Slay the Dragon

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It won’t be good enough.

In high school, I had worked for weeks on a science project and I was sure that the my miserable project would barely earn me a C, if not a D or F. Back in those days, we had no Internet, but my parents drove me to our local library regularly in the weeks before the project’s due date to research and work. I was sure it would barely pass as I knew others would have better organized, better looking projects. A cloud of impending doom hovered over me after handing it in and I dreaded finding out my grade. On that fateful day, I was so nervous; I remember creating scenarios in my mind of how I would explain my failure to my parents. The bell rang and I took my seat; my face must have betrayed my feelings, as my teacher said, “Lea, why are you so worried? Yours was one of the best projects. Congratulations on a well-deserved A.” I couldn’t believe my work was worth an A, but she did and much to my relief I would not have to explain a failing grade to my parents.

As an adult I’ve continued to battle feelings of inadequacy, not making the grade no matter how hard I try. Whatever job, ministry, or family activity I’ve taken part in, the dark cloud of inadequacy and failure has followed me; it’s like a sleeping dragon that only awakens to remind me of how impossibly inadequate I am.

I’ve learned that I’m not alone in this struggle; many of us battle daily with feelings of inadequacy at home, work, church, school, or whatever we are involved in. This world has a way of making us feel inadequate; we just don’t “cut the mustard.” That inadequacy in turn convinces us that we’re disqualified – nothing we do will ever be good enough.

These feelings often bleed into our relationships. Wives can’t believe their husbands love them or vice-versa. Everyone doubts they are good enough – and this doubt sabotages our love for one another – because we doubt ourselves, we doubt everyone else. It’s a potentially catastrophic mixture that certainly has resulted in broken friendships, marriages, and caused immeasurable tension in families.

It seems so very hopeless! It’s as if we are living in a perpetual state of overwhelming darkness; an impossible problem with no workable answer.

Enter into the equation the marvelous grace of God through Jesus Who loved us so much that He took all of our failings and inadequacies and in exchange gave us all that He is, and He is much more than adequate. He is more than enough!

Luke 1:76-79 MSG And you, my child, ‘Prophet of the Highest,’ will go ahead of the Master to prepare his ways, present the offer of salvation to his people, the forgiveness of their sins. Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, God’s Sunrise will break in upon us, shining on those in the darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death, then showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace.”

I love to run early in the morning, it’s a time when everything is new and life is coming alive with the rising of the sun. On most of my early morning runs, I struggle to get one foot in front of the other when I first step out of the door. Yet, as the time passes, my energy awakens and before I know it, I have found my pace: one foot in front of the other. I can’t run before the sun rises, there’s no light to show me the way. Once the sun rises, unless I step out of the house and start, I won’t go anywhere. In the same way, we can’t run in our daily lives until His light dawns on the horizons of our lives and we make that first step.

While we have lived in the dark, the sunrise has come and the light has finally dawned. Why don’t you take a look outside? It’s bright and beautiful and with Him living inside you, you have what it takes to slay the dragon of inadequacy.

The sun is rising! Isn’t it beautiful?

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Divided Opinions

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Connection, it’s a buzzword today. When reading books, blurbs, blogs, and church announcements, it seems everyone is talking about connections or being connected. I believe in connection! Our church has small home meetings and we’ve called them, “connect” groups. We all need to be where God has made us to fit and serve; until we find that place, we will ever be searching for that place that we “fit” and are accepted.

The importance of being well connected in a community can’t be overstated. But lately I’ve been challenged to think a bit “outside the box” when it comes to being connected and where exactly God wants us to connect. Most of us would agree God’s is the most valuable opinion overall – yet our lives betray our divided opinions.

If God’s is the most important opinion, why do we find ourselves living as if by accident on a daily basis, rarely making contact with Him as we go about our days? Why do we spend more time talking to friends, relatives, and even our bosses about day-to-day life? Where does God fit into this life of ours?

We’re too connected. Too connected to this temporary life, too concerned with being accepted,  and we pay far too much attention to what is temporary at the expense of what is eternal. We agonize over opinions of people; we ache to “fit” with our local community. The effort we put into fitting in and making sure everything flows smoothly betrays our loyalty to fitting in with our societies over connecting with God.

I had hoped that peer pressure would have come to an end in adulthood but, shamefully, it hasn’t. It simply appears under a new name: “relativity.” Everyone wants to be relative in order to fit in and eventually be connected to something new and exciting. But, there are strings attached to being accepted and ultimately, connected. What are those strings? Staying within acceptable boundaries – color in the lines and no further.

