Posted in Bible reading, Faith, Fame, God's call, Perspective, Popularity, Purpose, Success

Only Then

 

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Success. It’s what everyone dreams of and hopes to achieve in life.

To be honest of my own aspirations, I dream of one of my blog posts go viral one day. I think anyone who pours themselves into their writing (or any craft they devote themselves to for that matter) hopes that their efforts will be recognized.

Musicians strive to record the best songs, post them on YouTube and hope someone will recognize their talent.

Athletes will train for years dreaming of making it to the Olympics.

Preachers prepare and work on their messages hoping that their congregations will receive them well and even congratulate them on a job well done afterwards.

Just a side note here: Props to all preachers out there who spend hours preparing every week to preach a message to their congregations. Most of them are not the televangelist type. They are unknown, uncelebrated, not on TV, paid very poorly, if at all, but have a real desire to bring messages of substance to their congregations. They are the unsung heroes of the church world, ministering week in and week out to the people on the ground. My husband is one of those faithful preachers and I watch him prepare sermons weekly in a language that is foreign to him (this sometimes takes days) in an effort to reach the wonderful people God has given us. It’s mostly a thankless task but let me just say “well done” to him and all others out there who give their all for their congregations with hearts of integrity. Rant over and back to the subject at hand. 

When probed about our dreams, we’ll often take the “humble” route, saying we’re ok with whatever happens. However, truth be told, every time our efforts don’t produce the results we hope for, we feel the sting of disappointment.

I’ve read countless articles on writing and blogging; there are many topics I have read that have ranged from how to blog successfully, how to be a successful blogger in 90 days, 1-2-3 steps to a successful faith blog, monetizing your blog, and of course the blog articles with the most “bling” attached to them are the ones promising great income if you pay for their online course. Being the skinflint that I am (I’m not totally blind to the “click here to sign up for my paid course” gimmicks), I’ve signed up for free courses, free emails, and poured over articles about various ways of using hashtags, hyperlinks, and social media posts.

Just like you, when my efforts don’t reach my aspirations, I feel disappointed which then brings me to question why am I doing what I’m doing when it’s not been “successful?” This is the point when, if we dare to look beyond what is popularly defined as success, we can find true success. Instead of reading everyone else’s “how to” manual – we already have The Manual (the Bible, God’s Word) that has been tried and tested, but usually sits unread on our shelves and coffee tables:

Joshua 1:8 NLT “Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.”

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In the Kingdom of God, the way to success leads us in directions that often run crossgrain to what society popularizes. Success in the Kingdom is measured not by what appears on the outside but the changes that are produced internally when we change course and dare to become people of The Manual. God’s Word is meant to be a Manual for Living as the words in it, when we take them in and saturate ourselves with them, transform us.

Hebrews 4:12 NLT “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.”

This juncture of reaching success in the Kingdom is where many of us struggle – how can we be successful in this world we live in by living according to a different set of rules? The difference is found in what the 2 systems produce: this world’s definition of success relies solely on appearances, resulting in a great deal of stress and disappointment when unfulfilled, while the Kindom’s definition of success relies on the integrity of God Himself, resulting in a sure path to prosperity and success.

What is posperity and success in the Kingdom? It probably isn’t what most of us would consider prosperity: a fat bank account, stock options, a viral blog, or our own TV show. Success in God’s Kingdom is born from a heart trusting in His ways and following The Manual that leads to Him taking care of each and every step we take in this life. I’ve found this to be true in my own life as I live by The Manual, I am sure of God’s care for me. While I’ve not amassed much in this life compared to others, I’ve never gone to bed hungry nor have any of my children lacked food, clothes, a roof over their heads, a bed to sleep on, or an education to help them move ahead in life. If my Father has gotten me this far, I’m certain He will take care of me and my family to the end.

Is that not enough? Is that not success?

Posted in Bible reading, Choices, Church planting, Devotion, Goals, God's Word, Kingdom, Missions, Perspective, Serving, The Call of God

Hello

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Immersion. That’s a word you don’t hear often.

In the context of missions, it is the best way to learn language, culture, and the discipline required to acquire both. While becoming fluent evades some, the simple effort to communicate in the local language is appreciated by those we live with. I don’t remember ever being berated in Africa for saying something incorrectly; I’ve always been met with smiles and appreciation for the little effort made to learn to say “hello.”

