Tag Archives: Faith

Fingerprints all over the place

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The Book of Esther in the Bible is a fascinating story about a Jewish girl who won a royal beauty pageant and was chosen to be queen.  She became aware of a plot to wipe out the Jews, and she determined to beg the King for mercy for her people at the risk of her own life.  The most famous verse in Esther is where her uncle is counseling her in how to proceed and spurring her on to courage. He tells her, “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”  It is an inspirational story that is still celebrated in the Jewish holiday of Purim and in the commencement speeches of Christian schools all across America.  But the astounding thing about the Book of Esther is that the name of God is not mentioned once.  Not Once!

Even with the lack of direct mention, no one can doubt that this book belongs in the Bible because we see God’s fingerprints all over the arranging of events and lining up of “coincidences”.  In the olden days they would have called that “Providence”.  In modern Christianese we call these “God moments” or “Divine appointments”.  It doesn’t really matter what you call it.  There are just times when God reaches down into the space-time continuum and gets involved in human lives or in history on a grand scale.  God is not a far off, distanced ruler.  He is intimate.  Another name for God is Emmanuel which literally means “God with Us”.

I love those moments when you look back and see that God was guiding the details of your life.  I love finding God’s fingerprints all over the place, evidence that He is God with Us.  Part of my responsibilities as Vice Principal include beating the bushes for new teachers.  This year nearly our entire staff changed.  Some of the positions were filled from connections that other teachers had.  Some of them came directly from my circle of acquaintances.  And some of them were Divine appointments- pure God.

For example, we had filled the 4th and 5th grade positions with relative ease.  But the 6th grade class was still vacant.  We interviewed several people, and nothing was fitting together right.  Both the principal and I decided to pray specifically that God would lead us to the right person.  I felt that God was saying to me, “This person is not going to come from YOUR resources.”  So I had no idea what God had in mind!  OK, God, surprise me.

One day the Assistant to the Principal and I were the only two in the office.  In walked a young lady who simply asked, “Do you have any teaching positions available for September?  I’ve been taking classes at the language school this summer and I’ve decided that I want to stay in Costa Rica.”  The Assistant and I exchanged big-eyed looks.  I interviewed her on the spot, exchanged email addresses with her, and that was that.  A miracle literally just walked in the door.

Photo credit: Jack Spades / Foter / CC BY

Photo credit: Jack Spades / Foter / CC BY

Then this week, another miracle was handed to us directly by God.  As you know, our second grade teacher quit just 2 weeks before the first day of school… 8 days before teacher orientation.  That day I spent a lot of time in prayer, asking the Lord to provide the right person that He had in mind.  I posted the plea for teachers on Facebook, and over a dozen of my friends reposted my status or forwarded it to friends of theirs.  A friend of a friend connected me with the name of a girl and I sent her a message.  I explained the job and asked if she would be interested.  She told me that she had been specifically praying for a teaching position in Costa Rica for this school year!  And she could be here in a week!   “And who knows that you have come here for such a time as this?”  I am totally flabbergasted at how God pulled that one off.

I was at the end of my resources.  I had already asked every teacher I knew in Costa Rica during the previous teacher search.  I had exhausted all of my connections in every direction.  So when this need came up, I was empty handed.  I went to the Lord as a pauper, a beggar.  And I am astounded at His extravagance.  Divine appointment or God Moment… whatever… God was in the House and His fingerprints are all over the place.

Faith is the evidence of things not seen

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I woke up this morning with a “Summer Head Cold”.  (It is still Summer here in Costa Rica, even though my Minnesota friends have recently had another foot of snow dumped on them in a rare “Spring storm”.) I automatically wondered, “Where did this cold come from?”  I spent a few minutes reviewing the events of my week, searching for a particularly germy location where I could have picked up a bug.  It was a toss up between being at school with 150 children or spending hours in the Immigration office, which was air-conditioned.  Costa Ricans firmly believe that a rapid change in temperature can make you sick (or kill you).  Apparently they were proven right today.  It’s no more ridiculous than American mothers ordering their children to put on hats to prevent a cold.

