The Election Diversion

With less than 24 hours left until our nation elects a new president, there is much talk of election weariness. And no wonder, not only are we media-saturated, but our media is saturated with partisan bickering, accusations, and unthinkable rudeness. Statesmanship seems to have disappeared from the planet in the nastiest campaign season anyone can remember. More disturbing than the focus of American politics, however, is the focus of the American church, because the church is focused on politics. We seem to think our fate hangs in the balance of the presidential election of 2016, and our righteousness will be determined by how we cast our vote. Based on the number of diatribes on all forms of media, expounding why Christians must or mustn’t vote for a particular candidate, we seem to think we can determine our future by preserving our rights and controlling our circumstances. The church seems to have forgotten that God alone is the sovereign ruler of our times and circumstances, that we have surrendered our rights to Him, and now our responsibility is to trust and glorify Him in whatever circumstance He chooses for us. We are so bent on avoiding persecution and suffering that our hand-wringing rhetoric belies our declarations of faith in a loving, trustworthy, Almighty God.

Sadly, there is more to lose from a wrong perspective of suffering than our witness to the watching world. While we are working feverishly to protect our rights and reputations, influence our friends’ votes, get the “right” candidates in office, and control our uncertain future, we are failing to prepare for the one thing we know our future holds: suffering. Jesus was very clear in John 15 when He told His disciples, “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” And again in the next chapter, Jesus warns of the need for patient endurance in suffering, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Please do not interpret that to mean we shouldn’t discuss the issues, pray earnestly for God’s hand to be at work in our nation, and vote. Those aren’t just rights they are privileges, given by God, and should be stewarded with the utmost care. What I am saying is that elections and issues should not distract us from being prepared to suffer, and to suffer well. What does it mean to suffer well? Let’s look at some inspiring heroes of the Scriptures.

Jesus told the apostles that they would have opportunities to share the gospel with governors and kings, and their entrance into the halls of government would be by arrest and flogging. He reassured them that when they were arrested, they had no cause to worry about what they would say because they would be given the words to say when the time came, it would not be the apostles speaking, but the Holy Spirit speaking through them. Stop right there. Worry about what to say? Really? My ears would not have heard anything Jesus said after the word ‘flogged’. What I was going to say would be the furthest thing from my mind if I had just been informed that I was going to be flogged. But Jesus completely bypassed the issue of flogging and how much pain they would have to endure, because the main point was the opportunity to preach the gospel. Persecution and suffering don’t even get a mention. They’re just useful tools to get an audience.

Paul’s request for prayer from the believers in Ephesus never mentions relief from suffering. Instead, Paul asks for fearlessness and words from God that he may make known the gospel (Eph. 6:19-20). In his letter to the Philippian church Paul seeks to reassure his friends that though he is under house arrest in Rome, he is rejoicing because his imprisonment has served to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ. The entire palace guard has heard of Paul’s faith, and in spite of the obvious dangers of preaching Christ, other believers have become emboldened to fearlessly speak the Word of God. Paul seems to have no concern about his fate, only that he not fail to preach Christ with courage. Paul is also concerned for the well-being of the church. He does not once express hope that they will not suffer, rather his primary concern is how his beloved friends conduct themselves when suffering comes. He encourages them not to fear those who oppose them, but keep their focus on God’s saving hand. Paul wants them to imitate the humility of Christ in suffering while complaining about nothing, putting no confidence in human ability but looking forward to the resurrection of those who belong to Jesus Christ. He tells them they will find peace by fixing their thoughts on the truth of God, and sets the example of contentment in any and every situation.

That message is as shockingly counter-cultural, and contrary to human nature today as it was in Paul’s day. But by now, it shouldn’t be. At least not in the Church. We have had two thousand years to read, study, and digest the riches of God’s Word, and its inspiring accounts of those who were gladly willing to suffer for the advancement of the gospel and the glory of the God they so dearly loved. We have access to the biographies of countless saints who have gone before us, declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ while being tortured and martyred. The American Church should, by now, have a solid understanding of suffering to the glory of God, but we don’t.

What kind of response do you think you might receive from your Christian friends if you responded to their difficult circumstances with a promise that you would pray for them to suffer well? That’s not how we pray in America! We want suffering to end now, and that is the outcome for which we ask our friends to pray. The Church in America has such a reputation for praying to escape persecution, that our persecuted brothers and sisters in other countries sometimes fear asking Americans to pray for them. If they do ask, it is with the request that we please not pray that God would stop the persecution, but instead ask that He would give them faith, boldness, and courage to be His witnesses in the persecution. Their perspective is that the persecution is working perfectly to display the joy and peace and grace of Christ’s followers, to the glory of God. They just want to display Christ more clearly, pray for that.

