Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A few failures in the last 12 hours

  1. My Mom is coming to visit us on Thursday (awesome!), and I had ordered some books from Amazon for her to bring down. A couple of them were a surprise for Kara, but when I emailed Mom the directions, I Cc's Kara on the email. Doh!
  2. I was up late last night working, which caused more of a scramble getting out the door today. To parallelize the getting ready process, I was swashing mouth wash while getting my shoes on and heading out the door. When running to catch up with Kare, I forgot to account for Kara, I forgot to account for my velocity and the wind, and thus the mouth wash I spit out, landed back on my shirt and pants.
  3. Tiredness reduces my sensitivity, and without thinking get on and off the bus before a woman with her infant. I expect she wasn't thinking nice things about gringos after that.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Nouwen's ¡Gracias!

I am currently reading ¡Gracias!, a 6-month journal by Henry Nouwen when he was considering living in Latin America. The difficulty of the book is that you can read a journal entry of his in a few minutes, which was his processing for that entire day. Asa result, you end up jumping around a lot. That said, the insights he shares are amazing. His experience of God is so much deeper than mine. In reading a few pages today, we covered comforting those who are grieved, the costs of continually living with and loving the poor, experiencing God in prayer and the way images (e.g., TV) affect that. There are entries on simple people who have incredible stories of forgiveness and love. One entry on ministry absolutely rocked by boat. I hope to do another post on it. There was even his simple statement, "I pray my time in Bolivia will teach me more than Spanish." This resonates, as I have the same hope for our time in Costa Rica.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 40: Why does Jesus' death and ressurection matter?

As Lent comes to a close with Easter, I like to rehash through my head why Jesus' death and resurrection matter. This year, God's wrath kept coming to the forefront. I think understanding God's wrath is key for making sense of Easter.

If you aren't aware, God can get pissed as a result of our actions. The Biblical narrative has some 189 references to wrath. I'm sure some people have a problem that God gets so angry. His wrath seems deserved to me. He created this world and had intentions for it. But his plan, was dependent on us choosing to love him and obey him. We instead displayed amazing aptitude for destroying and perverting the world. I think most would agree with that statement, but would point to others, and not identify themselves in that camp. It's true that we're not all Hitlers, but I'm quite confident that we've all done and/or thought some incredibly selfish things. Just like I can't change God's wrath, I can't change that his expectations are high of us, and as a result, I've fallen short. I'm deserving of God's wrath.

God's wrath is the result of a consequence system, where if something wrong is done, it needs to be righted and/or a penalty needs to to be incurred. It stems from that deep-seated sense of justice or fairness that we feel.

Concerning whether God's wrath is legitimate, I'd like to quote a blog entry I read recently:
Sure, you can argue about whether God should have wrath [or a consequence system], just like you could argue about whether the sky should be blue, or whether water should be the sustaining liquid for the world rather than the milk of cows. But you're not running the universe, and neither am I, so declaring that we don't like the way God has set it up doesn't ultimate change things. What does change things, if the Bible is true, is Christ's death. It means that no longer is anyone judged on the basis of their own righteousness (or lack thereof), unless, by rejecting God's gift, they demand to be judged on their own merit instead of Christ's. That's always an option, but not one I'd choose.
God's model for handling with our crap is to provide a proxy that we can cling to. This Jesus proxy is an invitation to a new life.

Paul speaks wonderfully to the change in our situation due to Christ in Ephesians 2:1-10:
1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Paul gets that we were deserving of wrath, but through Christ another way is provided. As the blog writer above wrote, we don't have to choose it, but it would seem pretty foolish not to. If we choose it, we've been saved, and there is plenty of work for us to do.

I'd like to take a quick tangent and discuss how many adore Christ for his sacrifice. The cynic in me thinks, if the situation is God's wrath needing to be fulfilled is true, and you had the opportunity to be sacrifice for the world, wouldn't you do it? I know it would suck to be the sacrifice, but one life for the lives of billions seems like an incredible trade. God's smart, so he's of course take i,t right? If it's true, it provides such an amazing opportunity to scale. It would be like having one of Amazon's server's go down so that millions could be guaranteed to be failure-free. Of course you'd loose that one server for such exchange. I think this line of thinking is naive though. I know the weight that I have felt when I being confronted by a poor choice. It weighs and it doesn't feel good to cause others pain. Knowing the emotional turmoil I have felt for my own failures, could you imagine taking those on for everyone? I think I'd literally explode, and that if I knew what I was taking on, there's no way I would, and even no way that I could. I expect that only God could have taken the full weight of this on, and that I should not trivialize the life exchange.

