On Easter Sunday I had the honor of baptizing a young Army Captain. As we prepared for the service I had the opportunity to speak to him about his spiritual life. He shared with me that his experience in the Army has caused him to draw closer to the LORD.
One vivid moment of turning in his life was on a rugged road in Iraq when his convoy was attacked by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device). In an instant of time he realized how close he was to death and eternity. Life on a modern battlefield is uncertain and unnerving.
A few years ago I conducted the funeral for an old World War II veteran who fought on the front lines of battle for months in foxholes dug into the cold mountains of Italy. To the day of his death, nightmares attacked him at night and he would wake up in a cold sweat grabbing for his weapon in the dark. At his funeral he had requested that the 23rd Psalm be read.
For decades I had used the 23rd Psalm in funerals. This beautiful psalm always transported me to a world of “green pastures” and “still waters.” However, when I read the psalm through the eyes of an old warrior it came alive in a new way. It dawned on me, that David was a warrior poet. He knew what it was like to go into battle with comrades falling on his right and left. He knew the cold wet of anticipating battle and the numbness after the fighting had ceased.
When you read this psalm through the years of a warrior it takes on richer hues. Listen to these words anew “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death–I will fear no evil because you are with me–your rod and your staff they comfort me.” Young warriors eat and sleep in the “valley of the shadow death” but not alone.
Now listen to this stanza “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” Few of us face our enemies eyeball to eyeball, but young warriors know this feeling all too well. David promises God’s presence and care even in the face of the enemy.
One of the joys of my life in El Paso is serving as a pastor to the young men and women of our military. Their faith and courage inspires me to give my very best to our King.
This morning I was listening to a podcast of the Catalyst West Conference. During the conference John Ortberg was interviewing Dallas Willard. In the course of the discussion, Ortberg asked “what is the church getting wrong and needs to change for the future?”
The discussion then turned to the gospel. Ortberg observed that the gospel for years has been around “how to get to heaven when you die.” In response, Willard observed:
“The gospel is how to get into heaven before you die”
In order words the life and ministry of Jesus was not primarily about life after death but life before death. It is the view of making the word “eternal” an adjective and not a destination.
Take the classic statement by Jesus and look at it through new eyes:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
Now translate the ending as follows:
“Shall not perish but have life–the kind of life that lasts forever!”
Suddenly you see that the point of the ministry of Jesus was making people come alive within. Not a life limited to the beating of the heart and flow of blood, but rather the kind of life characterized by power and presence of God and His Kingdom in the world.
I like to say at our church in El Paso–a church made up of people from many nations and ethnic groups.
We practice heaven on earth!
I wholeheartedly agree with Willard–the good news is truly how we can experience heaven on earth before we die not just after.
Juarez: Last Friday I joined a team from our church along with the pastor and members of Trinity-First United Methodist Church of El Paso on a Casa por Christo project in Juarez. Over three days, we had the privilege of being the hands and feet of Jesus building a house for a mother and their three children in a impoverished neighborhood. When the team arrived at the site of the project they found the remnants of their home that had been constructed out of used shipping pallets with a old dirty rug resting on a swept dirt floor.
My first impression as I arrived at the site in less than twenty-five minutes from the front steps of First Baptist Church El Paso was how quickly I traveled to a “third world” neighborhood. Literally I could stand on the front steps of her tiny little home and look across the Rio Grande and straight onto the modern thriving campus of the University of Texas of El Paso. From the steps of her home I could see the cars racing by on I-10, while she struggled to put food on the table for her and her children.
Shortly after I arrived on the site, one of the team members pointed out to me two cloth dolls hanging from the power line just half a block up the hill from where we were working. The dolls were suspended from the wire on what appeared to be “hangman’s nooses.” The dolls were hung strategically above the home of where a local drug cartel had snuffed out the lives of two young men just days before our arrival. Like the Romans used to line the roads with men dying on crosses to vivid declare “don’t mess with us.” The cartel posted their calling card and declared their control over the neighborhood. In less than fifteen minutes on the job, our team was confronted with the dark realities faced day in and day out in that neighborhood teeming with little children.
At lunch time when we broke out our food for lunch the children turned out to watch and soon to join in with the festivities. It was amazing to me how a simple bag of chips could bring such joy to a little boy or girl. For months I had read about the violence and prayed for the city, but last Friday my view of Juarez changed. Now as I pray for the city I close my eyes and I see the faces of the children. I see the mother who had prayed for a house for five years. I see her son who worked beside me all day. I see the woman’s mother straining to carry supplies because she too want to pitch in and help. Juarez is not a bloody mark on the map of Northern Mexico. Juarez is a city of people like you and me longing for hope and help.
On this lonely block lost in Juarez there are two signs today–hanging high above are two dolls dangling as symbols of death, and down below is a little new house shining even brighter as a symbol of life and love. It is just like Jesus to show up where you lest expect Him and to save the day! Last week for me was a great deal like Easter! Remember never ever give up on Jesus!
El Paso: Juárez Mayor Héctor Murguía Lardizábal traveled to Austin this week to lobby for more investment from Texas into Mexico. One of his messages to the leaders of Texas was that Juarez was getting back to normal and was a good place to invest financial resources. In an interview with the El Paso Times he said:
“I cannot speak for everyone. I feel that as a whole many people feel secure. Of course, with certain precautions.”
