The Grandeur of God

Worship can be tricky thing to get our mind around. As Americans, we like to have worship in a personal and neat understanding, but worship holds some tensions and paradox. We worship a God with incredible attributes and characteristics. On the other hand, we worship in intimate ways a close God who interacts with us. We sing songs of How great our God is, and at the same time songs of how could sing of his love forever. We worship a God who is transcendent and the same God that is imminent.

When we were at the Grand Canyon this week, I couldn’t help but be in awe of a God like our God. The grandeur of his creation blows me away. What a creative and impressive God we serve.

At one moment, I can draw near to him and have him reciprocate by drawing near to me. I know he participates in the world around me working for my good. Yet, there are times when I enjoy stepping back in holy fear simply to admire the incredible nature of God. Who is like our God? Who can create like he does with such vivid and stark points of the world that cry out to him in reverent admiration? Who is like our God that gives us such beauty to enjoy? Who is like our God that places one marvel after another?

Thoughts while Visiting the Grand Canyon

We visited the Grand Canyon on Monday with my parents and family friends, the Mihalik’s. My dad was looking forward to this trip for a long time as he had never seen this wonder placed in our country. In fact, I had never taken a trip to enjoy the marvel myself.

Our church, New Life Christian Fellowship, blessed us with a new Flip Video to make little videos to capture life in Thailand.

As we entered the Grand Canyon, I wanted to make a short clip or two about our experience to share with you. I made two, and the first relates to spiritual formation.

God works in us to shape and mold us into the person he wants. He takes a flat, hard surface and breaks it up, pulling back the layers of a hard heart, selfish attitude, deceit and much more to create a something even the Angels marvel at, as it says in Psalm 8 and Ephesians 3.

I am amazed by God’s work in the canyon carved out by his handiwork as well as his amazing work in the lives of his people who work out their salvation.

Maniac for Missions

I want to be a maniac, maniac, maniac…a maniac for missions. My friend, John Rusk, aka ‘the Maniac for missions’ joined us at a missions banquet at Spirit Life Church in Bullhead City, Arizona yesterday morning. Three missionary units spoke to the congregation on the theme, God loves all the world. I spoke first telling fun stories about mission in Thailand and the funny story of banging my head into the wall.

However, I looked forward to the last speaker, John. His story energizes us, who are already passionate for God’s mission. John told the missionary stories, saying we love to talk about a few certain topics. All missionaries have a bathroom story, a food story, and a baptism story. We only shared one about baptism, and so did the other speaker, then John shared a baptism story as well from his time in Africa. He was baptizing in the river as the 500-6000 people gathered on the banks. They lined up in their different lines. This baptism location came with a caveat. To avoid the alligators who hang out in the calm water waiting for people or animals to come swimming, they held the baptism along the rapids. When John went to baptize his first candidate (person, what is a better term here), and as he went under John lost his grip and the man went floating down the river. His line quickly diminished as everyone found their place in another line.

John continued to tell his story of how he and his late wife went back to the mission field after pastoring a successful church in Southern California. He felt God calling him to the field again…to Africa this time. When he told his wife, Becky, he didn’t know what to expect. She immediately replied, yes, I want to go back to the mission field. I want to die a missionary. She wanted to die on the field.

Therefore, they went for it and moved to Cape Town, South Africa. However, three years into their term, Becky was diagnosed with stage four kidney cancer. She finally succumbed to the disease last February after battling for 9 months.

I can not imagine what that would do to me. How would I stay in the game? Here I am listening to this just a few months after her passing. I knew why when he told us what she said just days before passing. She said, if God heals me, I know there is time to get the work done, but if God doesn’t heal me and I go to heaven to be with Jesus, there is not a lot of time to get things done. She went on to tell him, “Get back in the saddle. Get going and keep working.”

He showed the video of how he legitimately got back into the saddle. He metaphorically climbed back into the saddle by getting on his motorcycle and riding across the US, 6,000 miles in three weeks to visit as many churches and people as possible on his way to the Foursquare Convention at the end of May. He rode to get the word out about missions. He truly is a maniac for missions, inviting all to be maniacs for God and his mission.

