Religion

Following Jesus

When I started this journey I never imagined it would bring me to rural Kenya. My thoughts tended to sway towards me teaching the masses theology and preaching inspiring sermons which brought people to change. Building a hip, relevant, and smooth running church seemed like a grand place for my life to end up. Digging in the dirt, not what I had in mind. Living with fourteen children certainly had not occurred as a logical path for Johnny's life.

I made a mistake one day. I chose to believe Matthew 25:45 as true.

45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’

Since this story conveyed truth to me then the pursuit of religion and my dreams of teaching and inspiring crowds of people were no longer relevant for my life.

Upto that moment I had belonged to a religion, Christianity, that had a vague resemblance to Jesus. From time to time my Christianity and Jesus walked the same road.

From time to time was not enough anymore. If I was to follow Jesus, I had to forsake all. Sounds easy, but the path has not always been so smooth. 

Now, today, I have no religious practice as part of my faith. My faith is not orgainized around a meeting on Sunday, nor a man standing behind a lectern with a tiny mic stuck to the side of his face, nor a holy book. If you examine my life you will find no regularly scheduled prayers, rites, nor any other religious practice. Instead I am walking with Him. Trying to keep it fresh each and every day. I walked out of the building and into a slum. Out of the Book and onto a farm. 

I am trying to follow Jesus. Feels good right now, tomorrow might be more of a struggle. I have committed to myself to keep walking. 

This can look different for all of us. You might thrive with Him in a religious setting. Cool. Just do not spend too much time sitting in a pew. I did.


Good Friday

Thinking about Jesus this Easter holiday. Which does make sense, seeing as to how it is about Him and all. Easter is my favorite holiday. It is the only holiday I celebrate that remains strictly about Jesus, and for us it lasts three days starting with Good Friday.

When I think about the cross one passage from the Bible usually comes to mind:

23 Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. Luke 9

That is how I think about the cross, it's daily impact on my life. 

image from upload.wikimedia.org
I was converted to Christianity at a young age, but it was not until about 12 or so years ago that I thought about what it really means to follow Jesus. I quickly realized that taking up my cross would lead me to uncomfortable, even painful places. When you are in a Good Friday, it is anything but good feeling. 

Taking up my cross has meant different things to me at different times in my life. Sometimes the meaning can change day by day. Currently this season of my life finds my cross as primarily defined as noise from children, and fund raising.

Noise wears me down, bit by bit by bit. I become grumpy and snap quickly at the children. In fact `Eowyn was just in here trying to turn on some of Kate's showtunes at maximum volume. I snapped at her. Thankfully she gave up and left. In fact it has been days, weeks, years since I last had a moment of silence during the day. I know, doesn't sound like a heavy cross, but for me it is one of the hardest to bear. 

The other one is fund raising. We need financial help to do our work. In fact the more work we do the less money we have available. Funny. Asking for help is not easy, but it is necessary. In fact I believe that needing help is spiritual. It is a way that God can teach me to rely on others and not go it alone. The other side is just as spiritual as well, giving. We have given our lives to save these children, and we are the ones who have been blessed the most.

Good Friday. 


More Blessed to Give

There is a passage in the Bible that says this; "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Familar phrase from the book of Acts, but one that I abused myself with time and time again in my past. 

Back when I still followed a religion instead of Jesus I used this passage to remind myself that I had to give. My interpretation was that if it was a blessing to give than certainly the reverse was true as well. If I failed to give God would curse me, or at least remove his protection from my life. I still did not understand that He loved me and would never reject me. Especially not for financial reasons. 

Once I was free of the obligation to give I actually read the rest of the context. The writer talks of not coveting or lusting after silver and gold, and working with his hands to feed himself. He also admonished the reader to labor and support the weak. 

This is what we are trying to do. Day in and day out we labor amongst the children. Working towards giving them hopeful futures. I am guilty of wanting a few new shiny tools. Like a newer car, computer, phone, etc. Yet we have managed to change our lifestyles sufficently enough to live without all the latest greatest and fashionable trends, and still be happy.

Beyond that I have learned the truth of "It is more blessed to give than to receive." My life has been transformed, no saved, because we have rescued these children. Without them I am not sure I could have continued on. I have been blessed. 

