Posted by Lisa Lewis Koster - - 11 comments

This is a question we have all struggled with at one time or another, in one form or another, isn't it? 

Why is there illness and injury? 

Why is there suffering? 

Why is there evil in the world?

Why is life so hard?

Why, why, why?

Today my Bible reading plan called for me to read the book of Habakkuk. And because I chose to cut myself some slack today - I'm still trying to recover from my trip to Kenya and nursing yet another headache - I allowed myself the luxury of studying until I was done studying. Today that meant reading the chapter on Habakkuk from Dr. Larry Crabb's book, 66 Love Letters, both before and after I read the book in my Bible. He had such great insights into the answer to the questions above that I decided just had to share them with you!

A little background: God had revealed He would allow the evil nation of Babylon to bring judgment on His chosen people Israel. The book of Habakkuk records the conversation Habakkuk had with God about suffering and justice. If I tried to paraphrase I couldn't do it justice, so the "dark redprint is quoted directly from Dr. Crabb. He says God's message to us in the book of Habakkuk is basically this: "Never ignore your struggle with how I do things. Ask every question that rises in your heart as you live in this world. But prepare yourself to struggle even more with My response. You must stumble in confusion before you dance with joy."

Well, I think I have the "stumble in confusion" part down, how about you? 

But seriously, isn't it a relief to know that it's ok to struggle wondering why God allows bad things to happen; that it's ok to ask questions? Isn't that good news, since that's what we often do? Yet Dr. Crabb also warns that we should "never let your struggle with how ... [God] operates keep you from waiting for Him to deliver what He promised." I think that's where we fall short. So often life gets hard, we don't understand why and we either:

      -  Believe the lie that God isn't good;
      -  Conclude God doesn't exist at all; or    
      -  Decide to take matters into our own hands.

None of these are good options. It's only as we become mature in our relationship with God and become certain of His character that we are able to trust Him and wait, in faith, in that difficult place between confusion and understanding. 
How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? ~ Habakkuk 1:2

"God allowed Habakkuk to continue in the mystery of His silence until he was worn out. Only when false hope is abandoned will God’s strange but true hope be embraced." I think Rich Mullins said it clearly in his song "Hard to Get" when he said: "I can't see where You're leading me unless You've led me here, to where I'm lost enough to let myself be led." Unfortunately it's often not until we run out of options that we will turn to God and seek His direction.

"Nothing catches God off guard.  Nothing has ever happened or ever will happen that He is not using for His purposes" If it doesn't fit with God's plan, He doesn't allow it to happen. "What God allows seems to contradict His holy and pure character. He requires us to live in the tension between the evil that prospers…and His plan to restore the beauty of His character in this world. It is that tension that shifted Habakkuk’s focus away from frustration with what he saw in the world towards the mystery of how God executes His plan.

I will look to see what He will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint. ~ Habakkuk 2:1

"People respond in one of two ways to God’s requirement to wait. Either they refuse to wait and instead try to manage life according to their desires; or they live by faith in God’s character, confessing their own selfish ways and yielding to His plan and His timetable.  Those who live by faith will struggle in ways that those who live to make their lives work will never know. It is that struggle, to believe despite desperate pain and confusion that a good plan is unfolding, that will open your eyes to see God more clearly."

This vision (message) is a witness pointing to what’s coming. It aches for the coming—it can hardly wait! And it doesn’t lie. If it seems slow in coming, wait. It’s on its way. It will come right on time. ~ Habakkuk 2:3 (MSG)

"The price to see God more clearly is this: you will tremble in agony as you live in a sinful, self-prioritizing world as a sinful, self-prioritizing person, knowing that no sin will go unpunished even though, for a time, God will appear to be doing nothing."

I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; 
decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. 
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us. ~ Habakkuk 3:16  

"You will learn to wait in emptiness and frustrated desire for God’s plan of love to reveal itself." 

"Though my marriage tree may not bud and though my crop of children may fail and my work produce little yield, though there is no money in the bank and no dream left in the heart, though others may choose different ways to live their one life, till my last heaving breath, I will fight to the death for this: "I will take joy." ~ Paraphrase of Habakkuk 3:17-18 by Ann Voskamp in her book, One Thousand Gifts.

