Scarcity

How was it possible that this was it? How is it possible that it didn’t wash away? Or, perhaps blow over? How was it possible, that that many people lived there? It seemed to stretch on forever, this massive area of nothing. Well, my mindset was that it was nothing. Cardboard boxes as homes, digging through trash to find the salvageable things, living on the edge of the Ganges, both bathing and drinking from the same river that the trash and human waste runoff flows into. This shanty town of hundreds of thousands of people didn’t exist a few months prior to our arrival. There was a much larger one that was bulldozed down in an effort by the city government to control the amount of “squatters” in the area. But it didn’t matter, bulldoze one down and they all just moved to a new area and set up their small, rickety abodes. Nepal and India were my introduction to poverty, I mean true poverty. It seems like an eternity ago now, but the images, smells, tastes, sounds…that are just as powerful now as they were 17 years ago. I haven’t been back, though I have grandiose plans of returning someday.

That wasn’t just poverty, it was scarcity. Scarcity of clean water, dry homes, food, clothing, soap, work, privacy, medicine, health, safety, progress….flourishing…..living.

Scarcity of life, to the point of just trying to survive. That was true scarcity, and I had never witnessed it before. But when your eyes are opened to something, it’s hard not to see it anywhere else.

I ate lunch in a park filled with the homeless, today. I sat there and looked around at their scarcity. Granted, they had more than the Untouchable Caste I witnessed while in India, but the homeless in Portland this afternoon still lived with scarcity. Funny…”with” and “scarcity” in the same sentence……

When we sit down and listen to them, or anyone going through difficulties of any kind, and we tell them that “it will be ok,” I wonder, do we really believe that? Do we really believe that it will be ok? Do we really believe that “God’s got this” and leave it at that? Do you believe that? Do you? When you’re going through the loss of a job, the foreclosure of a home, a broken relationship from a misunderstanding, or an unexpected (or expected for that matter) death? And yet we hear “It will be ok, God’s got this.” Do you really believe that?

Do I?

The man who is homeless who loves Jesus is “ok.” So is the person who is sick and/or physically impoverished. We can still “be ok” and become a refugee, or succumb to the power of another country, or have our economy decimated. And in the end of all that, as we walk the road alone being spat on, or running for our lives, do we think that is also what it means when we say “God’s got this?”

To say that “it will be ok, God’s got this” means that there is an understanding that you or I could end up in one of the situations above, and hold to that same belief that “God’s got it.” God’s definition of scarcity is very different than what ours might be. And if that’s the case, what does God give us if his definition is different? How will we be ok if that’s true? Food for thought as I wrestle with this one currently.

….more to come

be blessed today

 

How Do You Measure The Infinite?

Structure. Structure has several meanings. There is the structure in regards to a plan, structure in regards to a rhythm of life, and then of course, structure in regards to the actual building structure. We build portfolio’s, planning for years or even decades to come. This fund and that fund, all in hopes that we can plan out everything in our future and have no worries. We put dependence in that, and therefore, we are worry free. At least that’s our hope. That’s structure in regards to a plan. We have administrative assistants, or worse case scenario, the leather-bound day planner that structures our our meetings, practices, workouts, lunches and birthdays-structure in regards to rhythm. And, we have our business buildings, shopping malls, apartment buildings, homes or even tents-structure in regards to physical place.

These different structures are meant to aide us in our lives. Help when we are too aged to be able to take care of ourselves, help so that we make time for those things we deem important and needed and help in making life easier, warmer, more comfortable. And these structures aren’t bad in and of themselves. They exist to aide us. But far too often, I’ve noticed in my own life, that instead of aiding me, I begin to live for these structures instead of theses structures existing to aide me. My reliance upon God is replaced with reliance on these things. When these things are out of line, I scramble to put them back into place, forgetting God in the midst, only to return to Him when my structure, in it’s various forms, is restored to a “liveable” state.

Reliance on those things replaces relationship with God. I’m assuming, again at least for me, that I put reliance on those things because I can touch them, feel them, see them. They are tangible, measurable, containable, etc. But God is not measurable. And therefore, we cannot fully understand.

