Tag Archives: spirituality

The Settlers, Part Two.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about settlers, and I implied that there would be a second part. Well, after more thinking on the subject, here is the second part.

The word “settlers” has a couple of possible meanings. It could mean someone who follows in the footsteps of the pioneers and sets up camp when everything is safe. This was the angle I took in the first part if this blog. But there’s another possible meaning to the word settlers, that being the name given to people who settle for second best, or third best, or settle for the worst for that matter.

I wish I could say it wasn’t true, but when I look around myself, and when I look inward, I see an awful lot of settling, an awful lot of “that’ll do.”

Before we were saved, the enemy used tactics like lust, greed, hate, envy, and lots of other seemingly obvious ways to tempt us. After Jesus saved us, we (hopefully) stopped falling for those things so easily, though we will still often struggle. So the enemy changed his tactics to a more subtle line of offense, that being to get us involved in all sorts of good things, so long as those good things were not the best things that God had planned for us. This allows us to feel good about ourselves while still being disobedient. It allows us to continue to put ourselves first, and our faith atrophies like an unused muscle because we ignored the call to the best things God had for us.

Before someone starts thinking that I’m suggesting something that is too hard, I want to point out one truth that has been proven to me over and over again. God almost always wants better for us than we want for ourselves. Our recurring problem is that we’re unable to see it, because being Americans we associate blessings with money and power and things. Well I would go so far to say that the person that God chooses to give nothing but material wealth is truly cursed beyond all men.

God is not looking for our good, he’s looking for our best. He’s not looking for sacrifice, he’s looking for obedience. God is not looking for perfection, otherwise he wouldn’t have chosen us to do his work. Rather he’s looking for excellence, and a willing heart. God is looking for people that see that even though we live in temporary bodies, we are eternal beings, and our decisions should reflect that fact. He is looking for people who are not willing to settle for second best.

I don’t know what God has called any one person to except myself. What I do know is that it’s a question I have to continually ask, because each time I take a step, the decision about the next step is brand new. Each man and woman needs to ask that question, and then have the faith to take that next step.

I’d like to finish with some verses from Hebrews 11, which sums up what I’m talking about. The chapter is talking about many people who lived by faith, and it’s summed up with the following verses.

Hebrews 11:13-16. “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.”

Just as the people spoken of in these verses had the opportunity to turn back, so we have the opportunity to do the same. But just as they were pilgrims and strangers on this earth, so are we, whether we recognize it or not. We have eternity written in our bones, and we were built for far more excellent things.

Making excellence from imperfect things.

Bringing about excellence from imperfect things.

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On Fathers, Children, And Lovers

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“We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.  And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.”

The book of 1st John sums up the love relationship between God and his people very well. There are various places in the bible where the love relationship between God and his people is described. In many places, we’re called children of God, but in other places the description is like that of lovers or a bride and groom. These seem like contradictory or even opposite descriptions of God’s love, but they’re not. I believe they do, however, tell more about our end of the relationship than about God’s.

I’ve heard lots of people say, “I’m a child of God.”  But what are we really saying when we say that?  Being a parent of three, I know a little bit about relationships between a father and his children. Children can be immature, selfish, manipulative, and needy. Despite all this, I love them unconditionally. Ephesians 2: 8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”  This is a great description of God’s love for us as a father for a child. I loved my kids unconditionally even when they had done nothing for me, and it’s the same way with God.  But if we stop there and just consider ourselves children of God, we’re really missing out. We’re saved through faith, but just as I love my kids even though they have all of the bad traits I listed, I hope that some day they will move out of that. In fact, if my children were thirty years old, living at home, and still only motivated by discipline and not by love and respect, I would know that there is something terribly wrong.  Children are motivated through love, but they also frequently have to be motivated through punishment and discipline. God disciplines those he loves, but I would hope there is more to it than that.  1st Corinthians says, “When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.”

