Archive for June, 2018

Now Is The Time!

PathI returned from a short-term mission trip a week ago, Sunday. I spent time with youth from both Lanark and Rockford in serving a camp for developmentally disabled kids and adults. We completed projects to help them enjoy life, the camping life, where they would normally not be able. The emotional highs that came from helping others in need and even the fact that we were helping people that we didn’t know and would probably never know, was awe inspiring. We were truly living out the greatest commandments to love God and our neighbor.

And then we returned home. I should have known better than to turn on the news to see what was going on in the world around me. But I knew that I couldn’t live in the sheltered bubble of ignorance to the worlds issues, even though a week-long hiatus was a blessing. However, I wasn’t prepared to hear the tragedies and atrocities that were happening before us.

People who felt that anything was better than what they were experiencing, made the decision to risk everything to run away. The violence and hatred they left behind is something that I hope to never experience, and I hope that none of you do either. But it must have been horrendous to make a long arduous journey to the unknown.

Exhausted, frightened, and desperate, they arrived at what they hoped would be a sanctuary, they instead were met with hostility. Worse yet, their children were taken from them. Zero tolerance was the term. A flurry of activity began as people shouted from both sides, proclaiming that they were right while the others were wrong. News media picked up on it and some increased the divide with skewed stories. Then it became about the “law.” The focus shifted to who was responsible and who could fix the problem.

The spotlight was on the wrong thing. It is almost like watching a master magician as your attention is drawn to one thing while something else, the important part, is happening while you’re not looking. The kids. What is happening to the kids?

An executive order was written to stop the inhumane separation of families, but some of the damage had been done. News outlets estimate that some 2900 kids were separated and some were placed in facilities far away from their parents and now the parents don’t know where their kids are.

But yet, here we are fighting about who was initially responsible. Was it this president, the last one, the one before that? Who is it? Does it really matter? At this point, the blame game does nothing for us. What does help is correcting the issue and making it right.

To make things worse, we heard a very powerful man quote scripture from the national spotlight. The problem was that he spoke out of context. He used a passage which spoke of governing authorities and how we should be submissive to them. But this was written to those who were being persecuted, not the ones persecuting. There is a big difference.

Mostly, I would bring your attention to a passage just a bit further down the page. Romans 13:9-10; “For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”

Love does not exert authority. Love does not oppress. Love does not separate. Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Did we miss this part of Romans chapter 13?

What if we asked that old question in this instance; “what would Jesus do?” I’m pretty sure I know what the answer would be. “Let the little children come to me, do not hold them back, the kingdom belongs to them.”

When do we, as a society, place the lives of those around us before our own. When do we say enough is enough when it comes to fighting with our neighbors.

Yesterday, I was wearing a shirt that said, “Love all, worship One” on the back and I heard a voice from behind me say, “I don’t think I can do that!” I turned around and asked what it was they couldn’t do. The reply came back; “I can’t love all.” I responded with that is what we are called to do. “I can’t” was the reply. No one ever said it would be easy, but that doesn’t mean that we give up.

Now is the time. Now is the time to cross the aisle. Now is the time to put our petty differences aside and accomplish something for the greater good. Now is the time to lay down our swords and embrace our differences, celebrate our diversity as well as our unity. We are called for such a time as this. Now is the time!

IMG_3840This past week, I had the honor of helping to lead a group of youth on a missional work trip to Camp Courageous in Monticello, Iowa. This is a trip that I have been a part of for over 5 years now and I am continually amazed at the amount of hard work accomplished and devotion of the youth who go on this trip.

Too often, the projects we are able to complete are limited only by the assumptions of the adult leaders. We know what is required for completion and we doubt the abilities of the group of youth. But each year, I get a glimpse into the capabilities of our young people. They can accomplish many things if we just get out of their way and allow them to work it out.

This year we had a couple of bigger projects, including moving a 30-foot wall and dismantling a deck platform and railing which was built by a previous work trip group. While the wall removal and relocation required some technical knowledge of construction, the dismantling of the deck was negotiated by the youth. They assessed the situation and methodically moved through the project without much adult input.

God equipped them for the task at hand and God used them just as they were.

This past Sunday’s lectionary reading came from 1 Samuel and was the story of the anointing of a new king, one from the line of Jesse. Almost all of Jesse’s sons were paraded in front of Samuel in hopes that the king would be one of them. But as each one passed in front of him, Samuel told Jesse that it was not that one who was chosen. They reached what they thought was the end of the line without one chosen to be king. So, Samuel asked if that was it, were there any more sons?

