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Friday, April 29, 2011

Eternal Life

I’ve been a Christian for a long time.  I’ve read the bible countless times. What continues to amaze me is the way that the bible is a living, breathing document that continues to speak new words to me throughout the years. I often read the Bible and come across a particular verse that blows me away. 

Just today I was reading and came across John 17:3.  I’m sure I’ve read it before, but today it was with fresh eyes.  I said to myself, “I can’t believe I’ve never noticed this before.”

Jesus is praying for himself, his disciples, and future believers before his arrest and execution.  He knows he’s about to die, and this is what he chooses to pray; pretty significant stuff.  I’m sure he chose his words carefully.

“Now this is eternal life that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”  John 17:3

“This     is     eternal     life….” 

This is it, a definition to help explain all the other scriptures that talk about eternal life.  This is significant, because it clarifies, it defines, it illuminates.

I don’t know about you, but growing up in Sunday school I was taught eternal life, meant heaven.  Pearly gates.  Streets of gold.  Mansions.  Extra jewels in your crown.  Puppy dogs, kittens, and candy canes. 

Of course I’m simplifying it for dramatic effect.  And yes, I do believe in heaven.  But what is important for me to notice is that in this instance Jesus is defining eternal life as relationship with God the father and God the son. 

Did you catch that?  

Eternal life is not a time frame. 

It doesn’t mean “forever.”

It doesn’t mean infinite streets of gold floating in the clouds with unending time.

Eternal life is a relationship.  It is relationship now, here, beginning in this life, and continuing into the life to come. 

For many years as a Christian, long before I could express it theologically, I had a problem with the idea that we need to get people to say the “sinners prayers” so that they can be saved, avoid hell, and walk on golden streets.

When I meet hurting people, it is not my goal to get them to say a prayer to avoid hell.  My goal is to introduce them to life in relationship with the Father.   What good is a sinner’s prayer, when it’s not followed with relationship?  Nothing.  It’s just empty, vacant words.

Following on the heels of Easter, our focus is on the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.  But I think that we would be remiss to forget that the purpose of this is to allow for relationship with the Father.  Jesus himself prays in John 17:25,26:

“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you...and I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them, and that I myself may be in them.”

God, help me to show your love to my world.  Amen.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Obstacles for the poor

Two weeks ago I was in Durban visiting a missionary friend that works with kids in squatter camps.  As part of their weekly routine, they have a staff member that spends a day going to government offices to help their kids obtain ID books, birth certificates, and government grant money.  So I went along to see what that process was like.  

After our daughter Kendi was born here in South Africa I had to visit the Department of Home Affairs (the place you go for ID books and birth certificates.)  So, I already knew that spending the day in the DHA is kind of like saying that you’re going to spend the day at the US Department of Motor Vehicles.  In other words, it’s not really a place that you want to spend all day.

As boring as that day might sound, it was actually eye opening to see what the underprivileged have to go through in South Africa, and how difficult life can be for them.  Our day started at 7:30 am when I met Siyanda (the missionary staff member) along the side of the road and drove him to the DHA office.  We waited for about an hour before the lady who we were helping could arrive.  She had to come by taxi.  Taxis in South Africa are mini-busses that are piloted by completely insane drivers that are part Nascar driver, part pirate, and part mafia hit man.  In other words, you don’t want to have to ride in a South African taxi.   But for the poor, that is the only option. 

A typical South African taxi

The woman we were helping was a mother of a 4-month-old baby girl.  The woman’s shack had recently burned down, destroying her ID book, her birth certificate, and her matric (graduation) certificate.  To understand the significance of this loss, you need to know that in South Africa, you need your ID book for nearly everything.  Without an ID book, you can’t get a job, open a bank account, or apply for a government grant.  Most poor people are only hired on a temporary basis, so that the employer doesn’t have to pay benefits to them.  The temporary job where this woman worked had recently come to an end, and without an ID book, she could not get another job.

The week before I was with them, they had visited the DHA to get her a new ID book.  They told her that her ID number was not showing up in the computer and she would have to come back the next week.  So the next week, when I was with them, she was told the same thing.  Each time she visits the office, it costs her more taxi fare, and it’s another week that she can’t get a job without her ID book.  No one seems to know why she’s not in the system, and no one seems interested in finding a solution.  She repeatedly told to “wait.”

