Categories
Doubt Faith Missionary Perspective Thankful Travel Why

I Had To See Over The Trees

Earlier this year, in July to be more precise, I learned that some jewelry I had left in the USA with my son had been stolen (we live in Burundi, Africa). Together with the help of the local detective, my son located the items at a local pawn shop. After speaking with the owner and proving that the items were indeed mine and stolen, a hold was placed on them pending resolution of the case. In the meanwhile, I wrote a personal statement and sent it in to the investigating detective and waited to travel Stateside for our usual bi-yearly itineration. We were set to arrive in September and would work on collecting the jewelry at that time.

When we finally arrived in town and managed to talk to the detective face-to-face, we learned that retrieving our property would be a bit more complicated than we had originally imagined. The owner of the shop had offered to “give” us our property if we paid him $500.00. We felt such a sum was unfair and followed the detective’s advice to file papers at the courthouse to get the property returned to us. The shop owner was resolute and would not return the stolen property; we were given a date to appear before a judge just last week (October 24).

I found myself standing last Thursday morning at a podium next to the pawn shop owner before a judge. The whole process for me was nerve wracking. My husband (Jamie), who had pushed for us to get the items returned in the first place, has the emotional strength of an army. His mantra throughout the process was, “It’s not their jewelry! We are going to get it back!” I followed his lead, all the while feeling wobbly and anxious about what the actual outcome would be.

I am an Enneagram 2w1 personality for those who might be interested, it may shed light on my reaction!

Yes, the necklace and bracelet were mine, yes they were stolen and yes I wanted them back. However, I also knew that things don’t always turn out as we hope or plan and my negativity took over “helping” me to prepare for disappointment. I went so far as saying, “Let them keep it!” when the shop owner refused to return in voluntarily. Jamie would not hear of it and off we went to see the judge last Thursday.

Since the jewelry was mine, I was the one called to stand at the podium. I knew Jamie would most likely have done a better job than me in explaining the whole situation but I did my best when my account of events was called for. I kept things truthful, simple and to-the-point. There was no need for anything more or less, I reckoned, as a little part of me hoped that the right thing would happen.

When it was time for the shop owner to speak, his words were loud, coarse and shaded. The judge, while she had pity on him that he had paid $1,100.00 for the items and had lost money, had no pity on him when it came to her reminding him of the law. He had to return the jewelry to me without pay – they were mine and it was wrong, against the law, for him to keep them.

An order was written on the spot and handed to both parties ordering the shop to return the items to me free of any charge. About an hour later, I found myself wearing the necklace and bracelet, a bit embarrassed at my pessimism throughout the process.

Why did I doubt You, Lord?

Luke 19:3 NASB “Zacchaeus was trying to see who Jesus was…”

I was trying hard to see Jesus but I was just too short to see above the tree line. I thought my problem was not of any consequence; a necklace and bracelet have no value in light of the lives of the children we feed in Burundi and Malawi or the schools that we are opening. It seemed so trivial, but I hoped that somehow those unnecessary items would silently make their way home without any fuss. So, like Zacchaeus, I had to climb up just a bit higher to see Him and recognize what He was doing and just like He did for Zacchaeus, Jesus came home on Thursday to eat with me at our table – and He brought the necklace and bracelet home to me.

 

Categories
Beginnings Choices Fasting Kingdom Missions New Year Obedience Questions

A Captive Audience

We are taught from an early age to “think for ourselves.” Indeed, having the ability to reason a situation through is something best learned early on. My youngest daughter is in 4th grade and she is learning how to think before answering; when she thinks first and processes the work, she generally gets a better grade which makes everyone happy!

Solving math problems definitely requires more brain power for some (like me) more than others. Thankfully, my daughter has learned this skill at a much faster pace than I did. I wasn’t the automatic math genius in school – I spent a great deal of time training my mind to think problems through. Once I finally mastered this skill of reasoning and thought, my grades improved. What I wasn’t prepared for in daily life as an adult when facing life issues was understanding that reasoning life problems through like algebraic equations won’t always produce the correct results.

All of that work to train my thoughts in a certain way had to change.

2 Corinthians 10:5 ESV “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

In my mind, as I learned to navigate this path called my walk with God, I often found myself arguing with the issues I faced.

Trusting God for His wisdom when facing civil unrest? My mind told me to run but my heart said stay; there was an internal argument taking place in my mind daily in those days. My old debate class lessons quickly found their way back to the forefront of my mind.

Trusting God for buildings when our tent where we meet keeps blowing over? Where was the money going to come from? Math arguments come in handy here, I’d tell myself hundreds of thousands won’t multiply from zero as zero times anything still equals zero!

