Friday, November 28, 2014

Rest When You’re Dead

Thanksgiving Celebration at Christian American School
Eighteen months. The last three months, a 90-day sprint. Sunday morning preach, I think I’m developing as a speaker? Lunch at Taco Bell, work on seminary studies for a 6 p.m. class on line where I defend my work. 7:00 is a small group Bible study out our house. At 9:30 I return to my studies until around midnight.

Monday through Friday follows a rhythm: up at 6:30, at Christian American School where I serve as the Principal around 7:10 where I remain until about 4:00. The variants: Monday at 9:00 is a Skype call with my accountability pastor, Tuesdays are a Google Plus call as part of my ongoing ordination, Wednesday I preach in three chapel services and attend Big Student Ministries at night, Thursday I have a Skype call with my mentor, and Friday evenings are reserved for family time. I like to grill on Friday’s, usually hotdogs or local sausages. 

Each evening except Friday I can be found in my office, working from about 8 p.m. to midnight, either preparing for Sunday’s preach, Wednesday’s chapels, and the bulk of the time spent on my theology degree, 18 hours per week at minimum.

Saturdays I sleep in until around 10:30. I’m exhausted. I prepare an omelet to calm my mind while catching up on U.S. news. I begin working on my studies by noon and continue until 6:00 when we have a family dinner. At 7:00 I resume my work and then set it aside around 9:00 when I prepare my slides for projection for Sunday morning.

Sleep can be hard to find. My mind has more for me to do than the day has hours. I stop my work at midnight and then read for two hours, typically a fictional novel where I disengage from my endeavors and find a needed diversion. I sleep about 4 hours each night. It is the sleep of the dead. I don’t move. I usually wake up about 10 minutes before my alarm goes off. I find that very annoying. Nonetheless, each morning I lay there listening to the theme of the Shire from Lord of the Rings. I remember that this day is a new adventure. Like Frodo was the ring-bearer, I am an image-bearer. I am to be about the mission of God.

In order to make ourselves more sustainable here, we’ve found ways to supplement income. We rent space to three teachers. The school grants me a weekly donation for my time, and Journey Church gives me a $125 per week stipend. We’re collecting funds to convert unused space to another apartment so that we can generate more local funds. We’re working harder than we’ve ever worked, for far less compensation… and it is the best it has ever been. God is shining favor on us.

This last month has been ridiculous. I have met the mayor of the city, who happens to be the son of the President of Guatemala, I’ve had a meeting with the Director of the Ministry of Education where I presented not only our school, but also Journey Church and Big Student Ministries, we’ve been featured on the Youtube channel of the Mayor, and I filmed a ad for our new school campus opening on the other side of the city… I even spoke Spanish. 

Here’s the deal: as soon as we began walking in obedience to God, He began expanding His Kingdom through our efforts. This is all Him. My family and I are simply part of His novel, and our life is greater than any diversion. If you pray for us, you are a part of this. If you send us money, you are a part. If you come and visit us, or tell our story to others, then you are also a vital part of what we do. There are a lot of problems in the world, and even in the U.S., but we find meaning in serving where God has called us. Wherever you are, you are there for a reason. Find it. Serve. Be obedient. Fill your days with meaning and give yourself fully. God will advance His kingdom. We know this pace can’t be maintained forever, but we rejoice that we run this race while we can. I want to cross the finish line completely spent, exhausted, and empty. Leave it all on the field.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

To Those That Stand in the Trenches

This time of year is quite difficult. Social media is filled with calls to help the needy and commentary on what big business should be doing about the holidays and what government should be doing about the homeless. Meanwhile church folks will double park cars in sealed garages and fall into a cushy couch watching a flat screen t.v. while bedrooms go unused and leftovers hit the garbage.

We value our security and comfort over the call of Jesus to show mercy to the poor, orphans, and widows, and even to make disciples. We somehow believe that the gospel doesn't really apply to us if would mean that we would have to be at risk, or if our children were at risk. We proclaim how things should be, of how people should act, of what someone else should do, because we are no longer personally seeking first the face of God.
Volcano Pacaya
How many among us could endure the life of Paul and proclaim, "to live is Christ and to die is gain?" How many of us could say that everything we have, everyone we know, all that we've accomplished... is simply garbage when compared to the knowledge of God? Do we love Him more than our father, mother, sister, and brother... or do we silently whisper that we only have to love Him when we're safe? 

