wheels on the bus

It’s hard to believe that we’re looking at another school in the rearview mirror. It feels like we just arrived in the States for this year of itineration, but the boxes and bins scattered across the apartment signal another transition is coming.

In the course of all our freewheeling American adventures, visiting the wide network of churches that sustain our work in Africa, we’ve been able to mark out special time with our kids. We walked in the cherry blossoms in DC and rode to the top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. We took silly pictures wearing top hats at a small shop in Indianapolis and booked it (ironically I might add) from a torrential rainstorm while we played at a waterpark with friends in downtown Oklahoma City.

My guess is, if you asked the kids, they’d say we've taken pictures in front of every mural in Richmond. They’d probably be right! This has been our year about time, 365 days of intentional time, a season made and lived with purpose.

Every parent wants their children to look back and think fondly of their childhood, but that’s easier said than done. The hours slip away into decades and we miss out on the moments that make things special.

Driving to Tennessee the other day we needed to tank up. The gas tank on our beloved minivan, Winston, was running low. More than that, the caffeine levels on the driver were running low too! Just off the highway was a chain coffee shop and a gas station too. But a few miles off Interstate 81 is the city of Bristol with her main street straddling the State line between Virginia and Tennessee. As if on a whim, we left the main road and took the road less traveled. We cruised main street. We walked back and forth between the States. We took pictures with a giant guitar and explored a few stores. We found great coffee and cheap gas and in less than an hour we were back on the road again, but we took with us a whole host of new memories.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. We didn’t stumble upon Bristol. Our side-trip was planned; our little diversions and odd possibilities all mapped out in my notebook. Sometimes we do accidentally trip into success, but often we find success only through intentional pursuit. I am pursuing to make great memories for my children, to remember our itinerate life fondly, but also to keep their eyes open to the incredible possibilities of lives well lived.

During this school year the kids did great. They achieved great grades, even with the uncomfortable task of transitioning into a public school, knowing that they wouldn’t be there next year. They made new friends. They rode the bus every day to school. Some of the stories from the bus were hard to hear (yes, drama still happens on the bus). But one of my favorite stories from this year happened on that bus too. Several immigrants lived in our apartment complex on the Southside of Richmond, many from Arabic-speaking countries. Henry became friends with a little boy I’ll call Amir. Every day Henry and Amir would talk and play on the bus on their way to and from school.

Day by day, Henry shared his life and his love with Amir. They shared the places they’d been and things they’d seen around the world. They shared stories and adventures. Henry shared Jesus with Amir.

Amir accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior in a public school bus with his friend. Henry gave him his Bible. After a while Amir’s parents made him give it back. Amir is on a journey now. It will be riddled with adventures and difficulties, challenges and beauty. I would like to ask you to pray for Amir, and his family. Would you take time to lift up every man, woman and child who has decided to make an intentional step toward Jesus today? Take that minute now, I’ll wait.

Life flies by fast, but the time we take and the witness we share will stay with us forever. Don’t miss the adventures off the wide paths. Don’t miss the Amirs waiting. The wheels on the bus go round and round. Make the most of the journey.

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God of the Blue Sky

Out of nothing, everything.

Can you imagine floating in the vacuum of space, before space and time were formed in the Creator’s words? In a moment, in a flash of creation, the sound of the eternal God’s voice shattered the void. The sun, moon and stars. The planets and plants. The waters and all kinds of life. All these realities bound in space and time burst into existence from the voice of God (Genesis 1-2).

He spoke and out of nothing, everything.

Through Jesus “all things were created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him,” (Colossians 1.16). God set His everlasting self toward honoring His nature and He created us. He made us in His image, blessing us with capability of knowing Him and making Him known to others (Gen. 1.27).

He blessed and out of nothing, everything.

Can you imagine living in the full blessings that God has made for you? The God who made the blue sky is ready to show us dreams and visions beyond our wildest imaginations. Truly, because He is the God who made the blue sky, He is the God of Blue Sky thinking. That is where He is calling you! That is where He is calling us as His people, to meet Him in the blue sky of today’s impossibilities. He is calling us beyond the fetters of fears and prejudices of our broken humanity.

