Monday, March 29, 2010

The Author


As I got up from my chair, shivers of anxiety and excitement thrilled my soul. I stopped typing, my hands lifted from the keys, and I moved into the chair next to the computer. A man was standing next to me and as soon as I had taken my seat in the other chair, he took my previous seat, put his hands on the keyboard and started typing away. I watched the letters dance on the screen as he typed a brilliant story full of wonder, learning, passion, and sometimes pain. However, some parts started getting monotonous so I tried to speak up. “Would you like your chair back?” He asked. “No, no, please continue.” After that the monotony didn’t stop, and then he started to write things that sounded completely awful; heartbreak, separation, but worse—more monotony. The typing stopped. He looked at me and said, “Wait right there, I’m going to get a drink of water. Do not touch the computer.” He got up and left the room. I knew that even though the story sounded a little bit boring, and was not what I wanted to see, I couldn’t touch the keys. I had given up control and deep down, I knew this story was the best that could be written. However I kept reading more of the story and his writing style didn’t match up with mine. He got way to descriptive and I saw entire paragraphs that could be omitted. So I just reached over from my chair and hit backspace a couple times. Then I saw this sentence that was really arduous so I decided to rewrite it and spice it up a little. Then the fact that he had stopped mid-sentence overtook me and I had to finish his sentence. Pretty soon I was in the chair and typing again, faster and with a control-stricken fury. Time had passed, I wasn’t sure how much time, but I knew it was more time that it took to get a drink of water. I got up, walked to the kitchen, but he was nowhere to be found. Terror struck my mind and rattled my nerves. Did I drive him away? Would I be alone once more? I ran back over to the computer in a daze. He was sitting in my chair with his hands on the keys prepared to write. He smiled and told me to sit down. As I got in my chair, he said, “You changed some things.” My face dimmed with shame. “Yes.” I muttered. “Not bad.” He said. Puzzled I looked up at him and said, “Really?” With a hint of sadness in his eyes he told me. “It’s not bad, but it certainly isn’t that good. I was just getting to the good part and you changed it. I can’t hit backspace, but if you want I will keep typing. However, the good part will have to wait.” I couldn’t believe how foolish I had been. The weight of the damage I had done by hitting a few keys struck me full force. “You really will continue?” I asked, surprised that he wasn’t furious with me. “I will continue as long as you will give me this chair. You have touched my story, tried to put in your input as if I had been mistaken. But, you forget that it is I who created you, who shaped you, who first loved you and awoke love within you. You forget that I created all this, and you forget my character. You don’t trust that I am good, that I am caring, that I am love. Even though you forget, and even though you will forget again, as long as you will let me, I will stay in this chair. And even when you forget, when you get angry with me, when you take control, I will not forget about you. My grace will still be there for you. My love will still be burning for you. Trust my story, Kyle. Trust that I know how to write, that I love you, that I know what is best for you. Stop worrying, stop critiquing and just live in my story.” With tears welling in my eyes I buried my face in His shoulder and apologized for not trusting despite His goodness that He has proved time and time again. He just put His hand on my shoulder and said, “Stop feeling sorry, get out there and live the words that I am writing for you. Live in my story, embrace my adventures, shine through the world’s pain, and get lost in love.”


I am in the middle of about four different books right now. One of them I just started. It is a really great book and really great story that has sold millions of copies, but sometimes the author’s writing style sometimes annoys me. He can get lost on less-than-important tangents and can get too caught up in his descriptive words. I feel like taking my red pen to the book and making it more concise. This morning I was thinking about my life and reading another book about God authoring my story. I thought about how I sometimes want to take my red pen to God’s story and throw in my stellar human input. I realized how foolish this was and things started to fall into perspective. I am at the perfect age for worrying about my future. I am especially worried at the rest of this year. But, with this kick in the rear God gave me, I feel more at peace. I feel more ready to trust His plan for my life. I feel less afraid, knowing that God is going to catapult me into a great adventure and use me to do something worthwhile. I just have to trust. I can only trust Him if I know Him. I have to remember His character and daily choose to die with Him, and daily choose to live in His love.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Fiery Passion


It is 4:00am. No, I didn’t wake up early—I still haven’t gone to bed. This is a bad habit. I had broken it. I was going to bed consistently at 12 or 1 many nights, but I have fallen back into the vicious cycle of 3 or 4. I like staying up late. I like how quiet it is. The world is asleep and I get to stay up obsessing about life. It’s my time where I get to pour out my frustrations and anger to God and He gets to smile, nod His head, and listen. I like that God is not afraid of my emotions.

This was a good week. My schedule was messed up because of the holidays so I ended up having to teach on Friday. I was at the center from 3:30-8:30. I realize that is only 5 hours, but its more than I’m used to doing on a Friday. Before I went to work I ended up scrambling trying to write quizzes for idioms and grade writing assignments. We had nothing prepared for Friday Club either, but somehow it all came together in the end. I finished class right at 6:30 (which is the time Friday Club starts) and I quickly thought of a little game that we could start with; during this game Steven made discussion questions; during the movie I printed off another activity involving some Proverbs; at the end we had a very successful meeting. I actually kind of liked having a busy Friday. It was an opportunity to get into my work.

In life we long for freedom and security, but we rarely find both. Most people work in a steady job with all their fancy benefits and get a consistent paycheck every two weeks and feel secure. Many people long for the government to step in and take care of them—this will make them feel secure. But, in this process of gaining comfy, cozy security we often give up freedom—the power to do what we want when we want. So logically we have to find a balance, however most people do not live in the balance, they live in the extremes. Think about your life; you’re probably secure, but if you wanted to pick up and go to a different state and do a different job, could you? Would you? I was thinking how lucky I am to be here in Kazakhstan. I am young, and here I have this opportunity to be both secure and free. Something I am cherishing, because soon it will be all gone. When I go back to school, I will be secure with my cafeteria account balance and my curfew-enforced dorm, but my freedoms will be gone. When I graduate school I will be able to do whatever I want, but until I find some sort of job, I will have no security.

While this perfect balance of freedom and security is ruling in my life, I still have problems. This week I have been struggling with an unsettling problem—I lack passion. I like teaching English, but it is a hard job to get passionate about. I realize that my personality, my being, yearns for passion. Whatever I do in life, wherever I go, I need passion. I’m not talking about comfy, cozy passion either. I am not talking about contained passion, but rather bursting, fiery passion that flows through my veins and ignites my soul. I need passion. I need a girl to love, a job to throw myself into, a child to hold, a God to serve, a family to fellowship with. I need to feel energy coming out from inside me, enthusiasm driving me, love welling up within me, and joy consuming me.

