Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"As You Wish"

Not too long ago, Tracy and I were sitting around and noticed that "The Princess Bride" was on television. Although we came in somewhere in the middle of the movie, we had to watch. What a classic - fighting rodents of unusual size, Andre the Giant, and the classic lines - "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." and "Have fun storming the castle!" I could go on and on, but I digress.

For those of you who have not seen the movie (shame on you) and those who can just use a little refresher, the basic story is a quest for true love (not to be confused with "wuv, tru wuv" which "will fowow you foweva" as the Priest says in the marriage scene). Buttercup is living in the country with her stable boy Westley whom she orders around. He responds to her demands with the simple phrase "As you wish." Over time, Buttercup comes to understand that Westley loves her and to recognize that she loves him. Their relationship is interrupted, however, when Westley is reportedly killed at sea by the Dread Pirate Roberts. Buttercup, who is now betrothed to Prince Humperdinck, is kidnapped and the kidnappers are chased by the Dread Pirate Roberts, who ultimately takes her captive himself. With the Dread Pirate Roberts now being pursued by Prince Humperdinck and his forces, Buttercup fights to escape only to find out that the Dread Pirate Roberts is her beloved Westley when he once again utters those three words "As you wish."

The movies goes on, but I want to focus on that statement of love, sacrifice, commitment, trust, faith and servanthood - "As you wish." I thought about this when reading the gospel of Matthew recently. Multiple times Jesus says something similar. As an example, at Gethsemane, where Jesus went with his disciples after the Last Supper, twice he walked off alone to pray. The first time, knowing that he was going to be arrested, betrayed and crucified, and "overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death" Jesus prayed: "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." Matthew 26:38-39 (NIV, emphasis mine). Then, just a little bit later, Jesus prays: "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done." Matthew 26:42 (NIV, emphasis mine).

There are a lot of remarkable things about these exhortations, starting with the fact that Jesus is so fully God in human form that he is even making them. Like you and me, Jesus asked for a way out - "if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me." I find that remarkable. A whole theology is in that point.

But what I am focusing on here is the rest of what Jesus says and does. He submits to the will of God. "Yet not as I will, but as you will." "[M]ay your will be done."

That is a hard one. Talk about putting your faith where your mouth is. I know that I talk about wanting to follow God's will and wanting to let His will be done. I even pray "Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven." But still, when I am praying, when I am talking to God about what concerns me, about what I hope happens, about what I want, about what I fear, I rarely remember to say "may your will be done" or "as You wish." Since I have been focusing on this the last few weeks, I have really noticed its absence in my prayers. Even in mid-prayer I have paused and thought about it. Wondering if I really have the strength to say, and mean - "God, these are my problems, this is what I want" and then add "but more than that, I want what you want." Being able to say, and to mean, "as you wish" means having reached a place of love, sacrifice, commitment, trust, faith and servanthood. It means acknowledging that I am not in control. It means telling God that I know that He will take care of me and that, if it is His will, I will do anything and can go through anything.

I have found that thinking about this point and incorporating it into my discussions with God makes a big difference. If you already do this, that is great. If you don't, give it a try for a while and see if you feel different afterwards.

* * *

Sorry that it has been so long between posts. It is not that I haven't been thinking, I have just been distracted and haven't been writing. I'll get back to it.

I also can't figure out why the dates get messed up. I guess that is what I get for starting a draft to make notes for myself . . . .


I have heard a number of times that it can be very dangerous to approach someone who is drowning. Apparently they struggle and fight and in the process can injure their rescuer or even push them under water. The survival instinct kicks in and they don't even know what they are doing.

I thought about this the other day when I was listening to the song "By Your Side" by Tenth Avenue North. There are some pretty serious lyrics in the song that can really send me thinking - things like "why are you trying to earn grace" and "why are you still searching as if I'm not enough" (I mean, whoa, both of those are talking directly to me) - but it is the chorus that recently has caught my attention:

And I'll be by your side
Wherever you fall
In the dead of night
Whenever you call
And please don't fight
These hands that are holding you
My hands are holding you

I suspect that I probably fight God's hands at least as often as I reach out to hold them. In times of struggle, or confusion, or fear, a survival instinct kicks in. I thrash about. I desperately search for something to grab hold of. Like a drowning victim, rather than seeing the hands of my rescuer and relaxing and letting myself be saved, I fight.

