Wednesday, December 30, 2015

We Ain't Poor

Here's a story I ran into from Florence Ferrier that really hit me:

The Sheldons were a large family in severe financial distress after a series of misfortunes. The help they received was not adequate, yet they managed their meager income with ingenuity -- and without complaint.
One fall day I visited the Sheldons in the ramshackle rented house they lived in at the edge of the woods. Despite a painful physical handicap, Mr. Sheldon had shot and butchered a bear which strayed into their yard once too often. The meat had been processed into all the big canning jars they could find or swap for. There would be meat in their diet even during the worst of the winter when their fuel costs were high.
Mr. Sheldon offered me a jar of bear meat. I hesitated to accept it, but the giver met my unspoken resistance firmly. "Now you just have to take this. We want you to have it. We don't have much, that's a fact; but we ain't poor!"
I couldn't resist asking, "What's the difference?" His answer proved unforgettable.
"When you can give something away, even when you don't have much, then you ain't poor. When you don't feel easy giving something away even if you got more'n you need, then you're poor, whether you know it or not."
I accepted and enjoyed their gift and treasured that lesson in living. In time, I saw it as a spiritual lesson, too. Knowing that all we have is provided by the Father, it seems ungracious to doubt that our needs will be met without our clinging to every morsel. 
When I feel myself resisting an urge to share what's mine -- or when I see someone sharing freely from the little he has -- I remember Mr. Sheldon saying, "We ain't poor!"

I have found that so true... Some of the poorest people people I know are also the richest, and some of the richest are actually the poorest-minded. It's something I need to keep in mind for the coming year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Disturb Us

Disturb us, Lord, whenWe are too pleased with ourselves,When our dreams have come trueBecause we dreamed too little,When we arrived safelyBecause we sailed too close to the shore. 
Disturb us, Lord, whenwith the abundance of things we possessWe have lost our thirstFor the waters of life;Having fallen in love with life,We have ceased to dream of eternityAnd in our efforts to build a new earth,We have allowed our visionOf the new Heaven to dim. 
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,To venture on wilder seasWhere storms will show Your mastery;Where losing sight of land,We shall find the stars.
We ask you to push backThe horizons of our hopes;And to push back the futureIn strength, courage, hope, and love. 
This we ask in the name of our Captain,Who is Jesus Christ.
~ Sir Francis Drake

Dipoles, Neurons, and Us

Neurons - Your brain isn't made up of individual
thoughts but rather a web of connections.
What is a magnetic field? Truth is, you can’t make a magnetic field with just one object. You need at least two (a dipole), and the interaction between them can cause a magnetic field.

Think about neurons and thoughts for a moment. A thought isn’t an individual neuron firing; rather, a thought happens when two neurons connect. In fact, the strongest neurons aren’t the ones that are the biggest; rather, it’s the ones with the most connections. Just like magnets, it’s not the individual that really matters but the connections they make.

I think the most important things in life are like that. For instance, love. It, by definition, can’t live alone or just in one person. It must be shared to really be love. It lives in the connection between people more than the individual people.

We are also like that. When we think about who we are, we think on an individual level. However, maybe we should think of ourselves more in terms of our relationships and the influence we are on others. After all, isn’t that how wiser people define themselves? It seems like the course of human thinking (at least in America) is to define yourself by what you do when you’re young, what you’ve done when you’re older, and by your friends and family when you’re old. Also, when you think of the impact you have, it’s almost universally defined as relationships instead of individual actions or accomplishments.

So what about you? If the connections you made and the impact you had in others was more important than what you did, would you behave any differently?

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Faith and Obedience

So, this is going to be one of the most ironic blog posts of all time… I’m sitting here writing about obedience. That in itself isn’t too bad, but God prompted me to write it 3 years ago and I’m just now doing it. I’ve followed God in plenty other areas of my life, but I’ve always found an excuse not to pick up writing like He’s told me I should. Anyway, here it is out of Luke 17…

5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
6 He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.

