Tuesday, April 3, 2012

When a Tree Falls

ImageOn Monday, my neighbor across the street cut down the 20’ foot tree that was in his front yard. I’m not sure what type of tree it was, but I do remember over 15 years ago when it was planted by the previous home owners and only 7 feet tall.

One day before the young sapling went up I was talking with the husband. The couple had been struggling financially and he landed a job as a bouncer at a nearby strip club. He opened up and told me that his wife didn’t like him working there. I told him that it was a normal thing for a wife not to be thrilled with their husband working around a bunch of naked women. I suggested for his marriages sake to find another place to work, which he did. That’s when the small tree went up as a symbol of their new love and commitment to each other.

I’m not sure why or how things fell apart after that, but they did. They divorced, lost the house and like so many today, their kids found themselves in a divided home. As the tree fell I couldn’t help but remember them. I remembered their struggles, their hope, the kids and the loss.

On another note; a close friend of mine lost her father tonight, or as she wrote in her text, “My daddy is gone.” His health had been failing and today the battle ended and he fought no more. I have found that no matter how much time you have to prepare yourself or see the inevitable on the horizon for something like this, there is just no stopping the hurt, sorrow or loss.

David wrote in Psalm 56

You keep track of all my sorrows.
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.

I hope some comfort can be found in the knowledge that God not only sees, but cares. That no matter who we are, where we are, or what happens, that someone is there to remember when a tree falls.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Jesus That Looks Like Me

Image

On my recent trip to Haiti there was a large mural on the wall of a religious school that had a painting of Jesus with black skin. That may be surprising to some, but is it really any different than the European Jesus with white skin or even the hippie Jesus popular back in the 70’s? Let’s face it; few of our renderings represent a man born to a Jewish woman in the first century.

I understand the reasons we envision Jesus appearance to be like ours, it’s because we want someone we can relate to, but I think sometimes we go further and try to make Jesus relate to us. So now he not only comes with our color skin, he also comes with our bias. He condemns those involved in sins we have no struggles with, but turns a compassionate eye on the ones we do. And though I believe there are clearly things that are right and wrong, true justice can only be administered by one who has all the facts, and usually we don’t.

Honestly, I believe Jesus is a lot less what we’d like him to be and a lot more what we need him to be. He is more accepting of people than we are, after all, he was known as a friend of sinners (how many churches still have that reputation?), but at the same time he effectively challenged people like Zacchaeus (a thief) to change and better himself as a human being. He seems to extend more grace than we do (the women caught in adultery), but has no problem delivering clear justice. He knows when we need to be encouraged and when we need to be confronted. In the end, he is someone who can actually help us and see above our ignorance and prejudice.

Through the years I have come to recognize that there are things in me I have no power to fix, but I also realize, neither can a Jesus that looks like me.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Make Big the Little I Do

A few years ago I received a phone call asking if I could visit a young girl (13) who was in the hospital with cancer. The call came from the girl’s grandmother who also shared that the girl’s mom didn't care much for her "religious ways" and there could be some opposition to my visit if the mom is there.

It can be awkward visiting someone who’s in a serious condition, especially if you don’t know them. You are stepping into one of the deepest and most emotional times in their life which is an honor if you’re invited, but if you’re not, well, then you really don’t want to be there either.

Corinne and I made it to Loma Linda Hospital the next day and found the young girl in her room alone and quite sleepy due to all the meds. Her hair had fallen out from the Chemo treatments and I remember being struck that she looked much older than she really was. I explained who I was and that her grandmother had asked me to visit, hoping to make our being there a little more comfortable.

She seemed very tired and didn’t say much. I shared simply that God loved her, and wanted to be part of this difficult time in her life. I encouraged her to talk to the Lord about all she was thinking and feeling. We prayed and I left a card with my phone number and told her that she or her mom could call me anytime. The next morning, Corinne and I left the country and took a team to Wales for two weeks. When I returned, I called the hospital only to find that she had been released and I had no further information regarding her.

Months later, the grandmother came to the office and told Mary, the receptionist, that her granddaughter had passed away. She wanted to personally say “thanks” and said that her granddaughter told her that our visit meant so much to her. When Mary told me this, it struck me hard; I had no idea that our time there meant anything to her at all. Was I so busy and distracted that I didn’t sense what was going on? For goodness sake - she was only 13 years old! What did I expect? I went into my office, closed the door, and cried. If the little time I spent meant so much, why didn’t I spend more time with her? I failed to see the the privilege I had to represent Jesus to a precious 13 year old girl, who had become much older than she really was.

