Sunday, August 30, 2015

Why Take Perspectives?

We are convinced that God has a ‘world-sized’ role for every Christian in His global purpose. Whether people go to distant countries or stay at home is a secondary issue. The primary issue is what most people are hungry to discover: vision to live a life of purpose. Discovering that purpose makes this course valuable, and perhaps crucial, for any Christian.  (from the Perspectives Study Guide)

We learn about who God is, and what His global purpose is, through His word, the Bible.  Perspectives begins at the beginning, focused on God.  Out of 15 classes, five of them, or 1/3, are centered on the Bible and what it reveals to us about who God is. 

So often we want to jump right into action.  We want to be a part of what is going on and so we rush ahead, inviting the Holy Spirit to come along and bless our work.  We become frustrated and disillusioned when our big plans fall flat, draining us as the demands become greater and greater.  Where are You, God, and why aren’t You helping us help all these people?

Instead of beginning with a call to action, Perspectives begins by showing how the ‘action’ has been going on long before we ever showed up.  Reaching into all the world was not our idea, it was God’s.  He has been at work since before the foundations of the earth, seeing His purpose fulfilled.  This is not about us.  It was never intended to be. 

This can be difficult since many of us have become accustomed to reading the Bible as consumers.  'God has a wonderful plan for your life, and the Bible is full of promises for you.'  While this is not completely false, it turns the tables, making us the focal point.  As if the Creator of the Universe dances attendance on us, obligated to give us blessings on our terms if we humor Him with some tithes and good works.

God has amazing plans for our lives, there is no question.  He had an amazing plan for Jesus’ life, too.  A plan which included the cross.  That amazing plan brought us salvation, praise be to God! 

But Jesus’ primary purpose was bringing His Father glory (John 17:4). Jesus’ life and ministry were focused on His Father, which is why He sometimes did things that baffled His disciples.  Jesus bore our sin, defeating death and opening a way for us to be reconciled to the Father, all for His glory.  

The Bible tells us that through His obedience, God glorified the Son, giving Him the name that is above every name so that at His name, every knee would bow in heaven and on earth.  Yes, our salvation is wrapped up in the story, but we are not the main point.

This is why I feel Perspectives is so valuable, because it trains us to read the Bible seeking God first. Learning about what God has done, what He is doing, and what His word says He will do, changes how I see things.  It changes my… perspective!  It is only when I align my purpose with God’s that my life will be wonderful.  

When God’s glory is our purpose, our lives will be significant.  Now, and then for eternity, as we take our places with some from every tongue, tribe, language and nation, worshiping our Living Missionary God! Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty!!

Join us this Fall to learn more!  
Classes start Tuesday, September 1 at 7:00pm 
at Grace Covenant Church in Harrisonburg, VA.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Locust Years

I will restore to you the years
    that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent among you. (Joel 2:25)
I think most of us can relate to ‘locust years’.  Days, months, and yes, years, which seem fruitless, ruined.  When no matter what we try to do, nothing goes completely right.  Failure is the norm, and pain is never far from the surface. The locusts come in and feast and we are left bare and barren.

Joel 2:25 is often used as a comfort, an assurance that God has promised to restore those lost years.  Joel gives us a picture of restoration which can bring hope in the midst of our famines.  We had it read at our wedding ceremony, and it is often quoted looking back after going through a valley.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. 
But, it is easy to overlook an important part of what the verse is saying.  God says the locusts are “my great army, which I sent among you”.  Why are the locusts there?  They didn’t just happen to appear, they were sent.  And sent by God Himself. 

We often think that all the difficulties we go through are contrary to God’s will for us. We think God’s purpose is for us to be happy and comfortable, and to have lives free of trials.  This verse (and much of the Bible) seems to say something different. 

The Israelites experienced their locust years due to disobedience and sin.  God had clearly told them that running after idols was going to cause problems.  That living defiantly, unrepentantly, would result in punishment.  The locusts came in the form of conquering armies, sweeping them away into exile. 
I believe that at times God sends us locusts, too.  Sometimes as punishment, or as a warning, or as a way to purge idolatry from our lives. 

