Tides of the season


We were staying in Bodega Bay over thanksgiving. The house we were staying in overlooked the bay with a full southern exposure. At this time of year both the sunrise and the sunset are visible with expansive beauty, inviting the soul into contemplation, reflection and peace.

Down the hill a bit, a short drive or a longer walk, was Bodega Bay itself. A wide bay with aquatic life of the avian and mammalian kind was visible at high tide. In addition to the mammalian wind surfers, sea otters were swimming on their back, sea lions were heard across the water, cormorants, pelicans, cranes and gulls all found life and sustenance from the shallow bay. At low tide the mammals were gone, and the birds were bold in their search for food.

A longer drive, around the bay and out onto a peninsula called Bodega Head, the waters were no longer sheltered and the waves of the Pacific crashed unabated on the shore. Yet the tides still rose and fell. Of all the rhythms of Creation, how, after all this time, do they still cleanse the beach? Marvelous and Wonderful tides.

It makes me wonder what is the equivalent of the tide in my spiritual life? Isn’t thanksgiving a rhythmic discipline and opportunity to experience marvel, wonder and cleansing? And Zechariah prophecies in Luke 1 about his own son John the Baptist:

76 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;

for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,

77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation

through the forgiveness of their sins,

78 because of the tender mercy of our God,

by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven

79 to shine on those living in darkness

and in the shadow of death,

to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

The knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of [our] sins… This also is a repeating, faithful spiritual tide that comes invitationally and unceasingly because of the tender mercy of our God.

As Thanksgiving yields to Advent and then into Christmastide may the tides of thanksgiving and of forgiveness cleanse us and guide our feet, as individuals, as a church and as a nation, into paths of peace.

Invited to the dance


“May all your expectations be frustrated, may all your plans be thwarted, may all your desires be withered into nothingness, that you may experience the powerlessness and poverty of a child and sing and dance in the love of God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
– Larry Hein in the preface to Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning

I know a bunch of people. One of the beautiful things about being a pastor is being invited in to the deep places of life. Good and bad, circumstances are a portal into a deeper humanity. They are not a porthole, something to be looked through to get a glimpse of life elsewhere. They are a portal to be entered in to as a passage to life that is truly life. Larry Hein captures this in his preface to the classic Abba’s Child. The goal of all this is the trinitarian relational richness maybe best captured by dance.

I really don’t like the fact that dance is the metaphor of life. I don’t dance well, at all. In Middle School and High School I went to the dances and largely stood outside looking in. I neither invited much, nor was invited much to the place where it was happening. Yet dance is inherently relational, integrating the inflow of music, the presence of others on the dance floor all while being intensely present to the partner.

Circumstances invite us on to the floor. Intensely present to the Author and Giver of life, to the sovereign over all creation, passing through the portal of good and bad circumstance , gives entrance to the place of deep joy, surpassed expectation and freshness of power to grasp the riches and depth of love with which we are all held.

What if…


A couple of days ago I became quite uncomfortable while out at the Zulu dam. Chills and shakes and intestinal distress severely limited my capacity to help the team. Riding back to Karawa in the front seat of a Toyota truck I couldn’t help wonder “why me?” The why me of my musing was Why did I get a ride? Why did I have the relative security of Malarone, a malaria prophylaxis, to ease my risk and concerns? Why do I get provision of care when other human beings, equally created by God, have neither access nor money to pay for care? It is not clear.
But Certain things are very clear here in Congo. It is clear that sporadic electric power makes the delivery of high quality medical care challenging, to say the least. It is clear that helping is a mandate given to the church, and it is clear that global differences exist. As a westerner, I can’t help but wonder what will happen if we invest money in the electrical infrastructure of Karawa Hospital. Will civil war break out again? Will politics of some kind give unequal access to the care we wish we’re provided? Will the system break down or be abused?

My pondering took me to Ecclesiastes:

I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 2:18, 19 NIV)

Uncertainty is not new. It is not ours to see the future. But it is given to us to help the poor, including preaching the gospel in word and in deed. This gives a chance of an empowered future whereas doing nothing would do… Nothing.

What if…

Congo update


What a fascinating journey! A trip is a place to go to and return from. A journey leaves us changed.

Today I met a 13 year old girl named Lundi. 3 months ago she had been severely burned on one side of her body. She was being transported several miles by her uncle who had lashed a chair to the back of a bicycle and was pushing the bicycle to the hospital here in Karawa. David and Debbie Williams (missionaries here in Karawa) just happened to be driving by in their mission truck and stopped. She was in shock, nearly dead. It is unlikely she would have survived the trip by bicycle. The medical team at Karawa Hospital went to work, without electricity and a fragile water supply they nevertheless were able to get her stabilized and when I met her today she is a happy, grateful and industrious teenager helping her family selling goods in the market.

A life saved, what will her future hold? Whatever it holds, it will be an actual future, thanks to Karawa Hospital.

How much more will be able to be done for others like Lundi when there is reliable power, reliable water, an economic engine and a stable political future. God is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine, but he also uses us to do immeasurably more than we think we are capable of, especially when we are in it together.

