Have yet to find a philosophical somewhere I am content to call home. The closest I get to a creed these days is a quote by John Green. "Whether I believe in God isn’t really relevant. I do believe however tenuously in Mercy"
Due to a lot of personal reasons encountered along this journey, I have mostly stepped away from writing for now. Still, sometimes something stirs me and I need space to hash out my thoughts.
So welcome to my little space along the journey.
I am married to the girl of my dreams. She is gorgeous, and a pleasure to converse with. We have a peaceful home (other than three rambunctious children) where we love, challenge and mature each other. Disagreements are seldom, and resolved quickly. We both enjoy the others company over any of our other relationships. My wife is my best friend, and I could not be more in love.
I own a decent house, in a nice suburb of Chicago. I walk to work, so I am able to place my daughter on the bus each morning before I mosey to the office. I have a great job, where I get to be challenged intellectually and work with a group of people I genuinely like a lot! I have an amazing employer, who uses his resources in AMAZING ways to build the Kingdom of God. I have great friends, a home church, and a wonderful extended family. We are financially comfortable and within reaching distance of being debt free (other than the house).
My life is near perfect. So I had to wonder to myself, why I resonated with James 1:2 -"Consider it pure joy my brothers when you face trials of many kind." After all, I live a fairly trial free life. I have no challenge to make ends meet, no challenge in my relationships. and no health issues looming over my head.
So, to be most honest I must confess it was all the physical things like the house, the job, and the financial security, that came to the forefront of my mind. These comforts, which I have deep gratitude for, feel like a wall between myself and my relationship with God. My trial is being on hand to the Kingdom in the midst of all these comforts. I need to be free to be at hand for obedience to God.
When we do something out of obedience to the Lord, there can be no other explanation-just obedience. That is why a saint can be so easily ridiculed and misunderstood.- Oswald Chambers
Even amazing Godly people whom I love have ask me
"Are you concerned about your kids education?"
"Are you being financially wise for your family?"
"Is the 3rd world a healthy place to raise kids?"
"Why do you need to be so radical?"
I can not answer these questions to any satisfaction of my inquisitors. The reality is I'm still here. I'm still doing everything the same as I have always done. The question I ask myself is if this is obedience? Would choosing the path of foreign missions be the difference between a wall and window? Is Chambers right that the path to maturity, is not the well travel road that seems right and logical instead it is the overgrown trek through brambles and weeds that can not be understood and is constantly questioned and second guessed.
The whole first chapter of James deals with this. The wisdom of God is in James 1:22 - "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. DO WHAT IT SAYS!" I am thankful for this trial which is calling me to side step the wall, and instead choose the window that leads to obedience. Here Am I Lord, Send Me!
Not everything that steps out of line, and thus 'abnormal', must necessarily be 'inferior'. - Hans Asperger (1938)
It is rare that you read a single quote that moves you to a flood of tears. This one did for me! I struggled most of my childhood with being abnormal and still work VERY HARD to maintain an illusion of coolness and self confidence. I prefer to be on a stage or behind a podium rather than one on one with people mostly because if you spend to much time with me, you will discover my bizarre idiosyncrasies. Ask my wife, she broke up with me while we were dating and struggled with them considerably during our early marriage.
Abnormal is my normal. So I am forced to process all reality through this "abnormal" lens. I often see things SO CLEARLY, and get so sad when I can not bring people along to understand the issue through my lens. I get very discouraged! I get down on my church, my family, my wife, etc...
For the longest time I have struggled with this, and recently due to some changes God is bringing in our family life, I have felt more "weird" than I normally feel. God has crazy cool plans for revealing himself to us. We were reading James 1, and God spoke the reality that wisdom comes only through asking Him for it. So as we continued reading, I prayed for wisdom about these things right as I was reading. Then after finishing the section I had planned to read my oldest daughter asked me to read just a little more.
James 1:16-17 Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
This was invigorating to me! I am made to be me. My abnormalities are gifts from God to prepare me for his purposes. God's purpose for myself and my family is clear to Him, and I am made FOR THAT PURPOSE!!!
I have spent most my life seeing myself as broken. Yet last night when I was called by one of elder's wife, "the pied piper" it was an amazing affirmation of what God had spoken to me the previous night. "I AM MADE FOR A PURPOSE!!!"
