Posted in Choices, Missions, New Year, Thankful, Thanksgiving

Of Power Cuts and Enchiladas

The power is off again.

Does this surprise me? Of course not!

But I can hope for power, can’t I?

I’ve endured, since 1987, many weeks and months of electrical blackouts. Living in Africa it’s part of the deal; there will be many opportunities for us to go without power. Some years ago our family lived 3 months straight without electricity, I call this period of time in my life a “bad hair quarter.”

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I complained quite a bit in those days until one day while wrapping up things after a Sunday morning service I commented to someone in the congregation that the power had been off for some weeks. Their reply to my insensitive remark was, “Oh, we never have power at home.”

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The darker sections of the map designate areas with less power. Click here for more information.

A large part of the world’s population, about 1 billion, does not have access to electricity. I’m sure I’m not smart enough to grasp the reason why so many go without power; I simply have learned to be thankful for the power that I’m blessed to have, even when it goes off periodically.

I know Thanksgiving has passed, but I keep thinking of how shallow I allow my thinking to become from time to time in light of the suffering of those who have less than I do. On Thanksgiving day, our power was cut (I’m so thankful for my gas stove). We had invited our Burundian friends over to celebrate with us and took time to explain to them what the day was all about: giving thanks for all of our blessings together with family and friends. Family from the States called and it was one of the best Thanksgivings we’ve had overseas.

**On a side note to make this story interesting, we couldn’t find a turkey so we opted to make enchiladas instead. No, nothing was store bought, nothing came in a package – it all came from raw ingredients. That’s the whole enchilada (pun intended)!**

The power stayed off for nearly 5 days after Thanksgiving. Due to the fact that we don’t have a backup generator or solar system to help us during power cuts, we lost everything we had in the refrigerator and freezer; an expensive cut for sure. When power was restored, I gave thanks for having a clean refrigerator and freezer.

Knowing full well that the power might cut again quickly after being restored, I decided not to be in a hurry to restock the kitchen. Then last night about 10:00 pm, the power went off yet again. We do have a small battery backup that lasts some hours but the fans turned off around 4:00 this morning. Temperatures began to rise and sweat ran down my temples; my first thought was how glad I was to have waited to get groceries.

Even as I write this post, I’m using my battery power hoping that somehow this power outage won’t be as long as the last!

Checking my attitude at the door, I gave thanks for the running water (which is also known to be cut from time to time) and a roof that doesn’t leak. We’re at the onset of the rainy season and life could be a whole lot more miserable if I didn’t have a roof for shelter.

My husband is a preacher and he’s never afraid to address tough issues. One of my favorite quotes of his is, “No matter how bad you have it, there’s always someone who is worse off than you are.” It’s so true; the things we complain over rarely (if ever) are worthy of the energy we put into them by complaining.

I pray this coming year to have my eyes open to not only the blessings that I have but also to really see those who go without – and to do, give, and make whatever difference I can.

It may be little, it may not be much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s my offering.

Still, a little power couldn’t hurt…

 

 

Posted in Choices, Family, Fasting, God's Word, Missions, Sacrifice

About Those Potato Chips

The food that potato chips bought.

This time of year, we take part in a fast. It’s always a very meaningful time where we push back and set our minds on our relationship with the Lord and what He has planned for us in the coming year. It’s kind of a reset button that helps us keep our ears and hearts open to God’s voice. No one enjoys the physical process of fasting, but the benefits far outweigh the discomfort.

At home, we’ve always encouraged (never forced of course) our young children to give up, or fast, certain activities (TV and other forms of media for example) or unnecessary snacks for a period of time. Our youngest is an avid potato chip fan – she knows most of what’s available here and panics when the chip stash runs low. This year, she has laid down the chips and has somehow enjoyed the sacrifice. Of course it’s not a full chip fast but it’s precious nonetheless!

One of the often overlooked parts of fasting has to do with what to do with the money we’ve saved with far less grocery shopping. Do we save it or buy something that we’ve wanted but haven’t been able to afford? Do we pay down bills or put it into savings?

While saving money feels good, there is another powerful element of fasting that has far-reaching potential:

Isaiah 58:6-9 NKJV

Is this not the fast that I have chosen:

To loose the bonds of wickedness,

To undo the heavy burdens,

To let the oppressed go free,

And that you break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,

And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;

When you see the naked, that you cover him,

And not hide yourself from your own flesh?

