The (Not) Lonely Planet

The preacher at church today spoke on one of my favorite passages of Scripture in Mark 14. Mary poured out an extremely expensive perfume on to Jesus’ feet as an act of pure, costly devotion. One point that he got across was that Judas, and perhaps some who agreed with him, did not look upon this action with favor.

Mary did something strange—but it was only strange to those who could not truly see. In fact, our preacher said, they were reviling Jesus because they deemed him unworthy of such an extravagant sacrifice. A year’s worth of wages poured out on a man’s feet, they thought with a critical eye. What a waste—this they said out loud.

It wasn’t the action that was wrong, however, but their reaction to it. They were blind to the worth of Jesus, the Messiah.

It reminded me of something I had read just the other day. I came upon the story of  2MASS J2126-8140, which astronomers once called a “rogue planet” or “lonely planet.”

2MASS J2126-8140 (I’ll call it Thomas from here on since the first part of its name sounds like my brother’s name) is an exoplanet 12 to 15 times the mass of Jupiter. It seemed to be just floating alone in space, not having a solar system to call home. Later on, however, astronomers found out that Thomas was actually orbiting a star.

Thomas revolves around TYC 9486-927-1 (let’s just call it TYC) once every 900,000 years. That makes it the largest solar system that astronomers have ever witnessed.

Thomas was clearly misunderstood (I feel you, Thomas). Just because people couldn’t see TYC, they had made wrong assumption about Thomas. In fact, it had a home, and its own connections in the universe.

Sometimes I feel like Thomas. Not everyone understands what I do and why I do it. They think it is foolish and extravagant—a waste. The real problem though, is not with what they think they see of me, but what they cannot see.

I do what I do because I am looking towards eternity (that’s way longer that Thomas’ 900,000 year orbit). What I do revolves around Jesus. If you don’t see Him, you won’t know my home, or my purpose, and you won’t understand my motives. You will surely see me as living a wasted life.

Here is the conclusion of that biblical account of Mary’s act of devotion. As our preacher put it, Jesus defended Mary by saying what she did was “beautiful,” and that her story would be retold wherever the gospel is proclaimed.

For sure, the Christian life is embraced at a great cost. Vindication rarely comes this side of heaven. But it will come. It will come not because we are so noble or self-sacrificing, but because everyone will see the worth of the One we do it for. They will see the Morning Star, Jesus, around whom everything truly revolves.

Glory!

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Don’t Get Carried Away

“Are the comforts of God too small for you, or the word that deals gently with you? Why does your heart carry you away…?” Job 15:11-12

We often use that expression, “Don’t get carried away.” It’s usually used when we get so excited about something, and need to be warned against impulsive and over-enthusiastic behavior. This morning I read this passage and thought of it another way.

This was Job’s friend, Eliphaz, speaking. Granted, he didn’t really have a clue as to Job’s situation. And yet, his probing question digs deep into the heart.

It brings me back to mother Eve, who, before her encounter with the serpent, was enjoying the perfection of God’s creation. She had all those trees, and didn’t need to look for more, until the serpent drew her attention away. He drew her attention to what God prohibited, that God was a liar, and that she would do better to help herself rather than trust that God had her best in mind. We all know how that turned out.

“Are the comforts of God too small for you?” asked Eliphaz. It pointed my attention to all that God has done, all that he has given, and all that he has been to me. What a powerful question! Is all of this not enough? Is God not enough? Remember. Take time to think about all of God’s faithfulness in the past. Meditate on His character. Selah.

So now, “why does your heart carry you away?” There are several things that may carry my heart away… from God. As soon as I read the question I saw them: fear, anxiety, doubt. Where do those really spring from? From a heart that has lost its perspective. It has moved from its intended primary focus, God, to other things.

What will happen tomorrow? Well, God has told you not to worry about that. What about my needs? God said he would provide that. Does God really know because it doesn’t seem like he’s hearing me. Believe him, he knows.

Cast all of those things that are carrying your heart away upon him, because he cares for you.

 

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My Only Resolution

It was laundry day—on its own, not a particularly challenging day. In fact, I find washing clothes with my hands relaxing. It’s almost… therapeutic.

After a couple of hours of being done, however, the water stopped. Now, this isn’t new. It happens not very often, but often enough for me to know never to let go of my water reserves.

