Posted in Choices, Church planting, Dreams, Missions, Obedience, Offering, Thankful, Vision

Living the Dream

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Maybe this comes with age and experience, of which I am now a possessor of a bit of both. How much age and experience? I won’t divulge exactly how much but certainly enough to get me into trouble, of which I have had a fair share.

As I write this, a new season has dawned on us and I find myself for the first time in longer than I can remember feeling anticipation for the days that lie ahead. Anyone who has worked for any length of time in a specific field deals more with the discipline of reaching for a dream than the joy of attaining it. I believe that the discipline of reaching towards something is simply faith made real. Faith is not only something that dwells in our hearts, faith is something that we do, it is what we live by – it’s what gives us our very breath (see Rom. 1:17).

Moving from that discipline of faith to actually enjoying what we are working for by faith before we see it’s fulfillment is where we will find longevity in whatever it is God has called us to do. Those moments when we see with our physical eyes the fulfillment of what God has promised us have, at least in my own life, taken time to come to pass. If we wait to rejoice until we have seen with our eyes what has been promised to us, seasons of drought could very well push us to give up on the dream.

Have you ever come to the place where you’re thinking of giving up on your dream? I have and it isn’t at all pleasant. I have found myself in those places most often when I’ve been disappointed that things didn’t turn out the way I thought they would.

Had I known it would turn out this way…

I wasn’t expecting this much resistance…

 No one understands or cares about what I had to give up …

 Slowly but surely, the temptation to give up, fueled by my own self-pity, takes a seat in the forefront of my thoughts until a crossroad is reached and I must decide if the dream is worth it or not. Will I fan the flames of despair in my dry desert or will I fan the flames of God’s gift, His dream, to me? The former is, at the onset, much easier to do but in the end leads only to more regret.

What would have happened if I hadn’t given up?

What would have happened if I had chosen to stay?

What would have happened if I had given the dream one more chance?

After a bit of time and experience, again I won’t admit to how much of either, I’ve learned that it’s not enough to simply tolerate reaching for the dream. The dream has to be cherished, guarded, and enjoyed! Hidden in the discipline of obedience one finds the deepest joy that life has to offer: a satisfaction that goes beyond the simple emotion of happiness when a goal is reached.

The dreams we carry have been entrusted to us by God and we have not only the responsibility but the honor of reaching for their fulfillment. Their success or failure doesn’t depend on our abilities but on His ability in us.

2 Corinthians 4:7 NKJ  “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.”

The dream isn’t given for our own glory or acclaim; it’s for His glory and acclaim and He is well able to make it come true. Whether or not any of us are recognized on this earth for what we have done for the Kingdom is irrelevant – we’re reaching for the prize that has heaven as our home and what more could we ask for?

The dream is also a treasure that God has chosen to entrust us with; whatever your treasure is, cherish it! Fan the flames of your dream (2 Tim. 1:6) and see your passion for the treasure that it represents grow; don’t allow the work of the dream and the disappointments you face along the way to blur its figure into a mere shadow of what it once was.

I’ve been guilty of giving up, feeling sorry for myself, and wanting to give up on the dream – more times than I care to remember! Each time I’ve thrown in my towel and called it a day, the dream calls me back for I know there’s nothing else for me to do but live the dream.

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” George Eliot

 

 

Posted in Change, Church planting, Courage, Destiny, Dreams, Endurance, Faith, Harvest, Inconvenience, Missions, Vision

A Foreign Feeling

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This is likely to be a very different entry today. We are going through a change as we are headed towards Bujumbura, Burundi in the coming weeks. This move is different in that it will be the first time we are returning to live in a region where we have planted a church before. We’re going to take the lead pastor role in the first church we planted as our pastor presently on the ground is going to venture out and plant a new church in Kinshasa, DRC. At the same time, we are branching out into Mozambique; it’s all very exciting. The thought of branching into new regions, planting new churches, and even returning to pastor our first church – these all have me on my knees.

In 1991, after serving in the DRC (back then it was Zaire) for 4 years, we moved to plant a church in Bujumbura. We spent 9 crazy years there planting, plowing, praying, and digging a church out of the ground from scratch. They were rough years, but I consider them to be some of the most important and formative years of my life. Without them I wouldn’t be here today doing what I am doing. We were so desperate to fill the hunger in our hearts to plant a church that we went to amazing lengths to get the job done. There wasn’t much we didn’t face: financial challenges, health challenges, civil war, pressure to leave from outside sources, it was a total labor of faith and through it all – our God was faithful.

During those years, while we did experience an abundance of hardships, we also experienced great peace and comfort. It was a supernatural time when we knew God was in control and wasn’t giving us a job that was beyond His ability in us to handle.  We felt like we were living in the book of Acts when the church grew and had peace despite the persecution it had gone through (Acts 9).

