incognito…

Over the Christmas holiday I was fortunate enough to be able to volunteer as a bell ringer for the Salvation Army. I think I volunteered during the two coldest days to close out 2010 and my attire proved it. Between multi-layers of clothing, a hat, a hoodie, big gloves, and a thick bushy beard not only was I warm… I was incognito. I even brought my trusty sidekick… the big-as-a-bomb metal vacuum thermos full of coffee. Let the bell ringing commence.

I felt a bit awkward at first. This white boy doesn’t have much soul. I think people may have been giving money for the first hour or two so I would just stop ringing. I certainly have a musical way about me- I can make the beauty and glory of instruments sound as if they were made for the most diabolical purposes. So on that day my bell was a tin can on a stick, clanging out a wondrous off-beat cacophony that heralded and coerced each passerby to part with their dollar bills and spare change.

Did I mention my appearance? I appeared a little less than a ruffian, a product of the elements. I have doubts my own mother would have recognized me had she known better. That may explain why so few people made eye contact with me. I had friends who even walked by without noticing me. While I recognized them and attempted to make direct eye contact, they turned their heads and looked away.

Could it be a cloak of invisibility that kept people from seeing me? Could it be the uneasiness of people feeling pressured to give money so they don’t want to feel guilty by looking at me and then not giving? Or could it be that I was being judged by my rugged appearance?

I had a lot of time over the ten hours of bell ringing to think about these things and make some observations.

While I am completely convinced I do have a cloak of invisibility, because I have used it successfully in the past, I did not use it at all over this Christmas holiday. I enjoy seeing people I know and delight in conversation with them so I was not trying to be invisible. I had truly hoped this was the explanation for so many people looking away from me and not giving.

It wasn’t until a beat-up, rusty 1970’s Ford truck pulled up blowing exhaust in my face that I made a startling observation. A haggardly and elderly woman struggled out of the passenger side of the decrepit truck while her unshaven husband looked on. After parking the beast he made his way to the entrance of the store to meet up with his wife. Upon exiting the store with a few staples he turned toward me, looked me in the eyes, wished me a Merry Christmas, and reached into his worn, leather money pouch and gave more than anyone else had given over the ten-hour stretch. It wasn’t that he gave a handsome sum of money because it certainly wasn’t. It was that he was giving all he had.

What a moving experience. A person who was as shabby and worn as I appeared not only looked at me in the eyes and saw me but gave what little he had to help prisoners, victims of natural disaster, victims of human trafficking, and those who do not have basic human needs. It made me wish that others had his eyes and his heart.

What was different about this man? Was it that he could identify with my poor appearance? Had he been on the receiving end of judgment somewhere in his past for how he looked and he wanted to make sure I didn’t feel the same thing from him? Had he been a recipient of clothes, food, or other assistance and knew what it was like to need help? Could it be that those of humble and poor circumstance are less likely to judge and more likely to give than those of privileged circumstance? Everything in me fought against these questions but they were validated more times than not to my dismay.

As I neared the end of my charitable social experiment one of my friends began to approach the store entrance. This time instead of letting this person pass without looking at me I yelled out. I said, “Hey! It’s Brandon!” to which this person replied, “Oh my goodness, I thought you were some homeless guy and I wasn’t even going to pay attention to you.”

Let’s make a commitment beginning this year to humble ourselves and see people differently- to see each person as sons and daughters of God with value. Let’s make a commitment to give a greater portion of what God has given us to join people in their lowly circumstance and show them love by our generosity.

“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

brandon

considering prayer…

this will be a bit different than my previous entries…mainly because it is not one continuous thought. rather…it is a bringing together of a few insights i have had recently about prayer that i want to share with you.

1. many of us within the church get into a pattern of telling every person who has a problem or a need that we will “pray for them”…and then we don’t do it. we may really care about the person and have the very best of intentions…but we simply don’t do it for one reason or another. i know this is prevalent because i hear it from people all the time…and i have been guilty of this as well. if you say it…do it. keep a journal or put it in your notes. make a point of following through with your promise. this is not only important for the person for whom you are praying…but it is important for you as well.

2. we often neglect the simple instruction of Jesus as to how and what we ought to pray for. Jesus said… this is how you should pray- our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. give us today our daily bread. forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. we are quick to turn our prayers and our prayer requests into what WE WANT or WE WE THINK SHOULD HAPPEN rather than what God would have done according to His will. the result of this change in perspective may very well mean we find ourselves in situations we don’t necessarily like or in circumstances we find hard to bear…but we pray for His will to be done in the situation and not ours. have you ever considered that the valley where you find yourself is exactly where you need to be? have you ever considered that your prayer is being answered right there in that place? have you ever considered that God uses the valleys of life for your refinement and His greater glory WHEN you open your eyes to see it. when it is about God’s will and God’s way in your life and in the lives of others…we will finally see the mountaintop from the valley… and joy in it…rather than despair in it. do not lose hope my friends…just open your eyes to see that something bigger is unfolding and be usable in the process.

