Saturday, December 29, 2012

"The Power of One"

While I am home on my furlough, I have the special privilege of speaking at a few area churches, sharing about what God is doing on the islands in Uganda.

My first speaking opportunity of this trip was on Dec. 16 on The Bridge Church in Longview. The Bridge posts its sermons online, so I thought in case anyone was interested in hearing a bit about what I have been up to, you can visit The Bridge's web page.

Just click here, click "Launch Media Player" and then select "Mission to Uganda" for my presentation entitled "The Power of One."

Enjoy!

Monday, December 17, 2012

"Then Pealed the Bells More Loud and Deep..."



One of my favorite Christmas carols is "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" because I love the story that is told in the lyrics. It was written by the famous poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1863 - in the midst of the American Civil War - a dark and tumultous time for our country.

Here is a bit of the history behind the song, from Wikipedia:

"During the American Civil War, Longfellow's oldest son, Charles Appleton Longfellow, joined the Union cause as a soldier, without his father's blessing.  Longfellow was informed by a letter dated March 14, 1863, after Charles had left. 'I have tried hard to resist the temptation of going without your leave, but I cannot any long,' Charles wrote. 'I feel it to be my first duty to do what I can for my country and I would willingly lay down my life for it, if it would be of any good.' Charles soon got an appointment as a lieutenant, but in November, he was severely wounded in the Battle of New Hope Church in Virginia during the Mine Run Campaign. Coupled with the recent loss of his wife Frances, who died as a result of an accidental fire, Longfellow was inspired to write 'Christmas Bells'...on Christmas Day 1863."

The poem was first published in a juvenile magazine in February 1865 and later set to music in 1872.

In light of last week's tragic events, the truth of this song rings in my ears. It seems our world, and especially our country has slipped into a very dark time, especially spiritually, and we may feel tempted to ask ourselves, "God, are you still in control?"  We need only to turn to His Word and reflect on our own history, to know that yes, He is still in control.


"I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how the as the day had come
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
'There is no peace on earth,' I said,
'For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.'

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep,
'God is not dead, not doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.'

Till ringing, singing, on its way
The world revolved from night to day.
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Small Players in a Big Story


 Moving kings. Moving stars. Moving history.

Opening the curtain of time for the entrance of His long-awaited, long-predicted Son.

Imagine being on the stage of history two thousand-plus years ago, in the opening scene of the arrival of the God-man Jesus Christ.

Would you have been a humble shepherd? A distraught innkeeper? A searching magi? And if you had been there, do you think you would have fully realized the enormity of the production you were a small player in?  Probably not.

I imagine at one time or another, we have all wished we had been there - somewhere - to have witnessed firsthand the coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus into our world.

Though none of us will ever have that wish fulfilled, we have the benefit of reading several Biblical accounts and seeing more of the story than many of the firsthand players did. Oftentimes you get to see more of the big picture when you observe it from afar, than when you are up close to the scene. And then sometimes we need to move and examine the story from a new angle to gain a fresh perspective.

I am enjoying seeing the "big picture"again this Christmas season. My family has never really participated in Advent, but this year I downloaded a copy of John Piper's Advent devotional, "Good News of Great Joy" (available free to download here.)

A couple of days ago, Pr. Piper talked about how God caused Roman emperor Caesar Augustus to call for a worldwide census, just so "two little people," Joseph and Mary, who were living in Nazareth, would go up to Bethlehem to fulfill ancient prophecy. Caesar may have thought he was a "Big Cheese" and had a really grand idea, but he was just a pawn to make way for a much greater Ruler and King.

"...It is implicit in Scripture that all the mammoth political forces and all the giant industrial complexes, without their even knowing it, are being guided by God, not for their own sake but for the sake of God's little people - the little Mary and the little Joseph who have to be got from Nazareth to Bethlehem. God wields an empire to bless His children."

"He is a big God for little people, and we have great cause to rejoice that, unbeknownst to them, all the kings and presidents and premiers and chancellors of the world follow the sovereign decrees of our Father in heaven, that we, the children, might be conformed to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ."

