Thursday, February 21, 2008

Things to Avoid When You're Exhausted

The year-long emotional roller coaster of adoption, the 3 1/2-week journey to Liberia and back (which included being a single dad for that time), the malaria medicine's side effects, and jet lag have all combined to give me about 2 1/2 weeks of exhaustion. I simply have felt tired all the time. Though the stretches of normal energy levels are increasing (praise the Lord!), I still find myself wanting to nap (i.e.- pass out) a couple of times a day.

All of this has reminded me of being at a pastor's conference once and hearing someone talk about things to avoid when you're exhausted (physically, mentally, emotionally, etc.). It wasn't the main topic...I just remember it being a "side note" in the midst of his talking about other things. I can't find my notes, but I can remember some of them. When you're exhausted, you should never:

1. Operate heavy equipment...or a car, for that matter
2. Write important letters or e-mails
3. Quit your job
4. Try to make important, life-changing decisions
5. Evaluate your spiritual health
6. Evaluate others' spiritual health

That's all I can think of right now. To be honest, some of these have snuck up on me when I've been exhausted. Not only is reality often skewed when you're tired, but for me, negativity is an easy trap to fall into...whether it's about me, others, relationships, ministries, etc. I can get to the point that I sound utterly depressed if I allow myself to think too much about important things when I'm tired.

Take some time, think about it, and leave a comment with anything else that might be unwise to do when you're exhausted. If you feel so moved, write your own confession of things you've done when you were exhausted...and now you wish you wouldn't have done it.

READERS' NOTE: Though I have blogged a few times when exhausted (and the result was certainly tainted), this entry is not one of those times. Thanks...the Mgmt.

Monday, February 18, 2008

For Whom the Bell Tolls

A meditation on Romans 8:1-4.

Though I've heard it attributed to a couple of sources, it has apparently been said that the Scripture is like a beautiful ring, the book of Romans is the jewel in that ring, and the eighth chapter of Romans is the sparkle in the jewel.

At the opening of the 'sparkle of Scripture', we read this great declaration: "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (v.1). This statement of our security in Christ is so strong, so sure, and so glorious that we could spend much time meditating on its content. I mean, think about it. We are in Christ, so we do not and will not ever experience God's condemnation. We cannot be labeled "condemned" anymore because of Christ's work and because He has sent the Spirit of life to set us free from the law of sin and death (v. 2).

The content is fascinating, but what has captured my heart at the moment is the context. You see, chapter breaks are really such modern inventions, and it's a real shame when Bible reading plans have you stop at chapter breaks when there is such a vital connection. When you find such unfortunate breaks in your translation (whether it's a chapter break or a new "heading" inserted by an editor), dig down deep, ignore your Sunday School teacher's voice in your head, and write in your Bible in all capital letters: "DON'T STOP READING!" In my estimation, the end of Romans 7 and the beginning of Romans 8 is just such a place.

Sounds random, but think about a boxing match. I've only watched limited amounts of actual boxing in my life, but I have seen the fictional Rocky Balboa fight many, many times. You know those rounds where it looks like all hope is lost? The other boxer is having his way with Rocky, Rocky's eye is bloodied and swelling shut, and he's literally getting his brains beaten in. After being knocked down, Rocky struggles to get back up just before the referee finishes the dreaded 10-count. Then, just when you think "It's over...there's no way he can go on...somebody needs to stop this fight"...something happens. The bell rings. Rocky sits down, and his trainer waves smelling salts under his nose, bringing the boxer back to reality. They squirt water in his mouth and on his face, patch the cut above his eye, and prepare him to go out and fight again.

This is how I imagine the transition from chapter 7 to chapter 8. It's like a cosmic boxing match between you and the power of sin. Blows are being forcefully landed by the power of sin...doing what you don't want to do, wanting good but evil is right there with you, your mind loves God but there's sin in your body. The fight's not looking too good, and you're starting to lose hope. Your eyes are swollen're beaten, bloodied, bruised, and begging for it to end. You can't imagine having another ounce of energy to fight anymore...where's the towel so you can throw it in? You feel like shouting, "I GIVE U..."

