Saturday, October 16, 2010

"Costly Grace" by Jon Walker

In “Costly Grace,” author Jon Walker has brought the classic teachings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer into a new generation of Christian life. While Bonhoeffer spoke to his time and culture with intense passion and a life of surrendered discipleship, Walker has taken the legendary teaching of “The Cost of Discipleship” and placed it into the cultural context of the 21st century.

Building off classic Bonhoeffer themes and theology, Walker has restated the principles of a life surrendered to Christ in a language that relates to the modern follower of Christ. Themes such as calling, obedience, suffering and loyalty relate splendidly to Bonhoeffer’s classic. The explanations and examinations of themes such as purity, authenticity and community relate to the modern ethos of the post modern world in which modern day followers of Christ must exist and carry out our call to discipleship.

What Jon Walker offers in this work is an accessible study into Bonhoeffer without dismissing the high calling and deep theology of “The Cost of Discipleship.” In practical, common tones, Walker allows disciples to journey through the “narrow gate” of a life with Christ. I believe this book will become a classic in modern day discipleship and spiritual maturity.

Monday, September 27, 2010

"Permission to Speak Freely" by Anne Jackson

“Permission to Speak Freely” by Anne Jackson is one of those “dangerous” books to read. It’s dangerous because every page seems to bring a new uncomfortable topic and a new battle within your own heart to push ahead. As Anne discusses abuse, addiction, pornography, and the lack of openness within the body of Christ, the reader is faced with not only their own internal story, but also the story of their own walls being rattled. It is a must read for every church member and leader.

As a pastor, it is easy to avoid the pain and agony in our own heart by being busy and caring for the heart of others. The reality is that as church communities, we rarely care for others at the heart level and the continual battle for doing instead of being rages in our community. Anne opens up new avenues of honesty and vulnerability that helps us to see ourselves and others for what we truly are; broken.

“Permission to Speak Freely” says what I have wanted to say for a long time in ministry. It screams of hidden pain and stolen joy. When we step out of our bubble and begin to really do life with others, the hiddeness must give way to honesty and the honesty must lead us to the gospel. Life is messy and helping others find real life in Christ causes us to have to deal not only with their mess, but our own. Anne Jackson gives voice to the liberating acknowledgment of being messy ourselves. And that is what makes “Permission to Speak Freely” so freeing.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Willing to Die?

Yesterday was a wonderfully relaxing day around the Harvey house. We did very little in the morning, (well, the kids and I did very little. Alana did laundry and grocery shopping) went to some friends to swim and grill burgers (while dodging lightning bolts!!) and still got home early in the evening to watch some football and relax. Then it happened. I got sucked in like a mobile home in a tornado. Before I knew it I had traveled to the highest point on earth and lived to tell about it. Sort of.

I stumbled across one of those documentaries about a group climbing Mount Everest. They followed their preparations, their injuries and their fears. One member of the expedition was a Los Angeles firefighter, one a former Hell’s Angel, one an asthmatic who was climbing without an oxygen mask and one was a double amputee having lost his legs in another mountain climbing accident. How could I not morbidly watch to see which one of these guys was not going to make it!!

I have always been fascinated by Everest. I have zero desire to go off to Nepal and climb, but I cannot stop myself from watching documentaries about those who do. I watch and try to decide who will and won’t make the summit and who will and won’t make it off the mountain. I am fascinated by what becomes a fixation of these men and women to literally risk their life to stand on top of the world for twenty minutes.

Tim, the ex-Hell’s Angel member (I am not really sure what you are after you are a Hell’s Angel!) was so fixated on reaching the summit that he literally had to be turned in his tracks to force him to walk down. He was too far from the summit to reach it before his oxygen supply ran out. Brett, the L.A. fireman stopped at 24,000 feet and said, “I have reached my personal summit.” The one climbing without oxygen had to turn around because his mind began playing tricks on him and he was disoriented. The one who made the summit was the double amputee.

Every one of these people had a reason they wanted to reach the top. And every one of them was within inches or moments from their death. Their fixation almost cost them their lives. As I was lying in bed thinking about the show, I found myself wondering what I was so passionate about that I would put myself in that position. Is there an adventure that I have to do so desperately that I am willing to risk my life to pursue it at all costs? The simple answer is no.

