Man’s Best Friend

ZoeFotorI do not believe in coincidence and I do believe in general revelation.  A little over four years ago, on my oldest daughter’s birthday, we picked up Zoe. Zoe was our first family dog and a beautiful Golden Retriever.  From the beginning she was mischievous, like most Golden puppies, yet she grew into being one of the sweetest dogs I have ever known. She was always the first to greet me at the door with a big happy puppy smile and her bushy wagging tail. Zoe was our family dog, but I was her alpha, and that meant she looked to me for protection and affirmation. It was no coincidence we picked up the little puppy on June 29th 2013, but now we are on the brink of watching Zoe pass away. She has developed a pretty aggressive lymphoma and is in the last days of her short life.

I say it was no coincidence, because pets can be instant common ground that is the beginning of many great relationships. Having a Golden Retriever who is happy to see everybody and stands in your front yard to greet whomever walks by is the easiest way to get to know your neighbors. We developed some great relationships simply by Zoe greeting people in the front yard. Specifically our friends Paul and Sheena whose Goldendoodle bounded into our yard to greet Zoe, and the first conversation started. And now at the end, we had the opportunity to meet one of the most amazing and sweetest veterinarians I have ever met, Dr. Proshek at Kingsbridge Animal Clinic in Garland, Texas.  We have seen him and his amazing team pretty much once per week over the past 3 months as we have walked this journey with Zoe. We have become “regulars” at Kingsbridge and enjoy seeing everybody’s smiling faces as we drop Zoe off for her weekly visit. Zoe hangs out for the day and follows them around the office, takes a nap in Dr. Proshek’s office on the carpet, and simply shares her sweetness with the staff…Zoe has become one of their own. And we are so incredibly thankful for the care and love they have shared with Zoe and our family.

I believe in general revelation. General revelation is the belief that the Father (the Creator) is revealed throughout all his creation. Somebody said that “if I could be half the human my dog is, I would be twice the human I am.” While I am not entirely sure that is true, I definitely get what they were trying to say. Zoe is the sweetest and most forgiving dog I have met…that is something I could learn so much from. I was impacted to my core yesterday reading through the Gospel of Mark, specifically chapter 15. Mark states 4 times how Jesus was mocked and criticized, and yet He never retaliated…He did not seek out justice at a justified point in time; He simply turned the other cheek, and said “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Jesus was more interested in sacrificing Himself so that those who mocked Him had an opportunity to turn from their ways and pursue a relationship with God. Zoe represents the all too familiar unconditional love of a dog. General revelation of God is very clear, we simply need to open our eyes to the beauty around us.

Zoe is an amazing family pet, one we will never forget and cherish the many memories she blessed us with.  In death and in life there is mourning and joy, we simply have to look in the right places. There are no coincidence, there is only a plan leading to hope in the One who knows all and will bring an end to death and restore His perfect creation forever. “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for (divinely guaranteed) will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see (Hebrews 11:1). What I know is loss is NEVER for nothing, we must stop and look around us for the opportunities of relationships with those who are in need of Hope.

Hope, Love and Blessings,

Scott

 

One Scary Word

Holiness_Fotor

I have a natural tendency to question everything around me, including myself.  This is one of those traits that is both blessing and curse.  My questions usually sound like, “what if we (I) did this a little different, what if there is a better way, what if we (I) have allowed what we (I) see and experience around us (me) to blind us (me) to real truth?”  Most of my life I have been driven by a deep curiosity for all things around me and a desire to do things differently…a desire to live my life serving God’s mission how He wants me to, not how I necessarily want to. I will never claim to have gotten it perfect and I do believe this pursuit has been perceived by some as unstable or unconventional…but, I am more interested in pleasing my Father rather than others’ perceptions.

Lately, I have been challenged in my quiet time to pursue holiness.  And if I am completely honest with myself, that word puts a little fear in my heart.  Fear of what I must give up or what I must start doing in order to confront this challenge head-on in my faith walk.  The sense I have in this challenge is the measure of righteousness pursued is a direct reflection on how God will use me in His mission/ministry and if there is one thing I want in life…it is for God to use me to glorify Himself.  Before I go too far, I fully understand the fact I am already made righteous through my Savior, Jesus Christ.  But this pursuit of holiness is causing me to ask questions, evaluate, and challenge myself in many ways I would not previously have done.

