Monday, April 30, 2007

Foot Washing

There is a lot of foot washing in the Bible; e.g., Jesus washed the feet of the disciples and Mary washed Jesus' feet with her hair (Jn 12:3). In Costa Rica, everybody wears sandals and nobody has carpet (the floors are tile, concret or just dirt). It's really opened my eyes to the culture of the New Testament. Here are two spiritually profound thoughts:

1) When you don't have carpet, your feet get really dirty.
2) Sandles make your feet stink.

Here's a picture of Willy's feet--dirty and stinky. We wash these ten little toes multiple times per day; nontheless, when Willy climbs up on the couch with us to read a book or watch a little TV, the smell is strong enough to knock over a moose. At the last supper, the disciples were lying on the floor, eating dinner. That means that someone's feet were really close to someone else's nose. But, nobody would lower themselves to do the dirty work--until Jesus did it (Jn 13:5-9). I love Peter's response:

Jn 13:5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
Jn 13:6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jn 13:7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
Jn 13:8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” Jn 13:9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

Prayer Request & thoughts about "no pain, no gain."

We’ve had a very difficult time figuring out what church to attend, here in Costa Rica. The biggest problem is that the kids don’t like any church. There are two churches currently in contention. One is a mega church that’s right behind our house. The people are very nice and the worship is awesome. But the church has strict guidelines on who can do ministry, as such we wouldn’t likely get opportunities to practice ministering amongst Latinos. The second church is smaller and more humble—in a neighborhood called “the forgotten.” Unfortunately, it’s not close. It costs us about $20 in cab fare to get there and home again. This was the church we attended yesterday. While we were there, I asked the Lord for a word about which church to attend. I felt the Spirit challenge me to fast and pray for three days, in order to hear the Lord’s voice on this subject. I told the Lord that I really didn’t want to fast for three days. He challenged me with Paul’s admonition in 2 Tim 2:3-4, “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer.” I felt the Spirit challenge me to train like a soldier and to grow up. I definitely desire to please myself more than my commanding officer (Jesus).The problem is that I am pain averse. I eschew vigorous exercise or activities that require painful effort. I’m basically a pleasure seeker. I know that a meaningful life involves overcoming challenges and some hard work and I willingly accept this—up to a point. The problem is when the Lord wants me to take on a greater degree of challenge than I’m used to. I sometimes operate out of a mindset that I can punch a time card with the Lord; e.g., that after Sunday morning church obligations, I can spend the rest of the day watching T.V. I already fast on a regular basis and like to think that I shouldn’t have to do any more than what I’m already doing. This is a great discipline, but it precludes further growth. I want to grow in a theoretical sense. It’s a different story when that growth requires sacrifice. There is a scriptural principal that is important for maturity and joy in the Christian life, it is that we have the right to give up rights for the sake of the kingdom—including the right to eat whatever or whenever we want. (Paul taught this principle in 1 Cor. 8:4-9:27, saying that we must willingly give up the right to do anything that would cause another to stumble. Paul then uses himself as an example, saying that the other apostles made their living from the Gospel, but that he exercised his right to give up this right, to avoid putting a stumbling block between himself and those he ministered to.) When Lena and I gave up the right to drink alcohol, it caused some social discomfort among our Roman Catholic families; but after a couple of months it wasn’t an issue any longer. Now, there are times when I miss the romantic ambiance of a glass of wine; but the real cost of giving up alcohol in my life has been nil. It’s not a painful sacrifice for the Lord. The truth is that when we give up something for the Lord, the reward is always greater than the cost. (In the Corinthians passage mentioned above, Paul says, “I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” I Cor. 9:23) As such, when I fast, I keep reminding myself that it’s not forever and to be patient—good food and spiritual blessings are imminent.

I want to ask my friends who read this, to pray with us about what church to attend and about hearing God's voice as a general attribute of our spiritual lives. I don’t just want to hear once. I want to hear constantly, to discern what God is saying and what is from the flesh. I want to partner with the Holy Spirit in what He is doing. There is a tendency, especially for North Americans, to tell the Lord what we’re going to do for Him. Then we pray that He blesses our plans. I want to hear His voice and do what He says to do, with certainty, every day. I want to grow up in the Lord, hear His voice, and see the kingdom advance powerfully.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

To dream the impossible dream...

I have a friend who is a psychology professor at a prominent university. It is a dream job and, to make it even better, he was recently granted tenure. That means, he can have the job for life--as long as he doesn't commit some horrible crime. So, now that he's got a guaranteed job, he's thinking of moving. This proves what we already know: Americans hate feeling fenced in. I know the feeling. I hear of guys my age who are close to retirement and I think that would be great. Then I remember that staying put means giving up other dreams--like moving your family to South America and studying a new language while doing a doctorate. I don't want to think that I've already accomplished the best accomplishments of my life. I like to dream of discipling more college students, walking alongside younger pastors and educating starving children in Peru. I have more life to live, which necessitates pursuing dreams.

It's good that we're moving to South America, because I want to go down like Don Quixote.

