Honduras, Part 2: Dia 3

    The Day the Gringos Came to Church

Tu eres mi amigo fiel
Tu eres mi amigo fiel
Tu eres mi amigo fiel

You might not recognize the words, but you would probably recognize the tune if you heard it. You might sing it as, “I am a friend of God.” Today in Honduras, in the city of La Era, there was a birth of worship. Hondurans and Americans gathered together to worship and praise God. They gathered together to break down barriers through hugs and blessings. They gathered together to sing in Spanish and English, declaring that God is our faithful friend. Indeed.
There is much that keeps us apart, especially on Sunday mornings. When I say “us,” I am referring to God’s children. I am referring to you. I am referring to me. Worship styles, people who look like us, language, comfort levels – all are factors that serve more to divide than to unite. Now how is it that those things given to us by God, for God, can keep us from God? Perhaps they keep us from God when we decide that they are not for God. When a worship style becomes for us, it is no longer for God. When our comfort level is important, it is no longer for God.
You know who gets this right? The ones who get this right, this worship without motives, is children. That was also evident today. When a song is placed before them, no matter the language, children will sing. Children will hug. Children see differently than us. It can be uncomfortable to be in a worship experience unlike your “normal” experience. It can be uncomfortable, but it can be good. It is good. You could use the excuse of saying, “I’ve never done this before.” But guess what? No one else has either. Worship is a dynamic experience. It is not like your favorite movie that you have seen six times and can quote the lines. At least it shouldn’t be. So when you gather with others to worship, you are entering a new experience which means that it should not have a predictable outcome.
To worship God is to pour out your heart and to enter into God’s. This mystery of God living in us and us living in God is rarely more wonderful than when we intentionally gather together in worship. And what then, can be more wonderful than to seek to press deeper into the heart of God? How do we do that? By living out, intentionally, this act of reconciliation. We sing songs of praise, of worship, of confession, of adoration, to be more fully reconciled to God. We greet one another in love, as Brothers and Sisters in Christ, to be more fully reconciled to each other. We listen to the truth of God’s word to allow for deep, transformational impact to come alive inside of us. So let me ask you, how are you doing with that?
As the team reflected upon the day, most commented on the beauty of worshipping together in Spanish and in English. Person after person was struck by the warmth that could take place in greeting one another, though most of us had never met before. Still others commented on the sincerity of worship within everyone else. Where else could you find that but in worship? The first answer that comes to mind for my own question is a sporting event. People who do not know each other can gather together, greet each other, and share an experience with another person who was a stranger just hours before. The question is not whether or not we worship, the question is who receives our worship.
A good friend of mine points out that worship is happening everywhere. My good friend is right. Whether it is the musician, the athlete, the political figure, the actor, or the material possession we wish to have; worship is happening everywhere. No wonder we are divided. We have fallen in love with the created rather than the Creator. We have fallen in love with what we can hold rather than what we can never grasp. We have fallen in love with what we can earn rather than what we cannot afford. We have fallen in love with ourselves.
Again we must look to children as our example. Children understand receiving. Children understand dependence. Children understand comfort in a way that we, as adults have long since forgotten. Comfort is not about what we can control, but it is all about knowing who is in control. When I step into apparent discomfort in my worship, I allow for God, through the Holy Spirit, to surround me with peace, with love, with comfort. The comfort of knowing that I am not my own. The comfort in knowing that God will provide for me when I trust in him. The comfort of knowing that I not only have a faithful friend, but an Almighty God. An Almighty God worthy of worship in any language.