God is revealing himself to them in this storm. Right in the middle, in the height of the storm when they are beginning to give up hope; right then they strain one last time to see salvation and see God. He is there. Right there. Not pushing himself on us, or begging us to notice him. He's there in the thunder, in the pounding of the waves, in the flash of the lightening - that is the evidence of his power. God is passing by. - Karen Gerber
I hope the connection makes sense, because it was third block to a foundation of something great God is about to do in my life. God is calling me to be available, made as I am, not as defective, but as a reminder that I am a clay pot, made for his purposes and to be beautiful for his eyes.
Thank you Lord, for an amazing few days. - So where the is an hunger in an orphans belly, where there is a hurting forgotten ragamuffin, where there is a stray child who faces hopelessness and homelessness, I will Go! Here Am I Lord, Send Me!
Larry James, from Central Dallas Ministries posted the following Franciscans prayer on his blog.
May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships so that you may live deep within your heart
May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace
May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy
And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in the world so that you can do what others claim cannot be done to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.
All I can say is WOW!!! That is my life prayer, for myself personally that I can be the radical foolish Jesus follower the benediction challenges us to become. May the Lord bless you with the wisdom of heaven, and the foolishness of man, to pray this prayer daily!
Seth Barnes director of Adventures in Missions had this unbelievable post on his blog yesterday. The team he is talking about, is one of the very teams that who work feeding, educating, and discipling the Swazi orphans Five for 50 supports.
We have a team in Swaziland, that nation in Africa where nearly half the adult population has the AIDS virus. I received this email from Gary Black in Swaziland today and it wrecked me:
"The team found a four week-old laying on its dead mother yesterday, they kept it - we are getting it to the abandoned baby hospital Friday."
What do we do with this? That's my son's team down there. I don't know about you, but I'm outraged by a world that produces situations like this.
And while that may seem like a world away to many, for my son, it's as immediate as it is heart-wrenching.
The only thing that appalls me more is that so many of us Americans who can do something about this are more interested in stuff that will only ultimately burn up in the big fire.
God help us. God, help us to wake up. Help us to see how much you love the widow and the orphan. God help us to break as you are broken up over this four week-old.
God, help me to lose this tortoise shell religion that sheds these kinds of tragic situations like water. Forgive me God for not praying more. Forgive me for not emptying my bank account for your little ones. God, we have lost true religion. We have sought finer sanctuaries and better parking lots.
We have tried to fill our church pews with seekers, but we have not sought your children dying on their mother's chests. We need to see a way out of this mess that we've got ourselves in. God, help us in this 21st century mindset that we've acquired. I don't even know what else to pray.
Bono's famous "this is not about charity, this is about justice" quote could not be more true, and could not be more pointed than to US the people of God. We live in a dark world, but we are called to be light!
I am quite saddened by the loss of my chair. You may be thinking it is just a chair, but when I quit my last job, I brought this chair with me, when new chairs were purchased through out our office a couple years ago I said, "No thanks, I'll keep mine!" I have a deep sentimental connection to this chair and spending my last few hours at work today in another chair just felt awkward.
Life feels awkward right now. My chair is just an allegory for everything. How do you adjust back to normal? Do I want to be normal? What can I do for the orphans if I stay here? What can I do for them if I go back?
A McDonald's Extra Value Meal ... $5 A Starbucks Venti Mocha Frappuccino with a Shot of Raspberry... $5
Feeding 100 Children A Hot Meal... $5 Sending an Orphan To School For A Month... $5 Having My Heart Changed ... Priceless
The M/C Priceless ads are probably my favorite ad campaign ever. In honor of them I could not resist the cheezy opportunity to contrast the priceless changes that God is doing in the hearts of his people.
Inspired by Jeff Walling's 3:16 prayer for the lost idea at Winterfest I decided to attempt to raise $316 in 30 days for the 5 for 50 program. The 5 for 50 program shows how a little bit can go so far. I want to ask my friends to choose 1 day in the next 30, and give up 1 extra value meal, or 1 Starbucks Frap, or 1 whatever and send that money to support the work of feeding, educating, and discipling the 120,000 orphans of the Kingdom of Swaziland. In light of the abundant love of Christ, how can we not do that one small part!
We raised $150 on Saturday night at the Chicagoland group devotional after Winterfest. I am SO thankful to everyone who bought necklaces, and those who straight up just threw money in the box! Your response to the pandemic problem of AIDS and Poverty in the country of Swaziland was Awesome!
