I have discipled and loved many college-age students over the past 15-or-so years, and I’ve heard a lot of reasons for not following God. It seems when we want to live life on our own terms and by our own rules that we can come up with all kinds of reasons to reject God, and we defend our reasons to the point of being angry. I don’t consider myself to be well-versed in apologetics (the practice of defending a religious view), and I often resort to simply sharing “the reason for the hope I have”. I don’t like to argue about God. It’s hard to be “right” and show God’s love at the same time. Not impossible, but very hard.
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 1 Peter 3:15-16
I love the students that have been in our group who have struggled with the hard questions of how God fits with real life. I love that they are thinking about what they believe and making the truth of scripture come alive in their lives. But there is one statement- and I’ve heard it several times now- that stops me dead in my tracks. It’s a statement that is too close to home. It’s a statement that makes me want to point fingers at everyone but myself. It is a statement that hurts, because it is so often true. It usually goes along one of these lines:
I’d rather be friends with non-Christians, because Christians have hurt me.
People at church are fake.
Their love has conditions attached.
They judge me.
They judge others.
The people who are really there for me in hard times are my non-christian friends.
I love God, but church isn’t a safe place to bring my friends who are really messed up.
Ironically, the church I am a part of in Fort Wayne and the church I grew up at in Battle Creek both have the same mission statement: Love God and Love Others, and I think they do a good job of living this out. I get fairly defensive on behalf of church families I love. I know lots of people who love others sacrificially, who would never judge someone who’s struggling and who are genuine followers of God that sincerely love people.
But I keep hearing these words from people. I heard these words here in Rough Rock last night. Someone I was talking with said, “My friends outside the church are there for me when I struggle. Even my Mormon friends have more love for me than the people I know at church. They prayed for me when everyone at my church turned away.”
I think we would like to write these statements off. Explain them away as people who expect perfection from the church. Tell them that no one group of people is perfect and they need to get over expecting perfection from the church. Instead, I think we should seriously think about our own role in this breakdown. Not everyone else’s role. Mine. What do I say and do that turns people away from God? In what ways am I not loving others?
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues,they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. I Corinthians 13:4-8
Am I patient and kind with people? Am I willing to dive into a long-term process with someone- walk with them through the good and bad for years?
Do I hurt people because of my pride? Am I so convinced that the way I do things is the only way that I shut down other’s ideas? Do I crave “important” roles in the church?
Do I dishonor others by gossiping or slandering them? This is so subtle in the church, because we (and everyone else) know that gossip and slander are wrong- so we get sneaky with it.
Do I keep a mental list of everything someone has done wrong- only to pull it out as proof that he or she will never really change?
Do I get frustrated with people who don’t do things my way or on my schedule? Do I leave church angry?
Do I take secret pleasure in knowing someone else really messed up? Does it make me feel like I’m doing better than them as a Christian?
Have I placed more importance on prophecy, tongues or knowledge than on simply loving people?
We need to seek God on these things and be honest with ourselves. If the church is a picture of what followers of God look like, how are we doing? How can we grow in this? How can we hold each other accountable to love above all else?
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 1 John4:7-8
I’m just becoming a part of this little church in Rough Rock. I see love here, and compassion. I see a desire for the lost and addicted to find freedom in Christ. I also hear gossip and see a struggle for who will lead, and pride from those who do. I see a church much like the church families I love in Michigan and Indiana- good and bad all together.
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7:21-25
Yes, thanks be to God, who delivers us through Jesus Christ.
This week was eventful! There are so many differences in our culture and lifestyle that I told my mom I’m not even surprised much any more. I expect the unexpected. Like walking by the sheepskin hanging from the porch only to be served mutton stew once inside. Like being chased by goats at the grocery store.
This week we celebrated “First Sunday” -meaning that all of the four Friends churches in this area meet together at one church. This month it was Red Ridge Friends Church that hosted. We gathered in a small wooden church with a wood-burning stove for heat.