The persecuted church today is gracefully following in the footsteps of the Apostles, who “went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame [and flogging!] for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:41-42). No fear, just trust in their Lord. Are you, am I ready to gracefully join them when the opportunity comes? Let’s back up several paces from the large-looming spectacle of our national elections, and consider our lives in the canvass of the even larger picture of redemption and restoration that God is now creating through His bride, the Church. I have been convicted to do less fretting and more preparing, both for myself and those to whom I have the responsibility of guiding, teaching, and shepherding. I have some work to do, and I pray you will do the same, because the opportunity to suffer for our Lord is coming sooner than we think.


Kenya, Set to Music

Since childhood I remember hearing my mother say, “Life would be better if it were set to music.” My Mama loves music, and at age 80 she still takes piano lessons, has season tickets to the symphony, fills her home with music, and loves to dance. Best of all, she shared her love of music with me. Her gift of music enriches my life every day. From music lessons as a child to singing with choirs and worship bands to alone time with an Irish wood flute, my life has been filled with music, testifying to the truth of Mama’s observation that life would be better if it were set to music. Mine certainly has been, and I am so grateful to her for such a wonderful gift.

With such a background, it should come as no surprise that music is part of my morning routine, helping focus my heart and mind on the truth and glory of God. And so is the ‘repeat’ button. Yes, I will admit to worshiping to the same song over and over, dwelling on the character and ways of God affirmed in the song. Sometimes, one song is plenty.

On a recent trip to Kenya, one song drew my heart each morning, “Our Great God”, by Fernando Ortega, performed by Fernando Ortega and Mac Powell. Though a hotel mix-up nixed the opportunity to room with my new friend, Frankie, I chuckled to myself that at least Frankie wouldn’t have to listen to my music on repeat every morning. But the Lord used that alone time each morning to focus my heart on His glory, and prepare me for what He would show me that day. Each morning, this song became the blank canvass on which God would paint a new picture of His faithfulness, His power, and His glory. Beautiful images of the evidence of God’s work and ways now come to mind whenever I hear the song. It is impossible to do justice to God’s revelation of Himself with mere human words, but knowing that it is for His glory that He gave me such treasures, I will attempt to share some of the images evoked by the lyrics of the song, “Our Great God.”

Eternal God, unchanging, mysterious and unknown – Marveling at the diverse team20160601_130127 (2) God assembled for this short term mission, and later seeing, at least in part, His plan unfold as each served in their spiritual gifts and talents. Wondering why in the world God chose me to encourage believers in Kenya. Surely there are others, much more qualified, who don’t live halfway around the world.

Your boundless love, unfailing, in grace and mercy shown – Madame Rebecca, the invaluable overseer of schools and feeding stations, recovering from open heart surgery performed by U.S. surgeons on a medical mission to Kenya. Widows living in a beautiful new home, loved and cared for by the Church.

Hallelujah! Glory be to our great God! – Overwhelmed, driving into the Seeds Orphanage compound, seeing dormitories, a dining hall, tilapia ponds, laundry drying in the sun, and 215 smiling, singing children. Only God could do this.


IMG_0273 (2)Bright Seraphim in endless flight, around Your glorious throne; They raise their voices day and night in praise to You alone – The songs of the children, rescued from the streets and worse, singing praises to God. The beautiful rhythms of worship in the Kenyan church. Laying the cornerstone of the Seeds High School, every soul present giving all the glory to God.

20160529_161234Hallelujah! Glory be to our great God! – Standing on the foundation of the Seeds High School, listening to Richard share his vision for the high school complex. His faith is enormous. His God is more so.

Lord, we are weak and frail, helpless in the storm – Two women in church, managing life on crutches, their bodies wracked by disease. The faith of an overseer and his wife, challenged and grown by the faith of a ten-year-old son with Sickle Cell Disease.  Deep awareness of my inadequacy to offer anything to the Kenyan people, I am the one being taught.

Surround us with Your angels, hold us in Your arms –  Hundreds of smiling, singing children, safe, fed, clothed, educated, and loved; tireless servants caring for children, widows, and the church and who are upheld by the strength of Your hands – these are the arms of God.

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Our cold and ruthless enemy, his pleasure is our harm – Children’s feet, riddled with holes caused by insect infestations. The story of a girl, horribly abused.

Rise up, Oh Lord, and he will flee before our sovereign God – It is God alone who will rout the enemy, and every last team member knows it. The rest of the girl’s story: rescued, loved, spiritually and emotionally set free.

Hallelujah! Glory be to our great God! – 150 children seen and treated for jigger infestation, leaving the clinic in shoes and socks. Supplies to care for 150 more left with Richard and Hellen.

