Yesterday a few of us headed down to Reliant Arena to help out with the relief efforts there. We were privilaged to be able to work in the makeshift pharmacy that has been set up, helping people get their perscriptions. I was struck not only by the thousands of evacuees, but also the thousands of volunteers who gave of their time, effort, money, and energy to help. As I sat back, I wondered what stories brought each of them to this place, and what each one of them would tell if they were able to speak.

There are hundreds of thousands of these stories that aren’t covered in the news. People who’ve lost everything. People who’ve dropped their lives to go down and help. People who took off an afternoon because they couldn’t stay at work any longer, and felt like something needed to be done. Big names and people who make a lot of noise get press coverage, but most of these people’s names will never be known.

Some people would have us believe that nobody helps people who don’t look like us or who aren’t in our social status, but in my experience yesterday I found that to be the exception rather than the rule.

There are more sacrifices being made than any of us will ever hear about in the news, whether it be doctors and nurses who fly in from across the country or drug stores that give away millions of dollars of medicine without knowing if they’ll ever get a cent from it, no questions asked.

what a relief…

written by my dear friend jeff keese…

during the course of an average day i spend several hours driving around the lovely metropolis that is bryan-college station. as you can imagine, this leaves much time for reflection, road rage and of course, dial-surfing the radio. usually i have to weather the storm of top-40 hits and country twang-songs (depending on who last drove my vehicle), but lately i have been addicted to a certain radio station from the small town known at houston, texas. the reason for my fascination with this station isn’t that they play the best music (by far) of any radio station on the dial but because they have been doing something simply amazing with their airtime. as most all of you know, the southern states of louisiana and mississippi have been devastated by the recent landfall of hurricane katrina. thousands of people have become refugees literally overnight and many of these refugees have found their way to houston and are being cared for by the american red cross in the astrodome. so this brings me to why this radio station is so wonderfully entertaining:

for the last forty hours (straight) the dj’s from this station’s morning show have been live on the air hosting what they are calling their “hurricane katrina request-athon.” here’s how it works: you call the station, you agree to donate a sum of money to their fund raiser, make a request and they’ll play it for you. (they’ll play anything, by the way…no really, anything. right now i’m listening to zydeco.) sounds simple, right? well, giving is when it comes down to it i suppose. so far, this simple fund raiser has gathered nearly a quarter of a million dollars in less than two days. (all this money goes to the american red cross disaster relief fund.)

i turned over to the local christian radio station hoping to find something similar happening , yet i was disappointed when the only mention of the disaster next door was a blurb in the news report. i was immediately frustrated! why could this rock station with their crude jokes and their songs with the offensive lyrics do so much more than we christians are!?! why were the unbelievers out-doing the believers!?! why do we talk so much about being Christ to those around us but when the time comes to actually be Christ we are left still just talking? why do i, knowing how much i have been given, still hesitate to give when i see a chance? what holds us back?

quick disclaimer: i know this seems entirely unfair to both the christian radio station mentioned and the christian community as a whole. i know that there are millions of christian families and people making sacrifices to help those people hurt in this disaster. i know that my saying that we are doing nothing is grossly inaccurate so let me just say this: i made the comparision earlier between the two radio stations to draw these conclusions: talk is indeed cheap and actions do speak much louder than words could ever do. i as a follower of Christ cannot afford to not serve those in need. if God has a mission and i do not step up then He will find some other way to accomplish His plans.

the poor

so unlike many of the things i write on here, this is not polished or edited – just a random string of thoughts.

i encountered a poor, possibly homeless man in san antonio on the riverwalk this weekend. he was nice enough, and looking for a meal… whether he actually was looking for the meal or not is not my concern. God does not require that the money i give the poor be used in a certain way. the giving is my responsibility… the using is theirs, and we will each be blessed accordingly.

none the less, as i drove home, i felt disappointed in my actions. certainly i felt as though i’d acted out of a sense of charity and compassion… i truly did feel sorry for the man, and i gave cheerfully without wanting anything in return, though he offered to send money in the mail.

i suppose what bothers me the most is that if i’m honest, i think i just tried to buy him off. i wasn’t really interested in how i could help him. i didn’t care what his problems were, or why he was in the situation. i didn’t take the time to listen to his story. i don’t even know his name.

instead, in the busy rush to go get coffee that cost more than what i gave him, i passed by a hurting soul who needed jesus.

what a waste.

would you like to get well?

