Monday, December 21, 2009

Missionaries of Charity

I am reading a biography on the life of Mother Teresa. I came across these two stories that I found really funny. As most of you know, the Missionaries of Charity, the order started by Mother Teresa, accepted a life of extreme poverty. She would say, "our rigorous poverty is our safeguard." When faced with the challenge of adhering to this vow, Mother Teresa said,
"We do not want to do what other religious orders have done throughout history, and begin by serving the poor only to end up unconsciously serving the rich. In order to understand and help those who have nothing, we must live like them. . . . The only difference is that these people are poor by birth, and we are poor by choice."
The sisters found ways to use things twice, and never took items that could be used to help the poor they were serving. On many occasions the sisters would use the old sacks of wheat to sow into habits (distinctive set of clothing worn by religious orders). The lettering could not always be washed out and beneath the pleats across one sister's behind were the words "Not for resale." Another sister needed shoes desperately, but the only ones available were a pair of red stiletto heals. Her hobbling appearance in such unsuitable footwear had the sisters laughing hysterically.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

More Romero. . .

Some more Romero.
In our preaching to rich and poor, it is not that we pander to the sins of the poor and ignore the virtues of the rich. Both have sins and both need conversion. But the poor, in their condition of need, are disposed to conversion. They are more conscious of their need of God.

All of us, if we really want to know the meaning of conversion and of faith and confidence in another, must become poor, or at least make the cause of the poor our own inner motivation. That is when one begins to experience faith and conversion: when one has the heart of the poor, when one knows that financial capital, political influence, and power are worthless, and that without God we are nothing.

To feel that need of God is faith and conversion.
From The Violence of Love by Oscar Romero

Monday, November 9, 2009

I am a worker

I started reading Oscar Romero's The Violence of Love a few years back. Basically it is a collection of his sermons that he spoke towards the end of his life, just before his assassination in 1980. From 1977 (the year I was born) until March 24th, 1980, Romero preached a message of love. A message that spoke out against the torture and murder that was going on against his Salvadorian people. In the midst of this violence Romero asked his congregation and those listening in on radio broadcasts to forgive their enemies, turn their cheek and embrace their oppressors. The title to the book came from the following passage about loving our enemies:

The violence we preach is not
the violence of the sword,
the violence of hatred.
It is the violence of love,
of brotherhood,
the violence that wills to beat weapons
into sickles for work.

(Oscar Romero, November 27, 1977)

The following was actually not written by Romero, but was dedicated to him after his assassination. Still, it is very powerful and spoke to some of the things I have struggled with when trying to figure out what exactly it means to be a believer who has a heavy heart for the least of these. When God gives us a glimpse of His Kingdom it is both overwhelming and extremely comforting - we can't do it all, but we can do some things. "We are workers, not master builders."


It helps now and then to step back and take a long view.
The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of
saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession
brings perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives include everything.

This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one
day will grow. We water the seeds already planted
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects
far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of
liberation in realizing this.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's
grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the
difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not
messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.

New Video

Check out the new Mustard Seed Ministries video I put together for a speaking opportunity next week.

Mustard Seed Ministries from Andy Coulombe on Vimeo.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Prayer of Francis of Assisi

What if we all lived this out? The world would be a different place.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Check Yourself

I can recall numerous times on our journey when someone would strike up a conversation with me between church services, or at prayer meetings. It would usually start off with something along the lines of "So why do you serve the homeless?" I could usually sense some sort of agenda in the question, something that wanted to be said. There was a slice of antagonism in their voice, a dash of cynicism about the validity of serving the poor. My response spoke directly to the fact that Christ called us to, and that personally I try to see Jesus in each and every person I meet (Matthew 25:40). That usually wasn't enough, the conversation would awkwardly make a right turn and the typical generalization would be thrown out - "many of them are there because they want to be." Then the commonly heard story about the guy who makes $40,000 a year while begging for change. At the end of each day he walks around the corner to his Lexus and drives home to his $300,000 home. Usually my antagonist has either personally seen this guy get into his Lexus or he read a factual article about this specific guy. This justification for not helping the poor is rampant.

This attitude didn't end when we returned to Oregon, it is a commonly held belief (for one reason or another) amongst people, even those who profess to be Christians - the poor choose to be, if they really wanted out of poverty they could do it themselves. The thought that possibly there are institutional forces that perpetuate poverty amongst different groups is an impossibility . . . . for a white, middle-class and educated individual.

If some catastrophic event occurred to my family and I right now, would we become homeless? Ask yourself that question. No, seriouosly, right now, stop and ask yourself that question. My answer is an emphatic "NO!" Why? Because I have a middle-class safety net, I have friends and family who love us and would refuse to allow us to live on the streets. We have people in our lives who would loan us money, would bring us food, and big enough houses to give us a roof over our heads. Do the poor know people like that? Usually not, they know other folks who are impoverished, other people who are struggling to put food on the table, other folks that if asked to give help would not be able to.

Blaming the victim is a real easy way for us to abdicate our God given responsibility to love on the poor. Jesus did not say "the poor will always be with us . . . so you really don't need to love them and care for them, just blame them for their circumstances."

When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast back in 2005 many in the media began to demonize the poor - why couldn't they get out? Why wouldn't they want to leave? Rush Limbaugh was quoted as saying on his radio show: "Why can't they [the poor] afford cars?" This is a legitimate question when you have surrounded yourself with such wealth that you don't know anyone who makes less than $30,000 a year. Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly generalized the hurricane victims as drug abusers: "Many, many, many of the poor in New Orleans. . . weren't going to leave no matter what you did. They were drug-addicted. They weren't going to get turned off from their source. They were thugs."

This attitude is so prevalent in our society that it is basically commonplace. Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote, "The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina -- with its pathetic images of desperately poor people, mostly black people, stuck in New Orleans without food, water or adequate shelter after all the affluent people had fled -- should come as no surprise. This is a natural consequence of a political and social culture that has decreed: You're poor? Why would you want to be poor? Tough luck. You're on your own."

In our economic system (capitalism) this type of political and social culture is almost understandable (as well as detestable) if for not one thing -- many of these same folks who hold this attitude also call themselves followers of Jesus. People are much more inclined to pay $3.79 and put a Jesus fish on their bumper, or buy a WWJD? bracelet to show that they are good people rather than answer the actual question - What would Jesus do? Would He ignore the poor and justify it to Himself by claiming that they are all drug users and got in their situation by the poor choices they made? Would he put a Jesus fish on his bumper as he avoids eyecontact with the homeless mother at the freeway off-ramp? You and I are surrounded by so many images and rhetoric in our affluent and comfortable lifestyles that we feel completely justified in ignoring the poor. If we do this, we run a significant risk of looking almost identical to the Pharisees that Jesus came to challenge and discredit.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

I found this funny.

