Thursday, November 9, 2017

These Demons are Pretty

“Go watch Elliott,” Richard said to me very seriously.

I stepped into the kitchen in our tiny wooden jungle home and looked out onto the back patio where Elliott liked to play in the big water basin. He was three and a half and full of imagination and wonder at all the things the world had to offer. I watched as he played contently, then glanced up into the virgin jungle behind our home. Then a smiled spread across his face as he waved enthusiastically. That’s when my own smile faded.

“He keeps doing that,” Richard responded to my look of concern.

Shortly after I called to him.

“What do you see, buddyroo? Who are you waving at?”

“Oh, it’s my friend! See him out there? He is waving to me,” he said with certainty.

I saw a bucket in the distance and asked if that was it. No, he assured me. It was his friend, right over there. I told him it was time to come in and told myself it was nothing more than his vivid imagination at play.

Later that same day, we were having a conversation with our oldest behind a closed door when suddenly we hear Elliott crying uncontrollably, fearful. I go running out to see what’s wrong and he’s on the front porch now. He’s pointing and crying. I look and all I see are the trees surrounding our home.

“What? What is it son?!” I say, concerned.

“My friend!! Right there! He’s throwing things at me! He’s throwing fire at me!!”

I see nothing.

Visibly shaken, I grab him up and assure him he is safe, that Jesus is with him and the enemy can do no harm. My heart was awakened to a new reality of spiritual darkness and oppression that day. And I would never be the same.

This story is one of many from our four years in the Amazon jungle. The darkness was tangible on many days and most nights. The longer we were there, the more discerning our Spirit became to the evil around us. Many a night Richard or myself would awaken parallyzed. It became so commonplace that we could sense it in one another almost immediately and the other would awaken, wrap themselves around the other and pray out loud until the oppression subsided. 

The demons were dark and ugly. 

When we moved back to the States over a year ago now, we stopped experiencing these events. It was a welcomed relief as it’s mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually exhausting to fight this ever present battle we had faced for years.

But it wasn’t long before we made a stark realization: those same demons are here in the clean, comfortable, and convenient United States of America.

They’re just pretty here.

Here they don’t look like unnaturally tall dark shadows in the doorways at night. They look like another good deal at Target tempting us to decorate for every season though our homes are bulging at the seams, indulge in new styles though our closets are full, use shopping as our thrill and coping mechanism. "Retail therapy".


They don’t look like a young indigenous boy piercing your soul with his glare while murmuring an unintelligable language. They look like obsessing over our homes, our bodies, our cars, our church buildings, our education. "Self-improvement".

They don’t look like your one year old staring into the corner of the room at two a.m. screaming and trembling uncontrollably. They look like "liking" about a hundred things on social media that have to do with world change, social justice, and loving the unloveable but not truly sacrificing for a single one. "Passively passionate".

The demons here in America are shiny and new. They are comprised of comfort, ease, and yours and your family’s wellbeing. The demons here love to disguise as “good” things. “Blessings”. Things that aren’t inherently wrong.

We have redefined the word “need” in America. We defend it on behalf of our family’s happiness, health, and protection. We are willing to pay the price because after all it’s “good”. We will spend hundreds and thousands of dollars on the newest health and natural trends for our families, futally striving to make every aspect of our home "safe". We will buy the newest kitchen appliances with all the convenient features. We will buy all the newest educational tools and toys. We will buy excessive amounts of clothing (and then complain about the laundry). We will buy the newer vehicle and the best electronic devices. We "need" them all to function in our busy, daily lives.

And ALL of that makes perfect sense. Why wouldn’t we use the resources we have to buy the best of the best? Why wouldn't convenience be a proirity? Why wouldn’t we give our kids the world? Why not indulge? We work hard and deserve it. 

Unless you are a Christ follower. Unless you believe—truly believe—that there is a lost world out there who truly lacks. That your brothers and sisters are literally dying from lack of basic needs.

Then it doesn’t make as much sense anymore.

Then all of the sudden, maybe your kids have plenty of clothing and hand-me-downs and second-hand aren’t so bad after all. Maybe last year's seasonal decorations are sufficient to make our house homey and we realize it's not the decorations that make it a home anyway, it's the people. Maybe you don’t need all those new-fangled health products when the access we are afforded in America to plenty of clean water and whole foods can usually do the trick, just like God intended. Maybe your car can go another 50,000 miles and maybe that phone you have really is good enough. Maybe your appliances are sufficient. Maybe we cater too much to our kids and blur the lines between need and want, making it impossible for us (and them) to decipher. 

Maybe our time and resources have a higher purpose. Maybe we live in the land of plenty for the sake of the world, not our own little kingdoms.

Maybe by living simply, we can let others simply live. And life can slow down enough for us to take it all in. See the needs around us. Feel the hurt of the world in our own souls. Bare their burdens.