Wow. We serve a Big God who loves and looks out for "little" people, like you and me.


 A few days later, I was captured by the story of the "star" the one that guided the royal magi right to the humble birthplace of Jesus.

"...What is plain concerning this matter of the star is that it is doing something that it cannot do on its own: it is guiding magi to the Son of God to worship Him....God is guiding foreigners to Christ to worship Him. And He is doing it be exerting global - probably even universal - influence and power to get it done."

An emperor. A star. An innkeeper. Three magi. A band of shepherds. A chorus of angels. A young virgin. A first-time father. All small players, but all important in the unfolding of the greatest story on earth and for all eternity.

In comparison to the "Star" of the show - Jesus - the rest of the "actors" fade from the limelight.  But, small does not mean insignificant.

Yes, we are "small" compared to the greatness and majesty and glory of Jesus Christ, but we are not insignificant. Not when we consider that He is the Hero who came to save us, the lost, the wounded, the sin-ridden enemies of God. 

It's pretty amazing that God used "small" players in a "big" story to welcome a "Big" King to save "small" people.

You may think you are a "small" player and that God is paying no attention to you. But He sent His Only Son to earth to die and then resurrect for you. You must be somebody pretty important to Him.

And, if you are so important, where do you fit into His story today? Are you playing your part?

Graphics credit: Microsoft.com

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Precious People

Thanksgiving with my dear sister Leah - the first Thanksgiving we have spent together since 2003.
 I have been in the states almost two weeks and back in Oregon for about five days.  My heart has been aching lately...aching with joy!

When you see, talk to and embrace people you have not seen for well over a year,  or you meet new ones you have only ever heard about, your heart tends to expand - filling with joy.

Me, far right, with my good friend and fellow missionary Karina, whom I have not seen since June in Uganda, and my beautiful Marmee (Mom).
I am loving, loving being home!  But it's not just the consistently hot showers or the fact that I get to wear my winter duds, or have access to any one of my favorite foods, but what has really thrilled my heart lately has been to be with precious, precious people.

Oftentimes you don't truly treasure something or someone until you have to be apart from it for an extended time or over a long distance.

Though I am happy Christmas and its related activities are just around the corner, I am even more excited to connect and reunite with others in the coming days and weeks!

With dear, dear friends
I am going to make this a short post, but I just want to urge all of you to enjoy, treasure, invest in and value each and every person you get to be with today. Don't take them for granted. These times and seasons are fleeting and today will soon become a memory. 

Make it a treasured memory.

Friday, November 30, 2012

What America Can Learn from Uganda

 I've experienced emotions of joy and relief, satisfaction and contentedness, sadness and a hint of grief since I landed back in the U.S. 11 days ago.

I honestly feel as if I left one world and entered a completely different one, and not just simply crossed an ocean and landed on another continent.


One of the first things that "hit" me as I landed in London was "piped" in Christmas and classical music. This made me smile.  : ) Music in Uganda, such as on the radios and such, almost always has an obvious beat and is often played quite loud.

On one of my flights over a portion of the U.S., I gazed out the plane window in amazement at the order and symmetry evident in the planned neighborhoods, roads and streets, cul-de-sacs, even rows of trees. Oftentimes in Uganda, things seem so "random" and scattered.

Then there is the fast Internet - wow! I love it! Everything is so, so convenient here. Almost everything and anything you need or want is right at your fingertips and available in multiple options - in any type, color, size and price range you could want.
 
As I reflect about the differences between the western and African worlds, one has become more and more painfully obvious – religious freedom and devotion. 

President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda
 In observance of Uganda’s 50 years of independence, last month President Museveni issued a public statement, repenting of his personal sins and of his nation, and committing Uganda to be a nation that seeks after God. I felt goosebumps as I recently read his moving prayer.

