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Matthew 6

I remember moving to Africa in 1997. There was email in those days (to the surprise of my children) but nothing was reliable. There were electrical brownouts and blackouts. Telephone calls to my parents cost around $1 a minute, which made connecting even harder.

Fast forward to 2021 and we are thankful that we are riding out this crazy COVID time of life with great technology. Our preferred mode is WhatsApp on this side of the world. But simply having an iPhone makes preaching on the other side of the world, through miles and time zones actually possible.

This week I prerecorded a sermon for a supporting church. As with what is normal for me, I preached on what God is teaching me. I find those lessons are the best to pass along. In fact, I preached almost the same sermon in French last week here in Belgium.

God has brought me to several rich places this month and Matthew 6 is one of them. Jesus is teaching the sermon on the mount. At the beginning of the chapter, He teaches the disciples to pray. I know you know it. You probably memorized to the point that it has almost numbly lost its power. But to the disciples it was new. Exciting. And the sentence before Jesus throws out that example of prayer, He clarifies that our Heavenly Father knows what we need even before we ask…so pray like this.

He teaches them (us) to not collect our treasures up on this earth. I mean, we can’t take them with us anyway, right? But store up treasures in Heaven. Uhmmm…what you think is important, might not add up to a hill of beans where it really counts. Stop chasing what the world is hungry for. Because, guess what? You can’t serve two masters. Choose God.

And then, just as Jesus has laid the foundation of keeping our eyes on God, He hits right into my personality, our anxious state. If we had 6 hours, I could explain to why I am the way I am and think the way I think. The story would shine a light on every move I make and Jesus just points a finger to it and says…DON’T BE ANXIOUS. What?! Was He looking at me????

Maybe, He was looking at you too. Maybe you too have momentary lapses of memory where you forget that we have a God who is limitless. He has everything under control (even when we don’t understand what that is). Maybe you are trying your best to get your stuff under control because you are losing it on every other front…thinking that you need to get control of something. But we weren’t made for that. We were made to let God be God and trust in Him.

That’s why in the midst of all this anxiety, Jesus says but seek [hunger, thirst, crave, desire] first the kingdom of God and His righteousness [justice] in Matthew 6:33.

Seek Jesus.

Prayer [the kind Jesus just taught His disciples] is certainly a part of seeking, craving. And once again in verse 32 (because God knows we people need repetition) Jesus says because your Father already knows. He knows what we need better than we do. And know His word. I was reminded this week how many go to church these days but are really biblically illiterate. How do we live what we don’t know…what we don’t read…what we don’t understand? So dig deep. And worship. Don’t just use your time of worship as an introduction to get something from God, but worship God because you simply want more of Him. He is worth it. And confession. Sometimes (many times) we find it far more comfortable to focus on who we are [as in forgiven] that we stop confessing anything we do that distances that relationship with God. So we need to be mindful of who we are and our great need for a Savior. We also need to confess our trust in the God who has it all under control. Our God who is working things out and making things new. Our God who knows what we need before we ask.

Seeking Jesus is pretty good place to be in. So in the middle of your today, remember that the One who already in tomorrow is working it out.

Rest.

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Today

In 1997, I know that God called me to move to Zimbabwe. Because of other circumstances that happened to a family in my home church, I didn’t want to go to Africa. I was dead-set against it. I knew the pain it would bring those I knew. I knew that as the second missionary sent out from my church, it would be a stabbing reminder of what happened to the last. I was literally ready to move to the most remote parts of the world…as long as it wasn’t Africa.

But God doesn’t let go so easily…when He is the one that calls.

Finally, I gave in to what He asked. I prepared to go to Zimbabwe. As suspected, some didn’t handle that decision well. Others made it their Sunday morning goal to track me down and tell me that I was outside the will of God. There were even those who were so bold as to go to my mom’s work and tell her how “out of God’s will” her daughter was.

I usually faced this discouragement head on as I waited for permits and paperwork...that never came. On the Sundays that it became too much to handle, I visited other churches who became a stronger source of encouragement than those who stood in my way.

Finally, it was time to board the plane and fly to the furtherest corner that I had ever been. I carried with me my luggage and the assurance that God had called me to this moment, this direction. My future was bright…

…until it wasn’t.

I had been in Zimbabwe 7 months when the government made the decision that I would be kicked out. I remember exactly how I found out the news, at a missionary meeting. I cried, others cried. I questioned everything I knew to be true. I questioned my ability to hear God, know God. I didn’t sleep that night. It felt like a nightmare. I was homeless on the other side of the world.

The next day, the missionaries in Botswana invited me to come and work in the capitol city. They had a person leaving and needed someone to take his place. The application wasn’t even in the books when I had applied to this mission program. I had no idea that it was even an option. I agreed to go…with hesitation and grief.

A year and a half later, when I got back on that plane to return to the States, my vision was clearer. God DID call me to go to Zimbabwe. It was the door He used to get me to Botswana, where I felt most at home, most used. I can see now what I couldn’t when the news of deportation first hit my ears in Zimbabwe.