Let me give you a tangible example.  I have a friend who has brought up multiple times how he believes Paul was a “man’s man” and probably used language that was peppered with various “adjectives” and other bad language.  The only thing I can think of is this – it is an attempt to justify his own use of crass language and seeking affirmation.  Here is the part that I am challenged with, a few years back, I would have said the same thing justifying my occasional use of crass language.  These conversations caused me to dig in and truly look at Paul’s life from a biblical perspective.  I am no theologian, but I do have a Bible and a pretty solid understanding of how to study it.  When I need answers…that is where I go.

As I dug into this topic, I could not get away from Ephesians 4:29 (Amp), “Do not let unwholesome [foul, profane, worthless, vulgar] words ever come out of your mouth, but only such speech as is good for building up others, according to the need and the occasion, so that it will be a blessing to those who hear [you speak].”  As I read this over and over again, I consider Paul’s life; his desire to reach the lost with the Gospel message, his understanding of freedom in Christ, yet his willingness to give it up so he didn’t make a brother stumble.  I have to come to the conclusion that Paul was a real person, made real mistakes, but charged all of us (and himself, because most preachers are speaking to themselves at the same time) with ensuring our words build up others and are a blessing to everyone who hears us.  That seems pretty straight forward to me.

I can’t stop there though because Ephesians 4:29 is but one verse, surrounded by other verses that must be taken into account.  We must study in context of surrounding scripture.  The general topic is how we should walk in this life of following Christ.  I should completely discard my past self.  I should reject all falsehood; lying, defrauding, telling half-truths (ouch, no more fishing stories), and spreading rumors (Eph 4:25 Amp).  I can be angry, but I cannot allow it to cause me to sin, let the sun go down while remaining angry, allow my anger to cause resentment, or lead to bitterness (Eph 4:26,27 Amp).  As I read, it all comes back full circle to the challenge of holiness in my life.  Holiness does not come overnight and I am not convinced it can completely come this side of eternity, BUT that does not give me an excuse to not pursue it.

Hebrews 12:14 says we must, “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (NKJV).  Other versions use the word strive, work towards, work at, all telling me that it is not easy to find peace with all people and the holiness that God calls us to.  This is something that must be practiced daily and in every area of my life (church, home, business, friends, etc.).  I must work hard at ensuring my actions, my words, my life demonstrates holiness.  Does that mean I don’t screw up?  Nope!  God looks at the intent of our heart and he has grace for us when we come humbly before him and admit our shortfalls, His grace is sufficient (2 Cor 12:9).

Let me end on this thought.  All my questions, this call to evaluate everything in my life and to pursue holiness, are not me looking at others and condemning their actions.  It is simply me trying my best to walk the path the Lord has called me to.  Paul says in Romans 12:2, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.  Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”  This charge by Paul gives me extreme hope and assurance I am on the right path.  If we consistently challenge ourselves, ask ourselves if we are simply copying the behaviors and customs of the world or allowing God to change our perspective, then we will understand God’s will for us.  However, the latter must be true then, if all we do is copy the world in our actions, words, and life, then we will NOT understand God’s will for our lives and live in deception.  Holiness is unattainable separated from the Blood of Christ, but that does not mean we can sit back and relax once we have a relationship with Jesus.  My faith is worked out daily as I encounter different situations, learn and study the Bible more, and simply spend time with my Father in prayer.

My challenge to myself and you…Do not fit in.  Be different.  Study the life of Jesus (even His own family took offense at him, Mark 6:3).  Pursue holiness in all you do and you will understand God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will for you.  When I stand before my Father in heaven, I don’t believe it is the things I did do that will concern me…rather the things He called me to do that I didn’t take action on.