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Let every creature in the sea and every flying bird – Waking to bird calls each morning; delight and wonder at seeing cape buffalo, lions, ostriches, jackals, rhinoceros, waterbuck, primates, giraffes, and hippopotamus.

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Let every mountain, every field and valley of the earth – Breathtaking vistas as we drove through the countryside, ravines, fields, acacia trees, Mount Elgon in the distance, all declaring the work and glory of our almighty creator God.

Sing praises to the living God, Who rules them by His Word – Orphaned girls joyfully singing, “I know who I am” because someone loved them and taught them their identity in Christ. Circumstances surrounding the trip and the team, clearly orchestrated by the hand of God. Overwhelming awareness of the presence of God everywhere we went.

Hallelujah! Glory be to our great God! – An acacia tree, the iconic image of Africa, in silhouette before an incredible gilt-edged sunset – glory, indeed.

acacia sunsetPhoto by Darla McFall

Father, ‘Thank You’ seems woefully insufficient to express my gratitude for the privilege of seeing Your glory revealed on this trip to Kenya. By Your enabling, my desire is to live in the light of the glory I saw in those eleven days, and to express Your glory to others who need to see it. May I be a faithful steward of what You have entrusted to me. Hallelujah! Glory be to our great God!


On Being a Light Follow

c86101ab950fae5adb4c803590345e46 (2)It is marvelously exciting to see God at work in my life, though sometimes I’m a little slow to catch on.  From my limited perspective, it appeared that sending me to Kenya to encourage my Christian sisters this spring was God’s present focus for me, and one that would provide plenty of practice in dependency on my Lord. So I sought to arrange my schedule into blocks of time for study and preparation. In addition to needing material for extended teaching time, I would be speaking through translators to people in a very different culture than mine. Knowing that being well-prepared makes adapting to changing circumstances much easier, I intended to apply myself diligently to preparation.

No sooner had I set my course, than the distractions started. Not the worthless, empty distractions that I was prepared to dispatch post haste, these were true ministry needs among friends, family, and the body of Christ. Clearly, I was not to ignore the needs of those closest to me for the sake of study time. After two months of interrupted study time, I was beginning to worry a little about having to depart for Kenya without adequate preparation, and every prayer request I made was focused on this issue. While stuck in traffic one morning my mind was suddenly flooded with the Scriptural foundation and direction for one of the Kenya messages. Speaking directly to the topic and congruent with the culture of the audience, it was perfect! God had obviously interrupted my impatience with the traffic jam and done in seconds what I could have spent hours searching out. Clearly, God was perfectly capable of managing my schedule and my study without adhering to my best-laid plans.

As I was thanking God for His provision, I remembered a specific request I had made of the Lord several months ago. I had read an article by Laura Riva on being a responsive follower while dancing. She wrote, “Being a light follow does not mean being disconnected – in fact, it means quite the opposite.  It means that when led, your reaction is nearly instant without sacrificing quality or connection. It means that your responses are fast – but not ahead of the lead. You do not need force or strength to lead a light follow – you simply need to guide them. It means that their frame and attention is so sensitive that it feels like the lead is directly connected to their mind.”

What a magnificent picture the author painted of the delicate partnership between a skilled leader and a trusting, responsive follower. Learning to respond with quick sensitivity to one’s dance partner without anticipating his next move and taking over the lead is a highly valued skill and one not easily mastered. I clearly recall dance lessons that consisted exclusively of lead-follow practice, using only half of the normal connection to one’s partner, and just being led in an aimlessly meandering path around the floor. It seems like a lot of time and money to spend on such minutiae. Surely learning actual dance steps would be more useful. Would this exercise really make that much difference in one’s dancing? The answer is, unequivocally, yes! A dancer can lead a highly responsive follower successfully through steps the follower has never even learned. More crucial than the perfect execution of steps, is the ability to follow. The author’s beautiful description captivated my heart not just as a dancer, but as a Christian. Here was a brilliant illustration of the way I want to follow the Holy Spirit.  And I prayed so earnestly that God would give me this kind of responsiveness to His leading.

Now, feeling torn between the desire to minister to family and friends in need and the desire to be fully prepared for ministry opportunities in Kenya, it dawned on me that my gracious heavenly Father was answering that prayer. All these apparent directional changes were just lead-follow practice! I could only shake my head and laugh at myself. Laughter soon gave way to deep gratitude that God was developing in me the very thing I had asked for. He had continued to thwart my efforts to lead until I surrendered to Him in desperate dependence. Now that we had arrived at that point, God’s faithfulness was evident, and relief flooded in. I no longer feel the need to tell Him what my study time should look like. Oh, I still  schedule time on my calendar for due diligence. But I am learning to rejoice when God adds appointments to my well-laid plans. My days all belong to Him, anyway, and He is perfectly qualified to arrange them to fulfill His ultimate purpose. My infinitely wise Teacher can give me an entire outline in just a few minutes if that is His plan. I am free to enjoy being in the moment, responding in trust to whatever appointments He puts on my calendar today. Serving Him has gone from a stressful juggling act to a graceful waltz with my heavenly Father. Yes, Lord, I would love to dance.