It's time we do more!!!! If you are on Facebook, please Join 5 for 50 as a start. Next goto Hopechest.org and find out more about the awesome work.
Also, watch this video:
Finally, Donate! Donate! Donate! I set a cheezy $316 goal for the next month. Please help me MEET THAT GOAL!!! Use this DONATE link to help now!!! If only my current Facebook friends help out, and at only $5 each that means we could raise $1300. It seems $316 to affirm our belief in God's Love is a simple task. Please Support the work of the Kingdom.
How do you plan on showing love to your special someone tomorrow? Flowers? Chocolates? Sugary Sweets? Coffee? Tea? Wine? What if by purchasing these items you were making a statement of love that was bigger than your mate?
Corporate Greed, and modern feudalism creates a system of exploitation that any follower of Christ should be ashamed of each time we sit to eat. Flowers are grown in literal sweatshops in the Andes. Coffee is grown in slave camps in South America, while the slavery of the cocoa, tea, and sugar industry is in Africa. The food chain of our "simple luxuries" is a reminder of one of Solomon's rants from Ecclesiastes.
Ecclesiastes 5:8-11 -If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields.
Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.
As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them?
The workers of the third world are exploited through 80 hour work weeks, minimal food, subhuman housing, and unclean water all while being told by US corporations and their subsidiaries that they owe more for these "services" than they earned. Tennessee Ford sang about this during the US depression.
You load sixteen tons, what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go I owe my soul to the company store
As we goto our local store to purchase our holiday wares, we should make no mistake who we are in this equation. We are the rich man, the exploiter. Dante, famously stated there was a special place in hell for those who remained silent in a moral crisis. Although a bit harsh, Dante is right in his emphasis that we are responsible for the oppression, slavery, and injustice our purchasing has. Go back to Solomon's warning, and see that this gift is not a symbol of love, it is simply meaningless lust to gorge our senses!
This valentines day, I would encourage you to make a different choice than the roses, Russell Stovers, or other exploitative products. This holiday demonstrate your love through a holistic decision. A love that shows your feelings to that special someone, but also shows your commitment to the life and justice of the person who labored to make that product. Transfair and Equal Exchange offer ways to connect to companies that support the ethical treatment of their workers. Your commitment to purchasing Fair Trade items is a commitment to "real love" the kind of love Christ spoke about when asked, "Who is My Neighbor?" Purchasing Fair Trade is the responsibility of the people of God.
The Spirit of God calls us to JUSTICE! Will you be the rich man consumed with his wealth, or will you listen to the spirit and practice love!
Isaiah 32:15-17 - Till the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the desert becomes a fertile field, and the fertile field seems like a forest. Justice will dwell in the desert and righteousness live in the fertile field. The fruit of righteousness will be peace;
Today is the the 18th anniversary of the release of Nelson Mandela from his 25 year imprisonment by the Apartheid government of South Africa.
"I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die." - Nelson Mandella
"No, no, we are not satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream."
In this one of Martin Luther King Jr's most famous quote he makes reference to Amos 5:24. His struggle is not a quest for fairness and equality, instead it raises a standard to demand no less than Biblical Justice. Biblical Justice is about correcting the divide between the oppressed and free. Compassion and Mercy must be equal to all people, of all means, from all backgrounds. One could read Zechariah 7:9-10 or Isaiah 1:17 for more thoughts from the prophets. Christ reading from the prophet Isaiah in Luke 4 or painting the picture he does of judgment in Matthew 25 shows that participating WITH GOD in this realignment of equality is at the heart of being a follower. Yet these ideas were not new from God in the time of Christ, they were not new in the time of the prophets. These ideas were meant to be part of the fabric of God's people from the very giving of the law.
When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.
Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive one another. Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord. Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him. " 'Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight. Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord.
Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly. Do not go about spreading slander among your people. " 'Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor's life. I am the Lord. Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.
The law places the responsibility to provide for the poor on equal par with the expectation of truth, fidelity, and honesty. Christ highlighting the command to "love your neighbor" and his explanation in the parable is an affirmation of the important place the unlovely have in the Kingdom of God!
