Kenya Journal (2)

Monday, October 25, 2010
Today Cliff drove Al and I and Mike (New Life Mission’s excellent worship leader) from Nairobi to Eldoret – 180 miles – 5 ½ hours.

Highlights include:

• A man leading his camel next to the highway

• Monkees

• Storks

• Extreme poverty (60% of Kenyans live below the poverty line)

• Driving in elevations over 9000 feet!

• A man wearing an MSU Spartan jacket in a gas station (probably the highlight of the trip so far)

• Good dialogue with Cliff, Mike, and Al

• A beautiful shiny iridescent blue bird I’d never seen before

• Pelicans

• A stretch of highway that’s got to be as bad as any paved road can get – because until recently in Kenya trucks had no load limit. So, gigantic grooves are worn into the highway in places.

• The phenomenal Rift Valley. It almost took my breath away. It’s the Kenyan equivalent of the Grand Canyon (not sculpturally), except the Rift dwarfs the Grand Canyon in size.

• Arrival in Eldoret. We eat in the dining room. It’s a buffet. Fried Embu rice; Cream of Caroline soup (if your name is Caroline, don’t go there…); Ugali (a corn thing – I liked it); Lyannoaise potatoes (really, round French fries, but since we’re in lion country why not?); roast rack of lamb (the lyon and the lamb); and Cajun-fried tilapia. When Al and I got to the Cajun fried tilapia all we saw were Cajun fried tilapia heads. I thought Cajun-friend tilapia heads might be a delicacy. At least that’s what I told Al. When Cliff sat down to eat with us I asked if, in Kenya, cajun-friend tilapia heads are a delicacy. If he said “yes” then I’d feel good, and I needed to feel good about this tilapia head since it had precious little to eat on it and was always staring back at me. Cliff said, “No. Didn’t you see the fish bodies and the fish tails? I insisted there were only heads. Cliff then pointed to a nearby table, and there was a tilapia body on someone’s plate. Whoops. Or, maybe other people took all the tilapia bodies and tails and left the heads for Al and I?

I don’t have the best internet setup here at our Eldoret hotel.

70 pastors from Uganda and Kenya will be with me tomorrow. Some of them have driven all day and overnight to get here. Most of them… no, probably all of them…, are economically very poor. I am so grateful to God for the next 3-4 days with these real Jesus-followers!

I’m in Eldoret, Kenya. About to go to breakfast. Then, off to teach the pastors from Kenya and Uganda. I am so thankful for the opportunity to do this.

FYI – for some reason I cannot upload photos to anything. I can’t attach them to an e-mail or upload to Facebook or upload them here. Since I’m a tech-ignoramus I don’t understand what’s going on. Could it be the wireless? Too bad, since I’ve got some cool pictures from on top of the Rift Valley escarpment.

Posted by John Piippo at 12:42 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Kenya Journal

 

Nairobi!

Tomorrow I’ll fly to Nairobi, Kenya, with my friend Al Willingham. We’ll arrive Friday evening, 7:30 PM (Kenya time). Saturday will be a chill-out day for us, hopefully getting in sync with Nairobi time.

On Sunday morning I’ll preach at Cliff Msioki’s church in Nairobi. Cliff’s church has three Sunday morning services, but they will combine together when I am there. Cliff has been praying and fasting all this week in anticipation of what God wants to do on Sunday. I am very expectant about this!

Then Cliff will drive Al and I down from Nairobi (elevation 5500 feet) into and through the ancient Rift Valley and to Eldoret to the northwest (elevation 6500 feet). The drive from Nairobi into the Rift Valley is supposed to be spectacular. When I was in Israel I took 2200 pictures. For this Kenya trip I am very prepared to take 2-3 thousand pictures. My theory is: just keep snapping, even randomly. One good, even great, photo can come out of the many.

