Anyway, my parents got me an electric razor, I think as a high school graduation gift. My dad always used an electric razor and even though male purists think electric razors are pure heresy, I used one anyway.
Of course, have I ever told the story of my freshman year college roommate using my razor (when I wasn't there) to shave his legs? That was disgusting. Why did he shave his legs, you ask? That is a very good question. Something about his basketball socks. I didn't want to know any more than that.
Anyway, I have always liked the idea of trying a full beard. Sometimes, when I have time away from work, I just quit shaving for a few days thinking maybe it will grow into some devastatingly handsome and debonair beard, transforming my whole appearance into sort of a three-day beard leading man look. But instead of looking like George Clooney, I look like Michael Moore or the proverbial guy on television shows who is picking food out of dumpsters behind restaurants (no offense intended to the proverbial guy on television shows who is picking food out of dumpsters behind restaurants ... perhaps a little bit of offense intended to Michael Moore).
This morning, after not shaving for a few days, I decided I needed to shave. However, I have grown accustomed to not taking the time to shave over the past few days. In fact I was talking to a couple of guys at work yesterday as well as our one bearded lady (no offense intended to bearded ladies) and several of us commented it would be nice to never have to take the time to shave. I upped the ante by confessing that I often hate to take the time to shower, too. I received great encouragement to continue that practice.
Anyway, I had to shave this morning and even though I knew I needed to use shaving cream and a safety razor, I first tried digging out my 25 year old bottle of 'Lectric Shave, which seems to have gone rancid over the years and spreading it over my face. Then I tried the electric razor. I ended up looking even more like Michael Moore or the proverbial guy on television shows who is picking food out of dumpsters behind restaurants.
So, then I had to get out my equally ancient can of shaving cream followed by a free razor I received in the mail at some point, and scrape away at my face.
I always hate shaping my goatee. I wish I had some sort of mask I could use to help me shape it. It always ends up uneven, off-center, and askew. (What? Askew! Bless You!) So I keep trimming it smaller and smaller, trying to even it up. Someday, I fear I will narrow it down to just a soul patch except I don't have any whiskers where a soul patch should be.
Oh well. The plight of being male.
Someday I will write about leg hair.
But I was thinking this morning about one of my funnier one-liners on the trip. It is a bit irreverent but hopefully you will see the humor.
Tijuana traffic is ... interesting. Not a lot of respect for those yellow and white lines on the road. I have driven ... usually multiple times ... in every major US city as well as several major Canadian cities. Chicago, LA, Manhattan, Dallas, San Francisco, Seattle, Houston, Toronto ... on and on ... you name it, I have driven it. And always done fairly well.
Not sure I could do that in Tijuana though. I mean, generally I expect people to stay inside their lanes and they usually comply. In Tijuana, there is constant jockeying in and out of lanes but, to make matters worse, constant maneuevers to make entirely new lanes as well. And some times the lines on the road ... well, they just don't make sense. Let's leave that at that.
One day, Dan was driving us in the van. He's driven in Tijuana before and, really, I was pretty impressed. That doesn't mean there weren't some interesting moments but overall I was impressed. (The saving grace about this is that, when you get in these tough traffic situations there, traffic is moving slowly so you would not be in some kind of dramatic life-threatening crash ... more like a fender slide instead.)
Anyway, as Dan was deftly moving us through traffic, Beth prayed for "angel bumpers" to come and protect our van. I thought that was neat and cute. But, in my response, I had to be honest when I said the following to Dan:
"Dan, I also pray while you are driving. It's just that all of my prayers seem to start with 'Oh, sweet mother of Jesus.'"
All Christian life is meant to be at the same time profoundly contemplative and rich in active work. ...It is true that we are called to create a better world. But we first of all are called to a more immediate and more exalted task: that of creating our own lives. In doing this, we act as co-workers with God. We take our place in the great work of mankind, since in effect the creation of our own destiny, in God, is impossible in pure isolation. Each one of us work out his own destiny in inseparable union with all those others with whom God has willed us to live. We share with one another the creative work of living in the world. And it is through our struggle with material reality, with nature, that we help one another create at the same time our own destiny and a new world for our descendants. This work of man, which is his peculiar and inescapable vocation, is a prolongation of the creative work of God Himself. Failure to measure up to this challenge and to meet this creative responsibility is to fail in that response to life which is required of us by the will of our Father and Creator.
What is the biggest burden God has placed in your heart right now? What is it that he really has you caring about and feeling you need to do all you can about at this time?
Turns out our entire lunch was free ... except I had to pay for one 99 cent bag of chips.
Not a bad deal...
When Evan was probably 2 or 3, we used to sometimes take him to the nursery at church. He was never too fond of being left alone there. For some reason, he's always been rather attached to his parents.
Occasionally we would volunteer to help out in the nursery which basically involved playing with the kids, keeping them from hurting themselves (or each other), and having a snack. All of us liked the snack the best.
This particular Sunday, the snack was orange drink and Teddy Grahams. The children all sat together at a round table on those tiny little chairs. Including Evan. We poured them each a cup of orange drink, passed out napkins, and gave them each a handful of Teddy Grahams.
They were all behaving very well and enjoying their snacks.
Then we looked at Evan. He was carefully biting the head off of each Teddy Graham and then very lining the decapitated bears up in neat rows on the table in front of him.
It had to be our son. (rolls eyes)
But, as I have gotten older, I have come to realize the important intimacy of community. While I still like New York (and don't get to visit nearly often enough), the prospect of spending my life lost in a sea of anonymity is not so appealing. God made us for community and relationship. In fact, when it boils down to it, being in meaningful, caring, supportive relationship with others was really Jesus' greatest admonishment to us.
I had mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Lisa and I have been going through a tough time which I would share details about in the future. This tough time has really once again highlighted for me the importance of community, and just how much it does mean to me. For those friends and family members who have known what we have been going through have reached out to us in huge ways ... and have meant so much by being vessels of God's love.
You see, back in early June during what we thought was a rather routine appointment with her doctor to discuss allergies, the doctor discovered a lump on Lisa's thyroid. We will forever be grateful to Dr. Wang (whose contract shortly thereafter was non-renewed by our local medical practice for some unknown reason, upsetting us greatly) for discovering this small lump, basically less than a half inch in diameter, which I never could really feel. He reassured her that thyroid "nodules" as they are called are usually benign and nothing to worry about and also that, even if it was cancer, it would probably be quite treatable and curable.
We were, needless to say, nervous as Lisa set out on a series of tests and follow up appointments. We were told repeatedly that only about 5% of such nodules are ever cancerous. We brought in a small community of friends and family who were praying for Lisa.
I won't go through all of the details but, despite our desire to have faith that the nodule was benign, there were enough little signs along the way that, when we met with the surgeon late this past week, we were pretty steeled for the news we received. She does have cancer. Even now, those words seem surreal to me. Impossible to believe. But true.
Well, let me back up a bit, the doctor did say there is a 20% chance that the biopsy is wrong but we know from things that we have read and even from our first conversation with him that "false positives" on such tests for cancer pretty much never happen. We're still praying for a miracle -- that maybe this won't turn out to have been cancer after all once the surgery and final pathology are complete -- but we know that it would take a miracle for that to be the case. But we pray to a loving Father who is in the miracle business. So, you never know.
The biopsy pathology showed cells consistent with papillary cancer. Of all the bad news we could have heard this week, that was the best bad news. Papillary is the most common type of thyroid cancer, is typically the most treatable, and has the highest survival rate of any cancer. I have read survival rates of as high as 98% after 10 years and 95% after 20 years. Those numbers are unheard of with other types of cancer. And, in virtually all cases with papillary cancer, where mortality is involved, it is because the cancer has spread outside the thyroid.
And there is one bit of good news on that as well. During the needle biopsy procedure, the doctor commented on how hard-shelled the tumor is. That was, to a large degree, a big sign indicating that we were indeed dealing with cancer. However, I have also since read that the tumors which are encased in a hard fibrousy shell are very unlikely to have the cancer cells spread to other parts of the body. So that is very good news.
