Showing posts from 2009

"Love tastes like rice and beans"

One of the unforgettable things we got to do on this last trip to Haiti was have the first ever "Church in the Ben's" service. The Ben's is the area beside the boys' home where the kids play soccer and basketball. It's a cement area the size of a tennis court and a half. On Sunday we held a church service there. All the orphanage kids were present, and I think a few kids from the neighborhood as well. About half way through worship, I heard the gate rattle, and in walked a proud procession of well-dressed Haitians in single file. It was Pastor Gabriel and his congregation from the Ravine. He is the one who hosts the Ravine feeding every week, and the day before we had invited him to come to Church in the Ben's. Pastor Gabriel's congregation had on their Sunday best -- maybe not fancy by American standards, but for the little those people own, they were dressed to the nines.

I had the privilege of preaching the sermon that morning. I preached in English…

Dillickson and Mylin

We are back in the U.S. now, tired and emotionally wrung out. Going to a place like Haiti, which is so different from our home here, cannot help but affect you emotionally. But what is more, I cannot help but give my heart to the kids and leaders of the MDL orphanage, and it is really tough to leave them.

I didn't get a chance to blog the last two days we were in Haiti because we were too busy winding down the trip. But I want to tell about a couple of things that stood out in those last few days.

This post is about little Dillickson and his sister Mylin. On Saturday, we went down to this slummy area called The Ravine and did a feeding for the kids there. I have been told that the average Haitian eats one meal a day. Those kids aren't living up to the standard of the average Haitian. If the Manasseros weren't feeding the kids, many of them would be badly malnourished. Some still are. We hold the feeding in a ramshackle hut used for a church. It has four walls made of cinder …

Thursday (Thanksgiving) and Friday

Believe it or not, we pigged out on a huge American style Thanksgiving meal yesterday. Just like any other Thanksgiving, I ate way too much food. We went to a party with some local folks the Manasseros know. It was fun!

Today David and I held our last Bible study with the leaders of Maison de Lumiere. They are sharp folks and very caring. It has been such an honor to serve them!

In the afternoon, we helped the kids paint t-shirts. That was a blast! I especially liked sitting with the littler kids, holding their t-shirt in place so they could paint on it, helping them get the right paintbrush, and wiping the inevitable paint smears off their arms. You will see those t-shirts sometime soon, as we will be selling them in a fundraiser.

Tonight we held a worship gathering for all the kids at the boys’ house. What a blast! When they really get going with Creole songs, it is a wonder to behold. I couldn’t sing along, so I just prayed and looked around. Each time I gazed on a kid’s face, I felt …

A seriously great day

It was one of those days that you want to live over again just so you can soak up its goodness a little more. And think of it. When we live one of these incredibly good days, we still haven’t seen anything like what we will experience in the age to come, when we are completely open and love flows without restriction. God is good!

Highlight #1: Praying for the orphanage leaders. David Jones and I have held a daily Bible study for the leaders of the boys’ and girls’ home. This morning our team gathered, and we spent about 20 minutes praying over the five leaders (Zach, Fritz, Marval, Erta, and Navy). It means a lot to them to receive ministry from missionary teams. The focus of everyone’s attention is the kids, as it should be. That made it even more gratifying to bless the leaders with prayer.

Highlight #2: The Beck boys. It has been amazing to watch Spencer and Nathaniel mix with the kids here. When you think about it, it is not all that common for kids to come here on a mission team. S…

What made my day yesterday and today

I didn't blog last night because in the time we have available for blogging and such, a "God thing" happened. I was sitting on the back porch talking with Morgan Keach and David Jones about life and Haiti and God. About 10:00, Markenson, one of the orphanage graduates and and currently a Maison de Lumiere employee, walked by with his bedding to go sleep up on the roof. (The flat roof of the guest house is a very desireable place to sleep when it is so hot.) As soon as Markenson passed us, a little voice in my head said, "Pray for him." That little voice is a good one to follow.

