Carts

Carts

The other day I went to Home Depot.  I had a small list of things to buy, and decided that a shopping cart was in order.  I have this broken part of my brain that won’t allow me to grab a buggy upon entering a store.  No, instead I go walking through the place grabbing items and juggling them in my arms until I either drop them all, or successfully make it to the checkout line.  The benefit of this is that I don’t often impulse buy, and only get what will fill my arms without falling out.

But on this particular day I knew that I needed to get more, and a cart was in order. Home improvement stores have some strange practices regarding their carts.  There are the regular carts in the line outside the doors, but there are also different types of contraptions for larger items.  These carts (pull carts, and those vertically divided ones) are hidden throughout the store randomly.  This makes shopping more fun, because you have to first find the cart before finding the items you came to buy.  It is like a little Easter egg hunt.  I needed one of these.

The first one that I found was in the paint aisle.  It was staring at me, daring me to just try and take it.  I grabbed in victory, and headed to find the first item on my list. Thumpity-thumpity-thumpity it dragged, a worn out mule.  Looking underneath the cart, I noticed that one wheel had a flat spot where the rubber had worn off.

I abandoned that one, wondering why they didn’t just retire it (no pun intended).  I had already been down a host of aisles before I found that lame cart, so I wondered where the others could be.  I felt like Magnum PI, looking for clues to the case of the missing cart.  I pretended to have a bushy mustache.

Finally, down the lumber aisle I found a grazing herd of carts.  I snuck up behind and grabbed one, quickly heading off to get what I needed, both because now I was behind schedule and so as not to spook the rest of the carts.  A few aisles into my escape I noticed that I, like a hunting lion, seemed pretty good at picking off the weakest of the pack.  This cart pulled constantly to the right, making me muscle it left with every push.

Not to overly spiritualize (OK, I’m over-spiritualizing), but as I sat in my devotions moments ago, I realized that I am very much like these carts.  Broken wheels, I clack along, my progress slower than it should be and loudly complaining the whole way.  With every step forward, I turn my attention to things around me.  I take my eyes off of my goal and soon I find myself headed straight for those distractions, and toward a crash.

In Deuteronomy 30:17-20, God told His people that the wonderful promises He had given them were indeed conditional.  His blessing would become a curse if they turned away.  His promised life would become death—a scary thought.  We scoff at the faithlessness of the Israelites in syncretism and enslavement to idolatry.  How could they be so foolish?

Yet, like my wounded cart, we prove ourselves unable to walk out the things that we commit to.  We list and complain in the deceitfulness of our hearts.  The very things we say we want to do, we forsake.  And the things that we claim to abhor, these are the things we find ourselves doing.  Who will save us from these bodies of death?  Thanks be to Jesus.  On our own, we are nothing but terrible shopping carts.

Darkness and Butterflies

butterfly

“…All of a sudden, I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory.  And I realize just how beautiful You are, and how great Your affections are for me.  Oh how He loves.” –John Mark McMillan

The other day I got into a fight with a butterfly.  No, it isn’t as silly a sight as it sounds…well not quite.  I was doing some evening gardening and had the garage door open.  When I went in to get a rake I noticed a beautiful butterfly fluttering around, trapped inside the garage.

Normally I wouldn’t think too much of this, and have from time to time even pinned butterflies. I am not some overly-indulgent animal lover.  But this time I felt a little bit of sadness for the poor creature.  To her, she was trapped in some inescapable cave.  I took pity on her.  I decided it was female, not because of some butterfly expertise, but because I simply cannot imagine a male butterfly, though I know they must actually exist.  So with the creature properly personified, I was committed to action.

I grabbed the ladder with the intent of reaching up to the ceiling and gently cupping her in my hand, then releasing her outside.  But just at the instant my plan was about to work, she deftly avoided my grasp in the way that only bugs and small children can.  This set off a several minute period of me moving the ladder and repeating the procedure repeatedly with utter futility.  The butterfly did not appreciate any of my efforts.

