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

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Micmash: A Place of Audacious Faith

The prince Jonathan sat next to his armor bearer at Geba staring across the valley to Micmash. It looked as if the stars had fallen from the sky and dotted the ridgeline in the distance. The Philistines had made camp with an army of tens of thousands of fighting men at Micmash. Their campfires gave away their position. They outnumbered the Israelites so severely they had no reason to hide. Their songs of victory and celebration drifted across the night air. In their minds the battle was already been won. 

Jonathan sighed as he thought about recent history. After defeating the Ammonites, his father Saul was crowned as king in Gilgal. The priest Samuel stepped down as the last judge of Israel and Saul continued the fight to secure the Promised Land. He raised an army of three thousand men, a thousand of whom were under Jonathan when he attacked Geba. All of Israel heard of the victory and that they had become as a stench to the Philistines. 

The Philistines mustered an army near a hundred thousand strong, a combined arms force of chariots, cavalry, archers, and infantry. All of Israel was called upon to rally with Saul at Gilgal, but as the Philistine army advanced the people were struck with fear. The enemy arrived at Micmash, having faced little to no opposition. Many men of Israel took to the hill country of Ephraim to hide. Some were captured and conscripted, marching in the ranks of the enemy army. Others fled across the Jordan, seeking refuge in Gad and Gilead.

Meanwhile, Saul waited on Samuel in Gilgal. His people were hard pressed and unarmed. Those that were with him in Gilgal trembled with fear. When he grew impatient, he made an unlawful sacrifice. Samuel arrived shortly thereafter and rebuked the king. Still, Saul marched to Gibeah to meet the Philistines with several thousand men whose confidence was shaken by Samuel's rebuke and who were daunted by the sheer size of the force opposing them. 

The two armies waited on either side of the valley, the Philistines on the north at Micmash and the Israelites on the south at Gibeah. The Israelites were too few to attack the Philistines head on, but the Philistines were so numerous that they had sent companies far to the east and west, even to their rear, so that the Israelites could not attack from the flanks or the rear. While Saul waited to make a decision his army of thousands melted away. 

On this morning the count had been only six hundred men of Israel. Frustrated, Jonathan went ahead to Geba, at the edge of the valley. He went alone, except for his armor bearer, without telling anyone. He spent the day staring across the valley. It was half a mile wide at it's widest point. He could see the tents of the Philistine generals set upon Micmash. On the south side of the valley, east of Micmash was a cliff called Seneh, called so because it was covered by acacia trees. On the north side was a cliff called Bozez, because it's chalky white rock shone brightly as it reflected the sunlight through the day. It was a ruggedly beautiful landscape that was not lost on Jonathan despite the dire circumstance.

As the sun went down he began to understand why he had come alone and why he had not yet returned. Tomorrow morning there would be even fewer men of Israel camped in Gibeah. The Philistines meanwhile would be another day closer to enveloping Saul's army. He sat awake through the night, thinking about what was in front of him. What he was about to do would be incredibly foolish or incredibly audacious. He trusted the Lord though, so just before dawn he said to his armor bearer, “Come, let us go over to the Philistine garrison on the other side. It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.” Without a moment's hesitation, his armor bearer gathered up the spears, bow, arrows, and extra sword he carried for the prince. “Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul.”

The two men scrambled down Seneh, the acacia thorns reaching out of the twilight and tearing at their skin as they went. But the mean scrub foliage also concealed their approach. They took a moment to catch their breath when they reached the bottom. The going was much easier as they crossed the bottom of the valley. As they approached Bozez, Philistine sentries atop the cliff called out and taunted them in the early morning light. “Come up after me, for the Lord has given them into the hand of Israel,” Jonathan said to his armor bearer. So the two scaled the cliff of Bozez. As the sun rose, and the rocks shone, the Philistines found it hard to keep track of the two bold Israelites. Suddenly, Jonathan clambered over the edge of the cliff and struck out with his sword. 

The clash of swords, the shouts of angry men, and cries of pain rang through the air. A Philistine sentry fell from the edge of the cliff, letting loose a heart wrenching scream of terror as he fell. Jonathan struck down every Philistine in his path as he fought his way west towards the tents of the Philistine leaders at Micmash. His armor bearer came behind him and delivered the killing blow to any enemy left breathing after Jonathan had passed. This was the terror that the Philistine camp awoke to.

The fear took hold and spread through the camp like a wildfire. Men roused from drunken stupors staggered to their feet and stumbled into each other. Some mistook each other for enemies and ran each other through with sword and spear. Horses tore loose from their hitches and stampeded through the camp. Men and animals ran about without purpose, driven by a savage instinct to survive. Embers from the night's campfires were scattered about, setting bedding, tents, and food stores alight. The chaos of tens of thousands of men and animals put to flight caused the entire earth to shake. Jonathan and his armor bearer felt the ground quake beneath their feet, while they were still beyond the outskirts of the main camp. 

The watchmen of Saul's army in Gibeah saw what was happening across the valley and woke the king, who they found reclining under a pomegranate tree. He ordered a count and found that his son and his armor bearer were not in the camp. Saul summoned the priest Ahijah and the Ark was brought forward. The army of Israel rallied and Saul led them west of Micmash to intercept the fleeing enemy. Meanwhile, the men of Israel who had been in the Philistine camp joined Jonathan's pursuit and those who had hidden in Ephraim came down from the hills. In a miraculous turn of events it was now the Philistines and not the Israelites who had been enveloped. 

That day, Jonathan earned a great victory for Israel by listening and responding to the Lord. By any man's estimation the battle had already been decided. It was only a matter of time before the Philistines crushed Israel, yet one warrior's faith turned the tide of war. One victor willing to leave a camp of defeatists and deserters. One follower of God who took a path that seemed impassable, to surprise an overwhelming enemy. One fearless man who attacked with such audacity that it struck fear into proud and malicious hearts, and inspired those he had left behind. One individual, chosen by God to exhibit his sovereignty, was responsible for saving all of Israel that day.