But make no mistake about it, we are dealing with cancer. Regardless of the high survival rate, the relatively easy treatment, or the lack of real physical symptoms, this is cancer and it must not be trivialized and understated. It must be dealt with, there is a huge psychological adjustment to this new reality, life will never be quite the same and, once her thyroid is removed, she will need lifelong medication for that. Additionally, particularly in the first ten years after someone is cured of thyroid cancer, they have a 30% higher chance than the general population of being diagnosed with another primary cancer such as breast or colon cancer. We will need to stay ever-vigilant.
It is difficult, scary stuff. The stuff you wouldn't wish on anyone.
I look at Lisa and I cannot help but wish it were me going through this, not her. But yet, you know what, deep down, I know she is the stronger, braver person. She will handle this far better than I would. She already is handling it with courage, humor, faith and confidence. But, again, not to trivialize it, this is serious stuff and we both know that. She will emerge as a cancer survivor but that puts a different twist on the rest of one's life.
One reality that has sunk in for me is how stupid I have been much of my married life looking forward to eventual retirement with the one I love so very much. This is a huge lesson and reminder for me to live in the present, to make the most of every second I have with my incredible and absolutely wonderful girlfriend. How very blessed I am!
During all this, we have been and will continue to be bolstered and emboldened by community of great family and friends. Wonderful people who have reached out to us with words of encouragement and love, stories of cancer survival, and prayers ... loads and load of prayers. Thank you to all of you, from the bottoms of our hearts and thyroids. We love you. Please keep the prayers coming -- you have no idea how much that support means during dark times.
I am glad that we live in community -- not faceless, nameless society.
Where do we go from here? Lisa is scheduled for surgery on August 29. They will start by removing the tumor and half of her butterfly-shaped thyroid. They will then look at the tissue and, if they can confirm right then that it is cancer, they will remove the entire thyroid. If they cannot confirm cancer cells "on the fly," they will close her up, spend extra time analyzing the tissue and, if they confirm cancer later, they will go back in about a week later to remove the entire thyroid. In other words, if it is cancer, they remove the entire gland but they do not like to remove it all unless they are certain it is cancer.
Afterward, if cancer is confirmed, there will be follow up appointments with an endocrinologist to regulate hormones and do some checks to make sure the cancer has not spread.
We will keep you posted. Prayers are greatly appreciated.
But -- the best part of the evening at Lakefest?
The bright green t-shirts worn by the company that apparently provides port-a-potties for this event. The front of their shirts advertises their company name and what they do.
Emblazoned boldly on the back of the shirts?
"We Take Crap From Anyone"
Gotta love it.
"But I said, 'I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing. Yet what is due me is in the Lord's hand, and my reward is with my God.'" Isaiah 49:4
Have you ever felt like you're spending your life using your talent for nothing? Life is often spent doing mundane activities that seem to have little eternal purpose.
The great prophet Isaiah was struggling with his own purpose. He knew he was chosen to be a voice for God, yet life became purposeless for Isaiah. We all go through periods when our purpose seems to be clouded with the mundane. We see little meaning in life. On the other hand, Isaiah didn't stay in this place. We read in this passage that he knew the truth of his existence. He could look past his present circumstance and know that his real reward and purpose would be revealed in eternity. He knew that God was just and fair, so he placed his faith on this truth.
When life appears to lack meaning and purpose, remember that if you devote your life to the purposes He has for you, the fruits of your labor will be manifested in due time. "The one who calls you is faithful and He will do it" (1 Thess. 5:24).
Chapters 9 and 10 are all about one of God’s greatest gifts…His breath. Now I know that doesn’t sound all that impressive, except that by breath, I mean the Holy Spirit. In Ephesians, Paul tells us the Holy Spirit is a guarantee of our inheritance. Not an inheritance like the 50 shot glasses you got from your Great-Great-Great-Aunt Ethel or that by receiving the Spirit you will eventually get to heaven. Paul means that we will become God’s chosen people, the “people of the true exodus”. We are delivered to the promised land. As Wright has mentioned a few times prior to this chapter, this promised land is not some ethereal paradise or some small garden, but the whole world. Heaven and earth are intertwined and one in the same.
A few words from the good Bishop Wright…
“The wind and the fire and the brooding bird are given to enable the church to be the church – in other words, to enable God’s people to be God’s people…The Spirit is given, in fact, so that the church can share in the life and continuing work of Jesus himself.”
• Wright starts the chapter with early Christians’ images of the Holy Spirit. What does the Spirit look like to you?
• Look at Wright’s definition of “church.” How do you fit into this image at Sidney First?
• In the last paragraph of the chapter Wright says unity and holiness have been two problems for the church in the last generation. How can we fix these problems and get back to Paul’s idea of being a temple for the Holy Spirit?
Chapter 10 - Living by the Spirit
Wright starts this chapter by looking at the Holy Spirit and Pentecost. Pentecost is the celebration of the Israelites fleeing Egypt (freeing them from oppression) and Moses receiving the Law on Mount Sinai. In the 2nd chapter of Acts, Jesus has died and risen (freeing us from oppression) then comes down to earth again, this time bringing the Holy Spirit to us. Those who receive the Spirit are to pick up where Jesus left off. They live where heaven and earth meet. But the Holy Spirit is not the only way God is working in this world. We have God’s word and God’s wisdom.
When the early disciples began to tell the world of Jesus, they knew they would not make any sense. Their words, powered by the Holy Spirit, became “the word.” Paul wrote “When you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.” (1Thessalonians 2:13) This brings us to wisdom. This is not wisdom for this world. It is the wisdom from “before our ages of glory.” (1 Corinthians 2:7). The word and wisdom of God belong to those of us who belong to Him, the people who live at the intersection of heaven and earth.
There are two quotes that really sum up the last part of the chapter:
1. “Christian spirituality normally involves a measure of suffering…suffering comes in many forms too; illness, depression, bereavement, moral dilemmas, poverty, tragedy, accidents and death…it is when we are suffering that we can most confidently expect the Spirit to be with us.”
2. “For Christians it’s always a love game: God’s love for the world calling out an answering love from us, enabling us to discover that God not only happens to love us but that He is love itself.”
So what now? God has given us His Son, His word and His wisdom. We have the Holy Spirit to guide us. In his final section Wright tells us how we can reflect the image of God into this world.
• On pg. 134 Wright talks about the early disciples spreading the “Word of God.” What exactly is that? The New Testament hadn’t been written yet and the Old Testament was nothing new to the Jews at that time. Is the “Word of God” something not written in the Bible?
• What does it mean to be “heaven-minded”?
• Think of your own journey in faith. How did the Holy Spirit show up in your suffering?
Because it feels that way sometimes, doesn’t it? Or maybe a lot of the time?
Those who read my blog hopefully recognize it for its openness and honesty. I feel compelled to write about something now which is sort of messy. I’m opening myself up here and hopefully some of you will feel led to open yourselves up a bit with some comments as well.
Here goes … I struggle with an addiction to the need for approval / affirmation. There – I said it! But, do you want to know the really messy part? I have seen this in myself a lot more since I have been on a serious faith journey than I did before. Now, some folks may say that is just because I am now more self-aware but I don’t think so. I think it instead comes from my own inability to admit to my brokenness and my lack of “perfection.” I guess that pride is largely at the root of it.
When I was younger, in school and college, I never struggled with peer pressure. I sort of marched to the beat of my own drummer. I was usually a reasonably well behaved kid and young man and I tended to not go along with the crowd. I was comfortable with that. I was comfortable inside my own skin. I was okay being who I was and I really didn’t feel this need for approval or affirmation from others.
But, since I have been on a serious faith journey, I have struggled with that need to know that I am doing okay. There’s this sense of “Am I doing this right?” which needs to be fed that then feeds into a “Please tell me I’m doing this right!” plea. I really don’t like that. I feel like the little kid performing a new trick or stunt, nervously and repetitively asking their parents “Mom! Dad! How am I doing? Huh? Huh? How am I doing?”
We talk a lot about freedom in Christ and I have written a lot about trying to get rid of my “self” but yet this need for approval seems to never leave me. On an intellectual and theological level, I understand the concept of my worth coming from God, not man. And I absolutely love that because it does hearken back to my days of marching to the beat of a different drummer and being completely comfortable with that.
But the deeper I get into spirituality, it seems the more I crave affirmation. And I expected it to be the other way around!