As I reflect on this I am reminded of my personal favorite, when it comes to MLKjr quotes. “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” In this sermon MLKjr reminds he audience,
"By its very nature, hate destroys and tears down; by its very nature, love creates and builds up. Love transforms with redemptive power...The relevance of what I have said to the crisis in race relations should be readily apparent. There will be no permanent solution to the, race problem until oppressed men develop the capacity to love their enemies...Time is cluttered with the wreckage of communities which surrendered to hatred and violence. For the salvation of our nation and the salvation of mankind, we must follow another way...While abhorring segregation, we shall love the segregationist. This is the only way to create the beloved community."
This is exactly the kind of truth Christ was calling love when he spoke of loving one another. "Love you neighbor" and "Love one another" are serious demands that require our full effort. These commands are as serious to the Kingdom and more burdensome to the human condition than the commands of righteous living. Embracing the discipline of love will lead us to face the force of forgiveness toward our enemies and the ugliness of the least of these. Love can not be practiced from the comfort of our pews, or the type pads of our laptops. It must be lived among the stench of the dying and the offense of our enemies. It is in our entering of those places we ask the question, "Do I Love?"
Have you ever heard of a Nigerian 419? Your answer should have been yes, though you probably did not know it by that name. A Nigerian 419 is a scam artist best friend since it comforts the individual being scammed with an apparently legitimate large sum of money upfront, only later after a portion of those funds have been returned or forwarded is it revealed the original money was fraudulent. Many intelligent people have fallen for a Nigerian 419.
Have you ever sent in your $49.95 to learn the insider secrets of making money? I got an email just yesterday promising "Limited Risk, High Reward Investing." I am convinced step one is to send out spam asking people to pay for your investment advice.
The most amazing part to these is that people believe there is a "secret" money making plan, or that a person wants to part with 25% of their hard earned cash in a "secret" agreement. As there is no secret plan to easy money, there is no easy plan to a reconciliation lifestyle. Relationship with God is a HIGH RISK ADVENTURE, and if it is traveled as a low risk experiment, there will be no reward for the investment.
Abraham experienced the risk of relationship with God. In a three day journey with Issac by his side he traveled to the place God had told him to place his son on an altar. Moses experienced the risk of relationship with God. Standing before his close relative the Pharaoh of Egypt, Moses aligned himself with God's demands despite the great power of the king he was addressing. David experienced the risk of relationship with God. Though he was king the prophet called out his sin with Bathsheba and claimed the life of their son. Hosea experienced the risk of relationship with God. Called to marry a prostitute and then reclaim her a second time from her whoredom he paid the price for her redemption. Paul experienced the risk of relationship with God. Standing before kings, being jailed, beaten, and shipwrecked he still lived boldly the gospel that caused his abuses.
Experiencing God is a high risk proposition. It will cause us to feed the hideous, to bathe the foul, to clothe the unappreciative, to fellowship with the crazies. Reconciliation is high risk with few tangible rewards. It is not about community with our homogeneous neighborhoods. Instead it is about becoming family with those most different than ourselves. Reconciliation is high risk with few tangible rewards. It is not about teaching the secrets of eternal life to our Bible Class peers. It is about entering the places where death is most present in our world, and BEING LIFE in that darkness. Reconciliation is high risk with few tangible rewards. It is not about sharing an inspiring cliché to ease our BFF's guilt over a harsh word spoken or another failed diet plan. It is charging headlong into the places of our greatest fear, like the altar where our son is to be sacrificed, like the throne room where the powers that be are about to be challenged, like being open to an exposing rebuke by God's prophet, like at the pimps door to redeeming a whoring wife, like in the face of physical abuse and imprisonment. It is entering the places of where our fear s are most realized, and resting in Christ peace!
Isaiah 58 is famous for it's contrast of two kinds of Fasting. The first limited risk fast is that which informs God of our offering, waiting for his approving reward of our efforts. The second fast is the High Risk Adventure of ENTERING WITH GOD into the practice of Jubilee. God promises when we enter into that fast he will be our rear guard, or as we Gen Xers says, "God will have your back!"
Rejection, Denial, & Self Loss. Imagine the church attendance if you posted that on the sign out front as this weeks sermon. If I drove past that church I would drive wide the other way to avoid the hell fire and brimstone that may be eeking out the front doors.
Yet that message is one of the core tenets of Christianity. No, not in the condemning way that I would so deeply fear from our imaginary fundamentalist church where the shout does not go out. Instead is comes as a promise of greater fulfillment, and more rewarding meaning. It comes as the path to reclaim the fullness of what it means to be fully human. These 3 are the restorative building blocks to reconciliation.
