The Hardest Race

Tiepogovogo believers marching together, on mission

(A prayer in response to John 17)

You prayed your heart that last night,

surrounded by eleven men

who listened, and took note.

And after you had left

(having suffered, died and risen),

John remembered, wrote it down.

For me. For us. For generations still to come.

We need to know what yearning

you expressed for health and harmony:

that we would live in unity: be one.

And it’s the hardest race we’ve ever run.

Most of us have opted out

to run on our own paths, alone.

Some teammates seem so distant,

others’ tongues keep lashing out

with hurtful words, insinuation,

wounding those who pass too close

or whip on by, or stumble in the dark.

We’ve lost the goal! We do not run

to claim a prize for personal renown;

we run to honor you! If we could come

to understanding, and cheer each other on,

we’d make it home, together,

and be welcomed by your smile

at how we have obeyed you, being one.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

No, it is not easy. Jesus never said that it would be. In fact, he knew that we would need the Father’s protection in order to ever attain that unity (John 17:11).  So why are we so divided? All I know is that it is up to each of us to do what we can in our community to increase our unity and become the picture of oneness that Jesus prayed that we would be (John 17:20-23).

It’s a very hard race as we press on to the finish line, especially in these days of so much political and social division. We need to find ways to understand and respect each other. Forgiving the one who hurt me, asking forgiveness of the one I have hurt, rebuking lovingly the one who leaves the path and not rebuking with anger, encouraging the weak one to find strength in God himself while I do what I can to support them – these are all commands I must follow if I want to conform to the character of Jesus rather than to the patterns of this world.

In fact, this may be the hardest race we’ve ever run. Let’s do all we can to run as a team, to be one!

Why I Can Run

Prayer on a Rough Path 

 Sleep may slip out of reach,
 but you will send mercies, all new.
 Age may take its toll,
 but I find true health in you.

 I may hobble along the path,
 but you will keep me upright.
 I may wrestle with fear in the dark,
 but you are the light in my heart.

 The world’s disasters may trouble me,
 but I will find peace with you.
 Tangled emotions may strangle me, 
 but you will pull me through

 You hold my hand to guide me
 and keep me walking strong,
 you shade me from the burning heat
 and slake my thirst with song.

 If not for you I’d be a mess,
 crippled, fried and blue.
 Because of you I run with joy
 to the goal: forever with you!

It is not easy to keep walking strong, much less running, when it seems that every day there are hurdles to jump or frightening traffic at the crossroads, steep slopes to climb or just dull, dry desert. Worries, disease, injuries, traumas can deplete strength and mess up sleep patterns. Energy dwindles. Then there is the news, maybe not what you wanted to hear. How can you keep on running? And what on earth is the goal in all of this?

Over and over I’ve had to remember that there is just one place to find hope in the middle of mayhem and empowerment to keep on keeping on. And that is to open my heart, mind and soul to the One who is always present and be filled with peace as I remember his promises. Yes, he holds me, guides me, renews me. And best of all, I have that confident hope, the assurance that at the end of this race, I will be forever with him in a Reality beyond my current comprehension.

He knows when a sparrow falls. He knows when we stumble. He knows when we are hurt. When we belong to him, he holds onto us and keeps us running. And it will be worth it all when we see him at last!

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
(Phil. 3:14 ESV)

Sowing Seeds of Love

oxen plowing in Côte d’Ivoire

Hosea 10:11-12

11 Ephraim is a trained heifer that loves to thresh; so I will put a yoke on her fair neck. I will drive Ephraim, Judah must plow, and Jacob must break up the ground. 12 Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers his righteousness on you. (NIV)

 
 PRAYER
 You’ve made me your heifer
                pulling the plow,
 you’ve shaped me and trained me,
                showing me how
 to lean to the left when your
                strong hand presses,
 to walk straight ahead, 
                cleaning up messes
 and tearing out weeds, 
                preparing the way
 for planting the seed in that soil
                on the day
 when all is in readiness,
                soft dirt tilled,
 and we press in the seeds ‘til
                the rows are all filled.
 
