Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Teacakes that Changed the World

Friday Night Jam was great fun last night. Some of the people I love most in the world were there, and we had time to catch up a little. Conversation went pretty far afield, as was evident from the searches still open on my phone this morning. Breathalyzer calibration. How often to clean a Glock. Lottie Moon. 

I saw that odd combination and laughed. I'll save breathalyzer calibration and Glock maintenance for another day. Today, we're talking about Lottie Moon.

The picture is of my grandmother, Vera Benson Thaxton. She dearly loved Lottie Moon. In case you don't know, Lottie Moon was a missionary to China in the last 1800's. The Southern Baptist Christmas Mission offering is named after her.

My grandmother loved that mission offering. She saved "for Lottie Moon" all year long. Because every dollar goes to the missionaries, she felt like every cent she saved helped bring a child to Jesus. (And it does) 

Lottie Moon was mentioned so often when I was growing up that she seemed like a distant member of my family. Last night, I realized that not everyone's quite as familiar with her.

Lottie was born on a Virginia plantation in 1840 to wealthy parents. She was well educated, and worked as a teacher during the Civil War. In 1872, her sister, Edmonia, went to China as a missionary. The next year, Lottie joined her. Edmonia returned to the states because of illness, but Lottie continued as a missionary in China for 39 years. 

She learned the Chinese language, adopted the Chinese dress, and loved the Chinese people. She lived open-handed, ready to share with anyone in need. 

One of her best weapons of evangelism was home-baked teacakes. 

The aroma of baking cookies drifted out of her open door and drew the children to her. Their parents soon followed. The cookies gave her an opportunity to share Jesus, and hundreds of people came to Christ because of her efforts.

Lottie Moon was a pioneer in the missionary movement. She sent long, handwritten letters home, detailing her life as a missionary, and urged the people back home to share in her work through their resources. 

Her efforts resulted in the Lottie Moon Christmas offering, which has raised millions of dollars for direct support of missionaries. ($154 million in 2013 alone)

Lottie Moon, who died more than 100 years ago, had a profound impact on the missionary effort of her time. What amazes me is the reach her life still has. My grandmother was deeply impacted by the life of a woman she never knew, and, as a result, my life was impacted, as well.

I don't bake teacakes as an evangelism tool, but I've used everything from hot dogs roasted on an open fire to hayrides to children's games to create an opening to share Christ. 

Dr. Luke used his skill as a physician to support the apostle Paul. Peter used the skills he learned as a fisherman to fish for men. (Cast the net wide and keep pulling until you have the catch in the boat.) Matthew's skills in accounting and record-keeping, learned as a tax collector, helped him write a detailed account of Jesus' life.

One person, totally committed to Christ, can make a bigger, and longer-lasting, impact than we can possibly imagine.

Lottie changed the world with teacakes. 

You and I can be used to change the world, too, if we're willing. What has God placed in your hands that might open the door for someone to meet Christ? 

Today, let's open our hands and allow God to use all He's placed there to help bring a dark and lonely world to Christ. 

He might change the world through you, if you'll let Him.

"Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" Then I said, "Here am I. Send me!" Isaiah 6:8
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: Next Steps in Discipleship
#disciple #missions #lottiemoon #Jesus

Friday, June 24, 2016

Next Steps in Discipleship

The photo above was made from the Mount of Olives. From that vantage point, you can see the walled city of Jerusalem. It's a beautiful view and one Jesus surveyed many times from his mountain-top prayer retreat. I imagine he spent time talking with Our Father about His progress with His recalcitrant people.

I wonder if there was even a sliver of hope that mankind might embrace the Messiah and turn back to God. Was there a teeny-tiny chance that Jesus could avoid the cross? I consider my own bent toward sin and know that there was not.

The Cross was Jesus' "next step" in the redemption of mankind. The Ten Commandments hadn't saved us. Jesus wrapped in flesh didn't save us. Not alone, it didn't. The next step was for our Flesh-Wrapped God to sacrifice Himself, and conquer sin and death on the cross. It was why He came, and He knew, all along, that it must be done.

