Saturday, 12 August 2017

In Sorrows and Suffering: Three things I've Learned Through the Hard Times

Suffering. It’s something everyone born in flesh will experience, or has experienced. As believers in Christ Jesus, and Him as the Son of a Good God, we have many outlooks on how and why we end up in painful situations. Now I do not claim that God causes us to directly suffer, but in the cases where we let Him, I’ve seen that He uses our pain to shape us, to refine us and to make us more like Him. He works all things together for the good of those who love Him. We know this to be true, but really, why do bad things happen to good people? It’s a question that mankind has asked for many years, and not one that I intend to completely tackle but will indirectly give some insight into one of its possible answers.

That being said, I’m not anywhere near being able to speak as an authority on the subject of suffering, however, this season has brought to my attention some of the benefits it has had in my own life.
Here are a few things I have seen in my life as I’ve walked through painful situations:
  • 1.       Suffering unites us and equips us. All throughout the new testament, especially in the letters to the churches, believers are urged to pray for one another, care for one another and encourage one another through the suffering they are facing. We (believers) all share in the common bond of denying the flesh and choosing to suffer for our Lord. We are all on the same journey towards Christ-likeness and the Bible points out that this journey does not come without trials and testing. We are encouraged to keep the faith through our difficult situations, because we know that we are not in this alone. Now our modern day American suffering may not be close to the same as first-century persecution (though we may one day face the same); however, we are all still united in our call to deny the world and follow Christ. I’ve found that I can relate so much more to those who are struggling after I myself have struggled. The pain of doubt and fear have caused me to have greater confidence, now that I’m on the other side. Without my questioning, I would not have the answers. Without my answers/confidence in my own faith, I would not have what I need to minister to others facing similar challenges that I’ve overcome. So, in a way, God gives us different challenges to overcome so that we each have someone to turn to when we are facing the same, and vice versa. This way we function as a body and not as individuals. Paul mentions this kind of comfort circle when he addresses the church in Corinth (2 Cor 1).
  • 2.       In our suffering, we experience God in a new way. I never knew the comfort of the Holy Spirit until I knew the suffering of my soul. In my pain, He came through as the Comforter. A thing I never would have known apart from my struggle. See my blog post: “Wine and Woes.” We get to experience Christ in our struggles. Just as in Daniel chapter 3, where God deliberately chooses not to save His three brave followers from the fiery furnace, but instead joins them in their fire. He protects them and delivers them, but He does not keep them from the trouble. Is was through the fire that they were found to be with Jesus, in their life’s greatest trial they had fellowship with Christ. They were brought from their situation with strengthened faith that brought the king and his kingdom to glorify God. Maybe your trial is to point someone to Jesus through the way they see Him with you as you endure the fire.
  • 3.       Suffering make us more “perfect.” I was amazed at seeing in scripture where is says that even Jesus was perfected through His suffering (Heb. 2). Now if there is anyone who doesn’t need more pain to be perfect, it’s Jesus (I mean, I thought He was already the complete picture of fullness and perfection already). Yet, scripture tells us that even Christ had something to gain through His pain on this earth.* Since He was completely man, I like to think it is that He learned more about who His Father was and also how to relate with our pain. I don’t know about you, but I’m nowhere near close to Jesus status when it comes to righteousness…. What makes me think that God should always swoop in and deliver me from the pain that, may in fact, be the very thing to draw me closer to Him. In my times of deep sorrow and frustration, I have found that the gentle voice of my loving Father is always present to point out the things that were caused because of my own sinfulness. This purging of sin from my life is a painful process, but I would not be who I am without it. In fact, I relate to the Apostle Paul when he says he rejoices in his suffering because he knows the good thing it produces within him.

