Thursday, February 25, 2010

What I Did for a Cup of Coffee

My wife and I arrived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Our plane was delayed by about 45 minutes because the snow was coming down in large amounts. We circled the airport as they removed snow from the runway. As we landed, I looked out the window, but I couldn't see anything but WHITE. It was a white out like I haven't experienced (I am from Long Beach, Ca. and Phoenix, Az.). The snow continued to come down, down, down.
We gathered up our luggage, made a phone call to be picked up and walked outside. Snowflakes the size of quarters were falling and floating. We took pictures, send text messages to our family and friends, posted on Twitter and Facebook and laughed. The stretch limo picked us up and we felt like rock stars but in fact, we were in Zion, Illinois because my wife has breast cancer and the Cancer Treatment Center of America picks up all their patients in limos which is very cool. We had the limo to ourselves and began what is usually a 45 minute drive to our hotel. The drive was smooth but it took us 1.5 hours because of the snow. At one point, the driver had to stop because he could not see the road due to an extreme amount of snow. We certainly were not in Phoenix anymore!
We got to our hotel room, settled in, called Pizza House and ordered a great thin crust Pizza House Special, watched American Idol and the Winter Olympics. We slept well and woke up to about 8 inches of fresh snow on the ground. I got up, went down to the work out room, speed walked for about 30 minutes while I watched Fox and Friends. After showering and getting ready to head to the hospital, it hit me. I remembered (actually I was looking forward) that I had the BEST cup of coffee EVER when we were here a couple of weeks ago.
The best cup of coffee EVER was enjoyed at It's All Good coffee house in Zion, Illinois. I just had to have another cup of that GREAT coffee. So Debbie headed off for the hospital via the shuttle bus and I put on my muffler (it goes around your neck not under your car - that is for all of my Arizona readers :-), my ear muffs, my beanie and my gloves. I headed out for It's All Good.
It's All Good is about 3/4 of a mile away from our hotel and about 1/2 mile away from the hospital. The weather was about 18ยบ and sunny and remember, there is about 8 inches of fresh snow on the ground. So, for a cup of coffee (the BEST coffee), I trudged in the snow for about 20 minutes one way. If you paid close attention to what I was wearing, what I didn't tell you about was my shoes - which actually should be boots when one walks in 8 inches of snow for very long, but I had on shoes.
As I headed out for the walk, I suddenly realized that the snow was over my ankles and it was finding it's way into my shoes causing my feet to get wet and cold. After about 100 paces, I began to think that I should head back to the hotel and take the shuttle to the hospital. I kept trying to talk myself out of how WONDERFUL the coffee was. I would say to myself, no coffee is worth that much effort or exposure to the elements. But the BEST coffee kept calling me so I kept walking. I walked past people shoveling snow in front of their place of business. Noticeably absent was anyone else waking on the streets, especially with low top, slip on shoes. As my feet got colder and more wet I began to question my sanity. As I trudged forward there were portions that were deeper because the snow plow simply shot the snow from the road onto the sidewalk...what was I thinking.
Suddenly, there it was, It's All Good was there with a shoveled walkway. I could smell my reward. I stomped the snow off of my feet, walked into the store, removed my gloves and ear muffs (muffler remained) and proudly told the barista that I had come all the way from Arizona for the BEST cup of coffee I had ever had. She smiled and pointed to the wall behind her. Sure enough there was an Arizona car license plate with the words "It's All Good" on it. I smiled and felt happy that I was there. I ordered and paid for a large cup of coffee, walked over the coffee dispenser and sipped each offering. Ah, the wonderful aroma and taste filled my mouth and brought excitement to my brain. I was having a cup of the BEST coffee in the world. I choose to indulge myself in the House brew, filled my cup, put a cap on it and headed out the door with my gloves back on.
As I walked the final 1/2 mile back to the hospital, my shoes were filling with moisture from the cold snow, my toes were beginning to ache, but my mouth was full of the wonderful flavors of the BEST coffee ever.
As I came to the end of my walk, I found myself in conversation with Jesus about doing something so silly for a cup of coffee. I was so sold out to be on mission for the BEST coffee. I really wasn't in danger so much as I choose to be uncomfortable and it was a mission, an adventure. Then the question came to me; Why was I so willing to do something so adventurous, missional and uncomfortable for a cup of coffee when I don't often do adventurous, missional and uncomfortable things for Jesus?
Are you willing to be on mission, adventurous and uncomfortable for a cup of the BEST coffee? How about for Jesus?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Are You Living or Dreaming the Mission?

