Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Hope & Fraility

"The Word became flesh and dwelt among us."  John 1:14

Have you ever wondered, REALLY wondered, how dicey that decision was?  Forget for a moment the whole omnipotent, omniscient aspect of God.  Forget that in his sovereignity all of his plans will work out ever how he originally planned it.  For reasons only God truly understands (and he graciously empowers us to see dimly), he choose to send his only son and his only son agreed to cast off all of his divinity, power, etc. and take on human flesh.

He did not take on the flesh of a grown man, fit and strong to defend himself.  He started all the way back to square 1, or should I say cell 1.  He took on the risk of surviving real live human pregnancy and child birth.  He took on the risk of his parents not being able to defend him or escape with him when Herod ordered all the male babies to be executed.  And yet the angels sang of good news of great joy at the birth of a savior.  This baby was the hope of all creation.

Christmas is the beginning of a season of hope.  The celebration of Christ's birth was moved to December to celebrate the lengthening of the day, when the sun's growing power obliterates winter.  We sing songs about snow before Christmas but almost never AFTER Christmas because hope has come.  In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the Narnians lament that it is always winter but never Christmas.

So, can we place our hope in such frail a plan?  It's kinda easy to do, on this side of history.  We know the ending.  The baby grows up and after having lived a perfect life becomes a perfect sacrifice, giving us the hope of the forgiveness of our sins.  After dying a cruel death, he rose from the grave giving us the hope of eternal life.  And it all began in the fraility of divinely initiated human conception, a full term pregnancy, and natural childbirth.

In this season of hope, our lives, dreams, and problems are frail in comparison to even the slightest aspect of God.  Even our faith is tenuous and frail because it is just as easy to choose to unbelieve as it is to believe.  And yet we've seen that God can use the weakest of human frailities to accomplish his plan.  I wonder what he wants to do with yours and mine?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

To India and Back - part 2

Part 1 focused on the difficulty of the actual trip to India.  Part 2 picks up with the first morning of actually being on the ground in our destination.

Day 4 - April 15
  • 8:30am - We walk down the street from our hotel to Santosh's home.  Stares are plenty as four white men, presumably Americans, navigate crossing the busy highway filled with busses, taxis, motorcycles, bicycles, and rickshaws.
  • After breakfast, Santosh gives us each a tradtional Indian shirt, call a Panjabi.  Mine is a little tight since I'm quite a bit larger than the average Indian man.  I feel like John Lennon.
  • We leave for a village called Agopara outside of Malda Town.  We will join them for their church service.  Thirty-five kilometers and one hour later, we arrive.  We are enthusiastically greeted by the villagers.  When it comes time for the offering, bowls of rice are dumped into a community bucket to help feed its pastor.
  • Lunch is wonderful.  No forks or spoons, just the right hand.  It is delicious, but I can't help but wonder what will happen in an hour or so after eating.
  • The village leader, once a drunkard but now a believer, escorts me to our car.  He holds my hand like we are dating.  I have learned that boys and men frequently hold hands if they are good friends.  Don't worry, someone got  a picture.  It will be posted later.
  • Back at the hotel, while taking a nap, I see a lizard at least one foot long crawling along the wall in my bathroom.  He scoots behind the water heater and hides.
  • 5:00pm - We head to Malda Christian Fellowship for church.  Another enthusiastic greeting. Towards the end of the service, one man is definitely in some sort of emotional/spiritual distress.  I can't tell if it is deep remorse and repentance, being overcome by the Holy Spirit, or even some type of exorcism.  After about ten-twelve minutes, Santosh lets us know the man keeps saying he doesn't want to serve God anymore.  Apparently, he is being ostracized and excluded from family and village life.  We surround him in prayer.  Another ten minutes or more and it becomes clear that peace has come to him.
  • 9:30pm - I get ready for bed and close the day in prayer.  I finally know why I'm here.  I'm here because God told me to come.  All that counts is that I was obedient to that call.  That's all that matters.
Day 5 - April 16
  • While taking my shower, I hear a strange clicking noise.  I realize it's my lizard friend, talking to me from behind my water heater.  I see that he is a gecko and only half as large as I thought initially.  He is gone when I return in the evening.  I never saw him again.
  • Today to head out to the village of town of Gazole for our first pastors conference.  For the next two days, we will lead village pastors and evangelists in discipleship training.
  • There are about 30-35 church leaders in attendance, representing over forty churches.  One of the attendees is a 15 year old boy who pastors two village churches.  He hopes to attend Bible college in a couple of years if he can find a sponsor.
  • I am amazed at the copious notes each person is taking.  They clearly are absorbing everything we are saying.
  • By bedtime, my stomach is a little rumbly.  I'm awakened in the middle of the night several times for trips to the bathroom.  I'm not too worried; it feels like I've always at home after eating food that might be too spicy.  I decide to take it easy the next day to be on the safe side.
Day 6 - April 17
  • Today we finish up in Gazole.  I've decided to eat as bland as possible so breakfast is bread and bananas.  At lunch I only take plain rice.  My servers don't speak English, but I rub my stomach and make a face.  They understand, nod, and make a sympathetic face.  I hate it because lunch smells really good.
  • In a lesson on service to one another, Tim leads them in a foot washing service.  The care and love these leaders show to one another as they take turns is moving.  They clearly are a tight group.
  • We finish up by 4:00pm then take a group shot.  I'm the really tall white guy in the back.
  • By dinner, I feel it is safe to eat regular Indian food.  I eat whatever I want for the rest of the week.
  • The biggest a-ha from these two days is the importance of what we taught these leaders.  They have nothing to guide them but the Bible and the Holy Spirit, which by the way is really all you need.  The handouts we gave them and the notes they took will comprise their entire library.  They know their people need to grow in Christ, but they had no idea how to help that along.It gives you a new understanding of why they were so appreciative.

