Thursday, May 18, 2017

It's a Small World

It's really good to be here in Asheville with passionate leaders from around the world.  The last time we sat around a table together was in Indonesia last August as the (6 out of 7 new) VP's gathered today after the Congress of Nations.

Thai Food Together

The week has been intense, but very good.  I arrived Monday late morning and have snuck away from a few of the meetings to meet individually with some of the more experienced staff to help answer the slew of questions I have.  The past few weeks, I've picked up more and more responsibilities, somewhat to prep for this week; and the more I get assigned, the more I realize I have to learn!  That's an ongoing prayer request, for wisdom and understanding, for all of us.

The meetings have been extremely insightful for me, and it's a real privilege to hear all that the Lord is doing around the world, which seems a lot smaller when we're all joined together despite the different cultures and languages represented.  I'm excited for tonight's meetings as the VP's will each share with the board about what is happening in their particular areas. (Hope to share more later).

Of course, we don't only talk of all the successes, but the challenges as well.  As we were reminded in a session on Master Planning this morning, conflict and misunderstanding are the result of differing assumptions; so communication is vital for clarity.  Also, mission points us in the right direction while vision motivates and inspires.  Just a couple of nuggets from today. :)

Tom Reviewing Master Planning

We would all appreciate your prayers as these final two days are the longest.  Thank you!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Risky Business

 "The moment they saw Him they worshiped Him. Some, though, held back, not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally."  (Matt 28:17)

In light of the Easter season upon us, I've been reading the accounts of both Jesus' death and resurrection.  Jesus has risen from the dead, presented Himself to Mary and several other women, and now the 11 disciples see Him face-to-face, and the above statement is how the Message records their response.

Of course, we know that wasn't the end of the story and that Jesus' death was intentional, prophetic, and even powerful as it served as the required sacrifice needed to cover the payment for sin, once and for all, to restore us back to Him.  That His resurrection brought the power to bring life into what is dead.  



But imagine having given up everything to follow Jesus only to watch the religious people who had given up nothing and challenged His divinity have Him killed.  And instead of defending Himself or God, He suffers a brutal death right along with common criminals and goes into a grave, leaving them abandoned and scared.  Disappointment doesn't seem to capture how I imagine those who had risked everything for Jesus must have felt.

But the disciples had a choice: to give themselves back to Jesus with reverence, obedience, and respect or to keep their distance because of doubt.   The original Greek is to waver, the same word when Peter started walking on water but then fell.  

I wonder where you or I have been disappointed by Jesus.  We may deny such a thought because we know that Jesus doesn't disappoint, but our own expectations of who we expect Jesus to be and what He should do for us certainly can just like they did for His disciples when He walked the earth.  And so when He tells us to "meet Him in Galilee" so to speak, to trust Him again, we have that same choice.  Will we offer ourselves to Him as our worship, or will we waver because we're trusting in our own abilities or simply don't want to risk being disappointed again?

Perhaps it would help us to remember that Jesus doesn't empower us for our own individual comfort and success in life, that our following Him isn't for us alone.  This whole scene is actually the background for the Great Commission where Jesus' next move is to verbally transfer His own power and responsibility to carry God's salvation plan to those who follow after Him as His disciples.  So I think it's worth contemplating these things and considering if our God who gave up His very life is willing to trust us with this crucial role, will we trust Him in our everyday lives as well as with this call?

  

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

I Don't Need Jesus

I was asked to speak at an event this past weekend for homeschooling parents about evangelizing teenagers.   Since far too much time has passed since my own high school years, my only "qualifications" are that I taught teenagers the past 3 years and have a teenage nephew.  Clearly not the expert!  But since the starting point that we teach in XEE is to connect and relate to others, it seemed like a good place to start is to consider the teenage life and mind.

Dot and I had some convo/role plays about learning to connect with others with Chloe and Audrey.  They're both high school students who are enthusiastic to share the Gospel. Note: the flowers were Audrey's idea, but brought back memories to Fiji! 🌼

One point we talked about is that many teens, whether they've grown up in church or not, may not recognize their need for Jesus.  And I'd say this is not limited to teenagers, but could hold true for all ages and all cultures. It's something I have encountered with Europeans, particularly the French who pride themselves in secularism.  Perhaps it's because Jesus is associated with the Church and religion, which hasn't always prevailed in the teachings of Jesus.  Perhaps it's because many associate Him with a 2000+-year old historical figure that has zero relevance to the 21st century.



