Archive for the ‘The Power Of…’ Category

The Power of a Smile

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

Here in Haiti there is so much need everywhere it is overwhelming…  hard to know what would truly help.

Not sure if I helped much during my time at the orphanage, but at least I helped put a few smiles on their faces.

Kiddos

I taught the kid sitting next to me in the picture above the song, “God is so Good, He’s so Good to Me” and he loved it and sang it over and over and over (with actions), it was funny.  I tried explaining to him what the words meant in Creole but felt bad later when I realized I had translated it as, “God is so Tasty, He’s so Tasty to Me.”  Oh well, still kinda Biblical from that verse, “Taste and see that the Lord is good…”

Anyways, he loved singing and even taught me a few Christian Creole songs too.  He would start by teaching me the English words and then the Creole ones.  He was smart!

ps  Here’s an interesting article by Steve Saint on poverty:

http://projecting-poverty-where-it-doesnt-exist

I just finished Steve’s book titled Walking His Trail: Signs of God along the Way and thought it was good, I recommend it. Always love hearing stories of God working in the lives of others.

pps See my flip-flops in the picture above???  They are getting a hard workout, but still holding up well.  I’ve seen a ka-jillion people wearing flip flops here so I really fit in. Well, at least my feet do.

The Power of a Soul

Saturday, July 2nd, 2011

I was going to continue this series with The Power of a Smile, The Power of Sin and perhaps the Power of My Brother Seth.  However, since those posts seem slow in coming I’ll summarize by saying they’re all three quite powerful, in their own way:

Smiles can make old people look new; Sin can make new people look old; and Seth can speak 3 languages, run a thousand miles, and makes me laugh perhaps more than anyone else I know.

So far, in this series we have:

What do they all have in common?  They all have impact on and can affect a human being.  Cars transport our physical bodies, songs affect our emotions, sentences affect our thoughts, and stories affect our lives as we contemplate the examples of others.  And “space” is symbolic of all things limiting to us.

What is a soul?  Webster says, “The immaterial essence, animating principle, or actuating cause of an individual life.”  Basically, our soul is US, our LIFE.  The word in the New Testament for soul (psuchē) is even often translated life. 

Here is the first time soul is used in the Bible:

Genesis 2:7 says, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

The concept and definition of the words soul and spirit overlap, but as I understand it the word soul (as used in the Bible) seems to be broader, often referring to the “life” portion of a human being (some say our mind, will, and emotions) whereas spirit seems to be used more specifically in reference to the non-material counterpart to our body.  The word spirit is pneuma in the Greek which literally means breath or breeze.

Whether a human has an immaterial, immortal soul/spirit or is rather completely material has been cause for much debate.  The view of Philosophical Materialism (that matter is all there is, and any perceived consciousness is merely a result of matter acting on matter) dates before Christ to big-name Greeks like Epicurus and Democritus.  In more recent times Karl Marx is well-known for having broadened and refined the theory.  Even Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe humans have a soul.

For reference, here are some verses that use the words soul and spirit.

So here is the culminating point to this post and series:

The power of a soul is that it can impact God. 

How?

Through entering into relationship with God.

Relationship is mutual communication. If I’m not communicating with someone, I’m not in a relationship with them (I know this). When we communicate with God, this is called prayer.

Through prayer we can actually impact God!

How?

Not by force, (because he’s a ka-jillion times stronger) but by influence, as his friend.

I’ll leave off with these thoughts from James:

“The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.  Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.  Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.”  (James 5:16-18)

The Power of Stick Shift

Monday, May 16th, 2011

I got a surprise when I left work the other day: My car wouldn’t start.   The battery was dead because I’d left my headlights on at lunch.

Who should I call?  How long would it take for Dad to show up?  How long would it take for Mallikar or Pat to show up?  How long would it take for –

Dang, I don’t have time for this, I have a Bible Study to attend. 

What were my other options?  Besides prayer, of course, I didn’t think of that until now.

Then I remembered something I’d read recently from John Eldredge,

“…Adam is captured best in motion, doing something.  His essence is strength in action.  That is what he speaks to the world.  He bears the image of God, who is a warrior.  On behalf of God, Adam says, ‘God will come through.  God is on the move.’  That is why a passive man is so disturbing.  His passivity defies his very essence.  It violates the way he bears God’s image.  A passive man says, ‘God will not come through.  He is not acting on your behalf.’”

Yes, that entire quote flitted through my brain, and I then said to myself with a fierce resolve, “Far be it from me to be construed a passive man.”

