Sunday, August 3, 2014

Something's brewing!  I've been away for a while.  How've you been?  I can't wait to get back into blogging and sharing all the great things God has done over the last two years.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Lessons from The Master Gardener

It's been just over six months since I last posted a blog.  I was (maybe still am) in a funk of sorts--spiritual and otherwise.  I didn't feel I had anything to offer and I was struggling to find my "missionary" self.  When Mike and I first talked about moving to Venezuela over two years ago, I thought the transition would be easy.  After all, there was no question in my mind that God was the one leading us.  So there shouldn't be any problems, right?  Not so.

I felt language school would be somewhat of a comfort.  A good place to get my missionary role on.  It was an academic environment and I have always thrived in academic environments (with the exception of one Vectors Calculus class that is).  But, when I got to Costa Rica, I quickly discovered it was nothing like I expected.  For me, I found it to be more of a spiritual boot-camp.  And I felt I was failing miserably.  So I did what I always do when I feel I'm failing--I pull back and stop trying.  That's the perfectionist part of me.  If I can't do "it" right, I just won't do "it".  Whatever "it" is.

For the last three days, I've spent time in the newly planted garden.  I wanted to get out of my funk and determined that, like it or not, I need some alone time with God and the garden was as good a place as any!  Now mind you, in the weeks prior to arriving in Venezuela and our first Sunday here, the spiritual topic of "gardening" came up three times.  First, I gave a short little talk at graduation on Ecclesiastes 11:4.  I finished by asking three questions:  What are the crops of your life?  How are you using the seed?  Are you wrecking the field in your haste to harvest a crop?  Right after I finished, the speaker (missionary Mike Files) talked about the seeds of our lives--how they're all different and unique.  A little over a week later, we're here and what is the sermon topic?  None other than Matthew 13:3-9 and the parable of the sower!  Now I have to admit I can be a little slow at times, but apparently this lesson needed to be "hands on" for me to finally get IT.

Consider your life like a garden.  God is the Master Gardener and He has plotted very specific seed in very specific locations (times) throughout the garden to get the most effective use of soil conditions, sun, shade, water... all the important things plants need to grow healthy.  But the garden is not perfect and it needs constant attention.

There are weeds trying to overtake the plants.  They're stronger and grow faster than the seeds and will eventually choke out the desired plants if you're not careful to remove them.  We think of weeds as bad things.  Technically though a "weed" is anything that isn't the desired plant!  Grass, for instance, is not generally thought of as a "weed".  Unless you live in a very arid climate, you typically want grass.  Big.  Thick.  Green.  (The kind that makes you feel like you're walking on foam carpet is my favorite.)  Sometimes, other seeds find their way to different parts of the garden.  Or, you have old stuff that wants another go 'round.  If it's not beans, it's got to go!  The important thing is to know exactly what the plant looks like!  If you don't, you'll end up pulling out plants before they get a chance to produce fruit.

Many christians busy themselves doing good things.  Singing in the choir.  Teaching Sunday School.  Volunteering at any number of places.  If you're not doing what God has intended for you to do you're cultivating the grass which looks pretty but won't produce fruit.  You will be content with your life, but you'll miss out on the extraordinary.  In order to do what God has intended -- you must know what that is!!

Water is important, not only for nourishment but also for weeding!  If the soil is wet (not flooded) the weeds are easier to pull roots and all.  At times, the root system is united (like in the case of the grass I was pulling).  There are clumps of weeds spread out all over the garden that are intertwined.  IF you can find the main weed, the others will get yanked right along with it.  Also, when the soil is moist, you've got a better shot at saving the plants whose roots are entwined with the weeds.  However, weeding in moist soil is a messy job!  Not to mention back breaking.

Jesus is the living water.  Without Him.  Without submersing yourself in His word (the bible) you'll dry out.  He is also our strength.

