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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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The Cost of Following Jesus – ISIS and America

Islamic terrorists in Iraq are beheading children and burying people alive, and it won’t stop there. They have a message for America: “We’re coming for you.” -CBN News

 

Following the path to Jesus often leads to persecution. Growing up in a culture where freedoms and choices are plentiful, makes that a hard pill to swallow for some. We’re free to gather in worship, we’re free to pray, we’re free to praise and sing to the Heavens all we please. While we very well may be ridiculed, hardly ever are we arrested for our faith.

 

Luke 21:10-19     Nations will go to war against one another, and kingdoms will attack each other. There will be great earthquakes, and in many places, people will starve to death and suffer terrible diseases. All sorts of frightening things will be seen in the sky. Before all of this happens, you will be arrested and punished. You will be tried in your meeting places and put in jail. Because of Me, you will be placed on trial before kings and governors. But this will be your chance to tell about your faith. Don’t worry about what you will say to defend yourselves. I will give you the wisdom to know what to say. None of your enemies will be able to oppose you or to say that you are wrong. You will be betrayed by your own family and friends. Some of you will even be killed. Because of Me, you will be hated by everyone. But don’t worry! You will be saved by being faithful to Me.”

 

I’m continuously watching videos and reading articles about ISIS and the persecution in Qaraqosh and Bartilla. I watch these Islamic terrorists run Christians out of their homes, cut off their limbs, and blow up their bodies. They flee while they can to Erbil, most with nothing more than the clothes on their back. If they don’t convert, they are killed, each one of them, from baby, to mother, to old man. They’re burning churches and cleaning out the belongings of the victims, leaving them with nothing. No ID, no travel documentation, no clothes, no money, nothing. They’re shot, tossed on the ground, and run over with machinery, as their families are made to watch. They’re pleading for the United States and the United Nations to come stand by them.

What am I doing for my faith?

Meanwhile, as thousands upon thousands are dying for their faith, here in America, churches care more about the lighting on the stage. They’re having basketball courts put in, flat screens installed, and pool tables set up. On the other side of the globe, children are being taken, raped and beheaded for their faith, while we worry about raising our hands during Sunday morning worship. We ask ourselves what the person next to us will think if we pray out loud or clap in excitement for the Lord. Frankly, I think we all need a heart check. Yes, persecution in the US is few and far between, but are we ready to fight the good fight?

Jesus made plain the consequences that would come with following Him. He warned us all through Scripture what would take place in the lives of believers. It happened to Peter, John, Paul, James, and countless others. Why it still comes as a surprise to me, is beyond me. Even though it’s anticipated, it’s not any more acceptable. 

Have mercy, Lord, on those who are mistreated. Keep them strong and rescue them from death.

Recently I read a story about a man named Dmetri, who fell head-over-heels in love with Jesus during the communist reign in Russia. He began opening his home to others, giving them a place to come and worship. People swarmed to read the Bible and sing songs that testified their faith. So many people came, the government noticed, and Dmetri was fired from his job. Steadfast, he continued preaching to others that came and gathered. One night, during a church session, officers broke in and took him, just as Luke said would happen in meeting places. They slapped him around and said, “We warned you, and warned you! And I will not warn you again! If you do not stop this nonsense, this is the least that is going to happen to you.” When the officer made his way to the door, a small grandmother put her life out there, and waved a finger in his face. She declared, “You have laid hands on a man of God and you will NOT survive!” Two days later, the officer died of a heart attack. After 150 people showed up at the next meeting, Dmetri was thrown into jail for 17 years. The prisoners and guards couldn’t break him as he continuously sang the same song to Jesus every day. They laughed and cursed, sometimes throwing waste at him. He snuck paper to his cell and wrote Bible verses on them, sticking them to concrete pillars as “praise offerings” to God. For 17 years he was beaten, but never stopped. The guards finally decided to execute him, but as they carried him away, 1500 inmates raised their hands and began singing the same song Dmetri had sung every day for those 17 years. The officers stepped back in horror and questioned him, demanding to know who he really was. He proudly declared, “I am a son of the Living God, and Jesus is his name!” He was then released.

