I Feel So Bad For You

Support Raising. The very words elicit so many other words. Challenging. Difficult. Hard. Lots of waiting. These are all words I have used and heard to describe what support raising is like. I don’t think I’ve ever heard support raising described as beautiful, rewarding, or encouraging. But the longer God has placed us in this season of support raising the more I actually would use those words. You see, as long and difficult as this process has been, I wouldn’t change any of it.

What I have learned and experienced throughout this process would not have happened without the difficulty, the challenge or even hardship and for that, I am so thankful.  I don’t know how many times I prayed that I would be transformed, changed, and stretched by God.  And well, we know that God is a God who listens and answers prayer – so He did. He answered those prayers in amazing ways. And by amazing I mean both beautiful and uncomfortable, sweet and painful, and surprising and frustrating.

One of the surprises to me has been just how much ministry we’ve gotten to do within the support raising process. We are support raising so that we can go to Spain to make disciples of Jesus. As we go, we are called simply to be faithful to the process and share the gospel – we ourselves can’t make someone choose to follow Jesus – that’s God’s part. In the same way, within the process of support raising we also can’t make someone join our partnership team – we are simply called to faithfully share our story and invite people to join with us in what God’s already doing. And what has often times come out of those conversations has been incredibly beautiful. We have had the honor of hearing so many people’s stories. We have been trusted to listen to tender prayer requests, passionate hearts, and sweet stories of what God has done and gifted with an opportunity to respond. We have gotten to affirm, empathize, and celebrate what God has done in and through these wonderful lives! That’s not a bad deal!

Another surprise along this journey has been getting to hear things like “I’m so sorry” or “ this must be so hard” or “I feel so bad for you.” And actually, I love those comments too. I love them because its been an invitation to share from a deeper place the ways I’ve been able to connect with God because of this experience. I have been forced to question how much I actually trust God, which then of course leads to so many other questions and truths about God. Is God really in control of this process? Is God actually going to provide? Is God going to do what He said He would do? Wrestling with God and these questions has given me so many tender moments with God. It has driven me to be completely honest about who I believe God is and what is actually in my heart. Through that process I’ve felt the presence of the Holy Spirit stand with me in my fears and brokenness. He has cared for me, listened to me, and gently pruned my heart along the way, and for that I am so grateful. So when I hear “I’m so sorry” in reference to support raising, I actually am grateful – and not sorry at all and don’t want others to be either. This process has taught me so much. The conversations we’ve had about the support raising process have so often been beautiful invitations to share just how good, faithful, and gracious God is and has been. It’s been hard – for sure – but I wouldn’t trade it – because it’s deepened my faith and understanding of who God is in ways that I would have never imagined.

When hard work doesn’t equal results.

“To go to a place you do not know, you must be led down a path you do not understand.” – John of the Cross

What do you do when all your hard week seems to feel like it leads nowhere? For the past year and half my wife and I have been working tirelessly connecting with churches and individuals sharing our story and vision for ministry in Spain. Few times in life can I remember working so hard round the clock. Partnership development is a long, laborious, and yet beautiful process that requires a monumental amount of time, energy and heart. 

For much of my life things have come easy. School, relationships, jobs – all of these things I’ve been able to do well and with relative ease. For as long as I can remember I had functioned from a place of expectation – do the work and you’ll get the results. And in a way, I liked that – people saw me as successful, able, and a hard worker. I took pride in that.

Naturally as we began the process of support raising for ministry in Spain, that very line of thinking undoubtedly followed me. Surely this would be the same. As long as we work hard, we’ll get the results, and get to Spain. Sure I knew the stats on the length of time it’s taken most missionaries to get over there. Talk to just about any missionary who’s gone to Spain and they’ll tell you – it took FAR longer and was MUCH harder than they’d ever expected just to get there. But I knew, if I do the work, I’ll get the results. 

So we worked. Hard. A couple months in and we saw minimal results. To say we saw nothing would be untrue – but my “do the work and you’ll get the results” had not fully been realized – we’d be doing the work, but not really seeing the results (well, the results I wanted). I began to become frustrated and disappointed. In my mind I figured, we just need to work harder, pray more, be more diligent. That’s what I’d done before. And so that’s what I did again. But this time, it didn’t work.

“Huh?! How could that be? I don’t understand!?!” We’d done all the work – but were still seeing only minimal results. My frustration and disappointment began to turn to anger. 

“God, what the heck?!?! Why is this not working? What are we doing? Are we still supposed to go Spain? I don’t understand!! We’re doing what you told us to do!?!? What are people going to think? I’m failing! I’m trying so hard, but I better try harder. I can do better. I’ll do better.” Questions swirled, frustrations grew, impatience and disappointment clouded a lot of my thoughts. It’s funny how quickly and easily your heart shifts when things don’t go the way YOU thought they would. Confused and even a bit disoriented, I started letting God have it. 

“He’s the one who got us into this mess in the first place right? It’s His fault this isn’t working. I’m doing the work, I’m being ‘faithful.’ God’s not holding up His end of the bargain.” A good friend of mine reminded me of all the passages of Scripture that talk about how when we’re faithful we see God’s faithfulness. It’s all over Scripture, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, the list goes on and on. Great!! That’s exactly what I had needed to hear, I’d been faithful, I’d done the work – so let’s move on.

