The Moment

628 Words – Approximate Reading Time 3 Minutes

My time in Kenya is coming to a close. I am thankful for the many moments that have revealed the presence, goodness, faithfulness and power of God. Those moments are hard to communicate to others. Many of them truly are “You had to be there” moments. They are the words that are not spoken between team members yet everyone knows what is being talked about.

I would like to try to explain a moment that took place two days ago. It was powerful and humbling all at the same time. Several on the team felt the proverbial goose bumps, but I knew we were experiencing the power and presence of God in a unique way.

Our training consists of participants who are from several different places. We have students from north, central and east Kenya, as well as students right here in Nairobi. We have a lady from Egypt and from Burkina Faso, a couple from Uganda and a man from South Sudan. Throw into the mix 7 people from 3 states and the recipe for organized chaos is complete.

With that many cultures, ethnic barriers, religious practices and educational differences in one place at one time, the training could either be a powder keg getting ready to explode or a beautiful mosaic. Imagine taking pieces of several different puzzles and trying to put them together to make a picture. Not only will the colors of the individual pieces not match, but also the pieces themselves were not made to fit together. That is the Ancient Promise training in Kenya.

I have left out one ingredient. The most important one: the Holy Spirit. Only the presence of God and His work in us can move and arrange the pieces together without crushing or forcing the edges together. I look for those moments. I embrace them, pray for them and rejoice in them. The melding together of people united in Christ is precious.

18 8 10 The Moment 2The moment it happened in such a powerful way took place when John was teaching a lesson from Discovering God Together. Due to all the people in the room, the limited teaching resources of this environment, and the goal to engage everyone in the lesson’s activity, John went off script and pulled everyone together. He called them out of their seats. He made them stand close together and close to him. He called on different students from different parts of the world to share what they had learned from God’s Word. As the students shared, they discovered they were all-seeing the same truth that is 18 8 10 The Moment 3revealed in Scripture. In that moment all the barriers disappeared and each person realized God speaks one truth to each of us in spite of our differences.

Those of us not leading the lesson immediately recognized God was showing himself. We stood in awe as God filled the tin building we meet in. John was truly in his element. It was clear God had uniquely created him for the moment we were watching unfold. I don’t know how long it lasted…maybe 30-40 minutes as the activity continued to unfold, but when it was over we all knew something special had just happened.

Unintentionally, when the activity was over and the class broke for tea, the rest of the team bum-rushed John. We were all patting him on the back and expressing our amazement at what God had just done through him. Suddenly, we realized he needed some space. The moment was overwhelming for him. It was as if all of his life experiences, challenges, victories and disappointments had come together to put him in this place for the task at hand. He was humbled by the presence of God as he silently wept and praised God.

It was the moment.

Church in Kenya

823 Words – Approximate Reading Time 3.5 Minutes

Sundays are always exciting in Kenya. In previous years our team has been small, but this year is different. Because of this, we had 4 people from our team preaching in 4 different places. It was encouraging to hear how God worked at each place.

Curt, a pastor from CA, preached at a church in a nearby village. At the church, there was a lady in attendance who was 106 years old. She is the pastor’s grandmother. Her husband, who was a leader in one of the indigenous cults, told her on his deathbed to never leave their religion. That was years ago.

Her grandson has faithfully loved her to Jesus for years. Last month, she prayed to receive Christ. Sunday was her first time to attend a Bible preaching, Bible believing fellowship—the church her grandson serves. The church was electric and ended with Curt dancing with her. I wish I had a picture to show you, but I wasn’t there.

Another one of our team members, Diana, was asked to preach at a church that has mixed doctrines. The church believes a little of the prosperity gospel and other misinterpretations of Scripture. She received the invitation to share knowing that the whole truth of Jesus had probably never been proclaimed. Twelve people prayed to receive Christ and the pastor confessed the church needs to start preaching the real truth of the Gospel.

18 8 7 Kenya Church3The other two-team members who had the privilege of speaking were Robbie and myself. She and I both spoke to congregations whose pastors have been through the training we provide. These two churches needed encouragement. It is not easy being faithful to Gospel in this place.

The church I spoke at has about 25 members. John and I went there together. We spent the first hour singing…well, really, listening to them sing. The second hour was devoted 18 8 7 Church in Kenya 2to special music, the offering and the preaching of the Word. Before I spoke, John was asked to speak to the church. He did a wonderful job of encouraging the people and reminding them that God has a purpose for their lives and their church.

After he spoke, it was my turn to share God’s word. Preaching in Kenya is challenging on many levels, but one added dimension is preaching with a translator. Basically, I would share the message a sentence at a time pausing at the end of each sentence and letting the translator do his thing.

I saw no public decisions. There was no outward display of God moving in any particular way, but there was a sweet spirit shared among people whose only thing in common was faith in Jesus. Somehow, that was enough.

