Archive for November, 2010

Open Christians

There was a time when being Christian ment certain death.  In places around the world today, you confess your faith in Christ and you are signing your life away.  Rome put hundreds of thousands to the sword because they would not deny their faith.  Christians are persecuted left and right all around the globe because they have spoken out.  They are beaten.  They are tortured.  They are killed.  And yet many in the American church refuse to speak about their faith. 

To many Christians go through their lives not living like they are following Christ.  They do good deeds, but when asked, they make up lame excuses like ‘good karma’ and ‘do good for others so others do good for you’.  They show up at church once a week, filling a spot, but as soon as they hit the door, life continues like nothing ever happened.  It makes me sick. 

Can we live, actually live, like we are following Christ?  When asked why we serve, can we not give the truth? We serve because Christ served.  As followers of Christ, we take on his own actions, living like he lived and dying each and every day, sacrificing ourselves for God’s plan. 

It sickens me when Christians refuse to acknowledge their faith, because too often I find myself doing exactly that. 

It’s not only individuals, but Christian Organizations. 

In a conversation that I took part in (not really, since I was focused on driving) somebody brought up the fact the Heifer International, an organization that allows someone to buy an animal for people who live a half a world away as a gift for someone else, give out Bibles with each gifted animal.  The problem somebody had been the fact that they do not announce this fact, except if you go searching for it, hidden deep within their website.  (I have yet to find where on their website this is, but they do openly proclaim Jewish and Christian philosophies.)

There are plenty of Christian organizations, Christian based bands, Artists, etc. that refuse to acknowledge their reliance on Christ.  Reasons may range from sales numbers, money, public interest or more.  Are we afraid to live up to the name of Christian?  Are we really following Christ if we refuse to take up his name?

Then we come to the issue of whether or not we, as Christians, should openly pronounce our faith.  Is it best to blatantly wear Christian clothing and shout scripture on the street corners?  Do we go around prophesying and speaking in tongues where everyone can see us?  Or do we worship behind locked doors?  Hide our actions from prying eyes? 

As a Christian, serving those around you is part of your faith.  It isn’t something that you should flaunt, nor is it something that you hide.  Serve to the best of your ability and don’t take any of the credit, give that to God in heaven. 

As for organizations, as well as individuals, don’t be afraid to tell the truth.  Don’t be afraid to share why you are the way you are.  Share your faith.  Just as you serve, be willing to be open about your faith. 

Just some thoughts…

God Bless and PEACE

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Giving Thanks

There are so many things that I am thankful for from this past year.  So many people have come into my life and I will never have the words to express how valuable each and every single one of them are.  So many adventures went without a hitch (or as smoothly as possible).  So many things happened in just the past few months, that I could never get them all into words. 

One of the things that I am most thankful for are the people who have shaped me to who I am.  From my parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers and friends, each and every one of them have shaped and molded me into the person I am.  They have given me strength when I was weak, hope when I thought all was lost, and a guiding light that shined and still shines on my path. 

I am thankful for all my teachers who helped to strengthen my knowledge, sharpening my skills and setting me on a path to finish off my college career.  They were (and still are) the builders of a firm foundation that went beyond the classroom, helping me to discover who I was as a human being and as a Christian. 

I am thankful for all of those that I had the privilege of serving with this summer while aboard the Africa Mercy.  They poured out their love and hearts to not only the people of Africa, but to the family and community that has developed within the walls of that ship, spreading out across the world with each person.  No words of gratitude could begin to express how much the Mercy Ships community means to me. 

I am thankful for those I am serving with in my current community, AmeriCorps NCCC.  The team of Sun 7 that has become family in the short few weeks we’ve been together.  The Sun Unit that formed around the gathered group of individuals.  Each and every member who is serving out of the Denver campus.  And the Leaders and Staff that guide us to be the best we can offer. 