Each church took turns leading worship and sharing God’s word. When Rough Rock went up front to lead my first thought was- it’s my new family up there! Already the faces and stories of this little church are dear to me. It’s amazing how that happens in a church, in spite of the struggles. People you would normally just pass on the street become family. You know their joys and pain, you enjoy meals together, you pray for and encourage each other. I’m so thankful that in spite of enormous cultural differences we are all a part of God’s family!
Thank you so much for your prayers and encouragement this week- several of you have tried to send me videos for the kids here and discovered that my mailing address isn’t right. I finally drove to Chinle this morning to speak directly with postal workers. Apparently the Rough Rock trading post didn’t give me the whole address. Here it is:
HC 61 Box 5000
P.O. Box AZZ
Chinle, AZ, 86503
Blessings over your coming week!!!
I’ve been here for just over a week. It’s gone fast, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot and met a lot of people. I also feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of life here.
I’ve previously only done short-term trips to serve other communities, and with a short 1-2 week trip you plan ahead for months to get as much impact during that short time as possible. In comparison to those types of trips I feel like I’ve done nothing this week! This is an entirely different experience.
I’ve learned a few things about the church here, by talking with people who were here serving before me. A missionary couple and their family started this church in the 1940’s. They moved here and lived in a tent and had harrowing experiences with blizzards and horrible mud. There’s a book written about them called Mud on Their Wheels: The Life-Story of Vern and Lois Ellis (Life-Story Mission Series) by Betty M. Hockett. It was interesting to read about the very beginning of Christian faith here among the Navajo of Rough Rock. (You can click on the title above to find the book on Amazon.com)
Many (I cannot keep track of the names!) missionaries have followed those 1st missionaries, Vern and Lois. Several years ago, the governing body of the church decided it was time for the church to stand on their own, after being equipped for so many years by missionaries. They sent a couple from Colorado, Bud and Judy, to help transition the church from dependence on missionaries to independent leadership of the church. Bud and Judy left maybe a year ago and it seems (reading between the lines here) that the church did ok for awhile, but then people began to leave. I’ve heard a few reasons. The woman who led the children’s ministry got tired of doing it by herself and couldn’t get volunteers to help her (we’ve had that dilemma in every church I’ve ever attended!), so she left and attended a Baptist church with a missionary staff that provided a children’s program. Now this church doesn’t have a program for children. They come, but go outside to climb on the rocks behind the church during service. Others have left as well, but I’m not sure of the reasons.
So here I am.
I know that God has specifically called me to be in this place, but I cannot lead. I can encourage things like Bible study and children’s ministry- but I cannot start them or lead them- because they need to be the church and have ownership of these things. I can come alongside and encourage, but that is all. This is so hard for them. All around Rough Rock there are churches staffed by missionaries who run all the programs and bring lots of supplies and gifts for families. It is an easier thing for them to go and just take than to become the church here that God is calling them to become. A truly Navajo church.
This is a hard thing in our part of the world too. How many people attend a church for what it can give them, rather than attending a church to give sacrificially so that the community around the church can know Christ? We are just fortunate (or maybe not so fortunate…?) to have lots of money to pay people to do much of the work in our churches.
Please pray for the people of this little church. They are genuinely trying, and many of them are stepping WAY out of their comfort zone to preach or sing up front or even pray up front over the offering. Imagine if your pastor stopped mid service and pointed at you and said- could you come up and lead us in this next song? These are the things they are facing and many are taking the challenge and doing a great job.
For the people of this church, I am praying for a deep understanding of God’s love, deep roots in Him and his Word, and an understanding of what God has gifted them in to use in and around the church.
As for me- I’m just getting to know people. I’m watching and listening and praying a lot.
This week I got to know Sonny better. He and his wife Kathy live across the “wash” from me. I guess it’s a gully that becomes a river when it rains..? Sonny is taking a lot of leadership in the church. He is also a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to fixing things- he spends all of his time fixing things for people. He also watches over me, my house and the church property since he is so close.
