Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Moments

The pattern of my current thinking:

Stage 1.
I'm glad to be in Uganda, but I'm loving the idea of spending six weeks with family and friends in Thailand. Food that I look forward to eating, kids with a vocabulary greater than "Hey Mzungu!", games, comfortable chairs/couches, and loads of friends I've known for years, yeah... I'm looking forward to this trip. Nine days and counting!

Stage 2.
I don't want to shut down. Just because I'm a short-timer doesn't mean there isn't stuff to do and ways to not waste the next week or so. I mean, I am going to be back in a couple months and all.

Stage 3.
When I think about what I wanted to accomplish or how bleak the situation is sometimes, its easy to get depressed and stop caring. At the same time, when I remember the moments when everything came together, it's all worth it. Most of the effort I've put into things seem to be wasted, unappreciated, and generally without fruit (at least for others), yet those few smiles that came from those conversations that connected, the women who said "I'm not afraid of God anymore.", the people who were genuinely helped, those moments were totally worth it. Totally worth all the hours spent waiting for nothing, the unattended classes, the broken communication, and the wonky expectations. Figuring out what God wants to do is way more useful than putting hopes and expectations on what I think I want to do.

Stage 4.
I'm definitely looking forward to Thailand, I hope I pay attention to God.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Final confermation: I am a complete pansy

Got to spend most of yesterday driving on dirt "roads" outside Gulu. We even got to breakdown in the middle of nowhere and contemplate a night in the bush, fortunately enough water drained out of the car for it to start and, mostly, run again. Cool adventure right? Well...

On our way back we saw a lady pushing a bike with about 80lbs of sweet-potatoes on the seat and a baby strapped to her back. This wasn't all that unusual a sight, but the pastor who was driving saw something in her eyes and thought something was off. She wasn't asking for help, but she wasn't saying no to it either. After figuring out how to get her, her bike, and her bag into what was left of the truck we started driving. An hour and about 25 miles later we dropped her off in her town... the one she was pushing her bike to at 3:30 in the afternoon. Think about that for a second.

After talking to her we found out that her husband had left her for a younger wife (not uncommon out here), the kid that was strapped to her back was still nursing and struggling with malaria (a.k.a. some kind of fever sickness), and the place where she could do some farming (for food and cash) was 30+ miles from where her, her kids, and her mom lived.

What she needed as much as a ride was a sling to keep her balls from dragging in the dirt. Thanks to her, I am shamefully aware that I have never done anything tough in the entirety of my life.

Later that night, after getting back to my comfy guest house, I started to question the necessity of the trip we had taken. I mean it took almost the whole day, almost broke the car, exhausted everyone involved, and cost about $70 in gas (yup it's that expensive out here). The thing is, I also remembered the lady, who is tougher than I will ever be, and how we were able to save her and her baby 25 miles of nastiness and at least one night in the bush. Thinking of her made me think that this whole trip up to Gulu will is more than worth it, even if the only thing that comes out of it is some dust in my lungs and knowing that for a few moments we were able to give a tired woman a rest from the normalcy of her life.

I'm not sharing this to say "Hey look at me, I helped someone." The truth is I'm kinda embarrassed that I didn't do more and that we almost drove past her, just like we drove past everyone else. I refuse to think too long about that one; I'd be a mess if I ever did.

On another note: I preached a couple of times this morning about worship and how the story of the prostitute anointing Jesus in Luke 7 is so amazing. I found out later that the church is full of ex-prostitutes who followed the solders over from Congo. I get the feeling that that story is a lot bigger than me. I might get around to thinking about that one.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The End of Patience (Why can't I ever talk to the Muslims and Socialist who know how to think?)

So I've been talking with this Muslim guy on Facebook for the last couple weeks. I didn't mean to, it just sort of happened. Today, hopefully, marked my last post in the conversation. I never tried to convert him to Christianity or badmouth Islam, I was just trying to clarify some points, both historical and theological. Watching 'Jersey Shores' would have been more productive. The funny thing is, this conversation coincided with another FB conversation about socialism that more or less had the same result (I think). Today marked the end of my patience.

I'm all for interfaith dialogs, finding common ground, debating sociopolitical systems, and avoiding the "you are going to hell/your very own moron kingdom" statements that tend to erode dialogue to the "My Dad is stronger than your Dad", "My force-field protects me from your death-ray", and "You can't triple stamp a double stamp" level of juvenile pissing contests (though those can be fun). That said, they never seem to happen, at least to me. I don't need people to agree with me, I just want them to acknowledge reality.

If you want to be a Muslim, fine, just don't tell me my faith in Christ is wrong because Mohammad says so. I give you the common decency of talking about your religion within its own historic and social context in a desperate attempt to not make the conversation Jesus vs. Mohammad, Arabs vs. The West. Likewise, it's fine with me if you dislike capitalism, it certainly has it's problems, just don't tell me socialism works, has ever worked, or that Stalin was violent but Lenin was a nice guy. Unfortunately the simplicity of this approach seems to be a bit too complex for the people I end up talking to. Acknowledging that Islam has its flaws/inconsistencies/contradictions or that socialism has a worse history than fascism doesn't make you a bad person or mean you have lost the argument, it just means you are willing to deal with reality and that you aren't afraid to think.

Before you get too offended, many Christians struggle with the same insecurity. The insecurity and fear that prompts a kid to hide underneath his covers and close his eyes. Granted if there really is a monster in the room then its possible that the kid purchased magical covers from his local WOW distributor, and staying under them is actually his best play. That specific scenario not being the case, getting out of bed, turning the lights on, and seeing what you actually have to deal with is the only smart and secure thing to do. People who are actually looking for the truth tend to make this play. People who are afraid that they are wrong and don't want to deal with the consequences say things like, "capitalism is bad and socialism makes me feel good so it must be right", "Mohammad says that Christians are wrong so they are", and "My pastor says this so it must be true". These are all valid arguments, as long as you don't have your own brain.

The political arguments don't matter that much in the big picture, but the religious stuff might. When you stand before the judgment seat of God, something Jews, Christians, and Muslims are all expecting, you are going to be standing alone. What your rabbi, pastor, or imam said no longer matters. It is strange that so many don't bother to figure out why they believe what they believe on this side of things. At the least it would make for less discouraging conversations and I'd be less likely to call you a moron behind your back. Not that that would stop you from calling me one.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Fiction and the Future

One of the annoying things about spending time over her is constantly meeting people who believe salvation can be found in America either in getting there or in getting something from there. I love America, it is far from perfect, but it is freaking awesome. I believe that America is the greatest country in the world, not because I'm a redneck gun toting conservative that falls asleep listening to the national anthem (that only happened once), but because I've been a bunch of other places and I've payed attention to history. America is faaarrrr from perfect and often falls well short of its own ideals, sometimes with tragic consequences. But within the history of nations, superpowers, and rebellious colonies, America is exceptional. There is imbalance between the classes, but there is also fluidity of movement between them. There are racial tensions, but never before has a nation successfully incorporated so many different cultures and people-groups into one body, and in the process been willing to acknowledge its failures.