We see the unreached nations and say, “How?” all the while our God of the Blue Sky is saying, “Now.”

We see the false beliefs and oppressive forces at work in this world and we say to ourselves, “Jesus, this world needs you!” and He gently reminds us, all authority in heaven and on earth have been given to Him and He is with us always! (Matthew 28.18, 20b). We rejoice in His presence and power, but forget the commission at the heart of His proclamation. His omnipotence and omnipresence over all things encase His commission for us to “go and make disciples of all nations.”

He commissioned and out of nothing, everything.

We watch as Jesus ascends into the heavens, shoulder to shoulder with the disciples of old. The heroes of the faith who risked all to proclaim the good news of the conquering Christ ready to redeem all from sin.

This is where we meet with our God of the Blue Sky: staring up at the sky shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters in Christ and believing that out of nothing, everything; believing the unreached peoples waiting under the same sky today will stand with us rejoicing among the everlasting redeemed, worshiping before God’s throne tomorrow (Revelation 7.9)

What is the blue sky vision God is calling you to cast? Where are the lost among the nations Jesus is drawing you to dream about? Where are the people under God’s blue sky He is calling you to live among; believing that although no souls know Him today, tomorrow they will be reconciled to Him through the blood of His cross and the word of our testimony (Colossians 1.20; Revelation 12.11).

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more than a hashtag

Sitting around the table she asked, “Why do you use the hashtag #forathousandsons on Instagram when you post pictures from Africa?” She’d noticed that when we post pictures from around Dakar and across Africa we add that simple phrase.

for a thousand sons

It took me back to the early months of 2008, as Elise and I were worshiping in Northern Virginia at Chapel Springs. Elise was pregnant with our second and I was hoping for a son. As I stood there praying for a healthy pregnancy and a namesake I felt the Lord offer a trade: If we would give him the dream of having a son He would give us a thousand sons. A thousand sons, a thousand trailblazing apostolic disciples that would transform the world for His kingdom. It was an easy decision. We gave God our simple dream in exchange for His prophetic promise.

This is why every image I post of men, women and children in Africa is married with that short phrase. Elise and I serve as links from the local church to the unreached of Africa for a thousand sons. This promise empowers us to share the good news of Jesus’ victory on the cross. We know that not all will respond to the gospel, but among the millions are orphaned souls waiting for adoption as sons and daughters into relationship with Christ and His people, the church (Romans 8.23, Ephesians 1.5). May the weight of this pastoral responsibility draw us to our knees!

Every day is heavy with the possibility of adoption! For a thousand sons moves beyond evangelism into discipleship (Galatian 4.5). It refuses to leave people on the doorstep of relationship with Christ grasping at a nominal faith. It spurs us to see each new believer as a brother and sister that need the fellowship of the Church to guide them to maturity, to care for them through this life and journey with them as they bring their walk into balance with their calling (Ephesians 4.1).

for a hundred new churches

It is for a thousand sons that we plant new churches among the unreached. It drives our goal to plant one hundred new churches in Dakar that plant another two hundred churches throughout Senegal. Why? Because churches must be born through making disciples. Can we even begin to imagine a Christ-centered, disciple-making church in every neighborhood, community and village in Senegal? For a thousand sons, who today are coming to Christ one by one, our mission is creating space to grow a church planting movement.

This month, a booklet came in the mail from Chapel Springs. Hundreds of people took the time to write or draw prayers over our family. They were hard to read through tear-saturated eyes. So many brothers and sisters who wrote heartfelt encouragements and sincere prayers. So many boys and girls drew their prayers. Like the image of a hundred churches seen above.

for an increasingly redeemed and transformed Africa

Today these future realities are just a vision, aspirations in search of fulfillment; but dream with us for a moment. One by one we will continue to see men, women and children decide to choose Jesus above all else. Into these fellowships of believers we will see communities transformed across Dakar and the country through local churches. These newborn churches will mature and plant others and what started as a vision will become an increasingly redeemed and transformed Africa!

