Gates of Hades

Part 3 in The Austin Stone’s “From Israel” series (see Part 1 here and Part 2 here). Matt Carter delivers a sermon from Caesarea Philippi.

The Gates of Hades at Caesarea Philippi: This was the center of pagan worship in the first century. The pagan gods here were loved and worship and honored. The people of this time dedicated their lives to gods they though would endure forever. Yet, how familiar are you with Echo the Mountain Nymph? or Nemesis? or Pan?

This is the place Jesus took his disciples in Matthew 16 where he asked “Who do people say that I am?”

psst… click the four arrows-facing-out button on the bottom right of the video to make it full screen.

The Gates of Hades from The Austin Stone on Vimeo.

Thankfulness

I’m tired today. Like… soul tired. I’m just not feeling oh so joyful. I’m feeling down and annoyed and frustrated and “leave me alone”-like.

I know, I know…  I’m being a Negative Nancy

Oscar the Grouch…

Ebenezer Scroodge…

{insert other ridiculously negative life-hating characters here}…

And though life is not as easy as pie, though circumstances aren’t helping my crabbiness… it’s still not an excuse to give into the way I feel.

Instead, we {and by we I mean me} are going to take this opportunity to be thankful because really… what is there not to be thankful for when my Savior and the Creator of the universe loves me??? When He loves me so much that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, {nor bad days, nor diminishing bank accounts, nor ungrateful co-workers, nor eating sandwiches for 7 meals in a row, nor headaches, nor loneliness, nor sleepless nights, nor weariness} nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from HIS love?!? {Romans 8:38-39}

His love is enough. It’s MORE than enough. So today I will choose to be thankful. I will choose joy.

Just two things in my life I'm beyond thankful for: My great-grandparents. These two amazing people in my life have poured themselves into me: encoured, loved, hugged, baked cookies, made carboard box castles, supported me, taught me to swim, and breathed scripture by the way they've lived their lives. Thank you Lord for using these two incredible people to show me what it is to be your hands and feet.

Garden of Gethsemane

Part 2 in The Austin Stone’s “From Israel” series. Matt Carter delivers a sermon from The Garden of Gethsemane.

Holy cow… if you like the first video (seen here) you will be BLOWN away by this one. Garden of Gethsemane: the place Jesus prayed hours before he was crucified. He was right there! Right there! Can you even comprehend that?!? This is where our Savior spent his remaining time before dying for the sins of the entire world! I’m blown away.

psst… click the four arrows-facing-out button on the bottom right of the video to make it full screen

The Garden of Gethsemane from The Austin Stone on Vimeo.

Sermon on the Mount

Austin Stone is doing a 4 week video series, “From Israel” All of the videos are shot entirely on site from Israel. It’s incredible to see the words of scripture come to life in the places they happened 2000 years ago!

Here is part one. Matt Carter reads the words of Jesus on the Sea of Galilee. Take a few minutes to watch this video. I promise it will bless you.

psst… click the four arrows-facing-out button on the bottom right of the video to make it full screen 

Sermon on the Mount from The Austin Stone on Vimeo.

This Moment

This moment is painful. This speck of time I want so desperately to escape. Go backwards. Go forwards… any moment but this one. Any time but now.

The enemy is whispering. . .  Failure. Unloved. Weak. Alone. Hopeless. Broken. Unwanted. Forgotten.

His lies. . . Run. Escape. Don’t press into Him. He has no plan for you. Run. Escape the pain. Run. Run. Run. . .

I want to be there, last summer, laughing on the beach and so full I thought I might burst. Two years ago… basking in the Iraqi sun with my Kurdish friends singing Happy Birthday. That college night  surrounded by the family I chose, up until 3AM and laughing so hard I cried. At that gymnastics meet I won, grasping the plastic “gold” medal, my most treasured possession. I want to be 5 years old again, when scraping my knee was devastating, yet all I needed was to be wrapped in their arms to know my world was perfect again.

I don’t want to be in this second. I want it to be next year, my heart more mended, my pain more forgotten. Want it to be that moment when all the puzzle pieces fit and He says look daughter, this is why I created you to be you – this is why I brought you through. I want it to be my wedding day. Want it to be the day I become a mom. I want it to be tomorrow. Next week. Next month. But now? This now I just want to escape. This now-ness is a heavy blanket crushing me – I want to be out from under it.

But now is what I have. This moment is where I grow. Here is where He loves and shapes me. This second is where He picks me up, draws me closer, and urges me to trust.

This moment I choose to give up control. This second I choose to take comfort in El Roi,  my God that sees. This moment is where He has me and so this is the moment I will take shelter under His wings.

Blessings

Blessings – Laura Story

We pray for blessings
We pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

We pray for wisdom
Your voice to hear
And we cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt Your goodness, we doubt Your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough
All the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we’d have faith to believe

Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
And what if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know the pain reminds this heart
That this is not, this is not our home
It’s not our home

Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching(s) of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
And what if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise

Help me to choose to trust You. Your plan. Your promises. Your guidance. Your love. Your portion.

You, Lord. . . You are enough.

Nothing?

