Saturday, February 27, 2016

#6 - The Choice is Ours (The Year of 52)

We're all influenced by our environments. Grow up in southern California and your life will be colored by beach and mountains, surfing or swimming and skiing as normal. Experience childhood in the country, surrounded by cornfields and soybeans, with your nearest neighbor a "country block" of more than a mile, and your life will be different. Not worse or better, just different.

I was born in Indiana during January of 1964, just months following the assassination of JFK. We moved to Cincinnati's eastern suburbs in 1967, purchasing a house that was temporary because my dad worked for IBM and it stood for "I've Been Moved!" 40 years later my mom moved out of the house.

I vividly remember a family dinner, let's say it was around 1980, which is summarized with these words: "We're probably moving." The destination was to be Gaithersburg, MD. I found out during that dinner that there had been other possibilities in the years before: Rochchester, NY; Boulder, CO; perhaps Boca Raton, FL. A wide variety of different places that would have brought a different shape to my life. Different people. Different experiences. Different opportunities.

Needless to say we didn't move. It doesn't really matter what happened or didn't, but my father was committed to the stability that comes with longevity. 40 years on a cul-de-sac with a neighborhood of others who were mostly there for that long as well. Did he give up something? more money? a "bigger" title? It doesn't really matter. It was a choice and with choices come consequences.

I remember looking up the High School swimming results in Maryland. It was that serious of a possibility. I'm pretty sure of some things that wouldn't have happened had the move happened:
  • meeting and marrying Stephanie...and therefore our children and grandchild
  • college swimming at Cincinnati and teammates - where would life have taken me on the East Coast?
  • career in Ohio - would we have connected with a different denomination?
  • opportunities with swim officiating
  • and all of the relationships
These are the kind of things that came about because of geography and relationships. Other things would have happened but I never wonder what.

Our choices have lasting effects. We aren't always conscious of the impact when we make choices, small waves of our wings that create far reaching disturbances. Our choices are the pebbles, sometimes the rocks, that create the ripples making changes in the landscape. 

A recent conversation with a child reminded me of all this. "What choice should I make," I was asked. My response: "It's your choice. Make the best choice you can with the information you have today."

We choose our spouse if we want to get married. We choose a career, for the most part, although sometimes we just need a job and figure it out from there. We choose with the information we have at the time. If we're smart, then we'll figure out how to make it the right choice down the road. What choice will you make today?

Saturday, February 20, 2016

#5 - 1st Mission Trip (The Year of 52)

Looking back on our lives we can all see those watershed events, the times that change our lives. Our lives are made of the tapestry of chance encounters and the paths we chose or left untouched. 1979 was my watershed event with my first mission trip, which just happened to take me outside the country for the first time, to Haiti.

God used this time to make a such a significant impact on my life that 24 years later when offered the opportunity to teach in Haiti, I didn't have to think twice. I clearly remembered at that time - and remember today - taking off from Haiti on a sweltering summer day, as the wheels left the one runway, saying in my heart: "Lord, I want to return."

I would offer no pretense that the trip changed my everyday life right away. The usual post-trip commitments of not taking things for granted, of living more simply, quickly faded away, succumbing to advertising and the need to keep up with friends and acquaintances. There was a lasting impact, the now germinated seeds sown that color my approach to life and ministry.

Haiti is shocking to the soul. The known corruption of government officials creating a stark contrast to the extreme poverty of the greater population makes the soul sick. It hasn't gotten much better after the dictatorship of the Duvalier's. The great hope for Haiti was Aristide who seemed to be immediately corrupted by title and access to dollars, created selfish devastation rather than widespread relief.

One of my first memories from 1979 is lying in bed at the former Mexican Embassy turned mission house and hearing the voodoo drums in the distance. To a 15 year old basically innocent soul, it was frightening. I may have learned how to pray on that trip! The spiritual impact of dedicating your country to Satan for 200 years was real. (That dedication ended in 2004 and there is a positive spiritual awakening underway.)

My most vivid memory is from serving at Grace Children's Hospital, a ministry to children with tuberculosis. There a young lady named Denise became attached to me - ok, I became attached to her too! For the two days we were there I was who she wanted. I didn't complain. She grabbed my heart and God broke it on her behalf. I've not been the same since. Really.

My impressions of Haiti from that first trip haven't changed. Abject poverty is not the reason for lack of joy in your life. Family and relationships are always the most important building blocks for a full life. Jesus brings life to all while rejection of Jesus leads to temporal blessings for a few.

I continue to return to Haiti, as well as serve in mission around the world in the places where God opens doors. Where there is great spiritual oppression, there is a great awareness of other choices. Haiti is a great place for the Gospel.

Many people have asked me about the government corruption and are we wasting dollars. After all, everyone agrees that every Haitian should be a millionaire with all the dollars that have poured into the country over the decades, so much of it siphoned into the pockets of the Duvalier's and some of the subsequent leaders. This is why I have partnered with One Mission Society (OMS). They have a nearly 70 year history of consistent ministry in the country, are well known, trusted and have a network of believers from all walks of life. OMS missionaries know the culture. They know what to avoid. They know how to navigate even the most difficult of governmental red tape. And they get results.

Why go on a mission trip? Why spend the dollars? Why not serve people in our own backyard? My response is simple: It's not multiple choice. It's both and. Jesus calls us to serve people here at home, across the nation, and around the globe. Some can go. Some will send dollars. I have found that most people who argue for serving at home over global missions, often don't do much at home either. That's probably a little harsh and it betrays my passion.

I'm grateful I made that choice. The trip changed my life, for the better.

