Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Give a Man a Fish or Teach a Man to Fish?

"Give a Man a Fish, Feed Him For a Day. Teach a Man to Fish, Feed Him For a Lifetime." Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, is credited with making this statement. However, I believe it has great implications for the Christian life. Essentially, this statement is emphasizing the truth that it is more beneficial to have the means than it is to have the end. It's like our high school math teachers who gave us credit for showing our work even if our final answer was wrong. Though we may not have caught any fish, we showed that we knew how to, which is of greater importance.

Lately I have felt like I have been giving people fish. I am a helper, I like to “rescue people” from their problems. I see a person in need and feel I should step in. Well, after doing so I see that I may not always be helping the problem but rather enabling it to continue and thus making it worse.

Fishing can be a long and tedious task. Worse yet, one may fish all day and still not catch anything. But we need to eat! So often, rather than risking our survival on our own fishing ability, we rely on the more experienced fishermen to give us fish. This is the case that I have seen happening, people rely on me for help. Sometimes it’s literally the need for food of a person who walks through the church doors, other times its money, and other times still just a listening ear.

There is nothing wrong with helping people. We all need help at one point or another and as brothers and sisters of Christ we are called to “bear one another’s burdens”(Gal. 6:2), and so I say there is nothing wrong with “giving a man a fish”. However, if the man becomes relent upon another for his fish, not learning to fish for himself, he has put his life in the hands of that man. And what if that man catches some bad fish?

The verse in Galatians goes on to say “For each one shall bear his own load.” (Gal. 6:5) We are to bear one another's burdens of trial and suffering; but each one of us is to bear his own burden of duty and responsibility. The burden of sharing human infirmity is one thing, the burden of giving an account for our actions to God is quite another. At some point one must take responsibility for his own actions but we can no doubt support on another. After all did Christ not model this while on earth?

As one who likes to rescue others I am learning that I cannot do it all, and sometimes ministry means saying “no” to people. Sometimes saying “no” is what it takes for a person to realize they need to make a change. It breaks my heart having to turn people away because I or the church does not have the resources, but one thing I have learned is I can help point people in the right direction where there are adequate resources.

Ministry is hard, ministry is challenging, ministry is rewarding. I feel incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to support others and reflect the love of Christ that He has shown me. Supporting others and rescuing others are two separate things; two things that I am learning to differentiate between but with God as my guide I am discerning between the two. I pray that I would be one to teach a man to fish rather than simply give him a fish.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Call My Name

Music has such an impact in life and in so many ways. For me music is more than simply notes on a page or chords for guitar, for me music is an expression of feeling that speaks more powerfully than words alone. Perhaps more important than music alone is music with lyrics that call us back to our Heavenly Father. Third Day has a song titled "Call My Name". It's lyrics and chorus go something like this:

When you feel like you're alone in your sadness
It seems like no one else in this whole world cares
And you want to get away from the madness
You just call My name and I'll be there
You just call My name and I'll be there

The pain inside
Has erased your hope for love
Soon you will find
That I'll give you all
That your heart could ever want
And so much more

Scripture gives us a passage that matches well with this song (at least as I see it). Hebrews 12:1-2 reveals a few things. It says

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."

First, there are things that entangle us. Things the author calls sin. And we're told to "throw off" the sin that so easily entangles us. But then it says "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith." Whenever life has you, whether in it's sadness or madness, let's focus on Christ who for the joy set before Him endured the cross and all it's suffering because there, in relationship with Jesus God gives us more than our heart could ever want.

Click on the video below to hear the acoustic version of Third Day's Call My Name...I simply LOVE this song!

Monday, August 22, 2011

"Put Your Seat Belt On"

Today was mom's last day here and we went into Anchorage to have our final meal. We pulled into a Denny's and near the exterior garbage can was a man. He looked to be a an Alaskan native with dark tan skin. His hair black long and frizzy, his clothes dirty and worn yet his words of broken English spoke deep into our hearts.
"If you have bring them me?" he asked
"Sure" my mom replied before I could even speak.

