Saturday, November 23, 2013

Two Voices, One Decision

"...we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith."
2 Thess 1:11

Lord, may I have a walk worthy of your calling. Your grace has made the harvest fields ready - the hard work is done, and your messengers will not be hindered. Please help me to leave my fears behind and believe that you will fulfill every action prompted by my faith. My gifts are not my own. I commit them to you, that by your Spirit I may proclaim your works and unify the Bride in the measure of faith you desire, until you come. Amen.

I met Randy last Thursday morning, on a spontaneous visit to Recycled Books. He is not homeless. "I'm domestically challenged," he said, adding the huge pack was filled with dirty laundry.

 I was originally on my way to the Well House of Prayer (in the Fine Art Building on the square), to pray and plan in the wake of learning that my dad had pancreatic cancer. The doors were locked (this was before normal hours), so I asked, "God, what do you have for me right now." So began my journey once again into the chance environment, where God so often wants to meet us. When we cannot predict what happens (and risk comfort), choosing to step out in faith and expectation, we encounter the power of God (Matt 14:27-31).

I mean, how awesome would it be to wear a pack like Randy's one day?! In the Himalayan Mountains, spreading the gospel and documenting miracles. Local Christian newspapers in every major city in the nation! Houses of prayer across the globe hosting media schools, raising up story-tellers after His own heart, using media to spread the gospel! If I had a million dollars, everyone could check-out a Nikon D4. 

But that's not Thursday morning at Recycled Books. Small beginnings, not to be despised, are starting-off the way I expected: Humbly. And I wouldn't have it any other way. Unexpected, though, is how much He would bless me, on the posture of my heart. Little has been "completed" in the realm of this long-term vision. I haven't published any major projects; ministries have unfulfilled videos; I haven't written for any mainstream Christian newsrooms.

But he still blessed me. I had been praying about a bike for a long time. God's timing is so perfect, and I've realized, he loves drama. 

So there I was, outside Recycled for awhile, browsing books on architecture, waiting. (Waiting on the Lord...never an idle thing!) A former colleague and writer from the North Texas Daily passed by (the Spring '12 I was photo-editor). I don't think he noticed me, but a lot has changed since then. Suddenly, I'm having flash-backs of Friday "Slash" meetings (when we critiqued our issues at the end of the week), my harsh criticisms, pride and passion revealed. 

Friends poke fun at the end of a long week. The newspaper is such an important institution; I love it dearly. The Fourth Estate balances our government, bears witness to beauty and ugliness in everyday-life, and helps us make better decisions. But secular media can only go so far in the realm of the gospel and moves of the Spirit throughout the world. Indeed, that's not their mission. There is a hope, a storyline, which journalists are obligated to provide. Many of my mentors are believers, and their work glorifies God. But there are so many who remain disconnected from the storyline of our coming King, and people are in spiritual bondage. What we need now are resources that show the lost and even the Bride what God can do, and through our prayers - healing, justice, revelations, prophetic expression, revival.

I went inside a few minutes later, and the first thing I noticed is this guy carrying a huge pack on his back. I'm always on the hunt for levity, or moments of humor, even and especially in tense situations. Randy hadn't noticed me yet (it's always good to try and be a fly on the wall, for as long as you can), and I overheard him asking about a book on Meth to the store clerk: "Maybe it's in the Christian section." Meth? In the Christian section? I'm listening.

He didn't find the book, and headed for the exit. I caught him outside and promptly introduced myself as a Christian journalist.

Randy (last name withheld) was a drifter for years, and halfway through a nation-wide tour (he wanted to write a book), discovered his "drug of choice:" Methamphetamine. High one night, watching a sexual scene on television, a mocking voice began accusing him of wanting to rape her, and another started laughing at him. In the midst of those agonizing and loud tones, broke-in a still, small voice: "My son. I'm sorry but I had to do this to teach you. I love you."

Randy explained to me how, after that night, he stopped running from God. He cleaned up, moved to Texas, started staying at the Salvation Army and now works as a mover in Carrollton. He had been in Denton for one week, and decided to stay in the area after hearing the Christian-Rock station. He showed me a folder full of worship music he was learning to play on guitar. 

I took on his pack, and we grabbed some lunch at St. Andrews.

"I'm letting the Holy Spirit clean house," he said at the table. "No alcohol, no harmful chemicals."

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
Matt 6:9-13 
A guy at our table offered to sell Randy a bike for $10. As I watched the bike while Randy got money from the ATM, I thought to myself, "Lord, you know I need a bike." We get to the house of prayer, and BAM there's a bike! Just kidding...

