Posted in Despair, Judgment, Kindness, Kingdom, Mercy, Missions

The Roosters

It was early, the sun had not yet risen but the roosters had already begun announcing the dawn’s arrival. The usual clanging of pots used for gathering water could be heard both far and near as the ladies of the village prepared themselves to collect water. On most days, everyone had to make multiple trips to the river to draw water, unless it rained in which case rain water was gathered in every available receptacle. On those days there was an almost audible collective sigh breathed as at least on that day their arms wouldn’t ache from having to draw and carry water home from the river several kilometers away.

The children woke slowly to the sound of their mother’s pots, husbands prepared themselves to work their fields of maize, squash, and other locally consumed vegetables. Everyone hoped this year’s rains would bring better times; the past years had brought sporadic rain. Sometimes the rains were too heavy, others too light. Either way, the community suffered through months of hunger. In decades past, the rains had been reliable and food plentiful, but that was no longer the case. The months of drought before harvest were now called the “season of hunger.” It seemed the hunger was lasting longer and longer every year.

Families began to move from the safety of the village to the larger cities in hope of finding work that would pay to purchase food to feed their families. The migration to urban areas did little to assuage hunger, rather, it heightened it as populations mushroomed and there wasn’t enough work in the city for all its new inhabitants. Mothers who hoped their children would go to school and do better found themselves with problems far different from what they had encountered in the villages. Their children began to wander the streets searching for food only to be pulled into prostitution or human trafficking.

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This scenario has repeated itself time and again in Africa; the problems of intese poverty and insecurity plaguing the most vulnerable: women, children, and the elderly. The answer to the question of solving the problems of intense poverty and suffering we face here in Africa and other parts of the developing world is too complicated for one simple blog to answer.

Those of us working in these situations feel the weight of the suffering of those living in these situations daily. Some resort to begging on the streets of the larger cities, others will steal, and yet others will resort to prostituting themselves just for a piece of bread to feed their children. For those of us living in a situation where our next meal is sure, it is easy to pass over them and say, “Get a job.”  What can they do in situations like these in the developing world where there really aren’t many jobs at all? Where can they go? What can they do?

Today as we woke to the crowing of the roosters and we made our way downtown, beggars lined the streets, a thief tried to open our car door, and little children who ought to be in school stood by their mothers as they tried to earn a little money sweeping the streets. This is an everyday occurence here and it still moves me – to do more, try harder, and find help for the few that we can reach.

What difference does it make to help only a few instead of thousands? It makes a difference to them and those around them and perhaps among them will be found a leader who will in the future sometime be the catalyst for change. While the need swallows me daily, so does God’s grace. He gives strength when we have none and provision to touch those we can.

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 Faith, Family, Judgment, Questions, Rejection, Uncategorized

The Untouchables and The Elite

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I have children. That statement alone says a lot. If you have raised children and hear someone say, “I have children” you suddenly bond with that person quickly. Parents of children can say one word or one phrase such as “I told the kids to clean their rooms” or “I had a parent/teacher conference” and a collective sigh of understanding rises among them.

Then our kids, as life is happening, say things like, “You never listen to me!” When over and over you have heard them saying, “My backpack is tearing I need a new one.” Or, “I want to join the swim team.” And in the time that works for you, you break out the money and buy needed things for them for school or sport – and they act surprised and ask, “How did you know?” When you’ve heard them all along.

I like to think that as an adult I have outgrown childish tendencies like these – but unfortunately I find myself falling short. I am guilty of being surprised or even ungrateful when God sends blessings and answers to prayer time and again and I continue to accuse Him of not hearing my cries for help.

In John 9 Jesus is coming from a time (in chapter 8) where He was teaching in the temple, having contentious discussions with the Pharisees, declaring Himself to be the Light of the World, speaking to the Jews (the crowds following Him) challenging them about whose descendants they were (they insisted they were children of Abraham, saying that alone was enough to save them), and He brought it all to a culmination by declaring He was the “I Am that I Am.” Infuriating the Jews to the point of them wanting to stone Him – but He “slipped away.”

After all that drama Jesus is found chatting with His disciples. I imagine they were all in a panic about what had just happened to them. Can you visualize them talking among themselves, “We almost got killed back there! Is this guy worth our lives? We’ve got to talk to Him.” And they looked for opportunities to take Jesus to task.