If we cannot fully understand and contain, how can we then trust? In the evangelical world in America (I don’t say “West” because the West is not just the United States and Canada, or Western Europe, but Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and other places; incredibly diverse), we have come to a place where we have to “prove” God. We have to give scientific evidence, and argue and debate from a “prove it” offensive. Yet, God never called us to do this. We took this upon ourselves because it was too hard to believe in a God that, like the wind, blows where He wants, when He wants, how He wants. The wind is un-containable, and therefore we cannot master it. Otherwise, no pun intended, it would blow our mind. We put our reliance in our schedules, structures, in our scientific “facts” about God. But what if those were to crumble? A few posts ago, I began writing a series of posts talking about desire and dependence. I’ve been mulling over for sometime now (by time I mean a few years) about our relationship to God and where our desires have taken us from where we were to where we are now. It’s a wrestle in the mud kind of idea. But reliance and us having to build constraints to feel that we can rely on Him, have been apart of the journey we have been on as a Church.

What’s funny, is that we also cannot fully understand each other. I’ve been married to Iris for 15 years, and I still learn more about her each day. I come to a more fuller understanding of her each moment. I know I will never come to a complete understanding of her and I don’t want to. I want to continue to learn about her and learn from her. Because If I ever find myself in a moment when I have come to a complete understanding of her, a moment when I can “measure” or “contain” her, what kind of relationship would there be? What desire, need, hunger or even interest would there be towards her?

God is infinitely more “complex” than we are. There is security in Him, but not in the ways we think. Not in the ways we can measure, contain, encapsulate into a tidy, neat package. I want to serve a God…and love a God like that. That I can explore the height, depth and breadth of His love for me for all eternity…..and never reach the end.

be blessed today

 

 

That Numb Feeling

I like the cold. I like to play in the snow, hike in the snow, be in the snow. And I do like it when my hands get so cold, I can barely feel them. You know what I hate? Pins and needles. I hate that feeling. Like constantly hitting your funny bone and it’s this awkward hurting yet annoying pain all at the same time. At my desk, sitting in a seminar or lecture, my leg will go to sleep and then I have to go through the annoying process of waking it up. Then there is the weird feeling of trying to walk when my foot is asleep…so weird. Like this rubber attached thing to my body that i know is there, I just can’t feel it.

And so it is with our feelings. Yes, feelings, I am talking about feelings again. I to, have had my ups and downs, days that I wish I was number to not feel the pain and hurt. And, days I was numb unable to feel, or at least unable to feel anything nice and enjoyable. Yet, there are times where I think feeling numb would feel better than what it feels like at that moment.

Thankfully, I have enough people around me to help me not go numb; to not let my heart or my head go to sleep, but to feel what is actually going on around me. Even if that means I feel the “negative” or “bad” emotions that much more intensely. To go completely numb is to not feel even the “good” and “positive.”

Jesus felt. He felt sad, shame, anger, lonely and glad. To push back the hard ones causes a dulling so that the welcomed feelings can’t be felt either. And sometimes they came together at the same moment. So,  he embraced them. He felt every one.

Many of these feelings, these emotions come from grief and loss. Loss of stability, reputation, identity, loss of the way things once were, loss of a loved one, loss of expectations, etc. Grief and loss are powerful. And they are feelings we need to feel. Jeremiah was feeling loss and grief so much that he wrote an entire book in the Bible about it. Yet, I cannot, for the life of me, remember ever hearing a sermon straight from Lamentations. Never. Why? Because we hate feeling this way and feeling has been shamed in our culture.

Feeling our feelings and allowing ourselves to feel, allows us to connect with our inner most beings in a deeper way, allows us to connect with others in a deeper way,  and allows us to connect with the Creator in a far deeper way than we had ever imagined. This is part of being human, the good part of being human, the part of being a human that God created-relationship. This allows connection with God on a level so deep, many don’t dare to travel. This is real relationship. I pray we all connect with him on that level ever deeper today.

be blessed today

Photo Credit: writerscafe.org

#Blessed

I looked at his high end sports car as it zoomed into the parking lot. He was always sharply dressed. His house, though not a mansion, was far more than what I had growing up. He had a manicured lawn complete with special sod for the putting green in the back which had it’s own separate, special lawn mower for the small 25 by 12 foot parcel of putting grass. He was a strong member of the church that he was a member of, which consequently, was directly across the street from his business which is where I was standing, ready for him to open the doors so I could start work. When asked, or a comment was made about his house, car, business (in general, his affluence), he would simply say “Praise the Lord, I’m just blessed.”And so used to be my thought of “blessing” and “being blessed.”

Used to be. Not anymore.