This is admittedly not a very well organized post. If you have thoughts, questions, or doubts about the whole Jesus resurrection thing, I certainly welcome them. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 39: Live It

I was catching up with my friend Sean this week, when he made the side-observations that Christians so easily forget that living our faith out is what's really important. This was in the context of him sharing about a parenting conference he went to at a local church that repeatedly emphasized getting your kids "to church". Getting your kids to church can teach them about God, but it doesn't do much to guarantee that they're going to live it. Our western culture holds education as such a high ideal (which in many respects is wonderful), but it carries over to us thinking that we just need to teach people about God.

In light of this comment, it struck me just how many times Jesus talks in Matthew about applying living it. Here's the list:
  • Whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (5:19)
  • Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock... But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. (7:24,26)
  • Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (10:38-39)
  • For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother. (12:50)
  • Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (16:24)
  • The parables of the two sons. (21:28-32)
  • The parable of the tenants (21:33-46). Specifically, "The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit" (21:43)
  • But do not do what they (the Pharisees) do, for they do not practice what they preach.(23:3)
  • Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. (24:45-46)
  • The parable of the sheep and goats. (24:31-46)
These are just the overt times Jesus says, "you need to live this." This doesn't include all his discussion about producing fruit, being a servant, doing something with what God gave you, etc. Nor does it include all of Jesus' commands, which in their very nature apply action.

My hope for myself and others is that doing this stuff would always be on the tip of our tongues. Getting educated has its place, but we must remember that Jesus' biggest beef was with the most spiritually educated. I'm sure if you read Matthew 23, you'll agree with me that you don't want to be in this camp.

What "The Last Shall Be First" is not

A pet peive of mine is when there's a long line at the grocery store and a new cashier opens up his stand, but the people at the end of the current line get to the front. Doesn't that bug you? I say this admitting that I have taken advantage of this in the past when in a rush, and it bugs me that I did it too.

Anyways, on a laid back Satruday here in Costa Rica, I walked to the local corner store to pick up some avocados. The line was as long as I had ever seen it, and one cashier was doing the best he could to bang through it. Then there was this guy at the end of the line with me who was trying to hail another cashier to open another checkstand. As soon as the cashier opened the other line, this guys bolted and got to the front. I thought to myself, "the last got first, but I don't think this is what Jesus was talking about".

Being the last in this life really sucks. Being without a job, being without a home, being abused, being spit on, etc. is not how God envisioned for life to be. He has compassion on people who have endured such pain. Plus, these people tend to take Jesus up on his offer for another life. These two factors, God's mercy and their willingness, propel them from the back to the front. I know I'm near the front of the line, and Jesus' word about the first being last concerns me, but I smile when thinking about the justice in it all.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 38: Petitioning God on behalf of others

I'm only halfway through Matthew, and realized how many times people come to Jesus with requests on behalf of others:
  • Centurion for his servant (8:5-13)
  • Synagogue leader for his daughter (9:18-26)
  • Canaanite woman for her possessed daughter (15:21-28)
  • Father for his possessed son (17:14-21)
A good reminder that intercession matters and makes a difference. A guy I met in Bosnia in 2004, my manager, and old youth-leader and friend, Phil, come to mind.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 37: Producing a crop

But the seed falling on good soil reers to people who heard the word and understand it. They produce a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown (Matthew 13:23)
I know I've heard the word and I believe I've understood it. I don't know if I'm producing a crop. I'm certainly not to by a factor of 30 or more. Wouldn't you think I should be given all that's been invested in me?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 36: Homework from Jesus

As you may be aware, Jesus got a lot of flack for spending time with drunks, cheats, and prostitutes - the sinners or "bad" people. On being asked about this, he gives a homework assignment: "Go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice'" (Matthew 9:13). The passage for them to study comes from their Jewish Scriptures in the book of Hosea. I assume the religious-elite that Jesus was addressing were familiar with the text. In essence then, he's telling them, "Go read your Bible, again".

