Monday, February 25, 2013

He's not done

On October 2, 2012, at 8:10 in the morning, my airplane took off from Portland, Oregon for Toronto, Canada. This was my first of three flights to reach my final destination of Southeast India. I would be spending my next five months there. My tickets had been paid for, my bags packed, my seatbelt fastened, and my tray in its upright position. There was no turning back now. I was on my way for an adventure I was more than excited for, and yet so unprepared. And as He does, God did not disappoint.

In my five months here, the vast majority of what I have done is preach. I partner with a ministry here who seeks to serve the lowest of the low, the poorest of the poor. They reach out to tribal people that even most low caste people wouldn't reach out to. And they continue to build up churches, both physically and Spiritually, around their area. This is what I knew I would do coming into this thing. This is what I could say when asked what my trip would be. But this is so much less than a description of what I was actually a part of here.

In India, I got to teach God's word to people who have never seen a white person in their life. I got to pray over people and see healing in incredible ways. One man stood upon a knee that was previously deformed from a bad healing from a break. He walked away smiling and praising God! I met person after person who had testimonies of how God came in and healed their broken bodies and broken hearts. I got to watch a high caste family throw out their last Hindu idol and submit themselves and their family to the Lord Almighty! I got to witness demon possessions manifest themselves in ways I had never heard of. I got to cast out demons in Jesus' name! I got to meet a man who had broken his back in a terrible car accident. The doctors refused to perform surgery on him for two reasons- one, they saw very little point considering his back was so bad that the surgery could do nothing, and two, he was a leper. But he believed upon the Lord and received a vision and healing. He went back to the doctor who told him what had happened to him was impossible. Not only was his back healed, it was like a young man's again! I got to drive in vans, cars, trucks, a scooter, and more often than not, a motorcycle. I saw thousands of kilometers of India from the back of a motorcycle. I got to preach at 6 weddings, and attend 3 others. I got to live in four different cities with four very different people. For instance, I lived in a village with people who spoke very little English for two whole weeks! I got eat at McDonald's in a random Indian town for Thanksgiving. I met a man named Cody from Kansas City there who was visiting the country with his wife, who was originally from India. I got to see two palaces of Indian royalty, one of which was the size of a small city I'm pretty sure. I got to put on some rubber gloves and clean Indian children's teeth. I got to ride in an auto (a rickshaw) for the first time. I got to ride a bus in India for the first time. I got to get my hair cut for the first time in India. I got to live with a crazy awesome German lady for a week and a half and cook in her kitchen with her, which she apparently never lets happen! I got to spend my birthday in a different country for the first time in my life. I got to preach on Christmas, and see more than 10 people come to Christ! Amen! I got to preach in the New Year with a really good friend at three different churches. I got to see her step way out of her comfort zone and give a message of encouragement to the congregation. I think I was the most encouraged one there, knowing what it took for her to do that. I got to help build a basketball court at an orphanage. I got to play soccer, basketball, cricket, and many more games with a bunch of beautiful Indian children! I got to preach at 8 funerals for wonderful, loving church members who went to be with the Lord. I got to meet people from all over the United States and even several different places all over India! I got to watch a concert for the benefit of the Sandy Hook Elementary School families that were wrought with tragedy with two pastors from the Bridgeport, Connecticut area. I got dedicate more than a dozen new churches to the work of God and His glory! I got to eat hundreds of pounds of rice and curry. I got to watch 6 beautiful full moons rise and set. I got to see monsoon season come and flood us out of being able to work. I got to witness baptisms in rivers, ponds, and a tank. I got to take a couple thousand pictures and capture so many wonderful aspects of India's beauty. I got to meet many wonderful people from all over who have forever blessed me. And just tonight, as if God were saying "There's still so much more for you to see!" I got to see a rocket take off for space. Yeah. Like, for real. A freaking rocket. And tonight there is a full moon, I'm pretty sure just for me and my last night here in India.

BUT! The best part of all of this is this. I didn't actually do any of this. I didn't do anything cool at all. Nor could I. But the even greater thing is the knowledge that God chose to do all of these things through a broken vessel like me! God was the one doing the work the whole time, and allowing me to see what He's been doing this whole time! He's the one who put those things around me for me to enjoy. He's the one who brought many people into my life that I will never forget! He's the one who continues to give me everything I need, and then so much more! And tonight He reminded yet again that He has so many more incredible and wonderful opportunities ahead of me.

