This Many

10 09 2016

img_6416Yesterday I used the “I’m this many” photo above to announce my fifty-ninth birthday on social media. The responses were fun, enthusiastic, and appreciated. But there’s no getting past a simple fact. That’s a whole lot of fingers.

Have you noticed that a year is only twelve months, and a month is only a handful of weeks, and a week lasts about five minutes? At least it feels that way. Like I’m not just over the hill, but this hill is getting steeper by the second, and the brakes on my little red wagon gave out long ago.

The older I get, the more I can identify with those scriptures that say we are like grass, springing up in the morning, and mown down in the evening. The green is fading, and I can hear the mower engine cranking up in the distance.

Life is short.

img_6470This aging thing is getting a little too real, but I have to say, yesterday was a good day right out of the gate. First I was greeted by these flowers and this commonest of birthday phrases, whimsically lettered by a hand that holds my heart in the most un-commonest of loves.

This is one of the best gifts, and one that only time can buy. It’s the knowing that comes with overcoming together again and again — choosing against all odds to believe that broken things can be restored, that pain is purposeful, and that love is a battlefield worth defending. It’s hundreds of forgiven hurts and thousands of shared joys and a belonging that no amount of wrinkles or gray hairs can threaten.

img_6421

img_6422

img_6423

 

img_6425

It started with the flowers. Then he took me to lunch at a French bistro. Lobster bisque, and warm goat-cheese salad with walnut vinaigrette, followed by a delicious fluffy-mousse-with-fruity-drizzle complimentary dessert from our waiter, which we’d mostly devoured before we remembered to take a picture.

But the best part of the lunch was the conversation.

“So, I’m fifty-nine,” I said. “Got any advice to offer from the other side of sixty?”

I was sort of joking/not joking, but he paused and then answered seriously. “Actually, to be honest, turning sixty kinda messed with my head. There’s no stopping this train, and there’s no going back.”

And then, almost in unison, we expressed the same thought — the same sense of urgency to make the most of this gift of time, redeeming the moments, filling them with meaningful, eternal pursuits. Let’s be fully present, we said. Fully engaged, fully aware — embodying the hope we’ve been given, the goodness we’ve tasted and seen, the gospel we believe.

While we have breath, let us praise Him with our words and our lives.

Even the best French cuisine can’t compete with that.

Version 2

Version 2

Version 2

img_6446

Then, after lunch, a visit from grandchildren, with hand-drawn birthday cards, and sweetly sung birthday songs, and — later by text because they forgot but meant to — recordings of angelic voices lisping birthday prayers for Emzee. Early faith, fresh in the bud, sure to be tested, God’s to keep and mine to pray for, to love, to listen, and to speak into, when we sit in our house and when we walk by the way and when we lie down and when we rise up.

Grandchildren. Another gift that only time can give. A treasured jewel in the crown of “this many.”

In the evening we walked across the street to my father’s house — the place where we spend most of our evenings, sharing a meal, telling stories, watching tv. Tonight George has planned a special dinner, and I’m not allowed in the kitchen to help.

img_6468

img_0008

img_6460

It’s pork tenderloin stuffed with mushrooms and spinach, grilled butternut squash, and buttery dark-grain toast, followed by FaceTime fun with far-flung beloveds, opening cards and presents, blowing out candles under the loving gaze of the tenderest daddy on the planet, and then a thick slice of ridiculously rich chocolate cake served with vanilla gelato. And I honestly want to know. What could be better than this?

I may be edging my way past middle age, but I have no inclination to mourn my youth and no need to resist the relentless march of time.

I’m this many. This many years of experience. This many memories of grace. This many songs sung, friendships grown, adventures shared, roads journeyed, and fears conquered.

This many selfish ambitions let go, simple gifts received, and dreams refined.

This many assurances that all things work for good, all things serve His plan, and all things will be made new.

