Thursday, July 31, 2008

Office Niceties

I've never been resolved about the issue of "office politics." Never really understood that phrase really. But today I'm learning.

A coworker who has been here for a year leaves on Monday. No one until today did anything about even discussing a farewell party. Her own supervisor said, "I have no time for this." Hmm...okay....

So by virtue of being A) a female and B) the secretary, I am now the party planner. I quickly created a signup sheet for a dessert party, thinking it'd be an easier sell on coworkers, being this late notice and all.

Turns out I was wrong. Consensus among other staff tells of their dislike of her. Whatever happened to letting bygones be bygones? Or forgiveness towards the person who maybe didn't treat you so well?

No, in office politics, it seems as if you earn a celebration in your honor. The more well-liked you are, the bigger the bash.

Unfortunately, and horribly rude as it is, these same coworkers who made no bones about not desiring to participate will undoubtedly, come Monday, be partaking in free cake. For a coworker they decided not to intentionally bless.

All of us have been the recipients of unmerited gifts and blessings. The first one that comes to mind is Jesus' love for us. It is lavish, extravagant, costly, saturated, overwhelming, and intense. And no one deserved it. In fact, there is a major party being planned where guests who are undeserving are being invited to celebrate with the King of Kings. The party of all parties for eternity.

And thankfully, there are no politics concerning God's love for us. We don't earn it, we can't improve our rank; God's love just is.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

(Long) VBS Update

Well, I've now worked 3 nights with VBS at the Intl. Salvation Army, and it's been eye-opening for the most part. I feel an inkling of what I think Jesus experienced while ministering to people: highs and lows, uplifting and disheartening. It's been an emotional roller coaster. But oddly enough, I don't want to get off, because I know that so much is at stake.

In my previous post, I mentioned the bit about doing "missions at home," i.e. the city where you live in. To most people, it sounds like a less exciting or less important missions trip than to Africa or India. Or maybe like me, it's a concept with warm fuzzies, but not all that impressive.

My beliefs about the "missions at home" concept have since completely been overhauled. Our city is not a large city, but even ours has a significantly diverse population mix. We have a fast growing segment of Hispanics in the area, and there's no turning a blind eye to it. Many restaurants, buildings, signs, etc. now have Spanish text displayed. And regardless of whether the parents of the children I've been interacting this week are legal immigrants or not, the children are natural-born American citizens like you or me. I've had the unique opportunity to witness how these children are assimilating into American culture, but yet are still trying to retain their Latin heritage and customs. On one hand, a child lives their public "Americano" life, and on the other hand they live their private "Mexicano" life where only Spanish is spoken. It's a tough world where we live; chastising immigrants for not fitting in, but not doing anything to help them either.

The issues these elementary-aged children are dealing with are fed with the same images seen in the video games that occupy their free time. Gangs, drugs, violence, and crime...these are the dirty seeds that have been planted in these childrens' lives. A week of VBS will not undo these problems, but it can help, even if provide a fun escape from reality for a few hours.

The first night of meeting the children, I loved their energy, humor, and openness. The second night, we doubled our attendance and all hell seemed to break loose with noise, action, and rambunctiousness. We had fun learning more names and faces, and I began to bond more with particular children. Last night however was more serious and disheartening. I arrived early before VBS and began to arrange chairs and tidy the room. I could hear all of the children yelling, laughing, and playing in the dining hall where dinner was being served just down the hall. I prayed throughout our classroom that God would provide no distractions tonight, that an overwhelming calm would pervade the air here. I knew in a half hour that the story of Jesus' sacrificial death for each one of them would be told. I only hoped the twenty or so students would sit still enough to catch wind of His love for them.

God knows when or if each of those children will come to love Him or reject Him. I prayed for Satan to be bound from that place. I knew that "random" distractions would try to infiltrate our sacred time together. Being the younger of the helpers in our classroom has allowed the children to be more transparent with me. I'm not some old stodgy woman who grew up watching the radio instead of television. But so much has already changed between my childhood and theirs.

