An old hymn has been playing in my head all afternoon.  I have no idea how I thought of it...it just came to me.  As I was thinking through the turmoil that is going on in Mexico right now, the Lord used this song to speak to me.  Sometimes the circumstances can be ugly...and not just in 3rd world countries.  People all over the globe are living nightmares, experiencing loss and devastation, and suffering in very unique and personal ways.  There is always someone else whose suffering is greater...yet whatever we are going through is real and painful.  In the midst of these thoughts, this is the chorus of the song that the Holy Spirit reminded me of:

Oh victory in Jesus
My Savior forever
He sought me and He bought me
with His redeeming blood
He loved me 'ere I knew Him
and all my love is due Him
He plunged me to victory
beneath the cleansing flood
(words by Eugene M. Bartlett Sr., 1939.)

We have the victory in Jesus!  It's easy to say, but I would venture that there are many times in our lives when it's hard to believe it and even harder to feel it.  We live in a fallen, imperfect world.  We lose loved ones, experience disasters, and are no strangers to heartache and heartbreak.  According to the Word of God, Christ's victory is NOT a condition, it's a fact.  Therefore if Christ is in us, the fact is that we have the victory...whether we feel like it or not.

When we face difficult times, we need to believe that the victory that we have in Christ is FACT.  If we don't feel victorious, that's okay.  God can handle our pain, our questions, our fears, and our doubts.  When we take all our anxieties before Him, He helps us to to see the truth.  The victory that we have isn't necessarily for the here and now.  The here and now won't last...it will all pass away.  The greater victory is for the eternal...for the things we can't see but believe by faith that they exist.  God is fulfilling His purpose in us, an ultimately victorious purpose.  We may stumble and fall along the way, but He continues writing our life stories.  We can't see the whole picture, not right now, but He does.  He is weaving a tapestry, and our lives affect others, and the events that we experience touch the experiences of others.  We may not understand how it all will play out in the end, but one thing is certain: victory does not depend on the circumstances...and it does not depend on us.

It depends on CHRIST.  It depends on the work He did on the cross for each one of us.  It depends on His mercy, grace, love and compassion for each one of us.  He HAS the victory, and those that stand with Him will be victorious in the end!


Experience God

In order to really experience WHO God is and all the amazing things He can do, we need to:

1)  GIVE what we don't already have. So often we only give whatever is extra or from our leftovers.  Rarely do we give in such a way that we are sacrificing our own things for others.  Until we start to give by faith, believing that we are blessed in order to bless others, we will never truly experience the wonderful ways that God wants to provide for us as His children.

2)  SPEAK when we don't know what to say.  God gives us plenty of opportunities to share His love and the message of the Gospel with other people.  All too often we remain silent, not knowing how to bring the conversation around to spritiual matters.  The great things about God is that when He is with us, we don't always have to know what words to say.  Sometimes we just have to open our mouths and allow Him to speak through us.  He wants to give us words and speak for us...but we will never experience all He can say through us if we don't have the faith to open our mouths.

3)  SPEND TIME with God and with others when we have other things to do.  This can be a difficult one because we are all so busy.  We all have lists, and tons of stuff to do everyday...and because of that, we are often tempted to only give to God and others the 5 minutes that we can manage to sqeeze in here and there.  We need to put God and others before our own needs, believing that God's strength will still allow us to accomplish all we need to.  Put God first, and you will experience the ways He can rearrange your schedule and energize you to accomplish more...and you will still have time leftover in your day!

Maybe we aren't seeing the spectacular things that God can do because we aren't giving Him any room to move.  If we only give what we already have, speak when we already know what to say, and spend our leftover time on God and others, we are doing everything in our own strength and not depending on God for anything.  We need to truly believe that God IS our provider, that He can speak through and for us, and that He is so in control of everything that all we need to do is trust him with our crazy schedules...and then act on that faith.  When we allow faith to guide our words and actions, we will experience God as never before!


