ministry

Was it for me?

I want you to read a section of Scripture that you might not be familiar with. I don't think I've ever heard a sermon preached on this. I know I've never read it and comprehended it until this year, but this section of Scripture has been weaving around my brain for two solid months now, and I've been so affected by it that I want to share it with every person I know. It has broken me. It has led me to confession and repentance. It has comforted me in times of distress. It has become a value I use to make decisions. It has helped me to better understand God, and that's no small thing.

In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, which is Chislev. Now the people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-melech and their men to entreat the favor of the Lord, saying to the priests of the house of the Lord of hosts and the prophets, ‘Should I weep and abstain in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?’

Then the word of the Lord of hosts came to me: ‘Say to all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves? Were not these the words that the Lord proclaimed by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and prosperous, with her cities around her, and the South and the lowland were inhabited?’

And the word of the Lord came to Zechariah, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.’ But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the Lord of hosts. ‘As I called, and they would not hear, so they called, and I would not hear,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘and I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations that they had not known. Thus the land they left was desolate, so that no one went to and fro, and the pleasant land was made desolate.’
— Zachariah 7:1-14 ESV

Let me try to clear up what is going on here because there are some words and backstory that I didn't know. After the Israelites were taken into exile, they had no temple and therefore no place of worship. They began the religious observance of fasting on four significant days around their exile. They fasted on the day the siege of Jerusalem began, the day the wall of Jerusalem was broken through, the day the temple was destroyed, and the day their high priest was murdered. In my mind, I've always pictured Jerusalem's fall happening in a slow-motion movie sequence that lasts only a few days. The reality of these events recorded in Scripture shows that the destruction of Jerusalem and exile of God's people was a series of horrific, traumatic violence that lasting at least 10 months.

The word Chislev in the first paragraph is the name of a month in the Jewish calendar, the third month to be exact. At the beginning of the fifth month was when the Jewish people would fast in remembrance and mourning of the destruction of the temple. 

You also need to know that the exile had ended, many of the Israelites had returned to Jerusalem, and the temple was in the process of being restored.

When the men came to ask the priests, “Should I weep and abstain in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?” what they were asking was could they stop fasting in mourning of the destruction of the temple now that the temple was being rebuilt?

The people had just fasted the month before in remembrance of the destruction of the wall. The was not yet rebuilt, and it wouldn't be rebuilt for another 70 years. The people didn't really want to fast, and they thought they could get off the hook for one of the four fasts since the temple was now being restored.

God cut right to the people's heart issues when He gave Zechariah these prophetic words: "When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted?"

God sliced away every bit of the outside, surface, distracting baggage, and He shined a spotlight on the heart of His people.

Was it for me?

With these words, God swept away the religious acts, the busyness of their hands, the pious physical actions, the empty observances, the outwardly sacred, the pride-building sacrificial compliance, and He uncovered the barrenness of their feelings towards their God.

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Was it for me?

Here's where this account of our God becomes so beautiful to me. God doesn't do what I would expect Him to do. He doesn't lecture His people on how they need to actually love their God. God points to who He loves, and says love these people. 

These are the words God gives. “Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”

God cuts deeper into their already exposed hearts, and He points out their lack of justice, love, and mercy. He reminds the people of the lawless, heartless sins that lead to hard-hearted people that were allowed by God to be exiled.

This is where my heart shatters. I look around at our American church and I don't see a focus on justice, love, and mercy. I see a focus on religious acts, busyness of hands, pious physical actions, empty observances, outwardly sacred, and pride-building sacrificial compliance. I see a focus on defending political views as if they are sacred while ignoring the sacredness of showing mercy to the sojourner (which would include foreign refugees.) I see a focus on following rules while distancing themselves from those who are poor or oppressed.

I look at my own heart that is exposed. I see pride, selfishness, and hurry instead of love, mercy, and seeking justice.

I look at my religious weekly activities. I let God ask me, "Was it for me?"

Sometimes I don't like my answer.

I think of the praise song we sometimes sing when we join with other parts of our Church, "Break my heart for what breaks Yours." Here we have God plainly lining out what breaks His heart: lies and corruption in justice, people who don't show kindness and mercy (giving others more than they deserve), oppressing the vulnerable, not caring for the temporary stranger, and not caring for the poor.

My heart breaks for these things, and I feel unbelievable comfort when I realize God cares more than I do about injustice.

My trip-ups in my twenty years of ministry haven't always been neglecting the poor or seeking justice. I've been serving in urban, missional church in the heart of my city sharing the love of Jesus with the vulnerable.

My heart issue comes when I allow God to ask me that question about my ministry: "Was it for me?"

Was I feeding children for God's benefit? Was I serving the poor because it was God's will, and was I serving each of those faces because Matthew 25 tells me that those faces were Jesus himself?

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If I allow God to slice into my human heart, I see emotions that shouldn't be present in these religious actions with my hands. I see pride. I've gotten something out of the service, and I am not honest with myself when I don't recognize it and repent of it.

It feels good to serve. Look at me. Look at the sacrifices I am making to love and care for the overlooked, vulnerable, hurting people of my city. I read the end of James, chapter one, and I boast that I'm doing religion right. I feel sorry for the suckers sitting in "regular church."

And God says, "Jennifer, was it for me?"

I can care for the poor, the refugee, the widow, and the orphan, and still, I am not God. I don't deserve the praise.

I can give up comfortable church to serve in a missional church for twenty years, and still, I am not God. No one should pat me on the back.

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If our motivations are wrong (if you are human, your motivations will be wrong), we should stop what we are doing and figure out what God is doing.

This doesn't mean we cease to care for the vulnerable. Instead, we daily take a pause to repent of our pride and ask God what we can do for Him.

He daily asks, "Was it for me?"

We honestly answer. We hope we can answer that we acted out of love. We hope we can answer we did it for His glory and not our own.

Fall Lessons

The week before Thanksgiving, I went to a week-long ministry retreat with my husband. It was amazing to get away from day-to-day life for that long. The only time my husband and I have been away from home that long is on short-term mission trips. Being away to rest and renew in the mountains was a completely new experience.

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You may never have an opportunity to have that experience so I want to share some things I learned. (The retreat was called SonScape. If you're interested, email me and I'll give you more details.) 

Here are five things I learned in my week of retreat:

1. I learned that I'm better at knowing other people than I am at knowing myself.

I learned about Myers-Briggs personality types, and I learned that I am an INFJ. That means I am: introverted (I prefer to focus on my inner world), iNtuitive (I focus first on the big picture), feeler (I think about people and feelings over logic), Judging (I get satisfaction from completing tasks and long for closure to all problems.)  Because I am an intuitive feeler, that means I have deep thoughts and deep feelings.

It was much easier to spot how other people in my life might fit into one of the sixteen personality types than it was to know that my personality type fits me. I am also actually less introverted than I thought I was. I am only slightly-introverted. I enjoy being around people more than I thought I did. I am just picky about who I want to spend time with because I am such a deep feeler, I don't want to spend time with people who can't go deep with me or I don't feel they are safe to share my deep feelings with. The problem with this is that my personality type is the rarest, meaning there aren't a lot of people who like to go deep like I do. INFJ is only 1% of the population. That means I would have to meet 100 people before I would find another INFJ. My husband has a more frequent personality type. He could meet 11 people, and chances are one of those people would be the same personality type that he is. We even have more than one of his personality types in our immediate families. So I'm on a mission to find another INFJ to be friends with. If you are reading this and you are an INFJ, let me know!

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2. Play is part of Sabbath

Sabbath was made for us. We need it. God does not need Sabbath. (Mark 2:27) The purpose of Sabbath is not a religious testing to see if we can sit still for 24 hours. It is a time of putting down our work. That's really the only requirement, we are to not work. (Exodus 20:8-11)

In God's Word, we are never called the adults of God. We are children of God, and just like play is an integral part of child development, playing is necessary for children of God too. Beautiful times of pure worship can happen in the middle of play.

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3. An awesome definition of fear

Our retreat leaders suggested we listen to a Brennan Manning sermon that was on an iPod in our cabin. The sermon was so wonderful. One of my favorite parts of the sermon was Brennan's definition of fear:

Fear - silent wonder, radical amazement, and affectionate awe at the infinite goodness of God.
— Brennan Manning

So often we associate having fear of God with the idea that God is dangerous, likely to cause us pain or that God is a threat, but this isn't the emotion of fear that God demands from us. Brennan's definition of fear is a relief for an anxious person such as me. 

4. Emotional health affects our spiritual health

Much of my quiet times at the retreat was focused on the work I've been doing in therapy. Getting my head and heart to a healthy place is very important to ministry and my Spirit, my relationship with God.

Getting healthy will require us to pull back the veneer. It won’t happen until we’re serious enough to get honest, own our stuff, and take responsibility for our soul care. We’ll need to go to some of the most private corners of our soul... dark places where personal ambition, insecurity, fear, and brokeness reside. These and other lurking soul predators would love to devour you, those you live and your ministry.
— Lance Witt, Replentish

Emotional health pursuits like therapy, journaling, meditating, breathing, reading self-help books, creating quiet, leaving margin, and having boundaries might sound like it has nothing to do with your spiritual life, but it is crucial to your relationship with God. You are a whole person, and God has called you to love him with your whole self (mind, body, and spirit.)

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5. We need all need healthy, weekly rhythms of rest and quiet.

Our retreat journal said this, "It is not the people around us that are holding us back from a life of deep intimacy with Jesus. It is not the people around us who are keeping us addicted to busyness and noise. It is ourselves." 

We have to take responsibility for our choices. We need to make decisions that will plan times during our week that allow us to get quiet and ask these questions: 1. Who is God? 2. Who did God make me to be? 3. What is God doing in my world? 4. How can I be a part of what God is doing?

Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.
— Matthew 6:6 The Message
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I learned so much more than these five things, but these were my favorite new lessons I couldn't wait to share with you. It would be impossible to fit all seven days into these few words. If you are in ministry (whether you are feeling burnout or not at that point yet) I know a SonScape Retreat will impact your ministry life for the better.

If you want to share what you've learned this fall, check out Emily P. Freeman's What We Learned Link-up.

Day 20: Bad to good

Paper Tigers & Impressing God

A Write 31 Days Series

God doesn’t waste anything.  He has the ability to take our worst hurts in life, redeem the hurt, and use the circumstances for good.

This idea could not be better illustrated than through the story of Joseph.  Joseph was thrown into a pit by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused, falsely imprisoned, and forgotten.  God weaves this story of heartache and betrayal into a redeeming story of saving the nation of Israel from starvation during a famine.  He also brings healing to the broken family.

Joseph tells his brothers this:

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
— Genesis 50:20 ESV

In my life, I have seen God take horrible situations and use it for good.

Here are some examples for you.