You didn’t think that we want to really mess up our tightly knit community and mix with people who don’t fit do you? It’s fine to reach out and mingle with others but when it comes to fitting with us, we really don’t want to rock the boat. Church has become little more than a place for social gatherings where we tip our hats to God, give Him a nod, and give a nice handclap. See you next week – the message is sure to make you feel more relevant and fit in with society so we can be more “palatable” to the world.

The problem with being relative to the world is that the cross makes me unacceptable to the world – I am totally “non” relative – quite unpalatable at times, if the truth is told. I can try to fit in as much as possible, use the current buzzwords and catchphrases, but if I fit so much into the culture that surrounds me that I am undistinguishable and invisible among the crowd, then there’s a problem.

The disconnection we need to have with this world is vital in our role as ambassadors in this earth for God’s Kingdom. We need to be able to speak from God’s viewpoint, not our own. This comes when we detach, disconnect, from what is natural and connect with the eternal Kingdom.

This isn’t really a popular message in our day and age where we struggle “to be heard.” Would that we could learn to detach ourselves from the struggle and simply lift up Jesus (see John 12:32). Imagine if we simplified instead of made things more complicated? The Gospel points to our need of a Savior – and Jesus is that Savior. He knows the way for He is the way (see John 14:6) and His way is the best.

Luke 14:23 Weymouth “No one of you who does not detach himself from all that belongs to him can be a disciple of mine…”

Newsflash: Jesus Himself is enough and He doesn’t need us to make Him “acceptable” to the masses. Just as we met Him and His love turned our lives around, He can and will do the same for others who we connect to. None of our opinions, methods, buzzwords, or light shows can compare with the overwhelming love that God showers on those who come to Him. You see, God Himself is enough and our miserable attempts to make Him acceptable to others are only self-serving at best.

Just Jesus, that’s all – and He is more than enough.

Foxes and Flies

 

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Enough already!

I’m sure you could chime in with me with what you’re going through. It’s enough!

If I have to wake up to no water coming out of the taps and face another pile of unwashed clothes… I’ll do what I’ve always done: make some under-my-breath comments and carry on. Then, I’ll give my husband “that” look meaning, “Find water now or the consequences will be grave.” In no time at all, “that” look brings me water for washing two days’ worth of dirty dishes, but not quite enough for the dirty laundry. I’m holding out hope that the water will come on and that, by grace and mercy, the power will still be on so I can wash the clothes in the machine.

After 5 days without water, it finally did come back on and the power did stay on long enough for me to catch up with the laundry. A little means more than we think; we take the small things of life that keep it running for granted. We take a small thing that we always have at our disposal, water, for granted, until it’s turned off!

Song of Solomon 2:15 NKJ Catch us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vines, For our vines have tender grapes.”

It doesn’t take much for life to be interrupted by a very small detail that normally goes unnoticed. Once, I went to start our car and it proceeded to do nothing. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t transport anything or anyone – I was stranded. The long and short of it was that a small part in the starter needed replacing (of course the small part alone wasn’t available requiring us to buy a whole new starter). That part goes largely unnoticed until it is no longer functioning. Then, the entire vehicle was affected which, in turn, turned my day upside down.

Ecclesiastes 10:1 NKJ Dead flies putrefy the perfumer’s ointment, and cause it to give off a foul odor; so does a little folly to one respected for wisdom and honor.”

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Flies, seemingly innocuous creatures, are not as harmless as we might think. They can carry disease and there are flies that can (and do) lay their eggs anywhere they find that is convenient for them. They are opportunistic creatures and we give them a lot of opportunity. There’s a certain type of fly here in parts Africa that will lay its eggs on laundry that has been hung out to dry. Once you wear the clothes that were out on the laundry line, those eggs can get embedded into your skin. In time those eggs then hatch into maggots underneath your skin. The way to prevent having those eggs embed into your skin is to dry them in the dryer (if you have one) or iron them. If you don’t iron or dry your clothes in a dryer, you are risking an encounter with maggots – which is disgusting and extremely uncomfortable.

In every country I have worked in, I have asked residents if there are these types of flies present. Initially in Burundi, a neighbor told me that she’s never had an issue with them and hung out her laundry regularly without a worry. For a few years, I did the same, not ironing all of our laundry until one day my little boy (who was about 2 at the time) complained of painful bumps on his back. Indeed, there appeared to be some insect bites on his back, to which I applied some antibiotic cream. After another day or two, he began crying loudly that it was painful so off to the doctor’s we went. As he examined my son, the doctor asked, “Did you know that there’s a certain fly…” My baby had 9 maggots growing underneath the skin on his back and I watched in horror as the doctor removed them and prescribed some antibiotics to take to prevent any infection.

My neighbor was wrong. While our family went some time without any trouble with these flies, there obviously were flies in the area. We let the flies in without knowing it and it was a horrible lesson to have to learn.

