Empty Boats

 

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Luke 5:2-6 NLT He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.’ ‘Master,’ Simon replied, ‘we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.’ And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear!”

I have felt unnoticed before; I’m sure there have been times you have felt that way, too. I imagine these fishermen in the above account felt a bit defeated, unnoticed, for all their effort as they worked all night long and catching nothing. Their work had no measurable outcome – but they had worked hard.

I’ve worked hard over seasons and seen nothing measurable resulting from it – all that testifies of my toil is the weariness enveloping me body and soul. This weariness has a cumulative effect as the more I work, the less it seems I have to show for it. For some reason, I keep trying because I believe that God’s Word is true. It just takes time for it to come into its season.

That doesn’t make the work any easier.

That doesn’t make me feel any more noticed.

What I have learned, and this is where the beauty of experience shines through, is that I now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Someone is noticing my efforts. Some of those efforts are spot-on, and others are more self-centered. The times weariness overwhelms me is when my focus shifts to my shortcomings; I then easily forget that there’s Someone watching my efforts. During those times I am found taking extra time washing my nets, instead of casting my nets another time, for the disappointment becomes too heavy to bear.

Washing nets, focusing on myself and my disappointments, is easier to do than focusing on the hurting world around me. Those repeated disappointments, when I am not careful to focus on His goal and not my own, can make me feel rejected, unnoticed as it were. Dejected and exhausted, I find myself scrubbing and mending nets (licking my wounds) on the shore.

Until, that is, Jesus makes me aware fresh and new that He has noticed my empty boat. He has also noticed my efforts and He has gotten into my boat with me – and having Him with me changes everything.

“Now go out” is the call that comes to me in this new season of my life – and perhaps for you as well. It’s time to go out a little deeper; farther from the safety of shore where the only hope we have when storms arise is in Christ Himself.

When a fisherman spends more of his life on shore than in the water, his very value comes into question because fishermen are meant to fish. The kind of fish I’m after are out in the deep waters where waves and wind rise, but, I am born to fish (Matthew 4:19).

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The fish are not going to be found on the shore, they are there out deep in the water. There are some fish near the relative safety of shore, but the bigger schools of fish, the net-breaking, record-shattering ones are found where it’s deep.

Now go out.

 

 

Inconvenient Paths

Today’s entry is a forward of our monthly newsletter for Africa & Beyond. We have so much news to tell and so little time to tell it! I hope you enjoy. Please click the YouTube link below the entry for a short/not-so-short update on our news. Blessings, Lea

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Luke 1:78,79 TPT “The splendor light of heaven’s glorious sunrise is about to break upon us in holy visitation, all because the merciful heart of our God is so very tender. The word from heaven will come to us with dazzling light to shine upon those
who live in darkness, near death’s dark shadow. And he will illuminate the path that leads to the way of peace.”

Life is hard, but God’s heart for us is “very tender.” If we can have the faith to trust His tender heart for us, we can do anything He requires of us. Most of the time the directions He gives are things that will pull us away from what is comfortable or convenient. The amazing thing about God’s “inconvenient paths” is that they always lead us to peaceful destinations – even though our minds cannot grasp what He is doing in the moment.

Expansion

Mozambique, a land with a turbulent history that borders Malawi, is the newest country on our radar for church planting. Currently, we have a small group of believers who are waiting for temporary permission to meet while we wait for final permission to operate as a church which could take up to a year. While we wait, please keep our requests for temporary and final permission in your prayers. Once we have even temporary permission, we will be able to begin meeting.

Kinshasa, DRC is the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Currently, we have 3 churches in the eastern part of the DRC. Our sights have been set to plant a church in Kinshasa this year. This is particularly exciting for us as we have prayed to plant a church in Kinshasa for many years, we simply had no idea who was destined to lead a church so far away. Last year, our Senior Pastors Emmanuel and Jackie Nkunku in Bujumbura approached us saying they both felt led to return to Kinshasa, their home city, and plant a church. Until now, all of our churches have been planted in the Central/Eastern regions of the continent – it’s time to go west!

