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

 

Over-The-Top

Oh the woes of youth. I was the tallest kid in my school. I was also hefty or let’s say “big boned” in stature, I was up there on the scales. I remember going to the all you can eat buffets as a teenager. I would pride myself in “getting my money’s worth.” And though everyone laughed, it was true. I would eat, eat and eat some more. The dessert bar was my favorite, hitting it once or twice, eating as much as I could. Similar to the American holiday of Thanksgiving where there is a large spread of food and we eat until we can’t eat anymore, that is how I would partake at those buffets. I would often feel over full, too full. But, I kept doing it. I don’t believe that is how our bodies were meant to consume food.

In Russia, there are several palaces, summer palaces, winter palaces and “cottages” that would make any normal house now-a-days look like the horses stable. The palaces there were the over-the-top gold, red velvet and inlaid everything. Everything to the max. My personal taste isn’t that, and looking at those palaces, though incredible, were, in my opinion, gaudy. Gaudy isn’t a good word. It means “excessively showy” and usually it goes by the second meaning which is “cheaply showy in an excessive way.” I know this wasn’t the intention of the kings and queens who ruled for so long, but to me it comes across this way at times.

God is a king. The King of kings we call Him. We talk about His throne, we hear about what He looks like in the best words John and others had at the time to describe Him. I do believe He desires to lavish His love on us in a way we can’t fully grasp. I truly do. Last time, I wrote about how God’s definition of scarcity and our definition might be different. That if He is really taking care of us, how does that work if we are in poverty? I mean real poverty. How can we be ok in that?

Perhaps to answer that is to ask another question- what is the opposite of “scarcity?” I used to think that the opposite was the over-the-top, gluttonous, all you can eat buffet, or the gaudy over-the-top richness that I saw in those palaces. But maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s something different altogether. I used to think that His definition of “I got this, I will never forsake you” was that I would always be in a over-the-top way. Meaning, He would come swooping into rescue me in this big, incredible spectacle.  And I think that isn’t the case, at least not always….but I could be wrong. It is a journey after all. And a dialogue. Let’s keep pondering and wrestling…

more to come..

be blessed today

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

 

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

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

The Blessed American Church

I’ve mentioned before that I think we in the American church have forgotten who we are as a people…foreigners. Peter mentions this in 1 Peter 2 and it is mentioned a few other places in the Bible as well. But, I feel we have gotten to a point where we as American Christians, have a “blessed complex.” And by “we” I mean a corporate, underlying, perhaps sub-conscious belief within the Church in America. Myself included. How so?

Let me first give some background. The Builder and Boomer generations were very much of similar mindsets. If you work hard, persevere and live a good moral life, you’ll not only be successful, you’ll also be able to enjoy living comfortably later on in life. To an extent, they were right. These two generations had gone through a lot. They had lived through the horrible Great Depression, had come to the aide of the Allies and ended up being hugely helpful in the winning of both World War 1 and World War 2 and the economy boomed afterwards. They had also seen great death- many of their countrymen in both World Wars, Vietnam as well as stopping “evil” in the Korean War. But America overcame. Being American meant being successful and being successful meant you were blessed. Having a house, picket fence, two cars and a 401k was the non verbal definition of being blessed. But is that really the true definition?

This blessed complex infiltrates our ambitions in that we feel we have the right to live out the rest of our days how we want, to live off of our “successes,” to sit back and relax because we’ve “earned it.” When we ask the question, “don’t we deserve it,” and have it answered with a resounding “YES,” I believe we have become too rooted to this world. By believing that we deserve it, we go on telling the rest of the world to do as we did-work hard, nose to the grindstone, believe in Jesus and they will be successful to. And I would agree…if we were citizens of this world. If we were nationals here we would surely be entitled to enjoy it for all it’s pleasures and to be rewarded by it’s man approved accolades. The Gospel is not based on what anyone deserves. Yet that is what we preach in our actions.

But we are not citizens, we are foreigners. We are not nationals, we are in fact in exile. We are not residents, we are strangers. Giving in to the notion that we work hard and therefore earn it, is not a ideology of the place where we are from. It is a notion of this place. This place is a place built on reward based on effort and work. When it becomes an internal belief , then we have moved it from a place of thought to a heart held belief. I believe we have become far to tied to this place and forgotten to Whom and where we really belong to. We Where we are from, we are only citizens by Grace.

This grace that we don’t deserve yet God gives out generously, is the definition of blessed we need to share with the world. This blessed is where we can truly live out Ephesians 2 where Paul writes that it is by grace we have been saved through faith, not by works so that not one of us can boast. This blessed has nothing to do with effort….simply submitting our control to God. That other definition, the lie, that not only holds others in oppression, it holds us in bondage as well.

More to come….

Live in Grace today

be blessed today

Photo Credit: dailymail.co.uk

And Round and Round We Go

I decided to run it this time. I had been here to this place three or four times and simply loved it. Looking out over the Mediterranean from our hotel room was just incredible at sunset. But he view from the mountain across the street was far better. I’ve walked to the top several times, but this time…this time I was going to run it. A radio tower sat at the top and the road up had two switchbacks and then spiraled up to the top. The run up was hard…very hard. It didn’t help that it was below freezing when I left my home a few days before and flew here,  a few miles from the Biblical town of Ephesus it was pushing 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

But. That. View.

As I went round and round, I would get the feeling like I had been in that spot before. Mainly, because I had, five minutes before when I was on this side of the mountain. Only five minutes ago, I was about 50 or vertical feet lower than I was at that moment. But I was getting closer to the middle center of the mountain, and I was getting closer to the top.

When we decide to live our lives with Christ, our lives are a lot like this spiral upward. Last time, I mentioned how as we live our lives, God is constantly removing layers of sin, dysfunction, untruths and our fallen nature. And that’s true. As we move upward towards Christ, we are also moving inward, closer to the center of our souls. It’s like running up that mountain. Things I thought were long and over, are back again. It seems that way. But it is God inviting us to move upward towards Him and in return we are also moving deeper into our souls, into our own hearts, deeper into our sinful nature and dysfunction. Which means, it may seem like we’re dealing with a particular issue again, when we’re actually working deeper at the roots of that issue.

A constant journey of inward and upward. I dare say we cannot move upward, at least not fully, unless we’re also willing to move inward. Move deeper into the scary parts, the dark parts of our hearts. Why scary? Because the deeper we go, the less room there is to hide from God. It’s scary being exposed, vulnerable, totally out there. And what may be scarier about this place than exposing ourselves to God, is that we are exposing ourselves to…well, ourselves. But it is the place where God desires we go….with Him.

Are you willing to move not just upward, but inward as well? What is holding you back? Are you willing to bring what’s holding you back before God?

be blessed today

Photo Credit: http://www.bradjgoldberg.com/photography/italy/