I recently shared I’ve been reading and meditating on Revelation. Don’t get excited, I don’t know who the anti-Christ is and I don’t know when the world is going to be forced to where the number 666. To be honest, I really haven’t made it out of the first chapter. It is rich.

Before John shares all the images of the future, he says this about the people of God:

All glory to him [Jesus] who loves us and has freed us from our sins by shedding his blood for us. He has made us a Kingdom of priests for God his Father.[1]

“He has made us a Kingdom of priests.” I’ve got news for you…that’s not just the professional preachers and pastors. That’s any person who calls upon name of Christ and has received His grace.

Priests don’t always have a glamorous job. They don’t always get noticed or thanked. God’s priests don’t always speak in front of crowds. Sometimes they don’t even use words at all. His priests don’t have an age requirement…or a gender requirement…or a denominational requirement…or an educational requirement.

However, this Kingdom of priests share some common qualities. They all love Jesus. They love Him so much that they keep His commandments, and when they mess up, they confess their sin and get back to living for Him. They are not loners and they are not ashamed of Jesus. They are willing to make sacrifices for God and their love for others proves they love God. They pursue faithfulness over perfection; love instead of criticism; and generosity takes the place of self-preservation.

It is these qualities that allow people from all nations to come together and experience the presence of God together in the same place. We don’t have to like the same songs…we don’t even have to speak the same language. God’s Kingdom of priests share a common relationship with Christ. That relationship creates an unspoken language that bonds them together through the Holy Spirit.

I am fortunate that I don’t have to come to Kenya to experience what I am trying to describe, but I’m also thankful that I can.

[1] Tyndale House Publishers. (2013). Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Re 1:5–6). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

Nairobi’s City Park

359 Words – Approximate Reading Time 2 minutes

My first trip to Kenya took place in 2005. At that time I was the pastor of Agape Baptist Church located in Pinson, AL. Agape supported a missionary who was located in Nairobi. He was a young man who had grown up in the church and was working with Y.W.A.M. (Youth with a Mission).

One night while walking back to his apartment in Nairobi, he was attacked and beaten. Agape decided to send me to Kenya to encourage and spend some time with him. I spent 10 days walking through Nairobi with him. He showed me both the pretty and the poverty of this large city. It was on that trip that God expanded my capacity to love the people of this country.

One day while with him, he took me to Nairobi’s City Park. It is famous for one thing: monkeys. At this park, the monkeys are like pigeons at a city park or seagulls at the beach. They run freely through the park and swing through the trees.

The monkeys are small and gray, not like the big browns you might see at the zoo. They’re cute—and they are not afraid of people. In fact, they expect the people to feed them peanuts that can be bought from one of the many vendors at the park entrance.

I had a funny and scary thing happen to me that day: one of the monkeys bit me. I’ll never forget calling Cherry and telling her I got bit by monkey. I thought it was funny. She did not. I’m pretty sure the movie Outbreak had just been released in movie theaters which is the story of a man being bit by monkey that had a disease that killed millions of people. That was 13 years ago.

18 8 5 City Park3Saturday, I went back to Nairobi’s City Park. One monkey in particular approached me. He had a warm look of familiarity to him. I can’t say for sure it was the same monkey that bit me, but he seemed pretty comfortable with me.

I am glad to report he did not bite me. I think once was enough for him and me.

Congo to Kenya

618 Words – Approximate Reading Time 2.5 minutes

In 2012 civil war erupted in the Central African country of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Thousands of people had to flee from their homeland leaving behind family members, homes, careers, friends and anything else that made their lives feel normal. Most of those refugees have remained in Africa resettling in Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya. Several thousand have been invited to countries around the world including the United States. Two of these refugees have found their way to Grace Bible Church: Jean and Joseph—brothers.

Jean discovered I was coming to Nairobi and asked me to take an iPhone to Patrick, his cousin, who also fled DRC and is living in Nairobi. I told him I would be glad to do this, but I cautiously warned him I might not be able to find his cousin in a city of almost 8 million people. He said to me, “Pastor, I will give you his number. You will be in Nairobi. He lives in Nairobi. You will find each other. God will make a way.”

I was polite. I smiled. I took the phone, but inwardly I was accepting the fact this request was probably a lost cause. I believed I would not find Patrick, and in doing so; add more disappointment to a person who has already suffered so much.

After being here a couple of days, I reluctantly asked Pastor Paul (a pastor here in Nairobi) to call the number Jean had provided. Surprisingly, Patrick answered the phone. Speaking Swahili, Pastor Paul shared with Patrick who I was and what I was attempting to do. I saw a big smile on his face and just like that the phone call was over.

Paul told me Patrick lived one kilometer from where we are meeting and that he would come to us on the next day. Early the next morning, Patrick was the first to arrive. I greeted him and he began speaking with me (he speaks English). He explained to me how he and Jean had found each other in Nairobi after fleeing the DRC. He shared how he missed his cousin but was happy for him because he now lives in Akron, OH. I gave him the phone. He thanked me over and over again.

