Sunday, October 23, 2016

Prob 23:5 Work, leisure, serve, glorify

This is from Proverbs. Verse 5 is one of a few verses that have really struck me today. It just reminds how easily work can be made into something it isn't supposed to be. Working just for the sake of making more money is futile. Working out of enjoyment for the work and to bring God glory through your workmanship, that is where the value of work lies.

There are days when I work, and I LOVE to work, especially in my current job where I could just completely immerse myself in the joy of doing surgery all day (I know that sounds weird and kind of gross to a lot of people). But there are other days where I kind of wish I did something a bit more creative maybe even a little more mundane... this will probably sound ridiculous, but when I think of working just for the pure enjoyment of creating and creating to the glory of Christ, I think of building cabinets and furniture.

There is something so simply and obviously God-glorifying in that work. When the workmanship is top notch, the connections are finely measured and precisely cut, the surface perfectly sanded and the result as the aesthetically pleasing, the satisfaction that results rivals any successful life-saving surgery I've ever had the joy of being part of. That I think is the point.

The work that we are given to do doesn't have inherent value because we are making money or gaining notoriety. Our work has value that comes from the quality that is added to it. The workmanship itself can and should be a form of worship of our Heavenly Father.

Today tomorrow and Tuesday I will fly fish for trout. I don't fish to relax, although I'm sure I will experience a degree of relaxation from it, but I will cast my fly lines into rivers and creeks with joy and the most skilll and precision I can muster, not out of duty but because it's beautiful. When I leisure, I will leisure to the glory of God. When I work, I will work to the glory of God. And in this, while I work and leisure unto the Creator, I bring Him glory, and in His glory I revel like a prisoner given leave of his chains to run through green meadows and enjoy sunlight without the tethers of his crimes. This is freedom and this is joy to serve, to work, to leisure to glorify God!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Toughness isn't just about being able to take pain, it's suffering with satisfaction.

I recently posted this meme to my Facebook account which resulted in a discussion about where toughness comes from. I fell asleep thinking about it and woke up this morning thinking about it. I feel that this warrants a bit more explanation to really dive into this issue not just in the context of parenting but of living.

I once asked someone close to me who was struggling to find purpose in their life this question to help them work this out on their own: “What are you willing to die for?”

I know this sounds melodramatic when you first consider it, but the profundity of this question is critical to our assessment of the meaningfulness of our lives. The problem with asking the question, “What are you living for?” is that people often are wrestling with answering this question when they are looking for purpose or meaning. We often find ourselves unintentionally living for something less significant than we wish we were living for. The trend to tell people to pursue their dreams has recently faced a lot of scrutiny because of the shallowness and lack of pragmatism in that pursuit. But, it’s not for the fact that they are your dreams that this platitude is being criticized, it’s the fact that often these dreams are too small, too self-serving and too unrealistic.

We have, as a society, built an ideology around the pursuit of happiness that boils down to one small individualized endeavor, personal satisfaction with life. Satisfaction comes and goes, I’ve found. There are times when I feel exceedingly satisfied with my life. I feel that my work has meaning, that my relationships are fruitful and mutually beneficial, and that I have the world on the proverbial string. This is a feeling, and as with all feelings, it tends to be fleeting. I find satisfaction in my time in prayer, spending time with my kids, fishing with my dad, gardening, and having deep conversations with my wife. I find satisfaction in being productive at work, writing, fixing something in my home and when my favorite hockey team wins. If you were to rate these things on a scale of 0-10 of significance, they vary greatly.

So it’s is difficult to delineate what truly makes you satisfied with life based on these things because the satisfaction is momentary with each of these. So what about true satisfaction? Where does that even come from? How does this relate to toughness?

Let me pose a scenario to you. 

Imagine that you are a highly trained soldier. You have a General that you ultimately answer to and this General makes orders to which you dutifully follow. You believe, like any good soldier, that you have a duty and responsibility to die if need be to follow-through on those orders, like any good soldier would.