"I stand here today to close the evil past and especially in the last 50 years of our national leadership history and at the threshold of a new dispensation in the life of this nation. I stand here on my own behalf and on behalf of my predecessors to repent. We ask for your forgiveness. 

We confess these sins, which have greatly hampered our national cohesion and delayed our political, social and economic transformation." 

President Museveni then went on to specifically list and repent of nearly 30 sins. (To read the entire prayer, click here.)

Uganda is a young country and yes, has a number of faults and growing pains to navigate. But it appears to be putting it best foot forward on a righteous path – much like America in its infancy.

While many Ugandans admire the U.S. and see it almost as the “Promised Land,” I try to point out to them the fact that America has and is continuing to turn its back on God, but Uganda still has much religious freedom. Ugandan youth can  freely pray in school and prayer is included in much of public life. More than 80% of Ugandans claim to be Christian. 

No, Uganda is not perfect, by any means. But our God does not demand perfection, He seeks devoted seekers who desire to be blameless before Him.

"For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward Him." (2 Chronicles 16:9)

While America has been blessed and has been a blessing to many for many years, it seems we have seriously lost sight of the Blesser and thus the blessed path. We have been consumed by so much, except for what is vitally important. 


I imagine the U.S. like the game of Jenga in which you stack wooden pieces in a criss-cross fashion and then begin removing them and adding them to the top of the tower. At some point, the tower becomes too weak to uphold the added weight on top, and it crashes, scattering the pieces.

As America continues to remove its foundational pieces, like a reliance on a gracious God and His sovereignty, we continue to add things on top like obsessions with technology and entertainment, reliance on debt and credit, a deliberate turning away from God and exclusion of Him from almost every part of life. One day the tower will become too top-heavy for the weak and crumbling foundation and it will fall.

While Uganda often idolizes the U.S., this is a time I wish America would want to emulate the stance taken by this young African country.

I hope and pray that the declaration made by Uganda's President Museveni is truly heartfelt and embraced by many in the government and other leaders of this young nation. I pray that Uganda and its citizens sincerely pursue after God and in turn are blessed and become a blessing to many.

Near the close of his prayer, President Museveni stated:

"We want to dedicate this nation to you so that you will be our God and guide. We want Uganda to be known as a nation that fears God and as a nation whose foundations are firmly rooted in righteousness and justice to fulfill what the Bible says in Psalm 33:12: Blessed is the nation, whose God is the Lord. A people you have chosen as your own."


 May this become America's prayer as well.


Image sources: Sign - Microsoft Office; Jenga photo - turbosquid.com; Pres. Museveni - ugandapicks.com

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Perpetuating

 
Ever since I did my "Perspectives" course almost a year ago, I have loved the idea that God blessed us...to make us a blessing.

"I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing." - Genesis 12:2

God verbalized that promise to his servant Abraham in Genesis and set off a generational chain of events that is continuing today. God did bless and multiply the physical descendents of Abraham, but more importantly He did so through the rich spiritual inheritance in Christ, in which everyone can partake of the blessings.

This means the Gospel does not stop with you or I - it is a gift that keeps on giving. Because thousands before us moved with the conviction that they were to pass on the blessings of salvation, we are here today.


This morning I sat in the chapel service at the Bible school where Leah works. As the students and staff prepare for Thanksgiving in just a couple of days, there is an excitement in the year. Yet, it is more than an eagerness to load up on the turkey and pumpkin pie.

Pastor Theresa, the school president, exhorted the students who will be going home for the holiday to serve their families. "Don't preach, serve."

More than a dozen students remained after the service to sign up to do outreach and show practical love on Thanksgiving Day to residents of New York's Staten Island, people who are still recovering from Storm Sandy.

It is wonderful to count our blessings and to say a heartfelt thank you to the Giver of all good gifts, especially on this national holiday. But hopefully that gratitude motivates us...To perpetuate the blessing. 

Many in our world don't know the Blessing-Giver. They haven't been introduced to His amazing and sacrificial love. It may be the African child across the world or it may be a hurting individual down the road, but all need to partake of the Divine Blessing. 