There’s a simple choice that faces me at this moment: fret or trust. Today, I declared prayed: “Dear Lord, I choose to trust you. I trust that you know my needs, even the smallest unspoken desire. You have kept me this far. I trust that you will provide my needs. I need water for cooking, washing, cleaning, bathing, flushing the toilet… You know this. I trust that you will provide,

And as I was praying this, I saw my heart. Funny (not really) how I can claim to trust God now, and yet other things have weighed down my heart with anxiety, bitterness, even despair.

So God brought to mind those things. Would I entrust them to Him?

I will trust You – for the school, the teachers and the children that I have grown to love. I will trust you for the heartbreak they are bound to bring (because heartbreak happens when you love). I will trust you to provide for us, to protect us and keep us, to guide us for the coming year, Because this is your ministry, not mine.

I will trust You – as a single missionary (You even know all of the intricacies of that kind of life!), I will look to you for provision for my emotional, physical and spiritual needs. I will look to you for protection in any place that may not be safe for women, or Christians, or whatever else minority I belong. I will refuse to compromise my faith for a life that may seem better on the outside, but will be dead on the inside.

I will trust You – for relationships: the strong ones that have lasted years, the ones that have been destroyed by slander and malice, the ones that have been parted by long distance, the ones that are just developing and the ones that are yet to come. I am no expert on relationships. I tend to run away. But you know exactly who I need at every stage in life (even the difficult ones are there for my good and your glory).

I will trust You – for the sins and failures of the past year. There are too many to count. When I weigh them against Your many kindnesses, oh, how the scale tips! If I were to look at myself, I would not go on. So I look to You. I trust that You will sanctify me with Your Spirit and sustain me by Your grace,

I will trust You – for the unknown future. Change is inevitable. Life is always moving. I see so many variables, so many uncertainties, so many fearful giants. The life I have chosen is one of following You, a crucified Saviour. Honestly, I didn’t really know what I was signing up for, but You have always been faithful to comfort, encourage and strengthen me for every day.

I will trust You – to bring my mind back when it begins to stray from this resolution. I know my weakness. I cannot keep this resolution because I am prone to worry. I am prone to doubt. I am prone to unbelief. I trust You to correct me, rebuke me, and then redirect my thoughts to Your throne. You are King of all creation. Nothing is too difficult for you.

I will trust You – With this aging body: With everything that has begun to weaken and all that will eventually fail, even if it is my very breath.

I will trust You – When it is all over, I trust you to bring me home, and “make me stand in Your presence, blameless and with great joy!” I trust that You have prepared a place for me there, and when I see You face to face, I will sing Your praises all the more. Because You are worthy of all my trust. You are Faithful.

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Departure Checklist

I’m not one for keeping a checklist when I travel. I’ve tried, but I always forget where I put the list. Somewhere stuck in my head is a list of many things I have forgotten while packing numerous times. It may not be the most efficient, but it is what works for me.

Traveling is relatively easy. Relative, let’s say, to saying goodbye. That is probably the hardest word to say when you have to say it to people you love.

This week we are saying goodbye to some of the children in our home who are being reunited with their families. Last night, little “F” came to me beaming, “Head Teacher, I am number three in my class.” Class rankings are a big thing here, and I was so happy for her. I wasn’t just happy with her class standing, but what it was evidence of.

Little “F’s” name was one of my most used in 2014: “F, stop fighting,” “F, no hitting,” “F, obey teacher.” Her teacher had complained that she was always quick to raise her hand but she would not give the correct answer—seemingly on purpose. We disciplined and counseled her in the only way we knew how: with the Word of God. The Holy Spirit has worked such a miracle in her heart that has caused us great delight.

Now that we are about to say goodbye to “F” and the other children, I am reminded of something I studied while I was in seminary. It is my mental checklist for saying goodbye. It is found in Acts 20.

Paul was saying his goodbye (never to meet again in the flesh) to the Ephesian elders. It was a very emotional time. But just like Paul does, he presents it to them in an orderly, Godly, logical manner, yet with clear love and humility. These are the things I know I should accomplish by the grace of God.

