Erosion

I spent a lot of time in my sandbox as a kid. I built cities, bridges, lakes, buildings and farms in that big tractor tire in the backyard. G.I. Joe figures were buried there, Matchbox cars drove miles and miles of sandy roads around and around, and my Transformers literally came to a grinding halt as all their joints filled with sand.

I still enjoy making sand castles at the beach. The beach we frequent here, we drive down, pull up the car, and build a fire for dinner and s’mores. This beautiful stretch of Pacific shoreline has several little creeks and mountain run offs that are spring fed, creating lots of little rivers on the beach. The kids will often build dams, or a series of them, to see  how big they can make there reservoirs before they leak. Their favorite part is right before we leave when they knock a hole in the dam and see the massive amount of water cut through the sand, down to the rocks and out to the ocean. It’s far more interesting and, in a way, much prettier to watch the water take the path of least resistance than their structured path of waterways.

My life looks so pretty and perfect in my head. My plans, dreams, hopes…they all look so clean and orderly in my thoughts as I plan and strategize how to move forward in my life. It’s anything from saving money for that motorcycle, what my kids will aspire to or what our lives will look like when we’re empty nesters. It looks clear cut. But 20 years ago, I never planned on going to university in Georgia. Nineteen years ago I never planned on marrying a girl from a different state, let alone from a “big” city. Fifteen years ago I never planned on living in Russia, let alone Mongolia. Ten years ago I never planned on drinking coffee, let alone having a specialty coffee roasterie in a foreign country, nor becoming a coffee consultant. I never planned on being a spiritual director, nor did I have any idea what that even was. Five years ago I never planned on returning back to the States as soon as we have. It was all very unexpected.

I am learning more, every day, about releasing control of my life to the power and flow of God. We are told that we don’t know where the Spirit is coming or going…that the Spirit is like the wind.

I continue to learn this. My plans and dreams, even my aspirations may have great intentions. And I do believe that some of those things will come to pass. But, I continue to learn that they may come about in a much different way than I had expected. They may look slightly different (dare I say even more vibrant) than my best imagined ideas. Looking at the landscape out my window, or around this state, I could plan a very pretty scene with creeks and rivers, lakes, plains and mountains. But it would fall short in comparison to the gouging out of a gorge by a river over the course of millennia. Looking down from a satellite, I can see the beauty of ridges, gorges, peaks, and ravines. My best laid plans would have paled greatly if stacked up next to what God has created.

The past two weeks have been weeks of expectations being capsized to the wave and gravity of the “un-nail-down-able” flow of the Spirit and the work of the Spirit in my life. It should come as no surprise because this is the way it has always been… unexpected. And, it blows me away again. I can say this- when I “let myself go” and literally throw caution to the wind in submission to that wind of the Spirit, the adventure never seems to end, and new horizons are constantly coming into view. Without people in my life helping me see them, I might just miss them. This is what happens when we give in. This is what happens when we allow the Spirit of God to erode away the plans we may have, and create something far greater than we had ever dreamed.

And I ponder now, where is the Spirit blowing from and to in your life? It may be worthy of reflection this week, as it is for me. I’d love to hear your stories, and I know others would be encouraged by them as well…

be blessed today

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Heads Buried

When I was a youth pastor, I cast the vision and mission of the youth ministry as “Developing students into mature disciples who are passionately pursuing their world for Christ.” I thought it was pretty savvy for a twenty something youth pastor who thought he knew it all. I think I saw then, in that Millennial group, that they were a force to be reckoned with and desired to see them be world changers. And they are.

“Their world” was defined as their school, group of friends, family, community, etc. It was theirs. If at some point their world was broadened on a mission trip to another state or another country, then the mission still stood. It’s just that their world grew on those trips. Or, if it was diving into their broken homes, families and relationships and realizing that there was a hope outside of that dysfunction, then their world grew. It was about growing their world and empowering them with the courage to change it for the better.

Skip ahead a few years, a few cities, countries and continents, and here I am in Oregon. My commute is 45 minutes to Portland every morning. At my exit, there are homeless communities on either side of the exit ramp. They have tents, tarps, carts and what not to survive. They hold up signs as I wait for the light to turn left and head towards my street. Once there, the amount of homeless, pushers, dealers, prostitutes and what not continue, up and down the street where I work. I often find a few homeless sleeping under the awning of my building. I am more aware now of what goes on in the shadows, in the sunlight and in the back alleys of this world than I was 15 years ago. And so are my children.