Blessings lose their life, their savor, if they stop. Like a mountain stream must continue to run to perpetuate life, God means for us to enjoy our blessings, but then to carry them on, pass them on, spread them about. People need to see Christ in practical ways, by extending a hand, giving a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on.

How have you been blessed?

How can you perpetuate the blessing?



(*"Perspectives on the World Christian Movement" is an excellent course presenting God's missional heart and His work with, for and through His people for the last several thousand years. Visit www.perspectives.org for more information.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Missionaries Among Us, Part 3

(This is the third in a series. For part one, click here and for part two, click here.)

Don't be fooled by her shy, quiet demeanor. Jennifer Abenakyo is a powerful force in SHIM, in Kyoya village and on our island. Without her, a vital fuel for ministry is certainly lacking - delicious food that gives us energy and nutrition.

Every Monday through Friday Jennifer faithfully prepares our lunches and suppers of posho and beans, or rice and cowpeas and greens and others, cooking them over charcoal stoves in a small room in one of our builders on base.

Her mornings often begin with sweeping and mopping the kitchen area and sorting beans, removing stones and other things, to cook them for lunch. She almost always uses just the right amount of salt, so you never need to add any. And she is very apologetic if she accidentally uses too much, especially in the greens.

She has the most beautiful smile!
I first met Auntie Jen, as she is affectionately called, when I first came to Uganda in 2006. She was the cook at the YWAM base in Lingira village where I stayed with Karina, about a 20-minute walk from SHIM.  However, after only about two months from my arrival, Auntie Jen packed up her things go to mainland, believing God was calling her back there.

As I made preparations to return in early 2010, I was ecstatic to learn that Auntie Jen was back on the island and now cooking for SHIM. It was like hearing news that a relative had come home again.

I don't believe Jennifer finished primary (elementary) school, but did receive her culinary training in a YWAM (Youth With A Mission) course, held at the base near her mother's home outside of Jinja.



I have told Auntie Jen that when I cook for myself, I become sick, but I never get sick when she cooks. After a weekend of preparing my own meals, I often look forward to Monday when Auntie will be back in the SHIM kitchen.


Of all of the SHIM family, I can communicate the least with Auntie Jen because of my little knowledge of Luganda and her little knowledge of English. But we speak the words we know and for the most part are able to convey what is needed.

Though I don't often understand the words she speaks, I have surmised that Aunt Jen is spunky. She is a defender of the truth and loves to joke. Her vibrant laugh is famous and can often be heard around the base. She is very faithful and dependable. And she looks for opportunities to be a silent blessing.

When she is not cooking at SHIM, she has a special ministry among the young mothers of the island. Supplied by another staff member with baby clothes and similar items, Auntie Jen visits young mothers - Christians, Muslims and others, showing them the love of Christ in a very practical way. We often say that Auntie Jen has an influence among the village women and mothers that others of us of SHIM do not have.

A couple of years ago, she built a house in the nearby village of Kyoya. She invited all of us at SHIM to come for a feast to celebrate her new home and we enjoyed a fantastic meal.

Auntie Jen, in back, with reserve cook Betu and her daughter Mary, in front, in the SHIM kitchen.
At times she has asked prayer for protection of herself and her home since fights often break out in the village at night, there is a frequently a lot of noise and confusion, and thefts have occurred in houses right next to hers. Yet, God continues to protect and sustain Auntie Jen as she chooses to live as a light in a dark place.

As she is in her mid-thirties and still single, I know God is her Husband and she is continuing to trust Him to bring the right man in the right time.

It is not easy living on the islands, especially for a single woman, but God has blessed the faithfulness and sacrifices made by Auntie Jennifer and He is using her to bless and touch the lives of many here.

I look forward to the day when she and I can communicate freely and know each other much better. That may happen here on earth, but I know it will definitely happen in the future in our heavenly home.

