Wednesday, December 29, 2010

#10 Accountability

The other night, as I was sitting on my back porch enjoying a glass of great craft beer, I got this text from one of my greatest friends.

What happened to your blog? 

In an instant my world was filled with embarrassment, shame, and a intense sense of urgency to be better at life in general.  Honestly, I didn't even know this friend of mine had ever even read it.  And then the most dreadful thought occurred to me, what if I was refusing to accomplish the task that God had for me?

Accountability is a strange thing.  Like worship, like service, like community, it's not really something that we "do", it's more like something that happens "on accident".  To be a part of an accountability group is not the same as being accountable.  To be accountable is to trust another, and to follow through with what they are suggesting.

See, I really trust this friend, and when he says something that calls me to greatness, I go for it.  Not because this is something that I've signed up for, but because I know that he loves me, and he wants me to be who God has asked me to be.  His comments propel me to change and be changed by the grace that God is offering.

Do you have someone in your life?

Monday, September 13, 2010

#9 time

I love home improvement. Don't have any money, but I still like to peruse the aisles of my local hardware store and dream.  Until I'm debt free, I'll have to be satisfied with leaving the store with things to repair my aging house.  For some reason, last weekend, a lot of my doors needed repair. All in one day, I installed a recently repaired shower door, replaced the door knob on our back door and stopped it from sticking, and finally put a new latch on the outside gate.  And even though the kitchen countertops were on my mind the entire time, it felt so good to get out there and sweat, create (kind of), and take time with my "little helpers".

If you know me, or have been reading for a while, you'll know that most of what I learn about God the Father comes from my life experiences as a daddy.

At one point on Saturday, Avila, who's 2, told me that she wanted to help me.  Thinking back and knowing who cool it is when my kids are a part of my ordinary projects, see #5 God Can , I quickly agreed to her request.  I was headed to the garage to find some screws and some small washers.  She stood patiently next to me at my work bench while I searched through a couple disorganized bins of random hardware.  I knew that if I didn't involve her immediately, she was going to get bored and take off, so I handed her a couple of washers.  She happily took them in her little hand and smiled.  However, it wasn't 30 seconds, while I searched for the right size screws, that she was handing the washers back to me, stating "I don't want to help you anymore", and skipping off to her sandbox.  Bummer!

Instantly, as I'm listening for the Father's voice in all of this, I'm reminded of the impatience within my own heart surrounding the Father and His plan, His work, His projects.  I find myself skipping away all the time!  When will you heal this nation God? When will you make these paths straight?  When will I see your justice?  I feel just like Avila did, holding a couple of pieces to the puzzle, bored out of my mind, while my Father gathers the remaining parts to accomplish the project.

I'm reminded again that God knows what He is doing.  He doesn't need our help, He desires it.  But most of all He desires our trust in His plan.  Even though it seems like it is "taking forever!" His timing is perfect in all things big and small.  He's God, He could do it instantly at any moment.  However, in that case, what would become of our trust, our faith, our time abiding in the Father?

I'm learning that patience is not the standing-in-line, bored, tapping my foot, kind of waiting.  Patience is standing in awe of God's movements, works and plan, all the while knowing that He's got it taken care of, and that you are a part of it all...

Lord, help me to abide, to trust, to know your ways are correct ALL of the time. Amen.

Do you find yourself "waiting" on God and becoming impatient at times?  What are the things in your world that you have a hard time seeing God's plan in?  In what ways have you given up on God's plan, and tried to do it by yourself or simply skipped away?

Monday, August 16, 2010

#8 Deeds?

I'm obsessed with perfection.  This morning I had my whole family do a "practice run" of our new school morning routine, complete with timers so that we could somehow create that chaos that will inevitably ensue each morning.  Once we were all fed, dressed and prayed up, they lined up and walked to the van at the appropriate time, giving me some satisfaction in knowing that we can do this.

School starts in a week...

It's my opinion that the rich young man in the Gospels (Matt 19:16-22) approaches Jesus in the same way. He wants to make sure that he is doing absolutely everything he can to secure his own perfection and ultimately his eternal happiness.  However, you get the sense that Jesus in His mercy is required to give him a task, "go sell all that you possess", so that the young man has something tangible to work toward.  As I continue to struggle into this intimacy with God, I have found that most of the time it is not about the deeds I'm performing, but about the disposition of my heart.

"Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?" has the right intent, but it is the wrong question to ask.  Jesus answers the question, but only because the young man wasn't ready to hear the whole truth, "get rid of everything else you love and love me."

Lord, as you perfect me, teach me how to love you more than all my stuff, my good deeds, my identity, my religion, my work, my family, my dreams.  Help me to see that there is only one deed that you ask of me, to fall more madly in love with you everyday.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

#7 who is my neighbor?

Last night, Cana and I went on a date. We clipped some coupons from our trusty Entertainment book, got a babysitter, and set off to go watch the remake of Robinhood (which, by the way, was pretty good).  On the way to the theatre, it started raining... really hard.  I for one, was not looking forward to getting out of the car, for I was looking pretty fly with my hair all did. Cana was wearing a sleeveless dress and was already feeling cold.  We stopped by the convenience store around the corner from the theatre, to get some candy and water to put in Cana's purse (is that bad? doesn't everyone do that?).  We hurried out of the car, so as to not get too wet.  As we approached the glass doors of the store, there came another man, shirtless, with tattoos, sandals with wet socks on.  My first reaction, was to go into defensive mode. Can I take this guy if he intends to hurt my wife?  Then, as my infantile stages of "enemy-love" self rose to the top of my psyche, I decided that I would open the door for the man, looking him in the eye with a smile, having him follow my wife in, even though it made me a little nervous.  He just gave me a head jerk upward "'sup" and a smile, I'm was guessing, that was his way of saying thanks.
Cana chose skittles as her poison, and I, Reese's Pieces.  We added a bottle of water and approached the counter.  The shirtless man had a six pack of tall boys set there and was pointing out his brand of cigarettes to the cashier.  We moved to the second attendant, only to find out that all the credit card machines were down due to the thunderstorm.  I was pretty irritated, irritated because I couldn't buy my roundish bagged sugar craving.  Then from our left, the shirtless man held out cash and said in an excited voice "I got it."  "What do you mean? No." I responded, which was actually more polite than it was true. For, I knew exactly what he meant.  He responded "you're good, you're good, just if you see someone else in need tonight, do the same." I was taken aback, but you know... I wasn't surprised.  A shirtless tattooed man paid for our candy, and I really wasn't surprised.
When Jesus was asked "who is your neighbor?", He really didn't answer the question, but He told a story.  He told the story of the good samaritan.  A guy who the Jewish people where supposed to hate and supposed to be afraid of.  When asked "who is your neighbor?", Jesus basically answered "the person that you are inclined to hate or be afraid of".
I've been trying to really practice enemy love and neighbor love for a couple of years now, and the more I pray for those who want to do me or my family harm and the more I love those that I am actually inclined to dislike, these characters at convenience stores and folks who smell badly or look dangerous aren't as repulsive anymore.  I'm pretty sure I'm figuring out slowly that Christ really is everywhere, waiting to be treated with dignity.  Not just in Haiti, or the poor, but everywhere.  You see, I could speculate where this man got his cash. Or wonder if my skittles were bought with dope dealing money or worse.  I could think about where tattoo man was going to party that night and with whom, what his family was like, how he grew up, what car he drove, and whether or not he received government aid for housing or food.  Or I could see him as a neighbor, a human that is just as vulnerable to sin and hell, and just as close to forgiveness and salvation as I am.
The truth is, by God's goodness, Cana and I are becoming more and more convinced that people are people whatever their situation.  They need love and dignity more than they need fixing or aid.  To accept love from him, in the form of candy, gave him a confirmation of his dignity.  It's in giving we receive.  And I guess in a way, it's in receiving that we give... hmm...
In the end, I gave the shirtless guy a hug. Yes, I slapped his wet sweaty back with my open palms and gave him a true bro hug, just as I would give one of my own brothers.  And I'm not gonna lie, it was pretty disgusting.  But, I'm pretty sure not doing so would have been even more repulsive.  I got some candy and moreover I got a lesson from Jesus.  Thank God for shirtless tattooed man.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

#6 The poor are not a project.

Last week, I had the privilege and blessing of being ministered to by brothers and sisters in Haiti.  For years, I have been aware of the fact that works of justice involves a give/take phenomenon.  But this.... But this?... no words. 

As you might expect, the situation in Haiti is beyond compare. I have seen the slums of Nairobi and Guatemala City, the colonias of the US/Mexico border region, ghettos of Eastern Europe, and the devastation of post-Katrina New Orleans, but nothing... nothing like Port au Prince. The city/country is completely destroyed.  No government, no leadership, no plan of action. It is literally every person for himself, with crowd control and security provided by murderous gangs. Seriously, the most community leadership that we witnessed in Port au Prince was from an infamous mob boss (whom we had the great pleasure of meeting).