I am thankful for the opportunities that life has provided.  For graduating college after four years.  For the return journey back to Africa.  For the solitude of the road trip that allowed me to make my way to Denver safely and allowed me the space to process and think.  For the opportunity to serve yet again, through numerous different organizations. 

But most of all, I am thankful for the family that God has blessed me with.  For a loving mother and father who have supported me through thick and thin with love and a firm hand of guidance that I so often ignore.  For a brother and sister who have walked with me throughout my journey, challenging me and helping me to find something more.  For the family that God has provided me throughout my travels and across the world.  For the faith that each and every one of them have, and for sharing that faith with me as i continue to grow closer to God. 

There are countless other things I am thankful for but words fall short. 

We all are thankful for something, but first be thankful for the little things that remind us of God and the love that he continues to pour out, even in the harshest of times. 

God Bless and PEACE

In the Dark of Night

There are things you just don’t mess around with.  You play with fire and you’ll get burned.  Mess around with demons and you’ll draw them in, either because you’re a target or a threat.  Play with your faith, you may lose it. 

There are things that I refuse to do.  I don’t watch certain movies because of the fascination of demons that our society has (Paranormal Activity, The Exorcist, and Dogma to name a few).  I don’t mess around with curses, runes, or the like because I have seen and felt the effects of dark forces before. 

In a conversation over the weekend, I was told (once again) that if you don’t believe in the power of Voodoo then it has no effect on you.  That is a lie.  I fear this power.  To say that it does not exist is to say that the works of Satan and the host of demons have no effect. 

Witchcraft, Voodoo and other forms of pagan (supposed ‘godless’ religions) worship have tremendous power because of the work that Satan and his gang of demons do.  Curses can kill.  It is not harmless. 

Though the powers of Satan are dangerous, I do not fear it.  As Christian men and women, we should not be afraid of the weapons of the devil.  We should not be comfortable around it, but we should be weary of the power of deceit and lies. 

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 

 – Ephesians 6:10-13

Our strength is in Christ.  With the faith we have in him, we should fear nothing.  Not even death.  We look forwards to something so much more.  Our faith in God should overpower the faith we have in the works of darkness that surround us, from human actions to demonic forces. 

I’ve seen the effects of Voodoo and witchcraft.  I’ve been cursed and attacked by pagans and demons alike, because I stand firm in my faith.  Anyone who is a beacon of hope, someone who stands firm in their faith will come under attack.  We cannot rely on our own strength, but on the armor provided by God.  Truth, righteousness, readiness from the gospel of peace, faith, salvation and the spirit that comes from God makes up our armor (Ephesians 6:14-17).

While serving aboard the Africa Mercy this past summer, my boss, a wonderful and strong woman of faith, told me; “Do not play around with your faith.”

This is something that I have taken to heart.  Our faith should not be something we joke about, laugh at, or accept as ridicule.  I find it offensive when people who claim to be Christians make fun of the faith they follow.  I find it offensive for anyone of any religion to joke about and make fun of another persons belief. 

The one thing more dangerous than opening yourself to the belief that the devil is more powerful than the protection granted by faith is loosing that same faith because we play around with it.  We take it for granted.  We laugh at it, while inside we are tearing ourselves apart. 

Our faith gives us strength and protects us from harm, though it will not protect us from ourselves.  We are our own worst enemies when it comes to our faith. 

Just some thoughts…

God Bless and PEACE

Excellence

As part of AmeriCorps NCCC, my team (Sun 7) headed down and arrived in Houston, TX just over a week ago.  We have been working with Houston Parks and Recreation, helping to clean up the city.  In doing so, we have been working in the medians, pruning trees, clearing out overgrown brush, and spreading mulch. 

It isn’t easy work.  Each day, I fear that a car will come hurdling down the road, hop the curb and take me out, from either direction.  We face thorns, poison ivy (which I have stayed far away from), and red fire ants, not to mention our own stupidity, the heat, and the drive to finish without stopping to take a break. 

