Transition

27 01 2017

dsc_0696

Today I realized something for the first time.

Roughly nine months after abortion-on-demand became the law in America, in the autumn of 1973, I was born for the second time.

During those months when many women were embracing their new-found reproductive freedom, God was forming me in the womb of faith, preparing me to become His child.

I could say a lot more about what happened that day, when my sixteen-year-old self first felt the irresistible urgency — unseen forces from without and within pressing me toward my emergence from the dark womb of spiritual sleep into the dazzling radiance of faith.

But the one thought that demands my profound awe in this moment is simply this: God is a redeemer.

Always, in every place and at every time, God is making all things new.

dsc_0714

dsc_0697

dsc_0687

A few years later, when I was in my early twenties, I was reading Malachi 4 and was inspired to write a song. This morning, when George read the same passage, he reminded me of it and said we should revive it. Maybe so. But meanwhile, I can share the words with you here.

The Day is Coming

The day is coming, burning like a furnace,
And all the wicked will be chaff.
The day is coming when the righteous will rejoice
And leap from the stall like a calf.
The day is coming when the Sun of Righteousness
Will rise with healing in His wings.
And all the holy ones will be before Him
And crown Him King of kings,

Alleluia.

Come, Lord Jesus; come, Lord Jesus,
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.”
Come and bring us the day of our deliverance
When we will be revealed as sons.
For creation is anxiously longing,
And we ourselves grown within.
But the day is coming, the end of our suffering
Because we’ll be found in Him.

Alleluia
Alleluia
Alleluia
Jesus, Come.

dsc_0782

dsc_0751

Romans 8 says God subjected the creation to futility on purpose — that all this groaning we see, hear, and feel is the pains of childbirth, meant to assure us that deliverance will indeed come.

I had the holy and awesome privilege of watching my daughter and my daughter-in-law give birth — one at home, and one at a birthing center — both without the use of any drugs.

I watched and prayed as they entered fully into their labor, breathing into the pain, working with the contractions.

As the hours dragged on, I watched them battle through the dark and awful fear that deliverance would never come — that strength would fail, and life would be swallowed up in death.

And I watched as they entered the phase called transition — that sacred and solemn space, where the world disappears and the whole body, soul, and spirit is consumed with bringing forth life.

Watching was like catching a glimpse into eternal mysteries — the hope that the creation itself  will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. The hope of redemption that contracts the soul of every believer with prayers that are groanings too deep for words.

dsc_1207

dsc_1180

When I consider the brokenness of the world today — the desperation of refugees torn from their homes yet feared and rejected by many in the world, the immensity of modern day slavery and human trafficking, the selfish demands of the privileged, and the ignored oppression of the poor, the orphan, and the widow — I feel exhausted and tempted to despair. Perhaps deliverance will never come. Perhaps strength will fail, and life will be swallowed up in death.

But then I remember Who subjected creation to this prolonged ordeal, and hope rises. Perhaps we’re on the edge of transition — that holy and solemn space where the soul gives itself to a higher purpose.

Perhaps the church will shake off her anesthesia, enter fully into her labor, breathe into the pain, and work with the contractions, and perhaps new life will come forth from all this agony.

This is my hope.

And my prayer?

It hasn’t changed.

It’s still the same aching, exquisite cry that belongs to the Spirit and the Bride.

“Jesus, Come.”

dsc_1287





When we don’t recognize the answers to our prayers

11 11 2016

DSC_0056

To state the obvious, there’s a lot of pain, confusion, fear, and disappointment in the aftermath of the election. We’re all processing what happened and trying to predict what it might mean for the future. Tensions are high and words are often harsh and accusatory. And I’m not even referring to the general populace. I’m talking about those who identify as believers in Christ.

So, I thought it might be good to preach a little gospel to myself and anyone else who wants to listen in. Feel free to grab a cup of tea and get cozy.