I had never, in all of my days, thought that I would speak more than 2 languages: English and Finnish (my parents are from Finland and I grew up speaking Finnish at home). I also didn’t know how speaking 2 languages from the get-go would help me learn 5 more languages. My mind was already accustomed to working between 2 languages; adding another 1 or even 5 wouldn’t be impossible.  Yes, you read that correctly: 5 more languages. I studied all of them but became fluent in 3 of the 5. Since our return to Burundi last month, I’ve been working on my Kirundi that I studied in 1991 when we first moved here to plant a church. In 2000 we moved away and as a result, I lost the bit of Kirundi I had learned. However, now that we are back, I’m finding myself speaking more in Kirundi than ever before – I’ve been immersed! Just give me another year to practice and I’ll not only be slightly conversational, I will speak fluently.

Learning the culture of any people group comes from learning language, for culture is deeply intertwined in language. Just think of how differently English is spoken in different places around the world! Years ago in Zambia, my husband was preaching in our church on a Sunday morning. He attempted to tell a joke, which often backfires here as what we may think is funny, often falls flat.  What is funny to us from the USA is often incomprehensible here in Africa. The same holds true for African humor versus Western humor. We often don’t see what’s funny to the other! However, on this particular Sunday, Jamie (my husband) was rewarded with not only a laugh from the crowd but an addendum to the joke. The joke went like this as he said:

“It has been said that the British invented English, but it’s the Americans who perfected it.”

From the crowd, we heard the following:

“And the Zambians ruined it!”

Roars of unexpected laughter filled the place – I’ll never forget it. Why was it so funny? Well, you’d have to hear Zambians speak English to appreciate how funny it was.

Culture and language, they go hand in hand and if we can’t learn to pick up on their cues we risk being effective wherever in the world we find ourselves.

Becoming fluent in language and culture came (and is still coming after nearly 31 years of learning) through being immersed, there is no shortcut, no second option. It’s the only way to leap over the barrier that separates me from those I’m serving and it’s a barrier that must be overcome. Living among the people we serve and being forced, as it were, to communicate with them and learn the ebbs and flows of the culture is enabling me to communicate through a filter they will understand. It’s an extremely frustrating season for anyone serving in a culture foreign to their own – but it’s what we came here for. We didn’t come to bring American language and culture to Africa. We came to Africa to bring Kingdom culture to those we touch. The onus to change how we communicate is on us, not on those around us (see Acts 17:16-21 when Paul was ministering at Athens).

The same principle holds true in Kingdom culture and language. The more we immerse ourselves in the culture and language of the Kingdom of God, the more fluent and comfortable we will become. His cultural cues become increasingly engrained in us as we spend time studying His language, His Word. The more effort we put into learning His ways and language, the more we will get out of our relationship with Him. As time passes we find ourselves needing less interpretation of what He is trying to tell us – because we’re familiar with His voice, His language, His culture.

I arrived early this morning for another bit of Kingdom culture immersion as I sat down to read my Bible, pray, and spend time with God, my Father, who is also the King of the Kingdom I serve. I began as I do every morning when I sit down with Him:

“Hello, Dad.”

He was quick to respond:

“Hello daughter, I’ve been waiting for you.”

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Posted in Bible reading, Christmas, Church planting, Judgment, New Year, Offense, The Call of God

He Was A Missionary

We are at the end of 2017. One could say it’s the end of an era; at least an era lasting a whole 12 months.  Every year I find myself saying the same thing, “I can’t believe another year has gone by” and while it feels like a tedious saying, it’s nevertheless true.

It is nearly 2018 and I don’t know where the days went, how 12 months could tick by so quickly. The year has been full of activity and I hope most of it was productive. The older I get the more I wonder how much of what I’ve devoted myself to was really what mattered.

Did it matter that the power went off? Oh, the power did go off a lot in the past year but we’re still here.

Did it matter that the water went off? It was very inconvenient and smelly, but we’re still here.

Did it matter that our Blantyre church still meets in a tent? The floor is dirt and money to build is still in realms of prayer, but we’re still meeting.

What have we done that mattered his year? What have we accomplished that held any eternal value in the face of an ever-complicated world situation?