Thankfully, these children are not hardened...yet. But conversations I've had with the boys mostly worry me. They flash gang signs, write names of gangs on dippy foam visors in craft time, and look forward to "dying first." How I wish like the Crane Game I could pick each one of them up in my metal claw and drop them safely in another place and time. I told them, "there's no future in that guys..." I asked them what they want to be when they grow older and an optimistic chorus rang out of "doctor," "fireman," and "soldier in U.S. Army." I sincerely hope that their dreams will come true. But the hostile environment that surrounds them with the lure of "power," "respect," and "brotherhood," will surely call to them like the Sirens' song in Homer's Odyssey.

Our group of leaders had planned a more intimate way of speaking with smaller groups of kids to talk with them about what it means to accept Christ and what that looks like. Our plans were slightly foiled when after praise and worship time, the Captain gave an open invitation for children to come to the altar if they wanted to accept Jesus. You'd think this to be an amazing high watching hoards of children walk forward; but I saw the segue. Of friends asking friends, "come with me!" "do you wanna go? I don't know, do you wanna?" And then the timid children who watched others, slowly stood up and confusedly walked forward. My heart was so heavy, I prayed over some of the girls from my class who walked forward at the altar, praying that "Lord, please let this be real and sincere. Do they have any idea of what's going on here?"

I'm fully aware that children at the very tender age of 5 even can grasp the Gospel wholeheartedly and sincerely. And I also know that there were children up there last night who were making a genuine profession of faith. But I also know that children aim to please, both adults and children. I stayed afterwards with kids who had made "decisions," to help them fill out information cards. Meanwhile, one of our other class leaders went back with those children who had not. She told us after VBS ended last night, that several children mentioned that they had gone forward 4 or 5 times before. Another had mentioned, "Yeah, I've already done that, but what do I do now?"

Folks, children are confused. And I don't think this is a culture problem or limited to a certain socioeconomic status. Honestly, it's not limited to children either. For whatever reason, it's not hitting home that accepting Christ is a one-time moment, let alone what you do after you've realized your need for Him. There are all sorts of methods and salvation prayers concocted to provide ease, but to me, it's almost doing more harm than good.

Evangelism has done a bang up job of playing the short game, but not the long game. Discipleship after accepting Christ has got to be a priority of the Church. It is crucial to having new believers forge friendship within the body, training, education, Bible literacy, and overall Christian development. Is it any wonder that from George Barna's 2007 survey concluded "More than half of those who attend a Christian church (56%) say that they are absolutely committed to the Christian faith, and another 33% say that they are moderately committed." Pretty sad. We have plenty of pew-warmers, not enough "sold-out" Christians. For more telling statistics, check out

Tonight however, our class will resume its plan with small group time and discussing our own testimony and probing deeper with the children and their beliefs. I mentioned earlier that there's a lot at stake, and there really is. I have two nights left with these great children, and I don't want to miss a thing. It's exhausting work, but it's worth it.

Please pray for them if you have a chance.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Your City: God's Kingdom Come

Last year the church that I attend developed a Missions week for our city. A time to be "on mission" but right at home. With the price of gas being as high as it is, this couldn't come at a better time. July 14-18 is our official Missions week. Bienvenidos!

This year I'm helping out at the International Salvation Army in our downtown area. Our group will be doing VBS for Hispanic children with the Outrigger Island theme/materials. I along with three others will be teaching 3rd graders. I hope that these children will know Christ more at the end of this week.

I am already amazed at how God has worked out the behind-the-scene details to make this as easy as possible. To say it will be a busy week is an understatement. After working my 8-5 job, I will go directly to the Salvation Army, thankfully only 2 miles from where I work. I was stressed out about having to bring two meals a day with me (lunch & dinner), but praise the Lord, the Salvation Army decided to feed us crazy VBS workers along with the children before it begins at 6 o'clock. That is a major blessing to me and to our grocery bill for the week! My husband is working from 9-7 at other Salvation Army locations in our city to help with painting and serving dinner each evening. Needless to say, he'll be receiving free food as well.
Sunday night was our opening night and overall there was a pretty low turnout, but we are hopeful that the rest of the week will pick up due to word of mouth. My class had 3 boys and they are all boy. :) I pray that God will erase the cultural barriers between us. All of the children speak English, but I still have my copy of "The Idiot's Guide to Spanish" on standby, along with 2 years of faded Spanish class memories.
During Praise & Worship time, I really enjoyed listening to the Captain's message about being of one brotherhood with all different accents. How sweet it is to hear voices from other nationalities praise His Name!
Please pray for my kids Javier, Ervin, and Ivan this week. They need your prayers. I'll update more as the week goes on...
Oh, and be very glad you weren't able to watch me sing "Pharaoh, Pharaoh" with motions to our group! :)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Finding enjoyment

