In the depths of the city, diverse with anger
My heart turns cold, my humanity’s in danger
I came to make a name
I came to change the game
I came to claim the fame
I came to clear my shame

In the depths of the city, billboards promising new life
My mind’s spinning fast, rejection cuts like a knife
I’m here, but don’t know where to go
I’m here, but lost my way to the show
I’m here, but haven’t found my song
I’m here, but not sure for how long

In the depths of the city, success ‘round every corner, not far ahead
I’m almost there, I can see it now, but traffic light is stuck on red
I’m making good time, but getting quickly passed
I’m pretending to be first, but in reality last
I’m wide awake, but can’t wake up
I’m dry with thirst, but have no cup

Dreams, they make you
Dreams, they break you
Dreams, they mock you
Dreams, they take you to places unknown

Dreams, they shake you
Dreams, they fake you
Dreams, they shape you
Dreams, they take you to places unshown

In the depths of the city, invisible, masses drown my being
I’m shouting out loud, waving my hands, but can’t be seen
I’m rare, I have to remind
I’m unique, one of a kind
I’m one in a billion
I’m lost in the million

In the depths of the city, our eyes look away, as bodies collide
Fake smiles, firm handshakes, while fear works hard to hide
Look at me, I’m fine and strong
Look at me, I can do no wrong
I turn away, I’ve got regrets to bury
I run away, tired of burdens I carry

In the depths of the city, I’ve found my breath, I’ve found my voice
I look past the shallow, I see behind the curtain, I rise above the noise
Weariness my invigoration
Brokenness my declaration
Woundedness my inspiration
Confession my liberation

Dreams, they make you
Dreams, they break you
Dreams, they mock you
Dreams, they take you to places unknown

Dreams, they shake you
Dreams, they fake you
Dreams, they shape you
Dreams, they take you to places unshown

I have found the key to success is a journey of faith
I have found a journey of faith comes one day at a time
I have found one day at a time only matters if you do it with friends
I have found friends are God’s strength while pursuing dreams
I have found dreams only come true when we walk with God
I have found when we walk with God, he focuses on developing our character
I have found that developing our character is the key to success

Dreams, they make you
Dreams, they break you
Dreams, they mock you
Dreams, they take you to places unknown

Dreams, they shake you
Dreams, they fake you
Dreams, they shape you
Dreams, they take you to places unshown

“Now glory be to God, who by his mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of—infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes.” Ephesians 3:20

The Antidote to Loneliness

Alone in a Crowd

Loneliness can be found at every level of society.

The rich can be lonely as well as the poor.
The busy as well as the idle.
The young as well as the old.
The crowded as well as the isolated.
The leaders as well as the followers.
The wedded as well as the single.

Loneliness has less to do with the quantity of people in your life and much more to do with the quality of people.

Loneliness has a lot to do with our soul.

First, our western culture keeps us so busy and focusing on the surface of things that we don’t value the investment and time that it takes to cultivate deep friendships.

Quality friendships demand time and re-prioritizing.
Quality friendships do not happen quickly or easily.
Quality friendships move beyond the, “What’s in it for me?” and requires a commitment of selflessness and humility.

Quality friendships are the antidote to loneliness.

William Shakespeare wrote, “A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.”

Helen Keller wrote, “I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.”

Quality friendships motivate your character to mature.

These kinds of friendships make us want to be better people.
These kinds of friendships challenge us to grow our moral fiber.
These kinds of friendships are not always easy, but they are invaluable.

When I’m around my friend Eldon who sponsors 21 Compassion children, I want to be a more generous person.

When I’m around my friends Tom and Janis who work passionately and tirelessly with the homeless, I want to be a more caring, less judgmental person.

When I’m around my friend Mike, who believes in the power of prayer, I want to be a more faith filled person.

When I’m around my friend Kevin, who is one of the most selfless people I know, I want to be a better friend.

When I’m around my friend Ginger, who loves the broken-hearted and the grieving, I want to be a more empathizing person.

The writer of proverbs compares these kinds of friendships to how when iron sharpens iron, there is friction and sparks result, but the long term result wins out over the short term pain.

These kinds of friendships are rare.

Do you have people like that in your life?

If you do, invest in them.
If you do, thank them for what they do.

Quality friendships also respect and treasure your soul.

These kinds of friendships look past the “What can you do for me?” question and attaches great importance on how that friend is doing on the inside.

What fears are paralyzing their soul?
What sins are strangling their soul?
What unmet dreams are saddening their soul?

Quality friendships go to these deeper places.

James wrote in the New Testament to confess your fears, your sins, your feelings to each other and pray for one another and the result will be the healing of your heart.

Do you have people like that in your life?

If you do, value them, invest in them and thank them.

Quality friendships ultimately encourage your journey.

We live in a very negative, tear one another down world.