Blessed with love.

Blessed with relationships.

Blessed with fullfillment.

Blessed with hope.

Giving is no longer an obligation for me, but instead has become a way of life. As I continue to follow and attempt to emulate Jesus, I find that giving of myself is more and more the spiritual path. These children do not live with us because we feel that we owe God. They are with us because we love and want to love more.

 


40 Plus a Few Days

A few days back I had my fortieth birthday. I am a few days into my new decade, and I have to say so far it is not so much different than the last decade. 

Aging has never been a fear of mine. Instead of worrying about the decay of my virility I worry more about missing opportunities to accomplish something grand and meaningful with my life. Personally I do not measure success using a bottom line, the amount of goods acquired or consumed, or the number of people following me. I do not have  a problem with those as measures of success, because frankly I need people who are successful in those areas to help me be successful. I try to measure success in my life by the people I encounter. If both of us can walk away from that meeting different, better, and just a bit closer to Jesus, then I count that as successful.

Am I there? Nope. Still working on it. Which is why I do worry about it from time to time. There is a passage in the Bible that comes to mind, and after a quick search on Bible Gateway, I can actually quote it:

And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Galatians 6:9

That is me today. Trying to not grow weary while doing good. That is where I find myself at forty.

 


Learning to Grow - In Love

Love is one of those things that religion, philosophy, and music have tangled and complicated almost beyond recognition. 

I learned that the Bible has several different words for love: 

  • Agape - love in a spiritual sense
  • Eros - physical love
  • philia - mental love

There could be more, but that alone is enough to make muddy what should be crystal clear. I know if I love you or if I don't love you. Greek words are not needed, nor is a classification of that love. All love is the same. Love is love. Love is sacrifice. If I love you I will give up a part of myself for you. Simple.

The hard part is learning to love someone who does not love you back, or whom it is not natural for you to love. 

When the girls first moved into our home it was simple enough to love them. I mean they were cute little kids who needed us, easy receptacles for love. It became more difficult when the love was not reciprocated. Downright near impossible when they started demanded our self sacrifice. That was a game changer. I had to learn to grow in love towards the children, who because of the trauma they had experienced, found it hard to love in return. 

I do not have any big fancy Greek words to describe what happened. The love was strong enough to weather that storm. In fact I grew to love them more, because they were pushing so hard against us. In my mind it was the same sacrifice that Jesus made for me. He loved me before I knew him, before I could reciprocate that love. He sacrificed himself so that I could know love. That is how I have grown in love. We sacrifice now for these children, so that one day they can love as well.

Not that I have learned all there is to know about love, but for sure I know that I love these children.


Living by Faith?

Once upon a time when I was attending a semi-fundamentalist charismatic church there was much empathis on giving, giving money that is. When I was in Bible school there was a lot of talk about living by faith, meaning that if you gave all (money again) then God would provide for your needs. I tried it out, and found it lacking. Our former church even had a guarantee, or at least spoke of one, for paying tithes. If you paid your tithes for 6 months and you were not blessed then they would refund that money. Of course typical white middle class folks, which is what the church was made up of, will have good things happen to them within six months. That's if you pay a tithe or not. I did put it to the test, though being the rebellious sort I am I did the opposite. I stopped paying tithes for 6 months. What I discovered was life changing. I actually had more money in those 6 months, because I was not giving it to the church. Nothing bad happened. God did not strike me down for robbing him. I survived.

It occurs to me that this might not be the right track for a fund raising post....

Living by faith is not giving everything away and hoping that motivates God to love you enough to give you stuff. Living by faith is listening for that "still small voice" and attempting to obey. Taking that step to love someone whom it is not normal for you to love. Loving that someone who seems to be doing everything possible to make it as difficult as possible for you to love them. That is living by faith. Sure sometimes it involves money, and even sacrificial giving. But that giving must come from the heart, from loving, not from a desire to acquire more and more wealth. 

Kate and I do live by faith. We have faith that readers of this blog, followers on social media, friends, family, and organizations will believe in what we are doing enough to part with some of their hard earned money. We live in faith that there are people who are willing to make sacrifical gifts to help us care for abandoned and orphaned children here in Nakuru, Kenya.

