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 Change, Courage, Devotion, Faith, Sacrifice

Graduations,Universities, Weddings, and Altars

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I’ve cried out in prayer, like many of you have, “God, I’ll do anything, go anywhere, and give up whatever You ask, for Your will! Everything I have is Yours!” Only to find that everything encompasses everything and that offering of everything I have is much more complicated than praying that prayer sounded at first.

My promise rang out in my mind when God took me up on my offer. I realized when my offering was being accepted that I might not have really meant what I said. Shame filled my heart as I realized my promises to sacrifice everything to my Lord perhaps weren’t as sincere as I thought; I labeled myself the supreme hypocrite until I understood that an offering isn’t meant to be easy. Sacrifices are meant to hurt, just ask the animals offered on the altars in the Old Testament. I don’t think that once the sheep meant for the sacrifice approached the place of slaughter that they happily ran to have their throats slit. In fact, I can almost picture them pulling and crying out for help. No, sacrifices are not easily given; lives are not offered on the altar without a struggle.

Some of the most difficult sacrifices we make in life are those that pull us away from loved ones. That sacrifice not only touches the lives of those going, but also touches the lives of those who stay behind. The journey of those staying behind has a pain all its own and can only be soothed in the same way it is soothed in the lives of those going: by laying our lives, our wills, on the altar of sacrifice. Jesus said, “Pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers” into the harvest (see Luke 10:2). In praying those prayers, it rarely crosses our minds that God might actually take one of our own into His field. Then, when our loved ones answer the call, we resist their leaving us, forgetting that we had prayed (unknowingly perhaps) for them to go.

God the Father understands that pain, you see He never asks something of His children that He Himself hasn’t done before us. God’s Son answered the call of Who will go?” when He came to the earth. God, until that point, had never been separated from His Son, but let Him go fulfill His destiny. In sowing His Son, God reaped a multitude of lost children in us. Now we carry on with that destiny, our own life experiences mirroring His, taking us to every corner of the world with this Good News.

As our families grow and our children graduate, move on to university, get married, move to other states, and even other nations, the altar of sacrifice comes center stage once again and that lamb doesn’t want to stay put. The familiar sting of sacrifice will automatically cause us to pull back; as if out of reflex, to avoid the inevitable hurt that we will feel. I know that pain all too well but have found resisting God’s will to bring more pain than accepting it.

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Resisting the changes God brings to our lives, whether loved ones leaving for the foreign mission field or when our children graduate high school and move away, only results in bitterness thinking over what “could have been.” 

What could have been if we don’t obey God? What would those consequences be? The loss of destiny, the loss of what could have been had we obeyed God or not resisted the obedience of our loved ones to God’s call? Why do we resist so much when the call doesn’t flow with what we thought was “normal” for families? Allowing, instead of resisting, those changes to take place means you’ve graduated in more ways than one.

Here’s a secret, answering God’s call won’t be easy, it will definitely be the road less traveled. However, traveling that road will certainly make all the difference.”

Recently, our family has been reading biographies on missionaries of times past. Just this morning we finished reading about George Müller who was a missionary to the orphans of England in the 1800s and founded the Ashley Down orphanage in Bristol, England. He was a father to over 10,000 orphans over the course of his lifetime and was known for his reliance on prayer and faith in God to meet his and the orphans’ needs. The road he traveled wasn’t what his family, especially his father, expected – his sacrifice cost him greatly and often tasted bitter. It seemed he had nothing, but in the end, as it goes with “All Things God” his life was richer than anyone could ever have imagined.

We won’t see the difference unless we are willing to drink that cup, whether it be sweet or bitter, that has made its way into our hands. That’s the pattern Jesus set for us and I’ve decided not to fight the call. I’m putting my sword down and drinking the cup, it’s what’s best for me.

John 18:11 TLB “But Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword away. Shall I not drink from the cup the Father has given me?’”

