making disciples

Filling Bowls

bowlI’ve rebelled against Revelation for years now.  I would rather have a root canal than watch a science fiction movie, and Revelation feels a lot like the science fiction crescendo of the holiest of books.  Around ten years ago, we were in a Sunday School class that studied the book.  The members of the class enjoyed the study so much, they did it again.  We quit Sunday School.  I mean really, Revelations?  Study that book twice? Yeah, no thank you.

But recently, Jesus invited me back to unfold the pages and unravel the words of that sacred vision recorded by John.  And when Jesus invites, who can resist?

So quietly, tucked under my fuzzy throw, french roast coffee steaming on the table beside me, Bible and journal in hand, I pushed beyond all the books filled with honey and bread of life, and stopped at the last of God’s Words to us.  There I discovered something I’d forgotten.

Maybe when I knew it, it hadn’t mattered as much.

Maybe then, I hadn’t needed it like I do now.

Maybe then, my heart was younger, more naive, and less broken and heavy.

There it was in the fifth chapter of the book.

 And when he (the Lamb of God) had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
    and they shall reign on the earth.”

Revelation 5:8-10

Did you catch that?

There are elders in heaven who hold golden bowls.

And those golden bowls are filled with incense which are the prayers of the saints.

That’s you and I–the saints.  And those are our prayers.

Your prayers.  My prayers.

All my prayers, poured out to Jesus.

Every single one.

He’s kept them.  He kept those heart cries and he kept those pleas.

Yours too.  He keeps our conversations in golden bowls.

And see this matters more to me now.  More because I’ve prayed more.  More because I’ve learned answers don’t always come when I want or how I want.  More because the stakes have gotten high in recent years.  More because I’m living life in way over my head.  More because when your husband’s a pastor and you have well over a hundred kids and leaders that you love and ache and fight for daily in prayer, you just really want to know your pleas have purpose.  When people text you saying they’ve lost all hope, and you tell them all you can tell them, and you listen all you can listen, and you finally promise the last resort–prayer, when that happens?  You just want to know that when you go to God with those desperate needs, He’s done something with them.

And I’ve gone.

Again and again.

To my Father with requests and with pleading and with every ounce of fight in me.

Because every single life matters.

When I read those words–golden bowls filled with incense which are the prayers of the saints–I think of all the helplessness I’ve felt in the last few years.  I think of all the times when I feel like everything is spiralling out of control, and there is no way I can ever keep up, or make a real difference.  I think of Haiti, and hungry, hurting hearts in that dry land where there is no water.  I think of how helpless I feel and how the little I do feels so microscopic in light of the magnitude of need in that place on the planet.  I think of my own precious boys, now young men with hearts young and tender and vulnerable.  I think of how desperately I want all that is good and true and real and honorable to fill their minds and souls and lives, and yet what control does a mother truly have over a son she’s taught to fly?  What trajectory can a mother guide when their wings are nearly fully developed and whatever’s in their hearts will determine their path?

But a mother can pray.  And I have prayed.  I have filled bowls.  And those  bowls?  They contain the fragrance of the throneroom of God.  When I cry out to him over the matters that crush my soul with their weight, heaven carries the scent of the incense of my supplication.

Heaven carries the scent of your cries too.

I have a collection of letters from my grandmother. Faded envelopes pasted with now-vintage postage stamps and inked in her telltale cursive slant hold her thoughts recorded on UNICEF cards and stationery–the ones she shared with me when I was young.  I keep them all tucked in a red purse on the top shelf of my closet because her thoughts matter to me.

And God keeps our thoughts because they matter to Him.

Jesus knew I just needed to be reminded of that–so He took me to the end of His Words to show me that in heaven our cries are collected and contained in gold.

John Piper understands these things and spoke about them too.

” . . .what we have in this text is an explanation of what has happened to the millions upon millions of prayers over the last 2,000 years as the saints have cried out again and again, “Thy kingdom come . . . Thy kingdom come.” Not one of these prayers, prayed in faith, has been ignored. Not one is lost or forgotten. Not one has been ineffectual or pointless. They have all been gathering on the altar before the throne of God.

And the flame has been growing brighter and brighter and more and more pleasing in the presence of God. And the time will come when God will command his holy angel to take his mighty censer and fill it with fire from the altar where the prayers burn before the Lord, and pour it out on the world to bring all God’s great and holy purposes to completion. Which means that the consummation of history will be owing to the supplication of the saints who cry to God day and night. Not one God-exalting prayer has ever been in vain.”  (John Piper, The Prayers of the Saints)

 Not one God-exalting prayer has ever been in vain.

See sometimes I grow a little faint with the facts as I see them and those bowls remind me that there is more to the story.

For our light and temporary affliction is producing for us an eternal glory that far outweighs our troubles.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  2 Cor. 4:17,18

And I can’t help but wonder if you’re like me, and you’ve just felt a little helpless sometimes.  Somehow this idea that I can go to God and fill a bowl seems to fill me with courage and will-power to do that simple thing God instructed us to do without ceasing. It gives me a burning urge to fill bowls until they are overflowing and God and all of heaven can’t help but notice the scent of Sarah’s heart poured out.   And isn’t it funny that the thing that’s collected in the golden bowls is not our effort or our hard work or our determined attempts?  It’s that which we’ve surrendered fully to God that gets kept.

It’s in the emptying of our hearts that we will fill heavenly spaces.

Maybe that’s why the Psalmist said it like this:

Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.  Psalm 55:22

And maybe that’s why Peter felt the same:

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.  I Peter 5:6,7

Because Peter, he spent time with Jesus.  He knew the heart of the God who dressed in flesh.  He knew.