  1. Using the hurt of loosing my brother to spur me onto more, deeper ministry, especially to Ethiopia.  I tell the story here.
  2. On my third trip to Ethiopia, God called a young man who had lost his brother-in-law to join our trip, and God used his testimony of loss and salvation to share the gospel with young men in the ministry we visited.  (Click here and scroll down to number 6.)
  3. I have been able to use my testimony of loss to contribute to the website The Gift of Second.  They have visitors every day looking for encouragement after losing a loved one to suicide.

God can also use something non-spiritual to lead someone to know Him.

Here are some examples of that.

  1. My friend Jackie was assigned community service after being convicted of a crime.  That community service brought Him to my church, where my father-in-law led Him to the Lord.  Jackie has been one of the employees at our church that's been there the longest.  He met his wife at our church, and he adopted four children.  God moved in Jackie’s life beginning with something non-spiritual, state-issued community service.
  2. One of my favorite stories from Tony Kriz’s book Neighbors and Wise Men is the story of the man in the communist country of Albania becoming a Christian through a National Geographic magazine.
  3. While my husband was out of the country doing mission work in Mali, I was under serious spiritual warfare.  I was having such a tough time, James was beginning to wonder if he would have to try to find a way to leave the mission, before it even began, to come home and help me get through my struggles.  I begged him not to even consider coming home.  The devil would have won that battle if he abandoned his mission only a few days in.  I went to a worldly yoga class, and God really spoke to me as I was doing the breathing and meditating on Him.  He reminded me how much He loved me, how precious I was to Him, and to put on the full armor of God to fight off the fiery darts and lies that the devil was discouraging me with.

God can and will use any and everything on this earth to show us that He loves us and advance the gospel.

We discussed motivation on day 6, and we decided that God could even use our bad motivations to advance His gospel here on earth.

Praise the Lord that He is able to use awful things for good.

 

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I like to include a song with each blog post.  Here you go.

Day 13: Tiring Out

Paper Tigers & Impressing God

A Write 31 Days Series

I could not have begun to learn how to quit fearing paper tigers without coming to the end of myself by tiring myself out.  I was like that annoying toy in the bottom of the toy box that makes noise every time something gets jostled.  I needed to run out of batteries.  This didn’t happen overnight, but over a series of events over three years.  Let me list them for you.

1st -- My first mission trip overseas.  I came home with such a passion to change the circumstances that I saw children living in.  I rallied friends and strangers to donate every cloth diaper I could get my hands on.

2nd -- My second mission trip overseas.  I was so excited to take supplies to the orphanages we had visited.  I began to realize that my efforts were such a drop in the bucket of meeting the children’s needs.  I began to realize that my efforts were good, but they weren’t world changing because the problems were so vast.

3rd -- I said yes to almost anything that advanced the gospel, no matter how difficult it might be to accomplish.  I was afraid I would miss something God had for me.  I was afraid that if I didn’t say yes, that no one else would say yes.

4th -- I picked “ardent” as my word for the year because I was so gung ho excited to work hard changing the world.

5th -- I was standing in the living room crying because I was so tired.  I felt like I was doing all the right things, and God was holding out on me.  I was serving Him, and the burden was so far from light.  It was the night before a women’s event, and I had worked so hard all week.  I had missed some sleep, and I knew I wouldn’t get sleep until the event was over.  There was a detail that had to be handled before I could go to bed, and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.  Why wasn’t God looking out for me?  Why hadn’t He sent more help?  Why was the response less than I had expected?  Why are some things “successful” and other things just not?  Was this a spiritual attack and I was just too immature to see it?

6th -- I attended a women’s conference where we were encouraged to ask God what He wanted us to do for His Kingdom.  I had a dozen answers I could have written down, a dozen things I could lead, start, or volunteer to accomplish.  I listened and wept as the Holy Spirit told me the answer I was suppose to write down, “Just be you.  Just be the one person you are.  Stop trying to do it all.  Just be.”

7th -- I had a tough summer because of low vitamin d.  I was running on empty, and I had been for months and months.  I had to do some self care over the summer that resulted in a really great tan.  God showed me a passage in Galatians, and as I read it in The Message version, my eyes were opened to how deeply I was people pleasing and God impressing.  God began to shift my thinking and open my eyes to His truth.

8th -- My third mission trip overseas.  The lesson that what I can do on my own is so insignificant really finally was sinking in.  I could see that what we had done was only effective because Christ moved in spite of our efforts.  I began trying to verbalize what God was teaching me, but it was coming out all wrong.  The ideas I’m sharing in this blog series began to sprout on that trip.

 

That moment crying in my living room was just a piece of the story God was sewing in my life, teaching me this lesson, but I can so easily recall that feeling.  I felt completely alone in my pursuit to live out a calling for Him.  I felt like even God was not doing His part.  I wanted God to be proud of me, impressed by all that I was doing, and He was holding out on me.

This feeling, these questions are the heart of why I’m writing this series.  We’ve covered some ground on our topic; we are almost to the half way point of our 31 days.  Over the next few weeks that we have left, I hope to answer at least a few of these questions that we maybe have not answered yet.

Tiring out and coming to the end of myself was just the beginning.

What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a ‘law man’ so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.
Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.
— Galatians 2:19-21 The Message

Click to return to series table of contents.

 

I've already shared this song once (or maybe even twice), but it it is the theme song of my journey here.  I love it so much.  This vid has lyrics, so there's that.

Day 6: What's My Motivation

Paper Tigers & Impressing God

A Write 31 Days Series

Part of trying to figure out the issue of impressing God leads me to examine motivation.  I have been trying to examine why I do things.  Why do I serve God?  Why do I sacrifice time and money for Him?  Sometimes I don’t like my answers to these questions.

The most frustrating thing is that I can’t figure out what the correct answers are.  My humanity can let even the most canned Sunday school answers turn self-serving.

I want to serve for the right reasons, and I want my offering of time and money to be pure.  Is that even possible?

Maybe I should just take on Paul’s attitude of “what does it matter” in Philippines 1.

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.
— Philippians 1:15-18 ESV

I posted this idea about motivations on my Instagram, and my sister-in-law Anna Clement commented this, “I struggle with this too.  Especially when I’m burnt out with the people I am serving.  My efforts feel pretty vain when inside I’m thinking, ‘I don’t even like these people right now!’  In those times I try to be honest with God since He already knows my heart.  Sometimes He tells me to just stop and let Him bring me back in tune with His Spirit before moving ahead.”

Being honest with God is so simple, but sometimes it is hard for me.  If I’m trying to impress God, I don’t want to say something to Him that I know He’s not going to like, even if I know deep down that He already knows what I’m feeling and thinking.

As humans with a nature to sin, it is impossible to have our motivations pure all of the time.  We cannot share the gospel and serve others always in truth, good will, grace, and love.  We can try, but we will never do it perfectly.

Paul says in Philippians that the gospel is proclaimed every single, stinking way that it is preached.  If it is out of good motivations or bad, either way, Paul says that he rejoices that the gospel is advanced.

God can use your serving Him, even when it is done with bad motivation.

We continue to please God in all that we do and advance the Gospel, even when our heart isn’t right.  Because truth be told, if we stop and start analyzing our motivations, they are never going to look right.

Let us do our best to serve in truth, good will, grace, and love, but as we fall short, because we will fall short, keep advancing the gospel.

Looking back at my service to Him over the last few years, I see it steeped in wanting to impress God.  God used my service anyway.  I can see that the gospel was advance, even when my motivations smelled yucky.

I thank God that He is teaching me to stop trying to impress Him.  I am so thankful He is showing me how much He loves me, no matter what.

Knowing this motivates me to serve Him more.

 

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I like to share a song with each blog post because music makes me happy.  Jack White is the best guitarist of my generation, and even when he's covering a borderline silly song, he's genius.

Day 3: Memorial

Paper Tigers & Impressing God

A Write 31 Days Series

Yesterday I wrote about learning to water ski, as a kid, to impress my dad.  That memory popped into my head recently at the strangest moment.  I was in Washington DC for an overnight stop before flying to Ethiopia with a mission group.  We had 26 suitcases, each 50 pounds, full of supplies and donations.  We had checked them in Dallas, and we had to claim them all and take them to our hotel for the night before checking them again in the morning.  This meant we had to drag all 26 suitcases through the airport, out to the sidewalk, across traffic, and down to where the hotel shuttle would pick us up.

(Photo by Traci Judd)

(Photo by Traci Judd)

As I was dragging 100 pounds and my carry-on through the airport, out the door, and across the street, the aching in my arms jogged the memory of aching arms from water skiing.

I also had a Bible story pop into my head as we crossed the street in front of the airport.  I immediately thought of the Israelites passing over the Jordan River on their way to the promise land.  God had them carry stones, one for each of the twelve tribes, and place them in pile as a memorial.

When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.‘ When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’  then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”
— Joshua 4: 1-3, 6b-7 ESV

God wanted the Israelites to remember what God had done for them; He had brought them out of Egypt and into the promise land.

The best way to remember something is having a physical reminder and a muscle memory for that event.

Think of the way Daniel son was trained by Mr. Miyagi in Karate Kid, not that this is equivalent to the example out of scripture, but it is a good illustration.

 

Wax on, wax off.

Paint the fence.

Sand the floor.

 

God told them to pick up some rocks, knowing how the guys I know operate, they probably scoured the river bed and bragged who had the biggest rock to contribute to the memorial.

As they carried these big, heavy rocks, they were creating a memory.  And what they were to remember wasn’t what they had done, but what God had done.

After arriving in Ethiopia with all 26 of our heavy suitcases, I sat on my bed and thought all of this through.

I wanted to not remember that I had carried supplies for orphan care to Africa.  I wanted that muscle memory of dragging those bags halfway across the world to remind me of what God had done.

God had not only worked all of the circumstances out for good so that our orphan care trip was possible, but he was bringing my heart into a better place, a place filled with grace and freedom.  He was using my serving Him to teach me that what I could do for Him wasn’t where my security should come from.  What I could do for God shouldn’t be where my value comes from, and it was never going to make me holy in the sight of God.  I could never impress God with my proper behavior or good works.  My worth, value, and righteousness comes only from Him.

That is what He has done.

That is what we must remember.

 

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I like to include a song with each blog post.  Why not?  Music is the best.

Outsider

Yesterday I glanced out of my kitchen window and saw a bicycle ride by.  It was Michael.  He always has a boyish appearance, with a bright baseball cap and torn jeans.  Getting to know him, I’ve learned that he isn’t a young guy, in fact, he has an adult son.

Michael is one of the many homeless that have become a fixture of our downtown church location since beginning our ministry at Citychurch.  He even worked in our church’s kitchen for a period of time, but it was short-lived since he was let go because of thievery.

I have two thoughts as I see Michael ride past my house.

One, I feel thankful that I live on a street where people we encounter, try to love, in our ministry downtown would ride past my home.

