Homeless for a Year

What is it like to not have a home for a year?

We have moved around 15 times since September. With a toddler. Add that last part and what could sound kinda fun sounds like quite the opposite. There have been fun and enjoyable parts, but they have been the exception to what has been a chaotic, stressful, and generally depressing year for me.

We are Americans living long term in England, planting a church. We needed to leave England temporarily as we were applying for new visas. This past September we moved to America for what we thought would be nine weeks. When all is said and done, it will have been over a year. We still have a house in England that pay rent on, all our stuff is there, our car, our friends, our church, and my job. When I packed I only brought a few clothes with me, I thought it was going to be a short trip!

A few of the places we've lived since September.

A few of the places we’ve lived since September.

Now as far as the history of displaced people go, we’ve easily had it the best that anyone has ever had it in the history of the world ever. We aren’t fleeing because of war or threats, we have churches that love us, friends that take us in, we aren’t lacking in resources like money (though it is crazy expensive to not have a home!). We’ve been cared for. People have asked how we’re doing and have given us real help. All of this caveat isn’t to say that it’s been easy, but it does put it into perspective. The typical experience of someone who cannot get to their home is far more dramatic. We’re thankful that we’ve been cared for and that we have a support network.

Not having a home means living out of a suitcase. It means travelling with minimal stuff because you can only fit so much into a small rental car. It means having to buy all the grocery basics over and over again. Because we’ve been living in England, we used the NHS for anything health related. Being in America we’ve had to buy short term health insurance a few times over. Thankfully we haven’t been seriously ill, otherwise it would be quite expensive for us. It means kind of imposing yourself on others at times to take you in. We’ve had to buy clothes that we know we have in our house in England, but don’t have access to. It means our two year old son saying, “I want to go home,” but really just referring to where we’ve left last. It means being very needy and not having very much to give.

There have also been surprises, though. Being in America longer has allowed us to see family more than we would have. We have connected with more churches in more meaningful ways. Moving 15 or so times is hard, but that also means 15 or so people have taken us in. That’s not the easiest thing to sign up for! Even though it’s hard living as a needy person, the other side is that people have been very generous to us with their space, their time, their money, and their prayers.

There are a few larger areas where I’ve been challenged this year. The biggest one has been not having a real community of people that I’m consistently around. I’m also in a somewhat unique position in life that others sometimes don’t easily identify with. I’m lonely most of the time. Thankfully there have been a few people who have been great friends to me, but in general, this kind of life means loneliness.

My plans have been challenged. I am generally an ambitious person; I love to work, especially when it’s something I really believe in. But being back in America, we’ve struggled with answering the question of “What’s our purpose here?” Surely it’s more than waiting to go back and surely it’s more than just raising awareness for Redeemer, right? We don’t know the answer to this one, maybe there isn’t one. Combining loneliness and lack of purpose is a powerful agent of despondency. I can easily stay there if it not for my faith.

My faith, however, has also been challenged. Do I trust God? Or does God have to give me immediate reasons to make it easy for me to trust Him? Those are two very different things. Isn’t faith the belief that God has our best in mind even when we don’t feel it? At times I’ve doubted that God is actually good, or at least that He’s good to us.

But here’s the real question this post (and our living situation) is getting at: How does my faith allow me to live in this kind of environment? Empty religion would be of some help, it would help me cope. As would a myriad of other things, like counselling, hanging out with friends, doing fun things as a family…these can all be good things. But by themselves, they allow us to merely cope with it all. I want to do more than just cope with life.

Jesus intentionally left his home, being in perfect community with the Father and the Spirit. And on earth his family had to leave their home. Jesus is a refugee. Later in life, He was generally a wanderer and alone. He was constantly misunderstood and ridiculed. He wasn’t taken seriously but was taken for granted. Knowing this He still chose to come. The Object of Faith came to the faithless, and gave them the gift of belief.

And what did Jesus get for this cosmic immigration? He got to be publicly tortured to death while those closest to Him abandoned to Him. More than that, He bore the brokenness of the world upon Himself. That’s not something I pretend to completely understand.

