Call Me Stupid…But.

Call me stupid but, I must have enough to live on.

The phrase ‘to live on’ has taken on a different meaning as my days in Haiti come to a close.  I have watched women drenched in sweat, stand for hours in the hot sun in the ‘one item or less’ line.  Don’t you hate those lines?  They never move fast enough. Neither do these lines.  Thousands of women arrive as early as 6 a.m. and wait for hours for something to take home to feed their families.  They are waiting for their one item of, a bag of rice or beans.  They get water in buckets from another line and carry that home later.  As I recall this scene I step away from my kitchen faucet.  I let the water run so it is cold enough not to need ice cubes that I don’t add ice cubes.  I use that time to choose my favorite glass.

I took care of some of these women as they arrived in the clinic.  They had carried 40 pound bag of food, five to ten gallons of water, on their heads, along crowded uneven and dusty roads.  It may take or seem to take an hour to get back to their homes.  It is not a house.  It is home.  It is made of sheets, blankets, tents and cardboard, and if very fortunate, some donated tarpaulins.  They came to clinic, or were brought there, confused, lethargic, sweating and near death from dehydration and sun stroke.  As I interview them through an interpreter, I ask myself; ‘What do I need to live on?’  I need to narrow that list.  I think the water is cold enough to fill my glass now.

Call me insensitive, but a refrigerator that keeps food just long enough for me to dump in the garbage or feed my dogs is not essential to life. I confess.  If I can recognize the color as original, I will eat it.  Let me narrow my list.  It no longer includes bottled water or that green stuff I just threw out.  The dog would not touch it.

Call me out of touch, but spending for reality T.V. is off of my list of essentials after seeing the reality of people searching the garbage for food hoping to find enough to eat before the dogs, or neighbors get it or before nightfall comes. It is hard to find good garbage to eat in the dark and avoid the rats.

Call me out of step, but it seems that the $17 I recently spent on popcorn, soda and a movie may have been a bit extravagant on my part. How far does 17$ go in Haiti, street sweepers make 4 dollars a day Of course I work hard and I deserve to be entertained and amused.  But a movie about rescuing people who are being devastated by an alien force pales in comparison to helping people who are being decimated by a natural disaster.  I could have actually spent a bit more here helping them, micro-waved a bag, had some Kool-Aid and read a good book.

Call me ridiculous, but now I realize that telling people I have been called to serve about my fears and frustrations does not make sense to them.  They don’t really care to know about the problems I will face retiring because I did not put enough aside for my later years.  They just want to make it through the day.  They have seen too much death, even this week.

Call me stupid but if I can’t go a week or a month to help people, should I be willing to spend a week salary, or even a month’s salary to help someone do it in my stead?

Now you can really call me stupid, insensitive, out of touch, out of step, and ridiculous.  Give a whole week’s or month’s salary to help?  Let me see how bad it really is.  Turn on CNN and get the real story.   Don’t be stupid. After all, you must have enough to live on.

Haiti needs help.  Go, give or send.  That is smart.  That pleases God.

Desperate Departure

Just 24 hours ago, I was feeling very sorry for myself.  Now, I wish this bus window was not so scarred so that I could get some good pictures to take home.  Of course opening the window would allow dust in the bus and let the cold air conditioned air out, or is it warm air in?  I can’t remember.  Anyway, there are a lot of desperate people, dilapidated buildings and other good things which I will only be able to talk about, all because I can’t roll down the window.

Such are the challenges of my desperate departure.  As I said, just 24 hours ago, I was feeling very sorry for myself because my flight out was overbooked.  It seemed I would have to spend an extra day or two in Haiti.  I was tired of seeing dirt, feeling the dust and thinking about disease.  I was desperate to depart.  I tried going to the airport at least twice, sourcing other means of transport from UN or mission agencies and even American armed forces.  Nothing came of these forays.  I sat on a rock outside of the airport thinking of just how I could get out.

Our hosts picked me up and took me back to the guest house.  We ate lunch, talked, laughed and planned strategies.  I used their computers went online and looked for cheap tickets and ready transport to go to neighboring Dominican Republic so I could fly to the US and on to Kenya.  I found it!  The next morning I am aboard a bus for $40 plus $30 for…?   I don’t know what the other $30 was for.  I am just glad to be on the bus.  I was desperate to depart to see my family and most importantly my wife whom I have left in Kenya.