If I think America is the greatest, why does the belief that going to America will fix everything bother me so much? Because it isn't true and it takes people's hopes and attention away from things that matter.

I am yet to meet an African that doesn't want to go to America. I'm sure they exist, I Just haven't met them. Getting a visa/green card is the equivalent of winning the lottery. The poor in America have more resources, opportunities, and freedom than most of the middle class and semi-affluent in most African countries. The challenge is, most of them will never get there, not as immigrants and not as visitors. But that doesn't stop people from hoping and dreaming; dreaming about a place where everything is good and where their lives will be easy and full of prosperity. But that place doesn't exist, at least not the same as in their dreams.

I was thinking about this stuff and I realized I do the same thing. I don't have a country or a place to look to and hope about and dream of, thinking "If only". But I do have the dream of 'the next' the hope of the 'maybe then'. The truth is, someday I may find 'My America' here on earth, but if I do, it won't look like anything that I could imagine. It will have its own challenges, stresses, and complications. There may be the peace that comes from knowing it is home and there is no reason to keep on searching and looking forward to the next, but it won't be perfect, it won't be the undefined paradise that is in my head.

It's because of this that I find myself in the constant struggle to find the balance between taking advantage of the opportunities and experiences that are available today and not getting lost in the daydreams of the grass on the other side, and maintaining the hope and the desire for those things that are yet to be, the place (figurative or literal) that I'm yet to get to. I don't want to be the guy that places all his hopes and energy in winning the lottery, getting his U.S. Visa, getting the perfect job, etc. I want to be the guy who keeps on moving in the "right" direction and takes care of whats in front of him. The problem is, this is a lot harder than dreaming about a fictional future.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

For your enjoyment/depression

These are just a few of the articles/headlines found in the local newspaper last Thursday:

Several concerning politics

Suspected goat thief arrested

Fishmongers protest harassment - officials extorting fish sellers

LC1 chairman caned over drunkenness - Youths gave the chairman 10 strokes after repetitively pissing his pants while drunk

Man held for killing daughter - Father beat the 13 year old daughter to death because of rumors that she was having an affair

K'jong warriors kill one, injure 3 - 10 year old boy shot dead as part of a revenge attack at tribal dance

15,000 Bugiri pupils get treatment for Jiggers

Jinja parents blamed for rise in child abuse - Some parents do not report the assaults, hoping for compensation from defilers

Female genital mutilation is the worst form of torture

Fireworks good, but can be dangerous - Can set off intruder alarms, distress elderly and animals

Witchcraft, land disputes escalate murder in Lango - Seven people accused of witchcraft were killed between July and September

5 different sexual partner every woman needs before settling down

So we are all clear on this: fireworks are potentially dangerous because they set off alarms and scare old people and animals, the whole exploding thing is apparently not that big a deal. If you are in politics and often find yourself drunkenly pissing your pants, you should probably avoid the youth. Jiggers are real. In a country ravaged by HIV/aids and where unwed mothers are ostracized, it is important for young women to have several different types of sexual partners and specific experiences before settling down and becoming respectable.

The best part about reading the newspaper out here is seeing how fundamentally different cultures are and how the most bizarre and abnormal events can find themselves on the 16th page of the Thursday paper, as if they were afterthoughts to the important info concerning local politics. At least witches aren't stealing penises in Uganda yet. No, seriously http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSN2319603620080424

Before you judge someone from a different culture, or assume you know how to fix problems in other countries, bear in mind, most people's common sense/logic is built on information and experiences that differ from what you would consider normal. It isn't arrogant to think that you are right; it's arrogant to think everyone else is an idiot for not recognizing it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Surrender or die!?!?!?

'Never give up never surrender!'These words echo the sentiment of Churchill's famous speech which galvanized a besieged nation. They have become part of popular culture and the mindset of strong determined people. This mindset is often valued and admired, after all, we don't play to lose.

I've always hated losing, playing for "Fun" to me means playing to win. I base this on the fact that you don't usually see sad mopey people on the winning team. Good sportsmanship means pretending like wining doesn't matter, while being a good sportsman means knowing that it does... I think.

Here is the challenge I face: a major aspect of Christianity is built on the principle of surrender. There is the belief that God knows better and that we are meant to stoically drag ourselves up on the altar and sacrifice our needs, wants, and desires so we gain some greater future reward. This has built a christian mindset that fosters the statement "it's just my cross to bear." Well fine, whatever. This is probably built on strong theological foundations, but my guess is it misses the point.

I've made a lot of decisions, in many areas of my life, based on the principle of short term sacrifice for long term gain. I'm starting to believe/understand a different perspective on it when it comes to God. I believe that it is better phrased, 'Short term sacrifice for permanent and immediate gain'. I think the long term gain that people talk about, you know the whole New Creation and treasures in heaven thing, is real, it's just short sighted of all things. Not shortsighted in the sense of it being the nearest and most immediate thing, but in the sens of only being able to see one thing.

I'm learning that surrender is the act of letting go of the things that we think we control, the things that we cling to, the things we think we need, even the things that make us stronger. We surrendering these things, not because they are bad, but because they fall short.

It would be stupid of me to try to build my own computer from scratch. I've seen them, I know what they are supposed to do, I even understand some of the most basic principles that govern them, but asking me to build a microchip is like asking an untrained monkey to lecture on quantum physics. Yet for some reason, I can trick myself into thinking I'm qualified to walk myself into that New Creation or assemble my life pieces in such a way that I will be truly satisfied, full of life, and happy. I can't and don't.

My surrender to God isn't some desperate sacrifice of action and accountability on the altar of predestination, but is ideally, and hopefully, the continuing reaction to a developing relationship with the guy who put the parts together in the first place, and knows how everything runs. As life and relationship develop he keeps asking me for more parts of my life so that he can strap them to the Lego structure that he has been working on. Even if they are basically good and comfortable parts, if I cling to them they won't be used the the way they can, the way that is best. They will be 'less than', and they will be sad remnants of the pile of Lego pieces that were started with. What was once a strength becomes a stagnant pool or a disjointed limb. What it ceases to be is alive, life-giving, and growing.

The concept of surrender within Christianity isn't a mark of weakness, but a sign of faith in someone else's strength. If I want a computer that works, I go to a Mac store; if I want to know about quantum physics, I don't talk to a monkey; If I wan to become more like Jesus, I better learn how to surrender.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Love and Hate Africa

Things I love about Africa (Uganda in specific):

1. Most of the people are nice and the con artists are usually easy to spot.
2. The local transport is cheep, as is most of the food (non-western).
3. Local ingenuity and complete disregard for anything resembling OSHA standards.
4. The belief that a 125cc motorcycle made in the Mid-East is a perfectly legitimate way to transport: another 125cc Motorcycle (on the back of the seat), 15ft poles dragged behind in traffic, 8ft reams of aluminum siding (crosswise), a family of five, or almost anything that can be purchased.
5. The unstated, yet often practiced, belief that enough dirt can fix almost anything.
6. People are much less self-conscious concerning weight (much harder to inadvertently make inappropriate comments).
7. That people tend to be much more concerned with relationships than schedules.
8. The misguided belief that I care about titles. This allows me to sarcastically claim the title Reverend Bishop Pastor, His High Holiness, Missionary to Humanity, Apostle to the Apostles, the Left Hand of God, Brother Blue (I’m thinking of having cards made).
9. People are often committed and passionate in worship.
10. Kids still know how to play outside.
11. People love music.
12. European football leagues are watched and cared about.