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Posted in Choices, Devotion, Faith, Motives, Obedience, Sacrifice

You Get What You Pay For

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In my opinion, I am a cheapskate; I believe I am circumspect in how I spend money. However, it may be that my husband Jamie has a different opinion on the matter altogether. It’s funny how two people who have been married for nearly 33 years with as much in common as we have, can value things as differently as we do. Jamie doesn’t care at all about shopping; he could care less if he ever saw the inside of another shopping center or mall for the rest of his life. It’s very difficult, to put it mildly, to get him to shop for clothes and shoes. When I succeed in getting him to try on some clothes or shoes, the expression on his face is one of exquisite pain. You can probably imagine the next thing that happens – he peppers me with questions and commentary:

Jamie: “Is this on sale?”

Me: “Yes, dear.”

Jamie: “What’s the price?”

Me: “It’s 35% off.”

Jamie: “Isn’t there anything cheaper?”

Me: “This is the best price.”

Jamie: “This doesn’t feel right.”

Me: “You look great!”

Jamie: “There’s nothing in black?”

Me: “No, but this is dark blue and everything you have is black.”

Jamie: “Can’t we come back another time?”

Me: “NO WE CAN’T COME BACK ANOTHER TIME!”

I, on the other hand, enjoy getting out to go shopping. Since I live in Malawi, where shopping as we know it Stateside is non-existent, I enjoy shopping on the rare occasion I get to go. I enjoy the process of finding the best price for what I’m looking for. I don’t see the point of paying full price for anything (and am not of the budget to do so anyway), as there’s always a sale somewhere. If it’s not on sale, I am not interested – I’ll find a substitute somewhere else.

So you can understand the problems we have when it comes time to do any kind of shopping, there’s an immediate conflict of interests. He’s interested in getting out as soon as possible and I’m interested in staying in and finding what I want for a good price. Christmas, birthday, anniversary, or any kind of shopping – it’s a challenge! It’s too painful to watch Jamie endure more shopping than he has to; his usual position is head buried in his hands, lying on a bench somewhere. Our solution? I keep him away from shopping as much as possible and have learned to enjoy going alone so his life (and mine) can be stress-free!

There’s always a price to be paid. Much like going shopping for things we need, we pay according to how we value the item, experience, or relationship. When purchasing groceries or other items, budgeting our money is wisdom. Yet when we are working on intangible, spiritual things, the same logic doesn’t apply.

“What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.” Thomas Paine

I have had the privilege of being a missionary and church planter’s wife for 30 years. I didn’t know, when we first started out in missions, what life would look like in years to come. I was a young wife and mother just trying to get from one day to the next, one meal to the next, one homework assignment to the next with my kids. In the middle of my trying to figure my roles out, we planted our first church. There was no one to teach children’s church, no one to oversee feeding the hungry, no one to counsel young women with HIV – except me. I didn’t consciously begin doing all those things, they simply came upon me and I knew they needed to get done so I did them. At night when my children would go to bed after dinner and sleep after a day at school in a clean bed with parents who love them, I would lie awake and wonder what was happening to the children in the refugee camps or the young women in the hospital with no one to watch them. What about them?

I began to value them, value who they were, and who they could grow up to be, and who they might raise. I began to look at them with the same eyes I look at my own family with and paid the price to do what we could to help better their lives. I’m sure that many have done more, have done better than I – but no one has valued those God has given us more than we have.

How much value do we assign to those who cross our paths? Do we serve them as “cheaply” as possible? Looking for some kind of sale so we don’t have to invest so much of our time or of our emotional, and spiritual energy? How much do we invest in our relationship with God Who spent everything He had for us to have a relationship with Him? Is all we want out of our faith a cheap drive-thru version of a deeper 7-course experience?

In 2 Samuel 24 there’s an account of King David, God’s choice to rule the nation of Israel, and his sin in having a census done. God did not want the Kings of Israel to do a census, to see how much strength they had on their own, for He wanted His people to trust in Him and not their own strength. When David performed the census, it was a cheap substitute and shortcut for trusting a faultless God.

