Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Quote of the Day

As Seth and I were heading out to lunch today, we heard Rush Limbaugh say this:
"Is it just me, or is Hillary Clinton looking more and more like a women's basketball coach everyday?"

This got me doing a little research. What do you think?

A striking resemblance--yes. But I'd have to say that the biggest difference between Pat Summitt and Hillary is that Pat knows how to win!  Oh snap!  I said it!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Just Call Me Emeril

Thursday night was a pretty momentous occasion in my life. My parents had just taken off for a cruise, and I was left with a bachelor pad for the week. As dinner time approached, I was hit with the reality that no meal would be set before me unless I myself prepared it. In the past, a situation like this would have left me with a no-brainer. Can you say frozen pizza? I'll have to admit that, again, I was tempted to go the lazy and seriously unhealthy route of pounding about a dozen frozen pizzas this week. I actually got a Jack's pizza out of the freezer and began to preheat the oven, but then, as if struck by a bolt of lightning, I decided that maybe it was time to change before I got ridiculously fat and out of shape. I opened the freezer again, and this time I found some shrimp and a bag of broccoli and cauliflower. I was determined to make the best and healthiest meal in the history of bachelorhood. I started to stir fry the shrimp and veggies, but I wanted to add a little something for flavor. One thing I learned in China is that any vegetable (even broccoli!) is good when it's cooked in garlic. So I chopped up a garlic clove and "BAM!" (just call me Emeril)...tossed it into the pan with the shrimp and veggies. To add to my delicious meal I cooked some rice (Uncle Ben's Instant Rice) and then doused the whole meal with a little Asian zing called Mae Ploy sauce. 

To be honest with you, the meal was good, not great, but it wasn't the meal itself that mattered so much as what it represented in my life.  A turning point...the turning of a new leaf, if you will. No longer would I be held hostage by Spaghettios and frozen pizzas for the rest of my bachelor life. I can actually cook (or attempt to), and I can actually eat healthy. Time will tell whether this is just a phase or a new way of life...

In Unrelated News...

Later that night I went to play some intramural basketball at Bethel, and something didn't feel right. Before our second game, my stomach began hurting. I realized just in time what was happening and rushed for the toilet. What I experienced next was one of the most forceful and awful pukes from way deep down in my stomach that I had ever experienced. All those shrimp and veggies came right back up. What a waste...

Ok, so maybe I'm not the best cook in the world yet, but even Emeril had to start somewhere, right?

When Theology Gets Messy

The other night I got home around 10pm to find my parents at the bottom of the stairs trying to figure out a way to get my dad upstairs. That might sound kind of weird, but that's the reality my dad is faced with everyday. Because of the cancer in his spinal chord, and the fact that the radiation zapped his back into a mere shell of weakened bones that can barely support the weight of his body, everyday tasks that used to be no problem have become...well...a BIG problem. My dad's having a hard enough time walking, let alone climbing stairs.

So here's my mom, more or less attempting to carry my dad up the stairs, without much luck...and then there's my dad, writhing in pain because with each step the raw nerves in his back are shooting torturous jolts throughout his entire body.

My parents gave up right as I was walking through the door. My mom gently helped my dad to his chair, and he sat down to rest for a while. They wept bitterly together.

Finally, they mustered the strength again, and as my dad's back spasms calmed down he was able to crawl up the stairs into bed, where he typically found some relaxation and comfort from the pain. This night was different, though.

Just moments after my dad reached his bed, I heard him crying out in excruciating pain. My mom rushed to get me, and she said, "Dad needs you now. We need to pray." Together we fell down at the side of the bed, lay hands on my dad, and for quite some time the three of us cried out to God.

"Lord, you say that if we ask anything in your name, we will receive it...and Jesus, we are asking you to relieve my dad's pain now!" I cried. "You are the Great Healer...send a Spirit of healing!"

Nothing happened.

"God, don't forsake me now!" my dad wailed. "I need you!"

Nothing happened.

This went on for quite some time, and as I kneeled there next to my dad's bed, for a split second I was caught up in my own thoughts, almost as if I was entirely removed from the situation before me. Three things crossed my mind in that instant.

My first thought was how surreal this moment really was. The pain I literally felt flowing through my dad's body was like nothing I had ever seen before. It was like he was being repeatedly stabbed in the back. I knew I had never known such pain.

My second thought was how inadequate I was at praying. I soon ran out of words to say...I felt helpless.

And finally, I realized how messy theology really is. I spent four years at a Christian college trying to pack my theology nice and neat into a box, only to realize in that one moment next to my dad's bed that so many of my "simple answers" about God meant so little when it came down to the complex realities of this world. My theology has a big smiley face on it that says, "God loves you, and everything will work out if you trust in Him!" Sure, I still believe that, but I think it's a lot more messy than that. God loves us, but we live in a fallen world. God is sovereign, but sometimes he allows us to live in pain. That's the reality we all live in.

