Monday, August 13, 2012

Taxis and Turns

It might be an axiom that the two certainties in life are death and taxes, but right now my biggest fear is "death in taxis."  We have now been in Baguio for over a month and I have had my share of experiences with the taxi.  I would like to share some observations regarding the "rules (and I use that term lightly) of the road."  In drivers education as a young man I learned that when at an intersection with no stoplights the person on the right has the right-of-way.  This is not the case in Baguio.  I believe that most of the taxi drivers must have gone to church for their drivers ed classes because most of the road rules are closely linked to theology.  For example, he who has the greatest assurance of eternal security has the right of way.  This includes turning left across oncoming traffic.  I have also noticed that the color red does not necessitate stopping.  It seems to me a more suggestive kind of color.  The great thing about taking a cab in Baguio is that you not only get where you are going, you get the joy (or sickness depending on your constitution) of a theme park ride.  The hills, sharp corners, massive potholes and roads that turn into rivers during rainstorms provide an atmosphere not unlike what some people pay hundreds of dollars for at Disneyland for only a few pesos.  Of all the things that mystify me about the taxi system here is the sophisticated language that has developed with the horn.  In the States I would rarely use my horn.  On occasion I would attempt to get someone's attention but really that was about it.  In the Philippines however I have noticed several ways to use the car horn.  Here are a few I have picked up.
The Honking Rules:
1.  Saying hi to a taxi driver who is your friend
2.  Asking a pedestrian if he/she needs a lift
3.  Allowing someone to merge
4.  Thanking someone for allowing you merge
5.  Showing displeasure for someone merging without an invitation
6.  Showing displeasure for someone not moving when a ray of light is able to pass between their front bumper and the rear bumper ahead of them.
7.  Warning someone walking on the street that they are coming close.
8.  And my favorite: Warning pedestrians on a crosswalk that a taxi is coming through and not slowing down.
Today was the first day of school and the beginning of Spiritual Emphasis week.  Here at Union School International (USI) I am learning to wear many hats.  My primary calling is to preach the Gospel so I consider my work as the school chaplain my primary job.  It was such a joy to have the head of the school sit me down a couple weeks ago and explain to me that his vision for USI is that it would not be a Christian school in name only.  He wants the primary focus of the school to be encouraging young people to grow up and serve Christ in whatever their calling is and has asked for my leadership in that.  I am so thankful and energized by this task.  This week I'm leading a team of Bible teachers in a week of spiritual emphasis.  Our theme for this year is Gospel Power and we will be teaching out of Roman's chapter one.  I want to encourage both the staff and students that the power of the gospel works its way into every aspect of our lives.  It is always fresh and new to those who are being saved.
As we began work here at USI both Heidi and I started full time.  However, as we began looking at our schedules and workloads we realized that the amount of time Heidi and I both had to be at work while the kids were free was going to create a conflict for us.  The school was gracious enough to allow Heidi to teach part time.  Heidi is currently teaching kindergarten in the mornings and is able to stay on the kid's schedule better.  While we are excited and really felt led in this direction it also provides us with more steps of faith as we follow God on this journey.
We realize that we officially are no longer under the mission umbrella of the Free Methodist Church but our calling has not changed.  The school we are at is small and is working hard to provide for our in country needs, but we are facing a financial shortfall between what we are making and what we need to live here without digging ourselves a financial hole.  God has been so good and provided everything we have needed up until this point.  We have our house in order and we have what we need so we are thankful for God's daily provisions.  Currently we are praying about trying to join a mission organization where we could raise some support for ministry funds.
Please pray for Calvin and Muriel.  This is another new school, and another new country.  We believe God has provided a wonderful educational opportunity for them but it does not make the culture shock and adjustment easier when I try to explain long-term advantages.  Please pray that God would use this time to draw our kids toward Himself.  Pray that they would be a light here at USI.
Please pray for Heidi.  Teaching kindergarten is new for her, and she is busy trying to adjust and take on a new home and new way of life. (i.e. shopping, cooking, school, and everything else in a new foreign context.)  We have experienced one of the worst rainy spells in the past few years here in the Philippines.  It poured buckets for almost three weeks straight.  This has been a hard transition for her from the hot, dry and sunny climate of Kalocsa.  She has already built some neat relationships with some of the Korean students and other teachers.  Pray that God would grant her strength and endurance.
Please pray for Eric.  I have been approached by two pastors who want to meet and talk about youth ministry opportunities in Baguio.  I also have been helping lead a Sunday School study and will be preaching again at the end of August.   Staff devotions, spiritual emphasis week and weekly chapels for the students here are giving me lots of opportunity to study and teach.  While I am excited about the doors God opens please pray that I would have wisdom and clarity on what God would have me commit to.  Also pray I would have strength to say no to things that are taking me away from the family when I should be at  home.
Please pray for USI.  That God would be working in the teacher's and student's hearts.
We miss everyone both at home and in Kalocsa.  We feel a level of tiredness from all the changes and stress from new jobs and new culture.  Although we wish we could be with you all at times, we feel a deep sense of gratitude for your prayers and support.  We would not be here if it weren't for the amazing love from our friends and family back home.  Our hope would be to return to Washington next summer for a visit, God willing.  Until then, keep us in your prayers and know we are praying for you as well.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Spring Time in Kalocsa

