Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Image of God [2017:5/52]

Then God said, "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
- Genesis 1:26-27

Lest we forget, here is a very small sampling of those who were created in the image of God:
















Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Confession [2017:4/52]


"Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the house of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
'Why have we fasted,' they say,
'and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?'

"Yet on the day of your fasting you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed
and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

"If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

"If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the Lord's holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the Lord,
and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob."

The mouth of the Lord has spoken. 
- Isaiah 58 (emphases added)

This is my confession: I am no better than Israel when these words were spoken by God through the prophet Isaiah.

For a long time I have been talking about justice, about walking alongside the oppressed, about serving others. This past week, however, I was forced to face up to the reality that talk is a lot easier than action.

With all the reaction to President Trump's executive order to ban refugees from entering the United States, I've had to question where I stand on this issue and what my reaction will be.

First of all, I vehemently disagree with turning away people who are seeking refuge. I believe anyone who reads the Bible and takes it seriously cannot dismiss the Lord's desire for us to welcome foreigners and those desperate for help. So the president's ban is disappointing and shameful.

However, when I consider what my reaction will be, things are not so clear. I am not afraid of refugees or muslims or terrorists - the worst any of these people could do is hurt me or my loved ones physically. As a Christian and a disciple of Jesus, I should live expecting such treatment (John 15:18-19). So it is not fear that gives me trouble when considering my reaction - it is comfort.

If I boil this issue down to a very personal level and consider how I may practically help those refugees who are no longer welcome in the United States, my instincts to preserve comfort and convenience kick in. 

Would I welcome a refugee family into my home?I want to say yes, but the truth is that it would be very inconvenient and uncomfortable for me and my family.
Will I write a letter to my congressman and/or other elected officials?I want to say yes, but how would I find the time? What would I say?
Will I donate money to organizations who are helping refugees?I want to say yes, but I've got so many other people and organizations who need my support as well.
Will I pray for refugees?I want to say yes, but my prayer life is a joke. I can't even remember to pray for my own family much of the time, so how can I realistically commit to praying for people who I don't know.

All of these are confessions. I'm not proud of myself. I'm humiliated.

A few years ago I read a book called Overrated by Eugene Cho, pastor and founder of One Day's Wages. The thesis of this book is that our generation is very aware of issues of justice. We are very concerned and quick to respond to injustices in the world. The problem is that we are not quick to act in meaningful ways. Therefore, we risk becoming the most overrated generation in history - one with incredible potential to do good, but without the willingness to enact justice.

I am overrated. I have big ideas and feel strongly about issues of justice - systemic racism, poverty, mass incarceration, immigration, the death penalty, human trafficking, war - and yet, what do I do? I continue living my comfortable life, mostly concerned about myself and my family.

This post is not about where I stand on issues of justice. My stance doesn't matter if I'm not willing to do something about it. This is about my heart and my lack of willingness to do things that are difficult on behalf of the oppressed.

Some people actually believe that if our hearts are in the right place then it doesn't matter what we do. If you read Isaiah 58 above that is clearly not true. God told His chosen people that their religious disciplines were worthless if not accompanied by acts of mercy and justice. I have been so quick to give myself a pass because I've felt that my heart was in the right place - that I was taking the right stand on issues. Now I can see that Isaiah 58 could have been written about me:

For day after day Dan seeks me out;
he seems eager to know my ways,
as if he is a person that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of his God.
He asks me for just decisions
and seems eager for God to come near him. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Comfort [2017:3/52]


"If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair." - C.S. Lewis


Comfort is a slippery thing. It's hard to grab onto. If you can get it in your grasp, it's hard to keep it there. Once you've had it and lost it, your desire to get it back can consume you. If you've got a firm grip on comfort, you are not likely to voluntarily let it go. You'd like to share it with others, but then, if you do there may not be enough of it for both parties.

There are many things in life like comfort - or maybe they are subcategories of comfort:

  • Power
  • Wealth
  • Safety


Comfort also has some cousins:

  • Status Quo
  • Freedom
  • Control


Comfort, along with its subcategories and cousins, has become the biggest idol that stops us from becoming true disciples of Jesus Christ.

