Worldwide Easter

Today they sing in Singapore
and raise their arms
to praise the Lord
in Tokyo and Mexico
and many many many more –

in Ethiopia they shout
and ululate in South Sudan;
in Michigan the lights come out
and colors play across the scene
to show what we’re so glad about –

the Nyarafolo celebrate
in rhythmic circles, clapping hands;
it’s quieter in dry Kuwait
and Syria and Timbuktu,
but all the saved participate – 
because we know that He’s not dead,
our Master, Brother, Rescuer!
The grave was empty, and instead
He met the women, then the men
and told them He must go ahead

to send His Spirit, help us through,
and He’d be with us every day,
then gave us all this work to do:
tell everyone about our King!
So sing in Paris and Peru!

What a massive celebration took place yesterday! There was an earth-shattering event long ago that changed the rules and opened the door to Life to all humans who choose to step through it, no matter their ethnic identity or geographic roots. God so loves the world that he came to earth in human form, Jesus, who made atonement for our sins through his death on the cross — but rose to life and is our Rescuer and Sovereign!

This Life-giver was the Creator of our universe, an amazing tribute to his ingenuity. Just think about the all the proofs that our Lord loves diversity. Think about the approximately 10,000 species of birds that have been identified so far here on earth! Scientist say that there are about 369,000 flowering plants, and roughly 73,300 tree species. Maybe you dog-lovers know that there are about 450 species of dogs known to exist. What an imagination our God has, and what artistry!

Then we come to human beings. I stand in a grocery store and watch the people bustling down the aisles, not a one of them exactly like another, even those who seem to have the same skin color. Noticing the shoes or clothing they are wearing gives a clue to their personal priorities and physical needs, their love of color or style preferences. God made us diverse and gave us creativity and imagination.

When we take time to think about all the different cultures in the world, we don’t come close to counting them all. Even within a North American neighborhood there may be families from Asian, Hispanic, Indigenous, Black or White cultures. And some of them may be mixed, like I am, having been raised as a missionary kid in Africa who had to learn what it meant to be an American in the United States. And those things morph as the decades pass.

God loves all this variety in people groups and cultures. Even music is radically different, as well as worship styles in churches. From classical or traditional hymns, to gospel, to popular contemporary Christian, to rap, to country style, there are so many ways to express praise and truth right here in the U.S. As different generations and communities bring in their preferences, things change.

Even in just one country, an ethnic group can be identified by their style of worship music. Take the percussive drums and balaphones in the video above, and the response of the women, men and children in the Easter service in this small group in northern Cote d’Iviore, the Nyarafolo. When they discovered that they could praise the Lord in their own rhythms with whole-body praise, the celebrations came alive.

I like to picture the way yesterday, Easter Sunday, there was so much exultation rising in song all around the world. The Lord has been accomplishing his purpose, calling all peoples to come into his welcoming arms to find rescue, hope and true life. Paul explained this to people in Athens, underlining the way the Creator, the Lord of heaven and earth, planned this diversity as part of his purpose for each people group to come to know him:

From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. (Acts 17:26-27 NIV)

He is not far from anyone, no matter where they are! When he finds a hungry heart, he knows just the right way to pull that unsuspecting person to himself. Christianity Today recently published the moving testimony of an Irish Protestant who went to prison because of his political violence, and to his own surprise was drawn to the Bible (which he had not ever read) and not only believed, but has done amazing evangelistic and pastoral work upon being released:

And I cannot help but think of how Jesus appeared one night to Lacina, a young man in Tiepogovogo, several years before we arrived in his village to learn Nyarafolo. Jesus told him that if he would follow him, many others there would follow him too. Lacina protested that he had no idea how to “know” him; he couldn’t read, for one thing. But the next day he told his best friend Sikatchi about the vision, and they began to search. It was hard to figure out what people were saying in other languages in area churches in the towns. Then we arrived, and the two young men waited for the right time to approach us and ask us to teach them. The Lord knew who to prompt, how to prepare the way for these Nyarafolo to find him!

What Jesus did for us at the cross, his perfect once-for-all sacrifice that opened the way for us to become part of his family, and his miraculous resurrection, this is what makes it possible for anyone to come to him for rescue. Probably everyone reading this belongs to one of those other nations or people groups that inhabit this huge earth, rather than to the Jews that were his chosen people. Through what he did in his historical work in and through them, we now are a part of his Kingdom. What grace!

He still has work for us to do; there are still peoples who do not know about him. As we go and share the Good News, that diversity in his Family increases yet more. It is just what he wants! I like to imagine the beautiful colors of people and the joyous sounds of different choirs or musical instruments that might be surrounding the Throne, thanking him for all he has done and who he is!

Praise the LORD.1 Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens.

 2 Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness.

3 Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, 4 praise him with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe, 5 praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals.

 6 Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD. (Ps. 150 NIV)

Now Psalm 150 in Nyarafolo: Ŋúnugo 150

1 Ye‑ Yewe gbùʔɔrɔ wè !

Yeri Kulocɛliɛ gbùʔɔrɔ́ wi saawalidɛngɛgɛ nī gè !

Yeri wi gbùʔɔrɔ́ nyìʔɛnɛ nī lè, bàa wi ŋɔri ti tìi tìí dè.

2 Yeri wi gbùʔɔrɔ́ wi kakpoliyo kɛnmɛ nɛ̄ bè !

Yeri wi gbùʔɔrɔ́ wi kpuɔmɔ kɛnmɛ nɛ̄ bè bàa pi ‘kpúʔɔ nɛ̀ tóri bè !

3 Yeri wi gbùʔɔrɔ́ yeri sìnbanyɛgɛ wíi gè !

Yeri wi gbùʔɔrɔ́ nɛ́ màʔagɛlɛ bɔ̀licɛrigɛ ní gè, nɛ́ gɔri ní wè !

4 Yeri wi gbùʔɔrɔ́ nɛ́ pìnbile ní lè, nɛ́ yuɔrɔ ní dè !

Yeri wi gbùʔɔrɔ́ nɛ́ màʔagɛlɛ yakpuɔnrɔ ní dè, nɛ́ maana ní lè !

5 Yeri wi gbùʔɔrɔ́ nɛ́ kányiɛrɛ yakpuɔnrɔ ní dè dàa ti sɔ́migi nɛ tùngú dè !

Yeri wi gbùʔɔrɔ́ nɛ́ kányiɛrɛ yakpuɔnrɔ ní dè dáà ti cî nɛ tùngú kpuʔɔ dèb !

6 Yɛgɛ ó yɛgɛ ki ŋɔ́gi gè, kiri Yewe gbùʔɔrɔ́ wè !

Ye- Yewe gbùʔɔrɔ wè !

