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I don’t even know their names

In just over three years doing ministry in Lovington, NM, I have helped serve around 30 times in a local mobile food distribution to the poor in our community. Once a month a refrigerated semi truck full of produce, meat, bread, and other random snacks arrives at our church.
There are usually around 100 people standing in line to receive this food. As I arrive to church, many of these people have already been standing in line for a couple hours. I proceed to get out of my white Yukon and head straight to my office. I glance over and see them standing and sitting there in anticipation for what kinds of foods they might get to enjoy later that night and for the rest of the month. Rarely do I think anything of it. I’ve been doing this for three years and I usually see the same people every month.

Three years! Same people! But No names!

I’ve gotten to know no one! Serving the poor and less fortunate is a part of the fabric of our church. It’s a part of our identity. Yet this identity has almost become stolen. I’ve been on the criminal side of identity theft. It’s like I have become an actor in a tv show putting on a role for a couple hours, only to go back to my ‘real’ identity afterwards. In the process I have looked past the real identities of the people we are serving, seeing them not as people created Imago Dei with real names and real stories, but as people with problems. It’s also easy for me to have a bad attitude when I don’t think some people should be receiving this free food. Instead of my heart breaking for whatever these people have experienced, my heart turns cold and hard anticipating the end of this two hours so that I can leave and order some fresh gluten free pizza from Dominos.

In the mean time, these people who I have chosen not to get to know at all are trying to figure out how to make this food last another 30 days so they can come back next month without empty stomachs. All the while I’m eating my 6th slice of Dominos Pacific Veggie pizza.

Something needs to change! For me, this will mean getting to know at least a few people I have seen month after month for 3 years. I’m guessing In getting to know some of the least of these, I will truly be getting to know Jesus on a deeper level. The Gospel of Matthew states it like this:

‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘truly I tell you, whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'” Matthew 25:37-40

May we get to know the faces of those we wouldn’t normally talk to. In doing this, we might just experience Christ in the most real way ever.IMG_0308.PNG

Shapes: Fitting in everywhere, yet never really fitting.

The word SHAPE is really intriguing to me for some reason right now.  

Maxwell just turned 1 year old and will hopefully be learning his shapes soon.  

Ellie is in school and trying to master her letters, which are fundamentally shapes.  Hopefully she will be able to put these crazy looking shapes together in words and start reading soon.

Three months ago I completely changed my diet and I started getting into SHAPE.  I was playing basketball.  I cut out 95% of sweets and sugars (I still can’t give up ice cream!).  I completely gave up pop, coke for you New Mexicans!  I have given up bread and foods that cause inflammation.  The shape of my body has slimmed down considerably and I feel a lot better overall.  

But the main reason shapes are on my mind is completely non-visual.  I find myself in many different spheres of influence and groups of people.  I consider it a gift of mine to fit in with many different types of people, people of different ethnicity, people with opposite interests, “cool” people, and the not so “cool” people, rich people, poor people, committed Christ followers and the not so committed Christ followers/unbelievers.  I consider myself to be well-rounded in gifting and personality traits.  It’s like I’m a small circle living in a world of large squares and triangles and octagons.  They are all intersecting and touch in similar places, yet my inner circle doesn’t fully connect with every shape.  

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I am a Jr. High football and basketball coach and I feel very much at home on the athletic field.  I grew up with a dad who coached all sports and excelled in all sports.  Sports have always come easy to me.  I can talk about sports, history, stats, etc. with anyone, as can most Americans.

I am a youth pastor and feel very much at home in the church.  I grew up in the church where my mom was a Sunday school teacher and was the choir director in every church we’ve ever attended.  I love to talk about theology and what it all means for our daily lives.  I grew up singing hundreds of hymns out of a hymnal and always had a love for singing and music, which leads me to my next role:

I am the worship music leader in my church.  I get to sing all the time and play the guitar.  I get to learn new songs and try my best to teach it to our praise team and to the church.  There are definitely more talented musicians and music theorists out there, but I can hold my own in conversations with musicians and artists.  

I say all this not to brag about myself, but more of a confession that many times I feel like I can fit in everywhere, but so many times, I feel like I don’t truly fit in anywhere.  

I’m reminded of Paul’s confession in 1 Corinthians 9 where he says,”21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

I share in Paul’s own reflection, but I confess there’s one vital aspect missing from my own life.  I’ve become all things to all people yet haven’t continued that on “so that by all possible means I might save some.”  In my attempt to fit in through sports, music, church, community life, schools, area businesses, etc. I have fallen short in carrying out God’s mission of salvation.  Instead of being all things to all people for the sake of the Gospel, so many times I have become all things to all people for the sake of Aaron Tiffany.  

