Thursday, August 2, 2018

Comfort or Confinement?

One of the beautiful views captured during a 2+ hour motorcycle trip Saturday on a nearby island. The adventure pushed me out of my "comfort zone"!

“I know one reason God brought me to Uganda was to remove me from my comforts and securities and learn to rely more on Him.
“But, after 8 years, it seems I have constructed new comforts and securities upon which I rely. Why?
“Because it seems in all truthfulness, I don’t trust God as much as I say I do. I believe I have to control and manipulate who and what is around me, to get the desired result – or at least the one I want. But, so much (or all or most of it) is out of my control.
“In a sense, I have confined myself and God to what I think we can manage together. I have been afraid to dream big because what if it is beyond what I can handle or manage?”

These were thoughts I journaled back in February. (This was well before I knew God would ask me to leave Uganda in September and take a sabbatical for an undetermined time for rest, reflection, and refocusing.)

At the start of 2018, God convicted me of putting up new “comfort zones” here in Uganda. It’s funny in an ironic way - I know God brought me here 8+ years for that very reason – to physically remove me from what I had leaned on and trusted in more than Him. And, yet here I was repeating the pattern...

We’re all familiar with the term “comfort zone.” It’s a space, physical or otherwise, where we feel comfortable, and outside of it is where comfort is less felt or perceived to be assured.

I used to think “comfort” was exactly how it’s defined: “State of ease or contentment.” But, in recent weeks, God has corrected my thinking. A “comfort zone” in reality can be a “confinement zone” – a place or space keeping you from what God is calling you into. Rather than being a protection, it prohibits us from moving ahead with God.

Every time in the Bible God called a man or a woman to Himself and into His ways and work, He called them out of something or somewhere else. The examples are too many to list here, but here is a sample: Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Rahab, Ruth, Elijah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, the 12 disciples, Paul...

To follow God’s leading, each man and woman had to step away and leave behind family, friends, homes, occupations, wealth, security, popularity, and the list goes on.

“These all died in faith without having received the promises, but they saw them from a distance, greeted them and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.
“If they were thinking about where they came from, they would have had an opportunity to return. But they now desire a better place – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:13-16)

The journey of faith is a journey out of comforts and confinements into greater dependence on and trust in our God. We leave lesser “securities” for a much greater and unshakable security in our Heavenly Father.

Is God asking you to step out of a “confinement zone"?

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Next Step

The rocky path to Lingira village.

"God, in His mercy, often shares only the next step."

That truth jumped off the page of the e-book I've been reading. The words were from a guide on writing newsletters, penned by a former missionary to China.

Her sentence confirmed what I have long presumed, but maybe didn't fully believe.

Back in early 2009 (before living in Uganda was in my near future), I attended a Christian writers' conference. I don't recall much of the topics or workshops that day, but a portion of a message has been seared onto my mind.

A professional writer, whose name I can't recall, spoke of God giving her a vision. I think it was about the writing process, which often seems daunting and scary. He showed her a dark valley and as she wondered how she would go down and across the vague unknown, a footstep lit up in front of her. As she stepped onto it, the next one lit up before her. And, as she took the next one, the next step was illuminated - all the way across the dark valley.

God has used that image over and over to remind me He's faithfully leading me step by step. I cannot see ahead even more than one or two steps, but that is okay; I don't need to. I just need to keep taking the next step.

I often tell people if you had told me 15 years ago that I would live and work in Uganda, I would have either broke down in tears or laughed incredulously at the possibility. It was completely beyond the realm of my imagination.

The missionary author I referred to earlier shared how God initially asked her to make a two-year commitment and she agreed and obeyed. That step of obedience led into 20 years of ministry in China, but God in His faithfulness did not show her the long haul, but only the next step.

The same pattern can be seen in many of the Biblical lives whom we read about and love. My favorite telling of this truth is in the life of Abram/Abraham.

It seems to me, according to the end of Genesis 11, that Terah, Abraham's father, had been told to go to Canaan. I am not sure why anyone else would pack up his entire family and belongings and set out for a new land, unless God had told him to. But, Terah didn't make it to Canaan. For reasons we are not told, he settled in Harran and died there.

