Posted in Grief, Hope, Kingdom, Loss, Missions, Motives, Serving, Sorrow, Success, The Call of God

All Over The World

This past week a cyclone hit the coast of Africa mostly affecting Mozambique and Zimbabwe. So far, according to reports, approximately 126 people (some reports say higher) have died as a direct result of the storm. In Nigeria, 120 people have died in recent attacks in local villages. There have been shootings in New Zealand leaving 50 dead and an Ethiopian Airlines plane went down last week killing all 157 on board. This short list of news is a only a small fraction of what goes unreported every day. Estimates vary, but there are about 151,600 people that die daily and most of those deaths go unreported in the news. 70,000 of these deaths occur in nations that are closed to the Gospel.

All over the world, people are crying.

Normally, my blogs are a bit quirky with a snippet of sarcasm and dry humor so I apologize if my departure from my usual self seems, at first, to be gloomy. It’s not my intention to leave anyone depressed today and I truly hope you don’t feel hopeless by the time I finish my little diatribe.

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As this world’s media picks and chooses what stories to cover and what stories to shelve, but the truth remains that thousands of families have spent the past several hours and days mourning for lost loved ones. Death is no respecter of persons and all of us will one day shuffle off this mortal coil in exchange for that which is eternal; what we do with our time here before we have that final meeting is what really is of value.

I won’t pretend to be educated enough to address the issues that others put under the microscope and take their limited time to rant on over social media. I find it sad that many of us choose to spend the limited time we have on this earth arguing with others on a platform where those you are sparring with are most likely going to remain unknown to you. It’s amazing how vicious some people have become with the advent of social media.

Romans 12:21 NKJ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Some justify their vitriol and even invoke God’s name when they do so, but as I know God, He still loves the world and all the people in it (John 3:16). In fact, the only time Jesus is seen weeping in scripture is when He looked over a city (Luke 19:41). He wasn’t crying over the buildings or land, He was crying for the people; some of those in that city He knew were the ones that would take part in His crucifixion. I don’t know how many of us would now have heart to do the same over our own cities where at times we face brutal criticism and attack for the cross that we bear and represent. Oh, that I might represent that cross well!

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This hopeless hour we find ourselves in could very possibly be the greatest opportunity the church worldwide has ever known. As a lifetime missionary, experience has taught me that when people are most vulnerable is when they are most open to the Gospel that brings love and hope.

Last week, we held an outreach into a local area here in Bujumbura, Burundi called Buterere. About 20 years ago this area was little more than a trash dump and rice fields. After the war here in the mid-late 1990s, people who had been displaced by the war moved to this area. It was a horrible situation; there was little to no sanitation, no running water, nothing to serve the people. 20 years later I found myself again in Buterere surrounded by a growing community that is slowly finding its way. The surroundings are still very basic and due to its low-lying situation, it is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. At the outreach, we held disease prevention classes teaching on topics like malaria prevention and basic hygiene. At the end of the teaching we distributed, to 200 families, mosquito nets, basins, soap, and a book by Joyce Meyers called, “Tell Them I Love Them.” We gave an opportunity for people to receive Christ and 45 people raised their hands. The reports coming back to us in the past few days have been full of words of appreciation and thanks for showing what God’s love is really all about.

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Will all of those 45 follow through with their decisions? We will do our best to follow up on them and encourage them but the large majority probably won’t – but who follows through and who doesn’t isn’t what motivates me to reach out to them. What motivates me is God’s love for them and we do what we can do in any given situation so that some may come to know Him (1 Cor. 9:22). While we work to encourage those making commitments, the results aren’t my responsibility and truth be told, if I was moved by results or popular opinion I would have resigned from my position many years ago.

So how do we, then, speak out? How do we behave honestly, yet lovingly, in this upside down world?

Ephesians 4:14-16 NKJ that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”

God loves the world and the motivating factor for what He does is love. I believe it’s only out of His love for the world that it hasn’t already fallen off its axis! We can say the right things but with the wrong motivation; the right thing said for the wrong reason is the wrong thing. God doesn’t need to have His reputation defended for His reputation is intact no matter what people think. Jesus understood this:

John 2:24,25 NKJ “But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.”