What more could we do for His namesake?

angels in the architecture

There is something wonderful about the ancient houses of worship that stand across Europe. I find myself drawn to prayer and reflection when I step across the threshold, beneath the vaulted ceilings, and into their cross-shape sanctuaries. Stained into the windows and carved into the stones is the history of God meeting with His people. These places of praise stand anachronistic to the world around them, microcosms of artistic evangelism, dislodged from space and time.

Last year, I knelt in a Belgian cathedral founded in 1147 A.D. encompassed by crumbling rocks and the clear blue sky above and I was surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses rippling out in waves the message of Jesus across the globe for a thousand years (Hebrews 12.1). In its wings, men and women knelt, prayed, and sought the presence of the Lord knowing that He had something better for them than even the greatest heroes of faith had experienced (Hebrews 11.32-40)! In that place they met with God, redeemed in the blood of Jesus and transformed in the power of His Spirit.

How could we stand in a place like that and not worship God? Can you hear the hymn of Bernard de Clairvaux, “What language shall I borrow to thank You, dearest friend, for this Your dying sorrow, Your compassion without end? O make me Yours forever. And Lord, should I begin to faint let me never, never outlive my love for You.” The empty cathedrals of Europe are echoing his refrain. Windows and walls overwhelmed with the images of Christ but the people have all departed. Who will go and bring them in?

We stand saturated in prismatic light flooding through the redemptive stories displayed, but are we washed in the transformational truth they convey? Do we still come to the walls of these cathedrals or their message rooted in Scripture with arms raised and voices singing, “Praise the Lord!” and “Let it be!”? Do we see the angels in the architecture?

As a child I remember hearing Africa’s influence on Paul Simon. It was like he stepped into my life and gave music and lyrics to my third culture experience. In one Graceland song he wrote:

A man walks down the street.

It's a street in a strange world,

Maybe it's the Third World,

Maybe it's his first time around.

He doesn't speak the language.

He holds no currency.

He is a foreign man.

He is surrounded by the sound,

The sound,

Cattle in the marketplace,

Scatterlings and orphanages.

He looks around and around,

He sees angels in the architecture

Spinning in infinity

He says Amen! and Hallelujah!

In that simple song, Simon translated all the grandeur of the colossal cathedrals into the language of my youth, the rhythms of the market and the colors of my world. With each improvised chord, every syncopated beat, Christ creates space to sing Amen! and Hallelujah!

Every cathedral, every church, every house is built by someone, yet the true builder of all things is God (Hebrews 3.3). Moses met with God in a tent, and the Spirit of God would descend as a pillar of cloud calling all the people to rise up and worship (Exodus 33.9-10). Joash met with God in his childhood spent hidden within the walls of Solomon’s Temple and later led his people in repairing their house of worship (2 Kings 11.3; 12.6-16). Lydia met with God beside a river, then opened her home to all the followers of Jesus in Philippi creating the first church in Europe (Acts 16:11-15, 40).

Where did you first meet with God? Who created space for you to meet with Jesus? Are you willing to invite others into that sacred space? Are you ready to go out as God’s people, living stones in His eternal cathedral (Hebrews 3.6, 1 Peter 2.5), creating simple places of true communion with our Creator among the scatterlings and orphanages as you sing, “Let it be!” and “Hallelujah!”? Are you ready to be the personal link from the local church to the unreached?

If so, let’s go.

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transplanting starlings

I look at the United States from the far side of the ocean.

My first memories aren’t from St. Louis or Missouri where I was born but from San Jose, Costa Rica. I remember drinking soda from a plastic bag walking through vast banana plantations.

From there we moved to Equatorial Guinea, the heart of the African rainforest, and my childhood began. The island was my hometown. I walked and played and lived.

I lived the stories of adventurers cutting through the bush walking through the cocoa fields with my friends. I climbed up on the rooftops where we trapped birds in carefully propped up boxes with sticks and string.

