Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The indefinitely homeless Jo-Rob

Jo-Rob was a very interesting guy, we had met him at NeXuS Church, a church for the homeless in downtown Charlotte, NC. He was there every time we had come down to serve and hang out. He seemed to keep to himself, but you got the sense that he would talk with you if you approached him. After getting my standard shelter meal of spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread, I sat down next to him at a table where he was sitting alone. We started with the usual conversation starters when out of nowhere Jo-Rob said, "I felt like the Lord has told me to stay on the streets and minister to the guys I'm sleeping next to on the streets." He must have had the feeling that I was wondering how and why he was on the streets, which I hadn't.

Every homeless man, every homeless woman and every homeless family has a story, some are stories of addiction and horrible decisions, most are stories of tragedy and struggle, but all have a story. Jo-Rob's story may have been one of the most interesting. He was an artist, woodcarving specifically. One day he saw a lion's head in a piece of wood on the side of the road and started carving into it. His friends thought he had lost his mind, but after a couple of days of carving, they started to see it too. Eventually, carving wood became one of his passions. While we were there, some of Jo-Rob's art was on sale at the shelter, it was pretty good, and Seren and I would have bought one if we could fit a large piece of wood on the walls of the RV. Art in general was a deep interest to him. Jo-Rob would reserve rooms at the local library and YMCA and invite other homeless folks in to participate in art workshops and allow their creative juices to flow by painting, sculpting, and reciting poems they had written at an open mic. As Jo-Rob said "the homeless need to be creative too."

As the days and weeks have passed by since I first met Jo-Rob, I have asked myself some tough questions. How many times have people passed by Jo-Rob on the streets and thought to themselves "look at that piece of trash, he's probably a alcoholic or druggie. Why doesn't he just get a job?" "Good Christians" may have passed by asking the same questions. You see, the homeless see themselves through this same lens of a distorted and unbiblical American view. Success is based on the "American dream" of having a job and collecting possessions rather than on a biblical view of liberal equality and grace. As John B. Hayes, author of sub-merge says:
"[the poor] often see any institution in mainstream society as a model of "success" and use that model to interpret Scripture. . . . Not only do the poor need to know that they are not forgotten by God, but even more, they need to know that they are affirmed by Him! They need to know that Jesus Himself identifies with them (see Matt. 25:31-46). If we do not have the courage to enable the poor to see themselves in the mirror of the Word, then they will see themselves in the mirror of the world, and that is not an uplifting picture. After looking into the world's mirror, the poor can all too easily conclude that it is the rich who are blessed, and thus the poor will do all they can to try to imitate them."
Hundreds of ministries that reach out to the poor throughout the developed world have mission statements that include wording about helping these folks into permanent housing, finding jobs, and becoming contributing members of society. In my point of view, Jo-Rob is a contributing member of society, God's society.
The Lord makes some poor and others rich;
he brings some down and lifts others up.
He lifts the poor from the dust
and the needy from the garbage dump.
He sets them among princes,
placing them in seats of honor.
For all the earth is the Lord’s,
and he has set the world in order.

I Samuel 2:7-8

Sunday, December 28, 2008

That's my KING!

We have traveled to quite a few churches during our time on the road, heard quite a few different messages. One of the main themes preached has something to do with the difficult times we are in right now as a society, and as a world community. After the economy crumbles, the anti-Christ takes over and nothing could get any worse, ask yourself one question: where do I put my faith?



Monday, December 22, 2008

Away in a manger

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)



This is usually the image that people think of when they envision the birth of Jesus. Docile creatures, angelic looking parents and a baby Jesus that looks more like He is from Toledo than Bethlehem. In actuality, the below picture is more like the real birthplace of our Savior.



For whatever reason we have altered the truth of Christmas to fit what we believe Jesus' birth should have looked like, and it's not like it started in the 21st century, this type of art has been around for centuries. It makes us feel better or something, to know that Mary and Joseph were both attractive people, that the animals didn't gore them, baby Jesus didn't really need anything more than a blanket on that cold winter night in Bethlehem, and that everyone involved was filled with peace, tranquility and happiness. Personally, I like the true version more. This little baby was being hunted, he was a fugitive. Although He may have been a cute baby, Isaiah says that He would be a plain looking guy. He was an underdog. He was born into a land that was ruled by a tyrannical government that wanted to control and abuse His people, and specifically wanted Him dead. Not only that, but His idea of victory didn't fit with most of His countrymen. Victory meant death.


“The truth is, a kernel of wheat must be planted in the soil. Unless it dies it will be alone--a single seed. But its death will produce many new kernels--a plentiful harvest of new lives.” (John 12:24)


Jesus was the answer to 400 years of silence. The Old Testament prophets usually told the Nation of Israel to change their ways, or the Lord would change it for them. But after the prophet Malachi, the Lord hadn't said a word for more than 400 years. Jesus was a resounding exclamation point to the words of the prophets, but a baby in a manger, born in a cave, hunted by the government and rejected by an innkeeper, who would eventually be accused, beaten and slain didn't look anything like what the Jewish leaders were looking for. Nobody could make this stuff up.

The two most prominent religious sects, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, believed that the Messiah was going to restore them to power over the Roman Empire, and a little baby born to immigrant peasants did not fit the bill, which shouldn't really surprise us, time and again Jesus worked in non-conventional ways that didn't make sense to the people around Him. The fact is, God sent His only Son into a broken world that rejected Him. From the beginning to the end, from the inn keeper to Herod, this world rejected Him. And even though many of us just love the romanticized version of His birth, His death is what marks our redemption.


“He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:2-3)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Jesus in the breadline & The Last Supper

Fritz Eichenberg was a German born artist who moved to the United States in the 1930s. While still in Germany he started drawing politically poignant artwork making fun of Hitler and quickly realized he better split for the U.S. Two of his drawings have moved me deeply (he was an artist featured in many editions of the Catholic Worker newspaper and we have seen these woodcarvings throughout the country).

Jesus in the Breadline

The Last Supper

Both of these woodcarvings speak to the fact that Jesus walked with the "least of these", men and women who most of society thought were outcasts, worthless. As the title clearly points out, in Jesus in the Breadline Eichenberg portrays Jesus as a homeless man, and when you think about it, if Jesus came during the era of breadlines, He probably would have been standing in one. This type of imagery speaks to me, portraying Jesus as someone walking among us. Mother Teresa thought of each and every person she came in contact with as if they were Christ. If we can train our mind to regard everyone as Christ, Matthew 25:31-46 is within our grasp of understanding.

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

I can only hope that each day, as we give water to the thirsty, food to the hungry, and clothes to the cold people of our nations cities, we can see Christ in the eyes of these men and women standing in the breadlines.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Holding on to God

Ally loves to shake her head from side to side as she walks or runs. Her hair slaps from one cheek to the other as she kicks her legs back and forth with glee. She has so much joy in her that most of the time I say nothing to her like your average parent would. Comments like "watch out for the corner of that table Ally," or "don't go too close to those steps," are unsaid. She has no idea where she is going as the dizziness sets in. She giggles her patented giggle that could make anybody smile. She seems to not care who sees her or where she is, she is just full of joy and happiness that she can let herself loose and run wild. It is so fun to watch. Most of the time, when you walk with her, holding her hand, she does it just as vigorously. Here is some video of her from today.