I'm not the only one who has tried this.Pushing my car out of its’ stall, I lined it up pointing toward an open stretch of parking lot.  I’ve done this before and you have to get it going faster than you think. 

The power of stick shift is that you can (theoretically) start this type of car mechanically by getting it rolling really fast in neutral and then popping the clutch.

After making sure the runway was all clear for takeoff, I leaned on the trunk and give it an oomph.  Did I mention I was wearing dress clothes?  It started moving slowly, then faster. 

Was anyone watching?  I checked that I was still heading straight, then really poured it on – soon literally sprinting behind the Honda!  Uh-oh, looks like we’re gonna hit that Ford in about twenty yards.

Then it was time to get back in the vehicle, but I found it hard to catch up with a car already flying along as fast as I could run.

With an extra burst of speed I did a Jason Bourne and dove into the driver’s seat and quick popped the clutch: glut-gluuuut-gluuuuuuuuuut—-  silence. stopped.  At least I didn’t hit the Ford, near miss.

So that didn’t work.  But I didn’t necessarily expect it to.  My main plan was to cause enough commotion that someone would have mercy on me and offer a jump.

Sure enough, moments later a very large shiny SUV came lumbering around the corner.  The drivers side tinted window cracked open and a pair of eyes peeked over the top. 

A high pitched ladies voice emitted, "Do you need a jump?" 

I tell the eyes, "No, I just push cars around parking lots for excerci – yes, I could use a jump, thanks for stopping by!" 

The window rolled down a bit further.  A friendly enough face appeared.

The friendly face asked, "I don’t have jumper cables, do you?" 

Yes, yes, I live by the Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared.” Just pull your car around, thanks…  but see here, my jumper cables won’t reach that far, you’ll have to maneuver behemoth SUV a tad closer – Augh! not that close!

In no time flat I was on my way.  I’m very thankful for such a charitable co-worker, she was quite helpful.  A real live Samaritan. 

The Power of Space, Part 2

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

From the mail bag……  here is an excerpt from a letter I received in response to my post yesterday:

I’m not convinced that God tells us to go find misery and poverty in the world and then fix it. That would ascribe a God-like omnipotence and limitless resources to us. The Samaritan wasn’t traveling along the backroads trying to find someone he could minister to, he was more likely going about his day when he saw a chance to do good. Even most missionaries require financial support from churches back home since ministering full-time in and of itself is not economically sustainable.

This is a great point.  In fact, it gets to the heart of a very puzzling issue to me. 

The Teacher of the Law asked, "Who is my neighbor?"  to which Jesus answered with the story of the Good Samaritan.  As I understand it, the point of that story was that our neighbors are those, "within our physical sphere of influence."  Those we are in contact with in, "real life."  Those we come across in, “our daily duties.”

Back in the olde days, this concept was easily understood because there was no other option.  Now technology has changed all that.  In the olde days, it was obvious the influence of one person could only reach so far.  Our eyes could only see so far, our voices could only carry so far, our arms could only reach so far.  It’s interesting how we were made in the image of God in His likeness, but only given the tiniest fraction of His power.  Even with the aid of technology, we will always be limited by time and only being able to think about one thing at once (unless you’re female and can think about 4-5 things at once).

Now though, through Skype, my voice and presence can travel thousands of miles.  I’ve video-chatted live with my brother in Afghanistan as if he were in the same room with me.  And my “arms” are much longer today too.  With a click of a button I can lift a child out of poverty.  Or support an indigenous missionary.  After watching real-time footage of the earthquake disaster in Japan, I can provide real-time support by donating to the Red Cross.

As an aside, when we think of people having influence today, we think primarily of mass media.  Through radio and TV one person can reach millions.  I heard there were 2 billion people watching the Middleton-Prince William wedding.  But have you ever thought about how Jesus impacted the entire world but was never on TV or involved in any type of mass media?  In fact, it is likely he never talked to or communicated with anyone outside the sphere of his immediate physical presence.  We have no indication he ever even wrote a single letter.  Jesus restricted himself to face-to-face contact with folks.  That alone could probably teach us a lot.

But here’s where it gets tricky:  If my neighbor is that person who is directly within my sphere of influence, what happens when my sphere of influence is suddenly increased – like it has been through technology over the last 20 years – to include the entire globe? 

