Have you ever stopped to think about the power of sympathy?
We tend to sympathize with people we know, not because we agree with their opinion, but because we’re better able to see from their perspective. When we’re able to see things from a different perspective it allows us to see our own more clearly, revealing both fact and fiction. Sympathy creates a safe place for people to exchange ideas, express emotions and finely tune our understanding. When we sympathize with one another, we can work more effectively towards lasting solutions to common problems. In everything, if you find yourself lacking sympathy, consider holding your tongue while you invest time in the rich experience of getting to know your brother or sister.
In light of recent events, take time to reflect on Luke 6:27-31 where it says:
But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. Do to others as you would like them to do to you.
Can we get real? Are we capable of being honest about ourselves, with ourselves and others? Is it possible to strip away everything we believe and represent ourselves to be, to better see our lives compared to the example we have in Jesus Christ?
At its core , I think it comes down to a basic question of reputation.
It seems that so much of our time and energy, whether intentionally or not, are devoted to developing an image by which the world judges our worth. In that process, I believe we compromise the maximum impact we could have for God’s Kingdom. It’s a matter of personal appearance and clothing labels. How large is your house? What kind of car do you drive? The average American family lives well beyond it’s means to keep pace. All the while, God’s Kingdom and His people go with unmet needs. The poor struggle, with too few helping hands extended their way. The pursuit and maintenance of our reputations seem directly opposed to the work to which we’ve been called.
Compare this to the example Jesus set for us. Philippians 2:5-11 tells us,
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being…he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
I like that the King James version says “(He) made himself of no reputation”, all for the glory of the Father. In laying aside all earthly ambition, He was optimally effective in the work to which His was appointed.
If we’re capable of seeing ourselves for who we are, what warning do we received from James 5:1-3, where it says,
Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you. Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. Your gold and silver are corroded. The very wealth you were counting on will eat away your flesh like fire. This corroded treasure you have hoarded will testify against you on the day of judgment.
Isn’t it time that we see and respond to the needs around us? Isn’t it time we take an honest assessment of the ways in which we limit our impact by literally storing up our treasures in the form of earthly possessions? Isn’t it time we get real?
What’s wrong with this world? It’s a question we’ve probably all asked ourselves at one time or another. Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer…or is there?
In Matthew 22:34-40, Jesus is confronted with a question that’s familiar to many of us. “…An expert in religious law tried to trap him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?’ Jesus replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: love your neighbor as yourself. The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.'”
Did you catch that? “The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Obedience to God’s Word should be a natural byproduct of our lives, when we learn to completely love God and those with whom we share this world.
In 1 John 4:7-12, John says,
Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.
The answer, then, to any question of “what’s wrong with this world” might be best solved by answering the question of “what’s wrong with us”.
What sense is there in analyzing the world’s problems with religious and political debates, when our time is better spent finding ways to love one another? What meaning will we find in letting our differences divide us, when His love has come to unify us? What reward is there in capturing possessions for ourselves, when love should motivate us to willingly share with those in need?
“No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.” (1 John 4:12) If people aren’t expereincing God’s love through you, what’s wrong?
Imagine walking into an artist’s gallery, specifically a painter. Take a second to develop that mental picture. I assume you’re envisioning white walls displaying some combination of landscapes, still-lifes, portraits or abstracts in a variety of sizes and colors. Perhaps you’re thinking of a specific artist, or your favorite style of painting. The one thing I bet you’re not imagining is a room filled with uniformly-sized canvases, all painted the same color, showing no variety or contrast, each picture the same, flat, lifeless square as the one before it.
True artists just aren’t like that. They’re creative. They’re bold. They understand how to produce something worthy of our attention.
I’ve always been a “people watcher”. In recent years, however, it has lost a fair amount of entertainment value, as individuals become less and less distinct. Instead of exercising our own creativity, we mimic the styles and preferences of others. It seems like we don’t take the time to discover and develop our own unique identity. Instead, we allow ourselves to be painted over with the image projected onto us by the media and those we’ve allowed to determine what is and is not “acceptable”.