The locusts come and devour everything.  Nothing is missed as they sweep through.  All of my defenses and strategies for pretending everything is okay disappear.  Raw and naked, I find myself crying out, not recognizing my idolatry and need for God’s correction. 
When I do, the pain overwhelms, driving me to my knees.  Against You, You only have I sinned... and sinned and sinned again.  The realization of my unfaithfulness reminds me again of the great faithfulness of our God.
And, oh, what consolation to know we serve a faithful, loving and just God!  Because even in the midst of the swarm we can trust that He knows exactly what He is doing.  He knows which type of locust is needed, and for how long they need to feed. 

For example, if it was up to me, I would be content with letting the locusts nibble on my sin, kind of weakening it, but nothing more.  What is needed, however, is the destroyer to come in and consume it all, tearing it apart, utterly obliterating it.  Only when it is killed will I find peace and restoration.
When the consuming swarm has passed and all has been stripped clean, I will be ready to be clothed once more.  And we are promised that God will do so, in garments of salvation and with a robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10).

This is our great promise:  When the locusts have done their work, God will restore us.  He will restore us in ways not possible without the locusts' feast.  Because through them, those things that weigh us down are destroyed. 

The locusts clear the way and our shame will be removed.  Then, the lips which now groan will be able sing out praises to the Lord for the wondrous way in which He has dealt with us.

As difficult as it can be, I praise God for the gift of locusts years.  They consume, yes, but because of God's great mercy, we remain.  All glory to our great restoring, redeeming Lord!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Standing Up

This is not an anti-Mother’s Day rant, although it may seem like it. 

This week I have read a couple of articles and had a couple of conversations about the veneration of mothers in our culture, specifically our Christian culture.  It ranges from the ridiculous to the well-intended, but disturbingly unbiblical. 
I saw a church sign that said, “’Blessed is the mother who gave you birth’ Luke 11:27”. This seems like a nice sentiment.  Unless you read the surrounding verses.

Because the context of that statement is a woman who shouted it out to Jesus from the crowd.  His response was a reprimand of sorts, “blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (vs 28).  Some may think I am being nitpicky, but I find it troubling that a church would misuse scripture in this way.   

I read an article which stated that there is a special place in heaven for mothers who send their children away to be missionaries.  I could be wrong, but I do not believe there is any biblical evidence which supports that. 
It sounds nice, and from the comments, made readers tear up.  But, mothers, even self-sacrificing mothers, are not singled out as deserving of more praise than anyone else.  (And, yes, I know about Proverbs 31!)

My own experience with Mother’s Day is far from a Hallmark card.  My mom died almost 20 years ago.  My first Mother’s Day after her death, I went to the church I had been attending on and off.  As is typical in many churches, the moms in the congregation were invited to stand.  Youngest mother, oldest, mother with most children… Many kind and touching words were said. 
I sat in my pew, by myself, crying.  Not a mother, and with no mother of my own, as the women around me stood, I felt isolated and somehow less.  Very honestly, it was a long time before I went back.

I have not given birth, and I never will.  Sweet people tell me not to say that, assuring me they know of those who have had children in their late 40’s.  God can perform miracles.  They assign to me a grief I have not expressed.  Saying I am okay not being a mother leaves them awkwardly searching for words of comfort I do not need. 
That is me, but I have friends who desperately do want to be mothers.  Who have tried by every means possible to do just that.  Their anguish is intense, the questions unanswered.  Why not? Why not me?  

I have friends who have lost a child, through death, through adoptions that ‘fell through’.  I have friends who are struggling as mothers.  Children who are not growing up as planned, who raise their voices to curse, not bless.  Heartbreak, heartache, the day of celebration is like ashes.  Everywhere they look they seem to find reminders of their loss. 

There is nothing wrong with being thankful for being a mother, for thanking God for your own mother, for celebrating and acknowledging the important role of mothers.  God created that role, and it is, indeed, a blessing.  My concern is that we have taken and elevated this, turning Mother’s Day into worship of the created, not the Creator. 

What would happen if instead of having all the moms stand up, we would keep Mother’s Day out of the worship service altogether?  If instead of singling out a select group, we would encourage each other to “hear the word of God and keep it”? 

