Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Our church is studying Ephesians right now in our sermon times, and we just finished Ephesians 3:1-14. Verse 13 tells us that "in Him (Christ) and through faith in Him, we may approach God with freedom and confidence." When I first heard this, I was very excited that I had the freedom and confidence to ask God to help me with things in my life that need work, help, etc. This is a reasssuring truth indeed. But this morning as I was going over the text again, I realized that with freedom and confidence can come boldness and even crazy prayers that we might not normally pray. If I have FREEDOM to ask anything and CONFIDENCE that God hears and loves me, why are my prayers so small most of the time? God spoke to me and told me that I need to ask Him for what to pray, because left to myself I will stop short of asking for the things that I think are too big to be done.

After that Sripture time, I opened a Word document entitled "80" that I had typed on April 26th and then not opened again, mostly (I have to admit) because it seemed so ludicrous. In a moment of crazy boldness and freedom, I typed a prayer, asking God to send us 80 tutors for this coming year, so that each day we would have 40 tutors for the 40 kids that we hope will come. Kids need one on one help to best succeed and many times in years past we have been one on three, one on two at best.

I opened "80" this morning, because today on email I received our initial database of interested tutors, and there are 83 on the list. Some of them may decide to not help (like, say. 3?), but as I looked at that list, which more than doubled the number that we had last year, I remembered "80" and how I was afraid to look at that document or share it with others because "what if God didn't answer".

We as God's children have FREEDOM and CONFIDENCE through our perfect access in Christ Jesus. We can ask the Father anything, no matter how big (or how small), and we know that He hears and He doesn't laugh us off or ignore us. And, surprise, He even answers despite the fact that our faith is maybe 64% sure that He will. Let's be a people who are bold and ask God to do more than we can ask or imagine.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Administering grace

Somehow over the past months (not sure how long it has been really), I have gotten out of the habit of walking my neighborhood. I blamed it on being too tired to get up early with Joe, and then in the evenings I am too busy helping Diane with the girls. But the truth is that somehow, some way, fear had crept back in and was keeping me at home. Or maybe it was apathy. Or a mix of both. I know that there is little to fear here in Glenwood, especially in recent months as the streets have been cleaned up more and more. But maybe my fear has been the fear of being bothered. The fear of being stopped and talked to. The fear of seeing more needs that I just can’t meet. The fear of a new crop of neighbors and hanger-out-ers that I don’t know very well. And so I would rather stay in my little controlled world.

In the past, enough folks came by my controlled world so as to make it easy for me to love those that we moved here for. But foot traffic patterns have changed, and those folks are elsewhere, and so opportunities to share the love of Christ have been fewer. I’ve been feeling this for a while, not able to put my finger on exactly what was demotivating me and not able to muster up a good motivation to get going again.

But this Sunday our pastor preached on Ephesians 3:1-14, and in the early verses of that chapter, Paul talks about the administration of God’s grace given to him for the sake of the Gentiles. I had always thought this meant that God had administered grace to Paul for the sake of the Gentiles (and theologically that is true). But in the Greek, that particular instance of administer means “to be a manager of.” Paul is saying that he is a manager of grace from God, given the task of passing it on and utilizing it to bless others. Our pastor exhorted us, from a position of the Good News and our identity in Christ as motivation, to be good managers of the grace God has given us. And I realized that in many ways I was squirreling away the grace and time and opportunity of being here in Glenwood.

As I walked through the park tonight, there were a number of kids there and some middle school-ers (an intimidating age group in any neighborhood), and I thought, “God has given me grace to manage here. I have grace and gifts that are meant for these kids, for their families.” And the thought carried no guilt. It carried hope and purpose, and felt as thought it were leading me on that walk.

I want to be here on purpose and with purpose, and I need prayer and encouragement to walk the streets with Joe (our boxer) again, remembering that I am a manager of God’s grace, submitting my time and my plans to God’s desires to use me in the lives of others. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see that grace gets administered back to me from those I meet along the way.

(incidental note: this is post #100)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Baby Boy Pics

The one with the arrow is the indicator that this is a baby boy.

It's a ......

