Thursday, January 26, 2012
Looking at Jesus stirring command for the apostles to “go” out from there into the cities around them brings up a lot of questions. The fact that He told them to go and gave no leeway for stopping to gather their things, or get food and supplies, or even think twice about going brought some instances to my mind which deal with how missionaries are supported.
In my circle of churches, missionaries being sent out are expected to gather prayer and financial support before they can go. They are given time to gather support, gather their things, say goodbye to family and friends and generally prepare their way. But generally when they step up to go, none of the support has yet been gathered. They step out to go, and then seek support for the path they feel they must follow. In other words, they say “yes.”
But one church I attended for several years handled the whole thing quite differently. Their organization included a missionary division and all the churches were expected to give a portion of their income to this mission board. The board would then handle all aspects of the missionaries being sent out, including providing for their needs through the board. This was an interesting idea to me. The missionaries who came to the church came to share the work they were doing and had no motive of raising support for themselves.
At one point, a family in our church took leaves of absence from their jobs and spent a year and a half training and serving in Central America to give respite to one of the families that served full time. They were greatly blessed in this and were very glad they had been able to go. It was all very interesting, and very different than what I was used to. This practice was encouraged by the board. It filled a double need.
Having recently read the short version of Hudson Taylor’s biography, I have been thinking about how much his call to the missionaries who would join him in China was similar to Jesus call to the apostles. Basically, he asked them to drop everything and get on the ship and go. He expected that those he left in charge of the board while he was gone would continue raising money and prayer support for the mission itself rather than for the individuals. That, too, was very interesting and certainly fit with his own determination to depend daily on the provisions of God rather than his own manipulations.
But another intense story of missionaries going out is the biography of “Vic” and Joan Olsen who became medical and diplomatic missionaries to East Pakistan (Bangladesh now.) After coming in faith to believe in Christ, they came to realize that God was calling them to “go.” Being who they were, and not being closely affiliated with an organized church group, they immediately set out to see what type of mission they should go out under. They talked with many, and weighed the differences between the types of mission boards and made their decision. They wanted to have individuals and specific churches know them and support them in prayer as well as with finances. They wanted that personal aspect to their ministry.
As Paul shows us in his writings, a combination of these types of support was critical for his own ministry and for the growth of the church. At least that is what I see. Paul walked into his mission with the prayers and blessings of the apostles, but he was daily dependent on the very people he was ministering to for housing and food, even as he worked to earn his keep as a tentmaker. And he eventually made it clear that the churches needed to support the spread of the word through the gathering of money and sending it to a central “distribution” center, if you will. And he made a point of being very grateful for the gifts sent directly to him.
Sometimes I think that we do not really understand the word “go.” This whole page is not at all about which support system is correct. It is about “go.” We can sit and frustrate over not knowing what God wants us to do until the cows come home, but if we do not step up and “go,” we may never know what it was God wanted from us. We may just miss the blessings God has for us. Sometimes I feel like I have been in this comfortable place too long and I need to be watching for a place to “go.” Meantime, I must not miss the people around me now to whom He wants me to go. There are many. Lord help us to see and to go to the needs right in front of us as we wait to see where you may direct our paths.
Monday, January 23, 2012
Yesterday we took a closer look at Hebrews chapter 8. This chapter makes very definitive statements about how the Grace of Jesus differs from the Law. This study in Hebrews is an amazing look at why Christ had to die for our sins, once for all. This chapter stands out for me in that it is full of the promises that come with this new contract we have with God today.
In verses10, 11, and 12 there is a comprehensive list of those promises, most of which are promises that God WILL. One is a promise that finally this covenant will lead to His people being completely, willfully, obedient to Him. We have much to look forward to.
The verse that caught my attention on a deeper level was verse 10. In the old contract (covenant) the Israelites were commanded to write the word (law) of God on their foreheads and to keep “packages” of His Law on their beings, even hanging on their clothing so that they would not forget it and could remind themselves and others about it at will.