It is impossible to live out reconciliation without experience and participation with these elements. Look at Christ's words:
Luke 9:22-24 - And he said, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life." Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it."
Christ own work to bring restoration began with rejection. As I read the gospel and experience Christ passion for the poor, the rejected, and the lost I see no fire that burned in him like the flame to pursue restorative justice. Yet, my experience in Christian circles does not reflect this passion. The marginalized and the lost are relegated to the remnants of the church budget. The passion for pursuing the sick and the hurting will cause repeated rejection by the leaders, movers, and shakers of most Christian communities. The enemy of the restorative ministry lifestyle is not the world at large, instead like in the case of Christ it the religious elite.
Rejection is an outside force, and is as likely to occur as the sun is to rise. The second two elements of becoming the fullness of ourselves are personal decisions that require daily commitment to the purpose of our journey. Christ speaks of his followers continual reaffirmation to denial and self loss. He speaks of choosing to be dead to personal pursuit, and instead choosing complete loss of ones of rights. I must deny my right to the promise of the American lifestyle as I enter into the pain of the migrant farmer, or the political refugee. I must share in the loss of social and economic standing of the elderly and the racially oppressed. I must be more concerned with meeting the needs of my coworkers and family, than my own needs and desires. I must be as actively involved in the alleviation of extreme poverty as if it were my own child dying of AIDS in a southern African desert or starving from lack of suitable food.
At this point, one could think I had preached the sermon of that firey fundamentalist preacher. However, this is a message of promise and hope. As I began to think on these issues my mind (the slippery slope that it is) I found myself remembering that famous scene in Spinal Tap when one band member is explaining to the documentary maker about the excellent amp that goes to 11 for that just little more.
As I take up my cross daily, I am entering into that life that has more. Jesus promises in John 10:10 a life that is more full, more abundant, more better than we ever dreamed of. Christ promises true life. Paul explains to us in Romans 5 that Christ through his righteous death became a new pattern for being fully human. I get a life that goes to 11! I get an experience that is filled with more meaning, more love, more peace, more of everything than I could fathom as possible.
The blessing of reconciliation outweighs the cost. That is not an easy truth to accept when I am tired. That is not a reality that is possible to understand when I am being carnal. Yet, in the rejection, through the denial and self loss it becomes a craving that leads to greater hunger for more and more abundant life.
So HERE I AM LORD!!! BRING IT ON!!!!
From Today's Lent Mediation: Lover of mankind, inspire us to work for human progress, - seeking to spread your kingdom in all we do. May our hearts thirst for Christ, - the fountain of living water. Forgive us our sins, - and direct our steps into the ways of justice and sincerity.
Back in May 2007 I wrote a post called GBible. It outlined all my ideas for an online Bible program that was MUCH better than biblegateway. As of today I learned that christianity.com has added an online Bible program with almost all the features I was looking for! Go get an an account and enjoy the markup!
i don't understand why he would choose to live on the street rather than at the center but for some reason that is a battle for him. - Sarah
My cousin Sarah who works at an orphanage in Mozambique wrote this on her blog about 2 weeks ago regarding a young man named Selso who ran away from the orphanage to return to the streets. The streets of a third world country are not a friendly place for a young person. Still Selso chose that life over the orphanage.
I get Selso. I know from experience that David is correct when he writes, "Better is one day in the tents of the Lord, than a thousand elsewhere." Yet I live in the tension between the two. My greatest peace and my greatest success comes when I am in the Lord's tents. Still I find myself drawn to the back alleys and slums of running from God.
Though the tent of the Lord has my every need: the brothel whores of lust, pride, and greed are able to detour me with lies of familiar comforts. I find myself faced with the same haunting questions I had for the men of Swaziland. In my arrogance I asked, "why do the keep having sex with the risk of infection and death so high?" Yet in my humility I can ask, "why do I keep repeating the same sin patterns when I know the infection of anger, and the death of joy they cause in my spirit?"
Familiar is an addictive drug. The street may be filled with pain and hunger, but it is a pain and hunger that Selso knows. The familiar haunts of my spirit are no different. The result of my lust, pride, and greed is isolated pain and lonely hunger.
This brings me to this Lenten season. I am following the Creighton University prayer guide this year. The opening reading contained the following 3 verses from Paul's second letter to the Corinthians.
2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2 We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. As God's fellow workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain. For he says, "In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you." I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation.
