Archive for April, 2011

The Fury of the Storm

By now, we all know of the string of tornadoes that ripped through Alabama and the Southern States on April 27th.  We can count the number of funnels that touched down.  We can put numbers to the death toll.  We can state the cost of damage.  Each one of them is a story.  A person with a name.  A home.  Community.  Life. 

On the morning of 9 April 1998, a tornado raced across Ft. Stewart, Georgia.  I remember huddling down in the hall, wrapped in the comfort of my mothers arms, alongside my brother and sister, as we heard the wind ripping through the trees and past our house.  We were lucky. 

The tornado left the base in ruins, hitting motor pools, the parade field, ripping apart bleachers and sending them into and through trees.  It veered and missed going down our street, taking out the lemon lot before jumping over the hospital and hitting the empty barracks. 

While several soldiers were injured, there was only one fatality. 

That day is still etched in my memory.  I can still remember how my mother shared her pot of coffee with the neighbors as they surveyed the wreckage around us (ours was the only one set early enough to brew before the tornado cut off the power).  I can still see the metal benches from the bleachers twisted up in the trees, some piercing through trunks and the trees and limbs that littered the road. 

I don’t share that story to belittle the accounts of survivors across Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia, but to remind us that we can watch the videos and comment about how bad it is from the comfort and safety of our homes, yet there are stories of survival and of hope throughout this disaster. 

We are distanced from it, until we realize how close to home it hits.  I have friends that were in the path of these storms.  I know people who witnessed its strength and fury.  Most of us know someone who was affected.  And it’s in those moments that we realize how close we are to the story. 

On Wednesday (27 April) we (AmeriCorps NCCC team, Sun 6 based out of Denver) received the call that we were being called up for Disaster Response in St. Louis, after it got hit by the tornado(es) on Friday (22 April).  That same night, we found out about the storms in Alabama when one of the members on the team received a call from a loved one who had been hit by the storms, then could not get ahold of their family. 

The next morning, we found out that our team members family was safe, nothing that could not be replaced was lost.  And we began packing our Spike Housing to depart for St. Louis for clean-up.  Or Southern Missouri due to floods.  Or to Alabama for Disaster Response.  And the waiting game began for us. 

Early this afternoon, we learned that we are departing for St. Louis on Sunday morning for Disaster Response.  We don’t know much else besides what little we have been told. 

There are a bunch of rumors about the AmeriCorps NCCC response to the disaster in Alabama and the surrounding States, but nothing official has been released as far as I know. 

God Bless and PEACE

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Coming to the Fence

Today we finished removing a mile long length of barbed wire fencing.  After cutting through brush and trees that have overgrown the side of the road, we reached in and pulled out the tangled wires, coiling them as we went along.  There was something about the work that brought me some sort of peace, an ease that could not be explained.  But as I, almost mindlessly, coiled lengths of rusted, twisted and sharp wire I was able to find a balance and a calm. 

As I worked, I found that I constantly strive to prove myself.  Not to others, but to who I am.  I push myself to see how far I bend before I can’t take the stress any longer.  I go above and beyond, not to please others, but because I know that I can do better than what I’m currently doing. 

As we, the AmeriCorps NCCC team working with the Missouri Department of Conservation in and around the Whetstone Creek Conservation Area, found ourselves assigned to this length of fence, I began to step back from trying to prove myself.  For weeks, we have found ourselves chainsawing Autumn / Russian Olives and each day I found myself behind the saw, not because I wanted to, but because I wanted to prove that I could, that I wasn’t exhausted, that I wasn’t afraid at some level. 

I’m not saying that I didn’t or don’t enjoy the work we are doing here, but as we approached the fence, I stepped back.  I trailed behind (with a few others) and pulled the wire out from posts, the ground, from within trees (well, we just cut the wire and left little bits in the trees).  I didn’t try to prove anything.  I purposely avoided the opportunity to chainsaw so that I couldn’t prove anything. 