I can't explain to you theologically why God didn't bring healing to my dad as we prayed that night. And I suppose I don't have to...God can defend Himself. What I would say, though, is that we must always be careful not to put parameters around God. Sure, it's good to study the Scriptures about God and to get to know Him more, but if all of our studies in theology bring us to pots of gold at the end of the rainbow or to neat little boxes with ribbons on top, then I think we have entirely missed the mark.

Life is messy...so it shouldn't surprise us when our theology is, too.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Lessons in Short-Term Missions (India Part 2)

The Research

My first short-term mission trip was to Ecuador in the summer of 2002, in between my junior and senior year of high school. Interestingly enough, my future youth ministry prof. and close friend, Terry Linhart, came along with our team on that trip to do some on-sight research on the effectiveness of short-term missions for his doctoral studies.  A book and several published articles later, Terry has put together some cutting-edge research on the topic.

In his article "If We Send Them, They Will Grow...Maybe," published in The Journal of Student Ministries, Linhart, along with co-researchers Kara Powell, Dave Livermore, and Brad Griffin make  the bold statement that Short-Term Mission Trips (STMs) do not necessarily guarantee life change for the students who participate. They identify five components of effective STMs, namely:

1. Focus--helping students prepare emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and relationally.
2. Action-Reflection--helping students accurately interpret their experiences.
3. Support-Feedback--assisting students in their learning as it takes place.
4. Debrief--reflecting on the experiences of the trip as the students prepare to return home.
5. Learning Transfer--helping students make what they learned on the STM a part of their daily lives back home.

The research here suggests that a STM experience in and of itself will not necessarily provide long-term change in the lives of students. This think tank of researchers concludes that as leaders we must be very thoughtful in how we approach STMs and in how we encourage students to process everything that they are experiencing.  I couldn't agree more.

My Experiences

Going into my trip to India, I didn't really think about it as a STM experience.  In fact, I really didn't have much time to think about anything going into this trip.  I joined the India team merely 3 weeks before we left.  Therefore, my preparation for the trip was very much a blur.  Because of this, I probably skipped more than one or two of these five components to effective STM experiences.  Now, I certainly wouldn't suggest doing that, but as I have looked back and reflected on the trip (my attempt at learning transfer), I have come to the conclusion that it was probably my most impacting overseas experience.  More so than the week I spent in Ecuador, or in Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, or even the 3 months I spent in China!  At first, this conclusion puzzled me...why did India impact me so much more than any of the other trips I had experienced?  

The answer...relationships.

I made more meaningful relationships with the native people on this trip than I ever had before on any trip.  In 9 days, I made more connections with Indian people than I had in 3 months with the Chinese people!  One of my prayers going into this trip was that I would be clothed with the love of Christ.  It's hard to explain, but in a supernatural way I was able to love those people with a love that I myself had never known and had certainly never been able to express to others.  And in the same way, I felt that love returned back to me from so many of the Indian people that I met.

As I assess STMs and the experiences I have had, I have come to the conclusion that one of the greatest gifts we can give to students on STMs is an opportunity to intertwine their hearts with the hearts of people from all around the world.  Students definitely go into these trips prepared to give a piece of their hearts to someone. Unfortunately, often times we as leaders don't give them opportunities to love on the native people, so they end up throwing their hearts at the cutest guy or girl on their team (can you say mission trip hook-up?).  It happens all the time.  What a waste of a trip and an opportunity to experience the diversity of the Kingdom of God.  I am convinced, though, that if students are given the opportunities to connect with people from other countries on STMs, they will leave forever changed by the relationships they have built.

I leave you with a few pictures of the life-changing relationships I built while in India.

This is Jhumki.  She's 5 years old.  She stole my heart on this trip. 

The short guy on my right is Ibrahim.  He's currently working in Bhutan, one of the most closed countries to the Gospel in the world.  He risks his life every day for the sake of Christ.  I received an email from him today saying that he's praying for me and my ministry here. Wow...humbling...

 This is Sreejan.  He's about my  age, and he's a stud cricket player.  Sreejan lives in Orissa, an Indian province where the demonic strongholds of Hinduism are very evident through acts of human sacrifice (often babies or teens) to "the gods of the soils," and where churches are burned and Christians are often killed for their faith.  Sreejan has a heart of gold, and he's truly searching for what God would have him do with his life.  I suggested that he might be well fit for vocational ministry, to which Sreejan replied, "I could never pursue ministry for the Lord unless God Himself calls me to it."  I wonder how many fewer pastors we'd have in the U.S. if we all had such strong conviction about God's calling as Sreejan did!!!

These are my guys--Rahul, Bunty, George, Vishal, Johnson, and Pratik!  I love these guys!!!

