Saturday, July 30, 2011

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow: Redemption

I don’t know what it is about Morgan Freeman that makes him utterly quotable… Maybe it’s the sound of his voice, or perhaps the fact that he’s always been old (think about it… have you ever seen him with a head of “non-gray” hair… my point exactly) either way it doesn’t matter:

Sometimes it makes me sad, though... [my friend] being gone. I have to remind myself that some birds aren't meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up DOES rejoice. But still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty that they're gone. I guess I just miss my friend.
- Shawshank Redemption

I was having a pretty bad day earlier this week until I received an email from a good friend and fellow servant of Christ in South Africa (ironically I was in the process of praying for his family when the email came through). For those of you who don’t know, I’ve had quite an itch for South Africa lately and have been chomping at the bit to go and spread the gospel over seas. The email told of a student’s letter that expressed that she was pretty bummed about the fact that all of her teachers (Me, Kevin & Teen.., etc.) would come and teach for a period of time and then return to the states. I guess her own words describe her feelings better than anything I could ever say: “Why do I always have to loose teacher, to me, who I love and teach me to do good…”

Over the past two years I’ve had the grace of meeting some really great people only for them to go off to distant corners of the globe. And that being said, I’ve been consistently hopscotching time zones myself. It definitely makes friendships… interesting. And don’t even get me started on South Africa…

I guess ultimately… the hardest part about trusting God is believing that whatever is going on right now is what you need to have going on right now… Assuming a person’s pursuing God, He’s promised to direct your path. It’s a matter of believing that His timing and ways are superior to yours and that He’s preparing you to glorify His name. Isn’t that the ultimate goal of all that we do? After all, weren’t we created for his glory? Yeah, waiting sucks… a lot. As friends drift into different time zones, loved one’s pass away, and employment overly complicates the already complex nature of life… I know it’s okay to miss distant friends and to look back fondly on the memories that have passed but our greatest hope always lies before us: spending eternity geeking at the feet of a Savior who loves us. But that being said… I guess sometimes I still just miss my friend(s).

Monday, July 25, 2011

Church Bells and Wedding Daze…

I just got back from Philly a few days ago and will be heading out to Dallas in the near future. By now I should have enough frequent flier miles to go to sleep and Paris and wake up in Tokyo. It amazes me how much better it is to travel with a friend. This weekend a buddy of mine was getting married in Philly (he’d just moved there) so the whole “Houston” click went up to celebrate with him. I was able to coordinate my flight with another friend of mine and we had some quality conversations about Christ and life. I think airplanes are the perfect opportunity to share the gospel but that’s another conversation for another place and time.

For those of you who don’t know, Mark is one of my really good friends and I’m extremely excited about where God is taking him and his wife. I can’t remember being this excited about anyone getting married. This was my second wedding in one week and it was by far the best wedding I’ve ever witnessed. Both Mark and Esther (the groom and bride) really love God and it was evident at the ceremony. Everyone there was so overjoyed to see how God had faithfully brought them from college to marriage. What was even more amazing to me was how they prioritized God’s glory in their ceremony. It really moved me. Here are some pics from the wedding.

Personally, I had been struggling with a recent bought of marriage fever. Pretty much everyone around me is getting married and, while I’m in no way prepared for such a step (more on that later), my temperature was running a little high, my hands were feeling clammy, and I was feeling a little left out. But after this weekend my mindset is a little different. Right now and forever, I just want to love God and seek His glory. I’m not content to love him in the way that I currently do. I need more of him.

Like many Americans, marriage had been an idol in my heart since the days of watching Doug and PowerRangers (come-on… you know the Pink and White rangers were made for each other…). And as much as I’d love to blame Brian McKnight for one too many love songs, it boils down to not valuing God’s companionship. Yeah, I know it’s not good for man to be alone. But let’s not forget that Adam was busy doing Kingdom work and physically couldn’t accomplish the task without assistance… Eden wasn’t a matter of loneliness. If I’ve walked away with any personal application from this weekend it’s that I yearn to really love God. Mark and Esther said numerous times throughout the weekend that even their marriage ceremony wasn’t about them… but was about God and His glory. Man… I wish that was my attitude. I know that I love God. I know that I’m passionate about his glory… He just deserves so much more of my heart.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Funerals to Birthdays...

