Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Nothing is Wasted

Recently a friend asked me if he could quote an email I sent him in a blog post, I said "Sure!" Then I quipped back, "It's about dang time someone quoted my brilliance!"

After I sent that text, I remembered the content of the email, and God spoke to my heart. It's your brokenness, not your brilliance he's responding to.

Wow.

It was a timely reminder that nothing in my life is wasted. Not one tear, not one trial, not one pain. Living life as a disciple of Jesus doesn't mean I will be spared the trials of this world. On the contrary, it seems as though the people God uses the most have often experienced the most suffering. What it does mean however, is that if I submit everything to Him - every tear, every hurt, and every sorrow, along with every joy, every success, and every triumph - nothing is wasted. He is the redeemer of all - of moments, of people, of all. I won't see the worth of every moment this side of heaven. Sometimes though...sometimes I'm in a thin place and I see as He sees, which is more clearly than I ever will. I see how something has been used in my life, or the life of someone else, and I remember that nothing is wasted.

It doesn't mean that I enjoy all the hard things. It doesn't mean that in moments of frustration I don't wish things were different. But when I turn my focus away from my circumstances and towards Christ, knowing that in Him nothing is wasted, there is comfort.

Take heart friends. Wherever we're at in our relationship with Christ, near or far, He can redeem all that we thought was wasted and lost, if only we let Him.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

What am I missing?

What am I missing?

This is a serious question. I'm not trying to start something or being a smart aleck. What am I missing?

Why is it that when I scroll through my Facebook feed, I see several Christian friends posting angry comments and articles about President Obama sending U.S. troops to help with the Ebola outbreak in Africa. The troops are being sent to help with infrastructure so the folks already on the ground there can more effectively tend to those who have the disease.

Why do we have a problem with this? Aren't we supposed to help those in need? Isn't this the largest Ebola breakout in known history? Isn't this a disease that kills people in a horrific way? Isn't it also one that is fairly easy to prevent transmission of if the proper sanitation measures are in place?

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25: 35-40

What am I missing?

This isn't the only issue I've had this thought about, just the latest. I'll mention one more for illustration purposes. This past summer, when all of the undocumented immigrants from Central America were crossing the border, people freaked out. The majority of these people were women and children fleeing death squads, cartels, and other horrible things most of us could never imagine. Yet there were protests and people actually turning away buses packed with women and children. I know not all of the protesters were Christians, but some of them were, including some who were very vocal about their dislike of the situation. 

What is the problem here? We weren't prepared and therefore didn't have the resources ready to help them? Isn't that the case every time a hurricane hits and people flood into surrounding areas while fleeing to safety? Is it because the immigrants aren't "our" people and we should focus first on helping "our" people? 

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” Luke 10:25-37

When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:33-34.

What am I missing?

I've heard most, if not all, of the arguments about the practicalities of these and other situations. I acknowledge the validity of most of them, and concede that there are tough issues out there with no easy answers. BUT....

As Christians, where is our primary citizenship? Is it in the Kingdom of God or in America?  If its the former, why do we let the politics and circumstances of the latter so frequently upset and worry us? Why do we say some things (cloaked in "righteous" anger) that quite frankly I think Jesus  would shake His head at? A non-believing friend of mine posted the following as her Facebook status last week:

          "Stop watching broadcasts that are fabricated for fear. We are becoming one scared nation. Not            that there are not real threats. But really. If the truly religious out there truly believe in abiding            faith and divine guidance, does it even make sense to thrive on endless horror stories and                    lunatic 'reporting'?"

Ouch. She's absolutely right. 

I'm not saying its wrong to stand for or speak up about what one believes. It's good to have opinions, even strong opinions about things. It's good to discuss those opinions with one another - how else will we learn? However, I would caution stating such opinions as fact, or as a representation of what Christ Himself would stand for. Also, we need to be more OK with people who don't share our opinions. More pointing one another to Christ, and less vitirol and indignation will benefit us all.

If I have missed a key nuance, please point it out to me. If there is a big picture I'm just not seeing let me know. This post isn't intended to be a political discussion or debate. Its not the merits of a specific plan or policy I'm questioning here. Its the response of my brothers and sisters in Christ that truly baffle me. 

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in our power to do it. Proverbs 3:27b 

What am I missing?

