Posted in Despair, Destiny, Endurance, Faith, Family, God's call, Missions, Perspective, Rewards, Sacrifice, Thanksgiving, The Call of God

Always

I’m happy.

The fact that I can say that despite all of things that need attention around me makes my head spin. I have so many frying pans in the fire that I’m running out of firewood! Spreading myself thin has taken on a new meaning in the past few years. By no means is this a complaint – I wouldn’t live a life other than the one I am now living – but if I’m not careful I can quickly slip into feeling overwhelmed, sad, and helpless wondering about what I left behind in the wake of answering the call that lies before me.

I tried a few times in my lifetime to fit into the normal mold of what a Christian mother/wife/leader (whatever I am) is supposed to look like. The popular Bible studies and books meant to “better” my life all lined my bookshelves; they didn’t just line my bookshelves, I read them all and I learned, oh did I learn, that I am an enigma among my peers. This has caused me great frustration over the years; I would find myself wondering (and sometimes still do find myself wondering) what was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I be just like everyone else and be satisfied with what normal people are satisfied with?

I’ve long dreamt of a home of our own to settle down in. My husband and I have tried a couple of times to “settle down” and do what we thought was expected/needed from us. I lived in a house in the USA for just over 2 years that I loved. I thought this was to be the place where my grandchildren would visit me and I would finally be able to “nest.” I kept it well; I loved it so – but the tug for what waited for me on the other side of the horizon called my name every morning and evening.  I planted a garden and a hedge and it was beautiful but there came a time when a choice had to be made and we drove away from that home for the last time. We once again said goodbye and boarded a plane, looking for the place that kept calling our names from the other side of the world.

I’ve dreamt of being a normal mother and grandmother. Well, I know I’d never be normal in the classic sense of the word, but I have dreamt of being accessible, nearby, to see my grown children have children and watch their families grow. I pictured myself wearing bright red lipstick, driving with my grandchildren to buy toys and ice cream and feeling their little arms around my neck and telling them how much I love them. Seeing them through Snapchat, Instagram, and Facetime does little to soothe the ache that fills my chest whenever their names are uttered. Then, they resume living and I hear our names called from far and I have to answer.

On a far less serious note, I’ve dreamt of having a dishwasher, a SUPERMARKET with lunch meat, hairspray, shampoo, soap, and Ziplock bags, and a nice salon where I can get my hair done – ice cream would be amazing too.

In the distance, however, a people calls our names and where they are, I can’t find any of these things but what I do find in doing God’s will brings me deep joy that I can’t explain.

I suppose today’s blog is my Thanksgiving blog and I have so much for which to be thankful – and at the same time I find myself wishing that the traditional Thanksgiving turkey would be on our table tomorrow. I wish for the day to be surrounded by all those who are far, to hear a loud football game playing on TV for my husband, to pray a Thanksgiving prayer and tell each one how much I love them.

But a traditional Thanksgiving is not in the cards for us this year. We don’t have a turkey, no stuffing, no eggnog, no gravy, and no football game (although I’m quite sure my youngest son will find a way to send his dad a link to view the game). What is in the cards for our Thanksgiving is a day with those who are here with us. We will have, of all things, homemade enchiladas with salad and a cake for dessert. With those family members and friends we have here we will give thanks, thanks for all we have and for the opportunity to answer the call. Yes, I thank God for the opportunity to say yes, to obey Him, to grow enough in courage and faith to answer when He called.

The call took away so much of what we would consider “dear:” family, friends, culture, language, finance, and more. Things that you don’t think you would miss like toothpaste and your preferred brands of shampoo suddenly become a big deal when every day you are reminded of all that you have left to answer Heaven’s charge.

While all of this could sound bleak to one who’s never answered their call, those of us who have heard our names calling us from lands afar, “count it all joy.” (James 1:2-4)

Psalm 119:2 LB “Happy are all who search for God and always do His will.”