The other description we get of our love relationship with God is that of lovers, or a bride and groom. In fact there’s an entire book of the bible, “Song of Solomon” that is, in addition to the literal meaning, an allegory of the relationship between God and man. This is the more perfect love that we have with God. Just as it says in the opening verse,  “If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.”  Children often behave out of fear of punishment. It is not the same thing with lovers. Just as no one needs to instruct lovers how to act towards each other, no one needs to instruct a lover of God how to act towards God, and consequently towards people, who are made in God’s image. These two types of relationships sum up how we can be saved by grace and not by works, but at the same time why works matter so much. This is the duality that is so prevalent throughout God’s word. Some would call it contradiction, but it is just our western minds trying to place a “this is true and therefore”, when so much of the time it is, “this is sometimes true, but sometimes the other, and other times both.”  It speaks so much more about us than it does about God. God loves us even before we know him, as a father loves children. As our love for God builds through faith, we become less and less like children. Our relationship with God is now not a one-sided relationship based on one giving and one receiving; on punishment and fear. The relationship is now based on  both giving and receiving, and on respect and bilateral love. This relationship is for adults.

The other thing about lovers is this; lovers sometimes do things that make no sense to anybody else. 1st Corinthians says, “Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.”  This to me is the most awesome and profound thing. How many songs have been written with words like “I would die just to be with you one more moment”?  At face value, this sounds, well, stupid.  It also sounds short sighted, naive, foolish, and probably mentally deranged. What could be that important?  But this is what lovers do. This is the relationship that causes the missionaries from 100 years ago to travel on ships with their casket in their luggage. (seriously). This is the relationship that causes people to give up everything and follow God; to put themselves aside for their Lover because, yes, it’s just that important to them. They do it because they find the place where they end, and their Lover begins. They find that the less of themselves there is, the more of their Lover there is, and foolish as it is to those who don’t understand it, it makes perfect sense to them. This is the kind of relationship that missionaries are built upon, and by God, this is the one I want. 

Anfechtung

“Mama told me, be good, work hard, and love Mr. God. Every Sunday I lie, trying to realize why. Ain’t nothing more to say, your honor. Don’t look at me like that. The truth is; I am a free man, but I can’t enjoy my life.  I came to a standstill, with lies and hopes inside my head. Always seemed to late to turn, and too soon to understand.” These are song lyrics from the band, Riverside. They cut to the core of the human condition.

This week I have been studying the concept of “anfechtung”. I would give you an english word, but unfortunately there is no direct translation. Translated literally, it means a trial or conflict. It is so much more than that, though. It is all the doubts, panic, turmoil, and desperation that invades the spirit of man. It is the isolation man feels; the need to be one with eternity while at the same time running from it. The source of the dichotomy is mankind being born depraved but created for the divine. It is the hole in the spirit that longs to be filled. I suspect that most of the readers here have some idea of what I’m talking about, unless you’re very young, in which case you’ll find out soon enough.

Anfechtung comes from man’s natural inclination to be one with God, but can be made worse by a number of things. Two of these things come from the church, and those are the things I am going to address. On one hand, you have a church that says, “Come on in as you are, bring your baggage with you. We love you, and who are we to say what is right and wrong? You feel free to stay the way you are.”

The other church says, “Feel free to come, but we have a strict set of guidelines, and a list of things that you’re going to have to take care of before we accept you into this body.”  One kind of church is permissive, the other is legalistic. One ignores truth, the other ignores grace. Note the line in the song, “it always seemed too late to turn, too soon to understand.”

1st Corinthians 13 finishes with “and now these three remain:faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” There is a reason these things are grouped together. They are like the ingredients of a recipe. Without all three, the other ingredients are useless.  Love without faith is a hippie, in the original sense of the word.  Faith without love is a terrorist. Either love or faith without hope rots the bones. Without faith, there is no hope.

A teenager in our community died recently, and his funeral was held at (we’ll call it a church). It was one of these churches where they hold no core beliefs. Your idea of who God is is as valid as anyone else’s. When the rubber hit the road, the only thing they could talk about were all the things this boy was destined to do, but now never would. There was no hope, because there was no faith. In an effort to not be offensive, the message of hope was lost. Love without faith leaves no hope. This is one place anfechtung comes from.

Anfechtung is an inclination in the human spirit to drive man to God. The church takes anfechtung and drives man farther away from God. It may not be intentional, but that is the effect.  Jesus words in Luke 17 say the following; “1He said to His disciples, “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! 2“It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3“Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4“And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

People who experience anfechtung are looking for answers. They recognize their own brokenness. They recognize their own aloneness. They recognize their own separation from God. Jesus further says in Matthew 23, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.”