Nevertheless, when God released us to launch out again and plant more churches, I never looked back and yearned to return. Together with my husband, we pressed ahead and moved on with the challenge to dream of new lands where we planted new churches and repeated the process over several times. I watched churches grow from nothing and national leaders take their place; I also watched my own family grow and one-by-one leave the nest. (Side note: Thankfully, I have one more at home who keeps me young and stirs the pot every once in a while to keep life interesting.)

It therefore was a foreign feeling to me when it became clear that our next assignment was going to bring us back to Burundi. I had become so used to being the one who would go scratch something out of the ground that even considering a return made my head spin. As the dust in my mind and spirit settled and I prayed into the idea, my heart began to expand in a new way. The same burden and fire that first sent us there in 1991 began to burn fresh in my heart and I now find myself aching to return, aching to reach for what this new era in our lives is to bring.

This past week we’ve had a house sale, letting go once again of household items and paring things down to a minimum. I initially dreaded this part of the process as it can be an exhausting time; I had found things here in Malawi that I hoped not to replace for a long period of time, if ever. Yet, now as I watch the shelves, chairs, and fans leave my home I’m surprisingly unaffected emotionally. I do wish I could have held onto my coffee pot for an extra week or two but the coffee press (French press to my American readers) is getting the job done for my morning brew.

I am now impatient to see the dream of 1,000 churches planted on the continent and somehow this huge move that involves not only our family but several others is a key to the dream coming true. Whereas before it was only a dream, a hope for the future, I can now actually envision 1,000 churches. It may be that this move is more about changing my perception of the vision and not God’s, for His remains the same. He already sees things that don’t exist and declares that they do – I now need to do the same.

Romans 4:17 NKJ “God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did;”

There are pieces in the puzzle that God is putting into place that I, at my ground level, cannot see – but He can. The challenge now is for me to lift my eyes and look forward and above instead of down at the ground as I’ve been used to for so long. Church planting requires a lot of “dirty work” meaning everything that needs doing the church planter does. Most of the time we have planted churches, we have had little to no help. We arrive at the border or airport with no one to meet us, no one to help us get started. Our focus for the first few years is always, understandably, on the ground God put under our feet to plow it, plant it, and bring in harvest.

I’m looking forward and above to focus on the bigger picture now – it’s a new day, a new moment to seize, and a whole continent to win.

I can see it now.

Posted in Choices, Church planting, Dreams, God's call, Vision, Waiting

A Welcome In My Heart

Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

I would like to be known as someone who has given others the benefit of the doubt; to be someone who gives others the grace that I so deeply crave. Instead of being someone who doubts that incredible things can be done, I hope to be a cheerleader for others whose dreams are as crazy as mine.

The world is full of stories of those who have risen from incredibly difficult circumstances and gone on to do great things. The world is also full of those who would diminish the out-of-the-box plans of dreamers. How many dreamers have had their aspirations snuffed out by what’s reasonable, what’s expected, and what’s deemed feasible by those around them?

Matthew 12:20 NLT“He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle…”

When our hopes lie in the approval of those around us, we are certainly setting ourselves up for disappointment. Much has been said and written about the negative impact that society’s expectations places on us; I cannot hope to add more to what’s already been said by those whose qualifications far exceed my own.

Despite my own limitations, I am sure of one thing: while I cannot control the opinions or reactions of others, I can control my own.

As parents, my husband and I have tried to instill in our children a faith to believe for the unbelievable. Over the years, we have read books like Heaven’s Heroes by David Shibley and some of the series of Christian Heroes Then and Now by Janet and Geoff Benge to open our children’s hearts to believe that if God used ordinary people in the past, He can use them in their lifetimes to do amazing things. We believe that there are enough “naysayers” in life; we want to be their cheerleaders.

This doesn’t mean that their, or our, lives have been a cakewalk. On the contrary, I have often felt like that weakest reed and flickering candle in the scripture from Matthew above. The amazing thing about God is that He is cheering for us to reach beyond our wildest hopes and dreams.

In 2001 my husband came home from a conference in the USA (I remained behind in Africa with our children) and boldly announced to me that God had spoken to his heart that we were to plant 1,000 churches. I’d like to say that I latched onto that word and fell into complete step with him in that declaration. I did know enough to say, “Well, if that’s what God said, then, I’m OK with that.” In saying so, there was no enthusiasm to be found in my voice or demeanor. Instead, my mind was swimming with questions:

We only have one church we have planted, how can we plant 999 more?

Where will the money come from?

Where will the leaders come from?

And so on.