I’m small, fading like the grass, seen, known, and so very deeply loved. My little red wagon may be flying down the hill, but the wind is in my face, and I know the One who sets its course and knows the way I take.

Happy Birthday to me, fifty-nine fingers and counting. Thank you, friends, for all the ways you’ve made this journey amazing. You’re a beautiful part of “this many.”

 

 





Kocho, Part II

16 06 2016


One of my all-time favorite stories is the account of Joseph’s life, beginning in Genesis 37 when he was seventeen years old, and ending with his death in Genesis 50. The subtitles alone give an intriguing glimpse of the drama, conflict, betrayal, injustice, cunning, and ultimate triumph of his remarkable life. Check it out (with my mini synopses):

  • Joseph’s Dreams (in which he foolishly brags to his brothers about his dreams of future greatness)
  • Joseph Sold by His Brothers (in which their jealousy gets the best of them, Joseph is sold as a slave, and he gets his first taste of betrayal and injustice)
  • Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife (in which he determines to be the best slave ever, gains favor and trust with his master only to be thrown in prison for the very thing he refuses to do, and gets his second taste of betrayal and injustice)
  • Joseph Interprets Two Prisoners’ Dreams (in which he determines to be the best prisoner ever, gains favor and trust with the warden, gives good news to one of Pharaoh’s servants and asks for a returned favor, is forgotten for two more years, and gets his third, all-too-familiar taste of betrayal and injustice)
  • Joseph Interprets Pharaoh’s Dreams (in which thirteen years after he was first sold as a slave, he stands before the most powerful man in the world, calmly gives God credit for his gifts, interprets cosmically important dreams, and hatches a plan to save the known world from starvation)
  • Joseph Rises to Power (in which he gains favor and trust with Pharaoh and basically runs Egypt; no biggie)
  • Joseph’s Brothers Go to Egypt (in which his brothers come to buy food and don’t recognize him, so he messes with them a little bit)
  • Joseph’s Brothers Return to Egypt (in which they come back for more food and he messes with them again)
  • Joseph Tests His Brothers (in which the brothers humble themselves, and Judah confesses their sins and offers himself as a slave in place of Benjamin)
  • Joseph Provides for His Brothers and Family (in which Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers and says, “It was not you who sent me here, but God.” BOOM!)
  • Joseph Brings His Family to Egypt (and then . . .)
  • Jacob and Joseph Reunited (and then . . .)
  • Jacob’s Family Settles in Goshen (and then . . .)
  • Joseph and the Famine (in which he exchanges grain for land and buys the whole world for Pharaoh, and then . . .)
  • Jacob Blesses Ephraim and Manasseh (aka, Joseph’s sons, and then . . .)
  • Jacob Blesses His Sons (and then . . .)
  • Jacob’s Death and Burial (and then . . .)
  • God’s Good Purposes (“. . . you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” MEMORIZE THAT and then . . .)
  • The Death of Joseph. (The End.)

Only not The End, really. Because there are ripples through history and will be until Jesus comes back again.

Kocho Ali

And all that to say . . . Kocho. When I think about Kocho, I think of Joseph. How sometimes life doesn’t seem to make sense, and injustice is real. And in those times, we have a choice. We can whine, complain, and give up. Or we can believe that the God who sent Joseph to Egypt and meant it for good is the same God at work in our lives today.

Last October I shared Kocho’s story. (You can read it here if you missed it.) Kocho is from the Nuba Mountains, lives in a refugee camp in Doro, South Sudan, and works as a nurse assistant for Doctor’s Without Borders — both to help others and to try to save money to pay his way through school. And it seems like every single step he tries to take into his future dreams is met with roadblocks, setbacks, and miles of pointless red tape.

He’s been trying to get a medical degree to return to the Nuba Mountains and help his people, who for years have been caught in the crossfire between the government of Sudan and the rebels occupying their territory. But, as I explained in my previous post, Kocho is a man without an official ID. He has no papers and can’t obtain them, because anyone from the Nuba Mountains is considered a rebel by association. And without papers, it’s hard to be accepted anywhere for study, or even to cross borders, for that matter.

