“If They Would Only…”

Ministry is a funny thing. We serve others because we care. Our deepest desire is that people would experience love and freedom. We desire for them to be filled with hope and their lives to be marked by peace. Obviously our desire is rooted in relationship with Jesus. It is out of a life that’s being transformed by Him that we serve others. At the same time, often the longer we are in ministry the easier it is for us to see the shortcomings in others. It becomes easier for us to see clearly the barriers to belief or life transformation in the lives of those we serve. We often find ourselves locked in to the “problems” that plague the church and hinder her from being all that God has called her to be. If we’re not careful though, our ability to discern these things can lead us to a place of pride. With great ease we quickly move to right answer and right action rather than actually caring for those we serve.

Out of “love” we say things like…”if they would only…” or “why can’t they just…” or even, “they need to understand…” I’ve said these words. I’ve thought these thoughts. And even though I can rationalize them as care for others, I often find that my bigger issue is that they’re not doing the things that I want them to do. Or perhaps they’re not believing the things I think they should believe. This is often just a guise for control. When we use the cover of ministry to control actions or belief, we’re actually not loving people at all.

Ministry is messy. People are messy. The longer I walk with Jesus the more I realize that my job is not to change behaviors or even thinking…it’s simply to love my neighbor. God actually takes care of the rest…in his time, in his way. How can I love well when I more concerned with getting them to do the right thing, when we know actions are nothing more than outpouring of a person’s heart? If I care for someone’s heart well and actually allow God to do the changing of things, it often leads to real transformation. When I only see the sin or distorted belief and push towards change of behavior or belief, well, that often leads to a fight. That’s probably because behavior modification rarely leads us anywhere.

To actually care for a person’s heart we must be filled with compassion. Compassion allows us to live with the tension of what is and what should be without needing to force anything. The only way we can actually live lives of compassion is if we ourselves have experienced compassion. This is probably why Jesus tells us to love our neighbor AFTER we learn to love God. That’s because the only way we can be people of compassion is if we have first received it from God himself.

When we show compassion to others, when we choose to love rather than control, when we sit patiently with people, we are actually pointing them to life in the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is a kingdom in which we can trust God will act. Life in the kingdom is a life of compassion, a life of patience, a life of long suffering, and a life of trusting in the slow, intentional work of God to bring about transformation. This is where real change happens. When I push – I often push away from the kingdom. I am reminded of how Jesus interacted with the woman at the well in John 4. He didn’t start with “you are a terrible human being who sleeps around and makes terrible choices.” That probably would have shut down the conversation rather quickly. Instead, Jesus actually leads with compassion and care. The change in her heart naturally follows.

May I be a person who simply points people to life in the kingdom. May I show compassion when I’m tempted to show someone the “right answer.” May I resist the urge to simply jump to right thinking and instead care for someone’s heart by trusting God to do the changing. To be clear this doesn’t mean we don’t ever preach repentance or point people towards their need for change. But as I reflect on the life of Jesus I see over and over again examples of his compassion and care. The people whom he went to battle with, the Pharisees, were those who should have known better and claimed faith. As someone who claims faith, I must repent of having all the right answers and the right way of bringing about change in a person’s life lest I become like those Jesus condemns. May we in the church practice restraint and patience and a desire to love rather than control.

Why don’t they have……here?

There’s Diane Lane’s living in Italy and then there’s living in Italy.

Imagine you’re staying in a Bed and Breakfast somewhere in the hills of Tuscany. Every direction you look you see nothing but perfectly lined vineyards underneath the golden sun. You’re in the middle of a 3 week vacation through Italy. You’ve already seen the Colosseum, you’ve climbed the Duomo, you’ve taken a traghetto through the canals of Venice; the vino, the espresso, that incredible pasta you had overlooking the Duomo with the waiter who spoke great english and laughed with you as you tried to pronounce “grazie.” But, when it’s all over, you head home on your 8 hour flight where the unlimited wine makes you pine to be back in that cozy villa.

Now, hold on to that image.

But instead of hills replace it with a view of really old buildings that are in desperate need of maintenance, literally everywhere you look out your window. The scent of cigarettes and exhaust follow you everywhere you go.

That tuscan sun, it’s actually fog and clouds that blanket the city much of the fall and winter making it feel as though the walls that surround the city have now completely collapsed on you and enveloped everything.

That waiter, well, he actually doesn’t speak any english and grows increasingly irritated with you as you fumble through your food order.

