Sunday, April 21, 2019

God is Love... and?

James and Ellie Carr
Today I was listening to a debate on the basis of spiritual salvation through Christ from two distinct viewpoints.  Both parties offered logical and informed arguments regarding their positions, and throughout the debate I was brought to consider issues that I often avoid and some that I had never considered before.  As the conversation progressed towards the theme of hell and ultimately why people would go to hell, a new focus emerged veering the conversation into a land of doubt and unknowns.  The new basis surrounding the theological debate about hell was that of God's loving nature, one that is highly emphasized in our current culture.  I've noticed that as people consider Christianity as a whole, we tend to hone in on the aspects of it that are most agreeable and relatable for us.  When we go through a rough season, Christians often focus on God as a rock or refuge where we can rest.  When we are grieving, we look to God as our comforter.  When weak and unsure, we recognize Him as our Abba, Father or leader.  But then there's the day-to-day, when we aren't feeling weak, lonely, or frightened.  How do we view God then?

I think it is easy to sum God up in one word, "Love," but what are the dangers, if any of doing so?  Referring back to the debate today, the focus of God as "Love" (assumably referring to agape love), left both sides at a loss when considering which people are separated from God for eternity in hell.  Does considering that all humans have the capacity to love boldly, deeply, and sacrificially affect their eternal outcome?  How can someone who has lived a life full of such love even exist in hell, where both parties agreed that love is unable to exist?  While the focus of this post is not to answer each of those specific questions, although I have my firm beliefs regarding them, I would like to point out the danger in focusing on only one aspect of God's character.

Throughout the debate, God was only referred to as love.  I would completely agree that God is love at its perfection, but only focusing on that aspect of his character is not only limiting, but dangerous.  Imagine if a friend or acquaintance referred to you only as creative.  You might be flattered by the complement at first.  They might marvel at your creativity, always introduce you as their creative friend, and even start imitating your creative side in their own life.  For a while that might work for your friendship, but eventually, you would hope that that person would get to know you enough to realize that you are so much more than just creative.  You would hope that they might notice your honesty, generosity, and kindness, but the friend seems so focused in on your creativity, that they end up missing so many other really important qualities that you embody.  In the end their perspective limits the depth of the relationship by placing you in a box that they refuse to let you out of.

As a culture, how many times have we done that with God?  In today's culture,

we have focused in on God as love and completely placed Him in a box, and in the end, we are the ones who are missing out.  God is love, but He is also so much more.  Since I am no theology expert, just a Christian longing to know God more, let's look at what He has revealed to us about Himself in His own Word, the Bible

Proverbs 2:6 and James 1:5 say that God is both WISE and GENEROUS-
For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
 1 Samuel 2:2 and Revelation 15:4 refer to God as HOLY or set apart-
There is none holy like the Lord; there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God.
Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed. 
Psalm 9:7-8 and Revelation 20:12-13 show us that God is both RIGHTEOUS and JUST-
But the LORD abides forever; He has established His throne for judgment, And He will judge the world in righteousness; He will execute judgment for the peoples with equity.
And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds.  
Deuteronomy 4:31 and Luke 6:36 leave no doubt that God is MERCIFUL-
For the Lord your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.
Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
Psalm 34:8 and Mark 10:18 clearly state that God is GOOD-
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.
Psalmy 89:8 and 2 Timothy 2:13 tell us that God is always FAITHFUL-
Lord God of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O Lord, with your faithfulness all around you?
If we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself. 
This is definitely not a comprehensive list.  The Bible tells much more about who God is and merits being studied thoroughly.  I am not one who can reconcile each of the qualities simply into a single character (how both justice and mercy can abide perfectly in one being, for example), but I rest assured that I can continue studying and knowing God more throughout both this life, and the next as He reveals Himself and opens my eyes.  My plea for you this Easter, is lets rejoice and celebrate the lavish love that God has bestowed upon us, but let's not limit our perception, faith, and relationship with Him to just that, for He is much much more, and He is so good.