Today, I find myself in a similar situation. Limited. Limited by paperwork and governments and authorities who are working hard against the presence of God. In Antwerp. In my life.

I feel the grief of KNOWING the direction God wants you to walk and being stopped by those against Him.

And yet, in the midst of the grief, I find myself camping out in 1 Peter this week. He encourages those being persecuted by governments who want God to be dead. Believers who are scattered and scared but desperately need to hold on to the One who is true, unchanging and limitless in their season of pain. This is not the end.

We are in the middle of a story. Only the God who stands above time…who is already in tomorrow…knows how this will work out. And so, as my tendency is to be anxious, He reminds in Matthew 6:33 that the antidote of anxiety is seeking first His kingdom…the King of the kingdom…Jesus.

Keeping our eyes fixed on Him, we move through today and trust in tomorrow that He, who holds the universe in His hands and collects my tears in a bottle, is working things out for our good.

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Rest

Rest.

This is the word that I am trying to breathe in for 2021. Partially because 2020 was so hard. Partially because I still have so many places where I am waiting for God to do a miracle and I am tired of worrying about it. And partially because I don’t think I have ever really learned to do it well.

Rest.

Probably like many of you, I pray. I give all my hurt and hope to Jesus. Then I pick all those heavy emotions, feelings and burdens back up and try to carry them on my own…once again. It’s not intentional. It is just how I have always done it.

I think we don’t rest well because we don’t trust well. Sure. We would never want to tell ourselves that we don’t trust God to work things out for our good, but how we live is proof that we need to trust…more.

When we don’t trust our worries become explosions of emotions to those around us. Whether it is anger, tears or silence, our reaction is clear. When we don’t trust we are more likely to point fingers at others. Sometimes it’s comparison and other times it’s just blame. And when we don’t trust we try to control. Especially when life seems so out of control, we try to manipulate people and situations to make sure we have some power left.

And as much as we try to manage life, none of our actions leads to…rest.

Life is hard. Life does not always go the way we want. I am sure Jesus would agree. It was said of Him…

“When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.” ~1 Peter 2:23

Jesus took the bad upon Himself and still trusted His Father. He rested in the One who judges justly. He trusted in the One who can right every wrong.

The problem for us is that we get tired. Soul weary. The world beats us up. Sometimes we even get beat up inside the church. We forget who we are in Christ. Our common enemy is prowling around like a lion looking for someone to devour. In our fatigue, we become prime for the picking.

And Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” ~Matthew 11:28-30

As we come to Him, we believe that He can do what He says He can do. Give you rest.

So I come. I show up. I believe. I remind myself who I am. I remind myself who HE is. The Giver of rest. The One who sees that I am weary and burdened. The One who gives rest for my soul.

Rest…

…in Him.

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Change

The first picture is from May. It was in the peak of COVID quarantine time here in Belgium. The girls were home all day long. I was a full time teacher trying to cope like the rest of the world.

In January, the doctors told my dad that he had serious problems with his heart, liver and kidneys. We knew it wasn’t going be an easy year. I kept my phone next to me all the time, waiting to hear the latest news. At one point, the doctors said that my dad’s liver disease could be hereditary. I had to change something so I didn’t keep the same consequences.

So in May, I started the hard work of transformation. It started with eating less and moving more. It was interrupted by my dad’s death at the end of July and my own battle with COVID. And I got back on track in October, learning how to think differently about food and myself.

There is certainly a spiritual, worshipful element to this transformation. Knowing and living like someone aware that my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit was necessary. And remembering who I am in Christ is pivotal.

That doesn’t make it easy…but it does make it possible.

I have lost 58 pounds (over 26 kilo) now. The other 2 pictures were taken today. Hary reminds me every day how far I have come. Some days I don’t feel I have changed. Other days, I feel so far removed from the woman on the left. God is still changing me. Always.

I would still like to drop about 8 more pounds, but the most important thing is that I have already lost enough weight that will hopefully keep my liver strong and healthy for years.

Change is hard. Change is good.

As we struggle with life, struggle well, struggle deeply and richly. Let us be changed.

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John

This is a picture from almost 2 years ago of me, John and Mary (Hary’s niece). We were all smiles because after months of prayer, John was finally released from prison because of his paperwork. His lawyer had made a mistake and police came to take him away from his sister’s house.

We prayed. We asked you to pray and eventually John was released.

But that wasn’t the end of story. He still needed to get his official papers. And like most paperwork in Belgium, this took time. This morning John called to let us know that FINALLY he received his identity card and legal residency for Belgium

Time. It took so much time. But we have to believe that God had a reason and we are thankful that we finally see victory in this.

We are certain that God has a plan and work for John here in Belgium. We are grateful that we can continue to minister together. His partnership and prayer ministry is valuable in our work here in Antwerp.

Blessings!

