I Know Him

Last week I was blessed to have my dear friend from FL, brave the WI cold and bring her son to visit us during the Christmas season. One of the evenings of their visit, we drove out to a dinner theater to see the movie Elf adapted into a play. We all love the movie and the play adaptation did not disappoint, as it included my favorite scene….

Buddy the “elf” from the North Pole is struggling to figure out where he belongs. He has discovered he isn’t actually an elf; as if being twice their height wasn’t enough evidence, he had to overhear his true roots from two whispering co-workers! In a desperate search for identity Buddy leaves the North Pole and heads to New York City to find  his human dad who to his horror is on the “naughty” list. Buddy is optimistic and excited, but he’s grossly unprepared for city life. His naivety gets him into all kinds of scrapes. Buddy doesn’t belong at the North Pole, but he doesn’t belong in New York City either.

Then one night at Macy’s he hears the announcement that Santa is coming the next day! Overwhelmed with excitement he yells, “Santa’s coming here! I know him! I know him!” and he jumps up and down like an excited kid. Buddy doesn’t know where he belongs, but he knows whom he belongs with—Santa.

Oh, the parallels in this goofy fantasy! How I relate to Buddy! Every time I see Buddy jumping up and down with joy that Santa is coming, I feel the joy welling up in my heart. And I want to cry out with equal fervor: “Jesus is coming! I know him! I know him!”

If we know Jesus, it’s no longer about us. It’s not as if Buddy wanted autographs for his status as a friend of Santa’s. He just wanted to share his joy with others. And we know Someone far more amazing than Santa, Someone real, Someone eternal, Someone who loves us far more than the best “Santa’s” ever could.

When the shepherds heard the news from the angels that a Savior had been born. They did two things—they ran to see, and they spread abroad the news. Knowing Jesus is a gift too powerful, too precious, too amazing to keep to ourselves. The shepherds knew this. Like Buddy, they jumped up and down exclaiming, “The Messiah! He’s here! We know Him.”

I can sometimes wonder where I belong. But I know for sure with whom I belong. My home is found in Him. My heart is whole in Jesus. And because of that, it leaps at the mention of his name and I’m compelled to proclaim, “He’s coming! I know Him! I know Him!” Oh that we would eagerly spread this word, sharing with others the joy of belonging in Him.

Expectations of Old

“And your house and your kingdom shall endure before me forever…” 1 Sam. 7:16

David was a simple shepherd boy, the youngest in his family, from the back country around Bethlehem. He was handsome, and talented, and brave; but he was overlooked. Until one day when God sent Samuel to anoint a king for Israel—a man God had chosen for himself, a man after God’s heart. All of David’s brother’s paraded past Samuel first, and none of them were chosen. Then Samuel asked, “Isn’t there another son?”

To which Jesse blithely replied, “Well, yeah…the youngest. He’s out taking care of the sheep.”

But Samuel would not proceed until he was called in. And sure enough, God spoke to Samuel, “This is the one I’ve chosen.” And so begins David’s rise from insignificance to King of Israel taking the nation into it’s golden age.

But from that anointing until David realized his role as king,  were intervening years of disgrace, drama, and grief. And David learned what it meant to wait on God—not on an outcome—on God. He “strengthened himself in the Lord”, “looked to Him for help”, “walked through the valley of the shadow,” without fearing evil, and  found the Lord to be his “light and salvation.” What a journey to the promise of Kingship.

Finally after more than thirty years, the promise of God, signified by the anointing of Samuel came to pass, and David assumed his rightful position as ruler of all Israel. We might think this is where the story ends…and he lived happily ever after…right? Isn’t that how stories go? He waited, he survived, he thrived?  Well yes, and no.  God’s goodness in placing David on the throne of Israel was just the beginning. Yes, David led them into an era of political and economic prosperity. He led them to a place of spiritual revival. David established Israel as a nation to be respected and feared. And all of this was a bountiful blessing of God’s hand in his life. David never forgot that. Even when he faced internal strife and potential civil war, he cried out to God, “But you o Lord, are my glory, the lifter of my head.” David knew the prosperity of Israel was a gift from God. And David knew there was more.

