July 21, 2010

The Roof Caved In!

Foundations are key. Right? We talk about this literally and spiritually - that the foundation you build on is going to determine whether or not something stands the test of time. Jesus was obviously speaking in spiritual terms when he talked about the person who unwisely "built their house on the sand", but he was talking in common sense terms from practical everyday life. Like, surely no one is dumb enough to consider building a house on 1000-year old, stone-ground, annihilated seashells! Right?

[I'm tempted at this point to exploit the evidently unwise person on the Isle of Palms who actually had the ground "built up" so he could build his home IN the marsh. But I won't.]

While foundations are important, maybe one problem many Christians (people who claim to be "following Christ") have is that they think the foundation is everything. Let me explain with a question: What good is a foundation if you don't ever build anything on it? Or if you lay the most solid foundation of all time and then throw up an unstable shack on it? "Wow Frank! That's a great looking slab of concrete you've got there. What are you going to do with it?" [Long pause for thought.] "Well...I, uh...think I'm just going to look at it. Or maybe save it in case I ever want to build anything." Great plan Frank. While I know the conversation sounds absurd, what's the difference? How does this not directly reflect the absurdity of finding "new life in Christ" - coming to trust in Jesus to make "all things new" in my life - and then just sort of flippantly setting aside all that this new life has to offer me? 1 Peter 2 reminds us what Isaiah prophesied, that Christ would become the "chief cornerstone" - He has become the foundation. We literally build our lives on Him!

So - back to the question. What the heck are you building on the foundation?

Yesterday, at a church in our town, THE ROOF CAVED IN! Guys were playing ball in their gym, heard some noise, and then ran for their lives. Praise God, they weren't hurt! The stinking roof could have fallen on their heads! I talked to a guy who belongs to the church last night and he told me, "I've been a member of this church long before that building was built. I had NO IDEA that they used wooden trusses! It's no wonder that they were probably rotted, worn, and ready to give way at any time." He had NO IDEA! Yet, I would bet those 6 guys who escaped with their lives would say that the foundation is important...but so is what you build on it! Last week, there were 400-500 kids running through that gym all week. (Ponder that one for a moment)

"Come to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God's temple. He was rejected by the people, but He is precious to God who chose Him. And now God is building you, as living stones, into His spiritual temple." 1 Peter 2:4-5

The foundation is essential. But so is the building! 

July 14, 2010

The Dangers of iTunes Theology

Growing up in the 70's and 80's I have a deep appreciation for albums. Of course when I say this I'm referring to music, records, and songs, not photo. Although now that I think about it, I really appreciate those as well. [Another story for another day] There's something about the hidden or disregarded nuggets left in the goldmine that you find when you take time to listen. I think about The Beatles "Revolver", Journey's "Escape", Van Halen's "1984", U2's "The Joshua Tree", The Beach Boys "Pet Sounds"...and the list could go on. [Sorry if I left out your favorite album. Not the point.] We're living in a time where people are missing the forest for the trees. It's what I've begun to think of as "iTunes living". You can log on, listen to 30 second snip-its, and buy a song. I guess that's OK - in fact I've done it. The problem is when you begin to live your life - or especially read the Bible - this way.

I asked the question on Twitter yesterday, "If your church was doing a sermon series on any book of the Bible, what book would you choose?" I was very encouraged by the answers I got because they revealed a consistent desire from many of my friends and acquaintances to not only go deeper, but to dive into areas of scripture that are being neglected. The frustrating part of this was the consistent revelation that areas of scripture are being neglected! I saw a pastor on Twitter yesterday saying, "I don't want to debate theology over coffee." And I think I understood what he meant - that he didn't want to argue about Tribulation theory, he wanted to talk about how scripture practically applies to our lives today. Again, I think I get where he's coming from, but this is taking a step out onto ice that is paper thin. When you begin to view or consider theology a nuisance or stumbling block or barrier to real practical application, you're revealing a gross misunderstanding of what theology actually is and a gross neglect of the foundational importance of desperately seeking to KNOW the God of the Bible and to discover His character and heart that are not only woven throughout scripture, but are the essence of scripture. This can't be discovered by constantly picking a new New Testament letter to go through every week. There is so much more!

I watched an interview with a well-known pastor and theologian this morning where he said, "Beware of falling in love with LOVING GOD more than you actually fall in love with God." Does that resonate with you? In our "contemporary worship world" it's very easy to become infatuated with the feeling we get from corporate "worship" or singing more than to develop a wholehearted life-giving determination to seek and follow and OBEY the risen Savior. We take steps down this dangerous road when we begin trying to download God in $.99 snip-its rather than plowing through the weight of Hosea and begging Christ for a greater understanding of how I AM that prostitute who constantly sells myself to other things and that He IS that lover and groom that is willing to purchase me back from adultery and slavery. That understanding is not gained in snip-its or 2 minute reads on the back porch. (Don't know what I'm talking about? Read Hosea.)