The condition of the world is a direct result of the conviction of those who claim to be followers of Jesus. Do we live with mission as our existence? Do we walk the earth daily with a willingness to lose everything for Him?

My first time as Baptizer
I am convinced that the evil one uses the good things in our lives to regulate our potential with our creator. It may be difficult to tempt you to commit an egregious sin... but oh how easy it is to keep you from loving the outcast if I remind you that it might harm your children.
My youngest daughter. I'd die for her.
My children are not worth more than my relationship with God. Neither is my wife. Neither are my parents. If I seek to guard those relationships above my relationship with Christ... I lose sight of my identity, my salvation, and the purpose of my creation. I cease being who I am created to be... and I lose everything including my eternal relationship with my creator. Nothing can separate.
Me and Pop Mathis - He was a preacher
I long for the day we as followers of Jesus stop praying for safety, and exchange it for a prayer of boldness. Losing my children in service of the King is acceptable. This world is not our home. There is nothing here that I want to cling to. I long to be reconciled to the God who pursues me. No matter what our earthly relation, we all remain children of God. We are formed by the hand and breath of God. We are either on His mission, or everything is vanity. It is time for self-proclaimed Christians to be willing to suffer. The mission of God is worth some pain. And so what then is a missionary?

A child in a village. What is her worth?

I tell you that this simply can not be simplified into a single set of "to do" instructions, and yet I also say to you that it is profoundly simple. I cringe when someone identifies him or herself as a missionary. I have no idea what that means. I've seen variance from one extreme to the other. Personally, missionary always brought to my mind figures like Mother Theresa and cannibalized victims in the Congo.

I don't see too many folks living like that.

Roasting marshmallows over a hurting city
Too often those who call themselves missionaries are living in safe compounds and living on the sacrifices of friends and family while they make little impact with timid living in a foreign land. 

I want to be a person who says yes to the voice of God. If He says talk to the lady in the check-out at the grocery, then do it. At that point, you are participating in the missionary task. Before coming to a foreign nation to be obedient to God, I had to become obedient to God in Middletown, Ohio. 

This was my path. Some others are different. Was Jonah obedient to God before he ran from the Ninevah command? Did Daniel wake up and decide to stare down some lions? No, I just don't think that anyone in their right mind wakes up and decides to be a missionary. It is more about a deep desire and a desperate passion to seek the face of God and to follow in obedience. An understanding that their is nothing else that compares. There simply is no other path.

I'm not a missionary. Maybe I'm an apostle? Maybe I'm just a wretched beggar desperate to be filled. Maybe I'm the leper calling out for mercy from a distance. Most days I'm just a thief on a cross... sometimes the bitter one, sometimes the grateful one. Each day is a refocusing on this following.

I was talking with students today about Christ followers who are commanded to renounce their faith at the end of a gun. We watched video of christ followers proclaiming faith in God and Jesus even though they were executed and the enemy then danced over their bleeding bodies. The students expressed deep sadness. I challenged them to rejoice in the great faith of sons and daughters of God going home into the open arms of a God that promises to us that nothing can separate us from His love.

Those who fell in that video answered the call, "Here am I, send me." There was nothing that was greater than their love of God. Nothing.
Me & Sterling at Labor de Falla School

When we reach that point... I believe we understand the missionary task. To follow Jesus is to abandon all else. Follow Him first and the rest will be in alignment. 

To those who stand in the trenches:

I know I am just a pea-brain on the sidelines, and I can't understand the full weight of what you are bearing... however I recognize that it is suffocating and unescapable. I can't give you advice. You are the pro because you are on the battlefield. 

But, if I can offer some perspective from a person who isn't under constant fire... the only thing I can point to is Paul. Somehow he was able to take his suffering and shift the focus to considering that his suffering was for the good of others (that it was worthwhile for what he valued) and that his refusal to take vengeance brought glory to God. Paul saw this as bearing out the behavior of Jesus Christ. 

I know you probably want me to shut up. I really don't claim to know any better. I think in many ways your wisdom and knowledge surpasses my own. But I also acknowledge that you are in the thick of battle and it can be hard to see. Each blow that you take is a powerful statement. You are standing. So many are not willing to stand. Because you are standing, it enrages the enemy. Somehow... if you can, turn it over to God? Don't let the bitterness swallow you. 

