Posted in Courage, Cross, Endurance, Faith, Perspective, Regret, Resurrection

Unlikely Candidates

When I held my firstborn for the first time, I was overwhelmed. I was afraid to lift him for fear of doing something wrong but after the nurse deposited him in my room she was gone and he began to cry. What else to do? I lifted him into my arms and began to learn how to comfort a crying baby, it had to be done.

Things changed quickly that day; before having children I really didn’t know what it meant to take charge and do what was needed at any given moment. When diapers needed changing, baths needed taking, and crying needed soothing, I was there and did what I had to do. In the years that followed I had 3 more children and each time the ability to do what had to be done was there. It didn’t matter how messy or how late I had to stay up, I just did it because it had to be done.

All these years later as my youngest is now 11 and has outgrown many of those younger-years issues, I am still amazed at what I was able to do, for in reality I am far from brave or strong.

I wonder about Simon of Cyrene who was compelled to carry the cross for Jesus. He was a family man, a father of 2 young sons (Mark 15:21) on a journey but was caught in the middle of the mess in Jerusalem at the crucifixion of Jesus.

Luke 23:26 NASB “When they led Him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, coming in from the country, and placed on him the cross to carry behind Jesus.”

Under the circumstances, Simon did what he had to do. I imagine in retrospect, when he learned of the resurrection of Jesus, his feelings of being chosen to carry the cross were much different than they were when he had the cross placed on him in the first place. Like many of us when we face the unexpected, he may have thought it unfair that he had to bear the burden, he was only on a trip, this wasn’t part of the plan!

Relationships, jobs, volunteering, ministry, and just about everything we do in life will be full of unexpected, unfair, and seemingly impossible complications that will arise and need tending to. Many times, at this juncture, unlike Simon of Cyrene who had no choice but to take the cross as he was forced to, we choose to back away from the challenge because it wasn’t part of the original plan. How much have we deprived ourselves from? Could it be possible that we were chosen in that difficult situation to carry something for Jesus?

After Jesus was crucified, His body needed to be buried. I doubt anyone made plans for it as his 12 disciples abandoned Him. There remained a task that needed to be done and the most unlikely of candidates chose to muster his courage: Joseph of Arimathea. The Bible says in John 19:38, 39 that he was a disciple “in secret” for fear of the Jews. We always equate secrecy with weakness. This apparently wasn’t so in this Joseph’s case for at the moment when someone was needed, he did what had to be done.

Imagine if Jesus’ body hadn’t been buried in a tomb. In that time when someone was crucified in this situation, unless there was someone willing to bury the body, the dead were thrown onto garbage heaps outside the city where wild animals swiftly disposed of them. If this would have happened to Jesus, there would’ve been no empty tomb to testify of His resurrection, but Joseph of Arimathea did what needed to be done and in the scripture this “secret disciple” is called “righteous.”

Luke 28:50,51 NASB “…Joseph of Arimathea…a good and righteous man…who was waiting for the Kingdom of God.”

I wonder if the key to gathering the courage to do what we need to do at any given moment is found in the character of Joseph: being someone who is waiting for the Kingdom of God. I imagine Joseph followed the ministry of Christ and being a learned man knew the Scripture. As his heart was right in waiting for the Kingdom, he understood to some degree that Jesus was special and part of the plan of the Kingdom he was anxiously waiting for.

Whatever you’re facing today, you can do it, you have the strength in you to get the job done as you focus on God and putting His Kingdom first. You may not understand what is happening but God is with you to complete the task. At the end of the day you’ll be able to look back without regret knowing you did what you had to do. You carried the cross.

1 Samuel 10:7b NLT “…do what must be done, for God is with you.”

Posted in Change, Correction, Cross, Family, Forgiveness, Kindness, Kingdom, Missions

Be Nice

I remember one of my favorite things to say to my 3 older kids when they were growing up was:

“Be nice.”

Sometimes it felt nearly impossible to get through a day without a major crisis unfolding between 2 or all 3 of them. The oldest would pop the youngest over the head, the 2nd born (a daughter) would take great delight in getting her 2 brothers in trouble, and the 3rd born relished in the fact that he had it a bit easier than his 2 older siblings. Now, with a 4th one that came a full 15 years after our 3rd, you know there is a lot of “you didn’t do that for us” going around.

