Eyes Blinded

It was pretty easy to ignore. I mean, why not, right? I could simply just not pay attention. I could simply just not read, watch, listen….But then, what would be the point? I lived overseas, and really, could have completely turned a blind eye to the happenings in my passport country (the country I was born in). And, with everything that has happened in the last 12 years, some say that would have been wise. But would it?

I didn’t want to forget about my family and friends who were still there. I didn’t want to forget that that was the country that I was from. And, I didn’t want to get rid of that part of my identity. It was part of who I was and am today. Just like being a son, husband and father. It’s a part of my story. So, I made my homepage a news feed that collected stories from all over the world, making the world headlines the top of the page, the States-my passport country- second and then onto other headlines, science, sports, entertainment, etc. It continues to be my homepage. I stay on top of not only the news internationally, but cultural changes and shifts here in the States. Even though we have moved back, I desire to stay abreast as to what’s going on.

My desire is for my world to get bigger, as I mentioned in the last post.  It’s no secret that racism is alive and growing here in the States. Since Charlottesville, I have read social media posts as they flurried about, watched reactions, listened to interviews, etc. Though there were several of the people I interacted with that were willing to take what has been  happening head on and engage with it, there have been as many people that wanted to stop reading, hearing and watching about all the “bad news” and “negativity” that was going on.

Yet when negative and bad and hard are the reality, what do we do? We could turn a blind eye toward it, never talk about it, stopping our conversations with the weather and never engage passed that. We could. We could say “it isn’t that bad” or “it’s just the media going crazy” and pretend like it is no big deal. And, our world and perspective of Christ can remain small. But why?

Admitting that it is hard, that what is happening is chaotic, that the racial tension and divide is bad, is not allowing that reality to govern us or even have power over us. It is admitting that there is massive brokenness in this world, dark sin, incredible hurt, and pain. Lots of pain. We are allowing ourselves to not only see, but to also feel. We are allowing the realities of the brokenness of this world effect us. And yes, in many cases it won’t feel good, nice, pleasant or even comfortable. Pain isn’t comfortable. And yet, neither is love. With love comes pain. Letting our guard down, opening our eyes and seeing, isn’t just about seeing all the pain, it’s also allowing others to feel for us, love us,  Jesus to love us. It’s allowing  Jesus to care for our deepest wounds, and for us to show love by caring for someone else’s deepest wounds as well.

There are mammoth wounds and hurt in this world, and we cannot become part of the solution unless we are willing to face those realities.  We cannot entertain others love without also entertaining their pain. Henri Nouwen once wrote that our hearts need to have the room to show hospitality to others. That our hearts should be living rooms, welcoming other people with their stories of joy and loss, happiness and woundedness. This is, after all, what Jesus has done and continues to do for us. He didn’t ignore me, and I am so very thankful. Perhaps when we open our blinded eyes to the world and allow ourselves to see the pain, only then can we truly love. Perhaps when we see and address the anguish God sees with race against race or rich against poor, can we then show the love Jesus had for us as well. Perhaps the first step, is removing the blinders.

be blessed today

 

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Passively Active

‘“You’re right,” Violet said {to Klaus} with a sigh, ….. “Maybe we should be passive for a while. Being active hasn’t helped us much.”’  -Lemony Snickets, A Series of Unfortunate Events: Book  the 11th, The Grim Grotto

I was always a go getter. I don’t mean that in any boastful way.  I simply mean that if I felt something was important, I’d do what I could to get that thing done. This is not in everything, mind you, but in some. For example, I remember one summer during college, I was debating on which denomination I wanted to go overseas with. I debated back and forth between the one I grew up with and another one. I won’t tell you the reasons why (I’m a bit embarrassed at my 20 year old values), but it was a big debate in my head. So, I did what any rational, determined, curious college student would do. I called the vice president of the organization and talked to him. His assistant actually transferred my call over to him, and he actually took 45 minutes of his day to talk to me-completely unscheduled. Someone I had never heard of two days prior, nor ever spoken with. It didn’t surprise me at the time. Even though I continue to do these sorts of things today (I might as well talk to the people who will have the answers I need, right?),  I realize now that this is not a normal practice for most people.  After I  met Iris, she informed me that is not usual behavior. Good to know, I’ll take note.