 

 

Posted in Choices, Fasting, Kingdom, Perspective

On Earth As It Is In Heaven

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

Posted in Church growth, Church planting, Fasting, God's call, Prayer

Four Things

I’ve asked my husband Jamie to share a bit on the blog today; he’s a walking concordance and Bible dictionary! Many times I’ve asked him over the years for a scripture reference and his reaction is always the same: looking up with squinted eyes he will answer, “You should find it somewhere around…” And of course, he is right nearly every time without fail. When people remark that his energy, enthusiasm, vision, and love for Africa are amazing, I answer, “Yes, he is pretty amazing.”

This entry was written back in 2007 when the first church we had planted in Malawi was not even a year old. The simplicity of these thoughts astounds me as you can attend church growth seminars, read books, spend hundreds of dollars getting church growth “experts” to come and give advice on how to get your church to grow – but the secret to church growth and maturity is found in the few short verses below. Enjoy!

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Acts 2:42, 47NLT“All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer…And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.”

All the believers in the church in Acts 2 devoted themselves to four things and as a result people were getting saved everyday as well as getting connected into the life of the church – they were being “added to their fellowship.” These four things brought numerical growth and spiritual growth to the church. If we dare implement them today, we’ll experience what they experienced.

1) The apostles’ teaching – This speaks of teaching and preaching the Word. There needs to be solid teaching and preaching present to help believers grow in their Christian walk.

2) Fellowship – This speaks of relationships being established. People were created to be in relationship and that need is met when people get together purposefully to get to know one another and do life together.

3) Sharing meals (including the Lord’s Supper) – This speaks of keeping the cross as our focus because as we partake of the Lord’s Supper we remember what Jesus did for us at the cross – we remember His death, burial and resurrection.

4) Prayer – This speaks of keeping prayer at the center of everything we do; without prayer, our lives will be void of growth and power.

Also, notice it says, “the Lord added to their fellowship…”  We need to stay involved in connecting people as much as possible but when it’s all said and done, “unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it…”  (Psalm 127:1) Programs and systems are all void of power to connect people meaningfully to the church unless those programs and systems are God-inspired. Without His hand in connecting people to the church, our efforts will be in vain. The assurance of His involvement in whatever system we implement is found in His presence as we pray and ask for His strategy and blessing.

If we want the results of the early church, we have to do what the early church did to get those results.  There must be a devotion to: 1) The apostle’s teaching 2) Fellowship 3) Sharing meals (including the Lord’s Supper) and 4) Prayer.

Pastor Jamie Peters

Posted in Courage, End Times, Prayer

Grocery Stores and Land Mines

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On the way home from work, late in the afternoon or early evening, you stop at the grocery store. You weren’t planning on standing in line for 30 minutes but you grin and bear it with all the other customers in line. Busying yourself on your smartphone, you update your Facebook status, “Standing in line at the store.” When it finally is your turn, there’s no one to help bag your groceries so you begin bagging – but you can’t get the bags open quickly and the groceries pile up. Half of what you’ve purchased isn’t bagged when the cashier announces your total that turns out to be more than you thought because you didn’t buy the brands that you assumed were on sale. You quickly swipe your debit card, but the reader doesn’t accept the card. You have no other choice, you pull out the credit card that you’ve been working hard to pay off and pay for your groceries. Then, your attention is once again turned to bagging and you frantically pack the rest of your things while the cashier works with the next customer. Of course it is raining as you head out to the car – and you still have to get home, make dinner, check the kids’ homework, fold the laundry, and by the way, your in-laws are coming over later on for dessert.

This scenario repeats itself millions of times over, daily, all over the world. Everyone is overworked, overtired, and can’t catch up. Life just moves too fast! Days off are spent catching up on paying bills, mowing the lawn, cleaning the house, and shuttling the kids to/from various activities. I am out of breath just thinking of what this coming weekend holds for me.