Then your light shall break forth like the morning,

Your healing shall spring forth speedily,

And your righteousness shall go before you;

The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;

You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’”

Today the three of us piled into our little car and drove to the store and purchased food and soap that we will distribute among some of the poor in Blantyre where we live. This is actually something our daughter thought of last year after seeing how poor many are in our city. What we purchased today will be bundled into care packages that we will begin distributing this week and she will be front and center putting the packages together. Her joy is palpable and contagious!

Yes, we are aware that this little bit of help will most likely do very little in the larger scope of things to address poverty – but simply because it isn’t enough doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. Who knows? This little bit of help might just be the glimmer of hope someone needs to see to light their way in the dark. Obedience in the Kingdom of God goes a long way and translates into miracles.

About the potato chips? That sacrifice will go a long way.

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

You Get What You Pay For

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

Jamie: “Is this on sale?”

Me: “Yes, dear.”

Jamie: “What’s the price?”

Me: “It’s 35% off.”

Jamie: “Isn’t there anything cheaper?”

Me: “This is the best price.”

Jamie: “This doesn’t feel right.”

Me: “You look great!”

Jamie: “There’s nothing in black?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Posted in Fasting, Offering, Sacrifice

Day 11 – Vultures

vultures-1081751_1920A common sight in Africa, vultures can regularly be seen circling the skies in search of their next meal. They are opportunistic carnivores meaning they don’t like to work for their food. When they are circling above and they see that lions have brought down their prey, you can be sure they will signal to their vulture friends that lunch is served.

While fully capable of fending for themselves like other birds of prey, vultures prefer to take what isn’t theirs. They are large birds, intimidating in appearance, and will protest loudly when challenged. But in the end, when stood up to, will fly away only to return and try again.

Vultures are thieves; they steal what doesn’t belong to them. You might think upon initial observation that vultures are fearful – but the more you watch them it’s obvious that they are not fearful – they’re just plain lazy, resourceful, and clever. They know that the mighty lion can easily bring them down with one swipe of their paw. They know that they put their very lives at risk to steal from the lion, but they are gambling on the lion’s becoming weary of chasing them away as they won’t easily give up on a free meal.

Lions will eat until they are gorged with meat as they often go long periods of time without bringing down an animal for a meal. For every time they are successful at bringing down a meal, there are 4 or 5 other attempts when they have failed. The effort they put out and the danger they put themselves in when hunting (for animals with sharp hooves and horns won’t go down easily) takes much of their energy. Once they have hunted and eaten, they often don’t want to bother with chasing away the vultures. The problem is if they don’t chase away the vultures, there will be no leftovers to eat when they get hungry again.

Vultures don’t announce their arrival. While they are often seen in groups, they search alone for carcasses. Once a carcass has been sighted, one lone vulture will begin to circle and others will soon join him. Then, the familiar circling pattern of vultures overhead can be seen. At first just a few birds will land, tentatively approaching their targeted meal. Once the first bites have been taken, those circling overhead land swiftly for their meal. Their work must be swift, as other scavengers, hyenas and jackals, or the ones who originally took down the kill, like lions, are sure to be nearby. There’s not much time so their work is in earnest.

Genesis 15:11 NLT “Some vultures swooped down to eat the carcasses, but Abram chased them away.”

God had called Abram out from among his relatives to go to an unknown land. Abram in obedience left everything he knew and traveled without knowing where his final destination would be. He only knew that God was faithful, promised him a great family and nation that would be born from his family, and He was making a covenant with Abram to prove His faithfulness.

Abram, with great effort, had come to this point in his life and offered sacrifices to God. In no time at all, the vultures began to circle and swoop down to eat what he had worked hard to give to God. Abram was tired, but spent an entire night chasing away the vultures. At the end of the process, Abram’s journey to seeing God’s promise to him began as God made a covenant with him.

I’ve learned that what I’ve laid at the altar as a sacrifice to God needs protection from the vultures. Like the mighty lion, it only takes one swipe to shoo them away but the very appearance of a vulture can be intimidating and they will surely return to try again.

The vultures are circling; they’re searching for a way to quickly steal what doesn’t belong to them. The question is am I ready to protect what I’ve offered? Or, am I willing to let circumstances, the vultures of hailstorms (see Day 10 blog), weariness, doubt, and fear rob me of my future?

No, I won’t let a vulture take my sacrifice.


 

Posted in Choices, Obedience, Offering

Day 3 – Not a Word

I’ve been guilty of grumbling over the “long” wait I have had for answers to my prayers. I’ve also complained that the journey has been “so hard” and “no one else” can understand how hard it has been. No, certainly there isn’t anyone who could possibly understand this road. Having to go from place to place, learn languages, use tents for our churches, wondering how things will get done. Then I remember Abraham and his life and am immediately reminded that this journey in obedience has been taken many times before I was even born.

