Goals and Grace

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Setting goals. It’s what everyone does at the beginning of every year; we make lists of “resolutions” or “goals” for the year. I have a laundry list of things that I wash, rinse, and repeat every year: be a better wife and mom, get healthier, read more, give more, work harder in the mission, the list goes on. I have gotten very specific at times, to the point where, at the end of the year when I see that my list fell woefully short of completion or success – I got discouraged. Lately, my goals have gotten non-specific in order to keep myself from feeling totally defeated on December 31st.

In our day and age, we relish in the activity more than we do in those engaging in the activity and that, at least for me, has bled into how we perceive ourselves as successful or not. Don’t get me wrong, having well thought plans and goals are good. Without maintaining some kinds of goals, we risk stagnation in every area of life. However, if we place too much weight on the side of the scale of goals, it could interrupt the balance between goals and grace, we may find ourselves striving to achieve rather than running the race with endurance.

Hebrews 12:1b NKJV “…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

I believe we have exchanged what is meant to be the prize, being told, “Well done, enter in!” (Matt. 25:21) for what we can achieve in the here and now. The measures of success in God’s Kingdom have to do with His grace, not our works (Eph. 2:8). By His grace we are enabled to endure and finish the race, and if we learn to run in the cadence, as it were, of grace we will go far and see much accomplished for the Kingdom.

This year as I set my goals I’m making a change. I’ve decided that His grace is great enough to help me see Him do great things through me – not the other way around. In myself, the little that I can achieve isn’t even mediocre in comparison to what He can do with His great power if I just sit back and let Him take the driver’s seat.

Acts 4:33 NKJV And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.”

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Unseen? Maybe. Insignificant? Never.

As we’re coming to the end of January and our season of fasting closes, we stand face-to-face with 2018 and the work that lies ahead. Today, Jamie (aka my husband/sweetheart) reminds us how to keep our focus on serving God throughout 2018 without looking for recognition. When the work is hard and the day is long, we often wish someone would say, “Good job.” Most of the time, the day-to-day sacrifices we make go unnoticed by those around us and this can lead to discouragement. However, there is Someone Who notices everything.

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John 12:26(b) NKJV “If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.” 

Our service to the Lord Jesus Christ guarantees us honor, not the honor of men, but the honor of God the Father.  Of course, when God honors us, often it comes in the form of “favor with men.”  Luke 2:52 NKJV “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”  However, whether we’re ever recognized and acknowledged by people or not, it really doesn’t matter, what matters the most is God’s recognition and acknowledgement of us.

Our service to Jesus is expressed in many different ways.  We can’t even give a cup of water to a disciple and it not be recognized and rewarded, even something as “little and insignificant” as this in the eyes of the world, is seen as service to Jesus!  Matthew 10:42 NKJV “And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.”

So we should take courage today in whatever service and ministry we’re involved in for the sake of God’s Kingdom; our names may never appear in Charisma Magazine, we may never be invited to speak on TBN (Christian TV), we may never even receive recognition by other churches, but as long as what we’re doing is as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23 NKJV “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.”), our Father in Heaven is taking note and one day, one way or another, He will honor us.

Also, this truth will encourage us to “not grow weary while doing good” (Galatians 6:9).  When we realize it’s Jesus we’re serving, no matter how menial the task may seem, we’ll not give up because we know one day, one way or another, God will make sure we’re honored.  And if it’s God who’s making sure we’re honored, we’ll truly be honored!

I believe this word will be a blessing and encouragement to you, not only now, but also in the days ahead, as you serve God in your area of the world.  

Go To Sleep

“Don’t worry!”

Easier said than done, if truth be told, especially when the unexpected happens.

A few Sundays ago, Jamie (my husband) preached a message at church challenging us to rest, to trust God, in spite of what’s going on. The phrase he used to describe how we should rest that stuck out most in my mind was, “Go to sleep.” I couldn’t help but smile when, unexpectedly, I heard the tune of a familiar lullaby playing over the speaker as he was closing the message and praying for people, “Go to sleep, Go to sleep, la, la, la, la, la, la, la…” As a pastors wife, we actually don’t want out people falling asleep in church; however, the tune was a good fit for the moment and to keep the congregation awake, he had us all stand up.

Oh the things that happen in church!

It’s impossible to predict what might happen from one service to the next, especially in a brand-new church plant where no one is the “churched” type. In earlier church plants, I would often approach our services with a sense of dread over what might happen, what would inevitably happen, at some point. I now wish I had learned the lesson of going to sleep a little sooner!

I’d begin Sunday with the “What if” thoughts:

What if the sound system squeaks or squeaks?.

What if the rats climb on the balcony railing again?

