Friday, March 27, 2009

Current Events No. 2: West Mesa Victims

Oftentimes love is so poorly packaged that when we have sold everything to buy it, we cry in finding all our substance gone and nothing in the tinsel and the ribbon.

-Calvin Miller

In his article "Bodies Found in New Mexico, but Mystery Lingers for Kin of Missing Women", Dan Frosch tells the stomach turning story of recently discovered bodies in the West Mesa of Albuquerque, New Mexico. This story, appearing in the headlines of the Times, quickly caught my attention since Albuquerque is my home town.

On February 2nd, a woman walking her dog discovered the remains of a woman who was later identified as Michelle Valdez, a local prostitute who went missing in 2004 at the age of 22. Since this first discovery another 11 bodies have been found by a team of forensic experts and archaeologist. This team believes these bodies match descriptions of missing prostitutes that have gone missing from 2001-2006.

Frosch points out how at first no one really noticed that Ms. Valdez had even disappeared since she lived in the backdrops of society. Some of the other bodies have recently been identified as prostitutes who worked the Albuquerque streets in a part of the town called "the war zone." Most of these women began their work in the streets because of sequences of terrible events in their lives that led to use of and eventual addiction to heroin. These woman turned to prostitution as the only way to secure their next fix on the drug. One father from Fort Worth told of his daughter who first used heroin after having been raped by a school mate. His daughter then moved to Albuquerque for a fresh start on life --but went missing only three weeks later.

I am deeply saddened while the reading of these events. The stories of these woman remind me of a woman that Jesus met while stopping for a rest in the region of Samaria. The woman in Samaria had also been victimized like these woman found in the desert of Albuquerque. The woman of Samaria was a social outcast, she was marginalized and forgotten. She took to the habit of going out of her way to avoid people and the judgments that were sure to come from others. And she too had been sold a dangerous counterfeit love that called itself an original.

There are many things that one could become angry over in this story: injustice, corruption, complacency, abuse, and the pure horror that someone had such a disregard for life that they could carelessly kill so many. The list could go on and on. And many questions could be raised just as well. But what resonates most with me, and what I take away from reading this article is the lives of the victims themselves. Because victimized is what they were. And from what it sounds like they were victimized long before their physical deaths.
They are victims of the World Hater's sin that always, always leads to death. I see these woman as being under the cruel and painful grip of Satin. He love to bring about pain after pain in people's lives. He loves to deceive his victims by persuading them give their lives over to a false since of reality, priorities and happiness. He does this while telling them that the same lie is all of love that there is in the world.

Hearing about these victims also makes me think of how such people were naturally drawn to Jesus. Because Jesus was always willing and wanting to show them what Love truly is. Reading this story makes me realize how important it is that I live an incarnational life here in this world. Because this world is full of marginalized victims of the World Hater who have been sold a counterfeit love and are starving for the Original.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Morning Meditation

"At daybreak Lord You hear my voice, At daybreak I plead my case to You and watch expectantly."
-Psalms 5:3

"Very early in the morning while it was still dark, He got up went out, and made His way to a deserted place. And He was praying there."
-Mark 1:35

I often times with out realizing it forget how important it is that I get my day off to the right start. My days look drastically different when I'm able to start them in some form of prayer and meditation. I practice prayer and mediation in a number of different ways. Sometimes, early in the morning outside in the wild among the plants, flowers, birds and trees. Other times, I'll practice my prayer and meditation on the move, while I'm on my morning bike ride or run. I even do it some mornings in the car with the windows rolled down so that I can feel the crisp morning breeze against my face. Whatever the setting is I basically do the same thing --I stop, relax, breathe deep breaths and turn my day over to God in prayer.