For one day he would die. And the nation of Israel would go on without him. One day his glory would run out in this life. David was mortal. But the God he served is not. So when David decided to leave a legacy to His eternal God, build a temple that would memorialize Him for generations to come, God stepped in with a better plan. He sent Nathan the prophet to fill David in on his own plan. “David, you aren’t going to build a temple for me. That’s not your role. But one of your offspring will.”

Solomon, David’s own son, built a fantastic temple with real gold and silver, and precious stones. It took him years, hundreds of laborers, and carefully planned international trade agreements. But he did it. He fulfilled God’s promise to David…well part of it.  But listen to what else God told David through Nathan. “I will set up your offspring after you…and your house and your kingdom shall endure before me forever.”

One day the Seed of David, would come. He would be established by God Himself, to build a temple, not of human hands, but of human hearts. Not with gold, silver, and precious stones, but with his blood shed as a ransom. Not with international trade agreements, but by the bounty of God’s own Spirit. One day the Seed of David would rule, in power, in justice, in mercy, FOREVER. A kingdom that encompassed more than the tiny nation of Israel.  A kingdom with no end. A kingdom that truly will be “happily ever after.”

David’s expectations were exceeded! His response is appropriate. “And now, O Lord God, You are God, and Your words are true, and You have promised this goodness to Your servant.  Now therefore, let it please You to bless the house of Your servant, that it may continue before You forever; for You, O Lord God, have spoken it, and with Your blessing let the house of Your servant be blessed forever.”

God’s plan is always more than we can imagine. His glory is always brighter. His beauty more fare. His mercy farther reaching. Our expectations will always be exceeded, in His kingdom, of which there will be no end.

The Connection between Thanks and Giving

It’s time to celebrate my favorite holiday again! And what better way to celebrate than to share some thoughts on the subject of gratitude. I love Thanksgiving for a plethora of reasons. Perhaps the most notable is the permission this holiday gives everyone to express gratitude. In an entitled culture, in a society of demands and expectations, a day set aside to be truly grateful is noteworthy.

Beyond that is the connection between that thankfulness and what comes next—The Season of Giving. Thanks and Giving. One holiday follows the other. First we are thankful, then we are generous. Our calendars may not have been developed to affirm this reality, but the succession of holidays does, in fact, picture the reality that generosity follows in the wake of thankfulness.

So what causes this connection? Perhaps the most obvious cause is the very nature of thankfulness. A person is grateful for what he receives, what he did nothing for, what he could not obtain himself. When I express thankfulness, I acknowledge something being given to me from outside of myself. I realize I am not self-sustaining. I acknowledge neediness or at least longing being filled by someone else. And in acknowledging that, I also begin to recognize ways in which my connection with others provides avenues for me to give to them.

A thankful heart becomes a generous heart. We receive, and we want to give. Jesus gave his life for us; we want to give that good news to others. The little boy on the Galilean hillside gave his lunch to the disciples. Jesus took that lunch and gave thanks for it. Then he passed the blessing forward feeding thousands of people.

I have so much to be thankful for. Time will not allow for a complete recording of even this year’s blessings. So I will modify,  simply sharing five gifts for which I’m thankful, and how these gifts open up doors of opportunity for me to give. Because thankfulness is the impetus for giving.

1. My team of content writers for the Scripture checking guide. Because they give of their time and wisdom, I have been able to share this tool with translators all over the world this year, helping to check the quality of Scripture in nearly a dozen languages.
2. My family’s love and support. Because I know my husband loves the Lord and his work in the world, and because I know he is invested in building God’s kingdom with me, I have slept more than 100 days this year in a bed not my own. My husband and children have given me the freedom to go into all the world and because of that I can give translators in other cultures the tools and training they need to get God’s Word into their language.
3. My extended family’s love and care. My parents, siblings and in-laws uphold me in prayer on each of my trips, while providing generous support in other areas as well. On a recent trip to Nigeria when I faced specific spiritual battles my family fought those battles with me on their knees. They gave of themselves and their time. And I was able to give the team I was working with the love, support and encouragement they needed to work through various challenges in their translation project.
4. God’s financial gifts for our family. God provided an unexpected bonus for me this year and we were able to share some of that surprise financial benefit with friends.
5. Airline miles for all my travels. Since I have been given so many opportunities to travel I have a pile of airline miles! So many, in fact, that I’ve been able to share them with others to make it possible for my family and friends to visit one another and spend time together.

