Niger: Love goes beyond language.

I just returned from a 10 day mission trip to Niger, Africa.  It was an incredible trip that I believe has changed me.  Over the next few weeks and months I will be working to write out different instances and moments where God opened my eyes in a new way.  May God speak through me as He spoke to me to change your heart as well.


Less than a week ago I was in 100 degree weather with people whose skin pigment was a tad darker than my own.  They didn’t mind my awkward dance moves or my sweaty skin.  Their deep smiles and clammy hands quickly captured my heart.  I was in the midst of men, women and children whose deepest desire was to be known and loved.   And if I’m honest, that too is my deepest desire.

During a mere 10 days, I witnessed God’s love for these people in tangible, miraculous ways.  And as God showed up I experienced a love for these people that went deeper than I thought possible.  I wept as they wept.  I laughed as they laughed.  And as they held my hand they also held my heart. 

There were two moments where I was  struck with the truth that love goes beyond language

The first moment was during our second morning at our women’s conference as we spent time in worship together.  The only instruments were a small drum, a noisy tambourine and twenty something voices lifted in praise together.  And as we sang in French (a language I still don’t understand) there was a tangible expression of joy and love between the women.  We danced and sang and laughed together as we praised God for all He is and has done.  In the midst of a dusty and hot room my heart burst with praise; the thankfulness to God echoed in all our hearts regardless of the language we spoke.

The second moment was on that same day.  Midway through the day as we waited for lunch a few members of our team played with some of the school children outside of the church.  As I joined a circle playing “pass the water bottle” I noticed the little girls starring at me.  Now I’m a blonde haired, blue eyed, glasses wearing lady and so I chalked the starring up to those factors.  As we continued to play the game one little girl standing next to me continued to stare.  After a period of time lunch showed up and we had to go inside to eat.  As we walked to the door the children followed and this little girl grabbed my hand.  Such a simple gesture and to have such trust put in me as a stranger was sobering.  I didn’t speak her native tongue but I did speak a language that went deeper: love.  And so as we waited for the meal to be served I held her hand and loved her.

Love, God’s pure love, is not confined by language.  His love that encompasses joy and peace and praise is a language all its own.  I won’t soon forget these two moments where love spoke louder than any language.  One moment where hearts were one in overwhelming awe of the One who loves us all and another where hearts were connected by simple trust and sweaty hands.

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One foot infront of the other.

Tonight I went for a run.  It’s been nearly a month since my last run.  But I did it, I went for the run.  It is a very weird thing for me to sit here and write about running.  You see until about 4 months ago I did anything but run.  Sure occassionally I would have to sprint around at youth group as all the youth boys tried to get me out but run, on my own, without teenage boys chasing me?  Nope that just wasn’t me.

But then something began to stir in me.  Some of it was a realizing that my health, although not spiraling out of control, wasn’t what I wanted it to be.  Some of it was realizing that with more to do I had less energy to give.  I felt as though far too often I was running on empty and filling up on quick pick me ups to just survive the day.  But then there was something else, something else was stirring and I couldn’t put my finger on it.

And so, a few months ago, in my quiet private moments with God I began to shared my frustration.  My frustration over my lack of energy.  My frustration over my lack of movement.  My frustration that I felt confined by my flat feet and the pain they produced.  I cried out that I wanted to want to run.  I not only wanted Him to meet me in my feet but I wanted Him to stir something I had never had before.

And as I shared the something that I couldn’t name and couldn’t quite pin down continued to stir within me.

And then God did something.  Without any prompting God healed my feet.  Then He reminded me of my request to move and to desire to run.  And so I did.  Over the past few months I have made small progress but I do run.

And as I have continued to make the effort, continued to make the choice no matter how long it has been, continued to put one foot infront of the other I haven’t been able to get this thought out of my head:

I am learning how to wait.

The stirring I had been feeling was this desire to remember what it’s like to wait well.  To keep pushing on even when it doesn’t look like anything is changing.  This may seem strange but in a world that is full of instant things I had forgotten how to wait.  

And so, I’m learning how to keep at it… no matter how long it takes or how slow I am.  I’m learning how to give myself grace and to trust the process.  There are so many things in my life that seem to be up in the air; so many things that I’m waiting for God and His promises in, so many things that I want and need to change.  But so many things that I need to not be instant and temporary.

