New Year

I sat around the table with a Greek family today eating and talking and after the meal we laughed and talked some more.  As I sit here now, hours after arriving home, I remember musings and fears from before coming here, to Athens, my new home.  I remember wondering if I’d ever make friends.  I remember wondering if I’d be able to learn Greek.  So many things I was trusting God for he has already given me, only a year in.  Some days are still hard.  Like the day I wanted to make green bean casserole for Thanksgiving and after trips to 6 different grocery stores, all I had to show for my efforts were some frozen green beans and a few expensive cans of cream of mushroom soup from the British store on the other side of town.  The French’s fried onions still elude me.  Some days are green bean casserole frustrating, and some days are laughing at a Greek family’s house amazing.  We joked today that in Greece, you experience a little sample of everything. My life in Greece so far has indeed had a sampling of everything.  Many of life’s emotions I’ve already experienced here, and while I’m still getting used to it, on this first day of 2018, I have to admit I like it.  I’m beginning to appreciate that the days of laughter feel that much more triumphant because of the days of frustration.  The days when I have to wait in line at the post office for 2 hours to pay a bill make the days when the post office is deserted feel like amazing blessings from God.  Little triumphs become cause for celebration, and really who can’t use a little more celebration in their life?  Greece is teaching me to appreciate moments again, and I’m thankful.  This year, I’m looking forward to living and breathing in each moment…and feel free to remind me I said that on the green bean casserole disaster days.

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Life and Death

Because I’ve worked with refugees for over 10 years, I’ve been thinking recently about refugees and the worry I’ve heard so much that they are IS terrorists being smuggled into America.  I think of politics and how counter-cultural Christianity should be.  Are politics not extremely cultural?  Is it possible for a person to attain the office of the president and still be able to live as a Christian?  Politics.  Religion.  Jesus.  I feel like Jesus gave a very clear pictures of how we were to behave in the face of anything, even the threat of infiltration.  For crying out loud, was Judas not one of the 12?!  And did Jesus not know about his infiltration and betrayal beforehand, and wasn’t God able to use that for his glory?  Life is life.  Death is a part of all life.  In life we are in the process of dying.  But in the living, why shouldn’t we be able to choose how we love?  Why shouldn’t our life be characterized by an obedient trust in God because we know as Christians that our days are numbered and God will accomplish his purposes of redemption and reconciliation in whatever way he chooses?  Do we really believe God is good?  And is there room in our theology of goodness for pain?  I speak with a lot of refugees that have come to Christ and do you know what I hear?  God pulled them out of war so that they could know him.  Not blame that they were in terrible situations and God put them there, but rather they paint a picture of a redeeming God.  Because that’s who he is.  A redeeming God.  He not only redeems terrible situations and turns them to good, but he redeems our hearts, our lives from the pit, he redeems stories.

Do we believe God is good?  That even in a story filled with pain, light can shine?  We will all die.  That is certain.  Tomorrow you’re a million times more likely to die in a  car crash than in a bombing.  I think maybe we don’t realize that if we’ve surrendered our life to Christ, it means we’ve also surrendered our death story to Christ, to use in whatever way he chooses for his glory.

For the refugees I talk to, God also will choose their death stories.  And he could have made that story end in Syria or Afghanistan or wherever like so many of their countrymen.  But he didn’t.  For some reason, each of those refugees I have met have a story of deliverance from war.  I choose to believe that as God Redeemer, he wants to redeem those lives from the pit.  He is for whatever reason not done with them.  He’s drawing his people to himself, and how he does that in this world is through the saints who have already been redeemed.  We have the privilege of the ministry of reconciliation, but instead of taking up that call, so often we’ve taken up a call to self-preservation.  A call to discord and fighting.  How are we to reconcile those far off to the love of Christ if we won’t even let the Holy Spirit reconcile our own relationships, our own hearts, to the Father’s will?  Maybe we’ve decided our job is to reconcile culture to the Christian life?   I have no answers; only questions.  But I can say with King David,  I am confident of this, that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  I will be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord, because regardless of the outcome of the refugee crisis, and the wars that are raging and the elections that are on the horizon, I have seen in my life and the lives of refugees that God is strong and God is loving and he will always be mighty to save.