God made Christ sin! It is a statement whose depth is lost on us. It's depth is even more profound when linked with the sentence before it. As God made Christ our reconciliation, he has made us reconciliation as well. God has formed me to be reconciliation.
I intend these next 40 days to focus on reconciliation. I desire to first have my heart reconciled to the righteousness of God. I will fast and pray so that in my physical discomfort I learn to hunger for the tent of God. I will first focus on a pure and contrite heart. Second I will pray for the insight to be reconciliation to those in my circle of influence. I will humble myself, and not seek my agenda, but instead enter into their journey and bring the righteousness of God. I want to be an ATM of blessings. Third, I will pray to answer the calling of Isaiah. "Here am I Lord send me." I will pray for a future and a place where I can live out reconciliation to the refugee, to the racial minority, to the migrant worker, to the elderly, to the displaced, to the widow, to the orphan.
This lent I will pray that I stop leaving the center. I will pray into reality the words of Paul, "Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!" I will mourn, fast, pray, and act for the purpose of reconciliation.
What do people mean when they say 'I am not afraid of God because he is good?' Have they never been to a dentist? - C.S. Lewis
Back in college I went through a period where lake's were a recurring theme in my preaching. I tried to contrast the difference between a lake like relationship to God and a river relationship. Lakes being contained bodies of water are great for jet skying and pontoon boats. Lakes are safe. Rivers by contrast are flowing, changing bodies of water. Our river by camp can be too high and fast to get into at one point in the summer, and to low and slow to be any fun at all a few weeks later. Rivers are constantly changing. Most people I know want God to look like a Lake. People want a God who is safe and dependable. People want a God who stays in is hole in the ground and is available for scheduled visits.
God is much more like a river. His path for our relationship is ever changing. His ways do not always seem safe. His ways do not always sound exciting. God may be good, but he is not tame to make another Lewis reference.
A lot of change has come in my life over the past two years. A lot of change has come in my wife's life over the last three months. I have to tell you, I think we are in the midst of some exciting rapids. I know that God is calling us to an exciting adventure he is preparing to reveal. Like Lewis says, I know that adventure is good. I also must admit that it scares me. God's calling is contrary to my comfort. God's calling is never to remain at stasis. I am excited with anticipation, and mortified with wonder.
The highlight of our trip for me was our time at the Moriah Center. Moriah Center is run by a South African woman named Diane and her staff of four Swazi women who serve as the teachers. Diane and her small staff have amazing dreams for the future of Swaziland, and those dreams start in Big Bend.
Big Bend is a sugar colony in eastern Swaziland, lying on the Lusutfu River. The only enterprise in the area is the sugar. The plantations stretch as far as the eyes can see. In this area the sugar company controls everything. The electricity, water, and roads are used as the sugar company sees fit. Every skilled worker for miles around is on the payroll, and does only the work the sugar company orders be done. The sugar fields are plush green and yet only feet away from these seemingly endless acres of lush green is the harsh dusty reality that most of the sugar companies workers are oppressed into.
Moriah center, though an Oasis of hope in that depression, is so much than just another care point. Diane sees Moriah Center as the foundry of a new Swaziland. The UN population estimates for 2050 do not include a future for Swaziland. At a 46% AIDS rate the nation is dying. So Moriah Center is a place where orphans and the vulnerable children are being provided the future of God's Kingdom. Like the Biblical Mount Moriah this is a summit of God's presence.
As I wrote last night about the ABC of ministering in Swaziland, Moriah center's beauty is how they are already participating in all three steps of this plan. Even more exciting is their dreams to multiply into a more grand temple of the living God.
Appetites - Most of the care points we visited while in Swaziland were feeding a community of children who came and spent the day at that care point. During school holidays that number increased since those kids who were able to attend would no longer come once enrolled. Moriah center is not content to feed only those children who can not attend school. Each morning as the children able to attend school are walking past the Moriah Center, the staff is outside with a high vitamin nutrition drink that the children can drink as they walk. There as sandwiches available for those who would have no means for lunch to pick up and take with them as well. After the school age children are past an in their schools, Moriah Center then recieves the preschool age children who will be given the nutrition drink and sandwich in the morning, as well as a hot meal like the other care points in the afternoon. Diane's dream is to have the resources to provide a second hot meal after school hours where the her students and the school age children could receive a meal as they travel home.