What He Wants!

every weakness
opportunities lost

hurts inflicted

oozing wounds

soul suffering

all fell on him
the crushing weight
of meanness

thank you
seems so small
to say
so minimal
against the mass
of grief

once again
I give you me
all I have
to offer
yet exactly
what you want

He knew what was going to happen. Sure, the people threw palm branches over the road before him as he rode into the city. They were singing hosannas, welcoming their king, they thought. But he knew better. He knew that in a few days it would be different crowd surrounding him, people calling for his death by crucifixion. And after that, the voices would be jeering him for sticking it out and taking the hits and long hours of hanging torture instead of demonstrating that divine status he had claimed.

He knew all of that, but he went forward into the suffering. His three years of ministry had been torn by accusations and disbelief by many anyway, and his pedestrian tours of the country had involved physical distress and homelessness. But he had pushed through. Why?

Because the essence of his character was love. He had come to give himself as the ultimate sacrifice, once for all, the sacrifice that would provide forgiveness to anyone who would choose to identify with it. He knew it was necessary to make a way for humans to obtain an unbelievable goal: union with the God who loved them so much that he would plunge himself into their kind of body, with all its weaknesses and limitations, and put himself on the altar of sacrifice that would offer repair for their brokenness. They had been made to walk in fellowship with their Creator; he had been there at creation, had been the Word that brought them into existence and talked with them in the perfect environment he had made for them. But they had pulled away, choosing to trust deception. Now, the crucial moment had come that would provide forgiveness and restoration. Reparation comes with a price, and reparation for all of them could only be paid by the Maker of the Universe himself.

So he came, well aware that he himself would be the one to pay that price once for all. He had prepared the way for the people to understand the requirement: he had instituted that kind of necessary sacrifice when he had given the commands to Moses concerning the day of atonement, with all the preparations required and the complicated rites concerning the sacrifices:

. . . because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins. (Lev. 16:30 NIV)

“This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.” And it was done, as the LORD commanded Moses. (Lev. 16:34 NIV)

That had to be done every year, but with Jesus’ putting himself in the place of the sacrifice, it only had to be done once, in all of time:

And by [God’s] will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Heb. 10:10 NIV)

Offering himself to provide reparation and purification for anyone who would take this at its value, he willingly underwent the years of insults and accusations, the sufferings of a normal human body in weather and fatigue, the cruel torture of whips and the pain of nails and death. He had decided to provide safe haven, forgiveness, and welcome into the Family of God to each person who would gratefully accept this gift. He gave himself, knowing he would come back to life to welcome them with open arms and joy.

Meditating on his life of suffering while he walked this earth, having left his throne to become an impoverished man, has been one way to put in perspective the suffering that we still face here on earth even though we have become united with him, joined together with him in a mysterious way that brings hope and joy. Sure, there is chaos all around: wars and terrorist attacks and famines and tornadoes and pandemics and hate speech and racist horrors and emotional abuse and slander and accusations and murders and . . . you know. The list is endless.

And not one of us is blameless. As it says in one of the prophetic passages about what Messiah would suffer:

All of us had wandered off like sheep; each of us had strayed off on his own path, but the LORD caused the sin of all of us to attack him. (Isa. 53:8 NET)     

Attack? The NET translation note carefully unpacks how the Hebrew words here usually refer to a hostile encounter or a military attack. Here, “the Lord makes ‘sin’ attack ‘him’ . , ,  In their sin the group was like sheep who had wandered from God’s path. They were vulnerable to attack; the guilt of their sin was ready to attack and destroy them. But then the servant stepped in and took the full force of the attack.”

In Isaiah 53 it is the “suffering servant” who is described as the one who would be unjustly abused and killed by the very wandering human beings he had come to rescue. They did not recognize who he was, or his purpose:

3 He was despised and rejected by people,one who experienced pain and was acquainted with illness; people hid their faces from him; he was despised, and we considered him insignificant. 4 But he lifted up our illnesses, he carried our pain; even though we thought he was being punished, attacked by God, and afflicted for something he had done. 5 He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds, crushed because of our sins; he endured punishment that made us well; because of his wounds we have been healed . . . and the LORD’s purpose will be accomplished through him. 11 Having suffered, he will reflect on his work, he will be satisfied when he understands what he has done. My servant will acquit many, for he carried their sins. (Isa. 53:3-5,10b,11 NET)

Wow! He identified with human pain – emotional, physical and social pain. And my own disobedience, my own choices that have hurt others, my own ways of dishonoring the King were all part of the weight he was carrying when he went through that crooked trial, was whipped, staggered under the heavy cross until he fell, and then was nailed to it. And felt not only the torture of crucifixion but the price of having those sins attack him and fall on him. He did it for me. And for you. And for the billions who have lived and are living on this earth.

So now the choice is before us. The judicial requirements for our pardon have been met. It is finished! Will we humbly accept this truth and move forward in freedom? Or will we choose our own way, that way we take when we do what sheep do and just keep forging ahead for our own pleasure, not noticing that we are no longer on the right path, in the company of the loving Good Shepherd?

I am so privileged to have been shown this truth early in life, and to have come into sweet fellowship with God himself because of this sacrifice. I am praying for the wanderers, that they will recognize the loving voice calling out to them, telling them that he has made a way through their wilderness, and it leads Home!

All they have to do is identify with his sacrifice and give him their very own selves! That is what he wants. That is why he did it!

Learning Mercy

God with us, full of grace,
full of truth,
you are who I long for!
I yearn to be like you
at long last.

You’re changing me,
curing me
of sin and selfishness.
You taught me service,
then sent me to
my sister’s side, 
to simply be there,
waiting to serve her
any way she needed
as she died.

Now I’m finding
is still a tough lesson.
Building on the service
that had flowed 
so gladly for
that one so dear, 
you call me on
to love some sisters
I don’t yet know:
needy, elderly, hopeless
in a careless world 
that passes by,

Face to face with
my own habit
of looking the other way,
fearing that their hands
might curl
into a beggar’s cup
and ask for more,
I am ashamed.
I see you watching me
and longing to mold me.

Please turn my fear
to mercy,
my reluctance 
to compassion!
I know practice 
will make perfect.
Perfect me please!

My Master had some key spiritual formation to accomplish in me, and it was not what I expected.

My sister, Kayleen, passed away in 2006 after two years of combating leukemia. She underwent months of treatments at Mayo Clinic, but in the end her time on earth was over. She had longed for someone to be at her side while hospitalized, and my family had graciously sent me to be her companion, sitting beside her as many hours as possible. She was nine years younger than I: adored, one of my best friends. I found it a great privilege to show her this loving compassion.

