Monday, July 30, 2007

A poem for times of suffering

As I've been working on my term paper on the persecuted church, I've read some wonderfully encouraging stories, but nothing touched me more than a poem written by D.W. Udd, the son of an American missionary to Malawai who at the time of this writing worked with his father at a ministry in Malawi. Although published in a book about persecution, this poem addresses the issue of suffering in a poignant way to which we can all relate. I pray that it will encourage you and become your prayer today in your own trials.

even so ...

we heed the call to Canaan Lord
where milk and honey flow
enjoying every blessing
your promises bestow

but when you beckon quietly
to dark Gethsemane
we sooth our consciences to sleep
and dream on blissfully
of fattened calves
and peaceful paths
we hope are yet to be

have mercy on our weakened flesh
empower our willing spirits
prepare our hearts to take the strain
of vigils in the night
and still have strength
to drain the cup
of all the world's tomorrows

we are running with the footmen
and find our feet grow weary
Lord keep us then contending
in your great might alone
lest we ourselves be trampled
under the thundering hooves
of the apocalyptic horsement

we weary in our land of peace
with leanness of the soul
and glance with furtive eyes
at the prophetic glimpses
of the swelling Jordan
where our baptism of suffering
still awaits us

why do we think it strange
when you have suffered so
that we should follow in your steps
and no discomfort know

we lean on your perfection Lord
without it we are lost
yet even you obedience learned
at such an awesome cost

teach us the lessons that you learned
refine us in your fires
until we count it joy to be
impelled by your desires

d.w. udd in Destined to Suffer: African Christians face the future. edited by Brother Andrew. Open Doors, 1979.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Like a little child ...

Jesus said that we must come to the Father like a little child. What that tells me is that however deep I go in my understanding of God's Word, I must always increase in simplicity in my relationship with God.

That's hard to wrap my mind around sometime, and so I love quotes like this one from C.J. Mahaney:

"We never move on from the cross ... only to a deeper understanding of the cross."

Like a little child ... my Sunday School teacher told a story this morning. His 3-year-old grandson had to have a medical procedure and drink a lot of liquid in preparation. The parents motivated him by telling him Pawpaw had that same test. As he struggled to drink the preparation, he would say, "Pawpaw will be proud of me, won't he momma?"

Like a little child ... moving to a deeper understanding of the cross, imitating our Lord, and seeking to make Him proud.

It's hard out there. Your struggles are on levels I have a hard time comprehending. But this I know: you will not go wrong to be more childlike in your difficulties today.

It's what pleases your Father.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

"Like a weaned child"

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
(Psalm 131:1-2)

Sometimes in ministry there are things that happen that truly humble us. Someone tells us how much our words meant, and we can't remember what we said. Somebody introduces us and we wonder who they are talking about. Fruit comes on a day we feel far from God. We miss the opportunity to reach the one person we're praying hardest for. All of these serve to keep us humble.

The psalmist decided not to spend time trying to figure out things "too great and too marvelous for me". In a place of humility, he rests in God's presence. His soul is at peace.

Are you wondering how God can use you today? Allow the humility that comes from realizing the weaknesses of our flesh to draw you to God's side, resting in His presence like a weaned child. We don't have to have all the answers.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The hidden graces

I wanted the happy pills for my surgical root canal. I was told they would ensure me no pain, no awareness of what was going on, and no memory of the procedure. Since this was a particularly difficult tooth, I was all for that plan!

But as so often is the case, the world failed to adjust itself to my expectations :). No, instead I found myself awake and alert, wanting a nap but unable to sleep for the noise.

I've decided that our old nature makes it easier for us to see things the way we want them to be, the way that we planned them out, and when we give in to that, we miss a lot of the dewdrops of grace filtered throughout our lives.

During my time in the chair, God spoke to me that the bottom line of what I was doing was trying to avoid suffering ... a very human response and one that God sometimes decrees for us in ways that demonstrate His majesty and reveal His power. We never doubt his love when He helps us avoid suffering!

