Posted in Choices, Cross, Distractions, Kingdom

Cling Wrap, Sore Knuckles, and The Kingdom

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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

Posted in Choices, Distractions, Family, Mercy, Missions, Perspective, Time

Temper Tantrums and Leftovers

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“You just don’t want me to have fun!”

If you’re a parent, you’ve probably heard those words. If you haven’t, it’s most likely because your children are still very young. Sometime around the 2nd or 3rd grade mark, children begin to think that their parents’ goal in life is to keep them from having fun.

Mom: “Clean up your toys.”

Son/daughter: “I’m not done playing with them.”

Mom: “They’ve been out for 3 days, it’s time to put them away.”

Son/daughter: “You just don’t want me to have fun!” This is often accompanied by a strong folding of the arms or stomping of feet for emphasis.

Now that my 4th child is 10 years old and I have a bit of experience under my belt, I know how to reason a bit with her when she begins to go down that spiral of, “You just don’t want me to have fun!” The other day I sat with her and asked her, “Why would I want you not to have fun? What good would I get from you not having fun? I want you to have fun – why else would I have gotten you all these toys? To have fun of course.” Cue the blank stare…I usually have 2 or 3 minutes to get a meaningful bit of communication in before the curtain of attention falls.

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My life is full. There’s no real reason for me to have a temper tantrum with my Father over things that I have/don’t have or things I have asked for but have yet to see. Yet, I somehow find opportunities to fold my arms, as it were, and look at my Father and say, “You just don’t want me to have fun!”

On the occasion that I have obeyed in some area, much like my children have been at home, I will think that my obedience gives me “credit” or “points earned” towards favorable outcomes in life – especially in those “spiritual” arenas of life. Since we are missionaries and all of what we do is basically for the Kingdom, it’s easy for me to think that God should understand and will hand everything to me on a silver platter. If things don’t work out as I think they should, “You just don’t want me to have fun!” Complete with folded arms and stomping feet.

“I’m doing this for You! Where is the money to get this vision You gave us to get this done?”

Yet, the things He had given me before are still strewn all over the floor. The new believers who need following up, leaders that need to be trained, and the community outreaches that need to be developed are still unorganized and waiting to be tended to.

If I’m honest with myself, there’s much that I am able to do without money. In fact, helping  someone develop in their life with the Lord takes more time than it does money – and time is something no one is willing to part with easily. In our era of “time management” and scheduling, we find it difficult to invest what’s needed in people to see them grow into their potentials. We have families, jobs, hobbies, sports, and recreational activities we have to fit into our schedules. Doesn’t God want us to be happy? Sounds a bit familiar.

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We can find scripture and verse to assuage the guilt that tries to assault our hearts when we consider what we should be doing when it comes to our participation in God’s work. We want more “fun time” while God our Father is asking us to collect what is strewn on the floor around us.

John 6:12 NKJV“So when they were filled, He said to His disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost.’”

What is significant about the leftovers is that God takes what others would consider useless and scrape into the trash. After a large holiday meal, what’s leftover is often tossed into the trash bin as everyone has already had enough to eat. Without giving it another thought, the designated kitchen cleanup crew won’t bother with the odd bits and pieces of leftovers. Why save them? Everyone is full! Throw them away! Unless there’s an old-time auntie or grandma in the group who insists on taking the leftovers home. “It will keep me full for days!” she says while collecting the last few dinner rolls and scrapings of casserole.

The lives of people that are scattered as fragments in our societies won’t collect themselves. Much like our families’ cleanup crews, the disciples would have most likely preferred to have left the crumbs on the ground. They had already worked and served thousands, but after all of their work, Jesus told them, “Gather the fragments.” They might have wondered, “Why gather fragments? They’re just trash.” Until all the fragments came to 12 baskets full – I am sure that 12 baskets of leftovers fed many, perhaps for days.