Things I hate about Africa (Uganda in general):

1. There are a lot of con artists, scammers, and takers, which gets you in the habit of distrusting people… often those who actually need help.
2. The variety of food. When you have soil and climate that will literally grow or enable the raising of almost anything, you can do way better than maze, cassava, and pork, flavored with salt and tomatoes, both for flavor and health (basil, oregano, garlic, peppers, almost any other spice, green leafy vegetables, guava, beef cattle, cheeses and other dairy products from the cows and goats you already have, salsa, baked goods that aren’t of the consistency of cardboard and gravel, etc.)
3. The way women are treated and how cultural stigmas enable so many more people to be abused, neglected, and ignored. Also the fact that this happens on a much broader scale in a culture that “values” community more than most western cultures.
4. The dependence on the west for most technologies and principles of developing infrastructure coupled with a general lack of desire to apply the principles that make them actually work, or be efficient.
5. The general dependence on the west for a lot of things. Helping and being helped is good; welfare and dependence are bad. They just are.
6. Pride: people don’t care about weight, but everything else matters.
7. The top down and bottom up culture of corruption that makes progression way more difficult/costly/useless than it needs to be.
8. The cultural belief that leaders and those in authority are meant to be served and respectfully obeyed in all things. Everyone knows their place and anyone above anyone else make sure it is known.
9. Freedom is talked about as an ideal, but control is the often-practiced reality.
10. “Racism” doesn’t exist, but tribalism does and it is much worse (at least when compared to the U.S. today).
11. Hope is often invested in westerners with money rather than God who has actual power.
12. Church sound systems. Seriously, if you burnt every single one in Africa it would be a massive net gain for worship and preaching.
13. Most of the popular local music SUCKS! In general it is a bad version of poorly produced bad American pop or hip hop.
14. If something is scheduled for 2 p.m. no one shows up until 4 p.m. and it doesn’t start till 5 p.m.
15. You can’t watch American football.
16. I don’t get to drink.

Things in the gray area:

1. The belief that sugar should make up at least 25% of any beverage.
2. Cold sodas are rare. Finding one makes it that much better.
3. Portions for local food are often big.
4. Church is often a social as well as spiritual event. This can make church last way too long.
5. Traffic laws are rarely known or considered anything other than suggestions.
6. The cost of cars and gas makes it so that the traffic is only bad half the time.
7. DVD’s are cheep, but often lousy.
8. Nigerian movies make Bollywood movies almost watchable.
9. Having no hot water keeps the electric bill down, but then again so do the power failures.
10. Crappy internet stimulates my reading, or causes me to waist 3 hours trying to send one email.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Road corpses and other things

Road safety in Africa isn't the same as it is in the U.S. The roads are worse, the cars are worse, the drivers are worse, there are no crosswalks, there are only rarely sidewalks, the shoulder and the oncoming lane are often treated as the "other" lane, and pedestrians often treat all three spaces as walkways and living spaces. In other words, people get "knocked" quite a bit out here. I saw a newly dead body on the side of the road yesterday, the third time I've seen this in Africa and the second time this trip. Death is no less tragic out here, it's just a lot more common and is treated in a much more matter of fact sort of way.

Nothing impacts me quite like death and I'm fairly sure this goes for all of us. Seeing a body on the side of the road opens all of the doors in my mind and takes all of the words out of my mouth... I start wondering what I'm supposed to think and how I'm supposed to feel; I wonder about who they were and where they are now; I wonder about their family and friends and eventually the driver of what ever vehicle hit them. It's strange because I rarely feel too sad for the person in the gutter, not because I'm heartless, but because it's over for them. Whatever life was for them, what ever they did or tried to do, whatever joys and hurts formed them, it's over.

Few things make me question the afterlife like death. Heaven, hell, asleep, or nothing, it is beyond me to know (I'm talking practical/experiential not theological/belief). Wherever they are now it isn't here, here is done for them. For the rest of us though, here is still going on. For the family and friends, their lives will never bee the same. The true pain of death is felt by those that are still alive. For the driver, cleared or prosecuted, known or unknown, there is a dead body that will be in their memories and on their spirit until he or she dies. Even for the guy driving by in the taxi, that corpse is going to be alive in his thoughts and his minds eye like few breathing people ever will. That guy in the taxi will think about his own life and the inevitability of his death, not with fear or anxiety, but with a brief moment of clarity and knowledge. The knowledge that says, "some day that will be you, it may be the side of some road in Africa surrounded by strangers, or in some posh hospital caught in a loosing race with old age, but that will be you." It's this clarity that reminds you to wonder... about everything.

Religion is for the living, it tries to give us a structure to organize our thoughts, questions, hopes, and fears. On the other hand, the dead get Jesus. Either he is who he said he is and did what he said he did, which means he is everything; or he isn't and didn't which means he is nothing. Everything or nothing, when we die, we only get Jesus. I wish more of us lived in the constant reality of what the dead know. Religion is to help us cope, while Jesus is to help us live. Religion, politics, race, ethics, and culture only exists in the space that comes before death, while Jesus exists in the space that comes before as well as the one that comes after. Everything literally depends on Jesus. I wish I was better at living as if this were true.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fighting Complacency

I was going to write about fighting complacency but then realized that it was just going to be literatic diarrhea for the sake of doing something... kinda strange when you think about it. In any case, I'm not going to inflict that on you.

Instead I'll tell you about church from a week and a half ago. I was going to a church I hadn't been to before (seems to happen about every other week), which is often an interesting and tiring way to spend a Sunday. I thought that I should talk on Galatians but couldn't figure out what passage to target. After a few minutes it dawned on me that Galatians, as well as most New Testament books, was a letter that was written to a community and was meant to be understood in its entirety. Solution: preach the entire book in about an hour while using an interpreter (this would actually be a great challenge to throw down in a homiletics class).

The result was a really fun hour of preaching and teaching, outlined by Paul and the Holy Spirit, which seemed to keep the majority of the people in the church attentive and connected (I have both slept and put people to sleep in church before, so from a selfish perspective I counted this as a win). After talking about authority from God, the true and only gospel, getting bewitched, the faithfulness OF Jesus in his salvific work for us, the presence of the Holy Spirit in us that is the reality of our familial relationship with God, the goodness and simultaneous deadness of the law, being motivated by the law of love, and being accountable to being in line with the Spirit and gospel of God rather than some perceived list of rules and regulations, the leadership told me that this message was for the church. No kidding right? But then they expanded on it saying that they were struggling with the issue of people from the church going to witchdoctors in an attempt to get fixes and sort things out according to the world view that they had grown up with.