Two, I wonder about Michael’s son.  The last time I talked to Michael, in the middle of this summer while I was in the neighborhood delivering lunches to kids, Michael’s son was enrolling for college.  I wonder how his son is doing in college.  I wonder how he feels having a bike-riding, panhandling, homeless dad.  I wonder if it makes him driven to become something, ashamed, or both.  I wonder how I would feel if my dad was homeless.

This week has been hard for me.  My husband has been out of town, and he makes home feel like home.  He makes church feel like our church.  I’ve felt very unconnected to the people around me.  I’ve felt like my heart is homeless.

I am trying to be thankful for this feeling.  I am trying to be thankful for the reminder that this world isn’t my home.

I’ve felt like an outsider this week, and that is what He calls us to be.  Jesus was our example.  Jesus was just as homeless as Michael.  Jesus lived as an outsider; he died as an outsider.  We love, do good, and share with the outsiders because He was an outsider and so are we.

So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
— Hebrews 13:12-16 ESV

I would like to say that it is all very beautiful to feel like an outsider, and I’ve loved everyone so well because of this reminder.  I haven’t handled this week well at all.  I’ve pushed others away.  I’ve felt sorry for myself.  I’ve worried; I’ve wept.

Feeling like an outsider isn’t easy.

He promises to equip us.  I’m counting on that today.  I need it badly.

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
— Hebrews 13:20-21 ESV

Sometimes we need Jesus to equip us to just make it through a hard week or two, and sometimes we need Jesus to equip us to actually share with actual homeless men, women, and children.  I don’t want to overstate me and my homeless-feeling heart.  It is nothing compared to the trauma, hurt, and needs of people who don’t have a home at all.  Sitting in my lovely home, longing for the fulfillment that Heaven will some day bring would sound like such a luxury to many in my city and many more in the poverty of third world countries.

Let us strive to love the outsider, whether that outsider is a fellow human in need or that outsider is just us.

Let brotherly love continue.
— Hebrews 13:1 ESV

 

 

I like to share music on my blog.  Here's a song for you.  There's nothing wrong with an instrumental interlude now and then.

Ministry's Companions

We are in the thick of summer ministry.  Being in the neighborhood four days a week brings the struggles of poverty into glaring light.  The heartaches that are faced in our neighborhoods are in my face, impossible to ignore, rehab recoveries, working poor struggling to provide groceries, frugal landlords that neglect their properties in unsafe ways, young men who’s lives have ended with gun shots in our city parks, parks that should be sanctuaries for children to play are places of business for drug dealers and gang members, seeing disfunction be the norm for families, hardened hearts and hungry stomachs.

There is a sadness that comes in intense times of ministry.  I wrote about it last summer and this winter.  It is a natural part of any type of incarnate ministry, when you meet people where they live.  When you get street-level, eye-level, to a person who is suffering, how do you not feel compassion well up in your spirit?

I found out this spring that I had a vitamin D deficiency.  I have attacked the problem with full force, supplements, salmon, eggs, and I haven’t been this tan since I was a kid that spent weeks at the lake.

Low vitamin D can contribute to depression, and some days I feel like that cartoon character that has the little cloud following him around.

I’m told that I look tired quite often.

I’m conscious of it, I’m resisting, but there’s no mistaking it, I’m sad.  Sad for the problems I can’t fix and sad because my brain needs some vitamin D.

I know I’m in trouble when I start taking offense meaningless crossed arms.  Or feel hurt by not words said, but unsaid words.  Or when I want to take up residence inside a Tres Leches cake.

These are all signs that my hormones or brain chemistry are letting me down.

I try to tell my brain to just hold on and feel better, but it doesn’t want to listen to me.

My husband tells me that I’m making it worse by reading sad books.  He might be right, but I would tell you to pick up The Kitchen House or Just Mercy in a heartbeat.  We can’t fix a problem that we don’t know about.  I think coming to a place of grief over our country’s problems is the first step in working towards better race relations.

This isn’t a blog post where I have ah-ha moments for you or some neatly wrapped lesson for you to take away.

What is the solution to sadness?

Joy?

Joy is right there beside the sadness, but it isn’t so much a solution.  It is a companion to sadness.

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls, 
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
— Habakkuk 3:17-18 ESV

My joy is just as present this summer.  It is always with me.

Maybe you are getting ready for a mission trip or an intense season of ministry.  I feel responsible to warn you that sadness will come, but you can weather that storm.

Hold onto joy and celebrate hope.

Maybe your pastor or a missionary friend looks tired.  If they are doing their job right, there’s some sadness and joy in their eyes.  They might need some extra love, maybe a hug or a slice of Tres Leches (as long as they are not lactose intolerant.)

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
— 1 Corinthians 12:26 ESV

 

 

When you're feeling sad, you know Glen won't let you down.  His music will keep you company, and the horns will cheer you up.

Can I graduate?

#servetogrow part 3

When I think back to what I learned about accounting in college, it was a bit inadequate.  I have barely used my accounting degree, but to the extent that I did, I had to figure out how to actually do the day to day work of book keeping and IRS filings.  We didn’t learn many specifics in the classroom.  It was a lot of theory.

I think a lot of college degrees are like this.  A businesswoman isn’t actually an entrepreneur until she puts her name on the line and works to build a business.  A lawyer has to get in a courtroom, and a plumber under a sink.

Looking at how local churches operate, members are pushed from one Biblical classroom to the next, rarely putting their knowledge to test in the real world.

But isn’t in the real world where the practical lessons and specific lessons are learned?

Most of my Christian friends want to take their faith into the world and share Jesus’ love with others, but they don’t know where to begin.

Start where the Apostles started, and fish for men.

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
— Matthew 4:18-22 ESV

How do we fish for men?

We get over the fear of messing up, and we share our faith with others.

The good news is that the Gospel of Jesus is simple.  The truth of our sin, our need for a savior, His perfection, and His unfailing love for us can be understood by a child.  As “big people,” we have a tendency to muck it up with too many details.  We use big words and worry we don’t know enough theology.

Let me just put your mind at ease and tell you that if you have been born again, you have everything you need to graduate into the real world.  You are armed with a special weapon:  your testimony.

It is that simple.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’
— Matthew 18:1-4 ESV

When we actually go out into the world to fish for men, we will learn different discipleship lessons, more specific discipleship lessons.  You will learn how to fish in a way that will catch men.

Your special weapon, your testimony, will grow and become more powerful as you serve the Lord.

 

Missed other #servetogrow posts?

 

I like to include music on my blog posts.  One of my favorite artist, Andrew Bird, came out with a new album this week.  This song features Fiona Apple, who has a beautiful voice.  Their acting in this video is so much to watch.

Get out of the classroom

#servetogrow part 2

How did Jesus teach His disciples?  He didn’t put his carpentry skills to work and a bust out a dozen desks.  Instead, He said, “Let’s go.”

I believe the Lord still teaches OTF.  OTF, that’s “on the fly.”

If this is the case, why does 90% of our discipleship as a local church involve sitting down and taking notes?  Could we missing out on a big component of discipleship?  

I feel like I’m saying something a little bit controversial here.  If you have felt any hesitancy to accept #servetogrow, it might be because so few local churches are doing discipleship outside of a classroom.  Please set what usual churches do aside.  

Or your hesitancy might be because you interpret my #servetogrow idea as “works” based teaching.  I don’t intend to suggest that any works would save us.  I believe fully in the grace that God offers all of us, and I know that there is not a single physical ministry anyone could do that would make them worthy of His Throne.

But aren’t studying, reading, and praying verbs that could be considered works too?  Those church activities should set off your “works” based teaching red-flags as well.

I want to be clear that reading The Word is as necessary as eating and prayer is as necessary as breathing.  As Christians, we should be filling ourselves with His Word and His Spirit.  Without this preparation, no ministry is possible.

If you read through the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, you begin to see a pattern to Jesus’ ministry.  Jesus traveled from town to town, doing things.  He healed men, women and children.  He raised people from the dead.  He fed huge crowds of people.  He taught in stories called parables.  He preached the sermon on the Mount.  He welcomed the children to Himself.  He calms storms.  He gets alone to pray to His Father.  He dines with tax collectors and sinners.  

As Jesus was performing these miracles and acts of mercy, the disciples tagged along asking questions.  Sometimes they also got a little side lessons the Bible calls “being rebuked.”

A few times Jesus sends the disciples out on their own.  He gives them His authority to proclaim His kingdom and heal sickness.  Whenever He did this, He would send them empty handed, going out in complete faith.

Can you even image a bigger opportunity to learn lessons about God?

As His disciples, we can still go out empty handed to serve the lost, sick, and lonely.  Wouldn’t we learn from such an experience?

Last week, when I introduced #servetogrow, I said it was a theory that we grow spiritually by serving others.  I’ve been witness to something at my church, Citychurch, for a few summers now that I want to share with you.

Our ministry at Citychurch is seasonal.  We have different outreaches during different times of the school year.  We have spurts of meeting physical needs during the school year when children have holidays and school breaks, but the majority of our ministry is old-fashioned Bible teaching.  We have youth and pre-teen services, elementary aged Bible clubs, a preschool, and Sunday school.  You would think that during these times of the year, as a teacher in these programs, I would observe a lot of spiritual growth in our children and youth’s lives.  That isn’t what I’ve observed.  I’ve actually seen more spiritual growth during the summer months.  In the summer, our church is action-packed and busy with outreach.  Many of our pre-teens and youth are very active in these outreaches.  They help pack lunches, deliver on vans and bicycles, and assist with programs in the park for children.  It is during these times of outreach when our youth seem to make leaps and bounds in their ability to bear fruit.

During these times of service, the young people in our church are being mentored by the staff and volunteers.  They are putting their faith into action.  They learn OTF, and the lessons stick.

What about you?  Have you ever come back from a short-term mission trip, and said these words, “That trip changed my life?”  Have you ever learned something about the Lord as you were teaching others?  Have you served your community out of His grace, and realized you had been receiving His grace through that service?

In the coming weeks, I will be sharing some active commands the scripture gives us.  I believe that completing these actions is a huge part of your discipleship and how you should be discipling others.

 

 

I like sharing music, and I'm still on a Santigold kick.  Her new album, tho.  This song is a hilarious comment on the state of American culture.  My friends who've been to Ethiopia will recognize the influence of Ethiopian music, especially in the intro of the song.  I don't know about myself, but I can't get enough of this song.

Just be one

Last weekend was the third annual IF:Gathering.  For the third year, I participated in an IF:Local.  I helped lead IF:Amarillo, inviting women from all over the panhandle to come together in unity.

Since I was leading, I was privy to information.  I knew about the domino ending.  I could guess what was coming.  I had already begun brainstorming about what my response could be.  (Why not be prepared.  I didn’t want to get caught off guard and not have anything to offer.  How “try hard” of me.)  We had dominos and sharpies.  I knew we would be expected to write a response on that domino.  I had a list of 3 or 4 things I could have written.

When it came to that moment in the program, I decided I really should try to approach it fresh, forget my preconceived ideas.  I bowed my head and prayed, and I asked God what He wanted me to write on that domino.