And I found a peace that for so long I had forgotten about.  It’s the peace of knowing that there is no need to try to prove yourself to anyone.  It’s the peace of knowing that if God will accept you for who you are, there is no need to try to be something else.  It’s a peace that I felt while working alongside the crew of the M/V Africa Mercy almost eight months ago, while working alongside the nurses and volunteers in the Agule Community Health Center almost two years ago, while worshiping God beside numerous individuals, in many different buildings, and in the Body of Christ. 

 I found myself stopped.  I had reached a point in my journey of life where I could slow down and look back. 

For to long I’ve been striving, running down a path that is not always revealed.  I have forgotten what it was like to enjoy the moment, not just constantly looking to what’s next.  I had been blinded by a desire to find where God wanted me, and I realize now that it is right here, right now. 

This is where God has brought me, so why am I not focused on it? 

I found a peace because I was able to slow down and begin to reflect on all the things that have happened, from my journey last summer in West Africa and in the past months here in the Corps.  I’ve begun to see where I’ve been and where I am.  And while I’m still looking at where I’m going, I know that these experiences are exactly where God wants me. 

Sometimes, we find that a fence crosses our path, forcing us to slow down, and allowing us the opportunity to notice the beauty that God has placed in front of us.  And I know from experience that when we go hurdling over the fence and continuing headlong down the path we don’t realize where we’ve been, who we’ve encountered or what we are doing. 

God Bless and PEACE

And on the Third Day

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.  Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked eachother, “Who will roll the stone away from the enterance of the tomb?”
 – Mark 16:1-3

 

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 
 – Matthew 28:2

 

But when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 
 – Luke 24:3

 

… “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
 – Luke 24:5

 

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said.  “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified.  He is risen!  He is not here.  See the place where they laid him.”
 – Mark 16:6

 

He [the one Jesus loved] bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in.  Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb.  He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head.  The cloth was still lying in its place, seperate from the linen.
 – John 20:5-7

 

… and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.
 – Luke 24:12

 

They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.
 – John 20:9

 

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.  They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.  As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them, but htey were kept from recognizing him.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.  Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight.

They got up ad returned at once to Jerusalem.  There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together.
 – Luke 24:13-16, 30-31, 33

 

On the evening of that first day of teh week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  After he siad this, he showed them his hands and side.  The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you!  As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  And with that he breathed on them and said, “Recieve the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of anyone, thier sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” 
 – John 20:19-23

 

Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.  He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”
 – Luke 24:45-47

There is nothing more than I can offer.  I will let the Gospels speak for themselves.  On this day, go forth and discover what happened on the third day.

God Bless and PEACE

The Sacrificial Lamb

Throughout the journey of the Jewish people (the origins of the Christian Faith) sacrifices were made to cleanse the people of their sins.  This tradition goes all the way back to Genesis (see Genesis 3:21, where God kills an animal, then clothes Adam and Eve with its skin) and was practiced by the Jewish people throughout history. 

We are supposed to be dead.  We sinned and the wages of sin is death (Romans 2:23).   Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, yet God spared them.  Look back at Genesis 2: 16-17, as God tells the man about the garden.

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will certainly die.”
 – Genesis 2:16-17

We find ourselves asking how Adam and Eve walked out of the garden that day, after God made the promise of death for their sin.  And in the couple of verses in Genesis 3, we find our answer.

The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.
 – Genesis 3:21

God shed the blood of animals, clothing Adam and Eve with both their skin and their blood.  God substituted the blood of the man and woman for the blood of animals.  And in that moment, when they were supposed to die both a physical and spiritual death, God made the sacrifice, giving them (and all of humanity) physical life. 

At that point, humanity died a spiritual death, but God did not leave them. 

After the flood (see Genesis 6-9) God saves the righteous and begins the tradition of sacrificial offerings.  Abram enters into the Covenant with God, but he does not pass through the split carcasses, instead God sends the smoking fire-pot and blazing torch through, taking both sides of the Covenant upon himself (see Genesis 15).  At this point, Jesus, the Son of God receives the burden of sin. 

A covenant is a statement saying, “If I don’t keep my end, let this blood that we walk through be my blood.”  God knew men could not uphold this side of the covenant, so he took it upon himself. 

