Colossians 1

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After a time we cut our way back to our starting place, hoping to find the zebra once again, but they had been replaced by a herd of grazing cattle.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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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).

crumbled walls, conquering King

The phone rang. We were deep in the packed traffic of a downtown Saturday and at first I didn’t hear the phone over the cacophony of car horns and revving buses. On the phone was our friend who pastors the storefront church we have called home here in Senegal. With one hand on the wheel, the other shifting gears through the erratic speeds of the streets, Elise held the phone to my ear as he told me the Mayor had destroyed the church building. At first I wasn’t sure I was hearing him correctly, but later that day when I was able to make my way over to the area all that stood as a remnant to the church was a pile of rubble and exposed rebar bent toward the heavens.

Those crumbled walls were difficult to look at. There in a mass of nothing was where our family first fellowshipped with Senegalese believers. In those yellow walls stained by water of raining seasons gone by we lifted our voices to worship the King of kings. Through the open doorway I had looked out over the uneven dirt road and watched as lost men, women and children skirted earthen mud puddles yet blind to eternity.

In the face of visible destruction, emotional loss and powerlessness we drift toward detachment. We cannot imagine a restoration great enough to reestablish our footing. And yet we know there is more. Even in the sorrow, even in the confusion, even in the face of the tides of time we know there is more. We know that beneath the disturbed ground, the unsettled soul, the finite weakness there stands a foundation unshakeable.

We know that our unshakeable foundation is Christ the Lord. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him 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,” (Col. 1.15-16). The walls may crumble but His throne remains.

And so the following Sunday we stood in a new building, a new gathering place. We stood up and we opened our hearts to worship the Lord who is building His kingdom (1 Pet. 2.5). Day by day, our Lord Jesus is placing His feet into every corner of Dakar, and he does that even through our displacement. He is reconciling to Himself the lost.

We can lift our arms like reinforced steel before the Lord among the nations. Bent and twisted from the chaos that comes, out footing remains in the firm foundation of Jesus. Thank you for lifting your arms with us as we reach the unreached, as we create space to see men, women and children meet with the Savior.