3. much prayer MUST be accompanied by fasting. i wholeheartedly believe that we will see miracles right in front of us if we ever begin to understand this necessity and then begin to practice it. in mark 9 the disciples had been trying to drive a demon from a man. they were unsuccessful. in response to this Jesus told them, ” this kind can come forth by nothing, but prayer and fasting.” abstaining from food is an absolutely essential accompaniment to our prayer in extraordinarily difficult or tough situations. i find it completely ridiculous and convenient that in the New International Version of this specific text…IT OMITS FASTING! have we made this a cultural option rather than a spiritual essential? i believe so. as i have prayed and fasted…i have seen mountains move, relationships change, and people transformed. ask me sometime and i will be happy to share them with you…

4. my great friend and mentor told me recently that it is essential to “pray while you are moving.” don’t confuse this with “pray without ceasing.” while we both would advocate being the kind of people who pray without ceasing throughout our day…he is talking more about how we convince ourselves that we cannot do anything until we have prayed and heard clearly from God on the path we ought to take. many times this leads us into paralysis…and inhibits us from going into the world and doing what we ought to be doing. there is too much mulling over, considering, praying and waiting… and not enough praying while doing. has God not given us to green light to go into the nations? be bold! live without fear! pray without ceasing! but PRAY WHILE YOU ARE MOVING!

praying for you…

brandon

The Wisdom of a Toothache…

I quit going to the dentist about five years ago.

You know how it is when something is wrong but you don’t want to go through the hassle, pain, or discomfort of dealing with an issue and then working to get it fixed. Or how it is when people continue to nag you about fixing the problem because they know if you don’t deal with it…it won’t just resolve on its own.

I had a bad tooth for about ten years and I was tired of dentists telling me that I needed to get a crown. So what did I do? Did I deal with the problem? Of course not. I simply quit going to the dentist and then pretended there wasn’t a problem.

This naïve strategy worked out well for about eight years…but over the last two years it got to the point where I could no longer chew on that side of my mouth and could no longer tolerate any hot or cold sensation near that tooth. Ignoring the underlying problem did not fix it. It just prolonged the inevitable…and ultimately made it worse and even more painful to deal with.

Proving myself to be a real genius, I finally submitted to the reality that I could no longer tolerate the pain and discomfort of this cursed tooth and so I made the dreaded appointment.

Upon entering the room the dentist said, “You haven’t been here for the last five years.”

Indignantly I replied, “Yeah, well, I have purposely been avoiding you…and avoiding the inevitable. I knew I had a problem but I tried to ignore it- and you- for as long as it could, but I knew that ignoring the problem and avoiding you wouldn’t make it go away.”

She just smiled.

I don’t know why certain circumstances happen to people but I am convinced that there are always larger truths we can find in the most trivial of situations. Even in my stubbornness to get my tooth fixed I have found profound truth and understanding of our human condition- we have a tendency toward prolonging or avoiding pain because we believe it is too painful to deal with…but by avoiding it we prolong the inevitable and make it even more painful to deal with in the future.

The truth is that there is an epidemic of hurt, wounded, and broken people walking in our midst each day who are in real pain at their very core. You may even be one of them. But instead of being honest and coming to terms with the underlying issue that causes the pain in our lives…it is just easier for us to ignore it, camouflage it, and pretend as if it doesn’t exist while pushing away and avoiding those who want to help us.

The central issue is that the pain does exist. It won’t go away by ignoring it, building up walls around it, or by avoiding those who are trying to help us deal with it.

It is tough though. We live in an age in which it is just easier to build up walls around ourselves than it is to vulnerably open ourselves up. We believe that if we truly open ourselves up to others, or to God, it might be too painful to deal with. So instead we craftily construct the mighty facade…the false self…to keep others from getting too close and from seeing who we really are and what we are really dealing with. We construct the false self to prove to others…and to convince ourselves…that everything is ok.

We reason that if we could just make people think everything is good then maybe it really will be. We begin piecing together the false self who we convey to our “friends” on social media sites and we put on the false self with the way we play the charade when we are around others. The false self insures that no one can get too close.

But no matter how beautifully constructed and carefully crafted the false self is…the underlying pain persists, haunts, and hurts.

Instead of vulnerably opening ourselves up and laying ourselves down to the people who love us and to the God who can heal us, we hang on to the last vestige of pride that we can muster.

We stay wounded.

We continue to hurt.

And we remain painfully alone.

Life does not have to be this way.

If you are carrying around a wound and experiencing deep pain within your heart and soul…let me offer some advice. Ignoring the pain you are experiencing will not make it go away. Your wound will continue to fester and the gnawing pain will continue to radiate. No matter how much you try to dress it up or hide it…it will not go away.

Trust me when I tell you that the pain you are experiencing will only begin to wane when you begin to tear down the walls that surround your heart and allow God to come into the places you have blocked off for too long. Recognize and come to terms with your wounds and your brokenness and admit that you need healing. Admit that you need a light to break into the darkness, that you desperately need Life in this valley of the shadow of death where you have been walking. Willingly surrender and humbly confess to those who love you and to the God who can heal you…that you are broken and are in need of a Savior.

Why prolong the pain? He is waiting for you to invite him in…

peace…

brandon

John 4