Monday, October 25, 2010

32 Hours in Boston and Luke 6:30

Last week I had the opportunity to travel to Boston for about 32 hours for work related purposes. I had never been to Boston prior to this and honestly wasn't really sure what to expect from this city. In my head I was thinking more akin to New York but was pleasantly surprised to find it much more subdued and ridiculously clean. Now I realize, after the fact, the population is not near that of NY, but I fully expected way more foot traffic and congestion, but I just didn't experience it when walking/traveling in the downtown area.

I was absolutely amazed by the beauty and history dripping from just about every nook and cranny of the city. I felt like it was a living museum as so much of the historical artifacts are simply embedded into the existing DNA of the city, many of them still in use. Walking up to the Old North Church as if it were the 1700's was easy to imagine given the condition of the surroundings and period buildings still in place. I was shocked that most of these churches are still active today and open to the public during the week. Wandering around the flash point locations of the American Revolution unencumbered was a refreshing way to recall our country's history. I kept thinking, shouldn't all this stuff be roped off or something? Maybe middle school trips to Boston would make more sense than Washington D.C. given that so much of D.C. consist of memorials to historical events, not necessarily access or proximity to the events themselves.

While walking a fair amount of the Freedom Trail (a designated path through the city that leads you past most of the major historical locales), I found myself in an a spiritual quandary. As I was enveloped by the city's historical artifacts, my reality was slammed back to spiritual, current day reality as I found myself face to face with "the least of these", or as some would say, panhandlers. Through my deepening understanding of scripture and God's love/plan for those less fortunate, it has been relatively easy to deal with this where I live/work, because quite frankly it's not a frequent occurrence to simply bump into the least of these in my daily traverses.

In the midst of enjoying the beauty of Boston though, I was confronted by Luke 6:30 in a direct and palpable manner, probably 3 or 4 times within an hour time span. Was I supposed to help ALL of these as suggested in Luke without question? I'm pretty sure it doesn't have qualifying criteria or filters like, give to everyone who begs from you that you can determine isn't a scam artist, it simply says give to those who ask of you. I was unprepared for this, I failed miserably and didn't help any of these! I found myself asking, I wonder if they really need this or are they just lazy and don't want to work? Funny thing though, I never stopped to find out so I will never know.

I'm still struggling with this and my inability to take this simple scripture at face value without laying my own filters across it. I don't know if God views my inability to stop and give to these people as disobedience, disappointment, or what exactly. I do know that I believe I'll be more prepared the next time I have the opportunity to be a pedestrian in an urban area, I'll try to remember to have some ones in my pocket, a smile on face, and hopefully the heart to stop and at least acknowledge the least of these created in the image of God.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I Challenge you to run the gauntlet (if you think you have the moxie!)

Here in SEC country there is always a stretch of 3 games for Alabama and Auburn that all of the talking heads and local homers look at the first of the season and say, if we can run the gauntlet of these 3 games… So far this year, Alabama tripped on their 3rd part of their gauntlet run and laid an egg against South Carolina. Auburn is heading into their gauntlet of 3 this coming weekend, if they come out the other side unscathed, it’ll be a truly memorable season in the making.

I recently ran through my own personal gauntlet of faith and came out the other side broken and spiritually wrecked! I challenge my fellow brothers and sisters to run this gauntlet in the near future, if you have the moxie! I referenced these books in some previous posts but want to call them out more specifically here as part of my and Melissa’s spiritual awakening in the last 6 or 7 months.