Anyhow, once I had settled on a possible source of my cold, I actually felt more at ease.  Silly, I know.  I am one of those people who feel better with more information.  When things are left vague, I am uneasy.  I am hard-wired to sift through the grains of life searching for nuggets of information to guide my decision-making.  When I can’t find those nuggets or the sifter is torn from my hands, I feel like life is out of control.  I am programmed to search for purpose and meaning in life.

For me, faith is going forward with insufficient information.  I do not consider it faith when I witness a miracle, or when I pray in another language, or when I observe the physical effects of contact with the spirit world.  No, for me those things are logical manifestations of the supremacy of our God.  We should by fact have a physical reaction when a Superior Being gets close to us- that’s normal, in my mind.  That requires no faith, for me.

Where I am stretched is when I am required to take a step without being totally secure of my data-base, when I don’t see a purpose.  If I know the WHY, I can proceed without fear.  If I know the final destination of these steps, the WHERE, then I can walk forward without concern.  If I can see an obvious HOW, then I have no reason to draw on my faith.  But when those questions are left ambiguous, or worse when they are completely unaddressed, then I frantically cast about for something else to hold on to like a drowning person searches for a life preserver.  The thing I seize upon is where my faith is anchored:  the personality of God.  God is the rope that I cling to.

What I believe God to be is the core of faith.  I cannot see Him.  But I can see the EVIDENCE of what he is, of who he is.  Just like I can’t see wind, for example, but I can see the evidence that wind exists- so it is with God.  Having faith is like being a forensic investigator.  We have to look for clues, finger prints, that God was here.  We build up our knowledge of him, our data-base, which gives us a larger and stronger rope to grab on to when the trail has taken an unexpected turn or the lead has gone cold.  In those times, when I am left without a WHY or a HOW or a WHERE I hold onto the rope, which is my faith in who God is.

I say to myself, “I don’t know why I am going through this, but I know that God has already approved this trial because he is all knowing.  He is in control and nothing surprises him.  He has promised that he only has good plans for me.  He will not harm me.”  When I can’t make sense of my reality, I hold onto my faith in the Goodness of Almighty God.  God is always good… even when I have a cold.

When God shows you his back

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“Trust is the bridge from yesterday to tomorrow, built with planks of thanks…”

But…

“What of all the memories where Christ seems absent?  When the bridge shakes and heaves… when we look back and see God’s back.

Wasn’t that too his way with Moses?  ‘When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by.  Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back.’  (Exodus 33:22-23)

Is that it?  When it gets dark, it’s only because God has tucked me in a cleft of the rock and covered me, protected, with His hand?  In the pitch, I feel like I’m falling, sense the bridge giving way, God long absent.  In the dark, the bridge and my world shakes, crackling dreams.  But maybe this is true reality:  It is in the dark that God is passing by.  The bridge and our lives shake not because God has abandoned, but the exact opposite:  God is passing by.  God is in the tremors.  Dark is the holiest ground, the glory passing by.  In the blackest, God is closest, at work, forging His perfect and right will.  Though it is black and we can’t see and our world seems to be free-falling and we feel utterly alone, Christ is most present to us, I-beam supporting in earthquake.  The He will remove His hand.  Then we will look. Then we will look back and see His back.”

Once again Ann Voskamp blew my mind!  “One Thousand Gifts”.  Can I say anything more?  This is so simple and yet so profound.  This is going to take a while to process and apply.

Holiday in Costa Rica

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Today is a special holiday in Costa Rica- a Holy Day.  It is the day that Catholics celebrate the patron saint of Costa Rica, La Virgin de Los Angeles, also known as La Negrita.  Around the country, preparations have been in progress for weeks already.  This is the holiday that brings pilgrims from all over Costa Rica, and even from neighboring Panama and Nicaragua, walking all the way to the Basilica in Cartago where the little black statue of an indigenous Mary is enshrined.  It is predicted that 2.5 million people, half the country, will make the pilgrimage this year to pay homage and ask for special blessings from La Negrita.  Many penitent will crawl on their knees the last mile or so.