18 8 2 Congo to Kenya pic2

As we talked, I discovered that Patrick is a worship pastor. He stayed for the conference on Tuesday and then asked if he could come back. He shared how he had been praying for God to send someone to teach him so that he could understand God’s Word and share it with others. After attending, he was convinced God was answering his prayer.

I know my words in this blog cannot fully convey the awe of this event. Who would have ever believed that I would even find Patrick much less get to spend 2 weeks sharing God’s Word with him? I didn’t.

I’m so happy for Jean and Patrick. They can now remain connected to each other in a world that separated them.

Political leaders and natural born citizens of stable countries many times do not see refugees as people. Instead, they see them as a problem that needs to be solved or a burden that is too risky to accept. I am fully convinced God sees them as people who need new friends, new homes, new careers and new families. Ultimately, He sees them as souls who need love, hope, healing and salvation.

It was an honor to be able to help Jean even though I believed it was an impossible request. Once again, I am reminded that I am a man of little faith when God calls me to join Him in what appears impossible.

Kenya Rains

The first day of a conference in Kenya is always the most challenging. I have nerves to deal with, new faces looking at me with anticipation (which creates a sense of pressure) and all the logistics of materials and introductions. When I introduce myself it is important that I use certain words and leave specific words out. For example, I must say that I am born-again instead of calling myself a Christian. The word “Christian” in this part of world comes with baggage. It is also good for me to not mention any particular denomination because denominational barriers are very real here. If someone were to perceive that I favored a denomination not of their choosing, they would leave without ever giving me a chance to share God’s word with them.

On top of that, there is always the concern of simply not connecting. No one in any culture wants to spend several hours a day for two weeks listening to someone who they just don’t understand. I try as hard as I can to not use American terms or illustrations that will not cross cultural boundaries.

Monday, I wasn’t alone in feeling this pressure. John was feeling it to. However, I want toIMG_1197 report to you that your prayers for us were answered. We connected. No one left. We are learning names, taking questions, sharing information and cautiously letting more and more of our own fences down. God’s Spirit is powerful and is overcoming every obstacle. It is humbling and exciting.

Warren did not come to teach, but it is great watching him connect with individuals and share his own personal stories as God opens the door for him. He is here to investigate the possibility of bringing a construction team, but Monday there was a need for him to use his skills without a team.

IMG_1195We meet in a tin roof, tin walled building. When it gets warm outside, it feels like the conference is taking place in an oven. A fan needed to be installed so the stifling air could be stirred. Warren volunteered and then proceeded to climb an OSHA approved ladder to hang a fan with rope. Yes, you read that correctly…ROPE! It was awesome.

Our greatest challenge so far has been the weather. For the past two days heavy rain has fallen for a couple of hours in the afternoon. It is so loud under the tin roof that we have to stop the conference and wait for it to pass.

The primary road to get to the church is a dirt road…well it was dirt. The last two days it has been mud and large bodies of standing water. Twice we have gotten stuck at night returning to our hotel.

The first night God provided an angel to push us out of a puddle that electrical wires had fallen into. I’m not talking about a metaphorical angel. We were stuck. None of us were getting out of the van. We sat there praying and making awkward jokes to break the tension of the moment. Pastor Paul, our driver, then tried one more time to move. We did. It was a small miracle.

The second night we got stuck our van sunk down to it’s frame. God provided 5 strangers who pushed our van to freedom. It was a comical moment full of laughs. It was great hearing 5 men speaking Swahili all sharing their own opinions to free the van. We could tell none of them were listening to each other. They all wanted to be in charge.

Warren, John and myself were all willing to get out the van and push. It would have ruined our shoes and probably our pants, but God brought along strangers to do the dirty work and give us a laugh at the same time. God is so good. He takes care of us and meets every need.

Cold Stone in Kenya

413 Words – Approximate Reading Time 2 Minutes

Saturday was a difficult day. It started with the rare privilege of getting to sleep late. I then got to eat a breakfast that someone else prepared. I spent the rest of the morning connecting with an old friend, fellowshipping with current friends and making some new friends.

The sun was shining brightly. The high was about 78. Our personal driver picked us up at the hotel and took us to Koinonia Pentecostal Church. It is at this facility we will be18 7 29 pic1 spending our week. We then ate a lunch that someone else prepared for us, went to Baba Martin’s house (he is the man responsible for our care) and met his wife. We then went to the mall.

Getting to the mall was the greatest hardship of our day. Really, it was comical. We stuffed 8 people into a 6 person van, plus one person’s luggage. Let’s just say by the time that 20 minute ride was over we all knew each other a little more than we really wanted to. At one point I reached into my pocket to get my phone only to discover I had taken John’s phone from his pocket (that really didn’t happen…but we were that close).

To make matters a little more interesting, there are no smooth roads in Kenya. Nairobi streets are the birthplace of potholes. We bounced around in that van constantly saying to one another, “Oops. Excuse me. Sorry about that.”

