Sunday, February 24, 2013

This Week in Ministry (02/24/13)

It's that time of the week again! A lot has happened since I last wrote a post about the ministry, so let's see what's been happening in the ministry in the last week(s)...

1. I started volunteering as an English teacher in a Latino Presbyterian church near my house. They were looking for a new teacher to teach intermediary English. I went  to the church just to observe one Tuesday night, but the pastor, who at the time was teaching the class,  told me "Oh it's so good that you are here! I have a hospital emergency and I need to leave. Here is the material, can you teach the class tonight?". And that's how it started.

2. One of the youth who we used to serve in San Francisco is now living one block from where I live! I've had the pleasure of visiting him and his new born baby a couple of times. It has been such a great blessing!

3. Our relationship with the immigrant community in East Oakland keeps growing! We keep planning some hang out time with them, and many of them are improvised, Latino style! A couple of weeks ago, for example, one of them taught me and one team member how to make hand made tortillas. I'm still learning how to make them, as this seemingly simple skill is no simple at all. But the taste, oh my, once you go hand made you can't go back!

4. The choir keeps growing! We have 3 new volunteers and finally one girl to balance all of our testosterone filled voices! It's not all shine and candy in this musical land, as many times I feel inadequate directing the choir. Please pray for me.

Me looking weird with one of the new choir members
5. I've been feeling the need to go back to my Latino roots more than ever. I'm also desiring to connect with the poor by simplifying my life. They cut one more day from my job, and I want to use the opportunity to readjust my budget and live more simply. This means not getting all of my food from the grocery store, for example, but getting it donated by volunteering for food giveaways for example.

That's it for this week! See you next!

Friday, February 22, 2013

I'm Not My Accomplishments

I have a confession to make.

Many times in my life I struggle with who I am, or rather think I am, because of my accomplishments.

I start many things that I never finish. I'm 27 years old and  I haven't finished college. I didn't go through seminary for more than 2 years.

When I finally started in full ministry as a missionary I didn't do the ministry that I was hoping, because I didn't give my all.

I can make a frustratingly long list of things I didn't finish, or I ultimately do half-heartedly. Sometimes my mind ruminates, consciously and subconsciously, over this long list, and comes to the wrong conclusion that I'm somehow not good enough.

I'm lazy, I'm inconsistent, I'm unreliable. A simple look at this list can certainly lead to such conclusions about myself.

And then, in the midst of all this self-pity party, I can miss a very important truth about myself: I am not my accomplishments.

I can't base my identity on them. I can't base my self esteem on them. I can't build my life around them.

I think I'm not the only one who struggles with this. After all, in our western culture we tend to value more what we can or can't do than who we really are.

There is a powerful danger in this tendency, however. It is a destructive two edged sword where in the end, no matter where it strike us, still does great harm to us.

On one end, if our accomplishments are little, according to this world and its cultures, our self esteem suffers. We think of ourselves as worthless and perhaps lacking some nature that others with far bigger accomplishments have.

On the other end, if our accomplishments are many, according to this world and its cultures, our self esteem suffers as well. It suffers because we think we are all that, that of course we have that special nature that others simply lack.

How do we avoid these two horns?

I'm starting to go on the slow road of seeing things in a different way. Basing my life on my accomplishments will ultimately kill me.

I can only base it in who I am in Christ. If I build my house on the rock, then I will not perish.

It is simple, and yet its simplicity can elude us.

Yesterday, as I was getting ready to lead the choir for the youth group, I decided to pray: God, if everything goes badly, then help me to realize that that alone doesn't define me. Help me not to base my self esteem in my accomplishments. If everything goes well, then help me to give all the glory to You, for I can't base my self esteem on that as well.

People tell me it went well, but I didn't think it did. I was feeling a bit down. "Why do you think it went bad?" asked me surprised one member of the choir. "Did we do something wrong?"

"No I think you guys did great. I just saw this guy laughing at us, trying to hold his laughter during worship"

"You know what?" He told me "I don't care anymore if they do or not laugh. I decided that I'm doing this because of Jesus, to serve Him and serve them. That's all that really matters"

Oh how easy I forget.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

So What Are You Giving Up For Lent?