People say that faith is a crutch. I fully take ownership of that. For those who think that, I challenge you to take ownership of your crutches as well, because everyone has them. In Ethiopia recently, one of the doctors I was with was thrilled to be able to treat so many different kinds of illnesses for the poor there. The reason he was happy to treat all these different maladies was that at his own practice, the most common complaint is, “Doc, I can’t sleep. Can you prescribe something for me?”

You can’t sleep because you are struggling with your own anfechtungen. Do you drink your crutch? Does your doctor prescribe it for you? Do you eat it? Do you buy it? What is your anfechtung’s name? If faith is a crutch, I am happy to live with it.

What I would like to see is churches that recognize the struggles, the anfechtungen that people have. I would like for people to be able to enter Christian fellowship knowing that they will be accepted the way they are, but that they, through the Holy Spirit, will be helped not to stay that way. That they can bring their baggage in the door and hopefully drop it at the altar and not leave back out the door with it. It’s time to get back to the basics, to put moral pablum and platitudes aside. It’s time to put permissiveness, relativism, and legalism aside and stop standing between people and God.

man in Sudan

 

Faithfulness. It’s Like Happiness, Only For Deep People

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God is looking for faithfulness and depth in His people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m not normally one to harp on a point, but the same day I wrote the blog, “And Please Give Me a Million Dollars and Huge Pectoral Muscles” about the American church and how we treat God as if He’s here to serve us, Victoria Osteen got up on stage and graciously drove my point home. Here is a link to the monologue. I’ve left the Bill Cosby quote on the end of it to cleanse the palate after such a disgusting display of self-centeredness.

This is preaching from a river so shallow I can’t even tell if it’s wet. This is what people with a feel-good Christianity eat up, and it’s why we have become so utterly ineffective at reaching those who don’t know Christ. If someone is living a life of hedonism and you offer them another kind of hedonism in exchange, what is the draw? Jesus came to set the captive free, not make him happy. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with being happy, but it is not the be all and end all, and it is certainly not the kind of depth that Christ has called us to. Following Christ for the sake of being happy is a faith that will fail as soon as its tested.

Here’s Matthew 5

1One day as he saw the crowds gathering, Jesus went up on the mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around him, 2and he began to teach them.

The Beatitudes

3“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,a

for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

4God blesses those who mourn,

for they will be comforted.

5God blesses those who are humble,

for they will inherit the whole earth.

6God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,b

for they will be satisfied.

7God blesses those who are merciful,

for they will be shown mercy.

8God blesses those whose hearts are pure,

for they will see God.

9God blesses those who work for peace,

for they will be called the children of God.

10God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,

for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

11“God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about youc and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. 12Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.”

Be happy about it when people mock and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things about you?  Is that what it really just said. It most certainly is. All of these things boil down to faithfulness.

Let me tell you what “happiness christianity” does. (small c in christianity on purpose). The amount of money embezzled by church leadership exceeds the total amount of money given to missions to save the lost each year in the United States. You heard that right. Try standing before God and answering that one. But taking that money makes me happy, right? Like the “preacher” Keith Moore said, “Jesus became poor so that we could be rich”. What’s a few dollars here or there that was entrusted to me to advance God’s kingdom?

I wish everyone had the opportunity to go to a third world country and live with the people there. I wish people could see the faithfulness I’ve seen that puts me to shame. They follow God whether they are happy or not. They follow God because He is God, not because He is Santa Clause. I will finish with verses from Revelation 3, from the letter to the church in Laodicia. We might as well replace Laodicia with America.

15“I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! 16But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! 17You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. 18So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. 19I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference.

And Please Give Me a Million Dollars and Huge Pectoral Muscles.

In the early 90’s cartoon, Ren and Stimpy, the cat and the dog are saying their prayers before bed.  As a very early aside, finding spiritual lessons in Ren and Stimpy proves that God can speak to you through virtually anything if you’re listening. Anyway, Stimpy prays first, “and please bless Grandma, and Grandpa”. After this, we hear Ren praying “and please give me a million dollars, and huge pectoral muscles.” Ridiculous?  More true to life I’d say.