Don’t worry though. We quickly overcame the anxiety attack of too many people in our personal space by eating an ice cream from Cold Stone Creamery (conveniently located at the mall). Once we finished our cool treats the universe was back in order and we could look at each other without blushing.

In Kenya plans change. That happened today (Sunday). To start with, I did not share a message today. The church I thought I was going to share with was unaware of my presence. Fortunately, I found out about this before I went to the church. That spared me any awkward moments when I did arrive there.

The man who did preach did a wonderful job. He preached on Gideon and God spoke. It was a wonderful experience for the whole team. After leaving the church, we were introduced to another organization that ministers to women called H.E.A.R.T. Click here  and check out their ministry.

Tonight we will have our first official team meeting. Tomorrow the conference we are leading will begin.

Journey to Kenya

475 Words – Approximate Reading Time 2 minutes

Airports are interesting. I guess I should say the people in airports are interesting. I see all kinds here. There are the business types…determined faces that communicate, “I’m on a mission get out of my way.” Then there are the families. Honestly, I think it is a requirement to fly with small, cranky children. The parents of these temporarily demon possessed little people look either tired or embarrassed. Everyone hopes they are liberal with the Benadryl.

I can’t help but notice the individuals who look like they just woke up and came to the airport in their pajamas. I’m looking at someone right now. It is obvious they have not looked in the mirror to assess last night’s damage. And of course, there are those who are on the other end of the spectrum; dressed like they are going to a fashion show…or are a part of a fashion show. I’m having fun watching. I know God loves all these people; and thankfully, He loves me too.

John and Warren, my two companions on this trip are great. Apparently, American Airlines thought John was one of their pilots. He got called out in the terminal. He assured them he was not a pilot and they bumped him to First Class to apologize for their mistake. Warren and I ended up at the back of the plane with all the other average people on the flight.

18 7 27 Journey to Kenya2We have had no real issues getting to Kenya. I have learned that from now on I will not be packing any food in my carry-on luggage. All 3 of us got pulled, had to open our bags and let TSA do their thing. My TSA agent hand checked all 12 of my Cliff Bars to make sure they were not C-4. Warren’s Twizzlers were suspect and John’s spice gum-drops apparently didn’t look so innocent on the x-ray machine.

We made it to Kenya on Friday, July 27. We are 7 hours ahead of all the good people who live in EST zone. We found the rest of our team: Debra and Simone are from AZ, Robbie, Diana and Curt are from CA, and Ken is from CO. Ken will be leaving today (Saturday), but the rest of us will start teaching/observing/serving on Monday. I have been told that some of us will be attending a Southern Baptist church on Sunday and I have been asked to share God’s word. Please pray. Without the help of the Holy Spirit, many things get lost either in translation or because of cultural differences. It is one of our biggest challenges.

We will spend today getting acclimated, resting, getting to know one another and making a quick run to Kenya’s version of Wal-Mart. John and Warren say hello. Thank you for all the prayers. I will send updates as often as I can.

*The featured image is a sunset over the continent of Africa from 40,000 feet. I was able to snag this photo from my plane seat.

Kenya Bound

985 Words – Approximate Reading Time 4 minutes

I always experience mixed emotions when I’m preparing to leave for Kenya. Part of me is thrilled to serve the wonderful pastors on the continent of Africa, and part of me is distressed. I know my departure stresses Cherry…and that creates sorrow for me. She is super-supportive, but being a single parent in my family for half a month is daunting (we both have admiration and respect for those who have to do it full-time).

When I’m experiencing the anxiety that comes with international travel, I turn to God’s Word to find peace. God is always faithful when I come searching and it has been no different this time. What’s interesting is the encouragement comes from an unusual part of Scripture. I didn’t find a promise in the Psalms or a nugget of truth tucked away in one of Jesus’ parables. Nor did His word to me come from one of Paul’s famous missionary journeys. No, God provided peace from the Book of Revelation.

It’s a mysterious book. I’ll be honest: I don’t read Revelation that often. It’s not because I’m afraid of its message. I mostly don’t focus on these precious passages because I feel their topics, and the debates they create, are above my pay grade. Maybe that is simplistic. Maybe you might even think it’s irreverent, but I’ve found many other parts of Scripture that are much easier to read. I tend to gravitate towards them.

In spite of these personal feelings about Revelation, I recently have been drawn to it. I did not get far into it before something jumped off the page and I felt that still small voice say, “Slow down…don’t read over that too quickly.”

In the first chapter, before God shares all the fantastic images that make our imaginations swirl, the writer introduces himself…

I, John, am your brother and your partner in suffering and in God’s Kingdom and in the patient endurance to which Jesus calls us.[1]

It is as if John realizes He needs to introduce himself before he shares the images of things to come. Like the calm before the storm, he takes a moment to let me know that he is a safe person (my brother in Christ) and is invested (partner) with me in all the highs and lows that are about to be revealed. He sums up those highs and lows with three categories important to my life as a follower of Jesus Christ: suffering, God’s Kingdom and patient endurance.