Most of my life has been lived this way. I’ve actively pursued the paths and places I believe I am to go. And, for the most part, it has gone well. God has led us on some incredible paths, adventures, experiences, and places we never expected. This wasn’t just me following, but Iris and I following together. And it usually was an active pursuit. Always doing, moving, seeking, searching, looking. Active.

But passive, on the other hand, is something much different indeed. Passive is allowing things to take place. I always looked at people being passive about life instead of taking it by the horns, as just being lazy. No, I wasn’t judgemental…well, maybe a little. Actually, ya, I was pretty judgemental. I thought my way was the only “right” way. And though I do believe we are to be actively seeking out God, I also believe that there are also times we need to be passive.

I, much like my friends Klaus, Sunny and Violet above, had come to a realization that I was being too active. And it wasn’t just in looking for new opportunities, creating new ministries and finding new places to live. It was also in my times with God. I’m not talking about a “quiet time” or a “devotion.” I’m talking about a conversation with Jesus. A time where I am sitting in a chair, legs crossed, coffee in hand, and He is sitting right across from me, intently listening and I stopping my monologue to listen to Him. Active didn’t quite work for this. I had to learn to stop coming to my coffee time with Him with an agenda, a list to check, a schedule to keep and my self disciplined will getting in the way.

Perhaps you can identify with how I felt. How I felt feel when I come to times, moments with Him just like this, list in hand, only to walk away angry at myself for being to preoccupied with the list, or frustrated that God didn’t join me that day. Perhaps you to can identify with being Passively Active, that is, being too active and yet not realizing it. Let’s walk down this one together….more to come…

be blessed today

 

 

Calling-The Truth

Before caller ID, cell phones and any way of predicting who was calling me, I didn’t know who was calling until I picked up the phone.  When I would, there were certain people that in an instant, I knew who they were simply by the sound of their voice.  Maybe it was the influx of their voice, the intonation in the “Hi,” or it was the way they said my name. My parents each have a unique way of saying “hello” that I can identify in a second. My siblings do as well. So do incredibly close friends of mine.

Iris has a certain way she says my name, and it is something that commands my attention, demands pause from what I may be thinking about and brings focus to what she is about to say. Many times in the past, and especially these past difficult months, that voice, those words, my name as she says it, have brought me calm, comfort and peace. It’s what happens when two people are in such true love and bound so tightly to each other and to a redemptive God. At least that’s what they say, whoever “they” are. I’m not a romantic. But if I was, that would sound romantic to me. At least I think it would. But romanticism or not, it is true what I say of the power of our love, her voice and the voices of those who love me.

Though it’s not a perfect example because we are all imperfect humans after all, it is still an example of God’s calling on us. Or to be more precise, God calling us to Himself. God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are constants. They are unchangeable, immovable and stable. Last time, I wrote about the seemingly to me, ridiculous amount of emphasis we put on our “calling” in the Church here in North America. The questions of “are you called to this church, this people group, this country, this organization” are asked as if to further prove without a doubt that you are doing what God wants. Though you may desire to do something, go somewhere, minister to a certain people- that desire isn’t good enough. Though you may be gifted, skilled and have learned or God given abilities to effectively minister to them, that’s not good enough either. You must be “called.” As opposed to simply praying and discerning, even through group discernment, that perhaps your desires and God’s are aligned.

But in my searching the scriptures the past several years, trying to gain footing when it seemed like my “calling” was wrong, I found something astonishing. Actually, it’s what I didn’t find that was so astonishing. What I didn’t find was God calling anyone to anywhere, any one group, any church or organization. Instead, what I only found was that God called people to Himself. Called them to relationship. Called them to deeper intimacy. Called them to greater trust in Him and greater understanding of how powerless we really are (Step 1). Calling us, each and everyone of us, to the ONLY stable, constant, immovable thing (in this case a person)….God Himself.