God keeps our prayers.

I can’t think of a better place to leave my burdens, than in the golden goblets in heaven.

And now, now I think I understand a little more about the much to which James referred when he said,

The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. James 5:16

In desperate times, some say there isn’t much we can do but pray.

Much indeed.

The much of prayer is the filling of bowls . . . it’s the work of a soul who knows the Savior who saves our prayers and saves our lives and someday will return for us all.

Yes.  Much.

Meanwhile in Haiti: A Christian Perspective on Donald, Hillary, Elections, and Life

The media got swallowed today.  By a video tape some ten years old.
Hurricane Matthew began to settle, yes.
But the rising and falling of storm surges is not really the reason we tune into coverage of a hurricane, is it?
Isn’t it the people who will be impacted that we really care about?  Are they not the real reason we tune in?
Because if that’s the case, then isn’t NOW when the coverage should REALLY begin?
But Donald and Hillary’s war swallows the airwaves.
Meanwhile in Haiti, the death toll rises to over 900.
Meanwhile in Haiti, the number of children without parents, which was 400,000 give or take, has now increased.

haiti-hurricane-3

And meanwhile globally, the number of orphans is somewhere between 143 and 210 million.
But really, who is counting?
Apparently not CNN or FOX News.
And in the United states alone?  415,000 children filtered through the foster system last year.
But again, who is counting?
Because what’s a life when we’ve got crass, crude comments from a man no one would ever have considered nominating for High Moral Character Man of the Year anyway?
What’s a life when we’ve got Benghazi?
What’s a life when politics reign and evangelicals and non-evangelicals get swept away by the hurricane that is an election?
An election trumps a life?  Really?
I can’t speak for non-evangelicals, but I do know that evangelicals were never once called to get tangled up in civilian issues.  In fact, 2Timothy 2: 3,4 speaks directly to this:
Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.
One could argue the affairs of this life are things like careers or boyfriends and girlfriends.
Or one could accept that maybe, just maybe, the believer has a purpose more fine-tuned and more specific than anything that begins and ends here on earth.
Maybe the purpose Jesus mentioned when He was with us on earth?
And He said to him,  ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ “This is the great and foremost commandment. “The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’  (Matthew 22:37-39)
Maybe the purpose Jesus mentioned when he left us?
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19,20)
Maybe the purpose the Spirit of God inspired when James wrote:
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.( James 1:27)
Jesus.
He’s problematic for us if we take Him seriously.
Because he
DOES
NOT
FIT
With the shouting and the screaming and the name calling and the condemning and the judging.
He doesn’t.
His response to sin?
Christians?  Our SAVIOR’S RESPONSE to sin?
HE
GAVE
HIS
LIFE
He forgave.
He redeemed.
He restored.
He did not name call.
He said, Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. (John 8:7)
It’s inconvenient because His responses would apply to both Hillary and Donald.
Both.
And that’s not convenient when we want to amp up a political party to the height of holiness.
As if one is more holy than the other.
Really?
A manmade thing?
Let’s reason.
Let’s think.
No.
None, no not one is righteous. (Rom. 1:10)
Not one.
Not me.
Not you.
Not Donald.
Not Hillary.
Do we REALLY think we are so holy that we can verbally throw stones?
And you know how people say things like, “It’s a distraction tactic!  Stick to the issues.”?
They are SO very right.
It IS a distraction tactic, but not by the media, bless them.
By the enemy.
Did we already forget that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood?  Our battle is not with a democrat or a republican, a male or a female, a homosexual or a heterosexual.
Our battle is against principalities and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
And may I just ask this question?
Who among us has spent as much or more time making disciples this week as we have spent listening to political commentary?

Really?

Because that, my friends, is the distraction.

It’s a distraction from the marching orders our Savior gave us.

Love.

Feed.

Restore.

Heal.

Make disciples.

Then teach them.

Then make more disciples.
There are some 500,000 homeless here in the United States alone.
Are we, the believers, caring for the poor?  Actually DOING the caring?
Focus.
Focus on the priorities of Jesus Christ.
YES, he values life.
Life of the unborn.
Life of the born.
Life of the lesbian.
Life of the drug addict.
Life of the orphan.
Life of the lost soul.
All of it.
Every, single bit of human life because every single human life carries an eternal soul.
Do politics matter?
I understand that’s a bigger question than I can answer when philosophers and theologians have battled and wrestled and discussed this for centuries.
But ultimately, Jesus made this comment about politics, Give to Caesar what is Caeasar’s. (Mark 12:17)
And the Holy Spirit inspired these words:
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. Romans 13:1-2
So, believer?
We should pay our taxes.
We should obey the law.
And beyond that . . . well, now we have to stick to the Bible.
And the Bible tells us that God said:
It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding. (Daniel 2:21)
Now that is a political game-changer, is it not?
Because it turns out it isn’t elections that put kings in place.

It is our God.

And it isn’t about a leftist agenda or a right-wing agenda; it is about the agenda and purpose of our sovereign God.  And if somehow the democrats or republicans can demote our God’s supreme authority over elections, then our God is absolutely not worth our time.  If we elevate the right or the left to a position of authority over God’s purposes, then we have deified a donkey and an elephant.  We who claim to worship the one true God have literally created an idol out of an abstract political machine.  This is not Bible-believing. 

We get so worked up over civilian affairs and somehow assume there are new answers.  We discard the Bible and wrestle the issues like a steer in a rodeo when we could be putting feet to the instructions of our Savior.