Though the roles were reversed in the characters between the before mentioned cat and dog, there is a book called “Cat and Dog Theology”, by Bob Sjogren and Gerald Robison. No it’s nothing to do with actual cats and dogs or pet spiritism. The basic gist of the teaching is this;

A dog looks at his master and says to himself, “He feeds me, takes care of me, plays with me, grooms me, and spends time with me. Wow! You’re amazing! You must be God.”  The cat, on the other hand, looks at his “owner” and says, “He feeds me, takes care of me, plays with me, grooms me, and spends time with me.  Wow! I must be God!”  It sounds ridiculous until we realize that the second version is frequently our own theology. Though I find that the simple concept lying at the heart of cat and dog theology is spot on, the lessons themselves get a bit drawn out and overreaching. As King Arthur said to Sir Bedevere in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “Tell me again how one may utilize sheep’s bladders to prevent earthquakes.”  When you only know sheep’s bladders, you try to make them apply to everything. I found this with cat and dog theology. However, there were some fantastic points made, and so I still recommend either reading the book or listening to the lessons.

Cat people (people who think like cats, as opposed to people who like cats) read the Bible as if it’s a self-help book. Cat people don’t so much run toward God as run away from Hell. Cat people pray for blessing for the sake of their own blessing. They think that the Bible is written about us, and not about God. Cat theologians think that the Bible is written to bring glory to us. Cat people go to church for a social gospel. They go because it’s the proper social thing to do. They listen to sermons about what God can do for them, about how God wants to bless you.  While this last statement is true, half of it is missing. God blesses us so that we will pass on his glory to others, not so that we can accumulate those blessings in a stagnant cesspool of self-glorification.

Dog people, on the other hand, read the Bible and recognize that the book is about God, and that we are His servants, not the other way around. It is about less of us, and more of God. Dog people pray that God would use them to bless others. They run toward God because they love Him. They don’t run away from Hell, because they don’t fear it. They trust their God so much that they don’t need to fear Hell. Consequently they are effective missionaries. They pray that the lost would be saved. They believe in the great commission, which requires by design that we put ourselves aside to go to the uttermost parts of the earth and preach the gospel, facing hardship and possible persecution and even death because they know that no matter what happens, God will take care of them, whether it be in this life or the next.

Hebrews 11 sums up very well what it is that our faith is about.

“32 And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: 33 who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. 35 Women received their dead raised to life again.

Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. 36 Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted,[f] were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— 38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.”

They usually don’t preach the second part of these verses in church.  Sawn in two? Really?  Look in Iraq right now. The persecuted in Mosul are showing us what real Christianity is about. They would give up everything, whether it’s all their possessions to flee so as not to have to deny their God, or life itself as they are killed, and yes, sawn in two for not giving up their faith.

So I have to ask?  “What is wrong with the American church.”  What has brought us so far as to think that faith is about us? I listened recently to a sickening sermon by Keith Moore as he went on for an hour about how Jesus died so that we can be rich. How can someone read the scripture and so utterly miss the point? He actually says that Jesus would wear a Rolex if he were here in the flesh today. I read a news article a while back about how people who live according to this doctrine were now heavily in debt, because when the recession came, they didn’t want to look like they weren’t being blessed, and consequently had a crisis of faith when the recession hit. They went into debt to appear as if they were still blessed. They could have avoided the guilt had they realized that following Christ has nothing to do with having money, and has everything to do with following with a willing heart no matter what the external circumstances.

Let’s see what Luke 10 says. “After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also,[a] and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. Then He said to them, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves. Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road. But whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on it; if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you. And heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.”

He does not say, “Accumulate riches to the point that when you go out, you will not lack for anything.”  He only says to obey, and leaves us to trust God. Trust is easier when we take the focus off of ourselves and place it where it belongs- on God. Missions is not part of what the church does. Missions is the whole reason the church exists. It’s time we started living like it.

Does God love them any less because they're not wearing a Rolex?
Does God love them any less because they’re not wearing a Rolex?

But Enough About Me. What Do You Think of My Hair?

