Friday, October 11, 2013

It Might Be Personal But It's Not Private

For those of us who have grown up in church or who have worked in Christian ministry, it is easy to throw out Christian cliches without really thinking about the words coming out of our mouths  When someone is hurting or going through a rough time we say, "I'll be praying for you." or "Don't worry. God is in control."  When getting together in a group we might say it is for a time of "fellowship" or we might sit around and give a "praise report".  When someone becomes a Christian, we have phrases like "born again" or "asked Jesus into my heart", or "saved" to describe the conversion experience.  In all honesty, I don't have a big problem with the words themselves.  Sometimes the phrases help us quickly describe a complicated event or issue.  However, I wonder if we don't throw out these cliches without even reflecting on the intended meaning.

Recently, I was at a bible study when someone in the group used the phrase "personal relationship". Normally, I have always liked the saying "personal relationship"  as I thought of it in terms of having a living, breathing relationship with God of the universe and not just following a set of rules or traditions. Yet somehow I wonder if over the years the meaning behind "personal relationship" hasn't changed  or become hazy over time.  I wonder if we haven't often changed the phrase to private relationship with Christ.  We do our devotionals alone with God, we go to a quite place to pray, and we go to church to spend time with others who want to keep their relationships private too.  We think being with other believers is good and healthy but not something that is vital and necessary to the health of our most important relationship.  We get together with others and we talk about things like food, sports, or the new things that are happening at work.  After all, talking about how awesome the cheese dip is or how great the National Championship game was is far less scary than sharing the struggles of a relationship. There is nothing inherently wrong with either cheese dip or a National Championship game.  In fact, I love them both and will continue to passionately talk about them.  We just too often use those topics to distract us from the greater things in life.

God made us for something much bigger than a private relationship.  Jesus called us to have a living, vibrant, personal relationship with the Father but also to be part of a people that has a living vibrant relationship with God.  After all, when Jesus walked the earth, he didn't hole himself up in a cave for three years praying and fasting to the Father.  No, he walked the earth eating and hanging out with people.  He went fishing with his followers, he took time to be with kids, and he celebrated big events in people's lives like weddings.  His disciples lived in community together, went through literal storms together, and while it doesn't say in scripture, I can only imagine they debriefed together after Jesus did some other weird thing they didn't understand.  "Hey Pete, did you see Jesus heal that blind guy by spitting in his face?  You don't think he's gonna spit in my face at some point do you?"

The older I become, the more I realize how desperately we need community in order to run hard after Jesus.  And community doesn't just mean being surrounded by people. In the DR, life is based on relationships. They are extremely important.  Entering a room without personally greeting someone is practically a Cardinal sin.  Yet interesting enough, when it comes to privatizing their relationship with Christ or the lack thereof, most of them are just like us.  Scared that we might get hurt.  So despite understanding my desperate need for community, I must confess that much too often, I too privatize my relationship with God.  In my head I'm protecting myself from hurt, but in reality I'm just trading a living exciting and personal relationship with God for a stagnant, boring and private relationship.  And while that trade makes sense in my head, on paper it seems really stupid.

Monday, April 29, 2013

What Message Are We Preaching?

"There is no way that Eric is a Christian."

I turned and looked at Frankely, a 22 year old with a severe spinal injury that has left him bed ridden and wondered if I had understood him correctly.  After all, I frequently visited Frankely, one of my bank associates son's, and would often pray for him before leaving.  Who did he think I was praying too?

"What do you mean?" I asked him.

"Well you just don't act like most Christians that I know" He responded.  "You don't wear the right clothes and you like to joke around a lot."

We continued talking and soon Frankely's brother joined in telling me how he used to be a Christian.  I asked him what had happened and why he doesn't consider himself a Christian anymore.  Sadly, he explained to me how he was publicly humiliated in front of his church for a pair of "demon" jeans that he had been wearing. He was so ashamed, he vowed to never go back.

As I left Frankely's house that day, I was challenged by his and his brother's perception of a Christian.  It was obvious that the members of the local church had missed it and in some ways I had missed it too.


I have been reading a book called "Creature of the Word" by Matt Chandler and he talks about this idea of preaching.  Literally, in the Greek to preach means "to proclaim as a herald."  All of us, whether we admit it or not, are heralding or proclaiming a message in the way that we live our lives.  Some proclaim joy, some proclaim despair, and some proclaim that power, money, and fame are the pinnacle of human life.