From Monday – Friday next week it will be my privilege to teach and minister to pastors from Kenya and Uganda at a retreat center in Eldoret. I will use my Spiritual Formation & Transformation teachings as a platform for the Holy Spirit to move and have his way among us. I know God is going to do unexpected and great things in our midst.

Then, back to Nairobi, and home to Monroe via Amsterdam.

Travel time, from takeoff to touchdown in Kenya: 17 hours. I fly, therefore I read books. I’m taking some with me on my new Kindle (yay!).

17 hours on a plane. Some books. My mp3 player loaded with Kenyan music (Suzanne Owiyo, e.g., called the “Tracy Chapman of Kenya”). If Linda were with me this would be perfect.

First Night in Nairobi

Sahara Desert

I’m in Nairobi!

Our flights (Al W. & I) were excellent. First, Detroit to Amsterdam. Amsterdam has a nice, efficient airport. But not as nice as Detroit Metro (which is the nicest I’ve ever been in).

Then, onto the big KLM 747 for the flight to Nairobi. My seat was 56H. The ticket person scanned my ticket and printed out another ticket that read: Seat 2K. Sounds better than 56H! I enter the plane, they direct me to my left, I am in first class! I have a guess how this happened. Probably one of our Redeemer Delta/KLM people upgraded me. It’s either that, or God, or luck. Probably, it’s “that” and God.

About first class…

  • Big chairs with your own armrests. This is important since on the Detroit to Amsterdam flight a man sat next to me and his arms were as big as chairs, My arm, thus, didn’t exactly “rest” on that flight.
  • Heavy-duty luxury plastic silverware comes with your meal. The knife, fork, and spoon were so nice I thought of taking them home and using them for our good dinnerware.
  • Leg room. If you were Yao Ming you’d have enough room.
  • The chairs recline to full prone position. And, they are wide. These chairs are nicer than most people’s beds.
  • The chairs have back massagers in them.
  • The food is different, and better, then economy class. This made me feel, for a moment, guilty.
  • But before dinner came we first-classers each got a sizable bowl of assorted nuts. But note this: not one peanut was in that bowl. Need I say more? (Since “assorted nuts” usually means “peanuts,” with an occasional walnut chip.)
  • Three times hot wash clothes were brought to us. Why? Because we deserve that kind of treatment, that’s why! Yet I wondered…, if they only knew I didn’t pay for first class, would I have gotten a wash cloth? 
  • First-classers have their own, isolated bathrooms. Economy-waifs cannot use them. Which means they are always available, since numerically first-classers are “the few.”
  • Then, right out of nowhere, I am served a cup of ice cream.
  • In first class you are treated like you are sombody even though you are not.

On the two flights I read Ngugi wa Thiongo’s Decolonizing the Mind. Whoa, what a brilliant book, and sad in some places as we read of atrocities and dehumanizing acts done by the imperialistic colonizers of the African continent. Thiongo is a tremendous writer who some thought would receive this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature.

I read, on my Kindle, more of The Dark Night of the Soul and was quite impressed with St John of the Cross’s insights into shallow, sensual Christianity. Read more of Wayne Proudfoot’s excellent Religious Experience. And, a little bit of Thomas Merton, which always goes a very long way.

Al & I both were blown away as we flew across the Swiss Alps and had an amazing, long look at snow-capped peaks and deep, green valleys. These Alps flow into northern Italy, which looked, from the air, spectacular. Down the east coastline of Italy, over Sicily, across the Mediterranean, into northern Africa, then over Libya and Sudan, where we were both in awe at the very big Sahara Desert. How big? 3.6 million square miles. It covers most of northern Africa. The Sahara Desert is almost as big as Europe, and America. We had incredible sun-drenched views of it from 30,000 feet. Ask Al what he thought of this.

We got picked up at the Nairobi Airport by our host, Pastor Cliff Msioki. Cliff drove us into the city where we’re staying at the PanAfric hotel. Cliff is such a gracious host. I am honored to be with him and his church this weekend.

