Month: June 2014

Temple, Holy Spirit, Francesco Orlandini,

The Intersection of Heaven and Earth

Those in whom the Spirit comes to dwell are to be people who live at the intersection between heaven and earth.

This is one of the wildest and most refreshing revelations that have hit me while reading Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense by N.T. Wright.

Wright carefully crafts the build-up throughout the book.

At first, he states that our God is the kind of God that frequently intervenes with his creation (as opposed the deist god who merely wound the creation clock and watches it unwind without stepping in).

Wright then reminds us that in the Old Testament, the Temple was regarded as the place where heaven and earth meet (an intersection, if you will) and a place where God “lived” on earth.

With this truth now reestablished, Wright revives that callously familiar passage from the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own…(I Corinthians 6:19)

After filling it into the transitive property, where if A = B and B = C, then A = C, it finally works out like this:

  • Christians = the Temple of the Holy Spirit
  • The Temple of the Holy Spirit = the place where heaven meets earth
  • Therefore, Christians = the place where heaven meets earth.

At least, that’s how it’s supposed to be.

P.S. This also ties in to why we’ve been instructed to pray that God makes his will “on earth as it is in heaven.” Christians become, in essence, the fulfillment of this prayer.

Sylvia’s Affliction

I’ve returned from another stirring week of serving and caring for the children at the City of Children orphanage in Ensenada, Mexico.

The VBS sessions were fantastic, and I had a blast hosting them. And the skits – with as much worrisome and anxious pretense I wrapped them in – worked out really well. That’s putting that theatre degree to work, right?

And our work project this year was just as encouraging as ever. We put on a roof on an unfinished church building that had been “forgotten” by another congregation seven years ago (yes, seven years ago). Yes, it’s discouraging to hear that some assemblies don’t fulfill their own mission work, but it’s just as refreshing to know that other arms of the same God can pick up the slack.

The most heart-wrenching moment of the trip revolved around a spunky old gal named Sylvia.

Last year, we built a house for Sylvia and her three grandchildren. The four of them were living in a 9 ft. x 10 ft. wooden shack when we stepped in. Over the course of the week we were there, we built her a home that is three times that size – complete with running water, electricity, and a working kitchen. It was the new house on the block and the apple of Sylvia’s eye.

This year, we wanted to revisit Sylvia and her family. We wanted to catch up with her, see how she was, see how the kids were, and ultimately just love her some more while we were in the area.

Unfortunately, we were heartbroken to learn that Sylvia had suffered a massive stroke in January. She’s barely alive and is depending on a ventilator to breathe and a feeding tube for nourishment. The doctors and her family are convinced that she is now living in her last days.

Sylvia standing outside the house we had just finished for and dedicated to her last year.

Sylvia standing outside the house we had just finished for and dedicated to her last year.

Of course, the collective response to this was varied, to say the least.

For some in our group, it was disheartening, confusing, and borderline frustrating. It just didn’t seem fair. All the work we had done last year to build Sylvia a house felt like a waste of our time, our efforts, and our group on the whole.

But for others (and me personally), it was weird and ethereally strange. My hearing of the news made time slow to a mournful yet hopeful lull. Part of me was sad to hear of Sylvia’s condition, but another part was glad to know that her suffering would end soon. Furthermore, I was relieved to know that her family was getting to keep the home and use it to continue their lives.

The word affliction doesn’t come out too much in today’s modern English vernacular.

Most people just think it’s a three syllable that means “pain,” but it’s more than that.

Whenever we see the word affliction in the Bible, it is often translated from the Greek word thlipsis (that’s θλῖψις for all you Grecophiles out there). Thlipsis also translates into pressure, compression, distress of mind, and suffering. We often call it the “grind” or being “between a rock and a hard a place.”

Sylvia’s grind was trying to support herself in order to keep her grandbabies alive. She had to sacrifice herself little by little for them to live, but she couldn’t sacrifice all the way because then no one (at the time) could care for the babies.

That kind of affliction we helped out with by building a house for her. And through that, I think her family has come back around and has become closer.