As I peered through the filmy window pane, sipping on my cold, clear, bottled water, it occurred to me just how self absorbed I really am.  Most everyone outside of this bus is desperate to depart.  They have neither the cash, credit, connections nor contacts to depart.  They will live in this state of perfect poverty.  Perfect poverty is poverty without options.  It is depicted by living in a cardboard house that wilts when it rains because you don’t have plastic sheets nor clothes pins to it to make it ‘waterproof’.  Perfect poverty is not being able to boil the food you were given because you can’t afford the charcoal, or it is still wet from the rain (if we only had waterproofed the cardboard).  Perfect poverty is when you give up looking and mourning for 3 of your 4 children who were in that pile of rubble because you could not house, feed or clothe them anyway without their mother who died from her injuries.  Given your present circumstances they are better off dead.  You keep on with life even though a view from my seat on the bus says you should give up.  You have perfected poverty.

My desperate departure is about me and my inability to consider any more sights of people who have no options.  I pulled the curtain on the window.  The air conditioning feels good.  It is now I should feel sorry for myself.

Pasaka

I called him Pasaka.  Easter sounded like a girl’s name.  Pasaka, the Swahili equivalent sounds much more masculine.  As a matter of fact, it did not really what I named him.  He was a nameless piece of trash, discovered by someone and dropped at one of the orphanages we support.  We estimated his age to be about 3 months and his weight to be less than 2 pounds.  Pasaka, looked more like a large starving dirty rabbit than a human child.  He was dehydrated and malnourished, with each of his cheek bones protruding and his eyes receding into his small face.  He responded to pain by withdrawing his limbs, as we searched in vain to find a place to put a needle for rehydrating fluids.  I took the alternative route of directly sticking a needle into his foreleg, just below the knee, deep into the marrow.   It is a common route for extreme cases of dehydration in infants and worked this time.  We estimated Pasaka’s weight and began rapid infusion of balanced salt solutions with boluses of glucose to give energy to his obviously starving frame.

Pasaka was one of five children I admitted this Easter week.  Three of them severely sick enough to die, and one severe enough that he did die.  Pasaka seemed as though he would live.  I was too tired and too busy to check on him a fifth time as the child which followed him came in between three c’sections and I only heard about this fifth child’s death on arrival.  He supposedly had pneumonia.  It is hard to tell much about a child whom you find in a garbage dump.

This Easter has been memorable for these several admissions for nameless children clinging to life in a world and on a day when all we think about is Easter eggs and bunny rabbits with jelly beans and chocolates.

Pasaka, should he survive, will know different.  If he lives, it is because Christ lives, and has inspired people like you, to send people like me to stick needles in his bones, as Christ had nails pierce His hands.

I Fliped Christ a Coin

Spit and polish!  I sat very comfortably over Him as He bent over, brushing each of my shoes hard enough that they reflected a dull image of his face.  He never looked up.  I was impressed with his humility.  It was clear that this man knew how to spit.  Once he was finished, he stepped back and I stood up and flipped him a coin.

Jesus could have easily shined shoes because after all he did wash feet.

Imagine the Savior of the world, God Himself incarnate, bending as low as to shine my shoes.  How do I repay Him?  I flip him a coin.  He tells me it is not enough.

I toss my loose change in the offering basket on Sunday morning.  I take an occasional read of His word, and I spew out a few trite words over my meals.  I am nice to strangers (most times) and I give to charities that show pictures of dirty, hungry, and desperate children.

In reality, God does not need my money.  God does not even need me to go to outer-Mongolia, Timbuktu and he is certainly not impressed with my righteous posture of sitting over his bent form shining my shoes.

I need to look up at Christ and see the true image of His face, not the dull image reflected on my shoes.   I need to repent of my arrogant posture of thinking I have done enough, given enough and even prayed enough.  What is the true measure of enough?  It is not how much I give of what I have acquired.  He does not want all that I have.  He wants all that I am.

After all God has done for you, and still does, don’t you dare flip Christ a coin.  He wants all of you.  Spit and polish!

Mark 10:21Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.

Mark 10:22And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.

I Watch I Listened

I watched you and I listened
To each deed and every word
Let Me tell you what I saw in you
Let Me recite just what I heard
When asked about the time of day
The weather, sports and such
You really had a lot to say
Indeed you do know much
But when time came to speak of Me
Your silence screamed so loud
I felt as though I embarrassed you
When I should have made you proud
I watched as you told that joke
They all laughed with such great glee
I waited to hear if any word you spoke
That would reflect that you know Me
So I will watch tomorrow too
Maybe today was just a little ‘off’
If someone asks do you know Me?
Own up, and please don’t scoff

2 Chronicles 16:9 For the eyes of Jehovah run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him.

Road Kill

What were they doing on the side of the road anyway? Those people in that earthquake worship the devil. They surely got what they deserved. The godless idol worshipers caught in the tsunami were sinners damned by God. Why were those kids out late at night? Why don’t those people take better care of their bodies? They all have it coming, including the alcoholic, the murderers, child abusers, sexual perverts, prostitutes, illegal aliens, terrorists and the whole lot can go to hell before they expect any help from me. They should not be on the side of the road. I stepped over them. Leave them alone as road kill, in the wrong place at the wrong time. They should know better!

