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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When Reality Bites…Belief

Oh, the arrogance. Just nothing but pure pride. This may surprise you (wink wink) but I do get that way at times. Since I was the only paid pastor working with teenage students in our town, I was asked to be on a small ecumenical team trying to reach the youth of the city. The team was made up of a handful of people who were volunteer youth leaders from a variety of churches that would meet once a month to plan a big event to reach out to the students once a year. By at least a decade, I was the youngest member on the team. And, by at least a decade, I had the least amount of experience in ministry. I attended my first meeting with them, listened to their ideas, and then went home thinking, “It’s obvious they need me. So, I’ll make their event better and teach them how to do youth ministry in the process.” Me and my humble twenty-something wisdom shining brightly in that thought…

The event did go off more successfully than even I had thought, and each of the youth ministries represented at the event, saw an influx of new students immediately after. It was a huge success. In all of this, what I believed was that I was a fabulous youth pastor who simply just had a gift. And why not? The youth ministry at our church had grown tremendously over the last two years I had been there, which in turn, caused the church to grow. I realize now, in my late-thrity-something wisdom, that very little did that growth have to do with me and very little of that event going well have to do with anything “fabulous” I did. I believed I was humble. I believed I was this great teacher. But reality showed what I really was-arrogant, prideful and not very humble.

This summer, I watched Hidden Figures, a movie I believe every person in America should watch. It didn’t show the extreme racism that tends to make the news, or like we saw in Charlottesville. Nope. It showed the everyday, common, subtle (to me, a white male) racism that went on and continues to go on to this day. There is an exchange between Octavia Spencer’s character-Dorothy Vaughan, and Kirsten Dunst’s character-Vivian Michael. Michael, who is Vaughan’s boss, should prejudice toward Vaughan throughout the whole movie. Again, not in a riot-down-the-street kind of way, but in a subtle, everyday common way. Michael makes this remark “I have nothin’ against y’all.” Vaughan replies, “I know. I know you probably believe that.”

This exchange epitomizes what I believe a lot of us struggle with-the difference between what we believe and reality. Those words were incredibly convicting for me, and I’m thankful for the writers for that fact. I need to be convicted, pointed out, made aware.

I know for me, I need to constantly examine myself if what I believe I am is living up to the reality that is actually going on around me, the reality that I’m living out. I need people in my life to help me by giving me a dose of reality if what I believe about myself, how I act, my tone, my vernacular, my attitude, isn’t really the reality that I am living out to those around me. Just a simple thought, with a deep self examination that I need. Perhaps you need it to.

be blessed today

 

Picture credit: ‘The Architect’ © Erik Johansson-Source: https://www.yellowtrace.com.au/surreal-distorted-reality-by-erik-johansson/

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

 

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