The crazy motorcycle idea came a few years ago as he prayerfully asked God how to help many of his friends in missions get the support they needed. How could he shake the roofs and rattle the cages of the American church to support missions. He wanted a fresh idea. One night, he felt God say for him to buy a motorcycle and ride to every state capital in the country and stopping at as many churches or friends on the way to share about missions. He knew it would be from God if his wife agreed. As he put it, she was the Theologian and had a verse for everything she did. When he presented the idea to her, she mulled it over and said I think the Holy Spirit is in this…go on and buy that bike. He did, and he rode 17,000 miles getting people turned on for missions over a 9-week period.

What crazy thing can I do, can you do to get people excited about God’s mission to have all the world know him?

Halfway to Christmas

Did you realize today is halfway to Christmas? It was 6 months ago today that you were sitting around a fire (or a TV image of one) and opening presents, and you will do the same thing again in 6 months.

In our family, we make sure we remember this all important day. Some in the family count down like they count down to Christmas, while others simply make sure to clear their schedule.

Eight years ago, Christina’s father, Clayton, decided to develop the holiday just before his daughter Kathy’s wedding. He wanted an excuse to have his kids return home. He also knew that everyone goes out and buys things for the summertime, like towels, flip-flops and other beach related items. Why not combine them?

I did not make the first summer Christmas celebration. I joined the family as boyfriend after that, but I participated in the second annual commemoration of June 25. We gathered one evening for dinner and a casual gift exchange. Now, we set apart a whole day for a family party. As things go with this family, events grow over the years.

Now we anticipate halfway to Christmas about halfway to how much we anticipate Christmas. We go out and buy fun summer and beach items to give as gifts, usually running around a few days beforehand to finish all our shopping. (Remind you of Christmas?) However, the main excitement comes from getting to spend time with each other, and eating the famous ice cream cake.

Date Night

I am looking forward to tonight, the first Date Night I have gotten since being in the US. We have been on the go so much since touching down in LA whether preparing for the speaking engagements at churches, connecting with friends and partners in our ministry, visiting family or doing homework and taking classes for my masters program, we have not taken just one evening to be our date night. How could this happen?

For me, first for weeks of furlough equaled, stuffy head, runny nose, soar throat, and a hacking cough that just would not go away. Two days after arriving in the frigid mid-May climate of Southern California, I came down with a cold. The cold hung on as we flew, stayed up late and woke up early for class, and continued to be in rapid weather changes for weeks.

We tried to get to as many people as often as possible to maximize our time in each part of the US. Already, we have visited five states with Arizona coming this weekend and Northern California after that, not to mention a brief stop in Denver. The life of a furlough is not relaxing, the pace just keeps going or you miss seeing people that you need to see, and miss getting things done.

Somehow in the midst of this busy-ness, we need to take time for a date night. We are not on furlough from that routine. Date night is not just cliché for us. Date not is not just a funny movie that describes how life can get if we allow our life to become boring and routine.

Date night gives the space for us to talk and pour into each other deepening our relationship. My wife has the love language of quality time. If I keep giving others my time, I will not show her the love she needs to receive. Therefore on Saturday, I said, let’s make Wednesday night our date night. We are going to go out to dinner and walk on the beach tonight. How fun, I wish I had time to buy some roses and make a card to build the moment for my beautiful bride. Maybe I should stop typing this post and get on that…

Date night is not the end in itself. This just allows us to catch up on the small things, relationship issues with friends and work, family drama, the small and slightly larger than small talk necessary to a vital and fresh relationship. We still cherish those days when we get several hours, a half day or more to really talk and share our hearts, life goals and deeper issues that take time and comfortable space to come out.

I am so looking forward to spending time with my wife tonight. She talks with me so well. She makes me so much more than I would be without her. I should never take that for granted.

Texting

…should this post be 140 characters or less? I tried, but had too much to say…

Since leaving for Thailand, one of the biggest changes in American culture we noticed is the sheer volume in text messaging between not just teens but all ages. For many, texting is awesome. You can stay in touch with just a little effort and even do it while watching TV, driving (if you are not caught), exercising and many other things. Our relationships now can be part of our ever increasing multi-tasking lifestyle. There are even those people with stuff to do and people to see who text at dinner, in the movies, and perhaps the restroom. I even heard a survey last week that 11 % of people think it is socially acceptable to text while “in the bedroom”.

