Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lenten Journey 2009



Today is Ash Wednesday and marks the beginning of the lenten season. For the past few years, I've made it a point to attend an Ash Wednesday service (one year I also led one!) and take time to reflect and recieve ashes. It's pretty wild the reaction many people have to a person having ashes on their head.

So why do I do it? Well, it has to do with the roots of the tradition. The idea of Ash Wednesday is to be intentional for at least one season of the year about taking careful examination of your life. It's kind of like this. If you are a Christian, in theory you spend time daily examining your life for blind spots and seeking to draw closer to Christ. In reality, we get distracted, and although many people have a daily devotional life, we rarely take time to examine our lives closely to see where we might be able to follow Christ more closely, and stop following the world.

So I like lent for that reason. Lent gives me a 50 day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter to examine my life and to focus on denying areas of sin, to be intentional about changing heart and mind, and to identify with the suffering and denial of Jesus while He was in the wilderness.

Some people give up habits and others add devotional habits, but always, the purpose and goal of these fasts and habits is to draw us closer to Jesus. If sweets or TV draw you away from Jesus, maybe taking a break from these habits for 50 days would be a good idea.

It usually takes about a month to build or break a habit, so the lenten season can be about breaking bad habits or building good habits.

By the way, the word lent or lenten refers to the lengthening of days that happens in the Spring. So the lenten season is the season of lengthening days.

So you are probably wondering what I'm giving up. Right now, I think I'm going to stop buying beverages. I may drink a variety of beverages during lent, but I think I'm going to stop buying. Then I think I'm going to take the money I save by not buying drinks and I'm going to donate it to Nuru International for some of their water projects. Did you know that 1 out of 6 people in the world don't have access to clean drinking water.

Also, my roommates and I have talked about trying to eat more meals at home and together. We have a cupboard full of canned food and lots of meat frozen, and enough rice and corn meal to sustain us for months. Maybe we will take some of the money we save and donate it as well.

Lastly, I have a couple of devotionals I picked up and haven't quite made it through yet. So my lenten commitment has to do with both denying myself some good things to draw closer to Christ, and adding some habits that will allow me to intentionally spend more time in His presence.

So what about you? Have you made a lenten commitment yet? I'd love to hear more about it. Will you leave it as a comment on here. (Then the other readers of this blog can be praying for you--and I can too!)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Looking Back On The Week



Well, can I just take a moment to express my gratitude. Over the course of the last weeks, we coordinated and hosted six events at night and four outreach/promotional events during the day. That's a lot of time, effort, and energy from many people.

I have to say that the events were successful. This week, we get the privilege of following up on all of the contacts that were made during the week, and helping folks make next steps.

We started our week of events with a rally to get folks excited about what was coming up. We ended Saturday night with a celebration of all God had done during the week and prayers for more to happen as a result of the events and opportunities the campus was exposed to.

I'm so proud of the leaders that stepped up from multiple organizations. I'm thankful for the speakers who traveled long distances to share messages about the brokenness of our world, and what normal people like you and I can do to bring healing to that brokenness, and hope where there is despair. I'm thankful for the businesses, organizations, and individuals who stepped up to support what we were trying to do on campus. Most of all, I'm thankful to the Grand-choreographer, the Creator of the Universe who held everything together and accomplished His greater purposes through our meager offering of loaves and fishes.

Another World Is Possible catalyzed many to action, and awoke others from the lethargy of apathy to a desire to bring healing. It's my hope that this shaking off of apathy would be contagious. Perhaps you, as you are sitting and reading this blog, will consider some way you can serve or volunteer or make some small contribution to being a sign of God's Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

Have a great day!