The suffering of the people is immeasurable. NO building is still standing in the capital. 300,000 deaths, 240,000 injured, (50% of them seriously injured) and 2,000 amputees. Children everywhere. All of whom are physically and emotionally wounded. Schools are closed, most of them are completely destroyed. 3 out of 4 medical schools and 3 out of 4 seminaries, destroyed.  All government offices and their records totally destroyed. 1.2 million people displaced and living in tents-everywhere. Tents are simply everywhere, soccer fields, town squares, backyards, dry river beds, and on every street and on every corner in between trash and rubble. The situation in the tent camps, that house anywhere from 1,500 to 40,000, is seriously like nothing I have every experienced.  Well below any poverty I have ever seen or even heard of.  Trash, mud, and human excrement make up the floor.  Plastic sheeting, poles, and whatever materials people can find make up the roofs and walls. Simply inhumane, dangerous, and fertile grounds for sickness and epidemics.  Not to mention the 4,600 dangerous criminals that were released from the prison during the earthquake.
Amidst the intense suffering, amidst the extreme tragedy, there is an overwhelming sense of trust.  I wouldn't call it a full blown mature hope yet, because most of the conversations we had with locals, were heated, emotional, and definitely had a great hopeless character. But there was, however, this trust in God, that even if the situation never got an ounce better, there was trust that God knew what He was doing. In the mind of the Haitian people, God is limitless and nothing was greater than He.  Like Job, the people have come to a realization of their role in the universe.  We are child, He is Father. He has a plan, and it's not about us. He's God and He knows what He is doing.  Within this reality, we are free. Free to work, free to give, free to love.

We had great meetings with government officials, local leaders (gang bosses), businessman, ministers, orders of priests and nuns, and average Haitians.  We will respond.  We will form partnerships, and we will not forget. We will send money and aid, and we will work to restructure and rebuild Haiti, because that is what our Lord asks of us.  But, if that was the extent of our action, we've completely missed the point of our immersion there. God desires for us, for the Haitian people, and for all mankind, complete fulfillment in Him.  That no matter the situation, we understand who He is and what He desires for us. 

The poor are not a project. They are a situation, a vehicle, by which we meet the living God.  Thank God for Haiti. 

Monday, February 8, 2010

#5 God can

I love big adventures with my family.  We've been across the country in an RV, we've been over seas.  But, my absolute favorite times as a Dad are the simple "ordinary" times.  Mostly as I sit in my "daddy chair" and gaze with amazement at my kids.  Sometimes, they actually crawl up into the chair with me.  Those times, even though they are becoming few and far between as they grow, are priceless.  I have learned to treasure every second of these interactions.  As sappy as this might sound, it's true.  Tickling my kids until they cry or engaging in a brief conversation about their day, are for me, heaven on earth. 
As the years go by and the kids begin to have "more important" things to do than engage Daddy, I've got to get creative with my approaches. 

One ploy that works 100% of the time is bribing. Candy is the currency in my family. And you want to get them to do anything, all you have to do is flash a gummy bear or a life saver. When we run out of candy, we usually can get a chore done with a Tums or a cough drop.  Our 2 year old, Avila doesn't really know the difference. As easy as bribes are, they feel kind of cheap. I am still operating in a reward/punishment arena. The attention they give me, has nothing to do with me, but only the reward.  

I've learned that the most rewarding times for me are when my kids "help" me with some sort of project.  They usually end up screwing it up more than helping, but it is still worth that time with them. If you are parent you know what I'm talking about. If you aren't, I'm sure you can remember at some point, "helping" your mom cook dinner or your dad mow the lawn. 

I seriously don't have the words to describe the satisfaction that I feel as my kids help me with some menial task. As a boy, I remember helping my dad, and truly believing that he needed my help. Now that I'm the dad, I realize that the only thing that my dad needed from me, was this time together. It means so much! And as I become more and more intimate with my Father in heaven, I realize that this is His mode of relating to me as well.  

God can convert the world, save the world, heal the world with one word, in an instant. No process, just done and done, like that.  He chooses to invite me into the process because He desires ME more than He desires to USE ME.  These times that I "help" God, are the times that we spend together.  Don't take this in the wrong way, but for most of us in ministry, these are some of the most intimate times with the Father.  To be honest, I don't think that God could've gotten my attention any other way.  I'm that kid squirming on His lap. He starts a project, gives me a task, and says, "Ennie, I need you to help me with something?" And I fall for it every time. 