Thankfully, it isn't possible to push God under, or to hurt Him in the struggle. God walks on the water that I am drowning in. And despite my struggling, His hands reach out and lift me up. Although I say that I know that God is by my side and there for me at all times, although I say that I know that He will always answer my calls for help, in those times I still fight the hands that are holding me. Rather than remembering that my Saviour is there, I forget. Sometimes along the way I remember the way out. But often it is not until someone reminds me, or I just can't fight any longer and give in, that I stop fighting.

I know some people that go through life not just saying that God is there for them, but living it and knowing it, every single second. It is not that bad things do not happen to them, or that they do not struggle, it is that even in the midst of those times they do not thrash about - they calmly reach out. I long for that. I feel that I have come a long way, but sometimes I am like Peter.

"Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water."
"Come," he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!"
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?"
Matthew 14:28-31 (NIV)

That is me. I test like Peter - "if it's really you God, then . . . ." When I hear the answer, I can feel so brave and confident and full of faith that I step out of the boat and begin to walk towards Jesus. But, when it gets scary out there I doubt and begin to sink.

So, all this just for me to admit to myself (and psuedo-publicly to those who read these posts) that I still have a long way to go. And it is not that God has anything to show me, or to prove to me - He has already done all of that. This is on me. I'll keep on working at it.

Monday, February 16, 2009


The title of this post does not relate to the Bob Marley song (though you should definitely check out the lyrics sometime - some good work in there). Instead, not surprisingly, it relates to the second book of the Bible; as in Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt. I've been studying Exodus lately and it has given me lots of things to think about.

What I am focused on today has to do with the example of faith found in Exodus. Or, more accurately phrased perhaps, the fact that I can identify so clearly with the examples of people questioning their faith that are found in Exodus. Starting at the top, Moses speaks with God in the form of the burning bush. God calls Moses by name and tells him that he is being sent to Pharaoh to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. I don't know about you, but I have never had an experience like that. I have experienced God acting directly in my life and God directing me, but I have never had an actual out loud conversation with God in the form of a burning bush calling me by name and telling me what I was going to do. That would be a pretty powerful experience. But what does Moses do? He questions. Multiple times. Essentially saying something along the lines of "Sorry God, you've got the wrong guy."

Later in the book, God sends the plagues on Egypt and spares the Israelites until Pharaoh agrees that they may leave and the other Egyptians give them silver, gold and clothing on their way out of the country. But, despite these miracles, as soon as Pharaoh and his troops ride up the Israelites cry out - "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? . . . It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!" Exodus 14:11-12 (NIV). Of course, we all know what happens, God provides the miracle of parting the Red Sea and then crushing Pharaoh and his army when they attempt to follow.

Three days later, when they have not been able to find water, the people cry out again - "What are we to drink?" Exodus 15:24. Again, the Lord answers and provides the means to obtaining drinkable water.

Later, as hunger sits in, the people again cry out - "If only we had died by the Lord's hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death." Exodus 16:3. Again, God answers and provides quail and manna.

It goes on and on, but I think the point is made. Despite the nearly continuous miracles, despite needs being provided for, despite direct communications from God, Moses and the others doubted, questioned, challenged. Each time things got hard, they assumed that God had abandoned them. They forgot the miracles that they already had experienced and were living.

I think we do the same thing - or at least I do the same thing. In the midst of a downturn in the financial market, or concerns about job stability, or the fear of not fully understanding the plan for our lives, we start questioning. I have explained to people before (perhaps here, forgive me if I repeat myself) that I am apt to say something along the lines of "OK God - where are you? I thought we had a deal. I worship you, give thanks, request forgiveness and accept your grace (ok, that can be a difficult one, but that is for another time), why aren't you taking care of me in the way that I think I should be taken care of?"

Frankly, it is easy to forget the miracles in our lives. The whole reason that we take things for granted is that we take them for granted! We don't even see them until they are gone. Since returning from my most recent trip to Kenya, I have noticed some of those things a little bit more.

