Tuesday, April 28, 2015

While the Nations Rage... I have found PEACE.

The air is growing thick and hot. Dust coats every surface and the earth seems to be listening for water. The rainy season approaches and I can feel it when I breath. Traffic has quieted as walk though the house in the darkness. A lone dog barks in unending revolt to the otherwise quiet night.

I walk barefoot on the cool tile, imagining the scurry of scorpions and spiders as I intentionally slide my feet to avoid a direct crush. I don't know why, but my feet on the rock tile just makes me feel very human. 

My daughters are asleep and the room is hot. My young children have pulled the curtains tight against the night. I slide the heavy fabric away from the open widow as the night air is pushed in by the moonlight. I consider the outline of my oldest daughters face in the moonlight. She is beautiful.

I stand in awe as I listen to the soft sound of my two daughters breathing. One from Russia, the other from China... my life is surreal. I think of the struggle and the adventure to bring them home, and then to transport them here to Guatemala. I love our family.

My mind flashes to the first moments that I saw each of them, carried in by nannies... how can I explain that in the line of babies in arms, when I saw Aleksandra and Sterling... my eyes locked on theirs. I recognized them as my own. I would die for them and my life would be complete. God has great plans for them. I know this as I gaze at them in the soft light of this quiet night.

I have lived and I have loved. My soul is content. I am desperate to pursue this mission here, and yet... I know I could die tonight and my soul would have peace. Through all of my hard headedness and misdirection, God has given grace so that I can be obedient. This is right where I am meant to be. 

I walk to my bed and begin to type. I think of tomorrow as I address the students of Christian American School in morning devotional. I'll have a steaming cup of Guate java in my right hand and a hefty NKJV leather-bound edition in my left that I took from my mom's bookshelf. The Value of the Month is COMPASSION. I'm going to tell a story.

You've heard it... the little girl who comes upon thousands of starfish on the beach. They're still alive, but the tide is going out and they will die. She bends to toss one into the surf. A man passing by laughs and says, "you can't possibly make a difference here. There are too many." She flips another into the water as she says, "it will make a difference to this one."

I'll quote John 3:16 and I'll invite the students to say the words with me. I'll flash back to Aleksandra's face in the moonlight as I tell them, "you are that starfish. Jesus came because God loved you so much... He is here to make all the difference in the world... for you."

He has picked you up out of the drying sand, and He has given you living water. My children were lifted up from abhorrent conditions. I saw dying children. I could not save them all... but to these to whom God has entrusted me... I can make all the difference in the world. 

I'll stand with a bible and a coffee cup in my hands, and I'll gaze at the starfish that God has entrusted to my care. I feel deeply convicted and accountable. I want them all to find living water. I really don't care what the cost. I want them to live. I want them to be restored. I want them to not perish, but have ever-lasting life. 

And... I want them to carry on. I want them to be starfish flingers. I want them to know that every act of kindness matters. Every life matters. It's not about what we can't do... but it is EVERYTHING about what we do with those in need who are placed in our path.

People must see something different in us if we claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. There must be a hope, a joy, a willingness to dig deep, to give, to work, even to bleed... because we are connected to the savior of our souls. He restores us back to a perfect relationship to the diety of the universe. 

There simply is no greater light than that. I want his silhouette on my face. I want to shine like a star(fish). I want to walk boldly in the darkness, because His hand is better than a shining light. 

And so... let the rain come. All is well here.

Friday, April 24, 2015

"Well, you sure aren't Jesus Christ."

That was my mother's pointed response that silenced me. She had concerns about my safety in Guatemala and I had been giving her doses of Paul. To live is Christ and to die is gain really wasn't helping her as I quoted it. She knew enough Bible to tell me she didn't need her child quoting it at her. She said that she shouldn't have to endure watching us go through hard times, or see us in danger. I made the fatal error of stating, "even Mary, the mother of the Son of God had to watch her son suffer, why should you expect to have it any better?" That's when she hit me with, "Well, you sure aren't Jesus Christ."

I know that to be oh-so-true. Life has demands, and God has given me a calling. Living in the Kingdom of God means that the stuff of the world has to be yielded over. Fully. Completely. Daily.

So how do we let go of our stuff? For the Shepherd family, it was a simple recognition that it just didn't matter. It wasn't worth missing out on the plan that God was calling us to follow. Cognitively we knew this, but living it began with a great deal of difficulty. We struggled for months about what we needed to get rid of, realizing that we needed to reduce our possession to what could be carried in 15 suitcases. The only way to begin... was to just do it. I passed out a large black garbage bag to each family member and kept one for myself. The instruction was simply, "Fill it up. We're each going to fill one of these every single Saturday until we're under our limit."

We have to be fools for Christ. I took a lot of criticism from family, friends, and acquaintances. We sold a few items, but most of it we gave away. We believed that our missionary journey had to begin right where we were. A tornado had ripped through Kentucky, and we made contact with a family who had lost everything. They now dine with our wedding dishes. 

