Thursday, March 29, 2012

The New Normal

     24 years old. I remember the feeling of disembarking the plane that had carried me from Quito, Ecuador to the United States. I looked forward to eating cheeseburgers, drinking Mountain Dew and not struggling so hard to communicate. I had accomplished what I set out to do in completing the AIM program and was coming home. But as the days unfolded, there was something not quite right. Something was different. It was not just that my elementary-aged brothers had aged or my other siblings had already left home. Something was missing. 
     That something…was normal. I wanted to get back to normal. 
     Normal as defined by the dictionary means “conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; regular.” Normal defined by our emotions is slipping back into a place where we feel safe, accepted, at home. Though we may not be able to put it to words we sense that we will know it when we feel it and we can become quite disoriented when we don’t. This shows up with significantly more intensity if we have longed for “normal”, only realizing on arrival that it has escaped us. 
     Peter knew normal. Normal was sitting in a gently rocking boat. Normal was feeling the weight of the nets as he tossed them into the sea. Normal was looking across at his brother and co-worker, Andrew, as he had done since he was young. But his normal gave way to something else. The traveling Rabbi wanted just a little at first, use of the boat as a buffer for the crowds. Then he asked for more: a dirtying of already cleaned nets, exertion of already tired muscles, pressing of already strained patience. But then Peter was a witness to the amazing. In that moment he was changed, humbled, compelled to confess. But then the Rabbi did the most peculiar thing. He didn’t let Peter slip back into normal. He called him out of it. He called him into the adventure. 
     This is you, fellow child of God who has taken the challenge of AIM. You experienced God, just a little at first, but He kept coming back for you: Inspiring you, causing you to dream dreams of great things. He wouldn’t let you go. So you signed on for the Adventure and, let’s face it, it was more than we all bargained for, but the fundamental truth is that you have changed. And when you return, you have this sense of missing something, sometimes it is subtle and sometimes it is crushing. 
     The reason this is true is the same for you as it was for Peter. God is using all aspects of your life to make you more like Him. As you change you become less and less comfortable with your surroundings. The AIM experience accelerates this dynamic, but you’re moving at such a rapid pace you may not notice its happening. Until it ends. And then all you notice is that somewhere along the way, you lost normal. 
But the truth is that God never called you to normal. He called you to become like Him and this requires you to abide in Him and in Him alone. Any other place to abide becomes competition. Though he provides us with a place to live and work to do, even your physical body is to be considered a temporary tent. 

     All of us who are giving our lives to Christ are constantly being introduced to a new normal that is not tied to our physical surroundings. The New Normal is being with Jesus no matter where we live. This New Normal is being connected with Jesus’ body, no matter what language they speak or how they do church. New Normal is being engaged wholeheartedly in the work Jesus leads us in, no matter if it is at a university, a home, a factory or a church building. This New Normal is following Jesus. Within this new normal we will find true and eternal peace, acceptance and safety; our true home. Abiding here allows us to move through all the changes He will lead us in without ever losing our footing. May God give us eyes to see and the strength to follow in the new normal that He is leading us into every day.

-Jason Thornton
Quito, Ecuador, 1992

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

All NEW - AIM Alum at the Tulsa Workshop 2012

We are very excited about the upcoming Tulsa Workshop, March 21-24, where we will be focusing on bringing the good news of Jesus to the most broken parts of our lives. I personally invite you to come and be renewed, challenged and encouraged in your journey with God and the ministry you have to the brokenness in your world. This is a FREE event whose main focus is on encouraging you, the body of Christ, to continue to follow Jesus with all their hearts. 

This month marks the 9th year we will have had an AIM Alumni event with the Tulsa Workshop as our backdrop. Every year we have around 70 AIM alumni come together to share in our common heritage. We have decided to make some needed improvements in order to make that experience much better. We are actually hosting 2 different events which complement each other and, we believe, will bless you even more.

Thursday, March 22nd
All the words in blue are links to other web pages for more info.