Not only, does He choose to need me, but He also risks complete failure when He trusts me with these tasks. He is like a dad giving me, a 3 year old the lawnmower, slapping me on the ass, and saying "go get 'em tiger." 
Can you imagine this business model ever working? You are in a job interview...

Interviewer: "Yeah, um, you are the worst possible person to fulfill this job."

You: "So I didn't get the job?"

Interviewer: "No, actually, we are going to make you the Senior VP.  We want you to be a part of our company so bad, that we are willing to limit ourselves and our productivity to have you on board."

This is insane, maddening, and I am uncontrollably irritated by this economy.  But, this is our God.  He does it time and time again in the scriptures and throughout Church history.  Just look at this last Sunday's readings.  Isaiah, a zealous young man that couldn't keep his mouth shut. Peter, a bad fisherman. Paul, literally killing Christians. Can you think of a worst candidate?  These are the people that God chooses to do His work, not because He can't do it Himself, but because He desires the love of His children, time spent with His children, and ultimately, that His children are fulfilled in Him. 

I can do nothing apart from Him. Gotta get this through my thick skull. 

Friday, January 29, 2010

#4 following

As the oldest of three boys, I grew up calling the shots. Whether it was Legos, G.I. Joe, or He-man, whether we were going to pull a prank on the neighbor or sneaking on to the roof, I was the lead man. I was Hannibal and they were my A-Team.  This behavior, as it does with many oldest children, translated from childhood into adolescence and then into adulthood. My adolescence was filled with me roping many of my friends into making some pretty dumb decisions.  I recall one night pulling the red Ford Topaz back into my parents driveway at 3am, after "stealing" it for a couple of hours. The friend in the passenger seat literally burst into tears as the headlights shined brightly on a half naked, very confused father of mine. We were fourteen and grounded.
When it comes to the Gospel, Jesus makes it very clear to me that following Him is fundamental. When I decided to follow Jesus, I relinquished the lead role to Him. This is ridiculously hard for me. And the worst part is, that it's that I call myself a follower.  I'm a "follower", that because of fear of what Jesus might ask, 99% of the time does not follow. And I've figured out ways to make myself feel like I am, so that I can continue leading.

Here are just a few of the mechanisms that I've invented.

- Options (most common for me)
Jesus: "Follow me."
Me: "Okay. Can you give me some options and let me pick one?"
Jesus: "But, that would make you in charge. Just trust me."
Me: "What did you say Jesus? I'm busy praying about my options."

- Judgement
Jesus: "Follow me."
Me: "Sure thing Jesus, you want me to change the world for your Glory, right?"
Jesus: "Well, sure, but I just need you to trust me with whatever I ask you to do."
Me: "What did you say Jesus? I'm busy praying for all the sad sad pagans not doing your will."

- If/Then
Jesus: "Follow me."
Me: "I'm all over it Jesus. Now if you could just make it real clear for me."
Jesus: "I need you to step out into the darkness. Trust me, I'm right here."
Me: "What did you say Jesus? I'm staring at the Sun waiting for it to dance."

Whether you are the oldest in your family or not, chances are some of these mechanisms probably sound familiar. Chances are, just like me, you are scared to death of what Jesus might ask you to do. In my heart of hearts I really want to trust. I really want to obey. But, I choose to just "get by" on my own. I convince myself that I'm doing God's will, but I am really just doing my will with some Godly sweetener.

Lord, help me to trust you more. I know that you have my best interest in mind, because you are my Father. Teach me how to follow you.

Monday, January 18, 2010

#3 honor or emulate?

Today I rode my motorcycle over to the bank to cash a check, completely forgetting that the banks are closed on this national holiday. MLK is a hero of mine, but I forget that our country still honors him. Where hate speech and exclusivity prevails in most media and social outreaches, including churches, I tend to giggle when I think about our nation honoring Dr. King.  Until I can emulate his example, I really can't talk though.
I still hang out with people like me.  I give freely of my time and gifts to those who appreciate them.  I don't like to love people who misbehave, who are rude, or misinformed.  I'm easily annoyed with people who simply regurgitate, with passion, what they heard on a 24 hr news channel.  In my prayer today, as I remember Dr. King, I'm praying that I can love the abortionist as much as I love the innocent child, that I can love the fear monger as much as I love the immigrant. 
Lord, have mercy on me, a bigot.  Give me the grace to see how recklessly you love all of your children, and the grace to love them as you love them. 