God help me not to miss that again and please take the little I do and make it of lasting value.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

SWAY


I recently read a book entitled, ‘SWAY - THE IRRESISTIBLE PULL OF IRRATIONAL BEHAVIOR’, and it lived up to its title as it told story after story of senseless behavior and why it takes place. I found the stories and research very compelling. Why pilots with perfect records would make obvious and fatal mistakes, or how students’ opinions could drastically be swayed by a single word. The studies were astonishing and very illuminating.
Here’s an abbreviated example from the chapter, ‘Compensation and Cocaine’:
At the University of Zurich, research was done as to how the people in a local town in Switzerland would respond to having radioactive waste stored near their community. The people were informed that the federal parliament had selected their town as one of the best places to store these contaminants. When they took a vote at a town hall meeting, 50.8 percent felt a national responsibility to accept the facility, the other half of the group opposed to having the waste stored nearby. This other half represented a significant problem, so the government tried to win over some of the townspeople by compensating them with money ($6,500. a year per family), but when money was introduced into the proposal the percentage dropped from 50.8 in favor to 24.6 in favor! How could offering people more produce less?
The book goes into detail as to why this happens and illustrates how our brains process things. Basically, it’s as if we have two “engines” running in our brains that can’t operate simultaneously and that run on separate fuels. When one is engaged, (the pursuit of money for example) it closes the door to the other (national pride, love, and loyalty) and vice versa. It brought to mind Jesus’ words: You can’t serve God and money, that you will hate one and love the other. The studies also showed how we respond the same way with other things besides money; like drugs, gambling, and sex. I was reminded of the many people I’ve known who said they loved their family, only to destroy what they love by engaging in these very activities. And when asked why they would do such things, can give no sensible answer for their behavior.
Anyway, it’s a short read (fewer than 200 pages) and story after story kept me intrigued.

Friday, April 15, 2011

God Bless the Ninja

Years ago when I was starting out in youth ministry, I received a call from one of my high school students saying he wanted to meet with me because he had just run away from home. I remember hanging up the phone (before cell phones) and excitedly thinking, “This is it! This is youth ministry!” On my way down to meet with Mark, I nervously rehearsed in my mind all the scenarios I could think of, as well as what I might say and asked God to give me some divine answer that could help rescue this young man.

I found Mark there in the 7/11 parking lot and began talking to him. I asked him some of the questions I’d been rehearsing in my mind earlier. “Why did you run away? Where are you going to live?” He told me that he wasn’t getting along with his parents and felt they were being unreasonable (common stuff I thought), and then he dropped the bomb. He said that he planned to go to Japan so he could become a “Ninja”, that’s right, a Ninja! I thought to myself again, yet differently: “This is it? This is youth ministry?”

As I stood dumbfounded with my mouth open like a Venus Flytrap, I wondered, “What am I supposed to say to this?” Part of me was angry and thinking, ‘I drove here for this?’ Another part of me wanted to laugh and say, “You go, young grasshopper.” But I really did want to help and eventually swayed him to go back home and to school (not Ninja school).

Since then I’ve found myself fondly remembering, and even longing for, that innocent yet na├»ve conversation, but unfortunately things don’t always go that way. Instead there have been the conversations in a psych ward with a 15 year old girl who had a complete emotional, nervous, and psychological break down; with a 17 year old young man living on the streets addicted to drugs and alcohol; with a 16 year old girl, pregnant, scared and alone; with those who have contemplated suicide, attempted suicide, and with the families of those who have committed suicide.

I don’t remember the exact words I shared with Mark, but I do remember the sentiment. It was that God understands right where you are, your frustrations and fears as well as your passions and dreams. Pour your heart out to Him, for He understands, cares and will guide you through this.

I really am thankful for my talk with Mark and for the lesson learned that has served me well over the years.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Filling in the Blanks

The other night a friend and I visited a small artistic community out in L.A. I have wanted to go out there ever since I read a book “Untamed”, written by Alan and Deb Hirsch, who are part of this community. Of course it figures that the night we went, they were doing things differently than usual (that always happens when I go someplace new), but in spite of that I was still able to get a good picture of what they are about. Even though the evening was unlike anything I’ve attended before, I had a great time and found the people engaging, unique, and disarmingly real.

I know my opinion going there was swayed (in a positive way) because of how much I liked the book, and that got me thinking about how big a role our prejudices play when we encounter something new.

We have a habit of making quick assessments based on the little we hear, see, or know. This happened to Jesus when the religious leaders saw the prostitute crying at his feet, or him eating with “sinners”. What they saw only affirmed what they already believed about him. And what they believed was wrong.

This happens to us as well. Some after reading about this group I mentioned visiting may assume because I used the words artistic and unique that they are unorthodox in their beliefs. Others are reading this and wondering, “When did you even talk about their beliefs?” I didn’t. Some of you thought fondly of them simply because I used the words artistic and real. But WE ALL key on things or words that have certain meanings to us and file the rest under the labels we make.

The problem with labeling people is that it prevents you from seeing what's clearly before your face; all you're seeing now is the label and instead of allowing the truth to fill in the details, you fill in the blanks with what you already believe, even if what you believe is wrong.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Paralyzed


When I was 5 or 6, one of the neighborhood kids had a pair of boxing gloves so of course we had to try them out. My problem was that most of the kids were older and I soon found myself pinned by a kid twice my size punching me in the head (yeah, that’s how we boxed in Pico Rivera). As a result, I was hospitalized, almost paralyzed, and in traction for 3 days with a dislocated neck.

Recently I’ve felt paralyzed trying to write. It’s like I’ve been punched and left in traction because of some hard things happening to family and close friends. It’s hard not to let emotions completely control your thoughts and with me these thoughts would surface every time I would begin to write and no matter what the subject was, my emotions would begin to poison everything that I wrote. It was like I was writing at someone instead of to or for them.

People don’t respond well to you blasting their issues (I don’t). But people also have a hard time letting go of the issues and problems they see (I do). Wanting to fix the issues is part of what motivates us to make a difference in the world as well as in the people we know and love, but we need to remember that the goal is not to win the argument, but the heart, and we’re not going to win the heart by arguing!

Sometimes you have to care enough to speak to the issues and sometimes, like the prodigal son, you have to care enough to let people go and pray that someday they will see their issues. How do you know when to do which? It’s not always clear, but you can’t live paralyzed. Sometimes you just have to tenderly move forward living in the tension of them both.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Two Sides to the Same Coin


We recently started meeting on Thursday nights at our new space and the Crave documentary was a perfect way to start us out, clarifying the direction we are moving at Genesis.

In the documentary we saw the importance of how leading a person to faith in Christ may begin first with simply joining them in their journey even as Jesus, unknown to the disciples at the time, joined them on the road to Emmaus. They soon found themselves in a
conversation with God, not even aware that God Himself was the One initiating that conversation.
It seems that many who follow Christ have embraced a certain method of communicating their faith that is often detached, judgmental, and really very different from what we read or see in Jesus himself and maybe instead of trying to win a debate and prove God to someone, we can hope to guide them to a place where they might meet and encounter God themselves.

Sunday morning was the flipside of Thursday’s coin as we are going through 1 Corinthians. It’s quite a contrast to go from journeying with people to find faith to disciplining someone in their faith; difficult unless you realize that the latter is dealing with family, which brings a whole new and complicated dimension to the situation.

It’s a hard sell in today’s society to see that the way we live affects those around us and when we think of a faith community it is usually more like an organization or club we attend than a family to whom we belong. And though we may romanticize the idea that when one person suffers we all suffer, we are not so quick to embrace the alternative that if we screw up, it screws everyone u
p, but that is exactly why Paul deals so strongly with the Corinthians; because we are not just a social gathering, we are family and what we do really affects those around us.

So Paul deals with serious moral issues and we have to ask ourselves how do we deal with these situations if we really are family? If a child gets hooked on drugs, does that affect the rest of the family? If a dad logs on to porn instead of showing affection to his wife and loving her, does that affect the rest of the family? If a wife flirts with another man and tries to seduce him, does that affect the rest of the family? Of course it does.

Our purpose is not to hunt down all the problems and condemn those who struggle or fall. Our desire is to live in relationship and when these kinds of issues show up, we
, in humility, recognize how essential these people are and treat them as more important than ourselves. We do everything we can to strengthen and restore them, because they are our brothers, our daughters. This is exactly what Christ has done for us. He adopted us, made us family and relentlessly works in our lives for good.

So on one side of the coin we journey with a person to find faith

And on the other side we struggle with our family through faith.

Two sides of the same coin.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

I Can't Walk Away

This is dedicated to those I love who are hurting and making dangerous choices.
I Can't Walk Away

I'm sorry I don't know how,
to move on like I don't care.
Dismiss the signs all around you,
pretend not to see what's there

I'm sorry I don't know how,
to close my eyes, while you live this lie.
Ignore the danger I see you in,
and then wait till you break, till you cry.

Can I walk away?

I'm sorry I don't know how,
to let go of what matters the most.
Of you and your wellbeing
to live like you're just a ghost.

I'm sorry I don't know how,
to wash my hands of you and be done.
Though before me are two choices,
inside me, there's only one.

I can't walk away.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Perspective

It seems I can never sleep on planes no matter how late it is or how long the flight, partly because the seats are so uncomfortable (at least in coach) and partly because there’s just too much going on in my head to be able to sleep.

That was the case during our recent red eye flight to New York and though it was late and I was tired, I found myself listening to music on my ipod and staring out the window into the dark, until out the window in the distance something caught my attention. I didn't know what it was at first and seriously thought I was over-exhausted and seeing things, but it happened again and then kept happening. I finally realized that what I was seeing was lightning from above the clouds instead of from below them.

From above, there were no jagged bolts reaching for the ground, just explosions of brilliant light echoing like fire throughout the clouds. It was incredible. They were huge and they were even a bit terrifying.

I began thinking about how our perspective plays such an important role in the outcome of what we do. How some are able to go through intense difficulties and become stronger because of them, while others go through identical struggles and crumble under the pressure. How one person sees the challenge to overcome and the other is overcome by the challenge. I wondered how God’s perspective looks compared to ours. I imagined how different everything must appear, how prayer looks like incense rising up to God’s throne, how Jesus saw Satan fall like lightning from the sky as his disciples went out and did the things that Jesus himself had been doing.

I wondered how would our lives change if we could recognize the reality of heavenly things compared to the illusions of this world. How would things change if we had those eyes to see? I think the view would be incredible, huge and maybe even a bit terrifying.