Posted in Choices, Love, Misfit, Missionary, Rejection, Serving

The Chips Will Fall

It’s hard to live out our convictions in an increasingly hostile world – and I’m not only talking about the hostility we see on the news or internet. In our personal, day-to-day lives it’s not uncommon to come face-to-face with intense rejection any time we choose to go against the grain of what is “the norm.” In this atmosphere, it’s difficult to know what “the norm” is at any given point in time; it feels as if we are walking on eggshells trying to keep everyone happy. The problem resulting from working as hard as we do not to rock the boat is the incessant gnawing in our souls of not living authentically before the world (see 1 John 2:10).

I’ve written about this subject many times approaching it from many different angles and why the tempation to please people holds us as it does instead of living truthfully, continues to evade me. One simply has to experience the pain of rejection once to learn the lesson: living for the approval of others will ultimately drain us of our of joy and energy. However, instead of learning this lesson, we work harder to fit in, to make sure everyone knows we are just like them – and this further complicates extricating ourselves from the complicated world of peer pressure.

When I was a teenager, I thought peer pressure was something that would fade away as an adult – was I wrong! Peer pressure (I know that’s the old fashioned term) grows from a trickling stream in our childhood into a raging river in adulthood. Unfortunately for many, fearing rejection prevent us from daring to live out loud. The importance of living authentically is often put off until later in life when one finally tires of the unreliable opinions of their peers.

The pressures of living authentically differ radically from living to please others. When I chose to live truthfully before the world, it did (and does) create waves. It has taken time for me to allow the “chips to fall” where they may – but the truth of the matter is that I am not living to make anyone besides God happy. I’m not even living to please myself because like my peers, my emotions and opinions are unreliable and can change from one moment to the next. The only unchanging opinion belongs to God; He is consistent, reliable, loving, patient, kind, and always has my best interests at heart and this puts Him in a category all by Himself.

I will face pressure no matter which way I choose, but I’d rather live in the Truth I’ve found than in the shadows of fearing rejection.

As a misfit, see my entry Musings of a Misfit Missionary for a bit of background, I understand the pain of being misunderstood and rejected. I’ve been told that I’m selfish, short-sighted, irresponsible, and “the worst parent” in the world (the full account of “the worst parent” comment is told in our book, No Retreat – No Regrets which will be re-released this year). It’s very hard to face those kinds of words without giving in to the opinions of those hurling them at me, but I’m thankful to have had the overwhelming grace to stay the course and continue living the truth of what God has called me to be: a misfit missionary.

Living truthfully doesn’t give me license to live ugly and confrontational towards those who don’t understand. On the contrary, it gives me license to love more, give more, and serve more. It may be that living the truth in love might give those who don’t understand a greater understanding of the love of a Father Whose interests for them far outweigh the opinions and ultimate rejection of their peers.

Imagine this: there’s Someone Who really cares, really wants the best for you, and died for you to make it happen. That’s the kind of person Whose opinion has won me over.

Jeremiah 31:3 NASB I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.”

Posted in Grief, Hope, Kingdom, Loss, Missions, Motives, Serving, Sorrow, Success, The Call of God

All Over The World

This past week a cyclone hit the coast of Africa mostly affecting Mozambique and Zimbabwe. So far, according to reports, approximately 126 people (some reports say higher) have died as a direct result of the storm. In Nigeria, 120 people have died in recent attacks in local villages. There have been shootings in New Zealand leaving 50 dead and an Ethiopian Airlines plane went down last week killing all 157 on board. This short list of news is a only a small fraction of what goes unreported every day. Estimates vary, but there are about 151,600 people that die daily and most of those deaths go unreported in the news. 70,000 of these deaths occur in nations that are closed to the Gospel.

All over the world, people are crying.

Normally, my blogs are a bit quirky with a snippet of sarcasm and dry humor so I apologize if my departure from my usual self seems, at first, to be gloomy. It’s not my intention to leave anyone depressed today and I truly hope you don’t feel hopeless by the time I finish my little diatribe.

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As this world’s media picks and chooses what stories to cover and what stories to shelve, but the truth remains that thousands of families have spent the past several hours and days mourning for lost loved ones. Death is no respecter of persons and all of us will one day shuffle off this mortal coil in exchange for that which is eternal; what we do with our time here before we have that final meeting is what really is of value.

I won’t pretend to be educated enough to address the issues that others put under the microscope and take their limited time to rant on over social media. I find it sad that many of us choose to spend the limited time we have on this earth arguing with others on a platform where those you are sparring with are most likely going to remain unknown to you. It’s amazing how vicious some people have become with the advent of social media.

Romans 12:21 NKJ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Some justify their vitriol and even invoke God’s name when they do so, but as I know God, He still loves the world and all the people in it (John 3:16). In fact, the only time Jesus is seen weeping in scripture is when He looked over a city (Luke 19:41). He wasn’t crying over the buildings or land, He was crying for the people; some of those in that city He knew were the ones that would take part in His crucifixion. I don’t know how many of us would now have heart to do the same over our own cities where at times we face brutal criticism and attack for the cross that we bear and represent. Oh, that I might represent that cross well!

