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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Coming home

(I'm going to try again to write what I thought I was writing last night. If you were surprised by last night's post, just imagine how surprised I was! I thought I was writing about the Wonder Girls, but no. I was volunteering for war duty, and meant every word of what I wrote. I just didn't mean to reveal it. There is no telling what will happen when I get started writing. It's always been that way!)
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Yesterday, I pulled in to my drive way and was delighted to see Maggie the Wonder Dog and Mamie the Apprentice Wonder Puppy outside playing. When they saw my car, they started running around in circles and barking like crazy. They were insanely excited and it was hilarious. When I opened the car door, they both jumped in, landed in my lap, and refused to get out. They wanted their mama and they were not letting her go! 

When we finally made it out of the car and into the house, they could not be contained. Mamie alternated between running in circles and hopping up and down. Maggie had one thing on her mind, and she would not be deterred. Lap time! Maggie insisted I follow her to the big green chair and sit. She promptly jumped into my lap and snuggled in, intermittently reaching over to give my hand a lick or two. The dogs have followed me everywhere since I got home, and it's surprising how welcome I've felt. 

Truthfully, the dogs are excited to see me whether I've been gone seven days or seven hours. Sometimes, I go to the barn without them and, when I get back to the house, you'd think I had been gone a month. They know how to make a woman feel welcome! 

It's not like that everywhere I go, but wouldn't it be nice if it were? Just imagine people being glad to see us every time we entered a room. Imagine keeping an eye out for the new arrival and celebrating their presence. It goes both ways and it makes arrivals much more fun. 

The thing we often forget is how glad God is when we enter His presence. The psalmist said an interesting thing about being in God's presence:

In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever. (Psalms 16:11 NASB)

"Fullness of joy" means everyone present is fully joyful. I guess that means we are glad to be there and He is glad to have us. What a precious welcome our Lord would offer if we would slow down long enough to enter His presence and stay there long enough to share His joy! A Wonder Dog welcome is a fun greeting, but it does not even compare to the greeting of Almighty God. Get still and spend time today with the One who loves you most. Fullness of joy awaits! Don't miss it!



The Persistent Father, part 9:

"Let these words sink into your ears; for the Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men." (Luke 9:44 NASB)

And Jesus said to him, " 'If You can?' All things are possible to him who believes."

And He said to them, "This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer." (Mark 9:23, 29 NASB)

(We missed an important point and are returning to verse 44 to glean it.) 

The word translated as "sink" is one that conveys the idea of laying up or storing. Another way of saying this might be "let My works soak into and through you". Jesus' intent was for the disciples to do more than let His words go in one ear and out the other. He intended for His words to "sink in" and stay there. 

Which words did Jesus want us to store?  All of them. Every word He spoke was given to us with His face looking toward the cross and His eyes focused on eternity. His words were given that we might be prepared for what is to come. This story is also related in Mark's gospel, which included a few more details. I have pulled out a few of those words of Jesus from the Mark passage. First, "all things are possible to him who believes." What does "all" include? Any manner of healing is possible. Some healing will only be accomplished in heaven, but much healing could be accomplished here on earth, if we had the faith to request it. Jesus did not put a limit on the things for which we ask, only that we should ask in the name of Jesus and for the perfect will of the Father. 

Some things "can only come out (or be healed) by prayer (or by prayer and fasting)". This is still true. Perhaps the reason we do not see miracles in our American churches today is that we are not willing to deny ourselves by fasting and praying with intensity. I am not saying that, if your prayer was not answered in the way you wanted, it was because you didn't pray hard enough or long enough. In the end, it is God's will that must be done. Our job is to humble ourselves, repent of our sins, fast and pray. 

This is a hard word for the American church, and it grieves me to say it, but we need to hear it. Let these words sink in and hold to them. Our inability to see the miraculous signs and wonders of God in this country does not mean that God is unable to do miraculous signs or wonders, nor does it mean that they are not happening. According to numerous reports from first-hand observers, the blind are regaining their sight. The deaf are regaining their hearing. The dead are being raised. These miracles are not happening as a result of medical intervention. They are happening in places where there is no medical intervention. You may have heard the saying, "When God is all you have, you learn that He is all you need." It turns out that those words are true, and people in the most remote places on earth can attest to it. They still see God move. Miracles still happen. 

Our job is to know the heart of God and not just the hand of God. When we intimately know the heart of God (faith) by allowing His words to sink in like a gentle summer rain, we, too, may begin to see our prayers answered in ways too marvelous for us to imagine. It all begins with this one thing. Let His words sink in and take root. The fruit they can bear is more marvelous we can imagine. 


Saturday, November 22, 2014

"My people" and the changed heart

My week-long conference ended last night, but too late to drive home. This morning, I was up before dawn, loading the car, saying my goodbyes. I had to fight back tears at leaving people I've so quickly grown to love. It's hard to believe a week could knit strangers together in such a profound way. We ate together, studied together, did homework together, and did chores together. By the end of the course, we had built a community together, as well.  