Why do you follow this General? Because he’s a good man? Because he is always right and you have no will of your own? Or do you follow Him because he has a broad meaningful purpose to which he makes these orders, whether that is to maintain peace, protect you country, or to offensively acquire new land or resources?

You would likely find it difficult to follow orders of a General whose purpose wasn’t in line with what you also believed was a good purpose.

Now imagine that this General and the purpose for which you are fighting just ceased to exist. What does that make you?

On one hand, it may just mean that you are without the larger support of this leader and the organization that follows these orders with single-mindedness, making your commission as a soldier meaningless. At this point, you may cease to even be a soldier.

On the other hand, you may find yourself looking for another general to fight for, or fight for your own personal agenda. As a soldier this may mean becoming a mercenary, a soldier for higher with the ability to shift allegiances if the price is right. Either way, you are either self-serving or meaningless if you don’t have something greater purpose to fight.

This is why directionless young men can be so easily drawn into hate-fueled terrorist organizations like ISIS and the KKK or gangs like MS-13 and Hells Angels. We need something to serve whether it is a way of life, an ideology or a grand purpose. Young men aren’t choosing to be evil, they are choosing to serve something, and the fact that something is evil takes a back seat to a need to live for something with some significance, a life with some sort of purpose. These men are willing to die and suffer for these things. They are willing to endure hardship, even at the hands of these organizations through initiating rituals, training and even abuse because they believe that it is for something bigger than them, bigger than their pain.

So what can prevent this finding purpose in something evil? My presupposition is that at the most basic level, everyone is looking for purpose. If they aren’t, they are then nihilistic and are in turn, serving themselves, which is just finding purpose in serving themselves. Some people may seek to just serve their families, which is good and right and to be willing to live and die to the good of your family is very virtuous. But to what end? Why is your family significant enough to warrant your sacrificial devotion?

The Importance of Ideology.

This is where I find that an ideology is critical to provide direction. We need a goal, an end. Without this end-goal, what we do with the harsh realities of life in a world filled with evil people, systems that oppress us and when we suffer is falter under the weight of it. We can develop a degree of toughness that in turn becomes callousness toward the suffering of others because you’re just trying to survive and avoid the pain and suffering that seems inevitable in life. An ideology, a good and righteous ideology, allows one to endure these things without turning to cruelty and evil. That ideology should be formed as early as possible in our lives that we may evaluate and hone our vision of it so that we have something substantial that will help us retain a since of purpose even when life gets really hard.

We need to form in our children a view that they can and should attempt things to make the world a better place. This should be an encouragement to live for something greater than them. They need to have something to live for beyond selfish pursuit of riches and pleasure because that will eventually still boil down to avoiding pain and suffering at all costs, which we know is impossible. And when that pain and suffering comes, where do they turn? What is there to maintain a vision to just soldier on?

I teach my children an ideology based in the grandest of all purposes, to serve God who has a plan for humanity, His creation, for His pleasure and our good. He has given us, through His Word, a framework for finding meaning in our lives and the inevitable suffering. This framework includes sacrificially serving others, loving our enemies, telling others about His love for humanity, by the gift of salvation and satisfaction in Him through grace.

When we realize that pain and suffering, both physically and emotionally, are inevitable in this life, we also realize that enduring these things is required to propagate life. Even the noted atheist and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche noted this in his writings (although he never could come up with a meaning for the suffering) when he wrote, “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.” We can endure begrudgingly or with satisfaction.

Our satisfaction with life, not just fleeting moments of happiness, then requires a more broad view that we are living for and suffering for something important. This is what drives people to attempt great things, like the Medal of Honor recipient who faces certain death to defend his country or military unit, like the firefighter who risks his life to go into a burning building to retrieve a child that may or may not be alive, and like the doctor that moves his family to a developing country risking illness and insecurity to bring healing and hope to those who would otherwise never know it.