The first couple days of work, we were enthusiastic and excited to finally be doing something, rather than sitting in a classroom listening to another lecture about safety, procedure, or life skills.  But after a couple of days of waking up before the sun rises, long hours of hard work, and working in the medians when we expected something more, exhaustion and frustration started to take its toll on our work. 

I’ll get it out of the way, I love my team.  We work together as a single unit (for the most part), rarely argue, and constantly love one another by making fun of everyone.  Even after a meer two weeks, we have become a family. 

When we got our project we were excited because we were told we were going to be doing trail work, invasive species removal, planting linear forests and helping out in parks.  So far the closest we have gotten is in the linear forest part, though we are not actually planing anything, just cutting stuff down and covering the ground with mulch.  We look like a bunch of convicts on the side of the road, just give our team leader a shotgun and everything will look perfect (we even have the 15 passenger van with government plates). 

To say the least, we are getting a little frustrated.  All of us are, and it is showing in our work and how we work.  In our actions and in our words.  We all joined NCCC to serve, though many didn’t expect that this was going to be how we serve our nation. 

Today was hard.  Part of it was the fact that it is a monday and we had the weekend off.  Part of it was the fact that we are frustrated.  Part of it was the fact that our expectations were too high to begin with. 

I was personally frustrated because I found myself cutting corners, not doing my very best.  I saw every one else doing it too, but it didn’t bother me nearly as much as when I saw it in my own work. 

In everything we do, we need to strive for excellence.  In our actions and in our words we need to be the best that we can possibly be.  We need to strive for perfection and reach excellence. 

In my last semester of painting, I  restarted my series of work with less than 5 weeks before having to hang my Senior Show.  Why, you may ask.  Because the work that I was doing was not up to my own personal standards.  I was not getting the excellent work that I expected out of myself. 

Photographers don’t just go out searching for a single image, but they strive to capture each and every single one to the degree of perfection.  A good photographer will try to take excellent pictures all the time.  That is what makes them different from any other shmuck with a camera. 

In our works, we need to strive for that same excellence.  Especially when we feel like the work we are doing will amount to nothing.  If you believe that, then that is the attitude that you will take when you work.  When asked to pick up trash, pick it up with a joy in your step.  When asked to prune trees down the middle of a busy road for as far as you can see, jump in and go at the trees with enthusiasm. 

As Christians, the work we do is for the glory of God.  Be it working in a church building, leading a community, teaching in a school, fixing things, or picking up trash. 

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

 – Colossians 3:23-24

God Bless and PEACE

Growing Up v. Growing Out

Today, we (Sun 7 from the Denver campus of AmeriCorps NCCC) started working with Houston Parks and Recreation, cleaning up some of the medians, spreading mulch and pruning small trees.  It was a fun day of hard work and team building.  At one point, I was pruning some of the small trees as one of the girls worked beside me.  I laugh at my team (well, most people here in the NCCC) because many of them are hippies and tree huggers. 

Side Note:  I love hippies and tree huggers, I am a hippie (to an extent) and I have nothing against tree huggers.  I just find them hilarious and I laugh at them (in love). 

As we were pruning, this girl turned to me, horrified that we were hurting the trees, and told me “I have to keep reminding myself that I am just keeping them from growing out and helping them to grow up.”

As she said this, I thought of how true this is for each and every one of us.  God provides room for us to grow.  Each and every one of us grows.  We go everywhere.  We try new things.  Take chances.  Take risks.  We learn.  We hurt.  We laugh and cry.  We live.  We love.   It is part of life. 

In our society, we are told to learn everything so that nothing will slow us down.  So, we go to school to get a well-rounded education.  We absorb everything there is.  We know tidbits of randomness, but we don’t actually know anything at all.  We know the surface, but we’ve never actually dived into anything.  We grow outwards.  We expand. 