Kocho is brilliant, gifted, and eager, but one after another, doors slam in his face. Just when it looks like a way has opened, rules change for one program, or random requirements are added for another one. And what does he do? Wherever he finds himself, he determines to be the best he can. Just like Joseph.

He smiles. He serves. And when you ask him how he feels about the delays, he says God must want to teach him patience. He also says that he prays he will never achieve any success that would shift his focus away from Christ and onto himself. And he means it.

So, Kocho is content. He continues to work as a nurse assistant. He also pastors youth, teaches and leads singing in his church, and is currently studying business — partly because it was the only program he could get into for now, and partly to pave the way for entrance into medical school in the future.

KochoGrades
Kocho’s grades in business school last fall

And even as he smiles and serves and works hard at whatever his hand finds to do, he has no idea how he will pay for the education he needs to be able to eventually return to help his suffering people in the Nuba Mountains.

Missionary Care Trip 2015 - Jeanne 1176
Cathy and Ruth in Doro, South Sudan

So his friends (and mine), Ruth and Cathy, set up a fund. And you’re invited to give. And to pray. You’re also invited to share Kocho’s story, because the only way anyone will know about this fund is if people like you and me help spread the word.

And someday? When all God means for good in Kocho’s life bears its fullest fruit, we will have the joy of knowing we were part of this Joseph story — a story setting ripples in motion that I believe will continue to spread, bringing salvation and healing and hope to many, until Jesus comes back again.

Because it wasn’t a government or a war or rebels or armies or chance that sent him here.

It was God.

 

P.S. Whatever you choose to do,
Thank You, friends.
You always amaze.

 





A Word for 2016

9 01 2016

Small

A clay jar is a made thing, imagined and crafted by its maker. He determines its capacity and purpose, and expects only that it do what it was made to do.

In Perelandra (the second book in C.S. Lewis’ amazing space trilogy), the central character, Ransom, accomplishes a magnificent feat. He travels to a world inhabited by its first man and woman, and — by speaking truth to lies and ultimately defeating a demon-possessed tempter in hand-to-hand combat — he prevents a Genesis 3-type fall and secures a curse-free existence for all future inhabitants.

Before Ransom returns to Earth, he stands before the crowned king and queen of Perelandra, and the weight of what he has just accomplished begins to sink in. What will this mean for him in the future? What kind of fame, reward, and legendary status await one who rescues a whole world from brokenness, sin, destruction, and death?

An angelic being quickly reassures him with these words:

“Be comforted, small one, in your smallness. He lays no merit on you. Receive and be glad.”

IMG_3163

IMG_3153

Not only does Ransom return home without trophies and accolades, he takes with him a wound on his heel that will remain a painful reminder of his battle with evil for as long as he lives. In a very literal sense, he is conformed to the image of Christ.

He receives the better reward.

And in his smallness, he is comforted.

IMG_3156

IMG_3157

I think it’s safe to say that the wedding guests in Cana never gathered around the six stone water pots and lavished them with praise. The pots weren’t set on pedestals, festooned with garlands, and worshiped for the miracle of water into wine. Most likely, those water pots continued to function as ordinary water pots and the servants who’d filled them as ordinary servants. Except for what they knew. Which changed everything.

IMG_3152

But there is something in me that wants more. Something entitled. Something desperately selfish.

I say I want my life to be hidden in Christ, but I’m quick to bask in the praise of men.

I say I want to be dead to self, alive to God, and content with the portion He chooses for me, but I still find myself comparing, competing, envying, and resenting.

I say I want to be small in my own eyes, but my heart betrays me. When I don’t get credit for something I did? When I’m overlooked or excluded? When he answers my prayer for humility by actual humbling me? Then I see how far I have to go before I’m satisfied in Him alone, no matter what.