Honduras, Part 2: Dia 2


Yesterday, to the best of my knowledge, there was a wedding reception in the barn on my parents’ property. No one from the family, just a couple that wanted to celebrate in that setting. The plan for this reception had been set in place for months, and the work of preparation took place in earnest once the warmer weather of Spring appeared. I learn a lot about myself when I learn about my parents, and this experience of barn preparation was one of those moments of insight. At one point I was talking to my mother on the phone and I had asked about the barn. She started to tell me, “You know those windows over the barn doors?” “Yes,” I responded. “Well Dad is up on the ladder…” “cleaning off the bird poop,” I said as I finished her sentence. I know my father a little too well in that regard.
What’s the point? The reception would take place inside the barn, and the odds of a guest looking up to say “What nice, clean windows” are a million to one. But the thanks is not the point. It never is with my father or my mother. They do the work well because they believe in doing the work well. That is something they learned from their parents, and that is something they have passed on to their own children. There is an expression of love in doing the work well. Scraping off bird poop is an expression of love? Absolutely. This is what I believe about my father and my mother: if they recognize something that could be done in service to someone and they do not do it, they would feel selfish. And they recognize a lot of needs. I believe that about my parents because I experience it myself. If I see something that can be done and I do not do it, I feel restless. This is not to say that I always do everything that I see, because I don’t. But then I live with the restlessness.
Doing the work that God has called you to do can sometimes be thankless. In fact, it very often is. And if you were hoping to be called to a “glorious” ministry position and you want to wait until that opportunity arrives, you might miss the point altogether. On our second day in Honduras, I had the opportunity to return to the San Jose Orphanage in La Paz. Sister Edith again greeted us with a smile, toddler in her arms, surrounded by 14 others, in front of a courtyard full of washed and drying laundry. Edith had stepped out of a “glorious” ministry position of teaching children in a privileged area because she believed God wanted more from her. She returned to her parents’ home. She prayed. She waited. One day a woman dropped off two children at Edith’s door, asking Edith to care for them. She did. More than 10 years later, she cares for 15 children – in an abandoned high school building. I don’t know whether or not Edith ever asked herself the question, “What’s the point?” Whether she did or did not is between her and God. All I know is that Edith has been faithful in her obedience and God has been faithful to her.
Among the tasks we were called to do while we were there was to chip away and remove cement from a drain for the laundry and shower. Tall grasses were chopped down with machetes. Piles of stones and dirt were moved from one open “room” to the surface of the playground. And I’ll admit, when I got my first taste of flying drainage water and cement in my mouth and eyes, I wondered, “What’s the point?” When I started sweating buckets to move stone and dirt via wheelbarrow, I wondered, “What’s the point?” Then I remembered the verses I read in the morning, Romans 12:1-2. I noticed the familiar command to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, but then I noticed that this was called a “spiritual act of worship” (emphasis added). Offering our bodies is a spiritual act? Why is it not a physical act of worship?
There is no longer a requirement of a physical sacrifice. Jesus completed that requirement – once and for all. So our physical bodies have become the vessels through which God’s Spirit can operate – our spiritual act of worship. My conversation with God on the bus ride back was still a selfish one, trying to find the “point.” I heard this explanation for this thankless, no-one-will-know-about-it work: “Because we loved you first.” My too-quick response was, “Oh, so I owe it to you? Is that it? I have to pay it back?” I regretted that response coming from me, but I was met with love and patience. “No, you are given opportunities to express love all the time. You have the chance to love others.”
Edith embodies that extremely well. She recognized that the love God has for her was immeasurable. She knew that God had called her to do more than to love those who were already receiving love. She did not even know what it was that God had in store for her, but God knew. God knew exactly what Edith could do and what could be done through her. She began to care for and love on children with no regular income. She wiped noses, cooked meals, hugged, sang songs of love, and remained faithful. Because God had loved her first, she felt compelled to love others in the manner that God had called her. Edith was given an opportunity to live out the love she had been given. Can you imagine not being able to express the love that has been given to you?
That is the point. In scraping bird poop off windows, in cutting down grasses that will grow again, in moving a small portion of the large pile of sand and stones, we are given an opportunity to express love. Our bodies perform spiritual acts of worship. When Edith washes a child’s messy face, folds the laundry for the 50th time, or sleeps with a sick child – she worships. We have to change our view of what is “glorious” work. We have to shift the perspective of who receives the glory. And once we realize that it is not us, we can offer our bodies in spiritual acts of worship so that God, correctly, receives the glory.