Our culture may be saying a lot of things about us, and we may be saying a lot of things about each other, but God has also said some very specific things about His people. Here are a few of them:

We are created in His image, covered by the shadow of His wing, held in the palm of His hand, fearfully and wonderfully made, created for His pleasure and glory, chosen in Him before the foundation of the world, taught by the Holy Spirit, known, protected, shielded, shepherded, disciplined as beloved children, grafted into the vine, loved, cherished, set apart, adopted, His workmanship created for good works that He has foreordained for us to walk in.

Exhale.

DSC_0021

DSC_0104

DSC_0029

DSC_0099

DSC_0082

One good thing I already see happening post-election is that Christians in America are distancing themselves from political affiliations and reexamining their identity. As believers, we’re called to be in this world, but not of it. We may be citizens of a nation, but we’re called to live here as citizens of God’s upside-down kingdom. No earthly ruler is responsible for accomplishing what God has commanded His church to do.

God is calling His people to deep, meaningful, and powerful community. Can you imagine what would happen if we really believed all the truths God has spoken over us — if we walked into our inheritance and united our hearts, our creativity, and our energies in loving this broken world?

We need to own our identity as God’s sons and daughters and co-heirs with Christ, because the kingdom we live in determines the lenses through which we see all things, including the promises of God.

Consider Psalm 84:11-12. “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!”

When you read the words, “the Lord bestows favor and honor,” what comes to mind? Or what about the phrase, “no good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly”? If we view this promise through the lenses of the upside-down kingdom, we remember that “favor” from God may look like loving discipline of His child, and “honor” may look like bearing reproach for His Name, and the “good thing” He won’t withhold may be the suffering or persecution He knows we need to be conformed to the image of His Son.

The more we look through the lenses of the upside-down kingdom, the less God’s Word becomes about our personal or social agenda and the more it becomes about His glory and His kingdom.

DSC_0069

DSC_0018

The only way to accurately see God’s promises and commands is through the right lenses, and when we do see clearly, life becomes a glorious adventure with Him. When we don’t get our way, we can still give thanks, because we believe in His sovereign plans and purposes and power. We trust that, whatever He chooses for us, it is an indication of our Father’s favor and His faithfulness to give good and perfect gifts to His children.

God is always only good in what He gives, and always only good in what He forbids. Therefore, the only true freedom is found in absolute submission to Him.

So, how do we live in submission to this King? What are the principles and laws of this upside-down kingdom?

They’re the exact opposites of the principles of the world or the so-called law of the jungle.

Jungle law says it’s every man for himself.
Kingdom law says consider others as more important than yourself, and the greatest in the kingdom is the servant of all.

Jungle law says might makes right.
Kingdom law says the weak confound the mighty.

Jungle law says kill or be killed.
Kingdom law says turn the other cheek, go the second mile, if someone asks for your coat, give him your shirt as well.

Jungle law claims that only the fittest will survive.
But kingdom law says become as a little child, the meek inherit the earth, and the pure in heart see God.

And here’s the secret to freedom and the unexplainable joy of God’s children. We know that the best gifts He gives are actually the ones that bow us the lowest, because God resists the proud and draws near to the humble.

God’s ways are higher than ours. He knows what we actually need (as opposed to what we think we want), and He is willing to crush us if that’s the way to resurrection. We see this imagery again and again in scriptural word pictures.

DSC_0094

Jesus is the vine, we are the branches, and the Father is the gardener. He prunes us according to His wisdom. To us it may look like He has cut away what was most beautiful in our lives, but He always prunes with purpose, that we might abide more deeply in Him and that we might bear much fruit.

IMG_3156

He is the potter and we are the clay. We feel the pressure and we want to squirm out of his grasp, but He is shaping us, molding us for His purposes. We can trust God’s love to be behind every painful stroke of His hand.

DSC_0016

He is the refiner and we are His gold. Left to ourselves, we would remain dingy lumps of metal with dirt clinging to our surface. His fire cleanses, purifies, strengthens. He knows exactly how hot the fire needs to be to burn away all our dross until He can see His face reflected in our lives.