So even with the discomfort that life can bring, I know that God ultimately works it for my good. This year I have been to so many funeral services I have lost count. Yet, it is an awe-striking thing to seeing a life well-lived come to conclusion. In the pain of death, there is a subtle beauty to the life God shaped. In those moments of memory, we see the hand of God through a person’s life to accomplish great things. Of all the memorial services I went to, the God-glorifying testimonies were never from a person whose life was easy, whose pain was non-existent, or whose path had no struggles. In every great story, the protagonist much overcome so great challenge. We don’t sympathize with the ones who sit in the dust and complain at why life isn’t easier or why they have a hard task; we rally behind the valiant who face hardship, pain and challenge head-on. God has a great story He is writing!

Write now I would say I am in a place where I am hesitant to pray for God to deliver me from all my troubles. I know there is something He is teaching me through them so I desire to face them head-on, and not to disregard what's for my good as something solely from the enemy (I used to have a childish mindset that anything that was painful to me must have been the devil at work). Now I see that correction, training, attaining to perfection, they all require hard work, and yes, sometimes a little suffering. I don't deny that sometimes pain is the result of a door left open that the enemy uses to afflict the righteous, but it's not that way every time. Sometimes it's the enemy, sometimes it's because we live in a fallen world, but ALL the times God uses it for my good!

My encouragement to you is to keep your eyes on your story’s author, even in your pain. Hold fast, knowing that He is all-good, all-loving and all-knowing and that He is working your situation towards your good and His glory!

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Wine and Woes

A short disclaimer before you read the rest of this post. I am one who likes to take the words of Paul to Timothy and enjoy the occasional glass of wine... It's good for the stomach. I like the warmth a sweet red provides as it glides its way down and the taste as it dances across my tongue. I do not ever drink to get drunk and feel it is wrong to do so, but on a recent occasion I realized why some people do. 

After a conversation with a dear friend, I hung up the phone with an ache in my heart. Words exchanged and thoughts considered caused my chest to contract and upon reflection, I would equate the feeling similar to my heart being placed in a blender and poured out on the road for a reckless matatu (Kenyan bus) to drive over. Is this description exaggerating a bit? Perhaps, but none the less, it's how I felt in the moment. 

Image result for wineAs I walked home from work that afternoon I thought of the half empty (yes, at this point my outlook made it seem half empty vs half full) bottle of wine sitting in my fridge and how easy it would be to drown my sorrows with the comfort of a little escapism. I wondered if this situation warranted me getting drunk for the first time and decided it did not. In all this I realized that it's an easy thing to do, turning to a drunken escape, when you're feeling so broken. 

That night I cried myself to sleep. Between the sobs I dozed off until I was too exhausted to weep anymore. I know at this point you must be wondering what could have happened that my reaction would be so severe. My point in this post is not to focus on the who or what that made me feel this way but rather on the grace of God that is present in my story. 

In the morning I woke up not feeling so broken, rest has a way of bringing a sweet forgetfulness to the hurts of yesterday... at least for me. Though my heart felt like it had been returned to my chest, it was still a broken mess. Though the extremity of my emotions had subsided, the residing pain had not vacated. Knowing that I needed a time away with jesus, I opened my Bible to continue my quest to read through scriptures in the course of this year. I opened to Luke. I read the part about new wine in old wineskins and vise versa, then after, what I had never seen before, a sentence jumped out at me. Jesus said, "And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, 'The old is better.'" This took me back to my first experience with the Holy Spirit's presence in my life and how awesome and powerful it was. Yet, even as awe-striking and life changing as it might have been, it didn't compare to that moment walking with God daily in a growing maturity. His dept and love for me was shown in such a way that we have a familiar knowing of each other. Holy Spirit is no longer someone new and strange. i had fear when we first met but now, we walk together and He guides me in stillness. A thing far greater than when I began this journey with Him. 

As I sat in the quietness of my room, alone with the Spirit of God and as I meditated on the Scripture I had just read, I was reminded of how Paul instructed believers not to be filled with wine but to be drunk on the Spirit. This took a whole new meaning for me as just the night before I wrestled with wanting to escape reality. Paul's command here was that we turn to our Savior and our true Comforter in our times of despair. That instead of trying to escape our present pain through drunken stuper, we turn to Jesus and lay our pain at His feet. We invitee the Comforter to heal our brokenness. 