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The things we allow ourselves to make time for are what become precious to us. Family and friends are precious for they take up our time. However, family and friends, with time, change. Children grow up and leave, friends move, life inevitably changes, and unless we have simultaneously invested in those things that are timeless, such as God’s work, we will find ourselves hungry and life will appear meaningless.

Once upon a time, like you, I was a fragment, someone whose life didn’t appear to be meaningful enough to gather. I’m so glad that someone took the time for me – someone saw value in the broken fragment of me so I wasn’t thrown away. Surely I have time to do the same.

Posted in Anniversary, Choices, Church planting, Distractions, Goodbye, Journey

Settling

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Two years ago this month, I found myself standing in the Blantyre, Malawi airport, with my husband and daughter waiting for our luggage. It was hot and sweat poured from my husband’s forehead as he lifted our bags, all 13 of them, one by one onto luggage carts. Once we passed through customs, we walked towards the exit through the downward sloping surface that lead to the exit. I knew we were headed for complications as the cart picked up pace and we struggled to slow it down. It didn’t take much, just a small bump on the surface of the walkway, for the suitcases to be sent cascading down in front of us.

This was my welcome to Blantyre!

We are church planters, you see, and the “job description” (for a lack of better words) requires us to move once we have established a church and prepared the pastor sufficiently to take the riegns from us.

By nature, I’m not one who has a need to collect things. I imagine God prepared me long before I knew I would be a church planter. Moving to Blantyre required me to, as many moves before had, to pare down my belongings to an odd mixture of suitcases and foot lockers and duffle bag or two. Mixed among the necessary items such as my extra contact lenses, 4 plastic plates, a small set of cutlery, and shoes, was a jumble of a few non-necessary as well as necessary items: pictures of our family, a few keepsakes from other nations where we had served, and important documents (marriage license, diplomas and degrees, our youngest daughter’s adoption decree, etc.). As I unpacked all of the necessary and unnecessary things, I felt tears roll down my cheeks as I felt the familiar sting of having to leave one place and start all over again.

Hebrews 13:14 ESV“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”

As we live life, it’s easy to get distracted by our surroundings and need to conform to the “norms” of society around us that we work so hard to attain. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with settling into a place, as long as the place you have settled into doesn’t cause you to settle for less – less than what God has planned for you.

What are we looking for? Where are we going? With all of the effort we put into settling into life and making ourselves as comfortable as we can, is it possible that we have forgotten that this life isn’t the end of it all?

I live in Blantyre, Malawi today. I’m sure the day will come that God will send me to another city and I will once again have to go through the uncomfortable process of lifting up the stakes of my “tent” and move on. As uncomfortable as the process has been and surely will be, there is not a city on this earth where I will finally rest as I will when I enter that Heavenly City and really put my roots down.

Micah 2:10 ESV“Arise and depart, for, this, is not the place of rest.”

Posted in Distractions, Endurance, God's call, Honor, Missions, New Year, Perspective, Rewards

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.  

Posted in Distractions, Missions, New Year, Purpose

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

 

 

Posted in Choices, Church planting, Destiny, Distractions, Faithfulness, Fasting, God's call, Kingdom, Missions, Obedience, Perspective

Chasing Donkeys

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What am I doing here?

It’s a question all of us have, at one time or another, asked ourselves. As I wrote yesterday in my now-famous Bollywood entry (no, not really so famous, just famous in my mind), I’ve wondered over the years what am I doing here serving as a missionary? What is it that keeps me here serving and working?

I don’t come from a family of ministers nor do I have any natural talents that this world would think could help out on the foreign field. One might think that to qualify for this work endless degrees and pedigrees would be necessary. While those things aren’t wrong (I do have a couple of degrees) they aren’t what qualified me to serve in Africa. All I needed to do was say, “yes” the day that God called. Personally, I didn’t find answering the call difficult; I found explaining the call of church planting to others difficult.

