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Archive for March, 2013

Simple Questions

Sometimes the simple questions in life lead us to complex answers. Do you remember trying to figure out the answer to a west bound train going 60 mph and eastbound train going 50 mph and how long it would take them to meet up? Think about how you answered your children about Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Think about how you responded to your six-year-old who asked where babies come from. Did you use the stork, the “under a cabbage leaf,” or “ask your daddy” method to answer that question?

Over the last few days I have had the privilege of sharing about Northwest Haiti Christian Mission with some churches and individuals. I have told them about our ministry to orphans, our ministry to feeding the hungry, and most importantly our desire to see people come to know Jesus personally. Each time I share, simple questions are raised. They are smart, honest, inquisitive questions to which there is no simple answer.

“What is the main cause of poverty in Haiti?” “What do is the answer to child hunger?” “How can we help parents to value the lives of special needs children?” “How do we help people escape the culture of fear caused by Voodoo?”

These are all great questions. They are honest and legitimate inquires about the needs, the issues and solutions to the problems in Haiti. The problem is there is no one simple answer. These are not problems easily solved by more money, more people, more programs or more thought. Honestly, the answers to these problems are found in the spiritual realm that only our eternal God can change.

Recently I have had discussions about a simple question I can’t explain. I don’t understand the answers and I can’t wrap my mind around the question fully enough to know how to find a satisfactory answer.

The question I have wrestled with very simply is this:

“Why was I chosen to be born in blessing and not in poverty in Haiti or another part of the world?”

I could have easily been born in hundreds of other countries where I would not live in a safe, warm, dry home. I could have easily been born in a nation where food, water and basic sanitation was almost non-existent. I could have been born in a place where hope was a distant dream.

Instead I live in a place where I have never missed a meal. I have never been afraid that when I woke up in the day I would not be able to eat. I have never been afraid that my water may kill me. I have never been worried that I couldn’t care for my children’s basic needs.

So, what is the answer to my simple question? Why did God allow me to have so much and others to have so little?

I don’t know. I can only say that I have been blessed by God. I can only understand that I have been given much in order to give much. If I am faithful with what God has given me, I will be able to make a dent in the larger issues of the world around me. And I will be able to share and demonstrate God’s love to others in a real and practical way.

Apparently simple questions don’t have to have complex solutions after all. Maybe the simple questions lead us to simple solutions. Maybe obedience, faithfulness, service, ministry and demonstration of Christ’s love is the ultimate answer to the questions that plague our world.

 


A Routine of Grace

I can so easily get caught in the routine of life. Without careful planning my days can all look the same, my weeks can become the same and before I know it weeks have turned into months and months to seasons. Repeating cycles of sameness. Of course there is the unexpected interruption, but I can easily become a creature of habit.

For years as a pastor I laughed as people came into church every Sunday, found their same seat, and went about worship the same way they had for weeks, months and years on end. In the seven Sunday’s that I have not been a pastor of a local church, with the exception of the Sunday’s I was in Haiti, I have sat with my family in basically the same row and probably the same seat each week.

Why does this routine phenomenon keep occurring? What is it about the places we sit, the restaurants we frequent, the television shows we watch that keeps us captured to a routine? Why do I always get the Uncle Herschel’s at Cracker Barrel and the Homewrecker at Moe’s? Why do I like the third row on the right side of the worship center at church? I don’t know the answers other than comfort and enjoyment, but there is another routine I have been reflecting on recently that I think I have had a breakthrough about.

Why does the same sin that strangled me when I was a teenager ensnare me as an adult? Why am I content at times to be “comfortable” with my struggles instead of being “dead” to my sin? Why is the spiritual routine such an easy pattern for believers of all ages?

The more I have reflected the more I am drawn to two conclusions.

The first is simply the fact that the human heart is restless, wicked and void of righteousness apart from the direct intervention of God. From Adam and Eve in the garden to each of us this morning, sin has been our fall back position. It is our routine. It is our comfort zone.

I have been reading in the book of Judges during my bible study times and I am reminded of what I learned in seminary as the “Cycle of the Judges.” See if this sounds familiar: sin, judgment, cry for mercy, deliverance. Sin, judgment, cry for mercy, deliverance. Sin, judgment, cry for mercy deliverance. This is the pattern of the nation of Israel during he time of the Judges. And it is our pattern as well.

