Similar Lands

Its funny how returning to a place brings back so many feelings. God has hard-wired us to remember things. Sights, smells, sounds, even tastes bring us back to times that we had all but forgotten. Melissa and I returned to California on Friday and have spent most of the time since then at her parents house in Los Osos. As I walk around the house, it brings me back to the last time that we were here, last summer when we got married. That was such a turbulent time and Melissa and I were getting ready to plunge into God knew what.

The smell of this house, the feel of the carpet under my feet, the familiar voices of her family drip with the essence of that season in our lives. That time was about exploration, growth in love and self-discovery and it all comes back to me as I walk this hall.

I’m preparing to walk some familiar places over the next several months. Places that scream at me to not only remember but to convert back to who I was in those places. In my nostalgia, I feel as though I would like that. Who I was in Long Beach, who I was in Costa Mesa, sounds appealing to me. The fondness of my memories as well as things that I see flawed in myself currently would lend to that inclination.

Yet, I know that I’m different now. Not only different from December 2009 just before I moved to Tanzania, but markedly different from the six months that I spent in CA at the start of last year. Who has God made me to be through Moshi and through the treasures? How does that translate to whatever this new season of life looks like – walking similar lands with a new outlook and a new family?

It’s exciting to find out what this season is going to look like and how God wants to use us for His glory and purpose. As we step out, there is a line that we are to walk on. The line of His will for us that says to remain in Him, to walk humbly and abide in the vine no matter what.

So much of life comes back to identity for me. My being craves a title. I feel inclined to say I’m this or I’m that, I’m a missionary, I’m a children’s pastor, I’m a worship leader, I’m a teacher, I’m a whatever. That shifting sand is not who I am though. I’m a beloved child of God, I am the bride of Christ, I am a Holy Spirit indwelled disciple. Where I am or what I’m doing doesn’t change that. Nothing changes that, no matter what society tells us, no matter what we tell ourselves.

Don’t forget that there’s beauty in this world

Good night, I’m listening to Kari Jobe and its putting me on the verge of tears as I read my Bible. Normally I wouldn’t admit to listening to such girly worship music, but as I sat down by the pool at this campsite I needed music that would drown out most of the distractions. I searched for worship music that I wouldn’t know most of the words to and landed on her album. Good choice. Today’s Old Testament reading is from Isaiah. There’s a lot of what people would call doom and gloom as I read through the first several chapters, but I see something else.

I think we miss the point often. Its takes getting out and doing something new to open my eyes to the beauty around me. We headed out to Tanga this weekend for a visit to the beach. This afternoon we went snorkeling and saw some incredible wildlife and stunning panoramas. We’re talking about pictures that you thought were only existent in calendars and greeting cards. But its neither of those, its God’s beautiful, breath-taking creation right in front of you. A thousand words aren’t able to depict.

Back in Moshi, life is life. I pray Dodger is staying in the fence at our friends’ place as we‘re away, the kids at TOA are going about business as usual, and so many things are not the least bit settled in regards to Melissa and I coming back to the states in a few weeks. It can be scary to think about. It can be daunting to ponder all the changes that are coming and the coming instability that seems apparent. No income, no house, no car, no clue, baby on the way. This is my family.

It would be quite easy to go down the mind trail that says I’m a poor leader of my family; a husband without a job and a daddy without a home. It would be equally easy to follow that train of thought further to where my family will suffer for my shortcomings. Given the fact that I really do miss the point often, especially spiritually, this isn’t too much of a stretch.

All that doom and gloom.

As I look at the children playing in the water before me, I breathe deep. God is good. He does beautiful things. Ryan’s son, Benjamin is playing in the water. He jumps in, he dives, he swims, he laughs, he plays with his siblings and makes new friends. He’s a delight and a heritage to his parents.

The Lord planted a good vineyard for His people, a beautiful field. His heart bled for His people, His longing was for them. It broke His heart to have a harvest of bad fruit. Yet, He chose a remnant out of it all that would be for Him a heritage and a delight.