In the end?

OUR GOD WINS.

Not Hillary. Not Donald.

YAWEH God.

And then the Holy Spirit added, For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.  (Romans 13:6)
Somehow, this repositions the establishment, the media, and the republican and democratic candidates to servants not of one another, but servants of the MOST HIGH GOD.
Why?
Job knew why.  I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. (Job 42:2)
No election gets to thwart God’s ultimate plans.  So, what IS the purpose of God?
Jesus said this,  I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me. ( John 5:30.)
Then he died.
He rose.
He redeemed all mankind.
The purpose of God?
That all mankind would be in a relationship with Him.
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.( 2 Peter 3:9)  God desires all mankind to be in a relationship with Him.

Do we vote?  Of course we do.  But we do not allow an election to derail God’s purpose in our lives.  Politics may be complicated, but our marching orders are simple.  Our gameplan is already outlined in scripture.  We just need to obey.

More than anything I’m pained by this:
That evangelicals are more known for endorsing or condemning mere human beings than for finding homes for the 415,000 children in foster care in the United States.
That evangelicals are more known for political name-calling than we are for uniting and sending aid to Haiti where cholera, malnourishment, and homelessness will take human lives like a thief in the night while we’ve fallen asleep at the watch.
I am a follower of Christ and I neither endorse Donald Trump nor condemn him.
I neither endorse Hillary Clinton nor condemn her.
Were I to meet either of them, do you know how I would view them?
How God would desire me to view them?
As human beings made in His divine image.
They are not my enemy.
They are not the enemy of the United States.

And they are certainly NOT the enemy of evangelicals.  They are the very people evangelicals should develop relationships with!

They are mere fallen human beings.
JUST
LIKE
ME
Just like me.
Were I to meet them my goal would be the goal Jesus gave me, Make disciples.
Only Jesus can transform.
Do I accept the words of Donald Trump caught on tape over a decade ago?

Goodness gracious, a resounding and resolute NO.  Absolutely not.

And were I to meet him, I’d say this, “Mr. Trump, your comments were absolutely wrong.  You did NOT value female life.  You saw it as an object with which you could pleasure yourself instead of a reflection of the image of God.  You were so wrong and you will give an account for that.  But not to me. In the words of Jesus Christ, ‘Go and sin no more.’  Want to have coffee and discuss this Jesus that said He wouldn’t condemn you, but He’d give you a drink that would so satisfy your thirst that you wouldn’t go looking to women for your soul needs again?”
And the same could be said to Hillary of Benghazi.
Believers, let us join together in a single voice that insists on this one thing:

We will BE ABOUT OUR FATHER’S AGENDA, and under no circumstances will we be known for spewing venomous talk, angry rhetoric, hateful facebook posts, mean-spirited mudslinging, or shaking a proverbial self-righteous fist of condemnation at either candidate.

We will love all humanity.  That is what Jesus Christ did to the point of death.
He loved.
Does the election matter?  Of course it does.  We do in fact stand to lose civil and religious freedoms.  We do in fact get to vote our values, our beliefs, our priorities.  I understand about Supreme Court Justices, and I understand about losing religious freedom in the name of political correctness.
I also understand that my God is sovereign.  and if He’s sovereign than not even the appointment of a Supreme Court Justice I don’t agree with can change HIS PURPOSES.
So, does the election matter? It matters tremendously.
But there is a far more important value that all believers should fight for.
Eternity.
In the end, I don’t get to take the president with me to eternity, but I do get to take souls.
Go.  Make Disciples.  Instead of making enemies, make a cake and deliver it to your neighbor.
No more distractions.  Instead of being side-swiped by the latest scandal, deliver the scandalous grace of Jesus.
No more name calling.  Instead let’s call out to the name of above all names.
No more condemnation.  Instead let’s connect sinners to living water.
There is NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:1)
Let us be about our Father’s purposes.
Let us do that.
Because wouldn’t it be amazing if the media had to report this:
“Surprisingly, our ratings dropped when we shifted from covering ways to help victims of the devastating Hurricane Matthew to what we thought was a big ticket political scandal.  Surprisingly evangelicals quit watching because they were busy helping the hurting.”
So, meanwhile, in Haiti—there are ways we can help.
Consider giving to this organization where the money can be specifically designated to Hurricane relief and every penny will go directly to just that:
http://www.newlife4kids.org/
  • Maintaining our Children’s Home in Port-au-Prince, Haiti of 130 children. We continue to be a “Rescue Center” for abandoned, handicapped, orphaned and children with severe malnutrition and disease, nursing them back to health.
    2) We have a staff of forty including nanny’s, a doctor, two nurses, physical therapists, cooks, etc…
    3) Our children’s home budget is over 160,000 per year as we also have much medical costs and unexpected emergencies.
    4) We provide all medical care and schooling for the children. The young adults go through training programs and trade school that they might reach they’re full potential, spiritually and naturally, and become Christ centered and productive citizens.
Or consider giving to this organization:  www.mohhaiti.org where you can also designate your funds.  They’re replacing tarp shelters with block homes.  They’re educating Haitians.  They’re giving  Haitians prosthetic limbs FREE OF CHARGE.  They’re providing medical care.  They’re providing food.  And there’s no CEO making hundreds of thousands.
Perhaps the best thing a believer can do in a time like this is turn off the TV and the news and turn to our original mandates.
Love.
Let us be found loving.

It’s what our Father does, and it is who He is.