April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring? Pilgrims, and that is what we are. Our journey continues as we seek the Lord, and his leading in our lives. Yesterday it rained all day giving a much needed drink to all the trees and flowers that have brought Kalocsa to life this last month. The weather has been beautiful on the plains of Hungary, and we will miss it as we prepare to move to the tropical mountains of the Philippines. With one month of school left, our family has hit the wall of exhaustion. The past couple of months have been full with visitors and friends, and now we are looking ahead to another big move for our family. But we also know that while we move in and out of countries and cities, we never leave God’s guiding purposes. So we take our next step with confidence that God has opened this door, and he will provide the strength and help we need as we move forward.

In our devotions as a family, we began reading the book of Ruth a couple nights ago. It was at the bequest of Muriel who can’t help but love a book devoted to a woman of faith. And we found again the story of a foreigner following God into a strange land, and living a life of faith. Heidi also read to me a passage of a book called Sacred Parenting by Gary Thomas. In it he encouraged us that our lives are really about raising our families and being devoted to Christ and then dying and moving on. It reminded me that Ruth’s life was not about settling in and living the Moabite dream. She had a calling on her life: to go, and she went. And her heritage is that God used her offspring to bring about the redemption of the world. Our prayer as we continue on our journey is that God would continue to strip away those places we would settle in, on building a small kingdom for ourselves. We also know that God uses trials to strip those things away that would keep us from a life devoted to Him.

When we came to Hungary we tried to limit ourselves to two bags each, now we are on a quest to move to our new home in Baguio City, Philippines with one bag a person. This would be a much easier task without half our weight allowance being taken in Lego weight. But we know that God will be our provider, and we are excited to arrive at our new home and new school. Our desire is to serve Christ at Union School and be an encouragement to the youth and the other teachers there. We want to serve Christ, and we know that what we bring in our suitcases is less important than what we carry in our hearts.

Both Heidi and I feel the sorrow of leaving our family and friends behind, and knowing that life continues back home and we are missing it. We also have not had a chance to place roots here (although we've made many friends) and are now moving again. This leaves us feeling a bit in no-mans-land and with a lot of different stresses regarding moving and finishing school this year for the kids and I. Please pray for us in this transition time, that God would be with us and give us patience with the kids and with each other. We know that this will be a challenging transition and that the next month will probably not be easy for our family. We also are reminded that the Apostle Peter exhorted the church that whatever suffering they would endure God would use it to burn up their earthly and selfish desires, and purify their faith. So we continue on our pilgrimage with Christ in us and before, knowing He is not only the one who calls us but also the one who has died for us and given us all we need to be his as he perfects our faith.