Al and I just ate a late dinner. I ordered something I’d never heard of – it was vegetarian and spicy and delicious. Al saw, on the menu, something called “cappucino mushroom soup.” Al tried to wrap his mind around that but was having problems doing it. I think he’s going to try some tomorrow.

Kibera, in Nairobi

I
It’s 11 PM Nairobi time. It has been a very full day! Here are some bullets…

  • Awoke at 8. Slept well.
  • Called Steve Lichty (U of Florida Ph.D student & Fulbright scholar who is working on the relationship between African religion and African politics.
  • Steve picks up Al and myself and takes us to a Java House – very, very nice place! We ate breakfast outside.
  • I loved talking with Steve and listening as he shared the stuff he’s working on and briefed us an all things Kenyan. I took notes. This was for me a wonderful time, and I learned a lot!
  • Steve dropped Al & I back at our hotel. Then we walked to downtown Nairobi. It was warm, and at times hot – felt like 85 degrees, and lots of sun.
  • We went to a bazaar. I bought some very cool and indigenous jewelry for Linda. Yes, Al and I bartered. I’d like to describe Al’s bartering experience but it would take way too long. I witnessed it. You would be proud of Al.
  • Steve picked us up at 3, and toured us around Nairobi.
  • We went to Kibera, a slum of 170,000+, and the second largest slum in all of Africa.
  • Just around the corner from Kibera are the neo-colonial polo fields where the wealthy play.
  • Steve said, “I’ll take you to Karen.” “Karen” is named after Karen Blixen, whom the movie “Out of Africa” was about. It was beautiful! As we pulled into the Karen Blixen Coffee Garden I called Linda – I was wishing she could be there with me!
  • Jacaranda trees, with their purple petals, are in full bloom all over Nairobi. As I sipped a cappucino in the Karen Blixen Coffee Garden purple petals were falling all around us.
  • We sat and drank coffee and talked with Steve and listened and greatly enjoyed the time. Al pulled out his GPS and said, “We’re 7500 miles from Ann Arbor, 6100 feet above sea level, and 1 degree from the equator.”
  • A pouring rain then fell.
  • We drove back towards our hotel. All the while Steve is pointing out things. He’s more than your basic tour guide – he knows a lot about the socio-political-historical background and always brings it in, which is really helpful to me.
  • Went to the Nairobi version of Super Walmart – it was very big and very modern. Then we ate at another Java Joe’s.

Tomorrow morning Cliff Msioki picks us up at the hotel at 9. I’ll preach in Nairobi to his congregation – the three services will combine. Most of the people understand English, but Cliff will translate for me in Kiswahili since not all speak or understand English.

Then we’ll have lunch, and Cliff will give us his tour of Nairobi.

I think I’ll sleep well tonight. Already the jet lag is not nearly as bad as when I went to Bangkok a year ago.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sunday in Nairobi

Nairobi, while on the equator, has a moderate climate – it’s 6000 feet above sea level. Today was a beautiful 75 -80 degree day. Pastor Cliff Msioki picked Al and I up at the hotel and drove us to the place where, on August 7, 1998, the U.S. embassy in Kenya was bombed. It happened in downtown Nairobi, in a very congested area. 291 people were killed and 5,000 wounded. Responsible: al Qaeda. Now there is a memorial to those who died.

We then drove to Ongata Rongai outside Nairobi. Many of these roads have speed bumps the size of Mount Kenya. Literally, on some of them, your vehicle could get hung up and suspended. If it was dark and you were driving and didn’t see them that is the end of your car’s life mission (which is to transport you). On the way we stopped for a cup of coffee. And, I note, there are many, many Christian ministries and churches along this road.

New Life Mission is a beautiful and effective ministry to children, with a vibrant congregation. As we pulled in the worship was already happening. It was beautiful, powerful, and went on for a long time which, in some of our minds, is very good. “Three verses and we’re outta here” is no longer for me. I’m a ‘7-11’ worshiper – 7 verses sung 11 times. Or more. That’s tribal, meditative, Hebraic worship, where the stuff gets a chance to sink into the heart. Better a 7-11 worshiper than a McWorshiper. Better one entire day of worship in God’s courts than McWorship elsewhere.

