Wrapping Your Arms

Apr 10th 2009

Patrick Morley tells the story of three men and a boy who were going fishing in Alaska.  They were flying into a section of wilderness that could only be reached by a sea plane.  But when they landed something went wrong with one of the floats.  Before long, the plane was sinking and all four of them had to jump from the plane into the sea.  Two men, a father and his son, began to swim for shore.  The water was so cold, but even worse was the powerful rip-tide pulling everything out to sea.   The three men were strong enuf to swim against the tide, but before long they realized the boy couldn’t make it.   The father of course swam back to help his son.  He thought he could pull him along and make it to shore.  But it soon became obvious to the father that nothing he could do was going to save his son.  His son was going to die.  The other 2 men watched in wonder as the father turned to them and waved them into shore, and then turned back around and wrapped his arms around his son as the rip-tide carried them both out to sea.

When I read this story, three thoughts come to mind, a statement and two questions.  First the statement:  I am fairly certain that I would do the same.  It isn’t so much because I know how courageous I am, as it is that I know how much I love my children.  I could not let one of them die alone.  Which leads me to the first question: How much does God love us, if He was willing to let his son die alone?  Or a similar question from the other side:  How much does Jesus love us, if he was willing to wrap his arms around us and not let go, even though it led him to death?

Which leads to my final question — an Easter question of sorts: What do we have our arms wrapped around?  To what or whom are we giving our lives?  Some of us have wrapped our arms around stuff that isn’t leading us to life.  What are your arms wrapped around?

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A Prayer Cabin

Mar 19th 2009

Jesus used the term closet.  In Matthew 6:6 he said, “But when you pray, enter into your closet and when you have shut the door, pray to your Father which is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” Now the main principle here is don’t perform your prayers for others.  Prayer is a personal conversation with God, it is not a religious performance.

But Jesus words contain another idea, namely do you have a place?  Do you have a place where you can go to hang out with God?  A place with no cell-phone service, no ipods allowed, a place of quiet stillness?  A place where it might be easier to hear the whisper of God.

Last year, Lynn and I started my sabbatical with a spiritual retreat.  We stayed in a big old house on a lake in Wisconsin.  We were served by a couple and an organization that provides spiritual retreats to pastors.  It was a great way to start a sabbatical.  But one of the high-point moments came in their prayer cabin, a little building — about 12×15 — set near the woods but in view of the lake.  With a wood burning stove, a comfortable chair or two, it was the perfect place to spend time with God.  It just seemed like the kind of place where Jesus would settle in to talk.  Lynn and I had a great evening praying together and alone.  I think I like a prayer cabin better than a prayer closet.  Someday we’ll have one up at Harvest Fields.

Meanwhile, where is your place?  Sometimes Jesus would get into a boat and have his disciples take him to a place where no one could follow.  His place was a boat.  Susannah Wesley sat in the corner of her kitchen and pulled her apron up over her head.  When her children saw that they knew they couldn’t bother her because mother was meeting with God. The underside of an apron was her place.  Across the street from my first church was a cemetery.  I can’t tell you how many times that was my place.  Maybe you’re place is under a tree on top of Mt. Nittany, or in your car sitting on a forgotten road in Rothrock, or with a cup of coffee on the porch.  Chances are good if you don’t have a place and a time, there will be no place anytime.

So grab your lifejournal.  Find a place.  Sit down with your Bible and listen for the whisper of God.  His Words do more good than you know… when they are heard.

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What is Your Superpower?

Mar 15th 2009

That’s the question on the front-side of a recent Seth Godin blog.  The question started me thinking about my youth.  I was a comic book collector, but I was not drawn to the standard super-heroes, no Batman, Superman or Spiderman.  I went for Jonah Hex — a cynical scarred confederate solider translated into an apocalyptic 21st Century.  I went for Nova, a randomly selected high school student, chosen by the last surviving Nova Centurion of the planet Xander’s elite Nova Corps, to inherit his power and succeed him in the rank of Nova Prime.

One of the questions we always ask the participants of Leadership Advance (a three day leadership/calling experience) is, “Who is your favorite superhero?”  Now you might think that this is a wasted question, but it’s actually there for a purpose.   I think sometimes God gives us a dream/purpose/calling/destiny/assignment but as we ponder the possibilities, it appears that superpowers will be necessary to accomplish the task.

