a simple walk.

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Augustine of Hippo once opined, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page” (Slimbach, 2010).

Traveling is emotionally and conceptually romantic.  It embraces all senses on a road to discovery, not just of a place, but also of self.  Travel in essence, then, is education.  I know, personally, travel has often led to formative experiences that have challenged me intellectually, academically, and spiritually.

One such occasion was five years ago when I lived a month in Mongu, Zambia with my cousins who are third generation missionaries.  Thirteen hours from the nearest city, I found myself living on the Zambezi flood plain near a rural village of mud huts with limited access to electricity or fresh water.

With the intentions to serve the community, I found myself engaged with the local children, many of whom were orphans.  These children were partially clothed with tattered and scruffy attire that had been discarded by Americans.  Most did not even own a pair of shoes.  But despite their lack of materials, the children adorned precious and contagious smiles that resounded with gratitude each time a need was met.

In Running for My Life, Lopez Lomong indubitably expressed how each day was a story of survival, much like the story of the children I interacted with in Zambia, as he, too, fought for basic human essentials – food, water, and shelter.  “Even with pooling our rations,” Lopez describes, “we only had enough grain for one meal a day. Six days a week we ate our meal in the middle of the night. That way, we were the hungriest when we needed our strength the least” (2012).

In an effort to replicate a small piece of what life would be like in a refugee camp, I chose to abstain from using personal transportation on Saturday, May 3, 2014.  Instead of using my car during a 24-hour period, I decided to utilize public transportation, a bicycle, and my own two feet to complete my daily tasks.

One anecdote that stands out from this experience was when I realized that the date I established to forgo my automobile was also the day I was set to graduate.  Instead of riding my bicycle to the ceremony though, I decided it would be most realistic to walk.  So I packed my graduation outfit, including my cap and gown, and walked more than an hour to my destination.

In reflection, it was certainly a sobering and refreshing practice.  I never contemplated how a lack of personal transportation binds oneself to a small geographic region.  My entire life I had been used to traveling from one side of my city to the other at my leisure, whether meeting friends for a movie, studying at Starbucks, or heading to the beach.  Instead, if I had been confined to merely my walking shoes, I wonder if I would even know what the other side of the city looked like.

The simplicity of going a day without personal transportation was revolutionary both in my life and to my thought process.  This is one reason I am excited that Cornerstone University’s incoming students will participate in a similar exercise.  Many of us will never experience the harsh realities and arduous difficulties of living years inside a refugee camp, but my hope is that this experiment revolutionizes this generation, one heart at a time, to live a life empathetic to the needs around them.  Furthermore, I expect this practice to embolden a class of Christ-followers to relinquish apathy and pursue a deeper compassion for the plight of the hungry, sick, and downtrodden through further exploration of the issues. Living a day in the life of a refugee should only be the beginning of a lifelong endeavor.

References:

Lomong, L., & Tabb, M. A. (2012). Running for my life: one lost boy’s journey from the
killing fields of Sudan to the Olympic Games. Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson.

Slimbach, R. (2010). Becoming world wise a guide to global learning. Sterling, Va.: Stylus Pub., LLC.

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let that be enough.

My excuse for ignoring this blog is that my life has been consumed with grad school. Now all that remains before graduation is one measly paper. But in an effort to ignore my remaining responsibilities, I return to this blog.  

To be honest, I should have continued blogging regularly, especially during this last month. It was not but a few days ago that I returned from another trip abroad. In summary, I traveled to 5 countries (bringing my official international tally to 31 countries visited), I was on 14 flights (for a total of 75 hours in the air), and I changed time zones 10 times (my body still hates me). Though I rarely slept, the journey was incredible. Between the people, the culture, and the challenges it was an adventure for the senses, and also for the soul. 

But tonight I have no desire to detail my experiences abroad. Instead I want to express a heart of discouragement, a heart asking the question of Psalm 42:11,  “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?”

There are many apparent responses I could give as to why it has been a discouraging period in life. For example, there has been a friend in my life who has been making poor decisions that are having hurtful and negative affects. Despite any advice or love I offer, or any consequences they face, I continue to witness a hardening heart.