Verse ten says, “…I WILL put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts….” I’m thinking amazing, here. What? Why? How?
I, myself, struggle with memorizing. I always have. Had I been in Awanas as a young person, I would have flunked, I am sure. Although I was always pretty good at memorizing jingles and songs back in the day, I was never good with dry poems. There is only one that I can recite today, that I learned in class in the past. It was four lines, and it rhymed. And it was irrelevant at the time. But when I recited it to Dr. Caulkins a few years ago, he raised my grade in his class…teehee.
It seems that for me to memorize anything, I have to actually use it over time. The verses I do remember from my twenties and thirties are all verses that I have shared or have turned to myself in time of need. I have no mental list to refer to. Sometimes I am even oblivious to the book and chapter that I once new by heart. I work hard these days just remembering those details as I find verses that bless me.
But this promise does not depend on my skills. This promise depends on God’s promise, “I WILL.” As I see it, this promise is one I need to claim often, as I struggle with memory. And what I try to do for my part is to understand what God is saying and why, plus where, through whom, and to whom he is saying it. Context is high on my list of priorities.
To me, this is my call to fill myself with His Word at every opportunity and to trust that the Teacher He has left with us, will bring these things to mind as I need them because He has written them there as I have faithfully read and studied His Word. I try to memorize, but knowing is much easier for me. Especially knowing that, if it is important to us, He will have the truth of it in many places in the Bible, not just one.
I am encouraged at this point to keep two journals this year: One will be salvation verses and messages. The other will be promises. Hebrews 8:10 is a great place to start, I think, so I have started there. Then I can refer to these when I need a promise, whether for salvation or for simply living my life. Claiming His promises is an integral part of prayer and it pleases Him no end. May we all keep busy this year keeping an eye out for the promises we need. God bless you.
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
In today’s society, tattoos are not limited to tough guys and junkies. Maybe they never were, but I do not remember seeing them anywhere but in movies about tough guys and junkies. Now, in today’s culture, they are showing up everywhere, on everyone and anyone who wants one-or more. And they are showing up in places that are fully exposed to public view, unlike leaving them under clothing and keeping them somewhat private. Everywhere we look we are provided views of human billboards of artistic fantasy and declarations of love, or hate. All I have to say about that is “Ouch!”
Having grown up in suburbia in the 50’s, I had very limited exposure to things like tattoos or the people who wore them proudly. Now I have friends who are literally sleeved in them: their arms, their backs, their chests, even their legs and ankles, not to mention their shaved heads. Many others of my friends have one or a few somewhere on their bodies just to be fashionable by doing something daring.
The only thing close to personal experience that I have with them is that my father had some put on his arms in his early Army days. He was in the 7th Calvary, in El Paso, TX. And, no he did not serve with Custer. I am not THAT old. His job was shoveling out horse stalls, so maybe it made him feel a little manlier to have them. But later he wished he could be rid of them. He ended up wearing long sleeved shirts the rest of his life because his attempt to remove them left him greatly scarred. I never did know or care what they had been. I just knew that it turned out to be a foolish thing for him to do.
Today, it is quite fashionable, but still many people are finding that visible tattoos can limit their job choices. And thus, a new business of removal is being developed. Regrets can be painful.
In finishing up this weeks’ lesson pages about Joseph, we are asked to read Genesis 40. Our lesson is about the cupbearer and the baker. Joseph interpreted their dreams and asked the cupbearer (the apparently innocent party) to remember him to Pharaoh, but the cupbearer did not remember him. He forgot him.
In Isaiah 49:14-16, we are reassured that God will never forget us. In verse 16, He says, “I have engraved you on my hands.” Imagine that. We are marked forever on the hands of God. And we are in a very visible place, for all to see. So why does God never regret that He has us engraved on His hands? Shouldn’t He be embarrassed about that sometimes? Who are we that God should so readily show us off?
Let’s face it, many of the tattoos that get removed have to do with people the wearer would just as soon forget. They are not any longer special and probably someone took their place. Others represent pledges of hate that no longer are true in the wearer’s life. But there it is: a permanent mark of involvement.