Friday, September 05, 2014

Reflections from the Building

In my previous post, I shared some memories about the church I attended while I was in college. There are many more memories tied up in the place, because the building hosted the ministry I was involved in. I wanted to share a few of those memories here.

While in high school, I felt that I was being called into some kind of vocational ministry. So far, the closest I've come to that is working with this ministry, named SALT, which stood for Students Alive in the Lord's Truth. I was involved in a variety of ways in my four and half years there, but here I want to focus on two main lessons/impressions about ministry that were directly tied to the church building.

The first involves a giant tree on the wall in the church foyer that shows all of the different churches that have sprung from the ministry of this church. The church is almost a century old and was the first Southern Baptist church in the state of Arizona. The trunk represents the church I attended, and each leaf a church that sprang from it. Each leaf has the name of a church engraved in it. The leaves closest to the trunk are the churches that are planted directly from the first one. As one goes down the branches there are more leaves that represent churches those churches planted, until you can see that church A planted church B, which planted church C and so on and so forth. There are dozens of leaves representing several generations of church planting.

As a part of SALT, there was a group of people who got to the church about an hour early every week to pray for the upcoming service and those involved. Before walking throughout the sanctuary in individual prayer, this group would pray together in the lobby, often sitting on the benches under this tree. It served as a powerful reminder of what the body of Christ is called to do. Not only are we to support one another, but we are to "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20). This tree was a visual picture of the this. None of the leaves would have existed if people from the trunk hadn't gone. In fact, the trunk wouldn't have existed if people hadn't come from somewhere else, going all the way back to the men and women who actually heard Jesus speak this command. This tree represents a thumbnail sketch of the interconnectedness of the body of Christ regardless of time, denomination, or location.

It's important for all believers to remember this connectedness and history. Its even more important for the kind of people those students that sat under that tree and prayed represented. Those who were beginning to serve and lead in the church whether as a lay person or on staff. Young men and women who would need the perspective of the past as they led into the future.

The second main lesson I learned about ministry in this building was the incredible amount of work and the dozens of people that no one knows about that are involved in what most people would consider "formal" ministry. For example, most of the people who spoke at our weekly service were local pastors or people who ran some kind of ministry. If these men and women were making small talk with a stranger and were asked what they did, the answer would be some form of "I'm in ministry." 

What most people didn't know or think of is what goes on behind the scenes in order for those people to get up and speak. There is a different amount of labor involved in every setting depending on the location and permanence of whatever is going on, but there is always a lot of work, and a lot of people who quietly do that work without ever receiving an once of credit or recognition. 

For our service in particular, there was a group of people who met weeks in advance to plan out topics and speakers. Someone had to orchestrate all of that with many phone calls and glances at the calendar. The day of the service, a different group of people would start bringing over and setting up equipment, usually around one or two in the afternoon for the service that started at nine that night. Between four and six depending on the day's schedule and the plan for that night, the band, sound guy, and person running the slide show would show up for practice.  By eight the previously mentioned prayer group would show up, get briefed on the plan for the night and any problems that may have been occurring. Shortly after that, another group of people would show up to greet people as they came in and give them any instruction they might need. After each service, another group of people would tear all of the equipment down and pack it away until next week, while others folded up chairs and picked up any trash that may have been left behind. Altogether, besides the band and the speaker that people actually saw on stage, for each service there were between twenty and thirty people who had put in several hours of work over a span of weeks for a service that lasted just over an hour.

Whew...that makes me tired just typing it all out! You're probably thinking, "I'll bet. It makes me tired reading it. Why should I?" Two reasons. One is that I hope it prompts you to do a little investigating behind the scenes at your church and/or ministry and find out the names of those people who do all the kind of stuff I just wrote about. Take some time this week to write them a note or give them a call and tell them thanks for all of their work. These people don't do what they do for the recognition; they do it because they want to serve the body of Christ in any way they can. However, everyone benefits from a kind word, and everyone appreciates being appreciated. 

The second thing I hope reading about that might do is cause you to find out where you can get involved. There are so many needs waiting to be met, and many hands make light work became a saying for a reason. Chances are, you aren't aware of kinds of things you can do that don't seem like much but actually make a big difference. Most of them don't require a huge time commitment, especially if spread among many people.

