Tuesday, December 29, 2009

what did you have for Christmas dinner?

our friends the moreau's wanted to give huge plastic bins of food to families for christmas. paul had remembered a family from when he was here in august and felt like we should find them. after a not-so-easy walk up the Buena Vista hills on christmas eve afternoon, we found the house.

there was a little bit of an awkward silence before one of the 18 or 19 year-old sons shared his heart. he was clearly moved, and shared with us the impact that this gift meant to their family. then his 20 something year-old brother did the same thing.

in this culture, men this age do not share their emotions like this, which told us how much it meant. trying to hide back tears, these young men were showing us that they had no food for christmas eve dinner, nothing for christmas day. no ability to have a special christmas dinner celebration.

could you imagine?

i am convicted. i take so much for granted.

Friday, December 25, 2009

giving gifts to jesus

we debated doing the huge christmas party again this year in buena vista. last year it was awesome, but this year we were hesitant.

in poverty, where kids don't get gifts for christmas, the last thing you want to do is steer them towards the westernized version of christmas - where gifts mean so much. as much as we want to give the kids a gift, there is beauty in the simplicity of celebrating the birth of Christ without needing gifts.

so we didn't do a big fundraiser for the party like we did last year. a few weeks before christmas, we were worshiping with our friends at Journey in Jacksonville, when my buddy Vic shared a thought. imagine if it was your birthday and all your friends came over. they acknowledge it's your birthday ("happy birthday!"), but then they all begin opening gifts for themselves as they celebrate your birthday. as Vic put it, "that would be pretty jacked up."

the passages of study that day were the many in scripture that show jesus represented in the poor. according to God's word, when we help the poor, we help Jesus. when we give to the poor, we give to Jesus. when we reach out to the "least of these" - in them we find Jesus. he closed with a challenge to give gifts to Jesus this year. in celebrating His birthday, give something to those in need - give to Him.

with that, the party was on. we decided to forgo buying gifts for each other, and instead finance the 2009 buena vista christmas party. it was wonderful. every single kid walked away with a gift and a cookie. the kids were much calmer than usual (when we do other types of distributions), and the entire event ran smoothly. we prayed that God would protect their hearts from the silly correlation between "Christmas" and "presents." we asked God to receive the glory as each young child smiled and received his or her gift. i believe fully that He did.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

working with 6:8

helping 6:8 ministries with mission teams has been such a blessing. today is the last day with a group of college kids with converge, a ministry headed up in jacksonville by our friends anthony and danae widener. 14 of their students were able to raise the money to come spend a week with us in guatemala. not only that - they were also able to raise the funds to build a home for a family. during this past week we were able to meet the family. it was a special moment as we all circled together around the family inside their cornstalk home and prayed for them. some prayed for blessings on the family, others praising God for the opportunity to help them...

but one prayer struck me. i don't know who prayed it - i didn't open my eyes. but one of the students fighting back tears simply said "God, please forgive me... forgive me for my lifestyle. forgive me for living the way i do." it was a wonderful and honest reaction to the situation.

its a privilege to be partnered with a ministry that is determined to change the hearts of those inside the american church. i cannot think of a better way to do it.

Friday, December 18, 2009

the beautiful letdown

today we did a shoe distribution out of the community center in Buena Vista. the beautiful: more than 500 pairs of shoes were distributed to people who needed them - many of which were waiting in line barefoot. the letdown: many of those in line, including families we have been friends with for more than a year, pushed, cut in line, and cheated. some went as far to hide their kids or disguise themselves to get through the line a second time.

in a song by switchfoot called the beautiful letdown, the songwriter speaks of how being letdown by the world and all it has to offer is, in reality, a beautiful thing. as kerrie and i unwound from the emotionally draining afternoon, we felt beautifully letdown as well. the letdown was obvious... relationships we are working on, people we have built homes for, etc... so disappointing to see them behave like this. but the beautiful part is more difficult to explain. for us it was a beautiful reminder of a certain reality. the reality that while poverty can at times illuminate simple beauties - family, community, dependence on God - it can also bring out the worst in people. poverty is painful. it causes people to do wrong in order to get what they need. remember the prayer in proverbs 30? "do not give me too much, for i may forget you... do not give me too little, for i may steal and dishonor you" (paraphrase).

today we were reminded of some of the ugliness of poverty. we were reminded why the heart of our ministry is relational, and why we need to be prepared to be here for the long-haul. deep change takes time. i pray God may help us show Jesus to these people. and when "gold and silver we have none", may we be able to give them what we do have - Jesus. (Acts 3:1-10)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

high and holy

We just returned to Guatemala from a 2 week trip to the US. It was great to see friends and family and to be together with our stateside church community. We shared a lot of laughs, tears, and fun together.

