It’s 2018.  Do You Know Where Your Faith Is?

It’s 2018. Do You Know Where Your Faith Is?

I was talking to a fellow teacher here, and I told her that I thought there were two kinds of missionaries in this world.  There’s the kind that is born with the intrinsic nature to follow Christ and spread the good news of his gospel far and wide, wherever they are led.  And then there’s the second kind, which includes me.  This is the kind of person that God looks at and says, “Yikes.  I’m gonna have to ship this one off to a different country if I ever want them to learn anything.”

So whatever the reason, here we are back in Honduras.  And it’s wonderful.  It was so, so good to see friends and family over Christmas, and we’re missing them especially hard right now, but it’s also refreshing to be back at it.  To see the students again, to visit Celaque again, to see our new friends here again (which aren’t so new anymore), to realize that maybe our Spanish is just a notch better than it was a few months ago, and to watch in amazement as our children grow and learn and play in an entirely different culture than we’re used to.

One of the new ways Sam loves to play is to take old food containers of various kinds (ketchup bottles, juice cartons) and fill them up with water from the hose… unfiltered water.  Sometimes he likes to add some soap to the mixture and leave them sitting around.  Yes, this is foreshadowing.

The other day, there was a juice carton sitting out on the kitchen counter.  I lifted it up and felt something in it.  Wondering how long it had been sitting out, I decided it would probably be fine to put it back in the fridge.  Later that night, I had some chips and spicy salsa for a snack, but I had neglected to pour myself a drink.  Needing something fast, I grabbed the juice carton out of the fridge and dumped a bunch of it into my mouth.  I swallowed half of it immediately before noticing that something was amiss.  This tasted less like juice than it did like soapy water.  What to do?  In another brilliant decision, I swallowed the other half.  So far, no adverse effects, but I guess we’ll see.

Our expectations often let us down.  When our expectations of relatively superficial things in the world get confused, we drink soapy bacteria water.  When our expectations of other-worldly, eternal things get confused, the consequences can be devastating.  It is absolutely critical in this life that we are aware of exactly where we put our faith and what expectations that sets for both this life and the next.

If you’ve been let down by your government or your leaders, it’s because you have some level of hope, trust, expectation, or faith in them.  If you’ve been let down by a parent or a sibling or a child or a boss or a coworker or a mentor, the same is true.  But if you feel as though you’ve been let down by God, that’s ok, but it’s different in this case… it’s just that he has something more to teach you.

Fortunately or unfortunately, this past week has shown that God has more to teach us all, regardless of what country we find ourselves in.  The thoughtless words of the American president are disappointing and deplorable, to say the least, and the political situation in Honduras remains tense, with indications of continued unrest.  If I were God, this certainly isn’t the way I would do things.  But I drink soapy bacteria water, so I guess it’s a good thing I’m not God.  Something tells me his plans are far better than any that I could put together myself.

And I’ve seen signs already that this is true.  The initial political unrest in Honduras gave us an excellent setting in the classroom in which to discuss our need NOT to put our ultimate hope and faith in worldly leaders.  The American president’s comments have again highlighted that and given me opportunities to have very transparent conversations with students… mutually beneficial conversations we may not have had otherwise.  Do the benefits outweigh the costs?  Certainly not right now, but we are in the middle of an eternal story which is long from over.  God is doing something we do not understand.  He is using the negative of the world to build a path to redemption.  We just have to acknowledge it and give in… in faith.

God doesn’t work like us.  This isn’t just a way to try to explain the things of God that we don’t understand.  It’s a real and defining characteristic of his divine nature.  If we had to believe in him, there would be no room for faith.  If he worked exactly the way we expected him to, there would be no room for awe.  If he didn’t have to go on a long and arduous journey to seek us out, there would be no room for joy when we find each other.

Furthermore, the Christian life is a proactive one, not a reactive one.  Constantly responding to all the negative inputs of the world is no way to live.  It’s like only making decisions when a salesman comes to your door.  When they present to you a problem you didn’t know you had so you’ll buy their product you didn’t know you needed, you’re being reactive.  You’re missing all the beautiful and real moments in life when some outside force isn’t telling us about some new imaginary problem.  There’s a better way.  It’s allowing yourself to be informed by the goodness of the Holy Spirit every moment of every day.  Then, when disappointing news comes along, it can’t gain a foothold in your life, because there’s no room for sadness to take over when your soul is filled with the peace and joy of Jesus.

