Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Temptations of the World: The Air Conditioner

Last part of a three part blog about the temptations we face that we may not even be aware of.

The last post talked about my temptation for recognition and greatness. In the end this is really a temptation of self-interest. Greatness is what is important to me. As Liz and I have travelled we have talked to many different people at many different points of their faith journey and there was another common temptation that people kept talking about. Another temptation of self-interest that I think many people are not even aware of, but that keeps us from fully following God as he intended us to. That temptation is comfort.

Many people have said that they could never do what we do. The travel, the stepping out of a familiar place and culture, the lack of creature comforts are all reasons we have been given for people not being able to do what we are doing. This is the temptation of comfort, the temptation to make sure we are comfortable and then only within that comfort zone do we do ministry for God. Now I want to clarify that not everyone is meant to do work in a different place or culture (aka overseas missions). I genuinely think that most people are meant to do ministry in their own communities with their neighbours and friends. However, that is not the reason most people gave us and if I had to guess I would say that many people even within their own communities only do ministry within their comfort zone.

This temptation of comfort is the first temptation of Jesus. The temptation to turn stone into bread was the temptation for Jesus to satisfy his own needs right then and there no matter what they may have meant for his future ministry. This is a dangerous temptation because when we give in to the desires for our own comfort we sink deeper into a pattern of us first and others second. This is dangerous territory because I have seen the difference even just a little makes in the world. The saying, “Live simply so others may simply live” is not far from the truth in some parts of the world, including the US. What are we willing to endure so that others know their lives matter...or even so that they have lives? What are we willing to do without so that others may have enough...or better yet as much as we have? The radical challenge of Jesus is to put others first. This means that we are not only called to give so that others will have enough it really means we are called to give so that others have more than us. That one is hard, that one is a challenge for everyone I know including myself. As Mother Teresa aged she also developed really badly deformed feet. This was not because she was getting older though, it was because every time the Sisters of Charity received a shipment of shoes she would find the worst pair and those were hers. She was not even satisfied to wait until everyone else had taken theirs (we often do that hoping that someone will notice and leave us a better piece of the pie since we waited) she went through them all before anyone else and grabbed the worst pair. This is giving up comfort for others so they will not only have enough, but more than we ourselves have.

As Christians our ultimate example of love is supposed to be Christ on the cross. I think he got there because he unconditionally loved the “wrong people.” Some of us look at him, shake our heads in awe of his greatness, determine we could never do that and walk back into the air conditioning. Some of us look at him and want to join him on the cross, where the greatness is, when we are supposed to be taking care of his mother who is standing and weeping as she looks at her son. My challenge would be to pray, find your great temptation, and take real steps to live more for others than for yourself whatever that may mean in your life as you are living it now.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Temptations of the World: The Fog of Africa

This is a three part series on the temptations we experience that keep us from reaching out to others in positive ways.

In the first part I talked about Jesus’ trials that occurred during the end of his time in the desert. The three trials were different, but all pointed toward putting ourselves first, of taking care of ourselves and giving in to our desires no matter how noble they are at the time. We all face those temptations, most of us every day of our lives. They are sometimes hard to recognize and look different for everyone.

My great temptation is a temptation of greatness. Many people have given Liz and I reasons they could never do what we are doing (more on this later), but most of their reasons are non-issues with me. Lack of electricity, water, air conditioning, and a future of certainty are not worries of mine. What I am not saying, however, is that I am temptation free when it comes to returning to Tanzania. My struggle in returning to Tanzania is that what I do here will not be well known by people in the US, at least not in the ways I would like it to be. This is a hard admission to make to myself let alone others, but that is my temptation. I am afraid that the distance and lack of reliable communication will create a fog over my actions in Africa. I am afraid that stepping out of a field of ministry I know a lot about into a field of ministry I do not know as much about will mean not having the authority of knowledge and recognition that goes with it. Let’s face it, you don’t get recognized for doing mediocre work in our world, at least not the recognition I am talking about. This desire for greatness finds it basis in good reasons. The more people who know me, the more influence I have, and the more help I can provide...right? What I have found is that regardless of my intentions, temptations are temptations and when I act out of a desire for self-fulfilment I am getting in the way of the work God has for me to do.

