Thursday, March 5, 2015

Redemption

It was far more difficult than I could have imagined. It destroyed several stereotypes I didn’t even know I had, and put me way out of my comfort zone. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world, because it also clearly illustrated the redemptive heart of Jesus.

I was in the Philippines, where I’d gone to be with my daughter, Bethany, as part of the Parent Vision Trip with her missions organization. Our ministry was to work with prostitutes. Not exactly up my alley. I work with kids, not hardened, sinful women. Would they even listen to us white Westerners? Especially since the majority of their clients were exactly that? Fat chance!

When it came to the first night, we broke up into small teams and went to the Walking Street. It’s the place in Angeles City where the sex trade flourishes. Just back-to-back bars, where the girls “danced”.

It was dark in so many ways.

                                                     walking street angeles

We had been coached to look for the girls who looked uncomfortable, like they didn’t want to be there, because they would be the ones that were new, and less cynical. But it was hard; to see these girls, on stage flaunting their bodies, was heart-breaking. Some of them wore shorts and tank tops. Others wore far less.

It felt so wrong to even look at them.

Once we made a group decision as to whom to talk to, the protocol was to call them to our table and buy them drinks; they got a commission on it. I assumed they would order hard liquor. Stereotype #1 destroyed: they ordered Coke. Pineapple juice. Chocolate milk. Only one ordered anything with alcohol! And once we started talking to them, everything changed. As I looked into their eyes, they were no longer identified by their profession, but by their names, and their stories. Stereotype #2 destroyed: most of them were just young girls, many of them with children, working to support the family that they were responsible for. Caught in a cycle of broken promises and broken trust, they felt trapped, powerless to change their circumstances.

We asked about their dreams, what they would do with their lives if they could. Their faces lit up as they replied: “Be a nurse…a teacher…an HR director.” They all had dreams, dreams that were rarely vocalized because they were considered unattainable.

It was a different story when we asked them; “Do you like working here?” Faces falling, all but one shook their heads sadly, and hesitantly replied; “Noooo, I don’t.”

That’s when we got to share hope with them. Hope in a God who loves them dearly, who longs to have a relationship with them, and who sent us to offer them a way out. We told them of an organization (www.WipeEveryTear.org ) that provide group homes, where these girls could live, that would provide them not only a place to stay and food to eat, but also medical care, schooling (either high school or college), and even an allowance so that they could continue to send money to support those that depended on them. And they would be shown how to love and follow Jesus. We told them about a bus that would be there in a few days to pick them up and take them to see the homes and talk with the girls who lived there, then return them in time for work that evening.

Some grew quiet, afraid to believe that things could be any different. Others immediately promised to get on that bus to check things out. One even left the bar that night with one of the teams, claiming, “I have been praying for a way out—God has led you to me!” She moved into the house, sight unseen, the very next morning!

We prayed for all of those girls; for the seed of hope to be planted in their hearts. For courage to act on that hope. And that hope would bear fruit that drew them to our Redeemer, Jesus, who provided for their escape.

You see, the girls who led our teams? They were the same girls who had been rescued, helping us reach out to those still trapped. It had become their ministry, and they were passionate about it. These were the same girls who led us in wholehearted worship and prayer that God would draw others.

Eighteen girls got on the bus with us that Friday morning—eighteen! Willing to take the risk, to find out if this God we spoke of really did have something better for them. Last I heard, at least eight have moved from working at the bars to living at the houses.

Will they all stay? Maybe not. But they will hear of Jesus, who welcomed a woman who was shunned by many because of her sinful life, and forgave her because He loved her (Luke 17:36-50). They will hear the truth that there is a different way, that their past could we wiped away, because…

…if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!                                                                                                  2 Corinthians 5:17

And they will learn to…

…declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.                  1 Peter 2:9-10

They will hear that Jesus redeems body, soul, and spirit.  And some will become His.

God is bigger than my stereotypes. And far more merciful than I can comprehend.

Further reflection:

1. Stereotype #3: God would not be able to work through me in this ministry. Are there any similar stereotypes you hold about what God can, and cannot, do through you?

2. Read Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through him who gives me strength”.

3. Which are you going to hold on to; the stereotype, or the truth? It is a choice we each make.

Father, forgive me for judging those whose sin is different than mine. You desire mercy, compassion, and a heart for the hurting, and I fail so miserably. Thank you that Your love is not based on our deserving it, or we would all be lost. Your love is based on Your own unchanging nature, bent to love us as we are, without being willing to leave us there. You are a good God, reaching down to redeem the lost, the hurting, and the proud.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The World Race

Many of you already know that my daughter, Bethany, is on an 11-countries-in-11-months missions adventure.  It’s rightfully called The World Race, and so far she has been to Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala, Zambia, and Malawi.  She has worked with orphans, ministered to women rescued from horrific abuse, carried rocks to clear the ground, done door-to-door evangelism, and a host of other things. 

