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 to 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.
We 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.
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 be 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.
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.
We 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.
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.
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 Kingdom 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.
 Tyndale House Publishers. (2013). Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Re 1:9). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
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:
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.
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
944 words / Approx. Reading Time 3.5 minutes
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 organizations 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
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, “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.
As 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.
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.
God is not ticked off. He doesn’t rant to angels because of people’s sins. He is also not scorned. He is not silently scheming to take revenge on people because they chose to love themselves more than they love Him. He is not apathetic. He still cares as much about us today as He did when He put Adam and Eve in the Garden.
Sure, we might think God feels this way about us. After all, humanity has made some awful choices that prove our selfishness has no limits. But our selfishness does not hurt him; it only hurt us. As a result, our view of Him, and how he feels about us, has been tainted. We have become suspicious of Him when in reality He should be leery of us.
In 2015 my family moved into a new neighborhood. We bought a house at the end of a cul-de-sac that butts up to a horse pen. Six beautiful rescued horses live on the other side of the white fence that borders our property.
The previous owners of these horses lost interest in them when they could no longer perform at a high level. Each horse used to be fast at the racetrack or a high stepping show animal. Their value was based on their ability to win, and when they no longer had a shot at being the best, they were neglected.
My neighbor rescued them. She cares for them and uses the magnificent creatures to teach people how to ride. They are beautiful animals and I enjoy seeing them each day as come and go from home.
My neighbor told me I could feed them treats. They like carrots and apples, but their favorite are peppermints. On several occasions I have loaded my pockets with mints, stood at the fence and called out to the horses. I want to run my hand down the side of their face, tell them how beautiful and strong they are, and give them a treat. I want them to know they are valued because they exist. But truthfully, I haven’t had much success.
I go to the fence and call out to them. I know they hear me because they look at me, but they will not come to me. I whistle. I hold out the treat hoping it will entice them over, but they just stand there—looking at me—chewing on hay.
I don’t know why they don’t come. At first I thought it was because I didn’t know their names. So I learned their names. It made no difference. Sometimes I feel they look at me think, “How do you know my name?” But they still will not come to me.
Maybe they don’t come because they don’t know me. Maybe it’s because I remind them of someone who hurt them. Maybe it’s because they just don’t trust my intentions. Who knows? All I know is that if they would meet me at the fence, I would be kind to them. I would give them something they like.
One day, while trying to be kind to the horses, I had a thought, “I wonder if this is how God feels when He calls out to people.”
God is in the business of interrupting people. An interruption stops us in the midst of feeling, thinking, saying or doing something. It breaks our normal routine and gives us an option to do something different. As I’ve shared in previous blogs, one way God interrupts us is by hiding in the boundaries He has placed in our lives, but that is not the only way He interrupts our world. At times, He calls to us and gives us the choice to come to Him.
We can be like the horses. We hear Him calling. We see where He is, but we are not going to move. Maybe we don’t understand His interruption. Maybe we don’t trust His intentions. So, we stand there settling to eat hay when we could have something sweet. We prefer to stand-alone when we could have Someone gently touch us and speak kind words to us.
I think the reason the horses will not come to me is because they are not sure I will be kind to them. They are either afraid or don’t trust me. Maybe it’s both. Funny, but I think that is the problem we have when God calls out to us. Will He be kind to me? Can I really trust Him?
I am a fair weather horse caller. If it’s cold outside or raining, I don’t call for the horses. God is not like that. He lovingly and patiently interrupts us—rain or shine. Why does He do that? Because He is kind and He desires to show His kindness to us.
The Bible says, “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?”1
His kindness interrupts and gives us another option. Let’s look at why God interrupts us with kindness…next time.
We take pride in doing what we want, when we want. It frustrates us when we are shackled by circumstances. When it happens, we encounter a boundary. A boundary is the place that marks the spot where we are forced to stop.
The Bible teaches God created boundaries for each person. He did not create them to limit us. He created them so we might find Him in our world. He is located in the boundaries.
Boundaries are frustrating because they stop us in our tracks. They come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it is temporary. Unfortunately, at other times it may be permanent. We can find boundaries in our finances, health, mental capacity, emotional well-being, and age. Really, any circumstance that stops us from doing what we want–that is a boundary.
I have a dear friend who is talented, wise and productive. She is a contributor to society. Her family, the church she attends and her co-workers all benefit from her presence. She was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Doctors say she has a year. She has bumped into a boundary.
My mom recently broke her foot. She is healthy and active. She was doing laundry. She just stepped the wrong way and pop—her foot broke. She found a boundary.
I know a man stuck in his career. He has held the same title for 12 years. He has done continuing education. He has received annual high performance ratings. Yet, he has been passed over 5 times for a promotion. He has run into a boundary.
I know a student athlete who desperately wants to be a starter on his team. He works out. He runs. He has skills, but there is always someone who seems to be stronger, faster and a little more skilled. He is rubbing up against a boundary.
You know you have found a boundary when what you want is just beyond your reach; and no matter what you do, you can’t change it. God uses boundaries to interrupt our lives. He is not being cruel. God did this so that you and I would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, because he is not far from any one of us.1
When we reach a boundary, it feels like God is nowhere near. We feel pain, sorrow, frustration, disappointment and fear. Yet, it is in the boundaries God has lovingly hidden Himself. If we look for Him we will find Him and the grace of God will become practical.
Gary was one of four sons. His first religious memories are of his mother taking him to church as a child. His parents argued often and his dad did not see any value in spiritual activities. To have one less thing to fight about, Gary’s mom gave up attending church. Gary stopped too.
As a teen, Gary’s home life was tense. He felt disconnected from his parents and lacked moral guidance. For thrills he started stealing bikes and selling them. This activity laid the foundation for more poor decisions. He eventually started breaking into homes.
After graduating from high school, he realized he could make money selling drugs and fencing stolen property. After some trouble with the law, he determined his life needed a new direction. He joined the National Guard and became a mechanic. He says of himself at that time, “I looked good, but I was living on thin ice.”
After his military service ended, he found a job with the City of Akron’s Water Department. Even with a stable job, He took up his old habits of selling drugs and stolen property. His life was in a downward spiral. It is here that God sent a man named Steve. Steve worked in the same department with Gary.
At the end of a workday Steve would catch Gary and walk with him to his car. He would share Scripture and talk of his relationship with Jesus. His persistence and patience was irritating. Finally, Gary told Steve, “I have no need for your Jesus.” Steve backed off, but Gary said, “I started missing those conversations.”
Two weeks later, Gary was involved in a severe car crash. When his truck finally stopped rolling and the noise of wreckage went silent, he heard Someone say, “Gary, have you had enough.” It is here that Gary found God in his boundary.
He walked away from the crash, but he walked back to Steve. All he could think about were the Scriptures Steve had shared with him. He was ready to listen and learn. The next day Gary received God’s grace and became a follower of Christ.
Eighteen months later, Gary married, started a family and became the father of three children. Looking back on his life Gary says, “God has blessed me. My life hasn’t always been easy, but God has been faithful. I’ve learned to look for God when I hit a boundary.”
Before you try to break through your next boundary, pause and look for God. His presence and grace are close at hand.