Curry is good. That is my opinion anyway. Some might disagree with me. It’s complex and flavorful. It can be spicy. If it’s hot enough it might make you cry, but if you love curry you’ll take a swig of milk and continue eating. Others feel exactly the opposite, especially if the curry contains cilantro. So curry is something that elicits either love or hatred. It fires passion either for or against it.
Toast on the other hand is virtually flavorless. It’s bland and dry. No one is offended by toast, but neither does anyone have a passion for toast. Don’t believe me? No one has ever gone to an all you can eat buffet and joyfully exclaimed, “they have toast.”
The gospel is the same as curry. It is complex and flavorful. Sometimes it might make you cry, but most things that can be loved might make you cry. The gospel is deep and rich and worthy of devotion. And like curry people either love it or hate it, depending on where they’re coming from.
The problem is that many of our churches worry that people might be offended by the gospel. So we start removing spices from the curry. First the cilantro goes, then the cumin, and so on. Pretty soon we’re just serving toast. It’s not offensive, but it’s also totally incapable of eliciting passion in anyone. It’s flavorless and unfilling and unfulfilling.
So don’t be afraid to preach the gospel. Some might hate you for it, but that’s true of anything worthwhile. So even if everyone around you is serving toast, cook up the most delicious curry you can come up with.
“Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is neither fit for the land nor for the dunghill, but men throw it out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” Luke 14:34-35
When I was a kid, I had an eccentric uncle. He was an inventor, and had a lot of social quirks about him. I think a lot of these quirks came from some of the things he’d had to endure. You see, during World War 2, he’d been a pacifist, and since he would not fight, he was forced instead to do body counts after battle in the European theater.
One day he showed me a belt buckle he’d taken off a dead German soldier. It was pewter colored, and had the swastika in the center of that. Written along the top edge were the words, “Gott mit uns.” (God with us) in German.
Even at that young age, it was a shocking thing to see. How could the Nazis think, or wish, or even say that God was with them?
Well, it’s very easy to look back in history and ask how they could do that, but the fact is, as a church we do the very same thing today, though I will say generally not in such an obvious and glaring way.
I’d like to go to the book of judges where there’s an interesting story. Joshua is moving his armies through Canan, and he looks up and sees a man who he takes to be a foreign envoy.
“And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, “Are You for us or for our adversaries?”
So He said, “No, but as Commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”
And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, “What does my Lord say to His servant?”
It’s interesting to me that Joshua asks, “are you for us or against us?” And the angel answers “no”. In other words, you are asking the wrong question. But we ask the same question of God, as if we have any authority to ask it.
The question should be, “Have I found favor in your sight?” Or, “how can I serve you?” Or so many other questions that recognize who is in authority, that being not us. We need to stop asking if God is on our side and start making sure we are on his side.
It is possible to know exactly how to be on God’s side, but it requires commitment and study and being open to what the Holy Spirit would teach us. The bible is full of the commands of God. So many in fact that I wouldn’t know where to start.
The problem is that the American church in particular has given up on knowing what the scriptures say. And one of those scriptures says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; Because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.” Hosea 4:6
You see, without knowledge there is no possibility for wisdom. Without knowledge there is no possibility for discernment. Without knowledge, there is no possibility to know the will or the character of God. In short order we find ourselves making God to be anything we want him to be, so long as he’s on our side, and the next thing you know, we’re wearing belt buckles emblazoned with “Gott mit uns.”
So what do we do about this? Ephesians 4 says, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”
We must put the knowledge of who God is back into the churches, both through the study and memorization of the Word, and also through people who possess knowledge and wisdom and discernment to have the willingness to disciple others.
Jesus didn’t keep his knowledge to himself. He taught large crowds of people, while at the same time walking daily with twelve men that he could train to teach others. This is what we need to get back to.
It’s very easy to read something like this and say, “yes, those people need to do something about this.” But if you are part of the church, this is for You! There aren’t players and those who get to sit on the bench in the Kingdom of God. There are no stadium seats. As it says in the book of Hebrews, “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
The tickets are in hand. Connections are being made. Everything seems to be coming together. I leave for Ethiopia a month from today. This will be my second trip to Ethiopia, and my seventh trip to Africa in the last five years. In fact, it’s my third trip to Africa in the last eight months. It’s probably not a sustainable pace, but it’s how things have been laid out for me at this time. This trip came together probably more easily than any previous trip. The time was available even though it shouldn’t have been, I had the support of my wife and family, and the funds practically showed up on their own. It’s clear I’m supposed to go.
There are times when I’ve got a lot ruminating in my mind, when I have a concept I’ve been thinking about that I just need to put down in writing. Those times seem to get farther and farther apart when the time starts running short before my next trip though. Regular followers may notice that my blog posts have become more infrequent. The fact is that as a trip draws near, there is less reflection time and more nuts and bolts time. Both physically and spiritually, it becomes nuts and bolts. Are my shots in order? Are the funds all there? Is my photography equipment sufficient and in working order? Is my heart in the right place? Is my family in a stable place where I can be gone for a while? How is the security situation on the ground we where I’ll be going? It’s all nuts and bolts. Furthermore, spiritually speaking, difficulty always seems to make itself known shortly before I leave. Frequently it’s not directly with me, but it may be all around me. These are the reasons I originally started writing this blog, not because it may be interesting to the reader, but because I simply needed to sort it out for myself.