I for one am raising my children to know the importance of living this way. The greatest legacy and inheritance I can leave my children is a since of purpose for their lives rooted in the serving and mitigating the suffering of others, even at great personal cost. This is what makes life worth the pain and suffering. I can suffer for my children, I can suffer for other people’s children and I can even suffer for those who hate me because I am serving my Savior who promises an eternal life without pain and suffering freely by first taking the pain and sin of the world on His shoulders at Calvary. One person that I’m not willing to suffer for is myself. It’s not self-hatred, it just isn’t pragmatic. If I were here just for myself, I would avoid suffering at all cost. If suffering is inevitable, then I have two options, embrace that suffering with a grander purpose to serve Christ and others through the suffering or suffer without purpose at all and possibly ending my own life due to the meaninglessness of it.

A willingness to suffer and possibly die for one’s ideals is true toughness and it is the kind of toughness that does not falter when life reaches a point of perceived hopelessness, where escape from this pain and suffering is impossible.

So, in closing, I’m going to post some important quotes that I often think of when facing tough decisions and inevitable suffering:

“I would rather die now than to live a life of oblivious ease in so sick a world.” – Nate Saint
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”  - Helen Keller
“A season of suffering is a small assignment when compared to the reward. Rather than begraudge your problem, explore is. Ponder it. And most of all, use it. Use it to the glory of God.” – Max Lucado
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” – Jim Elliot
“Wherever you are – be all there.” – Jim Elliot
“All of us suffer some injuries from experiences that seem to have no rhyme or reason. We cannot understand or explain them. We may never know why some things happen in this life. The reason for some of our suffering is known only to the Lord.” – James E. Faust
“And people who do not know the Lord ask why in the world we waste our lives as missionaries. They forget that they too are expending their lives… and when the bubble has burst they will have nothing of eternal significance to show for the years they have wasted.” – Nate Saint
 “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for on’s friends.” John 15:13
“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have it’s full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” 2 Corinthians 4:8-10
“Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” Psalm 34:19
“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,” Philippians 1:29
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-7
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the church.” Colossians 1:24
“If God would grant us the vision, the word sacrifice would disappear from our lips and thoughts; we would hate the things that seem now so dear to us; our lives would suddenly be too short, we would despise time-robbing distractions and charge the enemy with all our energies in the name of Christ. May God help us ourselves by the eternities that separate the Aucas from a Comprehension of Christmas and Him, who though He was rich, yet for our sakes became so poor so that we might, through His poverty, be made rich.” – Nate Saint
“Some want to live within the sound of Church of chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop, within a yard of hell.” – C.T. Studd
“Only one life, ‘twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” – C.T. Studd
“The ‘romance’ of a missionary is often made up of monotony and drudgery; there often is no glamour in it; it doesn’t stir a man’s spirit or blood. So don’t come out to be a missionary as an experiment; it is useless and dangerous. Only come if you feel you would rather die than not come. Don’t come is you want to make a great name or want to live long. Come if you feel there is no greater honor, after living for Christ than to die for Him.” – C.T. Studd
“We are frittering away time and money in a multiplicity of conventions, conferences, and retreats, when the real need is to go straight and full steam into battle, with the signal for ‘close action’ flying.” – C.T. Studd

“Security is mostly superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” – Helen Keller

Sunday, September 25, 2016

These Idle Sticks

That this could be my prayer as well:

"God, I pray Thee, light these idle sticks of my life that I may burn for Thee. Consume my life, my God, for it is Thine. I seek not a long life but a full one like You, Lord Jesus." - Jim Elliot

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Local vs. Global-mindedness: Why we don't really get to choose.

What do you think of when you hear the word poverty?

I think maybe the most common mental image is children walking barefoot through slums in India. Maybe it's a single mom living in a tiny run-down apartment with with a bunch of hungry kids in Chicago. Maybe it's the homeless man "camping" down the street from you in the park your children like to play in during the day.