We sin because we falsely believe what we want will satisfy our deep desire. It doesn’t matter the type of sin, it all conspires to convince us we deserve it, we have to have it, we will be better off for it, and God doesn’t really care. So the routine begins, and the pattern is repeated over and over again in our lives.

What we really are saying in all of this is we believe in the power of whatever our particular sin is (lust, greed, gluttony, lying, etc.) over the power of God. We buy into the idea that temporary trumps eternal and instant gratification is better than God’s sovereign design.

The second conclusion I have made is found in the simple word love. Sin is less about how in love we are with God and more about how we view his love of us. If we had a higher view of God’s love for us, eternal, sacrificial, unwavering love, we may have a less comfortable relationship with our routine of sin.

There are two human relationships I can equate to the love of God. They may not work for you, but they are perfect for my frail mind.

The first is marriage. I would do anything for my wife. My desire to show love to Alana causes me to say things I would never dream of saying to someone else. It causes me to sacrifice (not always, but sometimes!), give, share and work. I don’t do these things for what I will get out of it, but because I love my wife. There are many ways to get things from other people who require no sacrifice or work on our part. But they are empty, void and worthless.

When I demonstrate my love for Alana, I receive an inner blessing that no other human on the face of the earth can give me. The same is true of our walk with Christ. When we live in such a way that his honor, his love and his worth are at the forefront of our minds, our lives are filled with depth, breath, and meaning nothing else can offer in this world.

The second relationship I reflect on is the relationship of my children. They aren’t perfect, but they are mine. We disagree, we clash, we don’t always see life the same, but it doesn’t stop me from loving them. My love for them is not based on what they do but who they are. I may write off other people’s kids, but not my own.

God views us in the same way. No matter what we do, his love will never waver. His love is not based on our goodness, but on his goodness. He doesn’t view us on our merit but on the merit of Jesus. His love is not based on our routine of sin, but his routine of grace.

This is not a free pass to sin. Scripture clearly teaches us in Romans 6 that as followers of Christ we should avoid sin as an act of love toward God. While our sin may separate us from intimate relationship with God, it will not cause god to abandon us.

My prayer is that you know how deeply loved you are by the all-loving, all-powerful God of the universe. And that your routine would be found in living out your love for him in each and every moment.


Responding to Evil

“And He said, What comes out of a man is what makes a man unclean and renders [him] unhallowed. For from within, [that is] out of the hearts of men, come base and wicked thoughts, sexual immorality, stealing, murder, adultery, Coveting (a greedy desire to have more wealth), dangerous and destructive wickedness, deceit;unrestrained (indecent) conduct; an evil eye (envy), slander (evil speaking, malicious misrepresentation, abusiveness), pride (the sin of an uplifted heart against God and man), foolishness (folly, lack of sense, recklessness, thoughtlessness).” Mark 7:20-22 (Amplified Bible)

I never need to look further than the mirror to see the wickedness of all humanity. My own heart is wicked beyond all hope apart from the convicting, redeeming power of Christ alive in me. Left to my own devices I am as prone to sin and destruction as any human being in history. A friend of mine and I were talking yesterday about the wickedness of humanity and we came to the following conclusion: “the only difference between us and Tiger Woods is opportunity and resources.” That may be an overstatement, but as I read scripture, watch the news and fight my own personal battles for holiness I am convinced more than ever that man is a wicked and evil being without Christ.

It is not popular to say, but contrary to the popular desire of humanists, man is not inherently good. Scripture tells us over and over again the heart is wicked beyond control. The news of everyday tells us greed, lust, murder and all types of evil spreads like a virus through our culture. If at the core all humanity was good, would we see the constant destruction of values and decency in our world?

I was reminded yesterday of how deep the sin of the human heart runs. A friend of mine who serves with me at Northwest Haiti Christian Mission shared some terrible news of uncovering wickedness and sin in the area in which she and her husband serve. I won’t go into detail, but the facts of what was uncovered would hurt the heart of every human being with a sense of moral righteousness. The sin is shameful, the level of despair is immense and the trap of those involved is powerful.

As I reflected on what had been shared, I was reminded at an even greater depth how important the work being done in Haiti is for the community, culture and kingdom. Without the hope of the gospel, there is total darkness. As my friend said as she tearfully shared this story, “No one else is here, but we’re here. Maybe this is why God has us here.”