Then the next mission was to get a printout of her matric results, for potential employers.  Of course, that is in another office in another part of town.  So we jumped in the car, drove downtown, and went into the department of education.  After waiting through the line, we were told that we were at the wrong office and we must go to the other department of education office that is in another part of town.  But, of course, they don’t know where that office is.

So we took off on foot in the vaguely northern direction that the employee told us to go.  We spent about an hour circling around the seedy part of downtown Durban trying to find the right office.  Finally we found the other Department of Education, only to find out that there was yet a third Department of Education office around the corner.  This time we were lucky enough to get directions.  We found the office, and she filled out her paperwork and she now has to wait 3 weeks for her results to arrive.  All the while she sits at home, with her 4-month-old baby, unable to get a job.

Some boys in a Durban squatter camp

After spending half of my day with this young woman it was clear to me how difficult it is for the poor to break out of the cycle of poverty.  This is just one example of the hurdles and obstacles that a person has to overcome before they can find legitimate employment.  It’s no wonder people sit at home, waiting for the government to rescue them; and its no wonder that people turn to crime.

This woman that we were helping is a high school graduate, with an experienced missionary helping her through the process.  Imagine how difficult it would be for an uneducated, illiterate person who has rarely ventured beyond the world of the squatter camp.  For a person like that to find their way to the correct government offices, wade through the mountain of paperwork required, and jump through all the hurdles, it is monumental challenge. 

For those of us fortunate enough to have grown up in a first world environment, we’ve never had to see the world through the lens of the poor.  Sometimes it’s good to see the world through the eyes of another.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Fewer sermons, more meals

Agnes is a local lady we work with who cares for orphans out of her home.   She is truly an inspiration.  Maybe someday I’ll write a book about her life and the things she says. 

The other day she was telling a friend of ours how she wants to reach out to her community with the love of Christ.  She doesn’t want to start a church because the people in her neighborhood have had so many bad experiences with churches and pastors.  Instead, she dreams of having a big long table where she can invite people over for dinner and just love them with the love of Christ.

I had to laugh.  In America that’s the kind of talk you hear coming from the postmodern emergent church movement.

Less church, more Jesus. 
Fewer sanctuaries, more table settings. 
Fewer sermons, more meals. 

This was coming from a 65-year-old African woman that simply has the love of God in her heart.   I’m sure that Agnes has never heard the words “postmodern” and “emergent.”  I’m sure that she couldn’t care less about what is trendy in the evangelical church. 

Agnes’ life is a better sermon than any I’ve ever heard from a pulpit.

Being around her makes me want to love God more deeply, and love people more genuinely.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Do you really believe that God is love?

Photo Source: yamaken
I have to confess that I did not truly believe that until recently.  I said I believed it.  I actually thought that I believed it.  But some recent events have caused me to step back and re-evaluate my theology and my understanding of God and the Bible.

I’m in the process of examining all of my nitty gritty, deep down, never seen the light of day thoughts concerning God; and I’m ashamed to admit that my previous view of God was not very flattering (to him or me.)

So here’s a challenge, for those of you who intentionally follow Christ; and for those of you who don’t:

Try your best to forget your previously held believes about God.  I know it’s actually impossible to forget your history and previous believes, but try.  Try to suspend doctrine and dogma, just for this exercise.  I know that might be a little scary; it was a little unsettling for me.  And then I remembered that it was doctrine that got in the way of the Pharisees being able to see Jesus for who he really was (John 5:39,40)

So, just for now, set aside doctrine, dogma, theology, and everything you’ve ever learned in Sunday school about God.  (Don’t worry; your theology will still be there to pick back up when you are done.)

Then read the bible with fresh eyes.

Pretend that God really loves you.   He doesn’t just love you, he actually likes you.



As you are, imperfections and all.

Pretend like he really does want what’s best for you, in this life, and in the life to come.

Pretend like he’s not angry at you, not waiting to hit you with a stick when you make a mistake.

Pretend like the gospel (the message of Jesus) is actually good news.

Good news for you, me, thieves, liars, priests, prostitutes, politicians, tele-evangelists, everyone.

Just pretend.  Read the bible with fresh eyes.  (The book of John was a good place for me to start.)

I think that if you do this honestly, you’ll find that you see God in a new light.  You’ll see yourself in a new light.  And you’ll see others differently.

It’s life changing to actually believe it.