The disciples’ opportunity came In John 9 when they walked down a street, saw a blind beggar and asked the eternally difficult question, “Why was this man born blind? Whose fault was it?” For they thought that there must’ve been someone at fault.

Jesus’ answer is amazing in John 9:3 Message “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look Instead for what God can do.”

After Jesus had answered the disciples’ question, He turned His attention to this man. Here’s someone who had been born blind. In this time and age, there was little done for people born blind. They were perceived to have sinned or their parents had sinned – whatever the case, society deemed him as an “untouchable.”

Those people born sick, blind, or leprous or widowed or born out of wedlock were the outcasts of society. Not many dared to relate to them. Who, I wonder, are today’s untouchables? Who are they that are our unclean? Have you ever seen a child falling off the deep end of life and find yourself saying, “Oh if the parents had just…” Bringing condemnation where condemnation only hurts and doesn’t help; those kinds of people are our untouchables.

Society’s rulers of that day, religious leaders, Pharisees, had placed conditions on those who were deemed to be “acceptable.” They had made it impossible for anyone and everyone to approach God; they had become exclusive, elitist. People with physical faults were unacceptable; they reasoned that there must have been a sin committed to result in this problem.

Nothing about Jesus was, or is, elitist and this presented a complicated situation for these leaders. He made God accessible to the masses, even those that society wouldn’t touch, He would address face-to-face. Yes, He posed a problem for the elite because they were opposed to the kind of people Jesus wanted to include in the Kingdom of God.

Jesus then turns to this man, an outcast in society, and instructs him on what to do so he can see. He doesn’t even ask the man, “Do you want to see?” He just tells him what to do.

It was trouble enough that a healing was being worked on the Sabbath but also this man was told to “go and wash” at the pool of Siloam. So many religious laws were being broken, but this man obeyed. But I wonder, how did this man make it to the pool of Siloam where Jesus told him to go and wash? In that time it seems the untouchables of society would group together, and these are the ones who probably escorted him to the water. There were no blind schools back in this day, not many people who had compassion to help. He only had his friends who were fellow outcasts. They were most likely sick, blind, leprous, and otherwise unacceptable people. These are the ones escorting him. Imagine how amazed they were that a normal person, let alone someone amazing like Jesus, would stop to address their friend, this blind man.

I try to imagine what this man felt when he bent down to wash his eyes in the water. Was there any sensation in his eyes when his sight came to him? I also try to imagine what it was like when, after washing as Jesus instructed him, what it was like to see for the very first time after a lifetime of blindness.

News spread and the healed man was brought to the Pharisees. Just like it was when he was born, the leaders of the day couldn’t accept him or accept the healing he had experienced. All of their theology was turned on its ear as God did a marvelous thing on the Sabbath. They didn’t understand that the Sabbath was meant to be a day for blessing not bondage.

His parents were summoned once he was healed; imagine, it appears that family wasn’t even caring him for because they had to call them in! All indications point to him being left to fend largely for himself. The first time he physically saw his parents, they aren’t recorded as embracing their son who now saw. They also rejected him by their, “we’re not getting involved” attitude. “Ask him what happened,” was their reply to the miracle when asked by the Pharisees about what had happened for they feared being excommunicated.

So the Pharisees attention was turned again to the healed man. When he was questioned further, he gave God glory for his healing. This was his undoing, thanking God before them, and in the end he was excommunicated from the synagogue. Which was the harshest thing to face in society at that time.

It seems he wasn’t bothered to be put out of the synagogue; he could see. Besides, he was accustomed to being among the unaccepted of society. I imagine when he was thrown out, he just shrugged his shoulders – he could see!

As this was taking place, Jesus was listening, He heard him, and then challenged him:

John 9:35-37 Message “Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and went and found him. He asked him, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ The man said, ‘Point him out to me, sir, so that I can believe in him.’ Jesus said, ‘You’re looking right at him. Don’t you recognize my voice?’”

This man had met with Jesus, he had already heard Jesus’ voice when He had sent him to wash at the pool of Siloam but when he encountered Jesus for the second time, he didn’t recognize His voice – he hadn’t been listening for Jesus.

How often have we found ourselves accusing God of not speaking, but we are the ones who do not recognize His voice? He speaks but we don’t recognize Him even though we’ve heard Him before. Then, we try to figure the problem out on our own and work to find out “why?” If we can find the answer, maybe we then can find the solution…then our own voice becomes more important that the Father’s.