The Simple Lessons

Today at church, I stepped outside for a moment to check on some of the older kids who were playing.  At one point they began throwing small stones at each other, and I quickly told them to stop.  I reminded them it is dangerous to throw rocks, and I also told them that if the younger kids saw them doing it, then they would want to do it too.  Of course, they didn't pay any attention to me at first, and soon the younger children started reaching for rocks too.  I became very adamant about stopping the rock-throwing, and finally they listened.  They put the rocks down and found something else to play.  I was just thankful that they stopped before someone got hurt.  This is a lesson that we've all learned at one time or another, but it is worth repeating.  How many times do we get close to danger on purpose, and even have fun being there?  How often do we ignore warnings from others who are only trying to help?  Do our actions affect others?  Are there people who are watching us or even trying to imitate us?  Anyone who plays with fire needs to be aware that things can spiral out of control quickly, and you are not going to be the only one affected by your choice to live dangerously.  Think about your decisions, and follow wise counsel before you experience  negative consequences!

Last Sunday after church, I had to go in my van to get something...and no one noticed that I was inside the vehicle.  All the adults were already outside of the sanctuary and in the church kitchen getting ready to eat.  Suddenly one of the youth came out of the sanctuary, closed the door behind him and then locked it from the outside.  I was surprised that he did that, until I realized that he had locked another boy inside.  The other boy was banging on the door, yelling for someone to let him out.  I witnessed all of this (the first boy did let the other one out) and was reminded of another lesson- a simple lesson, yet it applies to all of us.  Would this situation with the two boys have happened had they known that I was in the car watching them?  I don't think it would have.  Do you think the first boy felt bad for how he treated his friend?  Probably not too bad- at least not bad enough to say he was sorry.  How often do we do the same?  We tend to think that as long as no one is watching us, we can do whatever we want.  As long as we don't get caught, it doesn't really count.  We need to be reminded that Someone is always watching us...and even though by His grace and mercy He is NOT waiting to pounce on us when we mess up, maybe if we remembered that He is there, we would be more careful about what we do and how we treat others.

May we learn these simplest of all lessons from everyday life.  Let it be so.


Busy is a Blessing

So many people see being busy as something negative.  I guess it IS negative if we let the busyness control us...but when WE learn to control the busyness, it is really a huge blessing.  It's amazing what God allows us to accomplish when we dig our heels in and get to work.  There are so many people we can bless, events and projects we can plan and execute...seeing others smiling is often reward enough for our labor.  So, how can we learn to control the busyness?  We learn to PRIORITIZE!

1) Relationship with the Savior has to be first.  No matter how long we've had a relationship with the Lord, there is always room for growth.  Working in the ministry, it can be easy to replace our personal relationship with God with all the stuff we are busy doing for him.  Doing stuff for him is nice, but it is no subsitute for being in an intimate relationship with Him.  I want to KNOW his voice, I want to FEEL his heart, I want to BASK in his presence.  I need Him to be my first thought every morning, my last thought at night, and the One I run to during the day to share every joy and all my pain.

2) Family HAS to be next in line.  In my case, that means my husband and my kids.  Now, getting time alone with my husband is nearly impossible in the life that we are living.  We are seldom separated but always surrounded by others...and at times it feels like we are living in a glass house.  We are always on display, it seems, and everyone is watching us, expecting us to set a good example, and sometimes even waiting for us to mess up.  It is especially hard on our kids because they are still too young to understand all the implications of our ministry.  So, we have to carve out time, even create time, for us to be together, to enjoy each other.  Often the best time we spend together is spontaneous, so when we have a moment, we try to make the most of it.  We need to be united as a family before we even consider ministry to others!  Even if it takes a little extra effort, reminding my husband in word and in deed that I love him and support him, is always worth it.  Strengthening our marriage is the best thing we can do for our kids- when they see us united, they'll want to be united with us.  Taking time out for them, no matter how tired we are, is a blessing to all of us.  Seeing their smiles, hearing their laughter, and receiving lots of bear hugs and wet kisses is better than anything else we could possibly be doing!

