"Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter..." Isaiah 64:8

Monday, August 25, 2014

Signs and Wonders

Signs and Wonders Camp.  It’s a bold name.  You can’t invite a hundred kids to a day camp called “Signs and Wonders” unless you really believe that God is going to move.  Because the kids will come with expectation. 

At first, I thought the name was too much.  Too charismatic or something.  But really, it makes sense.  Jesus said, “And these signs will follow those who believe:  In My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues, they will take up serpents, and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick and they will recover“ (Mark 16:17-18), so if we’re going to a camp to encounter Jesus, we shouldn’t be surprised or even offended at such things as healing and miracles. 

So all summer long, I was excited about Signs and Wonders Camp.  It was my opportunity to help with children’s ministry at IHOP:EG, and I was eager to learn how to take kids past praying a prayer of salvation and memorizing John 3:16.  Those things are amazing, but I really believe that God can take kids so much deeper.  The volunteer training before camp got me even more excited.  The director shared about her vision for the week, and her energy and passion were contagious.

When the kids finally began to arrive that Wednesday evening, I began to think this would be like any other Vacation Bible School.  The children were just as young, just as cute, and just as goofy.  Many of them had very Biblical names (Elijah, Beulah, Joshua, etc.), but other than that, they seemed just like your typical 6-12 year old kids.  As my group of 9 and 10 year old girls filed in, we decorated our team shield, and they creatively named our team “God’s Girly Defenders,” covering it in glitter and stickers (again, just like any other group of little girls would do).

However, as we transitioned into worship, I started to see that these kids were not your average group of elementary school students.  Within minutes, hands were raised, eyes were closed, and kids were dancing before the Lord.  Not every single kid, of course.  But many.  And that in itself is amazing.  I have been to hundreds of worship services with adults who were much less engaged.  It’s easy to stand and sing the worlds while thinking about a million other things.  I know from experience.  But these children seemed to understand the value of truly worshipping their Creator with all their hearts, and I hope they never lose that.
Early into the service, the pastor asked the children to pray over the leaders.  I was so touched as children half my height surrounded me, praying aloud.  “God, I pray that she would make room in her heart for you,” prayed one little girl while another prayed over me in tongues, which I later learned was a gift she had received only minutes before.  It was beautiful.

After praying, the kids returned to worship and sang to Jesus for a long time, longer than many adults could handle.  The youngest children were tired and many sat down on the floor, but others stayed engaged, even long after my own feet were beginning to tire.  Following worship, the pastor gave a message about Daniel.  The children stayed impressively quiet and even took notes in their workbooks.  The youngest kids could barely write, but they carefully copied down the indicated scriptures and filled in the blanks.  One little girl later told me that these study sessions were her favorite part of camp (even better than a water slide, that’s crazy!).

The next morning kicked off the first full day of camp.  It started with worship and a time of prayer for Israel.  I was stunned to see these tiny little kids up at the microphone praying for the lost in Israel to be saved.   At the time, I didn’t even know what to pray for Israel or why I should pray for a nation so far from my own.  But these kids got it.  They prayed powerful prayers.  One girl in my group even told me that she had a vision of pushing the Holy Spirit to Israel.  As she raised her hands and cried out to God, it was easy to forget that she was only nine years old.  That is, until she suddenly opened her eyes and asked me to take her to the restroom.  Yep, these were definitely children we were working with.

After the morning session, we got to spend more time with our groups for breakout sessions, recreation, arts and crafts, and mealtimes.  One of the highlights of my week was having the girls in our group share what they were learning and experiencing.  Many of them were having real encounters with God, hearing Him speak to them, and having visions of healing in their home or shaking the earth with their prayers.  And because they are not so jaded as us adults, they had no problem believing that these things were from God!

The last night of camp was definitely the highlight of the week.  The kids knew that sick people were coming to receive healing, and they were ready to see God move.  Worship was high-energy, and the kids danced their little hearts out next to leaders who were equally enthusiastic.  I was especially moved when I saw a whole family (mom, dad, and two kids) worshipping together.  I realized I’d never seen that before.  Typically, the mom is engaged and the dad just stands and mouths the words.  Or the dad is engaged but the kids are playing on the mom’s phone.  Or one parent isn’t even present.  But as that whole family worshipped together, I really saw God’s vision for family.  Loving and worshipping God in unity.  And when that happens, it’s really powerful.

As I worshipped with the children, I felt an unprecedented sense of freedom.  Worship is supposed to be free.  We shouldn’t have to worry about what people think about us, even though we often do.  We should be able to be undignified before the Lord.  I love to raise my hands and do sign language during worship, but among these children, I felt even more freedom than normal.  For some reason, it was much easier to connect to God.  I guess it's just because I love God and I love children.  I could feel God’s pleasure.