As we approach the new year, consider whether we are looking across the valley like Saul at Gibeah or Jonathan at Geba. If we are postured as Jonathan was at Geba, we are in a place to hear from God. Despite what we know or don't know about the coming year, there is reason for hope rather than fear. There is a rugged beauty to life and the world that we should not miss, even amidst circumstance that may seem overwhelming. I feel that as 2014 ends and we enter into 2015 God is saying to us, “Come, let us go.” It is up to us whether or not we will respond as Jonathan's armor bearer, “I am with you heart and soul.” This next year is a year for audacity, or willingness to take bold risks of faith in our personal lives and as a body of believers. This time next year, let's remember 2015 as The Year of Living Audaciously and let's celebrate miraculous victories on the scale of Jonathan at Micmash.
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Written by Ben Machia, 30 December 2014

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Tis the Reason

What is the reason for the season? It's definitely not Hallmark. And at the risk of sounding sacrilegious, it's not Jesus. At least not in the cliché way that we have made it. Without doubt Jesus is the reason for the season, but it's not a story neatly wrapped up in a nativity scene or a chorus of Silent Night. Christmas is a time to commemorate the wild, romantic, adventure that is the story of Jesus born in Bethlehem and crucified on Calvary. It's a story of love and redemption. It's a story of oppression and revolution.
 

The story began in a beautiful, lush garden. Sin forced the first man and woman from Eden, corrupted God's perfect Creation, and the Enemy cursed every generation that followed. For centuries the story of God and his most beloved creations is endless iterations of humanity rebelling and God reiterating his endless love for them. Until, such a time arrived that the oppression of God's chosen people was so great that he decided he would send his only begotten son to rescue them. That is the part of the story we commemorate at Christmas.

Jesus was born at a time when Israel was occupied by the Roman Empire, under Caesar Augustus. The occupation was locally administered by Herod, a ruthless madman. At the time of Jesus' birth, all of Israel was subject to a census. The purpose was to ensure that all families were paying the oppressive tax imposed upon them by Rome.

So the carpenter Joseph and a pregnant Mary traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the ancestral home of King David, who had united Israel's tribes and made them a great nation-state. Those days were long gone though. In 63 BC the Roman general Pompey captured the city of Jerusalem, ending a short period of independent Jewish rule after the Maccabees liberated Jerusalem from Greek occupiers. Before the Greeks, had been the Persians, and the Babylonians, and the Assyrians. In short, it had been a long time since Israel had been free.
 

It had been prophesied that Mary's baby would be called Immanuel (God with us). The Son of God was born in flesh in a manger and he was visited by shepherds and wise men alike. To the shepherds in the field, angels announced the newborn as the Savior of the Jews and the magi from the east knew him to be the King of the Jews. A baby boy that could unite men from all walks of life with a common hope was such a threat to Rome that Herod ordered all Jewish boys in the Bethlehem area two years old or younger to be put to death. Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt with young Jesus. No doubt, their cross-country flight was facilitated by the shepherds and their way was paid by the gifts brought by the wise men.

When Herod died, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus returned to Israel. The boy grew into a man, and he became known throughout the land as a radical rabbi who turned the establishment upside down. Among his disciples were Matthew and Simon. Matthew had been a tax collector, an administrator of the Roman system that oppressed God's people. Simon had been a zealot, one of the rebels who sought to overthrow Roman rule with violence. Yet, both of these men became as brothers when their hearts and minds were captured by the teachings of this rabbi. Here was a man who did not come to save Israel by rhetoric or sword. Rather he came to establish a kingdom not of this earth; not to overthrow a human government, but to free all mankind from the true Enemy.

That victory was won on a cross on a hill outside of Jerusalem. What appeared to be a tactical victory for Rome and the collaborating religious leaders was actually a strategic victory in the eternal realm. In his death Jesus took on the weight of all our sin and shame so that we could be redeemed. Three days later he rose from the grave to proclaim victory over death. In the centuries since we eagerly await his return.

So this Christmas, let us remember that the reason for the season is to remember that a sacrifice was paid for us. Let us remember that we are commemorating a revolution that changed the world, a revolution that will free all men from the burdens of sin and shame, from legal oppression, and even the institution of religion. This is the reason for the season. God loved us so much that He sent his Son to become flesh and die on a cross so that we could be redeemed. With that in mind, let us ask ourselves this season how we may best carry on that tradition of overwhelming compassion compelling us to sacrificial action. And remember, we are led by Immanuel, God with us. If God is with us, then no power can prevent us from establishing His kingdom.
 

May you and your loved ones be blessed. And may you all be a blessing to those in need. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
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Written by Ben Machia, 17 December 2014

Friday, December 19, 2014

Earth Interrupted


Some 2000 years ago Diety left Heaven and invaded a planet called Earth.  
What was on Earth that would compel the One who shaped mountains,
 told oceans when to rise and recede, placed the stars in the heavens
 to leave His glorious abode?  

Man.  

The little ones created and fashioned in His image
wandered in wastelands.
His heart apprehended Him.
His love demanded action.
And so He came.
In glory.
In humility. 

In Him dwelt the fullness of God.
Yet He came in the likeness of a man 
so that man could become like Him. 

His Sacrifice  ~  Our Salvation

Jesus.
----------------
Written by
Joy Fuller

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

JOIN US IN 2015

ANSWERING THE CALL
DECEMBER 2014


"How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace...who announces salvation, and says to Zion, 'Your God Reigns!'"Answering the Call has been privileged to take the good news and announce peace and salvation to various parts of the world this year through feeding centers, medicine, clean water, healing ministry, pastoral training and new schools.

We plan to return to South Sudan and DR Congo in 2015 in order to continue the ongoing ministry of feeding centers, well projects and food routes for the Nubian people. We are also planning a medical project in India, as well a partnership with brothers and sisters in the Middle East to expand a safe house for persecuted believers.

We humbly ask that you pray for us and perhaps join us as we join God in 2015. We also ask that you consider making a year-end contribution to Answering the Call, which will allow us to continue our mission of reaching people in difficult to reach places in 2015. ATC is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and all donations are tax deductible. You may give on line at http://atcmissions.org/donate.php or checks may be made out to Answering the Call and mailed to:

Answering the Call
P.O. Box 4541
Roanoke, VA 24015 


Revelation 1:5 says Jesus is the ruler of the kings of the earth. This is very good news because everyone, whether they know it or not, is looking for a king like Jesus. He establishes justice, peace, righteousness and love in the hearts of those who follow Him. One day He will establish it in all the earth. This is our hope this holiday season and for every season.