And yet, though I can see those things, there are others who I have spoken with, others who live in Portland, have traveled those roads and streets, and yet have never seen those tents. They’ve never seen the tarps, carts, barefooted prostitutes walking with her pimp and dealer down the street to get a coke at McDonald’s. They have never seen those people and situations, though they’ve lived in Portland most of their lives. And I ask, “How? How can others not see?” And, before I put myself on too high a pedestal, Jesus puts me in my place and clearly asks me,  “How is it you can’t see more?

I write a lot about awareness, self awareness, awareness of God around us, awareness of others, and just being aware. The reason is because when we allow ourselves to become more aware of the hurt and pain in our own souls, the hurt and pain and suffering of others around us, aware that we are different than others and others have different perspectives than we do, aware of our own actions and their affects both positive and negative….this is when we grow. This is when our worlds become bigger. This is when we can begin to see Jesus in others and the need for Jesus in our world. Our worlds become…bigger, richer, fuller, more painful, more beautiful and larger than our imaginations. With that comes great reward. With that comes great responsibility. But it all starts with humility in allowing our eyes to see what is right in front of us. Allowing, in humility, to let our guard down, tear down our walls to see what is on the other side. The answer may be more death and decay. It may be. And, simultaneously,  the answer will always be more Jesus.

more to come

be blessed today

Living Life in 3D

Those hot summer nights. I remember them clearly. The sun shining way into the evening, the last glimmer of sunlight and the moon shining in it’s fullness at the same time. Then, as it gets darker, the fireflies come out to play, and then the stars. Oh the stars. Growing up in the middle of farming country had some perks, and one of them was little light pollution. The first time I really, and I mean really, encountered the stars was on a backpacking trip in Glacier National Park in Montana here in the States. There were no city lights at all, and the stars were almost as plentiful as rain drops in a downpour. They were…something bigger….something…..more. More than I had once thought. Something grander than I had once believed.

The path of self discovery. It’s incredibly important for each and everyone of us to travel down. And, as I mentioned in an earlier post, we can’t just stop there. Though many often do, this simply leads to a one sided, one dimensional outlook on life-simply who we are. That may not sound so simple. And it’s not. We are incredibly complex. Which is why we must keep going. Going…past the point of self discovery, to the realm of self awareness. Understanding how others experience and the wake we may be leaving, is key to growth and maturity. It’s when we begin to become less self focused and more focused on those around us. Even the “other.” The ones we swear we are nothing like. Perhaps we could consider this two dimensional. And, for a mature adult, this could be the stopping point.

For me, self discovery is where I had stopped for awhile. That is until I realized for the first time, the massive wake I was leaving behind me. And I could have stopped there. Working on me and my behavior, trying to reach out to the other, or at least become more tolerant of the other. And I do continually try to learn more about my wake. But God continued to invite further. The path from this point on, just like the path up to this point, was uncharted, unknown and scary.

Looking up at the stars, that feeling of bigness, and that I am a part of that bigness, is something that invites us into it. And that is where our lives become, for lack of a better descriptor, three dimensional. It’s when we’ve gone from understanding who we are, and how others experience us, to understanding who we are IN Christ.

I have met so many people, followers of Jesus, that have no idea who they are in Christ. This key part helps us to see that we are a part of something much bigger and grander than ourselves. That we are a part of a much larger narrative, a story that is being written as we live, that God continually invites us into. We are more valuable than we could ever imagine, we are more precious than we could ever dream. I remember once hearing an interview with J. K. Rowling, the creator and author of Harry Potter. She said, “I always knew how the story would end.”She goes on to say that it was the story leading up to that end that was what brought her enjoyment and life.

And I believe Christ is the same with us. We are a part of a grand story. Each day, each moment in that presence of Christ, is another opportunity of learning about who we are from the One who created us. Who puts the very breath in our lungs. Why we are wired or gifted or skilled a certain way. Looking back on the life lived already and seeing how God used us through those things, and seeing we are a part of something much greater. Though we may seem insignificant, He desires us to be very intricate parts of it. We need to be reminded of those things from time to time. I hope you are.

be blessed today

 

Getting Caught in the Wake

Oh, that feeling. I hate it. Man, I hate it. It doesn’t matter if the person is small, big, girl, boy, old, young. It doesn’t matter whether or not they are in a position over you or under you at work. It is still uncomfortable. Walking on egg shells. It’s just not fun.