Good friends: Jennifer, center, with Joy, Pr. Samson's wife, and Immaculate, Pr. Robert's wife, at the 2012 SHIM Staff Retreat in western Uganda.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Missionaries Among Us, Part 2

(This is the second in a series titled "The Missionaries Among Us." To read the first post, click here.)

He seems to have boundless energy. Or perhaps it is the fuel of a passionate heart intent on serving his God that blazes inside.

Whatever he does, Pastor Samson performs it with a vigor, whether pastoring, building, planning, teaching, overseeing, training, evangelizing or discipling.

Having first come to the islands in 1998 as a builder, he has since been responsible for oversight of the construction of all of SHIM's buildings, all of the structures of Lingira Living Hope, the two island bases of YWAM, as well as other many structures built on the waters.

Pastor Samson with his youngest, Susan
While building is his trade, his true passion lies in building the Kingdom of God, whether in the islands, elsewhere in Uganda, or beyond his country's borders.

Wondering folks have asked him, "What enticed you?" They figuratively scratch their heads as they wonder what would cause this skilled and charismatic man to leave his home area of eastern Uganda to live, work and serve in the islands - a place of backwardness, underdevelopment, sketchy characters, darkness, and a lack of many of the conveniences of mainland life.

Yet, he does not regret the sacrifices he has made. Rather he is confident that he is doing the work God has called him to, in the place He has appointed. And until that work is done, he will remain faithful at the plow.

More than a decade ago, he and his young wife moved to Namiti Island, more than five hours across the lake from Jinja, making it their island home.They are raising six children in that remote place.

Teaching island pastors this week


One of the founding directors of Shepherd's Heart, Samson carries a wide and heavy load as he is in charge of the Discipleship and Evangelism ministry, the Water and Sanitation branch, is in charge of all building projects for SHIM and the school, oversees the Namiti Health Centre, pastors a church in Kirewe, travels and organizes seminars and crusades in the islands and elsewhere in Uganda, and raises a family.

Shepherd's Heart's Administration Building, which Samson oversaw the construction of several years ago.
 His wife, Joy, who lives up to her name, is a strong and suitable companion for a man of such passion and varied responsibilities. While he is often away, she cares for their growing brood, and also is a needed light in her community. (And, she is an excellent cook and a great hostess to all her enter their simple but welcoming home.)

If you ask Samson what gives him his endless supply of energy and burning passion for the ministry, he will likely answer in his enthusiastic manner with a broad smile, "It is God!"

Love those smiles! Samson and his lovely wife Joy.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Missionaries Among Us, Part 1

I serve alongside some amazing people.

While the Americans often get a lot of the "spotlight" and kudos as missionaries here, the service and sacrifice of the nationals we work with are inspirational. For most of my fellow national missionaries, the following scripture rings true for them.

"Then Jesus told them, 'A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.'" - Mark 6:4

With their eyes and hearts focused on the islands, they leave behind homes, family, reputations, good jobs, security and so much more. Interestingly enough, none are natives of the islands, leaving their home areas to sacrificially serve in this very rural area.

This is the first part of a series spotlighting these incredible servants of the King.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

People told them they were crazy to leave their jobs and home area, possibly threaten the education and futures of their children, and serve where?

Papa and Mama O
Papa O (Okoro) and Mama O (Olive) have literally suffered ridicule and rejection from family, friends and others for their decision to leave their professions as a teacher and a nurse, respectively, to serve on the Buvuma Islands. They first came to the island with YWAM (Youth With A Mission) in 2000 and have served with Shepherd's Heart since 2007.

Because of inadequate schools on the islands, they left most of the care of their children to relatives on mainland so they could focus on the people, families and couples of the islands.

Countless couples and families have been blessed by their warm presence, listening ears, biblically-sound counsel, and examples of a Christ-focused marriage and family.

In the next few weeks Papa and Mama O will move into a four-room house from the one-room space in the kitchen block that they have occupied for the last several years.

The O's New House on SHIM property
They have also struggled for about seven years to build a home in Papa O's home village - a cultural expectation.  Spending most of their time on the island, the construction has progressed slowly and people have criticized them for where they invest their "treasure."

