Friday, December 31, 2010

Cookies, Statistics, and Church Planting


During our annual indulgence in Christmas cookies, I’ve been reminded of special cookie events from my past. For a short while I became famous within a very small community for making cookies. I love baking cookies, so I became the cookie champion for our family Christmas gatherings. We ladies would sit around chatting while munching from a big platter of more than eight varieties of cookies that I’d baked. These coffee and cookie chats are one of my favorite Christmas memories.


But I was also reminded of a special week in our early days of living in Zambia when Randy and I ate cookies for supper every night. Oh the sweet memories! As part of a coordinating committee for a city-wide crusade, we offered to sort the response cards and distribute them to pastors the following morning along with follow up packets. Each day after helping close down the crusade venue we would head to our tiny apartment with our stack of response cards. We were pretty tired, so we munched on our special cache of home made cookies while we recorded information from the cards on our little Apple 2c computer. Our supper of cookies made a tedious task rather pleasant.

Our foray into statistics also yielded some surprising findings. After sorting the cards by geographical locations we would put them in groups to distribute to the area pastors we had trained for crusade follow up. By the second day it became apparent that a major part of those responding at the crusade were from one “compound” near town that was known as a haven for thieves. But with this information came a dilemma. We had no pastors to give these cards to. At our daily pastor’s briefing we discovered there was no evangelical church in this compound! We had hundreds of new believers with no church and no shepherd. We added special prayer to our nightly cookies and statistics.

Near the end of the week the leaders of one denomination offered to send all their Bible school students into the compound for two weeks of outreach. The students’ courageous visits to new believers and their families resulted in a church plant in the middle of this poverty ridden location. One student was so moved by the needs he encountered that he was inspired to commit to return after graduation to pastor this fledgling church.” Jack is still there!

I love recalling those late nights of statistics and cookies. And I delight in remembering this special pastor and church that have made Jesus known to their neighbors, ministered to the needs of community, and lowered their compound’s crime rate. Cookies, statistics, and church planting make for wonderful memories.

photo courtesy of photobucket.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Today, Another Gift from God



There’s something awesome about rising up early – a new day ahead. It’s new. Never a rehashed day or a left over day. Always new! Nothing has to be the same as yesterday! We start afresh.

New day, starting with God’s mercy

New day, clean slate

New day, fresh joy

New day, new challenges

New day, set a new pace

New day, new horizons

New day, new perspectives

New day, relive commitments

New day, new blessings

New day, new substance for praise

New day, opportunity for obedience

New day, new strength

New day, fresh glimpses of God

(picture from photobucket)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My World has Shrunk


My living space has shrunk to the spare bedroom in a tiny house with my mother-in-law. My regular jaunts for doctor’s visits, lab appointments, and shopping are within a 5 mile radius of this little house. And when my friend picks me up to accompany her to court 20 minutes away I feel like I’m on holiday! For the time being I’m fairly limited in being able to be away from the house. Randy and I even had to slot in a short coffee date on a grocery run while mom was in bed. For the time being, no more day trips to encourage isolated missionaries, no more five-day road trips across four nations of Africa, and no short hops on a plane two countries north. Right now my assigned portion is this slice of suburbia. My world has shrunk and I’m feeling the pinch and the pain of my loss.

And in the moments I feel overwhelmed with the narrowness of choices, travel, and food I am reminded of Jesus who left Heaven’s infinity to live in a narrow slice of troubled land. His ministry was primarily limited to the Jewish people and particularly the poor and needy. During his ministry he had no permanent home or transportation. (Okay, I have it really good!)

During my season of restriction I am starkly reminded that God is in charge. He’s my boss. Hey, I know it, but I can easily forget that! God can tell me where to live and what to do. He can send me to suburbia to care for my mother-in-law. And that is what my life as a servant is to be about!

I’ve also been reminded that this servant calling is not about what I want or even about what I think I need. In our mushy comfort driven society we’ve been brainwashed to think that we are supposed to be monitoring our lives to ensure that our needs are met and that anything that imposes on those needs has to be out of line or unjust. In other words, we think we are entitled and God has to cough up!

As a result, I can be tempted to subconsciously think that God is crowding me and overlooking my needs. Not true. The clear point Jesus made about not worrying is “Your father knows you need these things” (Mtt 6:32). It is during the reoccurring moments I feel claustrophobic in my little suburban bubble that I have to choose to trust God to care for what he knows I need just as Jesus did.

And God reminds me that when I’m focusing on giving up my freedom to travel, my nice home, our sturdy four x four, and my own kitchen, I can easily be distracted from actually serving those I’m sent to serve! Jesus so clearly left everything behind when he came to earth as a man, but we have no record of any time he whined about his losses or the cost of serving. We do have stories of his unabated focused ministry to those he came to serve.

And one delight of our transition is the times of joy I’ve experienced when I fall into bed after a busy day of drudgery and hear God’s “well done.” At those times I’m reminded of God’s stamp of approval on servanthood.

I’m not quite sure yet of all God’s purposes and plans for this transition, but if I just make progress in implementing these lessons of servanthood in this new context, it would be worth everything I’ve given up. Maybe that is just what God had in mind!

picture from photobucket

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Who is the Star?

My friend invited me to attend a performance of Handel’s Messiah at a local Methodist Church. Sure, I thought, that’s a Christmas tradition I haven’t enjoyed for years! So in the rather gloomy cool weather we set off for the church and joined other clumps of friends and family trickling into the impressive sanctuary. While the congregation stumbled through several verses of Noel, the choir marched in and took their places across the front third of the sanctuary. I have to say, I wasn’t all that expectant about the quality of the program as I saw the wide variety of choir robes representing many local churches.

However, as a professional soloist began his rendering of “Comfort Ye My People” my heart began singing. The words began to soak into my soul, reminding me that the historical precedent of Jesus’ lonely arrival on earth was God’s proactive compassion for his people. The concert continued with movement after movement of musical renditions of God’s written Word. I found myself lost in the beauty of the words that ushered me into a place to gaze upon the majesty of the God of the earth. He is the God of the world, no matter how they ignore him, shut him out of their world, or scream against him. He is God.

By the time we reached the crescendo of the Hallelujah Chorus I was ready to stand and shout “This is our God. This is the God we serve. This is the God we are talking about! Look at Him. Give him praise.” And then the crowd roared with applause while the orchestra members bowed and each professional soloist received a surge of applause and a bouquet of flowers. Concert over, Crowds trickling out the doors and back to their cars.

I was so sorry the concert was over already. And I was grieved that the star of Handel’s Messiah did not receive his due. The star of the concert was not the stupendous composer, or the great director, or the magnificent soloists, the talented choir members, or the committed committee who organized the event. The real star was the God of all the Earth who sent Jesus the Savior of mankind. And in the buzz and hurry of the traditions of thanks, applause, and gifts we left him out of our applause and praise.

My renewed wonder at God’s splendor and Amazing Provision has stayed with me. And my longing has intensified for God’s name to be proclaimed and honored as he deserves. My prayer is that in all the buzz and hurry of Christmas traditions we remember to honor the real Star of Christmas.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Crossing Bigotry Barriers


During my early grade school years, one of my best friends was Vanessa. She happened to be an African American, but I don’t recall thinking anything of that. I enjoyed her friendship. I played at her house after school, and I invited her to Sunday school. Just kid’s stuff. By bringing Vanessa to church our family turned the church on its head. As my parents told me later, the leaders asked them to stop bringing her to church or find another church. So we moved to another church! I was too young to understand what bigotry was, and I didn’t learn it at home. My parents nurtured us in Christian love towards our neighbors, no matter their race or status.