This is a lot how God does it. You always have the choice to hold His hand, but it is always your choice. Even though Ally goes nuts on her own without my hand, I think she feels safer while she is holding on. She's just as wild too. God wants us to be wild, but it only works out if we are holding on tight to his hand. If we don't hold on tight, we hit our head on the corner of the table, or fall down the stairs. If we are holding on tight, we exude joy and happiness knowing we are firmly in the grasp of an all powerful God.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I Corinthians 13:1-3 (Andy's Version)

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels,
but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge,
and if I have a faith that can move mountains,
but have not love, I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames,
but have not love, I gain nothing.

I Corinthians 13:1-3

------------------------------------------

If I speak the liberation theology and have solidarity with the poor,
but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I recycle and love the Earth and can understand the stacking functions of permaculture,
and have a faith in the virtues of intentional community,
but have not love, I am nothing.
If I quit my job as a high school teacher
and give all I possess to the poor to travel America in an RV,
but have not love, I gain nothing.

I Corinthians 13:1-3 (Andy's Version)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Buy from Koinonia

Listen up people, because this is the first and possibly the last time I will suggest that you purchase anything (I'll leave that to every guy in my life group, minus Tats). Koinonia Farm sells their products online and through mail order (I guess you could purchase it in person too, but I don't think many of my readers live in rural southern Georgia). Go to their website (www.koinoniapartners.org) to find their catalog. Their main agricultural product is pecans, and they use it in chocolate, brittle, cake, and other candies. Don't like pecans, that's OK, they also sell peanut butter, party snack mixes, chocolate without pecans, free-trade coffee, which is very good, and much more. I had some chocolate and I don't think I will ever look at a Hershey bar quite the same.

Any proceeds go towards helping the people in the greater community of Americus, Georgia. This was the birthplace of Habitat For Humanity, and they have many ministries that reach out to the community such as a home repair ministry called Heart to Heart and a community outreach center that offers classes and counseling to all ages from youth to the elderly. You can go to their website for more information on all of this.

You couldn't do much better with your spending: helping people in need as you eat chocolate. Americans spend approximately $282 billion on Christmas gifts, that breaks down to $935 per person. Buy some pecans from Koinonia and do your part :)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Hoarding Hope

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles
the glorious riches of this mystery, which is
Christ
in you, the hope of glory.

Colossians 1:27

A few weeks back I met a guy named Mike. It wasn't the best circumstances, we had broken down a few miles from the RV park we planned to stay at for the night. I was able to get it started and we literally coasted into our parking spot. The next morning I went to the park office and asked if anybody could drive me to a Freightliner dealership about 20 miles away. Both of the staff behind the desk said that they were "on the clock," but this old fella said he would drive me. He was smoking a cigarette as I climbed into his truck, I introduced myself, but he didn't say much. I tried to get him talking, asked him questions about him, how long he had lived in the area, what he did, where he lived. I asked him about the history of the area (I'm a trained history teacher, I have to). He just didn't budge, he just wouldn't keep talking. I wanted him to talk simply so I could get my mind off of the broken down RV back at the campsite.

At Freightliner I bought the part I was needing and then got back in Mike's truck. I prayed to myself, "Lord, please give me the opportunity to tell this guy about you." As we pulled out of the parking lot Mike started talking about himself. He wouldn't stop, it was great, other than his life was sad. His wife of many years had passed away ten months ago, he lost his job (probably because of the depression that set in after the passing of his wife), he had experienced a lot of health issues all of the sudden, and he had no idea who to turn to. He now had obvious financial issues. He needed somebody to talk to, and he talked the entire time, nonstop. When he told me about his cats that he had gotten for his wife and that now they were the only company he had, he started to tear up, he was lonely, he had no hope. When we got back to the RV I invited him to come in for some coffee, he declined. I asked if he would like to have lunch with the family, he said no again. He mentioned that he had too many things to get done and got back in his truck and waved goodbye. I had missed an opportunity, I had hoarded hope.

I could easily say that hope is the one thing that people are looking for. All across this country we have met people who simply need the hope that is inside of us. If we, as Christians, believe what Paul wrote to the people of Colossae, then we must believe that we have Christ in us. We literally have the hope of Christ living in us. If we don't share that hope, the hope of this world, we are hoarding it, keeping it to ourselves. Mike needed hope, the one true hope, Christ Jesus. I had Him living inside me, and I didn't intentionally share Him with Mike. We are so consumed with our daily lives, with fear, with complacency, that we don't fully recognize the power that lives in us. A power that is unrelenting, but it can only be fully realized when we tear down those walls of complacency, of fear. How many Mikes walk through the doors of Christian churches in this nation and are ignored because we are so consumed with our own agendas and we don't fully tap into the Spirit of God that is within us. I'm reminded of the lyrics to a Casting Crowns song:

Does anybody hear (Mike)
Does anybody see
Does anybody even know (he's) going down today
Under the shadow of our steeple
With all the lost and lonely people
Searching for the hope that's tucked away in you and me

God has given me a lot of opportunities to let Him out, and I have, but Mike was searching for the hope that's tucked away in me, and Jesus was whispering to me to let Him out. I hoarded hope.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"outhouse of this life"

I love to sing. Every once in a while I get some funny looks from Serenity because I'm not very good. The difference between me and a lot of others is that I know I'm not very good. I have developed a routine for putting the kids to bed each night, and it includes three songs for each of them. I enjoy this time with them because I get to sing to my kids, as horrible as I am, they think I'm great. The lyrics to one of their favorites is:

I love You Lord
and I lift my voice
To worship You
O my soul, rejoice!

Take joy, my King
in what you hear
May it be a sweet, sweet sound
in Your ear.

I love the second verse because I get a smile on my face when I think that my King takes joy in my horrible voice, just like I take joy when my kids sing a song.

-----

The birth of Protestantism, set aflame by Martin Luther in the 1520s, was experiencing this new joy of singing and worshiping. Prior to this, in the Catholic church, only priests and friars would sing, and only in Latin. A hymn, sung in a church, by the people, was foreign and strange to most of the congregation, dubbed Lutherans. It was radical. Luther forced his congregations to sing, he held music as a "gift from God," giving it "the highest place and the greatest honor." I would probably be tagged as a "tone-deaf sluggard," as he titled many of his followers, but I also understand that it is a gift from God, and he does take joy in my worship of Him through singing. It makes me joyful to think what our worship will look like when all of eternity and all of creation bows before our sovereign God and praises Him with dancing and singing. Luther expressed this when he wrote, "If our Lord God has given us such noble gifts in the outhouse of this life, what will there be in that life eternal where everything will be perfect and delightful?"

I sing loud when I worship, that is one more reason to like the "contemporary" service at your local church. I won't ever sing solo for anyone except my kids and occasionally my wife if she accidentally overhears me, but trust me, Luther must have been listening to me when he related singing on this Earth and an outhouse. It doesn't matter though, to the Lord's ears I sound as good now as I will in Heaven, and that makes me want to sing louder!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Greed or Homosexuality?