Here's the issue though. Poverty surrounds us. I look up and see poverty every day, in so many ways. So do you. Many of people choose to ignore it, but not you. You allow the images seep into your mind and maybe even stimulate that supramarginal gyrus, the part of your brain that allows you to have empathy.

But then you are struck by the enormity of the problem. You pray, you distract yourself and say "poverty will always be with us" so what's the point?

But that still bothers you though, right? And we have enough poverty in our own country to worry about, let's help them before the other billions living in abject poverty globally.

The problem is even deeper though. The problem is that we are hopeless. We see American poverty and global poverty as two different issues.

My wife volunteers for an organization that sends boxes of care items to impoverished children worldwide every Christmas season that also open up doors for sharing the gospel in these regions. She annually polls churches in our region for how many of these shoe-boxes they would like to fill and have distributed. There is one church in particular that has turned her down every year. When this opportunity is brought to their attention she has received some interesting responses.

Once she was describing the program to a secretary a few years ago and the secretary said that they don't focus on global issues. They try to only help those right here in this little town. Amazingly, the church ended up packing and sending shoe-boxes anyway.

This year, she brought the issue up again and asked if they'd be donating and they again declined stating that they are making "care packages" of some sort of local children in foster care. This is a commendable thing, caring for the kids separated from their biological moms and dads for a variety of reasons, leading them to feel I'm sure quite forgotten, lonely and without love.

My challenge to this church, and to you is this: This is not an "either-or" situation. We don't need to either be local community-minded or globally-minded. We need to be both. We need to care about the poverty in the streets of Stockton, Modesto, Turlock, Manteca, Riverbank and Oakdale as much as the poverty in the streets of Jakarta, Kathmandu, Tegucigalpa, Aleppo, Mumbai, and Port-Au-Prince.

Here, we have hospitals, social services, aid organizations, police to protect them, churches that see those struck by poverty as individuals, not a problem of numbers and statistics. "Over there", aid agencies are financially strapped and governments are increasingly cracking down on outside influence and access to the impoverished. Hospitals are under-staffed, under-funded, few and far-between. Churches, if they exist in the area, are usually small and as poor as the region they reside in. Police notoriously stay out of international slums, allowing for exploitation, forced labor, human trafficking and violent crimes to go unpunished and unchallenged.

Their problem is our problem. As long as we do nothing to stop it, give it no passing thought, no prayer, no part of ourselves to the solution, we are allowing this to go on. Not just in Mumbai, but here, at home. Their exploitation is our exploitation. Their pain is our pain. Their suffering is our suffering. We were never given the liberty to ignore the plight of the poor and the lost.

But what can we do, right?

Here's a quick suggestion, because this is not an easy transition to make from thinking in a sort of a "them" and "us" dichotomy to thinking "they are us" globally, just start by praying.

Like me, you may need to repent for not caring, for ignoring, or for being too wrapped up in providing comfort for yourself to feel the empathy (that our bodies were designed to actually be able to feel for a reason). Ask God to break your heart. No, seriously. Ask God to break your heart for the poor and the lost. Look for Jesus in your interactions with others as you talk about poverty. Listen for apathy in your life and pray for it to be replaced with a sense of purposeful empathy to be His image-bearing, heaven-revealing Jesus-follower right here on earth... the whole earth.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Thinking back to Haiti 2015 (Part 1)

Elizabeth and I traveled together to Haiti in 2015 to work with International Healthcare Mnistries and the Baptist Haiti Mission Hospital to share the love of Jesus with rural Haitians through medicine and friendship.

It was, as all of these medical mission trips are, life changing for so many people. I would just like to share some of the photos from the journey again.

I'll start with photos from our first two days in Haiti. The first village we set up our clinic in was a tiny stone and mortar school that was a long 3 hour or so drive down rocky mountain roads in the back of a large flat bed pick-up.

