Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

All in the Family

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Isn’t the Family of God an amazing thing?  I find believers all around the world that have that same “click” in our hearts when we meet.  It’s the Spirit of God in me that recognizes the Spirit of God in you and there’s a “testifying” that we are from the same family.  Romans 8 talks about that special connection we have as members of the family of God.  (Read the whole chapter- the whole thing is amazing, but this is the part I’m talking about.)

Romans 8:14-17 14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[f] And by him we cry, “Abba,[g]Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

When I first met my friend Courtenay at our school here in Costa Rica, my spirit testified that she was also a member of the family of God.  Others call that being “a kindred spirit”.  Yeah I do like her a lot as a friend, but more importantly, my heart is connected to her because we share the same Father.  She is the missionary that I wrote about yesterday who is just hoping to survive until December.  Do me a favor and click here to read her blog from last week where she talks about the realities of needing money while living on the mission field.  I think her honest description of how things look from our perspective is important.

Later on in the week I’m going to highlight some other missionaries so you can see just how far your missions dollars go.  Missionaries buy antibiotics for sick kids.  Missionaries buy cement blocks and toilets for poor families.  Missionaries buy tin roofs and build schools and plant gardens in poor communities.  These are the realities of where your monthly pledge is making a difference in people’s lives.  To you, it’s a small sacrifice.  To others it’s the difference between live and death for today.  Life is precarious and precious and something miraculous happened when we prayed for Courtenay.  You’ll just have to go to her blog to find out what it was.

Called to be a Dandelion

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gardeniaLast year on the campus of our school there was a beautiful, ancient gardenia bush that bloomed and bloomed for the pleasure of all who would pass by it.  It was about the size of a VW bug… the old kind.  I loved that bush.  I know what it takes to keep a bush like that alive and blooming.  I’ve had three of them in my past gardening history.  They are spoiled, temperamental plants.  I currently feed mine coffee grounds every few weeks… it likes coffee.

But one day I came to school and was horrified to see that the old gardenia bush was under attack.  Every single leaf had a huge bite taken out of it.  During the night, leaf cutter ants had demolished the ancient bush.  The gardener pruned it hard, but it could not be saved.  I mourned the day that they cut the bush down completely.

One of my first purchases when we moved to Costa Rica was to buy a pair of books about the Birds and Plants of Costa Rica.  Yes, I’m kind of a nerd like that.  I like to know the names of things.  Back home in Minnesota I have a huge Encyclopedia of Gardening, 900 pages worth!  I spent many a winter day reading about the Ph of soils and the light requirements of various plants.  I just really like plants.

dandelionsIf I were to compare myself to a flower, I would say that I’m not a gardenia, a rose, or a jasmine.  I’m a dandelion.  I have read that dandelions are not native to America, though they seem quite happy in Minnesota lawns.  I read that one of the first governors of Minnesota had a wife who heard about dandelion salads being in vogue in Europe.  So she imported the stylish “flower” to cultivate in her kitchen garden.  Little did she realize that she would single handedly blanket the state with the yellow weeds which are the bane of every weekend gardener’s existence.

blowing a dandelionI am a dandelion.  I’m not saying I’m a weed to be hated.  I’m saying I’m common, ordinary, and imported.  Being a missionary, I am not native to my soil here in Costa Rica.  But my plan is to reproduce our ministry prolifically.  We are in University ministry.  We hope to blanket the country with students who will reach out to other students who will reach out to other students… on and on.  This is the goal of every missionary- spiritual reproduction.

I don’t want what I do to be so fragile and finicky that it is easily destroyed by an army of pests.  I don’t want what I plant to be beautiful but high maintenance.  I want the wind of the Holy Spirit to carry the hardy seeds of our ministry to distant soils.  I want University Campuses to become the natural environment for Christian small groups and Bible studies to spring up every where.  I want Christian university students to be so numerous that they are no longer rare.  I want us to be common.  I am called to be a dandelion.

