Monday, June 29, 2009

The Pursuit of Happiness

Michael Jackson died last week.

For most of us this is not new news. In fact, it has been almost four days since his death. Based on the news coverage of his death you might think it just happened. If you didn't know who he was, you might also think based on the amount of coverage that he was some sort of important man who had say won a Nobel Peace Prize, or invented some sort of life-changing contraption, or even a world leader.

However, none of these descriptions are true. Instead, Michael Jackson was a pop star. Granted, he was a very successful and very good pop star. But he was just a pop star nonetheless.

I have watched this media frenzy play out at various times: Britney Spears' breakdown, the divorce of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, etc. etc. In fact, our society seems to be increasingly mesmerized and outright addicted to following the lives (and deaths) of these men and women. Heck, now people don't have to even be a celebrity for us to be addicted to their lives. There are whole reality shows designed just so that we can be vouyers into other's lives. The more drama the better!

I am sure smarter people than I have their theories on all of this, but I have one too. My theory has to do with the world view that our society has. Our world view is written right into our Declaration of Independence: "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

This world view is actually not a new thing. It comes straight from the Greek and Roman civilizations that so many of our laws and philosophies come from. Another word for this is "hedonism."

Hedonism is the philosophy that pleasure or that which has pleasant consequences is intrinsically good and therefore what humans should pursue.

The Greeks were masters at hedonism; conquering people after people, enslaving them and taking their wealth so that they could live a lifestyle of the pursuit of pleasure. They had other people do their work so that they could spend time doing things that brought them pleasure and happiness. Some of the descriptions of their society are eerily similar to the lifestyle that so many of us in America are hot in our own pursuit of.

The problem with a hedonistic society is that eventually it falls apart. People quit serving in the military: it's not that fun. They quit running for office unless there is power and wealth attached to it: politics become corrupt. People quit caring for and helping each other: it might take money and time away from "fun." They become addicted to increasing amounts of pleasure: the simple things that once brought pleasure are soon not enough and people must have more, more, more to satisfy. Things that are inconvenient or get in the way of happiness and pleasure lose their importance. Sound familiar?

With a corrupt government, a weak military and a people who are living only for themselves, the society is bound for collapse. This happens not just because other societies can come in and take over (like the Roman empire did to the Greeks) but also because the society eventually runs out of people to do the actual work and the resources to sustain the lifestyles to which they have become accustomed.

You may be asking yourself what does this have to do with Michael Jackson and Britney Spears?

Both Michael Jackson and Britney Spears have epitomised this notion of hedonism. They were insanely wealthy (at least at one point or another) and lived lifestyles of extravagance and oppulence. They are and were what many of us aspire to be: rich and famous.

We as hedonistic pursuers ourselves, and most of us NOT rich and famous are looking for the next "high" to entertain us, to captivate us. Michael Jackson and Britney Spears captivated our attention in life, and the depth to which they fell captivates us as well. We found pleasure in their lives, and because we are hedonists who are not content with the things that used to entertain, we find increasingly more pleasure in their "fall."

Think about it. Horror movies are getting more horrific. There is increasing amounts of sex on TV to the point that even commercials are titilating. The average child sees 200,000 acts of violence on TV before age 18. It only makes sense that all the rumors, gossip and innuendo surrounding the life of one of the most famous men in the world would feed into our society's need for stimulation. Eventually we'll all get bored, until the next celebrity fall hits the airwaves. I can almost guarantee, though, that whatever it will be will have to be bigger and badder for anyone to notice.

Our attention is no longer captivated by things that really matter: the half a billion babies that have been aborted because they are inconvenient to the mother, the kids forcibly involved in the sex trade in many countries, the kids used as child soldiers, the countries under thumbs of dictators so ruthless that they would rather let their own people starve then accept help, the oppression and abuse of women in muslim countries in the name of God....I could go on and on.

No, we don't want to think about those things because they are not fun, and they don't bring pleasure. They are hard to think about, and even harder to try to do something about.

