Friday, December 7, 2012

Did Jesus Really Mean What He Said?


It has been a long time since I've written anything.  I am not sure that anyone even reads these anymore.    I hope you are still following this because I started it initially to share what I learn along the way, so you may learn from it too, but now I think I write them more for myself to reinforce what God is doing, showing me and teaching me on this journey.  On occasion, I go back and re-read the stories and learn and reinforce and praise God that He continues to gently break me, so He can grow me.  With that said, I have a lot of things to write that I just haven't had a chance to put onto paper.  So, if you are still out there, there will hopefully be more to come soon.

The story below really challenged me...profoundly challenged me.  It challenged me to consider if we really believe Jesus meant what he said.  I mean, if you are a believer, you probably go to church and worship Jesus every week.  We thank Him for dying on the cross for our sins and we look forward in this season to celebrate His birth, but I think we miss the point of it all if we first don't diligently pursue doing and living as He tells us to do and live.  This story reveals that I still have a long way to go...
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Tom, retired engineer was approached by one of the boys that lived down the street named Adam.  Adam approached him about mowing his yard.  They discussed the work, settled on a price and made a deal.  Each week, Adam would come and mow the yard, and each week, their relationship grew.  They both enjoyed the talks they had…usually, over a cold glass of lemonade. 

They talked about all sorts of things, but they would inevitably wind up discussing their faith.  Adam was Jewish and loved to study the Torah.  Tom, being a Christian, would always talk about Jesus.  It wasn’t long until Adam began asking him a lot of questions, so Tom said, “You love to read, so why don’t you take my bible and read about Him for yourself?”

One day after mowing the yard, they sat together and Adam began asking all kinds of strange questions.  He asked if the old man worked?  Tom replied, “no, I am retired.”  He asked him how he could afford to live if he didn’t work?  Tom replied, “I paid money into a retirement account, and I live off of that.  What kind of question is that anyway?”  Adam told him that he was reading in Matthew[i] that Jesus said that we are to take no thought for the future as what you need to eat and what you need to be clothed. “  Tom’s body tensed and took a defensive posture.  He felt like saying, “What do you want me to do, live like the birds of the air and the flowers of the field?”   He chose not to because he knew that John would have said, “That’s what Jesus told you to do, so why don’t you do it?”[ii]

Tom caught himself starting to think that he wished he had never given that kid his bible to read in the first place, and then it hit him.  Here I am, and old guy, living on my pension, social security, and 401(k) that I’ve set aside for my old age, and I’m asking myself how to explain all that while claiming to be a follower of Jesus who said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy and where thieves break in and steal.”  I did exactly what Jesus told me not to do.  I have laid up treasures for myself here on earth.

Tom looked Adam in the eye for a moment before responding.  He said, “Adam, if I don’t save up, who is going to take care of me?  My body and mind don’t quite work the way that used to you know.  If I get sick and don’t have insurance, who is going to take care of me?  Who is going to take care of my wife and kids should something happen to me?”

John looked at Tom with surprised look on his face and said, “Well, the church”, right?  You belong to a church, don’t you?  Doesn’t the community of Christians take care of its people?” 

Tom took a deep breath and said, “You know what John?” You are right in all that you say, but the church as described in Acts 2 seldom exists, and it certainly doesn’t exist for me.  I have had to function as an individual rather than being a part of a community that will take care of me when I need help.”

Adam said, “It seems like most Christians know John 3:16, but have never read 1 John 3:17 which basically says, “If you have this world’s goods, and you know of a brother or sister who is in need, and you keep what you have while that person suffers, how can you say, “I have the love of God in my heart?” [iii]  They both kind of sat there looking off into the distance for a few seconds, and then Adam broke the silence by wishing his friend a good day.  He stood and walked out the door and down the street.  He felt great discouragement because he had truly started to fall in love with the Jesus he had read about, but he could not understand how the man that claimed to love Him and the man that wanted so much to introduce him to Jesus didn’t seem to try to live how He taught us to live.


[i] Matthew 6:“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

[ii] Matthew 6:26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
[iii] 1 John 3:17-18 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Politics

Our word “Politics” comes from the Greek word “politikos " meaning of, for, or relating to citizens.”  Somehow, we have lost our way.  I certainly don’t feel that our political system is of our citizens, for our citizens or related to our citizens.  Instead, it has become a corrupt place for the elite and privileged to spew rhetoric and to divide the people.  Just to be clear, I am not speaking of a specific political party, but rather, our entire political system.