12:00 PM (Noon) – AIM Unplugged 

  • Location:  Memorial Drive Church of Christ, 9th and Memorial (747 South Memorial Drive • Tulsa, Oklahoma )
  • Spaghetti Dinner and informal meeting
  • Candi Moran (Dearen) (AIM 1998) will provide a Spaghetti dinner. This is for your whole family. The cost will be $4 a person. This includes spaghetti, salad, bread, drinks and dessert. 

Jason Thornton (AIM 1992), Chris Johnson (AIM 1997) & Jeremy Vass (AIM 1997) will share about ways the Alumni Association is working to impact the present AIM classes and ways you can join us.

7:00 PM AIM Flag Presentation – This usually occurs on Friday night so note this change.

8:30 PM – AIMapalooza
Location: Fairgrounds - Central Park #2 – Upper classroom in building to the East of the Pavilion
Purpose: One of most AIMer’s best memories is the times of praise we have together. We invite you to come and join with AIMers from many generations, including this present AIM class, to have a time to praise God with all our hearts. 

-Jason Thornton, AIM 1992, Ecuador

Click the link--> Tulsa Fairgrounds/Expo Square for grounds map and additional information.

We're also in the process of organizing an AIMapalooza-Malibu event during the Pepperdine Lectureships in Malibu, CA May 1-4, 2012! Keep your eyes and ears open for more details later! Though it won't appear on any official schedule. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Improvement Deficiency Syndrome

There’s an all too common disease that thwarts all the greatest efforts toward lasting self-improvement, and it’s called:  Improvement Deficiency Syndrome (IDS).

IDS occurs in both men and women, old and young, across seemingly every demographic and socio-economic sector.  IDS appears early in some, has a late onset in others.  The symptoms of IDS include the following:

  1. Persistent resistance to a positive attitude.
  2. The ability to hear hundreds of sermons and still not improve.
  3. Inborn selfishness that exhibits itself with repeated flare-ups.
  4. Sudden anger, jealousy, and easily taking offense at something obscure.
  5. Pervasive self-pity and the justification necessary to feed it.
  6. The making of excuses to cover one’s lack of growth.
  7. The continued placement of self at the center of the universe.
  8. The ability to see any self-serving action as justifiable and righteous.

These symptoms are serious.  If you or anyone you know appears to be exhibiting these effects, see your Ally immediately.  If you detect that being in a positive environment, reading scripture, and associating with uplifting people is having no effect on your attitude, heart, or service towards others- seek help fast.  You may be a chronic IDS sufferer. 

Don’t take this lightly.  Already, millions of people around the world have been identified as having symptoms of IDS.  It has destroyed friendships, ruined marriages, derailed careers, and lost souls.  The trickiest part about identifying the presence of IDS is that the afflicted person, having become familiar with so much scripture, knows how he or she should be behaving.  This leads to effective masking, as the person with IDS “fakes” the correct behaviors to cover up for his or her lack of a growing heart.  Bad attitudes are hidden under false smiles; anger and jealousy are shrouded in an artificially spiritual attitude; selfishness and pity are positioned behind a platitude of positive sayings and cryptic one-liners.

Beware of the sufferers of IDS.  Such people are among the most self-deceived of our species.  They think by doing the right things they are becoming the right person.  They mistake deeds for development, actions for intent, and works for heart.  In short, they think by acting better they actually have become better. 

Should you encounter sufferers of IDS; administer prayer immediately.  Although the serious debilitating effects of IDS can explain their behavior, it will never be acceptable.  Get them to see their Savior immediately.  Apply heavy doses of tough love and an insistence upon a change that takes place deep inside, at the heart level, spiritually.  Nothing less has ever been found to work.  

-Jeremy "Tigger" Vass

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Road Less Travelled By

“The Road Less Travelled By” written by Robert Frost is one of my favorite poems. I especially love the last three lines:
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

I wonder why in the poem the less travelled road made all the difference to the person. I suppose the answer is irrelevant. I suppose the point is that being the road less travelled there was something present that the road had to offer the traveler—something good.

Following Jesus is like that.  Being a disciple of Jesus makes an eternal  difference in our lives as it is the road less travelled by—even in today’s world of relativism and intolerance (in spite of all the vocalized views for tolerance).