I'll be honest with you, this one has sat in my "saved posts file" for months, not sure if I should publish it or not. Recently we came across a specific denomination who reaches out to the poor in very tangible and effective ways, providing food, clothing, prayer and love for people who are broken and needing Jesus. My only issue was that many of the "pastors" and "priests" were homosexual. I know that many denominations are now allowing homosexuals to become prominent leaders in their churches, and even ordain them as priests. I know that many denominations from Catholics to Presbyterian to Episcopalians accept this. As I researched the issue I found many denomination's "official" stance on homosexuality, one struck me as funny yet true: "We are opposed to homosexuality, yet recognize the complexity of the issue."

I believe that there is a big difference between accepting homosexuals into our churches, loving them unconditionally and ordaining people who openly practice homosexuality. As the saying goes, love the sinner, but hate the sin. When an open homosexual is ordained as a pastor or priest you go past the previous statement directly to accepting the sin. Adultery and other sexual sins are rampant amongst church leaders, as one commonly used statistic has adultery as well as divorce occurring between believers more frequently than non-believers. The difference is if a young married man came before a church body wanting to be ordained as their pastor, or elder and was openly committing adultery with the church secretary it would obviously be wrong to accept him as someone who could lead and shepherd others towards a deeper relationship with Christ. Especially if his theology and interpretation of the Scriptures distorts to the point of accepting or even condoning adultery. It is clear in both the Old and New Testaments that the Lord regards homosexuality as a sin.

"Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders." (I Corinthians 6:9) It is very important to point out that Paul goes on to say, "nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." (I Corinthians 6:10) Homosexuality is not singled out, it is grouped in with a list of other actions that miss the mark.

The Old Testament has numerous Scriptures on this topic and in the same passages it condemns a list of other sexual sins. Not once do the Scriptures condemn homosexuality alone, adultery, and other sexual sins are also grouped into the same passages.

This is not my main point, it only leads us to my main point: what makes homosexuality any different than other sins? What makes homosexuality any different than greed? I think Paul speaks on this when he writes in Colossians 3:5: "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry." Paul groups homosexuality (sexual immorality) and greed together. The tendency in our culture is to think that homosexuality is MORE of a sin than other things. I think many Americans allow the sin of greed to permeate their lives and do not even realize it. The tendency is to think to themselves "greed, well that is the oil companies, or those damn CEOs of Walmart." We are lying to ourselves when we don't realize that greed can be on a personal level as well.

Most of the book of Isaiah warns and condemns the greedy people of Israel. The Jubilee discussed in Deuteronomy 15 and Leviticus 25 was a plan from God to institute a system to keep greed from infecting the lives of ordinary people. Do we have that setup in America? As the Church, do we have a system in place that keeps greed in check? Many denominations spend literally millions of dollars to legislate an end to homosexual marriage, while at the same time preaching a prosperity doctrine that is incongruent with Scriptures. I ask myself who is sinning, the Evangelical preacher or the lesbian?

If your sin is homosexuality, to find out if you are sinning, you simply have to ask, "am I partaking in homosexual behavior?" The answer is obvious, yes or no. The issue is much more complex when you ask yourself if greed is a sin in your life. The Lord wants nice things for His people, good food, and at times comfort, but you must look in your heart to determine if greed has engulfed it. Most evangelicals would argue with me on my next point: greed is much more of a problem in America than homosexuality. You could easily make the next step as well: greed is more of a problem in the American church than homosexuality. I've heard statistics that state that if all Christians throughout the world gave their excess to help others who are less fortunate, hunger, AIDS, and all curable diseases would be wiped out. We, as rich Christians have the ability to make dramatic changes to this world if we would release our worldly possessions and see our materialism as a sin: greed.

Another interesting Scripture passage is one in Ezekiel 16. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is interesting, and somewhat disturbing. Most Christians believe that God destroyed these cities because of their blatant homosexuality and violence, but God tells the prophet Ezekiel a different story: "'Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.'" It is in vogue in the Church today to attack homosexuality as being detestable and sinful, but as this Scripture points out, God is just as angry about greed and oppression of the poor.

What did Jesus have to say about possessions:


"Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys." Luke 12:33

"Take heed and beware of greed, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses." Luke 12:15

Jesus' brother James:

"Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you." James 5:1-5

We never did work with that ministry and denomination. I was a little nervous about associating our ministry with one that condones homosexuality, that might tell people that we condoned it as well. I hadn't fully developed my thoughts on this topic, it was the first time we had been presented with it. I'm disappointed that we didn't, I think we could have had some good conversations.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Just drinking some beer

I am reading a biography on Martin Luther right now. He fascinates me more and more each day. I might write a more holistic overview of Luther when I'm done reading, but I thought this was an interesting comment.

When asked about his role in changing the structure of the Roman Catholic Church Luther said that he didn't change anything, the Scriptures did. He just sat around writing about the Scriptures, speaking the Scriptures and preaching the Scriptures. Luther noted, "While I was sitting around drinking beer with my friends talking about the Gospel, it did all the work."

Classic.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day!

Good thoughts on election day. This audio of the musician Derek Webb encapsulates much of how my thoughts have been transformed about the American political system over the past two years.

Check it out HERE. If you would like to hear more of Derek Webb you can go to Noisetrade.com and get free downloads of his music as well as a number of other musicians.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Death has lost it's sting

We have been spending some time at the Tadpole Playground in the Boston Common. Each time we go downtown to serve people, we treat the kids to some time at the playground to run out the wiggles. The kids love to run wild, climb up the slide (which we have put a stop to, that is too disorderly), go down the slide face first on their stomachs, jump off high structures, and generally do crazy things. On Friday, Eva was climbing up a ladder that was pretty tough for a 2-year old, and she doesn't just climb up the ladder, she attacks the ladder in typical "Eva-style".

I usually watch the kids from afar just in case things get a little too crazy, or probably more accurate, they begin to annoy observing parents. Other parents were helping their 3 and 4 year old children up the same ladder with a hand beneath their butts, one parent actually began to climb the ladder with her kid with a worried look on her face, just in case she fell to her death I guess. Seriously, if the fear of danger or injury sinks into your brain that deep, why don't you just stay home and put your kid in a gigantic padded hamster ball. Anyway, as Eva was attacking the ladder, I happened to see a guy standing next to the ladder watching her, with the same pained look on his face as the climbing mother. I began only watching him. He would make slight gestures towards her like he was going to catch her, his face contorted, probably wondering where her parents were. This was one of the funniest things I have seen in a while. This went on for 30 seconds or so and then when she finally reached the top, his eyebrows went up and he shook his head as he let out the breath he must have been holding the entire time. I was actually reaching for the camera, but I wasn't there in time.

I know that this guy just didn't want to see my kid fall and break her neck, and his worry and fear is just a manifestation of his love for safety, his desire for order, but I can't help but think what this attitude does for our kids' belief in God. It reminds me of a story Erwin McManus told in his book "The Barbarian Way." (which is excellent by the way, contrary to what my wife says :) Bare with me, it is a long quote, but a great story:

For several years we rented a two-story house in Los Angeles. Both my kids have spent a good part of their childhood enjoying that home. A unique feature of the house was that a small window from the second-story bathroom opened a path to the roof. I always figured there would be a day when one of my kids would climb up on the sink and work his or her way out on the ledge. It just seemed to be one of those things that I or my brother, Alex, would have done when we were kids.