As I was pondering the absurdity of the situation and how terrifying this must be to the butterfly, I watched the butterfly frantically moving from ceiling to wall to ceiling and narrowly escaping multiple spider webs.  Convinced that I was beaten in the summer butterfly campaign of 2010, I surrendered and retreated to my house in defeat.

In the morning, the butterfly was far from the front of my mind as I opened the door to get in my car, and was surprised to see the butterfly sweep out of the door into the open air.  She fluttered about low to the ground above my flower bed, and then climbed into the sky with the semi-inebriated flight style that butterflies seem to enjoy.  I smiled.  She was free.

So many times, I feel like that butterfly.  I sit in situations, toxic and painful, sometimes afraid to move, and bumping around my panic, avoiding traps both real and imagined.  I desperately want to find the light, to feel free and supported by fresh air and freedom.  I long for hands, caring and immense, to carry me to such a place.

I believe in those hands.  I believe that God frantically climbs ladders and reaches for me, but it is often difficult to tell those loving hands from giants bent on my destruction.  I know he loves me.  I pray for the doors to open so I can sweep into the sky with a clumsy sense of freedom. But right now, I just feel small.  And maybe if I quiet myself enough and don’t focus on the walls, I can just feel His hands envelop me.

Hold me and carry me.  I long for your immense gentleness to surround me and take me where you will.  I miss those hands, and I fear you will give up and let me bump around my prison in the dark.  You promise to strengthen your people and give them peace (Psalm 29).  Carry me.  Let me fly again in your light.  -Ryan

Ahmed and God

mall escalator

I met Ahmed at the mall.  I wasn’t looking to talk to him, but I was asking God that I be aware of anything He was doing around me.  This isn’t something I do regularly.  Its partly because I am often turned in to myself, only thinking and doing what relates to my little slice of the world. But, it is also due to the fact that God usually answers that prayer by showing me something He is doing.  He interjects me into someone else’s little world, and a lot of times in my selfishness I don’t want to deal with that.

But in this instance, I was asking for it.  I was leaning on Ahmed’s counter at his booth in the mall, watching the teenagers I was supervising.  Ahmed asked if he could help me.  I told him that I wasn’t looking for a watch, and then asked him some general questions, which he answered willingly.  We introduced each other and shook hands.

Active Christians are really weird this way.  We make a lot of eye contact, shake a lot of hands, and ask un-superficial questions.  It is pretty annoying to the uninitiated, but it is also how humans were meant to be.  I sometimes tell foreign exchange students how Americans often greet each other with “How’s it going.”  This isn’t really a question at all.  It is not meant to be answered, and the person asking it doesn’t want any answer other than, “Good, and you.”

But active Christians are always waiting around for a real answer.  People aren’t used to that, and it makes them uncomfortable, and if they get past that, they often find it a breath of fresh air.  It is how we are supposed to be.

But back to Ahmed…

After we shook hands, he must have known something was up, because he immediately asked me “What do you do?”

“I am a youth minister,” I said.

He looked at me and immediately (as if he was prepared) asked, “Do you ever feel the presence of God?”

I told him that I did, that sometimes it was very powerful and sometimes it was less so, but it was always there.  In fact, sometimes it was almost overwhelming.

“What’s that like?  Does it make you want to hurt people?”

“Umm..no.  It is pretty much the opposite of that,” I said.  And then I explained how I sometimes feel God’s love pouring over me like rain, letting me feel loved and making me want to love.  “Do you ever feel that?” I asked.

“No.”

I listened to him tell of his faith background and about his life.  I suggested we pray together, and he let me.  Although I couldn’t stay much longer after that, I promised I would see him again, and I have.  He told me he’d have more questions, and he has.  A couple days later I introduced him to my wife as we were cruising the mall food court to pick up free samples.  He told my wife we were “soul buddies,” whatever that means.

