Posts tagged ‘Africa’

November 21, 2013

Well, Hello Again: Africa

photoMy travels on behalf of Feed The Children this week have taken Kevin and I back to the continent of Africa.

It’s been over a year since we last stood on this land.

It has been a year when our hearts have grown in courage– for all that a responsibility for such a time as this.

It has been a year when our minds have grown in compassion– for our shared partnership with our friends and co-laborers in these countries.

It has been a year when our knees have more met the ground in prayer– for all the injustices that seek to destroy the good that is possible.

As my jet legged feet took its first steps off the plane yesterday, I felt the enormity of all that this visit could mean wash over me.

We. Are. Here. Again.

My first words upon seeing the rolling hills and the sea of dark faces and the distinct smells were simply, “Wow. I’m glad to be home.” Yes, home.

There’s something about the continent of Africa that has always drawn me in, re-shaped my thinking and then set me on my way in new paths of service. I’ve always felt welcomed here in ways I haven’t in other places. I’ve always welcomed any opportunity to visit.

As I pondered all of these things on the plane, I found myself making a list of the previous visits. And as I penned the dates and countries seen on the previous 3 trips, I couldn’t help but notice that my life changed EVERY SINGLE TIME I set foot here.

After a 1998 visit, I came home disillusioned about the term “missionary” vowing I’d never be one. While an incredibly painful experience (because of Americans I met here, I must add), I ultimately believe it was the experience that set the direction of my path toward the pastorate– that thing I thought at the time that women couldn’t do.

After a 2003 visit, I came home inspired to not remember that my African brothers and sisters were a part of my larger human family. The atrocities of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda touched my heart in a profound way. How did this go on in my lifetime and I knew nothing about it?

After a 2012 visit, I came home with a changed heart about the possibilities and reality of who and what Feed The Children is and what it could be in the future. During our travels, I made what I feel is a life long friend– a friend would become a sweet sister in all the waiting awaiting me.

So, I have to wonder on this 2013 visit, what will shift in me as a result in being here? How will my heart go home? What amazing person will I met? How will my soul leap in understanding of what was previously unseen?

Only God knows the answers to such questions.

I hold on this, though: my heart must be open. My heart must be wide open to this place– its people, its smells, its food, its problems, its hopes, its worries, its gladness. And in doing so, this next chapter that I’m writing here will be another beautiful one. A beautiful one indeed!

April 18, 2013

“We Just Want to Feel Useful”

But I can’t seem to get these boys we met in Africa out of my mind because as many of you know, some of the greatest gems of experiences take time to sink in . . .527942_10151229673304809_539706810_n

One of my favorite experiences of the Kenya trip Kevin and I took last year was the time spent with the young men of the Hardy House– a group of 20s and 30s something young men with special needs. They’d lived in the FTC orphanage in Nairobi since childhood but who had aged out of the system with nowhere else to go. (Thus, the “Hardy House” was created for them to live in for the rest of their life).

Over the course of two days, we shared a dinner with them. We slept in their guest room. We woke up watching the cartoon “Fat Albert” on their tv and laughing with them.

When it came time for us to leave, the Hardy Boys became serious: “Could you take us back with you to America? . . . Could you find us work there? We just want to do something . . . We want to feel useful.”

While the “take us back to America with you” part was expected (for those of you who’ve traveled overseas in the developing world know that this is a common request made by folks desperate for a way out of poverty), the “we just want to do something . . . we want to be useful” part surprised me. Because before us sat young men who were blind, deaf, and full of mental and physical challenges of all kinds.

I wondered in the moment: “How did they know that they weren’t useful? Weren’t they satisfied to be in a safe and loving place with folks watching out for them for the rest of their lives?”

The thing is in Kenya, like other developing countries, with few resources to go around for even the able-bodied citizens, the citizens with physical or mental challenges of any kind are naturally tossed to the side. They are sent away to the alleys. They are hidden in the back rooms of homes. They aren’t acknowledged as full family members. They are not sent to school with an individual education plan, as children in America with the same challenges are. Deep sigh.

And, therefore if young men like the Hardy boys make it into adulthood in a place like Kenya (thanks to the quality of the Feed The Children staff and programs), there’s no social services to offer them a non-discriminatory hiring or then accommodations on the job. They simply don’t get to work.

But they said to us: “We just want to work . . . We want to be useful.” They’re still hoping for a better life.

And I don’t think my Kenyan friends are alone in their longings.

