Monday, March 24, 2014

Who Do You Think You Are?

Sometimes I have to take rebuke like pie in the face. This was not one of those times. I won't tell you the context, because it really doesn't matter. Besides, it's happened twice in the last week. When I hear things coming at me from multiple perspectives, it is usually time to listen.

Who do you think you are?

I know who I am. I am Thomas when he doubted. I am Jonah when he ran. I am Samson when his head was shaved. I am Moses when he lost his temper. I am Balaam blindly moving forward. I am Peter when he denied Jesus. I am the tax-collector in the temple crying out, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner." I am the thief on the cross who gasps, "Lord, remember me when you enter into your kingdom."

I know who I am. My faith was restored, my feet were set on the right path, I realized my strength was not enough, I yielded to the obedience of God, I fell humbly to the ground and I cried out to Jesus. 

I am redeemed. I am made new. I was once lost and without hope. Now the God of the universe calls me His son. He has commanded me to follow Him.

Who do I think I am? I am the child of the God of the universe. I am forgiven. I am justified. I am being made holy.

I am all in. I am not interested in safe or comfortable religion. I seek the path that Jesus followed. I acknowledge that his love was so scandalous that he was put to death…and so were his disciples. I say this because I cannot escape it. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. And that is a radical thing.

He was rejected by his own hometown. He was rejected by the ruling elite. He was rejected by the religious leaders. He didn't fit the mold. He didn't meet their expectations. He extended trust and friendship to the prostitutes, the drunks, and the bottom of society. He just didn't follow the rules.

He reached out to the lost, the hurt, the broken, the dirty, the disconnected. It cost him. It cost him dearly. And still…he loved them. He called them to be his disciples. I am so thankful. Because I am them. He called me. I am his disciple.

It isn't noble. It isn't admirable. It simply is what I perceive as my only choice. My God calls me. I must answer in obedience or turn away in defiance. There is no middle ground. 

The savior extends his hand and says, "Follow me." We have a choice to make. There is nothing that can come before Him. If anything stands between me and him, he demands that I release it. My relationship with him is greater than my love for my wife, my children, my father, and my mother. Should he demand them all… then still I will serve Him.

It is all his anyway. Any effort to save my own life if I value it more than my relationship to Him… will only result in me losing it. And yet… if I lose it for Him, well… they go to heaven. If I lose my own life, I go to heaven. Winning.

There is nothing safe about following this savior. There is nothing comfortable about the way he calls us to love. If you seek a comfortable religion, you best shy away from being a follower of Christ. It simply cannot happen. Jesus was scandalous. Following him means that we shatter expectations.

When he called his disciples he demanded that they abandon everything else. No time to say goodbye, no time to bury the dead. Nothing comes before those steps of following Him. Nothing can separate. Nothing can stand in between. What do you hold that you are not willing to give him? What if he made to you the demand of your children? Your marriage? Your life? 

Following him means that we reach out trust to those who are shunned by the upper class of society. Being a man of God means that I am willing to sacrifice my own well being for the sake of drawing others to him. It means that everything I have becomes secondary. I don't put my children before following Jesus. I don't value my safety above following Jesus. I don't value security before following Jesus.

My life is his. My timeline is an eternal one. This world is not my home. This moment is a puff, a vapor in the wind of eternity. I would quickly choose to lose this life for the sake of the one who made me. Yes, I know who I am.

There are times that following Jesus means that I might offend you. My highest value is not tolerance. It is not peace. It is obedience to the one that made me. Nothing else compares. Why? Because I know who I am.

I am the adopted child of the King. There is nothing that can separate me from His great love. Each time I have fallen short, he has restored me. My God came into the world so that I could be saved. So that I could be reconciled and drawn close to him… again. 

Who do I think I am? 

How much time to you have? How about a cup of coffee?

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Notes from Seminary: (3) Live Big. Die Empty.

