal…but maybe not very Biblical. It is natural to interpret other people’s actions in a negative light and ours in a positive one. But what would happen this year if you gave your co-workers, family, friends, and spouses the benefit of the doubt? Try it and see how it affects your relationship with them as well as your own attitude. See what kind of light can shine out of you.


2. How do you see your future?

I know that this upcoming year is going to be a hard one for us. We have many things going on that are at the hardest stage of growth. They have passed the planning stage and are ready for execution, yet no one is used to them, they are not self-repeating, or automatic for anyone involved. We don’t have one ministry, church, or start-up project that is on autopilot. It is going to be a hard year professionally and personally as we continue our studies and expand our family. Yet we can choose to look at the opportunities and allow this to fill us with energy or we can look at the difficulties and be drained of energy before we start. This is probably the hardest one for me personally because I am a natural troubleshooter, predisposed to see all possible problems, snags, sinkholes, walls, barriers, stumbling blocks…I think you get the idea. Yet how we see the future, hope-filled or hopeless makes a huge difference. How bright is that light coming forth?

3. How do we see our role in the world?   

Are we looking to be blessed in 2014 or to be a blessing to others?

This is probably one of the most important. I was surprised when I started studying this passage to find that what the Israelites referred to as the evil eye was a person who thought of nothing but themselves. Their hunger for their own advancement made them evil in the eyes of the community. As we enter this next year fixated on improving ourselves, having a banner year, or out doing what ever it was we accomplished in 2013 we also need to think about what our true role is. The Bible makes it clear that our purpose is not to be blessed, we trust in God for our blessings. Our purpose is to be a blessing to others. For me this could possibly be the best New Year’s Resolution that we could make. Find ways in 2014 to be a blessing, whether it be small, large, funny, serious, in times of need, or just for the heck of it.


Let your light shine, FOR OTHERS, in 2014.

Monday, December 23, 2013

3 Things I Learned on My Birthday

As I sit with a few different open browsers, 9 Signs That Your Church is Ready to Receive Unchurched People, 5 Signs Your Kids are Entitled, My Top 5 Books on Poverty, I am noticing a trend and it certainly isn’t the reading material. So with that in mind I will share the 3 things I learned on my birthday.

1. I am another year older.
This should be a surprise for no one, yet I don’t know how many times this year I have wished for time to slow down. I have wanted more time to finish one job or another. I have needed a deadline extended or a meeting pushed back. I have celebrated when someone has had to cancel on me because I was trying to figure out how to fit it all in. I also wished for more time with family and friends, a few more hours in the day to make that visit I never got around to or to teach my son how to tie his shoes or skype more with my sister. I am another year older and I need to be okay with that. Time slows down for no one and rich or poor we all get 24 hours in a day. Hopefully being another year older will help me spend my time better.

2. Big Things Don’t Bring Joy, Small Things (especially 6 and 1 year olds) Do
When I got back to the house from my second or third meeting of the day I was greeted Derrick bursting out of the house singing Happy Birthday, one of the few English songs he knows. He had been asleep when I left the house around 6 am and was greeting me for the first time by singing me happy birthday. I walked in to my wife making a birthday cake. I sat down on the floor and Kaleb came up all on his own and gave me a kiss. It was the most amazing five minutes of my day. I have learned that small things bring more joy than larger things because they are accomplished within the moment and are recognizable as good things. Big things, long term goals, strategic plans, and the big picture while all things that I tend to focus on and am good at working towards do not bring that much joy. They take to long to accomplish and are made up of many different moments, of which most cannot really be claimed as our own. I want to start celebrating the small things.

3. I have given up on changing the world
Possibly the most important of all, I have given up on changing the world. It is just too much work. I am still committed however, to changing one person at a time. As my birthday was coming to a close and we were getting the kids ready for bed one of my friends, as Liz calls them, showed up at the house. He was crying, which is not normal for these street tough kids. He had been beat by his guardians and denied food all because he had tried to get medical treatment earlier in the day, something we help him with because he has sickle cell and all of the related illnesses that go with it. It was the end of the day, I was exhausted, and Liz needed help with the kids, but he needed someone to talk to. We sat outside for half an hour and it ended with him coming inside, getting dinner, and spending the night until his guardians could calm down some. Things tend to happen on my birthday. In 2007 my mom passed away on my birthday and it has been hard to celebrate it ever since. This year though, was a little easier. You see, my mom had this thing about focusing on the individual, the one person, student, parent and encourage them, make their day better, provide a small joy at the right time. This became evident by the many heartfelt cards, letters, and well wishes that came as she was sick and the months following her death. The effectiveness of her strategy was made clear. This year was slightly easier though, because I am pretty sure at this point in my life, six years later, that she would be pretty proud of me as I am finally starting to understand the many lessons she had for me and the life that she raised me to live.

I will succeed in using my time well, in small celebrations, and in small steps, one person at a time. Even on my birthday.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Condom Love Tree

Photo: Ulishawai kuwaza jinsi mzunguko wa kimapenzi unavyoweza tokea? Cheza mchezo wa DUME Love Tree, Bofya hapa  http://goo.gl/LgMjK ili kujua.
This ad says, "Do you think you are alone...think again."
The above picture is an ad for Dume Condoms that came across my newsfeed on Facebook. The translation is in the caption at the bottom. This ad got me thinking...

A lot of branding and commercialism happens around Christmas time, this picture is just one 
example that came across as a sponsored ad on Facebook.  So what is our brand? What message is the church putting out at this time of year to the community? Is it loving? Is it well crafted? Is it relevant? A CONDOM COMPANY has used a very Christian idea, love others as much as you love yourself, and is now using it to promote condom sales…and consequently safe sex in an area where there is a prevalence of HIV/AIDS and where husbands cheat on their wives and then refuse to wear condoms.

Now I am not advocating that the church enter the commercialism race. We don’t have the money to compete and we honestly have better things to do, but I do wonder how well we are getting out that message. That is why #GivingTuesday makes me so happy. Not just because we received great support for our ministries, but because it helps get a message out (though again, it was started by a secular organization).

One of my favorite Christmas texts is John 1. John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and made his home among us. We have seen his glory, glory like that of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” If God’s glory is full of grace and truth we have to ask what we are doing to share this grace AND this truth. How are we getting this out there. Gamasara UMC just finished teaching on female circumcision, they did this the month leading up to female circumcision in Gamasara. Tarime UMC has a ministry with street children and leaders spend every Monday visiting the homes of families with children living on the streets trying to reconcile the families and  children and put them back together. They also provide emotional support, prayer, and counseling for families already reconciled. Mwanza UMC is offering free tutoring for neighborhood children while they are off of school for the month of December. 

These are ministries happening in our churches in Tanzania right now. We would love your support for these ministries to continue and grow, but even more so I want to ask…What are you doing to show grace and truth to the world outside YOUR church?