Test of Faith: Who's in Charge?

A proverb has been on my heart for the last couple of days, "Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails."  (Prov 19:21)

I'm sure I've read this verse in the past and just glossed over it.  Subconsciously, I didn't want to believe that I wasn't in charge.  To accept that leads to the question of what the point of my life is.  Why do I bother with anything if God's purpose will ultimately prevail anyways?

Thankfully, I can now find comfort in this verse.  The illusion that my ways are the best (or only ways) is dispelled.  Faith means more than just believing in God.  Faith, as a disciple of Christ, means I can rest assured with the knowledge that God has the power, means, and desire to care for me.  Faith means I can plan and do my best, but in the end, He will succeed.  And by His success, I will be blessed.

So, I ask each of you reading, does this verse comfort you?  Or do you find it disconcerting?  Are you more comfortable when you're in control or in knowing that God's purpose will ultimately and always prevail?

Who Is Wealthy? (Reprinted)

(NOTE: I'd written the following a few weeks after returning from Cameroon.  It seems appropriate to repost today.)

The typical Cameroonian has little material wealth.  Most farm and depend on the little income they get at market from their farmed goods for subsistence.

Judged by their homes and outward appearances, Cameroonians appear impoverished.  But spiritually, riches abound.  They take great pride in their labors and farms.  What they have was eagerly shared with us.  Our lunches came straight from their fields.  After a day of farming, they came to sing and dance with us to lift OUR spirits.  On the last day we were in Lassin, to express their thanks, they gave us more food than we could carry on our car and van. We were outfitted with shirts and dresses out of fine cloth.  These are the same people who may not have EVER purchased anything beyond food and material required for the farm.
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything-all she had to live on."  (Mark 12:43-44)

Lest you think I came back and gave away all of our possession and took to wearing sackcloth and eating locusts and honey....  Don't worry.  My appetite is still plenty healthy for much more.  What I did bring back, however, is a more acute sense of what's important.  Like any gift from God, riches can be a blessing.  We're not called to be poor, but we are warned to not cling to material wealth.  
  • Matt 6:19-21: Store treasures in heaven
  • Matt 13:22: Parable of the Seeds, "fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it"
  • 1 Tim 6:9-10: "love of money is the root of all kinds of evil" is well known

Receiving Blessings

Have you ever greeted a stranger and, in return, received a look that seems to say, "Who are you and what do you want?"  Maybe you've offered to help someone at the grocery store and been rebuffed.  When I had first moved to New York, I was told to avoid eye contact when riding the subway.  It's hard to wish someone a good morning or pleasant evening when they avoid looking at you.

Perhaps people have good reason for cynicism.  Maybe they've been hurt before.  However, it's tragic to think that the very people who may need it the most miss out on simple blessings.

I have no simple solutions for overcoming cynicism.  I thought of writing a few bullets on overcoming distrust.  But they felt forced.  Maybe distrust is even warranted.  However, I can't avoid the grief in thinking that pain begets pain.  As we're hurt, we can tend to go deeper into our shell preventing others from walking with us toward healing.

Last Saturday, we helped hundreds of families with food for the holidays.  Each family was provided with three heavy bags of food.  As we came alongside them with carts to ease their load, many rejected our efforts.  Others wouldn't look us in the eyes -- likely caused by shame and pride.  Still others tried to take more than their allowance -- a small battle they could win to maintain a sense of control.

Food For Life from Crazy Cow Productions on Vimeo.

My prayer this Thanksgiving is that more people will find it in their hearts to receive blessings.  Only then will they see that God truly does work through his faithful disciples.  I also pray that those called to serve do nothing to threaten the fragile trust we humans have in each other.

True thanks come when we appreciate what we've received.  The greatest thanks, however, come when we realize the blessings are undeserved and yet intended solely for us.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Kenya Beckons

A year and a half ago, I spent three weeks with God.  While that sounds dramatic, it's the best way I can describe my experience in Cameroon.  For most of the three weeks, we were in the remote (even by Cameroonian standards) village of Lassin without running water or electricity.  When you wake up in the middle of the night, there's nothing to do but pray.  For many hours over many nights, I talked with God.  One recurring conversation was how I ended up there and why I went.  I may never know God's purpose but mine became simpler and clearer with time: He called.  Personally, I had nothing to gain and even less to offer.  (Our project was to build the roof for a church.  I was so ill-equipped I had to buy a hammer and tool belt.)  There was no noble purpose in going.  Many family and friends, even without voicing it, must have wondered whether I'd gone off the deep end and traveled such a distance while leaving Peggy and our kids.