May God  bless you immeasurably with the knowledge of His great love for you. Thank you for being a part of taking peace, salvation and good news to the world. Your God Reigns!

Sincerely,

Answering the Call Staff

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Year for Thankfulness

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American tradition. We trace it's origins back to the Pilgrims at Plymouth. In modern times we associate Thanksgiving with many new traditions. Football. Parades. A Presidential pardon for one lucky turkey. Feasting with family and friends, followed by a peaceful nap. It is the official kick-off event for the holiday season as we ramp up for Christmas.

Interestingly, Thanksgiving was a practice before Plymouth. The first recorded instance of a Thanksgiving feast in America was by the colonists of the Virginia Colony, grateful for the Providence of God. After the American Revolution it was also a Virginian, George Washington as the nation's first President, who set the precedent of a national holiday for the purpose of giving thanks to God. (Two great reasons to love Virginia.)

The newly formed Congress urged the President "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God..." There was much to be thankful for. America had secured it's right to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in a hard fought revolution. In response to Congress, Washington declared 26 November 1789 as the first national day of Thanksgiving “to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection..for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced...”

In the original spirit of Thanksgiving, to acknowledge the Providence of God, we'd like to say a few things that we are thankful for that have occurred in the last year.

We are thankful for the protection and guidance of our team that went to Yida, South Sudan as we found ourselves surrounded on all sides by violence.

We are thankful for the medical supplies that were delivered to the churches in Yida that treated hundreds of refugees.

We are thankful for the opportunity to gather with the pastors in Yida to pray together and give training.

We are so thankful for Pastor Wesley, who appeared almost like an angel from nowhere, to coordinate all the logistics that made Yida a success.

We are thankful for the great leadership that we have been blessed with in Costa Rica that hosted local pastors, Central American missionaries, and missions teams from the US at Refugio Solte.

We are thankful for new church partnerships in San Jose.

We are especially thankful on this day of feasting for the support we received that kept a feeding center in DRC open for the year, saving some children from suffering a slow death by starvation.

We are thankful for the two water projects in eastern DRC, that are providing water in a place where no one else will go.

We are thankful for a new school that has been built in South Sudan, that serves redeemed slave children with the hopes they will become church leaders instead of warlords.

We are thankful for a new grinding mill in Yida that helps women to feed their children and the churches there to become self-sustaining, instead of reliant upon humanitarian aid.

Most of all, we are immeasurably thankful for all those who have given to ATC to make all of these things possible. May you and your loved ones be blessed this holiday season. Today is a day to rejoice in the provision and protection we have enjoyed. We would also ask that as you do, you please join us in thanking God for and asking for his continued providence that we may be a continued blessing of peace and prosperity to all people, especially those in difficult to reach places.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Harvest Begins In Our Own Gardens

They say that we are what we eat. I think there's some truth to that. I think we are also what we exercise. Still, what we eat has something to do with what we exercise. Eating a dozen donuts in one sitting, doesn't exactly inspire a body to hit the weights or throw on a pair of running shoes. True, it may shame a body into exercising, but since the body has not been fed, it is tired and finds exercise fatiguing, rather than energizing.

There's a spiritual parallel to be drawn here. If we want to exercise great faith we need to feed our spirit well. We feed our spirit from the fruit grown in the garden of our own heart. Think about the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13.

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among the thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matt 13:3-8)

The seed in the parable is the Word of God. The different types of ground speak to the condition of people's hearts when they hear the word. I've always read this and not thought too long about it. It's a parable. It's explained. Ultimately, it's about other people hearing the Word of God. But the last time I read this, I was struck with the thought, My heart has been in all of these conditions.

“When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed along the path.” (Matt 13:19)

This is a heart that has been hardened. Whatever was growing there has been trampled flat and the ground underneath packed so tightly that new seed cannot take root. Only if the ground is tilled, so that the hard exterior is ripped and flipped to expose the soft, fertile stuff underneath can anything grow in this heart.

“The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.” (Matt 13:20-21)

This is a heart that appears vibrant on the surface, but is full of things left undealt with underneath. No seed can take a deep root to sustain a healthy crop. Removing those rocks, those things underneath, is tedious and laborious. It can seem like there is always something else to pick out. Eventually, it seems easier to just let the crop die off.

“The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.” (Matt 13:22)

This is a heart that is healthy, but also somewhat careless. There is good soil, that goes deep, but once the seed takes root and begins to produce, so also do weeds. Things that should not be allowed to grow in the garden are left unchecked, until they grow large enough to overtake the good things.

“But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matt 13:23)

This is a heart that takes in the word and meditates upon it, lets it penetrate and germinate. This is a heart whose owner has been careful to till the ground, been dedicated to remove the rocks, and been diligent to pull the weeds. In time, all of that hard work is rewarded with a bountiful harvest.

My heart has been in all of those conditions. It has been hard. It has been full of hidden obstacles. It has been choked out by lies. In short, it has been in a less than fruitful condition. On more than one occasion. It has also been soft, deep, and full of truth. If I do not wish for it to return to wilderness, then I must be a good caretaker of my heart. When I am not, it will return to a state of unproductiveness at best and harmfulness at worst. It can be so easy to discard our own responsibility and blame it on the weather of life, to try and excuse our heart condition. If we do that we might as well plant a harvest of weeds and lies while we complain.

Proverbs 4:23 warns us, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” If we want to exercise great faith, then we must cultivate a harvest in our own hearts that will feed us with godliness and truth. We must consider what we are allowing in our gardens. We must remember that if we are not tending our gardens they will return to a natural state of wild decay. To do that we must make a hundred decisions a day. Will we entertain that thought? Will we spend our time doing that? It is not only a matter of making decisions not to do bad things, but also to choose better things. As Paul instructs in Corinthians, not all things are helpful.

