Are You At Home Or In Transit?

We’ve lived (are living) in some incredible places in our 14 years of marriage. Since we first met in 1998 we have traveled to some places most people only dream of. Our first major trip together was our internship in 2000 where we traveled with 6 other people backpacking in Nepal and Northern India. Since we lived in Europe for the past 10 years, we’ve been thankful for how cheap it is to travel once you’re there. We’ve been able to travel to Germany, Holland, Finland, Spain, the U.K., Italy, Estonia, Russia, Panama, Siberia, Turkey and now reside in Mongolia. Our kids have been to most of these places as well making their life experience fuller than they realize. It has been incredible.

We are foreigners in these places. When we have met people, struck up conversations, and tried to go off the beaten path to the “local” places, most conversations stick to surface things. However,  if we are there long enough, conversations can tend to dive deeper into thoughts, opinions and perspectives. We’ve been asked a lot of times what we think of their particular country, language, cultures, politics or political leaders, etc. And we have asked the same of their thoughts. The politics question is almost always the question that can cause a breakdown in any conversation.

I went to university in the Southern United States. That was a cross cultural experience from where I grew up in the Northern Midwest. Almost half my life has been lived in a cross cultural context. A foreign one. We have tried to assimilate by learning the local languages, eating their food and trying to fit in. But we only do this to a point. There are parts of our my personality that I would have to give up or hide in order to fully assimilate. There are parts of my past that I would have to lock up, never to speak of again if I really wanted to fully become one with a foreign culture. And there are things that if I engaged in them, would completely break my relationship with God.

The other day, I quoted Walter Bruggerman that we as followers of Jesus are “in transit.” Not “transition” but “in transit.” It’s a different way of calling us “foreigners” or “aliens” as we are called in 1 Peter 2:11. I resonate deeper with the phrase “in transit” because it is an active intentional phrase. It’s a phrase of continual motion or action. Not simply a title, but a word of movement. If we are in transit or foreigners in this world and on this earth, what does that mean? For me, it means to do what I have done before-try to learn the local language, try to understand the culture the best I can, be respectful of those who live here as they are part of God’s creation to. However, there are also things that if I engaged in them, I know it would break my relationship with God. At the very least, it may break my relationship with other fellow believers, which is not honoring to God.

In the Church in the States, at least, politics is one area that we seem to engage in more and more with each election that is divisive and ends up tearing the church a part. Expecting people who have no relationship with a Redemptive God to live as such. It seems that our “rights” as citizens of our particular country tend to trump the rights granted to us by God. There are other examples I could bring up, but these are the hot topics right now from what I can tell. And I wonder, is this what living like a foreigner looks like? Is this living in transit?

There are two extremes that I have seen in people who live overseas. The first is complete lack of assimilation. These foreigners have no desire to assimilate at all. They either ship in food from their home countries or go to stores that only sell things that they are familiar with. They have no desire to learn the language and usually, from experience, have a complete disdain and arrogant attitude toward their host culture. We could compare these to sects or groups of people in the States who have nothing to do with modern society. The other group are people who have “gone native.” These are the people who have completely blocked all of who they were/are from their past to fully embrace everything about their host culture. From what I can tell, these  are ones who are trying to run away from something in their past and so they suppress it and embrace this new way of living.

In the Church in the States, I have seen both. And it’s painful to watch. It seems that the Church, at least in the regular and social media, is playing the part of the latter, going native and embracing our political system as the means for Christ’s salvation to come, as opposed to living a life modeled after Christ. Making this place our “home” settling for second best forgetting that our eternal home is far greater and better. Beyond what we could ever hope, think or imagine we’re told in Ephesians. Why? Maybe because it is something we can touch, feel, smell, hear, see. Our eternal home is not as tangible as of yet and therefore out of sight out of mind might rule. Whatever the reason, we are not living as foreigners carrying the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control that we are given, to the host culture that we are in..that is the culture of this world. And that is hard. It is sad. It is painful. It brings grief and mourning to my heart. I wonder if it does to others.

My encouragement is that your mindset be as a foreigner-our eyes set on the hope and prize in Christ Jesus, and living like Him here in our host culture. Blessings be on you.

