Your Project, Your Purpose

When I was a young college student (17 years old), I found myself spending lots of time alone in my dorm room. Realizing that I could only read so much, listen to so many cassette tapes, re-arrange the closet, I decided to venture out. I quickly ran into representatives from various churches, most notably, the Baptist Student Union.

It was a life-changing meeting for me, or at least, I hope it was. The BSU naturally offered me a place to be around other young college students. I came to look forward to their evening, once a week video series with enthusiasm. It was my first exposure to Christian speakers–aside from Mass and church. One of them was a man by the name of Tony Campolo. I truly enjoyed all his presentations, and after one of them, recognizing the futility of a life without divine purpose, I accepted Christ as my personal saviour.

I was reminded of this when I read this post at Ben Witherington’s blog sharing a sermon written by Craig Hill.

Whether or not we know God, the question that dominates our lives remains the same. At issue is where we look for the answer. The easiest thing to do, the thing that probably most of us do most of the time, is to follow the world’s lead, to buy (often literally) into a system of values that says, if only you could own this, or look like this, or do this, then you’d be happy, then your life would have meaning. But it is not real bread, it is not the stuff that satisfies. We are made for God, and only in God will we discover the meaning for which we long, and which is our birthright as God’s children.

At issue is WHERE we look. Wow, what a powerful idea. Imagine if I had stepped out with a fraternity rather than the BSU, where might my life had gone? Although I’d like to think I was smarter than a life of partying and drinking–my apologies to the sober and responsible fraternities–due to my social outcast experiences as a middle schooler, I am grateful that I felt comfortable enough to start looking at church.

This sermon reminded me of one I’d heard when I was 17 and in my freshman year of college. That story was told by Tony Campolo, a person whose words I greatly admired, but had never listened to again. So, since everyone is on the Web, I searched on Tony Campolo and discovered many of his sermons as audio files to download (subscribe to podcast feed as well). I encourage, urge you to go listen to him if you’ve never heard him before. The video of Tony Campolo speaking passionately, mopping his bald head humorously, is one that I can never forget.

The story is one I’ve heard again with different interpretations. However, perhaps because I heard it first, Tony Campolo’s version is the one I remember. It is about how, out of millions of sperm, I was the one. I was the one who had made it. I had run the race and won. While there might be more to it, that’s what I remember. This story touched me powerfully because it called attention to how special I was at a time when I didn’t feel very special at all. I had been picked on in middle school, and although I’d managed to forge new relationships in high school, I was still feeling very much alone and lonely. I knew I was vulnerable, that I had a choice to make. It was a reasoned choice, as strange as that sounds. That story, told by Tony Campolo, just affirmed me as a special person. The fact I needed that affirmation, and where that affirmation had to come from, made me aware.
Looking back to that night, when I sat with the BSU Pastor in his office, and accepted Christ as my personal saviour, I remember the feeling of being unable through sheer force of will to be a good person, to continue on. Like Michael Card in one of his songs, i decided to live like a believer, to accept I’m not up to the challenge by myself.

As I begin my first Christmas without my father, I am grateful of another time in my life when Dad wasn’t handy to provide the anchor in my life…my freshman year in college, when I was away. It was a time when I was filled with doubt, uncertainty, and I found fellowship a strange and wondrous experience. Through it all, I am grateful…yes, grateful that I accepted Christ that night so long ago, grateful that even though the world was a strange place, my first venture in it had people like the BSU folks to offer a smile and an encouraging word…and that they played Tony Campolo videos.

Now, over 20 years later, I can only feel gratitude that my Project was so well-defined early on, establish a foundation upon which I could move forward. That gratitude feels very much like peace.

I encourage you to read the Craig Hill’s sermon, as well as listen to Campolo.

Ox, Lion, Eagle, Man

Chatting with my cousin/sister and her husband, they shared a different way of perceiving people, or personality theories. Although this is a practice we–human beings–have traditionally engaged in with everything from the 4 humours (e.g. sanguine, melancholy, etc) to “orange/blue/green/yellow” as ways to describe personalities, I’d never heard of a Bible-based approach.