Soon after she died we returned to Ferkessédougou, Côte d’Ivoire, having spent three years in the U.S. while waiting for civil unrest to quiet down over there. The country was still divided when we returned, rebels ruling the northern half where we lived, but It was wonderful to be back, working again in Bible translation and catching up with Nyarafolo friends. As time went on I found myself being confronted with more needs of older women in the community than ever before. The years of distress had increased poverty all around us, and many widows were among those deeply sensing their need for Jesus and for supportive community.

A growing group of Nyarafolos was meeting Sunday afternoons in our back yard to worship together in their language, praying and creating songs in their traditional musical style. Those gatherings were one of my favorite activities. After the meeting a woman or two would stay to talk. And throughout the week, certain ones would come by to see if we could help with needs for food, medical treatment, or obtaining products to sell in the market.

I began to feel that this was a lot to bear. Then the Lord convicted me of my narrow vision and self-centeredness. What if I were in their “shoes” (most of them just wore old sandals!) — where was the heart of mercy that I thought I had? It had been easy to give my all to my sister Kayleen. In these new situations I needed the God of all mercies to put his heart in mine.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Cor. 1:3-4 ESV)

I knew that, to be like my Father, to be like Jesus, I needed to be merciful. I did not feel that it was a spiritual gift of mine. I had seen that gifting in Glenn, a natural bent to help the needy in wise ways. My parents, Dwight and Barbara Slater, had shown that gift of mercy in their medical work and hospitality all throughout my growing-up years as an mk. Now I was finding it hard to keep showing mercy with kindness, day after day.

The Lord did grow my heart through practice. As I got to know these women more deeply I recognized the reality of their need. My life was a comfy paradise compared to theirs. And as we found ways for the widows to form a group and work together to grow a garden in our yard, and to make soap to sell, I began to see hope for them. I realized that much of my distress was just seeing the misery all around me and feeling helpless. But God was showing me that reaching out to help was actually increasing my own sense of wellbeing and inner peace. He knew my lack and was meeting my need.

I was experiencing growth, and his mercy, in what Jesus taught in the fifth beatitude:

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. (Mat 5:7 ESV)

Mercy (ἔλεος). The word emphasizes the misery with which grace deals; hence, particularly the acknowledgement of human wretchedness coupled with the impulse to relieve it, which issues in gracious ministry. Bengel remarks, “Grace takes away the fault, mercy the misery.”[1]

Understanding “mercy” as gracious ministry that reaches out to relieve the misery of someone who is suffering was not new. It just needed to be lived out more graciously in my life.

When we admit to our own brokenness, we are taking that first step toward becoming “meek,” acknowledging our imperfection and leaning on the Lord for appropriate reactions to others. When we are merciful, there may be some situations in which we are recognizing the imperfection of another person and reaching out to help them anyway, or to forgive them. That, after all, is what our Savior has done for us. And we know that when we meet him he will be showing us mercy all over again, welcoming us with loving arms when we do not deserve it.

The importance of showing mercy was underlined in the Old Testament as well. This beatitude is a strong echo of Prov 14:21b, which says ἐλεῶν δὲ πτωχοὺς μακαριστός, “blessed is the one who has mercy on the poor.”[2]

But most of the time it was God’s mercy to us, to humans, that was prayed for in desperation:

Hear my voice when I call, LORD; be merciful to me and answer me. (Ps. 27:7 NIV)

Many other English versions translate that same Hebrew word as “gracious” rather than “merciful”, probably because grace is favor we don’t deserve. When God responds to our cry for his help, we depend on his lovingkindness to reach out to us even though it would be an honor of which we are unworthy.

Following his example means showing kind mercy that meets a need, even to people we barely know but who are suffering. Maybe they haven’t earned our respect; maybe they truly are undeserving. maybe we just don’t know all that has brought them to this moment. Nevertheless, to be like our Master, we are to help them in whatever way we can, just to show mercy. This is a tall order, one that does indeed require discernment so that we don’t participate in lies.

One time a man came to our door in Ferke asking for help to get back to his homeland, Liberia. He said he was a refugee and had found some kids who also needed to get home. He showed Glenn a photo of several kids, saying that they were waiting for him in town. Transportation funds were desperately needed, he said. Glenn gave him money to buy everyone some lunch, then wisely asked to meet the kids before giving him the requested transportation funds. The man returned after several hours with a bunch of little boys. To see if they really were Liberian, Glenn greeted them in English, which is the national language there. No response. He then tried French. No response. So he tried the local language, Nyarafolo, and they all responded! Glenn asked the boys where their fathers were. Hmmm – their fathers were right there in Ferke! When the man realized his scam had been revealed, he had an attack of asthma. Glenn gave him an inhaler, but told him that was all he would do for him. That was mercy, with discernment.

May our Lord show us all how to be merciful, and wise. When we are confronted with needs, let’s rely on him for direction, and be ready to show the kindness that he would show.

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Lk. 6:36 NIV)

[1] Marvin Richardson Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. 1 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1887), 263.

[2] Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1–13, vol. 33A, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1993), 93.

Yearning to Be Filled

Yearning to be filled,
filled up to capacity
to the full measure
of God's own fullness --
to be filled like the ocean,
deep, with its waters
reaching always heavenward,
splashing to the shore --
to be filled like the skies,
air and clouds all rising higher
and the glory of the sunlight
reflecting everywhere --

It's more than what I thought about,
picturing a cup
filled up to the brim --
for he fills everything --
so is it possible
for me to be filled
to the full measure of God?
the Creator, Maintainer, 
the King of Everything
and filling it all, totally?
I'm yearning. Fill me!

I was at the beach at Grand Bassam, where a stretch of hotels lines the Gulf of Guinea, to the east of the big city of Abidjan, one of our favorite places to rest. The sun was scorching, but the waves and skies were glorious. Two pineapple sellers walked by, and I suddenly realized I was craving that sweet fruit and its delectable juice that would be running down my hot chin and arms if I had one. No debate: they had a sale! They carved off the tough quilted skin, leaving just enough stem for me to hold on to. Done. It was so satisfying.

In the dry season in Côte d’Ivoire, thirst is a constant. And often clean drinking water is not accessible. One day in the village of Tiepogovogo one of the older boys figured out how to assuage his thirst. He walked down the dry gravel road to the cashew groves where ripe cashew fruit was hanging from the branches, picked a few and tore off the cashew nuts attached to each fruit to leave there on the ground for the owner, then brought back the treasures to share with other thirsty kids. They all began passionately sucking out the juice, some of it dripping down to their elbows. The atmosphere changed from the silence of parched thirst to slurps of delight.