True Prophets

I believe that in Christian culture we have developed a distorted view of what prophecy is. I think many of us, myself included for a period of time, believed that the job of a prophet was to predict things to come, conjuring up images of Nostradamus and crystal balls. The prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) were men - and women - who spoke out against existing power structures and injustice brought on by this inequality. You could argue that the role of "prophet" in this sense went all the way back to Moses and his desire to speak out about the injustice that was being heaped upon his or her people. It is true, many prophets cited specific examples of what was to come, but always IF the people did not respond to God's call to create equality among themselves.

The prophet Isaiah:
wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds
out of my sight!
Stop doing wrong,

learn to do right!
Seek justice,
encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless,
plead the case of the widow.


But your eyes and your heart
are set only on dishonest gain,
on shedding innocent blood
and on oppression and extortion.


Woe to those who plan iniquity,
to those who plot evil on their beds!
At morning's light they carry it out
because it is in their power to do it.

They covet fields and seize them,
and houses, and take them.
They defraud a man of his home,
a fellowman of his inheritance.


For I know how many are your offenses
and how great your sins.
You oppress the righteous and take bribes
and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts.

Her officials within her are like wolves tearing their prey; they shed blood and kill people to make unjust gain.
Obviously there is a common theme here. The Old Testament prophets all spoke out against inequality, oppression, corruption and greed, and this is simply a short list of scripture references. For Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Amos and Ezekiel, challenging the status quo and specifically to challenge the mistreatment of the lower social classes was the prophetic vision the Lord gave to them. Their vision of the future was tied completely to their view of the present; "change your ways now, or this will happen to you and your people in the future."

I'm reading the book The Politics of Jesus by Obery M. Hendricks, Jr. In it, Hendricks says that "there has never been a conservative prophet."
Thus the primary purpose of biblical prophecy is to effect social and political change in society. Prophets never uncritically support the status quo. Rather, their role is to challenge it. In our time, when many seem to think that Christianity goes hand in hand with right-wing visions of the world, it is important to remember that there has never been a conservative prophet. Prophets have never been called to conserve social orders that have stratified inequities of power and privilege and wealth; prophets have always been called to change them so all can have access to the fullest fruits of life.
Hendricks goes on to boldly state:
How can a false prophet be identified? There are two telltale criteria: (1) they are silent about issues of social justice, and (2) they function as uncritical supporters of rulers and politicians, rather than as their moral conscience and dedicated arbiters of biblical justice. Instead of challenging political regimes -- and all earthly regimes need to be continually challenged to do right -- false prophets either align themselves with them or say nothing at all.
Pastors, Christian leaders and others, although having an obvious duty to comfort those afflicted in mind, soul, spirit and body, it is also their duty to afflict the comfortable. If the pastors that have your ear -- whether that be when you are sitting in their pew, listening to them on podcast or watching them on TBN -- if they are not challenging you to love the poor, protest social inequities and stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves, you may be listening to a false prophet, at the very least a shepherd who is not taking care of his flock.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Which "Son of God" are you following?

I struggle as I read the Beatitudes, specifically Matthew 5:9, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God." My mind instantly moves to thoughts of Hitler, or Pol Pot, the Interahamwe, or Mao Tsedong. Shouldn't the genocides perpetuated by these men be stopped, even through violence? One of the greatest theologians of the 20th century wrestled with this same question. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pacifist throughout all of his preaching and writing was involved and eventually executed for a failed assassination attempt on Hitler. Was violence against injustice best for the greater good? Is it what God would have wanted?

Malachi 3:6 says "For I am the LORD, I do not change." Hebrews 13:8 says, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." And James 1:17 says, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning." I believe this, God is the same yesterday, today and forever, but how can I reconcile this with the following scriptures:
"When the Lord your God hands these nations over to you and you conquer them, you must completely destroy them. Make no treaties with them and show them no mercy." Deut. 7:2

". . . in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them . . . as the LORD your God has commanded you." Deut. 20:16-17

"Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'" 1 Sam. 15:2
God is the Lion. Many recognize that the above scriptures are in judgement of those nations who defiled the one true God, and Jesus doesn't avoid the topic of judgement either. In Luke 10:13-15 Jesus pronounces judgement for the cities who did not recognize and repent. Every time Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven he is implying judgement, the fact that most will not meet a happy fate, some will die horrible deaths, or worse, be cast into the depths of hades.

Jesus however, is the Lamb. Eventually every living thing will worship this Lamb:
"Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!" Rev. 5:12
John the Baptist recognized the Lamb: "The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" John 1:29

The prophet Isaiah describes how this peaceful Lamb will be sacrificed for our sins:
He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7)
And He didn't strike back either, or at least in a way we would have thought. He practiced what he preached from the Sermon on the Mount:
"Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." Matt. 5:39

"Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you." Luke 6:27-28
So God is both the Lion and the Lamb. Full of both violence and peace. This is a concept I cannot fully understand, and that is OK (His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9)).

An article in the Simple Way publication Conspire shed some new light on this as I read it earlier this week. The article was titled No Shortage of Messiahs and discussed the peaceful revolution of the true Messiah Jesus Christ. The article recounts the story of the hours leading up to Jesus' death, with some details that my Christian upbringing left out. There were 4 men waiting to be executed as "political insurrectionists." Jesus was accused of calling himself the Son of God, the 3 others are called "thieves" in English, but "the Greek word lestes was a term used by Rome for military revolutionaries." These men were Jewish revolutionaries, who, much like Robin Hood were bandits who had been killing and stealing from the oppressive Roman empire. One eventually rejects Jesus, the other accepts Him, but the third, Barabbas, is put beside Jesus of Nazareth for the people to choose. One will be released, one will be executed.
"There is a profound irony in that moment: The Gospels speak of Jesus as the son of God, or the "son of Abba." In Hebrew this would be bar Abbas. Barabbas. That's right: Two sons of God, presented to the people. Both on trial on the same day for the same crime. They not only share names, but they made similar claims: Both claimed to be the Christ, the messiah, the chosen one who would lead Israel out of bondage, the son of the liberating God whose judgement was imminent and whose reign would be established. And Rome reckoned both of them to be dangerous."
Ultimately, we have the same choice: which son of God will we choose? One that uses redemptive violence to achieve an earthly goal of peace. Or one that doesn't make sense to us, one that uses ways and means that are not compatible with our ways and our thoughts, and achieves a peace that is beyond our comprehension and probably out of our view.