And, to make matters worse, the further I go on my faith journey, the more I want to question things, the more I want to push the envelope in my theology and beliefs, the more I want to fight injustice, the more I want to give grace, and the more I demand grace. But, unfortunately, the more I demand affirmation and acceptance from man rather than seeking it from God. Will I ever be able to live on God’s affirmation and acceptance alone?
(NOTE: The following is a DIGRESSION but read it any way if you wish.)
I was meeting last week with some friends from church when one commented that she really doesn’t “get” all the lingo that we tend to toss around as church folk. My how I loved hearing her say that! One statement she picked on was how often we say something that sounds like “I love seeing the Jesus in you!” I’ve said it many a time myself. But, as my friend said, “I don’t know what that means.” And, you know, I wonder, too, what we mean by that. It seems to be something we say which affirms another believers’ need for approval and affirmation. But, really, what do we mean by it? Are we implying that the only reason a non-believer (who would presumably not have any Jesus in them) would do something good is because of some self-serving interest? Do we really believe that? Part of me at points has wanted to believe that the only non-self-serving good things people do are of Jesus. But, is that really true? I don’t know. I am not 100% certain of that.
(END OF DIGRESSION)
I’d love to hear what you have seen happen to your need for approval over the years, especially before and after your faith journey. Has your need for approval decreased since finding freedom in Christ (which seems to be the way it should work) or have you seen it stay the same or even increase?
If you’ve seen it decrease, I really want to hear from you and hear what that has been like. (I will assume you’ll be doing some proper reflection and introspection on this and not just giving the typical “churchy” answer that would be accepted, and expected, by fellow believers.)
If you’ve seen your need for approval increase, I’d love to hear from you as well. For one thing, I will simply feel affirmation if you tell me your story. And affirmation seems to be what I am seeking. But, beyond that, I pose the question to you as well: Will you ever be able to live on God’s acceptance and affirmation alone? Are we really capable of that? Really really really?
Thanks for your honesty and input. Comment away!
At the time, one thing that appealed to us about the house was the fact that they had orchestrated fairly elaborate landscaping around the house. English ivy filled many of the shrubbery beds on the front and sides of the house and the back yard was taken up much by and English garden complete with little paths through it and even a little herb garden.
This all seemed exciting when we moved in. They had taken good care of all the shrubs and perennials and they sure were pretty. We had more time then and it was fun to work in the garden out back. In fact, I even planted more things, adding some hostas, day lilies, peonies, and other flowers. At any given point, except in the dead of winter, you were sure to find something blooming around our house.
Like I said, it was fun to work in the garden ... for a couple of years. And then it became a lot of work. I had added too many things and it became a mishmash instead of an exquisitely designed landscape. After Evan was born, we weren't able to work in the garden much at all and it became horribly overgrown. We'd occasionally hires someone to help with it but it overwhelmed them as well. At one point I counted that we had something like 180 shrubs or trees to maintain on our relatively small city lot. It started as the Garden of Eden and then became the Garden of Eden on steroids ... and eventually became our own little slice of hell. We kept the curtains pulled so we didn't have to look at it.
About six years ago, we had some remodeling done to our home and, at that time, we eliminated a chunk of the garden out back. Last year, when we had the pool put in, we took the opportunity to re-do most of the landscaping. The English garden is gone. The herbs, which had turned into a large, mean weed patch, are gone. We still have a lot of beds but the plantings are smaller, well separated, and easier to maintain.
One of the biggest challenges in making these changes was eliminating the English Ivy which had growth throughout the shrubbery beds on basically three sides of the house. Okay, it had also grown up the walls of the house. It was beautiful but you couldn't stop the stuff. A couple of years earlier, we had tried to hire someone to get rid of it but he didn't know what to do. He walked away and said it would be very hard to get rid of the ivy.
But last year, the landscaper we had work for us, was up to the challenges. He weed whacked all of the ivy down to ground level and then sprayed the dickens out of it with Agent Orange or something. Twice. One thing he had to watch, though, was that he did not spray it too close to the shrubs. Of course, the ivy had grown into the shrubs, determined to use its viney tentacles and choke the shrubs out of existence.
Overall, he was successful, though. Most of the ivy is gone. Bits and pieces of it pop up now and then and there are still a few shrubs where it has a stakehold in their bases. In those areas, we still have our work to do. So, usually every week or so this year, I go on patrol around the house with my humongous jug of RoundUp, spraying everything in site that does not belong. Back when we had the gardens still in place, I hated killing things that sprang up. That is largely why they became so overgrown. Now I rather enjoy the killing.
I have seen, though, that killing the English Ivy is difficult. Those Brits are a tough, stiff-lipped lot, you know. Sometimes I swear I can hear the ivy chanting "...never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in..."
I have to spray each little start of ivy at least three times if not four or five with RoundUp before it will start to succumb to my chemical sabotage. I suspect that it will be many years down the road and I will still be doing this. It seems like I can't so much kill the stuff as make it ... well, uncomfortable ... until it eventually gives in. For a period of time during this process, it seems to dig in deeper, determined to beat me ... but eventually RoundUp wins.
I know ... this is a bad habit of mine but I have been trying to make a religious analogy out of all of this and finally I have stumbled across it. I think that, to a large degree, our job as Christians is not to try to overwhelm or attempt to stomp out things in this world that are not Godly but rather to make them uncomfortable and drive them to a process that only God can work through. Build the relationships with both believers and unbelievers and then get to the point of where you can ask challenging questions ... questions designed not to squelch or overwhelm but just to make them uncomfortable. Make them think about their beliefs, their conditions, and their current situation. Challenge them in ways that eventually lead to a demise of things not of God and a proliferation of His love, justice, mercy, grace and salvation.
So, I am going to try to look at my life more that way. At first, it drove me nuts that I had to spray the ivy several times in order to kill it. But now I am seeing that making it uncomfortable is effective eventually, without coming on too strong and, in essence, losing ongoing points of contact too quickly because I drive it away.
(All that said, when you encounter someone in a stake of brokenness and humility, bringing them comfort and hope is critical. Jesus brought comfort to those who were searching ... but he asked the uncomfortable of those who thought they had it all together.)
As we approached this trip, I don’t think that any of us knew exactly what to expect. One of the common comments I made leading up to the trip was that perhaps it was more about my own heart shaping than any impact we could possibly have.
You see, I remember very specifically a number of years ago when in a moment of complete honesty I had commented to someone that I had some bias against Hispanics and in particular Mexicans. This had come as the result of experiences I had when I was younger and traveling to Texas frequently on business.
Obviously, I don’t know about anyone else but I wonder if many of us don’t have a group of people that we don’t have the best feelings toward. It could be another race or ethnic group or maybe this year in particular it’s the liberals we don’t like or the conservatives we don’t like. Maybe it’s country concert attenders. I don’t know. It usually comes out in statements like “well, they reap what they sow” or “if only they weren’t so lazy”
In essence, what I had done in my mind was strip Mexicans of their worth and value as God’s children because I had relegated them to a lower level than myself. Not an easy thing to admit but it is what I had done
So when the idea of the trip to Mexico came up and God kept impressing on me that I was supposed to go, I felt like Jeremiah Wright’s statement – maybe my chickens were coming home to roost.
So, a bit nervously, I went on the trip … and we saw and heard things that maybe we never wanted to see and hear. We heard of things that really can be described as nothing less than evil. And we learned some of the pressures that have created the situations there. One of those pressures is Americans thinking that Tijuana can be this place where they can go and party and do things they wouldn’t do at home and somehow it is compartmentalized from their lives here in the states. We also learned that there are something like 12,000 adult films made in the US each year compared to something like 400 major motion pictures. Part of that industry involves folks trafficked out of the Tijuana area due to its close proximity to southern California.
And yet in the midst of that, we found and saw so many people there whose lives are completely devoted – and I mean absolutely completely devoted – to restoring hope and healing to those in Tijuana who are caught up in the things we were there to study. God is so anxious to make change there – to win over evil – and working so hard. There was no way that, after seeing how hard God is pursuing these people, I could ever have negative thoughts about them again.
I saw first hand how God really wants relationship with all of us – no matter race, heritage, political persuasion or taste in music. I hope, believe and pray that this trip redeemed me from ever again looking at a group of people and seeing them with anything other than love simply because they are God’s children, the same as me.