I remember the days and nights in college when we would literally burn the candle at both ends, sprawled out in a friend's apartment on the floor with our Bibles spread out everywhere, collectively determined to pursue and KNOW the Creator and Redeemer who authored those pages. I also remember those days of sticking that album in as I would be laying on the beach or starting out on a road trip, and the vivid memories that those songs still reflect in my mind. In fact, just 2 weeks ago I was listening to one of those albums, thought of my childhood best friend, and picked up the phone and called him. It was indescribable, the flood of memories that washed over us. 

[Please don't glaze over this one] What picture are you allowing the Lord to paint in your heart and mind with his Word right now in your life? What foundation are you laying with the goldmine of scripture available to you at this very moment in time? Are you setting up little rocks underneath your feet - finding stones here and there to try and balance yourself on? Or are you allowing God to pour this unshakable foundation that cannot be moved by anything belonging to this world? There IS a difference.

I know, you don't want to buy the whole album. You only want that song that they play 42 times a day on the radio. So be it. Just don't sell out and unknowingly settle for iTunes Theology. And don't deceive yourself - you ARE a theologian. You ARE a student and sojourner. But YOU have to decide what kind. YOU have to determine how far you will walk, how deep you will dive, and how firm you will stand. Do you really want to KNOW Him? He knows you. And He wants to be KNOWN by you.

My encouragement to you: Buy the WHOLE ALBUM! It's the disregarded and overlooked nuggets that will blow your mind!

July 8, 2010

Guatemala 2010 (Day 7)

Today was our final full day here in Guatemala. I haven't been able to post the last 2 days simply because I've been emotionally & physically drained - trying to pour my heart out into what the Lord is doing here with these children, bonding with our team, and simply missing my family in painful ways. I know many of you know the feeling. That said, today was our day off. I know some people who haven't been on these trips wonder, "Why the heck do you need a 'day off'?" It's pretty simple. First, you need to decompress and allow the Lord to put things in perspective for you. And second, you need to do it together, with the people you've experienced it with. It may sound crazy, but it's emotionally, physically, and spiritually healthy!

I want to share with you a few things I saw & experienced today that made impressions on me. We traveled to Lake Atitlan, the second largest lake in Guatemala. It wasn't Lake Tahoe, but it was huge! And it was breathtaking (as you can hopefully somewhat tell from my amateur photo with Hipstamatic on my iPhone). I've left the "real" photography to Savannah this week, so if you want to see some great pics, check it out. This body of water is surrounded by wealth and poverty, almost coexisting side-by-side. If you've traveled to any number of cities or countries you've probably witnessed this. It's something I just can't seem to get used to or simply be OK with. The problem remains for us that we're somehow blind to it in our own cities. Yes, BLIND! We pretend it's not even there.
Moving on.

I'm not even sure I have the strength or time to talk about this next one right now, but I'll give it a shot. Esdras (Ezra) our guide & driver for the week took us to see one of the Mayan gods up in the hills of San Jose. No exaggeration: we wandered down a dirty, wet alley and into what looked like a second-rate chicken house to find this smoky, incensed-filled room. Just inside sat this thing to the left - the Mayan god Maximoom (Mosh-ee-moon), whom the Mayans believe they can ask to help them get revenge on those who wrong them, provide for them monetarily and vocationally, and a few other choice things. Here are some things that stood out to me on my visit to this "shrine". First, I wasn't really impressed that it was guarded and tended to by a group of old dudes wearing what looked like reject costume ideas from Gilligan's Island, sitting around drinking Coca-Cola together. Second, if this thing is a "god", why does it need to be guarded in the first place? If 'it' can provide and intervene for me, why does it need the cast from Cocoon guarding the palace? And interestingly enough, how do you suppose you get this fellow to act on your behalf? You PAY him! That's right. You place your offering somewhere under his tie. (Seriously. Do you think I could make this up?) And as Savannah pointed out, how convenient that they placed this beacon of false hope right smack dab in the middle of abject poverty, where people are desperate for anything or anyone to make things better. And yes, they move it's location every 2 weeks, making it convenient for everyone to pay a visit. (So if I'm not mistaken, Yahweh is ahead in Omnipresence, Omnipotence, and All-Powerful at this point. But hey, who's counting?)

