Thursday, January 31, 2008

Latest Update from ARLDF.NET on Cyd Mizzell

Not much, but here is the latest. Please continue to pray for Cyd Mizell.

Latest News Statement from ARLDF.NET

NEWS FEED: We've been gratified by the outpouring of support and interest in the welfare of our employees, aid workers Cyd Mizell and Muhammad Hadi, who were abducted in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on the morning of Jan. 26.

Our small staff has been struggling to keep up with the volume of calls and e-mails. Our Internet service provider has told us we can set up a news feed that will automatically send Web site updates to anyone who subscribes.

You can help us by subscribing to this feed if you wish to receive regular updates. Simply click on the rss link in the address bar of your browser or click on the icon at the beginning of this notice.

UPDATE: Friday, Feb. 1

We want to express our thanks to those who have offered words of support for ARLDF workers Cyd Mizell and Muhammad Hadi.

Mizell and Hadi were abducted at gunpoint on the morning of Jan. 26 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. We will continue to update this web site as new information on their situation becomes available.

Update on Cyd Mizell and Muhammad Hadi, Jan. 30, 2008
We still have no contact with ARLDF workers Cyd Mizell and Muhammad Hadi or with those responsible.

Mizell and Hadi were taken captive in Kandahar, Afghanistan, by a group of unidentified gunmen the morning of Jan. 26.

The silence of those responsible has not diminished our hope that Mizell and Hadi will soon be freed.

Mizell, 49, has worked with ARLDF for nearly three years, helping women and families with income-generating projects. She also teaches English at a high school and embroidery lessons at a girls school.

In addition to teaching, Mizell has tried to meet some of the needs of the homeless "tent people" – migrants from drought-stricken areas of Afghanistan who have moved to Kandahar. Their poverty and hunger moved her, particularly the women and girls who seldom, if ever, left the dirty, torn tents they called home.

"She did not go to Afghanistan out of any need for adventure," said a friend. "She just wanted to go where the need was greatest and where she could be of the most service."

Muhammad Hadi has served as an ARLDF driver for two years. The father of five, Hadi is described as quiet and unassuming but very protective of the employees he works with. ARLDF employees in Kandahar are visiting Hadi’s family daily and seeing that they are provided for during this crisis.

ARLDF is a humanitarian development organization with offices in the Philippines and Thailand that works throughout Asia helping to provide a better quality of life for the poorest of the poor, mainly through community development projects. ARLDF works in about 12 Asian countries, with most of its programs focusing on small-scale efforts. In the Kandahar area, ARLDF personnel work in education and projects that help people learn skills to better their lives and the lives of their families. Aid efforts in the region also include food-for-work projects, irrigation, rehabilitation, health care and restoration projects.

Update on Cyd Mizell and Muhammad Hadi, Jan. 29, 2008
As many people around the world express concern for the safety of Cyd Mizell and Muhammad Hadi, authorities in Afghanistan continue searching for the two Asian Rural Life Development Foundation workers.

Mizell and Hadi were kidnapped by armed gunmen in the Kandahar area early Jan. 26. Neither they nor their kidnappers have contacted the foundation.

Mizell, 49, has worked with ARLDF for nearly three years, helping women and families with income-generating projects. She also teaches English at a high school and embroidery lessons at a girl's school and speaks the local language fluently.

Muhammad Hadi has served as an ARLDF driver for two years. Known by colleagues as a "kind, loving man," he is the father of five children: three girls and two boys, ages 6 to 15. ARLDF officials confirmed Jan. 29 that Hadi’s family is being visited daily and provided for during this crisis.

ARLDF staff remain hopeful that Mizell and Hadi will be freed safely and continue to work with authorities to resolve the situation.

A news report Jan. 29 said hundreds of Afghan women demonstrated in southern Kandahar province today to protest the abduction of Mizell and ask for her immediate release. They described the abduction as a violation of Islamic and Afghan values and urged the government to step up efforts to secure her release. They also called on tribal elders to use their influence to gain her freedom. This article may be found at

Friends in the United States describe Mizell as a very caring person. "She is quiet but very strong," said one. "She enjoys the simple pleasures of life."

Another friend noted she is always willing to volunteer and help any way she can. "She has a heart for others," he said.

Some wonder: Why would a foreigner like Mizell live and work in one of the most dangerous regions of a country at war?

"Because she cares," responds Jeff Palmer, international director of ARLDF. "She loves the people of Afghanistan, and she has devoted her life to meeting their needs and helping them rebuild their nation, which has experienced violence and suffering for many years."

Others have asked why Mizell wasn’t traveling with heavy security, as many aid workers do – particularly those who work with the government in major building projects. Mizell, however, worked with women, students and families, relating to Afghan people one on one. It was not practical or effective for her to travel everywhere with armed guards.

Mizell has won the admiration of many people in Kandahar for her work with them. Mohammad Gull, a professor at Kandahar University, described her as "a very patient and calm woman" who was "always thinking about Afghanistan's future." Kandahar’s provincial governor, Asadullah Khalid, said she "trusted the Afghan nation and respected them."

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Song and Video for Cyd

Please watch this video (link) and read the lyrics below. I pray this will encourage you to pray for Cyd with fervor.

Where are you? Do you know I'm here?
All alone, full of fear.
Do you think of me?

I am a sister you don't know.
Holding on. Don't let go.
Please remember me. Please remember me.

We are alike, but worlds apart.
The chains cannot contain your heart.
I'll remember you.

I am a brother you don't know.
I will hold on, I won't let go.
I'll remember you. I'll remember you.

We'll speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.
The precious soul, we won't leave on the shelves.
We sleep, while they weep, from a distant shore.
They're dying. Who are you living for?

Let Your Love come pour upon this place?
Jesus, show Your justice, show your grace.
The cry of the suffering will not go unheard,
according to the promise of Your Word.

One day, we'll walk the streets of gold.
That's how this story will unfold.
I'll remember you. I'll remember you.

'Til then, you're always on my heart.
Chains cannot keep us apart.
I'll remember you.

Listen, can you hear the sound,
The Church that gathers underground.
Please remember them. Please remember them.

I'll plant a seed, I'll watch it grow.
I'll work to let the whole world know.
I'll remember you.

I hear your cries when I'm awake.
You're suffering for Jesus' sake.
testifying in chains,
testifying in chains,
testifying in chains,
testifying in chains.

music/lyrics/vocals: kris kemp
adittional vocals: viviana lang

note from creators: This song was written on a solo trip from Jupiter, Florida to Denver, Colorado, done in a 33-hour stretch. This song is written from the point of view of a Christian in the United States who is praying for a sister in Christ who is being persecuted in another country. Basically, they're praying for each other, and looking forward to seeing each other in Heaven. At the end of the song, she refuses to deny Christ, and dies for her faith in God.