But God, so loves us, that He made us a permanent part of His Holy Existence. We are not a passing fancy or a momentary lapse in judgment. We are special. We belong to Him and He is well satisfied that we do. WOW. There we are: a permanent mark of involvement with no regrets on His part. Don’t you love that? Don’t you just love Him, crazy like? How Great He Is!
Saturday, January 14, 2012
I have once again come face to face with a verse I prefer to remember in the KJV version. In the NIV, and other newer translations, Proverbs 3:5-6 reads “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” In the King James it finishes this declaration with “and he shall direct thy paths.”
In my own heart, “make your paths straight” brings up pictures of God moving obstacles out of the way so that we can continue moving straight ahead on the trail we are following. I gave a testimony once based on the Pacific Crest Trail that runs from somewhere near San Diego, up to the Sierra Nevadas and follows on up the mountain ranges of CA, Or, and WA all the way to Canada.. Though it goes straight from Mexico to Canada, it is anything but straight. It swings from the coast range across to the Sierras before even looking straight, and then it goes up and down, around, and even does switch backs as it follows the “straight” terrain up to the north. It is going somewhere specific, but there are a lot of directional changes that occur over the many miles of trail. Therefore, I see not a straight path to Canada, but one with many signs and indications that decisions must be made and “turning away” moves must be taken as the trail is traveled.
What brings me here today is the concept paraphrased by a character in the book I am reading. She used this personal interpretation to realize that she had just been directed away from what was right in front of her and she had obeyed the voice of God in the move she made. Going straight ahead would have been blatantly sinful. She saw Proverbs 3:5-6 this way:
I will trust in the Lord with all my heart, and will not lean on my own understanding (that the desire she had should be followed.) In everything I do or say, I will acknowledge that I am following God, and He will show me the path to take.
In everything I do or say... acknowledge God. Now there’s a big order. Do we realize just how intimate our relationship is with our God? He knows when we rise up and sit down. Actually he knows how many times a day we do that. He also knows what we are thinking even before we finish thinking it. He knows exactly what choices we are about to make. If you think your spouse knows you well, that doesn’t even begin to compare with how well God knows us.
In the story, the woman decides not to ask her friend and lawyer in for coffee after they came back from a dinner celebration over her getting legal custody of her children. She is still married, and she is a Christian trying to “understand” what is going on and feeling very lonely. But she clearly hears God saying “choose this, not that.” She realizes that it is not for her to decide how to ease her loneliness. It is her responsibility to give that loneliness to God, and watch for His direction as He leads her through this difficult time.
We seldom realize how many decisions we make everyday. We seldom invite God to help us make them. After all, we are all grownups here and we can handle the day to day choices we make. We can’t bother God with EVERYTHING. Well, surprise, yes we can. And, yes we should. When He says He wants to direct our paths, He means it. We need to give Him a chance to do that. We need to listen for His voice, which we are getting to know through the reading and studying we do in His Word.
Also from the book: It is not enough to believe IN God, we have to BELIEVE God. We need to abide in Him - that is “hang out” with Him - soaking in His Word.
The book is one of the Yada Yada series by Neta Jackson. I like them a lot because they hold me accountable for what I am thinking and doing in my own life. Try them. You might like them, too.
Thursday, January 12, 2012
For the last couple of years I have been contemplating the words of Galatians 5:23
But the Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience (long-suffering), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Throughout the Bible, many growing things have been used to illustrate points that God wants to make. Even Jonah got a dose with the plant God “grew up” to shelter him and then let die to remind Jonah who was in charge of all life. Jesus often used references to grain, grape vines and trees to illustrate for us the growth that should occur in our lives.
In this verse from Galatians, Paul speaks of fruit. How fitting is that. Grain and many other food sources have to be replanted year after year. Perennials, like fruit trees and other fruit plants are planted with the ability to grow, “die,” and regenerate themselves year after year.