Since superpowers are only real in comics, movies and the tv series “Heroes”…we pass on the dream.

But the reality is that God has shaped each one of us with certain strengths, gifts and abilities.  Everybody knew Superman’s powers, but the rest of us are on a journey to discover and use those strengths, gifts and abilities.  But the greatest superpower any of us have — is not spinach, think Popeye — it’s the Spirit of God.  God has this ability to use even seemingly insignificant moments grasped with seemingly mundane hands and bring about life-changing destiny-fulfilling transactions.  No moment/act is too small for the Spirit of God to use and no moment/act is too large for the Spirit of God to accomplish.

So… what is your superpower?  I used to think it would be cool to have x-ray vision, or to be able to fly.  But now I think that having the ability to love with a love that never fails would be pretty cool as well.  So… what is your superpower?

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Who Do You Call Hero?

Mar 05th 2009

It is one of my favorite shows, but it’s also a great real-life question.  Who are our heroes?  According to a Harris Poll conducted among 2634 American adults, the top 20 list includes a few of the regulars like Mother Theresa, God, Billy Graham, Jesus Christ, and Martin Luther King.  The list also includes a surprise or two.  For example Oprah Winfrey just made it at #20 and Sarah Palin just missed at #21.  Bill and Hillary Clinton both made it but Hillary is at #12 (just above Billy Graham) and Bill is tied for #16 with George Washington and Collin Powell.  It may be a surprise to you that 12 of the top 20 were politicians…and number 5 was George W. Bush! (No the poll was not taken in Texas).  Two relative newcomers to the hero scene made the list, one was Chelsey Sullenberger, the pilot who landed his plane in the Hudson, and the other — of course — was Barack Obama.

In fact Barack Obama beat out Jesus: Barack #1, Jesus #2.

Now stop.  This is not a political post.  President Obama has not said, nor does he think that he is a step higher than Jesus.  In fact nobody actually chose Barack over Jesus.  The poll did not give a list of potential heroes from which people could choose.  They just spoke who came to their minds.

But some thoughts came to my mind when I read the poll.  Here they are, in no particular order:

1. It is the rare person who truly has Jesus #1.  We follow those we hold up as heroes.  It is easy to say Jesus is our hero, harder to live it.

2. I wonder how many people thought of their mother or father as their hero.  Perhaps general categories were not allowed as heroes, only specific people.  But my father and mother would definitely be in my top 10.

3.  I wonder if the poll indicates a lack of good biographical reading on the part of the American people.  By and large the people chosen are public figures.  My heroes would include people I’ve read about but never known.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Amy Carmichael, and George Mueller.

4.  12 of 20 were politicians, if I remember right, none were athletes?

5.  John Wayne made the list in the last Harris hero poll (2001) but dropped off.  My dad obviously was not a part of this poll.

6. No biblical heroes, but at least three pastoral type people.  Billy Graham, Mother Theresa, and Martin Luther King.

7. Reminded me of a great website.  I Am Second. You should check it out.

8. Heroes are never born in a moment, but sometimes it takes a moment for them to be recognized — like Chelsey Sullenberger.

9.  We identify our heroes for a variety of reasons, some who made the top 20 list would never make my top 100.  But then again, I probably wouldn’t make theirs either.

10.  There are scores of heroes whose stories we will never know till we get to heaven.  I think that will be one of our greatest privileges…story-time in heaven.

11.  Who are my heroes?  That’s a post for another time.

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Developing Divine Curiousity

Feb 20th 2009

One day a man named Moses — He really lived, not just a character in a Dreamworks animated movie (Prince of Egypt) — walked past a bush.  Most likely he had passed by the same bush a hundred times before.  Just a bush, everyone in his neighborhood had a bush.  Some people had three or four.  But this moment was different.  This time the bush was on fire with the presence of God.  It was on fire, but it wasn’t burning up.  Moses looked at the bush and he said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.”  Moses exercised a little divine curiosity.  He stopped to look.  He paid attention, and he heard the voice of God.

Do you see how everything hinged upon his willingness to exercise his curiosity?  Everything hinged upon his willingness to interrupt his schedule and pay attention to the presence of God.  God didn’t force him to stop, no burning wall in front of him.  It wasn’t an obligation.  He had people to see, sheep to herd.  He could have looked away.  He could have glanced once in his rear-view mirror, hoping he might have another chance someday when things were a little less hectic.