Paul had spoken against teachers who claimed human authority and appealed to traditions and culture saying, in an intentional exaggeration, that they must be using witchcraft to pull the new believers back into legalism. Oddly enough, 1900+ years later that same message, with the same emphasis also spoke to a community that was being entrapped by literal witchcraft. As I think about it now, I cant help but acknowledge that it is the Spirit of God that gives power and direction to the words that we use and the way people hear us. Had I known that returning to witchcraft was one of the issues that the community was struggling with I probably would have taken an entirely different direction, meanwhile the Spirit was there going "Oooo, I know what will work."

I guess that this is all just one more example of how God uses our ignorance and obedience to accomplish the stuff he wants to. Having a clue can sometime be overrated.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

too much time

I feel busy yet I have nothing to do, at least obligation wise. This last week has been real slow. The ministry trip to Nairobi got postponed, all the kids are away on holiday, I think I've written everything that I have to write for the moment, I'm waiting to hear about decisions concerning Gulu, I can't do anything in the new computer lab until the glass goes in the windows, and the printer is broken so working up an outline for the leadership training isn't that big of a deal. That said, the days go by as fast as ever and I always seem to be doing something (important or not, I don't know). This down time doesn't really bother me, and I'd hardly even notice it if I had a beach to go to or a project to work on, but I don't. Instead I get to dwell on personal issues and let minor thoughts play out to their full extent.
I don't think that either of these are bad things to do, at least as long as you don't beat yourself up about your chinks and cracks. I think it's good to stand in front of the mirror sometimes, maybe even essential. One of the things that I've been reminded of is that I'm not very good at loving people, which I think is connected to being moderately antisocial. I don't usually dislike people, more often than not I just don't mind not being around them. This is a totally foreign concept to most people in Uganda. Out here most people don't really have that much to do and most of them take a long time doing it. One of the reasons for this is the way people treat relationships. Being an hour late to a meeting is less rude than walking past someone you know on the street and not having a conversation with them.
The strange thing is, this cultural social mindset doesn't mean that local Ugandans are any better at loving people than those of us given to more antisocial tendencies. I think that this is because, more often than not, for most of us love is a lifestyle choice that is easily overlooked.
I started thinking about this because I read a blog about some missionaries who have chosen to live their lives in a slum area of Uganda. There was just some big emotional stuff that happened with them when they got involved in the lives of some seriously neglected women who had their toes over deaths door. These missionaries threw themselves into loving the women and ministering the love of God on them, and it is beautiful, it is redemptive, and it is confrontational to those who didn't and don't do it.
I loved reading the story of their love for these women and how they got involved in their lives, but then I got irritated at how it was a couple of western women living in other people's country, a country that has a social/communal culture, who were the first to love these broken and neglected women. Don't get me wrong, I love the fact that they got involved, but I'm sad that no one else did. I love that these women are living in a poverty stricken slum full of neglected, forgotten, and malnourished people, but I'm sad that the larger, socially oriented, rich in food, and full of churches/Christians local community left them the chance.
There are great and real challenges for many people born in Sub Saharan Africa, but practical resources and capacity to love shouldn't be among them. In a place that is full of "social" people, where everything is green, and it is as easy to find a church as it is to find a bar, there is no excuse for neglect and malnutrition. I'm sad that love is a choice that most people don't make and that those of us who do usually aren't very good at it.
I wish that I was better at loving people, but I'm also glad that there are those who already are.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Balance

I’ve hit a stretch where it is hard to write. I don’t think it’s writers block, at least not in the oppressive mind numbing sense, I just don’t feel like I have that much to say. Great way to start a blog right?
What’s even better is I’m preaching on Sunday and I have no idea what to talk about… the upside is that I know I’m preaching several days in advance rather than being told Sunday morning, so… Yippee, at least I get to pray about it?
The funny thing is, I’m looking forward to preaching. I’ve found that preaching is kinda like praying for people, having an idea and a plan for what “I” want to do or accomplish usually falls flat, regardless of the quality or competence of the effort. Likewise, when I don’t have anything to pray, or even feel like praying, as long as I stick with it long enough I remember that the value comes from what God does or wants to do. I think the trick is to remember from the start, and think, pray, and work down that path with the expectation that God can give you a message before you are standing in front of a bunch of people with your butt hanging out… not that that isn’t fun sometimes.
I guess there is a life lesson in there somewhere. Trying to figure out when and how to work and plan and when to just go for it and trust the net/rope/wings/God opens your life up to a bunch of… well… life. Life that you wouldn’t have had access to if you only operated within the comfort of your plans and abilities or in the passivity of waiting for the moment before doing anything.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

In Gulu

I feel like I should post, but the truth is I don't really have anything to say. A lot is going on, but for whatever reason it hasn't effected me yet.
So I'm up in Gulu in the northern part of Uganda (heart of the LRA, Invisible Children, issued-up gov't stuff). I spent the last two days interviewing child soldiers and people who had been abducted by the LRA. For some of them it was easy to talk about for others not. Some of them escaped after a few days and "just" went through the normal African conflict stuff, while others spent years as children forced into war. Some have physical scars, some have nightmares, some have babies, all of them went through shit.
At some point I realized that to me their lives were just words, some of them I felt for, but I couldn't identify with any of them. It was really strange, I think it was the first time I was in such a personal situation with people and their stories where it wasn't ministry related. At a few points I almost asked if I could pray with them, but I didn't. I was there to get their stories and to figure out if there is stuff CHF can do to help them out of the extreme poverty that they are dealing with. There weren't any rules against praying or loving them, it's just that there was other stuff to do, other people to talk to... There is a lot of I don't know right now.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

vent

The U.S. lost to Ghana yesterday at the World Cup and I'm not all that sad about it. Don't get me wrong, it sucks, but losing the game convicted me of something. I'm not sure if convict is the right word, maybe just aggressively remind is a better one. The truth is I am easily distracted.
Over the last couple weeks I've been spiritually winding down. I don't expect to be on a spiritual high my whole life, though that would be nice, but I don't like accepting the low points. As the U.S. was losing the game yesterday I was reminded of how much I need God, not in the sinner/savior sense, but in the personal and present sense. The drift of the last few weeks has been medicated through work, the visit of friends, and the distraction of soccer. None of those things are bad, I would argue that they are for the most part good, which is why this is so strange. Even good things, when allowed to occupy the wrong spaces, can suck the life out of you just as fast as things that are arguably bad. This totally blows.
Just needed to vent.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Intro