Here we turn a faucet and get clean, drinkable water - but get frustrated when it takes a while for the water to warm up for our morning shower. Where we were in Kenya they hike to the river or a nearby well and haul water by hand (and we avoided drinking even that water). If they are lucky they may be able to collect rain water to drink. Warm water for bathing (by that I mean water heated over a fire or a gas burner) is an incredible luxury.

Here we reach into the refrigerator to look for a snack or a drink and grumble about our choices. Where we were in Kenya there is no such thing as a refrigerator.

Here when it is hot we turn on air conditioning, or a fan. When it is cold we turn on the heat. Where we were there is no such thing as a thermostat.

I could go on and on and on. But, again, I think the point is made. Things that we take for granted and never even really think about are things that people in the area where we are working could hardly even imagine. Yet, we forget about these provisions that have been given to us.

I have had this feeling before, and I am sad to report that it goes away too quickly. But, it is one of the reasons that I get so much out of the mission work that I have had an opportunity to be a part of. Getting that perspective back is one of the reasons that I try to go as often as I can, and one of the reasons that I have pictures in my well appointed office in DC to remind me, and so that I can try to share it with others.

So, even though there is a long history of it happening, and even though God is definitely used to it, for today let's try not to forget those miracles and try not to look beyond all the ways that God is working our lives. For one day, in the midst of everything else that is going on, let's try to notice them instead.

Personal Privilege

I very rarely invoke personal privilege here to just post something. But, I have to today. Yesterday was February 15, 2009. The day after Valentine's Day.

Also the date of my first "date" with my wife. If you can really call it a date. We were working at Hechinger's ("The World's Most Unusual Lumber Store") at the time. It was a Saturday. We worked closing and would have gotten off of work sometime around 10 pm (if I remember correctly). Since there was nothing else to do at 10 pm, we went to McDonald's. And got french fries. And ate them sitting in the car in the Hechinger parking lot while some other employees played music on their car stereo. Very romantic.

It was 1986. Twenty-three wonderful years ago yesterday. It would be a lie to say that every day has been perfect since then. It has been twenty-three years. Of course we have had our fights and our down times. But, those are almost non-existent in comparison. The important part is that we have been together and it has been wonderful, miraculous, and awesome. Every now and again I reflect on how incredibly lucky I am that I found my partner for life when I was 16, and that I already have had the pleasure of spending well more than half of my life with her. We have really grown into adulthood together, been through so many things, shared so many successes. Much more than my wife, Tracy is my confidant, the person that I can lean on and my best friend. The person that I want to share everything with.

At least a thousand times I have asked myself what I did to possibly deserve the gift of being with Tracy. I've never been able to come up with an answer that comes close, and I don't think that I ever will. But I thank God for that miracle.

So, although I personally think Valentine's Day is kind of a Hallmark/Flower Industry made holiday, February 15 is not. For me it is a reminder of one of the most significant miracles of my life. We did nothing special to celebrate yesterday. In fact, neither of us even mentioned it to the other (although I thought about it multiple times). Instead, we just went about our usual hectic, crazy, project infested and love filled life. And it was beautiful to me because we did it together, relying on and supporting each other. Not out of commitment or forced celebration or duty; but out of friendship, respect and love.

I don't acknowledge Tracy's importance in my life nearly enough - and I almost never mention her here. I'm not even really going to attempt to do that now. But for some reason sitting here in my office right now, I just wanted to share this little bit with whoever may be reading this.

Back to my regularly scheduled commentary soon.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


This is a post that I have been thinking about and struggling with for some time. We will see how it comes out.

Lately I have been intrigued by the concept of independence. To at least a certain extent, we all want it. Wars are caused by the quest for it. Kids fight with their parents to get more of it. And, amazingly, God gave it to us. Although God created man in his own image (Genesis 1:27), He gave us the power to make our own decisions and to chart our own course. He could have created man with a mind only to worship Him, never to question, never to wander, never to sin.

But, He didn't. From the beginning - despite knowing what would come of it - God gave man the power to chart his own course. He told Adam not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17), but God gave him the power to do so.

