An abundant life, Evergreen SGV/ZOE Update, 9/9

So for Sunday worship we were back in the worship center where we had experienced the ZOE prayer meeting two nights prior. We had just enjoyed the cry-fest that was the ZOE debriefing process, and like a dummy I thought I wouldn't need any more tissue for worship service.

I picked a spot on the straw mat, between a few ministry students I had the immense privilege of locking arms with for a few days, the sun was streaming in through the window (the sunniest morning we've had this week), and Pidetch, a man I had seen working tirelessly as part of the outreach and prevention leadership, started tuning his acoustic guitar. Ministry school students poured onto the stage: drums, bass, electric guitar, five additional vocalists, Yaw on keys. It looked an awful lot like Sunday mornings at Evergreen: a group of Asian lovers of Christ preparing to usher their brethren into the courts of praise.

Then the first G chord struck, and I was a lost cause. It was a song in Thai, and there were no words on the screen--a worship aperitif, as it were. The staff and ministry students I described to you, these giants in the faith who every day plunge into the darkness to pull souls out for God, were there lifting their hands and praising the God who calls them, equips them, and smiles over them. The precious children you heard about yesterday were singing at the tops of their lungs for the One who is doing the work of redemption and restoration in their lives. And as the presence of the Holy Spirit was rising up in a tangible way, they transitioned to sing,

"I lay my life down at You feet, for You're the only one I need, I look to You and You are always there!"

Game over.

"In troubled times it's You I seek, I put You first that's all I need, I humble ALL I AM all to You"

These humble people who dwell in the presence of the Most High were communing with their Lord, declaring their dependence on Him. They continued to sing,

"You are the Way, the Truth, and the Life, we live by faith and not by sight for You. We're living all for You,"

Not an ounce of cynicism. No irony or hypocrisy. This is what they live. They live the constancy of Jesus. They see that He is always there, and that He will never ever change, no matter how troubled the times. When they sing "Lord I give You my life", as they did next, heaven smiles and affirms their worship. Their mission feeds their worship, which feeds their mission. That is the definition of integrity.

Next, they had words of encouragement from some of the children. A 9 year old girl strode onto stage with her Bible in hand. John 10:10,

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." This child of God who had lost everything she had on earth knows life abundantly because she is surrounded by the love of Christ. In her small but wise voice, she boldly declared "I know I have it, and I hope you have it, too".

By this time, I didn't care that I didn't have any tissues because wiping my tears away wasn't going to do any good anyway. How humbling to know that a 9 year old child knows more about God's provision than I do. She was one of the little ones singing at the top of her lungs, worship that was an outlet for the abundant life she knows in Christ.

God has placed eternity on our hearts so that we might desire something beyond the world we can see, that we might desire God Himself. ZOE is a place where this pan-dimensional tapestry that God is weaving into His love story folds in on itself and we can see a glimpse of the glory He is bringing about. Here is a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven, where the broken are pursued and brought back into relationship, tears are wiped away, and the least of these are put in the place of highest honor. And this is all done because of His provision. Yes, He has and continues to provide for ZOE's financial needs, but moreover, He continues to open doors to ministry, raise up spiritual warriors, and bring hope to bear in these kids' lives. None of these things happen apart from the Lord; the ZOE family lives out that desperate dependence. 

Brothers and sisters, let me humbly encourage us to take a hard examination of the areas in our lives where we have become comfortable. As the history of mankind shows us again and again, comfort leads to complacency and then to selfishness. Selfishness keeps us desiring comfort and we become paralyzed in fear of losing what we think we deserve. Stealing a saying from Pastor Rocky, the enemy doesn't care how you're deceived just so long as you're deceived. How is the enemy deceiving you in order to keep you from doing something (no matter how big or small) for God? In Southern California, it's easy to become comfortable and ultimately forget who the Giver of all comfort is. Let's ask Him to replace our complacency and selfishness with an ever-growing desire for Him, whatever that may look like. Because when we make the Lord our desire, He fulfills that desire with life abundantly.

Humbly,

Jason (on behalf of your Evergreen ZOE team)

 

PS on the plane for our return trip tomorrow! I'll try to reflect and send a closing message in a few days. Please pray for our return trip. We are all spiritually filled but physically drained! Please pray that our re-entry goes smoothly and that the lessons we have learned this week stick in our hearts and make a lasting difference in our lives!

 

Insufficiency with gusto, Evergreen SGV/ZOE update, 9/7

Bear with me a moment as I explain the adrenergic system.  The body has signaling pathways that regulate the blood vessels, lungs, heart, etc.  Basically, this system is responsible for the function of the vital organs during the fight or flight response.  There are receptors that, when triggered, cause the blood vessels to squeeze down and deliver blood more quickly to the muscles.  Other receptors lead to the lungs to open wider, allowing more air flow and oxygen uptake.  Finally, some receptors make the heart to beat harder and faster.  At all times, an intricate dance of transmitters released into the bloodstream determine which of these receptors are turned on, depending on the needs of the body.