Sex And Chocolate

<a href="http://www.joost.com/035000a/t/Fields-of-Mudan">Fields of Mudan</a>

If you choose to watch the video above, I have to warn you that it's content is EXTREMELY disturbing. And sadly, the story depicted in this video is not uncommon in the world today. I don't want to discourage you from watching the video, but I do want to warn you that it is not pleasant. I've never left this disclaimer on my blog before, but if you are under eighteen, you may want to ask your parent or guardian to watch the video first and then get their permission. At I'm trusting on your honor to do so. The content isn't crass or distasteful, but it is highly disturbing. The video is about 20 minutes long, and was nominated for an academy award. It was produced by Florida State University.

Friday night, this video was shown at sozo café in Morgantown as part of our series of events Another World Is Possible. It left people speechless, and caught up in trying to process what they had just seen. The speaker who showed the video told the group that he wished he could say that the story being told was uncommon to re-assure folks that this was not the norm, but unfortunately this story is all too common. The event was called "Sex and Chocolate" because both of these industries have strong ties to human trafficking and slavery.

Friday night was one of our most packed nights for an event. We had a speaker by the name of Charles Lee come and share with folks about the issues of slavery and human trafficking. The numbers are staggering. Over 27 million PEOPLE are ENSLAVED in the world today. This is more than at any other point in human history. 600,000-800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year. Most of these are women and children who are forced into the sex industry. The numbers are staggering. And there is a very real possibility that there are slaves being held against their will EVEN IN YOUR TOWN! Charles Lee Created a website called One Voice To End Slavery. You should check it out and learn how you can spot potentially trafficked or enslaved individuals in the businesses around your town.

Of course the root cause of this issue is the darkness of the human heart. And the root solution is for individuals to be reconciled to God. But there are also some ways of making strides to reduce the frequency of slavery and trafficking. It starts by being aware of the issue. Once your eyes have been opened, there's really no turning back. Then you have to take action. You have to do something.

Here are some ways to fight it.

Learn how to protect yourself and others by educating yourself and others on the issue.
Contribute to organizations that are fighting slavery, trafficking, and extreme poverty.
Did you know that many children are sold by their parents because they don't have enough money to feed the rest of their family?
Research the products you buy. Charles shared that many well-knownchocolate companies are buying cocoa that was harvested by slaves. Maybe you could write letters to those companies to change their practices. Buy fairly traded products when you can.
Jump into the foray, and use your talents to enter the frontlines with a qualified non-profit who is doing excellent work.

Here are a few groups that might be of interest to you--I've blogged about them before, and I'll probably blog about them again.

International Justice Mission--they work to bring perpetrators to justice
One Voice To End Slavery--awareness group training folks to take action.
Nuru International--wholistic sustainable solutions to extreme poverty

Whatever you do, don't merely do nothing. Take action. Take a stand. Change the world.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Technology, Creativity, and Information



Friday afternoon, I attended a talk by a guy named Charles Lee at sozo. Charles comes from the South Bay area of Los Angeles (Torrance) where he not only pastors a church, but he is heavily involved in social justice and in teaching creativity.

He and many others (including our friends at Google) realize that we are in a rapidly changing world. Information is traveling faster than it ever has in history. People in our world today have more information at their fingertips than at any point in history. As you can see from the video above, our world is moving very quickly.

It's kind of funny. You can feel the movement at times. Like I notice that there never seems to be enough time to do all that you want to do anymore--there's so much going on with every decision we make. As I reflect a bit more on my time in the desert this was one of the aspects of that time that is coming into focus for me.

Literally the morning I left, my email inbox was bombarded with requests and information. I had someone call me 10 minutes before I departed into the desert who needed information shared with him immediately. There was really no 'down-time' in the days leading up to the desert. And when I came back, everything felt like a whirlwind rush. I jumped in a car, drove for an hour and fifteen minutes, ate dinner, packed my bags, checked-in for my flight, and went to bed. The next morning, I got up, went to the airport with my dad, hopped on a plane, rushed to make a connecting flight, and arrived in Pittsburgh. From pittsburgh, me, dad, and Jamie ate dinner and drove to morgantown. Upon arrival, I talked for a bit with folks, caught up, went to sleep, and then spent the entirety of the next day answering emails, voicemails, and txts that came to me during the desert time, and then began preparing for a week of another world is possible. Our world is definitely fast paced. And when you come back from the desert, you also realize how heavily distracted our world can be from the things that are most important.