Yes, my five month mission trip to India is coming to a close. But my next opportunity is just about to open, whatever it may be. And I'm sure that God will send me back here again in the future. When? Who knows? Next year? I hope so! I have shared many laughs, tears, joys, heartaches, music, meals, sleep, games, messages, words, scriptures, and life with so many incredible people here and I am so thankful to God for all of it. I am also thankful that even though God has given me so much, shown me so much, and done so much in me, He's not done.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

(Not So) Subtle

“My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself.”- Clive Staples Lewis: A Grief Observed.

Ever have that feeling that tells you, "Man, God. You sure have done some great work with me and in me."? Yeah, unfortunately so have I. Not that it's wrong to praise God for what He's done, especially when He's chosen to do His work through such a broken vessel as you or I. But that's not what I'm saying. It's easy to read that sentence a number of different ways, make it sound like such a beautiful sentiment. But sometimes the heart behind such a statement really lies in the self, and not in God. He politely (as He is always such a gentleman) reminded that such a praise does not ever lie in the self of the admirer, but the Admired. He politely reminded me of what He has yet left to do in me.

In India, time moves at a different pace than anywhere else I have ever been. Things don't matter here, matter a lot there. 10 o'clock means see you at 11. "Be ready at 1:30" means"why aren't you ready yet?" at 1. It's been an interesting challenge to say the least. I consider myself an already very flexible person, and would say that most would agree. Praise God that He has wired me in such a way, as it's allowed me to be able to take most that has come my way thus far. But that isn't to say that there aren't times that it isn't easy. There certainly are times where the "American" comes out in me, and I just want to yell that we haven't left yet, when we were supposed to two hours ago! I had such an experience, or should I say a series of experiences, in the past few weeks.

It began on a trip to a village with my Pastor and host here in India on January 30. He had mentioned briefly earlier that day that he was planning on sending me to a village for a "few days" and that I would leave that night. I asked what a few days meant (as mentioned earlier, timing doesn't mean exactly what it claims lol) and he said four. Okay, I say. I can do that. Four days in a village living with a man who barely speaks any English, and I even less Telugu. Sure, why not? This will be an experience of a lifetime!  As the day went on, we talked about two more times, each time that timetable slowly growing longer, never even mentioning the previous amount, as if we had yet to talk about how long I'd actually be gone. So, I decided I needed to bring it up in the car ride out to a village program so we could finally set in stone the details, face to face. We had only really talked on the phone so far.

"Well," he began, "I'm not sure how long you'll be there. You might come back on the 8th (of February), you might come back on the 10th. I'm not really sure what Madhu (the man I'd be living with, a pastor here) has planned for you. But he's really excited to have you! It's going to be a great experience for you!" And that was that. I was set to leave at midnight that night to a village with a man I'd met twice before, live with him for an uncertain amount of time (even to the head Pastor here), and doing who knows what? All I knew is that I'd be helping him (Madhu) with church construction of some kind. "Oh yeah," apparently that wasn't yet that, "and when Madhu's done with you, you're going to go live for a couple days with another pastor and visit a couple of new villages. I want you to study and write about the people in those villages, so we can tell people about them." "Does he speak English?" "Nope."

I think at this point you can imagine how I felt that night packing for this extremely vague and uncertain trip. Unrest would be the tip of what I felt. Frustrations and doubt crept in at every dark corner of my heart, laying seed that rooted faster than I realized. I was genuinely excited to go in a lot of ways. I mean, I was going to be living in a village. In India. For a week, week and a half. I would have the challenge of barely speaking verbally, while loving on people. This is literally why I came, and how I've asked God to use me since this trip was laid on my heart. And yet the sinful part of me was so not ready for the trip that awaited me.

"My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself." While there, a small sniffle turned into an all out cold, and I found myself in and out of sickness for nearly a week. Amidst the time I wasn't resting, however, I was able to help build the floor to a village church, and then paint it. This was the church construction I was told about. I was able to pray over people, families of the churches in villages around where I was staying. I was even able to preach in a pretty large Telugu Baptist church in the village I living in. And yet, I found myself still wrestling with frustration and bitterness at being there. One day, I found myself in prayer saying to God, "LORD, what the heck am I doing here? Why do you have me here? I know you have something for me, something to teach me. But all I see right now is the frustration right in front of me. I can't see what You're doing. I don't know what You want from me." And then it hit me. Like a sack of rocks, God spoke gently, "Exactly." And in that little whisper of great wisdom, God, as He does, spoke so much more than that one word. Exactly, Joel. That's My point. You are so caught up in what you're trying to do, you're not letting Me do it. You're trying so hard to see instead of letting Me show you. You have come a long, long way my son. But boy do you have so far to go.