Once King David repented of his sin and judgment had been pronounced, he was instructed to build an altar at the threshing floor of a man named Araunah. When the King approached Araunah to purchase this piece of property, Araunah immediately offered it to him for free together with things that would be needed for offering the sacrifice that God required.

King David’s cheap thinking changed during this process of judgment over his sin. He refused the generous offer of Araunah. Myself, I don’t know if my reaction would have been so noble! I would’ve probably thought, “Praise God, He has provided!” rejoicing that I would save money instead of spending. Instead of thinking cheaply as I most likely would have done, the King declared boldly:

2 Samuel 24:24a NKJ “Then the king said to Araunah, ‘No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price; nor will I offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God with that which costs me nothing…’”

Offerings and sacrifices really aren’t doing anything for us if they are cheap or free. There are no “roll back” deals on our offerings to God, nor are there any “buy 1 get 1 free” deals in what we give to Him. An offering isn’t an offering, nor is a sacrifice a sacrifice until it has cost us something. What happens when we choose to pay the price instead of looking to get something for nothing?

2 Samuel 24:25 NKJ “And David built there an altar to the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the Lord heeded the prayers for the land, and the plague was withdrawn from Israel.”

It turns out that the old adage we have heard is true – you get what you pay for.

 

Posted in Devotion, Faithfulness

Get Your Visa

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Living in Africa has gotten me accustomed to following lots of procedures. I have learned that there is a procedure to everything. For example, as foreigners, we (my husband, daughter Andreya and myself) simply couldn’t arrive and live here without following due process. It would be amazing to just hop on a plane and fly to the continent and serve the people. However, that just isn’t the case. To live here, we are required to have a visa. We had to apply for this visa prior to our arrival in the country. We were required to provide many documents upon application for our visa – and then we waited. While waiting, we were given temporary visas that we renewed monthly until our visas were approved. The whole process took some months and was nerve-wracking! Thankfully, our visas were approved and we were given a 2-year temporary work permit. Next year, the process begins again as we will request a renewal of our visas – processes and procedures never end here. We will always need a visa.

Without following due process, we wouldn’t have been allowed to step off the plane when we came to establish a work here in Malawi. Once when we were planning a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), we were assured after communicating with our pastor in DRC that it was possible (as it was at the time in many other countries) to get an entry visa to the DRC at the airport. We felt well assured and decided to follow what instructions we had been given and got on a plane bound for the DRC.

What we encountered at the airport after landing in the DRC was nothing less than chaos. Coming from Malawi, it was impossible for us to have gotten a visa in Malawi for the DRC because there was no consulate or embassy for the DRC in the entire nation of Malawi. We did our best to explain what we had been told, that we would be allowed to get a visa at the airport upon arrival. Our pastor who was receiving us at the airport was also doing his best to inform the officials that he had been told we could obtain our visas at the airport.

This little fact did not matter to the airport officials. They said, “You did not follow proper procedure.” We were summarily escorted to our seats on the plane and off we went, returning from whence we came. (Later on we learned that the higher-ranking official who had originally given our pastor the information we could come, arrived at the airport right after we left and reprimanded his colleagues for their conduct. While nice to hear, this didn’t do much to pay us back for those plane tickets!)

Now, whenever we plan to travel to the DRC, we make sure to get visas even though that means traveling to another country where the DRC has a consulate or embassy for some days to acquire a visa. This is an added cost but stepping off the plane with a visa in hand is the only way to go to the DRC.

In the same way when we travel we need to follow due process, there’s a process to the presence of God. The first step in experiencing His presence is wanting, or craving, His presence.