 

IMG_3150

Before John the Baptist was born, he was set apart to be the forerunner for Christ, and he fully embraced that calling in spite of the fact it largely meant a life of seclusion and eccentricity. And when the multitudes actually listened to him and redirected their attention to Jesus, John’s disciples were indignant for his sake. But he said,

“A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.

Stunning. But then? We get this glimpse at a tiny crack in John’s armor. He hears of all the miracles Jesus is performing, while he remains imprisoned in Herod’s dungeon, hidden, set aside, seemingly forgotten. So he sends messengers to Jesus, Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

And Jesus skips the question asked and answers the implied one.

“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.

Jesus said this knowing that John would remain in prison, and Herod would behead him at the request of a dancing girl and her vengeful mother.

But I believe He also said it tenderly, knowing what we don’t know and seeing what we don’t see.

We don’t know what transpired between John and his Father in the moments before and after this seemingly senseless and humiliating execution. We don’t see what he saw or hear what he heard — the “well done” and “welcome home” of the One he devoted his life to serve. Every question at last answered. Every longing finally fulfilled. His joy once and for all truly complete.

IMG_3160

So, my word for the year is “small.” And I want to be like these little ceramic jars, made by a potter friend to be left in random places at Christmas time, each one unique, and each with a note explaining to the finder that the jar is a free gift, given because of all Jesus has given him. Given for the joy of giving joy. No credit sought, and much gladness received.

And I pray I’ll embrace this sacramental smallness not only with words, but with my life. That I will mean it when I tell God I want to be a living sacrifice — one clay vessel among His many, cleansed, set apart, ready for Him to fill and use however He chooses, whether anyone ever notices me or not.

This is my prayer — for freedom from selfish agendas, freedom from entitlement, freedom from offense, freedom to be small.

To be comforted in my smallness.

To receive and be glad.

All for Him.





Kocho

13 10 2015

Kocho AliKocho

When you meet Kocho, the first thing you notice is his deep, abiding joy. You’d never guess that, in many ways, he’s a man without a country.

Kocho is from the Nuba Mountains in Sudan, which means the Sudanese government considers him a rebel. According to this June 2015 article in the New York Times, “A rebel army with many thousands of soldiers . . . governs the Nuba Mountains. The Sudanese government bombs the rebels and periodically attacks them, but the majority of its attacks seem to target civilians, apparently to make the area uninhabitable so that no one is left to support the rebels.”

The article goes on to explain, “The Nuba Mountains have no strategic value and neither the United States nor other governments have made much of an issue of the bombings, or of the lack of humanitarian access.”

Kocho’s people live in constant fear and endure unspeakable suffering, and no one seems to care. This alone would be enough to fill a man with indignation and fury.

But not Kocho.

KochoPreachingKocho preaching at the Hai Nuba Church in Doro

KochoBaptizingKocho baptizing

Version 2Kocho in the Doro refugee camp, with Richard, a member of our team

I met Kocho last April in a refugee camp in Doro, South Sudan, and I was immediately struck by his smile, his intelligence, and his peaceful strength. He exuded radiant grace. We attended a service in the small, thatched Hai Nuba church, and Kocho not only led the joyful singing, he preached a powerful sermon in perfect English and interpreted into Arabic for himself. I remember thinking that, were he to show up in a college classroom in the US, he would fit right in. No one would guess his history.

Kocho’s father had four wives, and he has many brothers and sisters. Though his parents were both Muslims, he went to a school mixed with Muslims and Christians. When he was in 7th grade, his Kenyan teacher took him aside for Bible study. Kocho wasn’t interested, but he didn’t want to disappoint his teacher. So he studied the Bible. And, in his words, “I met Jesus.”

At the time he was living in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. His father had a good position and sent money to continue his next level of education. Then he received a Lost Boys Scholarship, and in 2010 he completed high school.