The Jewish people sacrificed the perfect, male lamb each year, looking forwards to something yet to come.  But just as the lamb only lives physically and not spiritually, when we were washed by the blood of an animal sacrifice, we only receive physical life.  But to be reunited with God, the sacrificial lamb did not work, we were still only living a physical life. 

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is called the Lamb of God, beginning with  John the Baptist (John 1:29).  He was and is the perfect, unblemished sacrifice, God’s Son, His Presence on the Earth.  His blood was shed to uphold the Covenant of Abram, now called Abraham, the father of the nations. 

We call today Good Friday.  The day that the lands went dark and the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom (Mark 15:38) as Jesus died on the cross.  He took all our sins upon himself and died for our sake, replacing the sacrificial lamb.  He, unlike the sacrificial animal, died both physically and spiritually, so that we could live both. 

With His blood, we are brought into new life, into the presence of God. 

But this is just part of the story of our faith.  The faith and traditions of the Jewish people are our foundation, our roots.  The Christian Faith is the branch, grafted into the stem, the roots that dig deep. 

God Bless and PEACE

Waving the White Flag

Recently I heard “White Flag Warrior” by Flobots (featuring Tim McIlrath) and it started me thinking about the warrior within.  Boys are constantly told that, to become men, they must be willing to stand and fight for something, they cannot let others push them around, they have to bloody their hands.  Society is lying to them. 

We’d rather make our children
Martyrs than murderers
We’d rather make our children
White flag warriors
 – Flobots

When faced with violence, man’s natural reaction is to lash back.  We give into the anger because it is the easiest path.  The path of least resistance.  We’ve all been told to hit back.  Fight for those you love.  As a young boy, I was told that if someone hits me, to hit ’em back twice as hard.  But that is the easy way out. 

So you have heard that it is said, “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person.  If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
 – Matthew 5:38-39

Stop.  Don’t react.  Breath.  Think.

Rage builds within us all.  Anger boils over.  Inside we are the demon that we fear, ready to break out, to lash out and kill.  Ready to scream.  To shout.  To curse.  To strike back. 

It doesn’t take much to react to what happens around us.  But to stop and turn away, that takes strength.  It takes everything in us to walk away.  To quiet our tongue. 

Yes, we can still be angry, but do not act on it. 

In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your heart and be silent.
 – Psalm 4:4

While the New International Version sais it well, take a look at the New Living Translation

Don’t sin by letting anger control you.  Think about it overnight and be silent.
 – Psalm 4:4

We have a choice.  Do we act like children and give into our anger, striking back at whatever it is that is bothering us.  Or do we become Men and learn the way of Christ, peace. 

I’m not saying to surrender.  The battle is not won by reacting in anger, but by finding how to fight like a man, with courage, strength and clarity of mind. 

God Bless and PEACE

Unspoken Words

We’ve all heard the saying, “Sticks and Stones can break my bones, but Words can never hurt me.”  We teach it to children, tell it to ourselves.  In truth, it is (one of) the biggest lie(s) that our society has ever produced.  Spoken words can cut deep, creating wounds that affect our souls.  These are the wounds that we hide beneath a layer of self-control.  These are the wounds that make us who we are. 

Just as the spoken word can wound who we are, it is the words that are never said that can kill. 

Seven months ago, I found myself departing the M/V Africa Mercy.  I parted ways with some amazing people, some beautiful children of God, friends that have gotten closer to my heart than anyone before. 

I found myself afraid of the words that we all desperately need to hear.  So, I didn’t say anything at all. 

And it was these unspoken words that tore away at the relationships that were formed in those three months aboard ship, that wounded those that I had come to know and hold dear to my heart.  It was these unspoken words that haunted me each and every single day as I regretted the silence. 

Looking back, I can see that I let fear get in the way of faith, of God’s plan. 

There has not been a single day that I have not looked back on the adventures I had aboard the Africa Mercy, on the friendships that were formed, on each individual that I had come to know and care for, to serve and love through faith.  I’ve missed their presence, the comfort that they bring by physically standing shoulder to shoulder (or elbow) with me.