On August 2 this whole city will be wall to wall people. They shut down the highway through San Jose and into Cartago to make room for people to walk.

As missionaries, it is important for us to know about the local traditions and religious beliefs of the people that we are here to serve.  We try our hardest not to be “agents of American culture” bringing the North American Way in our baggage.  We try to see the world through the eyes of the people in our new culture.  So we come as learners.  We have learned the history of La Negrita, visited the Basilica countless times with teams and students, and studied the Catholic doctrine a bit to give us some background to the sites we see at this holy shrine.  We have learned that the secret to the longevity of the Catholic church around the world is that their doctrine permits the inclusion of local legends and saints (and often local gods, renamed with “Christian” names).  The church thrives when the locals have a saint that looks native to the area.

The story goes that on August 2, 1635 a native girl found this little statue made of black stone.  She brought it home, but twice it mysteriously reappeared back in the original location.  So the local townsfolk decided that it was a manifestation of the divine and it wanted a shrine built to it.  In 1824 it was declared the Patron Saint of Costa Rica.  The Basilica where it is now housed is not the original because the first few churches were destroyed by earthquakes from the nearby Volcan Irazu.  Outside, this new version also includes “holy water” piped in from an underground spring.  People stand in line, often for hours, with their empty jugs and bottles waiting to fill up with holy water.  Inside, the walls of the shrine are lined with display cases filled with silver charms representing body parts “healed” by La Negrita.  People can buy a charm representing whatever request they are praying for, and when their prayers are answered, they give the charm back to the church as a testimony to the healing power of La Negrita.

It’s a little blurry do to the low light, but this is La Negrita in her shrine

The spring where Holy Water flows. See the wheel chair? And the woman smoothing her hair with wet hands as if she could wipe away her worries with holy water.

I’m not writing this blog to bash the Catholic Church.  The point I want to make is that it is in our nature to WORK to reach God.  From the days of the Tower of Babel to the selling of Papal Dispensations to the modern believer crawling on his knees in penitence, it is our human nature to try to work to earn forgiveness.  We all need to be set free from our self-inflicted bondages, the chains that tie us to this earth.  And that is why Jesus came.

The spring of Holy Water where people fill up.

Jesus came preaching Grace and he turned the religious world upside down with teachings about the Upside Down nature of the Kingdom of God.  The first shall be last.  Love your enemies, pray for those who curse you.  Don’t stand in the streets making a show of your prayers like the pharisees did.  Pray to the Lord in secret, and the Lord will reward you openly.  Grace which can not be earned or deserved.  Forgiveness which sets us free to forgive each other.  Love which lays down his life for those who hated him.  The Upside Down Kingdom has come.  And that is our message of love to Costa Rica.

Sojourners Looking for a City

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The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living.  It’s our handle on what we can’t see.  The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd…

Abel

Enoch

Noah

By an act of faith, Abraham said yes to God’s call to travel to an unknown place that would become his home.  When he left he had no idea where he was going.  By an act of faith he lived in the country promised him, lived as a stranger camping in tents.  Isaac and Jacob did the same, living under the same promise.  Abraham did it by keeping his eye on an unseen city with real, eternal foundations- the City designed and built by God…

Abraham

Sarah

The promised son

Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing.  How did they do it?  They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world.  People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home.  If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted.  But they were after a far better country than that- Heaven country.  You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them…

Abraham and Isaac

Jacob and Esau

Joseph and his sons

Moses

The Israelites at the parting of the Red Sea and marching around the walls of Jericho

Rahab and the spies

I count go on and on, but I’ve run out of time.  There are so many more- Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets… Through acts of faith, they toppled kingdoms, made justice work, took the promises for themselves.  They were protected from lions, fires, and sword thrusts, turned disadvantage to advantage, won battles, routed alien armies.  Women received their loved ones back from the dead.  There were those who, under torture, refused to give in and go free, preferring something better:  resurrection.  Others braved abuse and whips, and yes, chains and dungeons.  We have stories of those who were stoned, sawed in two, murdered in cold blood; stories of vagrants wandering the earth in animal skins, homeless, friendless, powerless- the world didn’t deserve them!- making their way as best they could on the cruel edges of the world.

Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised.  God had a better plan for us:  that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.

Hebrews 11- excerpts from the Message version of the Bible.

He’s Always Been Faithful to Me

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I chose this song today to remind myself and to testify to you:  God has always been Faithful.  He is our provider.  He is our source.  Times might look scary, but you can trust God.

He’s Always Been Faithful

By Sara Groves

Morning by morning, I wake up to find the power and comfort of God’s hand in mine.  Season by season, I watch Him amazed in all of the mystery of His perfect ways.

All I have need of His hand will provide.  He’s always been faithful to me.

I can’t remember a trial or pain He did not recycle to bring me gain.  I can’t remember one single regret in serving God only, in trusting His hand.

All I have need of His hand will provide.  He’s always been faithful to me.

This is my anthem.  This is my song.  The theme of the stories I’ve heard for so long:  God has been faithful- He will be again.  His loving compassion it knows no end.

All I have need of, His hand will provide.  He’s always been faithful.  He’s always been faithful.  He’s always been faithful to me.

 

Taxes and the Rapture

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If there’s any subject 100% certain to cause me stress, it’s money.  When I was a child, my family was in financial distress all the time.  There was always talk of not enough and of the grand-daddy of all money woes:  Taxes.  My parents’ business owed back taxes, so this word was always floating through their conversations.  They didn’t realize it, but I was listening, always listening.  I didn’t know what taxes were, but they sounded so scary!

I had another great fear as a child, also due to a mysterious word floating through the adults’ conversations:  The Rapture.  In the type of church that I grew up in, the preacher often taught about the Second coming of Christ, also called the Rapture, when all the believers would be snatched up to heaven in “the twinkling of an eye”.  There were songs written about it, sermons preached about it, and even movies made about it.  From the movies, I had the idea that we would all fly upwards naked, leaving our pile of clothing as an ominous indicator of whatever activity we were engaged in at that singular moment.  I was OK with flying naked into Heaven, but my major concern lay in the final destination of my blankie.  If we weren’t bringing any fabric to Heaven, then what would become of my beloved blankie?  I wasn’t sure I could enjoy Heaven without it.  This caused me deep anguish.

As an adult, I have out grown my blankie-love and it’s accompanying fear of loss, but I still carry tension where money is concerned.  I have over and over again experienced God’s faithfulness in providing for our financial needs, but it’s a hard lesson for me to retain.  I seem to have to learn it over and over again.  I’m like those block-headed Children of Israel who wandered in the wilderness for 40 years learning and forgetting how to trust God.  Learning and forgetting, relearning and forgetting again.  So last night when my husband said, “it’s another bad month for us” my heart clenched in my chest.

Our livelihood, every penny we need, comes from supporting churches and individuals back home.  And when times are tough back home, times are tough overseas too.  Month-to-month we are thankful for our faithful supporters who don’t forget that we are still “out there”, who don’t abandon us.  And month-to-month, God stretches the money somehow.  We’ve cut corners, eliminated luxuries (from an American’s perspective), and pinched pennies.  It’s just tight all around.  And it’s tight around my heart too.

We do what we have to do to survive.  This week I accepted a teaching position at my kids’ school.  Due to the kind of visas we have, I can’t actually receive payment, but I worked out a deal with the administration to convert what I would get paid into free tuition for my 3 kids.  This is huge for us!  Schooling isn’t free overseas.

We have made tough choices for our family.  We feel responsible to our supporters and want to respect their sacrifices as well, so we are careful about how we spend our money.  We chose a school that fits within our missionary way of life, yet is not the most expensive school there is.  We don’t have our kids in the expensive sports clubs.  They just have the after school activities that meet in the dusty old barn of a gym at their school.  They don’t get expensive music lessons.  We pay a friend to teach guitar lessons.  We are careful with how we spend our money.