So where do you put your ultimate faith?  Do you put it in the words of your political leaders?  Don’t.  Do you put it in the actions of your fellow countrymen?  Sooner or later, they will let you down.  Do you put it in a guy who drinks soapy bacteria water?  I sure hope not.

It’s ok to hope and expect and pray for your government, your countrymen, and your brothers and sisters, but it’s critical that we don’t put our ultimate faith in them.  That must be reserved for Christ.  That must be reserved for the one who laid down his life for us and would do it again, but doesn’t need to!  It must be reserved for the one who loves us with his entire eternal being, who created us in this world just so we could share in his joy.  Our faith must be poured out to the one who cradled us in his arms before we were even a thought in our mothers’ minds.  Our heavenly father is there to give us his peace and joy in the face of anything and everything going on in our lives.  He not only walked in our flesh and promises to be with us always, but he also experiences our difficulties with us, through the loving and powerful presence of his Holy Spirit.

There is no other God like him.  Praise his holy name.  May your ultimate faith rest in him alone.

A Man’s Reach

A Man’s Reach

So 2017 turned out to be the most difficult year of my life… BY FAR.  If you had told me exactly what I was going to need to do to get through the year, I really may have chosen a different path.  However, that does not mean I regret it; rather, the opposite is true.  I’m so glad it was exactly as it was.  I’m filled with joy at the opportunities for growth that were put in front of myself and my family.  I’m overwhelmed by peace as I look back on how God sought to use this year to bring me and my family closer to him.  More and more, I think that this life is less about what we accomplish, and more truly about our journeys of progress toward the heart of our creator.

You’ve probably heard Robert Brown’s quote that “… a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”  The Bible has its own, albeit differently faceted, version of this sentiment in 1 Corinthians 15:19: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

I really like talking about our God in a way that indicates his desire to bring heaven to us on earth… right here and now.  But the fact is that that isn’t the whole story.  As long as we remain on this earth, there will always be unimaginable and inaccessible glory that can only be revealed to us in heaven.  It’s too much for this earth.  It’s too much for our mortal minds to comprehend.

What we do have now is the journey toward that glory.  And the journey toward a goal isn’t always easy, and it doesn’t always look like we want it to.  It’s hard, and messy, and we don’t know what the outcome is going to be.  But then, doesn’t that make the goal so much more precious when it is reached?  God’s glory is our ultimate goal, and we can only do our best to work toward it in this lifetime.

But we have an all-powerful advantage in that work… his Spirit is here to help us.  However messy the journey, he is there to help us, even to carry us, along on the journey.  We just need to ask for his help.  When God’s heavenly aspirations for our lives exceed our grasp, his Spirit is there to guide them back into reach.  If only we humble ourselves and admit our need for help, it will be there in abundance.

So for as difficult as this year has been, it’s taught me to be ok asking for help.  That’s such a big part of the plan for our lives, that it’s absolutely essential.

And as we look toward the future, we’re gonna need to ask for more help.  We are now making plans to return to Honduras for the 2018-2019 school year.  From what we can discern, that’s where God wants us… so that’s where we’re gonna be.

So guess what… it’s time to ask for more help… first from God, and then from you.  This is where we say, “We could not do this without the financial support of our donors,” which is true, but really means we want to ask you to prayerfully consider giving us your money.  But for what?  It’s really for flights, insurance, rent, groceries, utilities, and snickers bars, among other things.  There are many good reasons why that we could explain, but let me just give you a couple quick stories about some real students.

One day, I was teaching 11th grade chemistry, and it was going particularly well.  Students were engaged and asking relevant questions about the new material we were covering.  At the end of class, one young lady honestly admitted, “Mister… I actually wasn’t going to pay attention today, but then it was just so interesting.”  Awesome… I suppose I’ll take that as a compliment.  So that’s just to say, that there are really moments in the classroom when the subject matter comes alive and gets people excited about learning.  If we can do that with Chemistry, then I trust that God has big things to communicate to these students through me, and I plan to keep at it.