We want these things in theory. We may even ask Him to prune our dead branches, to shape us into useful vessels, to burn away our dross. But when it happens in real life — when the sheers cut deep and the pressure feels unbearable and the fire burns hot, we can easily lose sight of God’s purpose and forget that the suffering is not only for our good and His glory, it’s the answer to our prayers.

Have you noticed that we never fathom the fullness of God’s ways? There’s always more than we can see. We look for physical healing and God heals our hearts. We ask for blessing and He sends pain that splits us wide open, because He knows that’s the only way our souls will ever learn to breathe.

Right now the people of God in America have an opportunity to be salt and light for such a time as this. May we welcome His working in us and trust His ways. And may we recognize the answers to our own prayers, even when they come disguised in the most surprising and unexpected packages.





The Broken Way

1 10 2016

sadpm

I know a teacher probably shouldn’t have favorites.

But the eager light in his eyes. That disarming smile. His quick mind and the way he asked the best questions. His presence in the classroom set a tone that infected everyone in the best way. Including me.

And he was only nine years old.

When he was no longer my student, our paths occasionally crossed, and he always acted as though nothing mattered more in that moment than talking to me and catching up on life.

Brilliant, kind, thoughtful, and extravagantly gifted, he grew up to become an accomplished musician and film editor. An artist with a tender and sensitive soul.

This week I found out that he took his own life.

He was twenty-seven.

griefpm-2

I’m sitting in this ache. Thinking of him. Thinking of his parents. Of their loss. He was their only child.

Who can carry grief this heavy?

We are broken. All of us. And we spend much of our time, energy, money, and prayer on trying to get ourselves fixed. We look to doctors, preachers, politicians, plastic surgeons — and yes, even God — begging to be made well, worthy, safe, beautiful.

We spend our lives grasping for wholeness and come away empty handed. But maybe we’re so busy trying to mend away or pretend away our own brokenness, we’re missing the point?

I’m currently reading Ann Voskamp’s new book, The Broken Way, which releases October 25. I signed up to be on her launch team — partly because I love Ann and want to help spread the word about this amazing book, but mostly because I didn’t want to wait until the end of October to get my hands on it. And can we just be real? Helping launch a book by Ann is like helping launch the sun into the morning sky. The book is going to soar, not because a team of advance readers successfully launched it. It’s going to soar, because it is desperately needed truth for right this minute.

Brokenness is crushing people. Broken hearts. Broken minds. Broken bodies. People like my former student — who may look great on the outside, but inside they’re dying. And I’m afraid, in too many cases, the church is distracted by lesser things.

churchpm

“By this we know love, that He laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” That’s 1 John 3:16.

And in John 13, after Jesus washes His disciples’ feet, He says, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”

We see this pattern repeated again and again. What Jesus did, we are also called to do. But somewhere along the way, a whole lot of our western-culture theology became about “me.” My comfort. My peace. My purpose. My best life, and I want it now.

Jesus was always only about His Father’s will. He came for one reason. To be broken for us.

timepm

“How do you live with your one broken heart?” Ann asks.

And God answers. “You give it away.”

So maybe it’s time to stop grasping for personal wholeness and embrace the truth that the only way others can see His light in me is through the cracks?

Maybe it is only in my brokenness that I am qualified to enter yours?

The Broken Way is the account of what happened when Ann said yes to God’s second dare.

The first dare? To count His One Thousand Gifts — to find Him in everything, and to let her perspective and her whole life be transformed by living fully aware and fully grateful. But gratitude is a beginning, not an end. At the Last Supper, Jesus didn’t stop with giving thanks for the bread. He broke it. And He gave. Then He told his disciples, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”

Do this. Break as I am broken. And your brokenness will be made into abundance.

