Motivated by Love

John 14:15 says: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

Okay- now what? Should I learn every law in the Bible, write them down, paste it up on my wall and make sure I do my best to follow them every day?

Sometimes the focus will become lack of obedience, leading to a negative outcome.

-You may look at that list and think well I didn’t do this, this, this or that today and be left in a state of guilt and despair.

-Next, you may think well I can do better and push yourself into obedience out of obligation. You may wind up having an obligation to obey the law based on some notion that your obedience will justify blessings. Obedience to justify the blessings of God doesn’t seem like it would be pleasing to Him.

The way I see it- the cross has already justified my blessing.

Ultimately- God’s desire is to pour out his blessing on you, and the desire is based on nothing you do but out of unwavering love for you. We are only able to live in the fullness of God’s blessing by embracing a journey of recognizing His love for us. You might look at it as a journey of full-on acceptance of grace.

Elyse Fitzpatrick writes, “the plain truth is that my love for God (and hence, my obedience) will grow as I cultivate my comprehension of his vast love for me. If we neglect this key by focusing too narrowly on ourselves, our success or failure, then we’ll become mired down in guilt or pride, neither of which will stimulate loving obedience.”

It’s not that I think I can do whatever I want because I am already covered by grace. This is true to some extent- I am covered; my past, present and future sins were bought at the price of the cross. But if I were to do whatever I wanted and essentially live in sin that would cheapen the cross. My recognition of God’s love for me brings me into the greatest love story of all time, therefore motivating me to obey. I am not out to obey because of fear, guilt, or a mindset that my obedience will somehow bless me. Of course, I will continue to struggle- because my love is imperfect.

My love is weak and wavering

I am only capable of a dim understanding of the love displayed by Jesus on the cross. I am still vulnerable to Satan’s lies and I will be until the day I die. It is only at the moment of entrance into the heavenly presence of God that we are perfected for all time. But God, who goes beyond all of that- all of my mistakes and persona’s, God who knows my innermost thoughts looks at me with perfection and calls me His beloved. “He patiently and gently draws us back into His loving arms and reassures us of His overwhelming compassion, mercy, and grace.” –Fitzpatrick.

When I recognize the depth of my depravity and realize my complete inability to do anything on my own; I don’t feel guilt or failure anymore. But I am able to look at my Savior with such awe because he chose someone like me to be broken, to be a little lost for a while but then be rescued. He redeemed me. The blessings in my life leave me in awe of the obedience of Christ on the cross and motivate me to pursue God out of love.

“If we intently focus on how we’ve been loved, irrevocably, eternally, freely, and without merit, if we contemplate how our obedience (or lack of it) doesn’t faze his love one whit, then we’ll find within our hearts a growing desire to obey. Why? Because love like that changes people.” –Fitzpatrick

Thank you for reading, Laura Ragland

If you’d like to continue the conversation post in the comments or tweet me here, you can also find me on my site Confessions of an everyday, ordinary sinner.

Find Elyse Fitzpatrick’s book Comforts from the Cross on Amazon.

What To Do Next Time You’re Wronged

Creative Commons via Dustin and Jenae

We’ve all been wronged, sometimes by people close to us, people we work with, and by strangers. What is our initial response? Surprise, hurt, thoughts (or actions) of vengeance. I know I do. How about instead, we take these 5 steps:

  1. Forgive them
  2. Take them out to dinner
  3. Apologize for your wrongs
  4. Consider ways you’ve neglected them
  5. Ask how you can help

Consider September 11th. Instead of war (which I was in favor of at the time, hooray patriotism), what if George W. Bush had personally flown over to the Middle East and tried to have dinner with Osama. He then proceeded to apologize, on behalf of the American people, for turning a blind eye to the suffering and conflict in their countries, and offer aid. Then the American people volunteered in droves to fly over and provide assistance to the Afghani, Iraqi, and Irani people (they shall beat their swords in to plowshares… nation shall not lift up swords against nation… neither shall they learn war anymore – Isaiah 2:3-5). They would give food, help with farming, provide training and education, medical care, and all the while saying, “I’m sorry it took me so long to do this”.

How would that have changed the past 10 years? If we continue to answer violence with more violence, there is no end in sight. Martin Luther King, Jr saw this in the 60s, and organized a non-violent movement, saying “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that”. Ghandi did the same in India, gaining independence from Britain where years of revolts had not. At the beginning there was Jesus, speaking radical, life-altering words.

  • Forgive them not just 7 times, but 70 times 7! (Matthew 18:21-22)
  • If someone wrongs you, turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:38-39)
  • If someone asks for your shirt, do this and give them your jacket as well (Matthew 5:40-42)
  • Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:43-45)

I am not saying that doing any of this condones injustice or violence, quite the opposite. We should actively seek to end them! But not through more guns, bombs, and soldiers. We should fight through love, sacrifice, and courage. To stand up to the oppressor and fight with weapons they know nothing about takes courage that only God can provide. Could we die? Perhaps, but soldiers die every day (God rest them), gun in hand. Matthew 7:1-2 says that judgement is not ours, but belongs to God. When we go to war, even in “God’s name”, we are attempting to secure a peace that we do not believe God can or has already secured for us.