What He does do is lead us to different places, groups, ministries, churches, jobs, organizations, states, countries, etc. Those leadings can change anytime, anyplace. And in many cases, those leadings can seem incredibly foolish when we apply our mere human logic to it. But His calling us to Himself…..it’s like that voice that calls my name, that demands my energy to listen and commands my attention. The only person we are ever called to. That voice of God, that calling of Him into a deeper relationship with Him full of Truth, full of Love, full of Peace…that calling never, never, never changes.

Never….no not ever.

be blessed today

 

 

 

Are You Called?

Filling out applications, having phone interviews, talking with those designated to protect the way of the local church has been an interesting experience. It’s changed a bit since I last did this. Some of the questions I’ve been asked have been humorous and at times, perplexing, as to why a group of people searching for a pastor would what to know the answer to this question or that question. This is not every place, of course, but there has been a large handful that I have wondered “what are they reacting to that would cause them to ask that?”

One such question has been “Are you called to X Church” or “What are you called to?” That question is a bit of a conundrum for me to be honest. Early on my high school days, the idea of calling became new to me. Friends of mine began to share that they were called into full time ministry. In college, as I studied the Bible, culture, theology and, well, backpacking, that idea was in no less imperative in the making of a person for ministry than when I was in high school. As Iris and I prepared to go overseas, the leaders of our denomination asked us over and over, pressing really, as to whether or not we were called overseas, called to a group of people, called to a particular place. Calling, calling, calling has became such a massive part of the litmus test of whether ministry is really what God wanted for someone, that it is hard to ignore (which I never was fully able to do).

I answered those questions with an energetic “YES!” and continued on my merry way. I never thought anything of it…at least not too much. In recent years, I’ve watched many people move overseas with their hopes and dreams all folded and packed tight in their baggage called “Calling.” They arrived, lived, ministered, served…..and then left. They left to go back to their home countries because of a medical need, visa issue, family crisis, or the “door shutting” on what they were “called” to do. And many of them were completely uncertain, heart broken, disoriented and confused as to why.

Now I stand in the same situation. We hadn’t planned on moving back to the States permanently, at least not this soon. It came as a complete surprise to us. I’ll admit, I’ve gone through the same questions that they no doubt also have asked. Was I wrong? Did I misunderstand God? Did I fail, yet again, in hearing God? Was I never really called in the first place? Was I called somewhere else?

Because God started working on my heart in regards to calling a few years ago, my whole world didn’t come shattering down. Not saying it isn’t hard. Man is it, just read my last post. Maybe I was more free and unbound to this concept than some of those who had been in the same situation. Why, you may ask? Because I was never called to a place or a people or a city or a ministry.  What if we were never called to anything? What if “calling to something” was only our interpretation? What if we are only ever called to God? How would this change things?

Let’s wrestle in the mud through this one…more to come.

be blessed today

 

Settling- The Killer of Intimacy

I miss Mongolia. I really do. There are the people, friends and co-workers that we miss. There is the true sense of adventure and being completely and literally in the middle of nowhere. The darkness and seeing so many stars. Being off the beaten path that can happen within a few miles of leaving the capital. The culture, deep and rich, that we miss. Lots of things, which brings me sadness and also joy.

Chinggis Khaan (yes, correctly pronounced “chen-gis” not the Ghengis we all learned in school) was a brutal warrior. He was the one that through his brutality, was the first one to unify all the tribes of Mongolia. But, as much as he was brutal, he was also just as much a genius. Traditionally, the Mongolian people are nomadic. There homes known as Gers (like “Bears” but a “G” instead of a “B”), otherwise known as yurts, are meant to be taken down and set up, relatively quickly. Part of Chinggis’ genius came into play when they would attack other tribes or nations. Instead of simply attacking, defeating and leaving, the entire Mongolian nation would attack, and then set up camp and live for a short bit before moving and attacking another place. They were used to living off the land and being nomadic, so if he attacked a nation that had settled, a nation that was used to their crops, growing seasons, etc., they didn’t know what to do when Chinggis would attack.

