Monthly Archives: April 2013

Hello Lord

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Hello Lord, it’s me your child.  I have a few things on my mind.  Right now I’m faced with big decisions, and I’m wondering if you have a minute.  ‘Cuz right now I don’t hear so well and I was wondering if you could speak up.  I know that you tore the veil so I could sit with you in person and hear what you’re saying, but right now I just can’t hear you.

I don’t doubt your sovereignty.  I doubt my own ability to hear what you’re saying and to do the right thing.  And I desperately want to do the right thing.  But right now I don’t hear so well and I was wondering if you can speak up.  I know that you tore the veil so I can sit with you in person and hear what you’re saying.  But right now, I just can’t hear you.

And somewhere in the back of my mind I think you are telling me to wait.  And though patience has never been mine, Lord I will wait to hear from you.  Oh, I’m waiting on you!  Right now I don’t hear so well and I was wondering if you can speak up.  I know that you tore the veil so I could sit with you in person and hear what you’re saying.  But right now, I think you’re whispering.

 

The Living Dead

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What does the enemy do with people who aren’t afraid to die?  How do you fight something like that?  If the enemy says, “I’m going to kill you,” and you respond with a shrug, “To live is Christ and to die is gain.”  How does he stop you?  The ultimate threat of Satan is death, but Jesus holds the keys to death.  Death has lost its sting in the Resurrection of the Son of God.

Christians who live like they are going to benefit in death are NOT like the suicide bombers of Radical Islam.  Christians do not actively court death.  We embrace life, but we do not FEAR death.  We don’t seek to destroy others through our deaths.  We don’t die for the sake of hatred.  We seek to SAVE as many as possible.  We die for the sake of LOVE, when we must be killed.  It is completely different when a Christian lives like he’s already dead.  It simply means he’s willing to take risks without fear for the sake of saving as many as possible.

All die, but not all really live.  Jesus Christ told his disciples not to fear the one who can kill the body but can do nothing to the soul, but to fear the one that can both kill the body and then throw the soul into hell to experience eternal death.  So who are you going to fear?  Satan can kill the body, but if you belong to Christ, he can never touch your soul.  What is to fear about that?

The Savage My Kinsman

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This is an bit from a book that I just finished reading called The Savage, My Kinsman by Elizabeth Elliot.  As a missionary I really related to her honest sense of uselessness as she spent a year living with Indians in the Amazon Basin.  How, as missionaries, do we make sense of this seeming spinning of our wheels?  How can this be called “Christian” work when we are just learning the language and learning how to live in this new place?  We speak like babies, we can’t even function in daily life without help and directions from others, we are an ill fit with this culture- how can we give these people what they do not even know they need which is New Life in Christ?  Elizabeth Elliot wrote words that comforted me because I understood where they were coming from:

God keep us from sitting in the seat of the scornful, concentrating solely on the mistakes, the paltriness of our efforts, the width of the gap between what we hoped for and what we got.  How shall we call this “Christian” work?  What are we to make of it?

We must not proceed from our own notions of God’s action (it will appear He has not acted) but must look clearly and unflinchingly at what happens and seek to understand it through the revelation of God in Christ.  His life on earth had a most inauspicious beginning.  There was the scandal of the virgin birth, the humiliation of the stable, the announcement not to village officials but to uncouth shepherds.  A baby was born- a Savior and King- but hundreds of babies were murdered because of Him.  His public ministry, surely no tour of triumph, no thundering success story, led not to stardom but to crucifixion.  Multitudes followed Him, but most of them wanted what they could get out of Him and in the end all His disciples fled.

Yet out of this seeming weakness and failure, out of His very humbling to death, what exaltation and what glory.  For the will of God is not a quantitative thing, static and measurable.  The Sovereign God moves in mysterious relation to the freedom of man’s will.  We can demand no instant reversals.  Things must be worked out according to a divine design and timetable.  Sometimes the light rises excruciatingly slowly.  The kingdom of God is like leaven and seed, things which work silently, secretly, slowly, but there is in them an incalculable transforming power.  Even in the plain soil, even in the dull dough, lies the possibility of transformation for, as the psalmist wrote, “All things serve Thee.”

The missionary, with all his sin and worldliness, stands nevertheless with Christ for the salvation of the world… The effort to do this must not be seen in “either/or” terms- either it is flawless, and therefore a success, or it is flawed, and therefore a miserable failure.