I watched from the rooftops of my island home as the fruit bats and white egrets soared and cast shadows. It seemed everywhere I went pied crows, with their monochromatic feathers like pressed tuxedos, were dancing on rusty metal roofs.

It was my world and I knew it well.

And then we came back to America. We got on a plane for the United States and I watched my island paradise disappear beneath the clouds and I cried.

America was different. America is different. I don’t know anyone in the States who owned an African grey parrot or played with gorillas. America was “other” to me. In many ways, it still is.

And then one day I saw a bird unlike any other my African eyes had seen before. It’s black frame was iridescent. As it moved its black speckled feathers sang out in green, purple and blue tones. The starling became my favorite American bird.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the starling was not native to America! In 1890, according to Noah Strycker, an eccentric pharmacist from New York introduced several European birds to the United States. One by one the other birds died out, except the starling. They took to their new culture, skillfully adapting to their new environment, even learning to mimic the sounds of twenty native birds. Today there are over 120 million starlings in North America from those original transplanted few.

No wonder I was drawn to these birds! They are third culture birds just as I was a third culture kid! They came from a different place but rooted themselves in a new country, adapting to their sights and sounds to be like their new home.

In a way my parents, and other pioneer church planters, were like the first starlings carried into a strange land. In their transplanted hearts they translated the blessing that must be sung in every tongue among every tribe and people (Genesis 12.1-3). They left their homes, their cultures and their worlds behind. Today, countless sons and daughters have grown to maturity in Equatorial Guinea and across the continent, singing the gospel in languages like Fang, Kikuyu and Serer. And from that small island the good news is spreading out as a new generation is migrating across Africa and Europe.

Today, a new generation of church planters are being born in Senegal. In our lives, moved by the same rhythm, arm and arm toward the vision of an increasingly redeemed and transformed Africa. Our dream to see these two fledging churches in Dakar produce one hundred new churches in the capital city, and another two hundred churches throughout the country, seems impossible! But it only seems impossible because it’s never been done before. 120 million starlings in America seemed impossible in 1890. A thriving indigenous church in Equatorial Guinea seemed impossible 1980.

Churches filled with redeemed and transformed Wolof, Pulaar and Jola followers of Jesus only seems impossible today because they do not exist today. Today, we can only believe! We can only open ourselves to the lordship of the One who transplants us into the lives and lostness of unreached peoples between the house of God and the ruins of this spiritually lost world, believing that as we worship Him among them He who began a good work in us is faithful to complete it (Genesis 12.8, Philippians 1.5-6, 12).

Thank you for sending our family, as your personal link from the local church to the unreached, like transplanted starlings into new countries, languages and cultures. Thank you for exercising eternal influence praying for our family, our African brothers and sisters, and the lost.

articulating arrhythmias

There it is, my racing heart. It’s that slightly up-ticking beat tapping a metronome in my throat as I maneuver my way across an airport. It’s the reminder that in the center of my chest is an ever-pumping, never-ceasing machine driving me forward, propelling me onward.

How often do we remember our hearts?

Day and night our hearts work and rest, through all the ups and downs of life, the joys and pains, sufferings and celebrations, pulsing and pushing. Too often we only become aware of our hearts when they skip a beat or alter their well-worn rhythms. Slowly over time our hearts can shift out of sync, rush too fast, pace too slow or burst into traumatic and terrifying action.

What do our hearts beat for?

In the early days of this new year, my heart quickens once again in the words of Thomas à Kempis as he challenges me to emulate Christ. He says, “Every day we should renew our resolve to live a holy life, and every day we should kindle ourselves to a burning love, just as if today were the first day of our new life in Christ.” In those short and simple words I am undone. He articulates the arrhythmias of my heart and I long to be once again in the first days of new life with Jesus.

What a wonderful thought! To be at the altars of long forgotten days where we met with Jesus. To feel the burning in our chests as we hear His voice speaking life and truth (Luke 24.32). To feel again His redeeming and transforming power coursing through out veins. And how glorious it is that as we fix our eyes on Jesus above the waves of our chaotic waters we see Him there! He is standing in all power calling us to Himself, calling us to re-embrace our first love for truly He is the Son of God (Matthew 14:22-33; Revelation 2.4).