“When Jesus saw him and knew how long he had been ill, he asked him,

‘Would you like to get well?'”

A simple question.
Are you here to be healed?
Yes or no.

Instead, he makes an excuse.

“I can’t, sir, for i have no one to help me into the pool.”

Here stands the man with all power – the master healer not only of sickness but of souls – a man asking “Do you want to be healed?” – and all we can do is make excuses.

My prayer is that when confronted by Jesus,
when offered healing,
I would not make excuses,
but bow at his feet

“Lord! If you are willing…”

the funeral

A place of beauty – adorned by plain dirt floors, citronella candles, a small bouquet of roses, simple, hurting, grieving people, sitting in the warm night weeping, remembering their friends taken tragically. People questioning, not understanding.

The church, too small to hold all the people and the service held with the porch as a makeshift stage, the podium placed beside the intricately carved double wooden doors. Some were seated on under hastily raised tents, but most sat on plastic chairs under the tars, stretching into the street, effectively blocking traffic. It was no occasion for traffic, a scene so captivating that a passer-by might linger for just a moment to breathe the intoxicating citronella incense and listen, if only for a moment to the stories of life lived fully and without regret – to hear pain and confusion, but also beauty and hope, to watch the expression of beautiful, simple people, many of whom had nothing to offer but their tears and time, hoping to find peace and hope in the company of others. Young and old, rich and poor, it was the essence of community, drawn together because of a common faith and hope – a faith in a Savior who promises a hope for nights and places such as this – a hope that overcomes despair – a hope of life abundant that leads to life eternal.


the alchemist picked up a book that someone in the caravan had brought. leaving through the pages, he found a story about narcissus.

the alchemist knew the legend of narcissus, a youth who knelt daily beside a lake to contemplate his own beauty. He was so fascinated by himself that, one morning, he fell into the lake and drowned. at the spot where he fell, a flower was born, which was called the narcissus.

but this was not how the author of the book ended the story.

he said that when narcissus died, the goddesses of the forest appeared and found the lake, which had been fresh with water, transformed into a lake of salty tears.

“why do you weep?” the goddesses asked.

“I weep for narcissus,” the lake replied.

“ah, it is no surprise that you weep for narcissus,” they said, “for though we always pursued him in the forest, you alone could contemplate his beauty close at hand.”

“but… was narcissus beautiful?” the lake asked.

“who better than you to know that?” the goddesses said in wonder. “After all, it was by your banks that he knelt each day to contemplate himself!”

the lake was silent for some time. Finally it said:

“I weep for narcissus, but i never noticed that narcissus was beautiful. I weep because, each time he knelt beside my banks, i could see, in the depths of his eyes, my own beauty reflected.”

“what a lovely story,” the alchemist thought.

– paulo coello

a different kind of Jesus

as told by mclaren, originally told by Athanasius

Once upon a time there was a good and kind king who had a great kingdom with many cities. In one distant city, some people took advantage of the freedom the king gave them and started doing evil. They profited by their evil and began to fear that the king would interfere and throw them in jail. Eventually these rebels seethed with hatred for the king. They convinced the city that everyone would be better off without the king, and the city declared its independence from the kingdom.

But soon, with everyone doing whatever they wanted, disorder reigned in the city. There was violence, hatred, lying, oppression, murder, rape, slavery, and fear. The king thought: What should I do? If I take my army and conquer the city by force, the people will fight against me, and I’ll have to kill so many of them, and the rest will only submit through fear or intimidation, which will make them hate me and all I stand for even more. How does that help them – to be either dead or imprisoned or secretly seething with rage? But if I leave them alone, they’ll destroy each other, and it breaks my heart to think of the pain they’re causing and experiencing.