In the same way, Paul says that he rejoices in his suffering and that it is for Comfort's sake (1 Cor 1:5-7) that he embraces the pains of life. That he may truly know the comfort and peace the Spirit brings. I can honestly say that this morning, as I say in God's presence I felt comfort in the depths of my soul that far outweighed the anguish of the day before. I would not have known this comfort if it had not been for my pain. I say with Paul that for this reason, I rejoice in my suffering because through it, I experience a new depth of God's love and grace towards me. 

Image result for Dad hug
I did not receive any directions for what I should do, I did not hear God tell me that I had been right or wrong the day before, I did not even hear him say anything about the future of this friendship under fire. All I know is that the presence of God was tangible, and like a bear hug from your Dad that brings so much comfort, God's presence embraced me in all my brokenness and placed the pieces of my heart back together. 

I want to encourage you today. If you are struggling or hurt or in a place of anguish, allow the Spirit of God to be your comforter. Don't numb the pain through escaping reality, be it through alcohol, movies, entertainment, etc. but embrace it because it may just be the tool God is using to bring you closer to Him. We appreciate food so much more when we are hungry. Perhaps your situation is creating in you a hunger, and a need, for God's comfort. 

Thursday, 18 May 2017

A New Book Shows It's Old Hat

3.5, that is the number of months I have remaining in Kenya. As such, I have refocused my efforts here to make sure I am spending my time wisely. One thing that being in a new place has caused me to do is to write reviews of where I am every four months. I look at my home life, my work life, my spiritual life, and my social life. Based on my observations I write out recommendations for myself for the following season. I analyze my performance on past goals and set new ones to refocus my efforts and increase the value of my time here. This is a practice that I hope to continue when I return home. It has been invaluable to my learning and growing here in Kenya and I think it'll work for you to if you want to be a person of growth. This picture is how I visualize my goals for the next few months.

One of my goals is to read three new leadership books in the course of this next term. I started by picking up John Maxwell's "Developing Leaders Around You," as it seems very pertinent to my future plans. in it he talks about what makes a good leader. I read through chapter four thinking it was good advice and noticing lots of similarities in his other book "Developing the Leader Within You," also a good read, but it was not until I read through 2 Corinthians later that day that I realize these leadership principles are no new thing. In fact, the Apostle Paul demonstrates them so well, he basically wrote the book on it... Well okay not really, but the way in which he relates to his followers -and those he is training into leadership, has so many similarities to Maxwell's advice (he is a preacher, so who knows, maybe he got his tips from Paul).

I was so impressed by the similarities of Paul's discipleship approach and Maxwell's advice on developing leaders I thought I would share a few of the parallels. I will start by sharing few of the principles outlined by Maxwell and then will relate how Paul expertly uses the same methods. Before I jump into this, however, I want to share with you that 2 Cor is a letter written to a church with whom Paul had a long-standing relationship. He had spent time with them, built churches with them, and given them correction for misconduct. As you read the letter you can see Paul is very specific to details dealing with their situation and their history.

Show Transparency 

Paul knows who he is and what he has been called to. He shares of his weaknesses (12:1-10 -not a typical act for leaders wanting to "impress" others with their having it all together) and he tells of his hardships as well as admits when he is speaking from his own boastfulness (11:16-30). He does not carry the presumption that he has everything together and is intentional to discuss areas of conflict in his plans to come see them (1:15-17). his open communication on this also shows that he understood that when you don't say something, you still say something. if an area of uncertainty/change is left unaddressed by the leadership then those following will make up their own minds about why their expectations were not met. paul was clear to address these areas and make sure no one made false assumptions about his reasons for what he chose to do. 

Offer Time 

this is one thing that paul did and did very well. I mean, he was pulled in many different directions as ministry often requires, but he purposed to spend time with the Corinthians. He mentions several times that this will be his thrid visit to them. Acts 18:11 tells us that Paul spent a year and a half pouring into the people in Corinth. Time is valuable, it is something you can give and won't ever receive back, but Paul knew the importance of spending time with people. There is no quick-fix replacement to spending quality time in developing people. 

