Friday, August 12, 2011

Tim Keller on The Gospel and the Poor

Here's a video of Tim Keller speaking on how individuals and churches should respond to the poor.  Keller lays out the social responsibilities of the church clearly and systematically. This is well worth watching/listening.

Tim Keller: The Gospel and the Poor: A Case for Compassion from Here's Life Inner City on Vimeo.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

If I Stand

This is my very favorite Rich Mullins song.  Rich passed away in a car accident in 1997. I really miss the ministry of his music.  Like Keith Green, he encouraged his listeners to a life of radical obedience, but with a particular emphasis on grace.  He is best known for writing and performing the well known worship songs Awesome God and Step by Step.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Surrendering my Children: Part 3 -- The Cost of Discipleship

I wrote in the previous two posts about some situations God has used to help me begin to learn to surrender my children to His care and His will.  I say "begin to learn", because my children are still young and this is still a very difficult process for me.  To read about the first and second circumstances, click here and here.  The following circumstance has become a significant, ongoing lesson that God has been teaching me over the past several years.

Circumstance #3:

"Mommy, I think God is calling me to be a martyr when I grow up.  I think He wants me to be a missionary to the middle east. But I'm kind of scared about it."

No kidding!

These were words spoken to me by my oldest daughter, Emma when she was in 3rd grade.  She had just come home from serving with my husband on a short term missions trip in Mexico.  I had stayed home that week with my other two children, but apparently the speaker, Bill Drake, had made an impression on her in one of his chapel talks. 

That morning Bill shared the story of Bonnie Witherall, an American missionary to Lebanon who was martyred back in 2002.  He gave the challenge to those listening to be willing to lay down their lives for the sake of the Gospel and to be honest I have wrestled with Emma's "calling" ever since.

You see, Emma is my first born.  Even before I gave birth to her I have worried about her safety, as well as the safety of my other children, Marianne and Lizzy who followed a few years later. I have done everything I can do as a parent to ensure the safety of my children:  Seat belts, helmets, stranger-danger talks, safe food handling, "look both ways before you cross the street" & "wear your shoes outside" lectures, etc, etc, etc.

Emma's statement gave me pause to really grapple with many areas of surrender I had given little thought to before:

Wow! My kids may end up in the far corner of the world somewhere on the mission field.  Somewhere far away. Somewhere dangerous.  Although it wouldn't be my will, God may lead them to martyrdom.  How do I feel about that possiblity? I want to keep my kids close.  I want them to be always within driving distance.  I want to be able to have my grandkids living nearby. Those are things want.  But what does God want for them

Ooooh!  I didn't want to go there.  I still have trouble going there.  As a parent, I want the best for my children.  I want them to be happy, healthy, and safe.

As a Christian parent, however, I have prayed since my girls were babies, that as much as is humanly possible, they would grow up to love God with all of their hearts, souls, minds, and strength.  Intellectually I know that I want to raise my kids to love God so much that they would be willing to lay down their lives for Christ if they were ever called to do so. But the thought of that actually happening scares me so much that I can't think too deeply about it without ending up in a puddle of tears.

As I mentioned above, I have spent so much of my time and efforts as a mother trying to keep my daughters safe.  At the same time, I have also spent much time and energy teaching my daughters that the way of the Lord means that we die to self, count the cost, and take up our crosses and follow Him -- even to the point of death. We read missionary biographies together that depict great sacrifice.  We see in scripture Jesus calling us to all out obedience.  As Chris Tomlin sings "oh the wonderful cross . . . bids me come and die and find that I may truly live."

When Emma said she felt she was being called to be a martyr, I bit my tongue from saying, "I certainly hope not!"  I didn't want to crush the spirit of bravery that God was beginning to instill in her little heart. At the same time, I couldn't bear the thought that any harm might happen to her.

As she has gotten older, her call to missions hasn't wavered.  She's gone from wanting to be a missionary to the middle east, to a missionary to Thailand, to presently feeling called to serve the Dalit people in India.  She left Thursday for a short term missions trip to Africa, hoping while there to receive clearer direction from the Lord about His will for her future.