Response to a self-evalution of the use of time & money:

My view of money is that it is absolutely pointless. I have pursued it. I have acquired it. I have spent what I gained and more. With the strength of God, my wife and I made efforts to somehow pay our debt off (involving radical changes to our life). And now, money is vital to our survival, although we have found that we don't need nearly what we had, or even what we thought we needed. God knows what we need and He has a way of only supplying it at the last minute. In this we have learned that it truly is Him that runs the show. In fact, we have gotten more comfortable with this idea of giving away more than we have. While we have come very close to missing meals, we haven't missed on yet. I think sometimes, it wouldn't hurt to feel hunger some. Many in the world do. We find their faith to be astounding.

My parents were responsible with setting aside money, but still never went without. They didn't worship money, and they valued time more highly. Money was a strong guiding principle in their lives, but when push came to shove, money was not the ultimate goal. They were and continue to be more responsible with it than me. This has been a point of contention between us because I have told them to spend it. If they give it to us, it will be immediately used and given away. I do not intent to hold it. I do not want the false security it brings. I plan to die empty and broke, no matter how much passes through my hands.

We have had some small reserves for emergencies, although we try to plan with intelligence for those events. We do carry insurance and that amount is built into our annual budget, and paid lump sum. We have donors specifically for that purpose.

Recently we have adjusted our budget downward, and our monthly expenses sit at about $2400 for basic necessities. We looking to rent out some space to cut that down further. I have found work locally to offset recent reductions in our support, and have spoken to key supporters who have opted to contribute deeper. 

For us it isn't about the money, it is about our faith, our obedience, our willingness to give up some fluff, and our open eyes to learn the value of without. So many times... we think we don't love money, but consider given up some comfort, or some security... and then let's talk about how we react.

Time is a farce. I love the description of chronos versus kairos. Let me take it further. There is no such thing as chronos. It is mere perception. Kairos is what is real. Kairos is what sustains us. If I attempt to quantify my time by chronos measurements, by eyes will lose their focus on Jesus. For the attempt of this exercise, I will explain to you how I spend my time, however I ask you suspend your judgment, because I do not live and breath by these numbers. My time works on a multiplication principle... like loaves and fishes. It bends and it flexes as needs be. And.... there are times that I retreat to the mountain to be refilled.

It is a spiritual nature that fuels me, and it is a spiritual clock that I march to. Here is my obligatory nod to the chronos, a false God:

45 hours (9 hours/day, 5 days/week Adminstrating the school)

15 hours (pastoring: writing, preaching, youth, small groups, prep)

15 hours (seminary)

10 hours (fundraising/communicating with supporters, Skype, video, etc)

5 hours (local mission fellowship - trip organization, coordination for summer)

2 hours ordination pursuit

7 hours eating (breakfast is on the fly, lunch is while I work)

35 hous sleeping (I only sleep about 5 hours/night) I know, I know...

7 hours spent in the bathroom (lol... food is sometimes an adventure)

15 hours (driving- short distances, but unbelievable traffic)

15 hours reflection with God (while I drive- a lot of sermon prep here)

5 hours per week T.V./movies (Walking Dead, Downton Abbey, misc)

7 hours per week recreational reading

5 hours per week property maintenance

I'll stop there... I think that totals to over 180 (168 hours in chronos week).

It gives and takes folks. It flexes. Sometimes I have to reduce on for the demands of the others. Some I multi-task. Before you judge, please know that free time is a poison to me. I have to give myself over to God fully, every moment of every day. Oh, I also write a blog and whenever I post an article, it is a couple of hours of writing that is the result of several hours of thinking... usually while driving, teaching, or otherwise engaging life.

I don't like to talk about how I spend my time, because people see it as an open door to speak into my use of it. I just don't have time or the patience to listen to the naysayers. Go be negative someplace else. My wife keeps me grounded and focused. That is her job. My pastors and accountability partners keep my balanced. That is their job. I look around me and all I see are more opportunities to serve. 

