Tuesday, December 25, 2012

You Might Die Trying

Merry Christmas to everyone! My family had our Christmas this past weekend and it was great to have family around and laugh at each other and celebrate. We had to celebrate early as I have a journey to make today. The great thing is that our family doesn't have any deeply herald traditions. With family being spread all over the world we are just grateful to get (mostly) everyone together at ANY time.
So, I sit here in the Jamaica feeling so very blessed to be able to go to Jamaica today! I realize I often take for granted the fact that I get to spend a couple weeks out of the winter in a tropical paradise. I also am blessed to LOVE what I do and I get paid to do it! I realize that not everyone has that as their lot in life. And most of all I am blessed to be doing all this to serve God and to love His created people...they just happen to live where it's warm. ;)
I've also realized over the past month or so that I've been holding back. I feel like I'm missing out on my full potential and everything that God wants for me.
One of my favorite Dave Matthews songs is called...you guessed it, "You Might Die Trying". Metaphorically speaking, (duh, that's what songs do!) a verse says: 
If you close your eyes
Because the house is on fire
You think you couldn't move
Not until the fire dies
The things you never did
Cause you might die trying
Well...my metaphorical house has been on fire for some time now. I can't really say how long or even what it is that's been burning, but I've suddenly started feeling the heat and smelling the smoke. I've been afraid to move forward in life; held back by something, waiting for it to be fulfilled before I can move on. I really have been feeling like it's time to move forward, trusting that it is God's will and the right direction for my life.
So starting in early February I will basically move to Jamaica for about 6 months. I don't know what God has in store for my life during this time but I have a feeling it's something huge! During this time I will get to work very closely with our Jamaican church partners and really get to know the communities and pastors better. I'll be able to solidify the already established relationships with our pastors, staff, orphanages, infirmaries and various other ministries. I'll be able to identify the deeper needs that are hard to identify via email and phone calls. Overall this time will only strengthen the ministry that Praying Pelican has already established.
Follow this link as I serve with 9 others in Hopewell, Hanover, Jamaica this week. Our primary goal is to build and stock a chicken coop for 200 chickens. This will provide an individual and/or the community income, food, and stability for many years.
So during the next two weeks while I'm in Jamaica and during the next month as I prepare to go, please pray for strength, wisdom and clarity. Pray that I'll be able to use this experience to live life more fully and not live with fear of what the future holds. The only sure thing is that I'm not going to die in this burning house. I'm going to take the risk of living.
"You'd be as good as dead, cause you might die trying"

Monday, December 10, 2012

Daddy Issues

This past month has been crazy! I've been to Atlanta, Dallas, Minneapolis, Louisville and Chicago as well as back home to Bloomington, IL. But it's been an awesome month and although much of the travel was for work, it was to be with people and to talk about what I love. So very much worth it!

With all that travel and about 3 straight weeks of not "working" (sitting here at my desk working), it's time to play catch up (or ketchup or catsup if you prefer). So on this cold Monday it's time to tell the world what's been going on!

I would have to say one of the most impacting times over the past month was my time in Dallas. I went there for a convention but scheduled in some time to see my dad whom I hadn't seen in about 5 years. If you remember my post from October 1, "Parenting Advice for a Single Guy!?", I had realized that a relationship with my dad is healthy and something that I needed to pursue.

So looking back on that post I am realizing that of the 4 stages (nursing, king/queen, coach, and friend) I hadn't ever really experienced ANY of these with my dad. Funny thing. . . I found myself acting like a kid around him at first. It was the weirdest thing! I would want to jump on him, hit him, and just play around. And immediately I recognized it and had to stop myself. That's what we always did when we would see each other over the years and so that was my first inclination. So basically I had to skip all the steps (partially consciously) and go straight to the "friend" stage. 

And you know what?? It was GREAT! I had never really spent a good amount of time with my dad as an adult. I ended up staying with him about 3 days and it was one of the best things I could have done for myself. 

I can think back over the years and I have said OUT LOUD that I didn't want to be like my dad. He's made some poor choices in life (haven't we all!?), but the funny thing is that I never really knew what it was/wasn't that I didn't want to be like. All I knew was that his absence in my life had created this inner turmoil that I still can't explain. This turmoil still exists, but I at least feel like I have a better understanding of it. Turns out we are very much alike. We think the same way about the very basics of life. About treating people with respect. About helping others. Granted, we are very different in many ways also, but I realized that I was OK with turning out to be like him. I'll learn from his mistakes and make a few different choices, but overall he's not the "bad guy" I always thought he was. 

I don't know how to explain it but I left Dallas with a little touch of pride and a little more self-esteem and a little more confidence. I guess those are things you get from your dad? 

I also got to spend some time with my younger brother, Evan! What a great kid! (kid? he's 26!) He's dealt with way too much for someone his age and he's a trooper! I haven't had much of a relationship with him either in the past. That's something I want to change too!

Keep in touch for some breaking news coming soon. . . 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Tolerant, relative, spiritual but not religious

What a great weekend in Hotlanta! Of course with the exception of a couple delayed flights and not enough sleep (getting up at 4am yesterday to fly home). I really felt what I've been learning/reading over the past month or so kicking in. Airports bring out the worst in everybody and when you start missing or delaying flights it gets even that much more interesting. It's also fun to people watch at airports. So many different kinds of people from so many different places all stuffed together and in a hurry. Makes for some good entertainment. And now trying to see those things through this kind of "new lens" of not classifying people based off of snap judgments. Putting this new philosophy into practice on a very practical level. Traveling is fun!

