Thursday, May 24, 2018

Traps and Wonder

I intended to leave this post as a standalone set of warm and fuzzy photos, but the Lord didn't let these words disappear from my screen too easily after I first let them slip from my fingers, so here I am with the all too familiar abc's lettering the page of a story that goes along with these snapshots of a lovely sunset in May. 

Two weeks ago my car was broken into while parked in front of a majestic church in downtown Ostrava. My camera and gear were stolen, and my whole back window completely shattered. My roommate and my brother Tyler, quite literally, helped me pick up the broken pieces and sweep them neatly into a plastic bag. 

My camera  and the glass of my car were not the only things that were broken and stolen recently though, and not all things can be swept up and thrown into the trash. Without going into too much detail, I will say that the enemy loves to steal and deceive. It's not pretty. What's worse is when I walked into that trap and believed him that he had the power to steal truth. 

"Cast all your anxiety on him because [God] cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings." - 1 Peter 5:7-9

Last week I needed my dad's help to stand firm in faith and to walk with me as I cast my anxiety on the Lord. My dad stood with bold faith in prayer for me when I fell weakly before the threats of the enemy. The Lord picked up the pieces, and, rather than sweeping them up and throwing them away, he carefully put them back together. He brought protection by the righteousness of his Son, Jesus, and comfort by his love -- love that I can never deserve, yet gratefully receive. 

I had already planned a photoshoot with a family from my church before I found out my camera was stolen. Thankfully, my parents own the same camera I had used, so they lent it to me this past Monday. Glowing light poured forth through the trees and brought to life the inescapable joys of childhood wonder. 

I am waking up. My car window has been repaired, and my camera has yet to be recovered. The nightmares have passed. The Lord has found me yet again and restores his goodness to places of sin and fear. 

I still stand in wonder, along with this sweet girl, at how God creates beauty. He invites us into that with him. He has given us not only freedom by the name and goodness of Jesus Christ, but also a joy and gifts to partake in building his Kingdom right along with him. By this good news I praise him yet again.  

Thank you, dear Lobels, for inviting me to take your family photos, which I have not actually shared here. :) I can't wait to send you the photos soon! 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Things Mountains and Kids Teach

What do the mountains teach? 

Today, as I walked the country roads of this little Czech village with my roommate, we both marveled at the ways God takes care of us. He's the one who brought us to this very place -- a place that is not only a safe home, but also a place of beauty that awakens worship in our hearts. 

My roommate and I have lots of burdens on our hearts these days, things we carry with us, which don't go away with a magic wand or a brisk walk through the countryside. Yet, our conversation quieted at the point when we began realizing how much God keeps under his control. He knows what our hearts need too. 

What do kids teach?

Anna and I painted cats today after she finished with school, because they're Anna's favorite animal (side note: my favorite animal is a black bear, in case you were ever curious). There's also a verse written on our cat pictures, because of the conversation we had together. The story unfolded in this way...

"Anna, do you have a favorite Bible verse?"
"No, not really."
"Well, what's something you really like about God? Why are you glad to know God?"
"Because he's nice."
"You're right. He is nice, he really is kind. You're so right."

"Nice" may not be a word I often think of using to describe God. I usually think of words like powerful, merciful, faithful, when describing God in my prayers or in conversation. But I think Anna is right. The Lord truly is "nice", among all his other attributes.

When I think of someone who is nice, I picture someone I'm drawn to, someone who is consistently self-giving and generous. Is not God this way too? It may be a simple word, but it's personal. I need more of those words that remind me that God is not only lofty and mighty, but near and real.

After this, I remembered a snippet of a verse about God's lovingkindness, so I googled it, and that's the one we chose to put on our paintings.

"But— When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit." Titus 3:4-5

Whew, I sure needed to hear that truth again this week.

The mountains taught me of God's care, and Anna taught me of his kindness, which brought us both right back to the Gospel. 

Titus 3 continues this way...

"He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life." 

Take comfort in those words of Good News today. They still count. God still pursues his people in his lovingkindness, and he still cares. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

Beyond What You See

"Look beyond what you see," is the slightly-cheesy-yet-actually-wise quote a baboon once said in one of The Lion King movies. If I remember correctly, it wasn't even the original Lion King, but one of the later ones that never quite measured up to the original. Regardless, the quote came to mind today and got me thinking...

How often do we actually get stuck in only looking at what's right in front of us?

"For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace" (Romans 8:5).

Romans 8 has been on my mind often, as I grapple with questions that do not yet have answers. Amidst much life change, the Lord keeps reminding me of the word wisdom. A book I read recently said it well, "We will be wise when we desire with heart, soul, mind, and strength only the things that God also desires for us - and nothing else compels us or even catches our wandering eye" (E.F. Davis).

How do we do this? If wisdom begins with fear of the Lord, what step does that mean we take in the midst of our desires being reordered by the Lord? There are lots of steps, but one of them is to "set our minds". Davis also says, "Fear of the Lord is the deeply sane recognition that we are not God." If this is true, then we ought to set our minds on the power of God and the "smallness" of us.

When we look beyond what we can see right in front of us in our daily struggles and questions, we with eager hope, along with the rest of creation, await the day when we will join with God's children in glorious freedom from death and decay (Romans 8:23).

We acknowledge that we are weak and still in a world of sin (Romans 8:23-26), but that God has rescued us in his great mercy and salvation happens both now and on the day of Christ's return.