What if the sanctuary could be just that – a place of refuge and safety from the world’s definitions and values?  A place of holiness focused on the one thing that does, in fact, set us apart.  Nothing we are or do, but only what we have been given freely, through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. 

The Bible is filled with examples of ‘good’ mothers and not-so-good ones.  It is equally filled with stories of non-mothers – other men, other women, who have good and bad qualities.  Each human, born into sin, ends up failing. 

Only One stands alone as perfect and worthy of our veneration.  In Him we have been given the most amazing role of all.  We are called children of God, and that is what we are.  And that is worth celebrating today and every day.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Resolving Cacophony

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”   (Genesis 11:4)   

And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech.” (Genesis 11:6-7)

In His mercy, God once again stops humans from going too far.  It is easy to read this story with jaded human eyes and think God was worried for Himself.  Like the flood, just short chapters before, God takes decisive action, not for His sake, but for humanity’s.  He knows that the corruption and evil will continue to grow, spiraling out of control. 
Unchecked rebellion against God does not lead to freedom and happiness, but to slavery and destruction.
When we seek to set ourselves up as the center of creation, we, too, end in confusion and cacophony.  We have been created in the very image of God.  No other created thing has been given such an honor – or responsibility.  Adam and Eve were given dominion over the rest of creation, not to puff themselves up, but to lovingly care for it.  Instead of being content with that incredible role, they believed the lie that they deserved more and better, and that God was withholding the good stuff from them.

The story of the Bible is a story of God reaching down and saving us from ourselves.  From our sin and depravity that insist that we are the ones in charge, not God.  From the inevitable slavery and devastation that our rebellious actions produce.
The Bible is filled with stories of God lovingly redeeming brokenness. We see this again in the story of Babel.  Back then, the single language was fractured, scattering the people in confusion.  Their feeble attempt to reach the heavens literally crumbles away, the name they made for themselves synonymous with senseless gibbering.   

But, in His mercy, God allows us to look ahead, giving us a glimpse of the end of time.  And what we find is those same people, speaking a myriad of languages and coming from every corner of the earth, drawn together as one multitude, once again. 
Instead of having to work hard, building a tower with brick and tar, striving and straining to reach the heavens, we will be invited to come freely and make our home there.    
Have you ever heard an orchestra warming up?  Trills of the flute are interrupted by blasts of the tuba.  The violins add their noise as each is plucked and tuned, the occasional clash of a cymbal adds to the discord and confusion.  Only at the ‘tap tap’ of the conductor’s baton does the cacophony resolve into soaring melodies. 

In the same way, at the call of our Great Conductor, all tongues, tribes, languages and nations will be gathered before the Throne and before the Lamb.  The distortion and confusion will end, and the evidence of our rebellion will be transformed into worship.   We will proclaim the Name above all Names, giving Him alone honor and praise and glory.
The work has begun.  On Pentecost God allowed people from many places to hear Peter’s words in their own language.  The work continues as new groups of people hear the Gospel and join their voices in lifting up praise to God.  Each day more and more voices are added to the great chorus. 

But the work is not yet done.  Jesus promised that when it has, when all have heard, the end will come.  The end of senseless accidents, brutal killings, of anguish and pain.  Do you yearn for that day?  The day when every tear is wiped away? 

We have been commissioned to be a part of bringing that day to fruition.  Will we be faithful?  After all,  what could be more significant than to be a part inviting others to be a part of that amazing melody?    

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10)

Saturday, April 4, 2015


I try to imagine what the disciples and women must have felt like today.  The intensity of yesterday’s events has left them exhausted.  They sit staring at nothing, starting at every sound, sure they could be dragged away to their own deaths. 

For moments they almost forget, but then it crashes down on them once again – Jesus is dead. 

Shock, horror, their chests constrict, breathing shallow and painful.  Hope has gone, flowing away in water and blood.  Their world covered in darkness, the very ground shaking under their feet.  There is no comfort, no solace, no words to say.

Those who do not yet know that Jesus is alive are still living on that day in between His death and resurrection.  How bleak, how void of hope, to just trudge through a life without Him.    
We know.  We know what tomorrow will bring.  Not because we have more faith, but because we have been gifted with the knowledge.  Those very disciples who today shudder, will tomorrow proclaim the truth that reverberates to this day. 

