Monday, December 25, 2006

The First Missionaries

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest,and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. (Luke 2:8-18)

The first missionaries about the Messiah were not the apostles, and missions didn't start at Pentecost. Instead, God chose a simple group of people to carry His message that was heralded by angels.

God could have had the angels proclaim the birth of Christ throughout the world. He could have let everyone see the glorious light and the shining star. Yet He chose to reveal truth to a few, who would spread the word to so many more.

The shepherds were no different than you and I, really. Simply people who were recipients of revelation - and they passed that revelation on to others.

"And all who heard it wondered".

Continue to pass along to others what has been revealed to you!!!!

A Filthy Christmas

Think about the filthiest, dirtiest home you've ever visited (or can imagine). Rotten floors, bugs, waste on the floor...completely unhealthy, unclean, and disgusting. You probably couldn't wait to get out the door and take a shower - a completely understandable response.

And yet Jesus came into a sinful world, where our best efforts at righteousness were like menstrual rags...unclean in the eyes of a holy God. Compared to the glory He had with the Father in heaven, sinful humanity can only be described as "disgusting".

Yet He came ... not just to live among the squalor but to transform it!

Missions is the task of telling others about this transformation. Yet some will not see the beauty in being clean ... they are used to the dirt, or perhaps have never thought "clean" would work for them. Some even like their dirt.

The real miracle of Christmas is that not only did Christ come into our messy world, and not only did He come to transform us and our corner of the world ... but He gives us the desire to be different, to be clean.

A miracle indeed!

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:1-5

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Clean Stables ... or Fruitful Fields?

Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean,
but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.
Proverbs 14:4 (ESV)

God has used this verse to challenge me this week. When oxen are working a field, the farmer comes in to the manger or stable and refreshes the hay, cleans out the biggest mess ... but both the farmer and the oxen are too worn out to care about the aesthetics of the manger area. The goal is fruitfulness! On the other hand, if crops fail to make and a farmer sells his oxen, he finds himself with ample time to scrub the manger walls!

The question I sense God asking me this week through this verse is this: What is a "clean stable" in my life, that I am prioritizing rather than the effort that leads to fruitfulness? What am I doing just to cross off my list, when God would prefer I focus on kingdom-building tasks? Am I willing to sacrifice the "clean stable" for fruitful fields?

What about you? In your kingdom work, it is easy to get frustrated by the things you don't get done ... you feel disorganized and out of sorts much of the time. Certainly sometimes God calls us to prioritize planning and organization - but is it possible that part of your frustration comes from wanting a "clean stable" ... while God is asking you to focus on the fruitful field that is coming?

May God bless you with His perspective today.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Higher Throne

Sometimes we are hit square between the eyes with the hard truth that life -- this life, in this world -- isn't fair.

In our more analytical moments we can rationalize this truth, theologize it, philosophize about it, explain it away. We can assess the biblical truths and understand intellectually and even spiritually that God only allows this sinful world to continue because of His patience and desire for people to repent before judgment comes. We can research and know the source of evil, understand the power of God over Satan, and be grateful for the freedom He has given us from sin's power.

But when we are face to face with wounded, hurting, hungry, war-torn, distraught individuals whose face betrays the hopelessness they feel, none of those explanations are sufficient. Sometimes, all we can do is weep with those who weep, showing the love and compassion of Christ. Sometimes the only thing that pulls us through, that keeps us holding on to Him in the midst of the suffering, is His sovereignty and the truth that this life is not all there is.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not talking about abandoning all hopes of making a difference here. I'm talking about those times that you've all experienced on the field -- when you realize that your best efforts won't be enough, that when the sea-change you pray for in your country comes it will be too late for the dying child in your arms. When you realize that you have to help someone get through today before she can make a difference tomorrow. At those times, it's great to know that the kingdoms of this earth are not the ultimate thrones.

Maybe that' s why this song struck me so much. Listening to worship music on my way back from seeing my parents for Thanksgiving, I heard this song for the first time. I share the words here with you as an encouragement to trust in God's sovereignty and in that future day when all will be made right.

May God richly bless you today.

