Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Follow the Leader

As I write this, I am thankful for two things.  We had a friend last night that blessed Beep and I with two tickets to a new show: The Illusionists. It was a great time spent with my son trying to figure out how each illusion was performed.  Inside, I was grateful our God is the image of truth.  Secondly,  I am thankful for the Ecuadorian involvement and participation at the camp beginning to take shape. It is encouraging.  Automatically, our nature is to look to see what people are affecting the change.  Gods story on the camp is beginning to look more like a cast of characters in a play rather than athletes in a game (trying to outwit their opponents to win) as depicted in most theological analogies. 

There is a book out that explains the bible as simply this: The Kingdom of God = God's people in God's place for God's purpose.  If you notice in that formula, He comes first, us, our location and path falls in line behind him!  Why do North Americans struggle so hard with this simple formula for follower-ship? Although the design was for Him to be reflected in us, we must first lift the boundaries of our life to follow and trust in Him, not in ourselves or man!  The roadblock is our sin.  In the old testament, even when God made the five covenants with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and David, man's sin was at the core of breaking these covenants. This will never change, we are incapable of removing that barrier Jer. 17:1,9.  The good news and the core of the gospel is this: that Christ is the new covenant, consummation of the previous five and releases us from the weight of our sin, worry and control of our lives.  Although this is unattractive to most, let me give you a few good examples on our end that would provide reasons to do so. 

Ecuador is a place of extremes, from the regions (they have 3 diverse climatic zones: Coast, Sierra and the Amazon) to the people.  Last night, both the Coe and Brock couples participated in the annual school faculty retreat.  As a side note, the Nichols were both missed and their lack of presence felt within the entire group.  As Ann and I sat at our table to eat dinner, we couldn't help noticing that the Chief of the National Police (arguably the second most powerful man in Ecuador behind the president) was sitting next to and breaking bread with one of the Quichua cleaning ladies from the school!  God orchestrated such a meeting, which would have never taken place outside of the event, to remind us that He has ultimate power and control regardless of our title, position or perceived status in this life!  In addition, The Lord has placed two very different but effective gringo's in our lives who know the culture, are willing to help guide the Ecuadorian end of our ministry and overall have had a significant impact on the Kingdom of God in Ecuador (next generation of disciples putting their lives in His control).  Rich, a board member at the school and a youth leader within the country, has raised a son who has befriended Tim and models Christ while his wife shares her faith through music by touring with a Christian rock band throughout South America.  Don, a free-spirited missionary kid, gave up a lucrative engineering job in the states to return to serve the people and culture from his adolescence. He has followed what God has laid on his heart by providing a camp for pastors and churches, planting pastors in gospel vacant locations and placing leaders in businesses to freely give away his resources.  Both are examples of selfless friendship, using talents for clearly different visions and life patterns to follow because of who they follow!  Lastly, it's been said; it's about who you know, not what you know.  I can't agree more.  A certain date this fall marks the 2nd anniversary of the release of the Ecuadorian president from his captors who kidnapped him, celebrated by a national holiday.  I wont comment , that's for others to judge.  But, because of his beliefs he spends most of his time trying to keep many small factions happy within the country through social programs and making many politically weighted decisions to win over his power base (sound familiar).  No doubt a difficult job and tough position to be in. So, when I look at this picture from now on, it will always remind me clearly of the similarity of actions that need to take place for the people of Ecuador while weighing the purposepower, plan and goal to give people better lives.

See, it may seem that we 'randomly' ran into the president of Ecuador by chance, that on the surface our visions for the people of Ecuador are the same.  Scripture clearly puts all of us in one of two camps: "A good tree can't produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can't produce good fruit.  So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire.  Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.  Not everyone who calls out to me, 'Lord! Lord! will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter."  Matt. 7:18-20.  Although the Lord will be the ultimate judge of all of our work in the end, we can know for sure that our entrance into the Kingdom of God assures our price into the Kingdom of Heaven.  It won't be what we accomplish or how well intended our actions are at the end of our lives.  It will be for whom.  The impact of one was made solely for the audience of ONE, to provide nourishing fruit rather than feasting on poison fruit inherited!  What king are you following today?  Our destination does change who we follow and what type of fruit we produce.  I took advantage of the opportunity to have my picture taken with him not to show who I know, but as a time-stamp to remind me to follow 'Who' I already know and by whom I am known!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Messy Faith

Take your stand in the middle of the field and fight.