This is true for me, and I'm sure it's true for many of you.

Stop and think about your life. If someone who doesn't know anything about you took a look at the way you live, what could they assume was the most important thing in your life? Take it a step further and imagine if someone who has grown up in a third world country examined your life. What would they conclude about your priorities? 

If we read about the life of Jesus, there were some clear indications of what was most important to Him. Even as a boy He chose the Temple of God over time with His own family. As an adult Jesus spent His days teaching, healing, comforting and confronting - all in an effort to show the world who God really is. He poured Himself into a group of young men so that they could do the same once He was gone. 

As you read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John you will not find Jesus seeking comfort. He did not put down roots in any one place, instead He said, "The Son of Man has no place to lay his head." He was homeless! As someone who was constantly on the move, we can safely assume He did not have a large wardrobe that He had to carry with Him. 

Jesus was shown great hospitality and did not turn down acts of kindness, sometimes in comfortable settings. However, He did not seek comfort and was not preoccupied with His own power, wealth or safety. He surely did not seek to maintain the status quo of the day. He willingly laid down His freedom and allowed others to take or maintain control in certain situations.

I wish I could say I was more like Jesus than I am. I do so many things to preserve or achieve comfort. Comfort has become an idol in my life.

Part of my problem is I've had a firm grip on comfort for so long that I'm afraid to let it go. I don't know how to live any other way. I've seen what life looks like without comfort and it scares me.

I grew up in the United States of America - a wealthy nation.
I grew up as a white male - a very powerful set of traits.
I grew up in the country - a safe place to live.
I grew up with a good education - something that allowed me to control my future.
I grew up in a stable, loving family - the status quo was rarely threatened.
I grew up as a Christian - a state of complete freedom.

All of those things above are incredible blessings. The problem is, I've grown so accustomed to them that they've become something I find myself fighting to protect.

Power

I have learned that the most powerful group of people in this country is one that I became a part of the moment I was born. I didn't earn my way into this group. I didn't ask to be in this group. I didn't even know I was in this group at first.

Being a white male equals power in the United States. I'm not saying every white male has authority over others. I am saying that being a white male has granted me privileges that no other group in this country has.

In general, people do not make negative assumptions about me because of my race or gender. In fact, most of the time people will assume positive things about me because of my race and gender.

When I get pulled over for a traffic violation - something that has happened too many times in my life - I don't spend much time thinking about my body language or tone of voice. I feel safe, even when the officer walks up to my window with his hand on his gun. 

If I'm uncomfortable in multicultural settings, especially settings in which I'm the only white guy, I can usually choose a different setting that makes me more comfortable (i.e. a room full of other white people). 

This is a power that not everyone has.

Wealth

We all know that the Bible says, "the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil." Very few of us would say that we love money, and therefore, don't worry about its evils. However, if we compare our thoughts and interactions with money to those of Jesus, we are not likely to see many similarities.

When Jesus tells the rich young man to sell all he has and give to the poor, then follow Jesus, I tend to start interpreting Scripture in a way that absolves me of Jesus' words, even though I am very much like that rich young man.

When Jesus tells a large crowd, "Do not store up treasures on earth ... store up treasures in heaven," I'm quick to think logically about the need to be prepared in case of an emergency. I'm not trying to store up a treasure, just to be wise and take care of my family. That's what a good husband and father does, right? But if I've got an emergency fund stored up and disaster hits, why would I need to rely on God for help.

I don't want to take care of myself or my family, I want all of us to be in God's care. I'm so unqualified to be the provider and He's the creator of everything and gives us everything we need if we just trust Him!

Safety

Every night I pray before going to bed and I ask God to keep my family safe. When we leave on a road trip we ask God to protect us. Any time my kids are away from home, or I'm away from them for the night, I pray for their safety.

Do you see the common thread?

In the moments when I don't feel like I'm in control - that's when I look to God for protection. Any other time I feel pretty confident that I can keep myself and my family safe.