But other times, God requires us to walk through suffering. This can be the suffering of health problems, or conflicts, or time constraints. It can be mental anguish, difficult relationships, a seemingly hopeless ministry situation. It can even be persecution for our faith. It's at those times that we naturally look for a way out of the suffering or a way to minimize what we feel in the suffering. It's at times like these that we doubt God's love, question our salvation, and get generally snarly or self-righteous about our pain. This also becomes what Henry Blackaby calls a crisis of faith: believe God and see Him in a new way, or lose the opportunity to go deep with Him.

In the chair today I realized that was exactly my problem: I had been expected to be delivered from the suffering by the "happy pills" ... but God was walking me through it and was with me all the way. And I sensed the dewdrops of His grace revealed at every turn. He asked me to consider this type of surgery in a third world country - no anesthesia, little numbing, not much special equipment. I would probably have lost the tooth because of the complicating factors of the surgery. Then He brought to my mind what the "happy pills" accomplished for me - a sense of rest and peace, a lack of anxiety. Without that the suffering in the chair would have been much more pronounced. And the shots that I didn't feel at all - what a huge blessing that was. To even have the shots available - what a huge grace to not have to endure it without numbing.

What I learned today is about far more than dental care. What I learned is that God's grace is always sufficient, and His presence is always profound, and we learn that not by numbingly avoiding suffering, but by holding His hand as we press through it, asking Him to point out the dewdrops of grace along the way. I never want to think about what suffering would be like without those dewdrops.

What are you or your people facing that you wish for miraculous delivery from, or at least the ability to close your eyes and wake up when it's over? Seek God's hand in the midst of the suffering. Open your eyes and ask Him to reveal the dewdrops of grace.

Friday, July 20, 2007

How to Really Live

1 Thess. 3:8: "For now we live, if you are standing firm in the Lord."

What a profound truth Paul expresses here. Paul - who teaches us that our life is hid with Christ in God ... who states that to LIVE is Christ ... who says that he has died and his life is Christ through Paul ... this Paul indicates that this life in Christ is associated with the steadfast faith ... of other believers? Did we read that right?? Catch the context ...

3:1 Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, 2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, 3 that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. 4 For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. 5 For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain. 6 But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you— 7 for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. 8 For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. 9 For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, 10 as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?
11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, 12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

This is Paul's heart for ministry shining through here. Paul doesn't share the Gospel and find the door. He doesn't expect them to take their new hearts, filled with the Holy Spirit though they are, and operate in a new realm, a new worldview, without guidance. While in their midst, Paul works hard, treats them gently, embraces them as children (applying both maternal and paternal characteristics to his team's treatment of them). When he is away and suffering for the Gospel, he worries that they might fall away. They'd seen him suffer, and they'd heard him teach of more suffering to come ... yet he worries. A good report from Timothy is welcome news - the Thessalonians are standing firm in the Gospel. What's more, we learn from chapter 1 that their faith is spreading throughout the region. They are "famous" for it and in the process making God famous.

At this report Paul is able to say "now we live". The NASB translates "Now we really live". Paul and his team were "alive" physically before, and certainly were "alive" in the Lord, and yet there was a fullness to that life that Paul did not, could not, experience apart from the successful perseverance of the saints at Thessalonica. While among them, he worked by speaking the truth in love and setting an example to impart this perseverance. Apart from them, he prays (verses 11-13) for God to establish it in their hearts. And the word that comes lets him know God is moving. Now he really lives. Now the team really lives.

I'm convinced that in our western individualistic mindset we don't have a sense of the community of the Spirit that God intends. This community is supposed to be so strong that it takes all of us together to truly have spiritual "life". Our gifts work together for the building up of the body. Hebrews 11 even tells us that apart from the faith of post-resurrection believers, the faith of the Old Testament saints could not be made complete. This is far more than dinners on the ground and the occasional women's conference. This is a daily relationship that encourages, strengthens, challenges, exhorts ... that depends on one another in the Spirit. The persecution Paul's team encountered set a relational context that caused the team to go deep with new believers quickly! And as a result they really lived when those new believers persevered.