You can do this even if you aren't involved in a church. There are little ways to help out in every area of life, whether it's at work, home, or out at the grocery store. For example, when I sub in a class that we used textbooks in that day, I almost always make sure they're up off the floor at the end of the day. Those of you who know teenagers know that most things end up on the floor; multiply that by 100-130 of them throughout the day, and you can imagine how may of the books stay on the top of the desk. It's nothing for me to have everyone looks around them and make sure there are no books left on the floor. It takes them about ten seconds. My few words and their ten seconds save the janitor a ton of time in effort. Instead of having to come in and bend up and down thirty times to pick up books before she can sweep, she can come in, sweep, and be done. It costs the students and me virtually nothing, yet helps her a bunch.

Look for something like that you can do in your own life. Start with one thing. When you have that down, maybe look for another. It makes life more fun, and making someone else's load a bit lighter is one of the best things we can do. Whose load will you make lighter today?




Thursday, September 04, 2014

Reflections from the People

This past week a very dear friend of mine and her family said goodbye to the church they've attended for three decades. That sentence alone stuns me. Thirty some odd years. For her parents, its been their church home since college; for her and her sister, their entire lives. Its the only church they've ever known. They were born into that congregation, made professions of faith there, were baptized there, were married there, and dedicated their children there. Three generations. Three decades. Over.

Maybe its because I have history with this church, maybe its because the thought of being in one place for my entire life blows my mind, or maybe its because I'm coming out of a season of goodbyes in my own life, but this coming of their last Sunday at this church has weighed heavily on me

I thought this would be a good time to take a moment and reflect on the role this body of believers has played in my life. It was an instrumental part in my life while I was in college, which was a critical season. If my life were a house, it was during this time that the framing was built. I think it's safe to say I went to college with a solid foundation. I have been a Christian for the majority of my life, and had been discipled well while in high school. Leaving the safety of my family and the place I grew up allowed me to test that foundation and build upon it. Most of that framing was done during college.

The first time I went to a function of this church, I knew I was home. I don't know if its the same for other people, but for me there was something different about choosing a church independently of my family. For those of us who grow up in the church, this is the first time we not only have to make this decision on our own, but make the decision of whether or not we're going to keep attending church or not. The prospect of doing this had been somewhat intimidating to me, though looking back, pretty much everything about going away to school and being on my own for the first time was intimidating. One of the many things God used to calm my heart was immediately give me a home with this body of believers. Within an hour there was no doubt in my mind. It gave me a sense of confidence with which to start this new phase of life.

At this church, I sat under a pastor who was beyond words. He wasn't perfect, as no one is, but he is pretty great. He came to see me before I had surgery not three weeks after he had been called to the church. He didn't know a thing about me and didn't owe me a thing. In fact, we had never even met before, but he was there to pray with me and sit with my grandma and my friend and her family as they waited on me. He instantly cared for and invested in the lives of those who had been entrusted to his leadership. He spoke the word with ferocious clarity, never watering down the message, but neither wielding the Word as a sledgehammer. He just spoke truth and let the Spirit move. He made changes simply because it was the right thing to do and those changes allowed the church to be better stewards of its resources. He led the church through one of the most difficult circumstances a church can face, and he did it with grace and courage. I learned so much about so many things from this man, and was forever changed by his leadership and influence.

It wasn't just the pastor who made me feel at home. Obviously going there with my friend who had grown up there gave me an instant "in," but that didn't stop others from reaching out. There was an older couple who always made the point to tell me hello and ask how I was. It was obvious this was something they had done for years with new college students as he always remembered me and others by where we were from. I probably haven't spoken more than an hour or two total in my life with the man, but I'll never forget him or his kindness. There was another couple there who took me into their lives. It was to their house I escaped when pressures at school got intense, and their voices I still hear in my head when I need to recall a particular word of wisdom, or remind myself to "be gentle" with myself. Those who know me know that's something I need to hear often.

It's important to look back from time to time to remember where we've come and appreciate where we're going. I encourage you to reflect on the role various groups you may have belonged to have shaped your life. Take a moment to thank someone involved in that group for the influence they've had in your life, and then look for ways you can similarly influence the life of someone else.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Tribute to My Favorite Pirate

One of my all-time favorite movie characters is Jack Sparrow. Pardon me, Captain Jack Sparrow. While the sequels have debatable merits, the original Pirates of the Caribbean is in my opinion, one of the funniest movies. While Captain Jack Sparrow is by far my favorite fictional pirate, he's a far second in regards to my favorite pirate either fictional or real: my grandpa, Ron Erickson.

