The Honor of Dishonor
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The Honor of Dishonor
The Honor of Dishonor
— Read on shoutout.wix.com/so/4MFkfgRC
Today is Saturday, the 28th of April 2018. We have a little more than 3 weeks until we move to Bujumbura, Burundi from where we are now, Blantyre, Malawi. Books are randomly scattered all over the floor here in the office, we don’t have many chairs left to sit on, and I’m wondering how can I control the chaos! I need boxes, packing tape, a few more suitcases, and energy! Oh, how I need energy!
I find myself in the usual unusual territory of trusting God for each and every step. It’s a path I am supposed to be accustomed to but each and every time we embark on this journey of faith I have to relearn the steps of faith, for each lesson brings with it its own set of lessons. Every journey in faith is new, every journey of faith is meant to make us grow.
Growth is something I want, but the process that brings growth is what I don’t want. I want instant mashed potatoes growth; the kind that happens when I add some water and “poof,” I have grown! But that’s not the kind of growth that God brings – He brings the kind of growth that requires us to give Him control of everything; to have faith in His process and not our own.
We sing songs saying, “God take control” but the moment He tries to take over, we recoil. In our arsenal of excuses we have many Christian-esque sounding phrases that make our excuses sound spiritual:
“Oh, that’s not wisdom.” Yet we are told in Scripture that the way to wisdom is through foolishness:
1 Corinthians 3:18,19 NKJ “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their own craftiness;’”
“I prayed and don’t feel right.” If we were to be led by feelings, we would change course several times a day, it’s faith that we live by, not feelings:
Romans 1:17 NKJ “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’”
“Giving everything away to bring the Gospel elsewhere, well, God doesn’t want me to be poor.” When will we understand that we, believers, are the richest people in the world? Wealth in the Kingdom is not measured by the things we possess but by the One Who possesses us:
Romans 11:33 NKJ “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!”
How will God get the job done if we don’t start with the plans, funds, and popular support that our ambitions require? What I have learned is that God’s plans won’t unfold as I would have planned, nor will He fund them in the way that I would think, and they certainly won’t be popular even among some of those closest to me.
For some reason that escapes me, God wants me involved in the unfolding of His great plan. This alone causes me to wonder about His all-encompassing love, wisdom, and power. Why would He, the Creator, want anyone, let alone me, when He has the ability to get everything done without any help? But He’s chosen to involve Himself in our very small lives because He loves us without measure. Shouldn’t I, then, accept what is assigned to me in the face of this amazing love? Since I am unable to grasp His understanding of it all, I choose today to sit in the passenger seat and go when and where He decides. His driving record is spotless and His reservoir of supply has no limit – I can’t argue with that now, can I?
Play it safe.
Don’t push too far.
Should we chose to follow all safety precautions on every product we buy or activity we take part in, there are still bound to be unforeseen, unplanned, and unexpected complications that will meet us along the way. We simply can’t avoid trouble, it comes with the territory of life.
I’ve said it many times and still hold to this: the safest place to be is in God’s will. There, I find protection, provision, joy, and comfort. There’s nothing that can reach me there; I’m in His pocket ( 1 Sam. 25:29) as it were, close to His heartbeat. From that place, I hear what stirs His heart and I find the courage to reach for things I never dreamt of before, because things aren’t what they seem to be when you’re in the will of God.
John 14:27 ESV “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
It would appear that Jesus was coaching His disciples to really open their eyes to the possibility of things not being as they would appear when He said, “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” At the time being described above in John 14, Jesus had entered into Jerusalem and was preparing His followers to understand that in the days to come, events would unfold that would appear to say, “It’s over.”
The crucifixion was on the horizon, Jesus knew it – but He also knew that the Resurrection was soon to follow on the heels of what would appear to be His end. He knew things weren’t going to be at all as they seemed. Jesus also knew everyone would flee and that He would be left alone to face the cross, yet He did it anyway. Why would He suffer and die when all would leave Him? He also knew that after His Resurrection, no one would believe in Him right away. It took quite a bit of work after He rose to convince those who had fled, that He was really alive. If it had been me making the choice at that juncture, those who had fled would not have been in the running for those chosen to be the leaders of the early church. Yet, by grace, Jesus chose to look beyond what the rest of us would call “the obvious” because He knew that nothing in His Kingdom is as it seems. Jesus knew that those who had fled weren’t at all as they appeared. They were born for something more, they were meant to turn the world “upside down.”