I just can’t imagine this is what God intended.
Do we stop to consider that He has specifically gifted us to complete the work He is creating? Each of us is a unique expression of His love to the world around us. He purposefully filled this canvas with color and contrast and texture and the subtle and obvious variations that make us a masterpiece, both individually and collectively. We are called to be salt and light to this world (Matthew 5:13-16). Don’t allow yourself to blend in with the world around you. Let them, instead, see His art in you.
The telephone game always cracked me up. You remember it, right? It’s the one where someone whispers a phrase to someone else. That person, then proceeds to pass the phrase along, each participant whispering what they think they heard, to the next. After the message has been passed through several people, it morphs into something completely unintended. A phrase that started as “my great granny likes to giggle with mates at work” becomes “my giant fanny looks jiggly when I make it twerk”.
It’s so important to get the message from the source.
What does this mean for us, as Christians, if we neglect to read the Bible and engage in an active prayer life? If all we ever hear of God comes from second-hand sources, how can we ever know that we’re hearing the whole story? How do we know that the parts we are hearing are accurate?
John 8:31-32 says “…You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” If this is true, we better know that we’re hearing the whole truth. There’s no better way of knowing, than getting it straight from the source.
When I enter my house through the laundry room, I’m greeted by total darkness. It’s no problem if I just keep moving, three steps straight forward, reach low for the doorknob, and I’m out. If I stop for even a second, to turn around, to try to let me eyes adjust, I could easily get disoriented. Even in that small room, I might be left fumbling in the dark.
When we find ourselves in a dark place in life, it’s no different. Whether we’ve been there before or it’s brand new territory, the darkness breeds fear. It insights panic. It stops you in your tracks, leaving you disoriented and confused.
Sometimes, though, the fastest way out of the darkness is through it. Have confidence in the plan God has for your life. He has you on this path for a reason. Don’t stop. Don’t even take a second to question your direction. Reach forward to take hold of what God is placing before you. Jesus said, “I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.” (John 12:46)
“Hear the Word of the Lord!” Those words always snap me to attention. It seems they typically precede a warning or pending judgement. What follows should never be taken lightly.
The main source of inspiration for my posts comes from my Bible reading. There’s so much that jumps off the page at me, waiting to be wrapped in a “today’s-world” type of context. God reveals himself through the truth of His Word, making His love for us known. Stepping back, seeing ourselves through the lens of that love is a beautiful and inspiring thing.
There’s a difference, however, when we look at ourselves through the lens of God’s judgement.
This summer, I’ve been reading through books like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. It’s difficult to find encouragement in the words of these books. It’s not easy because this lens shines a hard light on so much that we’ve grown too familiar with: finding comfort in our possessions, yielding ourselves unquestioningly to corrupt authority, ignoring the oppressed, complaining and quarreling, having an inflated sense of ourselves. What is there to say about such things?
My Pastor once said, “if you’re having trouble knowing what to say, maybe the Holy Spirit is telling you to keep your mouth shut”. I love that advice. What do you do, though, if you’re flooded with everything you feel the Holy Spirit what’s to say, and are scared of how it might be received?
What if God wants you to know that it’s not OK to publicly rip into people and places with harsh criticism, filling social media with bitter, passive-aggressive complaints, quarreling and gossiping with and about others? What do you say when God is revealing the selfish pride and idolatrous materialism that is manifest when we brag about and find our identity in promotions and material possessions? How do you convey God’s frustration with a people who sell their allegiance to a political party, becoming more an instrument for their platform than for His love and mercy?
Ezekiel received great instruction when told, “Son of man, let all my words sink deep into your own heart first. Listen to them carefully for yourself. Then go to your people in exile and say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says!’ Do this whether they listen to you or not.” (Ezekiel 3:10-11).
All too often we read/hear God’s judgment with others in mind, not taking the time to listen for ourselves.