The second dare? Lay down your one life — the handful of moments granted you — and pour them out as an offering to Him.

wheat

This book is a masterpiece painted with words — a stunning depiction of the upside-down, sacramental life my soul craves when I let the Spirit speak louder than the magazine headlines. I’m only four chapters in, and it has already spoken to the deeps in seismic fashion. Don’t be surprised if I have a lot more to say about it in the days ahead, but meanwhile, you can learn more and pre-order at TheBrokenWay.com.

How will you live with your one broken heart?

There’s a way to fullness of meaning, fullness of purpose, and fullness of joy. It’s the way Christ chose for Himself and the one He beckons us to follow.

Here’s my hand. Let’s go together.

 

 





Like Leaves Falling

22 12 2015

DSC_0008

Creation understands. Birth. Life. Withering. Dying. Returning to the dust.

The leaves don’t cling to the green. When winter whispers her soon return, they explode in a colorful psalm, embrace the outstretched hand of the wind, and dance their way to decomposition. There’s no competition. No argument over which leaf left the more lasting impression or legacy. As one, they sink into the earth, and their memory vanishes.

DSC_0001

DSC_0007

DSC_0006

DSC_0004

I need to learn from the leaves. Because I don’t want a life of “clinging to the green.” I want to be okay with Isaiah’s declaration that all flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, and — as much as I believe in wisely stewarding it — this body is breaking down.

So I’ve been thinking. About how to live the autumn of my life well.

I’ve been searching for the secret of the leaves, and I believe I’ve found it.

DSC_0029

DSC_0030

DSC_0040

DSC_0028

 

I’ve been thinking about Jesus, and how all power belonged to Him — how He could have had everything this world has to offer (and was tempted to take it), but was pleased to do things His Father’s upside-down way.

He was formed in the womb of a poor, unwed teenager, and born in a stable. His birth was announced to shepherds — rough, disreputable men whose testimony wasn’t allowed in courts of law. As a toddler, His life was threatened by a murderous king, and His parents fled to Egypt as refugees. As a man, he never married or had children, and had no place to lay His head. He enlisted house servants to both assist and witness His first miracle.

DSC_0114

DSC_0122

DSC_0109

He left His glory to enter His humanity and our brokenness fully.

For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
    a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Isaiah 53:2

He welcomed the outcast, dined with tax collectors, healed the sick and oppressed, and fed the multitudes. He spoke in veiled parables, redefined the Sabbath, and invited the condemned to repentance. He was silent before false accusers, allowed mere men to mock and humiliate Him, and willingly absorbed the wrath of God on the cross.

All because He knew. He knew that three days later He would rise. That the grave isn’t the end. That death doesn’t win.

For the joy set before Him, He laid aside everything that was His right, and took on everything that was our due. And even now, He knows my frame. He remembers that I am dust. And when I don’t understand His ways, He gently lifts my head and asks me to look beyond this withering grass to the steadfast love that never ceases, to lay down my life and be caught up in His immeasurably more, that I might join in the triumphant song of the saints through the ages.

Birth. Life. Withering. Dying. Returning to the dust.

But that’s not the end. Because a Baby was born in Bethlehem, we rise up laughing, swept into the beautiful, dancing purposes of God, where it’s grace upon grace upon grace.

Just like leaves falling.

DSC_0035

Wishing you a glorious Christmas, my friends, and the freedom to soar with Him into the New Year. With much love.





Seek Peace

25 08 2015

DSC_0007

In April I spent some time in Doro, South Sudan, in a refugee camp that is home to 135,000 displaced people. In that place, God both exposed and broke my heart, and I returned home tender, repentant, and eager to do whatever He might ask of me.

We landed back in Dallas on a Saturday, and the next morning, Alysa was in the lobby of our church, recruiting volunteers to participate in a reading program for refugee children.

I went straight to the table and signed up.

DSC_0009Alysa preparing materials for Reading Circle

DSC_0002

Fact: According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are more than 50 million refugees around the world, half of which are women and children.

Fact: Less than 1% of the 50 million people seeking refuge are selected for the UN Resettlement Program.

Fact: Texas has led the nation in refugee resettlement for the past four years.

