Each spring break from 1988 through the early 2000’s, I joined a couple thousand students and staff with Azusa Pacific University‘s Mexicali Mission Trip. Whether I was a youth, college student, APU volunteer, or Youth Director in some form I was there. And I loved it. Spending Holy Week in sleeping in tents and working in the local villages did something remarkable within me. Each year I came back transformed. It was in 1988 that I encountered and realized a loving God cared for me. A different year, in the middle of a worship service I committed myself to vocational ministry in some shape or form. As I later led groups, friendships deepened to incredible depths that years later they still run strong no matter the distance. Stories of adventures still are highlights of get togethers with students or leaders even though some of them have turn into myths that we are not sure actually happened.
As each Holy Week comes and goes, I long for those times as a student and a leader in Mexicali. Each Holy Week held something special. For some incredible reason as we were on these mission trips and Holy Week was laid before us, I was taken back and challenged. Sharing Communion with a couple thousand people who have experienced the highs and lows of ministry on Maundy Thursday has incredible meaning. Riding high from the whole mission experience as we often walked sleep deprived and still dusty after driving home through the night… but still making it to Good Friday Services. Or telling the stories of how God worked in us and through us on Easter Sunday. How Great was our Risen Lord and Savior in the middle of all that happened to us! These Holy Weeks were not your average Holy Weeks but ones of deep spiritual meaning.
It is those same experiences that I took the many students years ago is the same experience that I long for my children and our church’s youth to have. I pray that my own children have the opportunity to grow and be molded spiritually in the same way that I was. This afternoon I spent a bit of time trying to convince my youth leader that we need to fly our group cross country next year to participate. Then I realized how much it would cost to do this and how untenable it was. The destination is not important but rather the experience and what results is what I long for our students to have. To have the opportunity to push everything aside and be completely open to what God has to say to them.
To be completely open and honest before a God that cares and loves them.
P.S. One of the very few pictures of Mexicali that I still have. Here is to many great friendships that result.
You know those moments. Standing at the foot of the mountain looking up. The journey looks ominous, too ominous. You begin to hesitate and think that you are not the one to undertake this. That you would surely fail. Fear begins to creep into your mind that moments before were brimming with confidence. The wonder why do we get charged with his monumental task instead of someone else. Don’t you know who I am? With all my failures, past improprieties, and lack of overwhelming self confidence, I have still been tapped to be a part of conquering this mountain.
I stand at one of those moments. It is something that I have wanted to do for years, be a part of something that is new and will make a difference. People have told me that I can do it, that I have the right thought process to do this. I even have some past experience in it. Then why do these doubts still rise?
Too often we encounter these thoughts at the base of the mountain. Those thoughts can easily paralyze us from moving forward. In “Christian-ese” we use the word called/ calling, in common everyday meaning it is fulfilling our God given task. Everyone is given a calling. It can be recognized by our reaction to a God given burden upon us.
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one bodyand one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.- Ephesians 4:1 (NIV)
How we react to those callings? You and I can either run or head up the mountain. I choose the mountain. That does not mean that I don’t have self doubts with myself, no wonder I surround myself with a great team. We are not sent on “lone ranger” tasks by ourselves, but are supported/ encouraged along the way. Each time moments of self doubt creeps into my thoughts I remember my purpose: to live a life worthy of my calling. It does not mean I cut and run at the first sign of trouble, but dig in with the strength that only God can bring and the team that I have been blessed with.
It’s time to dig in and take on this mountain. Should be fun, there is nothing else I would rather want to do.
As many of you that interact with in a day in day out level know, I sometimes have to take steroids. About ten years ago I began to struggle with my health. Often times during paintball practice I would come home with swollen joints with little calcifications under the skin. Over the course of time this became worse and began to affect my life. I was diagnosed with gout and several different forms of arthritis. The treatments ranged from pills to steroids to self injection pens. Needless to say it was not fun. My quality of life diminished as I struggled in movement and my weight ballooned. In the last couple years I have begun to really manage it and reduce my medicine. This includes steroids that I was taking every day to an as needed situation.
This past week I have had a flair up, thus the need for a steroid regiment. As the word today is “spirit” I took a picture of my pack of steroids. In Ezekiel 37 it reads:
37 The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the SovereignLord says to these bones: I will make breath[a] enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel.13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares theLord.’”
The bones that were covered with tendons and skin but did not have life until the pneuma/ ruach/ spirit came into them. The body did not have true life until the breath came into it. My body sometimes breaks down and causes pain. It is unable to fulfill the purposes that it was intended. The elbow was so swollen and painful to move. That was until the steroids came and provided a medical intervention to my problem. Sure my elbow was there but it was unable to do what it was meant to.
Our purpose is much more than tour day in and day out lives. With the Spirit of God moving within us we are given true life… more than we can ever expect or imagine.