Jesus said,
“Go in through the narrow gate. The gate that leads to destruction is broad and the road wide, so many people enter through it. But the gate that leads to life is narrow and the road difficult, so few people find it.” Matthew 7:13-14 CEB

But we are able to find the gate/road to eternal life.  It’s not a hopeless pursuit. 

There was a time in my life as a younger Christian when I wanted to give up being a Christian--not because I no longer believed God existed or that Jesus was no longer my Savior. I was worn out. I was tired. Tired of struggling with sin. Tired of wrestling with myself and Satan. Tired of watching people fight. And I thought that if I gave up, then I wouldn't have to wrestle anymore. Life would be easier. 

But I knew I was wrong in my so called logic. And I knew that I was struggling with following Satan's lies--the easy road. 

Jesus also said,
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  --John 14:1-6 NIV

I knew that if I gave up on God, what that consequence would be. That, and Ed Wharton's class on Christian evidences was very convicting for me to remain faithful. Life with God is far better than a life without Him--in this world and in the next. And so Jesus is that gate through which we must pass. 

And so for Christians, following Jesus is the road less traveled. God gave us grace through Jesus. He took a hard road to bring us eternal life. I don't imagine it was easy for Jesus. He was tempted, and yet was without sin. He probably wrestled with His humanity. He fought Satan. He watched people fight. And yet He endured because He knew what He was going through was worth it to save us. And He knew that life with God was far better than a life without Him. And for us. So Jesus understands how rough life it at times. 

And so He died for us. I don't know of any other "god" that has done that for people. 

Jesus took the road less travelled by--and that has made all the eternal difference. 

-Jewel Melton
AIM 2002, Croatia

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

He Hears You, Dear One

The support ran out weeks ago. 

Your parents want you “home”.

The people at your congregation keep asking how your “vacation” is going.

Your team keeps fighting.
You and God haven’t spoken in days. 

What do you do when It seems the world has turned its back on you? What do you do when you have only your sword and shield against the invisible armies pumped to end your life at any second? What do you do when you can’t think of how to stay, but you can’t bear to go?

I was in this situation. I lived this reality six years ago. I was in a situation that was wonderful and full of pain all at the same time. The months where you feel isolated. You are eating beans, rice, and whatever moldy vegetables you can find in the back of your cabinet. The days spent crying in bed. 

Crying out to a God who you can’t hear. 

Crying out for comfort. 

Crying out for guidance.

Just crying out for a hug. 

He hears you. Oh pilgrim, he hears you. You are now wandering through a land that is not your own. You can count your belongings on your right hand. You can count your supporters on the other. You may be discouraged like you never thought possible. 

He hears you.

He hears you when you cry out in the night. So isolated because this language is not your own, and you have trouble even trying to buy a cup of coffee. So alone because you can’t seem to connect with the very people paired up to journey with you into the barren land. So afraid because the book you hold in your hand isn’t giving you the comfort and joy it once imparted. 

He hears you.

He loves you, my wonderful friend, He loves you more than you can imagine. Every day his heart bleeds tears for your sorrow. He is trying to speak to you. He is sending his message to You.

I love you dear one. I hear you, and I see you. 

So you wake up every morning. You thank Him for small victories. The car started. The bus ran on time. Your team prayed together. You hugged through the tears. You walk forward. Your head held high with the knowledge of love. With the intention of sharing, of loving, of giving, of serving, of praying, and of preaching. You thank our Father for his grace, and you keep going.

He hears you.

He loves you.

-Lydia Mulligan (Weatherly) 

West Mains, Scotland AIM 2005

Monday, January 23, 2012

Catching Up

Before writing this, I took a minute to just sit… and breathe. I’d like to invite you to do the same. Just take one moment to take in a deep breath… and let it out.

A lot of us can relate to feeling too busy. All of us have heard sermons of various kinds telling us that we need to set aside time to spend alone, to pray, to meditate, to read. Similarly, we have all heard “shoulda/coulda/woulda” stories from older men and women that we need to spend more quality time with our families and friends. We all struggle through knowing whether or not to dedicate time to this or that activity, to volunteer with this or that group, or to teach this or that class. Most of us know what’s most important to us, but then there are also bills to pay and houses to clean and food to prepare and everything else in the world to take care of. 