And then today, like all of you, I woke to the news of the terrible situation in Syria. On the news reports I hear of things that go beyond my understanding: chemical weapons, air strikes, international uproar, and my heart skips a beat. I stopped and looked at my 9-year-old daughter, thought of my grown children, my grandson, and their families in the US, our extended families, friends worldwide, and I wondered how long this world will be able to tolerate the state that it is in.

Romans 8:21b,22 NKJ “…creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.”

My daughter, outside playing with her friends, is oblivious to the realities of the news we are now hearing. My heart aches for other children who are just like her but trapped in dangerous areas all around the world. From conflicts found here in Africa to the Middle East, children are caught in between the missiles and gunfire that are of grown-up making. Tears sting the backs of my eyes as I remember when we lived through civil war in Burundi; children who managed to live through those horrors grew up to be the walking wounded. Conflicts that end, even if they end today, live on in the memories of the children who somehow survived.

I whisper under my breath, “Dear God, watch the children…” Knowing that His heart aches for them too, aches for all of mankind more than we can imagine.

No, I’m not wise enough to offer any solutions or explanations to anything that is going on in the world. Like you, I am at a loss for words. What boggles my mind is how the world at large has become desensitized to the pain of those who are unable to defend themselves: women, children, and the elderly. Almost daily (yes even here in Africa) we see images on our TV screens of the craziness that has gripped our world. While I don’t know what the actual solution to everything is, I do know is that this kind of pain will not be ended by ranting and raving on social media or debates on which party is right. The kind of pain experienced by those caught in the crossfire of conflict can’t be addressed with our limited earthly understanding.

In Burundi when the conflict moved to our part of town, we opened our home to our church members whose homes were in the line of fire. In one day, we had 16 people living with us plus our own family of 5. I’ve made attempts over the years to describe what those days felt like – but I have failed to give an accurate account. There are so many memories of that time, but there’s one that comes to me today that I hadn’t thought of for years. One of our church members went to his home when there was a lull in the fighting to check on his elderly father, who had refused to leave, and found his body buried under piles of broken furniture. A senseless death during a senseless time and I wonder what was his death and all the deaths of the wars in the Great Lakes region for? Our hearts ache for those who are left behind; we pray that the scars of these wars don’t give rise to more bloodshed in future generations.

How can we possibly hope to bring a positive change to this world that lies in ruin spiritually, physically, and emotionally?

With all of the destruction and death we were witness to in Burundi, we were also witness to a great revival of the church (when I say “church” I mean all churches). Denominational lines were forgotten when people needed help, the Methodists helped the Baptists, the Pentecostals sought out the Presbyterians, it was a time of organic and genuine unity. No one cared what label the other wore, we all knew we were on the same team and we were united. When guns are firing, you have a tendency to forget about things like having your hair done (I’m sure I was a sight for most of those years) or if the person who needs your help is of the same denominational flavor as you.

Church meetings weren’t the normal flavor of, “hurry up let’s get this done.” There were times that just getting to church safely was cause for celebration. Land mines were laid in the streets as well as along footpaths; sometimes survival was a moment-by-moment reason to pray. When we gathered to pray or for service, we cried out to God – and He came. His presence was tangible and His comfort immeasurable. For some strange reason, we would all find a smile on our faces when we left meetings on those days – God was with us and we knew everything was going to be all right no matter how it ended.

So, back to the question at hand, how can we, ordinary people, bring change to this world? The answer is simple: spiritual problems require spiritual answers and the only way we can bring change is first of all through prayer. Not the saying grace kind of prayer we say thoughtlessly as we go to eat dinner. Purposeful prayer that is united in purpose (see Matthew 18:19) and full of faith can do amazing things (see Mark 11:23,24).

 The verse from 1 John 2:18a NKJ Little children, it is the last hour…” has been quoted for generation upon generation. It’s been the last hour for so long we wonder – when will it end? How long can the last hour last? It is the last hour for anyone who has yet to know of or hear about the wonder of the love of the Father. I’ve read that 151,600 people die every day (www.ecology.com/birth-death-rates/) – how many haven’t heard or seen God’s people tell them or show them how much they are loved?