I refuse to participate.  I will exercise my right and privilege to vote, but I will not participate in the process or the propaganda.  I will not be used like a puppet to spew hate and divide the people of the country that I love…the country that my son, Beau and so many other service men and women, lay their lives on the line to protect and preserve…the country that so many of our forefathers gave up everything for to pursue a better future and to live in freedom.  I hope that someone will read this and join me…regardless of your political views.  The much more difficult path and the only productive path is the path of uniting.  If we were to really step back and think for ourselves, most rational people would agree that we have so much more to unite behind than we have to divide over.  Don’t get me wrong; I am not against debating ideas, positions, beliefs, etc. In fact, I love it.  When done in a way that respects the views of those you debate, I think both sides always learn and grow.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ walked this earth and lived under the rule of a corrupt political system.  If you read the account of his life, he didn’t spend time arguing or fighting over the government he was subjected to. He didn’t divide the population by challenging them to revolt against the government.  Instead, he focused his time on loving those in the margins of society, and his love created a movement that is more powerful and has lasted long past the fall of the Roman Empire.  I wonder what would happen if we tried it his way…if we followed what he modeled for us?  I may only be one person, but I choose to do my part.  Will you do yours?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Role Model?

If you're like me and call yourself a Christian, you show up to church most Sunday's.  You sing songs and worship Jesus, and may even lead or host a bible study.  We really really like Jesus, but if we are honest with ourselves, we don't really want to be like him.  

We admire his humility, we all do, but do we really want to be that humble?  I think we all think it's beautiful that the Son of God would get down on his knees and wash his disciples feet, but is that something we would do?  He chose to be born in the lowest of circumstances.  We chose the best for ourselves.  He was familiar with the suffering of the people around him.  We don't even want to hear their stories much less do something about it.  He chose to go without even the basic things people think are necessary.  We choose to consume more and more for ourselves.  He spent his time with "the least of these." We probably don't even know anyone that fits into that category.  He chose to chastise the religious leaders of the day and love the sinners.  We choose to love our church buildings and church activities and chastise the sinners.  We are thankful that Jesus was spit on and abused and that he took it, but we would never let that happen to us.  We love that he laid down his rights, but we're going to spend our lives fighting for ours.  We praise him and sing songs to him and love him because he loved us enough to suffer his whole time on this earth for our sake, but we are going to make sure to have fun while we're here.  

In short, we think Jesus is a great Savior, but he's not a great role model.  I say this because we all know about the character of Jesus Christ, but we still think we can have this and have that. We  can love him and worship him and yet our lives look nothing like his.  

I just want to ask...is Jesus Christ your role model?  Think this through...is it the desire of your heart to be a servant that would lay down your life for someone else?  The crazy thing is that 1 John 2:6 says, "Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did."  It's not this optional thing where you can say, "Well maybe I can be a Christian and admire everything about Jesus, but my life looks nothing like his. No, John says, "Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did."  Who is your role model?

(written from notes taken from a sermon by Francis Chan)

Sunday, July 29, 2012

What A Weekend...

I haven’t written much about what all I am experiencing and what God is teaching me by moving into Bonton. This weekend was rich with stories that I’d like to share.  I hope you enjoy them…

Each Saturday morning, a group of volunteers and some people from our community gather in front of my house at 10:00AM.  We meet there and then divide up into teams and go around the community and serve the people in need and develop relationships with whoever will allow us to.  This Saturday, my team went to visit with one of my neighbors down the street. 

I recently met Anita when she contacted us about some problems she was having in the neighborhood.   Anita lives in a small old homestead house with her husband, daughter and several young grandbabies.  Anita is a long time resident of Bonton.  In 1994, she was shot in the face and lost her left eye, and despite some serious health issues, she is still a very caring and sweet lady.

The trees close to their home had grown over the roof and several large dead limbs needed to be trimmed away before a storm or strong wind cause them to break onto their house.  After we finished trimming her trees, I knocked on the door and asked Ms. Anita to come inspect our work.  She walked out into the front yard, turned around and looked up.  She put her face in her hands and began crying.  I was amazed that what seemed like a very small gesture of kindness was such a big deal to her, but it was.

After we finished our work, we all gathered back at my house and talked for a while.  As we talked, I learned that the family next door had been without food for a day and that they wouldn’t receive a check until the 1st of August.  In a separate conversation, I learned that the electricity had been cut off at a family’s house that lives down the street.  They have five kids.  I work with three of the boys regularly, and they are the most genuine, well-mannered, respectful boys you could possibly meet.  So, I went to the store, and last night, we had a community meal at my house.  Cole and I hosted several of our friends, our neighbors that had no food and the boys from the house without electricity.  We had a great meal and a great time.  I was so glad that I was able to be a part of helping them in their time of need.  It truly is better to give than to receive.