Growing Pains and Inconvenience

Obviously growing into new cities and nations is accompanied by some growing pains.  We have spent the past year praying and strategizing with our local leaders and close partners overseas on how to best to

not only get Pastors Emmanuel and Jackie from Bujumbura, Burundi to Kinshasa, DRC, but also to make sure the leadership in Bujumbura main church is secured. We were personally taken by surprise as we prayed through this issue when it became apparent to all who have helped guide us through this process that we were to be the ones to lead the main Bujumbura church. As you may/may not know, this church is the first church we planted in 1992; returning to pastor it was not something we had in mind. However, we are sure that this is the right thing to do – we are under a mandate from God to get to Burundi by June this year.

Logistically, the work here in Blantyre, Malawi where we have been since 2016, is doing amazingly well. God blessed us with a quality couple, Pastors Chimwemwe and Mary Chihana, who are not novices and are anointed to lead this local church. Our plans for Blantyre remain the same: construction of facilities as God brings the funds in as well as opening a school in 2019. Mary has been studying the Montessori program and will be the lead teacher, she takes her final exams this month and will graduate in July this year as a qualified teacher. This Sunday, April 15th, we will be laying hands on this precious couple and commissioning them into the ministry of pastoring this church.

The pastors planting in Kinshasa will be moving in/around September; with our arrival in the country in June, there will be time to transition between their and our leadership. What remains for all of this to take place is for all of the necessary parts to move in unison: 2 households are moving (ours and the current pastors in Burundi),  the Chihanas to pastor the church in Blantyre, and in Lilongwe, our main pastors, Wilson and Yamikani Mvinya, will become the national overseers for the nation of Malawi and Mozambique. The financial burden is great, but God’s provision is greater – what God orders, He pays for. Thank you for standing with us in faith for everything to come together in this amazing and sudden season of expansion and growth.

Truly, a little one is becoming 1,000,

Pastor Jamie, Lea and Andreya

 

A Welcome In My Heart

Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

I would like to be known as someone who has given others the benefit of the doubt; to be someone who gives others the grace that I so deeply crave. Instead of being someone who doubts that incredible things can be done, I hope to be a cheerleader for others whose dreams are as crazy as mine.

The world is full of stories of those who have risen from incredibly difficult circumstances and gone on to do great things. The world is also full of those who would diminish the out-of-the-box plans of dreamers. How many dreamers have had their aspirations snuffed out by what’s reasonable, what’s expected, and what’s deemed feasible by those around them?

Matthew 12:20 NLT“He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle…”

When our hopes lie in the approval of those around us, we are certainly setting ourselves up for disappointment. Much has been said and written about the negative impact that society’s expectations places on us; I cannot hope to add more to what’s already been said by those whose qualifications far exceed my own.

Despite my own limitations, I am sure of one thing: while I cannot control the opinions or reactions of others, I can control my own.

As parents, my husband and I have tried to instill in our children a faith to believe for the unbelievable. Over the years, we have read books like Heaven’s Heroes by David Shibley and some of the series of Christian Heroes Then and Now by Janet and Geoff Benge to open our children’s hearts to believe that if God used ordinary people in the past, He can use them in their lifetimes to do amazing things. We believe that there are enough “naysayers” in life; we want to be their cheerleaders.

This doesn’t mean that their, or our, lives have been a cakewalk. On the contrary, I have often felt like that weakest reed and flickering candle in the scripture from Matthew above. The amazing thing about God is that He is cheering for us to reach beyond our wildest hopes and dreams.

In 2001 my husband came home from a conference in the USA (I remained behind in Africa with our children) and boldly announced to me that God had spoken to his heart that we were to plant 1,000 churches. I’d like to say that I latched onto that word and fell into complete step with him in that declaration. I did know enough to say, “Well, if that’s what God said, then, I’m OK with that.” In saying so, there was no enthusiasm to be found in my voice or demeanor. Instead, my mind was swimming with questions:

We only have one church we have planted, how can we plant 999 more?

Where will the money come from?

Where will the leaders come from?

And so on.

I found myself in the category of those naysayers not with open disagreement, but in thinking “How can we possibly?” when God clearly wanted me to remember that He makes the impossible possible.