The same people who said their children will suffer because of the O's move to the islands, are now amazed that three of their six have finished university and two will begin post-secondary studies next year. Their oldest is a primary school teacher and has a family of their own.  Living on a meager salaries, God has miraculously provided for O's needs as well as for their children. Those of the islands and their home villages are amazed at what God has done in and through their family and their faithful ministry.

Julius at his graduation from Busoga University, Aug. 31
A recent university graduate, Julius Twali holds a bachelor's degree in agricultural and an even bigger heart for the island people.

First invited to the islands to work at Lingira Living Hope Secondary School, Julius has faithfully served in SHIM for over four years, transforming the bushy land and clay soil into productive and beautiful gardens.

His resume includes wide experiences in agriculture, secondary teaching, leadership positions in Boy Scouts and serving with his home churches and other organizations.  His professional experience could earn him a comfortable living elsewhere, but Julius said his heart is not content when not serving and doing God's work in the islands.

Every week he leaves his beautiful wife, Ruth, and their two young sons in Mayuge, an eastern Ugandan town, to spend at least half of his week on Lingira Island. Up until recently, he was juggling work at SHIM, with his studies, caring for his family, building a home, and other commitments.  I am pretty sure sleep always fell at the bottom of his list.  ; )  Yet, Julius believes it is his greatest privilege to serve among Uganda's poorest and most-forgotten people.

Julius and his beautiful family - wife Ruth and sons Andrew and Joseph

There is not enough space to fully tell you the stories and testimonies of the Os and Julius.  In a nutshell, God has and is doing some amazing work through their lives and ministries!

Stay tuned for future "spotlights" of other SHIM missionaries : )

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Open Hands


 In my heart I was grumbling. In the last week I had received five different requests for money. 

Some were urgent.  Some were for large sums.  And some were "by the way" requests.

I have mentioned it before on this blog, but white skin here in Uganda is associated with wealth.  The "Mzungus" have "dollar skin."

Why, all of a sudden, in a week's time were all these people asking for money? And for money I don't have?

Then this morning God revealed my twisted thinking.  Perhaps those requests were opportunities to be a blessing to someone else.  Maybe He  was the one who had sent the people. He reminded me that He blesses me in order that I might be a blessing to others.

Ever since I was introduced to the concept that God's promise to Abraham to "be blessed...and to be a blessing" (Gen. 12:2) is also for every believer, who are children of Abraham by faith, I have loved that concept.  I so want other Christians to embrace it, too.

God has blessed us in order to make us a blessing.  Amazing.  

His blessings don't stop with the first recipient, they are meant to be passed on and on and on. We are created to be conduits of His free-flowing gifts of love and grace. 

It is awesome to think that God's resources are limitless. They never run dry, they never reduce or diminish.  We keep giving, He will keep pouring and adding.  We can't outgive God.

"And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus." - Philippians 4:19

Perhaps my stinginess came from the thought that I was giving out of my resources, yet all that I have is from Christ. There is absolutely nothing that I have earned - all of it is a gift from Him, a benefit of His amazing grace.  So, why was I having a problem sharing?

The above verse promises me that if I am a willing and free-flowing vessel of God's blessings and riches that He will meet all of my needs out of His Heavenly storehouse of riches.

Yes, I do have needs - felt needs.  One of the challenges of ministry is that you often are seen of "having it together" and "not having needs."  "You're the missionary - aren't you supposed to be giving, serving, teaching, counseling, befriending, sacrificing, day in and day out?"

Do the Ugandans understand that I may be lacking, too?  Do the students know I, in myself, have limited resources?  Do those I serve with know I could just use an occasional hug or a word of encouragement?  

God, if I am giving and giving and giving, who is going to meet my needs?

Then He whispers loud and clear - I AM.  I WILL. 

Oh, you mean the One who has been meeting my needs all along, whether I know it or acknowledge it or not?  Why do I keep looking to man for what only God can provide?

