Sunday, December 25, 2011

Advent Reflections - 12/25/2011 - Christmas Day


"So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galiless to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to hime and was expecting a child. While the were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, as son. She wrapped himin cloths and placed hime in a manger, because there was no guest romm available for them. 
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
Luke 2:4-19

Reflection
Christmas Day is here!  Our journey through Advent together has come to an end.  The expectation is finally culminating and the whirlwind of the Season is coming to a close.  Perhaps you’re about to open Christmas presents.  Perhaps you’ve already torn into the brightly colored packages, taken it all in and someone has inevitably uttered the question, “Is that all?”  Maybe someone uttered the familiar, “Now if you don’t like it, I have the receipt!” Or my favorite from The Christmas Story, “Didn’t I get a tie this year?”  Someone will eventually grab a garbage bag and start picking up the wrapping paper.  Someone will collect and sort the ribbon and bows to be saved and just like that, Christmas is over.  All the anticipation that has been building up for the last month is finally exhausted, we take a deep breath and maybe, just maybe, we relax just a little.  Advent is complete.  Christ has come.
As we reflect on our journey, we find something very interesting in our passage from the Gospel of Luke.  It contains something that might be easily overlooked, but in many ways contains the very essence of what Advent is all about.  As we read the familiar story of the birth of Jesus Christ, we come to a small detour.  For 18 verses we read Luke’s eloquent account with the emphasis being almost solely on the birth of a baby.  And then suddenly, almost completely out of place, we get a glimpse of mom’s perspective.  Just a brief snapshot in verse 19, and then back to the “story” in verse 20:  “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”  Despite the magnitude of what was going on, and how the world was about to change, Mary took a few moments in time, paused and reflected on the moment.  Imagine what she might have said.  “Joseph, I love you so much, but just give me a few seconds to take all this in.  I want to remember every detail.  I want to treasure this moment forever.”
Yes, Christmas is here.  Advent has come to a close.  But before we start making plans to take down the tree and clean the house up for New Years Eve, let’s commit to one another to take some time this day and just rest and reflect.  Let us look back over the last month and meditate on the journey we’ve taken together.  Let us remember the hope that we have in God; the hope that came to fruition and was revealed in His Son, Jesus Christ.  Let us cling to the joy that each of us have in the salvation He so freely gives and the eternal life that we posses through our faith in Him.  Let us rest in the love that God revealed in the birth of His Son; the same love that would lead him to the cross 33 years later.  And let us rest; rest in the peace that comes from knowing that we are not alone in this world.  We believe in a God that is not far off.  He’s not distant or difficult to access.  He shares in our laughter, rejoices in our victories and mourns in our losses.  God is here.
Let us rejoice!  Emmanuel, God with us!
Closing Prayer

Lord, Prince of Peace, Savior of the World, You have come as You promised.  As we celebrate today, let us take time to reflect on what this journey has meant to each of us.  Let us just for a moment, hold this time in our hearts and remember Your great love for us; a love so great that You sent Your only Son into this world to live among us.  Today we rejoice in You, we thank You and we sing with hearts of praise: Emmanuel, God with us.
Amen

Benediction

Let us go about our day looking forward with hope, reflecting in joy, acting in love and encouraging peace.  May the peace of Jesus Christ be with each and every one of us.
Amen

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Advent Reflections - 12/22/2011

“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.”
Matthew 1:22-24 (NIV)


Reflection

Peace is somewhat of a priceless commodity these days. Let’s face it. We live in chaotic times and most of the circumstances that surround us can induce anything but peace. From an unstable economy to the continuing threats of terrorism, singing “peace on earth” can seem to be just empty words. Especially during the Christmas Season, peace is something that sometimes eludes us. Images of joyful families’ Christmas dinners, warm fireplaces and happy children around a Christmas tree can seem to more resemble a Norman Rockwell painting rather than our reality.
One of the greatest misconceptions in today’s culture is misinterpreting what peace really means. Most often, we confuse “peace” with the haphazard emotions of “happiness”. Happiness is an emotion that develops from the circumstances around us; peace is an emotion that rises above them. Peace transcends our circumstances of life and determines how we react to them. In fact, one could say that peace is more of a state of mind, rather than a feeling or sentiment. Peace is determined by our responses to the world around us, or lack of reaction to the stresses and worries of life. Peace comes when we relinquish control of that which cannot be controlled.

In the words of Matthew 1:22-24, we read of a situation that may have seemed overwhelming, confusing and fearful for Joseph. He could have awoken in a panic, argued with God and run from the circumstances that were thrust upon him. He could have legally divorced Mary and would have been completely justified by culture and faith. After all, from all earthly perspectives, she had cheated on him and was pregnant with another man’s child. Who would blame him for bailing out?

Our Advent passage for today reveals much of how Joseph reacted to his circumstances. From our point of view, he didn’t argue, question or choose to panic over the news God gave him. He didn’t run, get angry or blame anyone for what was going on. Joseph chose not to react to his circumstances, but instead submitted to that which could not be controlled. He accepted how his life was about to radically change, and as far as we can tell, he had peace. May we react the same way to the sometimes uncontrollable circumstances that we might face.

Prayer

Lord, we confess that sometimes we react to our circumstances with fear, anger or panic. It is in these times that we lose hold of the peace that You want for each and every one of us. May we take hold of your peace and let it overwhelm us, rather than the troubles of life. 
Amen 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Advent reflections - 12/21/2011

 
“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.”
Hebrews 1:1-2 (NIV)


 

Reflection
 

Why is it that we so often live in the past? Why do we so frequently attempt to build our current days based on the blessings of yesterday? You’ve heard the expressions: “Those were the good ‘ol days!” “Remember when…?” “Things are just not like they used to be.” I am especially reminded of this during Christmas because we tend to focus so much on tradition. As soon as the decorations come out, the music starts playing and our favorite TV shows come on, we are transported to another place and time. We think back on the magic of Christmas when we were younger, and long for those nostalgic feelings that captured us then. In an effort to recreate the memories of yesterday, we strive to re-create a Christmas that relives those we remember. But we usually end up disappointed and a little frustrated. Why can’t things just be like they used to be?

The problem with nostalgia is that it focuses on something that no longer exists. The past remains only in our memories and if we’re really honest with ourselves, nothing can be done to relive the days that have passed. The only thing in which we can control is our present, and when you think about it, we really have no control over that either. In reality, all we have is today. In fact, all we truly have is this moment. This moment that we share today, celebrating Advent together. The past is no longer. Tomorrow will be. Today is what it is.

