Archive for May, 2016

Remember

Yesterday morning I drove out to Pretty Place, a chapel on the grounds of the YMCA Camp Greenville, to watch the sunrise with a couple other people. It was cloudy, so there wasn’t really a sunrise, just a brightening of the sky over the mountains. Afterwards, we decided to do a short(ish) hike out to the Raven Falls overlook.

By 10 o’clock in the morning, we were already heading back home.

As I was driving back down the winding road off the mountain and, eventually, the county roads back to my apartment, I started thinking. This beautiful weekend is Memorial Day Weekend. It marks the unofficial beginning of the summer season. Most of my friends and family have today off, where the big plans include cookouts, grilling, and the usual chaos that comes with hanging out over a long weekend.

While we were hiking, I was asked about some of the patches that have been sewn onto my firepack. One of the patches I have is the recognizable, black and white POW/MIA patch, but I also have another red and black KIA patch. I received it years ago, after I saw it the first time at Operation Rolling Thunder.

These two patches serve as a reminder that not everyone makes it home.

We have buried thousands of our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, family by both blood and undying commitment, loyalty, and courage. We have lost men and women to combat, on and off the field of battle. We have watched them serve and be laid to rest. And we remember their sacrifices.

Before you head on out for your barbecues and grills, before you pop open your beer or soda to celebrate a three day weekend, pause for a moment and remember. Find a quiet place to say a prayer and/or show your respect to all those who have laid down the lives for your freedom.

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The Miracle of the Human Spirit

Five years ago, our lives changed. Five years ago, it was the worst night for the lives of hundreds, thousands of people after a line of storms ripped their way across south west Missouri. Five years ago, an EF-5 tornado left behind a wake of devastation a mile wide through the heart of Joplin.

Hundreds were missing. Thousands were left homeless. And something amazing happened.

In those first moments, before the volunteers poured in, even before members of AmeriCorps piled into trucks and started to drive across the state from St Louis in the dead of night, the miracle of the human spirit happened.

We always hear about the thousands of volunteers that poured in to assist. The hundreds of EMTs and Firefighters that flooded into the debris field to conduct Search and Rescue operations. But before all of them arrived, before people were even able to get up onto their feet, someone made the choice to help their neighbor.

Thousands of people, ordinary folk like you and me, made the choice to become part of that miracle. One by one, stories came flooding in of how on that fateful night, neighbors banded together to save one another. In the darkness, they became the light for one another.

If there were any heroes that night, they went unnoticed because they were part of the community.

There is a saying in the world of disaster that all disasters start and end locally. They may have assistance from surrounding communities, states, or even nationally, but they will remain part of the community where they started.

The miracle of the human spirit, the saying that defined the volunteer response to the devastation and rebuilding in Joplin, was defined by the people of that community, individuals who helped one another on the worst day of their lives.

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And even now, five years later, we still remember. And I know that I would not have made a difference if it were not for the community in which we served. The volunteers were never the heroes. We were never meant to be heroes.

The heroes were already there.

Trickle of Water

This past Sunday, we celebrated Pentecost. You know, those events that happened in Acts 2, where tongues of fire came down on the Disciples as they gathered together and they began their journey of changing the world? Fifty days after the death and resurrection of the Son of God, the man we know as Jesus Christ.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language. … we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”

Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
– Acts 2:1-8, 11-13

On Sunday, I joined the Radius community for the weekly gathering and they made some connections that makes this event much more beautiful. You see, this is more than a single act in the larger story, but the start of something so much bigger than we could imagine.

One of the things I’ve realized is that God rarely shows us the larger picture in one go; it’s a story of discovery and a trail of small pieces that lead us to something so much more.

Ten days before Pentecost, just before He ascended into heaven, Jesus dropped another little piece of the story.

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
– Acts 1:4-5, 7-8

Jesus tells his followers to wait. Something was coming that would fill them with power and the ability to change the world. He sets them up to be in place for something better. To be filled with the waters of eternal life.

And as his followers were gathered in the Temple and received the Holy Spirit, they become a trickle of water from that spring of life. And our entire relationship with God changes.

Before Jesus was crucified for the sins of the world, he tried to explain what would happen to a Samaritan Woman at the well. (See John 4:1-26)

You see, so many of us think exactly like this woman. She came day after day to Jacob’s well, a specific spot on the edge of the Samaritan town of Sychar, to fetch water. This is everything she knew. And sometimes we see our relationship to God in the same way: we must find Him in specific locations, like in the church pews.

When Jesus tells her that he will provide living water, she still doesn’t understand that he is no longer talking about water that we drink, but water that sustains eternal life.

“Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
– John 4:19-24

Jesus is telling this woman that the relationship that we had with the Father was about to change. He tells her that the location of our worship will change forever. No longer will worship be centered in the Temple. No longer will the priests be the only ones to enter the Holy of Holies, because the presence of God will be within each of us. Jesus tells her of the Holy Spirit that will come.

There is one more nugget of this story that was hidden from me for so long. It is a prophecy that is still in the works, but started that day in the Temple when tongues of fire carried the Holy Spirit down to the chosen few and began a movement of believers that continues to move us today:

The man brought me back to the entrance to the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was trickling from the south side.

As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led e through water that was up to the waste. He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in – a river that no one could cross. He asked me, “Son of man, do you see this?”

Then he led me back to the bank of the river. When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so whee the river flows everything will live.
– Ezekiel 47:1-9

Do you see it yet? That moment in the temple? When tongues of flame came down? This was the trickle that was foretold. And soon this flood of water will flow into the deadest areas of our world and fill it with life.

There is so much more that I could dive into, how sometimes we must wait or go back to the beginning of the story, but for now, I’ll just leave it at this; the story of Pentecost.