When persecution comes, when your road becomes long, and your hallelujah tired, hold tight to Luke’s Scripture. 

 

This is a chance to tell about your faith. Don’t worry about what you will say to defend yourselves. I will give you the wisdom to know what to say. None of your enemies will be able to oppose you or tell you that you’re wrong.

Tomorrow’s freedom is today’s surrender. Shout loudly. Spend wisely. Read avidly. Live responsibly. Give Lavishly. Travel meaningfully. Think Biblically. Study purposefully. Volunteer. Pray continually. 

 

 

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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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For Justice & Equity

Some days my prayers are quiet whispers, while other days my prayers are silent and merely directed thoughts. Here lately, my prayers have been shouts of plea for justice and equity. I find myself in good company as I reflect on Jesus praying in the garden of Gethsemane.

“He was in anguish and prayed even more earnestly. His sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.” Luke 22:44

I pray for 200+ Nigerian girls that are unaccounted for, going night after night without a momma to tuck them in. I pray for the families of 118 people who lost their lives in the Jos explosions, the 30 killed in Borno, the 20 killed by a gunmen, the 10 killed by Boko Haram’s attackers. I pray for the one carrying dirty water for miles with jigger infested feet. I pray for Margaret, who was mutilated by the LRA. I pray for young Monesha, who is found in the brothels of the Red Light District. 

As the Lord reveals more and more of His plans for me, I rely on Him to teach me contentment in my waiting. I know I’m being sent, but not today. While I can’t be in Africa or Thailand at this very moment, I’m reminded that my Father walks among every nation doing far more than I ever could. Although I’m not yet physically in the lands set out for me, my prayers are there, and that’s all that’s needed when we have a God as mighty as ours at work. My peace is found in that.


 

Lord, I thank You for Your sacrifice, for the life You gave up in order to give life to each of us. I pray that this generation becomes a generation of world changers, only finding their strength in You. Lead us with Your strong hands down the path that You have paved for us. Anoint us with Your Holy Spirit, and equip us with the means to deliver the Gospel to every nation, and to every person, young and old. Teach us not only to raise up workers for this plentiful harvest, but to advance the Kingdom for Your glory in all that we do. Let our love look like Yours, Father. Thank You for your gracious plans. In Your Name we pray, Amen.

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Passports, TOMS and all things delightful

With 113 days left until I embark on my mission trip to South Africa, I’m here to update you on all the delights that consume my day. In the midst of every due date and lost paper, I’m still finding myself lost in God’s peace and patient heart. This journey has been documented in such beautiful words and pleasing-to-the-ear phrases, but I assure you, I’ve spent many nights awake in the wee hours of the morning, in hopes of gaining back composure lost. I’m reminded, what feels like too often, that there’s money to raise, shots to get, papers to fill out, people to call, and flights to book. Mail gets lost and calls go unanswered, while deadlines come far quicker than I can mark another X on the calendar. Papers don’t print and my To-Do list seems to grow faster than my list of things accomplished. 

Today, I’m thankful and my heart is swelling up with a new kind of gratitude. I’m thankful for those lost papers and flights to book. I’m thankful for the dwindling calendar and a printer that won’t do it’s job when I need it to most. The lost papers can be replaced, the flights to book only mean I’m one step closer to my precious, coffee colored friends in Africa, whom I find myself longing for every hour of the day. The things that throw a wrench in my day the most only remind me that we have a God whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light. Philippians 4:6 is God telling me, “My child, do not be anxious about anything, present to Me your troubles.” Yet I still find myself coming up with an excuse as to how something won’t get done, or how a required task will go unnoticed until it’s too late. And then my ever faithful Father steps in once again, and speaks truth into the doubt-filled void I’ve tried to fight with my own strength too many times to count. 2 Corinthians 12:9, “But the Lord said, ‘My grace is all you need. Only when you are weak can everything be done completely by My power.‘ So I will gladly boast about my weaknesses. Then Christ’s power can stay in me.” My heart sings that last line, “So I will gladly boast about my weaknesses. Then Christ’s power can stay in me.” Yes Lord, be my strength.