Genesis 12 begins with "The Call of Abram." It appears God repeated the instructions to the next generation. And, accompanying the order to go were incredible promises made to Abram and to his descendants.

Hebrews 11:8 gives a glimpse into what was happening:

"By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going."

By faith in an unseen God and His unshakeable promises, Abram heard, he obeyed, he went - to a strange place. Verse 9 says Abram's faith did not end there, as remaining in Canaan, by living in tents and raising his family in the new land, also required faith.

God's been reminding me of Abram's faith and obedience. He's been assuring me He knows the next step and all of the steps of my journey. He's reminded me of His faithfulness to call me to Uganda, to keep and sustain me here, to bless me here in ways unimaginable. And, as I look ahead to what appears to be a dark, unknown valley, He comforts me He knows my "unknowns." 

It's not me to plot the course, but to focus on my Heavenly Father.

Is there a next step you believe God is leading you into?

P.S. I believe God is leading me into a new direction. To read more about it, read my latest e-newsletter.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Feed Your Thirst

Boating on Lake Victoria.
Are you drinking from the right source?

I’m not usually good at applying new information, but a podcast inspired me a couple of years ago.

The host spoke of maximizing his time, including rising early. To help himself wake up, by like 5 a.m. (yikes!), he did a couple of things – like switching on lights and drinking an 8 oz. glass of water before drinking anything else, even coffee.

As I am not a natural morning person, I began my mornings by switching on lights and drinking water. I have since become an avid water consumer, drinking multiple liters a day.

As a result, I’ve discovered something interesting - the more I drink water, the more I want to drink.

I am also a water advocate. I’m sure my students grow tired of my ever-repeated question, “Have you had any water today?” They tell me of their ailments, like headaches and flu*, and I ask nearly each one the “water” question.

Dehydration is very common here in Uganda and often leads to greater issues and concerns. It’s odd we would struggle to take water in this part of Uganda considering we receive a lot of rainfall and live near Lake Victoria and the Nile River - two of the world’s largest water bodies.

But, consuming water is not done by – what’s that fancy word? Oh, yes, “osmosis,” meaning we don’t absorb moisture through our skin, it must be consumed; it requires purposeful action.

This post is not about drinking the amazing clear, natural liquid God designed, but a greater thirst, which we need to foster and encourage because our souls, lives, and eternities depend on it.

Awhile back, I heard someone say, “You have as much of Jesus as you want.” Jesus doesn’t force us into a closer relationship with Him. But, He does draw us, waits for us to respond, and increases our “thirst” for Him, so we want more and more of Him.

We were created for relationship with Jesus and are never truly satisfied apart from Him.

But, in my “thirst” I admit I often seek other “thirst-quenchers.” This pursuit doesn’t really need much encouragement – my flesh, the world, and the Devil readily suggest “quenchers,” which may assuage thirst for a time, but then leave me more dehydrated than ever. They remind me of the Gatorade I would find in my grandparents’ fridge; it promised a lot, but delivered very little. As a girl, I would finish a glass and wonder why I had downed the Gatorade and not just gone for water.

She, too, had an unquenchable thirst and it had driven her to pursue men, not just one or two, but relationships with six different men. Those affairs had not met her deep need to be loved, treasured, adored, but left her “thirstier” than ever.

Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman in John 4 is one of my favorite of His interactions described in the Bible. I’ve heard the woman of Sychar wasn’t supposed to be at the community well in the middle of the day; drawing water takes place in the cooler morning or evening hours. It’s believed the community had ostracized her because of her loose lifestyle. The Jews hated the Samaritans and the Samaritans despised this woman. She was at the bottom of the ladder.

And, Jesus took time out of a busy ministry schedule to give her one-on-one time and attention, because she was desperately thirsty – not just for water from Father Jacob’s well, but from the eternal Source.

Before he sat down at that well, He knew absolutely everything about her; even more than her neighbors and fellow Sycharians thought they knew. But, He still sought her out, engaged her in conversation, spoke truth to her heart, and supplied what no mortal man could ever promise or fulfill.

“Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14

Once the woman “tasted” of the Living Water, the “spring” began welling up in her and she likely became the first Sycharian evangelist.

“’Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?’” she excitedly proclaimed to the townspeople (vs. 29). Unable to contain this good news, she returned to the very people who had shunned her. Her painful past was erased; it had been washed away by the Living Water.