In the Old Testament, there was a time when the Ark of the Covenant was residing outside of Jerusalem. This Ark was a symbol of God’s presence among His people. King David had unsuccessfully tried to bring the ark to Jerusalem but was unsuccessful, and left the ark outside of the city. When saw the blessings that those who housed the ark were experiencing, he craved the presence of God. This is seen when he said:

2 Samuel 6:9 Rotherham “How can the Ark of the Lord come to me?”

When David had first tried to bring the Ark to the city of Jerusalem, proper procedures weren’t followed. This resulted in a tragedy that kept he Ark from God’s people.

1 Chronicles 15:13 NLT “Because you (Levites) did not carry it at first, the Lord our God made an outburst on us, for we did not seek Him according to the ordinance.”

The process to having His presence began with a craving for His presence. David wanted God’s presence, but failed at first to follow due process. Once he did follow the proper process, God’s presence filled the city of Jerusalem.

In the same way David craved God’s presence, he learned that God’s presence comes on His terms alone.

This is where we often get it wrong when it comes to the presence of God. We assume because He is an amazing Father that no matter what our attitudes are, what we do, where we go, we have that approval of His presence. Yes, it’s true that His presence is within us – but when we live outside of his processes and procedures (that are only there for our good), we gradually begin to limit His presence in our lives.

Please God, be present with me when I’m sick.

Please God, be present with me when I need a job.

Just don’t be so obviously present in my life when I’m with my friends who think that Your kind of life is strange.

Just don’t be so obviously present in my life when I’m using the credit card for purchases I can’t afford and keeping it from my spouse.

2 Corinthians 5:14 Message “Christ’s love has moved me to such extremes. His love has the first and last word in everything we do.”

When we experience His love, we are moved so deeply that we cannot help but allow His way to be first and last in everything we do. From worship services on the weekend, work, family life, and more – He has the say-so in whatever we are doing.

That’s what it means to crave Him – He becomes all that is important.

Why does that matter? It matters because He knows the end before we do. He knows that your friends need Him even if presently they think His life is strange. Who else will show them but you? He knows that things will end badly if you continue secretly running up debt on your credit card. So what if you don’t have the trendiest outfits or electronic gadgets? He has the best in mind for you even though it feels like the opposite when things are rough.

He only wants the best – and He is the best, by far. Trust Him today.

 

 

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!!!
Posted in Devotion, Questions, Unexplained

Major Truth in Minor Books

Every year I follow a Bible reading plan that, by this time, brings me to the “minor” prophetic books. I don’t understand why the term “minor” prophets was coined except for the fact that these books are shorter in length than the “major” prophetic books like Isaiah and Jeremiah. From these so-called minor books I’ve learned major truths.

This morning in Habakkuk 1:5 NLT I read, “Look around at the nations; look around and be amazed! For I am doing something you won’t believe even if someone told you about it.” In reading this verse in my devotions, I thought about how many times I have quoted this verse in a positive way, believing God would do something so amazing and out-of-the-box fantastic in my situation. Of course this is what we should expect from God, He is always up to something amazing. But this morning I saw things with a bit of a different perspective.

The past few years have been challenging, a different kind of season where I have seen God work in ways that are amazing but different from the amazing I have been used to. The following verses in Habakkuk 1 verses 6-8 NLT says, “I am raising up the Babylonians, a cruel and violent people. They will march across the world and conquer other lands. They are notorious for their cruelty and do whatever they like. Their horses are swifter than cheetahs and fiercer than wolves at dusk. Their charioteers charge from far away. Like eagles, they swoop down to devour their prey.” If we read those verses in context with verse 5, God doesn’t just use uncomfortable and even difficult situations – He sometimes creates them to work out His purpose. 

We all go through times of incredible, indescribable hardship and wonder how things evolved the way they did and how is God going to get us out of our unbelievable situations. As I read further in Habakkuk 3:17-19 NLT, my eyes were opened: “Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign LORD is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.”

The answer is “even though…yet I will rejoice” in the face of all kinds of trouble, God is my strength. Why is He working as He is? I really don’t know. What I do know is this: whatever He is accomplishing in the trouble, He is going to take care of me. I won’t slip, my steps will be sure.