Category Archives: Begin the Journey

30 Days of Hopeful: Day 10

I’m glad you’ve joined us for 30 Days of Hopeful. Perhaps life is hard for you right now–you’re struggling to find hope.  When all seems hopeless, I find encouragement from others who have passed through the furnace and come forth with faith shining. Their stories inspire me to hold onto my hope. I want to share one such story with you.  My friend Ange loves to encourage others with her story of hope.

I met Ange during one of my first missions trips to Rwanda and Burundi. Most everyone I met was a genocide survivor with a hard story to tell. But it was Ange’s journey of agony-turned-into-hope that inspired me most.

Ange was in high school when genocide broke out in Rwanda in 1994. She and fiancé, Emanuel, fled on foot to the neighboring Congo. They married and had baby Edna. The brutal war spilled over into the Congo. Soldiers attacked their refugee camp and Emanuel and Ange, with eighteen-month-old Edna on her back, ran terrified into the forest. They became separated as they fled for their lives.  A few days later while Ange was gathering firewood, soldiers kidnapped little Edna.

Ange ran frantically through the forest searching for the soldiers. She soon discovered the baby had become sick and died. Ange’s heart and her hope were shattered. She hid in the forest for weeks with no clean water, food, fire, or shelter. As she describes it, “It was like we were dead, but still living.”

Ange made her way to Kenya with the help of a relief organization, still searching for her husband. She cried out, “Oh God, You know that my beloved first born was taken away. And you know how I could be happy if I could find my beloved husband! Please Lord I hope you have not forgotten me.” Ange continued to seek God’s purpose for her own life while she waited for her dream to be fulfilled. Sensing a call ministry, she began attending Bible college in Kenya.  God gave Ange hope, encouraging her with these words:

We rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us (Romans 5:3-5)

Ange continues her story, “One day, I received the amazing news that my husband was alive! It was like a dream!!! We stayed up all night praising and thanking God!” So, after eight long years, Ange and Emanuel were reunited in Burundi. God soon blessed them with a baby boy they called Cherubim. When I first heard Ange’s story, she had just given birth to twins Joshua and Geoffrey.

Ange shares from her heart: “We have nothing to give our Lord for what He has done for us, so we give Him our thanks: Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you will honor me (Psalm 50:14-15).”

Ange loves to encourage others to hold onto hope when times look darkest. I hope you will be strengthened by her story and her prayer for you: “May God bless you and help you to be patient in every situation you may pass through. Glory be to the Lord JESUS. Amen!”


30 Days of Hopeful: Day 6

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1).

It’s when we stop running from God that we experience the lasting hope and true the freedom that only He can give. My friend Erin came to understand the love of God in a fresh way through her encounter with a stray puppy that refused to be rescued.

GUEST BLOG: Erin Fede

I have a habit of rescuing lost or hurt animals that cross my path. There was a tiny baby turtle trying to cross a road, a baby bird fluttering around a busy parking lot, a baby squirrel, and four stray dogs. Each animal’s rescue was unique—according to its needs and best chance for survival.

But then there are the dogs that didn’t want to be rescued—I remember them as clearly as the ones who welcomed my care. One particular pup looked so bad I convinced my husband to go back out with me that night to search some more. And we found her! But the little fluff-ball, whose once-white fur was now grayish brown and full of mats, continued to run. Sometimes we’d get really close, gently speaking to her and offering her treats. But again, she ran.

We went back home that night empty handed. And as silly as it may sound, I sobbed. Why wouldn’t the dog just trust me? I assume she was afraid—and maybe she had good reason, depending on the environment from which she came. But as valid as her fear of me may have been, it was unnecessary. And it prevented her from experiencing love. From being warm, clean and sleeping with a full belly. Why was this stirring up such sadness inside me? What was it that compelled me to keep looking? Why did I call the shelters the next day trying to find her? I believe it’s because I, myself, have been rescued.

I was once that mangy dog, running from God when all He wanted to do was nourish my soul and give me the best life possible. But I didn’t want to be “contained,” I didn’t particularly appreciate authority and I most certainly wanted to do whatever I felt like doing, whenever I wanted to do it.