I found myself in the category of those naysayers not with open disagreement, but in thinking “How can we possibly?” when God clearly wanted me to remember that He makes the impossible possible.

Things went from bad to worse before we saw our next church planted. We were unable to plant a new church in the city we had set our sights on and left dejected. Two churches seemed impossible, let alone 1,000 – and it indeed was impossible. Until my eyes were opened in the next city we moved to where our church was approved in a matter of weeks and we quickly found ourselves surrounded by a new congregation.

Could it be that God had plans for us?

One day during family devotions, as we read from Heaven’s Heroes I listened as my husband read of David Livingstone’s trek across Africa. He faced lions, death, lack, and naysayers but he persisted because he saw something no one else did: God never fails and he was sure that God would not send him on a fruitless mission.

Hebrews 11:13 NLT “All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it from a distance and welcomed it.”

My heart had closed itself to hope, and as long as my hope was lost, there was no room for faith in my heart to receive it. The vision needed a welcome in my heart and this only came when I closed down my own doubt and decided it would be better to receive the promise in faith – even if that meant I were to die before its fulfillment.

We are still 900+ churches away from 1,000 naturally speaking, but my heart has already welcomed each of them. How it will get done is the adventure I’m waiting to live. As we work and wait, we keep climbing, keep reaching, and keep opening our hearts in welcome for the vision.

In 2020 we hope to reach for those 1,000 churches and climb an impossible mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. It is 19,300+ feet high and as I look at my own inability physically and financially to even think of it, I see the climb for 1,000 speaks to me more than anyone else. I’m welcoming the vision and will climb for it, 1,000 here we come!

Isaiah 60:22 NLT “The smallest family will become a thousand people, and the tiniest group will become a mighty nation. At the right time, I, the Lord, will make it happen.”

Posted in Courage, Fasting, God's call, Uncategorized

When I Danced Bollywood

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Have you ever wanted to be someone you’re not? Or be able to do something you’re not naturally talented to do?

I’ve tried my hand at many things: embroidery, cross stitching, making small rugs, pottery, many different crafty things but the very best (futile) attempt I ever made was at Bollywood Dancing. Yes, you read correctly – I tried my best to fit in with Bollywood. (For those who might not have heard of Bollywood dance, it is a form of dance from India.) The story goes like this:

I’m a lifetime fitness enthusiast; I have exercised everywhere I’ve lived and that has often presented me with some challenges but I’ve always been ready for a challenge. When we lived in Lilongwe, Malawi, I found a small group of ladies who welcomed me to exercise with them and it was wonderful! I truly enjoyed the classes and I was also offered the opportunity to share Christ with a group that I wouldn’t have otherwise known.

It was with great hope then, when we moved to Blantyre, Malawi, that I looked for a similar group to join. With the advent of social media, I quickly found several groups but only one piqued my interest. It promised 30 minutes of cardio training and 30 minutes of strength training. While I’ve grown accustomed to working out alone, I do like finding others who have the same fitness interest as me. The class met on a Tuesday afternoon at 2:30 pm; I waited anxiously for the day of my first class to arrive.

Finding the venue wasn’t too difficult, even for me, the most directionally challenged in our family. There were many cars parked out in front of the house where the class was to take place. I entered a bit gingerly, unsure of where to go but was ushered in by a very kind lady who I later learned was the instructor. The garage of the home had been turned into an exercise studio of sorts and everyone scouted out and claimed a spot. I found an inconspicuous corner in the back of the room, spread my exercise mat out, and waited for the class to begin.

As with most classes, we began with a stretch which was nice; I was pleased that I managed all the stretches with everyone else. Once we had finished with stretching, the background music changed from a slow warmup pace to something much faster and a bit foreign to me; it sounded a bit eastern and it was fast. Suddenly the instructor said, “Alright everyone, it’s time to Bollywood dance!” The atmosphere changed and everyone began moving in ways that I had never even thought was in the realm of possibility for me. The instructor and other ladies in the class tried their best to show me, to encourage me with the steps but it was to no avail – any hopes I might have had up until this point to be a Bollywood dancer had been thoroughly dashed.

Thus ended my Bollywood career. No matter how hard I might have tried, I simply wasn’t able to follow the steps. I even tried to go back a second time – and it was worse than the first time! It was back to working out alone for me, but it can never be said of me that I didn’t try Bollywood dance.

The call of God, thankfully, doesn’t depend on our natural talent. If serving in Africa depended on our natural talents, I’m afraid the work here would be sorely lacking. What is there that we can offer to the people of this continent that can bring change to their lives? When we first landed in Zaire in 1987, we were overwhelmed by the need that surrounded us and the crushing poverty of the people. Where were we to start? What were we to do? How could we possibly help? We didn’t have any natural abilities that could bring any substantial change; what had we gotten ourselves into?