During these times I enjoy being outside right in the midst of all the life that God created. I like to listen to the sound of chirping birds, feel the cool morning air, and smell the aroma of the flowers and blooming trees. Being right in the middle of such a beautiful creation gives me excitement and expectation about the creation that God will be bringing into my life in the coming day. Starting my day off this way prepares me to embrace my day for all that it will be. It prepares me to fully live. I think that this is may be why Jesus made His time in mediation such a priority. Reading the gospels it's very easy to tell that, just like us Jesus lived a pretty busy life. A life full of one crazy surprise right after the other. I think that Jesus knew that His days would be busy. He knew that unexpected things would come up. Things that would be challenging and hard to handle well.

Perhaps that's why Jesus made sure He got of to the right start as often as He could. Because He was human and needed God's help and the empowerment and direction of the Spirit just as much as we do. It's easy to forget or overlook the humanity of Jesus, when really His humanity is the whole point of His coming to earth. He came to show us how to fully embrace Life with God. He came to show us what the Good Life lived out in flesh and blood really looks like. The Bible says He is the Beginning, the First, the Originator of the resurrected Life that we too are called to live (Colossians 1:18, Revaluation 3:14).

Knowing that even Jesus thought that it was important to be in mediation and spend time away from all of life's craziness puts things into perspective for me. Even Jesus (the Son of God!) made it a point to daily turn His life over to the Father in prayer. This makes me realize how much I need to do the same. How much I need to daily turn my life over to God. How much I need to soak in the peace that can only come from God so that I can live like my Savior Jesus did --full of the Good Life. Waiting expectantly for all the goodness that I know God is going to create right before my eyes as I take part in bringing His Kingdom of Heaven down to earth, right here and right now.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Atheism Agnosticism Doubt & Belief

This is the video footage from the student panel that I was a part of for on March 9th. It was the first time I had ever done anything like this before so it was a great learning experience. Thank you again everyone who came for you support. And thank you Tony for filming the whole thing. I had to cut the video into 6 parts. Each video will pick up where the last left off with a slight overlap. I hope you enjoy!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Road Trip

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Michelle and I love traveling. We do it all of the time. By road, by plan, by train, stateside, overseas, you name it we've done it and loved it. This year for spring break Michelle and I went down to Lubbock, Texas. We left in the late afternoon on Friday already tired from a week of craziness because of midterms. The drive is over 1,000 miles one way and our mp3 payer's f.m. radio transmitter wasn't working so we stopped in Jackson,TN (Which is actually where Michelle was born) and got some new CD's with a birthday gift card my grandmother gave me for my birthday.

We decided to stop at Bobby and Melissa and take a nap for a couple of hours. Before heading off to Lubbock we of course had to make a stop at Shades of Brown coffee shop to get our morning dose of caffeine for the road.

8 hours later we arrived in Lubbock and the AIM graduation ceremony had just ended. Michelle and I were still able to see many of cherished friends that we know from the AIM world. And!... we were even able to my sister Jessica who was visiting from Guadalajara, Mexico.

We stayed in Lubbock until Wednesday morning and had a blast getting to spend time with everyone. Michelle stayed at the Baker's house while we were there, and I stayed 2 nights at my old apartment with Josh Tucker and then 2 nights with Thomas at his place. Returning to Lubbock is a surreal experience. The city is full of memories, all the way back to LCU's Camp Champion when I was just a kid, to the memories of walking the streets downtown looking for a hotel when I originally tried to join Sunset in 2003. Plus there is all of the time that I spent actually living in Lubbock as an AIMer and while I went through Sunset. Lubbock is a historic place for us now.

One of my favorite things about returning to Lubbock is visiting the house churches. About a year ago our friends Josh and Holly Tracy started a house church. There was only the two of them the first time that they met. Then the second time Thomas and I were there as well. Today, there are about 40 people attending the house churches! That's right, "churches," as in more than one. They've already had a church plant and they are even talking about planting a third. Everywhere we went in Lubbock and no matter who it was that we were with --people were talking about this house church. I don't think that anyone can deny (whether they like the house church or not) that something big is going on in Lubbock, Texas. It's awesome how rapidly God has caused this Christ focused group to spread across the city as they allow the Spirit to fully take hold of their lives.