A couple minutes later, David, Morgan, and I were on the roof with Markenson and his friend Robinson, the night security guard. With the cool evening breeze drifting over us, we gathered around Markenson, placing our hands on his back and praying quietly for him. Markenson aspires to be a pastor, but he lacks the means to go to Bible school. We found ourselves praying for his future, grow…

Day 2 of our Haiti trip

Great day today! We went to church with the Maison de Lumiere folks (Manasseros, staff, and kids). Then it was lunch at the Manasseros' house. Then we spent the afternoon hanging out with the kids.

In the afternoon, the older kids played a Bible Challenge game that they set up like a game show, in which a team of boys and a team of girls square off against each other in a contest of Bible knowledge. Lucas and I watched from the back of the room in which the game was being played. We had some great laughs! One of the kids (Patrick) graciously served as interpreter, but we still couldn't understand what was going on half the time. We just knew that at decisive moments, all the boys or all the girls would erupt in elation that their team had scored a point. As the game went on, we embraced our confusion and cheered wildly whenever either side expressed happiness. Every time we cheered, one side looked at us with approval, while the other side glared at us to express their displeas…

We're here!

We are here! The team made it to Maison de Lumiere without any incidents. We are exhausted, though. Travel started with a massive check-in procedure (12 people flying from LA with 23 checked bags plus carry-ons). Then we flew the red-eye from LA to New York (it's much better to fly through Florida, but that option was not available to us this time). Our connection between flights was very quick, so we didn't even stop for a cup of coffee in JFK before boarding the plane for Port au Prince. All told, we spent about 15 straight hours in airports. Everyone is turning in early tonight.

And... what it's all about... we finally got to see the people of Maison de Lumiere today!! That begins with the Manasseros and the staff of the orphanage. But most enthralling of all is renewing relationships with the kids. We got to worship with them tonight, and it turned into a raucous time of singing and clapping. We rejoiced because of the goodness of God ("Bondye bon!"), and also…

Leaving for Haiti tonight!

This is an entirely new thing for the Becks, going as a family on a major mission trip. I'm not sure what to expect. But I know this. If we want to see great things happen in and through us, it helps to put ourselves in situations where need is great. And in Haiti, need is truly great. It is beyond great. It's overwhelming. There is no country in the Western world more wracked with poverty and corruption. Yet Haitians are captivatingly hospitable and receptive. So, not knowing how this trip is going to affect us, here we go. Into the fray. Into the gripping paradox that is Haiti.

"He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone" (Ps 91:11-12).

What is holiness?

Usually we associate God's holiness with his majesty and power. We don't often associate it with love... but Jesus did. Check this out.

Exhibit 1: Leviticus 19 is the chapter of that book devoted to the subject of holiness among God's people. I was surprised to discover that most of that chapter is social in nature, meaning that holiness among us is a matter of the quality of our relationships. Read it and see for yourself!

--> Holiness is primarily a matter of relationships.

Exhibit 2: Jesus stated that the two great commandments were to love God (the Shema from Deut 6:4-5) and love our neighbor as ourselves. Guess where the second commandment is from... Leviticus 19 (19:18 to be exact), the chapter on holiness! So for Jesus, one of the greatest commandments is to love our neighbor as ourselves, and loving our neighbors is an expression of holiness.

--> To love our neighbors is to be holy.

Exhibit 3: What about people who are not our "neighbors"? (In …

How important is the incarnation?

How important? Consider this. Theologian Charles Gore observed in 1891 that throughout the centuries, the essence of the Christian religion has been faith in the incarnation. That is, Christianity revolves around the conviction that the person of Jesus of Nazareth was God in human flesh. This conviction is so indispensable that if it was to disappear, Christianity as a distinct religion would be gone also. I believe Gore is right.

A further question is how does belief in the incarnation affect our daily lives? Here is one way it can: see Jesus as the prototype for the ultimate expression of human life. Imitate Jesus. Take up his way of life.

Where should we start? Here is just one suggestion (I could make many more!). This one is particularly relevant to me today, and maybe it will be relevant to you too. Jesus surrendered everything in his life to the will of the Father. Let's imitate him by setting aside a moment first to identify clearly something we find ourselves concerned abo…

The scarlet thread running through the Bible

The Bible is a huge book, but in its essence it is really very simple. There is one way we can evaluate the quality of a human life or the collective life of a community of people -- look to see how they (or we) are doing with regard to the Shema. The Shema is the scarlet thread that runs through the whole Bible.