The small things in life that don’t seem to be important are often what cause the big gears of life to turn. Interrupt the flow of one of these important small details and the entire machine may pack up and stop in its tracks. The dead flies have fallen into the ointment and caused it to putrefy.

Where have the dead flies landed in our lives? Where have the little foxes come in? In our relationships with God? In our relationships with our spouses, children? In our health? The knock-off effects of allowing the flies in putrefies us and can, in the long run, bring us to a sudden and definite halt.

Close the doors to the little foxes and the flies. They might seem harmless but let me assure you, they are up to no good.

Enough already with the foxes and flies!

The Real Fear Factor

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I haven’t felt so courageous lately.

One might think that after 30+ years of living and serving in missions that battling the fear of the unknown would be a past issue for me. Really, I don’t lie awake at night worrying about tomorrow, the “what ifs” don’t keep me awake; I’m too tired to let worry keep me awake.

I’ve often said that there are a lot of benefits to growing older: I don’t worry about people’s opinions about me as much as I did in my 20s. I am more “comfortable” with who God made me to be, I am more relaxed. I’m so relaxed that the older 3 kids say of my parenting style with our 4th child that they don’t know who I am. Yes, I am that parent who doesn’t worry if her child has chocolate more than 3 days in a row. “Just brush your teeth, dear,” is what I say. All the while the 3 older ones wonder what has happened to their mother who they knew to be more like a sergeant who had no mercy.

On the other side, after having lived a bit and seen what can and sometimes does go wrong, I have found myself learning anew how to defeat the ugly fear of what “might” happen or what “could” go wrong. By nature, I tend to be more pessimistic than optimistic (yes, working on that), so the temptation to fear the worst can, and sometimes is, a big battle for me.

There’s a recklessness of youth that I remember having that I want to recapture now that I’m older. When I was younger, I had no experience to draw from so I had nothing to refer my fear to – I remember thinking, “What can possibly go wrong?” If you ask me that question today, my pessimistic side laughs a bit cynically and will answer, “Plenty!”

When we first began working in missions, I didn’t even consider the “what ifs” of living in a foreign country:

  • What if we aren’t granted visas to stay in the country?
  • What if we can’t get the work registered in the country?
  • What if we can’t find a good doctor in the city we will live in?
  • What if money runs short?
  • What if, what if, what if? I have run into each of them. Forget the TV show, this is the real fear factor!

Landing in Kalemie, Zaire (now the DRC) in July 1987, I wasn’t afraid at all. I found the dilapidated building surrounded by delinquent military vehicles intriguing, but not frightening. I didn’t even think that something could go wrong – until something did.

I began building up my storehouse of experience not long after our arrival on that obscure landing strip. Not 6 months into our first year in Africa, our nearly 2-year-old son developed malaria, and I felt real fear for the first time in my young life. That kind of fear wasn’t a pleasant feeling to experience at all and boy, did I learn how to pray. Of course, God came through, we got the proper treatment for him and today he is grown with a family of his own.

I’ve learned to roll with the punches and keep moving forward but moving forward after being punched makes getting up a bit painful. We moved from Bujumbura, Burundi in 2001 to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, after planting a wildly successful church. We saw God perform miracle after miracle during a time of civil war and the church grew to about 1,600 people. What could go wrong in going to Tanzania to plant another church? God was with us and we’ll see another Bujumbura-like church born. The long and short of the story is that we couldn’t open the church in Tanzania since our file was never approved. The rejection was painful, brutally painful, I don’t think I’ve ever shared with anyone how difficult that experience was, my heart “melted” and it felt as if all my courage was gone.

Joshua 2:11a NKJ And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone…”

After selling everything we had in Tanzania, we moved to Zambia and I felt as if I was running away like a dog with its tail between its legs in fear. We landed at the airport with 13 pieces of luggage; I feared that we would be stopped by customs but they simply waved us by. The work was registered in less than 3 months and we had our work permits (visas) in hand 3 weeks later. Out of the ashes of Tanzania came the work in Zambia.

Time after time we’ve planted churches, registered in countries unknown to us, landed at every airport in every city for the first time without knowing anyone. Exciting as it sounds, the process is fraught with “what if it happens like it did…” Thankfully those thoughts have never overwhelmed us – but it’s been a battle of faith to simply trust.

In February of last year (2016) we landed once again with 13 pieces of luggage in a city unfamiliar to us where we knew no one. We found a Toyota minibus to transport us to the guesthouse where we were going to stay until we found a house we could rent. The vehicle shouldn’t have been on the road but nevertheless we made it and here we are a little over a year later with a church planted, a piece of property where we will build facilities when there’s money, and we are making preparations to open a school next year (a first for us). It feels like we’ve once again climbed a huge mountain and we’ve made it to the summit. Now, we’re staring at the valleys we will traverse before making it to the next mountaintop. It’s the valleys that give me reason to pause!