Think about it. We have been planted into the body of Christ and we have been given the power to grow, relentlessly, again and again, more and more. The Vine is secure and will support us through His own death and resurrection perennially growing us, through storm and through calm.
As I researched Johnny Appleseed one day, I began to see something very special about the Fruit of the Spirit. It is ours from the day we are saved, but is not something that demands an immediate, totally different person to come on the scene. It is something that grows in us as we feed it and pay attention to it. It was 2 1/2 years of struggling with getting rid of the old and putting on the new before I saw a glimmer of the new person that God is growing in me. “Even so, come Lord Jesus” that I might be truly rid of the old.
The first fruit that showed in my life was Love. Interestingly enough, that is also the first fruit listed. I believe that when I finally surrendered my life in repentance over the way I had been living, God dumped a big load of sin out of me and that allowed the Holy Spirit to get back to work growing me. He filled the “hole” that was left with Love. For the first time in my life, I was able to love other people. And I felt love from others. But the sad truth is that sometimes I do not “automatically” love others. Sometimes I have to choose to love. I even have to pray for the ability to love certain people that come into my life. But what great Joy there is in seeing them through God’s eyes of love.
Joy? Yes. Joy, the “next” fruit in the list. Joy grows from our response to God’s Love and guidance. At this point I am seeing a tree growing. He did say that we are like trees planted by “living” water, a river of it. Consider the living but dead looking winter fruit tree. Will it suddenly go from lacking any sign of life to full of ready to pick fruit over night? No. It is fully prepared to grow fruit, but it will take time. First it will grow buds and leaves, then it will blossom and finally it will produce the fruit and that fruit will grow to be large and ripe and ready to pick. It takes awhile.
May we be patient as God grows us through each new season of our lives. The harvest is worth it More later...
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For, if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:5-8
Friday, January 6, 2012
(This is a hard one to share…)
I was just watching a video of deep-sea turtles supposedly “high-fiving” each other as they circled around in a friendly fashion. The scene was absolutely lovely and a keeper. But that description seemed to be quite a stretch, since they were simply circling each other in a friendly fashion.
Suddenly I was thinking about the things we stretch to the breaking point when we try to label or describe something. As a reader of Christian fiction, I love reading about things from the Bible that are presented as stories. Usually, there is a reasonable resemblance to what the Bible translations tell us. Sometimes, though it is necessary to grab a Bible and see if I can make sense out of what they are saying. Leaving room for cultural and non-Bible historical facts, most of the books I read only stretch my imagination. I like that.
What is really on my mind is the discussion we had recently about Dinah who is the only daughter mentioned in the genealogy regarding the sons born to Jacob. She may or may not have been his only daughter. I tend to think not. But the question at hand was about Dinah’s tragic story of being raped. (See story in Genesis 34.) The two facts that seemed to be most relevant and disturbing to some were these: Dinah went out to meet with other women in the area where they were staying and Dinah does not run off from Shechem after the rape.
Somehow this led to the speculation that Dinah put herself in a bad place and set herself up for the rape. Frankly this idea broke my heart. It is still broken. I do not understand that kind of thinking.
Do I believe that we can seek friends in the wrong place? Absolutely. Do I think that a woman should be watchful of what she does? Of course. But do I think a woman should be held to task for being raped. Absolutely NOT, Apparently many would disagree with me.
The story, as I see it and would tell it in a fictional account is that Dinah, being new in the neighborhood, went out to where the women met for gossiping, news sharing and friendship building. She needed new friends and companionship and she knew where to go to find the women. Perhaps the Well? The quilting party? Maybe even the river where the washing was being done? Or… Starbucks?
Then along came the “Rock Star” (the king’s son) who had no business interfering in a gathering of women, grabbed her out of the crowd and took her off to rape her just because he could.
Well, who could blame him: here she was all beautiful,and everything, and someone he did not know. How exciting is that, after all. And his friends encouraged him with laughs and frivolity. She was just another pretty girl who needed conquering.