How does this change all of the conflicts, wars, and tension in relationships? What does this mean for Kony? I’m still learning about the situation that has helped form the man that is wreaking havoc in his country, and cannot speak knowledgeably about it. But is military action the answer? I can’t find anything in the Gospels that says violence begets violence. The enduring message is love, love, love.

This is not simply a essay on war, because there are pressing issues in our own homes, communities, and work places. What if you did this next time you were in conflict with another person?  When someone cheats you, insults you, harms you, what if you took the radical step of forgiveness? Not only that, but turned the other cheek, or bought them lunch? That is the really crazy part! Sure forgiveness, fine. But to actively seek them out and improve the relationship? Often our response is to cling to our hurt, and allow that to seep its way in to our soul.

Christians do this, even after verbally forgiving a person, will neglect them and not be a part of relationship healing. We will not let go of our hurt, because it gives us a reason to ignore them. By the way, I am not any better at this than anyone else. I hold grudges, I ignore people, I was for the war in the Middle East, and seek my own comfort first.

But this is not what we’re called to do. We are called to love, forgive, and seek wholeness each day. It is not through our own actions that this is accomplished, but by our openness to having God work in and through us. I woke up this morning with this topic on my mind. I don’t take credit for the essay, God placed it on my heart. I’m stopping here because I feel like everything he wanted me to say has been said, and I don’t need to dress it up anymore with my own words, SEO search terms, or minimum word counts. God’s going to do what God’s going to do. I am a cup that has been filled, and poured out.

What do you think about all of this? Sounds crazy, right? It is. But so is the rest of the Gospel. Let’s talk about it.

We Are All Being Used

Today, you will be used. It may be in ways that are productive and healthy, or ways that are destructive to ourselves and others. We are used by family, friends, co-workers, people on the street, and over the internet. This is not entirely good or bad news, it is how the world works!

We are used in relationships to help affirm, love, and challenge each other. We can also be used as a crutch, or use others as a dominating and controlling presence that feeds off a spouse, children, or friends. We are being used at our jobs, to create revenue, and hopefully to enrich the lives of customers.

God uses people too. The bible is full of stories about how people were used to glorify him. I think that most people feel that God only uses good people, those who have it all together or don’t have any major blemishes in their past. For the past several decades, the loudest voices in Christianity have perpetuated a story that says you have to be good enough, you can’t make mistakes, and God only wants you at your best. If you’re not, we’ll still take you, but we don’t want to talk about it.

People who have been turned off by Christians feel that God can’t use them, and this is simply not the case. The are many people in the bible who had a checkered past, and even made gigantic mistakes as followers of God! We are all broken, and I’m sorry that the current view of Christianity is the belief that we have it all together (or feel we do). No, we don’t, and we continue to live broken lives. We just believe we have found the answer that is bigger than ourselves.

Returning to the bible characters who were messed up. It has always struck me as amazing to read about the kind of screw-ups that God used. I mean, if he was running ads for people in the classifieds, the righteous people of the age would not have applied. Well, that got me to thinking, “What would that look like?”

Here is a series of ads that may have been run by God.

The Conversion of Saul - Acts 9

Peter denies Jesus - Luke 22:54-62

David & Bathsheba - 2 Samuel 11

The Calling of Moses - Exodus 2-4

As you can see, God is waiting to use us for his glory, which in turn will make our own lives more fulfilling and rich. I think that God uses our brokenness and mistakes to allow his light to shine brighter through us. When we have filled up our lives with our own stuff and good deeds, when we are handling everything, “Thanks God, but I’ve got this life thing under control”, he will go find someone else. He doesn’t need much, he is God after all.

Whether you are a Christian or not, how do you feel you are being used? A more reflective question is, how do you use others? It is not simply a question of faith, but of how we interact with people on a daily basis. I would love to hear what you think! Especially if you are not a Christian, or have a different faith, what does the sacred text say about what kind of people God(s) uses?

Have a great day being used.

22 People Who Are Better Than Me (in a good way!)

Today I got down to thinking about what I really want to write about, and more specifically, where I would want the process to take me. I would love to be able to travel, wrote about nature, the outdoors, make short films, coach football, help those in need, go on mission trips, and work with kids. That’s all (sarcastic/hopeful tone).

Then I considered what I’ve been writing about, and my content didn’t match my hope that well. Since I’m starting out as a writer, I do believe it’s best to keep writing, and focus your voice and content as you get better. At least that’s what I’m going for right now. I have been writing a lot about writing and the creative process, and honestly it’s been easy to use that as a topic because it’s a daily part of my life. I’m basically re-packaging my own struggles and sharing them with you. Hopefully though, it helps in a small way.