Basic Education - Currently Moriah Center provides a preschool to begin the learning the process with her students. There are 3 teachers and they take local children and give them a basic education that will prepare those with the available resources to attend school once old enough. That basic education is not enough for Moriah Center. Big dreams for the future include and elementary school that would be able to continue the education of those who do not have the resources to goto school otherwise. Even bigger plans for the future include a sewing school, a carpentry school, and an electrical school to teach the children a trade they can use to break free from the cycle of poverty.
Christ - Kid's Church, Girls Purity Training, Bible Club, and a local Christian church are all part of the ministry at Moriah Center. Moriah Center is providing a backbone of Christian education that will be vital to the future of the Big Bend community. These young children and teens will be raised up hearing a message of God's plan for community rather than the plans they see modeled in the broken homes around them. Young girls are being taught about God's plan for sexuality, and His desire for purity in the marriage bed. Moriah Center realizes that a generation of Godly girls will need to be met with a generation of Godly young men, so it is therefore desiring to add Marriage, Family, and Purity training for the young men as well.
The beauty of Moriah Center is the ability to dream beyond a simple ABC plan, and instead be challenged to grow into a body that will be able to meet the needs for a new future in Swaziland.
After a week of visiting many great care points and listening to the local ministry staff share their needs, and the dreams I desired to compile a simple mnemonic that would help my mind grasp the issues faced by the people ministering to the orphans and vulnerable children in these places. As I continue to process the memories of the sights and words from the trip I realize that a simple ABC solution well sums up the immediate needs faced by those working on the ground in Swaziland.
Appetites - Clean water and basic food should be considered a minimum human right in a world our resources. Yet the reality is this is not a human right, and were it not for the work of organizations like Children's Hope Chest and the tireless daily effort of the missions staff of AIM 1000 of orphans and vulnerable children in this country would goto bed without a meal every single day. One can not claim to have the Love of Christ in him and turn a blind eye to the starvation of fatherless children.
Basic Education - The future of Swaziland will look like the history of Swaziland if nothing changes. A starving child needing to be fed and cared for will grow into a starving adult if the future of life has no prospect. Survival is only an education for survival. The future of these fatherless children lies in eqipping them with the skills to transition into successful adults. Aid that stops at the full stomach is incomplete and merely procrastinates the need for long term solutions.
Christ - Kingdom building to starving children that wants to start here is doomed to fail. The presentation of God's redeeming power must come sequentially after food and education. These orphans must be redeemed from their destiny of physical starvation before they can shown the redemption of Christ. Swaziland has no future except for the hope of Christ being instilled into the young people at the Care Points. The heart change that calls these orphans to live differently than their culture will cause them to be a remnant in a dying people. Christ must be first demonstrated through programs that meet the physical and mental needs of these fatherless children, then ultimately preached as the fulfillment for the spiritual starvation around them.
This is the ABCs, the first building blocks of a future I learned Children's Hope Chest is working to provide in Swaziland. CHC needs partners, to join them in the construction of this future. But, we'll talk about those partnerships in another post.
On the plane back from Swaziland I read Stargirl. This is a teen fiction story by Newberry Award winning author Jerry Spinelli. The story is an awesome discussion of the stress between loving 2 masters. Leo the narrator finds himself straddled between the book's namesake and the rest of the high school establishment. The book's tension is perfect in the fact that Leo soon learns that he CAN NOT choose both.
Stargirl is a free spirit who spends her time watching for ways to bring joy to others. Her efforts are often marginalized, rebuked, and ultimately rejected to the point that both she and Leo become shunned by the larger high school community.
When my oldest daughter gets a little older I can't wait to read this with her.
So here I sit at 8:00 PM CST in my home, my kids are cuddled in bed and Christi is already asleep. It is 4:00 AM tomorrow in Manzini. We arrived back in the US at 6:00 AM Eastern time and then transferred to Chicago for a 10:00 AM CST arrival, almost 24 hours exactly since we began our flight home from Johannesburg.
Extreme Poverty is an unexplainable reality. Meeting not 1 but hundreds of children that are orphaned and without any means for food can not be summed up in a simple paragraph. Watching a six year old start the trek back to her home, likely at least a mile away and possibly 3+ miles a way, with her 2 year old brother riding along her back is a deeply emotional experience not soon to be clawed from the forefront of my memory.
There is so much processing to do, and to much jet lag for it to be done now. Thank you for all the prayers! God Bless!