What does living as a foreigner, in transit men to you? How do you see this being lived out practically? What have you learned from others you’ve seen live this way? Thanks for sharing your stories as we journey together.

 

 

 

 

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Are You Disoriented?

I always enjoyed hiking when I was younger but never really backpacked until I entered university. There, nestled in the lower Appalachian Mountains, I began to enjoy a lot of outdoor activities not really available to me in Ohio where I grew up. I live in a place now where it can happen frequently and I’m pretty excited to get out and explore more of this great place. Perhaps the Gobi this summer…..

During my Junior year of university, I went on a failed trip with my then girlfriend (now my Iris) and Mike, a really good friend of mine. We had plans of meeting up with two of our other friends as they planned on showing up later due to a soccer game. We had some plans, but not great ones and we never did meet up with them. Two injuries, lack of water and fear of where our friends were, we decided to cut the trip a day early and find a shortcut back.

The boots I purchased weren’t broken in (a rookie mistake) and therefore I had massive broken blisters on both my heels as well as on the ball of one of my feet. Iris, who had torn her meniscus earlier that volleyball season, was in pain with almost every step. I was slowing down and lagging behind. Mike and Iris were talking and hiking and were getting ahead of me. After a few minutes or so, I rounded a bend in the trail and they were gone. I continued on, trying to listen for their voices, and figured that I would catch up to them at some point. Then, I came to a fork in the trail. Neither this new trail nor the trail I was on was marked and I had no idea which one to take.

I paused for a minute, straining to hear their voices, but  heard nothing other than my imagination putting their voices in my head. I kept going on the slightly more well worn path and began yelling their names. About 10 minutes later, I heard them shout back and I yelled “WAIT!” I caught up to them, but out of embarrassment, never said anything to them about my fear that I was lost in the Great Smokey Mountains, thirsty and hurting. We stopped for a bit, ate some gorp and regrouped as we tried to figure out how to get out. A couple hours later, we were able to get to a store by a road and hitchhiked back to our car. It was one for the story books, but needless to say, we’re a bit more prepared now.

Walter Bruggerman has observed that we as followers of Jesus, go through three phases in our lifetimes. These three phases are cyclical and can repeat numerous times throughout our time on this earth. He writes “each  of God’s children is in transit along the flow of Orientation, Disorientation, and Reorientation.” I’ve gone through these three a few times and am in the middle of it now. But what do they mean?

When we first come to a point of acknowledging and accepting God’s forgiveness and begin to follow Him, we are orienting our life towards Him. We begin to head in a direction, a path, towards Him and what we believe is His will for our lives. But then, if we are seriously following and submitting to Him, there will come a time of complete disorientation. Getting laid off, Him asking you to quit your job, a sudden illness, the death of a spouse or child, burnout, the acknowledgement of an addiction, retirement, the birth of a child, and the list goes on. We wonder what in the world is going on. It may feel like you are walking through the stages of hell and even wondering why God is silent. Job went through this. David, Jesus, Moses, Peter, Paul, William Carey and Elizabeth Elliot just to name a few.

It’s in the disorientation that we begin to understand a deeper meaning of grace. A deeper plane of compassion, sacrifice, wisdom, kindness and joy. It’s in these times where things are stripped away so that all we have to run to is God and nothing else. When the ice begins to thaw from the unknowing, from the harsh winter of what we thought was normality, we can begin to reorient ourselves to where God was the entire time and begin moving forward in a more right direction than we were prior. Their can be no reorientation without the disorientation. The reorientation is incredible…but the pathway of pain has to be walked in order for the peace to come.

From walking the path we thought we always would, to becoming lost and not knowing where to go, to being back in community, God has us walk this cycle as we are in transit. Ah, transit…that’s for another day. So, where are you? If it’s orientation, be ever thankful that you have found new life in Him. If in disorientation, be ever thankful because without this, you will not become the person you will be on the other side…and that is someone I would like to meet. And if in reorientation, be ever thankful for God’s enduring patience and promise to never leave you.

Have you experienced these three phases? What was your experience? Where are you right now at this moment? Sharing your journey helps in walking through the pain and encourages others to continue on. Please share your thoughts, experiences and emotions, and thanks for continuing on.

