Is It A Magical Wish Or A Commitment?

Hard-working Liberian ladies helping to build a school. Those are cinder blocks being carried on their heads.

All too often, we say that we are going to do something. But we really mean, we'll do it if nothing better comes up. I remember that we were attending a church a while back. We were praying that we would have better community with the people in the church. And as with most things we pray about, we had to follow that up with action. A lot of time prayers are just wishes rather than things we are committed to. For instance, we might want healing. That usually entails that we have to change our lifestyle too. We may want more money. That can entail working harder, going back to school, or switching jobs. We want a better family life. That entails spending time together. We want to stop world hunger. That entails raising money and helping. But we like to keep what we want as a wish rather than a commitment. What we often really want is for our lifestyle to not have to change in order to accommodate the blessing we want to receive while our prayer wish just magically happens.

So we were at this church, praying for better community with people from the church. We were inviting people over for dinner. The whole nine yards. Attending Bible studies. Doing what we could do to make community happen. But nothing seemed to be clicking. Then we were asked over for dinner to a couple's house. Only the second invitation we had ever received in our time at that church. We couldn't pass it. Or could we? They invited me over during the Colts AFC Championship game. Now, I wanted to stay home because they asked us over during a Colts playoff game, a game they weren't going to watch. I was invested in the Colts. I had watched every Colts game that year. And I wasn't about to miss a playoff game. On the other hand, I had been praying for better community. Was my prayer just a wish, below my desire to watch a Colts playoff game? Was I really committed to better community? Or was it just something I wanted if nothing better came up?

How would just wishing have worked for Marlin, Nemo's father in Finding Nemo? If Nemo had just been taken by the scary humans and Marlin didn't go after Him, what would have happened? If Marlin had just sat around, watched television, and wished that he would have his son back, would he have got him back? Or if he would have posted every day on Facebook how he wanted his son back, would that have been enough? Or he could have joined a group and talked about how he wished he had his son back. Would talk be enough? But that isn't what Marlin did. He went out into the great unknown because he was committed to finding his son no matter what the cost. It wasn't just a wish. It was a commitment.  

Or, take a story from the real world. I met a guy named Eric Wowoh in Liberia.  He's one of the group of people from Liberia, who during the Civil War, found themselves in a refugee camp in Nigeria. Eric decided to go visit his friend in Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria, to get out of the refugee camp. He knew that he could have a better life living with his friend. Yet when he got to the city and went to his friends' place, his friend had moved and nobody knew where. Eric found himself broke, destitute, and stranded in a strange city. He decided to begin walking back to the refugee camp. Eventually night fell, and he found himself tired. So he discovered an abandoned house to sleep in as he tried to walk his way back to the refugee camp. Yet a band of thugs found him, beat him up, and told the police that he was trespassing. While in jail, Eric and another inmate began dreaming of educating Liberians once they got out of jail, out of the refugee camp, and back to Liberia.

Now this is a crazy dream. You're untrained. You're broke. You're imprisoned in a foreign country. You can't start schools.

Big Dave. Right picture taken just one year
prior to the left one.
Crazier than a 385 pounder saying he's going to run a marathon. But now my friend Dave, has ran three marathons.

Crazier than me, a boy who used to go to school here in Antwerp wearing a shirt that said "God is dead", preaching here on Easter Sunday.

Crazy like Joseph, sitting in prison, being used by God to save a whole nation. Crazy like David, a shepherd, becoming the ruler of God's people. Crazy, like Esther, an orphan raised by her cousin, becoming queen of a foreign land and saving all her people.

God is in the crazy business. The impossible business. Our God wants to do crazy, amazing things. Things that will make this world better than it is. But it can only happen when we do things differently than we are used to doing them. Are you committed?

Back to Eric. He didn't know anything. All he knew was a refugee camp. He didn't have a clue. He hadn't received an education. He didn't know how to start a school. He didn't have any money to start a school. Eric was so clueless that when he flew to the US to raise funds, he didn't accept the food offered on the plane because he thought he would have to pay for it and had no money.