Here are the words to one of my favorite songs. Even as I write this, the words of this song bring tears to my eyes:

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go

To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star

This is my quest to follow that star
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far
To fight for the right without question or pause
To be willing to march into Hell for a heavenly cause

And I know if I'll only be true to this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm when I'm laid to my rest
And the world will be better for this
That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star

("The Impossible Dream" from MAN OF LA MANCHA (1972). Music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion)

P.S. What's my impossible dream? I believe that by preaching the Gospel, I can transform a country of starving children, deranged terrorists and corrupt politicians. The Apostle Paul wrote: "For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe." (1Co 1:21)

Like the dickens!

I recently received an email from an old friend. He wrote, "Love ya like the dickens!" When I first read it, I thought he wrote, "Love ya like the chickens." This is the kind of misunderstanding I have about 100 times per day, while trying to speak Spanish. The conversation goes like this:

Bill: You love chickens?

Spanish Speaker #1 (SS1): Not chickens, dickens!

Bill: Charles Dickens? I think the Muppet's version of a Christmas Carol is one of their best movies. Having Rizo the Rat as one of the narrators is really funny.

SS1: No, no, no! It doesn't have anything to do with Charles Dickens. "Like the dickens" is a phrase meaning "a lot!"

Bill: A parking lot?

SS1: No, a lot is a reference to quantity. Like the dickens means "a bunch" or "much."

Later that day:

Spanish Speaker #2: How much cream do you take in your coffee?

Bill: Dickens, Gracias!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Temptation & Trust

My brother just bought a new motorcycle and my mom is considering buying a new motor home. I looked at pictures of the motor home my mom wants to buy. The web site had some really lovely campers. I began to wish I had one too. Then I thought of my brother's new motorcycle and my heart started going there too. The desire for the camper and the motor cycle started to rob me of joy.

Every morning, I have devotions with the kids. Currently, we’re reading through the Gospel of Luke, which focuses heavily on God's heart towards the poor. I read that we are to store our treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. That’s a great saying, because it implies that one way to steer your heart, is through your treasure. Another similar passage, that’s in the same area, has to do with what you feed your eyes. The camper web site filled me with a mild form of camper lust. Immediately, I was a little less happy. I must again pray and fantasize about the things of the kingdom, see them in my mind’s eye and long for that fruit. If I do, I’ll have all the campers or scooters that I’ll ever need—which very well may be none.

Here's the words to my favorite hymn:
I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold
I’d rather have his love than have riches untold
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands
I’d rather be held by his nail pierced hands
Than to be the king of a vast domain
And be held in sin’s dread ways
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords (offers) today.

1/3 down, 2/3 to go...

Today marks the end of our first trimester, so we’re 1/3 of the way through. It’s been an interesting three months—filled with victories and some really painful challenges. All in all, I think we’re growing well. I took an oral exam recently, which said that I was now at the level where I can talk about the weather to a person who is experienced talking to foreigners.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Costa Rica's State Bird

The state bird of Costa Rica could easily be the Mosquito. They swarm here and there are numerous public warnings about the dangers of dengue fever. We've had swarms of them in our apartment. We use little heated boards of insecticide to keep them out of the bedrooms. Nonetheless, Abi (our 2 year old daughter) was getting eaten alive at night. We now put her in winter pajamas, so her legs and arms are covered. I went on a mosquito killing rampage, clapping my hands to smash them in the air. I promised the kids valuable prizes for every palm presented to me with the bloody guts of a mosquito on it. Then I noted that the Mosquitoes often congregate at a window (especially in the mornings). So, I started spraying them with a bug spray. There were two problems with that: One was that the breeze would blow the spray back into the room (and my face). I was concerned about all of us breathing that stuff. Two, it left a mess on the window. Then I had a great idea (which I think was God’s answer to my prayer for a solution). Instead of bug spray, I now use Windex with Ammonia-D. (The dad in “My big fat Greek wedding” was right!) The Windex kills them, glues them to the window or screen and doesn’t streak! With a quick wipe of a paper towel, you get rid of the mosquitoes and leaves a wonderful shine! Since I started using the Windex, we’ve gone from 100 mosquitoes in the house, to 2 or 3. I thank God for Ammonia-D.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Monkey See...

Holy Week is a serious holiday time in Costa Rica. I can't remember when I've seen a major city shut down before, but this one did. On Good Friday, the entire city was a ghost town. It was nice seeing a major population center take a break. Colton asked why the U.S. doesn't do the same. I had to explain that in the U.S., people are more concerned with making and spending money than with remembering why we have holidays--especially religious holidays. Consequently, when people get a day off, they go shopping.

I rented a van for our week of vacation and really loved driving again. We spent three days at Arenal (pictured in the stamp) and saw monkeys (pictured at left) and other cool animals. We had a wonderful walk through the rain forest jungle. A couple days later, we went to another volcano (Irazu, pictured below). This one allowed us to drive up to the crater. The drive was really beautiful. As we scaled higher and higher, we passed through two layers of clouds. It's pretty fun, seeing the clouds below you. The picture at left is the crater.