Take a second to reflect. What are you passionate about? Are you living in fanatical passion? Why not? I have decided to read 8 books in less than 3 months as well as work on some big writing projects. In one of those books I found a quote that has really shaped my thinking. John Eldridge in “Wild at Heart” tells me that I shouldn’t think about what this world needs. Instead I should think about what inspires me, ignites me, gets the passion flowing in me, because what this world needs is people that are passionate. That’s hardly an exact quote, but it summarizes his main point. So this morning, with wide eyes, but a tired mind I am praying for passion. For the ability to fall in love with my students and teach English like it’s a matter of life and death. For the ability to get excited for going back to school, and for the ability to get so caught up in every moment that I stop thinking about my future. I get so caught up with planning, so caught up with pondering, that I think about life while it passes me by. I’m tired of thinking. I want to live it—to live life in fervent, zealous, fanatical, obsessive passion. Passion that drives me to love like Jesus and overflow with pure, senseless joy.I am searching for passion...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Counting and Contemplating


Around 5 months ago I signed up to be a student missionary. I had no idea what to expect, but I figured it would be something like venturing throughout a tropical climate, perhaps a remote island in the pacific, sharing my faith with the indigenous people. I wanted to end up in a Spanish speaking country doing some practical skill rather than direct ministry.

You see the only thing I had ever really done was direct ministry, so naturally I wanted to try my hand at something different. When I heard about Kazakhstan I thought of Eskimos and cold weather. Then I heard it was a big city I’d be going to. I made it up in my mind that I would be going to a foreign-version of Chicago. When I got here I was surprised—surprised at everything. The city was big, intimidating, and more foreign than the imagined version in my mind. My apartment was small, unfamiliar, and dirty-looking. After living in this city and this apartment for over 2 months I have, like all humans do, become accustomed to my surroundings. I have adapted. I video chatted with my family this week and gave them a little tour of my apartment. I watched as their faces scrunched up at the sight of my cramped kitchen and Soviet-style bathroom. It was then that I started noticing things that I had learn to live with. I started to take notice of the simple things that I miss in America. For example I have to take a match to my stove and oven every time I light it. That’s not anything rough, but it’s inconvenient and I miss the automatic igniters back home. Another thing is a garbage disposal. That is one amazing invention that I think every American takes for granted. I mean really—who thinks about their garbage disposal? Try living without one and you will quickly realize that it greases the gears of life better than any other kitchen invention. Then there is the dryer. I cannot wait to return to that wondrous spinning machine that fluffs up my clothes, making them not only dry, by soft and smelling delicious. Aside from the things I miss I also realized the simple plights that have become routine to deal with. Things like Soviet plumbing (constantly leaking faucets and toilets) and a washing machine with a mind of its own (sometimes it will wash your clothes in 45 minutes other times you will have to wait 5 hours for it to spit them back out). However, I realize that I am not “roughing it” by any means. After all, I have indoor plumbing, electricity, endless hot water, a washing machine, a completely functional kitchen, and access to the internet with a high speed connection. These are only some of the blessings that I am constantly counting.

I was asked this week if I felt as though I was truly reaching out to people and touching lives for the glory of God. I had to be honest, and I had to honestly say no. Do I feel like a missionary? No, not in the glorified sense of the word. I feel like a wandering teenager who volunteered to add some adventure to his life and seek God outside of his normal frame of mind. I think that is important for people to do. Many people attempt to seek a spiritual experience with a Being that is immense, enormous, and beyond us with a very small worldview. If your view of this world is small then your view of things beyond this world is going to be a plethora of degrees beyond microscopic. I realized that I am perhaps an adventure junkie. I am a riotous human longing for experiences.

If you were to ask me what I like most about my experience here in Kazakhstan I would be able to come up with many positive things, but I think one that stands tall is the absence of micromanagement. Here, I am treated like a real adult. Normally, I am either at home where I naturally cling to the hood of my parents and become like a child or I am at school paying bucket-loads to be treated like a child. Here, I actually feel competent to make my own decisions and live my life as I see fit. I am an adult living in an apartment with a roommate making my own day-to-day decisions. As long as I show up for work and do my job, I don’t get asked any questions. I choose where I go during the day, when I sleep, where I sleep, what I eat and what I drink. I am living in freedom to make my own decisions—my own mistakes. I think this is where most of my learning experience is coming from.

I find it funny that many Christians are incredibly obsessed with micromanagement. Now, I’m not saying we should start having co-ed dorms in every Christian university and I’m not saying that we should open up Christian bars and nightclubs either, but maybe if we started letting young people feel like adults they would think of themselves more as adults? I really don’t know—just a thought. But, I was thinking today about how God has never been into micromanaging. He is all for helping us out when we have nowhere to turn and He promises a never-ending, colossal dose of love, but He is not into forcing any decisions or telling us what to do. He freely offers advice and I strongly believe He directs us in the right paths, but I don’t think He is really into our day-to-day decisions or nagging us into a specific way of life. If you took a second to think how God has led you, you would probably have a very vague strange twist of events where you might have felt a nudge or two, but ultimately made your own decisions. Now I know there are some people that will think I am saying God doesn’t care how you act, but that is a dumb conclusion. Of course a God of love would care about your actions. If you’re not loving, that disturbs Him, and if you are loving, that elates Him. So basically I have just been pondering God’s management style—in my life and in the lives of Biblical figures. He is a very unorthodox Manager. If I were God I would be the most awful and annoying micromanager, but luckily I am not God and the God that is in charge is so obsessed with love that He is unwilling to restrict it in any way. That means we get free choice, and that means that we make a lot of mistakes and many people’s mistakes fall on other people and we wind up in a horrible mess called humanity. God is a good writer, but fortunately he is not like Shakespeare. He doesn’t believe in tragedies—He promises a happy ending. Good thing I believe in happy endings.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Words on the Pages of Life


I could have a boring life even as a missionary in Kazakhstan. That sounds absurd, but I assure you—it’s entirely possible. However, this weekend was far from boring and it is my goal to stay far, far away from that awful “B” word. What if I told you that I went to the mountains this weekend? Sounds pretty common, eh? What if I told you that I milked a cow this weekend—and not just a plain cow in a barn, but a random, wild cow out in the middle of a field? Not exciting enough? Ok. What if I told you that I had a meal in some family’s traditional Kazakh yurt in the midst of the snow-covered mountains of Kazakhstan? Pretty amazing, I know. But, how about if I top it off by telling you that I ate meat this weekend for the first time in 3 years! Whew! Let me tell you the story...