In Christ,

The Barnes Family

Thursday, February 2, 2012

"It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time"

When I was about nine years old, I was inspired to take my bmx bike apart. I got out some of my dad’s tools, a 7/16th and a crescent wrench was about all you needed to dismantle a dirt bike. I started to take off wheels, handlebars, chains. I completely dismantled the peddles, and even had a set of greasy bearings scattered in the lawn as I stepped back to observe my handy work. Once I finished, an obvious question came to mind, “what next?” The answer: “wait for Dad to come home and help me put it back together.” I remember my dad’s response being full of both grace and disbelief. “Why did you take it apart?” he asked.
I felt a little like Vin (Steve McQueen‘s character in The Magnificent Seven) who was asked by Calvera (the bad guy who was terrorizing the little village that the magnificent seven were trying to defend) why he would take a job helping these poor farmers. Vin responded, “It's like a fellow I once knew in El Paso. One day, he just took all his clothes off and jumped in a mess of cactus. I asked him that same question, ‘Why?’” Calvera pressed him for the answer, and Vin responded with a smirk, “He said, ‘It seemed to be a good idea at the time.’”

(If you haven’t seen the movie, go watch it right now and then come back and finish the blog.)

At any point in our lives, a person constantly faces the nagging question, “is this where I am suppose to be?” Is there some other place I should live, some other job I am suppose to be doing, or is their some other state of being that is really what I should be experiencing? Am I really doing what I am suppose to be doing? Like Vin in The Magnificent Seven, we are asking ourselves the same question…“what am I doing here?” When this question comes up, it is nice to have a copy of the script, to know that in the end Calver (the bad guy) will get his comeuppance and the village people will get saved.*

*Note: Sometimes it is nice to not have the script if you’re one of the guys that dies in the end. (I’m not saying that happens for all you who still need to see this movie, but if it did, it is less fun to see the script.)

Building a Temple

“The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.
Zechariah 4:9-11

The Bible is our script (that‘s why we call it scripture, heh, heh), and it gives us the bigger perspective we need to understand our situation in life. Sometimes I feel like my life is like my old bike, and I am standing and staring at what once was whole and is now scattered all over the lawn. The people of Israel kind of had this feeling. Their kingdom had been overrun, their temple smashed and they had taken a long journey back to their homeland to try and rebuild their lives. They started a temple, but after a whole-lot-a work, they stood back and thought to themselves, “this stinks!” (That’s a paraphrase.) The temple was nowhere near the awesome temple that Solomon had built. Then they decided to give up and start working on their own little houses. They despised the fact that the temple would never again be awesome and they were ready to give up. Whatever our lives are suppose to be about as Christians, they should be about the work of building the temple and not our own houses. But if our view of the temple is what we can build in our lifetime, with our plumb line, then we will surely find disappointment.

Zerubbabel (the guy in charge of the building of the temple) did not only have a goofy name, but he was turning out to be a far cry from Solomon. God had something different in mind, and He reminded the Israelites that the temple was not something they were building, but something He was building. And that Solomon’s temple was not the greatest thing, no, God was going to use the small things to recreate something far greater.
What this passage is telling us first-off, is not to despise the seemingly small things going on in life. Whether in your marriage, in your parenting, in your relationship, at the job you hate, at the church meetings that bore you, at the worship services you think are lame or in any other area of life that seems far from what you imagine it should be.

The Plumb Line

As I pondered Zechariah 4:10, I began asking the question of “what is going on with the plumb line?” The plumb line represents the tool used to make sure the building is straight and true. It is the key to this passage, and the key to a perfect temple. The key is not Solomon, or Zerubbabel , or me or you or any particular work we may doing, but that it is derived by the accuracy of the tool in the builder’s hand, the plumb line. The temple is not a building, as good protestants we all know that. But the temple is also not the ministry, it is not the church organization, it is not a worship service, conference or particular act (such as praying, dancing, singing, worshiping or serving.) The temple is the people of God, not what the people of God are doing, and the temple is being built by Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. The worse thing that Jesus said to the leaders of Israel, which caused them to seethe inside, was that He could tear down their temple and rebuild a new one in three days. What Jesus is essentially saying is that he is the plumb line Amos was talking about in Amos 6.* He is the one who is perfect, the very being of God Himself who created the world and called it good. (John 1) And it is in him we find both the power to be forgiving, and the power to be His temple no matter where we are at in life.