As I settled in for the night, Cole came in and asked me if he could borrow a pillow for one of the boys to use.  He had invited them to stay the night since they had no electricity. I can’t even imagine how hot their little house is without any AC or even a fan to move the hot air around.  It was so very hot here in Dallas yesterday. 

We all got up this morning and went to church together.  My church is amazing for a lot of reasons, and one of the reasons its so amazing is because at the beginning of the service, we get the opportunity to share.  Our pastor has people standing in each isle with a microphone. If you have a prayer request or a praise of something God has done in your life, you raise your hand and can share with the rest of the church family.  I was surprised to see Germany, one of the teenage boys that stayed with us the night before, raise his hand.  I just knew he as going to ask us to pray for his family and their very difficult circumstances, but instead, he asked for prayer for Mike Fechner. 

Mike is the founder of H.I.S. BridgeBuilders, the ministry that I work for.  He told the church that Mike had done a lot for the community over the years and had recently been diagnosed with a brain tumor, and that he would appreciate it if we would all pray for him.  I was so impressed by the courage of this young man from the hood to stand up in front of the entire church filled with people he had never met before, and I was blown away by his selflessness as he requested prayer to meet the need of another even though he had great needs himself.  My pastor knows Mr. Fechner, and we all prayed for him together before our service began.

I wish that everyone could experience the amazing blessing I did when I hugged Anita as she cried with joy because her trees were trimmed or the pleasure from serving a dinner to people I love that if I didn’t simply would not eat…again.  I wish you could feel the immense pride I felt when a young boy with nothing…not even electricity in his home stood in front of hundreds of strangers and asked for prayers not for his families needs, but for the needs of another. 

Luke 6:38 “For if you give, you will get! Your gift will return to you in full and overflowing measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use to give--large or small--will be used to measure what is given back to you."

Galatians 5:14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Monday, July 2, 2012

Jerry's Birthday

Victoria Ellis, Marie, Jerry, Stephanie & Seandra

 Last week, we celebrated Jerry's birthday.  Jerry has become one of my good friends.  He lives in my community.  It was fun to be a part of celebrating his 55th birthday.  I hope you enjoy watching the video of his birthday.  Click the link below to view...

Jerry's 55th Birthday

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Gabriel's Story

Watch this video slideshow about last Saturday in Bonton.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

East of Eden


John Steinbeck wrote the novel “East of Eden” in the 50’s. The title was taken from Genesis 4:16, “So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden”…. a revered novel titled after an obscure statement in the bible?  Have you ever really thought about those three words…east of Eden?  I haven’t…until now.

There is a place called Eden, a paradise, a state of being in which everything is in its right place.  A realm where the favor and peace of God rest on everything…and Cain is not there.  He’s east of there.  And he’s not only east of there, but the he was “building a city.” He is putting down roots…east of where he should be.

The book of Genesis keeps returning to this eastward metaphor insisting that something has gone terribly wrong with humanity, and that from the very beginning, we are moving in the wrong direction.  God asks Adam, where are you?”  And the answer is of course, “East.”  East of how things are meant to be…

There is the kingdom of God where everything is as God intends it to be, and then there’s anti-kingdom.  Anti-kingdom is when people and societies rebel against God and become opposed to God’s desires, and as a result, things begin to go terribly wrong.

What started with two people and some fruit has escalated to murder among family members, to an entire civilization at odds with God in just 11 chapters, and a quick look through a newspaper and you will without doubt know that we are still moving further and further east. 

We live in a world divided, and that division continues to deepen.  Our news is filled with stories telling of the rapidly escalating gap between the rich and the poor, a shrinking middle class and growing number living in poverty.   We hear of increased racial tension here and abroad.  Our nation is divided along political lines to the point that our government is paralyzed and ineffective. We are east of Eden.  Separated from how God designed it to be. 

I too live east of Eden.  Like Paul describes in Romans 7, I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do…this I keep on doing.  With all the stories of how good things are when we live within God’s plan, and with all the stories of devastation and brokenness when we live outside of His plan, it shouldn’t be this hard…but it is. 

For those of us that claim to follow Jesus Christ, the answer is simple and the application of the answer is the hardest thing we will ever do.  We are commanded to die to self… John 12:24-25 "I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life."  A.W. Tozer said,  "Among the plastic saints of our times, Jesus has to do all the dying, and all we want to hear is another sermon about his dying."

What comes next are some of the hardest words in the bible for me, and I think for all of us.  Judging by the way we continue to live, I wonder if we truly believe Jesus meant what he said.