  
 You bring out the seed: 
                it’s sorted, it’s good;
 it’s all about health and 
                the way that we should
 be loving our neighbor, 
                helping the torn,
 the poor, the lost,
                the hungry, the worn,
 carefully living,
                meticulously,
 the love of the Father
                for you and for me
 and for all the husbandless,
                all those alone,
 for all of the fatherless
                needing a home.
 
  
 You must give the seed;
                my own is diseased.
 You must show me how I should 
                plant it, then please –
 you must send the rain that will
                make the shoots thrive,
 the rain of what’s right
                and of hope that’s alive.
 The roots will go deep,
                the stems will grow tall,
 the leaves will shout green and
                the blossoms will fall
 to make way for grain 
                that is bred up above:
 a life-giving harvest 
                of unfailing love. 

When I think of “sowing seed” I think of taking the Good News – the parable of the sower and the different soils. This passage in Hosea is about action that results in hesed, that love that was my focus last week. When we do what is right, when we live out justice and mercy, the community is changed. Relationships become characterized by love as needs are met, wounds healed, honor given to those who are marginalized.





In this moment in our lives, how are we sowing this kind of seed? There is need for racial reconciliation. There are people hurting due to social isolation during the pandemic. We also need to forgive the hurts of harsh words and find out how to repair misunder-standings. What would you add? How are you finding ways to sow love?

May we reap an amazing harvest of unfailing love!

The Best Love Ever

Singing about God’s love at Abdoulaye’s thesis defense, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire
hesed: goodness, kindness, lovingkindness, loyal love, unending love . . .

 Your hesed is so deep and wide
 our words cannot contain it!
 We cast about for a way to expound
 love that never runs out,
 love that overflows with kindness,
 love that is deeply attached
 to its own, loyal but active,
 constantly reproving and teaching
 so that we can become like You.

 Like You: loving others
 with love that is kind,
 love that forgives, full of mercy,
 love that treasures the truth
 and works to bring justice
 to the forefront; love rooted
 in grace, goodness and compassion,
 always speaking out boldly
 to show the world Your ways!

 If only . . . ! Could it be?
 My soul cries out to You
 for hesed in my heart,
 in all my actions and my words!
 I reach, I run toward this goal –
 I stumble and fall. But You
 are always there to pick me up,
 heal my scraped knees,
 kiss away the tears, hug me –

 and show me once again
 (patient and kind that You are)
 the right path, holding my hand
 and pulling me along with You
 toward Your goal: a new world
 where the air we will breathe
 will be essence of hesed,
 a world with no more tears,
 Your love having made us like You.

Yes! Someday there will be no more tears! In these troubled times we do long for that. Here on earth it is hard to even imagine a place where everyone is kind, honest, loving and trustworthy. But the Word promises us that God himself is love, and that when we are with him he will wipe away every tear from our eyes. The only way that could be the end of sadness is if the whole community were just like him! No more nasty words, betrayals, slander, gossip, hate . . .

Two decades of working in Bible translation forced me to investigate the real meaning of words in the original languages, Greek and Hebrew, in a unique way. And then, what Nyarafolo word or phrase would accurately express those meanings? I worked with a team of native speakers of Nyarafolo, spoken in a small region in northern Côte d’Ivoire. They had previously read or heard the Word only in other languages, just like me.

One of our first huge challenges was figuring out how to express God’s love. I was the Hebrew exegete for the Old Testament, and this kind of work was a first, both for me and for my Nyarafolo co-translator, Moïse. We began with the life of Abraham in Genesis, and it was not long before we encountered the word hesed. When it refers to the love of God, it includes all the senses mentioned in the poem above. No translation has found it easy to define a love that is not fallible but constant, completely trustworthy and eternal, kind and loyal. This love never breaks a promise!

Nyarafolo did not even have a word for love!  The most common word used for the love of a spouse, or of children, was a verb best translated as “they please me.” So I asked, “What if you have a child who pleases you, but he becomes rebellious. Does he still please you?” The answer was “no!” That could not express the love of God, who loved our wicked world so much that he gave himself to die for us, to give us eternal life (John 3:16).