There is a Higher Throne
Kristyn Lennox and Keith Getty
Copyright (c) 2002 Thankyou music/MCPS

There is a higher throne
Than all this world has known
Where faithful ones from every tongue
Will one day come
Before the Son we'll stand
Made faultless through the Lamb
Believing hearts find promised grace
Salvation comes

Hear heaven's voices sing
Their thunderous anthem rings
Through emerald courts and sapphire skies
Their praises rise
All glory wisdom power
Strength thanks and honour are
To God our King who reigns on high
Forever more

And there we'll find our home
Our life before the throne
We'll honour Him in perfect song
Where we belong
He'll wipe each tear-stained eye
As thirst and hunger die
The Lamb becomes our Shepherd King
We'll reign with Him

Monday, November 20, 2006

"Soak, Submit, Seek, Celebrate"

Ralph Winter's advice in studying Scripture is concisely put: "Soak, Submit, Seek, Celebrate." He puts in a memorable nutshell basic truths that can help us as we turn to God's Word each morning.

Soak: Sit before the Lord. Soak it in! While there is definite benefit in "chewing" over a choice morsel, don't neglect the equal benefit of larger doses of Scripture. Whatever you read don't just rush past it ... soak it in.

Submit: Where commands occur, submit to the Lord in obedience. When He convicts, submit in repentance. Where He guides, submit in following.

Seek: Seek His presence. Pray before, during, and after Bible study. Ask the Holy Spirit, the Divine teacher, to open it up to you. Seek understanding, seek response, seek HIM.

Celebrate: Praise Him for what He revealed and for the power to walk it out.

I'll be praying for you as you "Soak, Submit, Seek, and Celebrate" each day!

Endurance through the Word

We do live in difficult days. It shouldn't come as a surprise, since these troubles are prophesied. And yet we are never quite ready for the manifestations evil can take.

In His infinite wisdom and foreknowledge, God prepared us ahead of time for these difficult days ... and all the difficult days faced by believers past and future.

The key to endurance, He tells us, is steadfastness in His Word. Are you taking the time alone with Him, in His Word, to gain the endurance you need for your personal struggles as well as the spiritual battles you fight in prayer for your people group?

Romans 15:4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

2 Timothy 3
1 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 6 For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, 7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. 9 But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.

10 You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

Transformed by Glory

Isaiah 35
1 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad;the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus;2 it shall blossom abundantlyand rejoice with joy and singing.The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.They shall see the glory of the Lord,the majesty of our God.3 Strengthen the weak hands,and make firm the feeble knees.4 Say to those who have an anxious heart,“Be strong; fear not!Behold, your God will come with vengeance,with the recompense of God.He will come and save you.”5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,and the ears of the deaf unstopped;6 then shall the lame man leap like a deer,and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness,and streams in the desert;7 the burning sand shall become a pool,and the thirsty ground springs of water;in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down,the grass shall become reeds and rushes.8 And a highway shall be there,and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;the unclean shall not pass over it.It shall belong to those who walk on the way;even if they are fools, they shall not go astray. 9 No lion shall be there,nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;they shall not be found there,but the redeemed shall walk there.10 And the ransomed of the Lord shall returnand come to Zion with singing;everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;they shall obtain gladness and joy,and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

One of the most amazing, mysterious truths of Scripture, consistent throughout the Old and New Testaments, is that we are transformed by beholding the glory of God. Think of it! You wonder what you can "do" to make a difference where you are ... you wonder how your sleepless nights and long hours are any different than that of the governmental worker or contract employee.

And yet within you is the treasure hidden in earthen vessels ... the Holy Spirit whose job is to glorify Christ. Christ in you, the hope of glory ... the hope that the world needs.

Isaiah 35 speaks of a future day of restoration. But look closely at verse 2. In what context does the joy, fruitfulness, wholeness, purity, and restoration described in the chapter occur? It is when they see "the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God".

They see His glory when you reflect His character and His attributes, when you serve Him in love, when you reveal to them through your attitudes, actions, and words, all He has come to be to you. They see His glory when you share His Word. They see His glory in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, beloved Son, very God of very God.