Well, I confess, there’s truth to that statement, but we learn as we go don’t we? While we were waiting for our first child to be born, I remember thinking how I would do everything better than everyone else (why I thought this I am not sure). I knew how I wanted to raise my child in a certain way that was better than everyone else’s. I was sure that my household would be quiet, peaceful, the laundry would always be folded, dinner on the table, and everyone would be nice.

tenor

Fast forward 10 years and I found myself up to my neck in raising children, living abroad, and somehow working as a full-time missionary Africa. I honestly do not know how I made it through those days with my mind still somewhat intact. The amount of work that just goes into running a household here is stupefying; there is no fast food (thankfully), no quick place to shop (you go to the market which is an all-day ordeal), and keeping the house clean is a whole other blog for another day. All of this doesn’t take into account the work of the mission and church. At the end of every day (much like you wherever you are), both then and now, I wonder how I made it and continue to make it and follow my own counsel to “be nice.” Honestly, I wasn’t always as nice as I had hoped to be – but I always worked on it and am still working on it!

Ephesians 4:31,32 LB “Stop being mean, bad-tempered, and angry. Quarreling, harsh words, and dislike of others should have no place in your lives. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God has forgiven you because you belong to Christ.”

In the current supercharged world of “speaking our minds,” many have forgotten the need for those of us identifying as Christians to just be nice, be kind to each other. Everywhere we look these days be it online, TV, print, or in person there’s a strong negative current to “speak up for what is right.” We are ambassadors of the Kingdom and our righteous King, but we won’t convince anyone of their need for Christ if our righteousness is covered in ugliness. No matter the situation, Scripture is clear on the matter, we must be nice.

Society has always been ugly, humanity has always been divided, and the church can’t fulfill her mission when she looks, acts, and speaks like the world. Whatever happened to following Jesus advice to “Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29 NLT)

Have you ever noticed how exhausting it is to force change with anger or frustration? I wonder how many ulcers and troubles with high blood pressure could be averted by simply being nice. 

I learned this truth the hard way years ago serving here on the continent when I saw much hunger, injustice, and unnecessary death. I worked myself to the bone trying to bring change; no matter how hard I worked, no matter how many hungry and vulnerable children I fed, there were still more than needed feeding and despite my valiant efforts, people still went hungry. I became tired and bitter about my situation and the unfairness of it all – until one day, after sickness forced me to rest, I understood that anything pulling me from Jesus’ yoke that gives me rest is not His will for me. Over time I began to understand that this fallen world is full of sin and sin can’t be dealt with on our terms. Anger, frustration, overworking, and self-righteousness pull us away from His way to address man’s fallen nature by just being nice. The response of humanity to the message of the cross is not my responsibility; I am only responsible to bring the Good News. As long as there is sin in the world, there will be division, injustice, and pain.

This doesn’t mean we don’t speak the truth for Scripture clearly instructs us to “Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.” (Ephesians 4:15 NLT) What is our motive for speaking out and what is our method? If love for those we see lost in sin is our motive, then our methods will line up with Scripture – otherwise we are only adding fuel to the fire of division instead of bringing Christ in to redeem the situation.

How has frustration over the sinfulness of this world worked for us thus far? How has being angry helped any situation? Jesus walked this fallen earth and seldom was seen showing outright anger and frustration to the world; He had come to save them, give Himself for them – He died for them. His frustration was seen in the temple, among the “righteous,” who were too bsuy enriching themselves to reach out to those who really needed help – those outside of the temple (for us this can be taken to mean the church).

My youngest daughter loves the movie, “Frozen” and the theme song, “Let it go.” I rarely spiritualize animated movies but today I will make an exception. Those things frustrating you, those unfair, unrighteous, unholy, difficult things that anger you – let them go. Take Jesus’ yoke on you, He is the only One qualified to measure out judgment. Now is the time to be the church in the world, speak in love, and simply put:

Be nice.

 

Posted in Choices, Church planting, Courage, Cross, God's call, Inadequacy, Kingdom, Leadership, Loss, Missions, Obedience, Popularity, Rejection, The Call of God

The Hashtag

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In this new world of social media, blogging, vlogging, podcasting, Facebooking, Twittering, texting, and other forms virtual contact that I am surely not aware of, there has arisen an unlikely hero on our keyboards: the hashtag, aka #. I don’t even know how to punctuate that in a sentence!

