31 October 2013

the best battle plan: fighting to rest

Back in August, God was teaching me about trusting in Him for a certain situation out of my control. Well, actually, several situations. (They always seem to abound! Because I never have control! News flash!) 

I just randomly opened up to 2 Chroncles 20 and God started speaking to me. As you intercede for your the lost, for reconciliation, for healing, for justice, for the church, for anything at all you are going through, follow this battle plan.

It's the battle plan of a people who don't actually have a plan. The threat is too big. It's out of their control. So their lack of a plan turns into the following response. It's a pretty amazing story. 

vs. 1-2 the threat arises
 It happened after this that the people of Moab with the people of Ammon, and others with them besides the Ammonites, came to battle against Jehoshaphat. Then some came and told Jehoshaphat, saying, “A great multitude is coming against you from beyond the sea, from Syria; and they are in Hazazon Tamar” (which is En Gedi).

vs. 3-4: choosing to seek YHWH earnestly as a people gathered together
And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. So Judah gathered together to ask help from the Lord; and from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord.

vs. 5-9: remembering God's power, promises, and faithfulness
Then Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, and said: “O Lord God of our fathers, are You not God in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations, and in Your hand is there not power and might, so that no one is able to withstand You? Are You not our God, who drove out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel, and gave it to the descendants of Abraham Your friend forever? And they dwell in it, and have built You a sanctuary in it for Your name, saying, ‘If disaster comes upon us—sword, judgment, pestilence, or famine—we will stand before this temple and in Your presence (for Your name is in this temple), and cry out to You in our affliction, and You will hear and save.’

vs. 10-12a: making a bold request for salvation
And now, here are the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir—whom You would not let Israel invade when they came out of the land of Egypt, but they turned from them and did not destroy them— here they are, rewarding us by coming to throw us out of Your possession which You have given us to inherit. O our God, will You not judge them? 

vs 12b: admitting our total dependence on God (so beautiful)
For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.

vs. 13: waiting on God! 
Now all Judah, with their little ones, their wives, and their children, stood before the Lord.

vs 14-15a: God speaks 
Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, in the midst of the assembly. And he said, “Listen, all you of Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem, and you, King Jehoshaphat! 

vs. 15b: God instructs us not to fear--to look at Him instead of the circumstances 
Thus says YHWH to you: ‘Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.

vs 16-17: Special instructions
Tomorrow go down against them. They will surely come up by the Ascent of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the brook before the Wilderness of Jeruel. You will not need to fight in this battlePosition yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of YHWH, who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem!’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, for the Lord is with you.”

vs. 18-19: Humble worship and loud praise
And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem bowed before the Lord, worshiping the Lord. Then the Levites of the children of the Kohathites and of the children of the Korahites stood up to praise the Lord God of Israel with voices loud and high.

vs. 20a: The people rise up early to obey God's instructions
So they rose early in the morning and went out into the Wilderness of Tekoa; 

vs. 20b: Faith in God precedes the success of the mission from God:
and as they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Hear me, O Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem: Believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper.” 

vs. 21: Sing praise as you go out to fight the battle
And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who should sing to the Lord, and who should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army and were saying: “Praise the Lord, For His mercy endures forever.”

vs. 22-25: God moves during the praises of His people to fulfill His promises
Now when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; and they were defeated. For the people of Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of Mount Seir to utterly kill and destroy them. And when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, they helped to destroy one another. So when Judah came to a place overlooking the wilderness, they looked toward the multitude; and there were their dead bodies, fallen on the earth. No one had escaped. When Jehoshaphat and his people came to take away their spoil, they found among them an abundance of valuables on the dead bodies, and precious jewelry, which they stripped off for themselves, more than they could carry away; and they were three days gathering the spoil because there was so much. 

vs. 26: The people gather to bless God in the valley (bless God in the valleys where He has given you victory!)
And on the fourth day they assembled in the Valley of Berachah, for there they blessed YHWH; therefore the name of that place was called The Valley of Berachah [blessing] until this day. 

vs. 27-28: The people praise God with joy and music 
Then they returned, every man of Judah and Jerusalem, with Jehoshaphat in front of them, to go back to Jerusalem with joy, for the Lord had made them rejoice over their enemies. So they came to Jerusalem, with stringed instruments and harps and trumpets, to the house of YHWH. 

vs. 29: The fame of YHWH's Name and His glory spread throughout the territory
And the fear of God was on all the kingdoms of those countries when they heard that the Lord had fought against the enemies of Israel. 

vs. 30: The people who had waited quietly in spite and in the midst of turmoil, now enjoy the blessing and rest and peace of God:
Then the realm of Jehoshaphat was quiet, for his God gave him rest all around.