Going through my feed reader this morning, I came across this gem from Randy Alcorn. Please take the time to read his post on "Creator and Culture, and Anticipating a Redeemed Earth."

{If you haven't clicked on the link above, nothing below this point will make sense to really, go read his post!}

I've been silent on my blog for a couple of weeks now, but I've been seriously grappling with the issue his entire post is on. Because of it, I've been slightly depressed. I haven't known what to say, much less how to say what I've been feeling. This post came at the right time, and I feel that a burden has been gently lifted. I'll repost some quotes from Alcorn's blog that really spoke to me:

"To say “This world is not your home” to a person who’s fully alive and alert to the wonders of the world is like throwing a bucket of water on kindling’s blaze. We should fan the flames of that blaze to help it spread, not seek to put it out.

Otherwise, we malign our God-given instinct to love the earthly home God made for us. And we reduce “spirituality” into a denial of art, culture, science, sports, education, and all else human. When we do this, we set ourselves up for hypocrisy—for we may pretend to disdain the world while sitting in church, but when we get in the car we turn on our favorite music and head home to barbecue with friends, watch a ball game, play golf, ride bikes, work in the garden, or curl up savoring a cup of coffee and a good book.

We do these things not because we are sinners but because we are people. We will still be people when we die and go to Heaven. This isn’t a disappointing reality—it’s God’s plan. He made us as we are—except the sin part, which has nothing to do with friends, eating, sports, gardening, or reading."

"Do you think God is pleased when we enjoy a good meal, a football game, laughter with friends, a cozy fire, or a good book? Your answer to that question not ­only demonstrates your view of God but also indicates the degree to which you are able to enjoy life. And it will determine how much you will look forward to the resurrection and what the Bible calls the New Earth."

"Failure to ­under­stand the goodness of God’s creation has blinded countless people from seeing Heaven as a place of great pleasure and enjoyment. Instead, they think that for Heaven to be “spiritual,” it must somehow be drab, unappealing, and bereft of “earthly” things, which they consider unspiritual."

For whatever reasons lately, I've had a very hard time with enjoying "earthly" things guilt-free. I'll use clothes for an example. I rarely buy new clothes for myself due to cost, but also because I feel guilty for even desiring something new. I get very frustrated with the battle that wages in my mind over things like this. It goes back and forth between issues of contentment, self-deprivation, and shame. Is it that wrong to like clothes? Does anyone else ever go through this too?

The part of Randy's post that gets me crying though is when he writes, "God is not up in Heaven frowning at us and saying, “Stop it—you should find joy ­only in me.” But honestly, this is exactly how I've been interpreting things. When I read that line the first time, it almost seemed blasphemous to me. But Randy continues, "This would be as foreign to our heavenly Father’s nature as it would be to mine as an earthly father if I gave my daughters a Christmas gift and then pouted because they enjoyed it too much. No, I gave the gift to bring joy to them and to me. I am delighted when they enjoy the gifts I’ve given them. If they ­didn’t, I’d be disappointed. Their pleasure in my gift to them draws them closer to me."

So the link here is being closer to God in appreciation and recognition for those good things which He has blessed our lives with. If we're not careful, those things can become idols in our lives.

In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus invites us, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

The past few weeks my spirit has struggled with an unnatural yoke and carried a burden it was not intended to bear. All are invited to place struggles, heartache, shame, guilt, and legalism at the foot of His cross. It's time that I make another trip back...