One of the biggest issues in the American Church today, is our lack of self awareness. Or put differently, our lack of understanding how we are experienced by others. This doesn’t just come in our personal interaction with people on a moment by moment or daily basis. But it also comes in our actions and verbiage towards “the other.” “The Others” are other people with differing views, perspectives, faith, theologies and lifestyles than us. In many cases, we may even just naturally assume that everyone else agrees with us or is just like us. Especially if we are part of the same faith community.

I am just as guilty of this as anyone else. I have made (and still do, I’m sure) blanket statements, stereotypes, and rash, harsh judgements. I can be arrogant, or perhaps my self confidence can come across as arrogance. I’ve made mention before that I am a tall, large, white male. This can cause intimidation, fear, feelings of frustration and/or being inferior in others around me. Whether I am trying to bring about these feelings or not, the truth is that simply who I am and how I act can bring about those feelings. A few years ago, I probably would have scoffed at that last sentence, but I have become much more aware of my wake.

 

Last post, I started a dialogue about self discovery. I really do feel this is an important step in our growth as people and especially as followers of Jesus. As we begin to walk down that road of self discovery, we could end up in a place of great growth. But we need humility. Self discovery, if carried long enough and is added with humility, will bring about self awarenesssocial-icons-01

Self awareness is when we begin to understand the wake that we are leaving behind us. Just as a speed boat cruising along at top speed will leave a tremendous wake, so do our actions. There’s a reason why marina’s have a “no wake” policy. If a boat is racing through the marina, it can cause a lot of damage to the docks, the other boats and even the shoreline. Our wake has an impact on those around us. And often times, it is hard for us to see our wake. It’s hard for us to see or understand how others are experiencing us. This is a key area of growth for us as people, let alone as people who are trying to follow Jesus a little better everyday.

I have people who I trust, who I have given the freedom to call me out on my stuff and to call me out when my wake is leaving a path of destruction. I tell them very clearly that I may not respond well to them initially, but I do want them to call me out on it. Why? Because if they don’t, and everyone else is walking on egg shells, who will speak out? And, how will I know what destruction I am leaving if no one speaks out? The Holy Spirit is there to reveal those things to us, to convict us. I don’t know about you, but many times I am too blind to see the Spirit or to busy and self focused to hear Him.

Self awareness, how others experience us, the wake we leave behind us are just another aspect of this journey of self discovery. And yes, just like finding ourselves (how we’re wired, skilled, likes and dislikes) is important, this is where many stop and dare go no further. They don’t dare continue to walk this path of self discovery. Yet, that’s exactly what God desires us to do…..the next part of the journey….

more to come…

be blessed today

 

Have You Found Yourself?

I can’t pin point the exact time it happened to me. I think with most things in life, it came about slowly, over time. It evolved. In all my travels around the globe, I’ve run into many people who were on that same journey. The places I found it most prevalent were in India, Nepal, Bali, Mongolia and a few places in the States such as here in Portland. But, I have encountered folks almost everywhere I’ve been, on the path of “finding themselves.”

My assumption is that the places I found it most, were  places that were very religiously “open.” Where people would not be shamed for believing what they did, no matter how ludicrous it may have seemed to people from their own home cultures. Sure, there was acceptance, but it was more than that. It was the freedom to dive into whatever beliefs they wanted to, carry that liturgy out to whatever extent they desired (minus murdering someone), and there was no public judgement or shaming. At least, not that they could tell.

The cultures we grow up in, no matter where we are, may have some sort of religious expectations upon us (no matter how religiously free we think we think our culture is). We believe what our parents believe, or perhaps we believe what the rest of the crowd we spent the most time with believes. And then, many of us hit a point where we think “what do I actually believe?” What I’ve noticed is that when we start down that road, we then begin to ask, “Who am I?” And so the journey of self discovery begins.

I’ve seen many people on this constant journey to find themselves. Trying to figure out small things such as, “do I really like broccoli” to much deeper more profound things like “do I really believe in God?” I firmly believe this journey is incredibly important to our growth as people. Figuring out our identity, our passions, our desires is foundational in really understanding who we are. This is the point where a lot of people I know have entered into a real, or more accurate understanding  of who they are, not what the world has told them they are. This is the journey of self discovery. I think this is an incredible moment in a person’s life. This is when people begin to really start to live in who they are. Finding themselves.