After worship there was an offering, and a group of women sang a song as it was collected. Then – announcements. I’m guessing 700 people were there, many of them being young adults.

Cliff introduced me. I preached on the 2-fold methodology of Jesus, which is: proclaim and demonstrate. I told the people about prophecy, then demonstrated it with two people God had given me prophetic words for. Please note: 1 Corinthians 14:3 prophecy is to strengthen, encourage, and comfort. It was well received by these two people; they felt it was from God and for them. Then I told the story of Carl, the marathon runner in our church whose foot was broken and was healed (I’ve got the hospital records that show this). I asked, “Are there any marathon runners in Kenya?” There was a slight gasp in the people. That’s like asking, “Is the pope Catholic?” Kenya is THE long-distance running center of the cosmos! I then made a joke (it seems funny to me). I said, “After church today, I challenge all of you to a long-distance running race.” Many smiles among the people… Just kidding, I said.

I asked if there was anyone who had a problem with their feet. A young woman, Julia, raised her hand. She came forward. I explained to the people about “authority” (exousia), and how Jesus gives his followers authority. She had sprained her ankle multiple times and it was not getting better. I asked her what the pain level was on a scale of 1 to 10. “Eight,” she said. I then said, “In Jesus’ name, be healed.” “How is your pain now?” I asked? Julia said “Zero.” And immediately as she said “zero,” before the people could begin toclap and praise God, there was a “pop” as a ceiling light broke, shattered, and fell to the ground right next to this woman and myself. The people erupted in praise and wonder. I told them that I felt the timing of this light popping (which Cliff said has never happened before) was absolutely perfect. It gave an exclamation point to the healing of Julia’s foot. That, I believe, was God. Now there was this increased sense of expectation in all our hearts because God was in the house.

A lot more things happened. Al and I and Cliff prayed over many people, for healing and greater impartation of authority, power, and love.

Afterwards, on the drive back to our hotel, we:

  • saw two groups of baboons on the roadside. My camera battery was dead; Al didn’t get to his camera in time to capture them.
  • compared the potholes on the road to the potholes in Monroe County. FYI – our potholes do not take a back seat to Nairobi’s.
  • drove along the edge of Nairobi National Park. In that park are: Black rhinos, lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, buffaloes, Giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, elands and diverse birdlife with over 400 species recorded. In my supreme ignorance I asked Cliff, “Do people walk in that park?” Cliff responded, “No, they’d get killed.” OK. People drive through the park and stay in their vehicles.
  • Stopped and ate outdoors at a Kenyan Mexican restaurant. Don’t laugh. America is not China, and we have Chinese restaurants. People in China laugh at this.

Back in my hotel I crashed. There came a knock on the door – it was Al. He had not taken a nap. Actually, I wouldn’t call what I was doing “napping,” which has a connotation of lightness about it. I was in comatose hibernation mode (CHM). I’m sure I looked disoriented when I opened the door for Al since I was disoriented. At least I was “authentic.”

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Monday Morning in Nairobi

Rift Valley escarpment west of Nairobi

Here’s the day so far which, on this side of the planet, has just begun. Here we’re 7 hours ahead of Detroit time.

  • Slept better last night – got 6 hours of solid sleep. Did not awake in CHM (comatose hibernation mode).
  • Al and I ate at the PanAfric’s breakfast buffet. Lots of food, including meats, fruits, pastries, eggs, pancakes, fruit drinks. But for me… I had a bowl of whole grain cereal, and a bowl of coconut cardamom oatmeal with some honey added. I liked it!
  • We’re packing up to leave Nairobi today. Cliff picks us up at noon. We drive 5 hours NW to Eldoret. 
  • 70 pastors from Kenya and Uganda await us there. I’ll teach them Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

Now… the Rift Valley outside Nairobi. Here’s from a site that writes about it.