Another example would be watching a friend struggle through major medical issues, which are a direct consequence of a former eating disorder. Months of my life were once dominated with hospital visits in support of this person I loved. Now life is hanging on a string.

Beyond these challenges, work has been a bit overwhelming. I have long consumed my life with what I do. Maybe partly to ignore shadows in my past, but mostly because I give everything within me to the commitments I make. I have certainly been increasingly successful, and my superiors would echo that sentiment with enthusiasm, but I am yet disheartened because the fruits of my labor have not been as ripe as I anticipated.

Though I could continue to bullet point item after item that is weighing on my soul, I feel that I am most disheartened by the lack of people around me continuing to follow Jesus and seeking righteousness. Don’t misunderstand me. I know that none of us is perfect. I know that I am far from perfection. And I think there is something beautiful about Jesus taking our imperfections and loving us still, loving me despite all of my inadequacies. But today the emotion overwhelmed me. I feel utterly saddened by a world so lost, by a world filling their empty void with girl after boy, a world that spits in the face of anything good. 

Though I do not have answers yet to the emotion welling inside me, I am thankful that Psalm 42:11 does not end with a question. Instead it concludes with a certainty: “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” Let that be enough.

“He awoke each morning with the desire to do right, to be a good and meaningful person, to be, as simple as it sounded and as impossible as it actually was, happy. And during the course of each day his heart would descend from his chest into his stomach. By early afternoon he was overcome by the feeling that nothing was right, or nothing was right for him, and by the desire to be alone. By evening he was fulfilled: alone in the magnitude of his grief, alone in his aimless guilt, alone even in his loneliness. I am not sad, he would repeat to himself over and over, I am not sad. As if he might one day convince himself. Or fool himself. Or convince others–the only thing worse than being sad is for others to know that you are sad. I am not sad. I am not sad. Because his life had unlimited potential for happiness, insofar as it was an empty white room. He would fall asleep with his heart at the foot of his bed, like some domesticated animal that was no part of him at all. And each morning he would wake with it again in the cupboard of his rib cage, having become a little heavier, a little weaker, but still pumping. And by the midafternoon he was again overcome with the desire to be somewhere else, someone else, someone else somewhere else. I am not sad.
― Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything is Illuminated

play me a simple song, so i can sing along.

My ecstasy is travel. It is my escape. I have a constant and intense passion to be submerged in new experiences and new culture. Always challenged, always learning. Like cherry blossoms in spring, I discover the sweet aroma of new life. The new perspective brings refreshment, invigoration, and renewal. It is a revitalization that demands closeness to my Creator, my Cloud Rider.

The latest beyond borders escapade was to Guatemala. I had been to Central America before, to the beautiful country of Honduras, but this was my first journey to Gaute. This was a special trip though. My cousin Katie has been living for many months in this country as a missionary. While serving, she met a native missionary and they fell in love. I attended their wedding (which was the initial purpose of my visit), but I was intent on exploration.

Pressed for time, I flew down for an extended weekend (you know me, a life of overextension and overcommitment…but I am working on that!). Showing up roughly 45 minutes before my international flight was to take off, I arrived with just enough time to slip through security and board my plane. A short layover in Dallas put me in Guatemala on Friday evening.

After arrival, I was welcomed and greeted by a phenomenal missionary family which anticipated that I would be famished. They prepared an American meal – a delectable selection of grilled burgers, sausage, and sweet corn. We chatted of the nuptials. It was a quaint conversation. Emotion overwhelmed me in the moment and my gaze turned heavenward as I could almost taste the coming Kingdom. I savored every last bite of that delicious twinkle of time.

Saturday morning was lazy. A good lazy. After a comfortable rest I woke to the surrounding fragrance of fresh brewed Guatemalan coffee. I sat on a veranda that peered into a deep valley below, flavorful coffee resting on my tongue, caffeine awakening me from my slumber, and the Word of God speaking to my heart. Have you experienced a similar moment? Your dreams seem reality. Your life is content.

After a morning of conversation it was time for the anticipated moment. The wedding. Being in Guatemala, the wedding had a Spanish and Mayan flare. It was beautiful. A gift to the bride as it were. Of course it being completely in Spanish, it was difficult for me to understand the entire ceremony with consistent fluency, but the commitment made was moving.