On my keyboard, prior to its recent popularity, the hashtag sat mostly unused above the number 3. I would occasionally use it as a number sign but for the most part, I could’ve easily lived life without a hashtag. Until the advent of the #hashtag movement, this humble symbol went largely unnoticed.

I didn’t really understand the reasoning behind, what appeared to me at the time, the arbitrary use of the symbol until one day when I saw this posted beneath a meme (a picture or image with a piece of relevant text added to it):

thestruggleisreal

#thestruggleisreal

The meaning of the hashtag finally had dawned on the horizon of my understanding. The humble hashtag, when followed by a word or several words connected without spaces, is meant to connect people to the subject at hand and communicate a short truth such as #thestruggleisreal. I finally got it and I saw that hashtag (#thestruggleisreal) fall into place many times over the subsequent months and years.

The truth of the matter is that the struggle really is real, the hashtag has meaning. There are some things we’re going through that have no explanation, no easy way out, no shortcuts to their resolution. The only way to see them through is through the struggle, and that struggle is real. Bishop T.D. Jakes puts it so well in saying, “You have to pay full price.”

As a church planter I’ve experienced more than what I originally thought was my “fair share” of struggle. It seems as if every step forward is accompanied by troubles that go beyond the lines of my expertise. On a regular basis I find myself posing the same question, “Why the struggle?”

There’s a common thread weaving itself through the intertwined fingers of humanity; we’re all seeking an escape from the struggle. Try as we might, however, the struggle finds us and the fight goes on for as long as there are days we have left to live – neither is creation exempt from the struggle.

Romans 8:20-22 ESV “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”

While in our day and age much is taught about the blessings of God (and rightfully so, we are blessed), little is said in comparison of the struggle we face in our futility. We struggle for the freedom we know is part of our Kingdom inheritance, we struggle in our journeying, we struggle for the answers to our prayers and come face-to-face with the reality of how real the struggle is.

Who knew?

On a warm afternoon in October 1991, I stepped off a plane with my young family and onto the tarmac at the airport in Bujumbura, Burundi. Heat rose from the runway in the distance and blurred the outlines of the trees and faraway mountains. My heart was full of hope for the future but the loneliness of our situation wasn’t lost on me. We’ve often joked about this in the past – but on the other side of our joking was the reality of our utter solitude as we began the work of planting our first church.

I can’t the number of times we’ve felt misunderstood by not only strangers but by those who are close to us. How can we go about explaining the fire in our hearts for Africa to others whose journeys are so very different from ours? What possesses us to choose this lifestyle, one so very foreign to our own? This is perhaps one of the most painful of the struggles we encounter (and we encounter it regularly). There is no logic to this call, what is worth this kind of sacrifice?

Over the years we’ve struggled with financial lack, insecurity in the countries we have lived in (not knowing from one day to the next what could happen), sickness, and leaving our children and grandchildren behind in the USA. As this cycle of struggle and loss repeats itself I find myself struggling less and looking forward more. I can’t move forward while at the same time looking back. Has my heart hardened? Am I now unaffected by the struggle? Not in the least. But I’ve learned that as real as the struggle is, the rewards of the struggle are much greater than any pain I’ll suffer in the here and now.

Philippians 3:8-10 ESV “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,”

I have little, in comparison to others, to offer God. While I’ve never gone to bed hungry or held any significant debt, my bank account alone gives testimony to my total reliance on God to meet my needs. I haven’t a great musical talent or prominent spiritual gift that can help propel me forward into the limelight. I don’t have the “pedigree” of coming from a family line of preachers. Neither do I possess any significant connection into the world of the rich and famous. What I do have to offer is this life God gave to me; He gave His all for me and I am now doing the same for Him.

And about that struggle, yes, #thestruggleisreal – but it’s only #temporary.

Posted in Choices, Cross, Distractions, Kingdom

Cling Wrap, Sore Knuckles, and The Kingdom

plastic wrap

Cling wrap.

Try as I might I cannot get a grip on how to properly use the stuff. It comes in a nice long rectangular box with an oh-so-fine serrated edge that, in theory, is supposed to help tear the cling wrap in nice, even pieces that I can use to cover food containers in the refrigerator. Try as I might, in all my years and work in the kitchen, rarely have I ever been able to tear off a perfect piece of cling wrap to cover a dish.

