Life in the Desert

Daisy Mountain, just north of Anthem, Arizona, in full bloom!

Daisy Mountain, just north of Anthem, Arizona, in full bloom!

Anne Lamott once quipped, "I like the desert for short periods of time, from inside a car, with the windows rolled up, and the doors locked. I prefer beach resorts with room service."

I get where Anne's coming from. The desert heat is unbearable during the summer months, especially for people who are passing through. I remember when I first met my wife and she found out I was from the scorched desert of Arizona. Her immediate response was, "People actually live there?" Her childhood memory of the Sonoran desert consisted of a family summer vacation which led them through the desert sans air conditioning. A beach resort with room service is far superior!

If you're used to lush green landscape, you're gonna look right past the beauty of the desert. You're gonna see brown...boring...uninspiring...ugly...hot. Beyond all that, there's a certain stigma to the desert. It's the whole "everything alive in the desert is trying to kill me" thing.

Just today I found myself saying, "It seems like God brought me to the desert to die." Then I was quickly reminded of two very important things.

What if I need to die?

For starters, I long to be like Jesus as described in Philippians 2. He emptied himself so that he could fulfill his mission. He gave it all up, even counted it all as loss, in order to set us free and bring us new life in Him. I want to live with the same humility, purpose and passion. So often, though, my attitude doesn't measure up. I find myself caught up in what other people think. I try to please others at the expense of pleasing God. I let circumstances determine my hope rather than trusting in God alone as the One my hope comes from.

"I stand silently to listen for the One I love, waiting as long as it takes for the Lord to rescue me. For God alone has become my Savior. He alone is my Safe Place; his wrap-around presence always protects me. For he is my Champion Defender; there's no risk of failure with God. So why would I let worry paralyze me, even when troubles multiply around me?" (Psalm 62:1-2 The Passion Translation)

Did you catch the way the Psalmist, King David, chose to re-center his soul on God's salvation? Without God at the center of our lives, we are constantly susceptible to other forces telling us who we are and what we are supposed to do.  We lose our peace when we lose Christ as our vision. And all the things that should die in us as we become more like Christ return with a loud cry..."What about me?!"

So there is a sense in which I have been brought to the desert to die. While it is a painful experience, I can also see how it has been a good experience. Because in the silence and the darkness, in this harsh and isolating desert, I can see colors starting to appear. Transformation is happening. The desert is blooming.

Life begins again.

The Paschal Mystery is that Jesus Christ lived, died, was resurrected to new life, and ascended into Heaven. While we recognize this truth during the present season of Lent and Easter, we can also recognize the Paschal Mystery in our own lives.  In order for something to really live, it must first go through the process of death. The bleak mid-winter always gives way to the new life of spring and summer. Our hibernating spirits awaken once again to the warmth and the joy of a sunny day. We come alive again!

So what if we follow God's leading into the valley of the shadow of death? Don't we know that He is with us? The Passion Translation phrases Psalm 23:4 as follows:

"Lord, even when your path takes me through the valley of deepest darkness, fear will never conquer me, for you already have!"

If God has already conquered me, then fear cannot take me captive. Instead I am free to hope in my God who makes a way where there seems to be no way.  And so are you...

My prayer is that you will do what David said in Psalm 62 and allow your soul to rest. To be quiet and still as you wait on God. He will rescue you. He will not leave you in this place of desolation forever. Perhaps there is something in you that must die so that you can fully live and fully function in God's Kingdom as a beloved child.

May God restore you to life and cause your soul to bloom and blossom as never before! May you step into the wonder of God's love and salvation. May you discover your God-given calling and courageously give up the good in order to take hold of the great.

There is life in the desert!

 

Our Uber Experience

(I originally posted "Our Uber Experience" on 2/12/2016 on Wordpress.  I'm re-posting here so everyone can get an accurate picture of the way things have been progressing - to be more accurate - to get a sense of the slowness of progression over this past year. But it's all good! We are taking intentional steps forward with Restore Soul Care as God is opening some doors and giving us clarity of vision.  I can't wait to see how 2017 unfolds...it's still an "uber" experience!)

For those of you who have been keeping track of our transition to Arizona, you know it’s been a bumpy ride. There have been a series of setbacks and surprises making our move all the more adventurous, to say the least.

I honestly haven’t had the heart to blog for the last few months. I kept thinking I would wait until I was through the “desert,” so to speak, but I realize I am living in the freakin’ desert now, so I might as well get on with it.

