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

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.  

Friday, August 1, 2014

Discovering My Depravity and Other Adventures in Puerto Rico

“So where are you going next?”

This is the question that people ask me ALL THE TIME…especially if they don’t see me frequently or regularly.  Apparently, my various trips to Central and South America over the last 4 years have caused many to think I’m some adventurous world traveler who always has another trip in mind.  The problem with this, however, is that it places my identity in what I do instead of in who I am.  Visiting new places is awesome, and I love it, but that’s not why I went on those trips.  I went to all those places because I am a disciple of Jesus, and I told God that I was willing to go wherever He sends me.  At the heart of it, those trips were driven by my love for God and His people, not by my love for travelling (even though I do think it’s pretty fun).        

That being said, this summer, I randomly ended up on another trip to a Spanish-speaking place.  Again, not because I’m a world traveler, but because I’m a Daughter of God, and He led me there.  It’s funny, though.  Typically He leads me by placing a desire in my heart, opening doors, providing finances, closing other doors, etc.  But this time, His “calling” came in the form of an email from my dad announcing that he’d booked a reservation for the family for a house in San Juan, Puerto Rico for the third week in June.  He told me that I needed to book my plane tickets for the vacation, and because the Lord says to obey your parents, I really had no choice.  Of course, I probably didn't need that particular command to convince me in this case.

For the first time ever, my next experience out of the country (well not TECHNICALLY since Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, but you know what I mean) would not be for a mission trip.  It was simply for rest, relaxation, family bonding, and whatever else God wanted to teach me along the way. And it was a great trip.

San Juan is an interesting place.  Although you don’t need a passport to go there, and there’s no need to convert your dollars or learn Spanish, it’s a lot like some of the Latin American countries that I've visited…bright paint colors on every building, festive locals who turn every gathering into a lively event, and cheap but tasty street food!  However, it also had some features that I hadn’t experienced outside this trip to the Caribbean.  New to me were the hot, humid days, the bright aqua waters, and the narrow brick roads where only parallel parking professionals could survive (at one point, I saw two cars parked so close together that they were actually touching!).  Puerto Rico was also unique in that, no matter how much I tried to use my Spanish, people nearly always responded to me in English.  For the most part, the locals were excellent at both languages, which was great for them but also disappointing since it rapidly dissolved my dreams of impressing my family with my 8 years of Spanish skills. 

Anyway, I think it’s fair to say that every day we spent in Puerto Rico was an adventure.  Our first trek outside of old San Juan took us to El Yunque Rainforest.  Getting there may have actually been the trickiest part.  Driving in Puerto Rico was always interesting because the street signs are somewhat optional and our GPS had a funny way of pronouncing the Spanish street names, but this time was especially difficult due to a lack of signage.  Although we had little problem getting to the rainforest itself, we could not find the trailhead we were looking for.  After driving miles and miles up the mountain, we finally decided to park the car and take the next trail we found.  Unfortunately, there were no trails close by, and the first one that we did find was blocked about a quarter mile in.  So….we walked at least a mile on the paved road before even starting our hike.  Finally, we came to a trail, and though we couldn’t tell what it was called, we were so desperate to actually get into the forest that we went for it.  Thankfully, it ended up being a really great path that took us to a stone tower overlooking the rainforest.  And after that, we were able to connect with the main trail to the peak of the mountain where we could see the miles of jungle below. 

The scenery was green and beautiful, but sadly, we didn’t see much wildlife besides a few lizards.  I’m convinced that it was because of my family’s constant need to sing (“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” was definitely the song of the day), shriek, and carry on very loud conversation, but it’s okay because at least we were never bored.  The hike was great, but after 6 or 7 miles, we were relieved to arrive back at the road.  However, to our dismay, we ended far away from where we'd begun and weren’t sure which direction to walk in to find our car.  After trekking several minutes in one direction, we turned around, only to eventually realize that we’d been right the first time.  Thankfully, Dad saved the day and ran to get the car while we waited with our stuff and watched some crazy locals dancing in the parking lot.  Yay, Dad!

Exhausted from our day at the rainforest, we spent the next two days lounging on the beach.  Throughout the course of the week we visited three beaches that were all very different.  The first one, which we went to the day before the rainforest excursion, had few tourists and mostly consisted of locals consuming lotsss of alcohol.  The second one was beautiful and blue and can probably be seen on many of the postcards sold in the Caribbean.  And the last beach was somewhere in between with many little shacks selling food.  Not knowing which of the kiosks would be both tasty and food-safe, we decided to use Tripadvisor to pick a place for dinner.  That was hands down the WORST decision of the day.  We drove to place with the highest rating, and it was closed but looked more like a surf shop than a restaurant anyway.  Moving onto the number two recommendation, we came to a building slightly more sophisticated than a lean-to and didn’t even bother to stop the car.  As we drove away, we debated whether the building was actually a restaurant and thus decided to forsake Tripadvisor and just pick a place that looked good.   Scarred by the first two experiences, my sister bypassed dinner and stayed in the car which was unfortunate because our food ended up being really delicious.