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This hopeless hour we find ourselves in could very possibly be the greatest opportunity the church worldwide has ever known. As a lifetime missionary, experience has taught me that when people are most vulnerable is when they are most open to the Gospel that brings love and hope.

Last week, we held an outreach into a local area here in Bujumbura, Burundi called Buterere. About 20 years ago this area was little more than a trash dump and rice fields. After the war here in the mid-late 1990s, people who had been displaced by the war moved to this area. It was a horrible situation; there was little to no sanitation, no running water, nothing to serve the people. 20 years later I found myself again in Buterere surrounded by a growing community that is slowly finding its way. The surroundings are still very basic and due to its low-lying situation, it is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. At the outreach, we held disease prevention classes teaching on topics like malaria prevention and basic hygiene. At the end of the teaching we distributed, to 200 families, mosquito nets, basins, soap, and a book by Joyce Meyers called, “Tell Them I Love Them.” We gave an opportunity for people to receive Christ and 45 people raised their hands. The reports coming back to us in the past few days have been full of words of appreciation and thanks for showing what God’s love is really all about.

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Will all of those 45 follow through with their decisions? We will do our best to follow up on them and encourage them but the large majority probably won’t – but who follows through and who doesn’t isn’t what motivates me to reach out to them. What motivates me is God’s love for them and we do what we can do in any given situation so that some may come to know Him (1 Cor. 9:22). While we work to encourage those making commitments, the results aren’t my responsibility and truth be told, if I was moved by results or popular opinion I would have resigned from my position many years ago.

So how do we, then, speak out? How do we behave honestly, yet lovingly, in this upside down world?

Ephesians 4:14-16 NKJ that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”

God loves the world and the motivating factor for what He does is love. I believe it’s only out of His love for the world that it hasn’t already fallen off its axis! We can say the right things but with the wrong motivation; the right thing said for the wrong reason is the wrong thing. God doesn’t need to have His reputation defended for His reputation is intact no matter what people think. Jesus understood this:

John 2:24,25 NKJ “But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.”

I hope today in some small way in my little world in Bujumbura, Burundi I am advancing the Kingdom of God by speaking the truth, not to justify who I am, but out of love for those who need to hear the truth. I can make what I say and do sound and appear righteous, but if my motivation is not loving the people, then I am only looking to raise my own righteous profile and not God’s.

“Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines—as well as upon works!” John Newton

Nothing I’ve written has ever gone viral or been popular, but on the off-chance someone reads this little piece and it gives them a bit of hope for this lost and dying world – it’s a win. If it makes someone upset, well, take a number and the staff (me) will attend to your complaint at its earliest convenience.

Rant over. Time for coffee.

Posted in Change, Church planting, Courage, Endurance, Faith, Holy Spirit, Missions, Patience, Perspective, Serving, Unexplained, Unknown

So It Is

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There are so many lessons to learn when a big change takes place in life. Most of the time I can, with relative accuracy, predict what the 2 main lessons in such a change will be (since I’ve gone through this multiple times): faith and patience. Faith to trust God when the next step is ambiguous at best and patience to walk down a path that might make me take more time than I had hoped to reach my destination.

I mistakenly thought I would bounce back from a move like this one we have just taken (from Malawi to Burundi) quickly; perhaps I was a bit presumptuous in thinking so. It was easy for me to think, “I’ve seen it all.” when really I haven’t touched the tip of the iceberg in life experience. Yes, I’ve worked overseas since 1987, yes I have moved multiple times across countries and continents, and yes of course I have experienced quite a bit – but I’ve not experienced enough to say I know it all.

The past weeks have reminded me that not all changes we make in life are equal. There are many factors that can figure into our reactions during changes in our lives, I won’t even try to list them there are so many, it can be mind-boggling as we try to make adjustments along the way. Thankfully, there is one constant truth that I cling to every time we have had to make changes (big or small) and that is God, my Father, loves me and always does what’s best for me. If I can manage to keep that truth in focus, everything else eventually falls into place.

It seems, as I look back on the past few months, that God is always teaching me the same lesson in a different way: trust Him and His process. If I resist the process long enough, God will simply bring me around again to another set of circumstances to teach me the same lesson again. Better to learn it the first time!

I used to be under the impression that our lives are meant to be lived for God so we can do something for Him; kind of a merit-based faith! Don’t mistake me here, I believe we give all we have back to God: our time, energy, talents, and possessions. However, we don’t give it all to get His approval or His blessings, Jesus already did the work for us so we don’t have to strive any longer. We have been given God’s approval in Him – we are blessed! Anything I might do in my lifetime for God is simply an expression of love that I have for Him and that lets me off the hook of seeking after merit!

Since God is after the best for me, not what He can get from me as I have thought in times past, it would seem the best course of action would be to trust His processes over my own. Those processes don’t make sense to my mind most of the time, but my heart somehow understands what God’s Spirit is leading me to do.