“The Great Rift Valley is a massive rift or fault on the surface of the earth that runs from northern Syria in the Middle East all the way down to central Mozambique in southeastern Africa. In Africa, the rift splits into two: the Eastern Rift Valley and the Western Rift Valley.

The Eastern Rift Valley runs through Kenya from Lake Turkana in the north and beyond Lake Magadi in the South. It is the home to breathtakingly unique geographical features, including geysers, extinct volcanoes, gorges, escarpments, the Aberdare Range and numerous lakes. Some of the oldest human fossils have been found here.

On the drive from Nairobi, the capital city, to Nakuru in the Rift Valley, there are a number of scenic overlooks along the way, where the ground suddenly drops away from the road into a steep valley that expands several thousand miles in every direction.”

I have my camera and binoculars ready.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Women of Kibera

 
Posted by John Piippo at 9:43 PM 0 comments

Don’t Accept Your Subhumanity

Often, when a person fails at something, they say “I’m only human.” But from the Jesus POV this is not true. If one were “only” human, truly human, then one would not morally or spiritually fail. N.T. Wright, Dallas Willard, and Thomas Merton all, I think, agree with this.

Wright points to that Sea of Galilee story when Jesus walks on water and calls to Peter, “Come!” Peter comes, walks for a moment, then falls in. The falling-in is not because he is “only human,” but because he is not human. The Jesus who becomes “fully man” (as well as “fully God”) walks on water because he is just that. In Jesus we see mere humanity, true humanity.

In his sermon “Dreaming of a White Easter” Wright says that, as dwellers in Christ, “we can really live without being greedy and snatching at power and using other people as objects in your quest for pleasure or prestige.” Most of the world has no idea you can live like that. You might as well have snow at Easter. As one of the greatest early Christians put it: it’s ridiculous, and that’s why it’s true. Nobody would have made this stuff up.” You and I are meant to be signs to the world who “show the full glory of what human life was meant to be, and to cut across the shallow lies that drag us down and make us, frankly, sub-human.” Part of Christ being formed in us (Gal. 4:19) is that his full humanity becomes ours.

Dallas Willard, in “Spiritual Formation: What It Is, and How It Is Done,” writes: “Spiritual formation in the tradition of Jesus Christ is the process of transformation of the inmost dimension of the human being, the heart, which is the same as spirit or will. It is being formed (really, transformed) in such a way that its natural expression comes to be the deeds of Christ done in the power of Christ.” What does that look like? Willard refers to 1 Corinthians 13 and writes: “There is a real possibility of looking at I Corinthians 13, for example, and being able to see that the love that is portrayed there can actually come to occupy the human heart. People can really be like that–“Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” People can be like that, not because they do such things, but because agape love has occupied them effectively as a result of their having learned how to receive it into the deepest part of their being.”

People can really be like that. To be like that is to be human. This is so huge that I can hardly bear it. Arguing by via negativa, if this were not true than things like 1 Corinthians 13 that speak of such transcendent love are like carrots forever dangling before hungry rabbits. The famous “love chapter” then becomes either fiction or merely descriptive of God but inapplicable to us, the result being we are forever subhuman.

Merton expresses his longing to transcend subhumanity and ascend to true humanity when he writes: “One cannot remain immobile where the political and aesthetic customs and potentialities are so conspicuous and compelling: one must take another step.” These words defined Merton’s “personal vocation,” which I’ll argue is the vocation of us all; namely, to go beyond the vast limitations of our subhumanity. Merton writes:

“I must – in my writing, in my prayer, in my life – take this further step and go beyond my limitations and the limitations of thought, art and religion of our time. And this requires effort and suffering. I simply cannot sit down and accept my limitations – that is impossible. But I must take care most of all not to be content with merely fanciful transcedence – going beyond my limitations in thought and imagination only. It must be a real transcendence.” (A Year With Thomas Merton, Kindle, 5057-5070)

Which means, to me: I must be transformed into true humanity. I must transcend the limitations of subhumanity that result in impotent and impoverished living. Our world needs Jesus, and we are called to host his presence. Christ in us. That’s the hope of glory. Amazingly, “we are partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1)

“Mere humanity” abides like a branch in a Vine and does the kind of things Jesus did and even more. That is the promise and destiny of every real follower of Jesus.