The hostile environment of the work place, the cyber bullying of the internet, the ridiculing comments and judgment of the school yard can drive us to deep discouragement and low self-esteem.

As people of faith, we are supposed to be the contradiction to our mean spirited culture.

The writer of Hebrews tells us that we are to spend our days “thinking of ways to encourage one another toward creative outbursts of love and good deeds.”

Child expert Kevin Heath wrote, “Four very powerful words to say to your child: I BELIEVE IN YOU!” yet I would argue that those are the words that are used often in all deep, quality, life-giving friendships.

During one of our summer camps on our campus, we had over 450 grade school students, who needed to know that someone believed in them. I thought I would try something.

After lunch, the students would line up, single file to go outside to the water games or to the gym for sports, so on the first day I stood at the front of the line and as the kids begin to file out, I tried to tell as many of them as I could how special they were.

As they walked by I would point at each one and say, “You are amazing, you are spectacular, I love how smart you are, you are awe-inspiring, you are stoopendous, you are truly remarkable, you are superb, you are wonderful, you are magnificent, you are astounding, you are grand, you are splendid, you are outstanding, your are perfecto, you are impressive and you are groovy!”

You get the idea. On the first day, the kids were looking at me and thinking, “Who is this man? Stranger danger.”

But by the third day, the kids were lining up with anticipation of what they were going to hear and they would yell out to me, “Pick me! Pick me!”

As humans, we were created for encouragement and our culture has abandoned this practice and our souls are dying of starvation.

Do you have people in your life who encourage your journey?
Do you encourage other people’s journey?

Let’s try practicing what the writer of Hebrews taught us. I have never met anyone who has said, “Please, stop encouraging me, I’ve had enough!”

People will rise to the level of expectation that we give them.

Jesus was the master of this. He came to a loudmouthed fisherman named Simon, and he told him that he was going to rename him Peter (Petros-rock) and that he was going to be the foundation of the church and the gates of hell would not prevail. And over time, Simon began living like Peter, and he was never the same.

Speak encouragement into the people around you and watch them rise up to the words that you have given them.

God created us to be in deep, meaningful relationships.
Don’t neglect one of life’s most essential needs.

Find people who will motivate your character and do the same for others.
Find people who will respect and treasure your soul and do the same for others.
Find people who will encourage your journey and do the same for other.

You will see loneliness slip away and purpose and meaning follow.

“The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.” Mother Teresa

Yet I Still Dare To Hope

“You have tested us, O God;
you have purified us like silver.
Then you put a leader over us.
We went through fire and flood,
but you brought us to a place of great abundance.”
Psalm 66:10,12

As I am in Niamey, Niger surrounded by the destructive damage done by the flooding of the Niger River I am observing a few things.

One, the depth of character that I see in the community of believers who have been turned upside down by this tragedy.

David writes, “You have tested us, O God; you have purified us like silver.”

When a silversmith purifies silver he holds the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames are the hottest as to burn away the impurities.

The silversmith has to sit in front of the fire the whole time the silver is being purified because if the silver is left a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed.

So how does the silversmith know when the silver is purified?

The answer is when the silversmith can see his image in it.

When you feel the heat of the fire, remember that God has his eye on you and will keep watching you until He sees His image in you.

Two, I see the depth of faith that sustains their souls.

Sahel Academy, who lost its campus for the year because of the flood, one of the most influential and qualified schools in Niger, has already found new buildings to restart the school year in the upcoming weeks, knowing that the school’s real power is not buildings but committed teachers and potentially world changing students.

This is not easy, but…

They are believing what Psalm 66:12 says that as God takes them through the flood, He is going to take them to a place of great abundance, so that He can get the glory.

Floods come and go, but God’s faithfulness is always and forever.

Three, I see the depth of authentic community.

Difficult times are never fun but when you have a band of brothers and sisters rallying around each other, helping one another, encouraging one another, and even in the midst of this tragedy, laughing together, you cannot help but sit up and take notice.

Today, as I helped these heroic teachers and faculty members move into there new classrooms there was hugging, helping, laughing and a sense of anticipation from everyone about how God was going to use this whole thing to bless very poor country.

The great testimony of the Christian faith is not our perfect circumstances, but it is when outside observers say, “Oh, how they loved one another.”

Four, I see the heroic leaders standing tall, helping people find direction and hope when it is easy to get lost and discouraged.

God calls us as leaders to lead people through fires and floods to help people find hope and faith.

God is looking for leaders.

You tend to find new leaders during these times.

The ultimate example of this is when God brought a leader to us who endured horrific, unjust pain and suffering, which led us to a place of abundant life.

God took the worst thing and drew from it the best thing, which is a relationship with Jesus Christ, who wants to give us abundant life, today and forever.

Niger, Sahel Acadamy, Esprit Bible College and many other amazing organizations and people have been affected by these horrible floods…but, Jesus, the ultimate leader, is raising up leaders, young and old, to bring them through the floods and to a place of abundance.