This weekend started on Friday when we all adventured to Baraholca. That was in the previous blog. Then came Sabbath when we showed up at church a bit late (because I was writing the previous blog), but made it just in time to act out the story of the prodigal son for the children. After church we walked down to our place and waited to go to a nice café for an evening supper (we get out of church around 5-6). However, we never ended up leaving our apartment. The girls and us cooked some food (Panini’s!), drank some coffee, and acted completely silly, but had had boatloads of fun. We finished the night by watching the Matrix. I stayed up late and then woke up early on Sunday to head to the mountains. Steven stayed back at the apartment because he wasn’t feeling so well. He is feeling better now, probably because he did like I wouldn’t have and actually got some rest. I went to meet the girls early in the morning and was running late like always. I hopped on a bus that I knew would get me part way, and it did just that. So as I was venturing around the city looking for another bus to take me the rest of the way, I got lost—again! I walked around for over a half hour and finally ended up walking back to where I had started to find a bus that I had seen numerous times before, but didn’t know it would take me to where I needed to be. I guess I need to be bolder in asking for directions, but it’s a bit difficult when you don’t understand where they tell you to go. When I finally made it to where the girls were at I felt bad for making them wait, but I could see that they were enjoying themselves. Normally, we get a nice-sized group to go to the mountains with us, but the fresh snow was unattractive to the more normal people, so it was just the three of us. By our bus stop—which is near a giant, grand entrance to an unfinished park—there were all these decorations for Nauriz. Nauriz is the Kazakh new year, the first day of Spring—a big holiday for central Asia. Set up were mini yurts and a big marriage swing. A marriage swing is like those swings you see acrobats using at Barnum and Bailey’s circus; the swings that are like a big board with two people standing at opposite ends thrusting the other person into the air. I call it a marriage swing because it is traditional for native Kazakh bride and grooms to swing on a swing like this after their marriage celebration. There is some tradition about seeing who gets higher and what it means and all this other stuff that is completely unbeknownst to me. Anyways, after having our fun on the swing we got on another bus and journeyed up into the mountains. Instead of doing any hardcore hiking, we decided to just stroll around and see what we could find. We soon approached a little stand where people were selling fermented milks and snacks in front of their home. Veronica with her incredible outgoingness and audacity walks into the people’s place and screamed out “Ha-low!” (that is the Russian way of saying “hello”) They came out to serve us and the next thing I knew we were going inside their house. Veronica had pointed to their traditional, and real yurt and said, “moshna?” (May I?) and the lady went inside, cleaned things up and had us sitting on the floor of the comfy warm Kazakh house. We have this thing within our group where we joke about living in yurts when we return to America. We joke about it, but I’m pretty sure Emily is serious (hehe). Anyways, we entered into this yurt and it was amazing! (Pictures to come!) She served us hot tea with milk, bread and butter, some fried sopapilla-like things, and other Kazakh novelties. The main course was of course—meat! You have to understand that being a vegetarian in America is very easy. We have options and people generally accept you as normal and even respect your attempts at living healthfully. Here in Kazakhstan, where meat is a staple food, horse especially, vegetarianism is looked down upon and considered absolutely foolish. I’ve been a vegetarian since I’ve been here and our apartment is always cooking up vegetarian meals, but when I’m in the mountains and some sweet old Kazakh lady is trying to feed me in her home being a vegetarian suddenly became a problem. It became an even bigger problem when I saw her put the skewers of deliciously juicy, well cooked meat on the table (called Shashlik). I decided that I was in Rome and I must do what the Romans do, so I took a piece of meat. After one piece I had to have another and pretty soon it became official—I had killed my vegetarianism. I honestly haven’t tasted meat in almost 3 years, but yesterday I blew it. It was so delicious! I expected to have stomach pain or vomit up a storm, but as of today, I’m still feeling fine. I really was expecting to get sick, if not from the meat, from some bacteria in that yurt! You know the health codes don’t really apply in mountain yurts (not that there is really any health code in Almaty to begin with). Once we had finished up with the yurt we trekked down the road a ways until we ended up just crashing in a wide open area of snow. We had fun with snowball fighting, snow angels, and we even built a little snowman. After messing around we headed out to this cool, ruinous looking place. On our way we saw a bunch of cows. We stopped to play with a younger one and as we were moving on we saw a big mama with full utters. Veronica, again with her audacity, approached the cow and as she made friends with her she reached for her utters and started to milk. Soon Emily and I were yanking on the utters as well. I didn’t know how to do it and it took me awhile to get the feel of it. Veronica filled up a water bottle with a few splashes of the fresh milk and after some hand sanitizer we reveled in the fact that it was the first time milking a cow for all of us. We kept climbing into the mountains and came to this tower for power lines. We climbed up on (being safe of course) and enjoyed the view of the valley below. It was a cloudy day, but the sun was shining through the clouds giving a bright silver glow to the frosty land beneath us. It was a breathtaking sight. After the tower we moved on and approached another mountain that was covered with sheep. We hardly noticed at first because they seemed to blend in with the mountain. I wanted to touch one so I tried to sneak up behind them and then I chased after them. My attempts were unsuccessful, but I walked away satisfied nonetheless. After all this we ran down the mountain, took pictures with a crazy elk statue, then got on the bus back home. The girls dragged me grocery shopping with them so I could help carry their bags home. By the time we got back to their apartment they started cooking some delicious food and it was late, so I decided to crash at their place. I woke up this morning, and we all traveled back to my place and met for a Nauriz celebration. We ventured the city hoping to find some great festivities, but we seemed to have missed them all. My high hopes for Nauriz were a little crushed, but I had an amazing weekend regardless. We cancelled classes for today so I had a three day weekend. Unfortunately, I will have to make up classes on Friday and it will not be a very fun day. So now this week is going to be all messed up for me because my mind still thinks it’s Sunday. It was quite an amazing weekend, but sadly words cannot do it justice. I only covered a small fraction of the excitement in these 1500 words so I will get some pictures up soon and hopefully that can give you some more insight into my crazy life here in this crazy country.

I said earlier that I could have a boring life here in Kazakhstan and it is very true. I have had days where I’ve done nothing, but fortunately those days are few and far between. Is that because I am in a foreign country surrounded by unique opportunities? Hardly. You can, and possibly do have a boring life wherever you are. Is it because of the lack of opportunities? Hardly. Get up and start painting this blank canvas God has given you—He has supplied all the paints, with all the colors and tools you could dream of. Start writing some words on your empty page—God will provide the ink in your pen. One of the saddest things to me is to watch people going through life without living it. Get out and live. Stop asking “how?” and pursue something!