Standing in the back of the flat bed is a surprisingly exhausting way to travel. (and not easy on a guy who just had back surgery less than a month prior)

A view from the road of a typical rural home and garden with banana trees and leftover USAID tarps from the earthquake recovery covering roofs.

one of the most beautiful roads in Haiti. We were about to drive probably close to a blistering 20mph at this point of the trip.

Arriving at our first clinic day began with school being dismissed early and a lot of interest from the kids. 

This was a normal routine in the morning, I think we only did this once or twice. This is a local preacher leading a morning Bible study on the Baptist Haiti Mission Hospital Grounds.

Yep. That's what a mobile pharmacy looks like. Abbey (the one on the right) did an excellent job running unquestionably the most delicate, challenging and detail-oriented departments of the mission.

Local translators get a medical history from the patients, then tell them "the doctor will see you and will help you because we love you in the name of Jesus, Would you like to hear more about Jesus?"
The patients are all assured that their medical complaints will be heard and treated without regard to their religious convictions.

Waiting to be seen.

I'm such an amazing photographer.

View from the school house looking over the mountainous terrain surrounding us on all sides in Chofa.

Even Haiti has some rich folks.

Day 2, we opted out of putting 15 people in the back of a flat bed and instead packed up Toyota Landcruiser and two ATVs. A much better way to travel.

This is a typical little roadside market where anything from chewing gum to charcoal is normally sold. These dot the highways and rural roads of back country Haiti.

I would always ask patients if they would like to pray about anything after I had finished seeing them for their medical complaints. I had to deliver quite a bit of bad news from time to time, because there were thins that I was simply unable to treat. We made as many referrals to the BHM hospital, which I'm positive many people took to heart. Still, there were other cases that I just knew even the Hospital wouldn't have the resources to treat. Living in a developing country is a tough life, somehow though, with everything Haitians have been through over the last 2 centuries, this nation is filled with some of the most indomitably joyful, wise, caring and generous people I've ever met.

The next blog post with show days 3 and 4 of our May 2015 Medical Mission Trip to Haiti.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Created for Good Works.

Got to thinking about this verse today and how it applies to raising my three kids. I acknowledge that modeling a more Christ-like life is essential to their future development as men and women in a culture that is increasingly hostile to our faith and conscience.

Here are four principles of Godly parenting that were discussed in church today. 

"We must fuel our children for success!!
Establish healthy boundaries.
Embrace Biblical values.
Embody Christ-like character." 

-The River Christian Community

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Jesus payed a larger price than you probably think.

I sin. But don't get all judgy. So do you. IN fact we all sin. That's why Jesus had to die on the cross as an atoning sacrifice and ransom for our sins. I recently read a short story about a boy who built a toy sailboat with great diligence. While playing with it near the coast, the wind changed directions and he lost it to the sea. Or so her thought. Several weeks later as he was walking past a toy shop, he spotted the sailboat in the window. He went in to reclaim his prized possession. The shop keeper refused to give it to him and demanded for him to pay for it. As the boy left the store with his hand-built special toy he was over heard saying, "You are twice my sailboat. First I built you, then I bought you."

That story really resonated with me last night as I was studying through 1 Corinthians and came to this verse. Do I really understand that price of that Jesus payed for the sinners. It probably isn't possible to over estimate the cost. 

I think that if we spent a bit more time thinking about the price that Jesus payed for us, we could better understand what it means to belong to Him. We might appreciate the pain our sin causes. We might be more in love with this gracious Father God who sent His Son into the world to suffer and die for us that his righteousness might be imparted to us.

This should inspire all of us not only to live more righteous lives, not out of fear of God's judgement but in reverence for His perfect loving nature, in gratitude for the price Christ payed on the cross and out of love for a Lord and Savior who came into the world to justify us even when we were and are in staunch rebellion against Him. This should inspire us to tell others about Him. This should inspire us to actively pursue His will and His calling in our lives. We should be inspired to live completely and totally for Him, after all, we are twice His.