Another day at lunch, I was talking to a couple young men from 10th grade biology, and we had what I thought was kind of a fun conversation about some new technology in the field of biology, and the underlying implications as technology advances and brings up new ethical questions for mankind to consider.  I finished my lunch and went on my way.  Then the next day, one of them asked me, “Mister, can we talk again at lunch another day?”  Yes, yes we can.  I took that as a huge compliment.  Starting with the class material, now we’re forming a relationship and just looking to spend time together, without an agenda.

That’s legit… that is the beginning of the kind of relationship Jesus wants with us.  No agenda, just more of him.  This is the kind of thing that was happening in John 1 when a couple disciples are following Jesus around for no real reason, and he’s like “Hey, what do you want?”  They say, “Um, well, I mean… where are you staying?”  Good one, guys.  Way to play it cool.  At this point (probably truly before this point), Jesus recognizes that they just want to be around him, and he says, “Great, come with me and you’ll see.”

So I want to hang out with Jesus more.  And I think he wants me to hang out with my students some more.  I think he wants me to show them his love some more.  And I even think that in doing so, Jesus is gonna spend some more time with all of us, and that sounds pretty cool to me.

And Stephanie has continued to be an absolute blessing to the people around her.  Her work at the clinic has been extremely helpful to the Honduran staff every day, as well as to the brigades that come into town, and there’s five weeks of them coming up in January and February.  It’s busy, but it’s really pretty awesome to see from this side.  And there have been at least three major medical needs among the American staff just during the time we’ve been there already, where her experience has brought not only the right answer to the problem, but also comfort and security to those involved.  My own bedside manner is somehow not as much of a blessing to people.

So… here’s the scoop.  We have approximately the same budget for next year as this current year, although it’s a little less because we got some house set-up stuff out of the way.  I’m not gonna put our budget on here, just because I think it can be misinterpreted without context, but I would gladly have a conversation with anyone about it.  If you feel uncomfortable giving for any reason, don’t… that’s ok.  We still want you to be involved with our lives through these updates and in other ways, and we ask for your prayer.  Through you, God provided basically the exact amount we have needed for this year, and if he’s in this (which I do believe he is), I’d faithfully and graciously expect the same thing for the next school year.

To give, you can follow the links on this site or go right to https://www.modernday.org/field-workers/lukepatrick2/, and follow the instructions to give there.  You can sign up for a small recurring donation, which would be awesome, or you can give a one-time donation, which would also be awesome.  You can also mail a check made out to “Modern Day” to PO Box 535578, Grand Prairie, TX 75053, including a note indicating it’s for us.  And remember, the GOP wants you to give today so you can take the deduction in 2017 instead of missing it in 2018.  Don’t look at me like that… I didn’t pass the law.  I’m just the messenger.  If you want to talk to a real messenger, though, maybe consult your tax professional, because, for better or worse, that whole thing is kinda crazy.

Whatever you end up doing, thank you so much for reading this and for being there for us.  We love you because God first loved us, and we continue to strive to follow him on this wonderful journey toward his glory.

Powerless

Powerless

You’re powerless.  I’m powerless.  The Honduran government is powerless.  The US government is powerless.  The sooner we accept that, the better off we’ll be.

We made it to Michigan for Christmas, but not without difficulty.  And while all seems to be ok in our town in Honduras, the overall situation in the country remains dire and unpredictable.

We hit the road at 3 AM Saturday morning with the intention to arrive at a hotel in Chicago that night.  Instead, we didn’t make it back until Tuesday.

I knew it was going to be a great trip when the first thing Evie did upon getting in the van was shove her hand down in between the seats, look at me with big eyes, and say, “whatever I’m feeling, it’s sticky.”  Gross.  Get your hand out of there.

On Saturday, our van was getting close to the airport in San Pedro Sula when we ran into a road block.  Protesters have been setting up road blocks there in response to the events of the recent presidential election.  Those protesting believe that the incumbent stole the election, and there are bitter divides among the Honduran people.  Many believe their only recourse is to disrupt the infrastructure in Honduras by blocking the roads, which is extremely effective in accomplishing its goal because there are often few or no good alternative routes for traffic to take.  The mountainous terrain and underdeveloped road systems become quickly debilitated when the main arteries are blocked.