So the king did something very surprising. He took off his robes and dressed in the rags of a homeless wanderer. Incognito, he entered the city and began living in a vacant lot near a garbage dump. He took up a trade – fixing broken pottery and furniture. Whenever people came to him, his kindness and goodness and fairness and respect were so striking that they would linger just to be in his presence. They would tell him their fears and questions, and ask his advice. He told them that the rebels had fooled them, and that the true king had a better way to live, which he exemplified and taught. One by one, then two by two, and then by the hundreds, people began to have confidence in him and to live in his way.

Their influence spread to others, and the movement grew and grew until the whole city regretted its rebellion and wanted to return to the kingdom again. But, ashamed of their horrible mistake, they were afraid to approach the king, believing he would certainly destroy them for their rebellion. But the king-in-disguise told them the good news: he was himself the king, and he loved them. He held nothing against them, and he welcomed them back into his kingdom, having accomplished by a gentle, subtle presence what never could have been accomplished through brute force.

mclaren – is everyone in?

But what about heaven and hell? you ask. Is everybody in?

My reply: Why do you consider me qualified to make this pronouncement? Isn’t this God’s business? Isn’t it clear that I do not believe this is the right question for a missional Christian to ask? Can’t we talk for a while about God’s will being done on earth as in heaven instead of jumping to how to escape earth and get to heaven as quickly as possible? Can’t we talk for a while about overthrowing and undermining every hellish stronghold in our lives and in our world?

Imagine you are driving down a country road on a journey west from New York to Los Angeles. You find yourself at a flashing red light somewhere in South Florida. You can turn left, turn right, or go straight. The road to the left heads toward Boca Raton. The road to the right leads toward Naples. The third road leads south toward Key West, through the Everglades. None of the roads leans in the general direction of Los Angeles. What do you do? Which road do you take? What are you doing in Florida anyway? The fact that you have to choose between these three destinations means that you are already far off track! But you have to go somewhere, so what do you do?

Here’s what you do: you admit that you’ve been lost for a long, long time – like for the last 750-plus miles. You whack yourself in the forehead for not realizing this sooner, and then you make a U-turn and head back north until you find I-10, which will send you west toward the City of Angels.

This is how I feel when I’m offered a choice between the roads of exclusivism (only confessing Christians go to heaven), universalism (everyone goes to heaven) , and inclusivism (Christians go to heaven, plus at least some others). Each road takes you somewhere, to a place with some advantages and disadvantages, but none of them is the road of my missional calling: blessed in this life to be a blessing to everyone on earth.

One signpost tells me that some people aren’t ever going to be blessed, so I should just rejoice that I am one of the blessed – meaning I can retire in Naples, Florida, and enjoy the blessings of golf on the Gulf. One sign post tells me that everybody is already blessed, so I can watch the sun rise each morning from the beach in Boca Raton. The other signpost tells me that maybe some are blessed and maybe they aren’t, which means I proceed straight ahead into the swamp and feel confused, not knowing what to do.

But my mission isn’t to figure out who is already blessed, or not blessed, or unblessable. My calling is to be blessed so I can bless everyone. I’m going to Los Angeles!

the eucharist

The Eucharist is not only about the cross.

It is not simply about the death of Jesus or his glorious resurretion three days later. It is not about thirteen men who gathered together to have a passover meal not so unlike many they had eaten before.

The Eucharist is about all of those things, but it is so much more. It is a celebration of the life of Christ. It is an anticipation of the life we will live with Christ eternally.

But it is also a reminder that we live daily with Christ in the present moment – that our lives intersect his in a real and intimate way such that we become one – we eat his flesh and drink his blood.

So as we come to the body and blood of Christ let us not empty our thoughts of all save the cross, but rather fill our minds with the rich and fertile life we have – now – in Christ Jesus.

The Eucharist is not only a place for us to reflect on our shortcomings and Chrsits’ perfection, but to embrace our unity with a perfect and joyous Savior who asks us not to hide our lives, but bring them to his table.

The Lord’s table.