Am I doing what I say I believe?

My journey to Guatemala led me to the hospital/orphanage dedicated to Hermano Pedro.  I learned this story of a simple, humble Fransican monk for whom the orphanage was named.  Born in Spain, he emigrated to Guatemala in the early 1600's. After studying, without success, to be a priest, he became a Fransican brother. 

Known as the "St. Francis of the Americas", Hermano Pedro had a love for those who were ignored and abandoned by society. This included the poor, the homeless, the imprisoned, and the disabled.  While not "smart enough" to master the theology required for the priesthood, Hermano Pedro was a master at the theology of living out what he believed.  He began a hospital, convalescent home, school for the poor, and spent his life serving Jesus who he saw in the least of these.

Hermano Pedro is a constant challenge to me.  I tend toward the intellectual, spending years investigating Scripture and the "right theology" I found there.  Moving to Guatemala, that's been all well and good.  The people we serve, though, could care less about theology.  

Our residents and those we serve have challenged me to look less at orthodox concepts and ideas about God (right thinking).  They need and want to know Jesus, to know who He is and why knowing him matters.  They seek more than words.  They need to actually meet him.

I have learned here, that my love must be shown before anyone will listen to my ideas.  Many have heard the Sunday school lessons, or the catechism about him.  Few of those we serve, though, have experienced his love in action.

That is the challenge Hermano Pedro sets before me.  It is not really a challenge from him, but from the Jesus who came poor, humble and rejected by his society.  Am I willing to live out daily, what I believe?  Concretely in action, not just in words.

Each day this looks different.  Some days it is helping a child with autism learn to communicate.  Other days it is teaching a mentally challenged child to read.  It might be giving a sandwich to the homeless man who come to my door.  Maybe it even looks like taking time to treat the market vendor as a person with dignity, not just a functionary who I am forced to deal with.

This is the challenge of Hermano Pedro and the Jesus he followed.  Am I doing what I say I believe?  Am I serving my Jesus in the least of these, treating them with dignity and respect, not pity and "charity"?  Am I walking the talk?

This is my challenge, and yours.  How are we doing?

I could never do that. . .

 This is such a common phrase spoken by many Christians.  At times it is said in judgment of a person who has fallen short in some way--usually one of the "big" sins like adultry, child abuse, abortion.  It may be smaller sins though, like smoking or drinking, or stealing a pack of gum.  Whatever it is, when we say this we are elevating ourselves above the person being judged.

Other times it is said in admiration, "I could never do what you do.  I'm too ________________." Fill in the blank: weak, tender-hearted, attached to my children, etc.  This is the one I hear too often directed toward me and I grieve for the person each time the say it.

To me, it reflects a lack of understanding of God's will in our lives.  What the person, hopefully, really means to say is, "I don't want God to ask me to what you do." That I'm okay with.  There are many things I don't want God to ask me to do, and I've told him so.    Very often the things God asks of me are these very things I dread.

 And in surrendering to these things, like being divorce, or leaving behind grandchild to grow up in my absence.  In holding my desires and dreads with open hands, I have experienced the presence of God in ways I never would have imagine. What seems like loss, has become gain.  God is faithful when we are obedient.

The next time you are tempted to say, "I could never. . ." stop and ask yourself what is really behind this statement.  Henri Nouwen has wisely said, "We are not judged by how we compare to others, but how we conform to the will of God."

Don't use this attitude to put down or elevate anyone.  We are all given different callings, When we obey we are enabled, equipped and empowered to  carry out the callings with peace and joy.  Don't limit yourself, or your God, and wait and see what happens.  You might not believe it!

San Pedro is so different. . .

It's Palm Sunday.  Once again I am struck by how different San Pedro, where the men and I live, is from Antigua.  Nothing is more striking than the differences I see during Holy Week.  The activities in San Pedro grow out of faith, while those in Antigua seem to come from a delight in pagentry.

Yes, we have processions.  In fact, they pass in front of both my house and Casa de Esperanza.  But they are strikingly different from those I have seen, and come to dread, in Antigua. (I just realized that, since I moved to San Pedro, this is the first year we are freely remembering Holy Week.  Activities in the three previous years had by greatly limited by Covid.  Perhaps that is why they have struck me so deeply this year.)

These processions are not done for tourists--we have none. 

The alfombras (carpets make of sawdust and other vegetation remembering the palms Jesus rode over entering Jerusalem) are so much simpler, mostly done by families in the early hours of the morning.They are not done for show, as most participate, rather than watching like I do.  

The participants, for the most part, are my neighbors, not adorned in purple robes (though some are) but mostly in street clothes.  The leaders of the processions belong to confraternities (parachurch organizations), and some do contribute for the privilege of participating, but it is not a requirement here.  The only requirement is the desire to honor the sacrifice of Jesus.

While it is true that some believe they are doing penance, paying for their sins, by carring the andas ("floats") with statues, many I have spoken to participate in gratitude for the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  Publically proclaiming that they want to follow him.  

While doctrinal differences divide the Catholics and Evangelicals here, I think we have much to learn from each other.  

The Catholics can teach us much about the price paid to repair our broken relationship with God.  

I fear that too often we have made salvation dependent on nothing more than saying a prayer.  I see this with mission teams that lead folks in a sinners prayer, but do nothing more to teach them about the Jesus they have supposedly asked "into their heart".  Little, if anything, is done to assure that they have had a change of heart, not just said some words.  Most times, nothing is done to teach them to follow Jesus.  Too often they are converted but never discipled. 