Before you can finish giving up, the bell has rung. You're in your corner, and the apostle Paul climbs into the ring with a towel draped over his shoulder. God has sent this man into your life to bring you back to reality. So, the smelling salts come out, but they're not smelling salts at all...they are words...words that shake you back to reality: "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."

I can almost imagine Paul preaching his own text to you as you heave for a breath. He looks you right in the eye and says, "Have you forgotten who you are? You are in Christ and the condemnation of sin does not mark your life anymore. You are no longer subject to sin and to the will fight, but you will not fight with this defeat-ist attitude and posture. The Spirit has set you free from the law of sin and death...don't you remember? Sin has no dominion over you anymore (ch. 6). And the Law? Don't go out there swinging the Law at sin...the Law can't do anything about sin except make you feel the sting. The Law doesn't rule you either (8:3, 7:1-13). Now, stand up...remember that Christ has condemned sin and robbed it of its sting and power in your life (8:3b)...get out there, and fight. Kill that sin (8:13), or as John Owen said, 'Be killing sin or it will be killing you.'"

Paul is right. What we must do when we are getting to that defeated posture is open our Bibles and smell reality. Then, we need to bang our gloves together, shake our head to clear it, crack our neck a couple of times, start hopping to get revved up, and then launch into another round. I'm so thankful for these 'smelling salts.' What a great, glorious, beautiful placement of this great, glorious, beautiful truth!

So, my friend, do not sit around and bemoan your Romans 7:14-25 experience. It is a true experience for believers, and it is a fight that we all must face. However, it is not the end of who you are. You are more than a conqueror through him who loved us (v. 37). So, put down the towel that you want so desperately to throw in. Sniff the smelling salts. Get out there. And fight!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Livin' la Vida Liberia #1

For those who do not know, I just arrived back in the country on February 4 from my trip to Liberia. I brought home our new, 2-year-old daughter, Georgia. While there, I wrote a journal so my wife could have a feel for what I felt and went through while there. This entry isn't from the journal, but it will give you an idea of what daily life was like. More about my trip and experience will come (including pictures) , and they'll all be labelled "Livin' la Vida Liberia".


Imagine waking up at 5 AM because the rooster outside, who you have lovingly named "Breakfast", is talking long distance to the other roosters in the neighborhood and trying to welcome the sun 2 hours before it will rise. You dose back off, trying to ignore the cock-a-doodle-doo every three minutes, but you are awakened again at 6 AM. The generator has shut off for the day, which means no more cool air and until the sun comes up, complete darkness.

Imagine finally rolling out of bed at 7 AM because you just can't lay there anymore. Your first act of business is the same as anywhere else in the world - a trip to the bathroom. However, with the generator now off, the electric pump that would have flushed your toilet is no longer working. So, once you finish with whatever your business is, you grab the 5-gallon bucket of water next to the toilet and pour some in to get things down the drain.

Imagine eating one of three things for breakfast every day for three weeks. Always eggs...the only surprise will be this: fried in oil or scrambled with onion? And...always bread. It's going to be french toast, pancakes, or sweet bread (which is about the consistency of corn bread, only much sweeter). Lunch will be Liberian: white rice with some kind of "soup". The soup is what you pour over the rice, and it will have either chicken or beef in it. (You've noticed plenty of chickens running around, but you haven't seen a single cow in all your travels through Monrovia, Liberia...where'd the beef come from? Best not to ask.) Your dish will be named by the vegetable in the soup. It's not a lot of veggie, but it's all you get each day. Chicken with hot peppers and potato greens over rice is simply called "potato greens". Beef with hot peppers and cabbage over rice is simply called "cabbage". You get the picture. Dinner will be American-type ordering American food in a Chinese or Mexican will look vaguely American and taste good, but it's not exactly the same. Hamburgers, pizza, chicken, etc.

