Posted in Faith, Fear, Missions, Perspective, Reputation

Feeling A Bit Sheepish

Today I’m about to get real with you about fear. What makes me afraid to step out? Why do I recoil when facing my giants? Why is it so easy for me to be afraid? I’m afraid of what might happen. I’ve been down this road many times and what might happen frightens me.

Today I received an email stating our medical insurance premium was due by May 1st. Living overseas in Africa, we have a basic emergency plan; we don’t have a lot of other coverage as we’ve been priced out of the “meatier” policies. When the notice came through, I told my husband, “Uh, our insurance is due the 1st of May and it’s gone up.” A lively conversation ensued as our policy is paid bi-yearly and the price had gone up by about $300.00. Do we renew? How do we renew? What about travel insurance later this year in the USA? And so on.

I might have overreacted (insert sheepish grin) as I remembered in years past when we have had to use our medical insurance and the huge impact it had on our finances not to mention the stress of one of us being unwell. I couldn’t imagine what repercussions we might face if we didn’t renew or find something else for our family.

Truth be told, while we have faced giants, big, scary ones in times past, we are here today. Somehow we made it. God brought us through, He took care of our needs; His record is good and I’m counting on Him to stay true to his Word. I know He will take care of all of our needs and this includes our bills like medical insurance.

Isaiah 41:10 NKJ Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”

Maybe, like me, you just need to remember the times God has been there for you before and how He has made a way when it looked like there was no way. He has helped us, and He will help us again!

“If I cannot hear ‘The sound of rain’ long before the rain falls, and then go out to some hilltop of the Spirit, as near to my God as I can and have faith to wait there with my face between my knees, though six times or sixty times I am told ‘There is nothing,’ till at last there arises a little cloud out of the sea, then I know nothing of Calvary love.”                   Amy Carmichael

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Amy Carmichael was a missionary to Japan and India for 55 years and founded the Donavur Fellowship. Her life story is one worth reading. She was also a prolific author and poet. For more quotes by Amy Carmichael, click here.

Posted in Choices, Destiny, Fame, Fear, Popularity, Uncategorized

Keeping Things Under Wraps

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Popularity – pɒpjʊˈlarəti/

noun

  1. the state or condition of being liked, admired, or supported by many people.

How much of our lives is spent in the pursuit of what is popular or to become popular? For some reason, we are wired with an innate desire to be liked, to be first, and to be the best. Early in childhood we all wanted to be first on the best swing, first on the climbing frame (monkey bars for all my US readers),  and first to take a turn at hop scotch. From there, everyone slowly steps into line in the “pecking order” of the group; everyone knows his or her place. The first place always goes to the one who won, who got there first. Thus, the “popular kid” is born.

As you might have already guessed, I was never the first kid on the playground. I wasn’t blessed with the speed needed in those days to get the coveted first spot. Now, looking back, I realize that there were very few first kids because there could only be one first place among a group as large as our elementary class of 20+ children. The great majority of us were simply the ones who came in last – for first was all that mattered back at that time.

Try as we might, human nature (especially when it is unredeemed) continues to chase after the invisible goal of popularity. As much as we wish it didn’t, the idea of pleasing people, being propelled into the spotlight as “best in class” still can entice the humblest among us.

Enter Jesus.

John 2:25 ESV “and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”

Throughout Jesus’ three-years of ministry on the earth, He did nothing to raise His own profile on purpose. His profile was raised naturally by the fact that His goal was to fulfill His Father’s will (Luke 22:42); not His private agenda. I imagine it would have been very easy for Jesus to convince the disciples to engage an advertising company, raise banners, start a Twitter account (not really but the ancient equivalent), and offer free fish sandwiches every Friday evening by the Sea of Galilee. Indeed, there were times it seems the disciples wish He had taken the popular route.

Acts 1:6-8 ESV  So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’”

Even after all they had witnessed (ministry of miracles, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus), the disciples still wondered if they were going to be “first” among the nations. Patiently, as per His character, Jesus simply said (my paraphrase), “It’s not for you to know…but I’m giving you power to go, so go and tell the world the Good News.” It seems that His response stunned them for in Acts 1:10,11, they simply stared into heaven and had to “snap out of it!” (Again, my paraphrase!) By all accounts, it seems they couldn’t believe that after all Jesus had been through, He wanted the world to be reached – through them. He wanted them to stop thinking about themselves and look to those around them who hadn’t experienced what they had.

Wherever Jesus went, except when entering Jerusalem for the last time, He didn’t seem to put much weight into the thought of being popular as He knew what was in the hearts of men. He knew, as He went down the road to Jerusalem for the last time with crowds praising Him, that not many days would pass before those who cheered Him on would crucify Him.

