Friday, August 30, 2013

A Quetzal (about 75¢) In My Pocket and a little faith.

We began taking steps of faith. It still requires faith each time I think of those steps. God has always come through, but once you step onto things you can not see... they still remain invisible. 

We haven't seen the ground for months. 

But it is no longer steps of faith that we consider. It is now something more. I am aware that faith has carried us far and I am intensely aware of the story of Peter as he walked on water. The moment he took his eyes off of Jesus, he began to sink... to fall.

When we rise on faith, we must keep our eyes on Jesus. We are in no safer place than his wings, but we are also aware that we can not soar without Him. A fall from here would kill us.

Today we made an offer on a large property. A place where we would have potential to launch a mission that far outstrips our previous vision. God can see so much farther than my eyes. The payment I have to offer–it is a story, a dream, and my word.

View of the property from House #1 overlooking
the apartment & garage exit to the street.

A Quetzales (about 75¢) In My Pocket & Faith–Might Be Enough.

We have stopped worrying about outcomes here... our only role is obedience. We have learned that if God wills it, and we are obedient in our faith and in our walk, that He will provide it.

And so... I shook a man's hand yesterday with a single coin in my pocket, I went home and we prayed and sought wisdom in the scriptures and from trusted advisors. And today my signature rides a letter to a man who will consider an offer that would stretch us both... as I challenged him to join us in this ministry sharing our calling with his generosity.

Will the offer be accepted? Will God chose this path for us? I do not know. I can only tell you that again we have chosen to be faithful, even though the span of the unknown can no longer be crossed with mere steps. 

And so we leap.

 By faith we understand 
that the worlds were framed by the word of God, 
so that the things which are seen
 were not made of things which are visible.
Hebrews 11:3

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Shepherd, a Mayan Priest, & a Pastor All Walk into a... church just to discover 
they are one and the same person.

The rain pounded the windshield and I was thankful to be sitting in the seat to the right. As Edgar drove through the darkened streets he explained, "I am very glad you are with me. The other way is blocked tonight, and usually I would have to sit in traffic. This way is not safe, but since you are with me, I can take it."

My head turned to him as I replied, "what?"

Even now I am not sure if he was joking or serious. I think most likely he was joking about something serious. 

It was an incredible and uneventful ride to the airport to pick up friends. Edgar asked me if I had planned to be a pastor in Guatemala. I paused and took in a breath before I gave him my answer. "No."

I wasn't sure what he would think about this simple, negative answer to a calling that has grown so large. I resisted it. I did not intend to be a pastor. 

To my relief he laughed with a smile and a beautiful conversation commenced. We exchanged stories about how the plans for our lives seemed to take such divergent courses... and yet, we ended up exactly where we were intended to be.

Sometimes God's plans take time. Sometimes it takes a lot of preparation to get us ready to fit into His story. For me, it was a 30 year journey to reach this point. Finally, I feel like I am right where I need to be.

Now, I  don't place any real meaning into these little tidbits to follow below... I just find them oddly interesting.

I was telling Edgar about how I was stopped in a street market in Antigua by a jade dealer. He shoved a book of Mayan symbols under my nose and asked me my exact birth-date. He needed to know specifically the day, month, and year.  He flipped through the book and showed to me the symbol of the jaguar.

Each date on the calendar was associated with a symbol that represented the person born with that date. The jaguar was the symbol of the Mayan priest.

I was telling this to Edgar and again he laughed as he told me, "well, you know what the translation for shepherd is in Guatemala don't you... it means pastor.

I just had to shake my head at the perfect absurdity of the moment. Here I am... a pastoring shepherd in a mayan land with the birthdate of a priest. 

You just can't make this stuff up. God has molded me to become what He wants me to be for this place. I am blown away every day by His provision and convergence.

Each Sunday I speak to an audience that is cross-cultural, and the education level ranges from street savvy graduates of the school of life, as well as doctoral level intellectuals. People from around the nations of the world worship in our church.