When you visit a place for a short time you almost always find yourself with a romanticized view of those experiences. However, the longer you stay in a place, the more the realities of your new culture begin to set in and push up against your own cultural expectations. The nice shiny parts of that place begin to wear off and disorientation starts to set in. That disorientation is what experts call “culture shock.”

Now imagine you’ve just woken up and began your morning routine. Your kids have already been up for an hour or so but had been playing (read: without fighting) quietly enough to allow you to stay in bed a little longer than usual. You make your coffee, take your shower and sit down for breakfast. Suddenly, much to your early morning surprise, your doorbell buzzes. You open the door to a 65+ year old Italian woman, who, before you can even get a “buon giorno” out of your mouth, immediately unleashes more words and gestures than your B1 Italian class could have ever prepared you for. For the next 5 minutes (which actually feels like 20), an onslaught of Italian words reign down on you with a fury and emotion that could fell a dragon. You understand exactly what she’s saying (thanks in part to her continual repetition of the same two sentences), but you don’t have the words (or hand gestures) to appropriately respond. So, you stand there and press repeat on “capito” and “mi dispiace” until she realizes you don’t speak so well. Finally, she leaves. You take a breath, and go back to the table to finish your breakfast.

Sometimes, living in a place is just plain ridiculous. Sometimes you say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Sometimes you laugh when you should have showed empathy because you misunderstood the situation. Sometimes you hate the fact that you can’t get more than a spoonful of coffee. Sometimes you want something other than pasta for dinner. And sometimes you wish you could tell an old Italian woman how two year olds make a lot of noise and that you’re not purposely disrespecting them.

Transition from just visiting to actually living challenges you, pushes you, tries you in ways that you may never have expected. The challenge is to look at the honeymoon for what it is and hold those differences in tension. The vision of what was (or what you thought was) many times is dismantled and rebuilt 1000x over. And that’s ok, and actually pretty healthy.

We are learning more and more every day that getting adjusted and acclimated to a new culture is a process. A long one.

People way smarter than us name 4 stages of culture shock that one often goes through in the culture shock process.

Honeymoon. Negotiation. Adjustment. Adaptation.

It’s easy to think of these as a linear process, but as we’re learning, the reality is that you move in and out of these stages with great fluidity. As our experiences here in Italy continue to collide with our cultural experiences from the US it’s easy to allow self doubt and feelings of alienation to creep in.

“I wish I could speak better.”

“I know what you’re saying, I just don’t know how to respond.”

“Why don’t they have…..here?!”

“Our neighbors must not like us, they clearly don’t want to to talk to us.”

The better we are able to recognize, name, communicate, and actually understand why these different pieces of culture cause us stress or frustration the better we are able to hold the beauty and frustration in a healthy balance. And the easier it is for us to remember: this is normal. This is part of the process. This too is only a season.

We can celebrate the beauty of Diane’s Tuscan sun and at the same time mourn the reality of a winter spent in fog and car exhaust.

We can remember that incredible prosecco and yet long for a cup of coffee that fills a 16oz mug.

We can show ourselves grace because learning language is hard work and takes time.

We can know that the anger of an old Italian woman probably goes deeper than just being woken up too early – chances are good she probably just wants to be heard.

As missionaries we must learn to simultaneously celebrate and mourn. We know that God uses all of our experiences to shape us and form us, but our ability to be open and aware to how they are shaping us is a continual challenge and invitation.

We must step forward in faith, knowing every season is, in fact, a season.

Celebrate that which is good, mourn the losses.

It too shall pass.

 

God Did It.

 

 

Today we purchased our tickets to Italy.

Like, “we’re leaving in three short weeks,” purchased our tickets.

Like, “all our belongings are being shipped over the Atlantic Ocean this week,” purchased our tickets.

We are finally moving. Wow, that feels good to write.

As many of you know, our journey has been long. Very long. Who’d have thought our journey would take us through places like San Diego and Atlanta? Who’d have thought we’d have over 70 ministry partners from every corner of the country and even parts of the globe? Who’d have thought we’d be re-routed from Spain to Italy? Who’d have thought it would have taken so long?

Spoiler Alert – we sure didn’t.

A few weeks ago I received a little message from our good friends in Spain reminding us just how long this journey has been. He sent a copy of one of the first messages we had ever sent to him and his family as we were exploring mission organizations like CRM and ministry in Europe.

That message was dated 9-7-11.