That "next step" must have weighed heavy on His heart, every day, as He walked and talked, ate and laughed with His disciples. Yet, He did it. 

He loved us despite the fact that loving us meant He would suffer unbearable pain, die an ignominious death, fight our most impossible battle. 

He did it because there was no other way to save us. He did it because of what was on the other side of that terrible step. Redemption. Freedom. Hope.

My pastor has been preaching a series on "next steps" that have focused on taking the "next step" in our faith. Beginning a daily time of Bible study. A more focused prayer life. Joining a small group for study. It was designed to help us take one step closer to Christ, to deepen our faith.

I, who "journal" every day on the blog, was challenged to pick up my pen and paper journal to begin "journaling" again. When I opened the journal I first began using in 2011, I was surprised to see that one of my first steps toward a daily blog was taken with that little pink journal. Handwritten daily writings were a discipline that made computer-written daily writings much easier.

At the time, it was a little step for me. I have a big stack of journals that have been filled over the years, but I had neglected that discipline for quite some time. In 2011, resuming it was my next step. More than 460,000 views later, I'm glad I did. 

The Christian life is not intended to be a stagnant list of do's and don'ts. It's a journey of discipleship, of becoming more like Jesus. He, who took one next step after another on the journey to the cross, deserves no less than a steady progression in our faith.

We will never have a "next step" as difficult as the cross, but we will have next steps that take us outside our comfort zone, challenge us, maybe even frighten us. 

What's your next step? 

Participation in organized Bible study? An accountability partner? Daily prayer and meditation time? Volunteering with a local ministry effort? Sharing your faith with someone who needs Christ?

Today, let's ask God what that next step of faith should be, and take it. 

The only thing that compares with the joy of salvation is the utter delight of daily abandoning ourselves to the will and leading of God. The life of a disciple is the best life of all. Take another step and see. 

"Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes  to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." Matthew 16:27 nasb
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's blog post by Robby Rowland: Comforted to Comfort
#disciple #Jesus #Christianliving

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Comforted to Comfort

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Almost two years ago my family and I started down the road of adoption.  

I can still remember it very vividly; it was about 10am on a Tuesday morning. I bent over to help one of the kids with a craft.  I had done this literally hundreds of times; we have been doing ministry at one of the orphanages in the country where we serve for about eight years.  

I had seen hundreds of kids and felt true compassion for them, but today was different.  It was a new call from a very familiar Voice!  A voice that began to call me to HIMSELF about 24 years ago, a voice that is unmistakable, a Voice that often calls us to places and tasks that we are very uncomfortable with.  

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. John 10:27  

At first, even for a week or two, I kept this to myself and prayed extremely hard about this calling.  You see, our two girls were almost grown, about to leave home.  Felesha and I would have time to maybe do some things we hadn't done in our earlier years of marriage. For example, we might have some extra time, extra money, for missions.  

This didn't seem to fit into the plan I had at all! Adopting a special needs child with very severe behavioral issues?  When I finally got up the nerve to tell Felesha and the girls about this, well, let's just say shock is an understatement! But, within days, even hours, our family began to have a peace that passes all understanding about this hopeful adoption. 

For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. 9  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your waysand My thoughts than your thoughts.  Isaiah 55:8-9  

HIS plans are so indescribably better than we could ever imagine.  

The things HE has already taught me about HIMSELF through this adoption process are worth more to me than can be valued.  I wish I could tell you that we went home, had some fund raisers, came back, got the little one, and are living happily ever after!  But thats just not the case. 

We have been in a literal battle from day one for the life of this child. Evil doesn't give up its prisoners easily.  For over two years, we have fought through courts, health problems, paperwork, financial problems, waiting periods, more waiting periods, and countless battles of the spiritual aspect.  

I can testify that HE has been unspeakably faithful each step, every second, of every day!  Through days of joy, and days of tears, HE has given us a peace that passes all understanding and joy unspeakable!  We hope to some day bring this little one home, hopefully in maybe six to seven months.  