Though we may find our hearts in each of these conditions at various times. Though we must be good caretakers of our own gardens. Redemption ultimately lies in the faithfulness of the farmer (God) who sows good seed without reserve. Regardless of the condition of our hearts. The call to tend to our own hearts is so that we might enjoy the labor of participating in a more plentiful harvest. So that all people and all nations might know redemption.  That harvest begins in our own gardens.
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Written by Ben Machia, 17 November 2014

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Where Ought I To Be?

G.K. Chesterton was a larger than life man. Literally, as he stood six feet, four inches tall and weighed nearly 300 pounds. His legacy is also literal, as a renowned wordsmith and apologist. He wrote hundreds of stories and thousands of newspaper articles. He wrote such articulate insights as, “If there were no God, there would be no atheists.” C.S. Lewis, a self-professed atheist as a young man, later recorded that Chesterton's writings were part of what led him to turn to God.

Chesterton was also a defender of the faith, with such phrases as “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” Even in the early 20th century, confronted by advocates of tolerance he stated, “There are those who hate Christianity and call their hatred an all-embracing love for all religions."

He debated many of his contemporary intellectuals, such as George Bernard Shaw, playwright and ardent socialist. Those arguments are best summed up with his pithy remark, “Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.” Shaw eventually said of his opponent, “The world is not thankful enough for Chesterton."

A true enough statement considering how relatively unknown Chesterton is. Though he was a larger than life man, a gifted wordsmith, and an uncompromising defender of common sense and faith, he is largely forgotten today. That is surprising considering the breadth, eloquence, and precision of his writing. Yet, what is more surprising is that Chesterton was anything but a precise man in all other aspects of his life.

Chesterton often did most of his writing at train stations, for the simple fact that he had missed the train he was supposed to catch. He depended on his wife Frances for the mundane tasks of life, as he proved completely incapable of doing them for himself. According to one story, Chesterton sent a message to his wife. “Am at Market Harborough. Where ought I to be?” To which his long-suffering and loving wife replied, “Home.”

When challenged to be more careful, responsible, and aware, his response was something to the effect of “I am not absentminded. It is the presence of mind that makes me unaware of everything else.”

What a strange paradox of a man. Still, I can't help but draw an analogy between Chesterton's life and our relationship with God. When we find ourselves having missed the train we meant to catch, or at some place far from where we thought we were supposed to be, or not even knowing where we need to be going, or even when we need to get there, the answer we will always receive from God is, “Home.” 

Home is where the heart is. If our hearts are set on dwelling in the presence of God, we will always be home. Even when we feel like we've been left behind at the train station, again.

Two verses come to mind. Jeremiah 6:16, “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Also, Proverbs 16:9, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” These are scriptures I must often remind myself of when I feel lost at the train station. I know that I am inclined to wonder where am I, what am I doing, why is this happening? I suspect I am not alone in those thoughts either. It's easy to get caught up in the mundane tasks of life. It seems we're always at another crossroads, not sure of which path to take. And in the monotony and confusion we are quick to miss the adventure we so desperately want to live.

My favorite Chesterton quote is this one: “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.” How would our lives be different if we stopped seeking the adventure we think we're meant for, and start living the adventure God has put in front of us? When we ask, “Where ought I to be,” the answer God has for us is, “Right where I have you. For that is where I am. Welcome home.”
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Written by Ben Machia, 03 November 2014

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Melody of Freedom

Jack London wrote, “I'd rather sing one wild song and burst my heart with it, than live a thousand years ...” Yet, I think we are more likely to live a thousand years and incoherently whisper a muted refrain with our last dying breath. You see, life is a terminal condition. We should not rush to finish it, nor should we strive to keep it. In the time we are given though, we should sing that one wild song we, and we alone, were meant to sing. Silence does not echo, here on earth or in eternity. And when we shuffle off this mortal coil all that can remain is the echo of our song.

So why do so many of us leave our songs left unsung?

Imagine this. Imagine an orchestra in an auditorium so packed that people are standing in the aisles prepared to hear beautiful music. Everyone has turned out. The rich people are sitting in their boxes. The poor people are crowding the doors. The conductor takes a solemn bow and faces his musicians. He smiles to himself, thinking how wonderful each of them sounded practicing in private, delighted that they'll finally get to share with the public. With a flair, he raises his hands and begins to gesture passionately. Nothing happens. Then there is a stuttering start. It does not sound good at all. Each musician is in his own rhythm, completely ignoring the maestro. The crowd that came to hear a symphony can only stand the cacophony for so long. Eventually the auditorium is empty and silent as every musician gives up in frustration and desperation.

How many of us are musicians who think we know better than our maestro? I know that I find myself in that position more often than I would like to admit. I find myself believing that just because I've been made first chair by the conductor, I must be more qualified than he to play my music. Sadly, I often don't realize this until I witness the auditorium emptying.

Just recently I was in this place. I had been watching my master. Then I got distracted and stopped. Rather than going one measure at a time, I was in a manic frenzy to do it all at once or none of it at all. I vacillated between the song I thought best and no song at all, finally defaulting to no song at all as I became aware that I lacked the brilliance and creativity of my maestro.

And that is how we leave the songs we were meant for unsung. We stop paying attention and before we know it we're whispering an imitation of our masterpiece on our deathbeds. Our only hope is to start paying attention before life catches up to us. Fortunately, we have a conductor who never stops gesturing to get our attention. Whatever bar we choose to enter on we are welcome. Regardless, all of our songs will culminate. The choice is ours for it to be a song that bursts our hearts with intensity or echoes faintly as a whimper that barely escapes.

Stripping away the analogy of music, what I'm really saying is God is speaking. If we are not listening, then we need to be. If we are listening, then we need to be responding. He is leading; we need to be following. Follow the direction that He is leading. Even when you don't understand. Especially when you don't understand. It will probably be more wild than we could have expected. If we're faithful we may burst our hearts before a thousand years of silence has passed without an echo.

Life is such that if we rely solely upon ourselves we are quickly overcome by worries and woes. Yet if we fix our eyes on God we find the truth of Jeremiah 29:11-14.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.”

