The Urgency of Expectancy

Last week I shared a bit of what I’ve been learning about the difference between impatience and expectancy. Expectancy is a charged wait–anticipation for what God is doing. Expectancy is wide-eyed, ears pricked, neck craned, eager focus on God and His kingdom.

This morning I had coffee with a young college student from our church who is headed on a year-long mission trip to a volatile part of the world. She explained how when she had visited this same country less than two years ago on a short-term trip, the political climate was so much calmer than it is now. And then she said, “That’s why I can’t wait till I’m finished with college to go back. The situation is declining. We don’t know how much longer we have to proclaim Jesus to those people. I can’t wait. I have to go now, while there is still a chance.” My heart resonates with hers! I feel the urgency of expectancy too. The more we see Satan’s hold on this world, the more urgency we feel to express the liberation of Christ.

John the apostle reminded his spiritual children in 1 John 5, “We know that we are the children of God, and the world is under the control of the evil one.”  That verse encapsulates the urgency that is upon us. As children of God, we see the world under the control of Satan; we see the slavery of wickedness, both of those who suffer in bondage and those who fight to keep them there. They are all bound under the control of God’s enemy. As children of God, we know what it is to live in His freedom. The urgency to share this peace, this freedom should characterize our lives.

If I am expectant for God to work good in my life–in the personal concerns for health, for wisdom in ministry, for faithfulness in parenting–then I can certainly be expectant for God to work good in His world! And part of that expectancy is being a willing, eager vessel for expanding his name and his renown.

I’m so thankful for the urgency of God’s Spirit within  my friend driving her to defer a year of college so she can go and minister in a dark and potentially dangerous part of the world. I’m proud of her expectancy for God to work His good in every aspect of this trip. She doesn’t hold tightly to the temporal, because she is too busy holding tightly to Jesus.

There is no room for the self-focus of impatience when we are living in active expectancy. Expectancy is Christ-focused, and this focus fosters urgency. Urgency then moves us out of our comfort zones, out of our safe places, out of our own expectations of reality and into  the expectancy of what God is doing to wrest souls from Satan’s kingdom and bring them into His glorious presence.


Impatience Versus Expectancy

I find myself falling prey to the “now culture” we live in. Everything is fast, break-neck, immediate. Texts travel from my phone around the world in an instant, and time differences notwithstanding, I can get an answer back from my team in another instant. At the the stroke of a key, emails disappear with a whoosh, and land in my associate’s inbox in Florida, or across town, or just down the stairs on my husband’s laptop. I drive through Chic-fil-a for their free breakfast on Tuesday morning and spend fewer than 5 minutes in line, and less than a minute between ordering and picking up my hot, yummy breakfast at the window. I hop on an airplane one evening and arrive across the world the next. I often joke with my kids that I’m a time traveler since I leap about 12 hours forward in time on my trips to Asia.

The problem is that all this immediacy keeps me racing, expecting, demanding. FAST is the order of the instant! And I often find this attitude creeping into my relationship with the Lord, specifically in my prayer life.

I pray for good things, healthy things, his hand healing relationships, his power and presence evident in broken situations, healing for Joel, healing for my friend with cancer, spiritual wisdom for my missionary friends around the globe. But I wait, and wait. I pray again. I wonder why something isn’t happening. I wonder why I’m still waiting. I know God is good. I know he is all-powerful. And I know he is working good in my life. So why all this waiting?

Recently I was talking to a friend about prayers that seem to go unanswered. She looked at a tree in my yard and commented, “It’s just that we don’t have the patience to wait for the oak to grow. I mean when I think of how long God designed for that tree there to take for growing strong and tall, I realize that he isn’t always about the fastest route.”   I know she’s right. I see it in so many stories in the Bible. God’s promise to Abram took decades, centuries, more than a millennia to fulfill. God’s choice of David as king took decades to become a reality. Moses wandered on the backside of the desert for forty years after his first blundering attempt to defend his people. And then God showed up and called him forth out of his wanderings. There are more. So many more stories of long waits, punctuated by God’s purposeful presence and direction.

In my own life I am learning to walk the ridge poll between impatience and expectancy. Impatience demands. Expectancy asks. Impatience whines. Expectancy rejoices. Impatience manipulates. Expectancy holds out open hands. Impatience breeds discontent. Expectancy breeds anticipation.