That's where I get hopeful and even excited because as the approaching Easter season is supposed to remind us, Jesus is alive and oh-so-relevant.  A teen (or anyone) may deny their need for Jesus, but they may be better able to acknowledge their need for emotional or physical healing.  Because Jesus is Healer, He heals emotions, bodies, and spirits.  So, actually who Jesus is and what He does meets their needs after all.  Perhaps they need counsel for a tough decision or relationship or even counseling to help through some pain or confusion.  Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor.  Maybe they live with loneliness and just need a friend.  Jesus is Friend.  In fact, He befriended the outcasts, despised, and "bad people" most of the time!  Or they may need someone who can stick around after dealing with a failed friendship, relationship, or even parent who has left.  Jesus is the Faithful One. 





The point is as humans--teen or not--we may not think we need Jesus when in actuality, that's exactly who we need.  We just don't know it because we've relegated Him to a figure from an ancient text rather than the God-With-Us, one of His other names.  The reality is that His Holy Spirit lives inside of those who do recognize their need for Jesus; so we have access to Him directly but also through others who are filled with His Spirit!  



Perhaps a real challenge is first getting to know Jesus in the fullness of who He is for ourselves so that we can share Him with others.  Then the Gospel is more than an awkward conversation, but the Good News that it truly is: Jesus did die over 2000 years ago to pay the price for every wrong thing we and others have done.  But now Jesus is alive and relates to us right where we are to restore us back to the One who created us to be whole and fulfilled.  

Jesus does meet our needs emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  Right here, right now, and one day forever.  Let's recognize the real need for Jesus that is there for all life stages because of our common human state; and let's share Him with others.  We all need Jesus.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Ch-ch-ch-changes

Change is on my mind.  More specifically, changed minds.  There's a parable in Matthew 21 that compares two different sons.  One say he's going to do something, but never does it.  The other initially says he won't, but then changes his mind and does it.  God uses this story to illustrate that anyone who wants to have a right relationship with the Father will need to change their mind.

I remember when I was a teenager and had heard this aspect of the Gospel and genuinely questioned what there was to change about myself.  I knew I wasn't perfect, but no one was; and I tried to lead a good life.  By God's grace, I was able to see that God isn't just perfect; He's holy, and I needed Jesus to save me from my natural unholiness that gave me no chance of being in relationship with Him.

Years later, I am thankful to have experienced much transformation through the relationship I have with God. This can look so many ways, but it's always positive and beautiful.  In light of this, I'd like to share a true story about one example of Christ's power to transform in the lives of others who are connected with my sending agency:

There is a native South American group called the Yaghans.  Back in the 1840's a SAMS missionary named Allen Gardiner set out to share the Gospel with them even though they were savage and fierce. In fact, Charles Darwin said that "one can hardly...believe they are fellow creatures and inhabitants of the same world."  After Gardiner and the others died without seeing any success by the world's standards, another young SAMS missionary named Thomas Bridges returned and shared the Gospel with them.  He did this not by mere word, but by action when he chose to forgive the hostile tribe members who had killed his friends.

Unfortunately Allen Gardiner died before being able to share the Gospel or seeing the fruit of his labor.

This time, there was fruit.  The transforming power of Christ shone brightly as the barbarian Yaghans actually put their own lives at risk to help rescue a stranded ship of sailors at sea.  This visible display of transformation of the Yaghans was evident to many.  In fact, Charles Darwin himself became a regular SAMS donor because he was so impressed by the change that had taken place in their hearts and minds!

Perhaps this is one reason that Jesus places such a high value on a changed heart: because of the way that it points others to Him.  And why He commends the heart that is willing to yield and allow Him to change it--even after initial resistance.  I'll end by challenging us all to offer our hearts and minds to Jesus to show us where we may need some kind of change that could free us to be who we were created to be and in doing so, point others to Him.  

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

What Are We Waiting For?

There have been so many blessings of still being in Charleston.  One of them was having the opportunity to attend the historical 226th Convention for the Diocese of South Carolina where I listened to every single priest/parish/mission affirm their "yay" to join the ACNA.  For non-Anglicans, this was a long-awaited (as in years) decision for an entire state's worth of churches to leave their roots--founded in 1785--with the conviction to align themselves under the leadership of those who are committed to protecting the purity of the Gospel.