Beloved, let us love one another. For love is of God, and everyone that loves is born of God and knows God.  He that does not love does not know God, for God is love.  Beloved, Let us love one another.  (I John 4:7,8)

Because they all take flight . . . A Father’s heart for his graduate.

I have 2 years before this moment–this crushing, exhilarating, suffocating, freeing, terrifying, breathtaking moment–when my eldest graduates.  Thank God for the gift of time–the priceless number of days we are allotted with our children.  But in 2 years, I’ll stare this moment down and Lord help me, I’ll probably need to be committed somewhere.

I am not even remotely kidding.

The day they graduate signifies so much, doesn’t it?  It’s this end of the apron string.  It’s the last couple inches before the end of the high dive.  It’s the edge of the cliff.

It’s the moment when you truly know you’ve had the most influence you’ll have, and they are flying . . .

ready or not.

Working with youth, we hear a LOT of graduation speeches, a lot of final charges, and this one, among many stands out.  After hearing him share his heart for his daughter, we asked the father, Todd, to give us a copy of his final charge.  While the graduation season is finished, and most parents are looking for new computers and mini-fridges for their upcoming freshman college students, now seemed the best time to share these words again with the world.

The speeches and admonishments and cheesy cards with Hallmark advice have all dwindled to a trickle, and it’s my prayer that his wise words will have space amidst this quieter season–space to be heard.  I challenge you to share them with your children who are leaving home for the first time.  Share them with your children who are getting married.  Share them with your children who are returning to high school.  Because whether they are going to high school or college or Africa, every child must know this central truth–they were made for a purpose and that purpose should paint and shade every single thing they do.

Life and time–they’re gifts.

But they are truly meant for a purpose, and if our children don’t have that purpose defined biblically, mark my words, the world will be more than happy to define it for them.

What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul? (Matthew 16:26)

So, I believe in a world that will constantly shout to your children what their purpose is, these truths must be shared.  These are the truths our children need to know.  These are the truths that children can go back to, can align their priorities and decisions with.  These are the truths that will nurture the soul.

Here are Todd’s words to his second graduate.

My Beautiful child,

Even though we’ve walked this path with another child, it still seems remarkable that once again one of our babies is graduating high school. It is one of life’s more conspicuous milestones, so it begs for reflection which I have been doing as we have navigated these last few months. You came into this world in the early morning hours of that September day in what I can describe as the most awful, helpless feeling that I have ever experienced in my life, but as the sun went down on that very same day, I cannot remember experiencing a more satisfying peace as the fears of the day’s events were finally laid to rest. You’ll often hear parents say that a difficult birth was an omen of things to come for a challenging child, but I have no such thoughts. I have so enjoyed being your dad, watching you grow, making wonderful memories and just being a spectator in your many activities. Over the last couple of years mom and I both have seen an amazing change as you have matured into the lovely, young woman you have become.

Landmarks like this make us parents feel old and you kids feel smarter and more accomplished than you’ll one day become. It is a break in the timeline of life, leaving childhood behind and entering adulthood. You are transitioning from having many decisions being made for you, to having to figure things out on your own. Since you will remain home for the time being, life may not seem altogether different, but without a doubt, life has changed. Oh, we’ll still be here for you and will gladly lend a hand, offer advice and help you through life’s adversities, but I’m guessing you’ll ask less, need less, and choose to figure things out on your own more often than in the past. Our desire as mom and dad is that you do make this transition. Our concern as mom and dad is that even as you call on us less that you continue to call on the One who created you and do so even more.  

The subtle and many times very deliberate influences of the world can be most enticing. I think of the advice I recently heard at a graduation ceremony–“to do whatever makes you happy.” This seems harmless on the surface, but all too many people choose to follow this advice and it leads to heartache, regret, disappointment and sometimes even despair. Another bit of advice given at the ceremony was to “put in the extra hours and stress necessary to get the raise.” This is a never ending cycle. There will always be another job, another lure of more money or the seduction of a once in a lifetime opportunity that will distract you from what’s really important…what really matters…what you were created to do – that is to worship God–meaning, live life to bring honor to God. Let your decisions be, not just seasoned, but saturated with biblical truth. The extra hours and stress to gain a promotion will lead to extra hours and stress to maintain the same level of expectation. This is not to say don’t work hard. I’ve been preaching diligence and conscientiousness even before you kids could understand what those words meant. It is essential to have a good work ethic and do things thoroughly and completely to the best of your ability, but your motivation should be greater than personal achievement.

                Proverbs 19:23 The fear of the Lord leads to life. And he who has it will abide in satisfaction.

You have demonstrated, specifically in these last 2 years, that you have the focus and determination to take the academics seriously and I have no doubt that you will do well at the undertakings you choose to pursue, so my only concern is your heart. You see, your academics will be measured. You’ll be graded on each class which will reflect on your overall GPA. You may be recognized on the Dean’s List; you may choose to pursue a double major; you’ll leave school having learned a second language and possibly studied abroad; you will be more accomplished, brighter, bolder and more articulate. Ultimately, upon graduation, you’ll be given a diploma that will be a visual acknowledgement of this fine accomplishment. As a dad, I will be very proud of the hard work you put in to have achieved this success. But what will it mean if along the way you forfeit your faith? This would be crushing to mom and I. Worldly success will NEVER offer the satisfaction to which the verse in Proverbs speaks. That satisfaction offers peace and comfort. There is something completely satisfying knowing you are right where God would want you. It is the cool glass of water that quenches a desperate thirst, the warm blanket on a cold night, it is the arm of encouragement wrapped around you, the words that uplift, it is a joy that overflows, even in sorrow God has the ability to ease the burden, provide hope and help you persevere. There is no other place you want to be than in His presence and enjoying that satisfaction.