This is not just a society problem. This is a church problem too. We are just as hedonistic as anyone else in our country. Spin it anyway you want, most of us are pursuing the same goals as everyone else in our country. There is so much evidence for it: our divorce rate, our lack of involvement in any cause that might be on the Lord's heart, our McMansions/health and wealth movement, what we do with our free time, the things we hold as important....none of it looks a lot different than anyone else.

Oh friends, when will we wake up and see? Wake up before it's too late. We should not be affected by a world view we should be the ones AFFECTING it!


Rescue is Coming

A few weekends ago at the zoo I had the opportunity to do a weekend program that involved working with 5 teens. This program is a 2-day program and three of the kids involved had previously been at a different program earlier this year.

One of the gals, I'll call her Madison, I found out lives with her grandmother. I was unable to find out why she lives with her grandmother and not her biological parents. What was clear, however, was that she has a huge love deficit.

I know this because also along for the program was a slightly older boy, I'll call Aaron who also had his own issues, the least of which was that at 15 he believed he knew more about animals, ecology and the zoo than I did. However, this boy, in less than 24-hours had captivated the heart of this girl to the point that in the middle of the second day of this program I had to take them aside and tell them that their displays of affection were inappropriate for the program we were doing.

It broke my heart.

I watched this girl all weekend, so starved for love, so searching for acceptance and identity, see this boy and decide that she wanted him for herself. I watched it all happen and felt so powerless to do anything about it.

I firmly believe that in the heart of every person is a deep, deep desire for love and acceptance. Outside of the Lord, we look to get that anywhere we can.

For the kids of this generation, who come from broken and horrific circumstances, and who have been told the message that if it feels good you should pursue it, the need for rescue from a savior who can restore and redeem them is more tangible than ever.

Yet, how can she be rescued if no one brings her the good news?

Romans 10:14
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?

Jesus did not come to save us from the World but to send us INTO it.

I firmly believe that we cannot follow Jesus and have growing revelation of who He is and not have a growing heart for the last, the lost and the least. If we are spending more time in front of the TV, spending more money on Starbucks, praying more for ourselves then the last, lost, least, then we are deceived and we do not have the love of Christ in us. If we are spending more time with our friends or even in a prayer room than we do with the last, lost and least, then we are deceived.

As for me, and my friend "Madison," I am praying for her. I am praying that she would encounter the true saving love of Jesus. I was not the messenger, but I pray that someone else will be.



Sunday, June 14, 2009

Blind Deer

There is a camp game we play at the zoo called "Blind Deer."

In this game there are several people who are "it." They are blindfolded and put on the perimeter of the area you are playing in and stand so that their feet are about 8-10 inches apart. On the floor between their feet you put something that the other "deer" must collect, like a rock or baseball. The trick is for the deer to collect their item from between the feet of those who are "it" without being heard. If the blindfolded players hear someone and points to them, the players must switch places.

The blindfolded group must rely heavily on their sense of hearing to catch the other "deer" in this game.

Genesis 18:10-19 (emphasis mine)

Then the LORD said, "I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son."

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, "After I am worn out and my husband is old, will I now have this pleasure?"

Then the LORD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh and say, 'Will I really have a child, now that I am old?' Is anything too hard for the LORD ? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son."

When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way. Then the LORD said, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him."

Sarah and Abraham had a promise and God had a plan. The Lord himself showed up to deliver the promise to them and reveal His plans to them. Clearly their sense of hearing was not an issue here. Yet Sarah laughs and at some point she and Abraham decide that Hagar, Sarah's maidservant, is really the one who is to bear Abraham's child. Isaac was promised, but Ishmael was what came from Abraham and Hagar. (Note that God's promise was actually specifically for Sarah and Abraham, NOT just Abraham.)

It is clear what happens when we have a lack of faith and try to make things happen our way: Ishmael became the father of the Arab world and mortal enemies of decendants of Abraham even to this day.