So Jesus rarely responds to the stated question. He often takes that question and looks at the asker’s heart question. Here for instance, the disciples don’t necessarily want faith. They were probably actually asking any of the following questions:

Lord, how can we see more miracles in our lives? (Matt 9:29, Mark 10:52)
How can we please God more? (Heb 11:6)
How can we live more like you want us to live? (Mark 4:40, Matt 17:20)

As is typical with Jesus, His answer is at first confusing, especially if you’re not looking at the underlying questions the disciples are asking. But also typically Jesus, His answer is truly brilliant and answers more than just the first question. There has been a lot written on this particular passage, but I think most of it misses the main point: it’s not about faith. You only need a mustard seed of that.

Hang in there with me as we read the next part:

7 “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? 8 Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? 9 Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”
- Luke 17:7-10

No, Jesus didn’t just change the topic of conversation from faith to obedience and service… He is actually responding to every one of the questions the disciples may be asking. Did you know faith is a natural response to obedience? What if the most direct way for the disciples to increase their faith (v5) was to have the attitude Jesus was describing later on?

When I was in college, I was a Resident Assistant. During the spring break, I stayed in the halls and looked after them while everyone else was on break, and they gave me a key that opened most of the doors in my complex. Now, that was a lot of doors, and I happened to lose the key. The office had called me up and told me that I had until Friday at 4 pm to bring back the key or they were going to charge it to my student account.

I was in my last semester, and while I had the money in my account, I was planning a wedding and preparing to go on the mission field after I graduated – the last thing I needed was another bill. To top it off, the entire semester God had been pushing me to give extravagantly to others; the homeless, other college students, other people going on missions, the church… if you could name it God had probably prompted me to give to them and I had obeyed every leading. And every time He would prompt me, He would also say that He was in control of my finances. That season in my life wasn’t necessarily unusual, but its effect on my prayer life was.

I can remember my prayers from that Friday. That afternoon, I locked my door and started praying in a way that was quite unusual for me. “God, you said my finances were in your control” and “I thought you were going to take care of situations like this” – I was actually angry with Him and felt betrayed by Him. I had so much faith in God coming through in times of economic crisis that I was seriously bothered when it looked like it wasn’t going to happen.

What would my prayers have looked like if I hadn’t obeyed the other promptings He gave me? I know exactly what they would have looked like… No matter the words I used, deep in my heart I would have approached the situation resigned to my fate and knowing that it was probably punishment for the earlier times when God asked me to obey in my finances and I didn’t.

It’s just like a little kid who wants to go to the park but you tell them they need to clean their room first. If they haven’t cleaned their room, they’ll still ask you to go to the park, but the asking is half-hearted and just hopeful. However, the asking naturally changes when they’ve already obeyed; now they expect to go to the park and there is a persistence to their asking. The only thing that changed was the level of obedience shown.

Well, what happened to my situation with the key? I was praying and still quite mad at God when I happened to fall asleep. While I was sleeping, I dreamt that the key I was looking for had been stuck in a particular place in wood framework in my couch. I hadn’t seen it because it hadn’t fallen to the ground and you couldn’t see it just by taking the cushions out. As soon as I woke up, I tipped the couch over on its side and heard the key go ‘clunk’, falling from the exact place I had seen it in my dream. Embarrassed at my earlier forceful prayers, I quickly said thanks and apologized, then ran to the Res Life office to give back the key. I left there at 3:45 and none of the ladies in the office knew of the drama that had just happened in my dorm room.

Though I didn’t learn it at the time, it was through reflecting on this experience that made me realize just how interconnected faith and obedience were. Your obedience changes your prayers; when you do what He asks of you it’s the most natural thing in the world to know He’s going to look out for you. The opposite is also true; when you know you haven’t obeyed, it’s the most natural thing in the world to doubt He’s going to look after you. And while you can’t change the amount of faith you start out with, you can certainly change the amount of obedience you show.

Monday, March 30, 2015


My last time on the mission field 4 years ago, I used to talk to people from back home and they would say ‘thank you for your sacrifice’ or ‘I could never do what you’re doing’. The general sentiment I got and came to believe was that there were some (pastors and missionaries) called to sacrifice and the rest of the church was called to support them. I didn’t really know what to respond to that so I said thank you and moved on. However, I started to believe I was sacrificing a lot and looking at the things I gave up. I began to get bitter. God had called some of my friends to have great jobs and good ministries while I was sweating constantly and was living on beans and rice most of the time. The bitterness increased at God until I felt like a common vessel in 2 Timothy 2:20; God had chosen many for amazing ministries but someone had to live in poverty and take out the trash and that was me.

