Beyond what you can bear (audioblog)

My life is driven by my own world view which is driven by the truths of Scripture (as I make the time to reflect). Over time, I wrestle with some ideas around the nature of our world, our God, and how our existence meshes beautifully with the goodness of God. However, there are tough life experiences that call our understanding of God into question. These questions can then lead to a deteriorated (or invigorated) relationship with our God.

This is my first audio-blog which was recorded on a long drive when I was visiting my mom as she was undergoing surgery. If you are going to take the 14:19 to listen to this audio-blog, take the time to read through some of the passages of scripture and ideas that I’m going to wrestle with in this recording. Please enjoy the background music and the noise of the car ride.

Verses:

  • 1 Corinthians 10:13 – No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
  • Matthew 6:33 – But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Ideas:

  • Sin of commission: is to know something is wrong, and do it anyway; deliberate disobedience to the known will of God
  • Sin of omission: sins of failing to do what we should have done
  • Temped: being compelled to sin (to act in a way that not in complete alignment with the will and nature of God and His goodness)

Audio-blog: Beyond what you can bear

Ethiopia: Christ is too simple for the adult

While in Ethiopia, my translator, Bareket, shared why he is compelled to teach children of the love of God through Jesus Christ. He started off with a little story.

One day a preacher came home and told his wife that two and a half people came to know Jesus Christ that day. His wife was confused about what he meant by a half a person and asked if her husband implied that a couple and their small child accepted Christ. He replied, “No, the two and a half people refer to the two children and one adult that chose to follow Christ. For the two children have their entire life before them live for Christ’s glory whereas the adult has already wasted half of her life.” Bareket went on to explain that it is much more difficult for an adult submit to Christ because the adult carried much baggage and believes many lies that must first be dispelled before he will be convinced of the truth of Christ.

Bareket focus on teaching the little children of Christ’s love. He reiterated to me that the gospel is so simple and easy to grasp that it’s easier for children to accept than adults because the adults are confounded by its simplicity. Children know they cannot understand everything and don’t need to; however, us adults think we are something greater and need to be able to understand all aspects of everything before we commit. I’m just glad that we don’t live by this mentality for anything else in life – for we’d never commit to anything (name any risk – investments, projects, pursuing new ideas, etc., marriage, children, or our word).

Ethiopia: Story of confidence in God’s power

The third day in Ethiopia, Lacey (http://kansasandcosmos.wordpress.com/) shared a story with our team that I wanted to relay to the world. It’s a story of good and evil, of deception and fear, of control and manipulation, of good over evil – the fairy tale, however, in truth and reality.

I’d like to caveat the following story for the western mindset. In America, there isn’t witchcraft, voodoo, or other eerie mysticism. That isn’t how Satan chooses to control us; he chooses much more intellectually benign things like busyness, money, status, hedonism, and pride (our own pride in our intellectual ability to reason away the reality of the spiritual).

God opened my eyes to the spiritual world in a very real way one day while I was in a rural Ethiopian village to tell the people about our upcoming clinics and share the Gospel. I walked past a hut where my translator said they worshiped a spirit, and dark smoke filled the air surrounding the home. We also came across a large tree with fabric tied around the trunk, and I found out some of the local villagers worshiped the tree. But the biggest revelation came from two small lemons on the side of the road.

As the translator Jerusalem and disciple maker Haiminot and I walked down the dirt road, we passed another house with smoke coming from it. Jerusalem told me the family of that house worships the devil and tries to put curses on people in the village. As we continued our journey through the village, we saw two small lemons on the side of the road. I thought it was odd to see the fruit in such a random spot in rural Ethiopia, but didn’t think much beyond that. I was about to continue walking, when Haiminot stopped to pick up the lemons. Jerusalem told me the lemons were actually used by the family whose house we just passed in creating their potions and curses, and then they throw the lemons on the side of the road. Whoever picks up the lemons or accidentally steps on them is supposed to get the curse. (Sidebar – this is exactly how Satan works, he uses fear and manipulation to control.)

Without any hesitation or fear that maybe he really could get a curse, Haiminot carried the lemons with him throughout the village, playfully tossing them in the air. We continued our walk down the road and Haiminot saw a young farmer who he said we needed to go speak with. We all sat down on the ground, and even though I couldn’t understand the conversation between Haiminot and the farmer, it was clear they already knew each other. After sharing the Gospel, the young man didn’t want to accept Christ, but said he did want to invite us into his home to learn more. Unfortunately his wife wasn’t home so we couldn’t speak further, but Haiminot said he’d return at a later day.

During the conversation, the young farmer asked Haiminot why in the world he was holding the lemons when he knew what potential they had. Haiminot replied that because of Christ, he doesn’t need to worry about a curse having power over him since Christ rules the world. I later found out that this young farmer was actually the son of the family who throws out the lemons.

