Sunday, July 22, 2012

Spring Cleaning

You know it's really spring when the weather is warm enough to start washing windows, airing rugs, scrubbing every surface, and letting the sunshine and gentle breeze seek into the farthest recesses of your house. Anyone who's ever under-taken spring cleaning knows it's a huge job and that there's something so satisfying in it. It's like you're starting over, dust and grim that has settled in during the long, hard winter is removed, things are fresh, and the air smells cleaner somehow.

A few months ago I moved into a new apartment. It wasn't exactly spring yet outside, but this move marked the beginning of a spring in my life. Typically when I move into a new place, I like to give it a thorough going-over, you know, removing the previous person's dust, and dirt. It helps me feel settled.

At first glance the apartment looked relatively clean. I noticed the places that often get neglected were a bit dusty, so I'd wipe them down, but as I did so, the angle I was working from would enlighten me to other areas that had been long-neglected. Each discovery yielded more and more disgust on my part as I realized that this apartment had not received a deep cleaning in years!

It took me days to remove the filth and as I was cleaning I sensed God speaking to me through the process. He showed me that just like it's good to undertake a spring cleaning in the the natural world, it is even more vital to take up this kind of discipline spiritually. What does a spiritual deep-clean look like? Well, in many ways, I think it's very much like in the natural start scrubbing somewhere by confessing one sin to God, you're forgiven and that area is cleaned off, but now that you're there, you see that there are other things that you didn't notice before, and pretty soon, you realize wow, there are a lot of things to confess and clean out. You realize just how filthy you are on inside! And just like the satisfaction that you get when your apartment or house is finally sparkling like new, you can feel squeaky clean on the inside once you air it all out to God. But in this case it's not because of something you've done or effort or elbow-grease on your part.  No, God's the one who moves in with power and makes you white as snow!

It's pretty amazing, you get all the benefits of a deep, spring, cleaning and all you have to do is confess, "I am dirty." and he does the rest! His word says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1John 1:9) and " far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us" (Psalm 103:12). Wow!

And the interesting thing is, just like regular cleaning makes spring cleaning so much easier, regular confession, makes a spiritual deep-clean much easier too! Don't you love it how God uses the natural world around us to teach us spiritual truths?!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Signs of Spring

It’s been a long winter! "Well no, it hasn’t," you might be thinking. "It’s really barely begun this year." Well the truth is—and I think some of you know this—winters in our lives don’t always follow the earth’s cycle of seasons.

For me it’s been a long winter and I was talking to God about this the other day. I was telling him how hard it is going to be to go through another physical winter with a spiritual winter still hanging on. Couldn’t we just get on with it and move on to the next season? He encouraged me by pointing out that spring is coming. It was an uplifting thought, but I needed more. It seemed like it was so far off still and I was ready to be done with winter right now!

And God was gracious and loving to His frustrated daughter. He didn’t tell me when, he didn’t tell me that it’s here, but he did begin to show me signs of spring, signs that things are changing, that things are on the move; signs that he’s preparing the soil, that He’s up to something good, even though it’s been hard to see. He even showed me how a few things that could be discouraging if I dwelt on them in the wrong way were really signs of hope, signs of life, an indication that things won’t stay dead and dormant forever, but that life will begin to blossom again.

In Colorado it might be hard to get an accurate picture of what I’m describing. Spring can hardly be called spring here. It’s more like fits and starts between winter and summer and then BAM—summer finally sticks. What I’m talking about is a more like a New England spring, one that is a gradual, even process, where buds begin to appear, where flowers begin to poke their heads through the earth, as at least four or five months’ worth of snow begins to melt. I picture my mom, out in her garden, tilling up the soil and cleaning up muck that has slipped into the wrong places during the long, hard winter.

