Tuesday, December 8, 2009
We just returned to Guatemala from a 2 week trip to the US. It was great to see friends and family and to be together with our stateside church community. We shared a lot of laughs, tears, and fun together.
This was my first time back in a year and a half. I learned that this is a long enough time to forget things, and to change perspective. Long enough to be caught off-guard by even the simple things that, until being away for a while, I may have never given much thought.
One of the main things I can’t stop thinking about is the American mind-sight towards celebrity, sports, news, and Hollywood. For 2 weeks I heard about Tiger Woods, Tim Tebow, Preisdent Obama, college football, and the economy. You cant go anywhere without the latest issues reaching out to strangle you for your attention.
Tiger: the stable, solid, classy professional golfer who maintains an impeccable reputation… let us down. News broke that he has been unfaithful to his wife, which was followed by many other reports of multiple mistresses.
Obama: the president who was going to save us all from the mess left by the Bush administration… letting us down. His approval rating currently lower than any president (at this point in their term) in history.
Tebow: the outspoken Christian quarterback, looking to lead his dominant Gators to another championship… let us down. After a poor performance in the SEC championship game, he sobbed as if the world was coming to an end.
The economy. Politics. College football. Artists, entertainers, and cable news.
Around and around we go. I myself engaged in a 2 hour conversation (argument) about college football that left some of us involved upset with each other! I know… boys will boys and its just innocent fun. But is it? What’s the point? By getting so fired up about it, aren’t I implying that it’s pretty serious stuff? When really, is it important at all?
This time next year, much less 5 years from now, all of these stories will be forgotten and we’ll have new ones to suck us in. We’re literally obsessed with the stuff. Fox News is giving me a headache. Even ESPN, which I occasionally love to veg out to, is beginning to sound like nails across a chalkboard. Why?
My friend Derek recently wrote and recorded a song called High and Holy. I think the title of his song explains why the things of this world (should) lose their flavor.
When our hearts become captivated by our high and holy God, something changes. Our perspective shifts, and the things that excite us (or let us down) are no longer the things – or people – of the world.
The last 2 weeks are a blur and we were running at a crazy pace. But now, sitting here reflecting, I can honestly say that football statistics seemed more important to me than statistics that really matter - like homelessness, hunger, clean water, etc. And I found myself being more intrigued by how celebrities were living than by how Jesus lived.
I can see now how quickly and easily I was swept up into the madness. And even though I was recognizing parts of it along the way, the pace of life made it difficult to find time to come before God and pray, seek, be refreshed and straightened out.
The latest “Tiger Woods Scandal” was dominating the headlines. As much as I entertained conversations and discussed the topic, it is hitting me now how truly amazing it is that we are so fascinated by the fact that Woods was unfaithful to his wife. Statistically 60% of all married men cheat. In the context of celebrity, I bet that number goes to 90% or more.
What is the big shock? Based on those numbers, you would think the headlines would read “Surprise, Surprise… Another One Down.” I think the reason its such a big story – the reason we get so hurt, excited, whatever – is because our hope is in people as opposed to in Christ. I actually think Christians are the worst. Mel Gibson, George W. Bush, Tiger… these are all people that Christians have placed so highly on a pedestal, only to be “stunned” when they let us down.
The reality is that humans will always let us down. We sin, we fail, we screw up… that is what makes us human. It’s unfortunate that the Christian community often forgets to come together in these times to encourage, support, and lift up the fallen – even if it can only be done by prayer. Instead, we run to the tabloids, soak it in, criticize, defend, and of course…gossip.
Jesus was – and will always be – perfect. He is high and he is holy. He will never let us down, he will never slip up and make that fatal mistake. We’ll never see him on the front page of the newspaper, crying or defending himself. We’ll never read a statement from him regretting his actions and apologizing for the hurt he has caused his friends, family, and fans.
The promises of God will continue to always be kept. There is comfort in that. But there is also responsibility. I saw in the last couple of weeks how easily I can slide back into the mix… the firestorm of media, politics, and the pursuit of success. It is a machine that churns away, steadily churning and crushing souls at an uncontrollable pace.
I pray for my loved ones serving Christ in the US. Avoid the nonsense. Be a voice of truth in the midst of constant distraction. Stay close to the spirit of Jesus, so that your senses remain sharp and you can recognize immediately when even the subtle attempts of the world are drawing you in.
Remember that your God is high and he is holy. He is unchanging. He is not going anywhere. And he is the ONLY one who will never let you down.
You are high and holy.
you alone are worthy of our praise.
Enthroned in glory,
boldly we approach you as our king.
-song by DH
Sunday, November 1, 2009
A familiar passage from Philipians has been a big help for me lately. It is a well-known passage, but at least for me it is too easily "recited" without appreciating the depth of it. Maybe that's because until I am presented with a unique challenge, I am able to avoid the difficulty of what it says.