Every time my hopes are dashed and I am asked to exchange my small view of “good” (when things work my way) for God’s view of it, expressed in Romans 8 …{He cooperates for good with those who love God and are called according to his purpose…}  That, in the last analysis is for us the only good- that shaping, no matter what it takes.

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From the book  The Savage, My Kinsman by Elizabeth Elliot where she talks about spending a year living with the Amazon tribe of Indians who speared to death her husband and 4 other missionary men.

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/doug88888/3555700749/”>@Doug88888</a&gt; / <a href=”http://foter.com”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-SA</a>

What the heck am I doing here?

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Every once in a while I go through a “What the heck am I doing here?” phase.  Other missionaries might relate to this feeling.  I look at the things that consume my time every day, and I feel like very little that I do has spiritual significance.  I sweep and mop floors, I fold laundry, I teach ordinary school subjects to fifth graders, I make dinner, I pack lunches, I pick up toys, I walk to the grocery store to buy bread… I do all the ordinary daily life tasks.  However, here it takes me twice as long to do most things with twice the effort that it would in America.  All that to say, daily life kicks my butt most of the time!

kitchen-sinkI start thinking about how easy it is to live in America, how I could do twice as much in half the time and still have time left over to minister to people.  I wonder why I’m here.  How can THIS be considered Kingdom work?  I imagined being a missionary to be more like living on a missions trip!  But it’s not.  Daily life becomes daily no matter where you live.  I DO love when teams come down on trips because I get a taste of what drew me to missions in the first place… but that’s not how I live every day.

It’s a part of my personality package to search for significance and meaning in my life.  I would be happy and fulfilled if every detail of my life had spiritual implications, but I just can’t reconcile washing the dishes for the Kingdom of God.  That doesn’t equate in my mind.  If I were the apostle Paul, I would want to spend all my time preaching and none of it making tents.  But the bills must be paid- so I teach school.  Dinner must be made- so I go grocery shopping and prepare meals.  Children must be cleaned- so I do laundry and bathe the kids and teach them to brush their teeth, etc.

I start to feel like a fake when I call myself a missionary and the next question is, “well how many people have you gotten saved?”  It’s as if my life is being weighed in a balance and I come up short.  I am worthy of my calling only if X number of souls have come into the Kingdom.  When that’s not how the Kingdom works at all.  God’s Kingdom is not mathematical.  If it were, then the worker who worked all day long would receive more wages than the ones who arrived on the job in the last hour or two of the day.  But in that parable, Jesus said all the workers get paid the same regardless of how long they worked.  That’s neither fair, nor logical, nor mathematical.  If that’s not proof enough of the inefficiency of the Kingdom, then just look at the life of the missionary for more evidence.

woman-washing-dishesIf God were interested in the efficiency of numbers and equations then He wouldn’t ask a foreigner to go to a strange country, learn a new language, and speak to people with child-like simplicity and painful inaccuracy of pronunciation and grammar.  That just doesn’t make sense.  But He does.  This is how He works- mysteriously and sovereignly.  But I still think he could do this thing quicker and cleaner if he called and equipped locals only.  Why throw the messiness of missions into the pot?

When I am deep into my “what the heck” phase, I see all the messiness of missions.  You can’t bring cultures into close proximity without both of them being changed- and not always for the better.  Early missionaries brought sicknesses and diseases that the natives didn’t have the immunity to fight off.  Imperialism was a blight on early missions efforts- and this deadly fungus is still infecting the image of missions to this day.  Modern technology literally destroys simpler and older ways of life, often creating new problems even as it solves others.  Nothing we do is clean cut and free of the tarnish of human motivations.  Everything we touch becomes tainted, and God asks us to put our hands all over every detail of this life.  “How could he WANT it this way?” I question.

I don’t have any answers to this question.  I muddle through my own feelings of uselessness and futility even as I long for purpose and meaning.  I long to be useful.  Yet the only thing within my power is my own obedience.  I wish missions were clean and tidy.  I wish obedience was simple and easy.  But it’s not. It’s daily.  It’s messy.  It’s complicated.  It is impossible to sound the depths of the human heart and it is impossible to write up a how-to manual for building the Kingdom of God.  It can’t be done.