Saturday, March 20, 2010 Worship


My blogs lately have been scarce. I apologize, but the website you’re looking at right now only works part time here in Kazakhstan. I think it has something to do with my internet provider and some firewall or whatever. It is too complex for me. So you can be sure that I will be checking my access often and posting whatever back-up blogs I have when I have the chance.

In my last blog, I told you that it had been a crazy week, and a crazy week it really has been. When one thing goes wrong, everything else in the world must figure that it should go wrong as well. Yet, although things went wrong, it seems as though everything is going to be ok. Like there is some Great Manager taking care of these problems one by one. I’m thankful.

Yesterday Steven and I made another journey to Baraholca (see previous entry about Baraholca for more information) with the girls. The market/city is so large that even though you spend hours there, you feel as though you’ve seen nothing. We were pressed for time, so we’ll be going back shortly. We had a blast though. It had been awhile since I’ve been shopping with girls. It requires patience. Haha, but it was fun. The surprising thing was that Steven was buying stuff. I only bought a pair of sunglasses for like 3 bucks, but Steven bought a whole jumpsuit (I’ll let him explain that one) and ski pants and other stuff I’m not even sure about. Normally, he never spends money and I’m the one squandering. It was a fun day.

Church is back on for today. We have not had a formal church service in two weeks because we have been under the watch of a government inspector. Religious freedom is something we hardly even give second thought to in America. Even here in Kazakhstan, we are very free religiously compared to all the other “Stan” countries. Our Christian neighbors like Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are under high levels of persecution. Here in Kazakhstan, it is hardly a problem, but the threat is real. Not everyone is free to worship how they please. These countries, once under the leadership of the Athiest Soviet Union, had their temples and mosques turned into Darwin-adoring museums and gift shops. Now that the local people are beckoned back to their traditional religion, Islam, things are not looking good for the Christians—especially protestants. So, say a prayer right now and thank God that you are not being punished for your faith. Remember your brothers who are having to fight to give praises to their God and meet with fellow believers. Religious persecution is real in this world. I hope Americans will enjoy this freedom for as long as time lasts. But, if it doesn’t, are you ready? Jesus is coming.

Just a few days ago one of my beautiful grandmothers celebrated her birthday. I was fortunate enough to talk with her, but I wish I could have been there with her. Today my other beautiful grandmother is celebrating her birthday. She has her daughters celebrating with her and much of my family is in the beautiful city of Redding enjoying each other’s company. I must say—I’m jealous. Today, I wish I could be with them. But, for now I must finish my work here. Time is flying by—I don’t want to miss out on the present moment. I’m tired of trying to live in the future.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Life Worth Living


This week has flown by. I wish I could describe all the havoc that has gone on and all the crazy stuff that has come my way these past few days, but words cannot do them justice at this point. As I write this I am listening to heavy rain drops colliding with this old Soviet building that I am calling “home”. The tip of my left pointer finger is numb and bandaged. We had some frozen French fries tonight—they were really good. But while trying to open the package with a sharpened butter knife I cut deep through my finger. I know it sounds stupid seeing that it was a butter knife, but remember I said it had been sharpened. It hurt terribly at first and there was quite a bit of blood, but some cold water and a lot of pressure stopped the bleeding in no time. Some antibiotic cream, a band-aid, and next thing you know everything was made fine. I’m pretty sure I cut into a nerve because I have very little feeling in my finger tip; something I am actually grateful for at the moment because for the little time I did have feeling it was nothing but pain and soreness. The finger and the heavy rain have hardly made an impact in the week. They are, as we say in level 2, "icing on the cake." Despite the troubles of this week, or perhaps because of the troubles of this week, I feel strongly that God is alive and present in my life. Something is looking out for me, and I’m glad I know this Something. Despite the horrible fragility of life, the constant danger that lurks in every darkness, the deep pits of uncertainty, the challenges and struggles that so often feel in vain, the blood that seeps from deep wounds, the worry that flies through the restless head, despite all this—I have a big smile on my face. It’s one of those smiles that I cannot explain, a smile that is genuine, that feels as though it comes from nowhere. It may sound stupid and it probably is, but I’m happy tonight. I have plenty of reasons to be miserable, to be angry even, but I think I’ll stick with the smile. Today, I choose the peace that Jesus gives. Today, I choose the joy that stems from a love deeper than any bottomless pit. Today, I choose a life worth living.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Life is Wonderful


What a weekend! These past couple days were some of the best I’ve had in this country. Sabbath was amazing. I got to sleep in and then we had a little house church in Yelena’s apartment. We just sang praises, studied the Bible, conversed about God, and ate lunch as we fellowshipped together. It was refreshing. After church we got suited-up to go to a Russian theater. One of students arranged tickets for us all to go to see Shakespeare’s “King Lear.” It was a good play, the only thing was we couldn’t understand anything. My student translated and printed out a script so I was able to get familiar with the play before we saw it. Still, it was fun to make up the script in our heads as they dramatically acted it out on stage. It was quite an experience.

Sunday, I woke up at 7:30am. I think that is the earliest I have ever woken up in this country. We ventured on the bus, met the girls, and headed up to the mountains. We went a different mountain this time, a mountain that I hadn’t been to. It was so fun! We hiked up a road, and then found a mountain we wanted to climb, so we went off the trail and hiked straight up this mountain which was half covered with snow and half covered with winter-ridden, thorn-covered bushes. After about 4 hours of hiking we reached the top (well...near enough the top) and we had a picnic. After stuffing ourselves we walked along a ridge and found a snowy place to slide down. We slid on our butts, on our backpacks, on our coats, on our stomachs down steep slopes. Sliding on our stomachs was the best. We coined it “Penguin Sliding” and I am convinced they should turn it into an Olympic sport. We occasionally crashed into some bushes, collided with rocks, dodged trees, and fell off some large embankments. By the time we made it down from the mountain we were all soaking wet, sore and bruised, cut up, but smiling uncontrollably from the craziness and the great fun we all had. It is a day that I will never forget.

I was thinking about life, about all the fun and adventures we have. We often do dangerous, painful things in the name of fun, and would have it no other way. I think of skydiving, paintballing, butt-sledding, and everything else. We read about adventures where people live off the land—eating birds and wild berries. We never think about the process it takes to kill and skin an animal as well as prepare it and we never think about all the sicknesses they go through eating poisonous berries. Good stories and good memories are made by pain, by threatening situations. Even though this mountain adventure is now just a memory, it is a good memory, an exciting part of my story. I want my story to be full of excitement.