I want to share one other quick story with you … I tend to be an early riser. I’d wake up most mornings sometime around 5 and head out to the little courtyard area in the orphanage to read or reflect or do some writing. The second morning we were there, as I sat outside on a little curb and did some writing on my laptop, a little boy came up to me. He was maybe 4 or 5. He was really curious what I was doing so I showed him and then he started running around the courtyard collecting old Hot Wheels cars and bringing them to me to play with. We couldn’t understand a single word the other one said but yet somehow we connected and at the risk of being late for breakfast, I played with him for about an hour.
Throughout our stay there, he kept popping up, usually quite literally because I’d just be walking around and suddenly I’d get tackled from behind and there would be my little friend. He’d usually have a car or ball to play with or he’d lead me to the swing set where he taught me how he liked to twist the swing in a circle and then let it spin out. I asked Ed with our group to try to find out what his name was and all the little boy would tell us was “Hombre” which didn’t make a lot of sense because I think that means “man” in Spanish.
So, we started asking around and at one point someone told me his name was something that sounded to me like Azrael … I honestly don’t think that was even remotely his name but I liked it because it sounded like Israel which reminds me of God’s promise and that just sounded right for the name of this bright faced little boy.
A couple of days later though, Martha, the orphanage director, was talking about a little boy there who, as she said, wasn’t “right in his head”. I couldn’t believe it was Azrael she was talking about but yet it sounded like him. She said that he was the grandson of one of their cooks and came to the orphanage with her. She said that you can’t communicate with him … that he doesn’t understand what you say and the things he says back don’t make sense. I hate to say it but this sounded like the conversations we’d had with him trying to learn his name.
I spoke to Martha again later about Azrael and pretty much confirmed that we were indeed talking about the same little boy. She told me that they thought he had been mentally scarred by things he had seen as a young child. Keep in mind he’s only 4 or 5 now. My heart broke when she told me this. And it’s still broken for my little friend I left behind in Tijuana.
We saw lots of huge stories of redemption in Tijuana … I’d love to talk all day about them but, at least on this first trip, the one that really hits home with me is my own redemption – my own setting free – from prejudice. May I live in a new reality that allows me to better carry God’s hope, restoration, love, and Kingdom to the entire world.
“This is a persistent mistake, based on the medieval notion that the point of all religion – the rule of the game, if you like – was to make sure you ended up at the right side of the stage at the end of the mystery play (that is in heaven rather than hell)” (pg. 92) That is probably true of a lot of our persistent religious mistakes – that they are based on medieval or past notions. The medieval notions would keep us focused on what we do and even more what we cannot do. That is we cannot conquer sin. No, we need a Savior to set us free.
We humans like to do things ourselves. It’s all about me! I can hear Joyce Meyer squawking across the stage “What about me? – What about me? – What about me?” Really, what about you? Why do you believe in Jesus? Why did you submit your will to Him? Were you afraid of going to hell or did you see your brokenness and truly seek Him as your only possible Savior? The Savior, who can break the chains, can set us free and can make us truly whole. “We are offered freedom: freedom to experience God’s rescue for ourselves” (pg. 92) – what an invitation!
Wright would have us see Jesus as the bridge between Heaven and earth, between human and God, between this world and God’s kingdom, between our past and our future. Look into His writing about Israel and insert yourself. (Hey, maybe this is about you!) Jesus came to show us a different way, a revolutionary way to live. The Israelites wanted a King to set them free, bring back the good old days and fulfill the prophecies. Jesus brought them the stories and healings, the message to lead them to the freedom they sought. Two thousand years later are we truly hearing the message or are we still making the same persistent mistake of looking for what we want?
Questions to ponder on and discuss:
1. Why do you think it has gone “out of fashion”, if you would, to speak about hell in our churches? Do you believe in heaven and hell?
2. Do you believe Jesus was a revolutionary? How would you describe Him if you had to write “about the Jesus of our present experience” (pg. 95)?
3. A new world is described in this chapter, what do you imagine when your read that we are to “work at bringing it to birth on earth as in heaven.”(pg. 92)?
Chapter 8 – Jesus: Rescue and Renewal
The truth … the way … here someone has written the story so succinctly.
What an interesting insight into Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophecies: “Jesus seems to have combined the two interpretations in a creative, indeed explosive, way. The Servant would be both royal and a sufferer.” (pg. 107) The Jews wanted a king, a hero, not a martyr. How sad that day at Golgotha that it was the centurion, harden to death and suffering from his many years of killing, was one of the few who really heard and considered “maybe this man was God’s Son after all.” (pg. 111) Yet, here we are two thousand years later and we do believe, but still our own terms. God calls the Israelites stiff-necked and tells Moses to talk to them, least He might destroy them (reference Exodus 33:5). Have our necks relaxed any or are we still so sure of ourselves and our own ways today? ‘I am the truth.’
Thinking in terms of how Jesus thought and studied is an interesting take. Even further is the thought that Jesus was not aware of His destiny, but that through His studies He was able “to shape his sense of what he had to do.”(pg. 108) This gives a whole new mosaic to the pattern of call. Why would a human take on such a plan? Where would any human obtain such audacity to believe they were capable of such a task? What faith is this? The modern day questions of WWJD falls so short it seems comical by comparison of this pattern for living. ‘I am the way.’
In Wright’s context he uses this insight to help us understand why the disciples and followers of Jesus believed He was divine. This becomes so much deeper when you look at the martyrs of the following centuries; dying because they knew Christ was “the unique embodiment of the one God of Israel” (pg. 117).
The thought that all our sins were carried by Christ on the hours upon the cross overwhelms me. That is every sin from Eden to Babylon, to Auschwitz, to Hiroshima, to 9/11, to beyond eternity was placed within this pure sinless mind and God looked away. In all this, Christ cried out for the pain of God’s separation only. Then, He asked for our forgiveness. How can we make sense of this? I believe it comes down to love, just as Wright says in the final two paragraphs and just as Jesus gave in His new commandment. God calls each of us to be “one of those partners in love” (pg. 119).
1. Can you see any parallels between the Israelites expectations for the Temple of Jerusalem and the modern expectations upon the Church of today?
2. Wright gives God’s plan to rescue the world from evil on page 108. Does this fit with your beliefs?
3. In his Option Three, Wright sees heaven and earth as interlocked. How does that look to you?
Journey on Sidney First!
Well … maybe not. But I always wondered … my story seemed so boring. Did I really have anything that anyone would really care about?
You know that is kind of interesting though because I have talked to many others who also feel like they missed out on something by having their transformation to living in the Kingdom be a process rather than a cataclysmic event. Of course, funny thing about that … most of those who did have a much more dramatic event will tell you that they’d give anything to have their story have been more of a process one – to not have endured the pain and broken relationships and other things that led up to some cataclysmic spiritual rebirth for them.
I really had to think about it a great deal as we were asked for this meeting to come up with some specific stories that God has given over the years which are uniquely ours but are stories that may be helpful when encouraging someone else on their faith journey.
I had prayed on my own before but I had a public proclamation of my faith at age 11. But afterward, nothing much happened. Life pretty much stayed the same. I was a fairly well behaved kid before and a fairly well behaved kid after. And that’s all I thought there was to this Christianity stuff. Seemed pretty simple to me. I ended up always seeing God as an unapproachable judgmental deity. I had no clue that He sought a personal relationship with me.
That part of my story is proof of the importance of discipleship … you don’t necessarily get from Point A to Point B without a guide. And that’s one of the stories I can share with others now … all the years I spent even after my salvation but not really “getting it” … not really living in the hope that God has reserved just for me. Those years were an opportunity for someone to engage me and encourage me in a more personal walk with God but it never happened.
In my college days there were probably even points when I would have told someone I was agnostic had they asked … but no one did ask. I went to one of the most “Christian” colleges around and no one ever asked where I was on a faith journey. Can you believe that? Just another reminder for us all to engage others … to come alongside them.
And yet, through all of that, God kept pursuing me … I felt this spiritual void that I knew needed to be filled.
Then after college, life happened. Marriage … busy job … running here and there … and still I didn’t have a clue that God was seeking me … that He was more than this judgmental deity that wanted to someday give me either a red light or a green light to get into heaven (sort of like getting into Mexico.)