This happens in our local churches too. It’s easy to fit in comfortably without really stretching ourselves and being 100% committed to God’s kingdom work. Many churches are formed and shaped, not by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and his world changing life, but by the shape and culture of America; by success, fame, consumerism, comfortable living, and even violence.  Jesus invites us to take on a completely different shape in the way we live, namely cruciform.  The Gospel of Mark states it like this:

34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Mark 8:34-38

“That’s boring daddy!”

“I don’t want to read that book anymore daddy.  It says the same thing over and over.”  These are the words of Ellie, my 4 year old daughter.  I always (usually) read a bed time story with Ellie and I usually let her pick out the book.  There are a couple books she picks out though that I am tired of reading so I tell her to pick another one out.  Her Barbie books are quickly getting to that point!  Last night she picked a book out that neither of us had read before – I Couldn’t Love You More.  This was written by the lead singer, Matt Hammitt of Sanctus Real, a popular Christian band.  I was eager to read it.

It looked like and started out like most children’s books.  It had an eye-catching cover.  The art and pictures throughout the pages were very well done and even the story of the book was good.  But it was the way the story was told that left my daughter, and myself, wanting more.  The book tells the story of parents who love their child very much, but Jesus loves our children even more.  Like I said, this is a good message and story to hear, but it was just boring.  

When I found out the book was also the lyrics to a lullaby song by Hammitt, it made me think about Christian music in general.  Now this is a lullaby and so its simplicity and repetition is purposeful and then after watching the story behind it by Matt Hammitt with him singing a portion of the song to his 3 kids, I had a little bit more grace for it, but it doesn’t change the fact that my daughter doesn’t want to read or hear this story anymore.  It was boring!  And this is coming from a 4 year old girl who can play for hours with a couple dolls!  I was sad as her daddy and also as a pastor.  She was tired of hearing the same thing over and over!

The problem is that I see this in Christian music and storytelling all the time.  Many of the popular songs on the radio tell a great message, but the story and words have no depth to them.  It’s boring!  I find myself thinking in many different directions with this.  How can a 4 year old find this boring, yet full grown adults find it “cute” and even inspiring?  Are we really being honest with ourselves when it comes to music and art in our little Christian bubble?  Do we really find the Gospel story of Jesus inspiring by songs and words so simple and repetitive?  Or do we just accept it and try to justify it since it has nice artwork and the singers and musicians are talented and have nice voices?  Just like the cover and art in the book looked really nice and was pleasing to the eye, so does Christian music.  But just like Ellie decided at the end of the book, there was something missing.  There was no depth even for a 4 year old.  

It’s no wonder so many young people have no interest in the church as they get older and older.  It’s boring!  Yea, there might be fancy aspects of cool churches and youth rooms and videos, and yes we are trying to tell a great message, but in the end, are they wanting to read this story again?  Or are we leaving our kids with something more to be desired?  

Friends, we have the greatest story ever to be told, and yes that is Jesus loves us more than we’ll ever know, but let us attempt to tell this story with greater detail and depth that stirs our imaginations and makes us wonder of the wondrous love of Jesus.  Yes there are times when what we really need to hear is “Jesus loves you!”, but we also need to hear the reasons why.  

Let us tell stories that leave our children wanting to continue reading the Story!  Let’s not be boring! 

 

Wait & Anticipate

Jaron is my friend and lead pastor here at the church.  We used to share an office with no walls.  There were 3 of us in that space including Elizabeth, his wife and children’s pastor.  It was sometimes hard to concentrate and work; whether someone was always talking or there was a long silence and you knew at any moment someone was about to say something.  Our current office space is a little better.  We have 2 separate offices so we actually have a wall between us, but our desks are actually closer to each other than before and the unpainted bifold door is open 99% of the time. Elizabeth shares the first office with Jaron.  That was part of the deal when we moved.  It makes sense though right – for the married couple to share an office!  :)

I say all that to say, Jaron’s sermon title for this pastor Sunday was Wait and Anticipate.  The text was Acts 1:1-11.  Jesus meets with his disciples one more time and tells them they “must WAIT for what the Father promised: the promise you heard from me. John baptized in water; you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit. And soon.”  Jesus’ famous last words come next right before his ascension into the clouds, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world.”  (MSG)

So the first disciples wait.  Have you ever imagined what was said as Jesus disappeared into the clouds along with the 2 men/angels speaking immediately following?  The text doesn’t tell us about any conversations.  It gives no pictures or emotions.  We are free to imagine.  They had to be completely wide-eyed though.  I’m sure they were actually speechless for a long time.  No one wanted to be the first one to speak and when the text does continue the story with the disciples in the upper room, it was Peter who stood up to talk.  This isn’t surprising.

