Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Going for the Big "C"

Whoa! It has been nearly 3 weeks since I last posted! It has been a busy "holiday" (the British word used here for "break" or "vacation") for me in the last month. A bout with malaria right before Christmas, visitors from the states, an out-of-the-country visit to a famous tropical location, and a trek to western Uganda were among the highlights of recent weeks. You will hear more about some of these adventures in future posts, but for now I want to share a recent lesson I have been learning.

When I was asked to be the Sunday preacher at our recent ministry staff retreat, a topic kept surfacing in my mind. It was a subject I knew God was instructing me in and the appropriateness of the message seemed to be confirmed in the staff discussions leading up to Sunday morning.

You are likely familiar with the statement, "The grass is always greener on the other side." Is it really, or do we just think so?

As I prepared to leave 2011 and enter 2012 and another phase of ministry, I found myself struggling with contentment, or rather the lack of it. Was I going to go through another year being single? How long would God keep me in this season, with no apparent changes on the horizon?

My unsettled heart was put in the spotlight when I received a Christmas gift from my parents - the book "The Resolution for Women." In encouraging women to make Christ-centered "resolutions," the book's first section focused on contentment and how to be "Surprisingly Satisfied." Ouch.

Discontentment can be like a plug on the spring of blessings which God desires to pour through our lives - blessings meant for His glory and the benefit of others. We are meant to be "channels of blessing," but discontentment can dry up our supply.

In my studying I discovered that when I am focused on what I do not have I do not appreciate what I do have, and am stingy in sharing my resources because I believe they are limited and must be rationed. In focusing on "green grass" elsewhere, I also do not appreciate the fertile field I presently am in, and shortchange myself in present blessings, relationships and opportunities. And can God continue to pour in and through me, when I won't release the flow?

Basically, discontentment is telling God that what He has provided for me right now is not good enough. Imagine saying that to God's face? Yikes.

Conversely, contentment "is the faith-filled belief that what God has bestowed now is worthy of gratitude and appreciation, not merely because it is enough, but because it is good.” - "The Resolution for Women"

My sermon was on how to "cultivate contentment" and here are the highlights:

1. Remember Who is in control.
·         God is control of the world and my place and days in it.
·         Psalm 103:19, Proverbs 21:1, Psalm 37:23, Psalm 139:16
·         God is fulfilling His purposes, not mine. He has chosen, called and equipped me to be part of His plan to bring blessing and extend His kingdom. Thus, He has set me in particular seasons.
2. Focus on God’s conclusive promises. (They leave no doubt!)
·         Hebrews 13:5, Philippians 4:19, Matthew 6:25-33, Psalm 37:25, 2 Peter 1:3, 2 Corinthians 9:6-12, Luke 6:38
·         These are among the promises of God’s presence and provision as we trust Him for our needs. God also promises blessing as we are generous with others (not rationing our resources).
·         These are only a few of the countless promises of God’s presence, protection and provision. 
We serve a wealthy, loving and caring God!

3. Remember my own contemptible/corrupt state.
·         I am not deserving of anything, let alone God’s incredible blessings.
·         Contemptible: “Deserving of contempt (to be worthless, to be despised).”
·         Paul recognized he was unworthy. Ephesians 3:8 (“least of all the saints”), I Corinthians 15:9 (“least of the apostles”), I Timothy 1:15 (“worst of sinners”).

4. Keep in mind the conclusion.
·         This world is not our home and we are not made for it, therefore we should feel some discontentment amidst the pain, suffering, death and trials.
·         Thus, we are to “strive for the prize,” live for eternity, and lay up treasures in heaven.
·         Our present afflictions are light compared to future glory.
·         Philippians 3:7-14, 2 Corinthians 4:17-5:10.

My discontentment may likely reveal that I am seeking satisfaction in other people or things. If you are struggling with the big "D" and are seeking the big "C," go to Christ and ask Him to search your heart and reveal the truth.

Contentment is “embracing (not settling for) my situation and circumstances at this moment, believing God has provided everything I need, and beyond so I may generously give to others.”

Image Source: Microsoft Office Clipart

Monday, January 2, 2012

Surrounded by "Family"

Because I live in a different country and culture, I have learned not to have great expectations when it comes to celebrating holidays or observing special days. Things are done differently here - not wrong, just different from what I have been used to for most of my life.

This was my third Christmas spent in Uganda - first in 2006, then 2010 and this year. Each one has varied from the other, with usually a fusion of American and Ugandan traditions.

As I listened to my selection of Christmas music in the days weeks leading up to Christmas, I absentmindedly found myself singing, "I'll be home for Christmas...," then would catch myself with the realization that this would not be true. I would not be "home" - or would I?

One of the great realizations I have had on the missionfield is how very big the family of God is. As lovers of Jesus, we have brothers and sisters on every continent and in nearly every country. I have delighted in meeting "cousins," "parents," and "siblings," who are related by blood - the blood of Christ.

So although I was not with my dear mom, dad, sister and other relatives in Oregon, I felt immeasurably blessed this year to be surrounded by the family of God and in turn to feel "at home." Many of these dear ones are co-workers in the ministry and dear friends. When you work, eat, live, pray and worship alongside people on a regular basis you become community, but more like family.

God is the founder of the institution of the family, but I believe He had a much broader vision when He called Himself our Father and us His children. I am privileged to be in "the" family and I hope you feel the same way.

And in conclusion, here are some snapshots of my Christmas, including the days before and after:

Christmas morning at the Peterson home

Baking and decorating Christmas cookies. Me, left; Janae Peterson, upper right, and Immaculate Wafula, lower right.

From upper left clockwise, the Rudolph family visiting from Wisconsin over Christmas and New Years; SHIM staff Christmas party on the island; David Smith with some silly glasses; Peterson family Christmas tree; Janae and Pastor Bob Peterson presenting a Christmas song he wrote at a local Christmas gathering in Jinja; Christmas dinner - beef, chicken, rice, potatoes, cassava and greens - yum!; Johnathan Smith demonstrating his quickly-developing crawling skills; Spots - the Peterson's playful and cuddly kitten; SHIM staff Christmas party; stockings at the Peterson home (mine is on the far right); center photos - Santa visits Uganda, and a visit to see the Twali family - Julius, Ruth, Andrew and Baby Joseph, who was born Dec. 30.
Today, Jan. 2, we trekked out to Itanda Falls - the most impressive waterfalls/rapid area I have ever seen. It was awe-inspiring as we took in the width of the Nile River and the water that roared and rushed in massive volume downstream. Pictures do not do it justice. It was the closest thing I have seen to the incredible power of the Pacific Ocean off the Oregon coast. I can't easily upload videos, but would certainly love for you to have a better "taste" of Itanda. I guess you will just have to visit. : )

Itanda Falls Collage - People pictured: Top left, Peterson kids - Joshua, Jon, Janae and Josiah; center, the Rudolphs; lower right, me.
I pray you had a blessed Christmas and a happy New Year - surrounded by family, whether of physical or spiritual blood.