That's kind of how I feel about this blog. I long to encourage you - you who are far beyond me in terms of service - to finish the race, to persevere. When you are successful through a struggle of faith, I really live. When you sign on for another season of ministry, I really live. When I see answered prayers in your newsletters, I really live.

As you work and minister today, seek someone whom you can encourage to persevere. I promise - you will really live as a result!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Encouragement of Scripture

For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Romans 15:4

Are you needing some hope today? Are you having trouble enduring, wondering when anything is going to change? This Scripture tells us that the formula for hope is perseverance + encouraging Scripture.

I don't pretend to have all the theological questions answered, but I do know that Scripture (Paul specifically references the Old Testament!) has encouragement that can provide us with hope.

So, today I give you a Scripture filled with hope!

Zephaniah 3:9-10:
For then I will give to the peoples purified lips, That all of them may call on the name of the LORD, To serve Him shoulder to shoulder. "From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia My worshipers, My dispersed ones, will bring My offerings."

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The glorious risk of God's sovereignty

There's a lot that happens in this world that defies explanation. Who can truly understand why a tsunami kills thousands, why at times the innocent suffer more during a war than the soldiers, why a large country is simultaneously experiencing droughts and wildfires, and flooding and crop destruction from too much rain.

As kingdom workers, determined to make a difference both for eternity and today, you have your own "why" questions. You also know that you want to take DO something. Thankfully, you don't have to have the answers to step out and take that risk. Daniel - a book filled with the sovereignty of God - shows us an example:

Daniel 2:13-19
So the decree went out, and the wise men were about to be killed; and they sought Daniel and his companions, to kill them. Then Daniel replied with prudence and discretion to Arioch, the captain of the king's guard, who had gone out to kill the wise men of Babylon. He declared to Arioch, the king's captain, “Why is the decree of the king so urgent?” Then Arioch made the matter known to Daniel. And Daniel went in and requested the king to appoint him a time, that he might show the interpretation to the king. Then Daniel went to his house and made the matter known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions, and told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his companions might not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven.

Notice that Daniel made his bold request BEFORE the mystery was revealed to him. Then he hightailed it to his friends to ask for prayer support! Before we brush this aside as merely the impetuous actions of youth, examine Daniel's understanding of his God - revealed in his words to the king later in the chapter:

"No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries...."

Daniel knew his God, and he knew that God was sovereign over the mysteries of the earth. He knew that sovereignty included lordship over dreams. So he spoke to the king's captain without having all the answers, because he stood on the firm ground of God's sovereignty. He then sought the specifics in prayer, and acted on what God showed him.

What risks would you take today if you firmly grasped the extent of God's sovereignty? Let His sovereignty undergird your work today.

Sunsets and Glory

Friday evening's sunset was a glorious sight to behold.

Piercing through the clouds that hovered all last week, the pink light seemed to follow the sunbeams through the sky to the earth. A peachy-pink glow tinged everything around me; even the pavement on the street seemed pink. The closest connection I can make is the Mojave Desert - how it reflects the light in such unique and gorgeous ways. As I admired the beauty (and longed for a shoulder to pull over onto so that I could worship the Maker without the interference of driving), I realized that the glow even tinged my arm. I was captivated by how my hand looked on the steering wheel, cast in the glow of the sun.

That's what the glory of God is like. The fullness of who He is, His glory, pierces through our world's darkness and casts a glow. When we belong to Him, seeking to stay in the sunbeam of His presence, then that glow tinges us. No one could ever confuse the reflection of the sun's light with the sun itself ... and that is how it is with His glory.