There are so many memories (good and bad) to draw from as we are once again starting over here in Blantyre, Malawi, but it seems that as I continue to step out into the unknown every day, the memories of trial surface a lot quicker than the memories of victory that followed the trial:

I remember times when we wondered if our future ministry was secure due to war in the country, times when our church’s future was in question due to waiting for approval to work in the country, times when our health or our children’s health was under attack, times when finances just weren’t there. Those times gave me valuable experience; I learned how to pray, have faith, stay faithful, and pray for miracles. Those experiences schooled me in trusting God and it’s from those lessons I must draw my courage.

But, like you I’m sure, there are seasons when it’s harder to be brave than others. I think I’m there in that place right now; but one thing I know is that these times of raw trust are the ones that bring the most satisfying of victories.

I’ve learned that having courage is not an absence of fear or feeling – it is a determination to move forward in the face of adversity. That determination sometimes has to come in its rawest form, when we have no energy, our faith is depleted, but in our hearts we know God can’t lie. He won’t leave us and we will come to another mountaintop despite the deep valleys.

Let Him give you courage today in the face of all that life is throwing at you – He is faithful – He can make you brave.

Deuteronomy 31:6 NKJ “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”

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I’m In Charge!

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“Who put you in charge?”

I was the middle child and my older sister was always the one “in charge” when the parents had to go somewhere. I was so angry whenever I wasn’t given any responsibility; after all I was mature for my age.

The first time I was in charge of anything was when I was 11; looking back I can’t believe I was in charge of anything at that age! Our neighbors desperately needed a Saturday babysitter and back in that time, it wasn’t unheard of to have such a young babysitter. I think I must’ve only been a couple of years older than one of the kids I was looking after. My mother was home every Saturday and we lived just a few houses down the street, so she was always available if I needed her in case of emergency (which thankfully was never necessary).

The caveat for me was earning money, I had no money and the thought of having a few dollars to spend on whatever 11 year olds spend money on was exciting. I was going to be in charge! I was going to tell everyone what to do! Once my parents agreed with the neighbors, I spent 7 hours on Saturdays watching the their children for $1 per hour; I’m quite sure that $1 was low even in that day and age. In any case, being in charge and making $7 per Saturday was great until I realized, when I arrived for my first 7-hour shift, that on top of having to babysit, I needed to serve lunch and cleanup. There were responsibilities attached to being in charge that were no fun at all. What a rude awakening! I found out while I was in charge on Saturdays, I wasn’t really in charge. I had someone I answered to and things to do that were attached to increased responsibility. There was a danger if I didn’t do my job well then I would lose those precious $7 that I so desperately wanted.

No, being in charge wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be.

As childish as it may sound, our desire to be in charge follows us well into adulthood. It is evidenced by all the disagreements that arise among us when something needs to get done or be organized. “Who put so-and-so in charge?” is often one of the questions that can be heard buzzing around. Committees are formed in an attempt to address discontent but committee meetings often end with two or three groups opposing one another. One group’s demands angers the other and the drama begins. No wonder it takes so long for anything to get done!

“Oh, if we just lived as they did in Bible times! If we could’ve been alive then, people would act better.” is one of the laments I’ve heard over the years. Where do we get all of our examples from – the good and the bad? From the Bible where examples of great characters of faith and greatly flawed characters can be found. Human nature, from good to bad to downright ugly has gone unchanged since the dawn of time. From the first sin in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve took charge and ate the fruit, until today when churches split over something as frivolous as the color of the carpet in the building – people have wanted to be in charge until the responsibility of that charge comes to light. Once the consequences of being in charge arise, being in charge isn’t so great after all.

Moses, who we know to have been as close to God as someone on earth could be (see Exodus 33:11), was a deeply flawed human being. However, for all his frailties, God used him to deliver his people from Egypt. Moses was, by all accounts, the reluctant leader; he wasn’t campaigning for the position to be Israel’s deliverer. In fact, if you read the account of Moses’ life in Exodus, you’ll see he tried to talk God out of His plan to use him – he actually angered God in the process.

Exodus 4:10-15 NKJ Then Moses said to the Lord, ‘O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.’ So the Lord said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord? Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.’ But he said, ‘O my Lord, please send by the hand of whomever else You may send.’ So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses, and He said: ‘Is not Aaron the Levite your brother? I know that he can speak well. And look, he is also coming out to meet you. When he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. Now you shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth. And I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and I will teach you what you shall do.’”