Living for something larger than yourself is thought to be a noble thing. The 'larger thing' is often a cause, a belief or a higher good. Most people want their life to count in strong ways and to be affiliated with something that will live beyond their funeral. If we are honest, for most people, the idea of living for something larger than themselves remains an idea, a dream and just before their funeral, it becomes a regret; "If I would have only...". How many times have we thought about venturing out on mission for a cause, a belief or a higher good and haven't?
I think most people live in too much comfort to sell out to the 'larger thing'. It takes courage to trudge out in a new direction or to throw your hat, your life and energy into the ring of a cause, belief or higher good. For many of us who live in fear, we often still hold on to the dream of living for a higher good and attempt to live them out in video games, reality shows or in our day dreams.
The Bible retells many rich stories of people who wanted to do great things and follow God, but didn't. The Bible is also full of many rich stories of those who did. There is an obscure Bible character found in 2 Samuel who wanted to do great things for God and did. He lived the adventure, but not without cost and being tempted not to. Maybe we can learn some things from Ittai the Gittite.
Ittai had just arrived in Jerusalem the day before the exile from Absalom began (2 Samuel 15:20). He had come to be part of David's kingdom when he found out about David's son, Absalom's conspiracy. As a foreigner in Jerusalem, Ittai and his family would have been safe to stay in the city and become part of Absalom's kingdom. He could have chosen the more comfortable route of safety and security. Who could have blamed him, after all, he just moved his family from a long distance and arrived the day before. They were exhausted! He could have remained and have been comfortable but instead, he chose to follow the adventure that he began, he wanted to be with King David.
As Ittai gathered up his family once again to move, he passed by David and the King asked him a question.
"Why will you also go with us? Return and remain with the king, for you are a foreigner and also an exile; return to your own place. You came only yesterday, and shall I today make you wander with us, while I go where I will? Return and take back your brothers; mercy and truth be with you." 2 Samuel 15:19-20
Ittai chose to live a life of adventure. He threw his hat into the ring of something larger than himself. He chose to align with King David no matter what the cost. He was going to live for something larger than his own comfort, dreams or advancement. Ittai was willing to give everything for the adventure of following King David.
"But Ittai answered the king and said, 'As the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, surely wherever my lord the king may be, whether for death or for life, there also your servant will be.'" 2 Samuel 15:21
Ittai was so sold out that he involved his whole family as well.
Therefore David said to Ittai, "Go and pass over." So Ittai the Gittite passed over with all his men and all the little ones who were with him. 2 Samuel 15:22
Ittai's allegiance to King David caught the King's attention. Ittai quickly proved himself and his allegiance. He rapidly became a leader for King David. He was a man on a mission and in great danger he put himself and his family at risk for the adventure that he may have always dreamt about.
David sent the people out, one third under the command of Joab, one third under the command of Abishai the son of Zeruiah, Joab's brother, and one third under the command of Ittai the Gittite." 2 Samuel 18:2
What can we learn from Ittai the Gittite? It seems as though Ittai felt he had nothing if he wasn't able to live life in the King's presence and to be on the King's mission. He was willing to die for the King. He was willing to put his family at great risk to be in the presence of the King. You may think this seems extreme but I would say it sounds exactly like what God desires for those who throw their hat in His ring. If you don't think so, click on this link and take a look at these passages from the lips of Jesus to those wishing to become His followers.
Do you desire to live for something larger than yourself, namely Jesus Christ?
Are you willing to live out His adventure for you instead of dreaming about adventure?
The cost of living the adventure is not always as dramatic as Ittai's, but it does require a heart that is willing for it to be that dramatic. Living on mission is rarely comfortable. It is fraught with potholes, ambushes and other dangerous situations. However, when we follow King Jesus, we can be assured that the destination is one that will cause us to be stronger in character and spiritual might for His glory. Your stories and legacy will go on long beyond your eulogy.
How does that sound to you?

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Spiritual Wars Part 2

8Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 1 Peter 5:8-9
11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground... Ephesians 6:11-13
If you read your New Testament close enough, you'll begin to notice verses like the two cited above in just about every letter found there. The Bible is full of warnings and stories of spiritual enemies coming against God's children. These attacks are constant and they come in both subtle and direct forms. The passage from 1 Peter 5:8-9 teach us that the devil is always on the look for spiritual prey. He is constantly prowling, roaring and looking about for believers who are not paying attention and that is when he drinks them down and devours them. Satan is good at distracting and blinding people to spiritual realities so that their faith becomes impotent instead of reproductive. As believers in Jesus Christ, we are at war and there are too many casualties.
War should never be entered into nonchalantly. We should enter war proactively and with determination. We would do well to remember that we not only have an enemy that is aggressively pursing us to harm us, but that we have weapons full of "...divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." (2 Cor. 10:4-5).
Fighting a war by yourself is silly. Many believers seem to think that they need to fight the enemy of their soul all alone. Many have been duped into thinking that their battle is private and personal. Nothing could be further from the truth.

25so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another 26And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. 27Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it. 1 Corinthians 12:25-27

When one member suffers, the whole body suffers with that one individual. Why? Because we are all part of Christ's body. When we are engaged in being attacked by our common enemy we need the love, support and strength of those believers in our spiritual communities. The Christian life was never designed to be lived alone and certainly wasn't designed to engage battles alone. Here are two representative Scriptures that speak about battling spiritual wars together.

1 This letter is from James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. I am writing to the “twelve tribes”—Jewish believers scattered abroad. Greetings! 2 Dear brothers and sisters,a]" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; "> when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. James 1:1-4

As James discusses the reality and benefit of enduring troubles when they come your way, James is addressing the community, not individuals. When you read 'you' in the verses above, they are plural, not singular. The troubles that come your way are intended to be addressed in community so that the testing of your communal faith will produce a fully developed believer. It is not possible to be a mature believer apart from trials and troubles handled well with others by your side.

31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. 32 But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31-32

In this passage from Luke, we read it and think, wait, this passage is about Simon Peter being sifted by Satan, not the community of believers being sifted. How is this spiritual war to be engaged by twelve apostles together when Jesus is speaking to Simon? Well, each of the 'you' phrases above are plural as well. It seems that Simon was representative of the whole and they were all going to be sifted in some manner for the purpose of strengthening them so in turn, they could strengthen their brothers.

War is hell and it must be fought in community. When we fight spiritual wars with others, we build a brotherhood that is strong and fully committed to one another. Just ask any athlete who has played on a team sport or a military person who has fought with a platoon of soldiers or with a short term mission team - each of them will tell you about the value of battling together for a common good. For believers, the common good is obedience to Christ. To be on mission together, fighting our common enemy and destroying his/their strongholds as we fight together.