Its interesting how many surprised looks and questioning comments I've received about Emma going to Africa.

"Wow! She's so young!  Are you worried?"
"Is it safe?"

Is it safe?  Since when did Jesus call us to safety?  On the contrary, as I mentioned above, the cost of discipleship is great.  He calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him daily (Matthew 16:24). He says we are blessed if we are persecuted in His name (Matthew 5:10-12).  He says that we will be persecuted if we are his faithful followers (John 15:20). Scripture clearly indicates that if we are truly His followers we will live lives of sacrificial obedience.

I wonder if it is even possible to live a life of sacrificial obedience to God if we are pursuing pleasure, comfort, and safety?  In a way, He calls us all to possible martyrdom -- to be willing to lay our lives down for Him should He ask us to do so -- although very few of us will meet that fate.

As Emma's mother, this has been an emotional journey for me.  I don't doubt for a minute that she will be safe where she is going in Africa. But this step represents one step closer to a possible life time calling to the mission field.  I don't know if that is where she will land.  God may re-direct her to some other calling.  I hope and pray that martyrdom is not in her future but I struggle with this as well.

I look at the scriptures below that say that those who suffer for His name are considered "worthy" and blessed". 

Do I want my kids to be considered "worthy" by God?  Do I want them to be called "blessed"? Yes, I do!

Do I want them to be willing to lay down their lives for the sake of the Gospel?  Most certainly yes! 

Do I want them to be martyrs? No, no, and no! 

Do I want them to be safe?  Yes!

But when they die, do I want them to be found faithfully serving God? Yes! 

Do I want God's will for their lives, even if it means suffering for His name?  Oh, please don't make me answer that one now, Lord, I'm still not ready for that level of surrender.

Acts 5: 41-42
So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

James 1: 12
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

Revelation 2:10 -11
Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.’

2 Timothy 2:10-13
For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory. It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.

Matthew 5:10-12
"Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

Matthew 16:24
Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.

Luke 14: 26-33
If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.

For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’

Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Lessons in Surrendering My Children: Part 2

I mentioned in the previous post, that God has used three different circumstances to help me learn to surrender my children to His care.  Click here to read about the first circumstance.

Circumstance #2
When Emma was born, she was a healthy baby girl.  Post-partum depression, however, left me spiraling down into a pit of worry again. When Emma was two months old, I saw a news story about a little girl who had been kidnapped right in front of her house.  Anxiety over took me as I realized I could only go so far to protect my daughter.  I stressed about how soon I should let her play outside, ride her bike to a friend's house, spend the night alone at someone's house, etc.

I was beginning to come out of this depression when Eric got a disturbing call  while he was at the short term missions agency office he worked for.  On the other end of the phone was an anonymous caller who told him to cancel the Tijuana outreach the next week or "everyone would pay", including him and "his newborn baby daughter!"

Fear over took me in an indescribable, paralyzing way.  I didn't know what to do!  I wanted to run and hide -- which I did.  We took Emma and spent the night at a friend's house.  The next morning Emma and I flew to my parents' house 500 miles away.

Undaunted and unwilling to submit to a threat, Eric called each of the leaders of the 15 or so teams scheduled to be on that outreach.  Each one of the leaders called the parents of the team members to let them know of the threat.  Eric and the rest of the minstry staff would continue the outreach as planned for whatever teams would show up.  Only one team called and cancelled.  Honestly, I was hoping that they all would.

I felt trapped.  I was in bondage like never before.  I wondered if I would ever emerge from this fearful mire. While at my parents' house that week, I was reading in Matthew 18 and came across verses 5-6 & 10:  

"And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.  . . .See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven."

God used that verse to speak to me in my Spirit again.  I felt Him saying to me:  Remember, I told you you could trust Me. I have special Angels watching over her. I take it seriously when people hurt children. If she is ever harmed in any way, my justice will be served.  I promise! 

At this point I was flooded with peace, not just for Emma, but for Eric as well.  Nothing that could ever happen to them that would be outside of God's knowledge, power, and provision.  I can honestly say that since that moment I have no longer been gripped by fear for my children.  Now I've been fearful over other things since then, and I have had moments of fear for my kids, but I haven't been overwhelmed by continuous, unrelenting fear for their safety.