Prayer for Kidnapped US Aid Worker in Afghanistan

My heart is heavy today for a US Aid Worker in Afghanistan who was kidnapped Saturday. My grief only deepens at the lack of coverage in the US press. I was shocked when the 23 Koreans kidnapped last year were not covered, but assumed if they were Americans it would be. Now, I'm not so sure.

All I know is that the body of Christ needs to be aware of what's going on. Kingdom work comes in many forms, and the practical help and service that Cyd Mizell provided through the Asian Rural Life Development Foundation is a critical part of meeting people's needs. As a testimony to the effectiveness of her service I am including a link to an article from MSNBC that amazed, impressed, and convicted me.

500 Afghan women in a conservative province took a rare and significant risk on behalf of Cyd. They gathered to protest her kidnapping. They prayed for her in a public setting.

I posted here recently about being a good ropeholder. Well, part of that is information. And part of it is prayer. So, here is the information. Let's all join in prayer for Cyd. Let's raise our voices to the One who sees and knows where she is, and is with her in this.

And please, pass the word. I'm tired of people not even knowing about this story. 500 women in a closed country gathered to protest and pray. In our open society, we should get this word out and at least 500,000 should be praying!

Thanks for YOUR prayers and faithfulness on behalf of the kingdom.

Afghan women protest American kidnapping
Associated Press Writer
The Associated Press
updated 6:50 a.m. CT, Tues., Jan. 29, 2008


Monday, January 28, 2008

From Polluted to Pure

A dear friend told me an incredible story: the Ganges River - known to be one of the most polluted bodies of water in the world in its Upper portion - actually contains some of the purest water in the world in the Lower portion. The National Geographic article she listened to observed that ancient mariners would actually "load up" their ships with the Lower Ganges water because it would be good for their entire trip back across the ocean!

Recent studies have revealed that what makes the Lower Ganges so pure is a by-product of the very pollution that makes the Upper Ganges so unusable. Specifically, bacteriophages grow to combat the pollutants, so that by the time the water filters down to the Lower Ganges, it is purified to an unbelieveable degree. It's gone from polluted to pure.

That got me thinking about society - my society, your society, even within the church. We see so much "pollution" - I've heard from many of you who despise much of the "filth" of where you are, even while loving those made dirty by it. Yet the natural example of the Ganges is a reminder that the very pollution we shudder at can become a catalyst for the "bacteriophages" that purify.

Historically this has happened: After the blending of church and state under Constantine, nominalism and corruption within the church skyrocketed. Lay believers who were troubled responded by establishing the early monasteries, which couldn't remain on the fringes for long. Drawn by authentic Christianity, people flocked to hear the wisdom of these hermits, and often strong missions efforts resulted. Later, in the late Middle Ages, the corruption of the Catholic Church prompted reformers to proclaim a message of pure "faith alone" - and the result was so dramatic that even the Catholic Church experienced a Counter-Reformation in an attempt to purify itself. Polluted to pure is not just a natural principle - it can be a spiritual one!

What "pollution" is frustrating you today in your ministry context? Ask God to help you use the pollution as a catalyst for holy bacteriophages - to bring purity out of pollution.

He is faithful.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Comfort After Denial

Matt. 26:69-75
Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

One of the most crushing human emotions must be the hurt a parent feels when a child denies his or her love.

Imagine pouring into another so much of yourself, only to find that the child "doesn't feel loved", or rejects that love, or even denies who the parent is. And yet it happens so frequently, especially in a world characterized by the 2 Timothy 3 sin of being "without natural affection", that love which should exist naturally as a result of family relationships.

Wrapping our minds around that picture gives us just a glimpse of Peter's tragic denial of Christ. Here was someone who poured into him, thought only of his best interests - who was God in the flesh, his spiritual father. And yet Peter denies knowing him. A parent's heart can identify with the poignant addition Luke adds to the narrative: And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. (Luke 22:61)

Yet the same parental love that makes the rejection so painful longs to comfort the child who mourns. After the resurrection, Peter received a private visit from the Lord before He appeared to the Twelve (1 Cor. 15:5). No one else could comfort Peter like the one he'd denied. And God's parental love sought Peter out.

We so easily identify with the prodigal (Luke 15). But from the perspective of the father, we can see the love that undergirds mercy. We can see that mercy triumphs over judgment, because of the love that draws the father to the road, aching for the child's return. The love that took the Lord to Peter privately.

The love that can withstand denial, that remains faithful when we are faithless.
2 Timothy 2:13
if we are faithless, He remains faithful—
for he cannot deny Himself.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Blessings of Giving

While the main purpose of this blog is to encourage Great Commission cross-cultural field workers, many of you reading may be on the other side of God's kingdom purposes: trying to support those who go. One of my heart's desires in stateside ministry is to encourage those who are trying to be "ropeholders".

A "ropeholder" is one who tries to support those who are going through encouragement, prayer, personal contact, practical needs, and financial support. All of these are crucial, but a Scripture I read this week really made one of these jump out at me - the blessings of giving.

In 2 Cor. 9, Paul exhorts the Corinthians to follow through on a promised gift to support Christians in Jerusalem. In his instructions, he highlights several important principles of giving. I note them here to encourage the ropeholders and those of you who are supported that this exchange is more than personal. It reflects a God-orchestrated system that is designed ultimately for His glory!
Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be.

Principle 1: Faithfulness. Simply put, follow through on your giving commitments. It may seem obvious, but in a world of default loans and bankruptcies, simply writing that check is an act of faithfulness. Your Great Commission workers will especially appreciate your being faithful to send the check at the beginning of the month (or on whatever specified date), so they can plan their budget accordingly.
Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction. The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Principle #2: Willingness and cheerfulness. There is no place for manipulation or guilt in a blessed giving heart. As one newsletter update wisely observed, we must seek the will of God in our giving - and then ask for His grace to giving willingly and cheerfully.

Principle #3: Fruitfulness. Also known as the "law of sowing and reaping", this one is often misused by prosperity Gospel teachers. The following verses, however, make clear what is reaped:
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”

  • Abounding grace. God assures us that we will have sufficiency in having our needs met, so that we are enabled to abound in good works.

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.