One of the struggles many Christian have is in discerning the will of God.  Cameroon was the first and still clearest time where I knew, without a doubt, that's where God wanted me.  The villagers who had faced many struggles found joy in knowing the Americans (including the Asian "Jackie," as I was known there) had traveled many miles to serve God and them.  Pastors traveled many miles on their scooters to join us in study, worship, and service.  And, I need not deny, my heart danced knowing the Spirit was alive within me. Even as I write this, I'm frustrated by my inability to communicate the sheer joy in knowing that I was doing exactly what our Lord wanted.

I share all this to provide some background on why I'm excited to consider an opportunity to go to Kenya next July.  For years now, our church partnered with ministries serving on the ground in Kenya.  We've had the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus, to look after the sick, orphans, and widows (and chickens).  We also have the opportunity to finally meet children we've loved through Tumaini Ministries.  (To learn more of life in Kenya, take a look at the blog of our dear friend Emily, who spent last summer teaching in Kenya.)

As my family and I prayerfully prepare our hearts for this wonderful opportunity, I ask that each of you join us in prayer.
  • May we go with servants' hearts willing to do what's needed to care for, comfort and bring joy to others.  
  • May the love we share stem from the overflowing love we enjoy ourselves from knowing Jesus.  
  • May our hearts and motives be pure and selfless -- to please and honor our Lord through service.  
  • May any who are called to go have no concerns about finances. 

Gotcha Day - 4 Years

Four years ago today, we held our daughter, Bella, for the first time.  The first time she laid eyes on us, she bawled and only stopped when her brother sang her, "Amazing Grace."  Though she was already 15 months old at that point, it would still be weeks before she could sit up on her own.  It would be months before she could walk and a couple of years before she trusted us enough to truly consider us her family.

Today, we couldn't stop her from dancing if we tried.  Her song and words bring joy to us all.  She brings a touch of gentility to complement her brother's wildness.

We have been blessed in so many ways with Bella.  Happy Gotcha Day my beloved baby girl.

Within minutes of holding her for the first time
The day after...Bella could walk with help but had neither the strength or the confidence to walk on her own.
Our travel group - when you take a journey like this together, you develop strong bonds.

Elections and Babysitters

It's the day after elections.  If the social media is an accurate reflection, you're either dancing with joy or dejected.  This is true whether you're a Christian or not.  But all believers, I offer this as a reminder of the context of this election to eternity.

Last Friday, Peggy and I were blessed with a long, overdue date night.  A large part of that blessing was finding a loving babysitter with whom we entrusted our children.  Before we chose this babysitter, we looked for input from our children to see if they had any major objections.  While we'd listen, the decision was ours since their standards may not be the same as ours.  Like them, we want somebody who's fun and can relate to them.  However, more important to us is a babysitter who's responsible and will look out for the best interests of our children.  Thankfully, we found someone who meets all of those criteria.  Even if we hadn't, we would expect our children to treat our chosen babysitter with respect and obey her....within limits.  (We would allow our kids to resist if the babysitter is doing anything that's blatantly dangerous/harmful and obviously against the fundamentals that we've taught them.  Those are intended to be narrow limits.)

Peg and I are human and, therefore, imperfect.  Try as we might, we don't always make the best or wisest choices.  (We have been blessed with wonderful babysitters but, in our limitations, we're bound to make mistakes.)  If, in spite of our imperfections, we expect our children to respect and obey our chosen guardian, what would our all-knowing, sovereign Father in heaven expect of us?  (Rom 13:1)  I would take it a step further.  Not only are we to respect and obey (again, within limits), we are to do it joyfully.  (Rom 13:5)  Whether you personally voted for the current president or not, remember that God is sovereign.  The American people have been heard, but it was God who chose.  Because of the hope that we have in God, let us rejoice in the freedoms in this world and the true (greater) freedoms in being reconciled.  The hope that we, as believers, have does not depend on the decisions made in the next four years.  Ultimately, we need to cling to the fact that any guardian we have in this world is but a flicker in the shining light of eternity. "If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied." (1 Cor 15:19)

So for all my brothers and sisters in the faith out there, whether you're dancing with joy or dejected, let us keep your eyes up above.  Let us honor and respect our Father's chosen.  Let us continue to do His will and follow His commands to love Him, love others, and glory Him in all things.