Help is necessary at times.  (Especially when the task is particularly big.)  Sometimes just having a companion to talk with is sufficient.  Other times, sharing the work is beneficial.  But this means you have to help them navigate your garden.  You have to show them the weeds and allow them to work.  (It doesn't mean you give them permission to run rampant through your garden willy-nilly).  The help can be more experienced than you to give you pointers or instruction (for instance, if you don't know what beets look like).  Or, they can be less experienced.  In which case, you're the one giving instructions!  Beware though, negativity can come disguised as "help" (usually in the form of advice or opinion)!

We have to be vulnerable enough to recognize when we cannot do things on our own.  We are not alone in our journey and we can benefit from the wisdom of others who have traveled the same (or a similar) path.  We also have something to offer others -- our experiences and companionship along the same path.  However, Satan doesn't want us to even get started!  "Why bother?"  he says.  "There are too many weeds.  You'll never be able to pull them all.  It will take too much time."  Or what about this one, "It doesn't matter because nothing will grow here anyway.  The seed is bad.  The soil isn't good for that particular fruit."  Blah. Blah. Blah.

I want my response to be "yada yadah" -- to know and be known intimately by God and each other and to give praises to our Lord.  
Blessings to all.
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Friday, April 20, 2012

Jehovah-shalom - The Lord is Peace

WARNING:  The following story may contain some graphic details that might make it difficult for the reader.

Sunday morning Mike and I took the bus to church with our friend and fellow student Josh LaFever.  I took the opportunity to flip through my bible to find a passage of scripture for class devotional Monday morning.  We attend a very small church (Cuidad Belén) just outside San José.  It takes about 10 minutes by taxi - a little more by bus.  The area is known as Calle Blancho (White Road) and it's in a pretty rough part of town.  I had just picked the passage in Judges 6 about Gideon when our bus came upon somewhat of a traffic jam.  A very narrow two lane road with cars parked on both sides--only one lane of traffic getting through.  The bus driver allowed some on coming traffic to go then proceeded forward.  Well, another vehicle realized that it was in the way and had no where to go.  The driver put the car in reverse and backed up--rapidly--then turned (still in reverse) into a grocery store parking lot.  Unfortunately, there was an older man (appeared poor and homeless) walking across the lot at the same time.  He was hit by the car.  He was carrying a fairly large lead pipe in his hand.

**This is where the story gets ugly so proceed with caution**

After impacting this man, 4 young men exit the vehicle (almost as rapidly as the car pulled into the lot).  The trunk came up--possibly to asses the damage, or as a result--and they immediately commenced to beating on this man.  They threw him up against the chain link fence surrounding the lot.  One of them (I think it was the driver) had grabbed the lead pipe and used it as a baseball bat on this man's back.  Other on-lookers decided they need to help, so they ran down the sidewalk to the outside of the fence and beat on the man from the opposite side.  There were several blows and kicks all over his body.  The four stopped for a moment then went back to the car.  The man crawled his way to lay against the retaining wall perpendicular to the fence.  Within seconds, the gang was back on top of him, kicking him, beating his knees with the pipe.  It was awful.  The worst part was the last kick to his lower left side.  He let out a scream that I have never heard come from a human being.  We were on a bus with the engine running (not so quiet) a radio playing, people talking (although not many) and the windows up.  I can't imagine what it would have been like if I'd actually been outside watching the assault.

**Okay, the graphic details are finished**

As the last kick was administered, I took the time to glance back to the store.  The lot was empty, so I thought it wasn't opened yet.  And to my horror, I see a security guard with at least a half dozen on lookers standing in the doorway!  I didn't say anything else--just sat in my seat and cried.  The bus driver explained to us that these were just a bunch of bad kids.  It didn't help.  The incident happened only a few blocks from church so when we got there I was still upset.  All through worship I couldn't help but weep for this man.  For the violence done to him and for the four who seemingly had no respect for his life.  I kept thinking that somebody could have done something to stop them... I also couldn't help but think that this might be a glimpse of how God must feels watching His creation, the evil choices it makes and the consequences.