9-7-11

Hey Deric, Thanks for your message…sorry it took me so long to get back to you, for some reason I can only see your message on my phone, not on my computer…but I digress. It is true we are very interested in missional community living and CRM. Both my wife and I are looking to serve overseas in some capacity and are exploring opportunities right now. We both feel like God is moving us toward cross cultural ministry but really are praying and seeking God as to what that is supposed to look like. I think Jenifer and I are certainly interested in Spain, learning Spanish, etc. However, at this point obviously we know very little as to what you are doing out there and would love to know more. I would love to talk with you more and see what God is doing over there and what your vision for ministry in Malaga looks like. Thanks again for contacting me! Blessings, Jeff

As we reflect back on our journey toward cross cultural ministry I can’t help but think of a simple prayer we prayed almost 6 years ago as we sensed God moving us toward this type of ministry. As we sat in our apartment in Tacoma, Washington, we simply prayed, “God, wherever you lead us next, and whatever you lead us into, may we look back at the journey and only be able to point to you and what you’ve done. May it be your work from start to finish.”

Now, as we stand just three short weeks away from our move, we look back upon the past 5, almost 6 years, and say – “God did it.”

Our journey has been long. It has not been easy, but it’s been one of the most life shaping, transformative seasons of our lives. And we are grateful. We look ahead with great anticipation; more trusting than ever before of His faithful and sometimes painfully slow work to sustain us and carry us as we follow Him.

The wait’s been worth it. Thank you for waiting with us.

God did it.

 

Trust in the slow work of God

With each new day God continues to bring more pieces together for our family as we prepare to move. Our family heads to North Carolina at the beginning of October for a month-long cross cultural transition training that, we believe, will set us up well for a healthy transition to Italy and longevity on the field. Once our training is complete, we simply need our visas in hand and 100% of our monthly budget pledged and then we can move. Visas are in process and we’re currently at 74% of our monthly budget. We are getting close! 

As many of you know, our journey has been long. Many of you have laughed with us, cried with us, prayed with and for us over these past few years. It’s been a battle just to get to this point. This morning I was reminded of a poem one of our best friends read over us about a year ago. I wanted to share this poem with you now, as our journey has continued to sew its truths deep into our hearts. “Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you…” 

Above all, trust in the slow work of God
we are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet is the law of all progress
that is is made by passing through
some stages of instability-
and that it may take a very long time.
 
And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually- let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
will make of you tomorrow.
 
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
 
—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ

Dio è Amore

The past few months we’ve spent a great deal of time connecting with people and sharing our story and vision for ministry in Italy. As we prepare to launch this October one thing we continue to realize is, for most, when it comes to overseas missions, Italy, and western Europe in general, rarely come up in conversation. Most people think of Italy only as pasta, pizza, the Colosseum, the leaning tower and good wine. Few people ever think of Italy as place that is desperately in need of the gospel and the hope that it brings.

The reality, as it relates to ministry in Italy, is that less than 1% of Italy’s 60 million people are evangelical Christians. The majority of that 0.5% are in the southern regions, leaving an estimated 0.1% in the north. And while Catholicism is the predominant religion in Italy, many are leaving the church all together, searching for answers and largely turning to atheism, agnosticism and the occult.

There are over 100,000 licensed witches in Italy – that’s more witches than there are priests.

Italy, in all of its history, has never seen a spiritual revival.

Surprisingly, the Evangelical community has, in the past, faced much persecution and has been viewed as a cult. For the most part its been widely misunderstood by the religious culture of a predominantly Catholic nation.

In Italy, many missionaries will tell you, there seem to be three main challenges:

(1) Identity, (2) Unity, and (3) Training.

Evangelicals in Italy are (and have been) in a struggling minority situation. Christian identity has been largely defined not by who they are but by who they are not (e.g., not religiously Roman Catholic, not theologically liberal, not culturally secular). The overall perception has been that evangelicals are a cult. There is a huge need for Italian evangelicals to better grasp their evangelical identity based on gospel distinctives rather than what they are against.

Disunity has been sewn into the very fabric of this complex land since before the inception of Rome. This fighting and warfare has found its way into the church and marks many of the cities throughout the country. This reality means that very few local churches ever work together but rather, more often than not, work against each other.

Lastly there’s training. In struggling and small churches (which are most Italian churches), formation hasn’t been viewed as a priority. Most leaders are self-taught and self-trained. Cultural engagement is often shallow at best. There is a tremendous need for proper training and support. If leaders don’t emerge who are better equipped for ministry and better prepared for how to be faithful and missional in their vocations then little will ever change.