Our God is not only a masterful conductor, but a brilliant composer as well. In each of us there is a melody that He composed just for us. However, we, ourselves more than any circumstance, are apt to lock it away. That melody is what He wants to see set free with His love.

John Piper says, “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him.” It's a statement I believe is true, but that doesn't mean I always remember it. The first time I read that, it shocked me. I thought, God is glorified, just when we find satisfaction in Him? Surely that can't be! But surely it is. When we simply listen and respond to God we are satisfied and He is glorified.

The benefit of that communion is often mirrored in our relationships with other people. So, if ever it seems the auditorium of our lives is emptying, it should be an indication that something is wrong between the musician and the maestro. Yet, don't be discouraged, God is always inviting us to jump in on the next measure, in order to bring us back from our captivity.
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Written by Ben Machia, 27 October 2014

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hide And Seek

David and I once babysat for some friends who were on a much needed date. Within the span of a month this sweet couple had a baby and adopted a 7 year old from Congo. I think it had been months since the two of them had actually been out alone. Needless to say, they were due a date. So, we headed over to their house and sent them on their way. Our daughter and her husband tagged along with us. 

As soon as we arrived our son-in-law Ben took the baby and began feeding her a bottle. David picked up a book and Jessica and I decided to play hide and seek with Julie the 7 year old.  Two of us would count while the other one hid. It was obvious that Julie had played this before because she had some pretty good hiding spots. She loved the game and especially loved being found. She would start giggling when we would get close to her hiding spot and inevitably end up giving herself away.

When it came time for me to hide, I made sure it would be nearly impossible to find me. I could hear Julie and Jessica counting and then shout the ole’ “ready or not here we come.”  They began their search. They looked and looked but could not find me. They even opened the door and looked in the closet where I was hiding. I was tickled that they didn’t discover me! But eventually I began to get tired hiding in that dark, small and cramped closet. I began wishing they would find me. I felt conflicted. On the one hand, I wanted them to find me but on the other, I liked that they couldn’t find me. I waited and waited. I thought about coming out and pronouncing with glee that I had won. This seemed justifiable since they didn’t actually find me. But somehow that didn’t seem right. I wanted to be found. I then had this random thought that if they got David to help them they could probably find me. Wouldn’t you know it?  That is exactly what they did. When I realized they had employed the big guy to help look for me, a sudden panic set in. I knew he would know where I was hiding because he knows me. I knew I was about to be found. Sure enough, David walked right to the place where I was hiding, opened the door, looked further into the closet and discovered me. We all laughed and giggled. I think Julie decided she preferred doing the hiding. 

Later, while pondering the hide-and-seek game, I realized it painted such a picture of how we are with God. We hide from Him, enjoying whatever the pleasure at hand may be. We feel embolden that we are getting away with something. But then it begins to get unbearable in that dark and secret place away from Him. We want to be discovered. But there is conflict. We somehow like hiding and we are not totally sure we want to be found. And yet our soul cries out. We think about coming out and just saying, “I give up. Here I am!” But pride sets in and we decide we will stay right where we are. We must not and will not give in. Or perhaps fear sets in and we wonder what will happen if we come out of hiding. Will we be rejected? Will we be humiliated? Will we be scolded? We somehow think that coming out of hiding is admitting failure or losing. But is it really winning staying in that small, dark and secret place where no one knows where we are?

There is nothing that quite compares to the relief of being found. I think in all of us there is a deep desire to be found and known by someone. When the Big Guy starts getting close it stirs up a little panic and we are tempted to resist or move further away and deeper in.  But stop. Stay put. Don’t resist. Give in. I promise relief is coming. You aren’t being found by just anyone.  You are being found by the One who knows you. The One who formed you in your mother’s womb and knows the number of hairs on your head. He knows exactly and precisely where you are hiding and He is still coming for you!

Paul says he counted all the things he had lost as mere rubbish compared to gaining Christ and being found in Him. My prayer for you today is that you will be found by Him and in Him. This is freedom! This is true life! I pray “that you may have the power to understand...how wide, how long, how high and how deep God’s love is.  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”  (Ephesians 3:18-19, New Living Translation) 

Do you hear that?  His love for us is so great that we will never fully understand it. But when we receive it and choose to believe it, our lives will be turned upside down. We are made complete. We become whole and hiding loses its appeal. The real winner is the one who is known and found by His Maker.

Written by Joy Fuller

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Her Destiny

One of my favorite things to do as I travel is to visit the local barbershops. All over the world barbershops are the same. One guy working, several guys hanging out, and always filled with spirited discussion of not so important matters. Hopefully, no offense at this point, but I would have to add, that woman are not there telling a man how he should get his haircut. I have been to the barbershop in more countries than I can remember and they are all the same, both outside of the United States and Western Europe. 

I remember a particular trip to a barbershop in Antioch, Turkey. This barbershop experience rivaled the best one I have ever experienced. The best was in Ukraine but this one was a close second. True to form there were five guys sitting and one guy working. A unique feature of this barbershop that I particularly enjoyed was the presence of a young boy of fifteen who was there assisting his father and learning the craft. He handed over instruments and cream with the precision of a highly skilled surgical nurse. 

The barber was a lighthearted man with a warmth in his eyes. He was a man who enjoyed his profession. He seemed to know that the giving of a haircut was an act of art rather than a mere job to be done. With great skill he trimmed my hair and then without discussion moved on to my beard. He was not in a hurry nor was he slow. After the main goal was accomplished he paid great attention to the details. He would not be satisfied with his final product until even my ears and nose were adequately attended to. Try and find a barber in the States who will do that! 

This brings me to my favorite part. The final touch was heated shaving cream and a straight razor shave. See what I mean! Liability and law suits have made this part a distant memory in America. And by the way, lest you think I'm living to high on the hog as a missionary, all of this cost ten dollars, including a tip to the barber and a tip to his son that was more than generous.

It led me to a question as I climbed out of the barber chair. What in the name of Heaven has happened to the barbers in America?  I can't find one!

And now, an even more serious question. What has happened to the church in Antioch? I am here to tell you that as of now the flame that once burned bright is barely flickering. I'm not being critical. I just feel that I need to give an honest report.