I have arrived at a simplified point in my life. No longer a youth, and not yet “mature”, I’ve seen enough to know a little, and the little that I know is quite nice. I’ve grown up in and around ministry; the lives of both my parents have been etched with an unmistakable passion for God. The force of their lives, mixed with an unmasked reality of the relationship between God and humanity, became the stabilizing center of my life a long time ago. I never saw the hypocrisy that has often been revealed in the midweek’s of parents in ministry. My parents’ giftings and passions, as well as their flaws and failures, were equally visible from the pulpit and the couch. This is a transparency and a reality that I respect and am deeply grateful for. Even when I was unsure of myself, I was sure of them. This surety has enabled me to wander far from home, sometimes figuratively and often literally, knowing that I had, and to this day have, an anchor, and that I am secure in all the ways that matter. The fact that through my parents, and their various accomplices, I was exposed to a high level of practical, active, and relational theology is something that I appreciate very much. The impact of the Holy Spirit hasn’t hurt much either.
The simplicity that is in my life is found in a singular desire and a simple passion. For all of my exposure to the world, broken politics, church politics, the excesses and successes of some communities, the failures and depravities of others, as well as my ever present list of needs and desires, I have arrived at a place where I can honestly say that all I really care about is knowing and being known by God and experiencing and sharing in the gospel of Jesus Christ. My list of accomplishments and hardships is not nearly as impressive or comprehensive as Paul’s, but it has been enough to enable me to realize that everything completely useless without God. That said, as a general rule, I’m not opposed to comfort and freedom.
I’ve sat through enough “good advice” sermons to know that no one really listens to them and enough “high scholarship” lessons to know that if it isn’t practical it may as well be in Swahili for all the good it does. At the same time, when the gospel comes out, whether it is from an ex-addict or an active one, from a country pulpit or a mud hut without a pulpit, in a lecture hall with an English accent or around a campfire aided by some single malt, it leaves an indelible footprint in the soul. I’ve seen it bring joy, set people free, stimulate greater and lesser intellects alike, and fundamentally change lives. Regardless of whatever else is going on, the gospel matters.
I am a current sinner who is in the process of being reformed by the active presence of the Holy Spirit. I like things that I shouldn’t like and I make mistakes I shouldn’t make, but I love Jesus, and step by awkward and slow step I’m coming closer to him. I’ve been without guilt for a little while now, shame is a distant memory (yet still a memory), and regret is rarely seen. I am more aware of the depth of my brokenness and sinful nature, while at the same time being less concerned with them than ever before; both of these realities are connected in every way to a growing understanding of, and a dependence on, the gospel of God.
This book is not meant to be comprehensive from a scholarly perspective or universally applicable from a practical perspective. It is simply a collaboration of accounts and presentations of the gospel in various forms and from different perspectives. The unifying thread is that, in some form or fashion, they have each impacted me. In the shadow of each of these presentations, resides a moment from my life that in some way, small or large, altered the way that I see and relate to God. Regardless of how these stories and presentations impact you, they have already done work in me. That said, I hope and pray that the Spirit continues to reveal God through them.