Yet, while in prison in Nigeria, a lady believed his story and fought for his release. She gave him a computer. Eric used this computer to start a computer training school in the refugee camp. Students would take fifteen minutes on the computer at a time. With little things, Eric was faithful.

The day came where they found themselves able to go back to Liberia. He sent his close friends, who had now become brothers, back to Liberia to start a school while he traveled to America to raise money for that school. But it didn't work out the way he wanted. About nine months after he arrived in the States, he still wasn't having any success in raising funds to start the school that God had laid on his heart. He was ready to give up.  He felt that he couldn't accomplish what God had called him to. He emailed a British friend named Martin, who had started making a documentary on him back when Eric was in the refugee camp in Nigeria. Eric told Martin that he couldn't do it and that he was going to give up.

Martin replied, "You are not a normal person. I wouldn't be following you around and recording you if I thought you were normal. You're extraordinary. You can do this." (this is not verbatim. It's going from memory.) And Eric kept on. Eventually, the money came.

Now, you can go to Liberia and see a school that is educating nearly 2,000 kids - providing a free education in a nation where everyone has to pay for their education. You will be able to see two more schools being built. Kids receiving education. Schools bringing hope to their community. Kids learning skills to make their own dreams a reality and their broken nation whole again. All because one man, in a prison in Nigeria, who wasn't qualified, who didn't have the training, stayed faithful and remained committed to the dream that was laid on his heart.

A commitment.

What are you committed to?

Baby Dreams

I look at babies, and I'm amazed. They have so much potential. We have so many dreams for them. They can achieve anything.


Isaac Newton was once just a little baby. Rosa Parks, once a little baby. Thomas Edison, once a little baby. Joan of Arc, once a little baby. Walt Disney. Mother Teresa. Abraham Lincoln. The Apostle Paul. The list goes on and on. They were all just little babies. Little babies who eventually did incredible things.

We kind of accept that little babies will grow up and be able to do incredible things because that is the way things work. Every great thing this world has ever experienced has been done by someone who was once a baby. Most achievements worth mentioning started as an impossible dream that wouldn't have happened without someone being committed to bring it about.

At Christmas time, we celebrate the baby Jesus. The coming of God into this world. The humble act of taking on flesh and blood despite deserving worship and grandeur. At Easter, we remember the sacrifice of that grown God-man. We celebrate his suffering and pain through the window of the resurrection.

Jesus died on the cross, yet He struggled with it. When His end was near, Jesus didn't want it. Like we often feel when tough times hit, He wanted to give up. Just like you may find yourself right now, wanting to give up.

But Jesus didn't just die to forgive our sins. He rose again to give us the newness of life.

The Bible gives us glimpses of that time before the crucifixion. Let us go to the gospel of John and look at that time of great struggle.

“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine.  Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” John 12:27-32 (ESV).

Jesus, when he was lifted up on that cross, drew all people to him. You have received the call. Will you follow? Will you respond to that sacrifice with the commitment it is calling you toward?

Will you give up - give up on your dreams, give up on your own passions, give up on your own plans - whatever they may be.... And follow?

Jesus is drawing us all into a new life. A life where our primary concern is to love God and love our neighbors. And he has paid the price to make that happen. We just have to respond by giving Him our all. Not just to follow Him when there is nothing better to do. But to follow Him no matter what the cost. No matter what others may think of us. No matter what He calls us to do.

This doesn't mean that we have to become a monk who has taken a vow of poverty and move to the hills. That actually would be easier. It means that we have to love God and love our neighbor in everything we do, wherever find ourselves, even in the difficult situations, in the here and now.

Imagine if we started living in the realization that God loves us. That He has called us to something more faithful. And that being who He wants us to be is possible even when it seems impossible. It's possible because God has called us to it, and He will provide the strength to do it. As long as we are committed to Him, His plan for our life can become a reality.

Our God doesn't lack for power. He lacks of nothing that is needed. He waits for faithful, committed people to pour His power through.

You may be saying, but you don't know me. You don't know what I've done. You don't know what I think. You don't know what I struggle with. God can't use me.