My heart feels a new kind of anguish as I lay in bed every single night. I mean my heart literally aches as I sit knee-deep in books on poverty-stricken people that the world has deemed unworthy. I look into my overcrowded refrigerator and my stomach churns as I think of physically starving African children 8,000 miles out of my reach. I’ve grown to recognize that maybe, just maybe, I need those desperate people more than they need me. My knees find their place on the floor at my bed-side, and restless I pray. I pray for Geetha, a 19 year old Dalit, who lives on the streets of India with memories of abuse and the sex industry she was once sold into. So hard, I pray. I lift up the many little boys in northern Africa who are taught to kill or who face death themselves. This is the kind of hurt that feels good. This is the kind of hurt that reminds me Jesus resides in my heart, and that the anguish He allows me to feel is being used to fuel the fire He has set inside me. The fire is raging, raging in such a life-altering way that while I pray for rest from this pain, I crave more. I crave more fuel on the fire, I crave more compelling statistics, I crave more Jesus. I’m thankful that rest has been given to me through Psalm 68:5, “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” How restoring it is that my prayers do work in the place of where my physical presence cannot be because of God’s goodness. 

Meanwhile, my heart finds so much joy in my freshly pressed passport and worn out TOMS. There’s an odd excitement in knowing that my passport will soon be filled with stamps from the countries God is sending me to. What are now my white-soled TOMS will return to the states red from the rich African soil, and old clothes will find new owners in the bare-skinned kiddos that God will find fit to bless me with. My Bible will come back home with me with heavily marked up pages to prove the great Source of my renewed soul. And I sure can’t wait. 

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Undying Love

I’m continually wrecked as I read the raw story of Gomer and Hosea. Hosea was a prophet in the old testament, Gomer was a harlot. God viewed Israel as His wife, but Israel, being split into 2 kingdoms, left Him jealous for His people. In simple terms, the southern kingdom was faithful, but the northern was swallowed in sin. The thing that grieved the heart of God more than anything else was the sin of idolatry, and the people of the northern kingdom worshipped other gods. In the same way Israel was unfaithful to God, Gomer was unfaithful to Hosea.

Gomer was robbed of joy by men day in and day out, always being quick to hand over her body to any who would take it. She was sold like an animal before being treated the same way. Men would buy expensive material things in order to lure her in, and then take advantage of her. I’m reminded by her, that this kind of life is still lived, and God continues to love us with a steadfast love. I’m reminded that the same Satan that set out to deceive her, is the same Satan that sets out to deceive us in the very same ways.

God told Hosea to find a woman of unfaithfulness, to claim her as his, and that’s exactly what he did. He took Gomer, this broken and used, only half-living woman, and put a ring on her finger. He pursued her, he loved her, he cherished her wholeheartedly. His obedience leaves me humbled by his faithfulness and willing heart. What a man. What a man that he would 1.) obey God and 2.) serve and love a woman who’s interest lied elsewhere. Gomer abandoned him and fled yet again to another lover, who put her up for auction. Hosea was the one to buy her, and continued to chase after her with a longing to bring her back to him. His devotion was poured out solely on her, as Christ’s love is poured out on each of us in the same manner. Even in His judgement, God wants to give us every opportunity to come back to Him. 

Christ bought us. Christ payed for us, and still we flee to other worldly things, captivated by deceit. But still He delights in us, still He sings and rejoices over us! Grace welcomes us back with open arms, because we read that, “His mercies are new every morning.” Here, I’m reminded that I am Gomer continually running to sin, and God is my Hosea, tenderly calling me back. Keep calling, Lord.