It wasn’t until I understood that God isn’t looking for talent, He’s looking for obedience. He then supplies whatever we lack to get His work done. The key here is understanding that the work He calls us to do is His work, it’s not our own.

1 Samuel 10:1-10 gives the account of the choosing of Israel’s first king: Saul. He didn’t come from a rich or popular family. In fact, when he was anointed king, he was on his way to find his father’s donkeys that had gone missing. Imagine, a king looking for donkeys! What Saul did, however, was follow instructions at that point and when the time was right, God changed him into what he needed to be for the task assigned to him:

1 Samuel 10:6 NKJ “Then the Spirit of the Lord will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man.”

The work of God clearly can’t be done if we qualify for clearly, none of us qualify! The needs of this world are devastating and without Jesus at the center of it all, it would be impossible. Without God’s power empowering us, we’re just out looking for donkeys!

Today, allow God to exchange your lack for His abundance, your weakness for His strength, and your nature for His. It won’t be like Bollywood dancing was for me, flipping and flopping all over the place. You’ll find yourself keeping pace and walking in step with His plans and seeing things done that only He could do.

“The call of God is an expression of God’s nature, not ours.” Oswald Chambers

Posted in Choices, Courage, Destiny, Dreams, God's call, Missions, Obedience, Offering, Sacrifice, The Call of God, Vision

The Cards Are On The Table

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I’ve recently started a podcast (click here to follow) and what’s been stirring in my heart has been God’s call on our lives; how to follow when the masses are trying to steer us elsewhere. All of us who love Jesus have an assignment on our lives and how we get from point A to point B is where we often stumble.

I have experienced hearing God’s call to missions, to Africa, and answering that call. Following God’s voice  can be likened to following a deep inner desire. While I did, as a child, actually have a vision of the continent of Africa, that vision alone wasn’t enough to keep me going daily in my trek to follow God’s call. It was more of a diving board that God used to launch me in to trusting Him with my life. Jamie (my husband) didn’t have the kind of experience I had as a child; he only felt a strong and irretrievable desire to go to Africa. When we met and married, following God’s path together came naturally and we walked in tandem on His path together. It has been that way for us ever since – neither of us wants to veer off this blessed path that we are on. It has been a journey that has led us to the greatest of heights where God’s power has been on full display for all to see as well as leading us to places of deep darkness where His Word led us sometimes moment by moment when no one was looking.

God’s Word to us, His assignment on our lives, is not only one that requires a daily trust in His wisdom, but also one that will be tested. It is as if you’ll hear, “Did God really say?” whispered into your ears time and again.

Psalm 105:17-20 NKJV  He sent a man before them—
Joseph—who was sold as a slave.
They hurt his feet with fetters,
He was laid in irons.
 Until the time that his word came to pass,
The word of the Lord tested him.
The king sent and released him,
The ruler of the people let him go free.”

The above is referring to Joseph; he had been falsely accused and was sent to languish in the prison. Joseph had a dream from childhood that he would become a leader, yet he found himself (and the Word God had given him) being tested in prison. It’s often at this juncture of being tested in prison, when the Word God has given to us is being tried, that we are sorely tempted to give in.

I’m sure Joseph went through a great deal of emotional stress sitting in prison, I’m sure he wasn’t doing a dance when his feet were being bound in shackles. While I am sure he had emotional stress during this time, what I don’t see written in this story is Joseph verbalizing to a great extent his frustration and questioning God’s Word, God’s call. In time, after the testing was complete, Joseph did indeed rise to the calling God had placed on his life. God was true to His Word – He was faithful.

Whether or not Joseph was going to fulfill the call was up to him – the call was there, God’s offer, so to speak, was on the table. Joseph had to accept it no matter what he had to lay down. Think of it, the call cost Joseph everything – he lost everything he owned, he even lost his freedom when he was imprisoned. Still, the call remained and he trusted the word of the Lord.

It may be that you feel you’re “in prison” today; that the call is so far from where you are that it’s an impossible thing to reach. If that’s the case, then keep hanging on. You’re closer than you think. It may just be that the Word God spoke to your heart is being tested and you’re having to live out your own “Joseph experience,” in a prison of sorts.

God is faithful, His Word is true and He is looking for those who will lay everything on the table – for this is the cost of the call. The cards are on the table, it’s all or nothing! The beauty of the call is this: God always gives back much more than we offered to Him. It will come with a price, sometimes that price involves persecution, misunderstanding, traversing dark places, loneliness, and more – but the price we are called to pay, the cards that we lay down, are never greater than the grace He gives us in the process.

God isn’t bluffing – He laid His cards down, now it’s our turn.