I hope today in some small way in my little world in Bujumbura, Burundi I am advancing the Kingdom of God by speaking the truth, not to justify who I am, but out of love for those who need to hear the truth. I can make what I say and do sound and appear righteous, but if my motivation is not loving the people, then I am only looking to raise my own righteous profile and not God’s.

“Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines—as well as upon works!” John Newton

Nothing I’ve written has ever gone viral or been popular, but on the off-chance someone reads this little piece and it gives them a bit of hope for this lost and dying world – it’s a win. If it makes someone upset, well, take a number and the staff (me) will attend to your complaint at its earliest convenience.

Rant over. Time for coffee.

Posted in Choices, Control, Courage, Faith, Finishing, Ministry, Missionary, Missions, Sacrifice, Sorrow, The Call of God, Vision

The Giving Up

Psalm 45:10 LB“I advise you…not to fret about your parents in your homeland far away.”

Living far from my homeland, where my children, grandchildren, and extended family live, has been a walk of faith. Sometimes I’ve wondered if I had what it takes to carry this kind of load, the “not to fret” kind of load.

I’ve been told when talking of living overseas all these years, “Oh, you’re used to it.” Indeed, I am used to this way of living on many levels. I can speak several foreign languages, live without A/C or power, shop for groceries like a pro in the markets, and even drive in foreign nations (it’s wise to take an antacid before trying to drive here).

However, I digress, there’s something that one never “gets used to” and that is the giving up to go. The giving up has less to do with giving up things and more to do with giving up being with loved ones. Each time I say goodbye I wonder how long it will be until the next hello. Will we meet again on earth or in heaven? Will my grandchildren know me? Will I matter to them?

In fact, with the passage of time, I have come to find that the giving up becomes increasingly poingnant as time goes by because the longer I live, the more I’ve missed in the lives of those I left behind.

My mother passed away when I was in Malawi in 2008. I had been speaking with her on the phone throughout her final illness and she kept saying, “I’ll get through this.” Sadly, she didn’t get through it here; instead she got through to her heavenly home. I remember flying home for her memorial service, having to surrender what I missed of her later years to my Heavenly Father. That lesson of losing a loved one while far away on a mission is not taught in any curriculum anywhere. There’s no homework, course study, or internship that could have possibly walked me through that time, it was all part of the giving up to go – the offering that is made not of money or possessions but of sacrifice.

Last year when we had our most recent trip to the USA, we spent time with our son and his family who had just had their second child, a beautiful girl (their first is an amazing boy). The few days we had together were a highlight – I now understand what all the hype is about concerning grandchildren. The day we were to leave, I felt a wave of emotion of the kind I’ve never experienced before when I held those two precious little ones before climbing into the car. There was no way to hold back the flood of tears that spilled over onto my cheeks. I imagine no one knew what to do with me as I’m not usually given to tears. Yet, there I stood, much to my chagrin, crying ugly tears as I gave up to go.

The morning we left, my thirdborn son, together with my daughter and son-in-law who are now here serving with us, was helping us put the final touches on our packing. He’s a man in his own right, but as I looked at him past his beard and 6-foot stature, I saw the face of a little boy mischeviously peeking around the corner of the living room to watch Jurassic Park when we had told him he was too small to watch such a scary movie. I cried again leaving him behind that morning, alone but not alone.

Some hours later, we stepped onto our return flight to Africa. There was a strange heaviness in my steps that hadn’t been there before; the ugly tears were still flowing as we waited for the plane to take off. In years past, as a young missionary, I had my children with me and the excitement of the mission overtook any overwhelming sadness. We were headed for adventure! Now, having lived a little while and having felt the painful lessons of loss, my sacrifice became increasingly real. The question that arose in my mind in tandem with the hum of the jet engines almost taunted me, “Is He worth giving all of them up to go?”

I found myself stepping off a plane onto the tarmac at the airport here in Bujumbura a few months ago; the mountains vaguely visible through the haze of the dry season. The warm breeze blew past my face and the tears, still flowing, fell to the ground. This land where we started our work planting churches had called us back and there I was, standing in the heat holding my youngest daughter’s hand tightly. Memories of years past played in my mind of the victories and defeats we had faced all for a dream to see a church planted when everyone else thought it impossible.