Last night I was having a really pleasant conversation at dinner with my two older teenage daughters, when something struck me. It was not longer the about Sponge Bob or about how pretty the Disney princesses are but more adult conversations. Of course the conversation got steered away by the whole conversation about “Hulk Roy” and what it had to do with the Mermaid Theory from HIMYM, but that is a whole side story.
When did this happen? Weren’t you just the little girls that I brought home from the hospital? While part of my hear sank as I continually come to the realization that they are slowly becoming adults. After I talked about my day they gave me some sound advice. What was even better? It was followed up this afternoon by an email encouraging me in what we had talked about. Seriously? Are these the same teens that some days we have long drawn out arguments? Yes they are, but God is moving within them in incredible ways. God is not done molding and shaping them. Much like even at my age I am continually being refined.
I can’t wait to see what happens in the future. My girls (and boys) are solidly in God’s hands. And so are all of us.
Last year at this time, I was running around like crazy and the furthest thing from my mind was Christmas. Well, Christmas was on my mind but definitely not in the spiritual way; more in the lines with get the shoppers out of here they are crazy! This year as my family gets settled in the brisk and frigid land of New Jersey, I have a different perspective. I am the process of prepping for tonights services at 6 (family service) and 11 (traditional communion), and have an opportunity to reflect on a more meaningful level of Christmas.
My favorite part of a Christmas eve service is the candlelight part. It brings me back to those spring nights in Mexicali when I was a youth and later a leader in symbolizing Jesus as the light of the world and the darkness cannot overcome it. Tonight, we will turn off all the lights and take a light from the Christ candle and pass it to the congregation as Silent Night is played. It is often a very soft and moving moment as we reflect on its symbolism. Without Jesus in the world we would have darkness but in Jesus darkness was overcome. It makes me often think of the opening words of the Gospel according to John:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
I have had the opportunity to do something that we try not to encourage our members to do… that being ‘church shop”. Or the act of checking out what other churches are doing and so forth. In some ways it is pretty cool since I get to see what other churches are doing but at the same time have no intimate contact with a church family. Now that I have been out and about I miss being at a church every Sunday and look forward to that time again.For the past four weeks I got to be a free agent of sorts as I have made my way through a bunch of different churches. I think a general theme has arisen as I feel that each pastor was talking directly to me. The first week was a visit to the Radiant service at Oxnard First Presbyterian. They were doing Stewardship Sunday and Pastor Ted Brandt was talking about God’s comfort in the midst of suffering. The following week was Pastor Ron Urzua from Word of Life Presbyterian preaching on God’s provision in the midst of difficult times. Last weekend I was at Westminster Presbyterian during their Stewardship Day as Pastor Dan Birchfield talked about the longevity of the church and its legacy, that in the mist of chaos and the economic climate God provides. Last night I was at Glenkirk Presbyterian in Glendora as Pastor Jim Miller talked about the sacrifice that God wants from us and that it is all about finishing well.Each of the themes of the sermons that I have heard this last month felt like they were meant for me specifically. Is there a conspiracy between the churches where I am going? Or maybe its God speaking? I guess my attitude did not change much after the first time…. or even the second… so apparently I got four sermons to finally get what I was suppose to get. I GOT IT!!!…. I think. That in the midst of the craziness of my life, God is going in front of me and providing, just need to remain faithful.It is easy to have faith in the good times… character and depth of faith is built during the tough seasons.
1When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. 3He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic. 4Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. 5If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them.” 6So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere. (Luke 9:1-6)
It is easy to say that we trust or have faith in God. Saying it and living it are two completely different things. The past month has seen me go from two paid positions and one volunteer (with a hope of being paid) to simply the volunteer one. While the volunteer one is one that I am deeply passionate it has been a shake up in reality. How are we suppose to trust that God is going to catch us when we see nothing but the big abyss below. I will be the first to admit that I have had my times lately of self pity. Where I was ready to give it up and be a garbage salesman. Don’t know what that is… neither do I but that is what I clung to. Our nature automatically wants us to give us when our lives are not going our way.
Authentic faith is the basis for our trusting in God. It is by no accident that I was reading Francis Chan’s book Crazy Love this morning that read:
This place of trust isn’t a comfortable place to be; in fact, it flies in the face of everything we’ve been taught about proper planning. we like finding refuge in what we already have rather than in what we hope God will provide. But when Christ says to count the cost of following Him, it means we must surrender everything. It means being willing to go without an extra tunic or a place to sleep at night, and sometimes without knowing where we are going. God wants us to trust Him with abandon. He wants to show us how He works and cares for us. He wants to be our refuge. (p. 123)
Trust requires us to surrender. It means not holding onto our own plans but submitting and believing what God has for us. Though I may not see tangible evidence what is ahead… trust God. In those dark moments or self pity… trust God. In those times of wavering faith… trust God.