That's all for now.  Much, much more to come!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Why I Love Macs...

About 9 months ago I officially became a Mac guy.  It was then that I dumped my dying Gateway laptop and joined the 21st century with a Mac PowerBook.  My buddy and partner in crime over here at St. Mark, Seth Bartlette, a recent Mac convert at the time, was very instrumental in my exodus from the world of PCs to the Mac world.  I had often heard that once you go Mac, you never go back.  So true...

Here are a few reasons why I love my Mac:

1) Compatibility.  All of the Mac programs, such as iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, etc. are all seamlessly linked together, allowing me to work across several programs at once with ease.  Macs are also highly compatible with other non-Mac programs and devices.

2) Wireless Capabilities.  The minute I enter an area with a wireless network, my Mac recognizes it and connects.  

3) Widgets.  These make it easy to keep up on the weather, sports scores, etc.

4) Spaces.  When I get working on several things at once, spaces allows me to use 4 full desktops.  With my PowerBook currently hooked up with an external monitor, my Spaces double, giving me the capability to use 8 desktops at once.  I can't imagine ever needing 8 desktops, but it's still cool to know that if I need them, they're there!

5) Design.  Macs just look cool...enough said.

6) Parallels.  With this program I can still run necessary Microsoft programs like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint on my Mac.

7) Garage Band.  This program allows you to mix your own sweet tunes or even record yourself.  We've started recording our youth services--both the messages and worship--with Garage Band.

8) Graphics.  Macs are well known for their creative capabilities with graphic design.  I don't know how to do any of that stuff yet, but I can imagine how cool it would be if I did!

9) Keynote.  The Mac version of PowerPoint...only better!

10) Time Machine.  I saved this one for last because this is my new favorite reason why I love Macs.  A brief story will best explain my love for Time Machine.

Basically, Time Machine works as a back-up for my entire computer.  My Time Machine is connected to my 500 GB external hard drive.  Every hour, on the hour, Time Machine more or less takes a snapshot of my entire hard drive and saves it.  Now, say for instance I've been working on a project since March of last year.  I've made countless changes along the way, but here in February I decide that I would like to see the project exactly as it was on November 7, 2007 at 1:00pm.  I simply click on the project and then open Time Machine.  Then, as pictured below, Time Machine would allow me to go back to the project as it was at that very moment several months ago.  Very cool...

Well, this whole concept became even more valuable to me last week.  As I was uploading my pictures and videos from India, I suddenly received a notice that I had mistakenly maxed out my internal hard drive.  Before I could stop the upload, my hard drive crashed, losing EVERYTHING.  You'd think that this would cause me to hate Macs, but this is where Time Machine comes in.  I was able to simply go back and restore my entire hard drive just the way it had been merely an hour before the crash.  Literally everything, from all my documents all the way down to my desktop picture and screensaver were exactly the way they had been before.

The Bottom Line: I love Time Machine, and I love Macs even more!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Why I Hate Credit Card Companies...

Today I called up my friendly CitiCard credit card company to dispute a charge on my account for the second time in as many months.  The FREAKING SCAM ARTISTS at emusic.com (I dislike them even more than I do credit card companies) got a hold of my credit card information and have been charging me for monthly music downloads which I have not been receiving, nor have any desire to receive.  Ok, so the truth is it's partly my fault.  You see, I received in the mail one of those ads promising 25 free music downloads with "no risk required."  Well, the "no risk required" was that I had to plug in my credit card information, and as my greed would have it, I foolishly complied, the result being these monthly fees for a service for which I never signed up.  I also never even received the 25 free downloads in the first place!  A lose-lose-lose situation, in the words of Michael Scott.  

Well, the first time I contacted CitiCard, they informed me that they were unable (or unwilling) to dispute my claim.  Strike #1 against them and their (un)customer (dis)service.  This time, however, they finally agreed to dispute the monthly fees from eMusic.  At which point their (un)customer (dis)service rep. tried offering me a "free" and "no risk" trial of some service for which I was not in the least interested.  Of course, after the "risk free" 30 days came a huge monthly fee...blah blah blah...you get the picture.

So I immediately turned down the offer, at which point the rep. continued badgering me.  She wanted to know why I would turn down "such a great offer!"

Here's the irony of the situation (and the reason why I hate credit card companies).  I was calling to dispute a charge from some bogus company that had offered me "free" services but then charged my butt off...and after helping me dispute this very claim, this lady with the credit card company was attempting to suck me into the same game.  Credit card companies thrive off of these games.  They offer "free" services, but then they know that they can get you caught up into paying outrageous monthly fees when you fail to unsubscribe to their services.  This lady actually told me in her spiel that "she was on my side" and she was "there to help me."  A comforting thought, but entirely untrue.  Credit card companies are there for one reason and one reason only--to screw us!