Listen for yourself, Pastors. Listen for yourself, Worship Leaders. Listen for yourself, Sunday-School Teachers. Listen for yourself, Youth Workers. Don’t be so quick to assign God’s judgement to “America”. Don’t assume these messages are solely intended for those who, from your perspective, are the appropriate candidates. Listen for yourself. Hear the Word of the Lord.
Thursday, July 22nd 2010
Our final day in El Salvador began as all the others did, with an early breakfast. That was followed by our team packing their belongings and cleaning their dormitories. We assembled outside the cafeteria to load for the airport. Boarding the bus was delayed as long as possible, spending that time playing ninja and saying goodbye to those who wouldn’t accompany us to the airport.
As we waited, we were passed by a team who just arrived for their time of ministry. I think many of us were slightly jealous for what they were about to experience. If I was more aware of how much I would miss El Salvador, I would have taken a few more deep breaths and soaked in the scenery of Castillo del Rey’s beautiful lake-side campus.
A long ride back to the airport allowed us an opportunity to see everything we missed during our nighttime arrival. While some of the route had become familiar to us over the previous days, much of it was new.
After arriving at the airport, we unloaded and prepared for departure. Making ample use of the last moments we had with our host team, we shared goodbyes and wishes of working together again in the future. We built strong relationships with our host team, and knew they would be missed. They did an excellent job of making our time in El Salvador an experience we would never forget.
I wasn’t expecting my return to America to be difficult. Entering America through customs seemed especially harsh. I’m not sure Houston’s TSA agents serve as a great welcome mat for those entering our country. We attempted to keep our group together and ready for the process. All things considered, it was a pretty smooth process.
When we arrived in Virginia, we were greeted by many friends and family. It was a huge surprise to see my wife waiting for me. I thought I had a couple more hours before we would be reunited.
The next couple of weeks was a long slow process of feeling normal in my typical roles again. While it was awesome to get back to being a daddy, and even the responsibilities of work, I felt desperate to hold on to the simple core of discovering what’s truly important in life, drawing people back into relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
I offer these posts as a monument to remind us that we’re still at work, accomplishing this “great commission”
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
If you were there and remember details or any interesting stories I missed, please add your memories of our ninth day in the comments below. Thank you for reading my journal of our trip to El Salvador. I hope it inspires you to be diligent in your work for the Kingdom and build monuments to those experiences. Tell the world that God is real, and Jesus is alive.
Wednesday, July 21 2010
Our last day in El Salvador was spent enjoying some well-earned rest. Shortly after breakfast, we loaded up on our bus and headed for San Salvador.
Aside from our daily visit to Texaco, our first stop was a local market where our students and leaders had the opportunity to load up on souvenirs for our families and friends. Splitting up into small groups, and after some quick and helpful tips from our hosts, we each did our best to negotiate prices for things like bracelets, drums, figurines, shirts, etc.
Our next stop was lunch and the mall. Needless to say, we couldn’t go to the mall without doing a couple of “freezes”. Escalators, stages, stairs: both shoppers and security seemed to enjoy the spectacle we made of ourselves, as a developed a small following.
The food court provided opportunities for those ready for familiar, American cuisine and others wanting one last taste of El Salvador, to find something to please their taste buds. Herbert doled out allowances for each of us to apply to our orders. After a quick bite, we continued to the last stop of our day of site-seeing.
We headed back in the direction of our campus to an archaeological dig. There, we saw ruins of a Mayan village that had been buried over time. While we waited for our turn to enter the museum, we passed time at a gift shop where more souvenirs were available for sale.
The museum gave a brief history of the dig and a snapshot of life before the village was lost. It also provided a stage for a “freeze”. We stopped and stared, as if mesmerized by the exhibits. When it was our turn to enter the dig, we filed past the decaying structures, showing varying degrees of interest. I guess bearing witness to history isn’t everyone’s idea of a fun time. I was captivated.