Much like the lessons I learned at school, lessons of reasoning, I’ve learned another lesson: mentally working out how to walk with God simply won’t work. Much like you can’t apply algebra to conjugating verbs, earthly reasoning cannot apply in our walk with God.

This year as we begin afresh once again, I’ve set my arguments aside. Arguments of why it can’t be done are now my captive audience as I surrender to the process of solving problems in a much more effective way – in the way of the Kingdom. My feeble attempts at solving don’t amount to much anyway in the face of issues that are obviously far beyond my pay grade: comforting the bereaved, growing new churches, expanding into new countries, and loving those who don’t love me back.

My thoughts are captive. I’m listening. I’m learning.

Categories
Church planting Destiny Dreams Endurance Faith Missions

What Was That All About?

Together with my husband and daughter Andreya in Arusha, Tanzania.

In early 2000, we moved to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania from Bujumbura, Burundi where we had planted our first church. We had handed our church in Bujumbura over to a son in the faith and were excited to see a new church born. The process of planting a church from scratch is daunting enough but we had seen God’s favor in Burundi and were sure that we would see another wildly successful church born. We had seen it before! God was on our side! What could possibly go wrong?

Plenty.

In Burundi we struggled to get government permission to open the church and, after 9 months of waiting and struggle, we received news that our file had been approved. A few short months later, we held our first service. The church stood strong through times of serious civil unrest and war. Today, our first church has planted 4 additional churches since our departure. All of the difficulty we faced fades into nothing knowing the work has moved forward.

However, we had a totally different experience in Tanzania. From the moment we arrived, it seemed the odds were definitely not in our favor. We had applied for approval to start the work and despite having all indications we were approved, we spun in circles from day to day for a year and a half trying to get our certificate of registration. It became very expensive as we had to purchase visas for our 5 member family monthly at a cost of $400 per passport. In the end, after spending nearly all we had, we moved on to Lusaka, Zambia and registered the work there in a matter of weeks.

Yet, the “Tanzania effect” followed me for quite some time. 

Everyone has moments in life when hopes and dreams not only don’t come true, but it seems they are shattered into millions of pieces so small that there’s no way to put them back together. For me, Tanzania was my first experience with such a disappointment. 

I had supposed that I knew how things worked since I had seen it happen before; in Tanzania I faced the harsh reality that each step we take has its own set of rules attached to it. My mind battled with the questions of, “How could we have been so wrong?” and “How could we have made such a mistake?”

For years afterwards, I avoided the subject of Tanzania. The work continued and other difficult moments ensued, but none that hurt as deeply as Tanzania. With the years passing, my attitude changed from “How could we have been so wrong?” to “What was that all about?”

Periodically, as it goes here in Africa, we would get news of those we had ministered to during our short stay in Tanzania. One brother’s news in particular helped me see things differently. This man had told us years ago that he wanted to reach his tribe, the Maasai, who are notoriously difficult to reach. “Out of the blue” as it were we received news he had actually gone back to his people and was a pastor of a church.

A smile crosses my face, now nearly 17 years later, as I realize what never was meant to be for us, happened in the life of another. What we sowed into him has carried on and that is amazing. When we say, “One soul is all that matters.” God will test us on our word, not because He needs to find out for he knows our hearts, but to show us what is in the depths of our hearts.

It took years, but I was finally able to come to a place of peace and left the unknown and unanswered questions about that time to God. I have had more “Tanzania effect” moments in the years since we left, and they have hurt me as well, but none effected me as deeply as my season in Tanzania. 

Then, earlier this year, we received an email from some connections in Arusha, Tanzania, inviting my husband to speak at a conference. Two days ago I stepped onto a plane and made the long journey to Arusha from our home in Blantyre, Malawi, with my husband and daughter. I’ve not been back to Tanzania since 2001, and I wondered what “effect” this journey would have on me.

The conference begins this morning and as I look out my window and wonder what this week holds, I know one thing: God is faithful. He loves us so much that He puts us exactly where we need to be at any given moment. Had our journey in Tanzania taken more or less time, everything we have seen in its wake could have turned out differently. Would the churches have been born that we’ve seen born? Would our adopted daughter in Malawi have come into our lives? I can’t bear to think of that! I thank Tanzania for pushing me forward, so much has come to pass in the years since.

Romans 8:28 NLT “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”

Take a breath, the pain will pass, and one day you’ll find yourself on the other side of that experience. The reasons you endured what you’ve endured may not be understood in this lifetime, but that really doesn’t matter. They will work to get you to where you need to go.

Categories
Courage Doubt Inadequacy

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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Categories
Bible reading Doubt Faith

The Book Is Better Than The Movie

My little daughter has discovered the “Chronicles of Narnia” movie series. As we’ve watched the movies, she immediately understood the symbolism without my telling her that the Lion was representative of Jesus and how in the Witch represented Satan. “Jesus,” she said, “wins over them all.”

