Pura Vida- Lessons from Costa Rica

I got back from Costa Rica a week ago.  I attended a conference called Third Wave for young leaders in the church of the Nazarene from all over the globe.  (Not sure I fall in the “young leader” catagory so much anymore)  The trip was amazing…

First of all, it was in COSTA RICA!  It is one of the most beautiful places I have visited on the earth.  The land was teeming with life.  I saw more plant species than I thought possible.  We ate with monkeys at our hotel.  I got to hold a toucan and visit gorgeous waterfalls.  It was amazing.

The country of Costa Rica has a slogan- Pura Vida!  It means pure life.  People will walk up to you in a public place and greet you with “Pura Vida!”

And yet, in Costa Rica, people are looking for that “pure life” in lots of ways.  Some of them look a lot more like bondage and slavery than pure life.

One of the things that God did for me was to open my eyes to how narcissistic I have become.  And I don’t think I am alone.  We Americans are a narcissistic lot.  We walk into a foreign country expecting other people to know English, but we haven’t taken the time to brush up on their native language a bit.  We expect a certain level of comfort, or we get frustrated.  We literally seem to believe that the center of the universe is the good ole USA.

Some of my team members and I noticed that the Europeans at the conference tended to speak 2 or 3 languages. We felt lazy.  Many of the Spanish speakers spoke English as well.  I only know how to speak English and Texan…

My friend Blair was telling me that one of his professors used to have a saying for the teams he sent out to do mission work.  It was something along the lines of “You have no rights.”  We joked about that, but God began to stir my heart as I thought about that saying.

See, I’m not sure that saying should be isolated to “mission” work.  After all, aren’t we ALWAYS on mission?  Shouldn’t we always be “without rights?”

The the question began to swirl around in my head.  “Did Jesus REALLY MEAN IT when he said that the person who loses his life will find it?”

In this new year, I have been praying the prayer of Saint Francis every day at noon.  It ends like this:

“For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

Do I believe this?  Do WE believe this?  To top it off, we prayed the Wesley Covenant Prayer at the Conference.  Take a moment to read this:

I am no longer my own, but yours.Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, exalted for you, or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing: I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. So be it. And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

This whole prayer is a prayer of death.  Dying to our wishes, and surrendering to Christ’s wishes.  We live in a country where people choose their church based on their personal preference.  We live in a country where we organize our calendars around our personal agendas.  We live in a country where we spend hours seeing how many likes we had on Instagram or Facebook.  And yet, we wonder why we aren’t experiencing “pura vida.”

Maybe “pure life” comes through a “pure death”…

Maybe Jesus meant it when he said that whoever loses his life will find it…

I’m trying to live into this, and it is hard.  I’m trying to die to my opinion of how bad the ref’s call was at my son’s basketball game.  I’m trying to be thankful for my daily bread, and die to my preference of restaurant choice.  I’m trying to die to my own ambitions as a pastor, and be thankful for the people God has called me to serve.  I’m trying to learn to die, but I have to tell you that dying is hard.  There is this thing inside me that is always quick to want MY way, and MY rights, and MY timing.

But I am finding that there is something about dying that brings new life in me.  And in the place of this life that I have constructed, a new life is emerging…

And it is not just any life, it is “Pura Vida!”

Just a thought,

n8

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The Kind of Faith I Want…

Every once in a while, I run into someone who is not happy with the theology department at our local Nazarene University.  Usually their complaint boils down to a story about a friend or a loved one who went to school to study theology and came home not sure if they believed anything at all.  The friends and or family of these students feel like the university has failed them. I would argue that it didn’t.

I would argue that the university was doing its due diligence in training up godly pastors and leaders.

You see, long before I ever took a real theology class, (my undergrad was in chemistry) I noticed something about the faith, and scripture in particular.  I noticed that the more a person reads and studies scripture, the less they seem to know about scripture.

Sure, when a person hasn’t deeply engaged scripture, it is easy to spout off a bunch of “bible promises” or single verses that “support” our faith.  But it doesn’t take a very thorough examination of scripture to begin to come across questions. In fact, sometimes it seems like the more you study scripture, the more the questions surface.  This is what happens to the theology majors mentioned above.  They are forced to wrestle with questions they have never encountered before.  Up until that point, most of them have lived on the faith of their parents or have developed a faith of nice, easy cliches.

The longer I live, the more I am worn out by the cliches and the faith that goes along with them.  I would never want someone to pastor my congregation who had never wrestled with the tough questions of the faith.  I would hope that my pastor was still wrestling.

That’s the universities job.  To send out pastors who have been willing to wrestle.

Have you ever read the book of Joshua?  What are we supposed to do with passages that seem to indicate that Yahweh instructs Israel to wipe out entire nations of people?  What do with do with this genocide that seems to be mandated by God?  Were the writers attributing something to God that was not of God as some would suggest?  How do we handle such texts?  There are no cliches to answer these types of questions.  Do we really believe serpents talked as we are told in Genesis 3?  What do we do with talking serpents?  Sometimes different passages of scripture seem to be in direct opposition.  How do we reconcile stories that flat out seem to contradict each other? Like I said, the deeper we get into scripture, the more questions arise…

I think a lot of times we believe that our faith has to be like a fortress.  We build up our fortress with passages like John 3:16, Romans 6:23, or Philippians 4:13.  We have the little family of Christian fish on our minivans and bumper stickers that say “God answers knee mail.”  We are poised to “defend our faith.”  We don’t want to get too deep into the questions because we might not have answers, and then the armor of our faith would have a chink in it.