When my sister (Kimmi) and I were little, Grandpa Ron loved dressing up as a pirate and telling us stories. He'd put on one of my grandma's scarfs, her eye patch, and he'd come into their kitchen growling and acting like a pirate. He was so convincing that the first time he did it, Kimmi (who is admittedly a bit gullible) screamed and was terrified because she thought he was a real pirate. It took him awhile to calm her down and convince her it was just Grandpa and that we were all safe. Once she was reassured, he got back in character and we sat at the table with Pirate Ron and Grandma Chi-Chi as he told us stories of his adventures on the high seas. Every time after that, he'd come into the room slightly less scary, making sure everyone knew it was just Grandpa, but still convincing and magical enough for us to believe his stories of the sea.

Another of his favorite activities to make us squeal in terror and delight, as only children can do, was to take his dentures out and drop them in our hands. He'd tell us to close our eyes and sometimes before he could even get them out of his mouth, we'd run away squealing only to come right back begging for him to do it again. One thing is certain. Grandpa Ron loved to have fun and make us laugh whenever he was home not from pirating ships, but from driving his 18 wheeler.

The one thought that sticks out in my mind the most is that my Grandpa Ron loved my Grandma Chi-Chi well. I know from personal experience that it isn't easy to live with a life-long chronic illness. Having someone who loves and supports you well makes all the difference in the world. Grandpa never seemed to mind the inconveniences Grandma's epilepsy sometimes caused. On the contrary, he fiercely defended and protected her against anyone who would tease, even in the lightest and kindest of spirits.

He wasn't perfect. He could be stubborn and was definitely set in his ways. He could be a bit ornery too when he chose. However, at the end of the day, he loved his family well. He did the best he could with what he had. He worked hard his whole life, never letting anything stop him from what he wanted to do. In fact, telling him he couldn't pretty much guaranteed he would. He loved his family well, and did what had to be done to take care of them.

When the monitors showed that he was gone, we gathered around his bed and sang the first and last verse of his favorite hymn, "Amazing Grace." As the nurse who was in the room can attest, we sounded pretty terrible as we choked out the words through our tears. I think its because we heard it with ears limited by earth. In heaven, where Grandpa now was, I figure it must've been one of the most beautiful songs ever heard. It was sung in honor of the man we all love, and because of the perfect and sustaining love of the Savior we all serve.

I'm going to miss my Grandpa. I'll miss his big belly laugh when something tickled his funny bone. I'll miss the random stories that I'd never before heard. I'll missing giving him a hug and a kiss when I come in the door and hearing him tell me, "You look good kid." I look forward to the day when I will see him again. Until then, I'll think of my favorite pirate and smile, not because I lost him, but because of the time I had him.

Friday, April 04, 2014

BISD - A Response

Those of us who live in Beaumont and pay even the slightest bit of attention to the news know that our school district is in trouble. This is not new, and to say its in trouble may seem a bit of an understatement. Things are coming to light and governing agencies are getting involved at a faster pace than ever before. It seems as though almost every time I check Twitter or Facebook over the last week, there is a new tweet or post with another breaking news story that involves BISD and corruption.  At this point, its easy to jump on the bandwagon and rail against the district and everyone involved in each new situation that is made known.

I've been guilty of this myself. I read a story, shake my head, and voice a comment that is either cynical, derogatory, or of a bandwagon mentality, and then move on with life. However, the past few days I've been convicted of that response. Yesterday I texted a friend and asked him if he had a read a widely shared blog about a recent kerfuffle surrounding a global aid situation. He agreed the author had some valid points, but was put off by her negativity in her overall body of work. I asked him how he would respond to those who were rightly upset by the situation. His response was, "Be frustrated. But maintain self awareness. Am I constantly talking about what's wrong or right? Am I more passionate about what's broken or what's working? We can't brush aside injustice but get feedback from others on what you're known more for - what you're against or what you're for. Monitor your energy - more going to building up or tearing down!?"

I was a student in BISD from 1996-2003 and have been an employee since 2008. I consider myself to be pretty aware of what's going on, both good and bad. I've heard of, or been involved in, an astounding variety of situations. There are some days when I literally have no words for the amount of frustration I feel at all that is broken. I mean, let's be real - when the FBI has to make multiple rounds of raids on administrative employees and the state education agency recommends that the district be taken over because the bottom line is that its too corrupt and broken to be fixed from within, there is a definite problem.