Now an immediate problem arises.  If my responsibility extends to everyone within my sphere of influence, and if my influence has now exponentially increased to include billions of people, it is clear I’m spread too thin.  If I tried helping everyone, in about five minutes I’d be wiped out financially.  Then I’d be destitute myself, and was that really the point?

On the flip side, if I throw my hands in the air and say, "I can’t help everyone, so I’m only going to help those people I come into contact with in my day-to-day life," that fails to take into account that technology has also conveniently stratified my particular socio-economic class into a layer where desperate physical needs are all but non-existent.

It may be instructive to note that Jesus took his "physical presence" to places with high need.  But it’s also instructive that he apparently lived a fairly normal life in Nazareth until he was around 30 years old.  So go figure.

When I was in Haiti, I saw a number of people in public who were sick or injured.  I remember passing a kid sitting outside who had a large swollen jaw and a bandage wrapped around his head.  Another kid had a gross looking swollen eye that probably needed attention.  I saw a cripple.  I saw a teenager so emaciated I was sure he was about to die (he was in his home, but should have been in ICU).  I saw several sick kids lying on the ground partially clothed or even naked.  None of them were in a hospital or anything.  At one point I remember thinking, "This must have been how it was in Jesus’ day where the lame and blind and sick were everywhere, out in the open, and would gather around Jesus to be healed." 

In our suburbs, there is pain, injury, and sickness too.  But it is all sanitized and hidden away behind a sterile environment.  For the worst cases, paramedics in sharp uniforms transport the patient to hospitals where they are attended to by trained nurses, competent doctors, and given access to only the best diagnostic equipment, drugs, and latest surgery techniques.  When death comes here in the States, it is usually in a drugged state.  In Haiti, life is much more raw.  If something bad happens, you might just die.  Right there where it happened even.

I can drive myself crazy trying to analyze all the ins and outs of what exactly I should be doing to make the most impact.  At the end of the day, as a Follower of Jesus I have to come back to realizing my salvation does not hinge on what I do (or who I help), but rather on putting my faith in Him for my salvation.  I trust Jesus, as Lord of my life, to lead me on the path He has for me.  Whether that path is here in the emotionally and spiritually hurting suburbs, or a location with needs more raw and earthy, I know there is plenty of work to do in either place.  The primary thing is to follow Christ’s leading, and produce fruit where I’m planted.

I’ll end this post with another excerpt from the letter I quoted at the beginning,

The thing is, there are so many counter-arguments to any position that it is easy to become paralyzed by it. In fact, you could argue that the point of helping poor people is more to be obedient to God than to actually alleviate poverty, so perhaps it’s best to ignore counter-arguments to any one course of action and simply do something as intelligently as you can.

The Power of Space

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

Will Miller is a friend of mine, though we’ve never met in person.  When the tornadoes hit the South, Will was at his home in Tuscaloosa, AL.  He writes:

Within the last 24 hours, Tuscaloosa was hit with one of the most devastating storms we’ve ever seen.  The night it happened, I sat huddled in our downstairs closet with my parents and our three dogs as we awaited the worst.  We were watching the tornado rip through a few miles away from us on the television coverage when our biggest fear happen.  The screen froze, then the entire house went pitch black.  All we could hear was the tornado siren a few blocks away and the torrential downpour.  We waited.  Then about fifteen minutes later, the storm calmed and we left our safe place.  While our house still stood untouched, we had no idea what was just down the street. (source)

What I found most intriguing was Will’s description about the divide between those who remained basically unaffected and those who were wiped out.  Since it’s been a week now, for most people business has resumed as normal:

…there’s no real “middle of the road” here anymore.  Either we’re back to life as normal with power and no damage, or we’re still staring at the pile that used to be a home…

Will describes the dilemma this is causing for folks across the city:

Do we go back to work to get the paycheck to provide for our needs and family, or do we abandon it to help people out around us?  It’s a hard decision to make.  While unemployment may be declining in areas, a good job is still a hot commodity, and as stewards, we need to be able to provide for ourselves and our family.  On the other hand, we’re called to help out those around us sacrificially.  So what does that look like?  (source)

In the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the Rich Man wasn’t condemned because he didn’t show compassion to those far away; he was condemned because he didn’t show compassion to those nearby, at his doorstep.

There is something powerful about needs in our physical space.  In our sphere of influence.

Here in the American suburbs we don’t have the destitute on our doorstep.  There isn’t a struggling orphanage on each street corner.  There aren’t beggars staring at us with pain filled eyes everytime we open our garage doors.  No, here we are insulated.  But we tell ourselves that if there was a need, we would respond.  And indeed, we often prove those sentiments true.