  • Supply and multiplication of seed for sowing. As we give, God will make sure we have what we need to continue to give.
  • Harvest of righteousness. God says this will increase as we are faithful when He calls us to give, and we will be enriched to be generous "in every way" - which would include ways that don't involve money.

You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.

Principle #4: Thankfulness. Generosity results in thankfulness to God. Interestingly Paul doesn't specify WHO is thankful. The recipient should obviously be grateful, but the giver also can thank God for His provision to give!

By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others,

Principle #5: Glory to God. God will be glorified because of the submission and generosity reflected by giving.

while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!

Principle #6: Prayerfulness. The recipients become prayerful toward the supporters. This deepens the relationships and furthers the glory to God!

Lord, help us to be faithful in radical giving - of our time, our talents, our treasures, our hospitality. Help us willingly and cheerfully look for ways to sow bountifully. Thank You that You guarantee sufficiency - not excess - and the continued ability to be generous. We pray for fruitfulness in good works and righteousness. We pray that all of our giving overflows in thankfulness to You, glorifying You. Cause us to be submissive to You in our giving, becuase of our confession of Christ. Let Your surpassing grace be upon us to give generously.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Aha! Moments

We've all had them - those "aha!" moments when suddenly we "get" something that we haven't "gotten" before. It might be a solution to a puzzle, a method to repair a household item, a big-picture understanding of truth, or even a huge link to reach an entire people group!

Scientists have studied the "aha!" moment at the level of puzzle-solving, and the results are fascinating. Basically, to cultivate "aha!" moments, we need to redirect our thinking. We need to shift our perspective and look at the same problem in new ways. We need to relax and allow our brains to make seemingly random connections that turn out to be not so random after all.
(Read the article at

Hmm, sound familiar?

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:1, ESV)
When we come to Christ, we don't automatically "get it" all. But the process of transformation comes through the renewing of our minds - through learning to think differently about old things. From looking at problems in new (Biblical!) ways, we find solutions that we didn't think were there before. And we begin to see that seemingly random things are truly connected in the great purpose of God!
The wonderful thing about the body of Christ is that we each bring uniqueness to our renewed minds. God doesn't make us cookie cutters; He gives us unique gifts and uses our personalities and strengths for His glory - the way He originally designed us, not the way sin corrupted us. Just think how different Peter and Paul were!
And through our relationships with each other we can gain further "new perspectives" that will give us ways of looking at problems that we hadn't seen before. Just think of how missiology has grown by leaps and bounds because of Don Richardson's insight, recorded in Eternity in Their Hearts, that God places redemptive analogies, or "keys", within each culture to prepare the way for the Gospel. His aha! moment, shared with the body of Christ, has transformed how many look at communicating the message! Truly, we need each other, and we need each others' perspectives.
Do you have a perplexing problem? Stay in the Word, seek that renewed mind that brings transformation, see what potential solutions other believers who see things from a different angle might offer. And pray constantly! Our aha! moments are old news to an omniscient Creator.
“For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?”
But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor. 2:16, ESV)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

An Old Friend, A New Perspective

Sometimes a fresh look at something familiar can cause us to love it even more. That's one reason I love to use different Bible translations.

Currently, I'm reading through Psalms at night using the NET Bible, a "modern literal" version that seeks to capture a lot of the heart and soul of the original text (you can see it at The other night I read Psalm 41 - one of my favorites - in this translation. From the beginning I was gripped as it highlighted principles I've long known. The words have hung in my mind all week. I share it here for your encouragement.

May God bless you tonight as you seek Him in the "permanent access to His presence" promised in this passage!

Psalm 41
How blessed is the one who treats the poor properly!
When trouble comes, the Lord delivers him.

May the Lord protect him and save his life!
May he be blessed in the land!
Do not turn him over to his enemies!

The Lord supports him on his sickbed;
you completely heal him from his illness.

As for me, I said:
“O Lord, have mercy on me!
Heal me, for I have sinned against you!

My enemies ask this cruel question about me,
‘When will he finally die and be forgotten?’

When someone comes to visit, he pretends to be friendly;
he thinks of ways to defame me,
and when he leaves he slanders me.

All who hate me whisper insults about me to one another;
they plan ways to harm me.

They say,
‘An awful disease overwhelms him,
and now that he is bed-ridden he will never recover.’

Even my close friend whom I trusted,
he who shared meals with me, has turned against me.

As for you, O Lord, have mercy on me and raise me up,
so I can pay them back!”

By this I know that you are pleased with me,
for my enemy does not triumph over me.

As for me, you uphold me because of my integrity;
you allow me permanent access to your presence.

The Lord God of Israel deserves praise
in the future and forevermore!
We agree! We agree!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Don't Lose Heart!

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. (2 Cor 4:1)

I just love the logic of Paul.

He doesn't exhort us from emotion or false hope, he exhorts us from doctrine. Here he shows us the way to not lose heart in ministry. And the answer is not a super-spiritual emotion, or a promise of thousands of converts in the next generation. (That may happen - but doesn't always.) Instead, his answer is that ministry is granted by the mercy of God. And therefore, we don't lose heart.

Why is this so encouraging? After focusing on the purity of their message and the efforts of the enemy to blind people to truth, Paul elaborates on the message they were given "by the mercy of God":

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. 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. (2 Cor. 4:5-6)

The message isn't about us - it's about Him! He's the message, we are the servants. Verse 7 repeats the theme of "not ourselves" when Paul notes that the treasure is in jars of clay to show the power is of God and not "of us". Being given that sort of ministry by God's mercy means that the results are in His hands. The battle is supernatural, and we may get wounded - but ultimately because the message isn't about us, and the ministry is given to us by mercy instead of merit, we can rest in the pouring out of light about the glory of God. And in that, we can always take heart. Even when the message is rejected, His glory is being poured out. We glorify Him when we serve in the way Paul describes - honestly, purely, without deception. The results are in His hands.

Paul doesn't exalt himself at all in this chapter. He focuses continually on the glory of God as the grounds and goal of ministry - even of suffering (verse 17). And that should encourage us all.

Are you struggling today to not lose heart? Remember that the ministry you've been given is "by the mercy of God". Remember that your job is to reflect His light, to carry the message as a servant, honestly and purely. When you do that, you glorify Him. And in that you can take heart - whatever else you face.

Sometimes the best news in the world is a reminder that in the end, it's not about us :). Hallelujah!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Identity and Identification

2 Cor. 5:14-15
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

Who we really are matters - a lot.

Yesterday's post looked at our identity in Christ. Because of our position in Him, we can gladly serve even those who treat us like servants.