To India and Back - The Movie

Teammate Tim Miller put together this video of our time in India.  You can see and hear the sights, sounds, and people we came to love.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

To India and Back - part 1

Things have finally slowed down since my return from India.  All school assignments, classes, etc. have ended, so I can now breathe and reflect on my mission trip.  This first post will focus on the events pertaining to the events of the first three and half days, all of which were travel.  It may not sound exciting, but it was a hard three days for me.

Day 1 - April 12

  • 4:00pm - We check in for leg 1 of our journey to Malda Town, West Bengal, India.  Already we have signs there will be trouble in our travels.  Our original flights had been canceled about 8 weeks prior, but American Airlines had booked replacement flights for us.  So we thought.  Everything was fine for two members of the team.  The other two, including me, not so fine.  Reservations were made but payment had never been processed.  After about 30 minutes of trying to clear up the matter, we receive our boarding passes to London and receipts for our next two flights.  We'll see how this turns out.  We eventually board the plane for our eight and half hour flight to London.
Day 2 - April 13
  • 7:00am London time (2:00am EDT) - We land at London Heathrow Airport.  We check in for the next leg of our journey, destination Mumbai.  After several minutes trying to figure out the deal with our situation, we get our boarding passes for this flight.  Two of us receive boarding passes for the final leg.  Two of do not.  Guess who one of those people was?  We are told that once we arrive in Mumbai, we will have to check in there to receive our final pass.
  • 7:45am - I'm hungry so I look for the closest thing London has to a bacon,egg, and cheese biscuit.  I purchase a tomato, smoke cheese, bacon, and ham croissant from Pret a Manger.  Not bad.
  • 8:45am - We board the Boeing 777 for our flight to Mumbai.  VERY nice plane and only half full at best.  Plenty of room and comfort, much more than our flight from Raleigh.  I'm hoping to get some sleep on this flight since I haven't slept since Wednesday night.
  • 11:00pm Mumbai time (1:30pm EDT) - We land in Mumbai.  We have a nine and a half hour layover before our flight to Kolkata.  Hoping to get some sleep because I napped maybe two hours on the flight.
  • 1:30am - It's now early Saturday morning and I finally have a boarding pass for my final flight.  It involved many people, including one not so happy security officer who did not like that I had to leave the terminal and re-enter in order to get to the ticket office.  I was reminded very sternly that once I re-entered I would not be allow to leave again.  I very politely and submissively acknowledged his admonition.  I hope some sleep is in my near future because this is getting hard.
Day 3 - April 14
  • 6:00am - We board a 737 (which is my least favorite plane to fly) for Kolkata.  Lucky us, we get the row in front of the emergency exit.  Therefore our seats do not recline and our leg room has been reduced.  My knees bump up against the seat in front of me.  The passenger in that seat decides to recline and I find myself looking down on his scalp.  No sleep in the airport prior to this.  Life continues to get harder.
  • 9:30am - After more than three hours in less than roomy conditions, we land in Kolkata.  We meet Santosh Makal, our host, outside the terminal.  We exchange hugs and quickly catch a taxi for the local YMCA.  We will spend the day resting in a guestroom until our train for Malda Town leaves that night.
  • 10:30am - I crash at the YMCA.  I desperately need sleep.  I begin to wonder why on earth I'm on this trip, especially when I think about all the school work waiting me when I return.
  • 2:00pm - After having lunch, I agree to explore the local market with another member of the team.  He is stoked about all the new experiences.  It's a holiday in Kolkata and the market is crowded.  It feels impossible to walk through the crowd.  The smells are overwhelming, and not in a positive way.  My 6'2" whiteness is drawing the attention of everyone.  When I enter the meat market, it's all I can do to not vomit because of the smell.  It's official.  I want to go home.  Culture shock has set in full force.  I follow my friends for another hour or so, but it is a struggle.
  • 4:00pm - I return to our guestroom where I take another short nap.  I pass on another trip to the market.
  • 6:00pm - Santosh takes us to the market for dinner.  I'm fearful of what lies ahead.  I seriously need sleep and wonder if I can take the stimuli.  I enjoy a meal of chicken momo.  We would call them Chinese dumplings.  They are delicious.  Luckily, we need to check out of the Y after dinner and make our way to the train station, so no exploring the market.
  • 9:00pm - We arrive at the train station.  We continually approached by beggars, some as young as 2 years old.  This country is imprisoned in darkness and their worldview keeps them from breaking free.  I just want some sleep.  I pray I can make it through the week ahead.
  • 10:30pm - The eight hour train ride is underway.  We have settled into our sleeping car.  Exhausted, I fall asleep.
Day 4 - April 15
  • 6:00am Malda time (8:30pm Sat nite EDT) - After 51 hours, we finally arrive to our final destination.  I slept the entire night and finally feel somewhat rested.
  • 6:30am - We have checked into the hotel.  I don't wait for the hot water in my room and take my first shower in over three days.  It feels good after spending  a hot, humid day in Kolkata the day before.
  • I'm still wondering why I'm here.  I pray God uses me anyway and I look forward to him revealing why I'm along.

