Time to…

Priorities, busyness, and the spiritual dimension of taking on others burdens

It’s really hard to believe it’s been over a month since I posted a blog.  This wasn’t my choice.  I’ve had a lot of really great inspirational moments over the past month or so.

I have found time to listen to some good audio books while driving, flying or being otherwise engaged on something where my mind was free to listen.  One of those books is Walking With God by John Eldredge.  It’s interesting how John shares his life experiences and his walk with God as well as spiritual warfare.

I found it difficult to accept the spiritual battles and his perspective at first, but at the same time I clearly identify with his experiences to remain holy and pure.

One particularly interesting perspective that I hadn’t thought about regarding spiritual warfare is the enemy’s ability to spread like a virus to those battling for or helping someone who is vulnerable.  According to John, the enemy uses the same exploits, lies, and deception, and spirit against us that is used against those we are trying to help.

This past year, our church has been involved in the V-One initiative.  We try to help one vulnerable person every day.  In spiritual terms, according to John’s insight, this means that as we help vulnerable people we are also exposing ourselves to the same evil that is oppressing them.  Therefore, we should be properly prepared and aware of what is coming and arm ourselves accordingly.

One of the areas that I’ve been struggling with is being too busy.  I have been working a lot of overtime and carrying way more than I probably should in my job.  It’s clearly effected every other area of my life.  I’ve gained weight, partly due to the stress, but also because of the long hours sitting and lack of exercise. I’ve missed time with family and the time I have had was rushed… less focused on the relationship and more on the get it done.  I’ve had less time to prepare for service projects and I generally feel like I’ve been scraping by. My personal projects, writing, and ministries have all suffered.

I had been praying for a friend of mine who had a difficult decision to make and was concerned about his relationships with others in the transition.  Later I learned that he’d been fighting the same busyness issues that we were both battling that same spirit.

John’s book made me think about what things are hindering my ability to serve God. Busyness was a the top of my list.  A job becoming a distraction was not something I had thought of the enemy using to derail my mission, yet it was there front and center.

In this situation values and priorities matter.  What I mean to say is that even when we have a lot of work to do, or things to keep busy, there are certain things that we choose to continue and others that we stop doing.  We don’t stop eating or taking care of ourselves (at least to some minimum standard) because we know that these things are necessary for life. But we certainly scale things back or may even stop watching television, working out, or doing a hobby to spend that time doing something else.  For some of us, getting that one thing done consumes us and that’s what sometimes happens to me.  This time I found myself prioritizing things a little differently.  One of those was Renovate weekend.

I’d signed up to house and spend all day on Saturday with the 6th and 7th grade boys from our church.  Together we served a meal at the Samaritan House.  I’m really proud of the boys for doing this and I really enjoyed our time together, but I was completely and utterly exhausted. There were plenty of times before going into the weekend when I thought to myself, “I wish I hadn’t committed to this”, but I am so glad I did and I am glad I prioritized my time with the youth and adding something into their lives and the lives of others rather than working another weekend away.

Not only did God provide me the energy to get through it, but He also gave me a much needed break from the busyness, calmed my heart and helped me find the right balance to continue on stronger than before. He refueled my spirit and gave me deeper relationships with each of the young men in my group, my friend, the people we served at Samaritan House.  He showed me that even when we’re tired and the outlook is grim, He continues to provide what we need to take on the burdens of others.

 

 

 

 

What’s in your Alabaster Jar?

An alabaster jar was once used to hold expensive perfumes. The jars were made with a long neck and designed to be broken to use the contents and were ideal for perfume because they kept the contents from spoiling.

There are a couple instances in the New Testament where a woman (or women) anointed Jesus with this perfume from an alabaster jar. (Mt 26:7, Mk 14:3, Lk 7:37) The gift was very, very expensive and once opened was used up. There’s been a lot written about the alabaster jar so I’m not going to analyze and argue the points, but I did want to share some of my personal experience and thoughts.

Matthew 26:6-13

Meanwhile, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, a man who had previously had leprosy. While he was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume and poured it over his head.
The disciples were indignant when they saw this. “What a waste!” they said. “It could have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.”
But Jesus, aware of this, replied, “Why criticize this woman for doing such a good thing to me? You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me. She has poured this perfume on me to prepare my body for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.” — Matthew 26:6-13

I’ve been a Christian for nearly 37 years. I had a great start, then drifted back and forth in my faith until 5 years ago when I went on a mission trip to Tecate, Mexico. Even before the trip God was doing a work in me. He used that time serving to accelerate the changes in my life and grow my faith by helping me see the path I was blazing and where it was leading me. It wasn’t to a good place.

On my recent trip to El Zapatillo the question came up about the alabaster jar and I asked myself what was in mine, or rather what was my alabaster jar? What is that most precious thing that I give God, but also, what am I holding back?