We went in an ordered our food. Mom and I began to talk. Having served as president of TRUTH (Together, Reaching, Unity, with the Homeless) at Concordia, St. Paul for the past two years I have worked with a lot of homeless individuals, particularly children. As a club we have done research, promoted awareness, and brought in speakers. One thing that I learned the sticks out to me is that the people who ask for food, rather than money, are the ones who often are in dire need as those who ask for money end up spending it on non-essential items like drugs.

Our food arrived and mom took half of her Super Bird sandwich and her fries out to the man. I waited inside at the table. After some time of waiting mom returned to eat her meal.

"What took you so long?" I asked
"He had moved" mom replied

Mom then informed me that he had moved from the side of Denny's over to a nearby dumpster where he had a garbage bag and was digging out food scraps. Mom happened to see him and was able to drop off the hot meal. She learned that his name was "JR" and upon mom leaving he thanked her and said "Put your seat belt on"

After are meal we went to the car and could see JR behind the dumpster enjoying his hot meal but still picking through the garbage bag in front of him. Mom and must have been thinking the same thing because before I could speak mom asked if there were any grocery stores nearby. As luck would have it there was a CARRS (a grocery store) right across the street. We picked up a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, a jar of jelly and a dozen bakery cookies.

When we walked back across the street JR was nowhere to be found. We looked for him, as he couldn't have gone far but could not find him. After some time of looking we gave up since mom had to be to the airport. After saying our "see you laters" (i've never liked goodbyes) I left the airport decided I would try looking one last time for JR. I went back to the Denny's parking lot, but he was not there. I drove over to the dumpster but he was no there. I then drove around the bank and found him in the building corner. I gave him the food to which he said "THANK YOU, THANK YOU!! Put your seat belt on!"

I wished him a good day to which he said again "Thank you, put your seat belt on, thank you...put your seat belt on" I realize now that he must not have know very much English because these two phrases were all that he repeated and it was with these two phrases that I could hear God speaking to my heart.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me."

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” (Matt. 25:34-40)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Apple Doesn't Fall Far From the Tree

Where have the days gone. It seems a lifetime since I have updated. Well there is good reason for that I assure you. The past few weeks have been filled with visitors. First my fiance, Adam, came to visit and then my mom. It has been a blast and it makes me feel more like a local and less of a visitor myself while giving tours of local hot spots, especially with navigation in Anchorage.

My mom was here for two weeks. Two weeks may not seem like long but this has been the longest that either of us have been in the presence of one another consistently since I left home. College is busy, I have spent my summers as a camp counselor so it was fun to have two weeks together.

It is interesting to be with one person especially when it's family. What's the old saying? The apple doesn't fall far from the tree? I guess I am no exception.  With my mom visiting one thing I noticed was how she always makes lists so as not to forget things. She has always done this but I have never really took notice until recently. I do the same thing! I am a list person. I make lists for to-dos, things to pack, groceries anything really, I always make lists. Another thing, music. My mom is a phenomenal organist and pianist as well as trumpet player and singer. While I cannot do all of these things music is a big part of my life. Perhaps it's because mom played piano before nap time while we were little, or forced my sisters and I into piano lessons (which we later thanked her for) but music is a large part of who I am..

I credit my mom with many things but I cannot forget about my dad. My dad is a hard worker. If one could step into the Kuhl household the end of September-November it would take but a few minutes before one would realize the physical labor and mental stamina that my dad posses. I don't know anyone else that can run on 3 hours of sleep, chocolate and Mt. Dew for three months straight and still have time to be a husband and father of four. This is also true of myself. I cannot do things half-heartedly but rather full throttle and always to the end. My dad also has a way with words. Not speaking them so much as writing them. This is true of me. It takes me time to think and process as I am a far better writer than I am a speaker.