I wonder how much this shapes our relationships and interaction with people. I don’t want to be one of those old guys out of touch with youth saying we need to have deeper more meaningful relationships and texting pulls us further and further into the shallow personal contact we are accused of in America. I know we can hold a balance with twitter, Face Book, texting and other social media as an intro into sharing life with others and still have those deep and meaningful friendships we need to coexist in community.

I just wonder what the texting generation will look like in 10-years. Will all of our sentences be short and to the point? Will we start to speak in abbreviations and acronyms? Obviously this is hyperbole to make a point. It is just funny to me.

I remember listening to FM Morning DJ Jonathan Brandmeier talking with comedian Norm McDonald about how Norm doesn’t have a computer. They went on to talk about texting and how Norm never returns phone calls. Then they went into how everyone texts these days. Johnny B made the sarcastic comment as to why he loves texting, “talking…that is too much work”.

I will not ever really relate as I can’t text, so maybe I am out of touch. Just take it as one on the outside asking some questions. I am sure if I could text, I would be doing it as much as anyone else. I love talking with my friends and keeping in touch as much as the next guy, but since I am unable to do so, I will just raise some questions as the world moves on at a rapid pace.

Talking on the Phone

When we returned to the US, I wanted to observe things that seemed different than I remembered, that I had to readjust to, or changed since we first left for Thailand three years ago. Surprisingly little has jumped out to us. We have to pay attention closely to notice what throws us off a little as culture or worldview seems hard to grasp. Often, it feels as natural as the air you breathe. Every now and again, we realize some habit we picked up in Thailand or dropped since leaving the US.

First of all, people talk less on their cell phones now. Everyone is texting all the time. Some of my friends don’t even answer their phone and tell me all they have time for is texting. Might be great for them, but come on friends, I can’t text. Instead, I’m always handing my phone to my wife and asking her to text for me. Maybe I will write a post about this if I have time.

Recently, we noticed how different our phone conversations go. Aside from the fact that everything is texting and we live in a world where you don’t saying anything longer than 140 characters anymore, the way you talk on the phone in America comes with far different norms than in Thailand.

In Thailand, a phone conversation usually lasts 1-2 minutes, with most phone calls around 30 seconds. They don’t get into small talk to begin a conversation. The dialogue cuts directly to the business at hand “Hi, I need… or Do you have…?” The call ends more abruptly than it began “…ok. Bye.”

The Thai people almost all use prepaid cell phones, so their minutes count down as you talk on the phone. When the minutes are gone, then they can’t use the phone until they have enough money for a new phone card to add more minutes. Everyone talks briefly including the one on the receiving end even though received calls are free. They show great courtesy in wanting to end a call as quickly as you began it, and not waste the other person’s money.

I always find myself saying good bye after they already clicked the end button on their phone. It is not rude that they finished talking with me suddenly. In fact, they are being gracious and thoughtful to not use my minutes. At least that is the thought process in their mind. They don’t take advantage of those who could afford more minutes easily.

In the US, a phone call begins with pleasantries of how each other is doing. These are the norms to set the stage for any further conversation. It is acknowledging a parameter for conversation. After the long prelude to show the person that we care about them then we get to the reason that we really called. After the necessary issues are talked out, we say good bye through a series of statements. We begin with something like; I have to get going now. This allows the person on the other end to throw in a last detail to the conversation or final thought before leaving. Then we say I’ll talk to you later. We give time to respond to one another before each saying good bye.

For a while, I found myself acting in the way I do in Thailand…hanging up quickly. Ok, bye…click. At one point, my wife said, what are you doing, they must think you are being rude. I realized, I was treating them like their phone minutes were valuable. I didn’t want to be the blame for their high phone bill. Actually, I was sending the complete opposite signal. That I didn’t have time for them or really care about what they might want to tell me. I stopped and remembered how I am supposed to act before hanging up the phone. Hopefully, I am back in the flow now.