He reminds me of how He has met my needs in ways I did not expect.  And not only meeting my needs, but heaping on extra blessings.

In the last week I have also received three gifts of fish from two different village women who are young Christians.  Fish is expensive and they could have sold it to get money for their family's needs.  Instead they shared it with me.  A teacher gives me a shirt, knowing I might wear that style.  A student brings a cup of water.  A friend holds her umbrella over my head during a hot boat ride.  I am blessed by gestures of friendship and sweet bits of conversation.

This evening I enjoy an incredible evening of "spoilin'" with 60 other missionary women by those who "appreciate what we do here."

God's blessings often come in roundabout ways from unexpected sources in His own unique timing, yet He knows my needs better than I know them myself. And when I choose to complain or grumble, I have closed my eyes to God's daily gifts of grace.  And when I am stingy, I am denying the benevolence of my Almighty God.  So, why not continue to give and give, because only then will I continue to receive from the Heavenly Storehouse.  And, who does not want heavenly riches?

"And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.   
"The Lord will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.
"You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail." - Isaiah 58:10-11 

Photo Source: Microsoft Office 

Friday, September 21, 2012

The "G" Word


Grace.

It is what keeps this world spinning and what keeps us all from not being flung off this crazy sphere.

It is the conduit for what (or rather Who) brings the rain, the sunshine, the flowers, the forgiveness, the blessings, the life, the breath, the salvation and the "so much more."

Grace: Receiving what we do not deserve from the Generous Grace-Giver - God.

May this song be a reminder of the every-day grace that is needed, and the Source of never-diminished, always-abundant grace - our loving, sovereign and benevolent God.

If I ever needed grace, it's now
You are strong when I am weak, somehow
I am weak enough to see
I need You to cover me
If I ever needed grace, it's now
 
In every joy and pain
Whatever comes my way
God I need Your grace

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Addiction


I confess - I am addicted.

Yes, to coffee, but to something possibly more harmful.

You see, I am an "information addict."

I love learning, whether through a book or in a class.  Interesting facts and statistics give me a rush. Yes, you may call me a "news junkie," though news here is harder to access. 

Put me near someone new and I will pepper them with questions about who they are, what they do, etc., until I have to apologize for asking so many. 

I am naturally nosy inquisitive.  Eleven years in the journalism profession only honed my "sleuthing" skills. ; )

I thirst for knowledge.  Knowledge that will benefit me and which I can share with others.

Why and how could such an addiction be harmful, you ask?

What may be detrimental is what I choose to do or not do with the information, knowledge, and skills I acquire.

Twice this week I have heard the parable of the wise and foolish builders from Matthew 7:24-27. 

Jesus told about a "wise" man who built his house on a rock, and when the ferocious storms came, his house remained erect.

Then he spoke of the "foolish" man who built his house on the sand, and when the wind, rain and waves lambasted his shelter, it collapsed "with a mighty crash."

What made one man wise and the other foolish?  What do their building foundations really represent?

Jesus said the "wise" man heard Jesus' teachings and followed it.  The foolish man also heard Jesus' teachings, but he did not follow or obey them.

Both men heard Jesus' teachings and received the same information.  But what they did or didn't do with what they received produced drastically different results in their lives.

"True wisdom consists in getting the building of our salvation completed: to this end we must build on the Rock, Christ Jesus, and make the building firm, by keeping close to the maxims of his Gospel, and having our tempers and lives conformed to its word and spirit; and when, in order to this, we lean on nothing but the grace of Christ, we then build upon a solid rock." - Clarke's Commentary on the Bible 

"This parable teaches us to hear and do the sayings of the Lord Jesus: some may seem hard to flesh and blood, but they must be done. Christ is laid for a foundation, and every thing besides Christ is sand. Some build their hopes upon worldly prosperity; others upon an outward profession of religion. Upon these they venture; but they are all sand, too weak to bear such a fabric as our hopes of heaven. There is a storm coming that will try every man's work." - Matthew Henry 

The more I learn, acquire and gain, the greater the responsibility to apply, use, implement what I have learned, acquired and gained.  