                Psalm 16:11 You (God) will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

 The pleasures God speaks of are not in agreement with what the world would define as pleasures which often lead to guilt and shame or are simply just fleeting. On the contrary, God’s pleasures for you are ones that lead to fulfillment and satisfaction, joy and peace, they confirm to you that you are right where you need to be.

As you mature, the academic accomplishments and subsequent career that you have set your sights on will be achieved or may even be replaced with new desires that are deemed to be more worthy, but as long as the foundation of your faith remains solid and as long as your focus remains steadfast on the One who created you then you will live the life of the Christian who finishes well.

                1 Cor 10:31 – Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

So my charge to you…Go do all that you want to do, but put God first. Always make time to read the Word, pray, disciple and serve. If you live life in this order, the things you accomplish will be all the sweeter. On the contrary, if you find you’re too busy for these things, then you’ve become the focus instead of God. Countless tomorrows will come and go if you don’t purpose to put God first.

                JC Ryle – Tomorrow is the devil’s day, but today is God’s. Satan does not care about how spiritual your intentions are or how holy your resolutions, if only they are determined to be done tomorrow.

So where the advice was given to “put in the extra hours and stress to get the raise” and “do what makes you happy,” I say instead, think of life in reverse. If you were at the end of your life just mere moments from standing before your Father in heaven, what would you like to be remembered for? Live-life-for- that.

Maybe not so ironically your life-verse sums it up very well…

                Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding, but in all ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.          

I LOVE YOU WITH ALL MY HEART!!!

                                                              Daddy

May our children soar, may they fly, but may they always do so lifted on the air of the true purpose for which they were created–to make their Savior famous, to seek His kingdom . . . then and only then will all the things that are necessary for their lives be added unto them.

And fellow moms and dads, to you, I say this:

The words our children will take the most seriously from us are those we have lived by ourselves.

May we be found faithful.

XO

The Haiti Blogs: When We Can’t Make Sense Of It All

It’s raining today in our North Georgia mountains–one of those long, soft, misty spring rains that just won’t stop.  My boys are going camping, so the rain is  unwelcome.  It’s a trip far into the woods to celebrate a big birthday for one of their friends.  It’s been on the books for probably 2 months.  We’ve had gorgeous weather all week, and now rain.

I’m watching it wash my cars, water my plants, fill the low spots in the yard, and drown out all the earth worms, and I’m praying, “Lord, would you hold it off for the boys?”

And I remember.

Like the rain washes the fogginess from my brain.

The tin roofs in Haiti.  How many of them were there?  Tin held down with rocks and broken cement.  Tin salvaged from other projects.  Tin filled with holes.

My boys may be wet tonight while they camp, but they’ll come home to a dry house.

For so many Haitians, home is flooded wet when rains fall.

DSC_0904

Me–a child of God, sitting dry under a shingled roof.

A Haitian baby–a child of God, sleeps with belly distended from hunger in his mother’s arms while she squats under a 12 inch overhang waiting out the storm.

A friend–a child of God, sleeps in the hospital tonight.  Cancer’s been removed, but what treatment lies ahead?

A husband in Ecuador–a child of God, mourns his wife’s death.  An earthquake swallowed her life’s breath.

We don’t make sense of these things.

We can’t.

We can’t explain why survival is a hobby and past time for my youngest boy but the only way of life for the boy who begged me to sponsor him back in Haiti.

We can’t explain why the lump in my breast a couple months back was just a fatty cyst but for another it is cancer.

We can’t explain why one child is born without a heartbeat and another is born, lungs filled with air, heart pumping, and healthy.

We can’t explain why one good parent raises a child who aces all the tests and rises the corporate ladder and another good parent raises a drug addict.

We can’t explain why one is accepted into the program and another is denied despite her tremendous effort.

We just can’t.

But I know them.  These people.  I know they love Jesus.

And I know Jesus loves them.

I do.

I remember His Words–they were about His people the Jews, but we were grafted into this beautiful love that is our Savior.  We get to savor these words too.

But now, this is what the Lord says—
    he who created you, Jacob,
    he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
    Cush and Seba in your stead.
4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
    and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
    nations in exchange for your life.
Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
    I will bring your children from the east
    and gather you from the west.
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
    and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring my sons from afar
    and my daughters from the ends of the earth—
7 everyone who is called by my name,
    whom I created for my glory,
    whom I formed and made.”(Isaiah 43:1-7)

We get to savor our Savior who gathers us from the east and from the west.

We get to revel in our Redeemer who calls us by name.

We get to cry out to our Creator who promises that we are precious in His sight.

We get to live out of the love of this God who says He formed us, He made us, and he crafted us . . .

for

his

glory.

The intended destiny of the cancer patient and the orphan and the hungry and the hurting and the healthy and the wealthy and the successful and the homosexual and the heterosexual and the Arab and the American is that they were ALL–

Every

Single

One

created to bring this one and only God glory.

We don’t have to share skin color or socioeconomic status to share the same purpose.  I have to quit understanding in human terms like Middle-Eastern or African, upper-class or poor, educated or illiterate and begin to understand others as God does–mankind.  Created beings created by a Creator for His own pleasure and glory. 

HE said it Himself.