Well, the outreach happened as scheduled and was uneventful.  It turned out that the anonymous caller was suspected to be a disgruntled youth worker whose youth pastor was making him take a trip he didn't want to take.  He didn't admit to the accusations, however, and there wasn't enough evidence to press charges, so no legal action was taken.

I share this story two days after Eric and I saw Emma off for a two week trip to Africa.  I am grateful that the Lord has brought us to the point of being able to release her to His care with open hands. I know I could easily retreat to a fearful grip that would keep Emma close and not allow her to take the risk of traveling so far without us. If I did this then both she and I would miss out on the blessings of God being manifested through her obedience to His calling on her life.

We have some missionary friends who served in the middle east for 15 years.  When asked about the wisdom of serving in an area that is so hostile toward Americans, they would often quote the cliche "The safest place to be is in the center of God's will."  Yes this statement has been so frequently quoted it has become cliche, but what a truthful cliche!  I don't believe God promises to keep us safe,  but He does promise to never leave us or forsake us.  He does say that when we "walk through the shadow of the valley of death" he is with us with his comforting "rod and staff". This is both true for us and our children.

Lessons in Surrendering My Children: Part 1

Do you worry about your children?  I do!  I have worried about them ever since they were in my womb.  Over the years, through three different circumstances God has allowed me to experience, I have begun to trust Him more and more with the safety of my children.  I'm still learning to hold them with open hands to be used by God as He would choose and direct.  Its not easy.

Circumstance #1
When I was pregnant with my oldest daughter, Emma, I worried that she would be born with some sort of developmental disability.  I worked with special needs children and saw the toll that it took on families to raise these precious kids and I just didn't know if I had it in me to take on that kind of responsibility myself.

I knew that God was good and that He wouldn't give me anything that He wouldn't equip me to handle, but at that point, I really struggled to trust God with this area of my life.  About 4 months into my pregnancy, this fear began to overtake me.  In my moment of despair, however, God revealed Himself to me in a very powerful way that enabled me to begin to release some of that fear to His control.

I was getting ready to take a trip to Mexico with my husband.  We worked for a short-term missions agency at the time and were in Mexico frequently throughout the year.  I knew there was a dear old interpreter, Euphemia, who was going to be there.  Those who knew her endearingly called her "Abuelita", which means "little grandmother", and she was a very dear lady to me indeed.

Several years before, she had given Brian and I a "word of knowledge" that amazed us. Being raised Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist, I had previously been skeptical of these kinds of sign gifts.  I am still skeptical of them. I really do believe, however, that Abuelita had a word from the Lord that she was supposed to speak to us.  We hadn't told anyone about a decision we were wrestling with, but she spoke so specifically to the situation it left no doubt in my mind that it was from God.

Well, knowing that Abuelita was going to be on this trip, I asked the Lord if he would put something on her heart that would encourage me and let me know that this baby would be ok.  When I arrived at the ministry center in Mexico, I began to search for Abuelita.  I found her in the dinning room, put on a great big smile and went to greet her.

When Abuelita saw me, she looked straight at me, shook her sweet little wrinkled bony finger, and immediately said something along the lines of, "The Lord wants me to tell you to stop worrying about this baby! Its going to be fine.  You can trust Him!"  I immediately was flooded with relief -- experiencing God's peace and giving Him praise and glory for being so gracious to ease my fears through Abuelita's words.

Later on that night, I was lying in bed praying.  Although Abuelita's words encouraged me, I was still wrestling with God, trying to take back the peace that He had given me. After a long cycle of praying-worrying-praying-worrying, I heard what I believe was the Holy Spirit speak to me saying.  She's going to be okay.  You have no idea how okay she's going to be. Trust Me. I have great plans for her!