When Evan came along, I knew that I had to step it up. I realized I was supposed to be spiritual head of my family. And it was no longer about just my own salvation … it was about my son’s salvation as well … that really pushed me back to the church to try to figure things out. That happening is a big part of the story God has given me I believe. I have told that story several times to young parents and it always seems to move them to at least some degree.
A few weeks ago I sat next to a young couple on a plane and they were obviously very proud of their month old daughter. But it also became apparent to me they weren’t married. I talked to them some and actually gave them a gift of a little money and told them to go out – just the two of them – for a nice dinner and focus on their relationship because they needed to present a positive model for that little girl. I hope that they followed through and did just that.
So, anyway, after Evan came along and God convicted me that there had to be more, I started nosing around the church some and thankfully, I found people who wanted to come alongside me … and I found people who were hugely inspiring and encouraging …
And, though I still have so very far to go, for the first time in my life as all this started to take shape a few years ago, I realized that God wanted to be more than just my judge. He wanted to be in relationship with me and He had a call on my life. That Spiritual void I had felt for probably 25 years was suddenly melting away. It wasn’t a matter of reaching some sort of perfection so I could get the green light … it was instead always seeking God.
So, today how do I live out my faith … where do I see my calling? A part of that right now is in the Marketplace, running a business where everyone in it wants to have a positive impact the world and everyone we encounter. That’s real important to me to have a business that is aligned with God and where He wants it to be.
You know one thing I did almost two years ago … I turned all of the hiring at my business over to God. I don’t advertise positions anymore. I find that God just brings me people with great hearts when I need them … it’s incredible … and also part of my story.
Another thing that I see as a God story on my life … something that gets me some raised eyebrows whenever I share it … look at me for a second -- middle aged … overweight, pear shaped or whatever … don’t exercise enough … have what should be a pretty stressful career … have a long history of high blood pressure and cholesterol in my family … and yet when I go to the doctor, they can’t believe my numbers. Now I know that not all believers are so lucky but I believe this is part of my story … the inner peace I have about life … the priorities I have developed … the confidence knowing that my worth comes from God not man … those are the things that I believe keep my BP and cholesterol in check. Will they catch up with me some day? Oh probably. I need to get serious about exercising but the fact is, God has given me a huge story through that … Don’t get me wrong, I do not believe that He wants me to be so physically out of shape but I do believe that, for my personal physiology, it is the indwelling Holy Spirit that keeps me in as good of shape as I am in.
So, no, maybe I have not had what would seem like a dramatic conversion. No Jerry Springer to Robert Schuller story. It has been more of a process but even in that God has given me stories that I can share with others in real community and relationship … that can resonate with them, and bring them into spiritual-focused conversation with me where hopefully God can grow His Kingdom.
Now, in this presidential election year, I find myself forced to start paying more attention to politics. And I have a lot to catch up on.
It's funny, though, the other day I was telling someone that my political views have shifted some over the years. They assumed that what I meant by that was that I have become more conservative.
They were surprised when I shared with them that actually my shift has been more toward the center ... because I could not have gone further right than I was before.
But more than anything, I have discovered that I hate political labels. Conservative or Liberal. Left or Right. Blue or Red. Why must we reduce our political views to be so polarized? It doesn't make sense to me. How do you reduce something so huge as public policy down to two extremes? The end result is that these labels end up representing a wide variety up things, and it really bugs me to think that we must separate folks into one group or the other.
I recently traded FaceBook messages with an old college friend (actually she's my age but it's been years since we were in college) and she told me that, over the years, she has struggled with this as well. Here's what she wrote: "I had to explain to people how I could be a far right wing-evangelical-charismatic...pacifist."
It is weird. I find myself quite conservative in the areas of fiscal and economic policy as well as on abortion ... but my ever-emerging heart for injustice draws me toward the center or even the left.
But there's no place for me.
Our culture forces candidates to adopt the fullness of one stance or the other -- Liberal or Conservative ... nothing in between allowed.
Does that bother anyone else?
Then it hit me ... I had breakfast scheduled with Dan at 6:30. Hmmmm ... Shave, shower, get dressed, and drive to Bob Evans in ten minutes. Wasn't going to happen.
In the midst of dashing about wildly, trying to keep my still groggy body from crashing into walls ... or the floor, I thought back to my college days when I would always schedule early morning classes. I just liked getting classes out of the way. "Who needs em?" I always figured. "Get classes out of the way early and then move on."
Fortunately I lived on a small campus. I got it down to the place where I could get up, shower, dress, and be to class in ten minutes. (I didn't have to shave every day back then.) How close could I come to that this morning?
Well, I figured I could skip shaving. I'd go for the macho look today. (heehee) I would move as quickly as possible. If I was lucky and didn't get behind any slowpokes, my drive to Bob Evans would be seven minutes.
Well, it took me about 15 minutes to get out the door. And the drive went pretty quickly. I texted Dan (I know -- not very safe) on the way to let him know what was up. I didn't want to call him just in case he was perhaps still at home ... I didn't want to wake his kids. Of course, Dan is ALWAYS on time so I should have known better than to think that was a possibility.
Anyway, he granted me grace and warmly welcome me when I arrived about 15 minutes late.
But my time this morning in which I'd hoped to pray and read and prepare for our meeting was gone. God worked through that though and my meeting with Dan was productive and good.
I felt God in this ... he wanted to bring me rest. Much needed and much welcomed rest.
I have not written about this on my blog yet though many good friends know about it. I am still not ready to write about it yet but Lisa and I are really searching for God right now. We're going through one of those uncertain, scary times that we all are bound to have now and then especially as we get older. God has shown up many times along the way ... continually in fact through the actions and thoughts and prayers of those who are walking through this with us.
But yet this process has involved a lot of waiting. And that has been frustrating. What has comforted me is knowing that God is probably frustrated by the waiting too. He may be doing great things during this time but I know that, if my son were in a similar situation, I would be frustrated by the waiting. God, I am certain, shares our frustration and our pain and worry during this time. He takes it all ... and the Holy Spirit working through God's people continually reminds us to give it to Him.
I will bring you all up to date on this later but for now, I am thanking God for the rest he provides ... and for the presence of a good friend who granted me grace so that I could have that unexpected but much need and much refreshing rest. Thanks Dan.
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Do you ever wonder if you're pious enough, good enough, perfect enough or spiritual enough to be a Christian? Do you ever look at other Christians and wish you could be more like them? But then do you go back to real life and get caught up in a life that is messy, hectic and imperfect?
If so, welcome to my life.
I think that is why a book I just finished -- "Messy Spirituality" by Michael Yaconelli -- quickly became one of my favorite books. Full of stories of what it really looks like to live out faith in the real world, this book reminds you that Jesus was not a fan of the Pharisees. It reminds you of the parable of the vineyard workers, each receiving the same pay regardless of how long they worked. It reminds you of the their dying on the cross and receiving redemption. It reminds you that God loves us all and seeks hard and long after a relationship with us. We as Christians talk about following hard after God. I have used that phrase a lot. In the words of my great uncle Vince, though, "Fuhgeddaboutit!" God is the one who follows hard after us.
"Messy Spirituality" is easy to read but yet you want to linger with each page and each unfolding story.
Read this book. Buy copies for your friends. Give copies to those who are trying to figure out what this faith thing is all about. This book will make you laugh, cry, think, be encouraged, and give yourself a swift kick in the pants. All on the same page.
"...spiritual growth is more than a procedure; it's a wild search for God in the tangled jungle of our souls, a search which involves a volatile mix of messy reality, wild freedom, frustrating stuckness, increasing slowness, and a healthy dose of gratitude."
Chapter 5 – “God”
In the first four chapters of “Simply Christian,” Wright presents the picture of how God creates four “echoes” that resonate in each of us –
• The Longing for Justice
• The Quest for Spirituality
• The Hunger for Relationship
• The Delight in Beauty
In Chapter 5, he examines how God intersects with humans. He looks at how God’s space (heaven) and our space (earth) interact with one another. He presents three possibilities for this:
• Pantheism – The two worlds (heaven and earth) are basically the same. God is everywhere and everything. One manifestation of pantheism is multi-goded paganism such as the Greeks having a god for just about everything. This philosophy though has no room for evil -- if God is everywhere and everything, how can evil exist?