Photo credits:

Kitchen sink, Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeangenie/178780382/”>jeangenie</a&gt; / <a href=”http://foter.com”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-SA</>

washing dishes in Honduras Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/lonqueta/3532526536/”>Lon&Queta</a&gt; / <a href=”http://foter.com/People/”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-SA</a>

Home is where my heart longs to be

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I have been feeling so “homesick” lately.  But not for my Minnesota home.  I have been missing old friends that I’ve had to say good-bye to.  Spring is coming, which means another round of saying good-bye to friends who are leaving at the end of this school year.  Missionary life is a constant round of good-byes, and it makes my heart ache. 

I deeply long for Heaven- where I will never again have to say good-bye.  I get so weary of this life.  I want to shout, “Enough already!  I’m ready to go home!!”  I want to jump into the air and just continue going up and up and up, never again feeling my feet thudding back to the earth.  I don’t belong here.  I want to go home.  I am longing for Heaven.  

(I don’t remember if I’ve shared the lyrics to this song before, but I love it.)

 

Going Home

By Sara Groves

I’ve been feeling kind of restless.

I’ve been feeling out of place.

I can hear a distant singing,

A song that I can’t write, and it echoes in what I’m always trying to say.

There’s a feeling I can’t capture.

It’s always just a prayer away.

And I want to know the ending, things hoped for but not seen

But I guess that’s the point of hoping anyway

Going home, I’ll meet you at the table

Going home, I’ll meet you in the air

And you are never too young to think about it

I cannot wait to be home

I’m confined by my senses

To really know what you are like.

You are more than I can fathom

And more than I can guess

And more than I can see with human sight

But I have felt you with my spirit

I have felt you fill this room

And this is just an invitation

Just a sample of the whole

And I cannot wait to be going home!

Going home, I’ll meet you at the table

Going home, I’ll meet you in the air

And you are never too young to think about it

Oh, I cannot wait to be going, to be going home!

Face to face, how can it be?

Face to face, how can it be?

Face to face, how can it be?

And this just an invitation

Just a sample of the whole

And I cannot wait to be going home.

I need a machete

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How is it that I live in a tropical country where the number one gardening tool is a large knife called a machete… and I don’t have one.  It’s like an American not owning a lawn mower (which I don’t have either.)  I am sitting on my patio, looking at the palm tree growing in the empty lot behind my house.  It’s branches are hanging over my back wall which is rimmed with razor wire to prevent thieves from climbing over the wall.  The razor wire cuts up the palm leaves as the wind blows them back and forth.  The lower few palm branches are dead and ugly.  I would lop them off if I had a machete.

I will have to wait for the gardener to come.  Our landlord sends over a gardener.  Since it’s the dry season, we don’t see him too often because plant growth slows during this season.  The gardener is a frail little old man.  His tools include a gas-powered weed whacker and a rusty machete.  He squats down at the edge of the garden and hacks away at the weeds and leggy branches of the plants.  Then he weed-whacks then entire yard within a millimeter of the dirt.  It’s a miracle that any of the grass survives.  We have large bald spots in the center of the yard and it’s not from the random soccer game that the yard hosts once in a while.  He’s a quiet little guy, but he’s vicious with the greenery.

macheteIf I had a machete, I wouldn’t have to wait for the gardener to come and hack up my plants.  I could do the hacking selectively and precisely.  No massive slash and burn tactics would mar my garden.  Yep, I need a machete.  Plus I could always open a coconut any time I wanted to… not that I have a coconut palm handy or anything like that.  But one always wants to be prepared.

However, I AM the SUPER klutzy.  If anyone was going to cut a finger, or toe or limb with a machete, it would be me.  I am not nearly as concerned about my children getting hurt as I am about the possibility of hurting myself!  Though I am nearly 4x as old as my children, and according to basic probability calculations I should have 4x the experience as them- I am certain I have incurred WAAAAAY more injuries than they will every experience just because I am an accident waiting to happen.

So maybe I should be talking myself out of buying a machete.  Maybe I should just let the old gardener do the chopping and lopping.  Even though a machete is awefully handy down here, maybe I should stick to spades and garden clippers instead.  I don’t know if I will every really trust my skills in handling a giant blade used for all manner of whacking and chopping.  Yes, I think it’s best that I DON’T own a machete.