I certainly don’t have the answer for these predicaments, but I would like to address at least one aspect of the issue – do you sometimes feel like you’re behind? Like if somehow you can take the maximum hours in school that you’ll make up for the fact that you’ve been living abroad for a couple of years? Whether you’re going through Sunset or a university or cosmetology school or just working up the ladder, are you rushing through this phase so you can “catch up”? Do you even know what would it look like to be caught up? 

Does the end goal matter more than the way we get there? The Bible is replete with examples of patience and encouragements to live now. If we are looking to the future, it’s with the mindset of heaven being our home. I would like to encourage all of us to be grateful for the experiences we’ve had, even if they were really trying, and to be content with what God has for us in this moment. If that’s proving impossible, maybe it’s a sign that God wants you somewhere else. But before you decide one way or the other, make sure you talk with God about it, and with others you trust. If our whole lives are about what’s coming next, well, we’re not guaranteed anything but today, so let’s dedicate ourselves to making life count regardless of whether we’re married yet or have a degree yet or have a career yet or have a mission team yet. 

God wants our lives now. And if that feels like a burden instead of a blessing, I would challenge us to take a look at our lives and think of one thing we could drop. It could be the tiniest thing that’s sucking out that last bit of energy from our day. Remember, God is omnipotent, not us, and he will equip us to do every good thing we’re called to do. Rest in that promise, and let yourself be a little less busy today.

"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." - 2 Corinthians 3:17

-Brettin White
 Tlalpan, Mexico 
 AIM 2007

Monday, January 16, 2012

Revolution Today

If I could do one revolutionary act today                                    
... I'd listen
If I could do one revolutionary act today
... I'd give my possessions and my friendship
If I could do one revolutionary act today  
... I would mind the gap between household and nation  
If I could do one revolutionary act today
... I'd give my lovingkindness one more time to 'the                    

If I could do one revolutionary act today

... I would love those who love me

... I would love those who don't love me well

... I would love those who don't love me at all

If I could do one revolutionary act today
... I would close my lips to argument
If I could do one revolutionary act today

... I would give my lunch to one waiting on a paycheck

If I could do one revolutionary act today
... I would work an extra shift so someone could travel the world
If I could do one revolutionary act today
... I'd give my patience to that one annoying person
If I could do one revolutionary act today
... I would encourage those who encourage
If I could do one revolutionary act today
... I would ask my neighbor 'how are you eating?'

 If I were the revolution today
... I would be the peace meal of a slain people, shared between the survivors and the killers    in places like Rwanda, in Israel/Palestine and in the Americas
 If I were the revolution today
 ... I would be the extended hand, no matter how different
 If I were the revolution today
 ... hanging in bedrooms of palaces and white houses of power I'd be the dreamcatcher  retelling the nightmares of suffering in labor camps, sweatshops, prisons, deserted places of empire and the ghettos of wealth
 If I were the revolution today
 ... I'd be the change of mind in the deathdealer to give living a second try
 If I were the revolution today
 ... I'd be the renovated structure of sex trafficking and drug peddling turned organism of food gardens and no cost housing where 'the haves' and 'the have nots' find a                              common rhythm to live by
If I were the revolution today
... I'd be the pulse of the doctor who practices medicine among those who will never be able to pay the bill
If I were the revolution today
... I'd be the better world maker's thoughts spray painted in the sky so empires won't crush their heart with a dream no one can afford

... someone will forgive regardless of the wrongdoing
... someone will leave a soon to be dead life behind for a resurrected now
... an unwanted child will be taken from the trashlands and raised to birth love
... a peacemaker will leave a fresh change of heart for an angry mob to clothe their nakedness with

... someone will lay down the way of the gun for the fruits of the Spirit

... a household will harbor refugees

... a family will have enough food to share with their hungry neighbor

... an addict will be released from their chains

... someone will throw a birthday party for a prostitute

... prisoners will bless a cruel guard

... someone will sing jubilantly of another world ripening in the face of the emperor's sickle