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/cameliatwu/3839938475/”>CameliaTWU</a&gt; / <a href=”http://foter.com/Flowers/”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-SA</a>

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/vincealongi/2537227873/”>Vince Alongi</a> / <a href=”http://foter.com/Flowers/”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>CC BY</a>

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/a6u571n/3131321415/”>aguscr</a&gt; / <a href=”http://foter.com”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>CC BY</a>

Playing with Fire

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“Can a man scoop fire into his lap and not get burned?”

fire-manI’ve noticed a disturbing trend among my peers from my circle of  “church friends.”  For some reason, my generation feels it’s “cool” to dabble in the things that their parents taught them were sin.  Not everything that used to be considered bad is still considered evil.  For example, there was a time when card playing was a sure sign that you were flirting with the Devil.  And going to a movie was sure to condemn you to hell, in some circles.  Now times have changed, and some of those social no-no’s are not given a second thought.  I wear make-up, I cut my hair when I want to, I wear pants- all things that my great grandmother would never have done.  So I’m not talking about the petty cultural behaviors that bind us to a particular set of rules.  What I am talking about is a deliberate tearing down of the morals that we were raised with.

Sometimes those boundaries are in place for a reason.  For example, alcoholism runs in my extended family.  My father saw first hand the dangers of alcohol when his mother and siblings because addicted.  He suspected that there was some genetic disposition to liking alcohol even before the scientists began to confirm that there is indeed a genetic element to addiction.  So for that reason, we were raised to avoid alcohol.  As an adult, I can choose to do whatever I want with my life.  However, I choose to honor my father by avoiding alcohol.  I believe that it is healthier for me, but moreover, the Lord has promised me a long life if I honor my parents.  It is the only one of the 10 Commandments with a promise attached to it.

under-the-bridgeI have seen so many friends who have taken a rebellious teenage attitude in their adult life.  They choose to go out to bars or to drink alcohol at home even though they were not raised that way.  Their excuse is, “It’s not specifically in the Bible that we can’t drink.  It only says don’t get drunk.”  I don’t deny that.  But what I am talking about is the attitude behind the decision in the first place.  It is a blatant rejection of their parents that pushes them to permit things that were unpermissible in their childhood home.  This rebellion leads people down a path towards brokenness.

I have seen friends at various stages of this rebellion and eventually they all end up hurt and disillusioned by their own choices.  They may not see the connection, but with my distance and lack of emotional entanglement in the scene, I see the direct correlation between that rebellion against their parents and their present situation.

I have seen friends end their marriages with affairs and divorce.  I have seen families who are shocked and embarrassed when their son is kicked out of high school for alcohol possession, yet the family drinks at home.  I have seen families leave a church because of its heavy emphasis on the Holy Spirit, then they are stunned when their kids grow up and lead unholy lives.  I have seen so many friends remain single for years and years, cruising the bar scene each weekend looking for an escape from their loneliness- looking for their soulmate in a room full of unbelievers.  But they were brought up with an understanding that a Christian should not yoke themselves to an unbeliever.  I have seen friends decide to live with their girlfriend or boyfriend before they marry, even though they know that fornication is a sin.

But these friends who assert their “rights” do so to their own detriment.  Proverbs asks, “Can a man scoop fire into his lap and not be burned?”  Can we dabble with rebellion and not expect consequences?  The proverb does not say you have no right to scoop fire into your lap, or pour it down your throat, it just says don’t expect that you will escape the results.  Devastation is the natural destination of that journey that began with the first step of rebellion- the attitude of “I will do things MY way.”  It has been this way since the Garden of Eden.  Rebellion has consequences.

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/kuzeytac/3459680851/”>Kuzeytac (will be back soon)</a> / <a href=”http://foter.com”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-ND</a>

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/pepsiguitar/8164795429/”>E Tran</a> / <a href=”http://foter.com”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>CC BY-NC</a>

I see you

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I wrote this article last summer for an on-line newsletter about women in ministry.  I was under contract not to publish it anywhere until the newsletter published it first.  Now that they finally used it, I can share this story too.  If you want to see the original page, go here.

I could feel my palms sweat and the index cards in my hands tremble. Taking a deep breath, I slowly recited my Bible verse in Spanish to my conversation partner, Sujen. As a new missionary on the field, three times a week this young Nicaraguan woman would come to my house to teach me how to clean my ceramic floors or how to cook the perfect chicken and rice dinner. And three times a week this introverted missionary would be pushed to my conversational limits by having a Spanish speaker in my house. It was way beyond my comfort zone, but I pushed myself even further.

One day after practicing my Bible verse with Sujen, she casually told me that she was having marital problems. She asked me if I thought prayer would help. I said, “Of course!” With my 3 months of Spanish, I said a simple prayer for Sujen and her husband Jimi. When I opened my eyes, Sujen was crying. I was shocked that the Holy Spirit could do anything with my pitiful little vocabulary – my loaves and fishes’ sack lunch. Right there in my kitchen, I prayed with Sujen to accept Jesus into her heart.