Sunday, January 17, 2010

#2 is my gift enough?

I love Jesus...
When He's asked which [one] command was the first of all, He gives two.  One very lofty and ideal and one very practical and hard.  The second actually gives a hint at how "not easy" the first is.  Aka: if we love God, we obey His commands. 
In the synoptic Gospels, it's phrased something like this, "You shall love your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength" and "love your neighbor as yourself." 
Love it! Actually doing this... of course, much harder.  If it wasn't, it wouldn't have made the list of Holy Irritations. 

The truth is, I love to give. I love the "feeling" of giving a really great gift. I love surprising folks with a thoughtful gift, or a gift that far exceeds their expectations.  It's also really cool to be known as a "good gift giver" or a "thoughtful person".  This Christmas, we and a couple of other families gave a dairy cow to a family in Africa!  It really was a lot of fun, imagining their faces when they saw our gift.  From an outsiders perspective, I look like a nice person, a good Christian, a person who is loving folks as myself. 
But really? As myself? Really. Really? 

I'm sorry, but I'm pretty sure loving folks as myself would mean I would spend just as much money on neighbors as I do on myself and just as much time praying for others as I do for my own intentions.  I don't ever recall looking at my budget or my time in this way.  I give mostly on my terms, and from my excess, not my need. 
What would it look like, if I were able to take this command seriously? What would me neighborhood or my home look like? Crazy.

This week I texted a word to a number and donated 10 bucks to the rescue efforts in Haiti. And it felt awesome!  Then I saw some more horrifying pictures from the tragedy, so I decided to do it again. This time I gave $15.  For some reason, it didn't feel as good.  Jesus was irritating me with His command to love more deeply.  Side note: If you didn't do at least this much, I'm not sure you can call yourself human. Unless of course you were totally oblivious to the situation over there.  
Giving a couple of bucks to the relief efforts in Haiti is the human thing to do!  That being said, I can't help being haunted by Jesus commands. "Love your neighbor as yourself." Is giving this amount of money, the Christian thing to do? Is this really loving neighbors as yourself?  

So as I'm sipping my coffee, clicking away on my blog, my neighbor is suffering, dying, without parents, without children, without hope, without a home... 

I'm irritated. Lord, give me the Grace to not only know what to do, but to do it. 

Friday, January 15, 2010

#1 starting it

Six years ago...

Me: "Man, I should really start a blog, or a book or something."

Jesus: ":) I agree. Tell them about me and all the stuff that comes with me."

Me: "I will. Soon. It seems like all speakers and preachers have one, and I feel left out 'cause I don't write. I also need something to sell when I go places. More approval, more money, did I mention approval?"

Jesus: ":| Nope. Not what I meant."

Me: "Okay. Yeah, your right Jesus. You always are. I'll start it soon... for you, of course."

At least once a month since then...

Jesus: "Blog, book?"

Me: "Sure. Soon."

Arghhh! What is it about getting started with the transformation that is so hard for me?  I'm reminded of Paul's letter to the Romans, chapter 7 "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate." I'm sure this will be a recurring theme here on this blog.

I've got a ton of aspirations and dreams, great ideas and goals.  Primary of these, is being holy.  (Secondary, is a disposable coffee cup that when coffee is poured into it, sugar and/or cream is automatically dispensed to your liking, eliminating the need for a little trash can for creamer and sugar packet trash.)  However, when I step back and look at all these great ideas.  It all just seems so daunting, time consuming and hard.  And sometimes, it's just the fact that I don't even know where to start.  Recently I read the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 5 through 7.  And I can honestly say that there was not a single command, from the sermon on the mount, that I have been able to master.  "Let your light shine, love your enemies, be meek, give your extra coat, do not pray with empty phrases." FAIL. As I reflected on this seemingly depressing fact, I was struck with a couple of things.  First, that I really do have everything that I need to fulfill these commands, namely the Holy Spirit, who is our help and dwells in us that we might become partakers of the Divine Nature. And secondly, I just need to start hacking away.

The irritations are there, the failures, etc. I just need to start cooperating with what I have been given to find joy in them, to itch them, if you will.

Welcome to my blog.  I pray that together, we find Hope in our weaknesses.