For a variety of reasons, pride has been on my mind lately. I spent most of my life thinking that pride was not really an issue, this despite the fact that it’s listed as one of the seven deadly sins in the Bible. (Proverbs 6).  But that is what someone who lives with pride tells himself. Over the past few years I’ve been realizing more and more how false this belief is, that pride is not an issue.  I was listening to Daniel Kolenda recently, who is an evangelist to Africa. He pointed out that Lucifer was a worship leader before God’s throne, and pride was what turned him into the devil. I had to listen to that again. This brings a new perspective on things. Someone at the very throne of God can give up his place in Heaven for the chance at glorifying himself above God. This is what pride does.

I believe my former opinion about pride is rooted in the false assumptions many of us hold about humility. People think of being humble and think of someone who is self-effacing, with a poor opinion of themselves. This is not what humility is, that is just poor self-worth. Humility is more about building others up, rather than tearing one’s self down, though in doing the first, you tend to think of yourself less, as opposed to thinking less of yourself.

C.S. Lewis has some great thoughts on the subject in the book, “The Screwtape Letters”. It’s a fantastic book that has volumes to reveal about human nature. I highly recommend it.  I’m paraphrasing because of the format of the book, but C.S. Lewis says,

“Men fix in their mind the idea that humility consists of a certain kind of opinion, namely a low one, of his own talents and character. He fixes in his mind the idea that humility consists of trying to believe those talents to be less valuable than he believes them to be. This adds an element of dishonesty and make-believe into the heart of what otherwise threatens to become a virtue. By this method, many people have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools. On the other hand, true humility consists of a state of mind in which a man could design the best cathedral in the world, and know that it’s the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more or less glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. God wants him to be so free of any bias in his own favor that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbor’s talents.  Humility also involves the doctrine that men did not create themselves, that their talents were given to them, and that they might as well be proud of their hair color than of some talent they have.”

This last part is particularly poignant for me.  It brings home the fact that every talent I have was given to me by God. I can choose to either use them for Him or not, but they have nevertheless been given to me by God. This gives me no room to look down on anyone else who has not been given the same gift, any more than they should look down on me for the gifts I do not possess.

A few additional thoughts of my own;

Humility seeks the good of others, pride asks only “how does this make me look?”  Humility seeks to release people in the gifts they are given, pride seeks to control.   Humility rejoices in the triumphs of others, pride seeks to undermine others.               Humility knows, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Pride forgets the second part. Humility attracts, pride eventually becomes repulsive.

I no longer think pride is not important.

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Spiritual and Other Gifts and Perspective

There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same[b] Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. 28 And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?31 But earnestly desire the best[d] gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.

The previous verses come from 1st Corinthians 12. Paul goes into depth about spiritual gifts. I saw a video this week of a fantastic exercise in perspective; a piece of art by Bernard Pras. In this piece of art, he takes a large number of truly random items and places them in what initially seems like a completely haphazard fashion. It looks like a pile of junk on the floor, and walking by that is what you would assume it is. But walk to the right place, and look through a frame that excludes the extraneous distractions outside the  pile of junk, and you see that this seemingly random junk is in fact a beautiful piece of art. Here is a link. You may have to copy it into a new window, but it’s worth it.

I have heard people say, I have this gift or that gift. But it says in the scriptures, “earnestly desire the best gifts.”  This goes for spiritual gifts, but also for all gifts and talents. I know people, and I myself have been given or developed through God’s grace talents and gifts that at the time seemed random or perhaps even useless in the grand scheme. But nothing is left to chance with God. We are all unique and all useful in completely different ways because we each have a different set of gifts. They are only random until God lines those gifts up in such a way that the perspective suddenly becomes clear, and when we are obedient and step out in faith, we find out that the gifts we sought were only random because we lacked the perspective and fore thought that God has, who sees the plan from beginning to end.

So when we are told to earnestly desire the greater gifts, what we are being told is to make ourselves more ready to be used by God for whatever plan He has, even though we are totally unable to see it. So get up, pray for gifts of Prophecy, or knowledge, or wisdom. Get out there and learn a new language, or develop that skill that God has put in your heart, but you’ve always told yourself you were too busy to do, or that other things were more important. God wants to use you.

So in conclusion, in the words of the Neil Morse song,

“God can change the world with just one willing soul
Who will stand up for the truth and give him starring
role
So come into the fullness and open up the door
Maybe it is you he’s looking for”

On the Road to Bulletproof.

