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Grace and goodness

Three days of inadequate efforts and I’m just plain tired. I mean, I’m really tired. I’ve experienced more spiritual warfare in the past few days than ever before. From dawn to dusk, it’s been one act of Satan working against me after another.  Ephesians 6:17 tells us, “Put on salvation as your helmet and take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” I’ve been clinging to that “sword of the Spirit” all week, calling upon the Lord to sustain me one day at a time. I’m reminding myself to rejoice in the blessings of fiery trials as Scripture says. Slowly but surely, I’m finding that rotten days strengthen my faith a little extra.

This morning I woke up and honestly dreaded another day, fearing that it’d be as exhausting as the days before. I turned on the radio as I drove to school, forgetting that it’s never rarely anything but Christian talk shows that early. Emphasis on the rarely. This is where the week’s tired prayers became fruitful: a song was playing, and it instantly spoke so much life into me. I only caught, “Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal, so lay down your burdens,” before it went to static. I just kind of lingered in the Lord’s presence for awhile, soaking every bit of that in. That single line laid every trouble to rest.

Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal, so lay down your burdens.

I said, “No, Lord! I need to hear the rest of that!”

I came to terms with the lost radio station and opted for Pandora. Seconds later, the very same song was playing through my speakers. The exact song that had been lost to static happened to be streaming from Pandora just when I needed it to. This was Jesus saying, “My mercy is new every morning,” as I got my cup refilled.

“Come out of sadness, wherever you’ve been. Come broken hearted, let rescue begin. Come find your mercy, oh sinner come near. Earth has no sorrow that Heaven can’t heal. So lay down your burdens, lay down your shame. All who are broken, lift up your face. Oh wanderer, come home, you’re not too far. Lay down your hurt, lay down your heart, come as you are. There’s hope for the hopeless, and all those who’ve strayed. Come sit at the table, come taste the grace. There’s rest for the weary, rest that endures, earth has no sorrow that Heaven can’t cure. Come as you are, fall in His arms. There’s joy for the morning, sinner be still.” – David Crowder

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Big Dreams, Bigger God

Later, I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: Upon the servants, upon the handmaids, I will pour out my Spirit. Joel 2:28-29

Scripture says in Genesis, “Joseph dreamed a dream.” It doesn’t say if he drank hot chocolate before bed, making the odds of dreaming a little greater. It doesn’t say what he read before bedtime or what he was thinking about when he fell asleep. It simply says, “Joseph dreamed a dream.”

I am a Joseph. I am a dreamer. I believe my dreams are God-orchestrated, and I believe that there is mighty, mighty power in a dream, just as there is in the name of Jesus. For Joseph it was power over the murderous plot of his brothers who threw him into a well. It was power over the slave traders as he was found in the desert. It was power over injustice and inhuman treatment as he stood naked in the auction of a slave market. It was power over a prison sentence claiming the rest of his years. I believe there is no limitation to the power of a dream.

I dream big enough for the both of us, but I serve a big God, too. I know that the dreams in me were bred by my Creator, who spoke the universe into existence. This dream of mine is bigger than the opposition of the world around me, and not for a minute will I lay it aside because of my own human inadequacy. The Lord is looking for men and women to wake up and say, just like Joseph did, “World, I had a dream.”

Every book is the dream God placed in the heart of a writer. Every home is the dream God placed in the heart of a designer. Every garden is the dream God placed in the heart of a landscaper.

To the house of Jesse, traveled a prophet. God was after a man whose heart was vast enough to carry an entire nation. Jesse brought every last son before Him, each one with a face fit to be a king’s. Each one talented, each one handsome, but each one rejected by God. Then came David, a boy who lived beneath an open canopy, in a field with his sheep. This son was different, living not confined by walls, but under every one of Heaven’s stars. Similar to Abraham, I’m sure he counted stars and stayed up late to fall asleep beneath them. I’m sure he woke up early, just in time for the glimpse of grace that the sunrise offers. I can’t imagine the view he must’ve had. He was different in the way he was strong, drawing his strength from the Man he knew lived inside of him. The prophet saw him and the extent of his heart. “Here is one after God’s heart, here is one who thinks God’s thoughts and dreams His dreams.” I love the way Tommy Reid, a favorite pastor of mine, sums up the way the prophet sees David. He says, “He had never read one of David’s songs or heard him play his harp. All he knew was that he looked beyond the suntanned skin and saw a heart big enough to contain God’s dreams.”