The prayers of this man in John 9 were heard but his one problem was that even though he had heard Jesus’ voice before, he didn’t recognize Him when He spoke again. Instead of rebuking him for not recognizing His voice, Jesus once again reassures him and says, “I’m the One, it’s Me.” In the same way, our Father isn’t hiding from us; He is always intent on helping us hear His voice. The key here to this man finally recognizing Jesus’ voice was his heart. He didn’t care about going along with what the crowd accepted, he just wanted to find that One who had healed him.

Once this young man realized it was indeed Jesus Who spoke to Him, he fell down and said, “Master, I believe” and he worshipped.

When my little girl speaks to me, I’ll often bend over to hear her. She likes to whisper in my ear. This is the picture I have of my Father listening to me.

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Psalm 116:2 NLT “Because He bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath.”

The Father stops everything He is doing to give you His attention when you pray, He’s bending over, He’s listening. Are you?

 

 

 

Posted in Contempt, Faith, Familiarity, Fasting, Judgment

Day 16 – Best Friends

Who is your best friend? I would say my husband Jamie is my best friend. We’ve been married 33 years this coming July. We’ve been together so long that I wonder if he can read my mind sometimes, and vice-versa. We finish one another’s sentences and generally have the same opinion about life in general; there are a few exceptions that I won’t list that aren’t really important except when I bring them up (haha).

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Best friends since 1984.

My husband knows he has an open door into my life – he is more familiar with me than with anyone else. Ours is the kind of relationship that I wanted in marriage and I’m so thankful God fulfilled that need I had. With such friendship and familiarity between us, there is something that we both need to guard our hearts from; and that is contempt (disdain, disapproval, or scorn). It’s easy, when you know someone as well as we know one another, to view their opinions, ideas, and ways of doing things with contempt since you know not only their good points but are aware of their frailties as well.

Familiarity can be a positive mark in a relationship. I’m not fearful to talk to my husband about anything; I know that he has my best interests at heart. I’m also so familiar with him that I know when I can talk with him. For example, when he is studying on Friday, preparing his preaching for the weekend, I know that it’s not a good time to have a deep discussion about anything. If my attitude towards him shifted to the negative and I began to despise him for his way of doing things, then, that familiarity I have with him has brought a harvest of contempt. As my husband, as my fellow believer, I need to honor the person God has made him to be and allow room for him to be himself just as he honors me as his wife and fellow believer.

In the same way we need to guard ourselves in our relationships with our spouses and friends, as Christians, we have to be very careful not to allow our relationship with the Lord to become contemptuous because we have become so accustomed to His love and grace.

1 Corinthians 11:23-26 MSG Let me go over with you again exactly what goes on in the Lord’s Supper and why it is so centrally important. I received my instructions from the Master himself and passed them on to you. The Master, Jesus, on the night of his betrayal, took bread. Having given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, broken for you. Do this to remember me.’ After supper, he did the same thing with the cup: ‘This cup is my blood, my new covenant with you. Each time you drink this cup, remember me.’ What you must solemnly realize is that every time you eat this bread and every time you drink this cup, you reenact in your words and actions the death of the Master. You will be drawn back to this meal again and again until the Master returns. You must never let familiarity breed contempt.”

If we don’t watch ourselves in our relationship with the Lord, we could easily fall into the same trap as the Corinthians did with the Lord’s Supper (Communion). Things had taken a drastic downward turn in the Corinthian church; they had turned the Lord’s Supper, and church life in general, into a competition. Criticism and divisiveness filled the air and the Apostle Paul felt it necessary to step in and bring correction.

Familiarity – Honor = Contempt

Jesus faced the same issue as He attempted to minister in His home town:

Mark 6:3 NLT “Then they scoffed, ‘He’s just a carpenter…’ They were deeply offended and refused to believe in Him.”

The people in Jesus’ hometown despised His ministry because they were familiar with Him. They knew his mother and father, they knew He hadn’t studied the law or attended any prestigious center for training on religious affairs. The miracles they had heard of Him performing weren’t enough to change their minds about Him – they were deeply offended.

