Thursday, October 19, 2006

Pour Down Like Rain

This week is the fourth anniversary of our vision trip to PA. It was on October 24, 2002, that we arrived in Harrisburg amidst snow flurries and falling leaves.

At that point, we were just praying and seeking God's direction--whatever that might be. I was secretly hoping that He would let us stay in Oklahoma City. I loved working at the Children's Home, and being so close to my parents--who had finally retired on American soil.

But God had a different plan. That night, as freezing rain pelted the roof of the mission house, my heart began to change. Here is my journal entry from that day:

God woke me up about 3am, and began speaking to me. The words of a Mercy Me song were playing in my head.

"Word of God speak.
Would you pour down like rain.
Washing my eyes to see Your Majesty.
To be still and know that You're in this place.
Please let me stay and rest in your Holiness.
Word of God speak."

Scripture verses began to pop in my head. Most of them were about God's character and faithfulness. Praise songs played in my mind, and I had a really sweet time of intimate fellowship with the Lord.

God spoke very clearly. "I am in this place." In my heart I understood that He was at work in Pennsylvania, and I suddenly had an overwhelming sense of peace and contentment.

In my quiet time, I had just started the book of Joshua. That second morning in PA, I read what was already one of my favorite passages of scripture.

Joshua 1:5-9 "No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.
Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them.
Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.
This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go."

In the past when I have read that passage, it's the "be strong and courageous", "meditate on the Word" and "the Lord is with you" messages that I notice.

But this time verse 5 seemed to jump off the page at me. "Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you." For the rest of the day, as we drove through York and Shippensburg looking at campuses, those words were in the forefront of my mind.

I understood how God had been with Moses. I had just finished reading through the account of the wanderings in the desert. God was ever-present, interceding, faithful, forgiving, compassionate, but also HOLY in those accounts. The thought that He could abide with us in the same manner blew me away.

I filed that thought away to mull over later.

We looked at various campuses in the Central PA area, but it was not until three days later in Pittsburgh that we knew we were home. Here's my entry from the 27th.

We really liked the CMU campus. Something just felt right about it. Pittsburgh was pretty, too. I would be scared to death of driving here, but would get used to it, I'm sure. I really like the bridges and all the tall, skinny houses. I'm scared to death today, but excited at the same time!

And here we are now.....four years later.....settled and established in the place where God has called us.

Looking back, it's incredible to see how God orchestrated it all.

March, 2003--went to support school in Topeka, Kansas. Felt like God further confirmed our calling through one of our team leaders, who was from Pittsburgh, and had been saved while in college. His Jewish family had totally disowned him after his conversion, but Ellis went on into full-time ministry and is now impacting college ministers all over the United States through Campus Crusade.

September 1, 2003--It became clear that we needed to make our calling public, and focus full-time on support raising. We quit our jobs and spent the next weeks intensely praying and visiting prospective supporters.

October, 2003--Doug moved to Pittsburgh to find us a house. He came home right before Thanksgiving.

December 28th, 2003--after a hurried Christmas that we barely even remember--we loaded up the moving van and drove to Pennsylvania. Amazingly, we were at 80% of our support!!! I can't even tell you how it came in--it's like God just put it in our account Himself.

December 31, 2003--closed on a home I had just seen for the first time.

January, 2004--Moved in amidst 28 straight days of snow and freezing rain. Had our first CrossSeekers worship time on campus, and started meeting with our intern, Chris Massa.

But when we walked into our first meeting at CMU, I felt really out of place. There were only 12 students there--all male--most of them graduate students--and all engineers. My first thought was, "How will I ever fit into this environment?"

March, 2004--We realized that we were not going to be able to do campus ministry the way it had been done when we were in college. So we scrapped all of our agendas, and just began praying that God would send 8 core leaders to build upon.