 

 

 

Kids, Sides and The Church:Where’s The Line?

I love my kids. Each one of them is completely different. They are creative in their own right, each using their own medium of words, pencils, Legos or ponies. Our youngest will be heading to first grade next year, and Iris and I are honestly starting to mourn her not being at home as much or us not having our own special time with her as we take her to school later than the boys. They are different from each other. This also means that they are incredibly skilled at knowing exactly how to push each other’s buttons.

Inevitably this will result in at least one of them coming to us for support, help and probably most of all, retribution towards the offender. When Iris and I try to explain our point of view, a decision we’ve made or a punishment given, it seems we are constantly getting interrupted with a “but, but, but,” or a “you don’t understand.” They don’t really want to know why, they just want to be right. In other words, they don’t care to understand why we are making the decision we made, or pointing out the flaw in their argument, they don’t want to try to understand our point of view and thought process. They want to be right, that’s it.

Don’t we all?

I’d love to blame TV for this kind of thinking but I’m sure that’s not where it came from. Ya, we are all fallen people born into this world, and that has a part. Sadly, I’m fairly confident they learned this from me. I like to be right to! Shocking, I know, but I want to be understood without ever trying to understand what they, or anyone else is trying to say.

When I’ve seen this in kids and other adults -when they don’t try to understand the other person’s perspective or don’t try to understand where they are coming from- it leads to a mess of things. It  leads to interruption of the other persons speaking, which leads to thinking less of them, which leads to dehumanizing them by name calling, belittling or dismissing what they say altogether. A total lack of maturity.

A few years ago, I was leading a team and brought in a team developer to get us to the next step of working together and being more intentional both individually and corporately. We created a set of operating principles/guidelines as to how we would treat each other during our meetings. This was partly due to many of us interrupting each other and/or speaking over each other while in a discussion, especially a heated one. I hope no one was keeping track as I think I may have been the worst offender of this. But it was helpful in giving us tools to begin to humanize and build each other up. It also helped me to see that I need to change how I interacted with my kids…to listen first. I’m not perfect and neither are they so it doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, it has a great impact. Respecting. Humanizing. Giving the other person space in the present and engaging with them by listening is showing them that they are worthy. Just as you are worthy of life, breath and time.

There are a lot of “sides” in this world. It seems we are constantly a culture (especially in the Church in the States) of “Fors” and “Againsts,” a culture of “Pros” and “Antis.” I can understand and expect this in a culture or group of people that doesn’t hold to Jesus as Lord. But when I see it in the Church, the Bride of Christ, it causes me great pain. I’m 36 years old and have been through a few election cycles. It’s been 18 years since I have had the privilege and freedom to vote in my home country. It seems that with each cycle not only do the candidates act more like children it but also that the politics in our country continue to tear the Church apart. Instead of it being the Body of Christ, it is being torn into sides of every shape, size and order. These are the years months I am incredibly thankful that I don’t live in my home country and that I only stream our favorite shows rather than watch all the many commercials on regular TV. It’s election time. It’s slander and demeaning time. It’s when adults who aspire to lead one of the most powerful countries in the world act like immature children pressing each other’s buttons, interrupting, dehumanizing.

And I hate it.

And it’s ugly.

But it is uglier when it turns into we. WE, WE are choosing to be ugly. We are choosing, by engaging in it, by choosing to engage in how the world acts, how the world treats each other. But we know we are not of this world, right? We have no place on this earth to call our home because this is not our home. So why do we engage in such behavior? Why do we champion those who act in such a manner? Why do we allow them, this behavior, this man made system to tear our God designed Church apart?

We are to seek first to understand before being understood. We are to listen, hear and empathize with those around us. We are to humanize them and allow them to share their humanity with us. Why? Because we are followers of Jesus. Because if we do that to even the least of men, we have done it to Christ.

My desire, my plea dear brother or sister of mine in faith in Christ, please stop allowing yourselves to get caught up in this. Not for my sake, but for yours. Not for my sake, but for those who are looking at you as you follow Christ and are watching to see if this Jesus fellow is really all He is said to be. Use the voice that God has given you to be edifiers, encouragers and blessers. The world is full of the opposite, but we are not of this world. We are not of this place. Let us live this way.