I’m not preparing to fail, I am not preparing to be overwhelmed, I am preparing for beauty. I am preparing for God to do a beautiful thing in my life. He has chosen to do it in a largely peculiar manner and while I can’t say whether or not the coming season will be as turbulent as it seems it will, I know that God is beautiful and His movement in our lives follows suit.

Power that sometimes feels like less

It was a late night after having worship with friends over at Ryan and Stacy’s house. Melissa and I got home and hung out in our room a little before deciding to turn off the light and actually try sleeping. 10 PM. This has actually become early for me. I have this bad habit of staying up late at night because it’s potentially one of my only opportunities to just be by myself in the quiet. The problem with that is that I have to get up early Monday through Friday and it makes me sleep late. Late to bed, late to rise, late to TOA, bad missionary. But not tonight. After a few minutes of thoughts in my head, I nod off.

About forty-five minutes later, I wake up in a lot of discomfort. Mosquitoes. I hate these blood-sucking, malaria-giving, good-for-nothing-but-killing little insects. I had checked the mosquito net before going to sleep, but apparently one got in through the whole Dodger put in the net or it was hiding under the bed. When a mosquito bites in the middle of the night, it intensifies the discomfort and the mosquito last night bit me squarely on the bottom of my right foot and again on my left ankle. It wasn’t just itchy, it was painful. I couldn’t stand it, I had to get up.

I walked into the bathroom to act as though I was doing something other than just getting up because I was frustrated. Who was I fooling? I didn’t need to go. I walked into the kitchen and got a drink. I then paced in the hallway briefly, praying, pleading that the Lord would kill the mosquito in the net, so that I could hopefully just get some much needed rest. My feet still in a lot of discomfort, I got back in bed and pulled covers over me so that the mosquito couldn’t bite me. Its too hot for these. I took the covers back off; totally open myself up for the mosquito’s second course.

Powerless. That’s how I felt. Truly, I had a small problem. A mosquito was disturbing my sleep and in the midst of that problem, I felt totally powerless, whimpering in prayer as I paced my hallway.

That night at worship, we had been praying for people in the group that had pain in their joints. One guy who hurt his shoulder the previous night playing basketball, a teenager with a hurt knee and an older woman whose been told she needs her knees replaced. The first guy felt better movement in his shoulder, but still some soreness. The second guy said that he felt much better, like he felt fine. And we prayed and sang over the lady and she felt heat in her knees, but wasn’t healed in her body. I prayed for them along with the others. We prayed that the Holy Spirit would release the healing as He’s done throughout all of history.

And yet, I concede, that in the middle of the night, I felt powerless against this stupid mosquito. Its an interesting juxtaposition. Humbly, I confess, that I’m missing something.

The words of Jesus in Acts 1:8: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”

Power. Can I just say that I don’t understand things? Jesus says that I will receive power when the Spirit comes upon me. He says that for all of us that receive the Holy Spirit. I believe unflinchingly that God moves in the same way today as He did in the first century and as He did in the beginning of time. He is the same. Jesus said that it was good that He was leaving because then He would send the Holy Spirit (John 16:7). The Holy Spirit, who comes in power, is then dispersed throughout multitudes of people, instead of just the One.

Its hard though, I’ve talked countless times about Awadhi’s healing and I feel powerless often. I’ve prayed countless times, I’ve laid hands on him, I’ve fasted and no physical progress yet. Another juncture to decide whether I’ll press in or back off and give up. And not only with him, but with other areas of my life where I feel as though I’m not making progress, not walking in power as I ought to.

God continues to hold on to me though and His power is shown even when the physical doesn’t change. Awadhi is still deaf and HIV+ in the physical, my friend who needs new knees still has messed-up knees in the physical. But as she said with blessed assurance, she’s received her healing, she’s just waiting for it to manifest in the physical. Despite what it looks like in the physical, hope is not lost.

Paul blesses the Roman church saying that they might “abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). Hope itself comes from the power of the Holy Spirit. Hope. Hope that God is still at work; hope that things in the spirit are waiting to be shown in the physical; hope that sickness, death and sin don’t have the last word. That’s powerful stuff right there.

Lord, let my hope not be deferred, let my heart not grow sick. I believe the desire is still to be fulfilled and its arrival will be like a tree of life.

 

 

(final prayer adapted from Proverbs 13:12)

The Ladder Match

I’m tired.  A bit tired.

When I was a kid, I used to watch WWF. My favorite wrestler was and always will be The Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels. He had this epic rivalry with this Cuban-American character based on Scarface named Razor Ramon. In a clearly fake, potentially offensive impersonation of a Latin American, Razor would look into the camera and tauntingly say “Say hello to the bad guy” and then throw his toothpick in the direction of all the countless wide-eyed boys watching TV at home. Iconic pictures of Shawn Michaels flying from 20 feet up in the air during their legendary Ladder Matches have been seared into my head since childhood.

My brothers and I would wrestle at home all the time and would flip each other around doing power bombs, suplexes and the like. Recently, I’ve made our dog Dodger into my new Razor Ramon as we ourselves wrestle around the living room. Melissa makes for a good audience as I strut out to my own singing of Shawn Michaels’ intro music. Yes, I’ll be 26 next month.

I feel as though I’ve been engaged in a much bigger wrestling match as of late. Wrestling with things that are a lot bigger and a lot more elusive than even the most oiled-up, juiced-up wrestler.

I was having prayer time earlier today and was really struggling to focus on the Lord and envision Him on His throne. I was thinking about so many other things. It was totally obnoxious and totally debilitating.

I struggle with things from both sides. I struggle with desires for things of this world, I wrestle with striving for people’s approval in this celebrity-driven culture, I struggle with my own sin. I grow tired of being forced to wrestle with other people’s opinions. And on the other side, I wrestle with things that I can do to fix the situation. I want to fast so that I can have peace. I think if I would just spend more time with the Lord in prayer, then everything would feel better. If I memorized and meditated on scripture more, I’d have a clearer mind.

All of this comes to a head as I’m praying and I get to this point in my restless struggle where I just speak out loud. “Lord, I’m tired of wanting things other than You.”

I’m tired of wanting to be well-thought of. I’m tired of striving for things that this world and the people of this world put value in. I’m tired of caring about other people’s opinions. I’m tired of trying to reduce my relationship with the Lord to a formula in which I just fast enough, pray enough, read enough to feel okay about myself.

Shortly thereafter, I grabbed my iPod and was heading into the kitchen to do dishes while listening to music. I got distracted when I turned the iPod on, because Angry Birds was left on the screen and pathetically I stood in the doorway of the hall playing a level. Melissa walked past and gave me a kiss. Feeling pathetic in my own self, because well, because I fail at life sometimes and occasionally at Angry Birds too. I ask her “why did you marry me?” Hoping to hear her something say like “because you’re a good man” or “because the Lord gave us to each other” or something to that effect, she instead just responded, “because I like you.”

I think that wrestling with stuff is important. Too often we just turn to trite sayings when we’re in the thick of it and to be honest that doesn’t get us anywhere. Much less when someone else is wrestling and we give them those same vain tidbits. At other times, we just want to throw on Angry Birds and zone out. Pretend the match isn’t going on. I think in many ways, we’ve forgotten how to wrestle with things. So we no longer get in the ring.

But for those that are in the ring, I think Melissa had the landing point in the right spot. At the end of the day, can we stand before the Lord and just tell Him, “I like You”? All the striving, all the wrestling aside, do we like God? Do we love Him?

I want to want God only. Not the superfluous stuff throughout life. Just God. While writing that sentence doesn’t automatically get me to the spot of only desiring Him, its on the map.

Today, despite all the struggles, all the wrestling, despite Razor Ramon slamming my head into the turnbuckle, despite all that, I like God.