But this time he really messed up. He fell in love with her and just had to have her permanently. He kept her at the palace and enlisted his father, the King, to come with him and beg her father, Jacob, to let them marry. That ended very badly.
So, in this scenario, where is the blame? On Dinah? Hardly!
Perhaps this is a good example of judging “out of sync” with reality. I am personally quite unsettled with this whole thing. I would really like to be able to hear what you are thinking just now. Have you read the story? Have you reacted to it? I hope so. Because it is a story that goes on around us all the time and it is one where we need to be more helpful than hurtful when it happens.
As Christians, we are to be balm for others. There will be people around us in trouble that is at least partly of their own making. We have the answer for them in the Love of God. We need to share that unconditionally and frankly, lovingly. I pray for us all that we will grow in compassion for people who mess up, and be less judgmental about how they may have gotten to that point.
But we must also be less quick to judge that their problems actually are of their own making. And way less forgiving of people who do horrendous damage to others in the name of their own perceived needs and pains: Like the murderer who died on Mt. Rainier recently and is being excused because he suffered the trauma of war.
Let's keep choosing Joy and keep sharing Love everyday! We have our work cut out for us.
Monday, January 2, 2012
For Christmas I was given a book called Choosing Joy, by Angela Thomas. It is a devotional book meant to encourage us through scripture to choose Joy throughout the year. I do not generally use devotional books because I can’t stop at one page of any book. When I read one of Joni Eareckson Tada’s devotional books, I read though each section at one time, rather than one day at a time. I am hopeless when it comes to nibbling God’s Word. I am too hungry for that.
However, today’s opening words struck home with me because she says “the pursuit of joy is a significant adventure.” And so it is and has been in these last few years for me. Choosing Joy, rather than anger; choosing Joy rather than disappointment and bitterness; choosing Joy rather than recognition, because Joy is of the fruit of the Spirit!
When God sat me down and turned me around Love came to fruition in my life. I did not need to pursue it. The Holy Spirit filled me and surrounded me with Love. I was finally free to love and be loved. It was, and still is, a glorious joyful experience. But Joy was harder coming.
For years I was not even happy, let alone Joyful. I found it necessary to seek my God and all that He is on a daily basis and to learn the difference between happiness and Joy. The roller coaster ride has been truly exciting: Struggling with replacing the “old” with the “new;” rising to heights unknown before and slamming back down to the bottom soon after; struggling to find my place in the scheme of things and finding myself of little or no value; passing through three serious health failures and coming out the other side in Joy. It took some serious help from God to find my way and to keep finding Joy as I went.
A friend of mine has recently had to choose Joy in the midst or sorrow. Her beloved uncle was declared dying just before Christmas. She had tickets to go and see him next week. She was momentarily stunned and confused and in great pain. She sent out her feelings to friends she knew would pray for her and the last I heard from her, she was enabled to choose Joy for Christmas and was excited to realize that she could go and visit her aunt with the ticket she had already purchased. They will have a joy filled time remembering the man they both loved so much!
As I look a 2012, I see a daunting year. Why? Because it is a Presidential election year and politics are daunting for me, an anger trigger for sure. Finding Joy in the midst of all the clamor, and keeping my cool will not be easy. I find the whole process so out dated and damaged that I can barely tolerate being a part of it.
But be a part of it I must for it is God’s will that I participate the best I can. As in the last presidential election, I will be repeatedly reminding myself that “God is in control of the Nations.” Psalm 2 and many other passages show us that God knows what is happening and His way will be done in spite of all the maneuvering. If I can’t choose Joy through all this, the least I can do is chose gratitude that He will see the outcome He desires at this time. My job is to sift through the garbage and find a choice and vote, even if I do or do not vote the same way as many of you. But I will pursue Joy with Angela, because life without Joy is miserable. (And I will likely do it by the week, rather than the day.)
May we all find Joy blooming and bearing fruit in our lives in 2012 as we worship the God who is Joy… for the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control… Galatians 5:23