In the same article Carolina Martinez, 21, a young medical student who lives in Juarez observed:
“The truth is, eventually one gets used to living in fear. We are human beings and human beings get used to their environment.”
After over two years of living in the midst of the “drug war” sadly she and many others have grown accustom to “living in fear”–they have grown callous to the dark realities of their plight.
In fairness to Mayor Héctor Murguía Lardizábal I believe he is on track in his attempts to stem the violence. The people of Juarez need hope and help to stop this cycle of violence. Honest jobs and financial security would greatly reduce the ranks of young men and women willing to risk their lives in the drug trade.
In the midst of all the violence these hard working men and women show up for work–work hard–and drive the global economy. I believe Texas government and business leaders need to help Juarez find creative solutions to the violence. Clearly more boots on the ground and guns on the streets have not stopped the violence. Justice and opportunity will go a long way toward making a new world.
It appears that a “both/and” approach is the right approach in stemming the violence all along the border. We need to stand firm in the face of violent men–but we also need to offer a helping hand to those who are struggling to make a new life for themselves.
Being “salt” and “light” in the world means helping our neighbors who “live in fear” to find the hope found only in Jesus who inspires us to get involved in the solution.
Last night my daughter Madison was inducted into the National Honor Society of Franklin High School in El Paso. The induction ceremony was my first real visit to the campus of the high school, and my first real glimpse of Madison’s classmates. We moved to El Paso from a small town in the Panhandle of Texas, so it has been years since we were around the student body of a metropolitan school.
As we entered the room a usher handed us a long list of those students who would be honored. As I scanned the list I realized that the “flat world” observed by Thomas Friedman was alive and well at Franklin High School. Just to give you a glimpse of what I mean let me just share with you a sampling of the last names of the students honored:
Aguayo, Arciniegaaguilar, Aziz, Egger, Ferguson,Garcia, Haddad, Hsiang, Hwang, Janssen, Kim, Kuraweg, Lowrie, Martinez, Nwosu, Nzekewe, Patel, Polinsky, Prochovnik, Schlak, Thai, Toscanoramos, Trevino, Yanez, Yoon, and Yun.
Truly the world has come to us. My daughter on a daily basis is a citizen of the world while she travels the halls of her high school.
From my observation perch, I noticed a collision of cultures when a young Muslim boy came forward to receive his certificate. As you may be aware young Muslim men are not allowed to touch women, so when his escort met him at the end of the row to walk him to the stage she offered her arm, but the politely rejected her offer. When he walked across the stage and received his certificate the NHS officers who were primarily young women offer him a hand shake or a hug, but again he politely declined much to their surprise and dismay. As he walked away I noticed the young women looking at each other with confusion about what had just happened. What had just happened was a crash course into the new realities of our day. We share this planet, and must learn how to live together in understanding and harmony.
So the next time you send off your daughter or son to high school you need to realize you are sending them off to do foreign missions right here at home.
El Paso: No Mas Violencia Training
David Balyeat and Richard Gomez learned the trade of being peace makers going into the stands of the hostile stadiums of pro soccer in Argentina. As followers of Jesus they took the message of No Mas Violencia (No More Violence) right to where the violence was happening.
One lesson I learned from these men of faith is that you cannot confront evil and violence at a distance.
The presence of God shows up when we show up
The volunteers who joined their cause to stamp out the violence in the stands learned to run toward the violence instead of away. It is hard to be a peace maker at a safe distance.
In their presentation, David challenged us to believe–to believe the first words of the Great Commission:
All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me–therefore go make disciples of all nations….
In other words, where Satan and the forces of darkness are on the march–they are there without rightful authority. In the name of Jesus we called to be the peace makers and to take the land that is already ours.
David and Richard believed God would bring peace to the stadiums of Argentina and He did–now they believe God can bring peace to the streets of Juarez and all along the border and I join them in believing He will–by His authority.
We must never forget who really calls the shots!
El Paso Times April 4, 2011:
There were 183 homicides in March and about 600 so far this year in the Mexican border city.
The senseless killing continues.
The violence never sleeps.
America’s addition to drugs has a bloody high price tag on both sides of the river–lives lost in on a fake “high”–lives lost on dusty streets.
These words of the Prophet Micah to Israel scare me a bit:
9 Listen! The LORD is calling to the city—
and to fear your name is wisdom—
“Heed the rod and the One who appointed it.[a]
10 Am I still to forget, O wicked house,
your ill-gotten treasures
and the short ephah,[b] which is accursed?
11 Shall I acquit a man with dishonest scales,
with a bag of false weights?
12 Her rich men are violent;
her people are liars
and their tongues speak deceitfully.
13 Therefore, I have begun to destroy you,
to ruin you because of your sins.
14 You will eat but not be satisfied;
your stomach will still be empty.[c]
You will store up but save nothing,
because what you save I will give to the sword.
15 You will plant but not harvest;
you will press olives but not use the oil on yourselves,
you will crush grapes but not drink the wine.
16 You have observed the statutes of Omri
and all the practices of Ahab’s house,
and you have followed their traditions.
Therefore I will give you over to ruin
and your people to derision;
you will bear the scorn of the nations.
Could it be God is on the move in ways we do not want to see?