God gave him rest all around! I could use some of that rest all around. Not rest because nothing ever happens to me, or I'm never in any "impossible" battles... but rest in knowing that God is on His throne. Rest in knowing that I am His child. Rest in knowing that He has overcome the world. Rest in what I cannot see. FAITH.

Arriving at this kind of rest is not something you work up or meditate on until it pops up on your radar. That's not what Jehoshaphat and his people did. They did what the people did in 2 Chronicles 15:15, where the same phrase is used. They sought Him with all their soul: "And all Judah rejoiced at the oath, for they had sworn with all their heart and sought Him with all their soul; and He was found by them, and the Lord gave them rest all around." 

True "rest all around" doesn't mean you don't fight. It means you stop fighting on your own strength. ("Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?" --Galatians 3:3). By faith and in the power of the Holy Spirit, you fight to seek God with everything you are. 

I have so much still to learn about rest! It all starts with admitting my insufficiency and seeking God.

"You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me." (John 15:3-4)

What has God taught you about rest?

18 October 2013

on the frustrations and graces in serving

If we back up to 7 years ago, I remember when I first realized I had to act on the compassion God had given me. That I was anointed to preach good tidings to the least of these.

In the weeks after my church youth group's inner city mission trip in Charlotte, North Carolina, it was clear we were impacted by what God had shown us. We compiled our testimonies into a book, printed and bound, with home grown artwork of Jesus' hands holding the world. We called it "I See Yo' Hand!", after the loud observation we had heard during the puppet show Bible story we performed for the kids.

After that trip, I started volunteering every Sunday afternoon with the 10 - 18 year old girls in an inner city ministry center. 

A couple of memories stand out above the rest. The first is of Desirae, the defiant little girl with the matted hair who smelled like no one had cared to wash her or her clothes for weeks. She had lice crawling in her hair and mud caked on her knees, and she spoke with a raspy, hardened voice. In spite of everything, Desirae was a beautiful child. But her brown eyes were full of too much pain for her four years of life. She was fiercely independent, and, at the same time, just as fiercely loyal to her sister and brother. Something inside me told me evil had taken advantage of that beauty. During rare moments, something inside of her would snap, and she would cling to me or sit in my lap. Her tears became mine as I cried out to God to for healing and justice
I also remember the time someone I ministered with blew up at a homeless man. I only vaguely remember the reason why--I think he had shown up at the wrong time for the meal or the food pantry. But it didn't seem anything which merited disturbing the whole block with angry shouts.

Afterwards, the person I was ministering with explained that the man should have known when to come, and this kind of behavior couldn't be tolerated anymore.

To me, all I saw were moving lips, saying a lot of things, but never apologizing or expressing regret for the outburst. How could you preach the Gospel to the same people you scream at? I wondered.

It doesn't make any sense to minister full-time to people you don't really love, I reasoned. What a terrible, meaningless, way to live. 

Although I didn't put it into words, I felt that I was the compassionate one. I was the one that really cared about that homeless person's feelings, and about little girls like Desirae.

I couldn’t relate to the leader’s anger or weariness. 

But for me, the superiority I felt to my co-laborer meant that I was ultimately serving myself in the name of serving God and others. I was feeling good about myself, and critiquing others--on the inside, anyway. 

Now I’m a “grown-up.” I’m a missionary, actually, even though the word still sounds strange on my tongue. I’m not a 16-year-old volunteer anymore, or a college kid masquerading as a social critic.
Now, I am daily fighting the battle against spiritual and physical poverty.

But I’m not so different from you. You have jobs that are minefields of spiritual warfare. You have ministries, families, marriages. You have relationships that need restoration. We’re all soldiers at war, battling against the powers of darkness. And we can all get weary, just like the woman who yelled at the homeless man.

At least, I get weary. It's a good thing Jesus has a special invitation for people who are weary: Come to Me! That's exactly what I'm doing... coming to Him with my questions.