Believe in People 

Paul believed in his followers, despite their hard fall from righteous living as seen in 1 Cor, he still loved them and encouraged them and told them he had boasted about them to others who would visit (7:13-16) and to other churches about their generosity (9:2). He looks passed their faults and builds them up by affirming his belief in them. He says, "I am glad I can have complete confidence in you. (7:16)" What would it feel like to have someone who you look up to say that about you? It would be awesome, I think it would even make you want to live up to that high expectation. 

Give Encouragement and Hope

All through the letter Paul is encouraging them by reminding them who they are in Christ (3:1-18). He gives them encouragement about their future of being with the Lord (5). he calls them to be separate from the world and encourages them that they can have the righteousness of God (5:16-21). he also gives grace and hope for the sinner by telling the people that the repentant sinner should be welcomed back and forgiven (2:5-11), he also expresses his hope for the people and provides encouraging words about Go, their comforter (1:3-7).  

Exhibit Consistency 

Paul is consistent in character and backs this up through his telling of his rights to true apostleship (10-11) and through his explanation of changed plans (1). Throughout thee letter, he not only defends his ministry and integrity but also admonishes them to follow in the consistency of walking with the Lord, as he has shown. 

Lead with Confidence

Paul's ministry exhibited an unusual confidence, he wrote with boldness and speaks with authority that is firmly grounded in his calling as an apostle of Christ. he boasts in God and the call he has. in chapteer 10, Paul defends his ministry and throughout the letter he firmly establishes himself by speaking with authority given to him by God. Confidence is one thing that followers and future leaders need to see modeled, they won't want to go where there is not a sure direction

Provide Security 

Through his forgiveness and acceptance of those who had done wrong and then repented, Paul shows that there are open arms in the body of Christ that provide a welcome to those wanting to return. he demonstrates that there is no being "kicked out" forever; there is security in God's family when you turn back to Him. Paul is also free in sharing of his love for them and urges them to share this love as well (6:11-13). This affirms that their relationship is secure, as he speaks to them as his beloved children. 

Reward Production 

This one is not followed in the business sense of the word, the idea is that you reward people for doing what you want them to. Paul's goal was to bring his followers to repentance. he praises them for their repentant hearts and for their godly sorrow, (7) all the while, affirming his love for them and his desire not to hurt them. 

Establish a Support System 

Paul worked within a network of churches. He shares this freely and encourages the Corinthians to be generous to their brethren. As well as his call for generosity, he says how he has boasted of them to these other churches and how they are accountable to them and to God. he had also sent support to them through other churches' donations (8-9), he gives them emotional and spiritual support through his encouragements. 

Discern and Personalize the Journey

This point is the first one that jumped out at me as I read through 2 Cor. You can tell immediately that he is speaking to a people with whom he has a history. he cares for them and speaks to their needs. he is not shy in addressing their problems and gives tailor-made solutions and advice. he trains them based on their needs, as opposed to giving just generic advice; such as we find easy to give such as: "pray about it," and "WWJD?" He told them what they needed because he knew their situation and was invested in their success.

These are just a few of the principles mentioned in Maxwell's book and I am sure that many more could be found through the life of Paul. I hope that you've found it encouraging, if not just interesting, to see these similarities.

What principles do you think are needed for good leaders?

Where have you seen them modeled in Scripture?

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Is That You, God?

So first off, I am sorry it's been a while. I've not had the inspiration when I've had the time and not had the time when I'm inspired. This had led to an empty void of 3 months passing with no new thoughts. Regardless, I hope you think this one is good.

Have you ever wondered if you hear God or if that voice inside is just you? Well today that happened to me. Let me tell you what happened.

I found myself today at a cross roads, literally. I was standing at the t-junction deciding should I go left and try to get home before it rains on my clothes hanging on the line or should I go right and continue with my day's plan of going to the gym before dinner plans at a friend's place?