That yearning for good stuff that meets our need and fills us up is a powerful picture in the Word. One reassuring instance that comes to mind is in Psalm 23, where the Good Shepherd feeds me in the wilderness and fills my cup to overflowing. It is picked up in Ephesians 1:23:

[The church] is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (Eph 1:23 NIV)

The part that incited the poem above was that last information about Christ, “who fills everything in every way.” He fills the universe! And he fills the church. I am his, and he fills everything in every way . . . but I was all too aware of my ongoing need to be filled by him. I was thirsty, I was hungry for his empowerment to be like him. And I was feeling my insignificance before the One who fills the space and earth, and reigns over it all.

The fourth beatitude (Matthew 5:10) actually applauds that hunger and thirst! But it also clarifies that the delectable fruit we should be yearning for, in this case, is righteousness. This is different from searching for experiences; it is about change in our person. In the first three beatitudes we’ve seen that the one who is experiencing blessing, or happy well-being, is the person who has acknowledged their deep need for forgiveness and the gift of rescue, who grieves their own sin as well as the injustice in the world, who is learning to accept their own imperfections and find their confidence in the Lord. Now they are incited to actually chase after being completely upright the way that God is, doing what is right, because that is what he is like and what he loves:

For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice; the upright will see his face. (Ps. 11:7 NIV)

Jesus has justified us, and that is why we are able to stand before the King of All Things. But it is not to stop there, it is an ongoing process. We are to long for change in how we think and act – actually, a transformation of our broken being into the wholeness that comes from complete attachment to God. We need his help to become like him.  And he loves it when we get desperate to be filled with that great good fruit that he alone is able to produce. He promises to do it through his Spirit, in us. Open to his working, filled with him, hungry and thirsty to be filled with that fruit, it can be produced in us, goodness and other qualities that accompany it:

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Gal. 5:22-23a NLT)

See the last two words of the list of fruit of the Spirit? We’ve just recognized, in the third beatitude, that happy well-being comes when we can practice gentle self-control – and that is fruit that his Spirit produces in us! If we hunger and thirst for character that naturally overflows with his excellent produce, his fruit, our yearning to be righteous like him will be satisfied.

For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. (Gal. 5:5 NIV)

What does it mean to be righteous? It means, as the Psalm 11: 7 says, to love justice and to live according to his standards. It certainly does not mean to cling to my rights! It means to acknowledge what God considers right, to know his Word and to apply it correctly, to turn from wrongdoing and practice his commands. This will be underlined later in the Sermon on Mount:

Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  (Matt. 5:19 NIV)

It is not an instantaneous achievement. Just as we need more than one cup of water a day, and more than just one meal each week, so we need that daily interaction with our Lord, our whole being open to him.

And when we are open to his work in us through the Spirit, learning to know him better and better, we will be filled. We will be changed. It is a daily, step-by-step process:

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Gal. 5:25 NIV)

So even if the sun is hot and the air is so dry it parches your windpipe, keep running down the road toward this orchard of juicy fruit. It will be worth the run, and for a few hours your hunger and thirst will be assuaged. And then you will want more. Our Lord approves that ongoing desire for just the right fruit!

Imperfect Me

Heart stripped bare,
imperfections revealed,
shown up for who I am:
incomplete, lacking
essential knowledge
of certain skills —
this is who I am.

Once again the flares
of burns still hurting,
of my yielding to the scam
the Enemy wields, hacking
the dream footage
of doing your will—
they shake up who I am.

But I know you care!
My onion skin that’s peeled me
wide open to the slam-bam-
dunk of one more sacking
only tells me to take courage
because you, Lord, love me still.
And you know who I am.

For me, the third beatitude is the hardest one to swallow. It also seems to be the one least preached on, the character quality the least desired in our times. Who wants to work at being “meek”?

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Mat. 5:5 ESV)

For one thing, “meek” usually has a negative meaning these days. Here are some dictionary definitions:

Cambridge English Dictionary: “quiet and unwilling to disagree or fight or to strongly support personal ideas and opinions: He’s slight, meek, and balding, and hardly heroic.” “humble in spirit or manner; suggesting retiring mildness or even cowed submissiveness; evidencing little spirit or courage; overly submissive or compliant”

Merriam-Webster:  “1 · enduring injury with patience and without resentment : mild ; 2 · deficient in spirit and courage : submissive ; 3 · not violent or strong . . .”

You can see that the word can be used positively, but there are negative characteristics associated with it these days. When I asked my husband Glenn what comes to mind when someone is called “meek,” his response was “milquetoast.” And the definition for that word that came up first on Google is this:  

noun: milquetoast; plural noun: milquetoasts 1– a timid or feeble person. “Jennings plays him as something of a milquetoast”

adjective: milquetoast 1– feeble, insipid, or bland. “a soppy, milquetoast composer”

These meanings do not come close to what Jesus intended when he said that the “meek” would receive God”s gracious favor and inherit the whole earth! I think that English Bible translators need to rethink their use of this word.  For example, the NIV, ESV and NET Bibles all use “meek” in this beatitude, where the word refers to Jesus’ disciples. But when the very same Greek word is the one Jesus used to describe himself (Mat. 11:29) they use the word “gentle.” Aren’t disciples supposed to be like their Teacher, Jesus?

So, considering what it would mean to be blessed because one is “gentle,” we would hope it could evoke positive meanings: humility, not responding to injury with resentment, being kind rather than harsh. It is better, but it seems we might need two words put together to adequately express the desired meaning. This character trait is not about having a gentle touch. In the Greek, it also carries the meaning of being strong but self-controlled.

As A. T. Robertson explains: “The English word “meek” has largely lost the fine blend of spiritual poise and strength meant by the Master. He calls himself ‘meek and lowly in heart’ (Matt. 11:29) and Moses is also called meek. It is the gentleness of strength, not mere effeminacy.”[1]

Maybe we can better understand Mat. 5:5 if we were to say: Blessed are those who demonstrate humble self-control, for they will inherit the earth. Maybe you have another good suggestion – please let me know!

“Spiritual poise and strength” come from having matured spiritually to become more like Jesus! It does not include hypersensitivity, or self-defensiveness. This has been a lifelong struggle for me, because I am one of those who normally takes a correction or criticism to heart, feeling bruised. I see myself as a failure; my fragile self-confidence is easily shattered. Humility puts me in a learner stance, and as I grow spiritually, an appropriate response to an issue should come automatically, my wise and gentle answer coming from my strong relationship with my Master.

