There is a verse in Acts that I have always loved, when the disciples, being charged not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus, respond with this:
“Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:20
It is this same zeal that often leads me here, to my keyboard, to jot down what I have experienced as a professing believer in Jesus Christ. It might look like an ordinary day out your window, with the same cars going to work and the same dogs barking at you from behind the same fences, but amazing things are afoot in God’s world.
And when an ordinary person, by some unmerited grace, catches a glimpse of these amazing things, there is a need to speak. So speak I shall!
For reasons I cannot fathom, but for which I am thankful, the Lord has woven a far-away family and its far-away church into our story in intricate ways. If you’ve been a reader here for long, it is no secret to you how thoroughly the Wilson family of Moscow, Idaho, has enriched my life with their articles, then their books, then their podcasts, then their interviews, then their webinars, then their BIBLE READING CHALLENGE (in all caps because it is the BEST!), then their correspondence, and then, most recently, their actual flesh-and-blood homes and lives.
When I hone in on the goodness they’ve contributed to my life, it is very obvious that what they have provided is nothing more than really good Christian discipleship.
One of the last things that Jesus told His disciples was to go and teach and make disciples. Lucky us, we live in an astonishing age where Christian discipleship can take place across miles and over airwaves, and though it should not replace the influence of our own local pastors and congregations…I sincerely hope you are plugged in to a Bible-saturated church community and that if you’re not, you’ll do whatever it takes to get to one, pronto!…it would be foolish to close our ears to the wisdom of Spirit-filled and Bible-adoring Christians all over the world who have insight and experiences with which God can further equip us.
For the past three years, in addition to the rich and wonderful Bible teaching and discipleship I have received from my own church body, the folks in Moscow, Idaho have been used by the Lord to add to my growth in practical and powerful ways. And I’ve been so thankful.
Thus, when I heard early this year about their upcoming Grace Agenda conference, I had an immediate longing to go. Which is kind of funny, because I don’t often long to go anywhere. If you don’t believe me, just look at this sign we have hanging in our bedroom.
We like it here at home SO MUCH, and though I would have loved meeting the Wilson crew and talking to them in person, I agree with my husband that we’ll have a chance to meet EVERYONE we admire in the Christian faith in the new heavens and the new earth, so just simmer down and don’t worry about going to conferences, most of which are live-streamed anyway, amIright?
“Oh, man…” I said to my husband, seeing the title of the conference (“Keep Your Kids”) and the great artwork accompanying it, “I would love to go to that.” My heart squeezed up tight with a strong desire to GO and to see these people who have invested in my growth and to thank them, in person, for the work they’ve done. The ladies of the Bible Reading Challenge, especially, who have invested daily in the most wonderful Facebook group on the internet, and who have spurred me on to keep reading big chunks of the Bible, day in and day out, for almost a year now.
Since my husband and I had been making a habit around that time of praying for things that didn’t seem feasible, it didn’t seem that crazy or far-fetched to just add this one to the list. And so we did.
“God,” we prayed that night, “you own all the money and all the power in this entire world, and if you want us to go to Grace Agenda, please make it happen. Send us the money, or make it obvious, and if you don’t, we are content to stay here.”
And then we moved on with whatever needed to be done that night, probably dishes and bedtimes and an episode of Frasier.
Over the next few months, though, that intense longing to GO would occasionally hit me again, and I would pray the same prayer, and it was a prayer that I really meant. I was feeling very drawn to go, sure, but I also DIDN’T want to go, if God did not intend for me to. I told my mom on several occasions that God knew where we would be the weekend of Grace Agenda, and I was just going to follow the breadcrumbs, whether they were to Idaho or to our own living room where we’d cast all the sessions onto our television.
I did some research, just in case. Plane tickets were out of the question. Driving would take 28 hours, at least. I couldn’t find a train route that would actually get us there. A bus…well, a bus never even crossed my mind!
And the months leading up to the conference dwindled down into weeks, and it was looking fairly certain that the breadcrumbs had led us to our living room. “Well I guess we’re not going to Grace Agenda!” I laughed to my husband just three weekends ago. “That money never showed up in our mailbox…”
The next morning, I kid you NOT…the next morning!!!!…I had a message in my inbox. “I think you should go to Grace Agenda…”
I laughed and explained that we’d love to, but that it was literally impossible.
“What if we bought your tickets?…”
That entire CRAZY STORY and the days that followed are a whirlwind of hilarity that maybe I’ll get a chance to write about someday, but in the honor of brevity…which you KNOW is not something I’m good at…I’ll just say that a week-and-a-half later, my husband and I, the people who were apparently “not going to Grace Agenda”…were going to Grace Agenda!!!