As our attention today turns toward our homes and our own families, may our prayers also be directed to those who no longer have homes to return to or children to hold. We’ve got a lot of work to do, many prayers to pray, and a world yet to be changed.

 

 

Posted in Bible reading, Correction, Devotion, Fasting, Prayer

Day 21 – We Made It!

We made it to day 21! Congratulations!

This has, for me, been an amazing 21 days; it has been a very good fast. You may ask, “How can a fast be good?” The benefits of fasting far outweigh the discomforts and inconveniences we face when on a fast. Fasting is a time that we set aside to turn our concentration away from the noise of daily life and set our hearts to hear from God. This is what we’ve been doing and God has surely been speaking to my husband and I and our churches in Africa.

What we face as we return to “normal” life tomorrow is keeping the revelations of the fast before us instead of forgetting them when life hits us in the face. If we aren’t watchful over the ground we have gained spiritually during the fast, we will lose it very quickly. In spite of the fact that life is now going back to normal, we can’t live life as we did before and hope to preserve the treasures we have found during this time.

Proverbs 1:29-33 TLB “For you closed your eyes to the facts and did not choose to reverence and trust the Lord, and you turned your back on me, spurning my advice. That is why you must eat the bitter fruit of having your own way and experience the full terrors of the pathway you have chosen. For you turned away from me—to death; your own complacency will kill you. Fools! But all who listen to me shall live in peace and safety, unafraid.”

What we have experienced in the past has, at times, looked and tasted like “bitter fruit.” This happened because we didn’t choose to reverence the Lord, honor our relationship with Him. We became familiar with what is holy and we chose to turn away from Him and His advice. The journey of life lived this way is increasingly bitter and full of “terrors” because of our choices. It isn’t God Who brings destruction – our own complacency, lack of passion for God, that brings destruction.

Like you, I’ve heard it said many times we can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results. A fast like this one we have been on is meant to get our eyes off of our own opinions and to turn our focus onto God’s opinion. If we go back to living as we were before without making adjustments, life will certainly return to the way it was before the fast.

There are a few practical ways I’d like to share with you on what you can do to keep the “spiritual edge” you have gained during this special time. This is by no means an exhaustive list, just a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Create a vision board – where you post the things God spoke to you for this year. As a family, we have done this this year. Our vision board is in a prominent place in the house where we will see it often (Habakkuk 2:2,3). Ishah Whipple, one of our guest bloggers during this time, wrote a wonderful piece about vision boards. Click here to read more.
  2. Be diligent to spend consistent time in the Word of God and prayer. There are many Bible reading plans available online and in books, I encourage you to find what works best for you and stick with it. Prayer is not as difficult a discipline as we might think; prayer is simply communicating with God. God just wants to spend time with you. Write your chosen time in your daily planner – the time that works best for you – and stick to it.
  3. Create spiritual goals for the year that are attainable: reading books by solid Christian authors, taking a Bible class online or at your home church, and finding something that keeps you challenged spiritually.
  4. Be consistent with your attendance in your local church. If you’ve never taken notes during the sermon, maybe now is a great time to start.
  5. Involve your family in setting “God goals” for the year.
  6. When you fall short at some point, don’t give up. Pick up where you left off and keep going.
  7. Take short breaks for fasting during the year. For many years, I’ve fasted on Wednesdays to keep myself spiritually sharp. This past year I didn’t fast on Wednesdays as much as I would have liked – but that will change. I will be fasting more consistently on Wednesdays once again.

One of the main reasons people cite for not spending more time with God is that they “don’t have time.” Well, we make time for the things that matter to us. I encourage you to review your timetable and delete those activities that keep you from growing in your relationship with God.

I’m truly blessed that you have journeyed with me these three weeks, thank you. Now that the fast is over, I look forward to a wonderful vision-filled year! I’ll still be here, writing as The Cultural Misfit, talking about laundry, kids, church planting, coffee, and whatever else inspires me. I hope to find you here.