For all Christians, missionaries in Haiti and business people in the states, pastors and church members, young and old, the message is the same: you are here! What are you going to do? At what point must you see so much you say, “That’s not okay with me!” What will it take for us to take a stand and say, “I will make a difference?”

Right now, I feel overwhelmed and powerless. I feel frustrated and helpless. I want to somehow to make a stand. I am reminded that while I may feel powerless, the gospel is power. It is truth. It is the light in the midst of darkness. And it must be at the cross of Jesus that I take my stand.


God, Fear and Me

It is often so easy to think of the men and women in the bible and view them as larger than life people who never struggled with the simple problems of life we deal with everyday. It’s easy to assume because they did great things for God they were different from us, more spiritual than us, or at the very least braver than us. We would be completely wrong,

Scripture is filled with incredibly flawed individuals. Murders (Moses & David), thieves (Jacob & Zachaeus), adulterers (David again!!) and so on. While we may not be guilty of those sins, we are guilty of one of the most common traits of all in the biblical characters; fear.

Fear is a recurring theme in scripture. Fear caused people to question God, turn from Jesus, and deny even knowing him. Fear caused men to miss blessings and women to delay God’s fulfillment of blessings. Today, nothing has really changed in the human condition.

I know all about fear. I have suffered from anxiety, panic attacks and a general sense that the world is about to cave in on me. Most of my life has been wasted being afraid. Trust me, when I talk about fear, I know of what I speak.

I was reading in Judges 6 today about Gideon. We all have ideas and impressions about Gideon, but one that jumped off the page at me today was how filled with fear Gideon was. At the beginning of the chapter Gideon is grinding wheat in a winepress for fear of the Midianites. He was literally afraid someone was going to steal his Wheaties!!

When God speaks to Gideon and tells him he has been chosen to deliver the Israelites from the hands of Midian, Gideon is afraid and recounts to God that he is of no value. Gideon not only was afraid, but he had no self-confidence. His exact words were “how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest and I am the least in my family.” Gideon did not struggle with the sin of pride.  After finally being convinced by three signs of God (acceptance of the offering and two cool tricks with a wool fleece!) Gideon was finally convinced that maybe God could use him.

I can identify with Gideon in so many ways. “God, are you sure you want me to tell that person about Jesus?” “God, are you sure you want me to serve in Haiti?” “God are you sure you want me to trust you to provide for all my needs?” When I think about my mental gymnastics with God I begin to see myself as a whiny coward in a winepress hiding my cereal.

Fear is a common human emotion. The question each of us must answer is, “Is fear going to keep me from obeying God?” Fear can bind us to what we know and we miss the blessing of following God into the unknown. Fear can keep us safe in our bubble and we miss seeing the hand of God work in powerful ways. Fear can keep us focused on a simple task at hand instead of causing us to look at a bigger vision and work God wants to do in our lives.

The great aspect of scripture is we are able to see fear is not from God. Fear is a tool of Satan to keep us trapped in our weakness. But God is bigger than our fear. We do not have to fight our fear on our own, God himself has given us his spirit to overcome our fear.

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (of cowardice, of craven and cringing and fawning fear), but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of calm and well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control.” 2 Timothy 1:7 Amplified Bible

So when fear grabs you, no matter the cause, remember this truth: fear is not of God. God has given his children his powerful Spirit so we will not be controlled by fear. He has given us his strength in our weakness. And he has called us to a greater purpose than we could ever imagine.

As God told Joshua as he prepared to lead the nation into the promised land:

“Be strong and courageous!!”


Restore Retreat 2013

One of my responsibilities for Northwest Haiti Christian Mission is to oversee the “Restore Retreat” for high school and college students. “Restore” takes place on our campus in Haiti and involves worship, teaching, devotion time, reflection time and hands on ministry in the community. One of our main goals of Restore is to equip students to return home and make an impact in their community and culture around them for the Kingdom of Christ. I need your help!!!

If you are involved in a local church ministry, could you please pass the link below to staff in your church so that they can see if Restore would fit their ministry plans?  I would love to be able to have your church partner with us to serve the people of Haiti and to deepen your students personal walk with God as well as sharpen their vision for ministry in their community.

Please feel free to contact me for more information at John.Harvey@nwhcm.org. If your church would like a personal visit or a guest speaker, I would love to be able to share with you about all that God is doing in Haiti.

www.restoreretreat.com