A while back, I was sitting with a young couple who were planning on opening a new orphanage. Along with all of the important topics we covered, I asked them one key question. “Are you ready to never have a “normal” week again?” When running an orphanage there is always some disaster around the corner. Children get sick, cars breakdown, government officials can be crazy, funding is always an issue. Every week brings some new challenge that needs to be overcome. Looking back at that question in light of what’s going on in the world, maybe that’s a question we should all be asking. Are we ready to never have a “normal” week again? Continue reading
It’s been an interesting few weeks as the world has been panicking over the coronavirus. Although it’s tragic many people have become ill, and people have died; the reaction has been more than a little crazy. Financial markets have crashed, cities are shut down, lives have been turned upside down. The thing is, we’re all going to die anyway, it’s just a matter of dates. We all have an expiration date; we all wind up in a box. Why the terrified reaction to this one, extremely rare, risk? Continue reading
I recently met with someone who is running a unique and inspiring ministry in the heart of the red-light district of Tijuana. Four years ago, this petite single woman moved into an area of ministry that most people would never consider. She opened up a little store-front location to host times of worship and prayer in the midst of a spiritually dark area. Several days a week they hold prayer and worship services that are open to anybody (I’m not using her name for her protection). She now leads teams out into the streets to give the sex workers flowers and tell them they are beautiful. She has been threatened, yelled at, and attacked for her work. I’m sure she’s been told that she is crazy. Does this sound like someone else you might know or read about? Many people claim to be followers of Jesus; few people put His example into action like this amazing woman.
Is the woman you just read about doing some astounding work? Yes. Is she hanging out and befriending people most people would never spend time with? Absolutely. She is many things, but the one adjective that is never used to describe her is “afraid.” She is oddly and sadly unique in much of the church today.
This month, my wife and I will have completed twenty-five years living in “dangerous” Mexico. We get asked a lot of questions about our work in orphan care and short-term missions. The one question we get asked far more than anything else is, “Isn’t Mexico dangerous?” The vast majority of people’s first question is about safety, not about the work, not about what God is doing, not about abandoned children. The first question is almost always about the risk involved. We’ve never gotten sick from the food or water. We’ve never been robbed or shot at while in Mexico (Ironically, I was robbed while in San Diego last year). Are some parts of Mexico dangerous? Absolutely. Does it matter? No. Life is dangerous; get over it.
As you read through the Bible, note that being concerned, first and foremost, about our safety was not what Jesus instructed us to do. When the apostles woke Him in the boat to calm the storm, He rebuked them for lack of faith, calmed the storm, and went back to sleep. How many of us lose way too much sleep worrying about things that never (or rarely) happen. “Fear not” comes up a lot in the Bible. “Cover your butt,” “Watch out for scary people,” “Don’t do anything risky,” doesn’t come up so much.
Fear can have an incredible influence on people. A great deal of marketing is in some way based on fear. “Buy this insurance to protect yourself from any disaster.” “Buy this clothing, or you might not be cool.” “Try this diet, or you might stay fat.” Politics is almost all based on fear. “Vote for me; the other guy wants to raise taxes.” “The other party wants to take your guns, your rights, your money, etc.” “We can’t let THOSE people into our country; they are different than us and scary.” Watch any cable news, and you will hear versions of these statements every few minutes. Fear can have a corrosive and powerful influence. Fear can rob us of joy and prevent us from experiencing everything this life has to offer.
Unfortunately, when it comes to fear, way too many churches are indistinguishable from the world. A few years ago I was staying with a worship leader of a mid-sized church in a friendly, middle-class suburb in the US. As we were leaving for the church, he loaded his gun and holstered up. When I asked about it, he said that at any service there are two or three people armed for security reasons. I have no problem with basic security, but I found it deeply ironic that the person who is leading worship, the one singing about trusting God with all, that He is our rock and fortress, would be packing heat. (Write to me and yell if you like, I’m actually pro second amendment, I’m just using this to make a point). “Yes God, we trust you with all, but I feel better when I can shoot at someone.”
The point of this rant on fear in the church is to bring up what it does to short-term missions or any area of service. Fear can rob us of incredible opportunities, and prevent us from experiencing all that God has planned for us. When we’re held in place, and prevented from taking a risk for God due to fear, what is that saying? “I trust you God, but I’d rather just show up on Sundays and watch from my pew, wouldn’t want to take a risk now would I.” The Christian faith is an active faith. Go. Serve, Give, Sacrifice. Not because we’re called to, it’s because we can’t help but act when we realize what God has done for us, and how grateful we are to Him.