The idea of missions has always excited me.

This idea of being GREAT for the Lord.

I hear stories about Billy Graham and the thousands and thousands of people he’s led to Christ. Mother Theresa and the millions of lives she touched. The young Katie Davis who is devoting her life to the people of Uganda and changing the lives of hundreds and hundreds. She has thousands who read her blog.

All of that is exciting! It’s exhilarating. How great the Lord has used these people. I would commit my life to that in a second. ‘Here am I; send me”!!!

But what if His calling for me is to be nothing for Him. What if my purpose in life is to serve and love and pour myself out but never to see the fruit this side of heaven? What if no one remembers my name? What if no books about me are written? No movie drafted in my honor? What then? What if God calls me to some remote place to spend all of my days loving on people and not one of them becomes a believer in my lifetime? What if he calls me to have a 9 – 5 job for the rest of my life and serve my co-workers but not harvest the fruit?

Doesn’t sound very glamorous. It’s sounds excruciatingly hard.

But what if that were my calling? It very well could be…

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Col 3:23-24

Am I willing to be nothing for Him?

Blind

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

John 9:1-3

I wish I knew more of the blind man’s background. What was he like growing up? Was he shunned? Did he have friends? Were his parents ousted from their society because of the perceived sin that made their child blind? Were they angry? Hurt? Were they confused?

I wish I knew the blind man’s heart. Wish I knew if he wondered, like I often do in hard times, “Why did this happen to me?” “Where did I go wrong?” “What did I do to bring this upon myself?” “Why am I going through this pain???”

Yet, Jesus said that this had come upon him, not because of sin, but because God might be glorified through him. I wonder if he had known growing up that his story would be retold for forever, I wonder if it would have made a difference, made his suffering easier. I wonder if he had known what God’s plan for him was… if the pain would have been less. His pain was not wasted. Yet the story of this man who lived two thousand years ago is used to glorify the Lord today.

His plan is perfect.

Lord, help me to not be blind in my circumstances.

Iraq Update: Se (3)