I love these movies – but you know I’ve read the books and the truth is that the books are better than the movies. To get the story right, you have to read the books. You see when you read the books, you get the whole story, not a brief and unreliable version of it. Movies that are made about books are brief summaries based on opinions of others who read the books – how they understood the plot, perhaps not to the liking of the author.

The “Narnia” movies are somewhat accurate in keeping the storylines to those of the books – but they leave a lot out as a 2-hour movie doesn’t lend enough time to tell the tale of several hundred pages of narrative. It’s still a “bare bones” rendition, leaving out what the original authors wanted you to get out of the story.

Some years ago the movie, “Noah” came out. I went I think a couple of days after it was released and I left thinking I had seen a science fiction movie. There were rock creatures that talked and all kinds things that weren’t present in the Book. You see, it was told as the screenwriters wanted it told so it might sell more tickets.

Our lives with the Lord can somehow be uncannily similar; there are “screenwriters” out there making a display of what living for the Lord should look like so it can appear popular to the masses. So they can sell their movie tickets, so they will be popular among the “relevant” movements in Christianity.  The screenwriters are so wrong in their editing movies for I’ve never heard of a movie being better than the book. Yet, for some reason, people fall for their movie trailers and promises of great popcorn and perks if you sign up for their movie app.

The Father, the Author, wants to write His Book in you and live it through you – WHAT IF we allowed Him to do just that?

So, it may be that you have been watching a movie trailer or have been watching the movie itself. Maybe you read parts of the book before but the movie sounded so good; the details of the Real Story have faded in your memory. The Book is so much better – maybe the movie has changed your mind just a bit. Made the truths you knew fade into the far recesses of times past. Perhaps the screenwriter version has become so popular that you find yourself wondering at times if the Book really is true.

I wanted to bring us back today to the Greatest Storyteller of all time Who not only wrote but sent His Son to live out the story for us, to make us free. What has happened over time is that this world and even Christianity’s “make me feel better and relevant with this world” culture, waters down the truths that this, the Greatest Author of all time, wrote in His Book.

Does this new screenplay we are all watching in this day and age really make us feel better? The compromise, the belief that God’s standards are somehow “out of date” and need to be “altered” to fit today’s world. It’s outdated, they say, so it needs to be made relevant.

Yes, languages change, colour palates change from season to season, and we may even change our hairstyle (I have heard every woman has an average of 5-7 hairstyles in her lifetime and some of us still remember the colour “seafoam green”), and we have hopefully stopped wearing shoulder pads that made us look like football players.

But the Book tells us what He is really like, what living for Him is meant to be. It is easy to be persuaded to believe something else when we don’t remind ourselves of what He is like daily. When I begin to listen to what “the evidence” points to, that God doesn’t care about me, or I’m not sure if He loves me, or that I should live holy but it’s ok if I don’t, I start the process of forgetting Who He really is and replacing what I once knew to be true, for a lie.

Our enemy fights, but not overtly. He begins by telling us lies – his ambition is to take our authority from us for he wants to take as many down with him as he can. Satan’s lies begin as partial truths that are overemphasized into error – let me give you an example. Are we the righteousness of God in Christ? Yes!!! But we are also nothing without Him. If we only speak of how wonderful we are – we sway into error and forget that He is all and all and without Him we are lost!

What if we took the time to open the Book, and really remember what it says?

The Greatest Storyteller, the Author, sent His Son to live as one of us so we could reign with Him – and our Lord Jesus won His war. And now the spiritual war that wages in the heavenlies is ours to win through His wonderful victory ( see Ephesians 6).

Jesus left heaven, became fully man and was at the same time, fully God (see Hebrews 2:7) and Jesus, in His lifetime, used the authority Adam had lost. He was not the offspring of Adam; He was not subject to the laws of fallen man because He was God in man (see Hebrews 1:8). He then turned around and shared His authority with us:

Revelation 1:6 NKJ and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

 1 Peter 2:9 NKJ “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;”

We don’t fight with a sword, flailing in our own strength. We stand with a scepter as kings. This is how we win – understanding what the Book, not the movie (society, popular messages and movements), says.

Today’s messages tell us to be self-centered in that we are to seek after what’s best for us and our own – but God’s wisdom says we are to serve as Jesus did Philippians 2:3-11 vs. 5 “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” We are to take up His mind and put away our own for using our own hasn’t worked thus far, has it?

Imagine what happened! Jesus left heaven as God, He returned as God-man as He completed the work of redemption and left us with the authority to enforce it in the earth. And then life happens, the movie trailers begin to play, and we are no longer “mindful” or full of the mind of Christ.

