Tuesday, September 20, 2005

"You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit-fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name." - Jesus Christ
"And in the spirit of God the fact that you are chosen and blessed and beloved does not mean that others are less so.  In fact, the opposite experience unfolds when you discover your belovedness.  You have an inner eye that allows you to see the belovedness of other people and call that forth.  That's the incredible mystery of God's love.  The more you know how deeply you are loved, the more you'll see how deeply your brothers and sisters in the human family are loved, and the more you will love them." -- Henri Nouwen
I have experienced the proverbial "perfect storm" this weekend. A storm that has assaulted me, conspiring to open me up to receive the incredible truth and mystery of God's love, once again.
I spent Friday afternoon to Saturday night with 12 people who have given their lives over to Jesus and to people for Jesus' sake. These amazing people spend their lives giving, serving, teaching, coaching, forgiving, enduring, and praying on God's behalf in this world among all us crazy people. In my 15 months with them, God has used them to "call forth" my belovedness, and I truly feel more beloved and chosen and blessed of God than I ever have before.
So, the first part of the triple-pronged "perfect storm" was being with them, asking them to put down the mantle of responsibility that comes with such a dedicated life of servitude to others and let me and 2 of my friends give, serve, teach, coach, forgive, endure and pray for them. And they did. They exposed their hearts...their fears, failures, shame, desires, hopes, dreams, trials...many with tears. It was a very human weekend with a bunch of real-life superheroes. Each of them had to confront the fact that they are CHOSEN by God to be His friends and representatives on earth, not duty-bound. That they have been APPOINTED by God to go and bear fruit in their lives that will last in this life and eternally, and that it is a gift to them not a responsibility. And they had to swallow that the God supports them in this high honor, that they can ask for ANYTHING in Christ's name, and He will give it to them. What can I say? Anytime the mature in Christ are reminded of who and whose they are, it moves them to their knees in humility and godly desire. I had an "inner eye" as I watched (and couldn't help but participate in) the whole thing, aware that I was watching God summon belovedness from these amazing hearts.
The second prong is pictured in the attached picture. That's Jakin Major. My just turned two year old son. His name means "God Establishes Greatness", and it's more and more obvious that that is exactly what God has done with this boy. We are about to throw a party in honor of his two years of life, and while we are celebrating him, I am secretly accepting the mighty reality that I am deeply loved, exhibited by the incredible gift that this boy is to me. Happy Birthday, buddy!
The final prong of this assault happened this morning. I delivered a talk to several hundred people that I didn't feel very prepared for, in the traditional sense of the word, but accepted the truer reality that I have been through a lifetime of preparation to deliver it. And God told me what to say, once again, as He is faithful in doing every single time in my life. It was on the subject of God's appointed human leaders for His church. And then afterwards, I met a nice man named George who I asked if I could take him to dinner tonight and visit and pray with him, to which he graciously accepted. He found us because he felt he had been blessed with a little extra money, and wanted to give an offering to a church, and had a tough time finding a church that would take his money (which we just couldn't stop laughing out loud about) and finally found someone at our church who would take it. My friend Landon was who he found, George told me, who invited him to worship with us this morning, which he obviously did. Inside I thought, 'How easy God has made it for me today to love and shepherd someone. I am chosen, appointed, and supported in doing my hearts desire.'
Why these unrelated (?) incidents conspired to explode in my life today to remind me of how much I'm loved by God, I'm not sure. But I think it has something to do with God wanting me to see how deeply my brothers and sisters in the human family are loved. And I am grateful.
May I remember when my days pass me by and they appear to be something they are not.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Finding Frank

