I made a mother wail and sob this morning. You see, about 14 years ago the government took one of her children away. About four years ago we found him and tried to get the courts to order a family reunification. But, they made every excuse possible and INTENTIONALLY left him far away from his family….to the point that they wouldn’t even allow them to meet him. For years they have ignored the case. Well, this morning government investigators showed up at the Youth Ranch. They were told that I could find almost every kid we had dealt with, and sure enough, we know his entire family. Now, it seems, they are wanting to reunite this 15-year-old with his family. And they admitted, they had messed it up in the past. So, I called the mother who sobbed on the phone and praised God that it would seem a miracle is getting ready to happen and she may be able to meet this young man face to face.
We see and deal with terrible injustices every day. Most days it is terribly frustrating. I signed up to go to court this week to testify for the family, and in defense of this kid who has been locked in an institution and not allowed family contact his entire life! How fair is that? Please pray for this family today who is now seeing a glimmer of hope!
Maybe this is a conversation that you have had with your friends, your children, or grandchildren? It seems that more and more there is a huge divide between what is right and wrong, and people accusing us of being judgmental. If we call something out as wrong and sin, suddenly we are not “loving” and we are “critical of others”. We are losing the social wars about right and wrong, because should we dare mention a sinful behavior, we are accused of being insensitive and prejudiced.
We have been having an interesting discussion with the Youth Ranch Boys about sin. It all began through our daily Bible reading as we completed the Book of Acts and moved into the Letter to the Romans. Romans chapter one led them to some interesting questions. Eric was the one thinking the hardest, and he wanted to know why sometimes I seemed to judge other’s actions, while other times I talk about loving those who sin. I figure many of us have had the same internal rumblings and doubts, so I’ll try to explain what we worked through this week.
We went through chapter one piece by piece, verse by verse, and tried to apply it to events that are occurring around us in the present.
God rages from heaven against all godlessness and the wickedness of mankind. We suppress the truth by acting in wickedness. But God has made it plain to us. Because since the creation of the world, God’s qualities have been his eternal power and divine nature. While man knew God, he chose to neither glorify him or give God thanks. So, man’s heart became futile and foolish. When man ignored God, his heart became darkened. Those who claimed to be wise became foolish in their thinking. Man began to worship created things instead of God himself.
So, God gave those men over to their sinful desires. All the evil desires of their hearts began to govern them. They chose sexual impurity and degraded their bodies with other living beings. Man exchanged God for lies. Man served created things rather than the Creator. God gave them over to their shameful lusts. Women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. Men became inflamed with lust for other men. Men commit shameful acts with other men. There are penalties for these errors.
Men turned their backs on the knowledge of God. So, God gave them over to their depraved minds and they did what should not be done. Men became filled with wickedness, evil, greed, and depravity. Men are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and malice. Men are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant, and boastful. They invent ways of doing evil. They disobey their parents. They have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Man knows that he who does such things deserves death, and yet they continue to intentionally sin.
And the last verse is where we really spent time talking this out with the boys. Verse 32 says, “Although they know God’s righteous decree, that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”
So I explained. “I love you all, and as your father, I want the best for you. I don’t want you to go through life suffering under the consequences of sinful behavior. I want you all to know a God and Father who also loves you greatly. He has a purpose and plan for your life. And the reason we study the Scriptures together is so that you can connect with Him. Now, if I accept and allow you all to do things that are wrong in God’s sight, I am failing both you and God. If I know what is correct in God’s sight, but I approve of you sinning against God, then I am wrong. If I depend upon my thoughts, ideas, and views of issues of sin, I may allow you all to do things which can lead to your spiritual death.”
“Therefore, my job is difficult. Because, I am not only the physical father in this home, but I am the spiritual father and guide. When I determine to decide what is right and wrong over what God deems to be right and wrong, I suddenly usurp God’s leadership. That means I have to really stay in communion with God, to make sure I am clear on His standards and rules. I do this not to be a dictator or because I put the law over love. I do this because I love God and know that His decrees are best for both you and me”.
It is not that I am taking on the role of judge. God is the judge, but my decrees must match up to His. I can’t make up my own rules and regulations in morality. I must mirror what God has already dictated as right and wrong. Then, we talked about specific situations and specific sins we have had to face here in our home. While it was not an easy conversation to have, as we worked through Romans chapter one, we all learned a lot. And we were all able to reflect on times when we’ve gotten this right, or when we’ve messed up.