But enough about the wedding (I’m a dude, not a wedding planner, so give me a break)! The remainder of the trip (two short days) was spent in fact finding mode and in fruitful discovery.

I took off for the west coast. Roads were rough and reminded me of my time in Zambia – especially when riding on the rustic country roads. Fortunately we were driving a GMC Yukon which provided excellent comfort and four-wheel capabilities to maneuver the gaping holes in the ground that could only be described as land mines! The most interesting leg of the journey was when the road ended however. To reach our destination, we had to drive our vehicle onto a wooden raft that wasn’t much larger than the Yukon in length or width. Once we negotiated the price – twenty whole bucks – we floated down river until we reached Montericco – a black sand paradise.

The beach is uniquely black because the water reduces volcanic rock to a fine grain of sand. What I loved most about this location is that it was off the beaten path. Very few tourists venture to this beach and as a result we practically had the beach to ourselves. With waves 10-15 feet tall and water warm as a bath, it was truly paradise. Once I had my fill of sand (after attempts to wave surf), I cleaned myself up at the hotel and had dinner at a local Spanish restaurant overlooking the ocean.

This restaurant, affectionately called Johnny’s Place, had an open air feel. A cool sea breeze shadowed across the sand as evening ventured in with the sun was setting over the horizon. For dinner, we chose from a plethora of authentic Spanish cuisine prepared fresh. I proudly chose beef fajitas, fashioned with homemade corn tortillas and an inviting selection of toppings: guacamole, lettuce, sour cream, jalapenos, and cheese. While waiting for the meal to be served I lounged in a netted hammock under shelter of a cabana and listened to the crashing waves.

Another solid night of sleep passed by and I said my goodbyes to the black sand paradise. It was time to explore another city. The city of Antigua. The history in this city is astounding and the view is unlike any other. Surrounded by three volcanoes, this 1700’s metropolis has a hint of European style. It had once been destroyed by an catastrophic hellish flow of lava but they have since rebuilt and it has become a city with a thriving heritage and an open invitation to tourists seeking refuge.

The afternoon was spent purchasing souvenirs – paintings, coffee, carvings, and a cigar…or two. I always purchase a painting from a local artist whenever I am abroad. I feel it is one of the most authentic representations of a particular culture one can own. Each stroke, every color is an ethnic frenzy.

For my final meal, I dined at an upscale, locally owned seafood restaurant. As the evening calmed, I had a phenomenal vantage point of the surrounding city and its volcanoes while on the second story balcony. With a fireplace that shimmered and a giant candle filled tree, it was a moment I strived to savor.

Full of conversation and laughter the night greeted me quickly. I took the last moments to visit the town square, a local coffee cafe, and a historical arch before heading back to my hotel.

It was a short trip. Too short. And while I loved my visit to Guatemala and would like to return, there are many other countries that remain on my list. I am not sure where I will end up next or for how long, but I am praying for a revelation and an invitation.

aloha.

What do you think of when you here the word, “aloha?”

Maybe you think white sandy beaches, palm trees, and a warm sea breeze. Or maybe you think of friendly greetings. When hearing the word myself, I often cherish thoughts of friendships I hold close of those I know who hale from the great state of Hawaii. But whatever you tend to think, I am sure it is a word of warmth in one way or another to each of us.

The prefix, alo, means “presence” or “face,” while the suffix, ha, means “breath of life.” Combined, this simple word takes on a humble state and purpose. It becomes a state of being. A heartfelt feeling. In fact, did you know that Hawaii actually has an aloha law? As an islander, you are to live life in an aloha state of mind. Whether you are at work, driving to the beach, or in the grocery store, Hawaiians are to live life peacefully and courteously. In essence, the word has engrained itself as the foundation of an entire culture. It is a word of influence and power.

Do you know of additional words that have had a similar influence or possibly even a greater impact? Do the words we use as individuals have an impact? An impact on our family? Our friends? Our society?

I am sure you can recount the story of creation. Genesis is clear, in the first few sentences, as to how the world was formed. “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:3). Each day, God spoke that, which wasn’t, into existence. By a simple word he commanded nothing to become something. Furthermore,”…he upholds the universe by the word of his power,” (Hebrews 1:3, emphasis added). God’s word is the breath and sustaining power of existence!