With love, grace, and peace,

Scott

Day 3 – Leadership

We live in a fallen world and to think any different, one has to walk the planet blind. Every single person needs Jesus and the continual sanctification that only comes from a relationship with the Father. This human condition shows up in every country regardless of its state of development.
Our day started off at Services sitting through a “committee” meeting. This was a long meeting where every single person needed their time on the stand. Everybody wants to be involved and everybody wants a piece of the action or at least their sticker/branding on the action. They wanted distribution to happen at the Services camp and not out in the field. BUT, this is why I love WHI…they listen patiently, then go back to the field to get the work done. The people in need are more important then making a committee happy. Context right? We always have to remember context. This country works differently than ours and change is never dictated, but modeled. Saidu and his team “model” leadership and compassion!

From here we went to the field with another NGO to distribute water filters to households in need. This was a far different experience than traveling with people under Saidu’s leadership. Not necessarily bad just different. The group we traveled with were far less organized and allowed outside influence to alter the plan of distribution. In the end, through heated conversations we got out in field.

In the field our first experience was walking up on a body being pulled from the river. Considering we are almost 2 weeks past the disaster it was good we did not see details. It is simply a painful reminder to the community they lost so many family and friends. As a side note, out of respect we took no photos of this location. From there we went climbing in and around the very rocky surroundings of the river basin. We went from house to house training families on how to use and clean the water filters. This is a rewarding experience when you see a family with a look of astonishment on their face when you convert tainted river water to pure drinking water. Understand, they believe the water from the river is untouchable due to the decomposing bodies. We hiked in approximately 1.5 miles, then back out through some intense trails by our standard.  

From there were picked up by Saidu, had dinner, and enjoyed the very efficient traffic of Freetown. Honestly, I would prefer to live in a nice quiet farming village, rather than anywhere close to this traffic:)

This was a day of contrast. People were helped, they have clean water. But this is the contrast of great leadership and… I don’t know the leadership of the people we traveled with today, but I do know the “fruit” was far different. World Hope International, Saidu’s leadership in Sierra Leone, their people, and their compassion are what makes a huge difference. I am so thankful they are Jesus following people who simply want to serve their communities and demonstrate the Father’s love!

Blessings From Sierra Leone…we are coming home tomorrow. Please pray for safe and on time flights home!

Scott

Day 2 – Just Listen

A normal experience for me when I come to Africa is realizing how much I do not know. As Americans we move so fast…always doing, always fixing, always trying to solve some problem, and very little listening. I don’t care how much we practice, how much we think we listen, I am convince we simply do not listen enough. Going into a disaster situation people are hurt emotionally and physically, and sometimes all they need to do is get it out. Disaster situation or not, when emotional conversation starts there is always context. Today we experienced a lot of high emotions; both joyous and anger. We arrived at the compound (which I now know is referred to as “Services”) this morning at about 8:30. Rewind for a second…we arrived after the most bumpy drive I have ever experienced. My kidneys still hurt! Back to Services. Harvey and I received our marching orders and headed to Crab Town to deliver water filters with the team. Crab town is a costal community on the river that flooded.
We arrived at Crab Town and walked along the river through people’s houses. Bedrooms were flooded, full of debris, and were caked with red mud…this is real. We toured through the community and gathered all the residents to come to one main area. In the main area we trained the residents how to properly use the filters so they would last them 5-10 years. The team registered and verified people lived in the community and then we distributed buckets and filters. Harvey and I were able to serve the team and put together filters and help distribute. This was a large and desperate crowd full of emotions. At one point you could sense the tension and then a single individual walked by and started calling us out for being their just for show. Remember these are hurting people…hurt people, hurt people. There was nothing physical, just verbal but it was a good reminder to just pray…I spent the remaining time praying and taking pictures of the operation.
From there we went back to Services and chilled out for a bit; we were hot, sweaty, and burned…oops. About 5:30 we took off with Saidu and visited a sight by the river where a cement platform was built for a water tank. The community leader at this location took us to a place by the river where they collected 65 bodies last week. As we were viewing this location a local resident grabbed Saidu and took us to his house. It was a disaster and he had received no help yet. Turns out this was a guy who was making trouble at Services the day before. Guess what? Hurt people, hurt people. Saidu NEVER got mad at him and simply listened so the man could get it out. He understood he was hurting, because he had lost everything. This was convicting to me…I need to listen and not respond! Saidu promised him that we would be back the next day and I guarantee you, we will be. There was know way this was by chance, this was a divine appointment.