And I am among the least qualified. But I am called. And I understand that I am here to share my heart... to simply tell the story that God has called us all to be a part in living. And so, while I wrestle each week with feelings of doubt, inadequacy, and fear... I take those final steps to the microphone with the knowledge that my God has called me here, and my only requirement is obedience. 

It is never a fear problem, it is a faith problem. 

I am to allow my faith to overcome my fear, and to simply tell the story that we daily walk. Sometimes I fear that my words sound trite and cheesy, but the older I get and the more I see, the more I understand that this belief is real.

Our troubles, fears, doubts... are all just temporary blips on an eternal timeline. 

And so I take the mic and I begin to tell the story of my God... while the beginnings of a joke run through my mind -
So, a Shepherd, a Mayan Priest, and a Pastor all walk into a bar and the bartender says, "table for one?"

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Most I've Ever Learned (elbows deep in filth).

Surely God must shake His head when he looks at me. I learn deep... but I learn only when my heart breaks and my dignity is crushed. I see beauty where there is pain, and I want to toss away anything that doesn't come with a personal price. And yet... what I need most can not be paid by me.

Every now and then He has to pick me up and shake me.

It was the end of the final day of the work week. The team was tired, covered in band-aids, and not a few faces had clean lines from the eyes over their dust covered cheeks.

Everyone was tired. Two homes had been dedicated, five children would rest heads for the first time with pillows on beds. We all were worked out and played out. We sat on a cinder block wall overlooking the school of Labor de Falla. The village had grown quiet as we all watched the dust diamonds dance in the falling rays of the evening sun.

The breeze was kind, telling us with its touch that the day's work was good. I remember inhaling and allowing the deep breath to clear my mind. It was at this moment that Mercedes came down the dirt and block slope to my left. She was carrying a wad of black garbage bags in her hand and heading for the metal drum that held the village garbage.

I felt my brow crinkle up as I realized her intention. She had no gloves... and there was no way she could lift that drum. It had no liner. I sat as the reality of the situation sank into my mind, and then my heart. 

For weeks I had been encouraging the children of the village to throw their garbage in the drum rather than to drop it on the ground. It never crossed my mind that someone would have to clean out that drum. It was putrid. 

I looked around thinking, "someone needs to help her!" And then I felt panicked, convicted, and assured. How can we ever claim that we are the hands and feet of God if we aren't willing to get our hands dirty? My God's hands were nailed to a cross. My God's hands reached down and pulled me up. My God's hands point to only one way.

I couldn't even look up as I stood and crossed the distance, feeling the crunch of dirt with each measured step. As I reached down into the can, Mercedes looked up and her eyes met mine. I was overwhelmed by her expression. I quickly fought back the urge for tears to fall because I knew I couldn't wipe them away.

She looked surprised, embarrassed, and maybe even slightly amused. She gave me a look that shouted... "you really don't know what you're getting into." She was right. 

I started out gingerly picking things up by the corners with my index finger and thumb. And then I noticed that her small, strong, worn hands were digging in deep and pulling out great handfuls. So I pulled in my breath, steeled my resolve, and sank my hands in deeply. I could feel grim and unspeakables get lodged in the space underneath my nails.

It was hot, nasty, and the texture was somehow both abrasive and gooey. One of the village boys ran up to help... he started to dig in and gagged. He slung his hands, debris flying off around us... and ran away.

I looked at Mercedes and shared a laugh... and then I looked down into the can and the laugh froze on my face. We had hit a new layer. Life is an amazing thing. It is everywhere. The garbage was wiggling with it. Beetles, tiny flying insects, and the unmistakable sight of maggots. People here don't really throw away meat... and so my mind pieced together that the ooze under my nails must have been bits of something previously alive.

I wanted to run. I wanted to quit. I wanted to get sick. But I knew that by now... everyone was watching. I stole a peek. Sure enough... Mercedes and I had the attention of the village. But so what... let them laugh, I was done.

