Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Geezers and Gazers?

I have a pair of red (and I mean red-red) polartec pants that I wear regularly around my house. They're old, worn and super comfy. Every time I put them on my children mount a protest. They have forbidden me to go out in public in my red pants. They swear and promise they are going to hijack the pants and donate them to Goodwill. They would be ideal at a Badger game! Therefore I keep them hidden in secret places! Now every time I wear them my children just call me "geezer!" Life is not fair. I know I am not a geezer.

I'm not a geezer, but sometimes I'm a gazer. What's a gazer? Have you ever wondered what it might have been like for the apostles the day Jesus ascended into heaven? And what about those two men (angels) who showed up that day in mysterious dress? What was that all about? Read all about it in Acts 1:9-11.

Jesus is not heading out somewhere far beyond the moon, beyond Mars or wherever; Jesus was going into God’s space, God’s dimension. The two men dressed in white appear to tell his disciples, that Jesus has gone into this dimension of reality. One day he will come back and when he comes, he will finalize and complete his human rescue project by bringing together that dimension (heaven) and our present dimension (earth) as the new heaven and earth (cf. Rev. 21:1ff).

As Jesus is ascending into heaven the disciples were left “looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them” (vs. 10). Later the two angels indicate the way in which Jesus’ ascended is intended to “mirror” or share associations with the way in which he will come again. After all the two men say to the disciples, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”(vs. 11) How does Luke want us to understand the similarities and differences between Jesus going and his coming?

· In the same way Jesus left with a glorified human nature and body, so too, Jesus will come in a glorified human nature and body. In other words, his coming will be personal.

· In the same way that Jesus was seen as he was leaving, so too, he will be seen when he comes again. His coming will be visible.

· His going was glorious; his coming will also be glorious.

But does Jesus’ ascension also inform our understanding of the church and her mission? Curiously in Acts 1:10-11 Luke mentions the word “heaven” or “sky” four times. Apparently the disciples were quite taken by this event enough to keep gazing up into the heavens. But we should not take the angel’s words to the disciples as a mere question. It is more reproof and rebuke. It might better be translated, “Hey fellas, what in the world are you doing gazing up into the stars? Jesus has given you a job to do—now get on with it!”

The angel’s question functions as reproof to Jesus’ disciples; the same question functions as warning to the modern-day church in several ways. First, it’s all too common in today’s church to become preoccupied with the issues of heaven; with times and seasons and prophecies and their fulfillment. It’s ironic that the disciples were “gazing into heaven” immediately on the heels of Jesus instructing them about their mandate concerning earth. Implied is a warning to the church. If we are not careful these issues can distract us and keep us from our mission on planet earth—to be Christ’s witnesses. Secondly, the angel’s question should safeguard the church from what author Nancy Pearcey calls, “the dualisms and dichotomies”[1] that have plagued Christianity. Even early on in the history of Christian thought, leading theologians dressed up Biblical doctrines in Greek concepts. In an attempt to be conversant with the educated elite these thinkers meant well, but they picked up classical Greek ideas along the way. Years ago noted theologian and author Francis Schaeffer called these philosophies a “two-story” view of reality.[2] Greek philosophy presumes there is a stark difference between the material world and the spiritual world. The material world (earth) is dark, sinister, devalued and evil. The spirit world (heaven) is a higher world, a more noble and virtuous world and therefore the world we should aspire to. No wonder the disciples were sky gazing. Even they were influenced by the dominant worldview of their day. In their minds it was more preferable to be occupied with heaven than to be concerned with earth.

So what does God do? He sends two heavenly messengers to reprove them and redirect their orientation. The two angels remind the ‘gazing’ disciples to cease their gazing, and by implication, to get on with their work on God’s good earth. In so doing, God affirms the goodness of the earth and the created order. Since He created the earth, the earth reflects God’s good character and it is this place called earth that constitutes the place of my mission, your mission and the church’s mission.

What is that mission? More about that next time!