But another key element in service is our identification with Christ. Paul writes here that the love of Christ controls him and his team because of a doctrinal conclusion they have made: Christ died for all, and therefore we died. He did those so that we live not for ourselves but for Him.

Identification is a key doctrine for Paul. In Rom. 5:12-21 and much of Romans 6, he lays out the theological truths underlying identification. Basically, when we are unsaved we are "in Adam", identified with Adam in sin and the realm of death. But when we are saved we are "in Christ", identified with Christ in the realm of life.

But Paul's teaching to the Corinthians takes it a step further. This doctrinal truth - our identification with Christ's death as our own - means that the we live to Him. Because of this conclusion, Paul says, we are controlled by the love of Christ. He put it a different way in Gal. 2:20: "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

Why is this significant to living a life of servanthood? Simply this: you can't injure a dead man. When we consider ourselves dead and our new lives as belonging to Him, the love of Christ can truly control us in ways that are supernatural.

Historically, times when there are plagues or massive outbreaks of disease or pestilence have frequently (though not always) been times of growth for Christianity. Why? Because often Christians have been the only ones willing to take the risks of serving. Did they die? Sure, a lot of them did - but they died giving eternal life and temporal help to others. And in some cases, because of their care for one another, they survived in greater numbers and had more who could help the unbelievers around them. What made them do something so unnatural? Like Paul, they considered themselves dead in Christ and living for Him. As a result, His love controlled them.

As we seek to be people of supernatural service, let's get a grasp on both our identity in Christ and our identification with Christ. Such a doctrinal foundation will give us a love that serves - whatever the risk.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Identity and Servanthood

"Who do they think I am?"

Few of us would probably actually say those words, but our attitudes often reflect a sense of entitlement. It's so easy, especially for those of us stateside, to get caught up in the positions of our society. We find ourselves subconsciously expecting special treatment. "Let me go to the front of the line, because I'm so busy." We put our own schedules ahead of others, grab the closest parking spot, live the life of Deserving One.

No wonder serving is so hard for us. No wonder God told us it's the greatest thing we can do!

I've posted this poem here before (, but it bears repeating in this context:

The Lowest Room
by N.V. Tilak
Grant me to give to men what they desire,
And for my portion take what they do slight.
Grant me, Lord, a mind that doth aspire
To less than it may claim of proper right.
Rather, the lowest place, at all men's feet
That do Thou graciously reserve for me.
This only bounty I would fain entreat,
That Thy will, my God, my will be.
And yet one other boon must Thou bestow;
I name it not ... for Thou dost know.

So, how do we get to this point - the point of being a willing servant rather than someone obsessed with position (even subconsciously)?

I think we do what Jesus did. John 13 records His washing the disciples' feet as part of a hands-on lesson about service. But there was a significant mindset that precipitated His serving in this way: Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. (John 13:3-4)

Jesus knew His position in God. He knew He had made a decision to serve, but still His focus was on who He was in God's eyes. He did the dirtiest work in the house on the night that one of these men would betray Him, one would deny Him, and the rest would flee. He did this the night before He was crucified.

The lesson here for us is that we can only serve well to the degree that we know who we are in Christ. Sooner or later, someone we serve is going to treat us like a servant. And that is the true test of servanthood. Even when we wrap our minds around the idea that we should serve, we like to think the recipients appreciate and acknowledge it. Well, they might not. Judas betrayed Christ; Peter denied Him; yet He served them anyway.

Who we are in Him never changes. And when we fully grasp our identity in Him, we can serve freely, just as Jesus did.

Phil. 2:5-11
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Pleasing Aroma

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. (2 Cor. 2:14-17 ESV)

I don't know about you, but I've often read this passage and thought, "If I'm an aroma, I stink!" Often my inner thoughts and external struggles waft more Eau de Skunk than Honeysuckle Delight.

So when I was reading this passage yesterday, I was overjoyed when God drew my attention to some factors that remind me that even my fragrant offerings to Him are His work, not mine.

First of all, the passage begins with a certainty: in Christ, God ALWAYS leads us in triumphal procession. Now, I realize as well as you that some days are lived out more victoriously than others - but the reminder here is that this victorious processional is "in Christ". Christus victor, the ancient writer called it. It's His victory. Our ability to take every thought captive to His obedience (2 Cor. 10:5) allows us to share in that victory, but He is always out there, leading the way.

Second, the fragrance we spread is the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ. This is liberating to someone who is prone to be quick to speak and slow to listen - the antithesis of James 1:19! It means that when I mess up, I can still spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ by pointing to His cross, His grace, mercy, and forgiveness. This knowledge doesn't give me liberty to sin (Rom. 6:1), but it does give me God the chance to redeem my mistakes by using them to point to Christ.

Third, and most significantly for my Eau de Skunk days, we are the aroma of Christ. Not the aroma of our good works, or the aroma of our religious rituals, or the aroma of sacrifice. The aroma of Christ. What rises up to God from our lives is that which reflects Christ. If I long to send a pleasing aroma God's way, I can only expect to do so through Christlikeness. The world might not understand - in fact Paul says that of those among whom we exude this aroma of Christ to God, some will find it an aroma of life and others an aroma of death. But the aroma is His, and it pleases God.

Paul asks the question we all wonder: "Who is sufficient for these things?" The answer he gives in the following chapter is a world of encouragement in itself: God Himself makes us adequate.

Draw near to God. Beholding leads to becoming.
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. (2 Cor. 3:18)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Struggling with Prayer?

I confess - my biggest spiritual struggle is prayer. Worship is a joy, and Bible study is a passion, but prayer is the spiritual discipline that feels most like, well, a discipline. That's why I constantly remind myself of truths that I have learned over the years.

Some of my earliest insights came from a book that highlights some of the core principles I have tried to adopt over the years. I've quote from it several times here: Don't Just Stand There, Pray Something by Ronald Dunn. Dunn's Christ-centered, practical approach to prayer has helped me over many humps, and his illustrations are unforgettable.

One key truth that he drives home is that prayer is not for the "spiritual", but for people "just like us." He elaborates:

Prayer is not untouchable. God did not mean for us to hold it in that kind of awe. Prayer was God's idea. He created it for people who are weakned by sin, fickle in their commitment, at times overwhelmed by doubt, often discouraged and bewildered, and nearly always fretting about life.

