Hello Prayer Partners
It’s been a full week! Our days are spent doing various forms of ministry, while in the evenings we are back at our complex for content sessions, worship, Bible study and fellowship.
Monday was our first day of ministry. We started at the Hlanganani school where we split up into teams to teach life skills material in 4th – 7th grade classrooms. Being our first day, there was a fair bit of apprehension and uncertainty on the part of our students, not really knowing what the time would look like. That apprehension quickly melted away during the first classroom session.
After our school sessions we broke into teams to do either house visits or serve at the Care Center. House visits involved going door-to-door in some of the poorer settlements in this region. We were led by local believers from the church we are partnering with. Again, there was some initial awkwardness, but our students were bold and entrusted that to the Lord. The result was several moving moments. They received us polite hospitality and invited into their modest homes to pray for them. We offered listening ears, and some students were able to share their own stories.
The Care Center provides health services and more (gym, music center, garden) for patients suffering from AIDS and other ailments. They receive care and love and dignity, and we were able to come alongside to listen to their stories and give attention and comfort. Much of what we will be doing there is providing manual labor to help the center with several projects that will help them serve well.
Today we spent the morning doing beach evangelism. Again, I am awed by the faith and boldness of the students to step out and do something that is clearly unnatural to them, and well beyond the boundaries of their comfort zones. They are being challenged, and they are meeting that challenge with courage!
Pray that the Lord will continue to make His power and love evident in their own lives as they trust Him. Pray for their unity and growth as the body of Christ. Thank you!
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Grace and Peace,
The graciousness of uncertainty( Oswald Chambers)
It doth not yet appear what we shall be. 1 John 3:2.
Naturally, we are inclined to be so mathematical and calculating that we look upon uncertainty as a bad thing. We imagine that we have to reach some end, but that is not the nature of spiritual life. The nature of spiritual life is that we are certain in our uncertainty, consequently we do not make our nests anywhere. Common sense says—‘Well, supposing I were in that condition …’ We cannot suppose ourselves in any condition we have never been in.
Certainty is the mark of the commonsense life: gracious uncertainty is the mark of the spiritual life. To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, we do not know what a day may bring forth. This is generally said with a sigh of sadness; it should be rather an expression of breathless expectation.
We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God. Immediately we abandon to God, and do the duty that lies nearest, He packs our life with surprises all the time. When we become advocates of a creed, something dies; we do not believe God, we only believe our belief about Him. Jesus said “Except ye … become as little children.” Spiritual life is the life of a child. We are not uncertain of God, but uncertain of what He is going to do next. If we are only certain in our beliefs, we get dignified and severe and have the ban of finality about our views; but when we are rightly related to God, life is full of spontaneous, joyful uncertainty and expectancy.
“Believe also in Me,” said Jesus, not—‘Believe certain things about Me.’ Leave the whole thing to Him, it is gloriously uncertain how He will come in, but He will come. Remain loyal to Him.
Our youngest daughter Ellie still has a fond affection for Winnie the Pooh. As with her, for many of us a fondness for that lovable little bear seems to be timeless. No matter how old we get we still appreciate that “Chubby, little cubby all stuffed with fluff, Willy, nilly, silly old bear.” As with most children I also loved the little pooh bear growing up but unlike most children I most often found myself identifying with his friend Eeyore. I often found it challenging to have a “Pooh perspective” on life. Pooh had the uncanny ability to get into trouble but yet even in the midst of turmoil he seemed to be able to find the pot of honey is every situation . Eeyore on the other hand struggled to find anything positive in the troubled waters of life in the forest. Like the characters in Sherwood Forest we will all face beehives in our lives and it is largely up to us as to how we respond to them. In order to get to the delicious golden honey we must often come face to face with the bees. Cancer has been for me one of those beehives which has stood in my way challenging me in my ability to find the honey which the Lord desires for me. My natural tendency is to fall into the trap of adopting an Eeyore attitude. An attitude which responds to Pooh’s “ oh bother” with “ rain, it’s to be expected”! It is hard to simply say “oh bother “ when the problem seems to be one which never goes away. This week I faced yet another disappointing delay on my road to full recovery and I’m still battling the Eeyore inside of me. The rain on my parade seems to be ever present and sunshine seems to remain just on the other side of the horizon.I find myself identifying with the children of Israel who grumbled and complained at the seemingly endless trek through the wilderness. Even though God was faithfully providing they were unable to see the honey through the constant buzzing of the beehive.