It began innocently enough when I picked up Francis Chan’s Crazy Love. Melissa had picked this up at a recent orphan ministry conference, I had briefly heard Francis’ name in some other online reading and seen a video clip or two of his on YouTube. Chan takes the reader down a path leading to a point of questioning if perhaps as Americanized Christians, we have been missing the proverbial boat as it relates to the Gospel and how Jesus desires us to live out our lives for Him? Something deep in our hearts should be bothered and troubled by the status quo. “It’s crazy if you think about it. The God of the universe – the Creator of nitrogen and pine needles, galaxies and e-minor – loves us with a radical, unconditional, self-sacrificing love. And what is our typical response? We go to church, sing songs, and try not to cuss.” There are some good examples in here of how “normal” folks have changed their lives to better align with Jesus’ example of living the Gospel. I began to reflect back over the past two or three years of our families’ journey and attempt to process and view our choices, decisions, and events through this optic of what Chan calls a Crazy Love. This was one of the catalysts to us quickly pulling together a trip to Guatemala with my two daughters in less than a 3 week period.

Part two of this literary journey took me to Tom Davis’ book, Red Letters. I picked this up a few days before our trip to Guatemala to read on the plane and while there. The premise of Red Letters is the following: those words written in red, in many Bible versions, are specifically red because Jesus spoke them, maybe we should do what they say. Now there’s a novel idea, Jesus said them, maybe we should do them?! If you don’t want to hear/read about the ravaging effects of HIV AIDS on our 3rd world brothers and sisters and the millions of unsuspecting children, stay away from this one. Davis has a huge heart for the plight of children caught in this terrible, deadly cycle of disease and poverty, and he uses many of their examples and his organization’s work in “doing” the red letters with these people groups. I will have to admit, my own pride and prejudices kept me from fully grasping what Davis was driving at in this one initially. For as long as I can remember, my general outlook on this horrific issue has been one of, you reap what you sew. Being truly honest, I have to admit that when hearing of the plight of AIDS ravaged countries and villages, I would internally say and think, “these people are being judged to earthly damnation for their immoral culture and behavior”. How hypocritical considering I too deserve earthly and eternal damnation as my judgment for my own sins. The syncing of Tom Davis’ message with our time in Guatemala, serving and working with some of “the least of these” was palpable in my heart. I was seriously beginning to question my own understanding and application of Jesus’ words, the ones in red.

The 3rd leg of my book gauntlet took shape the week after we returned from Guatemala. I picked up a copy of Radical by David Platt, a pastor here in the Birmingham area. The first two books were building to a crescendo of emotions and clarity of my spiritual immaturity and lack of understanding of living out the Gospel. Radical, as the name would suggest, pulls no punches and kicked the door down of my emotional/spiritual protective barrier I had so meticulously pieced together over the years. This book peels back the layers and layers of spiritual lies we’ve painted ourselves with over time; you regularly tithe, you support some missionaries, you volunteer for VBS every year, you’ve adopted an orphan, you’re doing just fine. In the end though, what I’ve been doing is keeping a debit and credit tally handy for my spiritual successes, comfort, and more layers of fool heartedness. The statistics in Radical are staggering, sobering, humiliating, and dreadful. Platt challenges those of us who are calling ourselves Christians to action and to do something with these statistics that are really human beings, many of them children simply looking for someone to hold them and comfort them. I haven’t done enough!

Needless to say, just like Alabama, and probably like Auburn over the next three weeks, I did not run this gauntlet unscathed. I am broken and wrecked spiritually and emotionally having run through this trilogy! I’m still processing it all and determining where we will continue to make changes as a family, what we will be investing our $$ and time in, and what it means for my job and other life factors. We have already begun making some changes and openly discussing these issues with our children and why we are doing what we are doing. We’ve since sold our home, begun sponsoring 3 children from Swaziland, jumped onto our church’s mission committee, and are exploring other avenues and Kingdom building opportunities to put our time and resources into.

So, if you are reading this, I challenge you to run this literary gauntlet, in this order, in relatively quick succession. Let me know how you feel coming out the end and what you think.

Friday, October 1, 2010

And now, the rest of the story….