Hopefully this makes sense (there will be a quiz at the mission report meeting).  

Tonight we had the privilege of attending the weekly ZOE prayer meeting.  The entire ZOE family attends this event: administrators, staff, ministry school students, the beautiful children with their house parents, and long and short term missionaries.  Tonight, they formed a small walkway through the mass of humanity to give us visitors a celebrity's welcome.  The room has a concrete floor (very common here, due to the high humidity), but the floor is covered with woven straw mats to allow people to assume whatever posture of prayer they wish.  It is packed with more people than you can count (they keep moving around and the lights are low).  The music starts (English praise and worship music to accommodate us guests), at a high enough level that people can pray without being heard if they so wish, or they can shout above if they feel so led.  

And these giants in the faith I was telling you about are milling around, like transmitters waiting to trigger a jolt of life into the body of Christ.  Seemingly at random (but actually by divine appointment), when two people made eye contact, they would cling to each other in tight embrace and start praying.  Praying for each other's edification, praying against human trafficking, praying for the glory of God to be revealed in this world.  There were Wit and Yaw (whom I introduced you to yesterday), like epinephrine ready to stir the Church's heart out of slumber with their intercessions.  There was Three (yes, Three), a children's home parent: one of the only men to accept the job, a former Thai soldier, now helping out at ZOE's on-campus pig farm and agriculture fields, when he's not serving as a care taker and role model to the orphaned boys of ZOE.  He reminded me of norepinephrine, stirring the lifeblood of the Church through his humble servanthood to God's beloved and once-forgotten children.  There were countless others, breathing life into the church simply by living out their mission with passion and conviction.  In a country where under 1% of the population knows Christ, lukewarm Christianity simply isn't an option.  

And there I was.  I am like dopamine.  You see, dopamine isn't really part of the adrenergic system.  It usually exists only in the brain (there's a whole sidebar about head vs heart knowledge here I'm not going to delve into right now).  But somewhere along the line, someone discovered that if you synthesize dopamine and flood the bloodstream with a whole lot of it, it can cause similar reactions to epinephrine and norepinephrine.  But it takes much higher doses, and sometimes the signals get confused since dopamine is crashing the party.  

What was I doing amongst people who live and breathe every moment to serve the Cause of Christ?  How was I not going to mess this beautiful dance up?  What was I supposed to do when Yaw grabbed me and started thanking God for my presence in his life, and then all of a sudden it was my turn to pray?  Well, if the Holy Spirit told me I was dopamine, then He also told me that dopamine makes up for its awkwardness by showing up big.  So I prayed.  Loudly.  I didn't stop to think about the words I was praying (a nice bonus when the person accepting prayer from you doesn't speak your language), and didn't care that I was crying.  Then I prayed again with someone else.  And someone else.  Dear little children I haven't met yet placed their hands on me and prayed for me in Thai.  One child was praying in what I thought were Thai words I never learned, but turns out he was praying in the Karen language.  At some point, the lights went up and it was over.  They say it was an hour, and I accept that statement by faith.

There I was, an adoptive parent who was not able under my own power to provide my daughter, Hannah, with what she needed to thrive.  I was surrounded by people who minister to children with much darker stories than Hannah, and others who run into the darkness to seek them out to save and restore them.  Let's be honest, these are people who are wildly succeeding where I have failed (on a much smaller scale).  These are people who think about planning their next outreach to empower poor families and spread the gospel while I sit in my comfortable home worried about the next Avengers movie.  

But thankfully God and prayer in the largest possible sense don't work that way.  An answer for physical healing, for empowerment to fight evil, or for restoration of a broken heart doesn't depend on the power of the person praying.  These things strengthen the body of Christ, and as such are dear to God's heart.  The answer to such prayers is dependent on the God of Angel Armies.  I am not enough, and God knows that, and He loves me in that.  My failure on a human scale only sets God up to reveal His glory in my weakness, and gives me an appreciation for the many different ways he can tell His redemption story: a story that is playing out on a stage broader and deeper than I can see.  Like dopamine, I'm not sure what my presence at that meeting did, but I will trust that God knows, and that He will work by His immeasurable might. 

My encouragement to you, dear friends, is even when you feel like you're out of your element, even when you feel like you're unqualified, even when you know you don't have what it takes, step forward in faith, and let God work His victory through you.  The battle is the Lord's, and the Lord never has, never does, and never will lose a battle.  

In and for Him,

Jason (on behalf of the Evergreen ZOE team)

PS. Tomorrow we are spending the whole day with the children of ZOE!  They naturally place the children's safety as a top priority, so I will share what I can, even though names and specific situations will not be included.  Please pray for energy and efficiency!  We have a lot of children and staff to provide health assessments to!