I was feeling a little tired and I could see the traffic that was stacked up and a little voice inside me said I should go home before it poured. Stopping for a moment, I asked if this was the Holy Spirit directing me. However, on the other hand I was just minutes away from a great workout, which I had been looking forward to and planning since the start of the day. I had all my things ready to go, maybe I was just being lazy by wanting to go home. ...So with that thought, I continued my original plan and walked myself to the gym.

Upon arriving at the gym I was still feeling a bit "ish" about the whole thing. Not sure if it was me or God giving this hesitation, I stopped outside to reconsider and then deduced it was me needing to, 'just do it,' as Nike would say. So I locked up my things and changed into my stunning workout clothes (yes, this is sarcasm, one can only be so stunning in shin-high socks and capris). I eyed the weight floor and saw I was there just before the wave of testosterone usually hits (around 5pm when work lets out and you can't find a bench or dumbbells to work with). With enthusiasm I found an unused weight bar and began my deadlift warmups.

I was one rep into my first set when I felt a nagging feeling; one that said I really should not be there. At this point I can no longer put it down to my laziness, I was reallllllllllllllly looking forward to throwing some weights around. With the fact that I had allowed myself to get all this way and I was still feeling the urge to go home, I said it would be better to leave and look like a crazy person (I mean really, who leaves the gym just 5 mins after changing into the proper clothes?) then to stick around if I were not meant to be there.

On the way home, traffic was still terrible, but it was not for this reason that I decided to walk. The voice inside me led me to just walk home. As I walked, I prayed, boy did I pray! I mean whatever the reason for interrupting my workout, it must have been pretty big. Everything and everyone who came to mind I lay at the feet of Jesus, I claimed healing by the blood, protection by the Son, new life, love and revelation! Walking still, I found that maybe it was not for any of these things that I was pulled from my ever-so-desirable workout. Maybe, just maybe, it was because God knew if He got my attention I would be focused on Him in those moments rather than being focused on adding 5 more kgs (yeah, here nothing is in pounds, that's a transition if you're used to lifting 25s and now can only do 10s haha) to the squat rack.

I'm grateful that I chose to listen and to go spend time with my Savior, who I realized is very jealous over me. Am I 100% totally convinced that God told me to quit my workout? No. But I'm happy that I did. And who knows, maybe something awful would have happened if I didn't listen, or maybe something good happened because I did leave; some things we will not know until eternity. There is no telling what harm is avoided or what good will come of one simple act of obedience. You say that it can't be obedience if I don't even know it was for sure God who was speaking.

Well, you have a point. However, I would much rather be obedient and look a little silly in the process to do something that isn't directly from God (obviously, I know this direction to leave the gym is not against God's will; if it were, that's a different story), then to miss what He has for me because I'm too busy trying to work out if it is really His voice.

Don't quote me on this, but I think that sometimes God will speak to us just to see if we are listening. He will give us chances to follow Him in what seems like a pointless task or a useless ask; then, only through our obedience will we find out that He was wanting to bless us through it. When we are faithful with the little things, we are then able to handle the bigger things. I can say that I was truly blessed by putting up my weights and walking home with Jesus. We talked, I prayed, He reminded me how He likes "us" time, and you know what, I even got a workout! That is no short walk home, I tell you. :)

So I challenge you, the next time you feel "prompted," instead of dismissing it as something crazy, take a step of faith, trust God and go for it! What do you have to loose by obedience? There's a lot greater loss in missing out when you go your own way, and there is so much to gain when you obey!

*Please note that God will NEVER contradict His written Word. If you feel that inner voice telling you something contrary to Scripture, it is NOT the Holy Spirit or of God. I hope this story helps you in your journey just a bit. :) Feel free to comment and share your own "Is this God or me?" moments. :)

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Beginning with Questions

Revealer of the Unknown

I am so blown away by our God, there are days that just thinking of who He is and that He loves me makes me want to sing! (And I did, by the way, I'm pretty sure my neighbors may think I'm crazy now... Oh' well). This morning I was reading in Daniel, the passage where Nebuchadnezzar tells all the wise men to declare to him not only thee interpretation of his dream, but also the dream itself. My mind was baffled as I saw how God used this situation to illuminate all the wisdom of the day and make Himself the last one standing.

