Posted in Forgiveness, Grace, Kindness, Leadership, Mercy, Patience, Perspective

No Pogo Sticks Either

We stepped out for an hour this past week to have a short meeting with some of our leaders at church. Since we would only be gone for about an hour, we allowed our youngest daughter to stay home alone. She has matured and we have begun allowing her to be at home for short periods of time as we run errands or hold short meetings. Our compound where we live in Bujumbura is safe; we have neighbors behind and beside us that are as concerned about the security of their homes as we are ours and we knew that she would be alright for an hour.

The security drill is as follows: keep the phone nearby at all times and answer every call or message we might send. The doors stay locked, no going outside, and no surfing the internet (we lock devices away). TV is allowed as is homework; almost torturous I know! Feeling satisfied that she hadn’t totally tuned us out during our “I know all this mom” discussion over rules and safety, we set out for our meeting.

After an hour, we made our way home and as we walked to the door, I saw her sweet little face greet us from a window as we entered, “I want to say that I had fun! I had fun!” My mommy senses were tingling, something was definitely up.

Sweet fingers nervously folded together she explained that the past hour she had played with water in the living room and created a slip and slide – the floors are perfect for sliding. My eyes betrayed my feelings, “I made a slip and slide! You’re mad aren’t you mommy?” Rewinding the tape of my own childhood antics in my brain, I briefly relived a few of my own moments. No sweet girl, I wasn’t angry I was actually impressed; I had never thought of making a slip and slide in the living room, nor had the three older ones ever come close to this level of ingenuity. Her eyes pleaded for leniency, she had tried to clean up after herself and she did have fun.

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Relieved that water hadn’t been spilled on electrical appliances or anything that could be damaged, her punishment was to dry the floor (we have a super clean floor right now) and endure the lectures that ensued for days afterward. While it seems she might have gotten off lightly, if ever there’s another slip and slide, there will definitely be greater consequences to face. She assured us, “I won’t ever do that again mommy!” But, the slip and slide will forever receive props from all of us and the memory of I had fun will endure in my parenting records and on into subsequent generations.

This afternoon she is playing with friends and again the house is a playground, we often say that this is Andreya’s world, we just live in it! I did end up sending them outside as the ruckus was getting beyond our ability to contain and now the party continues by the laundry line. Listening them makes me smile, the mess really doesn’t matter, it makes me so very happy to see her happy.

I think God must laugh at some of the messes we create, our slip and slides in the living room, that we thought would be fun to do but later created a bit of a mess to clean up. The effort of cleaning the mess is punishment enough, lesson learned – hopefully! Next time, it might not be so easy to escape the consequences.

Today, I had to step out for a few minutes and the usual run-down of rules had an additional item or two added just in case:

No slip and slides, no hot air ballooning, no flying trapeezes and no pogo-sticks either!

 

Posted in Choices, Church planting, Courage, Cross, God's call, Inadequacy, Kingdom, Leadership, Loss, Missions, Obedience, Popularity, Rejection, The Call of God

The Hashtag

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In this new world of social media, blogging, vlogging, podcasting, Facebooking, Twittering, texting, and other forms virtual contact that I am surely not aware of, there has arisen an unlikely hero on our keyboards: the hashtag, aka #. I don’t even know how to punctuate that in a sentence!

On my keyboard, prior to its recent popularity, the hashtag sat mostly unused above the number 3. I would occasionally use it as a number sign but for the most part, I could’ve easily lived life without a hashtag. Until the advent of the #hashtag movement, this humble symbol went largely unnoticed.

I didn’t really understand the reasoning behind, what appeared to me at the time, the arbitrary use of the symbol until one day when I saw this posted beneath a meme (a picture or image with a piece of relevant text added to it):

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#thestruggleisreal

The meaning of the hashtag finally had dawned on the horizon of my understanding. The humble hashtag, when followed by a word or several words connected without spaces, is meant to connect people to the subject at hand and communicate a short truth such as #thestruggleisreal. I finally got it and I saw that hashtag (#thestruggleisreal) fall into place many times over the subsequent months and years.

The truth of the matter is that the struggle really is real, the hashtag has meaning. There are some things we’re going through that have no explanation, no easy way out, no shortcuts to their resolution. The only way to see them through is through the struggle, and that struggle is real. Bishop T.D. Jakes puts it so well in saying, “You have to pay full price.”

As a church planter I’ve experienced more than what I originally thought was my “fair share” of struggle. It seems as if every step forward is accompanied by troubles that go beyond the lines of my expertise. On a regular basis I find myself posing the same question, “Why the struggle?”

There’s a common thread weaving itself through the intertwined fingers of humanity; we’re all seeking an escape from the struggle. Try as we might, however, the struggle finds us and the fight goes on for as long as there are days we have left to live – neither is creation exempt from the struggle.

Romans 8:20-22 ESV “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”

While in our day and age much is taught about the blessings of God (and rightfully so, we are blessed), little is said in comparison of the struggle we face in our futility. We struggle for the freedom we know is part of our Kingdom inheritance, we struggle in our journeying, we struggle for the answers to our prayers and come face-to-face with the reality of how real the struggle is.

Who knew?

On a warm afternoon in October 1991, I stepped off a plane with my young family and onto the tarmac at the airport in Bujumbura, Burundi. Heat rose from the runway in the distance and blurred the outlines of the trees and faraway mountains. My heart was full of hope for the future but the loneliness of our situation wasn’t lost on me. We’ve often joked about this in the past – but on the other side of our joking was the reality of our utter solitude as we began the work of planting our first church.

I can’t the number of times we’ve felt misunderstood by not only strangers but by those who are close to us. How can we go about explaining the fire in our hearts for Africa to others whose journeys are so very different from ours? What possesses us to choose this lifestyle, one so very foreign to our own? This is perhaps one of the most painful of the struggles we encounter (and we encounter it regularly). There is no logic to this call, what is worth this kind of sacrifice?

Over the years we’ve struggled with financial lack, insecurity in the countries we have lived in (not knowing from one day to the next what could happen), sickness, and leaving our children and grandchildren behind in the USA. As this cycle of struggle and loss repeats itself I find myself struggling less and looking forward more. I can’t move forward while at the same time looking back. Has my heart hardened? Am I now unaffected by the struggle? Not in the least. But I’ve learned that as real as the struggle is, the rewards of the struggle are much greater than any pain I’ll suffer in the here and now.

Philippians 3:8-10 ESV “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,”

I have little, in comparison to others, to offer God. While I’ve never gone to bed hungry or held any significant debt, my bank account alone gives testimony to my total reliance on God to meet my needs. I haven’t a great musical talent or prominent spiritual gift that can help propel me forward into the limelight. I don’t have the “pedigree” of coming from a family line of preachers. Neither do I possess any significant connection into the world of the rich and famous. What I do have to offer is this life God gave to me; He gave His all for me and I am now doing the same for Him.

And about that struggle, yes, #thestruggleisreal – but it’s only #temporary.

Posted in Authority, Leadership

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.