I was in Atlanta this weekend for the Youth Cartel's Summit. This is an event for church youth leaders and volunteers to come hear other leaders talk about trends in youth ministry through TED style talks. This is the same organization that hosted the Open in Seattle about a month ago when I met Jimmy Spencer Jr. and started reading his book, Love Without Agenda. So just amazing stuff! The Youth Cartel's self definition is, "we are passionate about Instigating a Revolution in Youth Ministry". So since I work in youth ministry (of sorts. . . I work with a lot of youth in this ministry) I really enjoy getting to go to these events and not only talk about what I love (missions and Jamaica) but I get to also learn and grow!

One of the many speakers that impacted me this weekend is a gentleman named Brock Morgan. He actually brings his youth to Jamaica with us and is coming back in December with his group. I've never worked with his group but it was great to meet him and hear what he had to say. He does youth ministry in the northeast in Greenwich, CT and sees trends that a lot of us in the mid-west don't see. . . yet.

Christendom is dead

The basis of Brock's talk was that Christendom is dead and we (Christians) are living as exiles. I think for most Christians this would come as a shock and almost an insult! It's hard for me to define it but for me Christendom in this context means Christianity's authority in the world. So to say that Christendom is dead means that Christianity no longer has an authority over non-believers like it once did. Christians can no longer answer a question with, "because Jesus said so" or "the Bible says so" and it have any authority. Those answers used to be relevant. . . now if I would use that answer I would be laughed at (often). So we, Christians, are living as exiles in this world. If we hold on to the "good ol' days" we are no longer relevant to the world. So what does that mean for Christians who don't want to be irrelevant? What will make us relevant to a world that needs Jesus?

We need to embrace tolerance

"Tolerance" in the Christian world is just as much a dirty word as "Christian" is in the rest of the world. The rest of the world has embraced tolerance. Everyone is accepted (except for Christians. . . cause we're not tolerant). Christians need to start being INclusive and stop being EXclusive. Tolerance doesn't write anyone off and neither did Jesus.

We need to embrace Christian relativism

Relative. . . another dirty word. I personally cringe when I hear the word. My friend likes to say, "perception in reality". That's relativism at its finest to me. I like to argue with him. :) I feel like too often there are so many things we tack to the message of the cross as if Jesus isn't good enough. To be a Christian is it following Jesus + how you dress + which baptism is RIGHT + how you vote + XYZ? The discussion this weekend was Jesus + a belief in a literal hell. There are so many different views/beliefs on what hell is/isn't. You don't have to think just like me (or everything I've added to the message of the cross) to believe in and love Jesus. There are salvation issues and non-salvation issues. Let's strip away the non-salvation issues and get back to Jesus! If you don't like the sound of "Christian relativism" (like me), try "Generous Orthodoxy". Let's focus back on Jesus' life and message and be generous with each other! And then you can have an open (and generous) discussion about what hell is/isn't, baptism, voting, etc.

Spiritual but not Religious

The phrase used to make my blood boil! I saw it as a cop out. . . a non-commitment to anything and an open license to believe anything. Cut, copy, paste. After this weekend I realize that I may classify myself as "spiritual but not religious" now. GAAASP!? I realize that the word religion carries so much stigma! Back to the death of Christendom - people don't want to associate themselves with Christianity because of all the stupid stuff people do in the name of Christ and Christianity. Christianity has often, in my mind, become an agenda and not a following of Christ. More about converting people and proving WE are right and less about loving God and His created people. Jesus didn't come to create another religion. He came to upend what people thought about religion! Many of my "Christian" friends, often myself included, when asked (or proclaimed on Facebook) will say things like "Christ follower", "lover of Christ", "Jesus", "Follower of Christ". We often don't want to attach the stigma of what "Christian" means to ourselves. So when people are searching and still trying to figure out what this whole Jesus thing is they may want to say, "I'm spiritual but not religious". We need to embrace what they DO believe and encourage them to continue digging deeper. They may not be ready to connect themselves to Christianity as they discover Christ.

Embrace Mission

Stop talking about it and do it! Plain and simple. People want to associate with people who have passion. Have a passion in your life and follow through with it! A friend of mine started a missions organization called GOYA. GOYA is an acronym for Get Off Your . . . Do it! I love my job because not only do I get to talk to people about missions and Jamaica, but I get to go do it myself! I get to be a part of this awesome adventure that is so much bigger than me!

Love Jesus? Prove it! Be tolerant, be generous, accept that people are "spiritual but not religious" and that's ok, and then stop talking about it and GOYA and do it!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Cavemen and Muscle Memory

Over the past week I've caught myself trying to live out this whole "Love Without Agenda" thing. This past week I was troubled with myself when I did something that was "nice" but had an agenda behind it that benefited me. It ended up making me mad at myself instead. Long story but it's a weird feeling to catch yourself and try to break old habits. . . especially when you didn't know they were habits in the first place.

