“Whatever Happens…”

“Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. I never get tired of telling you these things, and I do it to safeguard your faith.” – Paul, from jail, to the believers in Philippi

Whatever happens globally…
2020
Corona virus
Lockdowns
Infighting
Racial horrors
Financial distress
More infighting
Wildfires
Mask wars
Elections
Political maneuvering
Wars and rumors of wars

Whatever happens personally…
Unfulfilled expectations
Unmet desires
Cultural adjustments
Online teaching
People letting you down
Loneliness
Doubt
Fear

“Whatever happens…rejoice in the Lord.”

I used to think that “rejoice in the Lord” was simply another way to say “praise the Lord”.
And I do believe that is part of it.
But as I have chewed on what it means to “rejoice in the Lord” I have come to realize it is bigger than remembering to be thankful, bigger than praising Him for His attributes, bigger than singing a praise song.

Those things are good, important, even vital.
But rejoicing IN the Lord…I think that is reveling in Him.
Enjoying Him.
Craving Him.

Have you ever hung out with someone that you just enjoyed being with?
I think of time spent with some of my favorite kids through the years, playing silly games, singing songs, snuggling sleeping babies.
I think of perfect days with friends, laughing, sharing, sometimes crying but just enjoying time. Sometimes over coffee. Sometimes over games. Sometimes over shared experiences.
Just enjoying them.
Reveling in the time, the presence, the joy.

I think that is what it means to “Rejoice in the Lord.”
Literally enjoying life with God.
Reveling in what it means to be His friend. His kid. His beloved.
Hanging out with Him.
Loving being with Him.
Every moment of every day.

Opening my eyes to see His fingerprints everywhere.
Gorgeous sunrise? “Way to God, God! That’s a good one.”
Someone says something funny? “Did you hear that one, Lord? It was a good one!”
Getting back safely from a drive anywhere? “Thanks, God, for your protection.”
Getting ready to answer an email, a message, a phone call? “Thanks that You go before me into this one, Abba!”
Having a conversation with a person? In a parallel conversation in my head, “Abba, You know her heart. Give me wisdom on what to say – and when to shut up.”
Looking in the mirror in the morning? “Well, Lord, it’s not what I would like to see. But thank You that inner beauty is way more important. Make me beautiful today by Your definition, please!”
A delicious snack? “Thanks for this, Abba!”
And everything else.

Moment by moment, heartbeat by heartbeat, enjoying Him.
Reveling in Him.
Seeing Him all around.
Acknowledging Him in all of it.
The fun stuff.
The daily grind stuff.
The hard stuff.
The no brainer stuff.
Inviting Him in.
Chatting with Him.
And being quick, quick, quick to give Him praise in ALL of it.

“Abba, my heart is breaking right now. Thank You for being the glue that holds me together.”
“Lord, I am not feeling heard or understood. Thank You that You do both.”
“God, I feel the need for vindication. Thank You that that is Your job and not mine.”
“God, I don’t know what to say, what to do, how to address this. Thank You for the wisdom You will give.”

Reveling in Him.
Soaking in Him.
Hanging out with Him.
Whatever happens, rejoicing IN the Lord.

Because the way Paul finishes Philippians 3:1 is so, so true:
“I never get tired of telling you these things, and I do it to safeguard your faith.”

The enemy is always, always on the prowl, always looking for an ear to fill with lies.
“God is not good. He isn’t looking out for you. He doesn’t know what He’s doing. You can’t trust Him. You are better off on your own….”

But a heart that is busy reveling in her best friend doesn’t have time, space or inclination to let those whispers even land, let alone take root.

When I stop rejoicing in the Lord, when I stop looking for His fingerprints, when I stop the ongoing chat that fills my days, when I choose sin and block that flow of fellowship temporarily – that is when those lies not only take root but they grow quickly into temptation that rapidly sprouts sinful choices.
Suddenly, my mind is filled with what I deserve, my rights, my desires and how I have been wronged.
How others are so hard to deal with.
How my life is so much less wonderful than yours.
Selfishness. Pride. Bitterness.

Motives are questioned.
People are denigrated.
And joy leaks out like the air from a punctured tire.

Rejoicing in the Lord is a safeguard for my faith.
Delighting in Him because He is delightful, delight-worthy, is a protection for my spirit.
And I am much less likely to sin when I am busy marinating myself in the wonder of Him.

That is why Paul expounded on this idea again in chapter 4 of Philippians.
“Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS, and again I say, REJOICE!”

But what about those hard things, those hard times, those emotions that swamp me? Fear, regret, jealousy, anger, resentment…what about those?

The very next verses address those times:
Don’t worry about those things. Instead, pray about them! Tell God EVERTHING – and give thanks while you do it! And when you do that, His peace will replace all of those things. It is what He wants to do! That way you can get back to reveling in Him – and everything that is worth thinking about. Things that are “true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

Full circle, back to delighting in Him.
Back to reveling in His character, even when I cannot explain His conduct.
Back to believing He is for me and not against me, even when I am walking in the dark.
Back to knowing that if He loved me enough to die for me, surely He loves me enough to give me all I need to live.

It’s been a hard season.
But if Paul can revel in the Lord from prison and can exhort us to do the same, I know it is possible.
Not by my own strength.
But by the grace of God and through His power, I can choose to rejoice in the Lord.
And so can you.

“Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. I never get tired of telling you these things, and I do it to safeguard your faith.”

Words From A Hero

My life at the moment is ridiculously busy. Teaching online is not for the faint of heart!

