Wednesday, April 28, 2010

God Gave You Two Ears and One Mouth For a Reason

There were once twins, two boys born at the same time from the same parents. As they grew up they found that life was not as easy as they thought it should be. They found out that they did not have all the answers, did not always know what to do, or how to face the situations that came up in life. They were very lucky though, in their village was an elder who was very wise. People even came from other villages to ask advice of this elder and they had him right there to ask questions about their problems or even just listen to what he knew of life. As the boys grew older people noticed that even though they looked exactly the same, had the same parents, were the same age, that they were growing up differently, one was growing in wisdom while the other one continued to make foolish, childish decisions even though he was growing into a young man. If you knew them you would know however that the difference was in how they asked questions of and listened to the village elder.

The foolish boy would come and sit at the feet of the village elder, he would tell the elder about his life, his challenges and his happiness. He would tell him everything going on and even ask very good questions of the elder, but when he would finish one question he would only pause for a short time before moving on to the next one. If the answer did not come immediately then the boy thought that it was not coming at all and he moved on to the next question or situation. The few times that the elder was able to speak to this boy he frustrated the boy in that he did not just tell him what he wanted him to do, instead he would tell him stories from the elder’s own life, or he would give him a task to do that to the boy did not seem to have anything to do with his problem at the time. The boy was frustrated with the elder telling stories or giving out tasks that did not help him with his problems. The boy continued going, but also continued to not learn or grow from his time with the elder.

The second twin, the one that was growing wise also went to the elder but he approached him differently. He would also tell the elder about his life, his challenges and his happiness. He would tell him everything that was going on and ask him questions. In this way the two boys were just the same. The wise twin though spent more time with the elder, because instead of just talking and talking and talking he listened. After he asked a question he paused to hear what the elder would say. After telling the elder about his life he would pause to watch his face and see the approval or disapproval given by the elder’s facial expressions, expressions that he had learned to read after years of watching the elder. And the stories, the boy loved the stories of the elder as much as he sometimes worried about the tasks. The boy dwelled on the stories given to him and found in each one multiple pieces of advice and wisdom on how he should act in life. And the tasks…the tasks were always hard, but when he did them he grew and often learned how to handle the various challenges in life. As he grew his wisdom became evident in that his times with the elder started to have as much to do with him as they had to do with other people in his life.

So the two boys grew up, one wise and one foolish because one had learned to not just talk to the elder, but to listen and be with the elder. This story is very similar to how we approach God in prayer. Prayer is about being with God. There is talking involved as we let him know about our happiness and worries, God wants to hear about our lives, and our requests for his help for ourselves and others do not go unheard, but just as in sitting with the village elder there is more to prayer than just talking. If we do not learn to listen we will not grow closer to God, we will not learn about who God is. If we do not listen to and think about his stories or obey when he gives us a task we will not grow in Godly wisdom. We have the ability to talk to the creator of the world, because he chooses to listen, but we will not grow closer to God and more like Jesus if all we do is talk.

What is good for us is that God left advice even on prayer in his stories and place of wisdom. I want to talk about some advice that the Bible has on prayer and on talking to God.

-Matthew 6:7-8 The first boy kept talking and talking and talking and he never learned anything from the elder. The second boy told the elder what was going on, but then stopped talking and just listened. This part of the Bible says that we are to let God know what is going on, but that our prayers are not more special just because we keep talking and repeat the same things over and over again. We must talk, but we also must at some point stop talking.

- More than just not talking though we must learn how to listen to God, we must recognize his voice when we hear it. 1 Samuel 3: 2-10 In this story God does not speak until Samuel recognizes that it is God speaking. His voice can be heard in many places, from the Bible, to Godly advice of elders, to our own lives and creation and direct prayer. If what you hear matches what you know of God and what you read in the Bible than it is probably from God and you can always ask other Godly people to help you know for sure.
- God’s voice is often heard pointing out what he is already doing in our lives or things that God wants us to be doing, just like the elder that gives a task. Matthew 6: 9-13 You pray this many Sunday’s. It asks us to put God’s will first by being a citizen of his kingdom as well as shows us that he acts in our life by helping us resist temptation and providing daily needs.

We have a daily opportunity, every minute of every day to talk to God the creator of the world, that loves us so much. Please take that opportunity and pray to God and in prayer also listen and learn how to recognize God’s voice in prayer and in your life. There is a proverb in English that God gave you one mouth and two ears for a reason, because you are supposed to listen twice as much as you talk. I think this is the most important when spending time with God. He is the ultimate village elder and you will not find better wisdom than when you learn to listen to God.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

“Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he is risen!”