Brennan Manning puts it this way in his book The Signature of Jesus:
Calling peacemakers "bleeding hearts," "do-gooders," and "good Samaritans" with a tone of condescension indicates an unacknowledged alienation from the gospel. When will Christians be honest enough to admit that they don't really believe in Jesus Christ? That the Nazarene carpenter must be dismissed as a romantic visionary, a starry-eyed reformer hopelessly out of touch with the "real" world of domination, aggression, and power?
When we embrace just war theology and redemptive violence as the only way to achieve peace, are we choosing Barabbas over Jesus?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Sorry people. . .

I don't know how many people really look at this blog, but to those 3 people out there who are waiting for another post, I am working on one. We have been relaxing and waiting on the Lord to reveal things as we dive into our next phase of ministry. I have plenty of thoughts, just nothing that I have felt like writing down lately. They are coming though. . . .

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Rainwater Barrels

I'm starting to get excited about implementing some of the "green" practices we have seen on the road and read about long before we even hit the pavement. Some of these are so simple and low cost that it baffles me why more people wouldn't do it. Probably the easiest and low maintenance ideas is that of rainwater barrels. You simply set up a barrel below a gutter downspout and instead of having the downspout drain to the street you re-route it to fill a 55-gallon barrel. The barrel needs to have a spigot at the bottom where you would attach a hose (or you could simply dip watering cans into the barrel and walk back and forth to the plants, but my time is too valuable for that, plus I'm lazy). Then water. That simple! You can get much more in-depth, to the point where you can actually create filter beds, bore wells and open wells all designed to filter rainwater into drinking water. I simply want to water my garden and potted plants more effectively and efficiently.

My plan is to incorporate 3 water barrels throughout the property. The downspouts are usually on the front of your house, near the street drain-off. I can conceal both of these barrels in corners behind fences and use them to water my front and side yard plants, possibly with soaker hoses. The third barrel I plan to put under our patio covering in the back and use in our small vegetable garden. This one will be tougher to conceal, but I have some ideas.

Amazingly, you only need less than 0.5 inches of rainfall to fill one 55-gallon barrel (shown above). As for savings on your water bill, that depends on your water usage, size of your lawn, number of people in your household, but a rough estimate says that 40% of your water usage during summer months goes to watering gardens, lawns and other plants. My average water bill during the summer is about $80. Let's assume that I can cut my water usage by a conservative estimate of 25%, that would save me approximately $20 a month. I could go on a date with Serenity (if someone would babysit for free - hint, hint :)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Spiritual Schizophrenia

This passage from Brennan Manning's book The Importance of Being Foolish, might be the best commentary I have ever read about the individual anemic American church goer (sadly, to one extent or another, myself included). It is a long quote, but it is worth reading:

The crisis of American spirituality, put bluntly, is Spirit versus flesh. The failure or flat refusal to abide in the mind of Christ creates duality and separation within us. We do not choose decisively between God and Mammon, and our procrastination constitutes a decision itself. We carefully distribute ourselves between flesh and Spirit with a watchful eye on both. The unwillingness to sustain ourselves with the awareness that we are children of God causes a spiritual schizophrenia of the most frightening kind. It is not that I am afraid to tell you who I am; I truly cannot tell you because I don't know myself who I am. I have not given the deep inner assent to my Christian identity. I am afraid of losing my life if I were to find my real self. God calls me by my name, and I do not answer because I do not know my name.

The lifestyle of schizoid Christians is erratic because at different moments we deliberately separate ourselves from our real selves. We hug certain events, experiences, and relationships to ourselves and exclude the presence of the indwelling Spirit. It may be a movie, a conversation, an illicit love affair, or a business transaction. Later, we re-enter the self that calls itself Christian and take part in events where God is celebrated in speech and song. Afterward we confide to friends, "Worship was kind of flat tonight."

Heightened by what someone has called "the agnosticism of inattention" -- the lack of personal discipline to overcome media bombardment, sterile conversation, and utilitarian relationship --our self-awareness grows dim, the presence of a loving God fades into the distance and the possibility of trust and intimacy seems less plausible. Inattentiveness to the holy destroys openness to the Spirit. Just as the failure to be attentive dissolves personal love in a human relationship, so inattention to the real self dissolves loving awareness of the divine relationship. A verdant heart becomes a devastated vineyard. It is impossible to consider God with heart and head filled with earthly business.

When we periodically close ourselves off from God, our hearts are touched by the icy finger of agnosticism. Christian agnosticism does not consist so much in the denial of a personal God as in the unbelief of inattention to the sacred. The way we live bears unmistakable witness to our loving awareness or lack of it.

Life in the Spirit implies the existential knowledge of being loved by God and sharing Jesus's own experience of that love. But so many of the things we do in our solitary moments have nothing to do with the Spirit or with the living will of God. Bothered by this dichotomy, we plunge into spiritual activities and get involved in church-related organizations and events in an effort to fill the empty space we know needs filling. Disinclined to renounce managerial control of our lives and unwilling to run the risk of living in union with Yahweh, we seek personal security and reassurance in rituals, devotions, liturgies, and prayer meetings. These structures provide a modicum of peace and promise that comfortable piety and material possessions that constitute the sense of self will not be disturbed.

There is a need for careful discernment here. The evidence of earnestness, sincerity, and effort is considerable. But something is missing.

That something is transparency. The glory shining on the face of Christ Jesus does not shine in many of us. Unlike Jesus, we have not given our deep inner assent to who we are meant to be. We have not surrendered to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within. We stand close enough to the fire to stay warm, but we never plunge in; nor do we come out burned and incandescently transformed. We might be nicer than most other people or have better morals, but we do not live as brand-new creations. Instead, our opaque personalities reveal our divided hearts.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Beauty of the Lord

“Everybody needs beauty... places to play and pray in, where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.”

-John Muir (c. 1902)

I had the opportunity to spend the past few days on my own in Yosemite Valley. My campsite was feet away from the Merced River to the East I could see Half Dome and to the West Royal Arch Cascade. I rode my bike from Half Dome to Bridalveil Falls, soaking in the waterfalls, meadows and spring blossoms. Later that day I hiked to the base of Half Dome. I continually was asking God to reveal Himself to me, to show me what He wanted me to encounter, why He was giving me this time on my own. As I walked amongst the pines on my way to Mirror Lake I felt Him embrace me with these simple words: "I love you so much, I just want you to enjoy yourself, this is my gift to you." With the pressure gone of figuring out what God wanted me to understand, I simply rested in Him. It was a time of connection with God that I have never experienced before and it was exactly what I needed. Praise God!

(Yosemite Valley; El Capitan on the left, Bridalveil Falls on the right with Half Dome in the center distant)

The Lord is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name.

Psalm 23:1-3

(Half Dome with Washington Column to the left)

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Matthew 11:28-30

(Mirror Lake reflecting Mount Watkins)

O LORD, how many are Your works!
In wisdom You have made them all;
the earth is full of Your possessions.