As we find Jesus there and the animation of His truth, we see on the horizon the thousands yet lost in darkness, the millions who have yet to hear His name or know His love…

What do our hearts beat for?

While the pulse in our veins keep time we must steel our finite and frail resolve to ever fan into the flame Christ’s love. Jesus sees our arrhythmias. He hears the skipped beats and missed opportunities. And though our flesh and hearts may fail, we rejoice together with those who find Christ in our witness that He is our strength and portion forever (Psalm 73.26).

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a drumbeat legacy

Has your heart ever burned with a sense of urgency? An urgency like a drum beating an ever increasing rhythm, a timpani reverberating deeper and deeper in your soul? Even from a great distance, even from the far side of the horizon, you can hear the repeating beat pulling at your heart. Three young American missionaries sensed that kind of soul-deep burning as they set foot in Senegal for the first time.

In the early days of January 1949 H.B. Garlock (serving as the director over Assemblies of God World Missions in Africa), along with Harold Jones and Henry Dahlberg set out from the desert heat of Koudougou, Upper Volta (the country that would become Burkina Faso) with a fixed aim to arrive in Dakar, the capital of French West Africa.

In Dakar, their hearts burned as they looked out on the lostness of the men, women and children of Senegal, like sheep without a shepherd, a people on the verge of eternity with no hope beyond the sunset. Long discussions with various officials placed unfamiliar new names of people groups and places in their hands, cities like Kaolack, Tambacounda and Kedougou, peoples like the Wolof, Serer and Pulaar. In every name they found unreached cities filled with people unaware of the good news.

In prayer these young missionaries sent word back to the United States with a simple message, a beating rhythm: “We must act now.” Urgency gripped their souls as they looked at the lost people around them with no access to the gospel. Deeper and deeper the missionary call of God stirred within them: “Let us enter now, NOW. Tomorrow may be too late.”

But the door to Senegal was not open yet. These men left Dakar praying that the Lord would open the way for Assemblies of God missionaries to enter the country, but no access was granted. The door seemed closed and for a time the drumbeat seemed to disappear. What others could not see was that the Lord was stirring deep within the heart of another young missionary couple, learning beside Jones and Dahlberg in Burkina Faso. Although the door remained shut, Charles and Mary Greenaway continued to pray, interceding for the lost people and cities of Senegal, patiently listening to the rhythm of the Holy Spirit as they served the Lord in the heart of the West African desert.

Waiting for an Open Door

After 7 years the day came in 1956 when Greenaway was called to make a hurried journey across West Africa to meet with the French High Commissioner to receive a temporary two-year visa to begin a new work in Senegal. The missionary couple was also restricted from the capital city of Dakar or Koalack, which was the most populous region of the country at that time. In spite of the limitations and ticking clock Charles and Mary were overjoyed and hurriedly packed up their family and set to work in pace with the urgency the Lord had built in their hearts over their many years of intercession.

The compassionate ministry of early Assemblies of God missionaries had softened the heart of the government officials. Charles and Mary sought to serve whole people loving lepers, praying for broken bodies and establishing schools. The sincere expression of faith and compassion in the lives of the Greenaways and a small growing community of missionaries turned the temporary visa into a long term invitation.

The Greenaways captured how important it was to work arm in arm with the growing national churches that God was raising up in Africa. Along with their children they brought two young energetic pastors from the Mossi people group of Burkina Faso, Kenga Zongo and Etienne Miningou, to share the good news of Jesus to the unreached peoples of Senegal.

Within three years, other young American missionaries were able to join the multinational church planting team growing from the first church in Tambacounda where the first followers of Jesus were baptized to another church planted in Kedougou. The growing spirit-led community rejoiced as the restrictions were lifted and a new church plant began in the populous city of Kaolack. Following the rhythm of the Holy Spirit the American and Mossi missionaries saw the Lord bring a new Senegalese church to life.