All of us hold a deep desire to be useful– to do something that matters to someone, to contribute so that when we die we’ve made our mark.

As much as we told the Hardy boys that we loved them and that their concern for us was useful, it didn’t seem to satisfy them.

I believe we can’t muster up usefulness for another. A person has to feel it. A person has to live it. Whether it comes from a job completed with our hands or from a relationship where we know our presence matters to another person– usefulness is something we crave. We crave it so much that many of us will often go to the extremes to create it:

We’ll butt our way into a position on the steering committees at work or the PTA at our kid’s school or on a neighborhood board with meetings we hate– just to say we’re doing something of value in our free time.

We’ll not say no when a friend asks a favor– just to have proof of our importance to him or her.

We’ll fill up our weekends with family and social events of all kinds– just to feel like our presence matters to those we claim as our own.

It’s not that “usefulness” is a wrong desire or that our Creator doesn’t long for us to use our gifts in meaningful ways, but sometimes those of us with every opportunity in the world take our work to the extreme. We don’t stop. We never pause to consider our motivation for going and doing and doing some more. We forget that there are those in this world who want to be seen and heard and validated for doing something AND we’ve got the gifts to help them.

As I keep the Hardy boys and their joy (I mean aren’t their smiles in the picture above precious?), their hope, and their desire to find useful work in dear places of my heart, I hope that a way might be made through Feed The Children in the future for them to “do” more. I hope that my resources and the resources of others like you might be funneled toward their needs.

But, I also hope that God will stop me when I get busy doing “useful” projects which were never my business to be a part of in the first place. I hope that will have more loving eyes to see those who need to feel useful to me and I to them.

I hope that you and I can continue this conversation about usefulness because I’d really love to hear what you have to say too.

September 8, 2012

Communion with Cake

It’s always fun in my clergy circles to share stories about creative ways we’ve officiated and served communion. Especially during service trip experiences when the normal supplies are are rare to find, I’ve known colleagues who have served communion with elements like sweet tea, Cheetos or cinnamon rolls. I’ve even known colleagues who have even used chocolate wine when a red wine can’t be found.

The theology of switching up the elements from the traditional bread and wine (or grape juice) can be frowned upon or celebrated depending on who you talk to. It has been said that communion in the Protestant tradition is really about a shared meal, a common cup, and a collective community so what does it matter what you actually eat or drink? However, personally, I tend to be more traditional in my approach– bread and wine work just fine for me. Yet I understand why changing the approach isn’t so bad every now and then. It is easy for us to get caught going through the motions of hearing: “This is my body broken for you” and “This is my blood shed for you” that we forget the spiritual significance of what we are doing in the first place.

Two weeks ago now, when Kevin and I first arrived in Kenya and began spending time with the staff (all 220+ of them) gathered at the children’s center for a day of installation and celebration of Kevin as the new President of Feed The Children International, of course we ate together. It was like Christmas in August, we learned as we shared a meal of chicken, greens, rice,salads, arrow root, bread, potatoes and soda. It was the finest traditional feast they could offer.

But no festive gathering like this one we learned would be complete without a cake. A special cake for the occasion was prepared for us. And a cake cutting ceremony was in order. Kevin and I were invited to the cake cutting table in front of everyone as the community choir sang. Though Kevin and it felt a lot like our wedding (as they later made us feed each other while everyone took pictures . . a quite funny site! And, no I didn’t smear it on Kevin’s face), learning about the meaning behind the whole event made it all worth it.

Esther, the director of school feeding programs and the MC for the day, passionately explained to all of us, why we were cutting the cake. She said something like this:

If you think about the parts that go into making a cake . . . The eggs, the flour, the sugar, the water, etc you realize that none of these elements are very good if at all on their own. But when you mix them together, adding just the right amounts (and no more than is needed), you get a sweet dessert. You get something that tastes good that all people can enjoy.

In the same way, all of us today are a part of a larger family. We who are many believe that our fellowship is better and sweeter when it is shared. Let this cake today be a participation for you in knowing that each of us is part of a larger family. And when we come together in just the right way, our community and love shared among us is what we call the best life has to offer.

Then, Kevin and I (along with the two other US based FTC staff) were asked to take the plates of little chunks of cake on a plate and pass them out individually to the staff and children as they gathered in a semicircle around us. Simultaneously, everyone continued to enjoy their Sprite, Fanta and Pespi.