I have to say at this point that I didn't know whether or not I was going to have a girl or a boy.  I didn't find out the sex of the baby when I was pregnant with Emma because I wanted to be surprised.  The next day I told Eric that I thought we were going to have a girl, that she would be absolutely healthy, and that God had great plans for her.  From that point on in my pregnancy I stopped being consumed by fear.  True, I had moments now and then when I slipped into doubt, but these were short lived and didn't leave me a miserable wreck.

Just a side note for clarification:  If Emma had been born with a disability, that doesn't mean that God is not good and couldn't be trusted.  God has a special purpose for those born with physical and mental challenges and their families. I am not of the health wealth and prosperity theology. I share this story to show how God encouraged me through a fearful time.  He could have taken me on a different path and shown His faithfulness in a different way, but this is how He chose to reveal Himself in this circumstance in order to help me better trust Him.

I'll share my next lesson in surrender in the next post.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Knowledge of the Holy

I've been reading through the The Knowledge of the Holy by AW Tozer again.  I first read through this little gem 20 years ago for one of my Bible classes at Biola University.  In it, AW Tozer describes and contemplates  the attributes of God. Among the 23 chapter titles are such topics as:  The Holy Trinity, The Self-existence of God, The Eternity of God, The Grace of God, The Mercy of God, The Justice of God, and The Divine Transcendence.

The first time I read this book, I did so in just a few days and soaked up every word of it like a dry, thirsty sponge.  It deeply affected my thinking about the nature of God .  This is the third attempt I have made to re-read this now.  Previously, I have gotten to a certain point and just stopped. I'm not sure why.  It's a short read -- only 117 pages, but it is so meaty that it seems like I end up stopping after each sentence to process and ponder Dr. Tozer's insights about God.

Maybe I the reason I finished it so quickly in college was because it was an assignment with an attached deadline, or perhaps I had more of a theological, academic mindset, that comes from being immersed in a Christian college environment.  It could be that I didn't have little ones, a husband, a job, ministry, and other responsibilities vying for my mental energy.  Whatever the case, with each failed attempt to re-read it I have left disappointed with myself when I end up putting it back on the shelf after the 7th or 8th chapter.  Well good news!  I am almost done with it!  I wanted my daughter, Emma to read it while she is in Africa so I decided that I should read it first before giving it to her, so that we can discuss it when she gets back.  She leaves for Burkina Faso in less than a week, so I guess this is the kind of book I need a deadline to meet in order to finish it, LOL!

One of the benefits I've received from reading this book is that I am better able to identify God's attributes during adoration time in prayer.  Sometimes God seems so immense to me I am at a loss for words when it comes to expressing adoration.  AW Tozer has helped give me words that I don't have.  One of the things we are being mentored in through our ministry is something called worship intercession.  I may write on that more later, but essentially it is prayer and spiritual warfare through worship singing.  We do this corporately during our monthly prayer meetings, but I have begun to incorporate this into my own prayer time.  Its not something I do every time, but it is becoming more of a habit.  I was thinking about the attributes of God and wanting a song to express these attributes and a beautiful, old hymn that I sang in my childhood churches came to my memory.  I looked it up on Youtube and I found the one below to be my favorite arrangement.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

No Compromise: Remembering Keith Green

I was discipled by a man named Keith Green.  Although I had never met him, his music and ministry had a profound impact on my life -- starting approximately three months after he died in a plane crash on July 28th, 1982. Today is the 29th anniversary of his death.

Keith was a popular Christian recording artist in the late '70's and early 80's.  People give me surprised looks when I say "I was discipled by Keith Green after his death". But his passion and commitment to Christ have significantly affected my walk with God.

I came to know the Lord on September 4th, 1982.  About a month later, I heard a choir perform The Easter Song (written by Ann Herring).  The director said it was made popular by "the late Keith Green".  After I heard the song, I became disheartened that he was "the late Keith Green", because the song was so beautiful, it seemed to have a transcendent quality.  I decided I wanted to hear more of this man's work.

My youth pastor at the time, as well as many of my Christian friends, had an extensive Keith Green collection.  I began listening to as much as I could get my hands on.  When I got some babysitting or birthday money in my hot, little hand, I would go and purchase a cassette tape or record album.