It turns out, safety is harder to get ahold of than comfort! It's an illusion really. We've all known people who have suddenly and tragically died. Most of them probably felt quite safe moments before tragedy struck.

When we offer our lives to God as His disciples, we must also lay down our desire and need for safety. The Apostle Paul wrote, "For me to live is Christ, to die is gain." He knew safety wasn't going to always be with him as he served the Lord. Paul was beaten, imprisoned, stoned, shipwrecked and more. He longed for death to come so he could be in heaven, and yet he served God while he was alive.

How many of us live that way? How many of us really believe there's something better awaiting us when we die?

Status Quo, Freedom, Control

These three cousins of comfort have been on my mind a lot in the past year. The Presidential Election brought these three things to the forefront in many ways.

Status Quo is something both major parties fought for - their own versions of status quo. Although change is a buzzword during any election, the real goal is to get things back to the way they feel they should be. 

Freedom is another hot topic during campaigns. We all want the freedoms that matter to us - religious freedom, freedom of speech, freedom to vote, freedom to choose, freedom from tyranny.

Control is the ultimate goal in an election. Whether it's control of the Oval Office or control of the Senate, everybody is fighting for control of the government in one way or another. There are even issues around the idea of control - gun control, border control, etc.

The problem with pursuing any and all of these things is that they never live up to the expectations. Status quo inevitably changes. Freedom is limited. Control is temporary.

In the end, our American Dream really amounts to nothing. We end up with piles of money, guns, houses, laws and aspirations for a better future. None of it really makes us happy or gives us fulfillment, although they may make us slightly more comfortable.

Jesus asks us to give up everything - all we have - so that nothing will distract us from following Him. When we hold on to the pursuit of comfort, in any of its forms, we cannot possibly become all that He wants us to be. That only happens when we've got nothing.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Words [2017:2/52]


I graduated from Bethel College in 1999 with a degree in Communication. Back then you could choose from three different tracks within the Communication major and I chose print media. My aim was to be a journalist.

When I was in high school I discovered a love of writing. I enjoyed both creative writing and journalism. I found more freedom in creative writing but I enjoyed being able to recount events concisely and accurately through journalism.

I held three different positions at two different newspapers for the first eight years that I was out of college. I did a lot of writing and designing during those years.

There were some unforeseen side effects to working in journalism. First, being required to write every day made it less appealing to spend time writing outside of working hours. Second, there is a constant challenge to keep your writing fresh. It's easy to get into a rhythm and pretty soon that rhythm can change into a rut where you use many of the same words, phrases, sentence and paragraph structures. Editors will let it slide for a while, but sooner or later they'll push you to change things up.

Avoiding the use of cliches is one of the biggest challenges I experienced as a journalist. Cliches exist for a reason - they provide accurate descriptions in an easily recognizable way. They also get overused and can even lose their original meaning eventually.

The need to keep things fresh and avoid cliches drove me to keep learning new words. I've developed a love of words over the years and I'm always ready to look up definitions when I hear words that I'm not familiar with. I normally don't use a great variety of words in conversations but I enjoy trying to effectively use new words in my writing.

Here are some of the words and phrases I've been learning or re-learning lately:

Conservative
Definitions: 1. Disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change; 2. Cautiously moderate or purposefully low; 3. Traditional in style or manner; avoiding novelty or showiness

Sometimes the meaning of a word differs depending on the arena in which it's being used. I believe this is the case with the word conservative.

In last week's post I ended by saying I no longer fit into the political categories of Conservative, Evangelical or Republican. In many ways I still consider myself conservative and evangelical. However, as descriptors of political preferences they do not describe me.

Just as cliches can lose their original meaning with overuse, words can also take on different meanings over time. I believe the meaning of conservative when talking about someone's political bent is different than the definition above.

Rather than describing a person's political strategy or ideals, the word conservative is most often used to categorize people. The words evangelical, liberal, moderate and progressive are used the same way. Each word has a dictionary definition that is still valid, but it also has a commonly applied use, which may or may not agree fully with the definition.