And runnning is teaching me that this all takes time.  What God is doing in me and through me is not instantaneous but it is everlasting.  It takes time but it is worth it.  And so, in my running and in my living, I am putting one foot in front of the other; choosing to do it again and again until I see things change.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way as to take the prize. Everyone who competes in the games trains with strict discipline. They do it for a crown that is perishable, but we do it for a crown that is imperishable. Therefore I do not run aimlessly…”
1 Corinthians 9:24-26

 

With no training wheels.

Earlier this week I was hanging out with my neice and we were talking about bike riding.  She dramatically exclaimed that she WOULD NEVER ride her bike without training wheels.  She is my mini me so no one should be surprised that this was dramatically stated.  But as she made the statement I knew there had to be more going on and so I asked why she said that.

“Because it’s scary.  I need someone to always be holding on because it is just too scary.”

And with those words my heart broke.  I remember those times, the fear and the life that those fears stole from me.  I also know that fear still tries to steal life from me.

“Did you know that Auntie gets scared sometimes too?”

“You are?”

“I am.  Do you know what Auntie does when she is scared?”  Auntie prays because even when I am scared God is with me.  I don’t have to wonder or question if He is always there because He is.  And so even when we are scared we can ask God to help us and thank Him for being with us.”

There was so much more I wanted to say and to share but I prayed with her, hugged her and watched renewed joy come into her face.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”    2 Timothy 1:7 

What caught me about this exchange was how I can see areas of my life where my reaction is the exact same as my neice.  I want the training wheels of life to stay on and I want others to be with me holding the bike balanced so I don’t fall and get hurt.  I’m afraid to fall, to fail and to get a little cut up.  But it is in the being willing to fall and to fail that I find out that I can do what God has called me to do…. because He is with me and has given me all I need.

He is with me as I wobble to get started and start down the street.  

He is with me to pick me up when I fall and brush me off.  

And He is with me to celebrate as I go further and faster with every try.

And so, as I prayed with my neice and encouraged her to continue trying to ride without her training wheels I was also speaking to myself.

Keep trying even if it means falling and getting a little cut up.  

Keep going forward even when it means getting a little dirtier than I had intended.  

For God is with me and He has given me His Spirit, of power and love and self-discipline.

Where do you need to risk and begin riding without training wheels?

Face of Failure.

This may seem surprising to many who know me but there have been many different periods in my life were I struggled with feelings of failure.  I always felt as though I didn’t measure up and I wasn’t good enough.  I felt as though I wasn’t doing enough to make an impact.

The most recent of these seasons was when I first moved to New England and had just become a youth pastor.  There are so many things about that season of life that was hard for me.  I was struggling to gain a voice, to trust myself again and to see that God could use me.  God lovingly placed me in a job that both challenged me to become myself and cushioned me as I tried and sometimes fell.

Almost three years ago life shook for me.  I was transitioning out of my job and God was calling for me to step down.  Step down from a church that was going through turmoil.  To walk away to an unknown future both for myself and for those around me.  Mostly He was asking me to trust those I loved and cared for in His hands even when it didn’t make sense.

My youth group at that church had always been small but I had seen God show up in some mighty ways.  At this very moment three girls from that youth group are in bible college and I am amazed at the women of God that they are.   God was faithful in it all AND YET I walked away feeling like a failure and have carried that with me for the past few years.

Looking back at that season and that transition was hard.  I struggled with being able to reach out to those girls because I felt as though I had failed them because I had left.  I prayed and I loved them from a far but my heart ached.

But thankful, if we press into Him, God doesn’t want to keep us in those places.  And while I have wrestled with those feelings of failure God has been doing a deep work in me.  A work based on understanding that if I did nothing but come to Him, that would be enough.  That I don’t have to try and “succeed” but instead if I just love Him, love others and follow His lead then I am following Him in this life.

God began to dig up that I had always felt like a failure because I was always trying to live up to and earn His lavish gift of grace for me.  I was trying to pay God back when I didn’t need to.

And as God has shown me this trying to succeed for Him part of me He brought me back to this period.  This time of feeling like a failure and quietly said,

“You only failed at living up to your expectations.  To me you did not fail, you did all I asked of you.”

And in one simple statement all my striving and my hurt and my failure melted away.  I had done what God had asked of me in both the staying and the leaving.  It had not looked as I had expected or wanted but I had been faithful to follow my King.