We believe God is doing a new work in the hearts and lives of Italians.

We believe a new generation of leaders is being raised up to bring renewal, reconciliation and hope to a country mired in despair.

We believe God is preparing the hearts of Italians who will birth long lasting legacies of faithful Jesus followers, and whom will be sent out to create fresh expressions of church, church planting movements, and other missional communities in Italy and throughout all of Europe.

We believe that when Italians walk in the ways of Jesus, and discover the unique areas God is calling them to serve, generations will be transformed. Leaders will be birthed. Italians will walk intimately connected to God, know themselves 
as His children, and live into their unique Kingdom contribution.

This is what we want to be about. This is God’s invitation for us. We can’t wait to enter into what God has in store for this great nation. But there is a lot of work to be done. And we believe, it starts with prayer.


Would you join with us and pray for Italy.

When you have pizza – pray for Italy.
When you have pasta – pray for Italy.
When you are drinking your cappuccino – pray for Italy.
When you open a bottle of wine – pray for Italy.

Here are a few specific ways you could pray for Italy:

  1. Lord, I pray that you raise up a grass roots prayer movement in Italy.
  2. Lord, I pray that you raise up strong spiritual leaders in the churches of Italy.
  3. Lord, I pray that your Holy Spirit will build and empower the church of the Lord Jesus Christ in Italy.
  4. Lord, I pray that your Holy Spirit will encourage every believer in Italy to be a bold witness for Jesus.
  5. Lord, I pray that your Holy Spirit will draw thousands of people in Italy to Christ.
  6. Lord, I pray that the youth of Italy would embrace Jesus as Saviour and Lord.
  7. Lord, I am believing you for spiritual revival in Italy.

Prossimi passi

Our trip to Italy was extremely clarifying. We certainly felt God’s presence and direction at every turn. We spent time with pastors, missionaries, and neighbors throughout Pescara, Perugia and Rome. We have come away from this trip with a deeper sense of call, a clearer sense of the way forward, and a renewed sense of urgency. We saw time and time again that God is doing an incredible work in this country. We are thrilled to be a part of what He’s already doing.  As we walked the streets of these cities we began to see that Perugia was the best landing spot for our family. We are committed to doing everything we can to get back as soon as possible! And we look forward with great anticipation for what God has in store for our family there. Until then, here are a couple of highlights from our trip.

Pescara:

Pescara, Abruzzo, Italy

Exploring Pescara with two of our incredible CRM leaders.

Pescara is an ancient fishing village on the Adriatic Sea.

Pescara is an ancient fishing village on the Adriatic Sea.

The Ciccone Family. We had the privilege of staying with this incredible family in Pescara. Giacomo serves as the President of the Italian Evangelical Alliance and is committed to seeing churches expand their reach in this gospel starved country.

The Ciccone Family. We had the privilege of staying with this incredible family in Pescara. Giacomo serves as the President of the Italian Evangelical Alliance and is committed to seeing churches expand their reach in this gospel starved country.

Abruzzi Rooftops

Abruzzi Rooftops

This is the "Christian Bookstore" owned by the Italian Evangelical Alliance in Pescara. It's called Controcorrente - "Against the current."

This is the “Christian Bookstore” owned by the Italian Evangelical Alliance in Pescara. It’s called Controcorrente – “Against the current.”


Perugia:

The Seal of Perugia - The Griffin

The Seal of Perugia – The Griffin

Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi

Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi

The Streets of Perugia

Università per Stranieri di Perugia - This is the school that we will attend for language.

Università per Stranieri di Perugia – This is the school that we will attend for language.

Sunset in Perugia

Sunset in Perugia


Rome:

This small hill - The Palatine Hill - is said to be the birthplace of Rome.

This small hill – The Palatine Hill – is said to be the birthplace of Rome.

General Audience with Pope Francis

General Audience with Pope Francis


Italian missionaries often say to us, “Italy is an incredible place to visit, but a hard place to live.” What we’re finding is that that statement sums Italy up well. Italy is an extremely complex country. We love its beauty, its charm, its people; but we know the road ahead is going to be challenging and we’re grateful for the many ways you’ve walked with us already on this journey. God’s doing a new work in us, and we pray that He’s also working through us. We’re so excited for what lies ahead. Andiamo.

5 Lessons I Learned in the Desert

5 Lessons I Learned in the Desert

God actually brings people through the desert. On purpose. Because He loves them.