That was the sermon that I heard years ago from a flawed and troubled pastor who for years had been knee deep in personal sin unbeknown to me or others at the time.  It has stuck with me ever since. Could a bad messenger carry a good message?  His sin infected others like a virus, looking for a host.  Let's explore four others whose lives have been infected though, through no fault of their own.  A middle age guy, Stan, who builds a trailer business for two decades alongside his dad whom he deeply admires, losing him unexpectedly to a heart attack only to be fired by his step mother to gain his fortune. Or, two foster kids, Brenden and Carleton, beginning life unwanted by a prostitute mother and absent, drug-addicted father struggling to develop their identities.  Lastly, Maria, a 14 year old Hispanic girl, having to live under the shame of being both undocumented and raped by her own Dad. Although the names have been changed, I've come face to face in the last few weeks with these personal tragedies. How does someone overcome those issues?  Maybe our circumstances are not as great or grave, but little changes in how and who fights the battles for us.  Deut. 20:2-4 states, "When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall say,' Hear O Israel, today you are going into battle against your enemies.  Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not be terrified or give way to panic before them. For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.'"  You see, we have a high priest that knows our circumstances, troubles and baggage (read Job for evidence) while understanding our sin disease.  All He asks us to do in the midst of it is simply take your position and stand firm, allow Him to do the fighting and not allow the enemy a foothold or control of your life by being disappointed in people or blaming Him. Sin is real around us, wounds deeply and unfortunately a consequence of the fallen world we live in. Our hope is that all that He needs to work in, through and for us is to drop our agendas, give over our pain and flesh responses and submit to His justice and will!  Sound impossible?  Just before I left for Ecuador last year, Birmingham was hit by a F5 tornado. One consequence of that event was the loss of hundreds of lives, from college kids to babies to working moms. One death, a pastor, was that of my 60 year old plumber's son. Previously, we spoke of God's redeeming love many times as we worked on my houses together without much response. My plumber had to make a choice how he would respond to his loss which impacted and changed his life in a moments notice.  Fairness, chance or orientation toward God had nothing to do with it, otherwise that son, pastor and father of two would still be with us.  As it turned out, my friend and plumber has chosen to walk with God in peace and not in opposition to Him (picture peace-walking plumber).  In the midst of the storms of life we either allow what we are experiencing to influence our view of God, or we allow our view of God to influence what we are experiencing. The gospel will advance with or without us, our help or whatever we or others try to do to thwart it. In Esther 4:12-14 we see this played out as Mordecai encourages Esther to speak up and intercede for her people, the Jews; "'Do not think that because you are in the kings house you alone of all the Jews will escape.  For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?"'  Has the Lord positioned you perfectly to eternally impact His kingdom or are you paralyzed by your own self-preservation?  Are you looking at your situation as God ordained or cursed?  Its been said that for evil to triumph all that good men need to do is remain silent.  Here's the long and short of it.  Satan wins when we are silent and not standing but "He who is in you is greater than he who is the world."   1 John 4:4

Today, I am praying for three people to have a 'saving faith' of the creator of the universe, director of all things and seeker of each heart:  My Dad, my nephew who is heading off to fight in Afghanistan next month and Victor, an Ecuadorian business owner.  He is yearning to purchase that which He gave such a heavy price!

" You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.". Isaiah 26:3

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Losing It

"Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."  -Psalm 73:25-26

Those words encourage and urge us to seek God and carry heaven in your heart!  As I sit in the states now, I can testify today that God is among us, He is present in us and wishes for others to follow Him by using us!  As I listen to Platts' Revelation series, the question begs are we basing our lives on "how its going" instead of "where we are going?"  Recently, I've been experiencing conflicting events all at the same time:  Massive vacancies (money needed to financially support us) - help falling through and no plan to renovate the properties in the future, lack of interest, support or even relationships with my extended family back home for us being in Ecuador and 10 hour days of dirty work, cleaning up after other peoples messes.  Contrast that with now having our friends and partners with us (Brocks) on the camp,  having friends step up to support, feed, house and equip me even with a truck (you know who you are) while filling 2 vacancies/talking another out of leaving all within the first week and then experiencing Him beginning to move at the camp - two churches praying about supporting the ministry, the local church beginning to get involved and three new in-country groups coming this fall.  Its a lot to take in but regardless how its viewed, its all temporal.  I tend to want to calculate, do the math, try to link 'how we are doing' with 'what we are doing or not doing' but that's not how He works.  His long view trumps our clouded perspective that at times is too close for clarity!

Take Nehemiah for example.  The prophet received word that the Jewish remnant that survived the exile were in great trouble since the walls of Jerusalem were broken and gates burned down.  He fasted and prayed before God, "O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your nameGive your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man." Neh 1:11 (He was cup bearer to the king).  The king agreed to let him go and also provide support in the endeavor.  While surveying the damage without telling anyone, he then made his plea, "'You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire.  Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.' I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me.  They replied, "'Let us start rebuilding.' So, they began this good work." Neh 2:17-18.  After being ridiculed for attempting to do so, he answered by saying "The God of heaven will give us success."  verse 20. Why didn't the Jewish people there in Jerusalem see the condition of the walls staring at them in the face, realize their vulnerability and fix it themselves?  Why did it take the action of another to identify the need and formulate a plan?  What's interesting is how the people responded when prompted.  Each rebuilt a section of the wall, with scripture noting that each section "next to him" was repaired by another group - tying all the work together and generally as it states in Neh 3:28, "each in front of his own house,"   Are you relying on your own strength or basing the work God has for you on the outlook as you see or He sees?  Are you always looking for the grand purpose in everything or content with the work that He has clearly set before you - right in front of your face! Neh 4:13 then goes on to say, "Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows."  Where are your areas of vulnerability where the enemy can get in?   Is it repairing the holes in relationships within your very own family?  These are not blind spots, they are as visible as the holes in those walls.  I've had to ask myself those tough questions over the last few weeks while on my own.

Unfortunately, we don't get to choose the circumstances or methods of how the Lord works in our lives.  He doesn't save us from difficulty, just through it so that His glory will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).  We will continue to be a people like the Israelites in need of constant prompting, prayer, reflection and restoration to reach hardened hearts for God because we're also the same.  So, today if you are struggling with what we are doing for God begin asking where we are going for Him!  Where is he leading you to act?  Most often, its right in front of you, no need to go anywhere other than exactly the station, situation and location of your life because He put you there.  Just know, it may look nothing like you planned, anticipated or prepared for but have comfort in that He purposed it.  Lastly, if you don't have a personal relationship with the King of King's, Rey de Reyes, you are offered the opportunity to be His cup bearer.  To bring life and living water to those in thirst......

"Whoever finds his life will lose it and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."  Matthew 10:39