The fire

On Monday night while traveling on a business trip I decided to take advantage of the hotel mixer.  I had no intention of shutting the place down, but I stopped to talk with another hotel guest and he began to share his story with me.

He lives with his sister and her two children.  A couple of weeks ago he was outside grilling when someone turned to him and said that there was smoke coming from his house.  He jokingly thought it was smoke from the grill and only after five minutes of back and forth did he realize his home was actually on fire.

Fortunately he and all his family came through that situation safely, but they lost everything to smoke and fire damage.  The source of the fire turned out to be electrical.

He was frustrated with the insurance company because they were trying to minimize the claim. In an effort to encourage him I told him, “if you had that much money in the bank how much would you fight to keep it?” We both chuckled about it and continued to talk.

It was a special time as he shared how much he loved cooking for others. His dream is to own a food truck and share food and life with people.

As the evening continued, the news announced the bombing in Manchester and we learned of the deaths of more than 19 people.

This turned the topic of our conversation to politics and he asked me if I voted for “him”. When I told him I did in fact support “him” in the last election, he turned to me, lowered his voice and admitted that even though he was a democrat, he also voted for “him” too. That really surprised me, so we continued our conversation, not that it would have deterred me. I like to hear other people’s points of view. He asked me what I thought about the press and how he was doing as our new president so I shared my opinion.

There was this teacher I had when I was in the 8th grade. He was former military and an older gentleman, probably in his 40’s at the time, maybe 50. Everyone used to make fun of him. He had a missing index digit so he would point on the maps and blackboard with his middle finger. Everyone thought it was funny. He would routinely stand in front of his desk and lean back on it during class. When things got rowdy he would yell out “all right people” and try to get the class focused. One day a bunch of kids decided to play a practical joke on him. They worked it out to be in the school after hours and took all the screws out of his desk and reassembled it standing, sturdy enough to stand on its own, but not sturdy enough to support a person leaning on it.

The next morning during first period I heard a loud crash from his room down the hall and all the kid were laughing. He had apparently decided to lean back and the entire assembly collapsed under his weight. It was the story of the day.

At the time I thought it was funny and that he deserved it. This as a time when all teachers were “bad”. Everybody complained about getting bad grades and it was always the teacher’s fault.

My perspective over the years has changed dramatically and I no longer see things that way. He didn’t have to teach and he certainly didn’t have to put up with a bunch of rowdy ungrateful teenage kids, but he did and he spent that time sharing life with us and trying to show us from his experiences a way through life. What did he ever do to deserve the disrespect that we gave him. Instead he should have been honored for making the sacrifices he made on our behalf.

I have come to see what’s going on with Donald Trump this way. Here we have a man that’s making big sacrifices to lead our country to a better place, a person who wants to make us a great nation again and politicians from both sides hate him because he’s willing to listen and make objective assessments regardless of the party lines or platforms. He calls people out and isn’t afraid to give out grades based on real performance.

So my new friend asked me next what I thought of our last president. I have to be honest. I didn’t like his position on a lot of issues, but I respected the fact that he took a position and went with it. Regardless of what anyone says, I think he felt he was doing his best for where he thought the country should go. We never really know the burdens of leading others until we’ve done it and our leaders have the perspective of leadership far better than we do.

The back and forth questions didn’t stop. We carried a dialog on for a few hours talking about our jobs, our families, and ultimately how God was working in our lives.

Even in the midst of the news about the Manchester bombing we continued to talk and share. Rarely have I found people so willing and eager to engage in conversation, at least not since my childhood when the pace of life was slower.

When was the last time you had a long conversation with a total stranger and walked away friends? Today we are all so focused on ourselves and our lives that we forget that we depend on one another, not just for our livelihoods, but for friendships and community regardless of our political opinions.

I asked him as the evening waned how he was so calm about the loss of his home. This was his first fire, but a dozen years ago as a teen he lost his home in a devastating tornado that ripped up the lives of many in his community and killed several people he knew. “It’s not so bad when you know how to get back up after a disaster and everyone is still alive.”

As I returned to my hotel room, I found myself having been blessed by a man who had nothing but the clothes on his back taking time to have a conversation with a stranger and share his story so that a new friend might gain friendship and wisdom.

So I prayed for my new friend and I asked God to bless him and his family with the desires of his heart. I see a food truck and a son going to law school.. and a new home in his future, not for anything any of us have done, but because of the blessings God have already been placed in his heart…. a love for people, a willingness to love and serve, and a faith in our God who provides for all of our needs.

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

Too many cooks

There were a few moments during my mission trip to Guatemala that I would consider personal discovery moments.  Even before the trip, God was weighing on my heart about some things in my life that needed to change.