Why is it when God uses someone we know, a friend or family member, we immediately view him or her with skepticism? Simply because we know where someone comes from doesn’t preclude them from God using them. Perhaps we wonder, secretly or even unconsciously, why is God using them instead of us for our character and giftings are so much better than theirs. When we allow contempt to rule in our hearts to the point that we judge others and the work God is trying to do through them, we stand on shaky ground.

Mark 6:6 NLT “And He was amazed at their unbelief.”

When contempt takes hold and grows, it grows into offense and unbelief. Once those attitudes take hold in our lives, our spiritual growth comes to a standstill:

Hebrews 11:6 NKJ “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”

Unbelief stands in opposition to faith and stalls us spiritually. Those things we have been fervently praying for will be kept from us as long as we have unbelief reigning in our hearts.

I never want to amaze God with my unbelief because I couldn’t receive from someone I was familiar with or because I became so familiar with God that I didn’t hold my relationship with Him in reverence. What a catastrophe, yes catastrophe, that would be; that I would keep God’s blessings from coming into my life because I had set myself up as judge and jury over others.

Today, I challenge you to hold your relationship with God and others with reverence. Yes, He can use whomever He wants to use, whenever He wants to use them, and however He wants to use them. I’ve found most of the candidates God calls are what we would consider “disqualified” because of lack of experience or their human frailties. Those are precisely the ones God uses for when He uses such incompetent people (like me), He will get all the glory!

I’m amazed today that God loves me so much and would send His Son for me, that He has given me wonderful people to serve with, and that He would use me to do something for His Kingdom.


 

 

Posted in Forgiveness, Judgment

Don’t Draw on the Walls!

I remember once being caught by my parents for drawing on the walls. I couldn’t deny it. I have a vivid memory, I think  I was about 5 years old, of holding a crayon at shoulder-level and walking along and drawing a long line the entire length of a hallway in our home. Something about drawing on walls fascinated me; I was a virtual Picasso at home in my younger years.

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I’ve seen a trend in decorating these days where families will actually mount a frame around the drawings that their kids have scrawled on their homes’ walls. Had this been a trend when I was a child, well, there wouldn’t have been enough frames to take care of all my drawings!

While my art was, in my opinion, of art gallery quality, my parents had another opinion on the matter. There were consequences to my actions and, in time, I did figure out that ending my career as an in-home artist was the best thing for me to do.

I’ve noticed in our daily lives that we aren’t as forgiving with one another as we are with children when they draw on the walls. We are far more prone to paint over our own drawings  than we are to forgive the faults of others who have failed to make “the grade” in our opinion; after all, they drew on our walls!

Why are we so quick to throw stones at those who have drawn on our walls?

The problem we face when we throw stones of judgment at those who wrong us or who don’t conform to our standards is that in so doing we restrict the power of God from flowing from us to others.

Does this mean that we don’t confront sin or have standards? Not at all. However, when we face those who have sinned or fallen short of standards, we would do well to first examine what is our end-goal in dealing with that person? Is it to shame them into conformity or is it to love them back into the family? God’s design from the beginning was to build a family, how have we gotten so far from His initial intention?

Jesus has a habit of doing things other than throwing stones at people. When confronted with a woman in sin, those bringing her tried to use God’s standard against sin as a reason to stone her. Jesus, so wise in His response, said, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” (John 8:7).

The woman’s act was sinful, that was not in dispute. The judgmental attitude of those wanting to stone her, those whose walls had been drawn on, was what Jesus challenged. Why is it so important to cast stones when we have all been guilty at one time or another of missing the mark?

Jesus won this challenge of His authority by forgiving, not stoning.

If we really want to win our families, friends, and the world for Jesus we would do well to remember that the One Who had the right to throw stones didn’t: He forgave and told her to move on and “sin no more.”

As we end this year, we would all do well to  remember that our Father never throws stones, He rolls them, or takes them, away!

Remember Lazarus? He commanded the stone to be “taken away” (John 11:39).

Remember His resurrection? The stone was also “taken away” (John 20:1).

Those stones are, in one sense, hindrances, judgments, sin, that keep people from the Father. The problem of throwing stones at those we find fault in is that as we close our hearts to the possibility of God working in them, we roll stones in front of our own relationships with God. It is a tangled web that we weave when we step into the shoes of both Judge and Jury.

Let’s not throw stones this coming year; let’s roll them, let’s take them away with soft hearts of forgiveness.  Instead of throwing stones, why not draw signs with our crayons pointing people to the place where no stones will be thrown at them?

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