Monday, May 07, 2007

Iraq Church Leader Reflects on Life in Baghdad; PLUS: More Tangerines!

The church is clearly the most wonderful church I've ever been part of. Everything might be terrible on the outside. But inside, the worship is incredible. The children are amazing. We've had 11 of our staff killed in the past year. Our lay pastor was kidnapped last week. So everything is terrible outside. But inside [the church]--just great."

--Canon Andrew White, rector of the 1,300 member Anglican church in Baghdad, speaking on PBS's Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly. White, who is also president of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, says if troops left the area now, violence would escalate. He asked for patience and a continued commitment to bringing peace to the region. White's own commitment has been to stay on in Baghdad despite bombings, kidnappings, death threats and his own struggle with multiple sclerosis. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recently added Iraq to its watch list of countries where religious freedom is threatened.

Full Story:
Canon Andrew White on Iraq

Holly sez:
"Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him." (Psalm 37:8)

I recently wrote about how some tangerines taught me to take a closer look at what God has given me. I'd been given some ugly tangerines, which also happened to be the best ones I'd ever tasted in my life.

Last week, I walked into my local produce store and found more ugly tangerines, pictured right. The ridiculously high price ($2.99 a pound!) and my past experience with ugly tangerines were the only clues these might be really good. The rest of the citrus in the store was selling for less than 80 cents a pound.

It seemed no one was buying the ugly, expensive tangerines. I must have looked like a goofball as I stood in front of the bin, filling up my bag with them. I wondered, Would people notice I was buying them? Would they give them a try based on how many I'd bought?

I'd never seen ugly tangerines in any store, so the fact they were in the entryway of the store where I regularly shop alerted me: This was one of those God moments. I needed to pay attention.

On Saturday afternoon, I heard the above quote from Iraq church leader Andrew White. And on Sunday morning, my pastor spoke about how his wife had long begged God not to send her to Africa. She just returned from a Sudan trip, and she'd absolutely loved the people and wanted to remain in Africa. (Amusingly, she also didn't want to marry a pastor--they've been married seven years.)

As my pastor explained it, we're often afraid of God's will. Perhaps we're afraid he doesn't have our best interests in mind. Or that he doesn't really understand us. So when we ask him to assist with change in our lives, we add in, "Change me God, but just don't do it that way!" My pastor challenged whether we really believe Romans 8:28: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

Admittedly, I often don't trust God. I've had moments of blaming him. I sometimes wonder, Do you even know me, God? And are you really good?

When I received those first ugly tangerines, they were a free gift. It was easy to take them, even ugly as they were. I figured I could always throw them out later. When I saw the ones for $2.99, the high price did make me question: Will these be any good, or am I just fooling myself? Am I willing to pay this price?

They were excellent. Still, every time I see ugly tangerines, I know I'll still wonder, Are they worth it? By experiencing a good flavored tangerine, it will become easier for me to buy them next time, to take the chance and make the investment. I hope my faith works the same way. I hope--through acknowledging God knows more than I do--that my experiences will lead me to choose his way over mine more easily in the future.

My pastor says we're not going to get closer to God through a how-to book, systematic religious practices, or some life plan. Rather, our goal should be this: to develop a relationship with God. And relationships are about building trust, right? Seems we don't experience trust and comfort at first in any relationship. Perhaps we never experience it completely.

Honestly, I'll know I'll continue to ask those questions: God, will following you be worth it? Will you really work everything out in the way that's best for me? I don't like having those questions, but I do love how God's answers to me have so far been: "Yes."

To ponder:
1) Is is easy or difficult for you to trust God? Think about the times you feel God has been there for you. Think about the times you feel God has let you down. Try to be honest with God about your feelings on both.

2) What questions do you have about God? Do these questions ever scare you?

3) Do you believe there's a place for doubt in your faith?

4) Does your investment in God seem worth it? Are there times when the price seems too high? What do you do at those moments?

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