After that, Kocho says, “I prayed with all my heart” for a chance to continue schooling. Many of his buddies from the refugee camp were able to go to universities in the USA and Canada. Some of them had lower scores than Kocho in school, but he was stuck. He couldn’t say he was South Sudanese, and he couldn’t apply for papers from the north because they would see he is from Nuba and brand him a rebel. He worked a bit as a teacher, then returned to South Sudan and applied for University in Juba.

His application was denied because he’s from Nuba.

From there he went to a refugee camp in Unity State where he worked for Samaritan’s Purse for about a year. Friends then told him about possible job opportunities in Doro, so he moved there to work as a nurse assistant and save money for school.

His friends ask him, “What are you doing these days? You are probably finishing up university by now?” When he tells them what he is doing, they say that he is “wasting talent,” and those who are not Christians say, “God has forgotten you.”

But he says, “God is not done with me yet,” and he looks to Biblical examples of patience. Abraham waited 25 years for his promised son, he recalls. And David waited 15 years before he became a king.

And now? It looks like Kocho’s days of waiting may be coming to an end.

Missionary Care Trip 2015 - Jeanne 1176Cathy and Ruth with a refugee child

Enter Cathy and Ruth, nurse practitioners with SIM at the Grieve Memorial Clinic in Doro, who knew Kocho wanted to further his education, but weren’t sure how to help him. They approached African Mission Healthcare Foundation (AMHF) about setting up a support page for Kocho, and then they began the process of getting him to school.

None of this is simple. Kocho has no official ID or passport, and obtaining one will not be easy. But they managed to get him to Kenya, where he is enrolled in a business school now, completing his biology requirements on a temporary visa, and praying the official papers will come through before this term ends.

Kocho’s dream is to become a doctor, but not so he can get a good job, earn money, and make a comfortable life for himself. He said, “I can see how, when God puts His love in you, it is different than just being a medic and doing a job. With God it is not about the job or about getting money. I have prayed that if any gift is a stumbling block to me in my relationship with God that He would take it away from me. I want this gift of medicine to draw me close to God not further from Him.”

When asked if he wants to return to Nuba to practice medicine and alleviate the suffering there, he answered,“That is a big ‘Yes!’ But I want to follow God’s leading and go wherever His name is not known.”

Kocho may be a man without a country or an official ID, but he knows where his true identity is found. Galatians 2:20 is one of his favorite verses:

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

He also points to Ephesians 5:15-17.

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

Kocho’s friends couldn’t have been more wrong. What the world may see as “wasting talent,” God receives as a life laid down, waiting for His timing, delighted to do His will.

God hasn’t forgotten Kocho. On the contrary, Kocho has been swept up into His holy purposes, adopted into His family, granted citizenship in His kingdom, and sealed as His own. And no one can deny him those credentials.

Will you pray with me for Kocho? Pray that God opens doors of opportunity for this hard-working, beautiful soul. And that he will be able to get the documents he needs to proceed to medical school when his biology course is finished.

And will you pray that the funds for his education come through?  At Cathy and Ruth’s request, AMHF set up a support page, and enough money has already been raised to cover his first year of medical school. Praise God for this wonderful provision! If you know of anyone who might want to pray for Kocho or help financially, will you share his need?

For his part, Kocho isn’t worried. His beautiful faith never wavering, he presses on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Ruth had the opportunity to speak with Kocho last week. Even as much of his immediate future remains uncertain, she said one of his biggest prayer requests was for the Hai Nuba Church in Doro, that they would grow, be strengthened, and “eat solid food, not desire milk like babies.”

Grant it, Lord. And may we, his brothers and sisters in the land of plenty, do the same.





Give and Take

2 05 2015

Let’s play a game. Try to find at least three differences in the following pairs of photos. You’re going to have to concentrate, but don’t give up.