Are you in the middle of winter, are you longing for spring? God knows that sometimes we need help to be patient, help to believe that He’s moving things along, that it won’t always be winter. We need just a little bit of sight to encourage our faith. My prayer for you today is that He would show you some of your own signs of spring. That you would continue to believe that He is working, moving the seasons forward, and that He's up to something good in your life.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Reflections on Wandering

"All who wander are not lost..." though sometimes it feels that way! Recently I heard this quote, credited to J.R.R. Tolkien, several times within the span of a day or two. It reminded me of an experience that I had several years ago where some friends and I were wandering around in the dark.

We had decided to tackle one of Colorado's 14ers--Blanca Peak. Our plan was to leave right after work, but we got an even later start than expected. By the time we got to the trail-head darkness had descended and the moon had already risen high into the night sky. There was a mountain lake a few thousand feet below the summit, which we thought was only a few miles up, and it was our goal to reach it that night and camp there. We were packing it in, so we carried tents, sleeping bags, food, and clothes on our backs.

After several hours of climbing on a steep, rough trail, we still hadn't reached our destination. We wondered if we had gotten off track. Though the moon helped light the way a little we knew that we could step off a ledge at any moment. Were we just wandering around in the dark, way off course?  It was past midnight by that time and we were exhausted. We had no way of knowing how close we were to the lake, so we decided to pitch our tent on the next level piece of ground we could find and wait for the morning light to give us more direction.

When morning dawned, we packed up camp and were on our way. It turns out if we had kept going, we still would have had over an hour of hiking, so we made the right decision. Our directions had told us that we should drive up the trail as far as we could go and then it would be a certain distance to the lake. It warned that if we tried to keep going we might break an axle or get stuck. Well, we played it too safe with the vehicle and thus had a much longer hike than we should have.

My life as an adult has included what appears to be lots of wandering. I've lived in at least 13 different houses and had over 20 different housemates since graduating from college a decade ago. In each and every case what might have appeared to an outsider like aimless wandering and an unwillingness to settle down really had genuine purpose. Though sometimes it did feel like I was wandering around in the dark, not quite sure if I was heading in the right direction, I can clearly see looking back, how God guided me each step of the way. It's definitely not the life that this homebody would have chosen, but it is definitely the life-path that God in His sovereignty led me on...and I'd do it all over again too!

I've lived in Colorado longer than anywhere else. I sometimes wonder if God is going to settle me down here or somewhere else or keep me on this path of wandering. It is reassuring that wandering does not mean that I am lost. It means that I am a sojourner on this planet that is not my true home. I know that I don't want to get so comfortable anywhere that I am not prepared to move if God calls me somewhere else. At the same time, I don't want to move just for the sake of moving.

What does it really mean that all who wander are not lost? I think it has something to do with the fact that life doesn't necessarily go in the straight line that we expect. We seem to zigzag and back-track and loop around, and there's often lots of change. Sometimes we think we're on the right path, but we don't seem to be getting there. What we expect to happen when we thought it should happen doesn't. It feels a bit like we're wandering in the dark.

But this type of wandering is not aimless. It has a purpose. It is growing us. We're not lost. God knows exactly where we're going. If we keep trusting and walking ahead, eventually the darkness covering our sight will lift and we'll be able to see the trail that we've taken. Sometimes we'll see that there really was a more direct way, but maybe the trail we took was really the right trail after all because we had to work hard and learned so much, growing and gaining strength along the way. As we wander we are found by Him. He's right there beside us, seeing through the darkness, waiting with us for those things that are still hidden. And sometimes, when we just can't seem to get where we're going and all is still dark, I think it's ok, to take a break, pitch our tent and wait for morning. Rest and light always seem to have a way of renewing vision and giving direction to our feet.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Call to Prayer

I hear the call to prayer
A wail really
I wonder that I've noticed it
This time

It seems to have faded
Into the background
So that I rarely hear it anymore
I am struck by the wail
A lament
A cry

I wonder
Who and what are they calling out for?
Will anyone hear or heed their voice?