If this was not a communion like act, I don’t know what is!

As I served the cake from my hand to their napkin, chills ran down my spine and I caught myself saying “the peace of the Lord be with you” on several occasions though no one asked me to do so. It felt to me so much like what I do with my own congregation each Sunday when I give them the elements through hand to hand contact, looking them in the eyes and wishing blessing each participant. In the giving and receiving of the elements as a gathered community, we remember in gratitude the one who gave of his very life for us all.

While the traditions of the church and the communion liturgies that we’ve passed down from generation to generation are dear treasures in our spiritual lives, I believe, we can’t help but keep looking for God’s ongoing teachable moments for us. For sometimes the bread of Christ just might come to us in white coconut iced cakes and His cup to us in glass soda bottles. And as we partake, we’ll remember the expansive beauty in the Body of our Lord. And taste for ourselves that life in Christian community is very good.




September 1, 2012

Dance Your Dance

When is the last time you felt alive? When is the last time you felt free with passion bringing light to your eyes that you thought was long past? When is the last time you danced?

For me, being connected to new ideas and meaningful conversations always enlivens.

In this matter, if you’ve followed my blog for long you know that reading and being introduced to quality books is one of my favorite things. So, how grateful I was to be given some new texts to check out via conversations with the regional director of Feed the Children East Africa, Seintje who I met over the course of our recent travels. Seintje, being a native of Holland and seminary trained in the UK, shared with me several of her favorites that were new finds for my collection.

And I didn’t have to wait long to find them. After a stop at a Catholic bookstore in downtown Nairobi a couple of days ago, I was able to pick up a copy of one of her recommendations called Awareness: the Perils and Opportunities of Reality by Anthony De Mello.

I was immediately drawn in to this book of insightful spiritual wisdom from the very first pages. Especially as I read these words of exhortation by Mello: “My business is to do my thing, to dance my dance. If you profit from it, fine; if you don’t too bad! As the Arabs say, ‘The nature of rain is the same, but it makes thorns grow in the marshes and flowers in the gardens.'”

What I love about this particular quote is the clarity of the idea shared. It’s direct and to the point: how often are we all guilty of moving in the direction of someone else’s life path and not our own. We so easily make the moves of our lives based on a cultural blueprint rather than what might be our new course to blaze. When we do this, we aren’t awake to our own lives, as Mello writes. We are sleep walking instead.

I met several large groups of women this week who greeted our Feed the Children delegation with dancing and singing. No sleep walking for them, literally. As we got out of the car on several occasions, the welcome started cheering loudly and dancing with hands raised! These women could have had easily shied away from being themselves, we were strangers after all. But no matter what excuses they could have given– they danced. They danced in their own way at their own pace with joy on their faces to be able to share their lives with us.

So too, this must be our way, says Mello. We all have our dance and we must get to it. Our dancing will be like rain on the parched ground for some who have forgotten what joy looks like. Seeing us dance might remind them how to dance again too right where they are.

Yet, others, who are walking in the dark (and very much liking the way things are) will look at our dancing and point their fingers in exclamation of our insanity. Stop living this way! Stop being so happy! You can’t live like this. You’re exposing our anxiety and loneliness. You’re exposing our fear.

They’ll say these things because they are jealous of our freedom. They’ll wish they could cut loose too. They haven’t yet learned to dance.

But no matter what, our invitation to dance by our God remains. We all get this invitation. Our dance card is ready. Time will tell where we will go. We just have to get to it: dancing our dance. It’s ours to dance alone.


August 31, 2012

Why do you do this work?

Over the course of our travels and many meetings with Feed the Children staff, partners and other NGO leaders there is one question I find myself asking these folks over and over: “Why do you do this work?”

The answers I have gotten from Africans and expats alike have varied but the heart of all of them has come back to calling.

“We are here to serve because we can do nothing else, be nowhere else.”

In fact, a line that was said in our program with the staff last Saturday as part of the litany of blessing for the week ahead was “God has called us to serve.” Drivers were called to serve. Cooks were called to serve. Administrators were called to serve. All staff of Feed the Children, we said together were called to serve.

In my pastoral work, I talk a lot about calling. I preach a lot about calling texts in scriptures. And I even call out the callings in others when I sit with folks in counseling sessions. But somehow hearing about the motivation behind why the many here on the ground here do what they do has made me stop to ponder calling once again.