After witnessing spectacular miracles and experiencing the actual presence of God, the Israelites still grumbled and rebelled against the Lord (Nu 14:1-10; 20:2-5). In the past I was much more critical of them. I often wondered how they could be so blind and ignorant, yet I now see more clearly how I/we can be just like them? It begins with a seemingly harmless grumble and moves from there to a lack of trust and often ends in all out rebellion.Rebellion against God begins with dissatisfaction and skepticism, with grumbling about God and present circumstances. If allowed to fester it can often be followed by bitterness and resentment.
In the Winnie Pooh stories the “Heffalump” serves as a comical reminder of what can happen when our worries are allowed to go unchecked in our minds. Heffalumps are first mentioned in the 1968 featurette Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, and seem to be a product of Tigger’s imagination. In the animated television series, heffalumps are enemies of Pooh and his friends. They are known to steal honey and are often associated with woozles. In one memorable scene, Pooh and Piglet attempt bravely to capture a heffalump in a clever trap; however, no heffalumps are ever caught, and indeed they never meet a heffalump in the course of the books. The appearance of heffalumps in the books come from within their imaginations. One such appearance comes as Pooh tries to put himself to sleep:
“[H]e tried counting Heffalumps [but] every Heffalump that he counted was making straight for a pot of Pooh’s honey … [and] when the five hundred and eighty-seventh Heffalump was licking its jaws, and saying to itself, ‘Very good honey this, I don’t know when I’ve tasted better’, Pooh could bear it no longer.”
Though our trials in life are at times very real they can easily become bigger than life when we allow the Heffalumps of fear and doubt to creep in. For Pooh and friends Heffalumps were imaginary creatures who were allowed to dominate their imagination to the point of them becoming paralyzed by their fear of them. For the Israelites the same became true, they allowed themselves to be overwhelmed by losing focus on the God who was faithfully providing for them. I’m continually learning to bring every thought captive to obedience in Christ( 2Cor 10:5). For me fighting the Heffalumps means not allowing my dissatisfaction to become skepticism and complaining! These attitudes could color my perspective and push me towards bitterness and resentment. We can all escape this trap by choosing a better attitude, one which recalls God’s faithfulness.He has guided and protected us, and has kept His promise to never leave or forsake us. We must beware of the Heffalumps by fighting to focus your thoughts on who God is, what he has promised and how he has already provided.
I will remember that faith, like muscle, must be exercised in order to grow strong. In other words, there must be the occasion, or provocation, of faith. Most of the time my natural inclination is to escape this provocation. But I must put on the right kind of glasses and see provocation, not as a disaster, but as an opportunity for God to work.
Miracles occur when there is a tremendous voltage between need and supply. That is like the positive and negative particles that cause a thunderstorm. If I am to see God work dramatically, I must bring an acute need face to face with God’s supercharged supply. The need is always there as long as sin and man exist, but the missing element is the intensified power of supply. That is where God needs a conductor, a man of faith, like Moses, Elijah, or the Lord Jesus. Wherever they went they were natural “lightning rods” that drew the power from God.
I also must remember that faith decays from lack of stimulus, Quite often I have “little” faith simply because I have had little opportunity to exercise it. Faith grows by being challenged. If my life is so so and average, I do not need to pray for more faith but for more problems, difficulties, and challenges. That means the courage to dare, to launch out, to expose myself to the pains, hurts, and heartaches of this world.
A person without faith is admitting he has no concern for others, for we cannot long spiritually for others without becoming aware of deep, sore, bleeding wounds. By means of our faith those wounds can be healed, and God is waiting for believers! How I long to be like Abraham, who was “strong in faith, giving glory to God” (Ro 4:20). That is it—to be strong enough so that the result is always glory!
Have you ever wondered why we call the most horrific day in history “Good Friday”? That thought came to me while learning Russian because in Russian, as in many other languages, the word good is not used when referring to “ Good Friday”. Though there is some debate as to how it came to be known as Good Friday, the truth is that it is “good” because without it there would be no Easter Sunday morning. The pain suffered by Christ was necessary for us to experience the power of the resurrection so no matter how terrible it was, the result of that day was more than good , it was in fact great. I found a article in Christianty today which does a very good job of examining the “ good” in Good Friday ( http://www.christianity.com/god/jesus-christ/what-s-so-good-about-good-friday.html).
One of the most meaningful passages of scripture for me during this battle with cancer has been Psalm 23. It is perhaps the most well known and beloved Psalm in all of the scriptures. Because of its promises and portrayal of God as a caring shepherd it has brought comfort, reassurance and hope to those who have read it and trusted its truths. It however , like many other familiar passages, contains insights which are often overlooked. This last week I stumbled upon such an insight from the last verse in this Psalm.