Chapter 1

1. Backtracking to What Matters, or A Preemptive Conclusion

I think that I’ve operated out of an incomplete understanding of the gospel for most of my life, and I don’t think that I’m the only one. I think that, for the most part, this is due to the comprehensive nature of the gospel rather than the inadequacies of any one presenter.
Let’s look at a familiar statement. Jesus, the Son of God, came to earth as a man, he died on the cross in order to forgive us our sins, he was resurrected, and he went back to heaven. This is a fairly standard Life Death Resurrection and Ascension presentation of the gospel; one that I’ve grown up hearing and one that I’m sure most of us are familiar with. Now answer honestly, if you told this to your non-Christian friends would they be impressed, transformed, or compelled to find out more? If you were a non-believer, and not seeking, would this statement have done anything for you? The truth is, I can’t get away from the thought that if I were an atheist, agnostic, Buddhist, Muslim, etc. that this presentation of the gospel, or its extended variations, would have fallen flat in my ears, no matter how much in need of a savior I was proclaimed to be. Yet the gospel was a pretty big deal back in the day, and not just to the Jews who were prepped and looking for it, but also to Greeks and all forms of pagans who had no expectation of the gospel. The gospel literally was the “power of God for their salvation”, and it hit a whole bunch of them pretty hard. So what is the difference between the gospel that transformed the ancient known world and our standard answer to the question, “what is the gospel?”
I know that I’ve heard the life, death, resurrection, and ascension (LDRA) statement so many times that the words have mostly lost their impact on me. At the very least, I don’t naturally think to the meaning beyond the words, and again, I don’t think that I’m the only one. I can honestly say that I love the gospel; it has become the central driving force in my thinking and contemplation of life, and hopefully for that matter, the driving force of my life. It is the good news of God and about God, and those LDRA words, though central and accurate, fail to encompass my expanding understanding of the gospel.
As a point of biblical orientation, Jesus was preaching the gospel years before his death, resurrection, and ascension, so whatever it was that Jesus was so keyed up on, it wasn’t yet dependant on the DRA portions of the gospel. An interesting reality is that people were being transformed, set free, and healed by his actions and his message long before the cross and its aftermath figured into the equation. They were effected to such an extent, that a bunch of them got excited and ran off and told people about Jesus. In doing so, the transformation, repentance, and excitement that came to them through their direct contact with Jesus also came to the people they came into contact with. Some of the people even testified about Jesus in direct contradiction to Jesus’ command. Like I said, I find that to be on the “interesting” side of things.
How many of us would still feel compelled to share our faith and the things that Jesus has done, if there was a twelfth commandment that went, “Thou shall not testify about the Lord your God to your friends, neighbors, or those you come in contact with”? My guess is that this would simplify life for a bunch of us. If this guess is true, then it is an unfortunate and enlightening tragedy.
Think about it, what if all you could do to biblically evangelize your work mates was to blurt out, “20 years ago stuff happened in my life and now I go to church on Sundays, you can try to figure it out on your own if you want… you know, or not.” Thus would begin and end the majority of testimonials. This is both compelling and rich right? Not so much. On the bright side, we would be free from the stress of having to coming up with interesting and compelling reasons for becoming Christians, and in all honesty, it would be nice to finally get out from under that strange and unnatural cloud of awkward expectation.
I know we don’t all fit into this category, but the truth is that a good natured and often genuine breed of schizophrenic Christian occupies many of the pews of our generation’s church buildings. I’ve been there myself. Happy and comfortable in church, sure of what I believed, yet the thought of approaching a friend and “witnessing” to them, bringing up an ill natured obligation and a sudden confusion about what to say and what I’m supposed to believe and feel. I refuse to believe that this is a healthy aspect of the Christian life.
Sure, there is an elite breed of passionate Christians, the natural evangelists, who exude the love of God. For these people, talking about the relevance and the love of Jesus to a stranger on the street is completely genuine, and comes as naturally as talking about a football game from the day before is to the rest of us. I love these people and maybe one day I’ll join their ranks, but I’d be lying if I said that I was one of them now (though I have had my moments). I can beat myself up over it, question the genuineness of my faith, and start trying to bludgeon people into the Kingdom out of a misguided desire to prove to myself and other Christians that I belong in the club. Or, I can ask myself what I believe and why it matters, and when I get the chance, I can tell people what that is. If it ends up sounding like the standard LDRA answer that will be just fine, as long as I know why it matters to me. Not why it should matter, but why it does matter. If it ends up sounding a bit different from the LDRA gospel, well, so did the Samaritan woman’s testimony who was at the well, and that seemed to be just fine with Jesus.
Let me be clear about this, there are different presentations of the gospel, just as there are different people who profess it, and there is a beauty, versatility, and power in this variety. There are also different gospels, and as far as Paul was concerned, this is not an “Okay” thing. As a matter of fact, it is decidedly bad and a bit on the demonic side… not that you care about that sort of thing. In order for a gospel to be The Gospel, it needs to align with the person of Jesus. Ever notice how Paul never seemed to correct, discipline, or confront people with the law or with anything other than the gospel and the person of Jesus? Well, there was a reason for that. The gospel and the person of Jesus was literally the entirety of what Paul cared about. I think I’m starting to understand where he was coming from, and it’s starting to get to be a comfortable place for me. I don’t even mind talking about it.
What is starting to click, what is beginning to establish itself as home for me, is the reality that Jesus is the beginning and end of the good news about God. This is because Jesus is the beginning and end of God. I believe that the fullness of the gospel is summed up in a simple statement, “When you see Jesus, you finally begin to know God.” All of your other broken and distorted concepts of the gray haired angry, displeased, disappointed, or otherwise indifferent distant creature in the sky gets crushed and pulverized under the sandaled and one time bloodied feed of Jesus. Jesus says, “Listen up! I don’t care what you thought before, I Am! I am the authority on who my Father is. Now, did you have any other questions?”
I say that Jesus is the beginning and end of God because, according to Revelation, he is the Alpha and the Omega. According to John, Hebrews, Colossians, etc. Jesus is the perfect revelation of God and all of creation was created through him and is held together by him. These writers don’t exactly leave a lot of wiggle room as to the prominence of Jesus as the action of God and the representation of God in creation. I’ll be honest and say that I don’t exactly understand how the Trinity works. That whole same but different, unified but separate thing still gets a little fuzzy for me sometimes. That said, I am completely at peace knowing that Jesus represents God, God represents Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is an indispensable player in the relationship. To paraphrase Thomas Aquinas’ thoughts on the Holy Spirit, “The Spirit is the love that passes between the Father and Son.” This puts an epic twist on the consequences and implications of being ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ or being ‘baptized in the Spirit’, doesn’t it? But that’s food for a later thought.
Paul said that he wasn’t ashamed of the gospel, because it was the power of God for our salvation. That means that the good news about God, which is that Jesus is God, is the very power of God to save us. “Saving us” being the act of bringing us back into relationship with God. You see, God was not the one who rejected us; He never stopped accepting us, pursuing us, desiring relationship with us, or trying to reveal Himself to us. Jesus didn’t die so that it would be okay for God to like us again, because God never stopped loving us. God didn’t need to save us from any brokenness in His orientation to us, but from brokenness in our orientation to Him.
The Old Testament is literally full of God’s attempts to reveal Himself and be in relationship with His people. Don’t get me wrong, there were some rough spots, God definitely brought some “doom” down on the Israelites from time to time, but it was always with an eye towards bringing them back to Him and towards revealing Himself to all nations. The law itself was given (I believe) as a second option, after His initial desire to reveal himself to all of the people was rejected… by the people. Even the law itself was intended to pull people towards God. It was not God’s rejection of us that we ever needed to worry about, it was our rejection of Him that crippled us and gave us over to an oppressive master, one that we needed to be saved from, one that we could not free ourselves from.
Jesus didn’t enable God to like us again, he enable us to know God, and in knowing God to choose God, and in choosing God to love God, and in loving God… to live. In Jesus, God accomplished what He had set out to do in Eden. In Jesus, God walked with man; He knew humanity and was known by humanity. In Jesus, God said, “This is who I Am! You have always been enough for me, am I enough for you?” Over the last couple thousand years, countless men, women, and children have answered “Yes” and are now alive and becoming alive in the unfolding knowledge of God.
The good news, the gospel, the power of God for our salvation, is the self-revelation of God. Jesus, himself, is the gospel of God. It’s not just found in what he did, but it is found in every molecule of who he was.
After Jesus revealed himself to people through his actions, words, and often the power of the Spirit that was in him, they ran off and told people about him, they asked if they could follow him, they served him, or they walked of and said “well, that was nice, I wonder what’s for dinner.” In the case of some of the teachers and experts in the law, they rejected him and eventually succeeded in killing him. In each case, people were given a perfect reflection of God and were given the chance to respond. Is the LDRA statement of the gospel, as we think of it or as it is presented to non-believers, a perfect reflection of who God is? I’m not saying that it isn’t, I’m just asking. I’m asking because for me it isn’t, it falls short of describing what I love about the gospel, it falls short of what I love about God. It is without a doubt included, and it may very well be an apt reduction of the essential aspects of the gospel, but to the uninitiated, it doesn’t present the nature, the character, or the driving motivation of God towards the initiated and uninitiated alike.
If I were to try to convince a person why they should try, and in fact love, crème brulée, I wouldn’t tell them, “Well, it’s heavy cream, vanilla, eggs, and sugar that has been charred with a torch.” Is that technically accurate? Yes. Would that make a person’s mouth water who has experienced the finished product before? Possibly. Is that going to entice a person who isn’t a big fan of heavy cream or eggs to try it? Unlikely. Does that description do the dessert justice? Noooo, it does not! That would be like saying the Grand Canyon is big or that Michael Jordan was a basketball player. If you want someone to try something that they have never considered before you need to tell them why you love it, what it means to you, what it has done to you or for you, and why you think they will love it. The gospel, according to its very nature, is highly personal and relational; it can only honestly be presented in the same way.
Until we ask ourselves, “What is the gospel and why does it matter to me?” and then give ourselves the time to answer from our hearts as well as our heads, we will have a difficult time encouraging and supporting others who are in the “Christian club” and honestly communicating with those outside of it.
I am still unsure of what would make a non-Christian care about the Gospel, but I am learning why I care about the gospel. I’m seeing how it encourages, strengthens, heals, and comforts Christians who have been living without the fullness of it, and I’m seeing it set people free. The gospel is still a big deal; in fact, I think it is the only deal.
I don’t know how to present the gospel to non-believers because I don’t know what the point of connection is for them. I don’t have a witnessing formula or a new and improved Roman Road to walk down. If I know someone who is “seeking” or “questioning” then I can present to them what I believe, but beyond that I feel pretty helpless. I’ve found that the majority of non-Christians who have been attracted to Christianity have been impacted much more by the lives that are lived than by the arguments presented. The often used yet still relevant words of St. Francis of Assisi ring true when it comes to practical effectiveness, “Preach the gospel always, if necessary use words.”
Even in my helplessness I recognize that there is something to be said about integrity of action, people see it and it gets their attention. Many years ago I spent about three months traveling through several countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. At the time I was hoping to become established in some long term ministry, but I was being as passive as I could, not wanting to force my way into something that was out of balance with what God was doing. Subsequently I was exploring, visiting friends, listening to God, and helping out wherever I could. Though I returned home according to schedule, this outing provided a mass of insights into the Kingdom of God, the world, and myself in general. Many of the lessons that came over those three months are still active in me today.
One such lesson came during my time in Zambia. At one point, I found myself with some local friends and we got to talking about the local street kids, one thing led to the next, and pretty soon we were starting a basic outreach to them. In the process of taking about thirty of the kids out for a meal at a local lunch place, two police officers called me over to them. Having had some limited experience with authority figures in Africa, I was assuming a shakedown of some sort or a chastisement for “enabling” the street kids to stay on the street. It wasn’t until I was walking away from the meeting a few moments later that my apprehension and defensiveness dissipated enough for me to comprehend what had actually taken place. Instead of seeing a westerner and trying to get something out of him, they were actually just curious about what was going on. With smiles on their faces they asked me who we were and why we were doing what we were doing for the kids? The only answer I could come up with was, “Well, we’re Christians, this is what we do.” After a few more awkward words, at least on my part, they expressed their surprise and gratitude and went on their way.
The intent was never to produce an action that would open a door to witness to people (however awkwardly and ineffectually); the intent was simply to help out a few kids, which was motivated by compassion. People, regardless of their religious or philosophical orientation, tend to recognize and respect integrity of action. If you love somebody, friend or stranger, for the singular reason of loving them, because that is what you do regardless of the response, you win. When you love someone for the purpose of producing an opportunity to witness or in order to gaining the moral high ground, then the success is determined by the response rather than the action. The difference may be subtle, but it is relevant. Hypocrisy and lack of integrity in actions destroys the witness of the gospel. People aren’t dumb, so don’t lie to them and don’t lie to yourself. If the reward for behavior, at least as it pertains to the gospel (though possibly, this should be considered in all aspects of life), isn’t found in the action itself, then perhaps it is time to reevaluate the initial motivation. There is a massive tangle of thought that is opened up through this comment; unfortunately, it’s not yet time to work through it all. In fact, we have already gone much further down this track than I intended to. The basic point is this: Think through why you are doing what you are doing, because if it is different from what you are putting on the surface, people are probably aware of the disconnect even if they aren’t sure of the details.
Returning to the main trail and the issue of connection, I’ve sat in on some painfully useless conversations in which, hopefully, well meaning, Christians tried to argue people into belief with various statements attached to phrases like “The Bible says” and “According to my pastor”. These arguments ended with easily guessed at results. Now I have no problems arguing theology with non-Christians, I’ve had many thoroughly enjoyable discussions with good friends who fit this bill. The challenge is in recognizing that arguing theology and sharing the gospel are two entirely different conversations. Christian theology is generally understood to be heavily dependent on the Bible; conditions of belief don’t change this. People who disregard the “truth” of the Bible will concede its authority and importance in arguments concerning Christian theology. “The Bible says” and “According to my pastor” are legitimate starting points in presenting an argument on this topic (this assumes the mutual understanding that pastors, in general, have spent some time studying the Bible as well as church tradition and doctrine, therefore, their opinions can carry a bit more sway than the average person’s).
When “sharing the gospel” with a person who doesn’t accept the authority of the Bible and doesn’t know or respect my pastor, almost any statement that is attached to either of these two authorities will lack connection with the person at the other end of the conversation. Just because statements from the Bible, my pastor, C.S. Lewis, or Bonhoeffer carry authority and “connect” with me, doesn’t mean they are universally authoritative. If a Muslim, attempting to proselytize me, anchored their key statements with “The Prophet Mohamed says” or “According to Sharia Law”, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference to me, if anything, it would raise my defenses and prepare me to disagree with the next statement regardless of what it was. Does that mean that the Bible or any of those other sources aren’t useful in discussions of faith? Not at all, I just can’t assume it connects with them the same way it connects with me.
Connections matter, and most of the time the only connection that I can offer is why it matters to me. The problem with this is that I love the Bible, it connects with me, which means almost any description that I give for the gospel is going to connect up with the Bible, or something that someone said about the Bible. All of this brings us in a loop back to the statement that I don’t know how to present the gospel to non-Christians. This is probably why I’ve mostly stopped trying, at least verbally. If you ask me a question, I’ll try to answer it, if I have something to say, I’ll try to say it, but if you are a non-Christian who finds yourself in a conversation with me, rest easy, you are under no great threat of being exposed to my highly questionable skills of proselytize…ation. But, if you are a Christian, things change.
I think that Christians need to hear the gospel every bit as much as non-Christians. Ever notice how all of the writing in the New Testament, except perhaps Luke and Acts, were addressed to and for the benefit of the existing community of believers? There was a reason for this, the believers needed to hear, be reminded of, and be strengthened by the truth and the power of the gospel. This is still the case today, and in this task the authority of the Bible most assuredly connects.
Before you are tempted to jump to the conclusion that I don’t care about non-Christians or don’t want to concern myself with them, let me say this: We all carry the weight of glory (if you don’t know what this means, we’ll get to it. Even then, you need to read C.S. Lewis’ work by the same name), and as such, we all matter. We matter in a big way, as does our eternal destination.
The following chapters are in no way comprehensive statements of the gospel, they are simply revelations of the gospel that have had an impact in my life, and when preached, they seemed to benefit others as well. The LDRA of Jesus is absolutely essential in the revelation of the gospel; these are simply different perspectives on the same gospel that has forever been established through Jesus.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Sorry, but I have to do it