Judging from this, I think it is reasonable to argue that Scripture clearly emphasizes that words, God’s words, are power. And as imitators of the Word, implications would suggest our words do exhibit some sort of influence or power.

It’s Proverbs 18:21 that says, “the tongue has the power of life and death.” The words we choose have implications. Think back on the moments you have spent talking with a family member, a coworker, or friend. You can most likely recall words that have been used to destroy – words of death. On the flip-side, you can probably remember words of encouragement that have been shared with you – words of light. Either way it is “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” (Matthew 12:34).

And it is with this, that I am challenged. I know my heart is filthy. I know that I need to work on this area in my life. I am by no means perfect. My humanity reminds me of this reality everyday. But the Spirit convicts me that I have been given the power to overcome my fleshly default of speaking murderous words.

As you consider my words, answer me this: what did God ultimately save us from? Moreover, what did he save us for?

This week, you and I will have hundreds of conversations. Are we going to choose to use words that breath life? It is my prayer that we will.

Aloha

looking for the good life.

It has been way too long since I have last written. But alas, responsibilities and obligations of being an adult seem to give me excuse after excuse. Of course, some such excuses are legitimate. I do work a full time for Cornerstone University, one part time job [at my father’s restaurant and catering companies], and I have been steadily building a film company [Oswald Productions] for two years now. Then of course there is my love for family, friends, church, and volunteer work.

Sometimes my humanity reminds me that “even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted” [Isaiah 40:30]. But I press on. Why? Because the Spirit fills me with the promise that “those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will talk and not faint” [Isaiah 40:31]. I have tested this promise often. I have found it to be unquestionably true. And it is within those still moments where the busyness of life seems to be forgotten that the Word of the Lord fills my soul. Lately it has been through the book of Acts.

Acts is an excellent image of the birth and growth of the early church of believers. And just like any other book in Scripture, Acts is filled with comforting promises. But if any heart is open to hearing Jehovah speak, there will be piercing conviction. And it has been through the study of the life of early believers, specifically their fellowship and lifestyle, that my spirit has been convicted recently.

Acts 2:44 that says, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” Of course this is not a biblical argument for communism [I’ll save the biblical argument against communism and socialism for another date]. Rather, it is about a radical lifestyle. Their belief and devotion to following Christ transcended all else, though specifically in this case, material wealth.

But the picture I have drawn from their lifestyle is that once their spiritual transformation occurred, they as a body of Christ, were of like mind and became utterly different than any surrounding community. And it was this radical lifestyle of truly loving one another that God blessed them with “the favor of all people.” Their healthy community, their odd way of living, attracted others to Christ [Acts 2:47].

Now, this has to beg the question: What would Christianity look like today if the body of Christ reflected that of the early believers who embraced the selfless teachings of Jesus in a radical way? I know it’s not a new question by any means, and in some cases it may seem like an exhausted topic. But until real radical change does take place among believers, we will remain stagnent in growth and outreach. We will continue to be viewed as unauthentic in our faith.

I tend to think specifically of our Christian liberties in this instance. Have we become a community that abuses what is permissible? Over the next few weeks I am hoping to take a deeper look at our freedom in Christ, specifically what we would consider gray areas. But instead of building an argument oriented toward something I may enjoy and currently support, it is my prayer that I look at each topic subjectively to see what the Word of God would wisely encourage.

In what ways have you been actively pursuing what is right to set yourself apart from the world in hopes to attract others to Jesus?

twenty twelve.

I have always had a distaste for the New Year. Not hatred. Just a bittersweet feeling. Irrationally, my mind feels as though I have worked hard to make it to the end of the year…as if the end of the year was a goal to reach. Then the New Year chimes in and I feel as though I have to start all over. And while I may be the only one who feels this way, I do understand that many of us identify the New Year as an opportunity to sieze improvement over the year before. Some resolutions made are superficial, some are unreasonable, and some are never fought for. But yet, there is wisdom in a desire to improve. And it is G.K. Chesterton that makes a wise observation:

“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year.  It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes.  Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions.  Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective.”