I wonder how many have had the chance to offer a sacrifice and how many have held on instead of letting go? How many people are waiting around the world for those among us to give up so they, too, can go with us to our Heavenly home when He calls? Perhaps I’ve not given the best offering or had talent to woo the thousands, but I’ve given what I have had to give and will keep giving even when it feels there’s nothing left so others might also go.

And those tears? He has counted each one and bottled them, waiting for the Day when all tears will be wiped away and sorrow will be gone. Until then, He is welcome to have all my tears, my offerings, my sacrifices – as unfit as they are for Him – because He gave His all for me so all of me has become His.

Psalm 58:6 NKJ“You number my wanderings; Put my tears into Your bottle; Are they not in Your book?”

Posted in Easter, Endurance, Grief, Missionary, Missions, Rejection, Sorrow

Love Puts Us At Risk

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Why?

That’s the $64,000.00 question whose answer has evaded those asking it generation after generation. Everyone wants to know “why” something happened in order to escape the pain of the experience. If we could know why, perhaps we could avoid the suffering.

Ours is a world that goes to great lengths to avoid pain; no one likes to experience pain. Why experience it when it can be avoided?

Some of life’s greatest experiences put us in the direct path of pain. Who wants to experience the death of loved ones or the pain of loved ones moving far away? If we fear pain to the point of avoiding its very appearance, we rob ourselves of the joy that accompanies living.

Like you, I have had my fair shake of painful experiences. I wish that I could have avoided those times, but there are moments in life when one can’t avoid pain. When my mother passed away in 2008, I wasn’t able to get back from Africa in time to see her before she died. In our last conversation we had just 3 days before her passing, she said to me on the phone, “I’ll get through this.” The next day she slipped into a coma and was gone 2 days later. How I regretted not seeing her one more time before she left us. The pain of her passing was bad enough, the pain of not being with her to say goodbye was another ache I wish I could’ve avoided.

When my brother Matthew was near death 3 years ago, I remembered missing being by mom’s bedside – I promised myself to be with him every minute I possibly could. I have lived away from my family for so long as a missionary in Africa, I wondered if I would even be needed. As Matthew’s home going drew ever closer, he made it known to me he was glad I was around. The most precious memory I have of those horrible days in the hospital was when he asked me, “You’re not leaving, are you?” My reply was, “No, I’m right here.” As painful as that experience was, I don’t regret going through it. I chose to be there and I’m so glad I did.

When war erupted in Burundi, we chose not to leave. Would we have been wrong for leaving? I don’t think so, but we chose to stay with the church members who we had grown to love. It was a 9-year season of painful experiences, watching the nation we had grown to love suffer in great pain. At the end of that season, we chose to move on to start all over again and plant another church. Leaving was very hard; it would have been easier if we hadn’t grown to love the people so much.

Love puts us at risk.

Now imagine Jesus. He willingly took the risk of loving us when we were unlovable. He, our Elder Brother (Romans 8:29) could have chosen not to risk rejection, misunderstanding, and death at the hands of those He came to save. Willingly, He put Himself in the path of unimaginable pain and sorrow – but He did so because He considered the outcome to be worth it.

When I ponder the fact that He thinks of me as worth His death, I am overcome with wonder. Wonder over how I could have been worth everything He went through, but He reckons I am worth it. He risked it all for me because He loves me.

I’ve heard it said the measure of pain we feel at the loss of someone we love is the measure of the love we have for them. Jesus felt great pain; His was a greater loss than we can imagine for not only did He experience physical death (Matthew 27:50), He experienced the absence of His Father’s presence Who had never been apart from Him until the moment He was crucified (Matthew 27:46). He experienced total and complete abandonment and rejection, a spiritual death, so that we wouldn’t have to. Because of Him, we have the opportunity to receive the forgiveness and acceptance of a Father Whose love is boundless. Now it is up to us, what will we choose, to become a part of the family or remain estranged? The choice is ours for He wants us to become willing members of the family – not forced servants.

The pattern Jesus set for us in His sacrifice gives meaning to the pains we experience in life. Every pain, every scar, has it’s meaning. It may be that those reasons aren’t going to be revealed in our lifetime – but they certainly will be revealed in the lifetimes of those who will follow us. As a family, we have been reading the biography of Adoniram Judson (I highly recommend this book, click here to preview) and we have cried tears in reading of his lifelong journey. Who knew that his son, Edward Judson, would be the one to pen the following:

“Suffering and success go together, if you are succeeding without suffering, it is because others before you have suffered, if you are suffering without succeeding, it is that others after you may succeed.”