The fascinating thing about Jesus and the parable of The Good Samaritan, is that the Savior never explains why the man chose to travel on a dangerous road all by himself. Apparently it was a known bad place. Jesus, however, focused on the response of the ‘good people’ who happened to pass the injured man.

This parable refers not only to the least of these, but also the least worthy these. I must confess that like Paul I am amongst the least worthy of all. But Christ did not ask me why I was on the side of the road. He bent down, and healed me, and said; ‘go and sin no more!’

I, on the other hand walk by the road kill. It is easier of course. I am one of the good people.

Are you like me; one of the ‘good people?’ Do you find yourself asking; ‘what are they doing on the side of the road?’ Are you blaming or bandaging?

Are you bending down, bathing, applying balms, or standing over accusing?

Lu 10:33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,

Mt 25:45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

1Ti 1:15 This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.

Never argue with an ass

In our prayer time today, Kay and I learned this lesson in the Bible. It was the example of Balaam in Numbers 22-25 that served to show me the futility and foolishness of arguing with an ass, especially one who speaks for God.

Now if you were the ass in this story, it would be hard to understand why the man riding on your back was being so hard on you. After all the, Bible records the ass’s point of view: Numbers 22:23 And the ass saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and the ass turned aside out of the way, and went into the field:

Balaam had been tasked with delivering a specific word of truth to Balak the king. However the king sought to entice Balaam to deliver a message that would curse the king’s enemies. God wanted Balaam to deliver a message that would instead, bless the king’s enemies. The enticement offered by the king was gifts of material wealth and career prosperity. Balaam was torn between accepting the offer and doing the right thing. It was the ass that made the difference.

If you choose to read that story, you will find that the ass saw the angel and finally spoke to Balaam saying in essence; ‘lighten up dude! What did I ever do to you?’

Well, I exaggerated a little here, but the ass refused to move further for fear of his own life and spoke up in his own defense.

Suffice it to say, Balaam argued with the ass and at the end of their discourse, the angel appeared and told him that the ass saved his life. Balaam went on to confess his disobedience and completed the task God had before him. He went to king Balak and blessed his enemies as God had commanded him to do. He lost out on the high paying job and the perks, but he pleased God.

The moral of the story is.., never argue with an ass. He might be trying to save your life. Read it for yourself. It is in the Bible.

1%

Our Favorite 1 Percent
Think of the U.S. military as the Other 1%

Keturah is back home. Actually she is in Fort Dix New Jersey, not too far away from us, but much further away from the harm we only read about in between the latest Lindsey Lohan news.

Time Magazine’s November 21st edition has an article on the military costs of this war in which it highlights this in “The Other 1%” “Never has the U.S. public been so separate, so removed from the people it pays to protect it. Over the past generation, the world’s lone superpower has created_and grown accustomed to a permanent military caste, increasingly disconnected from U.S. society, waging decade long wars in its name. Think of the U.S. military as the Other 1%, some 2.4 million troops have fought in and around Afghanistan and Iraq since 9/11, exactly 1% of the 240 million Americans over 18. If you remove those who are unlikely to serve because they are too fat or too criminal or in college, only 15% of Americans ages 17-24 are eligible to sign up.”

Keturah has proven herself as one of that other 1%. She went through rigorous mental, physical, psychological and spiritual conditioning. She would write and call us from her base and was frequently interrupted by shouts of ‘incoming’ at which time her voice would and face would disappear from the computer screen or telephone. She would call at odd hours of the night, from a barracks that was pitch black as our mid daytime was her early morning hours. She would whisper. She would assure us she was doing well. She would tell me of her reading her Bible devotions My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. She would send text messages of how she missed and loved us. Our favorite 1 percent is back home and we will soon be reunited as a family with her.

Time magazine goes on to say much of our thanks we give them, free meals at restaurants, front of the line boarding on airlines is a true thank you. That is ‘thank you for doing what I am afraid to or unwilling to commit myself to do.’

Welcome home PFC Keturah Ruth Johnson. We thank God for her protection. We pray for the remaining portion of the valiant 1%.