So I watched the end of lost last night (I know, I was a week late, blame Africa) and I need to process it. In other words, if you haven't watched the end yet and you still think you will, stop reading now.

In short, I loved it. I was emotionally connected to characters I hadn't really cared about up until that moment, all of the confusion and frayed plot twists were seared off, and I was left remembering why I stuck with it for all those years. It wasn't the island, sure it was a mystery and seemed to be what the series was all about, it wasn't the multiple realities, strange worm holes, a smoke beast, the ancient conflict between good and evil, the fountain of youth, or the garden of Eden. Though in some part, most of those things came into play. The fact that a bunch of the mysteries weren't fully explained left me stuff to wonder about and forced me to recognize the point of it all. It was about the people. It was about the broken, the stupid, the selfish, the sacrificial, the good, and the bad. It was about the love that went between them, and in a few cases, it was about the redemption that they experienced.

It incorporated aspects and symbolism from a bunch of different religions, mostly Christianity (I think), and it answered the question that had existed from the first season, "what is real?" with the answer, "Everything." I loved it because it left me feeling the hope, redemption, and love that had come to all of the characters. Jack's sacrifice that seemed to cost him everything, ended up costing him nothing more than what everyone else ended up paying. He made the right choice, he left it all behind, and he let go of the things that he loved, but in the end he had so much more than he ever thought he could have. Ben, Lock, Hurley, Kate, and everyone found a peace that was magnified, not by what they had done, but by who they were with. it was the relationships that always mattered and it was the relationships that brought them back together. In the most basic sense, it was a story about love, not the romantic love or the selfish love that often governs our thoughts on the topic, but the knowing love that comes from an intimacy that is only realized after time. The love that we all desire in the deepest part of our beings.