The world’s first “vice” leader was Aaron – how Moses found the courage to argue with God is something I fail to fathom – and Aaron walked with Moses throughout the miraculous departure of 5+ million people of Israel from Egypt. He witnessed the plagues, the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea, and many others besides, yet he having seen all that he did was not immune to wanting to be “in charge.”

Numbers 12:1,2a NKJ “Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married; for he had married an Ethiopian woman. So they said, ‘Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?’…”

I can almost hear Aaron saying, “Who put him in charge?” Perhaps he, together with Miriam, thought that he had just as much of a “right” to be calling the shots. It may be that they thought if they were in charge, God would speak to them as He spoke to Moses. What they didn’t take into account was what happened in the second part of verse 2 of Numbers 12: “And the Lord heard it.” He heard them complain and the outcome wasn’t what they had hoped it would be (see Numbers 12:4-14). God “had a talk” with Miriam and Aaron with Moses present, angry that they “spoke against” Moses. Miriam bore the brunt of the punishment and was leprous for 7 days and was outside the camp. The desire to “be in charge” caused the whole nation to stop for 7 days until her leprosy was healed.

Who is in charge? I hope not me! But if I’m ever chosen for any kind of leadership position, I will be a reluctant leader, one who isn’t craving that authority. I understand that filling those shoes comes with responsibilities and burdens that are far greater than any “perks” that may accompany that position. There are dishes to be washed, messes to be cleaned up, and complaints to be heard about how things are going or not going – and there’s Someone I have to answer to.

Sometimes, I just don’t need to be the one calling the shots, and that’s ok with me.

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I hope it’s understood that I’m not advocating remaining under any abusive situation. On the contrary, if a situation is abusive we need to remove ourselves. Abuse, however, isn’t disagreeing on carpet colours or a change of venue and time.

My mother used to say, wisely, “If you’re going to be angry, make sure it’s something worth being angry about.” And really, most of the time we get angry all too quickly.

Just food for thought.

Time Waits For No One

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Time waits for no one.

I sighed, deep in thought, as I looked in the mirror and noticed yet another line forming around the corners of my eyes. No amount of “age defying” cream or facial treatment can turn the clock back; time waits for no one. Trying to overcome the odds, I follow my self-prescribed morning routine. I dutifully apply the obligatory daily sunscreen, and then I attempt to conceal the dark circles that have been forming under my eyes with a product advertized (of course) to “diminish” those dark circles that greet me in the mirror every morning, and finally, I put on some lip-gloss. It’s a simple routine but less is definitely more when living overseas where such “unnecessary” necessities are not easy to come by.

As many before me, I have tried numerous face creams, eye creams, and fads that are supposed to “decrease the signs of aging,” holding out hope for the perfect solution each time. The two common denominators for all of these quick fixes for “fine lines” (let’s just establish that they’re wrinkles, OK?) are: the $19.99 I’ve shelled out and the disappointment I feel when I reach the bottom of the jar and see no change. Those wrinkles are still there in the mirror, mocking me!

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Time is so very precious and the mirror I look into every morning only testifies to the passage of time. Internally, I feel much the same as I did 35 years ago when life was just beginning to dawn on the horizon of my young life – but the mirror rudely reminds me that while I may feel that way internally, time is still passing. Time doesn’t wait and for most, time cannot be redeemed. Once it is lived, it can’t be lived over.

 On the surface, when we first come to the Lord, restoring the years that were lost before we knew Him is apparently impossible. The regret we feel for what seemed to be wasted years almost overwhelms us as we consider “what could have been” had we invested more of the limited years we have, to serve Him. It seems we are looking in the mirror of our spirits, much like we look in the mirror in the morning, and hope for a miracle product to help ease those signs of aging!

Joel 2:25 ESV I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you.”

How can years be restored when they have been lost? I’m really not sure how God manages to perform such miracles, but He is God, after all, and everything is possible with Him.

Mark 10:27 ESV “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.’ ”

The currency of God’s Kingdom is faith (see Mark 9:23) and when faith is added to the mixture of our lives we can, and do, see miracles. The miracle of adding time to time lost is one of the greatest miracles God works in us over all. Since God lives outside of time (see 2 Peter 3:8) and isn’t pressured by time, when we are born again, our eternal life begins, the pressure to “get the most out of life” ends. Time no longer has a hold over us because we understand that when this life ends, another waits for us – there are ages to come where we will be in God’s presence, living with Him.

Ephesians 2:5-8 NKJ  “…even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”

God saved us for the sole purpose of showing His grace and kindness to us. In spite of the fact that we rejected Him, possibly for years before coming to Him, we come to understand that time is irrelevant because God’s life is outside of time. In this way, He redeems our time – life becomes sweeter, God fits more into our days than we could imagine, and our futures with Him are assured.