I long to live my life in expectancy, asking for His will, rejoicing in His movement,  holding out open hands and anticipating His ultimate good in my life, in our church, in our city and indeed in the world.


Wisdom–Where to Find it and How to Live by it

We celebrated Marshall’s high school graduation on Sunday! 
At this momentous time in Marshall’s life it’s no surprise that our house is filling up with graduation cards packed with witty, insightful and sometimes emotional words of wisdom.  Challenging words about a future of adventure and focus. Encouraging words of praise for the successes achieved to this point. And, of course, comical words of random advice.

Wisdom—what is true wisdom? Where do we find it? And how do we live by it? These are the questions I am again pondering as I watch Marshall step into a new era of his life.

I found an insightful story about Daniel and his three friends in the midst of captivity in Babylon that really captures the answer to these questions.

King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream. He knew it was significant but he couldn’t remember what it was. He told his wise men that they needed to tell him his dream and then explain its significance. When none of them could do this, he decided they weren’t so wise after all, and must be put to death for their inadequacies. But then Daniel, a young Jew who had been assigned to train as one of the king’s advisors and had already won respect, heard about this. He went to the king and asked for time (which the king had already refused to give the other wise men) to pray and seek God’s answer to this problem. Amazingly, the king granted his request. Here’s what happened:

“Then Daniel went home and told his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah what had happened. 18 He urged them to ask the God of heaven to show them his mercy by telling them the secret, so they would not be executed along with the other wise men of Babylon. 19 That night the secret was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven. 20 He said,
“Praise the name of God forever and ever,
    for he has all wisdom and power.
21 He controls the course of world events;
    he removes kings and sets up other kings.
He gives wisdom to the wise
    and knowledge to the scholars.
22 He reveals deep and mysterious things
    and knows what lies hidden in darkness,
    though he is surrounded by light.
23 I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors,
    for you have given me wisdom and strength.
You have told me what we asked of you
    and revealed to us what the king demanded.”

Daniel’s example challenges and inspires me. When faced with a life-threatening situation, he did not cower.

  • Instead he boldly went to the king and asked for time to consult the one true God.
  • And then he went to his friends and urged them to pray.
  • Finally, he himself begged God for wisdom to offer an answer to Nebuchadnezzar.

Daniel saw wisdom as a gift that only God can give. But he also saw it as something God mercifully does give to those who ask, which is exactly what James (Jesus’s half-brother) tells us in James 1:5. “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.”  Finally, to Daniel, living by wisdom, meant praising God for his revealed truth, and then using that truth to further God’s glory. He went to the king, told him the dream and its interpretation, giving God all the credit, and assuring the king that the future events were indeed designed by God. And Nebuchadnezzar responds with, “Truly, your God is the greatest of gods, the Lord over kings, a revealer of mysteries…” Daniel’s choice to live by God’s wisdom, expanded God’s name and his renown in the middle of a pagan kingdom!

That’s the kind of wisdom I want. That’s the kind of life I want to live. And it’s the kind of life I want for Marshall as he steps out into a whole new era of life.


Reflections

It has been nine years this month since Joel came under investigation for his crime.  Nine Years—nearly a decade of grief and growth, sorrow and joy, despair and hope, loss and beauty.  Lawyers, court dates, confessions, sentencing, jail, prison, half way house, prison visits, moves, rehabilitation programs, family reunions, adjustments, counseling, probation—all mixed in with rearing children, working, serving, missions, travel, relationship building, chronic illness, and a million other facets of life. It’s been an unpredictable, impossibly difficult, unbelievably packed nine years!

“I feel like our life is just a movement from one difficulty to another,” I admitted  to an old friend. I don’t say that to be pessimistic. I struggle with putting those feelings into words—I want to be honest about the difficulties in life, while still acknowledging God’s active presence and grace at work in us.  Over these   years, God has taught me that when I acknowledge the hurt, laying it out before him, I open the door for His goodness to be exposed. I have come to see His beauty in new places and new ways. So I find that naming my pain, calling the long road we’ve traveled arduous is a milestone for me. His grace at work in us is made evident when we acknowledge our own neediness and grief.  