Acts 17:6 ESV “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also.”
I see a pattern throughout Scripture where those who dared to live close to the Father’s heartbeat never played it safe. They understood that being led where God took them was the only truly safe place to be – even if that path lead them to a place where it would seem their end was imminent.
Daniel chose the lions.
Paul chose to go to Rome.
Joseph chose to take Mary.
Each one (and many others) could have chosen to follow an easier route, but they didn’t. They knew the worst that could happen would have meant losing their lives, which would only put them in the presence of God; where would the the loss in that have been? They chose His safe place, and as they did, they lived amazing lives of adventure, seeing impossible dreams come true that they didn’t even know they had.
This life and all of its trimmings would have us to believe that living a life of adventure for God is unsafe, unreasonable, and even foolish. For those who don’t know the Father, I can understand those feelings. Still, there’s a thirst in me to see more than a life colored safely in the lines of what seems to be safe places, for in reality nothing is safe apart from God.
My choice is to live far from what seems to be safe; I want to live close to Him and far from things as they seem to be.
“The worship of God is not a rule of safety; it’s an adventure of the spirit.” Alfred North Whitehead
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:
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.
“I’ll get even!”
As children, especially those of us who grew up with siblings, getting even was to be expected. Whenever one of my siblings got the best of me, they knew that eventually I would find them and return the favor. I am not sure which one of us was the best at “getting back” at the other, or who was best at the “getting,” as we all knew the other was considered fair game, getting even was to be expected.
“You started it so you deserved it.”
Later on in life I came to understand that I deserved judgment, but God offered me grace which I eagerly accepted and I am so thankful that I did! The truth of the matter is that we all deserve judgment apart from the grace and mercy of God. We who have come to know Jesus live under one spiritual roof in God’s Kingdom and there’s none among us who has been able to earn what we have been given. Yet, I find it strange that for all we have: forgiveness, mercy, grace, love, and more, we carefully measure out our approval to those who have yet to enter the Kingdom. For some reason it seems we feel the less-than-palatable characters of this world “deserve” less than we do because they are so ungodly and when they meet an untimely demise, or tragedy comes to their part of the world, there’s a sense of “they deserved it” that floats around in our circles. How this must hurt not only the heart of our Father, but also hurt those reaching out in those unseemly places.
Ezekiel 33:10-16 TLB vs. 11 “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; I desire that the wicked turn from his evil ways and live…”
Souls are priceless, even those we find to be uncomely, they matter to the Lord and they should matter to us. The call to pray for and go to the nations (see Matt. 9:38 and Luke 15) remains unchanged in spite of this world’s present situation. There are no clauses in those scriptures that excludes us in this present age of reaching out to people, both near and far, whose lives are foreign to us. Once upon a time, and not very long ago either, such were some of us (see 1 Cor. 6:10,11) and we needed someone to extend us a lifeline.
It’s their turn now, they don’t deserve it, but neither did we.
Stepping off the plane for the first time in Burundi, I seriously wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. I stood with my husband and children on the airport tarmac after our plane landed. It was warm, the sun was hot, and there was no one waiting for us. There was no air conditioning in the airport terminal, I remember being thankful for the breeze that blew through the baggage collection area. With my left hand, I held tightly to my 5 year old son’s little hand and balanced my 1 1/2 year old daughter on my right hip. We were all tired of living out of suitcases; we had spent nearly a year in France studying French prior to our arrival that day in Burundi. From France, we flew to Nairobi, Kenya and, after a short time, made our way to Burundi where the adventure of our lifetime was about to begin.
Time and again I’ve relived that same scenario; going somewhere where I’ve not been before to start a church from nothing. Where would we start? We never knew until we got there. Who would work with us? We would find them. When would we leave? When the time was right.
It took us 9 years of hard work to see the church grow to a place of maturity where we were able to leave to go plant a new church in a new nation and start the whole process all over again. Now, 18 years and a number of churches later, I have learned a few things about stepping out in faith into the unknown – and I’m still learning! In our affirmation-driven society where many in Christian circles have rarely seen the raw faith that’s required to face the world head-on for the cause of the Kingdom, they find they are ill-prepared for the reality that awaits them when they do step out. Often, they fall victim to discouragement, even despair, when the enemy meets them head-on (believe me when I say that he will seek you out the moment you say “yes” to the Kingdom’s call).