In the middle of that difficulty, we have a huge challenge. As Charles Lee shared on Friday, and as the Senior Vice President of Google shared in this blog which you should take the time to read, we are in a place where great good can come from attempting to stay ahead of the technology curve. We need to plan for a future in which we don't know what the technologies will be. As Charles pointed out, we need to creatively come up with ways for people to connect, share, and improve ideas. We have tons of information at our fingertips, but many of us have lost our knack at creativity.

You might remember my posts about the environment last Spring and the ideas I shared from Matthew Sleeth's book and lecture in Morgantown, but one thing I may not have shared was his insight that a lack of creativity is connected to our connectedness to the created world. It might be worth while to slow down a bit and create some space to let ideas run wild in our minds.

We have tons of information and amazing technology at our fingertips. We have amazing potential (unlike any other point in history) to make sweeping changes that will either be hugely detrimental or hugely helpful for future generations of people made in the image of God.

In my mind, in light of all of this the question before us is challenging yet simple. What will we do with all that we have been given to bless others and care for those in the world around us? To whom much is given, much is expected. Take some time today to think about long term solutions and real change that YOU might be part of bringing about.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Big Necessity



Among the books I’ve read recently is this little gem that was recommended by my old friend from parkersburg, Jaime Sayre. Jaime is an Environmental Engineering doctoral candidate and a brilliant friend.

The book, is a book by Rose George called The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters. The book takes the reader around the world to look at water and sanitation issues and the great needs in this realm of human health.

I found myself completely shocked by what I read. She said that the issue of clean drinking water is largely a sanitation issue. Not only is it a sanitation issue, but it’s more specifically an issue of feces. It’s an issue that folks don’t like to talk about but after reading this book, I realize how very important and how little discussed the subject is.

In America, we flush and everything goes away. But where? Have you ever really thought about it? What would life be like without indoor plumbing? What would life be like with out the water and sanitation luxuries we enjoy. (By the way, the sewer systems even in our part of the world are fairly outdated in many areas.)

What about the 2.6 billion people in our world who don’t have access to “adequate” sanitation and clean drinking water? How could this need be solved?

The author recommends micro scale changes and improvements that can expand to macro scale long term change.

When I think about the need, and the solution many are suggesting, I get even more excited about the work Nuru is doing.

If you get a chance, check out the book. It’s not a book about faith, it’s a book about a subject that we spend very little time talking about. It’s a book that exposes in a very unabashed way the very dire situation in much of our world with regard to sanitation, and even demonstrates how little we know about our own sewage problems. After reading this book, I am much more conscientious about what goes down any drain. It doesn’t just disappear, and somebody has to deal with it.

In the meantime, maybe we can all just start to live a little differently, and a little more aware that we may just be part of the solution and we may have something to offer others in aid in some way.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Another World Is Possible

video

Last year, we started a series of events through the college ministry of my church and in conjunction with many other campus ministries at WVU that we called "Another World Is Possible." The idea behind the weeklong event was this. There are many problems that face our world, and it's just not right that these problems exist. We believe that people are called to do something about the hurt, the evil, and the injustice in the world, but part of the problem is that folks just don't know about the issue, or they just don't know where to start doing something.

Everybody knows that our world is broken. Everybody knows that things need to change. We often find ourselves asking what we can do to help it or if it even matters. But not many people get to the root question of why it is broken.

Our world is broken because of sin. Our world is broken because of the evil that runs through the hearts of humanity. At the thought of that some might scoff at the incredulity of it. Others might be encouraged to despair because of the way sin pervades our world. But Christ came that we might have life. Christ came that we might be signs of a different world.

Sometimes when I see the state of the world, I'm tempted to despair when I see the immensity of the problems. But other times I get hopeful. I get hopeful because I think that if the church of the West could be woken from it's slumber, many of these problems would find some answer.