As we hurdle toward Christmas Eve, as the excitement builds, and as we celebrate the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, rest in the present. God once spoke through the prophets of old, and revealed His soon coming. For a time God was silent, and the people of Israel longed for the days when the Lord spoke to them. But as time passed, He indeed came into the world. That moment of time, in the quiet and peace of Bethlehem was better. No more longing. No more looking back. Emmanuel, God with us!

Prayer

Lord, in the quiet of this moment, help us to keep ourselves in Your presence. Help us to live our lives day to day, in great anticipation of the blessings You provide moment to moment. Let us look on the past with joyful memories, look to the future with hope and live today in your love and grace. 
Amen

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas According to Charlie Brown

"Isn't there anyone who can tell me what Christmas is all about?"  The classic quote from the timeless, A Charlie Brown Christmas, resonates with all of us and takes us back to a simpler time.  Most of us have seen this Christmas favorite over 100 times, but it still seems to make Christmas complete and helps us to focus on the true meaning of the holiday.  Overwhelmed with the commercialism of Christmas, our friend Charlie Brown finally hits the breaking point. Lifting his hands in desperation, he raises his voice and makes his yuletide plea! "Isn't there anyone who can tell me what Christmas is all about?"  What timely words for me as I woke up this morning.  And it made me wonder how many people ponder this same question.

I've been spending a lot of time just meditating on Christmas. This morning, my thoughts were much more vivid than usual.  Not so much the "stuff", but just on what this time of year is supposed to mean to me. I have to admit, I've been a little jaded this year.  For some reason, the commercialism seems to be more prevalent than it ever has been. The constant inundation of advertising at Christmas time, can cause many of us to slip into an almost mechanistic mindset that sends us forth in a spending whirlwind. We are inundated and it's almost impossible to avoid being sucked into the deception. But it's not just the shopping. We are inundated visually too: Christmas lights, store displays, television commercials, presents, our favorite TV shows, etc. etc. etc. The list is almost endless and in our attempts to find "peace on earth", we find that we're pushed to the limits of sensory overload.

Charlie Brown felt these same frustrations.  He's no different than you and me.  Not experiencing the joy that he thought he was supposed to feel, he begins a noble quest to find the true meaning of Christmas. He seeks the psychological expertise of Lucy, but to no avail. He gets plugged into directing the school's Christmas play, but finds more frustration than he had before. Trying as he might to connect the dots, Charlie Brown finds more confusion and less peace. Finally, our ol' pal has had enough and with desperation and great passion, he cries out to his friends, "Isn't there anyone who can tell me what Christmas is all about?!" Silence. He waits. I can feel it! He's desperately hoping that the light will come on and he will finally realize what he's been seeking.

And then the answer. Linus, well beyond years, walks up and offers the reply that seems to clear the fog: "Sure Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about. Lights please."

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." (Luke 2:8-14)

"That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown".

Pretty simple, huh? No commercials. No lights. No decorations. No elaborate dinners. No presents. Just the eternal truth of Christmas and the birth of our savior Jesus Christ. Peace. Joy. Salvation. Like a knife, it cuts through the crap and speaks to our souls. This is the truth that our children need to hear from us. This is the truth that will resonate in their souls and convict them of what Christmas is really all about. Let's face it; we all feel like Charlie Brown from time to time. But when we are overwhelmed preparing for Christmas, look back to these simple words, from a simple and nostalgic Christmas TV show. Slow down. Listen to Linus.

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

Monday, November 7, 2011

Run With Me by Jennifer Luitwieler: A Retrospective Review


Have you ever wondered what your life would look like if told through a story?  Imagine if you had to chronicle your life up to this moment, what would it look like?  How would it sound?  What would you choose to include?  What would you leave out and why?  What would you highlight, and why would that be interesting to others?  What people would stand out as characters in the story?  What would be the plot?  How would the story rise to a climax and then end with every aspect coming together to complete the wonderful tale that is your life, all the while keeping the attention of the reader?  Seems a bit overwhelming, doesn’t it?  Maybe a little humbling?  After all, most of us don’t live crazy, exciting James Bond kind of lives, right?  So why would someone want to read “our” story?  Good question.  But rather than attempting to solve the seemingly impossible, let me tell you a little about a book and someone who seems to have figured it out.  And with near perfection, I might add.

In Run With Me: An Accidental Runner and the Power of Poo, my friend and author, Jennifer Luitwieler takes all of the ingredients listed above, tells her story in a way that instantly captures your attention, and all the while creates a cohesive narrative that remains adjoined in seamless perfection.  And she does this in one of the most simple ways possible: she takes you on a journey.  The vehicle she uses for the journey is running and the fuel that gets you there is poo.  Yes, poo!  Dog poo to be more specific.  But you’ll have to read the book to find out why dog poo is so significant to this book.

As Jennifer states in the beginning of the book, Run With Me is not only a book about running.  And it really isn’t, although in a strange way, it is.  Again, you’ll just have to read the book to understand the dichotomy.  In realty, running is only the cohesive gel that holds the story together.  It’s the common thread that keeps it going and unites aspects of a life, just like yours and mine and packages them together.  Although running has become a significant part of her life, she uses her passion to link ordinarily life together in an enjoyable story.  That is what is so powerful about this book.  Jennifer creates a story telling model that reveals that each and every one of us has a “story”, we just have to find the vehicle that carries it.  If you’re runner, you’ll get it.  If you’re not a runner, you’ll get it.

One of my favorite aspects of the book is it’s simplicity and holistic flow.  In a society that compartmentalizes every aspect of our life, Jennifer is able to blend life realities into a refreshing story that is intertwined at almost every point.  Each theme that she emphasizes and each point she makes, remarkably connects to the entire essential theme and leaves no loose ends.  The story is organic and flows naturally without confusion.  You never get lost in the story or find yourself wondering where a particular point is going.  Whether she is describing her spiritual journey and frustrations with the Church, or the details of her first half marathon, she makes her point while making sure that you’re connecting with her.