We had the ultra-sound this morning. For a long time I had really wanted a son, but in some ways had believed a lie that God wouldn't give me a son because maybe I wasn't cut out for it. He has been addressing that, teaching me about my security in Him, and the other week I was able to say, "Lord, I really would like to have a son, you know that, but if you give us a girl, I will receive her and rejoice at your gift to us." So while I was certainly anxious to see if we were having a boy or a girl, I was at peace with the Lord's plan for us. Diane and I do rejoice with this news, and are thankful that my office (soon to be our son's room) is already painted blue.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Reconciliation: it ain't just for preachin' anymore

For years now I have loved leading students and staff in learning the Biblical basis for racial reconciliation. Passages like Ephesians 2:11-22 really spell out that the work of the cross was not just a vertical reconciliation *man to God* but also a horizontal reconciliation *man to man*. (For an excellent sermon on this passage, you can listen to Solving the Biggest Problem in the World [the July 16th sermon on that page].)
I love watching people’s faces as they realize that the work of reconciliation is not something that we have to accomplish but rather a reality for us to live out. Jesus HAS DESTROYED the dividing wall and HAS MADE the two one, putting to death their hostility. The study is so applicable to the divide between races in America, especially black and white in the South, and I am encouraged to pray big prayers and believe big truths when looking at the power of the cross to reconcile any and all people across all lines.
But I have to admit that sometimes it is safer to relegate that finished work of reconciliation to racial issues. For me it’s easy to believe that the cross has truly canceled the dividing wall between black and white; it’s easy to hope that one day people of all colors will walk in the reality of unity that Jesus has won. But when it comes to applying that to my own sin, my own brokenness and how that affects my family and friends, well, I am reluctant to trust the fullness of the cross. In effect I say, “Well, sure Jesus paid for racial sins, and we can be reconciled, but I am not sure if the cross is big enough to handle my _____ (insert gross sin here).”
I know that good theology (and a great hymn) says that my sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more. But I am also tempted to believe that the resulting relational brokenness between me and those that I hurt is too great. One day it will be fixed, in heaven, but for now it is best to just look the other way and try not to bring it up.
And so the Evil One divides me from people, shaming me into hiding my sin and just dealing with it on a me-and-Jesus basis. He tells me that to bring it fully into the light would be too hurtful. It would create too much pain, too much shame, too much brokenness and the best thing to do is just hide. Confession should be left to popular sins like pride or materialism or generic words like “lust” or “envy.”
Believing that lie had been costing me intimacy with my wife, intimacy with the Father, and intimacy with friends. I chose to embrace my shame and own it as my own, and not lean into the fullness of the cross, the truth that Jesus had, indeed, paid for all my sin and had, indeed, reconciled me to all those I had hurt.
But praise God for His tender, unrelenting Spirit, which continued to work on my heart, calling me into the light, and calling me to really test and see if the cross was as big and as good as I said it was. I teach students all the time about how completely free they are in Christ, but until this spring, I was not willing to lean into that freedom and see if it would indeed catch me as I fell.
Now it is true that the initial process of confession was not easy. It hurt, and it seemed produced more brokenness than healing at the outset. And the Evil One said, “See. Look at how awful you are. You should be ashamed. Better hide this from everyone else.”
But the Spirit had other plans. He said, “Your name is no longer Shame . It is Chosen. And because it is Chosen, you can lean into my love, my complete forgiveness, and you can pursue the reconciliation that you preach.”
And so I confessed again, bringing full disclosure to all that I had sinned against, and I shrank back, waiting for the hammer to fall. What fell was grace. Forgiveness. Love. I was received with open arms, looked in the eye and restored, loved with tenderness and commitment.
As the Spirit has led and light has been shed, chains have come off. Strongholds have been broken. And I am experiencing freedom and intimacy with Lord, my wife, and others that I have not had for years.
Don’t believe the lie that there are sins too big for the Cross. Don’t believe the lie that your name is Shame. The Lord has paid in full and is in the business of reconciliation. Yes across racial and cultural lines. But also across lines of brokenness for ordinary, regular lives like yours and mine. The Evil One would love to see us bound, divided and shamed. Confession and light make that darkness flee.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Learning to Receive

A few months ago I listened to a sermon called “The Principle of Reception” by Jack Taylor. The perspective he took was that when “life happens”, we can either reject the circumstances that are frustrating us or receive them as a part of God’s conforming us more to the image of Christ. Taylor’s example was husbands or wives who would say something like, “I wish my spouse didn’t talk all the time,” and then reject them, instead of receiving that spouse as God’s gift, perhaps to teach them how to listen. Surrendering our lives to God means that we receive the circumstances of each day, good and bad, trusting that these are what God has for us. John Piper has an excellent post on his web site after he was diagnosed with cancer which illustrates this concept of receiving.