S t r e t c h e d

[1] Pearcey, Nancy, Total Truth

[2] Schaeffer, Francis. Escape From Reason

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Ruthless Tenderness

It's hard for us to combine the words 'ruthless' and 'tender' in the same sentence. These two words appear to be polar opposites. But when we consider God's nature we must accept that he is simultaneously ruthless with sin and tender with us. God has no problem at all combining both qualities in His person. Perhaps it might help to think about it this way. What if God simply denied sin's existence or swept sin under the proverbial moral carpet? What if God cowered in sin's presence and wilted under it's power? Personally speaking, what if He refused to judge or condemn my sin? Such a view of God is dissatisfying to all of us. It ultimately renders God as a moral coward. If we are truly honest with ourselves, none of us wants a God who declines to deal with my evil or the world's. Thankfully in Christ he has decisively dealt with both!

S t r e t c h e d

Saturday, September 3, 2011


We spent the greater part of the day in the
lovely town of Antigua. It's one of my all-time favorite places on the planet. Quaint, colonial and full ofLatino culture--not to mention the sight of numerous gringos on honeymoon or cultural exchange programs. The afternoon featured the Guatemalan version of "Battle of the Bands." Imagine seven or eight marching bands with multiple drums all playing in the town square at the same time. The noise reverberates off the buildings and does on assault on your ear drums. I needed the strong cup of cappuccino after that!

We arrived back in Sumpango around 3:30 and went immediately to the church for a meeting with the leadership team of Los Olivos. At 5pm we met with the combined leadership teams and I did a session on "The Character of a Leader." I was very encouraged by the response to the message. Several leaders came up afterward asking probing questions or inquiring about specific situations. I could tell by their comments they were processing what they heard. It's always humbling to get this kind of immediate feedback in situations where you are teaching through a translator. Such feedback tells you a lot about
either how clear or how confusing your communication has been. Fortunately in this case, it appears it was more of the former than the latter. This is a good thing!

Tomorrow we finish up our time at Los Olivos. Lots of conversations about future partnership here. I am very encouraged.

I'm reminded of your prayers for us each day. I continue to be...


Friday, September 2, 2011


This morning Oscar and I visited the small village of El Yalu. It's a very poor village of approximately 2000 people. About 500 of those are children who are severely malnourished. Some years ago Los Olivos decided to start a church in the village. They bought two small parcels of land that the church was hoping to build a small church building. God had other things in mind. About 4 years ago a non-profit ministry called Mano con Mano (Hand-In-Hand) began a feeding program for the children. The leaders of the ministry wanted to identify with a local church and heard about Los Olivos, met Oscar and invited them to partner.

Every other day each week the center feeds some 240-280 children, sponsors an after-school resource center and also doubles as a sanctuary for the church on Sundays. Oscar
introduced me to Lorenzo and Dr. Ephraim as well as several other leaders in the church. The entire operation is an example of micro enterprise at it's best! They have managed to start a medical clinic, as well as several small businesses. One of these is producing stoves for each home. The stoves are made of reinforced concrete and efficiently utilize about one-third of the wood of an open fire thus reducing deforestation. They vent the smoke using a simple smokestack which reduces respiratory illnesses while conserving heart to warm their homes. Another group was working diligently to produce brightly colored toilets. They have already placed 1000 toilets in homes in this village and plans are in place to provide another 500. Each weekend Los Olivos commissions 7-8 people who travel washed out roads to serve this simple rural village and its people. It's a terrific example of people proclaiming the love of Christ through their deeds.

It's almost 4pm and Quique and I are getting ready to go over to the church for the first training session. I haven't even met yet with the leaders, but what I've seen thus far is enough impress.

We appreciate your prayers.

S t r e t c h e d

Thursday, September 1, 2011


I wrestled my groggy body out of the bed at 3am, showered, grabbed a bite to eat and dashed off to Mitchell Field to catch a 6am flight to Guatemela City. The flight went well until final approach into Guatemala City when the plane slammed violently down onto the tarmac. Even the flight attendant sitting in front of me had a panic-stricken look on her face. Hers wasn't the only furrowed brow or anxious expression.

