Tuesday, December 31, 2013

"Planted"


One of the things the Lord shared with me during my personal retreat earlier this month was about being "planted" in Him. If I want to see fruit and growth, personally and in my ministry, I cannot do it apart from Him.

And, He provided the perfect visual illustrations as I sat near the Nile River, with the lush plants and trees at the shoreline. I don't want to write much in this post, but let the photos and scriptures speak for themselves. :)


"Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked,
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on His law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither - 
whatever they do prospers."- Psalm 1:1-3



"But blessed are those who trust in the LORD
and have made the LORD their hope and confidence.
They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green, 
and they never stop producing fruit." - Jeremiah 17:7-8



"Abide in Me, and I in you.
As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself 
unless it abides in the vine,
so neither can you unless you abide in Me.
I am the Vine, you are the branches; 
he who abides in Me and I in him,
he bears much fruit, for apart from Me 
you can do nothing." - John 15:4-5



"Fruit trees of all kinds will grow along both sides of the river. 
The leaves of these trees will never turn brown and fall, 
and there will always be fruit on their branches.
There will be a new crop every month, 
for they are watered by the river flowing from the Temple.
The fruit will be for food and the leaves for healing." - Ezekiel 47:12



(Loved this little flower and how it grew out of the rock near one of my favorite sitting spots overlooking the Nile.)

"Abide in Me..."

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Discovering God's "Plan A"



This year of 2013 is closing and 2014 is about to be born. When it comes to crossing over from one year to the next, I get to thinking about what needs to change in my life. You know, the traditional "New Year resolutions"? ;)

However, rather than my usual too-lofty ambitions, I want to return to the basics this coming year. Primarily, loving God and loving others and doing them well.

I recently finished what has become a new favorite book of mine - "You Are God's Plan A: and there is no plan b," by Dwight Robertson.

I downloaded the Kindle version awhile back, not knowing what it was about, but just because it was free at the time. And then I started it during my personal retreat last week, when I was seeking God for, among other things, what should be my next step in ministry. Though it was kind of by "accident" that I downloaded and then began reading the book...within the first few pages, I knew God wanted me to read it and it was His perfect timing.

Though I would love to tell you all that I gleaned, I really want you to read the book for yourself. Thus, I will share just a few highlights.

What is God's "Plan A" for reaching the world?

It is you and me - loving people up close, in the mainstream of our own lives, as they are interwoven among others' paths. Evangelism, the Great Commission, and reaching the world for Jesus is a task not just for the pastor, the missionary, the worship leader, the Billy Grahams, but for every child of God who has experienced His love and grace.

God's plan to reach your family, your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers, the people around you - is you. We are co-laborers with Jesus, following His pattern of loving others.

"If you've avoided involving yourself in the work of God's Kingdom because you don't think you have anything significant to contribute, then I have good news for you: God wants to work through you, He chooses you."

Robertson uses the example of the disciples - unlearned, ordinary and even despised men - whom God used to perform an extraordinary work, sparking a revolutionary world-wide movement that continues strong today. Because it's not about the vessel, it's about the One who chooses, empowers and equips the vessel.

"God does extraordinary things through ordinary (and even lowly) people and circumstances. He always has...and He still does." 

Think you lack what it takes? God has already gifted each of us with certain talents and passions. This is for a purpose. How can you use what you already have (interests, talents, background, experiences) to show God's love to those nearest to you? Whether you are a mom, dad, sister, brother, neighbor, friend, teacher, grandparent, artist, volunteer, bus driver, musician, artist, athlete, etc., each day you interact with others who may never enter a church, but who do interact with you - the real "church."

"You don't need to imitate anyone else. God has designed you like no other, and His design is perfect for the ministry He's called you to. In a sense, He's given each of us a ministry fingerprint."

(A fingerprint meaning God has a "unique and distinct ministry role" just as your physical fingerprints are unique.)

But, it's not all about us, it's all about our God. We want people to see Him, not us. We want them to experience His love, peace, grace.

"We impress people from a distance, but we impact them when we're up close. Because when we're up close to others...we bring God close to them as well." 

This means we must remain close to God - so we can be "connectors" for others to the true Power Source - our Heavenly Father.