Calling I believe is more beautiful than I ever imagined. For, as I have observed it and even felt it in my own heart, I have observed calling as a gift. It’s a gift that can ground the right people in the right situations even if these are circumstances that others many call difficult or unimaginable. Calling is God’s way of helping us be in the place where we are blessed by our giving and receiving.

When you have a calling, you can’t say no even when it leads you to feed hungry children in the smelly slums.

When you have a calling, you can’t say no even it leads you to remote villages to love on kids on bumpy roads for long hours.

When you have a calling, you can’t say no even if it wrecks the plans you previously had for your life only one day before.

I am excited to continue to support the work of Feed the Children through Kevin’s calling to be there and thus mine in some way too. I truly consider this time in our lives all the joy. How did I get to be so lucky?





August 28, 2012

The Spirituality of International Travel

Often times in the church, we think of spiritual disciplines as a practice which we can qualify as holy action. Practices like praying, reading scripture, doing works of charity and the like are often the prescriptions for spiritual growth.

But Barbara Brown Taylor in her book, Altar in the World (which we at Washington Plaza along with our friends at Martin Luther King Christian will be studying together this fall), speaks of how we find God in the most ordinary of circumstances. Altars she writes can be anywhere we encounter the holy. It’s a discipline for all of us to simply pay attention.

This week, while on travel in Kenya and Malawi, I have a new altar to add to my list and that is international travel.

As many of you know who have traveled throughout the developing world, nothing ever moves as fast as it does in the United States or even Europe. Not that it is bad (I happen to like the change) but it is simply different.

Bags get lost easily on flights.

Traffic jams on narrow roads make getting from one place to another a chore.

You look for something you need and can’t find it.

Water that was once warm becomes stone cold.

The electricity goes out for no apparent reason.

And it is just life.

In these circumstances as a non native you have a choice. You can get angry. You can grow in misery of why things aren’t the way you wish they were.

Or you can go with the flow. You can embrace the moment. And you can accept the challenge as a spiritual discipline.

What might God be saying to me about who is ultimately in control?

What might be learned about enjoying the company for the journey instead of being so consumed in reaching the destination?

What might I really need instead of just want for my personal comfort?

I am having fun this week in these out of the norm circumstances, hoping that if I embrace them I might just learn more about myself and God’s ways of being with us in the process.


August 26, 2012

In Kenya with Gratitude

We have now been in Kenya for two and a half days– a country where Feed the Children has a strong presence through its work in the slums, with orphans and also in villages too. I shared a devotion with the entire Kenya staff of over 200 folks, toured the Feed the Children center, spent the night at a group home for the disabled, had “church” at a orphanage for abandoned elephants, dined with staff and much more! In response of seeking to take it all in, I am overwhelmed with thanksgiving.

We have met children without parents from babies to teens who have grabbed onto our legs and haven’t wanted to let us go.

We have met caregivers of children who have welcomed Kevin and I with hearts full of love and support for the ministry that lies ahead.

We have met administrative staff who have blown us away with their commitment to love the under served.

We have met drivers who have with care driven us from place to place in an unfamiliar city and told us stories about their heart warming experiences with the children too.

We have met young men with learning and physical challenges that have delighted in our company not because we did anything special other than stop and spent time with them.

We have met folks of all kinds connected to the Feed the Children family who have made the distance between stranger and friend seem so very small.

In all of these things, we found ourselves on holy ground. Tears have flowed. God’s spirit has been present. We have nothing to offer back except “thank you.” There is no better feeling than to be in this kind of joy.

Kevin and I thank God for our calling to be here this week and for all the ways that this opportunity connects us to our larger human family. More blessing reports to come, I am sure. But for now before my unpredictable WiFi connection goes away, I will sign out in gratitude. Be well wherever you are!



August 24, 2012

Hunger: Up Close in Africa

On the day of the announcement that Kevin would soon become the CEO of Feed the Children, a reporter asked him “You are not going to do any more of those commercials with African children starving with flies on their faces are you?” Looking a little taken aback by the directness of the question, Kevin replied: “No I don’t think so” to which I as an onlooker smiled. Emotional manipulation– my perception of such ads– is not something I am a fan of and I am glad my husband wasn’t either.

Fast forward three months: a work trip was planned for Kevin to see the field sites of what Feed the Children is up to for the first time overseas. I tagged along for the journey. Having already been to Africa twice, I wanted to see Kevin in this kind of environment– a environment that had helped to shape my becoming as a young adult. Boarding our plane in DC on Sunday for Malawi by way of Ethiopia, I was game for anything. But had no idea what this adventure would entail.