Time to be Grateful

“…When he saw that he was healed, he came back to Jesus shouting, “praise God!” He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet thanking him for what he had done.” Luke 17:15-16

I love these verses. They vividly depict a thankful heart in action. The man has just been healed of leprosy, a terminal skin disease that rendered the victim powerless, penniless and alone. In Jesus’ day, the leper was the outcast of society. He was condemned to live outside the city with other lepers as his only companions. He had to cry out, “Unclean! Unclean” as he walked along roads, to warn anyone else traveling along the road not to come near. To make matters worse, most people considered leprosy a clear sign of God’s judgment for some secret sin. And Scripture also tells us, this man is a Samaritan. He is hated by the Jews, excluded from the temple, and shut out from the promises of the coming Messiah. Oh, how destitute!

Interestingly, in this story, Jesus heals ten lepers. But only this one man, the foreigner among the ten, comes back to Jesus. His immediate response is one of praise. He shouts out glory to God. He falls at Jesus’ feet and he thanks him! His whole body and mind are involved in this expression of thanksgiving. And it’s no wonder. Just seconds before his whole body and mind were taken up in a disease that was to be his demise. He has a lot to be thankful for.

But what about the other nine? That was Jesus’ question. Where are they? Weren’t they also healed. Didn’t they also experience a complete renewal in their physical bodies? They have a lot to be thankful for too! Surely, they also should return and give glory to God. After all, they are Jews. They had asked Jesus for mercy and had received it. They should recognize him as their Healer and Savior. They were healed just like the man who returns. But their lives aren’t transformed.

We don’t know why they don’t return to praise God. Maybe they feel entitled as members of God’s chosen people. Maybe they are distracted with plans for their new, healthy life. Maybe they are too far down the road to be bothered with turning around. Maybe they have too many other good things to get to. Maybe they are just too busy to be thankful.

And maybe we’re just like them—The powerful miracle of God’s redemption in our life, should make us dance and shout praises to God every day of our life. We should be running to Jesus feet and thanking him for all he has done. But maybe we’re just distracted, busy, and too far down the road to turn around.

“Oh that men would give thanks to the Lord for his goodness and for his wonderful works to the children of men….” Psalm 107: 8

Fruit and More Fruit

“So shall my Word be…it shall not return to me void, but shall accomplish that which I purpose.”–Isa. 55:11

I have the incredible privilege of seeing God’s Word going out into dark places. I know it will accomplish what God purposes. I know it will spread his name and his renown. Even during the translation and training workshops I get to witness God’s Word taking root. And perhaps even more exciting, occasionally I get updates from workshops of previous times, that testify to the power of God’s Word to change lives. Recently our dear friend and partner, Brother Sreeraj visited us from the Banjara tribe in India. He shared this story from one of his fellow team members on the translation project.

Venkanna was content to call himself a Christian. It was enough. He did not need to stir up strife with his atheistic father by becoming more involved with the Christian community. He did not need more than an assurance of heaven for himself—or so he thought. Through a growing friendship with a pastor who visited his village regularly, Venkanna heard about the translation project being planned for his language group. He was curious. What would it be like to have Scripture in his own mother-tongue? Could he be part of that? So when his friend invited him to join the team, he accepted, fully aware of the ripples of opposition this would create from his father.

Sure enough, Venkanna’s father, a communist supporter who constantly fought against the local church,  was so outraged, he practically disowned his son. But Venkanna had committed to attending the workshop and he was determined to follow through. Joining his friend, and several other Christians from his language group, he attended a MAST workshop in Hyderabad at a local retreat center. Over the course of that week, Venkanna began to see Scripture in a whole new light. By the time the workshop was done, he knew he would never be the same. Calling himself a Christian was no longer enough. Being a Christian meant living like Jesus. It meant caring for the lost around him, especially his family, and living a life of sacrifice for the kingdom.