                                       Beth's world race        

I have expected it to a faith-stretching time for her.  The challenge of raising support, along with the difficulty—especially for an introvert such as Bethany—of meeting and living with a team of six unfamiliar people, combined with the adventure of living without the comforts of home, often in a tent, with everything needed for the year carried only in a backpack would be intimidating at the very least.

                     beth's world race 2

Those who organize, train, and oversee these teams do a wonderful job of planning out details while encouraging the racers to anticipate the unexpected.  I really didn’t think about what that might mean.  Until now.  It seems that six teams were crossing the border from Malawi into their next ministry site, Mozambique.  Two of teams crossed without incident, but the final four were held up at the border.  The officials claimed something in their paperwork was missing, and refused them entry.  The teams were tired, very hungry, and uncertain about next steps.  That was two days ago, and the teams are currently staying on opposite sides of the border while what is hopefully only technicalities are ironed out.  But there is concern coupled with a huge amount of uncertainty.

The teams are praying for resolution.  Their parents are praying.  None of us would have chosen this challenge for them.  After all, they were only doing what God had asked of them!

Then this morning God reminded me of Paul’s time in prison.

 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.  Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”  The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas.  He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”  Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.  At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized.                                                                                              Acts 16:25-33

Paul got thrown in jail because he openly shared his faith in Jesus, not because he did anything wrong.  Regardless of the reason, there he sat.  Along with Silas, praying and singing hymns!  And because of his faithful testimony, the jailer and his entire family came to faith in Jesus.

Sometimes hard things happen because while it’s not part of our plan, it is part of God’s.  He had a bigger plan for Paul; using him so that this jailer’s entire household became believers.  If Paul had not been in jail, this family may never have heard the good news of Jesus.

it was no coincidence that Paul was in a place he didn’t expect to be.  And it no coincidence that Bethany and the others are, either.  I am praying that God will use this unsettled time to grant these young men and women divine appointments, where they are able to boldly share their own faith, and that God would use that to draw others into His kingdom. 

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose… What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?…Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.                                                                           Romans 8:28, 31, 35, 37-39

Further reflection:

1.  Have you ever found yourself in a hard position that you never expected to be in?  If so, what was your response?

2.  Looking back, do you see how God used that to not only strengthen your own faith, but to encourage the faith of others?

3.  What are some verses God brings to mind that would encourage your heart should you be faced with such a situation again?

Father, how good it is to remember that You are a sovereign God.  Nothing is a surprise to You, nor is there anything too hard.  Thank You that Your plans for these teams, and for all of us, are for good. May they continue to rejoice in those good plans, trusting You to work out Your will for them.  I ask that You would use them so that others may hear and respond to that truth.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Nicknames

Spuds McKenzie. Spud. Killer. Buzz. Derry-boy.

My husband gave all of our kids nicknames. Many nicknames for each of them, and it’s a sign of affection to get one. He never really ponders them; they just fly out of his mouth and somehow stick. Those listed above are some of the ones he gave our son Derek early on.

Each of Derek’s nicknames reflects a part of him; he was called “killer” because of his competitive drive on the soccer field. Spud was shortened from Spuds McKenzie, and given as a result of a major black eye that made him look like the terrier in commercials. Buzz came from the haircut that he sported for years. Derry-boy? Who knows!

Now that Derek is older his nicknames have changed. When Derek had a job delivering pizza he became “pizza man”. Now that he’s a teacher Alan calls him “The Professor”. Or if he’s on the soccer field it changes to “Coach”.

Derek for nicknames

But my favorite nickname for Derek is “son.” The word alone carries a depth of meaning. In many ways it defines our relationship because it represents all our shared experiences, shared memories, and shared struggles. It means we are family, with all the rights and privileges that come with it. Most of all, it means that because he is my son, he can count on me to be there for him. There is nothing that Derek can do that will make me quit loving him.

God gives us, His children, nicknames too.

Redeemed (Psalm 107:1-3; Isaiah 35:8-10; Isaiah 51:9-11). Friend (Luke 5:20 Luke 12:4; John 15:14-15). Beloved (Colossians 3:12, KJV).

My favorite nickname? Child of God. (John 1:12-13; 1 John 3:1-2; Romans 8:14) It reflects who I am to Him. He deliberately chose that word because He knew it’s one I could understand and relate to. It communicates the depth of His love for me.

I love Derek—and all my kids—very imperfectly. God is a perfect Father who loves us without condition. Without measure. Without flaw. There is nothing I can do that will change the fact of His love for me.

I am His daughter.