Are you looking for the fountain of youth? Don’t look any further because God’s promise to us in the ages to come exceed the limitations that time put on us. There’s more yet ahead than what lies in the wasteland of the past.

Fine Print and Disclaimers

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Gimmicks. They’re all over the place. From pyramid schemes to get you rich quick to 7 steps to “washboard abs” (how I wish that one worked!). Every day, my inbox is filled with gimmicks of every kind you can imagine. Since I write a blog, there are the inevitable emails advertising “free” online seminars or EBooks to monetize your blog. There must be a market out there for all of these quick fixes to life’s never-ending struggle to stay above the water, otherwise these popups, ads, and emails wouldn’t be plaguing us every time we open our devices.

The attraction is, obviously, an immediate solution to what may be a long-standing issue that is usually financial. Who doesn’t want to be successful? What is missing from these advertisements is the fact that for most people paying for the service, subscription, or product won’t bring those fantastic results that are advertised in the ad. If you read the fine print or disclaimers at the bottom of the ad, you’ll see there’s no guarantee of success.

I like to read reviews and the standing of a company with the BBB (Better Business Bureau) before even considering spending any of my very hard earned money into anything. The dollars I’m being asked to spend represent lots of work and deserve to be spent only on what is proven to work, not on a gimmick meant to enrich only those who are behind it.

How is it that we throw our lives into things that aren’t proven, things with only an online assurance of their future success? How many times have we fallen for the newest thing ranging from vitamin supplements to “how to” seminars? Yet, we continue to put our hope in the newest, flashiest, and most expensive gimmicks that come our way. “This will be different,” we reason. “Last time I didn’t know what I know now.” Yet, most of the time, the result is the same: money, time, and relationships lost or damaged.

We fail to read the fine print or disclaimer.

Living life as a believer, I sit back in wonder when I consider how much faith we put into these kinds of schemes but we fail to trust God Whose Word is proven.

Psalm 18:13 NJV As for God, His way is perfect; The word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him.”

There are no “quid-pro-quos” in God’s fine print. It’s very straightforward: God’s Word is proven, it is perfect, and for those who dare to trust Him fully – it guarantees success. But success as God defines it doesn’t always line up with what we preconceive. God’s path to success leads us through paths that don’t look perfect to us – but bring us ever closer towards His perfect way.

Psalm 23:4 NKJ “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

In the times of deathly shadows, I would rather walk with God by my side. He has promised me that He will be with me and ultimately I will be successful.

Psalm 23:5,6 NKJ You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

We are “played” by this world and it’s thinking; we live in a culture where success is viewed as having the best of everything – the best money can buy is what we are after. However, when the rubber meets the road and we find ourselves in death’s valley, when a loved one is in hospice or divorce is on the horizon, no amount of money or financial security can walk us through.

Death’s valley is a cruel place that doesn’t have any preferences to whose door it will knock on. But for those who choose to trust God’s Word, even in the darkest places we walk through in life, we will eat – even in front of those who are our enemies. We will have enough to take care of loved ones and ourselves. We will see God’s goodness and mercy each and every day of our lives, if we can only trust Him.

If we can trust online ads that are not proven, how much more can we trust God and His Word that is proven?

I remember during one of my life’s darkest hours, when my younger brother was in hospice, I wasn’t sure how I would cope. Yet, for my father’s sake, I knew that there was no other choice. He was frozen in grief and was unable to attend to any of the issues that needed to be attended to at the time. I had to find a way to manage the feelings that assailed my heart. Never in my lifetime had I thought it possible to one day be sitting by my dying brother’s bedside, waiting for him to enter into God’s presence. How did this happen? Some of those questions are still waiting to be answered in eternity but I did know one thing: God was with me in death’s valley. As the time drew nearer for Matthew to enter into glory, God’s presence became so thick in his hospital room that the tears somehow didn’t feel so very painful. It was as if God’s own hands were open to Matthew and He let it be known to those of us around his bedside that all was well. When my brother finally did graduate to a truly better place, in my spirit it was as if I could hear him walking away with his Heavenly Father. We were left with the feelings of loss, but God was walking with us as well, and we managed.

I think back to that time three years ago and wonder how God gave me the grace to make it through – but I did. The tears still come but at the same time, I feel great joy for Mathew who now knows a full joy that those of us who are here on earth have yet to experience. I suppose the greatest comfort of all comes in knowing that when Matthew left us, it wasn’t “goodbye,” but rather, it was “I’ll see you there.”

