Saturday, February 17, 2018

Freedom comes in Family

If you have ever spoken with a child or youth that doesn't have a family of their own, you most likely remember the look in their eye more than the words that were spoken. Some say that our deepest desire as human beings is to simply belong; just to be an irrevocable member of something greater than ourselves. Here in Central America, the gang crisis has exploded over the last two decades, bringing in thousands of wandering youth into the comforting arms of belonging and purpose. Kids who once felt alone in their homes and in their hearts, have encountered the life-giving feeling of being united with others in a visible way. To belong to a gang looks like haircuts, tattoos, holding fast to the higher order and sacrificing oneself for the greater good of the tribe. For families, the tribe membership means last names on birth certificates, generational traditions and affiliated behaviours but even in the most amazing families there are kids who don't feel like they truly belong. In the midst of this earnest pursuit to belong, the child grows up, the walls in their heart continue under construction, and the search for belonging continues. Belonging is more than just membership.

In Galatians 4:5 it says that God purchased our freedom as he adopted us into His family, giving us His very spirit in our hearts that allows us to call back to this mysterious and infinite father in the most intimate way. Belonging in this family, we may acquire new traditions, change the way we dress and even grasp new perspectives of life and humanity that give us greater empathy and compassion but the deepest changes in our new found identity is something profoundly spiritual.

Over the years, I have had conversations with kids that long for family and I have seen it in their eyes. More than wanting a new last name, they are longing for the assurance that they would be a part of something; to be loved and received, valued and cherished. Their eyes speak of the desire to belong. But it's not just them. Today, I choose to look in the mirror and cut through the religious rhetoric and esoteric noise to take an honest look into my own eyes. Days like these, that I look into the word of God, the one true mirror for my soul, and I find myself deeply longing for more of what these words say. I really just want to belong. I know that I have passed from lost to saved, from orphan to son and from victim to heir, but in all honesty, I haven't completely realized and walked into what this freedom is supposed to look like. Today, I am just a scared little boy, using grown up words but wanting something simple. To belong.  I love to advocate for these kids that have such apparent needs and incredibly obvious (although sacrificial) answers to their longings, but if we are honest, we all feel like orphans some days.

But I know that this life is so much more than feelings. I sit myself down and speak the words of promise and eternal truth and fight through the hardship. I know the only way through it is through it. I know what to do because I have been taught and I believe that, in Jesus, I certainly do belong. So, what if, as a Christian, I was less focused on rants, judging and justifying myself and a little bit more focused on relaying this God-given acceptance to others? What if, at the hands of Christians, the world felt primarily accepted as ones who bear God's very image with infinite worth and importance? What if we truly believed that it was God's kindness that led people to repentance and that Jesus was the only way to bring others close to God? What if we acted like God has chosen us to give this good news to others, not only in eloquent speech but in gritty and messy love? From the frightened orphan, to the child of privilege; the youth finding home in a gang to the mirror in front of me, the desire is the same. It's in our DNA. The whole world is just craving to belong, and Jesus is the only way to make that dream come true.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Born in a manger: a story of adoption

This time of year, we are so readily reminded of the birth of Jesus as a miraculous fulfillment of millennia of prophetic expectation and God's perfect plan invading earth in an unprecedented way. There is incredible value and richness as we pause to reflect and allow our minds to arrive at a place of wonder, excitement and gratitude.

I walked into Walmart yesterday and the experience, however, was painfully void of any wonder, excitement or gratitude. I passed the outer gates of vitamin shops and chocobananos to encounter that as quickly as Christmas had not long ago invaded, overtaken and overwhelmed my senses, the flashy trees, lights and bows were utterly replaced with patio furniture, toys and school supplies. Walmart has definitely moved on, but there is so much more that God is speaking to us through this timeless story of good tidings of great joy.