The amazing thing is that we had also grown to trust each other on a deep level. Much to my surprise, I, who was dead-set against going to do mission work in one of the most dangerous places on earth, voluntarily attended information meetings on a mission deployment and requested an application. 

I meant to go to Nigeria. As I have prayed for needs there, they have become "my people", the kidnapped schoolgirls have become "my girls". I have wept countless tears over the troubles in that precious country. I intended to go to them, and still hope to, but there is a dawning realization that God just might have another plan. It turns out that my fellow students are also "my people". In a very odd turn of events, I don't want "my people" to be deployed without me. 

God is clearly doing an amazing work in this war zone, where the harvest is great and the laborers are few. Those few laborers are scooping up a harvest of souls that is astounding and, truthfully, too good to miss. This particular harvest is one we cannot afford to leave in the fields, and, much to my surprise, I find myself saying, like Isaiah before me, "Here am I, Lord, send me." 

The possibility of actual deployment is months away, and I will be seeking to know God's will. If I go, I will be certain I am supposed to go. What's amazing is how God can change a heart in such a short time. Before I went, I worried about why I might need to bring a helmet. Now, I'm wondering when I can earn a helmet of my own. 

Perhaps you, too, could do with a little heart-change. Does God have a bit of harvest with which you could help? Why not join with me in agreeing with Isaiah? "If there's a need, Lord, send me."

The persistent father, part 8

And they were all amazed at the greatness of God. But while everyone was marveling at all that He was doing, He said to His disciples, (Luke 9:43 NASB)

There were two groups present that day, the crowd and the disciples. The crowd knew His hands. They marveled and were amazed at what they had seen. They delighted in what Jesus could do for them. The disciples were also delighted and amazed by what they had seen, but they had been invited into a greater intimacy with Christ. They delighted in Who He was. 

We will soon see that the disciples did not understand all that Jesus said to them, but they understood that He spoke the words of life. They were willing to leave home and family, livelihood and security to be with Jesus. Following Him became the highest priority in their lives. 

The crowd knew His hands. The disciples knew His heart. That distinction made an eternal difference for those men who followed the Master. The question we must answer is which do we want to know? Christ's hands or His heart? Are we part of the crowd, following to be entertained and to be on the periphery of the miraculous, simply along to eat the loaves and fish? Are we, instead, disciples who want to know the heart of the One who can not only transform our eternal destiny but transform our daily lives? Do we want to follow and obey the One who came to set us free? The difference is of vital importance and we do well to seriously evaluate our commitment. 

Are we disciples or not? Our answer to that simple question makes all the difference, both now and in the life to come. Be sure, dear ones, that you follow the heart, and not merely the hands, of Christ. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

The persistent father, part 7

And they were all amazed at the greatness of God. But while everyone was marveling at all that He was doing, He said to His disciples, "Let these words sink into your ears; for the Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men." (Luke 9:43-44 NASB)

A demon-possessed boy had been dramatically healed. The people were amazed, and rightly so. It was an amazing task. While the people were standing around, talking to each other about all the marvelous things Jesus was doing, He spoke to His disciples about something even more amazing than what they had just seen. The Son of Man who was the Son of God was about to do something utterly breathtaking, something totally incredible. He would be "delivered into the hands of men". The march to the cross was under way, and it was an astounding thing. 

Two thousand years later, the cross has, in some ways, become a decorative item to us. We wear it as jewelry and attach it to household items. This symbol of execution has been diminished by the casual way in which we treat it. The cross was a horrendous thing, made much worse, made unthinkably worse, by the sin Jesus bore in our place. 

Jesus was right. Healing a child is an amazing thing, but the cross is unspeakable in its greatness. If we are amazed by healing, how much more should we be amazed by the cross? We have a tendency to embrace the miracles of healing and feeding, yet reject the miracle of mercy that held our Lord on that cross. That cross is the miracle that gives meaning to all the other miracles. It is the miracle that brings hope and healing to a lost and dying world. 

In this season of thanksgiving, let us focus our attention on the one blessing that supersedes all others. The cross. It purchased our pardon, bought our redemption, set us free. Thank God it did! We are redeemed, but only by the greatness of the work that was done at Calvary. That, dear ones, was a miracle we should never forget!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ministry Choices and the Savings Jar

Some time ago, I received an email from the ministry sponsoring the disaster preparedness course I'm taking this week. God had provided a new training facility and they were thrilled. When you read "new" what do you assume? Yep. Me, too. I anticipated a brand new, sparkling facility in pristine condition.

Imagine my surprise when I found that the "new facility" is actually an old rehabilitation hospital that has been converted to a safe place for families in transition. I was nervous when I had to call a cell phone to be admitted to the building and was given careful instructions about making sure the door is locked behind me if I leave. After I unloaded my car, I quickly learned that the elevator doesn't work, so I carried my absurd amount of luggage up the stairs. The young woman who unlocked the door helped, for which I was very grateful. 