As we made our way to the bus, some of our team stopped to watch locals demonstrate a game played with the tops some bought at the souvenir stand. Several of our guys used this as one last opportunity to parade themselves past a bus of young Salvadoran school girls, in opportunistic exploitation of their uncommon, “Bieberesque” looks. Please note: if the prior sentence does not seem to drip with sarcasm, you were probably one of those guys.
As the team assembled on the bus, the reality of our coming departure settled over us. After another quick stop at the Texaco station, we were back at the campus for our last dinner in El Salvador.
We closed the night with a farewell service that was shared with a team from South Dakota. The evening began with the opportunity for our teams to give a final performance. It was fun to see the guys and girls throw themselves into their roles one last time. Afterwards, the Master’s Commission students performed a skit that gave a taste of local culture. We also received parting comments from the people we worked with during the week, and watched a video King’s Castle made for our team to remember their time in El Salvador.
After the service, we had a little time to take some pictures with our new friends, and say goodbye to those whom we would not see the next morning.
We’re a pretty sophisticated group, in case you couldn’t tell.
If you were there and remember details or any interesting stories I missed, please add your memories of our eighth day in the comments below. Thanks for reading and look for another post from my journal, tomorrow.
Tuesday, July 20th 2010
The first began with us setting up benches in the school’s courtyard, as the children began to come out from their classrooms. Most of the children wore a school uniform, which consisted of navy blue pants or skirts with a light blue, button-up shirt. Some of the boys wore a white t-shirt. We were told that, while most of the children elected to wear the recommended attire, it was not a requirement.
The program began with our typical opening performance of “My King Jesus”, followed by a variety of other skits and dramas. The children, here, seemed more attentive. Like American school children, they probably preferred anything over the lessons from which they were just rescued. The teachers and other adults present also sat attentively and seemed interested in the message.
It seemed as though the entire school, which was about 35-40 kids, responded when it was time for a closing prayer. Each of the requests (salvation, healing and peace in homes) was well responded to. One was compelled to believe that lasting decisions were being made, when witnessing the earnest expressions on their faces.
Each program was hard to walk away from. We so enjoyed our interactions with every group of kids. None-the less, there was another school we needed to visit, before we would return to this one for a later program.
While we were leaving the school, Pastor Nick and I stopped and spoke to a couple of gentlemen who were just moving their family into the neighborhood. Caesar, who spoke excellent English, inquired about the purpose of our visit. He responded to our explanation by expressing an interest in networking with Castle’s ministry in hosting visitors to his country. However sincere his intentions, we suggested that he contact a Castle church in his area. He and his dad got some contact information from Oscar.
The second school we visited this day was only a short drive from the first. This school seemed to be three or four times the size of the first, and was quite livelier. It was a rather cool venue, as kids stood in the courtyard, lined the walls and looked on from upper level windows and balconies.
During my team’s time in prayer, I talked about a certain boy who captured my attention during the opening songs. This certain young man was easy to distinguish from the rest as he stood with arms folded, wearing a dark denim jacket. He had all the appearance of a born leader. Each of the team members agreed, as he stood out to them as well. We all began to intercede for him, asking the Holy Spirit to connect the truth of the Gospel message to this young man’s heart.
As we re-entered the courtyard for a final prayer, I asked James to approach the young man and his group of friends, since none of them responded to the call for prayer. James, Pastor Nick and a small group of our guys had the awesome privilege of talking with the young man, Hosea, and leading him and his group of friends in a prayer of salvation, as they agreed to take this life-changing step.
Once our prayers were complete, we returned to our waiting bus. Taking advantage of an opportunity to thank God for all he did at this school, an impromptu celebration broke out as people beat on empty water jugs, rattled makeshift maracas, puffed on half-full water bottles and chanted cheers that were becoming familiar rallying cries at the conclusion of a program. Whether an act of praise or a group of kids simply caught in a moment, we certainly didn’t mind looking foolish for our King.