The bible speaks of God making plans that precede creation and I like to imagine Jesus and the Father sitting down at a table with their notebooks and pens, close to a fire with wool sweaters and mugs full of something delicious as their creative juices begin to flow. In these planning sessions, they compose a perfect narrative where in the ultimate expression of love for the people they will soon create, Jesus courageously volunteers to descend to a fallen earth to find the most humble beginning in the most immaculate manifestation of love. Yet, if I keep reading, I find that in this planning process they also chose me. Chosen to be set apart; written into my story that I would one day become a part of their family. Long before blood and biology ever existed, God created adoption. His eternal story was written, intertwining my destiny with His in the most beautiful and selfless act of love.

How fitting for the story of Jesus' birth to portray this truth as His earthly father was brought into His life not by the mysterious workings of genetics and chromosomes but by the selfless act of adoption. Joseph adopted Jesus as his own and the fulfillment of the prophecy that the Messiah would come through an heir of David was fulfilled through Jesus' adoptive dad. In this same way, God the Father has intentionally chosen and embraced me, calling me His own in an irrevocable and personal covenant.

As you ponder the greatness of Jesus' birth as a prominent part of God's eternal plan, allow this truth to permeate your mind and heart. Before anything else was created, He thought of you. Before the heavens and the earth first took shape, He decided to bring you in as His own through a binding pact of adoption. The manger is about so much more than humble beginnings; it is a reminder that God's plan continues to unwind in mysterious and sovereign ways, and that you and I are incredibly and intentionally wrapped up in His story.

                                                 Merry Christmas from the McCormicks!

(Ephesians 1:4-5)

Sunday, October 1, 2017

I'll betcha a thousand bucks

There are some things I only say when my beautiful wife is absent from the room. Little did she know that she had married an impulsive grownup child whose game of choice on the playground was to place bets with the other kids about the most simple things. I preached this morning at the Casa Bernabe church and felt great passion to share about the reality of seeking God on a daily basis and seeing Him respond in experiential ways. As I began to speak, my wife slipped down the stairwell in pursuit of our precious 3-year old twin-tornadoes mouthing "I love you" as she gracefully sidestepped down the stairs. Sometimes as I stand privileged with a microphone before these amazing lives the convictions that coat my soul find their way out of my mouth in unexpected ways. And in the presence of dozens of teenagers I made a promise to deal out a wack of cash if they could prove my conviction was wrong. God's response to sincere prayers and humble hearts is definitely biblical, but I am longing for them to see just how true it can be in their own lives.

This past week I had a conversation with a young man that I had the privilege of taking care of for a number of years before his unfortunate exit from the orphanage 2 years ago. I haven't talked to him much since, but have been pained by his sporadic Facebook posts doused with  alcohol, droopy eyes and terrible decisions. As we began to chat, he told of his recent change of heart and lifestyle saying that he had managed a full 180 and was currently living a rather "blessed life". Sometimes those two words tend to make me squirm, yet his ensuing sentence left me with my mouth wide open. He said he had recently decided to give his life to God and since doing so, everything in his life turned around. He was back living with a once disillusioned family member and was seeking God in abundant ways in the midst of material scarcity and tumultuous uncertainty. Years ago I remember praying for this then scrawny 13-year old, uniting my desire to his, pleading with God that He would allow for his biological father to be brought back into the picture. Now, 6 years later this prayer was triumphantly answered and a once fragile and intellectual acquaintance with God has transformed into a visceral relationship threaded together with profound faith and now very personal points of reference. God had been completely faithful and came through in unexpected ways to surprise the soul of one of His dear sons; uniting him with his earthly father so that his heart could be lifted up and restored by his Heavenly Father. And He does it every time.

So what was the bet for $1000? As I neared the end of the message, this story strolled through my working memory and I felt the deepest confidence to dare these youth to seek God every day and that in ten year's time if any one of them could honestly say that they had tried but God had failed, then I would proceed to painfully pull out a pen and write them a reluctant check. Over the years, I have seen that the stories of restoration begin as simple seeds of faith and are brewed to perfection through pain and scorching sacrifice. God brings to fruition those deep processes that were birthed in sincere prayers in the back row of a youth group service on an ordinary Friday night. It's the same hope I have for the youth that sat in those same plastic chairs today. I saw glimmers of hope in the eyes of a few young men and women today and I pray that they heed the advice to take the time to intentionally quiet the obnoxious voice of their teenage pride just long enough to seek God out with a needy and humble heart. I'll bet you a thousand bucks He will respond.