Closets Full of Kryptonite: Searching for Simplicity

I cannot think of any examples when guilt causes long-term change. Now, if you substitute “love” for “guilt,” you have changed the story and changed the results. Much of my thinking about simplicity has brought me to the point of guilt. I have too much. I don’t need this much. I should have less. “There are starving children” type of thoughts. Now, all of that is true, but how long will it impact me? How long before guilt leads to repeating the cycle? Guilt -> consume -> guilt.
I had one of those moments the other day. I began running around to accomplish a number of tasks and stopped at the gas station around the corner. Also thirsty, I spotted a well-marketed bottle of “artesian water,” whatever that means. It looked good, it met a “need,” and I bought it. I’m pretty sure I expected the water to make me fly because of the slick packaging and price, but it didn’t. It tasted like water. It worked like water. Just like the water that was half a mile away at my house. So why did I buy the water? “There are starving and thirsty children….” Guilt.
And the guilt of that one water bottle stayed with me for a little while, as in a day or two. I refrained from impulse purchases temporarily, but that won’t ultimately be a driving force for a lifestyle change. Not a healthy one, anyway.
Yesterday I was working on some projects outside and had a new thought, a new perspective on my “stuff.” As a homeowner, I have often – very often – lamented my lack. This project needs to be done which will mean purchasing A, B, and C. Then I look over there and see that I need D, E, and F for that project. It takes no time at all to have an alphabet-full list of needs for my “stuff.” But yesterday I felt a moment of gratitude for all that I have. It truly is a blessing. And now that I have been entrusted with God’s “stuff,” I can make decisions about the best way to use it. Instead of guilt, I felt gratitude. Instead of lamenting what could not be changed, I was excited about what I could change.
That’s the gift of grace. Jesus had it all, access to anything that we might think that we might want. And he, in love, set it all aside and gave it all away. He chose to delight in the love of God – the same love and gift that is available to us all. He took the position of a servant, giving to others in love, and washed the feet of his disciples. He offered these words after returning to the table: “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:15) He had access to infinite love, so there was no reason to stop giving love away. He did not wash out of guilt, in love he washed the guilt away. Yours and mine.
Andrew Murray, in his book Like Christ, puts it this way: “When we look upon Jesus, His obedience to the will of the Father, His humiliation to be a servant of the most unworthy, His love as manifested in the entire giving up and sacrifice of Himself, we see the most wondrous and glorious thing heaven has to show; in heaven itself we shall see nothing greater or brighter. Surely such an example, given of God on very purpose to make the imitation attractive and possible, ought to win us.” Attractive and possible. God’s love IS attractive. And we are shown that it IS possible. So we should go and do likewise.
I’m glad that this came to me early on in my meditations on simplicity because it should shape all the rest. Rather than recklessly discarding all that I see as “excess,” I now have the opportunity to look through the lens of love. The lens that reveals to me just how much God loves me, and you. The lens that reminds me of the promise for Living Water which always satisfies, not artesian water which lasts an hour. The lens that shows me the truth of Jesus, the love of Jesus, the attractiveness of Jesus, and the opportunity to imitate Jesus. The search for simplicity may pass through the valley of guilt, but I hope that is only a brief passage for you. Because where we arrive – always arrive – on the other side of that, is in love. I pray that today you will see your blessings as blessings, and you will feel compelled to do as Christ did and love others.