I find myself asking these questions and understand a bit more every year that what matters most isn’t encompassed by what we would naturally consider valuable or important.

In my devotions, I have come across the story of Jonah. The book of Jonah is one of my favorite books in the Bible because Jonah resembles me in so many ways: he’s sent to a country not his own, he’s not a “qualified” prophet, and the circumstances he faces causes him to have a bit of an attitude. Now, I know no one else reading this ever has attitude problems, but I find myself battling them daily as I walk on this road of life.

Jonah, as many of us know him, was a runaway prophet. The city of Nineveh was a city that was a fierce enemy of Israel, Jonah’s nation. They were well known for pillaging Israel at every chance they got – but God had called Jonah to prophecy to them, to give them a chance to turn and repent.

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As the story goes, Jonah runs from his call, gets swallowed by a fish, begs for mercy in the fish, is himself delivered, and brings God’s message to Nineveh. The people collectively repented and God’s wrath was held back. This turn of events angered Jonah; when you read the story, you could initially be dumbfounded by Jonah’s reaction. Why would Jonah resist God’s command to the point of running away and facing all of the consequences that he did?

I wonder if the Ninevites, in their pillaging of Israel, didn’t touch Jonah’s life? Had he lost property or loved ones in the raids? Surely, he was effected somehow, if not even himself directly. It was no wonder he struggled to obey God’s call to the Ninevites, his enemy.

Even after his infamous stay in the fish, Jonah grudgingly preaches God’s message. He was so angry when God’s wrath was held back; he seemed to have wanted the people to suffer at God’s hand:

Jonah 4:1-3 NKJV“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. So he prayed to the Lord, and said, “Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!”

Jonah, if we were to take him at his word, would’ve preferred to die than seeing God show mercy on his enemies, people who he felt didn’t deserve God’s mercy. What Jonah didn’t understand was that God had a greater understanding of the people; they weren’t even what today’s Christians would call “God’s people” but God loved them and said to Jonah:

Jonah 4:11 NKJV“And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left…”

God saw something that Jonah didn’t see; He saw the hearts of people. He knew the people’s hearts were ready for a change and He was willing to offer them the change He knew they were ready for. He also knew the condition of Jonah’s heart and knew the only remedy for Jonah’s bitterness was to be sent on this mission of mercy to those who had no right to it. What Jonah didn’t see was the condition of his own heart that, without the same mercy, would also have been deserving of God’s judgment.

As I consider the goings-on of the year, and the hiccups that came along with the year’s events, I hope my attitude hasn’t been like Jonah’s of times past. It would be easy, if I listened to the loud rhetoric being sent across the airwaves and internet to judge others less than worthy of God’s goodness – but thank God, He is not that way. He was not that way with me, I therefore, cannot be that way with others whether or not I understand God’s love for them.

What mattered this year is if I honestly represented my Lord and His Mission as I went about my days, if I reached out with mercy and grace, even when I’ve not been offered that same courtesy.

My prayer as I look forward to 2018 is that I might value what God values and be true to The Mission of extending mercy where it is undeserved – and that understanding starts with me.

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Posted in Bible reading, Doubt, Faith

The Book Is Better Than The Movie

My little daughter has discovered the “Chronicles of Narnia” movie series. As we’ve watched the movies, she immediately understood the symbolism without my telling her that the Lion was representative of Jesus and how in the Witch represented Satan. “Jesus,” she said, “wins over them all.”

I love these movies – but you know I’ve read the books and the truth is that the books are better than the movies. To get the story right, you have to read the books. You see when you read the books, you get the whole story, not a brief and unreliable version of it. Movies that are made about books are brief summaries based on opinions of others who read the books – how they understood the plot, perhaps not to the liking of the author.

The “Narnia” movies are somewhat accurate in keeping the storylines to those of the books – but they leave a lot out as a 2-hour movie doesn’t lend enough time to tell the tale of several hundred pages of narrative. It’s still a “bare bones” rendition, leaving out what the original authors wanted you to get out of the story.

Some years ago the movie, “Noah” came out. I went I think a couple of days after it was released and I left thinking I had seen a science fiction movie. There were rock creatures that talked and all kinds things that weren’t present in the Book. You see, it was told as the screenwriters wanted it told so it might sell more tickets.