I was surprised by the Holy Spirit’s response:  “Quit trying to be a whole bag of dominos.  Just be one domino.  I love you.  Just be you.  Just be one domino.”

It was true.  I’m a busy, doer.  God knows that about me.  Absolutely He knows that.  He made me.  I don’t think He is worried about whether or not I am going to do anything for His Kingdom.

What God knows is that I will run my wheels off, work myself to exhaustion for His Kingdom.  I had done it in preparation for IF:Amarillo.  I would do it again at the drop of a hat.

I believe God wasn’t telling me to slow down, but He was reminding me that He loved me, not the work I was doing for Him.  He loved me, every ugly part and every good part.  His Kingdom will come without me lifting a finger.  That has been finished.  I won’t stop working wherever He gives me a chance, but I know I’m important to Him.  He loves me.

I will be my domino.  I will fall for His Kingdom, and other dominos will fall for His Kingdom.  It’s a beautiful thing.  We can make disciples and change the world.  We can do it, not because we are something special, but because we Love the Lord and we are willing to abide in Him and bear fruit.

What did this domino response mean for me going forward?  I didn’t want to presume anything about what the Holy Spirit had just told me:  Just be one domino.

In the next days, I decided to make a list of everything I am doing for the church and for Him, everything I’m doing in the ministry, big and small.

I took that list and prayed over each item.  Something Jennie Allen had pointed out during IF had sunk in: I don’t want to be working for God, I want to be working with God.  

As I prayed about each one, I heard a still small “yes” to each item.  Well, there was one that was unclear in my spirit.  I texted my husband, and I asked him to pray about that one.

He did, and he said he knew it was something I was suppose to be doing.

It all felt good.  I felt energized and ready to keep working for His Kingdom, alongside Him, knowing how much God loved me.

And then it felt like the dominos all fell down, in a bad way.

I got a series of emails that jumbled it all again.

I got an email from our adoption agency.  Ethiopian adoptions were in danger of big changes, changes that might make it impossible for our family to continue our adoption.

I got an email from the writing conference I had plans to attend, they are taking a year off this year.  No conference.

I got a letter in the mail letting me know my paperwork sent to the US government for our adoption was denied and would need to be resubmitted.  That probably meant $900 would need to paid again.

I was angry.  I was distraught.  I went through a roller coaster of emotions.

The devil did something tricky.  He’s good at that.  He twisted the Holy Spirit’s words to me.  That isn’t a new trick.  It is exactly what he did with Eve.

The devil stated telling me that “Just Be One Domino” really meant, “No thank you, Jennifer.  I don’t need your gifts.  I don’t need you to work alongside me.”

Two big things on my list were our adoption and writing.  Other things on my list were related to those two things.

I believed the lie.  Not for a long time, but long enough.  Long enough to bawl my eyes out, want to quit everything including church, ministry, and anything spiritual.

I don’t know why I realized it was a lie, but I did.  I began to think of Job.  He lost everything.  He didn’t just get an email threatening to take a few things away, but he actually lost everything.  I would be a horrible Job.  I would be a pretty good Job’s wife.  I would be right there with her, “Let’s just curse God and die.”

I don’t want that to be true about me.  I want to be a good Job.  The ugly truth is that I’m weak.  Emotionally, I’m ready to give up easily when things look uncertain.

Thankfully I have an amazing husband that talks sense into me.  Thankfully I have an amazing church family that is praying with me and for me about our adoption.

And writing?  I’m writing this, aren’t I?

Things are uncertain right now, but what the Holy Spirit told me in the quiet response time at IF is not uncertain.  He loves me.  He loves me, not what I can do for Him.  He loves the ugly, stubborn, “work until I hit a wall,” doer, independent, try-hard me.  

Now I also know that He loves the me that wants to give up and listens to the devil’s lies.  He loves me anyway.

Guess what?

He loves you too.

 

 


Christmas Miracles Don’t Come Cheap

I’ve seen miracles this weekend, miracles of the Christmas variety.

A little girl with a blob of white hair pleased with a toy bear that came in a plastic bag, in a paper bag that included a burger and promised happiness.  This little girl has no place to call home.  She has a bag of clothes and shoes, but no closet to put them in.  But this weekend she had fun, real fun.

A little boy with the whites of his eyes made large by the wonder and magic of a train, hot chocolate, and strings of lights.  The darkness of his skin making the whites of his eyes more expressive.  His missing teeth growing back in and his borrowed gloves hanging off his new coat making his little face seem like the cutest face that’s ever existed.  This little boy has seen disappointment.  Maybe that is why his excitement is so contagious that even Santa paused to ask his name as he hands out his bells to children.

I’ve seen miracles this weekend, Christmas miracles.

A little girl that doesn’t see.  Her eyes don’t let her see the majesty of a mountain topped with evergreens and snow.  Her lack of sight doesn’t stop her from walking forward into any new room to find something new to discover.  The stairs from one floor of a lodge to another are a mystery she wants to discuss.  She feels the coldness of snow and the feeling of brand new Christmas jammies, the cold air, and the round, kid-sized pizza.

A little boy who’s parents are immigrants has an inherited accent, an accent that comes from learning to speak in a home where his parents speak the language of their childhood.  They are from a country that carries stigma, stigma that was created by a virus and sensationalized news.  He reluctantly tells us its name.  I see him included in a table, made apart of a family, treated to a bubbly soft-drink and conversation.  Inclusion is a gift.

I’ve seen miracles this weekend.

A Muslim tour-bus driver, in awe of a church’s love for children.  Ministered to by caring, friendly people.  Patient, hard working people who pour out their energy for the lowly and the least.  Surely he will reconsider his beliefs after seeing the love of Jesus so clearly at work, in hearts and with hands in front of his eyes.

These type of miracles don’t come cheap.  They are hard earned.  They require personal sacrifice.

They include interrupted sleep, dishpan hands, acres of carpet to vacuum, endless lost socks, coats, and shoes found, lost, and found again, nursing little coughs, comforting night terrors, coloring books and crayons underfoot, picked up, thrown down, and picked up again, meals prepared, snacks served, tables wiped, shoes tied, miles driven, frozen sing-alongs endured, broken sleds reimbursed, potty breaks, hand washing, and huge risks.

Church, you’re missing your opportunity.  You’re missing out on miracles.  They are slipping through your clean, rested hands, and it is your loss.

Music is the best.  Here's a song for you.

My Second Trip to Ethiopia - Storyteller Missions

(18 min. to read)

To begin, I want to tell you a few things about Ethiopia, and why orphan care trips are necessary.  Ethiopia is the only country in Africa that was never colonized by any other country.  Ethiopians are very proud of that fact, and the result is that they have held onto their culture very well.  Ethiopia did have an occupation of Italy from 1936 to 1941, and they fought a war to keep Italy from taking control of their government.  The result of that occupation is that Ethiopia has some great Italian food.  We had some amazing pizza while we were there.

Ethiopia is twice the size of Texas, and they have 91 million people.  The city we visited was the capital, Addis Ababa, and they have about 4 million people. Of those 91 million, 4.3 million of them are orphans (meaning they have lost a mother or a father or both.)  That means 5% of the total population is an orphan.  2.4 million of those children have lost their mother (and 500,000 of those losses were caused by AIDS.)  Of the 4.3 million, 600,000 of them are double orphans (meaning they have lost both their mother and their father.)  There are many other reasons a child could end up in an orphanage.  Children are abandoned everyday because their family cannot feed and care for that child due to poverty, sickness, or other reasons.  Many children are abandoned when their surviving parent remarries, and the new parent does not want to care for the children from the previous marriage.  Only 0.002% of these orphans will ever be adopted.  International adoption is not making a dent in caring for the 147 million orphans worldwide.  Our call to care for the orphan as Christians (James 1:27, 1 John 3:16-18, Deut. 14:28-29, Deut. 24:17-22) will need to be met in other ways besides international adoption.  This trip was an opportunity for us to do just that.

 

Day One (Wednesday):

4am:  The six Amarillo team members loaded in a suburban with a trailer and left Amarillo headed for Dallas.  It was a mostly quiet ride as we all tried to catch a little more sleep (except for our driver and leader Barry.)  The sunrise, as we drove, was beautiful.  We parked the truck and trailer at a Embassy Hotel reserved spot.  Then we made the shuttle driver’s day by giving him 10 large suitcases, 4 small suitcases, and 4 duffles to load.

We arrived at DFW, and had a small time of prayer as the man at the ticket counter couldn’t find one of our tickets.  The prayer worked, and our tickets were printed.

Next we played the scale game.  The 12 large bags had to be between the weights of 49 and 50.5 lbs.  Shelly had just about thrown her arms out of socket weighing the bags with a travel scale at home all week long trying to get them to exactly 50 lbs. each.  The airport scales are always just a little different than the home version.  I’m convinced this game would be amazing on The Price is Right.  Guess which bag is over 50.5 lbs.  Now shuffle donated soap, pencils, and underwear until every bag works.  And you win!

In all of the shuffling, a bag of school supplies was put into my small carry-on suitcase.  As I was putting all my stuff on the conveyer belt and taking off my shoes at security, I looked at the poster with a big “NO” sign over items, including scissors.  My brain went “ding.”  That bag had 6 pairs of scissors in it.  We quickly pulled them out, and Shelly dumped the kid scissors in the trash just in time for me to avoid a complete and embarrassing search.

Next, I paid $5 for a fruit cup at the airport Starbucks, and it was time to fly to Washington DC.

At Dulles, we gathered our 18 bags, and grabbed another shuttle to the hotel we would stay at for the night.  It was nice to get a good nights rest before our long flight the next day.

 

Day Two (Thursday):

Hotel breakfast, another shuttle ride with 18 bags, printing boarding passes at the counter, and then our favorite game.  Come On Down!

This time on the scale game, the rules have changed.  Ethiopian Airlines wants every bag to weigh between 54-55 lbs.  You’d think, “Oh.  No problem.  Yesterday they all weighed under 50.5 lbs.”  But, no.  We’ve added some new rules to our little game.  We are now going to weigh all your little suitcases and backpacks too.  They have to weigh under 35 lbs. combined.  What?  We’ve never played this way before.  So we shifted donated soap, school supplies, granola, and underwear until the lady at the counter gave up.  I’m not sure who won that one.

I have to be honest and tell you that I never let the lady at the counter weigh my backpack.  I’m no fool.  I could see the other line right next to us with Ethiopians flying to Ethiopia checking in.  They weren’t weighing any of those ladies’ purses.  How is my little Patagonia any different?

On the way to security, we met Beth, our team member from Virginia.  After we got through security, we met Mariah, our last team member, a North Carolinan.

We boarded the plane to the weird pan flute music they play, I guess to get you in the African mood.  And we were off.

 

Day Three (Friday):

As our plane descended into the Addis Ababa early that morning, out our small plane window, I could see the lush greenery and patches of deep, fertile brown, plowed into triangle plots.  The fog hung thick over the green hills and mountains.