Let that sit for a bit.

The desert.

You know, that place where you’re all alone. That place where there’s absolutely nothing around for miles. That place where wild animals are looking for their next meal. That place where your deepest fears and insecurities seep up from the depths of your soul because you’re left alone with them.

That place where no matter what you do, you don’t feel God’s presence and nothing turns out the way you thought it would. That place where you’ve done everything you’ve been told to do in the past: pray, read your Bible, listen to hymns about God, go to church and it just doesn’t work.

That place is where I’ve found myself wandering throughout this past year. To say that it’s been exhausting, emotional, and just plain hard would be an understatement.

And yet, being led into the desert was God’s purposeful and loving path for me to be formed in the ways of Jesus. And through it, I’ve learned a lot.

1) God cares more about my heart than He does about the results of my “ministry”

God used the desert to show me the places in my life where I didn’t love Him. He began to strip away any semblance of productivity and success. God made it clear: more than the number of people I lead to Jesus, more than the leaders I’ve trained and developed, more than the partnerships I’ve forged, He cares about my heart being surrendered to Him.

2) Often times I live like I’m a Christian Moralist

When I didn’t see the results and “fruit” of all my hard work I felt guilty and shameful. In order to cover those feelings up, I worked harder. But what God began to show me was that it’s not my job to take away guilty and shame. That’s Jesus’ job. That’s why He died. God began to show me what was in my heart. Spiritual pride. “I can do it myself.” Instead God pointed me to a place of love and humility; the way of Jesus.

3) You can’t read and pray your way out of the desert

Scripture is full of verses that talk about “waiting on the Lord.” We often think that that the longer we’ve been walking with Jesus, the more “experiences” we’d have with Him. We’re often told that we’re supposed to “feel” God’s presence all the time. And so it’s confusing, we often think that the more character/maturity we have in Christ, the deeper the experience of God we should have. When we stop having the “feeling,” often our response is to go back to what we know. “But, I’ve read my Bible, I’ve prayed, I’ve gone to church…why does God still seem so distant?” What I began to understand is that God’s desire is to take us to real places of growth. Thats the purpose of the desert, to expose one’s heart. God strips us of what’s worked before to draw us into deeper relationship with Him. God brings us to places where all we can do is pull up a chair and sit down while we wait for Him to form us, grow us, and lead us out of the desert.

4) God desires for us to be vulnerable with Him

I was raised as a good Baptist.  I could never imagine telling God I was angry at Him. I mean, I probably told God I didn’t like something once or twice, but never dared to express my anger towards Him for putting me in a specific situation. And yet, this past year I’ve spent more time reading Psalms and Lamentations than ever before. Let’s be very clear: David and the writer of Lamentations were extremely honest with how they felt about their subsequent situations. They held nothing back. As I began to share the anger, frustration, sadness, and brokenness that was in the depths of my heart, I in turn experienced the invitation of God to draw near to Him in love and comfort. He loved me despite the smorgasbord of genuinely negative feelings I had towards Him. Allowing yourself to feel emotions in the midst of your situations and offering them up to God who in turn responds with love is a recipe for heart change. And that’s what began to happen.

5) We need community to point us to Jesus when we can’t find the way ourselves

The desert is disorienting, exhausting, and grueling. When you’re in the middle of the desert it’s hard to tell which way is up. I’m grateful that in the middle of one the hardest seasons of my life, God graciously surrounded me with people who knew which way was up. When I couldn’t hear God’s voice, they listened on my behalf. When I couldn’t “feel” God’s love for me, they showed me the love of God. When I couldn’t see God’s faithfulness they pointed out God’s gracious provision. They prayed faithfully for me, listened intently to the cries of my heart, and sat with me when I needed friendship and comfort. They pointed me to Jesus when I couldn’t find my way through the desert. A community that reflects the person and work of Jesus transforms neighborhoods and lives. That’s why community is so important.

 

Hi, I’m Jeff and I’m an ENTJ

“What can we gain by sailing to the moon, if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves.” Thomas Merton

Hi, my name is Jeff, I’m an ENTJ, enneagram 8 wing 7, and an “Analyst/Prioritizer/Captain.

Fact: The easiest way to connect with someone is by asking them questions about themselves. Facebook is littered with quizzes and memes telling the world what city you should live in, or what Princess Bride character you are, or even what pizza topping you are. You’re lying to yourself if you say you’ve never taken one of those quizzes. We all have, because we all love to be known – we all love to talk about ourselves. All of us. Deep within us is this desire for us to be labeled and known. I would argue that that innate desire is to both know and be known by something greater than ourselves; and furthermore to have significance.