As Martin Lloyd Jones says, meekness “is not a matter of natural disposition; it is something that is produced by the Spirit of God.” He explains at great length that it is not indolence, or flabbiness, or mere niceness. It is not weakness in character, or a need to just smooth things over and not address issues. It takes great strength to respond to hurts with “controlled strength” that does not retaliate with unkind words or just constant retreat. “Meekness is essentially a true view of oneself, expressing itself in attitude and conduct with respect to others.”[2]

Ah – “a true view of oneself”! That requires listening to the Spirit as he convicts us of sin, points out our missteps as well as our strengths, and empowers us to accept these truths about ourselves with humility. It means seeing ourselves the way that he does, with his heart of love and forgiveness. Secure in him, we no longer have to worry so much about what other people think or say, or be anxious about getting all that we feel is due us as “rights” in this world. I can tell myself: “Yes, I am imperfect. But you, Lord, love me, accept me, and will keep on transforming me.” In fact, the last two qualities listed in the “fruit of the Spirit” are extremely noteworthy in this context: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal. 5:22 NIV)

Often an injury is truly due to injustice. The word “meek” in the Greek also refers those who are oppressed, “bent over by the injustice of the ungodly, but are soon to realize their reward.”[3]

When unjustly judged, we can graciously respond to injury with truth. One way Jesus did that was by using word pictures, explaining without harsh words what needed to be made clear, such as when he was accused of driving out demons by the chief of demons. “Now when Jesus realized what they were thinking, he said to them,“Every kingdom divided against itself is destroyed, and no town or house divided against itself will stand.” (Matt. 12:25 NET)

I witnessed an Ivoirien friend responding to unjust criticism with this kind of self-control when his supervisor began to criticize him with harsh words in public, not just once, but repeatedly over a space of time. This man did what was considered correct in the culture, often not even saying anything in return. But when it came down to a situation where it was important to express what was actually the truth in the situation targeted, he would quietly respond by explaining his understanding of the issue. Sometimes his supervisor just withdrew. Eventually the supervisor came to understand the damage he was doing, and began to change his approach. The gentle response brought about recognition of his own harshness.

The blessing in this beatitude is that this disciple will “inherit the earth”! It is a reference to the regenerated earth, the world that our Lord will make new in his timing. What? Those who are humble and not proudly or arrogantly self-assertive will be the ones who are the heirs entrusted with this fantastic inheritance? This goes against what most of the world expects. It goes against what is often honored as strong leadership.

This blessing is one more aspect of our confident hope, and should motivate us to pursue becoming gently strong like Jesus. There is an amazing prize at the finish line!

[1] A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), Mt 5:5.

[2] Martin Lloyd Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company,  1976), 56-57.

[3] Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1–13, vol. 33A, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1993), 92.


A groan, the wrenching sound
of a heart torn out,
arms lifted skyward 
in the still of night,
tears pumped profusely
from the soul,

The future disintegrates.
My crumpled dreams are 
thrown away.
I’m a discarded quarry,
scraped until I’m bare.
Where are you???

Hush child!  Be still.
Know that I am God.
I hold you close.
My “where” is all around you,
with you in your pain,
loving you.

I’m underneath you,
carrying you when 
your knees buckle;
behind you every moment,
defending your bare back

out in front, scouting ahead,
sweeping other dangers
from the path;
beside you, gripping
your hand, so you won’t slip,
or stumbling, fall;

and best of all, inside you,
where my peace is whispering
in that still voice
which you will hear,
eventually, when sobbing
is exhausted
and silence spreads
to let my breath brush balm
on all your hurts.

Hush, beloved daughter.
Your tears are kept as treasure,
rainbows all around
as I smile on you,
even in the dark.

Jesus said, in the first beatitude, that we gain spiritual happiness when we admit our spiritual poverty and walk with him in his Kingdom. So why does he continue his teaching by talking about mourning?

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matt. 5:4 NET)

The word used here, πενθοῦντες, is a present active participle: “those who are mourning” right now. Mourning is deep grief caused by something serious. As the second step in this path to spiritual maturity, it does complement the realization of spiritual poverty that precedes it. As I said last week in the story of how the Lord revealed my need to give him total control, I did shed tears over my condition. This next step addresses that mourning with what is called a “reversal”, a complete change of situation. “The beatitudes and the reversals that accompany them serve in the sermon as an invitation to enter into God’s care, because one can know God cares for those who turn to him.” (NET note, Mat. 5:4)

Think back to a time when you became overwhelmed with sorrow at your own failure, a serious misstep. That is contrition, a key element in our turning around, changing direction. When we bring that to our loving Lord, he assures us that we are forgiven, that his love covers our sin.

This can also refer to grief that is caused by seeing injustice and evil in the world, or that heartbreak you feel when someone you love (your child, your mate, a close friend, a Christian leader you have trusted) falls. In this broken world, that can happen, and in the dark moment of mourning we can wonder where God is (as in the last line of the heartcry in the poem above).

When I wrote this lament, I was in that place of deep hurt and despair. And it was not the only time I found myself there. When someone you count on strays, and deceives you, there is grief.

One day a national pastor that I trusted came to share with me his suspicion that another coworker of ours (we’ll call him “S”) was being unfaithful to his wife, hiding it from us. I was startled, although there had been times when it seemed that he had not progressed as much in his faith as we had hoped. We set up a test, following a clue to where his alleged mistress lived. She was cooking in her courtyard, and claimed she had not seen S at all. But as we sat there, waiting, the pastor dialed the man’s phone number, and we heard the phone ring in the hut behind us. Later, when we delved deeper, we found multiple instances of deceit and taking advantage of our trust. Cutting off our working relationship with S was the right thing to do, but it made our hearts bleed. We were mourning this injustice to his wife and kids as well as to the ministry and the dishonor it threw at our Master. And we mourned over his spiritual state, which was shown up as pretense. He showed no contrition.

Jesus felt that grief too:  he wept over the state of Jerusalem. The psalmist wept, crying out to God: “Tears stream down from my eyes, because people do not keep your law.” (Ps. 119:136 NET)

But here in the second beatitude Jesus promises comfort to those who mourn. Sometimes we need to wait for that ultimate consolation that will come when he makes everything new and wipes away all tears from our eyes.

Meanwhile, even in our life here and now there is a mysterious process through which our Lord brings confidence in him and equips us to deal with “godly sorrow.” As Matthew Henry says, “in gracious mourning the heart has a serious joy, a secret satisfaction, which a stranger does not intermeddle with. They are blessed, for they are like the Lord Jesus, who was a man of sorrows, and of whom we never read that he laughed, but often that he wept.”[1]  

Right now I think of the sorrow that so many Ukrainians are feeling, seeing their land attacked, loved ones killed. People who minister there, whether currently in or out of the country, are mourning over refugees who have left all behind, families separated, loved ones in great danger. We could list many other countries where the massacres continue, whether done by terrorists, jihadists, criminal gangs or autocratic governments.