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Ah, now it’s time to go and get something to eat!!!
Posted in Fasting, New Year, Prayer

Day 1 – Lost in the Woods

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One of the most terrifying experiences I had as a child was getting lost in the woods behind our home in New Jersey. We lived in a fairly remote area that, while developed, had a good amount of undeveloped land surrounding it. The area was mountainous enough to have ski resorts not far from where we lived. However, the wooded area behind our home wasn’t an unending wilderness full of monsters as I thought then; it was just a small patch of woods that wasn’t as scary as my 8-year-old mind remembers it. At that time, when I was out adventuring in the woods together with my older sister and younger brother, I put on a brave face since I was the default “leader” in wilderness exploration. No, I would not admit that I was lost and afraid. I loved exploring in those woods and would daily spend hours (usually not far from the house) climbing trees and looking for whatever strange and wonderful treasures I could find. Once on such a trek nearby our home, my sister and I stumbled upon a very old, unkempt cemetery from at least a century ago. Some of the coffins were peeking out of the soil – we made a quick retreat home!

Mom and Dad knew that I loved exploring and daily warned me to “stay close” to home –I obviously did not heed their warnings on that day all three of us were wandering in the woods. My sister began questioning me, “Lea, you really don’t know where we are do you?” to which I replied angrily, “Of course I know where we are, I’m always out here.” After putting a brave face for quite some time (I was hoping I would stumble on a familiar marker to lead us home), I conceded defeat! I couldn’t deny her accusations any longer and really began to worry. Tears stung my eyes as I admitted, “We’re lost! No one will find us! We will die out here!” I had mental pictures of those coffins sticking out of the ground opening up to swallow us. My sister and I began crying out for our Dad in earnest, “Dad! Dad!” My little brother, too young to understand why we were so upset, busied himself with carrying as many sticks as he could which was his obsession at the time.

In the distance, much to our relief, we heard a very familiar voice calling out to us, “Where are you?” Dad had come! He swiftly gathered our brother in his arms and led us home at that “angry Dad” pace that children everywhere well understand.

This story came back to me this morning as I read in Genesis the account of Adam and Eve’s sin. God had made a world and the culmination of His creation was forming man and woman to fellowship with Him in the garden. God never spent time chatting with the elephants or lions or opossums in the garden; His desire in creation was to be with Adam and Eve, to create a family, to be a Father.

God had come to the garden and was walking in the garden to be with Adam and Eve. They were nowhere to be found. God knew where they were, but they didn’t know – this is why He called out to them in Genesis 3:9 NLT “Where are you?” Adam and Eve’s sin opened their eyes to the consequences of their choice, being lured away from home, and they were ashamed to face the Father. Their solution? Hiding themselves among the trees, in the woods.

Genesis 3:8,9 NLT “When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees. Then the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’ ”

Life has a way of pulling us out into the woods, places that aren’t cleared or familiar to us. There are undeveloped places that, if we enter them, draw our focus away from home. There are many reasons to fast, as we are for the next 21 days, but for me, the primary reasons I fast is to get a clearer picture of home. To renew my focus and get out of the woods, out from where life has brought me spiritually, and back to a place where my Father’s voice is very clear.

Fasting is not simply abstaining from food or whatever activity we might have chosen to fast (some fast media, TV, entertainment, etc.) Fasting is setting those meals, those activities, aside and spending time with God. If we don’t replace them, we are simply on a hunger strike or advanced diet. Begin your day and spend several times a day with time in God’s Word and prayer. Have a journal nearby and begin noting the verses that speak to you, noting the things that come to you in prayer. Write down your prayers, your thoughts, and by the end of the fast you can reflect back on what you have written and see how God led you out of the woods.

Our Father is faithful; He always comes looking for us when we’ve lost sight of home. His voice calls out to us when we’re lost – we simply need to follow Him home.