Apparently, the approach they shared is based on Revelations 4:7. It reads:

And the first living being was like a lion, and the second living being like a calf, and the third living being had a face as a man, and the fourth living being was like a flying eagle. And the four living beings had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.

Now, I was not aware of all the symbolism that goes along with these beings. Apparently, they are known as the Symbols of the Four Evangelists.

Matthew is the Man. The Man is Humane.
Mark is the Lion. The Lion is Bold.
Luke is the Ox. The Ox is Sturdy.
John is the Eagle. The Eagle is far-seeing.

    Personality styles/models are fun reading, and frightening in their accuracy.

    Podcast3: Expecting a Miracle by Miguel Guhlin

    Moisestanchi.jpg
    Photo: Moises and Talsidia “Tanchi” Vega

    Over the last few days, I had the opportunity to meet with Moises and Tanchi Vega (shown above). They are both national directors for the Mision Global: Esperando un Milagro.

    While you can find out more about their mission at the link above–and, to get a better feel for their audience, I heartily recommend looking at the photos on their site–I was curious to hear how Moises came to Christ. This audiocast allows Moises to share in simple, unadorned words, the most important story he has to share–his testimony.

    One of the other interesting things I learned about was something called “The Evangicube.” This is a fascinating tool to use that relies on pictures painted on a cube to tell the story of Christ, or “a cube that tells the story of the Gospel through moveable pictures.”

    Here it is being used, but you can also watch a Flash video and read the RAP song that goes with it.

     

    While it was sad to see Moises and Tanchi leave, it’s nice to know that they’re right around the corner with Skype! I’m hoping that we might do an Eyes Right Skypecast and have a conversation about the work they’re doing in Panama, Peru, and lots of other places!

    Death

    A relative sent me this, and I thought I’d share it.

    A sick man turned to his doctor, as he was preparing to leave the examination room and said,
    “Doctor, I am afraid to die. Tell me what lies on the other side.”

    Very quietly, the doctor said, “I don’t know.”

    “You don’t know? You, a Christian man, do not know what is on the other side?”

    The doctor was holding the handle of the door; on the other side came a sound of scratching and whining, and as he opened the door, a dog sprang into the room and leaped on him with an eager show of gladness.

    Turning to the patient, the doctor said, “Did you notice my dog? He’s never been in this room before. He didn’t know what was inside. He knew nothing except that his master was here, and when the door opened, he sprang in without fear. I know little of what is on the other side of death, but I do know one thing…I know my Master is there and that is enough.”

    A Prayer

    The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul…Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
    Excerpt from Psalm 23

    In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came unto him, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live.
    Excerpt from Isaiah 38:1-3

    Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.
    Excerpt from John 11:3-5

    Let us pray that God may be glorified, and His will be done.

    Serendipity

    I have a story to share that some will undoubtedly find too lacking in credibility to believe…in fact, I see it as no less than a miracle. Whether others do not, well, that isn’t the point. It is an example of serendipity.
    My mother had been praying, asking for intercession as to what should be done with my father. My father, as Wesley shared in a previous entry, is terminally ill (lung cancer) and checked into a hospital earlier this week. Our next steps hinged on what the Chief Pulmonologist of the hospital would say, whether he would have to make an invasive test or not. Both my parents wanted to do the right thing, but were unsure whether the test was the right way to go and whether it would provide new information or insights into the experience. My mother asked for help and guidance in her prayers.
    Without going into too much detail, on Thursday night, the chief of pulmonology came into my father hospital room. He was Nicaraguan. As he chatted with my parents, discussing the options, especially some particularly unwanted ones that involved a bronchoscopy, my mother asked him, “You’re from Nicaragua?”

    “Yes,” he replied.

    “My grandfather was from Nicaragua and moved to Panama. His name was Mayorga and his family lives in the town of Leon.”

    “Really? I know that family! They are well-known!” This seemed to break the ice, so to speak. It set my mom at ease, and my father, too.