I’ve learned that I cannot truly sing the song, “Blessed Be Your Name” if I am not willing to accept that God does both give and take. And, I cannot read the beatitudes if I am not willing to believe that their is “blessing” in both the giving and the taking of God. This relates to what I wrote about last time. We’re screwed up in our thinking. I’m not sure if it’s just an American church thought, or it is all of Western Christianity. I’m not upset that the man in the story above had a sports car, nice house and manicured lawn. He gave me my first job out of college as I stayed in our college town waiting to marry Iris. I think that it was good for him and his life. God gives us all the freedom to chose, and he is enjoying some of the things of this world. He gave generously to the church and to me as I was going into ministry. But to call that blessing, is to then say that because I don’t have those things, I am not also blessed. To believe that only those who are wealthy or well off are more blessed than I, is to say that God has some sort of grading system wherein He has certain children he really loves and others he just, well, loves. But God never speaks of favoritism when it comes to His children.

Looking at the Old Testament, or the part of our scripture that is pre-Christ, God would bestow massive wealth on those who were righteous. That is, they followed all customs, laws and rituals God ordained and they reserved the title and authority “Lord of all” to God. But And, when Christ came, he brought a more refined sense, a deeper understanding, a fuller perspective on what blessing was. It had nothing to do with wealth. That was a time that those who believed in God were under the law. In fact, it seems that wealth actually got in the way (see Ananias and Sapphira trying to hide their wealth and the early church selling all they had to name just two examples). Blessing from God post-Christ, seems to be all about relationship. So, why do we so often say we no longer live under the law, but still do in practice? Because we’re human and feel we have to earn something, achieve status, work on our own…towards a goal.

Looking at the beatitudes in Matthew 5, it lists several kinds of people-the meek, those who mourn, those who seek righteousness, etc. And with every single one of them, their blessing is about relationship-inherit the kingdom of God, seeing God, they shall be called children of God, the reward will be in heaven-it is all about having a relationship with and being in the presence of God. That is blessed.

Freedom from the law is realizing that we are already saved; we are already given grace; the relationship is their, waiting. We simply need to release the idea that if we work harder we will become more blessed, and give in to the Truth that God is blessing us with relationship (and I’m learning that simple does not equal easy). This is a daily, perhaps a moment by moment struggle for me. But when I do give in, I am reminded again and again of how valued, loved, cherished, and blessed I am. Perhaps today you need to give into this Truth as well.

be blessed today

 

 

So Here I Am Again

After being away from what you know or grew up with (like us living overseas), you have these expectations of what things will be like when you return. Some of these are serious and heavy expectations, realistic or not, like how you will interact with your family, old friends,  or even the Church. Some of these are far more light such as driving down the main street in your hometown, going past an old hang out joint, or even what the  Chicken Vino Bianco at Olive Garden tastes like (it’s no longer on the menu, but I can usually persuade the chef to make it with my “overseas, haven’t had this in years, it’s my favorite” story). These things are familiar. They are known. Like riding a bike, we have eaten these things, done these things or were a part of these things for so long, we can recognize them with a smell, the viewpoint of a certain tree or curve in the road.

I’ve been writing about the inward, upward path that God seems to lead us on as we follow him. Part of this, at least from my experience, has been having those moments of no clarity or those times of really having no clue what comes next. In my life, these moments have been crisis due to medical things, personal conflict feeling the world is against me, a major bombshell leaving no idea what happened to my plan, or God leading me away from something but not leading me to anything, at least not yet. I’ve had a lot of them. As I’ve mentioned before in these posts, we have an incredible support system of people in our lives that are constantly speaking Truth in and over us. Even, at times, we I don’t want to hear it. I have learned over time, and this is a hard lesson I continue to learn, that when this starts to happen, to lean into community and Christ even greater.

And yet, here I am again. I have come so used to my crisis cycle, that I can pinpoint exactly where I am. In a very small nutshell, when whatever happens happens, I first start my becoming more of an information seeker and more introspective. I try to figure out with all my human resources, what is going on…and why. As the fog starts to settle, I become more desperate and reach out to Christ, to my support system. This can go on for a while. but eventually, I become more at home with where I am. And that means more accepting of where God has me. Eventually, the fog lifts, and I can start to see the next step or two in front of me on my path. God may or may not speak to me during these times. But He is ever present. I can say that now. I haven’t always been able to. But like I said, I’ve become more comfortable in the fog than I used to be. I’m learning to be present with my feelings and emotions in the fog.  I’m learning to be more vulnerable in the fog. God continues to build trust into me. And if you lean into Him, I believe He will do the same for you.