• Separation (Deism) – God is out there but completely separate from us. He has no desire for connection with us. This does not explain God’s working around us and it also leaves man devoid of hope.
• Interlocking (Theism) – The third possibility Wright expounds on is the one he supports – that God and man (heaven and earth) overlap and interlock with one another.
Here are words from page 65:
“This sense of overlap between heaven and earth, and the sense of God thereby being present on earth without having to leave heaven, lies at the heart of Jewish and early Christian theology. … for the ancient Israelite and early Christian, the creation of the world was the free outpouring of God’s powerful love. The one true God made a world that was other than himself, because that is what love delights to do. And, having made such a world, he has remained in a close, dynamic, and intimate relationship with it”
• What is there to your “story” – your faith journey – that has allowed you to see and embrace the concept of a God who strives to intersect in intimate relationship with His people?
• How does your belief in this area affect how you live? How do you carry your story out to the world?
Chapter 6 – “Israel”
From page 71 – “It is fundamental to the Christian worldview in its truest form that what happened in Jesus of Nazareth was the very climax of the long story of Israel.”
Throughout the story of Exodus, there was this going back and forth of God’s people. They would try to follow God but then they would get in the way of themselves. Self-importance would separate them from God. Their history involved moments of exile and homecoming with the Temple – the place where they saw the intersection of God and man as occurring.
God assured His people – all people – of His faithfulness to them and of final restoration of His Kingdom. But how was God going to reunite with His creation – what He loved most? He sent Jesus to intersect with us, be among us, and fix us from within by paving a way for redemption and grace. Wright attests that Jesus’ arrival was the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel.
• How does the story of Israel relate to your own faith journey?
• How is Jesus in your life a fulfillment of God’s promise of faithfulness to you?
• What calling does God’s faithfulness to you place on your life?
First, some background information. N.T. “Tom” Wright is the Anglican Bishop of Durham. He was educated at Oxford and is considered as one of the leading New Testament scholars in the world today. He is as much a historian as a theologian in that Wright believes that to understand Christianity, one has to understand the Old Testament, first century Judaism and the early church.
Simply Christian is broken up into three sections. In section one, Wright looks at four “Echoes of a voice” that each hear—
• The Longing for Justice (Chapter One)
• The Quest for Spirituality (Chapter Two)
• The Hunger for Relationship (Chapter Three)
• The Delight in Beauty (Chapter Four)
These four Echoes are “universal intuitions” that each of us hear. They have been distorted though because the Voice is heard through our own line of personal defenses that we have to protect us from the outside world. As a result, justice, spirituality, relationships and beauty have been distorted and we fill our longing with versions of the four echoes that are less than they ought to be.
Alright. On to Chapter Three and Four….
Chapter Three—Made For Each Other
“It seems that we humans were designed to find our purpose and meaning not simply in ourselves and our own inner lives, but in one another and in the shared meanings and purposes of a family, a street, a workplace, a community, a town. A nation.” (pg. 31).
We were made for relationships. Life together. Community. The person who avoids relationships—the loner, the hermit, the recluse—are seen as unusual because they separate themselves from that which we all know deep in our being that we need—relationships.
Thus from the most intimate relationship (marriage) to those on the largest scale (national institutions) we find the same thing: we all know we are made to live together, but we all find that doing so is more difficult than we had imagined.” (pgs. 33).
Yet while we know the importance of relationships and regardless of whether we are “extroverts” or “introverts” we all long to be known by someone, we also know that relationships are incredibly difficult. Look at any the relationships you have with your family, your friends, your neighbors and your colleagues. Failed marriages. Dysfunctional families. Betrayed friendships. Politics at work. Are any of your relationship easy? How could something so desired, so longed for and so important to understanding who we are be at the same time so difficult, so damaging, so painful and mind-numbingly hard?
“Relationship was part of the way in which we were meant to be fully human, not for our own sake, but as part of a much larger scheme of things. And our failures in human relationship are thereby woven into our failures in the other large projects of which we know in our bones that we are part: our failure to put the world to rights in systems of justice, and our failure to maintain and develop that spirituality which, at its heart, involves a relationship of trust and love with the Creator” (pg. 37).
Wright ends his chapter with hope—It is only Christianity that shows us a God that loves healthy relationships. God is in relationship with Himself—God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. God desires relationship with God’s Creation and that model of health is what God desires for us both with God, with ourselves and with one another. “The voice is reminding us of who we really are. It may even be offering us some kind of rescue from our predicament…” (pg. 38).
Questions to think about—
1. How have the following relationships formed who you are today, both good and bad—
a. Your parents or guardians from when you were a child—
b. Your siblings—
c. Your Spouse or significant other—
d. Your Friends—
2. What is the most important relationship in your life today? What about that relationship makes it so important? How difficult is it to maintain that relationship?
Chapter Four—For the Beauty of the Earth
In 2002, Julie and I renewed our wedding vows. Our original wedding day was a wet, overcast event in which two very young and “in love” people committed themselves to something bigger than they either imagined. I had just graduated from college (barely) the week before and Julie really didn’t get to plan her wedding the way she would have wanted. It was beautiful and tasteful yet it was not what she had envisioned for that special day.
So on a beautiful spring morning in an outside garden service, Julie and I recommitted ourselves to the vows we had made ten years earlier. It was amazing. Julie was stunning in a simple white gown and hair up in flowers with curls hanging down framing her deep blue eyes. Samuel walked her down from the back door of the church to the garden of tall trees that shaded the area from the morning sun. Noah carried the second ring we found for the occasion and Emma tried her best to drop flower pedals for Julie to walk on. I was a little thinner in the waste (and the hair) than I was ten years earlier. Dear friends from seminary (whom we had spent the past five and a half years living life together—see the previous chapter) were there to celebrate with us and one of my favorite professors performed the ceremony.
It was beautiful but now, six years later, the beauty of that moment is gone. We have lots of photos and videos taken by neighbors. Yet in all of the photos and all of the video, nothing can capture the beauty of that day and that moment. Even in that moment though, we were left wanting more beauty.
Wright talks about the “transience of beauty” (pg. 40). A photograph, a recording, a book, a painting, a play, a film—all of these things are flashes of beauty that fade away. Wright says that beauty always leaves us wanting more. Beauty is “the sense of longing, the kind of pleasure which is exquisite and yet leaves us unsatisfied….The world is full of beauty, but the beauty [itself] is incomplete” (pg. 40).
Wright suggests that we know, deep inside, that this beauty is fleeting and transient. But at the same time, we deeply long for a beauty that is permanent and lasting. Paul says that permanence is coming and today we see things through a dimly lit mirror but someday, “we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely” (1st Cor. 13:12). Wright says that God promises to complete what God began “The beauty of this world will be enfolded in the beauty of God—and not just the beauty of God himself, but the beauty which, because God is the creator par excellence, he will create when the present world is rescued, healed, restored and completed.”
1. What did you experience this week (see, touch, smell, hear) that was beautiful? How does that compare with the most beautiful thing you have experienced?
2. Have you ever longed for beauty? What is it like? What is it like to experience beauty knowing that it won’t always be the way you experienced it for the moment you were there?
3. How has that beautiful thing, not lost its luster but left you longing for more beauty?
Here is the first guide, covering Chapters 1 and 2. Additional guides will follow over the next few weeks.
“The art of being gentle – of kindness and forgiveness, sensitivity and thoughtfulness and generosity and humility and good old-fashioned love – have gone out of fashion. Ironically, everyone is demanding their “rights,” and this demand is so shrill that it destroys one of the most basic “rights,” if we can put it like that: the “right,” or at least the longing and hope, to have a peaceful, stable, secure, and caring place to live, to be, to learn, and to flourish. Once again people ask the question: Why is it like this? Does it have to be like this? Can things be put to rights and if so how?...we can say that the reason we have these dreams, the reason we have a sense of a memory of the echo of a voice, is that there is someone speaking to us, whispering in our inner ear – someone who cares very much about this present world and our present selves.” (page 8, 9)
SCRIPTURE – Matthew 5 NLT
“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. 4 God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth. 6 God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice for they will be satisfied. 7 God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
• Where does our sense of justice come from and how do my rights fit into God’s whispers for this reality?
• Where does the life of Jesus fit in with our sense of and the fulfillment of justice?
