Uganda

Back in October, I had the privilege of going through a Leadership Forum through my church, Grace Point, here in San Antonio. During that time, I began to establish what it is that I felt God has wired me to do. My purpose. What I exist to do. Through tons of introspection and evaluation of my life, I determined that I exist to show love and bring hope to boys that need guidance and direction. I realized that that had been the undercurrent, the driving force, behind everything I chose to do and to be involved in throughout my life. That’s what energizes me, and that’s what I know I can do to bring glory to God’s name. So, if that’s what I exist to do, then I realized that I must intentionally seek out opportunities both in my community and abroad to accomplish that.

Fast forward to about a month ago, and an opportunity to do just that falls in my lap. My friend JT Dick contacted me about this trip to Uganda that he would be leading in June. During the trip, he and the rest of the team will be partnering with a missionary friend of his to love and disciple orphaned street boys of Kampala, Uganda. This missionary felt called to build a rescue home for these boys five years ago, and now the ministry is building their third home. These boys have been orphaned due to civil wars, AIDS, neglect, etc. and they are left to fend for themselves and are often left without hope. This ministry seeks to restore that hope and to show these boys that they are loved. The team will actually be staying in the orphanage with the boys. As if this wasn’t enough for God to get my attention, JT also told me that this ministry is seeking teachers to serve their community by working within their school system for a few weeks over the summer. As many of you know, I started teaching this past January. My heart is pounding and my eyes are on the verge of welling up just thinking about it all.

I fought the idea of going for almost a month. I almost let my fear of uncertainty get the best of me. To say that I’m not scared or that I’m sure everything will work out how it should work out would be far from the truth. Truth is, I’m terrified. Not terrified of going to Uganda at all. I’m stoked about that part. But I’m terrified of what I don’t know. I don’t know how I’m going to raise $4,100 in two months. I don’t know how I’m going to pay for grad school since I’m not going to be working summer school to make enough money to do that. I don’t know how I’m going to have the time, energy, mental capacity, etc. to focus on raising funds and tying all the logistical loose ends together before heading out in June, all while I’m already being stretched pretty thin in work, church, and life in general. I don’t know how I’m going to pay for all the shots that I need to get before going to Uganda, since I don’t have health insurance.

But if there’s one thing that I do know, and one thing that the Lord has taught me, both through personal experience and through Scripture, it’s that He is faithful. That’s one thing of which I can be sure. I’ve also learned that the most important things are often the scariest things to do. And I also know that if I knew all the ins and outs of every detail of my life and of this trip, then I would have no need to trust God. So here’s to trusting God and embarking on this adventure with Him leading the way. I would love for all of you to have a part in this journey with me to help restore hope for these street boys of Kampala, Uganda. I ask that you pray over this trip and over the team as we make the necessary preparations. And as you may have already assumed, considering the distance and length of the trip, there is a definite financial need. Below are the details:

Trip Details
Cost: $4100
Money Due: End of May
Dates of Trip: June 10-July 16

I ask that you prayerfully consider donating to this trip. No amount is too small. If you wish to donate $5, great! If you wish to donate $500, great! Everything is greatly appreciated!

You can donate either by following this link or by mailing a check to:
Luis Semidey
1129 E Loren St
Springfield, MO 65807

IMPORTANT: Make the check out to Ichthus Ministries, but address the envelope you mail it in to the address listed. My name shouldn’t appear on the check at all. As long as you address the envelope to me, it will go toward my fundraising goal.

Thank you all in advance!

Mountains

I love mountains. I always have and I probably always will. There’s something about their bigness that really takes my breath away. Whether I’m at the bottom, watching the peaks dance with the clouds, or I’m at the top, taking in the naturally impossible perspective of this miraculous planet, mountains really are awe-inspiring for me. I think we like to be amazed by big things—solar systems, mountains, big buildings—because it puts things back in perspective. It reminds us how small and insignificant we really are in comparison to all of creation.

One of my favorite things about mountains is how they’re created. There are several different ways that they shoot up out of the ground like they do, but one of the most common ways is by millions and millions of years of tectonic plates bashing up against one another. That’s how the Himalayas in Asia were formed, that’s how the Andes in South America were formed, and that’s how the Rockies in the good old U.S. of A and Canada were formed.  I think, anyway. I’m no geologist, but I’m pretty sure that’s how it worked. Let’s just go with it.