Highlighting the fact that every advance of the early church was bathed in prayer, Dunn then relates the story of beginning his own church's prayer ministry. After 14 weeks of preaching on intercessory prayer, some of the church's 200 eager intercessors entered their prayer chapel to receive the first call: a mother whose two-year-old son was in the hospital in convulsions from drinking engine cleaner. Doctors gave the family no hope for his survival. Dunn recounts the story honestly:

Confession time. I hate to admit it, but among my immediate thoughts was this sorry one: I'm going to give this request to our intercessors and they're going to pray for this child's recovery, really believing he's going to be all right, and he'll die (that's what the doctor said and he ought to know), and then they'll be discouraged.

You can imagine the result: the intercessors prayed through the night, God worked a miracle, the doctor was amazed. Dunn concludes:

And so it was. I had thought it best to launch our intercessory ministry with the possible and work up to the impossible. But God strated with the impossible and demonstrated from the very beginning the awesome power of prayer. Prayer is the secret of Jesus. He has passed it on to us, but not all Christians receive it. The secret of greater works is received only by those who say, "I believe God will do His greatest works through my prayers."

That is the Jesus Secret - for people just like us.

Are you struggling with your prayer life? Remember that prayer is God's idea - and prayer is the greater work of the kingdom. Number 1 on my "prayer theology" list is this reminder: "Prayer reminds me that it's not up to me to solve the problems around me." It's not up to you either. So we pray, and God works, and is glorified.

See you at the throne!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Four-Pronged Approach

When I first started the job I currently have, I was asked to complete a "self-test" which grouped individuals by work style/personality, to help our team work better together. I'm normally not much on these sorts of tests - I hate stereotyping - but this one was approached differently and I found it quite informative. I also very quickly found a spiritual application.

Called True Colors, the system uses the colors Green, Blue, Orange, and Gold to divide categories. Individuals choose the category that is most like them in several areas. In a nutshell, Green is more philosophical, abstract, highly contextual, lots of detail ... Blue is very emotion-oriented, feelings-focused, cares about how people feel ... Gold is highly structured, very rules-oriented ... while Orange is extremely creative, almost the opposite of gold in approach. (I'm a Green, if you hadn't figured that out :) ). A healthy individual will have a little of each color, though one will predominate.

After I completed the workshop I realized that the four colors parallel important elements of my spiritual walk. From that day, I have added a four-pronged approach in my prayers for my own walk with God. Specifically, I pray almost daily that I will be:
  • Doctrinally sound (that's the Green)
  • Passionately worshipful (there's the Orange)
  • Genuinely loving (Blue)
  • Carefully obedient (Gold)
The point really isn't about the test - that was just the tool that God used to get me thinking on the right track. The point is about balance. We are all going to find one or the other of these areas easier and probably at least one that is hard. Yet each has a key role to play in our spiritual growth, and each are addressed in Scripture as important pursuits.

In your ministry it's easy to get focused on the "tyranny of the urgent". It's often hard to take a step back and look at the big picture of your personal growth, or the development of those you are discipling. I pray that God will somehow use this four-pronged approach from my own prayer life to help you grow as well!

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. (Mark 12:30)

Saturday, January 12, 2008


I worked a Word Search puzzle this morning, and let me tell you -- I doubt that my Greek final this afternoon will require any more concentration than that silly word search!

In preparation for Children's Church, I decided to work the puzzle to have the answers and be able to give the kids some "hints". I didn't expect a puzzle designed for 3rd-5th graders to take me 45 minutes! As I struggled and then remembered my old "tricks" from when I worked puzzles regularly, I thought of all the reasons kids are much better at them than adults.

I'm not talking about memory loss or the results of aging. Specifically I'm thinking of the concentration required! I wanted to scan over the letters and quickly pull things out. As long as I could, I avoided going line by line to look at each letter, select the "J", and see if there was a "u" nearby to find the word "Judah". But I only found 2 words in my scattershot approach, and quickly went back to the basics.

As I sat there wishing I had an answer sheet, I thought about why I quit doing puzzles. I loved them even into adulthood and used to spend hours on one logic problem. But the realities of work and life intervened, and I moved onto different priorities.

And yet, I've decided there are lessons to be learned from working puzzles. As adults, we get so involved in Very Important Things that we forget sometimes the simplicity of looking for something basic. I had to remind myself repeatedly that looking for that J was relevant to God's kingdom since it was helping prepare me for the next day! Isn't that like ministry? Don't we get so focused on The Big Picture, seeking to do The Important Thing, that we lose sight of the "small" things that are necessary for kingdom work?

Kids often tend to focus on those smaller things ... the lesson in front of them tomorrow will be relevant and they won't be searching for "deeper meaning". The smallest things are big to kids ... working a worksheet at school well can become a source of pride and joy when mom and dad brag on them. Never mind that the lesson was simple and other kids did harder work ... they worked hard, succeeded, and mom and dad were proud. Surely part of having the heart of a child is to be able to concentrate on something small and consider it as something big ... to rest in the basics and trust God to provide the deeper meaning ... and enjoy God's pleasure at a job well done.

Yesterday, I read a column that addressed this issue from the perspective of worship. As adults we get so caught up in details that we sometimes miss the big picture of what worship really is. Tony Woodlief captures this contrast beautifully:

Do you ever wonder what the service in Heaven will be like? I suspect we’ll all of us be surprised, except perhaps the children, the at times clapping, napping, dancing, babbling, solemn, curious, out-of-tune children. They’ll probably fit right in. The rest of us will have to pay attention from the back pews for a while, and likely unlearn a good bit of that which we once held certain. (see

When the Important Work of ministry gets overwhelming, get back to basics. Spend time on some small, seemingly tedious ministry task, and ask God to help you see its significance. It's a good reminder that sometimes we make things so complicated, with such grandiose plans, when all God wants is for us to search for J's in a children's puzzle and prepare our hearts to love on kids.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying,
“Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said,
Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."
(Matt. 18:1-4)

Friday, January 11, 2008


We hear a lot these days about being "centered".

There are some good uses, of course - without a "center", things fall apart. Houses, constructed items, even our bodies, have "centers" that keep things balanced.

But it's important to explore what we are centered ON.

A lot of my recent blog posts are about giving, serving, showing hospitality. That's because I'm 2 months into a 4 month study of James, and God is speaking strongly to me about practical acts of servant love. He knows that by nature I am a heavily doctrinal, theoretical, analytical person. A co-worker mentioned yesterday that he couldn't talk about religion for two hours. I remarked that I could - easily. But God is reminding me that He didn't save me so I could talk. He saved me so I can serve.