Finding God in the NBA Finals: “Go and Make __________”

We like numbers. That should come as no surprise given that we are created in the image of God; God who reveals identity as 3-in-1. God who seems to have an affinity for 3, 7, 12, 40, and infinity. Numbers are everywhere in our lives: prices, heights, weights, finances, and sports. I like sports. In sports, we use numbers to measure a person. We use numbers to measure a person against another person: LeBron James has one championship ring, Kobe Bryant has five, Michael Jordan has six, Bill Russell has 11 – in 13 seasons! We use numbers to identify a person. I can still tell you that Lou Whitaker wore number 1 for the Detroit Tigers, Alan Trammell wore 3, Sparky Anderson wore 11, Lance Parrish wore 13, Chet Lemon wore 34, Darrell Evans wore 41, Dan Petry wore 46. We like numbers.
And I will go out on a limb (not very far) and say that people who talk about sports today will talk about LeBron James’ numbers so far in the NBA Finals. Because he is playing so great or so poorly? No, not for that reason. Because nearly a dozen times after the game last night, when hounded by reporters asking questions, James said, “I have to do more.” I’m not quite sure what James meant by that, and he certainly doesn’t have to explain himself to me nor anyone else. But could he be talking about his numbers? His points in the game, his rebounds, his assists, his blocks. Perhaps. Perhaps he feels inclined to increase his numbers.
Granted, James was answering questions from gossip-hungry reporters whom, I believe, were just waiting for James to slip and say that his teammates are not doing enough. James is smart enough to know that and smart enough to not take the bait. But when we look at the series overall, it is fair to say that the teammates – the “role players” – will determine the winner of the championship. Last night there were relatively unknown players scoring more points than the “superstars.” Basketball is played five-on-five, not one-on-one nor two-on-two. And those who analyze sports, particularly basketball, often look to see if the most gifted players can make their teammates “better.”
How are we doing with that? “We” as in “Christ-followers.” Are we helping to make others around us “better”? What do I mean by that? Well, I’m glad you asked. Earlier this week a colleague shared an insightful piece about the doomed focus of missional work. The church has often made great effort to do missions work. Why? Well, partly because of the Great Commission found in Matthew 28, and partly, I believe, because we like numbers.
We like to declare that we support missionaries in (___) countries. We like to measure our “growth” by the number of baptisms or the number of people who profess their faith. And although it is good to celebrate the growth of the Body, we must be very careful not to stay hung up on our numbers. We cannot focus there because what Matthew 28 tells us to do cannot truly be measured – not by us, anyway. You see, Matthew 28 does not tell us to “Go and make converts.” That can be measured. No, the command was to “Go and make disciples.” Well how do we do that? I’m glad you asked.
We pour into their lives. We empty ourselves. That is contrary to everything that we see around us. LeBron James, like us, has a desire to be “the best.” He has the gifts, talent, and work ethic to be the best. But how successful will he be – in a team sport – if he focuses only on improving himself? I am not here to bash LeBron James because we all do that. We all strive, in our brokenness, to be the best. Even our church numbers fall prey to that trap. We now have a term “megachurches” which qualify as such by a particular number. Clearly, those who attend a megachurch are “the best,” right?
Ok, ok, you got me – Jesus was surrounded by crowds. Sometimes 4,000 or 5,000 and more. You’re right. Clearly Jesus wants megachurches. Wrong. Every time that Jesus was surrounded by crowds, you will notice that he stops and speaks into the lives of those closest to him – the disciples. The Gospels are not written by reporters, instead they hold the account of Jesus as given by those closest to him. Jesus made disciples. Well what about the numbers at Pentecost?; there were thousands converted then! Yes – by the power of the Holy Spirit, not by the work of men or women. LeBron James wants to do more. Chances are you do too. Somehow, in some way, you want to be noticed and or measured. But you were called to do something immeasurable: make disciples. The “numbers” that may tempt you have nothing to do with you anyway. But, in obedience and love, you can give your life to the same work Jesus did in his ministry years and “make disciples.” What does that mean? Simply this: be so committed in your love for God that you must share it with others by teaching them and loving them as you walk through this life together. We do not know what that other person may do for the Lord; they may (seem to) have a bigger impact than us. And when you can reach the point that you are not only “okay with” that, but long for that, you will be ready to make disciples for the Kingdom of God.