The waiting continues.  The disciples were now in transition.  What were they going to do now without Jesus?  They remembered Jesus saying they would do even greater things than he did, but there was still this sense of shock that Jesus left.  And what did he really mean by being baptized in the Holy Spirit?  This was a time of transition.  It was a time of waiting.  And it definitely was a time of Anticipation.  I’m sure the disciples had no clue what was going to happen at Pentecost, but they were anticipating it.  They trusted in Jesus’ words to them that the Holy Spirit would come upon them.

So they waited.  But this wasn’t the kind of wait where no one did anything.  They were praying, they were conversing about everything that happened the past few weeks and the past 3 years.  God was working in them.  God was speaking to them.  God was preparing them in the wait.  And as Peter went on to speak and recall the words from David in the Psalm, another witness needed to step up replacing Judas.  The text tells us that Matthias outdrew Justus to become the 12th apostle.

So they got to work waiting-praying-appointing.

It’s hard to wait.  It’s hard to intentionally sit still in God’s presence.  It’s hard to wait because we demand immediate results.  Our culture tells us that we can have anything we want as fast as we can type and click.  Amazon Prime is really awesome by the way!  In the church it’s hard to wait.  We want to see people’s lives changed immediately.  We want people to “get it” faster.  We want “Next Day Shipping” of the Holy Spirit.  We start to question our ministry and impact when it seems like people take a long time to fully engage.  We get easily frustrated when close followers of Jesus seemingly fall away.  It seems people are receiving Jesus and the Church, but weeks or months later they are returning their “packages”.  Waiting is hard.  Not knowing is hard, but these are the last words that Jesus leaves us with.

In a couple weeks we celebrate Pentecost and the outpouring of the Spirit on God’s people.  As we wait for this day in our churches, let us truly anticipate the Holy Spirit filling us completely.  Even as we wait as Advent people praying, Maranatha – Come Lord Jesus!  Even in the unknown, may we know Jesus is with us.

 

Evan’s Story Part 4

“Hello.” answered Evan’s mom, still audibly and visibly shaken from what had just happened.  

“Hello.” The voice on the other end was just as shaken.  It was Jimmy’s mom.  

For what seemed like an eternity of silence and sadness between two friends/mothers, Jimmy’s mom spoke, “How is Evan?”  This wasn’t exactly what Evan’s mom was expecting to hear.  She didn’t know what to say.  Her son was obviously in shock and completely out of his mind from being a part of his friends death.  

“Um.”   

 

Silence.

 

“I’m SO SORRY!”  cried Evan’s mom.  

 

“Today my son died”, replied Jimmy’s mom.  “The police explained as best they could what happened today with our boys.”  “I know what happened was a complete accident.  I’m not sure what to really think.  I just want you to know, as your friend, that it was not Evan’s fault that Jimmy died.”

 

Evan’s mom was speechless as she was sobbing trying to breathe.  

 

Grace.  Grace is what was shown that day through the phone and words of a mother who lost her son.  In the midst of the worst pain she had ever experienced, Jimmy’s mom was an example of grace.  

 

2 weeks went by.  The town was still in shock.  Evan and Jimmy’s friends and classmates still couldn’t believe what happened.  Evan still hadn’t return to school.  His parents and other counselors were afraid of what he might experience.  Evan and his family did receive a lot of support from people.  The grace that was shown to them was truly remarkable.  Jimmy’s family was right in the beginning stages of grief, trying to figure out what to do next; waking up every morning without feeding Jimmy breakfast, taking him to school and everything else that went in to the daily blessing of be a parent, yet they were still so very gracious to Evan.  

 

One thing they had learned after a few of the autopsies and reports came back was that Jimmy died instantly from a brain injury that occurred from being struck in exactly the “right”/wrong spot.  If he were hit in a place just an inch away he wouldn’t have died.  But they also learned that Jimmy had an abnormally thin skull that was never noticed.  

 

Sadness took over the community.  It took a long time for Evan to start doing the things he had enjoyed doing with Jimmy and was actually encouraged from a somewhat surprising person.  Something that happened as a result of this tragedy was the relationship that grew between Evan and Jimmy’s dad.  He had become a mentor to Evan and they met regularly to share stories about Jimmy and about his days playing college football.  

Life would never be the same again for Evan, his family, and Jimmy’s family.  But grace and forgiveness proved that life could continue on.  

 

The End.

 

Evan’s Story Pt. 3

Evan kneeled down right beside Jimmy, speaking his name, “Jimmy, Jimmy, get up Jimmy!”  

Nothing.

Evan ran as fast as he possibly could inside to call 911.  With instructions from the lady on how to do CPR, Evan once again knelt down besides Jimmy.  After a couple attempts of CPR, the ambulance showed up taking Jimmy away.  