Let's make it a little more personal, since that is how I have been thinking of it. God could have made me love Him with all my heart. God could have prevented me from challenging and denying. But, He didn't. Instead, God gave me the independence to make up my own mind. To accept His unconditional love or to ignore it. Or, worse yet, to deny it. It is like the old poster that said something like - "If you love something set it free. If it comes back to you, it is yours forever. If it doesn't, then it was never meant to be." God sets us free and lets us come back to Him. Although He wants us to run to His arms, He doesn't force it. An amazing gift.

But, the more I grow in my faith, the further I progress on this walk, the less I want that independence. I pray that God will lead me. I pray that God will direct me. I pray that God will use me. Rather than wanting to make my own decisions about where I am going, what I am doing, where I am heading, I want to do His will. The image of a puppet is probably too strong, but it is what has been working for me. Most of my life I wanted to cut as many strings as possible so that no one or no thing were controlling me. In fact, I was afraid of being controlled. Now, though, I have reached a place where I find myself trying to tie those strings so that I can feel that pull. So that I can be moved. So that I can be controlled by the hands of God.

It is funny that as I have come to understand the independence that was given to me, I want less of it, not more.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


While we were driving to Sakwa last week, night fell and it started to rain - hard. To understand what this means, you have to have a sense of Sakwa and the "roads" that lead there.

Sakwa is on the western side of Kenya - towards Lake Victoria. I do not expect you to know where Sakwa is. It is the kind of place that is unknown even to people that live in the area - kind of like Independent Hill or Nokesville, where I grew up in. Sakwa is about a six to seven hour drive from Nairobi. It is about four hours from Nakuru. I know these landmarks mean little to most people, but unless you are familiar with Nyamira, or Eldoret, or Magwagwa, it is probably the best that I can do.

To give you a better sense, Sakwa is about 9 kilometers (over 5.5 miles) past the end of the last "paved" road. There are no street lights, or any other kind of lights along the side of the road. And the road is not what we would exactly call a road. It is more of a wide path that has been torn up by cars and trucks trying to make their way through. Holes the size of serving trays and bumps the size of curbs define the road. Pits the size of coffee tables and bumps like small trees are not at all unusual. Then there are the occasional caverns waiting to swallow a small vehicle and bumps that are so big that you hit your head on the roof of the car.

Anyway, back to the story. We are driving these roads at night, in the pouring rain. The rain turns the road to nothing but mud, as slick as ice. Even in our four wheel drive loaded down with four passengers and a ton of supplies, we slid back and forth making our way to the destination.

Things were going great, and we were probably getting over confident. That is when it happened. Walking distance from our destination, the truck started to slide in a curve going up hill. Before anyone could even think about it, we are off the road and stuck.

Midnight or so. In Sakwa. In the rain. Stuck.

The vehicle was not going to go anywhere without a crew to push it and some small trees coming down. We called the other truck (there is cell coverage absolutely everywhere in Kenya) and told them. They walked back with flashlights and helped assess the situation - quickly agreeing that we were going to need more people and someone to cut us out. I voted that we just leave the truck there until the morning, walk the short distance to where we were staying and take care of it the next day when there would be light and it may have stopped raining.

Instead, a phone call was made. Within minutes a crew of five or six people and a machete arrived. After half an hour or so of chopping, pushing, pulling and falling in the mud (I tripped Pastor Robert first, but he got even by tripping me later), the truck was out. We walked up the hill wet, muddy and tired, but satisfied that a group had worked together to get things moving again. Amazingly, the next morning we saw that the truck had a few small scratches, but nothing major, no dents and very little damage overall.

Thinking about it all again, I see this as an example of God's desire that we live in community; that we rely on each other and come to each other's aid. When we get stuck, literally or spiritually, we need to be able to call on others to come to support us and come to our aid. Things may be going great on our own, then we hit a curve or a bump and slide out of control. It happens to everyone. Sometimes we need help removing whatever barrier is preventing us from moving forward in our relationship with God. We can't do it on our own.

There are many Biblical passages focusing on how we should support one another. The one that speaks to me most directly this morning is:

"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching." Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV)

I hope that everyone reading this has those people that they can call on when they are stuck and need the help to move forward. More importantly, I hope that everyone reading this (and frankly, the person writing this) is one of those people for others.