Psalm 104: 24

(base of Yosemite Falls)

Beauty of the Lord

Jesus Your love has come one step closer
I will trust that You will never let me go
Jesus Your love has won me over
All my trust has found no other

I will declare the beauty of the Lord
Nothing compares to the beauty of the Lord
Jesus Your love takes my breath away
I’m living everyday for the beauty of the Lord
Jesus Your love takes my breath

Desperation Band

(Lyrics by Jared Anderson)

(Apple blossom in Yosemite Valley)

Let all that I am praise the Lord.
O Lord my God, how great you are!
You are robed with honor and majesty.
You are dressed in a robe of light.
You stretch out the starry curtain of the heavens;
you lay out the rafters of your home in the rain clouds.
You make the clouds your chariot;
you ride upon the wings of the wind.
The winds are your messengers;
flames of fire are your servants.

Psalm 104:1-4

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Catholic Worker

We have been parked at a Catholic Worker House for the past week or so, it is located in the predominantly African American neighborhood of West Las Vegas. If you don't know much about the Catholic Worker movement, read here or here, it is well worth your time. If you don't want to go read those links, I will give you a short overview in my own words and experiences: Basically, the Catholic Worker is a loosely connected group of people (and the houses and farms that they live in) who live incarnationally amongst the poor and meet their basic needs through a gospel centered hospitality. The CW is not under the auspice of the Catholic Church, and in many ways is contrary to the Catholic Church. The term Catholic is from it's very beginning roots meaning "the universal church of the apostles" or simply "the Church" or "Bride of Christ." We have come across "protestant" Catholic Worker houses, and unfortunately, we have come across some Catholic Workers who were non-believers and atheists and distributed hospitality based on a skewed humanism that focused on social justice for social justices sake as well as a lot of activism. Overall however, it is a group of believers who are loving Christ by loving on the least of these in a simple and incarnational way in broken parts of this kingdom.

Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day founded this network of hospitality houses and farming communes in 1933, in the midst of the Great Depression. Day gets most of the credit for starting the CW. She was a remarkable woman and fully understood the need for more than hospitality as she was quoted once as saying "Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul."

What is so very interesting to me is that most times when two people of the opposite sex start something, usually the male ends up with all the credit, even when he doesn't deserve it. In this partnership, Day usually gets most of the credit, and from everything I have read, including autobiographical writings by Day herself, Maurin should receive more of the credit than he did. Which is probably just the way he would have wanted it, the glory going to God and the attention going to others, including the men and women he served. He was more of the philosophical and theological engine behind much of the outpouring. When Maurin was on his death bed, literally the last few years of his life, he refused to live inside of their house in New York City, rather, he lived in the old shed in the back that had just enough room for his bed and some of his reading and writing materials. He didn't want to take up any room that could be used for sheltering and feeding the poor.

"So the last will be first, and the first will be last." Matthew 20:16.

Maurin wrote short "essays" or poems with the core of many of his ideas and philosophies running throughout. He called them "easy essays," here are a few of my favorites:

Christianity Untried

Chesterton says:
"The Christian ideal
has not been tried
and found wanting.
It has been found difficult
and left untried."
Christianity has not been tried
because people thought
it was impractical.
And men have tried everything
except Christianity.
And everything
that men have tried
has failed.

Feeding the Poor at a Sacrifice

In the first centuries
of Christianity
the hungry were fed
at a personal sacrifice,
the naked were clothed
at a personal sacrifice,
the homeless were sheltered
at personal sacrifice.
And because the poor
were fed, clothed and sheltered
at a personal sacrifice,
the pagans used to say
about the Christians
"See how they love each other."
In our own day
the poor are no longer
fed, clothed, sheltered
at a personal sacrifice,
but at the expense
of the taxpayers.
And because the poor
are no longer
fed, clothed and sheltered
the pagans say about the Christians
"See how they pass the buck."

Better Off

The world would be better off
if people tried
to become better,
And people would
become better
if they stopped trying
to be better off.
For when everyone tries
to become better off
nobody is better off.
But when everyone tries
to become better
everyone is better off.
Everybody would be rich
if nobody tried
to become richer.
And nobody would be poor
if everybody tried
to be the poorest
And everybody would be
what he ought to be
if everybody tried to be
what he wants
the other fellow to be.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Fast Food Folk Song

Completely off topic from my usual rants, but my friend Heath posted this on his blog and I had to follow him up. Personally, Taco Bell is my favorite fast food joint, mainly for the price, not necessarily 3 hours later. Watch the whole thing, the most amazing part is after they get done singing.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Scandalous Gospel

I'm wondering how scandalous we as Christians really believe the gospel is. Have we done everything we can to fit it into a box that our culture says is acceptable? I don't think that the gospel fits in that box, I think we have made it fit by believing the lies that maybe Jesus wasn't speaking literally and that the things in the Bible don't necessarily apply to us today. The opening of Jesus' ministry, the Sermon on the Mount, gives us a glimpse of the radical demands Jesus was asking of us:
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.

But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

All quotations come from the Sermon on the Mount - Matthew 5-7
While we were in San Diego we ran into a group of Rainbow Gathering folks. The Rainbow Gathering found its roots in the counterculture activity of the 1960s and as you can probably guess, is based in hippie culture. We came across a group of these guys back in Rock Springs, Wyoming. They had come down out of the mountains because of a forest fire nearby their camp (according to them was set by the federal government to force them to leave). One of the leaders of the group began spewing theology on all of us that was skewed at best if not complete blasphemy. I couldn't handle it, I wasn't going to argue with the guy, but I wasn't going to listen to him either, so I just went inside and found something to do for a while while Serenity and Tim and Jenn carried on a conversation with him. In San Diego, Captain Kitten (one of their Rainbow Gathering nicknames) spewed much of the same theology, a type of universalism where everything is OK, eventually we will be like Gods, and that Jesus wasn't the Son of God, but just another good man, a wise prophet. I couldn't handle the dialogue with Captain Kitten either and I found something to do while Serenity tried rationalizing with them (it doesn't really need to be said, because all of you know it, but she has much more patience with this sort of thing). I was listening to the entire conversation though and at one point I became so angry that I had to stop and interject. Their main point was this: who is God to demand our respect? What? If God is the creator of everything, the one who created DNA and sunsets, photosynthesis and waterfalls, then we should have no other response other than to fall down on our knees and worship Him. But because of their own self-centered view of the world and of God, these guys wouldn't hear it, they wouldn't listen, although they wouldn't admit it, life was all about them, so I went back to cleaning up and found more to do.