A key phrase that stuck out to me when I was reading a few weeks ago was "muscle memory". I had it bookmarked but wasn't real sure how to use it. But it stood out to me and has been stuck in the back of my mind since then. Everyone has developed muscle memory. It's the old "practice makes perfect" mantra that we each play out in our everyday lives. (funny thought, if you practice something poorly it makes mediocre) From typing to driving to playing an instrument to brushing your teeth, we use it all the time. Has anyone ever caught themselves doing their routine in the wrong order? I've noticed a couple times in the past when I've had a fever or I had to get up at an ungodly hour (like 7!). I do things out of order, like wash my face before washing my hair in the shower or taking the road that goes to work when it's my day off. (of course I work from home now, so that can be awkward) Muscle memory keeps you doing the same things in the same order, day in and day out. When you somehow do something out of order you notice it.
Everyone loves Captain Caveman!

Cavemen. . . that's where we came from apparently. I've heard somewhere that (unfortunately Google can't seem to back me up on this, but) we developed our ability to judge situations from cavemen. A caveman would have to make a snap judgment when he heard a rustle in the bush next to him or saw a shadow. Is it an animal trying to kill me or just the wind/light playing tricks on me? We developed this fight-or-flight instinct to keep us alive. We had to judge situations for our survival. . . makes sense.

As we moved out of rock caves and moved into concrete caves in highrise buildings, our survival instinct stayed intact. But now instead of protecting ourselves from animals we're protecting ourselves from each other. Our survival instinct has stopped keeping us alive and started protecting our jobs, our stuff, our way of life, our pride, our thinking. . . our religion.

So now instead of making judgments about shadows or rustling bushes we make judgments about people. Gay, black, white, Republican, Democrat, Arab, Christian, Muslim, poor, rich, divorced, single-mother, drunk -- just the words themselves put us into fight or flight mode! Have we trained ourselves to fight against "those people"? Is that guy with his boyfriend standing in front of you at Starbucks ordering a pumpkin-spice latte threatening you? Is that 17 year old girl pushing her stroller on the "wrong side of town" a threat? My guess is no. What about the guy at the polling station wearing his Obama or Romney hat proudly? That's a tough one, huh? Are they threatening your politics, your thinking, your pride. . . it's possible. Are your judgments towards them, either outwardly or inwardly, going to protect those things? Definitely not. Would a smile or a hello from you make their day and maybe change the way they think about "your kind"? Doesn't hurt to try! You see, they have muscle memory too. . . they make judgments about YOU. Maybe it's based on their past and maybe it's unwarranted, but YOU can start to change that.

My challenge to myself (that I'm obviously extending to you) is to start breaking down my muscle memory when it comes to seeing people. To stop those knee-jerk reactions to people. Earlier I linked to an article that says if you practice something poorly it makes mediocre.We have muscle memories that are making us mediocre! It's amazing what you can see and who you can impact when you stop practicing poorly. Let's step up our game!

Matthew 25:

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'"

Monday, October 29, 2012

Political Agenda

This past week I have been preparing for beach season. I know for most the spring is the time to get in shape and get ready to hit the beach, but I'll be heading back to Jamaica in just under 2 months. Christmas day I'll head down and prepare to lead a small group for a week in Hopewell, just west of Montego Bay. So I've ordered new sandals (seems I blow through them pretty quickly) and I had to get a new pair of boardshorts since I've lost some weight working out over the past couple months. So I’m READY!

I really love going back to Jamaica during the winter for the obvious reasons and also because it gives me a chance to be refreshed and reminded of what it is I’m doing. Not that I ever forget, but just sitting on the phone TALKING about doing mission work is completely different than getting up and DOING it. I also start to miss the preaching in Jamaica. I love my church here and when I come home I get joy out of going to church and being challenged. I also love hearing Jamaican preachers as it is a completely different style and it’s very powerful!

As I was reading “Love Without Agenda” this week I was reminded of the preaching in Jamaica and big part of what I love about it. Jimmy is talking about the last week of Jesus’ life leading up to the cross. He’s talking about how Jesus’ lack of agenda got him killed. The Jews were looking for a Messiah. . . a savior. But they weren't looking for a spiritual savior. They were looking for someone who would overthrow the Roman government and rule over them as king like they once had. So the Jews thought Jesus was going to be a political savior, not a religious savior. How can Jesus HELP ME? What can He GIVE ME? What is He going to DO FOR ME? They had a political agenda for Jesus. Jesus didn't have an agenda. He wanted to show them love and how to love, they wanted him to rescue them from their political and social situation. Once the people found out that Jesus wasn't going to overthrow Rome and restore a king for them they were finished with Jesus.

We're done with Him. . .“Crucify Him!”

Fast forward to modern day:
Now the comparison between Jamaica and first century Israel is that both are oral cultures. That means that literacy is not high. In first century Israel the literacy rate was believed to be about 3%. Jamaica’s literacy rate is about 88%. Not really a comparison but I'm sure the rate for older generations is much lower and the culture is one that people talk to each other more and listen to the radio. much more than they read. One thing I like about Jamaican preaching is that it’s interactive. In particular, I've noticed that a preacher will start a verse with a few words and the people will speak out the rest of the verse with him. And it always amazed me that they knew so many verses and that they could do that. We don't do that (at least not in my church) here in America. They've learned by hearing these verses over and over again while growing up. The same was true for first century Jews. They knew the scriptures backwards and forwards from hearing them so many times.