Often our view of failure is based on our own expectation and desires.  I wanted to leave that church with everything tied up in a bow and better than when I arrived.  But I left when God prompted; I left and had to trust He knew and cared for them more than me.

 “Trust the Lord with all your heart, and don’t depend on your own understanding. Remember the Lord in all you do, and he will give you success.” Proverbs 3:5-6

We all deal with feelings of failure at times.  Are you willing to allow God to show you the reason why?  Sometimes we have failed and we have to get back up and try again but sometimes, our failure is only not living in reality.

The fire within us.

Over the past month or two I have been thinking a lot about fire.  You see although I currently live in New England I grew up in the deserts of Eastern Washington.  I always find it interesting to try to explain what dry heat feels like and I often forget that where I live the scare of raging fires doesn’t exist.  You see I grew up with fire season.  I grew up with summers ending with fires raging across the country side and families loosing their homes.  And this summer as I prepared to come home to visit I was again reminded of the reality of these fires in our lives.

Scripture has a few things to say about fire as well…

Be careful not to forget the covenant of the Lord your God that he made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the Lord your God has forbidden.  For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” 

Deut. 4:23-24

“Circumcise yourselves to the LORD And remove the foreskins of your heart, Men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, Or else My wrath will go forth like fire And burn with none to quench it, Because of the evil of your deeds.”

Jeremiah 4:4

“Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.”

Isaiah 48:10

“For the LORD will execute judgment by fire And by His sword on all flesh, And those slain by the LORD will be many.”

Isaiah 66:16

And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”

Zechariah 13:9

“And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them.”

Acts 2:3-4

“So that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

1 Peter 1:7

What I see here are two types of fire.

The first type of fire is an all consuming fire of God’s vengence and wrath.  It is a fire that utterly consumes and destroys.  It is a fire that snuffs out hope and consumes life.

The second type of fire is a refining type of fire that is birthed in God’s love and care for His people.  It is a fire that consumes the unnecessary and dangerous to create a space of renewed life and dedication.  It is a fire that encourages true growth and protects life.

The same is true in life.  The fires that I grew up witnessing were much like the first type of fire.  Each fire consumes all in it’s path without care of who are what was involved.  Once a wild fire starts it is hard to control due to uncontrollable wind, dry underbrush and hot air.  A wild fire doesn’t care what or who is in it’s way but will rage until subdued and then conquered.

Thankfully there are precautions that can be made.  Often unnecessary fires are kept to a miniumum and people watch both their land and those around them for signs of fire.  There is also something more proactive that people can do and that is something called “controlled burning.”

Prescribed or controlled burning is a technique sometimes used in forest management, farming, or prairie restoration. Fire is a natural part of both forest and grassland ecology and controlled fire can be a tool for foresters.

Fire is a natural AND necessary part of life, both physical and spiritual.  Controlled burning clears away what a wildfire would consume and encourages the true vegetation to take root.  

In our lives we must allow the Holy Spirit to control burn the things that are not of Him so that the truth life in our lives can take root.  We must allow God to burn away our hurts and our pains, to burn away our sinful nature so that the true life can take place in our lives.  If we don’t allow God to control burn in our lives then we will experience devastating wildfires that will rage and consume all in their path.

In our lives fire will come.  The question is will our land be ready for it?

Will we allow God to do the hard work of burning away the unnecessary so that the fires of life will not consume and so we can experience truth life?

When the Promise is dead.

Over the past few weeks I have been stuck thinking about one of my life journal entries and today I thought I would share.


“Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.  (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.)  So the sisters sent word to Jesus, ‘Lord, the one you love is sick.’

When he heard this, Jesus said, ‘This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.’ Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”

John 11:1-5

Let me break this down for you.  Lazarus was a follower of Jesus but not just someone in the crowd, Lazarus and his sisters were people who Jesus loved and cared for deeply.  When Martha and Mary sent word to Jesus it wasn’t just someone hoping that Jesus would have mercy on them but was a very personal request to their friend.

At their message Jesus proclaims something that we all want to hear: that the sickness wouldn’t be terminal but instead that He would be glorified through this sickness.  That was the promise – that death would not prevail but instead God would be glorified.

“So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go back to Judea.’”

