Thank You Baltimore

When I was six years old, I went to Baltimore for the first time. I have three memories from that bit of time. One, my family and I went to some fancy seafood restaurant near the harbor and I ate crab with the use of a hammer for my first time ever. Being encouraged to smash things at the dinner table is just about the best thing that can happen to a six year old, so of course I loved that. Two, we fed ducks and geese at a pond near our motel the day before we flew to move to the Azores. This was something we’d often done at my home before we began our moving process, so this was something familiar and special to me. Three, we walked along the harbor and through a shopping center and I found myself mesmerized by the employees at a fudge shop fittingly called “The Fudgery”. These folks were singing, tossing that fudge around, dancing, and providing a performance that just overall fascinated me. This little blonde kid with a bowl cut (me) was standing in front of the fudge case with a beaming smile. Their smiles, their laughter, their singing, the joy, and the presence of delicious fudge that I desperately wanted my parents to get for me…Well, as a six year old these were all of the best things in life. At the time I didn’t notice this fact, but in memory, these employees were mostly black. At the time, this was irrelevant to me. Now I can’t stop wondering what their lives are like there in Baltimore. Were they affected by these riots? Were they affected by police brutality? (In the last five years there have been 100 court judgments or settlements awarded to victims of police brutality and civil rights violations. And those are just the cases that got that far.) Are they still bringing people joy like they brought me? Is life and society bringing them joy?

Fast forward about five years later. I live in Virginia at this time. My family sometimes takes day trips up to D.C. and Baltimore. One day, we visit Baltimore and go by The Fudgery again. I loved it just as much as before. For my family, it was just a momentary pause. I don’t know if they even remember it. But I remember that brief moment we stopped by. It was a chance for me to remember an earlier joy I’d had five years ago. It was a chance to participate in an atmosphere of joy currently there before me. I remember one man in particular who worked there. He was black, singing as he flipped the fudge with his little scraper thing (I’m kind of unaware of fudge tool terminology), and smiling a big smile full of shiny white teeth. He had short dreads. He was a pretty young adult. I thought, “That’s a really cool guy”. Quickly, we were off to visit a science museum or something. But I’d had my moment. I’d gotten to see my favorite place.

Fast forward ten years. I now live in Seattle, WA. I’m watching racial tensions ignite across our country and praying for Baltimore as it experiences troubles I could never dream of. I’m praying for African Americans who feel unheard and utterly frustrated with the system of our society. I’m praying for the police and public officials in Baltimore, that they might be given wisdom, peace, and a spirit of reconciliation. I’m praying for business owners and the population of Baltimore, watching as conflict has descended on their home. But most of all, I’m praying for those people who made me smile as a six year old boy. I’m praying for that young black man, now in his 30s or so I suppose, who impacted me as an eleven year old boy. I’m praying that he’s safe. That he’s been free from police brutality. That he’s a voice for reconciliation. That he’s still bringing joy and happiness to people and wearing that big, contagious smile.

Baltimore, and the greater black community of our nation, is experiencing a great struggle right now. Pray for them. Stand with them. Acknowledge the wrongs wherever you want, but, more than that, choose to see the rights being done. Choose to see the good in people and strengthen that. Rally around the voices of reconciliation. Support the efforts for progress. Hear people out. Bring peace, justice, and understanding. Pray for Baltimore. Pray for Maryland. Pray for our nation. Pray for that man from The Fudgery with that beaming smile. I want you to know there’s light in the midst of these bits of darkness. Light like those people unknowingly displayed in my life. Light that we can all choose to see, support, and be ourselves. Strengthen this light and the darkness will fade. And thank you Baltimore, for putting a little bit of that light into my life as an awestruck boy at a fudge factory.

If you appreciated the spirit of this post, feel free to share it yourself! I would love to see these words stand out as a positive note in the midst of all the negative media we consume.