“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord,
    “and my servant whom I have chosen,
so that you may know and believe me
    and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
    nor will there be one after me.
11 I, even I, am the Lord,
    and apart from me there is no savior.
12 I have revealed and saved and proclaimed—
    I, and not some foreign god among you.
You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “that I am God.
13     Yes, and from ancient days I am he.  (Isaiah 43:10-13)

He said in no uncertain terms this beautiful declaration of destiny.

We are HIS Witnesses.

We were chosen

to KNOW

and

to BELIEVE

that HE AND HE ALONE is the LORD and there is no salvation apart from HIM.

From always–

from eternity past–it was always HIM.

By HIM and THROUGH HIM and FOR HIM all things were created.

It’s all for Him.

All to make HIM famous–He’s the one that rescues, that brings salvation, that carries us through the fire, that keeps us floating when the river rages, that carries us across oceans deep.  He doesn’t always heal on earth.  He doesn’t always grant physical provision on earth.

But there is one thing He does do when we can’t make sense of it all–we can know this one thing–He holds us in the palm of His hands.  Nothing can pluck us from His hand.  (John 10:28)

He holds us–our souls when the earth shakes and the rain wont relent.

That He does.

The rest?

The rest we will have to wait to fully understand.

Until then–He won’t relent from this relentless love.  It’s WHO HE IS.

from ancient of days.

And us?  Those of us who call Him Savior?

We get to bear witness to this great truth–

that we know the one true God because He’s redeemed us, He’s called us by name.

 

 

 

The Haiti Blogs: Untethering a Nation

I’ve see this one sweet boy 3 days in a row now. He finds me. It’s a journey for him to find me, but he does it. He has nothing else to do. He isn’t in school. We are attending a Haitian worship service, and he comes in and sits beside me. He’s taken a Tap Tap to get to the church—a truck with a wagon-like canopy on the back that the Haitians pack themselves into like sardines.

church boy
Can I just tell you that when I look up and see that sweet grin, there is this flipping that transpires in my stomach, and I am so in love.  You can’t be a momma of two boys without loving any other boy that reminds you of your own.  When I see him, I see my boys.  I see years of birthday parties, scraped knees, favorite meals, Christmas stockings full, and days spent kayaking rivers.  I see all that we could include this sweet child in.  He snuggles in beside me.  I scratch his back just like I do for my own boys—it’s a universal language all mothers know.
He is so exhausted, he falls asleep. Not the first time a little boy has fallen asleep beside me in church.  I wonder where his own momma is right now.
Eventually he leans into my shoulder, and I couldn’t help but think he could be mine.
I would love him.  I do love him.  It’s like your heart just explodes and expands and insists you love.

. . . because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit . . . (Romans 5:5)
There’s so much room in my heart.  So much room for this pouring out that God’s doing.

When he wakes, he startles slightly and sits up again. He may be a little embarrassed he’s fallen asleep, so I get some gum out of my pack and give it to him as a distraction.
He needs a sponsor. So many need a sponsor–someone who will pay for their schooling and a good meal each day.
When we talk to the people they tell us they know about God, but they don’t know about His Word.  And because they don’t know what His Word says, they are not free.
Few have Bibles, and those that do may or may not be able to read it.
They need education to read.
They can’t afford education because they don’t have jobs.
They don’t have jobs because there is little manufacturing. There’s little manufacturing because there’s nothing to manufacture with.  There are no resources.
It’s a vicious cycle.
But they are so determined.
One boy seems to speak pretty good English. We sit together for a while on a pile of rocks beside small mounds of peridot plastic bottles. I ask if he learned it in school. No, he tells me.Then I see a small English/French dictionary in his hands. The pages are barely held together anymore from use. Use of a determined human being reaching for grace, reaching to grasp anything that will propel him out of this cycle.
I ask if this is how he is learning English. He tells me it is. He can’t afford school, but he is using the dictionary to learn. His printing is beautiful. His English is broken but shows such promise.
DSC_0342I keep asking this question—how do I help this nation? How do we break the cycle?  How do we unbind and untie and loose and free a people who are brilliant and made in the image of God?  Surely we can be a part of this.
A funny thing about Haiti is that there are goats everywhere. Anyone who knows me knows I’m in love with goats. They fascinate me. It’s my husband’s fault because he took me to a fire fighter buddy’s goat farm once, and I fed baby goats from bottles made out of mountain dew 1 liters. I was hooked.

So we get to this country, and there are more goats than dogs. Everyone in the village has a goat. A lot of them just roam free. They walk down the road, walk through houses, sleep under the bus when we park it, and anywhere else they feel like wandering. I saw one lady shooing a goat off the clothing in the market she was trying to sell.

goat 5A lot of them, though, are tethered. The Haitians take what appear to be handmade ropes—like the ones my son makes from bark just for fun—and tie the goats to any small shrub or cactus plant that will hold them. The goats just remain in what’s typically a 3 or maybe 4 foot stretch of space and eat anything in sight. There isn’t much.
Later, when it’s time, the people eat them.
In all our walking through villages and driving through the countryside, I never saw a water bowl near the goats that were tethered. Not once.
Water is not within reach.
The people here are tethered too.
Tethered by a poverty both spiritual and physical.
And as long as they are tethered, their soul thirst will never be quenched.
But educating a child, teaching that child to read, opens the door to reading and understanding God’s Word. It also opens the door for jobs, for industry, for this nation.
Education is the hand God can use to untie this nation.
These are a people willing to learn. Sponsoring a child can literally shred the rope of bondage that keeps these people from becoming all God intended. Mission of Hope has over 1700 students. They feed them, teach them, and share Jesus with them. Sponsoring a child literally breaks the cycle.
I think of that little boy—I know I can’t adopt him.
But I can untether him.
I can do what a mother would do even after I return to the states.  A mother sees to the needs of her child.  He may not be mine, but I can see to his needs.
It may not be all I want to do, but sponsoring him, and children like him at least allows him to go and find water.
Both physical and living water.
For me, maybe it is a start.