We would certainly appreciate your prayers for us, and especially for our little one.  We cant mention names or places at this time because of court processes and adoption privacy issues.  

One of the main lessons of the many HE has and is teaching me through all this is:  When I was lost and spiritually orphaned; unaware, uncaring, uninterested, undeserving, and without the least bit of hope or hunger for HIM, HE was working, calling, divinely weaving my life to bring me to HIMSELF.”  He adopted me into HIS family at just the right time for HIS glory!  

As we go through our short lives I would encourage you, as well as myself, to be living as pilgrims on this earth.  One step of faith toward HIS calling voice leads to another, then another, then another . . . all our obedience in following HIM is linked together like a perfect tapestry woven by the Masters Hand. People may not live what they confess, but they will live what they truly believe.

Deliver those who are drawn toward death and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter. 12 If you say, Surely we did not know this, Does not He who weighs the hearts consider it?  He who keeps your soul, does He not know it?  And will He not render to each man according to his deeds?  Proverbs 7:11-2
Our guest blogger is Robby Rowland. He's youth pastor/associate pastor at Pine Grove Baptist Church in Hickory Flat, MS.
FYI (this from Leanna): 
The Rowlands are trusting God to provide, as He always has, for this adoption. As you might expect, however, international adoptions are very expensive. If you're interested in helping with the Rowlands' adoption expenses, their church adoption account is tax deductible and they get 100% of the donation. Write "Rowland Adoption" in the "for" line of your check and mail to Pine Grove Baptist Church, 6777 Hwy 5, Hickory Flat, MS 38633
In case you missed it (there was a problem with the link) here's a working link to yesterday's guest post by Jon Ginn: Living to Worship
#adoption #disciple 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Living to Worship

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Romans 12:1 (ESV)

Yesterday I was reminded again that true worship is not a collection of songs or simply giving praise with our lips. These are good things but by themselves they don’t amount to much and can even be offensive to God if we are not backing them up by how we live our lives each day. 

Jesus quoted this scripture to the religious folks of His day:

"'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” 
Matthew 15:8-9

In other words worship songs, Bible study, Sunday School lessons and sermons without a connected relationship with God are meaningless. It’s simply playing church by finding the best way to “entertain” those in attendance. Serving God is so much more than a song or a sermon.

When we look at Romans 12:1 we see the word “therefore” at the beginning of the verse before the directive. If you have spent any time at all under a good Bible teacher you have been taught you need to know what the “therefore” is there for. We look at the verses preceding it and in this case the last verse of chapter 11 gives us a great reason for living out a life of worship.

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.
Romans 11:36 (ESV)

Very simply put, we were created from Him, through Him and to Him. We are His. 

We were made to glorify Him. 

Ours should be a life of continual gratitude if for no other reason than the fact that we owe our very existence to Him. If He never did another thing for us that would be enough to shout, but praise God He gave us so much more through Jesus! 

May our worship be more than the words of a song this week.

Psalm 34:1

The picture, above, is of the Coliseum in Rome, where believers literally presented their bodies as living sacrifices, all for the entertainment of the masses.
Jon Ginn, worship leader at Hope Church in Tupelo, MS, is our guest blogger today. He's blogged for us before. In case you missed it, here's the link: Golden, Medicinal Words

Mary Evans Ervin wrote the story of her all to missions for our guest blog yesterday. Here's the link: Just a Regular Person
#worship #disciple #JonGinn

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Just a Regular Person

Wow! They are so awesome! 

I could never do that. 

They must be just perfect people to be missionaries! 

And on and on in the same thread. I heard the Great Commission from Matthew 28: "Go and make disciples of all nations" often, and was glad to have met the people who did just that, because I knew it didn't mean me.

Those were my words and thoughts, maybe when I was aged 9 or maybe even 12. My family was one of those who went to church regularly, every time the doors were open. My brother and I were taken, not sent. From time to time we had visiting missionaries and if we were really lucky we got to host them for a meal or maybe even for a couple nights.