Once we arrived and had a night to get some rest, we rose early on Wednesday morning to make a visit to a village where Feed the Children leads the way in making transformational change. Most of the inhabitants of the community are substance farmers who if they were lucky grew enough sweet potatoes, maize or tobacco to sell with some or any profits.

As we visited with crowds gathered to welcome us, we soon learned about how the great partnership between Feed the Children and Nu Skin helps to feed children at the most critical stages of development (ages 2-5years) with a supplemented porridge called Vitameal. We watched the distribution of the meal as the trained mothers from within the community gave it to all the children in the early learning program (over 70 of them) as they gathered under a temporary shelter made of straw.

I saw faces of smiling kids eating porridge that I knew was saving their lives.

I saw fathers full of hope for their children’s future because how well they were eating prior to what it had been before the coming of Feed the Children to their village.

I saw mothers, young children themselves, openly nursing their babies with contentment.

I felt welcomed into this village straight out of a National Geographic photo shoot as we were given a tour of the other initiatives Feed the Children has brought to the community including health and sanitation education, clean water, and a village savings and loan for business development.

Later in the afternoon, we visited a preschool for kids with disabilities and the malnourished where Feed the Children provides Vitameal. This was one of Lilongwe’s poorest districts whose centers are thriving based on the kindness of private donations from well wishers.

I saw mothers, sisters, and aunts wiping drooling mouths of older toddlers unable to sit alone.

I saw children deemed unfit to attend school working on their fine motor skills by working puzzles.

I saw teachers making the best of their inadequate resources as they sought to inspire kids with catchy songs with shapes and colors in them.

Over the course of the afternoon, along with the rest of the group (6 of us in all), I spent time with these kids and then got to feed some of them their porridge as part of their pre-home ritual.

In reflection later of the day, I realized how naive my resistance to “starving children in Africa with flies on their faces” truly was. It is in fact real. I met these kids. I held these kids. And though Feed the Children is doing great work, there is still so much more to do. And there are even children involved in their sites that have a long way to go in terms of actually being healthy and their parents being able to take care of them without a complete dependence on the Vitameal.

Yes, we have kids in need in our country. There is hunger everywhere. But for this week, I am glad I got to experience both the joys and the deep challenges of the faces of poverty in Africa.

Though I may still roll my eyes at the sappy commercials as they play on late night TV, after my trip this week I will give testimony that childhood hunger is real. It’s a cause that needs more advocates, more funding and more compassionate laborers to attend to the work.




August 10, 2012

A Conversation with Kevin

Hear more about the passion and excitement my husband Kevin has about his new job. It’s more than a job– it’s a ministry and it is great to watch him shine! I am so proud.

We are currently preparing for our first trip with Feed the Children overseas– leaving a week from Monday for Malawi and Kenya.  We’ll be visiting with schools, orphanages, and community leaders that are a part of the larger FTC family. I’m most excited about meeting the children and being able to love on them and find out more about what we can do to encourage them. Best of all, this trip is something that Kevin and I will do together.

If you are interested in learning more about Feed the Children or how you can give to support this great work: click here.

March 18, 2012

I am the Lord

Promise in the Night Lenten Series: I am the Lord

Isaiah 43:1-7 with Mark 14:43-46, 53-62

This morning as we begin our conversation together about this week’s promise in the night– Jesus saying to us, “I am Lord.” I think it might be good if you are willing to work with me here for us to take a time out and talk to each other before I get into the main ideas of what I would like to share with you. So this is what I need you to do. Make sure you are sitting next to somebody. No one is allowed to sit in a pew by themselves. If you are a guest visiting with us, know that our church is quite informal and friendly (like I hope you’ve experienced already today), so we welcome you to participate in this discussion with us too.

And this is what I want you to share as you feel comfortable with one another: “Who is Jesus? And what does Jesus mean to you?” Share your answer to this question in a small group of 2 or 3 sitting close beside you. If there is anything I know about Washington Plaza, it is that you don’t have trouble being honest with one another, especially when it comes to matters of faith. So, in this spirit of “there is no wrong answer” I invite you to share with one another right now, “Who is Jesus? And what does Jesus mean to you?” (SHARING)

I hope that as you shared with your neighbors, you learned something about them that maybe you didn’t know before. . .  The question of “Who is Jesus?” is central to the gospel passage we find ourselves in this morning. For, just as we have been preparing for the past two Sundays as we read of the plot Judas set into motion to turn Jesus over to the chief priests, at this juncture of Mark 14 starting with verse 53, it is all happening.