I want to find myself at the end of every day an empty vessel. Broken and spilled out. It isn't me that does any of this. It is about the daily practice of saying yes to the spirit. Folks, I plan to die empty and poor. Whether that is today, or 50 years from now... it just doesn't matter. It isn't about me, it is about God. It was never my time to begin with. I am a vapor.

Let the puff matter. The criteria is simple... did I love God. Did I live out that love to others. Did the people I brushed life with see evidence of him in my life. I want to burn bright with his love, understanding that the brightest flames burn the fastest.

There will be no retirement. If we are allowed to live long, then let our creaky bones continue to serve as support alongside those who can continue the work alongside us.

Live big. Die empty.

To Retreat is not to Run: A God Encounter.

It happened in those days that he went out to the mountain to pray.
-Luke 6:12

It was the second and final day of the retreat. I knew I was expected to deliver a talk to about 60 high school kids. I looked at my watch and watched the second hand sweep past 6:00 a.m. The devotional was in 2 hours. I had a topic, I had some notes, I could wing it... but I just felt strangely content and unworried about the message. 

Typically I have a process and careful notes. Not this morning. I was completely unprepared and I felt peaceful about it. I remember smiling at the absurdity of the situation.

I was sitting on my bunk at the top of the stairs, commenting that the entire room of 5th grade through senior boys smelled like a mixture of arm-pit, Doritos, and Febreeze when my phone vibrated. It was Journey Church | Guatemala band leader, David Toledo. He was scheduled to arrive at about 7:30 to lead us in worship. 

"Woke up this morning and I felt like I could share a testimony them them. Totally optional." 

My immediate response, "Yes."

David shared from his heart. He shared from his experiences and from a vulnerable place. He shared with us how God met him in an unexpected place and meets every need.

I was immersed in his words. They were powerful and the room was silent. My reflection is broken as I realize a shift in the moment. David turns to me, hands me the mic, and says, "ok... do your thing."

And so I explained that God often makes himself known to me in unexpected places. When my eyes are open to see, He suddenly appears and speaks into a moment. I told the kids that when this happens, I like to call them "God Moments." I held the mic out towards them and asked for them to tell us all about those God encounters they had experienced over the past 24 hours of the retreat.

A walk through the avocado and coffee plantation on the mountainside

4 incredible moments of worship with the CAS Band & David Toledo

Silence met the first 10 seconds, but I raised my arm and lifted the mic out towards them. 

This group is not a group that expresses their feelings. I have been trying to get them to share their opinions, emotions, and journal entries in Bible classes on Mondays since October. I have had almost no success. I felt so silly holding that mic out. I had made this same offer time and time again... not getting any volunteers.

But a hand raised and feet came forward. And powerful, insightful words were shared by a high school student in front of her classmates. I was speechless. I was wiping tears. And it didn't stop there. For 30 minutes, student after student grabbed the microphone from my hand and talked about how God had captured their attention and spoke to them during the retreat.

I was blown away. These kids were changing in front of my eyes. So many who had been unwilling to profess their faith, were now doing it powerfully, persuasively, and sincerely in front of their peers. The Power of the Lord (the retreat's theme) had taken down barriers.

We had a student who made the ultimate yield to follow God! We had students praying in groups. We had students asking for forgiveness, and then receiving forgiveness with the physical manifestation of tears and hugs right there, open and in full abandon of fear, in front of everyone.

My God moment. Yes! This was that moment. Again I find myself absolutely shocked by the way that God works. Add Camp Retreat Coordinator to my resume. And add... Unqualified, but willing. I am still crazy pumped up from the day. 

The power of the lord moved through these students. I am so grateful to be a part of this amazing school. Thank you Christian American School students, I am honored to share these days with you.

I keep dozing off as I try to type. I was night-watchman last night. no students escaped.

I am exhausted. I am sore, tired, and fully spent.

(I fell asleep...document edited and sent upon waking).

Bus 1 of 3 upon our departure

Si Monumentum Requiris, Circumspice.