Further reflection:

1. Do you have any nicknames? What do they say about the relationship you have with the one who gave it to you?

2. What does it mean to you to be called “a child of God?”

Abba, You are a perfect Father. Thank You that You have given me the right to be called a child of Yours. I love to picture myself as one of those kids that, while here on earth, You always made time to be with. Thank You for not only allowing me into Your presence, but for welcoming me as Your daughter, and that there is nothing I can do to change the reality of Your love for me.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Joy Comes in the Morning

Pain etched itself in the expression on her face. It was so much harder to watch my daughter go through it that when I did it myself!

Wyatt was, even then, reluctant to make his appearance (http://www.aneverydayvoice.com/2014/02/just-temporary-home.html). He was already a week late, and now, a full 17 hours after being induced, delivery was finally growing close. But it wasn’t easy.

Wave after wave of excruciating contractions rolled through Megan, so close together as to feel like a single one. Straining and groaning, she struggled to push him out. The intensity of the pain seemed like it would never end, but there was no other choice than to keep pressing on.

It’s a lot like life.

It can be fraught with pain. At times it’s hard, it seems endless, and it hurts. We cannot escape it, so we just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Yet in our suffering, something is born is us that could not happen any other way. Our character changes; qualities develop; trust in Jesus deepens.

…suffering produces perseverance; perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.                                                                                                  Romans 5:3-4

We are changed by our struggles, and while we would never ask for or choose suffering, we so often we look back on those times and recognize how much we learned, and how near God was to us during it.

At 2:41 am Megan’s suffering was over, and joy came in the form of Wyatt Alan.

Wyatt newborn

One day, all of our suffering will come to an end, too. It may not come today, or tomorrow, or even in this lifetime. Jesus told us that this world would hold trouble (John 16:33). He also promised that one day:

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”                                                                  Revelation 21:4-5

All will be made right. No more suffering. No more pain. Only Jesus will remain, and the joy of eternity with Him.

“…weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5b

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.                                                                                                            Romans 8:18

Further reflection:

  1. Describe a time that you felt like your suffering would never end.
  2. How are you different from having gone through that?

Father, thank You that, even when we are suffering, Your plans are good. You never, ever leave us to suffer alone, and You do a new work in us, creating qualities that were not there before. Thank You, too, for the promise of heaven, when all will be made right and suffering will be no more. Until then, help me to see Your purposes in the midst of pain, so that You have Your way in me.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Just a Temporary Home

Her Facebook comment read: “Wyatt is in no hurry to come out.”

My youngest daughter, Megan, was almost a week past her due date, and at that very uncomfortable, “I am done with being pregnant” stage.

Wyatt, however, was altogether too happy to stay right where he was at. And why not? It was warm, it was cozy, it was home.

Wyatt's sonogram

Still, it wasn’t as comfy in there as it used to be. Being a big baby meant space was getting pretty tight. There wasn’t much freedom of movement anymore. That’s because the womb is just a temporary home; he was not created to stay there. He was really designed for this world.

If only he knew how much his mom and dad (and grandma…) were anticipating his arrival! If only he understood our love and how wonderful this world can be, he might long to be here, too.

But he couldn’t. The womb was all he knew.

It’s the same for me.

I love this world! The warmth of the sun kissing my face. The riot of color in a mountain meadow. The melodic, gurgling sound of running water. They bring me such delight, and I cannot imagine anything better.

But like Wyatt, I wasn’t created to stay here. It, too, is only a temporary home, and I was created for an eternal one.

If I really understood how much my Father loves me, I might not be so satisfied to stay here. If only I truly realized how much He is eagerly anticipating my arrival, my attitude might not be quite so complacent. If I could actually picture how wonderful heaven is, I would not cling to this place, because it is only a poor shadow of what’s coming.

Heaven is my true home.

I’m not in a hurry to leave, but it’s going to be awesome when I get there!

But our citizenship is in heaven... Philippians 3:20a

You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.                                                                                       Psalm 73:24-26

Further reflection:

  1. What do you love best about this life?
  2. How do you think heaven will be different?
  3. What do you feel when you think about going there?

Father, heaven becomes more precious all the time as people that I love join You there. Thank You that this life is not the end of things, it isn’t even what we were created for! We were created to know You, to love You, and to worship You. In heaven, someday, I will be able to do that perfectly. Then, I will finally be truly home.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Finishing Well

“Yes, I can!” Seven-year-old Lisa shouted at them.

It was summer and another family camping trip was underway. Fifteen cousins provided eleven years’ difference in ages. The hikes we took were designated as either for “the big kids” or “the little kids”, depending on its length and level of difficulty. As you can imagine, the kids themselves did not always agree on which group they belonged to!

We were at Big Sur (on the coast of California) when some of us decided to hike to four- mile creek. Since the mountains made for some challenging trails, the “big kids” didn’t think Lisa could make it, much less keep up. That’s what started the disagreement.