And each day I regretted the silence, but could not find the courage to break that silence. 

We cannot go back and fix the mistakes that we make in life.  We cannot make the wounds go away, but God gave us the opportunity to begin the healing process.  And after seven months I was finally able to be honest with God, and in turn, honest with myself.  God doesn’t want us to live in silence, He gave us a voice, and even through fear of our own failings, He gives us the courage to use it. 

I wish I could say that I made everything right by saying what was on my heart, but only time can heal the wounds that run across our lives. 

I guess what I’m trying to say is that “Sticks and Stones can break our bones, but Words (both spoken and unspoken) can rip apart the soul.”  Don’t be afraid of speaking up when your heart aches to tell someone how you truly feel.  And if you find yourself looking back, asking what if, have the courage to find the voice you once lost. 

God Bless and PEACE

Swimming Out to Sea

Let me share a story with you.  A farmer kept on having his hen-house raided by foxes, so one night, he took out his hounds, his gun and went after the foxes.  When the hounds caught the scent of the foxes, they went wild and started chasing them, herding them towards the river.  Half the foxes turned and struck back at the hounds, while the others leapt into the river and swam across.  But the farmer noticed something, halfway across the river, some of the foxes stopped swimming for shore, but turned and began to swim with the current.  Days later, fishermen spot these same foxes miles off the coast, still swimming out to sea. 

I originally heard this story told by Admiral William Adama in the final season of Battlestar Galactica. 

When faced with difficult decisions, human (and animal) instinct is to fight or flight.  It has kept us alive so far.  But sometimes we find ourselves overwhelmed, tired, looking at the world with tears in our eyes.  So we give up.  Or we try to. 

Like the foxes who turn with the current.  We are just going along for the ride, trying to keep our heads above water until we are too exhausted to continue on.  We are willing to die, but we cannot give up. 

I look around and I see this happening to too many people, to too many friends.  And at times I find myself swimming with the current.  Sometimes we find ourselves giving up on ourselves, life and God. 

We can survive treading water, trying to keep our heads above water, but that is all we can do.  God did not create us just to survive in this world, He created us so that we can live.  To live life to the fullest. 

There will be times that we find ourselves on the run, that we are forced to fight, that we feel like we do not have the strength to go on.  But that is part of living.  And so is resting. 

There is another story about swimming out to sea, one that I cannot place, but I remember none the less:  Two brothers start swimming out into the stormy and unknown sea, trying to see who can reach the other side, to see if either of them have the courage not to turn back.  And so they swim as the waves crash over them, lightning lighting the waters around them.  And for hours they continue on, until one decides that if he continues, he will not have the strength to make it back.  So he turns around. 

I’ll stop the story there.  If we are too scared to continue along the path God has placed out for us, how will we ever know where he is trying to lead us.  There is a point of no return, where you know in your heart that you can make it back, but at the same time, we look ahead and still don’t see what we are striving for. 

We continue on with only hope.  With only the strength that comes from God. 

We step out and discover how to truly live. 

That is my challenge to you.  Find the strength from God to continue on, to not give up or turn back, but continue to follow the path that he has placed out in front of you. 

God Bless and PEACE

Disaster, Panic and Stupidity

Warning:  I usually do not get into politics on this blog, but I believe there are times when we cannot stand silent.  Late tonight (8 April) the U.S. Government finally announced that it will not be shut down due to petty differences between political parties.  I wanted to share some words and thoughts on this topic.  This is a rant.  If you do not agree, I respect that.  I do not want to argue, let me vent. 

The budget has been slowly pushed back for months, finally, we realized that it was time to stop ignoring the problem and face it.  Too bad we have not realized that we needed to do this almost half a year ago. 

It is historic, but at the same time it’s rather sad and pathetic.  They say that we are now saving billions of dollars, but why couldn’t they decide this when the original due date was upon them.  They were more concerned about their political standing and how they look in front of the voters. 