As Evangelical, I am concerned that inadvertently we have, in many ways cheapened the sacrifice of Jesus, by focusing on OUR individual salvation, when in reality it isn't about us at all.  It's about our willingness to be disciples and live as he did, not about what doctrine we follow or dogmas we cling to.  It is not just about our "eternal security" of going to heaven, but about the charge which Jesus left us to make the Kingdom of Heaven become a reality here on earth, as was God's intention in creation.

Even the andas carrying Mary do not offend me as they once did.  (BTW, here in San Pedro, Mary follows Jesus, and the "float" is much smaller and the processional simpler.)  These portrayals of Mary always focus on her sorrow as she watched Jesus suffer and die for us.  It reminds us of her faithful presence with him.  Seeing this can provoke our own sorrow in recognizing the price paid to reconcile us to God.  Too often, I fear, we pass over Good Friday in our hurry to get to Resurrection Sunday.

So I ask you this year, as we prepare to celebrate the greatest "overcoming" of all time in the Resurrection, to take time this week to focus on the events leading up to it.  Learn from Mary to take some time so "stay with" Jesus,  to watch and pray with him, as he asked the disciples to be with him in Gethsemane.  Open our hearts to feel his struggle, as a man, as he faced his impending death.  To repent from  all the ways in which we do not faithfully follow him, maybe even run from him, that created the need for his death.  To appreciate what it cost Jesus to reunite us with God.  Then we will truly be able to experience the joy of the Resurrection.

A Good Word for 2023

At the end of every year I ask God for a word which will carry his message to me through the coming year.  Often it is is beautiful, descriptive word.  This year He has somewhat surprised me (though looking back on my writings I don't know why I'm surprised) with a short yet very sweet word, "Yes." 

"Yes" to Him and all He sends my way in 2023.  "Yes" to being fully present to the people He sends into my life in the coming year.  "Yes" to surrendering all that I am, each and every day, to His presence and His purpose.

While all of this sounds very "holy," in reality it is terrifying if I let myself think about it.  I often joke that if God had told me in 2010 what I would be doing in 2022, I would have told him, "No thank you. Send someone else." My joking, however, often reveals my fears and insecurities.  Sadly, I'm afraid, even as I joke  about this, in my heart I have to acknowledge the kernel of truth hidden here.  

This life God has chosen for me is more challenging than I would have chosen for myself.  There are great joys in what He has called me to do, but there are things that are difficult as well. 

Living far from family is one of the most difficult, as I watch my grandchildren grow and see my children's lives moving on without me.  Don't get me wrong.  They welcome me into their lives when I am there, but it is hard when I'm not to keep up on what is going on.  It is even harder to support them as I would like.  It seems, rather than getting easier as time goes on, it is harder as I realize what I am missing.

If I'm honest, I have to admit I find running a ministry, doing all the administrative stuff, difficult and somewhat uninteresting.  I have the heart of a teacher, of a discipler, and often am at a loss as to how to lead well those who God has entrusted to me, both residents and staff.  Managing finances and fund raising are well outside the scope of my natural abilities, and present daily challenges as I try to find better ways to manage the resources God has given us, particularly in the context of an  ever increasing cost of living.

It is in these challenges, in these areas where my natural abilities do not suffice, that I find God the most.  He has put together an amazing team to back me up, both in our Board in the US and the staff we employ here in Guatemala.  He has brought residents to us who have become my second family.  Finally, I have friends and supporters in two countries who encourage me and hold me up in prayer.  None of these things I could do on my own.  I know He is faithful.

So I say "Yes" to all God offers me and requires of me in 2023.  Will you join me?

Joseph and the Gift of Holy Confusion

We often talk about Mary's "Yes" to God, but Joseph's "Yes" was just as critical to God's redemptive plan.  Scripture tells us very little about Joseph, except that he was a just man, faithful to the law of God.

Imagine, then, his confusion at finding Mary to be with child.  He was betrothed to her, which in Biblical times was as binding as marriage.  According to the law, he must divorce her, or he would be seen an breaking the law by having relations with her during the period of engagement.  How could this have happened?  How could she betray him as he worked to prepare a home for them?

But he was kind as well as just.  He did not want to publicly humiliate Mary, though by the law she deserved it.  He did not want to be cruel, but he must obey the law.  He decided to divorce her privately, though this would leave Mary and her child to live the lives of outcasts to their society.  After struggling with what to do, he finally reaches a decision and falls into what I imagine was a fitful sleep.

Then an angel comes to Joseph in a dream, not when he was awake and struggling, but after he had reached his decision.  The angel comes to reassure him that Mary had not strayed and that she would bear the Son of God.  He is told he must marry her, though that would make him appear to have sinned also.  

The brief account of this in Scripture makes it seem so neat and easy.  But the reprecussions were immense.   He would bear the shame of this child with her.  Wouldn't it be easier to just dismiss the dream as nothing more than his unconscious imagination. Then he could go ahead with his kind, yet just plan.  After all, it was only a dream.

But Joseph recognized the voice of God in this dream.  He says "Yes" in obedience though it would cost him his reputation. He said "Yes" to loving as a father a child that was not of his flesh. He says "Yes" to trusting God and Mary that this is God's Son. Later, he would say "Yes to becoming a refugee, fleeing from Herod with the baby and Mary, once again directed not consciously but in a dream.  And he says "Yes" to the fearful, seemingly impossible task of raising the Messiah, his God and King. 

How he must have struggled.  The life he planned had been turned completely upside down.  How he must have been terrified by the implications of his obedience. Yet he says "Yes" and follows through in obedience.  

How very different the life of Jesus would have been without the "Yes" of Joseph. This almost forgotten "Yes" had great impact on the future of the Messiah.  Joseph says "Yes" and then disappears.