And then they stop. Or, they never add to this part of their journey. Don’t get me wrong, we need to be life long learners and learners of life. But that doesn’t mean staying in just this place.  It begins with asking the questions, “Who am I?” That could be a scary question, especially for a people pleaser like me. For a long time, and I still struggle with it, I was only who I was as long as people liked me, weren’t upset with me and who still accepted me. Simply put, to a point, I was a chameleon, able to blend in to any group, or more accurately, I took on the personality, likes/dislikes and interests of the group.

This lasted for a while, until I got to the point I realized I had no idea who I actually was. I couldn’t dissect me from them (whoever “them” was at the time). Again, I can’t pin point when it started, but it was somewhere around the senior year of high school and freshman year of college. And it has not ended since then. I am still discovering who I am. But I have added to the things I am learning about myself. We’ll tackle that in the next two posts. For today, perhaps it’s good to reflect and simply ask ourselves, “do I know who I am?”

More to come…

be blessed today

 

Actively Passive

When we knew God was leading us away from Russia, we began to ask “Where to?” God was silent…actually silent for awhile. There were many times I sat down with my spiritual director or a “soul friend” and lament. Lament is something we have forgotten in our North American church culture…but that’s another post. My laments were of sadness, the reality of grief of the loss of leaving somewhere we thought we’d be for a long time. And then there was the lament of frustration, the colorful language of fear, confusion and disorientation coming out. This was a calling out of God to be true to Who He said He was in His written word-a lamp shining on my feet and a light shining on my path. I forget that a torch, or an oil burning lamp doesn’t cast a very bright light…nothing like my LED backpacking headlamp does. No, a torch is just a few steps….

Anyway, my frustration led me to do what I know how to do…actively seek out where it is, hoping something would stick. Not quite throwing a wet noodle on a wall to see if it would stick, but close enough. I am a big believer in throwing things to the wind and seeing what happens. You don’t know unless you try is my philosophy, and so I did. Cold calls to churches in Canada, emails to churches in New Zealand, Australia, the UK, Sweden. Conversations with friends and friends of friends in Paris, the States and other places. And yet, nothing took. My active seeking out was becoming fruitless. As much as I am this active way, Iris is just as much the other way. Waiting to see what drops in our laps and then follow through on it is more her way of seeing where it is God is leading.

In these two seemingly very opposite approaches, you might imagine a massive amount of conflict. And, yes, that would make logical sense. But for us it is tension. Not tension in that we’re at odds and we need to walk on eggshells all the time. No, I mean good tension. Tension  like that of a keel and the sail of a sail boat. The sail catches the wind which pushes the boat. The keel however, catches the water and uses it as a ballast to keep not only the boat upright, but also to keep the boat from being blown all over the place by the wind. This way, the sail and keel work together to harness the wind to move it forward in the most effective and efficient way possible. They work in tension at all times. And both of them are completely utterly passive. They simply are there, at tension with one another, and allowing the wind to move them.

Last time I wrote about being passively active, the idea that we can be constantly active without even realizing it. This can mean coming to God with an agenda of our own when we make time for Him, and/or it can mean that we are living out our agenda all the time, simply asking God to bless it. I asked Iris the other day if she could sum up how she approaches God’s leading and she said it like this, “It’s watching for where He’s leading and then walking towards that, as opposed to going after every avenue and waiting for Him to close doors.” That latter part, that’s me. I’ve learned to follow my gut, and usually that works for me. However, there are times that I’ve learned I need to become actively passive. That is, simply wait on God and see what falls in my lap. Sure I earnestly seek Him in certain areas, but I’ve come to a point where I usually come to Him expecting…..expecting Him, and nothing else. Since I started living this way simply being, and I don’t do it all the time, but since I started approaching life this way, there have been far more unexpected experiences, lessons, encounters and Truths I’ve been met with than I would have ever expected. It’s the active decision to just be. There is an incredible amount of peace in that, that surrender and release. Believe me, I continue to experience it.

Perhaps today is a day you need to become actively passive, stop the doing and and just be. I know it’s super hard, but what would happen if you tried that today, asking for awareness of God’s presence and allowed Him to do what He does?

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