She had “tasted,” been satisfied, and likely would not return to those imitation “quenchers.”

Do you want to be “thirstier” for Jesus? Then pray for it, spend time with Him at “the well,” and the more you drink of Him, the more you want of Him.

     “Feed” your thirst for Jesus, the Living Water.

*“Flu” in Uganda basically means anything resembling a cold.

This post was partially inspired by “Free to Thirst,” a chapter in Rebekah Lyons’ book “You are Free: Be Who You Already Are.”

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Is it Really in Christ Alone?

Have you ever sung a familiar song, realizing you are uttering words, but not really considering their meaning?

Sunday afternoon as I sang one of my favorite songs, "In Christ Alone," I contemplated the lyrics:

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm

Then I asked myself, is it really in Jesus alone in which I put my hope and trust? It may be easy to sing or say, but in my heart I know I often lean and trust on Jesus plus my family, or Jesus plus my friends, or Jesus plus my finances.

After God brought me to Uganda in January 2010, I understood a major reason why He took me halfway across the world. While living in the U.S., I trusted Him as my Lord and Savior, but I also depended far too heavily on my family, friends, work, church, etc. Those people and involvements helped me feel secure - they shored up my comfort zones. As long as they were in place, I was okay. If they shifted out of place, I became insecure.

Then Jesus took me from the midst of my family, friends, church, work, and put me in a new land with new people, new work, new customs, new language, etc.

Having been in Uganda now for 8 years I realize I have fallen back into old habits - creating other "comfort zones" and searching for new securities. Yes, I have learned how to survive without those people and places I once thought I could not live without, but I find myself still looking for those refuges here in Uganda. Jesus plus my ministry family, Jesus plus my ministry schedule, Jesus plus coffee. (Okay, admittedly, the last one is true, but allowed, right?)

The issue is, Jesus truly does want it to be about Him alone. He knows the tendencies of our human hearts to trust what we see and feel, what is tangible. But since creation He has desired all of our allegiance, dependence, and worship. When I begin to trust and rely on other people or things more than Jesus, that is called idolatry.

Sadly, that shift in focus often happens before we can rightly label it, but it is true - our wayward hearts must be consistently and constantly reminded to trust and rest in Christ alone. I am not encouraging entire independence from people, commitments, routines, etc., but I am challenging each of us, myself included, to make sure our hope and strength are first and foremost in Jesus Christ.

Because when those securities and comforts fade away, what remains? Jesus, my Cornerstone, my solid ground.

What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, My All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand

Tree on Lingira Island

Friday, February 9, 2018

I'm Back! - A Video Update

Hi, Friends,

I am back! After an "unplanned" sabbatical from blogging, I hope to get back into posting here. To kick off the new year, here is a video update about what's been happening in my life and in the ministry on the islands.


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Is Jesus All I Need?

Jesus is...preeminent.

It sounds good, doesn’t it? But, do I fully comprehend it? And not only do I understand it, do I believe it so it influences how I live?

To keep reading, hop on over to Dr. Leanna Hollis' blog, where I am privileged to be the guest blogger today. :)

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Why Can't I Have Their Life?

“If God made you special; why did He?”

My students tried their best to answer the “why” question, drawing from the last lesson about God making them in His image and thus they are special.

“Because I am made in His image.”

“Yes, but why did He make you in His image? Why are you here on earth?”

“To worship Him.”

“To serve Him.”

“True, but why did God make you?”

They were stumped. I grinned just as one might before revealing a super big and exciting secret.

“Because God has a plan for your life.”

I illustrated with a key and a padlock – they are the key and the padlock is God’s plan for them. One without the other is not useful and keys cannot be interchanged with other padlocks.

A key is designed for one padlock. The point: You were made on purpose for a purpose.

You were made ON purpose!

God planned, designed, and created you for a very unique plan, and you or your plan cannot be exchanged for anyone else and God’s unique plan for them.

My life is running quite different than I “planned.” As a wee lass, I dreamed of becoming a radio disc jockey or a famous writer or a celebrated detective. Those aspirations were as “big” as my small mind and heart could manage.