A Long Preparation

Since July 1956 when the Greenaways moved to Senegal, numerous Assemblies of God missionaries have responded to the call to see the unreached peoples of the small, influential country reached with the gospel. Like the Moravian missionaries before William Carey heard the call and labored for decades with little results in India, these generations of Assemblies of God missionaries toiled in Senegal believing a great awakening would come. They faithfully cleared the field, piece by piece, rock by rock, slowly paving the way for the way of the Lord. One by one men, women and children have slowly planted 70 churches across the country.

Compassionate ministries to lepers and infirm peoples have led to confessions of faith. Power encounters where spirits of disease and oppression cast out have led to redeemed and transformed lives. American missionaries working arm and arm with other African missionaries and the Senegalese national church have led to the greater presence of God among the lost. Out of the small villages and towns of Tambacounda and Kedougou the Lord was raising up men and women passionate for the Lordship of Christ to be made known in the lostness of their people.

Today, Assemblies of God World Missions has a handful of missionaries working alongside the national church in multiple ways to reach the unreached with the good news of Jesus Christ and to plant churches in every city and village. For over twenty years, Bryan and Laura Davis have compassionately served the Senegalese establishing new schools in far off places so that a new generation can find success in life and, more importantly, find Jesus. Jeremy and Jenilee Goodwin also work with children, equipping and training the national church to reach whole families with the good news of Jesus Christ.

As your personal link from the local church to the unreached Elise and I are working with the national church to plant churches with a vision to see 100 new churches among the millions of men, women and children in the capital city of Dakar that will plant another 200 new churches throughout the country. The national church has also been emboldened by the Spirit of Christ, stepping out in faith, to set an inspired goal of planting 200 new churches in the next five years.

The missionary team of Senegal today is catching the beat of God’s missionary soul-rhythm; the deep reverberations that Garlock and Greenaway felt, believing for a great awakening in Senegal, for tomorrow may be too late.

Awaiting an Awakening

But how do you wait for a great awakening? How do you count time in the intervals waiting for the great outpouring from heaven?

You wait in prayer, interceding for the witnesses laboring in the field and the lost still unreached with the good news. Never underestimate the truth that you have eternal impact when you pray for missionaries and the lost. Keep praying. Keep praying for the unreached peoples like the Wolof and the Pulaar. Keep praying for the great cities like Dakar and Koalack.

You wait in work, witnessing to the men, women and families that God has placed around you. He may be calling a child to serve among the unreached giving her life as a missionary moved forward through your obedience. He may be calling you.

You wait in giving, generously joining what He speaks to you with the time and treasure of countless other Christians, seeing that little is much when God is in it. Missionaries are able to buy plots of land to plant churches, drill wells and compassionately serve the lost through your sacrificial giving.

The task is yet unfinished. Millions in Senegal who are still waiting to hear for the first time there is freedom from sin and shame and eternal life in the love of Jesus Christ. Every day, every drumbeat brings us a little closer to revival, a little closer to heaven.

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running with zebras

Have you ever heard the the thundering sounds of zebra running or seen a zeal of zebra sprinting through the savannah, flashes of white and black as they break through the underbrush?

I was asked recently to share my most “manly” story at the Ohio Valley Teen Challenge. I racked my brain for the most masculine reminiscences from my life. Every thought, whether it was spear fishing as a child, eating steak while wearing a leather jacket, even ignoring the GPS while venturing on the circuitous American road systems, none of them seemed too terribly manly.

The morning came and I still hadn’t chosen a story to tell. I sat there eating breakfast with Cornell Jordan, the pastor of Metro Assembly in Youngstown, and we began to talk about Kenya. And almost like thunder the pounding stampede of zebra took me back to the banks of Naivasha. I remember as if it were yesterday that a group of us students from our boarding school made the trek down into the valley. We ventured out into the vast savanna peppered with yellowing acacia trees. There before us was a zeal of zebra, forty strong if not more, grazing. Being young men full of energy (and lacking in impulse control) we ran at them with all our force and that’s when I heard the sound of their hooves, not just thundering against the ground but reverberating inside my chest. It felt like a sonic connection as I ran with the zebra.