Now back to the cross:
It looks to everyone like this whole Jesus thing was over. He hung on the cross and prepared to die. At the last moment, “Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’ (Matthew 27:46) As I’ve read this so many times and know this story, it never occurred to me what was happening when Jesus said this. I thought it was just His last cry to God.
No! Jesus was quoting scripture to the people that were there! “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” is the first line of Psalm 22. Written some 1,000 years earlier, Psalm 22 it reads like it was written while Jesus hung on the cross. Read through it and you'll be amazed! When David wrote this Psalm he was pointing to the cross. All the Jews would have heard this first line, ““My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”, and just like Jamaicans finishing the verses in church, immediately their minds would have gone to Psalm 22 and they would recite that verse in their head.

The last line of Psalm 22 reads:
     They will proclaim his righteousness,
     declaring to a people yet unborn:
     He has done it!

Jesus had proclaimed victory! Not over Rome as the people had expected, but over sin and death. Victory over all the agendas placed on him. And because of that WE too can proclaim victory! 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Show and Tell

This weekend I had the chance to go home to Illinois and visit family. Going home is usually a little stressful just because my best friend lives on the opposite side of town from where my parents live and in the few hours I have I feel like I’m trying to balance my time between home and friend. But this weekend my friend was out of town and extra family was in town. So I just got to spend some quality time with the fam and kind of relax. Also we were celebrating October birthdays since it seems like everyone in my family was born in October and we had most everyone together at one time. It was good to visit with both of my nieces and joke with my brother and sister and reminisce about the old days. . . old being 20 years ago. I got to visit my old church and hear one of my old youth pastor (who is now the lead pastor) speak. I also had some time Saturday morning to go to a little coffee shop and read a little. . . still reading “Love Without Agenda”.  Overall just a nice, relaxing weekend.

At church Sunday Mike was talking about John the Baptist and the account in John 1. There seemed to be confusion about who John was exactly. People asked if he was Elijah; if he was a prophet; if he was the Christ. John simply replied to them, “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Makestraight the way of the Lord’”. Obviously there was still confusion about what he was doing and why and he ended up being beheaded for his making a straight way for the Lord. He left a wake behind him that pointed to Jesus.

As I was reading “Love Without Agenda” Saturday morning I was reading about how God played “show and tell” with the world when he sent Jesus to us. In grade school we probably all had this part of class where we would bring something into class from home and tell the class about it. According to Wikipedia it's a technique to teach public speaking skills. I never had anything good but for others it was always fun to finally show the class that puppy you had been talking about for a month or your new toy that you got last week. God had been telling the world how they should live; how they should treat each other; how they should act; how they should worship their God. He told them a million times (I didn't actually count. . . it’s an expression!) but they just never quite got it! Finally he sent them Himself in Jesus and said, “Here! Do you see what I’m talking about!? Look! This is how you should live!”

Funny thing as my brother and sister and I were kind of mocking my parents this weekend. A few months ago a downburst (basically a tornado) came through their subdivision. It took down tons of trees and the hail damaged almost everyone’s roofs. So as we drive through my parents are pointing out where there used to be trees and now there aren’t. Keep in mind it’s nearly EVERY HOUSE! So my siblings and I were kind of making fun of how they pointed out every tree that was missing on the way into the subdivision. . . guess you had to be there. But it was a big deal!

So how does a tornado, John the Baptist and “show and tell” come together? I guess I’m thinking I want to be like that tornado, like John the Baptist. I want to leave a trail, a wake, behind me where people say, “something happened here!” I want to be the “show and tell” for the world. I want words and my actions towards people to show Jesus. I want people to look at me and around me and see something different. I want people to see Jesus because of the “destruction” I leave behind me. I want people’s old lives to be wrecked because they have no choice but to run to Jesus. I want to “Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words”.

I know I don't always do this, but this is my prayer for my life. What path of destruction are you leaving behind you? I'd love to have some comments on ways you're leaving a path behind you that others may be able to use!

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Contrary to popular belief it is not in fact talk like a pirate day. . . that's Sept. 19. Actually, I don't even think "barnacled" is a word, but it should be so I'm using it here. Although it doesn't underline it as misspelled so...

I've continued reading "Love Without Agenda" this week and I am really enjoying the writing style and thought process of Jimmy Spencer Jr. The book reminds me of Donald Miller and the first time I read "Blue Like Jazz". I feel challenged and broken and nostalgic and excited and called-out all at the same time. (I'm sure there are more but those are the ones that came to mind.) I met Jimmy in Seattle a couple weekends ago at the Open Seattle and it turns out he lives in Chicago and I went to school with his brother. We had a couple quick conversations and I heard him speak and I just KNEW that this guy was the "real deal" and I HAD to get his book.

So as I'm reading last night about agendas in life, this particular short paragraph jumped out at me and gave me all of the above feelings at once.

Jimmy writes:
"When we talk to people, serve people, or eat with people, simply because we have an agenda for them to become Christians, we hoist our image of humanity upon them. We objectify them and dehumanize them, even if we have the very best of intentions."

To be fair I've taken this paragraph completely out of context. The whole point of the book is to, you guessed it, love people without an agenda. To see people as God's created beings. . . just like you and me. So when talking about our agendas in life Jimmy is saying that if our only purpose for talking to someone or befriending someone is to bring them to church or to convert them then we've missed out on really loving them. Those aren't bad things, but are we really just trying to turn that person into us. . . selling them our "brand".