The new Nyarafolo believers were beginning to make Christian songs in their language, and my friend Sali composed a hit song about how God’s love flows on and on. The verb “to please,” dɛ́ni, had been changed to a noun by adding a suffix: dɛ́nigɛ. It now expressed “love!” The New Testament translator, Abdoulaye, wrote his master’s thesis on how to translate “love” in Nyarafolo, and when we attended his thesis defense he asked Sali to lead us in singing her song, to celebrate the way his people could now understand that essential concept. For the Scriptures, we added a word meaning “without end” to express hesed: unending love (bànguɔ dɛ́nigɛ).

Love that is unwavering, that can never fade away as so often happens in marriages and other relationships – someday that love will characterize us, too. Meanwhile our goal is to constantly let God change us so that we become more and more like him. And this requires us to “make every effort” to keep growing. Just “believing” is not enough. This is the progression listed for growth in 2 Peter 2:4-8: faith + goodness + knowledge + self-control + perseverance + godliness + mutual affection + love.

This is a high calling. And so worth it!

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 Jn 3:2 NIV)

That Feast He Serves

A Table Set Before Me
  
 Dust swirls on the steppe, brushing barren paths 
 barer still,
 twisting away like hope from my heart.
  
 Danger lurks everywhere.  I’m not alone, 
 but that is 
 why fear tempts me; these are not all friends.  
   
 Some carry knives. Some have it in for me.  
 Some don’t care.
 Others think I’m playing children’s games.
  
 And then you say, “Come eat!” You spread clean cloth 
 on the rock, 
 makeshift table in the wilderness.
  
 It’s set with china, fired by the hot sun’s 
 noonday glares
 and hell’s darting flares.  Unparalleled.
  
 I sip ambrosia squeezed from suffering, 
 exquisite
 flavors pressed from courage and despair.
  
 The bread you slice is made from grains that died,
 a thousand
 crushed to powder, mixed with oil of joy.
  
 Those faithful ones have given their heart’s blood 
 to make this
 solid meal, a feast for Followers.
  
 I eat my fill and find, like them, that you
 alone can 
 satisfy.  Your love removes all fear.
  
 Some people see me, hand to mouth, and think
 it’s pretense,
 wishful thinking making up this scene.
  
 They only see the austere rock face, bare,
 a woman
 scooping empty handfuls of hot air.
  
 They will not taste and see, and so with eyes
 averted
 they walk by, for fear it might be true. 




Were you startled at the portrayal of this “feast for followers” as being food made out of a legacy of suffering, death, despair? Me, too. But as I’ve walked through hard times, I’ve realized that our Shepherd has unexpected ways of nourishing us. Sometimes it is through the company of encouraging friends. But how about when you feel alone, or surrounded by issues you cannot share with others? When I’m in that dark valley, how does he prepare a table for me (Ps 23:5)?

We had been evacuated from civil war in our beloved country about a year before I wrote this poem. The uprising had begun while we were away from home, attending a training seminar in a major city. Eight days of being hunkered down in hiding, waiting for freedom to leave the battle zone, taught us all a lot about depending on the Lord for actual food and protection. Then we drove out, and finally flew away without being able to say goodbye to those back “home.” And what came next was not easy either.

We had to learn to trust the Lord in a phase of new unknowns and ongoing conflicts of other kinds. And how did he provide what we needed? We remembered how he has been faithful to those going through tough times, their histories preserved for us in the Scriptures. Hebrews 11 underlines so many of them. Then there are the last verses, about those who did not see rescue on this earth, but would be “made perfect” with us, in the future – through the complete restoration that finally came through Jesus’ self-sacrifice (Heb 11:40; 12:1-3). The best part of all: we become united with him, walking with him now and forever.