Abraham is one of the greatest human examples we can draw from on the subject because of his deep “humanness” in the middle of great obedience to God and sacrifice. As well as being a great man of faith, he was a man with great flaws just like the rest of us – and this gives the rest of us hope! Despite being flawed, human, God can and will use us if we dare to believe.

Let’s pick up Abraham’s story in the latter part of Genesis 11 when he was known as Abram (God later renamed him Abraham). Initially, Abraham was an idol maker, his family made their wealth off of making idols. They were quite well off, I imagine if Abraham lived at this stage of his life today we would find him somewhere on Palm Beach or in Los Angeles or some other expensive area with a large mansion, owning some posh business and involved in the “jet set” of society.

In the opening of chapter 12 of Genesis, God speaks to Abraham and tells him to “Get out of your country, from your family, and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you…” (vs. 1) in subsequent verses, God promises Abraham that he would be blessed and through him all nations of the world would be blessed.

In verse 4 of chapter 12 it reads, “So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him…” He went with his whole family. It’s mind-boggling that there was no record of Abraham asking God questions like: how? why? where? He simply obeyed immediately. Where was he going? He didn’t know but he went. He knew the plan of God in part, that he would be a blessing – but all he knew to do was to go so he did. He left the “how” it would get done to God.

Throughout Genesis, if you take the time to read through it, you’ll see how Abraham basically kept his course and somehow kept going toward the goal that God had set for him. Throughout the process, we see moments where his humanness shows, like when he tried to pass off his wife as his sister (though somehow there was some truth to that statement, maybe that was his justification for his error in judgment??), when he tried to bring about the promise of having a son through Hagar instead of Sarah, and so on. Finally, though, we see God come through and Abraham’s son of promise, Isaac, is born. What a great day of celebration that must have been for Abraham!

But the journey of sacrifice that had already taken many years for Abraham, was not yet complete. God had another hurdle set before Abraham, not to test him so that God Himself would know what was in Abraham’s heart, for God knows what’s in the hearts of all people (2 Chron. 6:30). God tested Abraham so Abraham could see what was in his own heart. Sound familiar? How many times have we all gone through things and later on thought, “Wow, how did I get through that?” God knew it was in you to get through – so you did, you just needed to see it.

I want us to pick up the story in Genesis chapter 22 where we see one of the greatest (if not the greatest) parallels to the offering of Christ in the Bible, where Abraham was told to offer his son Isaac to God as a burnt offering.

Gen. 22:2-19

Isaac, the son of promise, was the demand that God placed on Abraham. He told Abraham in Genesis 22:2, “offer him to Me.”  I believe Abraham reasoned that God had given him Isaac, God had the right to ask for him. He also knew God had promised to raise up a nation from Isaac so if he offered his son, he knew God would have to raise him from the dead in order to keep His promise – for God is a God of His Word (Titus 1:2).

What I find astounding about Abraham and his life is seen at this juncture when, in the next verse 3, we read, “so Abraham arose early in the morning and saddled his donkey and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him (Mount Moriah).” His decision to obey wasn’t one that he laboured over; this father who loved his son and had waited for his birth immediately obeyed a command he certainly couldn’t understand. How many times have I agonised over God’s call? His demand on my life? Why has my obedience been delayed? To be reasonable? To get prepared? The scriptures don’t give us much insight into Abraham’s thought processes but I’m sure he struggled as we do now. The difference we see between our agonising obedience and his was that his obedience was immediate.

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We don’t see Sarah being consulted here; this doesn’t mean she didn’t know. This simply means that Abraham was commanded to do something and he obeyed. I tend to think that Abraham must have told Sarah, after all they had been through and she supported him, but who knows? Nevertheless, whether or not she knew wasn’t what was being driven home here. What is important for us to note is that whether or not she approved or disapproved of what Abraham was doing had nothing to do with Abraham’s obedience. This was a command given to him by God; this was his journey to take whether or not others, even those closest to him, understood or approved. When we obey God, we have to be ready for resistance and even rejection for God’s ways, as we know, are far beyond human understanding.

Imagine what this man went through for this act of obedience, he not only had to endure his own thoughts, but he prepared everything he needed for the sacrifice. Just like God when He prepared everything on that first Christmas night for His sacrifice (he prepared a family for Him, a home to grow in until the time came for Him to move on to His offering of His own sacrifice).   Abraham prepared for sacrificing his son: he split the wood for the sacrifice, loaded it all together with his son and his servants, and off he went.