So there you have it--that's why I HATE CREDIT CARD COMPANIES!!!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

But You're Cool?!?! (India Part 1)

It's hard to believe, but a week ago at this time I was still thousands of miles away in India, a country that truly captured my heart in just the few days that I was there.  In the past week, I've had plenty of time to reflect on my time in India and to really process all that I experienced.  Among other things, I learned a lot about myself during this time of reflection.  In the days to come, I want to express some of these thoughts, not just for the faithful one or two of you (literally) who might check out my blog, but also to help myself continue to sort through and clarify the thoughts in my own head.  So without further ado, I take you to the story of the first impactful event that happened to me on the India trip...before I ever reached India!

Our first flight was from Detroit to Frankfurt, Germany--about a 9 hour trip.  Now I'm not exactly the friendliest flyer in the world.  Once, on a 13 hour flight from Detroit to Tokyo a couple years ago, I read a book the entire time and literally didn't say a word to the person seated next to me.  This flight, I figured, would be no different.  I sat down next to a young Indian man, and for the first 7 1/2 hours of the flight neither of us spoke to each other.  He slept most of the time, while I was engrossed in a book, Revolution in World Missions, written by Gospel for Asia's president K.P. Yohannan.  The book was inspiring, to say the least, as Yohannan shared GFA's vision for the Gospel to be taken to all of Asia, including some of the hardest to reach tribal regions in India.  Yohannan shared that most American Christians say they believe the Bible, but yet rarely does he find a Western Christian who truly lives out the biblical mandates, most notably the Great Commission (see Matt. 28:18-20).  Yohannan shared of the outpouring of the Spirit throughout Asia, and how resources were desperately needed to train and send out native pastors and evangelists to reap the harvest.  The more I read, the more my heart was stirred.

So for 7 1/2 hours, I sat...

...and I read...

...and I did nothing.

Then, as if a light suddenly popped on in my spiritually slow brain, I realized that God had given me an incredible opportunity to share about His Son with the man sitting next to me.  So I struck up a conversation with Naresh, a 25-year old computer-techy who had just finished a 6 month internship in Detroit and was heading back to his home in Hyderabad, India.  I told Naresh that I, too, was headed for India, and that I wanted to learn everything I could about India before I got there.  I picked his brain about Indian culture and customs, politics, family life, and finally, religion.  I took an interest in Naresh's life, and I honestly cared to learn as much about him as possible.  The Spirit was moving as we talked.  

Naresh asked me about what I did for a living, and I initially told him that I was a "youth worker."  Honestly, my first thought was that if I told him I was a pastor he was going to notify the authorities in India, and they would send me home the minute I got there.  Pretty silly, I know.  Well, as our conversation progressed, I began to ask Naresh more and more about Hinduism.  He was a Hindu, but honestly I probably knew more about Hinduism than he did.  He was a Hindu more by culture than by real practice (remind you of any Christians you know?).  

Finally, Naresh asked me about my religion.  I began to share with him about Christianity.  I asked him if he knew anything about it, but he knew very little.  He had seen a few Benny Hinn-like characters on TV, but that was about it.  I began to walk Naresh through the story of Christianity, from creation to the fall...to our need for a Savior...to Christ.  I could tell that Naresh was soaking in my words.  The power of the Spirit was truly speaking through me, and before I knew it I was in "preacher mode."  The funny thing is, as little Naresh knew about Christianity, he could smell a preacher from a mile away.  At one point, he finally said, "You're a preacher, aren't you?"  I admitted that I was, and without missing a beat he exclaimed, "But You're Cool?!?!"  He was shocked that a pastor could be young and "cool" like me.  I couldn't help but laugh and shake my head as I realized that the preachers he had seen on TV in India were presumably as dry and boring as our American televangelists.

I continued to share with Naresh the Truth, as I knew it, and I asked him if he believed what I had said.  He was very hesitant, and I could tell that he was pretty confused.  He began to share that he felt that we all have our own "path"--a very Hinduistic belief, and also not very far off from the relativistic thinking prevalent in our culture today.  His motto was "live and let live."  He believed that there were many "truths."  At which point, I pulled my best Chad Meister impression and shared with him about the Law of Non-Contradiction, namely that two antithetical propositions cannot both be true [ie. Jesus is the only way to God (a) and there are other ways to God (-a)].  Naresh was intrigued by this idea of absolute truth--he had never thought about that before!

In the end, I'd love to say that Naresh gave his life to Christ.  

He didn't.

BUT...I was able to give him a Bible, and he was so appreciative.  He promised to read it, and I think he truly wanted to learn more about Christ.  He gave me his email address, and I plan on keeping in touch with him.  What an incredible start to my trip that was!  The Spirit gave me a boldness that continued on for the rest of my trip, and I was truly encouraged by my experience with Naresh.

And that was just the beginning...