We take the same view of our spiritual lives.  We try out everything.  Discipleship.  Leadership.  Speaking in tongues.  prophesying.  Praying.  Healing.  We take every single gift God has given to His people and we try to make it our own.  But we come to find out, we may know a little bit about everything there is, but we don’t know what the heck we are doing.  We never dive into the gifts that God is giving us.  We want everything else as well.  Instead of growing upwards, we are growing outwards. 

Just like the little trees that need to be pruned, sometimes we need to do the same things with our lives.  Sometimes we need to focus our energy in the things that God wants us to focus on, by cutting out things that distract our efforts. 

I’m not saying we should not grow, I’m saying we should focus our growth on the things that focus ourselves and our lives onto the will of God.  If God gave you the natural talent for healing, heal.  For prophesying, prophesy.  For music, create music.  For art, create art.  This should be your primary focus, everything else doesn’t really matter.  Unless God gives you specific instructions, prune your efforts into the things that he has gifted you with. 

God gave me art.  So when I had to choose between language and art, I knew what I needed to choose.  The same went for music, which I still enjoy and play.  I would do the same with art, if God started leading me somewhere else, be it the missions field, the ministry or leadership. 

We have got to be open, but we must be focused on what God has for us.  Where he is pruning us.  Where he is growing us. 

God Bless and PEACE

Into the Wild

There comes a time when we each leave the safety of our homes to chase after the calling of God.  We leave behind friends and families, hopes and dreams.  Some we still hold onto, while others we let go of and allow to drift away so that they do not hold us back from the potential of God’s plan.  We embark on a journey into the unknown, into this wild place called life. 

I believe that there are very few people who actually follow God into the wild.  To many of us cling to what is safe.  To what is comfortable.  To what we are used to.  And because of it, we miss the great things that God is trying to reveal.  He will still use us, lead us and guide us, but we are limiting the potential that he has for our lives. 

The calling of God is dangerous.  He calls us to live on the edge.  He calls us to fear, but to find comfort in him.  One of the young men that I served with at Young Life’s Saranac Village for two summers once told me that “Courage is seeing how close you can get to God, before you turn and run away.” 

Living life with and for God is not easy, but it is the most satisfying thing you can ever do.  As I have begun to serve in AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps) out in Denver, I have been able to see some pretty amazing sights, landscapes and sights that compare to those I have witnessed while in Uganda and Togo, Spain and Honduras. 

If we do not let go of everything that ties us to our past (everything that is ‘safe’) then we will never be able to see and experience all that God has to offer.  Yes, it is difficult and, at times, scary, but we do not see everything as God has planned before it happens. 

I took a risk when I traveled to Uganda with 11 college age students who I barely knew.  People told me that it wasn’t safe, and at times I did feel the darkness of the land and I did feel the cold grasp of Malaria.  I did fear.  But if I hadn’t taken that risk, I wouldn’t have seen the sun piercing through the darkened sky each morning, nor would I have experienced the beauty of life and the pain of death (and at the same time, the beauty of death and the pain of life). 

I took a risk putting my trust into God’s hands.  And look at where he has led me.  It wasn’t always safe, but I was never alone. 

Tomorrow, the 28 teams that make up the Southwest Region of AmeriCorps NCCC head out into the wild.  They face the unknown, the worst case scenarios, and the knowledge that they can make a difference. 

God allows us to travel together.  To go in groups.  Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs.  He will never send us out alone. 

I travel down to Houston, Texas with an amazing group of individuals, from across the nation.  Though we know each other loosely, we have already begun be become a family.  We support one another, lead and follow, respect and honor one another because we need one another.  We not only serve wherever we are on spike (project) but we serve one another, building each other up so that the wild is not as scary of a place as it seems. 

To begin the journey, we all must let go.  It may be leaving family for the first time.  It may be going somewhere where we have never gone before.  Letting friends fade because they have tied us down with our own doubts.  Releasing your fears.  Taking hold of a hand that will not only guide and lead you, but love you as well. 