I don’t know that I’m going to end up with Ahmed on one knee in the middle of the mall accepting Jesus sacrifice for his life.  I don’t know that it will even make a massive difference in Ahmed’s life.  I do know that Ahmed has reminded me that God is always at work around me, and that I like most Christians am too often dissolved into myself.  Every little invasion by God into my life is disruptive to my reality, because that reality is wrapped up in myself.  But also, every interruption reminds me that my reality is all too small and weak.  I thank God for that.

*Ahmed’s name has been changed from his real name.

Think love, Piece

merred hill

I have a friend in the ministry who is a big Beatles fan.  We often playfully debate philosophy and music history together.  She included this quote in a recent email, and I thought I would respond.

“Get out there and get peace, think peace, live peace and breathe peace, and you’ll get it as soon as you like.”
John Lennon

Friend,
I have thoughts about your John Lennon quote.
Now, I know that you don’t just quote him because of his philosophy, but mostly because you are a big Beatles fan…

We have the extreme luxury of being one of the few generations to grow up with almost no understanding of war.  Yes, in my lifetime there has been the Iraq war, Kosovo, Iraq 2, War on terror, and other small conflicts.  But those weren’t of the scale or effect of wars in past generations.  Wars now are things we hear about on the evening news, not things that actually claim the lives of our friends and relatives (for the most part).
Think back on what it must have been like to live through WW2.  Germans were using their submarines to destroy ships off of the East coast.  Hundreds of ships were sunk right off of our coast–even passenger cruise ships.  Japan attacked HI and we were under constant threat of invasion on the West coast.  At one point late in the war Japan launched helium balloons with bombs attached into the air.  Those fell in Alaska, but no one was ever hurt from them.

Women in America couldn’t buy leggings (which were a fashion essential back then) because the fabric was needed for parachutes.  Other things that were rationed state-side: tires (most people couldn’t buy them), many cosmetics, gas, cars, certain grocery products.  Women and children saved money for the government war effort.  Cities had “bomb drills” where everyone turned off all the lights and hid in their closets and basements.  It was a difficult and scary time.  This all is not to mention the fact that we were fighting a war on two fronts (Japan and the Axis powers of Europe), and there was the very real possibility for much of the war that we could lose.

Why did all of this happen?  Evil.  When Hitler invaded Poland and Austria the British PM, Neville Chamberlain said “We should seek by all means in our power to avoid war, by analyzing possible causes, by trying to remove them, by discussion in a spirit of collaboration and good will. I cannot believe that such a program would be rejected by the people of this country, even if it does mean the establishment of personal contact with the dictators.”  He signed a peace treaty with Germany, allowing them to keep Poland, Austria, and giving them parts of Czechoslovakia and said “I believe it is peace for our time…peace with honor.”  Merely months later, Germany attacked France and Britain.

Fast forward to the 1960’s: America was involved in a war that we probably shouldn’t have been involved in, Vietnam.  It was a very unpopular war.  We weren’t fighting in a way that we could win, and against an enemy we couldn’t really identify.  Young men all over America lived under the real threat that they could be shipped off to Asia to fight in a war that they didn’t really believe in.  Those that went either came home in body bags, or with permanent mental and emotional scars.

In response to this artists started talking about peace and love, and how if everyone just gave peace a chance, we could create a world without sorrow, greed, or war.  There is an amazing truth to that.  If everyone gave peace and love a chance, that is what would happen.  That is our view of heaven, really.  “The wolf will live with the lamb…the lion and the yearling together…and a child will lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6).  Peace.  Perfect.
On a plane flight recently I saw a movie called The Invention of Lying.  It isn’t a movie that I can recommend you see, but like most things I watch, I see a tie in to the cosmic and spiritual reality that surrounds us.  In the movie Ricky Gervais’ character lives in a world where no one has ever lied.  The concept of telling a falsehood has just never been thought of.  Somehow he accidentally figures this out.  Hilarity ensues.  He ends up using this power to take advantage of everyone around him.  He uses it to their detriment and his benefit.