God doesn’t need anything from us, but he does want us. He’s a jealous god and he isn’t satisfied with a divided heart. The sad thing about my life story even though I’ve been a Christ follower for 37 years is that it’s mostly about what I’ve held back. For much of my life I divided my heart between God and what I wanted for me. I was trying to pour out my alabaster jar on both me and Jesus at the same time. It’s kind of silly to think about it in those terms isn’t it? Much of the perfume would be wasted trying to pour it on both people.

Besides, how can any one of us compare to Jesus? It was he that created the world, came into it in the most humbling of circumstances, lived a perfect life, sacrificed himself for us, and then rose from the dead and offered us a new beginning. He did all of this by his strength.  What have any of us done to compare to that? To say that any one of us should share in an anointing with him in that way makes no sense. Our lives can’t possibly compare on any measure to him.

When these women came to Jesus, they came with remorse, full of repentance and love for a person who gave of himself to save them.  He gave them forgiveness and a restored relationship with God. They gave him a most precious gift in the jar of perfume, but while Jesus accepted this, I believe it wasn’t the fragrance of the perfume that delighted him. It was the fragrance of repentance and love that they showed from their heart that was symbolically portrayed in their actions. It was a pure act of worship, a sacrifice of monumental proportions of the lives that these women led to obtain such a gift.

The irony is that there is nothing we have that God hasn’t first given to us. The perfume that these women brought was provided to them by God. He gave them life and means to either produce or obtain these expensive items. In the end, they chose to use them to honor God. Can there ever be a more beautiful act of worship, but to lay down our lives at the feet of God for his service?

It’s not about the alabaster jar, the perfume, or the woman who gave it. It’s about God, recognizing him for who he is, and honoring him for what he has done.

What’s in your alabaster jar and how will you choose to use it?

Luke 7:36-50

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!”
Then Jesus answered his thoughts. “Simon,” he said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you.”
“Go ahead, Teacher,” Simon replied.
Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people—500 pieces of silver to one and 50 pieces to the other. But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”
Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.”
“That’s right,” Jesus said. Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.
“I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The men at the table said among themselves, “Who is this man, that he goes around forgiving sins?”
And Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” — Luke 7:36-50

¿como te llamas?

It was time for us to begin the VBS program with the children of El Zapatillo.  Each of us was recognized by name and invited to come to the front .. stadium style.  Then we had a time of music and they brought Rosa up to sing and lead the worship.  Afterwards we did a skit and had a short message before we broke up into our groups.

dscn1275There were five boys in my group (and I had a little girl join the next day).  Their ages ranged from 3 to 8.  We all sat down on the floor and I asked each one his name and age.  The older boys answered for some of the younger ones.

It was hard for me to understand the boys. I’m hard of hearing as it is, but there was a lot of noise in the background and they boys were quiet spoken.  It didn’t help that they were speaking in Spanish … or so I thought.  It may have been the local Mayan language.

Just like kids at home, some were attentive and others were easily distracted.  A couple of my younger ones worried me a little because they seemed too docile.  I’m used to little ones running around with unbounded energy.  I had to wonder if they were getting enough to eat, or if it was just a hard life here.  Some of these kids traveled a long way on foot to be with us.

As each shared his name, I wondered how they’d come to that name.  What kind of family were they from and were they happy?  Were there special needs in their life?  What did they like to do?  The biggest question that I ask with every child I meet is what kind of future is in store for this person?

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One thing I’ve learned is that names represent something as much as someone.  Sometimes people make a name for themselves.  By that, I mean that their name becomes synonymous with their actions, accomplishments, or fame.

I wondered what each child would accomplish and where they would be.  Would they make a name for themselves or live up to their name.  Would their name come to represent something good or bad?

Some names are given to represent authority.  Others to show position.  Some people are given nick names symbolizing an event or way about that person.

Even in the Bible, God took pains to name people and he even renamed a few.  Abram, the father of nations was renamed to Abraham.  Saul, persecutor of Christians, was renamed Paul and became the missionary to Christians.  Jesus says that many will receive a white stone engraved with a new name understood only to the one who receives it (Revelation 2:27). Even Jesus, though he has many names will be given a new name (Revelation 3:13).

As I think about the events, I’m keenly aware that I also have a name that God has given me and how I live will either make that name or break it.  I will either be known for good or bad.

What about your name?

Rosa Sings

It was time for our Vacation Bible School and all the children gathered in their chairs.  The small chairs in front, then the medium sized chairs and then the large chairs in the back of the room. Each child chose a chair that fit them.  It was one of the most organized groups of children I’ve seen.

The service began with singing and when it was time, they brought little Rosa to the front and put her on a chair.  Then they handed her the microphone.  Her voice rang out as she led the other children in worship.  Our team was blown away and I think half of us were filming the event.