3) People who still need to know Christ drive us to do what we do.  We work long hours, but it's energizing to know that what we are doing has eternal results.  Even if there are just a few results...they will still last for all eternity!  No matter what line of work we are in, seeing eternal results can always be our goal.  What we see in front of us, the here and now, will pass away.  But if we can share with someone about Christ, if we can live our lives as a testimony to others of what God can do, if we can focus on the eternal instead of the present, suddenly no cost seems too great.

It's time to see our busyness as a blessing instead of a curse.  If God is with us, and our priorities in order, it can be an amazing adventure, more exciting than anything we could have ever dreamed of!


Eyes of Compassion

Yesterday, I was sitting in my bedroom with my oldest son doing math homework, when I heard the most horrible sound.  One of our neighbors was screaming at her 5 year old son.  Not just "raising her voice", but literally screaming at him.  The poor kid didn't even do anything wrong, but not even a minute later, the slapping started.  She slapped him across the face several times, and he was crying, "Mommy, please stop!"  I had to close my window to shut out the sounds.  I cried, and I prayed, but I felt so helpless.  We've been witnessing to this lady for the last several years, yet she hasn't softened toward spiritual things.  My heart aches for her little boy and the environment he is growing up in (the screaming I heard yesterday was not a first-time occurence).  Most would see him as the victim, but the mother is a victim too...and my heart breaks for her.  I know she loves her son, but she is so anxious and angry all the time.  I find myself wondering what her story is...why she reacts in such a negative way to her son, one of the most precious gifts she will ever have.

Just recently we saw an accident on the side of the road.  It was holding up traffic for awhile, and everyone around us on the road was getting impatient.  People were honking their horns, trying to find ways to get through and carry on with their own lives.  No one seemed concerned for the people that were actually involved in the accident.  I was just as anxious as everyone else to arrive at my destination, but I couldn't help but stop to think about the people that were affected by the accident.  Any type of injury or death has the power to change the lives of an entire family...and even if the accident only damaged the vehicles, that is still a difficult blow to deal with.  As I began to pray, I became very aware of how thankful I should be that I was only stuck in traffic and not part of the accident myself.  My heart was saddened for the people that were dealing with an accident instead of arriving at their planned destinations...but I was just beginning to see that they weren't the only ones who needed my compassion.  My heart began to break for all the other people- the people who were so busy honking their horns and getting angry about the holdup that they couldn't find it in themsleves to have compassion on someone else.  Why do we so often worry about things more than we worry about other people?

I have been asking God recently to give me more love towards the people around me.  I want to be more compassionate, and I want to extend mercy to others the way that God does to me.  I want my heart to break for the things that break God's heart.  I want to stop criticizing people for doing stupid things, because oftentimes they are suffering already from the choices they make or the circumstances that happen around them.  Besides, we all do stupid things.  Why do I get mad at the guy who was so rude to me in the grocery store when I have been known to be rude myself?  It's so easy to excuse my rudeness- "Maybe I shouldn't have spoken with that tone, but I only slept 2 hours last night 'cuz the baby was teething and I am just so tired out."  It's easy to justify our own behavior because we know the story behind it.  Isn't it possible that the rude man at the grocery store has a story too?  Maybe he's taking care of a sick relative, or maybe his wife just left him.  We don't always know...but IF we did know his story, would that change our reaction to him?  Would we be more compassionate toward him, or would we continue to judge him?  God, please help me to see others through eyes of compassion.  Break my heart for what breaks yours.


Get Energized!

I am a pretty energetic person for the most part.  I'm a hard worker and I can get by on very little sleep.  I don't let the little things get to me, and I try to face challenges with a great attitude.  However, I must admit I am surprised when I hear the question, "Do you EVER get tired?"

Of course I do.  I am human.  I definitely have my limits.  As a wife, mother of 4, and a full-time missionary I am living at a very high activity level.  Yes, I get tired.  Not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well.  I get tired A LOT.  It's hard when you give and give and give...and give some more- and I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who feels that way.  I'm guessing that a lot of mothers feel the same way at times- not to mention a lot of students, fathers, teachers, pastors, and pretty much anyone else in any walk of life.