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”  Isaiah 30:21

An Idol For a Ministry

Trends in our culture are changing with ever-increasing speed. Technology, clothing styles, housing trends, entertainment options, education, and even the way Christians do church, are changing at a dizzying rate. But one thing seems to never change: humanity’s love of money. Money fuels our trend-hopping lifestyle, enabling us to lay hold of the next thing that promises fulfillment to empty souls. The hunger for more started in the garden of Eden and has raged through every generation since. Two of the Ten Commandments given to Israel by God reveal our desire to acquire, specifically forbidding coveting and theft. It’s no wonder God’s Word contains approximately 2000 verses which address the subject of money. Most Christians can quote at least a few Bible verses about money, and man’s inability to serve two masters, but we don’t live like we believe them, including me.

As much as I have inwardly and outwardly preached against the materialism of our culture, and of the church, I have been as resistant as anyone to give up my material dreams and aspirations for the sake of the gospel. Studying Philippians, seeing Paul’s willingness to give up everything, everything, for the furtherance of the gospel has brought needed conviction into my life. Not only did Paul give up everything, he did it with rejoicing! Paul knew what it meant to serve only one master. I have been trying to serve two.

Though longing for time to write, more time for study and prayer, and more time for ministry, I’ve been frustrated at how difficult it has been to set aside that time. With grown children and an empty nest, God has given me the privilege of time to pursue Him on my own schedule, yet, I put that privilege on hold in order to pursue money. Money, to help me gain my dream of a home that is larger than the one we have, and hopefully, newer. It didn’t have to be fancy, just more than I have. I thought I could have both my dream house and time for ministry. But working even part-time was giving away time the Lord gave me to do the very things I desired. In hindsight, it is quite apparent that discontentment and idolatry have marked my life for many years. What foolishness!

But what freedom there is in giving up an idol. It is only after surrendering our idols to God that our eyes are opened and we see how blind and foolish we have been. Faith does, indeed, become sight. It always seemed giving up the house dream would be sad, but that was Satan’s bluff. Liar! Reality is, the thrill over the opportunity God has given me to study, write, and serve Him full-time has far outweighed any sadness over my surrendered dream. Yes, there are twinges of wistfulness over the house. Woven into those twinges are threads of expectancy. Expectancy is not expectation that God will be so proud of my sacrifice that He will provide the house as a reward. There is no illusion that His request for my idol was just a test, and having passed it, I will receive the desires of my pre-repentant heart. Rather, I have expectancy that God will work His beautiful and perfect will into every twinge, changing the longings of my heart, cultivating contentment, and working in and through me in ways I have always desired, but have thwarted with my own idolatry. Those who have given up everything to follow Christ and preach His gospel have always captured my heart. The house dream was my primary stumbling block to being free to follow Him unreservedly (not that I am yet one of those people, but I press on). I knew God wanted me to give it up. I was like a child gripping a fascinating, fuzzy, striped bee he longs to possess, while it is stinging his palm and bringing pain. It is a difficult lesson to learn that bees are painful to hold, but delightful to appreciate when they are free to be exactly where God wants them to be. Idols are no different. God’s children are not to grasp for anything but to give our hearts and attention fully to God, knowing that He is a good Father who desires to give His us only good things. We must trust God to give good gifts, placing certain blessings where He wants them, knowing that what He desires to give us is unfailingly the most perfect gift, designed for perfect blessing of His child and for His greatest glory.

In Philippians 3, Paul has given up everything (status, achievement, worldly goods, and even freedom), counting it all rubbish, to know Christ in the power of His resurrection, the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, in order that he may attain to the resurrection from the dead. The fellowship of Christ’s sufferings would mean wanting the same things Christ wanted: God’s glory alone, such that He was willing to be absolutely single-minded in His pursuit of glory for God. Verse 15 instructs us to also have this attitude, and Paul is confident that God will reveal areas in which we are not like-minded and fully surrendered as Christ was, and as Paul was. That is exactly what God has done for me. At first read, that verse felt like a “done to me” verse, but His interruption has been a huge blessing and gift from God, a “done for me” event. Knowing the heartbeat of my Father God assures me that every interruption He brings is not done to me, but for me. God took away my idol, but in its place, He gave me an undivided heart, a clear mind, and time to serve Him. An idol for a ministry – what a trade!