So what does this have to do with Gideon?  Well, during his day, the Midianites were treating the Israelites almost as brutally as this gang of four treated the older man.  Midianites would take all the crops, kill all the animals and essentially leave the Israelites with nothing.  One day, Gideon was preparing some wheat in a place that was hidden away--hoping to keep it from the Midianites.  The Lord finds Gideon and tells him God is with him and that he is a "mighty man of valor".  Gideon's response is a sarcastic--if-you're-with-me-how-come-we're-in-this-mess.  God tells Gideon to "go in this might" and save Israel.  "You've got to be kidding!" was essentially Gideon's response.  His family was one of the poorest / weakest of all Israel and he is the youngest in their family.  (So you see God, there are way more qualified Israelis than I...)  But God assures Gideon again that He will be with him and he will free Israel.  Gideon is still not quite so sure so he asks for "proof" it's really the Lord talking to him.  Later he built an alter (to remember) and called it Jehovah-shalom "The Lord is Peace."

ONE MAN answered God's call and found assurance in Jehovah-shalom.  God's peace (wholeness and harmony) gave Gideon the strength to move forward.  Some of the most critical moments in history came about because a single man (or woman) had the courage to say "Yes Lord."  Edmond Burke once said "When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."

You might recognize the simpler variations: All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

I don't advocate making rash decisions--even if I was off the bus, I don't know that I could (or would) have intervened.  I think there is a slight difference between courage and stupidity.  However, I'm glad that Pastor Ricardo and Beatriz have hearts to change lives in the community.

I believe God created each of us with a special mission in mind.  Jeremiah 29:11 says, "I know the plans I have for you says the Lord..."  and earlier, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I set you apart.  I appointed you as prophet to the nations" (1:5).  May you feel the complete wholeness and harmony of God's peace with you always.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Adonai - Lord, Master

     As I start this blog, I am bedside next to my mother-in-law, Eileen.  Doctors diagnosed her two years ago with double lung cancer and gave her a 15% chance of making it through 6 months of chemotherapy.  A little over two weeks ago, Mike and I flew back from Costa Rica because it didn't look like she would make it through the weekend.  While her condition is all over the board, and we were prepared to "let her go" without seeing her again, I am not sorry we're here.  There have been some very precious moments spent with her and she still manages to make us laugh through the tears.  She has been a formidable lady over the years and such an example to me.  I am so thankful God brought me into this family.

     I met Eileen more than 14 years ago, and what struck me most is how she welcomed me as one of her own.  And that's how she was with everybody it seems.  Eileen didn't have "casual friends".  There were people she worked with from years ago she spoke fondly of.  Family is a priority to her--parents, siblings, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces and nephews.  You get the idea.

    Even more, the spiritual well-being of her family concerns her.  And she's not afraid to let you know about it either!  She loves Jesus with all her heart, with all her mind, and with all her soul and she did her best to lean on Him during the difficult times.  She wasn't a saint, and she'd tell you that herself if she could.  But who isn't hard to get along with at times?  It was because if this concern (and a desire not to get on my mother-in-law's bad side) we are missionaries today.  All the good things we get to do started because one day she grabbed me by my chin (squeezing my cheeks so I wouldn't miss one word of what she was about to tell me) and told me (in a nutshell) I was being selfish and not considering my family (particularly my step-son, Jon) when I said "I don't need church to have God".  The reality was, I said that as a cover--I didn't have any kind of relationship with God--other than to believe He existed.

  "Adonai" is possessive plural noun translated "Lord and Master".  The plural recognizes the trinity (Father, Spirit, Son).  The possessive displays ownership (of everything in creation).  In my opinion, it's probably the most important name of God.  God has many characteristics (or names)--provider, sanctifier, healer, etc.  Before you can know God as these characteristics, you must know Him as the Lord and Master over your life.  For example, you cannot fully trust Him to provide your every need unless you believe "heaven and the highest heavens belong to the Lord your God, also the earth and all that is in it" (Deuteronomy 11:14).