But the doctrinal foundation remains essential, and that is why service is never separated from study. We dig into Scripture, not to debate it but to live it out -- but never doubt the importance of digging in! Without it, we can easily focus on the temporal needs of people but not the larger eternal picture. And without proper centering, our service, giving, and hospitality can become burdensome acts of duty rather than delightful acts of love.

That's why I love reminders that we aren't called to live a service-centered life. We aren't called to live a giving-centered life, or a hospitality-centered life. Instead, we are called to a Christ-centered life, a cross-centered life. "Take up your cross and follow me", Jesus said. Without that taking and following, our service, giving, hospitality, our obedience and sacrifice ... everything we "do" ... will lack eternal significance. It will be wood, hay, and stubble (1 Cor. 3). It will become a duty, a source of pride or guilt. It will fail to glorify the One who showed us the way, and instead glorify ourselves, our churches, our social gospel. It will have some temporal impact, to be sure ... but will not bear fruit that remains. That only comes from abiding in Him.

If you are struggling in your service, your giving, your hospitality, or any other aspect of your walk with God - try re-centering on the cross of Christ, on the basics of the Gospel. John Newton reportedly said, "I know only two things: I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great Saviour." Relish those truths today. Be centered on the cross, and everything else will fall into place.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Thoughts from Bible Study

Our ladies' Bible study started again tonight. We are studying Ruth and I thought so much of each of you. I think you will be encouraged by catching a glimpse of the level of discourse this small group of women at a small church in Arkansas can have about things of kingdom significance.

We spent some time discussing God's sovereignty in weaving Ruth into the geneology of Christ, and how He used so many little events to bring about His plan. We discussed how in that process, things looked rough for a while - 3 men died, people were hungry, life was hard - but God had a purpose. A wise woman observed that the three men who died had a part in God's overall plan to get Ruth to Israel and Boaz. She wondered - how many of us would be willing to die to play a part in God's bigger picture?

We discussed Naomi's bitterness in Ruth 1. We talked about relating to her frustration, possibly depression, over going to a foreign land and losing her husband and children to death. And we discussed how often God gets us to the point where we have nowhere else to turn. Again, my wise friend observed profoundly, "God constantly orchestrates circumstances in our lives to get us to the point where we give up - and surrender to Him."

And we discussed how important it is to have a bigger purpose, something beyond ourselves, something significant. And that is something you all have, and we all support, encourage, and admire.

I was so encouraged by this group, just as I am encouraged each month by a group of women who meet in my home to pray and discuss things of kingdom significance. They, too, see the big picture. Be encouraged tonight that in this little corner of the world, some women are "getting it".

Thanks for leading the way.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Five "Deadly D's"

Over 10 years ago, I picked up my first Bible study, and my life was transformed.

An inductive, Precept Upon Precept Bible study on the book of Romans (no, I didn't know what I was getting into) challenged me from day one. I realized what I thought was "salvation" wasn't, and I saw the depths of my sin nature for the first time.

But before I hit the downside of Romans 1:1-3:23 and the overpowering grace of 3:24-5:21, I learned about 5 Deadly D's. As Kay Arthur taught, these took root deep in my spirit and began to affect my view of life. As I began to learn more about God through His Word, I realized repeatedly how "deadly" these are. And I increasingly have come to value solutions that can stop them in their tracks.

  1. Disappointment. Something comes into our lives that we wish were different. It could be a relationship issue, a work issue. It can be disappointment with a circumstance or with a person who has let us down. Whatever the cause, left unattended disappointment becomes ...
  2. Discouragement. Our faith begins to weaken. We lose course. Negativity usually results and is reflected in our conversations with others. It's an easy step from discouragement to ...
  3. Dejection. This is a "lowness of spirit" that brings emotional and physical fatigue. With dejection, our body begins to show the consequences of allowing circumstances and emotions to rule our lives. (Please note: I am not referring here to clinical depression or fatigue brought on by illness. Dejection comes as a result of circumstances. Clinical depression or illness-related fatigue have physiological causes. If you are chronically down and cannot link it to a circumstance, or if you are consistently fatigued despite getting enough rest, please see a physician.) If dejection is allowed to continue, it can easily become ...
  4. Despair. In times of despair we lose or abandon hope. Simply put, we give up. We quit trying to make a difference, to work on a relationship, or to follow God's clear direction. Instead, we become fatalistic. Finally, the spirit sinks to the point of ...
  5. Demoralization. We begin to live in defeat. It is easy to see how sin could have a foothold with this kind of mindset.
So, what's the answer? First, let me be very clear: Not every believer who is in despair or demoralized has given in to these "Deadly D's". Sometimes, the cause may be spiritual warfare. Other times as noted in number 3, there can be physiological causes. Often we might just need rest and some extended quiet time to recharge.

But let's be honest. A lot of times, we can trace our downward spiral to our response to a disappointment. And that's where godly solutions can come in. I by no means have a corner on these ideas (please share yours!), but here are some I've found effective:

  • Kay Arthur suggests replacing "disappointment" with "His appointment" ... in other words, resting on the sovereignty of God. I've found this highly effective in 85% of cases. But some disappointments are because things need to be changed. That's why I've found another solution valuable as well....
  • Turn the disappointment to prayer. If your disappointment is in a circumstance or individual that clearly, biblically, should be different, take it to God. Let your hurt prompt you to passionate prayer. There was a song a few years back about such a circumstance; the singer pled, "God move, or move me." Sometimes, God will use our prayers to change our attitude. Sometimes He'll use them to change the situation. And sometimes, His answer will be to change the circumstance. Trusting in God's sovereignty in the process will be tremendously helpful here as well.
  • Another helpful solution to me has been to allow my disappointments to drive me closer to God. This is especially helpful in relationships. In one relationship where my love was consistently rejected, my dreams dashed, and my efforts to love unconditionally used against me in hurtful ways, I learned to cry on God's shoulder. I let myself feel the reality of the disappointment so that I could experience the Balm of Gilead much more deeply. In the process, God kept me so full that I couldn't help but love the person - and to this day have a heart of love despite those tough years.
  • Perspective is another big help to me. Keeping in mind "the big picture" - the glory of God; His kingdom purposes; the fact that it's not about me - helps me to remember that today's disappointment is tomorrow's testimony for God's kingdom purposes. More than one of you can testify to a disappointment in ministry - a place you wanted to go where the door was closed; a job you didn't want to do but were asked to take on; a rejection in one area of ministry that you really thought you were called to pursue. Continuing to minister where we are planted and keeping the big picture in mind can be really helpful!
  • Consider some alternates to the "Deadly D's":
  • Delight yourself in God
  • Dynamic - remember His power is at work in us who believe
  • Develop Godly relationships with people who will know when to weep with those who weep", and when to speak God's truth to you when you need to hear it most.
  • Determination - perservere! Or, as Winston Churchill told a graduating class, "Nevah, nevah, nevah give up."