This was my first time back in

One of the main things I can’t stop thinking about is the American mind-sight towards celebrity, sports, news, and Hollywood. For 2 weeks I heard about Tiger Woods, Tim Tebow, Preisdent Obama, college football, and the economy. You cant go anywhere without the latest issues reaching out to strangle you for your attention.

Tiger: the stable, solid, classy professional golfer who maintains an impeccable reputation… let us down. News broke that he has been unfaithful to his wife, which was followed by many other reports of multiple mistresses.

Obama: the president who was going to save us all from the mess left by the Bush administration… letting us down. His approval rating currently lower than any president (at this point in their term) in history.

Tebow: the outspoken Christian quarterback, looking to lead his dominant Gators to another championship… let us down. After a poor performance in the SEC championship game, he sobbed as if the world was coming to an end.

The economy. Politics. College football. Artists, entertainers, and cable news.

Around and around we go. I myself engaged in a 2 hour conversation (argument) about college football that left some of us involved upset with each other! I know… boys will boys and its just innocent fun. But is it? What’s the point? By getting so fired up about it, aren’t I implying that it’s pretty serious stuff? When really, is it important at all?

This time next year, much less 5 years from now, all of these stories will be forgotten and we’ll have new ones to suck us in. We’re literally obsessed with the stuff. Fox News is giving me a headache. Even ESPN, which I occasionally love to veg out to, is beginning to sound like nails across a chalkboard. Why?

My friend Derek recently wrote and recorded a song called High and Holy. I think the title of his song explains why the things of this world (should) lose their flavor.

When our hearts become captivated by our high and holy God, something changes. Our perspective shifts, and the things that excite us (or let us down) are no longer the things – or people – of the world.

The last 2 weeks are a blur and we were running at a crazy pace. But now, sitting here reflecting, I can honestly say that football statistics seemed more important to me than statistics that really matter - like homelessness, hunger, clean water, etc. And I found myself being more intrigued by how celebrities were living than by how Jesus lived.

I can see now how quickly and easily I was swept up into the madness. And even though I was recognizing parts of it along the way, the pace of life made it difficult to find time to come before God and pray, seek, be refreshed and straightened out.

The latest “Tiger Woods Scandal” was dominating the headlines. As much as I entertained conversations and discussed the topic, it is hitting me now how truly amazing it is that we are so fascinated by the fact that Woods was unfaithful to his wife. Statistically 60% of all married men cheat. In the context of celebrity, I bet that number goes to 90% or more.

What is the big shock? Based on those numbers, you would think the headlines would read “Surprise, Surprise… Another One Down.” I think the reason its such a big story – the reason we get so hurt, excited, whatever – is because our hope is in people as opposed to in Christ. I actually think Christians are the worst. Mel Gibson, George W. Bush, Tiger… these are all people that Christians have placed so highly on a pedestal, only to be “stunned” when they let us down.

The reality is that humans will always let us down. We sin, we fail, we screw up… that is what makes us human. It’s unfortunate that the Christian community often forgets to come together in these times to encourage, support, and lift up the fallen – even if it can only be done by prayer. Instead, we run to the tabloids, soak it in, criticize, defend, and of course…gossip.

Jesus was – and will always be – perfect. He is high and he is holy. He will never let us down, he will never slip up and make that fatal mistake. We’ll never see him on the front page of the newspaper, crying or defending himself. We’ll never read a statement from him regretting his actions and apologizing for the hurt he has caused his friends, family, and fans.

The promises of God will continue to always be kept. There is comfort in that. But there is also responsibility. I saw in the last couple of weeks how easily I can slide back into the mix… the firestorm of media, politics, and the pursuit of success. It is a machine that churns away, steadily churning and crushing souls at an uncontrollable pace.

I pray for my loved ones serving Christ in the US. Avoid the nonsense. Be a voice of truth in the midst of constant distraction. Stay close to the spirit of Jesus, so that your senses remain sharp and you can recognize immediately when even the subtle attempts of the world are drawing you in.

Remember that your God is high and he is holy. He is unchanging. He is not going anywhere. And he is the ONLY one who will never let you down.

You are high and holy.
you alone are worthy of our praise.
Enthroned in glory,
boldly we approach you as our king.

-song by DH

a year and a half. I learned that this is a long enough time to forget things, and to change perspective. Long enough to be caught off-guard by even the simple things that, until being away for a while, I may have never given much thought.