It sounds so strange, and yet have we not also experienced this transformation by His glory? 2 Cor. 3:18 tells us we have: And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

My prayer this morning, as I pictured some of your precious faces during my quiet time, was that God would transform you by His glory, and that He would transform the people you love so deeply by that same glory.

"Faithful is He who calls us, and He also will bring it to pass." (1 Thess. 5:24)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Fresh Joy

Has "joy" been elusive in your life lately? Sure, you love your people group, and you are faithful to work diligently for God among them. You are meeting practical needs and offering eternal hope at every turn. Yet somewhere along the way, it began to feel like work, like a duty, rather than the delight and joy you experienced earlier. My prayer for you today is a strong helping of "fresh joy".

Isa. 29:19 The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord,and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.

"The meek" -- the ones Jesus said will inherit the earth -- are promised "fresh joy". Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, so being filled with His Spirit is certainly one aspect of receiving joy. "Meekness" is a quality Jesus possessed, so we know it is certainly not weakness. "Meekness" has been accurately described as "strength under control" -- the control of the Spirit!

Walk in the Spirit today. Let Him fill you with His presence. As you place yourself under His control, He promises "Fresh joy".

Fresh wind, fresh fire
Blow over us today
Send your Holy Spirit
To fill us as we pray
Guiding light to lead us
Fresh faith to believe
A fresh word for the morning
We bow and receive

Fresh joy, fresh joy
Drawing near to You
Fresh joy, fresh joy
Shining Your glory around
Fresh joy, fresh joy
To serve them in Your strength
Fresh joy, fresh joy
Let Your presence abound

Fresh wind, fresh fire
Blow over us today
Send your Holy Spirit
To fill us as we pray
Guiding light to lead us
Fresh faith to believe
A fresh word for the morning
We bow and receive

Fresh joy, fresh joy

(c) 2006 Rosa Edwards

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Interrupted for a lesson

Has God ever interrupted your "quiet time" for a very practical lesson? Perhaps a needy neighbor dropped by, or a sleeping child awoke with an earache ... or maybe a meal needed to be prepared.

How do you respond to such interruptions? If you're like me, you struggle with irritation. After all, my quiet time is my only down time of the day, and I need that time with the Lord to get through the challenges ahead! Ironically, it is when my quiet time is interrupted that I'm least likely to be in the frame of mind to learn an unscheduled lesson from God. Instead, I focus on what I had planned for that time and spend my efforts trying not to be irritable at the interruption.

Those experiences help me understand the disciples' hardness of heart at the lesson of the loaves and fishes. Mark 6:30-52 records the story. Don't miss the fact that the lesson of the loaves came during an interruption of their time alone with the Lord!

30 The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 And He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When He went ashore He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And He began to teach them many things. 35 And when it grew late, His disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. 36 Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But He answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to Him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” 38 And He said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. 41 And taking the five loaves and the two fish He looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And He divided the two fish among them all. 42 And they all ate and were satisfied. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.

45 Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He dismissed the crowd. 46 And after He had taken leave of them, He went up on the mountain to pray. 47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and He was alone on the land. 48 And He saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, 49 but when they saw Him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50 for they all saw Him and were terrified. But immediately He spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 51 And He got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

"they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened." An interruption in their scheduled time alone with Jesus held a lesson, but they did not get it. Their hearts were hardened. As I studied this recently, I asked myself, "How many lessons have I lost because my quiet time was interrupted and my heart was hard?"

My prayer for you is that you will have sensitive hearts to discern divine appointments, lessons from the Lord ... even if they interrupt your quiet time.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

What the NT's most quoted OT passage tells us about Jesus

The most quoted Old Testament passage in the New Testament is Psalm 110:1: The Lord says to my Lord:“Sit at my right hand,until I make your enemies your footstool.”

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record Jesus questioning the Pharisees' identification of the Christ as the Son of David, using this passage. Peter's first sermon in Acts 2 uses the passage to demonstrate the supremacy of Jesus over even David. And Hebrews 1 uses the passage to show the supremacy of Christ over the angels.

Why is this significant to your work on the field? Read the entire Psalm in context:

110:1 The Lord says to my Lord:“Sit at my right hand,until I make your enemies your footstool.”