Early one evening Kim and I were in the front yard when all of a sudden, we hear a little voice calling for us from the roof. As soon as Kim saw him, her nurturing instinct kicked in, and she started commanding him to get back inside. I have to admit I was kind of proud of him right then, but what he did next totally surprised me.

Looking past his mom he asked me if he could jump. When Aaron shouted, "Dad, can I jump?" Kim answered on my behalf, "No, you can't jump. Get back inside." As if he hadn't heard anything at all, he asked me again, "Dad, can I jump?"

Now, I know what I was supposed to do. A dad is never supposed to override the mom (I'm working on it). I'm just telling you what really happened. After all, he did ask me. I answered, "Yeah, go ahead."

He said, "Really?"

I said, "Yeah, sure. Go ahead and jump."

Kim looked at me as if I was out of my mind and asked, "What do you think you're doing?"

In a sort of explanation I asked Aaron, "Aaron, are you going to jump sometime?"

He said, "Yeah, I think so."

I said, "Okay, I'd rather have you jump now so if you jump and break your legs, we can take you to the hospital." It made perfect sense to me.

He responded, "Dad, do you think I'll make it?"

I said, "Oh, yeah, you'll make it." If I knew one thing for certain, it was that he would reach the ground. I just wasn't sure in what condition.

He said, "Okay, I'm going to jump."

I had one suggestion before he took off. I said, "Hey, buddy, try to clear the concrete and land on the grass. It's softer."

He thought that was a good idea, stepped as far back as he could on the roof, and began running to jump. Just before his first step he yelled, "Dad, catch me," and I said "I'll try."

And he jumped.

I almost caught him. It was so close. He just slipped right through my hands. I think I did slow his fall a little bit. In either case, he's recovered well since then. I'm just kidding. He was fine. (Don't try this at home).
I think a lot of atheists don't believe in God simply because they don't understand why people are the way they are, the death, the destruction, the greed, the ugliness. Why? And it is a legitimate question, if you picture God as the parent who holds his hand beneath the collective butt of His people, then you would be angry, but God isn't that god. Look at what He allowed to happen to His only son. God allows for disorder, He allows for wrong decisions, He has given us the opportunity to decide, and more importantly, even if we choose correctly, He doesn't guarantee safety. Following Jesus doesn't equal a removal of danger, it equals a removal of fear. That is what Paul was saying when he wrote, quoting the prophet Isaiah: "Death is swallowed up in victory. Where O Death, is your victory? Where O Death, is your sting?"

The victory wasn't an earthly victory, if it was, Jesus, being King of the Jews, would have called upon a grand army and defeated the Romans, ended this world and brought His people to the true promised land. But He didn't, because the battle wasn't being waged in our earthly view, it is on a much bigger scale. Peace to our God is not the same peace we recognize. Peace to us should be being in the presence of our Lord and Creator. Paul was in this place when he wrote:
Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. (2 Corinthians 24-27)
Jesus lets his children fall off of the ladder and hit every rung on the way down. Why, because death has lost it's sting. Our victory isn't on this spinning globe, it is in a hidden kingdom, one that is far more difficult to understand.

I want my children to have a spirit that is so close to that kingdom that they can understand it better than most. I pray against a spirit of fear for my children so that they can understand what kingdom truly matters, so that they can be in prison, can be in danger, can be cold and naked, and still believe that they are loved by their Abba Father. Don't get me wrong, if my kids are in danger, I want to be there for them, I want to "save" them, and I'm not going to ask the schizophrenic guy we just gave a sandwich, to look after them for a few minutes while I run off to get something. But by allowing them to witness an unsterilized world, we can hopefully burn away the belief that following Jesus is monotonous and boring. I pray that, as McManus says, we don't "raise our children in the cocoon of a domesticated faith and wonder why they run as far as they can to find adventure."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Yummy Goodness

According to this, there are 5,769 Dunkin Donuts franchises in the United States. Nearly every single one of those stores has to be on the East coast. We have not gotten outside of a stones throw of one since we left Cleveland.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Burning Bushes

When you make a decision to change your life in a radical way like we have, many times you have doubts. You start to think that maybe you aren't hearing from God. The pendulum swings from just dropping everything and returning home (whatever that is), to wondering if you are crazy. I've come to realize that when we really think about it, looking through the lens of our own human perspective, we are crazy, and none of this makes any sense. What good are we doing? What exactly are we doing? These questions hit me hard sometimes. Eventually, the Lord speaks softly to my soul, encourages me through my wife, or through random people we have met and gotten to know. Here are some things I have really been thinking about lately that makes all of this crystal clear.

Jesus’ Kingdom is not of this world, it doesn’t make sense to man. Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place." (John 18:36)

Here are a few things that don't make sense when looked at through our human lens:

  • Love your enemies
  • Be happy and rejoice when people say bad things about you
  • If someone hits you on your right cheek, offer him your left
  • If a soldier asks you to carry his pack a mile, carry it two
  • Give everything to the poor
  • If a man sues you for your shirt, give him your coat too
  • The first will be last and the last first
  • You must die to truly live
This is just a few of the things that show that Jesus' Kingdom is not our kingdom, His ways are not our ways. If we are doing things that don't make sense, and we are fervently seeking His face, we can probably assume that we make sense in His Kingdom, but not in this one.


He has been giving us little burning bushes, little signs of His presence. One, is our own life transformations. He is aligning us more and more with His ways, He is renewing our minds, which He promises He will do when we seek Him. This is evident in our desire to love on people who many consider "unlovable." We have a deep desire to love on people we don't know, simply because Christ has asked us to -- this is a miracle in our own hearts.

Another example is the people He has had cross our path, the list is long, but sprinkled across the country from Boise, to Spokane, to KC and Denver, to Chicago and Grand Rapids, to Cleveland and now Boston, the Lord has put people in our paths who have fed us, who have loved us, who have accepted and encouraged us. This, in itself, is a miracle.

Finally, our support has been fantastic. Not only has the Lord provided through you guys back at home for our basic needs as a family, but our monthly mortgage has been covered the past 4 months - Thank you Jesus! If you haven't heard what we want to do with our home in Hubbard, Oregon, check out Serenity's blog for an explanation. All of this has been another miracle, and if we don't slow down enough and look around us we will miss the things God is doing each and every day, confirmation that the Lord is walking along side of us. I get the picture that He is walking up and down the sidelines like a coach, clapping and smiling, excited about the work we are doing.

Burning Bushes by Andy Gullahorn

I’ve never seen a dead man come to life
or seen a blind man get his sight.
I’ve never seen water turned to wine.
It isn’t that I don’t believe
but it would be easier for me
if you would just send down a sign.
I remember the childlike innocence.
A faith with no coincidence.
The world around was living proof.
Has that world just disappeared
or is it me that isn’t clear how to recognize its you.

I’m praying for a miracle to let me know you’re listening.
Waiting for a lightning bolt to strike.
Walking through a garden of a thousand burning bushes
looking up to heaven for a sign.