John 3:8 NIV “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

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Living this way, by the Spirit, can be quite intimidating in the sense that most of the time those around us are likely to misunderstand what we are doing. In fact, it might even seem a bit “flighty” to those around us. It might appear to those observing us that we don’t know which direction we are taking, and in this life of the Spirit so it is. We don’t really know where we are going. All we know for certain is that God is good and He takes us to the places where we need to go in order for Him to work in us and through us. This life is a big puzzle that God majestically puts together from start to finish – we just don’t know where those pieces fit much of the time until we look back and can say, “Now I see.” 

We’re after a goal that only God knows how we can attain, so as He leads may we follow – even to the consternation of those around us. So it is, we often won’t be understood or embraced, but if we dare to let God’s Spirit blow through us, nothing can hold us back from seeing the pieces fall into place.

 

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 Sacrifice, Serving

Savings

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Spending money is something everyone does on a relatively frequent basis. While what people spend their money on differs according to budget and need, the truth of the matter is that we all spend money. Today, our daughter had her yearly dental exam (no cavities!), next week I get my eyes checked, and the following week my husband gets his teeth checked and you know whose teeth get checked last. The LAST thing I want to do is spend money on my teeth but it has to be done. So money is being spent, not on “fun” things but necessary things. After our visit to the dentist, however, to celebrate a no cavities report, we did pick up a tub of ice cream for our daughter. Perhaps not the best thing to celebrate a good dentist’s report with with but, oh well, she is our #4 baby and we aren’t as rigid as we used to be with the first 3. Maybe I owe those guys a few ice creams!

There’s another currency that we all spend but we don’t take time to consider budgeting that currency. This kind of spending is very unpopular among Christians because it takes away from our personal plans. Because we work as hard as we do, time off is precious. The kids need activities, the parents need time together, and everyone needs “me” time. There’s very little time to fit anything else in.

We budget, plan, save, research our purchases, and try to be wise. We work hard to make every penny stretch to its farthest point, and rightly so. Though being wise with our money is a command that the Lord Jesus Himself taught (Matthew 25:14-29), there is another type of spending that we are called to. This spending is, in many ways, more costly to us than purchasing a new home or car. We are called to spend ourselves –

2 Corinthians 12:15 NKJ “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls…”

Would that spending our lives was as easy as spending money! What does the author of this verse, Paul, mean by spending himself? He was saying that he was ready to spend himself, his energy, and resources for the sake of others.

Philippians 2:17 NKJ “Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.”

Paul rejoiced in giving all that he had, and all that he had was his service to others. It doesn’t seem that Paul was overly wealthy. I get the impression that he had enough to make ends meet through his tent making as well as sporadic support he received from the churches he ministered to. He was so committed to serving those he was sent to, he preached no matter what – if he had support or not, somehow he carried on preaching and teaching (see Acts 18:1-4; 1 Thess. 2:9; 2 Cor. 11:7-10). He was intent on spending himself as currency – what were the goods he was receiving in return? The people in the churches he helped plant, establish, and oversee – what a priceless treasure.

Matthew 20:25-28 “But Jesus called them to Himself and said, You know that the rules of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

When we receive Jesus into our lives as Lord and Savior, we also are challenged by God to offer ourselves totally in service to God by serving others. Serving God does not consist of sweeping the church floor or cleaning the church nursery in and of itself. When we do such things as sweep the church or clean the nursery, we are doing so in order to serve those people who will come and use the facilities. God doesn’t need the floor to be clean – the people do. God doesn’t need a clean nursery – the babies do. As we serve to meet the needs of people, we are serving God. This service doesn’t stop when we leave the church’s place of meeting; it increases in importance as we serve people in our communities and in our world.

Galatians 5:13 “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

How can we practically serve in the middle of the busy lives that we live? Family is priority, so is work; how do we budget our time? I’ve heard it said by a very wise woman who once reprimanded me for complaining that I didn’t have “enough time” to get things done, that God made the day with 24 hours in it. He, in His wisdom, gave us just the right amount of time to get things done every day. The challenge is to be wise with how we use our time.

While time can’t be relived, we are told we can redeem the time (Eph. 5:16 NKJ “Redeem the time for the days are evil.”). How is it possible to redeem something that we can’t have a refund on?

Colossians 4:5 NKJ “Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time.”

Living wisely before the world implies serving them, loving them, bringing them to a place where they can experience their own eternal redemption. One of the greatest family outings we can plan with our children is a day spent serving others in our communities, giving ourselves freely to those who have nothing to offer as payment. Balancing fun times with family as well as meaningful times serving others with family is a great skill that will not only impact those we are serving, but our children as well, for eternity. I challenge you to find that balance in your family life; I can promise you the dividends will be greater than a padded 401k.

Go on a spending spree today and take your loved ones with you. Don’t worry if you don’t have a lot of money to spend – spend yourself and serve others. Whoever knew we could redeem time?

God is so amazing.