And, while God is teaching me stuff “along the way”, there is nothing I can share here yet.

So, since I have no encouraging words to share this week, I thought I would offer you a set of quotes from one of my heroes, Corrie ten Boom.

Corrie was born in 1892 and was about my age when World War II broke out. Because of their faith, she and her family worked together to hide Jews in Holland from Hitler’s Gestapo. They were eventually found out.

Corrie’s father died in prison and her sister died at Ravensbruck, one of the concentration camps, where the two of them were sent. Corrie was eventually released due to a clerical error and spent the rest of her life teaching, writing and serving others. You can read her story in “The Hiding Place”.

Keeping that context in mind, here are some of her thoughts about life, the Lord and walking with Him. I hope they bless you as much as they bless me!

“Don’t bother to give God instructions, just report for duty.”

“You can never learn that Christ is all you need, until Christ is all you have.”

“Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?”

“What wings are to a bird and sails to a ship, so is prayer to the soul.”

“It is not my ability, but my response to God’s ability that counts.”

“This is what the past is for! Every experience God gives us, every person he puts in our lives is the perfect preparation for the future that only he can see.”

“The measure of a life, after all, is not its duration, but its donation.”

“Faith sees the invisible, believes the unbelievable, and receives the impossible.”

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

“Trying to do the Lord’s work in your own strength is the most confusing, exhausting, and tedious of all work. But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the ministry of Jesus just flows out of you.”

“There is no panic in Heaven! God has no problems, only plans.”

“When I try, I fail. When I trust, he succeeds.”

“Worry is a cycle of inefficient thoughts whirling around a center of fear.”

“When we are powerless to do a thing, it is a great joy that we can come and step inside the ability of Jesus.”

“Faith is like radar that sees through the fog — the reality of things at a distance that the human eye cannot see.”

“We never know how God will answer our prayers, but we can expect that He will get us involved in His plan for the answer. If we are true intercessors, we must be ready to take part in God’s work on behalf of the people for whom we pray.”

“My job was to simply follow His leading one step at a time, holding every decision up to him in prayer.”

“Whatever in our life is hardest to bear, love can transform into beauty.”

“The wonderful thing about praying is that you leave a world of not being able to do something, and enter God’s realm where everything is possible. He specializes in the impossible. Nothing is too great for His almighty power. Nothing is too small for His love.”

“Jesus can turn loss into glory.”

On Heart Goals…

I recently read a devotional that asked:
“What is your heart’s goal on a daily basis?”

I sat and pondered my answer.
What I say they are.
Contrasted with what they really are when my actions speak louder than my answers.

I considered how others I know might answer the question.
Not what they would say.
But what their lives express.

And I realized that these would be some of the potential answers for me and for others I know:

Daily Heart Goals:
To be liked
To be loved
To be pretty
To be skinny
To bulk up
To be a good teacher
To be a good friend
To be a good boss
To be a good employee
To get married
To stay single
To belong
To be successful
To be sought after
To be effective
To be busy
To be less busy
To be noticed
To be heard
To see justice done
To be merciful
To protect others
To protect myself

Cries of the heart.
True goals of the heart.
Again – not what is stated.
But what is lived.

But then I had to ask myself the original question:
What is the daily goal of MY heart?

And even more important – no matter what it is today, what do I want it to be?

And the only answer I could come up with that satisfied my soul:
To stay in step with the Spirit of God.

I desperately need Him.

Because in my interactions with people – even those I know well and love best – I can’t read hearts, minds, or motives.
My view is skewed, always, by my own filters and my own lack of knowledge.
What part of the story am I missing?
What is the truth?
Did that person have a terrible experience that is skewing their view?
Are they wrestling through something awful?
What is their perception of me?
What is their perception of themselves?
What baggage and filters do they bring to the table?
I really have no idea.

Honestly, I don’t even really know my own heart at times!

And because my view is skewed, any goal other than staying in step with the Spirit is flawed.
I do not see the big picture.
I do not know the end from the beginning.
I do not know what is best for me.
Or for them.

But I know the One Who does know all of that.
The One Who desires to be my Good Shepherd. Their Good Shepherd, too.
Who has said, “Humble yourself. Put Me first. Recognize how little you know and how little you are compared to Me. And then, after you have faced that reality, cast all of your cares on Me. I see it all. I know it all. And I love you passionately. So I will take care of it all. Stop worrying what others think – or do – or know – and focus SOLELY on what I think. I’ll take care of the rest!” (I Peter 5:6-7, Kathy-phrased)

So I can most definitely work towards things.
Like beating my body into submission.
Taking every thought captive.
Being a life-long learner so I can be a life-long teacher.
Choosing to die to self with every action.
Putting your needs ahead of my own.
Recognizing sinful thoughts, words, deeds and repenting of them, quickly and consistently turning to walk in a different direction.

Those things take effort.

But that is the beauty of it:
When my goal is keeping in step with the Spirit of the Living God, everything else falls into place.
It is HIS power that does all that work that needs to be done.
It is HIS voice that tells me to do it!
It is HIS prompting that says, “Get going!” Or “Stop!” Or “Where did that thought come from? It wasn’t Me!”

He is the One who gives me the grace to see it from your point of view.
But to also value His opinion above yours.
He is the One who gives me the ability to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”
And to love you as He has loved me.

He is the One who pours through me so I can be characterized by love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Goodness. Kindness. Gentleness. And Self-Control.
The One who will cause the hallmarks of my life to be His fingerprints.
And He is the One who will give me the power, grace and strength to let go of what you think. Or what I think you think.

Are there things about me that I would LOVE to change, goals I would LOVE to accomplish?
No doubt.

But neither those goals nor your opinion can be the driving force of my life.

At best, I am a weak and foolish sheep.
A flower quickly fading.
Dust.
Powerless.

So my ONLY goal HAS TO BE keeping in step with the Spirit of God who dwells in me.
Listening for His voice.
Getting to know Him better through the Word. Through prayer. Through worship.
Practicing instant obedience so that we can move on to the next thing and not get stuck mastering this one area.
Being quick to listen to HIM, slow to speak and slow to become angry.
Bowing the knees of my heart constantly and consistently.
Keeping short accounts with Him. When He nudges me to repent, doing it instantly.
Recognizing that He does not need me to accomplish His work in this earth.
But that He has given me the privilege of being useful to His Kingdom.
Not because I am wonderful – but because HE is.

This is freedom.

All the other goals can quickly become chains.
And what I think you think of me is definitely a chain as well.
But walking hand-in-hand with the Spirit?
Listening to His counsel and practicing instant obedience?
Considering HIS opinion above all others?
That is freedom.
That is joy.
And that is the abundant life Jesus offered.

Thank God For Clouds

I did one of my favorite things yesterday.
I sat and watched the sunrise from my tiny porch at my apartment in Guatemala.
What a blessing!
I didn’t know when I would be able to return.
Some said the earliest would be October.
Others said January.
But God said, ‘’Mid-September, just as you asked.’’

And I am blown away once again by His kindness.

The sunrise yesterday was gorgeous at first.
But then clouds rolled in, obscuring it.
I could still see glimmers of the glorious light show that was happening behind the clouds.
But most of it was obscured from my view.

And I realized how very, very much that represents life right now.
For many of us, life is extremely complicated and extremely filled with unknowns.
And while God has answered MANY of my questions in incredible ways, I still have more.
More questions.
More things I am waiting for.
More things I cannot see.
Things I do not know.

But here’s what God impressed on my heart yesterday morning:
The sunrise was still there, whether I could see it or not.
I could not see the whole picture that I wanted to see.
But I could see enough to know that it was happening.

And I had a choice.
I could rail against the clouds – the things I could not control that were obscuring my view.
Or I could enjoy the glimmers I did see, celebrating them in spite of the clouds.

And more than that, celebrating the faithfulness of the God who created them.
And who allowed them to block my view.

The God who ‘’works for those who wait for Him.’’ (Isaiah 64)

The sun was rising, even though I could not see it as clearly as I wanted.
And God is working, even when I cannot clearly see it.
And even when I cannot see it at all.

I knew the sun was rising because I could see the effects.
The sky was growing lighter.
The blue was growing deeper.
The shadows were fleeing.

I know that God is working in the areas of my life where I have no sight because I can see the evidence in the places where He is plainly seen.
In my life.
And in the lives of others.
So I thank God for the clouds, even though they made the sunrise less spectacular than I wanted.
Because they pointed me to the God who is more spectacular than I can comprehend.

Will you join me in thanking God for the clouds?
They may obscure your view, but they will never stop God from working.
The Son has risen.
And the glory of God will rise until the day the whole world bows before Him.
And in the meantime, we get to see glimpses of what He is up to as we wait for that final glorious day to dawn.
After that, there will be no more dawns because there will be no night.
Just the light of His glory shining.
So we press on, waiting in hope, even when we cannot see.

Thank God for the clouds.

Testimony Time!

2020.
What a year!

And yet, when I look back at this year, and particularly this past summer, I see the faithfulness of God.

Psalm 107:2a says, ‘’Has the Lord redeemed you? Then speak out!’’ Let me ‘’speak out’’ just some of what I have seen Him do. May my eye-witness testimony encourage your heart.

I planned to come home in April to clean out my house, get it ready for market, do all the things needed to list it.
And COVID-19 closed that door.

I planned to keep renting my place for another year just because of market uncertainty.
But a series of events closed that door.

I planned to come back to Maryland in mid-June to deal with my house.
But that ticket was cancelled.

Throughout this time, I had no idea how I was going to pay my bills.

In fact, that was true of the entire 2019-2020 school year.
Due to circumstances beyond my control, 10 out of 12 months, from the time I left in August to go to Guatemala to the time I sold my house this past August, my income was not sufficient to meet my expenses.

But I never got behind on a single bill.
Every month God showed up.

I bought a ticket to come to Maryland at the end of June. A nasty itinerary with an 18-hour layover, but at least a way back.
Shortly after I bought it, the airline added a direct flight to DC. I was able to change my ticket with no fees, no issues. Went from 22+ hours of travel to a nonstop, 4.5-hour direct flight to DC.

The day after I landed in the U.S. I “just happened” to run into friends from church.
One of them offered me the use of their brand-new basement apartment.
They had gotten final use and occupancy that week.
The only thing it didn’t have?
Kitchen stuff.
Which, of course, I had.

And, since God loves the details, He arranged it so that my kitchen stuff matches the décor of the apartment.

A few days after I got home, friends approached me, telling me of their interest in buying my house.
I never listed it.
I never had to show it.

And they bought it “as-is”.
I made no repairs.
I did no cleaning.
I painted nothing.

Six weeks after I landed, the house was sold.
99% of my possessions were dealt with, given away.

And even in that, God worked in awesome ways.
Thrift stores are taking minimal donations because everyone cleaned out during the quarantine.
Yet God provided people and non-profits to take it all.

I needed to do some adjustment with an organization that was coming to get stuff.
I had the phone in my hand, getting ready to call an 800 number to navigate the process.
I was dreading it – trying to get to a human being, dealing with being on hold, figuring out who I needed to talk to – and as I sat there, getting ready to dial, my phone rang.
They were calling me to confirm.
I was able to make the changes without any effort on my part at all.

I needed to finish raising my funds for the year.
Without churches meeting in person.
With people being in huge amounts of financial uncertainty.
Unofficially, I am at 100% of my needed support. (The online tracking needs to catch up with the promised giving…)
Officially, I am at 76% of my needed support.

The airport in Guatemala was supposed to open June 30.
It didn’t.
It was supposed to open at the end of July. It didn’t.
So I started praying then, asking to get back in mid-September.
At the time, officials there were planning a staggered re-opening: first in-country flights only; then Central America only; then international flights.
So the prognosticators were saying October at the earliest for people like me. Many were saying January.
But I kept asking specifically for mid-September.

When the airport did not open as scheduled on September 1st – the only hope I had of getting back by mid-September – I took a deep breath and instructed myself: “Kathy, sometimes God says ‘no’ and sometimes He says ‘wait’. His timing and ways are perfect. So trust Him and keep waiting with a happy heart.”

And then came word that the airport is opening on September 18th.
This coming Friday.
With no gradual reopening.

I asked for mid-September.
It looked impossible.
And God made a way where there seemed to be no way.
I am scheduled to land at noon on Friday.

And there’s even more!
But in the interest of conserving words, let me just say that I have seen God do impossible things. All school year long. And particularly this past summer.

Jesus said, “Put My interests ahead of your own and watch what I will do to provide. You are so easily consumed with the unimportant stuff, the things that NONE of the rest of My creation worries about. But if you will let go of your kingdom to focus on Mine instead, I promise I will take care of the rest.” (Matthew 6, Kathy-phrased)

And He has.
Oh, how He has!

If you weigh my current choices with the philosophy of the day, they are sadly lacking in “wisdom”.
But Paul put it this way: “The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God…This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength.” (1 Corinthians 1)

The ‘’foolishness’’ of the cross:
Deny yourself. Live for God’s agenda. Follow in His footsteps. Die to self.

Impossible to do in our own strength.
But the way of the cross is the ONLY way to resurrection!
You have to die in order to experience resurrection power.

And not just on the day you trusted Christ to be your Savior.
That day you gained eternal life. Guaranteed.
But every day that you walk in obedience, every day that you die to yourself, every day that you hold ALL of your life in open hands before Him – those are the days that you gain the abundant life that Jesus promised.

My biggest concern as I write this is that you will think that this kind of thing, these kinds of provisions only happen for us “professional Christians” – pastors, missionaries, etc.
But the reality is that I am not something special.
I am a stubborn, foolish, stinker of a girl, a sinner saved by grace alone.

But God?
God is wonderful.
He is faithful, good, kind, able, near and utterly powerful without my help.
He does not need me.
But I am desperate for Him.

And that is my testimony.
Look at God!!

On Seeking First The Kingdom

Worry.
It consumes us.
And yet, Jesus gave us the antidote to it.
He not only said, ‘’Don’t put your energy there”, He also gave us a place to redirect it.
He said told us to use the energy that it takes to worry and replace it with seeking first the Kingdom of God. (Matthew 6)

I have been thinking a lot on what that means.
How do we seek first His Kingdom?
I don’t know about you, but I am sick of worrying.
Exhausted from the soundtracks that loop in my mind; the “what if” scenarios that are always humming if I let them.

Here is the “how to” that I have learned:

First, you have to acknowledge that there IS a Kingdom of God.
That it is bigger than you
And eternal.
That this world will burn.
But that His Kingdom will never end.

But that acknowledgement can’t just be head knowledge.
It has to change your posture.
In order to seek HIS Kingdom above yours, you MUST bow your knee to the King.
Bringing with you all that you are.
And are not.
All that you have.
And all that you want.

Surrender.
Living the truth that there is a Kingdom that is more real than anything your five senses can comprehend.
That it is a Kingdom at war.
And that you are ALREADY on one side of the battle or the other.
Even when you don’t realize it.
You are either with the King or against Him.
There is no middle ground.

And, once you have acknowledged the reality of the King and His Kingdom by humbling yourself before Him, you have to live as a citizen of that Kingdom.
Obeying His rules.
Not what you want Him to say.
But what He has actually established in His Word.

You don’t get to decide which portions to obey and which to toss.
You don’t get to redefine His definitions.
You don’t get to cherry pick what you consider to be the good, comforting, lovely parts while ignoring the tough stuff.

And if you are going to live by Kingdom rules, you have to actually study them.
More than just a cursory glance on Sunday through the lens of the preacher.
But for yourself.
Saturating yourself in the Word.
Checking ALL other voices against it.
Asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate it.

Because there is no such thing as neutral.
For Him or against Him. That’s it.

But then what you find in His Word has to be lived out daily.
Otherwise, you are saying you are seeking His Kingdom, but you’re actually living for your own.
Which makes you act like a traitor to the King.

For example, when He says, ‘’Respect the government because God puts in power the leaders of His choosing”, you do it.
When He says, “Defend the widows and orphans, do justly, love mercy and walk humbly in my Kingdom”, you do it.
And when those two principles feel mutually exclusive, you don’t lean on your own understanding, your feelings or the way the wind of culture is blowing.
You ‘’trust in the Lord with all your heart’’ as you ‘’acknowledge Him in all your ways” while you trust Him to “direct your path”.
So somehow you do both.
Speaking when He directs.
And shutting your mouth when He says so.
But always, always, loving as He loves.

By the power of the Holy Spirit.
You live what the Word of God says.
Allowing Him and it to instruct, convict, correct and train you. (2 Timothy 3:16)

And not just in that case.
But in so many others where the Truth of the Word meets the stickiness of life.
You seek first His priorities and agenda. As they are laid out in His Word.
While laying down your own wisdom.

That is the simplicity of seeking first His Kingdom.
Obey the King.
And let Him worry about the consequences.
In your politics.
In your relationships.
In your sex life.
In your finances.
In your parenting.
In your dealings with your parents. Or your kids. Or your neighbors. Or your boss.
In your workplace.
In your playtime.
In every area of life.

One Kingdom or the other.
No neutral.
For Him or against Him.
With Him or not.

The remarkable thing?
This Kingdom thing actually works.
Take it from me.

I can shout with the Psalmist that I have “seen in my history the faithful love of the Lord”.
As the old hymn says, ‘’I have proven Him o’er and o’er.”

I can testify:
He will blow you away with His kindness, His mercy and His unfailing love.
He will hold you as you cry.
Help you when you fall apart.
Provide for your every need.
Rejoice over you with singing.
Fill your life with good things.

But don’t take me at my word.
Take Him at His.
Seek first His Kingdom.
And see what He does.

On Homesickness and Living Hope…

I have never in my life been this displaced.
I have moved out of my house completely and it is sold.
I am living temporarily in a beautiful basement apartment provided by friends.
And eventually I will move back to my apartment on campus at the school where I teach in Guatemala.

But I don’t know when.
I have tentative plans of returning in a few weeks.
I am hopeful that the airport will be open.
But I don’t know for sure.

So I am living between worlds.
Trying to enjoy all that the U.S. offers that Guatemala does not – like people I love here, foods I can’t get there, and the differences in the scenery.
All the while looking forward to what awaits me there – people I love there, the ministry God has called me to, different foods, scenery and weather.

But really, I am living between three worlds, not just two.
Because the U.S. is not perfect.
And neither is Guatemala.
Both are wracked with pain from the results of sin.
Some of the pains are very similar because, after all, people are people.
Others are strikingly different.
But both places, both cultures, both sets of issues make me cry out, “How long, oh Lord, how long?”
And “Come, Lord Jesus, come!”

My heart longs for my real home, where I can see Jesus face to face.
When I can touch the scars in his hands and kiss them in eternal gratitude.
When I can see the Father’s glory and fall on my face before Him.
When I can fellowship with the Breath of God, the Holy Spirit, in person.
When I can sit down and talk with David about Goliath, with Joseph about his life in Egypt, with Peter about what it feels like to walk on water and with Mary about what Jesus was like as a kid.
When, as one of my favorite authors would say, all my question marks will be yanked into exclamation points.

I long for that home.
More than I miss Guatemala when I am in the U.S.
And more than I miss the U.S. when I am in Guatemala.

I long for the day when I get to worship with people from every tribe, tongue and nation.
When I get to see loved ones who have gone before.
Where my body will no longer wrestle with sickness and disease.
And my soul will no longer wrestle with sin.

Keeping my eye on that home, my heavenly destination, is how I deal with all the ick of this one.
It is easy to fall into despair in these times.
So easy.
And yet, Christ-followers have hope!
Eternal hope
Living hope
Life-altering hope.

This life is NOT all there is.
Yes, we have work to do here until God calls us home.
Yes, we will deal with pain and suffering here for as many years as He has determined for each of us.
Yes, we have to live with the effects of sin. And they are ugly. Deadly. Horrific.

But C.S. Lewis said that this life is the title page of the book.
The title page!
It is just the introduction to real life, eternal life, sinless life.
And sooner than we might think, the hand of God will turn the page.
And the real story will begin.
The story of eternal joy
Eternal celebration
Eternal fulfillment
Eternal peace.

To my fellow Christ-followers – can I stand on my soapbox just for you for a moment?
Yes, for you personally.
Pretend we’re having coffee.
And listen to me, please, I beg you:

We have the message of HOPE!
We have the message of eternal life!
Because every single person you meet – ALL OF THEM – are headed to one of two places: heaven or hell.
And YOU have the life-giving answer – the knowledge of the way that they can be guaranteed access to heaven!
So instead of using your energy to fight about politics or masks or elections or race or anything else, what if you used all your creative energy to share the hope of Jesus?
To woo and win souls for Christ?
To simply be a witness of what He has done in YOUR life?
To love people until they ask you why.
To shine. To be kind. To forgive. To live the power of the cross, which is forgiveness, and the power of the empty tomb, which is hope.

I am homesick, yes.
Longing for a home I have never seen.
But my dearest friend is there, not only waiting for me, but preparing it for me.
And it is going to be glorious!

But I am also heartsick.
The enemy is winning souls for hell left, right, and center.
He is shutting down Christ-followers by distracting them with a thousand other things.
And he is feeding the hopelessness and despair in the people who don’t know Jesus, convincing them that life is not worth living and that there is no answer.
According to a report on the radio this week, calls to suicide hotlines have increased 800% in the past few months.
People are silently screaming at the top of their lungs for hope.
They are starving for the Bread of Heaven and dying of thirst for a drink of Living Water.
We, those who follow Jesus, have the answer!
We have living hope to share!

That hope is not a feeling.
It’s not even man-made solutions to issues.
It is a relationship with the Living Lord.
The One who gives us what we need to face each day.
The Author if all wisdom, who gives it freely when we ask.
The Shepherd who guides us step by step as we walk with Him.
The One who gives us the power to keep looking ahead.
The One who is passionately for us, who longs for us to long for Him.

Are you, Christ-follower, homesick for heaven?
Let that drive you.
Let it be the passion that causes you to take as many people with you as you possibly can.
God left the job of telling them with you.
He’ll give you all you need to get the job done.
You just have to be willing to open your mouth and spread hope.
Will you? Please?

Who Is He?

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
Charles Swindoll

What does come to mind when you think about God?

Maybe you see the angry judge, seated behind the imposing courtroom bench, scowling down at you, the guilty party, gavel in hand, ready to bring it crashing down with a death sentence.

Maybe you see the soft-hearted, arms-open version of God with the word “Tolerance” on His lips and many paths – or all paths – leading to Him.

Perhaps you see the dozing, ancient man in a rocking chair with his watchmaker’s tools at His side, covered in cobwebs since He set it all in motion long ago but no longer is concerned.

Or do you see the frantic God, sitting at a switchboard in heaven, panicking over the calls coming in, unable to meet the demand of billions of people praying at the same time?

Perhaps you see Him with some biblical accuracy – but then you see yourself, off to the side, rejected and unable to join in the fellowship happening around His throne.

Maybe you see Him as a God with split personalities, angry and violent in the Old Testament and yet soft and squishy in the New.

There are so, so many misconceptions out there about Who God is.
What He wants from us.
What it means to belong to Him.

Partly because He is unfathomable in many ways.
A mystery beyond our understanding.
He even says that about Himself!
He declared through Isaiah, ““For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

But even as He is shrouded in mystery in many ways, He is also able to be very, very known.

He reminds me of the ocean.
If I stand on the shore and look at the crashing waves, I can see many attributes of the ocean.
I can feel the power.
Taste the saltiness on my lips.
I can see the splendor of the colors, the waves, the beauty of it all.
I can see just of few of the creatures who make their home there – or at least evidence of them.
But for all I can see and experience, there is more.
Depths I cannot explore.
Creatures I cannot even begin to imagine.
Underwater features that would amaze me.

But for me to understand those things personally, it would take time.
Equipment.
And investment.

I can know them through the lenses of others who have done the exploring, the studying, the investigation.
But I will never know it for myself unless I do it personally.
I can get to know the depths of the ocean vicariously.
But that isn’t the same as me exploring it for myself.

God is vast, powerful, creative, and yes, even terrifying.
He is beyond my comprehension.
And yet He invites me to dive in.
To take the time to know Him as He is.
As He is revealed in His love letter to me, His Word, the Bible.
It takes time.
And investment.
And even the equipping of the Holy Spirit.

But it is so, so worth it to know Him as He is and not who I think He is.
To begin to examine the facets of His character.
To start to explore the depths of the Truth about Him.
To live in the tension of not fully understanding and yet falling in love a little bit more with every bit that He reveals.

Seeing Him as He is:
The God who loves justice. Is furious with sin. Is completely and utterly holy. And who punishes sin with death.
And the God who loves mercy. Is passionate about sinners. Longs for a relationship that does not violate His holiness and yet allows us entrance to His presence. Who punished sin with the death of His only Son so that I could stand before Him without fear.

The God who does things and allows things that I do not understand and never will on this side of eternity.
And the God who is completely and utterly good, right in all He does, without flaw.

The God who chose to not make us robots so that we would willingly enter into relationship with Him.
And the God who bears the thousands of ways we reject Him every day and still waits for us with open arms.

The God who allows suffering because we are not robots.
And yet promises to redeem even the worst things in our lives for our good and His glory.

This is the God of the Bible.
All this and so much more.

So yes, I agree with Mr. Swindoll.
My perception of God is the most important thing about me.
Do I know Him as He truly is?
Or as I want Him to be?

Do I seek to know Him in Truth?
Or do I conveniently re-create Him in my image?

Do I let Him be the guide of my life, the rule-maker, the Sovereign King?
Or do I simply pay Him lip service while I do my own thing?

Do I see Him as a loving Dad, passionate about me, fighting for me, loving me too much to let me stay the way I am?
Or do I see Him in some other negative way?

Do I flinch when I think about seeing Him face to face sooner rather than later?
Or do I look forward to that day with deep joy and anticipation?

I challenge you.
I challenge me.

Get to know God as He is.
Ask Him to show You Himself through His Word.
Do your best to look with fresh eyes and a refreshed heart.
Put aside your preconceived notions.
What others have said about Him.
What YOU have always said about Him.
And seek Him for Who He is.

If you aren’t sure where to start, I have some suggestions.
Read (or reread) the book of John, looking for His character, looking to know Him.
Then check out Romans, too.
Perhaps the last few chapter of Job for good measure.
And the last few chapters of Revelation as well.

I dare you to do it.
You will be so glad you did.

On Being Content…

I have been thinking about contentment lately.
Partly because my 50th birthday is days away.
But mostly because I am stuck here in the U.S., unable to get back into Guatemala.
The borders are closed due to COVID-19.
And it is very uncertain when they will open again.

So I am not where I want to be, at least physically.

But I have wrestled with contentment my whole life – and particularly through my late 20’s and all the way into my early 40’s.
As my friends got married one by one.
And then started having babies.
And did “real life” – or, at least, what I had assumed my life would look like. Or “should” be.

But life didn’t turn out the way I thought it would.
No husband.
No kids.
But a whole lot of wrestling with God.
And a whole lot of ministry that would not have happened if I had been given the ministry of my own family to care for and children to raise.

In all of that, I have learned a few things about contentment along the way. Here are the lessons that I am applying even today, as the birthday looms and the borders stay closed:

Lesson One: Biblical contentment is not the absence of desire. It is the submission of my desires to the will of God.
We were wired by God to want certain things. To have desires. That is part of what it means to be made in the image of God. And those desires are not wrong in and of themselves. Of course, I am not talking about temptation and desires that are sinful. But good things – a spouse, children, relationships with people, places and experiences, even the desire for dessert – these are not inherently wrong. It is OK to want what you want.

But what do you do when God doesn’t give you what you want? (Or what you think you want.)
That is where contentment comes in to play.

Paul said it this way in his letter to the church at Philippi:
“I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”

I am sure that when Paul was hungry, he desired food.
But when that food was not available, he surrendered himself to God.
He didn’t let the desire keep him from trusting that God loved him. Was in control. Was able.
He LEAREND contentment.
Submitting himself, his circumstances and his desires to the will of God.

He talks about his desires again in his letter to the church at Corinth. He explains to them that he begged God three times to remove “a thorn in the flesh”. He doesn’t name the thorn, but most biblical scholars think it had to do with his failing eyesight. In several of his letters he alludes to issues with his vision and attributes the physical act of writing them to a scribe.
Did Paul know that God could heal him? (Or grant him the request to remove the “thorn”, whatever it was?

Yes, of course!
This is the same man who wrote to the church at Ephesus that God is able to do “exceedingly, abundantly, beyond all we can ask or think”! Paul believed in the power of God. He saw God use him to heal people and to utter prophecies that came true. Paul even was able to shake off a deadly snake that was biting his hand without harm.

Yes, Paul knew and had experienced God’s power.
It is why he asked for the removal of the thorn in the first place!
But when God said, “No” each time, Paul accepted it.
He submitted his desires to the will of God.
And he even declared that this “failure” on God’s part was a blessing – that in Paul’s weakness, God could show himself to be strong.

Contentment isn’t a feeling. It is the active surrender of my desires to the will of God.

Lesson Two: Choose to be aggressively, unstoppably and determinedly thankful for what you DO have.

I long to be back in Guatemala. School starts next week, and while we are doing online school for the foreseeable future, I still long to be in country where I could help my kids one-on-one in person when they need it. Where my resources are easily accessible. And mostly, to be in the place God called me.
It is a strong desire. One that I have to submit daily to the will of God.
I am praying that He allows me back in country sooner rather than later.
(Specifically, I am praying for it to be by September 15.)

But until He opens that door, I WILL praise Him in the hallway.
I WILL be thankful for what He has done.
I WILL be thankful that I have friendships in Guatemala that make my heart long to be there. That I have people to miss. That I have a fulfilling job calling me back there.

And I WILL be thankful for the extra time with the people I love here in the U.S.
For access to different food choices.
For the ability to speak fluently to store clerks.
For God’s provision that I have seen over and over and over again.

It is the thankfulness that keeps the bitterness at bay.
It is the thankfulness that re-centers my heart on faith rather than my feelings.
It is thankfulness for my circumstances that leads to praise.
Which is…

Lesson Three: Praise God, no matter what.

Thankfulness is about specific blessings He has given.
But praise is about His character.
His heart.
Who He is.
Not just what He has done.

None of us want to be loved exclusively for what we have done.
We want to be loved for who we are.
And that is also true of God.
There are times when I cannot trace His hand.
I cannot see what He is doing.
And I do not understand His ways.

But even when He befuddles me, I can remember His character.
His grace.
That His mercies are new every morning. (Lamentations 3)
That there has never been a God like Him, who “works for those who wait for Him.” (Isaiah 64)
That this life is so very short and eternity is so very long. And when this life is done, I will be with Him forever, every desire met in who He is. Every longing fulfilled by His presence. Every mystery will either be explained, or it will not matter anymore.

Satan desperately wants us to forget the goodness of God.
He wants us to question God’s love.
And His integrity.
He wants us to stack up our perceived evidence of God’s faithlessness to us because we have desires God has not fulfilled.

It was the lie in the Garden of Eden that tripped up Eve.
And it is the lie that takes us down today: “God is not good. He doesn’t know what He is doing. He is holding out on you and you cannot trust Him.”

Praise is the antidote to the lie.
Because when I fix my eyes on Him, my Abba Father, the God who rescued me from sin and rescues me from myself, chains are broken.
Lies are silenced.
And my heart is lifted.
It is easier to trust.
It is easier to hear His still, small voice.
It is easier to confidently rest in His goodness – in the TRUTH that God is good and everything He does is right.
That He is God and I am not.
And that I can yield my desires to His perfect Father heart.

There have been many times that kids I love have asked me for things that they really, really want.
And I have said “No” for their own good.
Because I had a bigger picture in mind than they could see.
I have allowed children I love to suffer.
At the hands of doctors.
At the hands of school officials.
And even at my own hand.

I have given failing grades.
Kept kids in from recess.
Not allowed them to eat any more.
Told them they had to wait.
Not allowed that field trip, that party, that event.
Because I love them.
And because I know that their desires are not always in their best interest.

So I face birthday number 50 and the fact that I don’t know when I will get back to Guatemala the same way.
I surrender my desires to His will.
I choose thankfulness.
And I choose praise.

My Daddy in heaven has said “No” to many of my desires.
But I can see in so many cases where that “No” was for the best.
And where I can’t see that, I have learned to trust Him.
To wait for Him.
To keep seeking His heart even when I long for His hand to move.

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

Posture

Lord,
You know my heart.
And You know all the chaos of my world right now.

Nothing is “normal”
And it may never be “normal” again
Because even when life is in a pattern –
which becomes our “normal” –
it gets shattered.

A phone call
A test result
A financial bump in the road
A repair
An argument
A weight gain
A visit to the doctor

And “normal” ceases to exist.

But Lord,
This abnormal normal has been going on for months
And there appears to be no end in sight
We are all stumbling from report to report,
Recommendation to recommendation
And, yes, from argument to argument

And these uncertain times bring forth other uncertainties
For me, they involve travel and borders and being stuck between two worlds

For others it is economics
Or health
Or prolonged time with people they don’t really like any more
Or politics
The emotional climate of our nation
The spiritual climate of our nation
Lack of hope
Death of compassion
Famine of love for others

Chaos, Lord
It feels like chaos
Because in so, so many ways it is!

What is true?
How do you know?
Who do you listen to?
What should I be very concerned about?
What can I let go?
How can I manage better?
Who should I be managing?
What should I be managing?
Where do I find answers?
What timeline should I expect?
How is this going to work out?

And suddenly this Truth looms:
While there are definitely storms out there,
and I am surrounded by the wind and the waves of the unknown,
I AM (often) MAKING THEM WORSE.

The more the wind howls, the more I try to control it.
The higher the waves crest, the more I seek ways to manage.
The fiercer the storm, the tighter my grip.

And when I do that, the storm in me strengthens and outstrips the storm of my circumstances.

———-

Open hands, Lord.
That is what is required in the storm.
Open hands.
Lifted arms.
Upraised face.

Everything in me wants to do the opposite.
Grip.
Huddle.
Drop down.
Curl in.
Hold tight.
Head tucked.
Eyes squeezed shut.

Managing.
Controlling.
Holding on.

Manage my emotions.
Manage my finances.
Manage events.
Even manage my people.

But that was never, ever what You called me to do.
That is the equivalent of the Captain of a mighty ship asking a toddler to take over the helm.
The Parent asking the preschooler to manage bill pay and the budget for the family.
The Coach letting his kindergartner call the plays of the biggest game of the season.
Laughable.
And unnecessary.

I am the child.
You are my Dad.
You, the King of the Universe, are my Father.
You, the Sovereign Ruler of all things, call me Beloved.
Daughter.
Princess.

All You have ever asked me to do is to trust You.
In the storms
In the calm.
And everywhere in between.

Lift my face.
Lift my arms.
Hold ALL of my life with open hands.
Every detail.
Every circumstance.
Every relationship.
Held up to You, without a grip.

And as I stand tall, it is a posture of praise.
With all I have.
And all I am.
To praise You in it all.

Key word:
ALL.
All of it in Your hands.
All of me singing Your praise.

And then You guide my steps.
You take the wheel.
You call the plays.
You function in Your economy.
You lead me in Your higher ways.
You parent me.
You shepherd me.

Even in the mystery.

You, Who can see it ALL.
You, Who knows every motive, every heart, and every personality that crosses my path.
You, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.
You, the Glue that holds all things together.
You, the Creator Who “works out all things in conformity to the purpose of Your will”.
You, the Great I AM, Who Was and Is and Is to Come.

You, Who control the ALL.
Storm
Calm
ALL

So I come to You with open hands.
Lifted arms.
Upturned face.

Am I soaked from the storm?
Yes.
Is my hair whipped from the wind?
Yes.
Is the boat pitching and yawing and generally being topsy-turvy?
Yes.

But I laugh at the wind and revel in the rain.
Because this boat cannot go under.
It cannot be torn apart.
It is impossible for it to fail.

Not because I am holding it together.
But because YOU are.
And even if everything falls apart here in this life
I have a firm, rock-solid, unbreakable guarantee:
YOU.

The sake of Your name
The glory of Your reputation
The promises You have made
The fact that I am Yours – and You are mine.

This life may beat me up
Your enemy may try to destroy me
The fact of sin in the world and its ugly consequences will mess with me

However, this is a moment in the spectrum of eternity
My whole physical life is no bigger than a blip on the screen
A flower quickly fading
Grass that is green today and dead tomorrow

But my eternal life started the moment I asked You to be my Savior
Which means I can approach all of my circumstances from a posture of praise instead of a huddle of hopelessness and fear.

This is the abundant life
The joy-filled life
The sweet life

Not gripping tightly
Not needing to know all the answers
Not seeking to control
Not managing it all

But riding the wind and waves with a song of praise on my lips
Sometimes sung through tears
Sometimes wrung out of the depths of my soul
Sometimes forced by an act of the will from my mouth

But You are worth it
Worth clinging to
Worth living for
Worth knowing
Worth serving
Worth praising

Always, always, You are worth it.
So I will live in this posture:
Arms high.
Head up.
Hands open.