As a teen I vividly recall the afternoon a group of angry black youths surrounded my sister and I, accusing us of killing Martin Luther King. None of those hot headed teens could read our hearts. They only reacted to our white skin. And that is the nature of bigotry of any kind - choosing responses based on unique outward distinctions rather than identifying the humanness of the heart we all share.

Many decades later our world is still grappling with various forms of bigotry. Despite intentional “diversity training,” News constantly reports injurious incidents of hatred and bullying and educators are asking, “Can we teach empathy to our students?”

All cultures engender some form of bigotry whether based on tribe, nationality, gender, status, or language. Jesus came into a decisively bigoted culture, encountering barriers between Jews and Gentiles, Jews and Samaritans, religious synagogue goers and tax collectors, and the healthy and the infirm. When Jesus purposed to make the disciples into ministers of his Good News he shouldered the daunting task of breaking down the destructive barriers that could thwart them in preaching Good News to anyone anywhere.

We could all do with some wisdom from the Master Teacher who succeeded in transforming this group of rowdy bigots into ministers of the Gospel willing to compassionately cross bigotry borders. I’ve observed a few practices Jesus incorporated into his discipleship training to bring about this change.

Jesus intentionally ministered across bigotry boundaries. Jesus refused to honor culture-bound bigotry. He was like a bigotry hound sniffing out the smallest scent of bigotry. And then he did just the opposite of cultural practices. He touched lepers. He called a blind beggar out of the crowd for healing. He crossed the lake to meet with the demon possessed monster the whole town feared. He talked to a Samaritan slut. He healed the daughter of a Canaanite Gentile. He banqueted with despicable tax collectors. If there was a bigotry barrier he purposely crossed it!

Jesus immersed his disciples in bigotry border crossings. He walked with them among the poor, the blind, the lame, and the beggars. He strode with the disciples into the pool of Siloam where the ignored dregs of society waited for a miracle. He hiked his followers through Samaria and kept them there for two days of ministry. He and his disciples chatted over meals with despised publicans.

Jesus exposed ugly attitudes of bigotry. Ever the teacher, Jesus tackled stinking attitudes with stories. The tale of the Good Samaritan contrasted haughty religious indifference towards a robbery victim with the surprising compassion of a despised Samaritan (Lk 10). Jesus addressed the older brother’s snooty self-righteousness towards his brother’s self-inflicted poverty in the story of the prodigal son (Lk 15). Jesus also included teaching about judging, arrogance, and self-righteousness wherever he went.

Jesus honored those whom others “despised.” Jesus ministered across bigotry borders, but he also took opportunities to honor those who were normally despised by society. The Gospels show Jesus honoring a Roman centurion, a Canaanite women, and a repentant harlot for their faith (Lk 7:9; Matt 15:28; Lk 7:50).

Can empathy be taught? Yes. My parents gave us a good start. Yes. Jesus showed us how. But the task is not for the weak. Jesus showed that we must sniff out bigotry barriers in our culture and in ourselves. Only then can we take steps to intentionally cross bigotry barriers to minister to whomever wherever Jesus sends us.

Picture from Photobucket.com

Friday, December 3, 2010

Debunking the Comparison-Trick

Recently I had a challenging day and was scrambling for God’s grace and patience. No, it wasn’t a family tragedy, or a lost job, or a diagnosis of a terminal illness. It was simply facing recurring pesky irritations in our house. It was nothing new that hadn’t happened before, I just felt more vulnerable and others’ comments felt like barbs entering my spirit. I was having difficulty not lashing out with unkind words or my defensive sarcasm. My impulse was to find a place to be alone and cry, but then I thought, “This is nothing compared to what others are facing. Buck up, Jane.” I swallowed my tears and kept trying.

But the neat comparison-trick didn’t really work. The comparison only succeeded in making me feel more inadequate and stupid and pushed me to be even more irritable! The comparison-trick only delayed my ability to deal with how I was feeling. It was only when the lights were out and Randy was gently snoring next to me, that I was able to breath and get fresh perspective.

God came so close, and surprised me with his response. He didn’t compare my pain to someone else’s pain. He saw and understood my hurt, my trials, and my struggles. And he embraced me with his tender compassion. I awoke in the morning with a solid sense of his support and faced the same challenges with more grace and self-control.

Today I’ve spent more time rolling these thoughts around and questioning the validity of the comparison-trick I had learned sometime in my past (probably during a time when I needed a kick to spin me out of self-pity). I recalled that God hand picks the temptations that are allowed in my life (1 Cor 10:13). Because of that, there’s no need for me or God to compare my struggles to another person’s trials. This testing is mine and God is personally committed to walking me through them! No haranguing, no criticism, and no indifference. Only compassion, encouragement, and instruction.

Jesus is my ultimate model. I can’t imagine Jesus needing the comparison-trick to keep him moving and victorious. He constantly focused on others’ needs, even during the most intense testing times in the Garden and on the cross. Because Jesus walked in flesh with imperfect parents, reactionary disciples, ungrateful recipients, arrogant leaders, and constantly demanding crowds there’s probably not one of my trials with which I could shock him (Heb 4:14-16).

I think I’m going to ditch the comparison-trick and focus on these take -away points from my brief valley experience.
  • As I receive God’s understanding and love I am more equipped to love others and keep moving. No comparison-tricks or any face-straining efforts needed. Just more of Him.
  • The way God responds to me should guide me in how to respond to others’ trials. I want to respect the pain that results from their personal “allowed temptations.” No pain is insignificant. Advocating the comparison-trick is out. Respecting their situation and understanding their pain is in. God, make me a compassionate cheerleader to help others through their individual trials.
  • Just like Jesus, the more difficulties and trials I face, the more equipped I should become to be able to understand and empathize with others’ struggles. God, I invite you to fill my heart with more of your understanding and compassion.

So, even my flash-trial has proven valuable, debunked another personal myth, and taken me a few steps further on my journey to be like Jesus.

picture from Photobucket

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Tension of Obedience

During our missions training we had a school mate who decided not to prepare breakfast for everyone because she felt the Lord had told her instead to spend the time with her kids. So we all missed breakfast that morning. So much for house authority. So much for school authority, and so much for kindness to fellow students!

I was shocked that she could so easily ignore house rules. But in the many years since that time I have encountered the same tension she experienced between obeying what she thought God had said while still honoring human leaders and established policies. I’ve experienced times in which I attempted to follow God’s leading and bumped into fences and roadblocks of policies and rules and misunderstanding from God’s leaders!

Reflecting back, I may have looked just as foolish as my former school mate. I also realize I might have missed God’s timing or ways, and God might have wanted my godly leader to nudge me back on the path where I had missed an obscured turn. Had I listened to my leader, I could have waited more patiently for God’s perfect timing. I’m not at all sure, even now. Knowing God’s will and honoring God’s leaders, and following the rules can be complicated!