  1. Serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and trials (v. 19). Can we say we have served those in our care with humility, through tears and trials?  We display humility not only in our relationships with others, but by displaying dependence on God for all things. We especially display humility when we submit joyfully to God’s providence, whether we call it “good” or “bad.” We recognize God’s sovereignty. He is King, and He does with us as He pleases.
  2. Not shrinking from declaring to them anything that was profitable in public and private (v. 20) and not shrinking for preaching the whole counsel of God (v. 27). We preach the Word of God in the assembly, yes. But do we also use every opportunity to point the ones we serve to Christ? Do we speak the Gospel in counseling, in disciplining, in daily conversation as well as in teaching? Do we help them put to memory enough Scripture to fill their minds with things honorable, pure, true, trustworthy, excellent and worthy of praise (Phil. 4:8)?
  3. Testifying about repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (v. 21). Do we live a life of repentance before them? Are we willing to be corrected, quick  to seek forgiveness, and quick to forgive? Do we display such a great faith in Christ that they see the wonderful answers to our prayers? Do they understand through our lives what it means to live by faith?
  4. Obeying the Holy Spirit’s direction, even if it means hardship (vv. 22-23). Our lives after all, are for God. They are not first for the ministry then for God. God has called us. He knows when to place us somewhere and when we must leave. In this case, He knows whom he will put in our path, and when they are to depart. Our comfort and consolation is that we obey and follow a great, wise, and loving God.
  5. Finishing the course and the ministry that we receive from the Lord Jesus (v. 24). There is a task that is given us, and we must complete it by God’s grace. We do not leave it half done, unless God has reason to take us away. As far as it is within His will and within the ability He gives us, we press on until the work is done.
  6. Giving them what they need to fight for the Truth, even in the face of powerful and persuasive opposition (vv. 29-30). How we are assailed day after day in our community with a false gospel—or false gospels. Do we speak truth with the power of the Spirit, so that those we serve will be edified and prepared for the hardships to come? For they will come.
  7. And finally, commending them to GOD and the WORD of his grace, which is able to build them up and to give them their inheritance among those who are sanctified (v. 32). Ultimately, we surrender those we love to God, who loves them more than we do. We also trust the promise in His Word, that He will use it for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16).

Almighty Father, my heart longs to see these children grow and witness Your continued work in their lives. Yet even as you allow us to be parted, I understand that you have given me every opportunity to teach, and them every opportunity to hear Your powerful and life-saving Word. Bless us all with Your mighty, comforting presence. Help us to bow down to Your wise and sovereign will. Amen.

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Only Until You Die

I woke up with these words in my head: “Only until you die.”

I had been dreaming (or should I say thinking while I was asleep) about being in a battlefield. It was the battlefield of missions, where one has to cry out to God very often not only for one’s own sin and trials, but also for those of the other sheep.

Being human, there will be times when you are just overwhelmed with the work, with loneliness, with sadness, with the wickedness within and around. Those are the times you ask that question: “How long?”

I asked it in my sleep, close to waking hours. The answer seemed to come from someone far away: “Only until you die.”

This is precious, precious work we are doing, work for eternity. It is a work that is impossible, because it is a work that only God can do. Yet He chooses to utilize weak vessels for His own glory.

But here’s the thing: you don’t have forever. You only have until you die. Death is your rest, and that rest will be complete and eternal.

Doesn’t that bring a sense of urgency to the work ahead? There is not much room to think about anything else.

Time is actually very short. As far as I am concerned, I am living on borrowed time. I truly believe I would have died at an earlier age if God had not saved me. I was once committing myself to a lifestyle that pretty much guaranteed an early death.

And as Oswald Chambers put it, at one point I realized that my “life purpose does not belong to me, but to God.” And unlike many others who are working in the field with me, I had wasted so much time doing the opposite of what my life was purposed for.

Time is short. You only have until you die. Would you not choose then to burn brightly for the truth?

Lord, both body and soul are weary. There is so much within that shouts, “I can no longer…” but Your voice keeps encouraging, “Just a little bit longer…” Give the grace that I need to finish the work, and finish well. It is in you alone that I place my hope.

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Catching Tears

“If I were to commit murder, I know it would do no good.”

I listened to the heart of a father who felt helpless in the face of family tragedy, fully understanding the cracking voice and the flowing tears.

When tragedy strikes us, we cope: we weep, we pray, we run, we shout… When it strikes others we love, we  feel  helpless. Our natural instinct is to protect, but what if it is not within our power?

