Answering The Call is an international missions organization dedicated to reaching people in difficult to reach places.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

All I Want For Christmas

I don’t know anyone who gets more excited about Christmas than my husband. He is like Chevy Chase in the movie Christmas Vacation. He loves to build anticipation for me and the kids. He loves making Christmas breakfast casserole. He loves cooking Christmas dinner. He loves building the fire and then throwing all the wrappings into it. And he LOVES to play Santa, taking his time to hand out all the gifts, one at a time while everyone watches. One year he even number coded the gifts so that the kids would not know which gift belonged to them. He assured me this would prevent them from being able to figure out what they were getting, for this is the cardinal sin of Christmas in our house.

One of the things he enjoys most is telling the kids that he won’t be able to get them what they want for Christmas “this year.” Of course, the kids have finally figured out after all “these years” of getting what they wanted, that this is a game for him.

Why would he play such a game? Because he loves to surprise them on Christmas morning. He gets really upset with me if I take them to look at something they want, or have them email me the link to something they want. I had to have a serious conversation with Santa this past week about life changing and the children getting older. I had taken our daughter shopping so that she could try on some clothes she wanted for Christmas. I bought the clothes, brought them home with me, and will wrap them and place them under the tree for Christmas morning. One would have thought I had committed a felony. I had to remind him that she was 21 and that she would still be excited on Christmas morning. This he could not understand. You should have seen his little sad-sacked face.

It brings my husband great joy to give his children what they want for Christmas. I confess that I find it difficult to even type that sentence. I find myself wanting to explain and defend it with statements such as, “We don’t always give them what they want…I know we shouldn’t spoil our kids…giving kids what they want can make them indulgent and selfish...etc.” But I will let it stand. I will even type it again, It brings my husband great joy to give his children what they want for Christmas.

I think we sometimes have a view of God in this same way. We are sure that God won’t give us what we desire because this would be presumptuous and selfish on our part, and after all God is all about keeping us in our place. This mind-set of God reflects an absence of intimate relationship with Him. In John 15 Jesus lets us in on a secret about intimate relationship with the Father. He says, “If you abide in me and my words abide in you ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you. My father is glorified in this, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”

This asking and receiving is in the context of intimate abiding fellowship with Him. How does one abide in Him? It’s much like any other intimate relationship one has: you talk, you listen, you cry, you laugh, you share your deepest secrets, fears, and dreams with one another. I realize this doesn’t capture it fully; however, it is basically relating on an honest and authentic level with Jesus. As we do this our love for Him grows and we begin to see what He sees and want what He wants. We then begin to ask for things we want but, this wanting has come from our abiding in Him. He then gives us what we ask for. And this giving to us brings Him great joy!! It is an amazing journey.

We may give gifts to our children hoping to buy their love and affection. Or, we may sometimes throw money their way to get them off of our back. Or perhaps we indulge them in all of their demands in order to relieve our own guilty conscience. God does not operate this way with us. He won’t attempt to buy our love and affection; He doesn’t try and get us off His back. He gives out of His pure unadulterated love for us.

What do you want for Christmas? Do you want your marriage restored? Do you want a wayward child to come home? Do you want to love God more? Do you want your household saved? Do you want friends? Do you want healing? Talk to Him, abide in Him.

Do you know what He wants? He wants YOU!!!

Have a Most blessed Christmas.

Joy

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Walking In Wisdom

I have a buddy in Florida. We have been to Africa several times together and have shared moments and thoughts that go beneath the surface and veneer of most relationships. My buddy sends me a scripture verse daily via email. I have come to look for it because many times it seems to confirm what the Lord is speaking.

Over the last two or three months we have been praying for God’s direction. It’s not like this is a new thing for ATC but, there is a new intensity to the process. I believe that more times than not, what we see in the physical is merely a reflection of what is really being fought over, or struggled against, in the spiritual. In other words, the chaos we see in financial markets and political spectrums are merely reflections of spiritual conflicts in the heavenlies. So, in essence, we can at least know and understand that the spiritual climate we operate in is changing. Along with any climate change come storms. In fact, now we find ourselves in the middle of a storm.

When a hurricane descends on a particular area the first and most natural response is evacuation. Evacuation is a response to a natural storm rooted in the God given impulse of self-protection. However, while this may be a correct response to the forces of nature, it should not the immediate response to battles in the spiritual.

For all of us, both personally and for Answering The Call as an organization, I believe we are being called beyond a response rooted in the flesh motivated by self protection. Recognition that the physical is a reflection of deeper spiritual realities calls for a spiritual response. At a spiritual level the call is not to retreat but rather to “stand firm” as Paul says in Ephesians. This kind of response to changing spiritual climates that bring on storms is rooted in death to self. It is indeed in direct opposition to the flesh which often finds itself spurred on by self preservation.
So in light of all this my buddy sends a verse which confirms the general direction of Answering The Call in times such as this. To the church in Ephesus God writes this, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Right now to move in any direction other than the will of the Lord would be foolish. In evil days of changing spiritual climates we are particularly prone to the enemy’s schemes. In evil days it requires more discernment to identify actions and thought patterns that lead us to discouragement, despondency, and even destruction.

The positive injunction here is completely logical and very clear. Be wise by making the best use of the time we have been given. God has given you, me, and Answering The Call certain resources that enable us to move forward in bringing about the Kingdom. Wisdom suggests that rather than getting lost in the quagmire of current events, we make the best use of them in the time He has given us.

I suppose I am pleading with you, and even with myself. Be encouraged by what you see around you as understanding of unseen realities increases. Be encouraged by all He has given you, understanding that the enemy can not rob what the Lord has given. Be encouraged that being wise and making the best use of our time and resources will lift us out of the doldrums of routine and into all that He has for us. Be encouraged!

David

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

On Second Thought

For many years I had been critical of America and particularly, the church in America. I enjoyed touting my convictions about how self absorbed and materialistic they were. And we are. But then I went to India. India boasts a roughly one billion total population, 81% of whom are Hindu. Hinduism is a polytheistic religion where many gods, over 30,000, are believed in and worshiped. In Hinduism, even Jesus is ok. He is just one of many gods.

After going to India, I had a better appreciation and understanding of my Judeo-Christian roots. I began to understand for the first time in my life how these roots greatly impacted, influenced, and shaped my life and the life of our country. I saw the real value of a monotheistic heritage; where the principles of absolutes, and a truth that endures for a lifetime, are taught and esteemed. Polytheism has many gods; therefore, truth is subjective and defined by the whim of the god at hand. The lack of absolutes, and the idea that truth is subjective, leads to ambivalence, which leads to hopelessness, which leads to despair.