Jesus faced this dilemma during his time of ministry. He did hear from God. He did know God’s ways, and he did have his timing right. He did not intentionally snub leadership or rules, but he was clearly honoring God’s authority by his obedience. Even then, the religious leaders questioned his healing and deliverance ministry and challenged his teaching. They were irritated by his friendship with sinners and his popularity with the common crowd.

Things came to a boiling point near the end of his ministry when the religious leaders challenged him in the temple, “By what authority are you doing these things and who gave you this authority?” They hit the nail on the head. Their contention with Jesus was really about authority and power. But they had it wrong. They were the ones not operating under the authority of God. They had missed God’s cues. They had missed his heart. They didn’t know God’s ways. They ignored his prophets. And they were clearly operating under the thumb of the Roman government and fear of the people. “By what authority are you doing these things?” was the question those leaders needed to hear. And Jesus gave them three stories to expose their wayward independence (Matt 21-22).

From Jesus’ example I can learn how to honorably do God’s will when it seems out of sync with the rest of my religious world. Jesus was boldly confident in God’s clear directives for every word and action. He allowed no room for missed timing or ungodly ways. Jesus also carried out God’s directives with kindness and generosity towards the religious leaders while speaking truth. He preached in their synagogues and ate in their homes. Only when they publicly challenged him did he confront with a fist-in-velvet-glove manner.

But I can also learn from the religious leaders how easily any one of us can slip into the same state! We can become pompous in our spirituality and lash out at those who do ministry differently or apply biblical truth in an “extreme” way. How different it was for the few religious leaders who actually checked Jesus out with an open heart and mind. And how important it is for me to lay down my easily-biased views and invite God’s perspective on other ministers and their ministries. The religious leaders forgot that God is the final authority not them. That truth is critical for me to walk in the humility and confidence God intended. This humility can make the complicated journey of doing God’s will and honoring God’s leaders far less treacherous.

picture from http://www.public-domain-photos.com/.

Friday, November 26, 2010

When Good Habits Work Against Us

My habits were strangling me. No, I don’t mean addictions. I mean routine patterns I had developed for my quiet time. For a number of years previous to this point I set my goal to read through the Bible each year. But eventually my consistent habit of daily devouring chapters of the Old and New Testament left me dry and spiritually listless. My habits had finally begun to work against me.

My finely tuned habits for regular “devotions” served me well through high school, college and even into missions. They kept me on track, provided regular spiritual input for the routine traumas of life, and periodically gave me a kick just where and when I needed it! But the time came, when my well established routines actually stunted my growth. And that is what I’ve been pondering - this strange phenomenon of how habits, routines, and even traditions can fail us and actually work against us.

Routine habits can become cumbersome. Okay, in some things I am a routine junkie. If something is worth doing, it is worth a good routine. Routine junkies are tempted to keep fine tuning their habits until the task requirements become so daunting that the routine collapses or they begin to avoid the task for self preservation. The habit can relate to having a quiet time, regular prayer time, answering email, preparing a teaching, or even exercising. I can be an expert at making anything more and more complicated!

For a while, I was getting up before dawn every morning for my quiet time. Coffee at hand, Bible spread out on my desk, computer open to commentaries, and I was off and running. I wrapped up my quiet time with an extended time of praying my new found insights into my mission setting. Sounds great (and it was awesome!) But after a while, I dreaded the early hour and couldn’t quite stir up the enthusiasm for extended prayer times. My spiritual passion was still there, but my fine-tuned routines had become too tedious. Another routine bit the dust…until I established my next routine.

Routine habits can actually prevent improvements. When I’ve established a noble habit, it is profoundly difficult to dislodge that fortress of efficiency! It’s mine. I created it. It has served me well. How could I possibly change it? Enter, my quiet time that was killing me. No matter how good it was to read my Bible through every year, the ease of my daily ritual delayed even thinking about improving the quality of my devotions. It was convenient to drag myself to my chair, open my Bible, read through my assigned chapters, and check off my list. Done for the day!

My well established routines were like wall paper covering cracked walls. Until I began peeling back the rituals, I was unaware of the emptiness that had crept into my relationship with God. And when I really saw the cracks, I was willing, even eager, to let go of my devotion rituals. Only then did God lead me down a new path of Bible reading and journaling that led to deeper reflection on his character and to learn about myself.

Routines can be very helpful in establishing patterns for Bible study, communication, church attendance, exercise, healthy eating, or building relationships. But when good habits begin to become cumbersome, ineffective, growth-stunting, or block needed change, I am left with one option. Let God challenge my routines and direct uncomfortable changes that will move me on to deeper growth and deeper levels of yieldedness. I can’t afford to let my good habits work against me.

picture from pixmac.co.uk

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Discovering Forgotten Treasure

Gold  key on treasure chest | royalty free photos #39922955
I love going through a cupboard to find treasure. This began as a little girl when I was forced to clean the walk-in closet in the large bedroom I shared with my sister. We had periodically “cleaned” our room by tossing our possessions into the back of that long dark closet. So when we reluctantly tackled the closet I was delighted to rediscover clothes, shoes, books, games, and toys we had blithely tossed into the darkness. The cleanup was tedious, but I discovered the pleasure of treasure hunting.


So yesterday I got to tackle one cupboard in my mother-in-law’s kitchen because I needed to get at the roasting pan. It’s not my kitchen, but I was still stirred by the spirit of discovery. In that one cupboard I found some amazing “treasures.” I mean, really. My mother-in-law has a heavy duty roasting pan that is more than fifty years old but still as good as new. I got to try it out today!

And on the bottom shelf, buried under stacks of saved paper bags and boxes of wax paper and foil I found the most amazing like-new cake pans just awaiting an eager cake-baker. I also found a little packet of original sample “Ziplock bags” with the words “you’ve never seen a storage bag like this before!!!” This well preserved sample could be in the Dow museum.

In the busyness of our recent transition I’ve been pondering forgotten treasures. While walking through the “lostness” that normally accompanies transition, I’ve been recalling the memory treasures we have piled up through our years of serving in Africa. I have flashbacks of chatting with friends over tea, under a tree, in a sidewalk cafĂ©, and while bouncing over the ruts of an African road. When I miss the direct ministry, I take a foray into recalling the faces of students we have taught in simmering heat under thatch, in the icy cold of a morning, in spacious airy classrooms, and under trees. I revel in the parade of students who have become leaders and missionary statesmen. Treasures imbedded in my memory.

In this new season when we are so far from our teaching and traveling life, I’ve experienced a sense of emptiness. I’m not teaching a workshop. I’m not discipling new missionaries. I’m not visiting or praying with missionaries. But God stepped in to remind me of the hidden treasure he’s created inside of me through many years of service. Through hardship he’s shaped my character and taught me longsuffering and patience. He’s nurtured in me a deep sense of trust in His faithfulness. And he’s hammered out knowledge, skills, and tools for teaching and inspiring learners. Rubbing shoulders and even clashing with others has dug deep wells of understanding and empathy. Treasures gathered along the missionary journey.