The night sky closes in
The stars sparkle
Clearly twinkle
In the expanse above

A whisper
A silent prayer I offer
For those who are lost
As I heed
The call to prayer

Marsabit Memories

The smiles of the African children
The delight in their eyes
The sweet innocence
Struck with awe and wonder
By the simplest things
Chalk on the front stoop
Colorful balloons twirling in the air
Lasting only for a moment
Before a thorn triumphs
Bursting them into a thousand pieces
So much joy and so much glee
If only for a short time
Fleeting as the setting sun at twilight
It is light
And then it is dark
Totally black
Except for the twinkling stars above
Pinpoints of light
So sharp in the equatorial sky
Noises in the night
The constant hum of exotic insects
The soft crooning of an unknown bird
The melodious sound of neighbors' voices
Lifted in praise
It is so far away and yet so near
As near as the beating heart within me
The smiles of the African children

The Watch in the Night

Watchmen in the night
Ever an unconstant vigil

Shots in the night
Breath catching
Hearts racing
Unexpected events

God is watching in the night
Guards are sleeping
We are safely
Covered in the shadow of His wings

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What it Means to Know Him

"'He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?' declares the Lord." Last night I read those words in Jeremiah 22:16 and today we met people who know what it means to know the Lord and I'd say that it is going very well with them! Where did we meet them? At PopUp. This unusual acronym stands for "People Upliftment Process", an incredible ministry that our team had the opportunity to visit today. Through skills training classes in a wide variety of areas including sewing, home-based care, business, computer skills, and many others people from around the city of Pretoria and beyond are empowered to change the course of their lives and not only on the outside, but the inside too!

A team of dedicated staff, these people who truly know the Lord, speak to their learners about God's purpose in their life. Despite the many difficulties that the learners have faced, the challenges that they encounter, they begin to see that God created them in His image for His glory and that He has given them specific talents and abilities to use as a means of providing for themselves and their families, but also to reach out and bless others. Several of the learners stood up and shared their testimonies. The joy in their hearts was evident on their faces and in their voices. As they sang us a chorus about there being no one like Jesus, their harmonious voices moved our team to tears. One gift that God has given our brothers and sisters of African heritage is definitely song!

In addition to skills training PopUp also includes a medical, dental, and eye clinic, plus a kids day-program called PopMed, PopDent, PopEye, and PopKids respectively. We spent the afternoon with the kids. It was amazing how they readily accepted us as their friends as we sang songs, told stories, blew bubbles, did a craft, and played games. We reminded them that they are "children of the King," the King who defends the cause of the poor and the needy. He's their dad. He cares for them. Several dedicated African women are His hands and feet to these children. Day in and day out they minister to them. It was such a joy to interact with these mommas. Mostly they spoke English for our benefit, but as I heard them speak to each other in their own languages, I realized every now and then some of what they said seemed to make sense. There are similiarities between some of the languages here and Swahili, which I speak. It was fun to try and speak to each other in these African languages when we discovered that we could sort of understand each other.

Last night we spent the evening with an entirely different group of people who know what it means to know the Lord--the youth workers of Doxa Deo Church. They serve in the youth ministry at Doxa Deo's North Campus not only during the weekly meetings, but many of them serve throughout the week at various public schools around the city. There is an open door in many schools for Christian youth workers to have a presence on school campuses. These youth workers counsel students, organize evangelistic events, and develop relationships with the kids. It's a pretty amazing thing that they have going on over here and the youth workers are so dedicated, putting in long hours at the schools and church. Please pray with us for them, that God would continue to establish them as his "planting for the display of his splendor." Pray that they would bear fruit, that a forest would begin to grow. We had the opportunity to pray over them last night. Please join with us in lifting up their requests for wisdom, unity, and purity among them.

Through our time here in South Africa we are learning more and more what it is to know the Lord. What an incredible opportunity it is to fellowship, share, and learn with other parts of His body.

What would you say it means to know Him? Please comment :)