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Posted in Bible reading, Correction, Devotion, Fasting, Prayer

Day 21 – We Made It!

We made it to day 21! Congratulations!

This has, for me, been an amazing 21 days; it has been a very good fast. You may ask, “How can a fast be good?” The benefits of fasting far outweigh the discomforts and inconveniences we face when on a fast. Fasting is a time that we set aside to turn our concentration away from the noise of daily life and set our hearts to hear from God. This is what we’ve been doing and God has surely been speaking to my husband and I and our churches in Africa.

What we face as we return to “normal” life tomorrow is keeping the revelations of the fast before us instead of forgetting them when life hits us in the face. If we aren’t watchful over the ground we have gained spiritually during the fast, we will lose it very quickly. In spite of the fact that life is now going back to normal, we can’t live life as we did before and hope to preserve the treasures we have found during this time.

Proverbs 1:29-33 TLB “For you closed your eyes to the facts and did not choose to reverence and trust the Lord, and you turned your back on me, spurning my advice. That is why you must eat the bitter fruit of having your own way and experience the full terrors of the pathway you have chosen. For you turned away from me—to death; your own complacency will kill you. Fools! But all who listen to me shall live in peace and safety, unafraid.”

What we have experienced in the past has, at times, looked and tasted like “bitter fruit.” This happened because we didn’t choose to reverence the Lord, honor our relationship with Him. We became familiar with what is holy and we chose to turn away from Him and His advice. The journey of life lived this way is increasingly bitter and full of “terrors” because of our choices. It isn’t God Who brings destruction – our own complacency, lack of passion for God, that brings destruction.

Like you, I’ve heard it said many times we can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results. A fast like this one we have been on is meant to get our eyes off of our own opinions and to turn our focus onto God’s opinion. If we go back to living as we were before without making adjustments, life will certainly return to the way it was before the fast.

There are a few practical ways I’d like to share with you on what you can do to keep the “spiritual edge” you have gained during this special time. This is by no means an exhaustive list, just a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Create a vision board – where you post the things God spoke to you for this year. As a family, we have done this this year. Our vision board is in a prominent place in the house where we will see it often (Habakkuk 2:2,3). Ishah Whipple, one of our guest bloggers during this time, wrote a wonderful piece about vision boards. Click here to read more.
  2. Be diligent to spend consistent time in the Word of God and prayer. There are many Bible reading plans available online and in books, I encourage you to find what works best for you and stick with it. Prayer is not as difficult a discipline as we might think; prayer is simply communicating with God. God just wants to spend time with you. Write your chosen time in your daily planner – the time that works best for you – and stick to it.
  3. Create spiritual goals for the year that are attainable: reading books by solid Christian authors, taking a Bible class online or at your home church, and finding something that keeps you challenged spiritually.
  4. Be consistent with your attendance in your local church. If you’ve never taken notes during the sermon, maybe now is a great time to start.
  5. Involve your family in setting “God goals” for the year.
  6. When you fall short at some point, don’t give up. Pick up where you left off and keep going.
  7. Take short breaks for fasting during the year. For many years, I’ve fasted on Wednesdays to keep myself spiritually sharp. This past year I didn’t fast on Wednesdays as much as I would have liked – but that will change. I will be fasting more consistently on Wednesdays once again.

One of the main reasons people cite for not spending more time with God is that they “don’t have time.” Well, we make time for the things that matter to us. I encourage you to review your timetable and delete those activities that keep you from growing in your relationship with God.

I’m truly blessed that you have journeyed with me these three weeks, thank you. Now that the fast is over, I look forward to a wonderful vision-filled year! I’ll still be here, writing as The Cultural Misfit, talking about laundry, kids, church planting, coffee, and whatever else inspires me. I hope to find you here.

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Ah, now it’s time to go and get something to eat!!!
Posted in Change, Faith, Fasting, Vision, Words

Day 19 – What Do You Want?

Here is a conversation that I regularly have with my husband Jamie when I want to do something on a Friday, which is his usual study day:

Me: “What are you doing on Friday?”

Jamie: “Oh, the usual, it’s my study day. I’ll be preparing my Sunday sermon.”

Me: “So you’ll be home all day?”

Jamie: “Of course, I need to study!”

Me: “Fridays are important.”

Jamie: “What do you want???”

I’ll usually keep making my “faith hints” until such a time, as Jamie is so exasperated with me that he needs to know the real reason for my hinting. My questions have nothing to do with his studies or what day of the week it is; I just have something I need to do and I’m “testing the waters” to see if they will stir them in my direction on a Friday. Jamie says I always manage to get things my way; hmmm, I must have some amazing skills that I have honed over the years.