In the Dominican, we felt pretty useless, and the temptation arose to wonder why we were there and if we had missed hearing God. We were tempted to think that if we weren’t producing, surely it was our fault, not God’s design. And so we could choose – reject feeling useless, rage against our lack of productivity, or receive this trip as God had planned it, entrusting ourselves to His sovereign care and working in our lives. Receiving this type of mission trip meant we had to receive a lot of other things, too. Like translation help during church services. Or translation help during small groups. Or translation help to talk with kids. Or being served our meals and not being able to help with much of anything. Or the gift of feeling useless.

In one of our last devotionals with the kids, the topic was serving others, and the question was, “Which is easier, to give or to receive?” The theme of the lesson was that it is easier for us to receive and harder to serve, but for me it is often the opposite. It’s much easier to give and serve than to be served and receive (ironic that I make my living based on others giving towards my support). As I talked with our group leader afterwards, he told me that God was teaching me on this trip how to receive, which will make me more able to lead and to give later.

This lesson was hammered home near the end of our time. One of the YWAM leaders had on a leather bracelet that some of my team members noticed, wondering where they might get one. Later, another YWAM leader came up and he had a similar bracelet on, which I pointed out to my friends. He noticed that I pointed, and immediately began to take it off, asking me if I liked it. Everything in me wanted to explain that, actually, I was just pointing it out to my friends, and I didn’t really want it (interestingly I had said earlier that I didn’t think I would right wearing one of those). But God reminded me, “You are here to receive. Take the bracelet.” And so I did, humbled by my friend’s selfless gift, and now I wear it as a reminder to receive.

God has many things planned for me in this life. Some of them are wonderful and easy. Some are hard and not very fun. I can reject the hard and humbling ones, tell the Lord I know better than He does how life should go. Or, while still acknowledging my emotions, I can choose to surrender and to receive. As Job said, “Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?”

This principle of receiving has been such a blessing in my life, because I am realizing that God’s biggest goal for me is not an easy life. It’s not prosperity. It’s not fulfilling the dreams I have for myself. His goal is that I would be more and more dependent on Him as my life, that He might live through me and reveal His life in me more and more.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

A Contagious Rhythm

One of the things I enjoyed the most in the DR was their exuberant worship. We went to church one Sunday evening with the Kings Kids, and worship was in full swing when we arrived. It must have been 90+ degrees in there, and there was dancing and celebration and laughter. It was apparent that the people there loved to celebrate Christ. In that particular service, the pastor preached on how we as Christians have a contagious rhythm (thankfully they provided a translator for us, which was a very gracious thing to do, since it extended his sermon). He said that people who are around us will hear that rhythm and eventually they will begin to dance, to move in time with the love of God.

Likewise, the Kings Kids had their own contagious rhythm when they worshiped. They, too, delighted in praising God and loved to dance during their songs. Most of you know, I am not much of a dancer. It’s not that I don’t like to dance – I really do enjoy it, actually. But I feel very self-conscious when I’m doing it and thus don’t feel free. However, to dance is to worship in the Dominican Christian culture, and as we sang with the kids and leaders, I found myself dancing with them. Simple moves (which looked more complicated when I did them) expressed delight in our God and delight in being able to worship Him with our bodies and our voices. I found my self swept up in their contagious rhythm.

Around that same time we watched a Rob Bell “Nooma” video, and he compared our relationship with God to a song. Or, rather, God is this amazing song, and we are all meant to get in tune and play it. In our small group time, we were asked what kept us from getting in tune with God’s song, and I realized that for me over thinking was a big bugaboo. Instead of letting the song lead me, I would try to figure it out. Many times in dancing, that is my Achilles heel – I try to think the steps, think the dance, and it gets really complicated. But the times when I am most free with the Lord are when I am not trying to figure Him out but rather receiving Him as He is and accepting where He has me at that time. During worship with the Kings Kids, I didn’t try to figure out there dances to get them right. I just did them, joining in their joy, enjoying worship in a new way. I let the song lead me, their contagious rhythm.

My relationship with God is not something to get right, to figure out, to reduce to certain steps at a certain time. It is more organic and live, more fluid and expressive than that. It is a rhythm, not a formula. But I fear messing up, looking foolish, and so I want to feel in control and love to analyze my heart and actions. May I remember the contagious rhythm and freedom of the Dominican as I walk with God here in the US; maybe I’ll even dance in church one day!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Gift of Feeling Useless

NOTE: This is the first post in a series about our trip to the Dominican Republic.