The Bible is at its core a story of love between a relational God and human beings. We humans are special, because in us God invested his own image, which includes the ability to relate personally to God and one another. The love between God and human beings flows in two directions. First comes God’s love to us. God creates human beings for a mutual relationship of love, but God’s proactive love always precedes human responsive love. The number of biblical passages that speak of God’s love for us are almost countless. A particular passage we looked at last week in our group is Gen 3:8, where God comes to walk with Adam and Eve in the Garden in the cool of the day. The picture…

1 Corinthians 7:21 -- Your social standing doesn't matter!

Have you ever thought about how much energy we expend jockeying for position in social spheres? We want the next job, income level, house, or car. We think a different appearance will cause people to think more of us. Often jockeying for social position is more subtle, like wanting the right kind of attention from the right people, or protecting how we might look to others, or modifying our circle of friends in order to advance some personal interest. We are prone to swim in a constant swirl of concern about what other people think of us.

We receive an unending stream of messages from our culture -- and even within the church -- that our standing in relation to everyone else is to be fought for and protected. We also battle our expectations of ourselves, pushing ourselves to achieve social honor and avoid disrespect or shame.

If you, like me, sometimes struggle to forget about yourself… now hear this. Your social standing doesn’t matter. That is what Paul teaches. Who you are in compari…

The raggedy end of God's parade

A colorful picture formed as I was reading 1 Cor 4 this morning. In vv. 9-13, Paul speaks of a procession of God's people. Have you ever thought of God as a parade organizer? Well, he has put on this parade as a public display (in Greek the word is "theatron" -- we recognize it as the root of our word "theatre"). For whom did God put on this theatrical procession? People, angels, and all the world (v. 9).

Paul goes on to say that he thinks of apostles as the ones at the end of the procession. They are fools, they are weak, they are dishonored. They go hungry, thirsty, poorly clothed, beaten, and homeless. They are persecuted and slandered. As Paul puts it, they are "the scum of the earth" (v. 13). Being an apostle is not a glamor job!

In contrast to the apostles, the Corinthians are wise, strong, honored, and well taken care of. Paul pictures them as being in the front of God's procession. They want the place of honor, and they take it.

We would exp…

Highlights from New York City

We just returned from our vacation in New York. If you are a fan of NYC, see if you recognize these places...
The Belvedere Hotel, on 48th between 8th and 9th Aves. A clean and affordable hotel within two blocks of Times Square. I recommend it!The huge Hersheys and M&M stores within a block of each other. We learned that the two companies despise each other.The amazing phenomenon of Times Square. Did you know that businesses in the Square are required to advertise in bright lights? Times Square is so bright that it actually shows up on satellite photos. And it never sleeps. One night Lauren and I were walking around at night (which is completely safe to do), and they started jackhammering the sidewalk at 11:30 PM! The double-deck tour buses. We learned so much about NYC from our tours! Highly recommended.Carnegies Deli. Great fun, and their sandwiches are the most intimidating skyscrapers in NYC.St. Patrick's Cathedral. A truly awesome structure! It has to be one of the finest …

Why do we care if our culture is doubtul about truth?

I want to address this question, because it arises out of Steve’s comments on my post about living in an age of BS, and it brings up an important issue: what is the church’s relationship to the world? I am happy to pursue this conversation.

Steve wrote: “If we are sons of God, we invite and advance the Kingdom of heaven upon the earth, a Kingdom of truth. Focusing on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy is what Paul exhorts us to do (Phil 4:8). If one claims to ‘live’ in an age of the opposite, that is his/her choice. The environment surrounding a son of God will be filled with light, the radiance of our Lord Jesus. Let's live from heaven, and be salt and light to those around us!”

Here are some thoughts…

Great question! What is our relationship to the world around us? Since we are called to be salt and light, does it matter what the world is like? My instinct is to examine the Scriptures and see how our role models related to the world arou…

Overcoming the cannibal within

Some thoughts on Ps 53… It begins with this familiar line: “Fools say in their heart, ‘There is no God…’” We usually apply this idea to people who do not know God. We lament the foolishness of people who live their lives out of relationship with God.