When we arrived at "my" room, I found four sets of mattresses on the floor. There is a bathroom in our room. It comes complete with a shower that works and a toilet that doesn't. The toilet has a pretty bad leak, so a large plastic container has been duct-taped to the side of the toilet to catch the water. Someone comes by periodically to empty the "collection". I'm not sure why, but black plastic and duct tape have been used to completely secure the entire toilet bowl. Only the pipes are exposed. Bold letters on the duct tape announce "Out of order!!! Do not use!!"  As if we could. 

It was raining the evening I arrived. When we toured the kitchen and dining area, two large plastic containers were strategically positioned in the middle of the dining room floor. The ceiling has some serious leak problems. The containers were there to catch the rain water. 

As you might expect, I was, to put it mildly, very surprised. That surprise turned to shock when I learned that the heat doesn't work in this building. We have a space heater in our room. We wear our coats constantly. Sometimes, I take my sleeping bag to class. I'm embracing the chill. 

It was a question of stewardship for me. If God had provided this new facility, why wasn't the ministry stewarding it better? Truthfully, I assumed I knew the answers to that question, and very nearly left for home that first day. I'm glad I didn't. 

It turned out that the sponsoring ministry is a guest in this facility, which belongs to another ministry that is attempting to sell the building. The sponsoring ministry has chosen not to spend donated money on their own facility. Instead, they use the money that is donated to provide ministry for displaced refugees in Iraq. Not only do they provide food and basic medical care for the refugees, they also provide solar-powered Bibles in Arabic or Farsi with enough volume for 200 people to hear, and SIM cards and mini SIM cards for cell phones with the entire Bible, also written in either Arabic or Farsi. They show the Jesus film to groups of Muslims  to whom they have ministered and have found that 85-90% of the Muslims convert to Christianity. The fields are ripe for harvest and they are bathing it in prayer and bringing it in. 

It turns out that the facility issues are not a question of stewardship. They are a question of priority. You see, this ministry could have facilities or souls, but not both. They chose souls. That sounds dramatic, doesn't it? Could they have a nice facility and bring souls to Jesus? Yes, of course, but many of those dollars being spent in bringing people to Jesus would have to be diverted. From which Muslim would you withhold the gospel in order to have extra toilets? From which child would you withhold food in order to have heat? 

Once I understood the facts, I embraced the cold, the leaks, and the mattresses on the floor. It's not so bad, and it gives me great joy to know that my minimal discomfort frees up harvest resources. This is the reason I started a giving jar. This is the reason I've chosen to live to save. It makes a difference. 

The founder of this ministry has arranged for small prefab houses to be shipped to Iraq. A small home can be assembled by two people in thirty minutes and it costs $1500. My class has decided to sponsor one of those houses so that a family can have shelter until a more permanent home can be found. (Remember, the refugees lost their homes because ISIS conquered their town.)  

In case you've forgotten, my saving jar now has $217.76. I had all kinds of ideas about investing in the kingdom of God. It turns out that God had an idea about that money, too. There are displaced families in Erbil who need a roof over their head. The little sacrifices I have made to save this money seem pretty meager in comparison with what they have lost. My little savings jar contents are being added to my group's offering to purchase a prefab house for refugees. 

Do you know the best part of this story? November's not over yet! The savings jar is still in business! 

The persistent father, part 6

While he was still approaching, the demon slammed him to the ground and threw him into a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the boy and gave him back to his father. And they were all amazed at the greatness of God. (Luke 9:42-43 NASB)

Admittedly, it was a very dramatic scenario. The upset father brought his son to Jesus with complaints about the disciples, who had proved inadequate to the need, the demon attacked, the child convulsed, Jesus cast out the demon, healed the child, and returned a whole, healed boy to his loving father. In a matter a moments, a family had their lives turned right side up by the power of Jesus. 

It was an exciting time, and the people were amazed. I love the way this Scripture shares their response. "And they were all amazed at the greatness of God." In the midst of a healing move of God, people focused their eyes on the Almighty, rather than on the demon that had caused the problem in the first place. Despite the demon's dramatic attempt to keep the boy from Jesus, they kept their eyes toward Christ. It was a good thing, as only Christ could impact the situation and heal the child. Only Christ could save him. When He did, everyone was amazed at God's greatness. 

It is appropriate to be amazed when God performs signs and wonders in our midst. It is also appropriate to be amazed by the greatness of God in giving us breath on a minute by minute basis. Every moment that we remain on earth is a miracle of His grace. One day, we will enter eternity in heaven and that, dear friends, is the ultimate miracle of grace and mercy. 

Why is it that we wait to be amazed by a dramatic display of power, yet fail to be amazed by the equally amazing displays of His grace and love that come to us on a daily basis? We must open our hearts and allow God to give us the eyes of Christ to see Him and His works in all their greatness. We who are so unworthy to stand in the presence of the Nazarene should be utterly amazed by His grace. 

As we begin our day, let us unite in asking God to reveal Himself in such a way that we are undone and filled with wonder by His amazing greatness, mercy, and love.