Soon after, Sujen invited my family over to her house for lunch. We followed her directions to the entrance of a little alley where she met us and lead us back through a maze of make-shift houses. Her house consisted of one small living room with a kitchen divided off by a curtain, one bedroom, and a small bathroom with the only running water coming from a pipe shoved through the wall. Her “kitchen sink” was a cold water tap shared by several neighbors just a few steps outside her house. She considered herself fortunate to have running water so “conveniently” placed near her kitchen.

I sat humbly on a stool in her kitchen watching and listening as she taught me to make tortillas by hand. It was such an awesome thing for me to feel the love of God radiating from Sujen towards me. I was the missionary – the one who was supposed to be blessing her – and on that day I felt God shine His love on me through her. There was nothing in her background that could have prepared her to accept a foreigner. Nothing taught her the patience she would need to converse with someone just learning Spanish. No one could have prepared her to be my friend, but God had glued us together somehow, and we were both blessed by the relationship.

I was blessed with her trust when she showed me her wedding photo album. I was blessed with her intimacy when she opened up a well-loved box of photos. With tenderness and a few tears quickly wiped away, Sujen showed me the birth certificates of two baby boys, both stillborn. I saw little faded footprints stamped onto the treasured pieces of paper. I saw a glimpse into her pain. I saw her mother’s heart. I saw her.

After my visit to Sujen’s house, I struggled to put the experience down on paper for my interaction report that week in language school. It was more than just a cultural experience for me. After reading aloud the first few paragraphs, my Spanish disintegrated, and I dissolved into tears under the weight of the kindness I felt from Sujen. I simply lacked the vocabulary to describe it.

In English, I apologized to my teacher. I said, “I just don’t have the words to describe how much it meant to me that she invited me into her home, and that she loves me like that!”

My teacher had such a tender heart. She told me, “But April, we see who you are in your heart. And we can tell that God’s love is there even if you don’t have the right words to say in Spanish.” After that, I began to relax in the knowledge that God’s love was indeed shining out through the cracks in my paltry Spanish and my nervous, introverted social habits.

We don’t need to worry so much about being missionaries who want to save the whole world. Instead we need to see ourselves as women with the love of God in our hearts, just looking for friends with whom to share His love.

 

 

Remember Sunday School?

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I teach 5th grade in a Christian school here in Costa Rica.  Half of my students are Costa Ricans and half are Americans.  The overwhelming majority of my teaching is in English, with constant consideration for the students learning in a second language.  Often I translate an unknown word directly into Spanish for a confused student.  Other times I ask my students what the Spanish word for such-and-such word is.  And whenever I let the kids chat with their friends my Spanish speakers always revert to their Mother Tongue.  (Sometimes they forget that I can understand them when they’re speaking Spanish, so that’s amusing.)  Sometimes I wonder if certain lessons really connect with my Spanish speakers.

Because we are in a Christian school, we have Bible class a few days a week.  In general, I have found that my students know very few of the classic Bible stories- except for a couple of my missionary kids who grew up in church.  Names like Abraham, Joseph, Ruth and Saul are virtually unknown.  Yesterday I told the story of Lot and Abraham choosing land for their flocks.  I said, “Lot chose the good land around Sodom” and a boy asked, “What’s Sodom?”  He had never heard of the original Sin City.  I blame this on a lack of Sunday Schools in Latin American churches.  I feel the responsibility to teach them what they are missing.  The majority of my teaching time is spent telling the stories that I grew up on in Sunday School.  I kind of enjoy it.

At the end of our lesson yesterday was a brief story about the classic church hymn “I’d Rather Have Jesus”.  (I don’t know if this song has ever been translated into Spanish or not, but hymns are NOT popular in the Latin Churches now days.)  The lyrics of the song were printed on the page after a description of how it was written.  Scanning the lyrics, I got a lump in my throat.  Years and years of Sunday School music and stories filled my mind with sweet memories of church.  The old hymns carved deep grooves into my young, supple theology.  I quietly asked the kids if they wanted me to sing the song for them.

I closed my eyes and started singing the well known words of the great hymn.  Some of the children sang or hummed along with me, some sweetly and childishly out of tune.  The peace of the Holy Spirit came down on us in that room.  When we were done singing, one boy said it was “like a lullaby”.  That’s how he described the peace he felt.