I walk through the water and the waves
looking for a drop of rain
but you’re still not coming through.
Maybe its new eyes that I need
or maybe it takes more faith to see
I’m drowning in the truth.

We arrived on the East Coast exactly 4 months from when we left on June 16th. Also, I figured that it would take about 7,000 miles of driving on veggie oil before we would break even with the engine conversion. When we left Portland our odometer read just over 98,000 miles. Sitting in Boston it now reads 105,199. We have driven over 7,000 miles -- we are in the black baby!!!

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Holy Grail of Booster Seats

So my daughter Allyson is growing up, as she says herself, "I have the loooongest legs ever!" She was in need of a booster seat, one like her older brother Avery had, one that she could buckle herself, and one that was obviously pink. We began this quest yesterday morning. I originally thought it would be a quick trip down to Target and a little father/daughter time. Target was out of the pink ones, I think they had the Dora the Explorer model. So off to WalMart a few miles away. Nope, they didn't even carry a pink one. We went home for lunch and headed back out to another WalMart I had Googled. Nope, Google maps strikes again (this is another blog post by the way, google maps has done me wrong so many times on this trip). I drove around in the country for 20 minutes before finally hitting a major road and aimlessly driving down it looking for a place that might sell a pink booster seat. No again at WalMart. Another no at Babies R Us. After waiting for the Target employee to "check the back" for 20 minutes we were still without a pink booster seat. Since we are in the midwest we came across another WalMart, same story. I was tired, but we pressed on. At one point Ally started to say something about just getting a black one, but I said, "honey, we haven't come this far to just quit, to just give up, we are going to come home with a pink booster seat." After a 3rd Target and the 2nd Babies R Us, we came to the Big K Superstore and inside found this:Nine stores later: mission accomplished. And really, this is what I was looking for:



Wednesday, October 8, 2008

What kind of a guy was Paul?

This is an article that was forwarded to me by some good friends. It speaks to some of the things we are going through right now. The article begs the question, what kind of guy was Paul? We know that Paul had a "falling out" with many of his ministry partners, from John Mark, to Barnabas, to Timothy. It sounds like Paul was a little tough to get along with, or was he extremely passionate and focused on doing exactly what he believed the Lord was asking of him? I guess it could be all of the above. Here is the article:

The Separation of Paul and Barnabas by Wayne Jackson

Saul of Tarsus had been such a vicious persecutor of Christians that even after his conversion the brethren were still afraid of him. When Paul eventually returned to Jerusalem following his conversion to Christ, Barnabas had to persuade the disciples to let the apostle fellowship with them (Acts 9:26). As a result of this intercession, a wonderful friendship between Paul and Barnabas was formed. It is, therefore, rather sad to note that they eventually had a "falling out" of sorts.

On their first missionary journey together, John Mark, the cousin of Barnabas (Col. 4:10), accompanied them. Along the way, however, John Mark decided to return to his home in Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). The reason for his departure is not specified in the sacred text. Later on, when a second campaign was planned, Barnabas proposed taking Mark as a helper, but Paul resisted the idea. The New Testament record indicates that a "sharp contention" developed between them (Acts 15:36-41). They could not reach an agreement, and so they split up. As far as the sacred record indicates, these two remarkable men never saw one another again.

The serious Bible student cannot read this episode and not be moved. Nevertheless, there are some vital principles that one may learn from the dispute that developed between these Christian brothers.

Disagreements that Do Not Involve Doctrine

This dissension between Paul and Barnabas was not over a doctrinal issue. The rupture involved a personal dispute based upon a judgment call. TO THEIR CREDIT, NEITHER PAUL NOR BARNABAS LET THE CONFLICT DISTRACT THEM FROM THEIR RESPECTIVE EFFORTS OF SPREADING THE GOSPEL.

Making application to Christians today, there will always be times when good brethren will disagree in matters of opinion. THE IMPORTANT THING IS TO KEEP FOCUSED ON DOING THE WILL OF CHRIST. THAT IS WHAT PAUL AND BARNABAS BOTH DID. AS A RESULT, PERHAPS EVEN MORE WORK WAS ACCOMPLISHED FOR THE LORD BECAUSE OF THE MANNER IN WHICH THEIR DISAGREEMENT WAS HANDLED.

Who Was Right?

Was it Paul, or Barnabas? One simply does not know. Some, rather confidently, argue that Paul was just too stubborn to give in. Lloyd Ogilvie wrote:

"Paul had fought and won one of history's most crucial battles over the Gentile converts. He was not able, however, to apply the same truth to his relationship with John Mark" (Drumbeat of Love, Waco: TX: Word, 1976).

On the other hand, the church in Antioch "commended" Paul and Silas (Acts 15:40), but nothing is said about any commendation of Barnabas and Mark. That circumstance may suggest how the matter was perceived by the saints in Antioch. Paul may have been guided by experience and cool logic, whereas Barnabas was moved perhaps by a kindred familiarity and a warm heart.

Many of us may be a bit drawn to Barnabas when we reflect upon the fact that we too occasionally have needed a second chance. Over the long haul, the decision of Barnabas may have proved best - at least for John Mark. Years later, Paul finds the formerly useless Mark "useful," as revealed in the apostle's concluding epistle. "Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministering" (2 Tim. 4:11). And in Colossians 4:10, one observes that the once-rejected young worker was commended, and the Colossian saints were asked to be receptive to him.

Other Observations

There are a couple of points that are worthy of consideration as our discussion is concluded.

1. THE SEGMENTATION OF THEIR WORK DID NOT DISRUPT PERMANENTLY THE LOVE & RESPECT THAT PAUL & BARNABAS ENTERTAINED FOR ONE ANOTHER. Paul would later affectionately mention Barnabas as being worthy of monetary support in his work of proclaiming the gospel (1 Cor. 9:6). THE FACT THAT THIS PERSONAL CONFLICT IS OPENLY DISPLAYED ON THE PAGES OF THE NEW TESTAMENT IS EVIDENCE THAT THE HOLY SPIRIT GUIDED LUKE, THE WRITER, IN PRODUCING THIS NARRATIVE. Natural inclination would have led Paul's friend to omit this potentially embarrassing incident!

There are many wonderful truths to be learned from the various experiences of the personalities portrayed in the Sacred Volume. No account, however irrelevant such may superficially appear to be, is without importance. There are lessons to be mastered.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Genuine Religion

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

James 1:27

Saturday, September 27, 2008

One thing I think is strange about (post III). . . .

Chicago

I grew up in a small town in Southern Oregon with a population of 10,000. Portland, with the 568,380 people who live there, seemed humongous. Chicagoland (the area south of Milwaukee through the city of Chicago to Indiana) has a population of 10 million residents. It is the 3rd largest metropolitan area in the United States behind New York and Los Angeles. It took us nearly an hour and a half to drive 15 miles from the suburbs to Uptown Chicago and it wasn't even rush hour. It was really interesting to see the different boroughs we traveled through in such a short distance, from Latino to black to Jewish communities, sometimes within a few blocks.

I don't know about crime statistics in Chicago, but instantly I noticed these hard-to-miss boxes attached to some of the telephone poles.