Monday, April 15, 2019

On Hold

James and Ellie Carr
This week I had someone who is close to me tell me twice that my life is "on hold" until I return to the States, and honestly it really hurt.  Both times.  The first time, I got angry at the words and later cried, unable to get them out of my head.  By the second time I heard them, I blew it off, not giving credit to the idea, but the hurt was still there.

I don't view my life as being on hold at all.  My kids are quickly growing up, and I've spent the last weeks figuring out what decisions need to be made about Riley's schooling as her fifth birthday quickly approaches.  Juggling ministry in orphan care here in Guatemala keeps both James and I busy as we schedule weekly and floating events, activities, and tasks trying to keep it all straight.  And then there's the adoption.  Yeah, I haven't actually "announced" it, but we've been in the process for almost a year now.  There are other aspects to my life as it stands now, but let's take those three.  All three are moving forward, as time only moves that direction, but not all seem to move at the pace I would hope.  I often desperately want to slow down the rate that Riley and Ethan are growing up, yet the adoption is something I long to happen faster.  And then there's ministry.  Some days drag by, yielding little fruit while others provide the sweetest rewards.

Apart from my own life, I see how life in the States is whizzing by, often at a pace that seems faster than that of Guatemala.  Relationships that were once dear to us have faded since we moved out of the country.  Skill sets that we practiced in our occupations have gotten rusty with less use.  Family that was once close is no less dear, but yet much more distant.  Clearly, life there isn't on hold either.

But it all lies in the perception, I suppose.  Our lives look nothing like what we pictured ten years ago when James and I were dating.  I'm sure that the paths our lives took are nothing like where friends and family expected.  And while some relationships have grown distant, others have seemed to be put "on hold."  Awaiting the day God calls us back to the States.  Awaiting the day when face-to-face conversations are regular.  Awaiting for the day when our paths return to where they were expected to go.  And in all that waiting, maybe it seems that my life has been put on hold somehow.

Not that justification is needed either.  I know that my life has been shaped by following God's call.  Not in perfection, for sure, but I'm trying.  I also rest in knowing that His timing is perfect.  It is definitely not the timeline I had planned or hoped for my life.  It is definitely not always comfortable.  It is definitely not easy.  But I trust that it's perfect.  I trust that He has a plan even when I doubt and can't understand how things could possibly end up well.  I'll trust when I'm hurt.  I'll trust when I'm frustrated.  I'll try.

Because I know that my worth is not in the life I had mapped out for myself.  I know I'll never find it in the wealth I dreamed of acquiring, in the success I hoped for my children, or in the "golden days" when I retire.  Not that any of those are bad, but they neither define me or my worth.  That can only be found in Christ and the blood that He shed for me.  Apart from that I am nothing.  Only by Him and in Him can I say that I am living the most profound and meaningful life that I can.  And that life is not on hold.

"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory."  Colossians 3:1-4

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

A Time of Change (Late Publish)

James and Ellie Carr

***Written several years before publish date***

2016 was a year of change for our family.  Although still in Guatemala, we changed our location.  Although we are still working with children, mostly from Zone 18 of Guatemala City- one of the nation's most crime ridden zones- we changed the capacity in which we worked with them to being orphan and abuse faith-based care rather than English classes and poverty tourism.  We changed from having job tasks that kept us busy, to having job descriptions that are more honoring to the Lord and focused on bringing Him glory.  We changed from being in the business of advertising, filtering our speech, and being on the side of missions focused on business and dollar signs to being in a place where we can not only talk freely about what we believe, but we can also live it out, share it with you- our friends and family- and have a Biblical purpose behind our service.

When we answered the call to be missionaries in 2014, sold our possessions, and moved to Guatemala, we had no clue about what an industry it really was.  We had jumped to answer a call in our lives, and had landed in a dog-eat-dog pool of missionaries who will do and sell almost anything to stay alive- and while it seemed foreign to us, before long, it became the norm surrounding us.  Missions quickly became a fend-for-yourself-world in which missionaries and organizations fought tooth and claw over any donor or dollar, words are twisted and filtered to borderline untruths, all while the poor and needy who they claim to serve have received neither physical benefits nor spiritual guidance and truths.  We knew something wasn't right.
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
    he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
Many of you are familiar the verse, Isaiah 61:1,

But can I ask you to take a moment to read a similar almost paralleling passage, Ezekiel 34:1-10?

