Thursday, October 29, 2020

An opportunity to work among those who turn the world upside down


I’ve always remembered that day, the day “When a door opened . . . that let the future in.”


And I stepped through that open door.


It was as if God said to me, “It's okay to admit your mistakes and regrets and hurts, but don't get stuck there. I am ready now to heal them.”


It was as if God said, “I am not limited by your failures, weaknesses, feelings, thoughts, or fears. Always remember I love you just because I love you, not for any other reason. Nothing can change that fact.”


The time had come to believe that God's everlasting arms never get tired of holding those who are bruised.


The time had come to receive each new morning with joy, as a gift from God.


The time had come to follow this good advice: Don't grow weary of doing what is good and right, because if you don't get discouraged and give up the struggle, ultimately God will bless you for your efforts (Galatians 6:9).


It was as if God said, “Look and listen. 

I sent you here to work with extraordinary people. 

Some have brilliant minds, 

while others are just ordinary people with valuable skills 

I‘m using to carry out My work in Colombia. 

Every one of them has a good heart 

and an uncommon commitment to serve Me 

and the indigenous peoples of this land. 

The time has come for you to get acquainted with them—

and soon, in a few days, to work alongside them.”


It was as if God said, “I sent you here to work among those who turn the world upside-down” (Acts 17:6).


It was as if God said, “Walk with the dreamers, the believers, the courageous, the cheerful, the planners, the doers, the successful people with their heads in the clouds and their feet on the ground. Let their spirit light a fire within you to leave this world better than when you found it. . . .” (Wilferd A.Peterson)


Thursday, October 22, 2020

“When a door opened . . . that let the future in”

“There isn’t one of us,” writes dear Frederick Buechner, “whose life hasn’t flamed up into moments when a door opened somewhere that let the future in, moments when we moved through that door. . . .” (A Room Called Remember)


That day—the one I’ve been telling you about, day three in Lomalinda—has always stood out in my memory. After more than forty years, recalling it still pains me. But let me hasten to say the memory of that day also amazes me, it makes me smile, it warms my heart.


Here’s why: Even though I was shattered—broken, stunned, scared—on that afternoon, a door openedGod Himself stood on the other side of the door, and He opened it—even if I hadn’t fully grasped that yet.


Since that day, I’ve long taken comfort in what the Bible tells us: God goes before His children—He is the vanguardin the lead, on the front line. (1 Chronicles 14:15, Isaiah 52:12).


God was already in Lomalinda when I arrived. He was there, welcoming me, opening a door to my new life. I was a nervous wreck, but He was unflappable. I was disoriented, but He was steady, focused.


God also goes behind his children—he is the rear guard (Isaiah 52:12). He brings up the rear, protecting us from what might attack from behind. Rearward also means to gather upGod gathers us in His arms when we are weak. He comes along behind and helps gather up the messes and broken pieces we left along the way.


So our wonderful God goes before us to lead

and He follows behind us to protect and help.

Front and back, we’re wrapped in His loving arms.


If I’d have listened to God, I might have heard Him welcoming me, smiling, and saying something like He said to Habakkuk: “Look, watch—and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something that you wouldn’t believe even if someone told you about it” (Habakkuk 1:5).


On that steamy afternoon in Lomalinda,

standing—in my sweat-drenched clothes—

in that little red brick house,

thanking God for strong breezes

blowing through the window slats,

and listening to parrots and crickets

and an occasional dog bark on a nearby hill,

God opened a new door for me

and welcomed me into my new, good future.


And I stepped through that open door.


It was as if He was saying, “My thoughts are completely different from yours,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just 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).


And if I had been thinking clearly, if I could have found words, I might have answered Him something like this:


“Holy God of love. . . You love me just as I am

and in spite of what I have done.

Most of all, I know that

You are involved with me to enable me to be

the person I was created and destined to be.

I can trust You because

I have found You utterly reliable

each time I have trusted my needs

and problems to You.”

(Lloyd John Ogilvie, Quiet Moments with God)


Thursday, October 15, 2020

Waiting on God: a good thing, “a vibrant contemplative work”

Later I’d look back and recognize that I’d turned a corner with God and my husband that afternoon. 

But the fulfillment of that would take months. In the meantime, I was exhausted—drained, shattered, feeling my way through a fog. 

I could do nothing except carry out my duties like a robot, but—and this is the most important—at the same time, I was keenly aware that I was waiting on God. 

The Bible tells us, often, to wait on God. But what does it mean to wait on God? 

It’s not giving up. Neither is it being aloof. Waiting on God is not being in denial. It is not an escape. It’s not about keeping our distance from God. 

Waiting on God is not being passive, though it can involve a degree of passiveness. 