God wants what is best for us.  He wants to show us the love that he has for each one of us.  At time it will be frightening.  You will fear.  You will hurt.  But in the end, the beauty will be worth it.  God is worth it. 

Will you take the first steps?

God Bless and PEACE

Moments of Silence

Today, we honor our Veterans.  Those that have served our nation’s Armed Forces, fought for our freedom and those that paid the ultimate price.  As an Army Brat, I learned firsthand what it felt like to have a parent deployed overseas for an extended period of time.  Many close family friends still serve and a number of them are overseas at this very moment. 

We celebrate Veterans Day to honor all those that formerly served our nation.  It doesn’t matter what your political views are, what your religion or faith is, or what color of skin covers your body.  If you consider yourself an American, these brave men and women have served you. 

I have the privilege of knowing a number of these men and women in uniform.  From Grandparents who served to a father who put in 21 years into the Army, friends of the family that we met while serving at military bases to their children who are serving now, those that I have met in person and those that I know only through stories, those that I’ve known since I was a child to the veterans that I met today on the snowy face of the Rocky Mountains, it is a privilege to know each and every single one of them.

There is a special place in my prayers for each and every single one of them, for safety, for peace and for the healing of wounds that many have hidden within.  They are the ones we honor today.  But there are others as well. 

For the past year and a half, I’ve kept a POW – MIA patch on my backpack, a reminder of the cost of this freedom we share.  This past summer, the patch managed to disappear on the streets of Togo.  Once I arrived in Denver, I started looking for another.  What I found was more than I expected. 

On the streets of Boulder, under the shadow of the mountains, I found a POW – MIA patch, but what was under it caught my eye,  “The Brave & The Free, America Remembers – KIA”. 

We all know the white and black patch, “You are not Forgotten.”  We see it flying under the Stars and Stripes, on the back of motorcycles and on leather jackets of Vets from all eras, but I have rarely seen the red and black “America Remembers” patch, for those Killed in Action (KIA). 

We cannot forget the price that these brave men and women paid for our freedom.  They deserve more than a single day of thanks, but a moment of silence each and every time they enter our lives. 

These men and women in uniform, those that have served and those serving now, are our nations brave warriors.  They have earned the respect and honor bestowed upon them. 

This day (and every single day), let us put aside our differences, be it faith, political views, the color of our skin, age, or opinions, and let us celebrate the lives of these brave men and women.

God Bless and PEACE

Life in the NCCC

There is a saying in AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) that goes something like this:  “You’ve got to be flexible, from the ‘f” to the ‘e’.” 

There are times in life that we must learn how to bend and twist, or we will break.  Sometimes it’s as simple as getting focused on what we want to do, while other times it is just going with the flow.  When I first got to Denver, I was certain that I wanted to be on the Fire Management Team working with Wildfires and Fire Prevention.  But I had to learn how to be flexible, and it paid off in the end. 

It all started the first week we got to campus, when the Team Leaders asked who was interested in the Fire Management Team.  Just in the Sun Unit, about 30 or so hands went in the air.  The other Units (Fire, Water and Earth) had slightly smaller amounts of interest.  Because of the huge number of people interested, they asked everyone to write a paper and come to the interest meeting. 

After the interest meeting, only 22 people from my unit signed up for an interview, competing for a spot on the team of 10 (and 3 alternate positions).  In the end, 13 of us were left from Sun to run the baseline. 

In my head, I told myself, “I got this.”  I am strong with written words, so I felt my paper was strong and my interview went well.  During the baseline, I ran a decent mile and did okay in the push-ups and sit-ups, despite straining my abdominal wall in the process.  I knew that I had what it took to get on the team.

But I wasn’t willing to be flexible.  I had told God and myself that I would be fine wherever I was placed, but I thought that my place was on this specific team. 

When I was told that I was an alternate, beneath the calm exterior, I was angry.  I wasn’t angry that I didn’t make the team, I was angry with myself for not letting God use me in His plan.  I had made up my mind, and I didn’t ask him about it. 