With confidence in God and hope in His plan, you will not only feel the pain of living in the valley but also see His glory from the mountaintop of faith. Only those who struggle in confusion and wait in hope will be strengthened to struggle well and to wait with confidence 

"yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights." ~ Habakkuk 3:18-19  

Why does God allow bad things to happen?

- God gave us freedom to choose, and each of us have chosen to sin; to do those things God has said are not right or good. We live in a fallen world because it is made up of fallen people. 

- God's thoughts are not our thoughts; neither are His ways our ways.  Let's be honest - we want an easy life. We want to have things our way, but that's not going to happen before we get to heaven. And things will only be our way in heaven because we will no longer choose sin; we will choose to do things God's way.        


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Posted by Lisa Lewis Koster - - 5 comments

Tips for Tuesday

In between my 3 weeks in Kenya and a week of R&R at a cottage full of ladies, I was very excited to find a "Red Hot Faith" Bible study set waiting for me amidst the mountain of mail that had accumulated while we were gone. (And yes, after opening up cards from a couple of close friends, I went for the package first!)

I consider myself blessed to have spent the past week with a group of ladies who were up for an impromptu Bible study, the majority of whom actually brought their Bibles with them on vacation. (Imagine that!) It "just so happened" that we were at the cottage for 8 days (Sunday to Sunday) and Red Hot Faith is comprised of 8 lessons, so we were able to go through the entire study during our week away.

Red Hot Faith is a Bible study written and taught by my friend Cindy Bultema, so I can tell you first-hand that she not only writes about Red Hot Faith; she lives it! She's as passionate, warm and fun-loving in real life as she is on the screen. I actually had the privelege of being present for some of the tapings, so you may or may not catch a glimpse of me (or the back of my head) when you watch! 

The Red Hot Faith set is comprised of 2 DVD's, a Leader's Guide and a Participant's Guide. While I've done many studies where the DVD didn't really add to the study, this is NOT one of them. Cindy's teachings are simple enough to be understood by non-believers yet have the depth that more seasoned students of the Bible crave. If you attempt to do this study without the DVD, you're going to be missing out on some amazing content!

I have to be honest and say that I rarely even look at Leader's Guides because I so seldom find them to be of any help. Again, with Red Hot Faith this is not the case! I was pleasantly surprised to find The Leader's Guide full of helpful information, from "How to create a Red Hot Faith group" to great ideas for a "Red Hot Fiesta" to wrap up your time together. My favorite feature is the format recommendations for 60- 90- and 120-minute groups, as well as suggestions for activities based on the format you've chosen. "Red Hot Tips" and ideas to "Spice it Up" are sprinkled liberally throughout the Leader's Guide as well. 

Since I didn't have Participant's Guides for my unsuspecting test group, we just went through the discussion questions located after the note taking sections of each chapter. I found the majority of the questions sparked some great discussion, and since we didn't have any time constraints (other than our nightly domino game that followed) I let the discussion go wherever it went.

You can order your copy of Red Hot Faith here, and I would definitely recommend purchasing the set, which is currently being offered at a special price. At the current time, a discount on participant's guides is also available when you purchase 5 or more.


Disclaimer: I was given the Red Hot Faith set in exchange for a review, but all comments are strictly my own.

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Posted by Lisa Lewis Koster - - 10 comments

I hate this. 
I hate this.
I hate this!  

Much to my chagrin, these were the only words bouncing around my mind as I sat in the back seat of the car with who knows who, going who knows where, over unfamiliar roads in a country where I can't speak much more than a greeting. This day was not remotely what I had envisioned, and it had only just begun. 

Why does God put me into these predicaments? 

Have you ever been there, feeling as though you're in waaaay over your head?

Two days earlier our team arrived in Kenya after about 36 hours of travel. With just under a day to get our bearings we were again on the move, this time making the 6 hour drive from Nairobi to Kawiti Village, which is located just outside the city limits of Kisii. The next day was Sunday, and though I was hoping to worship in the village, instead we made the 45 minute drive back into Kisii - over the worst roads imaginable - to worship at Mustard Christian Centre (MCC) the home church of our host. (I asked Pastor Elisha if he purposely chose to do ministry along the most inferior routes and he replied that his ministry was to the neglected, and that included the the roads.)