Nairobi!

Tomorrow I’ll fly to Nairobi, Kenya, with my friend Al Willingham. We’ll arrive Friday evening, 7:30 PM (Kenya time). Saturday will be a chill-out day for us, hopefully getting in sync with Nairobi time.

On Sunday morning I’ll preach at Cliff Msioki’s church in Nairobi. Cliff’s church has three Sunday morning services, but they will combine together when I am there. Cliff has been praying and fasting all this week in anticipation of what God wants to do on Sunday. I am very expectant about this!

Then Cliff will drive Al and I down from Nairobi (elevation 5500 feet) into and through the ancient Rift Valley and to Eldoret to the northwest (elevation 6500 feet). The drive from Nairobi into the Rift Valley is supposed to be spectacular. When I was in Israel I took 2200 pictures. For this Kenya trip I am very prepared to take 2-3 thousand pictures. My theory is: just keep snapping, even randomly. One good, even great, photo can come out of the many.

From Monday – Friday next week it will be my privilege to teach and minister to pastors from Kenya and Uganda at a retreat center in Eldoret. I will use my Spiritual Formation & Transformation teachings as a platform for the Holy Spirit to move and have his way among us. I know God is going to do unexpected and great things in our midst.

Then, back to Nairobi, and home to Monroe via Amsterdam.

Travel time, from takeoff to touchdown in Kenya: 17 hours. I fly, therefore I read books. My style is to read multiple books at a time. I’m taking with me, on my new Kindle (yay!):

I’ll take the following hard copies:

I won’t read all of these, but will finish some of them and be deep into all the others. 34 hours on a plane. Some books. My mp3 player loaded with Kenyan music (Suzanne Owiyo, e.g., called the “Tracy Chapman of Kenya”). If Linda were with me this would be perfect.

“No” Is a Freedom Word

Thomas Merton wrote that anyone who, every time they have a desire, says “yes” to that desire and follows it, is not a free person. For example, Linda and I ate in downtown Ann Arbor last Friday evening. It was beautiful and warm and we ate outside at a Greek restaurant. This is when I heard a voice say, “John, you want me, and you know it.” Inwardly I responded: “Yes.”

After eating we walked up the street toward where we were parked. As we passed a store, I stopped. “You want me… come inside…” And I obeyed. And there it was. The vanilla bean cupcake with the soft cream-cheesy icing looked at me with loving eyes. How could I refuse its invitation? As we walked out of The Cupcake Station I was not a free man. I could not say “No.”

Anyone who wants to follow after Jesus will use the word “No” many times over their lifetime. Eugene Peterson puts it this way.

“There is always a strong ascetic element in true spiritual theology. Following Jesus means not following your impulses and appetites and whims and dreams, all of which are sufficiently damaged by sin to make them unreliable guides for getting any place worth going. Following Jesus means not following the death-procrastinating, death-denying practices of a culture which, by obsessively pursuing life under the aegis of idols and ideologies, ends up with a life that is so constricted and diminished that it is hardly worth the name.” (Eugene Peterson, Subversive Spirituality, 12)

Recently a friend and leader who comes to Redeemer said to me, “Coming to Redeemer will make everyone, at times, uncomfortable.” He smiled approvingly as he said these words. Jesus didn’t come to trick and seduce religious seekers to “become Christians” by offering them free cupcakes. Taking up the cross of Christ daily means, logically, laying down things that would prevent you from cross-carrying. It means saying to a number of things, “No, I will not carry you another inch!” Eugene Peterson once more:

“Grammatically, the negative, our capacity to say No, is one of the most impressive features of our language. The negative is our access to freedom. Only humans can say No. animals can’t say No. Animals do what instinct dictates. No is a freedom word. I don’t have to do what my glands or my culture tells me to do. The judicious, well-placed No frees us from many a blind alley, many a rough detour, frees us from debilitating distractions and seductive sacrileges. The art of saying No sets us free to follow Jesus.” (Ib.)

