Monthly Archives: March 2011

30 Pieces of Silver

There's a new church in town...

Traveling and learning about major spiritual battles around the world can give you new awareness of your own. One of the major battles facing people in my country is the hold of materialism. I’ve known this was true in my head, but have been able to observe it much more closely since becoming a cog in the materialistic wheel, whether cashiering and hearing one person after another saying, “Well, I just came in to get a couple of things, but…,” or sitting in the break room and hearing of coworkers taking on a second job to buy their truck. Many people have let materialism occupy a central role in their lives; their life goals are wrapped around stuff, and studies show that people consistently think having just “a little more” money would make them happier.

Because I work nearly all the time these days, my life doesn’t have much of a rhythm, but there is one weekly event that sets apart one day from the others—Sunday morning ad. There is a weekly phenomenon in stores I never noticed until it was my job. You know those little signs all over the place that tell you if you buy two of this, you’ll save thirty cents on both, or if you buy three it’s only ten dollars (and if you buy one, it’s exactly 1/3 of ten dollars, by the way)—those signs don’t get there by themselves, and they change every single week. This transformation takes place on Sunday mornings, requiring many workers to forsake the Sunday morning worship of God and replace it with a materialistic religious ceremony. I often shake my head as I put up yet another sign for something that is only a few cents off, considering how much money and paper we would save if we dispensed with these silly signs and simply let people buy what they needed when they needed it instead of persuading them to get more because it’s “on sale.” (Don’t get me wrong, I am a consistent sale shopper who waits to buy until things are marked down. It’s a great way to save some money. I’m just against the way sales master people, rather than people mastering sales.)

It’s ironic that we get set up for another week of worshiping the god of materialism on Sunday mornings, but I think it is no accident. Have you ever watched “The Story of Stuff?” It has some pretty strong things to say about our consumeristic culture. One piece of information it divulges is that after World War II when Eisenhower was president (1953-1961), the government decided that the the american economy had to produce more stuff and Americans had to be convinced to buy more stuff. In a sense, our salvation as a country would be in materialism. This idea has infiltrated our culture to an amazing extent—we don’t even realize the ways we are duped into buying more and more things we don’t really need. Terms like obsolescence and perceived obsolescence are foreign to us but impact our lives every day. We bought into the shop-more strategy to such an extent that stores had to extend their hours to keep up with demand. By the 70’s states were repealing laws that kept stores closed on Sundays, and today if there’s something in the weekly ad that you don’t want to miss you show up on Sunday before it’s sold out. Christmas has become a materialistic nightmare (I have yet to meet someone who works for my store who enjoys Christmas; they can’t wait for it to be over so they can get their lives back). If anything should clue us in to this being a spiritual issue, the fact that these days once sacred to gathering and celebrating God’s provision for us have become a battleground for our time and attention ought to do the trick. And just like archaic idols of the past, with materialism we find that something claiming to serve us has made us its slave.

Jesus spoke on the deadliness of materialism in many instances and many parables, and encouraged His followers to store up treasures that last, not to live for wealth which is “here today and gone tomorrow” (And according to the Story of Stuff, 99% of the things we buy have been trashed within 6 months of purchase). Jesus gives us the stern warning that we “cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24). We have to choose. One of the best descriptions of spiritual warfare I’ve ever heard placed it squarely in the area of choices. We live every day in the midst of a spiritual battle and every choice you make is stating your allegiance, either your allegiance to God and His kingdom or to something else. Working in a store, I have to constantly be on my guard. Will I let the voice of materialism, with all its false promises of happiness, dictate my choices? Or will I stand against the pull of culture and put my hope in God? What about you? In this very real battle, whose side are you on? Are you choosing God as your treasure? Or have you betrayed Him with a kiss—and thirty pieces of silver in your pocket?


The Answer’s in your Heart

Last week I was in my apartment sautéing rice before the poverty prayer supper I was hosting while one of my high schoolers paged through “Window on the World,” Operation World’s picture prayer guide for kids. “This book makes me want to travel,” she told me. We got into a discussion on why I decided to join YWAM, and from there all about life and calling and who God had made us to be. She voiced questions I’ve had to ask myself, like, “Am I really called to missions, or do I just want to travel?” The crux of it boils down to the question I find myself, other young people, and even many adults constantly asking: “Who am I, and what does God want me to do?” It was an interesting pre-discussion for our following exploration of the tough issue of poverty. After watching a picture slide-show of sobering images, one girl expressed sadness and hopelessness. It was like the same question of calling was in the air, but with a negative twist, “Who am I in the face of a world of suffering? What am I supposed to do?”