Ready? Here we go:

water-truckwater delivery truck

water delivery truck2water delivery truck in South Sudan

classroomclassroom

classroom2classroom in South Sudan

waiting-roomhospital waiting area

waiting room2hospital waiting area in South Sudan

produceshopping for produce

grocerystore2shopping for produce in South Sudan

bedmy bed at home

bed2my bed in South Sudan

kitchenmy kitchen at home

kitchen2Ruth and Briana’s kitchen in South Sudan

So, how’d you do? Okay. I confess. It was a trick game. The differences are obvious.

I think it’s safe to say most of us living in North America consider ourselves blessed — not only with the common graces God so lavishly supplies to all people everywhere, but with an exceeding abundance beyond the basic necessities. We point to our freedoms, educational and occupational opportunities, material wealth, system of government, financial institutions, medical resources, overstocked grocery shelves, reliable utilities, instant internet connectivity, drivable roads, and a thousand other goods and services at our fingertips.

If we ever take the time to pause and consider how much we possess compared to most of the world, we may wonder why God would single us out to show us such abundant favor. In our best moments we admit: we don’t deserve all this.

Or maybe we do.

Maybe we’re getting exactly what we deserve. And maybe it’s also time we reconsider what constitutes a blessing from God.

childan American child

happychilda refugee child in South Sudan

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m thankful for clean water, nutritious food, a car that runs well, a closet full of clothes, and a comfortable home. I’m glad I can worship freely, receive medical attention when I need it, and call the police if I’m in danger, expecting a quick response. I also believe it pleases God when we receive every gift with gratitude and enjoy His material blessings.

But is it possible my possessions and conveniences have robbed me of far better blessings? Am I truly aware of my utter dependance on God? Or am I blinded by all the glitter and gold, benumbed by the constant bombardment of images and advertisements telling me I’m worth it, I need it, and I can’t live without it?

Am I cruising along in a fog, mostly oblivious to the realer Real — that nothing I achieve or own is actually mine, and every breath I take is a gift? That God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble? That “control” is a delusion, and none of my idols — the things I value, pursue, and trust — can save me?

Have my possessions taken possession of my heart and hardened it toward the better treasure?

sanctuaryAmerican sanctuary

IMG_1333sanctuary in South Sudan

In Revelation 3:17-19, Jesus spoke these words to the church at Laodicia:

Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.

This wasn’t a message to pagans. It was written to people who professed faith in Jesus. The same Jesus who says He reproves and disciplines those He loves. The same Jesus who doesn’t say He gives His favorites fancier stuff.

Like stepping out of a cave into noonday sun, all of this became clear in Africa. For two weeks I left my over-stuffed closet behind and lived out of one small suitcase. Conveniences varied from place to place, but in South Sudan, we had no air conditioning, no indoor plumbing, no running water. We washed clothing by hand in a tub and hung it to dry, hiked to an out-house, and showered using a bucket system. I slept on a screened-in porch under a mosquito net, ate whatever was placed before me, and got around on foot.

And I don’t know when I’ve felt a greater depth of peace, joy, and the presence of God.

IMG_1560

IMG_1131

IMG_1123Ruth and her team leader, Bubba

In Kisses From Katie, Katie Davis wrote about her attempt to return to her comfortable life in Tennessee after a year in Uganda:

Many people asked the same question: “Isn’t life hard in Uganda?” Of course it was hard, in certain ways, but they didn’t seem to understand that what was even harder was being back in the States . . . . I hadn’t realized what a transformation had taken place while I had been in Uganda, the spiritual richness I had experienced in material poverty and spiritual poverty I felt now in a land of material wealth.

She goes on to say, “Brentwood didn’t feel like home anymore. Frederick Buchner writes, ‘The place God calls us to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.’ I had been more than happy all my life in my home in Brentwood. But my deepest gladness and the world’s deep hunger met in Uganda.”

IMG_1466Ruth approaching the market

IMG_1459preparing a young mom to take her baby for surgery in Kijabe

If you hear me trying to shame the North American church for its material blessings, you’re missing my point. What I’m really trying to do is give a glimpse of a truth that I’m praying will take such deep root in my own heart, it will bear fruit a hundredfold and then some for as long as God grants me breath in this world.