I felt true conviction over my attitude towards my heritage. I could only see what was wrong with our country and, more specifically the church in America. The truth is we have been blessed in this country. Most of us can’t even imagine living under a communist or totalitarian regime. We can’t imagine living in a place where parents sell their young girls to brothels, where the dead are left in the streets, where tribal conflicts never cease, where rape is used as a weapon of war, where millions sleep on dirt floors with no heat or clean water. As a country, we have known peace for the most part. We have known abundance and comfort, and especially freedom. I believe this is in large part due to the Judeo-Christian roots upon which our country was founded.

This is not to say we don’t have our problems. We absolutely do have them, both country and church! In fact, I believe the church will be the first to be disciplined by our Lord. We have been absorbed INTO the culture rather than bearing influence ON the culture. The church looks like the world. We are materialistic and self absorbed when we are supposed to be salt and light. We have a President-Elect who campaigned and won promising change under the banner of hope. The church has the greatest hope of all offering real and permanent change. Why have we not rallied the country to this hope? We have lost our way and followed our own. And even though I believe the church in America is in serious trouble, I still love her. She has great potential! When the Lord brings His discipline it will be out of His great love for us. He will treat us as true sons and daughters. The book of Hebrews tells us that the Lord disciplines those whom He loves. It also tells us that this discipline is for our good, so that we may share in His holiness. He is long suffering and patient; however, He is resolved that we share in His holiness, and that we be salt and light to the world. He will not tarry forever.

As you gather with your family and friends this Thanksgiving, stop to ponder the heritage you have received, out of no merit of your own mind you. Don’t just over eat. Don’t just go shopping and to the movies. Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Don’t worry about the stock market. Don’t complain. Don’t be selfish. Give Thanks and praise to our God, who for some reason unbeknownst to us, blessed us with a Judeo-Christian heritage. And more than that, “He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus!” I hope you have a most joyful Thanksgiving and that it is filled with His presence, for in His presence is fullness of joy.

Joy

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Incense for India

I cannot easily forget a few years back standing outside a Mosque and an Islamic university in Northern India. We were on top of a large hill in the foothills of the Himalayas. From the top of the hill, and through an afternoon mist, you could look down into the city swarming with people busily taking care of daily affairs.

The local contact, who is now a friend, suggested we try something. Upon his suggestion, we began to engage people who were exiting the mosque in conversation. At some point in the conversation we would raise the question, “Do you know who Jesus is?” We would pose this question in three different languages to ensure that it was understood. As we engaged those around us, we were unable to find one person who had even heard of the name Jesus. We did find a young Muslim student who said he thought he knew him and asked if he lived in a nearby city.

It was overwhelming to be in a place surrounded by people and unable to find just one person who could recall hearing the name of Jesus. It was startling to look down on that city and understand, to the best of our knowledge, that this people group of more than two million could boast only six known believers. It became understandable why this region is constantly harassed by war and unrest. Without the Prince of Peace there is no peace!

I was moved that day to pray for these people. I also prayed that God would allow us to somehow be a part of what He was doing there. Now, some years later, there have been 150 new underground congregations started there. These are small house churches that have become quite bold in their proclamation of the gospel, even in a very hostile environment. Some of the leaders of this movement have lost their lives for this bold proclamation of a new kingdom come. The worker that ATC helps support continues to hammer away, training more and more leaders each year. What a privilege and thrill it is to be a part, even though small, of a powerful move of God in that place. God has answered prayer!

This week there is an ATC team in that same city. They will evangelize among a desperate people. They will teach a hungry base of leadership. They will continue to discover what God is doing and how we can be a part of it. Please join us in praying for them. I believe this is close to the heartbeat of God. We can pray in this direction with faith, believing our prayers to be incense before the throne of the Almighty One. He will answer!

David

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

We Must Never Tire

The jungle is constantly changing. Growth occurs so rapidly here that the adage, “things never stay the same” finds expression even in nature. This change is different than others. In this change there is a rhythm that brings a certain peace. Change in the jungle comes by way of natural growth rather than from destructive forces that are unnatural. Having been here only a short time, my head, as well as my heart, are captured by these rhythms. Seemingly meaningless meetings with attorneys simply fade into oblivion and are swallowed up by a pure expression of God’s creativity and order. It’s difficult, and even uninteresting, to keep up with the headlines from stateside talking heads. Even here the chaos of the western world, which I believe to be reflective of a changed and changing spiritual climate, has a way of finding you.

I preached in a church this past Sunday in the states. It’s a good church filled with people who are serious about finding God. They have leaders in the midst of them who are diligent to point them in the right direction and who go about it in the right way. During the service the Lord gave a word about fear. Fear of these present days, and more particularly, what God was doing in them in the midst of it. As the word was given the pastor came and asked how many were experiencing this fear being spoken of. I was shocked to witness at least half of the congregation stand in an affirmative response to his question.

The game has changed. Something is different. And God is calling us to respond. He is fashioning a people who will reflect Him in the midst of this change. Is it proper for me to remind us that there remains a world outside of the United States in desperate need of seeing the clear reflection of a God who is pure love and unadulterated righteousness. It is easy in the midst of confusing elections and volatile stock markets to let our world view shrink to seeing no further than our front door. This tendency, while understandable and even normal, is antithetical to the selfless gospel we have embraced and now carry.

It is still true that thousands are being slaughtered in Darfur on a routine basis and that Sudan once again stands on the brink of civil war. This takes place independent of tightening credit markets. This weeks news reports heavy fighting again near our friends in east Congo. This time the fighting displaced 15,000 souls and the death counts are not yet known. Nothing has changed in the Northeast states of Orissa, India. Hundreds killed and thousands flee their homes as militant Hindus launch an unrelenting assault against any one who would dare whisper the name of Jesus.

How are we to respond to this in the midst of a crippled economy and confusion? “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Gal. 6:9-10) For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10)

We fare best when we function for that which we were created. In Jesus we have been created for good works, and the reminder to not grow weary in doing good is so that we don’t fall into a downward spiral, brought on by a sole focus of our circumstances. Is it not a focus on self that brings worry, fear, and discouragement? He has “prepared beforehand” good works for us. These good works will bring glory to His name, perhaps especially so, in the worlds darkest places. Interestingly, they will also bring our own hearts peace as we focus on Him and His good plan for our life.

It’s like the jungle I find myself in this morning. They (these good works) flow within a created growing rhythm, in the context of creativity and order, allowing for selflessness that brings with it a heart of peace. That’s a fancy way of saying, it just all works better when we do it His way. Never grow weary in doing good. This is a challenge I often find myself in need of these days. I pray we find blessing in it.

David

David

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Unshakable Kingdom

I think any honest person would have to agree that these days feel somewhat ominous. Falling stock markets, bank foreclosures, loss of jobs and homes, unrest in the Middle East, the resurgence of Russia, a very intense election, and the peril of natural disasters, make for a tumultuous climate. It is understandable why many result to fear, and even panic, in times like these. The climate of today beckons us to honestly evaluate the foundation upon which we are building our lives.