 

 

Are You Looking For Fullfilment in a Vocation or a Career?

I’m trying to remember all the jobs I’ve had in my life. I grew up on 1,000 acre farm (that’s 400 hectares for you metric mates). Bailing hay, feeding and watering the cattle were probably my first jobs. In high school I worked for a pig farmer/auctioneer which was really interesting. In college it was more seasonal between roofing, construction, woodworking, dry cleaning, furniture mover, camp counselor, grounds keeping and….well, there’s probably more. I was a pastor for a few years before heading into the community development and humanitarian aide sector. And then? Tell then I landed in business. Coffee roasting (I could talk about this for days, but will spare you the topic- for today at least) and Barista (the person who makes your latte everyday) are the biz now.

Aaahhh coffee. Sweet, specialty coffee with all your intricate flavors of blueberry, rhubarb, cocoa, chocolate, milk chocolate, pineapple, earthy undertones and more, how I enjoy thee. It’s a fun job. It’s one where part of my creative side can be let out and become an artist with some green coffee seeds and a roaster. As interesting as it is, it is not my life long desire. Being involved with humanitarian aide or community development are areas that I find enjoyment and interest in. However, they are also not my life long desire. They are jobs, careers, places that I can use some of my gifts and skills, but when all is said and done they are helping to put food on the table. They are a means to an end. They are a vessel, a vehicle I get to drive on a long, incredible journey.

I enjoy road trips. Sometimes I just have a destination to get to. But the trip is far more enjoyable when we stop from time to time, take the dirt road and find out where it leads, stop and look at the valley, park and go for a hike.

Careers usually have no place for side trips, detours or stopping at a point of interest leisurely. Careers get you from Point A to Point B. They serve a purpose, but careers aren’t usually life long desires. They aren’t usually something that will hit every gift and skill that you are given and created with.

Vocations on the other hand…A vocation, is what we were made for.

“Our vocation is always a response to a Divine call to take our place in the kingdom of God. Our vocation is a call to serve God and our fellow humans in the distinctive way that fits the shape of our being. In one way or another,  Christian calling will always involve care of God’s creation and people. This realigns us to the created world and to our neighbor, moving us form self- centered exploitation to self-sacrificing service and stewardship,” as David Benner states in his book, The Gift of Being Yourself.

I love coffee. But my vocation, what God has wired, gifted and skilled me for at least for now, is only using coffee as a means to engage with people; a vehicle to take the detour of a conversation of another’s inward journey; to take the dirt road most dare not go down to the core of vulnerability with other people by being real, honest and showing up; to simply stop and join them in their journey of understanding who they are in Christ, finding freedom from the pain of the past and walking together towards the future…towards Christ. That is my vocation. We were made for a vocation, not just a career. So what is yours? What is it that God may be leading you to? It doesn’t mean quitting your day job or your career. It is simply living out how you were made to in engaging this world, in God’s created order.

My prayer is that we don’t go through life trying to figure out our careers and missing the joy of our vocations. Let’s find them together!

   What is your vocation? What things have people affirmed about you that may lead to a greater understanding of your vocation? What has your experience been if you’ve been living out your vocation?

High Horses and Humanity

I really hate acknowledging my flaws. It is laying myself out there to be vulnerable to other people who, in turn, can use those flaws against me.  But that is the risk of being vulnerable.

One of the things I find frustrating about myself is when I look at someone judgmentally, I expect that when it’s their turn to look at me, they will do so with a tad bit of grace  “Vulnerability is the last thing I want you to see in me, but the first thing I look for in you,” as Brene Brown wrote in her book Daring Greatly.I expect great things of others all the while never holding myself up to those same standards.

Sitting in my first ever large group recovery meeting, surrounded by people dealing with their own stuff was an interesting experience for me. People openly sharing about what they are struggling with, dealing with…the mess they are in. And yet, there wasn’t any judgement. As I started down my own journey of understanding my dysfunctions, hurts and habits, someone very wise told me that “it doesn’t matter what everyone else is dealing with- control, pride, alcohol, sex or drugs- everyone’s stuff weighs the same.”