     Moving from knowing (or believing) there is a God to knowing Him as Adonai (Lord and Master) is a difficult journey.  (Matthew 7:21 reads, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord.' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.")  It requires giving up your independence to be a little god, controlling everything.  Jesus was the first man who fought for His independence from God.  On the contrary, He stayed on complete communion with God.  
                 Matthew 10:40 "He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him    
                                            who sent me."
                 John 7:16 "My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me."
                 John 7:29 "...And He who sent Me is with Me.  The Father has not left Me alone, for I always
                                    do those things that please Him."
There are other references, but I think you get the idea.

     In order to really have the kind of relationship with our Lord that He intended (constant fellowship like in the Garden of Eden), you must surrender your entire being to Him.  Every second of every minute of every hour of every day.  This is still difficult for me, but it's easier today than it was when I started the journey.  That's what I call "progress."  Keep striving.  And if you don't know God personally (have never taken that step to tell Jesus you want to live for Him) I would encourage you to take that step of faith.  God wants to share life with you.  To spend eternity with you.  But, you have to make the choice.


Saturday, March 3, 2012

Jehova-raphe: The Lord who Heals

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I used to question God's existence by pointing to all the "bad" situations in the world.  "How could God allow... ?"  "What good comes from... ?"  Fill in your blank.  It was extremely difficult for me to believe in a loving caring God who would permit any harm to come to his children.  To me.

And it made me bitter.  Much like the Israelites when they escaped Egypt.

The story in Exodus plays out--God wants Pharaoh to allow the Israelites to leave and go to "the promised land."  Pharaoh is stubborn and refuses (he doesn´t want to lose his labor force), so God sent ten plagues (pretty nasty stuff too) to help him change his mind.  When the Israelites left, God parted the Red Sea so they could cross on dry land.   They watched God perform Miracle after miracle.  They were singing and dancing and all out praising God for His deliverance...

                              Who is like you among the gods, O LORD—
                              glorious in holiness, awesome in splendor,
                              performing great wonders? (v.11)

                              With your unfailing love you lead
                              the people you have redeemed.  In your might,
                              you guide them to your sacred home. (v.13)

For a day or so.

They couldn't find water and they were getting thirsty and discouraged.  And when things seemed to be at their worst, they found an oasis!  But there was a problem--it was too bitter and they couldn´t drink it!  Then they started grumbling and complaining to Moses so he prayed again, asking for God´s help.  And He came through, showing Moses how to use a particular wood that made the water drinkable.  He tells His people

                             If you will listen carefully to the voice of the
                             LORD your God and do what is right in his
                             sight, obeying his commands and keeping all
                             his decrees, then I will not make you suffer any
                             of the diseases I sent on the Egyptians;
                             for I am the LORD who heals you. (v.26)

The obvious interpretation is that God will take away all the physical ailments of His people, but the very first entry in Webster´s Dictionary (online version) for heal is "to make sound or whole".  Without God, we are not complete.  He doesn´t keep pain away--physical or emotional--because we live in a broken world and humans have free will.  We can make choices which will hurt others to varying degrees and God does not intervene because He loves us and He wants us to love Him.  But not through coercion.

That only makes sense right?  I mean in "real life" we want people to choose to love us.  Love us for who we are--good bad and ugly.  Well, since God created us in His image, you can start to understand why He doesn't step in right now and stop all the bad things from happening.  (Because, one day He will, you know.  But I'll keep that for a different day.)  So instead, He promises healing and restoration for when the bad things happen.  The challenge is for you to accept it.

For those of you with physical illnesses...God is still a God who restores physical health.  However, I believe that no matter what, He wants your life to glorify Him regardless of whether He takes away the infirmity.  A friend of ours here shared with us that he was born with a pretty severe case of asthma.  He never went anywhere without an inhaler and couldn't play sports.  He prayed for years for God to heal him and felt like his prayers were not answered.  When he reached his teens, he had pretty much given up and started to believe God wasn't listening or didn't care.

One night he debated about going to a youth service at his church.  "Why bother?" was his question.  He did end up going and that night the pastor's wife told him it was "his night".  He left that service and has not had to have an inhaler since.