2 The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter.Rule in the midst of your enemies!

3 Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning,the dew of your youth will be yours.

4 The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind,“You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”

5 The Lord is at your right hand;he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.

6 He will execute judgment among the nations,filling them with corpses;he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth.

7 He will drink from the brook by the way;therefore he will lift up his head.

He rules, He reigns, and He has been exalted! He is a priest forever, interceding on behalf of believers, desiring the nations He has been given as an inheritance (Ps. 2) to worship before His throne, awaiting the day of judgment.

He is at the right hand of God Most High ... the work is finished, complete. Your work on the field is not to secure a victory, it is to announce it! Our God reigns ... and Jesus' exaltation to His right hand demonstrates the victory of the cross.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Delight in Truth: A matter of perspective

Is the task you face larger than what you know you can fulfill? Do you get overwhelmed at the number of unreached people, the miniscule percentage of funds designated for reaching them, and the cultural obstacles faced when the laborers reach the harvest?

It's time for a shift in perspective.

In "Beyond Duty", Tim Dearborn highlights focusing on "the problem" of how to fulfill the Great Commission as a human-centered viewpoint. The task is too large for us, he argues, and then expounds what we should be asking:

"Biblical priorities reflected again and again in Scripture ask us to begin instead with these questions:

  • Who is the triune God?
  • What is God doing in the world?
  • How are we to participate with God in his redemptive purposes?
Missions is ultimately not a human response to human need. The Church's involvement in mission is its privileged participation in the actions of the triune God."

Dearborn is absolute right! He goes on to state, "It is insufficient to proclaim that the Church of God has a mission in the world. Rather, the God of mission has a Church in the world. Grasp this inversion of subject and object and participation in God's mission will become a joyous, life-giving privilege. Miss it, and mission involvement will eventually degenerate into a wearisome, overwhelming duty."

It is so easy to forget that JOY is part of the 9-fold fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23-24). God desires that we "delight ourselves" in Him! Our message is one of GOOD NEWS ... news that is better than any possible problem that can ever be presented to us. "The God of mission has a Church in the world." WOW! That means that whatever you face today, the God of mission has gone before you, and equipped His people (that's you!) to handle in His name, with His power, by His Spirit, for His glory.

In "Mandate on the Mountain", Steven C. Hawthorne points out that sustained worship of Jesus in His resurrected glory began when He commissioned His disciples with the task of going to the whole world. He promised His presence, and the book of Acts is filled with examples of His presence with them and their worship of Him. The call to missions is a call to be with Him! As Hawthorne explains, "He was not sending them away from Him. He was actually beckoning them to come nearer to Him than they ever had been. He was not merely passing on some of His power....He Himself would be with them every single day until the end of the age."

So today, delight in truth. Don't be overwhelmed by the task ... instead, ask the God of mission to show you where He is working, and join Him in it. He has strategically, divinely placed you "for such a time as this"! He has promised His presence, and He will be with you today.

Matt. 28:18-20 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Life from Death - The Way of the Cross

More gleanings today from John R.W. Stott, "The Cross of Christ." You know these things already - you are living them - and yet sometimes it is strangely comforting to hear someone else put them into words. May God bless you today.

"In theory we know very well the paradoxical principle that suffering is the path to glory, death the way to life, and weakness the secret of power. It was for Jesus, and it still is for his followers today. But we are reluctant to apply the principle to mission, as the Bible does....As Douglas Webster has written, '...We can understand mission only in terms of the cross.'"

"Paul dared to write to the Corinthians: 'so then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you' (2 Cor. 4:12). For the cross-cultural missionary it may mean costly individual and family sacrifices, the renunciation of economic security and professional promotion, solidarity with the poor and needy, repenting of the pride and prejudice of supposed cultural superiority, and the modesty (and sometimes frustration) of serving under national leadership. Each of these can be a kind of death, but it is a death which brings life to others."

On the cultural gap in evangelism: "Only an incarnation can span these divides, for an incarnation means entering other people's worlds, their thought-world, and the worlds of their alienation, loneliness, and pain. Moreover, the incarnation led to the cross. Jesus first took our flesh, then bore our sin. This was a depth of penetration into our world in order to reach us, in comparison with which our little attempts to reach people seem amateur and shallow. the cross calls us to a much more radical and costly kind of evangelism than most churches have begun to consider, let alone experience."