I loaded up 3 big zip-lock's of warm cookies, and 3 hot, tender, good-looking cakes into the back of my Blazer. My wife and our friend Kacy (who was here for the weekend to visit my family), had hurriedly gathered the supplies and cooked them for me to join a large team from our church who were headed down to the Amarillo Civic Center to feed a meal to the Hurricane Katrina victims that flew in Sunday from New Orleans. I could not have been prouder of my church family. They have enough deserts for a month, it looked like. And we'll be returning this Thursday to feed these sweet, appreciative people again.
As the refugees slowly started to trickle in, I met a man who looked to be in his mid to late 60s, and I initiated conversation anxiously by asking him if he was hungry. He, equally anxious to talk, said he was and quickly informed me that he was 91 years old. I asked if he needed help, and I got to walk him through the line, carry his food to the table, and sit down with him and listen.
Frank was a very kind, gentle, patient man.
He moved from Mississippi to New Orleans in the 40s and worked in construction most of his life. He helped build the Superdome back in the day, the same Superdome that barely houses some of his New Orleans neighbors. He remembers working for 65 cents an hour. He lived on Canal street in a 5 or 6 story building on the 3rd floor and witnessed trees flying by his (thankfully, unbroken) window. Frank told me he grew up with "white folk" and it was always just fine, that they even trusted him to cash checks for them, and he would walk with 2 or 3 hundred dollars for someone else, and was always trustworthy with it. He has buried 3 wives, 2 sons, and all his siblings. One son was in the army and was killed somehow when he returned to the States, and his other son was at truck driver and died in a crash in California. He attended a Baptist church back home. He shook his head sadly at both the looting that he saw taking place in his city and that we went to war with Iraq. He met several of my friends from church, and was gracious with all of them.
He has no one, and no plan, but doesn't seem worried. I gave him my name and number, offered for him to stay in Amarillo, and assured him I would help. He might. He has no plan. He's working with Red Cross workers to get his monthly Social Security check sent to him here. He gets enough to pay his $400 rent back home, his bills there, and still have a little to live on. I think that's enough for him to make it here.
I found myself committed to sitting with Frank the whole time I was there. You know why? I could tell you that it was because there was so much to learn in this one spot I was sitting, so much experience, life, love and love lost. I could tell you that it was because with every piece of information, Frank became more and more someone I loved and cared about.  I could tell you that it just felt good to help someone. I could tell you it was because it is what I think Christ would have done. And all of that would be true...
 But let me 'fess up to the deeper, truer answer...I was scared to get up and meet someone else. Scared because my heart was already breaking for Frank, and I'm finding myself wanting to do whatever I can to help him. And as long as I don't meet any more of the people here, they will stay just "the people here". "The people" who I helped feed a meal to. "The people" that I've been watching pictures of on the news and reading about in the paper.
But if I allow another one to become who they really are to me, a personal name with a personal story, I will fall helplessly into my desire to help...my desire to do anything to help...and feel helpless. I would want to do all that was needed for each person...then I'd have to admit that I'm just unwilling, unable, or under prepared...it would leave me going home feeling helpless, and maybe even guilty for how good I have it.
Now forget the compassion that was initiated because of this Hurricane thing...I'm loving Frank, this sweet man, for who he is...not because of what he has recently been through. The same thing would have happened to me if I just took the time to sit with him on the porch of his 5 or 6 story tall apartment building watching people walk by on Canal Street.
So gets me thinking, I bet there are plenty of "Frank's" in Amarillo who should not need a Hurricane to hit their home for me to find them. They should be found by me simply because I've been commissioned to by my God, Jesus Christ, to go and find them.
No wonder Jesus said that unless you give up everything you have, you can't be his disciple. There is not any time to do anything else.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Pretty Serious Stuff

"You should think of the greater sufferings of others so you can endure your own small troubles easier. And if they do not seem small to you, then be careful that your impatience is not the reason they seem greater." - Thomas a Kempis
There are a few people at our church in the middle of some semi-heated, emotionally charged theological discussions right now that are pretty serious. I know it shouldn't be possible, but some strong Christian people that I know are coming close to hating each other. There is a lot at stake for these few...people are tempted to leave and go to another church unless someone else does, or at least changes, to satisfy their own perspectives on church doctrine or their own convictions about how to present it. It's tricky and messy, because we are talking about people's convictions here. And they all believe that people's souls hang in the balance based on "who win's". I, as the preacher here, am admittedly consumed by it...wondering how to be like Jesus in the midst of it. It's pretty serious stuff...
Until, that is, I hear about the man on the TV telling his story of struggling to hold on to his wife during the Hurricane in Louisiana as his house ripped in half. He said that his wife saw his inability to hang on without losing his hold on the house, so she said, "Let me go. You take care of our children and grandchildren. I'll be alright." That's the last he's seen of her. It sort of redefines what pretty serious stuff really is...
Until, that is, I hear about a man in Kenya who was quoted as saying, "Today, the United States is dealing with what much of the world deals with every day." I had to stop and think about that one. And a good friend of mine, as he spoke about it, made me realize that this dude in Kenya is wrong. Because in the United States we have boats going in there searching for people, helicopters lifting them out, relief food and water being collected to send down there, rebuilding plans and funds in the works...and all of this is happening without my having to sacrifice one necessity of life. In much of the rest of the world, the people are just left to die with no one even noticing (that's why we haven't heard about it). I sort of redefines what pretty serious stuff really is...
And I bet there is more. Back here on planet Amarillo...I can just shut off my TV, and stop talking to my friends on the phone who know better, and pretend that the problems around here are pretty serious.
Wow. That my fellow Christians believe that it's okay to not act like Christ with each other because they think the other one doesn't quite "get it" is pretty humiliating. Equally humiliating is that I'm talking about me.