We rush to Easter, and with good cause.  Today feels bad.  As awful as yesterday was, there was something to do, something to see.  We have traveled from the Upper Room to Gethsemane to Herod's palace to Golgatha and the cry My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?  We are spent.  Listless. Exhausted from the journey. 

We yearn for Easter and so we push past today.  But, today is where many in our world are living.  They see stories of horror but cannot comprehend them.  They get through their days, perhaps filling them up to force some kind of meaning into them. 

When they allow themselves to reflect, they quickly back away.  Meaningless to work hard, make a legacy, even to do good, since in the end there is just the blackness of death.

I encourage us to take time today to be in this place of hopelessness.  It may sound wrong or even heretical, but I encourage us to try to imagine a world where Jesus is dead.  Where what we see around us is the only reality and where there is no future.  Where the tomb is sealed up, and with it, hope. 

Where Jesus was a great moral teacher who did some pretty incredible things, but in the end, was just a man.  A man who died.  Just like all of us will.

Of course, we know the truth of tomorrow, but for just a time, let us pretend that we do not.  I know it doesn’t feel good, but that is the point. 

My prayer is that abiding here will move our hearts once again for those who have no Easter sunrise.  For whom tomorrow is no different from today. 

My prayer is that tomorrow will be brighter for the time we spend in darkness today.  That glimpsing the flat, lifeless vista of a world without Christ will strengthen our resolve to proclaim Him, risen and reigning. 

The world is stuck in today.  Let us experience this, and allow it to break us.  Allow it to seep in, pushing out the lie that anything other than Jesus Christ can heal and bring hope.  We know tomorrow is coming.  But, for today, let’s allow ourselves to remember why we need it.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

First Love

This morning I read My Utmost for His Highest as I do every morning.  “Beware of anything that competes with your loyalty to Jesus Christ.  The greatest competitor of true devotion to Jesus is the service we do for Him.” 
It occurred to me that for the first time in nearly a decade, I was reading those words while not being in paid ministry.  When your full-time job is sharing Jesus, it can be a real temptation to put service ahead of Jesus.  To read the Bible looking only for your next lesson.  To lose the joy and yes, the love, while trying to bring light into darkness. 

Now that my paid job is not ministry, my ‘greatest competitor’ has shifted.  But, the ‘beware’ is still needed.  There is still much that competes for my affection and true devotion.
“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love…”  The wandering is not exclusive to one vocation or another.  To one country or set of circumstances.  It’s not even a ‘modern’ problem that the church in the ‘good old days’ didn’t face.

Nearly 2000 years ago the church in Ephesus was praised for all its hard work, for its tireless holding onto the truth.  “Yet I hold this against you:  You have forsaken the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4). 
It all comes back to that first love.  The love given to us by God, intended to be given back to Him as our best offering. 

First love has a component of joy, butterflies in the stomach, giddiness.  That rush of emotion just thinking about the other.  Some people want to hold onto it in that stage.  They flit from relationship to relationship when it gets ‘routine’ or boring.

I think we sometimes feel that, over time, our relationship with Jesus is destined to lose that early passion and settle into the ‘Oh hey, it’s you’ of an old married couple.  If that’s all it becomes, no wonder we start to look for thrills elsewhere.
As the Trinity, God has been in perfect communion for all eternity.   Father, Son, Holy Spirit, each giving love and glory to the others.  I think we sometimes picture the Trinity as this ethereal floating light.   Our minds cannot comprehend Three-in-One and so we leave it in the abstract. 

But, love in the abstract isn’t really love.  The love we see demonstrated in the Bible is dynamic.  It is active and engaged.  It sings plants and planets into existence.  It breathes life into mud.  It bursts out in pulsating, radiant beauty.  It is joyous and dancing, and yes, passionate. 
Love also becomes angry and jealous when its beloved seeks another lover.  It is righteous and just, unable to tolerate wickedness and sin.   Love weeps and bleeds.  Love even dies.

This is the love we are invited into.  Love that is sometimes glorious, sometimes inconvenient and even painful.  But, love that always points back to the perfect love of God.
Whether or not I am in ‘formal’ ministry, I know that keeping my eyes fixed on my first love is the only way to safeguard against the baubles and bling of false idols like comfort and doing my own thing. 