God reminded me again that my prayer should have a lot less "I's and me's" in it and a lot more of Him instead. He reminded me to listen. He reminded me to wait. To wait on Him. To wait in Him. To wait for Him. He's not done with me yet. I have so much selfishness, so much bitterness, so much self-seeking will left in my heart that He is chipping away at. And He reminded me that yes, God has done a great work with me and in me. But boy does He have so much more for me than this. And to think, all it took was sending me to a remote village in India with nothing familiar around me, not even my own language, to teach me that. To teach me that there is so much left for me to learn. And I am once again ready to stop thanking Him in just my words, but in my heart and actions as well.

LORD, You are so good and wonderful. You are the only One worthy of our praise, worthy to be thanked. I thank you, Lord. God I pray that You would not stop with me. Keep doing Your good work in me that I would continue to see my great need for you. Let me never lose sight of Your holiness and righteousness. Let me never lose sight of Your hand that is preparing me for so much more than what I already have been given. Thank You for what You've already given me. God, I pray that You would illuminate the path that is in front of me, in Jesus Name. I pray that if it is only enough for me to see the next step ahead, that it would be enough to follow, in faith and love, God. Give me the faith to follow You. And let me never grow tired of You doing Your work in me. Let me never ask you to take a break, or give excuse as if You work were finished in me. Let me instead open my arms wide and receive Your grace abundantly, and all that comes with it. The joy and peace, and the growing pains of sanctifying this wicked heart. Thank You, Lord, for all the incredible blessings that You've given me here in India. I pray that You would open my eyes to see all that You've done, that You're doing, and all that You have left for me here. I thank You and love You, God. In Jesus' holy and precious and beautiful Name I pray. Amen.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Looking Through Branches

"Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him." -Psalm 34:8

It is so easy in ministry to lose sight of the beautiful things, of which are innumerable. I'm not saying that this is only in ministry, for it certainly is not. Often times people might lose focus on why they once loved their job or life, as the mundane seems to have taken over everything. However, I do contend that in ministry there are more things to appreciate, more beauty in things. Ministry is meant to point to the Creator and Maker of all things, the Giver of every good and perfect gift. How could we run out of things to be thankful for?

The answer for this is simple: "For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." Paul sums up the sin of mankind in this incredibly simple statement. All have sinned. All have fallen short. We are a broken people. We are. You need not look very hard to see that we are. Even those of us who are in ministry, who are "in the trenches" so to speak. We are just as broken as the man cheating on his wife, or the women looking for love in material things or physical relationships. Any man would be foolish to say otherwise. But praise be to God that He stepped in and changed all that. He has decided to make me His, to take my sins from me as far as the east is from the west. He has redeemed me and made me new, the old is gone and the new has come! Amen!

And yet. Sin is still here, all around us. What God has done in my life, He may have yet to do in another. And even as He has redeemed me, I am still in need of His everlasting Grace daily. I am still a broken, sinful vessel. I am a jar of clay, holding this incredible treasure of His extraordinary power. I, therefore, can lose sight of what He has done for me, to me, with me. God, however, does not give up on me. He has not, and He will not! And in that reminder, He has given me a reminder of sorts to "stop and smell the roses" so to speak.

More so than any place I have ever worked, or ministry I have ever been a part of, this concept of losing sight of the beautiful was never more obvious than it was with my time at camp. I spent 15 incredible, wonderful, awe-inspiring months at Crista Camps in Kitsap County working at both Island Lake (Silverdale, WA) and Miracle Ranch (Port Orchard, WA). I was the Program Coordinator (glorified games director) for both summers of 2011 and 2012, and spent the time in between as a Program Intern amidst and incredible, talented internship program. We essentially were the cogs that kept camp going. We did everything from helping groups with their own stuff, working meals, running activities like ropes course or motocross, and even cleaning all of camp (which we did at least once a week!). We always had meetings on Wednesdays, and worked together to push camp forward.

Needless to say, it was very easy to get caught in the routine of things. It was easy to lose sight of the bigger picture of what we were doing. We struggled to see the promise land through the thick of the wilderness. And never was it more apparent that I had lost my ability to see the beautiful than in the month of February. It was by far the hardest month of the entire internship, I think for all of us. It was busy, and we were just comfortable enough with each other to get on one another's nerves...a lot. It all accumulated to one night after a long day of hard cleaning. It was clear that everyone was just bitter and frustrated, and I found myself both in that group, as well as having a heavy heart because of it. That night, myself and two wonderful friends prayed for nearly 50 minutes, all three of us in tears by the end of it. I literally could only pray out loud for one sentence, but it was one of the most intense times of prayer I have ever been a part of. I heard God speak to me in that time, and tell me to never lose sight of what was beautiful.