It’s been over a year since I was blessed with the privilege of going to Sunbury, South Africa for a short-term mission trip. For those of you who don’t know (which shouldn’t be any of you seeing as how I can’t go two seconds without rattling off some story from South Africa…), it was a life-changing experience. I can’t even begin to describe it in words. My entire life was turned upside down. I’ll soon include the mission updates on the side in case you want to read them.

While I was there, I visited with a family of missionaries (the Stearns) from England who were working with SIM. Their missional work consisted of holding devotionals at various HIV/AIDS clinics, traveling around the townships (imagine project housing but 100 times worse), holding Bible studies in various houses, and helping the sick get to and from the clinics. David Stearn puts a pretty serious emphasis on treating the whole human. They try to avoid a social gospel but also don’t try to become so theologically rooted that the gospel’s practicality is lost.

I stayed with them for about a day and a half and the entire time I was there we were driving around in a bukky on dirt roads, trying to minister to the sick and dying. Two former South African witch doctors who had been completely transformed by the power of the gospel, Bheki and Mama Zimu, traveled with us. A language barrier definitely made communication difficult but, to quote Toni Cade Bambara, you bond with whom you share salt.

One of the young ladies we met with, Pendihle, was suffering from AIDS related tumors, specifically one in that went from inner thigh to inner thigh. She was in immense pain and while we prayed with her, read her the Scripture, gave her soup and medicine, and watched over her… the tumor hemorrhaged. For those of you who don’t know medical jargon, that means she started bleeding profusely all over the hut. Never in my life have I been more sure that someone was going to die in front of my eyes. While we begged God for her life, encouraged her to be strong and to trust in God, and called for an ambulance, I can remember seeing the terror and the hopelessness that was in her eyes. Thanks be to God, an ambulance eventually came (a miracle in and of itself), she was taken to the hospital, was treated, and later asked for a Bible. Needless to say, I was overjoyed.

A few days ago, I was informed that both Bheki and Pendihle had passed away. Personally, this past year has been filled with death but for some reason their deaths left me rattled. While I know Bheki was a believer, his last words were “Jesus is calling me”, what about Pendihle? What about Sibosiso and Lungisani and the others that I met? They say life is cheap in Africa… I guess I just wasn’t prepared for it to happen so soon.

I don’t know. I guess this unexpectedly long blog has two intended purposes. First, to leave you encouraged. Death is a hard pill to swallow but know that it is also the best thing that can happen to a saint. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. And Second, to push you towards urgency. If you know of unsaved family members or friends, plead with God for their souls. We don’t have to time to sit idly by and watch those we claim to love walk slowly towards eternal punishment. Should we not risk our comforts and relationships for the sake of the souls of those whoa re lost? Better yet, doesn’t Christ deserve this offering?

Philippians 3:20 “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Soap and Suds...

Whoosh… This past week has flown by. My life has pretty much consisted of reading Systematic Theology and trying to figure out my “seminary situation”. Wayne Gruden’s book, for those of you who haven’t read it, is a walkthrough of biblical doctrine as he attempts to compile “everything that the entire Bible says on a topic”. While it’s extremely dense, it has peeked my interest as of late. I’ve also been prepping for wedding week (two weddings in one week), trying to memorize a poem for one of the weddings, participating in outreach events at my church, and developing quality friendships with some of the solid believer. God has really blessed me with people who desire to see him at work.

This Saturday, in between wedding rehearsals, our church went and helped out at Casa del Buen Samaritano. It was an awesome experience. We washed kids feet while sharing the wordless book with them. Washing feet is such a humbling experience. I can’t even describe it in words. I guess if anything, this poem kind of wraps it up. I got the privilege of using my rusty Spanish (like… I haven’t spoken Spanish in 6 years?) without a translator’s help. As always, God really came through in the clutch and somehow used the sentence fragments that fell forth from my lips to communicate the gospel.

I’ve been really struggling with some aspects of my walk lately but God has been really gracious to me. Today as I was driving to wedding number one, I was overcome with frustration at my propensity to drop the ball. I’m tired of being an immature child when it comes to the things of God. I want to be willing to risk my friendships and relationships for the sake of the gospel. I want to know him in fullness and depth. And I want to grow up… adolescence isn’t included in any portion of Scripture. Unlike Solomon, I want the knowledge in my head and the passions of my heart to line up as both fall down in humble submission to God’s glory.