“Why?” is the inevitable question that arises. “Why did this happen?” Why is there such evil in the world? Why does God not just strike those who commit wicked acts?

Then, of course, it becomes “Why him/her?” Why the weak and helpless one? Why the  young and innocent?

When I was told of this family’s circumstances, my  mind went through a million questions a minute. What is the right thing to do? Who has the right words to say?

Thankfully, I did not have to look to myself. Thankfully, God ultimately has all the answers. Thankfully, I work with godly people whom God put in authority over me. Thankfully, I did not have to do this alone. Thankfully, God gives his love and wisdom to those who ask.

We went, we sat and we listened. Then the love of God took over. Love opened our hearts and gave words to our mouths. Love bound our hearts with theirs.

Love caught their tears and stored them in our hearts. And love took our words and lifted them up with it.

This can only be God’s love.

What good can come out of such tragedies? If we respond with the love of Christ, much heavenly good. If we share the hope that is in Christ, eternal good.

“If this were a graduation we would have many guests, but after this happened, very few people came to us. Some even blamed us. We are so thankful you sacrificed your time for us.”

It was no sacrifice. It was a joy. It wasn’t really us, but God showing His love through us.

Lord, let us be your hands and feet
To each and everyone we meet
As we gaze upon your cross,
Let us love whatever the cost

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Destination Unknown

I wonder how many hours are lost in our lives while waiting at airports. My record time for waiting is 24 hours, when a budget airline failed to give notice that my second flight was canceled. It was all ok in the end, because I arrived where I was going. I reached my destination.

Imagine, if you will, that you are required to pack everything you have (everything that you can possibly bring) to relocate somewhere. You are not given a destination—just a compelling command to get packed and go somewhere. You don’t know if you will need warm clothes or cool, if you will meet wild animals or be in a concrete jungle.

I thought about that today as I took my carry-on baggage to the airport. I thought about Abraham. He went even though he didn’t know where he was going, because he trusted the One who called him to go.

After almost half a century of living in this body, I’ve had so many times in my life where I was at a crossroads, clueless as to which direction to take. God always makes things clear when it is time. While I am waiting the temptation is always there to doubt, but as the years pass the doubts become less and less.  This is not because I know more, or I have a formula to figure things out. It’s because I’ve trusted God and he has never let me down. He has ushered me in to adventure after adventure and it has been full of surprises.

Today I wait at the airport, knowing that in a few hours I will be at my destination. What I do not know, however, is where I will be next year, or the year after that. God knows.

Today, Lord, I take the next step and travel the nest road ahead, trusting the future to You. You have never failed. I believe you never will.

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Say Yes

Many years ago, the name Gershom made an indelible mark on my heart. Gershom was the name Moses’ first son. He gave him that name because he was a stranger, a sojourner in that land. I asked God back then if He would ever send me to another land to do His work. It took a long time before God asked that question back to me. And I said, “Yes.”

Today, August 4th, marks my fifth year of sojourning in Uganda. It marks the fifth year of living in the wake of saying “yes” to God’s call to this country, even though I did not know what was ahead.

I woke up to a surprise answer from God to an urgent prayer I said yesterday for provision. The sad thing is, I was already giving God a timetable in my head for the answer. Perhaps it’s because I’ve gotten so used to having to wait. Waiting is not a bad thing, and many times, God makes us wait because His timing is better, or He has a better answer. But yesterday I was presuming to know God, and how He would move. I prayed for provision and calculated the time I had for the answer. “Okay, Lord, I need this by ___________, so you have ___________ months to answer.”

How presumptuous.

So what does God do? He answers immediately. I’ve always known that He can move mountains. He is Creator of heaven and earth and everything in them. Today, though, I am ashamed of that prayer. Especially when I look back at how God provided at the very beginning of my stay here. It was a last-minute-game-changer kind of intervention from Him that prevented a forced departure from Uganda, and began a five year walk of intense, cliff-hanging, mouth-dropping faith moments.

It is good to look back on those moments when God just made it so clear He wanted His will to be accomplished that He moved mountains for me, for His glory. When I said “yes,” I knew nothing of what was to come. I still don’t know. But God knows. “Yes’ is always the best answer to the God who knows all things.