Even though I've attended this church many times, my prior visits were to a building the church rented from the government. Now they had their own building in a part of town unfamiliar to me. 

My backpack, which can be seen propped up against the post on the left side of the photo above, marks just how close I made it to the entrance of MCC before I was whisked away to a mystery location. My traveling companion Loise, dressed in blue and standing behind the gentleman who may or may not have been our driver (it's all a blur), assured me I knew her and her unnamed pastor husband, but honestly I didn't know her from Adam (Eve?)

I should've known something was up when she greeted me as "Pastor Lisa," but I was so stunned by the fact that I was separated from our group and taken to parts unknown that it really didn't register. Despite how it sounds, I never felt I was in any danger. I know our host well enough to be certain he would never (purposely) compromise my safety, but my comfort and sense of well-being? That's a different story. Entirely.

So, with my equanimity shattered, I found myself bouncing around in a back seat with the chant "I hate this!" coursing through my brain:

I hated not knowing who I was with.

I hated not knowing where I was going.

I really hated not knowing what was going to happen once I got there. 

You see, I like to know the plan and I get very uncomfortable when I don't have a clue as to what's going on.

My little mental tirade in the back seat was interrupted by God who said, "Oh, so you still don't trust me..."

Have you ever noticed how many of our fears are rooted in a lack of trust in God?

"But I want to do my best for You," I countered in the discussion going on in my head, "and I can't do that if I can't prepare because I don't know what's going on!" That part of the truth (emphasis on part) sounds good, doesn't it? The rest of the truth is not so flattering: I don't like looking stupid, especially in front of people.

Can you relate?

God was right, of course. If I trusted Him - as opposed to relying on myself - I wouldn't be stressing out over all the unknowns. We all love a great testimony of God at work; we just don't want to be in a situation where He can give us one.

I was a bit more at ease when we arrived at what turned out to be a satellite church of MCC and I discovered I actually did know the pastor. It was Joe, who was an elder at MCC during our first visit in 2008. He was the one who taught me my first Kiswahili - "Bwana Asifiwe" or "Praise God." I can tell you that knowing just that one phrase can get you pretty far in a Kenyan church service. It's pretty much the correct response to just about anything said to you.

It made sense that I didn't recognize his wife because meal preparation, crucial to fellowship, is very labor-intensive, so oftentimes it was the men we interacted with while the women were busy in the kitchen. 

It wasn't until I was being introduced that I realized I was the one who would be giving the sermon that morning. So despite the fact that I make it a point to always have notes with me, I didn't have time to pull any out. Of course, God did not leave me hanging; He showed up. On the drive over He brought to mind part of a lesson on James 4:5 and to my great pleasure at this moment, I remembered it in its entirety. (A miracle in and of itself!)

Of course, God did say, "do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you." ~ Matthew 10:19-20

My message wasn't very long, perhaps 10-15 minutes, but Joe had mentioned there would be child dedication later in the service. With that in mind I thought a brief message would be fitting (not that anyone in Africa is concerned with time.) Joe was my interpreter (or interrupter as Pastor Elisha would say), and in addition to the pauses giving me time to collect my thoughts, it also gave him the opportunity to restate anything the congregation may not understand.

Sitting down after finishing my sermon, I looked forward to the dedication. Coming from churches that baptize I don't think I've ever attended a dedication and was looking forward to comparing the two. It wasn't until I was asked to stand again that I realized I would be the one doing the dedicating! (Did I mention I've never even been to one before? Or how much I hate being put on the spot?)

Unbeknownst to me, the dedication service was planned in advance so they had certificates already printed out for each child. (Certificates plural, as in not just one.") The parents came up with their 5 children, and the certificates allowed me call each by name as I laid hands on them and dedicated them to the Lord. 

My dedications were basically a baptism without water since that's all I knew. I must have done ok because the next thing I knew I was handed more certificates and another family came up. Followed by another. And another. In all, I dedicated 18 children to the Lord that morning! I felt I stumbled a bit as I struggled to find a unique Bible promise to give to each child, but afterwards Pastor Joe said it was beautiful. (And being basically the only one who understood English, only he would know!) Much to my relief, God showed up again. (Why does that still surprise me?)