Monday, September 11, 2017

How much do you love?

I have been asked on different occasions if I could come to love the young man who was grafted into our family out of another as much as the two girls that my wife had the privilege of giving birth to. I can feel the adoptive moms and dads flaring their eyes and blood pressure rising, but I think it is a good question to ask. I think it is good because I am completely in love with the answer. The reason we have to ask the question if we can give an adopted or foster child the same amount of love as biological children is because we obviously don't fully understand what love is. It threads back to a deep world view with roots in who we think God is and what He is capable of. I used to believe that God loved us all equally; all of us on the exact same level. I must admit that this core belief sounds neat, but it certainly doesn't feel like love if you are the child. It does not begin to meet the deep need I have to be known. Love is so much deeper and higher than something we could quantify with words like "more" or "equally". Love is not like a math equation or a linear process. My sweet sister-in-law (who is currently 13 years old) would frequently ask me which of my twin daughters I loved more, and it was as if I was being asked to write a math equation instead of a love letter. Love is so much bigger than anything our minds could compare. I can say this without reservation because God made it clearly known to us that He himself is love. Any concept we have of love where we don't include God is simple plagiary. In the same way we could never begin to compare God to any created thing, we could never compare love with quantities and scales. God does not love us equally. It is better than that. It is so much more complex and rich and colourful. In the same way I could never manage to measure my love for my twin girls, putting them on a scale to see who weighs in more, I know that God does not use these methods when He looks down at us. If someone were to ask  me about how I love my baby girls, I would begin to describe who they are; explanations that would be completely intertwined with feelings starting in my belly and getting caught in my throat. I could never love them the same because they are so different. They are so unique and completely distinct representations of a facet of the image of God. God does  not love us the same, because that would mean there is a possibility that He could love something less, as what can be measured must necessarily have a beginning and an end. So when we talk about adoption, I would never tell someone that you can come to love your adopted child "as much" as your biological children. It's better than that. God allows us to experience an intimate part of who He is and love our children uniquely and individually. The moment we seek to compare or grade, we are straying from the One who is the absolute source of love. Do I love the one whose birth I didn't have the privilege to witness the same as my biological daughters? Absolutely not. I love them uniquely and utterly, regardless of the methods God used to bring them under my parental care. The moment we fall back into our humanistic interpretations as one more thing we are to measure and compare, we have taken God out of the picture and kicked over the very soap box we so confidently stand upon. Adoption is hard because we have to create a connection, bringing ourselves to accept, encourage and embrace someone who doesn't share our DNA and many times our culture and comfort. Yet, I can't think of a better representation of the immense love of God that He showed me on the cross. Bringing me into His family when I was born into another, accepting me for who I am and giving me access to everything that His "biological" son Jesus has by birthright. And I choose to swallow my pride and believe the simple words that make me uncomfortable and exposed. God loves me. There is no "more"and there is no "less". I am uniquely His and He is inseparably mine.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Distracted by the drama

As I sat in this familiar board room, with the sound of rain pouring down on the acoustic tin roof that shielded us from the storm, I could feel the tension starting to rise as many of those present rose to defend themselves while subtly lashing out in a confrontational, yet orderly waltz. It has been a few weeks since the rug was pulled out from under us with a sudden change in authorities, and most of us are still regaining our footing. And it is in this season of transition that I have come to see a new side of humanity. There is a fascinating drive to maintain status quo while keeping friends and enemies at a superficial distance that will be useful but not threatening; to be utterly distracted yet intensely focused. Government entities are set up this way, at least here in Guatemala. As quickly as one person is appointed, a movement to dethrone them is already on the way, provoking waves of uncertainty and doubt. These kinds of situations where we, as humans, feel threatened in some way, whether that be in our jobs, in our home life or on a deeply personal level, generally provoke predictable behaviours from us. Although we are quick to hide behind our degrees, declarations and diplomacy, a sense of feeling threatened lights a match to a well-know neurological  pathway whose fuse blows up in manipulative and confrontational behaviour. I have seen this as much in my two-year-olds as in the adept and accomplished lawyer who sat a few chairs down from me. We feel threatened because we don't feel safe. We don't feel safe because we don't know who to trust. All of these transition and interpersonal struggles are currently magnified by the current high profile political turmoil played out as a bureaucratic soap opera coming out with brand new episodes every day. #crisis.