So, on occasion like Saul of the Old Testament, I find myself running after donkeys (1 Sam. 10:2 – Saul was looking for his father’s donkeys, but he was meant to be king.). Little rabbit trails meant to appear important but actually distract me from my main purpose: to extend the Kingdom of God among those I serve. There have been times when I’ve taken detours looking for donkeys that appear more important than planting churches. This is not a glorious calling nor does it naturally garner a lot of support as planting churches doesn’t seem to be as necessary as establishing larger community outreaches. Isn’t it enough to pray over a lesson, over a student, over a patient? Aren’t there enough churches?

Church planting is our call and I’ve given up apologizing for it. While some are called to open hospitals and universities, our grace lies with the planting of local churches that have always been found among the poorest of the cities we find ourselves in. God’s given us a vision to see 1,000+ churches planted on the continent and perhaps even beyond. We believe that God’s arm in the earth is extended to the world through the local church. We love starting churches from scratch that grow by reaching out into surrounding communities with activities that address the felt needs of those around us. In Malawi, where we are at this time, those types of activities include community health teaching, football games for youth, adult literacy classes, to name a few. The needs faced here differ from those found abroad – but to touch people and gain their trust, we need to speak to areas where they feel a need and this is exactly what we work for.

Once we have established ourselves in communities, the rest falls into place naturally. Not only are churches born but from the churches come the “classic” outreaches we so long to see: schools, adult education, leadership academies, etc. The difference we see in working this way is the spiritual covering and growth that comes with the churches provide a solid foundation for all that comes afterwards. If the foundation is not solid, how can hope for churches and outreaches that will live beyond us?

What makes this kind of mission difficult is the time that it takes to see these things come to pass. We are now many years into planting churches (we moved to Africa in 1987 and planted our first church in 1992) and are just now beginning to see an acceleration in growth.

Yes, I’ve been guilty of chasing donkeys – things that I think would “enhance” or in some way speed up the process of what we’re doing. The problem was, however, in chasing those donkeys I got sidetracked and my progress was hindered.

Let the donkeys take care of themselves in whatever you’re doing. As Samuel said to Saul, “the donkeys you’re looking for have been found” (1 Sam. 10:2), meaning, those issues you’re pursuing will take care of themselves, they’re not meant for your time and attention.

Remember, you’re meant to be a king.

Posted in Beginnings, Courage, Distractions, Endurance, Faith

Buzzwords, Buildings, Tents, and Rain

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Sometimes finding water for baptism is complicated, but we always find a way.

Organic

Relevant

Postmodern

Emergent

 Missional

 Journey

 Resonate

 Authentic

That’s a pretty long list of words but they may “resonate” with you as you read them. You may recognise them as the hip lingo used today as we struggle to keep in step with the “relevant” crowds of today. The list of buzzwords of generations past no longer holds our attention: orthodoxy, fundamental, evangelical, and so on. Today’s crowd equates those words with an older, non-relatable faith that doesn’t resound with today’s more educated and sophisticated crowds.

I’ve read blogs and articles on the evolution of Christian language; some critical of the new lingo and others suggesting the expansion of vocabulary is simply the church’s attempt to define Christianity in a clearer, and more concise way. I’m not qualified to make judgments on the hearts of those expanding their vocabularies to suit the times we are living in, I only know that the Gospel demands clarity.

The Gospel is as simple as the world is complex.

Some of the buzzwords we hear today point to our desire for things to return to a simpler time – a time when things were clear and easy to understand. We have a need to be accepted and understood. We know that the message we have within us has the power to transform this fallen and broken world. We know that our hearts are pure in our desires to bring this wonderful message to those who have yet to hear.

At the same time, there is a line that must be drawn between bringing the message with words that are understood by the hearer and speaking words that please the hearer. We’re not called to be accepted, for the world cannot accept or understand the wonder of this faith that has commanded the loyalty of our very souls. Jesus Himself understood that and spoke clearly – without diluting His message.