After worship, it got even better.  The pastor called everyone in the room that was suffering from some kind of physical sickness, injury, or disease to come forward.  Forty or fifty people formed a line, and then the children were released to pray for them.  They laid hands on people with back pain, foot injuries, broken arms, and diabetes.  And they prayed.  Hard.  I know plenty of adults who struggle to pray for 5 minutes (confession: I used to be one of them!), but these children prayed for at least 45 minutes, probably more.  Some children roamed around attempting to pray for every person in the room.  Others set their hearts on one individual and prayed with them the entire time.  At one point, I saw one little girl from my group sitting down.  I approached her and asked why she wasn’t praying, and she replied that she was tired.  I encouraged her to keep praying and was so touched when I saw her take her 6-year-old sister’s hand and lead her to a person waiting for prayer.  If only people my age could see the value of pressing in when we don’t feel like it!

About the time when I thought the kids had prayed enough, the pastor called everyone in the room to gather around one young woman who need prayer.  He explained that she had cancer.  She was a supermodel and not much older than I, and it was shocking to imagine that death could be so near to her.  It was incredible to watch the room circle around this woman, covering her in prayer.  My heart broke as I watched a man on crutches hobble over to join the group, forsaking his own desire to be healed in order to partner with God in saving this woman’s life.  The children cried out alongside their counselors, and the prayers went on for a long time.  I knew that it was powerful but couldn’t help the nagging doubts in the back of my mind.  What were the chances that God would actually heal this woman of cancer?  People pray for healing all the time…and people still die.

Finally, the time of prayer ended.  There was no climactic finish, no one jumping up and down and rejoicing over their healing.  Just a short message and a slightly chaotic dismissal.  I left and couldn’t help but wonder  if anyone had actually been healed.  Perhaps the kids would simply leave thinking that God had done something when nothing had really happened at all.  I was a bit disappointed to be honest.  Camp was great, but didn’t God have something more in mind for these children who were so hungrily seeking His face?

Apparently He did.  Because several days ago, I received an email about Signs and Wonders Camp.  We were told that the woman with cancer had gone to her doctors over the past several weeks and had been miraculously declared cancer free.  Wow.  What a powerful sign of the age to come, where all of our bodies will be healed, resurrected, and glorified.  And what powerful proof that God stills does signs.  He still does wonders.

Let’s remember that.  Let’s pray.  And let’s teach the children to pray alongside us.  

To see pictures from Signs and Wonders Camp, check out the Signs and Wonders Camp Slideshow!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Hope That Does Not Disappoint

So one thing that I’ve learned about myself this year is that expectations greatly affect my emotions.  This manifests in several different ways.  First, if I have no expectations (or low ones), and something turns out to be really great, I get very excited.  However, if the opposite is true…if I have high expectations that are not met, I get very upset…I feel frustrated…I blame people….I cry…it’s bad.

This summer, God gave me lots of opportunities to practice responding in a godly fashion to unmet expectations.  The first time this happened was in New York City.  (Actually, it probably happened several times before that, but you can read about those stories in my previous blogs).  On one of our Thursdays off, Chris and I took the bus into the city in hopes of seeing a Broadway show.  Our plan was to purchase discounted student tickets for a performance that night by lining up right before the box office opened.  However, Les Miserables sold out of Rush tickets just before we got to the front of the line, and despite checking box offices for 5 or 6 different shows after that, we were unable to find tickets for a price that we were willing to pay.  Still hopeful, though, we spent the day at High Line Park and then returned to Broadway to sign up for ticket lotteries for Aladdin and Matilda.  Having been told that most participants  in the lottery the night before had won tickets, we thought our chances were pretty good.  But when about 60 other people joined the drawing for just 10 tickets, we realized that we might not be seeing a show after all.  And sure enough, about 12 hours after our first attempts at buying tickets, we resigned ourselves to a Broadway-free evening and took the bus back to New Jersey.  I tried so hard to be okay with it, to be thankful for the awesome time at the park and in the city and with Chris.  But I was so disappointed.  And even a little bit mad.  

Just a couple weeks later, I set my hopes equally high on something equally uncertain.  For some reason, I was completely convinced that if I went to the beach and brought my kite with me, I would have an amazing kite flying experience just like all my sweet childhood memories of flying kites with my dad on the beach.  However, there were multiple problems with this fantasy.  First, I didn’t really know how to fly the kite.  I’d gotten it for Christmas two years before but had never flown it.  Second, kite flying is very dependent on wind, which is not always present, even at the beach.  And third, kite strings are very easily tangled, especially when there is strong wind. 

All of these things I failed to consider when I imagined how awesome it would be to finally fly my brand new kite.  But the first time we tried to fly it, the wind was very strong, and I was so excited that I unwound the strings too fast and created a giant knot which Chris later had to spend hours untangling.  The second time, there was no wind, and even Chris' super fast backwards running couldn't keep the kite in the air for an expended period of time.  And the third time, we realized that we’d lost an important piece of the kite when disassembling it the previous time.  In a nutshell, we just couldn't get the kite in the air.