And so began an intentional goal to take time, at least once a week, to look through the branches. At Island Lake, where I spent the majority of my time from then on (it was a fairly even split before that) has an outside amphitheater of sorts, where the teaching and worship services are held for camp as well as guest groups that come. It is called Fireside, and holds an incredible amount of memories of redemption and healing. It is also almost entirely covered by a canopy of tall trees, firs and the like. I would go down, lay down on one of the benches, and just look through the branches. In the summer, it was especially beautiful to see the sunlight breaking through them in beams left and right. Camp had become more than just a home, and I was so comfortable and used to it that I had become numb to how incredibly beautiful of a place it truly was, both physically and spiritually.

In the past couple of weeks, I have found myself in India losing sight of the beautiful. I have been apart of a lot less ministry here than I have in the past, and taken on a more host-like role for the teams that have been coming. This has been bittersweet for me. I have enjoyed it because it has allowed me to get to know people in some cool ways, and to be able to serve them as they are here. It has, however, stunted my opportunities to go out and preach/teach, which is where my heart is, and the reason I came. Not the only reason, no, but it was what I came to do. And in that, I allowed myself to lose heart; and sight of the beautiful. But I am not going to allow such a foothold for any lies to come in. Not anymore! I am convinced that my God is bigger than my petty problems and self-pity, and has great and unimaginable good for me! I have decided to look through the branches once again.

Thank You, God, for reminding me of Your goodness. Thank You, God, that You never give up on me, that Your love never fails. I pray that I would not lose hope of why You have me here, nor will I grumble in times of thick wilderness. Instead, Lord God, let me look through the branches at Your immeasurable beauty, and take hold of all that You have for me! Let me walk by faith, Lord God, needing not to see anything but Your hand as You guide me. Thank You for Your promises, God. For Your faithfulness and mercy. You are so good. I love You and thank You in Your Son's holy and precious Name, Amen!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Hope And Healing

"I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear." -Martin Luther King Jr.

Today is January 15, and Martin Luther King Jr's birthday. He was an incredible man, known the world around for his conviction and uncompromising endurance. He became the face of a movement that would eventually alter the course of history. His words have affected millions of people he has never met, and reached farther than he could have ever dreamed. What defined him most was his unwavering faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. His message of love was always founded upon his understanding of the Love he had received. He knew that he could only talk about love because he was loved first.

On December 14, 2012 in Newton, Connecticut, a man decided to end the lives of 20 children, 7 adults (including his own mother) and eventually himself in what was the second deadliest school shooting in our nation's history. 28 lives lost in the blink of an eye, as a man had lost his grip on hope and the reality of love.

In what was the worst part of the shooting, Lauren Rousseau, and fifteen of her sixteen of her first graders were fatally shot. The sole survivor was a six year old girl who acted dead until the sounds stopped, and she felt safe to leave the school. She was the first student to run out after the events were over. She described the shooter as only a six year old could; he was a very angry man.

Tonight, January 15, 2013, on what would have been Martin Luther King's 86th birthday, A Night Of Hope And Healing was held in Ridgefield, Connecticut, honoring those who were lost, and mourning with those that were affected. Lead by Casting Crowns, a host of Christian artists performed a free show for anyone and everyone. Toby Mac, Chris Tomlin, Mandisa, Laura Story, Steven Curtis Chapman, and Building 429 all played songs of worship and praise, all the while preaching on the good news of Jesus Christ. Louie Giglio, long time ministry partner of Christ Tomlin shared about being strong in the Lord, for He is strong. Mary Chapman, Steven's wife, spoke about the accident that killed their young daughter, and forever affected their family as it was their son, and Steven's drummer, who was the driver of the car. She spoke about the hope and reality of peace that can only be found in the arms of God. And Max Lucado spoke about the identity that we find in Christ. That He is our shepherd, and we His sheep. We are in great need of Him, helpless and hopeless without Him. He spoke about the opportunity to know God, how real it is, how available it is. He spoke about how great it is that through such a tragedy, such an awful experience, that God wants to make us new and holy, even amidst the confusion and chaos. How great it is that the devil would intend such a horrible day for evil, yet God would use it to bring people to Him! Amen! He encouraged and challenged those in attendance to remain strong in Him, to not give up, "don't throw in the towel" he said.