After talking to myself, God revealed the bigger plan.  Later that afternoon (after CPR and First Aid training) the Team Leaders blindfolded all of us, shuffled us around, made us do some ridiculous activities (arranging ourselves by age, alphabetical order, etc.), and put us into vans to drive around the parking lot, before revealing our teams (those in the van with us). 

While I did not get my first choice of projects, I did get my first choice in Team Leaders and I got placed on an amazing team of great people.  I couldn’t ask for a better team.  Each one of them are strong individuals and team players, not afraid to work together for the betterment of the team. 

God is showing me that his plans are far better than the ones that I thought were flawless.  He has given me so many opportunities to develop and grow into the person he is creating me to be.  He is teaching me how to be flexible and how to be patient. 

The moral of the story is simple:  Be flexible.  Allow God to lead.  Be open to how he is shaping you to who he is creating you to be. 

God Bless and PEACE

Learning How To Trust

Here in Denver with AmeriCorps NCCC, we have had some opportunities to do some amazing things.  Between the many classes and lectures of CTI (Corps Training Institute) we have had the opportunities to explore Denver and the surrounding areas, hike in Boulder and, this past Friday, experience rock climbing in the safe environment of Rock’n & Jam’n, an indoor climbing facility.   

While everyone was climbing the walls around the facility, a select few of us were on the ground belaying.  After taking a refresher crash-course the evening before, a number of us from each unit got to spend seven hours watching out for our fellow Corps Members safety, tying one another into the ropes and making sure nobody plummeted to the floor. 

One of the biggest things that we learned as we climbed the wall was trust.  Each and every person that was tied into their harness put their safety into the hands of the person on the ground.  We had to trust one another.

It’s not easy to trust one another after we have seen things go horribly wrong.  We all have seen friendships fail, people get hurt, lives become broken.  We see it in our own friends and families and we see it in those around us. 

A number of years ago, I worked at a summer camp in upper state New York, Saranac Village.  In the two summers that I worked there, I saw the courage of hundreds of campers who learned to trust in the hands of others as they traversed the high-ropes course. 

The first summer that I worked there, I worked with a beautiful girl who had to relearn how to trust.  A number of years before, she had a horrible accident on the ropes course, which ended up with her falling and breaking her back in several places.  She was afraid of the ropes course.  She didn’t trust it because each time she saw it, she remembered what happened. 

Some of us are the same way.  We shy away from adventure, from living, because we have been hurt before.  We have seen others get hurt.  We cannot trust others because they are human, and eventually all of us will fail.  We will let someone down.  We will cause pain, either directly or indirectly. 

The beauty of the story is that trust can be gained.  We can relearn how to trust one another, by taking that leap of faith and putting everything we fear on the line.  I saw hundreds of corps members climbing the walls that were afraid.  They feared, but they trusted the ones that held the rope on the other end. 

Each of us needs a little lesson in trusting.  My advice, go to a climbing wall and ask a friend to be your belayer (only if they are trained).  Climb the wall and learn how to trust again. 

You may be wondering about the girl that I worked with all those summers ago;  Her trust came with a pound of grace.  The intern who was working there that summer was the same guy who was working the ropes course that fateful day she fell.  He told the new Summer Staff why safety and paying attention to the surroundings of the course, he shared with them the story of this girl (whom he did not know was working that summer in another part of the camp) who he allowed to fall.  As he was sharing, she was walking by and heard him state that he didn’t think she ever forgave him for his mistake. 

Later that night, she revealed to him who she was and that she never blamed him for his mistake either.  In that month, she gathered the courage and trust to venture out onto the ropes course once again. 

Learning how to trust is one of the hardest things to do.  I don’t have any magical words or phrases that make it all simple.  You learn by putting yourself out there and trusting, no matter how much fear you have. 

God Bless and PEACE