The story is told of an old pastor who met up with a young man straight from seminary. "How are you doing?" the seasoned man asked the newcomer to ministry. "Pretty good, under the circumstances," he replied. "And what, pray tell, are you doing there?" the wise man replied.

The bottom line, though, is that we have to determine not to let circumstances and the resulting emotions control us. We have the Word of God and the mind of Christ! In Him, we can overcome our human tendency to give into disappointment.

"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Monday, January 07, 2008

A Glimpse of a Set Heart

Psalm 34:1-8 (NET)

I will praise the Lord at all times;
my mouth will continually praise him.

I will boast in the Lord;
let the oppressed hear and rejoice!

Magnify the Lord with me!
Let’s praise his name together!

I sought the Lord’s help and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.

Those who look to him for help are happy;
their faces are not ashamed.

This oppressed man cried out and the Lord heard;
he saved him from all his troubles.

The Lord’s angel camps around
the Lord’s loyal followers and delivers them.

Taste and see that the Lord is good!
How blessed is the one who takes shelter in him!

What effect on our lives would this type of mindset have? If we constantly praised God ... if our heart was passionate to worship Him with others ... if we could "taste and see" that He is good - and lived like it - what would we do differently? How would my life look different tomorrow if this was the starting point of my day?

George Mueller was one of many Christians through the centuries that sought to live this way. In Desiring God, John Piper recounts extensively Mueller's example to show that focusing upon Scripture and prayer is central to having a "set heart", a heart that desires God. He quotes Mueller:
I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not how much I might serve the Lord how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state and how my inner man might be nourished....the first thing the child of God has to do morning by morning is to obtain food for his inner man. (Desiring God, 133-134)

What was the fruit of Mueller's efforts? Without making any appeal for money, he built 5 orphanages - God always provided money at the right moment. He cared for over 10,000 orphans in his life. He helped the poor so much that he was accused of lifting them beyond their "station" in life. He was a traveling evangelist for 17 years and preached in 3 languages. He founded a Scriptural Knowledge Institute and homes for family care where needy families could remain togeher. Obviously, he was not of such a heavenly mind that he was of no earthly good!

Loving God passionately leads to loving others practically. How wise our Lord was in giving two great commandments - Love God, love others. The two are inseparable.

Set your heart on Him today, and see what happens in your ministry to others!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Finders - keepers?

As I child, I really enjoyed playing "Finders Keepers". I'm sure you are familiar with the game. You ask your parents if you can clean the couch cushions/car seats/pockets of pants going into laundry, with the caveat that you get to keep what you find. It was a win-win situation, as I was highly motivated to do a chore and my parents got something cleaned out.

But I've been thinking about that game lately. It's a fine game to teach entrepreneurship! However, a different game has captivated my thoughts lately. I call it "Finders givers."

In this game, anything "found" - whether in a couch, or an unexpected windfall (small or large), or on the ground - becomes a chance to give. Assuming the rightful owner can't be located, what is received becomes a blessing to pass on to others. The presumption would be that it wasn't given to the recipient to keep, but to pass on. A generation of kids raised on this game would never think about keeping a wallet found on the ground or a $100 bill in the couch - and "Possession is 9/10 of the law" would be a foreign concept.

Sounds like the biblical principle of blessed to be a blessing, doesn't it? Yet when couched in terms of a common children's game, we see how different it is to our cultural norms. We think "it came into my hands; therefore, it's mine." But Scripture says, "it came into my hands; therefore, God wants me to do something with it."

Of course 100% of what we have belongs to God, and we should hold even our basic needs loosely. If a hungry person shows up we should share what we have even if it is meager. But what if we learned to look at anything extra, unexpected, bonus - with the perspective of "finders givers"? What if we assume that we are to pass on that bonus check, that gift card to Olive Garden, that second crockpot? What if God had to convince us to keep it rather than talk us into passing it on?

The radical giving and radical love that would result could transform our homes, our workplaces, our society, maybe even our world. And I have a feeling that with hearts like that, we would have more blessings than we know what to do with - those to keep AND give away!

Blessed to be a blessing. It turns "finders keepers" upside down.

Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. (1 Peter 3:9)

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you —see that you excel in this act of grace also.

I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” (2 Cor 8:1-15)

Saturday, January 05, 2008

A Set Heart

Jesus is not a concept. He's a person with whom we have an authentic, personal relationship.

This truth has profound implications for Christians. It means that while sound doctrine is crucially important, by itself it is not sufficient. An accurate set of facts about another person does not constitute a relationship -- I'm gathering lots of facts about presidential candidates right now, but I don't have a relationship with any of them.

An authentic personal relationship requires the involvement of what Scripture calls our "heart" - the inner being comprised of the mind, will, and emotions. Repeatedly throughout Scripture, God calls those who would follow Him to have a "set heart".

To have a "set heart" quite literally means to "give center". It's an action involving the very core of our being. It's far more than an emotional decision - it involves, as Jesus said, loving God with heart, mind, soul, and strength. And, like in any relationship, it's a choice.

In Scripture, individuals are most frequently exhorted to set their hearts on God. But there are some other interesting uses of the phrase. Solomon was told to set His heart to seek God in the process of building the temple (1 Chr. 22:19). Ezra set his heart to study, do, and teach God's law - His revealed truth (Ezra 7:10). Ezekiel was commanded to set his heart on what God revealed (Ez. 40:4). Daniel set his heart to understand God's revelation and to humble himself before God (Dan. 10:12).

The bottom line: God wants us to set our hearts on Him and on His revealed truth. The consistent example in Scripture of individuals who did so - the Hebrews 11 "hall of faith" comes to mind - shows that a "set heart" results in both a passion and a practicality. Hearts full of love for God cannot help but flow out in love to others. Perhaps this is why the charge against the church of Ephesus was so serious: "You have left your first love." A heart less set on God loses that passion and that practicality, and fails to be a witness of His love for the world.

God reminds us, too, that we aren't the only ones with set hearts. He also has set His heart - amazingly, on us! In Job 7:17, Job says, "What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him." David echoed the same idea in Psalm 8:3-4: "When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?" No wonder John tells us that we love, because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

A set heart - an intentional decision to give all that we are to Him. This is the meaning of a relational faith that results in both passion and practicality. And this is the heart of mission: telling people about the God who has set His heart on them, living out a life flowing from a heart set on Him - and praying that their hearts will be captivated to worship Him in spirit and truth.