“’The hidden spring’ of spirituality is the second feature of human life which, I suggest, functions as the echo of a voice; as a signpost pointing away from the bleak landscape of modern secularism and toward the possibility that we humans are made for more than this.” (page 20)
SCRIPTURE – Matthew 10 NLT
28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
• How does your spirituality tell you that you were made for more?
• Jesus promises rest for our souls. If you experience that on a normal basis, what is it that gets you there?
• How does or should Christian spirituality affect making things right in the world?
But somehow I believe that the cream always rises to the top. God has laid particular things more heavily on the hearts of certain members of our team. Those are the things that, in our future discussions, will rise to the top, fuel our passion and burden, and play huge roles in our discernment process.
One thing that, for me, keeps coming up is the power of the Holy Spirit. We saw this so alive in Tijuana. From the fervency of their prayer and worship to the passion of their burdens to the early signs of linking-up between ministries to the amazing ways in which we had opportunities to speak with the people we spoke with ... the Holy Spirit is flowing in Tijuana.
I occasionally like to visit an interesting site called friendlyatheist.com. They have some great discussion from time to time and it is fun to see what is fueling their thoughts and beliefs. Occasionally I have been known to weigh in and post some comments but most of the time I just lurk ... realizing that if my faith is going to be of the depth God wants it, I must be willing to be challenged and work through any remaining questions I have.
There is one particular topic I have seen come up in their discussions a couple of times that really intrigues me. In fact, I brought it up once in one of my comments. That is the discussion of why atheist groups do so very little in terms of compassionate outreach to those in need.
In the discussions, it seems that many atheists feel pain for those in need but they just can never get it together as a group to try to address the needs of others. I am sure there have been fleeting exceptions to this but, as a general rule, they themselves have expressed their recognition of this as a problem. It's as though, individually, they all feel the "moral compass" that CS Lewis wrote about in Mere Christianity but they just can't quite pull it off to work together in unison and accomplish something great and lasting.
The missing component, of course, is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is what interweaves itself amongst Christians, inspiring, challenging, encouraging and powering them to do great things ... to respond to needs ... to reach out with God's love, care and compassion.
So, as our Mexico Vision Team begins to sort through what we learned, seeking the Holy Spirit is critical. Its power and presence are there. Through His Spirit, God is alive and well in Tijuana. We need only seek and follow the Spirit.
Yes, that is sometimes easier said that done but God always paves the way and provides the leading for His will and wishes.
May we seek and follow Him well.
I would not say that I ever painted all folks with Mexican heritage with the same brush ... I hope I did not. But still, overall, not the greatest feelings remained in my heart. It has been several years but I remember even telling some people at one point about these feelings. They were a serious issue for me and, even if I hadn't actively thought about them for many years, they remained a serious unresolved issue for me.
God sought to change that.
When the idea of a trip to Tijuana came up and God began stirrings in my heart that He just wouldn't let loose of, it was obvious that my chickens had come home to roost. God had things to teach me. I was going to have to face old prejudices head-on. I knew that, out of that, God wanted to knock those things out of my life forever. I hope and pray that has been the case.
Prejudice is a terrible thing. It stands in the way of relationship building but yet living in community relationships is a big part of where God calls us. It creates a hardening of the heart which can bleed over to all sorts of things. Cognitively, I knew all this but yet God used the trip, and the events leading up to the trip, as ways to show me the cold spots in my heart ... and shape me for a better future.
One thing that hit me as we met with various ministries and leaders in the Tijuana area was that theirs is a message of and a calling to redemption not condemnation. Whereas I had slipped into condemnation mold, denigrating an entire population in my mind, we only saw attitudes reflecting God's grace and love on the part of those we met with.
Of course, it's relatively easy to be grace-filled when you're referring to the victims of crime and injustice but even when these folks spoke of the perpetrators of horrible crimes, it was still done with a redemptive hope, not a condemnation. That is a hard thing to do.
It is hard to feel anything but anger toward those who support and profit from human trafficking and the sex trade ... our human natures want us to condemn ... we hear stories of abuse that make our blood boil and we feel like we could go out and enact a little vigilante justice -- a little abuse on the abusers.
But yet those are, just like ourselves, individuals where God's redemptive power can do great things.
As the result of this trip, I hope that my heart has softened, old prejudices have left forever, and I am better able to carry God's message of redemptive grace wherever I go ... the same redemptive grace that saved me.
What do you think? I have made a comment on his site. Again, what do you think?
I wrote some about it yesterday but I think that, as we return to our "normal" lives, all of us who spent last week in Tijuana studying the human trafficking issue will be dealing with a couple of the same things.
First is what role is God calling us to in all of this? The other thing I think we will be dealing with is guilt -- who are we that we should live lives so far different from the others we saw involved in ministering to the various situations in Tijuana? I have really been struggling with that this weekend. Immediately upon my return from Tijuana, I was able to get away for a nice weekend with my family. Unfortunately, that is not so easy for ministry folks in Tijuana who often find that, if they're not there, their ministry is disrupted.
Lots of thoughts go through my head ...
To whom much is given, much is expected.
God blesses those who serve Him well.
It takes all types to make up the unified Body.
God holds us and brings us to the points from where He expects us to do ministry.
God has gifted us all individually.
But, as I think about these things, it is hard to distinguish thoughts pertaining to them that are truly of God from thoughts that are just my own sinful nature trying to justify where I am at and what I am doing. If you look at any of my thoughts, you can clearly see not only a spiritual slant but a selfish slant as well.
Of course, the guilt that wracks me since the trip pertains to my question of "Why should I be so blessed?" But what I am referring to with that are what we perceive as "blessings" according to man's view. As we saw last week in Tijuana, those who are truly living 100% out of that spot where they have given it all up and God is the only thing sustaining them ... well, they have a much different view of what "blessings" really are.
Yes, I am much blessed in the eyes of man but maybe they are entirely different kinds of blessings that God offers us. The things that, in man's eyes are "blessings" actually may be curses in God's eyes, evil things designed to distract us and pull us off task to accomplish His work. While I look at folks doing ministry in Tijuana and feel they are trapped in horrible situations, perhaps it is actually I who am the trapped one -- trapped by the things of man that keep me from living the life God intended.
I like the Colossians 4 scripture above because I do believe that God opens doors for us to do ministry from wherever we're at. We need to always be prepared to separate ourselves from wherever we're at in life and do that ministry.
From a personal standpoint, as I continue to reflect on my time in Tijuana, there is one recurring theme which keeps coming to me and that is that the current situation in Tijuana is a story which must be told. We cannot be a body united for common cause there until the story is out -- until God has reached those He is calling to this area of the world and to these issues with a common message and common information that has left them burdened and equipped to act.
For now, though, as in Colossians 4:2, I think the key is in devoting ourselves to prayer, remaining watchful ... and thankful .. and wondering what "blessings" really are ... what "blessings" are actually things we need to escape.
You have to check it out. It's always refreshing to read spiritual sites that are very open about our own faults, brokenness and general screwiness.
We all were deeply affected by what we saw and heard on our trip. We felt moved to the point of action. But how do we live that out once we're back home where we already feel pushed to the limit ... by family commitments, jobs, volunteer work, and ministry involvement? Her question really becomes the crux of the issue once we get back home. God brought us to Tijuana for a reason. One reason certainly was to bring about change in our selves perhaps even first and foremost before change in Tijuana. But yet He has burdened our hearts with pain that calls us to do something for the situation there. How do we live that out in already very full lives where, particularly when it comes to family commitments, change or "downsizing" really isn't an option?
I am sure that God will call us all to different things as the result of this -- that is how the unified Body works. It may be amped-up prayer for Tijuana and the particular issues we learned about. It may be telling the stories we heard, raising awareness perhaps even world-wide. It may mean continued strategizing and discernment and developing a bigger mission in Tijuana -- finding God's vision. It may mean a return trip for some of us. It may mean welcoming Tijuana Christian Mission folks into our homes the next time they visit. Particularly for a young stag like Seth, it may even mean a development of a lifelong ministry to the oppressed of the world.
It will be really cool to see how this plays out ... how God works among and through us. But an important thing along the way will be continued encouragement for each of us to really seek out and act on exactly why God called us to through this trip.