I recently read a book that has helped me see the value of a slower, steadier, less glory filled life in fulfilling my calling as a disciple of Christ. The Wisdom of Stability by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is a book that talks about many of the specific temptations I face in wanting to move on and move up with my life; the book makes more sense out of the dangerous understanding that staying in one place too long is boring, and not good for your career. This mindset leads to the quick, easy fixes that we tend to love, but ignores the longer term, longer lasting solutions that many people need, certainly the people in Tanzania. My temptation is the last temptation of Jesus, the one to rule even if it means an allegiance that will eat us up inside; success at the cost of an allegiance to busyness, expediency, self-interest, self-glory, or parasitic relationships. I am facing my temptation. I am returning to Africa with an idea of slow, non-glory filled solutions to real problems that affect real people, my new friends and family. Hopefully friends, mentors, and God filled encounters can keep me on this path no matter how tempting another one might look.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Temptations of the World: Jesus’ Trials (Part 1)

Liz has written several posts lately about the fruit of the spirit. This is a group of characteristics that are the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s working on us to the set-apart children of God to the world. The fruit of the spirit is evidence to ourselves and to the world that we are touched by a power greater than ourselves. However, that is not the only power in the world. Acting with equal fervour, if not equal strength, is the power that introduces temptation. Temptation is insidious, and while it can be resisted with the help of the power of God, it still manages to wiggle its way into many parts of our lives.

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry he had a time of preparation. His time of preparation was brought to a close by a time of temptation in the desert. He was tempted by the Angel of Lies with some of the greatest temptations we face. They are so dangerous for the simple fact that we often don’t even perceive them as temptations. They are temptations that we all face almost on a daily basis. If Jesus had given in to any of these temptations his ministry would have been radically changed, if not ended before it started. Giving in would have been putting himself above God’s kingdom or at least above others. He was tempted to turn a stone into bread so he could eat. He was tempted to jump off the height of the temple so angels could save him. He was tempted to accept from the Angel of Lies the power to rule the world as Jesus saw fit, instead of accept from God a radically different kind of power. These are three great temptations that represent many of the temptations that we all face in our daily lives, even when we don’t recognize them as such.

These are temptations that people face when stepping out to do work that is more about other people than themselves, to be a part of building God’s kingdom both at home and abroad. The temptation to provide what you want and need, whereas fasting may allow you to see other people’s needs more clearly. The temptation to prove your own importance by showing how much even God thinks of you, when humility allows others the first spot in line. The temptation to do things your way, with your power (because naturally you have everyone’s best interest at heart), when the way of community, interdependence, and the gospel provides deeper, longer lasting results. These are temptations that have the potential to take us deep into ourselves, but far away from the needs of others even while we are trying to help them. At one point in time we may have started down the road of even these temptations with many good intentions, but in the end we always end up being derailed by self-interest. Turning stone into bread for others results in us wanting more for ourselves. Bringing glory to God results in celebrity Christians. Our being in charge even when we desire a greater good results in dominance by leaders who require the subservience of others whereas the Bible calls for the first to be last, and promises that the weakness of some will shame the supposedly strong. When we travel far enough down the path of our temptation we will find ourselves acting not out of love for others, but out of love for ourselves and our comfort which is a way of operating that God does not list as a characteristic of his kingdom.

Jesus was able to resist these temptations because he recognized them for what they were and because he knew what was most important. As I step out into a continuation of my vocation, but in a completely different place and context than I have trained for I pray that I will have the strength to be weak and the wisdom to be humble. I pray that the comfort of my neighbours will be more important than my own and that my western mindset will never bar me from completing the task at hand – the task of being a part of the kingdom of God where ever I may be in the world. I pray we recognize our temptations for what they are and see God’s work, instead of our own, in our responses to others.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Few Words of Thanks