The reason I mention this example is that if we all decided to live in a world with no guns, no army, no violence, none of that would actually be what would happen.  Instead we would live in a world where someone, somewhere would realize that suddenly he/she had the power to steal everything from us and hurt us.  We would be led off to slaughter like sheep.  The end result would be a world of slavery and pain—War and chaos, not peace and love.

The only way for this heaven to come about would be for all to place control in the hands of a being who both has ultimate power, and is permanently incorruptible, a king who is perfectly benevolent.  I wait for that day.  A day when all can lay down arms with no possibility of violence propagated against us.

This cannot happen as long as there is sin in the world.  Sin is at its heart selfishness.  Anytime we say “but I want…” we are walking a path toward sin.  This does not mean that we should have an ascetic view and allow ourselves to be beaten down by evil under the guise of living Christianly, either.  In fact, the Bible tells us that we are in a war.  That we must fight.  Our war is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil that exist around us.

Throughout the last 2000 years there has been a dichotomy between those who cling to Jesus world as a call to embody peace, over and against those Old Testament passages where God tells the Israelites to war against other peoples.  This dichotomy is usually a false one.  Jesus gave great instruction to Christians to be known as those who turn the other cheek (which if you study is actually a course in radical non-violent resistance—read Martin Luther King), and to be known by our love.  We cannot believe that Jesus intended that message to mean that countries never defended themselves against hostile forces.  Think about this: what would Jesus want Neville Chamberlain or FDR to have done in 1938-1940?  Would he have had them sign peace agreement after peace agreement while Hitler came marching through Europe killing millions?  I don’t think so.  Either way, it isn’t as simple as ‘think happy thoughts and buy Hitler a coke.’

Artists and musicians often live in an idealized world of symbolism, beauty, and absolutes.  But the world is seldom a thing of perfect beauty or absolutes.  We are all shades of grey, striving to become repristinated, yes all the while getting a little grayer.  When the musician sees the world as different from their dream, it seems out-of-joint and wrong.  That is the greatest truth.  The world is a marred painting.  We can see the beauty there, but we are all ever-aware that some black stain has covered its surface.  Sadly, we cannot paint it back to perfect.  We cannot remove the stain, only try and cover it with something much less than the original, and every attempt reminds us all the more that it is not as perfect as it was intended.  Trying to fix the problems of violence and pain with anything other than the rule and reign of Christ is just as effective as trying to paint the grass greener or the sky bluer.

At YWAM

I am spending part of this week at Youth With A Mission (YWAM) in Tyler, Texas. I was invited by The Thorstad family, who moved here to work with YWAM from our church. I am going to be blogging (both text and video) about my experience. As always, I blog for me, and any of you who’d like to come along are welcome to. 🙂

Yesterday was awesome. I got to spend some great time with Dean and Cecilia (and their girls) both hanging out and talking about things related to our relationships, both with people and with God. It was a great time.

But just as great was the worship service last night. Dr. Lee spoke. He is a Korean who is the Vice President at Mongolia University in (you guessed it) Mongolia.

This soft spoken man told many stories that were very powerful. One in particular told of how he was really seeking the Lord on what to do about a situation. He heard a sound like a terrible groaning and weeping. He said, “God, you are too great and powerful to weep, why would you do this?” (He said this in a raised accusatory fashion)

He heard the Lord’s answer, “Weep with me.” That was his answer. That is all God wanted him to do. Weep. If he could get the Lord’s heart for these people and their brokenness, then he would understand. It was very powerful to me.

The whole thing was really about following the will of God. He asked the question, which was very impacting to me, “Is there anything in your life which seems bigger than the will of God?” Hmmm. He also talked about how the American Church seems so fat and happy, and yet, we are often missing the true will of God. He told about a church in Indonesia that is praying 24/7 (literally) for revival in the American Church.