Take time to set your heart on Him today. It's not just important for you personally - it's crucial to God's kingdom purposes in your life, because the heart of missions is bringing more worshippers before the throne. And the best way to do that is to be a worshipper yourself.

He Reigns - by NewSong

It's the song of the redeemed
Rising from the African plain
It's the song of the forgiven
Drowning out the Amazon rain

The song of Asian believers
Filled with God's holy fire
It's every tribe, every tongue, every nation
A love song born of a greatful choir

It's all God's children singing
Glory, glory, hallelujah, He reigns He reigns
It's all God's children singing
Glory, glory, hallelujah, He reigns He reigns

Let it rise above the four winds
Caught up in the heavenly sound
Let praises echo from the towers of cathedrals
To the faithful gathered underground

Of all the songs sung from the dawn of creation
Some were meant to persist
Of all the bells rung from a thousand steeples
None rings truer than this

And all the powers of darkness
Tremble at what they've just heard
'Cause all the powers of darkness
Can't drown out a single word

When all God's children sing out
Glory, glory, hallelujah, He reigns He reigns
All God's children sing out
Glory, glory, hallelujah, He reigns He Reigns
All God's children sing out
Glory, glory, hallelujah, He reigns He Reigns

Friday, January 04, 2008


I've been thinking a lot about servanthood lately. What does it mean, biblically, to serve others? I'm not as interested in the Greek definition as in the practical outworking - what does it look like to be a servant to believers, to unbelievers, to my family, to you?

There's certainly not a lack of Biblical teaching and examples on the subject. The words "Serve" and "Servant" occur literally hundreds of times. Jesus' teaching is permeated with the concept - "The greatest among you is the one who serves" fell from His lips; He took the towel and knelt to wash feet to prove it. Serving is the very heart of what "ministry" is all about, the very meaning of the word we use to get "deacons".

But it's in the practical outworking of servanthood that I turn up questions. When does serving becoming enabling? How do I serve someone who rejects me? When faced with a myriad of directions that all involve service, which one do I choose?

I know you face these questions far more than I do. That's why I want to encourage you tonight that the only way I've found to work out these answers is in intimate relationship to our Lord. I'm learning to reject blanket assumption, simplistic formulas, pat answers, and cookie-cutter programs. Instead, I'm learning to seek Him in each opportunity of service, trusting that when I ask for wisdom, He gives it.

Brother Andrew's example is significant here. In Secret Believers, he relates that when he goes into a Muslim country to serve the church, he doesn't come with a prepared 12-step system or any other formula. Instead, he listens, learns what the needs are, and sees how he can serve in accordance with their needs. In Communist countries it was Bibles. Other countries needed literacy training, pastoral education, practical help. Always, he is listening and responding, coming alongside the local church leaders. Ministering without an agenda. Now THAT'S servanthood!

We don't get to pick whom we serve - our "neighbor" is whoever God puts in front of us with a need. And what I'm learning from Brother Andrew and others is that when I face that person, I need to listen - to her and to the Holy Spirit - to be able to respond without my own agenda.

I have so much to learn, but it is my privilege to approach this blog as one way of serving you. Please pray for me, as I do for those of you I know personally. Together, we're learning to serve.

May the Father's heart be pleased.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Church That Doesn't Survive

"The work of the church is not survival."

The words from Brother Andrew, spoken to a Muslim Background Believer in the captivating book Secret Believers, shocked me for a moment. Then I thought, "He's right; the church is supposed to thrive, to overcome, to be victorious."

Theologically sound, but not his point. Yes, the church is to be on the offensive - that's the context of Jesus' promise that the gates of hell would not prevail, against the offensive onslaught of the church. But Brother Andrew went on to make an even deeper point.

"The purpose of the church cannot be to survive, or even to thrive, but to serve."

Like individuals, a church that wishes to save its life must lose it. Shutting the world out from fear, turning inward, never leads to health but only disease in the body of Christ. It's spiritual cancer. Sure, there are risks - Brother Andrew goes on to remind the believer, "Sometimes servants die in the serving." But the fruit that results goes far beyond the grain of wheat that might be lost in the process.

For me, this book has been a challenge. "Practical acts of servant-love" was already one of my top spiritual resolutions for 2008. This book has made me realize the implications of that go far beyond personal obedience. Serving has kingdom significance!

You're out there serving - and for that I applaud you. Encourage any believers you serve to serve others as well - they'll never regret it. If you can safely get Secret Believers, do so ... it will encourage you in many ways.

May God bless you as we learn to serve together!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The fingers under the door

I'm all about sound doctrine. I believe that Scripture and experience both tell us that we act on what we believe to be true, so we should be especially careful that what we believe about God is true. Sound doctrine can undergird our lives and prepare us for difficult days.

But sometimes when we are ministering to others going through trials, we try to wrap our doctrine up in overly-simplistic scripture quotes, statements of faith, or even pithy platitudes that are easier to say than hear. We want to feel like we've "done something", contributed something to another's pain. We forget the simple command to "weep with those who weep".

Job is a great reminder that we don't always get the answers we wish we had about our trials. Though we get the privilege of the big picture, Job isn't so blessed; he has to trust God without ever knowing that he was divinely chosen for the trials he faced. Yet he trusts implicitly, even making a great confession of faith in God's future grace (Job 19:25). Job had faith in God's presence and God's promise -- and sometimes, that's all we have to hold on to.

And it's enough.

Anne Lamott relates a relevant story - a young boy, locked in his room, cries with fear. His mom cannot open the door yet longs to comfort him. She calls upon a locksmith, and while they wait she manages to slide her hand under the door so that her son can grasp her fingers. He is calm as they wait together for the rescue to come.

Often, all God calls us to do is to slide our hand under the door, calling on Him to provide the rescue. At times, our presence is all that is required when someone faces a fearful time. At other times, we may be the one shivering behind the door, longing for rescue. For whatever reason, God may respond not like the rescuing locksmith but as the comforting parent -- He may simply slip His hand under the door and ask us to hold on. When we do, He proves that His presence and His promise are always faithful.

Let's practice the ministry of presence this year. Let's learn that silently being there, interceding and waiting, is often enough.

And whatever you are facing today, trust that whatever God reveals of Himself - whether the fingers to grasp or the locksmith to rescue - is sufficient for the need.

His presence, His promise, will never fail.