Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Example of Adoniram Judson

An open letter to the Appalachian Bible College sophomore class

Dear Class of 2020,

It's August!  Summer is slipping away and your sophomore year is quickly approaching.  I have mixed feelings about that, and you probably do, too.  I'm eager for new students to arrive—especially several internationals from South America, Asia, and Europe!  And I can't wait to hear about your summer experiences.  What has God been teaching you?  Were there ways you put into practice what you learned as a freshman?

One highlight of my summer was worshiping with a supporting church in Kansas, which includes a large number of refugees from Asia.  Many of them are ethnic Karen people (pronounced kuh-RIN), descendants of some who were introduced to Jesus by Adoniram Judson.

You probably know a little of Judson's story.  He was the first Baptist missionary sent overseas from the U.S. in the 1800's.  He lost two wives, he took only one furlough in 38 years of ministry, and he suffered from chronic illnesses.  Still, he labored on—translating the Bible into Burmese and slowly seeing hearts turned from Buddha to Christ.

As I listened to my Karen brothers and sisters sing and pray in their beautiful language, and as we celebrated the Lord's Supper together and then fellowshipped over lunch, I rejoiced!  I rejoiced because Jesus is Savior of all peoples.  I rejoiced because my country has made a place for these immigrants.  I rejoiced because a small local church welcomes them despite the inherent challenges.  And I rejoiced because God used a man named Adoniram Judson.

If you ever question the impact that one life can have, think of my Karen friends.  Generations after Judson's death, they are part of his legacy.  Whatever he suffered during his short time on earth, I'm certain he now counts it fully worthwhile for the crown of rejoicing in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ (I Thessalonians 2:19).

The class motto you chose is a single, powerful word: Surrendered.  I pray each of you surrender to the Lord Jesus with the lifelong, selfless commitment of an Adoniram Judson.  The days of such "heroes of the faith" are not over.  It is your time.  Prepare well!
So Spirit, come, put strength in every stride;
Give grace for every hurdle.
That we may run with faith to win the prize
Of a servant good and faithful.
As saints of old, still line the way,
Retelling triumphs of His grace,
We hear their calls, and hunger for the day
When with Christ we stand in Glory. 
"O Church Arise," Keith & Kristyn Getty

Saturday, May 13, 2017

In This I Rejoice

Was it really just a week ago that we celebrated these Appalachian Bible College graduates and bade them Godspeed with servant's mantles in hand?
Some of them are sticking around for a summer of ministry or work here (thank you for sparing me from all the goodbyes in one day!), but most have scattered.
Several are headed to seminary for additional ministry training. Some are getting married (to each other, in a few cases 😊) or having babies soon. Some are already candidating/interviewing for ministry positions. Others have jumped into the workforce with the goal of paying off student loans. And a handful are enjoying precious time with family before soon embarking on gospel-advancing work in other parts of the globe.

It's a bittersweet thing to befriend, invest in, and delight in the growth of a group of young people only to watch them leave. My guess is it is not unlike parenting.

I get a little wistful this time of year. I look back and realize I could have invested in these men and women more than I did; I could have opened up my home more, initiated more conversations about substantive things, made time to pray with them more. I'm still learning how to do all of that well, after spending a decade in a very different ministry setting. Thankfully, God's grace can be trusted to use us in our weakness and fill in the gaps.

But mostly I just rejoice. Because God's heartbeat for the nations beats strong in young veins. Because his plan for Christ's bride, the church, is carried forward on young shoulders. Because his gospel is preached and taught and studied and shared by young minds who know how to reach their own generation. "Christ is proclaimed and in this I rejoice," Paul wrote, "Yes, and I will rejoice!" (Philippians 1:18).

He went on with these heartfelt words for the believers in Philippi—which are just as relevant for the Class of 2017:
"Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel..." (1:27).

Saturday, January 28, 2017

On Moving

How hard it is to escape from places. However carefully one goes they hold you... you leave little bits of yourself fluttering on the fences... little rags and shreds of your very life.

Katherine Mansfield's words keenly describe the heart-wrenching nature of moving. And the longer you have been in a place, the more you have invested in its people—the sharper the pain of leaving.

There is a way to keep all your bits to yourself while going about this fair and fallen world. It goes something like this: ignore the beauty, resist belonging, harbor bitterness, stay self-absorbed and narrow-minded and aloof.

But don't do it. Press in. Put down roots. Open your eyes and open your heart to each place the Good Shepherd leads you. It's worth the risk of pain.

And when it comes time to leave again, may the familiar ache remind you, dear pilgrim: there is a Forever Home just around the bend. The Shepherd himself prepares a place for you there. He will tenderly salvage every last ragged bit of yourself from Earth's fences. He will dry your tears. He will restore all things for eternity.
Another rag, another shred,
Another goodbye said...
O come, thou world; come, thou day,
When—heart made whole—I stay.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

100 Miles

On this final day of 2016, I finished out my last three miles in the New River Gorge 100 Mile Challenge.  Huzzah!

Hiking a hundred miles in a year isn't super remarkable (some hikers completed the challenge in January already!), but I encountered plenty of obstacles through the year; the "Challenge" lived up to its name.  That just makes the accomplishment all the sweeter.

In all, I hiked 29 times on 19 trails in the New River Gorge of West Virginia.  Usually I was alone but sometimes had companions join me (shout out to Janetta, the most frequent).  I was fascinated by the abandoned coal mines and structures along many of the trails, and also by the flora and fauna—not to mention the River itself, always beside me.  But mostly I just soaked up the quiet communion with God, the clean air, the rhythm of walking—heart pumping, lungs pumping, legs pumping.  Thank you, Father, for the strength to experience this great, good world of yours.