... an aged and dying person will be cared for and instilled with dignity until their last exhale
... a hopeless leader will see a way of peace and hope thriving in the lives of obscure and 
    weak people

-Leland Grammar
 San Diego, USA 
 AIM 2005

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Fork in the Road

           What is God doing? What does God want?  Questions I have asked often in the last two years.  There are so many ways to describe AIM to someone.  My personal favorite is “an emotion, spiritual, and physical at times rollercoaster”, but something I would never change. It has been a journey, but I think I’ve learned a lot about how to answer these questions in a healthy way. I don’t believe that I could ever say I fully know what God is doing, but I always know that He is working. I don’t believe I could fully know what God wants, but I know that He wants for us to know Him more, and be happy doing that.
            I never have been good at making big decisions; I always wonder if what I have decided is what God wants. I have started to learn in understanding God’s love for me—that in the decisions that I make, God does want me to be blessed. The biggest decision that I had to make recently was where I wanted to be after my field time. My options were California or Texas. I went back and forth for the longest time about where I wanted to be, the answer was both, but as we all know I can’t be in both places at once. I was then reminded that it doesn’t matter where I choose to be because God is always working. I struggled with that for a long time, remembering that God may give me two different paths that I can choose from, but He isn’t going to bless me in one and not bless me in another. I find that the only time I won’t see God using me, is when I don’t let Him use me. I constantly need to remember that God is showing us things throughout the day that I can be doing for Him. Sometimes, I’m just not looking.
            As of this last week I have had to remind myself once again of all this, also remembering I may choose something and God may change that up a little to work in different ways. As I said before I had this big decision on where I was going to go after the field. I chose to go to Grass Valley, California because it just seemed to be working out and that God was just putting more open doors there (pretty cool thing to see God was helping me out). But, throughout this last week God has changed that and has blessed me more through this process. I am now moving to Auburn, California where I will be able to live and work in the fields that I wanted to before, but couldn’t. But there are also so many ministry opportunities here. I have seen God just change around plans, but open up ways that I can choose to give myself to Him and let Him use me.
            I thank God for the times that He has given me and the things that He has allowed in my journey with Him. I don’t look back and regret anything, because He is the one guiding me. I thank God for the choices He gives me, but I also thank Him for changing those around when needed.
            I encourage you all to make choices based on what you love to do. I encourage you to choose to walk with God in each of those choices that you make, because if you are looking towards Him, He WILL use you. 

-Jeni Bandanza
 Leon, Mexico 
 AIM 2009

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Inadequate in Ministry

What do you do when it doesn't feel like you can do anything right? 

I know that coming back from the AIM mission field, that's an easy thought pattern to slip into. When I shifted fields from Boston to Wichita Falls, TX, back in '93, in order to do a youth ministry internship with my home congregation, several times I got caught up in situations that left me feeling like I couldn't do anything right. In fact, at one point I even said that I would never get into youth ministry.

I think, in my case at least, we get fooled into thinking that we're supposed to be able to do things on our own. 

By the time we leave our mission fields, a lot of you have had to learn a whole new language to survive, and you leave having this fluency that you never would have imagined you could. We left behind a college Bible study and a small group of teens that had grown closer together. It's easy to look back on that as we board the plane or train, or dare I say, automobile, and think, "I did all that."

And it's a trap.

Some of you will have heard a guy named Randy Harris speak before. One time I heard him speak at an event about his mantra that he repeats to himself every morning. I like it so much that I took his mantra, put the Scriptures with it that he referenced, and printed it to put up in my office.

The first part of this mantra says, "Today I will be incompetent." 

The Bible verse that is the basis for his statement is 2 Corinthians 3:5: "Not that we are competent to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God." I love to read that each day when I come in my office, because I tend toward pride. It reminds me that I'm a bumbling idiot left to my own devices, but when this bumbling idiot gets in God's way and lets Him push him around, amazing things can happen. 

So what do you do when it doesn't feel like you can do anything right? Remember that you're correct. All you need to do is keep making your mistakes in the path of God, and He'll be the Adequate One for you.

When have you felt inadequate to work for God?

- Donovan Fox