Lost wasn't about God, but it made me think of Him. It helped me remember the vastness of life and the yearnings that are often under the surface. I'm impressed that a stupid T.V. show about an island was able to do that.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Rocket Man

I'm starting to think about the concept that a theology born in the library can't survive an encounter with the Holy Spirit, at least not intact. Paul had the greatest theological foundation that books and lecturers could provide, yet after being exposed to Jesus and being filled with the Holy Spirit his theology did an about face and strapped on a rocket pack. If you think about it, the Bible, as well as a large number or our most useful books on theology were written by people who were responding and reacting to the Spirit of God (at least in theory). All of Paul's letters, Revelation, all of the prophetic books, and the stuff attached to Moses were, in principle, literal renditions of Spirit rendered theology. Can we honestly depend on the library for something that historically happened outside it? Not that it isn't useful, but has a medical book ever healed anyone?

Not all that original or anything, just something I am starting to think about.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Does strange become normal just because everyone does it?




Weddings are strange to me. Don't get me wrong, I like them... well, most of them, but that doesn't make them normal. I've been to a bunch of weddings over the last few years and they are all pretty much the same, I mean every wedding is special and unique like a snow flake bla bla bla. Seriously though, in America, in the hills of Thailand, and in Uganda the same formula seems to be followed. A bunch of family and friends get together, the couple makes promises that they are without the capacity to understand, there is a party, and everyone goes home. Fun right? Hopefully. But what about the next day? The couple just had their lives fundamentally transformed and now they are expected to proceed to "life as normal", did anyone remember to tell them that there is no "life as normal"?

Like I told the camera guy on Saturday, "It's dangerous to ask a single guy to talk about marriage, he doesn't have a clue what is going on." That said, am I wrong? Is it that much different from telling a kid who has never been in over his head all the principles of swimming, taking him to a pool where there is a great party celebrating his decision, throwing him in the deep end, then walking over to have a conversation with a neighbor while the party breaks apart and everyone goes home?

I don't even think it's wrong exactly, just strange. It makes me wonder if there is a bunch of other stuff that we consider normal just because everyone does it, but in reality is flat out wonky? Every time I sit down and think about my faith, I come to the conclusion that it really is wonky. Not wonky bad, just wonky like marriage. It's strange, but it works, and I think it's actually good. I've left my family and friends, traveled to the other side of the world, and I talk about something that can't be directly seen, a lot of people don't know about, but is more important than breathing.

I spent most of yesterday in a large shack-like church up on a hill in a small poor community with a few people I knew and a bunch that I didn't. I was first up, went in cold, talked about Jesus for 45 min and was overcome with emotion. Other people spoke, we all worshiped, there was a lot of prayer, there was some prophetic stuff, a lot of tears and a few shrieks. It was obvious to all of us that God was doing something, and that it was a big deal, but if you showed a video of it to a group of people most of them would think it was just wacky. I think I'd have to agree with them, and I think that's okay. Apparently humanity has decided that being involved in something that is wonky and strange is just fine, as long as you know what the value is.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

"This guy!"

So I’ve got to say, I’ve been loving the first chapter of Mark lately. The more I look at it the more I think the author is a genius. Without going into the first 13 verses, in which the entire book, as well as the person, power, and mission of Jesus, is established and is directly tied into all the hopes and expectations of a nation, the last 32 do their own part to blow my mind.

The short of it is that these 32 verses are broken up into five stories, each one describing a different aspect of Jesus’ personality and/or declaring an area of his authority. The author uses this group of stories to introduce Jesus to us. The first has him continuing and escalating John’s ministry and calling people to him. The second has him revealing his authority to teach and his authority over demons. The third shows him caring about a sick lady and revealing his authority over sickness. The fourth reveals his dependence and desire for his Father and restates his mission to preach the gospel, or reveal the good news about his Father. The fifth and final story is the culmination of the declarations about Jesus.

In this story Jesus heals a leper, at first glance this seems no more impressive or important than any of the other miracles Jesus performed up until this point, but it is. Up until this point Jesus is shown to have authority over the spiritual, authority over the physical, authority over the intellectual/tradition/law, he is seen pursuing relationships with people and pursuing relationship with his Father. So what is the addition within this fifth story?

The addition is the motivation of Jesus. The addition is Jesus’ authority to restore and heal relationship and community. The leprous man wasn’t just physically sick; he was cast out and thrown away by his community. He was living in the shadow of death, separated from life and from physical contact. Motivated by love, Jesus reached out and touched the man. He began healing the man’s spirit and satisfying his desire for relationship before he did anything about the man’s body. Jesus then healed the man’s body and in doing so gave the man back his family, he gave him back his identity.

Each of these stories establishes truths about Jesus. Through interaction with individuals Jesus reveals principles of his authority, aspects of his personality, and the practical expression of his mission. When Jesus casts out demons, he shows that he has come to set people free and that he has authority over demons. When Jesus heals the sick, he shows that he has come to heal the broken and that he has authority over the physical. When Jesus touches and heals the leper, he shows that he is driven by love, that he has come to give back community, and that he has authority to establish relationship. This is the culmination of the introduction and explanation of Jesus; he has come to restore relationship between man and God. This is the good news, the gospel of God; Jesus restores our identity and returns us to our family… God is our family.

Some people don’t like Mark all that much because he isn’t flowery, fancy, or overly articulate. I’m getting to love Mark because he doesn’t need to be any of those things. It only takes him 32 verses to hit us in the face with everything that is important about God and show how it applies to us. I like this guy’s style.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Gospel?


I’ve been wondering about the Gospel a lot lately. I could probably rattle off the standard Christian response to the question, “What is the gospel?” But honestly, that answer isn’t all that compelling to me.
I think it has to do with hearing the words so many times they've lost their impact. I’m sure some people could talk about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and the subsequent forgiveness of sins, with strangers in coffee shops and be completely genuine - I can’t. If I did it I would feel like a total poser or a JW/Mormon.
Its not that I don’t care about the gospel or that the gospel isn’t about crucifixion, resurrection, and forgiveness, its that that isn’t the important part of it to me. For me, the gospel of God is Jesus. Not just his death, or resurrection, or the forgiveness that comes along with it, but all the rest of the stuff. The gospel was alive, preaching and being preached, and changing people’s lives before those other things officially happened. Those other things were the natural result of the gospel, the gospel being Jesus as the revelation of God and his action throughout time. The good news of God is that Jesus is God. Jesus is walking around saying, “He is me and I am Him; you like me I like you, do the math. Now get ready, because stuffs about to go down!”
I think I’m a fan of that presentation of the gospel. I may even be able to tell a stranger about it without having to check for a BYU diploma on my wall.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Why am I doing this? Seriously... why?

It's not that I hate to blog, it's that I hate to think I need to post something to keep it updated. So basically I don't want the responsibility. I actually started a FB page so I wouldn't have to start a blog, now I find myself starting a blog so I don't need to start a web-page, flipping awesome. So much joy.

So basically the guy who would sign my checks, if I got checks, asked me to start a web-page to link to the missionaries section on the Childrens Heritage Foundation website. Sorry Robert, this is as good as it's going to get. I hope you like it.