Run with me is fun, refreshing and uplifting.  In fact, having somewhat of a melancholy personality, at times I found it too uplifting!  Through the story, Jennifer is like the friend that keep telling you jokes or tickling you until you smile.  You do your best to remain in self-pity, but you finally submit, realizing that your attempts are futile.  You WILL smile.  You WILL laugh.  You WILL end up having a better outlook on life. Curse you, Jennifer, and your motivationally themed memoir!

In all honesty, Jennifer leaves it up to you.  She has no agenda and no preconceived notions that she will change your perspective on life.  She simply shares her journey.  Run With Me leaves you feeling that you just had a great conversation with a friend, she shared some good stuff with you and hopes you took something from the story.  You get the impression that if she made you laugh, at least for that moment, she accomplished her goal.  Although, if you want to run with her, just a little farther, she’s ready to go!

Read Run With Me and run with Jennifer!

Article also published in Provokotive Magazine, 11/10/2011         

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Interview With Joy Wilson and the Not Alone Project

Visit author Joy Wilson at her website:  joyleewilson.org/wordpress/  

Interview With Jake Kampe, Contributor to Not Alone
 
I had the privilege this year of being a contributing author to Not Alone: Stories of Living With Depression, written by people who have suffered from depression.  We have openly shared our stories so that other people with depression will know that they are not alone in their pain.
I’ve had clinical depression all my life, and know the pain and isolation it causes.  I know the shame of crying uncontrollably in public for no apparent reason, panic attacks, fear of falling into a black, bottomless chasm and never coming out again, despair that just won’t go away. There is often a stigma associated with this disease, because our symptoms aren’t rational or predictable. So we hide behind a fa├žade whenever possible, and suffer in silence, never knowing that many people around us have similar feelings.

I first met Jake Kampe when he e-mailed me after reading my essay in Not Alone.  I learned he was a fellow contributor, and we discovered we shared the same feelings and many of the same experiences (which is the point of the book).  I asked Jake if I could interview him, so you can hear his story of hurt and hope.

Tell us a little bit about your spiritual journey, and why you decided to write your story for Not Alone?

First of all, I’m fairly new to the writing scene, so basically I write for anything, everything and anyone that will let me.  The mere fact that anyone sees any value in what I have to say is amazing.  I’m often my worst critic and regularly have to convince myself that I just might not be as full of crap as I imagine.  But I realized that I “needed” to contribute for me more than anything else. Revisiting some of the darkest places in my life was a confirming indicator in how much God has given me and how far I’ve come.  I’m the kind of person that doesn’t necessarily see things as they are within the moment.  I live much of my life in a retrospective perspective, which is probably why I am such a nostalgic person.  By the way, did you know that “nostalgia” was once thought to be a mental deficiency? Makes sense.

I’ve dealt with depression and severe anxiety for most of my life.  It sucks.  The darkest periods were during high school and college, and if it wasn’t for God and my extensive collection of Smiths CDs, I probably would not be writing this today.  As with anyone who has lived with depression, the journey has been extremely difficult and filled with a deep darkness that most people cannot even imagine.   I can remember many times crying out to God, especially when I became involved in vocational ministry, Why?  What possible good could come from this?  What is this accomplishing for Your Kingdom, God? I’m utterly useless!”  As hard as I tried, I could not see how God would use my experience of personal hell to further His message of being the light of the world.  For me, the light was flickering.  I felt like a hypocrite, a failure and at the very least, a weak Christian.  I frequently found myself angry with God and cursed Him often.  Instead of seeing the God of love that I now know He is, I only envisioned a vindictive God that I wanted nothing to do with, or at the very least saw Him as a divine practical joker.

Once I began to find healing, more stability and a semblance of peace in my life, I soon began to see things with a bit more clarity.  When I began to accept depression as part of my life, it was as if a fog had been lifted from my vision of the world and I began to see reality for what it really was. I think that’s one of the more sinister weapons that depression uses most often: the inability to see things as they are.  Reality becomes warped and distorted, creating a deeper spiral of darkness that just feeds on itself.  Things don’t look the same, smell the same or sound the same.  Reality can become almost hallucinogenic in the deepest times of depression.  The mind feeds on itself in this vicious circle of demoralizing thoughts that screw up the mind, body and spirit.  But as the fog clears, questions such as the ones I asked God begin to find the answers in the realty that once seemed so elusive.

Why do you think it’s so hard for people with depression to talk about it?

Because we’re chicken shit. We’re so caught up in this societal “appearance” game that we’re terrified to look weaker or more inferior to someone else.  Instead of embracing that depression is part of who we are, we hide it, ignore it and push it deep down inside.  What we don’t realize is that we’re subconsciously hindering aspects of ourselves that enable beautiful qualities that culture and the Kingdom need to see lived out.  People with depression have great empathy for others, they love deeper, hurt more and care about the world around them.  Those are qualities that are nothing to be ashamed of.  The world is in short supply of people that love painfully.

Depression has historically been considered a weakness.  It’s only been in recent years that people are finally realizing that it is in fact an illness.  Just as someone with cancer would seek medical treatment, someone with clinical and/or chemical depression must do the same.  A person with a broken arm gets a cast.  The heart attack victim has surgery.  The one with cancer is treated with chemo.  Unfortunately, most people who have not experienced intensive chronic depression cannot understand from their limited perspective.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but we live in a culture in which one usually has to physically see something before believing in its reality.  So it is with depression.

The same issues exist within the Church, and unfortunately maybe even to a much higher degree.  As I stated in Not Alone, one questionably well-intended friend once enlightened me that depression was a curse form God, and that I needed to repent of some sin in my life that was keeping me in bondage.  Luckily, I dismissed his advice and rested in what I knew was true.  God may have allowed me to remain in depression, but I never felt that He “made” me depressed.  We serve a God love.  Just read through 1 John 4:7-21.
I think that this kind of perspective comes from a warped view of the Gospel, wrong theology and basically just wrong thinking.  A life of following Christ has never been promised to be free of pain and suffering. In fact, we should expect it and maybe even welcome it.  Christ promised that we would have trouble in this world (John 16:33).  He states very clearly that one of the requirements of being His disciple is that we deny ourselves and pick up our own cross.  It is only then that we truly follow Him.

Carrying a cross is not easy.  It sucks.  It’s painful, embarrassing and difficult.  But suffering is an essential part of being a Christian.  In fact, many of the early Church Fathers considered it to be a spiritual discipline.  Imagine that concept being taught in today’s “Dr. Phil” society.