Because this ‘first love’ is not the pale, broken version we humans manage to achieve.  Infused with the Holy Spirit, this love is powered by the eons’ strong love of God.  Creative, wonderful, all-encompassing, love. 
I want to learn to love with this ‘Trinity’ love.  Love that seeks the glory and good of the other, while graciously accepting the same.  Love that sacrifices all, confident that I will be filled again. 

“We love because God first loved us” (I John 4:19).  That is ‘first love’.  Love that created the world, love that created a way back to Himself after that same world rejected Him.  Love that will bring us Home, to experience first love, for all eternity.          

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Be Glorified

Exactly one year ago we were standing in line outside the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo.  We had left Jarabacoa at 4:30am, driving the two hours in darkness.  
Parking is always interesting in the capital.  Even though we parked on a public street, we had to pay a self-proclaimed parking attendant 200 pesos (around $5.00).  To refuse to do so meant risking an ‘accident’ where our car might be keyed or a window broken or a tire slashed.  I’ll take very good care of your car, señor.
We had spent many hours putting together the various documents we needed, and now we were going to turn in the application for Carlos’ Visa. 

Our Washington D.C. attorney had told us the process would likely take 6-8 months once the application was submitted.  In my mind, however, God was going to show His glory by allowing us to do it all in just one day.  They would review our massive stack of documents and be so impressed that they would pass us through. 
What an incredible story we would have to share of the miracle God worked!  It was going to be awesome.
We walked up, the manila folder of documents clutched tightly to my chest.  More than 100 people already stood outside of the Embassy, even though it didn’t open until 8.  Carlos had told me to expect this, but it was still a surprise.  We were asked why we were there, and sent to a much shorter line.  Oh, yeah, my plan was coming together!

For the next 30 minutes the lines continued to grow.  Families with little ones dressed in fancy clothes, nervous-looking young couples holding two and three photo albums, Carlos even saw a professional baseball player!  Dominicans don’t need the 18-inch personal space bubble we North Americans like, so the amount of people pressing in was incredible. 

At 7:30 the official staff members came out, dressed in dark blue polo shirts and khaki pants, Embassy identification badges around their necks.  Here we go!  The people in front of us were asked a few questions, then given tickets and sent up the ramp to go inside. 
Finally it was our turn!  Why are you here?  I’m a U.S. citizen applying for a Visa for my husband.  In my mind I was thinking Did you get that?  This is my Embassy.  I belong in there!  I smiled confidently.

No, no.  Not today.  That window is only open two times a week, from 8am until 11am.  You need to come back tomorrow.
I smiled and thanked her.  What else could I do?  Getting angry or trying to argue wouldn’t accomplish anything.  Being rude to the person standing between me and the Embassy door was not wise, especially since I was one of very few gringas in line, making my behavior more likely to be remembered.

See you tomorrow then.  Frustrated and disappointed, we turned around and went back to the car.  The attendant was surprised, as we’d been gone less than an hour.  Next time you come it will be free, señor.  We smiled and thanked him, all three of us knowing that was a lie.
That was the beginning of a journey that took far, far longer than I anticipated.  The return trip the next day would also be unsuccessful.  It would be another month, and four more early morning trips, before our initial application was finally submitted.  Several months - and another two-inches of documents - would be necessary before the Visa was ours.

Looking back I can see how my plans, my timeline, my way, were short-sighted.  Yes, God could have worked it out so that we sailed through the process in one short day.  As Carlos frequently reminded me, no government can stand in the way of God’s plans. 
But, I am thankful that He desired more for us than just the easy way.  Because there were so many things we needed to learn through the process.  Things about trusting Him.  Things about going through difficulties and disappointments as a married couple.  And yes, things about God’s glory.

Now, I look out at another year.  Once again I find myself dreaming about how God is going to be glorified.  Once again I am tempted to assume that means things will unfold with few problems or barriers, and of course with immediate and overwhelming success.  Could that bring God glory?  Sure.  But, I have a feeling that might not be how it all unfolds. 
Regardless, I want my prayer to be God, be glorified.  In Your way, in Your perfect timing.  God, be glorified in my life, in my successes, even in my failures.  God, be glorified.