As Jimmy says, "Maybe we've barnacled our agenda onto Christianity? Maybe we've replaced the pattern of Jesus with this Christian pattern?"

He sums it up by saying:
"We're too busy advancing Christianity to practice being Christian."

Makes you think, huh? Makes ME think! Especially for those of us in ministry. . . what agendas have we "barnacled" to the message of Christ? What is getting in the way of us seeing people as the image and likeness of God and loving them for that alone?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Image and Likeness

It's been an interesting week and I fell a little behind on my Monday post. But better late than never, right?

Part of my tardiness is due to my weekend in Seattle for the Open Seattle event. It was a great event and I feel I learned a ton just in a couple short days. More on that later. But I took Monday off to catch up on rest after a busy weekend. Then late Monday I was surprised with the news that my best friend was coming in town Tuesday and he had tickets for the Cincinnati Reds playoff game against the San Francisco Giants (game 3 with the Reds being up 2-0 in the series. . . we lost, but a great game!). So I was relaxing Monday and then spent the day Tuesday with my friend.

I've been blessed over the past couple months to be able to draw some inspiration from my church home on the weekends. I knew being away this past weekend that I wouldn't be able to rely on church for my blog this week. One thing I do know, however, is that I've been priming myself to see God in the day-to-day and not just in the "big" moments. So I was actually looking forward to this weekend conference and to finding God in the everyday.

Admittedly, this wasn't just a regular weekend. . . but I really didn't know what to expect going into it. This conference is a new idea of getting youth workers (those who work with youth in a church/organization setting, whether that be paid or volunteers) in more "progressive" areas together to talk about what they're doing differently and what they're doing that is working or not working. To talk about challenges, ideas, victories, and issues they face. So it was great to hear some ideas and opinions about how to reach our youth for Christ.

Different speakers were given about 30 minutes to present with a few minutes for question/answer and there were also some large group discussion time with a panel. One speaker I seemed to be drawn to was Jimmy Spencer Jr. Turns out I went to school with his brother and they look nearly exactly alike, so that may be why. . .but when I heard him speak I knew I was supposed to be hearing him.

He read from John 17:1-4:
1 Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, 2 even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to [a]all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. 3 This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. 4 I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.

And he talked about the idea of Jesus having accomplished the work. Genesis 1:26 says, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness". Image - we are created physically and spiritually to look like God. We were created to be the "reflection" of God like the moon reflects the sun. But also we were created to be LIKE God. Like children will mimic what their parents do, we were created to mimic God. In John 17 Jesus was about to be handed over to the authorities and be put to death. His time with his disciples, his time to teach was finished.

What really spoke to me is that Jesus is saying in this verse that He has shown us how we're supposed to live. We should be striving to mimic Jesus! I don't know, I guess it's not that groundbreaking, but it's so SIMPLE yet so difficult to grasp! I personally feel like we as a Christian community have put so many restrictions on "being a Christ follower". What if it's really simple? What if we just got back to the core of mimicking Christ in our daily lives? What does that even look like? Jesus invited his disciples to FOLLOW Him first and THEN decide for themselves who He was. Is that invitation still extended?

I bought Jimmy's book, "Love Without Agenda", and I look forward to reading it and learning more about what this means in my life. How can I mimic Jesus more in my life? How can I live a life that reflects and acts like Christ?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Parenting advice for a single guy!?

As I continue on this journey I'm on I'm learning more about myself and where this self is going. The coolest thing is learning to see God in your everyday life. When I'm in Jamaica it's easy because I'm there for a purpose and that is to seek God and help others seek Him. Of course that's my purpose when I'm home too, but I'm saying it's a lot easier when you can see the ocean and it's 85 degrees and sunny. :)

What I love about Crossroads (my church) is that they don't just give you some helpful advice for your life like some might expect from a mega-church. No! They give you great advice but it ALWAYS ties into Scripture and God. So when we're talking about our interpersonal relationships it always points back to our relationship with God. This weekend we continued on this series on Knock-offs. . . knowing when you have the real thing or a cheap imitation in relationships. The first week was marriage, last week was singleness, and this week was parenting.

What can a single guy with no kids take away from parenting!?

Well, turns out before you can be a parent you have to be a kid first. So while learning about parenting I also got to see the stages from a child's perspective. And not just in an earthly child/parent relationship but also in our child/parent relationship with our Creator!

There were 4 stages: nursing, king/queen, coach, and friend.
Nursing: the parent gives, gives, gives; the child can not give back, they can only take
King/Queen: just think terrible 2s! The parent becomes King over the child because the parent knows best and has the child's best interest in mind.
Coach: you've done the nursing and the King stage. You've taught and done your best, now you stand on the sideline and encourage and advise.
Friend: you see your child not only as your baby but as your friend. You've stopped pulling the King card on them and you may occasionally coach, but your primarily friends.

And this is how we grow and relate with our Creator God! The thing that stuck out to me the most is that sometimes as parents we get stuck in a stage or start being a friend when we should be Kinging! And I realized that in our relationship with our Creator we can get stuck in a phase as a child. We're still in the nursing stage, wanting God to give, give, give but we're not willing to give back. When something goes wrong we want it fixed and we want more. We need to grow up!

One line stuck in my head that relates to me today. Brian (Tome) is imitating a child throwing a tantrum but using adult situations. "I waaaaant that joooooobbb! I waaaant that caaaaaaaar! I want to be married!"