I fully expect God to direct us about how to continue ministering into Africa from our new location. But for this season of separation, I’m enjoying the treasures I’d forgotten. Jesus told his disciples, "Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old." (Matt 13:52) I’m enjoying the new treasures I’m finding in serving my mother-in-law and the new insights I’m discovering in my reading and studying, but I want to be a wise householder who brings out old treasure, polishes it, and puts it to use again. I love rediscovering hidden treasure. What about you?


picture from www.pixmac.co.uk

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Discipling is Messy

zen of grandson's dirty dishes
Jesus did not just cast out words for the sake of lofty ideas. His intention was to make disciples. Not only was he charged with speaking truth from the Father, he had the added challenge of gathering a group of men that would follow him around, learn from him, become like him, and carry his message.

Unfortunately many of us are satisfied with being biblical philosophers casting out pearls of wisdom without intentionally planning to be a discipler. Discipling gets messy. Discipling means having people hanging around, and constantly asking questions or challenging us. Having people always watching our lives doesn’t fit well with our culture of individuality and comfort! We want our space and it should include privacy as much as possible! Our natural tendency is to put up fences so people don’t come too close or stay too long. But, that is not how Jesus did discipling.

Jesus sought people who wanted to be like him and intentionally shouldered this huge responsibility of discipling. Jesus wanted disciples who would follow him everywhere he went so they’d observe how he responded to lepers, tax collectors, and arrogant leaders. He wanted followers who would savor his every word and question his assumptions. Jesus’ teaching content was not just his wonderfully delivered sermons, it included his life. He didn’t just depend on being an excellent word monger. He depended upon being an excellent model that others would want to shape their lives to.

In the end, the sign of Jesus’ success was not just having crowds of eager learners around him, but having men and women who would duplicate his compassion, his boldness, his humility, his profound devotion to the Father, and his willingness to set aside his own aspirations to serve others. Only such men and women were qualified to carry his Good News message.

If we are serious about imitating Jesus, we also must be serious about making disciples - nurturing Jesus Wannabes. I’ve made a short check-list to help me be more intentional:

1. Be a radical disciple of Jesus: There’s no way I can create Jesus-disciples if I am not radically committed to be like Jesus in my attitudes, behavior, speech, and actions.

I wanna teach like Jesus
I wanna love like Jesus
I wanna lay down my life like Jesus
I wanna speak truth like Jesus
I wanna forgive like Jesus
I wanna suffer like Jesus
I wanna be meek like Jesus

I can’t pick and choose – I have to want to BE like Jesus – the whole package. I have to let go of “me” to live like him. I can’t hang onto pride, selfishness, or stubbornness. There’s no room for arrogance, ambition, or defensiveness.

2. Check my measure of success: Do I measure my success by how many Jesus wannabes I inspire? It’s not just about filling my schedule with teaching and ministry. And it’s not about filling our classes, workshops, Bible studies or churches with people. We know from Jesus that crowds of followers are not the same as a handful of stout Jesus-disciples. Am I inspiring people to live like Jesus in every aspect of home, business, community, and ministry?


3. Make lifestyle changes: By nature, I’m a privacy hog. I love privacy and root it out wherever I go. That is counterproductive to discipling like Jesus! After all, discipling requires being available and visibly demonstrating Christ-likeness in all areas of life. For me “laying down my life” for the sake of others means giving up my “need” for alone time and my craving to “be invisible.”

When it comes to really imitating Jesus, discipling is messy. It can’t be neatly compacted into a six-part Tuesday evening series. Jesus-style discipling overflows into sharing everyday life with those who are eager to follow Jesus and allowing them to learn from me how to do it. But that is Jesus’ way to produce messengers who carry his message by their lives.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bathroom Fiascos, Order, and God

Moving into my mother-in-law’s house has made me sharply aware of patterns of order. Now, I love order, but I’ve discovered that not every one has the same ideas about what order looks like! Just this morning, I had to use the “basin” towel to wipe down the shower since the appointed “shower” towel was not available. I tried my hardest to right my wrong before my mother-in-law’s discovery. Too late. She discovered the “basin” towel missing before I could replace it. She was totally gracious, but it did disrupt her world.

In my own flat in South Africa I also had an appointed rag to wipe down the shower. In addition I had a bath mat which I kept over the tub when not in use. Several years ago I was sorely tested as a hostess when I continually found the white bath math on the floor conveniently located for dirty shoes. After several days of repeatedly replacing the mat over the tub so it wouldn’t get dirty, my guests cleared up the confusion by explaining that having a mat on the floor in their homes was how you kept your bathroom beautiful! Conflict of order nearly did our friendship in!

These minor bathroom fiascos simply illustrate the wide variety of personal approaches to order. I’ve also discovered that it’s not good enough to have a sense of order (although some of us women might disagree with that statement). I’m learning how important it is to understand my mother-in-law’s detailed rules of order and try to accommodate as much as possible while living in her house! I try to get it right. I try to honor her as owner of her house. I don’t always succeed, but I try.

The issue of order has been nagging at me for several weeks. I overheard a shouting match between two parents outside my house while their daughter looked on, hearing the vicious cussing and name calling. I wondered how God felt about the disorder in this little family that he loved. And I questioned how God feels about disorderly conduct between believers, ministry team members, and ministers of the Gospel. How it must grieve him to see hearts sullied by insensitive comments, selfish attitudes, and careless words. His orderly world has been disrupted.

God loves order. He created a magnificent world with complex order that we are still trying to discover after centuries of scientific study! His natural laws oversee order, and he’s given us biblical truth to maintain order in relationships at every level! He is passionate about order in couples, in families, in teams, in communities, in cities, and in nations.

I might be able to argue sometimes that I have better ideas of order than my mother-in-law, but I can’t argue with God’s appointed order. It’s his house. It’s his rules. And he rules in unselfish love for each member of his household. His order is meant to benefit every person. Who can argue with that!

I have to be a learner in my mother-in-law’s house. And out of love and respect I’m in the process of adapting my own patterns to accommodate her rules of order for the kitchen, the office, the bathroom, and the refrigerator! How much more we need to constantly learn about God’s desired patterns of order and make alterations in attitudes, words, and behavior so as to accommodate his order for friendships, sexual relations, parenting, leadership, and church. So, here’s to continued learning, loving, respecting, changing, and accommodating. Let’s work to restore order in God’s house!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Power of Contrition & Apology

In a recent article Dan Berrett looked at the moral benefits of Rev. John I. Jenkin’s apology to the parents of a student who died in an accident while in the care of his university. As the president of the University of Notre Dame, Rev. Jenkins startled the academic world with his public apology that crossed the grain of the more traditional responses of defensiveness and silence.

While many have been impressed with Father Jenkin’s courage in taking the blame for the student’s death, others view his public apology as a risky gamble that could jeopardize the university legally or economically. The article reports some critical issues that organizations consider when deciding whether to apologize or not for perceived mistakes, injustices, accidents, or deaths.

Organizations are not alone in this decision process. Every individual goes through a similar decision making process when deciding whether to apologize or not for something we’ve done or said to our spouse, our kids, our coworkers or our neighbors. Our final decisions may not be so public or come under such scrutiny, but we would benefit in examining our decision making process, as I did, to consider the true basis of for making that decision to say “I was wrong. I’m sorry.”

In high profile cases, organizational leaders normally consult with their lawyers to consider the financial or legal risks involved in public admission of sorrow or apology. Of course, it makes sense to seek council, but such risk assessment centers primarily on self preservation and does not necessarily focus on the victim or family’s needs during such a time. It begs the question, “Is admission of sorrow and apology given for image management and damage control, or is it given sincerely out of grief for the damage and hurt done to others?”