So, the question is, what should we do to get energized when we get tired out?  I'm sure everyone has their own way of doing things, but here are some ideas that I have found very helpful:

1) Take some time to think about the One who gives you strength.  This can be accomplished by many different methods, and often will depend on where you are and how much time you have to do it in.  If I am at home and have 10 minutes, I get out the Word of God and start to read in one of my favorite books.  I don't get to read much more than a few verses, but just being reminded of the Truth when I am frazzled is a huge relief.  If I am in the car or with other people, I often take time to pray.  Even when I feel so drained that I don't know what to say, just telling the Lord, "I'm so tired that I don't even know where to begin, but thank you for being with me and seeing to my every need," helps to remind me that I am not doing this on my own.  If I am in the middle of another task, I often sing.  There are so many great songs that can speak for us and help to put things in perspective.  One of my personal favorites for trying times is an old Steven Curtis Chapman song that says, "His strength is perfect when our strength is gone.  He'll carry us when we can't carry on..."  Remembering that all I accopmlish is because of Christ's strength IN me helps my stumbling feet to fly again!

2) Think about something you can do for someone right now, and DO it.  Often in the ministry we labor for a long time before we see much fruit.  Focusing my thoughts on a lack of tangible results can make me tired faster than anything.  So, when I feel tired out I try to think of something, usually on a small scale, that will bring a smile to someone else's face.  Deliver baked goods as a surprise for a neighbor, send out an encouraging card to an unsuspecting acquaintance, buy a candy bar for the person behind you in line at the grocery store...anything.  The sky's the limit.  The point is that by thinking of someone else, your own problems tend to seem a little smaller, and causing someone else to smile often will make you smile too.  There is nothing like a smile to put a little life back into you and revive your tired bones and sore muscles!

3) Treat yourself to something that is special.  I know many of us don't get a lot of "alone time", but it is necessary to create some down time in your schedule so that you can unwind a little bit...take your mind off of the stress and relax a little.  For everyone it will be different, but I try to get my alone time when everyone else is in bed...usually around midnight.  This is my time to read a good book, write in my journal, watch a movie, or even to just sort out my thoughts while eating a treat or drinking an ice-cold coke.  Even if it is only a half an hour, it makes all the difference for me.  Relaxing for just a bit helps the stress to lose it's power over you, and you once again feel like with God at your side, NOTHING is impossible!

I am so thankful to know that even when I am tired, I can get energized again.  And again, and again, and again.  The Lord empowers us to do the things we must, and to live a life worthy of all He has called us to do.  Thank you, God, that ALL things are possible through YOU because you give us strength.  If God is for us, who can be against us???

Many Plans

"Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails."  This is one of my favorite verses from the book of Proverbs, and over and over again, I see just how true it is.  This year we have so many plans for how we want to minister.  At this very moment we are working on starting a youth group, and planning a men's retreat, an open-air evangelistic crusade, Vacation Bible School, and a short-term mission trip to Belize.  Those are just some of our plans, some of our strategies to spread the Gospel so that more people may come to know Christ.  However, through all the planning, we are continuing to PRAY as individuals and as a church body.  We pray for our town, for our homes, and for our nation, among other things.  We pray and ask God to work...and He does!  New people have arrived at the church this week, and people have accepted Christ as Lord and Savior for the very first time!  We can't take the credit for those new believers.  Maybe they have been influenced by our love for them.  Maybe they have even enjoyed our classes, programs, and events.  However it is not our projects that have made the ultimate difference- it is the work of the LORD.  Our plans are many, and some of them are very good plans, inspired by God's work in our lives, but it is always the Lord's purpose PREVAILS!  Thankfully the Lord's purpose is to draw each of us into relationship with Him.  If we think we are ecstatic when people come to know Christ, how must He feel?  Our lives are busy here in Michoacan, and our ministry is growing and changing,  but it is the Lord's purpose that is prevailing! We are so grateful to be a part of the plans that the Lord has in this place and for these people. 