Now I think I'm the only guy in the world who actually wants to be married (snicker) but I feel like that has been my attitude recently. "God! Whyyyyyy can't I just find someone niiiiiiice!? Whyyyyyy?" Ha! Obviously not to that degree, but somewhat. And I've realized that in a way I'm reverting back to the nursing stage as a child instead of realizing and trusting that God has a plan and He ALWAYS has my best interest in mind.

So here's to growing up! Here's to trusting in God's timing like I've done (or claim to do at least) so many times before.

Oh, and Brian encouraged us to have a relationship with our parents/children. To rebuild bridges that have been burnt or are broken. And I realized I haven't talked to my dad in years. Time to make a phone call. . .

Saturday, September 22, 2012

I'm a whore!

Caught your attention, huh?

The series we're in at Crossroads (where I go to church) right now is "Knockoff". It's all about recognizing when you have the real thing or a cheap imitation. Of course none of you ladies would be caught dead with an "knockoff" Louis Vuitton or Gucci purse! I on the other hand, shamelessly, have bought knockoff sunglasses, watches, wallet, etc. I like the look of them and I suppose the "status" they portray but I don't want the commitment of dropping a LOT of money to have them. Behind that money is a lot of hours of work and, in my case serving in Jamaica, literally blood, sweat and tears. So I recognize that the "real thing" is not worth the effort behind it.

What about our relationships. . . and our relationship with God? In the Bible God told the prophet, Hosea, (hey, they named the book after him!) to take a wife "of whoredom"; a prostitute! What? Why?

Hosea 1:2 "When Jehovah spake at the first by Hosea, Jehovah said unto Hosea, Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredom and children of whoredom; for the land doth commit great whoredom, departing from Jehovah."

God wanted His prophet, Hosea, to represent what God had been putting up with. God's people had turned from Him and started worshiping Baal. They had taken the cheap, easy route instead of putting forth the effort and trust in God. They had essentially been cheating on God, giving themselves to a cheap imitation, a knockoff, of the true God. (of course there is this whole back story of what it means to "worship" Baal by having sex with temple prostitutes) God wanted Hosea to know what it meant to love someone who was unfaithful as God's people had been unfaithful to Him.

In line with my last post, and how God is speaking to me, I have come to realize that I am putting my trust and hope and worship in something other than God. I am worshiping knockoffs! I am essentially "whoring" myself out! I don't want to put the effort into the real thing! It's a lot of effort! It's hard! But He wants me to give Him my all! He wants me to realize that the real thing is so much better than the cheaper, knockoff version. As I continue this journey I am starting to recognize when I am  putting my worship elsewhere. I think it's the first step of eliminating the focus on these other things and putting my trust in God. I want to have a REAL, authentic relationship with my God, not a knockoff!

Are you a whore? What "knockoffs" do you have in your life?

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Year in the Life of. . .

The past year in my life has been an amazing journey! I've been full-time with Praying Pelican Missions now for just about a year and it has literally changed my life in so many ways!

One of the BIG things that has changed is my spending habits! When I first took this position I took a huge pay cut! I've shared that working in one of the top restaurants in Cincinnati afforded me a lot of luxuries that I took for granted. . . I could eat out every meal, go out for coffee every morning, have steak when I wanted to cook out, etc. Part of what God was doing through this "pay cut" was teaching me to live more humbly. I think I've expressed this in the past, but a friend of mine ("The Intern" as I affectionately call her) posted this about her first experience in missions and in Jamaica specifically this past summer:

"One of the first things that anyone would notice if they stepped off a resort in Jamaica is that poverty pervades the country. There is trash along the sides of the roads, houses are half built, animals wander the streets, and there is a general lack of property stewardship. However, if you took the time to speak to a local or play with the kids at the community center you would find that a lack of “nice things” does not equate to a lack of joy. In Jesus’ most well known sermon he talks about putting treasure in heaven where nothing can destroy it instead of on earth where it can be taken away. After all “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Sometimes the tendency of missions and ministry is to fill crates full of “stuff” to give away to people who are “less fortunate.” But if we were really to evaluate the benefit of “stuff” and the label of “less fortunate” would we come to a different conclusion? After all isn’t it the “stuff” in our lives that distracts us from the real joy that is found in relationship with Christ alone? Then how is it that the piles of trinkets, toys, and technology that saturate our lives are the things that somehow make us better off than people who don’t have those things. It seems to me that living without an excess of “things” offers freedom from treasuring stuff that won’t last in favor of faith, hope, and love. Moreover, it makes our gospel so much sweeter when our lives reflect our singular need for Christ alone. How much greater is the testimony of one who offers nothing to be remembered but Christ?" - Stephanie Morse

I've been serving in Jamaica for 20 years now and sometimes the simplest stuff slips by me as I search to gain that little insight about what makes Jamaica what it is. I love seeing outsiders' perspectives because it brings me back to the heart of why I fell in love with missions and Jamaica to begin with.

So not only has this past year been teaching me to live more humbly financially, but now I'm trying to live more intentionally in my spiritual life as well. Thank you everyone for your prayers and support during this past year in my life. Look for more updates to come!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Wash out this tired notion that the best is yet to come

As summer has started for me here in Jamaica I'm already seeing God working. Not quite a week has gone by since my arrival here, and only a few days since the first teams arrived. . . but God is already moving. Not that He ever stopped moving, it's just more evident to me now that I'm back in Jamaica.