When I was growing up, Easter was a special day. I got a new dress, candy, and sometimes a stuffed rabbit or some type of present. Being the preacher’s kid we always went over to a church member’s house and did an egg hunt as well as ate LOTS of food! This year was the same in many ways. The children got up and had breakfast like any other Sunday morning. However, when we arrived we made all of them go into their rooms and wait for their name to be called. We set out gifts for each of them on the tables and waited anxiously for each of them to come out. The older girls received their favorite lotion while the older boys received a pair of boxers and a white tank top (wife beater). Each secondary student also received a school sweater because it is getting colder in the mornings. The younger girls received lotion and soap and the younger boys received a belt and soap. All of the new children received a new school bag. All of the children were given pencils, stickers, and fruit. The three of us, missionaries, took great joy in taking pictures and watching their facial expressions. Many of the children, particularly the new children, had never received a gift like this before. It was as special for us as it was for them. We felt like the parents on Christmas morning.

Church was lively! Each child dressed in his or her best outfit. One of the boys, Richard, even had a three piece suit on! Eric changed the order of worship on them to add more scripture. We went through the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, crucifixion, and resurrection. The children took turns reading the story aloud and between the verses they would sing. Each group had prepared a song and dance to share.

After church, they all wanted to play games. The boys put together a soccer match against one another and the younger children ran around pretending they were cars. The shangazis prepared the eight chickens of whom I took part in the sacrifice of, rice, pilau, and bananas for everyone. There was more food than anyone could have ever finished off. The meal was not just something to fill their stomachs but a big part of the celebration. For many of the children, they only ever have a similar spread of food on very special occasions. The food was an occasion in and of itself. They ate the same thing for dinner that night. It was wonderful!

Goldland Hotel holds a dance every Easter for the children of Tarime. We took the younger children first to enjoy time before the older kids came. They all ran on stage to dance, after they enjoyed another soda of course. They all had so much fun dancing and playing around. We took the younger kids back so the older kids could come about an hour later. Most of them bypassed the soda and went straight to the dance floor. A few of them did not come off the dance floor until we went in to get them. The lively music and community atmosphere is normal and representative of any African celebration. The most important thing is that everyone enjoyed themselves.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Great Rift Valley

Eric, Holly, and I travelled to Nairobi a few weeks ago. On our eight hour journey we were fortunate to experience driving through the Great Rift Valley and talking the driving into stopping so we could take pictures at the top of the mountain overlooking the Valley. This was only possible because out of the five people on the bus, we were three of them. As I looked down at the valley I thought of the analogy that many inspirational speakers use of the mountains and valleys in our lives. The mountains are the times that we are closest to God and are full of happiness and life. The valleys are the trials, grief, sin, etc. that swarm our minds and bring us down. Some time before this trip Eric and I stayed out at the House and one of the kids, Nyanokwe, could not stop crying. He kept saying that he missed his father and how much he wished he would not have died. He cried himself to sleep after some of the older boys tried to comfort him and explained that if he would only go to sleep, then he would wake up and things would be better. Well, he woke up and his eyes were bloodshot. He had obviously cried all night and well into the morning.

My mother passed away when I was only fourteen years old. The road to where I am now has not been an easy one. It was not paved for me or even graded down to the moram. I will never forget the words I last spoke to my mother. I will never forget eating at Heifer Project for her last meal or the double cheeseburger from Burger King I ate at the hospital the day she died. I will never forget the song I was singing when her heart stopped.

It has been difficult to explain to the kids that it is not easy now and the pain of losing a mother or father will never go away. However, the way they live their lives from here on out is what shapes them. This past week we have been sitting down with the kids listening to their life stories. They have told us about the physical and emotional abuse, the abandonment, the hunger, and the psychological pain that they have endured in their short lives. When our oldest child, William, sat down with us, he explained that he wants to forget about all that happened to him. Although it has been nearly five and a half years since he came to The Angel House he has not forgotten even the most intricate of details. William told us about the chicken, rice, and chai that was prepared by his father for his family that was laced with poison and how they watched the ground whither when their mother poured the chai out. William and his siblings will never forget how their father tried to kill them multiple times. They will never forget the night their mother was in the middle of preparing dinner when she said she had to go to the store to buy something; only, she never returned. William was left to care and provide for him and his four younger siblings. His path has been hard and full of thorny bushes. However, he is the hardest worker we have and extremely well-behaved. I have no doubt that whatever is in his future will never be as difficult as what he has already endured. He is living proof that life is hard but you determine how you handle and cope with life.