Popularity, it’s a poison that, when it takes effect, seduces and then destroys those who are unfortunate enough to fall victim to it.

I’ve been reading in the book of Mark and have begun noting scriptures where Jesus wanted to keep miracles “under wraps” as it were. In 3 chapters alone (chapters 7-9) I found 4 separate instances where Jesus didn’t want anyone to know what had happened (Mark 7:24; 7:36; 8:30; 9:30), this begging an answer as to why?

Some say if word got out of the miracles then His ministry would be hindered by the vast crowds. I can understand that viewpoint but there are many instances in the Gospels where Jesus ministered to large multitudes.

I wonder if Jesus didn’t try to keep things quiet at times in order to keep the monster of popularity away. Once word got out, for example, that someone has raised from the dead or been healed of leprosy, I’m sure every newspaper and important figure in town would have wanted to see the person themselves – all at the risk of becoming popular.

The Son of God chose to come to this world in the most obscure way, had an opportunity to become popular (and in fact was popular for a time but was not wooed by it) but ended up dying between 2 thieves.

I wonder if we took the energy we expend on garnering popularity and shifted even a small bit of that energy  into “going” (as the disciples were told in Acts 1:8) to all the world, we would find ourselves in a much better place. The world wouldn’t hold us and the grave would no longer frighten us.

John 15:18 NLT “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.”

 

Posted in Courage, Faith, Fear, Ministry, Preparation

Perfectly Imperfect

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Perfect, everything has to be perfect:

Before the birthday party begins, everything needs to be perfectly set up…

Before I apply for a job, my resume has to be perfect…

Before I do anything, I have to get everything perfectly ready…

Perfectionism, it’s something that plagues most, if not all, of us in one way or another. From the time we are little children we are taught to keep trying to improve; we are given the impression that what we’ve done simply isn’t good enough.

I understand the importance of making preparations (Luke 14:28), working to improve and do our best, but at the end of the day there’s no way to be perfect or to predict everything that will happen along our journeys in life. There’s never enough experience or money to do everything in our hearts when we start. We never have enough money to go to university, get married or have children. When we had our first child, I am sure everyone thought we were out of our minds. We had no money, no savings, no experience, but we wanted to start a family and we had NO IDEA how much it would cost to raise a family. How our oldest children have grown up and are now on their own astounds me. How did God manage that? Where did He get the money because we certainly didn’t see it in our bank account.

Thinking back to when we first left for Africa, I wonder how well we “counted the cost” of what the call would cost. No amount of preparation could have made us ready for the things we have faced over the years. We had 3 years of service on staff at our home church and had some Bible college under our belts (we both finished our Master’s Degrees later on) when we began our internship in Zaire (DRC). We spent 3 years serving under Ralph and Shirley Hagemeier, learning about missions service. It was the best 3-year investment of our lives; it set our course for the years to come.

Well-meaning organizations set certain guidelines for their missionaries to follow and fill before even being considered for overseas service. I understand the reasoning behind all the requirements, as cracks in our lives turn into large crevices under the pressure of the foreign field. There needs to be a time of preparation and internship for any kind of ministry position. As prepared as we felt once our 3 years with the Hagemeiers was finished, we still had no idea what we were going to face in the years to come. Had we known, I doubt we would’ve had the courage to run the race.

For a brief season in my life I worked in insurance and learned that there are “actuaries” who are professionals that try to figure out the costs involved in insuring people. It would appear that they’ve all fallen very short of counting how much it will cost to insure the health of millions. It may seem that they haven’t done well with their figures but truth be told, they didn’t have enough information to figure costs in the unstable insurance atmosphere that has settled in the USA in the past 20+ years. 20+ years ago, it would have been extremely difficult to envision today’s reality.

In the same way we prepare ourselves for life, but as we embark on this journey we have no way of knowing what will happen tomorrow, especially in the situation our world finds itself in today. Should this keep us from stepping out in faith? Not at all! On the contrary, knowing that tomorrow is not guaranteed should be an impetus for us to dive in and trust God – He will definitely get all the glory since there’s no way for us to be prepared for the journey ahead.

James 4:13-16 NKJ Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit’; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’ But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”

In some way, when we rely too much on our preparation and planning, we are returning to relying on ourselves rather than relying on God for the outcome. If the goings-on of this world can prove anything to us it is that we surely don’t know what will happen from one day to the next. In fact, James tells us that too much planning and preparation is actually evil. Why do we live in this life as if it is going to last forever? There are ages yet to come – this is not the end of existence, it’s only the beginning.