 


Adventures Aplenty

I’ve been thinking about maps and guides lately.  I have some friends who just got back from Nepal where they hiked through the foothills and wilderness for a week.  This was their first trip into this unknown territory and, while being fairly physically prepared, they had no experience with this kind of wilderness hike.  But, despite their lack of experience, they weren’t particularly concerned because they had hired a very well-respected and experienced guide to take them on this journey.  The guide packed the bags, plotted the route, and arranged when and where they would stop every day because he knew exactly what they might be up against, where they needed to be, and the best routes to get there.

This week I felt a little anxious as I prepare to step into a new cultural and ministry setting in Athens.  My mind, to combat those anxious feelings, started going through all the possible scenarios of what God could ask me to do there and how I could accomplish those things, but as I read Psalm 48:9-10,14 this morning, the Lord reminded me of my friends and their journey.  These verses (posted at the bottom) first talk about God’s unfailing love, and then his assurance that he will be the Guide.  And in the midst of my musings, God gave me a picture of what he was really asking me to  do in Athens.  As my mind tried to draw a map of all the things I would be stepping into, God gently took the map out of my hands and said, “how bout we just lay that aside for now and you just let me guide you.”

My friends on their hike didn’t need a map because they had an experienced guide.  While the map would only have provided limited help in getting them through the foothills and wilderness, an experienced guide knew that area like the back of his hand.  For me, when faced with a new situation or journey, my understanding, extremely limited as it is, tries to draw a map, but God isn’t asking me to prepare a map. He instead is saying “don’t lean on your own understanding, but trust and follow me and I will direct your paths.” (Prov. 3:5-6)  He is asking me to follow Him.  To take step after step into a world and future unknown to me, but a world and future intimately know to Him.

When we’re children, we learn the song “He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands”, and we see a picture of a little world in a big God’s hands.  But somewhere along the way as we hear about wars and coups and shootings and hate, we start to think the world is much bigger than we thought and we decide we need some backup plans in case God really doesn’t have things under control.  And the world gets bigger while the hands that hold it seem smaller.  But what if the world being bigger than we thought just means that the God whose hands are holding it is actually much bigger than we thought as well?  I don’t know the road ahead, but I know the Guide who is leading me and I’m willing to bet His way is better than anything I could come up with.  For a God who’s got the whole world in his hands, I bet he can come up with some pretty cool adventures, and I can’t think of a more qualified Guide to follow.

Within your temple, O Lord, we meditate on your unfailing love.  Like your name, O God, your praise reaches to the ends of the earth, your right hand is filled with righteousness…For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our Guide even to the end.              -Psalm 48:9-10,14

 


A strangeness

It’s a beautiful blue-skied day in Athens, Greece.  Laundry on the lines.  Birds chirping.  My grandmother passed away this morning.  The juxtaposition of something so big to me being something so small to everything around me is strange.  I think about the old Skeeter Davis song that says “why do the sun go on shining, why does the sea rush to shore?  Don’t they know it’s the end of the world…”  She’s talking about a lost love, but it’s appropriate as I think about the strangeness of grief and death next to a beautiful creation.  It also makes me wonder how many people around me are feeling the strangeness, too.  I know I’m not the only one in the world who’s lost someone they love. Even thinking about the Orlando grief and its reverberations in the LGBT community.  Or the refugees I meet so frequently who live with the thought of death on a daily basis.   I wonder if they are thinking, too, why does the world keep on turning…?   I am so fortunate that in the midst of my grief I have friends who will step with me into the uncomfortable juxtaposition of death bringing some things to a close while life continues on.  I’m thinking today of the people who don’t have that.  Who ask does anyone see?  Does anyone know what I’m feeling?  This is part of why I am in Greece.  I know that God sees.  God hears.  God knows.  But I want those that don’t know yet to feel the reality of my God through the Holy Spirit in me.  The sky will continue to be blue today.  Probably in a few weeks I won’t be reminded every time I feel the sun on my face that that is a ray of sun that will never touch my Nonnie’s face.  But I’ll be a little different.  My family will be different.  I guess that’s life.  You find a balance in the juxtaposition.  I’m just thankful for the solid rock of Christ that I can stand on when the balance seems to tip.