Sometimes I think how nice it would be to have God show up at my house and deliver His plans and promises to me in such a clear and focused way. Life is probably more like the blindfolded player in "Blind Deer." I am straining my ear to hear the direction of a noise and hoping I am hearing right, but I am still blindfolded in many ways. (By the way, this is why it's called FAITH...believing what you cannot see.)

I live in a community of Believers who have our ears attuned to listen for the Lord's voice. I myself am straining my ear for Him to speak. Yet even when I do hear something, I still often laugh in dis-belief (or cry in hopelessness that it will ever happen). Sometimes I even try to make it happen my way, like Sarah and Hagar.

I have some "as clear as a blindfolded deer can hear" promises from the Lord, and my belief for them is a bit shakey right now. Do I believe in spite of circumstances or do I laugh? Do I trust that they will happen even if I do something dumb like send a maidservant into my husband? Do I move confidently, even if I might be hearing wrong?

What I don't want to do is worship those promises so much that I try to make them happen my way or to be so unsure of what I hear that I am afraid to go the direction I am hearing like a blindfolded deer. I want to believe, not doubt and be able to say, "God said it, that settles it."

I need my eyes focuse on the One who gave the promises and let Him be the one to make it happen and know that the answer to the question: "Is there anything too big for the LORD?" is NO!


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Hong Kong Highlights Part 3: Prophecy

You know the spirit of God is moving when the prophetic pours out like a rainy Washington winter: unrelenting, and overtaking everything.

A few of my highlights from the Hong Kong trip occurred outside of conference hours. I actually attended only bits and pieces of the actual conference due to the role my church had in this conference to serve, which we definately got to do in abundance. My primary role was the first three days of registering and checking people into the conference as well as other administrative duties after that. I did get a chance to meet many people this way, though the Chinese delegates were only able to register using a number rather than a name so as not to get into trouble with the authorities. Didn't I say their faith was humbling?

There were a few key meetings with folks that occurred outside of conference hours that were truly epic.

One of these meetings was with the Frontier Missions Leader. I won't include his name, to protect his privacy....I'll just call him Mohinder (shout out to all the "Heroes" fans out there). :-)

Mohinder was invited to one of our group meetings during the conference. Earlier in the day, I had met him briefly at our Call2All Cairo meeting and after that he'd gone on to another meeting with some of the rest of our team. It was during this next meeting that Mohinder began prophesying over some of the team members. It was so accurate that he was invited to pray for all of us.

He started the evening by prophesying some stuff for our body as a whole, and then was invited to pray for anyone who might want it. About 25 of us stayed behind to get prayer. Mohinder, got through aobut half of us before ending things for the evening. I was not one of the ones he prayed for.

About an hour later, I was sitting in the conference's large-group session and I looked over to see him walking purposefully towards me.

"You are awesome," he said to me.

Thinking he was just complimenting me, I replied with a sincere, "Thank you!"

To which he responded, "I don't think you understand, I have a word for you."

He then began to speak to my heart and its capacity for love...he called it a Mother's heart...and had talked about how when he saw me, the Lord showed him my heart, and how big it was and how much I loved others and the Lord. He called me a "giant of the faith."

I just melted. I posted a few weeks ago about not wanted to become bitter and hard, and here this man was speaking to that very thing without knowing me at all. I wept as he spoke to the tender places in my heart. I felt like it was God's way of saying "What are you doing on the ground like a dog? Don't you see, I have set a place for you at my banqueting table! Come, eat!" It was restoring in a way I had not expected.

The next morning our team had the opportunity to meet Cindy Jacobs. She's the author of books like "Possessing the Gates of the Enemy" and "Reformation Manifesto." If you look up her prophetic words, her detail is astounding.

She had, much like Mohinder, words for our body, and then she called the women of the church up and prayed for each of us.