Another boy, who is probably my most “random” child, asked if I had ever heard that song before.  I couldn’t resist messing with him.  I sarcastically replied, “No, I just made that up right now.”  The whole class groaned and laughed together at my joke.  It was a great note to end the day on.

I’ve been thinking about that song ever since. Yes, I’d rather have Jesus than anything.

All we like wifi have gone astray…

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You know, the Bible was written by men from the East who lived in an agricultural society.  (Now, it IS inspired by God and he does open our hearts and minds to understand it better.)  But because it’s an Eastern book, there are a lot of illustrations and phrases and word pictures that go right over my head.  I’ve had to LEARN how to understand the message.

For example, I’ve never worked in a vineyard.  So when Jesus says the Kingdom of Heaven is like a vine with a foreign species grafted in, I have to go learn something about grafting a vine to understand that the Gentiles were the foreign species and the Israelites were there original vine.  Basically you make a cut in both vines, join them together and wrap it up.  Then as the vine heals, it becomes one and the new branch is a part of the main vine.  I had to learn that to understand this illustration, but the original hearers would have captured the word picture right away.

Another common Biblical illustration that goes over my head is when Jesus talks about sheep.  I imagine that he is sitting on a hillside with a group of eager listeners around him.  He looks down the slope and sees a herd of sheep, hears them bleating and chewing, maybe sees the shepherd sitting on a rock a little distance from the group.  And he says, “Look over there, all people are like sheep who constantly wander off if someone isn’t taking care of them.”

“Ahhhh!  We know what that’s like!” Everyone smiles and nods, some nudge their neighbor, “That same thing happened to your sheep last week!”

And here’s me, the modern reader in a Western country who has only seen sheep in a pen at the State Fair, “Oh, do sheep wander off a lot?”  Maybe if the Bible would have been written in my context the illustration would have sounded like this:

All people are as committed as a lousy wifi connection in a third world country.

Then I would have chuckled and nodded, “Yep, I gotcha.  Fifty percent of the time it’s slow and the other 50% it’s just not connecting.”  I get it, we’re sporadic and unfocused.  That’s the kind of illustration that would capture my attention.

So when people say you must STUDY the Bible, part of what you must study is how things used to be done. (Want to learn more about sheep behaviors?  click here) History and archaeology will help.  A little knowledge of Middle Eastern customs and culture will help.  And the Holy Spirit will help too.  Ask God to help you understand what you are reading.  Without his illumination, you will feel like I do sometimes.  You’ll feel like you’re missing something that made sense to the original audience.

Ask God to help you understand, and he will.

“All we, like sheep, have gone astray.  Each of us has turned to our own way…” Isaiah 53:6a

Children Playing with Matches

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I stepped out of my house to see the sky filling with billows of ominous, black smoke just a few blocks away.  Something was on fire.  The newspaper the next day said that two children were playing with matches in the shanty-town behind the mall and 50 families lost their homes.  It started with the flicker of a match and a puff of sulfur and ended in total devastation.  Children playing with matches.

 When I was 13 years old my family moved to Naperville, Illinois.  My Dad joined the staff of a great church, Calvary Temple, and there I met some of the most influential friends I would ever find.  One of the first services we attended was a New Year’s Eve prayer service.  There were microphones stationed in each isle were people could approach and offer a prayer for all to hear.  Suddenly my bowed head snapped to attention when I heard the voice of a young girl praying into the microphone on the other side of the large auditorium.  I looked up in surprise and saw a girl about my age passionately pouring her heart out to the Lord for all to see and hear.  I said to myself, “I don’t know who that girl is, but she’s going to be my best friend.”  She was brave and passionate and I heard my heart reflected in her prayer.  Many years later Hana Margaron was a bride’s maid in my wedding.  But in 1989 she was just a girl playing with matches.

 It wasn’t long before I found myself surrounded by a little group of friends.  The girl friends that I met at Calvary made a deep impression in my malleable spirit.  We formed a girls’ prayer group, just a bunch of Junior High girls- no adult leader.  And we began exploring the Holy Spirit together.  We were playing with matches.

 It wasn’t long before our cozy little campfire of a prayer meeting started getting out of control.  Suddenly we had a raging fire on our hands.  We became consumed with the passion of sharing the Gospel with everyone.  We brought our school friends to youth group, we started prayer meetings in our High Schools, we provoked religious discussions in Public School classrooms.  During the summers our church hosted Sunday Evening in the Park at the band shell in downtown Naperville.  With my group of young friends in tow, we walked the River Walk every Sunday night inviting strangers to the service in the park and sharing our faith when the conversational door opened.  These kids with matches were consumed with the fire of God.