Think about it; In school, if you decide that a paper is to difficult and tell the teacher to push the due date back the day that it is due, over and over again, you do not get an applause when you finally get around to it, you get a big fat ‘F’.  That is what our government deserves, a giant fail. 

We, as citizens of this great nation, should not have to panic and stress over the bickering of the older generations in power over us.  We have political figures who are more concerned about getting re-elected, proving a point, or proving that they can keep their promise of forcing others to break theirs.  They do not compromise. 

As the youth of this nation, we need to take a stand against the stupidity of this system.  Tonight, they didn’t even get a budget to be agreed on, they got another stop-gap.  Now, next week, we will face the same situation.  Where does it stop?  It stops when someone takes a stand.  When a generation finally tells them to stop. 

We have troops overseas who are told that if the men who run their government don’t get their act together, they get a pay cut, then they lose the benefits that they are fighting and dying for.  It’s not a slap in the face, it’s a big fat middle finger.  Is this what we elected these men for?

They fight over political standing.  They point fingers at each other.  “It’s not our fault that they wouldn’t change their ways!”  Each side shouts accusingly.  They wouldn’t bow on abortion / defense / pay cuts / whatever.  They couldn’t put aside their own agendas and focus on keeping the American people above water.  No, they are not concerned about the voters, they are just out there trying to prove that it isn’t their fault. 

What must we look like to the rest of the world?  The country that spends what they don’t have?  The people who have no voice because the lawmakers do not listen? 

When will we learn to put aside our differences and begin to work together?  When will we learn to accept the fact that we may be wrong?  When will we learn to live with one another? 

I speak of revolution.  Of a youth that no longer accepts, but who take a stand for what they believe in, for what is right, and for what is the greater good for this country.  I speak of Christians standing side by side with Muslims, Jews and atheists.  Of an American future that is not split between ideologies and political lines.  Of a future generation that stands for one another. 

We cannot keep going on like this.  We cannot allow ourselves and our country men to be walked all over, to be treated like silent, dumb animals. 

We have a responsibility to stand.  To have a voice.  Don’t let anyone take that away from you.

[This concludes my ranting and raving.  I do not agree with our current system of government because it has been taken over by men and women who no longer act in the best interest of the people who elected them.  That is all that I will say on this subject for now.]

God Bless and PEACE

Humility and the Face of Fear

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself asking the difference between confidence and arrogance, but ended up finding something so much bigger than a simple question.  I didn’t find my own strength.  Nor did I find a greater purpose.  I found myself humbled.  Before myself and before God, I found myself broken. 

Humility is not something that can easily be explained in words, but a good friend and brother pointed out the best definition that I have ever heard:

[Humility is] finding your worth in God alone, not in talents, achievements or skills.
   – Reuben

As Christians, we find our worth in God.  In His eyes, it doesn’t matter if we are the best artist, writer, speaker.  He doesn’t care if we made the good grades in school, if we become rich, or if we have the ability to lead others. 

In all the worldly things, we will never find our worth.  And as human beings, that is our biggest fear. 

We fear that when we leave this earth, nobody will remember our name, our face, what we did in this life.  We fear that we will be lost to time.  That the stones will fade away.  The stories go unwritten. 

There is something worse than being forgotten by the generations to come; To be forgotten, left to die the eternal death, to wander aimlessly, not in the presence of God. 

As Christians, I believe that we should not fear death, but we should fear the death of being separated from our Heavenly Father. 

When we chase after worldly things, being the best that the world tells us to be, we are running away from God.  We chase after skills and abilities, talents and worth based on what man tells us to be. 

It’s hard to stop running.  To stand still in the presence of God.  To turn away from all the earthly delights that surround us, bombard us each and every day.  It is not easy to turn your eyes from the world and focus on the worth that God has given us, through the death of His Son. 

You put me back in the room with the sixteen or so other Corps Members looking to be Team Leader next year and I know that despite all our different skills, talents, abilities, experiences, none of us is worth more than the others in the sight of God. 

So we take our fears of being forgotten and we place them at the altar of the Lord. 

God Bless and PEACE