But you see the Book reminds us of the truths that the screenplay leaves out:

Revelation 12:11 NKJ “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.”

We will overcome, not by falling for the lies and deceptions of the movie trailers – but by His blood and the testimony of our lips of what He, the Son, has done for us. How do we win a war when we are in prison? What prison, you say? The one we put ourselves in when we allow our minds to be chained to the screenplay. We are in prison when we are deceived, when we believe a lie.

This was done just for our age, what will He do in ages to come?

Ephesians 2:7 NKJ “that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

For there are more Books to be written, more stories He will tell – this is only our beginning. The Father has been forever; there’s never been a time that He wasn’t and He has chosen to include us in this journey. Why not join Him and read the Book – stop watching the movies – and break off those chains.

He is good, His purposes are good, and the Book is definitely better than the movie.

 

Categories
Doubt New Year Fast

Day 5 – When All Seems Lost

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John 20:19 “Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut…Jesus came and stood in the midst.”

Fear is a relentlessly vicious master; it pushes you to uncharacteristic behaviours. Fear’s twin, doubt, travels with fear since fear can’t operate without doubt. Doubt in God’s power, God’s plan and His love for us. Once we have gone through a few valleys in life, when optimism gives way to pessimism and our faith takes a back seat to reason, we are imprisoned by the evil twins of doubt and fear.

The disciples were in deep fear after Jesus’ death. They were sure that they would be pursued and killed just like Jesus. They doubted His power, that He would rise again, so much so that they had shut themselves into a house, they were in hiding. They did this “for fear of the Jews.” (John 20:20) Fear of what might happen or what seemed to be inevitable caused them to shut the doors of the house. Reading this passage I wonder what their plans, at that time they were shut in, were for the future? Since Jesus wasn’t part of their lives, would they steal out of the city? Resume living as they had before? Would the rest of their lives be lived in fear? What would they say to their families?

Just when they thought all was lost and no hope was to be found, Jesus miraculously appeared among them. He spoke with them, encouraging them, and even gave them a future assignment. God, in His great mercy knowing the frailty of humanity, met the disciples in a way that would drive fear and doubt away in the blink of an eye.

Life’s blows can cause us to lose our focus and faith: finances are tight, family members may be sick, trouble on the job, and trouble at home. It may seem that all the doors of escape have been shut and there is nothing that can bring us the relief that we are longing for – as the disciples felt so do we, all seems lost.

These struggles with doubt and fear often come at the end of a great season. Jesus’ death came after He had spent 3 years ministering to people: thousands were drawn to His meetings, He healed countless sick people, raised the dead, and forgave sin. His was a ministry that took His world literally by storm and turned things around so much that it put the religious leaders of the day in fear of their positions of prominence. The stage was set: Jesus was condemned to death and a seemingly horrible defeat came on the heels of a wonderful season of victory.

Elijah, who seemed by all accounts to be a fearless Prophet, even struggled with doubt and fear. He lived from victory to victory, never fearing what the next day would bring: he predicted drought and rain, saved a widow and her son from starvation, raised another widow’s son from the dead. He was fearless until an amazing victory God worked through him at Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:20-40). At Mount Carmel all false prophets were put to shame openly and executed when God demonstrated His power. Immediately after this event, the King’s wife Jezebel heard what had happened and she made it known that she would kill Elijah. Elijah fled for his life into the wilderness. What happened in that brief time period to make this mighty, fearless man of God whimper away into the wilderness, fearful for his life?

God, in His mercy, did for Elijah as He did for the disciples when they were shut away. He spoke to Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-18), strengthening him and giving him a new assignment. He stepped into Elijah’s room, as it were, and met Elijah in a way that would make all his doubt and fear evaporate.

What room have you shut yourself into? How has life made you lose your focus? When was the last time fear and doubt were far and you lived life in fearless faith? Faith gives us the focus we need to get through those times when we’d rather sit indoors and blitz our lives away on Netflix reruns.

The doors of your room may be shut but I assure you that Jesus Himself is standing there with you, ready to speak a word that will wash all your fears away. Where can you find His word to you? In His book, the Bible, there are countless words waiting to be discovered so you can, in faith, stand up from where doubt and fear have trapped you and open the door to find a new adventure waiting on the other side.


 

Today is Day 5! We’ve made it this far, there’s no turning back now. This year we have had quite a trial come in the middle of our fast: a strong storm came and blew down our tent where the new church in Blantyre, Malawi is meeting. No one was hurt thankfully, but the damage to the tent is extreme. We are working hard to fix the issue – but there are more storms on the horizon both spiritually and physically. No matter, we will get through them and keep pursuing the will of God for us. This is no time to shut ourselves away. Please pray with us for safety and security of the tent.