Finally, the bottom line, quoting Zinzendorf: They know there is a God, but they need to know the Savior. "Tell them about the Lamb of God till you can tell them no more."

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

More of love ... more of the Master

I think it's just in our human nature. We want things cut-and-dried, a final answer. Flexibility is hard for us -- or at least for me!

And yet sometimes there are no easy answers. Sometimes serving and loving means the "plan" we thought we had, the "system" we so carefully set up, our all-important "structure", goes down the tubes.

I've re-learned this lesson recently through trying with my husband to help my mother-in-law get her thermostat set properly. We're in that time of year with widely varying temperatures - freezing at night, quite warm during the day. She isn't able to properly adjust her thermostat so we've been trying to set it for the variances that occur. Now, theoretically we want to have one setting - say 72 degrees Fahrenheit - and we want that to "work". But as I'm sure you've guessed, it hasn't been that easy. We still have to adapt and make adjustments ... there are so many factors besides the temperature such as her health factors that day, whether the dryer is running ... you get the idea.

So I've been reminded through all of this that there are no easy answers. Some days it "works", some days it doesn't. While it's certainly worth trying to have a "plan", that "plan" must always be secondary to love ... love meaning what is in her best interests.

Even more importantly, adjustments require us to constantly seek God. Michael Wilkins in "Following the Master" writes, "The disciples of the first century were continually having to make mental and spiritual adjustments to Jesus as He revealed Himself and his purposes to them." Or as a pastor friend put it, "I'm learning to seek more of the Master in the midst of the mess."

Have your field "plans" been disrupted? Did your to-do list today get cut short by an interruption ... a Divine appointment? What a blessing to be able to prioritize love and to see more of the Master!

Monday, October 30, 2006

"We Shall Overcome" - Gleanings from John R.W. Stott

Are you facing a spiritual battle today? If so, read on!

"Jesus is Victor". The cry of the ancient church, the cry of Corrie ten Boom, the heartfelt belief of Christians throughout the centuries, rings true over your life and circumstances today. Yet it is easy to forget, when faced with a very real spiritual battle, that we struggle against a defeated foe.

In The Cross of Christ, John R.W. Stott expounds upon this theme, and reminds us of those truths that are so important. Since I can't put these any better, I'll defer to him today.

"Every Christian conversion involves a power encounter in which the devil is obliged to relax his hold on somebody's life and the superior power of Christ is demonstrated."

"For Christians as for Christ, life spells conflict. For Christians as for Christ, it should also spell victory....The victory of Christians, therefore, consists of entering into the victory of Christ and of enjoying its benefits."

"For though the devil has been defeated, he has not yet conceded defeat. Although he has been overthrown, he has not yet been eliminated. In fact he continues to wield great power. This is the reason for the tension we feel in both our theology and our experience.... Another way of approaching this tension is to consider the implications of the verb katargeo, which, though often translated in our English versions as 'destroy', really falls short of that. It means rather to 'make ineffective or inactive', and is used of unproductive land and unfruitful trees. They are still there. They have not been destroyed. But they are barren. When this verb is applied to the devil, to our fallen nature and to death, therefore, we know that they have not been completely 'destroyed'. For the devil is still very active, our fallen nature continues to assert itself, and death will go on claiming us until Christ comes. It is not, then, that they have ceased to exist, but that their power has been broken. They have not been abolished, but they have been overthrown....Victory over him has been won, but painul conflict with him continues."

"More than half the occurrences of the 'victory' word group (nikao, to overcome and nike, victory) are to be found" in Revelation. "Michael Green has suggested that the liberation song, 'We shall overcome', might have been written as 'the signature tune of the New Testament'; its triumphant strains are certainly heard throughout the book of Revelation."