I sat at our breakfast table with two pastors from Connecticut watching the live stream of this incredible night. The weight of the moment was certainly not lost on me. We ate bites of our fried potatoes as Casting Crowns sang the words "And as Your mercy falls I raise my hands and praise the God who gives And takes away. And I'll praise You in this storm, And I will lift my hands, For You are who You are No matter where I am. And every tear I've cried You hold in Your hand. You never left my side. And though my heart is torn I will praise You in this storm." I could not hold back the tears of the impact of these words. Not in the context they were being sung. To sing 'I will raise my hands and praise the God who gives and takes away.' to an audience, a community trying to reconcile the loss children. The loss of friends. The loss of people they'd never known...I can hardly begin to describe the faith it would take to sing these words as the heart breaks in confusion and pain. What hope they bring! Amen? To say God, I don't get it, I don't. But I am going to trust You, even in this storm. Even in this time that seems so hopeless and pointless, I am Yours.

One of the pastors began saying praise God, praise God under his breath as he watched. I mean, I was sitting at a table with two pastors from the area directly affected by this massacre, watching this live stream from Nellore, India! Are you kidding me? We sat there in awe of what God was/is doing, just singing praises out to Him. Casting Crowns finished there set with one of my favorite songs, Glorious Day. I could no longer fight back the tears that were coming. Max Lucado came out once again to wrap up the night with another word of encouragement. He begged the audience to not leave without prayer, to remain steadfast, holding on to the God who loves and desires good things for them. The only God who was and is and yet to come. As he spoke, all of the artists began coming behind him, lining up as a choir for one last song, as Chris Tomlin took to the front with his guitar and microphone. Max thanked everyone for coming, prayed, and invited Chris to lead one last song.

And Chris played a song that I have loved in the past, but have never felt a stronger connection to. Out of all of the songs that he could played, none could have captured the prayer of the local church more. "You're the God of this city. You're the King of these people. You're the Lord of this nation. You Are. You're the Light in the darkness. You're the Hope to the hopeless. You're Peace to the restless. You Are. There is no one like our God. There is no one like our God. Greater things have yet to come, and greater things are still to be done in this city! Greater things have yet to come, and greater things are still to be done in this city!" What an anthem! What a prayer! Greater things have yet come and greater things are still to be done, even when things seem like nothing could be farther! Even when hope seems but a word, God still has greater things in store! God will not forget His people, He will not forget His promises! By the end of the song, not an artist on stage was left with dry eyes. They knew it. They felt it. God is doing something. God did something in the Bridgeport area of Connecticut tonight.

We felt it all the way in Nellore, India, some 14,000 miles away! And to be able to share it with two pastors who will be in the battlefield of it, I mean, I couldn't write it myself! I couldn't make it up! God made it that I would celebrate His presence, His work in a town halfway around the world with two men whose communities have been forever changed by the sins of one man!

Thank You, Jesus, for Your sacrifice that make all things possible. Thank You for Pastor Kevin and Pastor Joe and they're work and hearts for Bridgeport, Connecticut. Thank You for allowing me to be amidst their mourning and celebration. It was beautiful, Lord. You are beautiful. I pray that You would continue to do a good work there, Lord God, that You would have Your way with them. God, I pray that You would shape hearts to listen, to be still before You. God I ask that You would continue to bless me with Your goodness and Your presence. Thank You for Your unfailing Love, for Your Grace and Mercy unending, and for everything that You do. Thank You that You are the God who gives and takes away, and that we need not but praise You. You are good. Thank You, Jesus, for You are good. It is in Your wonderful, holy, and precious Name I pray. Amen.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

All you need is love

"If I give it all to You, will You make it all new? If I open up my hands, will You fill them again?" -Will Reagan & United Pursuit's 'If I Give It All'

I live in a world of technology. I don't think it's a secret. America is often at the forefront of technology from the major standpoint of the major population. While other countries have more technology here or there, the general public of America is ridiculously advanced. And it has never been more painfully obvious in my life than it is now. Than it has been while I have spent my time here in India over these past three months.

Now I'm not in any way going to rant about how evil and corrupt technology has  made us or anything of the sort. I love technology. I'm typing this blog for the internet on my laptop lol it would be hypocritical of me to do something of the sort. But what I do want to write about is necessity. This is something that has been on my mind a lot lately, especially in the context of the last two weeks.