"The greatest gift you'll ever give the world is your intimacy with God."

The above quote may be my most favorite in the entire book. Want God to use you to impact your world to the greatest degree? Then let Him fill you, empower you, lead you. What we have to offer to others is limited, but God's supply is limitless.

"The closer to God you get, the more of God you'll give. But the further away from God you get, the less of God (and the more of you) you'll give to others."

I love the way Robertson shows how Jesus' very relational method of investing in a few people at a time is the best "method" to reach the world. If every year for 20 years you invested in the lives of two people, and they did the same for 20 years, and those they touched did the same for 20 years, eventually more than 3.48 billion people would be impacted. He contrasted this to a public speaker reaching 100,000 people every year for 20 years - eventually impacting only 2 million in that time. See the difference?

I want my time in Uganda to be effective and I so much want to eternally impact the lives of those around me, but it's not through great teaching methods, charismatic sermons, or mesmerizing miracles. It is by bringing God's love up close to others.
 
Okay, I could go on and on, but I really want you to read the book. So, I will close with this final quote for you to chew on.

"How do you become God's Plan A? Simply get up close to people, hang out with them, love them in practical ways, and share the God who lives in you with them. Everyone can do that."


P.S. The Kindle version of "You are God's Plan A: there is no plan B" is only $2.51 on Amazon!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

"Heaven"



Today's history is not about a Christmas carol, but about a hymnwriter born on Christmas Eve.

Yesterday I commented to a friend about how many hymns were written out of tragedy, giving them a greater depth and meaning than we often realize. Amazingly, God redeems our challenges and trials, not only for our growth, but so we can develop a greater compassion toward others, and encourage them when they find themselves on the same rocky path.

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God." - 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

When I read Miss Flint's story I realized how my life has been touched by her music, and how grateful I am for the grace God gave Annie on her rocky path of life.

"Annie Johnson Flint was born on Christmas Eve 1866 in a small New Jersey town, and her life was hard from the beginning. After her mother's early death, Annie was taken in by the Flint family, and she grew up to become a schoolteacher.

"Her professional life was cut short, however, by a crippling form of arthritis, and Annie was left an invalid with little income.

"Grasping a pen in gnarled fingers, she began writing poems and hymns such as 'He Giveth More Grace' and 'What God Hath Promised.' On July 28, 1916, her poem on heaven was read by Dr. James Gray at the funeral of Harry Monroe, the famous leader of the Old Lighthouse, the Pacific Garden Mission of Chicago."

Christmas, the celebration of Christ's first coming so many years ago, is a wonderful time to re-focus our gaze on the promised second coming of Christ and our eternal Home. One day we will be forever in our Savior's presence - liberated forever from pain, loneliness and death. Hallelujah!

"Heaven"
by Annie Johnson Flint

"Tis not the golden streets,
'Tis not the pearly gates,
'Ti not the perfect rest
For weary hearts that waits,
'Tis not that we shall find
The joy earth has not given,
For which our souls have longed,
That makes it Heaven.

"But 'tis because we know
Our Savior King is there
With all our loved and lost
In that blest land so fair;
That when to each of us
A place prepared is given,
His face and theirs we'll see,
That makes it Heaven."


Hymn history from "Near to the Heart of God - Meditations on 366 Best-Loved Hymns," by Robert J. Morgan.

Monday, December 23, 2013

"I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day"




This carol is one of my all-time favorites because I love the "story" it tells and the persistent hope that it proclaims.

I did post about this song and its history last year, but I can't not post again this year.

"I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" 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.

It seems our world, and especially my home 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.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

"O Come, All Ye Faithful"


I am deviating some from the "history" of the carols, but the following story related to "O Come, All Ye Faithful" is too good not to share. 

Once again, this is taken from Robert J. Morgan's "Near to the Heart of God - Meditations on 366 Best-Loved Hymns." (If you want to see the recent related "hymn history" posts, keep scrolling.)


"The Christmas truce on Flanders Field in Belgium is a timeless testimony to the power of the birth of Christ.


