Avenues of Grace

Seeking the Lord with Eyes Wide Open

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Missions and Measurement

We arrived home from Poland on Sunday night, and my mind has processed a thousand different emotions and lessons that The Lord taught me while there.  How do you describe the warmth of the people, the beauty of the country, the power of God’s Word, or the Spirit that flows through believers of every nation? How can I tell you the peace, the welcome, the feelings of “family” that we experienced with complete strangers or the joy of sharing with those who are considering who Jesus is for the first time?

 

You see, missions is not just about the pretty pictures or the bottom-line of numbers.  God works mightily in so many things on a mission trip, and I want to give as full of an account as I can.  So here goes:

Several years ago, Melaina fixated on a Polish missionary and began praying for her every day for more than a year. This was not our doing. It was The Lord. Only HE could call a 7 year-old to pray like that. We sensed then that we might one day go to Poland.

Fast forward to several weeks ago, and we were $3,600 short of paying for our trip. With so much going on with my family, I had no time to fundraise. The Lord quietly reminded me that HE was sending us to Poland, and He owns the storehouses. I continued to pray and enlisted my prayer warrior friends to pray with me. The Lord provided MORE than we needed for the trip!  Again, only GOD can do that.

We arrived safely and Danny preached the next morning in Olsztynek.  A younger man and woman offered to translate, but after a minute or so, they realized that they couldn’t. A visitor who came in late stood and offered to translate.  It turns out that he was a professional translator AND a pastor. He was in town for the day because his son was placed in the children’s hospital there.  At the end of the sermon, one precious woman came to the front and professed Jesus as Lord.  Just think of the odds of all that coming together at the perfect time…Ya’ll, only God can do that.

So the camp consisted of Polish workers, teams from Arkansas and Florida, and the guests who signed up or who the Polish church members invited. Our theme was the “I Am” statements in the book of John, so all of our lessons walked through those.  The camp was a family camp, so we had a variety of men, women, and children.  Each day followed the same pattern: team devotion, breakfast, worship service, crafts, separate men/women/children Bible studies, and lunch. We then had free time for a couple hours followed by games, whole group Bible study, dinner, and open discussion time.  For those that could stay up late enough, there were games until almost midnight each night.

So now that you know the format, where do I even start in telling you how God is moving?  I could tell you about the man who has battled alcoholism and was saved before coming to camp.  I could tell you how he gave his testimony that if the Bible could help him, he swore he would profess Jesus to everyone he encountered.  This man was baptized at the lake in the camp, and his girlfriend crowned him with a beautiful lei of flowers that she made.

Maybe I should tell you about the women’s group, how open the ladies were to listening to the Bible stories or how they were willing to ask questions and be transparent.  One said, “Last year, my heart was not ready, but this year it is.” Will you pray that she will fully surrender to Jesus?

Maybe I should tell you about another lady who shared the story of her dream while at camp.  In her dream, she went to the store to buy cabbage, but someone stole her wallet. On her way home, she was crying and Jesus appeared to her and gave her a new wallet that was better than anything she had before.  She told us that she believed that she had the dream because she was getting baptized, and she believed that the dream represented the death of her old life and the resurrection of her new life in Jesus. This, she told us, in a room full of women who do not yet believe.

I could tell you about the precious translator who just absolutely won my heart. She has the sweetest spirit about her, and I know that we would be close friends if we lived in the same country.  She said that she has always considered herself “spiritual” but not “religious.”  She has never believed in Jesus, but after translating, she is now interested in what we believe. Will you pray that she understands how very much Jesus loves her?

Would you pray for the precious Polish believers who war with a culture of  religion instead of relationship?  It is so difficult to break from traditions that you’ve held since birth, even when your heart tells you that they’re wrong.  One couple is confronting this now and will have to come to terms with what they believe to be true about God and His Church.  Will you pray for them?

Will you pray for the ones who had serious questions during discussion time? This was an open format for people to be honest and genuinely ask anything they wanted to know without any of us interjecting. As the Polish pastors fielded those questions, it was amazing to see the Lord move and to prompt people to give their testimonies.  One such testimony came from the pastor’s wife, a precious woman with more light in her than I can possibly describe.  She came to Christ through a vision of Him after she was contemplating committing suicide.  Isn’t it incredible how the Lord redeemed her and is using her so mightily? Will you pray for her family?