God is love. (I John 4:8)


Friday, April 8, 2011

Interview With Kendi - Age 4

Do you like living in South Africa?

What do you like about living here?
I like my bedroom.

What do you  dislike about living here?
I like everything.

Do you remember living in Colorado?
I remember our house with the trampoline.

What are your favorite foods to eat here South Africa? 
Spaghetti.  I like eating at Mugg & Bean, my favorite thing to eat is waffles.

What is the weather like here?
It's sunny and there are flowers and trees outside.  I only like the trees that we can climb up.

What are your favorite things to do here?
Swimming, blowing fuzzy blowers (dandelions), seeing lions at the Lion Park, seeing other animals.

Do you like playing with the kids in Phokeng?
Yes!  I like to swing and play on the playground with them.

Where is your favorite place to go in South Africa?
The mall, Lion Park, Sun City (a water park).

Is there anything else you'd like to say about South Africa?
I don't know.  I'm going to be an airplane lady (a pilot) and a princess when I'm  a grown up.

Monday, April 4, 2011


Last week I was in Freedom Park, a local squatter camp.  I was visiting AIDS patients; praying with them, and bringing them food.  I’ve visited hundreds of AIDS patients during my time in South Africa, but each time I’m shocked at the hopelessness that I find there. 

Truly without hope, beaten down, defeated, no end in sight, despair. 

The word most often used by Jesus to describe hell is “Gehenna,” translated literally, “valley of Hinnom.”  In Jesus’ day the valley of Hinnom was an actual place.  It was the city dump where a fire constantly burned and wild animals fought over the refuse, gnashing their teeth.  When Jesus used the word “Hell” people knew what he meant; they didn’t have to imagine it, they could walk to the edge of town to see “hell.”

Imagine that you are a single mom, inflicted with AIDS.  You are so sick, you can’t rise from your bed to care for your children.  All day, all night, you lay in a 4ft by 6 ft shack with no floor, no windows and a low tin roof, baking in the hot African sun.  You have no control over your bodily fluids.  Your children cook their own food in the shack using paraffin, a waxy petroleum based substance that puts off noxious fumes, burning your throat and eyes.

I can’t help but think that if Jesus wanted to describe hell today he wouldn’t use the word “Gehenna” he would use the word “Freedom Park.”  For those of us blessed with the opportunity to reach out to AIDS patients in Freedom Park, we know hell.

We’ve seen it, smelled it, touched it, felt it’s heat breathing down our backs, its stench has burned our throats, and its fumes have burned our eyes.  To me, hell is not only just a place in the future.  It’s a place here, now, with real people suffering.

Why is this important?  I take the Lord’s prayer quite literally when he says, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  I’m confident it’s not the Lord’s will for this mother to suffer alone, dying of AIDS.  I’m confident it’s not the Lord’s will for her children to live as orphans.

My mission is to bring Heaven to earth.  Or more accurately, to destroy Hell with the incredible, overwhelming, life changing, life bringing, renewing, sustaining, healing love of God.

I’ve seen hell. 
I’ve seen God’s love. 
Love wins.


Friday, April 1, 2011

South Africa Stories

Tshepiso* is one of the precious little boys that we’ve been able to work with.  When he was still a baby, his mom died from AIDS.  Tshepiso has horrible eczema because of the AIDS medication he is on.  He has dry and cracked skin from head to toe and he has to wear gloves so that he doesn’t scratch himself.

One day he broke out in blisters on his hands and arms from an infection.  The poor little boy was in so much pain his whole body was shaking.  He looked so pitiful.  I took him to see Dr. Neil (a local doctor who volunteers much of his time working with AIDS patients and orphans).  Tshepiso was put on antibiotics for the blisters.  We all felt so bad for him and were praying for his healing.

Two days later, in our weekly staff meeting, we were told that they could hear Tshepiso all the way in the office yelling, “I’m healed, look at my hands, I’m healed.” It was heartwarming.  Later in the day Tshepiso came up to me to say, “ Take me again. Take me again to Dr. Neil.”

He loves Dr. Neil so much that he actually wants to go to the doctor’s office. To me this was such a perfect example of how God uses people to be His hands and to perform His miracles. It’s nothing short of a God given gift and a miracle for God to send Dr. Neil to help heal the hurting children of South Africa.

*Name changed to protect privacy