A start to the untethering of a nation.

The Haiti Blogs: Grace Flows Down

 

DSC_0904.JPGThin, not from daily jogs and yoga sessions, but from a hard life of work. Sunrise to sunset work. Raising four children alone in a world void of government handouts, void of court ordered child support, and void of little conveniences like electricity, washing machines, or even an outhouse, let alone a toilet.
Bone thin. Her name is Finel Alice. She tells me she washes laundry to collect enough money to send her children to school.
I remember my own mom and my sister—the number of jobs they worked when they were single and raising children. She has no one to help when her children are sick. She has no one to step in when they are fighting, and she’s worn with hand-washing laundry out of an aluminum bowl. She opens her side yard to our group.  I think about the number of times I’ve not held back hospitality because I didn’t have time to scrub my baseboards.  She has nothing but earth and stone to offer us.  She offers it willingly, with joy.  She wants to hear about the Jesus that doesn’t demand she work harder for him. She wants to hear about the Jesus who doesn’t insist she follow a list of rules in order to have a relationship with her.
But it’s so foreign.
Here you only get if you earn. You only get if you fight and struggle and work tirelessly.
Grace is not even a word they use.
Even the sound of the word seems softer than it ever has to me—like a smooth flowing stream that runs over my face, like a soft, sweet rain after a 95 degree August day at home.
Grace.
The undeserved. The unearned. The unobtainable, obtained.
They strain to understand a concept that is unimaginable in a world where nearly everything is unobtainable.
She tells us about her house—a one room concrete structure covered with reused tin dotted like a colander filled with holes. When it rains, she says, she is not able to stay in the house. The water pours in. I ask her what she does at night when it rains. She says that she gets up and sits outside under a 12 inch overhang. There are no chairs. She squats there, under the overhang with her family in a single file line, until the rain stops.
At home we think it’s a pleasure to sit under a tin-roofed porch when a shower passes through. We listen to the storm as it sings a peaceful song.
Here in Haiti, they endure the rain.
They endure the heat.
They endure the hunger.
They endure the suffering and hope it will pass.
Hope better days will come.

Hope for grace in an ungracious world.

We talk long and share much, but as our group files away, my heart bleeds for her.  For what I long to do and can’t do.  For all I want to say and can’t.  For all that should change in her life but won’t.
I had to go back to her—take her hands in mine. Look deep into her charcoal eyes until both our eyes were wet with understanding.
A mother to a mother.
To tell her she is brave and that Jesus sees her when she feels alone. To tell her I will remember her.
I will.

widow
We go on to another home where the lady invites us inside. This is a first. A woman with nothing to offer offers us the shade of her home.  Grace–an invitation into her four square walls of grey concrete–in an ungracious land.
There are 3 buckets. Buckets are such a commodity here. As we traveled, I had seen wooden chair frames on the side of a road—hand crafted. But I have yet to see a home with a stick of wooden furniture inside.  Not one.  So a bucket?  A bucket is like gold.  When we painted a house, I walked around with a 5 gallon bucket in my hand and a parade of hopeful Haitians vying for that bucket once the paint was gone.  She offers us her buckets, and we politely sit on the concrete.  They always offer their best.
We circle around while she tells us about her life. Four of them live in the room—no bigger than 250 square feet. When we ask what her husband does, her eyes shift and glisten slightly and then recover. She doesn’t want us to see her pain.
He recently began to sell juice in the market. He got a loan, bought the juice and sold it. He was doing well. It provided food for their family. But this morning, when he rose at 1am to go to the juice seller, he was jumped. Men who knew what he was doing followed him, robbed him of his cash, and left him.
Now they have no juice.
They have no money to pay the loan back.
And they have no way to start over.
Over a week’s wages are lost.
I can’t imagine how I would have responded to this.
But for her, it is just a rainy night to wait-out under a short overhang.
It is a suffering to endure.
And I just keep thinking of grace—that gift that washes over the parched places in a life of drought.
And I want to wash over Haiti with fresh, cool grace.
We gave the local pastor the money we had with us—it was enough to cover half the loan. She will understand it came from the local church and hopefully she will go to the church, give grace a chance.
But in my heart, I know it’s not enough.
I know I can’t look at concrete box after concrete box, like tombs for the living, and forget. When we were driving the first day, perched like a hobbit hole on a hillside was a small shanty filled with coffins.
Coffins. Coffins for the dead.
But these people should not be in tombs while they live.
They thirst—these people.  In so many ways. And we have so much grace to share.
And grace is Jesus in Word AND Deed.

And from HIS FULLNESS we have all received GRACE UPON GRACE–John 1:16

I remember that fullness is an overflowing abundance in the original Greek language.  And I think in my heart–even in this place where widows wash for pennies and men rise at 1am to buy juice to sell in market there is grace.

Grace isn’t the presence of comfort.  It IS COMFORT that is ALWAYS PRESENT. It flows down and covers the parched, the raw, the cracked, the rough.  It soothes inside the soul–heals from the inside out. And I’ve received an overflowing outpouring of grace from my Savior–enough to share.

Enough to share.