In Mark 10:46-52, a blind man, Bartimaeus, was sitting on the side of the road. He was begging, as this was the acceptable practice for the disabled to earn a living in that time. When he heard Jesus was coming, he “began to cry out” for Jesus to “have mercy” on him. He was told to quiet down but “he cried out all the more.”

Jesus called Bartimaeus out of the crowd, and I find it interesting that the crowds, who had initially told him to be quiet, turned to him and said, “be of good cheer, He is calling you.” Isn’t that just like people today? One day you are discouraged for reaching for your apparently crazy dream (as Bartimaeus was reaching for his dream to see), and the next day, when it seems your initially crazy dream is getting some attention, you are encouraged. When God gives you a dream, don’t expect it to be celebrated when it’s only a dream. You’ll go through a season of “blindness” when your dream is just that: a dream. Be patient until the time comes for God to bring it to pass (Habakkuk 2:2,3). Once it does, it will be a witness to all, but in the meantime, don’t be discouraged when you’re told to “be quiet.”

When Bartimaeus finally found his way to Jesus, Jesus asked him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” My initial impression is that Jesus already knows what he wants; Bartimaeus wants the obvious – he wants to see. Why did Jesus ask a question with such an obvious answer?

In times of blindness, we cry out to God in spite of everyone telling us to “be quiet.” If we can persist past the criticisms and rejection of people and cry out, “all the more” to Jesus, He will call us and ask us as He asked Bartimaeus, “What is it that you want Me to do for you?”

Bartimaeus didn’t ask Jesus why He asked what he wanted, he didn’t make any “faith hints” like I do when asking Jamie to do something on a Friday. He simply replied, “That I may receive my sight.” Jesus answered, “Go your way; your faith has made you whole.” The scriptures go on to say that immediately he saw and followed Jesus on the road.

We are now in day 19 of our 21 day fast and I have heard in my spirit the Lord challenge me with those words, “What do you want Me to do for you?” He already knows what I want but I need to hear myself say it. I need to “cry out all the more.”

Mark 11:23,24 NLT I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart.  I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours.”

Faith works this way: you must believe and speak. It is how we receive our salvation once we have repented (Acts 3:19; Romans 10:9,10) and it is by faith that we live (Habakkuk 2:4) and receive anything from God.

Words have power as we have discussed already in Day 6 – Words. We activate our faith in God as we speak His Word and agree with Him instead of agreeing with our feelings or what appears to be real. Now is not the time to be hinting in faith about what you need – tell God and expect Him to have the answer!

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So what is it that you need from God? What does God say about it?

Do you need the doctor’s report to change? Do you need a healing? See 1 Peter 2:24

Do you need God to provide for you? See 3 John 1:2; Philippians 4:19

Do you need God’s protection? See Psalm 91

Whatever you need, there’s a promise for you in God’s Word. He has promised it and since He cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18) you can trust Him to take care of those needs.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21) what will you choose today?

I challenge you to make 2017 be a year of breakthrough faith for you, I know I am ready for the challenge – are you?


Posted in Forgiveness, New Year, Obedience, Vision

Runaway Prophet

It’s almost 2017 and the internet is buzzing with words like “resolutions” and “vision.” Plenty of counsel abounds in books, articles, and sermons on how to be successful in reaching those goals. Its’ not that setting goals is bad; I personally set goals and trust that God is in my goal-setting.

I struggle not to have preconceived ideas about how God will help me bring my goals to pass. I have, all too often, failed in my attempts to allow God to work His plans out instead of me working my plans out. This began early in life for me. I assumed as a young child that I could excel at any sport or activity, until I actually tried and realised there was more to success than natural ability. No, I was not a gymnast, swimmer, runner, or celebrity. By the time I reached adulthood, I had an idea that I wasn’t all that and a bag of chips. But I still thought I knew enough to figure out how a situation would pan out. When I got married, I was sure that I would be a princess forever (for Jamie called me princess then) until I became a real-life Cinderella and toilets needed scrubbing! When I had children I thought I would be the patient, perfect parent and then found myself talking through my teeth. Things were not proceeding as planned…

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And I wondered after a few years of thinking I knew how things would turn out – what if I was wrong? What if, after all my fumbling around, there was something to be said in surrendering to God and His will when it made no sense? What if the problem wasn’t in my surroundings but in my own reactions and prideful thinking in the depths of my own heart? I found myself to be very much like the prophet Jonah of old.

One of the things I appreciate about Jonah of the Bible is that he’s real. There’s nothing hidden about Jonah. He wears it all on his sleeve and yet, God used him. To me, that meant as I read about Jonah, that there was hope for me!

