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.