Nehemiah is an interesting book to have been studying in the context of these questions. Nehemiah is pretty well off, a servant who interacts face-to-face with the most powerful ruler of the day. Like us, he was in the top percentile of having the good life. But his brother comes to visit from a disaster area, the destroyed city of Jerusalem. And Nehemiah is suddenly confronted with the pain of a desperately needy people. He could have turned away or simply given lip service (“Oh, that’s so sad.”), and continued in a life of relative ease. But instead he retreated to a place of deep grief and prayer, not just for a few moments, but for several days. And in that place of grieving something special happened. God put something specific in Nehemiah’s heart (Neh 2:12). He had a plan, something to do, a calling. He left his job and his country of residence to change the world with a wall, and now he has a Bible book named after him.

I had a similar experience in Cambodia. Faced with the emptiness of 200 aids orphans, where each story I heard broke my heart anew, I came to a place of deep grief and retreated to my bed in tears. I cried out to God on behalf of these kids. And I emerged from that place of grief a different person, because in it I had encountered God. I left Cambodia with a piece of God’s heart; it was a piece inscribed with five special names, five special children, and I knew I had a calling to pray for those five. I had something to do.

The book of Nehemiah chronicles how one man of God walked out the challenging call God placed on his life, in his own words, what “God had put in [his] heart to do.” It’s a good book to turn to for wisdom in trying to walk out your own calling. It’s also a good guide in the face of situations that feel hopeless or even the simple uncertainty of who we are supposed to be. We can prayerfully ask, “What has God put in my heart to do? What small piece of His heart has He given to me to be my own?” He will not call us to fix every problem; He knows our shoulders are too small to carry the weight of the world as He does. But He is willing to let us join Him in the work, in the small ways that we can. Sometimes the thing He places in our heart might seem exceedingly small and simple, sometimes it might be a clarion call that changes our life and mailing address. Either way it’s always significant.

I’d give a lot to know what my Nehemiah’s wall, my “big call,” is. Some days I think I’ve got it, other days I’m not so sure. But one thing I do know–what’s in my heart to do today. So today I’ll pray for my five Cambodian children and love my high school girls. And when my girls ask me how they can know who they’re meant to be, or what they can do when confronted with injustice, I’ll know what to tell them. Seek God, cry out to Him, and do whatever He puts in your heart to do.

“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”

Helen Keller

Old and Forgetful

I’m sitting in the dean office at the Christian high school where I work. The time is pushing mid-night, lights are out, girls are in their beds, hopefully with dreams of sugar-plums in their heads. I should be there too, but first I will write.

Tonight we had a visitor in the dorm, a former student just a few years older than my girls. He was stalking old grounds and visiting with old friends, but he stopped in to meet the new deans, and something that he said struck me funny. He said, “It’s strange to come back. They’re so young…they look younger every year.” It struck me funny because I remember feeling that way when I went back to college a couple years after graduation. So young. What makes it funny is that I don’t feel that way anymore. What a strange thing to realize. For the first time in my life I am unconscious of the age difference between myself and those considerably younger than me. Sometimes in my job I have to remind myself that I am ten years older and wiser, that they are still teen-agers and I am an adult. It used to really bother me to be so much older than everyone around me, and now I don’t even notice? What has caused this transformation? Perhaps it was a gradual process. First there was Bible school, where I lived in a dorm for a year with girls who were 18-21, where even my RA was five years younger than me, and I lied about how old I was on my birthday. But they were my friends, my equals, and in some areas my betters. Then there was YWAM, where I was in the old set, even compared to the DTS staff, and one of my room-mates was 17. I sometimes felt old and boring (and tired, I had had enough of late nights in college!). But they were my comrades-in-arms, my co-seekers of God and my encouragers; their energy and passion challenged me. I came out of college burned out; they were still very much on fire! I joked that living with so many young people kept me young. Now I wonder if it’s true. Either I am younger than I used to be, or I’ve gotten really old and forgetful.

