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

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.
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.”
Written by Ben Machia, 03 November 2014