So as we were climbing this mountain, virtually going straight up, the mountain seemed to never end. We all got to the point where we were just tired and hiking was losing its fun. We seemed to go and go and go, but only look up and down to what looked like the same view as before. We all cried that this mountain was never going to end. I made a quick parallel about life at this moment. I realized that many people look at life as a mountain—something to be conquered. However, life is a mountain that can never be conquered. People are so focused at getting to the top that they don’t enjoy their hike. When they finally get to the top is when life finally leaves them and at this point, there is nothing more to enjoy—your lifeless body will rot in a grave. It reminds me of the famous quote, “Success is a journey, not a destination” only this applies to more than just success, it applies to life in general. Stop trying to reach certain destinations and accomplish certain goals—just live! While goals are good and ambitions are necessary, the importance of living surpasses them all. Enjoy your hike, don’t worry about the top. Enjoy the view from where you are, but never stop climbing. One day it will all make sense, but today is probably not that day. One of my many mottos is “less doing, more being.” Just be.

Father Forgive Me


I am a sinner. It doesn’t matter what you see on the outside; how good, innocent, or godly I look. My heart is ridden with thoughts and desires that do not come from God. I long for Jesus—for Him to consume me with His love. I recognize that He is the only thing good within me.

I believe that God is primarily a relational Being. It is the only way I can explain my creation, my salvation, and God’s interaction in my everyday life. Sure God is many things, but every time in Scripture Jesus or the God of Old Testament refers to His relationship with us/His church, He does not use abstract parables with objects, but practical parables involving relationships. He refers to His church as His bride; He calls us children of God adopted by grace. God is love.

Hosea is a man that had to go through some of the pain that God goes through everyday. Through this man’s life, God illustrated the heartbreak that He goes through when His children continue to live in sin and reject His leading and involvement. Hosea was married to a whore. If the church is Jesus’ bride, then I would have to say He is married to the whorest of whores.

When I sin, I feel guilt—I go to God and ask for forgiveness. I tell God to create in me a clean heart (Psalm 51) and tell Him to be faithful and just in forgiving my sin since I am confessing (1 John 1:9). I claim Jesus as my righteousness The scriptural passages that I base my forgiveness on are largely built on the relational component of God’s grace, however, I treat my forgiveness as a technicality.

I go to God and say, “Lord, forgive me.” I tell Him that I have fallen short once again and cry out for the righteousness of Jesus. This is all good, but to be honest, it is no better than reciting 10 Hail Mary’s and getting away free. The weird thing is I ask for forgiveness so that God will reopen the doors and so I can start being relational with Him again. I overlook that my forgiveness is relational. When I fall short, when I give in to all sorts of things that are blatantly contradictory to God’s way of life, I should seek relational forgiveness, but I don’t and this is a problem. It’s as if I am a man going to my wife and saying, “Honey, I’ve been cheating on you with multiple different women. Please forgive me.” Now I am confident that Jesus forgives me, so normally I walk away at this point feeling forgiven and moving on. Of course I should move on, of course I should be confident in my forgiveness, but if I said a statement like this to my wife then I would know, even if she did forgive me, that she would be horribly pained and hurt. Tears would be streaming from her face. Even if she loved me more than anything, even if she had forgiven me right away, she would be hurting. When I sin I feel like I need to go through the technicalities to get it expunged from my record, I disregard the tears streaming from the eyes of God.

God is big—really, really big. So it is a valid question to wonder if a God that could create this world could really be interested in your everyday actions. Again, I believe God is relational, but I do believe He is God. He does not hurt the same way you and I understand hurt. He sees the big picture. He knows if you walk away from Him for the 40th time that you are getting nearer to the 53rd time which will be the last time. God is complex, bigger than you and I. I believe He cares about the way I live my life simply because I believe that He one day wants me to enjoy perfect holiness. I believe He cares how I live my life because it directly affects the lives of His other children. If God is as relational as I think He is, then when I make a commitment to Him, then break the commitment—it hurts Him. I need to approach God as I am approaching the amazing and wondrous Creator of the Universe, but also as I am approaching my spouse, the One who loves me more deeply than anyone I have ever known. This is sort of a complicated thing to do.

“Lord, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for cheating on you. I’m sorry for looking for love when it’s right in front of me. I’m sorry for not understanding your grace, and for the hardening my heart to your magnificent Spirit. Jesus, you died for me, you went to the ends of the earth and suffered great pain to prove your love for me, forgive me for not responding to this love. I’m sorry for being ungrateful—if I took the time to realize all that you have done for me then I wouldn’t stray so often. Thank you, Lord. Thank you for the change, the good work that you have begun in me. Thank you for the promise of finishing this good work—for the promise that sin will one day be done away with. Thank you for the joy you bring me today, and for the joy that you promise to bring in the days to come. Thank you for love. Teach me how to love you and those around me, that I may be changed. Changed—not to impress anyone or to earn anything, but simply so that I may live in this crazy love you have for me and share it with all these hurting people around me. Thank you for smiles, laughter, and beauty. Thank you for life and for being my God.”

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Things Taste Better When They’re Free


I figured out the secret to happiness. It turns out it’s a tomato and cheese Panini with spicy ranch sauce. Pretty much you take a baguette, butter it up, then stick it face down on the griddle and smush it with a pan loaded with heavy canned foods. When it’s all brown and delicious, take it off load it up with cheese, thinly sliced tomatoes, and crushed red pepper. Stick back on the griddle, smush it again, flip, listen to the sizzle and then serve with a mixture of ranch and Tapatio hot sauce. My goodness—it is proof that life is worth living. I love food.

Today I met the girls at a café. It was a new one that I hadn’t been to before, but I loved it. It’s a small, cozy place. We relaxed and ordered cappuccinos and I had a tomato and cheese omelet while the girls enjoyed a shared plate of fish. There was a man sitting next to us and seemed to be rather intrigued that we were speaking English. Pretty soon he approached us and asked us where we were from. We made conversation for awhile and he ended up telling us that he owned the café. He told us all about his entrepreneurial adventures, gave us his business card, and offered us desert—on the house! When he offered us desert I figured he was doing his typical customer service marketing strategy (which I’m sure he was) and I was expecting maybe a brownie or a little slice of cheesecake for us all to share, but to my surprise a huge platter filled with ice cream, tiramisu, brownies, and cheesecake came out to our table. And if that were not enough he offered us more delicious mochas, caramel lattes, and I got an iced coffee. All of this tasted so good because it was all free. So that alone was enough to make my day. You never know who you’re going to meet and what is going to happen next; that is why I love life. (If you’re ever in Almaty, be sure to check out John’s café!) Today I was reminded that God not only gives me what I need, but He takes great joy in giving me some stuff that I simply want. God doesn’t just provide dinner, but He also loves to provide a giant platter of desert!