[Deep breath. The last observation is the most disturbing.]

Just to the right of Maximoom (which I couldn't sneak into my picture) was a glass casket. When I first saw it, and noticed that there was something (or someone) in it, I thought, "You have got to be kidding me!?" But then I asked Ezra who or what was in the casket. He explained to us that it was a glorified version of a paper mache Jesus. Yes, Jesus - who died on a cross for our sins, bore the weight of our shame, and ROSE FROM THE DEAD and KICKED DEATH IN THE TEETH - was lying there, lifeless, made of old grocery sacks, staring at this pipe-smoking, tie-wearing, piece of wood who apparently can multiply your corn crops and wreak havoc on your worst enemy. This was scripture being lived out right in front of me. This was absolute, blatant mockery of God. The presence of darkness permeated out of this room like death. It made me sick in so many ways I don't have a name for it. And it wasn't taking place in a temple or a mosque or a sanctuary - this was out behind someone's shanty in the middle of nowhere. Proving the fact that Satan knows full well where he can most readily and easily worm his way into peoples lives. He is the great deceiver. And he is alive and on-the-clock in Guatemala!

I shared with our team tonight at dinner that one of the disturbing things about this for me is that here in America this deceit exists as well. The problem is that it's usually dressed in a suit, or sugar-coated, so it looks just enough like the real deal that people don't see through the facade and the bull crap to know that's it's a lousy imitation. The only way this is defeated is through the power of the Word of God coming alive in our lives and penetrating the darkness. And that only happens when God's Word and His Spirit equip us and move us to take a step INTO the darkness. We have to open our eyes! We have to MOVE!

Time for packing and sleeping. More to come tomorrow....

July 4, 2010

Guatemala 2010 (Day 4)

This morning was a great worship experience as we joined Iglesia Del Camino, a bilingual Christian community. Every once-in-awhile I need to be reminded that worship has nothing to do with my preferences - NONE of them! It's not about my taste in music, how efficient or trained the sound tech is, whether the drums are too loud (and you're too old!) or ANY of those things that quite frankly God could not care less about. Worship is about our response TO God, as His people come together to seek Him, honor Him, praise Him, and love each other. And to do that with a community that was incredibly diverse, speaking 2 languages (and probably hosting others) was very special. I'm thankful for those moments today.

This afternoon was a challenge. I remember in the Bahamas the heartbreaking privilege I had of visiting the AIDS Camp, meeting these beautiful people who had been exiled from society in this modern lepers colony. Not since then have I been so moved as I was today going into Hermano Pedro, a home for the physically and mentally ill that has every characteristic of a hospital except for an emergency room and trauma doctors. I met children today who were malnourished, some with clef lip and palette so severe that part of the nose was missing - children whose parents could not financially or physically handle the burden of caring for them. While I would love to show you pictures of what I saw, we were asked not to take photos in the hospital. I didn't know this until after I had taken 4-5, but for that reason I'm not going to post them.

Tonight - God in heaven forgive us - we broke down and went to McDonald's. [I know. We're stupid!] But I am now so glad we did. Forgive me, but this IS the short version. We met a lady on the sidewalk (who initiated conversation with us trying to help us out) and then ran into her again outside the golden arches. Then she helped me out in line again when my horrible Spanish was failing me (I always pronounce "ice" wrong!). On her way out the door she stopped to chat. 30 minutes later we were blessed to know Brandy, hear the story of how God has constantly provided for her and opened doors in her life so that she could be a blessing to children here in Guatemala, and what is on the horizon. Brandy - who's retired military - inherited her father's land and is now planning to build a dorm/beca type building so she can help educate kids and make sure that native Guatemalan children don't wind up forced into the coffee fields because their families can't afford to lose them as wage-free workers. When Brandy was leaving I told her, "I don't believe we met on accident". She told me, "You're the second pastor I've met in this same McDonald's in the last 2 weeks. Evidently not!" While I'm aware that one thing that's evident here is that pastors can make lousy food choices, it's much more evident that the Lord is trying to speak in and through Brandy's life. Would you please join me in praying for her?

Back to Amor del Nino tomorrow, going there to be a blessing to the kids and to Steve and Sheryl. I'm sure we'll wind up being the ones who are blessed!

July 3, 2010

Guatemala 2010: The Gospel of Matthew

Today we spent the day taking a small group of the kids to a water park, which was conveniently attached to the beach, which was magically covered in black sand. I've been to tons of beaches, even experienced the pink sand of Bermuda, but I have never laid my eyes on black sand before. Weird! But what a great day giving these little ones an enormous dose of joy. Just watching them eat pizza at lunch was worth it. They devoured every last little crumb of crust. Amazing! But I actually want to rewind and share a story with you from our first night here.