The truth is that everything we do here seems to almost always involve a risk. Have you ever tried out something new, gone to a new restaurant, or dared to take an adventurous trip, only to regret having done so? Have you ever eaten at a new joint, only to go home and sit on the toilet and wished you could turn back time, and turn off the diarrhea?
I took the boys out to eat last night. I’m not sure I’ll ever go back. For weeks a friend had been taking about a new little “taco hole in the wall” place. By hole-in-the-wall she really meant that literally. This place was approximately eight feet wide, and probably twenty-five feet long. In it, they had shoved a small taco stand cart, a few plastic tables, and all the gear they needed to put out some simple Mexican food. For weeks we had talked about going. She discovered an interesting Mexican’ dish we had not found anywhere else, and she wanted me to try it out.
I’m not normally the “Hey, let’s go try out a new place” type of guy. I tend to stick with what is familiar, because more often than not it is “safer” to do so. I am also allergic to menus. I am not excited at the adventure of digging my way through some new list of food items. My nature is to simply play it safe and go with what I know. When I travel with friends or am in the US, I rely on what people can guarantee me is “really good”. Where I do dare to adventure much more is in food buffets, because you can look at the item and guess if you want to try it or not. If the food item is looking back at me, then I’m probably not interested.
It was Eric’s birthday, and he was excited I had offered to go out at night with the entire crew for dinner. We almost never venture out at night, and never with everyone. But we felt like it was the night to do so. So, we drove to the next village over and found the little restaurant sitting right off of the park. They had five little tables, so we pulled four tables out and took our seats on tiny plastic benches. I tend to notice the small things, and kitchen hygiene is always interesting to me.
In this place, the door was nearly blocked by the taco cart, and you had to squeeze past that to get into the narrow alley joint. Any fire-marshal I know would have a fit! The bathroom was simply a dry-walled off nook in the corner, and there was no water. They had a little plastic bucket and some hand soap to wash your hands. We ordered and pretty much in front of us they began to prepare the food. I noticed they didn’t wash stuff. The two ladies just wiped it on their aprons. They let some of the tortillas roll across their prep table, and two hit the floor. One lady quickly picked them up and tossed them back into the basket.
By that point I realized we were in the high-risk factor by eating there. We try not eating out on the streets, but this place was the equivalent of eating out on the street, in an alley! They served us our food, but then we realized they only had a few real places. So, as we ordered more tacos or Mexican torta sandwiches, they switched to Styrofoam. Then, I requested a fork. They searched all over, finally finding one in the dirty dishes bucket. They don’t even have silverware? The lady took her apron, turned her back, wiped it off, and then spun around and handed it to me. Well there!
Upon leaving, we headed up an alley and back street back to where we had to leave our truck. On the way, we encountered two drunks, one mumbling curses, and the other urinating in the dead middle of the alley making the boys laugh. On our ride home Eric was riding shotgun with me watching traffic and keeping an eye out for drunks. We spotted four cars we are sure were being driven under the influence or by super distracted drivers. People in the streets, motorcycles without lights, cars abandoned in the middle of the lane. After twenty+ minutes we made it home. We were exhausted. It was quite an adventure.
And I guess, that is why I learned from a young age to play it safe, because that is what mom taught us. She was always worried about us eating something that would make us sick for a week. She would scour the menu seeking things that “seemed safe”. If it had uncooked meat, lettuce or uncooked veggies, or super-high-risk items like strawberries, we were probably not allowed to touch it. And dad worried about the risks we undertook being out at night. There are so many risks in running around late on Latin American’ streets, so we are normally safe at home by 6pm.
When we returned home, I went up to my room to pull off my coat and gear. As I did so, my stomach rumbled. “Oops!”, I thought to myself as I headed back down to the bathroom. And sure enough, one of the boys was on my toilet. I was soon informed that all the toilets were occupied. That’s not a good sign! Finally, I got my turn, and as I sat high on the mountaintop contemplating the great wisdom’s of the world, a Scripture came to mind.
1 Peter 4: 12-13 says this: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”
See, there is a Bible verse for every occasion, and I’m sure this is what author of first Peter had in mind when he wrote this. Because I was feeling the fiery trial that had come upon me. Something strange was happening to me. I was paying the price for the adventure we had undertaken by trying out a new little taco joint.