We can read that God had sent Jonah to the ancient city of Nineveh for a special mission (Jonah 1). God wanted him to go on a three day trip inland from where he was and proclaim God’s message to the people of the city because God had better plans for them; He had better things in mind for them than what they were living. He loved even the people of that city.

The problem with this was the historical hatred that existed between the Jews and the Ninevites (who were Israel’s ancient enemy, the Assyrians). The Ninevites (Gentiles) were a warring people that periodically plundered Israel, destroying their villages, killing their people. So this command given to Jonah by God was more than his mind could grasp – and his solution was to flee.

Once Jonah fled, God had a two-fold problem on His hands: an unrepentant city and a runaway prophet. Jonah took refuge on a ship sailing for far-away lands and hid, but he ended up being thrown overboard and then swallowed by a “large fish.” What living in a fish’s gut is like is not something I care to think of – the very lightest whiff of “fish smell” makes my stomach turn.

God held on to Jonah in the belly of that fish and He holds on to us – He holds on to you. He used a lot of adverse circumstances to “corner” the runaway prophet and get his attention. Had Jonah just obeyed he could’ve avoided a lot of trouble. Just like me. I could’ve, in my lifetime, avoided a lot of adverse circumstances by just obeying. Instead, I found myself wrapped up in attention-getters of my own making.

It took a lot for Jonah to respond to God. Even when he finally did respond to God and go to Nineveh to give Nineveh God’s message – He did so with an attitude.

Nineveh was a huge city, in Jonah 3:3 it says that the city was so large that it took 3 days to travel across it. What that really means in actual mileage is uncertain, but we can be pretty sure it was of substantial size. This meant that Jonah had a big job to proclaim God’s message. He couldn’t just say it quietly at a corner in an obscure neighborhood – it had to be preached.

As I think of it, he must have had to take several days to get the word out that unless the city repented, the city would be overthrown (Jonah 3:4). Can you imagine him looking at the people in that place. We might think that Jonah was just disobedient simply because of how the Ninevites had plundered his people. Have you ever considered that he might have lived through some of the raids of Nineveh on his people and it might even be that Jonah himself lost some family members to this warring group of people? The Bible doesn’t record more than Jonah’s anger against the people for all the atrocities they had committed, but one wonders, had Jonah been hurt? Had he lost loved ones? Friends? It was to these people that he hated that he was called.

As Jonah was, so are we. We are called to this world. The unforgiving, unashamed, hard-hearted, hurtful, mixed up, and angry world. Those who have hurt us, those who don’t help us, those who oppose our beliefs, those who don’t care when we are wronged – these are the ones we are called to.

And just like with Jonah the choice is ours – do we choose the school of the storms and fish or the school of God’s aggressive love?

Let’s pick up the story here in Jonah 3 when Jonah had finally come to his senses and decided to obey God:

Jonah 3:5-10 NKJ “So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, ‘But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away form His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?’ Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.

Why is it that God is so forgiving? Here in the Old Testament, to a group of people that were pagan, the Assyrians by descent who were ancient enemies of Israel, noncovenant people! And to this people, He extends the opportunity to repent and turn to Him. So much for God loving one group of people over another; He has always loved this world and has sought to bring His message to all who would hear.

Even having gone through the school of “storms and fish” Jonah begrudges God’s love for the people of Nineveh:

Jonah 4:1-4 NKJ “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. So he prayed to the Lord, and said, ‘Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!’ Then the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’”

The chapter goes on to account God teaching Jonah about forgiveness and compassion. From this scene, Jonah stomps off to a distant part of the city to see what would happen (maybe he was hoping God would relent and destroy the people anyway). God planted some kind of plant/tree to give him shade – but then sent an insect or worm to destroy it. So Jonah was angry over the death of the tree. God questions Jonah if it was right to be angry over something like the tree, and Jonah says, “Yes! Even angry enough to die!”

God cornered Jonah by saying if Jonah had pity on a plant he hadn’t planted and had withered in a night, why not pity people who are of much greater value?

Jonah 4:11 NKJ “And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left – and much livestock?”

God’s love is so powerful, so aggressive that nothing can stop it. No one can stand in its way. But Jonah’s life compass was off and couldn’t get a grip on the love of God. He was so wound up in his hate of this group of people that his sense of direction was gone. It was then that God had to “erase his hard drive” and start all over with him. This is the power of God’s great love: He loved Nineveh, that reprobate city, and He loved Jonah, the unforgiving, runaway prophet.

I once had a laptop that had been infected by viruses and for those of you who have even a small understanding of computers, you understand how devastating viruses can be.  The very mention of the words “computer virus” strikes fear in the hearts of those who work at their laptops. Well, I was able to remove the virus that had struck the computer but had to reformat the hard drive (a very scary process for me, this was my only computer). Everything was erased from it and I started over installing all programs and backed up information. I succeeded! PTL!