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Family

2020 was filled with so many challenges. Yet when the time came to an end, family was at the top of the list to be thankful for. Last year provided ways for family to reconnect, cherish one another, play games, laugh, and realize that we are a gift to each other. We made it through sickness, difficulties, death and even COVID in our home. We still have a smile on our faces.

We hope that you too have something to be thankful for as you reflect on the previous year. God is still good, even when the world feels to be falling apart. Perseverance, friends.

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She turned 6!

So it has been a while since I have written anything down. There are lots of reasons for that but I would be remiss if I didn’t take note that this child, Maria-Grace, turned 6 on December 17. She is an absolute delight. She’s a comedian whose heart is to make you smile every day. She loves with her whole self and laughs a contagious laugh. She hurts when her sister hurts and speaks truth over her sadness. She’s sitting next to me now, reading (in Dutch) in that slow first grade way. Every sound is an effort but she loves to do it.

I am so blessed that God gave her to us. She came at a time I thought it was too late and impossible for anyone to be added to our family. She is my gift of grace. I love every inch of her. Delight!

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The Season

So today in Belgium is Sinterklaas. For most Belgians, this is the morning that children get their new toys. For our family, the girls get some sweet treats and a new ornament for the tree.

For us, it began when I was 5 years old. I am an only child and our house was in the small school district of Teutopolis, IL…a Dutch/German Catholic village (really…there was only somewhere around 1,500 people). There was only one church and it sat on the highest point of the area. And almost everyone in the village attended the St. Francis church…except our family.

When I was in kindergarten, I came home so excited that Saint Nick was coming. My mom had NO IDEA what that meant. So she called other moms to figure it out so I wouldn’t miss out. I put my snow boots by the door and Saint Nick filled them with oranges, nuts and candies.

Life came full circle when I moved to Belgium 17 years ago and started having children 10 years ago. Saint Nick still comes. He doesn’t arrive in the same tradition as everyone here, he comes more like he did when I was a child.

Tradition.

It builds memories and adds joy.

And this weekend brought a treat for me too. A refugee who is often in our home noticed a special place in my house where I keep little things from places that we have traveled. It is a place in the stair well that is a strange box in the wall that we use for memories. This refugee wanted to have something from him in our place of memories so he brought me a small plastic nativity set.

It isn’t anything I would have gotten for myself. Mary is blond and baby Jesus is a bit orange with matching blond hair. No one looks Middle Eastern. But his heart was so good. A man with very little money who wanted to be counted in our “important” place. And that is certainly what we need to remember for the season. The heart of a person is important. And it is exactly what God looks at and as I strive to be more like Him, I placed that strange nativity in our box of important memories. Because he is important.

And Mary treasured all these things in her heart…

I have always loved that statement. And I often feel of the same heart as I treasure these moments in my heart.

God is so good.

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Choosing Jesus

In the last weeks, I have been sitting in all 4 Gospels at the same time. I have been reading the accounts side by side and noting all the details and concentrating on Jesus. This season has certainly brought its own stress this year. I have a prayer list for others about a mile long. People are in need. And yet what my soul longs for is peace and rest. Just finding those Sabbath moments. Breathing in and breathing out.

Jesus.

It becomes a ritual to sit in His presence. It is life giving especially when the world crushes in. It slows down the pace of life enough to remember what is most important. We still have more than enough to be thankful for. Life is filled will moments that gifts from the Savior.

Today is the second Sunday of advent. It’s focus is peace. Jesus said that He gives us His peace…we don’t need the fake kind that the world offers. Jesus actually shares HIS peace. It can’t get greater than that.

I hope that today offers you a moment to rest in the peace of Christ. I hope you soak in His word that gives you breathe and space to rest. I hope you find the comfort of a life lived in the light.

Choose Jesus.

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Advent Sunday – Hope

This is my friend Melissa. She is from Syria, despite what you might assume with her curly red hair. She grew up here in Europe and speaks English very well. So when I have needed an English to Arabic translator in the last months, I have called on her. It is a new skill she is learning and is certainly not easy but she is always willing to give it a try.

So Sunday we sat down in front of our Christmas tree and recorded short devotional videos in English and Arabic for the 4 Sundays of Advent.

Advent means “coming”. We look forward to the “coming” of baby Jesus. And each Sunday reminds us of all that Jesus truly is. This Sunday we focused on HOPE and looked at Romans 15:13:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peaceĀ as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

In a crazy year, packed with uncertainties of COVID, job loss, death, distance and sickness, what is filling you? Because Romans tells us to let God fill us up. Don’t be filled with fear, nervousness or even anger. Be filled with joy and peace through the Holy Spirit so that your hope can spill out and overflow to all those around you. Jesus is with us. Emanuel. He has already come. Don’t let His wonderful gift of HOPE be lost on you this year. Our God never changes even when the world does. He is the same yesterday, today and always. Trust in Him when nothing seems certain. He will fill you with things the world can never offer.

HOPE.