Several years later, I’ve totally worked through this mindset and realized how dangerous it was. The truth about sacrifice is much more freeing:

Sacrifice points to priorities

You can say that Christ is first in your life, but it’s only the sacrifices you make that will truly reveal your priorities. Likewise, you can say you love others, but if you’re not sacrificing anything for them, it’s empty words. In a world that despises giving things up, sacrifice is a clarion call that you are not of the world.
If your eyes are on the sacrifice and what you’ve given up, you’ve missed the reason behind the sacrifice. Sacrifice should point to something greater. Jesus demonstrated this clearly on the cross, and it was because of the joy set before Him that He went through its shame and mockery (Heb 12:2). If He sacrificed for us, shouldn’t we sacrifice for Him?

Sacrifice is necessary for Fruit

If you want fruit in your walk with Jesus, you are going to have to sacrifice. Jesus talked about that in John 15 with the vines that are trimmed and pruned. Sacrifice itself doesn’t produce fruit but it makes room for it in your life. If you’ve ever wondered why the western church is so sloth-like compared to its peers in the 3rd world, this is the biggest reason. While the church in the West spends most of its time wondering how much of the world they can still hang on to and get to heaven, much of the church in the Rest pays a high price even to enter set foot in a church.
Who ever heard of a star athlete who never practiced and ate fast food for every meal? While sacrifice doesn’t make star athletes, it is certainly a necessary part of the process. It’s equally ludicrous to believe that Christians can change the world without changing their own lives first.

Sacrifice Brings Freedom

God’s way brings unparalleled freedom, but it’s going to cost you something. Anyone who has been in debt and was able to get out will tell you that. If you want out of debt, you’re going to have to change your lifestyle somehow. It can be so easy to get into bondage but can be a long slog back out. If you want out of an addiction, you often have to change the places you frequent and sometimes even your friends. It’s totally possible, but only if you keep your eyes fixed on the freedom ahead and not the things you are sacrificing.

Yes, we go for many hours without power, the places we stay aren’t always safe, we rarely know where our finances will come from, and there are few of the comforts of home here. But that’s not the point – the point is that those things pale in comparison to what we’ve chosen instead. The point is that, regardless of what the commercials say, I was made for something greater than living comfortably and drinking the best coffee. When someone says to me that they could never do what we are doing, I want to ask them what price they would pay for a life full of purpose. The next time you see someone who has sacrificed greatly, don’t thank them for their sacrifice but look at what they’ve sacrificed and know that there is something in their world that is more important.

Friday, March 20, 2015

5 Mozambican Phrases and What They Actually Mean

Pobreza Não zanga

(Poverty Doesn’t Get Angry)

I thought this was an intruging statement insinuating that it was the rich who made wars. Nope, I wasn’t even close. I first heard it when my friend was talking about his co-workers waiting around the shop for 4 hours after they were supposed to leave until the owner would pay them. “Oh well, poverty doesn’t get angry” they said. My friend had left because he had the money to get through the weekend and would pick up his salary on Monday, but his co-workers weren’t as fortunate. The Mozambicans use it to mean that when you are poor, you don’t have any rights. That people can do anything to you and you don’t have recourse.

This made me realize the importance of Lev 19:13 and a number of verses in Isaiah that speak strongly of paying your workers on time and not oppressing them.

Americanos tem roupas Moçambicano

(Americans have Mozambican clothing)

It took me a while to realize that they mean ONLY Americans have Mozambican clothing. This again was a touch-in-cheek way of discussing poverty; only the visitors could afford the traditional tribal gear. The Mozambicans themselves have to wear hand-me-down t-shirts and misprints from the US and other countries.

The problem with Mozambicans: we give flowers to dead people.

(told to me in English)

One of the most profound insights I received about the culture, this one also means ‘we ONLY give flowers to dead people’. When you’re there at the moment, no one will appreciate you. However, once you leave, everyone will think fondly of you. This definitely happened to us and these words were a comfort to know we weren’t the only ones. Thank you Pastor Supresa.