Coming off the plane, we waited in two incredibly slow lines for visa stickers and arrival stamps.  Then we gathered our bags, one last time.   But like wet Gremlins, (I watched that on the plane, so just humor me.  Let me start again.)  But like wet Gremlins, they had multiplied.  Since we added two more to the team, we now had 14 large suitcases, 6 small suitcases, and 4 duffles, which is 24 total bags together.

Israel, AWAA’s Head of Children’s Affairs in Ethiopia, was at the doors to welcome us.  We wheeled our bags down to the vans, and the guest house driver and director transported us to the guest house.

After lunch, we went to tour Roberta Coffee.  We were led on the tour by Roberto.

His father had named the company after him.  The place was load and chaotic, but it smelled fantastic.  There were barefoot men carrying 50 lb. burlap bags on their shoulders as they ran them to fill the backend of a pickup.  There were women in a circle inspecting beans.  There was a machine cleaning and sorting the green coffee beans.  The American in me wanted to ask where the workers’ hard hats and earplugs were, but I didn’t want to get laughed at.  

Roberto showed us the difference between the coffee that was exported and the coffee that was kept to sell in Ethiopian cafes.  All of the best looking, bigger beans were prepared for export.  It was a reminder of the pillaging for Africa’s resources by more powerful countries that existed during diamond mining, the early years of oil drilling, and the evil slave trade.  In a way, Africa’s best is still being taken.  I hope that civility rules and Africa is getting a fair payment for those goods.

We went down some rickety stairs to a room that was the heart of the operation.  It was the roasting room.  The steam, the smell, the bags of roasted goodness, they were all beautiful.

Roberto told us that his father’s dream and his dream is to help improve the life of the farmer.  He said that a farmer yields the equivalent of .03 cents for every kilogram bag of coffee beans.  That kilogram bag of coffee can make quite a few $4 lattes in the States.  He said if he can raise the yield for famers just a little, say .05 cents for every kilogram bag, then it could change the life of an Ethiopian farmer living in rural Ethiopia.  His family can afford things like school for their children and basic needs.

I was encouraged to continue to buy Fair Trade certified Ethiopian coffee.  It is making a difference in families lives.

Roberto coffee will soon be available for purchase online on this website.  I would recommend it after drinking a gorgeous macchiato at Roberta’s Cafe, and I’m drinking a cup of Roberta coffee as I write this.  Yum.

 

Day Four (Saturday):

We spent most of Saturday at America World’s Transition Home.  We played with the older children, bouncing balloons around the courtyard, throwing frisbees, and kicking balls.  

We also met some local families in the America World Sponsorship program.  I love that America World not only helps with orphan care and adoption, they also have a ministry of orphan prevention. 

They have a sponsorship program to help families that are in need of a little help to support in caring for a child because of poverty.  There are 107 families in the sponsorship program, and today at the transition home, we were able to meet four of those families.  The situations that caused the child to be at risk of becoming an orphan were all unique, but there was a commonality of love, pride, and true affection from the caregiver accompanying the child to the meeting.

We met a grandmother who works hard selling bread and goods to provide a home for her 8 year old granddaughter, an aunt who is caring for her hospitalized brother's 11 year old son, a grandfather with an exceptionally bright 9 year old grandson, and a soft spoken mother who became a single because of her 12 year old son's medical hardships. 

The families were so gracious to share their stories with us and answer all of our questions that were translated to them.

We were excited to provide each of the families with a gift bag of goodies (clothes, crayons, coloring books, vitamins, toothbrush & paste, small toys, and a soccer ball.)  We also bought them macaroni, and large bag of teff, which is a grain used in making injera bread, at the market.

The families were grateful for the gifts.  The mothers might have been happy to receive the grain, but I could tell the twelve year old boy was excited about the soccer ball.  He kept taking it out of the bag and squeezing it and putting it back in the bag with a light in his eyes.

If you ever wonder if God orchestrates details that we cannot anticipate, a little black sweater told me the answer is yes.  The 8 year old girl had come to meet us in a beautiful black and white polka dot dress.  She was just beautiful with two short pony tail braids.  In her goodie bag that we had thrown together on the fly, there was this fancy, long button up, black sweater jacket that, not only fit her perfectly, but matched her sweet little polka dot dress.  The beaming on her face and her grandmother’s face was precious.

As we said our goodbyes, the rain began to pour down.  It is rainy season after all.  We volunteered our van to drive all of the families home before taking us back to the guest house.

While we were waiting for the van, I was able to ask about “E”, a boy we had met on our trip last year.  He was a sweet 6 year old that we had given Starbursts to at the government orphanage at the beginning of the week, and on our last day we had met again at America World’s Transition Home.  He had been transferred there to be considered for adoption.  He had ran up to us, and said, “I know you.  You gave me yellow candy.”

“E” had not been put up for adoption.  AWAA had done the research to find out if his story of abandonment was true, and they had found his mother.  He had ended up at the government orphanage because of a neglectful stepfather.  His mother was having a hard time finding work, so she had temporarily gone to the United Arab Emirates to work as a housekeeper.  While she was gone, the stepfather had put “E” on the street to beg, and he was taken to the orphanage.  His mother had returned to Ethiopia.

I was glad to hear that “E” had been reunited with his mother, but his family situation sounded very tumultuous.

Please pray for “E”.  AWAA has placed his family on the sponsorship program.  If you are interested in helping a family like “E”’s or the families we met, please check out AWAA’s sponsorship program.

 

Day Five (Sunday):

Sunday morning we had the privilege of attending Beza International Church.  The worship was fantastic, and the sermon was interesting and inspiring.  My favorite part of the experience was standing side by side with hundreds of Africans, knowing that they are my brothers and sisters in Christ and we together are all part of THE church and HIS bride.

Beza has two Sunday services, an Amharic service and an English service.  They also have a youth group that was impressive.  Their young people had outreach planned for the next weekend called Grand Friday Night Fire, they were producing a magazine called The Youth Mag, and they were selling t-shirts after service.  You always know a church is thriving when their young people are engaged and doing ministry.

After the service, we went to have cheeseburgers at a ultra-modern decorated restaurant called Sishus.  It had a rustic, exposed design that made me feel like I was in Austin or Portland instead of a foreign country.

In the same parking lot was a cute ice cream stand with covered patio seating.  It was called Embwa (which is how Ethiopians say the sound a cow makes.)  The ice cream was gourmet, and James was so happy to have it, he was nearly dancing.

 

Day Five (Monday):

Little sleeper pj legs hanging down through the metal crib bars and swinging was the first thing I saw when I entered the baby room.  When his little eyes met mine, he threw up his hands into the universal signal for, "pick me up."  I gladly obliged, and when I got him to giggle, I knew my job was done. 

The orphanage nannies called his name, and my new little friend jumped up and down in my arms.  This little guy was one highlight of my day and an occupant of the second room of the tour of a very large orphanage that we took this afternoon. 

We spent time with the babies, special needs children, temporary care children, toddlers, and 5 to 7 year olds.

The toddlers were especially glad to have new playmates to engage with.  They seemed to be very fascinated with my husband's watch.  Anything can become a toy when resources are short. 

As we were leaving, I was thrilled to see that the older kids had made a craft with volunteers from Beza church's youth group!  Local volunteers is a big key to providing enhanced care to such a large amount of young children.  The group had made watches out of toilet paper rolls and construction paper.  It's likely they have had their watch inspected by a curious playmate too. 

Our team was glad to have spent the afternoon showing love and care for the children.  I pray that we were salt to everyone we encountered from the newborn babies to the orphanage director. 

The much appreciated supplies we were able to donate included cloth diapers, disposable diapers, formula, vitamins, a few toys, disposable gloves, and some yoga balls to use with the special needs children. 

That morning our team had toured a very different facility. 

The Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital performs surgeries and treats women who have damaged bladders and other internal organs during obstructed childbirth. 

When an obstructed fistula happens to a birthing women in the rural areas of Ethiopia, the child can remain stuck in the birth canal for up to 8 days. 99% of the babies become stillborn when this occurs.

Our team toured the beautiful grounds of the hospital.  The hospital performs several types of surgeries on the thousands of women who are treated free of charge each year.  The grounds included rehabilitation and physical therapy rooms, education space, midwife training classrooms, and facilities to provide c-sections to women who had recovered from fistulas surgeries. 

The philosophy of the hospital was to provide a wholistic approach in their patient care.  They educated the women patients on medical and educational basics.  They also taught how to make hand made items to the recovering women and provided a shop to sell their handiworks to visitors.  This opportunity to earn a little money does wonders to boost the self esteem of the recovering women. 

Our team eagerly spent our funds of personal Birr in the small shop. 

As we finished up our tour, we were surprised to hear that Dr. Catherine Hamlin, who founded the hospital in 1975, was 91 and still living on the hospital grounds.  Ethiopia had awarded her an honorary citizenship. 

It isn't any wonder why she fell in love with is beautiful, warm, and generous country.  It is a blessing God has allowed her to significantly alter millions of women's lives over the last 4 decades. 

The hospital operates completely on donations.  If you would like to donate or learn more about the Addis Ababa Hospital, visit their website.

 

Day Six (Tuesday):

Tuesday morning we were able to visit the older girl orphanage that we had helped provided mattresses to the year before.  It was nice to see the 350 mattresses set up in their dorms.  I spotted some of the sheets that Suzanne Ward and I had spent days hunting down at numerous Wal-Marts the year before.  Buying 300 sheets was a little crazy.

We were also able to see the latrine & shower house we left money to have built last year.

The girls were fun to talk to.  James and I spent about 45 minutes folding paper airplanes with them, and then I drew pictures in my journal with them.

Our team was able to leave funds to have a concrete platform poured next to the area where the washing is done.  It has a lot of rocks that can be dangerous at night.  They also had a need for more storage for some of the bunkhouses.  Right now several girls don’t have anywhere to keep their clothes.  They have just been putting them under their mattress.  They will be able to put some wardrobes on the concrete foundation.

Tuesday afternoon we visited a small private orphanage.  We had a great time holding babies & blowing bubbles for them.

We also spent some time playing outside with the older children.  This included music, frisbee, soccer, basketball, and drawing with chalk.

 

Day Seven (Wednesday):

I think this was my favorite day of our trip.  We spent the whole day at a very small private orphanage.  They only had about 20 kids.  We played all morning, helped serve them lunch, and played again all afternoon.

They loved all the goodies we had: kazoos, hot wheels, soccer balls, frisbees, musical instruments, and paper airplanes.

Helping with their lunch was such a fun experience.  We were able to watch their cook in the shed like kitchen making injera and wot.  She even gave us a little injera lesson and let Shelly pour one on the grill.  Her injera turned out pretty great for her first try.  We handed out plates, bread, and cups of water.  Then we dished out the wot and tomatoes.  Before they ate, the oldest teen boy led the whole group of kids in a prayer thanking God for the food in English and Amharic.