On our way back home we stopped in Shawnee, Oklahoma to see our Friends Chris and Jessica Johnson. It was awesome to here about what God is doing there and through their church. We were able to worship with the youth (who were pretty awesome by the way) on Wednesday night, and hangout with some of the church family after services for a couple of hours at the local Sonic. Chris Johnson is someone who I greatly respect and look up to. While I was studying at Sunset I would here my instructors tell stories about people like the Jonhsons, the Rushs and the Hendersons, and all that they were doing on their mission fields. These stories captivated me as I would dream about one day doing similar things with my friends as the next generation of Spirit lead and Love driven missionaries. So, the two days spent with Chris and Jessica were extremely inspiring and encouraging.

The last visit on our road trip was a stop back in Tulsa to see Bobby and Melissa. We had a blast just relaxing and kicking it back together. We were even able to on a few adventures right inside of their home as we all worked together to try and find some renegade mice (click here to watch the video).

We left Tulsa at about 6 p.m. and pulled into Melinda and Ryan's in Murray at 3:30 a.m. We traveled over 2,500 in the end. That's far enough to cross the country all the way from New York, to California. Now that's a road trip!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Loving Others

Tomorrow I will have the opportunity to be a part of student panel at the university I attend. The panel is titled "Atheism, Agnosticism, Doubt, and Belief" and is a part of a series of lectures on the subject of atheism at my school. The panel is made up of students in my atheism class. There are two atheist, one agnostic and myself as the Christian voice. I'm really looking forward to the event! It's been great getting to know everyone in this class and to hear and learn more about their ideas.

My atheism class has an online forum where we've been carrying on various discussions. Recently, one of atheist classmates made a comment in it that I would like to share with you. Since being in this class my eyes have widened to the amount of harm that many self proclaimed Christians have been causing to the Kingdom, to Christ (whose name they claim), to authentic disciples of Christ around the world that are associated with such people, and to those that aren't Christians. Such a self proclaimed Christian makes me think of verses in the Bible like Romans 2:23-24:

"If you pride yourself in having God's law, then stop dishonoring God by failing to keep its teaching. Here's what it says: 'Because of you, God's reputation is slandered by those outside the covenant'."

--The Voice

Although it is very unfortunate that the word "Christian" has become such an ill and taboo word in our world today, I am still not the least bit ashamed of my God, my Christ or the gospel!

I can care less about what name it is that I'm called. The early followers of Jesus were simply called, "those belonging to the Way" --which sound really awesome if you ask me. But I believe, as I've said before, that authentic discipleship to Jesus is something that is recognizable --even to those who aren't believers, like some of my classmates. Some of them no longer call me a Christian (since I don't fit the modern profile) but rather they say that I am someone who is like Christ. Which to me is a tremendous complement.

Here is what my classmate Lee Miller had to say after a response I gave him in our forum on morals:


I'm glad to see that you took the time and effort to respond thoughtfully.

You are an example of the rare, pleasant Christian that I enjoy communicating with on these subjects! I think it's neat that you know your beliefs well enough to quote the bible, and use your common sense...AT THE SAME TIME.

All to often I see Christians doing nothing more than pushing the idea that the "evangelical" way is the only way. Following unbelievers around, passing out flyers, while forcing both morals and ideologies (or any other similar form of conversion) is very frustrating, disrespectful, and annoying.
It seems like every where I look...the street corner, TV, radio, politics, sports, etc...they are trying to force the ideology of Christianity upon the onlookers.

In terms of the political landscape, (from a bystander's point of view) it just looks like because "Christians" kick and scream the loudest they get center stage on many issues. The religious moderates act as "enablers" of their 'kicking and screaming' nonsense.

I wish we all, Christians and non Christians, would unite against the hate, bigotry, and disrespect of what "Christianity" is becoming. Their version of your faith is harmful both to people like myself, and YOUR beliefs.