I can't remember what she said for each lady, but when she came to me she said "Intercessor" and then embraced me. She only embraced two or three of I am uncertain as to the symbolism/reason for this.

I have to admit, especially in light of her pinpoint accuracy, that her word for me has me a bit discombobulated.

I have never thought of myself as an intercessor. Typically when I think of this word, I think of old women in a room somewhere or alone praying. I have always been way too much of a "people person" for this to sound interesting to me.

I think, however, that I have to get the old version of what this means out of my head and let the Lord paint a new one....intercession that looks different for me than what it has looked like in the past.

Because of Mohinder's word for about my heart, I wonder if there is not a merging of these two words that needs to happen...if I have the Lord's heartbeat for a situation, it makes my prayers about that situation specific and with revelation. Then, I can accurately pray for things.

It is still always so amazing to me when the Lord speaks with the kind of clarity that he did this last week.

The Lord had to get me 1/3 of the way around the world to tell me what He wanted me to hear, but I was listening.


Monday, June 08, 2009

Hong Kong Highlights Part 2: Humility

Somewhere in China there is a man or woman who is without a refridgerator.

Imagine for a moment life without a fridge.

Yet, there is a person in China who sold their refridgerator to make it to the Call2All conference.

They sold their fridge.

This is just an example of the radical faith that these Chinese men and women have. While the religious tolerance level in China has dramatically improved, most of these men and women have lived through a time when that was not the case. Most of these amazing Christians have come to the Lord in an atmosphere that most of us would crumble under.

At one point during the first night of the conference I went over to the side of the auditorium that the Chinese delegates were sitting on and just stood there.

Immediately in my spirit I heard, "Do you see these men and women? Do you see how they have suffered? Do you see their faith? Do you see their humility? I have seen it, I have watched them and I am overwhelmingly proud."

It was clear that on my worst day in America, I still have it 20x better than most of these men and women. It was humbling.

Later that same night they encouraged everyone to pick a country on this giant map that was laid out on the ground. There was not enough room for everyone to be on a country, so I chose to stand off to the side.

The speaker then encouraged us to dance and worship just as those from that country would dance. I looked over and saw a woman in full Hawaiian dress and a couple of men from Tonga dancing on their islands.

I had a sudden vision of what worship around the throne would look like....not just every tongue, but also the diversity of dance. I was struck by the spirit in these men and women as well. While following the Lord is not as hard in Tonga as it is in China, it is still not exactly a spirit-filled nation and to watch these men doing traditional Tonga dancing while obviously worshiping the Lord struck me to my core. It was humbling.

The contrast throughout most of the conference between the Western church and everyone else was stark. We westerners sat on one side of the conference while the Chinese sat on the other. Now this is not unusual...people sit by those they are most like. It happens all the time. But, the attitude of knowing it all and "do it our way, we know best" was tangible. Even by our church. The divide was there, it was obvious and it was awful.

We did not even realize how much our pride and our "westernism" was there until Wednesday night, almost 3/4 of the way through the conference.

We were having a team meeting on Wednesday night before the large group session and Brian pointed it out to us. This was supposed to be a commissioning for the Chinese church and instead the Western church's spirit of dominance and control was taking over. We were not excluded from this. He encouraged us to intentionally bridge the gap between the Chinese side and the western side and ask for the Chinese men and women to pray for us and ask the Lord for a dose of their humility.

Suddenly, Dan, one of our team members brought three Chinese women up to the front of the group and Brian asked them to pray over us. It was like a wave of repentance hit our group and as one we hit our knees, weeping as they prayed over us.

Cries of "Get America out of us!" were heard across the group as these three women prayed fire over us. When they were done, most of the women hugged these three. I clung to one of the women, weeping with her.

I have no idea what they prayed, but just being in their presence was enough. It was humbling.

On Thursday morning of the conference I had a meeting with a couple of men from Call2All, a few members of our team and a couple of men from Egypt to plan the next Call2All conference.