So what about you? Are you becoming more comfortable in the fog God has us in from time to time? And when you lean into Him through it, what is the result? Do you have a support system? When will you start to build one? Your vulnerability brings hope.

be blessed today

Meeting Each Other

I really have good people in my life. There are good people that have surrounded my family and I. Encouraging, supporting, willing to call me out on my stuff when I start blaming or throwing myself a pity party. Yep, those kind of good people. I’m not sure where I would be if I didn’t have them. I would probably be living out of my own woundedness and dysfunction more than I already do, that’s for sure.

One of the hardest things for me when I started down my road of recovery was both sharing my own junk freely and letting that float in the air in the room. The listeners were quiet, none of them trying to break up how uncomfortable they felt with handing me a tissue or saying “it’s ok.” Another hard thing was sitting there when someone was sharing their junk and me not trying to make myself feel better by smiling, talking, adjusting my posture in my seat, etc. We all just sat. Quietly.

My first experience with this sitting in silence was in one of the dark times in my life. I wanted God to speak, clearly, as to what He wanted me to do. I was desperately searching for direction. But He was silent. Very silent. And the more I strained to hear anything, the more piercing the silence was. I finally unloaded about this in a  group meeting of other leaders as we went around the circle sharing what God had done in us that week in the San Bernardino mountains. But all I could share through tears was my frustration…and fear. And there it was again, silence….silence from the other 30 people in the room. But this time it felt inviting. It seemed that God was doing, even though He wasn’t saying. I say this in no light terms….it was holy ground.

Henri Nouwen, who knew loneliness and pain, wrote, ” I have always felt that the center of our faith is not that God came to take our pains away, but that He came to share them and I have always tried to manifest this divine solidarity by trying to be as present to people in their struggle as possible. It is most important to be with people where joy and pain are experienced and to them become aware of God’s unlimited love in the midst of our limited abilities to help each other. “

When we hit the wall and the bottom, we feel it. If we lean into it, and consequently God, we come out changed for the better. More grace, understanding, compassion, trust, joy…the list goes on. Jesus meets us in our pain. And, we can meet others in theirs. Who will you meet in their pain today? Who will you allow to meet you in yours?

be blessed today

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Poverty-The Misunderstanding

In my 37 years of life, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the story of the “widow’s mite,” but it’s been several. I may have even preached on this passage in Mark 12 at some point, but I don’t remember. The sermons go on how incredible it was that this woman who had nothing, gave out of her poverty. And, in all of those sermons, I’ve only ever heard this passage spoken of in regards to finances. Perhaps that’s true.  But maybe, just maybe, it goes deeper than just finances.

Last time, I shared my initial thoughts on poverty. To be “in poverty” means that one has very little of something. Generally speaking, we almost always refer to wealth and riches when we speak of poverty. But what if poverty was also poverty of grace, worldview,  culture, understanding of race, gender and social class privilege, etc.? And what if we all had poverty in our understanding of God’s love and power?

I believe we are all in poverty. Every single human on this planet is in poverty. Perhaps not in financial poverty as according to the UN, but in poverty of understanding. Or, in poverty of love. In poverty of justice or maybe in poverty of action. I know I am. I cannot understand what it is like being a women in a man’s business world. I can’t fully grasp what it means to be a minority. I can’t have a clear picture of what it means to have absolutely nothing. But, I can try. When we don’t try, aren’t willing to try or think that we aren’t in poverty, this is where we, especially we as followers of Jesus, I think this is where we are blinded by the plank in our own eyes.

We will always have at least two sides of a political campaign (otherwise what would be the point of having elections?). There will always be other ways to interpret data or look at a situation of need. But this shouldn’t hold us back from trying. What we can do is try, try to learn and understand. Try, as best we can, to see the other persons perspective, the world as they see it, to see God in the way that they do.

What if Jesus, in this parable of the Widow’s Mite was actually pointing at the fact that the constructs and oppression of the society the widow was in was causing her to feel as though she had to give all she owned into that kettle? What if she didn’t know she could give less and not have to “keep up with the Jones’?” What if part of her poverty was not just financial, but it was the poverty of being suppressed in a system that advocated bigger, better, more-that said she had to give all she had, even if it meant she wouldn’t have anything to live on? And perhaps this parable is speaking more about the rich and wealthy for creating such a system? Maybe these wealthy were the real impoverished ones. Maybe.

be blessed today

 

Photo Credit: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net