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/missmeng/5482657999/”>missmeng</a&gt; / <a href=”http://foter.com/Food/”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-ND</a>

The Staging Zone

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We just had a team leave, and it’s time to clean up the mess.  A week or so before a team arrives, we begin to accumulate supplies and food.  The front patio and doorway become what I refer to as The Staging Area.  Walking into the house means navigating around boxes of painting supplies, a sound system, a military grade duffel bag full of puppets, a giant cooler-dispenser of beverages thingy (I don’t even know what it’s really called), jugs of water, power tools, bulk quantities of food, folding chairs and tables, and anything else the team will need.

packingEverything is placed by the front door for easy retrieval and deposit.  We can literally run in the house, dump off a load of supplies and grab another car-full of utensils and tools in a matter of minutes.  It’s part of our logistics strategy.  It looks chaotic- and it is in the long term, I can’t live like this for more than a week or two at a time- but it’s quick and easy in the moment.

Then when the team leaves, I slowly start to put away all the equipment and clean up the staging zone.  I have always wanted to make a list of all the unusual things that we have in our house that are basically requirements for being a missionary.  Think about it like this:  what would your house look like if your church did 100% of it’s ministry in your living room, dinning room and kitchen?  That’s my life.  Precious storage square footage is devoted to serving platters, giant coffee makers, boxes of microphone cords, sound and video technology, children’s ministry equipment, paint rollers and pans, folding chairs and tables, giant water jugs, extra luggage and action packers.   It’s a weird way to live, if you think about it.

photo credit: Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/atbaker/5453655650/”>AlphaTangoBravo / Adam Baker</a> / <a href=”http://foter.com”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>CC BY</a>

Why was there Myrrh at the Crucifixion of Jesus?

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This is just for your intellectual stimulation.  Sometimes I ask myself questions which require that I go searching for an answer.  This is one of those times where my questions lead me down a very scenic rabbit trail. 

On Saturday night I read through the story of the Crucifixion of Jesus in preparation for celebrating Easter.  It’s a story I’ve read a bazzillion times.  But this time, one detail caught me attention.  I noticed that in Mark’s Gospel account of the crucifixion, Jesus is offered wine mixed with myrrh before he is crucified.  I also remembered that myrrh was one of the gifts that the wise men brought to Jesus as a baby.   So I decided to research its uses and history.  Of course I went to Wikepedia first.

Myrrh is an aromatic resin.  It is collected from a certain family of spiny trees, one of which is native to the Mediterranean.  The red-ish colored resin is what the tree bleeds when it is cut deep into the sapwood.  A tree must be wounded to collect the resin, the myrrh.

Jesus was also wounded and bled.

Myrrh is bitter.  It is used to stimulate blood flow.  But it also has numbing properties and is used for reducing pain.  It can be mixed with wine and drunk as a mild pain-killer.  It would have been an act of mercy to give Jesus something to numb the pain of his horribly bloody death.

However, he refused the wine mixed with myrrh.

Myrrh is also one of the ingredients used in ancient Egypt to embalm a body for burial.  It was a burial spice.  Jesus was not embalmed, but he was wrapped with spices.  In addition, the women among his followers prepared more spices to add to his burial.

Myrrh is a spice associated with death.  A strange gift to give a new born baby, unless he was born to die.

In modern religious services, myrrh is the incense used in every liturgical ceremony of the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Anglican/Episcopalian Churches.

So this made me even more curious and I asked, What is Frankincense?  Remember that the wise men brought baby Jesus the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Frankincense is also an aromatic resin produced by slashing the bark of the tree and bleeding it.  The resin that bleeds out is allowed to dry before it’s collected.  The dry resin is called “tears”.  Do you think that Father God shed tears for the death of his only Son?

Frankincense trees can grow in very inhospitable climates and soils.   But the most valuable resins come from trees which grow directly out of a rock.  Precious life springs from a lifeless rock.  That’s the kind of thing that God loves to do, surprise us with life where there was nothing but barrenness before.

Symbolically speaking, Frankincense represents the Divine.  It is a fragrance for the worship of God used in multiple ceremonies in the Jewish temple rituals.

Not only is it valued for its religious uses, but Frankincense is also edible.   It is used medicinally to promote healing.  Some would have considered this a very practical gift to give a family with a new baby since it can be used medicinally, but the Jews would have recognized it as a religious symbol of worship to God.  To offer a baby a fragrance normally offered to God would be very significant if the child were the Son of God.

(My source is Wikipedia for the majority of this except I already knew about the Biblical references and the thoughtful commentary and assumptions are mine.)