One of the main challenges I face is the realization that there are so many people and services out right now who are doing what I want to do, and doing it really, really well. I’m becoming less intimidated by them, because I know that I can do great work as well. The challenge is taking the chance and putting forth the years of work necessary to get to where they are now. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are social platforms or the permission to impact people in a busy world. I don’t know how to write great code, use sophisticated SEO tactics, or create beautiful designs. I tell stories.

Presently though, here are a list of people and sites that I read daily, or will read, watch, or listen to anything they release. I haven’t included any company sites or blogs, they’re in a different category than these 22 run by an individual or small team. They certainly have a voice in the work that I produce, and I hope you enjoy them as well!

Outdoors

Adventure Journal - Steve Casmiro (former editor of Cycling magazine and top-notch photographer) has built the premier site for all things outdoor. News, advocacy, links, photography, gear, food, they have it all. This is the main outdoor site I visit daily, the content is rich and worthwhile. I would visit simply to drool over the Weekend Cabin (which you should as well). It was also just named Outside Magazine’s #1 Outdoor site.

Check out these posts to get started:

Cold Splinters - Jeff Thrope has made the outdoors feel all 1970′s again, and I love it. The site in itself is beautifully designed and vintage, the photography syncs perfectly with the site with vintage filters, and he writes very well. Cold Splinters is where I can feel like an outdoors hipster. It’s a general outdoor site, but the Trail Mix posts are very enjoyable, along with any of the well-written posts about doing work with your hands.

Check out these posts to get started:

Semi-Rad - I really enjoy Brendan Leonard’s blog, because he is a regular guy trying to live the dream. Also, he shows up and delivers to his tribe, consistency is king! My favorite part of his blog is the About Me.

Check out these posts to get started:

Dirtbag Diaries - This is really more of a podcast, and maybe the best outdoor life podcast going today. The stories take center stage, tales of adventure and brokenness that mirror our own lives. The Diaries popularity is also helped by the music that Fitz puts together for each episode, then make available in the notes.

Check out these posts to get started:

The Gear Junkie - Stephen Regenold has put together one of the best outdoor gear review sites, and my personal favorite. If you’re like me and want to low-down on every piece of outdoor gear you purchase, the Gear Junkie is a great place to look. He’s also active on twitter, and has responded directly to a few of my gear inquiries.

Check out these posts to get started:

Sports

Smart Football - Chris Brown is a lawyer turned football analyst, and his acumen for breaking down plays, techniques, and game plans is undeniable. If I’m following twitter during a game, Smart Football is definitely on the list. I’m also convinced that a smart person with average football knowledge could turn themselves in to a decent high school football coach simply by reading Smart Football.

Check out these posts to get started:

Only Gators - I graduated from Florida, and Adam Silverstein runs the best insider blog on the interwebs right now. I’ll check in with OG on a regular basis to see what’s been happening, and daily during football season. No links to read, if you’re a Gator fan just go ahead and start following.

Dr. Saturday – This is a stretch, since Dr Saturday is the Yahoo Sports College Football blog, thus not independent. But it is the most consistent, well-written source of news and updates in college football. The previous head guy, Matt Hinton, has recently left the building, replaced by the new head lady, Graham Watson. Looking forward to the new season.

Writing, Creativity, and Business

Jeff Goins - I’ve written about Jeff a few times, mainly here. He’s actually probably getting tired of it. Jeff consistently turns out great content and advice for writers, no matter what stage of the craft you’re in. Begin reading and you won’t be disappointed.

Check out these posts to get started:

Michael Hyatt - Michael is the Chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, but on his blog he focuses on the topic of Intentional Leadership. He writes about other topics, but that is the main focus. I really appreciate the honesty Michael communicates with, and his willingness to share knowledge gleaned from many years in the writing business.

Check out these posts to get started:

Seth Godin - Seth is the first author I read who challenged me to think about how I worked. I am continually inspired by his work, and at the root of my amazement is his consistency! In 2009 he wrote his 3,000 daily post in a row, affirming his commitment to spreading ideas and new ways of thinking. He’s also a master at taking an idea or thought that is on the tip of your tongue, and giving it life. Check him out.

Check out these posts to get started:

Daniel Pink - Dan’s site is extremely interesting, and I’ve mentioned some of his work before. The Pomodoro technique came from Dan’s site, and his book A Whole New Mind was very important for me, especially just after graduating college. You can find a wealth of analytical information, presented in a fascinating manner, along with many other topics. One of my favorite running features is emotionally intelligent signage. Give him a look.

Check out these posts to get started:

Garr Reynolds - I read Garr’s book Presentation Zen 4 years ago, and it made me think differently about the way I speak in front of people, communicate information, and design everything. You wouldn’t think of the design and layout of power point presentations as art, but then you haven’t seen Garr’s slide decks. It changed everything for me in those areas. The design aspect spilled over in to other areas of life as well, to websites, my office, home, and really everything.