The person who is able to say No to follow after Jesus is far from a repressed person. “Ascetic practice sweeps out the clutter of the god-pretentious self, making ample space for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; it embraces and prepares for a kind of death that the culture knows nothing about, making room for the dance of resurrection.” (Ib.)

Free people use “No” many times every day. What are such people like? Eugene Peterson, once more… “Whenever we are around someone who is doing this well, we notice the lightness of step, the nimbleness of spirit, the quickness to laughter. H.C.G. Moule wrote that these dominical negatives “…may have to carve deep lines in heart and life; but the chisel need never deface the brightness of the material.” (Ib., 12-13)

Just say No. You’ll sleep better, walk lighter, and maybe lose some pounds in the process.

Salvation as Rescue

Mario Gomez, 63, the oldest of the trapped miners, was the ninth man to be rescued.     He vowed never to go below again.

Long after I fell asleep last night Linda stayed up and watched the first Chilean miners emerge in the capsule called “Phoenix.” When I awoke today we watched #s 10 & 11 step from darkness into the light. Seeing miner #10, Alex Vega, hold his wife in an enduring embrace was joy-filled and emotional.

We have here a metaphor for the Jesus-salvation idea. While I was in darkness, light entered the world. God descended to me in the form of humanity. Love came down and rescued me. As I emerged from darkness into light all heaven rejoiced. Now, years later, I still remember the dark world I once inhabited – a world of drugs, alcohol, self-centeredness and self-indulgence, failure, and eventually despair. At the young age of 21 I was in darkness and despair. I had flunked out of college, destroyed some relationships, and didn’t have a clue about who I was or what, if anything, I was to do.

Then, one day, someone said these words to me: “God loves you.” At that moment it was as if a drill bit had broken through the rock walls of my heart, revealing light from the land of the living. A hand reached forth. I took hold of it. I was lifted from death to life. My parents rejoiced.

Salvation is rescue. Salvation is redemption. Salvation is life. I was saved!

Today one miner said, “I’ll never go back to mining again.” And I have never gone back to the dark place I once was in. “Gracias Senor” is printed on the front of the miners’ t-shirts. Thank you God.

The Uncomplicated Spirituality of Jesus

I met with a good friend this week to talk about our spiritual lives and pray for each other. At one point in the dialogue I said that the spiritual life is simple but not simplistic. Or, as Thomas Merton wrote: “It is not complicated to lead the spiritual life, but it is difficult.” (The Sign of Jonas)

THE SIMPLE & UNCOMPLICATED

  • Abide in Christ
  • Stay connected to Jesus
  • Dwell in God’s presence
  • Live “in Christ”
  • Love God with all that you are, and love your neighbor as your self

Jesus said that all the laws and teachings of the prophets hang on the command to love. Legalistic, rule-oriented “Christianity” complicates matters. But as “Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19) rules aren’t needed. Jesus didn’t need rules. He didn’t wear a ‘WWID’ bracelet to which he constantly looked and asked, “Now What Would I Do?”

When you love, you obey. That’s pretty uncomplicated, right? Those who love the guitar practice. Those who loves sports watch them and play them. Those who love food obey the command to eat. We know that we love God if we obey his commands. 1 John 5:3-4 says: “This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world.” His commands are not burdensome (complicated) precisely because God is in us and we are in God. “We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit… God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17In this way, love is made complete among us…” (1 John 4:13, 16-17)

The simple, uncomplicated spirituality of Jesus says this: if you are a branch, connected to the vine, then you will produce the fruit of the vine. Inexorably.