This past spring I felt like God was speaking to me about a few things regarding this fall. I took notice; however, I didn’t give it a lot of attention. As fall arrived, and is now in full swing, I am understanding much better what He was wanting to communicate. I can only say I wish I had paid closer attention. I can also say, I am listening with much more attentiveness. Because God is slow to anger, abounding in compassion, and full of grace, I fear we take His words for granted. He is kind to speak to us and warn us of things to come. For me, this has been a wake up call of sorts. He is SERIOUS about what He says. He is INTENTIONAL in all that He speaks. He is EARNEST in exercising me to listen and obey. We must be RESOLUTE on knowing Him and His voice. We must be SOBER MINDED with a heart committed to obedience.

Jesus said that “everyone who hears His words and ACTS on them may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew…and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.” My friend, the rock is Jesus Christ himself.

This principle is not hard to understand. We know that a house must have a strong and solid foundation lest it collapse under the mildest of storms. We know there are many trials and tribulations in this life. We were told that we would have them. We are also told that in difficult times, as well as good times, God alone is our rock and our salvation, our fortress, and our hope.

The book of Hebrews states this, “…He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heavens.’ This expression, ‘Yet once more,’ denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain....We receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken….”

Do you hear this? His kingdom cannot be shaken! No matter what life throws our way, the King of Kings still sits on His throne and He rules; no matter what the TV reports, no matter what the world says, no matter what our great enemy screams! We are heirs to a kingdom which cannot be shaken! His Word cannot be shaken. His love for us cannot be shaken. However, there are things in our lives that do need to be removed and times of shaking are meant to do just this. Ask Him what He wants to shake off of you and out of you. Maybe He has already told you.

We must keep our eyes on the One who is seated above all governments, rulers and principalities of this earth, above political parties, above institutions, above time. He is our foundation. We must build our lives on Him and on the principles of His kingdom. Give Him permission to take His seat on the throne of your heart and live. He will not force His way there. He is wooing and He is warning. I close with the lyrics of Jason Upton.

"Where will we turn when our world falls apart
and all the treasures we've stored in our barns
can't buy the Kingdom of God?

And who will we praise
when we've praised all of our lives
men who build kingdoms
and men who build fame
but heaven does not know their name?

And what will we fear
when all that remains
is God on the throne with a child in his arms
and love in his eyes
and the sound of his heart cry?"

Joy

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What Was God Thinking?

I remember a season in my life when I was particularly confused about God. It felt like the foundation beneath me was crumbling to pieces and I had nothing on which to place my weary feet. I knew all the right things I was supposed to say and think at a time like that; trust God; He is sovereign; all things work together for good; God knows best, etc… etc.... However, knowing what I was supposed to think and what I was really thinking were two totally different things. To put it plainly, I was having a crisis of faith, and I had nowhere to turn, except to the One in whom I had placed my faith. I had hit the bottom and I was asking God some serious questions. My primary question for God was, “WHY did you even create me? WHY did you create mankind? You knew we would sin, rebel, and have misery here on earth! So, WHAT were you thinking?” I was at an all time low and had a desperate need to make some kind of sense about what was happening in my life.

One particular day I was crying out to God. (By the way, I happen to believe God loves when we cry out to Him in our anguish, anger, disappointment, fear, hopelessness and confusion. I also believe, the louder the better! Or at least, the better it feels. I have found He is big enough to handle it.) On this particular day, I was expressing, with much intensity, my frustration at His decision to create mankind. (For all you readers, I was not only pleading my case but yours as well.) And I asked Him again, “Why did you create us!?” To my surprise He turned the question around and asked me, “Why did you have children?”

This got me to thinking. Why do people decide to have children? Why did I decide to have children? Why did I even want children? To have children was a conscious decision for David and me. We wanted little Fuller’s running around, but I had never considered WHY we wanted them and what actually drove us to have them. Pondering this question led me to some life changing conclusions about God. I knew in advance that having children was a risk. I knew that having children could cause me great heartache one day. I also knew the potential joy they would give me. I knew they could choose to rebel. I knew there was the possibility that my children could forsake me, or worse, forsake God. I knew I could lose them. I knew they could reject my love. I knew there would come a time when my children would misunderstand, or not understand, my motives and my heart towards them.

So WHY did I have them? The answer is clear.The answer is love. In some strange unexplainable way, I loved them before I ever bore them. I dreamt of them. I envisioned what they would look like and what they would be like. I wanted to hold them, kiss them, and give them my love and affection. And this was before I ever knew them. Then we had them. I never knew it was possible for my heart to actually contain the intense love it had the moment I saw them. In some way they were an expression and a completion of me and my husband. When I held them I knew, like I didn’t know before, the amount of pain they could cause me. And still, they were worth the risk.

I had asked God a question and His answer happened to lay in the answer to the question He asked me. God knew the risk He was taking when He created us. He knew He would be misunderstood, or not understood at all. He knew His heart would get broken. He knew His children would rebel. He knew we may not choose to love Him. But His love compelled Him to create us. Love must express. He loved us before He formed us. We were the object of His love and affection. And the Bible tells us that He delights over us.

Many ask, “Well why doesn’t God just make us love Him, or make us obey Him?” But I ask, “Would that really be love?” If I simply barked out commands to my children, demanding they do this or that, demanding that they love me, and were they to adhere to all of my wishes and commands, would this be love? I would not enjoy my children, nor would they enjoy me, if they had no will of their own and only did what I commanded like little robots. I wanted relationship with my children, not little robots to order around. On the other hand, I love when my children choose to obey me, even when they don’t want to or understand. It tells me that they KNOW and TRUST my love and intentions towards them. I love when my children choose to talk to me about what is going on in their lives. Relationship works best when the individuals involved choose to love rather than being forced to love. And relationship is what God wants with us.

I think the real deal is that most people don’t know the heart of God. And if we don’t know the heart of God towards us, how in the world are we going to trust Him and be in relationship with Him? You see, my children, as imperfect of a parent as I am, know my heart towards them. This is what makes real relationship possible. Trusting the heart of God is a difficult thing to get to. I know it was for me. And I am still learning, becoming more and more convinced that His heart towards me really is good. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.”
I am praying that God will give you the spirit of revelation on His heart towards you. It is good. It is love.

Joy

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Garden of Eden: The First Mission's Assignment

I was once a part of a team whose assignment was to develop a mission’s vision for a local church. It was a fascinating process. I learned an important lesson during the course of it. At some point we were all called upon to give our definition of missions. The people on the team were from various backgrounds, and their definition of missions was reflective of their background. I was a bit startled to realize that among our group of seven, there were seven very different definitions. I still think about that process and over the years I have learned more and more about what missions really is. Obviously, the goal is to arrive at the Lord’s definition of missions. The extent to which we do that, we are able to capture His vision for what we are to do rather than just create our own system and ask for His blessing on it.

A good understanding of His definition of missions will begin with revelation of where and why missions began. We might be tempted to look to the Book of Acts and the launching out of the church for a mission starting point. Some might argue for an earlier missions launch as God instructs the nation of Israel to be a light to the Gentile nations. I am seeing something else. Missions began in the Garden of Eden and an understanding of this mission call provides definition to the call that we now have.