Shall I tell you about the children? They were everywhere! I absolutely LOVED the family culture.  My daughter didn’t know how to feel about being able to roam freely around camp by herself without worry.  She got to play and be a kid instead of worrying for her safety.  It was wonderful! God grew her faith, too.  She celebrated as He provided for us, and while the beginning of the camp was hard for her, by the end of the week, she managed to befriend two precious Polish twin girls.  It was wonderful to see them play, and I know she will cherish them in her heart.  It also helped her to consider those at her school who might not speak her language.  She got to experience what it felt like to be an “outsider,” and I know that this lesson will stay with her.

On the last day before we got on the plane, we had the opportunity to see Warsaw.  It was both exactly what I expected and none of what I expected. I imagined flocks of tourists and museums to remember the Warsaw Ghetto.  Instead, I saw only a small plaque on the wall of a building and a marker across the sidewalk.  It took me a moment to catch my breath, but then I realized why this was so.  Most buildings had plaques of some sort or another, some from WWII, others from Russian takeover.  In the midst of Old Town, there are remnants of the old fortress wall, and in the center stands a beautiful castle. At the end of the day, we had the chance to tour the castle.  It was incredible with ornate, gilded ceilings, massive murals and tapestries, and centuries old artwork from floor to ceiling in almost every room.  We even saw two original Rembrandts.  What struck me most, however, was the contrast: the palatial glory of the castle in the midst of so many memorials to those who were slain.  Even many of the paintings depicted the rise and fall of empires.  This was my first time seeing things so old, and doing so reminded me that everything in this life will pass away, but the glory of the Lord is forever.  In Him alone can we find safety. In Him alone can we find eternal life.

So how do I “measure” this trip?  It isn’t by the bottom-line question that so many of you will ask: “How many got saved?”  I measure this trip by the seed sown. I would love to tell you that everyone at camp accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, but that is not what happened. What I can tell you is that they heard the Gospel over and over; I can tell you that God moved mightily; and I can tell you that He isn’t finished.  The campers have spiritual questions now, and those questions are the beginning of seeking Him.  Will you pray with me for the Polish believers to continue to shine their Light in darkness?  Will you pray for the Word to take root in good soil and not be choked out by the culture? Will you pray for Jesus to break down the fortress of each camper’s heart and reveal His Truth to them? Will you pray for the missionaries and church planters to seek the Lord, grow in Him, and stand firm?  Only 200 of 2400 counties have an evangelical presence in Poland.  Will you pray for more people of peace to rise up, plant churches, and see His Gospel transform Poland?

It’s hard to come to a close, but I suppose that’s because I don’t believe this is one.  The trip is only part of the mission, and the mission isn’t over.  Will you join me in prayer?

 

 

 

The Dragon’s Lair

In one of my favorite haiku, Koboyashi Issa writes: “In this world, we walk on the roof of hell, gazing at flowers.” As I sat in the auditorium learning about the dragon in Revelation, this poem flooded my thoughts. This “dragon” will deceive millions, promising peace and fulfillment only to unveil his true identity when it is too late. And while the prospect of that deception weighs heavily on my heart, what strikes me most is that it is already happening.

Every day, we spend our time gazing at the very “flowers” that Issa spoke of. We need no outward showing of demonic presence in America; we only need our “stuff.” We need to keep up, to portray perfect lives full of materialistic prosperity and fabricated happiness. We can’t simply enjoy a moment; we must document it for our “viewers” on social media. We can’t have a dinner conversation because that would mean checking out of our digital relationships, and we simply can’t miss something on our news feeds. We have baby-faced teenage girls feeling the need to contour their makeup and an average credit card debt that would match a millionaire’s pocket book. We are obsessed with perfection. Don’t believe me? We even photoshop babies. BABIES!

But are we happy?

We run toward these things and miss the God who offers us the peace and fulfillment that we seek. Rather than investing our time in the eternal, we swipe our biological debit cards for momentary satisfaction that leaves us empty and craving more.

So how can we overcome the busyness, the desires, the worry, the wrong choices, and virtually everything that distracts us from the true purpose of our existence?

In Psalm 119:133, David prays this prayer: “Establish my footsteps in Your Word, and do not let any iniquity have dominion over me.” Here, I believe, is the answer and my prayer focus for 2017.