I sat there at a table with these two Egyptian men as they talked about why we could not advertise the conference in their country and I was struck by the cost that they still pay to be a believer in the Muslim world.

One of the men is a leader of a group called "Frontier Missions." They are based out of Egypt. This is an organization that is not only full of Christians, their goal is to win the Middle East to Christ. The amount of faith and courage that this must take is overwhelming to me.

Yet he, and the other man we met with are full of the Holy Spirit, running hard after the Lord and serving their guts out. They could be killed for what they do.

The man in charge of Frontier Missions came one night and prayed and prophesied over our group and again, I was just struck by the faith of this man. It was humbling.

I think for me, that was the big take-away from this conference....the pride and arrogance that are in me and my lack of perspective on what it truly takes to follow Jesus in most of the world.

I am humbled.


Saturday, June 06, 2009

Hong Kong Highlights Part 1: Provision

com⋅mis⋅sion (kuh-mish-uhn) verb: to authorize or send on a mission

I am just back from the Call2All Congress in Hong Kong where I got to witness the commissioning of over 1,000 Chinese delegates to reach the unreached in their own country as well as the countries on the old Silk Road Trading Route.

I have a lot of highlights of the week and a few of them I'll go into detail later, such as an amazing meeting with author Cindy Jacobs, being prophecied over by a man from Egypt with such accuracy that it's astounding, having three Chinese women pray for us while we wept with repentance at the arrogance of the Western church, watching people from every nation pray over and dance on a map of the world about half a football field in length and getting to see Hong Kong with all of its experience and people.

However, what I really want to share is the miraculous story of provision from my week.

The last year my job situation, like many in the US, has been difficult to say the least. When I got back from Europe about a year ago I did not have a job and had a hard time finding one until about September. The job I got in September, at the zoo, was cut in December due to budget cuts. I took a job with a non-profit oranization in January, but that job was cut to half time in March due to the economy, and then in April I found out that I would be losing it at the end of the month. Meanwhile, I had been doing limited part time work at the zoo again and at the end of April (JUST in time) found out that there was a full time job opening back there again. However my two moths of part time work took its toll and I have been perpetually one month behind on my mortgage for several months now.

When we got the invitation from Mark Anderson to go to Call2All, I had just started back at the zoo, but I really didn't have the money to go. I just *knew* I was supposed to go, though, so when I got home from meeting with him, I immediately bought my ticket, using my charge card, but not really knowing how I'd pay it off.

So, last week when I headed to Hong Kong, I still didn't know what was going to happen and did not have a lot of money to pay for food while gone.

I brought about $100 for food with me, but ran out of that by Wednesday night and didn't know how I'd get food on Thursay or Friday.

Here's where the miracle comes in. On Thursday afternoon, as I was getting off of the elevator, I mentioned that I had not eaten yet that day to a friend due to my money situation as she offered me an apple. Two women overheard this and insisted on giving me money. Between the two of them they gave me about $130! Then, later that afternoon a girl I had met a year ago in Herrnut Germany's YWAM base gave me another $100!

Obviously this was plenty of money for food! And I have some left over!

There is more.

When I got home, I had a huge envelope from my mortgage company. I cringed as I opened it because I was certain it was a letter and information from them about being late with my mortgage this month yet again. Insead, what was inside was my escrow reconciliation for the year.

Each year my mortgage company reviews how much they take out for taxes and insurance. If they've taken too much out for the year, they give a refund check for the total amount for the year that I've over-paid. If they have not taken out enough, they raise my mortgage payment for the upcoming year.

Last year, it turns out, I over paid by almost $1,600!! I arrived home to a refund check for this amount which is more than enough to catch me up for my mortgage! And, to top it off, my mortgage payments are going down by about $160 a month!

So, I come back from Hong Kong with more money than I left with AND my mortgage paid up to date!

I still do have my credit card to pay off the amount of my ticket, but I seriously cried when I got this check from my mortgage company.

What an amazing Lord we have!