Every person, including the children here, has their own Great Rift Valley. Life is not easy and the impact it makes on us will never leave us; however, there are mountains that line both sides of the valley. We just have to climb up instead of giving up.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The View from the Front Seat

For their equivalent of Spring Break we took all the kids to Mwanza to a beach on Lake Victoria. That’s right, we took 46 kids 3-18 years of age on a public bus to a beach resort, and we had a lot of fun doing it. On the way to the beach I was seated toward the front of the bus. It was a little ways into the trip that I finally looked behind me. Remember, I mentioned it was public transportation and that I am in Tanzania. When I looked behind me I realized that they had overfilled the bus. Many people were standing up and we had kids two or three to a small bus seat. I was sitting comfortably in the bus looking at the beautiful scenery, and enjoying the forward progress for the longest time before I realized that not everyone on the bus was in the same situation that I was in.

I think this is the view of many people in developed nations. The world is moving forward so quickly that we are sitting in our comfortable seats toward the front watching it go by and don’t remember to check and see how everyone else is doing. Now I will give it to you, life is more simple in Tanzania and sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the view up front and the speed bumps you know are coming. It may even feel like your seat is more like a cycling machine and that no matter how hard you peddle you will never catch up. At the same time I personally know a man who had a dream come true when he owned his first bike in his early 40s, and I don’t mean a Harley, I mean a two wheel no motor, one gear bike. The world is not moving so quickly for everyone. For some it is moving very slow and seems to be resting on their tired shoulders.

So here is my open invitation. Take some time to turn around and look at the back of the bus. Come and stay for a few weeks or longer and see how other people live, work, and struggle. Be willing to get involved long term in a ministry for people different from you weather at home or abroad. If you visit here maybe you will take a new passion for straining your neck home with you. If you find a place closer to home you will have an even greater opportunity to be hands on. Either way your view will become much clearer than when you just use the rearview mirror.

Friday, April 2, 2010

What Are Your Plans for this Weekend?

Having to preach on both Good Friday and Easter Sunday I can’t not provide an Easter reflection so I will keep it short to be merciful to people who feel obligated to read it.

My faith is intersecting my life in ways that even I didn’t think were possible and I have been praying since I have been here that my faith is up to the task. There is the illustration that a man prayed for patience and God gave him opportunities to be patient. Well, don’t make requests of that kind of God and then go to a developing nation because boy does he respond. In being here I have seen more real life examples of redemption and resurrection than spiritual ones. It is hard to continue to view Easter and Jesus’ death and resurrection as just a spiritual event or one that has only metaphysical implications. When you live in a country that has many of the same social, political, and economic situations as first century Palestine you can’t help but see the point of Jesus’ death and the joy of his resurrection in a different light. I long for some of the political and world order implications of Jesus’ ministry as I observe the world around me. I have redemption of not only the soul, but the body and life to celebrate this year.

I know that many this weekend will enjoy family time and Easter dresses. There is nothing wrong with that, but during those times when you stop to think about the reason for celebration this weekend, don’t forget a few key points.

- Jesus did die for everyone, but not just as a sacrificial lamb for their invisible debt of sin. He was killed because he said that people who the powers to be didn’t like should be included in God’s kingdom. Who are we not including and what can we do about it? We all say we want to follow Jesus and this is what got him to his most important moment of ministry. Why stop short?
- Jesus is the servant of God’s new kingdom, but he is also the king and as such it is not his job to do everything for us, it is our job to carry out his will and seek his help along the way. That is how kings and subjects work.
- There should be celebration aplenty on Sunday morning, but not just because of the special music that makes the church ladies cry. There should be a celebration because of the here and now opportunities to be raised with Jesus into a new life. I have seen kids restored to what kids should be from lives of abuse and neglect. This is God’s work, it is miraculous, and it should be celebrated. Sing an extra song for them please.

I hope my tone is not one of chastisement, but there is much of the here and now to think about and celebrate this Easter. In our meditations, sermons, songs, and Sabbath time let us please not forget that our charge is not to have an extra special service on Easter morning, but to live out the full life that Jesus’ example lays out for us. There are day to day, week to week, life on life things we can be doing. Jesus lived out the perfect life example to the point of dying for others so that they may have a spot at the table NOW and not just in heaven where they already had the best seat in the house. The least we can do is make ourselves a little uncomfortable for his sake and theirs.

He is risen and he has expectations of his followers!