However, I am owning my share of this problem today. In my forgetfulness, I can go through chunks of the day behaving as if I am relatively independent from God. There is an impulse I live with every moment of every day to live as if God doesn’t exist. We all have this impulse. Paul quotes Psalm 53 in his letter to the Romans to support his argument that there is no one on the planet who seeks God on his or her own (Rom 3:12). Left to our own devices, we are all fools. We share the impulse to forget God. And that means we share the impulse to become cannibals.

Verse 4 says, “Do all these evildoers know nothing? They devour my people as though eating bread; they never call on God.” Devour people. Hunt them down, take them down, and consume t…

Surrender to Love

I want to recommend a book: David Benner’s Surrender to Love: Discovering the Heart of Christian Spirituality. I haven’t read Francis Chan’s Crazy Love yet, but I just finished Surrender to Love, and it is a great encouragement in the Christian life. Here is Benner’s summary of what the book is about:

“This book is about love – not the soft, sentimental kind but the strong, spirit-transforming kind. It is about the paradoxical ways we often fear love and the way love uniquely offers release from our deepest fears. It is about the consequences of building the spiritual journey around anything else than surrender to love. And it is about knowing ourselves to be deeply loved by God as the first step in becoming genuinely great lovers of others and God” (p. 11).

I agree with what Benner says here about the importance of building our lives around love – specifically, God’s perfect love. I am thoroughly convinced of this: the only thing that truly transforms a person is receiving and giving G…

Living in an age of BS

If you already figure that we live in an age of BS, good news – there is technical support for your view. Harry Frankfurt, professor emeritus of moral philosophy at Princeton University, wrote a biting little book, published in 2005, entitled On Bullsh**. I was given this book by a friend, and I decided to give it a go. I was pleasantly surprised. It is not a joke book. It is classical academic discourse on a cultural phenomenon. I admit, though, that there is a certain childish glee in reading a serious analysis of a word that I am not supposed to use.

The opening line states the gist of Dr. Frankfurt’s position: “One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullsh**.” Okay, now follow along. Frankfurt has a serious point to make.

First, he differentiates BS from lying. When someone is lying, he knows the truth and is deliberately trying to mislead his listener (or reader, etc.). In contrast, when someone is BSing, he doesn’t care whether what he says is tru…

What becomes of the church in a rapidly changing world?

I just viewed a video on YouTube called Did You Know 2009. (I am writing this on my blog, and the link won't carry over to Facebook; but a search for "Did You Know 2009" will call up the video.) Very interesting! And overwhelming. The video made me feel anxious. It’s astounding how radically and quickly our world is changing. I couldn’t help but ask, “What becomes of the church in this changing world?” My thought is that the church, if it is going to do well, will get out of big buildings and onto ground level… away from clever programs and into concrete displays of God’s love. The only thing that will cut through the anxiety of disruptive change is what is truly transcendent about the church – God’s love, which has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5). Change produces anxiety, and anxiety forces us back to the core of the faith, which is exhibiting the love of Christ in very real, unprogrammed ways.

In our changing world, less is more, and small…

What to do when church means nothing at all

The trend in recent decades is that American youth are growing up with less and less exposure to church and Christian teachings. Why this trend? Because church has become irrelevant and meaningless to our surrounding culture. American culture is changing, and the church is being left behind. (An ironic twist on the Left Behind book series could be inserted here.)

I was reminded of this yesterday as I listened to a song I like very much, "Crooked Teeth" by Death Cab for Cutie. If you don't know Death Cab, they are an indie rock band from Washington. Incidentally, the band's name was taken from a song performed in the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour movie. Death Cab has grown to immense popularity, with at least one platinum album.

The chorus in "Crooked Teeth" goes:

And you can't find nothing at all If there was nothing there all along
Yesterday as I was listening to it, the final lyrics of the song caught my ear:

And you can't find nothing at all If ther…

How to know what "love" is

A thought for the day... How do we know what love is? The word "love" is tossed around in our culture in so many different ways that it can easily lose any specific content and meaning. Since love is a very important word to us Christians, it is critical that we know what love is.