I was really left with the feeling that we (myself included) miss the will of God so often. We don’t see Him do powerful things because we are not truly looking, not truly seeking.

Here is some video from the day

Semi-Liveblogging the VNC (Session 3)

Tonight I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting too much.  Don Williams was speaking, and I’ve heard him quite a bit in VLI.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Don Williams.  He is obviously brilliant.  He has an amazing heart for God.  My experience has been that he rambles a bit, and it is sometimes hard to follow him.

He blew my expectations out of the water.

He spoke about the Holy Spirit.  He showed how the ministry of the Holy Spirit to us and in our ministry is biblical, indespensible, and powerful.  He told his testimony of encountering the Holy Spirit.  He read the testimonies of famous modern Christian leaders in the same regard.  He was funny.  He was clear.  He was short.  Yes, that is right.  He didn’t talk for an hour.

Then he asked us for the people under 35 to come forward to receive a filling of the Holy Spirit.  They did a similar thing at the last conference.  I went forward.

Just as an aside, I don’t know what it is due to, but there is a huge difference in the age demographics between this conference and the last one in Anaheim.  Last time the building was full of rapidly graying hair, bald spots, Hawaiian shirts, and creatively secured Bermuda shorts.  There was a smattering of under 40’s, but it was clear who was in charge.

This time was clearly different.  It was trendy shirts, spiked hair, and tattoos.  The under 40’s were large and in charge.  We are energized.  We are networking.  The Hawaaian shirts are smiling, but I suspect that is from fear (j/k).  There is a definite sense of passing the baton.  This was my big prayer last time.  Now, we just need to not forget that the Hawaiian shirts have a lot of wisdom and experience.  They are godly men and women we can learn a lot from.  The tattoos bug me a bit though, I must admit.

So back to Tuesday night: I stood there for a long time, just waiting on God.  I really felt the Holy Spirit early on, and I was bursting with laughter.  Not the kind of laughter that is at something funny, just a bubbling up from joy kind of thing.  I can’t really explain it.  What I do know is that everyone around me was weeping, and I was laughing…that is so me.  But then I realized that people could feel that I was laughing at them.  So I tried to stifle the laugh.  I stood there shaking as I held it in.  But I knew God wasn’t done with me.

As I stood there I had the growing sense of being totally alone.  I am not going to go too much into this (I’m probably sharing too much anyway), but this is a feeling beneath the surface that I’ve always had.  Sometimes I feel totally alone no matter who is around me and what they say.  Other times, it is not so bad.  Lately I think I am in a season where this is more of a reality anyway, so I think it has been bubbling under the surface for quite some time.  I can’t always identify it, but it has been there.

I began to weep.  People prayed for me.  I wept harder.  More people prayed.  I wept harder still.  Finally, a pastor from Philadelphia named Paul came, and he asked me what I was feeling.  I told him.  He prayed for me with power.  I felt the Holy Spirit ministering to me, and touching my soul in a way I haven’t felt in a while.  I am very thankful for him.

I’d like to say I spoke in tongues as I rolled on the floor in the Spirit (OK, maybe I wouldn’t like that, really) but I didn’t.  I think last night was just a time for God to minister to my heart.

What I Want to Want

light

I started out the day re-reading a section of Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline.  I tried to allow his section on Christian meditation to sink in as I ate lunch, and then headed out.  It was a perfect day today, one of those Texas days that you just can’t waste.  There were no sweeping Spring hailstorms, or silent freezes of winter, and the summer furnace had not been stoked yet.  Outside, there was nothing but miles of blue sky and all of creation going through its April busywork.  I went to the park.

As I turned off the car in the parking lot, I grabbed my Bible.  I was looking for a passage in Philippians, but ended up reading 1 Thessalonians 5:5.  “You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.” I let that seep in, and I began to walk, meditating on being a son of light and day. Continue reading “What I Want to Want”