That night, we did a kayaking tour in the BioBay.  Partnered with my brother, I quickly realized that kayaking requires a level of cooperation and teamwork that he and I had not quite developed.  Struggling to steer, we nearly followed the wrong kayaking company as we started off into the dark.  Finally, we got into a groove, and were able to enjoy paddling along the narrow canal that cut through the rainforest.  I’m sure the scenery was beautiful, but the sun had set, so all we could see was the glowstick on the kayak in front of us, and it was a bit eerie.  After just a few minutes of paddling, though, we were close enough to the Bio Bay that the mysterious organisms in the river began to cause a bright blue glow to appear every time our paddles hit the water.  I have no idea why God decided to create such critters, but they are REALLY cool!  Dipping your hand in the water and seeing it outlined in neon blue is just not a normal experience.  Nor is hearing something fall out of a tree and then seeing its shiny, blue outline swim through the water, but that part I could have done without.  Other than that, though, the bay was awesome, and by the end of the night, my brother and I were actually able to paddle at a decent pace without running into the bank of the river...or perhaps that was only the case when I let him do all of the rowing...

I don’t want to bore you with too many details, but there were so many other highlights: snorkeling in a reef with fish that could easily star in the next Finding Nemo movie; arriving at a beautiful island after a sailboat ride that made me finally understand the word "seasick"; stuffed avacados, mashed plantains, fruit smoothies, other delicious foods; listening to my Dad pretend to speak Spanish with his own vocabulary words such as “Escarte!”; giant pieces of tres leches cake with mojitos for my parents; and a restaurant where everything on the menu was made with chocolate, including my sister’s martini and my brother’s filet mignon.

Now, you're probably wondering why I started off talking about God's calling if this blog was just going to be about how much fun I had on vacation.  But I really do think God had me in Puerto Rico for a reason.  It may have been mostly for some sweet family time and relaxation, but I know I also learned some things.  First, if I was ever in doubt before, I am now fully convinced that my family will always be the absolute best at bringing out my sin nature.  It’s easy to go off to a House of Prayer and think you’re becoming really holy, but one hour back with the family and you realize that the sanctification process still has a longgg way to go.  For some reason, I think we tend to treat our family members worse than anyone else, as if we can do whatever we want and they’ll still be obligated to love us.  This is really not the right attitude, though.  My family has walked with me through all the seasons of my life, and I want to honor and respect them instead of constantly getting annoyed, complaining, responding in anger, and putting myself first.  It’s tough, though.  In between all the fun, when we’re hungry and tired and lost, it’s a lot easier to just fight and bicker than to respond in love.  So I guess Puerto Rico helped remind me of my depravity and desperate need for the mercy of God.  I want to walk in holiness, but I still need a LOT of practice.

Another thing I learned is that “hearing” God’s voice is perhaps not as much of a problem for me as I thought it was.  You see, almost every time my family walked around downtown, we passed by a certain blind man begging for money.  The first time, I thought something along the lines of, “Aw, that’s sad.”  But the second time I saw him, I knew that I should pray for him.  No, I didn’t see writing in the clouds or hear a booming voice like thunder, but I knew that God was telling me to approach him.  In Acts 3, Peter and John saw a lame man begging but instead of offering him money, they prayed boldly and healed him in the name of Jesus.  After spending 2 weeks at the house of prayer, I couldn’t deny that God still heals and does miracles.  But I was scared.  Scared of praying in Spanish but mostly scared of praying for the man and seeing no miracle of healing.  What would he think if I said that Jesus could heal him, but then he didn’t get healed?  What would my family think? So I ignored the voice.  And not just once, but every time I saw the man.

I regret it now.  Of course I do.  Perhaps I missed an opportunity to completely transform the life of a man by restoring his vision, as well as an opportunity to watch Holy Spirit perform a miracle through my hands.  And even if not, I at least missed a chance to obey the Lord. 

I wish I could say God brought me to Puerto Rico to heal a blind man.  But maybe someday I’ll be able to look back and say that He sent me there to chicken out of praying for a blind man in preparation for another blind man in need of healing down the road.  Because next time, I will obey God’s call to pray.  And although it might not be the next time I’m home or the time after that, I will learn to die to myself and humbly love my parents and siblings.  Even if it takes me til the age to come!

downtown Old San Juan...I told you the buildings are colorful!

in the jungle, the mighty jungle...