The breadcrumbs! They were going to be in the sky!
Which leads me to something I’ve been thinking about.
I have hardly ever been the recipient of a wonderful gift from God that did not also require something of me. He knows how to bless and stretch us simultaneously, doesn’t He, and I don’t know that I’ve ever been SO blessed and SO stretched as I was this past weekend, except for maybe the last time He blessed/stretched me, which probably also felt like the most blessed and stretched time ever.
My trip to Idaho was bookended by a tooth extraction on one side of my mouth before we left (I could FEEL the extraction site doing crazy things as our elevation rose in the plane!) and a root canal on the other side of my mouth the day after we came home. My diet, then, on this little excursion with my husband, was bananas and peanut butter, oatmeal, yogurt, soup, and one truly terrible pouch of banana applesauce I picked up at a gas station near Spokane in hungered desperation. And with all this tooth peril came all kinds of temptation to fear. What if I had terrible tooth pain away from home? What if I got an infection and my face swelled up? What if, what if, what if??
Isn’t it sweet that God can basically drop cash you prayed for out of the sky and you still find something to “what if” about?
And so He was blessing me and stretching me in painfully miniscule ways, teaching me to trust my teeth to Him, to trust my kids to Him as I tearfully told them goodbye, to trust my LIFE to Him as I boarded that insane flying contraption that so many of you adventurers out there seem to have no problem with and, in a NEW exercise of faith, to trust His people, who would be greeting and housing us in this place far away from home.
You see, with the conference only a week away and all the hotels in Moscow full to the brim, our lodging in Idaho was going to come down to the hospitality of Christ Church.
Because this story needs MORE amazing twists and turns, you might find it as interesting as we did that, after years of expositorily preaching through the book of 1 Peter, my husband had just spent three weeks instructing our church on the tenets of biblical hospitality inspired by chapter four, verse nine.
Many of us were learning for the first time, from the Old Testament through the New Testament, what TRUE hospitality is and what it means, and it had sparked all kinds of discussions amongst our church body. In our tiny town, we don’t often get the opportunity to house Christian strangers and sojourners, and we were curious and eager to know more, having NO IDEA that, in just a week, one of our overseers (that would be my husband) and his scaredycat wife (that would be me) would have a chance to RECEIVE the very exact thing we’d been learning.
And so there was an obedience to this trip that you wouldn’t expect if I didn’t tell you. It sounds easy, doesn’t it, to hop on a plane and go to Idaho for three nights? It sounds like not a big deal. But as far as the deeply-rooted Gore family of Oklahoma goes, with deeply-rooted teeth until they WEREN’T, this trip and all the details surrounding it was kinda huge. It was gooey thick in sovereignty, and I don’t know about you, but when God orchestrates something so intricately in my own life, it scares the heck out of me. Because it reminds me that He is actually HUGE. And that He is REAL. And that all of these Bible things are REAL. And that He can see and hear me. And that if He is that huge and real, and if all of these Bible things are that real, and if He can see and hear me that much, then I had better really and truly fear and follow and obey Him, and I’d better buckle up because…have you READ the Bible? God is like Aslan. NOT SAFE. But GOOD.
The not-safe-but-goodness of this whole scenario kept me up most of the nights before we left. It sat on me heavy, and turned my breaths into constant prayers.
“God, we will follow your crazy and hilarious and scary breadcrumbs. God, we will receive these gifts you are giving us like Christians who know that all things come from you (which meant no groveling to the givers, though I am still tempted to do so!). God, we will stay with your people and eat their food and sleep in their beds.”
In my mind, I was open to all KINDS of things…an air mattress in a spare room somewhere, with children running about (which actually would have been wonderful!). And staggered shower times while a big group of people all tried to get cleaned up and to the conference on time. And sure-to-be awkward moments where I had NO IDEA how to talk in person to these disciple-makers that I have been listening to and admiring for YEARS.
And, of course, I was picturing ALL of it with a swollen face and throbbing head pain and acute homesickness. And that was assuming we would even survive the flight over there!
I was beyond excited, to be sure. And I was also scared to be excited. Because what if God was trying to teach me something that included *almost* getting to go on an amazing trip but then not getting to go because my whole face got infected and I had to be hospitalized? (Hey, if you’re going to indulge in worst-case-scenarios, go big or go home.)
And then, because I am a Christian, I was continually shushing myself and handing all of these nerves and scenarios back to God and saying “Yes. I’ll go. I trust You. I…trust You? Help me to trust You.” Over and over and over again.