Peter expounded on this in his letter to the church who found themselves persecuted and in difficult times. He reminded them of not only what the prophets spoke of, but also of what Jesus had opened his mind to imagine. A temple that consisted of more than brick and mortar, and had more stones than a million of Solomon’s temples. The entirety of God’s people living, worshiping, creating, and loving in perfect accord with the perfection they were given by Christ who stands at the center. (The Corner Stone)

1 Peter 2:4-6
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

When the focus of my life becomes fixated on my circumstances, then my moods, my sense of identity, my satisfaction in life rises and falls with how I perceive my situation to be. Go has been reminding me not to forget that my grand purpose is to be the stone cut by Christ wherever I am, and that the temple is not something I am helping Christ build, but rather the larger structure of believers, past, present and future, that I belong with. It is the context for my sanctification and my life in the very present, not always easy, or ideal, but it is, right now, with my family, at my work, yes, today in Kalocsa.

Our Family

I am not making an argument that our physical location, and our daily activities are not important. A big question our family is trying to answer is “what is the next step God is leading us to take?” This is a very real question to us and it includes many variables including, what has God laid on our hearts, how can we use our giftings, what is best for our kid’s education, etc… But who we are as stones in God’s temple should be the light that sheds truth on the meaning of our physical location. If the present circumstances begin to shed its light, or rather darkness, on our identity, then the results will be a desperate attempt to build a new little house, instead of working on the temple. The reality that Peter reminds believers is that one day it is all going to come together. We will be made perfect, just as Christ is perfect. We will be united, millions of believers from ages past, gathered together in perfect unity. Our pride will be gone, our hope will be met, and we will witness something both glorious and wonderful. (Romans 8:18)

*Amos 7:6-8
The LORD relented concerning this:
“This also shall not be,” said the Lord GOD.

This is what he showed me: behold, the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the LORD said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said,
“Behold, I am setting a plumb line
in the midst of my people Israel;
I will never again pass by them;

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A New Years Restitution

Self-reflection at my age can be a little scary. One reason I don’t like mirrors is that they cause me to think about my age, my new grey hairs, and some fresh wrinkles. My ever balding head stands as a memorial to my getting older. When the times come to give up on fluffing what is left on the top, and my wife puts the nix on the comb-over, I have a feeling I am not going to end up looking like Vin Diesel. So this year my new years resolution is to work out more, because bald and strong is cool, bald and chubby, not as much. It is December 31st, and I have had the past week off from work. I have spent lots of time resting, playing games with the kids, watching some movies, reading a book (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) and hanging out with Heidi. I have been creating games, and writing a little, but mostly I have been not stressing out about the holidays. And now it is the last day of 2011, the day we all get to stay up with the kids till mid-night, and then enjoy a little rest before we wake up and spend the day of paying for that mistake. I’m not really sure why we make a big deal out of this holiday, I guess we are still pretty excited about the invention of the Calendar. Of course the real genius was the guy who came up with the idea of putting pictures of little kittens above the calendar, rendering it a fun activity to keep track of the days.

But what about our new years resolutions, or what I would like to call our “new years restitutions.” They are the promises we make to ourselves, (and usually to just ourselves so when we break them, no one can give us a hard time) to do a better job this next year cause we kind of stunk it up last year. We think to ourselves, “well, I ate like a pig this last year, maybe if I do better this next year it will make up for it?”

Lately, I have been thinking about the man Jesus healed at the pool near the Sheep’s Gate, found in John 5. Here is a guy who spent his whole life waiting there and Jesus comes up to him and asks if he wants to get well. Thirty-eight years this guys spends, trapped in the jail cell of his mat, unable to move. Thirty-eight years! That is like two life sentences. And Jesus asks this guy the rhetorical question of the century, “do you want to get well?” And as can be expected, the guy say, “of course, but I need help.”