It says to rejoice in the Lord always. To let gentleness be evident to all. To not be anxious about anything, and to let the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds.
Some recent difficult circumstances have made it a challenge to "rejoice always", and to be free from anxiety. But the truth of God's Word has made it clear to me - has reminded me in a perfect and beautiful way - that it is my own issues, my sin, and my pride, that keep me from rejoicing. It is my sin that weighs me down with anxiety.
If I am fully honest with myself, shouldn't I be willing to admit that "stress" is a cop-out term that is used in order to describe anxiety and lack of ability to rejoice? It is so easily accepted and understandable to be "stresses out." But is it really just a justification to be living in sin?
I'm not saying being tired, worn down, or exhausted is sinful. But if our "stress level" has us in a state of anxiety that keeps us from rejoicing always, why is it that we don't recognize this is a problem - a big problem? After all, sin is sin.
It's no wonder that the passage goes on to say "let the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, guard your hearts and minds." For me, that hits home. Because when I am in a funk, my mind can cook up all kinds of negativity. I am quick to be frustrated, quick to anger, and quick to rude sarcasm when I my anxiety level is high.
I am praising God right now, thankful for his word of truth, and for waking me up to see my filth. I am his... made for eternal glory... for so much more than this world can throw my way. With that in mind, who am I to be anxious? Who am I to be stressed out because of my difficult circumstances? Maybe I take myself a little too seriously. Maybe I temporarily forget sometimes that my Father is the King. That he is on the throne. And that my life is just a vapor.
Life can be hard and I'm sure I will face my share of difficult circumstances on the road ahead. But I pray today that when those times come I will be quickly reminded that I am a son of the Most High King. That He is fully capable - in any and all circumstances - to give me a peace and joy beyond comprehension.
I need to be reminded that when I chose to take up my cross and follow Jesus, I agreed to submit my life to his glory... and to rejoice in Him ALWAYS!!
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Just about everyone who has visited us or been on a mission trip to Guatemala has met Esbin. He’s the 10 year old disabled kid that 6 months ago could barely move. He is undiagnosed, and has been bedridden for the last 3 years. Today Guicho and I spent the day with Esbin, and his sister Mildred, in Guatemala City visiting doctors.
Guicho’s dad is a friend with the most well known brain surgeon in Guatemala, who made time to examine Esbin this morning. He asked detailed questions about Esbin’s history, then he did a complete physical exam.
Unconvinced, he called a friend who is a neurologist, who immediately came over and examined Esbin as well. I was shocked at how much love and concern these two men (clearly among the top in their field) seemed to have for Esbin. Together with the neurologist, we talked through what they believe to be their diagnosis and how we could best attempt to rehabilitate. But before any diagnosis could be official, we would have to have several tests done.
So the Doc called another specialist and requested an exam. The specialist said he could take us next week, and the Doc explained our situation and pleaded to see us immediately. They obliged, and scheduled us for later the same day. When we left his office to head to the next appointment, he refused payment, saying “I am so thankful for the way you are helping my people and the children in Guatemala. We are going to get Esbin well, and you will never receive a bill from me.”
During the next appointment, Esbin had all of his nerves tested for response time. Little needles stuck throughout his body while getting zapped with an electric charge. He cried and yelled for his mom. This was difficult for all of us. When we were leaving, the receptionist said “normally this tests cost Q3,000, but the doctor called and said to only charge you half - that he was paying for the other half.”
In between appointments we had lunch at Pollo Campero, a famous fast food chicken place in Guatemala. (We asked the kids earlier if they could eat anywhere in the world where would it be.) So today became their first time in a car, in a mall, and to Pollo Campero. Needless to say they were overwhelmed as they looked around at everything. It was sweet though…especially as Mildred (13 yrs) stood in amazement as the people came up and down the “moving stairs.” She would touch the top step with her foot and quickly pull it back, wondering how it disappeared. Finally, Guicho took her for an up and down just for fun…
We still have some blood tests to do next week, then we’ll return to the main doctor for a complete diagnosis. From there we’ll form a rehabilitation plan likely to include dental work, nutrition, and therapy. (The neurologist said Esbin’s teeth are so bad that it would be impossible to begin a nutrition plan until he has major work done.)
From what Guicho and I gathered during all of the meetings, Esbin has something similar to Gilliam Barre Syndrome. Basically after getting sick, the immune system attacks the nervous system and begins a process of attrition to the entire body. While this is a disease that is normally able to be rehabilitated back to health, what sets Esbin’s case apart is the 3 years of living in a vegetative state following the onset of the problem.
What I have wrestled with is the whole 3 years of nothing stage. I watch Esbin’s mom, his sister, and family. They seem like good, honest people. They obviously love him dearly. Initially I was frustrated with them and partially blamed them for not doing anything. How could they just let this kid lie in bed, wasting away into nothing for 3 years!
