I bought my first real skateboard in Thousand Oaks, California two years ago. We were back on a break from Haiti and sharing with a church there. We had gotten into skating because skateboards are small, relatively cheap, and there are free skateparks everywhere. The only one of us that had a decent board was Luke, and it was given to him years ago by a friend of ours that outgrew it. I had a board that I bought for ten dollars on Amazon and the girls had Wal-Mart boards. Lance just traded out with one of us when we weren't skating.
I was attempting to skate into a large bowl and mostly just kept falling, rolling around, and hurting myself when one of the older kids there decided to intervene for my own good. “That skateboard's too small for you. If you keep trying to skate with it you're just going to hurt yourself.” I was already accomplishing the latter part pretty well so I believed him. Another guy decided to step in. “I've got an old board I'll sell you for twenty bucks. It'll fit you.” I thought that twenty bucks was worth a risk so I took him up on the offer.
He went to his car and pulled the board out of his trunk. As soon as I stepped on it to try it out I could tell the difference immediately. The difference was so stark that I felt confident and ready to go back and tackle the park. I paid him the money and the board was mine. The only flaw was the fact that it had an Anime style pornographic cartoon on the bottom of the deck. As soon as I had paid the money I took out my pocket knife and began to scrape away the painting. It only took about thirty seconds and you couldn't even tell what was there before.
The guy was puzzled and asked what in the world I was doing. I told him that I was a pastor and I didn't want a pornographic picture on the board. Another guy was watching the whole thing and asked, “If you are a pastor, then why would you buy a board like that?” It was a good question – valid – and deserved an answer. God seems to have gifted me with the ability to look beyond the surface. I love to restore things and have worked with enough old stuff to recognize when something is solid and just needs a little TLC to become something beautiful.
It must have been the Holy Spirit working in this whole situation because I didn't even have to pause to give the guy an answer. I told him that this is what Jesus did for me personally and what he does to save sinners. He comes to us and sees us with all of our sin. We are filthy before him, but He buys us with His blood. He saves us from the wrath of God that we rightly deserve. This is justification – when we are purchased and declared right before him. He then takes us and begins to make us like Him cleaning us up through the power of the Holy Spirit. This process can be painful – just like scraping away the picture with the knife – and we can bear the scars of our sin. I was holding a wonderful example of this in my hand as the deep knife grooves depicted the process of removing the pornography. Then He takes us with Him and gives us the privilege to participate with Him in the work that He is doing.
I would like to say that this guy repented, gave His life to Christ, or even asked more questions. But this is real life. Instead he just stared at me and didn't say anything else. Everyone in the park had stopped skating when he asked the question to hear how I was going to answer. I just let the words hang for a while. The silence was eventually broken by the skaters going back to skating. It didn't seem like he or anyone else wanted to know anymore so I just started skating too. With the new board it almost looked like I knew what I was doing.
John 6:44 "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.
I love the movie Amazing Grace. It is definitely one of my favorites. I can identify in some way with most of the main characters. I love the passion of Wilberforce and the obvious calling of God on his life through circumstances beyond his own initiative. I identify with the rough edges of Clarkson during one of the first meetings when asked ,”Do any of you saints drink?” and Clarkson pulls out a flask and answers, “Well this one bloody does”. Later also as he is referred to disdainfully as a “certain itinerant clergyman”. However unusual it may sound I identify the most of all with Olauda Equiano – the slave. I'm sure that I can get roasted for saying this in our current political climate, but it is true. I relate because we have the same Jesus who saved us both from sin.
The first time I saw the movie I noticed the short scene where Equiano was signing books. I thought to myself that this must be a real book, and if it was that I must read it. As soon as the movie was over I went online and searched for the book. I found it in about five minutes and downloaded a free copy from Project Gutenberg. I started reading it and couldn't stop. I went to Amazon and found a hard copy. When it arrived I continued to reading it and it remains one of my favorite books. It is an amazing picture of the gospel.
Equiano was kidnapped from Africa with his sister and sold into slavery. He eventually sailed all of the world and endured hardships that are difficult to imagine. After many years he was able to save enough money to buy his freedom. He says, “I believe there are few events in my life which have not happened to many; it is true the incidents of it are numerous, and did I consider myself an European, I might say my sufferings were great; but when I compare my lot with that of most of my countrymen, I regard myself as a particular favorite of heaven, and acknowledge the mercies of Providence in every occurrence of my life.” The things that happened to him were horrible and inexcusable however, they are also the events that brought him to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. He was keenly aware of this fact and grateful for it.