What if drunk, stumbling and passing out drunk, people disrupt service?

What if people thought the worst of us?

Would that my heart had rested earlier! Peace isn’t a situation, peace is a posture of heart. The answers to a squealing system, rats climbing, or drunks stumbling would come and life would go on. Some people would like us, others wouldn’t, and there was nothing I could do to change anyone’s opinion – and I have learned to rest and be myself. The churches we have been blessed to plant have all started the same way, with little decorum, opening the doors (or tent flaps sometimes) to any and all who might enter. As you might have supposed, the congregation rarely begins with the wealthy, it’s the poor who come, looking for a place to be welcomed.

Welcome them we do and as the years go by, we begin to see changes take place: God blesses them with jobs, families, homes, and businesses. The miracles that happen take place over time and the messy beginning turns into a beautiful church full of people that are all at various stages of growth in the Lord that is seen on their faces, heard in their speech, and experienced in their day-to-day lives. I came to realize, the messy “What ifs” fade away as God chips away and works in the lives of His people.

John 14:27 NKJV “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

Don’t worry what things might look like or what might go wrong or what others will think. We worry more over the peace of others than we do for ourselves. Scriptures teach us to guard, or keep, our hearts (Prov. 4:23) because what comes out of our hearts determine the course of our lives. It’s time to put a “Do not Disturb” sign over our hearts and watch over what we allow in. The words, “Let no your heart be troubled,” ring as loud and clear today as they did when Jesus first uttered them; don’t worry, rest! Remember that appearances are only that: appearances. Rest is found not in worrying over impressions, it’s found in allowing God to work and sort all of the messiness in our lives in His way, in His time.

About Those Potato Chips

The food that potato chips bought.

This time of year, we take part in a fast. It’s always a very meaningful time where we push back and set our minds on our relationship with the Lord and what He has planned for us in the coming year. It’s kind of a reset button that helps us keep our ears and hearts open to God’s voice. No one enjoys the physical process of fasting, but the benefits far outweigh the discomfort.

At home, we’ve always encouraged (never forced of course) our young children to give up, or fast, certain activities (TV and other forms of media for example) or unnecessary snacks for a period of time. Our youngest is an avid potato chip fan – she knows most of what’s available here and panics when the chip stash runs low. This year, she has laid down the chips and has somehow enjoyed the sacrifice. Of course it’s not a full chip fast but it’s precious nonetheless!

One of the often overlooked parts of fasting has to do with what to do with the money we’ve saved with far less grocery shopping. Do we save it or buy something that we’ve wanted but haven’t been able to afford? Do we pay down bills or put it into savings?

While saving money feels good, there is another powerful element of fasting that has far-reaching potential:

Isaiah 58:6-9 NKJV

Is this not the fast that I have chosen:

To loose the bonds of wickedness,

To undo the heavy burdens,

To let the oppressed go free,

And that you break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,

And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;

When you see the naked, that you cover him,

And not hide yourself from your own flesh?

Then your light shall break forth like the morning,

Your healing shall spring forth speedily,

And your righteousness shall go before you;

The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;

You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’”

Today the three of us piled into our little car and drove to the store and purchased food and soap that we will distribute among some of the poor in Blantyre where we live. This is actually something our daughter thought of last year after seeing how poor many are in our city. What we purchased today will be bundled into care packages that we will begin distributing this week and she will be front and center putting the packages together. Her joy is palpable and contagious!

Yes, we are aware that this little bit of help will most likely do very little in the larger scope of things to address poverty – but simply because it isn’t enough doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. Who knows? This little bit of help might just be the glimmer of hope someone needs to see to light their way in the dark. Obedience in the Kingdom of God goes a long way and translates into miracles.

About the potato chips? That sacrifice will go a long way.

A Lifeline

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“I’ll get even!”

As children, especially those of us who grew up with siblings, getting even was to be expected. Whenever one of my siblings got the best of me, they knew that eventually I would find them and return the favor. I am not sure which one of us was the best at “getting back” at the other, or who was best at the “getting,” as we all knew the other was considered fair game, getting even was to be expected.

“You started it so you deserved it.”

Later on in life I came to understand that I deserved judgment, but God offered me grace which I eagerly accepted and I am so thankful that I did! The truth of the matter is that we all deserve judgment apart from the grace and mercy of God. We who have come to know Jesus live under one spiritual roof in God’s Kingdom and there’s none among us who has been able to earn what we have been given. Yet, I find it strange that for all we have: forgiveness, mercy, grace, love, and more, we carefully measure out our approval to those who have yet to enter the Kingdom. For some reason it seems we feel the less-than-palatable characters of this world “deserve” less than we do because they are so ungodly and when they meet an untimely demise, or tragedy comes to their part of the world, there’s a sense of “they deserved it” that floats around in our circles. How this must hurt not only the heart of our Father, but also hurt those reaching out in those unseemly places.