But the kind of affliction she’s in now is out of our hands – and that’s what’s so discouraging about the whole thing.

We want to be able to help Sylvia again like we did the first time, but we can’t. We want to be able reach out to her and love her and encourage her like we did last year, but our embraces wouldn’t be met with the same enthusiasm and hope.

But God is still at work here.

The phrase “God works in mysterious ways” is just too cliché of a conclusion to end on.

Of course it is good that Sylvia gets to spend her last days of this life in a comfortable house. I don’t want to think about her having the stroke while still living in that wooden shack.

But God is also working on us through Sylvia because it’s through Sylvia that we are seeing God’s strange power. Through Sylvia, we are witnessing and can now testify to the fact that God doesn’t just wind up the metaphysical clock of the world and then step back to watch it unwind. Instead, He is actively working to make His will on Earth as it is in Heaven.

And that’s the blessing.

City of Children Cold Water Challenge

Here’s my Cold Water Challenge video.

I was challenged by a friend here in town, and I’ve chosen to donate my $10 to the City of Children orphanage in Ensenada, Mexico.

But instead of nominating other people for the challenge, I’m only asking for prayers and encouragement as my mission team and I go down to Ensenada and serve at this orphanage.

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” — James 1:27

city of children, ensenada, mexico, orphanage, game, girls

Year Four at the City of Children

This Saturday, I and several others will be leaving for the City of Children. We’ll be doing our best to obey the Great Commission, and we’ll need all the encouragement we can get.

It’s my fourth year going, and I still get jittery excited just thinking about it.

We as the Fairlane group will be joining a group from Southside Church of Christ – not the one here in Shelbyville but the one from Winchester – not the Winchester here in Tennessee, but the one from from Virginia. These guys are on fire, and I can’t wait to fellowship with and be encouraged by them.

The City of Children

The City of Children is an orphanage located in Ensenada, Mexico on the Baja peninsula. We’ll fly from Naahville to San Diego ans then load up on a huge shuttle bus, cross the boarder, drive around (not through) Tijuana, and end up at the orphanage just outside downtown Ensenada.

The orphanage itself is pretty well-cared for. It is maintained by people who actually care for the children living in it and show that care not only through loving the children but also loving and respecting their living space.

But it is surrounded by a world of dirt floors and plywood ceilings – a world of physical hunger as well as spiritual starvation – a world only two hours away from San Diego. It’s unsettling to think of how close this world is; it’s even more unsettling to think of much of that world has already leaked into our world.

A Typical Morning: Work Projects, Construction and Benevolence

Breakfast is served at 7:30 whether we wake up for it or not.

Then we’ll divide into three groups and set out for the day at 8:00. One group will stay at the orphanage and work on projects at the home. The other two groups will set out for the community. They then will split: one to do some kind of construction work and the other to do benevolence.

The group that stays at the City will work on projects around the property. Some years, it’s been repainting some of the boys and girls’ dorms. Other years, we’ve dug trenches and laid cement for future groups to build on. This year, since there is a drought in the region, we are setting up water collection stations (basically gutters and barrels) to help out the drinkable water supply.

The construction work always varies each year. In last year’s case, we built a house for a woman (whose name escapes me) and her grandchildren. She and the kids were living in a 9 x 10 wooden shack. Our team built her a fully operational house with electricity, running water, and a kitchen. And we did it all within a week. I usually don’t brag, but that is some hard work, and I’m glad it was for that woman and those kids. I’m honestly still kinda in the dark about this year’s project. I know it has something to do with rebuilding and repairing a local assembly house, but I’m don’t know what all we’ll be doing. #GonLearnToday.

My favorite morning activity is the benevolence work. We’ll carry food boxes and personal hygienic items to families in need. We’ll also talk to them a little bit, try to encourage them in their affliction as best as we can, sing and pray with them. This is personally the most uplifting for me because I feel my spiritual talents involve empathizing with and encouraging strangers. Hopefully they feel the same way.