Fact: More than 10,000 refugees have been placed in the Vickery Meadow Neighborhood in Dallas.

Fact: I also live in Dallas.

The nations are at my doorstep.

DSC_0018

DSC_0014

DSC_0046

Sometimes I feel pretty good about myself. After all, I try to be kind to everyone (at least out loud), to take good care of my family, to practice hospitality, to pray for and encourage struggling, disheartened, or grieving friends. I serve my church and community in some useful and respectable ways. To be honest, sometimes I even feel a bit smug in my having-it-all-togetherness.

But then God invites me to witness what real love looks like. And I’m back at exposed and broken again.

When an expert in the law asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus threw the question back at him. What did the law require? And the man was ready. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Good job, Jesus said. Do this and you will live.

But the man wanted clarification. He was pretty sure he was already doing enough, but he wanted Jesus to sign off on his efforts. So he asked, “Who is my neighbor?” And, as Jesus often did, He told him a story.

A man was attacked by robbers on the road and left half dead. A priest saw him, but passed by on the other side. A Levite did the same. No doubt they had their reasons — didn’t want to touch what they supposed was a dead body and become unclean? Had full agendas and no time for interruptions? But a Samaritan — a man both the priest and Levite would have despised —  came upon the man, too. And he did not pass by.  He saw the man and took pity.

DSC_0003

The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.

DSC_0004

He put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he paid he innkeeper and promised to reimburse any additional expenses for the man’s care.

DSC_0005

Jesus asked the lawyer which man was a neighbor to the wounded man. The lawyer answered, “The one who had mercy on him.” And Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”

DSC_0006

SEEK (short for “Seek the Peace”) is a non-profit organization operating within the refugee community in Dallas. The people who work at SEEK are like that Samaritan. They’ve heard the call to love their neighbor, and they’re willing to count the cost to follow through. They know these refugees have suffered unspeakable losses and extreme trauma, but they aren’t there to provide charity. The focus of their work is equipping the refugees to live purposeful, peaceful, reconciled lives right now, right where they are — as individuals, families, and a community.

SEEK pursues their goals through several programs, including the Reading Circle, which exists to equip refugee students for success through literacy. Three Saturday mornings a month, volunteer mentors gather the enrolled elementary-aged students from their apartments and walk them to the SEEK office, where each student receives personal instruction based on an initial assessment and his on-going progress. It’s all very organized, intentional, and a lot of fun.

The kids do improve in their reading and writing skills. But more than that, they build relationships with people who offer them presence, acceptance, encouragement, respect, and hope. And they soak it up.

DSC_0053

DSC_0048

DSC_0022

DSC_0025

DSC_0042

So, why am I telling you all this? Because I want to encourage you in three ways.

First, I want to encourage you to live with your eyes and heart open. I could have walked past that Reading Circle sign-up table and easily justified the reasons why I didn’t have time for one more ministry in my life. And I would have missed out in a huge way. Maybe the nations are at your doorstep, too? Or the homeless, the poor, the orphan, the widow? Neighbors have many different faces.

Second, I want to encourage you to pray. Pray for the 50 million people who’ve been driven from their homes by war, persecution, natural disaster, disease, economic collapse, and other traumatic events. Pray for their healing, comfort, and thriving. Pray against the greed, pride, hatred, brokenness, and evil that is forcing many of them to flee. Pray that Jesus will meet them in their suffering and make all things new.

There’s a lie that says you can spread your heart too thin. I know, because I’ve listened to it before. But this is what I’ve learned. When you love your neighbor — with your time, your presence, your creativity, and your resources — your heart doesn’t empty. It fills. Again and again and again.

So I have one more word of encouragement. This one is only for those whose hearts move them to respond. It’s not even a request. It’s an opportunity, with absolutely no pressure. SEEK is currently trying to raise funds for the next year — operating expenses, like rent money so they can stay in their office in the refugee apartment complex. They aren’t asking for big commitments. In fact, the specific request sent to their volunteers was to give $10.00 a month for a year, and to ask ten other people to do the same. And of course, any amount is deeply appreciated.