Feeling that deep pain is legitimate. But let us not forget that Jesus promises comfort to those who mourn, a consolation that comes from our confidence in God and the way that he has proven his lovingkindness for centuries:

Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,  who comforts us in all our troubles so that we may be able to comfort those experiencing any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Cor. 1:3 NET)

I look back at the sad case of S, our national coworker, and yet I am comforted in knowing that his wife stayed true to the Lord to the end of her life. In addition, to our astonishment, right then the Lord supplied another person to our ministry team to take S’s place, someone completely trustworthy and with a passion to serve the Lord in the specific way needed

Our Lord is indeed the Father of mercies, the God of all comfort.

[1] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 1629.

That Day He Took Control

Frustrated with my habit of sliding
two steps off the path, and always hiding
the fact that no matter how hard I tried,
I was not faithfully following you,

I finally let tears come and wash away doubt:
I knew on my own I could not figure out 
what walking with you was really about.
And that was when you came through.

You said that in order to stay the course,
I would have to rely on your spiritual force
that could take control, now that remorse
had opened me up to this cleansing.

So since then I’ve walked with you day by day,
not letting anything turn me away
because you rule, and I’ve chosen to stay
attached deeply to you, my true Lord.

Fifty-six years ago – I think it was February or March – I was sitting on a wooden bench in church, in Ferkessédougou, Côte d’Ivoire. My family had recently come back from a home assignment in the U.S.; I had completed the first semester of seventh grade there. Rather than try to adapt back to boarding school in the middle of a semester, we had decided to just be at home the rest of that school year. It became a critical turning point for me, a place where I had to put an ebenezer – a stone of remembrance.

I had been a believer since I was little, one of those kids who grew up knowing from the beginning that Jesus is the Savior, that God loves us. Family devotions had planted the Word in my heart. During the previous year, while attending church in the U.S., I had even declared my faith publicly by being baptized. But through those years I also battled straying, sliding backwards, especially as a “tween.”

Having that downtime at home gave me a moment to really think some things through. Maybe it should not have startled me that as I sat in church, struggling to get my French back in line so that I could follow the message, I began to really check in with the Lord. I was so tired of my back-and-forth walk as a believer. Increased maturity gave me more insight into why I was struggling so: I had not really let the Lord take over as my Boss. Humbled, sad, I admitted it and told him that this time I was giving in and would no longer slip away. I really meant it!

That was the beginning of a consistent lifelong walk, holding onto him and counting on him holding onto me. What made the difference? It was my admission that I did not have it in me to do this alone. That fits with what Jesus said is the foundational step to being a real Kingdom citizen:

               Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Mat 5:3 NIV)

Being “poor in spirit” means recognizing you are spiritually destitute, and only God’s gracious mercy can relieve this.[1] I had come to that point, throwing myself into his arms for help. His response was amazing.

He gave me hunger to know him, and showed me books on missionary bookshelves that encouraged new growth. He provided dorm parents the next year, for 8th grade, who truly discipled us (Don and Glenn Bigelow). Uncle Don did devotions for us “Bees” (the 7th and 8th graders) using the Phillips New Testament translation. Suddenly the Scriptures were relevant, easy to understand and apply.

I’m not saying I was perfect – far from it! It is just that the journey has continued, with the One in charge grabbing me and correcting my walk when I stumble, healing hurts, and strengthening me by always being with me, always at work.

This year I am participating in a Sermon on the Mount memorization project associated with the mission we served with, WorldVenture. As our guide Peter Persson (another retiree) has shared his research findings regularly, it has pushed me to dig in deeper too.

One thing that several great commentators have made clear is that this first Beatitude provides the starting point for progression to the other character traits that Jesus underlined. Knowing one’s own need to depend on the Master, the Lord, for spiritual growth and strength is where we need to begin. Then as we get to know him better and better, he matures us spiritually and our character develops the way he desires.

We can tell it is what he desires because he characterizes each step as those who are “blessed.” Since this has a rather vague meaning in our modern world, the various word studies show that it means one is happy due to their relationship to God. Here is one dictionary definition that really speaks to me:

In the Old Testament the idea involves more of outward prosperity than in the New Testament, yet it almost universally occurs in connections which emphasize, as its principal element, a sense of God’s approval founded in righteousness which rests ultimately on love to God.[2]

As we have continued reading Renovated, by Jim Wilder and Dallas Willard, in our family devotions, this key aspect of developing a loving attachment to God has made so much sense to us. His love for us reaches out to us, and as we get to know him better and better we love him too, increasingly. As a result we can actually become more like him.  His kingdom is near – right here, actually, where he rules. We walk in it, learning to live out its ethics even now.

I find this deeply encouraging. We call out to him, and when he “hears” it means that he answers. He comes to us and pulls us out of our slough of despond, out of our inconsistent efforts to transform ourselves. He makes us “blessed” or “happy” in the spiritual dimension in which we have been longing to thrive, once we have recognized our poverty in that area and our dependence on him. As David said in Psalm 40:

16 May all those who seek you be happy and rejoice in you! May those who love to experience your deliverance say continually,”May the LORD be praised! I am oppressed and needy! May the Lord pay attention to me! You are my helper and my deliverer! O my God, do not delay! (Ps. 40:1 NET)

[1] Marvin Richardson Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. 1 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1887), 36.

[2] Marvin Richardson Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. 1 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1887), 35.

Living Together with Christ

more and more at home
he is
entering with glad assurance
no longer knocking and
wondering if I will see him as
who puts me on my toes
my best behavior 
with an edge of tension
whisking litter out of sight
swabbing the sink
shutting a bedroom door
out of sight
out of mind

I used to make sure
I paid attention
at the right times
served tea
observed the niceties
we were friends
but hardly intimate
but with schedules
daytimers and appointments
lots of lists

he was in
but not all the way

then came pain
and long confusion
followed by bleeding
(open as never before)
I threw myself at him
no more appointments
just whenever
need grabbed my heart
and tears could not be dammed
I needed him
and every time I looked
he was still there
in my home
waiting in the chair
or walking by me
in the hall
or by my bed at night

and I forgot to shut the doors
(he knew anyway)
and I messed up on the tea
so he served me
and starting out the day
we reserved 
time for us
because it's precious
not because we "should"
shut the outer door
sit close and talk
and be held

we are at home
it happened
when I opened up
in desperation
and mislaid protocol

and now
the thought of being home
with him
turns on the lamps
and stokes the fire
my heart burns warm
and I run fearlessly
to sit by him
assured of his glad welcome
leaping into his eyes
to have me seek him out
for conversation
or just some quiet
where deep unspoken yearnings
move before his eyes
and he
(who knows them all already)
and prays for me
and pours new strength
into my inner being

you were my friend
causing me to throw
caution to the wind
and live where it matters
with my Lifegiver
trusting him
and so he is at home

When you live with someone, sharing a home, you get to know them in a whole new way. You bump into each other in the laundry room, or the hallway, on the porch or in the yard. You can hear each other’s choice of music or movies. You know their tolerance of noise, their work ethic, and how they spend their days off. Do they clean up their messes? Are they helpful?