 The elders of the religious councils have come to Jesus with swords and cubs and have taken Jesus into custody. And though there seems to be little credible evidence against him, with everything said against him appearing to be hearsay, Jesus is put on trial. In this trial, he is accused of the most serious of religious crimes at the time. He says he’s the Son of God.

Look with me at Jesus’ exact response in verse 62 of Mark 14. After Jesus was asked, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed one?” He responds by saying, “I am . .. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

If Jesus wanted to beat around the bush and speak in politically correct language of the time, this was not the way to go. In a culture that held so much respect for the name of God— not even writing out all the letters when putting God’s name on paper– saying that you were “the Christ” was heresy.

Let me be clear here when I say, that it is this very confession: “I am the Christ” that led to his death.

Though centuries of strained Christian/ Jewish relations and a lot of Judas haters out there who want to place the blame on a the Jewish people as a whole or on the one bad apple disciple– these players in the drama played minor, very minor roles in the larger drama of what God was doing in the life of Jesus.

Because in the end, Jesus came to this dreadful juncture of his life for one simple reason. He said he was Lord. This dark night was ALL about Jesus’ Lordship. The chief priests, the whole Sanhedrin council and Judas for that matter were simply players in the story (and the players could have been anybody) who helped to illuminate this truth: Jesus was Lord.

Can you imagine how dark this night of betrayal, arrest, and interrogation must have been for Jesus?

Can you imagine how lonely he must have been?

Can you imagine how abandoned Jesus must have felt by those he trusted the most?

Can you imagine how Jesus’ human nature desperately wanted to call upon the bands and bands of angels and archangels and strike down all who sought to speak wrongly of him?   But at the same time,  his heart burst in compassion for those misguided in truth?  What a conflicted, hurt and deserted place Jesus was in!

Where was the hope? Where was the promise for the night? Where was the light?

If we turn over to our Old Testament lection for today, what we find are words of comfort for a group of people, who like Jesus, found themselves in an unfortunate situation.  All was not right with their world either.

The children of Israel lived in Babylon in exile, and had lived there for a very long time. The prophet exhorts them: soon they’d be asked to go back to their homeland, even as they’d grown quite comfortable in this foreign country. They’d be asked to deal with the ways in which they’d fallen short of God’s best for them. They’d have to face up to their own darkness, the blindness of their own hearts. And, they’d be forced to make changes for the journey that awaited them. 

And while the word of the Lord could have been harsh and accusatory, it’s not the promise we hear as chapter 43 of Isaiah opens. For the promise begins in the shift of how the Israelites were addressed: “BUT NOW, thus says the Lord, he  created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”

And what follows are some of the most beautiful words of comfort in scripture– words that I wrote down and put on the wall of my bedroom as a teenager to get me through some difficult times– words that I often read now at every funeral I preach in an effort to speak words of comfort to mourners– words that speak of God’s promise to walk with us even in the darkness of dark nights.

Look with me at verse two: the Lord says, “When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”  WHY? Because we are told, “For I am the Lord your God.”

Such is a promise full of dramatic metaphors which illustrate God’s promise to walk with us no matter what situations we find ourselves in.

What is most interesting to me about this passage is what it doesn’t say about the journey of faith.

It doesn’t say that we won’t pass through rivers. It doesn’t say that we won’t walk through fires. It doesn’t say that flames won’t get anywhere near us. Though most of us would like to assume that if we just try hard and love well and live the best life we can that life’s darkness nights won’t find us, Isaiah’s promise of prophecy does not guarantee us this at all. In fact, if we have found ourselves deep in rivers or in the middle of fires, or feeling as though our lives are going to crumble at any moment, then we are in good company. We are well acquainted with what it means to be a human being– just as Jesus experienced on his dark night too.

But even though our lives are full of troubles and there will be moments when the nights of winter seem long and unending– we receive a hopeful promise. Jesus is Lord.

And not just any Lord– a word that might be scary to our independent sentiments of a society. But a Lord who loves us unconditionally, a Lord who pledges to be in our lives no matter what, a Lord who holds out joy for us when it seems to be the emotion we fear we’ll never experience again.

Look with me at verse four, “Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you , I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life.”