My Second Meaningful Encounter at One Simple Old Stoplight

Yesterday, I had my second meaningful encounter at one specific stoplight in Seattle. Some of you know about the time I was blessed by a stoplight that skipped me three times and allowed me to talk with an incredibly kind homeless man, reminding me that things we view as inconveniences are sometimes God’s way of telling us to slow down and look around.

Yesterday afternoon, I met a man named Doug at that stoplight. I pulled up and saw a homeless man with a sign that summarized a life-changing episode, saying, “Laid off, now homeless, need work.” I looked around my car to see if I had anything to give him real quick. Nope, nothing. Then I remembered that I had some extra snacks that my boss let me take home from work today.
“Hey buddy,” I called and signalled him over. “How’s it going?”
“Eh I’m alright, how about yourself?” he replied.
“No complaints here. Hey, what’s your name man.”
“Doug.”
“Hi Doug, I’m Christopher. I just wanted to let ya know that I’ll be praying for ya. Also, I work at a cafe and have some snacks from work here. Would you like them?”
“Uh, sure,” he said, seeming kind of startled. He probably didn’t expect to encounter a guy with a little pink cardboard box offering some strange looking South African treats.
As I handed him the treats I told him, “You know, I was almost homeless once. Just last year.”
“Really? What happened?” he asked, obviously surprised.
“Lost my job, just like you. I was just kinda lucky that my parents and roommates could spot me money for my rent for a couple of months. I understand how difficult of a time it can be though, not knowing where your money for life will come from. You’ll be in my prayers man.”
Doug then reached into his pocket and pulled out the white slip that I’ve included a picture of.
“Here, these are thank you notes of sorts.” After he said this he took a bite of the spinach and feta roll I’d given him. “Wow, these are really something! Thanks!”
His face lit up just a bit and suddenly my insignificant gift was actually worth something. I hope I brightened his day at least a little.

After that my light turned green and I had to drive off, but I would like to try to do a little more for Doug. You see, his note shows that what’s happened to Doug could really happen to any of us. He has a degree in CIS and has had work his whole life. Right now he’s just hit a hard time, as many of us will at some point. So I need your help. If you know of any opportunities for work for Doug in CIS somewhere, please let me know. Or if you might know anyone who might know someone, please share this with them. Help me to make Doug’s day even better.
God bless you all.

The Most Difficult Love

I’m going to be vulnerable right now. I’m going to tell you something that God has put on my heart for myself to hear, but that I feel he wishes for me to share. Now, read this closely and carefully, or you will most definitely get the wrong message. I absolutely hate when people misinterpret what I’m trying to say, so pleeeease try not to do so.

But here, this is my confession: It is sometimes extremely hard for me to love God.

It’s not hard for me to like Him, to adore Him, to serve Him, or even to worship Him, but it’s honestly difficult for me to love my Creator with every ounce of my being. To add to the irony, it is often easier for me to love people than it is for me to love God. We love because He first loved us, yet it’s easier for me to show His love to others than it is for me to show that same love to Him. It’s crazy. And upon the beginning of my introspection, this discovery didn’t make much sense to me. I’m here in Africa right now with the purpose of serving and loving God and others. Yet, even in my ministry, I find it easier to minister to others, to display God’s love to the people of Nairobi, than to love God as He loves me. Despite my entire mission here being to glorify God, to live intimately with Him is still a struggle that surpasses many others in difficulty. When Jesus told us “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,” he knew that we were going to face a powerful struggle just to walk with Him. Following Him can be much harder than merely following His ways. So I’ve been thinking about this. And I’ve realized some stuff.

Love is meant to be constant, thoughtful, intentional, and relational.