What made this so surprising is that Rosa is a quiet, polite, unassuming, little girl.  She’s certainly not someone you would expect to stand in front of her friends and raise her voice the way she did.  But, boy did she sing!  She put her whole voice and heart into it.

God raises people like Rosa up from the most unlikely of places and gives them the ability to do things that are inconceivable.  He doesn’t conform to our patterns or molds. He makes them and breaks them to get our attention and uses us in ways that are amazing and sometimes even beyond our comprehension.

I had an opportunity later in the week to talk with Rosa (pictured above on the left with her teacher).  I asked her what her name was and she spoke so quietly, so unassumingly I still couldn’t reconcile how she stood there and raised her voice to God the way she did.

There have been so many times I wanted to stand like Rosa and speak out, but I allowed my peer-fear or excuses to stand in the way and didn’t do what I know I should have. Her courage and her willingness to stand firm and lead are an inspiration.

Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it. — James 4:17

But it is also sad because like the other children in this village Rosa’s opportunities are very limited by the lack of resources, basic healthcare and an education. Undernourishment has taken a serious toll on the development of these children. Even though they come from hard working families, their lack of resources make it a struggle to have their most basic needs met.

The pictures here inside a new church don’t show what’s just outside the walls.  These children live in conditions that we would describe as primitive camping here in the US, but without the transportation, grocery stores, water purification, bathrooms, electricity/generators, and modern conveniences we bring with us, and they don’t just live it for a few days.  It is their life EVERY day.

This is why our church has partnered with CH Global’s child sponsorship program here and in Ethiopia.  We’ve worked to build the preschool and support roughly 1/4 of the 120 neediest children in the village.  There are many others that qualify if we are able to find people who will support them.

Join with us HERE and help children like Rosa learn about the life saving message of Jesus and escape the cycle of extreme poverty.

Dancing on the Rooftops

One of the great ironies of life is that Beauty and Danger are best friends.  I’ve never been one to shy from courting both Beauty and Danger and on this trip, it was par for the course.

During my college years, I spent a summer working for my uncle and cousin in upstate New York. I helped built chimneys, repaired and installed roofs, and did other general construction.  It was a hard summer, but I learned a lot and I came home with a tan, muscles, a new outlook, and a few new tricks.

We used to laugh at Danger and admire Beauty from on high.  Being up on a rooftop has it’s advantages.  I was fortunate that I kept close companions with Caution so Danger never spoiled my day. I wish I could say the same for my cousin.  He’s fallen off the roof twice and both times suffered serious injuries.  He’s lucky to be alive.

There were more than a few moments when this crossed my mind while I was on the roof with my teammate, Adam.  He’s an old hand at this sort of thing having worked in the trades a bit more than I have, he knew exactly how to approach the job in the safest and most efficient manner. One experience has taught me is to respect people who get up early in the morning and create things for a living.  I followed his lead and he taught me a few new tricks.

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There were some soft spots in the roof and although it looks solid from a distance we were supported by only a couple of 2×4’s.  If it weren’t for the boards we sat on, we’d have been licking our wounds from the concrete floor.

There was no shortage of work that needed to be done in the village.  When we arrived there was only one working toilet, but no water to flush and no showers. There were several buildings that needed painting including the new preschool, a new roof on the kitchen (pictured), and a home build that was underway.

Basic medical attention was over an hour a way and I’m sure a real hospital was a lot further off. Cell service was only available from the top of the water cistern. I only know this because I saw the pastor of the local church climb to the top to make a phone call. We couldn’t drink the water or even brush our teeth with it and we were instructed to sanitize our hands after every wash.

Life here is hard and every day there is a risk from the dangers of the forest that we know nothing about.  We saw some pretty big, ugly spiders (I’m sure they were harmless… who’s afraid of spiders anyway?) and a few scorpions (those I take seriously).  Going to the bathroom in the middle of the night revealed the tiny eyes of creatures big and small staring back at us.

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A spider lurking just under the roof we’d just replaced.

After completing our work each day, we had lunch and then spent time with the children, teaching them, playing with them and just loving them.  We played games and we sang songs together.  We gave them candy and snacks and did crafts together.

We enjoyed meals together, we laughed, we cried, we slept, and we celebrated.

But it wasn’t about the work, or courting Beauty and Danger.  It was like dancing on the rooftops with Jesus.  We were following his lead, learning a new step, and trying some new moves high up in the mountains of Guatemala.  It was exciting, fun, inspirational, and exhausting all at the same time.

For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.

What do people really get for all their hard work? I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.
And I know that whatever God does is final. Nothing can be added to it or taken from it. God’s purpose is that people should fear him. — Ecclesiastes 3:1-14