Part of the reason I've tried to separate myself from the political distinction of conservative is because it is often associated with narrow-mindedness, racism, war, lack of concern for the vulnerable and religious extremism. Correct or not, when using the word conservative in a political conversation, those are the characteristics assumed.

"Conservatism always positions itself as a return to a better era. The data tends to indicate that better era never existed." - Mike McHargue, The Liturgists

Going back to the good old days isn't always the best thing for everyone. In the world of politics many people want our country to go back to the values and principles of our founding fathers. I can understand this sentiment but I disagree with it because their values and principles weren't all that great for everyone.

About two months ago I read the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States for the first time. While much of those two documents is admirable and worth protecting, there are a few small phrases and caveats that shouldn't be ignored. In the original documents, the rights that were supposedly given to all men were really only given to white men. Africans, Native Americans and women were not given the full array of rights. 

I realize people who want to return to those days aren't trying to take away people's rights, but the founding fathers' view of and discrimination against minorities must not be ignored. It was part of their character.

The reason I've spent so much time writing about this one word is because I've always considered myself conservative. The current meaning of the word, however, is not something I am comfortable applying to myself. It's a part of my ongoing deconstruction and it's causing me to deeply examine both the word and my own heart.

Evangelical
Definitions: 1. Pertaining to or in keeping with the gospel and its teachings; 2. belonging to or designating the Christian churches that emphasize the teachings and authority of the Scriptures, especially of the New Testament, in opposition to the institutional authority of the church itself, and that stress as paramount the tenet that salvation is achieved by personal conversion to faith in the atonement of Christ

Again, the political use and the common use of the word evangelical have taken on two different meanings. If you're talking about my religious beliefs then I am clearly an Evangelical. But if you're trying to fit me into a political category, I don't want anything to do with the term Evangelical.

Evangelical and conservative seem to go hand in hand in the world of politics. Therefore, Christians who claim to be Evangelical quickly get lumped in with all the stereotypes about conservatives. 

I don't think it's ever a good idea to try to categorize people. We were made by a very complex Creator who created us in His image, so that means we are complex as well. We shouldn't try to fit every person into a box, or even a set of boxes. It makes it too easy to minimize each person's uniqueness.

Empathy
Definition: the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

Personality tests are meant to explain people, but sometimes they are used to categorize people. For that reason, I'm not a big fan of personality tests. However, there is one personality test I've taken twice and my results have caused me to embrace and use my strengths much more effectively. The Clifton StrengthsFinder says my top two strengths are adaptability and empathy.

I was aware of my adaptability long before I took the test. Working in the newspaper business, with its constant tight deadlines, almost requires adaptability.

Empathy, however, was not something I was very familiar with. Honestly, I couldn't have told you the difference between empathy and sympathy until about five years ago.

I was very close to my mom growing up and I've always thought of her as a very kind and loving person. It turns out that she is also very empathetic. She identifies with the feelings of others and has compassion for them.

My mom's influence must have passed on this trait to me. I always knew I could identify with others, probably a little more easily than most people, but I didn't know there was a word for it. I also didn't know it would become a strength in my life.

As I've spent time living and working in different cultures, empathy has been a great asset. It has helped me identify with the struggles of those who are different from me. I have been especially grateful for this ability when I've spent time with people groups who have been historically oppressed or marginalized.

I'm not saying I know what it's like to be oppressed, or that I completely understand the experience of all people. I am saying that empathy has allowed me a deeper glimpse into the lives of people and that has caused me to deconstruct many of the things I took for granted growing up.

One of the knocks against conservatives and Evangelicals is that they lack compassion toward the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized. I think this alleged lack of compassion comes from a lack of empathy. 

Many people outside the Church feel only judgment and condemnation from those inside the Church. The Church should be the most empathetic, the most compassionate and the most accepting group of people in the world. After all, those of us who claim to follow Jesus know that if it wasn't for His love, His grace, His atoning sacrifice for our sins, we would all be doomed. And yet, as we look out into the world outside of the Church, we are quick to cast judgment and retreat into the safety and comfort of being surrounded by people who think, act, dress, talk and worship like us.