Almost all of my life’s circumstances can fall into one of these categories.

Suffering. I hate the idea of it, but life has plenty of moments filled with pain, sorrow, disappointment, broken dreams and failed plans. John is reminding me that if I am going to follow Jesus, I am going to suffer; but even if I choose not to follow Him, I will encounter discomfort. Suffering does not come as a result of following Jesus. It comes because I am alive.

I can’t avoid it, but I can choose the reason why I suffer. I can suffer for my selfish plans or I can suffer because I am following Jesus. One option brings regret the other brings reward.

Leaving my family to make disciples of Jesus is a type of suffering. It comes nowhere close to the heroes of faith who have lost so much. But, as I read the whole Book of Revelation, I discover the temporary suffering of separation (or even the risk of international travel) brings rewards—to my family and to me. I find God’s peace in knowing this truth.

God’s Kingdom. My life is building something. It is either contributing to God’s eternal 18 7 26 sand castleKingdom or it is constructing a sand castle that will disappear at the next high tide. It all depends on what I perceive to be the purpose of my life. Do I exist to please myself? Or, am I on this planet to join God in His agenda?

John reminds me I’m born-again to partner with him, and countless others who have come before me and who will come after me, to pursue the completion of God’s Kingdom being built. I find comfort in this. I find purpose for the suffering I endure when I keep this perspective. It means my life has eternal significance. It’s not just a paycheck-to-paycheck existence. God has invited me to join Him, empowered me to work beside Him and gives me a direction to aim my life.

Patient Endurance. Yes, there are moments I will suffer for following Christ. Yes, my life is purposeful and eternally powerful for the glory of God. However, I can’t make my suffering end when it comes and I can’t accomplish the goals God lays before me on my time schedule. I must join John in patiently enduring. What does that mean? It means I must wait for God.

Honestly, this takes the pressure off. If I’m obeying Christ and I start suffering for Him. It’s on Him—not me. My suffering is not due to selfishness or sin. All I can do is wait for Him to remove it, work through it, show His power in it or give the reality of His presence while enduring. All I can do is wait.

The same principle holds true when it comes to building His Kingdom. God is asking me to do things that I can’t do without Him. Therefore, there will be times when I all I can do is wait for Him. He will have to do through me what I can’t accomplish in my own strength. That means it’s all on Him to get it done. My part is to patiently endure.

Suffering, building God’s Kingdom and patiently enduring…you don’t have to go to Kenya to do these things.

[1] Tyndale House Publishers. (2013). Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Re 1:9). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

Overcoming Mental Distractions When Praying

Prayer is supposed to be a user-friendly activity. When done, I should know something good has happened. However, sometimes I find it difficult to feel positive. The issue is with me—not God.

I realize I can pray anytime…anywhere…about anything; but when I really want to focus, I have discovered I need a quiet time. A time in the day when the statistical chance for an interruption is reduced. For me, the best time is in the morning before anyone in my family wakes up.

I have also learned I need a comfortable place. A place I have designated for the purpose of praying. My favorite spot is on the couch in our game room.

Last, I need a designated amount of time. There is nothing wrong with praying on the move, I do it all the time; but for me to feel spiritually healthy I need some days within each week when I have a designated time to pray. I’ve learned the optimum amount of time for me is 30-45 minutes.

Even if I get my personalized-focused-prayer-time-checklist checked, I still encounter some problems that make my prayers seem…well…like a waste of time. Here are my 3 most common obstacles:

  1. I feel panicked about my life and begin to rapidly spew thoughts, feelings, complaints, and desired outcomes to God. When this happens my words can’t keep up with my brain. It is not a loss of focus. I know exactly all the needs, troubles or challenges I need to pray about; and I want to pray about all of them at the same time. I imagine it looks like a fire hydrant that has been hit by a car. All the pressure in my life is released at once shooting 30 feet up in the air. I’m not saying God doesn’t listen or care when this happens. I’m saying it doesn’t feel like a productive time for me.
  2. I can’t focus—much less finish a thought. This is the opposite of what I described above. When this happens I pray about an issue for about 2 seconds, and then my mind jumps to some random thought that is totally unrelated. I feel like Dug, the talking dog, in the movie UP. Again, I’m not saying God gets frustrated with me when I do this. I’m saying I get frustrated with me.
  3. I don’t know what to pray. In other words, I’m at a loss for words. Maybe this is a guy thing. I find myself sitting comfortably on the couch with no interruptions and don’t have clue what to pray. I think nothing. I feel nothing. I just sit there and spiritually twittle my thumbs. I feel awkward and dense. I know God loves me just as much in that moment as in any other moment, but I feel like it is a huge waste of time.