Sunday, February 28, 2010


I was doing some journaling this morning, trying to record some thoughts before they disappeared and also to help me change gears so I could get ready for church.  In doing so, I came across an entry from January 5, 2007.  I was reading a book called The Dream Cycle at the time.  Here are some excerpts from that entry.

A dream is "a compelling awareness of what could or should be, accompanied by a growing sense of responsibility to do something about it."  (p.24)

Right now I would say my dream involves the multiplication of churches and disciples who multiply churches and disciples.  It also includes an opportunity to mentor others so that they can achieve their full potential wherever they are
What could be:     
  • enough Wesleyan churches in every city/area of eastern NC to adequately disciple every person in that city/area into holiness
  • leaders who are not frustrated by their situations because they feel equipped to handle all the speed bumps that come wherever they may serve
Wow, things sure have changed.  A year after this entry I resigned from the church I was pastoring due to many conflicts.  One year after that I turned in my ministerial credentials.  A little over a year later, I find myself continually struggling with what it means to be a follower of Christ in terms of fulfilling the Great Commission.  My dreams have changed, in large part to the change in my vocation.  A change in dreams and a change in vocation can be God-driven (and I'm certain these were).  A change in mission, as in the Great Co-mission cannot.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Reconnecting with the Sea

I haven't posted on this blog in almost six months. This post marks my third entry in about 5 days. Don't know what's up, I'm just running with it.

Last night I started reading America's Inland Waterway again. It was published by the National Geographic Society in 1973 and then again in paperback in 1983. My family was given a hardback copy signed by the photographer because there are pictures of my great-grandfather Stacy Guthrie in the book. That fact has always been a source of pride for the family. The book is basically a journal of the travels of a small sailing yacht up the Intracoastal Waterway. During part of that journey, the photographer stopped on Harkers Island and the rest is history.

The writer begins his journey in Massachusetts. On of his stops is New Bedford, where Herman Melville received his inspiration to write Moby Dick. As the writer details the emotional connection the locals have with the sea and their boats, I began to reminisce about my own childhood growing up in what was once a fishing village where everyone shared those same kind of connections. I find myself mourning for times lost. I experience naive and romantic notions of moving back home and somehow suddenly becoming an "old salt". I desire to immerse myself in knowledge of the history of my hometown so that I can reconnect with a lost heritage.