THE DIFFICULT & SIMPLISTIC

  • Satan works to keep you disconnected and, therefore, unfruitful
  • This is when the spiritual life gets “complicated”
  • The spiritual life becomes a simplistic tallying-up and weighing of good deeds vs. bad deeds, like adding up columns of numbers
  • This is the loss of the God-relationship and the taking-on of the heavy weight of legalistic rules-righteousness

THE SIMPLE TRUTH OF THE JESUS WAY

  • God loves you
  • God’s love has been demonstrated in Jesus
  • Love God back, with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength
  • Dispense this God-love to your neighbor

To Forgive or to Punish?

 

Jesus-followers are to confess their sins one to another, and then to forgive others if they sin against you. Forgive others, just as you have been forgiven. To “forgive” mean: to cancel a debt. When you forgive someone you release them from any indebtedness towards you. That’s what God has done, in Christ, for you. When you experience God’s forgiveness, you don’t need to pay anymore. The forgiven person goes free. God’s forgiveness provides the ultimate “Get out of jail, free” card.

On the other hand, to withhold forgiveness is to say, “Let the punishment continue.” To choose to not forgive someone for what they have done to you is to make the choice to make them continue paying. Unforgiveness seals the other person in the prison cell and throws away the key. If you refuse to forgive that person who has wounded you or stolen from you or done whatever to do, you administer 40 more lashes of the whip to their back, continuously.

Between forgiveness and unforgiveness there is no middle ground. It’s always either freedom or bondage. Unforgiveness is not a “waiting” thing, like “You will someday face execution for what you have done.” Unforgiveness straps the offender into the electric chair now and turns the dial to “high.” When you forgive someone, you set them free. They don’t deserve it. But, and BTW, you don’t deserve it either. So, because Jesus has forgiven you and released you from your indebtedness to him, who are you not forgive those who have set foot on your ground and violated you?

When you withhold forgiveness, it’s not that you order someone else to be punished. You become the Punisher. That says something about you. About your heart. It’s a dark heart, gripped by the accuser, that wants to do such a thing.

How to Communicate When You’re in Marital or Interpersonal Conflict

David Augsburger roots his book Caring Enough to Confront in Ephesians 4:15, which states: Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.

How should we communicate with others, even when we are in conflict with them? Here we see two actions we are to take:

1. Speak truthfully

2. Speak lovingly

Both are needed. If we only speak truthfully we could blow people away. I could tell you the truth in very unloving ways. Speaking truth without love injures other people.

If we only speak lovingly we may never address the truth. This leaves issues undealt with. It feels warm and fuzzy for a while, but the bleeding has not been stopped.

Instead, says Paul, we are to speak the truth in love. The formula is: Truth + Love. That sounds like Jesus, right? Jesus always asserted the truth, and he always did so in love.

Practically, says Augsburger, it looks like this.

• I care about our relationship & I feel deeply about the issue at stake

• I want to hear your view & I want to clearly express mine

• I want to respect your insights & I want respect for mine

• I trust you to be able to handle my honest feelings & I want you to trust me with yours

• I promise to stay with the discussion until we reach an understanding & I want you to stay with me until we’ve reached an understanding

• I will not trick, pressure, manipulate, or distort the differences & I want your unpressured, clear, honest views of our differences

• I give you my loving, honest respect & I want your caring-confronting response

When I communicate with Linda, these are the attitudes I have. And Linda has the same atittudes with me. We were both blessed to learn these thingss from David many years ago when we were, for two years, in a married couples group that met at the Augsburger home. Those times were so important to us as a young married couple! We saw, lived-out before our eyes and ears, how to be loving and truthful even when you don’t like each other at the moment. Even when you are very angry.

Speak the truth in love to one another. That is the way out of what sometimes seem like irreconcilable differences.