Wednesday night our missionary friends Jacob and Tess Rodriguez were able to join us for dinner at the guest house.  They were serving traditional Ethiopian food and coffee, ceremony style.  I have to say that I’ve had lots of opportunities to have Duro Wot in the last few years, but the dish served that night was the best I’ve ever tasted.

Jacob and Tess are just starting their ministry in Addis.  They are SIM missionaries.  Jacob has been hired to teach theology, and Tess is going to language school.  They brought their adorable toddler son Oscar to dinner, and we made friends over the popcorn bowl.  I am so appreciative that they came and spent an evening with us.

 

Day Eight (Thursday):

Thursday morning was a lot of fun.  We got up a little early and helped serve breakfast to the children at Hope for Korah's Berta Breakfast Program.

Korah is the neighborhood of Addis that is positioned next to the city's garbage dump.  A community of people make this neighborhood their home because of the low cost and proximity to the dump to search for usable and salable items.

180 children come to the Hope for Korah compound for breakfast 5 days a week.

Women were busy grilling pancakes made from Berta, a grain with added protein and vitamins, and heating tea.  I jumped in a grabbed the tea kettle, and they put me to work filling little red cups.

That ministry felt so natural and homey to me, maybe because it is so much like what my church Citychurch does all summer long, feeding children in low-income neighborhoods of my city.

A volunteer was teaching English classes in a classroom set up in the children's compound.  He was a Christian man, and he had a heart to serve.  His goal in teaching the children was to hopefully give them a marketable skill, but also to teach them to read so that they will be able to read Scripture for themselves. 

After the kids were fed, and we spent some time letting the children practice their English with us, we went down the road to Hope for Korah's Income Generating Compound.  Women from the community are given the opportunity to make crafts that they can sell and generate income to support their families.  Most of the craft supplies are donated, and women are rewarded for good workmanship.  The IG Compound also houses a free daycare for young children that belong to the women working in the program.

We were able to shop and purchase goods made by the women, and then they welcomed us with a coffee ceremony.  A translator helped us communicate with the women while we drank our coffee.

The last Hope for Korah compound we visited was the Elders Home for Lepers Compound.  It was a beautiful time of honoring the Godly men who were gracious enough to invite us into our home and complement us for visiting them.  James shared a scripture reading with them.  He read Psalms 23 in English as Israel read it aloud in Amharic.  Israel closed our visit in a very beautiful Amharic prayer.  The presence of the Holy Spirit was palpable.

We ate a quick lunch, and then spent the afternoon visiting another small orphanage.  We arrived to a circle of chairs, all filled with well behaved children sitting in anticipation of our visit.  There was another coffee ceremony being prepared.

The children had prepared songs to sing for us.  They performed, we clapped, and then something terrifying happened. They turned to us and asked us to perform for them.  It was then that I was so happy God had answered my speaker prayer.

You know how you always forget something when packing for a trip, no matter how hard you try?  James had forgotten his speaker.  He had sat it out on our counter to charge, and when we left our house at 4am, the little speaker stayed at home.  Half way to Dallas, James informed me that he had forgotten his speaker.  We were counting on having a small speaker to play music for us when we were playing with the kids.  I began to pray that God would put an electronics store next to one of our gates at the airport so we could buy a small speaker.  God answered my prayer.  Right across from our gate at Dulles airport was a Brookstone.  James bought a great little rechargeable speaker.

James turned on the speaker, and the eight of us stood, sang, and did hand motions along to Father Abraham and This Little Light of Mine.  We may not have impressed anyone, but we might have been slightly entertaining.

 

Day Nine (Friday):

Our last full day of ministry in Ethiopia, we spent our day at the AWAA transition home.  We played with the older kids, spent time with the special needs children, and we made paper mobiles for the special needs room.  Since the week was over, we also were able to leave the speaker James bought at the airport for the nannies in the special needs room to use.  They had a battery operated speaker, but the batteries drained too quickly to keep them stocked.  The rechargeable speaker would work great for them.  Many of the special needs children really respond to music.

Friday night we ate out at a cultural restaurant.  They served traditional Ethiopian food and had a stage with musical entertainment all night long.  Many of the performances incorporated tribal traditions and dances.

 

Day Ten (Saturday):

Our flight was not until late that night.  We had time to visit a museum, do some quick shopping for friends back home, and pack our bags to go.

Traveling home is never as exciting as the travel towards a new adventure.  I don’t want to miss this opportunity to be thankful for no delayed flights and no lost bags.  Traveling from Saturday night to Sunday night was quite a long time to travel.  Once we had flown our three flights to Dallas, we still had to drive home from Dallas to Amarillo.  I don’t know how Barry was able to keep awake during that drive, but he did it.  I am thankful.  

I’m also so thankful for the opportunity to serve on this trip.  It was so educational for me to go back to the same spot, and learn even deeper lessons about short-term missions, Ethiopia, and the way God is working in our world.

 

**A note about pictures: All the really good pictures were taken by my talented husband James Lane.  He's the best.  Also, I don't feel comfortable posting faces of the children we visited on any website or social media, so I don't have any of those here. They don't have parents to protect their privacy, so I feel it's my responsibility to do that. Some orphanages did not allow photos at all and the orphanages that did allow photos expected us to be responsible with when and where we used those photos.

 
This is the CD that our driver played on loop.  Close your eyes, groove out, and you can just imagine driving through the city.

Lamentations: The “I can’t even” of the Bible

I have to confess something.  Sometimes I get angry.  The pit of my stomach boils and turns hard.  Ministry has brought me face first into cases abuse and neglect of children, and I can’t even.  

This year at children’s camp I was in the 4th grade cabin, and I had a few girls who were recovering from long-term abuse.  The fear in their eyes was fierce.  We talked about resting in the fortress of the Most High God, and I knew they wanted to, but it is hard for them to trust a solution so simple.  God, I pray they can hand their fragile trust to you.

I think about the children I saw in Ethiopia, not the ones wrapped up and riding on their loving momma’s backs, but the ones in an institution because their momma knew she couldn’t care for them.  The ones so hungry for love and attention, but have to wait their turn to be held, wait their turn to be fed.  Some of them have given up on even wanting to be touched.

I get angry.  I wonder if God is really watching.  I wonder why children have to suffer.

I wonder if there is even anything that can be done to fight back the evils of this world from harming precious children.  I wonder if God has to pick and choose which ones get rescued away from abusers and which ones continue to suffer.  I wonder if God is wondering if his church cares about these children.  I wonder if more people were mad, would there be less suffering?

I get angry at the American church.  Can they open their eyes to the suffering going on around them, around the world?  Can they spend less time selfishly and more time fighting for justice and loving the lowly children?

I get angry at myself.  Why can’t I just trust God and be optimistic?  Why can’t I make more time to pray for the children I know need prayer, need miracles, need intervention, need the protection of the Most High?

But angry people don’t want to talk to God, they want vengeance.  I want vengeance.  I want abusers to suffer, the greedy to do without.  But even more than vengeance, I want the children in human arms, with love, food, necessities, and security.

Should I be ok with God being their only over-seer when they physically need so much?  When their little brains are being damaged from lack of touch and lack of food?  How can I be ok with this?

I really want to not be angry.

The Holy Spirit reminds me of what a horrible god I would make.  I really have no business wanting answers.

Then I meet adult who were those suffering children, and guess what, they are not angry.

I meet those who have suffered serious abuse, kidnappings, beatings, real persecution, and they say everything was God’s plan.

That defies logic.  The love and forgiveness of Christ defies understanding.

They are not mad and I am.  I might have a problem.

I opened my Bible up to the prophets, they will usually be mad with me.  They are expressing God’s wrath and preaching Justice.  It didn’t make me feel any better.

I keep flipping, and I end up in Laminations.  I have to tell you that I’ve never understood Lamentations.  I did get why God included it.

I get it now.

Reading those word, I felt as if I wrote them.  Seeing these ugly things in the world, it is nothing new.  Evil existed the moment hearts turned from God.  I felt the Holy Spirit reminding me, God knows, God has always known, God understands the hurt and anger and the lamenting you have in your heart for these babies.

My eyes are spent with weeping;

    my stomach churns;

my bile is poured out to the ground

    because of the destruction of the daughter of my people,

because infants and babies faint

    in the streets of the city.
They cry to their mothers,
    
“Where is bread and wine?”

as they faint like a wounded man

    in the streets of the city,

as their life is poured out

    on their mothers’ bosom.
— Lamentations 2:11-12 ESV

How does it the Lamenting end?  With this cry for restoration.

Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored!
— Lamentations 5:21a ESV

That is my prayer.  Restore yourself to me, O Lord.  I don’t want anger.  I want peace that passes understanding.  I don’t need answers.  I want faith that makes me well.  I want righteousness that you graciously share.

God, help me to trust you.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.’
— Psalm 91:1-2 ESV
Lamentations: The Blues music of the Bible
God, we need a change.  I pray Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Again or New

There are two types of people in this world, the sentimental-tradition making type and the experience seeker.

The sentimental person will experience something enjoyable and immediately want to make a tradition of it.  Let’s do this again every year....until we die.

The experience seeker, like me, always wants to see and do new things.  They experience something enjoyable and they make plans to do something equally as amusing but complete new.  Because new is fun.  New builds character and widens horizons.

This is me.  I love new.

I don’t like doing things twice.  I don’t even like watching movies or tv shows more than once.  The words “series premier” always catches my ear.

Side-note: The movie that you can never watch too many times - The Jerk.  Always funny.  Every single time.

There is one area of my life that I’ve went against my natural instincts of “new.”  That area is ministry.

Ministry requires stick-to-it-ness.  I can’t speak for all ministries, but in my ministry to inner-city, consistency is a necessity.

I am constantly put in the position of representing Jesus to children who are use to being let down.  Used to being told one thing and delivered another.  Used to the feeling of disappointment from many, if not all, of the adults in their life.  I have heard children tell me promises of birthday parties when mom gets paid, promises of new bikes when the the taxes are filed, promises of gaming systems when dad gets out of jail, and promises of dad coming to visit at the end of the summer, well maybe at Christmas.  

The last thing I want to be to a child, who sees promises flop like a dead fish all the time, is someone who offers an empty promise.  If I say I’m going to do something with or for a kid at my church, I better go down trying to make it happen.

Another ministry that requires my consistency is the mission of caring for orphans in Ethiopia.  Last year I went on a mission trip to Ethiopia with our adoption agency.  

God did some pretty miraculous things through our mission team’s effort.  I am still in awe of how God moved to provide some big things for the children in a girls orphanage we visited.

Not only were we were able to take 31 suitcases full of supplies and visit 8 orphanages, we were also able to be a piece of raising enough money for all 350 girls to get a brand new mattress, a sheet, and a blanket.