A team of eight people from Vancouver and Seattle, WA came to India on Dec 28 with the intention of building a basketball court for the ministry I am working with. This team ranged from a 16 year-old to a 63 year-old, from high school students to a pastor to a real estate agent. They are all in very different walks of life, dealing with very different issues in their homes, at their schools and/or workplaces, and have very different outlooks on certain things. Some had health issues, some were not all mentally here, some were more prepared than others. You get the idea. But what they did have in common was a desire to leave everything that knew, their homes, their lives, their comfort, to come to a common goal halfway around the world. They wanted to see a basketball/multi-sports court built at the second of two orphanages at this ministry in the last two years.

Why a basketball court? What can that do? For those of you who have experience playing sports, I'm sure you can attest to the many incredible opportunities sports can bring. But amidst the many many reasons that I could list off, only one is needed. The smile of a child playing. That's why we build a basketball court. If this court were built for two kids who never see each other on the same place in society to be able to play with one another, it would be enough. We sought to provide that for 50+ kids! And so we embarked together with this incredible task and idea. Through the process there were arguments, disappointments, tons of laughter, surprises, lots and lots of work, and finally the beautiful sound of children bouncing balls on a court they could call their own.

And through this entire process, I was forced with to face the reality of necessity. I have found myself praying that I would need God. This seems like an almost "duh" prayer, that it's like praying for the whole point. My response is-exactly. It is the point. The whole point. And I want it. I want to need God in everything I am, in everything I do. I don't ever want to feel like I don't need God, even in the 'little' things. But I have realized that I far too often replace God with the comforts that He has provided for me. It's like I have eagerly received His wonderful gifts with selfish and ungrateful hands. And God has really convicted me of this. He has reminded me that He is the giver of every good and perfect gift, that all that I have has come from Him, and in the end will mean nothing next to the eternity spent with Him, sharing in glory and praise for all days. He has reminded me that I "need" nothing but Him. That He will provide for me. Over and over again, He reminds His people, the Israelites this same message, and they continue to screw it up. I almost scoff at them as I read about their unfaithfulness. Then God gives me this same reminder, and all of the sudden I am one of these unfaithful Israelites that God just won't let go of. It reminds me that they were human, that I am human, and that God is God. And I will never not need Him. I will never need anything other than Him. I may have wants galore, but needs are non-existent. Needs implies that there are more things than one. But I do not need anything aside from Him. That's it.

One of my favorite United Pursuit songs is If I Gave It All. It has two incredible questions of faith in it. The singer asks "If I give it all to You, will You make it all new?" and "If I open up my hands, will You fill them again?" These are the cries of a heart that desires to need only God. They are not questions of the unfaithful, but of the heart that is realizing this is what is desired of us. I want to be able to give all things to God, because He desires and promises to make it all new. I want to open up my tight grips of fear and uncertainty so the God would fill them again.

Father God, I want to need you. I want to know that You are all that I need, that You are all that I could ever need. Lord God, provide for me in the way that You see fit, and allow my heart to be grateful for it. Do not let fear, ungratefulness, bitterness, or selfishness to leave my lips. Jesus, let me live like You did, always relying and trusting in the Father, because He will give all that I need. You will give all that I need, Father. Thank You. Thank You for Your unfailing love and mercy that fill all my necessity. You are so good, Lord. I thank You and love You. In Your Son's holy and precious and beautiful Name, I pray. Amen.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Christmas Special

"God uses men who are weak and feeble enough to lean on Him." -Hudson Taylor, British missionary to China in the 1800s.

I love this quote. It puts things into perspective for me. A lot. It puts such a huge emphasis on God that it leaves no excuse to the man. It is in our weakness that we boast (2 Corinthians 12:9), that He might be shown, yes?! Over and over in scripture, we see God using men who are so much less "qualified" than what He has called them to. But that's the point, isn't it? That He would do things so great with people who appear not to be that He would be glorified, worshiped. He uses men like Noah, Abram, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Daniel, David, Matthew, Mark, John, Thomas, and Paul. All of these men, and many more throughout the Bible, are not who society would have chosen to do what they did. But that's just it. They didn't do it. And they would all be the first to say this. It was God. It was always God. It always is God. He used these weak and feeble men who were willing to lean on God, to rest in His plan and strength. And what He did with every one of these men is nothing short of miraculous and amazing!