We as Christians however, may be worse - we dumb down the Gospel. We may not believe in some weird universalism, but we are just as self-centered. As Brennan Manning writes in his book The Importance of Being Foolish:
The suspicion grows that the gospel ethic is impractical, impossible, and therefore irrelevant. The words are nice, but who pays them any mind? After all, I can't be asked to do all that! I can't survive in the jungle out there if I take Jesus's revelation seriously. I can't be always giving. There must be a limit.
When we don't take Jesus's words literally, we are missing the point of grace. God's grace winds up being meaningless. Manning goes on to say:
If the radical demands of the Christian life are never proposed, if we settle instead for the tepid observance of a lukewarm set of precepts, how easily we become pharisaical and self-righteous. We try to save ourselves by our own works. . . . The radical demands of Jesus daily remind us of our shortcomings and make us realize that salvation is God's free gift.
When we hold our lives up to the true gospel we have no other response other than to see our own wretchedness and our need for grace that only comes through a relationship with Jesus.

When we hold our lives up to the compromised gospel, the one that fits into our American culture box, we begin to think we can do it ourselves. We take scripture and write it off as something that no longer applies to the 21st century or we find a meaning that doesn't convict but rather confirms. Love your enemies (except if they threaten national security), do not store up treasures on earth (unless the Lord has blessed you with abundance).

We must not filter the gospel, we must let it be what it is, scandalous - Jesus's words meant something when He spoke them 2,000 years ago and they mean just as much today. Just the same, Jesus dying on the cross in our place, His Father giving us a gift that is impossible to earn, but must be simply received, that is scandalous and means just as much today as it did 2,000 years ago.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A New Law by Derek Webb

One of Serenity and my favorite musical artists is Derek Webb. His lyrics cut to the heart of the Gospel. I was listening to this song while cruising down I-5 in Big Buster and it spoke directly to my desire to be told what to do rather than listen to the Spirit. I want a list of things that will make me more righteous or holy, which all distracts from a relationship with Christ. Here are the lyrics:

Don’t teach me about politics and government
Just tell me who to vote for
Don’t teach me about truth and beauty
Just label my music

Don’t teach me how to live like a free man
Just give me a new law

I don’t wanna know if the answers aren’t easy
So just bring it down from the mountain to me

I want a new law
I want a new law
Gimme that new law

Don’t teach me about moderation and liberty
I prefer a shot of grape juice

Don’t teach me about loving my enemies

Don’t teach me how to listen to the Spirit
Just give me a new law

What’s the use in trading a law you can never keep
For one you can that cannot get you anything
Do not be afraid
Do not be afraid
Do not be afraid

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Silence of Jesus is Exquisite

On Sunday we went to Harbor Presbyterian Church in Ocean Beach and the pastor spoke on the denial of Christ by Peter. Interesting passage:
Meanwhile, Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant girl came over and said to him, “You were one of those with Jesus the Galilean.” But Peter denied it in front of everyone. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. Later, out by the gate, another servant girl noticed him and said to those standing around, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” Again Peter denied it, this time with an oath. “I don’t even know the man,” he said. A little later some of the other bystanders came over to Peter and said, “You must be one of them; we can tell by your Galilean accent.” Peter swore, “A curse on me if I’m lying—I don’t know the man!” And immediately the rooster crowed. Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.” And he went away, weeping bitterly.

Matthew 26:69-75

The next time Peter sees Jesus is after His resurrection, while fishing on the Sea of Tiberias. Jesus helps the disciples catch some fish (John 21:6), and then asks them to eat breakfast with Him. Nothing reminding him of his denial, or as Brennan Manning says in his book The Importance of Being Foolish,

There is no mention, apparently even no memory, of their betrayal. Never a reproach or even an indirect reference to their cowardice in the time of testing. No sarcastic greeting like, 'well, my fair-weather friends. . . .' No vindictiveness, spite, or humiliating reproach.

Isn't this amazing? Manning states that "the silence of Jesus is exquisite." Again, when Jesus encounters Mary Magdalene, He tells her to "go and tell my brothers. . . ." (Matthew 28:10). He calls these betrayers and cowards brothers. Jesus was the perfect example of how He calls us to love in I Corinthians 13. Especially verse 5: love is "not irritable, and keeps no record of wrongs." Jesus is not disappointed in us, neither is God for that matter. He is silent on the matter because His love has covered it all and His memory is erased.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Saint Patrick

The town were I used to work in Oregon, Woodburn, has a very interesting mix of people: 80% Hispanic, 15% Russian and 5% other. For the first time in my life I was the "other". I enjoyed the diversity. As wrestling coach I had a disproportionate number of the Russian population as you could have guessed (although I had some really good Hispanic wrestlers, most of the population thought we wore colorful masks with zippers and jumped off turnstiles). Many of the Russian population at the school is Russian Orthodox who would miss 20 or so days of school a year to celebrate different events in church history or to honor different saints specific to thier religion. I would ask students and wresters before they left school for a Russian Holiday, "Do you know what you are celebrating?" Nearly every time the answer was, "well, no, not really." I would give them a homework assignment of learning what they were missing school for other than drinking with their friends in the church parking lot while their parents spent the day inside doing "religious" type things.

So, before we go judging my dear Russian friends, how many of us know anything about Saint Patrick other than parades, Irish, green beer and random people pinching us (I had an old lady pinch me at CVS pharmacy yesterday and then say, "Honey, you go on home and tell your wife that an old lady at CVS pinched you.")

Some cool facts about good ole' Saint Patty:
  • Historians guess that he lived between 320 and 460 AD
  • He was British born and considered a Roman (by this time in history the Roman Empire had conquered the British Isles)
  • He was captured by Irish raiders and forced into slavery on Ireland for 6 years before he escaped and returned to his family
  • Although he was British (and had been captured and forced into slavery) he had a vision that he was supposed to go to the Irish people to spread the Good News
  • He refused to take financial gifts from nobility and actually sold his own inheritance to enhance his ability to find commonality with the very people he was trying to reach
  • He drank a lot of green beer (not really sure about this one, but that's what Americans think, right?)

Monday, March 16, 2009


I have been thinking recently: "Knowledge doesn't necessarily equate to understanding."

A pastor friend we met recently said to us, "nowhere in the Bible does it command us to 'study'."

I love to research, to study. I have a history degree, one of my favorite places to go is the library, reading about the American west, or the Civil War, World War II, or the middle ages. I just soak it up, I love to study. I think it drives Serenity nuts sometimes. When we travel, I do a lot of research, I don't want to drive 2 miles away from the coolest thing around and not see it, I want to know. I don't want to be ignorant.

But sometimes there is no amount of studying that will bring about understanding. Some things about God are just a mystery, we will never know until we see Him face to face, and even then we probably won't be able to understand the Great Mystery.
For the truth about God is known to them instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. - Romans 1:19
Paul states clearly that what we know about God isn't necessarily something we learned, it was placed in our hearts by God. When we earnestly seek His knowledge and an understanding of God, He will place it in our hearts what we need to understand.