And then I looked at Mercedes. This mother of 3, who I had worked beside now for two years. I watched her open the door to her new home and I saw her daughter cry when she picked up a small teddy bear and fell on her own bed for the first time. I remembered coming back a year later and seeing that she had painted the home we built... the chicken coup was thriving... and her children looked happier, even healthier.

I knew in that moment that nothing could force me away from that garbage. And so I dug in deep. Soon we were up to our armpits, taking turns, now racing to the finish. 

I have pondered this moment now for over a week. I can not decipher exactly what it is that I learned in that moment. I can only tell you that it felt like a smack in the face that brought clarity to my vision. How can we stand by while others do the dirty work? How can I sit and watch while others dig in and invest?

My soul has never felt so close to God as in those moments when I yield my everything to His uncomfortable calling. I know that so many times I have held onto what is safe and given up what is eternal. 

This free gift from God does indeed come at a price for us. We must yield up our desires and our agenda, we must then take up the agenda of God... and then we must boldly and with gusto dig in armpit deep.

Paul wrote to the Colossians (ch. 3) and told them to throw off their own desires and nature like an old coat... and then to clothe themselves with things of God. I think I had to put on some new clothes... tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, and long-suffering.

Later that night as I dug blackness out from my nails, I thought again of the expression on Mercedes' face. Finally the tears flowed freely from my eyes as my soul began to process that glanced exchange from her and I.

It was the simple act of showing that we are in this together. There is no sitting on the sideline as a christ-follower. We either do not follow, or we sink in our hands and dig in deep.

Elbows deep in filth was what it took for me to understand. The lesson was worth learning even if it required me to be fully submerged. 

Mercedes was only cleaning a can... but my selfish heart was what really needed purified. I am honored to have my life stretched, and strengthened by these lessons of reality, and the incredible faith of a fearless woman in Labor de Falla.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Inexplicable Me

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face.

"The only thing that keeps me from panic is the simple thought that we seem to get exactly what we need. I can't say that I know how this happens, or that I have evidence that it will continue. It's just that we seem to get what we need... right when we need it."

We found ourselves tonight like we have found ourselves every night as of late. Standing in the dark and looking through the windows out over the city. Again we shared stories that expressed the unbelievable nature of our days. 

We have been sharing our vision to anyone who would listen for the past 2 years. It was far-reaching... and it even sounded crazy to us. But it was a faith thing. We did our best to verbalize a plan, but we knew that we have no real blueprint. We simply had a deep belief that we had to go.

And so now we find ourselves here... inexplicably prepared for what we never anticipated. We just keep saying "yes" as provision comes our way, and the steps get bigger. I can't explain it. It is a mystery. It is God.

I find myself the pastor of a church... with no building of our own, with no solid resources, with no real assets, with people who speak multiple languages and come from unbelievably varied backgrounds and parts of the globe. And somehow... God is blessing it. Growth is happening. Volunteers are coming from seemingly no-where. Resources come in to cover exactly the costs.

Our family is living in the very same house that we could see from a distance our first trip to Guatemala. We discussed how incredible it would be to live in this house. But it was not possible. And yet... the impossible is now our reality. It wasn't available. It wasn't affordable. We had no way of getting here. And yet... each night we stand in the dark with our feet on the floor of this acquired impossibility.

Kellie took classes several years ago that qualified her to teach english as a second language. She only did so because the state offered a scholarship and she qualified. But her job required her to teach only to English speaking students. And now... she finds herself in an English speaking school in a Spanish speaking country, teaching English to a student body that is nearly 50% Korean.

While in university during the early 90's, Kellie and I used to take long walks in the evening, kicking through the fallen leaves of an Indiana autumn, discussing what life would look like if we could live out our greatest desires. We dreamed about running a home for abandoned and orphaned children. 

But we forgot about that dream... it was snuffed out by the *busy-ness of life (*yes, this is my word).

And yet... this past week we launched a capital campaign to begin raising funds to do exactly that. Casa de la Abuelita will be our home that cares for and loves babies who now will have hope in life, and receive the blessing of forever families.

I am pastoring, building, networking, fundraising, vision-casting, founding an orphanage, digging through garbage with my bare hands, bringing church groups down to change lives... and I can only say to you that it is inexplicable at best.