    Later as my mother reflected on the conversation, tears came to her eyes and her voice quavered. She felt that God had stepped in for her. I had to point out that only God COULD have stepped in on this situation. Consider that my great-grandfather on my mother’s side was Nicaraguan, something I had NOT known until she told me Friday morning. And, that the chief of Pulmonology for the hospital we were at–a destination decided upon by the ambulance driver in the early morning hours on Thursday–also was a Nicaraguan who knew the Mayorga family…and who happened to control the fate of my father in regards to achieving desired outcome.

    Well, one could chalk it up as mere coincidence, but my mom and I choose not to. Serendipity is the hand of God at work in the world, more than just coincidence. May you receive this story in the spirit it was intended.

    Power of Prayer and Communion

    Last week, I was called in to do an interview about what I do at work–facilitate professional development at the District level in the area of Instructional Technology. The interview was great because it allowed me to share what I’ve been doing the last 4.5 years. As I kept talking, I was getting more and more excited because the conversation–essentially a summary of what we’ve done–reminded me of how far we’d come.

    At the end of the interview, after the digital recorder and tape recorder were turned off, the interviewer–a Harvard ph.D of Asian descent–looked over at me and said, “Do you have any spiritual motivations for what you’re doing?” I was shocked by the question. We were sitting in a public school building in a room to ourselves, but this lady had clearly crossed the line.
    However, an honest question gets an honest answer. I responded, “Yes. Ever since I’ve been working with children, later with adults, I have felt that my work touches people for eternity. What I show someone in class isn’t as important as how i do it, and even then, all work done is a prayer.” I shared that I am a Christian. The researcher appeared overjoyed to hear this. In a few minutes, I understood why.

    “I could tell from the moment I met you that you were a Christian.” She said a lot more about her impressions, but let’s just say that while those comments were great, I was reeling from the shock of having a spiritual conversation in that public school building. It was a surreal experience, I kid you not. Perhaps, one can even characterize it as “supernatural.” She shared her experiences as a Christian, but she used those to amplify my experiences, to help me view them through a different filter.
    I shared with her the story of Peter in the boat and Jesus commandment to come to him. I likened the experience to that of educators who are struggling to overcome fear and oppression represented by current legislation. As we ended our conversation, she started to reach across the table to take my hand but stopped short…neither one of us wanted to cross the line of propriety. We had connected as Christians in our beliefs and sharing of the Spirit, an experience that does NOT happen every day for me with absolute strangers. I jokingly said to myself (internally) that I needed to hang out with more born again Christians or more strangers….

    She asked me, “Do you mind if we pray?”

    “Not at all,” I replied. I bowed my head, closed my eyes and entered into meditation. The prayer she spoke was Spirit-filled. I was immediately touched by the words and I hadn’t felt the Spirit like that in a long time. That very day, I remember experiencing despair that K-12 education would ever see change and “giving it up to God” on my drive to work.

    But, praying with this person I had never met before and probably wouldn’t see again, her words hit me like a freight train, again and again. She prayed that God give me the courage to be bold, and being bold, that I might go out and do what needed to be done. She made a connection to Peter’s story of walking on the waves, she prayed for my wife and I and blessed me in what I had done.

    I have to tell you that everything she said shook me to my core because I needed to hear it, experience it in prayer. I only wish the digital audio recorder I had with me had been indeed been on to record the prayer. I told her that I would never again doubt God answered prayers quickly. The prayer restored my confidence and left me exhilirated. I shared the story with others, and meant to write sooner here, but other events took precedence.

    I honestly wish I could share exactly how the prayer went, but the euphoria of the moment washed the words from my mind. I do not remember them. I like to describe this as receiving one’s daily bread, not counting on prepared words or speeches, only trusting to the Lord and letting the Spirit guide one. This had been my experience with the Spirit before so I was not surprised that it was what happened. When I left that meeting, I knew God had answered me and I knew that both the Harvard researcher and I had shared a moment of communion that would stay with us both forever.