It may sound wimpy and boring, but I can’t imagine placing my life in danger at that level. I think about my wife and kids and realize the selfishness it would take to risk their future for my fulfillment. I think about my calling to serve Christ by teaching others about him and realize that no adventure could replace an eternal calling. I think about the relationships I have and would never want to jeopardize them through a pursuit of such an intentional snub to my own mortality.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not against people trying to fulfill wild and crazy adventures. I wish there was a part of me that wanted to do those things. But when it all boils down, the question becomes, “what are you willing to die for?”

For me, I am willing to die for the safety of my family. I am willing to die trying to rescue others. I am willing to die for the sake of my calling. I am simply not willing to die for the sake of adventure.

What are you willing to die for?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Haiti Part 4

I don’t wear a watch on an everyday basis. I usually have my phone with me and just prefer to pull it out and look at the time. I have a watch that I wear when I run that helps me know how fast (actually how slow!!) I am running. When I traveled to Haiti, I knew I wouldn’t have my phone with me all the time so I wore my watch just to make sure I was where I needed to be. Once you’ve been to Haiti you understand that you just need to be familiar with “ish” time. That is where stuff that is supposed to happen at 9:00 happens at “9ish.” All the same, I wore my watch.

I didn’t think my watch would be a big deal. Until one morning I was in the Miriam Center and a little boy named Jean noticed my watch. I was holding another little boy, sadly no one around knew his name, when Jean came over and wanted to play. Having my hands occupied the only thing I could do was make the light on my watch illuminate which thrilled Jean. I would push the button and his eyes would get wide. He would cover his face and laugh and laugh. Then he would push the button and we would repeat the process. After about fifteen minutes I needed to leave because it was “time-ish” for us to go to the construction site.

Later that afternoon, Jean and I hung out in the common area playing with play-dough, taking pictures (the boy is quite the photog!) and making my watch light up. Jean has a magical smile that makes you feel like the light that is burning inside him is about to explode all over you at any moment. We became really good buds over the few days I was there and I hope to see him again when I get to return.

As I have thought about Jean and the light on my watch I am reminded that light is so fundamental. It is a necessity to accomplish what we want to accomplish. It protects us, guides us, and helps us feel secure. I know many people afraid of the dark, but I don’t know anyone afraid of light.

As a follower of Jesus we are light. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” When our life is filled with him, we illuminate the darkened places that exist in our world. Whether it is a boy in Haiti who thinks a small watch light is special, a family in South Florida fighting to keep their heads above water financially, or a distressed teenager who needs someone to tell them they are valuable, we have the answer. We can illuminate the way.

As I ran yesterday, I glanced at my watch and thought of Jean. It was a bright, beautiful, summer day in Florida. But I couldn’t help but reach down and push the button to turn on the light. And then, I smiled.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Haiti Part 3

“I went to college so that I wouldn’t have to work construction!” That was the thought that ran through my head as we broke ground on the site of the church and the new Miriam Center. I hate construction stuff. First, I have no idea where to begin when it comes to doing this stuff. Second, I never have the tools I need. Third, I have ZERO skill. But, this was simply digging, so how hard can that be?

Very, I found out!! We hit the ground running the first day in Haiti and had about 20 shovels and three pick axes flying. Some people knew what they were doing. There are always some people in the group who know construction and have all the skills and know exactly what to do and can work you under a table. I hate those people!! We threw dirt around and clawed at the ground and did the best we could. This group had spirit and no amount of heat, humidity, bugs, dirt or sun would stop us.

After the first day I walked off the site thinking, “There’s no hope.” We barely made a dent. We worked our butts off and we haven’t even made a scratch in this hill. How much difference can we make in two weeks? I was only going to be there one, so I was pretty sure I wouldn’t see much progress before I left.

But God does amazing things. The next day we were a little more organized. And we had Haitian help. And the day after that, Haitians were already on the site working when we got there. And then we found out that Shaun King had arranged for us to employ them. Later I found out that these guys would be able to be employed for six months. And by the time I left, the site looked as if you could see the outline of a building.

As I was reflecting on all of this two thoughts struck me: first, I doubt God way too often. I usually look and think that I have to have all the answers and that if I can’t figure it out it must not be going to happen. God must laugh at my plans and my ideas quite often. Second, what seems impossible for man is not for God. When we see a hill, he sees a church. When we see a field, he sees an orphanage. When we see a limitation, he sees an opportunity.