"On the western front of World War I, a brief, unofficial cessation of hostilities occurred between British and German forces. It began on Christmas Eve 1914, when German soldiers in their trenches began singing 'Silent Night.' The British stopped firing and began singing English carols. Soon the troops were greeting each other across no-man's-land and exchanging small gifts.


"According to the written account of an unknown British soldier, the next morning, December 25, 1914, was foggy and very cold. Neither side began firing; the truce held. Some British troops went over to the German side to help bury a slain soldier and then returned for a Christmas worship service.


"'How we did sing, 'O Come, All Ye Faithful,'" he wrote to his family. 'I never expected to shake hands with Germans between the firing lines on Christmas Day, and I don't suppose you thought of us doing so. So after a fashion we've enjoyed our Christmas.' The next day the war resumed."



O come, all ye faithful joyful and triumphant 
Oh come ye O come ye to Bethlehem; 

Come and behold him born the King of angels; 
O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord. 

God of God, light of light 
Lo he abhors not the virgin's womb; 
Very God begotten not created: 
O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord. 

Sing choirs of angels, sing in exultation 
Sing all ye citizens of heaven above; 
Glory to God in the highest: 
O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord. 

See how the shepherds summoned to his cradle, 
Leaving their flocks, draw nigh with lowly fear; 
We too will thither hend our joyful footsteps; 
O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord. 

Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning; 
Jesus, to Thee be glory given; 
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing: 
O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.

Image Source: www.123rf.com 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

"Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus"



"I remember no one who was born a king except Jesus..."

These words from Charles Spurgeon jumped out at me earlier this week as I read about "Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus" in Robert J. Morgan's  "Near to the Heart of God - Meditations on 366 Best-Loved Hymns."

"On December 23, 1855, London's new preaching sensation, twenty-one-year-old Charles Spurgeon, wove this carol by Charles Wesley into his Christmas sermon as skillfully as a weaver braids a golden thread into a tapestry; 'A very unique singular thing is this, that Jesus Christ was said to have been born 'king of the Jews.'

"'Very few have ever been 'born king.' Men are born princes, but they are seldom born kings. I do not think you can find an instance in history where any infant was born king. He was the Prince of Wales, perhaps, until he had to wait a number of years, till his father died, and then they manufactured him into a king, but putting a crown on his head; and a sacred chrism, and other silly things; but he was not born a king.

"'I remember no one who was born a king except Jesus; and there is emphatic meaning in that verse that we sing, 'Born thy people to deliver; Born a child, and yet a king.' The moment that He came on earth He was a king.'"

Come Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in Thee

Israel's strength and consolation
Hope of all the earth Thou art
Dear desire of every nation
Joy of every longing heart

Born Thy people to deliver
Born a child and yet a King
Born to reign in us forever
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring

By Thine own eternal spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone
By Thine all sufficient merit
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.


(For the previous two posts in this series, see here and here.)

Friday, December 20, 2013

"Away in a Manger"



"Away in a Manger" may be the first Christmas song a child learns. While it may be considered a "children's song," it is still a favorite for many during this special season.

This post is the second in a little series on the history of some favorite Christmas hymns. (See here for the first post.) The following is from Robert J. Morgan's  "Near to the Heart of God - Meditations on 366 Best-Loved Hymns."

"For years, everyone assumed Martin Luther had written this carol; in songbooks it was usually subtitled 'Luther's Cradle Hymn.' According to tradition, the Reformer had written this hymn, which consisted of only two stanzas at the time, for his little son, Hans.

"We now believe the first two stanzas of  'Away in a Manger' came from an anonymous German Lutheran in Pennsylvania, not from Luther himself. We also know who added the tender third verse that begins, 'Be near me, Lord Jesus.' It was John T. McFarland, who was born January 2, 1851, in Mount Vernon, Indiana, and passed away on the morning of December 22, 1913, at his home in Maplewood, New Jersey.

"McFarland was a Sunday school leader and children's worker whose life's mission was to nurture children in the instruction of the Lord. It was McFarland who introduced graded instruction to American Sunday schools. How fitting that he would complete the most famous children's Christmas carol of all time."


Away in a manger no crib for a bed 
The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head 
The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay 
The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay. 