Lest I be accused of casting stones at others, let me throw a few at myself. I may not consult lawyers in making a decision about apologizing, but I certainly do a risk assessment! What will she think of me? Will she retaliate with cruel words? What if I admit I was wrong? Will she heap me with more criticism? Maybe she’ll melt and admit her wrong. Maybe she won’t ever consider promoting me again. I have scanned the potential risk for myself without a thought about whether an apology would benefit the other person!

In his article Dan Berret did allude to the benefits of contrition and apology. The family could be grateful. He pointed out that “families want compassion, care, and even an apology: a heartfelt sincere statement that 'I’m sorry.’” And herein lies the heart of the virtue of contrition. Admission of regret and apologizing for wrongs are powerful because they minister grace to those who have experienced offense or loss. God has prescribed contrite sorrow and apology as the means of healing relationships devastated by wrongs.

God knows how people work. He knows that genuine sorrow and apology benefit the recipient. The offended receives whispers of grace and kindness from those least likely to give it. Expressions of genuine sorrow or regret communicate compassion when compassion is least expected. A person’s apology shares the burden of blame for shattered relationships and demonstrates the value he places on restoring that relationship. A humble apology creates an atmosphere of openness that nurtures restoration.

God knows that contrition and apology benefit the giver as well by helping to relieve his heavy burden of guilt and regret. By apologizing, the offender is relieved of the inclination to hide or distance himself from others. A person’s honest acknowledgment of fault is critical before healthy changes can take place. But most of all a personal encounter marked by repentance marks the first steps down the path of restoring relationships.

I admire Father Jenkins for taking a public stand to express his heartfelt apology. I’m convinced that God longs for more Jesus-followers to salt the earth with genuine contrition and courageous apology in the face of potential risk. Whether at an organizational level or in interpersonal relationships, may we courageously embrace God’s ways and radically demonstrate the power of contrition and apology.

photo or Mr. Rudd's public apology compliments of Flickr Photos

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Trusting God’s Reward System


I was stunned at age sixteen to be told by doctors that I would never have children. Of course it was devastating to have my dreams of having children demolished in one flash, but my most crushing struggle was questioning why God would let that happen when I had committed my life to missions. Even though I wrestled with that question on and off for many years, I persisted in my calling, married, and headed off into missions.

My continued insistence on his healing was rooted in a wrong understanding of his love and my expectations of his reward for my commitment. When I recall the depressing effect of my unrelenting questions and demands, I realize that I didn’t really have a workable understanding of God’s reward system.

I know I’m not alone. I’ve observed believers and even ministers of the Gospel in a wrestling match between living on the edge of poverty and pressing in for a modicum of comfort or provision. Other ministers are known to feverishly grasp the promises of God for blessing and insist on extravagance to prove God’s riches and their own faith. When Christ’s servants are not clear or comfortable with God’s reward system they can weave and waver in their call to sacrificial service and relationship with the Master, just like I did.

Some servants ground their reward-thinking in Scriptures that speak of God’s promised spiritual blessings and focus on eternal rewards. Others search out passages of promised material blessings and scramble after the here-and-now blessings. Neither view is completely correct! Neither one reflects the fullness of God’s character and ways. A view that skews towards only spiritual blessings darkens God’s compassion and care for his servants’ present needs. A view that ignores future blessings casts long shadows over the greatness of God who plans eternity and stores up unique treasures in Heaven for those who serve Him. Either way God’s reward system is a magnanimous expression of his mercy, grace, and goodness.

While we need to find a view that embraces the fullness of God’s reward system, there are inherent dangers in insisting on here-and-now rewards. First, I could miss out on enduring treasure of far greater worth. If I insist on house or spouse or praise or raise, he may give me second best rather than other intended blessings! After years of insisting on healing, I finally yielded to God’s ways and settled into deep contentment with his love. I was able to recognize the treasures God had lovingly given – the gift of an adopted son, the amazing joy and grace that go with adoption, many spiritual children all over Africa, and an increased capacity to trust God’s ways.

Second, if I focus on temporal blessings I am much more prone to be shortsighted in how I live. Temporal rewards are delightful for a season but do I want to sweat and slave for present comfort or am I called to live for the future? When I was seriously questioning God, I went through periods of longing for a child that diluted my passion for evangelism, discipleship, and godliness. I became more like a donkey being led by the carrot in front of its nose. With my eyes crossed on the promise of immediate blessing I missed seeing the other delights of the journey and lost sight of what was far ahead.

Third, if I insist on immediate gratification for my service I might miss out on the most important treasure – the friendship and intimacy with God. There is something very special about pressing into the will of God regardless of hardship, discomfort, and living without. In my times of deepest longing, God pressed closer. My personal breakthrough came during an encounter with God that was so real that I knew He was all I ever needed. I saw the longings that had separated me from him were like a hearth of ashes compared to the fellowship of bearing the yoke beside Jesus. In the intimacy of that moment I willingly yielded to his ways.

Does God promise temporal blessings? He sure does. I could write a book about the sweet delights I’ve received at his hand. But in the end, I’d rather be surprised by his choice of immediate blessings than to insist on my way at the cost of disappointment at baubles that melt away like cotton candy. Today I am definitely more comfortable with the mysteries of God’s reward system and content to let him surprise me with the treasures he plans for me.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Too Fossilized for Change?

I’m not really a dog person, but I accidentally volunteered to feed my mother-in-law’s dogs twice a day when she was going in for surgery. And here I am again months later, now serving as the “expert” in dog feeding. One of her dachshunds is 16 years old, gray hair and all. As far back as I can remember Freddy has always yapped his sharp bark the whole time his food dish was being prepared. When I wasn’t the dog food expert I could go outside to escape. But now that dog food preparation is my job, I decided something had to be done about that yapping. But the question is, can a 16 year old dog learn new tricks? I discovered that, yes, an old dog can learn new tricks.

Well, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about flexibility and change. There are major changes in my life as we’ve uprooted from our South African home to return to the States. And instead of driving for days to visit our missionary friends we will have to be flying in across the oceans. These major changes are difficult enough, but I’ve discovered that sometimes it is much more difficult to make the smaller changes in our lives. Changing habits or the way we’ve always done things is much harder.

In moving into my mother-in-law’s house to help care for her I ran smack into my own set patterns that I was unaware of in my own home. I had well-honed patterns for meal preparation. I liked to leave the house to arrive at the exact time for church, not 30 minutes before and not late. And I allowed myself only a few minutes to prepare things before leaving. Works for me! But my patterns did not merge well with my mother-in-law’s lifestyle or needs. I needed to make some changes in how I did things but found just how decrepit and inflexible I felt. Was I too fossilized to change?

When I recognized that my inflexibility was in direct conflict with my desire to be godly and bring Him glory, my training began in earnest! The next element of training was serious prayer. And the Master Trainer took over and started putting me through my paces, including daily opportunities to make choices based on my mother-in-law’s needs rather than my own habits and desires. I’ve been able to see some of my patterns changed and I’m slowly learning “new tricks.” Just like Freddy, I’ve had days of relapses in which I just wanted to be me, or should I say “the old me.” But persistence is winning the day. I never want to get too fossilized for change. I’m so grateful that the Master Trainer is always ready to teach me “new tricks.”