Following directions, this scenario repeats itself nearly every time I dare to brave to enter the world of cling wrap:

  • Set dish that needs to be covered on the counter.
  • Open box of cling wrap.
  • Find edge of cling wrap. This is a feat of major proportions as the edge of the plastic is nearly invisible; usually resulting in unevenly tearing of the cling wrap.
  • Frustration begins to bubble beneath the surface.
  • Pull desired amount of cling wrap, with bunched edges, over the dish.
  • As instructed on the box, gently pull on one side of the cling wrap to tear the end of the wrap off.
  • Wrap does not tear, apply more pressure.
  • Cling wrap begins to bunch up, stretch, and will not tear evenly. My knuckles are torn against the fine serrated edge – the serrated edge seems to tear my skin better than it does the plastic wrap.
  • Rinse and repeat until successful or knuckles are too sore to try again.
  • Get another dish with its own cover and give up.

Who ever invented this stuff? I’ve even tried the perforated cling wrap with nearly the same results – except my knuckles don’t bleed which is a big plus.

I keep telling myself I need to purchase more storage containers with lids. The problem with buying more storage containers with lids is that nearly every time I have purchased containers here (Malawi), the lids don’t stay on and I find myself returning to the violent world of cling wrap.

Like cling wrap that seems to cling to everything besides that it is intended for, I find in myself times that I cling to things other than what I’m created for.

In Matthew 16:13-20 Jesus had a conversation with His disciples. He asked them who people thought He was; after hearing their replies, He asked, “Who do you say I am?” Famously, Peter declares that Jesus is the Christ. In verse 17 Jesus calls Peter, “Blessed” for his revelation of Who He was.

Peter had an idea of who he thought Jesus was and what that looked like; he was correct in saying that Jesus was the Christ – but he had no idea of what that meant. Immediately after Peter’s statement, Jesus began telling His disciples (Matthew 16:21-28) that He was going to suffer and die and then rise from the dead. That same Peter who was called blessed just a few verses earlier, was told in verse 23, “Get behind me Satan!” Peter was clinging to his own ideas of how things were meant to be.

Jesus was passionate, He clung to His assignment. At the same time, He told His disciples (and we who follow Him today) that the assignment we are to cling to is to be likened to a cross.

Matthew 16:24 NLT“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.”

Our own ideas of what our faith is supposed to look like, much like Peter’s, won’t mirror what taking up our crosses is meant to be.

This morning I was reading in Luke 17 where Jesus describes the work of a servant:

Luke 17:10 ESV“So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

Often we make the mistake of living our lives from day-to-day, giving a nod to God when we read our Bible and pray, giving Him another nod when we make it to church, and believe that we are living lives of profitable servants. If we only live to fulfill duty, we’ve not yet entered into the realm of being profitable for the Kingdom. Being profitable means going above and beyond the call of duty and entering a place of actually adding value (touching souls) to the Kingdom.

In Matthew 25:14-30 the parable of the three servants gives the account of what it means to be profitable. Each of the three was given a different amount of money (talents) to care for while the master was away. The first two earned interest on the money they were left and they were declared to be profitable. The third simply hid the money he was given and returned to the master exactly what had been given to him. Businesspeople understand this principle: if an employee is not profitable, he is fired. That’s what happened to this third servant.

If we only do what is right as a believer (read our Bibles, pray, attend church, love others, give, show mercy, etc.) that’s simply doing our duty. As servants of the Kingdom, we have a much greater destiny that just clinging to doing the bare minimum to get a pass into Heaven. Like Jesus, who came as One Man to this earth and now has innumerable followers, we are to sow ourselves as He did into the lives of others and watch God give us a great harvest.

Not only are we to sow ourselves into the Kingdom as Jesus did, but we are to do so willingly – to cling to that purpose understanding that there’s far more at stake than our own comfort or convenience.

This world with all its trappings seeks to engage us to the point of eliminating our profitability for the Kingdom. God’s Kingdom, unlike the world we live in today, is eternal and immovable. This world is, as we all know too well, temporary, corruptible, and unable to satisfy the deep craving all of us have in our souls for something better, something more.

I’ve decided to cling to the cross.

heaven is our home