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GodAh, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.
“Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As I live, declares the Lord God, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10 Thus says the Lord GodBehold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.

When I first read this passage in 2015, it scared me.  I saw around me people who were claiming to serve "in God's name," but were instead taking the lion's share of the food, acquiring personal gains through missions such as high-end real estate, and bringing no real or noticeable change to those whom they claimed to serve.  I questioned whether we had fallen into the trap, and knew that that was not the reason we were called to leave everything behind and come to Guatemala.  I knew our calling was more genuine than that.

As the weeks and months passed, James and I had heated, tearful, conversations daily and nightly about what it truly was that we had been called to do here, and whether or not we were doing it to the best of our abilities.  As time passed, the answer clearly became, "No."  So we began searching.

Did we come to help the poor?  Although it seemed like a good option here in Guatemala where poverty is a massive issue facing society, we knew that it was not something we could solve nor did we feel that it was the problem we had left everything to remedy.  While helping poor neighborhoods seemed like nice thing to do, there are numerous other humanitarian and urban development organizations specifically working in Guatemala City, and even in Zone 18.  It seemed silly to reinvent what they were already doing well.

While it was clear that we were supposed to work with youth, we had yet to figure out what capacity we were able to do so.  We knew it was to go deeper than simply teaching English classes, building playgrounds, and hosting fun outings with poor children, so we turned to the Bible for an answer.

Month after month we were drawn back to two main objectives:
- First and foremost- making disciples.  We knew this was a non-negotiable in any job or service here in Guatemala.
- Caring for the widows and orphans.  You can read about how we were convicted of this here.

While we thought it very virtuous to care for the poor, as the church should, we knew that "the poor" as a relative state of being would always be among us, and as a couple, our specific area of service needed to go deeper than that.  James and I at different times, but for the same reason, came to the same conclusion-
"We have been commanded to make disciples, are living in a country truly and undeniably lacking in orphan care, yet see the poor surrounding us daily.  We are to carry out the Great Commission always, can love and serve God by loving the orphans He holds dear, and meanwhile can love others through serving the poor."

Many people have been told that there are hundreds of orphanages in Guatemala, so there is little need for more orphanages and orphan care.  Friends, that is simply a lie.  There is a government run orphanage behind us that James visited a couple of days ago.  The home has the capacity for 400 children and adolescents.  Unfortunately there are currently about 750 children living within the tall, overcrowded, razor-wired walls.  When James entered he heard no laughs, yells or giggles- just silence.  There were no children playing out doors- just barred windows of packed "homes" where the kids will likely spend their entire childhood.  In October, over 30 children "escaped" from the orphanage.  It is suspected that they were sold into trafficking.  I digress.

Folks, there are many needs here in Guatemala.  I don't write to say that any is more important than another.  I write from the burden I have here for the sheep who are not fed while the shepherds are getting fat.  I write to tell you about our own struggles that we've faced and how we've dealt with them over the past year.  I write to hold our family accountable before you.  I write to challenge you to not let your passion and service towards God falter while you focus on your own excess.  Lastly, I write to you to challenge you to hold your missionaries and nonprofit organizations accountable- what progress have they made in the last three months? what is their budget breakdown? are they accumulating more wealth than they are aiding others?  Please, I encourage you ask the tough questions, and if something doesn't feel right, maybe it's the Spirit and your own discernment guiding you.

Thank you again to those of you who pray, give, and encourage so we can continue to serve.  We'd love to hear your thoughts if you would like to share below!

James + Ellie

Monday, January 14, 2019

Dear Missionary,

James and Ellie Carr

Dear Missionary,

I know we haven't spoken in a while.  We don't have to tell each other; we've both been busy.  And after all of the day's phone calls, planning meetings, and of course dreaded fundraising attempts, the last thing you want to do is reach out to another missionary to talk.  I get it.  It's okay.