John 11:6-7

Okay wait.  When Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick He stayed where He was?  On purpose?  Jesus, the Messiah, stayed where He was, on purpose, when He knew Lazarus was sick?  Would you, on purpose, stay where you were if someone you LOVED was sick and you could help them?

Thankfully the story doesn’t end here.

“So then he told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’”

John 11:14-15

“When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.”

John 11:32-33

“Then Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?’

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me.  I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.’

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’ “

John 11:40-44

There are so many things in this passage that I saw in a new way this past year.  Here are the high level ones:

ONE: When Jesus is talking with His disciples He tells them that He is glad FOR THEIR SAKE that Lazarus died.  Lazarus’ death and the seeming death of a promise wasn’t even about Lazarus but instead was about others.

We often get stuck in what a promise means to us that we don’t stop to think about how a promise AND it’s fulfillment brings about believing in those around us.  Although God’s promises to us are birthed out of love for us they also have a grander plan of bringing God’s glory to all those who surround us:

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Community

SECOND: Jesus was deeply moved by Mary’s emotions.  Even though Jesus knew the final outcome and knew the joy that would come He was still moved and mourned with Mary.

The same is true in our own lives.  Jesus knows the joy and celebration that is to come and yet He is still moved to mourn with us in our moments of sorrow.  And as we look at the lives of others and see what God is doing we should not loose sight of mourning in the moment as we wait for the joy that is to come.

THIRD: Jesus speaks out and prays to God not for Himself, but for the benefit of others.

Sometimes when God is doing something in our life and WE KNOW what He is doing it is still important to PROCLAIM it so that others may join in and believe with us.

FOURTH: Lazarus wasn’t raised to life as a zombie or having to wear his grave clothes for the rest of his life.  He was not only raised to life but He was redeemed back to who He was before.

When God redeems our once dead promises they won’t be zombie promises.  We do not have to settle for less than the fullness of all that God has for us.  Jesus states in John 10:10 that He comes to give life and life to the fullest (in abundance, in the fulness of all life can be).


We all experience at one moment or another a promise that looks as though it is dead.  The truth is that it MAY BE DEAD but thankfully our God is the one who brings the dead back to life.

We don’t have to be dismayed even when our promises are laying dead, for God in His plan will bring them back to life, and in the process others will believe.

 

When I grow up…

This week at my church is Camp Discovery!  Camp Discovery is a VBS in the style of a day camp.  This year we are learning that we were created by God and built for a purpose!  We are on day three and this morning I heard a story that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about….

Yesterday the Camp Director was sitting with a Jr. leader and a group of girls discussing what they wanted to “be” when they grow up.  As they went around the circle one of the girls responded, “I want to be what God wants me to be.”  The Jr. leader quickly and quietly turned to the Camp Director and responded, “Don’t they know that they are already who God wants them to be?”

From the mouths of babes.

We often ask the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We talk about becoming doctors and lawyers and movie stars and what it takes to be that when we are older.  It shouldn’t suprise us then that we find our identity in what we do and if we do it well.  I see whole generations struggling to find out WHO WE ARE as the reality hit us that our jobs and careers aren’t what we thought they would be.  We don’t know who we are because what we do is so scattered, sporadic and doesn’t always seem to make an impact.

The truth though is that what we do is not who we are.  

I wonder if maybe we should change the question from what do we want to be to what do we want to do?  I wonder if maybe we should focus on an identity, a being that is secure in being LOVED by God, CREATED by God… and then dream into the purposes and doing that He has for us?


What do you want to DO when you grow up as you ARE loved by God?

Who I am.

I have been thinking a lot lately about the idea of who I am.  My identity.  I think many 20 somethings spend time thinking about identity as many of us move from child to student to adult.  Many of us change from sons and daughters, to husbands and wives, and then to fathers and mothers.  Many of us change from students to adults, from colleages to supervisors and from employees to boss.

As I have thought about my own identity in the changes of life I have become convinced that many of us are wrong about our identity.  Many of us view our identity based on what we do.  I am an athlete, an artist, a musician.  I am a handyman, an electrician, an accountant, etc.  What we do in our professions and in our lives dictates who we see ourselves and others as.  The problem with this though is that we struggle to really understand and grasp WHO WE ARE as WHAT WE DO changes.  As I learn more about God I am convinced that WHAT I DO is not my true identity.