"How, then, can we enter into Christ's victory and prevail over the devil's power? How can we be numbered among the 'overcomers'? How can we hope to throw the enemy back, not only in our own lives but in the world he has usurped? First, we are told to resist the devil. 'Resist him, standing firm in the faith.' Again, 'Resist the devil and he will flee from you.'...We have to claim the victory of the cross....Secondly, we are told to proclaim Jesus Christ. The preaching of the cross is still the power of God. It is by proclaiming Christ crucified and risen that we shall turn people 'from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God' (Acts 26:18), and so the kingdom of Satan will retreat before the advancing kingdom of God! No other message has the same inherent force. No other name is defended and honoured by the Holy Spirit in the same way."

May God give you grace to stay in the battle!

Friday, October 27, 2006

"Commended as God's Servants"

Do you find yourself struggling to communicate how much you love your people group? Are you longing to see them embrace the "day of salvation" God has put before them, to see them reconciled to God? Are you seeking to make sense of the things you are going through that apparently detract from that overall purpose?

If so, take heart. The Apostle Paul addressed exactly that situation in his second letter to Corinth. After appealing to them to be reconciled to God in chapter 5 and to embrace "today" as the day of salvation at the opening of chapter 6, Paul relates his ministry to God's overall work in Corinth.

2 Cor. 6:3-10 (ESV) We put no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; 7 by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8 through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

Specifically Paul tells them that rather than becoming a hindrance, Paul and his companions sought to live in such a way as to not be an obstacle. In fact, they used the frustrating and even dangerous experiences of ministry as elements to "commend" themselves to the Corinthians. In other words, they allowed their struggles to prove to the Corinthians the genuineness of their love, their commitment, and their faith. Paul's "commendations" run the gamut from sleeplessness to persecution, and includes not only experiences but lifestyles -- "purity", "Truthful speech". They found ways to turn the negatives into positives for the kingdom!

What are you struggling with today? As a servant of God, ask Him to use it to commend you to the people you are serving.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Love or Obedience?

Sometimes it's just hard to love.

Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God, and the second is to love others as ourselves. We know that, and we long to obey. But it's not easy.

Biblical love toward others isn't an emotion, a warm-fuzzy feeling. Biblical love, according to 1 Cor. 13, acts in specific ways for the best interest of the one loved. Likewise, Biblical love toward God is exemplified in obedience.

John 14:15 If you love me, you will keep my commandments

In one of the great mysteries of the kingdom, sometimes we have to ACT before we FEEL. Sometimes despite all our desire to be motivated by love, it's gut-level obedience that gets us to the point where that love moves from actions to heart-level.

Corrie ten Boom, the Dutch Christian imprisoned in a concentration camp during WWII, told a beautiful story of facing one of her captors after a German church service. The man came to her as a new brother in Christ asking forgiveness. Corrie related that she simply could not find it in her - her heart was cold. Yet she quickly spoke to the Lord and asked for His strength ... and she recounted that as she raised her arm to shake the man's hand she still felt nothing, but simply forgave out of obedience. At the moment she grasped his hand, she felt the love flow through her -- a love she knew was from God.

In "Why We Go", Samuel Moffett talks about this tension for missionaries. Quoting C.S. Lewis, Moffett writes, "We do not fail in obedience through lack of love, but have lost love because we have never attempted obedience." He expounds, "God is love, but it is obedience that forges, focuses, and incarnates that love into a mission....We know the way. God promises the power. Our part is to obey."

Has God placed you in an assignment where you are struggling to develop the love you know you need for your people group? Do you wonder why God moved you from a place of service where love came easily into one where you fervently are begging Him for it? Walk out the obedience, and ask Him to infuse you with His love. Jesus assures us that walking in obedience is the path to abiding in His love.

John 15:10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Struggles on the Road

"This is not what I expected."

Those words came repeatedly from a young boy in Children's Church a few weeks ago. I laughed about it at the time but later thought how often I'd had the same reaction, even after what I felt was clear direction from God. Isn't it odd how we can be without a doubt in the center of His will and still find that it is not at all what we expected?

His ways are so much higher than ours, and when things are going well we can appreciate that. But it is when we face the struggles on the road that our faith is challenged, and we come face to face with the fact that His will - perhaps even the answer to a prayer, or something we initially put down in the category of "blessing" - is not at all what we expected.