When I think of footsteps that are “established,” I imagine hanging from a rock wall with no foothold versus the surety of steps. Established footsteps mean that someone has gone before me, that the steps were designed with purpose and lead somewhere. Established footsteps mean that I can walk confidently, free of worry and sure of my destination. But let’s go a step further in this…

“Establish my footsteps in Your Word” takes on an even more important meaning. It means that I can go deep; I can know God fully and intimately, and that I can be sure of every part of my life because my understanding is not based on the world or even my own emotion; it is based on the ultimate and unalterable Truth of the Living God. How incredible to know that His Spirit allows me to know the deepest truths of the universe, allows me to fellowship with the One who spoke words and created the world, and allows me to know how fully and deeply He loves me. There is no greater assurance than this.

Finally, David prays that no “iniquity have dominion over me.” There are so many things vying for our attention in this world. Some of them are inherently evil while others can be used by satan for evil. We must continually ask the Lord to search our hearts and reveal these things that threaten to dethrone Jesus in our lives. So often we focus more on repentance and praying for forgiveness, but David is proactive here. The Spirit gives us everything we need to live holy lives, but we MUST be in communion with Him. How can we be? Through prayer and reading the Word. Only through this can we overcome the fleshly things that war against our spirits and distract us from Christ.

So I urge you, brothers and sisters in Christ, to connect to the source of your power, your comfort, your peace, and your fulfillment. Spend time in the Word and in prayer, communing with the Lord every day. He has designed you for this, and you must not lose focus.

The shiny things of this world were never meant to bring you peace or happiness; they are but enticements into the dragon’s lair.

When Words Fail, We Pour Out Your Word: A Prayer for 2015

O Lord, You are my God; I will exalt You, I will give thanks to Your Name; For You have worked wonders, plans formed long ago, with perfect faithfulness (Isaiah 25:1) Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O Lord, and you exalt Yourself as head over all (1 Chronicles 29:11) Because Your loving-kindness is better than life, My lips will praise You. So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Your Name. (Psalms 63:3-4)

Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the LORD, how much more the hearts of men! (Proverbs 15:11) Teach me what I do not see; If I have done iniquity, I will not do it again (Job 34:32) Tear [our] hearts, not just [our] clothes, and return to the LORD [our] God. For the Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, rich in faithful love, and He relents from sending disaster. (Joel 2:13) My soul cleaves to the dust; Revive me according to Your Word (Psalms 119:25). The unfolding of Your Word gives light; It gives understanding to the simple (Psalms 119:130). Give me understanding, that I may observe Your law and keep it with all my heart (Psalms 119:134). Establish my footsteps in Your Word, and do not let any iniquity have dominion over me (Psalm 119:133). For with You is the fountain of life; in Your Light we see Light (Psalms 36:9).

O come, let us sing for joy to the LORD, let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. (Psalms 95:1-2) For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).

We wait in hope for you Lord; You are our help and our shield. In You our hearts rejoice, for we trust in Your holy Name. May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in You (Psalm 33:20-22). May we be one, Father, just as you are one (John 17:11). And this is my prayer: that [our] love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that [we] may 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. (Philippians 1:9-11)

Father, teach us to “devote [ourselves] to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the Word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ…that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak. (Colossians 4:2-4)  Lord Jesus, we pray that all will “turn to [You] and be saved…for [You] are God and there is no other (Isaiah 45:22). Father, may we “go into all the world and preach the Good News to all creation” (Mark 16:15) so that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:11). May we “rebuild the ancient ruins..and raise up the age-old foundations. May we be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of the streets in which to dwell.” (Isaiah 58:12)

Holy Father, strengthen us with your mighty power and equip us with your full armor so that we can stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Father, may we stand firm in the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, and with our feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. Give us also the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Provide the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit and teach us to pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. May we be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Father, whenever we speak, give us words so that we will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, and we pray that we will declare it fearlessly, as we should.  (Ephesians 6:10-20).

Finally, Father, may we love You with all of our hearts, soul, strength, and mind and love others as ourselves (Luke 10:27). May we follow You and fear You and keep Your commandments, listen to Your voice, serve You, and cling to You (Deuteronomy 13:4) Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting even to everlasting. And let all the people say Amen! Praise the Lord! (Psalm 106:48).

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