So Jesus just commands him to get up, and carry his mat, so the guy does. With our modern cultural lenses, it may be a little hard to understand what happens next. The guy ends up in trouble, because he was healed on the Sabbath and it turns out carrying your mat on the Sabbath is forbidden. No one was allowed to do any work on the Sabbath and that included carrying things like mats. The Pharisees are bugged that this guy is carrying his mat on the Sabbath. Can you imagine? A guy is lame for thirty-eight years, and the religious leaders are in a tiff about him breaking this little rule about not carrying heavy stuff on  the Sabbath. Do you think Jesus healed this guy to make a point to the Pharisees about the fact that their self-righteousness and fastidious law keeping was robbing them of the joy that could be theirs?

This year I will not be satisfied with the law. Oh how easily we are tempted with religious pride to trade in grace for the law. When our lives are taken over by guilt, and we rely on our works for our own sense of righteousness, it will always lead to despising other sinners who are experiencing freedom and joy. This guy is lame for thirty-eight years, and now he is free. He can walk! He can carry things! Why wouldn’t this cause dancing in the streets, and why would the Pharisees not go and give this guy a hug and tell him how happy they are for him? Why in the world would they worry about his carrying the stupid little mat? Probably because they had all made a new years resolution to never carry things on the Sabbath again.

Later that day, Jesus runs into this guy, and says this little cheery bit. “Stop sinning or something worse than being a cripple will happen to you.” Well, that was comforting, and especially for those of us who try really hard not to sin, and then blow it. We are all doomed. But wait just a minute, is Jesus warning this guy, or is he healing him?

This year I will let the grace of God work its way deeper into my life. There is something far worse than to be trapped on a mat, crippled and unable to move the rest of your life. It is to be trapped in your sin and selfishness and self-worship for all eternity, void of the hope and joy that God Himself is the author of. The trap of thinking that our ability to follow the laws we want to follow somehow makes us better than others, and that God now somehow owes us for all the stuff we work so hard to do, is a bottomless pit. Later when Jesus meets back up with the healed fellow, he reminds the man of the isolation and inability he felt on that mat for 38 years. “Stop sinning or something worse will happen to you.” Whoa, thanks Jesus for that little guilt trip. But what I read going on here is not the same guilt the Pharisees were peddling on the streets of Jerusalem. Jesus not only reminded him of the isolation and inability of the mat, he also is reminding him how he got off that mat. He did not walk by the power of his will, the sorrow in his heart of the sincerity of his desire to walk. He did not walk by following the rules of the Pharisees, but rather by the power and grace of God, which was freely bestowed on him. And it is that power that frees the man from sin. When Jesus tells him to stop sinning, he is not guilting him, but empowering him in the same way he empowered him to walk. We are saved from sin by a Savior, Jesus Christ, who comes to us and offers us His righteousness and freedom through grace. Not only are we saved by that grace, but the Gospel is that we are to live in that grace. Like the man, we are left with our mats in hand, our sin is a reminder of how we walk in freedom. Not with resolution, but by the grace of God who gives freely.

New Years is a great time to reflect not on our resolve, but on the resolve of Christ, who crossed heaven and earth to enter our lives with the good news, the gospel of forgiveness. That means, that every failing in 2011 and every bad decision in 2012, every sin that will be committed has been paid for on the cross of Christ. Not because of our resolve, but because of His love. And so, we are able to walk. We are able to love others with that love. We are able to treat our children who have rejected us as Christ treated us. We are able to respond to the selfishness and sin of others with love and forgiveness. We come into the new year, with the Gospel fresh in our minds, and buried deep in our hearts. We continue to live lives where we cling ever tighter to the cross. Because as the law continues to expose how wicked we are, so too Christ continues to show us how wonderful and forgiving he is.

A New Years Resolution
Grab hold of the mat, to remind you of what you were saved from.
And walk in the Power of Christ, keep following him, who is the author and perfector of your faith.

Happy New Years from the Barnes Family