On Waiting…

waiting

I have done some serious waiting in my life.

Looooooong plane rides.
12, 13 and 16 hour rides.

Long layovers, too.
24 hours in Singapore.
12 hours in Detroit.
(Guess which one felt longer?)

Long car rides.
12 hours.
14.
24.

Interminable waits.

Waiting while a friend is labor.
Waiting for the bride and groom to show up to the reception.
Waiting for the contract to be accepted on my house.
Waiting to be the bride.

Some of those were easier than others.
The ones that were easiest were the ones with the known variables.
Known ends.
The flight will land at this time.
The destination will be achieved in this many hours.
The layover will end at this time.

The hardest ones were (and are) the ones where the end is not known.
Are we almost done waiting?
Or are we not even half-way there?
Has this waiting really just begun?
Or do I get to arrive sometime soon?

Of course, the world pandemic of COVID-19 fits in that second category: the great unknown.
Which is what makes it so hard.

Will we go back to school this year at all?
When will the borders open?
When will I see my family again?
When can people get back to work?
When will my parents and other loved ones be out of danger?

Unknowns.

You know, there were a ton of people in the Bible who had unknowns.
And long, long waits.
We know the ends of their stories.
So it is easy to breeze past their seasons of wait.
But THEY didn’t know the end of their story.
And yet they faithfully waited.
Serving while they waited.
Praising while they waited.
Being faithful while they waited.
And yes, crying out to God while they waited.

Some of them NEVER saw what they waited for so patiently.
I think of the Israelites when they were slaves in Egypt.
There were 430 years between the time Joseph’s family moved there and Moses led them out.
How many of those years were slavery?
It is unclear.
But many for sure.
Many, many YEARS where they cried out to God for deliverance.
And they waited.

Many of those who looked for the Messiah waited without seeing as well.
Isaiah, Micah, Zephaniah and tons of other prophets all “saw” him in their prophecies.
But they never physically laid eyes on him.
There were hundreds of years between the visions they saw and the reality of fulfillment.

I think of Joseph.
He told a fellow prisoner who happened to be a high-ranking official in Pharaoh’s court the meaning of his dream. And he said, “When that dream comes true, don’t forget me here in prison.”
The dream came true; the guy got his job back.
And promptly forgot to remember Joe.
For two years he completely forgot about him.
Two. Years.

I think of Noah and his family.
They knew the rains were coming.
But they had no idea they were going to be in that boat with all those animals for over a year!
There were “only” 40 days and nights of rain
But then days turned to weeks and weeks turned to months as they floated.
Just floated.
Fed the animals.
Dumped the poo.
Fed them again.
And repeated it all the next day.
And the one after that.

Waiting.
It is a theme ALL through the Bible.
David was crowned king as a boy and didn’t take the throne for decades.
Moses spent 80 years in training for the 40 years he spent with ungrateful people.
Simeon literally waited his whole long life to have the Messiah in his arms.
Over and over again, God’s people have waited.

Even now, we are waiting.
Jesus promised to return.
To kick out the evil.
To make a new heaven and a new earth.
To make all things new.

It hasn’t happened yet.
But it will happen.

But He is waiting, too.
Waiting for hearts to turn to Him.
Waiting for us to do our jobs.
Waiting for the world to hear about Him.
Waiting for us to actually obey.
He is patiently waiting.

And in the meantime, He is our hope in the wait.
In EVERY wait.
Because one of His names is “Alpha” or “Beginning”.
And another of His names is “Omega” or “End”.

He IS the Beginning and End of ALL things.
Including this virus.
This wait.
These seasons.
These conditions.

It is ALL in His hands.
And He has allowed it for our good and His glory.
The evidence of Him.

And so we wait on Him.
As the psalmist put it, we watch Him like a servant watches for a master’s slightest signal.
The flick of a wrist.
The lift of an eyebrow.
The slightest motion of a finger.

We wait on Him.
We watch for Him.
We seek His ways.
His timing.
His response.
How He would have us love in His name.

Because the most amazing thing happens as we wait on Him.
As we let go of our timetables.
And our expectations.
As we throw up our hands and admit our lack of control.
As we humble ourselves before Him.
As we wait on HIM.

He renews our strength.
He strengthens tired knees and weak hands.
He restores souls.
And refreshes the weary.

So this wait is one of the hard ones.
We have no idea when it will end.

But there are things we KNOW to be true, even as we wait:
He is the Alpha and Omega of all things, including these circumstances.
He has promised to work even this out for our good and His glory.
We have a job to do, even as we wait.
The world is LITERALLY dying and going to hell without Him.
And right now, they see it.
The feel it.
They fear it.
So redeem this waiting time, please.
PLEASE.