Every villager we met had a huge fear of two small pieces of fruit. When they saw the lemons in Haiminot’s hands they would take a step back away from us. Children would say, “Dirty! Dirty!” and adults would fearfully shake their heads “No” when Haiminot asked if they wanted to touch the lemons. The two small lemons became a huge testament to the villagers about trust and reassurance in the power of Christ to protect us. After a long day of walking throughout the village, Haiminot went home…and ate the lemons for a snack, confident in the power of Christ.

Ethiopia: WOW, God loves me dispite of my future

One of my teammates, Anne, shared a profound truth with our team one morning over breakfast in Ethiopia. She opened with the idea that God is not stuck in the present like we are; he knows our past, but even our future. Of course, he is God, no big deal. But, then she put that together with another truth of God, He loves us. These two separate are easy to digest, but put them together and the purity of God’s love for me begins to reveal itself.

How amazing is this – God loves me despite of my future. He loves me right now even though he knows I will reject him, I will backstab, I will lie to his face, I will live an adulterous lifestyle worshiping the things of this world (His creation and not the Creator), I will abandon Him, I will…

This idea isn’t too hard for me to grasp until I begin to personalize it. For, this is intensely personal to God and I need to empathize a little to grasp God’s profound love. So, would I love anybody with such fervor, devotion, and unrestrained selflessness if I know that the object of supreme affection and dedication would betray me in a few short days, months, or years? How can I love somebody when I know (s)he is going to betray that love? How can I love when I know that love will be taken for granted, forgotten, rejected, and even scorned? Would I marry somebody if I absolutely knew all of her flaws, when she would reject me, that she would live adulterously, that she would abandon me, divorce me and marry another, that she would backstab, that she wasn’t completely committed, that she would not love in return? How could I? I do not know; but, I know it’s not possible for me to do that (without the divine intervention of my God).

Here we are, each of us, with the truth that God loves us despite of our future. He remains completely committed, continuously pouring out himself selflessly. His love is so deep; it’s incomprehensible (like really, give it a try). He chooses to love when he already knows the future pain, rejection, and heartache he must endure. What am amazing God we have. May we glorify His name throughout the world and at all times.

Impacting the World: Let’s talk Ethiopia

Right now, the world grieves; cries for help are heard from near and far. Right now, we see large-scale devastation from natural disasters; killing from terrorists and wars; dehumanizing injustices of human trafficking, the sex-trade, and slavery; loved ones suffering from cancer; hopes and dreams destroyed through the economic downturn; and loneliness within the masses. We all respond to the needs around us in our own way – none better than another.

Much of the world’s population cannot afford any form of health care or medicine. More than half of Ethiopia’s population has no access to health care at all; of those that do, most must walk more than two (2) hours to a facility. Preventable and treatable diseases such as cholera, river blindness, yellow fever, dengue, hepatitis and typhoid fever kill thousands annually. It is with this understanding that I am compelled to take action and impact this world.

In August, I will go into Africa to serve the needs of the forgotten. Rather than focusing specifically on orphans this year, as I did last year in Uganda, our team of sixteen (16) will set-up a health clinic in a rural area of Ethiopia to provide free basic health care to a community. We will see and treat many children and adults as well as share the love and message of Jesus with all.

I share this with you because I strive to live in the tension between the American lifestyle and the adventurer yearning to impact the world in the name of Jesus. I ask that you forgive me for messing up, offending, being self-centered, manipulative, and apathetic and for not expressing my appreciation and thankfulness for your involvement in my life.

I invite you to share in this adventure with me in the following ways:

  • Prayer: I’d love to have you pray with me for this world to transform into what God intended it to be.
  • Encouragement: Let’s hang out, go for a walk/run, talk about how to change our world, or otherwise create an atmosphere of excitement and adventure in our own lives.
  • Financial Support: The complete trip will cost $3,500. If you would like to help fund the trip, please provide your tax-deductible donations (payable to McLean Bible Church) at http://www.frontlinedc.com/pages/page.asp?page_id=9190.

I will continue to share my Africa experiences at http://africa.jason1365.com updating the website as the journey unfolds. Thank you for your friendship and considering to partner with me to sustain life in Ethiopia.

Give me a call, let’s talk soon.

~Jason

Identity and Character – God’s individual focus

So, there are some stories in the Bible that seem very telling of identity in Christ. For instance, the story of the Rich Young Ruler (Mark 10:17-30, Luke 18:18-23) [which I am thrilled to continually reinterpret in wonderful new ways]. What is it really about? We have a guy say that he has kept the commandments of the Jewish law asking how he can have eternal life and then Jesus says, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Does this make much sense? Not really. I mean, why should he have to give up his riches? Riches aren’t bad or evil. There is nothing wrong with money and power in his youth.

So, if that’s not it, then it’s got to be something else. And as I see it, it’s very clear that Jesus simply asks for the man’s full identity to be rooted in Him alone. It wasn’t commandments/obedience that were keeping him from eternal life, but it was his security he derived from his status, power, riches, and expected longevity.

