Monday, October 27, 2008

"leave" - ing well

I was thinking...

So, a friend wrote something the other day in response to a blog... He said that the 20's were better than his teen years, his 30's better than his 20's, and now his 40's are better than his 30's... I thought that was insightful and I have been mulling it over for a few days. That life gets better as you grow in love and understanding despite the fear of the unknowns and the trials that knowingly await is an encouraging fact. I am not sure if this always true, but it seems to be true for me. I love my wife more today than when I first met her. My heart swells with love for my kids and they only get more fun and cute and quotable the older they get (o.k., I know they aren't teenagers, yet:). My understanding of God and life and people and the Bible grows... It gets better.

So, I, during this fall season, as the trees are changing colors, I have found myself more and more just in awe of their beauty. And I realized today, that I really think I grow in my appreciation of the beauty of God's creation. I notice and appreciate the leaves more today than I did last year. I think that is cool. I hope that trend continues.

But all this leads me to another thought which is actually a question... Why do the leaves turn the most beautiful colors when they are dying? Why is that the most beautiful and amazing the leaves will ever be is when their days are at their end? And, I was thinking that is not only what I want in my life, but I what I also look forward to. I want to finish well. But I want to finish well, knowing that my end is just my beginning. It seems there are so many cases in so many arenas of people not finishing well. I see marriages that started out with so much promise end in divorce. I see athletes do stupid things and end poorly. I am thinking of like Woody Hayes whose whole career was tarnished by hitting a player at the end of his career or that soccer player Zidane whose last game ever during the world cup, he lost his temper and head butted a guy. He was thrown out, his team lost and he never played again. I see politicians who have brilliant careers go out in flames because of affairs or corrupution.

But there are some people who end more beautiful. I think of Billy Graham or Mother Teresa or mentor of mine, Sherb Heath or even the Apostle Paul. He wrote, " 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." I think that finishing well really is a matter of living well, not for the present, but for the future. I am still relatively a young man and I can't talk about what I don't know, but I am sensing that the ones who end well are the ones who know their end and they approach with joy and confidence and joy. It changes how they live. They live like Heaven is real.

C.S. Lewis said, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”

I think when we focus on this world and we are afraid of death, we die early, like when a leaf falls off in spring. No matter what the age, I think beauty comes in when we live life for eternity, no matter how old we are. And so there are two things from that: 1. Back to this idea that life just keeps getting better. I think that is a small taste of Heaven, and a gift from our Father. In Heaven, we don't get bored, but we worship and learn and serve and love. It just keeps getting better. And 2, our love and desire for Heaven is the secret for finishing well here, however long our lives last...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Is He really enough?

This morning I enjoyed a great service at Crossroads Bible Church... It was great to see Timothy James Meaney leading worship and he started off with a great song by Chris Tomlin called Enough... As I sang along, it was like I was thrust back into my first six months in Africa when I was challenged as never before by the truth of this song... Do I really believe that God is enough when all my friends, family, comforts and security are gone? As we prepare to go back in Africa in January, I am encouraged by this mornings' reminder that God is enough...

All of You is more than enough for all of me
For every thirst and every need
You satisfy me with Your love
And all I have in You is more than enough

You are my supply
My breath of life
And still more awesome than I know
You're the coming King
You are everything
And still more awesome than I know

All of You is more than enough for all of me
For every thirst and every need
You satisfy me with Your love
And all I have in You is more than enough

You're my sacrifice
Of greatest price
And still more awesome than I know
You're the coming King
You are everything
And still more awesome than I know

More than all I want
More than all I need
You are more than enough for me
More than all I know
More than all I can say
You are more than enough for me

Friday, October 10, 2008

Reflections on my Zambia Trip

Well, I am home and I couldn't be more excited. I just finished my third trip to Zambia. It has been a whirlwind to say the least and yet before all else, I must start by being thankful to God who answered my prayers in some very unique, amazing ways.

First and foremost, I had almost no jet lag. Really, the first and second day were composed of meetings all day and I was all there, both days. I have never experienced that before. That was a first. All week I felt really great. God also answered my prayer for health. I felt amazing the entire week until... Tuesday. Another first... I got a nasty 24 hours stomach flu. Never had that in Zambia before. I wasn't alone. My host and director and his wife, Tim and Andrea Hilty, both got it too, at the same time, 2:00 am. We experienced commiseration in a whole new way. Enough said. I am feeling better and so thankful that flu is only 24 hours.
At our Action Zambia retreat on Saturday and Sunday, I saw my first real live wild snake, a huge Puff Adder. It was a bit surreal and lot scary. (It wasn't until later that I learned that Puff Adders are very slow but they are the most lethal snake because they have huge fangs and they don't move when you come upon them. Good to know.)

I saw my first campaign for presidency as the previous president died a few months ago and they are having a new election. I saw my first change of phone companies, where the incredibly red Cel Tel was replaced by Zain and its funky black and green and purple logo.

I saw my first engine truck going to the first fire I have ever seen. The only fire station, Central Fire Station, with two fire trucks was going across to put out a fire at another first, a two car fire in the impounded parking lot at the Central Police Station.

I took my first 2:35 am flight out of Lusaka. I didn't know any airline ever did that.