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Stamp of God’s Grace

Sunday afternoon relaxing meant sitting in the sun on the couch in our 8x10 room reading a book. I was basking in the sun coming in the open door and the lazy schedule that meant I didn’t have to cook for the community of 20 missionaries. Suddenly I froze as I noticed out of the corner of my eye a black shape sliding into the open door and slithering behind the book shelf that divided our tiny home into living room and office. In that split second I realized two things. One, that black shape was a spitting cobra. Two, it was sliding towards Randy who was enjoying his quiet Sunday on the other side of that book shelf. In the next second I screamed and leaped out the open door onto the small veranda. My scream communicated the urgency and Randy raced out to join me.

It wasn’t long before other members of our team joined us as we awaited the departure of our unwelcome Sunday visitor. More than an hour later the cobra casually slithered outside the door, but at the sight of a waiting crowd it raced to shelter under the nearby container, conveniently out of the reach of the men armed with stones and grass slashers. We continued to rehash all the details of this event and swaggered on with more snake stories until the supper bell rang.

Remembering that event more than 16 years ago, I can only laugh. What an odd form of entertainment we had in those early days of missions. We had snake visits and obnoxious monkeys stealing our crops and intimidating our dogs. We fought raging bush fires that threatened the borders of our campsite during dry season, and during the rainy season we dealt with the floods that covered the bridges that we used to visit our neighbors. We had spontaneous and community oriented entertainment in those days. There was little privacy so every event gathered the troops. And every event ended with more stories and laughter and natural camaraderie. Those were difficult days, but I miss those days.

As a mission community we didn’t have much. We lived in small camp-site rooms and had cold water showers. In response to frequent power outages we often cooked and ate by candlelight, resorted to using the pit toilets we had dug, and hauled our water with buckets from the river. But we were a team who shared the challenges and adventures together.

One thing I learned during those days was that I could adjust to almost anything. Outside ablutions, cleaning dishes with cold water, and even pit toilets became “normal” after time and I could almost not imagine another life! And I learned that I could do it with joy. In these days when my husband and I are in major transition and strained by tight living quarters in my mother-in-law’s house, I am reminded of those early days. And I know that I will be victorious and will one day look back and see the stamp of God’s grace and joy on this season of our lives also.

Picture from http://www.freesnake.com/spittingcobra2.html.


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Addressing Hot-Button Topics without Using a Sword

As society drifts farther and farther away from biblical roots we are seeing the crumbling of long standing social patterns. Life long marriage to one partner is no longer the norm. Sexual purity before marriage is rarely expected, and gay relationships are slowly gaining acceptance on social and religious fronts. Unfortunately, the church’s traditional ways of responding to immorality has garnered criticism from those inside and outside the church. As a result, Christians are floundering in how to respond appropriately to the eroding values and practices.

As believers seeking help to maneuver these social rapids, we can look to the One who has gone before us to show the way. Jesus came into a nation with complex social issues. The religious leaders were twisted with legalism and tainted by corruption. The population was divided in how to respond to Roman domination – by accommodating or wielding a sword. Apparently divorce and remarriage were being practiced but controversial enough that the religious leaders devised a plan to trap Jesus with a question about its legality. We can reap nuggets of wisdom by observing Jesus’ ways of responding to these social woes.

Be Aware and Ready
I’m always challenged by the fact that Jesus had ready answers to the sticky questions put to him. He was clearly aware of what the social issues were. He ate in people’s homes. He chatted, heard their questions, and observed their behavior. He had an uncanny ability to discern the underlying attitudes and values that supported social practices. But more than that, he had obviously processed the critical issues and knew God’s perspective. He was always ready with an answer.

Speak with Authority
More than that, his answers were always presented with authority. He didn’t wobble or waver with personal opinion or scrabble to say things in a “politically correct” way. He spoke as a messenger of God and all answers clearly pointed listeners back to God as the authority and His Word as the standard for determining truth and righteousness. No listener could go away without a clear picture of truth and its Author.

Call Sin “Sin” without Using a Sword
Looking over Jesus’ shoulder in Matthew 19:3-12, you can see Jesus authoritatively addressing God’s perspective on the issue of divorce and remarriage. He clearly demonstrated here how to address sinful practices and attitudes without attacking any person or group. He still called sin “sin.” Neither did He try to sugar coat the word “adultery.” Truth could land where it wanted, and He left the Holy Spirit to do the rest! He could love every person and still scatter truth.

Become the Approachable Go-to Guy
You can see Jesus addressing this hot-button topic surrounded by crowds of people, disciples, and religious leaders. Matthew’s details reveal that this was a discussion, not a lecture. One Pharisee asked the first question, another piped up with a follow-up question, and at least one disciple contributed his sage summary, "If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry."

Some listeners were hanging on his every word, and others were testing him. But they all invited him to expound on his understanding. People loved to be around Jesus and listen. He was accessible and approachable. He was loving, humble, and personal. He offered fresh authoritative perspectives, and He was not predictable. It was almost guaranteed that listeners would not hear the same tedious answers they had heard in the synagogue.

I’m overwhelmed by Jesus’ wisdom and grace. His example challenges me to think beyond prattling against sin from my Christian cocoon. Neither is it an option to try to demonstrate unconditional love to my friends while ignoring the corrosive effect of sin on their lives. Instead of preparing an impersonal Christian treatise on sexual immorality, I’m challenged to engage in loving dialogue and prayerfully seek God’s perspective and answers. I refuse to be content with my shallow opinions. I want to be ready with authoritative answers when I’m invited to dialogue. And finally, I must persist in yielding to the chiseling work of the Spirit so my attitudes reflect the heart of the Father. Only then can I come close to imitating Jesus’ wisdom in addressing hot-button issues.

What approaches have you taken in responding to hot-button issues?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Come into the Light

Writing is a mirror to the soul. When I’m writing you’ll see what I choose to show you and you may catch glimpses of attitudes that I actually don’t intend you to see. Sometimes I’m perturbed by my own attitudes. I don’t want you to see my internal wrestling to be more kind, positive, or self-controlled or to be less jealous, critical or caustic. I’m more inclined to let you see my insights on living a walk of faith and my bragging about Jesus.

There’s something scary about coming out into the open wearing the day’s grime in my attitudes. In the privacy of my thoughts I can ignore nasty stubbornness or quick judgments. But I’m called to come into the light, filthy rags and all. In the light I see truth, and therein lies the power of light. Ugliness is seen as ugly. I cry out for mercy. I catch a glimpse of God’s grace and the flash of His ready forgiveness sets me on a path of repentance. The power of light.

In the safety of God’s presence, facing ugly truth about my shameful attitudes is tolerable. But being truthful about myself to others can be frightening, especially when I don’t know how others will respond. We’ve all experienced a variety of reactions to our attempts at openness: appreciation, kind understanding, criticism, preaching, gentle chiding, shock, disappointment, concern, or wariness. Reactions are filed away and we’ve made value judgments on openness. We may have vowed to never be transparent again, or we may have warm memories of the appreciation others showed towards our humble attempts to being transparent.

Regardless of how other people might react, coming into the light has an amazing power, and that power is what can drive me to openness regardless of my past experiences or my fears. Speaking the truth sets me free. I’m free from trying to escape your discovery! I’m free from dodging the light. I’m free from the effort of dressing up to present a perfect picture of a person called of God. I’m free from the enemy’s threats to expose me! I’m free to let in more light. And I’m free to pursue the path of God’s amazing grace.