I didn’t foresee being a former-journalist-turned-untrained-teacher, living across the world, and teaching young people who are very different from me in nearly every way. I did not anticipate that going barefoot or wearing flip-flops and skirts would be my norm when I used to hate all of them. ;) Eating beans daily was not a perk I expected, though I have always loved beans! Growing up I couldn’t stand cold weather and hardly tolerated any play in the snow; perhaps God designed my body for warmer, equatorial climates.

Living halfway across the world from my family and some of my dearest friends was not on my radar 10 years ago.

Perhaps like many of us I compare my life with others, especially when they appear to be receiving or achieving what is not yet mine – marriage, children, university degrees, a house, speaking languages fluently, being taller or thinner or richer or tanner, or having a different nose.

Granted, some of these I lack because of my own choices; others are ones God may or may not give me.

I wonder what God thinks when I compare my life to others?

“Ruthie, I am writing your story. I designed your character to fit inside the plot I am unfolding. Don’t jump and change characters or plot lines. Your story is as unique as you are.”

What if Peter had compared his life with his Old Testament heroes?

“God, why can’t I ride a flaming chariot like Elijah?” “Is there a reason you don’t continue to appear in a burning bush to give me directions?” “I have to go to the market again. Why not send manna and meat as You used to?”

What if Paul had questioned God’s plan for him?

“Umm, God, was it really Your idea I be shipwrecked, arrested, imprisoned, left for dead? I mean look at John, he is exiled on an island, but that seems way more peaceful and desirable than my present circumstances – chained between two Roman guards.”

Sure, the Biblical saints struggled, doubted, and questioned God’s paths for them. Just this morning I read about Jeremiah wishing he had died in his mother’s womb. Really? Wow.

I wonder if such questioning grieves God as our doubts reveal our lack of trust in Him.

The problem is I and the rest of us humans are short-sighted. We can look back on our past, and we can see today, but we can’t catch a glimpse beyond life’s next curve. We are somewhere in the middle of the story, but we don’t know how it will keep unfolding, and how or when we will reach the climax.

I once heard there will come a day, likely after we’ve left earth and entered our eternal home, that we’ll look back on our lives and say, “I wouldn’t change a thing.”

For some it may be a difficult thought to process, especially considering the challenges, pain, struggles, losses, and hardships we have had and will still encounter. But, somehow God in His incredible sovereignty can weave all the good and the bad and the ugly of our lives and stories into a beautiful pattern – for our good and for His glory.

I can’t even wrap my mind around it. It’s just too far above my pea-brain and too far out for my short-sightedness.

But, walking with God is a walk of faith. Trusting a God I cannot see to lead me on a path I do not know toward a future I’ve only ever heard about.

When God called me to Uganda 8 years ago, He assured me with this verse:

“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” Hebrews 11:8

(Incidentally, I used this verse as the inspiration for this blog’s title.)

God told Abraham to go – leave his home and country and go. Genesis 12 tells us God commanded Abraham to leave his country and kindred and father’s house “to the land that I will show you.”

It’s my understanding that in Middle Eastern culture, families stick together – for generations, and they generally stay in the same area for a long, long time. What God asked Abraham to do was entirely counter-cultural and far outside the norm.

Can you imagine Abraham trying to explain to his relatives? And, they might respond, “Okay, you’re leaving our home and family and livelihood, but where are you going? At least give us a clue so we can forward your mail.”

“I don’t know,” he might reply, “but God does. I don’t need to know, I just need to obey. God will show me the place and the people at the right time. He has told me what I need to know right now.”

He went, not knowing where he was going. And, God used Abraham’s trust-filled obedience in ways Abraham could never dream of.

“I will make of you a great nation...I will bless you and make your name great...You will be a blessing...and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Wowsa. What amazing and incredible promises!

Would those have been granted if Abraham had chosen his own path or decided to stay in Ur or Haran? Maybe not. True, Abraham later tampered with God’s agenda, but he didn’t derail it.

Yes, God’s plan for Abraham is different than the ones He has for you and I – but no less special or important or good.

Looking back, I don’t want those long-ago small, childish dreams. I want God to keep writing my story and leading the way and choosing my path.

His ways are the best.

You were made on purpose for a purpose. Seek the Author of your story.

(P.S. Check out the "quotables" on the right for some of my favorite quotes on this topic.)