While in Turkey I also climbed a mountain to look into a cave where Peter and Paul met to discuss the urgent matters of the early church. I felt as though I was on hallowed ground. I will never read the book of Acts quite the same. This vision is forever etched in my mind. The understanding of the courageous nature of these men was almost palpable. I fear we have reduced our warriors to greeters, ushers, and even worse a checkbook. While looking into that cave, I couldn't imagine greeters, ushers or even checkbooks. I could however, conjure up a picture of men who understood determination and sacrifice.

As the nearby Mosque blurted out the call to prayer, I was hammered with the question, "What happened to the church here?" How is it this special place has become a shrine controlled by Muslims who charge Christians five bucks to take a gander at their own heritage? A strange turn of events is it not? The current state of the body in Antioch is far from its history.

Now, rather than a church whose trademark was courage, you find a body who shaking with fear. This fear is interesting in that it's not a fear of a current reality but instead a fear of what could happen. I am reminded of the acronym for FEAR, False Evidence Appearing Real. No longer is the body in Antioch characterized by men and women who come together allowing iron to sharpen iron, and then before the Lord come to unity in their differences. Instead, the body is marked by division and worry about the health and financial viability of their own fiefdoms rather than together engaging in kingdom activity. It seems the same in America. I wonder if we are not more concerned with promoting our own platforms, agendas and fiefdoms than we are with promoting His agenda and His Kingdom. Division and fear are all too familiar and brings kingdom activity to a standstill at best. 

The final chapter has not been written in this place. I am not discouraged by the state of the body in Antioch. I am well aware that God is not finished in that ancient city. The grandeur of the movement that was once there has the opportunity to be there again.
          
Jesus said go and make disciples of all Nations and scripture says that in the end there will be both Goat Nations and Sheep Nations. Sheep Nations will be Nations that choose and honor Him. Lance Wallnau writes,  “The God of Abraham is more than the God of the Christian religion or the savior of lost souls, He is the savior of nations and cities in their distress. Christ has all power on Earth, now, to prove He is the RULER OF NATIONS. The Father promised Jesus NATIONS for His inheritance. (Psalm 2) Every country is being discipled rapidly, either by the Spirit of Christ or an increasingly aggressive spirit of Antichrist. The "glorious church" will be the deciding factor in nations.”

The Church has a destiny inside of her that she has yet to recognize or fully understand. We are the ones called to make known the manifold wisdom of God in the earth. We are the ones called to make disciples of all nations. It begins with me. It begins with you. We do it together and join God in ensuring His promise to His Son, the Nations. I pray we wake up to this glorious truth and choose this day whom we will serve. May we be found not merely saying, but also living, “As for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord.” 

Written by David Fuller


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Way of the Ants

I don’t dream a lot. When I do dream it is very specific and usually has meaning. One summer before leaving for Costa Rica I had a dream about ants. It was so vivid and real. The next morning I was driving my son to school. He asked me a question that triggered memory of the dream which then flashed across my mind in its’ entirety. I immediately became anxious. I had this overwhelming desire to get back home because I knew God wanted to speak to me. After dropping off my son, I drove home to journal my dream and anything God wanted to say about it.

Several months after the dream we left to spend the summer in Costa Rica. We were in the process of building Refugio Solte, the ATC ministry center. Our arrival was typical to all other arrivals; broken down cars, a plethora of bug bites, beautiful flowers, communication difficulties, and unexpected mishaps on the mountain. We had come to expect the unexpected. God seems to teach us new things every year. And some things He seems to re-teach us.

As soon as we arrived, I stepped out of the car and into an ant hill. I knew it would be a summer of learning about ants. Along with other things. The Leaf Cutter ants are plentiful in Costa Rica. and amazing to observe. There are several varieties of ants within a Leaf Cutter colony. They each have their responsibilities and play different roles. For example, some of the ants stay together in large numbers around the food gathering columns. These ants are the first line-of-defense and continuously patrol the surrounding terrain attacking any enemy that threatens the foraging lines. Other ants do the actual leaf cutting and bring them back to the nest. Some tend to the fungus gardens, where the leaves are harvested into a fungus. There are worker ants that act as soldiers defending the nest from intruders and clearing the main trails of large debris in order that the actual cutters have a clear path on which to travel. Then there are cleaners. These ants ride around on top of the leaves looking for harmful foreign matter so that nothing is carried into the nest. According to Wikipedia these ants are capable of defoliating an entire citrus tree in less than 24 hours. I would say that is a pretty productive ant colony.

One particular morning while drinking my coffee I noticed a trail of Leaf Cutter ants moving along at steady speed, as if hoping no one would notice half of the shrubs they had harvested over night. My bible happened to be opened to Proverbs 30. My eyes fell upon verses 24-25. “Four things are small on the earth, but they are exceedingly wise: The ants are not a strong people, but they prepare their food in the summer.” The Lord had my attention.

Ants prepare in one season so that they will be ready in the next. They are focused and diligent to stay on their assigned task. They make room for other ants to do their job. They work with purpose. They work together for the greater good of the colony. They are meticulous in keeping intrusions and obstructions from their path.

It is amazing how much wisdom we can gain through these little, many times unnoticeable, creatures. Proverbs 6 tell us to be wise and observe the ways of the ants. I encourage you to observe them for yourself. Ask the Lord about your own preparation during this season. The preparation for each of us may be different. Maybe our hearts need some realignment on an issue. Perhaps we need to finally forgive that person. Maybe we need to repent. Maybe we need to get real with God about a few things.

This is a season of preparation, positioning, focus and intentionality. He wants us to be a people prepared so that in the next season of our lives we will have the provision we need and the character to sustain what He brings.

Proverbs 6:9-10 describes what happens to one who is not prepared. “How long will you lie down O sluggard? When will you arise from you’re your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest. Your poverty will come in like a vagabond and your need like an armed man.”