What has having depression cost you?

Well, let’s see.  If I add up the cost of hundreds of therapy sessions and medications alone….Hmmmm….Now that’s depressing.

When I look back in retrospect, I can see that depression has cost me a lot.  But it’s all relative.  It has to do with how you define “cost”.  Surely, I’ve missed out on a lot.  Depression causes deep fear, which held me back for quite a while.  Who knows what I could have accomplished much earlier in life had depression not been such an intricate part of my journey.  I might have decided to go into seminary in my early ‘20s instead of my ‘30s, or been the pastor of a mega-church (cringe!).  I might have written dozens of bestselling books.  I might have never met my wife and had the two amazing boys that I have today.  I might have never had the chance to meet you and the incredible people I know through the Not Alone Project.  I might have become an arrogant, cold, unloving, shallow, superficial person.  Everything I loathe today.  I’d say that maybe it’s cost me a lot, and maybe that’s a good thing.

Why do you say that depression can be a blessing?

I think I may have already jumped ahead and talked a little about this already, but I soon discovered that depression was somewhat of teacher to me.   And from its intensive education, I learned not only how to deal with depression in my own life, but how to minister to others suffering from the same demons that I once had.  I learned that I had been blessed with not only sympathy for others, but also empathy.  I hurt when others hurt.  When alking with someone with depression, I feel the pain that they feel.  I see what they see.  I hear what they hear.  And I find myself not wanting to travel down the dark road with them.  I think to myself,”Oh shit!  This is too real!  I can’t go there!  Too many familiar things in this story!”   But I go with them.  I take their hand and jump down that spiral of darkness just because they need me to.  I’ve learned to trust that God will not allow me to stay there anymore.  His hand pulls me back out, once the communal suffering is complete.  Kind of like a lifeline for a climber, descending into a deep crevasse.

I’ll be honest.   If could go back in time, and had the ability to change my life experience, I would not change anything.  As strange as it may sound, depression has been one of the greatest blessings in my life, because it made me into what I am today, and I like who I am.  Depression refined me, sculpted me and transformed my life.  Sometimes I see my life as a clay vessel, with God as the Potter. He created a vessel that for all practical purposes looked OK from an outside perspective.  But after careful analysis, God realized that what He had made was not quite what He wanted it to be.  The only way to transform a clay vessel into something new is to break it down.  It’s smashed into many pieces; the pieces are then crushed into smaller pieces and then ground into a fine dust. Water is again added and clay forms once again.  The Potter then begins to mold and shape the clay into the perfect vessel that He always intended to make by pushing, squeezing, stretching and cutting.  It’s not comfortable.  It doesn’t look pretty.

At last the vessel is as it should be, but still not complete.  For if it is used without being exposed to the heat, it will sag and wilt into a useless lump.  The furnace refines the vessel so that it can be used in fulfillment of why it was created. The fire is intense and burns away any material that is not mandatory to the vessel being hardened.  It’s ugly, chaotic and painful.  But when complete, and the vessel has been cooled, it’s now ready for use in the most essential way possible.

If there’s one thing you hope people can take away by reading your story, what would it be?

Like the title of the book says, you’re not alone.  That seems to be the essential message of all the authors and what we all tried to communicate.  Reading through the entire book, it’s as if a common thread of empathy runs through the pages of this community of people.   As a collective voice, we join together and agree that we share the same experiences and long for others to join the group.

My greatest hope, my humble prayer, is that people would see that recovery is not only possible, but a much fuller life is possible as well.  There were times in my life when I literally accepted that my life would not get any better.  I was convinced that my mind and psychological condition was beyond repair. I was broken and regardless of how much progress I might make, I would never have the life I had always hoped for. I resolved that I would probably never get married and subsequently never have children.  In the worst case scenario, I feared that one day my mind would just snap under the pressure of depression and I would have to be locked up in a nut house (I can say “nut house” because I consider myself a nut).

But man!  God not only blessed me with recovery and peace in my life, but He has given me more than I ever expected!  I got married to the same woman who suffered through the deepest and darkest days with me, I have two beautiful boys and God opened the door for me to go to seminary and dedicate  he rest of my life serving Him in vocational ministry.  Over the last 5 years, He also added writing to my life and ministry, which has opened even more doors of peace and joy.   How cool is that?  And it just continues to get better with age!  People ask me if I’m “healed” from depression and without hesitation, I tell them no, because I’m being healed every day.  I have peace, but just when I think my healing has come to fruition, God reveals something new and beautiful to me.  Peace grows deeper, and peace is an awesome gift of God, isn’t it?

Peace be with you!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Five Simple Steps for Rapture Preparation

There's been a lot of talk about the the Rapture of the Church taking place tomorrow, May 21.  I figured that I should probably blog about my thoughts on the upcoming events, so I sat down to give it some thought.  Many things ran through my mind, and then it hit me.  No one has given any practical advice on preparation for the Rapture.  How are we to know if we are "Rapture Ready"?

Well, here's a list of Five practicals steps for you to follow to make sure you are adequately prepared.   Whether you are one of the lucky ones to be gathered to the Lord, or one of the poor souls left to endure the inevitable Tribulation, let's make sure that everything runs smoothly and without unnecessary inconvenience.

1.  Do Not Drive:  Let's face it.  If you on the roads when the Rapture occurs, and you're not one of the fortunate ones to be taken, you probably don't want to be on the road when 100s of cars go driverless.  And if you are planning on being Raptured, have a little common courtesy and just stay home where it's safe.


2.  Call in Sick:  If you are a pilot, cab driver, train conductor, surgeon, air traffic controller, or any occupation that involves the safety of others, please call in sick or take a vacation day.

3.  Think Green:  If there is a high probability that you will be raptured, please turn off your water, electricity, cancel cable, phones, etc.  Those left behind are going to dealing with enough.  Why burden them further with open accounts, wasted utilities?  Please note: If you leave your cars in the garage, make sure the emergency handle has been pulled on your garage door.

4.  Drink Responsibly:  As with hurricane parties and New Years Eve, many folks are going to be tempted to partake in a few extra pints in celebration.  Trust me.  If you are one of the heathens that will be here on Sunday morning, you don't want to face it with a hangover.  And the rest of you probably don't want to be raptured while intoxicated. (RWI)

5.  Remember Your Pets:  As much as we love our pets, the truth is that they will NOT be part of the Rapture.  Think ahead.  If you are left behind, make sure that you have plenty of pet food and reserve water supply in case store and utilities are down for a while.  If you will be leaving us, make sure that your pets have a safe, quiet and caring place to stay.  They will most likely be very nervous and stressed as it is.  Let's think of their needs as well.