His philosophy was that if the Mongol empire ever settled, that would be the end of their nation. Meaning, if they ever settled in, built cities to be defended, became more dependent on single water sources, crops that needed to be tended to instead of the virtually all meat diet they were accustomed to with their nomadic herds, they would then suddenly and constantly be on the defensive, not the offensive. And this would be the downfall. Though this is true, their weakness of being spread too thin is what ultimately led to their defeat.

The last few posts have been about intimacy, living out our own desires apart from what God’s desires are for us, and in this we ended up building temples and church buildings that God never intended. In the history of Chinggis Khaan, we see some truth of what God was intending for us-that we would never settle. That we would never settle on intimacy with Him being shaped and confined to a building. That we would never settle on worshiping in a simple man made place, to a set of rote actions or to man’s language. And yet, as I look at the church as a whole, specifically the American Church, it has become very much that. Settling. So much so that we have taken on more a far more defensive mentality than God had intended. We have become comfortable in our isolation from the rest of the world. We have become quite happy in our superiority complex that we tend to view the rest of the world through. We’ve grown too accustomed to the world as it is, instead of the imaginative Eden we were created in.

We have settled. This is not the intimacy God desires to have with us. This is not the intimacy He created us for. This is not intimacy. This is settling for second…or third best. Let’s move beyond the walls of our churches and engage the world. Let’s tear down the confines of what we think God is like. Let’s rid ourselves of the defensive mentality and become willing to go where and how God leads us. Let’s get back to our wandering ways like in Egypt, ….I think in that we will find the promised land we’ve forgotten and left to dreams.

be blessed today

Time To Tear Down The Walls

Oh those moments of panic. The plane drops 100 feet in altitude, the car spits and sputters while you’re in the middle of nowhere, your cell phone dies when you don’t know where you are, your child gets lost in a crowded subway stop, mall or venue…these are the times it seems that our dependence on God spikes to 200% more than it did in the moment prior. I’ve been there…actually in all of those situations, and I start silently saying prayers of safety, uttering my dependence on God, crying out for help.

Yep. I get it.

In those times when we’re lost, confused, there’s a loss of control, not sure what to do next, feeling powerless because, well, we are. Completely. Totally.

And then, sadly, when things become more clear, more stable, it seems that I have less time and dependence on God. At least in my life, that’s the cycle that I go through, instead of just simply being dependent on Him all the time.

I’ve been talking about dependency on and intimacy with God the past couple of posts (starting with this one here). I posed the question last time, asking, “what if the idea of having a church building wasn’t God’s intention for us.” This isn’t my idea, but something I’ve been exploring. I’m beginning to believe that the Temple of Solomon was actually never what God wanted. God describes in great detail how the tabernacle, the moveable tent that was continually filled with the presence of God, was to be made. In fact, God speaks and Moses records chapters of minute detail. But when it comes to the temple, it appears to be David’s idea. David has this time of feeling bad that he lives in a palace and beacause of this, has a desire to build a temple. God even says to David that He never asked anyone to build a temple. As in Romans 1 where God gives men over to their selfish desires, it appears that God does the same with David. But says, “well, if you’re going to do what you want to do, ok, but you will not build it, your son will” (1 Chronicles 17:4) And even in this, David ignores and makes the plans, funding and even gives the word to build it, not Solomon.

Just like in those times where we have an utter loss of control and are thrust into situations where we make the choice to lean into God, give him total control and become dependent on Him, Israel was the same way those 40 years in the wilderness and as they entered the Promised Land. Wandering, walking, traveling, journeying, that’s what they did non stop. They were guided day in and day out by a pillar of fire and a pillar of clouds. Water came from rocks, bread from heaven, the crumbling of fortified cities with the simple blast of trumpets, and the continual presence of God.

