Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Responding to Poverty

Many years ago, when I was still in high school, I had the opportunity to travel to Haiti with a group from my church. It was my first encounter with extreme poverty and it profoundly impacted the course of my life. In my present line of work I often encounter poor people as well. On a recent trip we passed through many remote villages where people live much as their ancestors probably lived 100 years ago or more. Driving through one such village I saw two young girls squatting by the side of the road. Their clothes and faces were dirty and my heart was moved with compassion for them. I try to imagine what it must be like for them. Do they have any hope for the future? Do they have any hope for eternity? How I would love to take them under my wing and offer them a better life.

At moments like these I return to one of the issues I have wrestled with throughout my life. What can one person do in the face of such conditions? What can I do? I cannot lift everyone in this country out of poverty. I cannot even deliver the fundamental message of hope to all of them. At times the immensity of the need overwhelms me and I am tempted to throw up my hands in despair.

Even if I had the resources, would it be truly beneficial for me to just give to everyone I see who is in need? Or by doing so am I perpetuating their poverty and instilling an attitude of dependency? In talking with a good friend about this recently, she mentioned a woman she knows who, despite being a believer, has developed this type of attitude. She expects that others will give her whatever she lacks and regularly makes requests for things. Surely this is not a healthy situation. At the same time I don't think we can just turn our backs. Scripture makes it quite clear that merely offering words of comfort counts for nothing. As James wrote:

"Suppose you see a brother or sister who needs food or clothing, and you say, 'Well, good-bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat well'--but then you don't give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?"

And through the prophet Isaiah God said:

"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter--
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?"

I want to take these words seriously, but I am overwhelmed by the immensity of the task. I could give away everything I have and still not begin to reduce the need around me. So what does God ask of me? I am learning to seek his voice every time a situation for giving presents itself. I am trying to walk in the Spirit, seeking to give freely as he leads but not feeling like I must meet every need around me. But I do want to learn to give more and more freely, not trying to determine from my own perspective whether the recipient is "worthy" or not, but simply to listen to the direction of the Spirit. Even after all these years I feel I still have so much to learn in this area. I don't think there is a simple answer or a convenient set of guidelines that one can refer to. But maybe this is part of what I am supposed to gain in the process--to learn to walk step by step with God and let him direct my actions.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Words of Wisdom

I was listening to some of my favorite music this evening and these words resonated in my mind, as they always do when I listen to this song:

Reject the worldly lie that says
That life lies always up ahead.
Let power go
Before control
Becomes a crust around your soul.
Forsake the hunger to possess
And soul-diminishing success
This world is full of narrow lies
I pray by grace your smile survives.

from the song Sunshine of Your Smile by Michael Card

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Establishing a Routine

I think most people prefer to have some type of routine to their lives. I certainly do. While I like some variety, I need a certain stability to my life, a pattern around which to organize my time and activities. Without this I feel lost and without focus and my time and energy seems to dissipate with limited effect. This in turn frustrates me.

The last month or two our family has lacked any rhythm to our lives. Summer itself is hard enough, when the children are out of school and lose that familiar (if not particularly favored) routine. On top of that we disrupted our lives for several weeks as we packed up to move, all the while undergoing the uncertainty of not knowing for sure if and when we would leave. Finding out that we were indeed going didn't really remove the basic issue of lack of routine. If anything it only worsened it.

After arriving in our new old home we spent the first week scrubbing, cleaning and shopping, trying to get our house in order. That was followed by a week of scrubbing, cleaning and trying to get the kid's school in order. Still no routine. Some days went more smoothly than others, but the lack of a rhythm to our life definitely made itself felt.

Finally this week the kids began school again. I won't pretend that they are excited about this, but I sure am. With the beginning of school we begin to reestablish some pattern to our lives. We have more pieces to pull together, but this first piece helps significantly. Even though the children won't admit it, I firmly believe that they will also benefit from having a routine to their days. No longer will they pass their time aimlessly, playing video games, reading books and telling us how bored they are. They will still have plenty of free time, but not so much that they cannot fill it. Being at school also gives them more opportunity to interact with other children--an outlet they definitely need.