And now, I am a missionary. 

It is not something I ever planned, dreamed of, or even considered. I'm just a regular person, not overflowing with theology or words of ministry. I'm just me. 

I am not amazing and I'm far from being perfect, but God took my husband and me as we were, and molded our hearts to leave our security and normal lives. We each said "Here am I, send me" (Isaiah 6:8) and were ready to follow Him. And our lives changed in ways we never imagined!

Let me regress many years to early adulthood, nursing school, a full time job, a single life to live. It still included church and God, just not so regularly. 

Later on I was blessed to marry my wonderful husband and, together, our faith grew as we got more involved in church and in small groups. Life was good: we had stable jobs that we liked, travelled when possible, lived close to family and friends, and were completely content. 

We thought we were where we would stay until retirement.

God was watching just as He always is. I believe He was probably scheming, and maybe even chuckling, at the things we said. He knew what was next, and was slowly preparing us. We were totally unaware, just as anyone should be before any big surprise.

One Sunday someone announced a planning meeting for an upcoming mission trip, maybe to China. I was quite interested, since China was on my dream list, and a week or two sounded just right for a mission trip. China didn't work out for us that year, but we did get to go to Uganda. I was hooked then, and thought how great it would be if I could return yearly to show a relationship to the people. But no, that wasn't His plan, either. 

In the meantime, both of my parents passed away, and grief took a while to work through. The only true peace I had was knowing they were with Jesus, and I would get to see them again in Heaven. I know in my heart that God knew our bond, and His plan was to wait until they were both gone to ask me to go.

Time went on, we continued in our normal activities of life, I went on a couple more short term mission trips to various places, while Rick had no desire to go at all. Until... I was finally going to get to go to China and, through works of God, Rick felt led to go, too. The trip was only a month or so away, and was a bit expensive for something so sudden. 

I had been saving for an Alaskan cruise for our 10th anniversary. We felt the mission trip would be a better reason to use the money. (I have never been on that cruise, and my heart still yearns for the opportunity, but I have accepted that I likely never will.) We went, joining a group from Memphis, to give medical/nursing care, veterinary care, and do some agricultural work, all the while looking for openings to share God's word and love. 

China is not a Christian nation and it is not legal to worship God, even in a private home. We knew going in that the almost 1,000 Bibles in Chinese that we took in would be confiscated if found, but the way was clear when we entered the country.

While in China Rick and I worked in different locations and barely saw each other the entire time. As we got into the van to take us to the first airport, we each told the other that we needed talk. 

God had convicted both of us to give our lives completely to Him, and go on the mission field full time. It was such a certainty to us that, in His still, small voice, He called, and we answered yes. He didn't take us to China. He did a bit of a bait and switch, and led us to Nicaragua, a country we love so much.

So, we are just normal people, living in a country we love, serving a God we love, speaking a language we can't completely master, and wearing the title of missionaries. 

We rejoice daily that we were called to step out of the boat, sell everything, and move to this poverty stricken country to share His love in everything we say and do. 

We must ask for donations to support us, live in a house without air conditioning, survive without a microwave, experience cultures that seem odd to us, have water, electricity, and Internet sometimes but we wouldn't have it any other way. 

God is love, He is good, He has his eyes on us always, and we pray that we are just where He wants us to be for the rest of our lives. 

John 15:16 says "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit--fruit that will last." That is our goal, the Bible verse that defines our mission here in Nicaragua.
Mary (a registered nurse), and her husband, Rick Irvin (a veterinarian) live and serve Christ in Nicaragua. For more information, comment below or message me. 
#misssions #disciple, MaryRickIrvin, Nicaragua

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Activity Bowl

Ryan was coming home for several days, and I could hardly wait. I was busy for a week with cooking, cleaning, and landscaping. The list of things to do and meals to cook when he was home was so long, it was impossible to accomplish.