When we returned to the U.S. for a home assignment in 1995 and needed a place to live, our pastor and his wife offered us their mother-in-law basement apartment. That turned out to be a wonderful way for our families, adults and kids, to get to know each other. Their daughter, Meghan, and our daughter Ariane even called themselves “fake sisters” from that time forward! A similar offer gave us a home for a year when we were evacuated from civil war and had no place of our own yet.

Likewise, in Côte d’Ivoire, there were two occasions when a pastor needed temporary housing for himself and his family. Recently graduated from pastoral training and assigned to a certain village, he did not yet have the pieces in place for a home. Those two families became “family” to us, living with us for over a year, sharing in cooking, childcare, and praying together. We grew much closer than we ever could have without living together.

Often when we think of “living together with Christ” our minds leap to the future, to our heavenly home. But the truth is that in the following verses, “life with him” is actually referring to walking with him daily here on earth as well, sharing “home” and building closeness. Let’s contemplate the ramifications:

He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. (1 Thess. 5:10 NIV)

“Whether awake or asleep” – in other words, in this life or after death – we are able to actually live with him because of the price he paid. Day in and day out he is right there, right here with us.

Therefore, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord,12 continue to live your lives13 in him, (Col. 2:6 NET)

13 tn The present imperative περιπατεῖτε (peripateite) implies, in this context, a continuation of something already begun.  . . . The verb is used literally to refer to a person “walking” and is thus used metaphorically (i.e., ethically) to refer to the way a person lives his or her life.

This translation note underlines the effect that living together will have on us. It changes us, and this is shown in our behavior.

Living with those two Nyarafolo families in our home with us, two different years, changed our understanding of their passion for ministry, of extended family dynamics, and of what mattered most to them. We learned that playing with their children, dancing with a toddler, holding a crying baby, sharing meals and praying together built intimacy, just as much as conversation did. They reciprocated by helping with cooking and drawing water from the well, explaining cultural challenges, encouraging us. We became increasingly like a big extended family with multiple shared experiences and passions. It was reciprocity (a high cultural value there) lived out in concrete ways.

The spiritual discipline of “practicing the Presence” can seem abstract to us. What we need to realize is that our Lord is with us whether we are aware of it or not. He is everywhere in the world, but when it comes to his own treasured ones the reality is intensely personal. he actually makes his home in us and wants us to make our home in him!

Remain9 in me, and I will remain in you (Jn. 15:4 NET)           9 tn Or “Reside.”

Reside in him, and he will reside in us. Could it be any more intimate than that? Life together with the Lord is actually sharing our most intimate inner spaces all the time. When we build awareness of that, practicing tuning in to his Presence, it changes us, just like the example of sharing a home with other humans does.

 –We are safe, never left alone or unprotected.

 –When someone is that close, we do our best not to offend them; we maintain peace.

 We care about what matters to them.

–We can hear our housemate laugh, or shout a warning (“there’s a snake in the kitchen!”).

–We hear a child cry and we both rush to see what’s up. Our hearts are united.

 –When there is challenging work to do, we can do it together.

A friend recently told me that her counselor has a timely question that she poses when she has just shared about some difficult moment: “Where was God right then?” What a great way to be reminded of his constant nearness!

When we are about to make a phone call and are not really sure how the conversation will go, we can whisper to our Best Friend and Counselor, “Please help me know what to say.”

When we start peeling Granny Smith apples to make a special pie for loved ones, we can thank him for providing such an extraordinary flavor and this opportunity to share it.

When we hear gunshots in the neighborhood, we can reach for his hand and know that he can handle this.

When we find out we need surgery, we can remember that he is there inside us, beside us, all around us, even when we go under anesthesia.

Living together with Jesus is one of the most astounding privileges we have! We live with the King of Everything! King, yes, and our Friend. We walk life’s path with the best Guide ever! We share our most intimate space with the One we can trust, the One we can rely on to show us how to deal with messes and how to make life ever more beautiful. This is not a hardship but a totally undeserved gift. There is no better Lifemate.

He says, “I am with you, always.”  I say, “I am his, and he is mine!”

War, and the Place of Protection

Living inside Your love
I move within
a world protected
not that I am
never wounded
but that you
keep me safe
from ultimate harm
from all malignant
and pernicious evil

inside the loving kindness
of your heart
I’m held where 
goodness is
my atmosphere,
your tenderness the song
that plays incessantly
and heals me,
fills me with new hope
for this poor world

When I wrote the poem above, it was August 2002. I did not know it then, but looking back I can see that the Lord was preparing me for September, when war would break out in Côte d’Ivoire and it would seem that evil was winning.

Glenn and I had signed up for a workshop in Bouake, the second largest city and in the center of the country. Our son Bryn, 15, was taking 10th grade online, so we thought leaving him with a coworker in Ferke would be best for him. But the night before we left he begged not be left. Both Glenn and I had been busy with many other commitments, and he wanted to be with us, whatever that might mean. That, too, was the Lord preparing the way before us.

The workshop was training missionaries to facilitate the Sharpening Your Interpersonal Skills Workshop. Eighteen of us were there, from several West African countries, being trained by three instructors skilled in member care. But then, on September 19th, we heard gunfire that seemed to be coming down the main road toward the SIL conference center where we were housed. We were having breakfast, preparing for the day, and shrugged off the noise as probably an indication that the city police had at last located a band of robbers that had been active in the city for months. Then one of the other trainees came in with her radio in hand. The morning news was saying that mutinous soldiers were attacking at least three cities in the country! What would happen now?

Fortunately our instructors were also trained in crisis management. We were told what to do “if” danger came near. Two different times, mortars blasted and zoomed for hours over the three-story building where we were housed, targeting government soldiers on the other side of the courtyard. Following instruction, we lined the second-floor hallway of the building, sitting on the cement floor, waiting for the blasts to end. Our one refuge was prayer, trusting the love of our Lord and Master, knowing he was with us too. We ended up being marooned in that courtyard with war ongoing in the city for eight days, when finally a 24-hour ceasefire was arranged to give foreigners who had passports the right to exit the city.