How to celebrate 100 miles hiked, as one year closes and another dawns?  Reading Psalm 100 seemed appropriate, there on windy Long Point today.  The Shepherd is faithful through all generations.  Serve him with gladness.  Happy New Year!

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations. (NIV)

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

In the Shelter

These days it seems everywhere I look—or listen—I come across this notion of abide, my theme for 2016. Scripture is saturated with references to it and its related concepts. I finally started keeping some notes on the topic and they are quickly piling up. Perhaps by December I'll bring some semblance of order to my scribbles and share what I'm finding to be deeply meaningful.

Meanwhile, here is a musical meditation on Psalm 61. (I recently discovered Sherri Youngward's music and purchased her Scripture Songs, volumes 1 and 2, to accompany my road trip to Illinois last week. If you need more Bible and acoustic guitar in your life—and who doesn't?—get some for yourself.)
You have been a shelter for me,
A strong tower from the enemy.
I will abide in Your tabernacle forever;
I will trust in the shelter of Your wings.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Jesus Led Me All the Way

During this morning's church service, our song leader announced "All the Way My Savior Leads Me" for congregational worship, and I got a little teary. It happens to be the hymn I sang to myself repeatedly in the weeks leading up to my move east, on the heart-wrenching day I packed up and drove away, and through the months of trying to figure out a new place and ministry.
For I know whate'er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.
This week marked one year since my arriving in West Virginia.  It was kind of the Lord to tenderly remind me of his presence and blessing on this anniversary week. O the fullness of his love.

Fanny Crosby, the lyricist, was an inspiring woman.  Permanently blinded due to a doctor's mistake when she was just an infant, she nevertheless lived out a sure trust in a God both sovereign and good.  Hers was a faith so real that it had to be expressed profusely.  And so she penned lyrics for 8,000 sacred songs and became the most prolific hymnist in history.

Every time I hear a Fanny Crosby song I note her references to sight.  Words like "see" and "look" pop up often.  (She wrote a lot about heaven, where she would be able to gaze with perfect eyes upon the Lord Jesus.)  "All the Way My Savior Leads Me" follows the pattern: Lo! A spring of joy I see.  Fanny Crosby saw with the eyes of faith.

Although I enjoy the Robert Lowry melody traditionally matched with Fanny Crosby's hymn, I think the simple, heartfelt lyrics lend themselves better to a more contemplative setting.  I love Chris Tomlin's version, but my favorite is Rich Mullins's.  That earnest, raw voice accompanied by Beaker's soft guitar harmonics:
All the way my Savior leads me;
What have I to ask beside?

I watched this video so many times in the last 15 months, often late at night when the doubts and grief seemed almost palpable.
Can I doubt His tender [faithful] mercy,
Who through life has been my Guide?
No, I cannot doubt my Guide—not for long.  The grief, too, is soothed by a growing contentment and gratitude that the Lord is mercifully cultivating in my heart:
Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith in Him to dwell...
Fanny Crosby died in 1915, Rich in 1997.  Their faith is now sight.  Someday I will join them:
This my song through endless ages—
Jesus led me all the way.

Monday, January 25, 2016


The hours speed by and the days pile up and suddenly people are telling you it is anno Domini 2016.  And just like that, it's been six months since you blogged.

Do people even blog any more?

You realize with a start that you have very little idea what is going on beyond the borders of your own heart, which has needed careful tending for so long.  But now that you look around, the world seems hardly recognizable.

There is a bumptious megalomaniac with bizarre hair running for president and self-proclaimed conservatives are fawning at his feet.  Can this even be for real?

The pastor who has suffered in Iranian prison for three years is abruptly released and you watch a video of him, stepping off a plane in North Carolina into the arms of his weeping mother.  You weep, too, for you have prayed for this brother over and over; now God has delivered him and it is surreal.

The beloved people you left ten months ago are having weddings, having babies, having funerals, advancing the gospel, making moves of their own.  It is strange and joyous and heart-wrenching that all of this goes on without you.

But then you are granted a grace of magnificent proportion: two weeks with your family for the holidays.  Here, you are relieved to discover, is constancy.  The quiet rhythm of steaming oatmeal every morning and hands held in prayer every evening.  Yet—the hands are growing older and it is only a matter of time before this haven is fractured by change, too.

On the late flight back east, you study the tiny points of light below.  They outline the grid-like infrastructure of the plains, gradually replaced with the twisting roads of the Appalachians and her foothills.  Which do you belong to?  There come the familiar pangs of homelessness.  Sojourner.

In the darkness above the Ohio River you are given a single word: abide.


"Abide in me," Jesus told his followers (John 15:4).  "Abide in my love" (15:8).  Centuries prior, an unnamed psalmist proclaimed, "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say to the Lord, 'My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust!'" (Psalm 91:1-2).

The "where" is a "who."  And he is omnipresent, everywhere at once.  Even more intimate than that: he indwells you.  So closely is your life tied to his that both are true: you abide in him and he abides in you (John 15:4-5).  "Home" is a "him."

Like the snail, you take your Home with you wherever you go.  You are snug and safe, and it hardly matters what changes around you or where your feet land.

This landing comes with a bump as the plane touches down on the mountain and quickly decelerates to avoid plummeting down the other side of it.  The door opens.  You are home.  You are home because he is here, around you and within you and you in him.

Abide: here is the word you take in your hands like an anchor at the beginning of a new year, heaving it down through troubled waters to solid bedrock.  You have walked by faith not by sight.  You have moved and now it is time to stay.  Abide.