This is the God we serve. The God who declares mysteries and makes known revelations. Daniel Chapter 2:19-23: “Then Daniel praised the God of heaven 20 and said:
‘Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
    wisdom and power are his.
21 He changes times and seasons;
    he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise
    and knowledge to the discerning.
22 He reveals deep and hidden things;
    he knows what lies in darkness,
    and light dwells with him.
23 I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors:
    You have given me wisdom and power,
you have made known to me what we asked of you,
    you have made known to us the dream of the king.’”

Knowing that the same is true today; for God is the same yesterday, today and forever, I am filled with excitement as I dream about the future. I know that there are great things to come and He has a plan, which, I believe, He wants to reveal. In the next couple of days, I purpose to take time away from my schedule to seek Him on what it is.

One of my dear supporters asked me the other day, what was my purpose in coming to Nairobi and how have I been working towards fulfilling it. I was a little taken aback by this question because it revealed that I have not clearly communicated these things to you. Please forgive this shortcoming. In the words ahead, I will attempt to clarify any misunderstandings and articulate my goals and how I’m working towards them.

My purpose in coming

First, I am not here in Kenya as your typical “missionary.” Meaning I am not living in a hut, going out each day pass out tracts to unbelieving villagers. Much to the contrary, I am living in the outskirts of Nairobi (a very developed and growing city), and working at a church to learn from them ways we, in the states, can do things better.

Back at the beginning of this year, the leadership at my church, River Run (RR), approached me and asked if I would be interested in helping them build a stronger partnership with Nairobi Chapel (NC – one of the churches forerunning the church-planting movement in Africa, who is working to partner with and plant churches across Kenya and around the world). I would do this through going on a staff exchange; meaning that I would spend one year with NC, learning their DNA and culture and working alongside them, in exchange for them sending one person to do the same at RR.

Overlooking the fact that I was not staff at RR at the time of this conversation, we discussed that my goal would be to go and learn about NC’s internship program called Kinara. Through this year-long internship program, they train leaders for ministry work *mainly to equip ministers to fuel the church plants. During their program, they work across all departments at NC, while simultaneously taking classes on leadership, Bible, godly character, and discipline. The goal in my learning about this internship program is to be well-equipped to start one similar at RR, when I return.

Up until this point, my involvement with the program has been slightly limited due to other responsibilities I had taken up at NC in the New Believers’ department. I had been helping disciple new converts, modify the teaching documents, and help create a training program for the Pastoral Care department. Moving into 2017, I am going to be managing the calendar of events for the Kinara department. This will give me and inside-look into how things operate and a hands-on way. In addition to helping the department in this way, I will be taking time to synthesize what I learn into a program that will be compatible in the American context.

Currently I am praying through what that will look like. I have several questions for how the ideal program will run. Please pray with me in regards to:

-          Who is our main target of people for internship? Is it people who are in school? Graduates?
-          How long the program will run (4 months, 7 months, 1 year, etc.)
-          What will be the objective of the program (ideally, where will we send interns after they are through? Is the goal to prepare them to be ministers in the corporate workplace, to be missionaries, to be church planters? -the answer here will help determine how classes are structured)
-          What classes need to be taught? -This will follow who our target audience is, if it is Bible school students then we don’t need to teach certain things then if it was High School graduates/
-          Where will the instructors come from? NC uses seasoned pastors and teachers to lead the interns in weekly classes, what does this look like at RR? Do we collaborate with other ministries? Which ones?
-          Where is God calling us to evangelize/minister? The internship program here has many different avenues for interns to evangelize in schools and around the country through missions.

These are the questions I am hoping to find answers to in the next season of my time here. Looking at the task ahead, I am holding my peace by remembering that I serve the same God as Daniel, the same God who is the great revealer of mysteries. He is the One with the answers because He has already written the future.