Check out these posts to get started:

Corbett Barr - Corbett runs ThinkTraffic.com, arguably the best site for bloggers looking to generate more traffic and income. It’s the only site of its kind that is currently in my rss reader, because it’s so detailed and extensive. Corbett has experience with several other successful blogs and websites, which you can find out more about by visiting his personal site.

Check out these posts to get started (on ThinkTraffic):

Christian Spirituality

Donald Miller - Donald is the author of several books, most notably Blue Like Jazz. Another important book in my life, it challenged me in my Christian faith and caused me to think about what my faith really meant to me. He is very human-story focused right now, his latest book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years covering the subject of the creative process, and being able to tell one’s story. All of this is done against the backdrop of what God has done for us and the life he’s called us to live.

Check out these posts to get started:

Richard Rohr - I almost didn’t put Fr. Rohr here, he can be so controversial. But he has also pointed me down the path of worrying about myself less (and one day not at all), helping the poor & needy, not seeking fame, and being able to embrace both my strengths and weaknesses. He’s also been significant in his writing on male development and rites of passage in the modern world, a topic that is very important in my work with young men.

Check out these posts to get started:

Ryan Taylor - Man, I really like Ryan. Never met the guy, but no worries. Ryan is the Director of Access Denver, plays basketball, and writes a solid blog. He is another leader who is challenging others to look around and see the suffering in our neighborhoods, and be the hands of God in creating change. I’ve written about him a bit more here.

Check out these posts to get started:

General Interest & Fun

The Art of Manliness - Yes, they have fun posts like How to Make a Survival ShotgunThey have informative posts like How to Carve a TurkeyThey also assemble great lists like 100 Must-Read Books: The Man’s Essential Library. But what really made me a full-fledged believer in the AoM was Brett & Sarah McKay’s research and writing about male development and being a man. Not an ultra-masculine no-nonsense man, or a soft, passive man. A Man; forged out of the experience of those before him, ready to do hard things, think of others’ before self, stand up for what’s right, and be a contributor to his community. Love it.

To get started, click on the articles above.

The Oatmeal - My interest in goofy internet comics really peaked during college, and since then I don’t go searching for such hilarity often. The Oatmeal though, really came to me. I saw the Dear Sriracha comic at Sunny Pointe Cafe, and liked it so much that I hunted down the site. Matt Inman does a wonderful job fusing humor, common sense, plain-as-day irony, and grammar checks in to his brand. Go over there and have a laugh. *FYI, not all comics are squeaky-clean, though the ones I linked are fine. 

Check out these posts to get started:

Zen Habits - Leo Babauta has curated one of the most popular blogs on the internet, and one of the most interesting. I’ve only been reading it for a couple weeks myself, but I’m blown away, definitely one that I can read for an hour and not realize it. Highly recommended.

Instead of linking a few articles, Leo has made it easy for us by creating a Start Here page.

The Minimalists - My friend Bryce told me about this site, as I was telling him about my feelings towards having fewer possessions. “You need to read what these guys are writing” he told me. So I did, and stayed up most of the night reading through their entire 21 Day Journey in to Minimalism page. It lit a fire under me, gave some substance to the conversations my wife and I had been having. Within a week, I had given away boxes of clothes, packed up extra household and kitchen products, and put the TV in the attic. I haven’t missed any of those things, because I am more than my possessions.

Check out these posts to get started:

Tim Ferriss - I have a love/hate relationship with Tim Ferriss’ writing and self-promotion. Mainly, I think he comes off as self-promoting and arrogant. I also think he is quite interesting and has many good things to say about creative ways to live and work. I can respect that. I mainly respect the effort and practice that he puts in to his craft of writing, and his personal blog. The blog is a smorgasbord of topics, enjoy picking through them.

Check out these posts to get started:

Wow, that took much longer than I had planned. When I said “today” at the beginning of the post, it was Monday. I’m publishing on Friday. I went through many temptations to cut the list, not include Get Started links, and leave out the descriptions. In other words, obey the path of least resistance. I’m glad I didn’t, and hope you agree.

Finally, this is simply my list, and it won’t be the last. People are doing incredible, creative work, and I would love to hear about the writers, bloggers, and creatives that inspire you. Leave your suggestions in the comments!

Never Alone

via buaiansayapanomali

I’ve talked about running a couple of times, it has been on my mind a lot as I prepare for the Black Mountain Marathon. It has been no coincidence that I have been thinking about running because I have had a lot of time to think while running. Especially yesterday.