Venkanna changed his  name to Venkanna Paul, naming himself after the apostle whose story he had helped to translate from Acts. He saw himself as “Paul” to his community. He was determined to be a witness to his lost family of the precious truth of Jesus. This, of course, created more strain. Venkanna Paul was not welcomed home. His father refused to talk to him, especially about Jesus. Venkanna Paul was undaunted. He felt certain that when his family could read Scripture in their own language, they would begin to understand the truth and fall in love with Jesus as he had. And so he continued translating.

When his father was in a devastating accident that broke both of his legs and nearly took his life, Venkanna seized this tragic situation to witness for Christ. He told his father, “It was God who kept you alive. He is the one you need to know. God wants you to know his Son, Jesus.” His father listened. Venkanna Paul read portions of the newly translated Scripture to his father. His father softened further. Venkanna Paul saw that God’s Word was reaching into his heart and mind, changing him from a hardened atheist to a broken, needy man. Jesus became beautiful. Venkanna Paul’s father, believed the gospel and began testifying to others.

It wasn’t long before all of Venkanna Paul’s family accepted the gospel message. His brother and sister, his mom, his wife and daughters, all became eager followers of Christ. Living in a village that is primarily pagan, this family has become the pillar of the local Christian church. VanKenna Paul is overwhelmed by the changes Christ has brought to their community. Young people read the Scripture portions that have been translated. A surge of youth have become involved in serving in the church. Women’s Bible studies and small groups are taught from the new translated Scriptures. VanKenna Paul’s family has been baptized, and they continue witnessing for Christ. Venkanna Paul continues his work on the translation having completed more than any of the other pastors on the team. Together they glorify the God who speaks their language, worshiping the Savior who set them free.

Just a Little Surprise

One challenge I face when traveling around the world is the relative nature of spice. What is spicy to one person is mild or bland to another. Typically what melts my lips, sets my mouth on fire, and burns a molten lava trail down my throat is mild to my Asian friends! Alas we have very different gauges for the heat factor in food. Since my stomach also rebels, I have to be careful how much I partake of the “burning ring of food.”

On a recent trip I was in two different countries both of which served food with the flames licking off the plate! I knew I was going to have to take it easy. My meals consisted of the mildest foods served—namely boiled rice with margarine and no salt. As the second week wore on, I reminded myself regularly to “Be thankful!” It is convicting to realize how entitled I often feel. God provided and I wasn’t ever hungry, thanks to some snacks shared by other members of the team. I had a lot to be thankful for. After all we were checking the quality of Scripture in several different languages—the real food of God’s Word was being tasted and savored by all. I couldn’t let a bland diet get in the way of the joy of our work.
I completed my portion of the checking of Scripture on Friday. As I walked back to our apartment when we were done, I felt like celebrating! We had completed the check of 1 Corinthians and dug into Romans. We had grown together and learned to respect each other. We had dug into the meaning of God’s Word in intense and precious ways, discussing such complex doctrines as the resurrection of Christ, our future resurrection, communion, spiritual gifts, and the women’s role in the church. It had been a long, fruitful week. I was exhausted and hungry. Spontaneously, I prayed, “God could you surprise me tonight with some kind of tasty food? Just a little surprise. Whatever you want to do.”

As supper was served, I whispered, “OK, Lord is this my surprise?” But as I lifted the lids of each dish, I realized it was the same courses we had been served before. I would have to settle for plain rice again. I was undaunted, determined to wait and see if God answered in an unexpected way.

Then one of our team members came into the room and said, “Who wants pizza and ice cream tonight?” Now that was an odd question. We were in a city, but had been sequestered inside the Bible conference center because of political unrest in the city surrounding us.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“We went down the road to the bookstore at noon today and across the road from this center is a pizza place. Do you want to try it?”