Take Gideon for instance. In Judges chapter 6 we are introduced to a young  man named Gideon, who is threshing wheat in a wine press, to hide it from the Midianites who were oppressing the Israelites. The Angel of The Lord commissions Gideon (in a somewhat comical conversation. Gideon's responses are so honest) to lead the army that would eventually defeat Midian and free his people. When he begins, Gideon gathers an army of 32,000 men. God tells Gideon that this army has too many men. He says, "I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against Me." (Judges 7:2) So Gideon cuts it down to 10,000 men. Again God tells him that there are too many men. Gideon then, following God's command, finally has an 'army' of 300 men. 300 men! He began with an army of 32,000! But God says to Gideon, "With the three hundred men...I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the others go home." (Judges 7:7). And God did just that! In an amazing miracle told in Judges 7, God defeats the Midianites with just 300 men, led by Gideon! And He did this so that they would boast about what God has done. He did not allow them to think it was by their hand, by anything that they could have done. Because 300 men (Sorry Gerard Butler) cannot defeat an entire army. But the One true God certainly can! And He did! Amen!

I have felt God giving me much of this same treatment while being here in India. It hasn't always been incredibly easy, to be honest, but He continues to give me no excuse but to boast in Him. And I cannot complain about that. How could I? What would I say? "Aw man, God did it again, but He just HAD to do it His way, and leave me no choice but to praise His Name..." lol yeah, it really is as ridiculous as that sounds! He does keep giving me these amazing opportunities to boast in my weakness, however, that He would be glorified!

Take for instance Christmas day. We went to two churches, one in the morning for a short, encouragement message, and at night, for a long (the longest I've given in fact) sermon on the Christmas story, what we celebrate, and why we celebrate it! I felt like God was leading me talk about sin, and how His coming down here was a direct result of His incredible plan to save us wretched, hopeless sinners. With the translation, the sermon lasted about 45 minutes, and we wrapped it up for what would be a late night. I felt confident that God was going to do a good work, but as usual, He blew my expectations out of the water! In the church, there was roughly 55-60 people. After the service was complete, 10 or so people said that they wanted to repent of their sins and trust in the Lord who came as a baby, lived as a man, and died as a savior! Hallelujah, Amen! I could hardly believe it. They kept saying thank you to me for the words, and I realized what it means to have a humility before God. Because it wasn't me. It wasn't my words. It wasn't my passion, my work, my breath, none of it. It was Him. His work. His Spirit. It was God. He just chose to allow me to be a part of it! And in this knowledge, I felt God almost patting me on the back, as if to say, "Well done, son!" And it was so freaking good, I tell ya!

I thank God that He continues to give me no excuse. That He doesn't leave me room to boast in anything that I do, but instead blows my expectations out of the water. I pray that He would continue to do this, and that I would continue to be reminded of my everlasting need of Him, and of my humble place before Him. "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up." -James 4:10.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Double-Oh, Tea, Why?

As some of you may know, I spent 9 days total traveling across Southeast India to a small tourist community called Ooty, in the northern part of Tamil Nadu. I went there to visit my dear dear friend, Katy Stiffler, as she is in India right now on her own crazy adventure. To say that this trip was a blessing and a half would undermine it completely. It was a wonderful, beautiful, ridiculous experience that I hope to be able to put into words.

I left here, in Andhra Pradesh, Tuesday, Dec 11, to Chennai, Tamil Nadu. Chennai is kind of like the capitol of SE India, and is a major point of commerce and travel. I would be taking my overnight bus to Ooty from there. I was almost late to my due to some pretty crazy traffic, and got to it literally as it was pulling out of the station. I was all but thrown on, handing off my luggage to the guy to put it in the back of the bus, and finding my seat as we pull out onto the busy street. It was definitely a bit of relief as well, considering I made the bus and was now on my way to see a good friend in a completely different part of India! Needless to say, I was a little more than excited!

I was able to get a little bit of sleep on the bus, which was both nice and unexpected. I usually don't sleep too well on buses, and I wasn't overly tired when the trip started, but it all worked out for me. I woke up about halfway up the mountain. Ooty is something like 8,000 ft in elevation, so yes, we had to go up the mountain to get there. It's kind of tucked away in between hills, and is quite unassuming at first. I got off the bus and called Katy. I was about twenty mins earlier than expected, so of course, Katy wasn't quite ready to get me. I took an auto (a rickshaw) from the bus station up to the house they she and her roommate, Morgan, stay at, the Farley Guest House. It took a little while to find an auto driver who knew where to go, which I later found out to be interesting because almost all of them know where it is! But after a few tries, I found one, and we made our way from town up the big hill that leads to Farley. As we rounded the corner to the driveway, Morgan (Katy's roommate, a missionary from GA) met me, hopped in, and rode the rest of the way up, which is no small distance! lol I was very glad to meet Morgan because one, she seemed very nice and excited about life, and two, because she was someone who knew who I was and could help me out a ton! We got to the driveway, I got my things to my room, and we went to the kitchen when Katy finally arrived to Farley. She met us in the kitchen, and we immediately hugged for a good minute, excited to see one another, and that our visiting each other was actually happening!