And He made from one, all nations of men to settle on the face of the earth, having definitely determined their allotted periods of time and the fixed boundaries of their habitation. So that they may seek God and find Him there, although He is not far from each one of us. For in Him, we live and move and have our being.  Acts 17:26-28

I delight in this. I can’t tell you the peace that this bit of Truth brings me. Please, read those few verses again. He has determined our allotted periods of time and fixed boundaries of our habitation, so that we may seek and FIND Him. He has created fixed boundaries. “There is a fixed, determined place where we are called to seamlessly move in Him and He in us.”

My dream was always that of a typical little girl. I’d always hoped I’d have a yard full of horses and a house full of puppies someday. Something like that. I had my heart set on being a marine biologist, or whatever allowed me to ride on the back’s of dolphins or hold starfish in my palms.

And then by the grace of God, the world of missions woke me up, and my dreams, to most ears, sound crazier now than my original dreams of Arabian horses and deep-sea dives.

It’s among the mud huts, the dirty water, the always-dusty bare feet, the rice and beans, that I have found my calling. It’s there that I seamlessly move in Him and He in me. Africa is my fixed boundary. That’s where I seek Him the most, that’s where I find Him the most. I now dream of banana trees in my front yard, not horses. Of African children running through the house, not puppies. Of riding on the back of pikis, not dolphins. I dream of holding small hands again, not starfish. I dream of saying Jesus to the one who has never heard His Name. I dream of fetching water, of walking the trek to the market. I dream of blind eyes opening, deaf ears hearing, of seeing my Heavenly Father touch someone for the first time. I dream of meals multiplied until every hungry stomach in the village is filled until it’s full. I dream of revelations every single day.

Every dream is the Lord pouring His spirit into us, just as He says He will in Joel. He’ll find us, as He did David, with our “world-changer” hearts.

Yes, I am Joseph. I am David. I am Moses. I am Jesus. I am a dreamer.

Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

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Well spent days in Africa

The road less traveled took me to the sewage-lined streets of Diepsloot, South Africa. There I learned that loving is the new black, and that a lion lives in the heart of every brave person. Rats ran the same streets the bare-foot children did, and disease was rampant, occupying the body of virtually everyone we met. But, come to find out, these people had nothing but grace and big welcome smiles to offer us strangers. It was there, among the hungry-for-love Africans, that I found more joy than ever before.

Nearly 280,000 people live within the 1.5 to 2 mile radius we ministered in. Of these 280,000, my group of 10 planted 301 seeds, sharing the Gospel with 301 people. The angels rejoiced as a whopping 153 of them committed their lives to Jesus.

Our hand’s became the Lord’s hands as a crippled woman walked and a blind woman saw again. Our whispers became shouts as we prayed not just for all, but for each.

I sat in the dirt with countless women, each one sharing in the same struggles. Not just one or two, but all of them lived in shacks the size of a garden shed or smaller. The shacks were built from wood, scrap metal and cardboard, pieced together like a puzzle. Electricity was a mighty scarce thing. Instead, open fires took the place of stoves, and there was no such thing as a hot shower. Dishes and laundry were done in buckets with water so cold it literally stung your fingers. This is what these people called home. This is how they lived survived.

But the women, oh the strong women of Africa. There was nothing more humbling than being seated at the feet of a woman bearing the hardships one bears in Diepsloot. Holding her hand and trusting that maybe for a second she felt all the hope she’d been robbed of. Sitting together, soaked in sweat-mixed tears, audibly crying out to the Lord. And as we cried, scripture says He bent down, leaning in to hear us. I write with Precious and Privilege and Agnus in mind. Nancy, Chio, Jo Ann, Gladys, Winnie, each one paving the way to greatness.

Africa is the swing of a hand caught by another, much smaller than yours. A baby in one arm, a child on the back, one on your shoulders, two pulling on your shirt, a few on your legs — you just never knew what kind of a balancing act you were walking into.