It is my hope that these simple steps will help you as we all hurdle toward the end times.  Whether you are left behind or taken from the Earth to be with Christ, we all need to make sure we are prepared.

As for me, more than likely, this will be my last blog.  I appreciate each and every one of you that have been faithful in reading my theological musings.  If you've been left behind, and are reading this after the fact, I'm sorry.  You must not have paid enough attention to my more evangelical blogs.  I'm pretty sarcastic, but I'm pretty sure that I never joked about damnation.

And if you reason I am unfortunately left behind with you, I'll have one hell of a freaking blog to write on Sunday.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Singularity of God

Deuteronomy 6:4:  "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one."
John 1:1-4: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.   In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind."

Lord, You are all that is,
  all that has been,
  and all that will be.
You encompass all and are within all.
  In a divine spiral, You sit at the centermost point of all existence.
  My life, my worries and my joys
revolve around the great sustainer that is You.
The spiral eternally spins in unison with all that is.
By Your Word it began,
  through Your Word it endures,
  and in Your Word it conitues.
Instill in me the simplicity of my union with You.
  Amen

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Prayer of St. Francis

"Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred...let me sow love.
Where there is injury...pardon.
Where there is doubt...faith.
Where there is despair...hope.
Where there is darkness...light.
Where there is sadness...joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled...as to console,
to be understood...as to understand,
to be loved...as to love,
for
It is in giving...that we receive,
It is in pardoning...that we are pardoned,
It is in dying...that we are born to eternal life.   

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Peace Be With You - Excerpt from Not Alone: Stories of Living with Depression


Toward the end of college, I felt as though my life was in full blown crisis.  Regular cocktails of anti-depressants, downers and alcohol only numbed the pain that was hiding just below the surface.  The temporary alleviation of suffering created a false reality that only isolated me further.  “Nothing seems real to me anymore” I remember telling my psychologist at the time.  He immediately said with certainty, “Then Jake, you need to be in a place where things can feel real again.”  What was he saying?  Did I need to be in a hospital?  Institutionalized?  Was I that bad off?  I don’t remember much of those days, but I remember that moment very well. It was a sobering realization that my life had spiraled out of control.  One question remained: Where was God in the midst of this downward journey into an unknown abyss?  

Even attending church, spending time in prayer or reading scripture became an uncomfortable experience.  I suppose that even my image of God was distorted, but ironically my faith was growing deeper.  My convictions to know Him more fully and serve Him were growing as well.  But like a car stuck in the mud, the more I spun the wheels of effort and faith, the deeper I seemed to sink.  My prayers became mundane, spiritless and forced.  I would frequently find it hard to focus on God and my anger and frustration soon became directed more toward Him.   I began to envision God mockingly holding the key to my healing.  Dangling it just beyond my reach, He would smile as I reached out.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Need Your Help: A Shameless Self Promotion

As a writer, I rarely ask for input from those that read what I have to say.  For me, writing is a way to communicate what I feel, think, believe and am most passionate about.  Writing has been somewhat of a ministry for me and has allowed me to connect with people all over the country and people that I may never have a chance to talk to face to face.  Writing is therapy for me and helps me communicate some of the tough, and sometimes dark issues that I deal with each and every day.  Sometimes I feel like my readers are sitting across from me at our favorite coffee shop and listening to me ramble.  I say this to let you know that you reading my blogs, essays, book chapters, etc. means more to me than you might realize.

From time to time, many of you have sent me emails, commented on a blog or personally told me how something I've written has impacted you in a particular way.  I make it a point to save each and every comment in some way, because your opinions matter to me.  Unfortunately, a lot of these comments are scattered about in cyberspace.  I've tracked down a few, but many are out there somewhere, waiting to be found when I'm not intentionally looking.  Many comments have just been made by you personally, as we've talked on the phone or over a cup of coffee.  I remember specific comments that have encouraged me and reminded me that people enjoy reading what I have to say.  Well, it is with this that I need your help.

I am working with a publisher that is potentially interested in my first book.  One of the areas that they are asking me to expand on is my reading platform.  Basically, they just want to know if I have a basic reader following that can be used as a foundation to begin marketing the book.  Its one thing for me to believe in the potential of my book, but quite another to know that that potential literally exists from others.

What I am asking is for you to just share your thoughts with me.  What have I written that has specifically affected you in a positive way?  Maybe it's just my writing in general that has impacted you in some way or inspired you in terms of your faith.  Would you be willing to send me a comment or an email sharing your thoughts?  (Unsolicited of course!)  If I can compile a file of positive responses to my writing and interest in my book, I can then use this to provide a platform foundation to reveal to this publisher the very real marketability of my book. 

Of course, as always, if you have negative comments, you know I welcome those as well, although I won't be sharing those with the publisher.  However, once the book is released, you'll have every opportunity to let them know what you really think of the "garbage" I write!  :)

Thanks everyone!  You're support means everything to me!

Peace & Blessings!

Jake 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Capital Punishment & The Kingdom of God

Before reading this blog, please know that I am approaching this topic from a Christian perspective.  I am purposely choosing not to address this as a social issue, and not from our government's perspective on the death penalty.  My thoughts and opinions fall into the realm of the Kingdom of God and what I believe Jesus had in mind for what that Kingdom would look like.  I feel that this approach must be taken because this is an area in which we are not comparing apples to apples when choosing our stance.  If we claim to be followers of Christ, the choice must be made to follow His teachings and His alone.  To be honest, the secular opinion of American society is irrelevant in this situation.         
 
Over the last few days, there's been a lot of talk about the death penalty.  With the execution of Troy Davis in the state of Georgia, the discussion has crept up again and needless to say, opinions are very strong on this issue.  For the purpose of this blog, I will not get into the details, but in the case of Davis, evidence proves that it is very possible that he was innocent and that at the very least, the execution should have been delayed in order to re-examine the case and determine if these claims were warranted.  In my personal opinion, there is a very good chance that an innocent man was killed.  You can read the details of Troy Davis at your leisure on any of the popular news websites of your choice. 