That is a very short summary of that tense week, when not only was our future up in the air but also the future of this loved country and of dear coworkers and national friends, scattered elsewhere. It was finally decided that we needed to evacuate Côte d’Ivoire, and it was three years before we could return – going back into a divided country with the rebels still in charge of the region where we lived.

Having been in a war zone, and having left Bouake with other foreigners while wondering what the future would be for the young people lining the roads and watching us leave while they could not, I empathize with Ukrainian Christians who are crying out to God for protection and for peace in their country. Meanwhile, the battle rages and is closer and closer to the major city. They cannot know if their Father’s choice will be to save them, or take them through tough new times, or whether he will call them Home. But they cry out to him, remembering his love and his sovereignty. They are already living in the kingdom of heaven, under his rule.

God is love, and living together with him in the here and now of troubled times is the only sure place of peace. In that month before the war broke out in 2002, what I was hearing from the Lord (and wrote in that poem) was preparation for the coming terror. I would still deal with fear! Would my son be hurt? Would my sister and her family, still up north in Ferke, be shot? Would my best Ivorien friends have safety in their scattered places – would they have food and water? The one thing that was not in jeopardy was God’s love and the truth that he will accomplish his purposes, even though that may not be the way we would have hoped. He is in charge, and he alone knows the future. When suffering and hardship comes, he will still be living together with his children, guiding them and speaking to them. And his love will finally, in his timing, bring them home to live forever with him in peace where no evil can come near them.

 Knowing this, we pray for Ukraine, and especially for our brothers and sisters there. “Christianity Today” is updating its online news on Ukraine regularly as it hears from pastors and other Christian leaders there. This word from Vasyl Ostryi, a pastor at Irpin Bible Church 18 miles northwest of Kyiv and a Kyiv Theological Seminary (KTS) professor of youth ministry, really hits home:

“When this is over, the citizens of Kyiv will remember how Christians have responded in their time of need,” he wrote for The Gospel Coalition. “We will shelter the weak, serve the suffering, and mend the broken. And as we do, we offer the unshakable hope of Christ and his gospel.” (

“Unshakeable hope”! Yes, this is what we can cling to in any tough time, whether it is war or crime or pandemic or other personal distress that is changing our life story. We Jesus-followers always live inside his lovingkindness, because he has promised to always be with us, “even to the end of the world.” We cannot be separated from him. His life in us holds us firm and gives us the ability to reach out in love to the weak, the suffering, the broken.

Even during that time of waiting for release from our hiding place in Bouake, God gave us a way to help some people suffering, with no protection from society: Liberian refugees. They came asking for a safe place to stay, since they were already being targeted by some as perhaps fomenting or participating in the attacks all around the city. We were able to find ways to keep them sheltered and fed, hidden away in the classroom/dining building, for at least a few days. What happened to them when we needed to leave? We don’t know. But we heard that at least some of them reached safety.

Let’s join our brothers and sisters in Ukraine in their prayers for their country, for their families, and for opportunities to share the love of their Master. Another example is this prayer also on the “Christianity Today” digital website: “Prayer requests from Donetsk: “First, to stop the aggressor. But then for peace of mind, to respond with Christian character and not from human hate.”

And may we live the same way, wherever we are today, offering help and healing to those who need it, those the Lord puts on our hearts or in our path. Christians will be salt and light in their communities when they love their neighbors and show mercy, no matter what is going on. May it be so!

(photo from

Longing for Quiet

The words come crashing in
like chattering kids.
They're only in my head
but they are deafening.

I cannot stem the tide.
A billion babblings 
jostle for position.
One sinks, one bubbles up.

He says, "Be silent,"
and I long for quiet
to listen for his voice,
to know that he is God.

I'm desperate to hear him
through the clatter,
within static and
underneath the noise,

Somewhere at a center point
is silence, deep inside
my cluttered cave.
And he is there.

Yes, the words came crashing in, when all I wanted was silence.  I wrote this poem when I was still in in ministry in Côte d’Ivoire. The workweek was full of Bible translation studies, linguistic challenges and exegetical discussions as well as hours of interaction with friends, especially nationals. We often had visitors until 8 p.m. or later each evening, or meetings we needed to attend.  Even when sleeping, my dreams would swirl around language enigmas or discoveries.

I desperately needed to find a way to let go of those preoccupations and just be quiet, waiting. Several books on spiritual growth had urged the practice of solitude and silence as a way to pursue giving better attention to the Lord’s voice. One example in the book Can You Hear Me? Tuning in to the God Who Speaks, by Brad Jersak, had really convicted me of my lack of attention in that area: how would you feel if someone you love were to call you regularly but just blab the whole time, never letting you ask a question or share anything? Yet that is what prayer usually is like! It had been hard enough just to carve out daily Bible reading and prayer. How could I find space for silence, away from all the demands of ministry and community, a place to actually listen?

I know this is an issue for many of you, too. It is tough to develop enough patience to just sit quietly without “accomplishing” anything on a to-do list, or to leave the phone on silent. And there are the anxieties raised by the daily news, or by family issues.  I’ve shared before that while in translation ministry, eventually I had to carve out a three-hour space, 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., on Saturday mornings when I would sit alone in my courtyard (under the golden rain trees, or in the big gazebo if it was raining). I told coworkers not to interrupt me unless it was really urgent. And for me, it took at least an hour, often more, for my inner being to be released from its concerns and preoccupations. After much practice, it was then that I began to sense certain impressions that I knew were from the Lord. I had a special journal at hand and would write what I was hearing. For me, it often came out in free-verse poetry, wording that I had not anticipated. Sometimes it was a lesson that nature was modeling for me, or an encouragement to contact someone, change direction, or study a certain part of Scripture etc. The peace that would come with that message confirmed it was from Abba. I was so grateful!

As I said, it did take practice. Now my surroundings have changed and I have had to discover new ways to continue listening. Usually it is in our rehabbed attic, my Skyhouse nook. When the weather is not so cold as now, I have sometimes driven the car to a sheltered spot in a park – I love going to Belle Isle, where I can sit by the river. What works for you? How do you find space to just be quiet with the Lord, open and ready to listen?  I would love to hear from you. We are unique individuals with different environments and communities. But our loving Father is always present. He loves to communicate with us. He will find the best way for each one of his children. We just need to be silent and listen.

You can find my book of poetry on the discipline of listening, When He Whispers: Learning to Listen on the Journey, at the following marketplaces:

Direct from the publisher, WestBow Press:


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