It is not and will not be easy.

The scriptures guarantee it won’t be.

But as the prophet Jeremiah wrote looking over the ruins of Jerusalem,

“The thought of my suffering and homelessness
is bitter beyond words.
I will never forget this awful time,
as I grieve over my loss.
Yet I still dare to hope
when I remember this:
The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
therefore, I will hope in him!”

Looking Different at Difficult Times

When going through difficult times, it is human nature to ask God, “What is going on?” and then do everything possible to get out of the difficulty as quickly and painless as possible.

We spend a lot of our lives involved in “difficulty avoidance.”

We spend a lot of our lives wondering where God is during difficult moments and seasons.

Very often, my goal in life is about comfort.
Most often, God’s goal for my life is character development.

Comfort and character development are like a New York Yankee fan and a Boston Red Sox fan trying to be best friends. It usually doesn’t happen.

Difficulty avoidance can lead to temporary comfort.
Being fully aware in a difficult moment can lead to what the Apostle Paul calls teachable moments where we can develop endurance which develops strength of character which can lead us to hope.

When we begin to live life with that kind of perspective, it not only gives us hope, but it also allows us to become a part of God’s bigger purpose and plan.

A great example of this is when the Apostle Paul and his friend and co-worker Silas were in Philippi telling people of the good news of Grace.

While there, a demon-possessed girl is following them around drawing strange attention to them.

Paul casts the demon out of her, which seems like a nice thing to do, but the demon possessed girl was working for some fortune teller guys and without the demon in her, she could no longer make money for them.

The fortune teller guys are ticked off and they get Paul and Silas arrested. While being arrested they are beaten up pretty badly, thrown into prison and chained to the wall without a trial or any due process.

Let’s stop right here for a moment.
How would you be feeling at the moment?
I would be feeling pretty down.

I would be telling God, “Thanks a lot, all I was trying to do was tell people about your Good News and help this girl and this is the thanks I get? What did I do to deserve this?”

I would definitely be begging God to get me out of the mess.
That would most likely be my state of mind.
Not a lot of peace. Not a lot of rest.

What did Paul and Silas do?

They are beaten up, bloody, chained to the wall and around midnight they decide to sing some uplifting songs to God.
Paul looks at Silas and asks, “What would Bono sing?”
Paul and Silas begin to sing, “It’s a beautiful day, don’t let it get away!”

The other prisoners are wondering who brought in the karaoke machine. I wonder if some of them eventually joined in because it is quite a catchy little tune.

As Paul and Silas are singing an earthquake happens and the shackles are loosed, cell doors opened and Paul and Silas and the rest of the prisoners are free to go.

Let’s stop again.
What would you do in this moment? What would you be thinking?

I would be thinking, “God has heard my prayers and provided a way out, I am out of here! Silas, I hope you can keep up with me. Thank you God for clearly sending this earthquake to set me free!”

I would have been out of there so fast, because in my mind, this difficulty was still about me and my comfort.

What did Paul and Silas do?

They didn’t run.
In fact they told the guard not to kill himself because he was about to, thinking if the prisoners escape, I will be killed by my superior.
Paul yelled out, “We are still here!”

Why did Paul not run?
Because he had learned that difficult circumstances were not about him but about God possibilities.
He had learned about this “character development” and that God used these moments for redemption.

The jailer asks Paul why he didn’t run and Paul shares with him the good news of Grace and how Jesus came to save him not condemn him, and the jailer and his whole family are saved by Grace.

Human nature leads to difficulty avoidance.
God wisdom leads to miracles in the middle of difficulty.

I think of my mother as a modern day example of this.
She has allowed difficult circumstances to grow her endurance and character that has led her to a deeper hope that has been a huge help for others.

My mom, who has tragically lost two precious daughters over the last 20 years, has not practiced “pain avoidance” or allowed herself to go down the vicious path of bitterness or blaming God.

Instead, even with many questions unanswered, she like Paul, has not tried to escape the pain, but rather going through it, she has helped many people who have experienced similar loss, helping them navigate the difficult journey of grief.

Let me ask one more question.

What do people see in you while you are going through difficult times?
Is it all about you? Is it all about getting out of the situation as quickly as possible?
Or is there something different about how you go about it?

Remember, difficulties come to all of us.

The world pays attention when a Christ follower is going through a difficult time.
How will they respond? Will their faith make a difference?

If it is about trying to get to comfort as quickly as possible, then we are no different than the way the world responds, and there is nothing attractive about my faith.

Like Mahatma Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Jesus did not practice “difficulty avoidance.” In fact the scriptures says “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

As I see my difficult times as endurance and character development, and being used for a greater purpose then just my comfort, then the world will see that there is something different about my faith, and they will see God.

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.” Romans 5:3-4 (NLT)