I experienced another first, seeing Action Bible Institute live in action. What has been a dream for so long for our mission, finally got its start, and Tracy Singleton was teaching the first course. A bunch of the pastors were from either my inductive bible study classes and/or at conferences I spoke at. That was a great reunion. I sat in on a class and it was a great time. Another first, I will be teaching Ephesians when I return in January.

I had some hard firsts as well. I saw a young man who had been hit by car and was lying in the street. Considering the health care in Zambia, the very reality that he probably didn't have money to get help, the future looked bleak and it broke my heart.

I think that is where the firsts end, because what really stuck with me wasn't so much the firsts and the new and the different, but rather how nothing had changed since I was gone. The same lady was at the same corner still selling the same tomatoes. The people are still pounding rocks day after day. The bicyclist were still peddling charcoal from the airport to town. The little girls were still holding their little baby brothers and the same heartbreak, difficulty and poverty still has its grip on Zambia. I was just thinking as I sat in my comfortable airline seat looking out in to the dark night that it just isn't right to be able to go from such extremes in such a short time. To be able to go from where poverty and despair reign to a place where prosperity and opportunity abound in a week is just crazy.

Life in Africa just keeps on going and the poorest live without opportunity or hope that things might get better and with that, all my previous feelings of guilt and heartache and pain came roaring back. And, truly, that is O.K... It is good to live with that tension because as Ecclesiastes 7:3 says “Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart.” It doesn't really make sense that a heartache is good for the heart, but I think it is because it purifies, and provides perspective and gives a bearing to life, a compass of sorts.
So, my heart is broken again and will continue to be broken. I will continue to wrestle with the tension and I continue to learn how to live from my fellow Zambians. They are gracious, grateful and joyful and persevering and faith-filled. They love heaven. They love people. It is a love/hurt tension and it is good for the soul. Thanks for your prayers as we prepare to head back in a few months, for which I am sure will go by quickly.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

My bags are packed deja vu

Well, it just seems like I was doing this but I leave tomorrow which is tonight plus 2 hours... 2:35 am... Nairbi/London/Seattle...

Thanks for your prayers... I have lots to report!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Say hello to the Puff Adder outside our gate!

We were leaving the head home when we saw a Puff Adder outside our gate... It's a bit freaky if you aren't a snake person. But it might be worth a watch because it is pretty funny if you listen you will hear me scare Andrea when she comes and takes a peak. These kinds of snakes are very poisionous but they are pretty slow moving and docile. The Zambian ended up putting it in a bag, but the process of that was a bit out of my comfort zone that I didn't stay around to watch:)

Untitled from Steve Allen on Vimeo.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Hot and Tired...

Wow.. Hello 95 degree weather:) I am pretty tired but I made it through the day and now I am heading off to bed... Thanks for your prayer for a good flight. It was really great!

A two day retreat/strategic meeting starting tommorrow... Please remember me!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

From Home to Home...

It is 12:51 am and the gentle hum of the Jet's engines fill in the background noise. I am listening to my Ipod, dozing a bit, knowing that sleep is a hopeless cause. I have never been one to sleep well on a plane. I am listening to a song by Toby Mac, “I don't want to gain the whole world and lose my soul.” I am heading back to Zambia for a third time and I am looking forward to it. I am excited to see my friends. I am looking forward to the surreal once again being all to real.

We have been home for four months today. I have had many people tell me that they miss my blogging in Africa. My daughter Kamryn when writing in her blog one day after being home said, “Writing in America isn't as interesting as it is in Africa.” And, I mused on that for awhile. I decided my next blog would be “Living a life that is blogworthy (no matter where you are.)” What does it look like to live a blogworthy life? What does it mean to live a blogworthy life? Exciting, daring, adventurous, interesting? Is it just that Africa is different, is it because we long to live different or is it more?

There has been a ringing phrase in my head lately... “Don't waste His grace.” Wasted Grace. What is wasted grace? Here is how Paul defines it in1 Cor. 15:10
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them--yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

Paul was saved and made holy and made an apostle by the grace of God. Was Paul going to waste that gracious gift lavished upon him? He said, “It is not without effect” which means it was not in vain, or it wasn't wasted. As a result he worked harder than any of the other apostles, but even that ability and passion to work was grace. What does wasted grace look like? It looks our kids who after receiving a gift play doesn't say thank you and then plays with the box instead of the gift.

Eugene Peterson says it even better:

1 Cor. 15:10
But because God was so gracious, so very generous, here I am. And I'm not about to let his grace go to waste. Haven't I worked hard trying to do more than any of the others? Even then, my work didn't amount to all that much. It was God giving me the work to do, God giving me the energy to do it.

Wasted grace is forgetting who we really are (sinners with no hope) who are lavished with gifts to bring God glory and then doing nothing with those gifts. What do we have to show for His grace? What ongoing difference has grace made in our lives?

I think this is the start of living a blogworthy life. We can take no credit for it and we can't plan for it, but it is God working in us to give us life and then use that life to bring life to others...

I am heading back to Zambia and you can be sure that you will hear about it. May grace lead us whether in Zambia or America or wherever he leads us to live a life that others want to read about...