What really happened. After getting his bike, Randy and I were to WellHOP and a friend came inside to warn me that my car was being ticketed by the po-po (I was there over two hours). He saw my old temporary tag and threatened to tow my car "as soon as I back up." So I moved it. My friend told me to park at an apartment complex down the street, but I felt the nudge to go to Bullseye Bikeshop and park it there. My buddy who owns the shop also leads the house church I attend, Acts 2 Fellowship. Sure enough, I found him outside, and told him about the ticket. The moment I noticed the bike, he placed his hands on it, and I thought, "that's the one!" He made a deal to exchange it for a month's-worth of photo services (features, ads).

Actions prompted by faith. Every good purpose fulfilled, by his power!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Dry Bones, Broken Cisterns

In this college town called Denton, drugs are where the students are, following them like a preying lion. "Honey oil," unknown to my once marijuana-filled mind, is pure THC resin (like hash). Apparently, it's a recent development.

I didn't try it. But I'm not going to lie, it was tempting. I could excuse my way into partaking, probably with little harm and much benefit to my flesh. It's when sin is viewed as something "good," even "right," that Satan has his greatest victory.

I made sure to share what God had spoken to me about drugs, two years ago this time. I was returning home from a 5-month stay in Austin, with a pipe full of weed in San Antonio to greet me. The reality of temptation was there, and I wanted to get rid of it. But instead of just throwing it away, I asked God to smite me, to show me his thoughts. In the act of disobedience, not the best question.

Right before and exactly the time I placed the flame to my pipe, my ears were filled with the sound of chains dragging and a door closing, like a jail-cell door. This happened about three times, as if it were moving from house-to-house on my cold-de-sac. Freaked, I went inside. As I walked in, my ears then filled with the sound of crows cawing. I asked my dad if he heard anything. Nope. I sat down in the living room with the lights off, my heart beating rapidly, and prayed for the sounds to leave. They did. Then I felt a burning sensation come up my leg, as if they were being held to fire. I was not even high at this point. I placed my hand on my leg and prayed desperately for the fire to leave. It did. I crawled into bed and fell asleep as quickly as possible.

Turns out I had some strongholds, and I needed deliverance only God could bring. That came a few months later at the annual onething conference at IHOP Kansas City, over the new year. "Lord, I pray for neural pathways," said my brother, laying his hands on my head. Immediately, a physical mass of junk shot down from the top of my head, down the back of my throat, all the way down my legs and into the ground. The feeling was so weird and brief, and I'll never forget it. I began to declare and repent of past sins. I had a vision of Jesus standing outside my bedroom window, always there as I smoked, desperately wanting my freedom. It was as if a veil had been removed. I could write, I could hear His voice. I was rewired.

Over the course of that conference, I experienced the manifest power of God. Some call this the camp experience. It is now my understanding that God wants his children to have camp every day of their life. I came expectantly, boldly before the throne of grace, and asked for dreams. His grace ushers us into even more grace.

Vignettes of God's thoughts in the night were new and wonderfully strange to me. One only a few minutes long depicted me driving in a parking lot to report a drug dealer. I had weed in my pocket, but did not desire it at all. It was as if I were undercover. "You will not desire it, and you will establish my justice through intercession," was the message impressed upon me as I prepared to attend UNT that spring.

God has made it evident that he did not walk me through all those years of drug-abuse for nothing.

A few hours before leaving Kansas City, we were at the prayer room and I was talking on the phone with my sister, Laurie. "Be expectant," she said, noting that God would use me or others to pray and prophesy. This, too, was new to me, for about two minutes. "Uh, Laurie, I need to call you back." A guy had just walked up to me saying, "God told me to ask you for prayer, because you received deliverance from drug abuse and you are supposed to pray over me." Click.

I drop off my friend and after sharing a bit of my story, head back to the barn. I'm in the upstairs on the land, eager to hear what God had to say. I asked, "what are your thoughts about this night," and heard, "John 4:13." Keep in mind I don't know what this says - I typically don't - but it seems to be how God wants to write the scroll on my heart. It's hard to forget as a personal message:

"Anyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again."

Drug water, entertainment water, food water, money water, girlfriend water - it doesn't matter what it is, all are broken cisterns, stagnant waters. In this life, true satisfaction cannot be found from any source other than God. There is a longing deep inside of each one of us that can only be satisfied by streams that are living, always moving and causing us to change. "He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart..." (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

How often we fall prey to the schemes of our adversary, the spirit of this age, and neglect the first commandment given to Moses! "You shall have no other gods before me."

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Paul & Deni

Paul Ruiz and I grew up together in San Antonio. Things that click, clack and clang are the instruments we played. A cadence of drums, swishing basketballs, things that shoot (cameras, paintball guns, actual guns?!), and now, a heartbeat for Jesus, keep the rhythm of our lives in sync. We discovered that Light together, under the Milky Way on one-night-trips to his family's desolate ranch in Yancey, Texas, outside Hondo. Now he is gearing up to serve two months in foreign skies as Airman First Class. There, he will surely feel a pulse unlike anything I was able to share on the football fields of South Texas, heartbeats marching in time.