Sometimes that is what happens to us. We’re infected with a virus from this world and the hard drive needs reformatting. God wants to keep us on His track but for some reason, our internal guidance system has been corrupted and has to be reformatted. How this happens has a lot to do with our surrender. God wanted to send Jonah without trouble – but Jonah chose to flee. This brought him to disaster, but God’s aggressive love brought him back because God had something better in mind for the runaway prophet.

Our plans don’t always pan out in the way we foresee. Often this is because we’ve not surrendered our will and our plans to God. Once our plans become His, we are set onto a playing field that God can use! God knows what is happening when we don’t!

Jeremiah 29:11 NLT “‘For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’”

This is a very well known verse; many of us can even quote it. However, as we quote, we’re often so busy trying to map out our paths that we have forgotten that the Director knows the way. We reckon that with our wisdom we know the way – but more often than not, we don’t!

As a parent, there have been many times I’ve tried to instruct my kids to do various chores or help with homework. Often, my assistance has come at their request. When I do roust myself from my “unimportant” chores like paying bills or cooking dinner to help them, I am met with “Oh I know, I know Mom.” Bewildered, I’ll pull back and ask, “If you already knew then why are you asking for my help?”

Math has been a subject for my kids whose logic has often eluded them. I would do everything to try and help when things became frustrating for them. What it came down to most of the time wasn’t their inability to count, add, or subtract, but their rushing through the work so they could do what they thought was more important. When their papers would get marked with many corrections, tears and anger would result. Sad to see them sad, I would try to help them and in their frustration they would shoo me away saying, “I know Mom, I know!”

There’s nothing like being told you know nothing when you know that you know something.

Without doubt, my children had some knowledge about their math assignments but that knowledge wasn’t proving sufficient to get the correct answer. Knowledge without the right process of applying it won’t produce needed results. Besides, no one likes a “know it all.”

1 Corinthians 8:1b NLT “…Yes, we all know that ‘we all have knowledge’ about this issue. But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church.”

We are so like our own kids in our relationship with our Father God! I can picture me in the middle of a “life test” and failing miserably and not understanding why. In my frustration I call on my Father and as He tries to help me, I push Him away saying defiantly, “I know, I know!” Then I picture Him standing back, like me with my own kids, wishing I would let Him help!

The wonder of living life in the love of God is knowing that He will hold the pieces together – and we don’t have to! We don’t have to know everything because He is our Father and always has our best interests at heart. He is capable of guiding us when we don’t understand, He is capable of saving us when no one (not even ourselves) can. He really does know a whole lot more than we do!

Hebrews 11:40 NLT Because God had provided something better in mind for us, so they would not reach perfection without us.”

The crux of the matter is this: God, our Father, has something so much better in mind for us – it’s better than our best! God supersedes everyone in that not only does He promise to give us the best (because He is the best), but He also has the power to deliver the best.

In fact, what God has in mind is so good that those heroes of faith mentioned in the earlier portion of Hebrews 11 couldn’t reach perfection (or completion) without our cooperation with the plans and mind of God for our lives.

Consider this gallery of faith-mentors cheering for us from the grandstands of heaven: Moses, David, Samson, Rahab, Gideon, Samuel, Barak, the list goes on and their perfection or completion is seen in us – in our aligning ourselves with His plans and not our own because God’s kingdom is an everlasting kingdom that is always expanding. We’ve just picked up where those who have gone before us left off.

Hebrews 12 goes on to say that because all these are cheering for us, since they “surround us,” we need to run with endurance. We need to bear up with the correcting of our course, with that discipline when it comes. They are shouting, “Don’t run away to the school of storms and fish!” Their lessons, and Jonah’s, teach us to 0bey at the first word, don’t wait or we will learn like they did – the hard way!

Hebrews 12:12,13 NLT “So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.” 

It’s time to shake off the pain, put a little band aid on there, and get a new grip. As it was with Jonah, that fierce love, that aggressive love of God is meant to flow through you and not sit stagnant within you. This aggressive love will bring the expansion of the Kingdom to those who remain outside; to those of Nineveh. Perhaps they will repent. Perhaps they will turn from their sin and to God. Perhaps, just perhaps, through our surrender we can see God’s plan for them (what He has in mind that is so much better for them) unfold.

Get a grip! Lift up your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees and take courage! God also has better things in mind than for us than to sit angry under a tree that will wither. Our destinies have farther-reaching implications than we ever thought. We’re all more like Jonah than we think – but the good news is this: he, together with many others who’ve crossed that boundary before us, are cheering for us. Jonah made it, and so will we!