The Art of Reframing

I’ve been sitting in my room this morning and the neighbor has been working on his lawn.  I’ve been a little annoyed cause it’s right outside my window and has been really loud and I just wanted some peace and quiet.  Well, it stopped for a while and I started reading in Job where I last left off and I had opened the windows cause it was a little stuffy in my room.  And as I’m reading Job’s response in Chapter 9 about the hugeness of God and the laughable idea of disputing anything God says, the man next door starts up his lawn tools again.  And at first I’m like “for the love of ….!” Why?!  But as I’m thinking this, the smell of fresh-cut grass starts wafting through the window.  And I think of a frame and the art of reframing.  And I think of God and the infinity of His perceptions of reality and my finite perceptions.  What I perceived as annoyance was actually the beginning of blessing.  Without the noise you don’t have the fresh smell that lingers long after the noise has ceased.  Sometimes good gifts come with a little noise.  But after experiencing the joy brought from that simple smell,  I think I’d much rather have the little noise and the great gift than forego both.  The infinite goodness of the Father sometimes is revealed best next to the little noises of the world, and sometimes it’s that very noise that makes the blessing possible.  God perceives through completely different frames than I do, mainly because my frames are completely incomplete. But more and more I’d like to put aside my frame and look deeply through His.

Lord, help me to see a little of what you see and explore the world, my life, and those around me through a frame much larger than what I’m capable of making on my own.

But how can a mortal be righteous before God?  Though one wished to dispute with him, he could not answer him one time out of a thousand.  His wisdom is profound, his power is vast.  Who has resisted him and come out unscathed?  He moves mountains without their knowing it and overturns them in his anger.  He shakes the earth from its place and makes its pillars tremble.  He speaks to the sun and it does not shine; he seals off the light of the stars.  He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea.  He is the Maker of the Bear and Orion, The Pleiades and the constellations of the south.  He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.  When he passes me, I cannot see him; when he goes by, I cannot perceive him.  If he snatches away, who can stop him?  Who can say to him, “What are you doing?”     -Job 9:2-12


A Year Later…

So it’s been almost a year since I posted, and it’s funny that as I read my last post, I realized how timely it still is for me.  I actually just last night wrote a journal entry about my impatience with God’s work in me and what I’ve been learning related to that.  I of course have had plenty to learn about that in this time of transition.  If you don’t know, I’m in the process of resting and then joining a new team after 3 years of challenging but great ministry in Rome, Italy.  As I think back on who I was when I first landed and who I am now, I am actually astonished at how God has grown me and shaped me, even though day by day it seemed like a dance of one step forward two steps back.  I’ve seen God’s faithfulness and mercy in ways I wouldn’t have expected, and I’ve cried tears of compassion for refugees that have come and gone that I would have never expected to cry.  Some I still hear from, some I don’t.  And I look at the journeys God has had them on as well.  Sometimes I forget to step back and look at the big picture of what God is doing.  A tiny step here and a great leap there have led to big transformation in the lives of refugees I know, and it’s so amazing to remember that while God works in lives differently, pulling and twisting us in uncomfortable directions sometimes, we are all part of God’s redemption purposes for the world.  My little steps in one direction can lead me to cross paths with someone else’s large leap and in that moment God’s story of redemption in my life is a part of that person’s journey and I am shaped by him or her as much as he or she might be shaped by me.  As I transition to my next field of ministry (Athens Greece is the direction it looks like God is pointing me), I take all of those stories I’ve encountered with me as part of my own story now.  And the work of God in my life continues.  Because just as he’s been faithful in the past to me and so many I’ve had the chance to know, he will continue to work in me until the day of completion in Christ Jesus.  (Phil 1:6)  I’m sure the way ahead will include great joy, great challenge, and great opportunities, but whatever happens I’m learning to expect that all of it will work for my growth toward Christ.  I’ll leave you again with the quote from last year’s post because I appreciate it so much.  Here’s to renewing my trust in the slow work of God.

“Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We would like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet, it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—and that it may take a very long time. Above all, trust in the slow work of God, our loving vine-dresser.” – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin


The slow work of God

A friend of mine from college was interviewed recently by Baptist Women in Mission.  She’s had a tough road being a female minister in Texas for several years right out of seminary, but during the interview she shared a quote that has particularly ministered to her over the years and it seemed relevant to me recently.  Here it is:

“Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We would like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet, it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—and that it may take a very long time. Above all, trust in the slow work of God, our loving vine-dresser.” – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

“Trust in the slow work of God”…  Painful to practice sometimes, but words of truth nonetheless. Lord, help me.


Doing

God’s got me in a waiting period at the moment, and I’m not going to lie; it’s challenging me.  I don’t know that I realized before just how much satisfaction and feelings of worthiness I get from “doing” things.  Recently, I was reading an entry in the Streams in the Desert devotional, and it hit home.  I thought I’d share a portion here:

“We tend to feel we are doing the greatest good in the world when we are strong and fit for active duty and when our hearts and hands are busy with kind acts of service.  Therefore, when we are set aside to suffer, when we are sick, when we are consumed with pain, [when we are told to wait and rest!] and when all our activities have been stopped, we feel we are no longer of any use and are accomplishing nothing.  Yet, if we will be patient and submissive, it is almost certain we will be a greater blessing to the world around us during our time of suffering and pain [and waiting] than we were when we thought we were doing the greatest work.  Then we are burning, and shining brightly as a result of a fire.”

Hmmm.  I think maybe the key is obedience.  When we are in the place God calls us doing what He calls us to do, we are doing the greatest work we can do, whether it be taking a nap or preaching on a street corner.  So, for right now, in the waiting and resting, I’m praying that God would fill me and make me more like Him so that even in the waiting, He would be glorified and His light would shine in this dark city.


Hope

It’s been a while since I posted, but I have been thinking and meditating on hope recently and came across an entry by Brennan Manning from Reflections of a Ragamuffin that I just had to share.  It was a little too long for Facebook, so I thought, why not dust off the old blog and post it there.  Maybe someone will wander by and be encouraged as I was by it.  So, here you go:

“The Reality of Hope”

“One spiritual writer has observed that human beings are born with two diseases: life, from which we die; and hope, which says the first disease is not terminal.  Hope is built into the structure of our personalities, into the depths of our unconscious; it plagues us to the very moment of our death.  The critical question is whether hope is self-deception, the ultimate cruelty of a cruel and tricky universe, or whether it is just possibly the imprint of reality.

     The parables of Jesus responded to that question.  In effect, Jesus said: Hope your wildest hopes, dream your maddest dreams, imagine your most fantastic fantasies.  Where your hopes and your dreams and your imagination leave off, the love of my heavenly Father only begins.  For ‘eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.’ (1 Corinthians 2:9)”

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him,

so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  ~Romans 15:13


Easter

“Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.  For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations.  His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.  For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.  Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.”   -Ephesians 2:12-20

Amazing grace

how sweet the sound

that saved a wretch like me

I once was lost but now I’m found

was blind, but now I see. 

 

On this Easter morning, I am remembering how very far from God I once was, and I praise Him who conquered the grave so that a wretch like me could be brought near.  Jesus, you are more than my words could ever say, and I love you more every day.