The people of God's Church have been called to care for the orphans, the widows and the foreigners - the least of these even. So, where is our empathy? Where is our compassion?

Sadly, I believe the Church has become so consumed with being right, with being comfortable, with power and with racism that it can't see past its own doorstep and into a world full of people in need.

"Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it." - Gregory Boyle

There are so many more words I want to discuss, but this post has already gotten very long. Maybe I'll do more "Words" posts throughout the year. Some of the words I wanted to address are privilege, gentrification, justice, equality and unity. Those will have to wait for another day.

It's important to me that I use words accurately and in the correct context. My co-workers and I joke a lot with each other about words. We laugh and call out each other's mistakes, but it's because we really want to communicate clearly. We talk about a lot of very important topics and so we want to be careful in the way we speak about them. We also want to be honest about how words apply or don't apply to us.

My love of words has caused me to carefully examine their meanings - literal or practical - and that has led me to know myself and the people around me better.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Deconstruction [2017:1/52]



A few years ago I saw the inside of a carburetor for the first time. My friend Brad and I were trying to get his 1978 Honda motorcycle started, but it wasn't cooperating. He was sure the engine wasn't getting fuel and so he suggested we take apart and clean the carburetor. 


I had heard the word carburetor many times. I even knew how to spell the word (no small feat). But I had no idea what function a carburetor performs or how to take one apart and clean it.

Growing up I loved to build things. I still do. I mostly liked working with wood to create useful things. I only remember a few occasions when I actually took something apart, learned how it worked, and put it back together. My interest was mostly focused on construction.

That day in my garage a few years ago changed my perspective. I was nervous to start taking parts off the engine because I wasn't sure we'd ever get it back together. With Brad's confidence pushing us forward, we took the carburetor off the engine, cleaned it well, learned how it regulates the flow of fuel to the engine, and then put it back on the motorcycle. Our work, and the risk required to do something we've never done before, paid off. The motorcycle started and I took a victory ride down the street outside my house. Other problems soon surfaced, but armed with my new sense of confidence, I was able to tackle those problems and eventually got it running so well that I used it as my commuter vehicle.

The process of deconstruction can be of great importance. As I look back on the last few years of my life - right around the time Brad and I tore into that motorcycle engine - deconstruction has been a consistent theme. I still get nervous that I won't be able to put things back together in working order, but the risk is always worth it.

I'm not only talking about physical deconstruction of things, but also deconstruction of inanimate things like faith, culture and values. There have been several events that have caused me to deconstruct different areas of my life:
  • Reading books like Irresistible Revolution (Claiborne), Radical (Platt) and Pagan Christianity? (Viola & Barna)
  • Short-term mission trips
  • Living in the Dominican Republic
  • Working in South Bend
  • Reading books about America's history of racism
  • Never earning a large salary
  • Comments from other Christians about how they could never be a missionary
  • Interacting with Catholics whose faith is inspiring

I'm not going to expand on any of those events in this post because they'll come up throughout the year as I continue to write. However, the thing I've learned from those events is that when you experience a different way of living, or a different way of thinking, and discover that it works - that it produces the results you desire - it can cause you to question your own way of thinking and living.

To deconstruct something is not to destroy it. That's called demolition. Deconstruction is not a haphazard process of destruction. It's a careful taking apart and preserving of the pieces. You may or may not use all the old pieces when you begin to rebuild, but you must preserve them long enough to know whether they still work or not.

Most of my life was spent building - constructing - a worldview based on faith in God and strong moral values. I toed the line of American, conservative, Christian standards. My goals were to please God, be a good husband and father, live peacefully and eventually pass away having enjoyed life.

That existence, however, has been interrupted in unexpected ways. The more time I spend with people who have a different perspective - because of culture, economic status, race, religion, etc. - the more I see the important issues that I've never really addressed. 