God uses the unlikely to show His love. To show His power. To show His grace. To show his Mercy. To show simply that He is the one that makes it all happen.

My only part... was a "yes." A surrender to to His plan. An abandonment of my own. A complete all-in embrace of the life that He prepared me to live.

I can not explain it. I can only live it with eyes wide open. We see how God pieces together the previously unexplained bits of life that led us here. We are daily in awe as we feel the texture of this reality.

We daily find ourselves in this place... this path... this will of God, that we can only barely comprehend.

I listened to a sermon of James Massey online today and he said that God is a mystery. He said that mysteries aren't meant to be solved or explained. They are simply to be experienced.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Garden of My God

O, cease to heed the glamour
That blinds your foolish eyes,
Look upward to the glitter
Of stars in God's clear skies.
Their ways are pure and harmless
And will not lead astray,
Bid aid your erring footsteps
To keep the narrow way.
And when the sun shines brightly
Tend flowers that God has given
And keep the pathway open
That leads you on to heaven.

~Final Stanza, Robert Frost - God's Garden,  1890

We stood in our bedroom, Kellie and I, overlooking the city below, illuminated in the shadow of volcano Pacaya. Our words were spoken with silence as we reflected on the recent days that brought us to this place that stills our breath with both beauty and pain.

My question that was once often asked... "is there really a God?" has been answered for me through steps of willful obedience through moments of dissatisfaction in life. 

I was a grocer. Kellie was a teacher. We had problems, unhappiness, bad decisions, bills, and the grass grew more than I wanted to push the lawn mower. And yet... God came to us and gave us crazy ideas.

I look back and everything good in our life was given to us by impossible God moments. Caleb was born although we were infertile. Aleksandra came to us via Russia, beating the odds of a fatal disease. Sterling came to us via China, beating the odds of a premature birth and abandonment on the street.

With a trumpet and a shout we marched around our home and saw God deliver us a way to beat an upside down mortgage. We stepped out on faith with 10 suitcases and planted our feet in the soil of Guatemala.

Whoever you are... I need to tell you-- whatever you may think, this is evidence for me that the God of the Bible indeed exists. I find myself here... inexplicably.

My only qualification is that God has called me here. Oddly, that is simultaneously terrifying and comforting. I am not qualified to be here... and yet God has chosen me to be here and He has made the path straight in front of me.

I am in this odd place of accepting my limitations while I yield to the wisdom and plan of an almighty God who more than compensates for my shortcomings.

I do not know where you are in your life... but I do know that you are at a pivotable point. We all are. Whatever decision you face today... yield to the wisdom of God. I think of Moses when he questioned God and found a serpent in his hand where there had been a walking stick.

God gets our attention when necessary.

What glitters in our eyes? 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Well Fed Puppies

I care not much for a man's religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it.
-Abraham Lincoln
I sat there on the top of that concrete wall a good 10 minutes. The sun fell warm on my shoulders as I remembered Labor de Falla from the first time I saw it.

There was no medical clinic, no dental clinic, no lunches provided by donors, no WiFi computer lab, no fence around the perimeter, no freshly built wooden houses.

Today I looked out and I saw women who could see a doctor, children who could have a tooth fixed... a warm meal eaten, skills gained for a chance to break generations of poverty, and safe places to sleep.

I could see the results of true religion being lived out through the loving and giving of so many who had come so far. People who had been resourced through the mission and story of God. 

It was then that I noticed the dogs. Even the dogs looked healthier. When your children are starving, you don't throw food to dogs.

Now I see some dogs that are well fed... and I even see puppies.

I watched the bright eyed children playing. I saw them eat their lunch. I saw a sparkle in their eyes that shouted a single word to my understanding... hope.

Yes, hope has arrived in the villages of Cerro Alto & Labor de Falla. If someone ever tells you that you can't change who you are... that you can't change fate... then I invite you to come and see evidence to the contrary.

Come and watch forever change at the turn of a key.