Read the other entries in this string:
The Year of 52 - The Beginning
#1 - First Childhood Memory
#2 - The Faith Journey
#3 - A "Chance" Meeting to change my life
#4 - Small Groups for life

Sunday, February 7, 2016

#4 - Small Groups (The Year of 52)

I was a bit of an arrogant teenager. Some might say I still am today! I like to know, I like being a part, I want to be where the action is. Call it dumb luck or arrogance, I'm glad God can use for good whatever pathetic morsel I have to offer. These are the things that make up my list of 52 Impacts & Experiences after 52 years of life.

Maybe I do keep everything!
It was 1978, my Freshman year in High School. I had moved into the "big" school and the "big" youth group at Anderson Hills Church. Mike Slaughter was our youth pastor. I don't know if he announced the start of a small group - called "Action Groups" - or he was forming one by personal invitation. What I do remember is it was for Juniors & Seniors in High School, of which I was not. I found out about it and therefore wanted to be part of it.

Again, I'm fuzzy on some details but I approached Mike and said: "I know I'm not a Junior or Senior but I don't think you're going to be here much longer and I'd like to be in that group with you." Whether immediate or after a little thought (probably immediate knowing Mike), he said: "As long as you do the work, you can join."

I'm not sure what the rest of the group thought about this wet-behind-the-ears, runny-nosed kid butting in, but what an experience it was. Life changing stuff with this group that may have included people like: Linda Layton Smith, Lisa Carey Erickson, Mark Erickson, Lynn Carey Pinner, Kevin Pinner, Joyce Palmer Geng, Kelly Wagner Oldham, Ron Johnson, Don Johnson, Rob Keller, Jay Wilson and I'm sure others. 

We studied the Book of Acts, read a book on discipleship by Leroy Eims and generally deepened our understanding of God's work for us through Jesus and His call on our lives to make disciples. Through Mike's leadership I learned to be more committed to God's Word than the shifting winds of the culture. As we studied the "acts" of the early disciples we clearly saw that their commitment to Jesus often ran counter to the culture, bringing into sharp relief God's call to holy living in the midst of the crowd.

Years later I came across a Bible translation by J.B. Phillips. The first verses from Romans 12 bring me back to that group sitting in the basement of Mike & Carolyn's townhouse:

"“Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould but let God re-make you so that your whole attitude of mind is changed. Then you will prove in
practice that the will of God is good...”

Squeezing is happening. Always has. Always will. The difference is whom or what will you allow to squeeze you and therefore shape you? What I learned in those early days of High School was the importance of constructing inner braces based on the unchanging truth of God's Word, so that when the pressure comes to capitulate, to conform, to follow the culture, I won't collapse. 

Small groups have been formative throughout my life since those days so long ago. I sat for many years in Stu & Betty Carey's family room, who led along with Barb Dierking, building relationships. I remember very little of the topics and "facts" learned. I do remember the people - people who gave of themselves to a bunch of teenagers because they thought we were worth something. They helped us see Jesus working in us by showing us Jesus through them.

Pastors groups and groups through the churches we've served, have helped shaped me into who I am today. I'm still in a small group because I still need more shaping.

Transformational growth does not happen in large groups but only in the more intimate fellowship of relationships around a family room or table. I'm grateful I learned that early on.

O, and Mike, I'll get you that report on the book...although it may have been eaten by the dog!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

#3 - A "Chance" Meeting (The Year of 52)

I was fortunate to be part of a large youth ministry @ Anderson Hills Church, across the road from Anderson Middle School and the High School next door to it. At one point there were almost 200 teens gathering weekly, from 8th grade through High School. Out of this group from 1978 to 1982 came at least 9 Pastors and an uncountable number of church leaders, elders and deacons.

It is here that I met the girl I've spent 30 years being married to. Although there is a discrepancy about when we met. I like to tell it this way: "We were both born in '64. She met me when we were 14. I met her when we were 16."

That could be a descriptive microcosm of our lives. In short, I'm a little slow on the uptake!

The impact of the youth ministry at Anderson Hills Church on my life cannot be told in a blog post or summed up in any number of pithy statements. God used people like the Campbell's, Stu & Betty Carey, Barb Dierking, Gary & Trish, Mike Slaughter and Mark Rowland to shape my life. The project of this arrogant and competitive creature who often thought he was better than he was, was indeed a labor of love. There's no other way they could have made it through!!

Not everyone had the same experience as me. I've met countless participants in that same youth group who painted pictures that looked nothing like what I experienced. Years later, after I was out of Seminary, I ran into someone who commented: "I thought it was all a myth, just for fun." We were on the same retreats and in the same Parlor at AHUMC.

That's the way it is with so much in our lives - chance meetings, paths cross. Some roads we choose to take. Other roads are left alone. What impacts one doesn't impact another.

I imagine back to those days and see where I could have chosen a different path, 100 different ones. How life would have been different.

I don't believe that God creates one person for each of us to marry, if we choose the path of marriage. If that were the case, then when one person chose wrong, well, it's like dominoes! We all have choices. Our choices take us places.

I'm glad I chose to believe and follow the truth of Jesus.

It wasn't until years later that Stephanie and I dated. And broke up - ok, ok - I broke up with her the week before Christmas! Yes, I am that guy! She still gave me the hat she hand-knit....and I still have the hat. We dated and broke up - yes, again and yes it was me! She was patient.

Then that day in March 1983 when I invited myself to her sorority dance and, well, she didn't refuse. The rest is history.

Choices. I've not always made great or wise ones. Change meetings. Some we ignore while purusing others. I'm glad I pursued this one......or did she pursue me?