Working our way through the straw market, my back finally had enough of standing, so I found a seat on a bench just watching people. A man came up with a note pad and a dollar bill and started asking me about the symbols on the back - you know, the creepy triangle with the eye on top of it, and the eagle gripping the arrows and olive branches. On one hand, it didn't take me long to figure out that he was not only trying to understand what in the world these subliminal messages were that the US Treasury was trying to send the world, but he was also desperate to know and understand our language and our words. The conversation was rich! His name was Matthew. But Matthew wanted more than just to know about "Annuit Coeptis" and why the Federal Reserve Bank in Chicago was represented by a "G".

After about 10-15 minutes - as I was confusedly praying in my head and heart, asking the Lord to help me to have an opportunity to share the Gospel with Matthew - he shocked me. The whole conversation began with him asking me about those olive branches the eagle was gripping, and me telling him that the eagle faces the olive branches instead of the arrows because we're always striving for peace. He came back to this issue, held up the dollar bill and let me know that "you can't find peace in this - money won't give you the peace of God!" Oh yes, he was driving the ball and now going in for the dunk! Then he very confidently shared with me that "this peace only comes from God - from knowing Jesus Christ!" I think I almost laughed out loud as I said, "That's right!"  And then Matthew and I began sharing scriptures with each other, affirming the power and truth of the new life we have both found in Christ. I'm pretty sure we were both ready to stand on the bench and start preaching!

After our picture, exchange of handshakes, and swapping of emails, I realized that Matthew and I had both sat down on that bench longing to share the Gospel with each other. And much to our delight, we did! What a blessing. And I'm hoping - praying, actually - that Matthew finds his way here to my blog, sees his picture, and smiles one more time remembering our conversation.

July 2, 2010

Guatemala 2010 (Day 2)

Today was our first day at Amor del Nino, the Children's Home we're serving in outside of Antigua. I've shared this before, but for backgrounds sake I'll say it again - God has been stirring our hearts (mine & Morgan's) for quite awhile that He may be leading us to adopt a child. We don't know when, where, how, or anything other than there is a burning discontent in our lives when it comes to this subject. So for me, walking into this home today, there were several preconceived ideas - like a specific child would be magnetically drawn to me and a light would shine down from heaven through the roof and I'd hear the Lord whispering to me, "Brian, this is the child! Take him home!" That might sound crazy to you, but that's the background and baggage I walked in with this morning. Which will help the rest make more sense.

When we arrived today Sheril (who runs the home) began showing us around. 3 minutes into the tour a little boy was standing in the hall. All the girls smiled at him, talked to him, tried to get a smile out of him - nothing. Then I walked by, simply put my hand on his head, and it was over. He practically climbed up my body, latched onto my neck, and wouldn't let go. I spent the next 2 hours with Byron. Just me & Byron. No one else could satisfy Byron. And no one else was allowed to play with Brian. Just Brian & Byron. Get it? [You can probably guess where my mind & heart were tempted to wander in all of this. But that didn't happen.] 

Not 5 minutes after Byron had weighed anchor into my heart I learned that he was the very child I had heard about who has been in the adoption process for over 2 years. 2 YEARS a family has been weeding through legalities and paperwork to officially make this little angel a part of their family. I didn't even have time or opportunity to begin allowing myself think, "Maybe this is the one!" What I did feel like the Holy Spirit very gently whispered to me went something like this: "Brian, don't spend a week here loving these children with an agenda. Just love them! Stop looking at them through YOUR lenses and look at them through MINE! Just love them. ALL of them!" So that's what I tried to do. That was before lunch.

Then this afternoon we had 3 visitors: 1 was a nurse/social worker from the hospital, the other 2 were the twin 14-month old boys in her arms. They had been taken from their mother for several reasons, most of which are not worth telling you. All I knew was that the first full day these little brothers were spending away from everything they knew, they were now spending in my arms. Sue Ann and I spent the afternoon loving on them, holding them, trying to bring them some sense of security. They were malnourished, scared, and had a replicated look on their faces that I can only describe as sad. I've never watched a 14-month old wipe away tears this way - more like a 14-year old - like someone who knew exactly why he was scared and disappointed and tired of being passed around. And at the same time it was heartbreaking to see these boys go through this, it was such a blessing to see firsthand the power and purpose of what the Lord is doing in and through Amor del Nino. Amazing!

Tomorrow we're taking a group of the children to Aqua Magic, a water park an hour away from our hotel. More to come....