If I am all about gaining information and knowledge, but not putting it into action, I enter into dangerous territory.

Just a few chapters later, Jesus cautioned:  

"When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required." (Luke 12:48b)

Is my addiction leading to positive action?

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Search



Recently I think I have had glimpses of “mother moments.”  Times when I wonder if this is what a mother might feel like when she deeply desires something for her child because of her love and care for them.

On Saturday I taught the first girls' Bible study of the school term.  The topic was beauty, how it is defined, why we are all beautiful, and what true beauty is – inner beauty.  As I spoke and looked into those brown faces and beautiful chocolate eyes, I hoped these young women were catching the message.

“You are beautiful. You are valuable. All because God made you that way.”

Can an hour-long lesson on a rainy Saturday afternoon alter the many image-shattering messages they have heard and received since childhood?  Only by God’s grace.

I watch and enjoy a small group of girls lead praise and worship yesterday in church.  I pray that the words they sing enthusiastically are truly understood and embraced by their young hearts. 

Will they always hold to this transformational faith that they seem to claim now?  Is it truly settled into their hearts and minds and producing eternal fruit to bless them and others and glorify God?

I so much want “my” students to know how very much God loves and values them, perhaps like Christian mothers want for their own children.  I desire them to know that hard work, perseverance and patience do pay – in any culture. Do they grasp that the choices they make today will forever affect their futures?

I want them to understand and embrace so much, but I can really only do so little. They have wills and free choice. They can choose to tune me out, to “pretend” they are paying attention in class, in Bible study, in church.  

But, when they leave the school, the island, which path will they ultimately choose?  I wish I could make that choice for them, but I can’t.

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the Parable of the Lost Sheep (found in Luke 15:3-7) and recently taught a Sunday School lesson about it. Those few verses tell us so much about our amazing Good Shepherd and His dogged, but compassionate pursuit of us.

As he counted his sheep, the Shepherd noticed Number 100 was missing.  He left the 99 in their pen and went and searched for Number 100. The Bible doesn’t tell us how long or hard the Shepherd looked, but does say He was in the “wilderness,” meaning the searching was not easy.  

And, He didn’t give up until he found 100.  And what did He do when He found this lost sheep, who had likely misbehaved, strayed and brought this fate on himself?  Did He beat it?  Berate it?  Call it names?  


No, He lovingly picked it up – probably all wet and dirty and smelly – and carried it all the way home on His strong and capable shoulders.

And, what did He do when they arrived home? Did he toss 100 back in the pen? Chain it to the nearest fence post, threatening punishment if it ever pulled a trick like that again?

No.  He did very much the opposite.  The Shepherd called His friends and neighbors and threw a party!  Why?  Because Number 100 that had been lost was now found.  Have you ever thrown a party after finding a lost pet or another recovered item?   I think not.  That would be silly. 

It wasn’t silly to the Shepherd.  It is obvious that the love and care He had for this ordinary, plain, stubborn, rebellious sheep was extraordinary, supernatural, in fact.

I long with all my heart that each of “my” students will be found by the Good Shepherd.  Some have been found.  Some want to be found, but still seem “lost.”  And others really don’t want to be found, at least not yet.  

Yet, my “mother’s heart” takes hope and assurance that the Good Shepherd won’t give up – no matter how long or how far they roam.  He loves them beyond mine and their comprehension.

Pray for them. Pray for the students and the school, for the youth and others of the islands.  I am so thankful that I have the privilege to work with an organization, Shepherd's Heart International Ministry (SHIM), that has a "shepherd's heart" for the people of the islands. 

I long from the depth of my heart that the students and islanders will know the Good Shepherd is searching for them and will always welcome them home.

And when they arrive home He will throw a party – a party that beats all parties. 

Have you been found by the Shepherd?

Photo Source: Microsoft Office