For me, acknowledging the difficulties, the grief our family has experienced as well as the stress of Joel’s present physical pain, is a part of offering my God a sacrifice of praise—the sacrifice that truly honors him. A sacrifice means it costs something. Praising God in the middle of trials is costly. Praise expresses a hope from a Source outside of myself.  And so I give thanks to God for these past nine years. I praise Him for the evidence of His love in the midst of grief. Because as I reflect over these past years,  it’ s not the difficulties I see the most. It’s actually His faithfulness. It’s the hope that comes from knowing a God who gives joy in the mourning. It’s the expectation of “his goodness in the land of the living.” It’s anticipation we have for His ultimate glory because he is the one who “redeems our lives from destruction.” It’s the joy of the Lord as my strength!


The Lifter of my Head

Sometimes in life it feels like the troubles keep piling up. One upon another. Unavoidable circumstances, sudden detours, difficult people. It can get discouraging, wearing, down right exhausting. I’ve felt that way the past few days. It seems like this world is out to get me!

I think David felt a bit like that when he wrote Psalm 103. “O Lord, how they have increased who trouble me. Many are those who rise against me. Many are those who say of me, ‘there is no hope for him in God.’ Selah.” David wrote this as he was fleeing his capitol city, running into the wilderness to escape his own son Absalom’s approaching hoards. And it was true. Many of his own friends and servants deserted him, declared him hopeless and without help. But they didn’t know God like David did. They assumed God had removed his blessing from David. Or maybe they thought David’s God wasn’t actually powerful enough to protect him from his own son. Whatever their reasons, many forsook David, and taunted him as he fled the city.

But David knew better. I love his bold proclamation in verse 3: “But you, O Lord, are a shield to me, my glory, and the one who lifts up my head.” In his God, David saw three things that kept him from utter despair in the midst of trouble upon trouble.

  • A Shield—David saw God as his protector. He was not alone or on his own. He knew God was with him shielding him from evil.
  • My Glory—As a king David could have gloried in his fabulous wealth, power, property, or reputation. If he had, then surely his glory would have come to ruin on this day of disaster. But instead David gloried in the Lord. He knew that Absalom could not take away his glory. No one could.
  • The lifter of my head—David’s head was understandably bowed in sorrow; it was likely also bowed in regret, possibly even shame. David knew that Absalom’s rebellion was in part a fulfillment of consequences for his own evil actions earlier in his reign. But instead of sulking or dwelling on that, he looked to the Lord as the one who would lift his bowed head. In Psalm 34:5 David declares, “Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy. No shadow of shame will darken their faces.” He knew that only in looking to God for help would his bowed head be lifted—his dignity and joy restored.

As I face one difficulty after another, piling on to the point that I find my head and my shoulders bowed, it is refreshing to find in David a reminder of where my eyes must remain focused. I cannot say when the troubles will end. This world is out to get me. Jesus said so. “In this world you will have tribulation.”  But Jesus continued, “Take heart, for I have overcome the world.” Indeed Jesus affirms what David proclaimed. In the midst of chaos and trouble, we can take heart because He is the Over-comer. He is my shield, my glory, the lifter of my head.


Not by Might….

Last year I was in India for a translation workshop that seemed destined for failure. From the first day we encountered numerous and sundry roadblocks to  teaching the participants how to translate the Scripture. From culture shock, to illness, to poor language skills, to no understanding of the source language, to illiteracy and no computer skills at all, our problems were mounting faster than I could address them. And I was the leader of the project! By Wednesday I was crying out to God, “We aren’t getting anywhere, Lord! I don’t know what to do next; I came prepared to train mother-tongue speakers to translate Scripture, but I can’t get around the roadblocks. I can’t get anything done!”

And God spoke to my heart the words of a verse I had learned as five-year-old child. Zechariah 4:6 says, “It’s not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord of Hosts.”  Zechariah was a prophet in Israel after the first return of exiles under Cyrus. He and Haggai were contemporaries, and both called the children of Israel to obedience in rebuilding the temple that had been destroyed in the Babylonian take-over. This project had gotten off to a good start with a lot of enthusiasm, and then it had slowly petered out, until the people had all but given up on building  God’s house. Zechariah had a difficult message. The excitement had waned. The people were no longer committed to the task, and Zechariah had to wonder, “How are we every going to finish this temple? How am I going to inspire these people to stay the course and finish this God-ordained project?” And in answer, God sent him the message, It won’t be by human strength. It won’t come about because of powerful leaders. It will be my Spirit working in the hearts of my people. You have only to follow me and watch the mountains be flattened.