Pray for opportunities to share His love.
Then trust Him to give you the words when He opens the door of opportunity.
Don’t preach a sermon.
Just share what He has done for you.

Pray for the hearts and souls of those who do not know Him.
Ask Him to put willing voices in their ears. And willing ears in their heads.

Pray about what lessons He wants to teach you during this time.
What good habits do you now have time to foster?
What bad habits do you now have the energy to break?
How does He want to change you in the wait?

Spend time in His Word.
Spend time listening to Him.
Let Him whisper to your heart.
And let Him change you from the inside out.

Don’t waste the wait.
The world needs you to use it to become a stronger soldier for the King of Kings.
Whatever you do, please don’t waste the wait!

COVID-19, Two Roads and Us

fork

Thoughts that lead to life.
Thoughts that lead to death.

I’ve written about these before.
But it bears repeating.
Especially now.

The trails start in the same place: with a thought that crosses the mind. Often associated with an emotion. And in our current world, the emotion is usually fear. Or frustration. Or loneliness.

But let’s go with fear.

So the thought might be,

“This virus situation keeps getting worse! It is never going to end. And even when it does, nothing will ever be the same.”

Let’s first stroll with that thought all the way down the trail marked

“Thoughts That Lead To Death”:

“This virus situation keeps getting worse! It is never going to end. And even when it does, nothing will ever be the same.”

“I need to protect myself! I have to look out for me. I better go to the store and get as much ____ as I can.”

“And I don’t know how we are going to pay for stuff right now. We don’t have enough to cover all this. What if (fill in the blank here with the financial worry on your heart)___ ? How will we make ends meet?”

“And what about my elderly parents? Their bodies can’t fight this well. And the kids I know who are medically fragile. What is going to happen to them?”

“This is hopeless.”

“I’m so scared.”

“I just need this to be over. If only the ______ would ______!”
(Government would ____; People would ____; Banks would ______ Etc.)

And then you are swamped by something. Panic. Fear. Anger. Loneliness.

And you don’t know what to do with that emotion.

So you turn to your favorite vice.
Or you yell at your kids.
Or you sit in the dark and cry.
Or you post a diatribe on Facebook.
Or you mindlessly scroll Facebook.
Or you binge watch something on Netflix.

Anything to escape your own brain and release some of that emotion you are left with at the end of the spiral.

UGH. Thoughts that lead to death!

But!
There is a different way!
There is a fork in this road. And the other trail is marked

“Thoughts That Lead To LIFE!”

It begins with the same thought:

“This virus situation keeps getting worse! It is never going to end. And even when it does, nothing will ever be the same.”

But God is still here. He is still in control. He is still on His throne. He is still trustworthy. He is still able.”

“It doesn’t FEEL that way right now. But the Truth is, I have never, ever been in control. I can be as wise as possible in my actions, but He is still God. Still sovereign.”

“So yes, I will wash my hands. Sneeze and cough into my elbow. Wipe down stuff.”

“But I will also submit. Submit my fears to God. And myself to the authorities in my life. God placed them there. So I will yield.”

“And I will find ways to serve.
That may look like trusting God enough to share some of my bounty with people in need.
Or maybe that is posting encouraging stuff on Facebook.
Perhaps that is praying regularly for someone. Medical professionals. The people around the world who are grieving. Medically fragile folks. The people who don’t know Jesus and have no hope. The missionaries who are now stuck wherever they are around the world.
I will take my eyes off of me and look for needs I can meet.”

“And I will be thankful.
I don’t know how this is going to turn out.
And it is scary.
But I have a HUGE God who is able to meet all my needs. And today I have what I need. Food to eat. A roof over my head. Electricity. Running water. Hot and cold running water. Technology. People who love me.
So I will be thankful.

“And I will not worry about tomorrow.
God knows when this is going to end.
And He has promised to work all things together for my good and His glory.”

“And because I know
God loves me,
that He is in control,
and that He will bring good out of this,
I can be at peace. Calm.
The storm is raging. But He is in the boat with me. And He will either calm the storm or He will calm me. But either way, I can trust Him.”

“Because He is good. And everything He does is right.”

“He is still on His throne.”

“And He has filled my life with blessings.”

“So I will praise Him no matter what.
His love for me is not contingent on what I do or do not do.
So I refuse to make my love for Him that way.”

“I will trust His heart, even when His hand confuses me.
I will believe in His goodness, even when my feelings scream opposite things.
I will trust Him with all my heart, leaning not on my way of thinking or what I see, feel or even think I know. Instead, I will acknowledge Him in all my ways. And I will thank Him in advance for how He is going to direct my steps.”

“Now, how can I show what I believe?”

And I find someone to bless.
Or I spend time in the Word or reading an uplifting book.
Or I spend time in prayer.
Or I find a project that will make someone else smile.
Or I post something uplifting.
Or I turn on praise music as loud as the neighbors can stand.

Thoughts that lead to death leave me hopeless, helpless, in despair.
Thoughts that lead to life leave me full of praise, thankfulness and hope.

Not because I am good.
But because HE IS GOOD.

I cannot stop the stream of thoughts.
But there is always, always a fork in the road when they come.

One trail leads upwards.
Towards sunlight and green pastures, still waters and peace.

And the other leads downwards.
Towards darkness and fog, jagged rocks and steep cliffs.

The Shepherd beckons our thoughts onward and upward.
He is leading to higher ground. He goes before us in that direction.

The enemy of our souls beckons our thoughts downward.
To a pit of despair that will shut up our testimony and shut down our serving.

Which path will His sheep take?

On COVID-19 and The Gift of the Holy Spirit…

gift

Guatemala announced its first cases of COVID-19 Friday.
We sent the kids home with all their stuff, including textbooks.
And sure enough, yesterday the President announced that all schools here are canceled for at least the next 21 days.

Is God surprised by this pandemic?
Has He suddenly lost control?
Did this sneak up on Him?

Of course not.
He knows.
He knows your details.
And He knows mine.

He knows that no one from the U.S. or Canada is allowed to come in after Sunday.
He knows that there isn’t adequate running water in many places in this country to wash hands properly.
He knows all the mission trips canceled, all the people and ministries impacted, all the fears and concerns.
He knows how long this will last.
He knows the economic impact.
He knows.
He knows – and He has it all under control. Truly.

Friday my Bible lesson for 3rd and 4th grade turned into talking about fear and Coronavirus and the Holy Spirit.

All week we had been studying how Peter was transformed from a coward to mighty mouthpiece for God, simply by the addition of the Holy Spirit to his life.
How he went from denying the Lord to leading a worship service where 3,000 got saved.
And how we too can be transformed from fear-filled to faith-full.

That was the content of the lesson for the week.
But the application on Friday was what that looks like when you are 8 or 9-years old – or much older than that – and scared.
What does it look like to trust God in this time, in this place, in this global crisis?

And I shared with them how God’s Spirit is NOT one of fear but instead HE is the Spirit of Power, Love and Self-Control. (2 Timothy 1)
So if you are a follower of Christ, you have already been given all that you need for life and godliness. (2 Peter 1).
You received the gift of the Holy Spirit at salvation.
And with that gift comes unlimited power.
Unlimited love.
Unlimited self-control.

Power to battle back the negative emotions and the “what-ifs”.
Power to love other people and put their needs ahead of our own.
Power to rest in His strength, the knowledge of who He is, the certainty that He is in control.
Power to take every thought captive to Christ. Every worry. Every fear. Every time.

The Spirit of Love that says, “You first” instead of “Me first.”
Love that says, “No, I probably won’t get it. But if I stay home, I will lessen the chance of YOU getting it.”
Love that says, “How can I help? What can I pray about for you? How can I put feet to my prayers, too?”
Love that shares instead of hoards.
Love that seeks to help, not blame.

All wrapped up in the package of self-control.
Controlling our fears.
Controlling our tongues.
Controlling our thoughts.
Controlling what we post.
Controlling our responses.

Because the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in me.
The same love that held Him to the cross flows through me.
The same self-control that kept Him from calling down 10,000 angels to intervene keeps me together.
And you, too.

It is a gift.
He did NOT give a spirit of fear.
But He DID give the good stuff.

Or rather, the Good Comforter.
The Good Power Source.
The Good Help In Time of Need.

So now it is up to me to unwrap the gift.
To not just acknowledge His presence with my mouth.
But to live the truth that I am indwelt by the God of the Universe.

I can cling to the spirit of fear that is pervading society and trying to pervade my heart.
Or I can rest in the Spirit of the Living God.

I can feed the spirit of fear.
Or I can feed my faith with the truth of Scripture, the Bread of Heaven and the Living Water that flows through me.

I can act like fear is my honored guest, allowing it free access to every thought, every corner of my heart and all of my actions.
Or I can treat it like the hostile invader that it is and use the power of Almighty God to take it captive.

What does that look like practically?

I replace each fearful thought, each time it crosses my mind, with a fact about God, a truth from His Word, a record of His faithfulness, a promise He has made.
And then I fill my mind with what is good: praise songs, sentences from Scripture, and memories of His faithfulness that I have seen in my life.

Which one will you do today?
Feed your fear?
Or kick it out every time it tries to return and feed your faith instead?

You already have all you need to do the second.
Because You have NOT been given the spirit of fear.
But instead You have inside you the Spirit of the Living God.

Please, please, unwrap the gift and use it. Use Him.
You will be so glad you did.
And the watching, dying, hopeless, fear-filled world will see a difference in you. They will want to know what you have. And you can share the hope instead of the fear.

May COVID-19 cause us to die to self, die to fear, die to selfishness.
May it cause us to live for Him.
So that the world may know Him, too.

Fear and Faith: A Conversation

Fear vs Faith conversation

Fear says, “If I don’t do this, they won’t love me.”
Faith says, “I will do this because I love them.”

Fear says, “If I lose control, I will have to do damage control.”
Faith says, “I will give up control because it is an illusion anyway.”

Fear says, “If I don’t do it, it won’t get done.”
Faith says, “God will supply all I need, including this.”

Fear says, “The worst-case scenario is where we are heading.”
Faith says, “The only worst-case scenario that exists is God abandoning me – and that won’t ever happen.”

Fear says, “Where will I find the money?”
Faith says, “My God will supply all my needs.”

Fear says, “What if I get sick?”
Faith says, “God always heals. It is simply a matter of when and where.”

Fear says, “You will always be alone.”
Faith says, “You are never alone.”

Fear says, “Batten down the hatches! A storm is coming and we may not survive!”
Faith says, “I know the Master of the wind and waves. He will either calm the storm or ride with me through it.”

Fear says, “Guard yourself. Don’t love too much. They will take advantage of you.”
Faith says, “Love in the way God loves you. He will protect you. You don’t have to protect yourself.”

Fear says, “If you don’t take care of you, no one else will.”
Faith says, “God is my Father who will always take care of me.”

Fear says, “If God really loved you, you wouldn’t be going through this tough time.”
Faith says, “Great parents allow pain in limited portion for their children when it serves a greater purpose.”

Fear says, “God will never give you that good thing you want because you don’t deserve it.”
Faith says, “I deserve nothing and yet look at all the good things He has already given. If He withholds that, He has a good reason for it.”

Fear says, “Look out for number 1.”
Faith says, “Play for an Audience of One.”

Fear says, “Life will never get better.”
Faith says, “This life is the worst it will ever be. Heaven is waiting and my hope is sure.”

Fear says, “You are not enough.”
Faith says, “Amen. I am not. But greater is He that is in me than he who is in the world. And HE is enough.”

Fear says, “You can’t run. You might fall.”
Faith says, “Not only can you run, you can fly.”

Fear says, “But see how dark it is.”
Faith says, “What a great opportunity to reflect His light!”

Fear says, “Your to do list is overwhelming.”
Faith says, “That is why my Father and I will do it together, one step at a time.”

Fear says, “He won’t come through.”
Faith says, “Look at His track record.”

Fear says, “Grasp your life and all your stuff tightly.”
Faith says, “Lay it all down and watch what He does.”

Fear says, “Death wins.”
Faith says, “It is already defeated.”

Fear says, “Control it.”
Faith says, “Cast it on Him.”

Fear says, “Worry about it.”
Faith says, “Worship through it.”

Fear says, “Fretting is helpful.”
Faith says, “Freedom is found in surrender.”

Fear says, “It ALL depends on me.”
Faith says, “It ALL depends on Him.”

Fear says, “What if…?” and imagines the worst.
Faith says, “What are we waiting for?” and believes for the best.

Fear says, “Who says??”
Faith says, “God says. I believe. Enough said.”

Compelled.

cats

I love my house.
I love the hardwood floors and the décor I chose for every room.
I love the stuff in it – some old, some newer, some cast-offs, some I purchased.

I love my yard.
I have worked hard over the past ten years to turn it into something beautiful.
Gardening as therapy.
Time with the Lord.
Time in the dirt.
Making something gorgeous out of nothingness.

I love my car.
The freedom it brings.
The gas mileage.
And especially the color – royal blue.

I love my cats.
I have had them since they were 6-weeks old.
And they will be 13 this year.
They have been my comfort in loneliness their whole lives.
Making me laugh.
Curling up on my lap.
Greeting me when I come home.

In a totally different way, I love my family.
My parents, who are not perfect, but have loved me well.
My sister, who is one of my closest friends, and her family.
My nieces, who I have watched grow into wonderful, godly women.
I love laughing with all of them.
Spending time at the house I grew up in where they all live together.

I love my friends.
God has blessed me with amazing girlfriends.
They make me laugh.
They listen to me rambling on.
They let me be perfectly me, accepting me as I am and loving me anyway.

And I love my kids.
I love hanging out with Gi, watching videos on my phone.
I love that he runs to greet me, little arms extended.
I love that he trusts me as a second mommy.
I love spending time with my kids from church.
Talking with them about the Lord.
Hearing how they have applied what they have learned in their lives.
Walking with them through struggles.

And I love my grown-up and growing-up Grow Zone kids.
I love seeing them walk with the Lord as adults.
I love seeing them minister in His name.
Making an impact for the Kingdom as they grow.

So why in the world would I leave all that?
Why would I give up my house?
My garden?
My car?
Time with family and friends?
All that is familiar and safe?

Why would I give up a job that pays well and has awesome benefits in a well-established ministry?
Why would I go to living on the kindness of monthly supporters instead of the guarantees that came with my paycheck?

Because I am a super-saint?
Absolutely not.

Because I fell in love with Guatemala?
Nope. I do love it here. But it will never have all those things and people in it.

Because of a mid-life crisis?
No. That is my little joke. I turn 50 this year so it seems like maybe that is the motive.

None of that would keep me away from the comfort of home, the security of my job, the house and yard I have poured into, the convenience of living in my culture and most of all, the people I love.

There is only one reason that makes the sacrifices worth it.

My “sacrifices” pale in comparison to the sacrifice of the Lamb of God on the cross.
For the people of Guatemala.
And the world.

If this life was all there is, I would not be here.
I would be in Maryland, making all the money I could, investing in all the stuff I could, living it up with all the people I love.
I would be seeking my comfort and happiness above all else.
I would be grabbing for all the goodness this life has to offer.

But if this life was all there is, there would not be a heaven.
And there would not be a hell.
An eternity with or without God.
And people would not be important. Their eternal destiny would not matter.

But there IS a heaven.
And there IS a hell.
And eternity is real.
And so is God.
People ARE important.
Because they are the only earthly “things” that will last.

This world will burn one day.
It will be destroyed by the same Creator who made it.
My house will be destroyed.
My landscaping, car, and possessions, too.
My money will burn.
My cats will be long gone.
All of it will go.

But people?
People live forever.
Either with God.
Or without Him.

And the people I love in the U.S. know Him already.
So I am guaranteed to spend forever with them.
Laughing, loving, being myself.
Hanging out.
Enjoying the new heaven and the new earth.
And enjoying them.

The people in the U.S. who don’t know Him have incredible resources available.
Radio, TV, the internet
Books in every form
Churches
Preachers
And the freedom to hear it all, accept it all, live it all

But millions of people around the world don’t know Him
Don’t have access to the incredible wealth of knowledge and info and access that the U.S. has
They haven’t heard
Or they have heard a distorted, untrue message.
They don’t know
And they need to know.
Because eternity is on the line.

So there is only one reason I am here.
Paul put it this way:
“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”

Compelled.
I have been loved extravagantly.
Born into HUGE amounts of wealth, just because I was born in the U.S. (No, I don’t feel wealthy. But I am.)
Born into freedom.
Born into a home where Jesus was taught from day one.
And born again into the family of God by Jesus’ incredible sacrifice.
I have been given MUCH.

How can I grasp all that, clutching it to my chest, while the world dies and goes to hell?
How can I call myself “poor” and “unable” when the reality is that I am rich and available to go?
How can I withhold the truth of the Kingdom for the sake of my comfort?
How can I live like this life is all there is when I preach the Word that says it will all burn up?
How can I ignore that Jesus said to ALL His followers to go into ALL the world?

I can’t.
Can you?

You may not be called to physically go to a different country.
But you are also called – compelled – to make sure the gospel goes out from wherever God plants your feet.
If you are not called to physically go, then you are called to physically enable those who are going.
By prayer
By financial support
By emotional support
By loving them and cheering them on
By helping in every way you can to get the gospel everywhere it needs to go.
By giving to your local church
By giving to ministries outside of it
By seeing the need at your front door
And the one across the world.

A big job?
Yes.
A God who is big enough to use even you and me to accomplish it?
Yes.

My heart lives in many places around the world.
But my eternity is secured in only one place – the heart of God.
The love of Christ compels me.
Will you let it compel you?