Part of the activity of prayer is to mentally stay focused and communicate with God. I can’t make Him speak to me, but surely I can be disciplined enough to speak to Him. These obstacles mess with me and I need a plan when I run into them.

While reading the Bible, I had a thought that turned into plan of action. Here are the verses I read:

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.1

This was my thought: I will study this prayer and use it when my mind will not focus. In other words, when my mind is busy, wandering or blank; I will by default use this prayer and let it be the focus of my prayer time.

As I began to study this prayer, I learned the meaning of some key words:

“love may abound” – I need God’s love in me to grow. I need more unconditional love for others.

“knowledge” – Random love for others is not enough. I need to know how to love others the best way.

“discern” – I need to know what is best to love in others. It is not a choice between good and bad, but between good and best.

“pure” love – I need a sincere love for others with selfish motives filtered out.

“blameless” love – I need a love that will not cause others to stumble.

So…when I’ve marked off my personalized-focused-prayer-time-checklist and my mind won’t cooperate, this is an example of what I discipline myself to pray:

Lord, I need Your unconditional love to grow inside of me. Who do you want me to love on Your behalf? [He generally brings someone to mind. I focus on them and continue to pray] Lord, how can I love them the best way? Show me what to do so that they might be attracted to You. [I let God guide my thoughts and give me creative ideas or subtle nudges…I continue to pray] What do you love about them Lord? Show me how to love them so that the best You put in them is developed. [Again, I listen and let Him guide my ideas between what is good and what is best] Teach me to love this person with no selfish motives. [It is here God points out what needs to change in me.] Please don’t allow my actions to cause them to stumble. [Here I am counting on God to let my love be received in a way that accomplishes His purposes].

If you are struggling to stay focused during prayer, I encourage you to try this. It works for me.

1-Philippians 1:9-11

Partners Bring Joy

958 Word – Approx. Reading Time 3.5 Minutes

Life is not fair. It never has been. It is a challenge to stay positive when life is working against us. We can play by the rules, follow God, eat right, pray, exercise and treat others with respect; and still encounter problems that bring us to our knees. When it happens to me a voice deep within whines, “This is not fair.”

I’m learning a skill to get over the pity party I’m tempted to throw. I’m learning to lean into partnerships God has provided for these unfair events. Let me define what I mean by partnerships.

First, not all friends are partners. However, a true partner is always a friend. Second, partnerships exist for different reasons, but they don’t exist for me to dump my feelings of entitlement. And third, partners have different levels of involvement to support me through the God-given task that is rubbing me the wrong way.

A true partner shares in the risks of life. Each risk comes with a struggle and the possibility of two outcomes: failure and success. Partners stick around in the struggle and stay no matter the outcome. They do not just share the same values and believe the same doctrines. It is much deeper than that. They bleed, laugh, cry, pray and rejoice with me to overcome darkness and make the world a better place. Friends do not always do this, but partners do.

The Bible uses a word that colors in and fills up the relationship I call partner. The word is koinōnia and one translation of this word is partnership. The Apostle Paul, filled with emotion, used this word to describe his relationship with a group of people:

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now…1

When Paul penned these words, life had not been treating him fairly (in fact, I bet there are some who would make the argument God had not treated him fairly). He was in prison, charged with acts of terrorism against the emperor of Rome. His crime was preaching, “Jesus is Lord.”

He could have written words fueled by self-pity promoting himself as a victim. He could have shared bitter words calling for justice. He could have whined about life not being fair, but he didn’t. Instead, he thought of the partners God had given him. He recalled the names and faces of those who risked following Christ with him. He remembered their shared experiences of being mistreated when they partnered with him to live for Christ.2 Detained and confined, his mind went to the partners God had placed in his life. Instead of feeling alone, mistreated and defeated, he experienced joy and prayed for them.

Almost three years ago, Cherry and I adopted two brothers. We chose them. We loved them. We brought them home. One of them has become part of the family; the other has not (at least not yet). I can’t tell you how many times my heart has cried, “This is not fair.” It’s not fair that we chose him, but he has not chosen us. It’s not fair that we love him, but he does not love us. It’s not fair that we care for him and he cares not for us. His rejection is not fair.

It’s easy to think…Poor me. Look at how I’m being mistreated…and let my victim mentality become the filter for my mood. It is just as easy to rant…“God, why are You letting this happen?” Here my inner entitlement issues reveal that I believe I should be exempt from challenges because I did a good thing. Both ways of thinking are wrong and do nothing but rob me of joy.

However, when I focus on the partners God has provided for this season of life, the individuals who are standing by me and with me, my inner victim voice and my claims to a more fair life are silenced. Another voice begins to rise. It is the voice of joy. It reminds me God has called me to do something and I am not alone. Joy brings to my mind the names and faces of those praying and helping. I am reminded that my feelings of self-pity are useless to accomplish God’s plan for my son.