Honorio lived with us for a few years, but about three years ago it was time for him to head out on his own. Last year he started his own publicity business, and now it is growing and he is growing! This week I put him to work doing some new designs for me for a new project we will soon undertake. Then, he asked me for a favor. He has learned that he can count on us, and that I count on him. So he purchased a new industrial printer that can print out large stickers and decals. Another friend of ours trained him how to use it, and now he needs to move it to his own business. So, could we help him with that. Well, yes we can. So today we pick it up and we either deliver it today or tomorrow.
Santos needs new glasses so we have him an appointment at a local optometrist’s office.
The pickup is having issues with its transmission, so it goes into the shop.
We meet again with the insurance company, about getting the repairs completed on the Hyundai truck.
We’ve paid for the parts for the Honda motorcycle, and hopefully today or tomorrow our mechanic gets it repaired and back to us.
One of our boys completes his final exams today and has a “virtual prom” on Zoom? Interesting!
We deliver food to a family who asked us for some help. They also need viral medications for a serious disease, we hope to find that and purchase that for them.
Hopefully our teacher shows up because Joel and Jorge are coming back over to catch up on two months of homework they did not do with their mother.
I meet with another organization trying to get a start and funding for a project God has led them to start. We think we can help them.
We will deliver one of our old freezers to an organization here in town that asked if we could get them one.
So, some guys dropped off a 2002 Honda CRV at our mechanic’s shop so he could check it out and we could test drive it. It is “immaculate, perfectly clean, and needs no work”. Asking price, $5,700. Nice!
As they talked, Wilson pointed out some problems, and they asked if he could repair them. Clutch needs work. Brakes are almost out. Back end makes a weird sound. Paint is a mess so what would a full paint job cost? Inside filthy and the cloth needs a good cleaning or replacing. Windshield is cracked………
So Wilson called me laughing. The “immaculate” car must have been immaculately conceived…..because it needs a ton of work. So, on to the next car!
Juggling balls. All day long, juggling balls. But, we made progress. Please help us pray about two little Honda CRV’s. Both are nice, and not too high of miles, identical in every other way. But one is $900 cheaper and already here in town with ttl on it. We urgently need another vehicle as……..the transmission is messing up on the Nissan Pickup truck, and tomorrow it goes to the shop. So, we would have 3/4 vehicles in the shop! Ha! Good grief!
It was a calm morning to/during/and back from worship. But honestly, I was nodding off during the Bible study. I’m exhausted! Tomorrow begins another busy week. We have a few major projects we are behind on, and some new things on the horizon. I’ve spent part of this afternoon calling through some of our families to check in on them and make sure they are well. We want to make sure they have what they need for the week ahead.
The conversation started with quite an interested comment from one of our boys. “I don’t need money. I don’t need to be rich or even famous. I have you. And because I have you, I have a home, food, clothes, a Playstation, a nice warm bed, and I cats and goats. That is all I need. If I didn’t have you, I wouldn’t have any of those things!”
Jesus never instructed us to build our own kingdoms, but to invest in His Kingdom. When I spend time with some of my friendships from the past twenty years, it quickly becomes obvious in what they invest their time, money, and lives. It is clear what is most important to them. Some invest in a hobby or a sport. Others invest in their families or friendships. Some shock me at the way they waste all that God has given them; many do not follow Christ, so their investments of course are not about Him.
But this leads me to the questions I am always asked when I travel.
“Why on earth do you do what you do?”
“What do you get out of it?”
“When do you plan on quitting and starting a normal life?”
“How on earth will you retire if you don’t have any money?”
These questions, independently, say a lot about a person’s view of life. But, the answer is simple. I don’t invest in my life. I invest my life in the lives of others, to further His Kingdom. It has never been my intention to build my own “Markville”. Everything that I administer is His and will continue being His long after I’ve stepped into eternity. The Bible says to “Seek first His Kingdom, and everything else will fall into place”.
Matthew 30-34 “If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. [The Message Bible]
Father God. I don’t need money. I don’t need to be rich or even famous. I have you. And because I have you, I have a home, food, clothes, a working computer, a nice warm bed, and I cats and goats. I’m blessed to have a home FULL of wonderful sons that I get to raise. That is all I need. If I didn’t have you, I wouldn’t have any of those things!”