You see, sin is the root issue. Sometimes sin is a sin of commission, and other times it is a matter of O-mission. I think we have the resources to solve many problems caused by sin. We have the Spirit of the living God inside us. And yet, we walk around defeated and despairing.

Tonight will be our first speaker for the week of events. Bryan Monzon of the group eleho will be speaking to folks tonight at sozo about the genocide that is happening in Burma right now. The government of burma is killing its own people. It is an ugly time and some of the stories that I have heard already would make you shudder when you hear them.

The human heart has such potential for both evil and for good. And while our world is broken . . . Another World Is Possible. Maybe I'll see you out for an event. And if I don't, maybe you will look to live beyond yourself to make a difference in this world of His wherever you are.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Some Thoughts From Joshua Tree



Well, as you could tell from the fact I blogged on Friday, I emerged from the desert. I'm back in West Virginia after experiencing five days of solitude to focus on prayer, fasting, and listening for God in the middle of the Mojave Desert in Joshua Tree National Park.

There are quite a few stories I feel like I could tell about my experience but the one that lies in the forefront has a beginning before I entered solitude. My buddy John Hancox recommended a sermon by a guy named Paris Reidhead. It's an interesting name for a person, and a very compelling sermon called "Ten Shekels and a Shirt". You can download, listen to, or read the sermon from this site.

During the sermon a story was told about two Moravian missionaries who sold themselves into slavery to be able to share the gospel with slaves on a remote island in the caribbean. After they had sold themselves to the athiest slave-owner, they were shipped to the island. As they left family and friends, they yelled from the deck of the ship, "May the Lamb who was slain receive the reward of His suffering!" Or as I had paraphrased it during my time in the desert, "May the Lamb who was slain receive the glory He is due!"

While I wandered in solitude, I prayed two prayers to help me stay centered on Christ. That statement was one of them. The other one was simply this. "Lord Jesus Christ be merciful to me, a sinner." Now some would say that neither of these are necessary prayers because God by nature is merciful, and He will receive glory. But sometimes prayer is less necessary for God and more necessary for us to be changed. God moves through prayer, and He changes our circumstances at times. At other times, He changes us.

Over my days He changed me. You see, I got sick early in the afternoon on February 6th, and didn't stop vomiting until around 1PM on February 11. Before you start feeling bad for me, understand that God used that illness to teach me great things about Him and His mercy, and about me and my own darkness.

You see, there was a point at which I was a little frustrated by my sickness. I was frustrated because I didn't go to the desert to be sick--I went to the desert to connect with God. I went to the desert to grow spiritually, and to be better equipped to help others grow closer to Jesus. I had a certain idea of what that would look like. I think God had a different idea.

During my time of sickness, I realized how merciful God was toward me. He knows how dark my heart is (He also knows about your's too!), and in spite of that, because I am His creation, He was willing to do whatever it took for me to be reconciled to Him. I deserve so much worse than a few days of sickness. We all do, when we consider ourselves in contrast to the Holiness of God Almighty.

So as I lay there receiving mercy, I found myself crying out silently from my mind, "May the Lamb who was slain receive the glory He is due!"

I know we all have difficulties come our way, that leave us wondering "where is God in the middle of this?" But I am also confident of this as well, these present difficulties pale in comparison to the surpassing mercy that God shows us moment by moment.

May you experience freshly the mercy of the Lamb who was slain, and enjoy God for the immensity of His worth!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Mixed Tears



This morning I awoke with an email from Doug Scott, the Communications Director of Nuru. He's been living in Kuria, Kenya for the last five months, and is responsible for all of the wonderful videos Nuru has produced in the last few months.

Doug had let me know that Episode 4 "Portraits of Kuria" just launched. I was moved to tears while watching the video, and have had a hard time stopping.

They are mixed tears. They are tears that start in deep tragedy. Tears that start in a world that doesn't have to be this way. Tears that flood when you realize how much difference there is in the way we live here, and the way others live in our world.