When I memorized this verse as a child, our family was living in a remote jungle village ministering to the tribal people of Venezuela.  And my parents lived by this kind of faith. My dad struggled to learn the language of the people, but he never failed to show them the love and compassion of Jesus. Our family was plagued with illness including malaria, mumps, and strep. Human strength was in short supply. But my parents chose to believe God that by his Spirit the people of that village would know the power of His love. It wasn’t obvious how that would ever happen during the few years my parents lived in that village. But just this past week end my parents got to celebrate the home-going of a missionary lady who had worked with the same tribe for most of her adult life, and whose legacy includes the translation of Scripture into their mother-tongue, and a growing community of believers among that people group. My parents get to rejoice that “by His Spirit” many have been brought into the kingdom. As a child I had memorized the words of this verse; but I had also seen it’s meaning played out before me in my parents’ lives.

So as I cried out to God in that hot chapel in India, His answer humbled and empowered me. It reminded me that my part in the great commission is His gift to me, not my gift to Him. No amount of planning or working on my part will thwart the enemy’s attacks on our work. No human strength or power will prevail. Only the Holy Spirit of God working through His people will get His word to the nations.  And I get to rely on Him for that!


I Stand in Awe…

Marshall and I are in New York traveling with Wycliffe Associates to promote Bible translation through banquet events. We have had a lot of rain as we’ve traveled the north east this time of year. I love rain. And walking in it is a special kind of joy. But it’s been cold along with all that rain and I didn’t bring a coat on this trip—I know, what was I thinking! I guess the extra warm spring weather we had been having in Milwaukee, lulled me into thinking it was going to be warm everywhere. Thursday it rained. Friday it rained. Saturday it was foggy with rain. Sunday was our day off. We were supposed to go to Niagara Falls. Forecast: cold enough for the rain to mix with snow.
I prayed—a simple plea to my Father, for a change in the forecast, no rain, just a little bit of sun and maybe warmer temps. We woke up Sunday morning to cloudy skies, but no rain. I thanked God that we might stay dry. I didn’t expect rain, even though it was still in the forecast. Feeling a little underdressed without coats, we headed to the mall to see what we could pick up on after season clearance. Spring jacket for $8! Yep, that’ll do! And a good heavy duty men’s coat for Marshall $20! Sold!
Late  in the morning we were off to the Falls. It was cold and windy but no rain. Our coats and brisk walking kept us warm. The Falls were gorgeous and getting to walk across the bridge to Canada was something we had dreamed about for a long time. But the moment of true beauty came as we were eating a quick lunch and I felt something warm on my arm. Turning toward the window I saw the sun! The sky was cloudy but I could see blue patches breaking through the clouds. I didn’t know how long it would last so we hurried lunch and headed back outside. The warmth on my back and shoulders felt like a warm hug from my precious, intimately invested Heavenly Father.
We walked the pathway along the perimeter of the falls, enjoying the beauty of His creation. We watched clouds shaped like hearts float across the blue sky. And on the drive back to Buffalo, the sunset painted the horizon orange, red, gold and purple! The Artist of eternity splashed color across the sky and touched the clouds with gilded edges. “He opens his and and satisfies the desires of every living creature…” And I couldn’t even take a picture; it was too beautiful to capture on a screen. The wonder of His creative touch is that it comes in a million different places all over the world, over and over again. The colors faded, sun disappeared, but it will rise in artistic wonder on the world’s round trip. He is into encore presentations!
Reflecting on our day, I’m amazed that this Master designer, Artist, Creator, God of the universe, is my Father! And that He purposefully infuses his beauty into my life. It’s not just the sunshine. Or the waterfalls. Or the sunset. It’s that He chose to give me the gift of seeing them all as flowing from His hand straight into my life. He changed the forecast, and gave me sunshine! He formed clouds, and painted the sky a myriad of colors for me. He wrapped me in the warmth of his love and the cold spray of water from the thunder-power of His waterfall cascaded over me.  I am in awe…always in awe of his power, his beauty, but most of all of his intimate love.