In the past couple months, a lot has changed. One of the things is that I now get to watch from the outside the experiences of someone close to me as she prepares to go to Africa. The person I’m talking about is my wife.  We have decided to go to Kenya, (together this time). We will be going to visit a little girl we have been sponsoring for two years now, and for once I will be going to Kenya for the sake of going to Kenya, and not just on route to somewhere more remote.

I’m excited for my wife, even if she isn’t yet excited for herself. I’m excited because I know some of what’s in store for her. We went yesterday to get her first immunizations for going overseas; not a terribly pleasant process. It was at this point, after the second needle, that the gravity of what was going on struck her and it became an emotional and difficult experience. The needle wasn’t the problem, it was the anxiety that this was real, that she was going WAY out of her comfort zone and going somewhere totally unfamiliar.

What is it that makes memories? What is it that makes life exciting and worth living? Let’s for now just touch on the trying new things part of the answer to that question.  Why do so many of us have such fond and romantic memories of childhood?  It’s because as a child, everything is new, and consequently everything is exciting. Furthermore, we have only the memories going backward, without the anxiety of not knowing the future. Our memories have been expurgated of most or all of the bad things, because the bad things rarely ended up being as bad as we though they might be, but the good things usually ended up being at least as good as we expected.

Fast forward to adulthood, where most of us have gotten into a long pattern of doing the same thing day after day. Where we worry about the future, and even though in childhood our worst fears never came to fruition, we still worry about anything new. Consequently the excitement ends, and many of us never do anything new again. How boring a life does that make for us?  Not only boring, but ineffectual. We make decisions out of fear, or we avoid a decision out of fear. The fact is that almost all the time, a decision based on fear is the wrong decision. Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” Though I consider Nietzsche’s philosophy to be a mixed bag, I believe he was right in this. We forget this as adults. We avoid pain and difficulty and consequently we avoid growth.

So in this I am proud of my wife. I know how difficult this is for her because she is not an adventurous woman by any stretch of the imagination. We talked about going to a number of places as part of our twentieth anniversary, and out of all of them she chose the most difficult. And even as she gets her shots so she can get on the road to becoming bulletproof, and she can’t yet look back and see that it was worth it, she has chosen growth over fear.

Getting her first immunizations to go to Africa. Today was Hepatitis A, Yellow Fever, and Polio. Fun!!
Getting her first immunizations to go to Africa. Today was Hepatitis A, Yellow Fever, and Polio. Fun!!

The Man Who Doesn’t Exist

Yesterday was an election here. The idea of elections in general got me thinking. Every time a new round of candidates comes around, the question always comes up, “is he or she electable?”  What exactly does that mean? More often than not, it means, “is this person likely to offend the public in some manner?” Inevitably, this “electable” person ends up on the ballot, and more often than not, this person loses. Why?

The answer is incredibly simple. A person who stand for something; a person who stands for ANYTHING, is going to eventually offend someone. A person who stands for nothing and therefore offends no one is by nature and definition not a leader, and not worth following. A leader who offends no one is therefore a person that in fact does not exist.

Nevertheless, I’m not writing about politics. That’s not what this blog is about. I’m writing about missions, and I’m writing about Africa. Our culture in recent years has held not being offensive as a virtue. Being offensive is not in itself a virtue, as there are all kinds of reasons one might be offensive.  On the other hand, I would argue that not being offensive is a vice.  If you are not offending someone, it means that you’re doing nothing. We’ve become a culture where armchair moral authorities do nothing to make the world better, but feel good about a hashtag they put out to “bring our girls back”, in reference to the kidnapped girls in Nigeria. Let me tell you what a hashtag is. A hashtag is a way that people who do nothing, express their displeasure about something and hope someone else will do something about it. They haven’t offended anyone, but they also haven’t made the world a better place either. I’m digressing though.