Joy reminds me that God is not finished. The relationship (the one between me and my son) is not complete. God started something and He is not done. It will require many people to accomplish this God-given task, but have no doubts…He is on it. How do I know this? Look at the end of Paul’s sentence:

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.3

When the task is completed these partners who surround me will rejoice with me and move on to other God ordained projects. The partners are proof that God is actively involved in what I am calling unfair; and that is cause for joy. I’m learning this as I walk through the complexities of adoption. Signing the papers was easy. Living out what was signed is requiring partners and God is faithfully providing.

He is doing the same for you. I’m not special. Stop listening to your victim voice. Stop feeling entitled to a better life. Look for the partners He has provided. Experience joy and enjoy a better mood.

1- Philippians 1:4-5, 2- Acts 16:11-40, 3- Philippians 1:4-6

Good Happens…Why?

944 words / Approx. Reading Time 3.5 minutes

Free food!

Those two words don’t mean much if you’re not hungry. However, if you are hungry, they are AWESOME!

Our cities and towns have homeless shelters, food banks and soup kitchens. Hundreds of 18 5 14 food bankorganizations peppered across America are dedicated to getting good food to those who are less fortunate, but in 1st Century Palestine, it was a novel idea.

Israel was a subjugated people under Roman rule. Rome was the wealthiest empire of its time, but social safety nets were not a priority. It was a dog-eat-dog world where the strong not only survived but were also given permission to take advantage of the poor and step on the weak.

It is because of this reality that Jesus’ kindness was such a big deal. He was kind and powerful. He healed the sick, calmed storms, gave sight to the blind and stood up to leaders who abused their power. He was a rock star and rightly so. His kindness made him a hero to the masses and a villain to the authorities.

Jesus’ kindness toward the less fortunate, the vulnerable and the over looked is largely misunderstood. Mormons, Buddhists, Muslims and Christians all agree that Jesus was kind. We all like his acts of kindness, but few understand why he was kind. Don’t get too perplexed by this. The critics that argued with Jesus, the crowds that followed him and even the disciples who lived with him all struggled with this same issue. The day Jesus fed over 5,000 people is a case in point.

To provide a little context for this day, you need to know Jesus was trying to spend some quality time with his closest friends. He even suggested they get away to an isolated place, away from the crowds, so they could get some rest.1

The crowds were too savvy for this move. Jesus was their local hero and they were not going to allow him to just walk away. They pursued him and the disciples into a deserted place. The masses of people were so caught up in not losing sight of Jesus that they failed to notice there was no food.

The disciples were perturbed by the mob. Yet, when Jesus saw the crowd, he had compassion. Kindness welled up in his heart. He welcomed them and taught them…all day! Finally, someone noticed it was getting late. There were families with children. The crowd needed to go home.2

Jesus knew they could not make the journey without food. He asked the disciples to feed them, but they did not have the resources. The best they could come up with was some fish and bread a boy had brought with him.3

If you are familiar with this miracle, you know what happened next. Jesus took the boy’s Happy Meal, prayed over it and turned it into a feast that fed over 5,000 people. Everyone was astonished. Not only had Jesus done an amazing miracle, but he had also filled everyone’s belly…at not cost (except for the boy who lost his Happy Meal).

They loved Jesus before he did this, but now they had plans for him. Jesus’ act of kindness fueled a political hope. At first the crowd was satisfied being a part of the road crew, now they wanted to make him their king.

Jesus did manage to pull away from the crowd, but the damage had been done. They would not forget his ability to provide free food and the thought of him being their political messiah had taken root. After all, who would object to a President, Prime Minister or dictator if he could feed everyone at no cost?

The next day the crowd began to search for Jesus. When they found him, Jesus quickly exposed their spiritual ignorance. Notice his words:

“I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you.”4

The people had totally misunderstood the miraculous act of kindness. Jesus wasn’t being kind just for the sake of being kind. He was trying to show them he was the way to eternal life. They could not see the spiritual impact of the meal because they were overwhelmed with idea of free food for life. They wanted the comfort Jesus could provide to make life easier and were energized by the hope of being set free from Roman rule, but missed the display of power that proved Jesus could give eternal life.

The same thing happens today. We all want Jesus’ kindness to take some of the discomfort out of life, but Jesus isn’t kind so that we can be comfortable. Jesus is kind because he wants us to see his power. If we can see his power, then we can believe in him and have eternal life.

The Bible asks this question: Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?5

God’s kind interruptions are for a reason and it is far more important than personal comfort. His kindness is intended to show us the ugliness of our sins and attract us to the love of God. If we do not understand this, we become like the crowd that hunted Jesus down. They fell in love with his kindness—not him.

Someone recently asked my wife, “Why do bad things happen?” She responded, “Have you ever wondered why good things happen?”

1-Mark 6:31, 2-Mark 6:34-35, 3-Mark 6:37 & John 6:9, 4-John 6:26-27, 5-Romans 2:4

Holy Sheep!