The cattle are lowing the baby awakes 
But little Lord Jesus no crying he makes. 
I love you Lord Jesus; look down from the sky 
And stay by my side until morning is nigh. 

Be near me Lord Jesus I ask you to stay 
Close by me for ever, and love me, I pray. 
Bless all the dear children in your tender care, 
And fit us for heaven, to live with you there.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

"O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"



One of my favorite parts of the Christmas season is the music. I really love Christmas music! In fact, if it so good, I wonder why do we listen to it only one season of the year?

Over the next several days, I want to share a few of the "histories" of some of our favorite carols. These are pulled from "Near to the Heart of God - Meditations on 366 Best-Loved Hymns," a daily devotional by Robert J. Morgan.

Today's hymn history is about "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." 

"In medieval Europe, there were cathedral services each evening leading up to Christmas Eve. Each service would begin with an antiphon, a choral call to worship. There were seven 'Great O Antiphons,' beginning with the Latin word vini ('come'), followed by the Latin words for 'O Wisdom," 'O Lord,' 'O Branch of Jesse,' 'O Key of David,' 'O Dayspring,' 'O King of Nations,' and 'O Emmanuel.'

"These choral prayers were rooted in messianic titles used by the prophets in the Old Testament, pleas for God to come. During the 1800s, various English translationsof the 'Great O Antiphons' were made. This well-loved British version is the work of Thomas Alexander Lacey, who was born December 20, 1853."

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.


O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.


Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

"Emmanuel" means "God with us" and how very appropriate that we continue to invite our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to be "with us" - not only at Christmas, but at all times.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Digesting an Important Lesson


I have never regretted so much adding milk to my coffee as I did on Wednesday.

Subsequently suffering with stomach issues for about 20+ hours, however, taught me a very important lesson. Do not let tolerance lead to intolerance.

Later in talking to a veteran missionary I discovered my apparent and sudden "lactose intolerance" was likely triggered by a recent bout of giardia.

Giardia, for those who want to know, but probably wish you didn't, is an invasion by amoebas, a microscopic parasite, which cause giardiasis - a disease in the intestines, leading to symptoms like diarrhea, bloating, cramps, nausea, dehydration, etc. You pick up giardia from dirty water or food. Yuck.

You cannot drink water from the tap in most of Uganda, and even using the water to brush your teeth can be harmful - obviously.



One of the lingering side effects of giardiasis is lactose intolerance - for like six months. Apparently, my body is not producing the needed enzyme to  break down the sugars in dairy products. So, no milk or ice cream for me for awhile. (I am thankful, though, I can still apparently eat yogurt without suffering for it.)

I had shown giardia symptoms awhile back, but did not test nor treat the illness as I should have. Once the major symptoms stopped, I thought I was home free. So it's likely I was harboring parasites in my gut for sometime and I didn't even know it, until my lactose intolerance flared up last week.

Because I was tolerant to the parasites, as long as they didn't bother me too much, I let them hang out. However, their presence, though undetected for awhile, led to greater and longer-lasting problems.

I think there is some spiritual application here - somewhere. I have also discovered that my tolerance to certain things, not necessarily evil things, but perhaps not helpful things in my spiritual walk, can lead to intolerance elsewhere in my life.

If I fill my life and allow certain habits and activities to remain harbored in my schedule, consuming my time and energy, I find I become "intolerant" (unwilling to endure) what God may be speaking into my life, or trying to teach me, or trying to whisper to me, but I am too distracted to stop, to listen, to learn.

This can also happen with sin. Parasites are small - microscopic - but the damage they do becomes quite evident and harmful. Some sins may appear "small," but if we let them remain hidden and harbored in our hearts, we become "intolerant" to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Holy Spirit absolutely cannot dwell with parasitic sin. Drastic action must be taken against both sin and parasites.

After being clued into the cause of my tummy troubles, I am now taking some powerful medicine to evict the little buggers, and am back to regularly taking my probiotics to help restore the health of my gut. I think my lesson has been learned.

Don't mess with parasites or sin. Don't let tolerance lead to intolerance. 


P.S. Do not Google images of parasites near or during a meal time. :(

Image Source: paleoplan.com,