Yesterday was my big run day, and I ended up going 22 miles. It was cold, windy, and snowing, but with enough functional layers on, I hit the trail. The first 10 I ran with my wife and dog, but then they departed and I went back out by my lonesome. I’ve been out on this particular trail enough that finding my way isn’t an issue, and can be alone in my thoughts. I expected to see more people on the trail, since it’s the actual race route, and 2 weeks pre-race is a fairly standard gauge for the big training run. But that wasn’t the case. I saw a total of 5 people in the next 3 hours, none going the same way as me, and went 2 hours alone, in the snow. I enjoyed the time running through the snow (1-3 inches) and the sound of it falling. This winter in Western NC has been very mild, with very little snowfall. In fact, my house is only 10 miles from the trailhead I started on, and had no accumulation. Of course, there is a difference of nearly 2000 vertical feet between home and where I was on the trail, and that made all the difference. I wasn’t carrying much on this run, so no pictures this time.

Now, I did bring an iPod nano with me, the first time I’ve done that on a long trail run. My thought was that when my mind starts to wander in a negative sense, I could pop in some soothing music and reel myself back in. That’s right, soothing. A 22 mile training run is no place for classic rock or rap, or really anything fast-paced. If I get amped up for 5 minutes, who cares? Only 205 minutes remaining! So I’ll listen to pretty chill music. Lots of instrumental music, Mat Kearney, Explosions in the Sky, Indelible Grace, and Mumford (the slower stuff, ala Timshel).

As I was making my way back, I thought about how I had just run a 2 hour section and hadn’t seen anyone. The weather was cold, the landscape white, and I felt very alone. The thought didn’t really bother me, but I dwelt on it. Within 15 seconds, the next song began to play. It was instrumental, with strings, then a faint humming. The hum grew to a chant, and I stopped. I knew this song, but hadn’t heard it in a while. What was it? The name of the song hit me, and I smiled, amused. It was God’s Theme, from Evan Almighty (give it a listen here). I’ve progressed enough in my faith to believe that God speaks and works through anything he well pleases. As Richard Rohr would say, “everything belongs”. That quote on your bag of tea? Yep. The idea in Fight Club that you are not your possessions? Yep. Cleaning a Haitian’s Sunday shoes? Yep. Hearing a song called God’s Theme after thinking to yourself “I’m all alone”? Yes sir.

via Mark Ragland

I couldn’t run for a couple minutes; just walked along and smiled at the frozen trees and grey sky. I felt God around me, and while the logical argument could be made that my feeling was a combination of the playlist, fatigue, and mysticism, you know what? Everything belongs.

I continued to run, and thought about how God is always with us, when we feel surrounded by love or totally alone. You are never at a point low enough that God will not continue to reach out and plea for you to embrace him. Now, the even more terrifying reality is that he is with us in our wickedest thoughts and actions as well. We may fool ourselves in to thinking that no one knows what we have done or are trying to cover up, but God does. I’m not saying this to paint God as the world’s greatest detective, who’s gonna git ya’. I’m saying to emphasize that we cannot run from him, or hide our past. But even in that terrifying presence, remains mercy. He knows, and so we do not have to pretend. He knows, and has paid for all of it. It is done and finished. You can be free from your own guilt, because our guilt will be the only thing holding us back.

I bet you didn’t expect for a post that started out describing a wintry run to culminate with the promise of God’s mercy, and to be honest neither did I. We never fully know where a day or story will take us. But, I hope you now realize that…

Everything belongs.

(also, the playlist was on shuffle)

5 Christian Writers Who Aren’t Famous, But Worth Reading

A couple weeks ago I posted a list of 5 Christian writers who were breaking the mold of what was expected. Thing is, those guys were pretty famous already. So I wanted to give you a list of writers who are making a difference in their communities, and have thoughts to share on it.

Ryan Taylor – Ryan is the Director of Access Denver, and has great thoughts on the gospel and what it means for us in our daily lives. In his bio, Ryan says what has been driving him the past few years:

In the past few years I’ve been inspired by modern day monastic-like thinkers such as Shane Claiborne who are rethinking the posture and practices of the church in present day culture, seeking to be like Jesus through honest confrontation of injustices, helping the poor and hungry, and doing it all together within Christ centered community.

Check out his blog and work at TallMonasticGuy.typepad.com

Shawn Marler - Shawn is a co-worker of mine, so I’m a little biased. I do believe though that Shawn has a good heart and eye for the scriptures, and is especially good at analyzing the text and being a student of it. Which is good, since he spent the last few year getting his Master’s of Divinity from Erskine. You can read his blog here.

Dave Gardner – Dave is also a friend of mine, and is currently on the 4th month of the World Race. World Race is not a game show or reality TV like The Amazing Race, but it is reality in the freshest sense, because Dave is visiting 11 countries in 11 months, doing God’s work every step of the way. He is a talented writer, interning at Yahoo Sports, writing for various online publications, and even turning down a job out of college in order to follow where God was leading him. Reading his blog of the work God has him doing around the world is inspiring. Follow his journey here.