Sometimes, when I go to a scary movie, you see people cover their eyes when they anticipate something is about to happen.  This may be the point in this where you want to turn away.  I am warning you.  If you read this, you will either continue to just keep looking the other away and living as you choose, or you will be forced to make some radical changes.

Consider yourself warned.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
34 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? 35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. 

“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” 

One of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis wrote this on “Counting the Cost.”  

"Christ says 'Give me All. I don't want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half measures are any good. I don't want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don't want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked--the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: My own will shall become yours.'...

"When I was a child I often had toothache, and I knew that if I went to my mother she would give me something which would deaden the pain for that night and let me get to sleep. But I did not go to my mother--at least not till the pain became very bad. And the reason I did not go was this. I did not doubt she would give me the aspirin; but I knew she would also do something else. I could not get what I wanted out of her without getting something more, which I did not want. I wanted immediate relief from pain, but I could not get it without having my teeth set permanently right. And I knew those dentists; I knew they started fiddling about with all sorts of other teeth which had not yet begun to ache. They would not let sleeping dogs lie. If you gave them an inch they would take a mile.

"Now, if I may put it that way, our Lord is like the dentists. If you give Him an inch, He will take a mile. Dozens of people go to Him to be cured of some one particular sin which they are ashamed of... or which is obviously spoiling daily life (like bad temper or drunkenness). Well, He will cure it alright: but He will not stop there. That may be all you ask; but if once you call Him in, He will give you the full treatment. That is why He warned people to 'count the cost' before becoming Christians. 'Make no mistake,' He says, 'If you let me, I will make you perfect. The moment you put yourself in My hands, that is what you are in for. Nothing less or other than that.'
"'Whatever suffering it may cost you in your earthly life... whatever it cost Me, I will never rest, nor let you rest, until you are literally perfect--until my Father can say without reservation that He is well pleased with you, as He said He was well pleased with me. This I can do and will do. But I will not do anything less.'

"The goal toward which He is beginning to guide you is absolute perfection; and no power in the whole universe, except you yourself, can prevent Him from taking you to that goal. That is what you are in for. And it is very important to realize that. If we do not, then we are very likely to start pulling back and resisting Him after a certain point. I think that many of us, when Christ has enabled us to overcome one or two sins that were an obvious nuisance, are inclined to feel (though we do not put it into words) that we are now good enough. He has done all we wanted Him to do. And we should be obliged if He would now leave us alone. 

"But this is the fatal mistake... The question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what He intended us to be when He made us.... 

Until we surrender to His total control and rule over our lives by crucifying our flesh and its passions and desires, we will continue our journey east…east of Eden.  East of where God wants us.  East of getting all of what God has created for us.  East is where selfish ambition, brokenness, despair, hurt, deceit, hatred, division, discord and jealousy live.  Eden is where joy, peace, kindness, compassion, gentleness and self-control live.  It is easy to say that we want Eden over what is east of Eden, but before doing so, don’t forget to count the cost…

"Those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples."

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Night in Bonton

Monday night was not much different than the others since moving to Bonton.  Life is so raw here.  It ebbs between the amazing and the tragic almost without notice.  This night started on a high note.  We had a good group of guys that showed up to fellowship and workout. Cole was there too.  He is home from college, and I've been anxious to see what he thinks about life in "the hood."  We were all outside and in the garage...talking a lot and working out a little when EK showed up.  The night took an immediate turn.  

EK had been to our house over the weekend and Hector, my roommate, and I sat him down and told him that we loved him, but that he was no longer welcome at our house.  In fact, he was not even welcome to catch some shade from under the trees in our yard.  We told him again that we loved him, but any comfort that we gave him only contributed to his addiction, so as hard as it was for us to do, he was no longer welcome until he gets clean. Despite our warnings, he was back again.  EK mentioned that he had a warrant for his arrest and that he was considering turning himself in.  He mentioned that maybe if he were locked up he could get clean.  The guys and I talked with him and then prayed over him. He went inside the house.  After a brief discussion,  we decided to call the police to come get him.  It was a very difficult thing to do.  My good friend Clifton stepped up to make the call.  I have such great respect for him and was so proud to see him take such a bold step to help his brother.   

The police came to the house and took EK away.  If you are reading this, I ask you to pray continuously for EK while he is away.  I ask you to all commit to going with EK on this journey through your prayers and letters.  If you are willing to write him, let me know, and I will get his address to you. His life teeters on a precipice with life abundantly on one side and death on the other.  Our united effort alongside him through this can help push him to the side of life.