Returning to the school we visited earlier that day, we welcomed an older group of children into the familiar courtyard. This was only after the team was destroyed by Josh in a game of “Ninja”.
Our second stop at this school was similar to the first, both in terms of the children we met and our ministry to them. As with the first, most, if not all, of the children responded to calls for prayer with earnest desires to find answers to the issues they faced.
At the conclusion of our last school session, we boarded the bus and headed for another playground. En route to our destination, we were specifically warned against taking anything of value into this neighborhood. Although this was a typical precaution, this time it was issued as a deliberate warning. Consequently, we have no photos or videos from this stop.
Upon arrival, we were not greeted by the typical large group of children. In fact, at this stop in our mission, we encountered the smallest turnout of any of our ministry locations. None-the-less, we prayed that God would speak His message of healing and restoration to those who were willing to receive.
Before this program, we tried to attract attention to the court by starting a game of soccer. Although some watched from afar, few were eager to participate. Unfortunately, our team suffered a potential setback when James injured his foot. Although his exact injury wasn’t immediately clear, we knew it was something that couldn’t just be walked off. After praying for James and taking him to the bus, we proceeded with our program.
As the time for prayed arrived, we were instructed by our hosts, to approach the few on-lookers we attracted. Few responded to calls for prayer at this location.
Members of our team approached a particular woman and communicated, the best we could, our desire to pray for her. Agreeing, she nodded. As we began to pray that the Holy Spirit would communicate truth to her heart, she began to cry. When an interpreter arrived, we were able to ask her about any specific needs she might have. She expressed concern for her son, explaining that he was approaching an age where gangs were applying increasing pressure for him to join. She talked about her concern for his safety.
A member of our team received a word from God that He was going to provide for her a very clear and specific example of His ability to protect her and her family. Suddenly, it began to rain. Realizing we were standing beneath a thick canopy of a single tree, we began to tell her about the love and protection she could find by making Jesus her Savior. We told her that God spoke to us about an example of His protection. We said that His example would come as clearly as the way in which we were protected from the rain under that tree. That day, our new friend quietly asked Jesus to be her Lord. As soon as we finished our prayer, the rain stopped. It seemed as if God brought that rain, just to illustrate His protection for her and her family.
In preparation for our final stop, our hosts again warned us of the threats we faced in the next neighborhood. All of their warnings were immediately made evident as we were lead down a narrow alley to the site of our last ministry stop. Although it’s difficult to describe the depth and variety of spiritual oppression we sensed, we were certain of the source of it’s cure.
God’s presence was sensed by all of our team members, as we preformed and prayed in the crowded alley. Parent’s and grandparent’s eagerness to usher children to answer our call for prayer, testified to the desperation in which they lived. As always, we prayed confidently, knowing that God is the hope for El Salvador.
As soon as our ministry was done, our hosts quickly escorted us from a growing threat as evening began to settle over the crowded alley. Thankfully we quickly made our way several blocks to our waiting bus without incident.
Bittersweet goodbyes were exchanged with several of our team members as we dropped some of our new friends off on our way back to the campus. Each of our hosts expressed their appreciation for the sincere love we showed the people of El Salvador. Throughout the week we were consistently thanked for coming, determined to see God’s will be accomplished.
Our students were commended for being among the rare groups of students on whom they could depend to give 100%. This earned our students the privilege of ministering in neighborhoods to which teams hadn’t been taken in several years.
As we headed home on our final day of ministry, we reconciled our desire that our ministry days not end with the knowledge that needed rest lay ahead. In all, we reveled in our confidence that God was continuing a great work in El Salvador.
Here are a few of the skits we did throughout the week, as performed on our last day of ministry.
Herbert kills me in this skit. He’s such a funny guy, and truly skilled at ministering to these kids.
If you were there and remember details or any interesting stories I missed, please add your memories of our seventh day in the comments below. Thanks for reading and look for another post from my journal, tomorrow.