Prior to que Negro

(worse than a black person)

My least favorite phrase of all-time, bar none. This is used to describe terrible missionaries, and yes, they do exist. But what I hate most is that it assumes foreigners are better than nationals, which is a very common perception. It leads Mozambicans to buy from a stranger before they’ll buy from another Mozambican, and do business with foreigners before they do business with their own. Mozambicans also treat other Mozambicans terribly, if they are paying them to get a job done. It also leads to Mozambicans thinking that, because of their nationality, it’s ok to steal and lie. One of our overarching goals is to kill this mindset and bring integrity to the people.

Mazungu, Mulungu

(foreigners, specifically westerners)

I had to throw them in there because I love these. They don’t actually mean ‘white’. ‘Mazungu’ means The Restless People, and I can’t think of a better name for us. If you are an African and used to the African pace of life, the most obviously different thing about us has got to be the pace of our life; how we are always rushing around to get things done and rarely stop to smell the roses. When our day stops because of something unexpected, we don’t take it as a time of relaxation – we instead get stressed out and frustrated and the powers beyond our control.

Mulungu means ‘the holy people’ or ‘the godly ones’. You may think it refers to foreigners bringing Christianity to the area, but you’d be wrong… The Mozambicans insist that it was what they called the secular traders for introducing beer to the land!

I'm sure I'll remember more notable phrases, but I figured I'd share at least these now :).

Monday, February 16, 2015

Want to Quit Your Job?

For those of you who have been following the vision of Equip Mozambique and its desire to impact the country in the area of business, you probably knew this moment was coming. In order to increase the embarrassingly low amount of Mozambican-run businesses, we would have to ask some people to leave their jobs.

That would cause anyone anxiety, but let me put it into perspective for you. Imagine having a great job, being paid more than almost all of your friends, and having job security in an economy where unemployment is 23%. Now add to that the cultural differences: in the west, we revel in doing the unknown; if no one else has done it, that makes us want to do it even more. In Mozambique, if no one else has done it, no one wants to try. As a Mozambican just starting out, the prospect is terrifying. However, I've never known God to shy away from asking people to do the impossible or terrifying!

The roles we have ended up in are visionary, catalyst, and mentor. As visionaries, we call out the gifting we see in the Mozambicans and how we can see God using them. As catalysts, we we down with them and look at logistics; when should they leave their jobs, what kind of funds they will need before they begin, and what contacts they will need to develop. As mentors, we are with them every step of the way, helping with wisdom, encouragement, and calling out potential pitfalls we see. Unlike last time we were in Mozambique, we are not helping financially and will only get involved in these business ideas if the Mozambican behind it is more invested in the idea than we are.

Personally, this has been thrilling for me, both in the excited sense and the scary sense. If you have ever been used by God to call something into being that wasn't there before, you know what I mean. To hear something in prayer and to fight for it until it becomes reality is one of the most satisfying things I have ever done. One of these days I'll give you my rant about open-door/close-door prayers, but suffice it to say it's just more fun figuring out God's will and then seeking its fulfillment. That was my favorite part about leading small groups in the US; sitting down with others, praying with them, finding the Lord's will, and fighting with them until it happened. Some of the most powerful were also some of the longest. Long shots at Med school, scholarships, becoming president of a fraternity, chronic sexual struggles, life-long battles with self-hatred; I saw God do it all. Sometimes the battles took months or years but that made the victory even sweeter when it did happen.

God's just taken what I was used to and upped the ante. The most nervous I get is when I see Bernardo's little girl, knowing that if things go south, she may not have anything to eat; there is no such thing as unemployment benefits here. However, I just see this as a continually-expanding lesson to me of God's faithfulness. When He asked me if I could trust Him with my life, it took me several years to answer yes. Then He asked if I could trust Him with my wife's life too. Several more years. Last year, He asked if I could trust Him with my kid's lives, and that was the hardest one yet. Now he is asking me about other families and other people's kids and while I know I can trust Him on a theological level, I'm still working at getting there practically.