The apostle John gives us two ways to know love. One is that we connect with Jesus through story. We read and digest the stories written about Jesus in the Gospel of John and the other Gospels. For John, God is love, and Jesus is the human face of God's character. If you want to see what God's love looks like, immerse yourself in the stories about Jesus.

The other way is through engaging in love. Love cannot be known in abstraction. It can only be known in the act of loving. As John says, "God is love... Everyone who loves is a child of God and knows God; the unloving know nothing of God" (1 Jn 4:4, 7-8).

Says NT scholar George Caird, "Only those who, like Jesus, have allowed t…

Sexual orientation -- heredity or environment?

Because even a short post about sexual orientation can stir up a lot of feelings, I thought I would add a bit more background to my comments. One book that is very helpful is Sexual Ethics: An Evangelical Perspective by the late Stanley Grenz. Grenz, whom I had the pleasure of sitting down with before he unexpectedly passed away, takes an approach to theology that I find very helpful.

Grenz deals with all the major questions in his chapter on homosexuality. Here is one important question he covers: What seems to drive sexual orientation -- heredity or environment? There are two major camps on this issue. One argues that sexual orientation is hereditary. It comes from some combination of genetic makeup, hormonal levels, and the formation of reproductive organs.

The consensus among scholars is that genetic makeup alone is not sufficient to determine one's sexual orientation.

The other major camp relies on psychological findings to argue that one's environment drives sexual orientat…

On sexual inclination, desire, and activity

The subject of human sexuality, especially homosexuality and the gospel, has not particularly been on my mind lately, but I just read a post that quotes New Testament scholar and contemporary sage N.T. Wright on the subject. It's worth reading... here.

A few of the points on which I agree with Wright:
Scripture sets out a clear boundary for human sexual activity: it belongs within heterosexual marriage. In Scripture, the monogamous relationship between a man and a woman is woven into the very foundation of covenant society.This message has always been rejected as inconceivable by various forms of paganism, both ancient and contemporary.We must distinguish between inclination and desire, on one hand, and activity, on the other. We all have a variety of inclinations to sin. To argue that we have a "right" to act on our inclinations, or that God would want us to be happy and therefore condones us acting on our inclinations, is a baldfaced overturning of the heart of disciples…

The one central idea of 1 Corinthians

What is the one central idea of 1 Corinthians? What is the one sentence Paul would most like his readers to know by heart? Here it is:

"Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose" (1:10).

New Testament scholar Ben Witherington is one among many scholars who observe that Paul uses familiar Greco-Roman rhetorical devices to reach the people of the church in Corinth. The Corinthian house churches were predominantly Gentile in demographic, and the Corinthians highly valued a rhetorically skilled presentation. Witherington argues that ancient listeners from a prominent Roman city would have recognized v. 1:10 as the exordium, or the theme sentence of the letter. (Incidentally, Paul's letters were public documents, intended to be read out loud in church gatherings.) All the issues Paul a…

God's love and the iPod

I have long had this burning desire to be utterly transformed by God. I don't want to be a better person. I tried that. At a certain point, I realized that God was not going to be impressed by my attempts to be well behaved. What will impress him? Based on what Jesus had to say, I can think of only one thing: love.

Now left to my own devices, I am not the most loving person. I am self-centered and rather insensitive to other people. I like to think conceptually. I can tune out people and relationships, and then I wake up wondering why I feel disconnected. Thankfully, this kind of ugliness defines me less than it used to. Slowly I am being transformed into the likeness of Christ. But a taste of transformation only makes me hunger for it all the more.

I am realizing more and more that key to being transformed into a person who feels, thinks, and acts like Jesus is to place myself over and over again on the receiving end of God's love. There is nothing I can do to earn divine love,…

The social status of the apostle Paul

I found out some interesting things about the apostle Paul over the last couple of days' reading in a book by Ben Witherington on 1 & 2 Corinthians. I never appreciated that in order to receive the education he did, Paul had to have been raised in a well-to-do family. Paul was trained in Greco-Roman rhetoric, and he was also educated under Gamaliel, one of the most famous rabbis of his day. Witherington states that Paul's education was in the top 1-2% of his day.