I could see Lisa hesitate a bit, wanting to go but fearful that she may have bit off more than she could chew. Leaving the choice up to her, my only stipulation was that there would be no whining if she went. She decided to go for it.

Turns out that what we thought was a four-mile hike was actually four miles…each way! It was also a warm day, adding to the fatigue factor. Every time we thought that surely we were reaching that creek, we found another bend in the trail and the creek seemed farther away than ever. I was growing tired too.

To her credit, Lisa kept her end of the bargain. When she got tired she took a deep breath, but she never gave up, and she never complained. The anticipation of finishing the hike and proving her cousins wrong kept her going.

Lisa and I may not have been the first ones back to camp. We just may have been the very last ones. But the point was not to beat the other kids, but to finish.

I was so proud of Lisa, and the huge smile on her face told me she felt pretty good about it, too. She didn’t even rub it in that she was right, and her cousins had been wrong.

That day I learned something: there is always a cost to achieving a goal.

As followers of the Lord Jesus, our goal is simple: follow Him. Simple, but not easy.

There is the cost of time. In this fast-paced world we want immediate results, but it takes time to get to know Jesus personally. Time to learn His word and His plans for us (John 5:39). Meanwhile, other things clamor for our attention, making it easy to convince ourselves we’ll get to it at some point. But just like with any relationship, we cannot follow someone we don’t know. And we can’t know Him unless we make time to do so.

There is the cost of energy. While any goal worth achieving is worth the effort it takes to make it happen, we have a finite supply of energy. Usually it’s pretty easy to articulate what our priorities are, it isn’t always as easy to allocate our energy accordingly. Weariness can rob us of motivation; keeping the goal in mind is essential (Galatians 6:9).

There is also the cost of perseverance. Following Jesus can be hard! Sometimes the way seems all uphill. Just when we think we’re there, life throws a curveball and we realize that the road is a lot longer than we’d imagined. Things happen that we never anticipated; ill health, financial worries, relationship issues. Only by fixing our eyes on Jesus can we keep on keeping on (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Like Lisa, I want to finish well, and without whining.

I want my life to honestly reflect this truth…

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.                                                                                                              Acts 20:24

I want to be able to say…

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day…                                                                              2 Timothy 4:7-8a

Following Jesus is the goal. Simple, but not easy.

Further reflection:

1. What is the biggest goal you have for your life?

2. What do you think God’s goal for you might be?

3. When you think of seeing Him at the end of your life, which do you think you will wish you had pursued?

Father, there is nothing that matters more than following You. I want that more than anything, but sometimes it’s hard. Please, help me to finish this race well, so that someday I, too, can say that I kept the faith. For Your honor and glory alone. I love You.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Good Father

It was 4:00 in the morning when the phone rang. Never a good thing.

Turns out that when our daughter, Bethany, had got up to go to work shortly before, she found the front door standing wide open. Two of our three dogs had bolted for freedom, and were nowhere to be found. She woke her brother, Derek, so he could start the hunt. It was Derek who had phoned us, calling in reinforcements.

husky 3

My husband, Alan, jumped in his car to help in the search.

My part was to pray. I felt a little like one of the kids in our children’s ministry who always ask us; “Would you pray for my sick puppy?” And of course we do pray, but always with a smile, grateful that it’s the biggest concern they have.

I laid there, pondering that feeling. “Isn’t that what children do?” I wondered.

“Don’t they ask their father for the things that are important to them? Don’t they ask him to fix those things that they can’t fix?”

So that’s what I did; I asked my Father to direct Derek and Alan’s steps so that they might find our dogs. Who knew how long they had been gone? A husky and a lab can get pretty far in a short period of time. Nevertheless, as His daughter, I asked Him to do that for me and for my son.

So why should I be surprised when a mere 20 minutes later they walked in the door, dogs in tow? I knew exactly Who to thank—my Father!

As God’s children, we have every right to ask Him for things. He encourages us to approach with the faith of a little child, whose “…angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:10). He promises that we can “…approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

So how do kids ask for things? Without hesitation, without doubt, and without fear. Nothing is too small for them to bring to the Lord. Because they know the one they are asking loves them.

He is a good Father.

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!                                                                                                                         Matthew 7:9-11

Further reflection:

  1. Have you ever hesitated to ask God for something because you considered it frivolous? What was it?
  2. Why did you hesitate?
  3. Write Matthew 7:9-11 down on a 3x5 card, and memorize it. Whenever you hesitate to bring any request to God, bring it out and read it again as a reminder that He is a good Father.

There are times, Lord, when You answer my prayers in such a way that I have to laugh! Only You encourage us to pray, believing You will answer, and then do it such a way that we so clearly recognize Your hand in it. You are a good Father, and I am grateful to be Your daughter.