After EK was taken away, we all gathered in the garage and prayed together again. Our workout was shot, so we all walked down to the house of a very special friend of mine from Bonton named Maeola.  It was her 89th birthday.  We went to sing happy birthday to her. Once again, the pendulum swung and life just doesn't get any better than seeing the glow in Maeola's eyes as we sang to her.  She said that she felt 16 again and laughed and teased with us all.  Here is a picture of us all with Maeola.
Brian, Clifton, Cole, Maeola, Daron, Gerry, Hector, Victor
The day before her birthday, a few friends and I built Maeola a small garden in her backyard.  She is always telling me how she was raised on a farm, so if I have any questions about how to do things, I should ask her.  Now she has a little farm of her own.  We'll see just how much she knows! haha 
Jayda, Maeola & Me in front of her new garden
Thank you in advance for accepting the invitation to join together in EK's fight for sobriety and for a life abundantly in Christ.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Darkest Just Before Dawn


May 5th, 2002 was one of the worst days of my life.  Two of my best friends were in Oregon visiting me, and I was excited to take them to the Cinco de Mayo celebration on the waterfront in Portland.  Unbeknownst to me, they were there, along with my family, to demand that I get help and to put an end to the destructive behavior that began after my wife passed away from cancer in March of 2000.

What started out as a day that I thought would be fun and hoped would give me a reprieve from all that had been tormenting me, turned into a nightmare.  I didn’t think that what I had felt inside since Marcy died could feel any worse.  I was wrong.  When my friends and family confronted me, I felt as if they both had betrayed me.  Of course, that is not true at all, but that is what I felt.  The truth is they saw that I was killing myself and loved me enough to do something about it.

Tomorrow marks a decade since that day, and God has been faithful to restore my life.  I’ve learned that He loves us more than we have the ability to comprehend and that He longs to restore His children, but He will only do so when we let go and place our trust and our life completely in His hands.  The day I gave up and gave my life to Him is the day that He began His work in me.

If you find your back is against the wall and you have no place to turn, remember that it is always darkest just before the dawn.  Take my word for it…give up.  Give up trying to do it your way, and put your life in His hands.  Allow the God that created all things and holds the universe in the palm of His hand to begin a work in you…His work.  Your life will never be the same, but be careful…you might wind up giving everything up and living in the hood.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Kazuri


On my recent trip to Africa, we got to visit a place called Kazuri.  Kazuri is located just outside Nairobi in the village of Karen…named after Karen Von Bixen that the movie Out of Africa was based on.

Kazuri is a business, but not a typical business.  Lady Susan Wood founded it in 1975.  Susan passed away in 2006, but the work she did for others continues.  Mark & Regina Newman bought the business in 2000 grew the business  significantly; however, they continue to be guided by the same principles Lady Wood instilled when she founded Kazuri.

Kazuri makes beads…beautiful beads.  Each one is unique as they are all made by hand.  In fact, the word Kazuri means “small and beautiful" in Swahili.  Kazuri hires only single mothers, widows or women with special needs from the slums of Nairobi.  They have a clinic on-site with a full time nurse.  They give their employees 21 days of paid vacation after completion of 11 months of employment.

Women lined up around the building to receive their bible
During our tour of Kazuri, we had the privilege of meeting these amazing women.  They work very hard, but the environment the Kazuri provides them is first class.  In talking with them, many of them told us that they would love to study the bible, but they didn’t have one.  Upon our return home, one of our commitments was to see that the women of Kazuri have bibles to study.  We were able to provide them with 150 bibles in English and 150 bibles in Swahili.  I’ve attached some pictures of Kazuri and a short video of the song the women sang for us when we met them.
Sabina handing a Kuzuri employee her new bible

I know my writing has been largely focused on my recent trip to Africa. My original motivation was to share what I saw there and now to share the ways that a few faithful people who heard these stories and decided to do something about it  are making a big difference half way around the world.  If you are one of those people, thank you.  I hope these stories encourage you to do more.

In addition to the people who gave so we could buy these women bibles, we have some very special friends from Africa that worked very hard to make all the arrangements and to deliver the bibles on our behalf.  A big thank you to Sabina, her son Kennedy and friend Nancy.  I love them all!  Last but not least, thanks to Kazuri for running a business of integrity that puts caring for their people over profits, and for allowing us the honor of giving bibles to the women they  employee.   Mr. Newman has passed away, but Mrs. Regina Newman, along with Piety Goes, Richard Goes, Ronney Goes and Raymond Goes continue this great work.  Thank you all for the great work you do.  More companies should follow your example.   Check out there beautiful products at http://www.kazuriamerica.com/.  

video