Don't ever give up on God because He is working to bring about His purpose for all mankind.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

El Elyon: The God Most High

Another characteristic of God is His sovereignty.  He is the ruler of the universe--Daniel 4:34(b)-35 read, "For His dominion is an everlasting dominion.  As his kingdom is from generation to generation.  All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth.  NO ONE CAN RESTRAIN HIS HAND OR SAY TO HIM, 'WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?'"

This is a tough one for people to grasp (to be honest, sometimes it's still hard for me).  No matter what happens here, there is a story being played out in the heavens and God's purpose is being fulfilled at this very moment.  Even though millions of unborn babies are being aborted; hundreds of thousands of women and children are slaves to sex trafficking; and countless other tragic situations (physical and sexual abuse in families, alcohol and drug addictions, starvation, infertility...) GOD REIGNS!  Whether you act like it or not.  Whether you believe in Him or not.  The end has already been written.

His sovereignty also guarantees Satan is completely under God's control.  As children, many of us where taught that God and the Devil were "opposites" -- like hot and cold, tall and short, good and bad -- implying they also shared similar powers but used them for different purposes.  This is not so.  The story of Job assures us God will sometimes allow Satan to "test" His children, but only for a time, only for His glory, and only under limits He sets.  Careful not to misunderstand me here.  I am not saying every bad thing that happens to people is a personal attack from Satan.  Many times, we're just living with the consequences of our choices.  God is not an absent God.  He did not set the world in motion then back off.  We can rest assured no matter what we are going through God is constant, in control and is the Rx for our suffering!  He loves me enough to allow difficult times to strengthen my faith.  (And if I don't pass the test the first time, He's faithful to give me a do-over.)

God's sovereignty means that He's bigger than the particular challenge you're facing.  If it's His will, He'll make it happen.  While there are many examples I could use, one in particular stands out as an example in my life of God's sovereignty over the timing of my life and death...  But before I begin, I must make a clarification of an earlier statement.  At the end of my last post, I said that we were in Costa Rica and "debt free".  That is true for the most part, but I didn't consider a student loan which I am still obligated to pay to our federal government.  (We have personal resources covering the payment, so I hope this explains the oversight.)  This loan is the focus of my story.

Just under two years ago when Mike and I considered a move to Venezuela, we researched our options.  We were familiar with the Assemblies of God World Missions program, so we investigated their qualifications.  We didn't think we would be able to qualify because of the limit placed on the amount of personal debt missionaries can have (and rightly so).  After much prayer we submitted our application.  We believed somehow God would manage to take care of the "problem" if He wanted us in Venezuela.  A few weeks after submitting our applications we receive an email from our representative asking me how we were going to get under the limit.  We presented our plan for paying off all unsecured debt and two out of three student loans.  Explaining there would be a single student loan left.

I presented my argument for approval, but I was told that a "waiver" would not be an option.  We needed to pay it off, get the payment below the threshold, or find some other way.  We received the last communication on a Tuesday.  Needless to say, I was frustrated.  I remember venting to Mike and him responding that I just need to give it over to God.  (Easier said than done.)  So I took the rest of the week to "think" about how I was going to respond.  (This is code for "stewing in frustration".)  Sunday morning Pastor Patrick Tanton preached a sermon out of Mark on Blind Bartemaeus (10:46-52).  It was exactly what I needed to hear.

For those of you who don't know the story, Bartemaeus was hanging out in the city square in Jericho.  Jesus was passing through on his way to Jerusalem where He would be crucified.  Bart heard Jesus was coming through and because he couldn't see, he started shouting out--trying to get Jesus' attention.  Everyone around him was yelling at him trying to make him be quiet and not cause a scene.  This only made Bart shout louder.  Jesus heard him and approached.  When He got to Bart, Jesus asked him a strange question, "What do you want me to do for you?"