Giving some things away really was painful, but seeing the tears in the eyes of lives that were being restored was worth far more than a few plates in a cabinet. Author William Willimon calls this "a different rationality". Yes, this is true. Once you learn the benefits of letting go, you see the great joy that is ready to be grasped with your newly open hands.

This then is the "why and how to be a generous giver."

Our kids are going to grow old and tell some pretty crazy stories. These stories are shaping them now, and I hope it shapes them in good ways. The day we gave away all our dishes came very suddenly. It was phone call during dinner. We said, "yes." There was a knock at the door with fifteen minutes. As the lady stood in our kitchen and Kellie was boxing up dishes, I was in the dinner room shoving my children's food off of the nice plates onto paper plates. To say I had their attention is an understatement.

We learned something that day, the why and how to be a generous giver simply is not something we choose, it is who we are. We don't get to pick the most convenient time, or the least important items to our days. We are called to be obedient when the need is in front of us. God's timing isn't our timing, but it is always the right timing. 

I recently read the Methodist rite of ordination and I am blown away by the required responses. "I do so trust," "I do so believe and confess," "I am so persuaded, by God's grace," and "I will, God being my helper". This really is it. Stewardship is not what we do, it is who we are. I do so trust, believe, confess, am persuaded, that my identity is wrapped up in this following of the Son of God, and so, I will live it out, by the power of the one who has saved me.

My mama was right, I'm not Jesus Christ. He is the one who has chosen me. 

Willimon, William. Calling and Character: Virtues of the Ordained Life. (Nashville, Abingdon Press) 2000.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Mr. Shepherd's No Good, Very Bad (and Blessed) Day.

Some days I wonder why I decided to get out of bed. Sure, I can regain perspective... but sometimes I let the darkness take me a bit. There is perspective that comes with that as well. I think my relationship with God can take a little doubt and questioning sometimes. Focus can be found even there.

Kellie (my wife) is sick today with a vicious head cold. The kind that turns your nose red and swells your eyes. She decided to take a needed day off, although with a fully healthy 4 year old Sterling there (our youngest), she'll probably spend the day climbing trees and swinging from light fixtures.

No coffee in the kitchen. Ugh. Of course not. Kellie usually does this. It's ground and ready to brew, but I don't have time. I have a coffee maker in my office at the school. I'll brew there. I grab a coffee mug and steal some powdered creamer from one of our tenants (hi Gloria... sorry).  

The big kids (Caleb 13, Aleksandra 11) have no ride to school. Kellie usually does this. No problem. Dad taxi activate! 

I broke the rules and dropped them off before 7:30 so that I could get to the school where I am principal a mere 20 minutes after teachers arrive. In this one act, I violated the rules of two schools. I figure that's just how I roll today. I mean no disrespect, sometimes I just seize a little flexibility.

I arrive at my school to realize that I've left my keys hanging on the nose of the wooden Mayan warrior that I dragged out of a scrap heap and displayed in my office. Crap.

I drag my computer bag, lunch, and STILL EMPTY coffee mug through campus to lead the morning devotional. I'm really not feeling real devoted. I stumble through Jesus, fishes, loaves, a real story of multiplication that I witnessed (nod to Jesus, miracles still happen), and then linked it all back to the Monthly Value of compassion (not feeling compassionate). 

Meanwhile my office is now open (major props to Gerson), but to my chagrin I realize that I was responsible yesterday and I locked all my cabinets. Fabulous (dirty filthy curse words). MY COFFEE GROUNDS ARE IN THERE. Now I have crossed the line and I am vile.

But I don't get to be vile. I'm a pastor. I'm a principal. I'm a missionary. I am not allowed to punt children.

Suddenly I remember it is Field Trip to the Theater day for elementary. I know this because the bus has arrived early and is blocking traffic in front of the school. The ONE bus... for 120 students. This is a problem. Teachers are requiring explanations that I don't have. Again... I am vile. But I am not allowed to punt teachers either.

After 30 minutes of cat-herding, the students safely (no punting) pull away in the single bus and 4 vans.

Two teachers are absent, the Academic Director was away on business, and I am without coffee. Still feeling vile here. I hear my phone vibrate. It's Kellie. Alexandra is sick at her school and needs picked up. Fabulous. Normally Kellie would do this. 

I am required to remain at the school as the legal designate. 
I decide my daughter is more important (I realize while typing this this that the school owners will read it), and I completely take care of all things at the school, notify all the necessary individuals, message my boss, and run down the street to grab my daughter.

Of course the car's fuel gauge is below the "E" and I pray silently as we head towards a gas station. It isn't the closest, but it is down hill all the way there, so I figure we can coast if I run out of gas. We make it. I fuel up (freaking out the attendant because I stood and stared at him...I didn't trust him. Ugh! I am called to trust) and buy Gatorade for my dehydrated daughter. 