Paul met Deni Flores on an annual church retreat, about two years ago. Without any intent on finding love, they found it. She lives in Dallas, coordinates weddings and loves elephants (I was undercover photographer for the proposal, by the beasts at the Fort Worth Zoo). She and Paul have a similar sense of humor and always try to "take it aaysee."

A last-minute breakdown of my car brought Paul and Deni scrambling to Denton, with about an hour of light left before sundown. On our way to Wal-Mart for some batteries, I saw flying in the Saturday evening breeze a row of flags celebrating Labor Day weekend. I knew that would be our chance to hopefully make some great pictures; airport uncertain; the square, packed. So there was Paul, changing in public view outside a Whataburger like it was drumline days again.

"Do you want to come in Wal-Mart with us?" Paul asked Deni. "The only way we will ever part is when your're deployed," she said, placing her head on his shoulder. It's telling, the true love displayed between them. Absence only makes the heart grow fonder. A verse in Song of Solomon is in my mind...

Place me like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame.

Consecrated, divinely-rooted love is as secure as death, emotions and jealousy as final as the grave; secure: not subject to threat; certain to remain or continue safe and unharmed.

He beckons us to come, to draw near and find our hope, our joy in His unfailing love. Paul and Deni, may your love always grow, roots nourished by His streams of living water. May it strengthen in tough times, seeing the hope of eternity beyond any momentary and light affliction, those moments we are called to lay down our life, expectations or rights, and sacrifice short-term wants for long-term gain. The rewards are eternal...a crown of glory...treasure laid up in heaven.

Click the photo below for a slideshow of the most patriotic engagement pictures you may ever see. ;-)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Trip South Texas

We celebrated the life of Omi Da, who passed of natural cause at her home in Eagle Pass. She was 94. The older sister to my grandma Kay Keehn (mom's side), she had a fiery spirit - blunt yet wise with warmth. The family gathered June 15 outside her home and immaculate garden after a miraculous 24-hour storm brought historically low temperatures, passing just before the memorial.
Click the photo to view a slideshow.

 We visited Kiddie Park, the oldest children's amusement park, with Eva and Ethan, July 16. Click photo for slideshow.

Was able to squeeze in a last-minute shoot with Maya and Bert Muzquiz. Click photo for slideshow.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

seed, oil, rain

That I would return to the viewfinder, the blog, the keyboard, is not surprising. What always surprises me is how God works to bring our talents and desires in alignment with his will. 

Sometimes he has to blind us before he can let us see. 

This blinding is spiritual, of course. This is so "the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you." We can humble ourselves before God does, but either way, he humbles us. He wants us to partner with him - obedience, surrender and trust are the paths of least resistance, even if it is uncertain and painful at times. 

I recall a season early in my faith where I could not think as deeply and richly about the world, as I once did having the atheistic mindset. "I saw beauty so vividly, everything as being so significant," I recall telling my brother-in-law, Erich. He mentioned Hebrews 4:12:

"For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart."    

God wanted to become the foundation and center from which my thoughts could flow. An old tree of relativism needed to be uprooted and a new one planted, one of the gospel, so I could bear fruit from that new truth. "A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit." Matthew 7:18

Chris Knox, friend and worship-leader at Calvary Chapel, described experiencing this dividing of the mind, in his life of music. "I was judging the worship leader for playing a certain way, when God told me (the Holy Spirit convicting his heart) "It's not about the music, Chris. I'm looking at their heart, and they are in the right place." I realized it wasn't about the ability to do something extremely well, but how much they loved God doing it. That really humbled me."

This reminded me of a quote by Brother Lawrence, a 17th century monastic known for his "Practice of the Presence of God": "We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.” 

I have to remind myself, so what if that photographer didn't take the best pictures or work as hard, if they are loving God, it pleases Him the same.

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us..." Eph 3:20

I've begun to pick up the camera again, the notebook, tools to be used for Him and through Him. I'm not sure what to expect, but it will be great because He is great.

"...but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful." Mark 4:19 Even godly desires can choke the word. "But only one thing is needed," Jesus said, and that is to cultivate a love for Him, being at His feet (Luke 10:41). Good soil is the humble and undivided heart.

"The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps." Pouring oil into jars after tearing a hole in the container, I'm reminded of Matt. 25 and how, as Christians, we must keep our lamps burning with the oil of gladness, of grace to avoid spiritual decay by the power of the Holy Spirit, in order to welcome the Bridegroom Jesus. What will make us unprepared is carelessness and negligence of that grace, that oil we never bought, hoping in our own efforts to serve\love\achieve without fuel from loving God first. Go get oil!
Texture on the barn window pane mimics the rain clouds. There has been a shift in perception about life in the barn. The more we cultivate the presence of God in a place, the more we can't help but think and feel Him upon our stay. Letting the Lord speak through my camera and the beautiful, good gifts He has given in this place, is one way to hear His voice and have His mind. The enemy wants to keep me underwhelmed. No!  :)