For myself, my life has been good. I can honestly say that for myself I have no complaints. It’s what goes on around me that’s disturbing. It’s as if I’m dealing with a spoiled child who has a grudge against me. He has no way of hurting me, so he just starts breaking everything within reach. That spoiled child’s name is Satan, and this kind of thing frequently happens just before I leave on a missionary trip. Everything within arms length is great, but the chaos that goes on just outside of my grasp, though it doesn’t hurt me directly, still effects my spirit, particularly when it’s loved ones that are struggling. The verses in Psalm 91 are brought to mind.
“Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the LORD:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
he is my God, and I trust him.
For he will rescue you from every trap
and protect you from deadly disease.
He will cover you with his feathers.
He will shelter you with his wings.
His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,
nor the arrow that flies in the day.
Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,
nor the disaster that strikes at midday.
Though a thousand fall at your side,
though ten thousand are dying around you,
these evils will not touch you.”
The comfort for me is knowing that when your enemy gets desperate, he’s usually about to lose. This is why prayer is so important, both for me and for the support team. It’s not just a trite request that people pray for you when you’re gone. It’s the most important role the people staying home can have; equally important to the role of the one going. So for those who will, please pray for those going, for those who are already there, and for the families of those who are going. It’s really important. Let the spoiled child be revealed for what he is.
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-4 SERIOUSLY???
Ten years ago, I was selling investments and insurance. I didn’t enjoy what I did, but I was good at it, and I was honest. Surely this was good enough for reward in God’s eyes. Then things started to turn. The economy turned, and I was working twice as hard for half as much money. I watched as dishonest people reaped the cash, while I struggled to pay the bills. I had a new baby, but he literally never slept. Never. He would sleep for an hour and a half at night, then take forty minutes to get back to sleep. Rinse and repeat. This happened every night for nine months. The next child was nearly the same. I was thinking of running for city council, so I asked God whether I should or shouldn’t. His answer was, “whether you do or not, I’ll bless you.” Then my mother died. Funny how God humors you when you’re asking the answer to an irrelevant question.
Between the constant failure in business and the chronic lack of sleep, I actually began to wonder if God hated me. After all, “Delight yourself also in the LORD: and he shall give you the desires of your heart.” Certainly I was delighting in the Lord, but not really. I was asking God to bless the things I was doing, but never bothering to ask what it was He wanted me to do. There’s a difference. What I was doing wasn’t bad. But sometimes we need to trade what is good for what is best. I was secure in my job, but as I said before, I didn’t enjoy it. I am not the kind of person who drives a Lincoln, or golfs (I have never golfed), or quotes Zig Ziglar. In fact my stomach turns a little when I think of that. But I was secure, and it was going to take some serious discomfort to get me out of that.
As I said, my mother died. That was the last straw, and ironically, it was during that time that I realized God didn’t hate me. I had to travel 2000 miles to get to her funeral, and it allowed me to get far enough away for long enough that I was able to really start thinking about the state of my life and the things I was doing. God gave me skills with photography, not insurance. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should be doing it. I was trading the skills God gave me for the skills He didn’t give me. I wasn’t blessed because the desires of my heart were not God’s desires. Rather, I hoped that His desires were mine. They were quite backwards. (See the last blog, “And Please Give Me a Million Dollars and Huge Pectoral Muscles”.
Fast forward ten years. God has given me amazing opportunities, and I’m using the skills He gave me, and they have taken me places I never, and I mean never, would have imagined. I’ve been published in national newspapers, and had the cover of the Washington Post. My weddings have been published more times than I can count, and I’ve taken pictures of famous people in my studio. I’ve been to South Sudan, Kenya, and soon Ethiopia. I’m happy doing what I’m doing, and I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. God didn’t hate me. He just needed to make it so difficult that He could pry me out of my self-made misery. I’m thankful for that now. Here’s a few of my favorite pictures that I never would have taken if I didn’t listen.
I’m sitting here in the Freedom Hotel in Bor, South Sudan listening to the rain and smelling the fresh fragrance as the droplets hit the fresh, dry dirt.
I can’t remember the poet who said it, and there’s no such thing as google when there’s no Internet. So I’m going to do what Jesus did and just say, “it is written.”
“The world is full of the grandeur of God.
The world is full of His beauty.
It shines and shimmers like shining from Shook foil
Gathers to a greatness like the ooze of oil.”
This morning I saw the grandeur of God. If you saw Bor, South Sudan, and I told you that you can see the grandeur of God there, you’d probably tell me I was crazy. But today I saw it in the face of the people packing out the small church. It’s just a small pole barn with a sheet metal roof, but today it was a magnificent cathedral. I saw a group of people with what westerners would consider nothing, lifting their voices in praise and gratitude for all God had done for them and the lives He had saved them from. Gratefulness gives such a beauty to people and a beauty to worship that we often forget. It seems the more we have, the less grateful we are. Today I saw it, and I again found myself centered again.