Jesse let him know that there was one more, but he was just a shepherd boy. He was not the strongest, boldest, or most likely to succeed. He was meek, humble, and insignificant. Samuel asked to see him and as he passed before him, Samuel told Jesse that this was the one. This young boy was going to be the new king.

God is always doing this. He is taking the ones who this world would not think would amount to much, and elevating them to something greater. The first will be last, the last will be first, right?

When we think something can’t be done, or we think that a certain person is too small, too weak, to insignificant to make a difference, God shows us something incredible. This is what was happening this past week as I watched the youth on this trip accomplish projects that others would have said they could never have done. But God wanted to show off. He wanted to once again, prove to me and to many others, that His ways are higher; that His plan is greater; and that He can do all things through anyone he chooses. Why should we get in the way? Why should we doubt what God can accomplish?

This past week was just what I needed. I needed to see the power and glory of God once again lived out in the lives of our youth. I needed my doubt erased. And that is just what I received. I have a renewed sense of God accomplishing all things to his glory, using sometimes the most unlikely sources.

I am one of those sources, small, meek, and insignificant. But I am also a child of God, just as you are, and we are part of God’s greater plan. We just need to trust in His calling on our lives and go where he leads. Are you willing to go with me?

The Voice; The Finale

MicrophoneSo, how’s your hearing today? Any better than last week? I found it very interesting that the lectionary readings for the past two Sundays reflected on two call stories. Last week was Isaiah, and now we have Samuel. But there are some differences in the two stories. Both are called to proclaim destruction, but Isaiah hears the voice of God speaking to someone else and he responds. Samuel hears the voice of God directly, but doesn’t understand that it’s God’s voice, he needs someone else to tell him what it is.

So here is Samuel, in a time when visions from God were rare; people were not hearing God’s voice often. So, I guess you could say that it would be normal for Samuel to question who the voice is coming from. Anyway, Samuel was lying down in the temple, I assume almost falling asleep, and a voice is heard calling his name. Samuel, Samuel. Here I am, he cried out, and ran to Eli’s bedside. But Eli assured him that he didn’t call him and that he should go back to bed. Again, he hears the voice and runs to Eli. And again, he is told that it was not Eli that called.

Finally, Eli realizes what is going on and tells Samuel that it is God who is calling out to him and that he should respond with; “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” Samuel could not figure out the voice of God, he heard it, but didn’t know what it was. How many times do we hear something, but not understand what it could be? We hear or feel a nudge to do something, but we are not sure if we should or not. We feel like we should make a phone call, visit a friend, take a new step in our career, start a new business, or join a ministry in the church, but we are not sure if it is God who is calling us to this new thing.

I’m sure there are times when it is just obvious that it is God’s plan for our lives, but other times we wonder, we question, and we doubt. And other times yet, we run headlong in the direction we think the voice is calling, only to realize later that we should have gone the other way.

Author John Ortberg tells a story about coming to Willow Creek Community Church in the Chicago area. He was looking for a little bit of spiritual direction so he contacted a close friend. He described the pace of life in his current ministry. The church where he worked tends to move at a fast clip. He also told him about the rhythms of his family life: the van driving, soccer league, piano lesson, school orientation night years. He told him about the present condition of his heart, as best as he could discern it.

John asked his friend; “What do I need to do, to be spiritually healthy?” After a long pause, his friend told him, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”

“Ok,” John said, “I’ve written that one down. That’s a good one. Now, what else is there?” John had a lot of things to do and this was a long-distance call, so he wanted to cram as many spiritual wisdom pieces in as little time as possible. There was another long pause.

“There is nothing else. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” John eventually got it. He said, “I have concluded that my life and the well-being of the people I serve depends on following his prescription, for hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. Hurry destroys souls.”

This idea of eliminating hurry was not one that John was ready to hear. He thought there would be far more things he could do to improve his spiritual health. If left to his own thoughts, he might have continued to search for other ways.

Like Samuel had Eli to help him hear God’s voice, John needed his friend to help him discern God’s voice. You see, sometimes we need an Eli in our lives to help us discern God’s plan for us. We need that external voice of reason, that voice of experience, that spiritual direction that comes from a mentor, spiritual guide, or close friend.

Who do you have around you that can be that voice for you?