For instance, I have seen many instances of friends rallying around someone in need.  The Broomes family comes to mind.  They are friends of ours who were involved a serious auto accident several years back.  The son Adam sustained massive brain trauma, and Mr. Broomes had a number of bones crushed (watch this picture slideshow of Adam here).  The outpouring of help for the Broome’s family during this crisis was touching.

But what if there was an overwhelming local crisis?  Then what would I do?  Would I tend to ignore the problems and focus on taking care of myself and my own?  Or would I be moved with compassion and help self-sacrificially?

In Haiti there was incredible need everywhere.  I can’t imagine living normally in the midst of such problems.

If I try imagining I was born Haitian instead of American, and that I somehow landed a good job in Haiti, I wonder, "How would I then live with the desperate need in every direction?  Would I leverage all my resources into helping those less fortunate around me?  Or would I simply be thankful for my own positive situation and try carving out a cosy niche for myself in the sea of misery?"

I’m afraid I would be very tempted to do the latter.  I’m afraid I would become callous to the need.  Like the Rich Man, I too would be tempted to think, "The poor we will always have among us." 

Why do I think that of myself?  Because it is largely how I act now, knowing full well the needs many are facing around the globe.  What’s more alarming is how easily I rationalize my turning a deaf ear to the cries of the powerless, to rationalize away my decision to stay uninvolved with the suffering. 

In light of my current behavior, I can only extrapolate that if the need were overwhelming, and in my immediate vicinity, I would find it only too easy to rationalize away helping them as well.

A certain expert in the law tried justifying himself regarding the second greatest commandment (“love your neighbor as yourself”) by asking Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" 

Jesus told him the story of a man who was robbed by bandits and left bleeding on the side of the road.  A priest came by and, disgusted, ignored the need, passing by on the other side of the road.  So too did a Levite. 

Then a common man of a different religion and even hostile culture had "pity on him."  And helped him.  At personal cost.  In fact, the Good Samaritan did seven positive things for this stranger:

  1. went to him
  2. bandaged his wounds
  3. poured oil and wine on his wounds
  4. put the man on his donkey
  5. brought him to an inn
  6. took care of him
  7. gave two denarii to the innkeeper with a promise to reimburse more when he returned. 

Jesus brings the story home with this piercing question:

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10)

There is something powerful about physical space.  About meeting needs within our physical sphere of influence.  We are finite creatures, we can’t be everywhere at once.  We can’t even be in two places at once, as much as I’d personally like that to be an option. 

Thinking about the Good Samaritan reminds me of something that happened recently that makes me feel bad… yesterday I saw a bird that had a broken wing and I passed by – didn’t stop to help.  I was driving, and saw it awkwardly flopping along on the ground, critically injured.  The poor thing couldn’t fly and was – I’m sure – in a lot of pain.  And did I stop to bandage up its’ wounds?  No.  Or take it to the vet?  No.  With a callous heart I drove on by.  If I can do that to a bird, could I do that to a human? 

Indeed, while in Haiti I was accosted by a beggar, a quite scary looking one.  He was missing at least one significant limb.  Grizzly and disgusting, I ignored his appeal for money.  As did several I was with;  we turned around and left.  Yet one of our group went over and talked to him, had compassion.  But not me.

This morning I woke up thinking about the kids that will die today of preventable causes, and suffer today because of injustices.  Kids that aren’t given the chances I’ve been given.  Kids that are hurting, are hungry.  Laying there in bed I thought about how a new day rises for me full of hope and promise.  Yet I know for many a new day rises full of gloom and despair.  I think of the lady in Haiti who asked me to pray for her, "in her misery." 

So, I see this blog post has turned into a very un-encouraging and depressing one.

I guess the power of, "seeing needs close-up in our personal space" is not that it makes us more compassionate.  Rather, like a mirror, it reveals a lot about the level of compassion we already have. 

Over and over in the New Testament Jesus is recorded as, "having compassion."  I wonder, do I?



1) For more thoughts regarding the limits physical space places on us, see this article I wrote on that subject last November.
2) For more thoughts on our responsibility with the material blessings we’ve been given, next time you’re at a local Christian bookstore you might want to read chapter 6 of David Platt’s book, Radical.  That chapter is titled, "American wealth in a world of poverty," and is hard hitting.  Maybe over the top, but totally made me think.