This is why I love the gospel. It’s always about give up everything; lay it down; forget yourself, your money, your past, your future. Jesus goes on to say only a few verses later “I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.” Basically, I see Jesus saying that we have to give up things of great value – even things that seem like very good and beneficial things – to fully devote ourselves to him. (But when? How? What does that look like?)

I wonder about the “rich young ruler” some more. Why didn’t Jesus tell him to throw a big event where Jesus could preach? Or why didn’t Jesus say that he should have the man use the money to build a trust and support the church movement? Or a bunch of other good things that could advance the gospel? And, I believe it’s because this man’s security (identity) was wrapped up in his riches. But, I take it a step further to his achievements. He had achieved an abundance of money and power at a young age and to give them up was unreasonable [Jesus is generally pretty unreasonable, but somehow the nonsensical lifestyle is always full of adventure, abundance, and joy]. Maybe using them to enhance the kingdom would be reasonable, but I bet the man would just find security in doing what looked good and advanced the reach of the gospel message. Rather, Jesus cared about His character more than how many Bibles the rich man could distribute (yet another thing derive security/pride).

I see character as what is most important to God throughout the Bible – not achievement of God-type things. I wonder why Moses wandered for 40 years, why Jacob had to wait 21 years for Rebecca, why Abraham was told to slaughter his only son (whom the promise was to come through), why Joseph was in jail for 7 years, etc. God could have just given them their goal immediately, but he didn’t. Why is that?

Then, this same God not only wants to develop our character, but he also tests us. Why does he test us? I wonder. I mean, God knows everything, it’s not like God needs to find out something about us (Does God wonder, “I wonder how he’ll handle this?”). So, maybe the only reason for a test is so that we can see our true character plainly. For when Abraham passed the test to kill his son Isaac, it was counted to him as righteousness (Romans 4:9). But, God knew Abraham’s heart beforehand and what he would do. But, I bet Abraham doubted himself – if he would actually follow through and fully trust God. But, after he put his faith and God and saw that God was faithful, how much more confidence does Abraham have in God and himself?

So, Jesus tested Philip with the feeding of the 5000 (John 6:5-15) – He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do (John 6:6). Again, why? So that Philip would see his own lack of faith. Then we look at Jesus tempted. I wonder about this at times, for these would have been very tough tests that Satan put before him. For, Satan basically told Jesus that he could save the whole world from Satan’s domination if Jesus would only worship Satan. Wow, that is exactly Jesus’ goal – to save the world. There is a small nuance difference, but both routes achieve Jesus’ goal to save the world. It’s just what is “good and right” as I see it. There is the “good and right” way to achieve the goal and the seemingly straightforward and immediate way. Jesus focused on the eternal perspective and knew that immediate gratification (no matter how tempting) is not the way of righteousness (aka God).

Where do I find my identity? How do I handle seeing the results of the character tests God places before me (both success and failure)? Am I willing to give up everything to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousnesses (what is good and right)? Do I trust him over these things I’d love to find security (money, job, intellect, physical abilities, charisma, health, youth, status, etc.)?

What to do next

There is the awful predicament that I am consistently plagued – questions about the future. What do I do next? How do I handle this impending situation? What is God’s will? What is best? What is good and right? How will I know? What’s the deal – oh frustration.

James 4 – 13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. 17 Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.

Isaiah 55:9 – As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Interpretation: We are incapable of determining God’s thoughts through human reasoning; therefore, we are dependent on divine revelation.

These verses tell me that I can’t plan for tomorrow and that I can’t even imagine that I can come up with what my tomorrow should even look like. How depressing. What am I supposed to do? How do I deal with topics like:

  • Retirement savings
  • Emergency savings
  • Decision to go back to school or not
  • Moving or getting a new job
  • Changing my longer-term commitments: girl, friends, family, organization, activities, leadership

When I read through the Bible I get even more confused. There are some really rich people in there and some really poor. There are people that gave up everything to follow a calling (but how can we be sure something is that “calling”?) and people that did great things in their positions (jobs). There are people who are well-learned and those with no education.

I guess I get frustrated at God’s creativity. For, I’d love to just be able to figure things out easy on my own. I’d like be able to apply analysis and logic to situations in my life and figure out what to do. But it’s not that simple, simply because God doesn’t want us bloat with pride by using the abilities he has given us to avoid Him. So, it’s cool in the end that I must go back to Him. I must not have pre-conceptions of where my future is going that I’m unwilling to release. I must constantly check-myself.

How do I check myself? Well, I generally ask myself these questions when coming on a decision. Of course, I’m not so objective or perfect that I always allow myself to admit the full truth, but it’s definitely a start.

  • Am I rationalizing/justifying my actions? (Are there excuses or self-assurance with sensical reasons?)
  • Am I scared to do it and it is in alignment with God’s truths (probably should take the risk)?
  • Do I have peace that after (and usually before) that I’ve acted righteously and in complete and utter humble submission to God?
  • Is this good and right?

Does this resonate?