What interests me is that the early churches, all of the epistles of Paul and others, none of those churches had a Bible, or even early manuscripts of most of what we call the "Bible". I guess they had the letters that where written to them, but outside of a handful of those and what we call today the Old Testament, most of the early believers didn't "study" like we Christians feel compelled to do today. Not that it is a bad thing. However, we get so caught up in doing our "quiet time" or study time, or Sunday "school" which obviously implies "study", that it stops being about an intimate relationship with Christ and becomes a bullet charted knowledge of a book. It isn't living and breathing and exciting.
While knowledge may make us feel important, it is love that really builds up the church. I Corinthians 8:1
Action, which is based in love, is what builds up the church, it is what will truly last, not a super-academia based understanding and knowledge of the spiritual facts of the Bible. That is not pure TRUTH. Ask God to reveal TRUTH, KNOWLEDGE, and UNDERSTANDING to you:
asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. Ephesians 1:17
So stop studying the bullet points and start applying the action of love to the people around you.
make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:5-8

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Ears that Hear

I was recently given a short passage to read from Eugene Peterson's The Jesus Way. In it, Peterson discusses Isaiah 6. It was of particular interest to me because it is the passage that the ministry organization that supports Mustard Seed Ministries is named after - Isaiah's Stump. The Lord revealed some truths in the passage that relate to some of the things we have seen on the road. I have often asked myself, "why don't people repent and turn to the Truth, to Jesus?" We have seen drug addicts in the depths of despair seemingly in the deepest valley of hopelessness, when asked if they would like something to eat, or something to drink, flip us the finger, tell us they have all they need to drink and hold up a bottle. I have seen people, when presented the simple gospel of Jesus Christ, how when you turn to Him, He embraces and frees us, releasing us from the chains we have been bound by, turn away and refuse to accept this free gift of grace and forgiveness. It baffles me, but I'm not sure if the Lord wants us to get too caught up in those who refuse to listen. I believe He simply asks us to be obedient and present the Truth, the simple gospel, and let the Holy Spirit work from there.

We are the sowers, but we do not reap, that is for the Holy Spirit.

Isaiah 6:8-13

8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?"
And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"

9 He said, "Go and tell this people:
" 'Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
be ever seeing, but never perceiving.'

10 Make the heart of this people calloused;
make their ears dull
and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed."

11 Then I said, "For how long, O Lord?"
And he answered:
"Until the cities lie ruined
and without inhabitant,
until the houses are left deserted
and the fields ruined and ravaged,

12 until the LORD has sent everyone far away
and the land is utterly forsaken.

13 And though a tenth remains in the land,
it will again be laid waste.
But as the terebinth and oak
leave stumps when they are cut down,
so the holy seed will be the stump in the land."

Basically the Lord was telling Isaiah that He wanted him to go to the Hebrew people and tell them: "listen, I'm gonna tell you a bunch of things about the Lord, I'm gonna tell you about the Truth. I'm even gonna tell you about the Messiah who is to come, but your not gonna get it." In other words, I'm gonna talk until you are dumb, your eyes, your ears, you will not see, you will not hear. I'm gonna talk until your "cities lie in ruin," and your land is full of stumps. However desolate that sounded, it must have been refreshing for Isaiah! The pressure is gone. Isaiah didn't have to save anybody! I think many times we get this feeling that people have to get it, they must understand, when in actuality, the Lord isn't calling us to make sure people get it. Sure, there is good teaching, mentoring, discipleship, all of this helps guide people into the Truth, but we cannot save a single soul, that is for the Lord, and this is what the Lord was, in essence, telling Isaiah: "be obedient, preach the message I have given you, tell people about the 'holy seed' that is to come." That's it!

Stump land sprouted the "holy seed," Jesus, and Jesus went on to fulfill Isaiah's prophecies and preach many of the same messages. When large crowds gathered around Jesus, he would begin to preach in parables. Personally, I love parables, they are mysterious, they make you think, and usually once you figure out what Jesus was saying, the Truth is profound and meaningful. In Luke 8, Jesus reveals why He uses parables.

His disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that,
" 'though seeing, they may not see;
though hearing, they may not understand.'

Jesus quoted from Isaiah 6. Although our heart should be to see every person turned to Jesus, if someone rejects the Truth we should not let it bind us in emotion, we should not let it stop us in our tracks and keep us from pressing on for His glory. Sincere seekers will understand, sincere seekers will perceive. Even with large crowds gathered, Jesus uses a preaching technique, parables, to narrow those who understand. On the flip side of that, it isn't our fancy talk, or our wise words that draw people into a relationship with Jesus. In I Corinthians, Paul mentions that he did not preach the gospel "with wisdom of words," (1:17) and then again "with excellence of speech" (2:1). Paul knows that all he must do is preach the simple gospel of Jesus crucified, it is up to the Holy Spirit to allow those who are listening to truly "hear."

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Art of Volkswagen Maintenance

Eight years ago, way back in 2001, Serenity and I took a 40-day journey around the western United States. We traveled to 18 National Parks and 22 states. We made it as far east as Kansas City and even went for a swim in the Gulf of Mexico. It was a graduation present for me basically. I was to be done with my Masters degree in teaching (not really a masters, just an extra year of school at an astronomical price to see if you are really serious about sitting in staff meetings about literacy for 4 hours) in May, and I figured I didn't really need to start looking for a job until July or so, so we planned for about a 4-5 week journey. We purchased a 1976 Volkswagen Westfalia pop-top camper van that we then had a rebuilt engine put in. It was 2000 cc of pure power - a minimum of 25 miles per hour up the Rockies - guaranteed!

He purred like a kitten. We nicknamed him Bernie. Volkswagens from this era are actually a lot of fun to drive. Air cooled, so the heat just barely comes out of the vents. In winter I was seen quite frequently driving to school with mittens a ski cap and a down jacket on.

As soon as it looked like I wasn't going to kill any of my professors and graduation was actually something that would likely occur, I began to plan the trip. I laid out every detail, possible scenic routes, roadside attractions, nearby national parks, cool history or scenery. I didn't want to miss out on anything. If we were close, I wanted to go see it. We set a budget and began working on reservations in campgrounds from Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon and Yosemite. We would stay in Walmart parking lots when the money was thin. We rarely ate out, mostly relying on the storage space in the VW, and the 3 burner Coleman stove we brought along. It was seriously a precursor to our current trip - a trial run of sorts without kids and in a smaller vehicle.