God’s Word, there’s no hidden fine print. He’s true, He’s present, He’s walking with us and taking care of our needs. There are no hidden gimmicks or pop up ads – He walked me through my brother’s death and continues to walk with me daily, making sure His goodness and mercy follow me everywhere I go.

And that is all the success I need.

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Lost to Time

 

 

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It slips through my fingers like water

I can’t catch it

I can’t find it

No refunds

No do-overs – the moments I’ve lost to time.

———-

She’s older every day

I can’t catch up with her yesterday

I can’t find the moments lost

There’s no refunding the days

No doing over of mistakes – they are lost to time.

———-

Time past has gone

Time present I live now

Finding every moment wrapped as a gift

Refunding what was seemingly lost

Present mistakes corrected – that I lost to time.

———-

Tomorrow has yet to be lived

Planning the minutes to the full

Looking for gifts hidden in time

Tomorrow refunds yesterday’s loss

Never mistake new moments – else they also be lost to time.

 

I’m Still Running

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I run.

I have always run – for as long as I can remember I would run instead of walk. This was a source of contention at home; I have memories of being asked, “Why can’t you just walk?”

Why run? I don’t know why, but I run.

I don’t run well. My brother, who was an avid runner in his youth, would try to coach me, “You’re landing on the outside of your foot too heavily! You need to balance out your stride! You can go faster! You can go farther!” I never did improve much, but I kept on running.

All these years later, my stride is still imperfect (testified of by my running shoes that wear out unevenly), I am still slow, but I can go far. I’m still running! I run poorly, my shoes are worn badly, but I keep running.

I scour the Internet, magazines, newspapers, and TV programs for tips on how to keep running as I continue to grow older. There’s all kinds of advice to be found: wear the right shoes, don’t run too far, run farther, stay hydrated, don’t run in the early morning, don’t run too late in the evening, stretch before and after, run on an empty stomach, run after you’ve eaten. Some of the advice is contradictory, some works, some doesn’t. I’ve tried almost everything I’ve read and have learned that to keep on being able to run, you have to keep it simple and you have to keep running.

Some years ago, I entered a 5K run with my daughter and husband. I laughed at the thought of what it would look like when I crossed the finish line. I was sure I would be last – but I was going to make sure I’d at least cross the line. For a few weeks before the date of the run, I began to push myself harder. I ran farther than usual, I tried to run faster, but was unimpressed with my performance.

Fast-forward to the day of the race, there were a few hundred runners present and I felt nervous; I was sure I would come in last. There were the runners of all fitness levels: beginners, intermediate, and then the well-trained athletes. They were most intimidating of all; you knew they were the ones who would come in first place just by their build and stride. They were lean and ran with a certain bounce that comes naturally to the well-trained runner. Their clothes and shoes were amazing; they had special running glasses and water canisters. Then, there was me, unimpressively dressed me. I walked among the crowd in my definitely drab running gear and unevenly worn shoes that should’ve been replaced months ago. (Thankfully I am no longer in my 20s so my appearance didn’t faze me one bit – this is one good thing about growing older, you just don’t care whether people approve of you or not). I was just there to run as I had for the past 30 years.

Then, as we all took our places, it was time to start. I started off at my usual pace, thinking it was a good day for a run. Indeed, it was a good day. Many quickly passed me by, but I just kept going at my pace. After a few laps around the pre-marked track I began to pass people, to my great surprise, who had dashed ahead of me at the start of the run. I kept on going and found the energy at the second half of the race to pick up my pace. I was alone by this time and wondered what my finishing time would be – I had rarely taken note of my running time, as by nature I am a slow runner. Crossing the finish line, I realized out of all the women in my age group, I came in 11th place. I smiled and thought, “Not bad for a drab missionary runner.”

Hebrews 12:1 NLT Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”

As it is with running, to keep up with this race of faith we run daily, we need to keep it simple and we need to keep running. Simplicity is the essence of the Gospel: God loved us so much and knew we couldn’t do life on our own so His Son came for us. We couldn’t make it, so He did. That race was too difficult for us to run – so the Trained Athlete came and ran it for us. As I run my race daily that simplicity shines through, as I trust in Him – He already ran. I just follow His steps.

Jesus, the Supreme Runner, won and instead of wearing the medal Himself, He gave it to us. I couldn’t imagine the winner of a 26-mile marathon surrendering his or her medal to someone who didn’t run and give up all the accolades that went with such a victory! It would be as if all of the training that went into that win was for nothing.

Yet Jesus doesn’t need or even want to prove Himself to anyone. He reckons that the medals, the accolades, are nothing in the face of winning the ultimate prize of the redemption He ran to win: you and me.

I never considered myself much of a prize, but He did and today I wear His medal as if it were my own. The challenge for me is to keep it simple so that others might see how they don’t have to win anything – it’s already been done.