Like I said though, they are mixed tears. At the same time I was saddened and shocked by the reality I saw, I also had tears of joy. Tears that swelled into puddles as I realized this is NOT the way it has to be. Tears that covered my face and blurred my vision as I saw people empowered and given opportunity. Tears that flood when you realize that there is so much we have in common as humanity.

We want to feed our families. We want to make a difference with our lives. We want those we love to be cared for and healthy. We want to ensure that future generations have opportunities that we do not have, without the hardships that we do have.

Nuru is making a difference.visit the website It's not just in some high quality programs and innovative training.

LIVES are being changed.

I encourage you to today visit the website, and see more of the change that is being brought about.

Maybe your eyes will stream with mixed tears.

And maybe as you see more clearly, YOU can open the eyes of others to both the need, and the opportunity we've been given to make a LASTING difference in this world.

Life is short. For many, it is also harder than we can imagine--it doesn't have to be this way though.

PS My friend Kendall Combes from the Charlie Hall Band produced the soundtrack for this episode.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Reflecting



Reflecting, originally uploaded by chanchanchepon.
That’s my friend Brent Jackson in the photo above. In church this past Sunday, he just sang an original song he wrote. The name of the song is “Reflecting” and it is simply beautiful.

The song is about how we get the privilege of reflecting God’s glory back to Him. In the middle of being selfish and sinful, in our brokenness, we still become mirrors that reflect the glory of God simply because we are made in His image.

But then, there’s another way we reflect his glory. We reflect His glory when we serve others. We reflect His glory when we look for opportunities to do good and right things. It’s not that we are incredibly good people, or great servants, but because we are made in the image of God, and we are attracted to when we see God at work in other people, God get’s glory by what we do.

Think about it. We all know that God is the hope of the world. And He has chosen his church to be ambassadors of that hope. When we stop our busy schedules and spend time caring for others, we reflect a little bit of the great grace and beauty of Jesus Christ.

Over the next few days I am not going to be blogging. In fact, I’m not going to be near a computer.

Last year, I traveled into the desert to pray, to fast, to spend time in silence and solitude, and to spend time reflecting in a different way. My prayer is that this time in the desert would be a life transforming and clarifying time. I am longing for clarity and focus so that I might better glorify God and reflect His glory as I strive to live this life in service to Him.

If you want to pray for me I would appreciate it. Chances are, I’ll probably be praying for you while I’m in the desert. In the meantime, may you and I both spend more time reflecting His glory to a world that needs the light of Christ.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Superbowl XLIII



Superbowl XLIII, originally uploaded by chanchanchepon.
Well, another Superbowl has passed, and now the Pittsburgh Steelers have one a record six superbowls. And what a game it was! It was exciting right to the end, and had a few things gone differently it could have been a different outcome.

But isn't that the way with everything. You never know how things "play out" until they "play out". We would love to know the future with certainty, but it's never ours to know. And as much as we would 'love to know' it, there's a certain measure of faith that grows as we make decisions and as our life unfolds.

I remember 8 years ago when I was working as an analytical chemist with a promising future at Mylan, I had no idea what I could expect from a career in ministry. I had no idea if I could afford the career change. There are always risks to life, ya know?

Even if I hadn't changed careers, there is no way I could predict what my life would have been at Mylan either. And yet, at times we find ourselves wondering.

What if Harrison hadn't intercepted a pass and run it for a touchdown? What if the penalties hadn't flown so high late in the game? What if Santonio didn't make his stellar last second catch?

We never get to find out the alternate endings in any story. We just keep walking by faith and we see things unfold in the present.

Maybe that's why God's name is "I AM". Maybe He knows about our tendency to worry about the past or the future,and He wants to keep us rooted in the present. Maybe He knows that tomorrow has enough worries of it's own.

Whatever you are doing today, may you walk in faith that the God of all creation is walking with you. In the present. Moment. by moment.