Mike Todd – I have to admit I haven’t read a ton of Mike’s stuff, but what I have I enjoy. I found him through Ryan’s blog, and have been reading intermittently since then. What really grabbed me was this line in his bio.

What can I say? I have a story like everyone else. After a dozen years on Bay Street wearing a suit, tie and Bostonians, my wife Sue and I sold off, packed up and moved out to North Vancouver. Now the corporate uniform is fleece and hiking shoes. I split my time between Linwood House Ministries, blogging, a little construction work, and hanging out with the whatever - our little faith community where we are trying to figure out what it means to be apprentices of Jesus Christ. We’ve tried being believers, but we’re no longer convinced that’s what He had in mind.

Read more from Mike here.

Rev. Shannon Kershner – Shannon is the pastor of Black Mountain Presbyterian Church, which I have frequented on several occasions. She is a fine teacher of the gospel, and very direct in her sermons. I always feel equally affirmed, questioned, and challenged after hearing her speak the word. Sadly, she doesn’t blog yet, but you can find some of her writings and podcasts here.

Do you have any additional writers or speakers that can be added to this list? I would love to hear about them. Thanks!

Daily Practice: Christianity, you can’t make this stuff up

If you have been reading along with me for the past several weeks, you remember my post on the books that we received and bought over Christmas. The book that has been a daily constant so far this year is A Year with CS Lewis. I have greatly enjoyed it, the daily readings are short, and usually leave me with something good to chew on for the day. Today’s reading was particularly compelling, and I would like to share my initial thoughts on it.

The reading was titled “We Couldn’t Make It Up”. It being Christianity. Lewis points out that the tangible reality we experience is usually odd, not neat or obvious, or something you would expect. I feel that we do fantasize about reality as something that makes sense and is orderly to us, but every day our reality presents something that we did not expect. Whether it be in relationships, work, weather, or any number of things, reality behaves in ways that are not orderly to us. All of those things are just the present reality of what goes on in our own little sphere! What about the videos we watch or scientific and research journals that are available, every issue with news about something unexpected or unexplainable that has occurred! Why do we expect differently from our faith?

Lewis notes that this lack of order as one of the reasons he believes Christianity. It is a religion we would not have guessed, not something you make up.

The God figure comes down from the Heavens and lives among his creation as one of them, turning all their beliefs around. He celebrates the weak and poor, while chastising those in power. Then to round the story out, he dies for all their sins, regardless of their behavior, so they may be saved in him. He rises from that death, and calls us to repeat the process in following him.

Yeah, that’s weird. Lewis goes on to say that if the universe were something you expected, he would feel as if we were just making it up. But just like the universe is a little weird and unexplainable, so is Christianity. In way, that makes sense. That the God who created an unexplainable reality would also have an unexplainable plan for rescuing it.

For a beautiful picture of reality though, here is a picture of the rising dawn over our mountains. I know you can scientifically explain the colors, but it still leaves in awe of how it’s possible. Have a great day!

Rising Dawn at Camp Rockmont

How Haiti, Fight Club, Being Homeless, & Minimalism Tie Together

It has been a challenging month. Since December 12, God has used me in ways that I didn’t think he would. I have been in more uncomfortable situations more than I can remember, and with people I have never associated with. I’ve slept on bunk beds, the ground, tables, and not at all. I’ve shared meals, stories, and laughs with the homeless, poor, widows, orphans, and drug addicts. I’ve seen more of the gospel revealed to me in ways that only God can show in our brokenness. I’ve also written more than ever, save for high school.

Let’s Start with Haiti

I’ve already written about my experience in Haiti here, here, and made a video. I keep coming back to it. The simplicity of life, worship, community, and struggle is strangely intoxicating. Today is the 2 year “anniversary” of the Earthquake that wrecked an already struggling country. If you need a reminder, read this straight-from-Haiti account from my friend Jeremy Schurke. People who I haven’t seen since I returned ask about it, and I still haven’t come up with great talking points.

There is struggle, faith, hope, and love. There is voodoo, crime, and pain. There are fantastic drivers. I had never been out of the country, and certainly not a 3rd world country. I took a lot in, didn’t talk as much as I normally do, and listened. I tried to speak creole. I played soccer with a milk jug and basketball with a basketball (c’mon people, don’t be silly). I talked to Haitians about their faith and God. I realized how much we have butchered the English language, as a Haitian friend studied the book, How to Speak English Like an American.
A heart of gold? What does that even mean?

I made new friends, woke up early, watched the stars at night, and wrote consistently. Mission of Hope and Lespwa are doing amazing work in Haiti, I encourage anyone to support them. What is staying with me is how God made it possible for us to go, and then made me very uncomfortable when I was there.

The poverty, trash, hunger, and disease was overwhelming. But then so was Church, the way people smiled, and spoke to us. I felt guilt over having so much, the simple blessings of food, shelter, clothes, and warmth. The Haitian people didn’t have much, but they had their faith.