The blue lights on top of these boxes flashed so that citizens wouldn't miss them, the department actually dubbed them "Operation Disruption" in that they hoped it would deter crime. They are pretty hard to miss, the "Chicago Police" logo on the side, CPD trademark black and white checkered stripe. We knew what it was, it was somewhat annoying and obtrusive, and we could see them from blocks away. Basically they were screaming "you are entering a high crime area!" These little boxes have 360 degree surveillence, and gunshot detectors that can find the location of a gunshot within 20 feet. Many people like the surveillence boxes because they deter crime, and it is a constant presence. And they are even paid for with seized drug money -- kinda funny, drug dealers and drugies are actually paying for the police to watch them :)

Now the strange part. They are moving towards a second generation of police surveillence -- hidden cameras. These things are less obtrusive and in-your-face. Unless you know what to look for, you wouldn't even notice them, which won't "disrupt" much crime if people don't know they are cameras.The biggest question is when will the government start to move towards completely undetectable surveillence? I'm not a big conspiracy theorist, and I don't spend much time worrying about what the government is watching me do -- mainly because I'm not doing anything illegal -- but it reminds me of George Orwell's 1984.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

One thing I think is strange about (post II). . . .

Denver.

Throughout the downtown area you will see red parking meters with the words "Denver's Road Home." Which is some sort of slogan for a social works campaign to support the local homeless outreach organizations. Now, don't get me wrong, this is not a knock on this organization, they are probably doing great work.

When you see these meters you can park in front of them, or just go up to them and put money in the slot. A portion of the proceeds from these parking meters go towards helping the homeless in Denver with community programs that provide meals, job training and education services, substance abuse help, and affordable housing, all good things by the way. Each of these meters are located in an area of high homelessness and panhandling, in hopes of encouraging you to instead of giving your loose change to a panhandler, rather, insert it into these "donation" meters and "help end homelessness."

I have never been an advocate of giving any money to panhandlers, it is impossible to tell if you are truly helping someone with a meal, or helping continue an addiction. I have and will continue to ask people who are panhandling if they would like me to take them to lunch, or to get a cup of coffee, or even to buy them a bus pass, but I will not give them my loose change.

To be honest, I'm not sure what I think about these "end homelessness" meters by the city of Denver. Instead of crossing a street and giving your loose change to a meter when you are presented with an awkward interaction with a homeless person, why don't you just save up all the change that you would have done that with and then take a street-person out for breakfast? At least then the person would be treated with dignity and respect rather than ignored, which is what I think these meters do to a certain extent: allow us to ignore the homeless and interact with a coin machine instead. All the while making you feel pretty good about "helping" the homeless with your gift of charity (they will probably start issuing receipts that you can claim on your taxes).

The reason I think this is strange is that even though the article I read claimed that over $2,000 was raised by these meters in the first month, I can't even imagine what the interaction would look like. Can you picture it? A lady is walking down the street and sees a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk strumming his guitar. As she approaches she begins to feel uncomfortable, she diverts her eyes and looks down at the tires of the cars parked on the street. She has an idea and reaches for the cell phone in her pocket and acts like she is talking to someone on it. She is now within 10 ft. of this man, but low and behold she sees a red meter - ahhh, her saving grace, she can now feel good about herself and donate to this meter rather than engage with this grizzled man, listen to his song, or ask him about his day, you know, treat him like he is a human being. Besides, I'm not sure if Jesus would encourage us to avoid human interaction and help God's creation by placing money in a meter, and I'm almost positive that since this is a city sponsored program, none of the proceeds go towards faith-based organizations.

A side note: Denver is the same city that while we were there prior to the Democratic National Convention, the city was trying pretty hard to persuade the street people to move somewhere other than downtown Denver in order to paint the picture that Denver was a special place to live.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A Truth

Charity. . . . . . . .
without grace and love . . . . .

is worthless.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Violence of Suburbia*

A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with a family who chose to relocate and serve God's people in a poor neighborhood in Kansas City. The wife brought up the topic of fear and specifically of the fear for her children while in a place that statistically is more violent and physically unsafe. She said that the Lord has released her from that burden and that the fear of having one of her children harmed or hurt has never been an issue. The Lord has done much of the same with Serenity and I. Many people have expressed (or thought) similar fears for us while on the road in what the world would view as unsafe and possibly violent urban areas.

I will admit that there have been times where I have felt unsafe, and I have removed my family from that situation -- I believe that was the prompting of the Holy Spirit, not fear. The violence in cities around the globe is so overt, it is in your face, it is obvious violence. The murders, the rapes, the muggings, the beatings, the blood, it is so obvious, it is so visual. What I am reminded of however, is a term that was discussed in the conversation we had in Kansas City: "The violence of suburbia." This type of violence is subversive, it is hidden, and it breeds in complacency. The Old Testament prophets, long before the 20th century creation of the suburb, spoke out about it. This violence isn't brought about by guns and knives, but by materialism, by greed, by consumerism, these all bring on death. This is what Derek Webb was writing about in his song "This too shall be made right."

I don't know the suffering of people outside my front door
I join the oppressors of those I choose to ignore
I'm trading comfort for human life
and that's not just murder it's suicide
This too shall be made right

This is by no means a justification of the physical violence that is prevalent in our cities today, but rather, it is born from a desire for God's people to wake up and see that God counts these hidden, and sometimes unrecognized, sins just the same as when blood spills on the streets. And as the mother in Kansas City said: "I'm not willing to see my children grow up with a sense or understanding that materialism and consumerism are acceptable and that violence only happens in poor, urban neighborhoods."

*Postscript: I still own a house in suburbia. I'm wrestling with all of this myself :)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

One thing I think is strange about. . . .

This is a new type of post I decided to start writing. I will try to write these while we are actually in the city, rather than hundreds of miles away. Some of them might be people we have seen, others might be stores, or products, while others might be, well, just about anything.

First up. . .

Calgary, Alberta, Canada First off, they use a different type of measuring system, seriously, who in the world does this? Not only do mathematically-challenged police officers hassle me about how much vegetable oil weighs in pounds, but they insult me by having a sign on the way in that says "Think metric." Well Canadians, maybe I will, maybe I won't, but I will not be brainwashed.

Secondly, I guess Oreos were not good enough in the United States so they put a little twist on the product and made the creamy filling "squishy." I'm sorry that I don't have a more scientific term for this description, but to fully understand this atrocity you must travel to this country and see for yourself.

These last two really don't matter too much to me, but they do fall under the category of "strange." (1) We could not find circular hamburger patties, they were all oval, and (2) the ATM machines were all called ACM in an attempt to be different (Automated Cash Machines). Do with those as you will.

This list could go on, but I don't want to spend much more time on Canada, I'm trying to forget the "Oreo Incident" as we now call it.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Average-Everyday-Ordinary Radical

I don’t exactly fit the mold of an anarchist or revolutionary. At least the picture I have in my own mind of a Christian radical: long hair, possibly dreds (because seriously, if you are truly bringing about the neo-Kingdom, do you have time to wash your hair), long whiskers, dirty clothes because doing wash uses precious water that somebody else should be using, no meat because that hurts one of God’s creatures, and a special body odor because the parent company of deodorant manufacturers tests their product on cute furry bunny rabbits.