I grabbed ny belongings, cleared customs and headed outside where my friend Enrique Fernandez was waiting for my arrival. We headed toward the city stopping only for a bite to eat before making our way to Sumpango. I had forgotten how much I loved the city of Sumpango. It's nestled among the foothills about 42 km east of Guatemala City. You actually can see several volcanos (one of them active) from the streets. Cobblestone streets are lined with tiny brightly painted tiendas. The sight of fresh vegetables and the aroma of street vendors wafts through the air. I was tempted more than once to sample the fresh salsa at several but resisted.

I've been told that every city in Guatemala has it's patron saint. Sumpango is no exception, for the city still bears witness to the festivals and celebrations that occurred just last week to commemorate and honor her beloved saint--Augustine. No wonder I have a fondness for the city--she and I share a common affection--Augustine of Hippo.

It is here in this city that the Chaquito family has resided for years. Humble, hard-working people--Jose, Alejandra, Armando, Oscar and Karla. They are some of the sweetest most hospitable people I've met anywhere in the world. All of them are knee-deep in their commitment to their local church Los Olivos, a church affiliated with the Evangelical Free Church of America. Tomorrow afternoon Enrique and I will begin equipping and interacting with their leaders.

It's good to be here. Thanks for your prayers for us.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


I’ve been thinking about the power of my choices. Everyday I am afforded opportunities to make any number of choices: what I think about, what memories I dwell on, how I speak or don’t speak, how I help others, how I respond to humiliating events, what I do with my time, etc. etc. You can take away every freedom a person possesses except for the last freedom—the freedom to choose how one responds in any given set of circumstances. My everyday choices are rarely, if ever, neutral. The decisions I make and the choices I exercise affect others and me in positive or negative ways. C.S. Lewis once said that our choices turn us one of two ways: either into a Heaven creature that is in harmony with God resulting in freedom, joy and peace, or a hellish creature who lives in a state of war and hatred with God resulting in loneliness, horror and tyranny. My everyday choices move me toward one state or the other.

The power of my choices. Wow! Go and make good ones today!

S t r e t c h e d

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Whose My Enemy?

Several days ago I floated this question on my FB page, “Have you ever wondered why ‘a man after God's own heart’ has so many enemies? What do you think?” The answers posted were pretty much what I expected. Some responses surprised me. A few wondered what I have been thinking about my own question.

I’m glad people asked—here’s my take on my own question. David had all kinds of enemies throughout his lifetime. But not all his enemies were alike. Sometimes his enemy seems to be the “infernal” kind—you know, “the dark enemy of our soul,” the unseen and invisible malevolent force often associated with fire. Other times, David’s enemies seem to be “external,” real flesh and blood people who betrayed him, chased him, fought him, misrepresented him, slandered him, framed him, and the list goes on and on. And then there is the third kind of enemy David had to contend with; an “internal” enemy, that is, himself.

God commended David as, "a man after God’s own heart,” (1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22). We know that David was by no means a perfect man, so why the sterling commendation? I wonder if the answer doesn’t have something to do with his enemies, chiefly an enemy called himself.

Most days I have a default response when it comes to identifying my enemies. My kneejerk response when I perceive I’m in enemy territory is to conclude that my enemy is always “out there.” Among those I quickly want to brand enemy #1 are: secularists, liberals, the government, atheists, Muslims, those espousing alternative lifestyles, or who knows what? And while I’m busy identifying my enemies “out there,” it never occurs to me that enemy #1 might be just be me, the enemy “in here.” Could it be that the reason why David speaks so frequently and forthrightly about his enemies is because he regularly confronted his biggest enemy—himself. When I am willing to confront my own darkness, face my own shadow side and wrestle with my own self-righteous disposition, I am in a much better position to be God-formed. If I don’t understand the enemy within, I will make a thousand excuses for making those “out there” the enemy.

Quaker Parker Palmer says in his book, Let Your Life Speak, “We like to talk about the outer world as if it were infinitely complex and demanding, but it is a cakewalk compared to the labyrinth of our inner lives.”