John 5:41 TLB Jesus speaking, “Your approval or disapproval means nothing to me…”

Rejection is painful and we would do well to remember that while we know God doesn’t reject us – many in this world will. Fear of rejection by our peers will cause us to do many things: change the way we speak, change the way we dress, change our ideas of what is right and wrong, and even change the messages we deliver.

For most of us, there was time when we remember how clear things were for us in our faith: those early days when we first accepted Christ or those times when God bailed us out miraculously and we saw clearly. As time would have it and life ebbs and flows, slowly the clarity with which we understood our faith was dulled. This desensitization often takes place over time, gradually, as if invisibly – then we wake one day to the realization that we’ve lost the fervor of our initial, simple faith in Jesus.

I am thankful that here in Malawi I’m reminded, almost daily; of how simple we need to keep things. At our church property, we have no electricity or running water nor do we have any kind of facility to speak of. All we have on site is a tent with a dirt floor and a makeshift platform. On the weekends, if we want more than acapella music, we have to bring the musical equipment, speakers, amplifier, wires, and the generator to the property. We can’t leave it stored there due to the insecurity of the area, especially at nighttime. While it all sounds simple enough, and it is, it’s quite labor-intensive just to get the service going. We do well to have visitor’s letters and offering envelopes let alone lights and sound effects. We are satisfied if the sound is at a level that won’t blow our ears off (that in and of itself is a feat of major proportions). At the end of the day, when we have managed to pull of a full day of activities, we return home exhausted but happy.

Do we need a building? Definitely. We are praying for God to bring the finances to get going on our facility before the next rainy season. The rains were so fierce this past year that one morning, after a storm, we woke to news that the tent had come down. Several days were spent getting that tent back up in time for weekend services but what to do about midweek activities? We just met outside – it was as simple as that. We can’t wait for a building for the church to meet for the church is not a building or sound effects, the church is made of people.

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Praying without a building or even a tent after the storm; the solution? Sunglasses!

This simplicity with which we do church astonishes some, refreshes others, and causes yet others to mock us. As exciting as it sounds and is, planting churches from the ground up is dirty work – literally! Initially when the church is launched, of course it’s exhilarating. The thought of being part of something that has an eternal lifespan carries a certain euphoria with it, until the excitement wears off and there’s no one else but the two of us to take care of the growing congregation. Everything from counseling, visiting, leading services, speaking, even leading songs (that’s the hard one for us) lies within our scope of responsibility.

Some might think we’re careless in the way we plant churches; that we should be more prepared to undertake the task. I understand the sentiment! We have had the luxury of enjoying the presence of colleagues during various stages of our church plants and it is wonderful when it happens. However, if we wait to have an entire team coordinated and ready to plant a church – very few churches will be planted. The cost of church planting is high: it requires great sacrifice from those involved. Sacrifice of finance, personal time, and even reputation for not many people consider meeting in dingy rented buildings or under tents worthy of the effort.

Ecclesiastes 11:4 TLB “If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done.”

So how much have buzzwords, the bells and whistles, accolades and crowds of wealthy congregants effected how we do church? Perhaps the correct question would be: should buzzwords, bells and whistles, accolades, and crowds of wealthy congregants effect how we do church?

When the buildings get built, and they do for this is God’s work and He has never failed us, and those buildings stand where once there were piles of dirt and stones, who will be those who were brave enough to walk with us to see the miracles happen? To see God build something from nothing? Often it’s the least likely candidates that God uses, but they are the ones who accompanied us when there was nothing, except the real church: the precious people who God gave us.

I’ve learned to keep it simple. To remember these days we are in now, the beginning days when everything needs to be done and there’s nothing to work with but the two hands we have. All of the distractions (make no mistake, I enjoy the bells and whistles) that we pour ourselves into when they are available to us: lights, sound, musicians, offices, chairs, a PowerPoint presentation to go with our catchy sermons, can be our downfall when they pull us away from the simplicity that is this: God is good and He wants the best for us and He can give the best because He is the best. If those bells and whistles make His voice sound dim, if they become more important than ministering to the people, then we’ve missed the point.