So of course, just like when our Broadway plans fell through, I got frustrated and upset and nearly missed out on enjoying the other amazing beach activities that we got to experience...like body boarding in icy water without freezing to death (thank you Jesus for wetsuits) and watching the sunrise from the lifeguard's chair.  

Thankfully, my time at IHOP:EG really changed my perspective and hopefully the way I'll react to scenarios like these in the future.  Because this is a spiritual matter as well.  Sometimes I have expectations for God.  And like anything else, these expectations are not always met.  For example, I used to think that, when I was faithful to pray and read my Bible, God was obligated to speak to me and make me feel close to Him.  However, this is really a false sense of entitlement.  Even if I lay down everything I have for Jesus, He owes me nothing.  What I actually deserve is death and separation from God, and anything beyond that is His mercy.  This summer, I began to see that, instead of accusing Jesus for being distant or ignoring my prayers, I should be grateful for His love and kindness.  And even if He never gives me anything in this earthly life, He is still God, and He is still good.  

Of course, I don't think this means that I should set my expectations super low and stop hoping for blessings.  I still want to experience fun things and feel close to God.  But every hope that I have has to be put into perspective.  Because my ultimate hope is not in this life, but in the age to come, and that hope will never disappoint (see Rom 5:5).  When I get to reign on a restored earth with Jesus FOREVER, I'm pretty sure I won't care that I missed out on a Broadway show or flying my kite.  So instead of putting my hope and expectations in this life, I'm learning to wait for Jesus.  He is our blessed hope ( Titus 2:13).     

High Line Park

Can you believe all this green in the middle of NYC?

Grand Central Station
Jamba Juice

Bradley Beach

sunset on our 17 month anniversary!

Trying to fly the kite: Take 16

body boarding in the freezingggg water

sunrise on the beach

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Lessons in Following Jesus

In case a week in Puerto Rico wasn’t enough of a vacation, I returned to New Jersey just in time for a two-day retreat with the EG staff.  Although it was a bit intimidating at first to go on a trip with people I barely knew, it was a great opportunity to break the ice! 

Getting to know the staff at EG showed me a lot about what it looks like to follow Jesus.  On the one hand, these intercessory missionaries are regular people.  Casual conversation reveals that many of them love bacon, like music, and sometimes find prayer to be boring.  But on the other hand, their lives contrast drastically to the lives of other people, and even other Christians that I know.  Their job is prayer and worship.  Their staff meetings are a combination of prayer, sharing, and interpreting prophetic dreams.  And their career is far from the American dream: complete dependence on God to provide partners who will support them financially (as opposed to relying on their own abilities and career to bring in a steady income) and lack of a fancy title or prestigious position in the eyes of the world. 

These staff lay down the comforts of life to follow Jesus.  During the retreat, I got to know people who reverse their entire schedule just so they can pray when the rest of the world is sleeping (which also happens to be the time when most crimes occur).  I saw people experiencing real suffering for the sake of the gospel.  A couple who lost their home.  A man whose parents refuse to acknowledge his career choice because it doesn’t match up with their plan for his “success and prosperity.”  A group of guys living in a home infested with spiders.  And others who were not suffering circumstantially, but who described the pain of God stripping away their selfish desires and the burden of His heart for the millions of lost people in the region.

You might read this post and think these people must be doing something wrong.  Following Jesus is supposed to bring prosperity, right? Wealth, success, happiness… But actually, that’s not what Jesus says.  Yes, He promises joy and peace, but He also demands that we carry our cross, which is the highest form of suffering.  (“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.  And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple…whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26, 27,33).  I think the verse is pretty clear that followers of Christ forsake EVERYTHING.  What have I given up for Jesus?

I used to think suffering was only for Christians across the world.  I hear about them being brutally killed in Iraq and other places, but that doesn’t happen here.  However, the Bible says that if we really model our lives after Jesus, we will suffer, and this summer, I began to see the truth in this statement for the first time.  For the staff at EG, much of this suffering stems from the rejection of man which naturally occurs as they live out the truths of the Bible and walk according to God's direction for their lives.  People don’t like a gospel of dying to self, of one way, of turning the other cheek, or of judgment, but that’s our gospel (I'm not forgetting grace and love, but those things tend to be much less offensive).  People don't like a lot of what the Bible says, but we either have to forsake the need for approval of man or stop calling ourselves disciples.  We cannot follow Jesus AND the wisdom of the world.  

This is not a minor thing.  When we stop living for people, they often stop supporting our decisions, and that hurts: emotionally, financially, and relationally…But maybe that’s what it takes to know God more.  "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.  Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persectued the prophets who were before you" (Mat 5:11-12). I want to be willing to suffer for Jesus.  To forsake everything.  Help me, Lord.