Paul came from a wealthy family, and he was well educated. He was also a Roman citizen. Not many Jews enjoyed that status. So, all in all, Paul had a lot of social muscle he could flex. He usually didn't. In fact, in Corinth he chose to take the socially low road of being a tentmaker. This move disappointed some of the more aristocratic Corinthians, who came to see Paul as a disappointment and, ultimately, not really apostolic material.

So... when Paul wrote in Philippians 2 about Jesus denying himself all the r…

Moments from Haiti... The power of God's love

Jesus preached that love is the core of the human response to God (see Matt 22:34-40). What made Haiti so impactful for me is that I saw this theological truth in the faces of children. The boys and girls in the orphanage have known various degrees of mistreatment, abuse, and abandonment. They are now in an environment where, for the first time, they are saturated with God's love. You can see in their faces the transformation that is taking place as they go from closed to open, hard to soft, begging to giving.

They are like flowers that open their petals to receive sunlight. They soak up love like sponges soak up water. They are irresistable for that very reason.

David Benner writes this in his book Surrender to Love...

"Christianity is the world's great love religion. The Christian God comes to us as love, in love, for love. The Christian God woos us with love and works our transformation through love.

"In spite of the trivializing influence of romantic and sentimental…

Moments from Haiti... The job of eating

[Photo by LucastheExperience]
Three days a week the Manasseros run a feeding program for kids who live in the area and are regularly undernourished. These kids might or might not eat when they are at home. A bowl of rice and beans at the feeding program is the only substantial meal they will get for a couple of days when the next feeding program happens.

It is interesting to watch these kids eat. They clearly do not eat for taste. That is, how the food tastes is not important. For them, eating is a job.
It gets oddly quiet when the kids are eating. There is no horseplay like you might see at an American elementary school cafeteria. These kids from the ravine are focused. There is a marked intensity to their eating.
Nor are there mounds of food to throw away. If a child leaves leftovers, another child eats them.
And you should see how much these kids eat! When you might not eat for a day or two, you shovel as much in as you can. Many kids eat until their stomachs are bulging and tight as …

Moments from Haiti... They know too much death

We went to church on Sunday while we were there. I sat in the front row with the Manasseros and some other members of our team. When Pastor John McCool, a man who is as eccentric as Hait itself, started preaching from the second row, I had to turn around to see him. That gave me a chance to look at the people in the congregation. I watched them as they listened to him. I wondered what they were thinking. "How do they live out their faith here in Haiti? What are they hearing right now?"

The message was about God's goodness. Pastor John was arguing that although life is messy, God is good in the midst of all the messiness. The poignant moment for me came when John said, "I have had to inform parents that their children have committed suicide..." As he said this, two people caught my attention. The eyes of a young man in his twenties drifted off from Pastor John to another part of the room. He had gone somewhere else in his thoughts. I said to myself, "This yo…

Moments from Haiti... "Thank you, thank you, thank you!"

This moment from Haiti is about thankfulness.

Every morning we would go at 6:00 AM to worship with either the girls or the boys of the orphanage. Six days a week they gather at that time to sing and pray together. On Saturdays they sleep in until 7:00. :-)

The first morning we worshiped with the girls, I was both participant and observer. Much of what the girls did was in Creole, so I participated as best I could. In large part, I was just taking it in. One observation I had was that the girls were singing out. When they sing, they do not play it safe. They let their worship go. It's very inspiring!

The thing that really grabbed my attention was the prayer of Navi, the house mother. She prayed for about five minutes, all in rapidly spoken Creole. I have an extremely limited Creole vocabulary, so I understood almost nothing she was saying. However, one word popped out to me. It was one of the few words I understood, and it was repeated over and over. "Mesi... Mesi... Mesi..."…

Moments from Haiti... "Do you believe in that cross?"

Our trip to Haiti was full of moments that tell parts of a larger story. Here is one such moment...