I have always had this picture in my mind of what a revolutionary should look like, someone who rejects mainstream culture and attempts to live closer to God’s economy, closer to what Jesus may have looked like, and I don’t fit that description. I’m not exactly sure what that might look like, and seriously, the above description is a joke, but I just didn’t think I was going to come across people living this life out in a radical fashion who looked much like me, who loved watching such a violent sport like football (or MMA), or coached a “blood-sport” such as wrestling.

On this journey I might meet a few new friends who would much rather invite a couple homeless guys to a college football game, buy some free-trade coffee to share and drive the veggie-bus to tailgate, before they would protest the game for being too violent, or condemn all of the people who drove to the game because they are slaves to the oil companies. It actually gives me hope that God doesn’t look at me in the same way I look at myself. It doesn’t really matter what I protest, if I’m loving God and loving other people, God doesn’t care what I look like, or what my “views” are.

What I have come to realize is that many who are chasing God in this way, people we have met in a few of the cities we have travel to, are normal everyday people who when Jesus came knocking they decided to answer and then saw no other way than to live an authentic and real existence learning to love God and others around them. Some are professionals, others are professional protesters. Some find each and every rally so they can express their desire for change, while others want to develop community and friendship by inviting me to an MMA pay-per-view. I’m realizing that maybe I fit in with your average-everyday-ordinary radical.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Do as you please. . .

"Love your neighbor" (Matt. 5:43)
"love your enemies" (Luke 6:27,35)
"love one another" (Rom. .13:8)
"love your wives" (Eph. 5:25)
"love the brotherhood" (1 Peter 2:17)

But above all else, we must love the Lord:

'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:37-40)

Martin Luther said "Love God and do what you please." I'm starting to believe that this is a "truth." Not that the law isn't important, or that we shouldn't set ourselves apart by following his commandments and following His laws, but I just don't believe that God is too interested in what we choose, to take a job or not, which school to go to, or what city to travel to. He can teach us, prune us, bless us and allow us to bless others whatever path we choose, whatever job we take, or whatever school we are going to - as long as we are loving Him and loving others. If we are loving Him, He will be sure to pull us into His story and set up appointments for us to share about Him no matter if it is in Minnesota or Illinois.

I think a lot of times we can find ourselves wasting precious time waiting for a sign, praying for discernment, when the Lord is saying loudly, "Go, make disciples of all nations." (Matthew 28:19). Go, love the Lord and do as you please!

Friday, August 15, 2008

how do we love?

As a mother myself, my heart has been aching for one of my fellow sisters at Joshua Station.

I will go ahead and give a brief description of her life without sharing names. This is a long one, so bear with me.

She is in her late twenties, with two little girls- almost 6 and 3 years old.

After raising her girls for the first few years of their life in a state of intoxication and drug use, they were taken from her, put in foster care and she was sent to prison. The father has not been mentioned.

She explained that she had been in juvee (juvenile detention) for a few years before also, before children.

She just recently got out of prison, got her kids back and now lives at Joshua Station, trying to re-establish her life.

Up till now, there has been no discipline, no accountability, and no structure in her two little girls' lives.

How do you start being a parent when your kids are already 6 and 3? How do you start fresh when your daughters have felt the weight of your choices? How do you start a relationship with Jesus when you can't enjoy your children? How do you live in community with daughters who don't listen to you? How in the world do you find your own way of disciplining when there are 5 other people are telling you how to do it, in front of your daughters?

On top of all this, she is trying to go to school so she can eventually get a job that pays enough to support her and her girls.

I watch her with her girls and see how frustrated she is. I can tell by the way she yells, by the way she huffs around saying, "I just don't know what to do!" I can see how she plays the victim role with her whining and complaining.

But I can also see her heart breaking when others get her daughters to listen, or when those folks remind her that her daughters listen to them. I can tell she just doesn't know what to do. She has almost given up. She takes token tries when someone tells her what to do with one of her daughters but I can see the defeat in her eyes, knowing this really isn't her doing it. So many habits to break, so much work, so little time, so little energy.

Her daughters are desperate for her attention and love. They are so desperate and so confused that they instantly go into tantrum or crying/melt-down mode. They both need structure, safety and love.
So, I see all of this. I observe it every time they have been in my presence. I cringe every time she yells and screams at the girls and I wonder if I should step in. Everyone else does, why shouldn't I? And actually I did a couple times, knowing nothing would happen if I didn't do anything.

But my question is, how do we love this little family (and so many other families just like her)? It is a situation I know only Jesus can restore and heal, but in the little everyday things, what do I do as a follower of Jesus?

So far we have seen quite a bit- not nearly as much as some. And as we travel, we are seeing things from an outsiders perspective- sometimes good, sometimes not. We try to be the outsiders with open minds and hearts who wait, watch and listen before we speak.
We have seen a few of folks who are starting to understand the heart of God, concerning His children and action is taking place. But we are also seeing the overwhelming task of pointing the lost and broken to Jesus. (With God all things are possible. Matthew 19:26) And so we are anxious to see the Body of Christ stepping up and taking action, together.

These tiny little groups of people are doing a LOT of work and some feel overloaded and inadequate to dive deep enough to help facilitate REAL life change, healing, and transformation of the heart and mind. The folks who are seeing the heart of God are crying out for help from the rest of the Body. They cannot be Jesus all on their own. Without help from other parts of the Body they can only do part of a job.
Let me tell you, this is dirty, hard work. You won't always see the end result and you have to trust in God. But this is the work He has called each and every one of us to- to be the Body of Christ. Not individual parts alone but together, as a unit.
Gosh, too much to write about- this is just the beginning of my thoughts and prayers. I'm learning just like the rest of you. We are honored to see and be a small part of these little groups. We have done our best to encourage, fan the flames, and ignite the hearts of everyone we have met.
So we must do the same for all of you who read this. God's children need the hope, the faith, and the friendship you have to give. No matter how big or small you think you might be, your hope and faith in Jesus WILL increase as you step into this call.



Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Words Project

I started a study of the red letters of the Bible, the words of Jesus. I have started to compile each and every phrase that came from the mouth of Jesus and was then put into writing. The biggest question I have is: what if we took Him literally?

Then I found this really cool book called The Words: Jesus of Nazareth, which is a compilation of all of Jesus' words. The author reorganizes them into topical areas. I still plan to do the study, but this might help me out a bit. The only thing I wish it had was a scriptural reference so you could cross-check, etc.

Check it out: The Words Project

The entire thing is available online.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Third Way: Jesus

Obama or McCain?

There's gotta be another way. I know these two guys are running for president this year, but I could care less. If you have read my blog for a while you know that I don't vote, and over the past year I have stopped pledging allegiance to the flag. I stand, I'm quiet, but I don't recite a thing, and my allegiance is definitely not to the United States of America. My allegiance, my devotion, shouldn't be to a presidential candidate, or a political party, or even to a country like the U.S. of A., my allegiance should be to God, to Jesus.