Unfriend it and End it: Progressive Relationships

After almost 35 years of marriage, I am amazed that my wife has not unfriended me yet. I have given her plenty of reason to do so. She could just unfriend it and end it.

The electronic age has radically changed the ease of ignoring others, including an ever increasing rapidity of meltdown in relationships. We are now able to completely dissolve relationships without even meeting people face to face. We just delete them from our computer screens, our minds, and hearts. That is efficiency! That is progress.

I thank God that He does not work that way. After 59 years of life, I have given Him plenty of reasons to unfriend it and end it. But He does not work that way. There is no body on God’s ‘I am not speaking to you’ list. In fact, God just keeps on talking to me, even when I completely ignore Him.

One way He makes sure to do this is He keeps waking me up in the morning, showering me with health and all of the necessities of life, including many of the gravy items. This is where the wife comes in. God has chosen to take up residence in my wife and use her to show His love for me in the many ways she forgives and forgets. She refuses to unfriend and end. So does God.

Even though they both have good reason to unfriend me, they refuse to do so, I have given them even better ammunition moment by moment from the past to the present and even future. But they don’t. God does call me friend, and He refuses to end it.

John 15:15: Henceforth I CALL YOU not servants; for the servant knows not what his lord does: but I have called YOU friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.

Give Us This Day Our Monthly Bread: The Lethality of My Luxury

I accumulate things and give God an honorable mention (a shout out to Jesus as it were) as I sit at the table overflowing with food and beverage, much of which I will store in my refrigerator just long enough to let it mold, or go stale. I don’t even have a dog to give it to nowadays. That in summary is the lethality of my luxury.

Pastor Al Jackson of Lakeview Baptist Church, Auburn Alabama sums up the American culture in one word. MORE. Whatever we have, we just want MORE! In this sermon series, my brother is speaking on living as counter cultural Christians. I am not sure I am ready for it. I must admit, I am part of that culture and it seems impossible to escape from some of the clear examples he sets forth. I live in a house with my wife. Just the two of us live in a house big enough to accommodate several families anywhere else in the world, including families here in our home nation. As I count the pairs of shoes I must stuff into the shoe container, the number of Tee shirts into my bottom drawer, I think to myself, I need bigger containers and dresser drawers. Well, maybe I really don’t. Pastor Jackson goes on to quote C.S. Lewis ”I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare…If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us,… they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditures excludes them.”

What a radical way to think. You mean I should deny myself so that others can have? Where is my comfort level in that? There is lethality in our luxury as Americans. We have come to accept that having the access to excess is success. We believe that we are entitled to have more because we are in a nation and world that takes greater pride in having than giving. We exalt the people who exhibit their wealth by what they have rather than what they give away. When someone does give something away, it is rarely done privately or without great fanfare, and even less rarely without a tax receipt. I keep very close track of my charitable giving.

There is lethality in this luxury. What dies is our ability to sacrifice. What dies is our desire to do without excess so that others can have just plain access. I will overeat and not think twice about throwing away the scraps I leave behind. It does not matter that I overindulge in eating, or drinking. What really matters is that I am able to make a lot of money to spend on things I don’t really need to impress people who don’t really care, or maybe even jealous. That may be what I want after all.

The lethality of luxury is that my heart grows cold to the heart of what God is telling me. Pastor Jackson quotes Proverbs 30:8-9 ….,give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me:

9 Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain. The lethality is that I would deny God and become so enamored with my wealth that I forget the source of my wealth. When I forget the source of my wealth, I start to die.

The lethality of not giving thanks for the carbonated beverage is that I begin to take the availability of water for granted. The lethality of not giving thanks for a warm place to sleep is that I neglect to give thanks for being allowed to awaken the next morning. I take God for granted and that is lethal. The prophet wrote in Ecclesiastes 1:8 All things [are] full of labor: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.

We find ourselves wanting more, expecting more, telling ourselves we are entitled to more because after all, it is there and we either earned it, or deserve it. Our eyes are never satisfied, our hunger increases and as a result our bodies adapt to encourage our appetites. We want constant entertainment, constant food, constant communication and it must all be in the color and quantity we want (thank you Jesus).

We no longer pray; ‘Give us this day our daily bread’, rather Give us this day our monthly bread. Assure us this month everything we could possibly desire will happen as we want it when we want it. This is lethal luxury. It is evident in our increasing Body Mass Index (Indices) as Americans grow bigger and bigger.

God forgive me for wanting more of it, than wanting more of you. God forgive me for this lethal luxury.