The last verse says this “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” This concluding verse references the pursuit of the sheep by the shepherd. Many commentators liken it to being pursued by sheep dogs. The words used here are very strong and would indicate more than just a causal searching. The particular verb used here for the word ” follow” is a strong Hebrew word and should be rendered more forcefully such as hunted me, or dogged my steps all the days of my life” thus the concept of the sheepdog who diligently runs behind the sheep to protect them from danger and from themselves. It’s as though The Good Shepherd is leading from up front, and the dogs are keeping them moving from behind. This imagery brings to mind a poem by Francis Thompson entitled “The Hound of Heaven.” In it he portrays God as a relentless hound who never ceases in his pursuit of those whom he loves. People run from God and his love all the time. Even those of us who say we “follow” God occasionally run away from him. Each of his sheep are unique and each may run for different reasons. Fortunately, as Francis Thompson has noted, “Love is a better pursuer than Fear is an evader.” When we run from God, he is able to catch us with his goodness and mercy, escorting us back into his green pastures.Running often happens when we come face to face with seemingly insurmountable opposition , such that in our mind it is even beyond the reach of God. Of course there is no such opposition which is truly beyond his reach but in our frailty we run because we cannot see the shepherd ahead of us. It is at those times that the “Hound of Heaven” pursues us with goodness and mercy as his companions.
This is true for both his sheep, who find themselves facing wolves, as well as those whom are not yet in his fold. John Stott a was an English Christian leader and Anglican cleric who was noted as a leader of the worldwide Evangelical movement. He was one of the principal authors of the Lausanne Covenant in 1974. In 2005, Time magazine ranked Stott among the 100 most influential people in the world. In the first chapter of his book “Why I am a Christian” he confesses that he is a Christian not because of the influence of his parents and teachers, nor to his own personal decision, but to being relentlessly pursued by ‘the Hound of Heaven’, that is, Jesus Christ himself. Another well known pastor and author F. B. Meyer likened goodness and mercy to guardian angels. As he points out, “We are well escorted with a shepherd in front and twin angels behind.” Then he continued by saying, “Some call them watchdogs, but I prefer to think of them as angels.” No matter what we call them His goodness and mercy will always pursue with relentless persistence those whom the “ Hound of Heaven” calls His own.
This is not the first time I’ve written on the theme of patience and probably not the last. When I was locked in that hospital room for months my patience was stretched to wafer thin. Once I was set free I really thought this journey was about over but it has turned to be quite the contrary. I now continue this battle with no certainty as to when my foe ( cancer) will be finally vanquished. This drawn out battle continues to give me an “opportunity” to wait upon the Lord. I long to say with the psalmist, “ I waited patiently for The Lord ; he inclined to me and heard my cry”( Ps. 40:1). In reality at times I have waited patiently and the Lord has clearly heard my cry but the wait is not over and He has not yet fully answered my cry.
I have joked in the past about being a patient who needed patience.The word patience is an interesting word it is derived from the Latin word for suffering. It suggests the thought of being under the constraint of some power from which we wish to be free. When we are called upon to exercise patience we must usually begin with an act of submission which often runs against our will but if experience teaches us anything it is vain to resist, patient endurance is always our wisest but not easiest, course. In waiting on God it is of utmost importance that we submit not only because we are compelled to, but because we lovingly and joyfully consent to be in the hands of our blessed Father. It is then that patience is allowed to bring us to a place of blessedness. By falling wholly on His grace it honors God and gives Him time to have His way with us. It is one of the highest expression of our faith because it pushes us into His goodness and faithfulness. It brings our soul perfect rest in the assurance that God is carrying on His work.
We all know that His ways are not our ways and his timing not ours ( Isa 55:8 ) and patience is that which signals our full consent that God should deal with us in such a way and time as He thinks best. True patience is the losing of our self-will in His perfect will.
Andrew Murray says that “patience is the growth and fruit of lessons in the school of waiting. The great stillness of soul before God that sinks into its own helplessness and waits for Him to reveal Himself; the deep humility that is afraid to let one’s own will or one’s own strength work anything except as God works to will and to do; the meekness that is content to be and to know nothing except as God gives His light; the entire resignation of the will that only wants to be a vessel in which His Holy will can move and mold: all these elements of perfect patience are not found at once. But they will come in measure as the soul waits upon God.“
I’m learning that patience may never be fully learned this side of heaven but the more I am able to give in to it, the more I will become a” vessel in which His Holy will can move and mold”.