I was walking home from school one afternoon with one of the older boys from the orphanage. Everyone else had drifted away from us, and we were talking alone. I usually wear a small cross on a silver chain around my neck, and this boy became interested in it. Pointing to the section of chain visible above the back of my t-shirt collar, he asked, "What's the bling you are wearing?" (I doubt many Haitian boys know the English word "bling", but this one does.)

I pulled the cross out from under my shirt and showed it to him. "This is a cross I wear. When I put it on in the morning, I say a prayer."

He asked, "Do you believe in that cross?"

"Yes, I believe in the cross."

He asked again, a little more pointedly, "You believe in that cross?"

Suddenly I realized what he was asking. In a world saturated with voodoo, superstition, and &quo…

Greetings from Haiti!

It has been an eventful week, to say the least. I have had limited access to computers and the internet, so I haven't been able to blog. The best day-to-day narrative can be found at: BTW, the photo of the tap-tap accident was taken by me. (A tap-tap is a pickup truck modified to serve as a taxi. People cram into the back to get a ride somewhere.) It was a very intense few moments as we watched the truck crammed with people roll on its side about 150 feet up the street in front of us and slide to a point directly in front of us. For a moment, I thought it was going to hit us -- not a nice thought, since the little pickup had about a dozen people in the back. As the truck slid down the street, I could see the terrified face of a lady sticking out of the back. She was holding onto something, and her face was no more than 6 inches from the pavement. One slip, and her face would have been ground to nothing. As the truck stopped, a large and very lou…

Leaving for Haiti tonight!

Just two weeks ago, Lauren and I were added to this missions team. What is interesting is that unbeknownst to me, Dan, the missions pastor, had been hoping to add two more people to the team. Lauren and I sort of fell into place... like we were meant to be there all along. Hmm...

"Outside and up close"

"Outside and up close" -- does this describe how you relate to the people and the world around you?

This phrase really caught my attention. It was mentioned by Dwight Robertson, author of Plan A. He will be teaching a conference at King's Harbor in June. Plan A is about how all of us need to see ourselves as laborers in God's kingdom. As we like to say around KHC, no spectators!

Anyway, Dwight was talking to a group of us pastors, and he made a wonderful observation about the disciples' experience in the upper room (Acts 1-2). The resurrected Jesus had instructed them to wait in the city until they received "power from on high," which would be fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. They faithfully prayed and waited, sequestered in a room where there was a relative degree of safety and privacy. Dwight observed that this was the first time they had gathered for any length of time inside and away from other people. Jesus had done all his training in the field --…

Visiting missionaries in the field

Last weekend something Mando Velasquez said registered in a new way with me. Mando and his family are serving as missionaries in Puerto Escondido, Mexico. He said:

"We miss you. Sometimes we get lonely. It doesn't mean we don't want to be there. It's just that God has called us somewhere else."

I always knew that missionaries gave up a lot to serve in the way they do. And I understand that they miss the comforts of America. But somehow Mando's quote got through to me in a unique way.

They like it here, but they were called there.

Going there was an act of obedience. Staying there is surrender. Enduring the pangs of loneliness is ongoing sacrifice. I am not saying that missionaries dislike where they are; only that their separation from the places and the people of their former home is a very real sacrifice.

This puts into a new perspective what it means for us to visit missionaries in the field. It is not so much that we are bringing them nostalgic reminders of th…

The comedy of Tim Hawkins

I have been at the Catalyst pastors' conference the last two days, and one of the unexpected treats was the comedy of Tim Hawkins. Check him out at this and many other YouTube links:

What Martha and Mary illustrate about prayer

The way the two sisters interact with Jesus in the story (Luke 10) makes us think about how we interact with God in prayer. What Martha and Mary have in common is that both of them are interacting with Jesus. However, they are interacting with him in completely different and symbolic ways.

Martha is talking at Jesus. She wants him to do something for her. Note that her cause is right. If fairness had been the only standard for conduct, then Mary should have joined her sister in preparing for the dinner party. However, there are often more important things than fairness. In this case, what was going on between Mary and Jesus was more important than the letter of the law of fairness.