As we waited, some members of the Honduran military marched passed our van to go try to break up the road block, far enough ahead that we couldn’t see what the actual block was, but had to rely on word of mouth from passersby.  We waited quite a while, but when some national police came back the other way and told us to turn around, we decided to take their advice.  But then, we ran into another road block attempting to go back the way we came.  We pulled over in a gas station, and I forgot the promise God made to me to keep me and my family safe in Honduras.  There was no guarantee that we weren’t spending the night there.

But soon we got through, back the way we came, and took a very long way around to get to a hotel near the airport, as we had missed our flight.  We bumped our flights to the next day, Sunday.

We had to get up at 3:45 AM Sunday to catch the airport shuttle at 4:15 AM, so we could reduce the risk of running into a blockade later in the day.  Sam sat up on his knees and alertly said, “I’ll pack my animals!”  Then his eyelids slipped shut and he fell face forward back on his bed.

After a long day waiting at the airport, we boarded the plane around 1:30 PM.  Then we found out that we couldn’t take off to Atlanta because the power was down at the world’s busiest airport.  Of course it was.

We waited about 4 hours on the tarmac, and they were even nice enough to let us walk into the airport, where the kids could play for a little bit… there’s a little toy area right in the gate, which is amazing.  As the sun set out the window of the airplane, Sam exclaimed, “It’s been the whole day?!”  Yes, buddy.  The sun rose and set on our day at the airport.

Eventually, they said we were taking off to Atlanta, but we had been following along with the nightmare happening there, and we were really hoping to end up somewhere else.  I think Delta just recognized that they had to get their crew out of Honduras that night.  Several flights in and out have been cancelled since.  You see, on Sunday, while we were on the plane, the country’s electoral officials declared the incumbent the winner of the election that occurred 3 weeks prior.  This has led to dramatically increased protest activity in the days since.

As we took off out of San Pedro Sula, I was glad to be getting my family out of a difficult situation, but I felt so bad for what I knew some people were going to go through there over the next days and weeks.  I felt guilty.  I felt powerless.

I mean, sure I’m a great guy, but I knew the love I was feeling for the Honduran people was not an inherent manifestation of my carnal self.  I knew it had been implanted there by God to convict, motivate, and bless me.  To give me guilt enough only to drive positive action in the future, not to make me feel bad for being powerless.

As I felt this evidence of the prior change in my heart, Ezekiel 36:26-27 came to mind.  “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”  Of course when I looked it up later, I found that this chapter discusses the hope for the mountains of Israel and the assurance of its restoration.  I don’t pretend to know exactly what God is doing in Honduras, only that he will fulfill his promises there, and I want to be a part of it.

So our flight ended up in Miami.  And we were there for 2 nights.  Because everybody and their brother was trying to recover from the disaster in Atlanta.  But we got a direct flight to Detroit on Tuesday, and our buddy Nate Koster gave us a ride from there.  I’m not sure anyone has ever been so glad to see Nate in their life as we were.  I also don’t know whether that says more about our trip or Nate as a person.  I love you, buddy.

The most difficult moments of our travel experience were those in which there were a lot of unknowns.  Traveling isn’t so bad if you have a plan.  But when you don’t know how things are going to go, fear of the unknown takes over and makes things miserable.

But isn’t that what life is?  A great adventure in which we desperately try to overcome our fears of the unknown?  Well guess what… we can’t do it on our own.  We need the one who can.  We need the one who tells us it’s ok not to know everything, because he does.  We need the one who will guide us along the perfect path, even when we don’t know where we’re going or why we’re going there.  We need to stop relying on our own powerlessness and recognize the one who is all-powerful.  We need faith.

God grant faith to the Honduran people.  God grant faith to the Honduran leadership.  God grant faith to the US leadership to help in a transparent and selfless way during this crisis.  May God use this to align the hearts and minds of all people with himself.  May God grant you faith.  Even – and especially – if your life seems as out of control as anything going on in Honduras.  I promise you, God is working through it all to align your heart and your mind with his.  His promises are true, even when we lack the faith to trust him in difficult times.  He just loves us so much.

In All Things

In All Things

One of the most difficult things to explain to Christians and non-Christians alike – and indeed to myself – is this idea that God works through “bad” things to bring about his good purposes.  “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  “How can God be good, and still let such bad things happen in this world?”

Well, now we have an opportunity to live through some very bad things happening in this country.  To be clear, our town is completely safe and comfortable and pretty much normal, but there are many places in Honduras that are not safe right now, where suffering and hopelessness and frustration have brought about anger and conflict.