The bottom line of discipleship is that this walk is more than mental assent. Scottish Presbyterian john Alexander Mackay highlighted this so beautifully as the difference between "the balcony" and "the road". He wrote: "Assent may be given on the Balcony, but consent is inseparable from the road".

It is rarely in "the balcony" of our quiet times and our agreements to God's wonderful plans that I have my struggles. Certainly there have been times of wrestling through a decision my flesh didn't want to make, but by and large my struggles have been with application, not agreement. And yet God consistently calls me -- and you -- to "walk the walk" on the Road, and not merely accept a theoretical obedience in the Balcony. As Samuel Escobar writes, "Because Jesus is Lord, he is to be followed on the road which is the place where life is lived in the midst of tensions, where conflicts and concerns become the soil from which ideas are born. Thus, discipleship is the ground of true theology."

So true. If we are not willing to follow Him in obedience, our understanding of His truth - our theology - will be greatly limited. If we do grasp a theological truth, then He will make sure we have an opportunity to "walk it out".

If you are struggling on the road today, take heart. God has you there for a purpose. Keep following Him to a place where your theology will come to life in your reality - and wait to see what He reveals next!

Mark 4:24-25 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

Monday, October 23, 2006

A reminder of a righteous ruler

Are you frustrated today with the injustice you see in your country? Does the bribery and corruption at the highest levels make you despair? Do you wish just once that you could accomplish an administrative task without facing the hurdles put up by those who want to profit from your wish to do good?

Take heart and remember that Jesus Christ - the Messiah, the Branch - is the righteous ruler. Where He rules in hearts and minds we experience a measure of His righteous rule now, and He promises a day when His righteous rule will encompass the earth... a day when the earth will be full of the knowledge of God!

As you labor for that day in your country, and as we labor with you in prayer, let us trust the One who set the plan into motion before the earth began. The corruption you see is only temporary ... but He will reign forever!

Isa. 11:1-9 (ESV)
11:1 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.2 And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,the Spirit of counsel and might,the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.He shall not judge by what his eyes see,or decide disputes by what his ears hear,4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.5 Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,and faithfulness the belt of his loins.
6 The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;and a little child shall lead them.7 The cow and the bear shall graze;their young shall lie down together;and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den.9 They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain;for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Command - or promise?

I was captivated by a profound quote in my reading last night:

Newbig on Acts 1:8: "The word, 'You shall be my witnesses', is not a command to be obeyed but a promise to be trusted."

Certainly we are commanded to be involved in the task of missions - Matt. 28:19-20 is in the imperative. But Acts 1:8 is more a statement of fact and is connected with the great promise of missions -- the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

Realizing that God has given the nations to His Son as an inheritance is the great assurance of missions. We don't know who among each people group will believe, but He does. And we can take assurance that there WILL be some from among each group around the throne!

Serve today in the great assurance of the promise!

Acts 1:8 "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."

Rev. 7:9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A prayer for your part of the world

When I read Isa. 9:1-7 (see below) this morning in my quiet time God prompted me to pray the following prayer for those nations that are still in anguish, darkness, and battle. Many of you serve in such lands and though I won't mention the names here, please know that God prompted me to pray specifically for several of your nations. When you see the oppression around you please know that God is linking hearts here with your hearts there to pray for His kingdom to come and His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, in the countries that you serve so faithfully.

My prayer:

Lord, please let these countries be delivered from gloom and anguish. Let the people groups there who have been walking in darkness see Your great light. Shine the light of Jesus, the Light of the world, on those who dwell in deep darkness in those countries. Let them know true joy for the first time. Break every vestige of bondage and free them from the cycle of violence.

Oh Lord, Jesus is the child born "to us" - and we want to see them embrace Him and realize He came for them too. Let these people know Him as Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace they so desperately need. Let them understand a measure of what it means for ultimate authority to be on His shoulders. Set them free Lord, set them free.

Your kingdom come, Your will be done, in the precious name of Jesus.