They twisted and turned through the plain, careening into the massive bullrushes that surrounded the lake. We followed them into the high grass, like stepping into Narnia, not knowing what lay ahead. Our hearts were beating in our chests as we tracked the great beasts in the wild filled with bushbucks, hippos and the unknown.

After a time we cut our way back to our starting place, hoping to find the zebra once again, but they had been replaced by a herd of grazing cattle. Cows. Everyday, run of the mill, cows. We ran at them like we had at the zebra only to be violently rebuffed with stamping feet and aggressive snorting. We turned on our heels as the cows kicked up their hooves and began to chase us!

Standing there, sharing this story at the Ohio Valley Teen Challenge with men in recovery from addiction, I couldn’t help but see a connection, a resonance I could feel beating in my heart. How often we set out running with zebra only to be turned around by cattle. We were made for adventure, passionately pursuing God’s presence into this world He created only to be turned around and nearly trampled underfoot by the sins ordinary to all people. We experience the thundering power of Christ’s redemption when we submit our lives to follow Jesus, but no sooner are we in the wilderness that we begin to stumble on our old idolatry making golden calves that glitter and glow but lead our souls to death (Exodus 32).

We were never made to roam with the herd, to aimlessly graze through this life like cattle. We were made for more. In the image of God we were made to passionately pursue God’s best for our lives and the lives of those around us. We were made for zeal! We were made for lives of passionate dedication growing in relationship with God and calling others to Christ.

How fitting that a group of zebra are not called a herd, or a crash like rhinos or a pod like hippos. They are called a zeal.

Today, will you take a little time to pray? To ask God to give you, your family, your church and your missionaries a more complete knowledge of God’s will, spiritual wisdom and understanding? Will you pray that as followers of Jesus that the way we live will always honor and please the Lord, producing every kind of good fruit; all the while, growing more and more as we know God better and better (Colossians 1.9-10)?

Pray that as His people we would not be sidelined by cows but that we would run with the zeal of zebra, feeling the thunder of our Christ-centered fellowship deep within our souls.

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stone lions in an ancient city

Unknown craftsmen shaped each brick, each one formed with a different raised relief as the clay formed and hardened in the heat of fire. Then they glazed each one with vibrant colors and sent them into the fire again. Those twice baked bricks would be joined together in the palaces of ancient Babylon and Persia. 2500 years later Elise and I walked along side those massive relocated walls where they stand today in Paris.

I imagine walking through the great citadel of Susa in the high walls of Darius’ grand palace where Esther saw the bright and breathtaking sculpted masonry of warriors, mythic beasts and lions. Esther, the young girl seemingly out of place and time, stood beneath the open mouth of that same snarling lion unable to reconcile her world and her responsibilities. Serendipitously chosen to be King Xerxes’ bride, the daughter of an exiled people now stood as queen in the center of a global superpower that spanned the globe from India to Ethiopia (Esther 1.1; 2.17).

Susa was the administrative capital of the Persian Empire. People groups from across the kingdom lined the streets and filled the homes of that ancient global city. Each artist from India, every bricklayer from Africa and exile from Israel together made up the everyday reality of Susa.

All great cities are alike in this way. New York, Johannesburg, Paris and Dakar are all living cities dynamic with color, clashing with cultures, bursting and fusing; faces of every shade all designed by the same Divine hand, woven together in the city.

Each person on their own, each brick seen in isolation, would appear out of place, but seen as a whole, the great wall relief seen in its entirety becomes awe-inspiring. At first glance, Esther in the palace seemed out of place and time. Her place was on the streets below the palace in the sea of ordinary humanity. If only one could go back in time to the height of Solomon’s reign and a royal wedding of a royal daughter like Esther would have been a natural sight. Stand too close and Esther looks like a brick mislaid, a piece misplaced, on the frieze of God’s eternal plan.

How often do we fail to see what God is doing in our lives? The coincidences and circumstances blind us like a person standing too close to a majestic piece of art. Living in global cities can produce this feeling in us all. How can one person affect the whole? How can one person influence a nation? Ironically, the living city can leave a soul feeling empty and discarded, sightless and alone, an Esther in a palace.