After two days in the country, we went to be with the ministry that we were helping for the week. They were staying at a camp way out in the middle of nowhere (45 minutes down a dirt road from the main road), and we only knew a few of the team members. We were working with King’s Kids, which is a two-week summer camp for Christian youth ages 8-18. The camp lasts two weeks, with the first week consisting of Bible teaching and preparing skits and dances. The second week the kids were to perform the skits they had prepared as an outreach at various parks in the city.

So we had a few things going against us. First, we were coming in to a community that had been together for a week already, establishing relationships. Second, most of us spoke little to no Spanish and most of them spoke little to no English. Third, most of their prep work for the outreaches had been done, so there was not any formal thing for us to teach them. Fourth, they are mostly teenagers, an awkard stage in any culture.

We got out of the bus and unloaded our stuff, and there was very little greeting or fanfare, and mostly the kid just looked at us and kept on with what they were doing. We were shown to our living quarters, which were very Spartan, and then we all wandered back to the main meeting area.

And we sat.

And we tried to say, “Hola.”

And we smiled.

And we began to wonder why in the world we were even there.

What were we to DO? What was our PURPOSE? What could we give?

And God showed us in that moment, and over the next two awkward days (the days before relationships formed despite language and cultural lines), that we were not there to give anything but to receive a gift from Him. The gift of feeling useless.

I am a leader. An elder in my church. A supervisor of IV staff. I have training and gifts and tools to help Christians grow. And none of that mattered. My resume was useless. They didn’t know what IV was. They didn’t really care about my “pedigree.” And so I sat with my team and wrestled with the need to produce.

What a rare feeling for me. I am usually in charge, in control, in the know. And at that point I didn’t have a clue and I didn’t even know how to ASK for a clue. And even trying to help with simple tasks, like making supper or cleaning up, made me feel like I was more of a burden than a help, because our hosts had to stop and try to figure out how to communicate to me that they wanted me to move the plates from one counter to another.

Which forced me to remember – I am a son. I am accepted. And there is nothing required of me except abiding in Christ as my life. If and when He wants me to produce something, He will show me, and He will produce through me.

This gift of feeling useless humbled us and led us to do the only work available to us, the work of prayer. I am so glad that we didn’t come in with plans and programs, because we would have been tempted to operate in competence instead of humility, and in the DR, with spiritual warfare rampant, the work of prayer is not to be taken lightly or forgotten.

In some ways it’s nice to be back in the US where I am “needed” and “able”, but in other ways, the gift of feeling useless is something that I miss. Who knows – the Lord may give it to me again soon.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Glenwood Camp Reflections

    I think that it surprised me how hard the Glenwood Camp was on me. I have known most of these kids for years and felt like I understood them to a degree, having lived in their neighborhood and led them in tutoring (and even some of them in Sunday School). And yet being with them all day every day for 10 days revealed a new level of cultural dissonance and differences that I had not experienced. That made me sad in some ways, that it has taken me 5 years in the neighborhood to get to that level of immersion, and I was surprised at how out of place I felt. I had posted on my blog about the kids speaking a different language when it came to words of kindness and love, but there is just a different language altogether when it comes to understanding the world. The way that my world works is very orderly, controlled, managed. It makes sense to me. There are rules to follow, and the rules are there to be obeyed, not one of many options to consider. Their world system is chaotic, parents loving them inconsistently and in ways far different than I would ever love my kids. For them, rules are an enticement to disobedience, boundaries are meant to be tested and pushed. Order is confining in some ways and is not trusted. Authority is not a safe thing. And so placing a controlled (controlling) person with a managed life governed by rules and systems in a position of authority (not trusted) over a group of kids used to chaos and disobedience was really an interesting mix. I found myself spending more time policing than I did enjoying the kids, more time governing than just showing them the love and life of Jesus.
    I’ve also been feeling much more “white” after camp than I did before. I felt the difference between me and the kids, the struggles I had with relating to them sometimes, and I am just feeling much more aware of my race than before. And I find my self drifting back into fear and shame again – fear of being rejected or hurt because of my skin color, shame over how much that I have. Last night we did a Bible study on God’s renaming of Jacob, and I am in need again of God’s reminder to me of my new name. He has called me Chosen, not Shame, not Fearful. If I am Chosen, then I can walk my streets as one sent, confident in my Father’s hand on my life. If I am Chosen, I can walk without fear – God has Chosen me, picked me, and He will be with me to accomplish His purposes.