You may have never thought of it like this, but the first call to missions was issued in the following way, "And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion.’" There it is. Man created in the image of God and given a great spot to hang out, along with a great purpose. They lived under God’s rule, both with respect to their own lives, and the place they were to reside. In the New Testament Jesus would have called this Kingdom living. It is clear that in this place and under God’s rule, not only was life good, but they were given both authority and assignment. They were given authority, or dominion, over creation. They were also given an assignment as they were told to exercise this authority, or dominion, and subdue the earth. God’s rule was in the Garden of Eden. They were to extend His rule, or His Kingdom, as they were in un-obstructed relationship with Him, by utilizing the authority He had given them.

It’s simple really. The foundation of missions is found in the Garden of Eden and the function of missions has never changed. We now, as restored subjects of the Kingdom through the blood of Jesus, operate in relationship with God to extend here on earth the boundaries of His Kingdom. Jesus said, "The Kingdom is at hand," and invited us to join Him in the inauguration of it as we look towards the consummation of it. The Kingdom of God, according to the New Testament, is the rule of peace, joy, and righteousness. As we see the world around us, it’s not at all difficult to see opportunities for restoration of peace, joy and righteousness. Knowing we have His authority, since we are rightly related to Him, compels us to confront the kingdom of darkness. Luke records that Jesus sent 72 of His disciples out. They met with success to the extent they were surprised by it. I can almost picture the smile on Jesus’ face and the slight chuckle as He responds to their report saying, "I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy. Nothing shall hurt you. I saw satan fall like lightning." We have been given this same authority. The evil of the world’s systems are no match for Ambassadors of the Heavenly Kingdom. We are on mission. We bring peace, joy, and righteousness, invading and dispelling the kingdoms of this world.

David

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Firewood, Friends and the Father

I was sitting in my usual quiet time spot this morning, and like every other day, my mind began to wander. I have often told the Lord that I hate this about myself, my mind not being able to stay focused when I am with Him. (I am not a self-loather, but there are things I wish I could or would change about myself.) There are so many distractions and they seem to especially present themselves when I sit down to be with the Lord. Several years ago the Lord showed me that writing and journaling would actually help keep my mind focused. So, I try and make this a routine. Anyway, back to the point of this entry.

While talking to God, my mind jumped ahead to this upcoming fall and winter. I was drinking my cup of coffee, and I began to think about fall being right around the corner. I love building a fire, and fall brings such an opportunity. All of a sudden I was reminded that we needed some more firewood. I began contemplating where I could get some good firewood. I sure didn’t want to get it from the same guy that I bought from before. He sold me a load of wood that I couldn’t burn for a year. I always thought that “green wood” was just a casual expression, until he showed up in front of our house with a truck load of, literally, "green wood". I remember wondering, “Is this what they mean by green wood?” And because I had always thought “green wood” was just an expression, I was naive enough to go ahead and buy it.

As I thought about where I could get some wood that would actually burn, a friend of mine came to mind. I thought to myself, “I wonder if I could get some wood from Andy.” It was just another thought on the string of many thoughts. After reading a bit, I decided to take my usual morning walk. My walk happens to take me by Andy’s house. Well, guess who was out in his yard on this Monday morning? Yep, Andy and his beautiful family. David and I stopped to say hello and catch up. Something about Andy’s house looked a little different. Come to find out the City of Roanoke had just cut down a large tree on his property. I confess that I had already noticed the huge pile of firewood in his yard. I must also confess a bit of envy at this point. After chatting a few minutes, Andy asked if I was ready for some firewood. I promise I did not ask. I don’t think I even hinted. I also promise this was my usual walking route.

On the way home, I was telling David about my thought process regarding firewood that morning. What are the odds that I would have a string of thoughts related to firewood that morning, a Monday morning, the same Monday morning that Andy had taken a day off from work; the same Monday morning I would walk by Andy’s house where he just happened to be outside at the moment of my passing? I did not pray and ask God for firewood. I just had the desire for it. And the desire stayed inside my thought process, never making it to my journal as an official request for God.

I realized on my way home how much God is with me. He is a part of me. I am communing with Him all the time, even when I am not conscience of it. He is so intricately involved in my life. We are inseparable. He knows all my thoughts before I speak them. He knows all of my desires before I ask and even when I don’t ask. He calls me a friend. He is not some distant, far-off, supreme being waiting to hurl his wand of disapproval if I mess up or get it wrong. He doesn’t have a thousand rules for me to follow. He doesn’t punish me when my mind wanders during my quiet time. He is love. And He is in love with me. I am His daughter and He is my daddy. He has qualified me to share in His inheritance. He is in me and my life is hidden in Him.

I hope and pray that you know this God. He not only loves you, but He is IN love with you!

Joy

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Mustard Seed Faith

I don’t understand it. It is beyond what my human mind can comprehend. It is not exactly like I pictured. It is more than I ever imagined. What is the it? It is God’s plan.

God’s plan for the redemption of mankind is more than my mind could ever contrive and more than my heart could ever contain. I can’t imagine my heart being that full of love; enough love to offer one of my children for payment of another’s sin.

God’s plan for the church, (the people of God) is more than I can fathom. To think that it is through the church that the manifest glory of God would be displayed throughout the earth is mind boggling! Does it not blow your mind that the church is the fullness of Christ Jesus? Ephesians tells us that it was in accordance with the eternal purposes of God that the manifold wisdom of God might be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This is a huge calling on the church that I am still trying to wrap my mind around.

God’s plan for my life is nothing like I had imagined it to be. I married a man who had a degree in business and thought I would be living the life of a business man’s wife, and a successful one I might add. God surprised me early on when He called my husband to seminary and then to inner city ministry. That was a far cry from my plans. 6 years ago my husband envisioned building a center where people working in difficult places would come for training in order to return to their homeland stronger and more equipped. He was confident this was what God was calling us to do. I remember thinking, “OK, sure, maybe in about 15 years we will do that.” 4 months later we were doing that. I was like, “You have got to be kidding God?” God wasn’t kidding. I kept screaming, “I am not the visionary! I can’t do this! This is bigger than us! This isn’t practical!” I could only see the why’s and how’s of why it would not work. And according to the economy of man, I was right. However, God works according to His own economy and loves doing the impossible in and through the improbable, accomplishing the unimaginable in and through the unthinkable. All He needs from us is our willingness.

Many people want to meet Moses, Paul or Peter in heaven. I want to meet Noah’s wife. I want to ask her, “Were you tempted to give up? Did you think your husband was crazy? Did you care about what all the people were thinking? Did you believe God would really bring the animals, male and female, 2x2 to board a boat? Was it chaotic? Or was it clean and orderly like we church people like it?” In the last several years, I have often thought of Noah and his wife's journey of faith to build the ark.

