Thursday, February 28, 2008

Baby Buckeye 24 Weeks

Actually got Dru to smile on this one. This is the little guy at 24 weeks now. Dru and I have been moving furniture around in preparation for the big day in June. I have to admit that it has been a bit fun to prepare. Dru says that we have to start thinking about registering. Ugghh...not looking forward to that. I can say that we have been blessed by Dru's family and several of our friends with a plethora of baby items to use. We can't thank you all enough.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Pray for Athan

He is getting a heart catheter put in this morning.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

India Part 4

How I am Being Called to Apply Servant Leadership to My Anticipated Ministry Future

Dru and I have a dream of opening a half way house in the inner city area of St. Louis. Without the heart of a servant leader I know that neither one of us will be able to survive that kind of ministry. We know the harsh realities of ministering to the down and out. The level of brokenness requires a soft, gentle touch of healing that can only come from a servant’s heart. Keeping with the rule that union precedes kenosis, the only way we will be successful is if we prioritize our relationships to correctly reflect a servant’s heart. The following brief outline will show the three areas of our relational lives which need to be properly organized.

First, each one of us needs to be right with God on an individual basis. This will require daily retreat into the Father’s arms to be replenished and revived for our daily work. As I have stated before, without the close relational connection with God then all is in vain. If we do not have a heart for the creator of those we are ministering to, then how can we expect to have a heart for the created?

Second, Dru and I need to have a solid relationship built on the foundations of the Trinity. Cyclical love needs to be the order of our lives together. How can we expect to be selfless with others if we continue to be selfish in our own relationship? Our union and commitment to one another has been established and it is now time for kenosis to take hold.

Lastly, giving constant attention to the above two should allow us, or better put, give us the strength to minister to those we are called to minister. My prayer is that we are able to truly see the faces of the other and care for them the way Christ cares for us. All of this is in the hopes that they in turn will be able to see the love of God and come to a relationship with Him.

Richard Foster speaks of the disciplined life in his book Celebration of Discipline. He states, “We have only one thing to do, namely, to experience a life of relationship and intimacy with God.” It is through the time tested disciplines of the church that this can be accomplished. Again Foster writes, “The purpose of the Disciplines is liberation from the stifling slavery to self-interest and fear. When the inner spirit is liberated from all that weighs it down, it can hardly be described as dull drudgery. Singing, dancing, even shouting characterize the Disciplines of the spiritual life.”[1] A true servant leader should live a disciplined life. If I want to be set free to do God’s will then I need to better discipline my own life. Banishing my own selfish will is going take constant effort even to the point of working “out my own salvation”[2] on a daily basis.

I conclude this servant leadership reflection with a short prayer:

Lord of Lights, illuminate my life so that together we can root out the deep sins buried beneath the surface of my soul. Dig deep into the caverns of my heart so that I may be purified from all unrighteousness for your names sake. God grant me the grace to overcome the sin of self-doubt and give me the heart of a humble servant. One who does not wish that his own will be done but rather that your will be done. Give me the strength to discipline my life in such a manner that is pleasing to you. I thank you for your abundant grace and all that you have accomplished in my life thus far. I pray all of this in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit who lives and reigns with you forever and ever. Amen.

[1] Foster, pg. 2

[2] NKJV, Philippians 2:12

Monday, February 11, 2008

Baby Buckeye 20 Weeks (Now 21)

For those who have not heard, Baby Buckeye is a BOY!!! Here are a few pictures of Dru and the growing belly as well as the kid in action in the womb. (Black is at 16 weeks, Blue is at 20 weeks.) Judge for yourself whether Dru is growing or not. She has been wearing maternity shirts more recently and is just beginning to think about the pants.

India Part 3

How the Lord is Seeking to Stretch Me as a Servant Leader

I have spoken briefly about my inability to give of my whole self even in intimate relationships. I believe this is primarily due to the issue of self-acceptance. Put another way, I know that I have a problem accepting grace into my life. God has certainly been working with me and stretching me through the course of the trip and beyond by saying, “My grace is sufficient for you.”[1] Seamonds writes, “Thus gracious self-acceptance, delighting in ourselves because God loves and delights in us, is an essential aspect of spiritual and emotional maturity.”[2] If I can not come to terms with the reality that all of my sins have been paid for, sins of the past, present and future, then I will be hard pressed to take the next step on the road of Christian discipleship.

The greatest example I can think of involving self-acceptance and the reality of grace given unconditionally were the orphans at Bethel. Honestly, it did not matter who would have unloaded from the bus at arrival for the week long stay in India. Those children, and adults for that matter, would have lavishly loved in no less of a manner than they did for our team. Earlier I spoke of having the reality of being a stranger in a strange land. What I have yet to mention is the “at homeness” I felt once I stepped off the bus at Bethel. Sure, the local dress was still a bit strange and I still had trouble distinguishing faces, but the loving presence of the Spirit was thrust upon me which gave me a sense of joy and peace. It was almost as if God was saying, “This is a safe place. These are my people whom I love and who in turn will love you. Let your guard down and rest in my presence.”

Keeping the above experience in mind, I am also learning that God takes the opportunity to shake us up a bit so that we can realize and be appreciative of His good gifts. It was a gift and a privilege to have the opportunity to fly half way across the world and visit God’s people in India. Not many people will have that kind of opportunity. Honestly, I do not know if I had had that realization until I was ill in bed for over a day. I could not tell you exactly how I got sick. I thought I had taken all of the precautionary measures. I never drank the local water and I ate no food outside of what was prepared for us on the compound, but God still saw fit for me to be ill. It was humbling to know that I flew around the world to lie in bed for an evening and a day. I wanted nothing more than to be well so I could spend time with God’s children. The next morning I even tried to overcome the sickness on my own by forcing my body to be active, but it was not in God’s plan for me to be available that day. It was in His plan for me to spend that day with Him self reflecting so that I could better appreciate the time I had left in India.