So, some of you reading this? You’re my ten. My fellow Samaritans on this particular road. And for others, maybe this isn’t an opportunity God has for you. That’s perfectly fine. My prayer for you is the same as my prayer for me — that we’ll go through life with open eyes and hearts, willing to recognize our part, and entering joyfully when we do. Because I believe with all my heart that the gifts we find waiting for us there far surpass any giving we may do.

DSC_0072

DSC_0073

Fact: There are more than 50 million refugees around the world.

But facts don’t move us. Neighbors do. Here’s to loving them well.

* * *

If you’d like to donate or learn more about SEEK the Peace, click here. Thank you!

 

 





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!





Thirsty

23 04 2015

IMG_1344“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

~ 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

I spent two weeks in the Horn of Africa. By the numbers, thirteen flights landed in ten different cities at eleven different airports in six different countries. From jumbo jets to prop planes on dirt runways, every flight was on time. No connection missed. No piece of luggage lost.

Our small team got along great. No one got sick. (Or kidnapped or robbed or murdered.) No one even got cranky.

We found favor with visa and customs officials, received unbelievable hospitality, enjoyed a wide variety of local foods (including camel, goat, and a few dishes I couldn’t identify), slept well, and drank deeply of the wells of grace God supplies when His children connect around His faithfulness and eternal purposes.

We were sustained, protected, led, and encouraged, and I have no doubt we were upheld by thousands of answered prayers.

We received mercy upon mercy, and we are grateful beyond words to express it.

IMG_1366

IMG_1358I promised stories upon my return, and there are plenty of stories to tell. But one is burning like a branding iron in my soul, and even though it happened near the end of our adventures, I need to begin right here.

Our God is kind. Much too kind to let us walk in pride. And sometimes when we think our obedience is just about as complete as it could get, the kindest gift He can give is to expose the true condition of our hearts. Like Peter at the last supper, we declare our allegiance. “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death,” (Luke 22) and Jesus simply sets us straight. No, He says. You will deny me.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I promised you a story, and a story you shall have.

IMG_1400

IMG_1406The small village of Doro is located on the northern border of South Sudan. What was once the undisturbed home of the Mabaan people is now a refugee camp housing 130,000 people from a wide variety of tribes — people who’ve fled across the border from Sudan to escape violence, many of them leaving all their possessions behind. There are a number of agencies and NGOs working in the area, and one of them is SIM.

Ruth is a young, single nurse practitioner, an SIM worker stationed at the Grieve Memorial Clinic in Doro, serving the medical needs of the refugees. We traveled there to see her world, bring some requested supplies, and spend time hearing her heart and speaking into her life. Ruth being Ruth, we also ate well, laughed a lot, and played a card game or two. And there may or may not have been a late-night dance party in the hotel room Ruth and I shared in Juba. You’ll have to ask her.

IMG_1294

IMG_1301Ruth with a Nubian child

One of the highlights of our time in Doro was a feast held in our honor and hosted by Nubian refugees. Ruth attends the Nubian church and has gotten to know many of these dear souls well.

IMG_1359Ruth walking past the Nubian church building

The women began cooking early in the morning, preparing mountains of their traditional sorghum bread (like very thin injera). Working over open fires under a massive baobab tree, they also prepared various sauces for dipping, including a goat-and-potato dish, noodles in oil with tomato, a green leafy vegetable/herb concoction, and another thick sauce that I believe contained lentils.

IMG_1349

IMG_1248

IMG_1379When we arrived early in the afternoon, they began serving their traditional beverages. First we drank hot tea poured over sugar. A lot of sugar. Then, after they roasted and ground fresh coffee beans, they mixed the thick, strong coffee with a generous infusion of ginger and another shock of sugar. It was delicious, but intense. A few sips went a long way.