It’s a love letter for a particular people, a love letter from a God who wants to show forth the light of the good news. I am the Lord.

I don’t know where you are in your journey of faith this day– believer growing, eager to go deeper in your faith, skeptic standing on the sidelines not ready to say you believe in this Jesus story yet, or somewhere in between, but I dare say wherever we find ourselves this morning, we’ve ALL had experiences where we’ve experienced God’s presence with us, especially in difficult times.  (For it seems our awareness of God seems to be softened to receive most memorably when we hit a place of helplessness, lostness, or even feeling as though our lives are so bad “that there’s no place to go but up.”)

For me, one such time when I felt God’s presence with me came when I was on my first trip out of the country to Africa as a freshman in college. Alone, I traveled to spend three weeks with some missionary friends of our family. Eager to experience the culture of some new nations and to be with folks I thought at the time were some of “God’s best people on earth” (i.e. the American missionaries) I boarded the plane and set out for what I thought would be a life-changing adventure.

However, the trip turned out completely not as I expected. These missionaries, I admired from afar, turned out not to be the welcoming bunch I hoped they’d be– to me a young adult hoping to follow in their footsteps one day. None of them really seemed to care to get to know me at all. The missionaries were among some of the most rude, selfish-centered and arrogant people I’d ever met. You could imagine how crushed I was. All my dreams for a career in international service felt ruined. There was no way I’d want to work in a community like this! What in the world, was I then going to do with my life? And did I even want to follow this God?

But, in spite of the unfortunate turn of events, grace found me. This grace came from two women, whom I don’t even remember their names anymore who I worked alongside as I taught at Bible camp during one of the weeks I spent with the American missionaries. These two women, from the US like me, but in particular, came with the purpose solely of teaching some of the missionary’s kids while their parents sat in meetings. And, I have to say, if I ever met an angel on earth, I know it was these two women, who said they were from Alabama. They nurtured me, welcomed me to teach with them and showed me through their actions that I was not as alone as I felt at the time. God spoke through me and my broken spirit at the time to say, “I am the Lord; and it is going to be ok.” I don’t know if I would have made it back home in one piece if it weren’t for these two women.

In the same way, one of the things I hear most often from you, even those of you who still have great doubts about your faith and wonder if you are a Christian at all, is that you’ve experienced God’s presence in dark times of your life. You’ve had experiences where you’ve encountered this promise in the night of “Fear not, for I am with you.” You’ve received comfort from something you can’t explain in rational terms. You’ve experienced what you can only call the divine. And these are moments that we remember.

But the thing is that though many of these experiences are impactful in the moment, our memory as a human race is short. How quick we are to forget! How quick we are to doubt! How quick we are to throw up our hands in disgust, wondering why we find ourselves drowning in rivers again, feeling as though we have no life-preserver to help get ourselves to shore!

Such is why today’s promise in the night is so important. Jesus is Lord. For in fact it is the promise, if we remember nothing, I mean absolutely nothing else about the Christian life, it is the promise we need. Because knowing and believing that Jesus is Lord changes EVERYTHING about our personal lives, about our life together as a church and about our outlook for the future.

And because Jesus is Lord as we walk this journey in community, everything begins to look different. We get out of our pettiness, our focus completely on ourselves, and we look up to the one who is the Lord.

When we are figuring out who is bringing what for coffee teams on Sunday morning and how to clean the tables, we remember: “Jesus is Lord.”

When we are choosing what color to paint our walls in our bedroom with our spouse and really want to strangle him or her for their tacky taste, we remember: “Jesus is Lord.”

When we are deciding if we will buy just one more thing at the mall or make our pledge to the church- we remember: “Jesus is Lord.”

When we find ourselves bickering and then not speaking to a dear friend for weeks– we remember: “Jesus is Lord.”

When quick fire backs of anger seem more enticing than going the extra mile in life– we remember: “Jesus is Lord”

When folks slander us, speak ill of us for reasons we know are untrue – we remember: “Jesus is Lord”

And, most of all when we find ourselves in bleak situations when we wonder how in the world we are going to get out of bed and face another day, we remember what? “Jesus is Lord.”

For this promise in the night or in the day or in the in between can make all the difference in our lives my friends. For when we get out of the framework of this life is about me, me, and more just me, we realize that though the road of following the Lord may be rocky and though the journey may be long, we have this larger truth in which to cling. And what is it? Jesus is Lord.


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