I clearly recall two years ago, when the then-Guatemalan president was caught in unprecedented corruption scandals and was eventually cornered by societal outcry into a hesitant resignation. I can remember refreshing my Twitter every twenty minutes (much to my wife's dismay), as the political drama was just too important and entertaining to miss. Every conversation revolved around the news of the day and it wasn't long before I had been completely wrapped up in a battle that was not my own and distracting me from where my attention needed to be. As if the scales had suddenly fallen from my eyes, I promptly deleted my news apps and ran to a place of reflection and repentance. So now, two years later, as the drama is reborn and I find myself uncomfortably close to the action, I seek to put into practice the lessons I have learned. Instead of buying into to it, I feel capable enough to sense the threat and uncertainty and remember that my roots spread much deeper than the soil of this world. When I am tempted to replace the most important things in life with trivial tweets and posts, I am learning to speak hope into those situations and be the ambassador of Jesus I was born to be. Failure is a familiar foe, and I confess that in lieu of shining brightly this evening in that board room, several of my fellow attendees may have caught me rolling my eyes and slouching in despair. BUT. I can look back over the past two years and see how God has led me by my the hand, and guided my reluctant heart to broaden my perspective and focus my spirit. It is so easy to get caught up in the drama that life offers, but my prayer is that God would look down on His beloved children, the ones whose adoption cost Him everything, and would see hearts that aren't distracted and distraught. That He would see us remembering daily just who He is, what He has done and where the story is leading. What this world so desperately needs, whether we are currently waist high in flood waters or political turmoil, is hope. And God's plan A to bring hope to this broken world in the most desperate of situations is that we would inject Jesus into the picture, focus the frame and reach into those broken and needy lives that He was willing to give his life for. For the change I long to see in this beautiful country, and for the lives that are longing for a hope that does not fade, let us continue to walk, not distracted by the bright lights and loud music, but focused on the gentle voice that is the true source of life.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

You are no sheep of mine

Imagine the feeling of having dedicated your life to what you firmly believed was the correct and righteous thing to do, only to be confronted with the immaculate beauty of Jesus as He looks deep down into your eyes and says, “You don’t belong with me”. I was reading through the gospel of John the other day in the Amplified Bible and stumbled upon some words that really frightened me. Jesus was walking through a parable that I have known for decades, however in this version the text portrays Jesus standing in front of some inquisitive Jews and says to them "You are no sheep of mine". These men were committed religious gurus who had dedicate their lives to following Jesus' Father, but there was an abysmal disconnect between what they were preaching and the lives they were living. How easy it is for me to sit back in my chair, read these words and think, "Poor guys, they really missed the mark". Yet, I couldn't help but envision the day I will stand before Jesus and imagine Him uttering these very words to me. Frightening. Yes, you became a missionary at a young age and were actively involved in ministry and helped some kids, but YOU are no sheep of mine.  I am not usually frightened by what I read in the bible, but this time I could feel my eyes open wide and my heart beat fast as I thought about the monumental moment when I will see Jesus face to face. Will I, like the Jews, believe I am doing everything right and dedicating my entire life to following Him without actually doing what He says?