Things went from bad to worse before we saw our next church planted. We were unable to plant a new church in the city we had set our sights on and left dejected. Two churches seemed impossible, let alone 1,000 – and it indeed was impossible. Until my eyes were opened in the next city we moved to where our church was approved in a matter of weeks and we quickly found ourselves surrounded by a new congregation.

Could it be that God had plans for us?

One day during family devotions, as we read from Heaven’s Heroes I listened as my husband read of David Livingstone’s trek across Africa. He faced lions, death, lack, and naysayers but he persisted because he saw something no one else did: God never fails and he was sure that God would not send him on a fruitless mission.

Hebrews 11:13 NLT “All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it from a distance and welcomed it.”

My heart had closed itself to hope, and as long as my hope was lost, there was no room for faith in my heart to receive it. The vision needed a welcome in my heart and this only came when I closed down my own doubt and decided it would be better to receive the promise in faith – even if that meant I were to die before its fulfillment.

We are still 900+ churches away from 1,000 naturally speaking, but my heart has already welcomed each of them. How it will get done is the adventure I’m waiting to live. As we work and wait, we keep climbing, keep reaching, and keep opening our hearts in welcome for the vision.

In 2020 we hope to reach for those 1,000 churches and climb an impossible mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. It is 19,300+ feet high and as I look at my own inability physically and financially to even think of it, I see the climb for 1,000 speaks to me more than anyone else. I’m welcoming the vision and will climb for it, 1,000 here we come!

Isaiah 60:22 NLT “The smallest family will become a thousand people, and the tiniest group will become a mighty nation. At the right time, I, the Lord, will make it happen.”

Things Aren’t What They Seem To Be

Play it safe.

Don’t push too far.

Be careful.

Should we chose to follow all safety precautions on every product we buy or activity we take part in, there are still bound to be unforeseen, unplanned, and unexpected complications that will meet us along the way. We simply can’t avoid trouble, it comes with the territory of life.

I’ve said it many times and still hold to this: the safest place to be is in God’s will. There, I find protection, provision, joy, and comfort. There’s nothing that can reach me there; I’m in His pocket ( 1 Sam. 25:29) as it were, close to His heartbeat. From that place, I hear what stirs His heart and I find the courage to reach for things I never dreamt of before, because things aren’t what they seem to be when you’re in the will of God.

John 14:27 ESV “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

It would appear that Jesus was coaching His disciples to really open their eyes to the possibility of things not being as they would appear when He said, “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” At the time being described above in John 14, Jesus had entered into Jerusalem and was preparing His followers to understand that in the days to come, events would unfold that would appear to say, “It’s over.”

The crucifixion was on the horizon, Jesus knew it – but He also knew that the Resurrection was soon to follow on the heels of what would appear to be His end. He knew things weren’t going to be at all as they seemed. Jesus also knew everyone would flee and that He would be left alone to face the cross, yet He did it anyway. Why would He suffer and die when all would leave Him? He also knew that after His Resurrection, no one would believe in Him right away. It took quite a bit of work after He rose to convince those who had fled, that He was really alive. If it had been me making the choice at that juncture, those who had fled would not have been in the running for those chosen to be the leaders of the early church. Yet, by grace, Jesus chose to look beyond what the rest of us would call “the obvious” because He knew that nothing in His Kingdom is as it seems. Jesus knew that those who had fled weren’t at all as they appeared. They were born for something more, they were meant to turn the world “upside down.”

Acts 17:6 ESV “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also.”

I see a pattern throughout Scripture where those who dared to live close to the Father’s heartbeat never played it safe. They understood that being led where God took them was the only truly safe place to be – even if that path lead them to a place where it would seem their end was imminent.

Daniel chose the lions.

Paul chose to go to Rome.

Joseph chose to take Mary.

Each one (and many others) could have chosen to follow an easier route, but they didn’t. They knew the worst that could happen would have meant losing their lives, which would only put them in the presence of God; where would the the loss in that have been? They chose His safe place, and as they did, they lived amazing lives of adventure, seeing impossible dreams come true that they didn’t even know they had.

This life and all of its trimmings would have us to believe that living a life of adventure for God is unsafe, unreasonable, and even foolish. For those who don’t know the Father, I can understand those feelings. Still, there’s a thirst in me to see more than a life colored safely in the lines of what seems to be safe places, for in reality nothing is safe apart from God.

