Thursday, March 19, 2015


So, I’ve been having some bad days.
I’ve been resting, which is good, but it hurts.  I’ve had cramps, headaches, diarrhea, deeper depression, and a growing sense of failure.   Most of this is because of adrenaline withdrawal, which often hits people who overwork and then stop suddenly.   I know that I work a lot, too much.  But I’ve been feeling that I want to return to overworking if this is how I feel at rest.
This is a minor symptom of my lifestyle, really.  There are greater ones:
A hormone imbalance over the last decade.
Social instability as I do not fit in one culture or another.
Lack of control over my emotional state.
My family and I living in poverty for the last fifteen years.
Neighbors, police, and the violent screaming at me.
Threats and fines from the city.
Of course, my friends and family, who really love me, don’t like this at all.  Everyone, including myself, would like to see me live a life of greater balance.  God made us all to exist in a world of balance, of shalom, where we would have our needs met, the rest we need, positive companions and emotional strength to love.
My friends see that I am choosing not to live in that shalom, even though it is within my reach. They tell me to rest more, to take more breaks, to eat better, to participate in more joy, to write more, to spend more time with God.  I have friends who tell me that I cannot save the world, that I am doing too much, that I need to delegate, that perhaps I should quit.  After all, my health is at stake, and my family’s well-being.
The solution, of course, is simple. I just need to back off.  I just need to say “no”.
I need to say “no” to the man who comes to me thirsty, when I have much to drink.
I need to say “no” to the woman who is hungry, when I have a cupboard and refrigerator full of food.
I need to say “no” to the family who is harassed and unable to sleep, even though I have a safe place where they can sleep.
I need to say “no” to the mentally ill, who just me to give them comfort.
I need to say “no” to those who have no opportunity for worship, and to not give them an opportunity to come before the Lord.
I need to say “no” to those who want to tell me their long story, to refuse to listen so that I cannot pray for them.
I need to say “no” to the sinner and the outcast, refuse to give them a place of safety.
My well-being is more important than saying “yes”.  My health is more important than theirs.  My rest is more essential than theirs.
Laudable ExchangeThe problem is that we do not live in a world of balance.  If everyone lived balanced lives between work for ourselves and work for others, if we all lived out compassion and mercy, if we all gave people the benefit of the doubt and the kind of grace that God gives us all, if we all took our extra resources and shared with those in need around us, then we would have a world of shalom.  But that’s not the kind of world we live in.  We live in a world where criminals are punished, not rehabilitated.  We live in a world where the poor are rejected and treated like garbage.  We live in a world where cultural, ethnic and social differences result in poverty and death.  We are far from the balance God created.
Because of this extreme imbalance, some must love more to make up for that.  Because some do not have ample food or drink or clothing, others must give so that they might survive. Because most do not share of their wealth, some must share more, even out of their poverty.  Because most do not offer grace, some must open their arms in welcome all the more.  Because too many labor for little return, some must labor more so that they may rest.
It isn’t fair.  But it is the way of Jesus.
Jesus healed the masses, even when balance required that he rest.  Jesus walked hundreds of miles to go to those who had need. Jesus offered food out of his poverty.  Jesus counselled in the middle of the night, and rose up early to pray.  Jesus made himself a target to the authorities so that some might rest.  Jesus surrendered his life so that others might live.
And Jesus told his followers that we are to live the same kind of life.  “No one has greater love than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” “Surrender all that you have.”  “Go from town to town, heal the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead and proclaim the kingdom.”  “Blessed are you who are poor.” “Blessed are you when men speak ill of you.” Jesus wasn’t a great advocate of a life of balance.
The reward for this is that which cannot be seen.  Jesus promises that a life of sacrifice and persecution due to love will have joy, but also mourning.  That we will have a community of support amidst persecution.  That we will have our needs met amidst poverty.  And that we will have lives of comfort and peace and balance in a future time that is beyond our current resources.  This is why this is called a life of faith.  Because sacrificial love is for a pleasure that cannot be touched or even perceived with our senses.
If you live a life of balance, I do not begrudge you that.  Good for you, as long as you give to those in need.  In fact, know that I am a bit jealous of you.  I wish that I could live a life of balance.  But that is not my purpose in life.
Some think that I am trying to save the world.  I am not so delusional.  All I am trying to do is to help the person in front of me.  And the next one.  And the next one.  To provide just a teeny bit more balance, a bit more shalom, in this world than when I came to it.  If that means that if my health, my economics, my emotional state, my social standing or my life suffers because of it, then I just have to trust that God will make it worth it all.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Giving and Receiving-- Testing Theology #2

Theory: The more you give to the poor, the more you get, in order to give more to the poor. 