At Calvary we have been talking about the WORD.  I think one of the difficulties we have in hearing God is that we have no divine curiosity and everything else is jockeying for priority in our lives.  God’s Word is just another one of those things we need to fit in, check it off the list.  We think it’s a no-brainer, if I had been there that day I would have stopped to check out the bush.  But would we have stopped?  Or is it the case that in the busy pace of our lives, in the midst of a secular society, many of us have become so preoccupied, so busy, that we might run right past a burning a bush and not even stop long enough to find out that it’s holy ground?

He could have missed an encounter with God.  He could have missed his calling.  He could have missed the adventure of a lifetime.  He could have missed his purpose for living.  But He didn’t.  He stopped.  He listened.  He responded.

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What Gets You Down?

Jan 16th 2009

I’ve been thinking about this since our trip to Myanmar; what gets us down.  While we were in Myanmar we met Mary.   Mary is the main mom at Agape Orphanage.  In fact she started Agape Orphanage with her husband.  Not long after they started the orphanage — about 10 years ago — he died from malaria.  He got sick on Sunday, was in the hospital by Monday night and Tuesday morning he died.  That was in June.  In July her 11 month old son got pneumonia and within a month he had died.  I’m not saying she didn’t struggle or that she doesn’t grieve.  In fact even today when she talks about it there are tears.  But she didn’t quit following God’s call to serve kids.  In fact, in many ways she is the heart and soul of Agape Orphanage.

Then today somebody sent me a youtube link with a message from a man name Nick.  He has no…  well I’ll let him tell you his story.  Just watch the video below…

So what gets you down?  This isn’t one of those just-look-around-you-because-someone-is-worse-off-than-you kind of challenges.  I’m not a big believer in alleviating my pain by finding someone in worse pain.   What I am is a big believer in the virtue of perseverance.  What I am is a big believer in the freedom we have to choose our attitudes. What I am — above all — is a big believer in God’s ability to work in and through our circumstances to bring about gold in our lives.  See I think that one marker of the current and future capacity of our hearts is how much it takes to get us to quit.

So what gets you down?

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Everywhere I Go I See Jesus

Jan 04th 2009

…and it’s breaking my heart. Remember the story in Matthew 25. Jesus is talking and he shares that story of the good guys (sheep) and the bad guys (goats). The good guys are the once who give Jesus water when he is thirsty and food when he is hungry. The good guys are the ones who give Jesus clothes when he is naked and a home when he is homeless. The bag guys ignore Jesus in need. The good guys and the bad guys both say, Jesus when did we see you in need. Jesus responds, Whenever you care for the least of these my brothers, you do it to me.

In Myanmar, a country that is over 80% Buddhist, a country where 90% of the people live on less than a dollar a day, everywhere I go I see Jesus… and it’s breaking my heart.

Last Sunday, after church, Lynn and I prayed for a woman who runs an orphanage in a very remote area of Myanmar, the Chin State. She has an orphanage in the mountains – forty one children. Because they are so remote, they have no sponsors, so they come to Agape Orphanage when they need help. It is the poor helping the very poor. The Nargis Cyclone hit them hard, so they have gone into debt buying food. Nobody will give them anymore credit. So she has not been able to buy food for a few months. Her children walk the fields looking for corn and rice that has been dropped behind in the harvest. For the last month, her children have been eating one time every three days. Joseph – the Agape Orphanage Director – asked Lynn and I to pray for her and her children. We prayed and the tears streamed down her face.

As we were praying, the thoughts going through my head were – I’m praying to Jesus who is eating once every three days in the mountains of the Chin State.

We gave her $700 — the $500 we saved from not paying extra for our baggage and $200 we took for personal expenses.  It will help for a couple of months.

After that prayer, as we drove to another mission, all I could think about was 41 hungry children and I kept asking Jesus, “Did I do enough?” Tears in my eyes — I can honestly say that I have never had such a strong desire to be rich. If Jesus really is to be found in the “least of these,” if you ever go to Myanmar you will see Jesus everywhere you go…and it might break your heart.