During Bishop Mark Lawrence's address, he spoke to the weight that comes in the wait.  He didn't belittle or excuse it, though he did put it in perspective, and I needed to hear it for my own situation.  If you follow my blog or know me, you know that I'm very much in "the wait."  And many of you in my life, just by association or partnership, are in the wait with me.  I would not be honest if I said that it hasn't been challenging.

The Bishop reminded us that though the burden is real as we wait and even a type of long-suffering, that we can rejoice in the suffering because it produces endurance, which produces character, which produces hope, which does not disappoint--all based on God's promise in Romans 5.

I have to say that these are not always on the forefront of my mind.  The recording I hear goes more like frustration, defeat, despair, and disillusionment, all of which do disappoint. Thankfully as Christians, we are not alone.  Not only is God's presence real at all times and all places--no matter how we feel or how things appear--but we are also part of a Body who can help us to stand in God's promises.

One of my favorite passages in Scripture is when Aaron and Hur held Moses' arms up for him when he was weary.  As long as his arms were up, the Israelites won the battle, but they would lose when his arms fell.  So, despite my pride which really doesn't always want to ask others for prayer...again, I reached out to a few who would "lift my arms up."  For me, their prayers take the weight of the wait off of me so that I can endure and hope.

And as I went to God in His Word, He Himself promises that "they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength." (Is 40:31).  As I considered this promise, I realized something that needs changing in my own heart and mind because somewhere along the line, I stopped waiting for the Lord and started waiting for a circumstance (an answer, a date, a percentage, etc.) Yikes!  So thankful to have a God who can show us where we're off and re-direct us to truth.

I imagine that some of you who read this could be waiting for some answers or changes as well.  I speak as one who "suffers" with you: as we wait, may we wait for the Lord and put our hope in Him.  That "hope does not disappoint us because God has poured our His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit whom He has given us." (Rom 5:4-5)

Why do you say..."My way is hidden from the LORD...?  Have you not known?  Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable.  He gives power to the faint, and to Him who has no might, He increases strength. Is 40:27-9


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Casting Cares

This past Sunday I was dwelling on a well-quoted scripture: 1 Peter 5:6-7.  It says, "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you."  

To be honest, it's one of those passages I've read and heard so many times that it takes some effort to internalize and be meaningful.  Even though it's not a new concept to me, what came to my mind was to bring all the things, people, and situations I care about and put them--figuratively--into God's hand.  I love this because God's hand is a place of power. 

Today I decided to look up the Greek--I'm a language person :)--and I absolutely love all of the connotations of God's hand in scripture.  Not only is it what He uses to create the universe, but to protect, to punish evil, and "in determining and controlling the destinies of men."  That sounds like a great place to leave something that's troubling me.  And the reason it's probably bothering me anyway is because I lack the attributes that God has: the power and control.

So, why don't I do this more often?  Maybe it's my Low Country life that is used to holding onto the net when casting.  In prayer, I don't always ignore things, but I find myself stopping short of casting--throwing away from myself and releasing it completely to God to deal with. Sometimes I'll "pray" and tell God about it without really giving it to Him.  

Image result for cast net
From Charlie Scott SCBC site
"Prayer is not asking.  Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts."                                                                ~Mother Theresa

The reason scripture gives to throw our cares at Jesus is because God cares for us.  What's on God's heart and mind is us.  We matter to Him.  What concerns us concerns Him.  It really doesn't matter what it is, how big and impossible, how seemingly trite and insignificant.  He invites us to not just tell Him about, but to throw the things that trouble us onto Him.  And I love that it works for the concerns we have on behalf of those we care about!

"You search the Scriptures, for you believe they give you eternal life.  And the Scriptures point to me!  Yet you won't come to me so that I can give you this life eternal!  John 5:39-40 TLB

Most of my cares right now seem directly or indirectly connected to my preparation for the mission field--including the timing of when I will leave.  So, how convenient that this passage even addresses timing.  Some translations say "in due time," others "the right time" or "the proper time."  Does anyone else translate this as "not my timing"?  (Just being honest).  We shouldn't.  I mean, chances are God's timing may not be ours; but if it isn't, it's because the conditions aren't right.  

Last Greek reference, but Peter uses the word kairos here.  I love this word.  I remember my pastor preaching on Mark 1:15 years ago as a karios moment.  It's a moment in time where the conditions are right to take an opportunity.  In fact, if you don't take it, it may be a really long time--or never--when the opportunity will present itself again. 