Because don’t we look just like the world when we are keeping up with all the trends? And don’t we isolate ourselves from the needy when we are too focused on ourselves?

And maybe—just maybe—we could be exchanging what is BEST for what is just good.

It’s past time for Christ-followers in America to stop kidding ourselves. To stop believing that it’s ok to live self-indulgent lives. To stop laughing about spending excessive amounts of money at Target and on Amazon. To actually decide this year NOT to give into the holiday fiasco, no matter how tempting all those trinkets and gadgets are (studies show they won't be used in the next six months anyway). To not just “like” the posts on social media about helping the orphan and widow and patting ourselves on the back for packing a shoebox or two, but instead giving until it HURTS. To choose to pray over how we spend our money and ask God if it’s truly a need or a just perceived “need” based on our culture of consumption and commercialism. To stop building bigger and better buildings to draw the crowds in but instead giving more and more to our communities, pouring ourselves out. 

To be different.

Our demons are pretty here. They glitter and shout, “I’m good for you!” And all the while Jesus whispers, “I’m best for you. Your job is to give of yourself. To die to your fleshly desires. To sacrifice. To look different. I am enough. I will meet your needs. I define need.”

And it’s high time we teach our kids this, too. It’s time we show our kids that we can maintain self-control at the store when we only purchase what we came for and not a new shirt and pair of shoes and those towels on sale and a spice rack and six new throw pillows because they were cute and we just couldn’t resist. Instead we teach what consumerism and commercialism are and we speak out about cheaply made clothing and household items that enslave men, women, and children around the globe and how we can use our money and resources more wisely for Christ’s sake. We talk with them about making healthy choices but being careful not to obsess. That it’s ok to have fun, but not to overindulge at the expense of others. That we purchase with others in mind. 

The reality is, we all die one day. One day, we leave it all behind. So even when our homes look like a Pinterest post and we eat all things organic and we have offered our children the best of the best and our closets are full and our cars are the newest and so on, at the end of the day God is sovereign. And the only thing that will add true fullness to our lives will be the glorifying of God with our lives through daily dying to ourselves and depending on God not only to meet our needs, but to define them as well.

I feel like I have a new perspective, having stepped away from glittery America into the darkness of the jungle and now back again. My eyes see it. But my heart feels the tug. I find myself “needing” things I would’ve never thought twice about before, after just a short time back Stateside. It’s a slow fade. I find myself justifying purchases, though my heart whispers, “This isn’t best.” I feel the pull of commercialism towards the things that aren't inherently wrong, "It's on sale...." And it drives me to my knees, asking the Lord for discernment and wisdom for my family for the sake of my brothers and sisters around the globe AND for the sake of my kids who will one day live independently in this crazy, chaotic, self-centered world. 

I share this, not to sounds preachy or judgmental. I share it as a sort of call to action for American Believers to say “no”. To seek the Lord in decisions with finances and resources, not simply blending in to the culture around us. “No” to consumerism and self-indulgence. “No” to settling for what’s “good” when we already have what’s Best. “No” to being like the world, just throwing Jesus in the mix by keeping “Christ” in “Christmas” and attending a Sunday morning church service, all the while squandering the bulk our resources on self-centered pursuits.

And it’s time to say “yes”. “Yes” to living simply. “Yes” to sacrificing until it hurts. “Yes” to living as a community, a Body of Believers determined to give more than we receive and love our neighbor as ourselves. “Yes” to letting Jesus be all we need and trusting Him to meet our needs. “Yes” to BEING the church.

No to all the pretty demons around us.


Yes to the fullness Jesus has offered us.






**Disclaimer: I don't presume to know HOW the Lord will lead anyone in this area. Each family of Christ-followers has a responsibility to the Lord alone with how they use their finances and resources. I just encourage each of us to take an honest look, not comparing to each other, but comparing to Christ alone and asking Him how to best use what He has entrusted to us for the sake of the lost world around us.**

Friday, April 14, 2017

A Slave Set Free


I hopped off the back of the mototaxi and peeked my head in the door of Grace House to surprise her. She hugged me tight and kissed my neck, smiling that wide open smile that I remember from three years ago when I first met her. I hugged her right back and told her how good it was to see her.


And it really was so good. I watched her as she prepared the food for the kids that day and she worked ever so diligently. She thanked me over and over for the opportunity to be here, in this place, working. “The smiles of these kids keep me going every day. Thank you. Really, thank you.”

I assured her that it was the Lord who had led her here and it was our privilege to welcome her into our family.

Later, as the food was cooking on the stove that would fill the bellies of many of the kids who didn’t have conditions to bring lunches that day, she called me over. She sat in the chair and I sat at her feet and listened intently as she shared with me the last few months of her life.