Both of parents have a strong faith which is one of the big reasons I have been led to be a DCE. I credit them with bringing my siblings and I to faith in Christ and to lead with a servant heart. I am so blessed to have parents as wonderful as them, and I am blessed that with them I have such an extend family of people both in Minnesota, and Alaska to support and encourage me as I continue this journey. Thanks to all of you, you know who you are. :)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Our God is an AWESOME God!

Last week I was blessed with a visit from my fiance Adam. He was here for just under a week and in that time he was able to witness a variety of Alaskan experiences. Throughout the week I tried to share with Adam what so many have shared with me in just the few months I've been here. I've only been here a couple months, but this state, Alaska, is one giant letter to me from God, showing me daily how AWESOME and POWERFUL He really is. The animals, the landscape, the people, God is evident each day.

Tuesday was a trip to Seward, AK on the Alaska Railroad. The trip is about 130 miles (Anchorage to Seward). I had never road a train before so this was exciting to me. The train had a dining car, a bar car, and a car with a glass roof. It was a fun ride, but it was very foggy and rainy which made for low visibility on what is dubbed "The Best Way to See Alaska" (Alaska Railroad motto)
A PUFFIN! They are the cutest little birds I ever did see!
Otter in Resurrection Bay (Kenai Fjords Tour)
Downpour of rain
There was a leak in the downspout
TWO humpback whales a mom and calf
Whale of a tail

Wednesday was a trip to Whittier, AK. Whittier is accessible only by a 2.5 mile tunnel that goes literally through a mountain. The tunnel is a one way road shared by the railroad. It is monitored by the station and the use of traffic lights allows each vehicle to go at the correct time (which is about every 1/2 hour unless there is a train). Whittier is a quaint little town that really can be seen in a matter of five minutes. The City of Whittier was incorporated in 1969. Today, less than 300 people reside in the town supporting the Alaska State Ferry, the Alaska Railroad, freight barge, commercial fishing, the Small Boat Harbor, recreation and tourism with an annual visiting population of over 700,000. In 1948 the military began construction of the first of two buildings for their military personnel as the Port of Whittier was then recognized as an ice-free, deepwater port strategically located to Anchorage and Interior Alaska. This remained active until 1960 at which time the total population was 1200. After closing the population greatly decreased. In 1964 with the great Alaska Earthquake 13 of it's 70 residents were killed.
The tunnel to get to Whittier (note train tracks that one must drive on)

After exploring Whittier we traveled back through the tunnel to go to a local wildlife refuge. There were many animals including bison, musk ox, caribou, moose, black and brown bear, and bald eagles.
Musk Ox
Brown Bear aka Grizzly (but Alaskans call them "Brown Bears"

 Upon leaving we were told that if we were traveling back toward Anchorage we would not be back anytime soon. The road was closed due a bad accident (a 15 passenger van with a church group and a suburban with 8 people hit head on).

Normally this would not be a big deal as people could find alternate routes, but in Alaska there is only ONE route to head south of Anchorage. One road, one lane, along the coast. This highway can be dangerous since the scenic view is a distraction and if drivers are not alert the winding road that follows the jutted coastline could end up fatal. In this case one person died.

Cool, I found my last name Kuhl!
We were told the road would be open at 7:00pm. Now on the south side of Anchorage there is not much to do, nor are there many towns. So Adam and I traveled to Girdwood AK to check out the Alyeaska resort. Upon entering the resort we found many other travelers who had the same idea. We then traveled back toward the highway only to be informed that the road would remain closed until 10:00pm.

Adam and I found ourselves at a corner “mini mall” (if you could call it that). It consisted of a gas station, pizza shop, sheriff office, and “The Great Alaskan Tourist Shop”. The parking lot of the gas station was full and an overflow of parked cars was on the road since everyone was in the same boat. Among the travelers were two charter tour buses, a nursing home bus, and several motor homes.