Why would Jesus do this? The Bible says He did this because there was a joy greater than His suffering: us. So now those who are homeless look up to the One who deliberately left His home for our good, knowing full well what awaited Him in ours. Those who experience chaos look up to the One who endured the chaos of the cross. He takes up our chaos upon Himself.

Jesus received death for coming to our world, but He also obtained a people. His people aren’t defined merely by death anymore though, they get to be defined by Jesus’ new life, His resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection brings hope to us, a hope that was once out of reach. He brings us in to His world, where all things are being renewed. This is the hope He gives to His people.

Those who are looking for a home now realise that home isn’t a place, it’s a Person. This Person has promised that He’s always with us and will never abandon us. That’s a home that can’t be denied, no matter our living situation.

When I think about Jesus, in the way that Bible teaches, I realise that He is good. More than that, He is good to me. In ways that supersede, but also include, our current chaos. He is in the boat, with me, telling the storms to be calm. I am just another hungry person in the crowd following Him, and He turns a boy’s inadequate lunch into something that feeds us all. Though I’ve abandoned Him many times, He has never abandoned me. More than that, He gives me the gift of a new hope that He won. It stops me from obsessing with the problems in this world, but also renews me to re-engage this world and its problems with supernatural power.

This may not always feel true or feel real, but it is true and it is real. And it’s precisely when we don’t feel it that our faith comes in to inform us what is real and true.

So come what may: home or no home, lonely or known, with money or penniless, in success or failure, Jesus is always at the centre, calling me to follow Him in all of life. This is how I can survive living without a home. Jesus is good to me and always will be.

Five Days in Korea

It’s crazy the places that church planting will take you. I just came back from a five day trip to Seoul. I was invited by SaRang Church (SaRang means love in Korean, by the way) to their missions conference because they want to partner with Redeemer. I met Pastor Sam Ko, SaRang’s Director of Global Ministries, in Manchester this past November and he was very enthusiastic about partnering with Redeemer.

A photo/essay overview:

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The Church is not a Social Network

The church is not a social network. It might be a place where social networks are found or overlap into, but it isn’t one in itself. Let me explain.

Social networking is a phrase we always hear because everyone is supposedly always doing it. A social network can be built off a club, a product, or social media itself. Social networks can be helpful and good, but we need something more than social networks to thrive in life.

 Social Networks

“Social network” is the phrase we use when we want to get something out of it: customers, ideas, help, notoriety, etc. A social network based on social media (like Facebook, Twitter) is helpful when connecting to friends and family who live far away, or staying in touch with people that you just would have lost touch with otherwise. The rise of Facebook allows us to have more friends than we ever have, but we’re limited as humans to really be connected well to thousands of people. A social network based on a club allows people with shared interests (like a sport, charity) to get together and do the thing they already like. A social network based on a product (like Apple fans, Porsche owners) allows people to gather together who get something out of a product they already bought. If these social networks aren’t working, or the businesses behind them aren’t worth it, we move on. We buy a PC and forget about our Apple era.  Continue reading

An overview of the Sabbath

The concept of the sabbath is an important one, and not one we probably typically think of very often. I’m not talking about what you can or cannot do on the sabbath, or what exactly are your weekly practices. I’m talking about the big picture of the sabbath, from the beginning of time. Why is the important? The sabbath is where creation is going, it is our trajectory. The world isn’t an endless cycle, it’s a story. And the sabbath is one way to tell this story. The sabbath is the end goal of creation.

Here is a (very) brief overview of the sabbath story, from Genesis to Revelation.

Sabbath Overview

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The Glory of Inadequacy

I Am Inadequate blog series

This is the seventh and last post in a series on our inadequacy. Read the others here.

I’ve written for six weeks about how we are inadequate in a bit of detail. Back in the first post I said this reality is gloriously freeing. How can something like this be glorious, be freeing, why do I believe that?