But that’s just me. Perhaps you ran (or are running) for a different reason. Perhaps you had a bad experience with “religion.” Maybe someone who claims to reflect the love of Christ lives in a way that is the exact opposite of loving, and therefore gives you a false perception of God’s character. Or maybe you just feel plain unworthy, unlovable or unforgivable. Regardless of your reason for running, don’t let it rob you from seeking the Truth… from running toward the most fulfilling relationship you could possibly experience: the unconditional love of your Creator.

God was relentless in pursuing my heart. He is endlessly patient, forgiving and loving. He captivated me with his kindness. By submitting to His authority, I actually became free and full of hope.

Freedom cannot be achieved by running from God any more than that dog could find freedom in roaming the streets. She chose to keep fighting for herself when someone exceedingly more capable wanted to fight for her.

God not only fought for us but, through Jesus, He won the battle for our eternity. He died to give us life, and was raised from the dead to give us HOPE. We are not unwanted, nor unforgivable. We were each uniquely created with a great purpose. And we are loved beyond anything our brains are capable of comprehending.

The love and hope I wanted to extend to that little dog didn’t disappear when she ran away. But the stray animals who trusted me got to receive all I had to give. If a broken human like me would go out of her way to help little creatures (even getting up at 3am for weeks to prepare a special formula and feed a baby squirrel), how much MORE love and care does our Father in Heaven want to lavish on US!! Anything good we do is just a tiny glimpse of the goodness of our gracious God.


30 Days of Thankful: Day 28

Today’s guest post was written by my friend Ashley nearly three years ago.  I was impressed to post it again today as part of our 30 Days of Thankful.  First, because you will see Ashley’s beautiful and thankful heart.  And second, because looking back, we can now see that God was preparing Ashley for a special calling.  This calling included not only a fourth child (a biological child), but a missions assignment that took Ashley and Peter and their four children to Japan where they are sharing the love of Jesus with this largely unreached nation.  Ashley was open to what she thought was God’s call to adopt a child from Asia–instead, she is now loving many of God’s lost children in this part of the world.  In observing Ashley’s journey,  I’ve come to believe that a trusting and thankful heart is the open door through which God invites us to our destiny.   

GUEST POST:  Ashley McKenzie (February 13, 2013)

God is my Provider. He often reminds me that He can be trusted to meet my every need.  I am humbled that God speaks to me.  I am nothing special.  Many days I feel less than ordinary.  I have no credits to my name, no college degree, no extraordinary skills, no great power of speech or commanding leadership abilities.  All I have is the love of a beautiful Savior—a kind and gentle King who has captured my soul and filled it with life. 

A few months ago, right before Thanksgiving, I was packing up my car for a trip to my parent’s house.  With three children four years old and younger, this is no small feat.  Amazingly, all three kids were in the house napping so I was able to pack the car without distraction.  It was an ordinary day that turned holy in seconds.  I saw an eagle flying right above my head- so close that I could actually hear it soar.  Immediately, I felt The Lord asking me to sit and watch the bird.  My heart was beating out of my chest; I had no choice but to sit and watch this majestic creature.

I watched it for at least 15 minutes as it soared back and forth in front of me until it finally flew away.  Over the next two months, I had the oddest encounters with birds.  And every time God said, “Watch the birds, Ashley.  Watch the birds.”  I had vultures in the back of my yard, saw at least two more eagles, and every day had a whole flock of little black birds fly across the sky in front of me.  I have been asking God what is it with these birds.  And then he answers just as I need it.

 Blog photo-eagle

To back up a bit, God has asked some fairly big “faiths” of me for 2013.  Long ago he asked me to allow him to “grow” my family.  For whatever reason I feel a big growth this year. My heart aches more and more for orphans.  I yearn to adopt a child, and he has given me several verses and glimpses of hope and faith in this lifelong dream.  But with this dream comes a dependence on his provision, resting in the assurance that as we expand, he will meet every need as he always has.

And so, as I’ve prayed for faith in all these things, I continue to see birds.  God says quietly to my soul, “Watch the birds, watch the birds.” And I pray that he reveals what these crazy birds mean.  He gives me verses like Roman 12:12, asking me to be “joyful in my hope and faithful in my prayers,” and Isaiah 49:8, reminding me that he will “provide in His timing”.  He is my salvation and help in all things.