That is how we live by faith.


Well Pleased

Apparently it takes more than two weeks to unlearn thirty years worth of religious indoctrination.

Something has been bothering me for a couple of years now. Part of my nature, which some might consider a negative trait, is to ignore problems. That impulse is so powerful, that often times I can literally forget about whatever it is that bothers me. Which is what I have been doing with this particular situation, trying to ignore it till it goes away.

I have been getting the same answer to prayer for at least two years now. No matter what I pray, how I pray it, where that prayer is made, I get the same answer.

I was listening to a sermon this morning where the guy posed the question "What if this is the only answer to prayer?"

Something clicked in me. I need this answer. Preachers, Sunday school teachers, parents, Bible school, and myself have been telling me that God does not like me. He cannot even stand to look at me. Thirty years of that is hard to wash away.

Yet the answer I get to my prayers is the opposite of that message that God is displeased with me.

The answer to all my prayers is the same one Jesus heard after his baptism.

Luke 3:22 And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.”

God has been telling me that He is pleased with me. He has been saying "I like you." I am still learning this, but this morning at least I feel liked, wanted, and loved by the Divine.

Perhaps this is the answer to your prayers as well.


Muse?

Where is my muse? She is nowhere to be found. I think she might have left me for someone else.

We all lose our inspiration from time to time. Last week I wrote how Jeremiah 29:11 was our inspiration, which is true in my head. However my heart needs a kick in the "feeling inspired" department. Nothing has changed. We are still loving and caring for these children and others, but it feels too routine right now. No, more like I'm wading through a tar pit, and a velociraptor is waiting with that sharp claw for me on the far side.

Trust me I know how crazy this sounds. We just bought more than eleven acres of land, a dream long in the making. All the children are well, mostly happy, and being educated. I am married to a woman too good for me. I should feel like I am on top of the world, instead I find myself mired in tar and beset on all sides by razor sharp claws.

Do not think I am depressed, I am not. Just not feeling inspired at the moment.

My prayer; this too shall pass?

 


Family

I love reading the news. Scanning headlines for interesting sounding tidbits brings me happiness. I learn many interesting facts and/or psuedo facts. Example, read an article in Newsweek yesterday about secrets in the Vatican. I now know that the Pope likes toast, and apparently the vatican is riddled with corruption. Politics intrigue me. The process, the images, the posturing, the elections, and all the flim flam that goes along with it. 

In fact this year is full of politics. Campaigning going on for presidential elections in Kenya and the U.S.A. They are only going to get noisier. 

So noisy that concentrating on anything else will get difficult. Unless of course we switch off the news, but since that is unlikely we need a plan.

I propose that we remember what is really important. Governments will come and go. Sometimes our pick will win, and then other times not. That's not all that important. 

So what's more important than current events? Wars? Economic crisis? Celebrity gossip? Terriosim? 

For me it's this:

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The beginning?

Let's start at the very beginning. I was born on a certain day in a certain place to a particular woman. I grew up here and there and had a childhood. Upon becoming a man I started doing man things, which eventually led to getting married. That in turn took me to fatherhood, which is pretty much where I am now.

Now that all that biographical data is out of the way let us look at a major beginning in my life. It all starts in a book, the Bible.

Matthew 25:34, 37 "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what's coming to you in this kingdom. It's been ready for you since the world's foundation. And here's why:I was hungry and you fed me,I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,I was homeless and you gave me a room,I was shivering and you gave me clothes,I was sick and you stopped to visit,I was in prison and you came to me.'

"Then those 'sheep' are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?' Then the King will say, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.'

I read this many many times. Once upon a time I devoured the Bible everyday. I had a strict reading plan, and I stuck with it. Too often I read without attempting to understand, I simply read to fulfill an obligation. When I threw out my reading plan and put away my Bible for a few years I finally began to see.

I saw things like this story in Matthew 25. Which if read honestly is quite clear. Jesus is to be found with the needy.

That was the latest, and perhaps greatest, beginning in my life. The realization that Jesus was not found in religious obligation, but instead was walking amongst the least of these, changed everything for me.