Many of you know that much of this journey was influenced by Shane Claiborne's book Irresistible Revolution. Claiborne wrote another book with Chris Haw called Jesus for President. It's different, it's more academic, but just as powerful. The authors call us, as Christians, to do what Apostle John wrote about in Revelations 18:2-5 and 11-14:

"Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!
She has become a home for demons
and a haunt for every evil spirit,
a haunt for every unclean and detestable bird.
For all the nations have drunk
the maddening wine of her adulteries.
The kings of the earth committed adultery with her,
and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries."

Then I heard another voice from heaven say:
"Come out of her, my people,
so that you will not share in her sins,
so that you will not receive any of her plagues;
for her sins are piled up to heaven,
and God has remembered her crimes.

What is interesting is that John uses the same words here as would be used for coitus interruptus. If you are not sure what that is, look it up. John (and this was a dream spoken from Jesus) said that we should literally "come out of her," we should not be of nations, our allegiance should not be to Babylon, to Rome, to China, or to the U.S.A. As Christians, we need to re-evaluate our role in the empire. Jesus said: "Give to Cesar what is Cesar's and to God what is God's." (Matthew 22:21) As Claiborne points out "Jesus knew that the way out of Rome's grip lay not in appealing to Rome or in trying to overthrow Rome but in resurrecting Yahweh's alternative economy right under Caesar's nose."

The apostles of the early church understood this as well:

And they would become known as the Way. Their community was more than just a group of people who shared religious beliefs. They were a group of people that embodied a new way of living, the way out of the empire, where slavery, poverty,war, and oppression were normal. . . . The credibility of their gospel would rest on the integrity of their lives. For they were now to be the body of Christ. Jesus would live in them. (Claiborne and Haw, Jesus for President, p. 137)
Both Obama and McCain claim to know Jesus, and maybe they do, but they both look the same to me. The interesting thing is that if Jesus ran for president in this "Christian" nation of ours, he would lose the election, probably in a landslide (and he wouldn't pick up one of the red states). Why? Because his campaign slogans would be "love your enemy," "be meek!," "show mercy," "be persecuted," and the rest of the Beatitudes. Those wouldn't get him elected, they would probably get him thrown in Gitmo.

So when you ponder your ballot this November, write in Jesus, because whoever wins, McCain or Obama, Democrat or Republican, they will still be running a nation that looks strangely similar to Rome or Babylon.

I like this song, check it out: A Savior on Capital Hill by Derek Webb

Friday, August 1, 2008

When I was hungry you gave me . . . .

As I sat in front of our RV in an alley that was heavily trafficked by the homeless, my eyes came upon an older man with white whiskers, a blue bandana, jeans and a button-up shirt. I instantly knew he was homeless, but he looked unusually clean for a street person. He was carrying a large black plastic bag and had a small backpack on. He stood about 5'6" tall and even from a distance seemed shy.

I called out to him and asked him if he would like a soda and a place to sit for a while. He tentatively agreed and with a tilt of his head started to walk towards where I was sitting. I had already showed him more love than he usually gets in a day, and I could see his eyes begin to light up. His name was Dennis and we ended up talking for another hour or so, with the promise that he would come back again the next night for a BBQ. He came back and then the next night, came back again, the next day, Dennis was ready to talk and to listen, something he doesn't get to do much. We talked about Clint Eastwood movies, about some of his friends on the streets, about where he sleeps at night, about how he likes to keep really clean. I learned that Dennis loves everything about Ireland, the music, the food, the beer, but the thing that stood out to me most was a story he had. He hated the church we were parked in front of. He had been told to leave. He had been told he was unwelcome.


Now, I have listened to hundreds of stories from hundreds of homeless men and women, trust me, they all have one. Some are true, some are lies, and some are a half-truth distorted from hard nights, and long days on the streets with nobody to truly love them and listen to them. Dennis' story seemed true, but really it doesn't matter if it was his fault and he "deserved" to be thrown out, or if it was completely undeserved, the taste in his mouth was one of hatred of the church, and a desire to keep God at arms distance.

His story reminded me of a story from Mike Yankoski's book "Under the Overpass." The two travellers were in my home state of Oregon, in downtown Portland where we did ministry for the past year and a half. Here is a quote from the book:

A large gray church rose up behind a wrought iron fence in front of us. The building was old and weathered. Above the mahogany double doors hung a sign in red letters: "No Trespassing Church Business Only." A new chain and two huge padlocks secured the gate at the sidewalk.


"It would take bolt cutters and a battering ram to get into that church," I said, suddenly angry. "'Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden'? Yeah, and what, die on my front steps?"


We turned to keep walking toward the waterfront. Sure, a church needs to protect its property, but what we had just seen seemed excessive, and sent a negative, uncaring message.


Sam was having the same thoughts. "Let's say your life is falling apart and you need help. Would you want to go there?"


"Nope," I said. "Anywhere but there. But the world is the church's business - and that's exactly who they're shutting out."



On Sunday morning, Dennis wanted nothing to do with that church, he actually wanted nothing to do with any church, and kept his distance from God as well. Between services I heard some of the people in the lobby talking about a couple of homeless men outside, so I went outside to see if I could talk with them. The church asked them to leave, told them they had nothing for them and that they were disrupting the people coming into the church. One of the homeless men, later I found out his nickname was "Army," straightened up and said, "You drive in here with your Mercedes Benz', Mustangs, and Audi's, and you don't have a sandwich for a homeless guy." We told him we could make him something, and since our RV was 10ft. away, it wasn't any problem at all. We spent the next hour or so having lunch and A&W Root beer with 2 drunk homeless guys. We prayed with them, prayed for them to reunite with their families, from freedom from addiction, and contentment from God.


See, the problem I have with churches like this is that they turn the hungry, the poor, and the widows away because they are too much to deal with, they are a hard lot to hang out with, they are the margins of society. What this does is reflect a false image of who God is. If a church is not reflecting even a glimmer of the one true God, then I want nothing to do with that church, no matter how welcoming and loving it may be to me, a clean-cut, non-alcoholic. The second layer of this mess is what Jesus said in Matthew 25: "Whatever you did for the least of these my brothers, you did it for me." What do you do with that other than love the unlovable. And don't get me wrong, it is hard, and the only place inside me that this comes from is where the Holy Spirit has filled. Period.


I spoke with some people from the church, asked them, in a loving way, why they couldn't do more for the ministry that is walking up and down the alley behind their church everyday pushing shopping carts. The response: we give to the local homeless outreach ministry. This upset me, but I kept it from showing.


The church has become a brokering service. The people sitting in the pews give their money to the church, which in turn gives a portion of that money to the local homeless shelter, with the expectation that when they walk from their Mercedes to the church doors they don't have to see or smell anybody from that level of society, they become insulated. It's easy to give our money, our 10%, to an "organization" that can then "better" use it to help the poor. Is this what God calls us to? To paraphrase Shane Claiborne, when Jesus used the sheep and the goats parable in Matthew 25 I don't believe he meant, "When I was hungry you gave to the local faith-based non-profit and they fed me." Especially when an urban church is doing that! We stay insulated from other levels of society, we stay separated from the poor, the marginalized, which we are called to serve, not give our money to, and when you are in the center of poverty, in an urban setting, you have a lot of insulation wrapped around your building, and probably more accurately your heart. Following God is never easy, that is why He asks us to pick up our own cross, not pay somebody else to carry it for us.