It's one of our most intrinsic human needs; to belong to something greater than ourselves,  to find our purpose for existence in the context of a community with a nurturing authority figure who singles you out as precious and worthy. But imagine standing before the greatest being who has ever lived, the one who thoughtfully created those very needs and desires we all have, and to have Him say that you are not one of His. Following Jesus is so much more important than I thought it was. Truly following Him has such an incredible eternal impact and the enemy wants nothing less than for me to be in the group of sheep that doesn’t belong.  This echoes another verse that has haunted me for decades, in Luke 6:46 where Jesus says, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord and don’t do what I say?” Jesus offered wide open invitations to follow him but with very real and specific instructions. Following Him would look different than following Cesar or the elite Jews of the day. I am freshly intrigued by the comparison of Jesus being our shepherd and that we are to simply follow and obey Him because it is the best thing for us. So, the question remains: are you truly following Jesus or just doing a good job at looking like you do? If he asks you to stop criticizing your government or move to another country or enter into a season of rest and uncertainty, would you follow? Jesus' desire is that we would belong to Him and find our security and identity wrapped up in who He is, but I need to take Him at His word. So I choose to surrender. More than anything I choose to live intentionally, trusting that God looks down at me through the lens of Jesus' sacrifice and resurrection and confidently says, "This one's mine." The Good Shepherd had to lay his own life down for this to happen and if that's the kind of God we are talking about, then I definitely choose to follow. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Battle We Cannot Lose

My life has changed rather dramatically over the past few months, marked by a significant change in work life and daily routines. I admit that my gravitational pull is to an attitude of indifference towards life if I am not careful in pursuing perspective and intentionally fostering a sense of purpose and significance. There are so many different levels of struggle and fighting going on ranging from the deepest parts of who I am warring within me up to the heavenly dimensions where the kingdom is breaking through into earthly territories in incredible ways. Though I am aware of this context of war and struggle, I still cherish a childish belief that following Jesus should look a lot more like peace, comfort and ease when compared to my chaotic pre-gospel existence. In spite of knowing the truth, I act as if I don't. Romans 7 bounces around my head reaffirming that I am not alone in this carnal struggle to fight for the "real me" that has since been redeemed and rescued however, my flesh is like the elephant in the room that doesn't seem to be leaving any time soon. I have recently been so amazed by God's favour and provision as He has opened doors and hearts in places and people I had never dreamed of. I have sat at tables, received phone calls and met people that brings me to a place of complete awe of what God is doing in Guatemala and for some reason choosing me to take part in. Yet, instead of shamefully walking out of the room with his tail between his legs, this elephant, that is my flesh, seems to quietly take a seat, kick back and make himself at home. I heard a sermon this week saying that when we decide to follow Christ we are transferred from fighting a battle that we could never win to one in which we can never lose. I see this new battle as being two-fold; one in which my redeemed self, now found in Christ and being renewed daily is frustrated by my persisting flesh. The second battle is in the kingdom that I now belong to as it forcefully pushes back the forces of darkness and breaks through the satanic structures that have plagued us since Adam. In one case, my salvation could never depend on any of my works or efforts, yet in the other, what I do today could potentially resonate throughout all of eternity.

As I have transitioned into a government institution that I once so effortlessly judged and criticized, I realize that my minutes do indeed matter. Where I invest my time and energy is important and can be a part of God's strategic plan. This world so desperately and successfully distracts me and keeps me entranced with funny video clips, live updates and breaking news yet I am slowly learning about the importance my God-given time that I so effortlessly surrender to my social networks and other earthly abysses. In a meeting this past week, a pastor I respect greatly told me that at the end of the day, things were going to happen in these times with or without us and that we were to simply stand back, watch and "trust". I love this person, but I deeply reject their sentiment. God wants us to know that we are His exclusive design for carrying out His plan on earth and that the way He chooses to shine on planet earth is undoubtedly through us. Standing by will most definitely not do anything to bring heaven to earth and bystanders certainly won't get the prize. Though my flesh wants to weigh me down with beliefs of insignificance and pity, I want to decide to fight. The people God has placed in our sphere of influence are worth fighting for. Will we continue to be bystanders, entrenched behind our tweets and Facebook shares without engaging in the real battle? Will we justify our inaction and indifference while our unique window of opportunity steadily slips away? I need this message more than anyone. God has most definitely won the war through Christ however, as His followers He sends us out to fight the battle. We are his plan to bring light to this earth. I implore you to not simply sit back and watch. From your point of influence, and with the way you live your life, fight the fight that is before you and let us see to it that God's kingdom break through into the earth, just as it is in heaven.