Mt. Britton tower in the middle of the rainforest

at the peak!

that little speck on the mountain is the tower we were at before!
our favorite beach
why is my brother so ridiculously cool?
beginning of the Bio Bay tour...please ignore my crazy hair 

island where we went to snorkel, can you believe it's real?

part of the fort surrounding San Juan

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Roller Coaster Ride

In my girls’ small group at W&L, we always start off our meetings with highs and lows. I think that’s the best way to sum up my first two weeks at IHOP:EG.  I wish I could say that I’m unshaken by circumstances and that, no matter where I am, I am confident and at peace because of my identity in Jesus.  But unfortunately, I’m just not that mature…at least not yet. So this internship started out with a bit of a roller coaster ride.

Low #1:  Although I could eventually no longer attribute it to culture shock, I was still stressed and frustrated about our seemingly disorganized schedule and my loss of a plan for housing.  I would sit in the Prayer Room, get bored within 30 minutes, and accuse God for the next hour and a half with lines like, “Why did You bring me here for this whole summer?" and “What am I going to do with myself for the next two months? I don't even have a place to stay!”  (Yep, I was full of myself… thank the Lord for His grace and mercy.)

High #1: I’ve played the flute for 12 years.  A lot of time, effort, and my parents’ money has gone into lessons, band, auditions, recitals, concerts, etc.  But until just a year or two ago, I never really used my flute to praise the Lord.  I didn’t know how.  I could only play music written on a page, which just isn’t very useful in Spirit-led worship.  However, last year, Chris gave me some tips so that I can now play by ear.  Suddenly, this instrument that I love can be used to make music to Jesus!  This is relevant to my internship, because now, for the first time since starting college, I play my flute for several hours a week.  And I love it!  In the Prayer Room, I actually get to live out Psalm 150:4 (“Praise the Lord with harp and flute”).  What a privilege!

Low #2: The Prayer Room is freezing!  I’ve gotten used to it, but at first, this was a big struggle for me.  I would try to pray but be so mad about how cold I was that I couldn’t focus AT ALL!  I tried using a blanket, but naturally: Sitting on the floor + wrapped in a blanket + closing my eyes to pray = prayer???  Nope….sleeping!

High #2: The teachings that we listened to rapidly began to change my view on creation and heaven.  Talking to some of the staff at EG blew my mind, and I found myself telling everyone about how heaven is a REAL place, not an immaterial realm where we float around on clouds.  Like a child, I was easily excited by even the simplest things we learned.  For example, God stretched out the heavens after He created them (Isaiah 42:5).  I didn’t know that!  And there must be at least some animals in heaven, because Jesus will come down riding a white horse (Rev 19:11).  And there are at least 3 heavens (2 Cor 12:2), with God dwelling in the highest heaven (Deut 10:14, Job 22:12)!  The stuff we were learning was just so cool!

High #3:  One of Chris’ friends shared with us how she really believed we were in the right place.  She knew I was frustrated about housing and the disorganization, but she stressed the importance of learning to be sent.  When God tells us to go somewhere, our job is to obey, even before He actually provides the way.  Naturally, as humans, we want provision before we go, but that takes little faith.  Real faith is demonstrated when we follow God before we can see how He will come through.  The next day, I found a place to stay that was much closer to EG.  So she was right. God provides when we take the first steps towards what He asks of us.    

Low #3: Now that Chris and I were no longer staying with his parents, I couldn’t rely on Chris to drive me everywhere.  The first time I had to drive by myself on the Garden State Parkway, I cried the whole way home.  In retrospect, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected.  All I had to do was merge on, stay in my lane for 3 or 4 exits, exit, and make a few turns on local roads.  But that first night, it seemed terrifying.  SO MANY LANES!  And headlights...EVERYWHERE!

Low #4: It rained on our first day off.  So much for our plans to head down to the Jersey shore. L

High #4: It turned out okay because we went to the Liberty Science Center instead and got to watch a lady dissect a cow eye (gross!), see an IMAX about sharks, and lots of other fun stuff.

Low #5: On the way back, we got stuck in traffic for the first time.  Not fun.  At all.  I think traffic is a great way to become better acquainted with our sin nature.  So much anger and so little patience.  It's a very simple reminder of how much we need God's mercy.

High #5: We attended our first Encounter God Service and Sunday Expressions, both of which were unlike any church service I’ve been to in the United States.  It was amazing to see such freedom in worship.  Everyone praised God in their own way, and no one cared what anyone else was doing.  It’s a beautiful thing to see people dance for Jesus. 

High #6: I discovered that it IS possible to cook with no stove, oven, measuring cups, or Pampered chef utensils.  A slow cooker and a toaster oven is all you need!  The EG staff have a term for such things….MISSIONARY LIFESTYLE!

Low #6: Just when I was getting used to things, it was time for my 6:30am flight out of Newark.  But it's probably unfair to count that as a low...I was headed to PUERTO RICO!  More on that in my next blog...

Liberty Science Center