I've tried reading Wilberforce and Clarkson. They are both good writers and I like to read them, but always lose focus and interest before I can complete one of their books. Equiano on the other hand, I can't put down and can read over and over again. Equiano actually seems the most grounded of the three. Clarkson and Wilberforce are a little out there. Especially Clarkson. The thing that I learn from them is that maybe you have to be a little bit out there to take up the gauntlet of sharing the gospel as revealed in social issues as a life's calling. This I an relate to. You need to be an outcast to care about outcasts.
The first time we came back from Haiti we were pretty strung out because we were overwhelmed with the magnitude of issues that God was revealing to us. Among the myriad of issues were the children that we were ministering to. The unthinkable stories of abuse and torture that had fractured their personalities, and the presence of manifest demonic among them seemed insurmountable. I had arranged a meeting with a pastor that had visited Haiti and initially gave us advice in this realm. He is like us and identifies with the outcasts. We sat down and talked with him and a guy that he is mentoring that had been to Haiti with him.
We explained the things we were seeing and he seemed to understand experimentally all too well what we were explaining to him. I explained and he listened patiently. In the end he could have given us any myriad of morsels of advice that would have been significantly beneficial to our current circumstance. Instead, he chose one piece of advice that we are just now starting to grasp and put into practice three years later. “What your are dealing with is going to drive you crazy if you don't find an outlet. You have to bring some normalcy into your life. Go to movies, find a hobby, but don't get bogged down in this stuff and let it overwhelm you.” That was it. That was basically all the advice from a seasoned saint on the same turf. I understand now how valuable that advice is.
Our local library has tons of movies on the shelves and even more in the network that we can request. At least once a week now we can check out a movie. We're getting caught up and I am beginning to understand pop American culture a little better. I'm getting a vocabulary to converse. Some of my favorites have been the Batman series with Christian Bale. I thought it was most interesting when he was formulating the symbol of the bat. He realized that he needed something that transcended himself and would strike fear in the heart of his enemies. This just happened to be the same fear that he had to overcome himself.
I spent much time afraid as a child. I had a difficult time sleeping because of constant nightmares. I remember the first time I really felt that not only did I not have to be afraid, but I was to be feared. I was in BUDs doing night surf passage. As our boat crew was paddling the boats in the dark I realized that we were the scariest thing out there. It was empowering and I never forgot it.
As I thought about how these lessons applied to my life currently I wondered what the devil is most afraid of. Angels in general are pretty scary things on their own. Good and bad angels are both scary in their own right and context. Specifically the Angel of the Lord as depicted in 2 Kings 19:35 That night the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning-- there were all the dead bodies!
I have begun to learn about and use offensive prayers. We are told to submit to God and resist the devil in James 4:7. A person that has been washed clean by the blood of Christ, adopted into the family by God the Father, and empowered by the Holy Spirit has been given authority to resist the devil. This has to be the scariest thing that a person can be to our enemy. Someone that is aware of his schemes, filled with the Holy Spirit, and engages in active resistance against him. The night after watching Batman I felt empowered to live out my faith in an active resistance against the enemy. I was tired of taking his crap.
I spent some time in prayer worshiping God, giving glory to His name, and asking to be filled with the Holy Spirit. I prayed against satan and his demons. I prayed that any demons that were actively engaged in harassing my family or I would be cut off from help from other demons. I prayed that they would be tormented tenfold whatever they were trying to do to us. I prayed that satan and any demons that were in my presence would be blind, deaf, mute, and unable to touch my family or I. I told them I didn't want them here, and they were unwelcome intruders that had no place with my family or I. Then I commanded them to leave. I gave them no quarter.
That night I had a strange dream. I have learned to distinguish normal dreams from dreams that are somehow connected to a spiritual battle. This was the latter. I dreamed that I was walking down a road in the dark. The moon was shining and there was mist all around. I was nearing a mailbox. When I got close to the mailbox someone came along and kicked it and it floated down the road. When I got to the place where the mailbox landed there were two young twin ladies standing there. They had dark hair and fair skin and stood there glaring at me. I don't know how but somehow I knew who they were. I began to speak and pointed to one of them and said, “You can only hear”. Upon saying this the other one glared at me and said “Yes, and I can only speak!”. When she said this she reached out to me and began to reach into my stomach. I felt pain and commanded her to stop in the name of Jesus. I was awakened by saying the name of Jesus out loud. There are many symbols that could be analyzed from the dream, but the point that I came away with was that my prayers had been effective and someone was mad. I went back to sleep satisfied that I had the upper hand.
In addition to watching movies we have also taken up hobbies. I guess skateboarding is the closest thing to normal that I can find to do at this phase of life. It is cheap and convenient compared to any of the other past hobbies I've tried. The first time I went to the skatepark here we started out as the only ones there. After a while a young man about 15 years old showed up. He started skating and was trying a trick on top of a ramp. After a couple of tries and failures he began to yell obscenities and slam his skateboard against the ramp.