Sometimes attacks come from “enemies” who are people, sometimes they are the tragedies that come from living in a broken world. But our Shepherd provides the strength we need by assuring us of his goodness, his love and his eternal plan, and reminding us of the many ways he has shown himself to be Protector and Provider throughout history. It’s true that some may think this is all a figment of our imagination. But as we experience it, we find it to be true. The feast that he serves us on a table in the presence of our “enemies” is not the usual one. It is what Jesus said when he was hungry and being tested by his Enemy to make real bread out of stones, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” (Matt. 4:4 NLT)

There we find our “bread from heaven.” So let’s feast!

The “Wow” in Psalm 23:6

It’s true that God is “with” me —

he has promised that hundreds of times.

And he protects me, always ready

to shield me when I’m attacked.

But he is not just “shadowing” me,

like I used to think, hearing it said

that he “follows” me every day of my life.

I pictured him watching, behind.

Now I know the truth: he chases me down!

When I run away, he catches right up,

and holds me when I stumble or fall,

not passive but lovingly active!

I remember watching my toddlers

learn how to walk and to run for fun.

I stayed close by, but when they ran off

I hunted them down, grabbed their hands.

And that is what my Abba does:

He pursues me, reaching out for me

with his kind love, chasing me down

to hold me in arms of mercy.

Wow!

When I read or recite the 23rd Psalm, I love to meditate on those first verses with the lush green grass and quiet flowing waters. My favorite spots for rest and meditation are those near water; there is something deeply refreshing about clear streams, or rushing currents near a waterfall, or even ocean waves. Those last examples are not quiet! But they are refreshing reminders of the Creator’s artistry and the Sovereign’s power and energy.

It was when I was preparing to help translate that psalm into Nyarafolo that I had to dig into the Hebrew words and phrases, to explain them to my mother-tongue translator, Moise. To my astonishment, I discovered that verse 6 had a very different kind of impact in the original language than the English translations I had always used. Their rendering of the first part of the verse is well-known:

“Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life” (KJV) or “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life” (NIV).

I found out that the word translated “follow” is radap, and when you read through the Hebrew lexicons you find out that over and over it is used in the sense of “pursue, chase, persecute, overtake, hunt”!  Not what I expected! The New Living Translation is one that actually dared to use the word “pursue:”

“Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life” (NLT)

Maybe it is because the sense is usually that of a hunt, even a malevolent pursuit (or persecution!), that the strong wording has been avoided. But I find it deeply comforting that our Shepherd cares about us like that. He doesn’t just stick around, watching the flock. He reaches out to find us, to draw us in with loving purpose. We may stray or run too fast; no worries, he will come after us and bring us into his protection. Here there is no malevolence in the pursuit – it is stipulated that it is his goodness and his unfailing love that are chasing after me. No wonder he even gave his life in order to have me for his own! No wonder he will not let me just take my own path, one that leads to destruction!

Wow!

What He’s Weaving

Some winds are long-awaited refreshment from heavy heat. I love fresh breezes that make the grass shiver in delight. But when the winds ramp up to high speed, they become terrifying, destructive. Trees that are aged or wedged into shallow soil topple over, even homes are not safe. One year in Ferkessedougou, a tropical cyclone tore off rooftops and destroyed mud huts. This one was the rolling kind that bounces, hitting the ground while whirling around bottom-to-top and rising again.  We had a large gazebo-type structure in our back yard, an open-air shelter used frequently for group gatherings. The cyclone hopped over the courtyard wall, leaving it intact, and lifted the huge thatched roof completely off this special house of meeting, toppling it onto the ground. When Glenn replaced it he attached it far more firmly to the frame than before. It has stayed in place.

These days there are high winds of another kind, news of possible violence in major areas in this United States of America that is no longer very united. We commemorate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., with wonderful quotes flying through social media, many times forgetting the background of the racist abuse of the peaceful demonstrators that he led, and the way his reputation was mostly maligned until years after his death. Others focus on those very issues and the present-day need to address them.

And today is Inauguration Day. Parts of the nation rejoice; other parts mourn. Both sides wonder what lies ahead. Will the stormy weather calm down, or will more destructive high winds whip through our nation? The forecasts are mostly grim.