The rest of the day was spent with Katy and Morgan seeing some stuff in the town, and going around with Morgan as she was leaving the next day for home! We spent a couple of hours out on the front lawn (yeah, they have lawns in playing and singing worship in the gorgeous sunshine. It was kind of breathtaking, I'll be honest. It was even more beautiful to me because I got to sing with other people for a change, as both Katy and Morgan joined me and kept spitting out requests for us to sing. Morgan, it turns out, has a beautiful voice and some amazing harmonies, which was an unexpected blessing for me. It had been quite some time since I sang with someone, let alone with someone who was a talented singer! Thanks, Morgan!

The next day, we said our goodbyes to Morgan, not without their fair share of smiles and tears, and began talking about what the rest of my trip could/would look like. It turns out, I was volunteered to help lead worship for their Sunday service, which I was more than happy to do! That day, a local Brit named Jack came to the house, and we practiced out a set that we would play on Sunday. It went really well.  Katy and I then went to dinner at Dominos (yeah, they have that too...this place is WAY different than I'm used to! lol) and just sat and talked for a couple of hours. It was awesome. We caught up on a lot of things, and shared war stories from our respective missions. It still stands as one of the major highlights.

To help me not write a novel about everything that happened, I'm going to kind of cover the rest of the highlights in a montage fashion lol- Friday night I got to share a little bit about what God has been doing in my life, and what I'm doing in India with a group of Australians who were staying at Farley at the same time. They were an all girls high school from Queensland, and they and their teachers were some pretty awesome people. Saturday I joined Katy at her horse therapy session at the place the she works the most. It was almost overwhelming how awesome it was to hold these beautiful kids as they took pony rides, and did small physical stretches to help with balance and coordination. Sunday we went to church. I helped lead worship, and it honestly went better than any of the three of us could have anticipated. I then was able to sit in church for the first time since coming to India. Since I work with a ministry that builds and support churches, generally I'm the one preaching! It was nice to sit and listen to a sermon. And then there's Monday. Monday no doubt stands as the highlight of the trip, and probably the best day outside of ministry that I've spent here in India so far. We went back up to the Malstead's house (where Katy works with the horses) for a half-day of work, and a half-day of fun. The Freedom Firm, the ministry she is working with, was having their annual Christmas party there. Since I'm not a ton of help in the way of barn chores, I was put to work in the kitchen, a place I can be of some pretty good use! ;) I made a guac, a super tasty salsa, and a spinach cheese dip, along with helping finalize the flavors on a couple other dishes. Mala, the lady who lives there and runs Leg-Up, the horse therapy part of Freedom Firm, could not stop telling me thank you for my help. That was really cool. Then the party. We ate, played games, including Viking Dragon Fire (yeah!) and a White Elephant Gift exchange, both of which I was fortunate enough to lead. It was super fun! Katy and I were the last two to leave, which seemed appropriate as we were the first two to arrive lol and made our way back to Farley. It was an incredibly breathtaking sunset, so we sat at the bottom of the driveway and just looked on in awe. We spent some time in scripture, and then prayer, and just sat there taking it all in. God was/is doing so much, and He overwhelmed us both with His love and peace at this moment. I'm not gonna lie, I definitely cried. It was too much, how could I not!? The rest of the my days there were spent enjoying time to myself, often reading and playing worship, and then hanging out with Katy. We watched movies, sat and talked, and just enjoyed hanging out. It was really great. I also got to give Katy a little cooking lesson as she made a homemade Spanish Rice, which she knocked right out of the park! So good! I then left on the bus Thursday night, not before saying a long goodbye with a hug that neither one of us seemed to want to let go of. If not for the bus driver's impatience, we might have held on to the hug all night. It was the first time either one of us had seen anyone we were familiar with, that we were good friends with, and it was just so cool for us both.

I can't thank Katy enough for having me out to Ooty to see all that she's been doing, and to enjoy a time of rest and renewal. It was something I needed, without even realizing it. I've been so busy with the incredible ministry here, that I hadn't taken that simple time to sit with Him for a little while. It was great to be able to do that in such a beautiful place as Ooty, and with some great old friends, and a couple new ones! Special thanks to Morgan and Katy for all the you did to help my trip to be what it was, nothing short of amazing.

I love you all and can't wait to share with you what else God is doing here in India! Only a couple more days until the court team, my team, gets here!! I am ridiculously excited, I'll tell you that!!!! lol Talk to you all soon! Thanks! Bye.