Lately I have really been into stories. My mind has been occupied much by my wild imagination. I long for deep adventure that will take me to far-off lands and rescue pretty girls. Ever since I was a child, I have had a wicked imagination and reading books like the Chronicles of Narnia surely makes matters worse. So this past week or so I have been sort of down because of the fact that I cannot have adventures like the ones that happen in classic literature books and epic movies. Then I realized that I am living in Kazakhstan! Every time I got outside I am catapulted into an adventure. Most people get too busy living. It kind of freaks me out because I worry that I’ll get like that when I’m older. I don’t want to get so caught up in day-to-day life that I miss out on the adventures that wait for me. Coming here, having my own apartment, doing my own laundry, cooking my own meals, doing my own grocery shopping, cleaning my own toilets—it has all made me realize what a pain in the butt life is. Just to live takes up so much time; I’m not even talking about making money to buy the groceries! Anyways, it’s a disturbing thought.

Anyways, I have decided to try and be more open to the adventure that lies before me and not sulk in the fact that I am living in a world that is captured by satellite imagery and the old tales of exploring have faded away. I am always cautious about wishing for a great story, because I know that great stories involve great pain. Happy endings, involve a lot of previous unhappiness in order to make them happy. This world is so big, filled with people, filled with culture, and filled with people that need help, that need to smile. I want to make people smile.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Wind in My Sails


I used to be very adamant about blogging regularly, but the past couple weeks I have been getting out of my groove. Today is Thursday and I have concluded another full four-day week of teaching. It is always hard getting back into the swing of things after exam week. Monday and Tuesday I was going over tests, telling people they needed to do better if they wanted to move up with the rest of the class, and eluding the normal curriculum because not everyone had new books; including me. Wednesday and today, however, I felt like a real teacher, hitting the subject matter with full force and pushing my students. Yesterday I had to interview like 5 people when I had a class to attend to. It was a bit annoying, but it wasn’t too big of a deal. All of them tested very high, but I felt bad because I placed all of them very low. There is a big difference between someone’s knowledge of the language and their speaking ability. You can listen to many Americans speak well enough to communicate, but if you see them write anything you will know they do not have very good knowledge of their mother tongue. The opposite is also true. I have seen people teach English, and teach it well, while not being able to have a full conversation with me. Language is a very mysterious thing that drives all of life. I love it.

Out of all the people I interviewed, there was only one man that I put in my class. I told him he could try out Level 2, so he joined us later that night. My level 2 is a very good group that I trust to work hard and so I push them hard. After sitting through my class, and listening to my assignments the man had a troubled look in his eyes. I took him aside after class and asked him what he thought. “I think this will be too difficult for me,” he said politely. I reassured him that it was ok and that there is no shame in going to Level 1 before Level 2. I realized that this week I had been pushing my students very hard. I have no problem telling them things like they are. I tell each of my students that I am their teacher and that means by the end of my classes they should be communicating like a native speaker. I tell them that they paid for these classes and it is my job to teach them English—therefore they will learn English. I have high expectations, but I am by no means unmerciful. I was thinking about this today and where this aspect of my personality comes from, but it didn’t take long to realize I am so much like my father.

It’s scary really. You hear all the young people saying that they are nothing like their parents as they try to shape their own identities and you hear all the middle-aged people talking about how much they are like their parents while they wrestle with life’s real demands. Personally, I think it would be an honor to be like my parents. I can’t think of two better role models. I got lucky. In my last blog I wrote about women and I told you how much I love my Mom, but in this blog I want to tell you about how much I love my Dad, because it was his birthday on Tuesday. My Dad is a funny man. He has a mysterious aspect of his personality that will always keep you guessing, but a kind heart that glows through any circumstance. He’s a bit compulsive, chaotically organized, but driven and a true intellectual. Although he would like to blame the chaotic part of his organization on his children and his wife (which may be partially true) I know his style better than he thinks. I know this because while coming to Kazakhstan I have taken another slice of my independence and I have gotten to see a bigger chunk of who I really am, or rather who I am becoming. I am a guy who thrives on organization, but it is a type of organization that may not look entirely orderly to other people. I am a guy who likes to wake up to a clean kitchen; something I used to think was so odd about my father. I am a guy who likes to complain. Basically, I am a guy who has taken after my father, but not to worry; it hasn’t turned out to be such a bad thing after all. I recently read a Narnia book about a sailing adventure at sea. I have been thinking of my life as a fanciful ship gliding across ever-changing waters of a vast ocean. My Parents have played a big part on this ship. I see my Mother as my anchor, firmly supporting me and always holding me where I need to be; my comfort, my peace. My Father is the mast—supporting my sails and guiding me to different routes. He has always been my inspiration to steer into the dangerous and uncharted parts of the sea; my inspiration to meet adventure head on. Of course, both my parents play both of these roles quite well and they both play the fountain of love that nourishes my soul and enriches my journey. So the point is—I’m lucky and extremely thankful to have the wonderful parents I have. Happy Birthday, Dad!

Monday, March 8, 2010

God's Greatest Gift to Humanity


I weaved in and out of the crowded streets, looking at my naked wrist out of habit, but only being reminded of the fact that I forgot my watch. Large bundles of heart-shaped balloons floated in the air making everyone feel a sense of sappiness. Today I came within 5 feet of a camel, a horse-drawn carriage, and a Kazakh bride. What is the cause of all this excitement? There can only be one answer—Women’s Day! Most of the country gets the day off to spend time admiring the special women in their life. I, however, am not most of the country. Our English center is more persistent than the U.S. Postal Service. It doesn’t matter if it’s raining, sleeting, snowing, a national holiday—our classes meet! I was hoping (and praying) that nobody would show up and that I would get to go home early, but to my surprise almost every student that was supposed to be there was there. It was a hard day because my former level 4 is now level 5 and I didn’t have a level 5 book so instead of going through the exercises I had to turn it into discussion. The same happened with my former level 1 who has just become a level 2. We ended up talking about American and Kazakhstan economy, cars, and college education. I like my students and regardless of the fact that I never look forward to going to work, and even sometimes want to jump out the window while I am there, I somehow like being a teacher. Go figure? I don’t get it either.