    When I called, you answered me; you made me bold and stouthearted.
    Psalm 138:3

    Step Into Fear and Swing

    One of my favorite guys in the Bible–after Job and Paul, of course–is Simon Peter. Maybe it’s silly to find Peter likable, but what I like about Peter is that he’s so darn fallible. He has the full range of emotions, from fear to courage but never quite sure what to be at any particular time. Like a leaf blown about by the wind, it’s clear that his emotions get the better of him. He strikes me as a man of passion, aware of his fallacies and yet emboldened by the Christ to be better, better than he could imagine for himself.

    If I believe in this guy, if I’m going to be true to who I am, then, dammit, I’m going to act on it. I’m not going to sit here, huddled in fear with everyone else. Command me, Jesus, and I know that I can do it…for if the Living God wills it, how could it NOT happen?
    Source: Matthew 14:22-31, Bible

    Often, I wish for the black-n-white of a mandate. It’s great when the boss walks in and says, “Do this just like this and take whatever steps need to be taken, irregardless of cost, time, or staff.” But, as you go up the hierarchy of authority, you realize you have less power to wield that authority, and everything is in shades of grey except your integrity.

    It’s at these times that I have to come back to Peter, huddling in the boat as the storm rages, and Jesus walks upon the waves. I imagine that Peter didn’t run from his fear all the time. When God was there, commanding him, he stepped into Fear like a boxer, raised his fist and struck back for the rest of us. It’s at these times when the sky is overcast, and everything seems to have a grey tinge, that I remember that if Peter, a simple, weak man who denied Christ 3 times when Jesus needed him most, who displayed less loyalty than a dog…if he can find the courage in God’s Word Made Flesh, then I can certainly find courage as well.

    Dammit, I’m not going to sit here, huddled in fear with everyone else. How many people, who had the chance, stood up and overcame their fears to survive 9/11? And, even if death crushed them, at least, they died commanded by the Living God. And…really, what else can a person ask for?

    leadership

    As I have grown older, I have begun to see others differently. When I was young, I saw only the good in others. My mother and wife referred to this as seeing my values reflected in others…in truth, I wasn’t seeing them, just seeing what I valued.

    As I grew older, I became disillusioned. It seemed I had to control others, manipulate them to achieve what would be right for everyone concerned. I only saw the worst, a reflection of my fears.
    Now, when I look I see people just like me, fearful and worthy of being loved. So long as I can see them, witness them as they are, recognize the hypocrisy and the desire to do well, and, love them where they are, leadership is less about direction, more about finding the best possible answers together.
    This vision flows not from my strengths alone, but my weaknesses, my absolute surrender to the fact that I am a sinner…it is a surrender that does not come easily. God must fight me every day for that surrender, and I yield each time only after a struggle. Thank you, God, for fighting me for Me.

    Responsible for others, I have to look, not with my eyes, but with the eyes of the Spirit. I have to see, not what my weary mind wants to see–the ugliness, the bitterness, the disappointment, the humanity. I have to not only see that, but also, the fact that those I am responsible for are flawed, weak, and deserving of Me fighting for them, just as Jesus the Christ fights for Me.

    Lord, I am not worthy…

    In the Catholic Mass, one of my favorite prayers is encompassed in these few words, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive You, but only say the Word, and I shall be healed.”

    Writing in this blog is not easy for me. It is not easy because Luke 18:9-14 lies heavy on my mind. I am that Pharisee, unworthy of your attention. Yet, I am also a shard of a broken mirror that is called to reflect the Light whose illumination brings peace and comfort (Psalm 97:11). Broken, I cannot fix myself. Scattered to pieces, I pray that He will make me whole, restore me to what I should be.

    Like a worker in the fields longing for the day’s end, working in spite of the insects, the unbearable sun, the weariness that permeates my being, I wait for Him to say the Word so that I might be healed. Though I am surrounded by people who encourage me, who wish me well, and for whom I labor, I still long for your peace. I am a foreigner in a land I never intended to know or become familiar with. I do not find myself anywhere I look. I pray I may never forget I am a foreigner, a parched piece of earth waiting for your healing rain (Deuteronomy 28:12).

    Let us pray to the Lord.