My prayer for me and for you is that we will wake up. The fog will clear, and we’ll realize more stuff isn’t ever going to satisfy our heart’s hunger. We don’t need bigger or better or more. We don’t need applause or reputation. We need to pour out. To empty ourselves. To give away. And when we do, our joy is going to explode exponentially.

Katie also wrote:

“The truth is that the 143 million orphaned children and the 11 million who starve to death or die from preventable diseases and the 8.5 million who work as child slaves, prostitutes, or under other horrific conditions and the 2.3 million who live with HIV add up to 164.8 million needy children. And though at first glance that looks like a big number, 2.1 billion people on this earth proclaim to be Christians. The truth is that if only 8 percent of the Christians would care for one more child, there would not be any statistics left.”

This is what we have to give. And what do we have to take?

IMG_1273

IMG_1323

IMG_1275

If you’ve ever bought the lie that the impoverished and oppressed have nothing to offer, you haven’t attended a Nubian church service in a straw-thatch sanctuary in a refugee camp in South Sudan.

They come in their tattered clothes and bare feet — old and young and everyone in between — stooping to enter the low doorway, filing into rows of rough-hewn benches. Their voices rise with an urgent and contagious joy, and like David before the ark, they dance — clapping, jumping, worshiping with complete abandon.

There are no distractions. Instead of laser light shows, sunlight filters through the roof. Instead of a snazzy band, children play drums and tambourines and maracas. And the Lord is here, blazing with grace, pulsing with peace, igniting our worship with glorious intensity and purpose.

They don’t doubt His goodness. They don’t rush His timing. They don’t question His plan. They simply give themselves to Him.

Oh, friends. They have so much to teach us. So much that we desperately need. Gold refined by the fires of suffering. Garments washed clean from the stains of pride and self sufficiency. Eye salve to clear our vision and show us there’s a fountain of living waters, and the broken cisterns we run to again and again will never slake our thirst.

As C.S. Lewis wrote, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Jesus won’t force us. He simply invites. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.”

As for me and my house, we’re flinging the door wide. Come, Lord Jesus. Everything on this table belongs to You. And thank You, thank You, thank You for the better treasure. May we never be too easily pleased again.

* * *

You can support SIM’s work with refugees in South Sudan.
Click here for more information.

Thank you!





A Word for 2015: Abide

6 01 2015

Abide2015

I don’t know who originally started it, but I like the trend of choosing one word as a focus for the year. It feels less rigid than New Year’s resolutions, and as Anne-with-an-e would say, offers more scope for the imagination — like I’m standing on the edge of a vast meadow, scanning the horizon, catching a misty glimpse of glorious design, then moving forward into an adventure certain to hold many challenges and delightful surprises along the way.

This is my fifth year to choose one word. 2011 was Rest. 2012 Contentment. 2013 Receive. And 2014 Known. The progression has felt more like building on a foundation than jumping from one stepping stone to another. Rest leading to contentment, preparing my heart to receive all God’s gifts with humble and trusting gratitude, discovering again and again that He opens and closes doors for my good (even when I don’t get what I think I wanted), reinforcing the assurance that I am deeply, intimately known and loved beyond my capacity to comprehend it.

Which brings me to a new year and a new word.

I considered the word Small, because I am. And Sufficient, because He is. I also considered Light, because the darkness cannot overcome it (and the darkness these days is getting awfully dark). And Purpose, because everything we see (even the darkness) must ultimately serve His eternal plan. I love these words and all the depths of meaning they embody, and perhaps I’ll choose one or more of them another year.

But when I thought of the word Abide, it was like all that I loved most about the other words distilled and blended and absorbed into those five little letters.