The reason that I choose not to get into the details of Davis' case is because they are not the real issue of what we are witnessing in this situation.  Putting opinions aside of this specific case, and dismissing the fact that an innocent man may have been killed, it's imperative that we ask ourselves the question, "Should the death penalty be accepted as morally acceptable within the Christian Church?"  Whether a man is 100% innocent, or guilty of the worst atrocities that one can imagine, is it acceptable to thoughtfully consider a person's crimes and offenses by a judge and jury and make the premeditated decision to kill another human being because of the sins they have committed?  Again, I am approaching this from a Christian perspective, believing that the "murder" of another human being is a sin.  Murder in this case being considered a premeditated killing of another person that does not fall into the case of innocent accident, self-defense or government sanctioned war, in which the soldiers are doing their job commanded by the US military.  Although the instance of war could be argued from a Kingdom perspective, I'm not naive enough to believe that war can be avoided.  I am not a pacifist, but I definitely do not celebrate war, nor do I think that it should be encouraged as something good and valued from a Christian perspective.  But I'll leave that issue for another blog.        

At this point, you are probably wondering what my opinion is on the death penalty, so let me cut to the chase.  I am 100% against capital punishment.  As I stated before, I am choosing to look at this issue from a Christian perspective; not socially.  I choose to look at life from God's perspective, thus seeing all life as sacred, regardless of the horrendous acts that many people chose to commit.  Does this mean that the man, Jake Kampe, does not believe that some people are worthy of death?  No.  Does this mean that my human nature would not want to see the death and even suffering of those that kill the innocent, those that molest children and rape woman?  Does my opinion of the death penalty mean that somewhere in the dark recesses of my soul, I would resist pulling the trigger of a gun pointed at the head of someone who killed someone that I love?  My wife or one of my boys?  Let me just say that that is an area that I don't even like to think about.  The "man" is capable of much more outside the realms of God's Kingdom.  Which is why I chose to retreat within His borders.

Yes, there is violent imagery in the Old Testament and the death penalty was condoned by Mosaic Law.  But it's important to consider a few issues before we use these illustrations as a justification for capital punishment in today's society.  First of all, as a good friend of mine reminded me of today, two reputable witnesses had to be presented that both witnessed the crime deserving of death.  How often do we have one solid witness at our disposal during a trial, let alone two?  The death penalty was taken very serious in Old Testament Israel.  Which leads to the second issue: "why" was the death penalty condoned in the first place?

It's important to know what was going on in Old Testament times in terms of the Nation of Israel.  This nation was selected as God's chosen people.  These were the people that would bring God's redemptive message to the world.  These people bore the message that would eventually pave the way for Messiah, redemption and all things being made new.  A great change would eventually happen to the world and the people of Israel were the instruments that God chose to use.  Therefore, it was imperative that God protect His people regardless of the cost.  As with the seemingly ridiculous laws found in Leviticus, the death penalty was another example of the extremes God had to go through to make sure Israel survived, persevered and was protected, even from themselves.

While capital punishment may have been necessary in Old Testament times, with the coming of Christ, He in fact made "all things new".  The world had been redeemed through Him and His eventual death of the cross and His resurrection.  Jesus came, not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it, which He did in completion and perfection on the cross.  The Kingdom of God had been inaugurated and Christ's ministry began a way of looking at the world from a radically different perspective.  The Kingdom of God is about everything that will eventually be realized.  It's not complete, but our job as the Church is to reveal it in as much completion as humanly possible, even if it makes no sense to society.  Standing against the death penalty is one of those instances.

As followers of Christ, we face a constant tension of duality.  What might be acceptable by societies standards, may not be within a Kingdom perspective.  Like I said, I may stand against war with God's Kingdom, but understand that war is an unfortunate reality in our world.  By standing against capital punishment, we are showing the world what Christ stood for in it's essence.  We show the world that we are willing to love our enemies, even when all logical reason tells us otherwise.  It shows the world that we are willing to turn the other cheek, even when our other is bloodied.  It shows the world that we are willing to lay down our sword, even when we are 100% justified in wielding it.  It shows the world a Kingdom that chooses life, not death and that it's continuing cycle will not redeem mankind.

When Jesus was confronted with the woman found guilty of adultery in John 8, he had every right to allow her to be killed.  According to Mosaic law, a woman found guilty of committing adultery could be legally stoned to death.  Jesus could have easily forgiven her of her sins, promised her eternity in paradise and given his approval for the stones to begin flying.  Instead, Jesus asks all of us to examine our own lives, drop our stones and ask a very simple question.  If the wages of sin are death, then why am I still alive?                   

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Center Stage Theologian, and a Fool.

I recently wrote an article on my children's ministry blog, The Emerging Child, about the importance of praying with the children in your life.  As usually is the case, after meditating on the topic for a while, I found that there was an underlying reason that I wrote what came to mind.  Thinking that I was primarily sharing my thoughts for other parents, pastors and teachers, I quickly found that the proverbial finger was being pointed at me.  I saw myself on center stage, called "bullshit" on myself and didn't like what I saw.       

Its funny how our thoughts don't always follow our actions.  We develop great ideas in our minds and can even implement them from an outside perspective, but when it comes to internally carrying out what our minds eye sees, we often fall short.  I wonder why this is.  Why is it so difficult to carry out what we believe and follow through what we hold as true?  I assume it's just part of our fallen nature and that we can be pretty screwed up creatures.  Paul was familiar with this all too well when he wrote, "For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it."  (Romans 7:19-20)


We live in a state of constant duality between knowledge and implementation.  In an increasingly relative culture, living what we actually believe becomes more and more difficult.  The tension increases and our strength fails, and this is where the real test comes into play.  Do we really believe what we say and do?  Are the thoughts that run through our minds really issues that we will carry out to the forefront of life, or are they words that fall on deaf ears?  Do we have deaf ears as well?  

Back to my children's blog topic and the idea of praying with kids.  After spending a good deal of time thinking about this, I came to a very sobering conclusion.  If I pray with my boys, or any other kids in my life for that matter, I better be damn sure that I mean what I say and say what I mean.  I better know without a shadow of a doubt that my words are being directed to a holy God, and not just being recited to impress those that listen.  Because guess what?  Kids are natural bullshit detectors.  They can sense insincerity a mile away and know when something isn't real.

Pray with the children in your life.  Don't preform for them.  Or you'll find yourself alone on center stage.