My choice is to live far from what seems to be safe; I want to live close to Him and far from things as they seem to be.

“The worship of God is not a rule of safety; it’s an adventure of the spirit.” Alfred North Whitehead

The Harshest of Teachers

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I’m all for preparation.

We need to prepare ingredients to bake a cake.

We need to prepare for the first day of school by purchasing school supplies.

We need to prepare for life by choosing a career path.

Preparation is simply part and parcel of life and a wise person does his/her best to prepare for life as it happens. However, there are some things we can’t prepare enough for.

No one is prepared to face the death of a loved one. Even if plans have been laid out for years and the person who has passed away is well advance in years and had a full life, the emotions that are stirred up when facing death are unexpectedly intense and surprising to even the strongest among us.

No one is ever adequately prepared for marriage. While I highly recommend marriage counseling and a thorough “vetting” of a relationship prior to marriage, the emotional and financial responsibilities that come with marriage can only be fully faced when married.

No one is ever adequately prepared to have children. It is wisdom to save money and do what you can to prepare for having children – but once the children come, it becomes painfully obvious that no amount of preparation really prepares one for parenthood.

When the call came for us to work overseas, I wasn’t prepared for what was waiting for me in lands unknown. The harshest of teachers, experience, was (and is) my mentor. First experiences are unforgiving, unkind, and unfeeling. What I felt when I first landed in Africa with my then 18 month old son on my lap, could not have been prepared for; I could only experience it in the moment and I had to decide in that moment how to react.

After landing and settling into our home, nothing prepared me for the loneliness I would feel as the only young mother among the few missionaries serving with us. I had to live it, I had to experience it, and I had to learn how to navigate the waters of solitude. In our Western culture, we place a high priority on having a circle of friends to lean on and support us in seasons of difficulty. That was taken away from me in a moment of time and I had no choice but to learn how to survive (and eventually thrive).

These experiences, and many more, have come at a high price. My entire thought and faith process had to change when I faced the unexpected. Initially, I was tempted to become bitter and point my finger heavenwards and say (with great indignation), “I obeyed the call! I did what You wanted and now this?” Honestly, I went through a period when I did exactly that; I expected God to roll out the red carpet for me. I expected that all would be prepared. Wasn’t God grateful for my obedience? What I didn’t understand then is that God wasn’t impressed by my answering the call. As much as I praised myself for daring to move far from family and friends, God wasn’t asking something of me that He had not asked of His own Son.

In this “line of work” there is little we can do to prepare for the unseen as what is unseen here is far beyond what we can imagine. Someone coined the phrase, “where truth is stranger than fiction” when trying to describe the challenges we face on the continent of Africa.

How can we prepare for a sudden devaluation of the currency? One day in 2011, we lost $500.00 due to a sudden and unannounced devaluation of local currency.

How can we prepare for an unexpected lack of cement in the stores when we’re in the middle of building?

How can we prepare for all forms of communication with the outside world being cut during a coup-d-état?

Through all of these years and experiences (many of them painful) there is one lesson that I can’t put a price on. This lesson has cost me my entire life to learn but I would gladly pay it again as this lesson has kept me time and again through the harshest of seasons. I have learned that I have a Father Who keeps His eye on me and not only understands but also walks with me through the most difficult moments. He has taught me that I’m never alone, never without His care, and that He is always pleased with me. He has walked with me through the fire as well as on top of the mountain – and He has always made sure there was enough to care for me and my own.

So, in some way, I’m more prepared than many for what “might” happen and I’m not afraid. I’m still answering the call, still facing the unknown, and all I can say is, “What’s next Dad?”

Luke 22:35 ESV “And He said to them, ‘When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?’ They said, ‘Nothing.’…”

Cling Wrap, Sore Knuckles, and The Kingdom

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Cling wrap.

Try as I might I cannot get a grip on how to properly use the stuff. It comes in a nice long rectangular box with an oh-so-fine serrated edge that, in theory, is supposed to help tear the cling wrap in nice, even pieces that I can use to cover food containers in the refrigerator. Try as I might, in all my years and work in the kitchen, rarely have I ever been able to tear off a perfect piece of cling wrap to cover a dish.