BUT

I have to move beyond that. It's not OK to stay stuck there, especially as a Christian.

I knew that just jumping on the bandwagon and railing against everything that is wrong wasn't constructive, but I didn't know what else to do with all of my frustration, disgust, and sometimes despair. My friend's response to the other situation helped clarify what I was thinking about BISD. So I took stock - have I just been complaining and not building up?  Am I more concerned with making a witty comment about all that is wrong, or am I doing my part to make it right? Am I known as one who can always add to the jeering, and not one who can join the cheering?

There are things wrong here. It's not wrong to point them out and fight to right them. I am intensely grateful for the hard work and sweat and tears members of our community have put into getting us to a point where there is a light at the end of what has seemed at times to be a very long, dark tunnel. Now that we're on the verge of change, what will we do? How will I react?

Now more than ever, its vital that we build up and not just tear down. If it's always darkest before the dawn, we still have a lot of work to do. Sometimes I am overwhelmed and feel as though there is nothing I can do. I'm not in a position to change anything, so why try?

Then I remember what I - as just one person - can do. I can encourage those in my sphere of influence. I may not have any way to change things at the top level, but I can influence those I do come in contact with. I can help bring a smile to the discouraged teacher down the hall. I can remember what it was like to be a teenager and extend an extra bit of grace to the kid in my class who tries but just can't seem to get his act together.  I can thank a school administrator for all the extra work she does that nobody knows about. I can walk alongside parents as they do what they can. I can stand against the small injustices I see and do my best not to create any. I can give some extra help to those kids who don't have any support at home. Most importantly, I can remember that while sometimes institutions and bureaucracies are beyond hope, people never are. It is on them that I will spend my energy seeking to make a difference.

Next time I see an article about the state of things in our district, I'll probably shake my head and sigh. But then, instead of joining the voices dumping criticism and blame on an already bad situation, I'll take that energy and use it to encourage someone. I'll remember the times the community as banded together to take care of those in need. I'll pass along a small kindness done to me that made a huge difference.

Will you join me?

I'm Back!

I would guess that if you looked, you could find about a million blogs that have been neglected for a couple of years. On about half of those, you'd find entries like this, where the author apologizes for not being consistent in writing and promises to do better.

I'm not going to promise to do better. I have no idea what will happen from this point forward. I know that right now, I have things to say, so I'm going to say them. Hopefully, I will be more consistent; if not, what I have now is what I've got. So here we go!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

My Blog Has A New Name!

After not blogging for a really long time, I decided that my attempt to be more disciplined and write more frequently would be bettered by a new name.

I've lived in apartments since my junior year in college, which I started in 2005. Since then, I've lived in three different apartments, and have experienced an unfortunate event in each of them. One morning, I've awoken to discover that it was raining in my bathroom. In some instances (as it has happened multiple times in each apartment) it had been raining through the night and I was left with the ensuing flood. In other's I woke up to the deluge still coming from the ceiling. Most recently, I noticed a small drip before I went to bed, and woke up for the next three mornings to enough water for my miniature dachshund to swim in - if she liked to be in water that is.

While in the moment I'm not amused, and the clean up and sometimes long term ramifications of this recurring event are not fun to deal with, I do find this pattern to be quite humorous. I mean, really now, chances are you will probably experience some kind of leak in your dwelling place at some point in life; life happens. At least six times in under seven years however, is a bit ridiculous.

I view it as a metaphor for life. Sometimes you're cruising along, then something happens and you're covered in toilet water from your neighbor's upstairs. Through no fault of your own, sogginess happens. Sometimes if feels as though you're the only one who keeps getting soggy, especially because of the actions of others; though if we were honest with ourselves, we'd admit we create our fair share of sogginess for ourselves. Some sogginess we can clean up on our own. Some we need help from friends to move the soggy stuff out, and professionals to come clean up what's left behind. This is where your community steps in to help you, and if you know Him, Christ comes in and does the heavy lifting for you.

So next time you get soggy, remember two things and take heart. 1) Eventually, everything dries. 2) Though it may feel like it, you're not the only one getting soggy, and you don't have to do clean up on your own.