Have you listened to the songs on Christian radio lately?  Yeah, me either…  But today I found myself listening to a Christian station in the car, and it was like every song had the same five cliches about grace, or being set on fire, or the like.  Not a lot of REAL music.  Not much of it spoke about the messiness of our existence.

The kind of faith I want looks a lot more like Jacob than K-LOVE. (The local Christian station)  Remember Jacob?  He spent an entire night wresting with God.  He grabbed on tight and wouldn’t let go.  Jacob’s hip even got wrenched in the process, but he still wouldn’t let go until The Lord blessed him.

Today, we were talking in my Hebrew class about the actual Hebrew verb in story of Moses and the burning bush.  God says that his name is “I AM that I AM.”  The actual Hebrew verb that is used there is the verb for “I will be.”  So one way to read it would be, “I will be what I will be!”

There is no way for us to reduce God to a bunch of simple answers, catch phrases, or even “bible promises.”  God will be who God will be!

I want the kind of faith that dives into the mystery of God and holds on for dear life like Jacob as he wrestled.  I want to wrestle with questions and trust God even when there seem to be no answers.  After all, isn’t faith really about trusting even when we can’t see the answer?

In other words, I don’t want the faith of some sort of shallow, self-help religion.  I want to dive deep into the mystery of God.  I want to be so deep in the mystery of God that I am way in over my head. And there, in the midst of my questions, I want to place my hand in the hand of the One whose name is “I will be what I will be…”

When God Doesn’t Seem Fair…

We have been going through the first 11 chapters of Genesis on Wednesday nights at our church.  Tonight we were in Genesis chapter 4.  The story of Cain and Abel.

I was reading through Walter Brueggemann’s commentary on Genesis, and something caught my attention.  The story of Cain and Abel never gives a reason for God rejecting Cain’s offering…

I’ve heard lots of sermons that made assumptions.  Cain’s offering wasn’t the best that he had.  Abel’s was.  The text never says anything like that.  It simply states the fact that God looked favorably on Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s.

We wonder why God would do such a thing?  It’s not fair.  Why would God look favorably on one person’s offering and not look favorably on another’s?  We can hardly imagine such a scenario.

Or maybe we see scenario’s like this all of the time.  God heals one person, and not another.  Why does God seem to look favorably on one person and not another?   The truth is that we will probably never know the answer to questions such as these, but the reality of life is that God sometimes acts in ways that seem unfair to us…

But what is interesting is that the scripture never tries to answer the question…

Instead the question becomes, “What will Cain do with this unjust treatment?”  Will he become angry and bitter, or will he do what is right.  The word of the Lord comes to Cain in the seventh verse:

If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

So now the focus of the text shifts from Cain’s offering to how Cain chooses to respond.

We all know what Cain chooses to do.  Cain chooses to allow anger to fester until it becomes murder.  Cain doesn’t master the sin that is crouching at his door…

What about us?  We all live in a world that is not fair.  Sometimes, it even feels like God is not fair.  Will we choose to become angry, bitter, and cynical?  Will we injure others with our words, and kill relationships with our response to our “unfair treatment”?

Or will we hear the Word of the Lord saying to us:  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? Will we place our trust in a God who, at times, seems unfair?

Just a thought,

N8

A Case of the Mondays…

I know that most people hate Mondays.  It is the day when the bliss of the weekend that was collides into the rat-race of the week that will be.  It proves for a difficult transition for most of us.

As a pastor, Mondays are different.  There have been times that I have had Mondays off.  You might think that being off on Monday would be easier.  Sometimes it is, and sometimes it is not.

You see Monday can be an awesome day for those of us in the ministry, or it can be an awful day.  (There are jokes pastors make about driving by the church on a Monday morning and throwing a brick through the window of the church with a resignation letter attached to it… No lie!)

I think the reason our Mondays seem to be bi-polar is because you never know what a Sunday will bring.  One week, it will feel like God is moving, the seats are filled, the music goes off without a hitch, and the sermon really resonates with people.  The next week, the projector goes out,  the pastor gets approached with an “issue” just before walking on stage, and the pastor isn’t sure if anyone is even awake during the service.

On the weeks when nothing goes right, Sunday night and Monday can be some of the darkest days in ministry.  Over the years I have spoken to other pastors and it seems to be a shared phenomenon, as the joke about throwing the brick the window seems to validate.

Yesterday I had a case of the Mondays…

I have found that for me, there are only a couple ways to deal with them.  First, I always remember the day I had a real sense that God was calling me to preach.  That is the bedrock that keeps me doing what I do in the “Mondays” of my life.

The second, and I think this one applies to all of us, I try to turn my focus away from WHO I AM, and back to WHO GOD IS…  It is amazing to me that when I focus on God and WHO HE IS, I begin to realize that he is more than enough.  If I am held in God’s hand, I am secure.  I have all that I need.  The result of this realization is peace.

So on this Tuesday I pick up my text for next week and find these words from Matthew 6:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[e]?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Every day has enough trouble, especially Mondays, but when we learn to seek the Kingdom and rest in God’s goodness, we find God to even be enough for the “Mondays” we all walk through.

Just a thought,

Nate