He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor. (Proverbs 22:9)

He who gives to the poor will never want, (Proverbs 28:27)

How blessed is he who considers the helpless; The LORD will deliver him in a day of trouble. (Psalm 41:1)

He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; he who is faithful in unrighteous money, will given greater responsibilities. (Luke 16:10)

In 1995, our family invited the homeless and poor to share of our evening meal.  Some nights we would have one person and some we would have ten sitting outside our two-bedroom apartment.  I was only working part time, and we were barely above the poverty line… and later far below it.  But we always took whatever extra we had and provided for the needy in our area.  We didn’t need to reserve much for ourselves, because we always had our needs provided.

In about a year, as we saw people in desperate need, especially women with children, we would invite them to sleep in our living room.  We learned how to judge who we should have and who we shouldn’t in time, and what we should leave out and what not to (checkbooks, for example). 

Now we have a house, a three acre property, a warehouse full of clothes and furniture and daily donations.  We help feed 450 people a week, house full time 8 people beside ourselves and provide shelter for another 20 people beside.   The more we give away, the more we receive.  As long as we are faithful to give to the poor, and not sell for our own benefit, the more we get to give to more people.

 Eventually, our apartment had the sick and the freezing staying with us, as well as those who need to be discipled or delivered from their addictions.  Our two bedroom apartment was filled with people, some staying for a day, and some overnight.  Our apartment building was sold to a new owner and he decided he was going to “clean up” the apartment building.  One of the first things he did when he received ownership is provide us with a thirty day notice to evict the apartment.  He said, “Your work doesn’t fit with my work.” 

In the meantime, we had to figure out where we were going to live.  We weren’t going to receive any deposit for our apartment because we hadn’t paid any, for the apartment was in poor condition when we moved in.  And the rent was higher than ever in apartments around town, beyond our means.   We prayed for God to grant us some housing, because we didn’t have the income or resources to get it.
We asked for prayer right after we received the notice from two people: my bishop and my father.  Within two days, my father called me and said that he was willing to purchase us a house.  He didn’t say what he would pay, just that he would purchase us a house.  Amazing!

The question is, what house would meet the needs of our people and our needs and be not too expensive.   We got a realtor and looked on the internet and started to look at houses.   This house was too small, and that house was in the wrong neighborhood.  I felt that God was telling us to look close to downtown Portland, so we started driving in neighborhoods around there.  In one of the poorest sections of North Portland, there was a large house for sale.  Diane said it would be too expensive, but I thought we should check it out. 

The house was used as a foster care home that was being closed down because the family was retiring.  It was also used as a shelter for local homeless folks (and a drug lair for some).  The family who owned it were Christians who helped the poor and seeing that we were the same kind of folks, they were happy to sell it to us.  They gave us a reasonable price and we then had a house with six rooms for people to stay in with our family.  We now have 13 people in our house. 

As we provide for the needy, the Lord provides us more so we can provide for the needy some more.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Testing Theology #1-- God's Practical Provision

Surrender for God’s purposes allows for our own needs to be met

Jesus’ principle: 
“Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things (e.g. food and clothes) will be given to you.” 

The idea here is that if we are following God’s calling for us as a family, and if we surrender all we have and do for that calling and for the righteousness that God calls us to, then God will provide all our needs.  Although Jesus mentions only food and clothing, we also, as a family need housing, water and electricity so our children do not get taken away.

In 1997 I was led by God to quit my job and to work with the homeless full time.  I asked others, including my wife and my church supporters to pray with me and to seek God’s will in the matter.  All of those involved affirmed this direction and supported us to do this.

 I quit my job in March of 1998.  I asked my parents to purchase plane tickets so Diane and our two kids could stay with her mother in Pennsylvania for four months.  I stayed on a friend’s couch and occasionally slept on the street, all the time eating at various soup kitchens throughout the Portland area, connecting with the homeless.   After four months, Diane and the children moved back and we slept part of the week in a room next to a garage at a friend’s house in Hillsboro part of the week and in an office converted from a house in Gresham  (forty miles away) for three days a week, where we served and counselled the homeless.  The day before we were supposed to leave our room in Hillsboro, a supporter of our ministry granted us enough money for us to rent a two bedroom apartment in Gresham.  The Mennonite denomination also provided us with some funds for living expenses.  During this time, I sold my plasma for some extra finances and Diane went to a gleaner to pick up extra food for us.   We never asked for food stamps or other government assistance.  Eventually, the IRS asked us to apply for Earned Income Credit, which we did, gladly, but we had already been living this way for a number of years.

In all this time, to the present day, my children never went hungry, never had to sleep on the street, always had enough medicine to cover their medical needs, always had the clothes they needed and we homeschooled them successfully.  We often had to pray in money to pay our bills, and our bills are often paid late.  Our water was turned off once, and we collected water so the toilets and all worked.  The water company gave us a number of fines and threatened to call child services who would take our children away if they were in a place without running water.  But we were able to pay the bill before it came to that.