In discussion today the logical thing to talk about was women so that’s precisely what I talked about. I had two ladies and one man and I posed the question, “What would the world be like without women?” Once Captain Obvious cleared up the fact that no births would be take place, and the absence of birth would mean the absence of life, then Captain Imagination was allowed to put in his two cents. Unfortunately my students don’t seem to have a great imagination, but I was able to pry a few answers out of them. They came up with answers like, “There would be more war and fighting” and “Dirty.” My question got me thinking and I arrived at the simple answer of “Ugly.” Women add beauty to this world, and I don’t just mean in their physical appearance. Women brighten up everything. They put flowers in vases and curtains on windows. They add spices to food, paint walls, take the time to wear nice clothes, and smell good. I am completely in awe of women. Without them I think we’d have some cool houses, but inside the living room would be dull, probably solid white or beige walls, with maybe some blankets nailed to the windows and a TV sitting on a moving box. Most likely, it would be a mess—not only because most men are lazy—but because we don’t pay as close attention to detail. I can’t imagine what Adam went through for that period of time when he was naming the animals and had no female companionship. I love how God made him wait—how God pretty much made Adam feel loneliness before sin ever existed. I think God did that because he wanted Adam to realize his great need for a woman. Not only need, but I think God wanted Adam to get all these pent up boyish feelings so that when Eve finally arrived he would be enthralled and entangled in his wild feelings for her. So that when this bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh took her first steps in front of him he would realize what he had. He would realize what he had and do everything in his power to protect her and love her and shower her with the kind of selfless passion that his Creator showered on him. It’s sad that today, in every part of the world, women are unappreciated, unprotected, unfulfilled, and unloved. I myself have taken women for granted one too many times. But, today I realized how much I appreciate, rely on, and utterly love women. (Please, don’t take that the wrong way!)

I have always hung around a lot of women. In high school many of my friends were girls and ever since birth I have unashamedly been nothing short of a "Mama’s Boy". I am convinced that I have the greatest mother to ever exist. I am so lucky that God put me in the hands of a woman who understands love and dispenses it so freely. I am thankful for her love, her friendship, her guidance, and wisdom. Her care and support is what has fueled my passions for life, God, and love. Along with her is an entire team of women set up by God to contribute to the beauty of my life. I could go on about my precious grandmothers, my fun-loving aunts, my compassionate cousins, and my best friends. While some good guy love and man talks are necessary, I am convinced that women are God’s greatest gift to humanity. Their complexity, horrid mood fluctuation, unreachable expectations, untamable emotions and perplexing communication tactics are high prices to pay, but like anything in life—high quality demands a high cost. However, it is the bewildering things about women that make them special; that make them women, and like I said—this is God’s greatest gift to humanity--aside from Jesus, of course!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Confused Precipitation


These cornflakes that lie on my spoon as I type this are delicious. I just came to the realization that all I’ve eaten today is an amazing green salad, some bread, a heavenly cappuccino, and these cornflakes. I was planning on waking up at 9:30am this morning. I finally rolled out of bed at 10:30am. We agreed to meet the girls for lunch at 11 and then go meet some of my students at 1 to go to an art museum. Waking up at 10:30am was a problem, because it would take at least 30 minutes to walk to the café. So the story goes something like this: The girls were going to be late and so we decided to meet at 11:30am. I left the apartment at about 11:20. Problem. Steven doesn’t like cafés so he decided to stay back and do some shopping at the bazaar. I told him that he could have the cell phone, but he insisted that I take it because he obviously has the gift of foresight. I walked to this café before and navigated through the city with mastery after staring at Google maps for about 5 minutes. Today however, my mastery slumped. I was walking and enjoying my walk quite a bit. There is something about walking through a foreign city by yourself. It makes you feel as though you are in a real story, on a real adventure. I guess as I was off in my own daydreams plodding along the sidewalks I walked past the street I was looking for. After awhile of not seeing this street I started going up a random street thinking that I would find the other street I was looking for and get a grip of where I was. So I walked, and walked, and nothing looked familiar until I came to a giant building and this nightclub. One of the previous SMs who has since stuck around, lives in that nice building and I recognized the nightclub. I also recognized the fact that I was nowhere close to where I had wanted to be. So I called Emily, admitting my failure and looking for help. Of course, Murphy ’s Law set in and my phone ran out of money. Luckily, Emily called me back and took to the streets trying to find me. I finally asked one of the local women which direction Furminova (the street I was looking for) was, but she just “hrmphed” and me and said “niet” (no). I was annoyed with her and kept walking. Emily couldn’t find me. I was lost. I asked another local—a younger jollier looking girl—and she kindly explained where I was and pointed in a direction with a look of uncertainty on her face. I figured her uncertainty was better than my oblivion and I trekked the direction she said. Anyways, after walking a ways back I realized that I was still lost and I started to get angry at the girl for pointing me in the wrong direction until I realized that I was on Furminova. Then, Emily called and I was still lost. She said I was supposed to be on certain crossroads and on these crossroads I was—but the café and familiarity were both out of sight. I finally realized that the café was a block below me, Emily found me (thanks Emily!), and after a long day on the streets, I arrived at the café. The only problem now was that it was 1:00pm and I knew my students and Steven would be waiting for me. Another problem was that I didn’t have anyone’s number so there was no way to explain what just happened. I sat in the café feeling helpless—like there was nothing I could do. After sitting for about 20 minutes groaning from my helplessness and from the tiredness of exploring what seemed to be the entire city—I finally got a call. They of course wondered where I was at and I had to explain. To shorten the story I will say that I ended up getting frustrated, feeling tired and hungry, and just told them to go without me. I went back in the café, ordered my salad and my cappuccino and my world started to look a little brighter.

I had to hop on a bus, go back to my apartment to grab some stuff and meet Yelena (she forgot we were meeting), and then run back to NewBridge for Friday club. It started snowing on me as I walked hurriedly to NewBridge. The snow, however, was wet and I couldn’t tell if it was rain or snow. It was what I deemed—confused precipitation. I couldn’t help but marvel at the fact that the weather couldn’t make up its mind. It was like looking in a mirror. I’m at a point in my life where I am constantly changing my mind—I’m confused. Sometimes I am determined to snow while other times I feel like raining, what results is slush—and nobody likes slush.