Here’s the thing – I’ve never been gifted with kids. So here I am, swamped with an innumerable amount of children, stiffly patting them on the back, trying my hardest to show them the love they are just so deprived of. Their noses dripped and their open sores were only growing. Most had ringworm, if not something worse. In that moment my heart softened as I thought of God’s love for us. Each of us, dirty and tarnished, are beyond loved by the Lord. And although we’re all “infected” by our own kind of ringworm, He still yearns for us, quick to pick us up with His grace.

I can’t express the state my heart was in. It was truly broken in a way that taught me my heart had never actually experienced heart break. But in the same hours, I sincerely fell in love too many times to count. I went with the intentions to change the hearts of the Africans, when in reality, I was the one that left with a heart change.

“It’s hard to reconcile the challenges they face, with the joy I see in them. The images spilling out of my television showed only misery, and I was fooled. I bought into the lie that circumstances define happiness in places that despair should thrive. I find adults dancing and singing. Children playing soccer with a ball of tied trash. Relationships and faith provide joy. My new reality… my joy should have no regard for my circumstances. I want what I have learned to trickle down from my head into my heart. I no longer want to need the ‘next thing’ to have joy. Africa does need our efforts and partnership, but for me, I need Africa more than Africa needs me.

So here I am, back at home, but I’m not so sure that home is a place that’ll ever be the same again.

 

 

 

 

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Warm Heart

I’m weary and restless, stirring at the thought of the world’s bony children and bare feet. Somehow, these things warm my heart. Those who have nothing are dressed with smiles and filled with joy, finding contentment in another day to live. They rejoice and give thanks, always finding something to delight in. I see them and I’m reminded of, “You turned my wailing into dancing; You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to You and not be silent. Oh Lord my God, I will give You thanks forever.” Psalm 30:11-12 

I’m itching to share good news, to hold the coffee colored hands of an African child and tell them how wanted and valued and special they are. I want to skin my knees playing with those little boisterous beings, and then collapse on cool ground to soak in God’s goodness. I want to spend my hours drawing water, laughing as I drench myself trying to carry it back. Oh yes, these things warm my heart. 

“When have you ever read a story of God’s great work that made a lot of sense, a story that didn’t seem a little over the top, a little impossible? Not often. Radical, extraordinary love just doesn’t make sense in a fallen world; that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. But it is the very nature of God.” – Katie Davis

I feel this unexplainable urge, this push and prod, to move to Africa and do these things. To share good news and to hold hands. To play with children and soak in God’s goodness. Serving, laughing and loving. Somehow I know that God, who resides in this heart of mine, is the source of it all. This growing love I feel towards people I’ve yet to meet is surely God ushering me into a life of discipleship. “Go,” He whispers. And go I will, running fast and free to Him, to Africa, to a life on the other side of the sea. “In the end, love doesn’t just keep thinking about it or keep planning for it. Simply put: love does.” – Bob Goff

 

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An Undying Passion

Day after day, I write about the same thing, the same people, the same love. Africa, the homeless, the poverty-stricken, the sick, the dying. But let me tell you, God has set this undying passion for His people and His children and His land inside of me for a reason. I’ve never wanted anything so much, every hour of every day it seems that Africa is on my heart. I genuinely crave it with a passion much too large for this heart of mine to contain. I delight in knowing that the passion and love I feel isn’t something I mustered up myself, but rather it was God given. Falling in love with Jesus sure brought the change in me, and as I sit here basking in His glory, my heart hurts at the thought of someone else missing out on the same transformation because they’ve never heard of Him and the grace He offers so freely. Who will tell them? Who will hold them, and sing to them and clean up their scraped knee? Oh I pray it’s me, someday. Isaiah 6:8 says, “Then I heard the Lord asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to these people? Who will go?” I said, “Here I am. Send me.” And that’s exactly my prayer, that God would send me to the nations. I said, “Lord, send me. Please, send me.” I pleaded every night for who knows how many months, and because we serve such a gracious God, He honored my willing heart. So off I go, to dance on red soil, and share Jesus with every soul I can. No, I’m not afraid, in fact there’s not a bit of fear in me. If something happens to me, I die knowing Christ. I’m afraid for the children sleeping in puddles, afraid that they’ll go unnoticed. I’m afraid for the women that give up their bodies and are robbed of joy and innocence, hoping that it will buy them one more day. All the while, I’m overcome with joy at the thought of infectious laughter and new hands to hold. I get shivers just thinking about the opportunity I’ve been blessed with, to love on children who don’t know much love otherwise. I’m in it for the people, so that they know a Love much greater is waiting on them and that because they were bought with a price, they are such a treasure. Oh boy am I in, I am so in. I don’t want Africa for the vacation; I want it for the sick children with the runny noses. I want it for the ones dying on the dirty streets without knowledge of Jesus’ saving grace. I want to be scarred, yet deeply humbled by the lives people live without treated water and sewerage and electricity. I see those children in pictures with flies on their open sores, nothing but skin and bones, yet bloated stomachs sticking out so far they can’t even see their little feet. Meanwhile, I also see a God so powerful and so willing to bring hope to those lives that more than anything I want to be a part of the change I know He’s bringing. How humbling that will be. 