Ever since I spent a summer in college in the Philippines with Campus Crusade for Christ I have wanted to do more short term missions and mission related activities. Like so many excuses we fall back on, life just seemed to be in the way of doing this. In May I was able to break this justification cycle and was able to take B and C to Guatemala for a quick trip to work with Hope for Guatemala. Somehow, we magically had enough $$ to purchase 3 plane tickets and didn’t have to pay for much else while there serving and helping at Hope. Just before going on this trip I had picked up Crazy Love by Francis Chan, which Melissa had lying around the house. It really got me thinking about what we were doing with our time, resources, lives, etc… It was a really thought provoking read and meshed nicely with the trip we were getting ready to take. In the back of Crazy Love are some examples and information of places that are doing Gospel powered work. Due to our “bent” towards orphans I was intrigued by the description of Children’s Hope Chest and I recognized the name of the director, Tom Davis. He had been mentioned in a note I read from a member of our church discussing orphan ministry and one of his books. So while looking for a good read on the plane, I ran across the one and only book at Amazon by Tom Davis, Red Letters (this was not the one mentioned in the letter above). Now, here me and my 2 oldest daughters are in the middle of one of Guatemala City’s worst neighborhoods loving on the most beautiful children and this book is talking about doing the things that Jesus said, you know, the ones that are written in Red in your bible? There’s a novel idea, if Jesus directly said them, maybe we should pay attention and actually do them! Now I’m REALLY beginning to question what the Freemans have been doing the past 3 or 4 years with our finances, resources, houses, etc… as we spend our days “ministering” to these children of Hope. Funny who really got ministered to, huh?

There is local pastor here in B’ham really making waves in the Christian community for his outspokenness and uncanny ability to teach the bible like you’ve never heard it. I had heard he recently published a book called Radical. While looking for more Tom Davis materials, once again I ran across a single copy of this book while at Amazon. I’m beginning to wonder about these single copy books just sitting by their lonesome waiting for me to come along and find them, God is sneaky like that you know. Coming off our trip to Guatemala, Crazy Love and Red Letters, I devoured this book in 2 days I think. I was visibly crying at times and Melissa was really freaking out! When I started reading some of it out loud to her, I could hardly contain my emotions, she knew God had snatched a hold of my heart and wasn’t letting go! It was going to be a wild ride; you could see it in her eyes as we talked through all of this, God was capturing her heart anew as well.

We knew we had to sell our house for sure then, no doubts about it. Note, it had been for sale for a year already, but it wasn’t really for all of the right reasons. I then had to pay the electrical bill for this house and said enough is enough! Even if making the mortgage payments on this house weren’t an issue, I could no longer justify the utilities for it when there are sooooo many more things I should be doing with those financial resources to help the poor, the orphan, the widow, etc… I came home from work on a Monday afternoon and declared that we needed to be out of this situation, asap. This was not only for our financial stability, but for our spiritual stability as well. We called our realtor and dropped the listing price $100k.

I won’t say how much less this was from what we paid for it, but remember the time machine? You can go back and do some figuring, based on the market flopping like that annoying gold fish on the psa commercials, between 2007 and now. We had a contract in hand 48 hours later! God finally quit laughing at us with Jesus rolling His eyes and wondering when we’d ever “get it”. On that Monday afternoon He finally saw us grow up, and He responded! We closed on this house that has been an albatross around our necks for 2 years and has stifled our ability to live in a Gospel powered way this past Tuesday. We are moving into the house we had unknowingly been “flipping” for our own family to move into next Monday. I mean seriously, who has ever heard of a nearly 3 year flip project? Only God and only Chris and Melissa!

We will in essence be debt free for the 2nd time (excluding a modest mortgage) and will have lost well over a year's salary in the process. WE are humbled, broken, saddened, and so freakin overjoyed in God's glory and love, all at the same time! It's hard to explain, but we feel awash in God's love and power in a way our family has never known. I can't wait to see what's in store after closing down this chapter and beginning a new one next week, just down the street from where we are leaving this weekend, but spiritually and emotionally a million miles from where we have been "living" the last 4 years.