Ezekiel 33:10-16 TLB vs. 11 “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; I desire that the wicked turn from his evil ways and live…”

Souls are priceless, even those we find to be uncomely, they matter to the Lord and they should matter to us. The call to pray for and go to the nations (see Matt. 9:38 and Luke 15) remains unchanged in spite of this world’s present situation. There are no clauses in those scriptures that excludes us in this present age of reaching out to people, both near and far, whose lives are foreign to us. Once upon a time, and not very long ago either, such were some of us (see 1 Cor. 6:10,11) and we needed someone to extend us a lifeline.

It’s their turn now, they don’t deserve it, but neither did we.

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Stay Focused

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My husband Jamie is once again keeping it real in today’s entry – let’s stay focused this year.

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The other day in my daily reading of the Word I read John 20:21 NLT “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”  As I read this verse, I sensed the Holy Spirit impress upon me these words: “Peace is found in fulfilling our purpose.”  What is our purpose? To simply exist and try to be “good” until the day we die? Our purpose is to be “sent.”  Sent to do what?  To win souls and make disciples of all nations.

Matthew 28:19 NKJV “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

However, many people, including Christians, are involved in many activities, even “Christian activities” that don’t have their purpose at the center of what they are doing.  The result of this leaves them unfulfilled and because of this, they are frustrated and lack peace.  The answer to overcoming their frustration and lack of peace is to simply re-focus and get back to the main thing being the main thing: being sent to win souls and make disciples.  Once they do that they will find true fulfillment and peace because peace is found in fulfilling our purpose.

Jamie Peters

 

 

A Special Reason

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Our work in Africa has required us to file many official documents for the purpose of registering the work legally in the countries we are serving. Each country has it’s own specific procedures in place for those wanting to pursue registration; we have gone through this process successfully in several countries on the continent of Africa (Burundi, DRC, Zambia, and Malawi) and have had to study each nation’s process before making application. In 2005 when we first filed for registration of the work in Malawi, we submitted our application at an office called the “Registrar of Societies.” From there, the file entered the system  and we waited for its approval, which took less than 6 months. At the time of our filing, there was no congregation, no building, no outreach – all we had was faith to sustain us. Now, nearly 12 years later, we have 5 churches in Malawi alone not to mention the other community outreaches that are ongoing.

Today, as I ponder what God has done over the years in this country alone, I struggle to find words to describe what’s going on in my heart. What made God choose us? We are an extremely ordinary couple with nothing extraordinary that would “qualify” us for something like we have seen take place over the years.

It may be that being extremely ordinary we found our journey to the extraordinary.

1 Chronicles 14:2a TLB “David now realized why the Lord had made him king and why he had made his kingdom so great…”

David who was King of Israel at the time that this scripture is referring to, came from an ordinary family. He was, perhaps, the most ordinary in the family as he was a shepherd. His work was to care for the family’s livestock. When the time came for a new king to be chosen for the nation (see 1 Sam. 16:1-13) David was out in the fields watching over the flocks for his father (vs. 12). No one expected someone so painfully ordinary to be considered for the extraordinary job of leading the nation. Yet, it was David, the ordinary one, who was chosen over all his brothers.

In choosing David over anyone else, God demonstrated that what He sees as qualifications required to serve Him far outweigh anything found in this world’s definition of success: a job with a large salary and benefits, a large bank account, land, education, presitge, honor in society, to name a few. God saw something in David that none of this world’s experiences could provide: someone whose eyes were open to others.

1 Chronicles 14:2b TLB “…it was for a speacial reason – to give joy to God’s people!”

David’s interest throughout most of his reign as King of Israel was focused on leading God’s people well; his interests came behind those of the people he was ruling. Whenever he veered from this, he experienced chaos. Thankfully, he learned this lesson quickly and the nation grew strong and prospered under his rule.

The moment any of us think outside of the realm of ourselves, we will quickly find the extraordinary taking place in our lives. This doesn’t mean we will live lives without test and trial. On the contrary, I have often felt as if we have bounced from trial to trial with not much time to breathe between the opposition that comes for the souls of men and women. What I have seen in the trial is miracle after miracle – miracles of provision, protection, and peace.

Jesus Himself chose to be born to an ordinary earthly family and had an ordinary profession as a carpenter and rose to see the extraordinary happen. With no formal training, He served His generation faithfully and lowered Himself so that others might experience joy. The result of His sacrifice for others carries on to our generation and now the challenge to us is: can we live for that same special reason, the joy of others?