If God were to give into my whining and my need to see the whole picture ahead of time, I am sure it would overwhelm me. But more importantly, I would miss out on the great adventure of coming to know God through faith. I am learning from my friend Dr. Tarter that the faith of a mustard seed has to do with growth and increase. When the mustard seed is sown, it grows and increases greatly. According to Tarter, “Powerful faith is faith that has increased. Increased faith comes from an enhanced trusting relationship with God.” I don’t just decide to “have faith.” I can’t create it or work it up! According to Romans 12 we are all given a measure of faith. Each believer starts with a measure of faith, even if it is as small as a mustard seed, it is still a measure. When Jesus rebukes His disciples for the littleness of their faith in Matthew 17, He was basically rebuking them for the lack of increase in their faith. God is always at work to increase our faith; therefore, we will always be given opportunities to grow in our faith. Faith is what pleases God.
I know this has been true in my journey with God. I am not yet where I want to be. I haven’t told a mulberry tree to be uprooted and planted in the sea. But my faith has increased. I want my faith to keep increasing. The more I believe God the more of God I see. The more I see of God the more I believe. I want Him to take my measure of faith and work it…cultivate it…stretch it…grow it. I want to say to a mountain one day, "move from here to there."

God was so kind to give us a glimpse this summer of what He has in store for the center. Nearly 75 people came to work, rest, enjoy fellowship and experience more of God. We hosted four short-term teams, seven short-term missionaries, people from the Middle East, and our first discipleship program called Generation of Promise. My faith increased this summer. And this is just the beginning!

My last question to Noah’s wife will be, “what did you feel when all the animals showed up; when the rains came and went?” She will only be able to answer this question because she was willing to walk in powerful faith, faith that was increasing.

Joy

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I Felt Like a Bug Today

I love the way God speaks to us through everyday occurrences. Today my husband and I were driving down the road here in Central America, an actual paved road no less. Many of the roads here are steep, rocky, muddy, and full of potholes. As we were driving down this paved road at a fairly good speed, I noticed a bug on our windshield. I thought to myself, “How in the world is that bug staying on there and not falling off?” I observed that he was working very hard to stay on. I also thought, “He has got to be tired.” It was then I heard that familiar, quiet, gentle voice. “You are like that bug.” I smiled.

When I noticed the bug, I was in the middle of a conversation with my husband about how I had been feeling. I had expressed that I felt stressed due to circumstances around me that I had no control over. We are currently working on the ATC training center in Central America where we are hosting multiple work teams as well as our first discipleship group of 8 young women. The responsibilities are ever before us; we work and work and work and feel at times as if we have accomplished nothing. Sometimes you just want to see the results!! I want so badly for those who come to work on the mountain with us to be touched by God in a very personal way. And sometimes I can’t see what God is doing and I get frustrated, which leads me to think harder on what I am doing wrong and what it is I can do to help God along, so that I can see the results. (I am sure this is a run-on sentence…and this is precisely how my brain works…it just runs on and on!)

Then God highlighted the bug on our windshield. The bug was striving with everything it had to hang on to a moving vehicle that was driving against the wind at high speed. I am often like this bug, striving and striving with everything I have, in my own flesh and strength, to hang on; thinking that if I let go, I will crash, it will all come to a halt, to failure, or worse, to nothing. I must strive to hang on in order to make something happen.

The reality is there will always be circumstances in life that I can not control. So, what do I do with that reality? The Lord says in Psalms 46, “Cease striving and know that I am God.” To cease striving means to be slacken in body or mind. In other words, leave it alone, be still, abate all the “what ifs” running around in your head. Striving is exhausting. Striving is futile. Don’t misunderstand me. God does give us responsibilities in which we are called to be wise stewards. However, there is a big difference between being obedient in taking the responsibilities He has given us, and taking responsibility for the outcome.

The funny thing about the bug was that once we stopped the car, it flew away. It had wings to fly all along, and rather than let go and make use of the wings he was given, he clung to the windshield working very hard to stay on. We have been given something that allows, and enables, us to release and find rest from our striving. His name is Jesus. He says, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Rest seems to be the better option. I think I will choose rest today. Rest in the One who said, “…with God all things are possible.” Rest in the One who said, “I know the plans that I have for you…plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” Rest in the One “who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think…”

Joy

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Trump Card

I like playing Spades. In fact, I am the best Spades player I know. My wife may disagree with me at this point, but she is wrong. Somewhere deep down, she knows it. My favorite play in Spades is when I have no clubs and she leads with her Ace of Clubs. I enjoy casually tossing my two of Spades to trump her club. I enjoy watching her try to play it off when the reality of her frustration cannot be hidden.

One of my heroes, Pastor Desire from Congo, has been around some recently. He came to bring Julie home. This is a little girl who has been a victim of war in east Congo. A year ago, she was in the states to receive needed specialized surgery. Her host family fell in love with her, and now she has come home to be with them forever.

After being in the states for nine months, she returned to the unsafe environment where she started, deep in the bush of Congo. It was from here that my hero, Pastor Desire, rescued her. My hero left his responsibilities of leading ten congregations, two feeding centers, and a major construction project to go locate and rescue this one little girl. He spent seven weeks trekking through countless villages and forests filled with rebel soldiers.

At the face of it, it doesn’t make sense. My question to my hero when he arrived victoriously in America with his prize was, “Why?” Why, in the face of danger, inconvenience, and at the neglect of heavier responsibility, go after the one? When I asked my “why” question his answer was simple. With some dismay at my silly question, he answered quietly, “I love Julie.”

Do you see it? Love is the trump card. Love provides the solution to many unanswerable questions. Why would God come chasing after you and me? Why pay for charter planes to take the gospel to un-reached people groups in Africa? Why expend the resources it has required to create a place of rest and refuge for pastors who have suffered in difficult places in the world? Only love makes this make sense. Love is the Trump card.

The great thing about this game is that all of us who are His, find ourselves in possession of this trump card. The card can be played in a multitude of ways. I am learning it is usually played in humility. It is played in the form of forgiveness. We can play it in almost any situation because it has been played for us.

As you play it, play it with humility, but also play it with joy. This defeats our enemy. It’s a trump card. When we play it, He can’t win. His goal to steal, kill, and destroy is defeated. I have even seen him get up from the table and walk away at the point the card is played knowing that the game is over.

I think I am going to start looking for opportunities to play. May you also find many such opportunities.

David

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Can It Be True?

What girl doesn’t like a good chick flick? My daughter and I have certainly seen our share of them. I won’t mention any names, but, I even know a few guys who like a good chick flick every now and then. There is no shame in this. I confess that I like a good guy movie every once and a while. My all time favorite movie is Gladiator, and despite what my husband says, it’s not merely because Russell Crowe stars in it.