Isa. 9:1-7 (ESV):
But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
2 The people who walked in darknesshave seen a great light;those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,on them has light shined.3 You have multiplied the nation;you have increased its joy;they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest,as they are glad when they divide the spoil.4 For the yoke of his burden,and the staff for his shoulder,the rod of his oppressor,you have broken as on the day of Midian.5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in bloodwill be burned as fuel for the fire.6 For to us a child is born,to us a son is given;and the government shall be upon his shoulder,and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.7 Of the increase of his government and of peacethere will be no end,on the throne of David and over his kingdom,to establish it and to uphold itwith justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Housekeeping - Comments

I've changed the settings on the blog so that you don't have to have a blogger account to post comments. So please feel free to comment away!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

What is your calling?

Who among us hasn't struggled with this question? On the surface it might seem easy to answer: "Missions" or "the Great Commission" ... maybe a specific country or people group. Perhaps you're one of those blessed to be on the field working in a specific job and able to identify exactly what your "calling" looks like.

Or maybe not.

Maybe you're like so many who have been forced to come face to face with a dramatic shift in your "calling". You were "called" to a village, to a people group ... relationships were developing, you were learning the language and culture, life was great. You were thrilled to be a missionary. Then circumstances, or your mission agency, or politics, or God Himself intervened and you found yourself separated from the very thing you thought you were "called" to do. How do you respond now?

* Stubbornly press on with Plan A, insisting that every obstacle is of the devil and fighting with all your might to hold on to your "calling";

* Give up, pack your bags and come home;

* Serve reluctantly in a new area, lamenting constantly that if it weren't for ___________ God's work would be so much further along;

* Question your "calling";

* Wrestle through the struggle with God and reassess His plan

Is there another option? Is there a lesson that can be learned when the "calling" becomes so unclear?

I believe there is. I believe that the answer lies in understanding the nature of the "call".

Throughout the Gospel accounts of Jesus' call of The Twelve, the most consistent phrase He uses is, "Follow Me". "Follow Me." What does that mean? Surely it means more than "go do this work among this people group". Certainly it goes beyond "go to this job every day for 5 years, then go to this job for the next 3."

"Follow Me." Jesus' call to radical discipleship and service is, first and foremost, a call to follow Him. The shift in thinking is profound. If we are called to a specific task and don't see fruit, then our human nature calls our very identity and purpose into question. If our call is to a people or location and circumstances change we want to know whom to "blame". Sometimes missionaries even come home feeling like failures over events beyond their control.

But if our call is to follow Jesus, then the tasks He has us do, while important to the Kingdom, are secondary to our identity. If we are called to follow Him then our focus is on relationship and joining Him in His work. If that work shifts, we shift with Him. Whether we labor diligently at one task for decades or shift our focus a dozen times, our main purpose remains the same: to follow Jesus.

Doors close and open all the time. Paul experienced this when he desired to enter Asia, but God intended for him to go instead to Macedonia. Our fundamental understanding of what our call consists of will help tremendously at those times when God closes a door we are certain He called us to enter.

Follow Him today and every day.

Heroes with feet of clay

I have a score of heroes in my life.

About 7 years ago God began surrounding me with mission-minded individuals who were actually DOING missions ... and whose prayers reflected a kingdom mindset I'd never seen.

Over time God has taken us different directions but some of these, and others I've met since, are serving the kingdom of God around the world in places I can't even write here.

And they are my heroes.

But I am fully aware that they have feet of clay. Every one of them are fallible humans. There are days they don't want to get out of bed. There are days they long for a cheeseburger and fries and some mindless entertainment. There are days they question whether it is worth it.

As I shared with my husband yesterday, missionaries are learning the same lessons we are -- they are just doing it in a different context. I've had some tell me that God sent them overseas because He knew that's what it would take for them to learn (humility, love, patience ... fill in the blank).

As my kingdom vision has grown, I have become increasingly aware that God has put these missionaries in my life for a reason. That reason is not so that I can idealize them (or idolize them!) ... but so that I can pray for them, support them, and encourage them.

That is my vision for this blog: A place where a busy missionary can land for a few minutes of encouragement from someone who sees him or her as a hero ... with feet of clay.

2 Corinthians 4 is my theme passage for this blog. More to come later ...

4:1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, [1] we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants [2] for Jesus' sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Treasures in Jars of Clay
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.
13 Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, 14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.