 And then in a moment of desperation, as worry and doubt set in over and over again, as I wonder if God will really provide and if I will ever be given this gift of an adopted child–is he really going to do what I feel in my heart he has said–during a sacred moment in his word, he whispers, “You are the bird.  I give you food.  I provide.  I watch over you.  you are mine.  That eagle?  He soars because of me.  I build his house.  I give him strength.  You are my bird and I will provide.  Trust in me.”

What do you say to this except thank you?  How do you respond to such kindness, such love except a complete surrender of worry and doubt?  Finally, I am drawn to John 15:16:

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last.  Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.

I am chosen, and because I am chosen I have a responsibility to bear lasting fruit.  I don’t think that I can remain a worrier and doubter and believe in John 15:16.  I am a bird, and whatever The Lord asks of me, he will provide.

 


30 Days of Thankful: Day 21

Gratitude doesn’t come naturally. Another observation during 30 Days of Thankful. We have to teach our children to be thankful, so it makes sense that God teaches it to us. In the Old Testament, He even created rituals and celebrations to teach His people how to give thanks.

Giving thanks is not so much for God’s benefit, though I am sure it warms His heart as it does any good parent when their children show gratitude. He doesn’t need our thankfulness to be God. But God knows that thankful people are better people. They are also happier and healthier.

We’ve talked about the emotional and physical blessings that come when we’re thankful. But there’s more: When you grasp the concept of giving thanks to God, you’re beginning to grasp something much more powerful—His grace. I hope you’ll see the connection here.

Our word “grateful” comes from an old English word, “grate” which means “thanks.” The word grateful is also loosely related to the word grace.

But the Bible connection between grace and thankfulness is much stronger.  Grace is defined as the “gift or blessing brought to mankind by Jesus Christ, favor, gratitude, thanks, a favor, kindness.” The Greek word commonly translate as “grace” is charis.

Charis is also one of several words in the New Testament translated as “thank.” Here are a couple of examples where charis conveys thankfulness:

“I thank [charis] God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers” (2 Timothy 1:3 NIV).

“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude [charis] in your hearts” (Colossians 3:16 NIV).

Charis doesn’t just communicate thankfulness.  Charis–or grace–is the very substance of our salvation. Ephesians 2:8 says it strongly: “For it is by grace [charis] you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…(Ephesians 2:8 NIV).

How exciting to think that as we practice gratitude, we also breathe new life into our understanding of God’s amazing grace!

So let’s continue to be thankful. And remember, it requires something of a fight for us to walk in God’s grace in this broken, and sometimes hostile, world. As Peter reminded a church that was being heavily persecuted: ‘This is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it (1 Peter 5:12 NIV).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


30 Days of Thankful: Day 17

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thess. 5:16-18 NIV).

I don’t know about you but I am beginning to notice some changes during our 30 Days of Thankful. The changes aren’t huge ones—more like a shift in the atmosphere. But they’re real nonetheless.

For example, yesterday I noticed a softening in a very difficult extended family member’s attitude. And a friend who I’ve been reaching out to for years is becoming more tender to the gospel. Just the other day, I experienced an unexplainable feeling of hope in a long-standing problem that had begun to feel hopeless. I wonder if you’ve noticed some changes, too?

As I become more thankful, I’m more aware of God’s blessings all around me.  And no wonder, since the words in the New Testament for thank and bless are practically the same. Both can be used to translate the Greek word eulogeo, which means “to speak well of or to give praise.”  More thanksgiving naturally leads to a greater sensitivity to my blessings.

But the vagueness of praying for God to “bless” my food, my friends, or my family was a problem until I learned a simple tip from our friend John DeVries, founder of Mission India.

In his wonderful book, Why Pray?  DeVries recommends praying for blessings by focusing on five areas which correspond with the letters for B-L-E-S-S:

B – Body – For physical health, safety, strength

L – Labors – For the success and prospering of their work

E – Emotions – For emotional health, peace and joy to replace fear and anxiety

S – Social life – For social relationships, family to have love and unity

S – Spiritual life – For each to know Jesus personally and grow in their spiritual lives

I set my cell phone each day to remind me to pray for several special people. And I pray the BLESS prayer when someone comes to mind and I’m not sure how to specifically pray for them.  Why not take a minute right now to B-L-E-S-S a friend, a family member, a government leader, or even the ruler of a nation.  And while you’re at it, be thankful in advance for what God will do in response to your prayer.