It was clear in Frankely's case that some local church members were proclaiming a message of good behavior and conformity to a list of rules.  If you read the Gospels, you see that message proclaimed a lot by the Pharisees.  Now don't get me wrong, I'm sure that that they were simply doing what they thought was best and hoping to edify the church by casting out "sin" but the message they proclaimed lacked grace that flows from a heart centered on what Jesus had done for them.  Their message was missing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

As I reflected on the message I had been proclaiming, I realized that I had been visiting Frankely for months now and hadn't once started a conversation about Jesus.  I had been praying for him and assuming that through prayer, my message would be proclaimed.  Don't get me wrong, prayer is a powerful tool and God can do some pretty cool work when we pray BUT my message was incomplete.  My message was missing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So while I have been enjoying my visits with Frankely and with his brother, the next time I go, my desire is to proclaim a message actually worth sharing.  It isn't just a message that prayer is good but a message that saves.  A message that sanctifies.  It is a message that speaks of the good news of Jesus.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

MiBanco Quarterly - Thanks

Last September, the Microfinance Site embarked on a journey to start five more micro-banks in the surrounding communities of Jarabacoa. We had written a road map to help us navigate to our final destination but we also understood that we would not be able to get there on our own. We would have to trust that the Lord would provide others who could help us as we slowly trekked along our way.
Since we took off on that journey, we have been able to raise $13,486 of our $20,000 goal and most recently hired a lady named Puny to help start the new banks.

While our journey is far from over, it has been awe-inspiring to witness the way that many of you have generously provided a cold cup of water when we have needed it most. Thank you so much for all the notes of encouragement that you have sent, for lifting us up in prayer, and for the ways that you have given financially to our ministry. You have been a powerful reflection of the generous and gracious King we serve. Thanks!

“But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this. Everything comes from you and we have only given to you what comes from your hand.”
- 1 Chronicles 29:14

Monday, March 11, 2013

Good Isn't Always Pleasing

Josiah and I cruised along the coast enjoying the ocean breeze awaiting our relaxing day at the beach.  The day had gotten off to a rocky start as my car overheated coming up the mountain and we discovered that my hood latches were broken.  But eventually the car cooled down, we found a strong rope to tie down the hood, and we continued on toward the beach.  The unexpected hiccup in our trip was slightly frustrating but I quickly forgot about it as my mind focused on our final destination.  The past month had been stressful for me and all I could think about was lying in a hammock with the sound of the waves crashing on the shore.  I could spend the day sleeping, reading, and relaxing.  It would be a day of rest.  A good day!

CRASH!!!  Tiny shards of glass showered down over Josiah and me.  I slammed on my brakes and instinctively threw my head out the window.  We screeched to a halt as the hood of my car finished shattering my windshield before crashing back down to its original location.  I sat in the car for a few seconds stunned and clarifying in my mind that the hood of my car had actually just ruined my perfect beach day.  I stepped out of the car and assessed the damage.  The windshield was shattered.  The hood was no longer usable unless you wanted it for a tea cup.  I stood there and laughed.  I laughed not so much out of joy, frustration or anger but because it simply capped the most ridiculous month ever.  The month had already held a new roommate from Nicaragua, dealing with a stolen iPod, finding a new place to rent, preparing to move, moving, housing contract issues, living in limbo for a week, house hunting once again, moving back to the old apartment, having some money stolen, and hiring a new employee at the site.  All I wanted was one day of rest and peace before short term outreaches started coming to work.  Instead, I spent most of the day sitting at the mechanic watching them take off my windshield and thinking about all the money this was going to cost me.

"And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose"   Romans 8:28

I memorized this verse as a counselor at Bible Memory Camp about 5 years ago and for whatever reason, the verse has always stuck with me.  Maybe I remember it so vividly since it has a feel good message and it makes life seem like it will only hold pleasing things.  However, reflecting more deeply on the events of the past month, I start to really wonder what Paul meant when he wrote that God works for the GOOD of those who love him.  It surely didn't seem like God was working for my good throughout the last month.  It was hard.  I was tired.  Nothing in my life seemed stable or established.

However, throughout all the chaos of the last month, one thing is certain, I ran to the Lord more often than normal.  Sometimes I went and begged for help.  Sometimes I went overwhelmed and feeling abandoned.  Sometimes I went frustrated and ready to fight.  And sometimes I simply went to just be.

While some of the issues and problems have been resolved from the last month, I still feel tired and uneasy.  Running to the Lord time and time again didn't fix everything.  I'm still unclear of what life will hold for me tomorrow, or the next month, or even the next year.  I know there will be much better months and I'm sure some months will be much worse.  However, one thing that God has continued to teach me is that his promises are true despite my perceptions.  God is working for my good.  Good and pleasing moments in this life will come and God desires that I would have them but my good isn't just wrapped up in fleeting moments such as those.  The good moments are when we run to him!  For there is only one thing that is truly good and it is Christ, the Lord, the King of Kings!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

"And You Will Know That I Am The Lord"

Martha McLeod spent two weeks at the MF Site last fall!  She has come back as an intern this Spring and God is using her organizational and administrative skills to impact lives in the Dominican Republic.  Here is part of her story!

Interning at the Microfinance Site this spring has been an unexpected blessing from the Lord.  I first came in November on a two-week outreach, and it was a joy to see God open all the doors for me to come back so soon!  But sometimes I wonder if he really had this planned all along, because he certainly never passed along the memo to learn Spanish.  The last month and a half has been a lot of things, but among them, it has been a crash course in Spanish.  For me, one of the hardest things about learning this language is when there are two words to express something that we only have one of in English.  Examples include the two verbs to be: "ser" and "estar." Even more difficult is the distinction between "por" and "para," which are both translated as for.  But then I think about all the wildly irregular things in English, and I offer a prayer of gratitude to the Lord that at least it's Spanish I'm learning.