Unfortunately, they didn't take Jesus' homework assignment seriously, as they failed another encounter. This time, the encounter regarded doing "work" on the Sabbath. In response to the Pharisees critiquing the disciples for picking wheat, Jesus says, "If you had known what these words mean, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent" (Matthew 12:7:).

I'm thinking we also should accept Jesus' homework assignment and actually do it so we don't make similar mistakes. An important aspect about mercy is that involves other people. It hooks into, "love your neighbor as yourself." If you're sacrifice focused, you can be caught up in your own piety, and not being love in the world. Mercy helps put the focus off oneself, which we know is critical for God's kingdom. There's a lot I'm hoping to get done today, but in light of God desiring mercy, I know I need to spend time talking through the past of an amigo here. How about you?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 35: Sending out workers

As Jesus is traveling through the countryside, he has compassion on the people "because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:36). As a result, he tells his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field" (9:37).

I wonder what people think of this. Do you see the plentiful harvest? I tend to see the problem and think about needing more sowers. Nevertheless, this is a specific item Christ asks us to pray for. Note though that as you ask for more workers you are probably signing yourself up either to be involved in equipping them or being sent out yourself. This is what happens to the 12 anyway.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 33: Light shine from the community

When Jesus taught his followers and the multitudes in Matthew 5-7, he pretty early on makes it clear that their purpose is to be the same as the one bestowed on the Israelites. They're to be salt and light to all nations. When you mission is to light the world, you better make sure light is being emitted. In addition, you don't cover your light. To do so would be to reject your purpose.

Jesus makes it clear that we're to let our light shine before others. Soon afterward though, he cautions us not do our works for others to be seen by men. This conflict drives to a core issue in this sermon from Christ: that our hearts and character matter. Our good works are to be seen by men, not for man's credit, reward, or recognition, but so that "they may see our good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).

In terms of letting the world see the light instilled within us, I feel much more comfortable with this occurring in the context of community. For example, it's a lot easier to say, our church is giving abundantly to the needy in our community, than to say we are giving abundantly to the needy in our community. I would much rather swell with pride in my community than in myself, as it enables heart to stay pure.

Do you think this line of thinking is legit? What are the drawbacks of boosting church's reputation? Will God receive more glory if people know of the good work that his church does rather than the good work of individual children?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 32: Stories of man's need for healing

Throughout my day yesterday, I get hit with a few stories of people's lives that were reminders of how badly we are in need of healing.
  1. One man told me about his infidelity to his wife. He said he had read/heard some psychology study that a man's strength wears down every 3-5 years and is thus more tempted to seek another lover. He said that this was his experience too. I didn't get to finish the conversation, but I had so many questions to ask: You're honest and open with me about this. Are you honest and open with your wife? When you got married, did you not realize that you were committing to someone for life? Did you forget that people change with time, so the person you married 15 years ago is certainly not the same one today, especially after having birthed three of your kids? What are you doing to invest in your marriage, or are you expecting your wife to do 100% of the work and conform to your desires?
  2. Another shared with me his war experience with front-line content. He's been involved with shooting others and watching his fellow soldiers die. He's had the horror of being with a wounded friend as he breathed his last. He had to be questioned by the dying friend, "Where is God? Why did he let this happen? What's going to happen to me?" He was young at the time, and was doing what we was ordered to do. In listening to him talk, it's clear that he has understandably lost some of his humanity. Feeling and intellect have been thwarted. Life has become about survival and minimizing pain.
  3. I read about the African truck-driver experience and mindset. Everything is transported by truck in Africa. The trucker life is dangerous and stressful. The sex and the truck stops is the one reprieve for many of them, so they take it with gusto. Being away from family a month or more is not easy they say, especially when the offering are so plentiful. There is not much fear of AIDS because they already see life as short, so what's one more little virus in the mix? Some men feel entitled to the regular sexual experiences, and questions what would happen to their bodies if they weren't having sex every night.
It's fitting to be dumped on with these stories just before Easter week. It makes it clear to me that we're in need of help. Both for ourselves and the stories above, life transformation, new life, is needed. The one who has life without limits, the one one who died on the cross, is our best option for finding this life.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Fail blog feed removed

A while back I reported about Fail blog, and how there's a G-rated form of the site: http://failblog.org/tag/g-rated/. Unfortunately the G-rated site doesn't produce an RSS feed (at least that I can find), and I'm tired of sifting through the regular RSS feed. If anyone knows of an RSS feed for the G-rated site, please let me know. Until then I'm removing it from my feeds.