First of all, many of you are aware that we have filed papers for our very own non-profit ministry called “Restore Soul Care.” It is our dream to eventually run a retreat center where people can come to find healing, hope, rest and restoration for their weary and worn-out souls. We are taking little steps toward this dream and continually praying about the how, the when, and the where.

Second, I have taken a part-time ministry position as Worship Pastor at a church in Anthem, Arizona (in the foothills to the north of Phoenix) called The Crossroads Church. It’s been great to lead worship with a talented group of musicians amidst a really friendly and vibrant community of Christ-followers.

In addition, I am trying to earn extra money by driving for Uber, a ride-hailing company with a very large presence in Phoenix. I work lots of late nights, often leaving the house at 7 pm and returning to my nice, cozy bed around 4 am. Uber says they are “finding better ways for cities to move, work, and thrive.” After giving 268 rides in the last 2+ months, I can say that’s a pretty accurate description. There are a lot of people taking advantage of the low-cost option of Uber to get to various points around the city, especially when drinking is involved. I would imagine any city would thrive in the long-run when drunk drivers rely more and more on alternative means of transportation to get home from a fun night on the town.

Uber – “An outstanding or supreme example”

When I first started driving for Uber, I was really blown away at how many people I was meeting, people who would typically never darken the doorsteps of a church. I hear things in my car…boy, do I hear things…things I couldn’t repeat…things I wouldn’t repeat…things I shouldn’t repeat. That’s just the way it is. People get in and start talking with each other about the club they just left, the people they were hanging out with, the server, the bartender, the girl who got mad at the other girl for giving the guy her phone number, and on and on and on.

Sometimes they engage me in their conversations.  “Hey Uber, have you ever been to (insert name of strip club that I didn’t even know existed)?” “Hey Uber, how’s your night going? Any crazies get in your car tonight?” (Yeah, you.) “Hey Uber, is this your full-time job? What else do you do besides drive?” That last one is my favorite. Depending on the time of night and the level of intoxication, I will occasionally ask, “Do you really want to know?”

The Struggle Is Real

Not every one who gets into my car is intoxicated. I’ve picked up a woman going to her cancer treatment, a 17-year-old boy running away from his parent’s house late at night, dozens of college students all trying to figure out their future, a twenty-something single woman who just got her car stolen the night before, a hard working single mom whose Driver’s License was suspended, and a blind man who needed to get to the state assistance office.

So many different and difficult experiences. So many people who are struggling. Financially. Relationally. Emotionally. Physically. Vocationally. Spiritually. And this is just a tiny cross-section of the masses of people my God happens to love.

I will often pray the Jesus prayer as someone gets out of my car. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Sometimes I’ll put their name in as well, but mostly I will just say “me” because I realize I am right there in the ditch with them. I’m experiencing the messiness of life, too. And I take great comfort in knowing we aren’t alone. We follow a Savior, fully God and fully human, who entered into the pain and the messiness of our experience as the greatest act of love history has ever witnessed.

I used to lead worship for a church whose stated purpose was to win the man to Christ. It would stand to reason that if the man of the house started going to church, then the whole family would come as well. I was told not to sing phrases like “I am desperate for you” because men feel uncomfortable with that type of language of dependency and weakness.

Now I call B.S.

I witness the desperation of our existence every day. I witness people’s desperate attempts to fill a void, a longing for meaning, with everything but God. I witness desperate measures to forget, if only for the evening, the pain of failure and loneliness. I witness desperate people trying to do whatever they can to prolong their lives, impress their peers, express their freedoms, and escape the darkness that lies just beneath the surface of their awareness.

I’m trying to make sense of the shift in my own heart as I continually serve people who are broken, people who are hungry for hope, people who are thirsting for deeper relationships, people who are scared, people who take no delight in easy answers and smug certainty. It’s literally breaking my heart.

In Matthew 23:37, Jesus stood in the hills overlooking Jerusalem and lamented over the state of his people. “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” I get a sense of what Jesus might have felt as I engage in this strange “Uber” experience. We sing “Break my heart for what breaks yours” as if it is possible for us to carry the weight of Jesus’ burden. It’s too much. It’s too heavy. None but Jesus could stand under the weight of humanity’s dilemma. None but Jesus could suffer the agony of rebellion and lostness and pain and struggle. Still, it is a sign of our own spiritual formation when compassion and empathy override our preoccupation with self.