 

The Haiti Blogs: Friends Plant Trees

It is tree planting day. We have sent the money over from the states to buy trees from local growers; they are ready when we arrive. Mango, almond, cherry, and coconut. All trees that give food and nourishment as well as shade. In a country where the sun beats down like an angry tyrant and brown bellies are fat from undernourishment, a tree offers hope for the future.
Not uniform like American greenhouses provide—the trees were a variety of heights and thicknesses. There is no brand evident, no watering instructions or recommended sun levels on a plastic label–just trees some native has managed to grow and sell for their livelihood.

The Village Champion tells us the trees will provide nourishment, shade, and hope.  So very like our Savior.  They are a physical image of the invisible Tree of Life.

We will dig deep in hard, thirsty soil. It requires pick-axes to break through.
We unload the bus and carried the trees in an assembly line through a maze of block houses, garbage piles, goats, and the occasional pig. The village reminds me of the corn mazes you see during the fall harvest season—you walk in behind a cactus wall, round a corner and see a cement box. It’s a home. Its yard is a combination of dirt mounds, the occasional plant, a goat or two, maybe a pile of garbage, a small pit for cooking, and then you round another corner, another cactus fence, another box made of blocks, and on and on. An endless maze of poverty with no apparent way out. If I wasn’t with natives, I’d  be entirely lost in five minutes. There are no real roads once you get into these communities—just beaten down paths to match the beaten down lives. Lives as dry and void of nourishment as the soil we hammered with our pick axes to break open.
The real soil we are looking to break open is not the soil in the ground. It is their soul soil. Souls so hardened from thirst, so hungry for love, for hope—for a tiny trickle of water in a parched life.
DSC_0405We think we are carrying trees, but really?
Really, we carry hope.
I remember Elizabeth Smart telling the story of her desperate thirst when she had been abducted. She so longed for a tiny bit of cool water and one night, while her captors were sleeping beside her, a cool cup of water appeared. She believes it to be a miraculous gift from God to this day.
A gift from the God Who Sees—the one who saw Hagar in her suffering and introduced Himself as El Roi.
The God Who Sees.
He sees these Haitian people too. He sees their thirst for some tiny refreshment. And so we bring them a tree, and we pray it opens the door for the local pastors–a determined, faithful, hardy lot–to continue to give them living Hope.
While some are digging holes, others of us ask if we can sit and visit. We want to dig a little hole into their heart—make a spot to plant a seed. We ask about their lives. I ask one lady about her children. She says she had one gason (a son), but he didn’t survive. She is young, and I can see from her home that if he had been ill, she could never have afforded any medical care. I can see in the deep onyx pools that are windows to her heart—she has suffered loss.
I think of heaven—this place where her son waits to see her again. I ask her about heaven—will she go there?
She doesn’t know.
She thinks if she is good, stays out of jail, and behaves she may go to heaven.
I ask if I can tell her a story about another person who asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life.
She wants to hear. We talk for twenty minutes, maybe half an hour. It’s all new to her. It’s a different way of thinking—this idea that Jezi loves her so much that He would give His life to pay her debt? It’s foreign to her.
But her eyes light. She’s thinking about it.
She’s thinking about this little seed of hope planted in her hungry heart.
The people go to a common pump near a school yard for water. They carry it in any container they can find. She has a bucket ready with water once the tree is planted. I watched as they poured the five gallon bucket of water over the roots of the soil. I pray their souls will drink Living Water.

DSC_0394
There are dozens we talk with today. They come out of their box homes and stand in doorways watching us curiously. They’re not sure they can trust us.
I understand. I wouldn’t feel safe were I in their shoes. One lady sits and answers our questions patiently. We truly want to know about their life, their needs, their hopes, their hurts. So I sit on the ground while she sits on a make-shift bench, and the group semi-circles. We plant ourselves in the dirt wanting somehow to place our own love and lives as roots in their soil.
We tell them they honor us by inviting us into their yards. They honor us by letting us sit with them.
One lady grins big and says, “I feel you are my friends because you sit with me on the ground.”
And I wonder if people have made her feel less than others because she is a poor, Haitian woman who roasts peanuts and mashes them into peanut butter to make enough money to feed her family.  Because if this is true, then they have not truly seen this incredible woman.
I look at her there—squatting on a board held up by cinder blocks, and I know I’m the one who is blessed with the honor of calling this determined, resourceful woman friend.
Friend.

Zanmi in Creole.
A word Jesus called his disciples one time.
He said this, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
It sounds so nice, doesn’t it? The idea of laying down one’s life. Such a sweet thought—Jesus did it for us, right?
But then He adds, “You are my friends if you do what I command.”
Do
What
I
Command
You are my Zanmi if you do as I command.

Through this Haitian lens—children running around with torn shirts and no underwear or pants, school teachers using a sugar-cane switch on the palms of little boys’ hands, bodies with scars that whisper of past pain, women with no husbands, and a world where the average life-span of a man in the city is 54 years old—the Christian life becomes more simple.
Beloved, let us love one another. For love is of God and everyone that loves is born of God and knows God. He that loves not, knows not God for God is love. Beloved, let us love one another. (I John 4:7,8)
And love, for the believer is giving life.
Because God is love and God is life.
There is physical life, and there is soul life.
And the Christian life is about giving both.
Sharing the truth and sharing the tree.
Sharing real water and living water.
Sharing real food and Bread of life.
And tonight, I’m left asking myself:
Am I DOING what HE commands? What part of my life should I be laying down for these new friends? These Zanmis.
Dear, North American beloved, let us love one another in word and in deed.
Amen.

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