Another example of this is the two words meaning to know: "saber" and "conocer."  Recently I have been thinking a lot about knowing, or rather, the idea of being known.  When it comes down to it, one of the deepest desires of my heart is to be known.  I want to be genuinely understood, probably because being known is so closely linked to being loved, or at least the two mean a lot more in tandem.  As I reflect on all of this, I think it is a significant part of why I love working at the Microfinance Site, and at Students International in general.  People here really understand me, and honest conversations abound.  It is easy to be genuine, and there is just a lot of love and encouragement, even a midst the unavoidable conflict and frustration.  Even in my short time here, I am known. 

Right now, I am working my way through the book of Ezekiel.  It is the current step in a study of the prophets that started about a year ago.  The last twelve months have revealed so many of the manifold riches of the Old Testament, but oftentimes, it's still hard to identify with the details of a time and place so far removed from my own.  Then out of nowhere, God reveals another gem.  In chapter six of Ezekiel, I started to notice this refrain: "... and then you will know that I am the LORD."  I guess it shouldn't surprise me that it is a desire of the Lord's to be known as well.  When I think about things terms of his desire (even his fight) to be known, a lot of those things about the Old Testament that seem so puzzling start to make more sense.  God is very willing to destroy things in the temporal realm in order to bring people to the eternal knowledge of him.  He is willing to do anything to be known, because if we really knew him, we would love him.  To realize that my desires are so similar to God's in this way feels sort of odd, but understanding some of these nuances of being an image bearer allows me to grasp things about God, and how I should relate to him, just a little bit better.  And for that, I am grateful.

As Miriam said to our new students this morning during orientation, what sets apart our microfinance organization from others is the fact that we share the truth of God's love with our bank associates and disciple them through life.  But what is discipleship?  I keep returning to one definition that is so simple yet so profound: to know Christ and make him known.  In that way, discipleship fits in with the character of God displayed throughout the Bible.  It has been a privilege to witness this in the work of the Microfinace Site the past several weeks.  I see our ministry daily declaring God's love, but what is beautiful is that it comes from the deep well of  Eric and Miriam's personal experience of that love.  They know Christ, and they are making him known.  

I pray it is a blessing to the heart of God to look down on this little island and see their faithfulness as his disciples, making disciples.    

The MF Site wants to continue to bring students and the poor together for the glory of God.  Consider being 1 of the 106 and be a part of what God is doing here in the Dominican Republic!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Faithfulness: A Big Word for Small Things

Every January brings about a new year that is generally filled with hope for change.  Generally,  this hope for change can be seen through a list of.......wait for it......RESOLUTIONS!  In all honesty, resolutions are a good thing and they generally motivate us to get up off the couch and do something (albeit in some cases it is only for a few days).

However, this year instead of writing just resolutions, a group of friends from college and I recently decided to write an impossible list (life goal list) inspired by our good friend Joel Runyon's "Blog of Impossible Things".  His blog is well done and the idea is fairly simple.  Step 1:  Pick something you previously thought was impossible.  Step 2:  Go do it.

As I made my list and as I started thinking about what impossible things I wanted to cross off in the year to come, I had to analyze more than just my desire to cross it off.  I had to think about mostly the small things.  Doing 100 push-ups in a row isn't a one time event that lasts for 2 minutes.  It is an event that is several months long full of small things.  Making a training schedule.  Breaking it down into small steps and then fulfilling it even when it is not the most convenient.  It could be a morning I would rather just stay in bed or an evening when I would rather just go to sleep.  (Those are not just examples but literally my two biggest temptations.)  20 push-ups here and another 20 push-ups there.  In reality, I wasn't just committing to doing 100 push-ups but being faithful to all the small things.

As I started to think more about my eternal goals and less vain goals such as doing 100 push-ups in a row, I realized that my relationship with God wasn't much different.  Maintaining an intimate relationship with him is almost never about doing big things but small things like spending time reading the word, talking with Him, and doing the ordinary, everyday things that he asks.

This past week, God showed me the principle first hand as Rosa, one of our Microfinance clients, accepted Christ for the first time.  Seeing people come to a relationship with the God of the universe and their creator is our ultimate goal at the Microfinance Site.  Seeing it happen is a BIG thing.  However, it happened on a Wednesday morning just like any other.  Miriam, my coworker went to visit her, share with her, and show her Christ's love.  It was something she had done numerous times before.  As Mother Teresa would say, it was a morning of doing  "small things with great love". Yet God used the small things to do something big.  It was faithfulness.

"Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you: bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart."

-Proverbs 3:3-

Consider being part of the "Be 1 of the 106" fundraising campaign at the Microfinance Site and help 5 new communitiespf Jarabacoa hear the gospel for the first time as well as receive fair financial resources!    If you would like to make a tax free donation to the MF Site, simply click here or see the support tab at the top of this blog for more options!