I was stunned! A pizza place right outside the center? But could we safely leave? It seemed that since the lunch excursion had been without incident then surely we could go again. We spread the word, inviting our host and consultant in training to join us. And off we went out of the compound, down the road and across the street to a wood-fired pizza place, with excellent service, delicious pizza and rich ice cream! This is my surprise! I thought. And my heart swelled with the amazing, generous love of God. It was a small thing—having bland food—especially in the midst of what we were getting to be part of. And yet, God answered my small request abundantly, not just for me, but for our whole team. We celebrated together with pizza and games, ice cream and conversation, joining our hearts in gratitude to God for what he was giving us.

His Compassions Fail Not

This year I have joined my sister and mom in a verse memorization plan. We each take turns choosing a passage to memorize together and sometimes even across the distance we get to practice our verses together.  It’s amazing to me, how God has given us a theme without our intending it.

Psalm 138:4-8 was one of my choices. Verse eight says, “The Lord will perfect that which concerns me; Your mercy, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.”

One of Tammy’s choices was Lamentations 3:19-26. Verses 21-22 say, “This I recall to my mind therefore I have hope: Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed. Because his compassions fail not.”

And a choice of mom’s was 1 Peter 1:3-6. Verse 3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

Enduring forever, His mercy is unfailing, abundant and life-giving. Because of His mercy we can have hope, a living hope, an eternal hope. His mercy is a theme throughout Scripture in both Old Testament and new. It’s evident from Moses’ writings of the Law, through the poetry of the Psalms, and the journey of the prophets. It spills out in the new testament in the person of Jesus, and the apostles, first hand recipients of His grace cannot overstate its benefits.

As I ponder our family’s journey over the past six years I am overcome by His personal, precious, and persevering mercy toward us.  I know he took care of our deepest need, and worst calamity through the sacrifice of his own Son. That is a mercy beyond all others. And yet, he doesn’t stop there. He continues to pour out his mercy into the cracks of brokenness we experience from living in a fallen world.

Six years ago last week, the boys got to see Joel for the first time out of prison. We had been on a long and grief stricken journey—three and a half years of imprisonment, followed by three heart-wrenching months of total separation. Six years later, three months doesn’t sound that long. But believe it, it was! Day in and day out, begging God for respite, and living with a fragile hope, sustained by his mercy. Those were days full of brokenness, days in which we held out our hands, and laid bare our hearts before a God whose compassions fail not.

And now, six years later, we can say with true joy and confidence, “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed.” We have watched his mercy rebuild our family, flowing over our raw and jagged edges, pooling in the deep crevices of our wound, and overflowing into lives all around us.

God’s mercy toward us has become a mercy to be shared. Our joy has been the joy of our extended family the joy of our church friends and even the joy of new friends  over these years.  How many times have we had the refreshing, healing, and filling experience of sharing God’s goodness, his faithfulness, his mercy with others? I cannot count them all. His mercies have been poured out and multiplied in us, bringing joy and building hope in places we could not have imagined.

He’s Never Doing Just One Thing

I don’t think He will ever stop surprising me…this powerful, loving, omniscient and intimate God of mine. Maybe that’s a good thing. I love surprises. Don’t you? Even when I think I am walking and do exactly what he is calling me to, I find surprising opportunities on the path, and what I’ve prepared for, while good, is not all He has in mind. A friend of mine puts it this way, “God is never doing just one thing.” I like that. I like to wonder what else He is working on. I like anticipating more, and then still being surprised by what the more is.

I have to be honest though, sometimes, I’m nervous about the surprise, and overwhelmed by the thought of anything else. I know He is working for my good. And I know He won’t drop the ball. I just also know that sometimes my good does not feel good. And I know that more often than not, His more puts me in over my head.

This last trip to Zambia was no exception—and this time the surprise was a good one, in a really big way. Two of my colleagues and I traveled to Zambia to work with three language groups from the region.These groups had completed their New Testament translations and were ready to learn how to use the checking tool my team has developed for affirming accuracy and meaningfulness of the text.  I was excited to work with them again as several of the translators had been at a workshop I led last year in Botswana. It is one of my passions to see our teams finish the projects they start. And this workshop was for exactly that purpose. I just didn’t know what else God had planned for.