I couldn't decide what fun things we should do or when we should do them. Finally, I hit upon a solution for my 23-year old son that was so silly, it was bound to work. 

I took strips of colored paper and wrote one activity on each of the blue pieces of paper, one breakfast menu on each of the white slips, and one lunch on each of the red slips. I put them all in the bowl and shuffled them. Every evening, Ryan would pull one from each color to decide what we'd do the next day.

When I showed Ryan his "choices bowl", he laughed and shook his head, but played along. The first slip he pulled was "paddleboat ride". He grinned. "This was a good idea, after all."

Those silly slips gave Ryan a tiny surprise every day, and gave me a sense of order about the meal preparation. We had a grand time. Not only did we have fun activities, but we also had opportunities for Ryan to learn new skills. Bake bread. Make salsa. Take soil samples from the garden. Go fishing. Hike the Tanglefoot Trail.

A "to do" list might have made some of the activities seem like drudgery, but the slips made it all fun.

In a way, God has a "to do" list for us, too. He has plans for us that are good, but He's not the plan-police. God provides daily opportunities for service, for learning, for worship. It's up to us to accept them.

Every day, we have a fresh opportunity to continue along the path God has for our lives. Every day, we have a fresh opportunity to approach life with zeal and passion, to live in obedience to His ways.

This is almost unbelievable, but the success or failure of God's plan is up to us. Will we choose to follow it, or will we choose our own way? 

Today, let's choose God's ways, God's plans. Let's follow where He leaves. Love whomever He brings our way. Worship Him with more than words. Let's worship Him with our acts of obedience, as well.

"For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." Ephesians 2:10 esv
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: Fathers: Heavenly and Earthly

#Mondaymeditation #goodworks #disciple

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Fathers: Heavenly and Earthly

Fathers will be the main topic in the news on this Fathers' Day. Already, I've seen the results of an AAP study on the importance of fathers in the lives of children. In a nutshell, the study said that fathers are more involved in the lives of their children than ever more. Fathers are deeply concerned about the time they spend at work and away from their children. Fathers make a bigger difference in the lives of their children than most people realize.

I was surprised there was money to fund this study. The findings seemed nothing more than would be expected, but apparently not everyone understands. Fathers are important.

Jesus spoke often of His Heavenly Father and, in John 10:30 said, "I and the Father are one."

The word translated as father is "pat─ôr". This word is used 415 times in the New Testament, indicating both heavenly father and earthly father. Blue Letter Bible provides such rich insights that I've decided to share just a few today.

A father is more than a male ancestor. The word literally means "nourisher, protector, upholder." A father is "one who has infused his own spirit into others, who actuates and governs their minds," "one who takes charge of the interests of others."

The role of a father is a heavy responsibility, for our earthly fathers stand as a flesh-and-blood example of our Heavenly Father. It's a hard job, one in which mere humans are destined to fail.

Fathers, take heart. Our Heavenly Father is more than able to demonstrate His great love for us, even when you stumble and fall.

Children of fathers, offer grace to those who've stumbled and thanks to those who've done their very best. 

Today, be sure to express gratitude for the role of your earthly father, for he has infused his spirit into yours, but don't forget to thank your heavenly Father, too. 

Jesus described Our Father as loving, kind, generous, forgiving, involved in the intimate details of our lives. He listens to us, and He responds, every time we call upon Him.

"Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" Matthew 6:26 esv

Today, look outside at the birds. You'll not see a skinny, underfed bird among them. Our Heavenly Father provides for their every need, and they know it. 

Take heart in that truth. He sees, He loves, He provides. 

We have a Good Father who loves us, and always will. He's the kind of Daddy who takes delight in His children. 

Today, let's honor fathers everywhere, but especially the Father who loves us most.

Happy Fathers' Day, Abba.
In case you missed these, here are the links to a couple more posts about fathers:
The Value of a Life: We are Deeply Loved
Teach us to Pray: Our Father Aba-na

#FathersDay #fathers #abba