But wait. Didn’t God create the mountains? Well, yes but probably not how most people envision. I think God has a plan for how he wants mountains to look and He uses the natural process of seismic activity and other tectonic plate stuff that’s beyond me to make it all happen. I think that’s the way it is with a lot of things. God uses what we call “Science” to accomplish and create the things He intended to create from the beginning, which we often call “Creation.”

The reason I love how mountains are created so much is because the whole process teaches me a little bit about life. When these tectonic plates build up pressure and go head-to-head against one another, it sends seismic waves across the land—earthquakes. The effects of earthquakes are often devastating. Things that people have probably worked so hard to build and accomplish are ruined. Rubble litters the street. Homes are left in shambles, and life just seems like complete chaos. But in the midst of this devastation and pain and chaos, beauty is being created. Without earthquakes, mountains wouldn’t exist. The rubble, the homes, the chaos and pain…all that will pass. The roads can be cleaned. The homes can be repaired and rebuilt. It may take weeks. It may take months. It may take years. But the devastation, the pain, the chaos, is temporary. It will pass. The beauty of a mountain, however, is there to stay.

There are so many events and tragedies in life that are devastating, painful, chaotic, and earth-shattering. But ultimately, God is in control. And He’s pretty good at creating beauty. I know I can look back at my life and compare it to my life now, and I can see the beauty that has resulted from the chaos and pain that once was. And that’s one lesson I have to constantly remind myself of. In the midst of creating beauty there is often pain. Kind of like a waterfall. It’s chaotic and loud and probably painful (if you’re under one big enough) to be in the middle of. But once you get through it, once you get past it all, you can look back and take in the whole scene. And it’s gorgeous. And kind of like a storm that never seems to end. But every so often, when that storm passes there’s a rainbow that helps remind you that everything’s going to be okay. Even if it’s just a small reminder.

All this talk of beauty and mountains and waterfalls and rainbows makes me feel and probably sound a little bit more poetic than I actually am. But I guess that’s okay.

Bad things in life just happen. They just do. But when they do, we can choose to sit and sulk and wallow, or we can choose to pick up the pieces, salvage what we can, know that God’s in control, and keep on keeping on, keeping a watchful eye for the beauty being created in the midst of chaos.

Whole Foods

It’s no secret. Whole foods are better for you than processed foods are. Research has proven this time and time again, and in our culture, this is relatively old news. So why, in light of all of these studies and facts, are we, as a country, still more obese than ever? Well for starters, processed food and fast food is simply more convenient; it takes less time to prepare (or order) this food than to take the time to make most whole foods. Also, a lot of times, whole foods and “healthy foods” just don’t taste as good as salty, fatty, processed foods. But then there are those people who do eat healthy foods and still gain weight. What’s up with that? Well, working out is still necessary, even when eating the right foods.

This past week, my pastor used this theme as a parallel to our spiritual lives, and I’ve been chewing on it ever since. I was super convicted because I love to read. I’m almost prideful in how many books I read in a given month. Nerdy, I know, but it’s the truth. After listening to this sermon, I realized that so many people in our culture, me being one of the biggest culprits, consume so much processed spiritual food and not nearly enough whole food. Whole spiritual food is nothing more than raw Scripture. Processed spiritual food includes Christian books, podcasts, sermons, etc. Scripture has been processed and prepared for our consumption by the author, pastor, or whoever else is interpreting it for us.

Just as we long for the convenience of processed/fast food, we gravitate toward these books and podcasts because they’re convenient. They’re already processed and made ready to consume. But what happens is we become addicted to their convenience and consume more and more of it until we’re fat with more knowledge than we know what do with. If we just take the time and read Scripture, we see that, while the list of “ingredients” or “usable” pieces of information may be fewer, the quality and richness is so much more than the processed stuff. Quality vs. quantity.

Sometimes, as with health foods, Scripture just isn’t as appetizing as a deliciously fatty Donald Miller book. Now, don’t get me wrong; I love Donald Miller books, but I also love cheesecake. And I can’t live on cheesecake. Wish I could. But what’s true about health food is also true about Scripture. Sometimes, it can be bland and boring. I’d vouch for that. But it’s what’s best for us. It sustains us. It keeps us going longer than any processed or fast food can. And every once in a while, a food tastes so good, we’d be surprised it was healthy. Same can be said about Scripture.