Monday, September 12, 2011

9/11 Reflections - The Kingdom of America or the Kingdom of God?

Yesterday seemed to have a "feel" to it. Every year, on this solemn anniversary, it's as if a cloud descends upon my world, and the events seem to be happening in real time. Similar to Christmas Eve, the day seems to be magically alive, but not with expectation and joy, but with heavy meditation and sadness. The anniversary of 9/11 has always been a very reflective day for me. I always find time to meditate, pray, and talk with others about what we've learned from such a culture-altering event. I remember that Tuesday morning as if it happened yesterday. I remember exactly what I was doing, as I sat at my desk. I remember how the sun looked as it crept through the trees outside my office and through the window. I remember thinking that it looked and felt like Fall, although it was still very hot and humid in typical South Texas style. I remember receiving the first email about the first plane that hit the World Trade Center, and not paying much attention. And I remember the feeling of darkness I felt as I began to realize what was happening when the second plane hit. 

I also have memories that leave me feeling a little empty, saddened and a little angry. Looking back, I remember the "pep rally" atmosphere that seemed to develop almost overnight, including in the Church. Churches of all denominations began pumping their fist, chanting, "USA! USA!, wearing red, white and blue and covering the cross with the flag. When I heard the news of the first attacks on Afghanistan, I spoke to a pastor friend of mine to discuss what was going on. His reaction, "Light 'em up, baby! Light 'em up!" My heart sank, I sheepishly said, "Yeah! Right!", and quickly made an excuse to leave. But I'll admit, part of me was sharing his emotions at that time.

"Light 'em up, baby!" Think about that for a second. Like most people at that time, my friend was excited that America was retaliating. It's somewhat natural to take joy in the vindication of the evil that had been inflicted on so many innocent people. But what he was not considering was that at that very second, people were dying. His first reaction to the bombing of human beings, and what would become the beginning of a long period of war and death, was excitement. Yes, at that time, many of these people were our enemy, but whether we want to admit it or not, innocent children were dying, women were screaming and holding their babies, and men who had nothing to do with their country's politics, were doing their best to protect their families. That's the reality of war. That's the reality of a fallen world.  The same fallen world that saw the death of thousands of innocent Americans.  

Now, don't get me wrong. The events on 9/11 were tragic, and unfortunately, America had to react in some form of retaliation. I'm not advocating pacifism. I feel the same pain and sadness as any American at the loss we suffered.  What I am questioning is our "reaction"; reactions to war as Americans, specifically those of us that call ourselves followers of Christ. The Church. The Body of Christ. Should we react to war as if it is a football game? Should we cheer on the sidelines, hoping that our opponents get their skulls crushed as we rush down the field of enemy territory to victory? Or should our reaction be more solemn? Should we pump our fists in the air, chanting, "USA! USA!", or should our fists be folded in prayer, asking God to protect the innocent and allow peace to return to His kingdom quickly? Should we be so quick to wave the flag before we lift up the cross? Should our reaction be hatred for our enemies, or a nation, or should we consider the words of Jesus Himself who said, "But I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," (Matthew 5:44)  Those are radical words.  Difficult words.  Ridiculous words.  But that's what Jesus' Kingdom is all about.  Foolishness. 

You see, for Christians of this nation, America is not our kingdom. America did not invent Christianity and Jesus was not from the Heartland. War should not be a sporting event and we should not be so quick to pray for our team to win. Instead, should we not pray for an end to war? Should we not pray for not only the safety and protection of our country, but also the safety and protection of the world? Because whether we want to admit it or not, the entire earth belongs to the Kingdom of God. Americans, Iraqis, and Afghans are all human beings that God created. He wants ALL to be saved, not only Americans. (See 1 Timothy 2:3-7) And guess what? Even terrorists are in need of redemption.


After things settled down on 9/11, I left work and made my way to a prayer meeting at a friends house. I stopped in HEB to grab a drink and an energy bar for lunch. As I walked out, an old woman was walking toward me, weeping hysterically. She could have been my grandmother and I felt tears in my own eyes forming. As I got closer to her, she grabbed my arm and through her sobs, she began to say, "Did you see what they're doing in New York?! Did you see what their doing to us!?" I was in tears at this point and I just nodded my head. Then she said something that sums up my feelings this morning. "Just pray. OK? Please, son. Just pray."

Pray. Just pray.  This is the first year that i can honestly say that I forgive those that attacked our nation.  I can honestly say that I love them; not because of what they've done or haven't done, but because of who they were.  I love them because I see hopeless lives that came to a tragic end leaves behind a legacy of evil.  I'm saddened because I have a glimpse from God's eyes and see people that He wanted to follow Him, but drifted about as far as a human can from the true God.  

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Not Alone: Stories of Living with Depression

Many of you know that I had the opportunity to contribute to another book called Not Alone: Stories of Living with Depression.  It's a collection of essays by a community of authors that tell their stories of how they've dealt with the varied aspects of depression in their lives.  In a very candid and raw fashion, each person breaks the silence in hopes of diminishing the stigma that exists in our culture today.  And by sharing these stories, we've attempted to offer hope to those that suffer today.

In contributing to this project, I quickly found that it was much more difficult than I had anticipated.  Reliving some of the experiences with depression caused me to face some things that were not very comfortable.  As I wrote, it was as if a dark cloud settled over me and I felt my overall mood shifting.  It made me realize how powerful these emotions are and how I will most likely carry them with me for the rest of my life.  It also revealed to me how God has been with me throughout my suffering.  As somewhat of a divine counselor, He not only guided me through the most difficult times of my life, but He strengthened me, taught me and shaped me into who I am today.  So, although my memories of depression conjure emotions that I instinctively attempt to repress, I realize that they are assets as well.                


Depression is a very real experience for many people living in today's culture.  Because of the negative connotations that come with it, depression is usually not something that we freely discuss in everyday life.  The causes are too numerous and varied to mention here, but they can include such things as abuse (both emotional and physical), chemical imbalances, death of loved ones, divorce, rejection and various family issues. There is no one reason that a person might suffer from chronic depression, but one thing is for sure, our fast paced and demanding society definitely contributes to some level of depression in everyone.  It can leave the person feeling isolated, secluded and alone.  People that deal with chronic depression usually hide the effects and do their best to cope with it in isolation, never knowing that the person sitting right next to them in Starbucks very well might be equally suffering.  So they remain silent, hiding away, believing that no one could ever understand what they feel, believing that no one cares.   