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Agape Orphanage, Christmas Day, and Walmart

Jan 03rd 2009

I didn’t take pictures.  It just seemed wrong.  On Christmas Day — not only did I preach to 1500 villagers, counting men, women and children — but you (Calvary) helped to feed them.  From dollars that you gave we we were able to give a meal and the rice for two more meals to everyone who attended.  (In fact that was probably the main reason they came, since my preaching is not really a huge draw in Myanmar!)

They received a box of cooked rice with 2-3 small pieces of meat — the meat was a luxury — and a small piece of bread.  They also received a bag — maybe a pound — of rice for future meals.

I watched them stand in line waiting for their free food.  (Those were the pictures I didn’t take.)

Actually I watched them push and shove and knock elderly people and small children to the ground as they were waiting for free food.

At first it disappointed me, then I remembered that they were hungry and I realized that they were afraid that the food would run out.

At first it disappointed me, then I remembered our Walmart Black Friday story.  One thousand plus people standing in line to get a good deal on a high definition flat screen tv, stampeding through the doors, trampeling and killing a temporary employee.

We push and shove and stampede for a $200 discount on a hd tv.  They push and shove and stamped for food.  I’m still disappointed…that those people are so hungry and so worried that the food will run out.  But I am so thankful that Calvary gave and continues to give.  I didn’t take pictures, it just seemed wrong, but the picture is stark in my mind.  I pray that the day will come when Americans won’t stampede for tv’s and Burmese won’t have to stampede for food.

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(NOT) Home for Christmas

Jan 02nd 2009

So there we were Christmas Day, walking up at the Seasons Hotel in Yangon — 10,000 miles from home.  We got a “Merry Christmas” greeting from two elderly ladies in the breakfast room — the only non-Burmese we would see on Christmas Day — Australians visiting another orphanage.  By the way if you google the hotel — don’t trust the description or the pictures, false advertising at it’s best!

Driving to Agape Orphanage, it hit me that Calvary’s last Christmas Eve service was just beginning. I love Christmas Eve at Calvary, it is always one of the highpoints of my Christmas season.  It’s one of the best parts of being home for Christmas!

But God had other plans for us this Christmas – Myanmar plans.

We drove through the gate at Agape and all the children were lined up to greet us, yelling like we were some kind of celebrities — or long lost family members returning after a long absence.

In Myanmar, while it is not against the law to have a church, it is against the law to proselytize. But at Christmas, a bit more freedom is given. So the orphanages use Christmas as a time to reach out to the neighboring villages. In December the orphanages we support hosted Christmas celebrations for close to 10,000 people – at each one the Good News was shared.

Former Muslim

I had the privilege of sharing at the Christmas Day gathering at Agape orphanage – over 1200 Buddhist Read more…

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A Christmas Conspiracy

Dec 04th 2008

Do you realize that Christmas started as a conspiracy?  Read the story.  It was a subversive underground movement to change the world and establish a new Kingdom. So the question is… what happened?  The story of Christ’s birth is a story of wonder, courage, relational giving and revolutionary love.  How could the celebration of this story turn into a season of shopping lists, stress, traffic jams and bad office parties?  Then when it’s over we are left with Christmas debt and the heart-whisper that somehow we missed something of great significance.  The first Christmas changed the world.  What if Christmas became a world-changing, heart-shaping event once again?

How do we join the conspiracy?  Seek Jesus.  Risk More.  Give Presence.  Love All.  Those four calls will form the foundation of our conspiracy.

How do we join the conspiracy?  Join together in our Operation Christmas Connect 1% Offering to serve kids all around the world.  This weekend at Calvary we’ll hear about how we can serve the children at the Rose of Sharon orphanage in the Dominican Republic.  Think about what a difference we could make in the lives of a few hundred children if we were to give 1% of our annual income to serve them?  It would be like Christmas all year around — for them and us.

How do we join the conspiracy?  Ponder the information you can find at the following websites.

Empty Tombs — Let your heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.  29,000 children a day under the age of 5…die from preventable poverty conditions.  We can make a difference.

Global Rich List — Don’t think you’re rich?  Find your place amongst the world’s rich elite and thank God for blessing us so that we can be a blessing.

I Am Second — A very cool website which shares dozens of stories about how people have made Jesus first in their lives.  Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?  Seek Jesus.

Advent Conspiracy — Churches joining together in the conspiracy.  Lots of good information.

Rethinking Christmas — A great website for those who want to buy less and give more meaningful gifts.  Good ideas for the non-crafty or creative.  Like me!  :)

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