We recite yet again the confession of old, "I am not my own. I belong to God," and thus daily set our sights on the great and mighty LORD and choose to worship him. All the while, God is shaping our desires and giving us right standing before him, and also inviting us to come to him (Romans 8:29-30).

I have much to learn. How I praise the Lord that he lifts our heads and lets us see him as we confess our sin and believe in his son Jesus.

What are you setting your mind on today? 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Days Our Lives Change

I will never cease to be amazed at the way the Father draws people to himself by his mercy and undeserved favor. How did he invite you into fellowship with himself, through Christ, by the Spirit? Or how is he inviting you even now? 

I grew up hearing testimonies of young leaders who met Christ for the first time as teenagers and their lives drastically changed like the flipping of a light switch. Darkness to light. Just like that. At times, I have wished that I had a testimony that involved a radical turning point of following Christ like that. 

My story is more of an unfolding though, one that began with the "first light of the morning at sunrise" that brought hope and comfort to a five year old Claire who was afraid of what could await her on the other side of a surgery -- what would await her in the "dark". 

I vividly remember sitting in the backseat of the car with my brothers on the eve of my fifth birthday and praying to trust in Jesus, with the help and guidance of my mom as she drove down the highway. This simple, but honest, cry of a scared five-year-old was met with the presence and hope of the Gospel. 

This message of hope was delivered to me by my parents then, and then throughout my childhood repeatedly, and I am forever grateful. The fear that gripped me at five was something that the Lord redeemed then in part and then continued to redeem in the years to come. I can say that it is a miracle that I'm not daily walking in fear and anxiety. 

It may not be fear anymore that daily constrains me, but he's still delivering me from my sin ("which clings so closely," as Hebrews 12 says). He's continually in the business of saving (beyond just one prayer!), of bringing us back to himself when we've wandered off. 

The light keeps dawning again and again, like the sunrise, as his mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). He changes hearts, not only upon the day you were saved, but every day after that (1 Thessalonians 5:23). We still run this race with endurance after the day we first believed. 

What I can say from both my testimony and the ones of those brave young believers and leaders here in Czech whom I so admire is this: that God would reconcile us to himself through Christ is a miracle every single time. No matter what your background is, if you have been drawn into right relationship with our holy God through repentance and faith, you are a testimony of his powerful grace. 

This brings me to today. 

This is "Dorost," our church's ministry with 9-13 year-olds. Many of these kids come from Christian families in our church, which is beautiful. The other exciting part about today was that some of those kids invited their classmates to dorost, and we had the most delightful little group of newcomers today for a snow party and cafe afternoon. 

This is one of those young leaders I was talking about earlier that I so admire - she is awesome, and I am so grateful she's on the dorost team.

Cupcakes and hot chocolate were prepared by one of our junior-highers and served beautifully to a group of energetic dorost kids who came inside to warm up after snow games. 

I couldn't help but wonder what the Lord was doing on a simple day like today. What will their stories be?

Perhaps he is strengthening the love these kids have for Him as they serve and play together.

Maybe the Father is saying, "come and see... see what I have done and what I will do!" (Psalm 66:5) to the kids who were here for the first time.

One of those 6th-grade girls said, "Will you be here next time? I didn't even know something like this existed, but I'd like to come back!" Maybe he is already writing her invitation to His goodness? Oh, I pray He is!

And maybe today, and tomorrow, and the next day, is what God will use to bring about another testimony in these kids' lives, and in my own as well. It might not be a light-switch story. Or it could be. It could also be the dawning sun, a glimmer of light that will then continue to burst out and shine bright as day for eternity.

"Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation." - 2 Corinthians 5

Monday, January 8, 2018

First JV Office Day

It was my first day in the JV offices today, and I couldn't believe when I sat down at the (well, I suppose I should say "my") desk how the Lord has led up until now. 

Who would have guessed that the same office building I used to visit in high-school when I needed to pick something up from my dad on my lunch break, would be the place that I would drive to work to on a dreary rainy Monday? 

Who would have guessed that years studying at Moody in downtown Chicago would lead right back to this town - the town with no traffic lights, with fog and smog and the prettiest valleys and mountains. Sometimes we don't see the sun for days. Sometimes I recognize a former elementary schoolmate in the grocery store. We both wonder if we should say hi. This is the town in the valley where the threads of my childhood criss-cross the side streets and rivers.  

Not only was it surreal to be at the offices today, but I got to think about the JV Kids all day today. Tomorrow I'll think about them too. And the next day. Serving those kids and their families, whom I love, is my job. Wow.  

I still wake up feeling small and insufficient for all that is ahead. As familiar as this place is to me, this role is new. Being a missionary is new.

Yet, as my alarm clock goes off each morning, and I recite sleepily (sometimes in thought, sometimes aloud): "I am not my own, but belong to God. I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me," I find myself still feeling small, yet comforted and renewed by the greatness of our God. This God chooses us. He calls us his own, and he calls us by name. We are his ambassadors. These homes we dwell in are like embassies for his Heavenly Kingdom. And Christ is King. 

Thus, here we all are. We are showing up. And we are eagerly and hopefully (and sometimes fearfully too, right?) awaiting God to show up. We wait for his voice. We wait for him to sift through the muddled thoughts in our heads. We wait for him to convict our hearts and show us truth. We wait for him to use us for his name's sake. 

You know what? He loves to show his glory. 

So we wait with confidence. Oh yeah. That's what faith is - assurance of things hoped for, conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). How I'm praying that God strengthens mine (goodness, I can't do that alone!), and yours on this very day. Though that may come through trial or silence or suffering or waiting, he will show his glory and he will draw us near in Christ.