As far as the personal change in my "self" that has been effected by this trip, I hope that it includes a renewed focus on living a life that is truly transformed in Christ and embodies what Paul wrote in Colossians 3:5-17 (NIV):
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
I do not understand it when I see Christian groups that argue with or discourage one another. Colossians 2 makes it very clear that we are to come under a common mantle. We may have some differences in theology but overall our goal is to be Christ-like and a huge part of that is loving one another endlessly and without reservation.
But that's the way the world is ... it doesn't always understand how God works and the importance of letting Him work. And that's part of the beauty and wonder and mystery of God.
One thing that struck me in Tijuana was the number of people who really have walked entirely away from family and friends to do God's work there. Though there are exceptions, generally folks in paid or vocational ministry here in the states do not have to just walk away from family to do what they're called to do.
But when you're called into the deepest darkness, seemingly even teetering on the brink of hell at times, people don't understand.
And yet so many folks we met in Tijuana still have responded to the call regardless sof the cost. And God is doing bright and marvelous things through them.
It makes one think about our lives here in the states ... how often we resist even gentle nudges to follow God's will ... even when doing so would bring us no real loss. But in Tijuana folks are giving it their all ... often at great cost. Because they know that all they really need is Jesus.
On Wednesday evening, as we met in the orphanage's chapel for their mid-week church service along with many who work and live there, Pam sang for us. Without any accompaniment, just the purity of her voice, we all realized that these folks who are giving it their all really are doing it right. They are realizing God's Kingdom here on earth. Because they know that they have all they really need. Here's what Pam sang:
In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise
Give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus.
You can have all this world,
Just give me Jesus.
When I am alone,
When I am alone,
When I am alone,
Give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus.
You can have all this world,
Just give me Jesus.
When I come to die,
When I come to die,
When I come to die,
Give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus.
You can have all this world,
Just give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus.
You can have all this world,
You can have all this world,
You can have all this world,
Just give me Jesus.
I greatly miss our team and others I met in TJ. I am so blessed here at home. it has been great to see Lisa ... still haven't seen Evan yet as he is sleeping in a bit.
As I think of seeing my own son today, I cannot help but think about my little buddy at the orphanage. I am calling him "Asrael" though I know that name is not correct. When Ed asked him his name, he said it was "Hombre". I know that name is not correct either.
Asrael is four years old and was about as joy-filled as could be. We chased each other around, played with cars and toys, and tossed a ball back and forth. He loved being thrown up and down and pushed on the swing. He does not live at the orphanage but his sort of step-grandma works there and brings him during the day.
We could not communicate due to the language barrier but, to me, he seemed like a perfectly normal four-year-old. But here's what's breaking my heart. Martha, the orphanage director, explained to me that he isn't.
When she first told me this, I didn't believe her. I was convinced that she had to be talking about a different little boy but then I talked to her about it again and there was no mistaking it, she was talking about my little buddy.
She said that he is "not right in the head." She explained that he is very difficult to communicate with, that you have to tell him something several times to have it get through at all. Of course, he and I didn't have that problem because we didn't understand each other regardless. He talked a lot though and he was very kind to me when I just kept having to explain that I don't speak Spanish. (wish I did though)
But here's the kicker. Martha said that they do not know what is wrong with Asrael but that maybe it stemmed from things that he saw when he was younger.
My heart breaks. For Asrael. For Tijuana. For God watching over His children.
But one thing really bothered me ... neither of them had a wedding or even an engagement ring.
I knew that I needed to engage them in conversation.
I found out that he used to be in the Navy and she still is. He is now an electrician working for a general contractor and hoping to get his own license someday. He is dealing with things that are affecting so many people -- higher gas prices, higher wire costs, and decreases in construction. But he was optimistic and in a great frame of mind.
Their daughter's name is Jazlon. The mom made it up. I am not sure what her name is. The dad's name is Rocky. Rocky's mom has already been out to San Diego to see the baby but they were really looking forward to getting the baby to St. Louis to show her off. Rocky's family is pretty small so babies don't come along every day.
Great people. I enjoyed visiting with them but the lack of wedding rings really bothered me.
I told Rocky that I thought they were going to make great parents. He leaned over and kissed Jazlon's mom. I led into what I'd been doing in Tijuana recently and "just happened" to mention that many of the problems we saw there seemed to stem from a breakdown in the family. Rocky was very quiet when I said that. I told him some of the stories we'd heard there. He said that he had only been to TJ once but that he'd been to Mexico a couple of other times since Jazlon's mom has family there.
Then God told me more what to do. As clearly as He has ever spoken to me ... He told me to give them a little gift. And that gift was to be a few dollars and tell them that they needed to leave Jazlon with grandma some evening while they were in Missouri and go out for dinner together.
This was not a lot of money but still money that we don't have to spare right now. But I knew it was what I was supposed to do.
I told Rocky that I knew they don't need the money but that it was important for them to have some time alone and that God had told me to give it to them. He accepted it graciously. I told him that, if he ever wanted to pay me back, he could do the same thing for someone else someday.
I was surprised by how graciously he accepted it. He did not try to refuse it and he was quite appreciative. That made things go very well. That was when he told me his name and shook my hand several times, wishing me the best with my travels.
I say this only to share how the Holy Spirit works. I'll never know but my prayer is that the whole purpose of this is that Rocky will propose to Jazlon's mom when they go out to dinner and that they will raise their beautiful daughter up to see a beautiful marriage. Please join me in this prayer.
I screw up so often ... not hearing God or ignoring Him. It's only by His power that I responded this time so I tell this story only to boast in God and how He works, and so you might join me in praying that this couple gets engaged while they are in Missouri and that they go on to model a great marriage for Jazlon to see.
I recently finished "The Shack" by William P Young. I really do not want to spoil this book by telling you a lot of details so I highly encourage you to read it.
Lisa read it first and I just thought of it as being a "chick book" and figured I would never read it. But she kept telling me I needed to read it ... so I did.
The Shack will challenge your ideas of who God is, how He works in this world, and the relationship He seeks with you. You will gain insight into just how much He loves you, how the Holy Trinity works, and why tragic things happen. You will catch glimpses of the Kingdom God wants us to be a part of.
In the end, you may not agree with all of the author's implications and ideas but I still assure you that you will be forever changed in your own understanding and approach to life.
Read it. Seriously. Read it.
First is "Does Anybody Hear Her?" Tijuana in Spanish means "Aunt Jane". Substitute "Aunt Jane" for "Her" in these lyrics:
She is running
A hundred miles an hour in the wrong direction
She is trying
But the canyon's ever widening
In the depths of her cold heart
So she sets out on another misadventure just to find
She's another two years older
And she's three more steps behind
Does anybody hear her? Can anybody see?
Or does anybody even knows she's going down today
Under the shadow of our steeple
With all the lost and lonely people
Searching for the hope that's tucked away in you and me
Does anybody hear her? Can anybody see?
She is yearning
For shelter and affection
That she never found at home
She is searching
For a hero to ride in
To ride in and save the day
And in walks her prince charming
And he knows just what to say
Momentary lapse of reason
And she gives herself away
If judgement looms under every steeple
If lofty glances from lofty people
Can't see past her scarlet letter
And we never even met her
She is running
A hundred miles an hour in the wrong direction
Next is a song we're all familiar with -- "Praise You In This Storm".
I was sure by now
God You would have reached down
And wiped our tears away
Stepped in and saved the day
But once again, I say "Amen", and it's still raining
As the thunder rolls
I barely hear Your whisper through the rain
"I'm with you"
And as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise the God who gives
And takes away
And I'll praise You in this storm
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am
And every tear I've cried
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm
I remember when
I stumbled in the wind
You heard my cry to you
And you raised me up again
My strength is almost gone
How can I carry on
If I can't find You
But as the thunder rolls
I barely hear You whisper through the rain
"I'm with you"
And as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise the God who gives
And takes away
I lift my eyes unto the hills
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord
The Maker of Heaven and Earth
As we all return to our homes, may we never return to "normal". May we forever hear the city of Tijuana -- Aunt Jane -- and may we never forget her, returning in one way or another. Though she may be running in the wrong direction, God has a plan. He has branded her on our hearts as well as on the hearts of so many others. And may we always praise Him in this storm just as we saw the many bright lights of Tijuana continuously praising Him.
I am anxious to continue our processing and our dialog.