Martha was talking at Jesus, but Mary was communing with Jesus. She sat at his feet, hanging on his every word and action. Mary was enjoying a personal connection with Jesus. We can't say the same for Martha.

Another way to describe the difference is this: Martha was looking at Jesus; Mary was looking into…

What is the "simple life"?

Does this sound familiar? Life feels like it is a train rumbling down the tracks at breakneck speed, and you are holding onto the back of the caboose with your feet flying off the ground.

A lot of us feel this way, and that is why conversations frequently pop up about the "simple life." Here is the question. What is the simple life? Does simplicity mean doing less, or does it mean being clear about our priorities?

If simplicity means doing less, then we need to attack our schedules. We need to put more "margins" into our lives so we have time to breathe and relate to others.

If simplicity means being clear about our priorities, then we need to sit down and examine what we think is important. Our use of time and energy should then reflect our priorities.

So which is it? Doing less? Having clear priorities? A little of both?

Interacting with the Bible in community

I want to say a few things about a very accessible and simple way to read Scripture together in community. Each week I lead members of the church staff in a time we call "Shabbat" (Sabbath). It is 20 minutes of resting from our labor and enjoying God's presence. There is no "Bible study" here, but I have found it to be an incredibly rich time of interacting with Scripture in a prayerful atmosphere.

Here is what we do:
1. Read a passage together. We read one chapter a week. In recent months, we have gone through Ruth and Esther, and now we are starting Daniel.

2.Ask, "What do you hear? What do you notice in this passage?" One thing I have found is that people notice a lot of interesting things when we allow Scripture to speak to us. (That is because the Holy Spirit illuminates Scripture to us.) I have been in discussions over passages I have read dozens and dozens of times on my own and studied thoroughly, and then found completely new and valid insights…

Jesus' death as an act of power

Yesterday I was reflecting more on the meaning of the cross. I have been meditating this year on the direct tie between Jesus' willingness to suffer on the cross and God's love for us. Jesus was filled with this love, and that is why he went to the cross. God loves us that much!

My further thoughts went to another great paradox of the cross. The power of God is demonstrated nowhere like it is on the cross. God has done a lot of things worth marveling over. Just read through the accounts of the Israelites' liberation from Egypt, and you get a host of large-scale miracles. In Jesus' ministry there were miracles that were large-scale (like the feeding of the 5000) and individual-scale (name any of his healings or exorcisms). The natural response to these miracles is to exclaim, "God is mighty!"

However, the most natural response to the cross is to say, "Jesus was not manifesting God's power in that time." Not so! The power of God was manifest in Jesu…

Reflections on this Good Friday

Following is the text of a message I am delivering at our Good Friday service today. The Good Friday services at King's Harbor are rather intense and somber, and the message is meant to match the character of the day...

Good Friday Message 2009
In Philippians 2, Paul quotes the lyrics of a hymn sung in the earliest Christian churches. This hymn paints a compelling portrait of the self-emptying and humble nature of Christ Jesus. The first half of the hymn says this:
6[Christ Jesus] Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7but emptied himself, taking the very nature of a slave, being made in human likeness. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!
This hymn describes how God the Son took two giant steps downward in his plan to come and rescue us from our own self-destruction. The first giant step downward is that God the Son became human. People have long wondered how the i…

Daniel: a man against culture or a light within culture?

I have always viewed Daniel as a hardnosed young man who stood steadfastly against all things Babylonian. After reading the first chapter of Daniel this morning, I am now changing my view of him. He appears not as a man against culture but a light within culture.

Daniel was among the first Israelites deported to Babylon, sometime around 600 BCE. It is reported that King Nebuchadnezzar gathered up a group of young Israelite men from the royal family and the nobility. He took these men into the palace for enculteration in the ways of Babylon. He commanded that the young men eat choice foods from the king's own kitchen. However, the story reports that Daniel refused to eat the king's food. Why?

I have thought, along with many other Christians, that Daniel did this because he refused to be made into a Babylonian. There may be some truth to this, but the text presents Daniel in a different light. Why did he refuse to eat the king's food? Because in doing so, he would defile himse…