Remind us, today, O Lord, of your faithfulness. Let us place our memorial stones for us to remember, “You have brought us thus far.” Remind us also of your sovereignty, power and wisdom to answer our prayers in the way you deem best. Remind us that it it always best to say “yes” no matter how dim the path ahead may be.

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“These Children Are Mine”

“Vulnerability” is a word that had a new meaning for me when I came to Uganda. I learned it anew specifically in relation to children. It seemed like every NGO I encountered was working with “vulnerable children.”

Now that I’ve lived here a short while (a total of five years in country), I’m beginning to think that the term is redundant, at least in this context.

A child is under threat from the moment it is conceived. Poverty, marital infidelity, and sexual promiscuity, among other things, have caused many women to either abort their children in the womb, or abandon them soon after they are born. Our ministry runs a children’s home where many stories can be told about how families have given up their children, sometimes after an attempt on their lives.

At childbirth, both child and mother are at high risk because of lack of proper medical care.

When a child is born, the threat of disease (malaria is still a huge life-taker), hunger, abandonment, neglect, hang over the child. How many children are left on their own at a very young age as parents go off to work? We have a few children in our school who are left to themselves for most of the day, some 7-year-olds left to care for younger siblings. Some are living with aunts, uncles or grandparents who don’t have the time or resources to give them proper care.

I recently read a BBC report that one in five children in neighboring Kenya are sexually active, some as young as ten. I am pretty sure the statistics in Uganda are almost the same. This, in my personal opinion, is related to neglect. We have had too many reports of children who are abused by other children (in the neighborhood or at school).

Since I work with children aged 3 to 8, ALL the children I work with are vulnerable just by virtue of their age. But as I get to know them, I realize that the vulnerability extends to so many more variables that seem to be raging out of control.

Each time I hear about another child being neglected, or abused, or bullied, I feel more and more helpless and hopeless. How are we even going to make a dent in this community? How are we even going to help these vulnerable children? How can we reach their parents? The issues get bigger and bigger as I know more and more.

I am drowning in this greater knowledge. The more I know, the more my helplessness grows.

“Panic,” says my flesh, “and quit. There is no hope for change.”

“Trust,” says the Spirit, “This is not your work, but Mine. I knew this long before I chose you and sent you. These children are Mine.”

Today, as we celebrate the Day of the African Child, say a prayer for them. If God is calling you to do something, obey, no matter how small the act seems. Your act of obedience is just part of God’s bigger plan, and with God’s hand behind it, can accomplish something you can never imagine.

I hold this verse for my ministry today, for my kids, for their families, and for myself:

Now to him who is able to do far more than all that we ask of think, according to the power at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Ephesians 3:20-21

I don’t really know why God chose me for such a ministry as this. Pride would question him. Humility and faith will just persevere in obedience. It is a privilege to celebrate the African child—while working with African children. God be praised and honored!

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Winning by Losing

The world tuned in to the great fight: Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather. It wasn’t just Filipino pride at stake. It seemed to be a battle between good and evil.

Photo from the internet, not mine, obvi

Their team shirts said it all. Manny’s read “all the glory and honor belongs to God,” and Floyd’s read, “TMT: The Money Team.”

Then the unthinkable happened. The underdog did not win. The hero was defeated. Goliath raised his sword, fluffed his feathers and danced around his foe.

It may sound like something losers say to make themselves feel better, but here’s the truth: you don’t always win by winning.

Before this big fight, articles were being published about Mayweather’s tendency to use his fists against the defenseless. He’s a stereotypical bad guy—the big bully.

Manny has not been silent about his recent new faith. He has quoted Bible verses and has been very vocal about who his God is.

So why didn’t the “good guy” win? Here’s a lesson to teach our children for years to come. “Winning” in the world’s point of view isn’t everything. The more important matter at hand is the heart—and eternity.

If Manny is true to the faith he claims, he can say with Paul:

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:7-11

True winning is losing, true living is dying. In the end, the point of losing or dying is to know Christ more, so you have won. And you will win, and your victory will not be an earthly crown, but eternal glory with Christ.

How can God be glorified by Manny’s loss? If Manny will show by his life and attitude, that Christ is above all–even his life and reputation.

We follow a crucified Savior.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3

Don’t lose heart. A crown awaits in heaven, though ashes be our lot while on earth. Earthly loss will make heaven’s gains all the sweeter.

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