Gratitude ‘El Zorrillo’ Style!

I felt the full power of human gratitude worshipping with the El Zorrillo Church of Christ in Baja, Mexico, on July 10, 2013. It was expressed in a language foreign to me, but I got it. Gratitude transcends language. Culture too!

I was one of twelve visitors from my home church who came to Mexico to build a new house for a needy family of five belonging to the the El Zorillo congregation. We were part of a larger group of 70 Christians from Canada to Florida (most from Vancouver), that built four houses in one week. Worshipping on Wednesday night, I lost count of the warm expressions of gratitude that various family members (men, women, young and old) voiced during the service. Yet, it remained clear that God was glorified even more than we were thanked!

We began with a 16’x20′ cement slab provided months ago by the hard work of locals. We left a wood-framed, fully insulated house for a family headed by a man who earns meager wages working in the fields. In four work days, we were able to offer what the father probably could not have provided in his lifetime. There is no running water in El Zorrillo, so we built an outhouse nearby.

Our church in Lewiston raised the funds ($8,000.00) to cover the costs for the house we built. Our work was richly complimented by Joe Bever, our foreman, Craig Brown and Steven Fancy at the buzz saw, Pete the electrical genius, and Clark Richardson, our interpreter extraordinaire.

We lived in a tent village at a campground on the beach just south of Ensenada with better provisions than the locals. We enjoyed plenty of food, showers (sometimes warm), flushing toilets and we slept on air (mattresses that is).

When the house was finished, we presented the family with a Bible, a table & chairs, some basic foods, a broom, dustpan and the keys to a house that locks. Powerful gratitude was written all over the faces of the family.

Eladio, Justed, Erika, Anna and Jose

Back in the USA, homes contain an average of two rooms for every person. We built three rooms for five. The average new American house is 2,300 square feet. We built a 320 square foot house. Yet, it seems rare to find the same gratitude on many American faces that we saw on Eladio, Justed, Erika, Anna and Jose’s faces. Okay, Jose was a few months old and all we saw on his face was cuteness.

The most grateful people are not always lined up with those who are most blessed. People with the same blessing scorecards can be quite far apart on the gratitude scale. Daniel Defoe (author of Robinson Crusoe) said, “All our discontents about what we want appear to me to spring from the want of thankfulness for what we have.”

The average Westerner lives better than 99.4 percent of all the human beings who have ever lived. Enjoying a level of luxury and blessing few humans can imagine, many Americans can’t seem to get free of our inflated resentments. It’s hard to feel grateful when our focus is increasingly aimed at perceived injustices, left and right. We get upset when our cable or internet connection goes down, or our benefits are no longer free, or a jury disappoints us, or when our abortion “right” gets limited. Some get very angry. Are we going blind to our blessings?

America is also working hard from top to bottom to decompose marriage and deconstruct homes, causing more and more children to grow up without a united mother and father. But we sure do have nice houses! In Mexico, our group followed a master plan for the house we built. God provides a master plan for Christian homes everywhere, but sadly, most Americans no longer trust that God.

I believe God answered our prayers for a safe, productive and enjoyable trip to Mexico and back. We learned anew that the best blessings of all are not received. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35). Our group gave up one week of our luxurious lives following that principle and were blessed. Jesus gave his life following that principle and, again, we were blessed!


Looking Good

Besides being greedy, Judas Iscariot was a fake!

One day, when Mary (Martha’s sister) poured a pound of expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair, Judas resented it. To make himself look good, he expressed his objection by asking, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?” (John 12:5).

His question sounded noble on the surface but Judas was just masking nefarious motives. Actually, “he was a thief.” (John 12:6). He regularly pilfered the disciple’s money box. Feigning concern for the poor was just a disguise for thievery.

Don’t you just love how evil can hide behind noble statements or appearances? Judas knew how to look good while being bad. Or so he tried.

Later, the chief priests used Judas to get to Jesus. After Judas threw his 30 pieces of silver back at them, they refused to put the money into the temple treasury because it was not lawful “since it is the price of blood.” (Matthew 27:5-6). How noble? No, how phony! They wanted to look good as law-keepers, but they had no qualms about shedding Jesus’ innocent blood.