Silence.

Evan sat there on the side of the hill in complete shock.  He had no idea what happened to Jimmy.  Thousands of thoughts and questions came pouring into his 12 year old brain.  “Did I just kill my friend?”  “He’ll be ok right, he’s just unconscious.”  “What will Jimmy’s dad do?”  “What am I going to tell my parents?”  “…”

The cops were there and it didn’t take long for Evan’s parents to arrive.  Evan could hardly breathe.  It was as if his heart had simultaneously started beating as fast as it possibly could and also came to a complete stop.  His skin was as pale as the white fence he was sitting next to.  

“Evan.  Evan.  Evan!” the familiar voice finally catching his attention.  It was his mom with tears streaming down her face.  “What happened?”  she asked her cold, blank son.  There were no words Evan could muster.  He didn’t even know exactly.  Nothing seemed real at that moment.  For the next few minutes, Evan and his parents just sat there in silence embracing each other with a hug.  After a couple minutes, Evan’s dad broke the silence and in his usual soft and warm voice, asked Evan, “son, can you tell us what happened here with Jimmy?”

Evan began to speak frantically and crying uncontrollably, “We were playing a game, then we were bored.  Then we got out his dad’s boxing gloves, then we were boxing, then I was getting tired, then I just…”

As he was replaying the events in his mind and attempting to tell his dad and afraid of what actually happened to Jimmy, a police officer interrupted, asking to speak with Evan’s parents.  Evan didn’t know what to think.  “What are they saying?”  “Will someone please tell me what happened to Jimmy!”  “Is he O.K?”  

“Jimmy died,” his dad spoke.  

“NO!”  

 

Jimmy and Evan’s families had been friends for a long time.  But what were they supposed to do now.  Is it ok for them to go see them?  What are they thinking?  Their 12 year old son had just died!  It was an unthinkable situation.  

This was only the beginning of a disastrous and sad time and many questions and conversations and investigations were about to take place, but just as soon as Evan and his parents walked through their home door, the phone rang.

Evan’s story pt. 2

Not only did Evan see someone close to him die with his own two green eyes, but this someone was his friend.  Jimmy and Evan had been friends since kindergarten.  They lived on opposite ends of town and they would take turns going to each other’s houses to play after school.  Evan loved going to Jimmy’s house because their was an endless supply of snacks and candy and there was almost always freshly baked cookies on the counter.  The smell was glorious.  Evan made a point to make sure Jimmy’s house was the hang out spot if they knew the nursing home was on the schedule for that day!  

Best friends.  

Nothing special happened at school that Thursday.  Neither of them had any homework and by the time they ate their fill of snacks and cookies and played a few games of Mike Tyson punch out, they grew bored.  Video games was another reason Evan loved to go to Jimmy’s house.  He didn’t have Nintendo!

Jimmy’s dad was a big guy.  He wasn’t just fat.  Yes he did kind of have a big belly, but there was also a lot of muscle on his arms. He had heard stories of him playing football at a large college. Evan had always been a little intimidated by Jimmy’s dad.   Evan’s dad on the other hand wasn’t so big, but he was very athletic and fit.  As Jimmy and Evan got a little older, now in 6th grade, they were easily the two most athletic kids in the school.  

So on that Thursday afternoon, stuffed and bored from video games, they decided to have their own Mike Tyson punch out.  Jimmy’s dad was very into boxing and had a couple pair of gloves in the closet.  He had told Jimmy not to have any boxing matches if he wasn’t their to supervise, but that didn’t deter the boys from strapping the gloves on.  

They went out side set on having a little fun and burning some energy.  Evan and Jimmy were very evenly matched and they had both decided no head shots were allowed.  10 Minutes in to the backyard punch out, Evan was starting to get a little more tired than Jimmy.  Jimmy started getting the best of Evan.  One hit to the stomach dropped Evan to his knees and the air knocked out a bit.  Evan’s competitive nature was starting to pass the level of playful fun into a determination to beat Jimmy.  Jimmy himself was also pretty tired but definitely doing better than Evan.  Evan regained his breath and with a look of revenge in his eye, charged at Jimmy.  Something snapped in Evan.  Forgetting the friendly no head shot rule, Evan came out swinging.  A shot to Jimmy’s body and then it happened.  With Jimmy’s hands only blocking his gut, Evan had a clear shot to Jimmy’s head and with his right hand, swung as hard as he possibly could.  

In a split second, Jimmy was laying unconscious on the ground.  Evan was proud of himself for that same split second, but then immediately realized the situation was anything but a “win” in their countless friendly competitions.  Jimmy wasn’t moving!