Our lives with the Lord can somehow be uncannily similar; there are “screenwriters” out there making a display of what living for the Lord should look like so it can appear popular to the masses. So they can sell their movie tickets, so they will be popular among the “relevant” movements in Christianity.  The screenwriters are so wrong in their editing movies for I’ve never heard of a movie being better than the book. Yet, for some reason, people fall for their movie trailers and promises of great popcorn and perks if you sign up for their movie app.

The Father, the Author, wants to write His Book in you and live it through you – WHAT IF we allowed Him to do just that?

So, it may be that you have been watching a movie trailer or have been watching the movie itself. Maybe you read parts of the book before but the movie sounded so good; the details of the Real Story have faded in your memory. The Book is so much better – maybe the movie has changed your mind just a bit. Made the truths you knew fade into the far recesses of times past. Perhaps the screenwriter version has become so popular that you find yourself wondering at times if the Book really is true.

I wanted to bring us back today to the Greatest Storyteller of all time Who not only wrote but sent His Son to live out the story for us, to make us free. What has happened over time is that this world and even Christianity’s “make me feel better and relevant with this world” culture, waters down the truths that this, the Greatest Author of all time, wrote in His Book.

Does this new screenplay we are all watching in this day and age really make us feel better? The compromise, the belief that God’s standards are somehow “out of date” and need to be “altered” to fit today’s world. It’s outdated, they say, so it needs to be made relevant.

Yes, languages change, colour palates change from season to season, and we may even change our hairstyle (I have heard every woman has an average of 5-7 hairstyles in her lifetime and some of us still remember the colour “seafoam green”), and we have hopefully stopped wearing shoulder pads that made us look like football players.

But the Book tells us what He is really like, what living for Him is meant to be. It is easy to be persuaded to believe something else when we don’t remind ourselves of what He is like daily. When I begin to listen to what “the evidence” points to, that God doesn’t care about me, or I’m not sure if He loves me, or that I should live holy but it’s ok if I don’t, I start the process of forgetting Who He really is and replacing what I once knew to be true, for a lie.

Our enemy fights, but not overtly. He begins by telling us lies – his ambition is to take our authority from us for he wants to take as many down with him as he can. Satan’s lies begin as partial truths that are overemphasized into error – let me give you an example. Are we the righteousness of God in Christ? Yes!!! But we are also nothing without Him. If we only speak of how wonderful we are – we sway into error and forget that He is all and all and without Him we are lost!

What if we took the time to open the Book, and really remember what it says?

The Greatest Storyteller, the Author, sent His Son to live as one of us so we could reign with Him – and our Lord Jesus won His war. And now the spiritual war that wages in the heavenlies is ours to win through His wonderful victory ( see Ephesians 6).

Jesus left heaven, became fully man and was at the same time, fully God (see Hebrews 2:7) and Jesus, in His lifetime, used the authority Adam had lost. He was not the offspring of Adam; He was not subject to the laws of fallen man because He was God in man (see Hebrews 1:8). He then turned around and shared His authority with us:

Revelation 1:6 NKJ and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

 1 Peter 2:9 NKJ “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;”

We don’t fight with a sword, flailing in our own strength. We stand with a scepter as kings. This is how we win – understanding what the Book, not the movie (society, popular messages and movements), says.

Today’s messages tell us to be self-centered in that we are to seek after what’s best for us and our own – but God’s wisdom says we are to serve as Jesus did Philippians 2:3-11 vs. 5 “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” We are to take up His mind and put away our own for using our own hasn’t worked thus far, has it?

Imagine what happened! Jesus left heaven as God, He returned as God-man as He completed the work of redemption and left us with the authority to enforce it in the earth. And then life happens, the movie trailers begin to play, and we are no longer “mindful” or full of the mind of Christ.

But you see the Book reminds us of the truths that the screenplay leaves out:

Revelation 12:11 NKJ “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.”

We will overcome, not by falling for the lies and deceptions of the movie trailers – but by His blood and the testimony of our lips of what He, the Son, has done for us. How do we win a war when we are in prison? What prison, you say? The one we put ourselves in when we allow our minds to be chained to the screenplay. We are in prison when we are deceived, when we believe a lie.