Lent '09 - Day 31: The balance of God intervening

The birth of Christ in Matthew is an interesting mix of God intervening. Mary and Joseph and engaged, but Mary becomes pregnant, and not due to Joseph. This isn't good in our more egalitarian society, but this would have been really be in patriarchal one. I was just reading last night in the 28 stories of AIDS victims book that I mentioned earlier, about a woman in Swaziland. She had only slept with one man, her husband. Despite many obstacles, she became a real leader in her community, a status few if any women reach in her country. But some 10 years into their marriage, when a blood test was taken and she was determined to have AIDS, she was immediately shunned. Rumors spread like wild-fire throughout the community. Surely when she was off on her business trips, she was sleeping around, they thought. Non one would even think to raise the question of her husband's fidelity despite the common practice in their culture of multiple wives/girlfriends. She received no intervention from God, and had to bear the shame of the disease and the implied unfaithfulness alone. She received no intervention from God.

I would be that similar thoughts were racing through people's minds about Mary. Joseph knew that he wasn't the father, so he naturally concluded that it was some other guy. He was right that it was someone else, but not right that it was someone else in the community. God intervened into the situation, and informed Joseph that God's Spirit had indeed conceived within Mary. "There's no marital unfaithfulness here. Keep her, and father the child that is develop within her."

After Jesus is born and Herod realizes that he has been tricked, he is enraged and decides to kill children 2 and under in the community. In this case, God doesn't intervene for the Bethlehem children that will be slaughtered as a result of Jesus being born there. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus escape, but the other families experience the tragic experience of having their innocent young children killed.

There all kinds of cases through Scripture and history where God intervenes, and cases where he doesn't. I wish I had a corner on the "predicting when God's going to intervene" market, but I don't. It's definitely a mystery. The only way God amongst this mystery is to recognize that death and this life are not the end. The lifespan of the children Herod killed was not their 2 short years in Bethlehem. They are undoubtedly with God now experiencing life as it was originally intended. Let us continue to plead God to intervene in this world, and at the same time recognize, that this world is not the end.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 30: Impatience

I was reading Matthew this morning, and as you may be aware, this first book of the New Testament starts out with a genealogy of Jesus. If you've read the Old Testament, many of these names in Jesus' earthly lineage are familiar. In seeing all these generations listed out, it struck me how patient either God is for his plan to unfold and/or patient he expected his people to be. Promises were made to Abraham and David for example that were not fulfilled until hundreds of years later.

It was funny to recognize this patience demonstrated in Scripture, as I realized my own impatience of late. Due to the national soccer game tonight (which we we won!), traffic was a bear and every taxi already had someone in it. I had worked late the night before, and just wanted to get home to rest, but it wasn't happening. I would get frustrated and move to a different spot to hail a taxi or catch a bus. I know that if I had just stayed put and waited in line for a taxi at the grocery store, that I would have gotten home sooner than I did. In the past, I've considered myself a patient person, but that has proven wrong amidst some of the waiting here. I wish I could remember more examples, but I do remember hearing Kara say multiple times, "what's the rush?"

Have you thought about what's at the root of impatience? I think it has to do with a mixture of the following:
  • Tiredness. Patience goes down when I'm more tired.
  • Belief of self-importance, like "my time is more valuable than this".
  • Discontent. When I am filled, especially spiritually, waiting is not so bad. It's an opportunity to read or pray. When I am not, I want to stay moving to distract me or deny the emptiness.
Last night, a mixture of all three were at work. The first is unavoidable at times, but two and three aren't good. Time to ask for help to move past them.