If you have eyes to see you can see beyond the f bombs and the loss of control. You can know that there is no way in the world that a kid has that much rage stemming only from 5 minutes and a couple of failed tricks. I know personally what it's like to have struggled with an undercurrent of anger and deeper issues that have been suppressed and not dealt with. The difference with me is that I have a Savior to lead me to healing. I watched this kid and began to pray for him, that God would save his soul, and bring healing to his pain.
I have become more sensitive to culture, language, and communication. Skaters are an interesting group. Mostly introverted, anti-social, economically low income, driven, perfectionistic, and honest. Their common language is skating. I began to realize this when I would show up and another skater would come zooming by and do some trick right next to me. Maybe they would glance my way, and then zoom off. This is how you greet someone in skate. Rarely ever are actual words exchanged between individuals. Normally the only words that are spoken are profanities screamed for missed tricks.
There is an interesting dynamic that happens there. The regular skaters don't tolerate smack talk and it seems to be all put up or shut up. If you can't skate you usually don't run your mouth, you just show what you can do. If you can't skate and your trying this is OK too, and most other skaters will actually provide encouragement. Just don't say that you can if you can't. If you come and run your mouth but can't actually skate, you will soon be shamed by all those around you who can. These guys seem to never last more than an hour before slinking away. There is an open honesty that exists because of this. The skateboard and the concrete don't lie and you will soon be shown for who you are no matter how much you run your mouth.
The drug use is pretty prolific. Little effort is made to conceal it. The only real conversation that I've been able to have came one night after I earned some clout for getting into an argument with a guy that was playing loud profane rap music. Everyone was annoyed with him. I asked him politely to turn it down and he immediately began to threaten me. I just called the police and then things settled down. It turns out everyone was happy because they didn't like him, but didn't have a leg to stand up to him because of their own illegal activity. We talked for a while and all of them opened up to me about their drug use. They felt comfortable sharing with me and I just listened. It is obvious that they are just self medicating for deeper issues. Issues that only Christ can overcome.
I have become very suspicious of various gimmicks to share the gospel. Even more suspicious of conversions using these gimmicks, especially when discipleship is defined as teaching the gimmick in a way to be taught to others. I had a discussion about this with a pastor friend who asked me indirectly and arrogantly, “When people say they don't like to use gimmicks, I just turn around and ask them – Then what are YOU using.” My reply brought an unexpected reaction. I just told him that I try to get to know people and ask them personal questions about their life. He was actually stunned, began to stutter, and then changed the subject. I have come to believe that we need to get to know someone personally to the point that when we share the gospel with them we understand their specific pain enough that Christ is the only solution we can offer as relief. Matthew 11:27 "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
It was good to be asked to begin counseling and to be able to use the training we have been through so far, our practical experience, and knowledge of scripture. The only problem is that we hear the depths of human depravity as we seek to bear one another's burdens. This has become a familiar place and I know that Amy and I have been called to it. We are learning to do it better and in such a way that we can continue to be effective for long term. I skate. Amy has taken up pottery and it is a wonderful thing indeed. So many directly applicable spiritual lessons.
I try to get feedback from the kids on our life. The way we have been living like vagabonds and currently in a camper that is in disrepair, the unpredictable present and future, along with the obvious spiritual war that we are constantly engaged in. Lance gave me an unexpected answer the last time we talked about this. He said that life was more interesting this way. I asked him to clarify and he said that he can look at what life could have been through those around him. He said that our life is never boring and he likes it better that way.
We have been praying about what is next. While we wait for God to provide this answer we have been engaged in dialogue with organizations that Disciples Outpost might be able to partner with internationally. Nothing has materialized yet, but God knows the timing. The longer we spend out of Haiti the more it seems that returning is probably not going to be an option. The good side is that relationships that we formed there continue to grow and we stay in communication with both Haitians and ex pats that we bonded with.
I truly relate to the outcasts - that group of weary disciples that followed Jesus to their death with the expectant hope of eternal life. They knew where eternal life rested, and they were judged by all around them. Self proclaimed saints and sinners alike. I relate even more as I am judged and ridiculed by those around me. I have been yelled at to my face by family, mocked through undertones from various pulpits, and ignored by the religious elite. Should I expect any different than my Lord? I don't fit into a mold. I wasn't made to. In the end all that I care about hearing is “well done good and faithful servant.” The joy of expecting to hear this drowns out the current scoffers.
Like Peter, it is the validation of the Holy Spirit Himself that counts. I will continue to follow Him. May the name of Jesus Christ be glorified.
Acts 4:13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.