When we begin to realize that their is no hierarchy as to who is more messed up than us or who has sinned more than us, we remove the judgement and start to replace it with grace. We see them (and maybe more importantly, ourselves) as human. Again, humanity is a high value of mine.

This goes along with something I recently read in Brene Brown’s latest book, Rising Strong, in which she puts it far more succinctly. She states that people, no matter what dysfunction or perceived health they are operating in, are simply living the best way they know how at the moment. Be it the politician spewing hatred about other religions or the religious fanatic who believes killing is the only way to “heaven;” the person who looks like they have the whole world at their fingertips but is dying inside to the other stealing a loaf of bread from the store because they haven’t had enough money to eat in weeks; they are only doing the best they know how. Without allowing the Spirit to examine our lives and walking through the pain to hand over lordship to Christ, we can never experience, nor expect, full healing. If we’ve never understood what it is that Christ has done for us and having courage to make amends for wrongs we’ve committed, we can never understand forgiveness. We cannot fully live in freedom.

If we are able to come to a place where we see other as doing the best we can, grace can come much easier. When we look at each other in grace suddenly we see them as human. We see ourselves as human. We are able to accept the grace God has given us. And we are much more able to show compassion. I am in no way implying that it will no longer be a struggle nor grace will always be the first response, but grace will more easily come if we stop and remember that they are human…just like we are.

Our perspective on our neighbors, family members, co-workers, other ethnicities and other cultures will begin to change as we see each other through the lens of grace. Grace brings freedom, love and empathy. Judgement brings bondage, worry, fear and hatred. My prayer for each of us is see others through a lens of grace more and more each day.

Do you have a story of how you’ve experienced judgement and grace? What was the outcome of each? May you be blessed as we grow in Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are You Gasping For Air?

In the early 90’s, there was a show that aired in the U.S. about how the national emergency response system was beneficial in helping to save lives. It was a way to promote the system/special phone number as well as a way to build greater awareness that such a service existed. It was based on true events using the actual emergency conversations that took place. The host was William Shatner, most famous for playing Captain Kirk from the original Star Trek franchise and television show.

Apart from him, the show was filled with horrible, over-the-top dramatic, bad acting. It always involved someone doing CPR to try and get the victim of the unforeseen accident back to breathing, as well a pulse. Compressing the chest to get the heart pumping, then breathing into their mouth to fill up their lungs to get them breathing again was just a normal part of what was on the show. Though it was bad acting, the show was effective in helping everyone understand just how beneficial the  911 system was/is.

One thing I do remember about the program was when people performed CPR on the victims, eventually most of the victims would suddenly gasp as if actually taking that first breath after not breathing for so long. It showed, as real as it could, how taking that first “breath of life” is a powerful moment when trying to bring someone back to life. The rescuer was literally breathing life into the victim.

In December, I was able to speak with three friends that have had a place in my heart for a while. Two of them have been friends of mine since college (a mere 18 years now) and the third, for just over a year. But each has a part of my heart because of the laughter, encouragement, honesty, vulnerability and love they bring to my life, and I, hopefully, to theirs. No matter the topic, time difference, length of call or via phone or Skype, they are important to me. Why? Because they breathe life into me.

Sometimes in talking with them, and others in my support circle, it is as dramatic as that tv show. This moment where I feel lifeless, hopeless even. Suddenly, truth is spoken over me, life is breathed into me and it’s as if I am taking that first big ‘gggaaaaasssssspppppp’ of air…..of life.

I’d love to say that I created this group of people around me, of these life breathers….but I didn’t. Perhaps I had a hand in it as I sought some of them out, kept them as friends, allowed them to speak truth, breathe life. Perhaps. I also think God placed these people in my life. I simply had to allow them to breathe life into me and allow them to see me, warts and all. This also means that I had to say no to those who didn’t breathe life, who didn’t speak truth over me. This was hard as I am part people pleaser. I don’t like it when people don’t like me. Often, though, those who didn’t speak truth I allowed myself to believe it was truth. it wasn’t life giving, it was life taking. Setting up boundaries and saying no, then seeking out those who did speak truth was is a long process that will probably be an on going, life journey. But it is so worth it.