Writing the truth also has the power to help others who are scrambling to evade discovery of their miserable failures to be like Christ. Speaking the truth about my own battles with my sin nature can free others to come into the light and experience the exhilaration of truth in God’s warm embrace of love and forgiveness.

While I’m convinced that openness has power, I’m also considering some parameters that might be important for channeling this power in a public place such as a blog.

1. As a believer, my openness should include the truth about my struggles with my fallen human nature as well as the truth of God’s abounding mercy and grace for victory. If I only whine about my ongoing struggles with fear, I can leave my listeners with a sense of hopelessness, bondage, or even disappointment. But if I also share the secret power of God’s rhema word to strip away the chains of fear, then I have shared truth that can help to set the captive free as Jesus intended.


2. I only have the right to be open about my own humanness. I do not have the right to expose another person’s sin or failure. Therefore my own openness about responding to slander should not be worded in such a way as to throw glaring light on the source of that slander. If my own openness risks harming another I need to reconsider my motives and my words. Can I reword what I am saying so I speak the truth about my own battle in a powerful way that can set readers free without stripping another of his reputation?

3. My truth-speaking should always be guided by the Father. Even Jesus, the perfect source of truth did not speak on his own. The Father directed the where, when, how, why, and what of truth! There are times when God asks me to be open about my own struggles in order to help others. And there are other times when I run ahead of God and for the sake of openness or my own agenda speak about my past failures or my present skirmishes. I’ve seen those times of truth fail in achieving anything of benefit for God, myself, or others.

Openness directed by God has the potential of a flashing bolt of lightening - light, truth, and power in one stroke. Humble open writing can be powerful in the hands of God. Am I ready?

Picture from Comstock Photos

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Judging is Easy…but Grace is Challenging

You’ve seen it. Word circulates that Jean was seen at a cozy table for two with the boss. She’s been your friend. Now you avoid her at break time. When her name comes up in conversation all the office mates sling slurs at her reputation and bring up previous whispers of marriage trouble. Others dig up old grievances with the boss. And you are the only Christian at your office.

It’s so easy to quickly judge a person’s actions and come up with what they should have done, but the truth is that another person’s sin bounces the ball into your court and puts you to the test. How will you respond to the person’s sin or failure? Now it’s up to you to choose how you will respond: understanding, criticism, gossiping, shunning, confronting, forgiving, showing grace, ignoring, or extending mercy. And how you respond will determine where the ball goes and if the ball will be returned to you!

I’ve become aware of some uncomfortable truths. Anyone (me included) can make a judgment; not everyone can make a well informed, just, or godly judgment. Everyone can criticize; not everyone can listen for understanding. Everyone can gossip; not everyone can demonstrate loving support in the face of critical attitudes. Anyone can shun someone; not all of us are adept at godly confrontation. Anyone of us can condemn; not all of us can forgive.

Judging is easy; grace is challenging. It takes grace to lovingly confront someone after a personal offence or when you’ve observed an indiscretion. The much more difficult task is to continue to demonstrate love when someone has obviously failed. And that is where Christians have the opportunity to demonstrate the character of Jesus.

Jesus set aside judgment in order to demonstrate love. He could extend mercy because he was clear that it wasn’t his job to judge! He did not go out of his way to avoid sinners. Neither did he shun those who criticized and slandered him. He moved towards them with love and gentle truth. He never participated in petty gossip parties. He was always ready with grace for any sinner who came across his path. He was sought out by obvious sinners because of this love and grace.

And that is the challenge in this age. Anyone can judge. We can all do it well. And if we can’t, we can all learn by listening to our neighbors, watching t.v. or reading our current newspapers and magazines. Judging and criticism abound. But where are the grace extenders? Who can we learn that from? As a parent, are you teaching your children to be grace-extenders? As a workmate, are you demonstrating grace, kindness, and mercy? As a neighbor are you gossiping grace or judgment? As Christians we have abundant opportunity to be grace-extenders and grace teachers in our generation. Judging abounds. What about grace?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Greed for Significance

Would I be content to be a fingernail in a body or would I insist on being an eye? The Bible uses this analogy to poke at our human tendency towards comparison and discontentment even within the church (1Cor 12). Somehow I can laugh off my brother’s desire to be an eye rather than an ear or a foot rather than a hand. But the truth is Paul wrote about it because it is so universally human to want someone else’s giftings or to feel useless if we aren’t playing a more significant part.

Come on! You know it’s true. We’d all like to repress our own thoughts of inferiority and quash our longings for more significant roles or recognition. Some of us do a better job than others at winning the battle over needing recognition. Some of us are so secure we can work behind the scenes and know we are significant. Others quiver at playing a servant role without appreciation and impatiently await recognition and promotion.

Why this drive for significance? I’m not sure if our culture feeds the flame of longing for significance or if our culture simply accommodates that human need. It certainly seems as if our school programs are pushing our youth to make a mark on their world and television ads harangue us with what we need to be of value in our culture. It’s also possible that trendy theology nurtures a discontentment with simple whole-hearted service and instead charges believers with a greed for mega doses of personal destiny and significance.

I’m grappling with a few questions. Firstly, who is in charge of my destiny? Is it really me or is it God. And if it is God, as I’ve been raised to believe, am I content with what God has planned for me regardless of whether it involves recognition, honor, or promotion? In other words, what if God really does want me to be a fingernail in his Kingdom? What if that is what he decides my role should be even when he knows I may be smashed, broken, or ignored? Such an assignment will truly test who is really driving my life, where my security lies, and how well I handle the very human greed for significance.

And God does need fingernails, and liver cells, and heels, and armpits. He needs faithful Christians who share with their neighbors; he needs office workers who pray for their work mates; and he needs people committed to care for the despised and neglected of the world. When the curtain is pulled back and we truly see from a heavenly perspective, we will see the childish nature of our search for significance. Meanwhile, God, give me the grace to confidently serve whomever and wherever you want without demanding that you fulfill my human greed for significance.

Doubt-Proofing My Life

Is it really possible to doubt proof my life – to journey confidently through each season, tribulation, or loss without a trace of doubt? It is very doubtful.

Writers all over the web are talking about doubt these days. The discussion has allowed many believers to take their masks off and openly admit their own wrestling matches with doubt. But the truth is that doubt is not new. It’s as old as the ancients of Scripture. Just read through the Bible again with your “doubt glasses” on. You’ll find Abraham faltering in his faith and fathering Ishmael. You’ll see Joshua crying on his face before God when Israel failed at Ai. He was overwhelmed with a sense of failure overshadowed by doubting the validity of God’s promises. Join Elijah under the tree in the wilderness doubting his call and God’s ability to bring revival to Israel. Glance through the prophets and see the valleys of doubt nestled beside lofty prophecies.

Doubt seems to be one of the many facets of the human journey of faith. While the journey may be largely described as victorious and joyful, many of our biblical forbears experienced times of searching and even despair. As humans with limited understanding of spiritual realities and a propensity to trundle after our emotions, it is more than likely that we will experience times of doubt. The more amazing element of our journey is our ability to recover from doubt and follow after our God with resolute submission and the wonder of ensuing joy.