But even if we read Scripture all day every day, we can still become “spiritually fat”. The first chapter in James, verses 14-26, talks about how faith and deeds must coincide. We have to not only consume Scripture, but we must also “work out” our faith. Our deeds should be a natural reaction to what we know and believe. If we just know it and don’t do it, we’re just spiritually fat and useless. But we have to be careful not to become weak, tired, worn out, and spiritually anorexic. That is, we do, do, do, but we never take the time to feed ourselves spiritually. There has to be a balance.

So, with all this said, should we just throw out all our Christian books, stop listening to podcasts and sermons, and stop reading blogs? Well, no. It’s not terrible to have fast food every once in a while, or splurge on that cheesecake. Sure. Go for it. But we can’t live on the stuff. If our lives consist of more processed, fast food than whole foods, sure we’ll survive. But think of the health costs. Think of how much healthier your life could be if it consisted primarily of whole foods. It takes discipline, just like eating right. But with consistency, the benefits will undoubtedly follow.  Commit to being spiritually fit instead of spiritually fat. Eat more whole food.

Here’s the sermon that inspired all of this. It’s the one titled “Rooted”: http://www.gracepoint.org/index.cfm/pageid/2159/index.html

Treasures in Heaven

“I give because I know my reward is in heaven.”

“Sell all your earthly possessions because your rewards in Heaven will be so much greater.”

I give because I know my reward is in heaven. This is a phrase (among a plethora of others) I hear all the time, and have even used myself, in and out of Christian circles. It hasn’t been until the last year or so that I started to question the implications of this statement. Something just didn’t sit well with me whenever I heard it. I would wonder, “Should that be the reason we give? To receive our treasures in heaven? Or, should selflessness, humility, and love be the catalysts of our giving? Love for God and love for people.” After all, those are the two greatest commandments. Right?

36“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”37Jesus replied:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matt 22: 36-40, NIV).

Right. If we sell all we have to the poor and “give of ourselves” in the form of money, gifts, time, etc., because we know we’ll have more treasures in heaven, isn’t the focus still on ourselves? I mean, when we truly dig down to the basic idea of this overused Christianese phrase—no polite tones and gestures, no Churchy jargon, no BS—we are essentially saying, “I give because I get.”

We as Christ followers, as people, need to come to a place in our lives where we can take the focus completely off of ourselves and truly learn to love others for the sake of loving them. No other reason. No ulterior motives. We should love because we love. It should be that simple. It should come as the overflow of the love we have for God. We should be moved with compassion and want them to have the things we offer, even if it means giving up that brown coat that goes so well with those brown shoes.

I feel like we mask our selfishness by saying it’s for our “eternal wealth” as if that changes the fact that we’re being selfish. As if it’s just dandy to make that our motivation. Maybe I’m wrong. Is it ok? Is it ok for our “treasures in heaven” to be our motivation for giving and loving people? I don’t see why it should be. To me, giving with this motivation takes away a lot, if not all, of the authenticity of the sacrifice. It’s as if we’re saying, “Here, you can have my stuff. I really don’t want to give it to you, but I know I’ll be rewarded for this in heaven. I know God is watching me and is proud. But man, I really don’t want to give this stuff away.” Yuck.

Why do we always need a reward for sacrifice? What if there was no reward? Would we still sacrifice? Now, this doesn’t apply solely to giving to the poor; it also applies to tithing. We should tithe out of our generous hearts. Scripture states in 2 Corinthians 9:6: “Remember this, whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” Here again, Paul (whose writings, we must remember, are theopneustos, or God-breathed, as is all of Scripture) promises that we will “reap generously”, but that should not be our motivation. Tithe to honor the Lord as we’re commanded in Proverbs 3: 9: “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops.”

I mean, look at Jesus. He died on the cross for sins he didn’t commit simply because he loved God and loved us. He didn’t receive anything other than the joy of knowing that he was obedient to the Father and that he saved those who choose to live for Him from eternity in hell. That’s it. There was absolutely no selfish ambition or ulterior motives.

Now please, do not here what I am not saying. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t look forward to our treasures in heaven or that we should disregard the idea of treasures in heaven all together. It’s going to be awesome when we finally do experience that.  But what I am saying is that our treasures should not be our motivation for giving, befriending, loving, and caring. Love and only love, love for God and love for others, should be our sole motivation.