The mission team that went a month before our trip had been the first mission team invited to visit the orphanage that houses hundreds of girls.  They had spotted some urgent needs that they hoped we could help with.  The two biggest needs were beds and latrines.  Around half of the girls didn’t have a bed, the girls that did have a bed were sleeping on old mattresses, some of them without bedding.  The other problem this mission team spotted was the bathroom situation.  The orphanage houses 350 girls, with only 3 toilets.  My family has 5 people and 2 toilets.  350 to 3.  5 to 2.  Those ratios are not even close.  The fact that all three of these toilets were on the fritz at the time of their visit is completely understandable.  Africa’s use of European plumbing + 350 girls?  Those toilets don’t stand a chance.  A latrine is a solution.  It is less fussy and gets the job done.

Our agency put out the word about the need for beds, and within days, money was raised for all the mattresses.

In a fish and loaves type miracle, our mission team had quite a bit of money left over at the end of our trip, and we were able to leave the money in Ethiopia for someone to be hired to construct a 3 stall latrine.

Earlier this month, I received word that the bathroom facilities had been completed, and seeing the picture of the completed brick building with a slanted roof and three baby blue doors was just beautiful.

I could say, “Well I’ve done the foreign mission trip,” or “I’ve been to Ethiopia,” or “I’ve seen the orphans.”  You might even been asking yourself, “Why is she going again?”

Let me tell you that not going again would be my human nature response.  Honestly, I’m even dreading some of the experiences I had, because they were heart wrenching.  I looked into eyes of children who are not having all their emotional and physical needs met and only had a hug to offer.  That wasn’t fun or satisfying.

But not going again is even harder to face.  Not offering those orphans my consistency seems wrong.  They don’t have parents, not even promise breaking parents.  They deserve so much more than I could ever give.  My 10 days isn’t even a blip on their existence, but it is all I have to offer.  Not putting my willingness into God’s hands and allowing Him to move and meet more needs seems selfish.  I saw so many needs.  I could list to a hundred and not be done.  I can’t imagine not trying to meet a few of those needs.

So I am doing something again.  I know God will be faithful to provide beyond my expectations.

This album released while James & I were on our honeymoon.  We hunted down a music store so we could buy it.  This Sunday was our 18th wedding anniversary.  Venture out, see the world, but always come back to the song you are singing.  That is life.  I'm glad to live it with my husband James.

I'm bein' salty 'cause it's a pizza (church) party y'all

(Have you heard of the band Social Club?  They have this song about pizza parties as a decrypted code for talking about Jesus when you're not suppose to be.  It's non-stop played at Citychurch.  I can't bring up parties without it being a pizza party now.  Thanks, Social Club.  Social Club is the best.)

If you want to read what I wrote about our church party, head over to my friend Kaylie Hodges blog and read my post for her Be Salty Blog series.




Post on GUTS - Ministry, Lessons, & Repentance

Girls Using Their Strengths was gracious enough to post something I wrote about their March theme #theoneinministry.  Let me share my words with you, in case you missed it on their lovely site.

GUTS is changing the world for Christ through storytelling. Visit their site and subscribe to hear some amazing stories!

Ministry, Lessons, & Repentance


Sometimes in ministry, your lessons all line up. I love when that happens. I have lots of lesson going on in my life. Lessons for my personal Bible study, lessons for children’s Bible club, lessons for my son’s home schooling, and lessons for my high school girls Sunday school class. Usually they don’t coordinate at all. I’m all over the Bible for all different classes.

So when a few of them complement each other, I am always in awe of God’s timing. But when the words “rebuke”, “anger” and “chastise” were the thread holding the lessons together, I wasn’t sure if it was so neat anymore. I told myself to stay moldable and listen to what God might be showing me.

I figured you ladies would love to join in my gentle reminder of the discipline side of God. Trouble loves company. Right?

This morning in Sunday school I was teaching my girls about Moses, and as I read these words out loud, they kind of stung, “the Lord’s anger burned against Moses” (Exodus 4:14). Moses is having a conversation with God. God is asking Moses to go and lead His people out of Egypt. Moses is full of insecurities. God answers question after question, and Moses finally tells God, “send someone else.” This is when God becomes angry.

After Sunday school, I go downstairs to church. Our church likes to show those snippet videos at each service. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes serious. Today it was a video about Peter being rebuked by Jesus.

I pulled out my Bible in the dark sanctuary while the video was still playing. I wanted to read this story clearly from the pages of my copy of God’s Word. My spirit was telling me that God was showing me something.

The story goes like this. Jesus begins teaching the disciples about how He is going to die and be risen three days later, and Peter gets mad. He takes Jesus aside and gives him a hard time.

Jesus does something unexpected and frankly harsh. He says this to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan, because you’re not thinking about God’s concerns, but man’s!” (Mark 8:33)

I’ve been spanked by my parents. I’ve been yelled at too. I was even sat on by my 5th grade teacher because I was talking in class. But I cannot imagine the sting of being called Satan by my friend Jesus.

Most of us spend our adult life reminding ourselves and each other that our earthly father is an inadequate representation of our Heavenly Father. We do so much of this that we forget that God isn’t the “cool parent” allowing whatev’s either.

This is what my Bible study in Hebrews this week brought up.

“And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’ It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” Hebrews 12:5-7 ESV

Sometimes we will even think of God as being the disciplining Father, but here is an example of Jesus chastising Peter. We sometimes undeservingly give Jesus a hippy, laid back personality. I blame it on the badly produced Jesus movies and musicals of the 60’s and 70’s. Over 40 years later, we are still trying to convince people that Jesus is not the guy you met at Lollapalooza, but instead He is God. Jesus said this in John 14:7, “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also.” ESV

So what was God trying to show me? Besides the correlation of loving discipline from God to Moses and Jesus to Peter, God was also chastising me.

This morning in church service, I quieted my heart and listened to the Spirit that dwells in me, and he reminded me of something I need to repent of.

I’ll share this sin with you here. I have been reading a lot of books about ministry. A book I was reading this weekend described a type of ministry I have devoted my life to with a word in quotations. I was offended. Offended by quotations. I got mad at the author. I complained to my husband.

I was rebuked for being offended when it was something written in a general way in a book that has been in print for years. What good does it do to be offended by something that wasn’t personally written to me? Even if it was, isn’t only God who can take offense to criticism of His ministry? 

It isn’t my ministry. It is His. Me being offended leads to bitterness. God needs my heart soft to do ministry. You cannot be tenderhearted and bitter at the same time.

I repented. 

And I thanked God for His discipline because surely it was loving. I know God loved Moses and Peter. He clearly loves me.

Live the Mission

At Citychurch we have this saying, "You can be a missionary in your own city, and go home and sleep in your own bed at night."  You might have heard my father-in-law Don Lane say it from the pulpit or on our tv show For the Heart of the City.  He came up with all of our best sayings and truths at Citychurch.  You might of heard my pastor and brother-in-law Donnie Lane say it on the show or write it in a newsletter.

I've heard the saying countless times.  I've even repeated it to my friends countless times.  In 18 years at Citychurch, I don't think I've lived it as much as I did yesterday.  Yesterday felt so much like a mission trip, I forgot I was at home a few times.  Lying in my bed last night, I could help but smile at how much fun I had had being a missionary to my own city.

For more than 5 years now, we've been taking our Citychurch youth group out of town for a mission trip during spring break.  Our trips have taken us to a couple different areas of Houston and to McKinney, north of Dallas.  During these trips we help someone who is doing inner-city ministry to children.  Our youth know exactly what to do, because they help do the same ministry here in Amarillo all summer long and sometimes they have been the recipients of this type of ministry as children.

This year, we decided to stay in Amarillo and have our youth group help facilitate a pre-teen lead outreach week.  We have a huge pre-teen group at them moment.  We could not imagine taking them out of town or leaving them here with nothing planned for them, so we changed our plan.

Yesterday I showed up at Citychurch with James ready to do whatever they needed me to do.  I started by helping pick up pre-teen in San Jacinto, a neighborhood I haven't help with in years.  During the summer I have a neighborhood that I am the route pastor to.  My neighborhood is our smallest, but most downtown located neighborhood that we minister in.  I ride my bike to deliver lunches to about 80 kids in Mary Hazelrigg three days a week.  One day a week I drive a van and pick up kids to come to Citychurch's park for a fun morning Bible club.  On those days, sometimes I can sneak away and ride my bike alongside my husband James's bike route to North Heights.  He has the longest bike route, and I love seeing the kids and moms on his route.

Being in a neighborhood I don't usually minister to, I almost felt like I was in a different city.  We drove around picking up pre-teens and youth that were ready to help serve other kids in their own situation.

The plan for yesterday was to deliver boxes of groceries to all the children who have been actively involved in one of our afterschool Bible clubs or Sunday morning services.  The church staff had made lists of kids into routes and fixed boxes of groceries that took into account how many children were in the home.  At the last minute, they decided to take a corndog and lunch sack out to the kids too since it would be lunch time when the groceries were delivered.

As the sacks were being filled and the boxes of groceries were being loaded into trailers, we had a special treat.  Citychurch's ESL (English as a second language) class has lead Donnie to become friends with a women from Eritrea, a small African country just northeast of Ethiopia.  The Eritrean woman's name is Kidusan.  I was so excited to meet her.  She lived in Ethiopia for a while, and she knows Ahmaric.  She came to Citychurch yesterday to do a coffee ceremony for our pre-teens.  Just before we all piled on the vans to deliver groceries, the kids all gathered around Kidusan to watch her roast the coffee beans, grind them and prepare the coffee.  As they sat and ate popcorn watching the beans roast, the smell of roasting coffee beans filled the air, and I had to remind myself that I was in Amarillo.

The kids were so anxious to try the coffee, I didn't even try to get a cup.

When we were piling on vans to deliver, I asked Heather if I could help on her van.  It takes me a long time to get to know people.  I'm kind of shy.  Although I have know Heather for years, I feel like I've just gotten to know her recently, and she's one of my favorite people.  She had a sweet group of pre-teen girls that were lined up to help her.  Gabe and I go situated on her van, and headed out to Hamlet to deliver.  At the last minute, Heather's husband Jackie jumped in to help us too.  

Hamlet is another neighborhood that I have ministered in, but it has been years.  Most of the time we were driving around, I was kind of lost on those winding roads that all have tree related names.

We got back from delivering groceries, and Kidusan lead me into the kitchen to show me that she had made Ethiopian food.  Right there in the Citychurch kitchen, was injera bread, a red-spicy goat dish, and another yellow dish.  She showed me her spices and told me the names of the dishes, but I couldn't get them to stick in my head.  I was excited to try it.

The pre-teen kids all went across the street to the park.  Kidusan offered to make more coffee, and some of the adults gathered around to have a cup.  It was delicous.  It tasted exactly like the coffee we had at the coffee ceremonies I had in Ethiopia.

The pre-teens came back in for a early dinner, and Kidusan laid out her Ethiopian food for everyone to try.  I got a big plate full.  As I ate the food with my hands, dipping the injera bread into the stews, my hands began to get that familiar smell of Ethiopia.