As I walked into our hotel on Sunday afternoon, the clerk behind the desk, said to me, “You have a visitor waiting for you.” What? I thought. I don’t know anyone here? But I walked over, and there was a young man who introduced himself as a pastor from Botswana named George. He had heard about us through another pastor who had been to one of our workshops in Kenya. In George’s church, 9 languages without any Scripture are represented. His own language has no Scripture. So when he heard about our visit, he had to come and find out more. But this is a checking event. I thought. It wasn’t exactly the right fit for someone who was seeking more information on how to get started. With no real clear-cut plan I asked him to join us for a day or two and learn from the other translators. I invited him to watch the checking and ask questions. I had that strange notion of being in over my head–and still breathing.

On the first afternoon as we shared with George the overall method and process, he couldn’t stop smiling. He told us, “I give away English Bibles to people in my village, even ones who don’t read English very well. Because it’s all I have to offer them. They come and want a Bible. And I only have the English ones to give them.” His smile broadened. “I want them to have a Bible of their own—in their own language!”

“Let’s get started!” We suggested. “Why don’t you begin with your language?” He eagerly agreed. Over the next two days one of us devoted time to supporting George, as he drafted 25 verses in Luke 1! Then resent his draft it to his language community via WhatsApp to get their feedback and edits! George’s smile was constant. His joy contagious.

We all basked in the sweetness of God’s good surprises, and perfect plans–even when they do put us in over our heads.


The Weak Things And His Amazing Ways

The plane is over an hour late, which probably wouldn’t bother me if it weren’t on the end of a 30-hour around-the-world trip from Milwaukee, USA to Goroka, PNG. And I know, it isn’t over yet. As I walk across the tarmac to the porch where I’ll claim my carry-on, I try to imagine the three-hour journey ahead of me into the mountains by Land Rover, over rough, pot-holed, dangerous roads. But at least for that part of the journey I will have company. I smile and wave as I glimpse Brad’s face through the exit gate. I’ve never met him before, but he’s easy to spot, being the only white guy in the crowd. It doesn’t hurt that his six-foot-five-inch frame towers over everyone else. Brad and I have worked together remotely before, but this is our first time to meet face to face. I know we are kindred spirits. I’m bursting with anticipation as we climb into the Land Rover, together with Vincent our national partner and his cousin.

It doesn’t take long for Brad update me on the tense situation at the translation training workshop, or in the region surrounding the center where our team is working. I’ve seen the e-mails about tribal warfare–I know about the violence within the tribe, and that translators from both sides are sitting together at the workshop, translating God’s Word. As Brad fills me in, these facts are suddenly cast in a personal light. Translators whose hearts are stopped by simultaneous phone calls, reporting burned out houses and injured family members! But they aren’t stopping the work. Instead they are forging ahead furiously, attempting to complete the gospel of Mark.

Brad explains  their plan. “A few of us are going into the villages tomorrow, with the pastors. We’re taking the book of Mark with us. The pastors are each going to beg their villages to stop the violence. They are going to show their people the work done so far on the translation, and remind them, of what’s truly important.”

Something clicks inside me. “What time do we leave tomorrow morning?” I ask with a sly smile. “You know I need to go with, right?”

I don’t have any idea what I’m getting into. But I am certain that if God wants me to go, then he is going before, “making the crooked places straight.” I’m not afraid. And I don’t have any expectations. I am not even sure what my purpose in going would be.  What I do know is that it will take clear direction from God himself for me to be part of this expedition. I’m a white woman in a foreign land. I know the culture cards are stacked against me on every side. But I don’t have any inclination to fight against that. I know God can handle that if he wants me to go.

I’m actually surprised and elated when Brad approaches me at nine the next morning, to say, “You’re in. The tribal pastors have agreed to have you come along!”

“What!” I exclaim, glancing down at my skirt and white blouse. I had just prepared for a day at the training center. “I’m going?” That’s when I start praying for real. Not because I’m scared. But because I realize I have no idea what I’m doing. Why would I be going? Why did God open this door? What does he have for me?

