The Open Door

the great humbling

We all need a good humbling now and again.

Recently I’ve been walking through the life of Job (and man, if that doesn’t knock the wind out of you!). His friends were no help as he struggled to keep his head above water. He was isolated and alone.

I think we’ve all probably felt like that at one point or another. Living at the speed of life can be overwhelming. For Elise, the kids and I its been amazing and overwhelming to be back in Senegal, slowly catching our rhythm. At times it feels like we’re jumping onto a treadmill set to full-speed!

In the last few weeks since we’ve landed back in Senegal, we’ve moved into a new house, started reconstruction on the apartment to host short term teams, and even wrestled with the rain. We’ve also visited several pastors and friends, scheduled a few courses to teach at the Bible school, preached a few times, and come up for air once or twice too.

The other morning I sent an email to check on the status of getting our container out of the port and then received a surprising phone call two seconds later saying it was on its way to the house! Praise the Lord! The workmen at the guesthouse as well as a few co-workers helped us unload all 20 square feet of furniture, family books and belongings, as well as the amazing Africa’s Hope resources for the Bible school!

At times like these when life is rushing at me I like to slow down, to set my present into the continuum with the past and the future. To the humbling times of prayer and worship where the Father spent aligning our spirits with His.

Back in college, as Elise and I were studying for ministry, I loved to sit right behind an elder missionary who had lost his wife and children in Iran. What a humbling experience to worship with that brother who sacrificed all in pursuit of His calling. Every time we sang It is Well with My Soul his arms would slowly rise and I would have to stop singing. I couldn’t catch my breath.

Just before we left the states a few weeks ago, Elise and I worshiped with dear friends of ours from Northeastern Africa. Not long ago he spent a month in prison in our former hometown. We celebrated the goodness of God together! How do you classify experiences like that? How do you quantify the joy of embracing dear friends and extolling the name of the Lord together?

Last year, Elise, the kids and I, had the humbling privilege of worshiping with brothers and sisters across the United States! We lifted our hands and voices together with untold thousands walking through all kinds of experiences, good, bad and ugly. In all, with our eyes fixed on Jesus, we surrounded ourselves in that great cloud of witnesses and trusted in the love of the Father. What a privilege to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” together (Hebrew 12.1)!

If we had the opportunity to worship with you this year, thank you! Thank you for the privilege to stand shoulder to shoulder with you before our great and awesome King! And now, we are back in Senegal, with our family here. We humbly rejoice that we are your personal link from the local church to the unreached. We celebrate that in the years to come we will see new men, women and children meet with Christ and join the chorus.

in the flood

What an incredible feeling to be back in Senegal! After a whirlwind tour of the States this past year, getting to see so many beloved family and dear friends, we were literally counting the days to be back home in Dakar.

Our welcome home was a continuous flood of excitement. We flew out of DC with our friends working in the North of Senegal, sharing one last round of Starbucks before boarding. We were greeted by all of our luggage upon landing (a genuine miracle) and another friendly face waiting for us in the parking lot ready to drive us to our new home.

Honestly, the first few days are a hazy blur of driving the kids to school, unpacking boxes and trying to stay awake while dusting.

And then the deluge.

In the middle of the night, innocently making my way to the restroom, my foot sank into

ankle-deep water. The steady rain outside decided it much preferred to take up occupancy in our guesthouse kitchenette and bathroom. Elise and I spent the next midnight hours mopping and expelling the flood.

Isn’t it amazing how the mundane gets mixed in with the marvelous. One moment, loaded with the miraculous, is followed by the ordinary, even frustrating. The rain we’ve been praying would come to Senegal to feed the fields and diminishing rivers arrived. Amen! But the rain also arrived through an invisible crack in the ceiling onto our pillows. Amen?

In each moment is a new golden moment of choice, an opportunity to fix our eyes. Elise and I rejoiced as we heard the rain begin to beat on the rooftop. But as our feet waded “Lake Surprise” we were faced with the same opportunity to praise. Tired and sweaty, and more than a little annoyed, we sat down after driving out the zero-hour flood, put on some worship music and thanked God for allowing us to be back in Senegal, no matter what may lie ahead.

This is the beginning of a new term, a new thousand days starting. There will be great days! Like holding Pastor Benoit and Sophie’s newborn son, Emmanuel Matthew, for the first time. Watching him open his eyes and look into mine. There will be hard times! Like driving in the unpredictable chaos that is Dakar traffic (“driving” might be an overly generous term). In every moment, a renewed opportunity to trust our Lord, who is our refuge (Psalm 62.8).

It is no wonder the Spirit of God inspired the author of Genesis to begin all time demonstrating His sovereignty over chaos (Genesis 1.1-2). There is no contest, no equality between the momentary chaos of this world and the eternal omnipotence of Christ! In the flood, God reveals His everlasting power. In the overwhelming darkness, He speaks, “Let there be light.” Among the unreached nations He proclaims, “This good news of the Kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a witness to all peoples, and then the end will come,” (Matthew 24.14). In all times, good and bad, exciting and challenging, He is in control and He is not surprised. What a great opportunity to rejoice!

the hollow ones

We are the hollow men…

Shape without form, shade without color,

Paralyzed force, gesture without motion…

Have you ever witnessed a life unravel? It is one of the most painful things to watch as a soul, once confident and bold, wrestles with purpose, meaning and existence. All the so-called realities and assumed opinions sowed together begin to collapse as one loose thread is pulled out.

At 35, Thomas felt like he was lost. His soul ached as he wandered through a shadowland, blind and cold. The facile answers and broad assumptions no longer gave his life meaning. From the darkness he cried,

There are no eyes here

In this valley of dying stars

In this hollow valley…

The hollowness of his soul was calling out for more. The emptiness of his prayers lifted to broken stone could no longer carry him. His friends mocked his confusion as they would soon mock his decision, but Thomas continued to press through the fog toward faith. What would he choose?

Between the idea

And the reality

Between the motion

And the act

Falls the Shadow

For Thine is the Kingdom

Two years after he penned those words, Thomas gave his life to Jesus and was publicly baptized. Between the ideas of his generation and his reality, he met Jesus. Although his life would be scarred by difficulties, the derision of past friends and failures, his life was now rooted in Christ. Thomas, more commonly known as T.S. Eliot, had found the truth to fill his hollow chest.

If you’ve ever asked why anyone would uproot their lives and move to another country, to live in another culture and language the answer is found between where the shadow falls and the kingdom of God reigns (Isaiah 66.19). It is where the divine touches earth, where Jesus steps into our lives and His Spirit imbues us with faith. It is in obedience to God’s calling and the belief that the nations are waiting (Acts 8.26-40).

This is why Elise and I live in faraway places. We set sail to distant shores because we know there are men, women and children like Thomas wandering and lost in a shadowland. They feel the hollowness of their souls and long for more.

This is why our sending agencies send men, women and their families across the globe like a sower scattering seed into every furrow across the field. Day by day we stand on the precipice of faith and pray as they make their eternal decision (Psalm 22.27). We wait with the lost and rejoice with them as they become new creations in Christ (Isaiah 2.2-4)!

In a few days, Elise, Daphne, Ava, Henry, Fiona and I will make our transatlantic flight once more landing in Senegal as the sun rises on a new day and a new thousand dawns. We go obedient to Christ’s calling and believing for men, women and children like Thomas once on the verge of faith, now rapt in redemption.

Italic quotations from T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” (1925).

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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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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