“Whatever you want others to do for you, do so for them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12 There are people in need all over. If you were in the shoes of one struggling, wouldn’t you “want the shirt off of someone’s back”? Yes, you’d want to be shown love and compassion and companionship, so give love and compassion and companionship. 

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34 This speaks for itself, just love people. Remind yourself, “God loves this person, God values this person. He wants me to do the same.” Love them as He loved us, and He loves us a LOT. Jesus took the ultimate sacrifice when receiving death on the cross, if that’s not love I don’t know what is. Be willing to sacrifice as Jesus sacrificed for those that don’t yet know Him. He didn’t say, “Love one another, unless it means giving all you have.”

My friends, give. Give selflessly. Give financially, open up your home, give prayer, just give love in all the ways you can. God meets our needs as we meet the needs of others.

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God’s Calling On Your Life

We sit in waiting, day after day, expecting an answer from people and places and music and television, about what exactly we’re supposed to do with these lives of ours. All the while, days are passing and time is wasted in wonder. As we carry out our every day living, we go about it with the intent of just stumbling across what it is we’re meant to do for the rest of our lives, or where it is we’re supposed to go. We pray in anticipation, “God, what is it I’m supposed to do? Just tell me already.” Because that’s how we’re wired. We get antsy, we worry and fret over our unplanned lives, forgetting that God tells us not to be anxious. His plans for us slip our minds and we get brain washed by society telling us that by the time you turn 18, you better have the next 50 years mapped out. Believe me, I’ve spent my share of nights crying out to my ceiling, questioning if God was hearing me. I prayed the same prayer every night, asking God to reveal this “plan” I had always heard about, the one that prospers us and brings us hope. All along, the answer laid typed out on the delicate pages of my unopened Bible. In the Bible, God answers, and with nothing but truth and promises. Surely this isn’t news to you, but take a moment to think about it. So many questions we ask God are answered directly through the pages of the Bible collecting dust on our coffee table. 

We’re all called to the same life. We’re called to pray and to serve and to love our neighbors with willing hearts. We aren’t just called to love our neighbor next door, but the crossing guard directing traffic before school, the person that hits our car and drives off, the homeless man on the street corner asking for money only to turn around and spend it on drugs. We’re called to make disciples of all nations, whether that nation be our own or one on the opposite side of the ocean. We’re called to find the powerless and give them power, and to find the hungry to feed. There are beaten down, broken lives to love on all over the place. While we’re buried under the warmth of a tangled comforter, thousands upon thousands of others are buried under poverty and disease. They wrestle with desperation, so many of them unaware of the never-ending love and hope Jesus Christ brought and is bringing. We’re called to give more than we have, and in those moments of vulnerability, I’m convinced that’s when the most genuine form of joy takes root in our raw heart’s. We’re simply called to be brothers and sisters, to carry one another’s cross and love with such an intense love that Jesus is seen through our everyday living. This is what is asked of us. 

So maybe this plan of prosperity and hope isn’t a plan created just for us. Maybe the prosperity we’re blessed with is meant to be given to prosper others, and maybe the hope that God fills our life full of is meant to spark a flame of hope in someone else’s life. I’m finding more and more that the great future He has for us, is a future meant for serving and praying and loving. Not a day goes by that I’m not in awe that God, who is more than capable of doing all of this by Himself, would choose to let us all play a part.