This spring, and May in particular, has been one of the longest and most difficult in my recent memory. After six weeks here in March and April feeling God's presence and seeing him work in me and in the teams around me, I felt thrust into a storm when I returned that has remained through the rest of the spring to now. God put a very difficult challenge in front of me and it was one that influenced my work, my sleep, my eating and my general attitude towards life. As I struggled to focus on preparing the 13+ teams that I will lead this summer as well as daily activities like getting out of bed, I had no other choice but to submit everything to God. I knew that May was the month that I needed to get nearly every plan in place for these teams this summer and I was having a hard time getting it done.

So as I sit here, my first 3 teams off and rolling, I have found a calm in the storm finally. Although this calm is still a little cloudy and a bit surreal, it is a calm. I have already seen God work through difficult situations and come through in situations where I felt less than fully prepared. One team arrived a day late due to an anonymous airline (American) and arrived with great attitudes and servant hearts. Lost luggage that could easily ruin a day or a week, or in this case, two weeks, is written off and there is no concern at all.

On top of my pity party, I see friends and families who are going through REAL problems that make mine seem like nothing and I see them praising God through the storms. I am humbled!

All this to say that I know God at work in this world and I know He is working already in me, and prayerfully THROUGH me as well, and I know that this summer will be a great time of healing and restoration as this storm passes and the fog slowly lifts. In the words of Dave (Matthews of course), I wait as these storms wash away the notion that the best is yet to come. And of course who can forget the simple reminder that "THIS is the day the Lord has made! I will rejoice and be glad in it". Pray for a great summer and that God will be glorified through all that we do.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Adventurously Expectant

We just sent off yet another amazing team yesterday! We had a returning team of 116 serving with several communities/schools/churches in the Trelawny, Jamaica area. I had the pleasure of serving with a small group of 15 which I called my own. :) We spent a few mornings with grade 5s of Hastings Primary school assisting in reading and math and our afternoons were filled with construction. We are working on an additional building for the primary school which is overcrowded. This group started this project exactly one year ago and this spring we poured the concrete for half of the roof. The other half and the floor should be finished by this summer giving the school an additional two classrooms next year! Overall it was an awesome week getting to know my little group, seeing old friends from last year, and worshiping and serving with the team as a whole!

The group's theme for their spring break mission trips this year was "Adventurously Expectant". Basically this means living an adventurous life for God and expecting Him to come through in big ways! As I thought about this theme and enjoyed the cool evenings, I would look at the stars and think about a practice of mine. When I was younger I would stand in my backyard in the country and stare at the stars. I remember "asking" God to show me a shooting star. . . not that I needed proof, but more as my test of sorts for God. I don't do it so often now, but I still have my moments where I sort of ask God to give me a sign. I can honestly say that I have never once during one of these tests seen a shooting star. I feel like I have the "expectant" part down, but sometimes not so much the "adventurous" part. I feel like often we ALL do this! We expect God to do something for us or speak to us but we're not willing to actually listen to him when He answers us. We ask for that shooting star or whirlwind to appear but instead God is in that "still, small voice" (1 Kings 19:11-13) and we don't recognize it.

So tonight as our group was debriefing our day (I picked up yet another amazing group of 10 yesterday) I had my back turned to the sky and was talking with the team. All of a sudden I could see a light in the corner of my eye and nearly everyone awed as this ginormous shooting star (or comet or satellite or whatever it was) streaked through the sky in bright green and red and finally disappeared. It was big enough that I had time to turn around and see it for about 2 seconds! What I find interesting is that I don't need a shooting star from God to show me Him. I see Him in front of me always and witness Him working in so many ways on a day-to-day basis! I know that when I live adventurously for Him I can expect great things! Try living your life "adventurously expectant" and see what you find!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

God sightings

Finished up my first spring trip yesterday and waiting for the second group to arrive shortly. The first group, from Hobbs, NM, arrived a DAY LATE! Their trip was cut short by US Airways because of mechanical problems in Dallas. So when they finally did arrive, at 8pm the next day, I half expected them to be down and out because of the delay. Instead they were extremely happy and upbeat and wanted to cut their beach day down if needed to do whatever needed to be done. Great attitude to have! And because of that attitude they had an awesome week! (check out their trip here) Met some amazing people and spent the week in one community getting to know the people there! Good times!

I was reminded, yet again, this past week that I'm spoiled! I get to serve on a new mission trip every week! Of course I have to do the leg work of getting their trip set up and details arranged, but even all this is in a tropical paradise. :) I don't have to struggle to find God. . . I get to see Him working in these team members each and every week and every week it's new people and a new trip. It's like life is starting afresh every week!

Pray for us this week as our group is over 100 serving with about 4 different churches and undertaking 6 different construction projects. You can keep up with what they're doing here if you'd like. My 6 weeks in Jamaica is starting to fly by now. Can't wait to see what else happens this spring!

PS - My MOM is coming April 1st! Her first time to Jamaica! That's a big deal!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Aaaah! Spring in Jamaica!

I had a friend recently ask me about my faith and "how do I know". This blog is for her.

I've been thinking about it since she asked me. . . because I didn't have an exact answer for her. She had recently discovered that her life was about to change dramatically. And apparently she was beginning to question her faith, or maybe she's just about to discover it? My uneducated response (after x amount of years at Bible college how can I say uneducated?) to her was, "I just know"! I told her that often it's not simple to see, especially when you're bogged down with the seemingly mundane tasks of day-to-day life. I told her that sometimes it's hard for me to really FEEL my faith. I KNOW it; but often I don't feel it. I told her that when I really FEEL it is when I experience it first hand.

First hand experiences

I've been in Jamaica for just over a week and I have yet to welcome a group of my own. In fact they come in tomorrow and we'll spend a week at the Grateful Hill Baptist Church near Discovery Bay. But for the past week I've been driving all over Jamaica making sure my spring trips are ready to go and getting some more info on some summer trips. And as I've been driving (with no radio) I've had a lot of time to reflect and I've thought a lot about this question, "how do I know?"

I'll tell you what. . . God doesn't yell at me any louder (or whisper to me any softer) than when I'm meeting with pastors who have such a heart and passion for doing His work! Nothing is more subtle than driving down the coast with the windows down and watching the ocean splash. Something as simple as a hummingbird buzzing around while I sit outside in my "office". And nothing breaks my heart and makes me FEEL God's touch more than meeting an elderly gentleman who takes care of his three young granddaughters while they all live in a small, one room shack at best! Those are the things that let me know I'm in the right place!

And out of all this comes my still uneducated response. How do I know? Because I know what God has called me to do and when I do what He has placed on my heart I FEEL Him smiling at me. My answer. . . LISTEN to what God is telling you; EMBRACE those times when you're broken and you have nowhere left to turn but to Him. He wants your attention! Then FOLLOW where he is telling your heart to go. Worst case scenario you go in the wrong direction. . . trust me, you'll feel it. And when you are headed in the right direction. . . you'll KNOW!

Friday, January 13, 2012

A new year and bananas

A week ago I was in Jamaica. . . sunny and mid 80s. Today, I look outside (with the space heater at my feet) seeing a thin white blanket on the ground, watching it flurry and hearing the wind howling. Is this how the new year is supposed to look? Ha!!

God has been good! I got to close out 2011 in Jamaica with an amazing team of 11 from Racine, WI in church in the tiny community of Belmont just outside of Montego Bay. At midnight we stopped our church service to celebrate with each other and then saw about a dozen people want to make 2012 the year that they started following God! I can't explain how much I needed that! Believe it or not, I thrive on leading teams in Jamaica! So since August I've spent much of my time talking to churches and groups about Praying Pelican Missions and what we do, and occasionally I got to talk specifically about Jamaica. And although I love talking about what we do, I love DOING IT! So what a perfect way to get some perspective, close out 2011 and start 2012.

Our team, being only 11, was very close knit and we bonded immediately! A far cry from the teams of 60+ where you struggle to get to know even the key leaders of the group. So our time together was more intimate and I got to share with them as they discovered the love that this little community had to share. Our ministry time was "hampered" by the surprise that was the election of a new Prime Minister. . . and that was just day one. But we soon found that God had much bigger plans than what we had prepared. So as our plans shifted and changed and each time it was just that much better. For example: on our first day (Thursday) we were supposed to gather a large group of children and have a VBS of sorts. Instead, elections caused us to go visit some of the elderly in the community who are members of the church but are no longer able to physically go to church anymore. This turned out to be one of the most unforgettable times of the entire trip. As one example, we met Milicent who is a young 95. She was a founding member of the Belmont Baptist Church and as we talked with her we found out just how much of a beacon she had been to the community and a few individuals in particular. She was so young and still had so much joy at a time in her life when many are "old" and bitter at life and their circumstances. Well, there were countless stories like this! But don't take my word for it. . . read about them here!

Well, the team left Tuesday the 3rd and we all shed a little tear as we were not ready to say goodbye yet. As they flew away I met up with Jon (my wonderful boss. . . hey Jon!) and it was immediately back to work. We spent the next few days meeting with pastors who will be hosting our teams in the spring and setting up plans for these trips. It was great to meet with them and to see their passion for their communities! And it was all made just a bit easier to envision after such a great trip!

Rounding out my two weeks in Jamaica was a time of fellowship and training with a good bit of our Jamaican staff. We had a short day and a half of worship , chatting, goofing off, and getting to know each other a little more. . . OH, and we did some training in there as well. :) It was cool to hear several of them express how much they enjoyed our short weekend together and appreciated our time and the information gathered. We're set up to have a great spring and summer in Jamaica! We finished 2011 with just over 1,000 participants in Jamaica and about 3,300 for the whole organization (including Belize, Haiti, Mexico and our US locations in Miami and Tucson).

Looking at 2012: PPM already has almost 5,000 participant signed up to go on trips with us! That's 5,000 lives that will be changed! If they go home and change just one life because of their trip then we're at 10,000 lives changed. If we're VERY conservative and say that while they are serving on their mission trip they each touch just ONE person then we're at 15,000 lives changed in 2012. And these are VERY conservative numbers! God has been good to us this past year and He has good things in store for this year!

So. . . this is what gets me up in the morning when it's COLD and I don't want to get out of bed! This is why I love my job! This is why 2012 will be the best year yet! Oh, and the bananas? I got some bananas yesterday and they are absolutely flavorless compared to Jamaican bananas. That's it. :)

Drinking my Blue Mountain coffee and loving life! Here's to 2012!