Lately my favorite genre of chick flicks has had to do with weddings. I seem to be inundated with them as of late; my daughters, a niece, a cousin, and in a few short months, a longtime friends' daughter is getting married. With romance in the air, my daughter and I have watched several chick flicks having to do with weddings. Most recently I watched 27 Dresses, where the perpetual bridesmaid describes her favorite moment in a wedding: watching the groom as the bride enters. Typically all eyes are on the bride when she enters. This was definitely the case when my daughter married several months ago. As she entered to walk down the isle, my eyes were locked on her.

I attended a wedding several weeks ago, and, as tradition would have it, when the bride entered, everyone stood and all eyes were on her. However, I decided to break tradition and keep my eyes on the groom. I wanted to see his face when he saw her. I wanted to imagine what he would feel as he caught his first glimpse. I fixed my eyes, determined to watch only him. I knew the moment he saw her. His eyes lit up. A smile broke out on his face, a grin from ear to ear. His body even seemed to move a bit with anticipation of her arrival to his side. His eyes were locked on her. His chest seemed to grow a bit, as if he was the man in the room getting the big prize. And he was!!

I was swept away with emotion. In that moment it was as if I were standing outside of the room watching the painting of a picture on a canvas that was so real and lifelike. God whispered to my heart, “That is how I feel about my bride.” I wish I could communicate exactly all that I saw in those moments. What was especially highlighted to me was the intense love the groom had for the bride. I cannot fathom it. We spend so much of our time trying to figure out how to please God, how to figure Him out, how to be better, how to be right, and on and on it goes. But in that moment, when my eyes were locked on the groom, all I saw was intense love. Not our love for Him, but His love for us. WOW!

Oh, how I wanted to capture that moment to make it a reality from which I would live out my life forever. My eyes fixed on the groom, seeing His face smiling upon me, His eyes locked on me, anticipating me with intense love, realizing I am His prize. Can this be true?!!! I asked God this very question. “Is this true? Am I your prize? Do you smile upon me? Do you really look at me as that groom looked upon his bride?” He led me to Hebrews 12. “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

What was the joy set before Him? In a nutshell, we were the joy on the other side of that cross. He endured the cross, scorning its shame so that He could open a way of salvation to the chief of sinners, pardon the guilty, purify the unclean, elevate the lowly, make peace between man and God. We were His prize. The sin that so easily entangles refers to the sin that is always presenting itself to us, thwarting in every direction, hemming us in on every side, a well fortified wall. I can’t help but wonder if the sin that so easily entangles is the sin of unbelief. It is spoken of often in the book of Hebrews and is the antithesis of faith, which is what the preceding chapter is all about. The besetting sin of unbelief. Unbelief of what? That God was totally satisfied in the sacrifice of His son. That we can’t add to it. And when one believes in faith, in the completion and perfection of this sacrifice, he is made new. Unbelief that He really loves us, intensely loves us. That He smiles upon us. That He sees us as pure, spotless and beautiful. That He enjoys us. That He anticipates our presence.

When I fix my eyes on Jesus and the love He demonstrated toward me on the cross, rather than what I need to do in order to be right with Him, I live differently. The more I apprehend His marvelous grace, the more I crave His presence. Focusing on what He did, instead of what I need to do, inspires me and motivates me to live as He says that I already am. It is not about what we do or need to do. It is about what He did. Our role is to respond. Run the race before you, fixing your eyes on Jesus, not getting tangled up in your own religious efforts to reach Him, but instead believing the truth, that out of His intense love He made a way for you to stand before God!

Jude 24, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority before all time and now and forever. Amen.”

Joy

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Story of One

Rape in the Congo has been labeled as “the new weapon of waraccording to BBC News. The epidemic of such violent crimes against women is unprece-dented and the secretary general for humanitarian affairs for the United Nations says, “The sexual violence in Congo is the worst in the world.” CNN’S Cooper Anderson reports, “It’s the deadliest conflict since World War II.” In the last 10 years hundreds of thousands of women have been raped in the Congo.

Several years ago ATC took a team to D.R. Congo to hold a pastors conference and to minister to women who were victims of such violence. What they found astounded them. Expecting 35 or 40 women at the conference, they were surprised to find 200 women waiting for them. While in the city of Bukavu, the team also visited Panzi Hospital where 400 or so women land every month needing surgical repair due to the damages sustained during their attack. There was a warehouse behind the hospital filled with women who were waiting their turn for surgery. Among those 250 women was a beautiful little 4 year old girl who captured the hearts of the entire team. Her name was Julie. She was one of the many waiting for surgery.

The team arrived home committed to finding a way to bring her to America for the reconstructive surgeries she would need. After several months of planning, speaking with doctors and congressmen, arranging for passports, visas and airfare, Julie arrived. She was cared for by a couple who loved her like their own. After 9 months of medical care Julie had to return to her country. Those who loved her grieved at her departure. What would happen to her? Who would look after her, care for her and protect her? Would we ever see her again? What did God have in mind? These were only some of the questions.

The couple began to pray asking God for a miracle; a miracle that would bring her home. By this time Julie had returned to her village far into the bush. They contacted the pastor in Bukavu whom we work alongside seeking to know what the chances were of retrieving her and bringing her back. Our beloved Desire began putting things into motion. He went to great lengths to figure out how to get to her village. Would it even be possible to get in touch with the village chief to get permission to bring her back? His journey included a boat ride, a plane ride, bus rides, days without food and many nights just waiting for the next step. Desire spent seven weeks away from his family and responsibilities to journey across the fields, jungles and vast lands of Africa to rescue one little girl. He found her, retrieved her and brought her all the way to America to her new home.

This presents such a picture of what Jesus did for us. He left his homeland and came to foreign soil. He left comfort. He left His father. He left His glory. He went to great lengths, suffering adversity, persecution and even death to rescue us and bring us home. He scooped me up and carried me away far from the pit of despair, sin, and evil. He adopted me into his family taking me as his very own. He gave me new clothes to wear, a new home, a new life to live, and an inheritance worth more than all the money in the world. Just for me. And just for you!

This Friday we aren’t just having a concert to raise money for a shelter for women who are victims of rape. We go to honor God and celebrate the story of one! Come join us.

Joy

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Longest Journey on Earth

It has been said, and rightly so, perhaps the longest journey this side of heaven is the eighteen inches between our minds and our hearts. This is why Paul writes in Ephesians, "I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened...." Just prior to this he indicates that this kind of truth, truth that resides in the heart, comes only by way of divine revelation. I am learning truth that resides deep within the heart is what sets us free. Mere mental assent to something does not bring freedom.

So, where does this leave us? It leaves us in a place of dependence and this can be a bit uncomfortable. To a large extent I can control my mind as I engage in taking thoughts captive. While there is some truth to the heart following the mind, it is also true that it is the work of the Holy Spirit to change the heart. Faith that falls short of this comes perilously close to behavior modification; however, behavior modification was never the goal. Heart transformation is what it is all about. This is where I find myself lately. The Lord has been clear in pointing out the things I believe in my mind but have yet to embrace in my heart.