“He had dropped off Rafaela that day at her aunt’s house and told her to go play,” she recounted. “When I went to get Rafaela later, after Rafael had found him, she just started screaming. She kept saying, ‘No! He told me to come here to play! That was someone else! Not him!’ and she just ran back and forth through the house.”

I held back the tears, thinking of Rafael discovering his dad’s body, Rafaela learning of his sudden death, and Carla, left alone to care for her three kids.

But deep down I was confused. I know the rest of the story. How he beat them, sometimes until they couldn’t breathe and other times leaving bruises and cuts as evidence. I knew how he didn’t provide for them and certainly never showed fatherly affection. I'd seen him passed out on the side of the street, drunk. So... on some level, wasn’t this a relief?

She continued to share with me the depths of their sadness over the last few months. She said she had gone to the doctor and he told her that if she didn’t find some joy in her life, she would die. My heart ached.

“We are so thankful to have you here, Carla,” I assured her.

She shared more but soon lunchtime came and she moved along to help with all the tasks. I sat and talked with the kids and the other volunteers, and all the while her story lingered in my mind.
Carla's daughter, Rafaela

That evening, Rosa and I sat down along with Bea, and Rosa delved deeper into the story.

“The woman she worked for beat her. Her employer's children would beat her, too,” she shared. I could tell this was heavy for her to speak. “If there wasn’t enough food to eat at lunch, Carla would go hungry or they would give her rotten food. She worked six days a week, all day. They paid her $120 reales (Brazilian currency) a month (**that’s the equivalent of $37 US).” I grimaced as she shared more details.

Again I felt confused. Because the Carla I’ve always seen maintained a smile on her face. She cared for her children with the little she had. I would’ve never guessed the extent of her suffering.

“One day she came to me and asked if she could work at Grace House. If maybe we would have a job for her. Because she thought her employers might be paying her unfairly.”

Carla can’t read. And she doesn’t know the difference between a 10 Real bill and a 100 Real bill. When she finally opened up with Rosa back in February about how they were treating her (for years now), Rosa wrote me to see if there was a possibility to employ her to help at the house.

We didn’t know all of these details at the time, but we said yes. We don’t have the funding, but we do know that Carla and her three children have been special to us for years now and it was no coicidence.



When Carla received her first month’s pay of $500 reales, she told Rosa she wanted to buy a few things. Rosa offered to take her to the grocery store. When she would ask if she had enough money to buy a certain item, Rosa would say yes, because she had plenty. This happened so many times that Carla finally said, “Rosa, I don’t think I can get all of this! They’re going to think we’re stealing!”

Turns out, most of the shops in town were taking advantage of Carla’s inability to decipher money value and they would overcharge her. She typically walked away with a few kilos of rice, noodles, and maybe a chicken. Rosa reassured her she had sufficient funds and she left that day with enough food for her and her kids for the first time in her life. She even had money left over.

“Rosa, could I buy some shampoo?” she asked as they were leaving. “My employer told me that people from my conditions don’t buy those things. But I’d really like to if I have the money.”

I could feel the anger building in my heart towards this employer. How?! Why?! Rosa continued.

“She also said that she really wanted a table with four chairs and a dish cabinet. She didn’t have those things and her employer had cheated her out of the money she received from the government for caring for her kids.”

Her employer would get the money out for her each month and was supposed to be "saving" it for her. What should have been over $10,000 Reales (over $3,000US) in savings over the years turned out to be $1,400 Reales (only $445US). With this money, however, Rosa was able to take her to buy those items for her home.

“She was like a child on Christmas,” Rosa said, laughing and smiling. “You’ve never seen a grown woman so happy. She just kept saying, ‘Are you sure, Rosa? Are you sure I have enough?’”

My heart was full of so many emotions. Anger at her abusers. Joy at her new found freedom. Thankfulness that God would allow us to invest in her life in this way. Uncertainty about how we could maintain her salary on the little funds that come in each month. Faith that God would provide.

That’s about the time the hardest part of the story hit. Her employer was selling her for sexual favors to a married man. My heart felt like it dropped to the pit of my stomach. This sweet lady, probably around my age, though looking much older, was being verbally, physically, AND sexually abused every single day. And she told no one because to her it was “normal” life.

Jesus, be near.

I wanted to go and find this employer and give her the justice she deserved. I wanted to report her for these atrocities and let all the world know the heinous things she had done to this poor woman. How she had taken advantage of her ignorance and lack of education. How she had beaten her down physically and verbally. I was enraged.

But I knew there is no justice to be found in this town. That this story repeats over and over and over again on these streets, with these kids and with these vulnerable women and even men. I knew that it would fall on deaf ears.

Instead I could feel the Spirit telling me to rest here. In this place of knowing that this ONE has been rescued. That freedom has been given to this ONE. That her children now have a chance to know Jesus. That she herself gets to experience His love and compassion every day and have the life-giving access to a community of Believers who love her sincerely. That her oppressors will no longer oppress. And that one day Justice will come. 