Sue Monk Kidd writes, “I had tended to view waiting as mere passivity. When I looked it up in my dictionary however, I found that the words passive and passion come from the same Latin root, pati, which means ‘to endure.’ Waiting is thus both passive and passionate. It’s a vibrant contemplative work.” (When the Heart Waits) 

Waiting on God is a deliberate undertaking, an alone time of seeking intimacy with God. Jesus did that at the Mount of Olives (Luke 22:39-44). He waited on God for forty days in the desert wilderness (Luke 4:1-13). Another time he sent his disciples away on a boat, disbursed the multitudes, and, alone, traveled a mountain to pray—all night (Luke 6:12). 

It’s a time to do what God asks of us: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). 

It’s a time of saying, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9). Waiting on God is talking less and listening more. It’s quieting our own voice and, instead, actively listening for and to Him. 

Oswald Chambers wrote of something of what that’s like, of the person who “meets God at every turn, hears Him in every sound, sleeps at His feet, and wakes to find Him there.” Chambers goes on to describe it as the person “developing his power of knowing God,”—such a vitally important pursuit. (Christian Disciplines) 

Waiting on the Lord implies an active back and forth with God: “Out of the depths I cry to you. . . . O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry” (Psalm 130:1-2). 

It’s characterized by hope. “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning. . . .” (Psalm 130:1-6) and “. . . put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption” (Psalm 130:7). 

Waiting on God is trusting Him—it’s a confident expectancy. “We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name” (Psalm 33:20-21). 

That means that waiting on God is an act of faith. 

Sue Monk Kidd writes of being in a “place of fertile emptiness” (When The HeartWaits). I like that: “Fertile emptiness.” Waiting on God can be rich with possibilities. It can be a creative time, a transformative time, a productive time leading to fruitfulness. 

But that takes time. And it can involve growing pains because it can require us to humble ourselves, question ourselves, and then reassess what we believe and expect and assume and hope for. It requires us to be content in an in-between time, in transition, not knowing how things will turn out. That means waiting on God can be tumultuous. It can be scary. 

But it can also be a sacred time, a time of the renewing of the mind (Romans 12:2), of being teachable, of softening the heart; a time of increased clarity—all of them can inspire hope, direction, and peace. 

Waiting on God can close one chapter in life and open a good, new one. 

I would later find out

that on that sizzling afternoon in Lomalinda,

standing—in my sweat-drenched clothes—

in that low, little house

that I was committed to making into our young family’s home,

listening to wind and crickets

and an occasional motorbike in the distance

and maybe a haunting whooshing cry

from a howler monkey,

God had already begun leading me to a good place,

a firm place on which to stand—

and on which to live and thrive.

He was already working to help me mature as a wife,

mother, and His daughter.


Thursday, October 8, 2020

The giver of new songs to sing

I had engaged in one horrific battle with my husband and God. And I didn’t win. 

Even though I’d refused to unpack, I now had to unpack. 

Even though I’d shouted at my husband, “We are leaving,” we were not leaving. 

Yet big things, good new things, were going on behind the scenes, stuff I didn’t recognize that afternoon or even in the weeks to come. 

Those good, big things would become clearer over time. In the meantime, I just had to keep doing the next thing, and then the next thing. I had to keep unpacking, putting one numb foot in front of the other numb foot. 

Let me tell you some of the lovely things God was doing behind the scenes: 

He stood beside me there in that hot little brick house under blistering sun in the middle of nowhere in South America. If I could have heard God’s voice, I’d have heard him say, “Look at this new thing I am about to do. It’s already happening. Don’t you see it?” (Isaiah 43:19, NCV) 

Because of what He was doing, in only a matter of weeks I’d be able to say, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and the mire; he set my foot on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.” (Psalm 40:1-3, NIV) 

To get me to that good place, that rock, that firm place to stand, He had to help me mature as a wife, mother, and Christian. It would take hard work on my part to cooperate with Him. 

When I think of my need to mature, I think of Jesus’ words, “I am the true vine; my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that does not produce fruit. And he cleans and trims every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit.” (John 15:1–2, NCV)


Yes, some of my “branches” would have to be cut off—the worthless ones. I’d have to:

  • let go of unreasonable expectations
  • get rid of incorrect assumptions
  • recognize untruths I was believing and reject them
  • stop saying “I can’t do this, I won’t do this.”
  • stop saying, “God, You got this all wrong!”
  • get rid of my bad attitude


Yes, those were some of the dead branches God would have to prune out.


And then let’s look at those other branches Jesus spoke of—the good branches. I take comfort in what Tim Challies points out: that “the Father trims every branch that bears fruit. Suffering, then, is not a sign of God’s disapproval but his approval, for it is the branches that are already bearing that he carefully cuts.” It’s comforting to think that, apparently, I was not completely rotten to the core.