The first really core shaking moment was when one of my teammates was working on restoring the toilets to working order.  When we arrived there was only one and the bathrooms had no running water.  He had worked all day on the task pulling together parts and trying different things.  In an arrogant sort of way I started asking details about the task as if I knew better than he did about how to fix the toilets.  It wasn’t meant to come across that way and I really was wanting to be helpful.dsc_1071

My line of work has me spending a lot of my days solving problems.  I’m also the guy that when handed a puzzle will spend hours trying to solve it. Then I have to go around and show everyone once I’ve nailed it. For a moment I actually thought I knew better.  This was pride and arrogance speaking.  I had no more to offer than he was already doing and my efforts were no better than his.  In fact, I’d put my needs of solve a puzzle and feel significant above the relationship and the job we were doing.  How many of us do that?

The second happened the next day when we had finished the roof we were working on.  I headed over to help another crew on the house.  Again, same thing happened only this time I tried to show another teammate how to hold and cut a board.  This is something I’ve done lot of and had a technique that I thought would help get the job done faster and easier.  My delivery … well let’s just say it was awful. My teammates response was “There are too many cooks in the kitchen.”  As soon as he said it, I realized I was at it again and I needed to disengage.  I’d put my desire to finish the project, know-it-all attitude and personal ambition ahead of our relationship.  It was prideful and arrogant.

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I regret both of these incidents, but I’m also very thankful that God allowed me to learn something from these interactions.  My team mates were understanding and forgiving.  They more than just tolerated me.  My teammates are some really amazing followers of Jesus and showed love with each other (and me) as much as with the people we went to serve.

The whole realization forced me to answer some hard questions.  Do I really think I’m always right?  Why am I not taking into consideration how others feel?  Would I change now knowing what I’m doing? The answers brought some ugly realizations that I forced myself to confront and lay at the feet of Jesus.img_20170125_115436

For me this mission was never meant to be a self discovery. Had I not been convicted by the Holy Spirit, I probably would never have realized what I was doing and how it affects other people.  The mission was meant to help children and a village find Jesus and improve their lives.  But God had a few things he needed to teach each one of us on this trip. What I came home with was a greater insight into myself as a person interacting with others and a stronger relationship to God and to my teammates.  I also came home with a greater love for others and a renewed purpose in my life.

 

 

 

 

¿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?

Help me! Help me please!

After completing our mission in El Zapatillo, we spent a day on the Rio Dulce and traveled to Livingston by boat.  It was a grand trip.  We had lunch in Livingston and then spent some time perusing the shops.  As we were making our way back down the hill to the boat, I was walking ahead of the group and I came up on this woman.

She was very dark skinned and walked with a bit of a hunch and a limp.  A number of her teeth were missing and she was dressed haphazardly, even disheveled.  As she walked toward me she recognized me as an American and began to ask for money. Although I didn’t quite understand her words, I knew what she wanted.

In American we have this happen all the time.  People stand on the side of the highway with signs asking for work or food.  Most of the time when you offer them something they only want money.  It’s a big business to be a beggar on a busy street corner.

As I turned back toward my group she began speaking louder.  “Help Me! Help Me, Please!” she said over and again.  I will never forget that voice. There have only been a few times in my life where I’ve heard that cry from a person.  She was helpless and desperate.

As I looked at this lady, I recalled what I knew in America, but I’m not in America.  This is Guatemala and things are VERY different here.  So I looked to some of my mission team coming down the hill.

Rudy, our resident missionary was out in front, passed me and reached in his pocket as he walked by.  He gave the lady a couple of coins.  What he’d given her didn’t seem enough to meet her need.  Plus, I wasn’t sure if he had just given her something to keep her from making a scene or if this was a real need. How would I know?  I turned back and looked at Sully, Rudy’s wife.  She knew exactly what my glance meant and nodded an affirmative. So I pulled out a few dollars and handed it to her.

It’s so sad that I even had to stop for a moment and think about this, but in a way I believe it was the right thing to do.  It’s one thing to just give, but money is not always what’s needed.  If we don’t stop for a minute and assess the situation, listen, and open our hearts, then we might miss filling the real need in someone’s life.

As I reflected back on this situation later in the day, I wish I’d done something else .  A few dollars wasn’t enough.  How was the hope that I have in Jesus communicated?  I only gave her a couple meals and maybe that’s all she needed today, but what about tomorrow and the next day?  What about her children if she even had children? What about where she would sleep tonight?

One of the hardest things about going on a mission trip is seeing this kind of need pop up and knowing that we’re only there for a few days.  The relationships we form are short lived and in situations like this we might have one single interaction to make a difference in a person’s life.  But there’s always more to the story.

The story for that person doesn’t end when we leave and just because we’re gone, doesn’t mean that God doesn’t continue to work in that person’s life.  He may have sent us there just for that day for that woman, but he will send someone else tomorrow and another the next day.

I may not be in El Zapatillo today, but God is and he’s working on other people’s hearts to go and to provide for the children even as he has me doing other work here where I live.

Maybe God’s calling you to be a part of this mission or maybe he’s asking you to step forward and sponsor one of the children in El Zaptillo.  Whatever it is, take that step forward and follow him.  We can’t always make a difference by what we do, but when God directs our steps, he will.

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