I also spent time this week with Roderick and Lavina. They are two of the people I met last fall. Lavina brought her 5 kids over to meet Casper and watch movies (we have a disappointing collection of Dr. Dobson lectures and old 70s Christian movies…if you have any VHS family-friendly movies you aren’t using, send them our way!) We all took a long walk yesterday and Rod and Lavina made me laugh telling me all of the antics from their childhood on the reservation.
We had a Bible study on Weds. It was really a great study. I’m determined to not be the leader of it- but to just support and encourage those who do lead it. I love the common ground we all have in Christ. Everything else might be different, but we share the truth of Jesus with each other!
Why am I here? I keep asking God that question, and it isn’t clear yet. Can I really have much of an impact on this little church struggling to get on its own two feet? In only 8 months? I really don’t know. I do know that God needs me here today though. So please pray for me to just be faithful and obedient as each day comes- regardless of the outcome.
I’m so thankful that I’ve made some small steps into becoming a part of this community. It is starting to feel more like home. It is beautiful and, I am learning, tragic here. The people are kind and gentle and thoughtful, but many are addicted to alcohol and suffer with severe depression. They desperately need the hope and freedom that a life in Christ brings.
I appreciate your prayers so much. We can’t possibly understand the intricacies of God’s plan for this place and these people, but we know that He loves them and wants them to be His own. We know he wants hope and life and victory over addiction for them. Please keep praying!
Whenever I pray I remind God of the verse I chose as a theme for this blog…more than we can ask or imagine God….IMMEASURABLY more than we can ask or imagine in this place!!!!
Have a great week, friends!
A prayer of King Jehoshaphat when facing a vast army…it’s been one of my favorites for years. I hope it is an encouragement to you!
2 Chronicles 20:12b, 15b
“O our God…we do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you…
This is what the Lord says to you, ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged…for the battle is not yours, but God’s.’”
Any new journey requires a letting go of the old. I’ve been saying goodbye to my co-workers for months now, and it never got easier. The last of the genetics crew was made up of Joe and I on New Years Eve. We sat in the break room and reminisced about all the great people we worked with and all the fun stories we shared. It felt like the last episode of a sitcom.
Many other goodbyes were thwarted by the weather. Church was cancelled on my last Sunday and Collision (the college group I led) was also cancelled. Fortunately my sister-in-law Steph and one of my best friends, Ricky, threw me a goodbye party. It was SO much fun and I had a chance to say goodbye to many dear friends that I would have otherwise not seen before I left. The hardest goodbyes were with my family. I will really miss them.
I left Fort Wayne at about 8 am on Thursday the 16th with high hopes of driving 10 hours and spending the night in Kansas. My car was packed to the brim with everything I wanted along for these 8 months. Within 20 minutes of leaving, it started to snow. Hard. The roads got more and more slippery and traffic slowed to the point of only going about 20 mph. It was terrible driving for about 5 hours. It gradually changed to rain as the temperatures rose, and then turned into hail and then sleet. About an hour before I reached Kansas City the wind picked up and there were such big gusts that I had a hard time keeping my car on the road! My 10 hour trip took about 14 hours, and I was exhausted!
I left Olathe, KS early and had a wonderful, sunny day driving through Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and into New Mexico. I loved the beautiful fields of grain and the rodeos along the road in Oklahoma. I passed so many places I wanted to stop, but I resisted them- all but one. I stopped at Dorothy’s house in Liberal, KS. It was a fun break from all the relentless driving. I got into Tucumcari, New Mexico just after sunset.
The third day was spent driving across New Mexico. I only had 6 hours to go, but once I got to Gallup I stopped at a restaurant recommended by my friend Quint. I also got groceries at WalMart because Gallup is the last outpost of civilization. Imagine a blizzard warning in the Midwest- that was the scene at this WalMart. Utter chaos. The parking lot was like black Friday. Inside, everyone had two carts and they were full to overflowing. I spent a little over an hour in WalMart- mostly in line! I drove another 2 ½ hours and pulled into Rough Rock just as the sun was setting. It was beautiful. A wonderful woman from the church, Tina, met me with a key to the house I will be staying in and I unpacked.