I think that it's extremely important that disciples of Christ live intentional lives before those around them. It seems that there are many people, like my friend Lee, who have been "evangelized" to, but were left without feeling the love of Christ. Because of this I try to remind myself that I am first and foremost called to love. Love God and love others. And of course, telling someone the great news of Jesus the Christ is a part of that, however I think that our methods of evangelizing should set loving people as a priority.

Just like Christ we are here in this world to shine before man so that they too may come to praise God for all He has done.

Please keep my upcoming forum in your prayers. And pray for all those that may be there who don't not yet know of the amazing love of God.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Current Events No. 1: Fear Over Change in Gun Policy

In this video D.L Hughley takes a visit to Texas and goes to a world-renowned gun shop to interview some of the customers. Hughley does this to find out why gun sales have been rising since President Obama won the election. He learned that many gun owners believe that the President is going to bring back the Assault Weapons Ban, which banned guns that could hold 10 or more bullets. It is because of this fear that items that would be banned (you know, things like magazines, ak47s and other assault rifles) have become such hot items in the gun-sales market today.

When Hughley asks why it is that these people need their guns so much, he found that the common answer was “for protection”. One man called it, “home defense”, saying that “you don’t want people breaking in and taking your stuff.”

Since the presidential race I’ve heard quite a few conversations on the subject of needing a gun to shoot someone when they break into my house, And to be honest it concerns me. One time, during the presidential race, I heard a woman raging mad yelling and screaming at her colleague (who she knew proclaimed to be a Christian) because he was going to vote for Obama.

“I just don’t know how you can be okay with killing all of those lives!” She yelled.

Leaving the conversation rather hot tempered she returned to her own group of friends and then began talking about how she isn’t going to vote for Obama, and how she certainly needs a gun so that she can shoot someone in the case they break into her house (which apparently happens a lot here in small town Murray, KY!).

Now this woman, just seconds before, was yelling at man and accusing him of murder for voting for Obama, and yet she is totally okay with shooting someone if the occasion arises.

I find this thought very inconsistent. I am all about being pro-life. But I think that we need to be consistently pro-life.

She’s not okay with murdering unborn babies, but totally fine with murdering someone who breaks into her home, and as a Christian? Something is wrong here.

I wonder on what other occasions this woman would be okay with murder.

I wonder if she knows what the Christ of whose name she bears has to say about murder.

I’m guessing she doesn’t. Or it doesn’t seem that she follows those teachings at least. This is strange, since Jesus talks about the subject on several occasions in the scriptures.

Let’s take a look:

Jesus, in what we’ve come to call His Sermon on the Mount is proclaiming what an authentic heart for God should look like. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is letting His followers know that as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven you must set yourself to a higher standard than that of the world –even to a higher standard than the Scribes and the Pharisees (two groups that first century Jews believed had their act together pretty well). In His sermon Jesus goes through a series of Old Covenant laws and teaches His disciples that there is a heart issue underlying each one of them.

Speaking on murder He said:

You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, Do not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Fool!' will be subject to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, 'You moron!' will be subject to hellfire.

--Matthew 5:21-22

You see Jesus wants us to greatly cherish all human life. Jesus is telling us that yes it is wrong and punishable to kill someone, however true murder begins with an angry spirit of resentment in the heart. If you have enough hatred in your heart that you can yell obscenities at someone it is clear that you hold no value to that person’s life. This is murder. If we are focused on harming someone’s physical life how can we possibly have any regard for their spiritual life?

Some may ask then, “well, what if someone does break into my home, am I just supposed to allow them to take everything?”

Latter in that same sermon Jesus says:

You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you, don't resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. As for the one who wants to sue you and take away your shirt, let him have your coat as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to the one who asks you, and don't turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

--Mathew 5:38-42

I believe that these are extremely powerful and challenging statements from Jesus. It sounds like the answer to that question is yes let them take what they want. It seems like if they come in after our TV we should offer them our DVD player as well. Or if someone physically assaults us, perhaps shoots us in the arm, maybe we are called to hold out the other arm for them to shoot as well.