DSC_0093

DSC_0094

DSC_0100

By dictionary definition, Abide can mean stay, live, tolerate, endure, or wait. All of those meanings have substance and are worth pondering. But the picture that came to mind when I landed on the word was the one Jesus painted in John 15, specifically verses 4-5:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

He is the true vine. I am only a branch. A chosen, grafted-in, beloved branch, but still, only a branch. I can do nothing apart from Him, but the more connected I am to Him, the more freely His life flows into and through me, and the result is much fruit for the nourishment and delight and eternal good of others.

A branch makes no demands. It has no agenda. It doesn’t choose where it grows or how visible it is or what kind of fruit it produces. A branch simply abides in the vine. And His roots reach deep into the eternal purposes of God, and the sap rises with holy urgency, and the branch that stays in His Word, lives in His light, tolerates the gnawing teeth of pain, endures the oppressive heat and bitter cold, and waits patiently for His good timing? That branch explodes with fruit.

DSC_0082

When I abide, my eyes are on Him, my ears are tuned to His voice, and my heart aligns with His. People may misunderstand, accuse, mock, or persecute, but they can’t sever that connection. And the fruit will come. And the Father will be glorified.

Because that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Shouldn’t that be the “why” for everything I do? If my primary purpose is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, then I need to learn how to abide in Him, to lean on His wisdom, and to walk in His light. And when I do? Jesus said His joy will be in me, and my joy will be full.

I can’t think of a better life or better reward than that.

So, the journey of 2015 begins. Only God knows what it will hold and how life will look when it ends.

Hopefully we’ll need lots of baskets.

DSC_0105

Do you choose a word for the year? If so, I’d love to hear yours. And if you’ve written about it, please share the link along with your comment!





It’s time to play

14 11 2014

IMG_6246

“We can all see God in exceptional things, but it requires the culture of spiritual discipline to see God in every detail. Never allow that the haphazard is anything less than God’s appointed order, and be ready to discover the Divine designs anywhere.” ~ Oswald Chambers

Laura Boggess’ book, Playdates with God, is an invitation to practice God’s presence. To “discover the Diving designs anywhere.” To understand that every moment is sacred, and to joyfully search for God in them all.

Like a gentle caress, it hushes those persistent longings for significance we all have and softly beckons to come and find the beauty in being small.  It’s a call to remember. To become as a child. To skip into the kingdom, masks off — comparisons, competition, and personal agendas laid down.

DSC_0313

DSC_0315

DSC_0318

I love it when I meet myself on the pages of a book. When entering an author’s experience is like finding a category for my own. When someone else’s words explain me.

I met myself all over this book. It was as though Laura had watched the movie of my life and graciously wrapped her beautiful words around many things God has been patiently and persistently teaching and un-teaching me. Time and again, memories surfaced to be viewed through the lens of God’s sovereign goodness and faithfulness. Time and again, I felt the wonder of it and whispered my grateful awe.

No matter how old we get, play is important, because play is acting out story, and truth is best understood through story. Laura explores this concept in great depth, reminding us to let the gospel lead our internal narrative. When we find ourselves in a season of suffering, we endure and press on, because we trust the end of the story — an ending already written with perfect love. How many times has God proved this to be true in my life? I’ve long ago lost count.

IMG_6314

What Oswald Chambers calls “the culture of spiritual discipline,” Laura calls playdates with God. The more we practice this spiritual discipline of seeing God in every detail, the more time slows down and we truly live. We enter the moments of our own lives, consciously receiving His many gifts, and all of life becomes a delightful adventure with God.

I was a child in the 60s, long before cell phones and the internet and so much paralyzing fear, when little ones traipsed unattended to a neighbor’s house. I was so tiny I had to reach up to ring the doorbell. And then came the breathless wait. Would anyone be home? Would someone want to come out to play?

Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and I knock.”

Tiny once again, I fling the door wide.

Yes, Lord. I’m here. And all my time is yours.

Let’s play.

IMG_6227

You can purchase a copy (or ten) of Laura’s wonderful book here, or anywhere fine literature is sold. Don’t leave Jesus standing at the door, friends. It’s time to play.

 

 








%d bloggers like this: