One Day’s Time

Have you ever been awake in bed the night before a really big day and just known that whatever happened the next day had the potential to change everything? Sometimes we don’t even see those days coming; they just happen, and then nothing is ever the same after. But other times, they greet us at the door and turn us upside-down.

I can only imagine how Mary must have felt – what she must have thought – right Jesus was to be born.

Excitement. Anticipation. Fear. Foreboding.

Hope.

A long, dangerous journey around treacherous mountain roads on the back of a donkey had led her to a humble cave in her husband’s hometown. It was the least noble of places for a King to make His entrance, but this is the place God chose. This was to be the long-awaited day when the Messiah would be born.

Soon after, the earth-cracking, universe-shattering, sin-defeating moment of His birth arrived. God Almighty became a sinless child – a sinless man – taking on human form to identify with the ones for whom He would sacrifice His life. His birth was a cataclysmic shift in all the universe, in all of time and space and matter. And the only ones to greet him were His parents, the stable animals, and a few shepherds who followed the angels’ heralding of the birth of a King. On this one single day, He became the unbecoming so that we could become becoming in the eyes of a holy God. This one day changed it all for us, for good.

Thirty-three years later, they must have thought thought one day would end the hope they’d so clung to for salvation, for a new kingdom, for restoration. One day was all it took, and the Messiah they’d hailed and persecuted, loved and hated was nailed to a tree at the highest point of the dump at the entrance to the city.

Three days later, one more day changed it all and finished the work He’d come to do. That day, the earth-cracking, universe-shattering, sin-defeating, darkness-dispelling resurrection baffled minds and stirred hearts for Him, for more. Slaves became friends, orphans became family, and criminals became saints in the eyes of God because of that one day.

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Still, there is one more day that will alter the course of our lives, create a ripple in space-time and eternity, and rattle the gates of Heaven and Hell – the one day when we say “YES” to Him. When we throw down our ambitions and crowns, our hopes and desires, our guilt and wandering, our shame and secrets, and take up the humble new beginnings He took to bring us life. When we say “YES” to His crazy plan and become born yet again into a new way of living, putting to death our old way of thinking and allowing Him to resurrect our hearts. When we say “YES” to the impossible thing He’s asking us to do and allow Him to work out the details. When we say “YES”, no matter the cost, just as Mary said “YES” the day the angel told her she would be the mother of the Messiah.

This Christmas, let’s make room in our hearts for whatever “YES” He may be asking from us. “YES” to hope. “YES” to faith. “YES” to surrender. “YES” to taking that next big step. This one day – this one “YES” – could change it all.

 

Psalm 16:1, God is My Refuge

Preserve me, O God, for I take refuge in You. 

Psalm 16:1, NASB

 

King Saul’s mad at David…again. And again, David’s fleeing for his life. He and a few of his men end up in the desert called Maon, with Saul on their heels and fear in their hearts. I can just hear the pounding of the feet of Saul and his troop kicking up desert sand in hot pursuit; hear the rapid breathing and pounding of the hearts of David and his men, trying to stay quiet and still, waiting for what seems to be their inevitable demise. Saul will capture David, make a public display of him, and kill him.

When Saul and his men went to seek him, they told David, and he came down to the rock and stayed in the wilderness of Maon. And when Saul heard it, he pursued David in the wilderness of Maon. Saul went on one side of the mountain, and David and his men on the other side of the mountain; and David was hurrying to get away from Saul, for Saul and his men were surrounding David and his men to seize them. 1 Samuel 23:25-26, NASB

David knows he’s innocent and that the king is angry, out for blood. He’s jealous of the favor David’s been given both by God and by the people. And every victory David wins, every toast someone makes in his honor, every heroic tale a passerby recounts – it all boils like bitter bile in Saul’s heart, pulling him further away from God and the man he once thought of as a son.

There, on one side of the mountain with Saul on the other side, minutes away from certain death, the Psalmist pours his heart out before the Lord:

Preserve me, O God, for I take refuge in You.  Psalm 16:1, NASB

Hedge about me with thorns, mighty, Almighty G-d, for I trust boldly, am confident, stake all my hope, take refuge in, and feel secure in You (paraphrase mine – references from Strong’s).

Out in the deserts of Israel, praying for a hedge of thorns is no small thing. David was a shepherd before his running days, and he knew well that when night fell, oftentimes a shepherd would build a thick “corral of thorn bushes” around himself and the sheep, keeping them safe from predators through the night.

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David, the shepherd, prays to God, the Good Shepherd, asking that Shepherd to hedge about him with thorns, putting everything he has on the line in confident, bold trust. Saul’s still out there, but somehow, God will come through. He always has. He always does. 

May our trust be just as confident, just as bold. May we hide inside His hedge of thorns through the thick of the night and allow Him to shepherd us like only He can. And when we wake, may we see not only His protection and provision, but also His face.

Want to learn more?
http://www.fbbc.com/messages/hyles_psalms.htm
http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/language_aaronic.html

Riddles

They say You speak more quietly the closer we get to You, the longer we know You. They say You dwell within us, move through us, breathe into us. But sometimes it seems that there’s so much deep within us leaving little room for You. That we can’t stay still long enough for You to move. That we’re too busy talking and You can’t get a breath or word in.

Other times, it seems that our hearers are broken or scrambled. We lift up heartfelt prayers and fragile desires in the form of prayers containing the deepest parts of ourselves, and we get riddles and puzzles in return. “How will this turn out, Lord?” And You say, “I am with you always.” …”But will it ____?” Silence.

                                                             (Source: neilpeterson.com )

We take these riddles and puzzles and fumble around with toddler hands to piece them together with our best knowledge of what the bigger picture looks like, our best knowledge of the sound of Your voice. We search for clues and find that You leave them everywhere. Digging deeper, pushing harder, searching longer, we find that, piece by piece, it begins to come together.

And at the end? We find that the search for a key to all the riddles isn’t leading us to an answer to our problems. It isn’t bringing us a “Yes” or “No” or “This way” or “That way”. It isn’t the key to unlock all doors – except for one. It’s the key that leads us straight to Your heart.

Ineloquent

This isn’t going to be a post with pretty pictures of the countryside or local folks in colorful clothes or any of the amazing food I’ve encountered here in Xela and the southern part of Guatemala. Today, I went to places where cameras cannot go and where mere words can’t adequately describe…so don’t expect much eloquence.

This evening, I went with a missionary named Debby (an amazing woman with the gift of evangelism) to a shelter near the hospital to minister to people staying there. Hotels are expensive, so many times people who have procedures, emergencies, or checkups stay in a shelter near the hospital (or their families stay there while their loved ones are in the hospital). This shelter was a room probably twice the size of a typical American’s living room. It had a shower and a bathroom, a few lockers, and about two dozen meager mattresses strewn around the room. Probably fifty people stayed in this shelter, some for weeks on end. It was cold, bleak, and filled with the smells that come when people travel for sometimes an entire day on a bus to another city for treatment. And it was filled with beautiful faces and stories unique to each individual.

Debby, two local missions students, and I went to share the Gospel and pray with the people in the shelter. Before we went in, Debbie stressed the importance of not only praying for people’s healing but also sharing the Gospel with them and giving them a chance to receive Christ. What good is it if a man is healed of cancer and still goes to hell when he dies? But a man who knows Jesus can live even in sickness knowing where he will spend eternity. I needed that nudge because I, like so many, often move to try to meet the physical need and neglect the most important thing: the soul.

We were met at the door by one gentleman asking for prayer, and as we prayed for him, I felt a tug on my sleeve. A little old lady next to me asked me to pray for her for some terrible ulcers she’d had on her body. We prayed for her and then split up to meet with the people there. To be honest, I struggled with doubt and with how to adequately share Jesus. I was grateful that He would allow me to go there, but I wasn’t sure what to do or how to do it. One thing I did know was that it wasn’t about me and that I absolutely couldn’t do it on my own. I had no idea what would happen next.

Debby asked me to pray with a young man who’d come back and forth for months for physical therapy. We prayed together, and I went on to talk with the next person. I found out later that one of the other team members was able to lead him to Christ tonight. Meanwhile, I went to a gentleman sitting all alone on his cot, looking broken in a way I haven’t seen often. I started asking him his name and where he was from, why he was at the hospital, etc, and God had me look at his eyes. God showed me that he had vision problems (often connected with diabetes, which he had). I told him what God told me and he confirmed it, and as we prayed, he began to sob. My deepest prayer for him was not just for his healing, but that he would understand how much God sees him and knows him.

There was a man whose wife has a growth on her spinal column that has paralyzed her and given her intense, burning pain for two months. A beautiful indigenous woman whose Spanish was poor and whose daughter didn’t understand a word I said…I tried my best to share the Gospel with signs and simple Spanish, but only God knows where that will go. There were several others Debby, the girls, and I got to pray with. But then I met the guard.

He figured I spoke English, so he came up to me to practice. He’d lived in the US for several years and was hoping to return. As I talked with him, God made it clear that this kid had walked away from Him. So I started asking him questions about his life and his relationship with God. He gave the typical story of being young and wanting to enjoy his youth while he can. Jesus must have taken over because He had me say some pretty direct, bold things to this kid who is standing on a precipice and needing to make a decision between life and death. He didn’t pray with me tonight, but he did hear how to make the decision for himself and was told he had a serious choice to make. This guy is battling, and if you’re reading this, I ask you to please pray for his salvation and that he would not wait any longer to turn back to Christ.

After we finished talking, Debby signaled that it was time to go. When we all got together to talk about the night, we learned that 4 people accepted Christ for the first time and 1 renewed his relationship with Christ. HALLELUJAH!

I’m not writing this for any reason except to tell the story and maybe to get someone’s attention – that maybe God wants to use YOU to step out of your bubble and share Jesus in a new way. That maybe He wants to tell you things about people so they will look to Him and know He sees. I didn’t expect this tonight. To be brutally honest, my faith was small, and I didn’t have super high hopes for what would happen. But these people matter to Him, and when I asked Him to speak to them, He did. And if you’re willing, He can use you for the same thing and more.

Jesus, take these jumbled words and use them somehow. It’s all I’ve got tonight, but I know You don’t even need this to move.

Cajola’ Connections

We didn’t expect the rain on the day we went to Escuela Oficial Urbana Mixta in Cajolá. The school directors had asked us to speak outside in the schoolyard to a group of about 200 middle school students, so we traveled the thirty minutes out into the country, praying for God’s wisdom and for open ears to hear.

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It was a beautiful, partly-cloudy day way up in the mountains, and we arrived just as students were walking into the school. Typical skirts and blue uniform sweaters filled the street as we walked in.

IMG_4469They all settled in for the assembly just as the rain began. Just as we were about to begin, the microphone malfunctioned. So we grabbed our jackets and mustered up our loudest voices and began. The school directors introduced John and Tracy as the school pastors, a true honor when you consider that this is a public school, and not only that – it is a public, indigenous Mayan, rural school.

IMG_4523Tracy stepped forward and shared with the students about how God wants us to be wise and discerning and avoid meddling in things of darkness. A number of these kids have been playing around with divination, unaware of the doors it can open to their hearts. I was able to talk to them a little more about the same issue and encourage them to seek the source of Truth instead of a copycat. We ended with Jeremiah 29:11.

Because here’s the thing about schools in Guatemala (and much of Central America): Public school isn’t entirely free after 6th grade. You have to pay for uniforms, registration, and sometimes even tuition, and if you’re a poor farmer or home businessman, it’s a stretch to be able to afford school beyond that. Along with this comes the expectation that girls will stay in the home to help take care of the family and not leave home until they are married. This means that it’s an exceptional thing if a young lady in rural areas is able to attend high school and graduate, and it’s an even bigger deal if she gets to attend college, obtain a degree, and pursue a career. On the flip side, if a young man is unable to afford school, he will either begin learning a trade or simply stay home and help the family in whatever way he can. Hope and future sometimes feel far-fetched and more like the luck of the draw.

IMG_4546We turned the microphone (which they’d been able to get up and running after Tracy began) over to John and his translator as they shared with the parents of these children about their authority as leaders in the home and about what Godly parenting looks like. John shared in Spanish, and the translator shared in Mam Quetzaltenango.

IMG_4483While John shared, I had some time to talk to Jakeline. This art teacher works tirelessly in sometimes less than desirable classroom conditions to help students connect to themselves and to their families through art. She teaches sometimes up to 45 students per class in rooms that sometimes don’t even have table tops due to expense. Jakeline could ask these young people to imitate Picasso or create the next Rembrandt (and sometimes she does). But the pictures she showed me were of students’ drawings of home and family life. One of her greatest projects is having students create these portraits, then write letters of thanks to their parents for all they do and provide. Then she has the parents come to a class assembly, and students surprise their parents with the drawings and letters read aloud. As students share, she says that tears often abound. Hearts and families connect through art all because of a teacher who loves Jesus and loves hard on the people in her community.

As she told her story, two little sweethearts played on the stairs behind us. We decided to take pictures with and of them, and their eyes widened and giggles abounded.

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Then we heard John begin to pray with the crowd of parents who’d shown up to hear what God laid on his heart. I looked ahead of me and watched heads bowed as prayer in two languages was lifted up to the Father for these beautiful families.

IMG_4533After the prayer, the families filed into the classrooms to pick up their children’s report cards. I got a chance to peek into the rooms to see what the classrooms looked like. If you look closely, you’ll see the Spanish alongside the Mam language.

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IMG_4481As I’ve thought about that day, I’m grateful for the opportunities to meet the teachers there and hear a little of their stories. I’m grateful for the chance to speak to those teens. But what really lasts after we’re gone? What impact is really made?

Connection. Connection between the hearts of children and their parents. We saw it both in the way we were able to share with every member of these families and in the way Jakeline continues building relationships in her school community.

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You can go and donate goods or money. You can build a building or hand out salvation bracelets and tracts. You can shout from a street corner or pray in the center of town. And none of that is wrong. But if the Truth can be imparted somehow into the hearts of the families, and if the families can connect with each other more deeply through that Truth, a stronger community is formed. After everything else is said and done – after all resources are depleted and visitors gone – that connection remains. And that connection is what endures.

Feed My Sheep

Here in Guatemala, malnutrition is a major problem. Corn is one of the main crops, and it’s super cheap to get a handful of tortillas (about 50¢ for four people). This means the poorest of people are fed but are often lacking in vitamins and vital nutrients. And it tears me up to watch people at/from home throw away sometimes plates of food at a time. What one person throws away could feed two people a solid meal! We’re just so used to excess that even in the face of poverty, it takes effort to consider the hungry among us and in other places. 
Here’s what gets me more: I’m seeing the exact same thing happening in our churches. All around us are people starving for the truth and hope of Jesus Christ, and we’re busy munching on, hoarding, and sometimes complaining about the abundance we have. When we don’t like part of it, we throw it away – the very thing that could yank a soul out of despair and bring it to life. We dish out milk when people really need meat, and then we wonder why they aren’t healthy enough to serve and work. 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that many are really doing things right. But I can’t help but wonder – but know – that we can do MORE. 

It starts with going out and finding the hungry who are burned out or don’t have the strength to make it to where we are. With bowing low in humility and making them part of our world because Jesus made us part of His. With purging our hoarded spiritual (and material, too, sometimes) goods and giving them to those who are hungry for life. With stepping out of our programs and preferences and stepping into messy Kingdom life wherever we are. 

It starts with me. It starts with you. It starts with us. 

  

Family

It was a Sunday like any other Sunday. We all got up, rushed through breakfast, and drove to church. While I’ve been in church services of all kinds in many different cultures, I still didn’t quite know what to expect for this one. When we first arrived at Aviva (Revive), I was a little surprised that this tiny warehouse could hold a church, but I quickly felt at home.

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We planted ourselves in plastic chairs spread out in a room the size of a school classroom. There we were, all 30 of us, Americans mixed with Guatemalans, young mixed with old, formal mixed with informal, but all one family. Since the entire city was without power and water that day, nobody really worried much about how they looked. As the music tracks played on battery-operated equipment, we began to sing, all with one voice – including the roosters in the yard behind us.

There, in that place where nothing looked or sounded or felt as many in my home country would think it should, we touched the hem of His robe with humble hands and open hearts. We weren’t on a time schedule, and we weren’t worried about appearances or sounding just right. There, despite (or because of) the differences from home, I felt more of Jesus’ presence than I have in the US in a long time. Because it’s not about how it looks or how it sounds. People don’t need a fancy service or a good show. People are desperate for Jesus.

The pastor spoke from Philippians 2Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

Because when we gather, we don’t gather for a service. We gather as family – as one mind and one Body – for service to each other, the highest made low and everyone equal in the sight of God. And out of that service to each other comes the hope of the Gospel for others.

The pastor told a story of a time when he went to a fancy, world-renowned restaurant. He ordered a meal with a fancy name that cost nearly $50 and only got three shrimp that had no flavor. Everyone at the table was disappointed and left hungry. As they walked out the door, they saw a lady on the street selling pupusas (kind of like a stuffed taco made with cornmeal dough) for less than $1, and they all said those pupusas were the best meal they’d ever had.

We can make a show and a reputation for ourselves. We can bring in people from all over and from all walks of life and reputations. We can build a brand and marketing strategy that appeals to everyone. But without love – without the salt and light Jesus told us about – all we’re serving is a tasteless plate with no flavor that will send consumers to the streets looking for anything else they can eat. Without love, without the leaders becoming servants and following in Christ’s footsteps, without forsaking all our preferences and preconceptions, we are nothing.

Especially in light of the state of our world, the Church must learn to be a family and not an institution. If the Church cannot operate in love toward its own family, it cannot love the world. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35) And if that genuine love and heart of service flow through and out of us, they will reach the lost in ways our words cannot. Hatred cannot conquer hatred. Darkness cannot fight darkness. Only love and light can conquer hatred and darkness. Our response should always be love. 

I write this sitting on a balcony after the day’s rain, overlooking mountains all around, birds chirping and a street preacher calling out and singing about the Church into his megaphone (I couldn’t make that up if I tried). I wish you could hear his song to the Lord; it sounds…horrible, but the purity of heart from which it comes could match Hillsong or Bethel any day. And I know that saying all these things while here can be easy, but implementing them at home can be another story entirely. Still, I believe it is possible. I believe we can really learn to be the hands and feet of Jesus. I believe we can learn to respond in love – hand in hand with truth – and reach the lost. I believe the Church can really become a family. But only if we learn to become ONE. Only if we learn that it’s not about how things look or sound or how long our “services” are or aren’t or how cool the speaker is or isn’t. It’s about Jesus. It’s about the Family of God. And it’s about loving the world with the Love who made Himself a servant and washed our feet of their sinful filth and grime…so that we could do the same in love to those in our midst.