Routine can be a good thing. Without it we lack boundaries. We lack a framework around which to structure our lives. Admittedly routine can become deadening and restrictive as well and I don't want to go that far with it. But somewhere in the middle there is a healthy balance. We've been way out on one end of the scale. It's good to be moving back toward the center.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

His Incomparably Great Power

This morning I was reading from Paul’s words to the Ephesians. In the first chapter starting with verse 17 he shares with them what he prays for on their behalf. The final item in his list is this:

“I pray also that the eyes of your may be enlightened in order that you may know…his incomparably great power for us who believe.”

His further description of this power particularly caught my eye. He continues:

“That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead.”

So Paul is praying that the Ephesians will know the same type of power that God used to raise Jesus from the dead. That would be some incredible power. No wonder he refers to it as “incomparably great.” As I reflected on this I realized that I do not pray in this manner. I do not pray that God will demonstrate his power in my life or the lives of those around me to this degree. I think I have come to expect God to work in small, quiet ways, which he often does. But I don’t look for him to demonstrate the kind of power he showed in the resurrection. But why shouldn’t I pray this way? Paul certainly felt no hesitation to pray this for the Ephesian believers and we can use that same outpouring of his power today as much as they could then.

In my prayers in the coming weeks I want to focus on the things Paul asks for here and pray them specifically for certain individuals and situations. I like it when God points me to specific ways to pray like this. But even more I feel recharged in this reminder that I can pray for God to help me and others know his amazing, incomparable power in the midst of our lives now. What might God do if we pray like this, expecting him to answer such prayers?

P.S. I was able to replace the door knob yesterday and I think I got the light switch working this evening. Yahoo!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Frustrated or, What is My Measure of Success?

I didn't get my workout in this morning. I intended to wake up at 6:30 and do it, but when the alarm went off, I just shut it off and rolled back over. I felt so tired after a long evening and night battling some severe sinus allergies. When I did finally get up I hit the ground running. I had a goal of replacing our front door handle and lock. This required a trip to one of the bazaars. The best bazaar for this type of item is located a long way from the house, so I chose one that is closer, hoping it would have what I needed. I found one man selling a set that looked like it might work, so I bought it and returned to the school, where Sharilyn was helping to clean and prepare for the new school year, which begins next week.

After joining our two new teachers and one of our friends for lunch, I returned home and tried installing the lock I had bought. No success. The holes for the key and the bolts that secure it when locked don't line up with the existing holes in the door. At moments like these I wish I were more handy with tools. Of course it would help if I actually had the right tools available, which I don't. After considering various options, I called a friend and asked him to come by sometime and take a look at it with me. The small victory here for me was admitting I need help and asking for it.

I also wanted to get our newsletter written today. I had started this yesterday and left it last night when I couldn't get the software to do what I wanted. That, combined with my allergies, made me quite irritable yesterday evening. My family bore the brunt of this, though they did not deserve it. Picking up the project again today at first it seemed that I would meet with continued frustration. But after taking a break for a while, I finally figured out where my problem lie. After correcting it, I produced the document I had been working at for so long. So at least I can finish the day feeling like I accomplished something.

In the midst of these two projects I decided to tackle another job I had been hoping to give to a man I know. But he is out of town and I decided it might be something I could handle. I need to figure out why one of our light switches does not work. So I disassembled the old switch, looked at the wiring and attached it all to a new switch I had bought at the market. No success. Lacking much knowledge of electrical circuits, I am out of ideas. So another project goes on hold until I can get the help I need.

Like most Americans I measure my value by how much I accomplish in a given period of time. I feel good if, when I lay down to sleep, I know I have completed some task or at least made acceptable progress on it. While there's nothing wrong with being productive, does this truly mark the measure of our worth? Probably the most truly productive part of my day was the time I spent in conversation with the Father this morning before I rose from bed. Father, help me to value my days correctly, investing my time and energy in those things that you desire, without neglecting the necessary activities of life. Help me to not be frustrated when my to-do list only grows longer through the course of the day. Help me to rest peacefully in you each evening, even when the day has not gone well.