Kenyans not only have fellowship, but "swallowship" as well, so I wasn't surprised to be led away - after a photo with the families of the children I dedicated - to a nearby home for a meal. I was surprised, however, when just after I finished eating, the driver who had deposited me there that morning reappeared in the doorway of the home and informed me we were now headed somewhere else - for lunch, of course!

Will the surprises never end?

I was taken to another undisclosed location, but was pleased to find myself at the apartment of one of the members of MCC where the ladies were having a luncheon. At last, I was among familiar people! Two of those familiar people asked me to step outside just after I arrived, and it was there they asked me if I would teach a lesson to the women after we'd eaten. By this time I was no longer taken by surprise and actually appreciated the "advanced" notice, giving me time to pull out some of my ever-present notes.

One final surprise was the arrival of a Mzungu friend from the U.S. that I'd never met in person. She came while I was teaching and was able to identify the correct apartment by the pile of women's shoes outside the door!

It was an exhausting day - both emotionally and physically - but a day full of blessings, the magnitude of which has been increasing with time. I have to admit, God definitely knows me well! If I had received the advanced notice I so desired I'm sure

      a) It wouldn't have been that advanced.

      b) I would have been stressed out, not knowing what I was supposed to do.

It is my prayer that the next time I'm feeling in over my head, I wouldn't panic, I wouldn't look around to figure out what to do, but that I would look up, to my Father who loves me and will NEVER leave me in a lurch. 


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Posted by Lisa Lewis Koster - - 9 comments

A look at our return from our mission trip to Kenya in 2012. The crying baby I mention just turned 3!


This one time I was sleeping and...was awakened by the chatter of a young child.  The first thought to enter my mind was, "I wonder who brought a baby into the compound?" quickly followed by, "Where am I?"

Initially I thought I was still in the village in Kenya, where we were doing mission work.

But then I realized we'd left the village and spent a night in the city where we'd be attending worship the next day.

Our apartment was on the 4th floor, around the corner.

After worship in Kisii, though, we made the 6 hour drive back to Nairobi where we stayed at a guest house.

Then there was the night we spent while on that was a nice bed!

This was followed by 30 hours of travel.  I'm sure I must've gotten some sleep on the airplane because I never did see the end of that movie...

With the baby babbling in the background, I forced open my heavy eyelids and saw it was just after midnight.  "Hey, wait a minute," I thought, "that looks just like my alarm clock." I jolted awake as I realized I was home in my own bed!  (Six "beds" in six different locations on consecutive days does make it a bit difficult to identify your whereabouts.)  That meant the baby happily entertaining himself was my grandson.  I was the one looking after the baby!  (Did I mention I'd crossed several time zones as well?)

To say we came home to a lot going on would be an understatement.  My daughter's husband went into the hospital about a week after we left for our mission and had been there two weeks by the time we returned home.  Her son, who just turned one last week, had been sick and shared what he had with most of the people who watched him.  On top of all this, she's 8 months pregnant. 

Hence, my returning home and jumping in with both feet.  Needless to say, I feel I'm behind on everything, but then again, I suppose "behind" is a relative statement, a condition which exists primarily in my own mind.  Yes, I still have a few things  from our trip to put away, and no, my 24-year-old son didn't concern himself with housework while we were gone.  (He actually does a great job picking up after himself, its just that it doesn't go any further than that.)  I haven't been posting as often as I'd like, but I guess that's what happens when real life intervenes.  

"Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth." ~ 1 John 3:18

Right now, my primary calling is to serve my family.  Thankfully, my son-in-law is back home after a three week hospital stay, but he has a long road ahead of him.

My grandson is healthy once again, but only after giving this grandma his cold.  This after four weeks of my being sick followed by three weeks in Kenya and a week of jet-lag.  I'm praising God I remained healthy during our trip - a first! After four trips with health issues, I really needed an uneventful one.

Two weeks from now, there will be more adjustments as another baby boy is added to the family.  Grandma is on call and ready for duty!

Lord, I’m so thankful my children live close to me and that You've given me the flexibility to help out when they need a hand.  Help me to remember that serving them is serving You.  Thank you for this privilege!


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