Know that you are standing for good and that every hit you take is worth it. I swear... the more we walk in the will of God, the more difficulty we face. I am praying for you twofold: for boldness in the face of your trials, & for the favor of God to find you in your obedience. If I'm off base, forgive me. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

How to Hate your Mother and Father

Looking at this picture, I remember that day. It seemed so full of hope. Everything seemed... at least in the moment of that shutter snap... to just feel beautifully in place. Right now, my soul bleeds the spilled promise of that memory.

I wrestle daily with the knowledge that my relationship with my parents is shattered. I walk with the absent weight on my shoulders and my knees are weak. I miss them. It feels like they are dead. I gasp for air when I realize they are living... and I am missing their days. I am cognizant that they will not live forever. How will I feel at their passing? The hollow echoes of empty days when they are nothing but memory and I reflect on the days of potential I gave away.

I want to fish with my father. I want to sing with my mother. These things are gone from me. And it is my fault. I had a choice... and I walked away. Guilt is an adversary. I walked away. And yet... I have no time to bury my dead.

There are real sacrifices to this walk. To follow is to die. My father's words from July 1st, the last time I spoke with them, are engraved into the wall of my soul, "son, you've made it clear that your mother and I are at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to your priorities." Oh... those words cut to the quick to read. I nearly threw up. The weight of those words from the man I respect more than any other, was simply revolting and unbearable. 

It is because they are true. Those who I love the most... can not be my priority. There is only one priority. The man who reached out His hand and invited me, "Chad, come and follow me," that man... He takes precedence. There simply is no time to live in the past. The man and woman who gave me life, who sacrificed to raise me... I simply can not live for them. My dear mother and my revered father... they no longer hold influence and sway over my life.

I know this to be true and to be just. I am keenly aware of the gaping whole in in my heart. And I have deep knowledge that it is correct for me to feel this pain, and it is equally correct for me to walk this path of obedience to the One who calls my name. I have come to learn that my walk is meant to carry a degree of pain. 

I think of what could be. I see other missionaries whose parents walk beside them in sacrifice. I see deep into their eyes and I know they'd rather have their children and grandchildren safe within arms reach... and yet I see recognition in their eyes that God's story eclipses our own.

We seek our own storyline sometimes as humans, and we miss the fact that we were created to worship God. That is our purpose. Creation is broken and God seeks to restore us. That is His mission. We are His children. It is our job to (1) worship Him, and (2) restore others to Him. This means that God is my priority. I am called to abandon my life. I answered in a way that overflows my soul with emotion every time I remember it... 

...a total and limitless yield to God... it's me. I'm here. Take me. Use me. All of me. I am nothing. I need you. I don't want to live unless you are real. Take me. There is room for nothing else. I want to follow you. I am willing to abandon everything. I'll give my house to the bank. I'll give away my dog. I'll throw out the toys of my childhood. I'll walk away from my career. Anything. Take it. Take it all. Just please let me follow you. Nothing else compares. 

Take my family. Take my kids. Take my wife. Take my parents. Take it. Take it all. I am nothing without you. Take my future. Take my ambition. Oh my God please take me. Make me. Take me and use me or please just end me.

I want to be shattered for you. I want to see your face when I am threatened by giants, by lions, by oceans, by rulers, by temptation... I just want to bleed for you. 

Yes. You are more than all of that my God. Take me. Take it all. Everything else is simply bottom of the barrel. God help me. I miss them. 

And yet... you are using me in this place. The days I seek to run back to them. The days I want to shake and cry and yield it all back to them, I know deep in my being that my allegiance is yours. It can be no other way. My mother and father are not the priority. Neither is my wife or my kids. The mission does not play second fiddle to any of it. 

My allegiance is yours. My heart belongs to God. Nothing else compares. All is vanity when compared to Him. I will not seek to save my life and neglect my God. I give it all to the One who has made me. The One who has saved me. And I wrestle in the night with the weight of the loss.

I give thanks to God and I rejoice that my soul feels the significance of this path. I am the Lord's I know.

I Love my mother and my father. They are deeper in my heart than any other. And yet... they can not be my priority. They are at the bottom of my barrel. They are the firm boards that hold up the entire shape and content. My character is from them.

After all... where else does our foundation lie? May God have mercy on my soul. This path is difficult. This path is beautiful. This path is my desperate attempt to follow my God.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple." -Luke 14:26

"Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." -Matthew 10:27