Questions I never asked myself so many years ago, now run through my head often--even though I don't work face-to-face with the microloan associates. . Usually, I am in the office supporting those who work face-to-face with those in poverty--like the loan officers who sometimes must work long hours in the scorching sun, going from house to house to collect payments from associates who are behind in their payments--but who still take time to visit and pray for sick group members. 

The point is, I'm asking questions I wasn't before. And God is answering. 

Questions and answers like:

Q: How do you both hold yourself to unattainable standards and love others without any standards at all?

A: This is the crux of the religious spirit, approval addiction, and a host of emotional and spiritual sicknesses—and it brings with it a world of weariness.
You don’t. You don’t measure up to your own standards or to anyone else’s—let alone, God’s. But that’s convenient, because neither do the people you serve!
That’s where Jesus comes in. He’s the Only One that measures up, and the grace He lavishes on us in spite of all our failures extends to the most wretched creature willing to accept it.

Q: How do you have patience with those who refuse to learn what you sacrifice so much to teach? You know, the ones who nonchalantly disregard you and all the work you’ve done?

A: That’s kind of what we do to Jesus every time we gossip, complain, or lust. We disregard all He came to teach us, and yet He keeps having patience on us. We choose to walk in the dead works of the flesh instead of in the abundant life He died for us to have. That’s gotta hurt.

But He doesn’t turn His back on us. If we return to Him, He will return to us. He is always ready to receive truly repentant hearts.

His love is not bound by our feeble incapacity to forgive ourselves or others. He never stops loving us. He always lives to intercede for us. He stood in the firing line for us, and now He’s come back to defend our cause before a righteous Judge.

That’s amazing grace and riches of mercy.

And as we accept it, we pour it out on others.

Q: How do you keep loving someone you exist to tirelessly serve, but who betrays you?

A:  In John 13:2, we read that the devil had already put it in Judas’ heart to betray Jesus.  In the very next sentence, Jesus stands up and begins to wash the feet of His disciples.

“And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself.  After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.’” –John 13:2-5

I have to wonder, what was running through His head as he immersed the filthy feet of Judas into the washbasin, and later wiped them with the towel? How did it feel to so humbly serve the one who would soon ensure your own murder?

I’m sure it hurt like hell. Rejection hurts. Rejection by those you love and trust hurts even more. But betrayal hurts most of all.

But in the midst of all that pain, Jesus loved.

For me, this brings new meaning to Jesus’ words at the end of the episode: “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.”

Jesus serves people who don’t measure up, people who disregard Him, and people who betray Him. People like me—and you.

Once we get that kind of crazy love into our heads, we will never be able to complain about those we serve. Instead, we will identify with them on a deep level.

I’m not the one who measures up, expecting others to measure up.
I don’t measure up.  Only Jesus’ blood washes me clean from all sin.

I’m not the one being ignored or rejected.
I have ignored and rejected Christ.  Only the Father’s grace allows me to accept and obey Christ.

I’m not the one who is betrayed.
I was a betrayer. Only in the Holy Spirit am I empowered to be faithful.

Maybe if we all pause and let Jesus wash our feet, it will help us remember that what’s really important is not the distinction between the servants and the served, or who serves the best, or whether the people we serve conform to our expectations—but just that as Christ loved us, so we love others.

That in all things He might have preeminence!

11 October 2013

You will always be the little girl of God!

This is the decal on the windshield of a guagua in the north part of Santo Domingo. I walked by it parked on the side of the street several times during the first few months of this year. The English words kind of catch you off guard in a part of the city with so few tourists. Every time I saw it, it made me smile.

In Santiago, another city I lived in for 2 months this summer, a good-looking guy told me after church that I should get married so I can have children, since I love them so much. I told him, well, God always surrounds me with wonderful friends and sisters who have children. He said, that's not the same you know! I replied, well, no it's not. But I'm not in any hurry.

"Si porque tu eres muy niña todavía," he retorted with a grin. "You're still very much a little girl." It's true. I am. And I like it that way. =)

My ministry doesn't give me more or less favor in His eyes. I'm still just His little child, the one He longs to take up on His lap and tell stories to and dream together, the one He wants to dream with and comfort and sing over.

It makes me think of this picture:

And, this song (again!): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXV6TY-YWe4

Then tonight, I read this:


My heart aches inside when I'm away from my Father for too long. And ministering with people who don't take joy and comfort in His presence makes me sad for them. It makes me long for them to have the same revelation that they, too, are just little boys and little girls of God.