Maybe Judas should’ve gone into politics. Claiming compassion for the poor as a cover for greed and power remains in expert form to this day. Politicians promise to fight poverty but poverty seldom takes a hit. Meanwhile, moral poverty flourishes! Some politicians speak glowingly of respecting rights while using the machines of power (like the IRS) to rip our rights to shreds. Looking good while being bad keeps them in power.

All this works far better on Americans than it did on Jesus. He told Judas to let Mary alone. As for the poor, he said, “For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” (John 12:8).

No honest person could use those words as evidence for a lack of concern for the poor in Jesus. He simply had bigger concerns in mind, like his impending death, burial and resurrection, resulting in the eternal redemption of sinners like me. Jesus knew that all earthly riches are worthless to those who stay stuck in sin. Just as we need God’s word even more than bread, we also need forgiveness much more than cash.

One of the most unique and admirable qualities Jesus maintained as a man was his complete disinterest in looking good for the moment. In the wilderness, he sustained temptations to put bread over truth and abuse his miraculous powers to look good. Satan even tried to seduce him with to give up on God’s plan for great political power. But looking good was not Jesus mission.

Judas was a different story. He never seemed to ask himself the big questions, like what good is it to be good at looking good if I remain lost in resentment, greed, lies, selfishness and pretense? Small-minded, he sniped over expensive perfume when a far greater expense was about to be paid. Judas’ flaws were fatal for both Jesus (temporarily) and himself. Nevertheless, they did not thwart God’s larger plan for Jesus, and by extension, for us.

Ask big questions: What good it is to be powerful if you have to live on pretense? What good would winning the lottery be if we were about to die? Don’t forget; we are all about to die. That’s why Jesus stuck with God’s plan for him to go obediently to the cross on behalf of lost sinners like you and me.

Life in Lewiston!

Moving to Lewiston, Idaho, in December of 2011 seemed like going back thirty years in time. Although no years were taken off of my life, a rich measure of peace of mind came with this “time travel.” Here are fifteen nifty reasons I am glad to live in Lewiston, ID:

  1. We have a classic “Main Street” here. The local businesses there thrive—quite humbly, I might add. Main Street shuts down for occasions like the Veterans Day Parade when honor is given to whom it is due. The flag-wavers are loved and respected and the Christians get no flack for wearing their faith joyfully (and respectfully) on their sleeves in public. “Parading” one’s faith is not frowned upon.
  2. The waitresses here call me “sweetheart” which can make my tipping go over the top sometimes. In fact, hearing the word “sweetheart” actually makes me think someone is talking to me.
  3. We have more bluegrass bands here than rivers. Okay, we have two historic rivers to inspire countless country tunes; the Clearwater River of Lewis and Clark fame and the Snake River that forged Hell’s Canyon. They converge in Lewiston, the deepest inland seaport in the West!
  4. I cannot go anywhere without seeing someone I know. It’s a powerful incentive to behave.
  5. The traffic lights do not take longer to change here, but every time they do, I lose one half to a full second waiting for the guy ahead of me to find his accelerator. But my big city impatience is finally beginning to lose its grip on me.
  6. Most high schools have “royalty” to celebrate each year. We have “Round-up Royalty!” Of course, a nice young girl in our church youth group is on the cowgirl court, or whatever they call it, and she does us proud. She gets to ride the local parade circuit, which keeps her busy.
  7. Nearly every vehicle is pulling something—a trailer bed, a boat, a 4-wheeler, a camper, a horse or a motorcycle. There’s always someone who can help you move your stuff. But we are very modern here: The horses still ride behind the vehicles rather than pulling them.
  8. I see deer hanging out in my backyard occasionally—probably the same ones who lurk around our front lawn at church some mornings.
  9. We host the baseball World Series every year in Lewiston, NAIA that is. After all, “we are the world!”
  10. The airport is three minutes away, but then, everything is three minutes away. Well, almost. Sometimes you are three minutes and six seconds away, depending on what the vehicle ahead of you is pulling.
  11. In Minnesota, one of my elders bugged me for years to get a cell phone. Here, an elder wants me to get a gun.
  12. Everyone comes to a full stop at stop signs, which bugged the bejeebers out of me when I first moved here from L.A. I’m over that, but it still bugs me when everyone at the intersection waits to give the right-of-way to everyone else and a mutual admiration society breaks out.
  13. Beautiful women here don’t seem to know they are beautiful, which makes them even more beautiful!
  14. Of course, the town newspaper is liberal, but nobody else is. Wait, that’s not true. One of my waitresses is and I don’t know anyone who works harder than she does. She’s a sweetheart!
  15. I get out more often. For the first time ever, I mow more often than I vacuum. I can’t see how it could get more exciting than that!