About that time I heard her voice through the wall in Rosa's room where we were talking, “I’m heading out Rosa!”

Rosa’s face lit up and she called her in. Carla had that beautiful smile from ear to ear and proudly walked in with her backpack and dressed in her school uniform. Rosa had enrolled her in the night school so that she can learn to read, write, and do basic math.

“I hope my kids will see me going to school and be challenged to work hard. They need an education. I keep telling them,” she said to me.


“I think they’ll see that, Carla,” I assured her. "I think they already do."





Carla's story is not unique. Many employers in this region take advantage of their employees because there is not a system in place to stop them. But we, as Christ followers, can make a difference. We can build relationships with them, let them know we are trustworthy. Care for their children. Love them. Feed them. Clothe them. Be Jesus to them. 
And one day they may have the courage to speak up about their situation. 

Please pray for Carla and her three children, Carine, Rafael, and Rafaela. Pray for them to know Jesus more. To seek Him, trust Him, serve Him. Pray for wisdom and resources as we invest as a Body of Believers in families like Carla's. We need people to partner with us in prayer and giving. 

For more information, visit our website at www.onthebeautifuljourney.com








Monday, January 23, 2017

Life Off the Bandwagon

This is a repost from June 2015. I found it today reading through some old posts and it felt very relevant. I hope it can encourage some of you. 



As I watch from a distance the United States becoming a huge mess, I have very conflicting emotions. On the one hand, I long for God to open eyes so that we remain the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave. 

But on the other hand, I simply wait and pray.  After all, it’s hard to see the Light when all seems day. 

So instead I pray for God’s true Church to come down as the darkness closes in. No more cheap grace and Gospel show. No more divide and conquer. 

The Spirit is far from our pretty buildings and well-coordinated programs and our endless checklists of do’s and don’ts.

We hop from bandwagon to bandwagon as they pass by with their Scripture-laden banners flying high, announcing what is right and wrong. All the while our feet never even touch the ground. 

Because it’s messy down there with the lost and broken. And we don’t even recognize that our bandwagon wheels are only making the mud thicker. 

Down there we will get dirty and our clothes will get tattered. We will sweat and we will cry real tears. Our hands and feet will get calloused.

But our hearts will grow softer. Our ears more in tuned to listen. Our eyes focused to see. 

Life off the bandwagon is lonely and exhausting because pouring yourself out will require every ounce of you and more. 

Loving unconditionally requires that we expect nothing in return. 

Nothing. 

It means we get hurt. We may never see “results”. But we keep loving. 

And when the next bandwagon comes along (and come it will), we will be tempted to hop on board for just a little rest. After all, many times those banners wave truth. 

But truth without love is useless. Our words without action are meaningless. 

So we remember our own frailties and brokenness before His grace came down. We remember we were dead—DEAD—in our sins until His life breathed fresh into our lungs.

Only by His sweet, sweet Grace.

So we stay in the mud and muck of this broken world and whisper truths, not with our words but with our actions. We pray for eyes like His. We pray for our lives to speak grace and mercy. We pray for hearts healed and hope found. 

We stop thinking it’s our job to save and condemn. 

And it’s down here that we find we ourselves need to drink deeply of the Living Water that sustains us in this barren place. 

How good that this Spring never dries up! And on the hottest of days and the darkest of nights, we realize He is found right here with us. 

It is in that moment—our awareness of Him—we are no longer afraid. We aren’t afraid to love with our whole being. We aren’t afraid of what others will think or say when we walk with the broken—even those who have yet to realize they have cracks and those who never come to the truth. We walk beside them just the same.

We are no longer afraid of not seeing the “results” we long for. 

We trust Him so. 

We will go as far as we can to show that this Love is real. No news will shake us. No words will break us. Because we will physically ache for those who have yet to see the Light. So much so that the only place we want to be is right in the midst of the hard and ugly. Right beside the lost and lonely.

So here is the invitation to come down. It is too hard to hear the cries from up there anyway. 

Live among the dead. Put your heart into action. No more shouting truths. Just living Love in humility and gratitude to the One who healed our own wounds.

God promises to handle the rest.





This is not a call to giving in, as some would assume. I pray you hear my words. This is a call to action. We have, as a whole, confused the volume of our voice with the deeds of our hands. So often we are passively passionate about so many things. This manifests itself in the form of social media posts and podium outcries, making clear where we stand on issues. But it neglects to create humility and a love that is moved to action. May we be “quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger” as James admonishes. May we realize that “perfect love drives out fear” as John tells us. This is not only fear of the future, but fear of the “what-if”. 

Loving the broken doesn’t mean selling out or even condoning sin. Quite the contrary. Jesus tells us, “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” 


Let’s love loud because in so doing, we will speak volumes.
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