I don’t know about you, but I often feel like I’m under the burden of needing to have everything all together. A productive work life, changing lives in radical ways, an amazing social life where I look good all the time (at least on Instagram), the most caring and yet care free parent in the world where my kid looks and acts cooler than any other kid on the block. This is just the scraping off the top of the world’s expectations on us. Do you feel any of that? I know I do. And it’s crushing. Continue reading

Inadequate in Power

I Am Inadequate blog series

This is the sixth post in a series on our inadequacy. Read the others here.

Growing up, my father used to call the television remote, the “power”. “Can you give me the power?” “Where is the power?” “I need the power.” He liked having the power. Of course he did, we all do. But real power, deeper than a mere remote control, is often not handled rightly. As Lord Acton famously said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

We have a problem with power. We can be corrupted in our use of it (having too much and not able to handle it) or we just don’t have the power we think we need.

Both of these are true: the power we do have is ruined, not because power itself is bad, but because we are corrupt. And, we really don’t have the power we need. The proof of this is the fact that we still have problems. We aren’t powerful enough to fix the big things in life that need fixing (especially starting with us). Continue reading

Inadequate to Provide

I Am Inadequate blog series

This is the fifth post in a series on our inadequacy. Read the others here.

How long can a human survive without water? Without food? Without air? I don’t know exactly (I’m sure Google does) but the exact time doesn’t matter as much as the big truth: not long. We are not exactly autonomous creatures, we depend on so much in our lives. Even for the most basic needs like food or drink, we are dependant.

But for most of us in the West, our “needs” are much more than mere survival. We need all sorts of things that we don’t really need. The size of our houses, the cars we pick, the compressed and inhospitable calendars we keep attest to this. And with these needs come the mortgages, loans, working hours, and anxiety that inevitably come along. But we want to present ourselves as self-sufficient, able to conquer all. Problem is we know we aren’t. And the more we prop up this shallow façade, the more we feel its weight. Continue reading

Inadequate to Protect Ourselves

I Am Inadequate blog series

This is the fourth post in a series on our inadequacy. Read the others here.

We spend so much time with protecting ourselves, though don’t we? Comfort, or the logical end of protection, is what we chase after. It’s why we sign up for 55 hour work weeks, why we spend so much of that money we earn on recreation, alcohol, big homes and new cars. Comfort is one of the chief gods of the Western world. But this god never tells the truth. No matter how much you sacrifice in the name of comfort, we are never completely protected. Tragedy is no respecter of persons. And when it comes, and it will, we learn this:

We are inadequate to protect ourselves.

When it really comes down to it, we do not have the power in ourselves to protect ourselves. And if anything, that reality presses on the nerve of our sense of self-preservation. And when that reality does come to bear down in our lives, how do we react? Do we embrace it or attempt to ignore it? Continue reading

Inadequate By Ourselves

I Am Inadequate blog series

This is the third post in a series on our inadequacy. Read the others here.

Whenever I come out of a superhero movie, I feel a bit of a superhero myself. I’ve watched Batman be awesome and cool and save the day long enough to think of myself as Batman. When I leave the theatre, I’m not in my Golf, I’m in the Batmobile. I think of getting the bad guys, seeing justice reign, and I feel my muscles getting bigger and my stomach getting flatter. I like Batman as the hero, but really, I want to be the hero. And who doesn’t? Being the hero looks pretty cool.

But reality is obviously different than a two hour Hollywood version of a comic book. We can’t be the hero, we just don’t have what it takes. We can’t do it alone, we need others. Continue reading

Inadequate in the Mission

I Am Inadequate blog series

This is the second post in a series on our inadequacy. Read the others here.

We all want to be a part of something that will change the world. Or at least we really like that idea. At some level we realise that living for ourselves isn’t enough, or it ought not be enough. At the same time, we are also easily satisfied. We know we shouldn’t live for ourselves, but we really like to.

We want to end world hunger, but we also want to buy a boat.

And we vacillate between these two poles: our altruistic selves and our consumerist selves, never staying at either long enough to feel at home. We end up a little guilty, a little anxious, wondering if we’re living for the right thing or if we’re missing out. Maybe there’s a better way. That better way would start with us realising that we are inadequate in what we choose to do. We don’t have what it takes when choosing the mission for our lives. Continue reading