885 Words – Approx. Reading Time 3.5 minutes

Sheep are not dumb. Forget the urban myths. They may lack swagger but they more than make up for it in social skills, emotional intelligence and loyalty.

Keith Kendrick is a professor at the University of Electronic Science and Technology in China. He studies sheep. He discovered sheep have impressive memory skills. They can recognize and remember at least 50 individual faces for more than 2 years.1

He also found out sheep are emotionally intelligent. Kendrick says,18 4 19 Holy Sheep 3 “The way a sheep’s brain is organized suggests they have an emotional response to what they see in the world.”2 In other words, sheep experience powerful emotions. They have facial expressions that match their emotions and sheep prefer to smile instead of frown. There is no doubt this furry animal experiences happiness, just watch this video of Winter the Jumping Lamb.

Sheep are also loyal. They are one of the few animals in the world that develops friendships and practices monogamy. That’s right…sheep don’t mess around on their partners. According to a 2009 study, sheep develop relationships because they feel fear, anger, despair, boredom and happiness.3 They need relationships to cope with baaahhhhd feelings, but they also share positive emotions with each other.

A sense of belonging is important to sheep. Sheep will problem solve and find their way out of a maze if they can hear their friends bleating at the exit.4 Remove their friends and the sheep becomes despondent and bored.

18 4 19 Holy Sheep 2As impressive as this information may be, sheep do have their faults. First, they are destructive. Herds of sheep can decimate a pasture.5 If left to follow their own desires, sheep will eat vegetation down to the nub, destroying plants’ ability to grow back. They do not possess foresight. They give no consideration to how their consumption of resources impacts other animals. Worms, birds, cows, horses and other parts of the eco system all suffer because of the selfishness of sheep. Without a shepherd to move them on, sheep will use up all the resources and every other animal suffers.

Another fault of sheep comes from one of their strengths. If sheep are left without a shepherd, they will follow one another. They follow each other because of their desire to belong. The problem is that sheep are directionless. They don’t know where they should go.

A sheep tragedy happened in Turkey in 2005. Turkish shepherds temporarily stopped leading their sheep. In horror they watched as hundreds of their sheep followed each other over a cliff. A Turkish newspaper reported,

“First one sheep went over…only to be followed by the whole flock. More than 400 sheep died in the 15 meter fall…the bodies cushioning the fall of the 1,100 others who followed.”6

Sheep have one last weakness. They are defenseless. Most animals have at least one of the two major defense techniques: speed to run away or strength to fight back. Sheep have neither. They are slow and do not possess an overwhelming strength to kick or bite. Again, this is another reason why sheep need a shepherd.

Why all this sheep information? In the Gospels, Jesus refers to people as being like sheep. It happened one day when Jesus was trying to get away from the masses to spend some quality time with his disciples. The crowd would have no part of it. They followed Jesus like the paparazzi into a deserted place. The disciples were miffed, but when Jesus saw the people, “he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”7

If sheep are dumb, senseless animals then Jesus does not have a high opinion of us. Fortunately this is not the case. We might not like the comparison, but if we look at the strengths and weaknesses of sheep it easier to understand what Jesus meant.

Humans thrive off of relationships. We love to belong…to feel like we are sharing life with others who value us. We go to great lengths to laugh together and we rally around each other when tragedy strikes. We feel life. We don’t just live life.

18 4 19 Holy Sheep 5

At the same time we are directionless. We are fickle with our priorities. Just start asking people, “What is the most important thing in your life?” You will discover there are as many different answers as there are noses. Plus, the answer changes with context. Americans have consistently said economic security is the most important thing, but I’ve been in Kenyan villages where the answer is clean water.

Honestly, the question is above our pay grade because we don’t possess the foresight to know. We, like sheep, can only see what is in front of us. Our selfishness keeps us from pulling back to see the whole picture.

We are even defenseless. We have contingency plans, social safety nets, insurance policies, police departments, the 2nd Amendment and the United States Army; but these things really only provide a perception of safety. Evil always finds a way to break through our defenses.

We are the crowd that looks like sheep without a shepherd. The disciples were bothered by the neediness of the people. Jesus was filled with compassion. He saw the people…us…and said, “They need a shepherd.”

Because of his compassion, Jesus interrupted the crowd with one of the greatest acts of kindness ever recorded. We’ll look at more closely…next time.

1 – www.nature.com/articles/35102669 2 – http://www.news.bbc.co.uk “Amazing Powers of Sheep” 3 – www.ingentaconnect.com, “Animals’ Emotions: Studies in Sheep using Appraisal Theories” 4 – www.bbc.com “Sheep are not Stupid, and They are not Helpless Either” 5 – http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0163249 “Extreme Wildlife Declines and Concurrent Increase in Livestock Numbers in Kenya: What Are the Causes? 6 – http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/europe/4665511.stm “Turkish Sheep Die in ‘Mass Jump’ 7 – Mark 6:34
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