A second area which God is stretching me in leadership is in the temptation to be relevant. I worked as a youth pastor in the two years between my undergraduate program seminary. Relevance to the youth was highly touted and trumpeted in the youth leader circles of which I was a part. The question was always, “What can we do next that is cool so we can get and keep their attention?” The problem was is was always self defeating. Nothing cool ever kept their attention. Towards the end of my brief career, I began to question this tactic and I have been even to this day, but old habits die hard. Nouwen states, “The leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation that allows them to enter into a deep solidarity with the anguish underlying all the glitter of success, and to bring the light of Jesus there.”[3] This tells me that we should make a clear break with relevance and concentrate on relationships instead. Namely, infusing or bringing others into a relationship with Christ. Relevance is objectifying and filled with propositions. Relational is subjectifying and filled with the reality of Christ. Relevance always looks for the next big thing. Relational always gives concern for the care of the person.

This was all confirmed to me on this trip. Richard Bates and I had a brief conversation about what it took to be successful in India as far as crafts and play time. We came to the conclusion that the simplicity of India made it much easier to be content with the present situation. The kids never expected us to have an ipod giveaway or free movie passes. They never expected anything which was beyond their own means. They were free from the hustle and bustle of “keeping up with the Jones’s.” They didn’t require us to be relevantly dressed in order for them to listen. We were able to simply show up, love and be loved. Our presence was relational as opposed to relevant. I know it can be this way even in America today if the church is willing to recognize the sin of relevance and change the standards to relationships. My own “gotta have it now” attitude often pervades my patient side, but my prayer is that God cleanses me from the need to be relevant and instead replaces that with the need to be relational.

[1] NKJV, 2 Corinthians 12:9

[2] Seamonds, pg. 127

[3] Nouwen, Henri J. In the Name of Jesus. New York: The Crossroad Company, 1989. 35.

Monday, February 04, 2008

India Part 2

What I Learned About My Own Life While Serving In India
Admittedly, preparing for this trip was a bit taxing. My wife and I often use the analogy of the Israelites accepting Manna from God to describe this season in our lives. I can not say that we live literally from day to day but there are moments when it feels as such. We constantly have to remind ourselves that the Israelites could not save the Manna that God graciously provided for more than one day. This season of our life is teaching us to fully trust in Him for our needs and this has been shown in no better place than our finances. That does not necessarily mean that all of the pressures of living have completely been lifted. Signing up for the trip was much easier than preparing for it. We did not receive as much support as we were expecting from our home church, and three months prior to the trip my wife and I found out that we were pregnant with our first child. Money aside, leaving Dru for two weeks was a difficult decision, but as Seamands states, “…ministers, like good restaurant wait staff, are those who focus on the needs and interests of others, not their own.”[1] God was showing me that perhaps I was selfishly worried about providing for my own family rather than allowing Him to provide and protect them. Who is in total control, me or God?

It is hard to remember the moment when I most felt like a stranger in a strange land. Perhaps it was the process of gathering our baggage’s at the airport, or the actual bus ride to our destination where I was able to see the crowded cities and rural scenic routes. Either way I certainly had the feeling of being a stranger which consequently involved a total abandonment to the will of God. I have always known of the importance of having this kind of experience some time in my life, but I was unaware of exactly how valuable it would be. Even now I am finding it difficult to express in words the impact of the realization of being a stranger in a strange land. All Christians should have a feeling of being in a strange land for we truly are not at home. This sense of abandonment showed me how complacent and comfortable I had become in my own cultural surroundings without giving much thought to the reality of God’s Kingdom and bringing it to fruition here on this earth.

On this trip, many of the comforts of my life were stripped away and it was confirmed to me that my life is filled with wasteful and unneeded items. Simplicity should be the order of my life which is why I intend to implement Richard Foster’s[2] ten simple suggestions towards simplicity. They are:

“First, buy things for their usefulness rather than their status. Second, reject anything that is producing an addiction in you. Third, develop a habit of giving things away. Fourth, refuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modern gadgetry. Fifth, learn to enjoy things without owning them. Sixth, develop a deeper appreciation for the creation. Seventh, look with a healthy skepticism at all ‘buy now, pay later’ schemes. Eight, obey Jesus’ instructions about plain, honest speech. Ninth, reject anything that breeds the oppression of others. Tenth, shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the Kingdom of God.”

Through prayer and perseverance I know that God will grant me grace enough to become the sort of person who is able to live to these standards.

To put it quite bluntly, I am a hard headed, stubborn person who many times prides himself on withholding feelings which in turn results in becoming non-present to those I am around. Because of this attitude I tend to be reserved or even withdrawn from fully giving all of myself to people. This trip has taught me that the love of Christ calls for full abandonment of all our senses, feelings and even our entire lives. We can see Christ’s abandonment through His incarnational life and His ultimate sacrifice on the cross. With this example in mind, I found myself being able to live outwardly as opposed to living inwardly. I could fully give and minister to the locals we had traveled so far to be with. In fact, to simply be with them was the entire point. We were not sent to build a house or dig a ditch, although those should be regarded as highly important, we were simply sent to love and be loved as Christ loved. Presence is perhaps the greatest gift one can give to another. Thanking God, I can say with wholehearted assurance that I gave the gift of presence to those I was able to on this trip.

[1] Seamands, pg. 82

[2] Foster, Richard J. Celebration of Discipline. 3rd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1998 pg. 90-95

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