I journey this week to a place where the people have been lied to and hurt in some of the worst ways imaginable. It is possible they don’t even have head knowledge of the truth Paul speaks about. I do know that they have bought into the lie that they could secure their eternal salvation by slaughtering their neighbors and fellow tribesmen. They embraced this lie with passion, killing tens of thousands, ransacking villages and homes, and displacing hundreds of thousands more. As is often the case with lies we buy into, it comes back to reek similar havoc in our own lives. Those who convinced them of this new and glorious path to salvation have now become the targets. These people are no longer the hunters…they are the hunted.

There is a weapon that stands boldly in the face of a lie. It is all powerful and I have seen this weapon destroy a lie on many occasions. That weapon is not the United Nations peace keeping forces in Darfur. Nor is it the many well meaning NGO’s, (non-governmental organizations). The weapon is love. Simple! Well, not really.

To defeat such a formidable lie in Darfur will require a love that is almost, if not completely, unimaginable. Those who were once being slaughtered by these Darfurians, or at least a small group of their leaders, have embraced the way of forgiveness and love and are now determined to go share this love with their former attackers. I could not have imagined it but apparently the Holy Spirit did. He has experience in such things.

Can you see it? Big Love flying in the face of Big Lies. Next week, and for three weeks following, two teams will be traveling to meet with these pastors and evangelists to train them in story telling. They will learn the gospel in a story form that will communicate in their culture. Then we will go with them as far into Darfur as we can to communicate the greatest love story every told. I am not sure if we will be met with stones or applause. I am sure that if they embrace this love story in their hearts it will set them free from lies the enemy has sown to put them in the bondage that they now face, the fruit of which is their destruction, both temporal and eternal.

Will you join me in prayer for the Sudanese? Pray they will be set free through a divine revelation at the depths of Christ’s great love. I pray as Paul prayed in Ephesians, “I keep asking that God…give them the Spirit of wisdom and revelation…that they may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in their inner being, so that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith…they being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that they may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

David

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

My Mamma Told Me.....

My mom always told me, “Once a mom, always a mom, no matter how old your children get.” Now that I have a married daughter I am gaining new understanding to what she meant. My daughter and her husband do what many newly married, young couples without children do. They bought a dog. Let me correct that. They bought a puppy. After several months they realized their landlord did not take a liking to their new purchase. Which meant the new purchase needed a new home. At least until the newly married, young couple without children found a new abode. Upon hearing this news I had a faint suspicion that our home would become the “new home.” My suspicion was found true. David and I have inherited my daughter and son-in-laws’ new puppy, at least temporarily.

After several puppies and dogs, one of which we still have, I swore I would never have another. But after all, I am still a mom and I could not bring my mommy heart to say no. (I can’t decide whether or not my mommy heart gets me in or out of trouble. Probably a little of both.) I must say she is the cutest puppy I think I have ever seen. Nonetheless, she is a puppy and she does what puppies do; chew, mess, romp and whine. All the things that make me not want a puppy.
I can’t fault her for any of these things because it is in her nature to do them. I was reading an article recently where a man was writing of his golden retriever. He writes, “I have a golden retriever dog that was bred to be a retriever. If you throw something, it is hard to hold him back, to keep him from going to retrieve it. It is his nature to retrieve and will be agitated until he can retrieve anything that is thrown. It is harder for him not to retrieve than to retrieve.”
He goes on to make the application that we as humans were spiritually bred and our nature, especially once we are in Christ, was set toward spiritual things. I believe eternity is set in the heart of every human being because the Bible says we were created in the image of God. I also think many in the body of Christ are unfulfilled, unsatisfied, and perhaps even depressed because we fail to live in this reality, the eternal reality, the spiritual reality. We fail to live out what we were called to and for.

First and foremost we are called to have intimate relationship with our maker. He would not have made us in His own image if He did not intend fellowship with us. Everything the Lord created He spoke it into existence but when it came to man it says, “God formed man of dust and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being.” God got intimate when He put His very own hands to it.

Secondly, Genesis 2:5 & 15 says, “Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground. Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” We were meant to cultivate! It is in our spiritual nature to cultivate, grow, water, feed and create. For me personally, I have always thought it was unspiritual to desire such things. Where did that thought come from? How, being made in the image of God, can desire be unspiritual? Desire is part of the nature of God. God desires us. God desires much fruit. God desires fellowship. Look at the earth around you…I’d say it took some kind of desire to create the seas, mountains, sunsets, trees, flowers, glaciers, and on and on it goes.
I believe there is a little golden retriever in all of us. We were bred with a spiritual nature to chase and retrieve something. The question is what is the something? Of course, God is the something. But it doesn’t end there. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Philippians 3:12 says, “…but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which I also was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.” We were apprehended by Christ and consequently meant to apprehend that which He has called us to.

God has a purpose for each of us. As we seek first the Kingdom of God He will put desires in our heart, desires that He intends for us to pursue and fulfill. What would it look like for the body of Christ to begin walking in the reality of who they really are and in the callings God has apprehended them for? What is it that your heart yearns for? What is it that you, as a spiritually bred person, desire to do? I admonish you to do as Paul did, “forgetting what lies behind and reach forward to what lies ahead; press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ.” Pursue the King today! He loves you, has called you, and has prepared in advance good works for you.

Joy

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

What Is Real?

What is real? This is such a fundamental question that it seems absurd to even raise it. C.S. Lewis reflected on ancient philosophers and came to the conclusion that the physical realm in which we live is a mere shadow of a greater reality that is defined spiritually. He suggests that the physical realm is a picture of what is happening in the greater reality, which is spiritual. Maybe the question is not what is real; but rather, what is more real, or perhaps what is defining.

While this all sounds very ethereal, it becomes in fact, quite practical. This is especially true for those of us who have been granted eternal life and have been issued eternal calls. Our call must be viewed through the lens of a spiritual reality having eternal significance or there is little divine spark in it. This is especially true in the arena of missions, which may best be defined as the extension of the kingdom of Jesus and the exercise of His authority in the darkness of this world.

All of this is philosophical language that points to what we were taught in Sunday school as little children; prayer is primary. It may be that we adopted this truth without understanding all that lay behind it, relegating us to not exercise it. I believe more and more that the primary work of missions is prayer and worship. Through these we enter the “real” realm where the Kingdom of God is brought to bear.

Part of the work God has called Answering The Call to is predicated on this philosophy. We are to go into new fields dominated by authoritarian governments and dark strongholds. We must recognize that what is immediately observable is a mere shadow of a greater spiritual reality namely the strongholds of rulers and principalities in heavenly places. We are to go and pray. We are to worship, pronouncing that His Kingdom has come. We then become participative observers of the deliverance that King Jesus brings. We will continue to go. Come with us!