Through my observation of New Year’s resolutions, the main reason many fail at achieving their goal is that they feel overwhelmed.  Long term improvements do not happen over night. Habits need to be developed through a steady pace. Baby steps as it were. Charles Swindoll, whose voice I have always found comforting, noted:

“If you’re running a 26-mile marathon, remember that every mile is run one step at a time. If you are writing a book, do it one page at a time. If you’re trying to master a new language, try it one word at a time. There are 365 days in the average year. Divide any project by 365 and you’ll find that no job is all that intimidating.”

When you begin an project of self improvement, it is always difficult to make it habitual. But if broken down and intermediate goals are developed, the end goal is often easily attained, as it doesn’t seem as overwhelming.

I have not really ever participated in any form of New Year’s resolutions. This year, however, I have been challenged to be a better man. A man with increased wisdom and character. One whose love for Jesus is exemplified through action. I want to be a man who seeks to offer unconditional forgiveness. I want to extend grace just as I have received. I want to offer encouragement to those who are unconfident in themselves. And I want to love those the world deems unloveable.

Have you any New Year’s resolutions? And how do you plan on obtaining the goals you have made?

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the way things were and are not now but will be to come?

Then Hwin, though shaking all over, gave a strange little neigh, and trotted across to the Lion.
“Please,” she said, “you’re so beautiful. You may eat me if you like. I’d sooner be eaten by you than fed by anyone else.”
“Dearest daughter,” said Aslan, planting a lion’s kiss on her twitching, velvet nose, “I knew you would not be long in coming to me. Joy shall be yours.”
“Now, Bree,” he said, “you poor, proud frightened Horse, draw near. Nearer still, my son. Do not dare not to dare. Touch me. Smell me. Here are my paws, here is my tail, these are my whiskers. I am a true Beast.”
“Aslan,” said Bree in a shaken voice, “I’m afraid I must be rather a fool.”
“Happy the Horse who knows that while he is still young. Or the Human either…”

The Horse and His Boy – Chapter 14

I have always thought the Chronicles of Narnia to be a fascinating series. From the dawn of Narnia’s creation, sung into existence by Aslan, we are given a glimpse of biblical Truth through the symbolic tales. Narnia is a world filled with intelligent animals that have the ability to speak. And from a young age, through the reading of these stories, I have always had a curiosity as to what our world would be like if animals could speak.

We know biblically, that before the fall of humanity, before the world was tainted by sin, that the relationship between humans and animals was different than our experience now. What once was a mutually respectful friendship has become a severed relationship. Stephen Webb, describing our original dominion over the animal kingdom, has said, “The fullness of humanity includes the exercise of a proper authority over animals,” (Good Eating, Page 79). And the authority we maintain over the animal population has become polluted by our fallen nature. Do not misunderstand me, I am not building a case for animal rights. I merely imply that the way things are now are not the way they were. However, once the world is fully redeemed, the relationship will be restored.

I wonder, besides our damaged relationship with animals, how else the fall of humanity has affected the animals of the ancient world? Could it have been possible for animals to have had a more intelligent ability to communicate with us? And as crazy as I may sound, could animals have even had the ability to speak? I ask these questions out of biblical inquisitiveness. And there are two illustrations of which have intrigued by curiosity.

Firstly, in the Garden we know that Eve was tempted by the serpent. That serpent, though inhabited by Satan, spoke to Eve. If in the Garden, no animal had the ability to speak, wouldn’t Eve had been surprised or thought it suspicious that an animal be given a voice to communicate through spoken word?

Secondly, when “…the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, ‘What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times'” (Numbers 22:28, ESV), did the donkey initially understand the abuse she was receiving before being given the ability to speak or was she able to comprehend and formulate thought only after God gave her the ability to express herself?

Theologically, I have no evidence to definitively support the notion that animals once had the ability to speak, but I have always found it curiouser and curiouser as to whether they once could. And though I intend to continue my study of this fascination, I maintain my love for these creatures.

“We are meant to keep the company of animals, who are a gift from God to ease our loneliness by drawing out of the human circle and into an experience of otherness that is so surprising it could be utterly sublime,” (Stephen Webb, Good Eating).