Let's make more resolutions good people of Israel! I certainly need more of those, because, oddly enough, I keep forgetting about the hundred more I made before.

Lent is a time where we concentrate on our relationship with God, examine ourselves and see what is obstructing us from growing more in intimacy with Him.

It's also a great time for diets and countless temporary sacrifices that makes us miserable!

All kidding aside, Lent is not an opportunity to just make us better, lose weight or improve some areas in our lives. It is not about being self-absorbed in an ego-centric improvement track.

Lent is not about us, so let's get over ourselves.

Lent is more about our communal relationship with others and God. For if we grow in relationship with God we glorify God, and that should be our goal, glorifying God in everything that we do (1 Corinthian 10:31).

Yes, Lent is about preparation for the believer, and there is some sacrifice. But sacrifice is empty without love, and love impossible without intimacy. Sacrifice flows naturally, and dare I say many times sweetly, when is made out of love for God.

I remember when my sister came and visited us. She recently had her first baby. We took her to the mall to buy some clothes, and at one point she expressed "I can't believe this, but before I would get excited about buying clothes for myself, but now all I can think of is what to get for my little daughter".

This self-denial in her flowed naturally from her motherly love.

So let us plunge joyfully into this desert of yes, self denial, but more importantly, little acts of self giving love.

Here are my Lenten resolutions!

Eat Lent soup! What better way to celebrate and glorify this glorious season with some delicious, hot, and nutritious Lent soup? Screw fish! I'll have me some soup every Fridays.

No just kidding, here they are.

Receive communion a minimum of 3 times a week.

I know of no better way to have a more intimate connection with Christ than to receive His body and blood in the Eucharist. This should be no sacrifice at all, but a delight to partake of such precious meal.

Fast at least once a week.

Fasting not only showcases and makes tangible our need for God, for in our weakness and hunger we can fill our lives with Him, but it also connects us and increases our empathy for the poor, who can involuntarily go hungry for days.

Eat meat only twice a week.

Meat should be a luxury item in our diets, not an expected commodity. Besides the obvious health benefit of this, it is also a good way to care for creation, for the way meat is mass produced is certainly abusive.

So there they are! I will update regularly on how I'm doing with these resolutions. So what are your Lenten resolutions?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Where True Maturity Comes From

There is a saying popular in Latin American, possibly from Miguel Cervantes, that says "Tell me thy company and I tell thee what thou art".

I'm starting to believe that the best way to mature is through intimacy with God.

True maturity is more than simply imitating Christ, but becoming Christ-like.

How is He like? What is His character like? What are His values? How are we supposed to know unless we spend time with Him?

When we have an intimate encounter with God we can be eager to follow him, and in this emotional high we can pursue His teachings in perhaps unhealthy ways. Some of us get stuck in this early stage for far too long.

We can try as hard as we can to be like Christ, and follow every step correctly, at least outwardly. But character growth is not achieved overnight, it doesn't come without a fight, there is a price to pay in denying ourselves.

In this early stage we can be perceived as hypocrites and even fanatics, trying to be super gentle and sweet or whatever we perceive Christ to be for example, and people around us can easily see this act  we are trying so hard to pull off.

We can become Pharisees.

Let us, therefore, not rush into sainthood, but continue steadily, and perhaps slowly, in this race, where every step that we take is fueled and inspired by the Holy Spirit, instead of our own flesh.

Let us grow but in Christ alone, where our time spent with Him slowly changes us into the beings He created us to be.

Catholics, let us spend time with Him in the Eucharist, knowing that we become what we eat, His body and blood.

There is a story of Steve Jobs becoming orange from his obsessive diet of carrots. We become what we eat.

Evangelical Christians have showed us a great example in how to grow in Him through their love and devotion of Scriptures. We find Christ throughout Scriptures. Both Old Testament and New Testament give testimony of Christ, but we find Him specially in the Gospel narratives.

Let us therefore enjoy Christ in Scriptures, for ignoring Scriptures is ignoring Christ (St. Jerome).

I believe that, if and only if we spend our company with Christ, then we can become like Him.