To have life breathed into you and you breathing life into others, is nothing short of a miracle. A freeing miracle. We are told to do this and see it modeled throughout Scripture. God literally breathed life into Adam. Jesus breathed life into those around Him as well as the disciples and apostles with those around them. And, we are commanded to do the same. But it starts with seeking out those that speak truth into you which means vulnerability is needed on both sides. My prayer is that you and I continue to surround ourselves with life givers.

   Do you have those around you that breathe life, speak truth and edify you?  Are there boundaries that you need to set in place for those who take life? What are some truths that those around you have spoken about you that brought you life? Thanks for sharing!

 

Is There Space In Your Living Room?

Ah, a new year. It seems every time we hit the third or fourth of January, Christmas is a distant memory, the festivities of New Year’s are mostly forgotten and it’s back to the normal ordinary life we lived up until the 22 or 23rd of December. We’re back to the relentless political mud slinging. The continuation of security threats and endless terrorist/media laden fear that seemed to control us before, is back as I sit and read my news feed everyday.

So, what awaits us? It looks like increased national security in many countries. Deeper, thicker and more entrenched political lines become, even within the Church. More on going wars, and, sadly, more fear. Fear is a powerful motivator. Giving into fear has caused for some massive changes and reforms in my home country, the United States, and has caused many walls and barriers to be constructed in the hearts and minds of those within the Church.

Growing up (and maybe it’s still the trend) there were several people I knew that had a “formal” living room and a “family room” living room. As I got older and eventually became a pastor, when I went to someone’s house, I noticed I was going to less of the family room  and staying more in the tidier, perhaps more uninviting formal living room. It was a weird shift for me, unless of course they were close friends where we would hang out in the family room.

I also remember watching old movies. When people would come to visit, the women, it seemed, would go to have tea while the men would go to the den. The den was an incredible place with a selection of strong drinks in an antique globe, oaken bookshelves lined the walls while the other walls had trophies from various hunts around the world. Pipes in hand with their smoking jackets on, they would sit on big, overstuffed leather couches  surrounding a grand fireplace. I used to dream (and still do) of having a room like that-comfy, inviting, a place I could linger for a while with a book or in deep conversation.

Henri Nouwen described “hospitality of heart” with the picture that our hearts are a living room. A place that is to be hospitable, welcoming, comfortable. A place that is set up in such a way that others want to come, converse, linger with us. John wrote in Revelation 3:20 “Behold, I (God) stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (ESV). Nouwen describes in his book “Reaching Out: Three Movements of the Spiritual Life,” that Jesus is standing at the door to our hearts. That He desires we invite Him in, welcome Him, dine with Him…linger while He is with us. Nouwen goes onto describe that our hearts need to be hospitable places, places where we meet others, invite them…a place where they can meet Jesus and experience Him. A family room, not a formal living room.

What an incredible picture. My heart, my living room, is a place where I cannot only invite Jesus into but others as well. My heart can be a place where others can meet Him for the first time or perhaps engage Him on a level never yet before. All because I am hospitable…because I have made a place for Christ.

In the fear that seems to surround us, I wonder if we have made space in our living room for Christ? I wonder if our doors are so bolted and locked out of fear of what lies on the other side, that we dare not open it up for Christ, let alone anyone else? Be it a refugee from another land or a longtime neighbor who simply doesn’t even know they are lost- are our hearts a welcoming, inviting place that is comfortable enough for people to desire to come in… to linger?

My prayer is that this new year our hearts would be full of people engaging Christ in the ways they need in our hearts as we make room for them. My prayer for all of us is that we are allowing them in, risking potential heart break, for the grace and peace of Christ. to make space in the living room for the unexpected encounter with Christ.

Peace and Blessings to you this 2016.

What are your thoughts on the living room of  your heart? Have you experienced letting others in and them finding Christ within your heart? Have you experienced shutting out others as a result of fear? How did you reconcile through that? Sharing each others victories and struggles  allows us all to grow together. I’d love to hear your story.