This is the wonder of the God we serve: He takes our pain and uses it as stepping-stones for those who come after us to succeed. How He does that is His miracle, but it is the pattern He set in place with His Son. His suffering has allowed us to experience the ultimate success: becoming part of His family.  His pain became our success and now, in turn, we can do the same.

 

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No Scar?

 

Hast thou no scar’

No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand’

I hear thee sung as mighty in the land,

I hear them hail thy bright ascendant star,

———-

Hast thou no scar’

Hast thou no wound’

Yet I was wounded by the archers, spend,

Leaned Me against a tree to die; and rent

By ravening beasts that compassed Me, I swooned:

———-

Hast thou no wound’

No wound, no scar’

Yet, as the Master shall the servant be,

And, pierced are the feet that follow Me;

But thine are whole: can he have followed far

Who has no wounds nor scar’

———-

Amy Carmichael, Missionary to India

 

 

Posted in Grief, Sorrow

Open Eyes

I cry ugly. There are some people who have the talent of crying and looking good at the same time. Both of my daughters, when they were very young, would practice crying in front of a mirror. They acquired the talent of crying and being pretty while crying. This is a talent I do not possess.

Not only do I cry ugly, when I cry there’s a chance (and a good one) that I might cry my contact lenses out of my eyes. It’s extremely unfortunate to lose a contact while crying – sometimes the lens can be recovered, but more often than not, I fail in any recovery effort, often finding the lost lens dried out on the bathroom countertop.

So, in addition to crying ugly, I risk suffering financial loss if I lose a contact lens while crying – I am therefore highly motivated to “hold it together” for the sake of vanity and finances!

Sometimes, no matter how hard I try, it’s impossible for me to avoid tears:

  • I cry when my young daughter gives me a drawing she made just for me.
  • I cry when I miss my older children and my grandson.
  • I cry when accidentally stubbing my toe in the middle of the night.
  • I cry when I see an animal rescue story.

Apart from these, there are life experiences that can move me to tears so intense I may have trouble seeing the path in front of me. Emotions can run so deep that my soul’s pain blurs my vision. Those are the kinds of tears no one wants to cry.

Psalm 6:6,7a NLT “I am worn out from sobbing. All night I flood my bed with weeping, drenching it with my tears. My vision is blurred by grief…”

When we go through those moments, it’s tempting to think that “no one” could ever understand our pain. There’s no one who has ever gone through what we are experiencing. This is true to an extent since pain is individual. What is not true, is believing our pain is so great and unique that there’s no one who can relate to us and help us.

In Genesis 21, after Abraham’s son of promise Isaac was born, his first son, Ishmael and his mother Hagar, faced a lot of hardship. Sarah, Isaac’s mother, understandably was protective of her only child. She wanted them both gone from the household. So, they were sent away into the wilderness.

Imagine being Ishmael’s mother, rejected by your son’s wealthy father, wandering in the wilderness with your son and running out of water. When the water did run out, she couldn’t bear watching her son die. She laid him under a bush and sat some distance away, waiting for what she thought was inevitable to happen.

Genesis 21:16 NLT “Then she went and sat down by herself about a hundred yards away. ‘I don’t want to watch the boy die,’ she said, as she burst into tears.”

Tears at a seemingly impossible and intractable situation. Uncontrollable tears, for her son was going to die. She couldn’t see because of her tears, until her eyes were opened.

Genesis 21:19,20 NLT “ ‘Go to him and comfort him, for I will make a great nation from his descendants.’ Then God opened Hagar’s eyes, and she saw a well full of water. She quickly filled her water container and gave the boy a drink.”

Hagar thought she was in an impossible situation. However, what she thought wasn’t the truth. God had a plan for her son – He had a wonderful future in store. Her tears kept her from seeing straight; it wasn’t until God “opened” her eyes that she saw a well full of water.

Don’t allow pain and tears to close your eyes to the wells of water surrounding you. God has a wonderful plan in store for you and your loved ones – allow Him to open your eyes to see the well. That water will revive what you think is dying inside of you.