Tim also says, “He looks after us with all the attentiveness of a gardener who longs to see His vine bear fruit. He tends us, He nourishes us, and when necessary He prunes us. And though we do not welcome those times when pains cut deep into our souls, we have this confidence: No hand but His ever holds the shears.


"If it is our loving gardener who does the pruning,” Tim continues, “we can be sure there are never any careless cuts. Though we may not know why this branch has had to be trimmed or that one removed, we do know the One who wields the blade.” (Click to read Tim’s post, No Hand But His Ever Holds the Shears.)  


I had to be willing to let God prune my branches, both the ones producing fruit and those that were not.


I had to once again—as much as was humanly possible—let God take first place in my life.


And, as Sarah Hilkemann so wisely points out:


"You will have to reach this point over and over,

this willingness to just say, ‘Here I am, Lord.’

Here I am, to do what feels impossible,

to stay when [I] just want to leave. . . .

Here I am, Lord’ will not be a once-and-done call, 

but a daily surrender to love right where you are."

(“No Strings Attached”) 

Hope. Hope is what God asks of us. Hope in Him. Hope in what we can become in Him, hope in what He can do even when we’re in our darkest hours. 

Though I could barely sense it, God was at work. In His loving grace, He can do His profoundest work in our biggest struggles. 

Even on that shattering afternoon,

God was putting a new song in my heart.




Thursday, October 1, 2020

“Growth suffering”

I recall that day with deep regret. And pain.


You, too, have regrets. You remember suffering the pain of them.


But did you know there’s good pain and bad pain? Did you know suffering the good kind can be helpful?    


Dr. Henry Cloud explains the difference between bad and good pain—between destructive and valuable pain.


We can suffer bad pain for various reasons. One is the pain someone else inflicts upon us.


But there’s another pain that we bring upon ourselves because of our own “character faults,” Dr. Cloud says, the pain that comes from “repeating old patterns and avoiding the pain it would take to change them.”


Dr. Cloud says we need to recognize the pain we bring upon ourselves is “a wake-up call,” otherwise we are wasting that pain.


Wasting our pain. Think about that. Are we wasting our pain?


For several decades now, I’ve cherished five little words Chuck Swindoll spoke on his radio program. The words changed me. He said, “GOD DOES NOT WASTE YOUR SUFFERING.”


So, if God doesn’t want to waste our pain and suffering, we’d better not fight against Him by choosing to waste our pain!


Dr. Cloud says that wasted pain “is the pain we go through to avoid the good pain of growth that comes from pushing through. It is the wasted pain we encounter as we try to avoid grief and the true hurt that needs to be worked through.”


With God’s help, our job is to “face the growth steps [we] need to keep from repeating [our] mistakes.” This is how good pain can help us mature.


“We all have coping mechanisms that cover up pain, help us deal with fear . . . and help us hold it all together,” writes Dr. Cloud. “Trials and suffering push those mechanisms past the breaking point so we find out where we need to grow. Then true spiritual growth begins at deeper levels. . . . Righteousness and character take the place of coping.


“This kind of suffering is good,” he continues. “It breaks down the ‘weak muscle’ of the soul and replaces it with stronger muscle. In this suffering, the prize we win is character—a very valuable prize indeed.


Suffering is the path Jesus modeled for us, and he modeled how to do it right. He went through it all with obedience and without sin. This is the difference between those who suffer to a good end and those who suffer to no good at all.” (Click on Dr. Cloud’s article, “When Suffering Helps and When Suffering Hurts.”)


The good kinds of pain and suffering lead us to ask ourselves (a) what is God trying to teach me, (b) what God is trying to help me do now, and (c) will I cooperate with Him?


James 1:5 says “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”


The Nelson Study Bible (NKJV Version) says this about James 1:5 “The wisdom God gives is not necessarily information on how to get out of trouble but rather insight on how to learn from one’s difficulties. . . . It is not more information about how to avoid times of testing but instead a new perspective on trials.”


So there I stood on that blistering hot afternoon in the middle of nowhere in South America, feeling like an utter failure as a wife, mother, and child of God.


And I had choices to make.

  • Would I recognize this as a wake-up call?
  • Would I embrace the pain and regret and suffering and would I learn from the experience?
  • Would I push through? Would I climb up out of this low point with a change of character? And a deeper, more mature faith?
  • Were the battle and perseverance part of the training for what God planned for my future?
  • Would I choose to mature as a person?
  • Would I let the experience bring me into a more intimate relationship with God?

Often it’s difficult to see any good in our failures and suffering, but God asks us to not waste those times. He holds out His hand and says, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).


Today He’s offering His hand to you. 

It’s a strong yet gentle hand. 

Go ahead. Grab ahold of it.


Noticing the good stuff, finding the joy

I began to notice more good stuff going on in Lomalinda .     God was offeri ng me new opportunities. He was offering me a new perspectiv...