To you and I, the answer seems obvious--Bart wanted Jesus to heal him.  Why else would he have waited around and risked public ridicule?  Which begs the question: why did Jesus have to ask?  Well the gist of Pastor Patrick's message was pretty simple, but yet profound.  Jesus asked the question because Bart needed to speak the answer.  It was a test of his faith.  As I sat listening to the message, I was lost by the fact that sometimes we fail to ask and just presume God knows what we want and will give it to us.  That night I was lying in bed still contemplating the mountain.  I heard Pastor's words again, "Sometimes we just need to speak it."  So I did.  I said out loud, "God, I don't know what you're going to do about my student loan, but the problem is yours if you want us to get to Venezuela."  I slept peacefully that night.

The next day, I was checking the status of our application online and noticed we were given a "green light" under credit approval.  I was perplexed--what had transpired over the course of a few days?  I scrolled down and noticed a message.  As I read it, I couldn't believe my eyes.  Only days after my previous correspondence, the powers-that-be had met and discussed the debt threshold limit and decided it was time to raise it--


God is sovereign and His timing is perfect.  I don't know what struggles you are going through now, but I can promise you if your faith remains strong, God will be glorified in the end.  Regardless of the outcome.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Jehova-jireh: God will Provide

In the Old Testament, Israelites would use different names to describe God's character.  Most of the time, it was as a result of the Lord meeting a need.  One of His many names is Jehova-jireh and it means God will provide.  The first place you find it used is in the story of Abraham being told by God to go sacrifice his son Isaac (Gen. 22).  At the very last second, God provided an animal for Abraham to substitute instead.  The story is a great illustration of how God responds to a faithful servant.

This past year God has proven himself "Provider" over and over again.  Even in the little things.  When He showed himself in such ways, at times I was completely amazed by what He had done!  I literally would smile at just how awesome He was and what He accomplished...  Mike would laugh and say, "Why are you so amazed?  You should expect it!"  And he's right--I should have expected it.  Sometimes, it takes me a while to learn.

There are some who believe in random events and coincidences.  I am not one of them.  There is a saying, "Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous."  I don't believe God wants to remain anonymous.  I believe He wants to work in our lives and He wants us to know (under no uncertain terms) that it is He who is working!  He wants to dazzle you.  He wants to move mountains for you!  He wants to become the desire of your heart to give you the desires of your heart!

I ended the last post with a "cliff hanger" of sorts.  Mike and I had closed on our home and were supposed to be moved out by the end of January 2010.  It gave us about three months to find a place to rent.  Mind you, we were looking over the Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year's holidays and we set ourselves on a pretty tight budget.  (Not to mention a missions trip to Venezuela and two weeks in Washington thrown in the mix.)  To complicate matters, we had a pregnant pup!  Yep, our dog, Jasmine, gave birth to a littler of 9 puppies three days after Christmas. We had some connections in the rental industry, so we thought we wouldn't have any problems.  Just over one week before our deadline and we still didn't have a place to go.  We never stopped to consider the effect the housing market crash had on the rental industry!

Mike was calm--he said God would answer our prayer and we would find the place He wanted us to be.  (I am a little ashamed to admit, I did not approach the problem with his confidence!  I figured I needed to help Him along...)  When all other avenues seemed exhausted, Mike got a phone call from a friend to look at a possible kitchen remodel.  The house was in downtown Colorado Springs.  When he got there to look at the place, he learned the house was a rental and had suffered a water leak in the basement.  (The carpet had been torn up and the owner said she wanted it replaced and the kitchen updated before renting again.)   This was exactly the kind of place we were looking to rent--location and all!  We made a phone call and talked with the owner.  We told her we wanted to move in immediately and could care less wether the kitchen was updated and we would prefer to leave the carpet out!

For us, it feels like God always waits until the "last minute" to act.  But His timing is absolutely perfect!  The best part of the story....  Right around Christmas 2008, my sister-in-law, Denise, were downtown to look at all the nicely decorated houses--one was a block away from the rental.  We prayed around the neighborhood for God to give Mike and I direction and show us what He wanted us to do!

The fact is, the only way we are here in Costa Rica, debt-free, is because God made it happen!