It’s a good time to remember where our sure hope lies: in the presence and goodness of the Sovereign King who always has a plan he is working out. And even when it leads through scary times, he reminds us over and over to “fear not!” Our job is to let go of fear and rest in him. And wait, trusting.

In the Wind (Isa 44:8)

Wind whips wisps of hair

into eyes blurred by despair;

gusts grab my pulsing heart.

Nearly toppling,

scrambling for safe purchase,

I scream!

Don’t be afraid!

Stand up,

throw roots

to deep soil,

twirl them ‘round

all obstacles –

go further down,

further in;

wrap them ‘round

my love!

Know that

I AM

here with you,

aware,

active inside

the twisters,

working

my rescue plan.

I rise, reach out,

send soul tendrils

into the silence

of rich loam,

plunge them further

into firm foundations,

wait to see

what he’s weaving

in the wind.

When Garbage is Blown About

If I were still across the ocean, north in the woodland savannah where Ferkessédougou, Côte d’Ivoire, is situated, there would be cool wind when I walked outdoors in the morning. Right now the harmattan blows daily south from the northern lands, where it scooped up dust as it crossed the nighttime Sahara then miles of dry lands to pass over other countries, heading toward the Gulf of Guinea. As it passes it lets dust filter down to earth, covering whatever leaves have survived the seasonal drought with a layer of rusty brown.

Nothing can stay clean. When we took down our little artificial Christmas tree in early January, we had to wash each piece and hang it on the clothesline to dry, stowing it away before the next day’s wave of harmattan came by. I could dust my desk in the morning and write my name in the powder by 10 a.m.

Outside, whatever plastic garbage has been littered along the road is blown into courtyards to wrap itself around barren tree limbs or just accumulate by the wall. Pieces of paper or rags are scooped up and piled elsewhere.

These days garbage is flipped into our faces by the chaos in our country. If we don’t watch out, sharp-edged fragments blown by the wind can cut into our skin. Lies, slander, innuendo stings like dirt whipped into our eyes. It seems as if one thing that God is doing is revealing hidden things, debris left by evil in secret or camouflaged places and now revealed as his wind uncovers it. And how can we ourselves be kept clean, when the dust just keeps on coming?

At our church service this Sunday, the theme song we sang together spoke the words we need to hear and remember: “Be still. Know that I am God.” He is the God who is King of the world, and even when we can’t see it, he is accomplishing his purposes. So we keep on keeping on, moving ahead and letting him clean us up from whatever soils us or from any participation in the littering, even though there will yet be dust in the wind. And we must take time to be still, to breathe clean air inside the protection of our Father’s love. He is the Breath of Life.

The Cleansing

(February 6, 2010)

I stand in the wind

while it whips through,

plastering my body

with fine dust,

the powdered aftermath

of life and death

and thirsty earth.

Deadwood and seedpods

hit the roof, my legs.

Birds of prey swoop overhead

looking for the innocent,

uncovered, to devour.

O Wind of God,

protect your own.

Hover over, cover us.

Breath of Life, strengthen us.

Heart of Sun, empower us:

your heat, our hope;

your air, our life;

your still small voice

our Word of choice,

while all around us

innuendo and

assumptions swirl.

I brush dust from my face.

His breeze flies by,

consoles my soul

then shivers all the trees

with swoops of power.

The Spirit breathes

and lifts away debris.

The land is swept,

cleaned up and clarified.

I watch. I wait. I listen for

the Whisper of

my heart’s desire.

Be still and know

that I am God,

and I still rule.

Wait patiently for me.

Let go of your concern

regarding those

whose schemes succeed.

My strength is

all you need.

I fight for you;,

and you, my child,

need only to be still.

 (Ps. 46:10; 37:7; Exo. 14:14)

In the Combat Zone

Chaos is all around, and we all feel it: the pandemic, politics, injured relationships. It helps me to remember that, unique as it is, this is not the only time I’ve experienced such pressures. In fact, my list could go on and on! That is what life is like in this broken world, especially when we have “taken up our cross” to follow Jesus.