From what I’ve read of the Christians that lived during the Roman Empire it seems like they really took these words of Jesus to heart. And for that reason the emperors didn’t have as much fun killing them (since they had already died to themselves and no longer feared loss in this physical world). In fact, the early Christians cared so much about the lives of others that they even got the reputation for going out in search of abandoned babies who had been left outside the city walls to die. It seems that they understood the radical discipleship of Jesus very well.

Reading through my Bible I find a beautiful message of life. It seams to me that Jesus wants us to hold physical life in high value as we show God’s love to others in this world, especially since we should be concerned about people’s spiritual wellbeing as well as the value of their physical life.

My Amazing Friends

In the early 80s the TV show Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends aired on NBC. In the series Spider-Man and his good friends Iceman and Firestar teamed up as a tight-pack-trio to fight against the evil super villains of the Marvel Universe. The three would often work together with even more of their amazing friends like Captain American, Iron Man and the X-men, making an extremely powerful network of amazing superhero friends. I’ve been a Spider-man fan since I was a young boy. As a child I loved to sit down and watch Spider-man take on virtually impossible odds as he fought to protect humanity and guard the innocent. It was awesome! As you can imagine my mind was blown away the first time I saw an episode of Spiderman-man and His Amazing Friends: the idea of Spider-Man (who is way awesome and amazing) having all of these amazing friends who are just as supper-awesome as Spider-man was (if not more), painted a beautiful picture in my mind of a Super-Amazing-Unstoppable-

Those of you that know me well know that I often compare the life of a Christian to that of a superhero. Like superheroes, Christians also have an incredible mission in this world. We are called to rise up to challenges and make a difference in this dark world we live in. However, doing this isn’t always easy. We sometimes need encouragement and help from one another. You see, our mission in this world isn’t a solo operation –it’s a community affair.

The same was apparently true for Spider-man. Spider-man didn’t have to fight his battles alone. If he were to get discouraged he had Iceman, Firestar and the others along his side to spur him on.

I bet just knowing that he wasn’t the only one striving to make a difference gave him strength and encouragement, and perhaps even a strange high of invisibility, where he felt confident that he could take on the world.

Oftentimes when I’m with my friends I get that same high that, we-can-take-on-the-world high. The high I’m talking about is that feeling of encouragement that comes from knowing that you are in a group that will be there for you until the very end.

Like Spider-Man I have my own network of Amazing Friends made up of men and women dedicated and determined to saving humanity. These friends of mine are scattered all over this globe.

I recently was able to spend some time with some of my closest friends in Lubbock, Texas. When I’m with that group I can really feel the rush from that high. I feel different, more empowered than I do when I’m on my own. When I’m with my friends I can just sense a certain vibe among us. A vibe that says, "there is no challenge that is to great for us to tackle, and there is no event to small to be a moment to cherish and remember for a lifetime."

I think that it’s extremely important for Christians to surround themselves with such a group of people. To be a part of a community of love and faith that encourages, empowers and motivates you as a disciple. A group of your own Amazing Friends.

I love my friends and cherish them all dearly. The time we spend together is always amazing. It is in our times together that I as a Christian am sharpened and fashioned into Christ’s likeness by their love.

Just about a week ago my fiancĂ©’ Michelle and I went out of town for the weekend to spend some time with her family in the Appalachian Mountains. While there, my friend (and future brother-in-law) Ryan and I spent hours together just talking and being real with one another. We talked about everything that God is doing in our lives, areas we want to grow in, and all that we want to allow God to do through us.

I need friends like that. I need friends that I can be real with –friends that challenge me to grow and to take on more daring endeavors for God. I need my Amazing Friends and I wouldn’t be the same without them.

God is amazing. I believe He works through us all in incredible ways. I believe that the Holy Spirit living inside of us as individuals is an extremely powerful force. However, I believe that united as the church we are much stronger. As a community of love and faith united by the Spirit and directed by Christ, we truly are a Super-Amazing-Unstoppable-
Force –the Kingdom of God.