I get that you are dreading almost any human contact this late in the day.  It's after dinner, and you just want to unplug, but are missionaries even allowed to do that?  I know the feeling that you are always being watched.  I know it too well, and have let it control me for too long.

I know the fear that others are critiquing your every move.  Questions flood your mind, "Are you doing enough with your time/money/life/resources?" "What could you be doing better?"  "What if someone else has more impressive 'results' to show at the end of the year?"  "What if I'm not the most engaging missionary at my church?"  "Would the donors approve of the time I took off last weekend?"  By now you're not sure if others have actually verbalized those questions, or if you invented them yourself, but they constantly make you doubt yourself.

You know there are others who put you on a spiritual pedestal, but the ridiculousness of that notion keeps it from being any comfort whatsoever.  You've been humbled so many times since entering the field, you wonder some days why it was you that was called.  But two things are always clear to you; you are no spiritual giant, and your calling was no mistake.  Those are for sure.

Don't let critics control you.  They didn't give you your calling.  Your network at home is an important piece of your ministry.  Use it for strength, but letting it determine your every move will only weaken your work, and drive you insane.  I've been there, and it's a hard place to escape.  It is one thing to be careful what you communicate, but don't let others define your words.  It's unstable footing, and mentally harmful.  Speak carefully, but not out of fear.  On that note, take care of your mind.  Your work, your peers, and your critics can damage it.  Keep it healthy as you would your body.  Don't worship self care, but don't reject it either.

But then there's the other missionaries.  We're all so peculiar.  That slight social awkwardness defines us all.  I don't know whether it is something brought on by the unique circumstances of our lives as missionaries.  For me it has always been there.  You catch yourself asking, "Am I really that weird too?"  But you have bigger worries than to let that question bother you.  Other missionaries belittle you for your time on the field.  They brag as if their umpteen years here make them an expert.  When I was in nursing school, they used to tell the new nurses to beware that nurses "eat their young," but nurses are nothing compared to missionaries.  It doesn't matter what field you are in- church planting, orphan care, urban ministry, missionary care- someone will have been doing it longer.  Don't let it get to you.    What does time measure, anyway, in such a changing field? The harvest will be there.  Experienced missionaries can be extremely effective as well as rookies.  Remember that calling that was so certain?  It is unique to you and not to me compared.

Humility is key.  Don't let yourself get proud; your fall will just be harder.  Take it from me.  Taking glory in your established achievements will only make you look foolish, and you will do more harm than good for your ministry and reputation.  Trying to steal glory that belongs to God is just a bad idea, speaking from experience.  Don't let success define you.  Success on the field has no definition except for being obedient to and glorifying the Father.  Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

You know me as well as one could in such a transient field of work.  You can help me.  Don't let me get that proud.  Remind me that there is always more to learn.  We are here to build each other up, not prove our superiority at every turn.  Stay honest, but avoid gossip.  Try to help the new guy, and not in a know-it-all sort of way.  You might just learn something from him.  Find the beauty in making lifelong friends in a field of work that is often temporary and transient.  Don't be afraid if they are from different background, serve in different ministries, varying ages, and time on the field.  It's what makes the Body of Christ beautiful.  Let the friends you have know that you are grateful for them and value those relationships.  I know, it's hard.

Most importantly, draw near to the Lord.  Without Him, your work is nothing, so don't find yourself far from Him.  Find your identity, place, calling, and meaning in Him.  Let what He thinks of you replace what everyone else thinks of you, and let others see Him through you.  For me, it's a daily struggle, but it's a non-negotiable.  Remember that it was He who called you to serve others- not to be served yourself.  You will be battered, backstabbed, and deeply hurt by others, but as another wise missionary said to me, "if they did that to Christ, why should we expect anything different if we are following His footsteps?"  You won't see your pain as a privilege in the moment, but count it as such, because you, my friend, were chosen to live in the image of Christ.  What greater honor is there?

Serving the same Father,
- Your Missionary Friend

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