In Acts 14, we read the account of Paul ministering on a journey that had taken him through several cities. In one of the cities, Lystra, a man was healed (Acts 14:10) and the crowds went nearly crazy over the great miracle they had seen: a man who was born crippled, was healed and walked. It was amazing! Paul and his partner, Barnabas, could hardly restrain the people from making sacrifices to them, calling them gods. One would think that this great miracle would open great opportunities to the city; however, that was not what happened. Shortly after this miraculous occurrence, the same people who Paul ministered to were “stirred up” (Acts 14:19) to stone Paul. He was left for dead but, in another miracle, got up and went on to another city called Derbe where many received the Gospel and a large number of disciples were made. Later on, Paul returned to Lystra and other cities where he had preached, encouraging believers along his way.
In reading this account, I was taken by the fact that first Paul was almost worshipped as a god and then he was stoned by the same ones who wanted to worship him the day before. The emotions he felt must have been extreme. In studying Paul’s life, I’ve noticed he was someone who didn’t require a lot of maintenance; he worked to support himself by making tents and never is he seen in the scriptures asking for expensive gifts. His main focus was the Kingdom’s advance in the earth and he wouldn’t let himself get sidetracked by the peripheral things of this life.
Nevertheless, Paul was human and I am sure at this time, and many others, he must have felt conflicted, even tempted to be depressed over the rejection – but he doesn’t even make mention of any anguish over this ordeal in the scriptures. He was simply concerned to build the Kingdom, grow the churches he planted, and be faithful to his call. Affirmation would come later in abundance simply by hearing the words, “well done.” However, until that time, he fought the fight of faith and kept his faith.
Our service to people isn’t based on their merits or their appreciation of our call to serve God. I’ve found that if I can keep this front and center in my own life, I’m not easily disappointed. However, the moment I let my focus on the Kingdom fade, that’s the moment I fall into discouragement. Whether there are people to meet me at the airport or not, I’m moving forward. Whether someone thanks me or not, my eyes are fixed on the prize. Whether what I do looks successful or not, I’m already a success in my Father’s eyes, for His approval already rests on me.
“Wherever God rules over the human heart as King, there is the Kingdom of God established.” Paul W. Harrison
Compromise, it’s the cornerstone of all meaningful relationships. Each party in a relationship is to compromise in order to accommodate the other. I learned, and am still learning after nearly 34 years of marriage, the major relationship in my life, that compromise is the “secret sauce” to success in marriage. I didn’t commit myself for life to a relationship to see it fail so I work to make concessions as it were, and so does my husband (even though there are times I’m loathe to admit it – ha). We have decided to work at it and we’ve made it!
In our free societies, our culture has engrained within us that we aren’t to give in and surrender our rights no matter what the reason. Of course it’s a blessing to live in places where such freedoms of expression exist and are protected. The problem we as Christians encounter is understanding that as we serve in God’s Kingdom, our earthly freedoms don’t translate into His Kingdom. In God’s Kingdom it is “His Kingdom come.” (Matthew 6:10)
I’ve written a fairly recent entry entitled, “My Kingdom Go” where I discussed the importance of having to say “My Kingdom Go” before I can pray “His Kingdom Come.” However, even in that statement I have further discovered that I’m thinking of myself more than I ought to think. Praying “My Kingdom Go” is an essential part of praying for God’s Kingdom to come, but it is a very small part for when I’m praying His Kingdom Come, I’m praying that anything opposed to God’s Kingdom will go so that His Kingdom would come.
This may sound foreign to our freedom-loving minds; don’t our opinions count? Not really for there is Someone Who has a greater understanding of everything that’s at play in this world and it’s not us. That understanding doesn’t come from natural governments or minds that have been educated at the best and most progressive and prestigious universities. God’s understanding comes from a viewpoint that embraces truth from end to end of time and space; I don’t think we’ve quite arrived at that place yet. We still lag far behind the wisdom of our Father.