What if Christians really believe that what they believe is true? It seems that I’m drawn back to that question pretty constantly as of late. What if we really believe that this Earth is not our home? What if we really believe that no one can get to the Father but through submission to Jesus Christ? How would we work differently…? I fear that sometimes our theology gets locked away in some neuron and never infiltrates our hearts, tears down our idols, and reconstructs our passions. Maybe if we really do believe that God is all-powerful, we can trust that He can use our broken attempts at communication from the mouths of broken vessels to open the minds of the lost and soften those hearts that have been hardened by unbelief.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Living in the Margin

The past few days I’ve been in Boston and it’s been awesome. Boston is a great city, has great people, and awesome food. We (a team of about 7 people) were helping a church plant in Watertown, a part of the greater Boston area. For the most part, Christianity isn’t exactly popular in the Northeast. Less than 2% of the population would consider themselves an evangelical Christian with the vast majority being either Catholic or atheist. As we fixed up the church, painted walls, and stairwells, it was awesome to see how God is moving in Redeemer Fellowship Church. While there we had a little bit of time to peruse the city, hit up the Freedom trail, eat in North End, and see a game at Fenway (best ballpark in the history of life…).

At any rate, I’m on the airplane back from Boston and identity is all I can think about. I know for a fact that we, as Christians, are supposed to find our identity in Christ and in Christ alone. But I live in Texas… for those of you who don’t know… Texas is more than a little different from Ann Arbor, Chicago, and Boston. I was raised in a town where being a conservative meant you were close-minded and didn’t care about the poor. If you told the town you were a Republican, they’d probably stone you. The most popular song in college had the line: why vote Republican if you’re black? But like I said, Texas is a little different. In fact, you could take everything I just said and swap the terms conservative for liberal, republican for democrat.

So where do I fall? Right now I have no clue at all. I know the Bible is God’s word and that Jesus is the way the truth and the light… no one gets into the Kingdom but through Christ. In most circles, that throws me into the conservative category already. But then again, I bump Christian rap until my speakers pop, wear my pants a little lower than the average Joe, and try to give money/time to non-profits and missions until it hurts. I’m definitely down with the human’s rights activists… Reagan or Clinton? Bush or Obama? I guess my response is: who looks the most like Christ? That person will get my vote.

I think labels are overrated. Calvanist, Arminianist, Lutheran, Methodist… Sorry but I’d rather look like Christ than any of the above. I’ll pass on the box and pass you the gospel. I think of the mission field and the more I pray for missionaries around the globe, the less I care about politics. Paul stated that he’s become all things to all men. To the republican, become a republican and pass him/her the gospel. We as a nation put too much of an emphasis on labels and not enough of an emphasis on doing everything in our power to preach the gospel. Live the margin.

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Cracked Windshield of Faith

Life has been pretty packed lately. I’ve been pretty convicted to try and build community with believers and to pursue evangelistic outreach to the societal “outcasts”. Organizing events requires a ton of work and a ton of grace. I’ve also started writing songs/spoken word again and have even recorded a few. Church has been really amazing lately and God has been really using it to show me a greater portion of His glory. Everything has been pointing to him: the books I read for seminary (and there are a TON OF THEM!), conversations with friends and new believers, the people I meet… but then again… everything does point to him.

I was just laying around thinking about the day I was saved. For those of you who haven’t had a chance to check out the song (click here) is the spark notes version. Hopefully, when I finish the “documentary” you’ll get to hear the longer story. At any rate, I was thinking about when Christ saved and claimed me… I was thinking about what it meant to really serve him and on the day he saved me I asked for one stipulation: Lord don’t let me be a mediocre Christian. I wanted to burn with a passion for him that never faded and never ceased. Most importantly, I wanted to love him and not this world.

I’ve been reading A.W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God and that coupled with my weekly dose of John Owen has got me thinking about what it means to have a true relationship with God. How can we be so passionless about this at times? Sadly, I fall occasionally fall into this complacency with the gospel. But how can we become numb to our souls being saved from eternal torment and well-deserved wrath? How can we interact with the lover of our souls without an overwhelming and passionate love for him?

I won’t belabor the point, I could but I won’t. If you’re reading this blog, I do encourage you to burn “white-hot”. It’s a term I hear in sports over and over again to describe someone who’s in the zone. They’re unhittable, on a scoring tear, or are simply destroying all competition. Be white-hot for Christ. Don’t settle for the trinkets of this world when you have the opportunity to experience the Glory of Christ… that phrase should mean something to you. Don’t sit around and wait for some spontaneous overflow of emotion but go out and pursue God. Read his word, serve his people, preach his gospel… make him the center of your life, catch flame, and radiate his beauty for the world to see.