Have you ever reflected on the beauty and power of youth? They are a time-bomb, ready to explode upon the world. They are full of hope, full of dreams, sometimes full of drama, but incredibly full of life! Some of them want to change the world, and un-like many of us older folk, they believe they can do it (and Kudos to YWAM for giving them opportunities to make that a reality). Where I am now, my girls’ optimism and perspective on life and God challenges me. Two weeks ago I took a few girls on a blind trust walk. I pulled their hats over their eyes and led them down the path and then off it into knee deep snow. They stumbled and struggled and pressed on. It was meant to be a picture of life when we can’t see where we’re going and have to trust God. I saw it as a challenge. They got it. But they got something else that I totally missed: “You know it should be exciting too, to not know where God is taking you.” What I saw as hard they called fun. That exhortation to recognize the exciting part of not-knowing has stopped short more than one of my intended pity parties in the last week, because there’s truth in it.  After all, if we truly do serve a big and loving God, we should be excited about where he’s taking us. I have much to learn from these younger followers, and they are totally unaware of how they have encouraged me and caused me to look at life a little differently. How true the word in Timothy about not looking down on someone because they are young, for they can set an example for us to follow. The sold out to God young person can certainly set that example in enthusiasm, passion, and hope-filled perspective. How much the old and young need each other! Life’s hard knocks have taught me some “lessons” (could we insert “lies”?) that I would be wise to forget. Maybe the more time I spend around godly youth, the more I will find myself forgetting what is behind and pressing on towards what is ahead. Seen or unseen, it is exciting. And if believing that is a trait of youth, I hope I continue to grow younger every year I live.

Rooting Where?

There’s a little game I like to play with myself, where I figure out where I was a year ago, two years ago, etc. It’s a fairly entertaining game because of the life I’ve had, taking me all over the world to many beautiful moments that usher in thankfulness. It also brings up more painful memories, but these give me deeper perspective as I slog through the things facing me today, because I am grateful for how I’ve moved forward and persevered past difficulty. For example, a year ago today, I was somewhere between Thailand and Germany, juggling train tickets and health insurance applications and fighting technological battles that seemed determined to keep me home or at least keep me in a bad mood. Two years ago, I was sitting in my Bible school dorm in Sweden, deciding whether to fly home for my grandfather’s funeral or continue as planned into the arctic region of Sweden for a two-week spring break ski trip likely to give me new perspectives in my walk with God. Three years ago I was walking through a faith crisis in the safety of L’Abri Fellowship, four years ago I was taking a French intensive and introducing my little brothers to world religions and cultures (such as the never-to be forgotten “holy underwear” of the Sikhs—you will never look at the world the same way after teaching teenage boys). Today’s game speaks a lot about difficult places and the good things they brought into my life.

I am grateful for my journeys and adventures. But at the same time there has been a growing yearning in me to be rooted, planted, settled. Living up in the air and out of a suitcase is not where I like to be. I’ve always been a planner, wanting to know exactly why I was where I was today and where I was going tomorrow. But life has a way of shaking up our plans, and for several years now, I’ve been a restless wanderer, trying to find my place called home. The desire to be settled has begun to make me impatient with myself, impatient with short-term seasons (like the one I’m in now), and short-term ministries. I start to forget the ways God used each short season place to mold me, and used me in each place. I’ve begun to feel guilty for not just choosing a place to build, and instead of making decisions on whether to stay or go based on a solid sense of calling and following God, I assume that a good person would stay and am tempted to stubbornly assert to myself and God that I will not go anywhere until I discover my long-term place. After all, isn’t a truly effective life one that is rooted in a long-term place with long-term relationships and ministries? I know I left college believing that to be true.

In the midst of this directional mess, I am reminded of a few key players in scripture whose lives look startlingly and sketchily on the move like mine. The Apostle Paul was one. Rather than choose one place and live there long-term, he is known for three different missionary journeys, where the longest he stayed in any place was a stint of a couple of years in Ephesus. By our present terminology this might make him a mid-term missionary, and yet he used this short-season roaming lifestyle to effectively follow his God-given long-term calling. Elijah and Elisha were both roamers, usually within the context of one country, but without one home-base, and often so “on the rocks” that God had to miraculously provide for their physical needs. And don’t forget Jesus, who told would-be followers, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” How often this statement comes to mind when I’m leaning towards a bashing session on my lack of place and my “need” to be long-term. It would appear that this ideal of long-term rootedness, made a priority or necessity, could endanger my ability to effectively hear from and follow God. If He wants to lead me as a wandering disciple all over the world, I want to be ready to step up and say “Yes, Lord!”