I successfully get her home, force fluids down her throat, verify that my wife is still living, pull a pee-soaked pink blanket from the 4 year old who is silent because she has discovered electronics (smart wife) and return to work.

I free the coffee grinds and enjoy a cup of coffee, flavored with my stolen creamer. I realize I haven't eaten anything and so I take two eggs and crack them into a small glass dish. I do this every day. I always microwave them for one minute twenty seconds. They are always perfect. Today I punched in the wrong numbers and I exploded two eggs like a Gremlin in a microwave. Nasty. Ugly cleanup. 

This does not help my vile nature. I am not allowed to punt microwaves. I partially disassemble the microwave and throughly clean it as an amused teacher watches. When I'm done, he leaves the room as he mentions over his shoulder, "enjoy your eggs." I can't punt microwaves into teachers.

I remember that moment when my alarm went off. Maybe I should have stayed in bed? Then again... I have made it through this day without punting anyone or anything. There may be some merit there. I think our difficult days force us to grow a little through the struggles. 

"My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD,
Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
For whom the LORD loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom he receives." 
(Proverbs 3:11-12; Hebrews 12:5b-6.)

And so, I am thankful for this day of growth. And coffee. Thank God for coffee. I am shaking. I've had too much.

Kellie just shot me a text. I forgot to pick up Caleb from school. Dear wife, I don't think you are allowed to punt me.

"You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin."
(Hebrews 12:4)

Friday, April 10, 2015

"That's the Brakes Son"

These words ended the conversation during my childhood. I would be complaining about some perceived injustice that had invaded my universe, and Dad would look me squarely in the eyes and he'd deliver that line. 
May, 1974. I was 9 months old. Our first family portrait.
Tom & Krena Shepherd, and a very happy Chad P. Shepherd
As the Principal of a pre-k through senior school, I listen to many students expressing dissatisfaction with the inconsistencies of their world. But that really isn't limited to students is it? We all face these sorts of limitations. So many times these words of my father echo through my head as I smile with perspective. 

Sometimes that's just how the world is. Sure, there are times that we can rage against the darkness. There are times when we are meant to be the one who stands and makes a difference. Those times are easy for me. I can stand up when everyone else is laying down. But... do you know what is really hard? It's accepting what cannot be changed... and still holding on to your identity. Those are the brakes. Sometimes, we simply must stop.

These times, they are a changing. There was a day when things had not yet been decided. I am a patriotic citizen of the United States of America. I am a believer and defender of the Bill of Rights. I believe that homosexuality is one of many sins listed in the Bible. I'm not going to let anyone dictate to me my actions. And still... I shouldn't allow my reactions to be influenced by external factors. I still find my identity as a child of God. I must exhibit the fruit of the Spirit. 

I must extend trust when I know I'll be betrayed. I must extend love when I know I'll be hated. I must give grace where only judgment is due. And yes, it is still ok for me to also be judgmental. God gives me trust and love and grace and judgment every day. I think He notices how I give each of those things to others, and so I know I have to be wise.

It's His wisdom I have to lean on after all... in this world that is changing and that I cannot control. Time are changing. We are seeing the fall of thousands of years of Western Civilization. We are seeing religions clash, freedoms collide, and nations rage. I know that in many ways, this age is ending. A new one is being born.

It is not one that I would design, and yet it is not one that I can prevent. I believe that I am a citizen of a nation that has turned her eyes away from God, and like the covenant people of Israel of long ago... when our eyes wander off of God, we are no longer covered by His promises. 

And so we are heading into a time of trouble. I don't think an election can stop it. I think we are coming into a time of trial and approaching darkness. And I have come to understand that I am content with that. 

I think of Israel captive in Babylon. God's faithful were there. They were the witnesses and participants of miracles. I want that. I want to stand true to my God in the face of change. I am beginning to understand that I am not created in this time to stand defiantly against the coming change.

I am created by God to stand faithfully to Him during this time of change. 

Recognizing the difference is an empowering perspective. I do not fear the coming days. YHWY is still God. I do not believe the events of the time are His will. But YHWY is still God. God always has a remnant of faithful. I see that as my place. We are entering a time of trial... and we are entering a time of glory.

The power of God is poured out in times of hardship. I will keep my eyes turned to Him. 

I think of Paul in prison. One night at midnight, the chains fell off and he walked free. Still... there was another time that he was bound in prison, and over 700 midnights passed him by with the chains still cutting into his skin. 

His identity was intact both times. Whether God set him free, or God was content to leave him in chains. Paul wrote his great letter of Joy to Phillipi during those 700 nights of silence. Praise be to God... if two years of bondage is what is required for me to see joy, then let the bondage come.

That's the breaks son. Yes. Let the dark days come. I accept them. I know who I am. I know God's church. My identity is not bound by the blindness of a nation. Society is changing, but my God is constant.

"I know whom I am believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I've committed unto Him against that day." - Daniel W. Whittle; 1 Tim 1:12