IMG_1230

IMG_1259

IMG_1388As we sat sipping hot beverages in the 100+ degree heat and visiting with the women, we were surrounded by a couple dozen children, at least as many pigs, and the occasional chicken or dog — a sort of happy chaos as babies were passed around, toddlers squabbled, and older children played games or sang and danced.

Everything was dust and sweat and pots boiling on hot coals and chatter in a language I didn’t understand.

IMG_1405

IMG_1341

IMG_1310Ruth and her teammates cuddled babies and conversed with mamas. Pigs were shooed away from food. I sat on a bench, taking it all in, when I felt a small presence crowd in beside me and looked down into a dusty little face.

I asked Ruth if she recognized the boy, and she said no. She also said that a feast like this is rare in the refugee community, and it’s not unusual for uninvited guests to wander in and partake.

The child didn’t look well. The whites of his eyes were thick and yellowed, and his clothes exceptionally tattered. He reached out his hand and pointed to my water bottle.

During my entire two weeks in Africa, I was never without my water bottle. And this particular afternoon, I knew it contained the only water I would have to drink until well after dark. I instinctively pulled it away and said, “No.”

Then I looked at him again. His eyes locked on mine, and he simply opened his mouth.

IMG_1237

I don’t even know how to describe my internal reaction. It was surprise, revulsion, and perhaps a small twinge of guilt. But I still shook my head no. Undeterred, he reached across my lap, placed his hand on the bottle’s mouthpiece, and opened his mouth again.

Now I was annoyed. I wouldn’t be able to drink any more until I got a chance to wash it. But I still didn’t give him a drink. I suppose I subconsciously equated it to awarding misbehavior — like letting one of my children go ahead and eat a cookie they’d grabbed after I’d already said no cookies.

So I simply turned away and ignored him until he left.

IMG_1285I didn’t think much about it again until a few days later when we were making our way home. Our return journey included five flights spanning 36 hours, and I decided to pass some of those hours reading the remarkable and inspiring book, Kisses from Katie.

If you’re not familiar with Katie Davis’ story, the short of it is that Jesus captured her heart for Uganda at the age of eighteen, and she never looked back. Not yet twenty-five, she has adopted fourteen daughters, founded Amazima Ministries (a nonprofit providing sponsors for other needy children), and lives with an open door and heart, welcoming and serving whomever God brings to her. Her philosophy in a nutshell is this: love the one God has placed in front of you right now.

I was reading along, feeling moved and blessed, when I came to this:

“…for me, the whole situation could be reduced to one question: Did I believe that Jesus was serious? Did I believe what He said was true? The answer was yes. I believe He was serious when He said to love my neighbor as myself. . . . I kept going back to Matthew 25, where Jesus said, ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats . . . . Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink . . .whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

And there it was. Like an arrow to the heart, almost knocking the breath out of me. In an instant and with perfect clarity I saw that boy’s pleading face. I knew Jesus had asked me for a drink, and I in disgust and irritation had pulled my water away.

I said no to Jesus.

I knew this beyond doubting, and my heart was crushed. “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.” It was grief like that.

Any sense of self-righteousness I might have been feeling after our two weeks in Africa evaporated. I was a noisy gong. A clanging cymbal. And for a horrifying moment, I wondered if Jesus would forgive me.

IMG_1394In the days following Jesus’ resurrection, Peter was restored and commissioned. He received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and preached a sermon that launched the newborn church. But no matter how many visions he had, souls he reached, or miracles he performed, I wonder if he always kept the memory of Jesus’ face the night he denied Him.

I think he probably did. And, like me, I expect he came to consider it a gift.

My broken-hearted prayer on that airplane was simple. “Please, Lord. Please forgive me. I never want to say ‘no’ to You again.”

IMG_1235I returned from the Horn of Africa with many images seared on my mind, but one stands out, and I’ve asked God to keep it front and center.

By God’s grace, a refugee child in South Sudan will help me keep my promise to say yes.

* * *

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

Thank you!








%d bloggers like this: