Tag Archives: discipleship

A Gift of Shalom

Craig and I sharing an Astro's game together - they lost...

Craig and I sharing an Astro’s game together – they lost…

It was just a little past noon when I pulled up in front of their home. Graciously, Craig and Trisha were going to allow me to mooch off of them for no less than NINE days. Nine days of sitting in the dinning area at meal times. Nine days of sprawling out on the living room sofa. Nine days shuffling the order of cars in the driveway, showers, coffee, meals, conversation and life. Nine days of letting someone you don’t really know that well, and have never lived with before, move in and live with you.

But they did much more than LET. And while I was technically a guest in their home, I was never really a guest. It was more than that. It was richer, and deeper. It was shared fellowship that blessed me greatly.
I was going to be in Texas for nearly two weeks. Away from family soon after dropping my oldest off at Hope College. Most of that time would be spent getting training in some marriage therapy before participating in a Faithwalking Retreat with other pastors from the RCA and CRC. Rather than spend those first nine days in a hotel, I did what I do – I invited myself over to the to someone’s house! In this case, the home of Craig and Trisha Taylor.

I know Trisha well through Ridder Church Renewal (an RCA/CRC initiative) and had met Craig once. As soon as I stepped into the house, I was not only given a key and full access to the kitchen, where I taught them how to make double crust stuffed pizza, but I was also given the gift of shalom.

It was shalom in the sense that while I was away from my family, I was given much more than “guest privileges.” At no time did I sense I was tolerated, but was made to feel that my presence in their home mattered.

What was on my heart, mattered to them. And as they would share, it was done in such a way that what was on their hearts mattered to me. I had access to who they were and they had access to who I am. When Craig and I were told we were on our own for dinner, we spent hours sitting at the table sharing long after the pulled-pork sandwiches, and although my backside was sore from sitting, the experience of shalom kept us glued to where we were. Shalom.

Throughout the following days we would laugh, watch sports, talk music and movies, go to the coast and eat out; but there was always more. There was a shared sense of meaning and the work of God in our lives.
The gift of hospitality is much more than a bed or some food. The gift of hospitality creates space where lives intersect, can be accessed by others and shared in such a way that shalom develops.

Depending on the version you read, the Bible calls this “entertaining” one another (Hebrews 13). But our culture today has hijacked that to mean something trivial – having a “good time.” Not that having a good time is bad, I’m all about that! But to be hospitable, entertaining one another, is so much more. In Romans 12:10 we are told to be devoted to one another, prefer one another; and, when the occasion arises, entertain one another.

I wonder what it would look like if the CHURCH were more entertaining. Not with light, music, programs and parking lot greeters; but in the deeper sense of the word. What if the church was about the business of creating the safe places necessary for others to experience the Shalom of God?

I wonder what our world would look like…


Who Goes First?

stop signAt 7:50pm 4 cars came to the intersection at roughly the same time.  I was second. The first driver was to my left and made a left hand turn.  As he cleared the intersection, I began to cross the intersection. I was second.  My daughter and I had just left the gym after working out, we were tired, thirsty and in desperate need of showers.  We were heading home when the lady from my right pulled out in front of me to cross the intersection.

At that moment you would have been hard pressed to find any love at the corner of Ravine and Nichols in the Kalamazoo area!  My windows were up and the air conditioning on so I don’t know what it was she was yelling out her window.  But as I uttered inside the confines of our 2001 Subaru Forester (180,000+), “Not your turn,” I could tell by the look on her face that she was maybe more angry than I was.

But, it was MY TURN! 

Have you ever noticed how often we think about it being “my turn?”

It’s my turn for a promotion at work. It’s my turn to go first. It’s my turn to be successful. It’s my turn to get the biggest piece. It’s my turn to use the car. It’s my turn to get… You get the picture right?

Ironically, just yesterday morning I had a conversation with some amazing people looking at how to live a more mission/other minded life and what it looks like to create more loving spaces in the mundane places of our lives.  It’s hard to live a life of love when we are focused on MY TURN.  In the book of Philippians, Paul reminds those of us who have been deeply impacted by Christ’s love to be more concerned with OTHERS than ourselves.  Here are the words he uses in chapter 2:3-4:

Don’t let selfishness and prideful agendas take over. Embrace true humility, and lift your heads to extend love to others. Get beyond yourselves and protecting your own interests; be sincere, and secure your neighbors’ interests first.

In spite of all the rhetoric about love wins, our culture is making it increasingly more difficult to live a life that is other focused and rooted in love. In fact, today Tim Cook and Apple will tell me that the new iPhone 6 I got two months ago is now obsolete, that my iPad is too small and that AppleTV is a real necessity!  Technology isn’t bad. That’s not what I am saying.  Our culture, however, continues to disciple us into thinking and behaving more and more individually and in self-centered ways.

But I am responsible for how I live and love – not culture.  I can make choices about who I want to be and the way I want people to experience me.  And last night there was a stranger who didn’t experience love while crossing an intersection.  Last night, without thinking, I also discipled my daughter teaching her to be as self-centered and unloving as I was.

I don’t have to be selfish.  I don’t have to be self-centered.  Because of Christ’s work in me I can choose to be different.  I can be transformed by the renewing of my mind. I have this amazing partner, the Holy Spirit, who helps me learn to lead myself.

Who will you be today? Will you choose with me to love someone you otherwise might not want to?


My Prayers Grew With Him

michael

October 31, 1996 (Halloween), two days after his birth, I drove him and his mother home from the hospital.  During that drive I prayed.  And I prayed what I thought to be the most profound prayer ever prayed by a new father.  I prayed, God, don’t let me get in an accident and kill him on our way home!  I don’t know how many times I prayed that prayer during the 15 minute drive from the hospital to our home, but it is a short prayer and I am sure I prayed it hundreds of times before pulling into the driveway while the neighborhood was filling with costumed children out trick or treating.

Married for almost 8 years, I barely knew how to be a husband (still…?) much less a dad, and the profundity of my prayer life continued.  When he would be awake at night my prayer was, Lord, help him fall asleep already! I can’t keep my eyes open any longer! Then, after he fell asleep and I would be gently – oh so gently – placing him into his crib my prayers would deepen further into, Ok God, I putting him down now, keep him sleeping…

And, when his eyes would sometimes open after I laid him down I would have two very different, almost conflicting 3:00am thoughts/prayers that went something like this, God, I love this kid! God, do you hate me?!?!

As exhausting as those first years were, especially as sister and brother came along, they didn’t last long. And as Michael grew and developed, so did I.  I grew up as a dad.  Well, somewhat anyway.  What I do know is this, my prayers grew.  My prayers grew with him.

I prayed for his first day of school.  I prayed for tests.  I prayed for him when he got injured.  I prayed for forgiveness when I blew it.  I prayed he would forgive me when I blew it.  I prayed for his friends.  I prayed as the years went by.

My prayers grew from a starting place of praying for the immediacy of having his needs met (food, sleep, safety, love & shelter) in order that I might have some short term peace, to a place of learning to pray more deeply, for things of more significance and for the longview of his life.

My prayers grew in substance.  Today Michael is an amazing young man enrolled as a freshman in college and my prayers for him are much different.  I do pray for the immediate things still – that he would study hard, learn well, make incredible friends, be exposed to all sorts of great challenges that shape him, etc… But more than that, I pray for longterm fruit of the spirit in his life, for him to give himself to something significant, life giving and helps better the world God so loves.  I pray for lasting joy that overcomes in hardship and trial.  I pray that he would live in, and be a sharer, of the Shalom of God.

My prayers, they grew with him.


Learning Leadership From Horses…?

Craig & Demo2Demo was one of the seven horses we would take out on our ride that day. None of the horses, mind you, were your standard “trail ride” horses that just follow nose to tail while your butt gets sore for an hour. A mustang caught from the wild in Utah, Demo was different. Head strong, independent and a leader in the herd, Demo used to be called Demolition Man – you can figure out why. And I was about to ride him!

But before I could ride him, Craig (our host at Shiloh Ranch – a ministry to ministry families) needed to bring him in. But Demo wasn’t about to let a lead rope be put around his neck and head. He wasn’t about to submit to Craig. Craig wasn’t the leader, wasn’t in charge – Demo was. It took some time for Craig to get Demo separated from the rest of the horses into the smaller corral.

And there I saw a lesson for how God leads us.

Craig would get Demo moving in one direction around the corral by applying pressure. He did this by pointing, using his voice and waving the rope. He never hit Demo, didn’t abuse Demo and never became aggressive with Demo. After he would make several loops in one direction, applying pressure Craig would steer him in the opposite direction. Craig would do this with Demo several times and then he would suddenly stop and lower the rope, his arm and his face so he wasn’t looking at Demo at all.

He waited.

And when Demo didn’t respond, the whole exercise took place again. Sometimes the rhythm was different. The amount of time spent in one direction over another would change. And when it wasn’t expected, Craig would stop – and wait – until Demo moved.

Toward Craig.

Not immediately taking control by slipping the lead rope around the horses neck and head, Craig did something that made me curious. He wrapped his arms around Demo’s neck, nuzzled his cheek against the horse and gently loved on the beautiful mustang. Only then did Craig slip Demo’s lead rope on.

In those ten minutes I saw in Craig and Demo how God has time and time again been at work in my life.

Directing Demo in the corral was consistently done with deep respect for Demo: looking at him the right way, keep a proper distance, using his voice gently and firmly and never frightening or demeaning the horse. And then, when Craig would stop and lower his head, it was an invitation for Demo to draw near. And, when he was ready, he did.

God will often, with amazing love and respect, direct our lives by his Voice, with his hand or with circumstances. But God never forces himself upon us. And, when it is time, God invites us, again, to draw close to him – toward intimacy and purpose.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Mt 11:28-30

I wonder how God is inviting you to draw near to him today? And for what purpose?

Demo’s purpose that day was to give me a ride through some of the most beautiful countryside. And we had fun!


We’re Asking The Wrong Questions

rainbow

I will confess that on Friday, June 26, when the Supreme Court issued a decision constitutionally securing the right for same-sex marriage in all 50 states, I wasn’t sure how I felt. I’m still not sure all that I am feeling.  To be honest it is taking some time to sort through it all.

And not because of same-sex marriage.  And yet, because of it…  🙂

The reason there is this place in me that feels uncertain is this:  We still don’t know how to dialogue. And because we don’t know how to dialogue, we are asking the wrong kinds of questions and making polarizing statements. On both sides.

Social media was flooded, of course. Both heralding the SCOTUS decision and condemning it, everybody was taking sides, it seemed.  And, I think that is part of the problem – the taking of sides. But it’s what we do when we are anxious.  And even the LGBT community and supporters were anxious, even if it was in a highly celebratory way.

And so most of us asked the same question in two different ways – as if life is a coin and there are only two sides.  Version one of the question is something like this, “Do you support the SCOTUS decision? Will you perform a same-sex marriage?”  Version two of the question is something like this, “Do you support a Biblical understanding of marriage? You wouldn’t do a same-sex marriage would you?

Said differently, they are the same question, “Are you on my side? Do you agree with me?”  

I believe the questions we are asking are designed to put people into a box (for or against), on a volatile issue, outside of the context of relationship.  They are the wrong questions because they create enmity not dialog. They force us into agree/disagree thinking and talking resulting in I like you / I don’t like you behavior. They keep us stuck in a way of dealing with a part of our reality that has been in place for decades and clearly hasn’t worked.

Jesus describes a way of being in Matthew 5:43-48 where we engage in actively loving those we are in conflict with that requires personal connection, face to face interaction, where we develop a genuine love for the others in our lives.  And because we really love the person in front of us, we want to listen.  We want to really hear what she has to say. We want to understand his thinking and values.

But!  Some will say that the most loving thing we can do is sometimes tell someone they are wrong.  And, that’s true.  Imagine with me, though, that because of my love for my children, all I ever did was tell them what I thought they shouldn’t do in order to keep them safe.  Everyday, from birth til they leave the nest, all they hear is what they shouldn’t do.  No genuine “I love you’s.” No listening deeply to their frustrations or pains.  No just walking alongside them through life.  Jus day after day tell them what I think they shouldn’t do…  I wonder if when they leave the home they would say they felt deeply loved…?

What if both gays and those who aren’t in favor of a homosexual lifestyle, were to begin to have a different conversation.  What if we moved away from throwing one-liners over the wall at a nameless third person stereotype and began to develop deep meaningful relationships with one another.

I wonder if we would treat each other differently?  

I wonder if the world might see Jesus more clearly?

I wonder if we would begin practicing the wholeness we can have in Christ?

Can we have a different conversation with different questions?


Really?!?

Justine decided several of the children should ride the bus with us

Justine decided several of the children should ride the bus with us

Really! It was always said as a statement, never as a question.  There would always be a certain musical playfulness to her sarcasm as she spoke with a British influenced Ugandan English.

It didn’t take long and this young lady of 23 was feeling very comfortable with the dozen “mzungus” under her care.   Laughter, joy, depth, passion and love filled the conversations and time we spent together.  And, at the end of our stay, some “leaking” as well.  You know what leaking is, right?  It’s when water leaks out of your eyes…  🙂  We would all learn a lot from Justine; and Justine would also learn a lot from us:  

About Love.

When the 12 of us showed up at the Katuba Care Point, it was clear Justine was the person in charge.  It was also immediately clear that she loved the children at the care point – a lot.  And very quickly, it seemed, Justine developed a great love for the 12 of us – and I think that caught her by surprise.

Abandoned by her father so early in life she never knew him, Justine told herself a story that he had died and that’s why he wasn’t around.  When she was only 11 Justine’s mom died leaving her and her sister to beg neighbors for food.

But God’s love wouldn’t leave Justine and her sister on the streets and they became sponsored through Compassion International where Justine was clothed, fed, cared for and discipled into a relationship with Jesus.  It was a hard life with lots of pain and heartache.

But Jesus was faithful to his words in John 6:39 that he will “lose none” that the Father would give him!

DSC_0500

Justine & Michelle… Btw, Justine likes fried ants, but Michelle can’t get them down 🙂

Justine, would eventually graduate from college with a degree in social work, get connected to a ministry called Reach One Touch One Ministries through which she was called into Children’s Hope Chest and the Katuba Care Point.  (Ok, so that was a couple of decades of life summarized in a few paragraphs!)

With some pretty deep wounds and a low level of trust for others – especially men – Justine began the difficult work of establishing a discipling care point in the village of Katuba for 118 children being sponsored by people she didn’t know.  And she fell in love with the children.  Raising up volunteers from the village, recruiting a cook, working with teachers and care takers, creating a discipling process and managing all the day to day details – Justine has sacrificially created a vital ministry in partnership with the Holy Spirit.

And mzungus from Haven Church.

I learned what sacrificial love looks like by watching Justine and hearing her story.  I saw how she cared for each child.  I also saw how each of the children knew, with confidence, that even if nobody else did, Justine loved them.  It also became clear early on, that Justine loved the 12 of us.  Just as deeply as she loved the kids.  And I think that happened by day 2!

Even though the people who were supposed to love and care for Justine left her early on, while we were in Uganda with her, Justine discovered it might be okay to love and trust a group of people who would also have to leave.  She experienced the deep joy that comes in risking it all in relationships.

The night before we left, Justine had a letter for us she knew she couldn’t read, so she gave it to Nanette to read (one of us). Nanette “leaks” with a good tv commercial, so she passed it, and her reading glasses, to me to struggle through.  In her letter Justine shared her heart with us, what she saw in, and learned from, each one of us.

Because God is redeeming the broken places in Justine’s life, she is one of the brightest, smartest, funniest and gifted leaders I know.

In the book of Philemon, Paul talks about being a spiritual father to Onesimus.  Because of God’s grace, I get to be a spiritual father to Justine.


When Love Comes To Town…

katuba hands

Love comes to town, I’m gonna jump that train
When love comes to town, I’m gonna catch that flame

This is one of my favorite pictures I took while in Uganda.  It’s an expression of love.  In Uganda it is not uncommon for men to hold hands with other men or for women to hold hands with other women.  It says something loudly, boldly.  There’s nothing sexual about it, but it is a proclamation.

Without any words at all, while walking along at the care point, a little hand reached in and entertwined fingers with mine. I looked down.  He looked up.  We didn’t say a word but just kept walking. Together.  Hand in hand.  When Noah took my hand he was saying something.  He was telling me he wanted to be WITH me, that BEING together was important.  We didn’t have to do anything.  We walked and held hands.

In Uganda I learned that touch and presence are important.  That just being with is more than doing for.

Jesus commands us to love one another.  He prayed that we would be one.  In fact, Jesus sums up ALL of the law and the prophets with these words in Matthew 22:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.

It’s pretty easy to love Noah.  Look at him. Right. That’s a face that just screams “squeeze me!”  Katuba noahThose are eyes that let him get away with all kinds of mischief.  He has a heart that is tender and precious.  It’s easy to love Noah.

It isn’t always easy to love our neighbor.  Our neighbor isn’t always cute.  Our neighbor isn’t always who we choose to be friends with. Our neighbor isn’t always gentle and kind. But then, neither are we.

And yet, there is the clarion call of the Gospel.  Love your neighbor.  Who will you love with your presence?  Who will you go out of your way to just be with?  Who will you love – just because?

Jesus was accused of being a friend of sinners.  And in his process of discipleship, Jesus taught the twelve, and us, that we are to be friends – with people like us and people not like us.

Will you catch that train with me?