Our day ended with a nice dinner with Saidu. I am more convinced today that we should give people an attentive ear, turn our cheek the other way if necessary, and when they are finished show them the love of the Father. Even when they do not deserve it, because that is exactly what grace is! Grace shows love and does not respond in a like manner. I am not saying we allow ourselves to get run over, I am suggesting we slow down, we listen, look past the emotion, and simply respond with love and truth.

Thank you for the prayers. Please pray for Saidu and his team, they need your prayers and support!

Scott

Day 1 – Assessing Needs and Distributing Goods

All I can say is pictures will never do justice to what we saw today…
Our day started out at a military compound in Freetown where multiple NGO’s were setting up tents and preparing to distribute water, food, blankets etc. Although the human spirit of competition comes out at times, this is truly an amazing opportunity to see organizations work together. It was not uncommon to see Saidu (WHI’s on the ground lead in Sierra Leone) talking with the site leader for UNICEF. They all know their strengths and they support each other where they are strong.

One of the first things Harvey and I were able to participate in was the distribution of balankets. Unfortunately, at the compound there were about 30+ kids who were orphaned or displaced due to flooding. The amazing thing is Daybreak people provided 35 blankets and there was 34 households represented by the children. How awesome is that Daybreakers!!! We also bought some candy at the market and handed it out to the kids. That brings a universal joy to children wherever you are. All I could do is just pray over the kids as we put items in theirs hands, because no word was going to help.

After that distribution we headed out into the field to pass out water filters with an old friend Alfred. This was an amazing experience, as this team has to discern where the actual need is and who is simply trying to get a handout. I watched Alfred multiple times assess his surroundings and know whether there was need or not. Alfred and Jennifer were great leaders and teachers in the field. They would both educate how to use the filters and take care of them long term. The thing I love about WHI is they are in the field, putting there eyes on the need, and this drastically reduces waste.

From there, we came back to the distribution area and observed the WHI team train on the filters. I was able to walk around and interact, getting many pictures. For those of you who have been here and have not, this is a picture you would see on the news…many people, NGO tents all around taking care people’s needs, and water tanks scattered throughout. Pretty well organized with a lot of emotions as you can imagine.  

One last thing on the agenda for the day…Saidu wanted to take us to ground zero of the mudslide. There really is nothing that can prepare you for or explain what this kind of site looks like. Mud, rock, and water in massive quantities are not selective. They destroy everything in its path and 20 yards outside its path. There were boulders in this mess that were 40 feet across, no exaduration. Rocks were thrown through roofs that now looked like Swiss cheese…it was sheer devastation for anything in its path. 

I have taken many pictures, which I will share in time. Right now our wifi signal is limited and text is best.  

What do they need? Prayer! They need The peace of Jesus. And honestly, the love of the Father comes in the form of resources. If you have never been to the World Hope International website, do it now and see how you can help them. They are an amazing organization ran by amazing people!

Blessings,

Scott

We Have Landed

Coming into Sierra Leone was a little different experience this time. I left Dallas, Harvey left Grand Rapids and we met in Minneapolis. From there we went through Paris to Freetown. We landed in the light, approximately 6:05 pm local time. Customs went smoothly and we picked up all 9 bags seamlessly. We are extremely thankful we did not fly Brussels Air today, because they are dealing with an employee strike right now. What does that mean? Well, those fortunate people flying Brussels Air into Freetown today arrived with no bags. Thank you Jesus for Air France:)
One of the first things I noticed was how wet everything is. It is obvious it is the rainy season and you can understand the flooding and land slides that have occurred. We will see the extent of that tomorrow and I will share what we encounter.