But over the last year I have gotten to know them, their community, their culture, and their lifestyle. Sadly, until someone else intervened with suggestions and offers to help, this is what happens in extreme poverty. Esbin’s family cannot afford to eat every day, much less pay for bus fares, doctor’s appointments or medicines. They lack the education & sophistication to read – much less figure out how to call and make appointments, study symptoms or diagnose a condition. Mom and dad have to be gone all day just to try to provide enough for the family to eat, which makes it impossible for a physical therapy program, special diet, or any type of regular exercise.
The reality is, Esbin’s parents didn’t have any idea what was happening with their son. And if that’s not sad enough, they didn’t have any way to try to figure it out or try to help him. They didn’t know where to start. All they know each day is the challenge that is before them: work long days in hopes to eat that day, figure out how to carry Esbin back and forth to the bathroom, try to maintain a home and a family, and do it all over again the next day.
So I continue to wrestle. Why do I have so much? I always say I know the answer… “God blesses some so that they can help others.” But then I wonder why did he bless me to help them, and not them to help me? Why for me is eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner a given? Not even a thought? When for them one meal a day is a prayer and a hope? Why do I get the liberties of all-you-can-eat 24 hrs a day, warm home and bed, car, computer, tv, restaurants, desserts, travel, and entertainment… while families like Esbin’s suffer and just long to get through another day?
I don’t know. (And please don’t email me any textbook theological answers!) One thing I do believe is that God wants me in this place. He wants me to wrestle, to ask the questions, to cry and to hurt. I believe he wants me to feel the guilt – along with the joy – that comes as I seek about these things.
The longer I live as a Christian, the more I learn that there are no simple answers to many questions of the faith. There is only a journey. A journey that requires our willingness to jump in blind, letting go of everything we thought we knew, and just take a walk with Jesus.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Not including the neighborhood kids asking for our kids to come out and play, we average about 10 to 15 knocks on our door a day. Most of them are locals who have heard about the home building ministry and want us to consider them for a new home. Others ask for food, shoes, clothes, or other things. Many of these are friends – people we know – and others we are meeting for the first time.
But a couple days ago we had a different knock. At first glance it seemed normal enough… a group of young kids either asking for something or wanting to see if Jake could come out and play.
“We were wanting to know if we could have your trash,” said Ruben, a kid that I had chatted with several times out in the streets. I remembered it was trash day, so my guess was that this kid was asking to take out our trash and fishing for small tip.
“Are you wanting to take out our trash and earn a little money?”, I asked him. He looked at his friends and smiled, as if that sounded great…but I could tell that’s not what he meant. He said, “actually we were wanting to go through your trash and see if we could find some food.”
I looked into his eyes and I swear in that moment I saw my son Jake looking back at me. I thought of sending my kids out to ask for trash in hope that they could bring home some scraps of food. I saw my own girls walking around hungry, rummaging through the neighbors trash.
Then I thought of the days, perhaps weeks worth, of food that is sitting in our pantry. The amount of food that spoils because we don’t eat it in time. Those items in the back of the fridge that we forget about until cleaning it out every few weeks.
As I considered what to do, my flesh voiced it’s concern. “Our door cannot become a place to come and receive constant handouts… If all we are to the people is a Santa Clause of sorts, we will never develop true relationships… As soon as the word gets out that we hand out food and/or money, we’re going to get bombarded…”
Thankfully the penetrating truth of God’s word came through louder than the voice of my sinful body.
“Love your neighbor as yourself…” (Mark 12:30)
I am called to love Ruben as if he were my own son. To love him and care for him to the same degree that I love and care for myself. Honestly, that seems absurd. How am I supposed to do that? What does it look like?
Maybe God was trying to teach me what it looks like by making me see my own son when I saw Ruben.
Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:15-17)
Friday, May 22, 2009
“Come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest… I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.”
God is moving actively in the ministry of deepStream guatemala. He is all over the place, doing so many things at once. He is using his children (many of you) to provide for us. He is sending people to help us. He is opening doors of opportunity for new ministries. He is saving souls and changing lives – using our little ministry to make a difference.
Then why, if everything is going so well, does it have to be so hard?
In Guatemala, the rainy season began this month. For me, it has begun literally and metaphorically. In the last few weeks we have had people close to us die, personal attacks against our ministry, car problems, financial problems, sickness, hospital emergencies, and staff challenges. Some of it is easier to deal with than others. Each one isolated, I can usually handle without a problem. But when it all comes at once - when the rain pours – it’s difficult to stay the course.