The Invitation Whispered to my Heart

Several years ago, I was reading in Psalm 27 and this phrase from verse 8 (NLT) jumped off the page at me: “My heart has heard you say, ‘come and talk with me.’ And my heart responds, ‘Lord I am coming.’ ” This brief but precious dialogue between the Psalmist and His Lord, reflected the longing of my own heart.

Often I have wished that God would just speak out loud to me in a voice my ears can hear. Instead God chooses to speak in a voice that goes much deeper than my physical ears. He speaks to the heart. But all to often my heart becomes preoccupied with other voices, ones that haunt me with a million unknowns. As I sat and meditated on that verse I realized that often I hear Him speak  through the pain and suffering I face in this life. It is as if He uses that pain as a mega-phone. The pain of my disappointment and fear was crushing. But it was turning God’s whisper to my heart into a shout that thrilled me.

My heart truly did find hope and comfort in the call of God to “come and talk.” And I was overwhelmed by His intimate connection with me during these difficult days. The loneliness was sometimes an intense ache, and sometimes a dull thud. But in the midst of it I found myself expectant, listening for the beckoning call of God.

Recently, our pastor preached on this same passage from the Psalms and I was again wooed by the invitation of Almighty God to “Come and talk with me.”  I’m in a totally different phase of life right now. Certainly not without obvious struggles–given Joel’s continuing neck pain and probation restrictions–but a place of more evident stability and clarity as well as calling. I have been given the powerful gift of participating in training individuals all over the world to carry on the translation of Scripture. Additionally, I’m getting to experience the joy of speaking publicly about His goodness, His redemption, His love right here in America.

The precious truth I’m learning is that it isn’t just in the intense moments of suffering that I need this invitation from God. Rather, as that roar has died down, His whisper still beckons me. Because no matter what phase of life I am in, there is no more precious invitation than this. There is nothing more healing, joy-filling or satisfying as moments purposefully spent in stillness with Him.

Your Invitation

Is that you, Lord, I can hear?

With my heart, 
not with my ears.

Is that you, Lord, calling me?

“Come and talk, 
and you will see,

How great and deep and wild,

Is my love, for you,
my child.”

Is that you, Lord, can it be?

Are you calling, 
and wanting me?

Is that you, Lord, calling me?

My heart says yes! I rise with glee.

Your voice so precious, I can hear.

I know it well, and count it dear.

I am coming, oh, my King.

To be with you,
 makes my heart sing.

In your presence is joy untold.

In you I find treasure finer than gold.

Millennia on this earth won’t do.

I would trade it all for one day with you.


Greater is He that is within us–EVERYWHERE

I’m on a 13 hour flight back from the other side of the world. I got a new stamp in my passport, saw a wonder of the ancient world, and gathered with believers in Jesus from more than six countries. It is amazing to me how God brings unity to his body across culture and space. Our time together was infused with the sweetness of His Spirit, in spite of our host country’s determination to rid themselves of God. It’s hard for me to imagine living in that dark place, where you can be “invited” into the police station, wined and dined by officials, and then “offered the opportunity” to spy on Christians.

Yet these precious brothers and sisters radiate his joy. Several were international college students from various countries in Africa, from stable Ghana and Kenya, to troubled Nigeria and Sudan. One girl told me she has not been home to see her family in three years because the political situation is so dangerous.  Others in our group were purposefully planted believers serving in the medical and teaching fields, all the while building His kingdom incognito. Their confidence and joy in being a part of God’s great global plan was inspiring.

One thing I constantly discover in traveling—Satan uses different tactics all over the world to turn people away from God.

In some countries I have seen mass worship of a pantheon of false gods that consumes the lives and customs of the people.

In other places I’ve seen animism, superstition, and the fear of the spirit world control and dominate.

On this trip, I saw the stubborn indifference and ignorance of a people toward a God they don’t need, and are pretty sure doesn’t even exist—at least that’s what their government and education system has told them. And they won’t put up with the spread of any dissident idea.