Our community has spent a lot of time exploring the world of both Meyers Briggs and Enneagram and the “types” of things those personality “theories” communicate about us. It’s a fascinating world of theory that can bring both clarity and sometimes frustration.

“That IS me!!”

“I don’t really do that, do I?”

“I don’t experience you that way…”

These “personality” tests really can dissect and help us better understand the intricacies of who we are and how we function. Each one of us has personality – each of us desires for our personality to somehow “fit” into this crazy world – and to matter. Personality is simply the collection of our conditioned reactions, emotions, fears, ways of behaving and believing that makes us unique from each other. And that’s the beauty of it, we all are unique. No two ENFJ’s are the same, no two Enneagram 7’s are the same. And we all have the opportunity to uniquely shape our world. Certainly these personality tests and systems help us in that discovery process, but they’re not the end all.

As we’ve been here in San Diego, we’ve seen so many neighbors and friends searching desperately for significance and trying to live out their lives with a hopeful futility. Many of our neighbors simply punch in and out of work and seek to make the time in between a little more enjoyable. Many of these neighbors, if asked about themselves, will talk endlessly of their “real” passions and their dreams. And that’s just it, so many of us come alive when we share “the real us” and are known and understood.

It’s in those spaces of listening and really hearing others well that we give our neighbors a taste of the Kingdom. The reality is that when we take time to listen, encourage, and know others we are revealing the heart of our Father who loves and knows each of us with a depth we can’t even fully grasp. As we’ve served with :Beta: we’ve had the privilege of walking with countless men and women in the process of self discovery and help them step into their dreams and passions. We’ve seen our neighbors and apprentices come alive before our very eyes. I think that’s simply because when we know ourselves well, then we are able to make an authentic contribution to our world. 

No matter what our personality profile says we are – we have all been created for significance and for an authentic kingdom contribution much greater than we could ever imagine.

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.”

Get Out Your Pom-Poms

I was not a cheerleader in high school. I know – shocking. But I’m trying to be one today.

I say that because I’ve been reflecting on Romans 16 this past week. Now bear with me – I promise there’s a connection. You know…Romans 16. That chapter that caps off one of the most theologically in depth treatises on the gospel ever, with…a really long list of names…yeah you read that right:

Paul finishes his letter to Romans, perhaps the most celebrated book in the entire Bible with a list of names. 

Now be honest, if you’re like me, when you come to Romans 16 after an incredible time studying the book of Romans; you probably approach it with all the vigor and in-depth study of the previous 15 chapters, right? Yeah me neither.

Most of us look at this list much like a genealogical list in the OT; with about as much vigor and passion as a first grader trying to read the most books in his class to win a trip to the principal’s office for a pizza party (To be fair, no one ever said anything to me about the need for comprehension)…But that’s another story for another time…I digress.

Over the past couple of years I’ve come to appreciate Romans 16 for a lot more than just a list of names. It’s really a testimony of the important role people play in our lives and in our ministries. Spend any time in a church and you know just how many people it takes to make things run well; quite a few actually. The same can be said on the “mission field.” We have countless people praying for us, financially investing in the ministry, and serving alongside of us. People who are all-stars when it comes to ministry! What I appreciate so much about Paul’s list in Romans 16 is that he publicly thanks and praises all of those people who have given their lives to serve God and his Church. More than just a list, I think it’s a great reminder to all of us.

People matter.

A lot. 

We’d do well to be people who affirm, uphold, and encourage those who have gotten us to the places we are today and those who are killing it when it comes to ministry! Honestly I don’t think I necessarily have the spiritual gift of encouragement, but I sure love those who do. I love being encouraged. I love being told I’m doing a great job. Most people do. Most people (not all), love it more than they love telling others the same things. And just because I may not have that gift doesn’t mean I’m off the hook. This week I was reminded once again of how important it is to call out those who are doing it; those who are serving and loving people like Jesus; those who have helped us; who’ve sacrificed for us.

I want need to be like Paul, put on my cheerleader’s outfit, get out my megaphone and be someone’s cheerleader. People need it. I’d encourage you to do the same. Paul clearly valued people. Jesus sure did. I must.

So, who’s on your Romans 16 list? Who are you cheering on? Let them know. Tell them. Tell others about them.