“Wait…what? They all had to wait a LONG time to see God’s faithfulness?! A. Really. Long. Time.” (Insert the sound of a deflating ballon) The problem for me was I felt as if we didn’t have a long time. We’ve been waiting a long time already. Plus, people are partnering with us as we prepare for Spain – they’re expecting us to get there and get there soon! I figured, God has to know that, so what could possibly be the hold up?

Day after day I’d walk around our neighborhood with our dog Satchmo offering God my prayers of lament. It felt like my prayers were on repeat. I wrestled with God – still uncertain as to why we haven’t already moved and why we’ve not seen the results that we wanted to see. And slowly I began to hear His voice.

God’s Spirit, in such a gentle way, began to reveal my true heart. I wanted God to work like a coin operated machine; I do my work (partnership development) and God would do His (bring the partners onto our team). When I failed to see this play out I quickly turned my attention to what I’d done before – just try more. That had always worked in the past. But funny thing about that line of thinking, it’s all about me.

I was more concerned about how I was being perceived by others rather than paying attention to the ways God was moving and shifting my heart. I was struggling to believe that God truly was in control and knew what He was doing. I began to doubt what God was inviting us into and the truth that God always provides for those He invites into places of ministry. In fact, time and time again God reminded me that He was in control and would provide. And yet, my response tended to always be about what I needed to do get the results.

Partnership development moved my heart and mind to a place of chaos that I wasn’t necessarily wanting to enter into. The way I found myself responding to this chaos began to be a mirror to what was really going on in my heart. The funny thing was, God was using it to let me in on something – how filled I was with my self, and how preoccupied I was with myself – He wanted to take me into a place of humility. And for me, the spiritual pride was saying, “what’s going on? What did I do wrong?” My coin-operated view of God was nothing more than spiritual pride – I was choosing to believe that God was only showing up and “working” because I was working hard. But instead what was really happening was God was taking me on a journey out of His deep love for me. 

God in His gentleness was reminding me, “its always been me who’s been at work. I want to show you places where you don’t love me. Those are the places where I want to love and teach you.” The irony of the season of chaos was that God brought me into it not because of my actions of pride but rather because of His love for me and purposes for me. In other words, this season was, and actually still is, a gift from God. 

Now, I’d love to say that I’ve learned and grown and now view this season we’re in as a gift – always. That’s simply untrue. We’re still hard at work sharing our story and building new partnerships with churches and individuals. But I’m continuing to learn that our results are not indicative of our work ethic or abilities, but rather God’s complete control and timing in moving us to Spain. Some days I fall back on my pride and get angry we’re still not in Spain, since we’ve worked so hard and all 😉 But more days look like us trusting God’s provision and timing and remembering that we are called to be faithful and yet still put our faith in Him for the results. 

And so, we cling to 1 Thessalonians 5:24 – “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”

Semana Santa

“Penitentes carrying torches in hopes that Jesus will forgive their sins from the previous year”

As we find ourselves in the midst of Holy Week – we’re reminded that all around the world communities stop and reflect on the death and resurrection of Jesus. In Malaga, and Spain, this week is a huge deal – a sacred week – Semana Santa. It is a week filled with processionals and pageantry all meant to remember and reflect upon the suffering of Christ. All throughout Spain these processionals are taking place.

Each afternoon/evening during the week, 17th century floats bearing imagenes of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, emerge from the old churches and process through the streets for hours and hours until finally snaking their way back to the church from which they came. Costaleros bear the weight of these enormous floats, while penitentes, both large and small, lead and follow the float bearing traditional capirotes and candles. The eerie and sorrowful flamenco hymns, written in minor keys, are played by the Semana Santa bands to set the desparing tone of these processions. The hymns of the band, the wailing singers, and the cries of the pregoneros who bring the story of Jesus’s crucifixion, can be heard from miles away.

For the entire week pageantry, beauty, and grandiosity grips communities in Spain with such wonder and awe. And yet still, when all is said and done, when the week is over, and the costumes return to storage, the floats go back from whence they came – life in Spain returns to normal. Reflections of Christ become nothing but images in the rear view mirror.

As Jenifer and I look forward to and prepare to engage this beautiful context in ministry; this week especially, reminds us of how we all can at times be prone to production and grandeur to the point that we sometimes lose sight of Jesus. This is certainly the case in Spain as pageantry and religion clearly overshadows conviction and actual belief. But, at the same time, I can’t help and think of how easy it is for me to sit comfortably as an evangelical and point the finger toward a culture or cultures whose images convey grand religiosity devoid of Jesus when I myself can at times easily do the same.

As we somberly sit in this holy week and reflect upon the suffering of Christ and at the same time prepare for our celebration of His resurrection –  My prayer is that I/we would not get caught up in all of  our grand plans for celebration and at the end of the day forget Jesus. May we celebrate well and then allow that celebration to set the tone for lives that are lived well in light of that celebration – Jesus suffered and died, was buried, but rose again in triumph so that we too would live resurrection lives, lives impacted, shaped, and directed by His resurrection.

“The walk of penitence in Andalucia”