The prayer of Matthew 6:10 doesn’t allow us the luxury of praying “Your Kingdom Come” as far as what’s reasonable or acceptable by earth standards. The prayer simply says, “Your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” I have a part to play in this relationship, but it is far different to any relationship I have had on earth. God accommodated Himself to us in sending His Son (John 3:16) and Jesus accommodated Himself in being willing to submit Himself (Phil. 2:5-8). Now it is up to us to accommodate ourselves and bend to that same level.
Indeed, His Kingdom Come.
Further reading: Chris Tiegreen One Year Heaven on Earth Devotional
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.
We are taught from an early age to “think for ourselves.” Indeed, having the ability to reason a situation through is something best learned early on. My youngest daughter is in 4th grade and she is learning how to think before answering; when she thinks first and processes the work, she generally gets a better grade which makes everyone happy!
Solving math problems definitely requires more brain power for some (like me) more than others. Thankfully, my daughter has learned this skill at a much faster pace than I did. I wasn’t the automatic math genius in school – I spent a great deal of time training my mind to think problems through. Once I finally mastered this skill of reasoning and thought, my grades improved. What I wasn’t prepared for in daily life as an adult when facing life issues was understanding that reasoning life problems through like algebraic equations won’t always produce the correct results.
All of that work to train my thoughts in a certain way had to change.
2 Corinthians 10:5 ESV “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”
In my mind, as I learned to navigate this path called my walk with God, I often found myself arguing with the issues I faced.
Trusting God for His wisdom when facing civil unrest? My mind told me to run but my heart said stay; there was an internal argument taking place in my mind daily in those days. My old debate class lessons quickly found their way back to the forefront of my mind.
Trusting God for buildings when our tent where we meet keeps blowing over? Where was the money going to come from? Math arguments come in handy here, I’d tell myself hundreds of thousands won’t multiply from zero as zero times anything still equals zero!
Much like the lessons I learned at school, lessons of reasoning, I’ve learned another lesson: mentally working out how to walk with God simply won’t work. Much like you can’t apply algebra to conjugating verbs, earthly reasoning cannot apply in our walk with God.
This year as we begin afresh once again, I’ve set my arguments aside. Arguments of why it can’t be done are now my captive audience as I surrender to the process of solving problems in a much more effective way – in the way of the Kingdom. My feeble attempts at solving don’t amount to much anyway in the face of issues that are obviously far beyond my pay grade: comforting the bereaved, growing new churches, expanding into new countries, and loving those who don’t love me back.
My thoughts are captive. I’m listening. I’m learning.
Today, January 1, 2018, journals, blogs, newspaper articles, tweets, and conversations will inevitably turn towards expectations and hopes for the New Year:
A new job.
A new car.
A new romance.
A new house.
A new fitness regime.
A new Bible reading plan.
A renewed dedication to God.
There’s something in the hearts of men and women around the world that looks for renewed hope; we eagerly look and wait for God to make all things new (Rev. 2:15). Thinking of the new and better comforts us in the middle of our not-so-comfortable current surroundings.
I watched an interview on a news program last night where the person being interviewed (Trevor Noah a TV personality and comedian) discussed his viewpoint on achieving success. He rose from poverty to a life of notoriety and fame. Something he said stuck with me; he was asked how he handles “living the dream.” His response went something like this, “Living the dream isn’t about the next newest thing we can get; living the dream is being joyful or happy in every moment. Doing otherwise we mortgage our happiness and in doing so will never achieve our dream because we’re always reaching for more.”
The truth is that we won’t achieve anything more in life that can offer more than what we as believers already carry in us: the Kingdom of God. What more could we hope for? Within the Kingdom is found the things the world can’t possibly supply: righteousness, peace, and joy (Rom. 14:17) and the very Presence of God Himself as His Kingdom is in us (Luke 17:21).
The Kingdom seems so far away, it is easier to fall victim to circumstance and live from day to day with the same mentality of this world – happiness will come when I reach “the next level” or have the newest gadget or have more money. All of these things are lacking in the thing we seek: God’s presence and power. It is in His presence lack and need fall to the wayside so what we need isn’t a new list of goals. What we need is to expand the Kingdom in ourselves and in this world.
The Kingdom has already come near to us, dare we enter? Dare we partner with the King to see His Kingdom come? This will mean, if we truly pray for His Kingdom come, we must pray our kingdom go.
“Wherever God rules over the human heart as King, there is the Kingdom of God established.” Paul W. Harrison