Keith's music was different from other Christian music I listened to at the time.  While worshipful and exalting the name of Christ, it called the listener to repentance and a life of radical obedience. Furthermore, it called the church to revival.   He really was more than an musician, he was a prophet; not in the sense of predicting the future, but in calling and exhorting Christians to take their commitments to Christ seriously and live their faith.

Keith was delivered as a young adult, from a life of drugs and aimless, spiritual wandering, when he surrendered his life to Christ.  He and his wife, Melody, came to Christ around the same time and immediately began following His commands to serve the poor and needy.  They took homeless and drug addicted people into their home, fed and clothed them, gave them the gospel, and watched God deliver them through the discipleship process.  The need for caring for these people eventually outgrew the capacity of their home and so they bought and rented additional homes on their block and continued their ministry to the disenfranchised.

During this time, Keith continued to develop his musical career.  Initially, he had no desire to be recording music for a Christian audience.  Eventually, through a series of events, he felt God leading him toward the Christian music industry.  His first album, For Him Who Has Ears to Hear, became wildly popular with Christian listeners, eventually rising to the top of the Christian Music Association's charts.

His music was convicting, motivating, passionate and. . . stepped on toes -- especially songs like Asleep in the Light, which calls the church away from apathetic inaction in order to live out our call as Christians to love others sacrificially.  Even though his songs were zealous and direct, somehow Christian listeners couldn't get enough of his message. Although he struggled with the balance of law and Gospel, sometimes even with a de-emphasis on grace, when I listened to him, I didn't feel condemned, as if he were better than I.  Instead, I felt challenged to take my faith and commitment seriously by a fellow sojourner who was struggling to live out his own faith.  It was as if he wasn't just speaking to his audience, he was speaking to himself as well.

Eventually Keith and Melody's ministry to the poor grew to the point where they needed to move.  This decision lead them to buy several acres of ranch property in Texas.  There they established the headquarters for their organization, Last Days Ministries.  Along with the music & discipleship ministries, LDM also produced a monthly newsletter with articles written by Keith, Melody and other Christian leaders.

Eventually, Keith became burdened by the conviction that the Gospel should not have an attached price tag.  Because of this, he asked to be released from his contract with Sparrow Records so that he could offer his albums for whatever price the listener could afford -- even if it was nothing. He also refused to charge admittance fees for his concerts.

The last year of his life, Keith and Melody became exposed to international missions through a European ministry tour they took together. This ignited a new passion for mobilizing the church to fulfill the Great Commission.  I know songs like Go to the Hungry Ones , Open Your Eyes, Here am I, Send Me and Jesus Commands Us to Go had a significant impact on both my husband and me, helping to fuel our growing burden for the world.

Shortly before his death, Keith began to realize the importance of God's grace in his life, and his songs and message began to reflect this.  Although I don't agree with all of his theology (he was more Arminian and I lean more toward Calvanism), I appreciate his transparent struggle in this area as communicated in his music.

Keith died in a private plane crash on a hot, summer day on the LDM property in Texas.  He was 28 years old.  Two of his children, Josiah, age 3 and Bethany, age 2 died with him.  Melody, continued to lead  LDM after his death.  Only a few months later, she toured with the Keith Green Memorial Concert.  Since the burden for missions was the last thing on Keith's heart right before he died, that was the emphasis of the concert.  Loren Cunningham founder of Youth With a Mission described the event as "the largest missions challenge in history that I know of".  God used the message of that concert tour to mobilize thousands of people to the foreign mission field.

Today, 34 years after the release of his first album and 29 years after his death, Keith's legacy continues through his music and message.  Popular worship songs like O Lord You're Beautiful and There is a Redeemer (written by Melody Green) are still sung in churches today. Although I never knew him, I look forward to that moment in heaven when I will get to embrace one of my most influential spiritual fathers.

More about Keith's life and testimony can be found in the biography, No Compromise: The Life Story of Keith Green .  You can also view the hour long video The Keith Green Story on Youtube.  His music is available through the LDM store and on sites like

Here is a recording of Rushing Wind, one of my favorite Keith Green songs.