In our own country, we don’t know how much we have to be grateful for. Beyond taking for granted the freedoms we experience, we also seem prone towards indifference, sung to sleep by the hum of industrial progress.

Satan is crafty. His wiles are both wicked and clever. Even though it’s the same basic trip everywhere in the world—that trick that says I can do something to take care of myself—it’s played out in a myriad of different ways.

The sad reality of millions is this indifference toward God, an all-consuming expectation to achieve a full life without him—wealth, security, success can all be attained within the aspiring human spirit. Of course the difficulty is that part of the message is true. The indomitable human spirit does achieve incredible fetes—including wealth, and success. But the tragedy is the human spirit on its own can never achieve it’s full potential without acknowledging his Creator. No security of this world, no power, wealth or status can truly satisfy our deepest longings.

But the good news remains; because the other amazing truth I discover anew each time I travel, is that God’s goodness, his power and his kingdom penetrate the darkness; his love, his redemption foils Satan’s evils schemes. I am not overcome “with evil”; instead I see “evil overcome with good.”  And the “people who live in darkness, see a great light,” because the lie only satisfies for a moment, His truth, his promises, satisfy for this life and beyond.

The challenge is not to settle. Not to allow the lie of Satan to penetrate even in the dull monotony of every day life, but instead to live expectantly in the joy of Jesus. For His kingdom is growing, and His love is the eternal light that will extinguish forever the evil that has for so long denied Him. Indeed the greatest truth I see over and over again, everywhere I go is that He who is in us is greater, than he who is in the world.


The Servant of All

Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be great in God’s kingdom, let him be the servant of all.” He didn’t just say this once. This phrase about greatness coming through service is repeated three times in Mark twice in Matthew and once in Luke. Even with cross referencing, it’s clear that the apostles heard this from Jesus multiple times.

In Mark 9 this statement comes after the disciples had been arguing over who among them would be the greatest. They don’t want to answer Jesus when he calls them out, asking, “So what were you guys discussing so heatedly on the road as we traveled.” Red faced, they glance at each other, then down at their dust-covered toes, saying nothing. And then Jesus, who knows what the discussion was about, says, “Guys, listen! Anyone who is going to have prominence among you, will first be a servant among you.”

Later in Matthew this same statement comes after Zebedee’s wife lobbies for her two sons—James and John—to have positions of prominence on the right and left hand of Jesus in his kingdom.  Jesus is so gentle in his redirection of this woman and her sons. But the other disciples are incensed! What makes those sons of Zebedee think they deserve the position of right and left seats in the kingdom, anymore than any of the other disciples. Suddenly resumes and pedigrees are being pulled out and compared all around. But Jesus defuses the whole thing  with a similar statement as the one in Mark 9. “Guys, remember, its the servant among you who will be great in God’s kingdom.”  Here though, he adds a poignant clincher. “I’m not asking you to be any different than me. I came to serve, not to be served. I came to sacrifice myself for others—giving my very life as ransom.”

Over the Easter week end, I was reminded again, of  the horrible ridicule, torment, and suffering Jesus experienced as he followed through with this promise. The Jewish leaders and priests reviled him while he hung on the cross, crying out, “Look at that wretch! He saved others; but he cannot save himself.” And suddenly what they said rang with a new truth for me. He could not save himself from that hour of suffering, the rejection of a holy God, and the forsakenness of death, and still save us from all those things. What they said is exactly what Jesus had already told his disciples, “I’m here to lose myself, for the sake of saving others.” His appointed hour on the cross was the ultimate act of service, and without it, he could not save others. Jesus chose it—to be the servant of all for greatness in God’s kingdom. (See Hebrews 12:2 and Phil 2:5-10). He followed through on his word.  Before his death, the words he said in Matthew were a rebuke. Afterward, they were a revelation. Before they were given as an example. After, they become empowerment.

Being the servant of all is impossible, until we are empowered by the life of Jesus, given his heart for the nations, his eyes for the lost, his spirit within, crying “Abba Father.” We cannot bargain, manipulate or maneuver our way into His kingdom. We come through the gate of His service, his suffering, his ransom payment.  And once we do, we are empowered to live in exactly the same way. Greatness in God’s kingdom is a reality now, borne in every act of service empowered by the Spirit of the living Christ within.