There was a presidential election a couple Sundays ago on the 26th of November.  There still has not been an official announcement of the winner.  The incumbent seems to have the lead in votes, but the opposition is entirely convinced that the vote count is fraudulent.  Neither side is showing any signs of backing down, and protests in major cities have been violent, destructive, and deadly.  Protests taking place between major cities have blocked roads throughout the country, making travel dangerous or even impossible at times.  Even international airports have been functioning in a reduced capacity.  The future is very uncertain.

A few days ago, a nationwide curfew was set for ten days starting at 6PM, but then yesterday it was relaxed until 8PM.  While this may not greatly impact the daily lives of a family with two small children, it is no small thing to revoke the constitutional rights of the people of an entire nation.  Even the police have taken issue with it, as many of them are refusing to enforce this curfew, saying they are here to protect the people, not to fight them.  Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing depends on who you ask.

And in the midst of all this uncertainty, I’ve met so many incredible people in Honduras.  Incredible in their own right, but especially through the boldness of Christ living in them.  People on both sides of the political struggle are on their knees in prayer.  Police officers are joining in prayer together before beginning their shifts.  It is “normal” for a business place to have a time of prayer before opening their doors in the morning, and that was even before all this.  So while the situation may seem intimidating, I know the potential for God to do something good through these people during all this tragedy is incredibly high… it’s palpable.  I’m not just expecting the best and planning for the worst… I’m bracing myself to perhaps be able to better handle the immensity of God when he rolls out his goodness on this country.  And I’ll give you the main reason why.

I know our students… the real future of this country.  The immediate future may be unclear, but in the not-so-distant future, because of them, I have great hope and expectation for Honduras.

Another teacher here asked our tenth graders when in their lives they have felt the closest to God.  The answer of one student was very telling.  They said that they feel closest to God during the bad times, during their struggles.  Because they know God is with them, helping them through it.  There is great truth about the nature of God bound up in that seemingly paradoxical sentiment.

This week, I’ve had the chance to enter into extended times of prayer with the ninth grade and tenth grade students.  We’ve prayed for peace and unity.  We’ve prayed for love to drive out any spirit of fear.  I’ve listened to them pray and I’ve been blown away by their boldness of faith.  They are stronger than I am.  If the worst happens, I can simply return to the states and go about my business, but no matter what, they’ll be living with the outcome.  Even in the face of this uncertainty, their prayers contained incredible hopefulness and the expectation of redemption in this country.  Their faith is strong.  Their trust is deep.

If the desires of their hearts are any indication of the future condition of their country, then Honduras will become an even more breathtaking place than it is already.  God is bringing the next generation of leaders of this country closer to himself through everything that is happening here.

This is why a good God allows bad things to happen… to bring his creation, his dearly loved children, closer to himself.  To align their hearts with his.  To teach them perseverance in the face of adversity, and give them joy in the face of sorrow.

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. – Romans 5:3-5

The two times I have felt closest to God in my life, I did not expect to experience God in the way I did.  Once, I was driving and praying.  The other time, I was sitting and reading the Bible.  Both times, he felt the same, and both times, he was overwhelming.  It wasn’t an ecstatic feeling.  It was actually a very sad feeling.  But it was a sadness enveloped by comfort.  Perhaps it is best described as empathy.  It felt like someone came up beside me and gave me a hug that said, “I understand what you are going through.  I understand what everyone is going through.  And I’m here to tell you that it is all going to be alright.  Indeed, it will all be wonderful.  I am the source of infinite joy, and I’m here to share that with you.”  God is not an artificial happiness that fades when things get difficult.  He is a permanent joy that shines with even greater contrast in the face of sorrow and adversity.

If we tell ourselves that we’re pursuing God, but we spend our time chasing after a happy feeling or perfect circumstances, then we fool ourselves.  If we think that God is only in the safe and the ecstatic, then we’re missing so much of who he is.  Certainly, he is there.  But he is also in the tragic and the melancholy.  He is in all things.  He spends his time where we live our lives… in the good and the bad.  That gives us reason to trust him more.  That gives us reason to grow in faith.  That gives us reason to find true joy in him.  And for that, we should be grateful, in all things.