Israel – “Without God in my life, I am nothing. This is the same for you, no?”

Me – “Yes, of course. God is everything.”

Except he’s not, I instantly realized. He’s a part, and sometimes not even at the top. This shamed me more than my house full of possessions. Because I often live like God is a simply a part of my life.

“Hope I can fit you in today Creator! There’s work, my wife, dog, cleaning the house,exercising, writing, checking my social network, words with friends, reading, checking in with friends, reading about Tebow (you must like that though), reading about the Gators new OC (hope he can make the transition to the SEC, did you see Bama’s D!? Of course you did), and playing the guitar. If I play worship songs does that count as scripture and prayer?”

So that was even more about Haiti. God wrecked my pre-conceived notions, ideas, and thoughts. Just like he said he would.

29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. – Philippians 1:29-30

I’ll be learning from that experience for the rest of my life.

Welcome to Fight Club

This is a great movie (and book), if you can get past the cursing (lots of it), rampant sex and nudity, and general unacceptable social behavior. The message really does have a lot to teach us and bring to light. What I want to hit on is that we are a consumer economy, which is not a surprise to anyone.

We are bombarded with messages of not being pretty enough, rich enough, stylish enough, popular enough, and how to go about changing that. Americans spent $52.4 BILLION dollars on Black Friday alone (via CNNmoney). We have been sold on this obsession that we can never have enough, and in the context of that stuff, it’s true. We try and fill our emptiness with things, instead of God, love, and relationships.

You’re not your job…
You’re not how much money you have in the bank…
You’re not the car you drive…
You’re not the contents of your wallet…
You’re not your khakis…

- Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt)

I believe we really think those things at times! We place our identity in all these things instead of in God, which is the only way that we can fill that emptiness and become whole! At the beginning of the movie, Edward Norton’s character wonders which dining set defines him as a person.

This isn’t a critique of a single group of people or lifestyles, it is a mindset that affects many of us to varying degrees.

The things you own, end up owning you.

On to Minimalism

I have plenty of clothes. How many shirts can you wear at once? Well, not including this guy, probably just 2 (including an undershirt). 1 pair of pants at a time, boxers, socks, and shoes. I’m not a guy that enjoys going out and buying new clothes, but I can be picky. I had the mindset that since I didn’t buy much, I deserved to have high-quality on what I did buy!

But still, I bought, accumulated, and became kinda snobby. My wife, wise as she is, said I needed to go through it and give some stuff away. I had probably 30 T shirts, lots of dress shirts, and could rationalize most everything. This was given to me… I have to look nice for this… When I go backpacking I need the best gear. Don’t even get me started on my borderline addiction to outdoor gear, that’s another post entirely. I completely intended to follow her advice and pare the collection down, but had neglected it.

What if I need this? I want to give this specifically to someone… I could probably sell this.

At my weekly man coffee session, my friend Bryce told me about a blog he had been reading on Minimalism. We had talked about Fight Club, and he thought I would like this site, The Minimalists. He was right. I tore through their “essays” and got the kick in the pants my wife was trying to apply (if only I took her advice earlier). I thought of how I overpacked for Haiti, and only wore half of what I brought. After 2 days I looked at my 5 shirts (one for each day) and thought about the lunacy of deciding which shirt would look best on me. It was no more insane to do so back home, where people may even notice I only wear a handful of clothes or don’t have anything new.

So while she was gone for a few days, I filled up 3 boxes worth of clothes that I hadn’t worn in months, or didn’t like as much, and committed to only 3 drawers and 3 shelves. I have 4 pair of underwear (Ex Officio, you know it). All my non-dress clothes can fit there, I always wear what I like, there are no “winter clothes” boxes, and I do less laundry. I packed up all the dining plates, cups, and mugs that we don’t use, forcing us to wash what we use. We’ve pretty much done away with the dishwasher. We’re selling our multiple coffee and end tables, are trying to sell the TV, and gave away a couch. Life feels less cluttered. If I was to go back and live the college life again, I would be a minimalist. Cheaper, easier to organize, pack, and clean! A little word of wisdom for all my college age friends and co-workers.

The stuff that I didn’t give to Goodwill, the homeless shelter, or sell, I wanted to give to friends and family. So I took pictures of everything and put it on Facebook and Google+. The response was fantastic. Several things were claimed, all by people who needed them and would use them more than me. My favorite interaction was from a friend I’ve never met face to face, but Jessica and her husband Raja are two of the bravest people I’ve ever interacted with (though they wouldn’t say that). They spend most of their money on others’ needs, and so for me to be able to give them jeans, a sweater, and black shirt was very humbling for me. It is mere pennies to what they have given others and to God. Read more about their incredible story and their adopted son, Adam. 

My Facebook peeps have had plenty of time to pick through it, so here is what I still have. If you would like something, just comment on it and it’s yours. I may ask that you pay the shipping, if you can swing it.