There is a danger that in response to the damage of the city people will abandon it, retreating from her walls to the safety of the fields. We all need those times of rest, those times of retreat that help us see the stars covered by clouds, to look across the distance and see the skyline God created. For our family this season in the United States is a wonderful “drive in the country,” a chance to step back from the frenetic and beautiful calling to the urban unreached in Dakar. This time is like the paraphrased words of Mordecai, “Who knows if perhaps you were made for such a time as this?” (Esther 4.14). At the right distance, with fresh air in our lungs, the vision of what God is creating comes back into view and our zeal for His calling surges with new life.

Sometimes I know we can feel like those twice baked bricks that decorated the walls of Persian palaces. Burning trials and the heat of tribulation may scour our souls, but when the clay is solid, the glaze is strong and the brick is set and the generations to come will look back on our faith, as we look back on the faith of Esther, and say, “If I must die, I die; but I must go.” (Esther 4.16)

As we go into the global cities with His glorious salvation, into the highways and the hedges with His eternal proclamation, to every nation, language and people group another illustrative brick is set on the wall revealing Jesus the Lamb of God and Lion of Judah in His everlasting beauty before all creation (Revelation 5).

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touchstones in the temple

I stood there, a massive hewn rock adorned with a woven cross, where a world-shaping building once stood in 1810. A church once remembered as “the Antioch of the Western Hemisphere” where men and women, like Adoniram and Ann Judson, were sent out with the gospel into the nations.

I stood there staring at this monolith, this chiseled stone, a short walk away from Northpoint Bible College in Haverhill, Massachusetts where I was readying myself to speak to a new generation of men and women preparing for ministry today. The proximity was not lost on me. Near this rock Adoniram Judson, a hero of mine, had walked and talked. He shared his passion for Jesus and his calling to reach the unreached. Young, headstrong and adventurous, Judson planted himself firmly in his calling and set his life like a flint against the countless challenges he would face over his life in missions (Isaiah 50.7).

I wonder if that 22 year-old Judson could have even begun to know the suffering he would endure, the trials he would face, the struggles he would fight through in obedience to his calling. Adoniram and Ann would endure the testing of their souls as they pursued Christ’s presence among the lost. They stood as their children died of disease. They knelt as Adoniram was imprisoned during a time of bloody war. And after Adonriam was released from prison he laid by her grave when Ann’s young body failed.

Every blow, every crippling defeat was like a touchstone scouring their souls. Every trial was a new invitation to go home, to give up, to retreat. The touchstones of trial and tribulation are often constant companions to missionaries in distant lands. They endure the scraping of troubles as they cement themselves, living stones, set in far off places.

Too often we collapse at the grating feeling of those touchstones in our lives of suffering and trial. The pain is too great and we cry out for mercy while the greater gift of rejoicing in our suffering, as we fill up within our flesh the full measure of Christ’s afflictions for the lost, sits within of our reach (Colossians 1.24). Can we begin to convince ourselves that the greatest suffering is not found in the temporary casing of our redeemed souls but the eternal damnations of those hopelessly lost without Christ?

More often it is the comforts of this world, even the successes we find in ministry, that are the breeding ground of failure. In our comfort there are no challenging touchstones running against our lives exposing strengths and weaknesses, no shavings revealing the gold beneath the skin.

Right now, a new generation is poised to pick up the mantle of missionary zeal once worn by the saints of old; those pioneers who ventured into the bush and emerged body-worn but souls-at-ease beside new brothers and sisters in Christ. Their wrinkles reveal the gold of their sacrifice to see men, women and children freed from spiritual bondage; their spilt blood is the seed of new churches (Romans 15.20).

In 200 hundred years from now may there be a new stone laid next to the first, a remembrance stone, a monument to those young men and women who counted the cost, settled their eyes on Jesus as they held shame and suffering in contempt, and carried the cross to be a personal link from the local church to the unreached (Hebrews 12.2).