I'm learning a lot about things like justice, compassion, mercy, unity, equality, racism, poverty, power and privilege. 

Many of those things should have been part of my worldview already, considering I grew up in church and faith was a big part of my life. Somehow, though, my understanding of some important topics was never fully developed. Many of those things never came up in church life, and that has caused me to deconstruct my worldview and my faith.

Remember - deconstruction is not the same as demolition. I am not discarding my faith or my worldview. I'm simply re-examining them, piece by piece, because there seems to be something in there that is not functioning as it should be.

I'm not sure yet if deconstruction is a process that you eventually reach the end of. Maybe it's a continual cycle of deconstruction and construction. Either way, I'm thankful that I'm in the process. I don't ever want to settle in so deeply and comfortably that I'm not willing to re-examine my life. I want to be a lifelong learner, and that will surely lead me through more seasons of deconstruction.

As I end this first post of 2017 I want to leave you with a couple quotes that have been critical to my process of deconstruction. They represent a different way of thinking than I was used to just a few years ago. After the quotes I'll make one final statement that is intended to cause tension and anticipation for next week's post.

"The strategy of Jesus is not centered in taking the right stand on issues, but rather standing in the right place - with the outcasts and those relegated to the margins." - Gregory Boyle
"A sad tendency of evangelical faith is to elevate the act of evangelism over the humanity of the people we want to reach." - Edward Gilbreath

This process of deconstruction has even caused me to reconsider how I describe myself to others. I don't have an accurate description yet, but in the wake of the most recent election I know that I no longer fit into the political categories of Conservative, Evangelical or Republican.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Catching Up

Since the last post was from 2014 and the photo in it was even
older, here is a recent photo of my family.
It has been more than two and a half years since I've written on this blog, so it seems appropriate to do a little catching up, just in case anyone has been wondering what I've been up to during that time.

My last post was in March of 2014 and I can easily say some big changes have happened since then. Here are a few highlights:


In August 2014 I left my job at Nappanee Missionary Church to become a missionary in the Dominican Republic. My family and I lived outside the city of Moca, serving alongside an amazing pastor named Quina Ovalles. Her love for people and her commitment to hard work have changed my life. Even at 72 years old, Quina is constantly learning new things, working hard for the sake of others and presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ - both through words and actions.

We lived in the Dominican Republic for a year and it was obviously a learning experience. We didn't master Spanish, but all four of us became quite conversationally proficient. The biggest lessons, however, were cultural. We learned about different traditions, customs, humor, politics, strategy and even racism. Some of these lessons were a joy to learn and some were very difficult and even hurtful. In the end, however, we came away with a new appreciation for cross-cultural living.


After returning from overseas, I joined the staff of Transformation Ministries in South Bend, Indiana. My good friend Kory and his wife Ali started this ministry in 2009. It was a grassroots operation, and still is in many ways. The focus is the youth of South Bend and we use a variety of programs to spark transformation in their lives. We do not claim to have all the answers and we do not rely on our own strength to carry this ministry. We enlist the help of roughly 125 volunteers and everything we do is an expression of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We work hard. We try to show genuine and unconditional love to everyone we encounter.

These experiences have taught me much and taught me that I still have much to learn.

Why Blog?
My purpose for rebooting this blog is to explore some of the lessons I've learned as well as to share many of the lessons I'm in the process of learning. I'm not doing this because I think I've attained some great wisdom that should be shared with the world. It's really more for me that I'm writing again. I have a goal to publish one post per week throughout 2017. It is an effort to establish a rhythm and a discipline of writing. I love to write, but I don't always make time for it.

I'm also writing on the blog because it gives others the chance to give me feedback on what I'm writing. So, please leave comments or email me your thoughts at danweiss76@gmail.com. I look forward to some good discussions.

If you've got ideas for topics I can address through my writing, please share those with me as well. I might even ask some of you to be guest writers. I know many people who are far wiser than me, and I'd love to read what they would write about certain subjects.