Come visit!

Decent Exposure

Avoiding evil is not easy. Sorry to break this to you but being awesome at avoiding evil is not enough. We must expose and oppose it. Christians are not called to run from darkness but toward it—fearlessly, as children of light. Listen to the apostle Paul: “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them.” (Ephesians 5:11)

There is a long legacy of bold believers in the Bible who took on the forces of evil, pulling no punches. Here are just a few:

  • Moses: the most humble man alive (Numbers 12:3), got mighty feisty with God’s people when they grumbled and slipped into idolatry (see Exodus 32).
  • Samuel: confronted King Saul for his disobedience, lies and pathetic excuses (see 1 Samuel 15). This broke Samuel’s heart and led to ongoing grief over Saul but Samuel still did his job as a prophet.
  • Nathan: bravely called King David on the carpet for his sins of adultery, deception and conspiracy to rub out the loyal husband of a woman he impregnated. David could have ignored Nathan or punished him for speaking truth to power. Instead, the king was cut to the heart and he repented.
  • Ezekiel: was appointed to be a “watchman” to warn the wicked.
  • Amos: understood the risk of being a public truth-teller. He wrote, “They hate him who reproves in the gate.” (Amos 5:10).
  • John the Baptist: blasted Herod the tetrarch for stealing his brother’s wife, and for “all the wicked things which Herod had done.” (Luke 3:19). For his boldness, John lost his head.
  • Jesus: understood the stakes involved for those who step up to expose evil. He explained, “For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” (John 3:20). Evil hates exposure like Dracula hates sunlight. True to form, Jesus did not mince words rebuking the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. He did not pull punches when describing his generation, which he called “evil and adulterous…” (Matthew 12:39 and 16:4); “unbelieving…” (Mark 9:19); “wicked…” (Matthew 12:45 and Luke 11:29), “unbelieving and perverse…” (Matthew 17:17 and Luke 9:41); and “adulterous and sinful…” (Mark 8:38). On the day the church was born, the apostle Peter rebuked his generation as “perverse” (Acts 2:40). So, when Christians lament out loud the moral bankruptcy of our times, we are walking in the courageous footsteps of our kind Savior and his apostles. But in no way did Jesus hate his generation. Rather, he wept for them. His rebukes flowed from love. He probably knew the Old Testament ordinance that forbids hating a fellow countryman but allows reproving him (Leviticus 19:17)

Jesus’ fiercest rebuke went to those who cause “little ones” to stumble or sin. Such people deserve a fate worse than being tossed into the sea with a millstone around the neck (Luke 17:2). Instead of causing evil, we must rebuke it. Jesus said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.” (Luke 17:3). Showing a sinner his fault is, for Jesus, the first step toward reconciliation. But regardless of the result, clamming up or rolling over in the face of evil is neither Christ-like or Christian.

Check out the following lyrics in a new song by Sara Bareilles, titled “Brave:”

    Everybody’s … been stared down by the enemy,
    Fallen for the fear and done some disappearing,
    Bow down to the mighty;
    Don’t run! Stop holding your tongue.
    Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live.
    Maybe one of these days you can let the light in.
    Show me how big your brave is.
    Say what you wanna say, Let the words fall out
    Honestly, I wanna see you be brave.

Intimidation is a favorite instrument of evil. It fails, however, with Jesus’ followers. When stared down by the enemy, stand up and stare back. Don’t run from evil, expose it! Oppose it! Moral purity is hard to find these days but moral courage is rarer still. I believe God wants to see us be brave.