 Since then I’ve fanned that fire of the Holy Spirit and it has utterly consumed my life.  On first blush it appears that I have nothing to show for my 37 years of life.  The fire has burned it all up.  I have no house of my own.  I don’t have a car of my own.  When it comes time to collect social security I’m going to be screwed because I’ve never received one paycheck for what I do.  There are no schools or hospitals with my name on them.  You will not find a single book written by me (yet).  I have only the degrees I actually need and use, no honorary doctorates hang on my wall.  Here in this world I only have a little handful of ashes that show that a fire has blown through here.  I’m just a girl playing with matches… and I love it.

 There’s an old Amy Grant song called “1974” that always makes me think of those days when our little group of young girls started praying together.  I’m not sure that any of us really knew what we were in for when we asked for more of God.  We were just kids innocently exploring our faith.  I want to say thank you to all my friends from that time of my life.  Thank you for loving God in a way that stirred up a flame in me.  Thanks for warming your hands by the fire with me.  I still love you, Friends.  Did any of us really know what we were getting into?  We were just children playing with matches.

Sunset from my window

 ******In case you are curious, I’m including the lyrics for the song 1974, or you can just look for it on youtube.  Here’s my heart in music.**********

We were young

And none of us knew quite what to say

But the feeling moved among us in silence anyway

Slowly we had made

Quite a change

Somewhere we had crossed a big line

Down upon our knees we had tasted Holy wine

And no one could sway us in a lifetime!

Purer than the sky behind the rain

Falling down all around us, calling out from a boundless love

Love had lit a fire we were the flame

Burning into the darkness, shining out from inside us.

Not a word

No one had to say we had changed

Nothing else we lived through would ever be the same

Knowing the truth we had gained!

God came and sat with Us

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Chino walked out of the house shortly after sunrise and carefully picked his way down the grassy lane where the cows had recently passed.  A farmer in the community had donated a calf to the church and Chino, the young pastor from the big city, was going to collect the animal.  The calf was to be sold and the proceeds donated to a poor family whose child had just received a kidney transplant.  In addition to the medical expenses, the family was required to build a new, cleaner house before their fragile child would be released from the hospital.  So Chino was off to collect the donated calf.

We ate a leisurely breakfast while we waited for him to return, but he didn’t come and he didn’t come.  Finally his young wife Marcela suggested that we drive to the church and see if he was there.  He was not.  Brave little Marcela took the lead and started the worship service.  My husband got up to preach and sometime later he noticed that Chino had slipped in the back of the little sanctuary.

The calf had escaped and gone running through the fields.  It took several men- all professional ranchers- several hours to pen the beast.  Then Chino, covered in mud and smelling like sweaty cow, went home to clean up before arriving late to church.  I wonder if he ever imagined starting a Sunday in such a manner when he signed up for the job of pastoring a tiny church in rural Costa Rica.

This church was super tiny, but cute and quaint with it’s heavily plastered walls and colonial arched doors.  It had pretty tiles on the floor and rough, hand made benches to serve as pews.  The stage was bare except for a hand made, wooden pulpit; no worship band, no big sound system, not even a cross, just simple furnishings.  But in that humble, one room church next to the dirt road in the middle of nowhere the King of Glory, the Maker of the Universe came down to be with his children made of dust.

I’m not sure I have ever grasped the magnitude of the coming of the Son of God in the way that I did on that Sunday.  I have never fully grasped the disparity between the throne room of God and the humble stable where baby Jesus was born.  Yet the God of all creation, the God of the wonders of the Universe, Maker of all life, Author and Artist of all I know came down to this dirty, poor, messy, painful planet to be one of us.  God came down to us!  The King got off his throne and came to sit in the mud with us.  We are nothing- made of dirt- and yet our Creator-King GAVE life to us, GAVE us love, GAVE us understanding and sympathy, GAVE us mercy, GAVE US HIS OWN DEAR SON to save us from ourselves, to save us from the mess we make of all that our dirty hands touch.

And on that Sunday morning God came down to a little, rustic, one-room church in the middle of cow pastures and grassy lanes.  God’s Spirit filled the little church where the young, inexperienced pastor and his wife lead 10-12 very poor church folk in giving the only thing they really had to offer- their worship.  God came down and sat with us.