Another God-surprise. Another divine adventure! I’m in…all in. A rigorous two-hour drive, and we arrive in the village. Warriors patrol the entrance, carrying homemade guns, machetes, and bows and arrows. Children run in the open area playing and women sit as if expecting us on grassy spots around the village center.  Surreal. That’s how I would describe the day. I spent most of it praying for God to give me clarity of thought and wisdom in my actions. Total dependence. Total trust. That’s how I felt. And that’s what I experienced, as the Holy Spirit worked in our midst.

Peace. God’s children are called to peace. He loves us too much to let us fight it out in the dirt and grime of this physical world alone. He paid the ultimate price for peace. That was the message shared by several pastors and members of our team. And that was the message received by all. So that peace did reign–God’s peace ending the tribal fighting right before our very eyes.

Weeks later, back at home in my office, I’m still mystified by how God uses “the weak things of this world to confound the wise.” I’m overwhelmed and overjoyed to be one of those “weak things.” I have witnessed God’s grace and presence in ways beyond my comprehension. I have been part of comforting women, holding their babies, eating yams cooked over their fires, standing over burned out houses, praying with the widow of a pastor whose death started the violence, and receiving hand-made gifts from them. I am undone by God’s power among his children.

This experience, more than anything has affirmed for me the miracle of oneness that God intends for his children. We went into that volatile, dangerous situation, not to exert any influence of our own—based on the world’s standards of class, race, or status—but as a simple act of obedience to our Father, to stand together as family—his family. We weren’t there with anything else to offer.

I have had the privilege of helping to start dozens of translation projects in dark and forgotten places of the world. Those experiences are all precious to me, as God has revealed more of Himself with each door of opportunity that he has opened. Perhaps that, more than anything else, is why I treasure the two-week workshop in the Papua New Guinea Highlands this summer. God delights to surprise us, to stretch us, to amazing us. And that is what he did for all of us as we watched him work among His people of varying cultures, and environments. We were challenged. We were broken. We were poured out. We were filled up. We were undone. We were empowered. We were brought face to face with His glory.

“You Can’t Out-give God”

My grams taught me a lot—sometimes by what she said, more often by how she lived. A truism she shared with regularity was, “You can’t out-give God.” Any time we talked about giving of any sort, she would remind me of this, and then I would hear again part of her story of God’s generosity in her life and how she and gramps responded in kind.

A few short years from retirement they sold everything—the farm they had so painstakingly built, the new living room furniture, everything—and headed overseas to serve missionaries’ children at a boarding school. (Grams always reminded us at this point  in the story what a gift it was that God didn’t see them as too old or otherwise unqualified to be part of his kingdom-building team.) They thought they would use the money from the sale of their property to finance their mission’s training and travel, but instead they gave most of it away to others who were a step ahead of them en-route to overseas ministries. By the time they traveled to Venezuela their earthly wealth was spent, and they had the promised support of a few well-intentioned, albeit tiny churches in the Ohio Valley to live on.

Throughout their years of missionary service, Grams and Gramps generously gave of their time, and resources—yes, the meager financial support that came from those dedicate churches, seemed to multiply in their stewardship. Serving meals to strangers and friends, hosting travelers in their homes, giving financially to those in sudden need, and sharing extravagantly during the holidays with family and friends alike, Gram and Gramps lived a generous life.  So when Grams told me, “You can’t out-give God.” I was compelled to listen.

Grams loved pretty things. She had beautiful china with delicate blue trim and fancy cut crystal stemware right in the middle of the jungle. But she did not have these items so they could sit in a china cabinet. Grams loved to use them to host tea parties and special dinners. She shared what she had until she gave it away. That’s just the way Grams lived.

Grams and Gramps financially supported each family member who went into missionary service. And they always seemed to have money left over to help when a need arose in their church or among their friends. I honestly don’t know how they always found a way to help. After all they were missionaries living by faith. The only answer I come to is Grams’s own words, “You can’t out-give God.”

Grams and Gramps gave away all they had serving in faith for more than 30 years. Last year when Grams went to heaven, her last generous gift was to leave a small financial inheritance for each of their children. This week my family and I are vacationing in the mountains of Tennessee, thanks to my Grams’s generosity. But the honest truth is, we are vacationing because of the extravagant, generous provision of our God. Because Grams is right, “You can’t out-give God.”

Just Try!