But what to do with this deep desire—this need—for rooting? Well, there’s a scripture that has begun to burn itself into my mind; I can’t get away from it. It’s in Ephesians and speaks of being “rooted and established in love,” in the knowledge of Christ’s deep love for us. That second word, which the NIV translates established, can also be translated as grounded or settled. It has the idea of building a foundation, a strong sense of a firm place. Just before this clause in the same verse (Ephesians 3:17), Paul paints a picture of Christ dwelling (literally according to Strong’s, making a permanent home) in our hearts. What an incredible and encouraging picture to the wandering, homeless, ever-journeying disciple of Christ. The same one who said he “had no place to lay his head” on earth, has found a permanent place to dwell in the heart of faith. And we are encouraged to find our permanent resting place in His love. These are truths that need to go deep, because they are so different from the world’s picture of being established and mature. I imagine that in the course of his many travels, Paul learned by experience just how important it was to find your sense of rootedness and home in the love of Christ. That is why he can pray so passionately that the Ephesians would discover the same truth. Because when we are rooted and established in the love of Christ, we are set free to follow faithfully and with full hearts wherever God may lead.

Rooted, Established and Ready to Flourish

Challenge, or Not

I have a ridiculous attraction to the out of doors. And to challenging adventures. So it should come as no surprise that instead of working a nice normal nine to five job I am working two minimally compatible jobs, one of which is with teenagers, and that job with teenagers in which I come up with crazy ideas like, “Let’s go camping in the middle of winter. It will be epic.” Arranging such an epic expedition and encouraging said teenagers that they really want to go and freeze with me proved to be more of a challenge than I anticipated. Ironically and appropriately, our focus theme for the weekend was “Walking with God through Challenges.”

I have become increasingly convinced that high school is a crucial time of life, a time in which every opportunity to distract a Christian teen from following Christ and starting them down dangerous roads will be utilized. As a result, any event designed to encourage young people to hold firmly to Christ and grow closer to Him will likely encounter roadblocks or opposition of some kind. I confess I was not prepared for this phenomenon when it came to my outdoor adventure. As one thing after another came up, fell through, and fizzled, I grew increasingly discouraged and seriously considered throwing in the towel. As the weekend approached, what had once excited me now made me want to run and hide. What did I hope to accomplish anyways? I feared it would be an epic failure.

The day dawned as glorious a winter morning as any wilderness leader could wish for. Things suddenly began to fall into place. We’d just happened to plan our trip on the same weekend that some experts were leading free snow-shoe outings in the park. We went exploring in the forest and discovered how cat-tails can explode into fluffy twisting and changing artwork at one touch and soon found hair, clothes, mouth and nose full of flying down-soft seeds. We climbed trees, crossed knee-deep snow fields and imagined we were at a summer beach upon discovering open water shimmering in warm sunlight. It was incredibly fun, intensely rejuvenating. What had I been so worried about?

That night we cozied up by the fire-burning stove in our camper cabin and considered the life of a man who faced many challenges—Nehemiah. Given a burden for the then destitute city of Jerusalem, Nehemiah resolved in prayer to ask his boss, the king, for permission to rebuild the fortress of former rebels. When the moment comes to speak, verse two of chapter two tells us “[He] was very much afraid, but…” He was very much afraid, but he went ahead and spoke anyway. And what had looked incredibly challenging to him in forethought came together much easier than he could have thought possible. The king simply asked what he wanted to do and when he would be back.

How often the biggest challenge we must overcome is not from adverse circumstances, but in our own minds and hearts, where our fears and insecurities want to take us captive! We are reminded in Ephesians 6:12 that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but is a spiritual battle. Of whom will we be afraid? In whom will we trust? When the doubts and attacks come, will we press through so that the life story we each write might look like this: “[She] was very much afraid, but…” How often will we persevere to find that our fears were unnecessary, that the challenge was imagined, that God has us right where He wants us, and He intends to see us through. As one of my teenagers pointed out, it’s said that 90% of our worries never happen. And even if the obstacles do take a fair amount of effort to overcome, I’ve determined that she’s worth fighting for. When all’s said and done, my life looks a little different because I chose to persevere. I’ve determined that Nehemiah and I need to spend more quality time together, and I have a lot of moments to treasure and be thankful for. After all, it’s not every day you get to watch your fears blow away on the wind like cat-tail seeds. I think that’s an experience more of us need to have.