We left before 6am on a Monday morning in May. The excitement of the trip was nearly too much to contain. We had loaded up the VW, stacked wood above the front cab for our campfires the first few days, and brewed some coffee. Every detail was accounted for - maps, phone numbers, campsite reservations, cash, etc. The first day we drove east on I-84 through the Columbia River Gorge and then headed north across the river into the apple orchards of eastern Washington. By mid-afternoon we were driving through Spokane and into Idaho. We began to cross the Rockies into Montana for our first nights stop at Beaver Tail Falls in big sky country. The first day of driving was a success - 10 hours of driving, no problems, and we drove through three states.

Next morning Bernie wouldn't start. I had bought this VW repair manual that read like a comic book - everything in it was hand-drawn with funny commentary from the author. After diagnosing the problem, the book told me to take a wrench and tap on the solenoid.

Seriously? Just hit something with a wrench? The book said it, so I did it, and Bernie started right up. However, over the next 5 days, Bernie broke down 6 times. At one point I was so frustrated by it all, I left him running as I filled up with gas - I know, not the smartest, but you weren't there.

We literally coasted into a Walmart in Idaho Falls and I pushed it through the parking lot as Serenity steered it into a good place to stay the night just in case we were stuck there for a few days - it was Friday of Memorial Day weekend. I figured it was the starter, so I got under the back end (most VWs the engine is in the back) and pulled the starter out, which was just simply unscrewing the wires leading to the alternator and solenoid and ratcheting out the bolts keeping it on the engine. I put the starter in a box and began walking down the road in the general direction I thought an auto parts store might be. About a half mile down the road I catch in my peripheral a red truck slowing down with a large bearded man inside who begins to roll down his window. "You need a ride?" he says. I said sure I did and he drove me the rest of the way to the auto parts store. His truck had AC, which was nice since it was nearly 90 degrees outside and even hotter when you are under a Volkswagen. We made small talk while waiting in line, his name was Mr. Robinson, he lived just outside of town was married and had 5 kids. In the near future they were all going to move to Eastern Europe to open an orphanage and share the gospel with the people in a small community in Romania.

His wife and him were on a date night when they saw Serenity and I in the corner of the parking lot. He told her that he wanted to see if I needed help and by the time he came back outside of the store, I was gone, so he went looking for me.

After purchasing a new starter Mr. Robinson gave me a ride back to Walmart where I installed the new part and . . . it still wouldn't start. So, Mr. and Mrs. Robinson invited us to stay at their house until we got it all figured out. He towed us over to his driveway down a long country road in front of an old farm house and then fed us a barbecue meal along with some hospitality and some good conversation. The Robinsons said we were welcome to stay over as many nights as it took - as long as I would help him pack! We didn't roll out of Idaho Falls until the following Monday - after another new starter, new solenoid and some alternator repair. The Robinsons took us in as family, showed us hospitality, gave us encouragement when we needed it and really, didn't ask for anything in return except moving a few cabinets into storage.

One night as I worried about how much the repairs were going to cost, and if our plans would get messed up for staying too long in Idaho Falls, I sat around a square table in the middle of the kitchen of a guy I had only met a day or two earlier, Mr. Robinson said something so simple, yet so true that I have not yet forgotten it: "Andy, its not about the destination, its all about the journey. You've got to find God in the journey."

Sometimes we get so caught up in our schedules, our plans, our calendars, that we forget to live. We are always thinking about what is next, did I plan out next week, or next month, or even next year? What about today, what about this hour, what about this minute? What about the journey? I'm afraid that we are so focused on what is next that one day we will wake up and think, where did it all go? Where was God in all this? Even though I only knew Mr. Robinson and his family for one three-day weekend eight years ago, his words gave me a glimpse of how to truly live and find God - today.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A few phrases I've actually heard more than once. .

I know this is slightly divergent from what I usually write about, but I couldn't resist not letting people know what my life is like living on the road in an RV with my family. Here are three phrases I heard just this morning: (Warning: potty mouths were used)

1) Momma: "Eva, what happened to your shirt? Sweety, you need to wear a shirt." Ally (4 years old) giggling: "yeah, your nipples are showing."

2) Avery: "Daddy, Ally's butt crack is showing again."

3) Avery: "Daddy, Eva pooped on the sidewalk." My response: "really?" Avery: "Yeah, she squatted and everything."

All before 9am.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A prescription against sin

If we are walking with the Lord and truly doing what Martin Luther wrote 500 years ago, "Love God and do what you please," then our life will be a reflection of the one who is Love. We will love our neighbors, we will seek justice, we will continually renew our minds to be more like the mind of Christ. Our outpouring will be one of peace, joy and love - the fruits of the Spirit. I believe that many in the Church are so focused on personal sin that we begin to lose the focus on anything outside of our own selves. We become inwardly focused towards a goal of holiness and become fixated on our own sin. There have been times in my life where this has been the truth. During my journey through alcoholism, drug abuse, and sexual addiction I became so focused on the sin that it overwhelmed me with shame and guilt and condemnation, it kept me from seeing God's grace for me. I became confused about who God was and why His Spirit inside of me wasn't eradicating all of the pain and sin. I believe Paul was going through something similar when he wrote:

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. (Romans 7:15-20)

Personal edification and holiness is so very important, but I don't believe it can be done in a vacuum, we must get outside of our own personal journey and share it by outpouring in service to others. Only then can we fully be healed from personal sin. The viscous cycle of sin and condemnation is broken only when we refuse to look inside of us for holiness and focus on the call of Jesus to pour out our love onto others - believing His promise that we won't remain empty, but rather He will fill us back up.

I have been reading an excellent book titled Submerge: Living Deep in a Shallow World by John B. Hayes. In it, he comments on Isaiah 58:6-12 as being not a "legalistic job description" for those who work with the poor, but rather a prescription of a healthy relationship with Christ for all Christians. It is "written for our well-being, not our justification."

“No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

“Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward,
and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.
Then when you call, the Lord will answer.
‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.

“Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.
Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!
Feed the hungry,
and help those in trouble.
Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.
The Lord will guide you continually,
giving you water when you are dry
and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like an ever-flowing spring.
Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities.
Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls
and a restorer of homes.

(Isaiah 58:6-12)

Serenity and I have both mentioned that we have went through quantum leaps in our faith since we have been on the road. The Lord had stretched our faith, grown our desire for Him, and multiplied our hope for His Kingdom. Through the struggles, the pain and the sorrow of working with the poor on this journey, we have been much more aligned with God. Not simply because we have helped the poor, but because we have stopped looking to "fix" ourselves and began to look to the Lord. I am personally no longer stuck in the cycle that Paul wrote about in Romans 7 (For what I do is not the good I want to do, etc., etc.), I have come to the point where "I do not even judge myself." (I Corinthians 4:3) The evil one wants us to stay focused on our sin, shifting focus inwardly into a cycle of confusion, distracting us from our call to love God and to love the least of these.