Experience With Experience

Jesus’ mission was to bring God’s Kingdom rule and reign into reality, and he did just that. He promised abundant and eternal life. Yet, we live as if that is all a distant pipe-dream, a reality that we cannot enjoy until this earthly existence is over. THIS is the burden that I am learning to carry: the weight of broken dreams and promises unfulfilled, the sheer number of wounded and dis-integrated souls, the global longing for authentic and loving community, the hope of  wholeness and flourishing in our present experience, not just in the age to come.

Here’s what Philosopher and radical theologian, Peter Rollins, said about our uber experience in a recent podcast interview:

“Eternal life is not simply the continuation of this life into the next, because that would be terrible. Heaven would be millions of people screaming for annihilation. But eternal life is a transformation in the very way that we taste life, in the very way that we experience life.

“That’s how I interpret rebirth. You don’t experience your birth – your birth is what allows you to experience. I don’t experience my life – my life is what allows me to experience. In the same way, for me, religious experience is not the experience of something. You know, I’ve experienced 10 things and now I’ve experienced 11 things because I’ve had a religious experience. Religious experience is what transforms your experience of everything. It’s not so much that you feel it, it’s that you feel nothing in the same way…

“There is a depth and density to life. The sacred is not something that you love, it’s what you experience in the very act of love itself.” (The Liturgists Podcast, Episode 29)

My car becomes a sacred space whenever I turn on my Uber app and start picking up people who I don’t even know but I love them anyway. It’s as much an act of worship as anything I will say or sing on Sunday morning. And you can be sure of one thing, I’ll be singing “I’m desperate for you” with every breath that I breathe. I am desperate for God to transform my everyday existence as I truly pass through death into life, a life worth living…

…an uber experience for the ages.

Passion for God's Presence

La Limonada After my most recent trip to Guatemala, I somehow got connected with a stateside organization called "Lemonade International." They work with some of the people whom I have come to deeply love and respect, people who care for the least, the last, and the labeled in Guatemala City. It is a great joy to share some of my experience with Tita Evertsz, one such woman who gives her all in a very difficult place called La Limonada. The following post is a "Guest Post" that I wrote for Lemonade International. Thanks to Tim and Katie Hoiland for asking me to write about this beautiful encounter.

Passion for God's Presence

“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving” (Luke 10:38-40a ESV).

Martha was working up a sweat as she pushed her way through the crowded house. Mary, her sister, was casually reclining at the feet of Jesus. Martha eventually had it with her sister’s seeming lack of duty and responsibility, so she went to Jesus in hopes that she might get a sympathetic hearing. “You see what’s going on, don’t you? Tell my sister she should help me.”

Jesus had compassion on Martha, knowing exactly what she needed. He responded by saying, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken from her” (vv. 41-42).

We have been conditioned to read this story of Mary and Martha through our dualistic understanding of right and wrong. If Mary was right, then Martha must have been wrong.

Right?

Wrong.

What if Mary and Martha both represent the proper response to being with Jesus? It is possible to live in the tension of both/and as we bask in the presence of Christ while allowing his presence to generate the necessary passion to respond in loving service. I have met such a woman who occupies both these spaces and does so beautifully and joyfully.

Both times I’ve been to Guatemala City, Tita Evertsz has spoken to my group about her ministry among the most vulnerable – the children of La Limonada. Both times she has shared about the smell of hope which invigorates her soul as she overlooks the hard places of the “zona roja.” This is the place where she meets Christ, sees Christ, models Christ, and serves Christ.

I’ll never forget her response this past July when I asked her how she develops and cultivates her relationship with Jesus. Tita’s response was gentle and passionate, spoken from the depths of her wholeness. With a wistful countenance she declared, “I am addicted to His presence.”

Mary and Martha.

Attentiveness and service.

Being and doing.

Tita’s ever-increasing love for Jesus and for the people of La Limonada is an example for all of us. Are we addicted to His presence? How will our choice to sit at the feet of Jesus and attune our spirits to His Spirit develop into fruitful ministry to the least of these?

May we all choose “the good portion” and attend to the presence of Jesus even as we look for Him in the eyes of the stranger, the foreigner, the prisoner, the widow, the child, the poor, the sick and the forgotten. This is where we meet the Hidden Christ and fulfill our greatest purpose!

- Learn more about Tita's work in La Limonada at: http://www.lemonadeinternational.org.