In the process of writing, it will never be my intention to offend anyone or to diminish the value of any other person. I may address some topics that are very sensitive and I may offend you at times. But please know that my intention is not to hurt anyone, but to share about the things I'm learning. As long as it's constructive and not hurtful, I'll be eager to hear any criticism or disagreement at any time.

I'm excited to get started. Look for my first post of 2017 coming toward the end of next week.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

What Am I Living For?

credit: FURORE Photography

For some time now I've been on a thrilling, agonizing journey with my Heavenly Father.

It has been a journey of change, discomfort, peace, joy, angst, cynicism, freedom, worship, progress and confusion - sometimes all in the same day! Nevertheless, God has been faithfully loving me throughout the whole process.

Because of this journey there are some people - maybe you're reading this right now - who might think I've lost my mind. In some sense, I hope you're right! In fact, if I haven't convinced you yet, the rest of this post might just seal the deal.

At the beginning of 2013 I felt a strong push in my spirit to simply study Jesus and do everything in my power to become more like Him. It seems like a simple goal but it has turned out to be a life-changing process. I am not making any claims to have become like Jesus. I hope, in some small ways, my life is a better reflection of Him, but there are times when I feel like I might have farther to go than when I started!

The problem with trying to become like Jesus, I've found out, is that you don't get to pick and choose which parts of Him you want. If you study, and take seriously, the things He did and the things He said, you will surely want to imitate some and, just as surely, throw some out.

In Matthew 19 Jesus told a rich young man, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

That's probably one we'd like to throw out, right? But later on in the same story he says something we all want to embrace: "... with God all things are possible."

Or how about in the famous Sermon on the Mount that starts in Matthew 5 when Jesus said, "But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven."

We might not want to throw that one out, but when somebody hurts us we can easily justify hurting them back, thus ignoring Jesus' words.

Later on in the same sermon, in Matthew 6, Jesus said, "... do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?"

I like that one. I think I'll keep that one!

But what about when Jesus touches people with leprosy (Matt. 8:3) or declares Himself homeless (Matt. 8:20) or exorcises demons and kills a herd of pigs in the process (Matt. 8:28-24)?

What about when He says, "Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. (Matt. 10:37-39)"?

How much of Jesus' life and words should we take literally? Where do we draw the line between really trying to be like Jesus and just knowing about Jesus?

These are the kinds of things my journey has forced me to wrestle with. Maybe you're starting to see why I called it an exciting, agonizing journey.

I'm certainly not done with the journey yet, but I was given a point of reference recently to help me see how Jesus has changed my life.

The picture at the top of this post shows me with the most important, precious people in my life. I cherish them more than I could ever describe. I was talking with one of these precious people recently and the topic of our upcoming move to the mission field came up, as it often does. In the midst of the conversation we talked about the level of risk involved with stepping into the unknown. Then some words came out of my mouth that I didn't expect, but believed with everything in me.

"If we die doing what Jesus has called us to do, it's OK."

Somewhere along this journey, my perspective had changed so much that I now believe Paul's words in Philippians 1:21, "For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." to be true for me.

Of course, the thought of dying does not appeal to me. The thought of being separated from my family makes me sad. The idea of the future never happening makes me feel like someone close to me died. I have a normal amount of desire to stay alive and grow old with my wife and see my kids grow up. It's not that I despise this life or any of the good things God has given me in my life. I cherish all of it!

It's just that when I look at the life of Jesus Christ I don't see a man trying to preserve His own life. I don't see Jesus seeking more comfort or more stuff. I don't see Him working hard so He can put money in His retirement account and still have enough to go out to eat once in a while. And I certainly don't see Jesus living by His own agenda or seeking His own desires.

I know it sounds crazy when I say it, but I'm saying the same thing Jesus said in Matthew 26:39, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup (death) be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."

Unlike Jesus, my death on the mission field is far from certain. The chances of anything bad happening to any member of my family while we're on the mission field are very slim. However, I want to have the same resolve He had to fulfill His Father's will!

So, in accordance with Paul's words in Philippians 1:21 my life on earth is Christ and my death will be great gain! I'm ready, Lord, do what you want with me!