May we be awake and wise.
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Written by Joy Fuller

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Dominoes and Smooth Stones


My friend David wrote a great piece before he left for the Nuba Mountains of Sudan. Here's an excerpt that I want to expand on. “I know many of you are probably saying to yourself, “what can I really do?” The truth is we could all do a hell of a lot more than what we are doing now. But as long as we wait for someone else to speak up or step out, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WILL EVER HAPPEN!!” I wholeheartedly agree so that's why I want to talk about dominoes. 

The domino effect is a principle analogous to a falling row of dominoes. By definition it is the cumulative effect that results when one event precipitates a series of like events in linear fashion. That translated into Domino Theory; a theory that if one country was taken over by expansionism, nearby nations would also be taken over in a serial fashion. The theory was first put into words by President Eisenhower in 1954 during a news conference when he spoke about a “falling domino principle” in reference to communism in Indochina. 

The theory dominated US foreign policy during the Cold War, but was largely discredited after the Vietnam War as overly simplistic. However, some political theorists still consider the theory generally accurate. Personally, I think there is a lot of merit to the theory, but cascading failure (a slight variation of the domino effect) is a more adaptive model, particularly in our modern globalized world where the effect of an event in one place is causal on the other side of the world. While the theory may not have been proved in Indochina, the fall of Vietnam had second and third order effects on a much larger scale. In fact, Domino Theory is matched by the Marxist revolutionary wave theory. Revolutionary wave theory is the idea that a revolution can initiate a series of revolutions leading to world revolution and ultimately societal transformation. The American defeat in Vietnam led to communist led or supported takeovers of countries in Africa, the Middle East, Central America, and Southwest Asia. 

In 1983 a physicist named Lorne Whitehead made an interesting contribution to the argument about Domino Theory. He wrote an entry for the American Journal of Physics titled “Domino 'chain reaction'” in which he summarized “a simple and dramatic demonstration of exponential growth.” According to Whitehead, a domino can knock down another domino 1.5 times its size. He began with a domino 3/8'' tall, 3/16'' wide, and 3/64'' thick. Just to put it in perspective, a standard domino is about 1 ¾'' tall, so the domino Whitehead was starting with was about the size of your fingernail. The thirteenth domino in the chain had grown to a size of 24x12x3''. The output of energy released by the 13th domino falling was about 2 billion times greater than the input of energy required to knock over the first domino. In this model, Domino Effect is merely the foundation for Domino Multiplication, in which a tiny domino eventually topples a monolith.

Here's the interesting thing. Whitehead's last line of the article reads, “A simple calculation shows that if the series were continued, domino number 32 could be the twin towers of the World Trade Center.” The twin towers, before the 2001 attacks, were over 1,360' tall. And they were taken down by a handful of jihadists with passenger planes. I contend that we are still riding the shockwave of the chain reaction that attack produced. The potential is there for a non-state actor to eventually be responsible for toppling the greatest superpower the world has ever known.*

Again in 2012, another contribution to domino theory was made by the physicist J.M.J. van Leeuwen. He showed that Whitehead's growth rate of 1.5 was actually too small. The growth rate could be as much as 30% larger than the traditionally accepted 1.5 which amounts to each successive domino being almost twice as big as the last.

Going back to what my friend David said in the beginning, the point here is that while we may feel individually insignificant we are not. Let me remind you all of another David who slew a giant named Goliath. The shepherd boy David was so small that he could not wear King Saul's armor. He was so small that when he confronted Goliath he was mocked. One smooth stone from his sling silenced the giant though. His bold act of faith toppled a giant, routed the Philistine army, and culminated in David becoming the king of a united Israel that defeated her enemies on every side. 

What I'm getting at is we need to set our sights higher. We are capable of so much more than knocking over an enemy of equal or lesser stature. We need to stop looking for the domino effect and look for the multiplication. Look for that enemy that's twice as big as we are. King David didn't ask, “What can I do?” or “Just how big is that giant?” He did something. He stepped out, picked up a stone, and took down an enemy that towered above him. 

Stop wondering. Start doing. Until you do nothing will ever improve. If you're going to ask how big a giant is, then ask it like ol' Roy D. Mercer. “How big 'a boy are ya?...Sounds just about the right size for an ass-whoopin'!” That would be the modern vernacular of 1 Samuel 17:45-47, “David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.” 

You don't have to do it alone either. King David's best friend was Jonathan. They were men cut from the same cloth. At Micmash, before David defied Goliath, Jonathan climbed up a cliff to confront the entire Philistine garrison accompanied only by his armor bearer. It led to a route of the enemy and a pursuit by allies that ended in victory. 

I believe that if we do this together we can create a revolutionary wave that will change the world. Victory is made with dominoes and smooth stones. Start knocking them over. Start slinging them at giants.
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Written by Ben Machia, 29 May 2014

*I'm not saying America is going to collapse tomorrow or even that it will collapse. To put it in perspective dominoes originated in China, first recorded during the 12th century. It took six more centuries for dominoes to appear in Italy. How they traveled is unknown, but I imagine that over that time they were carried west by the Mongols, traded by merchants on the Silk Road, played in the camps of mujahideen in the Middle East, brought back by crusaders, and played by the great minds of the Renaissance. And so it went until one day nearly everybody had stacked dominoes in rows and felled them across the floor. The outcome of an event, of a domino falling, can take centuries to manifest or perhaps nothing comes of it at all.  

Monday, September 22, 2014

What Excites You?

I recently received an email from International Justice Mission (IJM) with a subject line that read, “What excites you?” Without even continuing to read the content of the email, I began pondering this seemingly basic question: What excites me? What do I truly love? What particularly awakes that part of my soul that yearns for deeper and fresher waters? Well, friends excite me, family excites me, and just generally being with solid people excites me. Fireworks, roller coasters, and fire all excite me. Additionally, traveling and exploring really excite me. 

However, my mind took this question one step further: What fundamentally excites me? My immediate answer was freedom. Freedom that is lived. Freedom that is realized, both by others and that I realize within myself. That excites me! When one begins to experience and walk in the most natural disposition in which man can live. We were created to live in complete and blissful freedom in the Garden. In fact, in Genesis 2:16, where God addresses Adam regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, He begins with three simple words, “you are free”. God prefaces any instruction or command by speaking into Adam’s freedom. You are free. We have been made to be free. Freedom is one of the cornerstones to our being. With that in mind, it makes sense that freedom would be exciting. Living in freedom is living out our purpose. Living out the purpose that God has spoken over our lives from before we were even born.