But then things stabilized, the decision to build a temple was made, and that continual dependence on God was replaced with Pharisaical law, rote liturgical practices, and the belief that God is only present in the temple…not anywhere else. This is opposite from what God had intended. His intention was Eden, of course, strolling through the orchard, in between the vines of grapes. And the wilderness was similar, walking together, being together, talking together.

Today, we have grand temples, built for kings. We have buildings that are being well used, but the belief that that is the only place where ministry can happen or the only place where God is present, still remains. We “go to church” dismissing the Truth that we are a part of the church in the world, meant to be the hands and feet of Christ…maybe before we are the mouthpiece of Him. We put great belief in our liturgy-and yes EVERY church has liturgy, not just the Catholic or Orthodox faith traditions-that if we do it this way, we are good for another week.  We have replaced intimacy with structure, dependence on God with our isolation.

Today, I hope we begin to mentally tear down the walls of our temples that are imprisoning us from being the Church to those around us. I  hope we begin to see passed the walls, that we can look at our neighbors through the Church, look at those around us through scripture, and look at Christ beyond our liturgy that may bar us away from intimacy. That is my prayer for the Church and the American church.

be blessed today

 

 

Photo credit: http://www.designmom.com

 

Church-Sanctuary Or Prison?

I went to seminary in one of the suburbs of Portland, Oregon. While I was attending there, I also was involved in a leadership program out of Canada. Both of these were incredibly formative for me. It was a stripping away of the false things I thought were true about God and myself, and replacing them with the Truths of God and Truths He spoke over me. It was the experience of being in a cohort of friends, constantly reading, reflecting and interacting-a working out of my faith. It was the most formative three years of my life. And at the same time, I got stuck for a while. Stuck with holding up Portland as the place I needed to get back to.

I love Portland, I really, really do. The weird, environmentally, artsy, creative, coffee culture heartedness are all part of what I really enjoy. And, I’m thankful we get to live near this beautiful place. Where I got stuck was that I was constantly trying to get back to that intimacy that I had a few years ago. The intimacy I had with God and with others. The consistent rhythm of learning, reading, interacting, conversation, solitude and being in nature. It was great and it was only for a season, at least in that way. I got wrapped up in the belief that the only way for that to happen again is if we lived in the heart of Portland. Kind of a weird nostalgia, but I believed that if I could relive it, it would happen again. And that became a prison. There wasn’t anything wrong with that intimacy I enjoyed for so many years, it’s just that I had built up in mind that that intimacy couldn’t happen outside of it.

The past few posts I’ve been writing about God giving us over to our desires, being dependent on Him, and putting our faith in things other than God. It’s all a part of some thoughts and ideas I’ve been wrestling with.

There are some beautiful buildings in the world. I love architecture because it is so interesting. Castles, palaces, churches, theaters-they are all beautiful. When I think of the Temple of Solomon, I think of how incredible it must have been. Everything was laid out in great detail, and we can read about that in the Bible. Artists have tried to give their interpretations as to what they think it looked like, but I assume they fail in comparison to the real thing.

Yes, these types of building are beautiful. But these aren’t the only buildings that are beautiful. The building in the photograph above is a beautiful architectural building. But it’s not a theater or church. It’s not a castle or a palace. No, it’s a prison in the state of Kentucky here in the USA. Another building that I had the privilege to see in person, was incredible. Brilliantly white, perfectly rounded domes, intricate hand carved marble is what this massive structure looks like as it stands next to the Yamuna River in India. But it is also not a church or castle, palace, not even a prison. No, it’s the Taj Mahal-a tomb a  king made for his dead wife.

What if our churches aren’t really churches at all, but prisons. What if our church buildings aren’t really places of worship, but instead tombs? What if building such structures was never a part of what God intended? How would that change our theology, our ministry, the Great Commission and Commandment God has given us?

…to be continued…

be blessed today