This is going to be a short post, but there's something I wanted to share.  After posting last night on "Fear Not!" I was praying for the different people that I had mentioned, that they would be able to defeat their fears by trusting in the One who holds us in his hands.  The married couple that had been afraid to come to church was IN church this morning, along with their two teenage daughters and their toddler son!!!  I'm sure they will still deal with the fear of what people may say, but I know that God is BIGGER and He is working in their hearts.  As they come to trust Him completely, their fears will diminish.  May we all be reminded that when God is with us, there is NOTHING that we need to fear!


Fear Not!

There is a married couple that received Christ as Lord and Savior last May.  We have been doing Bible study with them on a weekly basis since then, but in all these months, they have only made it to church a couple times.  Why?  They are afraid of what people will say about them if they start going to a Christian church on a regular basis.  See, they are the very first Christians in their town...and in an area that is largely Catholic and controlled and intimidated by the local priest, Christians (or anyone that is not Catholic) are discriminated against.  They are made fun of, often denied work or housing, and their property is often vandalized.  I sympathize with their doubts and hesitation on attending church, but because I know how wonderful it is to be in fellowship with other believers, I also feel very sorry for all they are missing in not becoming part of the local body.

We have a neighbor that we have been witnessing to pretty much ever since we moved here 5 years ago.  For a long time he was working at the Catholic church, basically as the priest's right-hand man.  He often made announcements over the town's loudspeaker, advising people not to attend our events or have anything to do with.  Then, one night several months ago, during a blackout, he came over to our house asking about Jesus.  We dubbed him our "Nicodemus", and over the next several months he came over often, always at night, to hear the Good News.  About a month ago he came over and said, "What must I do to be saved?"  My husband led him to the cross, and he became a child of God.  Since then, he has been meeting with my husband for Bible study on a regular basis...but he confessed to us tonight that he is still afraid of making his conversion public.  He admits that he feels different, that he feels the work of the Holy Spirit in his life, but he is afraid of how his family will react when he tells them he is now a Christian.  He is so distressed over the fact, and I wish with all my heart I could make him understand that Christ is worth much more than anything we could ever face.

The other day at church, we were having a prayer meeting, and several of the women admitted that they were afraid.  For those of you who are unaware of the situation, there has been a lot of violence recently in Mexico related to drug trafficking.  In the last week, our towns have advised everyone to not walk on the outskirts of town and not to be out late at night because of certain drug cartel related activities in our area.  The women are naturally worried about safety for themselves and their families.  I tried to encourage them to trust in the Lord above all else.  I reminded them that our lives are in God's hands...and what better place to be?

Fear is all over the place.  We see it in others...and we deal with it ourselves.  Fear keeps us from doing the things we are supposed to do...and it keeps us from experiencing the grace, mercy, and provision of a sovereign God that we were meant to.  I deal with fear, just like everyone else.  But I have learned to give my fears to God.  I take seriously the fact that the Lord tells us over and over again in the Word not to be afraid.  Why don't we have to fear?  Because He is with us.  I am reminded of one of my favorite verses in the book of Joshua: "DO NOT FEAR, do not be dismayed, because the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."  God is WITH me!  And God is with you!  We don't have to fear what people think or what they will say, we don't have to fear danger or even dangerous people.  Come what may, He is with us.  So...fear not!


Kings' Day

Yesterday was Kings' Day here in Mexico, a holiday celebrating the supposed day when the wisemen found Jesus and were able to give him their gifts and worship him.  Kings' Day is when most children here receive their presents, as opposed to Christmas, and the spirit of gift-giving is one we try to take advantage of in order to minister to all the children around us.

Yesterday evening we held a special outreach event at our church.  There were songs, games, snacks, and most importantly a Bible-based Christmas play, telling of the birth of Jesus and the gift of salvation He offers us all.  At the end of the service, with the help of Operation Christmas Child, supporters in the States, and the local church, we were able to distribute more than 60 gifts to as many children.  There are no words to describe the way I felt when I saw the joy and excitement in their eyes as they opened their bags and boxes.  Things like toothpaste and toothbrushes, combs and hairbands were like treasures before them.  New shirts, socks, stuffed animals, toy cars, and so many other seemingly small things brought huge smiles to their faces.  It is a joy to be able to bless them...but at the same time I ache for their souls.  We shared the Good News of the Gospel with them.  We have shared time and again through Vacation Bible School, Kids' Camps, and the Super Saturday club.  Some have accepted Christ, and others still do not understand.  We plant the seeds and water them, then trust that God will grow them when there's nothing more we can do or say.  We hope and pray they will understand just how much Jesus loves them, that the greatest gift of all is one that is FREE and offered to us all.