So today, and every day, I’m keeping it simple.

I’m still running.

Get Your Visa

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Living in Africa has gotten me accustomed to following lots of procedures. I have learned that there is a procedure to everything. For example, as foreigners, we (my husband, daughter Andreya and myself) simply couldn’t arrive and live here without following due process. It would be amazing to just hop on a plane and fly to the continent and serve the people. However, that just isn’t the case. To live here, we are required to have a visa. We had to apply for this visa prior to our arrival in the country. We were required to provide many documents upon application for our visa – and then we waited. While waiting, we were given temporary visas that we renewed monthly until our visas were approved. The whole process took some months and was nerve-wracking! Thankfully, our visas were approved and we were given a 2-year temporary work permit. Next year, the process begins again as we will request a renewal of our visas – processes and procedures never end here. We will always need a visa.

Without following due process, we wouldn’t have been allowed to step off the plane when we came to establish a work here in Malawi. Once when we were planning a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), we were assured after communicating with our pastor in DRC that it was possible (as it was at the time in many other countries) to get an entry visa to the DRC at the airport. We felt well assured and decided to follow what instructions we had been given and got on a plane bound for the DRC.

What we encountered at the airport after landing in the DRC was nothing less than chaos. Coming from Malawi, it was impossible for us to have gotten a visa in Malawi for the DRC because there was no consulate or embassy for the DRC in the entire nation of Malawi. We did our best to explain what we had been told, that we would be allowed to get a visa at the airport upon arrival. Our pastor who was receiving us at the airport was also doing his best to inform the officials that he had been told we could obtain our visas at the airport.

This little fact did not matter to the airport officials. They said, “You did not follow proper procedure.” We were summarily escorted to our seats on the plane and off we went, returning from whence we came. (Later on we learned that the higher-ranking official who had originally given our pastor the information we could come, arrived at the airport right after we left and reprimanded his colleagues for their conduct. While nice to hear, this didn’t do much to pay us back for those plane tickets!)

Now, whenever we plan to travel to the DRC, we make sure to get visas even though that means traveling to another country where the DRC has a consulate or embassy for some days to acquire a visa. This is an added cost but stepping off the plane with a visa in hand is the only way to go to the DRC.

In the same way when we travel we need to follow due process, there’s a process to the presence of God. The first step in experiencing His presence is wanting, or craving, His presence.

In the Old Testament, there was a time when the Ark of the Covenant was residing outside of Jerusalem. This Ark was a symbol of God’s presence among His people. King David had unsuccessfully tried to bring the ark to Jerusalem but was unsuccessful, and left the ark outside of the city. When saw the blessings that those who housed the ark were experiencing, he craved the presence of God. This is seen when he said:

2 Samuel 6:9 Rotherham “How can the Ark of the Lord come to me?”

When David had first tried to bring the Ark to the city of Jerusalem, proper procedures weren’t followed. This resulted in a tragedy that kept he Ark from God’s people.

1 Chronicles 15:13 NLT “Because you (Levites) did not carry it at first, the Lord our God made an outburst on us, for we did not seek Him according to the ordinance.”

The process to having His presence began with a craving for His presence. David wanted God’s presence, but failed at first to follow due process. Once he did follow the proper process, God’s presence filled the city of Jerusalem.

In the same way David craved God’s presence, he learned that God’s presence comes on His terms alone.

This is where we often get it wrong when it comes to the presence of God. We assume because He is an amazing Father that no matter what our attitudes are, what we do, where we go, we have that approval of His presence. Yes, it’s true that His presence is within us – but when we live outside of his processes and procedures (that are only there for our good), we gradually begin to limit His presence in our lives.

Please God, be present with me when I’m sick.

Please God, be present with me when I need a job.

Just don’t be so obviously present in my life when I’m with my friends who think that Your kind of life is strange.

Just don’t be so obviously present in my life when I’m using the credit card for purchases I can’t afford and keeping it from my spouse.

2 Corinthians 5:14 Message “Christ’s love has moved me to such extremes. His love has the first and last word in everything we do.”

When we experience His love, we are moved so deeply that we cannot help but allow His way to be first and last in everything we do. From worship services on the weekend, work, family life, and more – He has the say-so in whatever we are doing.

That’s what it means to crave Him – He becomes all that is important.

Why does that matter? It matters because He knows the end before we do. He knows that your friends need Him even if presently they think His life is strange. Who else will show them but you? He knows that things will end badly if you continue secretly running up debt on your credit card. So what if you don’t have the trendiest outfits or electronic gadgets? He has the best in mind for you even though it feels like the opposite when things are rough.

He only wants the best – and He is the best, by far. Trust Him today.