First of all, a loving relationship with God is different than any other loving relationship. And we should address it as such. The closest thing to it is the analogy of a romantic relationship, as shown in Hosea and countless places in Scripture in which we as the Church are referred to as Christ’s bride. A reality that many of us know is that romance, ironic enough, is filled with a more difficult love, despite being perhaps the richest love we can experience with another person. I wonder, is this because it’s more demanding? Is this because it encompasses more? Is this just because along with more opportunities to love also come more opportunities not to? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s all of those. I mean, you can cheat on a spouse, but you can’t cheat on a friend. Yea, I think that the more all-encompassing a love becomes, the more challenges we will face to its integrity. I think this fact has a role to play. A romantic love is not one that is called to action on occasion. Rather, it is meant to be constant, thoughtful, intentional, and relational. It’s a love that lives and permeates everything. In the words of DC Talk, “Love is a verb”. We don’t try to refrain from actions that would hurt our significant other just because they’re wrong, but more because of the hurt that our actions would bring them. And merely not hurting them isn’t enough. If two people in a relationship never do anything wrong, it can still be dead. We also need to be active and intentional in our love to keep a relationship strong. All of this applies to our relationship with God too. The reality that we face in our human relationships also extends to our relationship with our Creator.

We can’t just follow God as a teacher of morals, we need to walk with Him as our intimate Maker too.

To add to the struggle in this relationship though, our entire beings, our biology, our flesh (as Paul put it), is against God and His ways. Survival of the fittest, self-interest, human nature, it all dictates that we follow our way, not God’s. Even in religious spheres, we find ourselves wanting to do things in very specific ways that we’re most comfortable with. In the social sciences, this human nature is acknowledged by many (regardless of religious belief) as something that we all must overcome, but it takes on a new dimension when we think about this nature’s potential impact on our relationship with our Creator. Luckily enough, Christ has given us a new nature, capable of acting beyond our fleshly instinct. But we still have tendencies to revert back to our old nature.

Sadly, when we pursue the desires of our old ways over his, we aren’t aiming to hurt him, yet that’s often what happens. “And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live” (Ephesians 4:30). We should be aware of that. To sin against God (and all sin is directly against God), given the analogy found in the book of Hosea, is to cheat on him. It’s tantamount to betraying a spouse and the intimacy of that kind of relationship. It’s really crazy. But loving God and not sinning against Him is so much more than just not doing things. It’s about actively doing things too. You could be getting all the morals right, but still be missing the message behind the morals. We have to make sure not to just follow God’s way in our religious beliefs, but to follow God’s way in our life and relationships too. We can’t just follow God as a teacher of law, we need to walk with Him as our intimate Maker too. Dang, this love thing is complex!

It’s easier to display God’s love than it is to bask in it.

But it sure is rewarding. I’ve always found it ironic that so much within us tells us that we have better things to do than pray in God’s presence, get into Scripture, or spend time just…in relationship with God, when those very things are the most fulfilling, joyful, and peace-bringing activities we can engage in. In fact, that’s what’s at the heart of Christianity itself. In Matthew 22, Jesus says “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Everything in our faith stems from these two commandments. If we learn to be consistent and make that our lifestyle, it changes things for us. Yet, how easy it is to forget that joy, that peace, and that fulfillment. It’s crazy. It’s easier to go out and display God’s love than it is to bask in it. But the most difficult things are often the most rewarding. How greatly that applies here. I challenge you today to take a second to thinking about whatever you’re doing for God, to pause in your worship, service, or adoration, and reflect on whether you’re really loving God or not. I challenge you to pause as I had to do and make sure that you aren’t merely living a life for God, but that you’re living a life with God.

As you try to live out a life for God, don’t forget to love Him in the process.

Metaphorically, are you the person who’s buying their kids anything and everything they could ever want, yet who never spends time in relationship with them? What those kids want most isn’t the stuff that they have plenty of. What they want most is their parent’s love. Those toys and goodies mean nothing if the parent giving them is nothing more than a stranger. So don’t be a stranger with God. He saved you to reconcile you to Him, not to just get you to do more stuff in His name. ‘Reconcile’ is a relational word. Remember that. Let us together strive to live out this difficult, but incredibly rewarding, relationship of love with God. As you try to live out a life for God, don’t forget to love Him in the process.