I’m not going to lie; I sort of enjoyed getting lost. I cherished the adventure and now I know my way around the city much better and have all sorts of new sights logged in the memory chambers of my brain. The only problem was that it wasted so much time that I did not have to spare. I wonder why it is that man is programmed for adventure. I wonder why God put in us the desires to crawl into deep, dark holes and dive to the deepest parts of the ocean and fly to the highest heights of the sky. I don’t exactly know why God made me this way, but I sure do like it. I like adventure. I like reading about adventures and I like living adventures. I think heaven will be full of adventures, much cooler than walking the polluted sidewalks of some foreign city. I think that I might get lost a couple times in the New Earth, but I’ll always have someone to call and come looking for me. And I bet after getting lost I’ll be able to sit down and have a cappuccino as I write about my adventures. It’ll be a blast!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

So Many Shoes, So Little Time


Wednesday. I actually had to work today. Rather hard, but it all seems like it went by so fast. I got up early and cooked and cleaned like the good wife I am. We had the girls over so that was the reason for my early awakening. I made some stir-fry again. It turned out pretty good. Once they left, I started making my exams. Granted I had prepared a review sheet for my students so I knew exactly what I was going to put on the test, but making the test took time. Too much time in fact. I miscalculated and had to stay behind while Steven went for discussion. He had to do that yesterday too. I finally finished around 5 and had to run to the center to make my 5:30 class. Of course, the printer wasn’t working well so I ended up being like 10 minutes late to my class. I told them it was a good thing because they had extra time to study for their exams. Aren’t I such a nice guy?

I realized while I was making these tests that I don’t think about the fact that my students are students. I realize that sounds dumb, but let me explain. I’m student—at least technically. I am taking a semester off to serve here—we all know this by now. But, you know when you are in college and you get angry at your professors. You have thoughts like, “Doesn’t he realize I have a life outside of his class!” or “Doesn’t she remember when she was a student!” I remember having thoughts like this because these thoughts were in my head less than3 months ago. So I realized that even though I am only a few months out of being a student, I have stopped thinking like a student and have taken on the teacher role. I assign homework without putting myself in my students shoes and I give them 6 page final exams like it’s no big deal. After all, the English test is easy for me—a native speaker. So I realize that I need to not be so tough on my professors back at school. Of course they’ve forgotten what it means to be a student! I’ve forgotten after 3 months, those thoughts must be long gone in their minds!

Of course, I realize that I don’t just fail at this in my classroom, but also in the great classroom of life. If we all took the time to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, to feel other people’s feelings, to take a few steps in their life, this world would be a much better place. If we put down our own agendas, stopped worrying about our own reputations, and started to really empathize with those around us could you imagine the impact that it would have on this world? I’m pretty sure the earth would just go ahead and start spinning the other direction. There would be a lot less pain and a lot more smiles. Like I said, I’m terrible at this, but like everyone else, I want to see everyone else do something. This concept reminds me of the Golden Rule and somebody’s life. I think His name was Jesus.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Gasping from Inversions


The last bits of snow couldn’t hold on to their frost any longer—Almaty has become a giant mud puddle. Today is the first of March; according to the Kazakhs, it is the first day of spring. That means that winter has come to a close and the weather is all higher temperatures from here. Higher temperatures are both a good thing and a bad thing. Good in the sense that we will see the sun more often, there won’t be as much pollution in the air, and we won’t have to spend time bundling every part of our body before exiting buildings. Bad in the sense that the streets are uncovered, the trash is everywhere, the mud is on the bottom of my shoes, and everyone on the bus is beginning to sweat—including the babushkas! So time passes and I trade some grievances for some different grievances and life moves on.

Today I watched some episodes of House, did some reading and personal study, as well as prepared review sheets for upcoming examinations that will be happening later this week. I have to keep my babies heads’ above water and make sure that all of them move on to the next level. There are a couple of them that I’m worried about, but we’ll see how this week plays out. I’m starting to bond with my students—it’s nice. I made some plans to hang out with them over the weekend. It should be fun.

I mentioned earlier that the warm weather will mean less pollution in the city. This is because of a little weather anomaly called “Inversion.” Inversion is some crazy thing that my Atmospheric-Scientist-cousin told me was happening. After a bit of research I realized that what he said was very true. You see—Almaty is in a little basin surrounded by giant mountain peaks. It is also an incredibly large, overcrowded city that believes in using SUVs and factories that pour thick, dark grey smoke from their stacks—not to mention all the coal burning that happens in certain parts of the city to keep people warm. All of this pollution goes up into the air and is trapped by a blanket of warmer air that acts as a lid. The cold air—the air mixed with all the junk—is trapped in the little basin that we call a city. (For more about inversions check this out: As I was pondering this thought I couldn’t help but make a spiritual parallel. I thought about my life and how I long to let pure love live within me. I long for righteousness and godly character, but I’m living with inversion. Jesus wants us to breathe fresh air—physically and spiritually. When man decided to invite sin here, the world got cold and we became surrounded by jagged mountain peaks, our nature became sinful. We don’t usually mean to invite sin into our lives, we just do. We think we need to stay warm so we start burning coal in one area of our lives. We need to travel in style so we start driving big SUVs and the exhaust rises from another part of our lives. Pretty soon we are erecting entire factories with thick, black smoke pouring from their chimneys—not because we want the smoke, not because we want evil to lurk, but because we want the profit, the convenience, whatever it is that this factory will give us. Pretty soon we have invited so much garbage into our lives that our air quality sucks and we are living in a pool of pollution. We are suffocating in our own filthiness. This sounds pretty grim and I take pleasure in telling you that Jesus is a great air purifier and will forgive you from your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness. But, I also take displeasure in telling you that this smoke is not easy to escape, in fact I’m not sure it’s possible to escape. You can’t run from it, for the cold breeze follows you, even all the way across the globe (believe me I’ve tested it). You can’t fight it for the mountains are much bigger than you. The only thing we can do is to try to stop all this smoke from pouring out of our lives and ignore the chilling cold that sweeps in the absence of fire.

Now I’m not legalistic—far from it. And I certainly don’t advocate licentiousness—far from it. What I do advocate is love and I don’t know about you, but I want to know and taste love in all its glory. The problem us humans have with love is that we get a taste and our selfish desire takes over and perverts love so that it can no longer be recognized as the raw material we began with. The main reason I want to be “good” is so that I stop perverting the miraculous love Jesus keeps pouring on me. I know Jesus forgives, I know He is bigger than my actions of ignorance, I know His grace is strong enough to cover and His love is powerful enough to cleanse, but the smoke continues to pour out of my life and out of everyone I see. I’m not advocating that we give up, for that would be foolish, but I think I’m advocating that we start being collectively radical. I have this theory that if I get too busy loving my neighbor that I will forget to throw coal on the fire and the smoke will stop suffocating me. The beauty of this theory is that I won’t even get cold because the love inside of me will be warming every inch of my soul. Maybe I should give it a try, but it’s only a theory. Putting it into practice would be far too difficult. Any takers?