Becca and I have been married for almost 30 years ( she was a mere babe when we got married). It has been a long and wonderful ride together with many hills and valleys. Unfortunately for me my memory is not so great and as I look back Upon that road it’s mostly covered in fog. I’m thankful though that every now and then my memory gets jogged and I’m able to glimpse back and see the fog lifted on one of those precious moments we’ve shared together. The other day I enjoyed such a glimpse but it was not so much a precious moment as an eye opening moment. I remember an event which took place while we were still dating. We were at a lake together in Canada where we were fishing with her family. We were standing on the bank fishing when all of the sudden Becca slipped on a rock and twisted her ankle. She was not seriously hurt but as was her style she passed out.She was famous for passing out in situations like that. In fact her brother had even warned me to be prepared if I married her cuz she was a” wimp” when it comes to pain. I rushed over to her and was at a loss as to how to help her . She was just laying there crumpled on the ground. Though unconscious and not moving but it was clear to me that she was not seriously injured. There was no blood or evidence of trauma but she was out cold. I assumed that she was fine and that this was one of her “ famous” fainting spells so I just hovered over her waiting for her to snap out of it. It seemed like hours but was really only seconds and it was in those seconds that I was taught a valuable lesson. My inactivity in the situation had not gone unnoticed by her father who was nearby. He barked out at me to do something. Her chided me to take action and to at least get her feet out of the water. In the heat of the moment I had not even noticed that when she had fallen her feet dipped into the water and there they remained due to my inactivity, my lack of action in the moment of crisis. I responded to her father’s plea and pulled her legs out of the water. Within moments she regained consciousness and she was indeed fine, just a little wet around the ankles! ( Fortunately she did not develop cold feet with regards to our relationship). In those few moments of stressful anxious waiting I had been taught a valuable lesson. Her father made very clear to me that day that if I were to be the man in his daughter’s life I would need to watch over her and provide protection and care for her. What he made abundantly clear was that he expected me to be a “man of action” not just a passive bystander. It was a hard and yet important lesson for me to learn and one which I am still working to master.The irony is that while it is true that God often calls us to action, there are times when he desires for us to be passive, to sit back and marvel at his mighty hand in action. We are not always called to be“ men of action”. There are times when we are to be a “Do Nothing” disciple. There are those times are when though everyone else is scurrying about in a frenetic and distracted manner , we are being called like Mary, to just sit at the feet of Jesus ( Lk10) Sometimes true spiritual strength, as Isaiah says, is to “sit still” when the emergency arrives (Isa 30:7).
It often takes more strength to sit and be inactive than to charge forward into the fray. A hard lesson for us to learn is that an emergency does not mean disaster to us a his disciple; it might just be a crossroads. It may however give rise to the question, “Is your God…able…?” as King Darius asked Daniel in the lions’ den (Da 6:20). In Daniel’s case the den turned out to not be his death chamber but rather his platform to proclaim the greatness of his God.
In moments of crisis we often find ourselves asking that very same question of the Lord “ are you able”. When standing there facing the open jaws of a hungry lion our first reaction is usually not to sit back and wait upon the Lord . Most of us become “men of action”, we jump into battle mode and prepare to fight our way out. But by responding in such a manner we sometimes miss the opportunity for the Lord to show himself “able”.The truth is that quite often we take action because we don’t really believe ,deep down in our hearts, that He is able. That is why the Lord will often put us in so far over our heads that we have no choice but to trust in His provision. He is indeed able and it is we who must learn what it means to “be still, and know that I am God” (Ps 46:1).
The technological age has brought many great things into our lives. So much is available to us now which was not even imagined 20 years ago. Technology has made our world a much more complex place while making many things in our lives simpler. Because we lived overseas we missed out on many of these advances especially in our early years. I remember well the days in the first “ Stan” country we lived in. In many aspects it was a country which was lagging behind the world standards. The area of technology was one of those areas . Though around the world the internet was starting to flourish we struggled just to send and receive basic email. We were forced to communicate by using dial up. Using dial up back then was bad enough but in our case it was even more complicated because we were being watched by the KGB. Since they had our home phone blocked we had to travel two hours on a bus just to get a connection and even then we had to sometimes hardwire directly into an existing line. It was sporadic at best and at times very frustrating.