2004-2005 school year--it was amazing what God did. One by one, those leaders simply walked through the door and told us that God had led them to be part of our group. It certainly wasn't anything that we were doing. Jarrod said that he actually hated our meetings at first, but came out of obedience to God. : )

2005-2006--we just stand in awe of what God has done. Our group has grown, and reflects a diversity and broad spectrum of campus life (no longer just male, graduate engineers--although we still have some of those who are key leaders in our group and who we are so thankful for!!!) We have been privileged to see students come to Christ, and others grow deeper in their walk. We've seen them gain a heart for missions and a passion for unreached people groups. We've had opportunities to serve, both in our own community and overseas. Our small groups are thriving. The students are passionate about reaching their lost friends. God is at work on our campus.

October 29, 2006--we start the new church plant in Oakland. We'll be meeting in John and Amanda's apartment, and starting with 12 core members.

November, 2006-eternity--can't wait to see what God has planned. : )

WOW!!! Even though these past four years have had tough points, too, I can only be grateful that God has allowed us to be part of what He is doing in Pittsburgh.

Isa 64:3 When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
Isa 64:4 From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.

What I'm learning from the Qur'an

One of our Muslim friends gave us a copy of the Qur'an last week. It has been interesting to read it, and it has given me a deeper love and concern for my friends.

There was a time when I would not have felt comfortable reading it, or even having one in my home. But I have realized three things: 1) Our Bible is the living, active Word of God---this is simply a book. I don't need to be afraid of it 2) "Greater is He who is in me, than he who is in the world." (1 John 4:1-6) and 3) Reading it helps me better understand, and so be better able to pray for, communicate with and serve my Muslim friends.

What I have discovered so far has made me sad. When you read the Qur'an, it is a very binding set of laws. Adam and I were discussing it, and both had the same impression. He asked, "where is the evidence of love? I see strong teachings about judgement and mercy, but where is the love from God to man?"

When Adam asked one of our Muslim friends that question, our friend seemed to indicate that love only exists between a man and a woman. Even phileo love, between brothers, was a somewhat foreign concept to him.

He was explaining how Allah is a reactive God. If we extend a hand towards him, then he will extend an arm back towards us. If we walk towards him, he will run towards us. It is very dependent on works and our ability to be "good enough". Their very lives are ruled by daily legalistic practices, and they are constantly held in the tension between their good and bad deeds. No matter how loyal and good they strive to be, they still also have no assurance that they will "make it" to paradise. (with one exception, which is the killing of infidels. I think I actually understand better about that, but don't want to discuss it in this post.)

As our friend stated, "we live in a balance between fear and hope."

Just studying the Qur'an has made me incredulously grateful for our God. He is so good, and his love endures forever!!!! When I see Him contrasted against the gods of other religions, I realize what an incredible and incomprehensible gift He has given us.

I also have a fuller understanding of the magnitude of His sacrifice. No other religion has a god who was willing to humble Himself to the point of becoming one of us. And yet He went beyond that, and gave His very life on our behalf!!! Why would He continue to love us that much, when we fall so short? How can He be so Holy, and yet also so merciful?

Thanks be to God, for His indescribable Gift.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Letter from Adam

The picture is refusing to show up--I'll try again later. For now, this represents Adam's face. : )

Yesterday was our regular lemonade table in the middle of campus. That is always the highlight of my week, because it is the time we really get to engage in some deep conversations with students who are not believers.

But this year I have had another joy, in getting to watch our intern, Adam, interacting with students. It was only 13 months ago that Adam himself found a personal relationship with Christ.

I can't tell you how fun it is just to be around him and watch God working through him. Adam has absorbed the Word and grown faster than anyone I've ever known. He is sold out, and has a passion for reaching the nations. He was one of five students who spent Spring Break ministering in Peru (in the picture above he is with one of the men he met there.) Adam definitely has the gift of evangelism!!!

I asked him if he would write something for my blog. Here it is:

The difference between knowing God
and knowing about God

A few years ago, I used to know about God. I knew what the bible said He did: that He came to die for our sins and reconcile us back to Himself. I knew that He asked us: 1) not to sin, 2) to love others and to be good to them, 3) to love
Him most of all.
I dutifully went to church every Sunday morning and tried to be good to others because it was what I was supposed to do. In appearance, it may have looked like I really loved God, I think I even fooled myself.