Our faith journeys often begin the same way. Something within our souls long to reconnect with something past. It's the calling of the Holy Spirit, inviting us to reconnect with our Creator and repairing the broken relationship severed thousands of years ago in the Garden. We can immerse ourselves in Him as he fills us with his presence. Fortunately for all of us, it's not just a romantic dream but a reality for all who believe.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Will there be Vulcans in Heaven?

No, this is not my attempt to be blasphemous nor overly sarcastic. It is a tongue in cheek question spurred by my recent viewing of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Before anyone freaks out that perhaps I have switched my allegiance from the Jedi Universe to be a Trekkie, I really do not consider the two to be mutually exclusive. I will however state that my desire to be a Jedi Master is stronger than my desire to serve aboard the Federation Starship Enterprise.

There is a line early in the movie where Admiral Kirk (he's been promoted) says that IF Spock has an eternal soul, then he, Kirk, must do whatever possible to help Spock. It's an interesting twist that by the 23rd century in the Star Trek universe that it is commonly accepted that there is no divine, there is no after life. Higher powers are simply more highly evolved sentient beings. However, Vulcans still retain an element of mysticism that believes in the eternity of the soul. To add another turn to this odd twist, humans are portrayed as irrational beings, controlled by their emotions whereas Vulcans have eliminated emotions from their beings and are governed solely by logic. How interesting that such a civilization should believe in an afterlife.

Where are we today? Have we become so technologically advanced, so knowledgeable about the workings of the universe that we have eliminated the possibility of the divine and an afterlife (note I use afterlife in the singular, not plural)? Have we misappropriated our use of logic in this endeavor? Have we forgotten that any logical examination of such ideas must at least allow for these possibilities, no matter how remote? Or have we misapplied our scientific principles and ruled out possible conclusions that contradict the results we would prefer?

Believe it or not, I'm not trying to be overly philosophical. I'm asking a basic question. Do your actions, lifestyle, and behavior logically agree with what you say you believe? Or are you living like the confused humans of the 23rd century? Just a thought . . .

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Reflections '09

It's December 26, the day after Christmas (Boxing Day for those of you who maintain roots with England) and a strange one it has been. As I drove my youngest son to the mall to buy a Lego set with some Christmas money he received, today's date shockingly dawned upon me. It shocked me so because except for the fact it took over 30 minutes to travel less than half a mile from the interstate to a parking place and the Christmas decor still adorning the mall, it certainly did not feel like Christmas.

Before I go any further, let me say that one steps onto shaky ground when talking about whether or not it "feels" like something. Christmas is not a feeling. It's either a secular holiday with sacred undertones or a sacred observance with secular trappings, depending on who you are and where you start. The strange thing for me this year is I felt like I had no starting place. It just came and went. All the sacred and all the secular meanings were clearly present, but none of them rang very loudly for me.

Perhaps the economy killed the secular for me. We had managed to save a substantial chuck of change in order to make this a really big Christmas in terms of gifts. But car repairs, medical bills, and rising gas and grocery prices put the kibosh on that. We did manage to salvage a portion of that savings. With the help of Craigslist, we were able to surprise the boys with a Wii.

That actually turned out to be the best part of Christmas - the surprise on the boys faces. It wasn't the best because we got them some huge expensive present. It was the look of satisfaction on the faces before opening the Wii. They knew our financial situation and the very small number of presents under the tree did not faze them. They were very content with the few small things they had received until opening that one big box labeled for both of them. It was a moment I will cherish forever.

Perhaps my return to teaching killed the sacred for me. I have been out of the pulpit for about a year and half now. I turned in my credentials, feeling 100% confident that God has led me away from pastoral ministry. My ministry to students and fellow teachers had resumed after a fifteen year hiatus. Ironically, something about being on the front line as opposed to directing the troop movement from the church office made it seem less so.

Christmas carols have always been my favorite part of Christmas. On the Sunday before Christmas, we sang What Child is This. This line stood out - "Good Christian, fear for sinners here, The silent Word is pleading." It hit me like a ton of bricks - that is what Christmas is all about. That is the mission of Christmas and every Christ follower.

As I reflect on Christmas 2009, though it did not "feel" like Christmas, I must say it has been one of the best ever. Maybe it was more like "Christmas" than I realized.