We were being watched so closely that there were even surveillance vans parked outside our home and are phones ( which were limited to local calls only) were tapped. The irony was that though they listened day and night to our every conversation they understood very little. Since our language abilities were so bad we spoke almost exclusively in English and we found out later they were not equipped to handle that. It was a small town and we were the first americans to ever live there so they were not prepared for our English only conversations. They were not sure what to do with us so at one point they put us under “ house arrest”. What that meant was that we were not allowed out of our home after dark and we were forbidden to leave our small city unless accompanied by an escort. They had us under their watchful eye or at least they made every effort to do so. However with all their effort they failed to stop us from spreading the gospel because God’s watchful eye is far greater than theirs.
There is no escaping His gaze it covers the furthest reaches and the darkest corners of the earth. Unlike the watchful eye of the KGB, his gaze should draw us to a place of comfort in the midst of fear not simply to a place of fear. He is a God to be feared and knowing his all seeing gaze is inescapable should cause us to fear him but not in the way we would fear our human oppressors.
Fear and hope are generally thought to be in conflict with each other; in the presence and worship of God they are found side by side in perfect and beautiful harmony. In God Himself, all apparent contradictions are reconciled. Righteousness and peace, judgment and mercy, holiness and love, infinite power and infinite gentleness. There is indeed a fear of the Lord but it is always shadowed by his perfect love.
Psalm 33:18-22, Says “Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love”. God’s eye is upon His people; and our eye should be upon Him. In waiting upon God, our eye, looking up to Him meets His looking down upon us. This eye to eye connection comes from waiting upon God. It takes our eyes and thoughts away from ourselves, even our needs and desires, and occupies us with our God. We worship Him in His glory and love, with His all-seeing eye watching over us, that He may supply our every need.
(Every time I watch this clip it reminds me of our days under the watchful eye of the KGB. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=RtWBlDC2-ss)
One of our family’s new favorite commercials is Direct TV’s ad featuring a family of “ settlers” ( https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ASyhJ0lRIU0). It portrays an old fashioned family who live in a modern world but “ settle” for less than the most modern conveniences. My kids enjoy it in a painful way because , as they say, it’s a picture of our family. They laugh because it’s comical portrayal hits close to home for them. Having spent many years on the mission field they have learned to “settle” for things in ways that they would not have otherwise.I’m thankful for the fact that they can laugh at their lack because it shows their absence of an attitude of entitlement. An attitude of entitlement can be a very harmful thing. It can skew our perspective on who we are and where God has called us to be. It is especially dangerous when it trickles over into our prayer life.
In our prayer life we can sometimes fall into the trap of approaching the Lord as though he owes us something. The ironic thing is that we are prone to slip into this because our God is so full of grace and mercy. Though we know that he deals with us according to His grace, we often confuse His grace and mercy for leniency. In doing so we lose sight of the monumental difference between them. In His grace we rest in the forgiveness of our sins but we must never mistake forgiveness for a casual dismissal of sin (the cross is proof of that). The Holy God of the universe never dismisses sin, He forgives it because of his grace. This distinction may seem subtle but it can have a profound impact on the way in which we approach the Lord.Knowing the difference has huge implications for us. When we see Him as lenient, we can become casual about our sin, because we assume that He is. We can take Him for granted and thus not fully realize the depth of His love which is shown through his mercy and grace . If unchecked this attitude will allow us to pray with sinful, distorted hearts.
However when we properly understand mercy, we will grieve and repent. And we will never approach Him with a sense of entitlement. A sense of entitlement which is fostered by the attitude that He is our debtor, a Father who is obligated to care for us regardless of our attitude toward sin. Because he is Father to us we can fall into the trap that as a father he will give his children whatever they want or ask for. As Fred Mitchell puts it ““The heavenly Father has no spoiled children. He loves them too much for that.”
We have probably all experienced the frustration of dealing with or watching others deal with children who are spoiled. Children who act entitled to the favors of their parents can be annoying, both to their parents and other observers. Worse than that, if allowed to continue, they will fail to appreciate their parents’ generosity. They will take it for granted. God will not let us relate to Him that way for long. He is not lenient toward us; He is merciful. He sees the ugliness of sin and loves us anyway. He has dealt with our rebellion painfully. And then He blesses us with answered prayer. When we pray, we should know the depth of His mercy because it is behind every answer.
In Psalm 69 we find an example of this proper perspective in the prayer of David. In verse 16 we read: “Answer me, O Lord, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me”.David’s plea should serve as a model for us. He humbly cries out to the Lord,not because he is deserving or entitled but because God is loving and merciful. He had a proper understanding of who he was and to whom he prayed.