But truthfully, it was a chore for me, I couldn't wait to put in my hours and forget about Him for the week. His commandments were things I had to do. I did not enjoy my time that was spent doing godly things. I would rather have been elsewhere, doing what I wanted to do.
In church, when we were supposed to be in His presence, my thoughts drifted to "How much longer" or "this is so boring". What would I have done if I would have had to put up with this "bordem" for all eternity?

That changed a little over a year ago; now I know God. I know why He needed to come and die for us. I desire to be with Him at all times now. Being with Him on Sunday morning is one thing I now look forward to as an essential part of the week.
In fact, I don't even have to wait til Sunday morning anymore, I can be with Him 24/7. It is no longer out of duty that I follow His commandments, but because I want to follow them and to serve Him.
I wait eagerly for the day when in heaven I am able to be with Him for all eternity. Now that I know Him, I know that I truly love Him.

In Christ,


When Taking a Stand Hurts

This has not been a fun week. There have been several different situations occur that have forced me way out of my comfort zone and caused me to have to stand in very lonely and difficult positions. I absolutely HATE confrontation or hurting anyone's feelings.

1. There was an issue with my Bible Study. I have so been enjoying that group and the fellowship of other women. But we started a new series this week, and it was simply not truth. In fact, the man whose book we are studying is a Universalist.

So I had to take a tough stand and confront what I believe is heresy. It has made me a very unpopular person, and a very lonely one. Even though I have tried to be respectful and as gentle as possible, I dared to question a beloved teacher, and then had to take it to a higher authority. So my name is mud.

I also lost my outlet for fellowship and study with other women.

2. One of my dear friends in ministry is currently making some decisions that go against God's principles. I have tried to be honest with her, and am concerned that she is on a fast track to a lot of pain, hurt, and possibly the end of her ministry.

However, I seem to be the only one counseling her against pursuing the relationship with this man. Even though others have concerns, no one wants to hurt her feelings.

It has caused a barrier between us, and makes me sad. Not only that, but I feel like it will ultimately hurt her ministry and the lives that God has given her stewardship of. The Lord puts boundaries in place to protect us and to guard His Holiness. When we violate that, there are consequences.

3. I learned this week that one of my own mentors, and a man I deeply respect, resigned from his church after confessing to a moral shortcoming.

I believe that in this case he could be biblically restored, and the situation can lead to a powerful testimony of the grace of God. But my fear is that it won't happen.

Ministers are just as human and as susceptible to falling as anyone else. Most people will acknowledge that.

But few churches create a healthy or safe climate for those who are struggling. There is no way to find healthy accountability when they first begin to slip, and no place to find restoration when they do fall. We have built a culture of condemnation.

I personally will not condemn or shame this man, and chose to remove myself from some conversations as a result.

I am sad and grieved for him and his family, because I know that he truly loves the Lord, and that he has been used powerfully in the lives of many people through the years. I can only imagine how much he is beating himself up over all of this, and admire his character in coming forward when he could easily have continued to hide the sin.

I also know that "but for the grace of God go I." All of us deal with temptation and struggles of the flesh.

4. I've had to tell some people who I love that their deepest conviction is a lie.

I struggle with this, because so many of my friends are not Christians. Many of them subscribe to other world religions. They are devout in their beliefs, and very dedicated in the practice of their faith. Yet so, so lost.

Tomorrow night one of those friends is coming to dinner. He is a wonderful person whose company we truly enjoy, and also a devout Muslim. On Sunday we will be spending time with another couple who are in a similiar position.

A popular mindset here in Pittsburgh is the notion that "as long as a person is truly SEEKING, and is devout in their faith, then God will surely have mercy on them and allow them into heaven."

But that is simply not Biblical. There is no other name on earth by which men may be saved.

Do you know how hard it is to answer a friend when they ask, "So you believe that I will go to hell, because I don't serve YOUR God?" It would be so much more comfortable, and so much easier, to say, "God is so loving and merciful that He will forgive anyway, as long as you truly are seeking."

But we cannot water down the truth. If we believe in the inerrant, infallible Word of God, then there is no compromise.

Even when it hurts.