Imagine taking a walk every day, but before walking, you layer on the SPF 50 sunscreen you brought with the bug spray (99% deet) over it. You walk everywhere, and you probably average about 2.5 miles a day in walking. You can walk along the beach, where people are having their morning bathroom time right out in the open. Their "bathroom" is the grassy area just out of the sand of the beach (Note to not walk there). As you move along the beach, you will face the Atlantic Ocean and enjoy the beauty of the waves crashing or see fishing boats in the distance. If you look down the beach, you will notice trash, trash, and more trash. There are some homes that look nice, but many others seem either burned out by the recent war, incomplete, or shack-like (reminding you more of the clubhouse you and your cousins built in your grandmother's backyard).

Imagine walking through the market. Any street can be turned into a market, as men, women, and children have small tables or stands set up in front of their homes. Some are selling small bags of rice, some peppers, some fruit, and a few sell luxuries like Coke (but you really have to look for them). Many vendors will sell you a casaba cooked over hot coals. These are potato-like root vegetables that are soaked in water before cooking, and they remind you of eating a sweet potato with a crispy exterior. The ones soaked in salt water are best. You can also buy sugar cane on the street. It is peeled for you, and then you bite of the fibrous material inside. You chew and get all the sweet juice out of it...then you spit out the fibers themselves.

Imagine seeing the people in the market. Though they are distinctly Liberian, many have on T-shirts that are very American...advertising The Dells in Wisconsin, 50 Cent (he's a hip hop artist, for those who don't know), and even various universities in the US. Some, however, are dressed in more traditional, Liberian clothes...bright, colorful wrap skirts or suits. You can see many boys, girls, and women carrying things on their head. From a bucket of peanuts to laundry to giant bunches of plantains, anything and everything seems to be transported on the head. When you ask, you will learn that this skill is taught from an early age, so it is quite natural to them.

Imagine being seen as a continual source of financial aid. Not everyone has hit you up, but everyone on the street wants to quickly call you their friend, learn your name, get your cell phone number, and tell you their story. The unfortunate thing is that if you help someone openly, then you will never be left alone again. Men and women will argue with you...telling you how unfair it is to help one but not help everyone. It's a little like getting caught with gum in second grade... "Do you have enough for the whole class?"

Imagine walking past a school and having a pocket full of Tootsie Rolls. Your pockets are full of candy on came to give it to the children. The children see you coming, and they begin to swarm around you. You are reminded of the scene in Finding Nemo when the birds kept saying "Mine." "Mine." "Mine." Now, however, precious little faces are looking at you, and empty hands are extended toward you. All you can hear is, "White man...white man...white man...white man." As you give out the candy, they see that it's coming from your pockets, and now you wish you would have tied the draw string on these shorts because it feels like they may "de-pants" you at any moment if it means more candy. You decide that this is the last time you'll bring candy here because you see older children pushing and hitting the younger children to take their Tootsie Roll away.

Imagine never feeling clean. Imagine dust and dirst being on every square inch of your body. You wash your feet twice a day, but there's still dirt you can't get off. You wish you had an SOS pad or something to get the dirt out from around your toe nails. Even after your evening shower (which will run scalding-freezing-scalding-freezing...though you are thankful for the few seconds in between these two extremes), you feel dirty. You have to put on socks immediately or else you will have dirt-covered feet all over again. The other reason you want to wear the socks is because you've got to try and keep sand and dirt out of your bed.

Imagine that each day, one of your greatest moments is when you hear the beep of the wall-mounted air conditioners at 7 PM. The generator has kicked on, and you will have electricity for the rest of the night. Of course, everything's in Chinese...the TV/DVD remotes, the air conditioner remotes, etc. Everything has been shipped in from China, but you don't care. You'll get to stop sweating for a few hours, play cards, watch "Cheaper by the Dozen" for the fourth time, and go to sleep in a soft bed.

Imagine that in the midst of all this, you are getting to know your new daughter...what scares her, what makes her mad, what makes her smile, what makes her laugh, what comforts her, etc. You are attaching to her, and she is attaching to you. You weren't quite sure how you could love another child like you love those you already have, but it happened all the same. You're in love, and one day, she'll realize it. She'll know she's got you wrapped around her finger, but for now, you just enjoy her. When she's scared, she nestles her head between your neck and shoulder. When she smiles, she lights up the room. When she sleeps, you stare in awe and wonder and thank God for every moment you get to be her daddy.