This past week has been so busy including: an all-day picnic, my birthday, several English Clubs, and some emotional times for the PLC staff. For me, personally, I have also been working on several design projects. So, much to say, bare with me…
First off, I would like to say that I have a new found love… çay (chai) tea. It is as essential as water to the Kurds here. Comparing tea here to tea in America is like comparing Starbucks to instant coffee. There is NO comparison. The average Kurd probably drinks 8 to 15 cups of çay in any given day. It is served morning and night, at every meal, during guest visits and just about any other time a person sits for more than 15 minutes. Tea here is an art form. The women spend their entire lives perfecting the tea recipe usually blending at least 7 different types of çay and adding spices. The outcome is indescribable! Tea is served in a specific çay glass and saucer. When served, ¼ of an inch of sugar is in the bottom of the glass and stirred to the coinsurer’s desire of sweetness, leaving the remaining sugar in the bottom of the glass. The gentle tinkling of çay being stirred is a beautiful melody and beyond description. Other than the decision of sweetness one must decide the process in which to drink the tea. The patient Kurd waits until the tea has cooled to drink from the glass but there is another art form of pouring the tea into the saucer to quickly cool and drinking straight from the saucer. Be careful, though, pouring takes practice. Pour too quickly and it splashes over the edge of the saucer; pour too slowly and the tea runs down the side of the glass making a embarrassing mess. (I have learned this first hand after pouring half of the tea into a puddle on the table. Needless to stay, I’ve resorted to the patient method.) All this to say, tea in Iraq = perfection.
As I am sitting here writing this, I can hear the Muslim call to pray echoing through the streets just as it does five times each day. Although it is a Muslim call, it reminds me all throughout the day to have an attitude of prayer. Funny that God has used something created for another religion to draw me closer to Himself. What an awesome God we serve.
Question: How would you explain grace to a culture where forgiveness is not practiced? How would you describe the need for said grace to a culture who doesn’t understand the concept of sin? These are the questions I am presently pondering.  The Muslim faith is very intriguing to me. Primarily, Islam preaches salvation by works. The Muslims believe that if their good outweighs the bad, they are rewarded with heaven. Therefore, people are extremely giving and honest and they believe that makes them good. Here, it is more about the outside appearance than the inside condition of the heart. Sin does not make sense… a Muslim would say ‘I haven’t lied, cheated, stolen, or killed. Therefore, I haven’t sinned’. On the other hand, if someone wrongs you in this culture, you have every right to do the equal to them. Forgiveness is not readily practiced. It is not understood. Part of me is at a loss for how to meet the people here on common ground and be able to explain concepts that are so vital to Christianity. It would be like trying to explain color to person that is blind. Where do you even begin? At the same time, the Bible says not to be afraid because God will give us the words to say in the moment of need. Maybe I am over thinking this and need to place more trust in the Lord…. I don’t know. Perhaps I am placing too much focus on myself and my tiny knowledge when really it has nothing to do with me and everything to do with God.
This past Thursday was my birthday and oh what a birthday it was! I was hesitant about being in Iraq on my birthday. The past few summers I have spent my birthday working at camp with friends and usually not with my family. However, this summer I felt even further from my home and strange being without friends and family at the celebration of my 23rd year. (Geez, I am getting old!) I did miss my friends and family but I have to say that this was one of the most unique and extraordinary birthdays I have had thus far.
 The morning was filled with work and practical things to get done. Then, one of our Kurdish friends, Nadia, took me and two other interns out to lunch at the nicest restaurant that I have been to in Suly so far… an Italian café, Roma. (Who would have guessed that there would be Italian food in Northern Iraq?) She paid for our entire meal because it was my birthday! How crazy is that, a girl I barely know paying for my expensive birthday lunch… and not only mine but two others as well. I am constantly dumbfounded at the hospitality of the people here.
The afternoon was perhaps my favorite part. I think I have mentioned that two times a week the interns work with students who are trying to learn English. We have gotten very close to the people at the English Club and they have become some of my closest Kurdish friends. Monday, all the girls decided they were going to throw me a huge party for my birthday. Let me just say, I have known these girls for barely 3 weeks. Honestly, I would have never done that for someone I had known for such a short time. Not to mention, here in Iraq most Kurds don’t even really celebrate birthdays. In fact, once a person gets over the age of about 30 they stop counting their age all together! So, for these girls to throw me a birthday party is kind of a big deal. They then decided it was going to be a surprise party. (Yet, they told me they were planning on surprising me haha). Anyway, so Thursday afternoon we met at the youth center where we have English Club. They ‘surprised’ me in the garden with about 25 people singing happy birthday including the two teachers of their class whom I have never met. There were balloons, birthday signs, presents and a cake with sparklers on top (that set a few plastic plates on fire!) I was sang to in both Kurdish and English and the party was complete with Kurdish and Arabic dancing = awesome! One of the best birthdays ever. I was so surprisingly blessed and humbled by the love of these girls whom I’ve known for so little time. Coming to Iraq, I had hoped to build relationships with the people here and I prayed for a burden and desire for them to know the Lord. I didn’t realize how real the answer to those prayers would be. I didn’t think I would have anything in common with 20-year-olds who live half way around the world. Yet, I already dread the time when I will leave these sweet friendships that I’ve had for merely 3 weeks. In no way did I think I would care this much about them and to think… they are so lost. They are so deceived. They need Jesus. I wish I could just place in their mind the truth of the Gospel. I wish I could make them believe. But this is not the case. As of this second, I won’t be spending eternity with these precious girls. I’ve never felt so helpless and yet so reliant on the Lord. I am thankful that there is hope and I’m pleading to the Lord on their behalf, that their eyes would be opened. I hope that you will pray with me for these ladies (again by name: Samana, Suzan, Govar, Mays, Bajan, Shahen, Fenik, and Sarwa.)
Thusday night the PLC team threw me another celebration with Mexican food (the food I miss the most) , chocolate cake and serendipity frozen hot chocolate. I was really so blessed and encouraged by them. By the PLC staff whom I admire so much, that they would spend time to celebrate me. Such a sweet time. So awesome. Hooray for 23 years!
On the note of birthdays, I would like to give a shout out to my sister, Haley,  who turned 18 yesterday (You are getting old too!) Happy Birthday sweet sister, you bless me and encourage me more than you could ever know. I am encouraged by your confidence in who you are in Christ and challenged by your love for Him. I so wish I could be with you on your birthday. Love you little sister!
Friday, we were all invited on a picnic with the staff of Kurdistan Save the Children, a local NGO. Let me just explain how picnics work here: it is not a 2 or 3 hour event where you bring a picnic basket with potato salad and sandwiches, eat lunch and go home. Oh no… people here are serious about their picnics. We left Friday morning at 8:30 AM and drove about 45 minutes outside of Suly. We sat up camp and spent the next 11 hours eating lunch, drinking çay, taking naps, drinking çay, going hiking and swimming, having more food with çay, talking, playing Frisbee and other games, drinking çay, eating dinner and ending the day with  çay… but of course. We arrived back in Suly just in time to go to bed at about 10 that night. It was such an exhausting experience but one of my favorite things I have done so far.
Prayer Needs:
Continued diligence in staying in the Word and focus for being here.
 Continued prayer for Shad’s family. PLC is trying to set up a memorial fund in Shad’s name, but things that work in America don’t necessarily work in Iraq. There are so many people connected to Shad’s story that it could be a really good thing. Pray that the PLC staff would have the words to explain the memorial fund to Shad’s family and doors to be opened if this is what is suppose to happen.
 Relationships to deepen among our Kurdish friends. For communication boundaries to be broken. For boldness and the eyes to be able to see opportunities when presented.
 I am trying so hard to learn the Kurdish language but I’m convinced that it’s ten times harder than Spanish. I need major grace in learning.
Many people on the team have been sick this week. Pray for healing and rejuvenation and that our immunity systems would be built up.
 Pray for major decisions that need to be made in the next few weeks.
Thank you for caring so much about what we are doing in Iraq to pray and read these ridiculously long posts. You are such a big part of what is happening here and the encouragement your emails and prayers bring help me to push through every day.