Now I am here. It’s quiet – very quiet. I don’t have wi-fi or a TV, and my cell service is limited. I think this will be a big adjustment, but I believe with all of my heart that this is where God has led me to and I will just trust Him until I see the plan unfold!
I attended church this morning and connected with some of the people here. They are kind and generous followers of Christ and I’m excited to become friends with them.
It feels a little “alone” here today. It will take awhile to connect in this community and without wifi I’m limited in my connections with all of you (I’m writing this in a Burger King about 30 minutes from home with wifi- lol!) But I was texting with my friend Danielle last night and I said -“It’s just Casper and I here….” and she reminded me: “Casper, you and GOD”- and that truth makes all the difference!!!
“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” Psalm 139:7-10
I read a quote this week from Mother Teresa that seemed to fit the process I am in.
“The more you have, the more you are occupied. The less you have, the more free you are.”
There was a huge snow storm in Indiana this week- the most snow I have seen in awhile! The result of this was two free days to sort through my belongings and decide what to keep and what to give away; what to leave here and what to bring along. I’m afraid I’m not a terribly simple person- or a light packer on trips. I convince myself that I simply cannot live without things and bring them along with me everywhere. (Ask my family- I always have way more than I need in any given situation!)
I am limited in my packing to a very small Honda Civic. (It feels smaller, the closer the time to leave comes!) I have packed up everything I think I will need and I’m POSITIVE it will not all fit. I keep looking at my pile and looking at my car…and there’s no way!
Each step of this journey has opened my eyes to new things about God and myself and the world around me. This week I’m being forced to consider what I actually need, and believe me, it is far less than I own. The time I have spent sorting, packing, cleaning, (and now re-sorting and re-packing to fit!) is time I could have spent with people I won’t see again for months. “Stuff” is such a silly thing to waste time on.
The less you have, the more free you are.
Free for things like my relationship with my heavenly Father, spending time with my friends and family, learning new things about the world around me…
Everything I will have in Arizona for eight months has to fit in my car. I’m excited to experience the freedom of less bringing more of other things.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21
Last September when I realized my job would be ending in genetics and that it was likely that God was calling me to full-time ministry, I panicked…. and then started praying.
I was listening to Pandora radio at work one day, in the middle of all the decision making, and a song by Casting Crowns came up. It’s not a song I’ve ever really liked, so I was preparing to skip it but I’d skipped one too many songs and I was stuck listening to it.
“Somewhere between my heart and my hands
Somewhere between my faith and my plans
Somewhere between the safety of the boat and the crashing waves…
Somewhere in the middle You’ll find me
Just how close can I get, Lord, to my surrender without losing all control?
Fearless warriors in a picket fence, reckless abandon wrapped in common sense
Deep water faith in the shallow end -and we are caught in the middle.
With eyes wide open to the differences, the God we want and the God who is
But will we trade our dreams for His- or are we caught in the middle?”
As I listened to this song I thought, “This is me. I’m caught between who I’ve always been and who God is calling me to be. I’m claiming to have faith in a God who can do anything, but hanging on to the security fence I’ve built around me. I want to surrender to God- but I still want control.”
January 16th I will leave on a new journey. God has very distinctly led me to go and live in a small Navajo community in Rough Rock, AZ for the next 8 months. I’m still not entirely sure what I will be doing, but I’m really excited to learn more about the people, history and culture of the Navajo.
The scripture I hang on to each day is a familiar one to many:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6
As I learn to surrender to God and give him all control to lead my life, I pray you will continue to do the same. There is a peace here that really does go beyond my understanding.
I’ve started a page with prayer requests, but today will you pray specifically for the young adult ministry I’m leaving behind? They have become dear friends and they are gifted in many ways to lead the group on their own. Pray that they will have direction, inspiration and passion to continue in fellowship together and to reach others with the good news of God’s love.