When the battle is raging, the one sure place of refuge is to run to is Jesus. His three years of earthly ministry were filled with challenges and lots of unkind pushback from those who should have known better. He even said that, if everyone is pleased with you, something is wrong (see Luke 6.26). That is comforting. But we are also faced with this counsel: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people.” (Rom. 12:18 NET)  This is part of the struggle. What I’m learning is how important it is to stay close to the Lord, growing in my knowledge of him. This is my way to receiving the benediction of peace that I need. Peter wrote this blessing to people of faith: “May grace and peace be lavished on you as you grow in the rich knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord!” (2 Pet. 1:2 NET).

During a daunting time period when I was still serving as a missionary in Côte d’Ivoire, I wrote this lament. I’ve discovered that writing out my sorrows to the Lord this way brings healing, and there are many illustrations of this in the Psalms. The key element is remembering where our hope is found!

Psalm in the Combat Zone

The battle rages all around:

     literal gunshots

     fired by hunters

     chained to the occult –

     symbol of all

     the spiritual combat

     in this place.

Shots are fired that pierce the soul:

     harsh words that cut,

     put-downs, silence

     when support should come –

     the people on our “teams”

     are also broken

     chained to weaknesses.

But you, Lord of lords, Chief of chiefs,

     you are our one

     perfect leader,

     unchained, in charge –

     compassionate, wise,

     completely good,

     reliable in every situation.

You have our backs:

     you tell us who we are,

     speaking truth

     when the Enemy shouts lies –

     he says we have failed,

     pointing out issues,

     determined to kill.

But you in your great love

     have chosen us,

     paid the high cost

     to make us yours –

     so you are here,

     shielding, on guard

     in this combat zone.

Open our eyes to this truth:

     show us evidence

     that we can see,

     and love we can feel –

     because you are invisible

     and our faith trembles,

     longing for you!

Transition Stress

Sometimes I run across a poem written ages ago that somehow applies to the Now, or I want to share some thoughts that came to me while meditating on Scripture this morning. Sometimes I just want to share the joy that unexpectedly came my way. If you would like to walk this journey with me, I welcome you!

Right now I continue to face “transition stress,” the challenge of discovering how to enter a new phase of life. We retired last year, remaining involved in the ongoing work back “home” in Nyarafololand while learning to move forward here in Detroit. One thing I miss is my Sacred Grove, the part of my courtyard over there where I spent a few hours almost every Saturday morning, practicing the discipline of solitude and silence, learning to listen to my Lord rather than always blabbing at him. I sat under golden rain trees, some so old their trunks broke when high winds came through, some of them the burgeoning row of children spurting up from parental roots underneath. The trees lost their leaves in dry season, November to January, then — before the rains began in March or April — would burst into clusters of hanging golden blossoms in February. That would become a carpet of gold all around as the petals fell and were replaced by green leaves. This became a picture of life as a missionary in many ways, for me. For one thing, these trees blossomed when everything around was still dry and brown, because their roots reached down deep to underground streams. We also needed to be sure to remain deeply rooted in the source of Life and Joy, our Lord, even when times were hard and we were moving forward in lonely spaces.

Here is a poem written during one of my last seasons in the Sacred Grove, as retirement drew near. It represents the current moment too, as we enter 2021:

Moving On (Linnea Boese 4/1/2018)

Green leaves take over
as golden rain
begins to peter out.
The last mangoes seem
all too much in a hurry
to cover the ground
becoming wine
before they melt into earth,
and the season moves on
as flowers give way
to liquid showers,
quickly absorbed
into thirsty soil.

This paints the contours
of my current phase
of life and work
as so many things seem to be
dropping off
or jerking suddenly
into different colors,
ripening or rotting,
losses bringing grief
as well as hope
for new perspectives.

Transition stress
is the invisible thread
of yellow to green,
of orange to brown,
of heavenly blues
going gray with blessing
that pounds my soul
but drenches me
with just enough energy
to look up as well as down,
to look ahead
while carefully living
this moment.

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