By the time the group left the second week, the site was dug and level. A group of people worked long and hard on that hill. Some planted (by digging up dirt) some watered (by hauling dirt away) but God caused the increase (by touching people’s hearts).

“Humanly speaking it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.”
Mark 10:27

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Haiti Part 2

I took up residence on the rooftop of the mission with my Bible in one hand and my journal in the other. I wanted to make sure that I captured my thoughts while I was in Haiti so I could relay more clearly what I was experiencing and what God was teaching me. It was a beautiful afternoon after a long day of digging at the work site.

As I looked down from the mission I could see children in the street, young men and women who were moving about during their day and some folks who were selling trinkets to anyone willing to buy. I could see dirt, and poverty and desperation. I could see that the struggle for survival is real and powerful in this place. The mission is an incredible oasis of hope in this place, but there is only so much they can do.

Some guys were setting up tents on the roof when someone noticed a cruise ship just off the coast. It seemed like a long distance away, but within ten minutes it was passing directly in front of the mission. Such a strange dichotomy: the finest of luxury and the despair of poverty.

I remember being on cruise ships that sailed these waters. They are headed to Labadie on the island of Haiti. It is really the only resort area on the island. In fact, I remember visiting there when my wife and I took a cruise and being told how armed guards were on the other side of the bushes making sure Haitians stay away from the tourist area.

Now I was on the other side of the bush. I was not at the resort, but in the midst of the despair. And I found this twinge in my heart that so much of my life has been about being able to enjoy the luxury and not end the poverty. I know I can’t do it all, but I have to be able to do more.

I am not against cruises, trips, or vacations. In fact, I love enjoying those things with my family. But I have come to realize the importance of the heart desire to serve the least of my brothers. In the moments as I watched the ship sail out of sight, my mind was overwhelmed with the image of how often we sail by others in need in order to enjoy our luxury.

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27

Monday, August 2, 2010

Haiti Part 1

This is the first installment of a series of blogs regarding my recent trip to Haiti and what God has been teaching me through the process.
A journey of 700 miles can take you to whole new worlds. Unlike Columbus or Magellan, who had to literally sail the seas to discover new worlds, we have the liberty and luxury to jump on a plane, eat some snacks (assuming you packed your own!!) and emerge in uncharted territory.
Last Sunday I made just such a journey. I found myself first in Port Au Prince and then Port de Paix Haiti on my way to Saint Louis du Noord. Traveling with sixty strangers with Shaun King and Courageous Church out of Atlanta, I was there to help minister at Northwest Haiti Christian Mission. They run orphanages, schools, feeding programs, health clinics and The Miriam Center, for special needs children. We were there to break ground on a new home for the Miriam Center a few miles away from the existing campus which has become too small and too crowded.
As I sat on Sunday night reflecting on my days travel, all that came to my mind was that thousands, no millions of Haitians were fighting for survival today. As I snacked on gummy bears and ate granola bars, how many would die of malnutrition? I had indeed entered a new world.
Riding in the back of a Tap Tap (be grateful for your seat cushions in America) I was made quickly aware of the desperation in Haiti. Even before the January earthquake, Haiti was a place of survival. Few thrive in Haiti. They exist, they survive and they hang on; but almost no one thrives. As you ride the seven miles from the airport to the mission, which takes about an hour, you realize that you are a novelty. Haitians look and stare. Small children wave and yell out, “Blanc, Blanc, Blanc!!!” They are not saying it because we are white, because we arrived as a very diverse group. But, if you are not Haitian you are Blanc.
Perhaps the Blanc feeling I had will never go away. Maybe I will always be an outsider. Maybe, no matter how much my heart breaks or my mind wrestles with the grim reality of life a few hundred miles from my home I realize that I am not fighting for survival. I am thriving. My family has not only enough food for today, but we have enough for weeks. We get to pick and choose what we want.
I have been home about 48 hours now. Part of the team is still in Haiti working on the mission. I will go back; hopefully soon and hopefully with some of you as my teammates. Until then, I will wrestle with the issues of surviving and thriving. I can’t solve all the problems in Haiti, but I do have an answer as to how we can help survive and thrive and how we can thrive more than we thought.
“I have come that you might have life and have it to the full.” John 14:6
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