I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine a while back. He said something along the lines of, “You don’t honestly think anyone will attack you if you’re there (South Sudan) helping people, do you?”  Now if you go off what you were taught in grade school, that if you’re nice to people, they’ll be nice to you, then that statement makes sense. If it were true, then it would be possible to stand for something and not offend anyone. Unfortunately, what I was taught in school is profoundly false. The world is simple, but people are complex. If I help someone, there are any number of reasons why someone won’t like it. People have enemies. Help someone, and their enemy puts a target on you. If you help one tribe, another will oppose you. Some people don’t want to be helped because it hurts their own pride for the situation they’re in. Some people are going to hate you simply because you’re white, and you look a lot like the British or Turkish or Arab former colonizers. People may oppose you because they’re there to help also, and think they have a corner on the market. There are so many reasons. If there was no such thing as pride, or jealousy, or fear, then the grade school advice would work much better. But the fact is that they do exist. South Sudan is second only to Afghanistan in violence against aid workers.

In Romans 12:18, the Apostle Paul writes, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”  The major caveat at the beginning expresses this fact, that no matter what you do, you will face opposition. The point is that one should not look to offend, but realize that if you take a stand it’s going to happen. So if you offend someone, pray about it and try to understand why they might be offended. There’s a good chance it’s because you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing.

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Where Time Touches Eternity

It’s wednesday, and there are only four days until I leave for South Sudan again. I’ve moved out of my malaise, and am now excited about the trip. I have part of my things packed, and will take care of the rest tomorrow.

man in Sudan
Don’t let fear of the future ruin both the present and your impact on eternity.

I’ve been reading C.S. Lewis this week, specifically The Screwtape Letters. There is such a tremendous amount of poignant observation of the human condition written in such a small text, and some of it is applicable to the common condition that links those in the west with those in South Sudan. That condition is how we see and respond to the past, present, and future.

I’m going to quote some of C.S. Lewis’s work, paraphrasing where needed so as to not have to explain the entire work to those who have not read it.

“The Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which God has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them. He would therefore have them continually concerned either with eternity (which means being concerned with Him), or with the Present- either meditating on their eternal union with, or separation from Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks in the present pleasure.”

“The human nature, however, makes all our passions point toward the Future, and inflames hope and fear. Also, thoughts of the future turn our minds to unrealities. In a word, the Future is, or all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most completely temporal part of time- for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays. Hence nearly all the schemes and vices of men are rooted in the Future, on the very core of temporality.”

So what does all this mean for us, and what am I talking about anyway?  So I think about the future. So what?

I used to be in the financial services business, and one thing that I was taught that helped me understand why people do what they do is this: “People are primarily driven by fear and greed.”  Now there may be different recipes for this two ingredient pie depending on your taste, but the effect is the same. People tend to make poor decisions based on those two things, either by the wanton lust to satisfy their temporal desires, or by the fear of what might happen tomorrow (or twenty years from now), if I don’t gather everything within arms reach, whether I’m entitled to it or not.

In America we work at a job we don’t want to do for an employer we don’t like for financial security and comfort in retirement, when our bodies are mostly used up, (ironically on the afore mentioned job). It’s what makes the CEO think he’s worth 380 times the salary of his average employee. Get what I can now, because tomorrow will certainly have more trouble.

If on the other hand, we lived more simply, had less financial fear, and did what we actually enjoyed, our lives would be much richer, and we’d be far happier. The old adage is “Work at what you really enjoy, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” We insist we don’t have the time or resources to do either the things we ought to do, or the things even that we want to do. We go to meetings for the sake of going to meetings, or to impress someone who in the lens of eternity we have no obligation or business trying to impress. We live our lives in desperation and fear, not because the present is bad, but because the future might be if we don’t continue the relentless schedule we’ve placed ourselves on.

In South Sudan it’s the same thing, only the flavor is different. They gather what they don’t need and steal their neighbor’s cattle not because they don’t have food today, but because they might not have it in the morning if they don’t steal those cattle.

Out of riches and abject poverty, the result is the same, and the human heart is the same. The ancient text of Proverbs 30 tells us that this is nothing new, and centers our attitude back to where it should be.

Two things I request of You
(Deprive me not before I die):
Remove falsehood and lies far from me;
Give me neither poverty nor riches—
Feed me with the food allotted to me;
Lest I be full and deny You,
And say, “Who is the Lord?”
Or lest I be poor and steal,
And profane the name of my God.

This is counter to human nature, and it is only by the Spirit of God that this conclusion moves past the academic and into the core of our own spirit.

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Juba, South Sudan is like an old-west town, full of people striving for the future.