In Isaiah, the Lord promises that when we feed and clothe the poor, when we free the oppressed and give shelter to the homeless, our "wounds will quickly heal." Sin will no longer be our focus, rather glory and honor to the Lord. I think the last verse, Isaiah 58:12, speaks directly to our ministry:

Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities.
Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls
and a restorer of homes.

The Prodigal Son

We all have something in common with the parable of the prodigal son that Jesus told in Luke 15. To one extent or another, we have all run from God, tried to do things on our own. I find great encouragement in this parable that Jesus told to a group of "tax collectors and 'sinners.'" I think this story has spoken to me because of the Father's great and unexplainable love for His son. Sin separates us from God, but possibly just as impacting is that the evil one tricks us into believing that because of sin, God no longer loves us. The core of Jesus' message in this parable, once again spoken to a group of "tax collectors and 'sinners,'" is that there is nothing that will keep our Father from embracing us. Nothing!
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, can come between us and separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39
This was a song that was sung at a youth summer camp I used to go to in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California. I now sing it to my kids every night I put them to bed. It is an important verse to me, one that allows me to believe that although I have turned my back on my Father, slept in pig sties, allowed pride to keep me from going back for so long to my Father's house, He will, and has, embraced me. He loves me - no matter what. Sin separates us from God, but nothing can put a wide enough canyon between the Father and his son to keep Him from loving us.

Twelve years ago the Lord spoke to me at one of the lowest valleys of my life and brought me out of the muck and mire I had been wallowing in. The evil one still had plenty of footholds in my life, and he has used them to try to bring me down, to return me to the pig sty, but I continue to rest in Romans 8:38-39 - nothing can separate us from the Love of God. The prodigal son was embraced by his Father, just like our Father embraces us. Not with a list of things we need to do better, or after we clean ourselves up, but just the way we are. Jesus tells us that when the son "was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him." (Luke 15:20) This is not a picture of a grey bearded Father wagging His finger at us in disappointment, wondering if we are ever going to "get it." This is a picture of a Father who embraces us with love and compassion, excited that we were "dead and are now alive again; [we] were lost and am now found," (Luke 15:24) and begins to celebrate, never burying us with condemnation or shame, tools that Satan tries to use to confuse us about the nature of God. Not only does our Father embrace us after years and years of transgressions, but when we turn to Him, as King David wrote in Psalms 51 after being convicted of his sins with Bathsheba, with a broken and contrite heart, He runs to us and throws his arms around us and kisses us. I'm not even sure if we can fully grasp this radical Love of our Savior for us, but if we can just embrace a slice of it, it can change our world.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dr. King

In order to be true to one's conscience and true to God, a righteous man has no alternative but to refuse to cooperate with an evil system.

Martin Luther King, Jr. - In his book "Stride Towards Freedom" - 1958

The Reverend

True compassion, is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

Martin Luther King, Jr. - From his "Beyond Vietnam" speech, 1967

Martin Luther King, Jr.

The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.

Martin Luther King, Jr. - From his "Strength to Love" speech, 1963

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Stream of Consciousness

For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms.

Ephesians 6:12
Back in Oregon, before we left on this crazy sojourn, Serenity and I went out on a date night to the book store for some coffee and some quiet time away from the kids. On our way back we saw a man about 45 sitting on the ground against the window of the store. It was obvious he was homeless simply because he had all of his stuff with him, in plastic bags and a large backpack. Halfway across the parking lot I felt the Lord call us to go talk with him. We greeted him with a smile and a big "hello." He was friendly and began talking - non-stop - about his health problems, his old job, his bike, his family, his friends, along with lots of other stuff. I would ask him a question and he would answer it quickly and then return to his monologue. This sort of thing isn't abnormal when working with the homeless, on many levels, it is the norm. I call it a "stream of consciousness" discussion. The guy was just saying whatever was on his mind, moving from one topic to the next, none of them connected, and at no time does he ever involve you into the flow of the conversation. At one point I broke into his stream of consciousness and asked him if he was lonely, he responded almost before I was done asking the question with an emphatic "yes!" but then just continued on talking about something completely off topic. After a while of this, I asked him if I could pray for him, and once again he answered with "yes," but just kept right on talking, not giving me the opportunity. Finally, I just interrupted him and began praying. He stopped, and listened. Many would just write this guy off as someone with a mental illness, or at best some sort of social disorder, which is partially true, living on the streets can create vast canyons of differences between someone and the rest of society. I've spoken to enough of these types of guys to know that there is much, much more to it than meets the eye. Scary stuff, stuff we cannot begin to attack without Christ and His Spirit.

On another occasion, under the Burnside Bridge in Portland where we were communing with our brothers and sisters, I noticed a guy about my age wandering around the fringes of the group, never making eye contact with me or anyone else for more than a split second. I would begin to approach him to start a conversation, and he would move away, seeing me begin to walk towards him. I left him alone simply so he would feel comfortable enough to come and get something to eat, but he made me nervous and with kids around I kept an eye on him. Finally I saw him begin to walk away with a sandwich and a bowl of soup, so I followed him. It was a little like Cloak and Dagger, he kept looking over his shoulder and picked up his pace. I started a slow jog and finally caught up to him near a tree. He hid behind it like I couldn't see him, I would go one way and he would go the other, not making eye contact, looking at his bowl of soup. I said, "can I pray for you." He responded with "would you still give me food if I said 'no.'" And I said, "Of course you can still eat," and he began to walk away. I followed him and prayed "In the name of Jesus, dark spirits be gone." He snapped his head around and looked at me from the top of his eyes, then, began to trot away. I didn't have the guts to keep chasing him.
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me,
Because the LORD has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound"

Isaiah 61:1
I know it sounds like a funny scene, but when you think about it, there is nothing funny about what is going on all around us. The voice was his, but the words came straight from a "wicked spirit." I knew it right away, and I still believe it to this day, I wasn't speaking to that guy, I was speaking to a demon. Mental illness is a serious thing, thousands of homeless men and women deal with some form of mental illness, but for many, their only mental illness is that they are occupied by a demonic spirit. There isn't much that a counselor or social worker, or some homeless advocate can do for these people unless they are battling against the true source of the problem, and they are using the right weapon (His Spirit). The last thing that the evil one wants us to know is that there is more going on around us. If we are oblivious to this subtle fact, then we are rendered useless.
And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease.

Matthew 10:1
The Lord gives each and every one of us the power to overcome these spiritual foes, we must cease the opportunity as funny as it may look (even if it means dancing with a homeless guy around a tree). "With God, all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26), with Christ's Spirit within us, we are more powerful than we can ever imagine.