I again had to remind myself that I was in Amarillo.

My South Sudanese friend Diana came by.  She was busy doing what she is almost always doing, helping a friend.  She and her African friend, were surprised to see African food laid out.  They were giddy as they made a plate of familiar food.

As I laid in my bed last night, I couldn't believe how much Citychurch felt so much like a mission trip to me yesterday.  Even after 18 years, there are always surprises as we meet new people and bring new children and volunteers into our ministry.

I can tell you with renewed fervor that you too can be a missionary in your own city and sleep in your own bed at night.  You too can come live the mission.

I'm excited about the bio-pic about Brian Wilson that is coming out soon.  So I was thinking about this song last night.  Brian Wilson is a musical genius, and I can't wait to see John Cusack play him on the big screen.  
Wouldn't be nice to see that movie.  See what I did there?

Gentrification and ministry

I just read a blog post by Romal Tune about the church's role in gentrification.  I had so many thoughts and feelings that I wanted to put them down into a long form response.  Not refuting his point, because his point is good, but how does his article relate to my life, to our ministry in Amarillo.

For those of you not up on your big words, gentrification is when urban areas experience a time of remodeling and updating that leads to displacing the population of people who had occupied that urban area.  The displacement occurs because of increased property values and taxes that lead to the original occupiers being forced to move away from the community.

There are some ideas and feelings that I will take away from Romal Tune's article that I will definitely hold onto.  I can feel his hurt over the loss of these communities that he once belonged to.  It is clear that the hurt is deep.  And I love his statement, "As someone whose work focuses on changing the life outcomes of oppressed people, I am biased towards congregations that are spiritual, social, and practical."

Amen!  Churches must be spiritual first a foremost, but they also must not overlook the actual day to day needs and hurts of people.

I have to brag on Citychurch's bookkeeper Dean Roush for a minute.   He keeps the money straight at Citychurch, but he also is letting God use him in ministry.  He has been teaching our adult Sunday school class for a few years now.  In his free time, Dean wrote a book about personal finance with a Biblical worldview.  

Last week Dean volunteered his Saturday to hold a free personal finance class with free childcare called Dollars and Donuts.

The adults we minister to at Citychurch have a felt need to understand how to handle their money more wisely.  Dean is allowing God to use him to meet that need.

This is just one example of a way that Citychurch is meeting tangible, felt needs of the inner-city of Amarillo.  But back to the issue of gentrification.  

Romal Tune's article points out examples of gentrification going on in California and Washington D.C., and there is no question that this is a trend going on in other large cities in America.

Where I live, in Amarillo, it just isn't an issue.  We have a very segregated city, and the one neighborhood, North Heights, that is predominately black has always been predominately black.  There are neighborhoods in north Amarillo, such as Eastridge, that were built in the 1950s as lower-middle class white neighborhoods but are now neighborhoods with dozens of races represented.

I would be surprised if in Texas that gentrification is a problem in any city outside of Dallas and Austin.  (Maybe Houston, but my parents lived in the Houston area, and I know those Houstonites love their suburbs.)  Here in the middle of America, gentrification isn't a problem yet.  Yet might be a key word.

The problem Amarillo does have is that almost every church in the northeast area of Amarillo had moved to the southwest side of Amarillo or ceased to exist because of memberships that shrunk to nothing by the early 1990s.  Most of these churches were "following the money," as Romal Tune pointed out.

When Citychurch moved downtown in 1996, my father-in-law Don Lane saw the need for the north side of town to have a church.  He felt God was calling him to be a pastor to people who couldn't afford a pastor.  And children in low-income neighborhoods, not only can't afford a pastor, they don't even know they need one.

Citychurch ministers primarily to 6 neighborhoods of Amarillo, San Jacinto, North Heights, Eastridge, Hamlet, Mary Hazelrigg, and Glenwood.  There are lots of races of children represented among those neighborhood and children we minister to.

Sometimes I have wondered why God did not send someone to start this ministry from a minority race.  Although my parents had been raised very, very poor, I grew up in a middle class, white town.  I had never even seen a homeless person or a prostitute until an 8th grade trip to Austin.  How am I qualified to spend my life ministering to neighborhood of people that have little in common with my formative years?

God always reminds me in these times of questioning about what is important to the God who created this world and all of its people.  God looks at the heart.  It's clear from the Word of God that the greatest concern of our Creator is the condition of our heart.

So my questions to the church are as follows:

     What is the condition of your heart?

     Are you loving your community?

     Are you reaching beyond the street you reside to care and love for your city?

     Are you reaching beyond the group of roads around you to your neighbors to show them love and meet their needs?

     Is your heart full of love for the church globally?  Are you reaching across the oceans to show love and meet the needs of are global neighbors?

 

My feelings are that God is more concerned with our hearts, the church's heart, than God is with real estate.  I do believe that gentrification is a problem, and as Christians interested in justice, we need to be aware of its affects.  I don't want to minimize the issue, but we need to be very aware of where God may be calling you to take the message of the love of Jesus Christ.  I suspect if you ask God and listen for an answer, it will include someone who is financially struggling.

How can I be so sure?  Because God never changes, and if you read the New Testament, you will see Jesus in the business of taking His message to crowds and homes and one-on-one meetings of financially struggling folks.  

We can also see from Jesus's actions that real ministry is never just surface level encounters.  Handing a bowl of soup to someone or dropping off your old stuff somewhere is as surface level as it gets.  Jesus met needs spiritually and physically.  Jesus made people whole.

We can't be Jesus, but we are called to try.  As Citychurch ministers in neighborhoods to children and families in northeast Amarillo, we become involved in their lives.  Sometimes more than we even want to be, and it can get interesting.  But usually we enjoy loving God's people, and we learn from their problems and hurts.  We do our best to point them to answers to spiritual questions, and we spot and meet needs constantly.  I've seen Citychurch do everything from buy work pants for a young person's new job, pay utility bills for families, give people rides to work, buy kids shoes when they show up at church barefoot, pay tuition to schools for several children, take kids to get glasses....  I could keep going, but I think you get the idea.

I appreciate Romal Tune putting words to his concerns about gentrification.  I will always be open to listening to new views about urban neighborhoods because Jesus has made my heart tender to these issues and His people living in urban areas.

My hope is that the church is preaching love, that Jesus is repairing and sanctifying our hearts, and that more and more of God's people will follow Jesus's lead to do true ministry.

But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.’
— 1 Samuel 16:7

If you haven't heard of Romal Tune, check out his amazing book that I love.

One I my favorite things James and Donnie have produced about Citychurch's ever growing mission.

Because I always like to include a song with each blog.  Here you go.  This is a classic.

True hospitality

James just got back from South Sudan on Saturday.  I force myself not to worry about him when he is in Africa.  I don't want to dishonor God by not believing God is in control of that situation.  But honestly, the Holy Spirit makes it easy.  Every trip, I have had a peace come over me, and I just know that it is ok.

South Sudan is an important country in Africa to our family.  We have a South Sudanese congregation at Citychurch, and James's previous trip has endeared us to that struggling, new country.  We pay attention to any news we come across about South Sudan.

One thing that popped up on my FaceBook feed a few months ago was an article posted by Food for the Hungry about the food shortage in South Sudan.  Because of all the tribal fighting that went on for the last year, many farmers were displaced and unable to plant their crops.  Hundreds of thousands of people are still displaced in UN camps, the city of Juba, or have fled to neighboring countries.

As James was packing for this trip, I kept bringing up these facts and encouraging him to pack more snacks and Cliff bars.  I was really worried that he was going to go hungry, like really, really go hungry.

The funny thing is that every single time I got to talk to him on the phone while he was in South Sudan, he was complaining about having to eat too much.  I'm not joking.  It was a constant stream of meals.  One day they went to visit some families in their homes, and he had to eat about 5 dinners.

James was so humbled by this experience.  The country is experiencing a food shortage.  The people of South Sudan were not getting enough to eat, but they were so intent on making sure their visitors had an abundant meal.  The village women all cooked elaborate meals in their outdoor kitchens.  The amount of work and monetary sacrifice that went into each of those 5 meals was astonishing.

Shannon Abook lives at the top of Dinka Mountain.  They went to visit her husband, but when he wasn't home she brought out cold waters and Cokes for the guys to drink.

Anykol is preparing greens for dinner.

This was Sunday dinner at Simon's home.

This was the farewell meal for the guys.  The men butchered the goat and the women prepared food all day to provide this feast as a celebration of sending their visitors back home.

Their were times when James, Donnie, and Lual were taken out to eat.  Their restaurants are not as commercial or established as we are use to, but there are restaurants.  Our Americans had taken lots of money with them for the trip, but in several instances, one of the South Sudanese men would stand firm that they were paying for the meal.  They would lay on the generosity thick in those instances, ordering extra food when a dish would come out differently than the Americans had hoped when they ordered.  They would insist on ordering extra items with the meal, like hot teas.  They wanted to make sure that their visitors had a wonderful meal, no matter the cost.

These meals made a huge impact on James.

Alueo treated the guys to this South Sudanese restaurant.  They ate dried fish, goat, soup, and injera bread.

I just finished reading a book called

Neighbors and Wise Men

by Tony Kriz

.  In this book, there is a chapter about this same sort of experience that Tony has as a missionary in Albania. Here is a short excerpt from his book.

"Occasionally I would get a chance to travel to an Albanian village.  I am not talking about an outlying city, or even a small town.  These were mountainside villages, consisting of only a few hovels....   
We would soon find ourselves sitting in a small living space, next to a freshly stoked fire.  These highlanders were simple folk but full of honor.  Within minutes I had a warm cup of mountain tea in my cold hands.  Our business rarely lasted more than a day, and though we were strangers, we were always offered a warm bed.  I was treated like a long-lost relative. 
Dinner was always, always the best they had to offer.  Each time I insisted that they not make a fuss, but there was no discussion to be had.  It was easy to imagine that a month's resources were spent on a single meal. 
My definition of hospitality will never be the same. 
True hospitality pushes past what we can afford to give up and makes deposits in accounts we can never lose."

I'm forever affected by this new definition of hospitality.  "True hospitality pushes past what we can afford to give up and makes deposits in accounts we can never lose."  That is truly profound.

While James was in Africa last week, I had two opportunities to bless someone monetarily.  It was clear God had placed these circumstances into my path, and I knew He was challenging me to give.  One of these individuals was a friend and the other individual was a stranger.  Looking back on these two times of giving, it is odd that I feel just as good about giving to that stranger as I do about giving to my good friend.

My hope is that I made deposits in that account I can never lose.

I may never have the opportunity to lavish a month's resources on a stranger, but I know every chance I get to show kindness to friends or strangers will be changed after learning this new definition of true hospitality.

"Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ." Colossians 3:23-24 ESV

As usual, I've got a song to share.  That's what's up.