Our friend Salifu, from WHI picked us up from the airport. For those of you on the trip in May, we had lunch with Salifu at Bashar in Freetown. It is always good to see a friendly and familiar face when you arrive here. Salifu has a great smile and is such a welcoming man. We loaded our bags and headed east about 9 miles to a vehicle/cargo ferry. As I typed right now we are rolling in the waves and I am wondering if I should have brought some Dramamine. Oh well, too late now. Here is an interesting fact, it cost 55,000 ($6.75) Leones per vehicle for the ferry. The people ferry on the other side of the airport is about 300,000 Leones per person ($40). All I will say is a ferry ride in the dark with very few lights to see where you are going, is an act of faith.

I am using Salifu’s hotspot right now and I am unsure if we will have wifi where we are staying tonight, so I will cut it short. Praise the Lord Harvey and I made it safety, all of our bags made it, and Lord willing we will get to sleep soon in a horizontal position. Thank you for all the prayers.

Much love,

Scott

His Grace > My Imperfections

broken-clay-heart_Fotor

The Apostle Paul is my Biblical Hero. You may say, well what about Jesus? I love Jesus with all of my heart, soul, and body. He is my Savior and my man crush; Paul does not even hold a candle to Jesus…and that is why Paul is my Biblical Hero.  He was a deeply faulted man, a man who had rage against Followers of the Way to the point he would either torture and kill them or have his people do it for him. Paul was the lowest of the low by his own admission. He was a man who was deeply aware of his many faults…he is a man I want to be like.

We live in a society where we are successful for our individualism and our appearance. We are successful when we climb the corporate ladder, make lots of money, marry the trophy husband or wife, have beautiful and gifted children, own a massive house that exceeds our budget, have the perfect body to the point we are willing to buy it, drive new cars, and have all the toys. We are successful for what is on the outside and quite honestly nobody really gives a crap what is going on in the inside as long as you keep it there and don’t expose it. NEVER EXPOSE IT…to the point you cannot live with the internal pain any longer and you begin to consider or worse…commit suicide. We live in a world right now where we are willing to risk mental breakdown to maintain the perfect image. Willing to risk our marriages, our health, our soul…over an image…What the…!

Paul was a man who was so disillusioned with what he thought was truth, he became a feared murderer. Until the day that Jesus stood before him and asked him one simple question, “Why are you persecuting me?” That was the day Paul’s perspective changed and he began to see the corruption and filth that was interwoven in his own flesh.  His eyes were opened to his brokenness. That day the Lord humbled him to save his soul. Paul was made blind and had to be led to a Christian, who he was going to persecute, in order to regain his sight through prayer. From that day on, Paul became a lover of Jesus to the point he was willing to go anywhere and do anything, simply to share the love of Christ with the world. He risked his life, his well-being, and he worked hard to bring the message of Grace to the world.  Paul says in Romans 7 (see the chapter for exact words), he did what he didn’t want to do, even though he knew what was right. He was keenly aware that NOTHING good lived in him and he fully admitted he was a miserable person, yet he found faith and hope in Jesus Christ.

That is why he is my hero; because he knew in and of himself, he had nothing. His only hope was Jesus. I am a deeply broken person. I have struggled with pornography. I have used drugs. I have abused alcohol. I have anger issues at times. My kids are not perfect. I am keenly aware the only person who thinks I am a trophy husband is…who am I kidding?! I may swear occasionally (more so in my head). I speed a lot. Dave Ramsey would never hire me. I like clothes a little too much. I can easily obsess about anything.  And the list goes on and on. I am a deeply wounded and damaged individual, but I know one thing…I must strive every day to be more like Jesus. His grace is not a reason for me to go on in my sin, but I am thankful His grace covers my sin.

The most damaging lie we tell is the one that attempts to portray perfection…the “I have it all together” attitude. That lie is one that has both earthly and eternal consequences. There was only one who stepped on this earth that was perfect, for the rest of us…imperfection is in our DNA and the only hope we have is Jesus. Be honest, be open, find a friend to pour your heart out to, and pursue the love of Jesus over your own faults. His grace is greater than your imperfections…learn to give yourself the same amount of grace.

I love you!

Scott