FREE STUFF

If you want to read more on minimalism, I recommend Ev Bogue and Joshua Beckeramong others.

Being Homeless

God has also presented my with the opportunity to serve the homeless here in Black Mountain. When the temperature is below 40 degrees, First Baptist Church of Black Mountain opens it doors to the homeless. They probably average 6/night, and are fed, have access to the bathroom, a shower, and bed. Going the first time was a kick in the gut. I saw people there who I had passed on the road several times, too busy or too scared to help. Now here we were, having dinner together, playing Spades, and watching a movie. They were kind and polite, thanking me and Shawn for giving our time.

Once again, I was humbled by the kindness of others, and felt a bit like a fake. I was glad to help, they were changing me just as much as I was helping them. But of course I went home to a warm house and loving family. None of the guests had a warm home, and few had loving families. One man, Robert, told me that he had been homeless and traveling the country for over 20 years. Some were drug addicts, and honestly spoke about using, hitting bottom, and trying to recover. “One day at a time” was the mantra. They knew their shadows intimately well, and were trying to learn from them.

When I wrote about the shadow side and humility, I thought about them. They were not trying to build themselves up or hide their struggles, because to name it was the only way to begin to recover. They also had no need for additional clothes or things, for them minimalism was a way of life. Don’t need what you can’t carry!

It was during an overnight watch that I read The Minimalists 21 Day Journey, and finally had some concrete examples and steps to take. It was humbling to need that kick, that I couldn’t do it on my own or on my wife’s previously stated advice. I have been able to journal and read while there, and get to know my watch partner. The most recent guy, Mel, was 71 and had lived quite a life. Simply in the course of talking, he dispensed wisdom on work, marriage, the importance of possessions, and more.

I used to get excited about going to Haiti, New Orleans, or other places that needed my help. It is ironic that the poor end up helping and teaching me as much as I try and help them. But part of the allure of mission work was the distance, I could help and give fully without thought of embarrassment or shame, because I would never see them again. I was still protecting myself. I have realized though that we are needed to minister and help right in our communities, and that this is as important, if not more so, than going overseas.

If the people that we pass on the street can not count on us to support them and be God’s hands and feet, then we have failed our neighbors. And Jesus has some radical things to say about being neighbors. We can not be afraid or protect our egos. Let God handle our safety and our lives, he’s up for the task.

Adding Everything Up

I don’t need all this stuff. God has enabled me to help others. There is unbelievable poverty 710 miles from Miami. There are homeless and poor in your town. We can break the cycle of poverty and hunger. It is fulfilling to give things away and see them appreciated and used by others. You are not your job. You are not the contents of your wallet. There is hope. You are unique, loved, and created by God.

So, what’s been happening in your life?

Lespwa Pou Haiti (Hope for Haiti) – Part 1

Yesterday, Morgan and I returned from our trip to Haiti. Our home base was out of Mission of Hope, a great NGO that is doing important work there. I highly recommend checking them out if you are considering a trip to Haiti. It will take me some time to organize all my thoughts and feelings about the trip, it was very powerful. People ask if it was fun, awesome, great, etc; and it was certainly all of those things, but not in the way I normally think about those adjectives. It was also heart-breaking, sad, hopeful, disgusting, believable, supernatural, challenging, and evil. Spiritually, it’s an entirely different world. Part of my thoughts going in is how we would be viewed as Christians in a poverty-stricken country. How would I feel if a bunch of people in nice clothes (because even our “don’t care if I ruin these” clothes are nicer than theirs) got off a bus and started trying to tell me that I needed this “Jesus” and things would be better? I don’t know, it’s always struck me as a paradox. Mission of Hope is a spartan place to stay by my normal standards, but we have plenty of food, water, a bed, and working sanitation. Just those essentials are upper class in Haiti!

What I found is that many of the Haitians I spoke with are happy to see us, appreciate the help and economic stimulus that Americans provide. The children loved us, and we really enjoyed being with them. We played with children every chance we got, soccer, basketball, slaps, singing, and dancing. Adults in Haiti are usually too busy trying to survive day-to-day to play much. So the kids like to be carried (pote) and played with. I was also struck by the full reliance on God (Bondye) that the believers have. They are desperate for him, and Church is an experience which is tough to find in America. When you have very little, you are more open to Bondye, there is nothing else crowding him out. The hope of eternal life in Heaven is a sweetness they long for, and the love of Bondye is daily revealed. Israel, one of our translators, told me, “Without God, I am nothing, I can do nothing without him.” He said it with an earnestness and conviction that is difficult for me to replicate, because I try and do so much without God, building up my little castles and feelings of worth. Bondye put me in many situations where I was challenged and uncomfortable, and showed me more his face during those times.

I will definitely be posting more in the days ahead, along with some of the pictures from the trip. God Bless!