For those dealing with depression, Not Alone is a collection of stories that will resonate with the reader with words of hope, comfort and empathy.  Whether sharing the first initial discovery of depression, how they sought help or giving words of hope that depression can be managed, the authors all tackle the lie that you must suffer in solitude and isolation. With courage and honesty, these stories give a glimpse into the mind of the depressed individual. While you will not find a cure for depression in these pages, you will find a sense of community. You might find yourself thinking, "That's EXACTLY how I feel!"  You will find words of comfort. You will find support.  And when all is said and done, you will find that you are Not Alone.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Interpretations: What Did Jesus Mean?

During the course of our lives, most of us will follow a certain set of philosophies, cultural ideologies or teachings of some kind.  Whether physical, mental, spiritual or theological, these aspects act somewhat as guides or templates in determining the paths we will take in life.  Behind each of these particular aspects, usually lies a person that the philosophy, ideology or teaching was developed from.  In the realm of Christianity, Jesus Christ lies as the foundation for each and every belief, doctrine, philosophy and theology in general.  To the Christian, Christ points to every aspect of faith, and consequently every aspect of faith points to Christ.

It's important for us to interpret scripture, not only from our personal point of view, in terms of what a particular passage says to us spiritually, but we also need to consider contextual, historic, cultural, and lingusitic aspects as well.  As stated above, it's also very imperative to search and decipher what Jesus said and taught regarding the potential interpretation.  Some areas of teaching are very explicit, in which Jesus addresses the issue directly, or indirectly.  And as you may well know, some areas are a bit critique.  Either way, it's important for us to do our best in deciphering what Jesus taught on the issue we deal with in life.   
     
Recently, I ran across a particular passage that has taken a bit more study and reflection.  I had planned on presenting this verse in my blog, exploring the various interpretations and then discussing which I thought was correct in terms of what Jesus is trying to get across.  Instead, I thought that it might be interesting to first start a discussion.

Take a look at Luke 22; specifically Luke 22:35-38.  What do you think Jesus is talking about in this passage?  Why does Jesus command the apostles to buy swords?  I will share with you that my traditional interpretation of this passage had been wrong up until now.        

Luke 22:35-38.  

"Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”
   “Nothing,” they answered.
 36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. 37 It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’[b]; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”
 38 The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”
   “That’s enough!” he replied.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Pray for Bethany House


I'm going to ask you to join me on a journey. I can't tell much about it, because I don't know much about it myself. I don't know exactly where this journey is going to take us and I have no clue how long it will take us. Success? Failure? I have no idea. Will we get lost? Probably. Will we get tired? Definitely. Will we get discouraged, frustrated, scared or angry? Yes, yes, yes and yes. Will you think to yourself that my request is a little ridiculous? Probably. The final destination of our journey is a place that doesn't exist yet. Right now, our journey's end is a small vision in the recesses of my mind, but it's beautiful. And it's a place that we will all gather together one day and rejoice. We will all come together in this destination and praise the God of this universe, because He finally got us to where He sent us. So, do I have your curiosity piqued yet?

Right now, the vehicle that we are going to use for our journey is simple: prayer. An that's all this journey is at this point: a prayer. This is not a goal, a plan or even a idea yet. This is a prayer, and that's it. So I guess in many ways, I am only asking you to walk with me. You don't have to buy a plane ticket, pay for gas or even get your biked tuned up. Just put on your shoes and walk with me for a while, until God reveals what comes next. A walk. That sounds good, doesn't it?

Our walk together begins with a vision that God put on my heart this weekend. I just got back from a three day personal retreat, and the place that I visited is a convent in Houston that offers a non-denominational retreat house for groups or individuals. It has become a sanctuary for me and a beautiful refuge from the everyday stresses of life. It's a place that I find rest. It's a place that allows me to slow down. I slow down mentally. I slow down physically. I slow down spiritually and listen to God, rather than dictate wish lists to Him. When I walk into this place, I feel like a child curling up in his fathers arms, as the weight of my burdens lightens. It's simple. It's monastic. It's always there waiting for me.

Have you ever wished you had a place like that to go to? When you feel like running away? When you feel hurt and alone? A place where someone will be waiting, with a hot cup of coffee? A place with a bed, so you can rest and a meal waiting for you when you wake up? A place to share creative expression in music, art and faith? It's simple, but it's always there. Someone is always there waiting to open the door, no matter how late it is. It's a refuge. A sanctuary. What if that place existed right in your community? What if it existed?

So this is where we begin our journey. I'm just going to ask you to join me in prayer. Remember, that's all it is at this point; a prayer. So often, I think we limit our prayers to things that can only be accomplished within the natural realm. We pray to a supernatural God, and yet we rarely expect His answers to resemble His character. What if we prayed for God to give us this place at the end of our journey? What if we called it "Bethany House"?

Bethany was a small town located on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. It was about 2 miles Southeast of Jerusalem, and the home of Mary, Martha and Lazurus. If you were traveling to Jerusalem and found yourself stopping in Bethany, you wouldn't be able to see the city yet because Bethany was nestled at the bottom of the mountain. This gave the town a feeling of quietness, peace and seclusion. Jesus often found refuge in Bethany to stay with His closest friends as He ministered in Jerusalem during the final days before His death and resurrection. Some of the most significant, spiritual and passionate events of His ministry culmination took place in Bethany. It has also been thought of as a center for caring of the sick, the destitute and weary pilgrims of Jerusalem.

So, as God began to paint this picture in my mind, the images of Bethany came to mind: Bethany House. I'm not sure where Bethany house is, what street it's on, how to find it or what kind of condition it will be in when we get there. For that matter, I'm not sure of what condition we will be in when we get there. But I know this; there will be light on in the window and a pot of coffee brewing in the kitchen and a bed waiting for us to rest our weary heads on.

Will you join me in praying for Bethany House, whatever and wherever it is? Will you join me in this passion that God has put on my heart? I know it sounds impossible, but nothing is impossible for God, is it? It says in Daniel 4:35 that "All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: 'What have you done?'" He can do what he wants and I believe that He wants this! !I can see it! I can feel it! It's out there somewhere, and we'll find it together.

Mark 11:24 - "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."

1 John 5:14-15 - "And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him."