This was done just for our age, what will He do in ages to come?

Ephesians 2:7 NKJ “that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

For there are more Books to be written, more stories He will tell – this is only our beginning. The Father has been forever; there’s never been a time that He wasn’t and He has chosen to include us in this journey. Why not join Him and read the Book – stop watching the movies – and break off those chains.

He is good, His purposes are good, and the Book is definitely better than the movie.

 

Posted in Bible reading, Correction, Devotion, Fasting, Prayer

Day 21 – We Made It!

We made it to day 21! Congratulations!

This has, for me, been an amazing 21 days; it has been a very good fast. You may ask, “How can a fast be good?” The benefits of fasting far outweigh the discomforts and inconveniences we face when on a fast. Fasting is a time that we set aside to turn our concentration away from the noise of daily life and set our hearts to hear from God. This is what we’ve been doing and God has surely been speaking to my husband and I and our churches in Africa.

What we face as we return to “normal” life tomorrow is keeping the revelations of the fast before us instead of forgetting them when life hits us in the face. If we aren’t watchful over the ground we have gained spiritually during the fast, we will lose it very quickly. In spite of the fact that life is now going back to normal, we can’t live life as we did before and hope to preserve the treasures we have found during this time.

Proverbs 1:29-33 TLB “For you closed your eyes to the facts and did not choose to reverence and trust the Lord, and you turned your back on me, spurning my advice. That is why you must eat the bitter fruit of having your own way and experience the full terrors of the pathway you have chosen. For you turned away from me—to death; your own complacency will kill you. Fools! But all who listen to me shall live in peace and safety, unafraid.”

What we have experienced in the past has, at times, looked and tasted like “bitter fruit.” This happened because we didn’t choose to reverence the Lord, honor our relationship with Him. We became familiar with what is holy and we chose to turn away from Him and His advice. The journey of life lived this way is increasingly bitter and full of “terrors” because of our choices. It isn’t God Who brings destruction – our own complacency, lack of passion for God, that brings destruction.

Like you, I’ve heard it said many times we can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results. A fast like this one we have been on is meant to get our eyes off of our own opinions and to turn our focus onto God’s opinion. If we go back to living as we were before without making adjustments, life will certainly return to the way it was before the fast.

There are a few practical ways I’d like to share with you on what you can do to keep the “spiritual edge” you have gained during this special time. This is by no means an exhaustive list, just a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Create a vision board – where you post the things God spoke to you for this year. As a family, we have done this this year. Our vision board is in a prominent place in the house where we will see it often (Habakkuk 2:2,3). Ishah Whipple, one of our guest bloggers during this time, wrote a wonderful piece about vision boards. Click here to read more.
  2. Be diligent to spend consistent time in the Word of God and prayer. There are many Bible reading plans available online and in books, I encourage you to find what works best for you and stick with it. Prayer is not as difficult a discipline as we might think; prayer is simply communicating with God. God just wants to spend time with you. Write your chosen time in your daily planner – the time that works best for you – and stick to it.
  3. Create spiritual goals for the year that are attainable: reading books by solid Christian authors, taking a Bible class online or at your home church, and finding something that keeps you challenged spiritually.
  4. Be consistent with your attendance in your local church. If you’ve never taken notes during the sermon, maybe now is a great time to start.
  5. Involve your family in setting “God goals” for the year.
  6. When you fall short at some point, don’t give up. Pick up where you left off and keep going.
  7. Take short breaks for fasting during the year. For many years, I’ve fasted on Wednesdays to keep myself spiritually sharp. This past year I didn’t fast on Wednesdays as much as I would have liked – but that will change. I will be fasting more consistently on Wednesdays once again.

One of the main reasons people cite for not spending more time with God is that they “don’t have time.” Well, we make time for the things that matter to us. I encourage you to review your timetable and delete those activities that keep you from growing in your relationship with God.

I’m truly blessed that you have journeyed with me these three weeks, thank you. Now that the fast is over, I look forward to a wonderful vision-filled year! I’ll still be here, writing as The Cultural Misfit, talking about laundry, kids, church planting, coffee, and whatever else inspires me. I hope to find you here.

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Ah, now it’s time to go and get something to eat!!!