Let His glow tinge you today!

Quote of the Day

I thought this quote especially relates to the previous post (below):

"It seems to me that we often, almost sulkily, reject the good that God offers us because, at the moment, we expected some other good."
- C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Sweet Pickles

I made sweet pickles this weekend.

Mind you, I didn't intend to. I don't even like sweet pickles! Give me a crunchy dill (preferably very sour) and I'll chomp down!

But somehow, the recipe I was following for my first-ever attempt at pickling about 8 lb of cucumbers from our garden never got around to telling me when to put in the dill. I looked at another recipe and thought I had it figured out, but decided to taste test beforehand just to see if it seemed right.... and I discovered that I'd spent 2 days making sweet pickles!

I was SO disappointed ... yet as usual, there was a lesson in it for me.

The process of making pickles involves hours and hours of soaking - "baptizing" if you will :) . And the pickles were completely without a say in the end result. As the pickle-maker, it was up to me to know the recipe and determine whether to make sweet or dill pickles.

I messed up, but thankfully God does not! As He baptizes us with His Spirit, and "soaks" us in the Word of God, times of prayer and worship, fellowship of the saints, and the crucible of suffering ... He always knows what is going to come out on the other side. He knows His own, Scripture tells us, and He knows how to protect us and cause us to stand blameless in His presence with great joy on the day of judgment (Jude 24). Phil. 1:6 says, "He who began a good work in you will see it through to the day of completion." In other words, He'll finish what He started -- and it will be good.

Even if it doesn't look like what we anticipated.

Baptized in criticism?

Are you frustrated today, wondering why God is allowing so much criticism of your service? There could be many reasons - and I encourage you to spend time with the Father to learn the lessons He desires to teach you in this trial.

But one reason we sometimes miss is that God allows criticism to protect us from thinking too much of the opinions of others. Francis Frangipane put it this way:

To innoculate me from the praise of man
God baptized me in the criticism of man
Until I died to the control of man.

Whatever other reasons God may have for his season, ask Him to take this time and innoculate you from the praise of man!

Spiritual Empathy

The study results are amazing: there actually is a class of individuals who truly feel others' pain in a very literal sense. (See the article at

One of the key paragraphs appears on page 2 of the story: "Other studies have suggested a link between empathy and mirror systems, but Ward said this was the first to suggest empathy involves more than one mechanism: an emotional gut reaction -- which appears exaggerated in the mirror-touch synesthetes -- and a cognitive process that involves thinking about how someone else feels."

What a beautiful reflection of a spiritual truth! We are told by Paul in Gal. 6:2 to "bear one anothers' burdens"; in Rom. 12:15 he teaches us to "weep with those who weep". And the second greatest command is to "love your neighbor as yourself". All of these speak to some level of identification with another individual.

Individuals who intercede for others on a personal level relate a sense of spiritual empathy parallel to the physical type mentioned in the article. They "feel" the weight of another individual's burden. They sense the oppression of the lost. Ronald Dunn, in "Don't Just Stand there, Pray Something", relates that when he was suffering a deep depression over the health of his son and other issues, he awoke one morning early to find that the weight was lifted. Later he received a letter from a friend who said he had felt led to pray for Dunn and ask the Lord to give him whatever portion of Dunn's burden God intended the friend to carry. You won't be surprised to learn that when Dunn questioned the man, he told him that the specific day and time of his prayer corresponded with Dunn's awakening early to find a burden lifted!

As you minister and serve today, as you live amongst a people who have so much pain and so many needs, as you hear of brothers and sisters whose needs are more than you know how to respond to -- remember this principle. God intends for us to be spiritually empathetic - just like these individuals in the article. By God's grace, seek to bear the burdens, and feel what those who weep are feeling.

Sure, in your flesh it's more than you can handle. But in God's divine plan, it's just the way it's supposed to work. He will equip you as you seek His strength to intercede and serve on this new level.