So, in this case, when we are able to let go of our cares and trustingly leave them in God's powerful, mighty hand, there's a promise regarding the timing of God to raise us to a place of "dignity, honor, and happiness" (exalting us). Basically, God knows when everything is at its peak and opportune time and promises that timing to answer and bless us with the concerns we bring to Him.  So, what do you say?  One by one, let's start casting those cares to Jesus and see what happens.
  
Quotes regarding Greek definitions taken from blueletterbible.org.  



Thursday, February 9, 2017

How's Your Posture?

"It is not the body's posture, but the heart's attitude that counts when we pray."   ~Billy Graham

Image result for posture
How's Your Posture?

Over Christmas, I dealt with some back pain, which forced me to re-evaluate some habits like posture. It's something I'm sorry to say I don't work at when all is well and find it takes a lot of conscious effort and even training to form healthy habits.  It's quite amazing how our natural tendency is to revert to positions that put stress on our weak areas when we could/should use our stronger muscles for this!

This being highlighted in my natural circumstances, I became sensitive to the same concept spiritually. And I noticed how Hannah's (one of my favorite women from B.C. days) posture drastically improved when she returned from a life-changing experience at the temple.  She went from a despondent disposition because of unfulfilled longings to one of worship.  Her circumstances hadn't changed...yet; but her outlook, her attitude, and her actions put her in position to receive the very thing she longed for from the Lord: a son.

Hannah's exemplar posture of worship is something I'm trying to live out in a time of waiting and extended delay.  As you may know, in December my goal to leave in January was pushed to February. Last week I learned that it's been delayed even further, with the new estimated (earliest) leave date as end of March!  I tend to be a "glass is half full" kind of person and could, without even thinking, rattle off about 5-6 blessings that have come from my still being here.  Still, the waiting has that "gravity effect" that if I'm not intentional to keep a posture of worship, I find myself spiritually slouching.

So, as I examine my spiritual stance and consider how to practically engage to improve it, I like how Eugene Peterson translates James 4: 8-10 in the Message.  Parts of it remind me a lot of Hannah's own position.  So let God work his will in you.  Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him scamper.  Say a quiet yes to God, and He'll be there in no time.  Quit dabbling in sin.  Purify your inner life.  Quit playing the field.  Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out.  The fun and games are over.  Get serious, really serious.  Get down on your knees before the Master; it's the only way you'll get on your feet.
 
"There are thoughts which are prayers.  There are moments when, whatever the posture of the body, the soul is on its knees."  
~Victor Hugo 

Friday, February 3, 2017

It Pays To Obey

Sorry I didn't write in the month of January.  I've been in a black hole the past few weeks.  Don't worry, I haven't been depressed.  I've just been consumed--physically, mentally, and emotionally.  You see, I began taking a 3-week intensive course on partnership development 3 weeks ago...the same week I'd signed up for an intensive weekend workshop at my church on top of an already fairly busy schedule.  

What does this have to do with obedience, you may be asking.  Well, the class wasn't my idea.  I've had several trainings and previous experience in raising support; and while I'm a believer in life-long learning, it seemed better to use my limited time to actually be doing it rather than learning more.

But my missions' agency (SAMS) had asked me to pilot the class.  I knew deep down that I could use the practical help.  And bottom line, after dialogue with the Lord, I believed that God Himself was leading me down this dreaded path.  So, with the prayer support of a few friends and SAMS behind me, I signed up and made it through 3 intense weeks of training.

So, fast forward to this morning when I have my very first partnership presentation outside of class.  Now remember that this isn't really my cup of tea; but I and others have been praying me through this, including my friend Sarah who I'm meeting for coffee.  First, I'm thankful to just catch up but also encouraged that it's genuinely fun and exciting sharing my stories with her, especially when she interjects that the "African man" who had greatly influenced my life a few years back is a personal friend of hers!


Catching Up

Then we both get excited as we share different connections and dream about ways that God could bless a potential partnership.  But the clincher is when the couple who has been sitting next to us walks over.  The lady politely interrupts to explain that she hasn't exactly been eavesdropping, but she's heard enough to know that I'm raising money for something that I"m passionate about and hands me a $100 bill!


Did this really just happen?

Now, I certainly never want my--or anyone's--motive to obey God to be for monetary or other personal gain.  I want it to be out of a relationship of love and trust.  That said, God does promise blessing to those who obey Him.  

"If you listen obediently to the Voice of God, your God, and heartily obey all his commandments...all these blessings will come down on you..." Deut 28
It goes a lot deeper than today's events. But based on God's own words, I think it's fair to say that it pays to obey, and for me today, quite literally!