My point is, we do make tough decisions, just like many of you have to make.  We make sacrifices to survive, just like you do.  And I have to remind myself constantly that God has been faithful to us… just like you have to remind yourselves of this.  Ultimately, the style of life that we have chosen is a life of faith.  We believe, though we don’t see it yet.  We believe that God will pull us through at the end of the month, but we don’t see it until the last minute.  Just like we believe that Jesus is coming back for us, though we haven’t seen it yet.

The Christian life is a faith walk… it’s meant to be.  It’s supposed to challenge us.  It’s designed to teach us how to remember- through repetition we remember the lessons of how to Trust in our Faithful God.  These are the faith-building stories that we tell ourselves and tell our children.  God has been faithful, and He will be again.

Faith like a Ficus Tree

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There is a pretty little park a few blocks from my house where ancient Ficus trees line the side of the road.  I have never seen Ficus trees this big because in Minnesota a Ficus tree is a finicky species, out of its element, and must be treated with extreme care or it will drop all it’s leaves and die.  But here, a Ficus is in its natural habitat.  No wonder they grew so big.

One day I was passing by the park and saw, to my utter horror, a tree trimming crew was hard at work.  They were trimming back the Ficus trees… cutting them back hard!  Too hard, I thought.  They cut off nearly all the branches of those majestic trees, leaving only a few spindly branches on each tree.  I thought they must be cutting them all the way down.  I was very, very sad and angry at the same time.  Why would they cut those beautiful trees back so hard?  Now those Ficus trees will surely die.

For a few months, they looked really ugly.  They looked hacked and wounded, pathetic and humiliated.  But photosynthesis was still happening.  Month by month, those trees stared to fill out again.  Bit by bit, the shade returned to the park.  I asked someone about it once.  He said, they cut them back so they stay sturdy otherwise they get leggy and top-heavy and could fall over in a storm.  I did some internet research of my own and learned that a Ficus is actually a very resilient type of tree, if it’s in its natural environment.  I was very surprised.

So one day when Taylor and I were driving home we spotted a Ficus tree dumped in a garbage heap on the side of the road.  It appeared to have been a potted plant that someone had thrown out.  It was about as tall as I was, with a decorative braided trunk like they do with house plants, and only one side of the tree had leaves.  Even the leaves it had were brown and curled on the edges.  But Taylor and I stopped and threw the thing in the trunk.  We took it home and replanted it in the yard.  I watered it.  I fertilized it.  I sprayed it with pesticide to protect it in its weakened condition.  And month by month, it stared to fill out again.  Bit by bit, its leaves grew back and offered a patch of shade to my yard.  It was indeed a resilient plant.

Faith is like a Ficus tree.  Sometimes God has to prune us hard, cutting out dead and dangerous stuff to make us sturdy and strong, healthy and resilient.  Don’t resist God with you see him coming with the pruning shears.  He’s not coming to cut you down, he just wants to make you stronger.  When God prompts your heart to let something go, you should obey immediately.  Let go.  Don’t hold on to that dead past, don’t keep the life-sucking relationship when God commands you to cut it off.  Let God shape and cut and prune your life and one day your shade will be a blessing to those around you.

Cookie-Cutter Missionary, a Tale by Guest Blogger Ilona Hadinger, Missionary to Mexico

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This is a blog written by a fellow missionary momma.  When I first read it, it really resonated with what I’ve felt all along about my awkwardness in ministry.  I have never felt like I was your typical pastor’s wife and sometimes that’s bothered me.  So here’s encouragement from another woman who doesn’t seem to fit the mold either.


In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Then He formed man in his image; male and female He created them.

In the middle, God birthed His New Testament church.  Then He commissioned them to go into all the world; anointed with His Spirit He sent them.

Near the end, God hastened his task.  Then He formed a cookie-cutter shaped missionary; identical He produced them, for the harvest was great and the workers were few.

And they rarely lived happily ever after.

The End.