And you're right that I don't know. But God knows. And He still loves you. He still calls you. He still has plans for you. You don't have to be perfect. You have to be willing. You don't have to have it all together. You just have to be committed. You don't have to have it all figured out. You have to be faithful.

To save all of us is why He came, lived, died, and rose again. Like a baby being born can achieve incredible things, we can achieve amazing God things when we allow God to give birth to His dreams in us. When we are faithful even in our darkest hours.

Learning to Celebrate (Something Other Than Sports)

When I was in Liberia, I saw a whole community celebrate because they had easy access to clean drinking water. The joy was tangible. It filled the air like a fresh pie in the oven. It permeated my soul. God was happy. You could feel it. Real celebration. Real praise.

Psalm 149 is a powerful song of praise. It says at one point: "Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre! For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation. Let the godly exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their beds" (Psalms 149:3-5 ESV).

In the middle of people celebrating water, it struck me. We don't celebrate like that. Ever. Except for when our team wins the Super Bowl, a national championship, a state championship, or something of that sort. I see it on Facebook. A team wins, and all of the fans celebrate. Publicly celebrates. Celebrates and they don't care who hears. They're happy. It's a great time.

Why do we celebrate sports in our society more than most anything else? Someone celebrating five years of a successful business that gives people jobs in a community is more important than someone sinking a game-winning basket. Someone turning their life around from meaninglessness to Jesus is more important than someone scoring a touchdown. Volunteering at a soup kitchen is more significant than a walk-off home run.

Maybe we're not invested in the important things of life like we are in sports. Maybe we care more about our children being athletic rather than spiritually mature. Often, we would much rather have him or her win a state championship rather than dedicate their life to serving the Lord. In a small town like ours, we don't have the obvious idols like they did in Bible times. In Ephesus, Paul faced the furor of the people who profited off of the temple to Artemis. But we do have idols that keep people away from church and being who God wants them to be. We sometimes veer into worshipping athletic accomplishment instead of God.

A friend of mine told me about a young man in the ministry. I interviewed this young man for this article, but his name will remain anonymous because what I am sharing does not portray his parents in a positive light.

A few years back, this young man had God interrupt his plans. He holds his state's record in the 800m dash. He went on to win nationals. And received a full ride to a division one college where he was on course to pursue his Olympic dream. If he wanted, he could have ran for a living, getting sponsors once he got out of college. Yet he gave up running a couple years before his prime.

In typical God fashion, tragedy struck and it made him reevaluate his life. He got in a car accident. There was some damage to his left side. That night, in the hospital bed, he prayed for the first time. The next day he was 100% fine but completely changed. His body hadn't changed one bit, but something happened to his soul in that accident. He then transferred to a smaller Christian college, being a tremendous blessing to the small school's track team. While he was there, he felt that he had to give up running for records and start running completely for God. He then transferred to another college - the college I went to - where they had no track and field program.

In completely pursuing God, he found a great amount of peace. But his parents didn't feel the same way. They had never missed a track meet, flying all the way across the country to cheer him on. Yet the first three times he preached in his home church - the church his parents go to, a church just a five minute drive from his home - they didn't make it. They would not attend to hear their son preach. The support that they show him being in the ministry is not even near the same support that they showed him in his running career.

Imagine investing your life - your time, your energy - in your kid being a star athlete. And then he gives it up to be a minister. How awesome would that be! Really, it's awesome! It might be tough to acknowledge how awesome it is because we misprioritized all of those years, but that type of spiritual commitment is what we should be striving for in our children.

I want to be clear. Sports are not evil. This is not an either/or situation all of the time although God made it that for this young minister. Our kids don't have to avoid sports to be who God wants them to be. There are many great Christian athletes out there. But we do need to realize the dangerous spiritual pitfall that sports can sometimes be. Sometimes we place sport above God. When we do this, a blessing such as sport can draw us away from God rather than supplement our total commitment to God. I see people choose sports over the kingdom of God time and time again. Let us be vigilant not to do that. Let us not celebrate or value sports over the most important things in our life. Let us praise God and become people who He takes pleasure in. Let us learn to celebrate!

Images from Liberia 2013

These photos were taken during a Hope 2 Liberia mission trip in February 2013.