By this point Adam and I were hungry so we went to Coast pizza. If you look at the sign in the picture below you will notice that the “T” in coasT is capitalized. This is because the previous owners owned shop that sold Tacos, so new management wanted a pizza place name to reuse the letter so not to purchase new ones.
coasT pizza was PACKED, since it was one of about five places to eat (the others were in Girdwood). We got some pizza and then went next door and spent over an hour in “The Great Alaskan Tourist Shop” which was a small two room store. Let’s just say we memorize all the prices and knew where each product was at by the time we left.

Traffic jam, Alaska style
Look at all the traffic, it was backed up for 7 miles
Friday we went fishing with one of the members of Our Redeemer named Mark. Mark is a great salmon fishermen (among other fish) and knows all the good spots. He took us fishing for Silver Salmon, but we instead caught Pink Salmon and Chum Salmon (aka Dog Salmon). I did not catch any fish but I did have the largest catch: A STICK! At any rate I was glad that Adam caught his limit, so he could be apart of the real Alaska experience for fishing.
Adam's catch: Chum Salmon
My catch: A stick as long as my pole
We make waders look good! 
In the evening we were bless again to have a church member, Gaye allow us to take out her Kayaks. We went to Eklutna which was stunning. It was not windy, and the rain held off for us long enough to get in a good paddle.

It was like being back canoeing in the boundary waters...well except it was in a lake, with a kayak, but very cool!

God is apparent no matter where one casts a gaze!

Saturday we headed north on our only non-rainy day. Destination Matanuska Glacier. We stopped to take in some of the beautiful scenery along the way but the glacier was the highlight of the day.

In the middle of the glacier...A lake, look at the size of the people on the bottom left (click for larger view)

You cannot tell from this picture but each of those peaks are hundreds of feet tall. (see above picture for size comparison to the people)
I'm on top of the world
Beautiful day!

Alaska is so beautiful. I have said it time and time again, and perhaps it's because I'm still new, but each day I see something new, or even something old in new light, and it just amazes me and humbles me. God's greatness I cannot fathom, nor understand in my finite mind since He is an infinite God. What best descibes my feelings are the words written by the psalmists in the following verses...

The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world. God has made a home in the heavens for the sun. It bursts forth like a radiant bridegroom after his wedding. It rejoices like a great athlete eager to run the race. The sun rises at one end of the heavens and follows its course to the other end. Nothing can hide from its heat. (Psalm 19:1-6)

When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—the moon and the stars you set in place—what are mere mortals that you should think about them human beings that you should care for them? Yet you made them only a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor. You gave them charge of everything you made, putting all things under their authority—the flocks and the herds and all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea and everything that swims the ocean currents. Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth! (Psalm 8:3-9)

Our God really is an AWESOME God!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

FISH for Food!

Sunday was the first FISH event held at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church (ORLC). FISH stands for Faith Integrity Service and Honor. It is a gathering of several youth from several churches. Since the youth group numbers are smaller and more people makes for more fun we get together and do things with youth from Palmer, Wasilla, Anchorage, Chugiak and occasionally Homer and Fairbanks.  

FISH rotates its location from church to church and when it is hosted by a congregation that DCE is in charge of planning the event. It happened that this month was held at ORLC which meant I got to plan the event. FISH events can be anything from fun and games to intense Bible study to service projects. 

My idea for the FISH event was grounded in the need of ORLC's very own food pantry. The food pantry here at ORLC serves over 450 people which is quite significant and a great opportunity for outreach in the community. With this in mind the FISH event consisted of a Shopping Scavenger Hunt. A list of items that are needed on a weekly basis was given to me and from that I wrote clues about each food item.

The kids took their shopping to Costco which is a lot like Sam's Club. It is a wholesale store that allows one to buy in bulk for cheaper. They were given 1 hour and $100 dollars and had to get as much for the allowance given.

Both teams did very well and together we were able to purchase, 50 pounds of rice, 50 pounds of flour, 30 boxes of macaroni and cheese, 25 pounds of sugar, 3 chickens, lots or Ramen, and many other beneficial food products to serve those in need.
The youth and all of their food shelf items!
It was a great afternoon of service and I think they had a lot of fun doing it too, I know I did.