We are His children. Children secure in the love and care and provision of our Father. We don't operate out of fear, or obligation. We can admit when we're tired, and He lets us rest. He wants us to rest. We can admit when we're broken, and He will bandage up our wounds. We can suffer and cry and blubber everywhere and He will sit and cry with us. We can talk and talk and talk to Him about all our problems and He loves to listen. We can fall asleep in His arms and forget about our troubles and He won't always wave a magic wand and fix them, but He will help us learn from them. And He will never, ever leave us. No good parent leaves their little kids all alone! And God isn't just a good parent!
"For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together." --Romans 8:14-17
"You will always be the little girl of God."

May we never forget to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn from Him. I count everything as loss--even getting busy doing more things "for God"--- in light of knowing Christ.

08 October 2013

open this closed heart

On October 27, 2012, I sat in the Student House of Prayer in Beavercreek, OH, during Saturday night prayer and worship.

Jen, the director’s wife, came and prayed for me:

“The wall is coming down—the door will open,” she said.

I had my own idea of what doors I wanted open in my life at that moment. I had been without a job for 3 weeks, and I was not happy with that or with certain other situations in my life, that seemed like they were at a standstill.

I left that night hoping beyond hope I had heard what I had wanted to hear—even while wondering if that was what God really wanted to tell me.

A month later, on November 30, I wrote in my journal:

The revelation I had just today as I read back through that entry, is that literally just before Jen prayed for me, I had written,

“I need You to show me how to love You tonight. And open this closed heart.”

And that was when Jen prayed,

“The wall is coming down, the door will open.”

I never made the connection before now. What if the wall is this fortress I’ve built around my heart, closing it off to pain, to compassion, to love—deep, true love for God and fellow humans. And all these revelations God has been giving me—the stars, the pastel drawings, the Ugandan woman’s prayer for me, the deer on my run, Psalm 115 written on the crossbeam in the prayer room—they’re bringing down the wall, reestablishing communion between God and I, without any idols in the way. That’s what I had just asked God to open, and that’s what He is doing.

[He’s opening the heart I’ve closed off to him and to the least of these by surrounding it with my goals, my relationships, my performance orientation. ]

“It’s not about the job I have. It’s about me and you, we’re building a relationship again”—lyrics from a Jason Upton song, Faith.

I concluded the journal entry with 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, in Spanish. Here’s how it translates:

“And this same God of peace will sanctify me completely, and all of my being, spirit, soul, and body will be preserved blameless for the coming of my Lord, Jesus Christ! Faithful is He who calls me, who will also do it!”

I closed my journal and headed to a Bible Study and dinner for international students. I didn’t get home until 12:30AM. When I did, I decided to check my email. That afternoon, I had received an email that began,
It is with pleasure and anticipation that I send you the attached letter offering you the position of DR Operations Fellow with HOPE International.”

I wanted to scream, to cry, to tell everyone. But it was too late for any of that. I told my dad, because he was the only one still awake. Then I went to bed, with a grateful heart and a busy head. I had just been offered my dream job—working in microfinance in a Spanish-speaking country. But it would mean leaving home—again—and starting a new life—again—in a place I didn’t know. It was something I had wanted so much, but when I finally had it in my hands, I was surprised. My heart was weary and fearful.

A year later, here in the Dominican Republic, I can testify that many times my heart and my flesh have failed, but God has always been the strength of my heart and my portion. He has poured out His Spirit on me in times of loneliness and fear.

Here, I have learned the meaning of Scriptures that never before stood out to me. Scriptures like,

“I will fear no evil, for You are with me, Your rod and your staff they comfort me.” (Psalm 23)

“you joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven” (Hebrews 10:34)

“those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs” (Jonah 2:8)

The farther He takes me from what was comfortable and safe, the more I have to trust in Him--and the more faithful He proves Himself. And as I let go of the worthless idols and choose to set my love on Christ, I begin to experience the grace "that could be mine." 

That grace lets me see the least of these with His eyes, not mine. 

Please God, keep that grace coming! Keep opening this heart of mine! Pour water on me, because I am thirsty! And my heart feels like dry ground. Thank You, dear Father. 

For I will pour water on him who is thirsty,
And floods on the dry ground;

(Isaiah 44:3)