“In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Generosity is the last Fruit of the Spirit that I am going to write about. This summer has been an experience of a lifetime as we have witnessed hundreds of people as they expressed generosity. In May, Eric and I began our American tour by flying into Nashville and speaking within the first 48 hours off the plane. We have been in Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and Arkansas speaking throughout May, June, July, and the first three weeks of August. We have experienced the birth of my third niece, birthdays, family vacations, and many other wonderful things. This summer has been a spiritual journey for the both of us as we have prepared financially, emotionally, and spiritually to fully rely on God. We have never been so incredibly vulnerable. Churches have opened their doors to us and have helped us experience worship in many different ways. Individuals have opened their homes and given us a place to lay our heads, food to put in our hungry stomachs, and sometimes even clothes. We could not have accomplished anything this summer without these wonderful churches and people. We would like to say “thank you” to everyone that has helped us and nurtured us.

I have attached a few pictures of the people that showed us extreme generosity.

Eric and I with Becky Camp at Perryville UMC

Eric with his father, Rodger, and Linda Perdue 

Liz with her parents, Bill and Linda Buchanan

Our other family...the Allisons. Never thought I would have such a large family!! It is great!

Liz's brother, Matt, sister-in-law, Melanie, and Liz's two lovely nieces, Ada and Nora

Dan and Joy Weathersbee opened their home to us more than once.

The Brandons: Kevin, Rebecca, Ellie, Stephanie, and Chelsea...Liz's best friends

John, Suzanne, Isaac, and Sam Wehner...they provided us with a place to lay our heads and fed us.

Tad and Nick sitting at the SigEp house. Eric stayed with them a few nights while Liz was in AR.

Nancy, Will, and Jake Nanney...they picked us in the middle of the night when the car was struck by lightening.

Eric's sister, Elizabeth, brother-in-law, Benjamin, and niece, Emily. They have done more for us that fits on this tiny space.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Ice Cream, Pringles, and Milky Ways...OH MY!!!

Galations 5:22, 23 “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

When talking about self-control there are multiple things in our lives that we must consider. Many of you know that I love food…that is no secret. Food is quite possibly my greatest weakness. While in Tanzania for four months I lost over 20 lbs. and while in America for only three months I have gained all of that and more. When we first arrived in Tennessee back in May I tried to tell myself to wait and not get carried away with the variety of food that would be available. I have obviously failed to reach my goal. Self-control is not one of the fruits of Spirit that I hold very well. I have to work hard to not buy the Milky Way when we are in a gas station or the bag of Flammin’ Cheetos in the grocery store. People have asked us what they can send in a package if they find the money to do so. I always respond with…FOOD!!!

How are we to have self-control in the society that we live in? What do you struggle with controlling? Do you need more self-control towards food, watching t.v., playing on the computer, sex, or gossiping?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Little Acts of Kindness

Over the next little bit I am going to post blogs based on a few of the Fruits of the Spirit that I have experienced this summer. I have not always acted as though I have these Fruits but I pray that they help all of us to reflect on our lives and the way we act towards others. Galatians 5:22, 23 says, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Eric and I walked into the optometrists the other day waiting on his father to get contacts. There was a worker that was obviously stressed to her limits while her coworkers were criticizing her work. They were telling her all the things she did wrong and how they had to fix her mistakes. She left the room only to go into a small room and break into tears. My heart broke for her as I remembered being a new employee a few times and not knowing what to do. I remember the feeling of not being able to do anything right and getting so discouraged. Like me, she obviously strives on encouraging words and positive criticism instead of negatively charged words.

Eric and I leave two weeks from today to join the ministry of Grassroots again for a minimum of one year. Working with people in Tanzania is no different than here in America. We still have to recognize each person’s strengths, weaknesses, those things that help them succeed, and those that make them fail. Whether we are in America or in Tanzania, kindness is still a fruit of the spirit that we should strive to have. Eric and I left the optometrist office only to turn around two minutes later. I walked in and found her in the small room filing papers. I knocked on the door and she whipped around. She had this look on her face that said, “What else have I done wrong?” I told her that I simply hoped that she would have a good day. Her shoulders fell as she began to relax and then turned around quickly as tears filled her eyes.

I did nothing special. I simply told someone that I cared. My challenge to myself and to you is that we all tell someone that we care and that we show kindness to those that are in pain, whether it is emotionally, spiritually, or physically.