When I consider freedom in my life, one of the first things that comes to my mind every time is Costa Rica. More specifically speaking, that little piece of heaven that is nestled so perfectly in the coastal mountains of Uvita, in the southwestern part of the country, named Refugio Solté. It was there that I first learned what it was like to live in freedom. It was there that I first heard my Heavenly Father speak so gently and intimately with me. This is a taste of what true freedom looks like: intimacy and close communication with Our Father. And it’s natural! It is how we were meant to live. 


Anyway, my entire family and I went to Costa Rica in the spring of 2011 for a week long, spring break mission trip. It was the first mission trip any of us had been on. Little did any of us know that we were stepping into an experience that would forever change, not only each of our lives, but our whole family. Throughout the week God spoke, comforted, confirmed, and loved each member of my family, as well as the rest of the 24-person team. However, perhaps more notably, God enticed each of us with His presence. He gave us a thirst that would stick with us well beyond the international boundaries of Costa Rica and well beyond just a week long mission trip.

Having now been to Costa Rica with Answering the Call more than a handful of times, I have profoundly experienced the freedom, peace, and healing that Refugio Solté so readily offers. By no means am I inferring that these blessings are only available at Refugio Solté or on the mission field, but there is just a certain tangible presence of the Lord that resides and constantly moves there.

When I think about the original question, “What excites you?” I know my answer.

Refugio Solté excites me. Costa Rica excites me. Ultimately, freedom excites me. And the Lord wants to excite everyone with this freely offered freedom.

So I ask, what excites you?

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Written by Griffin Brand, 19 July 2014

Monday, September 15, 2014

Entertained or Engaged?

There's a stunning scene in Gladiator when Maximus enters the arena, alone, to engage a half dozen opponents. In mere seconds the general, the disciplined legionnaire, dispatches the brawlers with a brutal series of attacks. After he has killed the last of his opponents by decapitating him with two swords, the crowd is shocked silent. Enraged, Maximus throws one sword into the VIP box, and yells, “Are you not entertained?” When met with silence from the stands, Maximus discards his other sword upon the sand with utter disgust.

Are we entertained or are we engaged? In Rome there was a metonym, panem et circenses, or bread and circuses, which summarized a political technique of preserving power by pacifying the masses with food and entertainment. As long as the mob was made complacent with full stomachs and distracted with spectacles in the arena it mattered not how incompetent, corrupt, or unjust the government. Public approval was purchased to defeat dissent.

Interestingly enough, this metonym was first recorded circa AD 100. Maybe it is a coincidence that at the time of penning, the first century Church was an existential threat to the Roman elite, but then again, maybe not. Christians were put to death in the Colosseum and loaves of bread were tossed into the crowded stands like t-shirts at a more modern and more civilized sports event. You see, Christianity offers real hope in a world that is starving for it; hence it has a way of unsettling all those powers which offer only a shade or facsimile of hope.

The practice of bread and circuses began a full two centuries before the metonym was coined by the poet Juvenal and a full century before the birth of Christ. Populares, liberal politicians that “favored” the people, schemed to win the votes of the plebeius, or common people, by giving away free grain and hosting elaborate circuses. The popular support gained allowed the populares to shift the balance of power away from the optimates, or conservative politicians that “favored” the patricius, or aristocracy. In exchange however, the people abdicated all influence in their own affairs. The ugly truth was the populares were no different from the optimates. Both were politicians who sought to increase their own power and champion their own cause without regard for the plebeius or the patricius. As Rome became more progressive, Juvenal lamented the lack of heroism in the contemporary Roman.

Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.”

That is the actual historic backdrop of Gladiator, set during mid-second century AD. Obviously there were dramatic liberties and poetic license taken with many facts, but fiction has a way of capturing the essence of truth which can often be lost in all the facts. The truth that we are focused on now is what Maximus in the sand and the spectators in the stands represent. Are we engaged in a battle to make a difference or are we merely entertained?

Are we commoners or aristocrats? Subject to the whims of those that seek power? Willing to abdicate our right to self-determination and submit to authority that is not just in trade for comfort and entertainment? Worse yet, are we liberals or conservatives? Pray we are not the parties guilty of deceiving for the sake of improving our own positions. Instead, let us choose to be disciplined soldiers, fighting for something that matters. If we cannot be champions upon the sands of the arena, then let us at least resolve to be willing martyrs – living proof of an eternal hope beyond this temporary, and often wretched life. For although we may live under the burden of affluence here in America, it is, as Dickens said, the best of times and the worst of times. The comforts and distractions we enjoy here do not make the pain in the world disappear. It merely makes our hearts hard and our bodies soft. So that when we are confronted by the world's pain, we are not stirred, nor capable of making a difference, simply desiring still more panem et circenses.

Yet if we would discipline ourselves, we would rapidly find ourselves in a place where our hearts are stirred and our bodies are capable. Discipline is not a hard thing, just a tenacious thing. It really is not a matter of doing any one difficult thing for a short period of time. It is a matter of doing many small things for an extended period of time. Therein lies the difficulty.

Christians often associate discipline with fasting. Once every blue moon we'll give up some food, and work very hard to grin and bear the hunger pangs. What if we're thinking about it wrong though? John Calvin wrote in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, “The life of the pious should be tempered with frugality and sobriety, so as to exhibit, as much as may be, a kind of fasting during the whole course of life.” Calvin considered fasting a useful and daily discipline, but not the only discipline. Fasting is a good example of discipline, an especially relevant example in America, where more than 1 in 3 people are clinically obese and the other 2 in 3 could shed a few pounds without starving. Fasting is also a discipline which lends itself to other disciplines. As Calvin wrote, “In general, the only object [the early Church] had in fasting was to render themselves more alert and disencumbered for prayer.”

So maybe today we start living a more disciplined life by simply consuming a little less panem and indulging in a little less circenses. I think we'll be surprised when we find ourselves champions on the sand of the arena of life, championing freedom like Maximus at the end of Gladiator.