(written by Lax N. Site for the “Myths, Lies, and Twisted Truths” anthology.)

You’ve never read that?  Oh, but many of us have believed it- or live surrounded by those who do.

Like me.

It began with the “I do” to a minister on my wedding day.  I felt I had to be that cookie-cutter pastor’s wife.  I did love people, but I couldn’t sing, wasn’t a social butterfly, and the only songs I knew on the piano were 70’s hits like “Yes, We Have No Bananas.”

Was I the wrong cookie for that post?

In time came the call to missions.  With itineration came invitations to be the engaging speaker for women’s event in There-ville.  “Come, share your vision with passion!”  Except that I hated public speaking and was still recovering from the shock of the call.

Was I the wrong cookie for that plate?

On the field, most nationals have received us warmly with invitations to preach.  In my case, again to women in conferences or other large gatherings.  Often I sensed their disappointment that I am not the Patsy Clairmont or Beth Moore they expected… or hoped for.

Am I the wrong cookie for this place?

I used to think so, but not anymore.  Sweeping the crumbs aside, a dormant truth in my heart awoke to active belief:  I am uniquely created by my Maker!  My talents and abilities are to be used for His glory, for the calling of His choosing.

As a missionary, I can serve Him with what He’s given me, though others try rolling me, cutting me out and baking me into what they think I should be.  if I like to write, paint, bake or to raise my kids well and be the best help-meet for my husband, I can do any of those as faithful ministry, creatively using my desires, abilities and talents for God’s glory.

Have you ever read about Bezalel in Exodus 31:3-4?  God uniquely used him to help build the Tabernacle:  “I have filled him with the Spirit, with skill… to make artistic designs.”  Or you may recall the Levites in 1 Chronicles 23-26 who each had a specific work to do, “…they were to serve the Lord… in the way prescribed for them… and so they carried our their responsibilities.”  And let’s not forget Tabitha in Acts 9 who served the Lord by sewing for widows.

This is cookie-cutter freedom!

You know both your calling and your talents.  May God continually roll you, shape you, and make you into what He wills.  His house will fill with a wonderful aroma and your life will be a trail of delicious crumbs for others to taste and see how good He is.

*Originally posted on “In Real Life with Jamie Jo” on Women of the Harvest. and again on the LAC Writers’ Guild called Tortilla Press.  Finally, if you want to read more of Ilona’s blogs,visit her own Inkyspot.

When my kids are fighting I remind them of this…

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I know for a fact that children hear more clearly from God than adults do.  We had been trying to have a second child for around 3 years with no luck.  Taylor, our 4 year-old son, knew that we were praying for a baby.  He had his heart set on having a baby sister, and he wanted her to be named “Emmie”.  He wanted a baby sister so badly that he played with an imaginary sister named Emmie… though sometimes Emmie was also an imaginary cat.  But he was so certain that he would have a sister named Emmie that I would have to forewarn all his new Sunday School teachers that I was not pregnant, no matter how much Taylor insisted that his baby sister was going to use his old crib or car seat.

One day my sister and I were taking Taylor to the zoo.  Suddenly from the back seat of the car we heard Taylor’s little voice pipe up with excitement, “Oh NOW I know what Jesus wants!”  He announced.  We looked at each other and asked Taylor what does Jesus want.  “Jesus wants us to pray for my baby sister NOW!”  Fully believing him, we pulled the car over to the side of the road and right there in Como Park on Lexington Avenue we prayed for Taylor’s baby sister Emmie to come.  When we were done praying he announced confidently, “She’ll be her by my birthday.”  When his next birthday rolled around I was about to pop being nearly 9 months pregnant with our little girl.  Of course we named her Emma.

We remind our children that we prayed for them and that God heard our prayers.  We remind them of this story when they are fighting (haha)!  And we remind them when we are trying to make them feel special and loved.  God knew the desires of our hearts, in fact, God GAVE us those desires in the first place and then he delighted to fulfill them using the prayers and faith of our 4 year-old.

My Three Little Monkeys