After 16 years of living out this experiment of feeding and housing the poor with no salary and no regular income, I can firmly say that God takes care of those who surrender all to serve Him.  God provided for us all these years, especially the early years when resources were very thin.  We still have trouble paying bills and we still live on less than what we can afford.  But in the leanest times, we are provided for and no one in our house has ever gone hungry.

We had a household of 12 people, five being my family and the rest being folks who used to be homeless but now live in our house.  One morning we were desperate for food.  There were some condiments and spices, but nothing of substance to eat.   I prayed that morning for God to provide for my children to have something to eat. 

In the midst of my prayer, Diver, who lived in a tent in our backyard, came in and said, “Bye! I’m going out on a bike ride!”  I wanted to ask him to help us get some food, but I decided to trust God and see what would happen.

Diver, meanwhile, got on his bike and trailer and rode South.  After heading that direction for a while, he felt that he was going the wrong way.  He needed to ride North.  “Okay,” he thought and turned around.  Along his ride, he looked in the occasional dumpster, just seeing what he could find.  Usually he’d find quite a bit, especially in apartment dumpsters.  Various odds and ends: CDs, old metal he could scrap, other items of interest.  Today he didn’t find anything.

After riding a number of miles, he came to a Fred Meyers, a local supermarket.  He saw a huge dumpster, the dumpster of his dreams.  He’d never seen it before, so he figured he’d see what he could find.  Climbing the ladder and peering over the side, he noticed that the whole bottom of the dumpster was filled with frozen food.  “Score!” he cries.  As he picks some up, he discovers that all the food is still in the package, and still frozen. 

He fills up his trailer with frozen food and rides back to our house, proud to be able to fill our empty freezers.  That night, and the next two, we ate very well. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Experimental Theology

There are different kinds of knowledge, and different ways to determine what is true and what isn’t.  In court, the truth of a past event is determined through witness and evidence.  In science, general truths are determined through repeated experiments and different studies from different cultural spins.  To know a person, we will want to understand their cultural background, interview them and see what repeated actions they do.

How does one determine theological truth?  In the past, traditional stories/poems were passed on to explain how God relates to humanity.  These traditions were eventually written down and then collected in larger texts.  Now, theology is often determined by analyzing themes developed from the collected texts.  The themes are often skewed by the biases and assumptions of those developing themes, because the larger a collection of texts, the easier it is to have at least a portion of the text fit one’s own bias. 

However, I find the truth about God to be extremely personal, based on my own experiences.  The reason for this is because God is a person and my understanding of God has to come from my own personal experiences of him.  I do believe that Jesus, above all other people, had the best understanding of God, and so he leads me in my quest for knowledge about God.  But I don’t just take what Jesus says for granted.  After all, Jesus said some pretty insane things, and I shouldn’t take what he said for granted.  Rather, in my life and in the life of my family, I held experiments to see if certain statements Jesus said was true.   I wish I could say that these statements were true for all people in all situations.  I just don’t know that.  But I do know that certain principles worked for me, because I lived them and saw them happen.  If we had a thousand people do the same experiments in different contexts then perhaps we could make broader claims.  But from where I stand, I can only say that this is how my relationship with God works.

In 1836, George Muller, a missionary to Christian England determined that he would hold a theological experiment.  His theory is that God would provide for all of their needs without asking any human being, as long as they served the poor and asked only God through prayer.  So he established an orphanage in his house, and began to pray for all their needs, keeping a close account of their needs, whether in kind or financial, and also accounting for what they had received by only praying.  This experiment lasted for forty years during which time he built five homes at the cost of 100,000 pounds each, and he received donations worth more than a million pounds.  Not a single child went hungry, nor the workers at his facilities.  His account books were always open to the public and they are still available today.  His theory was proven by his own personal study and sacrifice.

Even so, I have made my own experiments in theology, testing a number of principles of Jesus by living them out in circumstances that one would conclude otherwise.  I can show that these principles worked for me, although not in as great of detail as Mr. Muller.  My experiments I will detail in a number of blog posts with long term effects and anecdotes.

But, in a sense, this is the relationship with God for each one of us.  God works a little different with each one of us, teaching us different principles.  In a sense, in each of our relationships there is a theory, a test and a conclusion.  We think that someone is a certain way, over time we observe and interact and then determine if that person really is the way we thought they were.  The same with God.  We think He’s a certain way and will interact with us a certain way, but in that, time will tell, and we will know only that which we test.   There are many experiments that I have not done, but others have.   And there are theories I have tested and others have not. 

I can’t tell you that God is exactly this way or that and you can’t tell that to me.  All we can say is how God interacted with us, and how he interacted with others.  But hopefully we can encourage each other in our relationship with Him, to take chances with God and step out where we might not do ourselves.