While I don’t believe that we can fully doubt-proof our lives, I believe an awareness of its likelihood to appear somewhere on our faith journey can help us be better prepared when it blusters near in its attempt to derail or devastate us. Doubt questions God’s Word, God’s promises, God’s ways, and God’s character. We can take comfort in the fact that doubt need not deter us from a victorious journey. In fact doubt can be the means of deepening our roots into the eternal source and strengthening our stance in the raging winds attempting to devastate all that is God’s in this age. In that sense, times of doubt are beneficial in developing the strength and breadth of our faith. And for that reason, I don’t think I’ll work on that doubt-proofing idea. I think I’ll focus instead on developing my ability to press into God and his Word. What about you?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Whaling into Projects with Abandon


Randy has this amazing ability to work without regard for messes, stained clothes, or scratches. In contrast, I have to wear an apron even when making toast! Now his unique ability can be frustrating to a wife who watches him tie into an emergency repair with absolutely no regard for his new shirt! However, I have also realized what a benefit this ability is in enabling him to tackle any project with all his energy. He easily eliminates risks that could hold him back. He’s not bothered with the danger of getting burnt or scratched, dinged or damaged. A potential acid burn on his shirt never holds him back from tackling a grungy repair. He throws himself fully into projects or construction virtually risk-free.


Maybe this is a guy thing or maybe it’s a personality thing, but I could use at least some of this care-free approach when tackling my projects and ministry. If I am constantly hampered by the what-ifs that flood my mind, I will be tempted to quit before I start. I do think it is a personality thing, but I wonder if it also has to do with values. Now I might step on a lot of toes, mine included, but the truth is that for Randy, the completed project, or the repaired brake line or other critical part, are far more valuable than a paltry pair of jeans or safari shirt! And rightly so! Most often his projects and repairs are critical to our ministry – much more critical than preserving a sharp appearance.

So, when tackling projects, I can ask myself what my real concerns are. Who or what am I really doing this for? Is this really about serving the kingdom or is there an awful lot of concern for me, my appearance, my image, and what I look like at the far end of this trail?

I have to say, that when Randy tackles a project, he doesn’t give a whisker of time to these questions because they are already programmed in his approach to life. And I think that is the same way Jesus approached ministry. He had already determined what was important for his life and serving. When risks of criticism or possible attempts on his life were required he plunged right in because he had already eliminated those risks as obstacles to obedience. And for me and others like me, if we constantly work on chiseling out some of these issues in our own lives, we might find ourselves whaling into projects and ministry with just as much abandon. Here’s to risk-free obedience.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Clinging to God's Sovereignty


Since the beginning of the year we’ve been plagued by long delays with renewing our passports, getting our current volunteer visa stamped in our new passports and then waiting for approval on our visa renewal application. Due to these inexplicable delays we have had to cancel several ministry trips and our primary ministry format has come to a grinding halt. While we floundered emotionally with these changes, we kept plowing ahead on preparations for upcoming training with the faith that in time, surely, these delays would come to an end.

While I know I can trust God and his perfect planning, I’ve wrestled periodically with doubts. Maybe I’ve done something that put ministry on hold? Maybe I haven’t been praying enough? During worship, prayer times, and preparation these niggling thoughts were usually put to bed, and I was able to move forward quite confidently in spite of repeated disappointments. I appreciated the extra space for rest, relaxation, unhurried Bible study, and creative writing time. In fact, both Randy and I have been feeling quite refreshed. Periodically the doubts roused themselves from their slumber and attempted to intrude into my rest. However, clinging to God’s sovereignty sent them packing.

And then, as quickly as you can say “God’s sovereignty,” all of God’s omniscient wisdom and planning became clear. One phone call from Randy’s mom explained God’s creative delays which positioned us to be at home and readily available to fly back to the States to support her through pending surgery and recovery. Without the delay in passports, and visas we would be somewhere in the middle of Mozambique with our truck when Randy’s mother really needed our physical presence with her. And our delays ensured that most of course planning and teaching preparation was done ahead of time so that we could travel to assist her.

And the elusive work visas? The day after the phone call, we went to Home Affairs to find that our visas were ready – Say what??? The countless delays had conditioned us to be prepared to do “battle,” but the victory was won as soon as God said the word!

So, we are a living documentation to confirm once again that we can cling to God’s sovereignty in trying times of questions, doubts, and delays. We can confidently send doubts back to their resting place. And we can wait in tiptoe expectation for the unfolding of God’s surprises in his precise timing.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Jesus, the Blogosphere, and Me


Ever get in a rut and think you’ve considered all there is to explore on a topic? Or maybe, you’ve read all there is to read on a topic from your theological position and really believe you have the topic nailed. Then you’re a candidate for exploring the blogging world and reading the comments out there. I’ve been reading quite a few blog posts lately and am intrigued by the comments that follow. Commenters reveal where they are coming from theologically and experientially. I’ve been reading comments of many people who are frustrated with the church and where it is going, readers who’ve been hurt by Christian arrogance, and others who are tired of the disconnect between the Word and wake-up-and-work life they know. Blog trawling has provided a natural place to explore the spiritual temperature of people outside of my little world.

The development of the blogosphere has launched us into a creative world which enables us to connect with a wide variety of people from different walks of life and religious backgrounds. We are able to eavesdrop on fascinating conversations about almost any topic and can interject our own perspective with little difficulty. If we have been lacking exposure to the outside world, we have a safe way of discovering what people are really thinking and feeling. Be prepared to be shocked. Our secure little world can still be secure, but we’ll find many people who are floating their vessels on the open sea without being solidly anchored to the familiar beliefs of the traditional church or biblical principles.

Exploring the blogging world has been refreshing to me. As I move around in my ministry responsibilities I rub shoulders mostly with missionaries and church leaders. I don’t often have the opportunity to “overhear” lengthy conversations of unbelievers about church, Jesus, or spiritual life. Neither do I often get to hear believer’s authentic questions or doubts as I do on blog posts and their comments. At present, the blogosphere enables me to become more familiar with present perspectives, struggles, and questions. It is also helping me to look at Scripture differently. I firmly believe Scripture has answers for the crying questions and frustrations, but I need to shake out of my old framework of thinking and allow the answers to fill the current vessels of need.

I believe this is what Jesus did. He didn’t have the advantage of the blogosphere, but he was definitely tuned into his context and knew people’s thinking, questions, and needs. In contrast, the religious leaders were stuck teaching the same things based on centuries of experts who they referenced. Jesus’ teaching was uniquely relevant and people flocked to hear him answering their questions.

Admittedly, getting out among the people should garner some of the same information, but there is something unique about the safety and anonymity of commenting on the blogosphere that enables people to be honest in ways that they may not be with you or me. However, informing myself from the blogosphere enables me to ask questions in personal conversations that I may never have thought of asking. From my regular perusal I can say “I’ve been reading about … What do you think about that, or what would your friends say?”

In summary, I believe that Christians have a unique opportunity to explore the blogosphere to get better acquainted with the world around them and to reshape the nature of their discussions and teaching. Our discoveries can inform our study of the Word in such a way as to answer current questions and address relevant issues. And our own thinking will be challenged and stretched. I pray that your exploration into the blogosphere will provide discoveries relevant to your sphere of ministry.