Abraham understood that this was a job he had to tend to personally. Just like God understood that the redemption of mankind was a personal journey He had to take. No one else could do it for him, none of his paid servants could offer Isaac for him – this was his sacrifice, his journey. He stopped life to make it happen.

It took 4 days for Abraham to get to the mountain of Moriah (Genesis 22:4) with his entourage. Imagine those 4 days and what they were like. 4 days to think about what he was going to do. Just like God Who had 33 years to think about what Jesus was going to do when He faced the cross – but He (like Abraham) never backed down. No words in either case of re-thinking the issue or finding a bartering tool – a way of escape. Simple silence, no words were given to express feeling.

As a parent, I can tell you at least from my perspective what Abraham must have been feeling.   You could do the same, those of you who are parents. That baby that he had prayed decades for, giving up as an offering? No bitterness spewing from his father’s mouth, just courage and endurance. It must have been a long 4 days to Moriah.

At the bottom of  the mountain of Moriah, the story goes on to say (Genesis 22:5) that Abraham left the donkey and the young men. He had to leave anything that might have slowed him down or influenced him in any way so he could go and “worship.” Notice he says at the end of the verse that “we will come back to you.” He must have clung to the promise, just like Jesus did as He looked at the “joy” (you and me) set before Him so He could endure, knowing that Isaac was the door to God’s promise. But all he could think as he climbed that mountain must have been, “My son. Isaac! My only son!” Obedience, I’ve learned, comes from the heart, not the mind. Abraham knew that his mind couldn’t understand what his heart knew: he had to obey God.

Historians have noted that Moriah is one and the same as the mountain in Jerusalem or Calvary. When Jesus climbed that same mountain as Abraham and Isaac, His reaction to His offering required by God was the same –

Isaiah 53:7 “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter.”

Isaac, once arriving at the top of the mountain, asks his father, “where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7) In wisdom, Abraham clings to God’s promise saying “God will provide a lamb…”

The difference between Abraham’s offering and God’s is this: Abraham’s obedience was full and God provided a sacrifice for Abraham in the form of a ram at the top of the mountain – Isaac was spared. God had no substitute when He gave us Jesus. And Jesus’ offering was complete all the way to death.

This is what obedience means to me: it is the ascent to Moriah, to Calvary. It is the giving up so that others may live. It is proving to myself the level of my commitment to God.

The parallel of Abraham’s & God’s offerings doesn’t end with the sacrifice. Perhaps the greatest parallel exists in why they offered their offerings:

Genesis 22:18 “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

Galatians 3:13, 14 “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”) that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”

This is what our lifetime sacrifice means to me: it is the ascent to Moriah, to Calvary. It is the giving up so that others may live. God calls all of us to Moriah so that He can use us for the sake of others.

All of us are called to this place of sacrifice; everyone has their own sacrifice. For me, Moriah brought me to a place of sacrificing my family. I have known the sacrifice of leaving my parents, my siblings, my nation, which was difficult enough. I have known the sacrifice of being misunderstood and having to learn languages and new cultures. Yes, those were hard. But now I have come to the greatest mountain of sacrifice when I had to leave my children. All I thought about as I climbed that mountain was “how can I do this?” But God somehow gave me grace so others could hear, so others could know. I had to trust Him with my sacrifice, my children.

That sacrifice brought great pain to me, to us, but in our offering, came much joy. God provided for all their needs and He is using us to plant more churches, feed more children – and in the offering we still have child #4 filling our home with joy. Yes, God thinks of everything.

The new climb He has asked of us is to trust our offering to Him. If I’ve offered my children, living near them, helping them when they need help and enjoying my grandchildren, I must truly leave it with Him without complaint. After all, it’s a very small offering in comparison to what the Father offered for me.

Are these people, these people that surround us every day worth what God is asking us to climb and offer at Moriah for Him? Yes it is. You might not feel it, I might not feel it, you might not feel like it, but it is worth it because there was a day that our Saviour climbed that same mountain for us – and He didn’t say a word.


We’re now in Day 3! How are you doing? I’m appreciating the personal messages that are coming through to me via email and messenger. I’d love for others to read your faith-filled comments. It’s a great encouragement during times like a fast to read what God is saying to fellow believers. Click in the comment section of the blog and leave your comments there and we can get encouragement to the whole group.

I was also asked about Bible reading and what plan to follow by several readers. I want to encourage you to go to YouVersion (if you have access to a computer) and there you will find many Bible reading plans. I prefer the One Year Bible myself but there are some other interesting options there. I’ll include the link here for you to take a look.

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Of course you can purchase the One Year Bible at your local bookstore or online if you prefer pages to computer screens!