Thankfully God has reminded me that trials have purpose. Sometimes He uses them to correct a sin or a bad pattern…so I begin seeking and asking. Other times He is permitting the enemy to attack, which brings a testing of my faith and perseverance. Or perhaps in all of his wisdom and mercy, God is using the storms to sharpen me… to refine my impurities in the fire.
I think God is teaching me that there are things I can’t see when the sun is shining. In order for me to see things more clearly, He has to bring the rain.
God’s word is teaching me in this area. Even Jesus in all of his perfection was taught obedience through his hardships (Heb 5:8-9). If the perfect Son of God had room to learn from his hardships, can you imagine how much more we should be learning through our own trials?! When the struggles – even catastrophes – come, why isn’t our immediate reaction to fall on our knees and ask: “what are you trying to teach me?”
Considering how ridiculously clear the bible is on this matter, it should (in theory) be easy for us to see that when we face challenges, God is working on us. Acts 14:22 says “you must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Paul said we must persevere so that we become mature and complete.
Being refined is not easy. It’s like a painful peeling away of a layer, but the stripping process hurts. The bright side is that it’s a process designed to have a beautiful end result. We come out sharpened and strengthened.
In addition, living in a community surrounded by extreme poverty, I am constantly reminded of the scale of my suffering when I look at things “by comparison.” Thinking this way doesn’t always make things easier, but it certainly gives perspective on the gap between what I view as difficult versus the difficulties of so many others. I think it is healthy for all of us to do this at times.
In the end I am thankful that God allows me to suffer, experience pain, or endure persecution because it brings me back to Him. I finally break down and come that wonderful place of complete dependence. For this I am grateful to see that my recent rainy season of trials is actually just a gift of his mercy and love for me.
Monday, May 11, 2009
Claro died today.
I have only known Claro for a few months, but I loved him. God connected us, which always builds a friendship bond at a faster pace than otherwise. We met after his nephew came to us and asked if we would come visit his home. He had heard our ministry built houses in the community, and said his uncle Claro was in great need.
He was right. Claro’s house was more like an old tool shed. Made of cornstalk, there were gaps everywhere, allowing space for the cold, rain, and wind to make life miserable. The inside was barely big enough for a twin-size makeshift bed, and a fire. The floors were dirt. His only belongings were a few dirty pieces of clothing, a some filthy dishes caked in soot, and a machete. He cooked over an open fire about 2 feet from his bed, giving him a constant inhale of smoke and dirt. No electricity, no water, no plumbing… his house was cold and dark.
But Claro was a joy. He smiled and talked. And talked, and talked... He told us how cold and dusty his house is, and how it always makes him sick. At 65 years old or so, he is difficult to understand (even for the locals), because he blurs and joins his words in a unique mutter. But he said “thank you God and thanks to you” no less than 20 times every time we talked.
When we finished his home, roughly the equivalent of a concrete block 2-car garage, he stood inside and cried. “Never in all my life did I think I would have a home like this.” That statement froze me. I wondered what kind of home I could envision myself standing in that would warrant the very same comment from me.
The house only has two small rooms. Instead of basking in the glory of his new space, he immediately moved his son, daughter in law, and granddaughter into the adjacent room.
2 weeks ago, with some friends that were visiting, we delivered Claro a new bed. When we moved out his old one, made of stiff hay, he said “don’t throw that away, I can sell that and make a little money!” We all laughed. He sat on his bed. We could tell he was amazed at how soft it was.
A few days later, some other friends had decided to bless Claro with a new chicken coup they had built. We went to his house to surprise him. After yelling for him and getting no answer, my friends waited at the street and I went up to see if he was home.
I peeked in the front door and saw Claro lying in his bed. He was on top of his blanket, which made me smile as I realized he wasn’t cold. I felt bad waking him up, so I stood there and just looked at him for while. He looked comfortable.
I called out his name and he popped up…said he was just taking a quick nap. We gave him the chicken coup. He was very grateful. He told us he could manage the baby chicks without a problem, and he was excited about the new micro business opportunity.
That was a week ago. Today, I ran into Claro’s son on the street. Sobbing, he gave me the news that Claro has passed away suddenly in his sleep. Unexpected. Just like that, Claro was gone.
I just got home from the viewing in Claro’s house. He was lying in an open coffin, in the exact place that he had served us his famous fried chicken just over a month earlier at his home dedication. As I stood over his coffin, looking at his face, I could hear his scratchy voice: “Gracias a Dios, Gracias Ustedes.”
I am so humbled, so honored, to have had the opportunity to show the love of Jesus to Claro in the last couple months of his time on earth. After a long, difficult life living in extreme poverty, Claro spent his last couple months in comfort. I wish it could have been longer, but I believe he went out with a sense of dignity, an appreciation for God’s blessing, and the ability to leave behind a safe, warm home to his son.
Peace Claro. See you again soon. I’ll be looking forward to feasting together at the Lord’s table – and having another round of that fried chicken.