When God is stretching you, you don’t have to remind yourself to “pray without ceasing”. It happens. And it’s awful and it’s wonderful and it’s exhilarating and it’s exhausting.
Next thing I knew, bags full of clothes and prescription meds, my husband and I were chasing those breadcrumbs in the clouds while I breathed in and out and recited Bible verses to my tempted-to-panic heart and listened to soothing things in my earbuds like James Herriot stories and Bob Ross painting tutorials.
And then we were in Idaho, a full day and night’s journey away from our roots.
The next four days are dazzlingly bright with memories. The beauty of Washington and Idaho as our rental car weaved its way through the Palouse in early spring. The luxurious guest house my husband and I got to stay in, right next door to hosts who were instant forever friends. The Jankovic family, inviting us cheerfully in to an everyday life that is SO like our own but in a different culture and climate. The Merkle family, treating us to dinner out and a laughter-filled stroll through Moscow. The music and the art and the intellect and the robustness of Christ Church, frantically planting Kingdom goodness on every street and in every corner of their town. The mountains of books at Canon Press and the enthusiasm of everyone in the building. The morning assembly at Logos School, where children are being fed and equipped to give back by way of song and cheer and theatrical storytelling. The Gordon Wilson family, sharing adventure stories about manatees, and so happy to hear how their film (The Riot and the Dance! You’ve seen it, right??) has blessed our community. Grace Agenda, rich in teaching and encouragement for the things God has written on our hearts in advance. SABBATH DINNER WITH THE FOUNDERS OF SABBATH DINNER (where’s the crying face emoji when you need it??). Singing acapella Psalms with the families of the Bible-reading challenge and feeling like our journey to get there was absolutely worth it, teeth-pulling and all. Sunday worship and communion with a room full of strangers-who-are-family and letting that sink in. Sunday lunch with the Jankovics and seeing our own life mirrored in theirs at a restaurant with a row of kids on either side and birthday songs and sombreros and ice cream, and thankfulness for ALL of it. And, finally, hard goodbyes that seemed silly because…hadn’t we just met all of these people?
But NOT silly because…aren’t we supposed to spend forever with them?
Not supposed to. We’re going to.
My face never swelled up. My tooth pain never happened. My plane didn’t crash. My kids didn’t have any emergencies. And we only almost got arrested once (I’d tell you about that but…brevity!).
And it would be totally useless to tell you all these things without inviting you in to the chief thing I learned while I was away from home.
From afar, it might seem like a robust and impactful Christian community like Moscow just has something that you don’t. They must be more talented. They must be more gifted. They must have more money. They must have better connections. They must just be lucky.
Nope, nope, nope, nope, and NOPE.
In the people of Moscow, I saw our people. I saw ME. But I saw our people and me with a Kingdom drive that turns every single thing intentional. Dinners out. School. Music. Bread-making. Conferences. Books. Art. Drama. Home-building. College. Parenting. Sabbath dinner. Guest houses. Communion.
Not ends in themselves, not the things worth living for, but the things poured INTO, with enthusiasm, with cheerfulness, with purpose, and with FAITH, to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Because His people should actually be about that, right? And they should actually believe it is possible.
And so I want to encourage you, as I have come home SO ENCOURAGED. Get out of your head, get out of your limitations, get out of your bubble, and look around you. God has put you in a place. This place is yours to win for His Kingdom. And you may not feel like you are gifted and you may not feel like you have anything new to say and you may not feel like you are capable of making a difference in any remarkable way, but maybe you’ve forgotten who your Father is.
He is the God of the Bible, where rivers can turn into blood and where fire can consume dripping wet wood and where men can walk, alive, out of their stinky graves. He is the God who can hear a prayer for money in January and make it appear the week before you need it. He is the God who, years in advance, can set you on a sermon series that will land on hospitality right before you get to experience it.
Is it unrealistic at all, then, to think that He can win your family if you ask Him? That He can win your town? That He can win the airwaves? The internet? The battle over abortion?
And if He is powerful enough to win those things, He is certainly powerful enough to win them using YOU.
I’m ready to get to work, and I hope this helps you to get ready, too.
The Kingdom will be advancing whether we get on board or not. The harvest is plentiful – just look down your street!! – but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers. Ask Him to send you.
I’m guessing it won’t be safe. But I KNOW it will be good.
Thanks for reading today! If you’d like to hear more stories and encouragement, find me on Facebook! And here are a few pictures from our weekend!