Afternoon Nap Time…or naw

Once everyone is gathered together again, we’ll meet in the visitors’ dining hall for lunch. Throughout the week, different age groups of the children will eat with us…don’t eat the peppers, no matter what the kids say.

After lunch time…just when you want to take a nap…it’s PLAYTIME! It feels like a curse because we all want that nap, but it’s so much more a blessing because we want to play with the kids and the kids want to play with us. The game of choice is soccer (fútbol), and I usually end up being goalie (am I right?). But there’s also basketball, kickball, scavenger hunts, good ol’ “Yo Tengo” (which means  “I Have” …what we call “Keep Away”).

After playtime, we have an hour to rehearse for our Vacation Bible School skit for that day. We produce these skits ourselves, and we practice them here at home before performing them.

An Evening of Fellowship, Praise, and Discussion

At 5:30, we’ll all meet back in the kitchen for supper that we also share with the children.

Then at 6:30, we migrate over to the auditorium for the VBS singing, skits, and classes. Our theme this year is all about being “Fishers of Men.”

We’ll open with song. The fun part is singing in Spanish the songs that I have being singing in English my whole life. I especially like noting the differences between the English and the Spanish versions. Sometimes lyrics sync up, and other times they don’t; it’s interesting to me at least because even when they are different, they still give the same expression.

Then the skits go up. As much as I want to follow this typical day at the City of Children in order, I’m compelled to save the skits for last.

After the skits, we’ll break into classes divided by ages. I gravitate toward the teen and young adult classes because, once again, I feel that I can best empathize with these guys and gals, and hopefully encourage and be encouraged by them. And the discussion is actually engaging. One might think the language barrier would hinder most of the communication, but it doesn’t really matter. There are translators to help everyone understand each other, and the discussion actually flows at a normal pace.

Goodnight, Sweetheart

After classes have let out at 8:00, we’ll all meet up at the pavilion attached to the American dining hall for one last snack and a little more playtime with the kids. Then they’ll head up to their dorms at about 8:45 and get ready for bed.

We, on the other hand, will meet up for an American devo, fellowship, and encouragement. Because at the end of the day, we will all need that encouragement from each other. This is where we strengthen the bonds amongst ourselves so that we can be a better team. You’d be surprised how much irk and ire within the group can be lifted and carried away by the rising smoke of the campfire.

After our devo, we’ll go to our dorms and turn down for lights out at 10:00 PM sharp (yeah right…but for real, though).

Personally Fulfilled Via Drama

The reason I wanted to save the skits for last is because this is where I feel like I’m at my peak.

Storytelling is my passion, and I earnestly believe that people can grow closer to God through stories. Jesus did it through parables, and I feel like we can do it through these skits.

This year, I’ve had the privilege of writing, directing, and acting in the skits, so it’s hard not to be a little proud of them. This is, after all, what I want do for a living, and this is an opportunity that I have to exercise those creative muscles.

The Definition of Pure Religion

This all culminates into one Super-Objective: to help those who can’t help themselves.

I love how James puts it:

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27)

“To look after orphans and widows in their affliction” is the phrase that always comes to mind when serving at the City of Children. Not just because it mentions orphans and widows but because it mentions their affliction.

We often don’t think of the word “affliction” because it’s a little archaic. A better understanding comes from looking at the Greek word Paul used, which is thlipsis. It means compression, pressure, and distress of mind. We better understand it as being between a rock and a hard place.

This affliction affects everyone in some way. And sometimes, we can’t realize our own affliction until we see it in other people.

And it’s in this affliction where we all meet each other. It’s a subterranean platform to which we’re all brought down, and we need each other to help each other get out of such slumps. I used to think that people could get out by themselves, but the suicide of a best friend convicted me to change that notion.

It reaffirms the fact that humans are tribal creatures and should rely on each other in the hard times. Instead of ambitiously climbing up the hierarchy, we find much more comfort in bearing each other’s burdens, carrying each other’s worries, and meeting each other’s needs.

That’s what I get from serving at the City of Children, and I pray that anyone who serves there with or without me can feel the same fire I do.