David

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Divine Exchange

We were in a Sudanese village getting ready to set up the medical clinic which our team would run that day. My friend Karen and I decided to walk the premise of the area and pray. As we began walking we both experienced an overwhelming loss of words. I felt like everything I was praying was falling flat on the ground beneath me. Becoming a little weepy and somewhat emotional, I began saying aloud, “How do we pray for a people who have been through a 17 year civil war? Whose husbands have been slaughtered? Whose children have been taken as slaves? Who are starving? Who have no clean water to drink? Whose bodies are racked with ailment?” I can not describe the helplessness I felt. I was even a bit angry that the only thing I could offer them was my prayers and even they seemed to fall flat and were not sufficient.



I was crying out to the Lord, “How do we pray for them!?” As we continued, Karen and I walked up underneath a large tree when I noticed she was about to walk straight into a branch with huge thorns. I put my hand out to stop her so that she would not get cut by the thorns. As I did this the Lord highlighted the branch of thorns. It was such a strong impression that I broke off the branch and stared at it. God began speaking to my heart. He said very clearly, “I am well acquainted with their grief.” I realized in that moment that God did not need my words for those people. He had all the words. He walked their road. He understood their suffering. He knew their pain. All of a sudden I began to feel emboldened and empowered to pray. We were not there to beg God for these people. No begging was necessary. God had already been there and WAS there. We were there to proclaim the name of Jesus, the ONE who wore a crown of thorns on His head some 2000 years ago for them!!! I began thanking and praising Him for all He had accomplished the day He wore the crown of thorns. The mercy He displayed then was sufficient today for the people of this desperate village in Sudan. I was so thankful, and relieved, that He wasn’t depending on me to come through for them. He had already come through for them!



We took a few of the branches from the thorn tree to our teaching time with the women later that afternoon. We shared with them that although we could not totally identify with their suffering, there was One who could. His name is Jesus. He wore a crown of thorns for them; died on a tree for them! He was acquainted with their grief; knew their suffering and He loved them. We broke off the thorns and gave one to each of the women. You would have thought we had handed them a million dollars. They smiled and thanked us and stuck the thorns in their head wraps. I will never forget one of the women waving her thorn at me with a huge smile on her face as we took off the airstrip heading for home.



In Genesis 3:17-18 God says to Adam after his rebellion, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you….” The thorns and thistles represented sins curse on the earth. The weight of this curse would eventually fall on Jesus. The Book of Matthew tells us, “They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head….” (Matt 27:28-29) What a beautiful picture we have in the crown of thorns. What we deserved, He bore in our place. The man, who knew no sin, became sin on our behalf, bearing the weight of the curse so that we might become the righteousness of God. It is the Divine Exchange. You see, even after Adam and Eve sinned against God, He cared for them by clothing them in garments that He made; just like He clothes us in His robes of righteousness. What a glorious truth!



He is not only acquainted with the grief of those in that Sudanese village; He is also well acquainted with your grief. He is aware of the times you have been betrayed and the times you have betrayed. He sees where your heart bleeds. He hears your silent cries. He knows where the locusts have eaten. He has tasted your pain. Even your sin fell on Him. And He wore a crown of thorns for you! May the truth of Isaiah 53 and 61 fall fresh on you today and permeate your life everyday.



Jesus was despised and forsaken by men. A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Our griefs He Himself bore and our sorrows He carried. He was smitten and afflicted by God. He was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. The punishment for our well being fell on Him. He poured out Himself to death and was numbered with the transgressors. He bore the sin of many. And all of this so that He could bring good news to the afflicted, bind up our broken hearts, give freedom to the prisoners, comfort all who mourn, bestow a crown of beauty on us instead of ashes, give us oil of gladness instead of mourning, provide us with a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair and make us a planting of the Lord; a display of His splendor.

Joy

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Dandy Don's Boots

When traveling into southern Sudan, a lot of preparation is required. It is also true that it may be best to obtain some things to help make the journey both more comfortable and safer. I have known people to buy dehydrated food with the hope of avoiding goat entrails for supper. Satellite radios, I believe, will be the next "in vogue" item for serious travelers to exotic mission locations. (This last sentence is actually a hint for my wire as we approach our anniversary).

My favorite of these specialty items was one by way of my good friend who has accompanied me to Sudan many times. I don't want to give away his identity but I can tell you we call him "Dandy Don." It seems that Dandy Don has developed a healthy respect, or fear, for poisonous snakes. Dandy Don especially had this healthy respect/fear for the black mamba. As often as I have had the opportunity I have tried to reinforce and even encourage this healthy respect/fear of the black mamba. In response to this, Dandy Don dedicated a fair amount of financial resource toward obtaining a pair of snake proof boots to wear to Sudan.


These boots were not from Wal-Mart. They were the best that money could buy. It was absolutely certified that the boots were constructed with fabric that could not be penetrated by the poisonous fangs of the black mamba. The boots were also designed for comfort. This was no easy task given that the top of the boots extended all the way up to the lower knee.


You can imagine the fun the team had with Dandy Don as we left Roanoke en route to Sudan. Several members of the team, and especially me, were merciless as we teased him about his boots. You might think we tired of this fun after 48 hours of travel into Sudan; however, we did not.


In an initial meeting with tribal elders and chiefs more opportunity for fun with Dandy Don emerged quite naturally. As the meeting closed, I addressed the chief asking him to observe and evaluate Dandy Don's boots. There were snickers in the group as Dandy Don stood to show off his new apparel. The chief took the task serious as he studied the boots in order to properly evaluate them. A verdict was reached and the chief in very diplomatic fashion told us, "I have never seen boots like these and I like them." It was clear to all who snickered that the chief had more to say. Dandy Don on the other hand, stood taller beaming with pride. The chief finished his evaluation saying, "but there is one problem: the mamba strikes you here (motioning to the chest) not here (motioning to Dandy Don's boots)." I am not sure the chief understood our culturally inappropriate laughter and rolling on the floor over his evaluation.


The Bible speaks of another protective covering that we are to wear. You probably know where I am going with this. In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul gives instruction to the believers. He tells them, "put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil." One piece of armor is the breastplate of righteousness. This breastplate is much more effective against a much craftier serpent than Dandy Don's boots.


I have been thinking lately about how often we charge forward with the right motivation and to the right places, but try to make our stand in and with our own righteousness. The breastplate of righteousness that Paul talks about is not ours, since we have none; but rather, the righteousness of Jesus, the One and Only, whose righteousness lights up the city of God. It is His righteousness that is our breastplate. Charging on to the battlefield without that protection is simply ludicrous.


His righteousness covers our heart. Fully realizing it is His righteousness in which we stand, we are protected from a proud heart and humility, the most effective of all spiritual weapons, can wield its effect. This breastplate forces us to move and act in His strength rather than face failure and destruction in our own efforts.


It is really a matter of shielding ourselves with relationship instead of religion. Religion looks to our own righteousness while a relationship rests in His. I have even had the thought that perhaps this is why so few really experience the rest that Jesus is and promises to be.


David