There are some things you should definitely be afraid of. Be afraid of being out of God’s will. Be afraid of reaching the end of your life and having regrets. Be afraid of wasting the precious few years you have left.
You will die. The US will collapse eventually. Some of the things you fear will come to pass, just know that ultimately it just doesn’t matter. Our God is bigger than anything we will encounter in this life; it’s a good thing this life is only a temporary situation. Ultimately, we’ve already won. The world says we should be afraid. We are not of this world. Live accordingly.
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You might have hours left. You might be around for several more decades. But you will die. You will kick the bucket, go toes up, become worm food, start pushing up daisies. You will reach room temperature, give up the ghost, etc.. There are lots of ways to say it, but one way or another we all give up the fight, our heart will cease to beat, and our life on this world will end. When that happens (and you live in the US) the people in your life will arrange to have you put in a box, a week or so later people will put on dark clothes (weird) and will gather. Someone will say a few words by your grave, and people you’ve never met will stick you in the ground. Following this little ritual, people will get together somewhere, eat potato salad, and talk about you. Our life comes down to a plastic bucket of potato salad from Costco. (and maybe a nice sandwich platter.)
In Mexico, funerals are handled differently. When someone dies everything snaps into action in time-honored rituals. The body is placed in a box and positioned in either the home or a public location for the wake to start, all within a few hours of someone passing on. The wake is not a polite, reserved affair. People are up all night hanging out, crying, sharing, talking, eating, maybe sharing a few beers, but it goes on ALL NIGHT. It’s quite the send-off. What goes on in the background is something else. Friends and some family are out digging the hole. Digging a grave is much harder than it looks like on TV or in the movies, it takes many back-breaking hours. Once the wake is winding down, everyone loads the casket into a truck and heads to the grave site. Once again, very different than in the US: in Mexico, to “bury your loved one” actually means that. You, your friends, and the family use some rope and lower the casket into the ground. Then you grab the shovels. It takes a LONG time to bury someone. People are crying, maybe some wailing, and it takes hours. But when it’s done, there is a real sense of closure, everyone has said “goodbye,” and people start to move on. One of the many upsides to this time-honored tradition is it makes death very real to everyone involved. This is a good thing; we should all face death from time to time. We need to be reminded that our time here is a temporary gig. There is something genuine about “burying your loved one.” The sweat and dirt and blood of broken knuckles as you dig through the hard ground to make a hole to place the body is not to be taken lightly. It’s real. It makes the line between life and death very clear – there is an end.
It’s important to be reminded from time to time that there might not be a tomorrow for us. The reason I wrote the 500 or so words on funerals you just read is to remind you that you will be the center of one of these rituals eventually. What are you going to do between now and then? How will you use this precious and limited time you have?
Too many people go through the motions of life, without living life in line with the tremendous calling we each have. We need to be living our lives to the fullest, living in such a way that we will hear upon our arrival in heaven, “Well done my good and faithful servant.” We should slide into heaven out of breath, worn out from seeking to share with others, give to others, and be representing our Father well. I’m not sure who said it, but I love the quote “It’s sad to reach the end of one’s life and realize you’ve never lived.”
I work with a lot of young adults from the US who visit our ministry. Sadly, I know most of them will follow the tedious path that society lays out for them. They will attend college while they figure out what to do, they will leave college with too much debt, they will marry too young, and spend much of their lives paying back student loans. I’m not sure this is what God intended for us.
At whatever stage of life you find yourself, young adult, old fart, or somewhere in between; take a risk. Do something out of your comfort zone. I know one older female retired doctor (80ish) who still drives herself to Mexico every week to volunteer at various clinics. I know a young family that is currently looking for property to open a new orphanage. I have a friend who just got back from Guatemala where he helped with volcano relief. These are people who are actively working to bless others but are also growing in ways that are hard to imagine. They are sucking everything they can out of the time they have on this earth.
I know not everyone is called to serve internationally, but we are all called to serve. Don’t let fear of the unknown, fear of looking foolish, or any other fear keep you from trying something out of your norm. You might find a calling that will change your life, you might learn about the people in your community, it might shape you in ways you could never envision.
Take a chance, do something great with your life. Always remember: In the end, no one gets out alive.
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