So far the engineering work is progressing with insights and understanding being developed with the cooperative spirit and excellent capability of the people involved. A rebuilt hydraulic crimper has successfully been used to splice some faulty cable, a TDR (time domain reflectometry) and a MegOhmeter have been used to measure fundamental properties of the cable that will guide the teams work next week. Stay tuned, and keep us in prayer.

(Check out covchurch.org for a news story about a house fire that happened in the house we were supposed to be staying in that happened the day before we arrived)

Blessings,
Herb

ps. Comments can be left at pastorHHF.wordpress.com

What is good news to the poor?


There was article on the BBC website this week chronicling 5 centuries of plunder and woe for the Congo. In the face of persistent oppression and opportunism of the worst kind there is a less told story of courageous people with a different task.
Recognizing the stewardship of their own heritage and training they went away from power and privilege to sacrifice and service. In the Equateur Province is a small group of hospitals serving hundred of thousands of people in the midst of challenging (read virtually non existent) infrastructure. In the 1980s a small hydroelectric plant was built by missionary engineers. In the face of civil strife the plant was shuttered, the turbine broken. The turbine was repaired a couple of years ago only to discover that the transmission line carrying the power to the hospital was repeatedly failing. A fifty year lifetime showing regular failure in 1/3 of the useable time.
Powerless to help, literally, the Congolese medical professionals are severely hamstrung. Good news though, there are a few people from elsewhere (Canada, Germany and the US) who are paying attention. Some really smart and creative engineers are coming alongside some really smart and creative Congolese engineers and technicians to assess the state of the transmission line and make recommendations about repair or replacement of the line.
Jon is the technical team leader, a good friend who loves using his musical, PhD EE mind to solve complex problems. Drew is a EE, who is also creative and captured by the need and challenge of the problem. They represent a cadre of others who have been thinking collaboratively about the problem. I am accompanying the two of them with the hope that the church who operates the hospital will be strengthened, the hospital itself will see a path forward towards literal empowerment and the poor of the region will receive good news.

A familar vacation?


“We are invited to make a pilgrimage – into the heart and life of God…the major problem with the invitation is precisely overfamiliarity…they think they have accepted it – or rejected it, But they have not, The difficulty today is to hear it at all.” (so writes Dallas Willard, Divine Conspiracy, p 11)

I suspect most of us have a day or two or a week or two that we are going to call vacation this summer. I have wondered what to say to encourage us to make vacation more beneficial. I am resisting the temptation to write about not taking our tithes on vacation with us, or to encourage godly play, or to focus on the relationships most important in our lives and for our futures. These are worthwhile exhortations, but only one thing is necessary.

A trip is something we go on and come back from, more or less unchanged. A journey is something we go on and if we return, we are changed. A pilgrimage is more. A pilgrimage seeks a larger space, a larger place outside us. This place is a place of connection, of renewal, of seeking purpose and consolation. A pilgrimage that works is a pilgrimage “into the heart and life of God.” If we are moving deeper into the heart and life of God, things likes money, recreation and relationships will find themselves in the correct position in our lives. So how do we do this?

First, the Bible is where we encounter Christ (John 5:39). I am going to pick the gospel of John to read slowly and thoughtfully while I am on vacation. I am going to write in my journal the things about Christ that I am freshly aware of or reminded of.

Second, I am going to practice solitude, even when my travels take me into a crowd. In the solitude I will speak to God and listen for his voice, easy and gentle (Matthew 11:29). Again, I will record in my journal the fruit of my solitude.

A trip, a journey or a pilgrimage: which will my vacation be?

Adding field to field


In his book Center Church, Tim Keller says that the first of six marks of a missional church is “The church must confront society’s idols.” (p.274)

This week I have been reflecting on some words from the prophet Isaiah:

And he looked for justice but saw bloodshed;
for righteousness but heard cries of distress.

Woe to you who add house to house
and join field to field
till no space is left
and you live alone in the land.
Isaiah 5:7,8

What is the idolatry Isaiah is confronting? Is it a foreign god, an idol of wood or stone? What is the concern that grips the heart of God? Is it true that all of the prophets, even this one, hang on the two commands to Love God and love our neighbor? One of the professors at North Park Theological Seminary has said that we ought to add a new category to our systematic theology: neighborology. This is the arena where Isaiah’s text finds traction. The problem is not so much acquisition itself, it is the acquisition without community, the exclusion of people as we embrace things that is at the heart of this idolatry. He goes on to say:

they have no regard for the deeds of the LORD, no respect for the work of his hands. (verse 12)

As we continue to live life together, how will our community be different because the Church is here in her midst? Will we heed the call to use our stuff to embrace people or will we succumb to the idolatry of materialism and add our implicit voice to the cacophony of voices proclaiming the majesty of accumulation?

Gary Walter, my denomination’s president, has been saying that our aim is to see “more disciples, among more populations, in a more caring and just world.” Effectiveness at that will accelerate our journey to being an expanding, embracing community of love with God Himself at the center.