Ephesians 2:6,7 NLT For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.”

I won’t get it perfect; I’m also learning not to be disappointed when things have an unexpected ending. In fact, most things don’t end up exactly as we had planned. When the winds of change come, when the unexpected arrives, or when disappointments head in our direction the only way to deal with them is head-on. Face it, learn, and grow – if we can only do that, we have accomplished a lot. We’ve learned how to be perfectly imperfect.

Ecclesiastes 11:4 TLB If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done.”

Posted in Courage, Faith, Fear

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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Posted in 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.

 

 

 

Posted in Fear

What if There’s a Rat?

I would like to think that I’m “somewhat” courageous.  What I mean by that is that when push comes to shove and it’s important, I find myself able to face almost any situation. Except when it comes to rats. Rats are definitely the exception to my courageous rule. I turn into a snivelling, weepy, terrified, damsel in distress when a rat is in the equation.

Many years ago, while traveling in Africa with our oldest son Tom, we stayed in a guesthouse. Now, guesthouses in Africa range from very nice to very dodgy. This one I’m talking about now was more in the “dodgy” description; in fact, we usually stayed in the “dodgy” places due to budget constraints and joked it made good storytelling which has turned out to be true. We had checked in (such as check in was in this place that was little more than an abandoned house at the farthest corner of a property) and were so tired from a day of driving down the mountains between Congo and Burundi that staying in a dodgy guesthouse was not an issue.

Sleep claimed us quickly and sometime in the middle of the night we woke with a fright when a rat fell from the rafters onto our bed and proceeded to run across the room.  Everything happened so fast I didn’t have time to think or scream and just watched in terror as the creature scurried into the darkness. Thankfully Tom slept through the whole ordeal – and his 3 year old eyes were wide in amazement when we told him about it the next morning.

Since then, I have had several encounters with rats. Some have found their way into the houses where we have lived. Others we encountered at our church properties, airports, and hotels. These creatures are opportunistic, crawling into any space they find and eat whatever morsel they come across along their way.

For this reason, I don’t like areas of darkness or obscurity – there might be a rat in there! Fear of what “might” be hidden grips my mind and prevents me from exploring what might be an amazing space.

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.”

Just as I have feared the invisible rat, there are times when invisible issues are troubling us. We’ve not seen what will happen but we live in fear of what “might” happen and all the doors of escape have been closed to us. The disciples had a similar experience when Jesus had been crucified. They had closed the doors of the house they were in “for fear of the Jews.” (John 20:20) Fear of what might happen or what seemed to be inevitable caused them to close the doors. They apparently had no hope of leaving the house unharmed. But God, in His great mercy, sent Jesus to stand among them – shut doors couldn’t keep Him from coming into their situation.

Psalm 139:7 NKJV “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?”

In just a few days we will once again enter into a New Year and I wonder how many of us will allow the hidden rats, fear of the unknown, keep us from embracing all that God has prepared for us?

Posted in Family, Father, Fear

Chase the Monsters Away

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Maybe you have been in my situation. You have life happening: running to/from work, there’s noise, dinner’s not made, bills have to be paid, and the children are all vying for your attention. They all have something that needs your attention; maybe a science project is due tomorrow or a book needs to be returned to the library, there are sports events, and there doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to properly care for each of their needs. You find yourself at the end of the day plopping into bed after you’ve tried to organize the house and things for the same crazy race to take place the next day. Did you remember to fold the clothes?

Then, in the middle of all the fuss, someone is tugging on the edge of your shirt, incessantly calling you, “Mama! I have to tell you something!” Momentarily, your eyes glance down and see those precious eyes and time stops. You bend down and he/she says, “I have to tell you a secret in your ear.” You bend down even further, close your eyes and a sweet voice tells you about monsters in the closet in their room and they are afraid. Can you come and chase the monsters away?

Needless to say, you forget about everything else and check everywhere in that room to “chase away the monsters” and pray with your little one. Everything is right, you are the hero, and nothing else matters.

Imagine, we have a Heavenly Father and He is waiting for us to come and ask Him to chase the monsters away:

Psalm 116:2 NLT “Because He bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath.”

This great love He has for us goes far beyond what we can even imagine in our wildest dreams. Our Father, when we call, bends down to listen to us much like we bend down to listen to our little ones when they are afraid. The difference is that our Father’s time is never too consumed; every waking moment He spends thinking about us and what He can do for us. Sometimes we struggle to find time to listen to our children, but our Father is never pressed for time – He always has time to chase the monsters away.