Following directions, this scenario repeats itself nearly every time I dare to brave to enter the world of cling wrap:

  • Set dish that needs to be covered on the counter.
  • Open box of cling wrap.
  • Find edge of cling wrap. This is a feat of major proportions as the edge of the plastic is nearly invisible; usually resulting in unevenly tearing of the cling wrap.
  • Frustration begins to bubble beneath the surface.
  • Pull desired amount of cling wrap, with bunched edges, over the dish.
  • As instructed on the box, gently pull on one side of the cling wrap to tear the end of the wrap off.
  • Wrap does not tear, apply more pressure.
  • Cling wrap begins to bunch up, stretch, and will not tear evenly. My knuckles are torn against the fine serrated edge – the serrated edge seems to tear my skin better than it does the plastic wrap.
  • Rinse and repeat until successful or knuckles are too sore to try again.
  • Get another dish with its own cover and give up.

Who ever invented this stuff? I’ve even tried the perforated cling wrap with nearly the same results – except my knuckles don’t bleed which is a big plus.

I keep telling myself I need to purchase more storage containers with lids. The problem with buying more storage containers with lids is that nearly every time I have purchased containers here (Malawi), the lids don’t stay on and I find myself returning to the violent world of cling wrap.

Like cling wrap that seems to cling to everything besides that it is intended for, I find in myself times that I cling to things other than what I’m created for.

In Matthew 16:13-20 Jesus had a conversation with His disciples. He asked them who people thought He was; after hearing their replies, He asked, “Who do you say I am?” Famously, Peter declares that Jesus is the Christ. In verse 17 Jesus calls Peter, “Blessed” for his revelation of Who He was.

Peter had an idea of who he thought Jesus was and what that looked like; he was correct in saying that Jesus was the Christ – but he had no idea of what that meant. Immediately after Peter’s statement, Jesus began telling His disciples (Matthew 16:21-28) that He was going to suffer and die and then rise from the dead. That same Peter who was called blessed just a few verses earlier, was told in verse 23, “Get behind me Satan!” Peter was clinging to his own ideas of how things were meant to be.

Jesus was passionate, He clung to His assignment. At the same time, He told His disciples (and we who follow Him today) that the assignment we are to cling to is to be likened to a cross.

Matthew 16:24 NLT“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.”

Our own ideas of what our faith is supposed to look like, much like Peter’s, won’t mirror what taking up our crosses is meant to be.

This morning I was reading in Luke 17 where Jesus describes the work of a servant:

Luke 17:10 ESV“So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

Often we make the mistake of living our lives from day-to-day, giving a nod to God when we read our Bible and pray, giving Him another nod when we make it to church, and believe that we are living lives of profitable servants. If we only live to fulfill duty, we’ve not yet entered into the realm of being profitable for the Kingdom. Being profitable means going above and beyond the call of duty and entering a place of actually adding value (touching souls) to the Kingdom.

In Matthew 25:14-30 the parable of the three servants gives the account of what it means to be profitable. Each of the three was given a different amount of money (talents) to care for while the master was away. The first two earned interest on the money they were left and they were declared to be profitable. The third simply hid the money he was given and returned to the master exactly what had been given to him. Businesspeople understand this principle: if an employee is not profitable, he is fired. That’s what happened to this third servant.

If we only do what is right as a believer (read our Bibles, pray, attend church, love others, give, show mercy, etc.) that’s simply doing our duty. As servants of the Kingdom, we have a much greater destiny that just clinging to doing the bare minimum to get a pass into Heaven. Like Jesus, who came as One Man to this earth and now has innumerable followers, we are to sow ourselves as He did into the lives of others and watch God give us a great harvest.

Not only are we to sow ourselves into the Kingdom as Jesus did, but we are to do so willingly – to cling to that purpose understanding that there’s far more at stake than our own comfort or convenience.

This world with all its trappings seeks to engage us to the point of eliminating our profitability for the Kingdom. God’s Kingdom, unlike the world we live in today, is eternal and immovable. This world is, as we all know too well, temporary, corruptible, and unable to satisfy the deep craving all of us have in our souls for something better, something more.

I’ve decided to cling to the cross.

heaven is our home