You see when I was a child there was something that my dad would say when we were attending a serious event or we were going somewhere without him:

You are a DeWitt, act like a DeWitt.  Act in such a way that is worthy of the DeWitt name.

And luckily for my dad, my sisters and myself would act worthy of the DeWitt name.  We were mature and friendly.  We never caused a scene (that I can remember), we were always helpful and we genuinely enjoyed (most of the time) what life was all about.  We acted as we knew a DeWitt to act.  It was out of our identity as part of the DeWitt family that we behaved a certain way.  Can I share a secret with you… even if we had raised a holy terror, if we had acted NOT like a DeWitt we still would have been DeWitts.  Even if we screamed at every person we met, threw food in people’s faces and tore our clothing we would still have been DeWitts.  Our identity wasn’t dictated by our actions but instead our identity dictated how we would act.

You see regardless of our actions we BELONGED to a family.  Our IDENTITY was not in our ACTIONS but instead in our belonging… our being.  And the same is true in God.  When we accept the Gospel and allow Jesus to be Lord and Savior of our life we move into a new family.  And our new identity begins.  It isn’t that we always automatically act like we belong, but we do.  Our ultimate identity is based solely on being loved from God… and our actions flow from that point.

We are:

John 1:12              Ephesians 1:5              Genesis 1:27              1 Cor 12:27              Jon 3:16

1 Peter 2:9               Galatians 3:27-28               1 John 3:1-2                Romans 8:17

Children of God
Adopted/Chosen by God
No longer Slaves
Men and Woman of God
Heirs to His Promise
Loved of God

And everything else flows from there.


Where does your identity lie?  
Are you trying to act like you belong or are you acting out of belonging?


My Give.

Over the past few months I have been haunted by an idea, a phrase that came about from a journal reading.  The idea came from Exodus 35 and 36, specifically 35:21 and 36:4-7…

“Then everyone came whose heart was stirred, and everyone whose spirit was willing, and they brought the Lord’s offering for the work of the tabernacle of meeting, for all its service, and for the holy garments.” Exodus 35:21


“Then all the craftsmen who were doing all the work of the sanctuary came, each from the work he was doing, and they spoke to Moses, saying, “The people bring much more than enough for the service of the work which the Lord commanded us to do.”

So Moses gave a commandment, and they caused it to be proclaimed throughout the camp, saying, “Let neither man nor woman do any more work for the offering of the sanctuary.” And the people were restrained from bringing, for the material they had was sufficient for all the work to be done—indeed too much.” Exodus 36:4-7

How incredible.  As they were working on creating the tabernacle for the Lord – the place where the presence of God would dwell (!!), the people with willing hearts gave of what they had.  As each person gave from what they had, both possessions and talents THERE WAS MORE THAN ENOUGH FOR WHAT WAS TO BE DONE.

More than enough.

Nowhere in this passage did it say that the people judged their gift based on what others were giving but instead it says that they brought freely from what they had and all together it was ALL they needed for ALL parts of the tabernacle.  Actually, it was MORE THAN all they needed.

I think too often we look at our “give” and we judge it against what we see others giving.  We judge the type, we judge the amount, we judge what looks to be the quality... and often in this judging we judge our “give” to not be enough and so WE DON’T GIVE IT.  What we forget is that it takes many types and qualities and quantities of GIVES to make complete the calling of God on His people.

Recently I was reminded of this passage and an incident found in Acts.  There are currently many situations and people in my life who are going through hard times.  They are going through situations that I can’t fix.  I feel worthless because I wonder what I have to giveto them.  And it is in these moments that I remember a time where Peter, like me, didn’t have what a situation looked to need… but what he does have, he freely gives.

“Then Peter said, ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.'” Acts 3:6

Peter doesn’t have money but what he has is more powerful.  Peter doesn’t have physical resources but he has miraculous resources that go beyond time.

Although I don’t always have money to give, solutions to the problem or even words to bring comfort, I don’t have the immediate resources, there is something I do have and like Peter it goes beyond…. I have God.  I have His presence and power inside of me.  Like Peter I have the miraculous resource of the presence of God within me who brings peace and healing.

My give is not dictated by what I think I have or don’t have but instead my give is dictated by His Spirit inside me.  In Him there is fullness and He enables me to give what is needed in those moments.  And so, I give of what I do have, Him.

What is your give?

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