We Get Rocks, Too

Have you ever seen the movie, "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown"?  I saw that movie for the first time recently, and one of the scenes really stood out to me.  It was the scene where the Peanuts gang is going trick-or-treating.  After every house, they all get together to compare the treat that they recieved.  All poor Charlie Brown said was, "I got a rock."  After every house, his answer was the same.  I must admit that I felt really bad for him, even though he is a cartoon character.  Charlie is forever the pessimist, always seeing the glass half-empty instead of half-full.  I, on the other hand, am one of the world's great optimists.  If there is something good to be found in a situation, I can find it.  However I found myself watching the, "I got a rock" scene and thinking how much I have in common with Charlie Brown.

Yes, I am an optimist.  I love to focus on the good things, the positive reports.  But I will not lie to you.  The ministry that we are doing in Mexico is really hard...and if I can let you in on a secret, sometimes I feel a lot like Charlie Brown.  So much work, so much time investing in people and projects....and at the end of the day, all we have to show for it are lousy rocks.  I started to think (or maybe I am just hoping) that I am not the only one that feels that way.  I try to not let my feelings dictate the way I live my life.  After all, my hope is in Christ, and I am not going to give up.  But there are many times when we don't see the positive results that we hope for.  And we start to feel like Charlie Brown...and all he got were rocks!

So, what do we do when we don't see the results we want to see?  We trust in God.  He is greater than the circumstances, and we have to believe that there is eternal value to all we are doing- even when we can't see it right away.  We recently have seen proof that some of the seeds that we planted years ago are finally starting to sprout roots and shoots...seeds that we thought were already dead.  God sees the big picture, He sees all the components and the invisible things that are happening in the spiritual realm.  We believe that He who is faithful to BEGIN will also be faithful to COMPLETE.  We trust, believe, and persevere, because the One who holds us in His hands also has the situation in His hands.  We press on believing that the next time we get rocks, God will use those rocks to build something greater than we ever imagined!


I Surrender All

Tonight my husband and I were asked to share for about 20 minutes at a nearby church.  I was invited to sing a worship song, and then we both were supposed to share a testimony on giving up everything for the sake of the Gospel.  As I was trying to prepare for the evening, I was struck by an interesting thought that I would like to share with you.

As missionaries, we have definitely given up a lot.  We are far away from family, we are without many physical comforts, and we jeopardize our own safety.  Giving up those things is difficult, but it's not so extraordinary.  When we love God, we desire to give up those things for Him so that He can do his will in our lives.  It's as simple as that.  The things we give up are totally outweighed by knowing that what we are doing has eternal value and can never be taken away.  Now here's where my interesting thought comes into play: maybe it is a lot easier to give up the big things than it is to give up the little things.

What do I mean by that?  Well, maybe it is easier to move away from family than it is to give a bad attitude to God.  And maybe it's easier to be without a hot shower than it is to stop gossiping.  Or maybe it's a little easier to put yourself in danger than it is to surrender a judgemental attitude to the Lord.  Yes, I am a missionary, and yes, I have given up a lot...but have I truly surrendered ALL?

Maybe we have given up things for God.  That's great.  Giving things up for Him helps us to experience a little more of who He is.  But whether we have given up a lot or a little, there is always something more to surrender.  Maybe God is asking you to surrender some of the big things in your life...maybe family members, a relationship, or even some material posessions.  Or maybe God is reminding you, like He is me, that there are "little", hard-to-see things in your life that you have yet to surrender...a critical spirit, a deceitful tongue, or a prideful attitude.  It is time to SURRENDER.  Let us give God what He is asking us for!  And we can be assured that what we will gain in return will be so much more valuable than anything we ever had to give up!